78 Notes to Self: A Tarot Journal

We are all wanderers on this earth. Our hearts are full of wonder, and our souls are deep with dreams.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Tarot Bones
I've said it before and I'll say it again:  Tarot cards do not mean anything and everything you think they might mean. There is a foundational framework of symbolism that has been collectively accepted and agreed upon by human culture over space, time, and history.

There seems to be a certain hesitancy in social tarot groups to tell someone they goofed, they got it wrong, they missed something when they state their take on a particular card.  While there is a whole wide area of wiggle room within the confines of that framework, there is a framework.  They are the bones of tarot over which everything else rests, is connected to, grows and moves.  If you remove the bones you are left with a blob of inert, gloopy stuff that doesn't hold together very well.

So don't tell me the Ace of Swords is about passion without logic, or that the 2 of Cups is about taking a gym class with a friend.  No.  Just no.  While the Ace does contain energetic passion and the 2 is about duality and togetherness, the suit characteristics were mixed up.  Wrong.

The problem arises when someone has the cajones to say, "Hey, I don't think that's quite accurate," and are met with predictable nonsense about how tarot card meanings are not "set in stone" and can mean anything to anybody and we all see things differently but equally valid. Nope. If your interpretation isn't tied by even the finest thread to the bones of tarot, your interpretation is invalid.

The bones of the Minor Arcana are the suit and the number or member of court. That isn't too hard or restrictive.  Hard, cold steel of the Swords does not equate to illogical, firey passion of a burning brand (Wand) but to precise facts.  Flowing liquid in Cups cannot be held in one's hand like a Pentacle.  These are the basics and the basis of tarot interpretation and just make sense. 

HOWEVER --- (disclaimer time) --- There are people who read cards in just this formless, boneless way and they read beautifully.  I am not negating this style of divination.  The cool thing about this style is one doesn't even need a tarot deck.  Any image or collection of images will work.  Oracle decks are wonderfully suited for this sort of reading. There are no rules, there is no framework, one simply allows intuition to guide and bubble up meaningful connections and phrases and ideas and so forth.  It's a tremendously useful way to strengthen one's intuition and learn to trust it and hone it.

But if you're setting about reading tarot then read tarot and don't try and serve up some oracular mishmash and claim it's because the meanings are not "set in stone" and "that's the beauty of tarot."  Yes, there are some meanings set in stone and no, pulling something contradictory to those foundational meanings is not beautiful, it's tripe.  See, if a singular tarot card can mean anything to anyone then there is no way you can teach what you know about tarot.  Because you don't know anything until you are faced with a question and a card that has changed its meaning based on the situation.  You can certainly coach others to use this same talent, to draw meaning from images relevant to the client's situation, but you aren't teaching tarot.  You are helping them develop their intuitive skill.  Different.

If one does not assign meaning to any particular card, suit, number, court, etc. then fine, but that's not tarot reading.  That's divining with a tarot deck, and there's nothing wrong with that, but I'm drawing this line for reasons of clarity because I'm tired, so tired, of the argument among tarot readers that the cards can mean anything to anyone at any time.  I think maybe we confuse our intuitive flashes with reading tarot because they happen often while reading tarot.  Those flashes are cool and often strikingly accurate but they don't change the foundational meaning of the card for the next reading.  The bones are the starting point and the body that each reader fleshes out from the bones to the outer layer of skin will fluctuate and change depending on the conditions, but the bones don't change.  Your understanding of them will deepen as you learn, but they will always be what they are and placed where they belong or the tarot reading will not run, walk, or move.

Sometimes we'll get stumped on a card because what we know about a situation (the flesh) or what we are getting intuitively (also flesh) does not appear to fit well over the bones. Good tarot readers don't discard the bones because the flesh doesn't seem to fit.  A good tarot reader digs deeper to see how the flesh connects, finds the sinews, ligaments and muscle fibers that latch to the bone.

Get digging.  Find the connective tissue. That's tarot reading.