Monday, December 18, 2006
the following is something i wrote for a magazine. i don't think they're running it, so i decided to post it here.
TAROT - THE HISTORY AND THE MYSTERY, BUT MOSTLY THE MYSTERY
Nine years ago things were going great with my writing career when I decided to visit a psychic who'd just opened a little shop downtown. Let's go see her. Won't that be fun? Would I make any bestseller lists? USA Today? Maybe even the New York Times? The psychic did a combined tarot and intuitive reading, informing me I would soon come upon rough times. I would lose my job, but after a period of hardship things would turn around and be better than they were before. I told her she had to be wrong, my career was fine. (I'd just received an unexpected and large royalty check. Things were good. And what kind of psychic gives such bad news?)
Weeks passed and I began to relax. Then I got the call. I'd been dumped by my publishing house. Had the psychic really been able to read something in the cards? Or had she gotten lucky? Was it just a coincidence?
I went on a quest for a deck of tarot cards. I lived in a small town and could only stir up one set -- the Dragon Tarot. I've seen more attractive cards, but I bought them and over the years we've bonded. I guess I felt if I read them on a daily basis there would be no more surprises. I also think I subconsciously felt I could somehow control the uncontrollable.
At some point my luck turned (as the psychic said it would, but such are the ups and downs of a writer's life), and I put the cards away until last winter when I attended a writers' meeting and heard about using tarot cards to help with plotting and characterization. The speaker had a list of techniques and spreads she used for various problems. If she gets stuck on a plot she will sometimes do a whole spread. For a character issue she will pull one card.
I was intrigued by the idea of writing with tarot cards, so back home I dug out my deck. Instead of using it to plot, I once again found myself fascinated by the otherworldly artwork and the cards' evocative darkness. Suddenly I was doing readings, this time online rather than face-to-face. I prefer the online format because I like the lack of distraction and the fact that I can take my time, usually spending a hour or two on readings, most of which are done for writers. Once the reading is complete, I post it on my Madame Sosostris site where everyone is welcome to visit the dark corners of his heart, where no coin is accepted for readings, and no card is ever reversed.
Are tarot cards a door to the past, the present, and the future?
I want to say no. Don't we really just take note of the valid statements and throw out the rest? But I can't ignore or deny readings that seem far too accurate to be simple coincidence. One explanation could be a collective unconsciousness. At one point in our long line of human history, we communicated without words. Is tarot a way to tap into an early method of communication? Or do some people somehow give off an imprint of the future? I've had life-altering premonitions that have come true, so I must acknowledge an unknown element. Not everything can be explained. And how many times can something be a coincidence before it's no longer a coincidence? Still, I'm more skeptic than believer.
For non-believers, what can tarot cards do?
Most tarot readers stress that the cards don't tell you what to do with your life, but they can help guide you. A strong spread can clarify personal problems. People find reassurance in a reading that zeroes in on their situation, analyzes it, points out the recipient's strengths, and brings encouragement in dealing with an unstable future. Some people use tarot cards as meditation and a discovery of the authentic self. The cards themselves tell the enduring story of a protagonist's journey complete with obstacles, lessons, hardships, love, family, and strength -- stories so universal that tarot has survived for centuries and has enjoyed a renewed popularity in the past two decades.
The mystery of history
A massive amount has been written about tarot, but most is speculation and theory. There are few clues and little evidence when it comes to the origins and various personas of tarot. The following appears to be true, although many statements are still argued.
1375 -- Regular playing cards enter Europe.
1420-1440 -- Tarot originates in northern Italy. At this time, the cards weren't used for divination but for a card game called triumph or trump, which is similar to bridge. The oldest existing hand-painted decks come from this period. Art historians have dated them to the reign of Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan from 1412 to 1447.
1530 -- The Italian word tarocchi was used to distinguish tarot cards from trump or triumph cards. The French form of tarocchi is tarot.
1589 -- Records from a trial in Paris indicate tarot may have been used in witchcraft.
1781 --- Occult writers began discussing and writing about tarot.
1909 -- The Waite-Smith deck was created.
1909 -- Tarot cards first used by gypsies.
Whatever you believe, there's no denying that tarot has made a powerful and mysterious journey though history. It has touched cultures and subcultures and been spread upon the tables of gypsies and kings. It has left behind myth and secrecy and questions that will never be answered. Some might call that magic.
Saturday, December 23: a drawing for a madame sosostris reading.
leave a comment right here to let me know you're entering the drawing. this can also be given to someone else as a Christmas gift. Madame will come of out a stupor long enough to read the cards and post the reading on the Madame Sosostris blog. These readings -- which are a combination of cards and intuition, take Madame about two hours, so please don't enter the drawing unless you're really interested.