The fact is that even the thought of writing about
using the tarot makes me just a little queasy--not because I have anything
against the tarot, but because of the powerful information the cards can unlock.
Not long after I moved to Virginia Beach, Virginia years ago, I went to a
dinner party. After dinner, one of my friends said causally, "Sure. Jean
knows how to read the tarot. Maybe she'll do some readings for us."
After an unsuccessful attempt to back out gracefully, to say I was just a
novice at card reading, I allowed myself to be seated at the table with my old
A.E. Waite deck and BAHM! Sure enough, the first couple I read the cards for was
in deep trouble. He was having an affair; she didn't know it. Great. I bumbled
my way through the rest of the evening, trying not to say what I really saw, and
left as soon as possible.
The problem with the tarot is that people don't think it will work.
And it doesn't, not really. We are the ones who do the work. The tarot, like
many other tools, is what is called a method of divination. This is a fancy term
for getting in touch with information which we generally may not access.
One of the first English scholars of the twentieth century to study the Tarot
was a man by the name of Alfred Edward Waite. As you can see from the story
above, I prefer to use the deck Waite created over any of the innumerable other
decks which have been created, because Waite was a scholar of religious
symbolism, mysticism, and the Kabbalah. The deck he developed along with Pamela
Coleman Smith draws on their mutual understanding of Judaeo-Christian symbolism,
as well as the more ancient history of these symbols. Because of this, even the
most minute detail of the Waite deck (sometimes referred to as The Rider/Waite
Tarot) is steeped in symbolism and can be counted on to trigger images and
ideas, even for those who know nothing of the tarot.
This is not to say that other tarot decks, of which there are many, have no
importance, but only that I prefer the Waite deck because each card contains a
picture (untrue in some of the older tarots), and because the imagery contained
in these pictures is easy for me to access because of my own background. There
are several tarot decks of more recent origin than the Waite deck which
emphasize different symbols: the feminist tarot; Robin Woods' more fantasy
oriented deck, and the occult deck developed by Alestair Crowley, to name a few.
Waite claims that the word tarot comes from the Egyptian, in which language
Tar equals way or road and Ro means king or royal. For this reason, the tarot is
sometimes called the Royal Road.
Whether or not this is an accurate statement about the origin of the tarot,
we know at the very least that the tarot dates back to the late thirteen
hundreds when the painter Charles Gringoneer created some cards for Charles VI,
the King of France. It is rumored that the European Gypsies (known also as Gyps
or Egyptians) carried the mystical traditions of ancient Egypt in these cards
which, with the exception of the twenty two cards called the Major Arcana,
ultimately developed into today's playing cards.
SOMETHING TO DO WITH DREAMS
For the purpose of divination, the tarot is generally laid in what is called
a spread. There are a number of these, used for different purposes, the most
common of which is known as the Celtic Cross.
But for working with dreams, such a spread is not necessary. What I would
like to do over the next few months us discuss a variety of ways that the tarot
can be used to help us better understand ourselves and our dreams.
For this month's exercise, let me suggest something I have used to good
effect in dream groups I've conducted. It is something you could try alone, as
well, or with a group of friends interested in dreams. This method is very close
to what Sigmund Freud labeled free association and works well even for people
who have never seen a tarot card in their entire lives.
I suggest that the group form a circle on the floor, not for any occult
reasons, but simply because it is easier for everyone to reach the cards.
Put the cards in the middle of the circle, and let everyone shuffled them,
spread them around like you did when you were kids and used to play Go Fish.
Then each person draws a card, leaving it face down on the floor.
One by one, going around the circle, let people turn over their cards and
explore them for personal meaning, looking on the card as if it were a dream.
For the Jungians who read this article, let me say that I have seen a great
many people, some of whom are entirely unfamiliar with the tarot, exclaim over
the synchronicity of the symbols. "Yes, that's the issue I've been dreaming
about." "Oh, look at that lion. It looks just like my cat who is
Even for people who have some understanding of the traditional meaning of the
tarot's symbolism, it is useful to approach this exercise with a new eye, to
talk about the feelings engendered by the card rather than to fall back on what
someone has said the card means. This could be likened to the difference between
interpreting our own dream symbols and using Zolar's Dream Dictionary.
Looking at the individual card as a dream, with personal significance, lends
itself well to the Rev. Jeremy Taylor's well known exercise, "If This Were
My Dream." This exercise allows others to comment about the dream (or
card), but only from the perspective of each of us owning our own personal
perspectives or perceptions. I once watched two friends, one of whom had drawn
The Star, and the other who had drawn The Fool, first remark, independently, how
they hated their own card and loved the other and then touch deeply on the
qualities they saw in one another.
This is only one way in which the tarot can be used to work with dreams.
There are many more to explore. Also, if you have used a dream technique with
the tarot which you would like to share, why not post the message on the message
board? Dreams are the realm of imagery and symbols. What better way to pursue
their meaning than through a medium which is totally focused on imagery?