But What Does It “Mean?”

On the tarot forums and Facebook pages we’re fond of throwing words around loosely with the assumption that everyone agrees on their inherent meaning and usage, so critical debate about them is scarce. One of those is “empowerment.” We are reluctant to present harsh judgments to our sitters even when the cards deliver them in no uncertain terms; rather than beating them over the head with it, we want to give seekers something they can work with to surmount the difficulty, a noble objective to be sure. Unfortunately, too often this translates into wanting to leave them feeling good about the situation when what we really should do is make sure they understand the potential severity of the challenge and position themselves accordingly. Downplaying the likely consequences by speaking only in positive terms is doing a disservice to our clients, who really need to hear the cautionary side of the tale. This isn’t empowerment, it’s enabling an unrealistic optimism. A bit of prudent worry is not necessarily a bad thing if it promotes vigilance.

Another sloppy expression is “resonate,” as in to strike an harmonious or sympathetic chord. Even the most egregiously dreadful piece of tarot art can find a place in the heart of somebody. When everything is taken to a personal level, universal standards of excellence fly out the window and dissenting opinions are seen as mean-spirited and benighted. I’m not buying it, either figuratively or literally, but there are many who do. As I said recently, during my long involvement with the tarot, I’ve seen a lot of water pass under the bridge and a good deal of it could have been  profitably (for us, not the publishers) diverted directly to the waste treatment facility. We owe nothing to deck creators and book authors, and we have every justification for expecting their absolute best in return for our money. But we live in a throw-away culture, and much of the content we’re offered echoes that impermanence. Exacerbating the problem, self-publishing venues let every pig farmer with enough coin haul their sow’s ears to the silk-purse-maker with no independent scrutiny of the finished product before it’s marketed. The consumer in effect becomes the “beta-tester.”

Then there are those who fancy themselves “collectors” and who wouldn’t dream of actually taking the cards out of their shrink-warp in the hope that they will increase in value many times over if they remain unopened. Setting aside those who are only in it for the money, we have the art lovers who see the cards as an economical way to accumulate portable artwork that they can drag out and admire from time-to-time. Neither of these specialists has any practical interest in what is intended to be a utilitarian artifact, whether for promoting self-awareness or in the practice of divination. I consider myself  an “accumulator” rather than a “collector;” it’s principally because I never part ways with a deck once it lands in my grasp.

But my favorite misnomer is “intuitive.” It’s right up there with “psychic” as having the “squishiness” to mean anything to anybody. I’ve written about it many times in this blog, but it’s like a persistent itch that needs scratching. When it doesn’t reflect simple laziness in the face of an intimidating mass of accumulated knowledge that requires serious study to assimilate, purely intuitive reading of the cards can come across more as starry-eyed self-hypnosis than as a mainline to Spirit; we assume with little hard evidence that we’re channeling a higher state of consciousness, often presumed to be Divine so it can’t possibly be wrong, when in fact we may just be  adrift in our own heads. We’ve convinced ourselves that we’re pristine vessels for a greater Truth, which may even be true to a point but probably not to the degree that some of the more self-congratulatory types assume. I really don’t think the Universe stoops to speak with us in such cozy personal terms; its testimony is more cryptic and elusive; rather than receiving it on a platter, we must try to waylay it like a hobo running after a departing freight train. “Through a glass darkly” is a humbler and more apt paradigm to explain the nature of subconscious perception. Throwing open our hearts and minds with the naive expectation that they will automatically be filled with enlightenment (a common denominator of most mainstream religions) is presumptuous as well as unrealistic. Better to dig for that wisdom than to just hold out our hand to receive it. We might just be slipped a turd.


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