I have, as of a week or so ago, picked up a new hobby, as I have mentioned if you’ve followed my Twitterings at all – Tarot. Yes, finding the meaning of life in a deck of cards. I was semi-skeptical when I began, but no more! I now can see their usefulness (thanks in part to the help of my tarot-sensei), but primarily through meditative purposes – not through divinatory ones.
Most of what I thought I knew about the cards has been thrown out the window – I thought it was a load of rubbish, cards used purely to predict the future. After doing research and a few readings, I saw that this was not what they were about at all; rather, their greatest purpose was in allowing me to see and think about the world – and through readings, I could apply these new thoughts to specific situations. Of course, it’s still neat to use them for divination – but that is not their primary purpose, contrary as to how they are usually portrayed.
I used Joan Bunning’s Learning the Tarot book and website to teach myself initially, using the popular Ride-Waite deck, but am now reading Aleister Crowley’s Book of Thoth and have obtained a Thoth tarot deck, designed by the man himself. The Thoth deck is constructed on more Kabbalistic principles (the flow of divine energy and metaphysics) than the Rider-Waite one, while the Rider-Waite (it’s a shame that Pamela Coleman Smith, the illustrator, doesn’t get recognition in the deck’s name) is more based on aspects of life and the life-course. I have not yet tried reading with the Thoth deck, as I want to finish Crowley’s book first so I can understand his thoughts behind them. I do very much like Lady Frieda Harris’ artwork on most of them though – interesting that the Rider-Waite deck chose to use people on most of the cards that the Thoth deck doesn’t – perhaps making it easier for “laymen” to interpret? Who knows – but at least looking over the images, the symbolism of the Thoth deck seems to me to be more potent, even if the cards I have themselves are smaller, which I do not like.
Currently, my only used spreads consist of the one-card philosophical one (take a card and ponder its applications for that day), the three-card diviniative/contemplative/simplified one (lay out three cards: past->present->future), and my own version of the Celtic Cross: the central cross (the “circle”) is the same as normally interpreted, then the vertical parts representing levels of consciousness (the top is conscious thought or present concerns, while the bottom is unconscious thought or the cause of the central condition), while the horizontal cross represents the receding (left) influences and the incoming (right) influences in your life. In both cases, the central circle provides a link between the two sides; horizontally, it represents the two large aspects of the present, and vertically it represents how we we feel about the situation to some extent. The bottom of the staff I see as how you see yourself or the situation, the next card as how others see it/you, the third card represents a possible solution/thing to think about with regards to the situation, and the top of the staff is the prophetic card: what will most likely happen.
Of course, I don’t lend the cards prophetic abilities, but rather see them as giving a sort of advice: not a “this will happen,” but a “think about these thingsif this does happen.” It certainly has made me think! Following my “mastery” of the Thoth deck, I plan on moving onto different spreads, such as Bumming’s suggested Yin-Yang conflict resolution spread (seems useful) and then some of Raven’s spreads. Then, after that, I’ll work on spreads of my own!
I also recently, at the suggestion of my mother, decided to throw a spread to look at political problems. Now, you’ll have to forgive my interpretations’ possible lack of accuracy in terms of factual events (also note that my political beliefs are not expressed in these cards), but using a ten-card Celtic Cross spread asking about the current uprisings in Egypt, I achieved the following (using Rider-Waite[-Smith]):
Root Cause: Temperance [reversed] – Indicating to me that the problem was an inability to calmly go about affairs – possibly overreacting protestors or a government failing to use moderation to govern the country, being too hard upon its people.
Contributing Factor: Nine of Pentacles [reversed] – The presence of two blocked cards at the heart of the matter seems to be to suggest frustrations and unrealized potential on both sides. This card seems to me to suggest that people may be working hard, but aren’t getting the rewards they wanted (the Nine of Pentacles, to me, indicates the process of hard work leading to a reward and a time of rest and contemplation). Perhaps frustration that the government won’t step down after the hard rioting of the protesters (or perhaps that the government has been taking the earned rewards of the people), or frustration that the rioters won’t give up on the part of the government? Combined with the reversed Temperance, perhaps this is what is causing the lack of moderation to be present?
Receding Influence: Seven of Swords – Depicting a man fleeing with what appear to be stolen swords, this card to me indicates that the time of flight and theft is over – the time of the government taking from the people is over, the time of hidden atrocities and dinhonours is over, and the time of the people fleeing from these problems is over.
Approaching Influence: The Hierophant – The second Major Arcana to appear (Temperance being the other) – after the events of this riot are over, perhaps Egypt will be inducted into some formal new society, or will have learned a valuable lesson? If the government wins, a lesson might be learned about the power and will of the people, and if the rioters win, perhaps this indicates that the new government will be accepted into the global community.
Conscious Influence: Seven of Cups – Choices. Some degree of confusion. Fantasy. Perhaps indicating, in this position’s role of what is superficial, that the government is either clinging to a fantasy of being able to hold power, or that the rioters are holding on to a fantasy of overthrowing the government. My own thoughts on the matter cause my opinion to lean more towards the former than the latter. Perhaps this also indicates that the situation is not as clear-cut as everyone in the West makes it out to be: the government either falls or doesn’t. Perhaps the government has realized this, as can be seen by their efforts at talks. There may be other choices available to end the conflict; governmental integration, concessions made by both sides, and doubtless other things I have not thought of. Confusion might come from the thoughts of the Western powers – Egypt is an ally, and while Mubarak’s regime was brutal and a democracy fits in better with their ideals, they are afraid of losing an ally and the possibility of a radical Islamic government.
Unconscious Influence: Judgement – The third major Arcana to appear in the cross – indicating that this uprising might have large consequences, such as we have seen hinted at in Yemen, Syria, and Jordan. Beneath the surface, some form of rebirth is at hand/is ongoing – Egypt will not emerge unchanged from this struggle. Issues of identity torment the nation, and perhaps on a deeper level, the nation is attempting cleanse itself of the oppression of the Mubarak regime and be reborn “free of sin.” Perhaps this need to remake the nation and start again also lies at the heart of this unrest.
For the next two cards, I have modified the bottom two cards of the Staff slightly – the bottom card now represents the government’s view (being at the “base” of the country), and the the one above the protesters’.
Government View: Three of Pentacles [reversed] – Normally this card represents teamwork; working together to meet some goal. Blocked, this seems to mean that this is not longer working – perhaps the government feels its allies are forsaking them (such as the Western governments), or that some unwritten agreement with the people to keep the country running is floundering.
Protesters’ View: Six of Pentacles [reversed] – Again, the earthy, practical nature of the Pentacles surfaces with regards to the viewpoints of the opposing sides. This struggle perhaps isn’t about abstract ideals; it’s a practical matter for both sides: the government wants to keep its power, and the people want to have better lives. The second reversed card also implies lots of frustration. But looking at the actual six itself, this seems to me that the protesters view this struggle as the government failing to balance the haves and have-nots; the Six of Pentacles for me has always been a problematic card, especially reversed. To me, this card normally represents the inequality in the world, but in the Ride-Waite deck, the presence of the man distributing some of his wealth to the less well-off can also indicate some sense of balancing the inequalities – perhaps the people feel that the government has failed to this (the reversal), and so want to do this form themselves.
Possible Solution: Three of Wands – To me, this card represents striking out into new territory, thinking ahead, and the qualities of leadership. Something to keep in mind for both sides, then, is that strong leadership will be needed – and looking at Mubarak’s current precarious position, it may very well not be him. In terms of exploration, perhaps a new, untested agreement will have to be put in place to resolve the conflict. The thinking ahead bit speaks for itself, really – if this is uprising is going to end well for everyone, everyone will have to be thinking ahead. Mubarak, very aged at 82, might not be thinking this way – perhaps this card indicates that he should, and begin thinking about Egypt after his death/resignation. In the same vein, the protesters should think about the long-term effects of their actions and make sure that they know what they’re doing – and should come up with a plan for what to do after Mubarak resigns; something I have not heard much talk about.
Likely Outcome: Justice – The fourth major Arcana to appear. Momentous events indeed. This card indicates, to me, that weighty decisions will be made, karma will come into effect, and order will be restored. This could quickly be seen as Mubarak will get what he had coming for his oppression and will fall – but The Tower would indicate this to me more than Justice. After all, despite oppression, Mubarak did hold the country together and was a “bastion of peace” in the Middle East, and a representative of moderate values (look back to the reversed Temperance here – maybe these values were no longer holding up?). To me, this just indicates that the situation will turn out well and everyone will get what it is they deserve – what exactly that is, I cannot say.
Though all four suits (Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles) were present, the Pentacle dominated. In the end, the unrest in Egypt might not be so much about ideologies and grand ideas, but rather about simple and down-to-earth needs and desires: the conflict of power and satisfaction, of oppressor and oppressed.