The Grand Illusion

My understanding from numerous on-line conversations with European tarot enthusiasts is that many of them use only the 22 trump cards in divination. I’ve tried this approach but it seems a bit too much like reading a text message that is all capital letters and exclamation marks (like a Donald Trump tweet). There can be a lack of modulation in the message that, like Christopher Guest’s guitar amplifier in the movie This Is Spinal Tap, takes the volume up to “11.” It can be difficult to isolate that quiet inner voice we prize in our readings from all the shouting. I was thinking about this after re-watching the Enrique Enriquez documentary Tarology, in which he comments that “Life is a conversation that gets interrupted every five minutes.” In that sense, I prefer to see the trump cards as the notable exception that commandeers the telling of one’s tale rather than the rule when conversing with the subconscious. Within the context of the full deck of 78 cards, their random appearance in a reading can provide extraordinary  emphasis in the middle of the kind of  mundane scenario that typically prevails in daily life (at least for those who discount conflict as a routine occurrence). But I presume that it doesn’t happen all that often or all that dramatically for most of us. In striving for total equanimity and full disclosure, I anticipate receiving a mixed message every time I pick up a deck of tarot cards. I embrace neither optimism nor pessimism, but only realism (which can go either way.)

By the same token, trump cards often imply a level of significance that is unlikely to materialize in concrete terms, making it necessary to reinterpret the apparent influence we see in a card into more commonplace language while also adopting a more impressionistic point of view about its symbolism. For example, where the Chariot might seem at face value to indicate a major triumph of some kind following struggle, it may be more sensible to see it as merely portending an encouraging  uptick in one’s fortunes. I would be more inclined to tell a client “Watch for improvement in a situation you’ve been trying to nudge in a positive direction” than to exclaim “You can expect a great and glorious victory.”  While it’s certainly true that small gestures can have large consequences for which we should be alert, in general I don’t think life works that way for most of us. At best, I might see the Chariot as suggesting the chance to move beyond present difficulties, perhaps while also fighting a “rear guard” action to keep pursuit at bay and distance oneself from ongoing entanglements; in other words, expect the best but watch your back and don’t sacrifice your forward momentum to complacency or inattention. Anything more spectacularly upbeat is probably illusory.

I find that “trumps-only” readings, to be effective in a “real-life” sense, require application of a more nuanced interpretive “template,” one that strips away the high-contrast vividness that we tend to ascribe to the trumps and replaces it with a more monochromatic “wash” of meaning. Enriquez commented that, upon moving to a major American metropolis, he found the buildings there to be like a “Hollywood facade,” and our customary understanding of the trumps can amount to the same thing. In fact, I’m more inclined to do “pips-only” readings that exclude trump cards than the other way around. To his credit, Enriquez did try to neutralize the “glamour” that has grown up around the trumps by advising us to look only at what is happening in the pictures and dismiss all other associations as “nonsense,” but this is easier said than done when the “personages” on many of them have antiquated, larger-than-life (and perhaps both overstated and oversimplified) religious and sociopolitical dimensions that must be scrubbed from our consciousness or at least molded into less grandiose modern assumptions.

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