Regardless of one’s belief or doubt concerning their authenticity and practical use, Tarot cards have a hazy and entrancing beauty. I have two decks at home that I often thumb through and randomly arrange in front of me for no purpose other than simple carnal pleasure. I won’t say that I disbelieve – that is too precise – it’s more that I don’t care either way and am instead satisfied with their existence and aesthetic enjoyment.
Like many people who have experimented with such things, I’ve had some interesting, and so far unexplained, experiences that are reason enough for me to leave all possibilities open. Anecdotal evidence is often compromised by personal preference and preconception so I offer nothing of my own experiences by way of actual proof. Instead, I will draw attention to the correlation between Tarot and other mechanisms that are known to provide catharsis, awakening or psychic-change.
Jacob Moreno is attributed with the development of psycho-drama techniques in psychology, largely expanding on Freud’s pioneering work in psychoanalysis. And while l must freely acknowledge my overall dislike for Freud’s work – not because it is necessarily invalid but because it’s taken so long for us to shed the obsession he began – he nonetheless did, with Moreno and others, discover a valuable mechanism. Psycho-drama, in its many variants, has become a defining part of our human experience.
It is easy to write such things off as play-acting or the manifestation of psychosomatic phenomena but I think this is to underestimate the influence that action has upon thinking. Through actions comes awareness comes catharsis comes change. Thinking alone often fails to produce the needed momentum for significant change whereas action (when repeated ad nauseum) is the main ingredient of momentum and thus change. This idea can now be seen in modern therapy practices such as Acceptance Commitment Therapy which incorporates both action and mindfulness.
Seen in this context, Tarot has all the elements needed to act as a mechanism for personal insight. Much like therapy it works when the user engages with the mechanism by choice and with the intention of being open to the process. There are many other examples of this kind of relational engagement like the use of ritual magic, meditation and religious practices. An argument can be made that it doesn’t actually matter if these techniques or beliefs are real per se, but just that the participant is able to engage with enough disbelief to access the mechanism and thus, to open a channel into their own insights. It is the mechanism which gives the user full license to suspend the usual barriers to their subconscious feelings, thoughts and beliefs, creating the possibility of new awareness, awakening and significant change. Interestingly, Anton LaVey, who began the Church of Satan, knew this well and utilized it in the church’s magic rituals which he freely admitted were more ‘psycho-drama’ than real magic.
Many of us modern humans don’t like the idea of ritualistic ‘play-acting’ or relational psycho-drama mechanisms, feeling perhaps that they are the masters of their own psyche and above the need for such primitive sideshow magic tricks. Personally, I quite like the novelty of Tarot cards and find some gypsy-carnival comfort in their showy occult imagery.
tarot image source: tarotverbatim.com
freud image source: www.theguardian.com
woody allen still source: www.bbc.co.uk