The First Official "22nd" Post
With a mycological expedition + a mini-essay . . . .
Starting off today with a recap of recent EP developments—then sharing two different, but equally delightful decks where mushroom art meets Tarot creativity. And finally, exploring my theory of “the three Tarots.”
For new readers, and anyone who missed the announcement—EP is adopting a monthly schedule of posts on the 1st, 11th, and 22nd. That doesn’t mean there won’t be other posts, but it does mean there will be those three!
And beginning on August 1, there will be a paid EP option. I’ll explain more between now and then. But today I have two rather long topics to cover, so full speed ahead.
A Little Foraging
In case you don’t know/remember (I’d forgotten), the activity of looking for wild mushrooms is traditionally referred to as “foraging.” And in case you want to take up this activity—it’s super-important to get educated FIRST, since poisonous shrooms outnumber edible varieties by hundreds to one.
Fortunately, there is no lack of available resources:
But you can avoid danger entirely (!) by foraging for Mushroom Tarots. My own journey along these lines began with news of this special issue from the always amazing folks at Broccoli Magazine:
In which . . . “artists, writers, and fungi enthusiasts from around the world will explore mushroom fact and fantasy, collecting specimens of all kinds: the strange and familiar, beautiful and ugly, toxic and healing, ephemeral and enduring.” Including . . . “MycoAstrology, Mushroom Fashion Week, the search for a lost perfume,” and much more.
In addition to the magazine, there’s a truly ravishing, 44-card Mushroom Oracle Deck:
So of course I wondered if there might be a traditional Tarot deck adapted along mushroom lines—and of course there is. Artist and avid forager Chris Adams has “paired each card in the Major Arcana with a mushroom species based either on morphology or experiential interactions with the chosen mushroom.”
I’m still reflecting on the inspirational prompt to “Think Like A Mushroom,” but am reassured (as always) to find that Tarot eventually touches everything.
The Three Tarots
That last observation makes a useful transition to the mini-essay I wrote on impulse recently, while trying to sort something out in my own mind.
I’ll talk about what that was in some future post—but for now, I’ll just share the result.
People use the word Tarot in dozens of ways, to talk about a very wide variety of ideas, objects and activities. I suspect many of them would find it difficult to define exactly what they think Tarot "is" or "does."
I'm no exception! In fact, when I look over my own work, I often see instances of vagueness and discontinuity.
But after years of trying to define my approach to writing and thinking about Tarot, I've settled on the following as sort of a "position paper." Or you could think of it as a "background statement." Either way, it gives an idea of how I think about Tarot.
Basically, I try to keep in mind a fairly simple three-tiered system:
The First Tarot is the sum over time of all its examples, interpretations, and explanations.
The Second Tarot is purely personal--one individual's unique formulation of experiences and ideas.
The Third Tarot is an object of exploitation, for commercial or personal purposes.
I’ve used EP mainly as a platform to discuss Tarot One, which I think hasn’t had nearly enough exploration and exposure in recent years. Along the way, I’ve also talked about Tarot Two, sharing some opinions as well as a little about my own approach.
I decided to summarize these two perspectives, as part of the EP reboot. And after that, I’ll offer some comments on Tarot Three.
First . . .
Tarot One is an amazingly complex historical, social, and aesthetic construction. It's everything from 15th century painted images to the AI-designed decks for sale on Etsy today. And from Italian card games to esoteric rituals to online "readings."
Trust me--you can only skim the surface of Tarot One, no matter how hard you try. Put together all the commentaries written or compiled in just the past fifty years (by scholars and theorists such as Stuart Kaplan, Michael Dummett, Mary Greer, Rachel Pollack, Robert Place) and you'll have only a smattering.
Then add to all that an ever-expanding panorama of creative expressions, ranging from novels to paintings to dance performances, and far beyond. Plus thousands of decks, produced over five centuries. Plus academic research that ranges from explorations in art history to experiments in paranormal psychology, with much in between.
So we can talk about Tarot One til the proverbial cows come home, because much can be said objectively and factually. Decks were definitely painted and printed in certain times and places. Books were definitely written by certain individuals. Esoteric societies were definitely formed by certain groups, and practiced certain rituals. Some number of decks or books are sold in a given period, some number of people are advertising Tarot services on Facebook, and so on.
But once the factual ends, we move into the realms of interpretation, imagination, speculation, and opinion. Which is fine when presented in those terms--but not when stated as "the truth about Tarot."
Second . . .
Then there's the unique Tarot Two that exists for you, personally. It's created by your own experiences and individual inclinations; shaped by classes or books that have influenced your practice; infused by all the readings you've done or received. And it's completely different from anyone else's Tarot.
As a practical matter, anyone writing or teaching about how to understand and use Tarot is writing or teaching from a personal perspective. And from this perspective, there's an obvious difference between a sentence that begins "Tarot is . . . " and one that begins "I think of Tarot as . . . "
There are a lot of people out there writing “Tarot is” sentences!
I try not to, but probably fail at times. Like most people who have given a lot of thought to Tarot—and especially those who have spent a lot of time reading for other people—I’ve developed some strong ideas. I explained my own positions in a Tarot Manifesto, published here on EP quite a while ago.
But once I started thinking about this “Three Tarots” structure, I thought I ought to review and summarize my personal view. So here it is in a nutshell!
I have a very strong sense, based on years of experience, that Tarot can provide information not accessible from other sources. As a reader, my goal is to open a time and place where that information can appear. I try to avoid knowledge or presumptions that would lead me in a particular direction, and focus objectively on translating what the spread seems to say.
Put another way—I don’t want to know what the client hopes to learn or explore. I let the Tarot indicate something the client should be aware of. After that, if the client wants to discuss or ask questions, I’m happy to look at the spread again for details that might be of interest in that context.
As far as my other opinions go . . . I think the history and nature of Tarot is a deep mystery. It seems to me that its medieval origins are crucially important, and that every subsequent interpretation tells us something about how people think about Tarot. Esoteric approaches all have value from that perspective. But in my view, the original structures and essential imagery of the Tarot deck are fascinating precisely because they can generate so many different ideas.
That’s MY Tarot. I’d love it if everyone defined their personal Tarot, took ownership of it, and respected the same process for others.
But that turns out to be a complicated proposition.
Finally . . .
When we get to Tarot Three, there are several categories. Some examples:
Using Tarot just to make money, with no other motive.
Using Tarot as a personal “power trip.”
Using Tarot to justify extreme or hateful attitudes.
Using Tarot as a lure or trick to attract (or frighten) vulnerable people.
Yes . . . people--individually and in groups--do all those things.
I’ve written about several such examples here on EP, so rather than say more now, I’ll plan to share summaries of a few past posts.
You’ve probably spotted the problem with my three-tiered construct: not every topic or instance will fit neatly into just one category. In fact, the three tiers sort of merge into one another, since every person who works with Tarot in any way is using it “personally”—and every use of Tarot, even if it’s ill-intentioned, becomes part of Tarot One.
But I find these categories helpful in thinking about Tarot broadly, and in finding the right perspective for approaching various phenomena. So they make a helpful guide as I think about the future of EP.
I’ll be sending out a couple of Daily Notes this week, with a little more about changes ahead for EP. And I’ll tuck in an idea about how “Save the Cat!” (a popular structure for plotting novels) can be applied to Tarot.
As always—thanks so much for reading. C