Of Smoke and Mirrors

. . . but not the kind you’re thinking.

The more popular Facebook tarot pages are constantly awash in the sentiment – prevalent among the overwhelming majority of neophytes – that spiritual energy (“good” or “bad”) can cling to the cards in some unexplained fashion, encouraging the practices of mystically infusing them with the former and “cleansing” them of the latter. Many of these practices border on the shamanistic (for instance, smudging them with sage or palo santo smoke) and the frivolous (such as sleeping with them under your pillow and bathing them in moonlight). While there is certainly no harm in these actions, I seem to be in a distinct minority in assuming that the cards accumulate neither positive nor negative energies and are just “neutral tools,” compelling visual prompts or cues for my intuition that also carry the authority of centuries of metaphysical thought and divinatory practice. I see them as windows opening on a deep channel of unconscious awareness, and as receptors in a kind of a psychic “neural network.” The magic isn’t in the cards, it’s in the magician, and the energies don’t linger, they come and go with the querent.

The more rational among us point out that the cards are merely printed tokens with more-or-less agreed-upon symbolic import. They are “tools of the trade” and should be accorded the respect and care any conscientious craftsman would apply to valuable implements. But they aren’t temperamental pets to be coddled and cosseted in the hope that they won’t turn on us. They don’t possess independent intelligence or personality, and assumptions that they do are fanciful projections of our own imagination. The best analogy may be that they are “mirrors” of our understanding and experience of the Universe. That they strike a sympathetic chord in our subconscious perception of present and future reality is undeniable, but our reaction to them is often akin to a “conditioned response.” We speak in anthropomorphic terms of what the cards are “saying” and what they “think” of us or others, without recognizing that we are actually talking to ourselves (or our clients are talking to themselves and we’re translating).

I like the ideas that the cards in a reading mimic a script-writer’s “storyboard” or an artist’s rendering of an interior landscape.  The scenes are energized and illuminated through our subconscious interaction with the images; we inject them with our subliminal foreknowledge of what may come to pass if no action is taken to redirect it. These visions are often more impressionistic than literal in their expression, requiring the diviner to stretch the basic meanings of the cards in inspired and ingenious ways in order to have them make sense within the context of the narrative. Picking up channeled “signals from the Universe” (collective unconscious, astral plane, Akashic record, pantheistic “one-ness,” Platos’s “soul of the world,” etc.) by wrapping our minds around the hints encoded in the cards of a randomly-drawn spread and then forging them into coherent messages is where the true art (and enjoyment) in divination lies.

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