During a morning mass Pope Francis commented on the topic of Tarot readers and Psychics. You can read the post here.
The title is “Tarot readers and fortune tellers cannot save you. says Pope Francis“. Here is an excerpt,
Salvation can only come through Jesus Christ, not through tarot readers and fortune tellers, Pope Francis has said. In order to solve their problems many people resort to fortune tellers and tarot cards. But only Jesus saves, and we must bear witness to this! He is the only one.
This has been circulating the tarot community on Facebook and people have been commenting on it. I felt I should make a blog post and discuss this since it relates to two topcis I love, tarot and religion.
Why did the Pope make this comment? Psychics and tarot readers are popular, if you think we have a lot of them here in the United States go outside and you will see even more. In other countries they are on Tv stations, where people call up and get advice. I know in Greece they have them, I see them on tv all the time. We do not have them any more in US, ever since Miss. Cleo. Pope Francis is from Argentina and I am sure they have the same thing going on there with the psychics and tarot readers on tv.
The Pope is making a statement about Salvation and being saved, tarot readers cannot save you only Jesus can. Being saved from what exactly? Well from Sin. Jesus saves you from sin, not tarot readers or psychics. We need to bare in mind that we are dealing with the Pope, this is Catholic theology, western perspective. I have spoken on the topic of Sin but from a Eastern Orthodox view in my post The Sin Spread. The real meaning of Sin are the actions we do that put us out of alignment from God. Correcting the mistake (the actual meaning in Greek for Sin “missing the mark”) puts us back into alignment.
The early christians associated their faith with healing. Healing is a spiritual gift of the holy spirit and is a manifestation of Divine Power (this is also the case in Jewish and Greco-Roman traditions). It is believed that healing leads to salvation. The Christian faith is true because true healing takes place, if no healing takes place then the gospel is invalid.
Any time we talk about Christianity (or any faith) and theology we need to always examine history and the development of the tradition. The New Testament is written in Greek. You always need to read the text in the orignal language. The Greek word for healing and salvation are identical. So being healed = being saved. Salvation is physical health and mental comfort/peace. The idea of Jesus leading to Salvation comes as a later development when Jesus was equated with God, ideas developed in the Gospel of John.
So what about tarot readers? Do we “save” people? I think a tarot reading or a psychic who is good and wants to help people is healing people, if the person wants healing. We are not curing physical sickness, we focus on the psyche of the person. Their soul and mind, which can become sick and through the process of a reading we can help point things out and show the folly and suggest a better root. This can lead to a transformation in the person, a healing of some kind.
I also want to point out that what I think the Pope is really saying is that he does not want Faith in Jesus/God to be replaced with something else, anything else. Your faith should be the center of your being. When you rely on another medium or believe that medium is your salvation, the thing that we bring you ultimate peace your wrong. I believe in a higher power and I believe in the tarot as a tool to access this higher power. To communicate with it and to build a relationship with the higher power. Tarot for me is not a replacement for faith but as a assisting tool in keeping my faith.
I was taught/began my tarot journey in 1986. The guy who taught me was a chirpy Londoner, and he gave the basics. Nothing elaborate. No systems. No symbolic depth. His readings were straight forward. He said what he thought the card meant. No peeling back of layers, psychological analysis, no astrological or numerology associations.
JUST. READ. THE. CARD.
I am sure readers prior to this did pretty much the same? There did not seem to be a dearth of books on the subject around the time I started.
Yet in 17 years or so, the market has exploded. Thousands and thousands of decks now to choose from. Books on every aspect and subject you can think of within this wonderful world of tarot.
Systems abound. Systems within systems. Heck knows how many ways to interpret a card or selection of cards in relation to each other.
Have we over complicated things? If so, why? Does this enhance or hinder what we are trying to convey? If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and sounds like a duck, shouldn’t we just call call it a duck? Instead of giving in to the urge to elaborate as much as possible, thus losing site of the real nuts and bolts?
I would have to respond to this statement and say that the complexity of tarot is not a new phenomena. The origination of tarot and it’s many associations such as numerology or astrology are old and can be traced back to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The earliest and first association between Tarot and the occult was proposed by Court de Gebelin (1773-1784). This idea influenced Etteilla, who viewed Tarot as the Book of Thoth. Levi later on associated Tarot with Kabbalah (specifically the Tree of Life).
Now in the modern age with the creation of Psychology resulting from Freud and Jung, Tarot is finding connections with that to now.
Why do we make all these connections with tarot? Why make all these layers and systems to learn? On one level we may be trying to solve a problem, trying solve the mystery of the tarot images. Analyzing it’s symbols, extracting every once of meaning, very speck of spiritual wisdom we can from it. Why not? The tarot is a highly rich and complex deck of cards with so much symbolism and teaching to learn from we ought to utilize any system we can on tarot. When we are able to combine all these systems together we create a unified tarot philosophy.
However I do not agree and we should be careful not to think the tarot originally had these systems built into it as an intention of the creator. This is a false notion, all systems were later applied to the tarot, as a way to connect the tarot to a far distant past, incorporating it to ancient mystery schools and the like.
How useful are all these systems when it comes down to practical readings? That is what I feel to be the underlining issue of concern and reason the question was asked. As I mentioned I believe we should explore the tarot and dig deeper as much as we can, for personal growth and spiritual development. But when it is time to read for others we should try to hold all that spiritual knowledge back at first. We cannot jump into a reading and start digging into a client’s psychological states, neurosis, phobias, compulsions and behaviors. Nor should we jump into the teachings of Kabbalah, Hermeticsism and Gnosticism. We should approach the tarot with a grounded head and focus on first the mundane. Because it is the mundane which people are concerned with, it is the mundane with people are aware of. After this step, you can dig deeper and explore the psychological or spiritual as either a possible cause or root to the mundane problem and offer advice based on the knowledge you have from your study of the tarot and it’s systems.
I do feel that tarot has become somewhat complicated but only for those who let it become complicated. Tarot is only complicated if you feel unsatisfied with what you know, always seeking new systems and new knowledge to satisfy yourself. This is all wrong, the goal is not to become satisfied with what you have learned, thinking, “I learned it all”, you never learn it all. You always learn, this is what I have been saying for ever. Tarot is a life long study, don’t complicate it, just flow with it.
Death – Change – Transformation – Transition – Endings - Removal - Elimination
Black amour & White Horse = balance off opposities, life & death. Yin and Yang.
Feather = The feather on the helmet is lifeless, limp. As in contrast to The Fool and The Sun which are full of life and energy. This is symbolic of Death, lifeless and ending.
Sun = The sun in the background is either rising or setting. It is ambiguous to allude to the concept of transitions, in-between stages, endings and beginnings.
River and Boat = Passages and transition from one side to the other. often symbolic of death from the physical into the other side (Underworld).
Meaning & Message
Death speaks more about metaphorical and symbolic Death rather than actual physical death and dying. However it is a possible subject which it can represent in a reading. Do not fear this card if it comes up in a reading.
The main meaning in Death is endings. It is a card which represents endings of all sorts. From the loss of a relationship, the ending of a job or even the ending of project, the ending of stage of life. Anything which ends and comes to a completion.
Second, the idea of transitions which comes as a result from endings. Something ends and we transition into something new. When we end something we allow something new to enter. As a relationship ends a new one may start and take it’s place. There are many life cycles we go through, transitioning from childhood to adolescence with the start of puberty. The from adolescence into adulthood, on to old age then finally death. The birth of a child is also a transition and death of the parents life as individuals responsibility for themselves, now being responsible for another life. The Ego dies a little, now it is not just about you but about your child.
Thirdly, removal and elimination. Death signals a need to clean house. Remove what no longer serves you, old notions and ideas which are out dated. Replace it with up to date and useful ideas, thoughts and beliefs. Remove what is physically useless like junk in the house.
Shadow Aspect – Ill-dignified
Fearing change, fearing loss of control and stability. Wanting to keep everything the same, never changing. This causes stagnation and thus blockages and energetic backups in your life. With regard to actual Death you may be in denial, unable to express your sadness, unable to mourn or accept the loss.
Growing up as a Greek Orthodox Christian icons play a central role in the faith. In a typical Orthodox home you will find an altar someplace in the home (likely in the kitchen) where there are icons, crosses and candles. In the Orthodox faith icons are used in contrast to the west where statues are used. Religious art in the west is done with realism, naturalistically while in the East the style is slightly abstract, slightly skewed. Noses may be longer than normal; shapes are not completely proportionate as to allow the viewer to connect with the spiritual reality and Truth as apposed to a naturalistic image, which fixes you on the material world. Icons are used in worship and a tool of the faith they also are a source for motivation and inspiration in your life. They are windows the heaven, portals to the divine. The icon represents the “prototype” (Form or archetype), which it is fashioned after.
The reason Tarot and the Icons have similar functions is because they both redirect your attention away from yourself and make you focus on something beyond you. I have images of Tarot cards having up on my wall in my room which are incorporated with my Greek Icons and my statues of Gods/Goddess. They are all ways for me to connect with something higher.
Greek philosophy also adds some interesting commentary on this as well. I mentioned before these images, icons or tarot cards allow us to contemplate on the image and it’s meaning and representation. Aristotle’s philosophy about “God” (the Divine Mind) is that it is always contemplating on it’s and the Forms are the content of contemplation. Aristotle said that when we contemplate on a Form our mind becomes identical with that Form. Thus when our mind becomes identical with the Divine Mind (God) because we are contemplating on the same thing the Divine Mind is contemplating.
In the case of an Icon of Christ when you contemplate on the Icon you are one with Christ. This is my own interpretation and application of Philosophy with Theology. I do not know what the Church would say but it makes sense for me. In the case of a Major Arcana, when you contemplate on The Fool, Temperance, The Star or any of the images you are becoming one with the Archetype, it’s Form and thus with the Divine Mind i.e. God.
In conclusion I see it very fitting that as Tarot readers we can use tarot as our own Icons for religious/spiritual devotion/contemplation and which is really what it is meant when someone says “meditate on the image/card”. Contemplate on the image, allow your mind to contemplate and think on the image connect yourself to the image, to it’s Form and thus to a Higher Power.
The Influence of Platonism on Jewish Philosophy
The Development of The Kabbalah from Greek Thought
The subject I am presenting to you is one that is very important to me; it is an issue that I feel must be addressed in a formal manner. I have touched on this subject in the past but feel that I have not done it justice enough. The subject of this article is in regards to the development of The Kabbalah a Jewish Mysticism/Philosophy from the philosophical traditions of the Greeks, specifically Platonic philosophy. Why is there an issue between these two traditions? There is an issue because I have seen a blatant campaign of misinformation and distortion of philosophical and religious history by the Kabbalists on the origins of Kabbalah.
This is not an attack on Kabbalah, I myself enjoy reading about Kabbalah, the goal of this article however is to set the story straight with what I see as misrepresentation and the bending of facts with regards to which tradition influenced who first.
According the Kabbalist, Kabbalah is very ancient with claims that it was around since the beginning of time, but the first written record of it was with The Book of Formation around 4,000 years ago. The main body of Kabbalah was written 2,000 years ago in a work called The Book of Splendor (The Zohar). Since Kabbalah is so ancient it there for influenced other philosophies and religions around the world. This came up while I was reading “The Power of Kabbalah” by Yehuda Berg published by Kabbalah Publishing (the official publisher of the Kabbalah Centre) that claimed that Greek philosophers like Plato studied Kabbalah and that Kabbalah influenced Greek Philosophy. When I read this statement I smelled something fishy in the air. I am someone who is very interested in philosophy and religion so it was time I did some investigating. In this article I will present how it was really Greek philosophy (specifically Neo-Platonism) that impacted the development of Kabbalah.
To understand Kabbalah we need to understand the history of Jewish Mysticism. Kabbalah was not perfectly formed as it is presented today. It developed over time. We can see this because of changes in the religion throughout history. The thing is that Jewish Mysticism has different groups or stages and what I think the Kabbalist is doing is claiming everything that came before it to be Kabbalah after Kabbalah came on the scene. Which is the wrong thing to do. Kabbalah arrived in Judaism at a certain point, anything before that was not the Kabbalah as presented today, even though the Kabbalist would clam it to be.
Firstly I want to point out the misleading dating of two documents The Book of Formation and the Book of Splendor (Zohar). The Book of Formation was actually composed sometime in the 2nd or 3rd century CE. The Zohar which is said to have been formed some 2,000 years ago written by Shimon bar Yochai, a rabbi of the 2nd century CE was in fact produced in 13th century Spain by a fellowship of mystics associated with Moses de Leon. The word Kabbalah did not even exist until the Middle Ages. However Kabbalistis reject this scholarship, stating that the Zohar must have come from someone with a higher spiritual status like Shimon bar Yochai. Which is lazy reasoning and disregard of facts. According to the facts these two key books to Kabbalah were created after the works of Greek philosophy.
The earliest texts from any Jewish Mysticism that we have a written record of are called Merkabah mystics. Merkabah mysticism centers around the vision that the prophet Ezekiel had about the Chariot of God. Merkabah is the Hebrew word for chariot, this tradition is also known as “Throne Mysticism”. These mystics flourished in Palestine and Babylon in the first few centuries of the Common Era. The main corpus of the Merkabah literature was composed in Israel in the period 200–700CE. An interesting thing to note about the Merkabah mysticism is that it developed from what Gershon Scholem calls Jewish gnostic attempts to ascend through the seven heavens of the heavnly realm to see the throne of God. Gnosticism itself is early Christianity influenced directly from Neo-Platonism. It appears that Merkabah mysticism is reflecting neo-platonism, because according to Plato, the soul originates from a heavenly realm. The soul desires to return to that realm and we must ascend to it.
Jewish mysticism is something that develops in the first few centuries of the Common Era when notably the Temple in Jerusalem is destroyed in 70 CE. It was during this time that Jews became persecuted; they wanted to escape this world where they suffered. Jewish mysticism was an immediate answer to help the Jews return to the One. Rabbinic Judaism did not like this form of mysticism, however Merkabah Mysticism flourished alongside rabbinic academies until it was finally incorporated into Kabbalah, during the 12th and 13th centuries.
Kabbalah can be described as a Midrash (a way of interpreting biblical stories that goes beyond simple distillation of religious, legal or moral teachings). Midrash started after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, it was at this point that all focus went from the Temple to the synagogue with then Rabbis start writing rabbinic literature. Again the time frame for this has us in the first century CE.
Kabbalah is said to be the oral tradition of Judaism. That when God gave Moses the Torah He did not just give him the text, he also gave him the explanation orally. This was preserved by the Jews orally. However the truth is Kabbalah was the not the true source of the oral tradition. The Mishnah is the first time we see the composition of the oral tradition in wirrten form. This happened in the 2nd Century CE. Later in the 5th Century the Gemara was wirrten, the Gemara is the analysis of and commentary on the Mishnah. The Mishnah and Gemara are together combined and called the Talmud. I would agree and say there was an oral tradition inside Judaism, however what that oral tradition was comprised is not identical with what we have in the Kabbalah. The Kabbalah as we have it now is the child of the older tradition found in the Talmud fused with Greek philosophy. What is presented in Kabbalah is not completely founded in the Talmud, for example the Sefirot and En-Sof is strictly Kabbalah, and not mentioned outside of the Kabbalistic texts. The ideas regarding the soul found in the Zohar comes from two sources, the Talmus and Neo-Platonism. Neoplatonism gave to the Zohar the idea of the soul as an emanation from the ‘Overmind’ of the universe. There was originally one ‘Universal Soul,’ or ‘Over-soul,’ which, as it were, broke itself up and encased itself in individual bodies. All individual souls are, hence, fragments of the ‘Oversoul,’ so that although they are distinct from one another they are, in reality, all one.
So now we have ourselves situated with Jewish Mysticism with time frames. Lets now head into the Greek section.
Greek philosophy is very rich and has a long history, starting some point in the 6th centaury BCE. Our concerns are with the classical Greek philosophies of Plato and Aristotle. The philosophy of Plato is called “Platonism”. At the core of Platonism is the distinction between reality that can perceived but not intelligible and reality which is intelligible but not perceivable. This is expressed in Plato’s theory of the forms (Ideas). The Theory of the Forms states that the non-physical abstract forms or ideas and not the material world of change is the true reality. Forms are like the blueprints for all things in the material world. The world is constructed by way of the Forms. So there is a Form of a horse, of a chair, a tree and so on. Above all the Forms is the Form of the Good, which everything else that can be known derives it’s being. The Form of the Good is the First Principle, which gives intelligibility to the whole world.
Sometime in the 3rd century AD Neo-Platonism took form with a man named Plotinus as one of the founders. Neo-Platonism is seen as the perfection of Platonism in a pure pagan form, with no outside non-pagan influence. Plotinus systemizes Platonic and Aristotelian philosophies together. With Plotinus, The idea of The Form of the Good becomes “The One” or “The Good” however it is not a Form. The One or the Good is above being and essence, which makes it above the Forms. The One is above understanding, definition, all structure and limitations. Our human minds can never understand The One, for it is beyond our minds. Plotinus says The One is infinite and simple. Simple being that it has no parts and infinite being no limitations.
We can see certain concepts of Platonism appearing inside the Kabbalah which has its developments in Spain in the 12th and 13th century. Spain at this time was Muslim controlled; The Muslims had carried over with them the Greek philosophies, preserving them. But we can go back earlier in history to see the Greek/Jewish combination of philosophy and religion with Philo of Alexandria (20 BCE – 50 CE). Philo was a Hellenistic Jewish (Neo-Platonist) who fused Greek philosophy with Judaism. Philo read the Bible as allegorical, for it was through allegorical interpretation you would gain the true knowledge. This is the case with the later development of Kabbalah that the symbolic and not the literal meaning of the bible is where the real meaning is found.
Now that we see that Greek philosophy predates Jewish mysticism, where do we find the influence in Kabbalah? We can see a strong influence of Neo-Platonism with the Divine Attributes (Sefirot) and the Ein-Sof. Ein-Sof is the divine as infinite, undifferentiated and unknowable. The Ein-Sof corresponds to if you remember, what Plotinus calls The One or The Good. It is limitless, simple and infinite. You cannot define it or understand it. The Sefirot are the attributes like Hokhmah (Wisdom) or Binah (Thought). They are the attributions and activities, which reveal the divine. This corresponds with the Neo-Platonic divine attributions like the Nous (Divine Mind), which is lower than The One. Creation occurs with Ein-Sof emanating downward through each Sefirot until it reaches the material world. This creation through successive emanations is a clear neo-platonic idea from Plotinus in his work the Enneads.
The Tree of Life pictures as a diagram, is a Greek concept. It emerges from geometry, which is a Greek mathematical discipline. Both Pythagoras and Plato used geometry to teach their more abstract material. It is contrary to Orthodox Judaism because it portrays images of God. This is blasphemous to Orthodox Jews.
There are other doctrines in Kabbalah that I have seen which are also taken from Greek philosophy. I mentioned earlier the creation of Midrash by the Rabbis. Midrash is an interpretation of the biblical stories. There are instances where we can see Platonic ideas popping into Midrash. Remember Plato’s Forms are like the blueprints for creation. Everything has a Form from which it is created. This notion is borrowed in Midrash Genesis Rabbah 1:1 which tells the parable of how an architect does not build a building without a blueprint, so did God, who used the Torah as His blueprint for the World. The Torah has become the Jewish version of the Forms.
Regarding the Soul In Kabbalah there are three parts of the soul Nefesh(lower self/animal nature), Ruach (middle soul, spirit, contains morals) and Neshamah (super-soul, holds intellect). This notion comes from Plato once again who said that the soul had three parts. Eros (cravings and desires), Themos (spiritedness, emotion) and Logos (reason and intellect, highest self). The Jewish understanding of the soul having three parts comes not from Kabbalah, but for the Talmud. In the Zohar, there is the addition of two more levels of the soul. This is evidence of philosophical evolution. For if the Zohar was as old as the Kabbalisits say, then these two additions would have appears earlier inside the Talmud.
In Kabbalah it is believed that all souls existed prior to the creation of the world. This notion comes to from Plato, who said that the Soul is immortal, that our Souls originate in the world of the Forms.
With regards to free will, Kabbalah says that humans have free will on a mundane level but not on a higher spiritual level. This notion comes from Greek thought not specifically Platonism but from Sophocles play Oedipus Rex, which expresses Greek philosophy regarding free will. Oedipus is fated to kill is father and marry his mother. The path he chooses is his own but the end result is the same. He cannot escape the end fate but freely chooses events that occur before that fate. So we have the notion of free will on the mundane level, but not on the higher spiritual level.
Reincarnation appears in Kabbalah, but yet again reincarnation appears before Kabbalah with Pythagoras (570-495 BCE) in Greece, which is called Metempsychosis.
In Kabbalah the Hebrew alphabet is also used for numbers, words in the bible are converted into numbers and vice versa is known as geometria, the same is true with the Greek alphabet. Geomatria was passed on to the Jews by the Greeks. In his Dialogues, Plato hints at gematria as a means of direct knowledge of Reality.
We see a lot of what my high school history teacher would call “cultural diffusion” which is the spreading of cultural traits. It would make perfect sense for Greek philosophy to have an impact on Jewish thought since there was a very close relationship between the Greeks and the Jews after the conquest of Palestine and Egypt by Alexander the Great. This relationship lasted from approximately 332 BCE until at least the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. That is nearly 400 years of Greek influence on Judaism.
So what’s with the misrepresentation? It is my belief that there is a deliberate misleading of facts by Kabbalists who want to give the appearance that Kabbalah is older than Greek philosophy and all other philosophies to be exact. This would make Kabbalah appear to the originator and source of all religious wisdom around the world. This would be the goal for financial reasons, Kabbalah has become a product that is sold and for marketing reasons doesn’t it sound better to be selling “original” ancient wisdom rather than a middle-age mysticism that was influenced by Neo-Platonism?
 Unterman, Alan. The Kabbalistic Tradition: An Anthology of Jewish Mysticism. London: Penguin, 2008. Print
 Berg, Rav. Kabbalah for the Layman. N.p.: Research Centre of Kabbalah, 2012. Print.
 Armstrong, Karen. “Chapter 7 – The God of the Mystics.” A History of God: The 4,000 Year Quest of Judasim, Christianity and Islam. N.p.: Ballantine, 1993. N. pag. Print.
7] Unterman, Alan. “Torah Is The Map of The World.” The Kabbalistic Tradition: An Anthology of Jewish Mysticism. London: Penguin, 2008. 57. Print.
Langauges allow us to express ourselves. I love to learn new languages, even if it just a few words, especially the bad ones! Tarot is a language, not a verbal one like English but a pictorial language which uses symbols to express meanings. The cards themselves have titles as with the Major Arcana. However when we translate these titles into other languages we might at times come to new understandings to the cards. Some may be new or they may just reinforce the cards already present meaning.
A while ago I made a video on YouTube where I presented the Greek titles of the Major Arcana. When I came to the Judgment card I was intrigued by the Greek word for Judgment which is the same word for another word. You, see in Greek (and other languages) one word can have many meanings, depending on its context. In this case the word “Judgment” in Greek is κρίση (krísi). κρίση also is a word which is also used for “crisis”. Judgement and Crisis are both the same word in Greek. This made me wonder why this was the case.
The other day when I was looking at the cover of a Greek newspaper there was an article from the BBC on what The ancient Greeks would do with the Greek economic crisis. Again I saw the word κρίση and remembered it also means Judgment. I asked my uncle, why did κρίση both mean Judgement and Crisis. He told me that it is in the time of crisis that judgment(s) need to be made. They go together. This is a perfect example of how language expresses different ideas and views through the use of the words.
We can take this and then apply it to the Judgement card and would easily call it “The Crisis” card. But what does crisis mean? We normally see crisis as a bad thing, something bad is happening, things are going crazy. That would be the case as with a political view on the word, it representing an unstable situation. However the underlining meaning of the word is that crisis is a crucial or decisive point or situation; a turning point. Psychologically, crisis is a traumatic or stressful change in a person’s life. In a drama, crisis is a point at which a conflict reaches a peak before being resolved.
Taking this let us apply it to the Judgment in Tarot. I can see a connection between the concepts of crisis with the cards meaning of “hearing the call”, or “answering a call”. In many of the depicts of Judgment we have an angel blaring a horn as the dead awaken, hearing the horn. This often means that you are being called to do something, something more important or of great meaning. Judgment also indicates changes, coming to a crossroads in your life. This experience is not always a pleasant one. Much like how I described the word crisis in psychological terms as being a traumatic or stressful change, Judgment can manifest as a stressful event, a stressful choice or change. Judgment is the point where conflict reaches its peak before being resolved. The resolution of the conflict is then depicted with The World which shows completion and accomplishment.
As we have seen, language can be a powerful tool for how we view the meanings of the cards.
Gasp! Death, The Devil, The Tower…. OMG The 9 of Swords and gosh the 10 of Swords! What horror are the so called “bad cards” of the tarot. Normally these cards make some readers uneasy and the clients on the other side of the table a little on edge. Who wouldn’t? These cards are bold, in your face, they represent the things in life we rather avoid and not deal with. Death, change, addictions, anxiety, worry, downfall and all sorts of nasties. However it is these “bad” cards which are more easy to understand and relate to at least for myself.
In my opinion people experience more pain than pleasure in life. We are always seeking happiness and pleasure because we are in a state of pain or at the least discomfort. The Buddha said life is “dukkha” which often translates as “suffering”. However “dukkha” can mean many things and suffering is just one possible meaning. But at the core life is challenging, it is in flux, going up and down. It is the times of pain and trauma I feel which have the largest impact on us. A silly example would be Batman, Bruce Wayne would never have become Batman if his parents would never killed. So it is the tough cards in the tarot which seem to be more real to me, easier to connect with and understand. Take the 9 of Swords, this is the anxiety/stress card. The Anxiety Disorders Association of American says that “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older (18% of U.S. population).”
Women are twice as likely to be affected from Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder and Post traumatic Stress Disorder. So seeing a woman in the 9 of Swords makes a lot of sense. If you look at the troubling swords (6,8,9) there are woman in them which may signify a anxiety issue or another psychological problem. So as I said 40 million adults are affected, children are also affected by anxiety, “About 13 out of every 100 children and adolescents ages 9 to 17 experiencing some kind of anxiety disorder, such as panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or generalized anxiety disorder.”
Because of the high levels of anxiety that people experience it makes the 9 of Swords so relatable. It is so easy to understand that card and feel the pain of the woman in the card.
Backtracking a little into the Major Arcana, Death is a card which I like because like I said it is clear, death means something is ending. Done over and finished. Death is a name that everyone understands because it is the ultimate fate of us all [shudder] and for that reason we connect to the concept so very easy. Everyone comes into contact with death sooner or later. I came into contact early with death with grandparents and my own father. I understand what death was at a early age (about 6 or 7). Over 150,000 people die every day.
The Devil well this is a card many people think they know based off the title but they will be wrong, this card has nothing to do with the Biblical devil. When I look at this card I see bondage and attachments such as addictions (of many kinds). You can look at the Devil as drug and alcohol abuse. There are countless people who are addicted to drugs both legal and illegal. There are adults alcoholics and in teenagers there is binge drinking. Addictions come in other fashions like material attachments to shopping (like myself) or attachment to someone in a bad relationship. So again we see here that the concepts of The Devil are almost universal to everyone and easy to understand and relate to.
The Tower is yet another so called “bad” card which is so easy to relate to. This is the card which signals that things are going to fall apart. Things will change and not as you expect. Things are sudden out of the blue that rock your world and pull the rug out from under your feet. We all experienced this. Our current economic crisis would be a perfect example of The Tower. People purchased homes with mortgages that really could not afford which lead to large scale forecloses. To get an idea how large of a problem this is you can compare the foreclosure rates of 2000 which was 470,000 to 2011 which was 3,920,418.
The 5 of Pentacles can come in here as well and related to this to. We can look at natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina which killed At least 1,836 people and the total property damage was estimated at $81 billion. On the small scale we can relate to the Tower when we get a flat tier, the roof starts leaking, the boiler breaks and your computer hard drive crashes. Sudden out of the blue problems which just ruin things. We all experience things like that.
In the end what I want to stress is that life is filled with many experiences, good and bad. As tarot readers we need to be realistic and live on earth where shit happens. Pain is real, my pain your pain your client’s pain. It is alive and real. We cannot have our heads in the clouds and makes all the cards chocolate covered bunnies. We need to understand the realities people go through, the drama, pain, suffering and valid it. If we ignore it exist will not make it simply go away and it does not help the client. As tarot readers we however can redirect the energy of the client into a path that can solve the issue and bring change. I would also like to say that yes, the cards have many interpretations and they don’t always go to such extremes like the ones I pointed out, I am just making a point.
Many of us tarot readers have heard of the idea that tarot should not be used to predict the future and give specific predictions. This may seem like a new trend in tarot, however actually this is a ancient belief. Normally divination is seen as a way to see the future, but that is a more modern view. Divination to the ancients was a way to determine the will of God or gods. This is the case for Biblical and non Biblical divination.
The ancient Greeks were well known for their oracles, the most notable was the Oracle at Delphi. People would travel across the Greek world to seek the advice of the Oracle. The oracle had a long history spanning from the 8th century BC until it’s closure by emperor Theodosius I in 395 AD.
How there what was asked of the oracle would be questions that could be answered in a YES or NO response. Questions where also asked about what should be done to appease the gods. Greeks were always making sure the gods were not mad at them. It was a rule of thumb that you do not ask for a specific prediction or outcome. If asked about the future, the oracle would be truthful but her answers were ambiguous. As the case with King Croesus. King Croesus asked the Oracle whether he should go to war with King Cyrus of Persia or negotiate terms of peace. The Oracle’s answer was that who ever crosses the river Halys will become the ruler of a great empire or another version stated If you cross the river, a great empire will be destroyed. Believing the response favorable, Croesus attacked, but it was his own empire that ultimately was destroyed by the Persians. Hows that for Greek irony?
What does this all mean? The reason you should not ask about the future and the idea of divination was meant to be used as a means to understand your present more than a future that is out of your hands and up to the fates/gods. Now this principle can apply to tarot. I do however feel that we can ask questions about the future but just like the oracle’s predictions our predictions can become ambiguous because we have to decode the cards and come up with a predictions based on the images. When events come to pass than we will either be like King Croesus, seeing the message we wanted or if we will see the real message. Like oracle I do feel that tarots true gift is reflecting the present, understanding the past and using it as a means to set the pathway to a future you create.
I was lucky enough to be a part of a great collaborative work called Tarot Turn started by Marcus Katz (Tarot Professionals & Tarot-Town.com). Tarot Turn is a comprehensive book on tarot reversals. Those who are a part of the project were given a tarot card which you need to pair with the remaining 77 cards of the deck and form an interoperation. I was given the 2 of Cups Reversed (and someone else was given the 2 of Cups upright) paired with all reversed cards. The project was amazing to do and a good exercise in reversals. With reversals on my mind I wanted to write this blog on reversed cards and share the popular views and my three main ways to read a reversed card.
Oh reversed tarot cards! This is one subject that can get tarot readers all fired up. Should we use reversals? Whats the point of them? Are they useful? If I don’t use them am I less of a reader as someone who does use them? There are two schools of thought when it comes to reversed cards.
This camp believes reversed cards are useful and should be used or that it would be good for readers to use them. The normal idea is that reversed cards add another layer of meaning and another level of experience with the cards. Reversed cards can indicate something that needs special attention. Something that should jump up and go “HEY LOOK! I AM REVERSED, SOMETHING IS UP. GO FIGURE IT OUT!!” As Mary K Greer explains in her book “Tarot Reversals” a reversed tarot card is a “red flag”. This side of the argument would say the reversed cards are act as the missing pieces to the puzzle. Reversed cards give more info and details to the reading that an upright card might not be able to express or represent in the same way. Ok this seems all good, what about the other side?
This camp believes that reversed card are not necessary. All possible meanings positive or negative can be expressed by an combination of upright cards. It is also believed that reversed cards just add more meanings to remember. Let’s say you can remember 3 things about each card. With 78 cards in the deck that would be 234 meanings for upright cards only. Adding reversals gives a total of 468 meanings. This argument concludes that adding reversals only adds more to remember and is an overload of information to remember. Readers who read with upright cards only have there own system of indicating trouble spots that a reversed card does. Instead of reversed cards, a card when near a card that is elementally incompatible will make the card ill-dignified. I currently do not look at the elements (at least no consciously lol) when determining when a card is ill-dignified. I look at the image of the card. For example, The Sun will override all negative cards. So The Sun next to the 9 of Swords would signal that the “Light will shine through the sorrow and grief”.
Does it make you a better reader?
Personally I do not think using reversals makes you a “better reader”. What makes a good reader is not in the position of a card but how the reader uses what is laid out to the fullist extent. This can be done with or without reversals. It comes down to personal preference and what you feel is right for you. If you are going to use reversals you are going to need to determine how you will read a reversed card.
How to read a reversal
There as many ways to read a reversals as you have fingers on your hand. In my book “Tarot: Unlocking The Arcana” I list 8 ways to look at a reversed card which I feel are useful. However in this blog I will share with you the 3 ways that I personally connect with and use in my understanding of reversals (if and when I use them) and for ill-dignified cards. I use all three of these methods as possible expressions and I need to figure out which is being expressed when I see a card is ill-dignified or reversed.
THREE WAYS TO READ A REVERSAL
1) Opposite – This would be opposite of the upright meaning. This would make “negative” cards lean towards a “positive” meaning and the same vice versa. Example: 9 of Swords. Would go from worry and grief into healing.
2) Extreme – This would take the energy of the card and show it’s most extreme level. Example: 4 of Pentacles. Would go from material protection and saving into hording and greed.
3) Blocked/Weak – This would take the energy of the card and make it blocked/hard to obtain. The normal upright meaning still applies but at a lower influence. Example: 8 of Pentacles. You work hard but are having trouble focusing and details are overlooked.
Where do you stand?
Now that all the information and opinions have been provided where do you stand? Which do you choose? Reversed or Upright? The answer is not the simple and you can always bounce around between using and not using reversals. I have bounced back and forth between using reversals and not using them. Currently I have not been using reversals (for a long time now). However I can always use them if I wanted to. I like to keep thing simple and use only upright cards. I recommend that you play around with reversals, see if you like using them. Figure out which method of expression fits you best and go with it. If you don’t want to use them that totally fine.
Communicating with God is often seen as a one way path. You get on your knees and pray to the good Lord. You pray and pray and hope that God listens. But what if God could speak to you directly? Well God can and does in many ways. Sadly we are taught that if we somehow get an answer back then it is evil. Go figure….
I personally feel that tarot is a very holy thing, the experience of a reading is spiritual. In my view, tarot is a form of prayer. You ask a question on to God (prayer) and the reading itself is the answer/response back from God. God is not closed off to communication, the Divine is all around us and we have the right to speak to the Divine whenever we want.
To ensure that I can get the best answers as possible in my readings I like to take a moment before I start to shuffle my cards to bring myself to a quiet place. I try to quiet my mind (good luck with that!) and then I say a prayer that goes along like this….
When reading for someone else
“God, please allow me to connect to your divine wisdom and knowledge. Please give me direct and clear messages. Please allow me to give guidance and advice for my client. Please reveal to me what should be known and keep from me what you wish to remain secret”
Readings for myself. basically the same but more focused on me.
“God, please allow me to connect to your divine wisdom and knowledge. Please give me direct and clear messages. Please guide and direct me according to your will.Please reveal to me what should be known and keep from me what you wish to remain secret”