TAROT IN A MODERN SETTING
This book is intended to be totally unlike all other books on the Tarot. Most books work on the assumption that there is a definitive meaning of the Tarot to be found somewhere; if the book is honest it will add that the meanings given in the book are the generally accepted ones, but it will still have been written on the assumption that somewhere are to be found the real meanings. Perhaps the real meanings are in the possession of a small esoteric group, hidden from the general public; perhaps the real meanings are lost in time. But somewhere they exist, or have existed, and once they are found, then any reasonably intelligent person can use the cards to find out everything. The few books that don't assume this, merely omit to tell you that fact; the author simply tells you what the meanings are, usually by the aid of a special system derived from, say, the Egyptians.
This book is an attempt to set down in writing a series of lectures, discussions, demonstrations and games which were conducted for the purpose of teaching ordinary people what the Tarot can be about. As I will explain later in the book, the study of the Tarot and the struggle to understand it is in fact a method of self-development of the psyche. Such a development cannot take place without objective guidance from an outside teacher, in the same way that Freudian analysis cannot be undertaken except by someone who has been analysed in the past. The actual meaning of the cards is not very important, nor are the spreads in which they are used (spreads are the patterns in which the cards are laid out during a reading). The important things are the way in which the meanings are obtained, and the manner in which the cards are used. The problem then arises that it is easy to set out the meanings of the cards, and the pattern of the spreads, whereas it is much more difficult to set out learning methods which are applicable to each individual in turn. It is easier to present facts than to change people's behaviour or thoughts. Nonetheless, however difficult, I shall try just this once.
I will go a little further into why it is difficult to write a book which will teach the use of Tarot. When we have to learn facts, these facts may be set out on paper in the form of a list, numbered, and with an illustration of the purpose to which each fact can be put. The list is memorized, the exam is taken, and that is that. But when we try to change someone's behaviour, we need to arrange for 'feedback' from the pupil to the teacher. When the pupil shows signs of having misunderstood the matter being taught, the teacher rephrases it till the pupil does understand. It is also important that the teacher can see whether the pupil has reached that stage in his development at which the material can be taken in. The situation of the pupil will restrict the type and amount of information he can absorb; the teacher has to allow for this, and so on. Teaching the use of the Tarot is not a matter of setting out facts, but is in essence a way of getting people to look at the facts they already know, and in a different way.
I therefore have to imagine all the different people who will come across this book, in all their different stages of development, and write down my ideas so that they will apply to all. So you, the reader, will read this book at a time when it may be of very little relevance; you may understand it very differently from what I intended. Bear this in mind when you read it; if it doesn't work for you, or you get impatient, put it aside and return to it in a few years time, or when you are feeling in a different mood. Just don't push matters.
Tarot cards and fortunetelling have been associated for many centuries. When we think of the Tarot, we think of Gypsies or strange gentlemen in clothing decorated with mystic symbols. Books mention it as part of the plot, or describe it as part of the colourful background of fairs and circuses. Most of us, at some time or other, have seen a sign offering us the opportunity of learning about our future; usually when we go in there is an old lady who grabs our palm, looks at us closely, and starts muttering about a dark gentleman who is to cross our path, or a journey across the water, perhaps a fortune waiting for us. We think of fortunetelling as a way of predicting events that will come to pass in the future.
But the same event may happen to two different people, and mean something totally different. A tall dark handsome stranger crossing the path of a respectably married lady is different, to an alarming degree, from the same prediction applied to a young girl of sixteen. Similarly, the same event could happen to the same people at different times in their lives to produce totally different reactions:
When the doctor had finished his examination, he smiled and remarked, 'Mrs. Smith, I have some good news for you.' Upon her responding that she was a Miss, and not a Mrs., he changed that to: 'Miss Smith, I have some bad news for you.'
We can say that the exoteric use of the Tarot is to foretell what will happen to the Querent, but the esoteric way is to predict what it will mean to him. The meaning it has for the Querent also allows us to predict how he will react to events, and what his feelings will be.
The Tarot certainly can be used for predicting the future. Its accuracy will depend on how accurately and objectively we see the present and the past; if we knew the complete past down to every tiny detail, and all the facts and feelings of the present, then we could predict the future with complete accuracy. For instance, we see a child holding a large ball on the ground at the top of a hill; the child lets go of the ball, and we can predict that it will fall down to the foot of the hill. Real problems in the world which cause worry to real people are usually much more complicated, and so we are tempted to say that we cannot see the whole situation, and hence we cannot predict. But, in fact the picture of the boy holding the ball on top of the hill is incomplete. We have ignored the colour of the sky, the day of the week, and the type of clothes the boy is wearing. They are not pertinent to the problem, and we have left them out for that reason. In the same way, if we take only those facts which are relevant to the problem, then the whole problem becomes much simpler to solve.
Tarot provides a way of selecting only the facts which have a bearing on the problem. The decision as to which facts are relevant, and which can be ignored, is taken at a level beyond our conscious control; we have no access to this point in ourselves and are, in fact, unaware of the process. When we ask a question through the Tarot, this mystic part of us will release the answer, but it will not tell us how it arrived at this answer. The rationalist will therefore reject the answer, rather like a school teacher who will not accept the result of a sum, however correct, unless the pupil can show how he got there. But in the real life of our everyday experiences we know that very often obtaining good results using a rule of thumb method is better than totally correct results obtained through correct academic usage.
A good example is to be found when learning a foreign language. I spent six years learning French, often two or three hours a week making a total of 600 hours or four months. At the end of this I could hardly write enough correct French to pass an exam, and I certainly couldn't write a letter to anybody. We were given vocabularies to learn, the declensions of verbs, grammatical procedure; all our translated sentences were marked, with one point lost for each mistake. Accuracy, total faultless academic accuracy, was all. About my fourth year or so, a French visitor came to stay with my parents who very kindly relieved me of some of the pressure caused by too much homework. I copied her French exercises accurately in my own fair hand, only to receive them back from the teacher with far more mistakes annotated than I ever made. Also, about this time I discovered that although I was translating uninteresting stories about the Family Dubois, and still getting very mediocre marks, I could read a French newspaper, and understand most of it. Gradually it dawned on me that the very precision demanded at school was in fact preventing me from learning to speak and understand French.
The best way to learn French is to use it, however badly and clumsily. The more you use it, the more often you have a chance to pick up correct usage through osmosis, the way children learn to speak a language. Eventually you will get to be accurate 95% of the time without ever quite knowing how that came about. The area beyond our control knows the rules and tells the hand or mouth the correct decisions. If you don't believe that, look at the word 'ambiguity' and repeat it perhaps thirty or forty times, trying to vary the pronunciation. Now try to write it down. The same applies to any word which we make a conscious effort to spell correctly. In practice, most people just allow their hands to write it down without looking at the spelling; only when it looks wrong do they check.
The Tarot produces results in a similar way. How these are produced should not concern our conscious minds. We can, however, train our conscious mind to make better use of the work done by the mystic part of ourselves, and that is the purpose of training in the Tarot.
There is in fact much more to the Tarot. In ordinary fortunetelling we use the cards to give us an answer about the future. The esoteric system (I will explain later what 'esoteric' means) allows us to use the cards to answer many other types of question, and what is more, to suggest new ones. The ability to make use of the inherent powers of intuition is the reward given to those using the system; the ability to generate new questions the unique attribute. The Tarot can be used to help you come to terms with yourself, or to understand other people. If we can understand ourselves better, we have an opportunity to grow. If we understand other people better, we can build up better relationships.
The Tarot is a means of linking our conscious and our subconscious. The subconscious which knows and perceives all, and the conscious which is bewildered by events. We all have the gift of intuition, but most of us suppress it. This book will attempt to educate the conscious into giving the subconscious permission to do its work without hindrance. If you approach what is written with an open and receptive attitude, are prepared to do the work and exercises suggested, and are willing to consider new ideas, then there is no reason why you should not be able to use the Tarot cards.
The Tarot has always been used for 'fortunetelling' although in fact many traditional practitioners have used it for purposes which nowadays would be called psychotherapeutic. My purpose in setting up the lectures in the first place was to try to attract the attention of those professionally interested in the various forms of psychotherapy in the use of the Tarot.
The Tarot permits very quick 'fits' of character and problem analysis at considerable depth. By this I mean that we can obtain 95% accuracy at the first stab, rather in the way that most men can be fitted immediately with ready-to-wear clothes; it is only the occasional man who needs to have clothes especially tailored for him because his body size or proportions are so exceptional. Having clothes especially tailored takes time and is very expensive, and the difference between a good ready-to-wear and a cheap made-to-measure is very small. In everyday life we accept the cheaper alternative as perfectly reasonable. Similarly, there is no reason why the Tarot shouldn't be used in the vast majority of cases to arrive at insights which are correct for all ordinary purposes, rather than spend six months or a year to arrive at only marginally better ones.
Another analogy would be to compare the ease by which we can multiply the two numbers 56 and 79, and then divide by 26 if we use paper and pencil, or if we do it in our heads. First find paper and pencil, then multiply correctly, and lastly divide to get an accurate 170. But in our heads we say that 56 x 79 is almost the same as 55 x 80, or 110 x 40, which is obviously 4,400. 4,400 divided by 26 is almost the same as 4,400 divided by 25, and since the first number is a bit over, let the division be a little under. 4,400 divided by 25 is equal to 8,800 by 50 or 17,600 by 100, and that comes to 176. It looks complicated when set out on paper, but goes much more quickly in your head, and it is only 3% wrong. And don't tell me about pocket calculators; the type of mental calculations I have described above I do routinely so as to check that I haven't pressed a wrong button somewhere, or that the fragile temperamental thing hasn't missed an electron.
So, in a similar way, I am proposing the use of the Tarot as a rough and ready, but especially quick means to understanding other people in the professional way. Psychotherapy often takes a long term view; a proper psychoanalysis will take many years, and even everyday 'cosmetic' therapy may take six months or a year to get somewhere. This may not sound long, but often a patient or client comes when things are near a crisis, or have reached a climax; when a child or wife is being battered, a marriage breaking down, or a disturbed patient is bringing up very young and impressionable children, then by the time some results are reached in conventional therapy the damage to other people interacting with the patient may already have been done.
Lastly, the Tarot not only detects the problem in many cases, it also suggests the remedy in a way that is suitable to the particular person and their particular problem. This aspect of the Tarot is especially useful, since most psychotherapy takes the time not in finding the problem as far as the therapist is concerned, but in training the patient to see it him or herself.
All religions and most forms of learning have an esoteric and an exoteric side. You will have seen the word esoteric many times during the last few years, and probably associate it with words like magic, mystic, mysterious, etc. It actually has a very precise meaning; it is used to denote those parts of any body of knowledge which are to be told only to the initiated. The exoteric part of the religion can be told to everyone, but only if they promise to keep it secret will any person be told the esoteric part.
Obviously, this immediately raises the next question, which is why did certain parts have to be kept secret in the first place. The first possibility may be that the priests have an outlook on many matters which is in violent disagreement with the view held by the population as a whole, or perhaps just the ruling part. Often, the priest is better educated, more in touch with modern ideas, and may have liberal attitudes towards controversial ideas which would cause him to be killed or at least punished if they became generally known. That is the historical reason. But another reason is that many ideas can become powerful tools for people who understand them, but will be destructive or malign if presented to people who are not yet ready for them. A proper grasp of business practice and attitudes can be of great use to a grown man, but would be sad and perhaps a little unhealthy in a six-year-old boy. I have known very young children who went daily through their stamp collection reckoning up its value with the aid of a catalogue, and swapping these stamps with unsuspecting possessors of rare stamps. Similarly, while sex education may be thought necessary and even beneficial to young children, there is no need to discuss the sexual perversions of mentally disturbed adults mentioned in heavy medical tomes. All knowledge must come when the person acquiring it is prepared and can understand it in its context.
Originally this meant that a great part of any religion could be written about and discussed by anyone; if you felt that it appealed to you strongly, you might join the religion, and after a suitable period of training and probation you would be judged ready for initiation. At a special ceremony you would take an oath to keep the esoteric information secret, and then you would be told all that was felt to be suitable at that stage. Often there were a number of stages, and the initiate would ascend each in turn, till he reached the innermost sanctum. Because it was to be kept secret, it is difficult to know and find out about historical forms of esoteric knowledge; hence the association the word has with mysterious, magic, etc.
This book does not promise to provide esoteric knowledge of the Tarot, since to the best of my knowledge there is no secret religion or society of Tarot which readers can join if they are judged worthy to receive further knowledge. There is however a modern way of looking at the division between esoteric and exoteric, and this book will try to discuss the second way of looking at this difference.
If you have ever tried to explain how a motor car works to a three-year-old boy, you will come up against the fact that the things you as an adult know are extremely difficult to explain to someone who doesn't have a whole lot of facts at his fingertips. In fact, the three-year-old might not even want to know. James Thurber quotes a little girl returning a book about penguins to the library and complaining that the book in question had told her far more about penguins than she wished to know. Similarly, the little boy only wants to know that you press this button, turn that wheel, and that the pedal on the right makes the car go faster; many adults who are totally dependent on their car still wish to know only that. The knowledge of how to use the car might be likened to the exoteric, whilst the esoteric knowledge is made up of facts about gasflow diagrams, circuits, and gearwheel ratios. Most people are supremely indifferent to these facts; the knowledge is there for all to read in the libraries, but most people just cannot be bothered. Yet when the car goes wrong, they take it to a garage to get it fixed, since they don't understand all the technical bits. At the garage there are people who do understand cars; you might say they have esoteric knowledge. And it is in this sense that I can say that this book will provide esoteric knowledge; it contains facts and ideas that are available to anyone, but that not everyone would have the time and patience to gather and sift.
Although I have gathered facts and ideas which can be used by you to study, the actual pursuit will still demand a great deal of work from you. Not the work of memorizing, but the work involved in understanding parts of yourself, and changing your attitudes and preconceptions.