What are the fundamentals in tarot? Are there any fundamentals within studying tarot? The word fundamental leaves a bitter taste in the mouth mainly due to the connotations to religious fundamentalism. I am currently taking a course on religious fundamentalism just as a new Kickstarter campaign was launched for a book called Tarot Fundamentals (oh the timing). I am backing this project because I support the book’s vision. I do take issue with the word fundamental and in this blog want to reflect on the word and what it implies. Words are powerful, they have meaning behind them. I want to explore the word fundamental and its connection with tarot and look at any fundamental tendencies with the tarot world.
As I mentioned fundamentalism in the religious aspect is the main reason for the sour taste to the word. Fundamentalism arose as a movement in the 18th and 19th century as a reaction to liberal theology. They hold firm to the literal interpretation of scripture. They also set out to restore a certain standard of core teaching or orthodoxy of Christianity. There were certain fundamental beliefs that must be believed. Fundamentalist groups also follow into certain behaviors in relation to the world around them. They may try to actively transform the world around them making it ready for God’s coming kingdom. They may separate themselves from others who do not share their beliefs. This creates an “us vs them” type of mentality. The “us” are the righteous and orthodox and the “them” becomes the others. The others in the historical context were considered less than human. For example, in Egyptian the word for human was the same word used for Egyptian. Being Egyptian meant being human, while anyone not Egyptian was less human. The religious fundamental becomes separated, excluding others from them and setting themselves apart.
Do we have any sort of degree of fundamentalism within tarot? I would think so. Tarot is a spiritual practice for many people and anything that deals with the spiritual can develop groups or segments that practice and teach certain things that they hold to be fundamental to their tradition. Tarot can easily be taken to the level of fundamentalism where groups are made and things are taught as essential truths which are the core of the tarot.
For example, is it ok to ask “what is the fundamental meaning to the 7 of Wands”. At the core what does this card represent? If I was asked that question I would give an answer, I would respond with what I think is the fundamental meaning to that or any particular card. We all can do this. But what I want to stress here is that all the meanings which we label as fundamental are really based on a tradition of some sort. Most likely the Golden Dawn would be the tradition, many readers have been influenced by, it is hard not to be. Their philosophy had permeated into the majority of literature on tarot. Tarot and cartomancy in general was around long before the occult groups got wind of it. The Golden Dawn dare I say it, is not the be all end all to tarot.
The “us vs them” can easily appear in tarot. I see it with the debates over fortune telling and tarot “counseling”. We do have the “us vs them” happening right now. There are fortune tellers who experience backlash from other tarot readers because they are using tarot in a manner which goes against their views of what tarot “really is”. Like the religious fundamentals who think they understand the Bible correctly and believe they have the right interpretation the tarot fundamental thinks they understand what the tarot really is all about and they have special insight into the real meanings.
The reason I bring this all up really is to be a slight reminder to people and especially to new readers that whatever you learn about tarot is based on a particular tradition and that no one tradition is better or worse than another. There is no one way to tarot, there are many dances to the music of tarot, except twerking. Fundamentals can mislead a newbie into thinking that there is such a thing as a universal core to the tarot which I don’t really think there is. As a community, we should be cautious of any fundamental tendencies akin to the religious sort.
I always take what I learn with a grain of salt and use what I find useful and discard what I find irrelevant. So when I hear the words Tarot Fundamentals I laugh a bit because really it means Tarot Fundamentals… according to such and such tradition(s).
Please do visit the Kickstarter page and support the campaign, I do think it is a wonderful project.