AUTHOR’S NOTE: Those of us who follow a qabalistic approach to the esoteric tarot recognize that the roots of our study and practice lie in Hebrew religious mysticism that has been adapted for ritual use by the 19th-Century Hermetic occultists of the Western Mystery Tradition. We may invoke the words and concepts but we don’t really “walk the talk” in any orthodox sense. However, I’m not convinced that we must. I call myself “devoutly nonreligious” (my favorite oxymoron) but in fact I believe that any single faith-based system of thought has as much of a chance to reveal the truth as all of them together have to be total nonsense. In short, there is insufficient evidence to say one way or the other, so “Pascal’s Wager” becomes the coin of the realm unless we completely succumb to the self-hypnosis of fundamentalism.
It could be said that tarot reading as performed by the vast majority of modern diviners (a more dignified term for “fortune-tellers”) is another such “faith-based” proposition. Since our readings are typically anecdotal in nature and not always (or even often) backed up by empirical proof of their accuracy, and there is no in-depth set of historical data (as there is for natal astrology) on which to rely, we say we are being “intuitive” when in fact we may just be “flying by the seat of our pants” and indulging in subjective navel-gazing. (This is less true in situations where we have a long-term relationship with repeat clients who — unless they are emotionally addicted to our counseling — must be coming back to us for a reason.) In my experience, those readers of the “psychic” persuasion can become quite strident in the defense of their legitimacy and can be impossible to reason with (“reason” being anathema to the touchy-feely brand of empowerment they are dispensing).
I lay it all at the feet of the New-Age fascination with the “tarot psychology” that arose in the wake of popular astrology’s hijacking of Carl Gustav Jung’s seminal ideas in the mid-20th Century. For the record, I have nothing against Jung since I believe that he laid the groundwork for my own view of “how tarot works.” I recently responded to an online query about my own approach with the following broadside:
“I’m not entirely Jungian in my approach (I call myself “half-mad-scientist and half-mystic” with a 60% analytical and 40% intuitive divination style — although I don’t use the word “intuition,” preferring inspiration, imagination and ingenuity in the service of storytelling), and I don’t think tarot is especially good at psychological profiling (I much prefer natal astrology for that). But when I use a psychological approach it is Jungian since I think the personal subconscious holds the key to the knowledge we gain, and the Collective Unconscious is most likely the reservoir the subconscious taps into.”
These days I practice divination mostly for my own intellectual gratification, and to give my post-retirement surplus of idle mental horsepower something to chew on. Having been forced away from my public reading venues by COVID and having no great love for online engagement with clients, I now mainly run in “laboratory mode,” thinking, writing and ginning up new ways to reinterpret and apply the traditional canon, which I share in this blog and the occasional magazine article. While this is rewarding in its own right, I do miss the opportunity to relate to others in a “helping” capacity, even if it only means scratching an existential itch they bring to me for consideration.