The “Science” of Tarot
Aleister Crowley said he pursued the “Aim of Religion” (by which I assume he meant spiritual enlightenment and not sacerdotal hegemony) using the “Method of Science” (he was clearly enamored of the scientific advances of his time, and much of the latter is on display in the Book of Thoth). Those tarot readers who don’t boast his outsized intellect must content themselves with adopting an analytical style that attempts to extract rational meaning from the cards in ways that stand up to critical examination. The modern age has veered strongly toward a more mystical mode of interpretation that relies on impressionistic guesswork (masquerading as intuition) more than fact. I’ve sometimes been criticized for my interest in the demonstrable accuracy of divination when a more informal, freestyle “feel-good” approach is favored by the masses. I like the cards to make sense to me before I spring them on my clients, and on-the-fly personal visions are not my first choice for meaningful communication. Being a “seer” doesn’t have to mean being a “fabricator of evidence” just to make a point or fill a void in the conversation. If the results won’t withstand empirical scrutiny, why bother in the first place?
The danger in this conservative technique lies in becoming entirely too clinical when interpreting the cards and relying wholly on a knowledge-based vocabulary that loses much of the narrative “juice” that makes tarot reading so compelling. This is where the art of the raconteur comes into play. My own motto might very will be “The Aim of Inspiration, the Method of Storytelling.” These stories are mainly artifacts of my memory rather than made-up scenarios of my own device, or at least they originate as such and I might embellish them with my own imaginative contributions. Like any seasoned chef, I often begin with the “stock” recipe and flavor it according to the whims of the moment, but I seldom stray too far from the profile laid out by tradition (a gumbo that tastes like bouillabaisse just won’t work). Ultimately, “book learning” takes a back seat to ingenuity but it’s always there as a safety net when my creativity falters.
The “science” of a particular reading usually begins with a few broad brushstrokes of conventional wisdom for each card from my keyword inventory (which after fifty years of practice includes both standard definitions and those derived from long experience). After that, to jump-start the conversational exchange, I often trot out one of my “tarot euphemisms,” previously posted here:
This is usually in the form of a vivid metaphor or analogy that serves to put some suggestive flesh on the bare skeleton of the rudimentary interpretation. The idea is to stimulate recognition and acceptance by the sitter of the insights offered by the opening statements. From there I link the narrative vignettes into a coherent chain of thought leading to a convincing conclusion. Like Joseph Maxwell, I strive “to verify with the enquirer at each step if the (plot) is taking the right path.” Maxwell goes on to say “Coming events cast a shadow before them; each individual has a presentiment about his own destiny, which may remain latent: the normal processes of consciousness do not include such presentiments.” For my own use I generalize this observation into “Subconsciously, they know better than I do what the reading is about, they just aren’t aware of it yet.” My job is to clue them in. The role of intuition in my practice is limited to playing off the querent’s interjections to take the thrust of the reading in a direction that I might not have explored otherwise. As I like to say, the best readings are dialogues and not monologues, and together the reader and seeker can both learn something valuable from the interaction. As an anecdotal “diagnostician-without-portfolio” (technically, “professional imagineer” may be more precise nomenclature) I’m always open to fresh avenues of inquiry.
Originally published at http://parsifalswheeldivination.wordpress.com on July 12, 2022.