March 20, 2017

Tarot Blog Hop: Tarot as Ritual

The “intellectual decompression chamber” of the Satanic temple might be considered a training school for temporary ignorance, as are all religious services! The difference is that the Satanist knows he is practicing a form of contrived ignorance in order to expand his will, whereas another religionist doesn’t - or if he does know, he practices that form of self-deceit which forbids such recognition. His ego is already too shaky from a religious inculcation to allow himself to admit such a thing as self-imposed ignorance!
Anton LaVey
The Satanic Bible
This blog essay is a contribution to the spring equinox Tarot blog hop, the topic of which is the magic of images. As it relates to Satanism, I could talk a lot about the magic of images and power of a chosen aesthetic, but as it relates to Tarot, this is a place where my words begin to fail me. And why? Because I've developed a reading style in which the images on the Tarot cards are irrelevant. For me, the image depicted on the card and its visual orientation in either the upright or reversed positions are of no importance. For me, Tarot is not an intuitive process of looking at a picture and letting it inspire me. Instead, I use a very analytical approach to the cards which depends not just on the suit and value of a card, but also how that card is connected to other cards. In a way, it's like diagramming a sentence in a language which uses multiple grammar cases: every card points to something else and changes depending on whether it acts, is acted upon, describes, or modifies something else. In this way, when I do a Tarot reading this is in no way to do with how an individual card informs the message, but is instead more like evaluating a spider web: which are the key strands? What moves if I pull on this thread, or what collapses when I pull on that thread? And so on.

But fortunately for me, our host Ms. Joy Vernon provided a few other ways to interpret this challenge which includes discussing Tarot in terms of ritual - and that's something I can definitely do. In Satanism there is the concept of the ritual chamber. This is a place where the Satanist can temporarily suspend disbelief, embrace ignorance, and imagine an is-to-be outside of present reality. Satanists are encouraged to either maintain a separate room as their ritual chamber and elaborately decorate it with the objects most conducive to their demonic selves, or to create on an as-needed basis such a space for the purpose of evoking their will. Some Satanists even forgo the material tools of greater magic and instead perform greater magic entirely within their minds in an intensely focused meditative state. But whatever material or immaterial form it takes, the concept of the ritual chamber is always observed.

And just as Satanists make use of the "intellectual decompression chamber" of greater magic and ritual, I would argue that many fortune-tellers (and their clients) suspend disbelief and enter into the temporary indulgence of fantasy. They may not do so with the overt intention of elaborate ritual or the use of specific tools, but I argue that when a fortune-teller or his or her client sits down in a chosen space and shuffles Tarot cards for a specific purpose, he or she is employing the principle of the ritual chamber. In that space, and in that time, the reader's or the client's disbelief is suspended and fantasy is permitted to reign supreme.

I embrace the magic and power of fortune-telling, but so too do I embrace its fantasy and illusion. Critics of fortune-telling, such as the famous skeptic James Randi, will say that fortune-telling is little better than wishful thinking and that it leads people astray. And to that I say, yes: those who indulge in only fantasy to the exclusion of reality are leading themselves astray and deserve everything they receive. But I also say that fantasy is as necessary as reality. The truth is that the world in which we live is indifferent to human suffering and is incapable of caring or having any feeling at all about anything. Lightning is incapable of caring about people it strikes dead. It is what it is. Accepting this reality is the first step to succeeding within it, but this doesn't change the fact that for even the strongest and most capable of us, reality can become a smothering weight.

When reality becomes intolerable, a Satanist may choose to employ ritual either as an occult method for changing reality in ways that would normally be impossible or as psychodrama to purge the mind. Likewise, when reality becomes intolerable, a fortuneteller may employ for him or herself (or for his or her clients) a tool to divine the future or to think through a problem and by doing so to purge the attendant fear, anxiety, uncertainty, and other obstacles to success. Perhaps the future is indeed being revealed through the cards? I accept that it can be done. But I also accept that fortune-telling can provide a deeply satisfying and even motivating fantasy by which the recipient of the reading may conceive of things that were previously out of the question.

Everybody wants to believe in fantasy. You, me, all of us - this is an inescapable truth of human life. What other explanation is there for the people - such as myself - who consistently turn to fortune-telling even though no fortune-teller has yet won the lottery by divining the winning numbers in advance? Or become a worldwide celebrity overnight by winning James Randi's $1,000,000 challenge? Or by preventing terrorist attacks, preparing for natural disasters, and finding missing children? When crushing reality bears down upon us, we look for solutions. Whether those solutions come from reality or fantasy is of no importance - the only thing that matters is whether those solutions increase or decrease our happiness and relative quality of life.

Such is the nature of greater magic: "The change in situations or events in accordance with one's will, which would, using normally accepted methods, be unchangable." Whether this magic is accomplished through intricately choreographed rituals replete with blazing candles, intricate liturgy, burnt offerings, smoking incense, piercing bells, slashing knives, black robes, and red wine, or whether it's done at a table with a simple deck of cards, there is no difference. The only thing that matters is if he or she who seeks the magic with an earnest desire for change is able to evoke his or her willpower toward the desired is-to-be and to purge the mental or emotional frustration which inhibits his or her success.

If you who read this are a Tarot reader, then no doubt you've witnessed this magic take hold of your clients: their feeling of empowerment, certainty, and motivation are incredible! Thanks to the purgative effects of your service as a fortune-teller, you've helped them conduct a ritual to eliminate that which ails them and now they are free to be successful. Of if you who read this are a recipient of a Tarot reading, then you must certainly know the feeling of being trapped in an unclear morass which previously blinded you to the path forward and made you feel that you were casting your willpower into the mud to be consumed by worms. But through the magic and ritual of a Tarot reading, you ignite your black flame and ride the very hounds of Hell to the top of Bald Mountain!

Such is the power of the ritual of Tarot. There's no reason you can't incorporate a deck of Tarot cards into elaborate and overt rituals, but speaking for myself I think that reading Tarot is itself a ritual and requires no additional decoration or elaboration. Never forget the difference between reality and fantasy, but so too never forget the power of both reality and fantasy. For better and for worse, Tarot-as-ritual can change your world - use it appropriately.

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