To the regular modern-day-person, indoctrinated into scientism and atheism, the notion of Tarot might be seen as absurd and fanciful, and yet at a time when fruitless nihilism strongly influences western culture and negatively affects our psychological health, Tarot has something powerful to offer those who find themselves for one reason or another open to it.
Most people have heard of Tarot or at least seen it in movies, and the Tarot market is massive with hundreds of different versions available to buy; there’s something about its complex mystery that despite our preponderance toward a materialistic world-view nevertheless captures our imagination, and yet I suspect that most people have a very limited understanding of what Tarot actually is, and it seems to me that the vast majority of users do not realise its full potential.
In pop-culture, tarot is seen either as a gaming system for entertaining people at parties, or as a mysterious and magical tool for reading fortunes. It’s easy to undervalue its true capacity. So if it’s not just a game or some archaic tool for fortune telling, what is Tarot really?
I see Tarot as a repository for the hard-won knowledge and wisdom of our ancestors, reaching back through the ages; an encoded library of knowledge pertaining to the nature of the universe, the human journey and our part in existence as it unfolds. Each card presents us with a teaching about how best to approach life, and at deeper levels how to align with timeless universal laws of nature. To journey with Tarot is to be catalysed, awakened and moved toward greater psychological wholeness.
To use Tarot merely as a means to predict probable futures is a bit like using a Jumbo Jet to taxi down the road to the local supermarket for the weekly shopping.
In recent years the western esoteric tradition has been somewhat displaced by a rise in popularity of eastern philosophy and wisdom as evidenced by the wide practice of yoga, meditation, tai chi, qigong etc in western culture today. This has generally been a good thing, and for some people eastern philosophy has been a gateway to a whole new level of spiritual awareness and practice. Part of the success of eastern philosophy in the west is due to figures like Paramahansa Yogananda who brought eastern teachings to the USA in the 1920’s, and later the success of people like Ram Dass (formerly Richard Alpert) who after being spiritually awakened in India brought back to the USA what he learned there in the 1960s.
In contrast the western esoteric tradition has had a lot less exposure, due largely to the fact that much of the western wisdom is occulted. The word occult literally means hidden, and the reason why it was hidden is easily understood in the context of two thousand years dominated by aggressive Catholicism, where it was extremely hazardous to entertain ideas not in accord with the dogma of the church. For reasons of safety the western esoteric teachings were encoded into paintings such as Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, the pictograms of Tarot, and secret texts such as The Emerald Tablets by Hermes Trismegistus (dating back at least to around 600 AD), the essence of which was published anonymously much later on in a book called the Kybalion in 1908.
Tarot itself is an amalgam of numerology, astrology, Kabbala and Hermetic philosophy, which is thought to have it’s roots in Ancient Egypt, and given Graham Hancock’s work on pre-diluvial cultures*, possibly beyond. To study and practise Tarot is to be profoundly influenced and transformed by exposure to the images themselves, for the mind is metaphorical, analogical as well as literal in nature, and as such significant changes in consciousness can arise when working with the system. During times of sincere self-inquiry I have found the Tarot images themselves to have a healing effect on the psyche; the use of Tarot promotes an awakening to natural law and over time can help to bring us into an empowering and transformative relationship with existence.
related article: Tarot as a sense making tool
* see his books Fingerprints of the Gods & Magicians of the Gods