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Tarot and Possibility

by Ellen Goldberg


Ever since man has believed in the Gods he has sought their council. Oracular systems are a universal phenomenon. The relationship between humankind and the Divine is an intimate one. It is within the capacity of every human being to experience this personal relationship. Traditionally this is accomplished through meditation, spiritual experience and the use of oracles.

The Tarot is a living Oracle based in the Western Hermetic Tradition. It is a great river, a compendium of knowledge, into which the streams of Kabalah, Alchemy, Astrology and Hermetic philosophy have flowed.

Composed of a series of transformative images, the Tarot is a handbook to higher consciousness. Many people only know the Tarot as a fortune telling devise which enables one to see into the future. In fact, this is one of the lesser or baser uses of the cards. The Tarot would rather turn your attention within than without. It can give you insight into any situation, especially, insight into one’s self. It will gladly show you where you need to make your adjustment at any given moment in order to come to your center or highest state of consciousness.

There are many misconceptions about the Tarot. A common one is the belief that one must be “psychic” to work with the cards. This is not true. However the converse is true, working with the cards will develop your intuitive capabilities.

The Tarot is primarily a method of divination, not fortune telling. The word “divination” means; “to communicate with the Divine”, and, in the Hermetic Tradition, the Divine is within. It lives as a spark waiting to be kindled and set ablaze.

Divination implies a communication with a consciousness different (higher, deeper, wiser) than our every day mind. This consciousness is called by many names, but in essence it is our own Higher Self.

As Tarot masters have observed, the images on the Tarot cards are there to make you think. Be open and aware of the thoughts that arise when looking at the images. These thoughts are often just the insight you are seeking.

People have meditated on the Tarot images for hundreds of years. When energy has been focused upon symbols, through years of contemplation, the symbols become imbued with energy. This energy causes truths connected to the image to surface in the mind of those who meditate upon the cards. Without aid of book or teacher inner truth is revealed.

History places the formation of the Tarot around the time of the Renaissance. In a curious way there is something quite wonderful in this. For this places the manifestation of the fully formed deck at only 600 years in the past.

In terms of time, this is a rather late development if we are thinking of magical oracles. After all, the great Chinese oracle, the I Ching, or Book of Changes, dates back to at least 1200 B.C. The Nordic Rune stones come from about that time as well. Aristotle wrote on (the then ancient) art of Palmistry in 400BC. Both Palmistry and Astrological prediction have been in use since approximately 3000 BC. Compared to these great Oracular systems the Tarot seems rather new born, like a Johnny-come-lately, and that is just the point.

The fact that the Tarot has come to us later than these other marvelous systems shows us that magic is alive and well. Magical creation is still in process. The Tarot is not a gift out of the distant past, it is happening now. The Tarot is still forming, pliable, open to change, waiting for new aspects of it to be discovered. New decks are constantly being created, new readings invented, new correspondences to other systems revealed.

Since the Renaissance the basic form of the Tarot has remained remarkably consistent.

For those new to the Tarot, this deck of seventy-eight cards is divided into two groups: the 22 Major Arcana, and the 56 Minor Arcana. The word Arcana means “secrets.” These are the great secrets of life and its mysteries, including the universal laws and forces that move our being. The Tarot shows how to work with these energies for our evolution.

The images of the 22 Major Arcana cards represent the Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious, that aspect of consciousness that connects the entire human race. The Collective is a great sea of consciousness out of which our own consciousness is but a small inlet or bay.

Archetypes are patterns that have existed since the dawn of time. Patterns we share with all mankind. They have the power, says Carl Jung, to determine our lives, more than the conscious mind. Archetypes often appear as images. These images are already within us at birth, for we are not, again according to Jung, born a clean slate. These patterns are memory deposits sleeping in our central nervous system, waiting to be awakened through life experience or art.

The 56 cards of the Minor Arcana are comprised of four suits: Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles. These are the numbered cards, the Ace through Ten, much like our modern playing cards. In each suit there are four additional cards, four people of a royal court, the Knight , Queen , King and Page.

The Minor Arcana are the Major Arcana brought down to earth. The Major Arcana are the primary Archetypes. The Minor’s translate these Archetypes into the events of every day life. In the Minor Arcana you will find most of the situations you will encounter, and all people you will meet, on your journey.

There are many approaches to using the tarot. The most well known way is to learn to “read” the cards. This is done by centering one’s self, holding one’s question in mind, mixing the deck, choosing cards, laying them out in an agreed upon pattern, and interpreting the cards. Some questions the cards always respond to with sincerity is “Tell me what I need to know about myself right now” or “What is the lesson this situation

is teaching me?”

Reading the cards allows the Tarot to act as an Oracle. In this way the Tarot reveals the inner nature of things. The Tarot yearns to show you the spiritual or soul lesson to be learned in any situation. It allows you to turn any event into a lesson for growth, and into an interaction with spirit. Everything that occurs in our life can be used as grist for the mill.

Above all the Tarot will reflect you back to your self, so that you can be aided in following that ancient dictum, the one carved over the entrance to the Eleusinian Mysteries, “Know Thy Self”.

Reading the cards is not to everyone’s taste. A powerful way to use Tarot, without reading, is to simply gaze at and meditate upon the images. This has a powerful effect on ones evolution. Because images are the primary mode of communication used by the subconscious ( dreams are mostly visual ) we can make use of the images of the Major Arcana to awaken within ourselves the corresponding mental and spiritual states represented by the cards.

For meditation I recommend the deck produced in the early 1900’s by Arthur Edward Waite and Pamela Colman Smith. This deck is known as the Rider-Waite Deck. Rider was the publisher. It is easily attainable as it is probably the most popular deck in the world.

I prefer this deck because Waite was an Alchemical scholar and Smith was a psychic artist of profound talent. The cards are friendly, clearly drawn and pleasant to look at. This deck is filled with symbols rooted in Alchemy, Kabalah, and Greek, Egyptian, Hebrew and Christian Mysticism. Symbols that are instantly recognized by the deeper levels of mind. The Major Arcana series comprise a code for Self-transformation and Self-realization.

Always remember that communication is a two way street. In one way, the Tarot encourages us to think, or become aware of certain ideas, based on the images it gives us for contemplation in a reading. Just as importantly, we can communicate from our end, sending a message to the Subconscious, telling it what we would like to awaken in ourselves. We do this by choosing an image on which to concentrate. Ten minutes of relaxed concentration, letting your eyes roam freely over the image, sends a powerful message to the deeper realms of being to awaken the chosen archetype.

This gives rise to so many possibilities for entering into a creative collaboration with the Tarot. This living oracle stands as a reminder that interaction with higher consciousness, of gaining perspective on your life by seeing through a different lens, and of participating in your own conscious evolution are real possibilities. The Tarot is still evolving, and if you want, you can be part of this evolution.

Ellen Goldberg is a psychotherapist and mystic who has been working within the Hermetic tradition for thirty five years. She is available for readings in Tarot, Palmistry and Astrology, and for psychotherapy sessions. Ellen is the director of the School of Oracles in Manhattan where she offers in-depth trainings in both Tarot and Palmistry. Ellen has been part of the faculty of the New York Open Center since 1986, and her next workshop there, Tarot and Kabalah is on March 6th.You may contact her at either ellengoldberg@nyc.rr.com or www.wisewomantherapist.com


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