Health Readings: A Psychosomatic View

Psychosomatic: (literally, mind [psyche] and body [soma] “willing to perform” [matos]); an adjective describing a physical illness or other condition caused or aggravated by a mental factor such as internal conflict or stress.

In tarot circles it’s generally acknowledged that attempting to divine someone’s future medical condition in a diagnostic way is professionally and personally risky due to the unavoidable legal vulnerability as well as serious ethical concerns about delivering misdiagnoses and misguided “cures.” I’ve created a number of spreads that tap-dance carefully around these obstacles by focusing on “whole-health” well-being rather than on specific symptoms and their likely causes. But I was just watching a video by Paul Hughes-Barlow explaining techniques to successfully approach health questions that gave me a fresh outlook on the subject. The assertion is that many illnesses are caused by pressures on the mind that provoke the body to malfunction in various ways. For example, the adverse influence of persistent mental/emotional turmoil in causing hypertension (and eventually impacting cardiac and cerebral health) is recognized by the medical community. The implication is that identifying the likely mental origin of various physical disorders is one way to explore the potential onset of ailments, if only in a theoretical sense. Although sometimes dismissed as “It’s all in your mind,” psychosomatic maladies are anything but imaginary, they are often rooted in unrelenting psychological stress.

Hughes-Barlow notes that the detachment of the mind from the physical “warning system” is one way that this can manifest; the brain is not sufficiently aware of autonomous bodily urges or “feelings” such that the latter can get out of hand in unanticipated and largely unnoticed ways: if we’re hungry and the only place to eat is McDonald’s, we’re going there without a second thought even though doing so regularly will pack on the unhealthy pounds and ultimately clog the arteries. We live in the moment and often don’t contemplate the long-term consequences of our actions or failures to act until much later (and sometimes much too much later). He mentions that, along with their usual mentally-oriented keywords, the 3 of Swords is an “illness” card and the adjacent 4 of Swords can show hospitalization or convalescence. It struck me that the Thoth Queen of Swords holding the severed head might be another symbolic expression of dysfunctional psychosomatic alignment; in metaphysical terms, a kind of figurative “beheading,” typically self-administered.

Each of the 78 cards has a primary elemental, zodiacal or planetary correspondence in the Golden Dawn system, and these characteristics can be tied to the classical elements of Fire, Water, Air and Earth as is done in astrology. These elements relate to one another in “good,” “ill” or “neutral and supportive” ways when conjoined: Fire + Fire; Fire + Air; Water + Water; and Water + Earth” are friendly pairings that create synergy; Fire + Earth and Water + Air cooperate mildly when in combination (I call them “complementary opposites”); and Fire + Water and Air + Earth are mutually hostile together. It’s notable that this arrangement is skewed away from the absolute negative so there is a greater likelihood of receiving an innocuous verdict, kind of a built-in safeguard against overstating the case. (Another stipulation, “according to their nature,” brings in their inherent divinatory meaning but, although it’s certainly a consideration, that is secondary to my objective here.)

I believe that the tarot can effectively portray the implications of deficient mental/physical attunement through the use of elemental affinity between the cards in a spread. An elementally “out-of-tune” condition between the brain and parts of the body can present potential psychosomatic concerns in the area(s) affected. With that in mind, I created a layout for this purpose. It uses a “split-deck” approach, with a Major Arcanum signifying the dynamic flux of the mental/emotional processes (the mobile “Chariot” symbolism of the title); the elemental agreement or disagreement of the small and court cards will show the sympathetic or unsympathetic entrainment of the body in its wake.

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