Tarot as “Magic Mirror”

Although I’ve always viewed tarot divination as “mirroring” the current disposition of the subconscious mind via the act of shuffling and cutting the deck, I had only seen it portrayed more grandly as a “mirror of the soul” in the title of Gerd Ziegler’s Thoth book, Tarot: Mirror of the Soul. As such, it implies a broader psycho-spiritual agenda than can be neatly shoehorned into a narrowly-framed predictive reading or, for that matter into a single incarnation. While reacquainting myself with Alejandro Jodorowsky’s thoughts on the practice of tarot reading that arose from his early dissatisfaction with its use solely for acquiring self-knowledge, I encountered his opinion that “. . . the purpose of the Tarot was fulfilled when it was used to help others by means of a reading that consists of presenting Arcana to an individual that have been transformed into a mirror of his or her soul.”

He goes on to note “By honestly confronting the characteristics of our personalities that have gone off course . . . we can attain knowledge of our real essence, in other words what is innate in us and not acquired.” At first blush, this rather ambitious perspective strikes me as beyond the reach of a humble pack of printed images regardless of how much conjectural baggage they have accumulated over the last century. In my experience, the natal horoscope provides a much more comprehensive and convincing blueprint of the psychological aspects of the personality. In the realm of cartomancy, I’m much more inclined to accept Robert Wang’s assumption as stated in his Qabalistic Tarot:

“The Tarot is best used for divination about mundane matters. It is not particularly well-suited for furnishing answers of an important spiritual nature because it is rooted in Yetzirah, although one brings down insight from higher worlds in interpretation.”

This brings me back to the concept of the “mirror,” since in Qabalistic terms physical reality is described as reflecting the Yetziratic world of archetypal form. If we can formulate an idea with enough clarity and sense of purpose, we can often expend a little more effort and bring it forth into existence if that is our intent. Most people don’t sit for a reading to find out who they are at present, they want to know who they can become down the road and the obligations attending that quest for self-realization. In other words, the goal of actualizing one’s vision of manifest destiny is more pragmatic than mystical or philosophical. As I see it, any forecast derived from a tarot reading is largely a projection of the potential already implicit in that particular moment of time. Past experiences may still have an impact on coming events, but it is the present that offers traction for achieving one’s future ambitions. Jodorowsky acknowledges this in his commentary: “I would visualize the present as a point from which a fan of infinite paths departs. An intentional action or an accident, something that happens by chance, projects us forward and obliges us to live one of the countless fates possible.” Thus, he suggests that “. . . the divine menu does not consist of a single dish but a huge selection. Free will consists of choosing one of these infinite sentences that Fate hands down.”

In an ideal reading scenario, the future state of affairs that is most likely to materialize as augured by the cards will “show its face in the mirror” symbolized by the spread, which displays a snapshot of the querent’s subconscious orientation as he or she prepares to confront the emergence of new eventualities. (Encouraging an open mind is imperative at this point.) The reader’s focus should be to nudge that subjective self-awareness into alignment with the best possible objective outcome by crafting an anticipatory “itinerary” to map out the journey and provide signposts for navigation. After that it’s up to the querent.

Seizing the opportunity that translates into the greatest possible reward for the outlay of energy can thus become a “magical act” of self-transformation and self-fulfillment. The “magic” lies not in any arcane message implicit in the cards, but rather in the seeker’s wielding of conscious intent. (Think of the proverb “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.”) Jodorowsky explains: “If the tarologist, without advance preparation, tries to lead the reading subject toward a transformation that raises his level of consciousness, this individual will react as if his teeth are being pulled. To change, there must be a wish to change, the knowledge that this change is possible and, finally, that the consequences of this change can be accepted.” (My only quarrel with this is that his “advance preparation” looks suspiciously like diagnostic “cold reading” of the querent’s appearance and comportment, something a doctor might do that is also a favorite target of fortune-telling “debunkers.”)

However, I will cap this discussion with his final revelation: “Over the course of the years, grasping all these aspects in a single glance, I concentrated exclusively on reading the cards, always warning the person that he was not in front of a magician, and that the Arcana were basically small printed cards that could quite easily deliver an absurd message. The reading was made up of three acts of chance: the one that led this individual to me, the one that put me in the presence of this individual, and the moment when the cards were chosen.” For the purpose of setting boundaries and establishing expectations, I fully endorse his sentiment about “exclusively reading the cards” since I also advise my sitters in advance that “I don’t read minds, I just read the cards.”


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