The Tarot and Spirituality: or, Why I Do What I Do – Part II

I ended part one of this post with an explanation of why I do not subscribe to any religion. Here, in part two, I will bring together the themes of symbolism, mythology, religion, and spirituality that were previously introduced, and in doing so I hope to begin to illustrate the role the Tarot plays in my personal spiritual life.

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I’ve established that I do not follow a religion, at least not in the way a devotee would. I do, however, voraciously study literature from many world religions, as well as their mythologies (I actually prefer mythic to religious literature, but as they are interconnected, I believe it’s necessary to study both when possible in order to understand the big picture. Of course, many cultures are survived only by their mythic literature, such as that of pre-Christian Scandinavia. Religions such as Christianity, on the other hand, can have both available. For example, the Book of Common Prayer is religious in nature; Milton’s Paradise Lost is mythic; the Bible has elements of both. But I digress..). I feel compelled to try and hold as comprehensive a worldview as possible, and I think this is one way to work towards that end. I think of it as a never-ending quest for wisdom of Odinic proportions.

For a long time, I’d yearned for a different sort of “Holy Book” which could somehow synthesize the notions of the universal truth hinted at throughout the spiritual writings of mankind.

It is my personal belief that such a book does in fact exist.

This is where the Tarot comes in.

The Tarot – or, more specifically, the Major Arcana – has within it the mythic archetypes. Granted, it does not have all of them. Even if all 78 cards of the deck consisted only of Major Arcana, it would surely not cover every possible mythic archetype. What it does cover is the so-called “Journey of the Hero”. The Journey of the Hero was first made accessible by comparative mythologist and Jungian disciple Joseph Campbell, and is essentially a phrase encompassing a vast body of myths which are usually interpreted to represent, at their fundamental level, the subconscious spiritual development of the psyche. This means a story which serves as a metaphor for a guidebook on living spiritually. To use Christianity again as an example, the Gospels are four versions of the Hero’s Journey in which Jesus Christ is the hero.

If you’re interested in reading more on the Journey of the Hero, I recommend Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. For further reading on how this is reflected in the Major Arcana, I recommend Hajo Banzhaf’s Tarot and the Journey of the Hero. There may come a time when I will write a post elaborating on all of this archetype stuff, but for now I must try to keep my digressions brief.

The point is that the Major Arcana contains the archetypes that make up the story told, in one form or another, by every religion’s myths.

The Tarot is also immune to the effects of dogma which plague written books of faith, and for three reasons. Firstly, aside from the titles of the cards, there is no written language in the Tarot. The language of the Tarot is symbolism, as Eden Gray wrote. Pictures. Words have the tendency to be taken out of context and twisted for selfish ends by selfish people until even the original author would fail to recognize his intent behind loaded rhetoric. Or, perhaps less sinister, the language barrier between cultures can also twist and distort meanings. A symbol on a Tarot card, though, can not be taken out of context, because to see one symbol is to see the entire card, and there is no language barrier between pictures. Furthermore, words can and will be interpreted in numerous ways, regardless of the single meaning intended by the author. The symbols on the Tarot, by contrast, also have infinite possible interpretations – and that’s the point. People will argue tooth and nail over what a word means, but it is a given that no two people will see a Tarot symbol exactly the same way, and that’s ok.

Secondly, although I’ve been referring to the Tarot as a book, it is a deck of cards, and the “pages” can therefore be rearranged in any order. Unlike other books, the Tarot interacts with each reader differently, and to each situation differently. It’s as if your spiritual guidebook re-writes itself for you every time you read it. It is totally individualized, and cannot be susceptible to corruption over time the same way a fixed doctrine is.

Thirdly, the Tarot lacks a feature prevalent in other books of faith, and that is a code of ethics. It is ironically the moral ideals in a Holy Book which are most often bastardized. There are no fixed morals in the Tarot. Which is just as well, because I believe morals and ethics are highly subjective and entirely situational. All of this is not to say that you can’t go to the Tarot with an ethical dilemma; on the contrary, the impartial Tarot can be a valuable guide through these shadowy realms.

As I’ve stated before, I don’t mean to tell anyone how to live their spiritual lives, and I don’t mean to question the validity of anyone’s religion. I enjoy studying the religions, and I value their messages. This post is rather intended to show that the Tarot can stand up as a spiritual guide comparable to any religious book. In addition, the Tarot is designed to work for divination. It can be used for magic and meditation. Being a deck of cards, it can also be used for gaming, and is thus a reminder to never take life too seriously. It deals with the spiritual realm through the Major Arcana, and connects the spiritual to the worldly realm through the Minor Arcana. We as humans are aware of nothing else. Mr. Crowley said the Tarot works as a model of the Universe, and I tend to agree with him. By “Universe”, Crowley was referring both to the Macrocosm and the Microcosm. We are all a part of one Universe, and we each contain the Universe within ourselves.

We are all powerless in the midst of this vast and seemingly uncaring Universe. By the same token, however, we are a part of that Universe, made of and from it, and therefore have all the potential that comes with it. We are each the masters of our own Universes, but can only truly be in control of the Micro by relinquishing our futile attempts at controlling the Macro. The Tarot helps to understand this as well, because in order to successfully use it, one must accept that he or she is simultaneously in and without control.

It’s seemingly paradoxical concepts like this that make the universal truth so difficult to describe with words. This is the purpose mythology serves: to illustrate with symbolic language those truths – not facts – which cannot be communicated overtly. This too is the role the Tarot plays, using symbols which are interpreted differently by everyone yet subconsciously understood by all, and it is why I’ve dedicated this blog to a better understanding of this mystical and magical pack of cards.

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