The Tuesday Newsletter (11.9)
Opinions and adjustments . . .
Housekeeping note: I didn’t include Twitter in the “Tarot online” mini-series because it’s a relatively small topic. Although there’s plenty of Tarot-labeled activity on Twitter, it’s mostly Card-of-the-Day (COTD) tweets, along with “DM for reading” posts.
In fairness, there’s not a lot you can say meaningfully about Tarot in tweet-sized messages. But some people do try. And from my own perspective, there’s a lot of potential for attracting/expanding substantive interest in Tarot on Twitter by connecting it with other streams of interest. I’ll say more about that in a future issue of EP, and I’ll share the criteria I used in trying to craft a semi-serious Tarot Twitter-stream for myself.
Now, on to the opinions and adjustments—in reverse order.
There’s really just one adjustment, but it’s a big one and applies in various ways, so plural seems more fitting. It’s also (spoiler alert) incomplete as of now.
I’ve worried all along about using the word “extreme” as a contrast to “lifestyle Tarot.” In its basic form, “extreme” can be objectively applied to many phenomena—extreme temperatures, extreme sports (X-Games), extreme environments (deep sea vents, Death Valley). But as soon as you add an “is*” you have moved into different territory.
Finish off with a “t” and you have a person—extremist. Finish off with an “m” and you have an ideological position—extremism.
Nowadays, extremists are thought of as bomb-throwers, either figuratively or literally, and extremism is correctly considered a serious danger to safety and good order. Those implications don’t align with what I’m trying to say.
Closer to what I’m interested in would be “radical,” in the sense of opposing the status quo. However that word is used very loosely now, and the useful distinction between “radical” and “reactionary” has been almost completely lost. In times past, the two words meant going to extremes—but in different directions. Radicals went to the left, politically, and reactionaries to the right.
To oversimplify: reactionaries wanted to change nothing (or even erase many changes already made) while radicals wanted to change everything (or even destroy it all and start over).
Neither approach was very practical, but at least the two words had real meaning. Now we’re stuck with one word—”radical”—that just refers to going “too far” in the “wrong” direction.
So “radical” and “extreme” have both ended up as blunt accusations, with all nuance lost.
Which leaves me stuck for a word that would signify “going beyond” or “pushing the envelope” or “destabilizing the status quo.” And as soon as I made that list, I realized that it has a set of Tarot connections I hadn’t consciously thought of:
“Going beyond” is what Court de Gebelin and the other early esotericists were trying to do, by elaborating on a set of playing cards that seemed to contain some sort of significant symbolism. Then, after about 50 years . . .
“Pushing the envelope” is what the Golden Dawn folks were trying to do, by taking those rudimentary ideas about Tarot into a new, much more complex context. After another 50 years . . .
“Destabilizing the status quo” is what Tarot theorists and artists were trying to do by shifting emphasis away from a rather exhausted esoteric tradition and toward a highly energized psychological focus.
So here we are, coming up on 50 years since the transformational 1970s. And the questions are: What now? What next?
Actually, the fundamental question may be—is Tarot anything more than a tool for personal growth? If that’s really all there is to it, the potential for future development of Tarot theory/practice is (in my opinion) pretty much nil.
And that may be why there’s no good word for whatever isn’t “lifestyle” Tarot. I haven’t given up searching, but I’m also in somewhat of a quandary.
The quandary was crystallized by the three Substack newsletters I found while researching the last issue of Exploration Project. Each of these publications seems intelligent, with a creative approach to thinking/writing about Tarot. But all three emphasize Tarot as a projective psychological tool, while paying very little (or zero) attention to any other aspects.
Jessica Dore’s book is subtitled “Using the Cards for Self-Care, Acceptance, and Growth,” but she has a broad view of the therapeutic approach, reflected in this passage from her newsletter:
Tarot itself is a shapeshifter, depending on the context. Which means that whatever the task of the fool’s journey may be, it's something that morphs and changes with the spiral of time. I wonder whether one of the tasks of this age, which Tarot maps out for us, is to liberate the psyche or soul from the constraints of the individual (The Tower). To re-collect and re-member ourselves as part of a whole. It sounds hokey, and that’s a real fear for me. But its more than ideology, it’s an opportunity for a radical shift in how we approach imbalance and equilibrium, disease and wellness.
(Note the word “radical”!)
I like that passage, but only up to a point. It does move the “personal” from mere individuality toward something that’s not just inter-personal but potentially trans-personal. However—I’m not sure this line of thought doesn’t just expand the realm of the “personal” to take up more and more territory.
Which leads me to raise the question of whether Tarot can have a non-personal dimension. Nothing to do with individuals, or collectives, or the “human experience.”
Certainly that’s not a consideration in the mainstream of Tarot today. Caroline Cala Donofrio, another of the three authors I looked at, is quite explicit in limiting Tarot to the personal/inter-personal realm, writing:
As most modern readers will tell you, the tarot is not about fortunetelling, nor is it about neat, definitive answers. The cards are simply one path to reflection, a way of better knowing ourselves and others through universal themes.
Meg Jones Wall offers a similar description:
Tarot is a tool for self-exploration: a way to connect with our own intuition, a method of learning about ourselves and understanding what drives and shapes us.
I don’t fault anyone for adopting a psychological or therapeutic approach to Tarot. That’s a personal/professional choice.
But I am really impatient with people assuming that their own approach to Tarot is normative—or exhaustive. There are many (many) of these examples, in which Tarot commentators say/write that “Tarot is . . . .” or “Tarot isn’t . . . .” such-and-such. But very few people qualify their statements, or take ownership of their assertions by saying “In my view, Tarot is/isn’t . . . .”
Today, rejecting the idea of “fortune-telling” seems to be regarded as a necessity—and I think it’s meant to make working with Tarot seem like a legitimate, respectable activity. Placing Tarot in an explicitly psychological context produces an even stronger version of the same effect.
My concern is this: The more these exclusionary statements are repeated, the more dominant they become—and any approaches that venture outside “respectable” territory may be increasingly stigmatized.
Perhaps, as a radical/extreme gesture (!), I’ll title my next book The Fortune-Teller’s Guide to Tarot Theory and Practice.
The foregoing seems like a lot of seriousness—and it’s all words. So to balance out, the next EP newsletter will focus on Sacred Geometry II, a unique painting with some Tarot connections.
As always, thanks for reading! C