Card-Learning Tricks: “Sensory Complexion”

The title is a misnomer. There are no “tricks” or reliable shortcuts for instantly absorbing and retaining the gist of the 78 cards of the tarot, but there are some convenient alternatives to memorizing reams of keyword text. This fanciful method was brought to my attention yesterday, and I thought I would elaborate on the basic approach as I see it. It serves my objective of trying to capture the essence or theme of a card without relying on the verbatim recall of textbook contents. It brings the five senses to bear in an imaginative way to create what I’m calling the “sensory complexion:”

Sight (Appearance): What does the card look like? This is a literal impression derived from the visual details in the card’s illustration, sometimes called “free-association.” It will work for any card if enough imagination is applied, but it is most effective for cards displaying scenic vignettes. Is the scene gloomy or luminous? Is there a lot of activity or virtually none? Does it exhibit conflict or harmony? Is the image itself “busy” or sparse in design? Are the colors “hot, warm, cool or cold?” What kind of “story” do these features tell?

Touch (Sensation): What does the card “feel” like? This is an intuitive extrapolation from the appearance, which can evoke an emotional reaction. Does the image on the card depict a “taut” or “loose” sense of tension. Is there a feeling of elasticity and buoyancy (like a helium balloon) or inescapable gravity (like a “lead balloon”) about it? Does it convey any tactile proclivity (firmness, hardness, softness, etc)? Does it appear light or heavy, rough or smooth? Do these qualities hint at anything in the traditional meaning of the card? Do these imagined associations invoke any specific sentiment such as pleasure or repulsion at the prospect of touching the objects in the picture?

Hearing (Tone or Pitch): Is it possible to imagine what kind of sound the card might emit based on the activities underway in the image? This is harder with non-scenic decks but still feasible if you look at the interplay between the suit emblems and any decorative embellishments. Would you expect to hear a rumble, a sigh, a hiss, a screech, a bang, a crash, a shout, a roar, a grunt or any other conceivable sound? On the other hand, does the card convey a “dead silence?”

Smell (Aromatic Singularity): Do the activities or landscapes shown suggest an aroma or stench of any kind? Is anything burning in the picture? Is there evidence of water, ranging from an ocean vista to a rippling stream, a quiet pool or a fetid swamp? Each of these gives off a unique smell in Nature for those who pause to appreciate it. Is the sky bright and clear with the inferred bouquet of sunlight, greenery and flowers or redolent of storm clouds, lightning or rain, evincing an unmistakable tang (it “smells like rain”)? Does any of the visible soil appear to be moist and rich, muddy or dry and sandy? Different types of earth have smells all their own.

Taste (Savor): Does the image – if you could stick your tongue in it – give off an impression of “sweet, sour, salty or bland?” Does it resemble an overcooked mess or an underdone disaster, or does it appear to be “just right?” Does it suggest a delicate confection, a hearty steak or a pot-luck casserole (7 of Cups, maybe)? Imagine where you would slot them if you were planning a seven-course meal of tarot cards (as Monty Python once said in a parallel universe, “with some stuffing, a little broccoli and a few french fries,” they’d be delicious).

These are just a few of the sensory impressions I was able to come up with off the top of my head. This seems like fertile ground for improvisation in the service of learning.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s