Chord Changes

File this one under “How Stuff Works.”

I’m a firm believer in the assumption that very little that is truly definitive in life happens by sheer coincidence, or in complete isolation; formative impulses and nascent events crowd the background of our personal drama, waiting to be propelled into prominence by invitation (ours or others) or by the purposeful intervention of fortune. The favorable occurrences promote benign growth and the less fortunate ones at least offer lessons in self-discipline that can foster maturity. Every constructive or destructive experience that shapes our lives is part of a larger pattern that we have an often unconscious role in weaving, however remote that possibility may seem. One thread stands out from the fabric of Time and takes center stage in the moment; we react to it either intentionally or instinctively, to the conspicuous neglect of other not-yet-ripe alternatives.

It’s not so much “fulfilling our destiny” as it is living up to our latent potential as individuals, something I call the “experiential blueprint or roadmap” from my years of working with natal astrology. “Fate” is too narrow a term for it since it’s more incipient and impersonal than subjective until we choose to avail ourselves of the opportunity (or succumb to the temptation) and thus deliver on the promise “for good or ill;” as the Borg used to say, “Resistance is futile.” (In the tarot, this underlying imperative is best exemplified by the cards of the Major Arcana.) Call it a “stream of eventuality” that we must either navigate to the best of our ability or simply let carry us wherever we need to go at the time. Necessity and fortuity are two sides of the same coin, and it’s not always obvious where one leaves off and the other kicks in; we’ve all had the experience of realizing belatedly that a seemingly harsh outcome was ultimately for the best, while something “too good to be true” turned out to be just that.

I had just such an intrusion of meaningful serendipity in the last week. I’ve picked up the guitar again to learn how to play, and have been working through some basic chord progressions. At the same time I’ve been plowing through Alejandro Jodorowsky’s book, The Way of Tarot, and came across the following advice:

“We need to look at the cards not one after the other but at the same time, like a musical chord.  It is necessary to understand that the tarot is an optical language and that in certain regards it is similar to the language of music. A single note does not resonate in the same way as a chord of two or three notes. In music, the chord, although made up of several notes, is perceived by the ear as a single unit. To learn how to read the tarot, it is necessary to be able to conceptualize the ‘chords’ of several cards.”

This is where the “art” (as opposed to the “analysis”) of reading the cards has its day. As amply demonstrated by electronically generated readings in both tarot and astrology, merely piling up keywords with no sensitivity to (and creative shading of) their relative contribution to the thrust of the reading usually produces a poor approximation of the truth of the matter. Sifting, weighing and blending the influences of different and frequently conflicting factors to create a nuanced perspective is the diviner’s chief obligation and most satisfying pursuit.

There are a couple of ways to do this, the more common of which is visually free-associating between the images of two or more cards and arriving at a modulated interpretation based on “what jumps out at us” in the aggregate. Jodo gets a lot of mileage out of this one, with varying degrees of credibility and usefulness. A second way, which I find to be a valuable adjunct to visual synthesis, is to consider the “dignities” that occur in a spread between the correspondences assigned to the various cards. This is generally an expression of “preponderance” or “deficiency” by suit, element, number and/or rank, with astrological decans as a tertiary input. Elizabeth Hazel, in her book Tarot Decoded, comes up with a reasonably comprehensive set of such dignities.

In astrology it’s reflected in an abundance or absence of sign and house emphasis from the placement of planets and “sensitive points” in a horoscope, but the same zodiacal components have to appear somewhere in every chart, making it essentially a process of elimination. With tarot it’s much more open-ended and fluid, with a staggering number of permutations available the more cards you bring into the mix. Obviously, some structure must be applied to preclude descent into chaos (usually defined by a spread of some kind) but within it there is a great deal of room for improvisation. A tarot spread can be a story-telling gold mine (that is, when it isn’t a minefield).


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