“Thinking Man’s Tarot”

If you listen carefully, you might hear John Wayne saying “Those’re fightin’ words, pilgrim!” But I’m not attacking anyone here; consider this an op-ed with a curmudgeonly observation or two (or six). Take it as you will.

It goes without saying that I’m generally at odds with those who believe tarot reading  thrives only on perfectly spontaneous insights and shrivels under the withering gaze of rational deduction. There is a common belief that thinking gets in the way of “feeling” the message in the cards, and that intuitive free-association from the imagery on a card trumps knowledge-based interpretation every time. But when you think about it (paradox of course intended), unless we are purely sensual creatures without a thought in our heads, the only meaningful way we have to interact with our environment – both physical and spiritual – is through the intervention of our mental faculties, however we choose to embroider them with metaphysical hyperbole. We must consciously equate the sublime supposition to the sober reality in order to fully comprehend their relationship and not just experience it as a transcendent vision that may not be relevant to the purpose of the reading. I’ve frequently written on the subject (sometimes disparagingly as a dismissal of New Age posturing), but this essay is an attempt to consolidate my thinking into a comprehensive conceptual argument.

To set the record straight one more time (I can’t promise it will be the last time), I believe the subconscious process by which the cards receive their narrative imprint is largely mystical and non-rational (at least until the distant day it succumbs to rigorous scientific validation) but the techniques of interpreting them must necessarily be almost clinically hard-headed in order to avoid giving the seeker an unduly optimistic impression of the potential shown in the spread. Empowerment is all well and good, but when advice crosses the line into an enabling affirmation of unwise behavior it fails in that objective. Life is not “all good” and it never will be as long as “bad things” still happen to “good people,” and I have no intention of sugar-coating it.

Several things have pushed me toward the more cerebral side of the spectrum. I had a long career in a technological industry, in which I became a professional technical and legal writer as well as an engineering manager. I was at one time a member of American Mensa. I’ve been immersed in esoteric subjects, including Qabalah and ceremonial magic, for decades beginning in 1971. As a teenager in the ’60s I was a diehard fan of science fiction and fantasy novels, which gave me a lifelong fascination with the unique and unusual. I was a psychological astrologer before I became a tarot reader. I love word-smithing in all its forms, especially poetry, and fancy myself a storyteller with an expansive vocabulary and an ample store of anecdotal metaphors and analogies. Last but not least, I’m a pragmatic, literal-minded male and not the “flower-child retread” I might have become if fate hadn’t stepped in to steer me away from my artistic pursuits back in 1967. These characteristics and qualities made it almost inevitable that my approach to reading the cards would be more firmly grounded in linguistic structure than elastically ad-hoc in presentation; the imaginative fluidity is still there in full measure as befits a raconteur’s deftness but it springs from a deep foundation of learning and experience.

Until the human species develops telepathy, translating and communicating the meaning conveyed in a combination of tarot cards will be a largely verbal affair aided by the pictures. We must process the visual component into compelling words before our clients can make sense of it. This means that the more intelligibly precise and concise the narrative is at first blush, the more likely I am to get the “Aha!” reaction I’m looking for without having to spend time “zeroing in” a mismatched chain of approximate intuitive assumptions. I’ve been chided for overthinking the whole thing but it’s all in the service of giving a paying client the best experience I can muster. That means carefully weighing my words for both content and tone, and then giving a thoroughly rational and thoughtful interpretation. Tarot reading should be a serious and dignified endeavor, not a tossed-off hodgepodge of hazy impressionistic guesses based on what the artwork seems to imply. Aspiring to that level of credibility requires a lifetime of study and pertinent experience that together create the phenomenon of effortless “instant recall” when one sets out to attach meaning to the shifting enigma of the cards. I’m not holding out for a breathless “Oh, wow!” response to my cleverness; a quite nod of acceptance and concurrence from my sitters is all I need as a show of appreciation for my efforts.

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