Post of the Day: Tarot Cards and Psychology

[Note: This post was previously published at Slacktiverse.]

I use tarot. Not all the time, mostly on holidays, usually on the Wiccan sabbats. There are eighty-zillion tarot interpretations in books and online; I use the reference at Aeclectic Tarot whenever I have a question for a card I don’t see often. Because I am a ridiculously geeky gamer, I use the Russian Tarot of St. Petersburg; it was used in a Roberta Williams’ game and it is gorgeous in its own right.

There are a lot of misconceptions about the tarot and how people use them. For myself, no, I do not believe that the tarot show me some set-in-stone future, because I believe the future is whatever we make it. Instead, I use the tarot to show me what I think the future will be, and what I would like it to be, and what I need to do to bridge the gap between those two things.

What is the focus? A card in the center, with meanings attached to it. Who does this remind me of? Is it a situation I am grappling with? Where does my mind go when I see this card? The many possible meanings of the card present a rorschach from which to pull forth a subject: a person, a problem, something burdening my mind. Find that focus, and hold onto it.

What is its past? Two more cards, with meanings attached to them. How do these meanings provoke my memories of the person or situation or problem? With guidance from the cards, I’m stimulated to look at things in a different light from before, to break out of the historical narrative I’m used to and look for different ways to understand the past. If you understand something’s past, you can understand how to change its future.

What is its present? Two more cards; two more meanings. How do they intersect with my understanding of the focus object? What is my current relationship with it? If it is a person, how do they perceive me; if it is a situation, how does it affect me? Shuffling through card meanings prompts re-examination, forces me out of old ruts of thinking. I’ve been thinking about it thus, it is possible that it is more like this or that?

What is its future? Two more cards come out. Where do I see this future going, if things remain the way they are? Why do I view it that way? Is this an outcome that will make me happy? Are there alternative, equally-likely outcomes that I am missing? What can I do to change this outcome to one that might be better for everyone involved? How can I expect more out of myself? How can I expect better behavior from everyone around me? How can I communicate my needs, and how can I respect the needs of others?

Critics of tarot often point out that the cards have so many meanings and so many combinations that they can ultimately mean anything you want them to mean. They would probably be surprised to hear that I agree with them! When you see the cards not as Harry-Potter-magic-seeing-stones! and instead view them as guided psychology for self-examination and reflection, then flexibility of meaning becomes a plus rather than a minus. I’m not locked in to One True Meaning; instead, the door is open for me to see things in many different lights. In this way, I try to jar myself out of the daily rut of thinking and into a space where I can see things better: people and problems from a different point of view, hopefully with empathy and understanding.

I believe the future is what we make it, and tarot is a tool that helps me build that future.

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