Carol gave me the Three of Cups yesterday because I was such a mess on Friday. And then do you know what happened? I went dancing! I received an invitation last night to go out and see my favorite local band and danced my booty off. This is one of the things I really love about tarot, the layers of meanings in the cards, from the literal to the metaphorical. While Carol's intention of giving me that card was clearly a way of expressing her friendship and support to me, little did she (or I, for that matter) know that it was a literal prediction, or prescription perhaps, to remedy my state of mind.
There is a dance we do among the meanings when we look at a card, a mental and emotional dance that, as a tarot beginner, feels awkward and out-of synch at first, but which becomes easier and more fluid the longer we work with the cards. I remember becoming very frustrated with the dance when I first started learning the card meanings because there seemed to be so many different choices, how was I to know which one to choose? I could look at the Three of Cups and see, literally, a get-together with women friends, or metaphorically a supportive environment, feeling at one with humanity, friendship, or caring. As I stumbled through the dance steps of tarot reading, I would become frustrated and wonder how I was ever going to actually read these cards. This was a new dance and I felt so out of step with the music. In fact, I couldn't even hear the music at first.
I think my initial stumbling was natural, of course, as one doesn't learn to tango simply by looking at a chart of steps in a book, but by actually getting up on your feet and dancing, rather badly at first. To music. Which isn't to say the diagrams aren't helpful, they can be. Books about reading tarot are helpful, too. But reading cards by the book is not reading the cards any more than mimicking dance steps on a chart is actually dancing. I mean, does that feel like dancing to you? I'll tell you what feels like dancing to me: when I become so caught up in the music that my body responds so naturally and fluidly to the sound that there is very little thought put into my movements. It's trancelike and it feels right. There's a similar "zone" to tarot reading, when you're feeling your way through the images and while you are intimately familiar with the traditional meanings, you have practiced the "steps," you become carried off on the waves of imagery and feel which combination of meanings is right for this reading, for this dance.
I'm sure you've heard the encouragement to "dance like no one's watching." Well, read tarot like that, too. Shut off the internal critic. Dare to stumble and get it "wrong." Be foolish and say the first thing that comes to mind, even if it's something nonsensical to you like, "I'm thinking rutabaga here, have no idea why." Go out on limbs and read tarot like that. Oh sure, you'll stumble. You'll miss a beat. The music might fool you and you'll go left when you should have gone right. Yes. That will happen. Stepping on toes is part of the process. But I danced barefoot last night in a crowd of drunken people fully understanding the risk. I got up there when no one else was dancing and danced alone. Like no one was watching.
Illustration from the Lover's Path Tarot. U.S. Games Systems, Inc., Stamford, CT 06902 USA. Copyright 2004 by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.