This morning, I read an interesting blog post by Angelo Nasios, titled “The One Question Tarot Cannot Answer?”. I suggest you take a look at it, as Mr. Nasios is a thought-provoking, insightful reader, but here’s the Cliff’s Notes version. He writes that in his experience, Tarot can answer almost any question, but that in a recent workshop, he was challenged to read for someone who (half-jokingly) asked: “How can I be more fake and inauthentic?” And for him, the reading just didn’t work. He writes:
Tarot’s goal (or one of them) is to elevate you and to transform you for the better. A question that works against this purpose, how can I be for fake, [sic] simply is not a valid question for Tarot. Tarot does not want you to be fake or inauthentic, the cards are not designed in a way that supports something that is inauthentic.
In my Tarot practice, I’ve come across many, many questions that I felt I couldn’t answer. “Will I get married in the next six months?” is a good one. So is “Does he really love me?” or “When will I be able to afford to buy a car?”.* And I can’t think of a single Tarot reader who would be willing to read seriously for a question like “What are this week’s winning lotto numbers?”. But a question about inauthenticity doesn’t seem like a problem to me.
So I shuffled through my Tarot of the Hidden Realm, flipped up three cards, and looked to see whether I could make a good reading out of it.
For me, the above reading makes perfect sense. The Ten of Pentacles, the Hanged Man in reverse, and the Seven of Cups. The first of these cards can be about stability, the home, inheritance, and family; but we’d also do well to remember the numerological and elemental associations of the card. Tens are about culmination and completion. Pentacles are about materialism and the physical world. Read in this context, the Ten of Pentacles can be the height of materialism: it can represent an emphasis on possessions, money, indulgence, and so on. Step 1 for an inauthentic life.
The Hanged Man is about wisdom, patience, and changing perspectives. He represents the need to let go of control, to accept what comes one’s way–and the ability to find freedom in surrender. The inversion of this card is exactly the opposite of that. It’s about holding onto the illusion of control and refusing to let go. It speaks to me of closed-mindedness, stagnation, and a refusal to accept change. Step 2.
And the final card, the Seven of Cups, is already all about illusion, delusion, and deception. It (much like the Moon) captures the theme of inauthenticity without the need for a complicated interpretive dance. The message of this card is by far the clearest of the three: If I want to be inauthentic, I should lie to myself and to those around me.
So why was this reading so effortless for me and so intractable for Mr. Nasios? He’s a brilliant reader, and he certainly knows his stuff.
I think the key is a difference in our understandings of what Tarot is on a fundamental level. This is difficult to express, because it requires me to present some version of Mr. Nasios’s own beliefs, and I don’t want to misrepresent, but I think it would be fair of me to say that he sees Tarot as a primarily spiritual tool and I see it is a primarily psychological one. For Mr. Nasios, Tarot has a built-in purpose: the spiritual development of the querent. (See the block quote above; I’m hesitant to make large claims about other people’s beliefs, but I feel like he said it himself.)
And for me, Tarot has no purpose. At least, not in itself. It certainly can be used for spiritual development, and with great effect, but I’ve never felt that it had to be. I think of Tarot as a reflective tool that can be used to explore any aspect of a querent’s psyche. All of us have personae: fake, outwardly directed, socially constructed versions of ourselves that we put on display. And so in my use of Tarot, exploring the psyche’s mask is just as legitimate as exploring a sense of higher self.
Here’s another way to express this distinction. I’m a strict positivist when it comes to Tarot. There’s a psychological (or, if you prefer, psychic) domain where Tarot can be applied as a tool to gain descriptive understanding, and Tarot can be used just as effectively for anything in that domain.** But (I think) in Mr. Nasios’s domain, the use of Tarot also carries a normative implication. Tarot is not only about describing the psyche as it is, but also about helping the psyche become what it should be. And for readers who hold that view, any reading directed at psychic regression rather than growth must necessarily fall flat.
It’s interesting, I think, to look at the way that our views on Tarot shape the way we can or can’t read with it. There are many readers out there who, not limited by some of the assumptions that frame my worldview, would have no problem answering some of the “impossible” questions I listed above, but those questions are so directly contrary to my view of what Tarot is that I’ve never been able to find a meaningful way to read for them.
My thanks to Angelo Nasios for yet another wonderful, thought-provoking post. He certainly gave me something to chew on today, and as always, I look forward to seeing more from him.
*These are all real questions that I’ve been asked.
**For me, the domain is the querent’s psyche. This is, of course, some matter of debate, and many people would argue for broader or narrower visions. My way is certainly not the right way; it’s just the framework in which I conduct my readings. For those who, like Mr. Nasios, see the domain of Tarot as restricted to areas that promote psychic authenticity, or for those who expand Tarot to cover questions about the past, future, and third parties, please know that I’m not at all trying to say your views are invalid. They’re very, very valid. I’m just expressing the way I do it.