Poetry in Motion

I’ve been thinking about Enrique Enriquez’ imaginative approach to the Tarot de Marseille that aims to turn the cards into “visual poetry,” apparently without the intervention of inductive reasoning. (I believe it’s intended to be more inventive and inspiring than ordinary free-association, which works rather poorly with the TdM anyway.) It seems to me that, although this a much more natural, “feeling” way to appreciate the cards than relying on knowledge-based synthesis of their traditional keyword meanings or the application of esoteric correspondences, it still involves an active mental conversion of suggestive images into symbolic ideas and thus is not seamlessly organic. My objective is to “crawl inside them and make myself at home,” to the point that using them is as unremarkable as putting on a suit of clothes that fits me like a second skin. I want to be able to immerse myself in their fundamental nature to the point that understanding rises spontaneously and effortlessly to the surface when I contemplate them even casually. Aleister Crowley called it relating to the cards as “living beings,” and that it must include residing with them on intimate terms day-in and day-out.

Crowley also said that the most effective way to do this for those not initiated in the art of meditation is through the practice of divination. What I’ve found in my own divinatory practice is that I still need a minimal framework – I once called it a “storyboard” – to bring a random group of cards to life as a fully-functional organism possessing the means of locomotion and a sense of direction. Throwing a handful of cards haphazardly onto the table and then trying to fashion a coherent narrative out of them is like trying to make sense out of an epic poem when only allowed to view a single verse. You’re confronted with an octopus or jellyfish rather than a vertebrate with a defining skeletal structure, or perhaps an elephant as experienced by a group of puzzled blind men. Some readers thrive in this open-ended environment; I don’t. This is why I’ve put so much effort over the last few years into creating spreads, the vast majority of which are positional in design. If I’m going to tell a story, I want it to have a point of entry and and a well-marked exit, as well as some kind of step-wise path from one end to the other. They don’t always have to be built on the Hegelian “thesis/antithesis/synthesis” model but they should provide a satisfying sense of movement and closure. For me it’s purely a matter of getting straight to the point with as little thrashing about (aka “intuitive guesswork”) as possible. My clients don’t need to be told who they are and where they stand at the time of the reading, but rather whom they’re going to become and how they’re going to get there.

Where Enriquez seeks “poetry,” I look for “music” in my interaction with the cards. As a storyteller I want the images to “sing” to me with their shapes and colors in ways that are initially non-verbal, although I have to provide lyrics in order to make their message communicable. This is why I’ve turned so intently toward the Tarot de Marseille, but also why I get so little value out of the dry statistical approach to deconstructing the pips. Counting up the flower buds and trying to decipher their condition and the purpose of their location and orientation is about as far from where I want to go as one can get. I’m a graphic designer by inclination and training, and believe that any work of visual art is invested with symbolism. For that matter, anything we process with our brain is a matter of symbolic association; it’s how we learn from the day we’re born. (My granddaughter is not quite two now, and when she sees an image of a “red car” in a picture-book it’s only an abstract symbol for her until she sees one going down the road and makes the connection to objective reality.)

If we can eat it or drink it, it’s arguably more instinctive than associative, but even then our choices give us away. I don’t eat beef or drink cheap beer or inferior coffee; what does that say  about me? I’ve moved away from drinking my coffee with cream and sugar to taking it black and strong, and I find that a perfectly apt analogy for my evolution with the tarot. I’m less interested than ever in the scenic “wrapper” and more preoccupied with the metaphorical “filling,” and once liberated from the “canned” narrative vignettes and the trappings of esoterica, I’m finding that “less is more” from an interpretive standpoint. The simplest melodies are the most compelling and the uncluttered crescendos can be truly breathtaking.


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