I’ve been thinking for years about the theory and practice of New Year’s resolutions. Like many people I can’t resist making them, and always end up breaking them.
But for this Tarot-perfect year of 2022, I’m trying a different approach—starting from the ground up.
I often learn a lot by finding out how words came into a particular use, and what properties they share with other words. Which makes it all the more tantalizing that we have no idea how the word “Tarot” came down to us.
In fact, nothing is known about the lexicography of our key word, even though many (many) Tarot commentators start out by asserting that they know the true history of this mysterious word—or quoting someone else’s claimed knowledge.
I traced the possibilities and opinions on “that word” as far as I could in The Historical Tarot: A Prologue.
But! When it comes to the word “resolution,” we have an etymology to go by. The basic idea underlying “resolve” and “resolution” has to do with returning something complex to its simpler components. This use dates back to the late 14th century—which means it might have been heard in conversation right around the time the historical Tarot first emerged.
The 14th century was also a rich period in the development of medieval alchemy, so I can’t resist seeing a connection with the process known as solve et coagula.
In ordinary conversation today, the verb “to resolve” can mean (a) to untangle a confusion; (b) to defuse a situation; (c) to eliminate a problem; (d) to express determination. The noun “resolution” can refer to the outcome of untangling, defusing, etc., but it can also refer to an official document—or to the intention to do something in particular. It’s interesting to think about how all those meanings interconnect.
The phrase “New Year's resolution,” in reference to “a specific intention to better oneself,” appears at least as early as the 1780s, and has persisted ever since—but for much of that time, it was used mostly in relation to religious piety and moral improvement.
In the 21st century, resolutions have become mainly about personal matters. Losing weight and “getting fit,” starting a meditation program, looking for a new job or new relationship, being more optimistic or productive, breaking a bad habit. Et cetera.
Those things are all hard to do, for various reasons, and so there are plenty of annual commentaries, with lots of advice about making and keeping resolutions. None of which seems to help much, but here’s my contribution anyway:
One problem is mixing up “resolutions” and “goals.” It seems helpful to think of resolutions as structural, goals as functional. Or resolutions as strategic, goals as tactical. And so on.
Another problem is thinking in terms of a whole year. The Gregorian calendar year is actually a mathematical construct, and though it has some connection with the natural world, it’s rather abstract. Why not make resolutions seasonally—either in relation to lived experience (it’s getting cold! hot! wet!) or ritually, on the solstices and equinoxes?
That way, you can feel closer to the resolutions you make, and they can be smaller.
On the other hand, there’s something nice about having a theme for the year ahead. So perhaps we can think of a resolution as choosing a thread to weave through the next 365 days.
I like both those ideas, so I’m working toward a resolution scheme that features a thematic thread long enough for the whole year, along with shorter resolutions that might begin, progress, and bear fruit within the 90 or so days of a quarter.
I didn’t precisely take this approach in Resolutions, 2022—but that list reflects some of the thinking outlined above. And I’m planning to update along the way, so you might want to have a look that post, to see how I’m starting out on this year’s journey.
I’ve decided to include versions of the “Fool” card from different decks in every post and newsletter for the month of January. Here’s one that seems to capture a sense of the resolutions dilemma: