Sunday, March 21, 2010

Tool of the Devil or the Divine

A "Chick Tract" was shoved into my door yesterday.  I rolled my eyes and showed it to Mike.  "What is that?" he asked.
    "A Chick Tract, " I said. He looked at me quizzically.
    "What is that?" he asked again.
    "It's a Christian proselytizing cartoon that usually attempts to scare one into church.  I hate them because they're really dumb and if one thinks fear is the basis for anything resembling faith, they are sorely mistaken.  Plus, they're insulting.  I dunno, these things have always bothered me, even when I was a fundamentalist Christian.  I've always thought they were wrong."  Mike took a look at the cartoon.  It featured a guy in a car talking to a preacher saying, "Listen Preacher! I've got lots of time before accepting Christ as my Saviour, I'm gonna have  good time first!"  The second frame shows the car wrecked on the side of the highway with the warning: "Death Strikes Without Warning."  Whatever.  It irked me.  I know I should just let little irritations like this go, and I do eventually, but I feel a need to spout a bit about it first.

Lately, several of my friends have felt the need to chide me in some way for my current faith status or what they perceive as my lack thereof.  I've had people ask me what has happened to me, don't I love God anymore? I've had others tell me to contact them when I want back in the light.  Still another said she felt "so sorry" for me because my children self-identify as "agnostic."  Most of the comments are related in some way to my tarot practice.  I am told the cards have power but not the right kind of power.  It's clear these folks believe I'm dabbling in the dangerous and need to change my ways.    What is also clear to me is that they attribute a whole lot more influence and power to these cardboard images than I do.  I don't think they are the only ones to do that.  Not only fundamentalist Christians think these cards are more powerful than they really are.  Some tarot practitioners do, too.

While my friends comments may be well intentioned, they are in fact, ignorant on many levels.  For one, they are not privy to my spiritual beliefs, my ongoing relationship with the Divine, nor my thoughts on the subject.  They make assumptions based on very superficial observations.  They also display ignorance about tarot.  Though they disappoint me on the first, I don't blame them for the latter.  There is a lot of myth and mystery surrounding tarot both in the religious and secular realms.  A lot of authority is granted these cards than is truly warranted.  They are but a tool and their use depends on the one in whose hands they lie.

For me, they are a tool first and foremost of strengthening my intuition.  Secondly, they are a divination tool.  My reading style does not invoke deity but relies instead on tapping into a shared consciousness of all human beings.  I'm not even sure I believe in a universal unconscious, but I don't really know what else to call it.  I do believe in energy and connectivity of such, so I know that we are all connected to one another and to the planet and even into the universe.  I don't think we know what to do with all of that energy but I know it exists.  So when I divine with the cards, I believe I am connecting subconsciously into that network via my intuitive process.  But sometimes, particularly when I am reading for myself, I am simply connecting to my own subconscious and dredging up useful information there.  Hence the title of my blog: 78 Notes To Self.  These cards help my self exploration and also remind me of things I already know but have forgotten. 

The way I use the cards is in no way the only way or the proper way or the recommended way.  Others incorporate the cards in their religious faith, in spellwork, in ritual, in communing with deity they worship or work with.  Candles, too, are used in many religions.  Lighting a candle while saying a prayer or casting a spell is common.  They are but a tool, an expression of one's faith.  Candles, likewise, can be used in completely non-religious ways to light a room, scent a room, warm a dinner table.  Tarot cards can be used in such ways as well.  They can be used in religious and non-religious ways, it depends on who is using them.

Perhaps the cards make my friends nervous because they've been told they are tools of the devil or some variation of that.  They seem to believe that some kind of power is naturally inherent in the cards themselves or that because they have been used for religious purposes that don't align with their own, they are natural "gateways" or "stepping stones" toward demonic or other dealings with entities not sanctioned by their God.  To me, that belief seems immature and foolish.  It would be like saying candles, too, because of their use in non-Christian ritual, are inherently evil, or because Wiccans use athames, all knives are tainted.  It's as if they think the cards are inhabited by spiritual beings just waiting for some hapless dummy like myself to open the gates to hell.

Christians will often point to the story of Saul who consulted a medium and was corrected by God for doing so as reason enough to condemn divination.  And yet, in order to decide who would serve tables, Jesus' apostles drew straws to see who got the short end of the stick, believing that it was God who controlled the choice.  Besides, Christians like to intuit all the time only they call it relying on the Holy Spirit.  Honestly, I have no quarrel with those who have concluded for themselves that tarot cards represent too much of a temptation and would personally steer clear of them, but their own dear Apostle Paul made it clear that no item in and of itself is clean or unclean and one should have no fear of spiritual contamination by their use.  He only cautioned that we should bear with the weaknesses of others who aren't as confident in their faith and feel they must abstain.  So I'm finding it difficult not to roll my eyes, but it is I that needs to chill.  I wouldn't expect my Christian friends to participate in a tarot reading but it still irks me when they express that I'm dabbling in darkness because of it.

But what about those who actually use tarot cards and still think they are uber-powerful?  I must admit I'm confused about the statement that "the cards never lie" and how they always know best.   Personally, I've seen the cards lie and every reading I've done has not resonated with wisdom.  Those folks would say the fault lies with the reader, not the cards.  Well, no shit. I can find no fault in an inanimate object that is merely the tool of the user.   But the cards are also random and sometimes come up with wildly random readings.  I've tested the cards and asked them if I was wearing blue when I am clearly not wearing blue and the cards have affirmed that I am indeed wearing blue.  To this we hear, "Don't test the cards."  I'm sorry, but that's akin to elevating them to divine intelligence and much like saying, "Thou shalt not test the Lord your God."  Go ahead, test the cards and I bet you will find what I found:  they're just cards.  They can't tell you anything in and of themselves.  They need you, a reader, an intelligent, intuitive human being to decipher the messages.

Tarot cards are a tool.  How you use them depends entirely on how you use them, to what purpose, to what end.  I wouldn't recommend ascribing any more authority to them than to any other useful item.  It would be like saying my pen has a mind of its own and what I write is not sourced from my own mind but from some other divine source. My writing may be inspired by the divine or it may not, but it certainly comes from me.  The same is true for tarot reading.  The cards are the tool through which a reader can express intuition and wisdom, divinely inspired or not.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Intuition and Making Shit Up

What is this thing we call Intuition?  So many, including myself, urge tarot novices to rely on this intangible concept, that "other knowing" "gut feeling" "flash" that some label psychic and others intuition, but what if you stare at the cards and see nothing but pretty, or not so pretty, pictures?  No flash, no nothing?   You rely on the ascribed meanings, you read the cards by rote, but what if you can't see or feel or sense or intuit anything else?  That's pretty much the way things started for me.  I loved these interesting cards, but the pictures on them told no story, whispered no secrets.   Beyond the varied assigned meanings to each card, I had no idea what the cards were supposed to be "saying" because for me they were mute fanciful images.

I don't do as well with pictures as I do with words.  I graduated early from picture books to novels because words always told a better tale for me.  Picture books frustrated me for their lack of detail and dialogue.  While I love fine art for the beauty and capturing a moment, they are for me like snapshots, frozen timeframe. A still picture doesn't provoke much in me but questions.  Little did I know then that those questions were precisely the place to start listening.

Take, for example, the 5 of Cups.  The image is sad, no doubt.  The shrouded figure, the sloped shoulders and bowed head all denote palpable regret and grief.   Even the Thoth shows five empty cups labeled "Disappointment."  While I understood the card's meaning -- loss but with something remaining, inheritance but not as one had expected -- and the image makes that obvious, I wanted to know more.  What happened that made the cups spill?  Did the figure knock them over himself, or did someone else do it?  What was in the cups that would provoke such intense sadness?  Were the contents of the three downed cups more important than the upright two?  Why? And why is everyone so quick to point out those standing cups and not incline themselves to empathize with the grieving?  Does the card make us that uncomfortable?  Is the grief so tangible that we want to so quickly move towards looking on the bright side?  As I began reading for others, these questions became crucial in my understanding the unattributed meanings of each card.  By "unattributed" I am speaking of the meanings that are gleaned in each individual reading that is specific to that reading and not the general meaning that is always (or most of the time) true of the card itself.

So I would look at the card and these questions would arise.  I sit for a moment with the questions and if nothing comes to my mind in answer, I might ask the querant these same questions.  What happened to cause the sadness you now feel?  Why was this loss so significant to you?  You're having a hard time looking past it, right?  You try to let go and move on, but it's just so difficult.  Having a hard time finding your way "home" are you?  These wonderful cards provoke questions more than give answers and these questions are key to finding our own answers within ourselves.  Use these unbidden, curious questions to tap into the answers your intuition can relay.  Don't be hesitant to ask your querant, also, because interaction makes for a much better reading experience.  I have learned so much and been so enriched by the stories my clients tell of their experiences and struggles.  They have answered questions I didn't know I had until I read for them.  I learn a little more about these tarot cards each time I read for someone because the questions the cards provoke in me are specific to their situation and so are a bit different each time.

One tarot exercise I found early on has you lay out three cards and tell a story with the cards, beginning, middle, and end.  I couldn't do it.  Like picture books lacked a certain flow for me, so did the cards.  It's a good exercise, and I can do it better today than I could then -- my imaginative and intuitive muscles are stronger now -- it just didn't do much then but frustrate me.  It frustrated me in part because I was trying to fit the ascribed meaning to the cards in a flow of a story instead of just looking at the images and imagining the connections between them.  But the other part was just that I wasn't very good at telling a story beyond the very simple and I wasn't satisfied with that.  I wanted more, much more, as I had seen and heard other tarotists read the cards, and my simplistic tales lacked so much that I just said fuggetaboutit and moved on.

If, like me, you find yourself in a similar block, move to the questions.  Look at the images and ask yourself about them.  Find out what happened to create this snapshot.  Make up shit.  That's good reading right there! Pull it right out of your hindparts! Seriously!  Don't be afraid to play, to make shit up, to fantasize and wonder, to spin yarns and knot them, unravel them again and find out through it all what this card is telling you.  It's great practice and they don't call them exercises for nothing.  This sort of thing strengthens your intuitive abilities and allows them to roam around unchecked, like children playing in an open field.  It's good for children and it's good for your intuition.

Another reason this type of exercise is great is because there is no "right" or "wrong" interpretation.  There's no second guessing yourself to check if you got it right or if you're accurate or not.  It's just a story.  That's all.  And when you realize that all our lives are just a story, that each situation a querant comes to you with is just a story,  then you become a better storyteller even if you never could tell one before.

I now recognize when my intuition is kicking in.  It's when my rational mind in my left brain chides the fanciful  right side of my brain, "Now you're just making shit up."  Whenever I hear that I know I've hit on something. That party pooper, my left brain, was the bane of my readings for a while.  I would listen to it and not to the other side that apparently knew what it was talking about.  Enough feedback from clients told me to freaking LISTEN to that storyteller part of me, particularly when  the rational side of me protested, because that rational side is a bit of a control freak and doesn't like uppity right brain interference even when correct.  Other tarot friends encouraged me, "Stop second guessing! What's your immediate interpretation? NOW! What do you see?" Don't give yourself time to "interpret," go with that first impression.  The more time you give your left brain, the more control it will take and the less intuitive your reading will be.  I'll never understand readers who say they stew over a reading for days.  WTF? I can't give my logical left brain that much time or it will totally fuck things up.  So make shit up, I say!  You'll be astounded at how very right that shit is.
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