By Kumkum Bhandari
Generally used for fortune-telling, the tarot is a fine tool to assess one’s current life situation and aid in spiritual development
THE MAJOR ARCANA SYMBOLS
• 0 The Fool: fear; courage; mystical ecstasy
• I The Magician: communication; inspired, original mind
• 2 The High Priestess: intuition; independence, self-trust
• 3 The Empress: love and wisdom; beauty
• 4 The Emperor: leadership; visionary; pioneer
• 5 The Hierophant: learning and teaching; family and community
• 6 The Lovers: relationship; the union of opposites
• 7 The Chariot: change and transformation
• 8 Adjustment/justice: balance and objectivity
• 9 The Hermit: completion: contemplation and reflection
• 10 The Wheel of Fortune: prosperity and abundance
• 11 Lust/Strength: passion and luster
• 12 The Hanged Man: surrender; breaking old patterns
• 13 Death: release; detachment; letting go
• 14 Art/Temperance: integration and synthesis
• 15 The Devil/Pan: maintaining humor at our bedevilment
• 16 The Tower: awakening; healing and restoration
• 17 The Star: self-esteem; confidence and self-realization • 18 The Moon: choice and karma; authenticity versus dutifulness
• 19 The Sun: teamwork, partnership, and collaboration
• 20 Aeon/judgment: good judgment
• 21 The Universe/World: self-actualization and individuation; building new worlds
From The Tarot and Personality Types by Angeles Arrien in Who am 1? Edited by Robert Frager, Aquarian, an imprint of Harper-Collins.
Of late, Tarot has become popular in India. Many of us reach for the weekend papers to see what Tarot cards predict for us in the week to come. But prediction, divination, or fortune-telling are just some of the ways in which the deck of Tarot cards has been used through the ages.
For experienced Tarot card users, these ancient cards serve a variety of purposes like counseling, therapy, healing, spiritual growth, and energy work. Originally an ancient book of wisdom, the Tarot took its card form in the middle ages, the earliest surviving deck dating back to the 15th century.
Hundreds of distinct Tarot decks are available today: the choice extends from decks with modem imagery to the classic ones like the Rider Waite pack. Tarot consists of 78 strikingly vivid, pictorial cards, divided into two sections commonly called the major and minor arcana. The major arcana consists of 22 cards with names such as the Magician, the Empress, Strength, the Tower, the Chariot.
A primary and sometimes a secondary meaning is assigned to each of these cards. For instance, in popular occult, the Magician represents willpower, the Emperor: realization, the Chariot: triumph, the Hermit: prudence, and the Devil: fate.
The minor arcana, which consists of 56 cards, is divided into four suits of wands, cups, swords, and coins. Each suite, which is said to represent a different level of consciousness, has 10 cards plus a King, Queen, Knight, and Page. From these cards have come to our modem deck of playing cards with the suits of diamonds, hearts, clubs, and spades.
In an essay in the book Who Am I, Angeles Arrien writes: ‘The Tarot has the ability to reveal to us, both, individually, collectively and therapeutically, the gifts and talents inherent within the psyche; it can also reveal, through problematic symbols, our personal psycho-pathology. Within the Tarot, 13 symbols of the 78 represent neurotic or challenging states.’
USING TAROT FOR SELF-DEVELOPMENT
Ma Prem Usha, an Oshoite who has been using and researching the Tarot cards for the past 13 years, emphasizes: ‘The Tarot has been evolved for spiritual growth and this should be a person’s essential reason for using it. It gets you in touch with your strengths and weaknesses at the four levels of consciousness: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.’
With Tarot, you can ‘change energies, look at situations from another viewpoint, sidestep blocks, and progress. Longtime Tarot user, fashion designer Maria Jaworska-Weber, a Polish-born French national who frequently comes to India, remarks that a Tarot is a remarkable tool for developing intuition.
Let us consider some simple exercises with the Tarot deck. For the new initiate, it is best to use just the 22 cards of the major arcana for the following exercises. To begin: hold the Tarot deck picture upwards, keep shuffling the cards and ask ‘what do I need to look at in my life right now?’ ‘It would be even better,’ suggests Maria, ‘if you could make the question more specific and directly pertaining to any blocks or problem in your life.’
As you shuffle the cards, the picture on top keeps changing. Stop at the picture you are drawn to at that moment. Look at it carefully. If you have never seen Tarot cards before and have no idea of the primary or secondary meanings assigned to the cards, so much the better. There are many books that detail the meanings, but the value of this particular exercise lies in creating your own meanings. If you are using the Rider Waite deck, keep in mind that it was created in the early part of the 20th century and the symbols bear relevance to that time and culture.
Study the card that you have chosen. Describe it to yourself. What kind of landscape does it depict? Is it lush, green, fertile or dry, desert-like, desolate? If there is a person on the card, note what the person is doing. What kind of person is he or she? Is she approachable or remote? Describe the person. Describe his or her feelings.
Write down your description. See if you can get a story out of it. Why is the person where he or she is? What sort of lives have they led? What has brought them here?
When you have finished writing whatever you can, read it and relate it to your life. Let us suppose what you wrote reads: ‘The man in the card looks, very stiff. He cannot open up to others. He sits against a bleak background and leads an isolated life.’ Now consider how this description fits your own life situation.
Perhaps you were drawn to that card because it reflects your own problem or situation in life, and until you picked the card you didn’t see it quite so clearly. You will be amazed at how revealing this exercise can be of your internal states of being, which put up blocks to comprehensive self-growth.
Psychologists often use similar tools, asking people to spin a story from a picture. This technique works especially well with Tarot cards. Once you have a basic description that clarifies where you are in life, then you can dialogue the figure in the card. Do this like a conversation: Write down your statement or question, then allow the card to answer. Write down any thoughts that surface, no matter how insignificant or trivial.
If you are not used to right-brain methods, you may feel inhibited, uncomfortable, or dismissive of the value of such an exercise. If you don’t censor yourself, surprisingly relevant answers can provide deep insight into your situation. If you keep using this method, you may find your intuition developing in other areas of your life as well.
In this exercise, we are again using the Tarot card as ‘an outer mirror for the internal process’. Choose any card from the major arcana which appeals to you at this particular moment. Gaze at the chosen card for some time, then close you eyes. Imagine yourself before a door. Depending on whether you are a visual or tactile type of person, attempt to actually ‘see’ or ‘feel’ the door, focusing the mind on every small detail. When the picture is clear, open the door.
Let the scene displayed in the Tarot card that you have chosen unfold in front of you. If you can see it all at once, well and good, otherwise build the picture bit by bit. What kind of landscape have you stepped into? Take your time to ‘fill in’ the details. Add anything which will make it more real for you.
When the scene is clear, imagine the figure from the Tarot card walking into it. If the card shows a seated figure, you can imagine yourself rounding a bend and coming across the person. Greet him or her much as you would anyone you are meeting and hold a conversation. Say anything you like, ask questions and get answers. Don’t try to force the pace. Let yourself respond completely to what is taking place in the scene visualized. This is a process of self-revelation, of opening your heart and mind to what you stand for and are at the present moment in your life.
FINDING YOUR LIFE PURPOSE
Another way to use the Tarot decks is to work out your personal card. A simple calculation will reveal the card which will have particular significance for you. You can, suggests Ma Prem Usha, use this card for meditation.
Write down your birth date with the day, month, and year one under the other. Add the numbers. Suppose your date is June 23, 1997. Write these numbers one under the other and add them. You will get 2026. Add the numbers: 2+0+2+6=10. Keep any number below 21, but also add the compound number to get a single-digit number. In this example, the compound number is 10, and the single numeral is 1.
These numbers relate to the 22 cards of the major arcana, There are 22 cards, the first one is numbered 0 and the last 21 If your calculations yield a number above 21, add the two digits of the compound number to get a single number. If the number is 21 or below, you will have two numbers, a compound number, and a one-digit number. In the example given above, the personal cards are card number 1 which is the Magician, and number 10, the Wheel of Fortune.
These are the cards that define your life path. The single number card is the main card (the personality card) and the compound number card often shows you the kind of problems you may face. In his book Tarot, Adam Fronteras points out that ‘the cards serve as visual guides to the readers, who must then use their psychic powers’ which each one of us possesses, albeit to varying degrees.
In addition to the personal card, you can also derive a year card. This is done by adding up the day; month and year of your last birthday. The year card, in an uncannily accurate way, gives you the kind of lessons you will learn during the year, and also broadly suggest what your approach to life should be during that year.
THE SPIRITUAL DECK
‘The Tarot should be treated with respect,’ cautions Ma Prem Usha. ‘Playing with it can be dangerous. It was years before I read the cards for anyone, and that to very gingerly. You have to be very sure of the mechanics, of the incredibly powerful tool that Tarot can be.’
She decries the current trend of acquiring the Tarot deck and using it (without any Groundwork) by looking up the meanings in the accompanying book. Some of the assigned meanings are negative in nature. Further, a card can take on a negative meaning ‘depending on where you are coming from. For instance, the Moon: it can look sinister, it can look happy, sad or like a piece of chapatti if you are hungry.’
The power of the mind is tremendous. It can leave you spinning in a vortex of negativity if you don’t know how to change the negative energy and the vibes that you are receiving from a card. It is best, counsel Ma Prem Usha, to allow yourself to be guided by an expert if you intend to do intensive work with the Tarot.
You could, she suggests, pick up a spiritual deck first. ‘You cannot go wrong with it. It’s Osho’s work and interpretations. Each of the pictorial cards in it has a message. An accompanying book offers an explanation. You can use the spiritual deck in the morning and evening and spend some time meditating on the spiritual messages.’
As you experiment further with such exercises and grow with the Tarot, the cards will serve as a powerful and creative tool that will give you insight both into the different levels of your consciousness and your current spiritual growth.
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