Image by Elena Rego via Flickr
Having looked at what most Tarotists believe about the Tarot, I will now inflict my own views on you :-) In the process I will also try to explain why the cards work so well for creative thinking.
This is what I believe happens during a Tarot reading─one that you are doing for yourself, or where you have a great deal of input to give:
“Tarot is a great tool for digging around the cobwebbed parts of your subconscious. It can reveal your own assiness to yourself as well as remind you of dreams you've tucked in long forgotten drawers.”
Quote from 78 Notes to Self: A Tarot Journal
You have an issue, a concern, a problem, a situation or simply a desire to explore. You choose (or design) a spread that seems applicable, and if you have a choice, you select a deck to use. You shuffle the cards, turning some of them upside down while shuffling if you want to use reversals. You carefully lay them out in the pattern or layout that you have chosen.
What you now see in front of you is an arbitrary selection of cards, arranged in the pattern you have chosen. The “hidden” information that you will try to uncover from this spread concerns yourself only: your thoughts, attitudes, beliefs and values. These might be thoughts you have suppressed or denied, or have simply been ignoring because you have not had time to reflect on them. While you are studying the pattern of cards before you, their images will serve the purpose of focusing your thoughts and prodding your memory.
The information you uncover might also be answers or solutions that your subconscious have come up with while your conscious mind was busy with everyday living. It happens! How often have you had the answer to a problem pop up “out of the blue” while you were taking a bath? Or while you were dreaming or daydreaming? Using a tool such as Tarot cards can give your subconscious a prod to to release any answers it might be hiding.
The evocative images on the cards can stimulate your creativity and evoke ideas and feelings, which make Tarot cards ideal for problem-solving and idea-generation.
“... the tarot does not predict the future—it predicts the likeliest outcome to events if nothing changes.... I couldn’t envisage a helpful tool to life that foreclosed the possibility of free will. Anyone can change their life from one minute to the next if they choose to do so. A tarot reading should encourage you to make an intervention in your own life, not submit passively to the hands of fate.”
Quote from Tales from the Reading Room
Anyone who has done some self-exploration─whether through cards, writing a diary, dream analysis, therapy or simply taking some time to really think through issues, will know how surprising some of the thoughts and ideas that come up can be, even though you might think you know yourself well. You might experience startling insights into a situation or into your own psyche. You may even find unexpected emotions surfacing, or memories of events you have thought forgotten. It might feel as if something else must be at work here, but whatever comes into your mind, is a product of your own psyche.
As you work with the cards, trying to make associations and connections between the question, your circumstances and the cards, you are in essence questioning yourself, giving yourself the time and the tools to come up with answers or new ideas.
How does this work?
The card images are rich in archetypal symbols, but at the same time, they are ambiguous as to what the story is they’re telling. Most of the cards in the Rider-Waite deck depict people. What are they doing, and why? Where is this person going? What is he/she thinking and feeling? What happened, and what will happen next? What did the people in Trump XVI (The Tower) do to deserve their fate? What is happening on the Eight of Swords—an initiation, a test, a game? What is the man on the Two of Wands dreaming about? Or is he planning his next campaign? What does the Queen of Cups see in that Cup she is holding? The future, a vision, or a speck of dust?
Our brains are pattern-seeking by nature. We need this ability in order to survive—the quicker we can recognize a certain pattern as representing “danger”, the sooner we can start running—but it is also the reason why we fall for optical illusions, and why so many people can “see” the Virgin Mary in a random pattern on an otherwise unremarkable object. Faced with an ambiguous yet stimulating image, our brains try to impose meaning on it, to find a pattern behind it. The meaning we do give to such images tends to reflect our own thoughts and feelings, a principle which allows psychologists to make use of projective techniques such as the Rorschach inkblot test or the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) in order to delve around in a patient’s conscious and sub-conscious minds.
So you have before you several Tarot cards, arranged in a pattern, and concerning some question or problem for which you are seeking solutions or ideas. As you try to relate the cards to your concern, you are “brainstorming” for associations between the image on the card, its position in the spread, your circumstances, and your question. You are also trying to fit every card—and the “meaning” you have assigned to the card—into a coherent whole, even into a meaningful story. During this process you will have the issue uppermost in your mind, so that your interpretation of the cards will tend to be biased in the direction of your own circumstances.
Each card contains several symbols—including colours—and an evocative picture to stimulate your thinking. Symbols can have a specific association—a lion, for example, is often associated with strength and/or royalty—or they can have personal associations, one which is yours alone. The people on the card can have thoughts, feelings or attitudes ascribed to them. The scene on the card can be given a past and a future (what happened to bring about this situation? what will happen next?). Most Tarot decks come with a little white book (LWB), or a more expansive book, giving keywords or phrases for each card. A more expansive book might give a longer description. All or any of these things can evoke associations in your mind, and these can in turn evoke ideas.
What comes into your mind when you study a card? What is the first thing you notice? What associations do you have with the object’s colour or function? Take Trump XV—The Devil. What do you associate with the devil? Evil, fire, temptation, amusement? Do the chains remind you of something “being bound”, and does that, in turn, evoke thoughts of addictions or obsessions? Or being “trapped” in a situation? What advice can you give these people, and is this advice something you can apply to your own circumstances? What did they do to deserve this fate, and is there anything they can do about it? How do these ideas related to the card’s position in the spread? And to your concern? What do you associate with a specific symbol on the card? If you spend a few minutes on this task, you are likely to come up with several associations. What about the number on the card, or the suit the card belongs to? Is there perhaps a name on the card?
Quote from Cameo Victor's Self-Guided Tarot
By this time, one card will have given you several ideas, and you have likely decided “what the card means” in this specific position, or have found a solution to the question that specific card position asks. You can now repeat this process for the other cards, fitting each card and its “meaning” or “message” into a bigger whole that describes a problem or gives an answer to one or several questions. If you have designed or used a spread primarily to describe a specific situation, you have now explored the issue from several angles (depending on your card positions). If you have used a spread to ask several related questions about a problem, you should have come up with interesting ideas, if not solutions. Because you have spent some time focusing on a concern, from several angles, you would also be more aware of your thoughts and feelings surrounding it—much more aware than our helter-skelter lives usually allow. By being deeply engaged with the problem, you would find yourself digging much deeper than surface or obvious solutions.
The difference between using Tarot for divination, and using it as a tool for creative thinking, is that in the case of creative thinking, the cards are not “telling” you anything—you are creating the meaning yourself. Your issue is not magically “reflected” in the cards—you are “projecting” your own ideas on them, playing around with meanings and suitable interpretations until everything “fits”. You are not receiving a “message” from outside yourself, but have generated your own ideas by focusing on a set of images that evoked associations in your mind. There is no pressure to find the “right” answer, only an answer that works for you.
What this method may have in common with divination, is that in both cases your intuition can be at play (also depending, of course, on how you define the term “intuition”—in a psychic sense, or in the sense of knowing something without quite realising how you know this). Both methods require a fair amount of work to be effective, and both are creative, right-brain activities, combined with left-brain analysis. (Research seems to suggest that a whole-brain approach is the most effective way of tacking any problem.) Because there are such a variety of methods and approaches to the Tarot, what I have said in these last two paragraphs might not apply to all Tarotists, or even many of them. Using Tarot cards for creative thinking is also not my own idea—I have been inspired by several Tarot writers, including Mark McElroy, Mary K Greer and Corrine Kenner. I can mainly lay claim to having designed several spreads that focus specifically on aspects of creative thinking and brainstorming, such as goal setting, planning, decision-making and creative processes.
And here, at the end of this long post, I have a confession to make: I often find myself approaching the cards as if there is some “magic” involved; as if there is a hidden message for me to find. When done consciously, this approach is a playful way of spurring myself on to try harder with a set of “difficult” cards, pretending that there must be a message for me to find. However, at times I catch myself looking at the cards as if I believe that “someone” is trying to tell me “something”. And sometimes I do. So much for consistency!