Tarot as Liberating Practice

Recently, my friend Simon the street musician (who is acting as my Spanish coach) loaned me a book called El Gran Libro Practico del Tarot (The Great Book of Tarot Practice). It offers a detailed introduction to the use of Tarot cards as sources of popular wisdom and prediction of future events.

Simon himself is trying to become expert in tarot – as an alternative source of employment should what he calls the “puta policia” (the effing cops) confiscate his guitar (again!) or should he otherwise be deprived of his current livelihood.

Of course, I was skeptical of the entire project.

Instead, however, I found Simon’s book fascinating. My thought quickly connected it with the work of Franz Hinkelammert, my teacher and colleague at Costa Rica’s Departamento Ecumenico de Investigaciones – the liberation theology think tank where Peggy and I studied off and on since 1992. I thought particularly of Franz’s book called The Critique of Mythological Reason.

In its light, I saw tarot cards as representing valuable attempts to draw together common mythological elements found in religions across the planet (e.g., in Egypt, India, China, among indigenous peoples and in the European west) and in various historical periods, for purposes of making sense of shared human experience. That in itself made the cards precious.

More than that however, I perceived their power to lead practitioners to either surrender to (political and spiritual) forces beyond their control or as empowering them to resist those forces precisely as subjects challenging control by concepts of “normality,” by scientific determinism, or by narrow moralities, legal restrictions, emperors, or popes.

In the latter (Hinkelammertian) sense, Tarot cards can lead practitioners to own the fact that their nonconformity is not “crazy,” and that:

  • Their mythological and religious traditions commonly rejected by “enlightened” post-moderns are instead highly valuable and liberating.
  • Practitioners are themselves “magicians” empowered to change “reality” itself so that it benefits human beings and their desire to live and to live well.
  • They (not those ruling by some fictitious “divine right”) are royalty – empresses and emperors empowered to create a world with room for everyone not just the ruling elite.
  • They are similarly priestesses and popes “infallibly” empowered to determine their own spirituality independent of ecclesiastical officials
  • Particularly when precisely as conscious subjects combining feminine and masculine loving energies, they join their complementary powers
  • To create a world shaped by faith, hope, love, prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance
  • And not by “establishment” (capitalist) values of pride, covetousness, lust, anger, envy, sloth, and gluttony.
  • Such creation entails doing battle with internalized cultural values and with powers and principalities determined to squash holy nonconformity.

To communicate these simple truths, Tarot cards employ images expressing popular understandings of geography, physics, astronomy, astrology, psychology, and (above all) religion and spirituality with their complex interpretations of numerology and color. The cards invite heightened sensitivity to history, poetry, art, music, image, metaphor, simile, the invisible, unpredictable, and ineffable. Each tarot card yields a meaning that corresponds to the degree of sensitivity to such elements attained by its reader.

With all of this in mind, practitioners find the western world of tarot populated by allusions to Greek Gods, the underworld, heaven, angels, devils, saints, and familiar biblical stories such as the Garden of Eden, the Tower of Babel, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, and the Final Judgment. Here for instance, white refers to purity, black to death, blue to spirituality, green to earth, red to passion, yellow to illumination, gold to the (masculine) sun, and silver to the (feminine) moon.

As for personal revelations occurring when cards are “dealt” for the benefit of a particular individual . . .. Here I must claim a kind of agnosticism.

However, given what quantum physics has revealed about everything consisting of energy and light, who’s to say that the energies of the personal subject in question do not influence the way cards fall and what their falling reveals to a skilled reader?

I must give all of this further consideration (and will in future postings). I’m grateful to Simon though for further opening my mind to the relevant possibilities.

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Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 45 years. Three grown children. Six grandchildren.

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