Daily Notes #7
Some Tarot therapy thoughts revisited . . .
I’m a bit torn about today’s door. But here’s how I originally described it:
From this vantage, you will see Tarot as a means of evoking memories, associations, emotions, or other kinds of experience that aid in self-discovery and personal healing. | Along the therapeutic path, you might find projective instruments like the Rorschach and Thematic Apperception tests, along with hypnosis, journaling, and bodywork.
Now that I look back at that summary, I see it as overly weighted toward the psychological aspects of health and healing. And that may be because so much of what’s been written about Tarot in the last couple of decades has been slanted toward the “mind” side of the mind-body connection.
In fact, when I looked around for something in my recent notes, or something a quick search might turn up, I couldn’t come up with much that pertains to Tarot as a tool for therapy on the physical side of the equation. Though there’s a lot about Jung, the self, personal growth, and so on.
So I went back to my second book, The Tarot: Methods, Mastery, and More, to find out what I thought about Tarot and therapy once-upon-a-time. I’d written a long chapter titled “Wellness: Rejoining Mind and Body,” divided in three parts: “The Mind-Body Connection,” “Symbols and Symptoms,” and “Therapeia.”
Though I have mixed feelings about the book as a whole, some parts hold up well—and some of those are in this chapter. So here’s a summary passage from early on:
As we have already glimpsed, the Tarot images and structures can provide a powerful symbolic focus for the interaction of consciousness and environment. Tarot opens the opportunity to step outside ordinary space-time and discover a point of connection between the present moment and the totality of life. In divination we do this for discovery, for clarity, for knowledge. In magic we do it to create desired results. But in both, there is an important element of healing.
Most people who practice divination with Tarot for any length of time find that it often takes on the character of therapy. People use the temenos, or sacred space, of the Tarot reading to work through problems, explore intuitions, and formulate strategies--much as they would use the psychoanalyst’s office, where time is precious because it is expensive, and place is special because it is protected from the outside world.
While the healing emphasis of divination is on emotional, psychological life, magical practices closely align with healing of the physical body. In shamanic cultures the preeminent purpose of magic is healing (of individuals, community, even the earth), and ceremonial magic at its height in the Renaissance was intricately involved with the healing arts.
The usefulness of Tarot and other symbol systems is mainly in healing (restoring emotional and physical balance), not in curing disease. But because many physical illnesses involve unconscious processes, the symbolic work that fosters healing can provide important support for curing. By contributing directly to healing and indirectly to curing, Tarot can be a tool for regaining and maintaining wellness in the largest sense of the word.
At the time of writing that chapter, “alternative medicine” was considered much more fringy than it is today, so a lot of what followed was explanation and justification (three pages of footnotes!), punctuated with real-life examples and anecdotes. One story recounts how a cancer patient envisioned herself as The Fool while she went through a journey of diagnosis and treatment, and at the same time, used The Star to constellate healing imagery.
Another story involved adding imagination to physical therapy exercises by walking, standing, and/or sitting in the postures of various Tarot characters. Now that I’ve revisited this idea I like it even more, though it would obviously work better if you chose Waite-Smith characters rather than the strangely contorted Thoth figures.
And that’s three minutes! C