August 21, 2016

Ask Me Anything: How Did I Learn Analytical Tarot?



I recently got this question from a viewer who's making his way through my video responses to the 30-question Tarot Challenge. He was watching video #15, "Book knowledge or intuitive knowledge?" You can watch the full video here to get an idea what he's commenting on, but the question he asked me sparked a big response.
Q: Analytical Tarot - wow! I haven't heard of your approach before but I like the idea that you don't succumb to providing practical advice based on what the client asks you, framing that advice on what you think you intuit with the images - this sounds like a much better approach - what resources do you suggest on how to begin building skill with this approach, James?
A: I wish I could tell you! My Tarot education was based on traditional, image-based RWS. I was (very badly) self-taught for quite a few years, but eventually got some guided education through believe-it-or-not an online Wiccan school called Sacred Mists. What can I say? It was a transitional point for me between leaving the LDS Church and embracing atheism. Naturally, the Jesus-with-Breasts Goddess of Wicca was the next logical step. There were some other wanderings before I accepted that I was an atheist and a Satanist, but that's a whole 'nother story. 

Say what you will about them - and there's a lot to say - but they had (and presumably still have) a pretty solid Tarot course. Reading the images and following intuition were emphasized, but they also did a good job of teaching from a set of key-words for each card. I was about 2/3 of the way through that course when it occurred to me that I can change the key-words to whatever I preferred them to be. Thus began my days as a Tarot hacker! I started by replacing the Trumps with the 10 planets and 12 signs of the zodiac, and replacing the pip numerology with the medieval numerology written by Agrippa in his Three Books of Occult Philosophy (Llewellyn has an excellent source-book version fully annotated by Donald Tyson.) 

At that point in time, I didn't connect very well with the 22 trumps, so that precipitated my move away from Tarot into playing cards, which pretty much became a 5-year study in reading the pips from ~2010 through ~2015. I didn't realize it at the time since I never even heard about Lenormand until sometime in 2015, but what I learned to do in that space of 5 years was to read cards as pairs and links kinda-sorta like what's done in Lenormand. When reading as links I learned to see direction from one card to another - who does what, what goes where, what's connected, and so on. This means that when I read the Tarot, every single card has complimentary and polar allies, but also complimentary and polar opposites. If somebody doesn't like the 4 of Spades they see, then I go looking either for the 6 of Diamonds in the cards or suggest an application of the 6 of Diamonds to the client. Or if somebody doesn't like the influence of the Magician, I go looking for (or suggest) The World. And so on. 

After this five-year study of the pips, I had a better understanding how to read face cards, I worked the order-three Square of Saturn into my practice, and when I was ready to come back to Tarot, I had a better understanding what role the trumps should play. That's brought me to where I am today and the way I've restructured the trumps to reflect the swing back and forth between chaos and order, and reading the pips according to the 9 Satanic Statements of the Satanic Bible. Because of the way I've learned to read the cards, I've fallen into an analytical approach. To me, it's what make sense - for better and for worse, I don't know if I can see it any other way. When I use RWS Tarot decks with each card fully illustrated, I actually have a lot of trouble using them as Tarot decks and for me they've become elaborate oracle decks. 

Because of the time I've spent reading playing cards, I now prefer to read with Marseilles-style decks because it's faster and easier for me to see the pip and suit value of a card than to look at the picture. I've got all the information I need in my head - I know how the pieces go together, I know what happens when I combine them a certain way, and I don't need a picture to tell me what it means. In this way, I'm a deeply analytical reader. I can't recommend any books because I myself didn't use any books to get where I am today: it just happened as a natural evolution of what I was doing. Perhaps try reading with a Marseilles-style Tarot deck or with playing cards? That's going to force you to draw on your internalized knowledge of the cards' suits and pip values and will take your attention away from the cards on the table and more to the broader philosophy that that informs the cards' structure.

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