Down with the Synonym! – Variations on a Theme

Writers who care about originality love the synonym. It lets us repeat the same idea (sometimes ad nauseum) without seeming overly redundant or hackneyed. You may have noticed that I try not to use the word “shows” to describe the import of the cards in a reading more than once in the same piece of writing (or at least not within shouting distance of the previous instance in a longer essay). Unfortunately, those who strive for the appearance of erudition when writing tarot books can be smitten with the urge for inclusiveness, creating “laundry-lists” of keywords that, in their sheer multiplicity,  serve to baffle neophytes more than enlighten them. The allure of more and better descriptors becomes a millstone around the neck of those trying to master the art of interpretation. In an earlier post I proposed a more economical way that is inductive rather than deductive: start with one or two key ideas and build from there.

As a follow-up to my commentary on the subject of memorization, I wanted to expand a bit on what I think a good “themed” approach would be toward internalizing the card meanings. I decided to try coming up with one upbeat and one downbeat concept to serve as an “umbrella theme” for the initial contemplation of any card in a suit. These overarching themes would be applied to the impressions conveyed by the images to create inflection that imparts a consistent tone across the suit. While we all think we know what a suit “stands for” in a broad sense, we don’t always do a convincing job of bringing that comprehension to the practical appraisal of individual cards; too often, a glut of ill-matched and imprecise terminology gets in the way.

Wands (Fire): Enthusiasm/Indifference (reversed or ill-dignified)
Cups (Water): Comfort/Lassitude (reversed or ill-dignified)
Swords (Air): Decisiveness/Doubt (reversed or ill-dignified)
Coins (Earth): Steadiness/Inertia (reversed or ill-dignified)

During practice, other interpretations could be “tried on” within the purview of the main themes to see whether they further understanding of the overall thrust of those core ideas. Over time, everything that fits will coalesce into a solid foundation of experiential knowledge “at your fingertips” and, at least for general purposes, everything else can be let go unless and until a unique situation arises that invites its reconsideration. My personal choices should not be taken as gospel. By going through the exercise described in my previous post, you should be able to settle on your own “starting point.” The idea is to avoid burdening your brain with a dense, indigestible stew of someone else’s opinions about what the cards might mean (and there are plenty of those out there). Start fresh and, at least at first, keep it light and nimble.


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