February 21, 2016

Just look at the picture!

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I understand that this argument is probably going to fall on deaf ears since I'm in an extreme minority of readers who are completely non-intuitive, but for the image-based intuitive readers out there, I don't know how to put into words the way I feel when you tell me that even though I read with a Marseille-style deck (non-illustrated pips) that I'm still an image-based reader because "Pip symbols are still images!"

I suppose yes, they're still images, but you're going to have a difficult time convincing me that I'm an image-based reader just like you when you turn around and talk about the importance of wrapping yourself in the image of the card and letting your intuition flow from the imagery on the card.

No. Just... no.

I'll talk about this later, but it's enough to say right now that I understand perfectly well what these readers are talking about. Believe it or not, I didn't learn to read Tarot in a vacuum. My earliest teachers prescribed to the same reading style that so many people follow: the insistence that the images on the cards are universal archetypes that are known to all humans, and all that's required to read them is to look at the images, open yourself to your intuition, and permit the answer to reveal itself.

This kind of reading style is deeply problematic for a variety of reasons.

First, What if you're not an intuitive? And I don't mean that you don't have "the gift." I mean, what if you don't care or don't believe in psychic intuition? Believe it or not, faith in intuition is not necessary for reading Tarot.

Second, Who says the images are universal? The images conceived by A.E. Waite are steeped in European culture and Gnostic Christianity and Jewish kabbalah. What if you're from, say... almost anywhere in Africa? Or from almost anywhere in the Middle East? These are countries whose interaction with Europe is in many ways marked by colonialism and war. Chances are, if you're from one of these countries, then the European conventions in the RWS Tarot aren't going to tickle your fancy. Or, talking about the Jewish kabbalah, What happens if Jewish mysticism has no place in your philosophical or religious world view? Then all of a sudden, all of those kabbalic references that Waite snuck into the Tarot mean absolutely squat.

Third, if looking at pictures and just letting it flow is all it takes to read Tarot, then why do you need a deck of Tarot cards? Why can't you just, you know... look at a copy of National Geographic? Answer me that.

Fourth, getting back to the Tarot... my biggest irritation with image-based readers is that they frequently say there's no need to do any real research into the philosophy that informed the images on the cards. Waite had a very particular idea of what each of the Tarot cards meant, and he didn't just dream it up. He was working from a vast reservoir of knowledge and philosophy, and when he commissioned Pamela Coleman Smith to paint his deck, he chose the images that he did based on the underlying philosophy. So, when Waite read Tarot, he looked at the cards and he knew exactly what he was looking at. In other words, the cards were a short-hand reference back to his original notes.

But where it gets tricky is when readers come along who aren't familiar with the source material that Waite used to inform his conception of the Tarot. When Waite looked at the 9 of Pentacles, he saw an image that matched up precisely with his own beliefs and philosophy. But when these other Tarot readers come along - who aren't in any way familiar with Waite's beliefs and philosophy - they'll look at the 9 of Pentacles and interpret it completely differently. Instead of seeing what Waite intended, they'll impose their own views on the card at hand with no regard for the originally intended meaning.

This is a lot like those church groups who hold their weekly Bible meetings at the public bookstore. They have zero conception about the context in which the Bible was written and are completely ignorant of the time and place in which it was formed - or the needs of the day which it was addressing - but they read out of it all the same and impose their own present-day concerns and limited views. Do you see the disconnect? These people are entirely missing the point...

... and that's the same way I feel when I see a Tarot reader tell me that the Tarot images are simply universal and known to all people the world over. Because they're not universal. They're not known to all people the world over. Yeah, I read with a Marseille-style deck, it's not the Marseille Tarot. In fact, it's the Tarot of the Loka, which was made specifically to be used for playing cards.

The pips are entirely non-illustrated and are only numbers and colored patterns.

The face cards are completely lacking any occultic references, and when I read them I'm not looking for snails in the corner, the presence of sunflowers, or the pattern on somebody's robe. There is no association with the image on the card and the underlying philosophy it represents.

The trump cards are illustrated, but again, outside of the most overt similarity since it was patterned on the appearance of the RWS Tarot, the cards lack any occultic reference. This is doubly distant because I don't follow a standard interpretation of the trumps.

There's nothing to do with me meditating on the images of the cards and allowing their universal archetypes to evoke an intuitive message from deep within my psychic depths. If that's your reading style, cool.  You keep doing it. But that's not who I am, that's not how I read the cards, and I challenge you to realize that when I say, "I don't read images," I mean it.

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