I love Tarot cards. I love their rich symbolism, their colours, their mysterious images, and the way they stimulate and challenge the imagination. The only problem is, as a sceptic, I do not believe in divination.
A sceptic is someone who questions beliefs that cannot be proved; divination is one of these. Few studies have been done on divination, and most of these concentrated on cultural and anthropological research, not on whether or how divination "works" or not. For many, divination is a valid way to gain knowledge. I have no quarrel with this. My experience is that the cards sometimes reveal a remarkably accurate picture of what is going on; at other times, there seems to be no connection between the cards and my situation. Since neither scientific studies nor my own experience presents sufficient evidence, I use the cards for something that I know works—solving problems through creative thinking.
There are two ways to use Tarot cards for creative problem solving.
- Creativity teachers such as Alex Osborn, Edward de Bono, and Michael Michalko have devised many techniques to help you come up with ideas and solve complex problems. Lateral thinking and brainstorming are two of these techniques. Most of these techniques involve idea generation. Some of these techniques, such as attribute listing, can be modified to use with Tarot cards.
- Although Tarot readings are usually associated with divination, the techniques of reading the cards can be used for creative thinking, in a way that does not involve the supernatural or psychic senses.
There is some overlap between reading the cards for divination, and using the cards for creative problem solving. The types of problems that require creative thinking—relationship problems, career questions, complex decisions—are the ones for which people often consult the cards, or other divinatory tools. The aims are the same: insight and understanding that can lead to solutions. Although the focus, intention, and underlying assumptions will differ, a Tarot reading for creative problem solving and one for divination will seem similar.
The one missing ingredient in most Tarot readings is idea generation. A divinatory reading may include "solution" cards, but these usually provide one answer or one way forward. This makes sense in a divinatory context, where the reader consults a higher or wiser power for an answer. A cornerstone of creative thinking, however, is to come up with as many ideas as possible, then to evaluate them as possible solutions. The assumption is that a complex problem can have more than one solution; the goal of a creative thinking exercise is to choose the answer that will be the most effective.
If not from a higher or supernatural source, where else could the solutions to our problems come from?
We have the answers to our problems much more often than we realise. We have more knowledge, wisdom, insight, and understanding than we give ourselves credit for. So much of what we know, however, is hidden from our day-to-day awareness.
Creative thinking taps into inner resources—the creative abilities of the mind, experience, and knowledge that we are not consciously aware of. Where divination strives to uncover what is not (yet) known, the sceptic's way is to assume that much is already known, but hidden.
Psychologists tell us that we can keep only seven to nine pieces of knowledge in our working memory at a given time. At any particular moment, we are aware only of what we need right now. We cannot remember or pay attention to all we have learned or experienced, which means that much valuable information hides in the so-called "unaware" or in the unconscious. This does not mean, however, that the knowledge is not available.
One form of knowledge that is difficult to access is tacit knowledge. Tacit knowledge is "knowing without knowing that you know." It is bound up in experiences and memories. It includes the ability to speak a language or drive a car—knowledge we have gained through experience but do not consciously draw on.
Tacit knowledge often accounts for a sudden burst of understanding and insight, when what you know combines with a new experience or event. A skilled doctor, for example, does not consciously go through her vast store of medical knowledge to make a diagnosis every time she sees a patient with a cold. She simply "knows" how to treat the patient. The only time she will question her instinctive knowledge is when the treatment does not work. Although her diagnosis may seem instantaneous and automatic, behind the scenes her brain has sifted through her knowledge and experiences, presenting the closest match it finds to her conscious awareness.
A different form of knowledge lies in the "unaware," or what Freud called the preconscious. The preconscious contains information that we can easily recall, i.e. the information has not been repressed into the unconscious mind. A doctor's experience and medical knowledge would, for example, be preconscious knowledge. If her patient does not get better, she will have to discard her first, intuitive, diagnosis, and tap into her medical knowledge and experience to diagnose the patient. These memories—of what she has learned through study and practical experience—lie in the preconscious. She does not consciously hold these in the forefront of her mind until she needs the information.
Preconscious knowledge is not always easy to recall; much of what we know and many of our memories need some digging to unearth, but in the right context and with suitable reminders, we can access them.
Whereas preconscious knowledge can be recalled at will, unconscious knowledge is difficult to access. The unconscious mind is said to contain memories that we find to traumatic to consciously recall. It is also the seat of drives, motivations, wishes, and fears that we find unacceptable or threatening and are repressed "out of mind."
All three forms of knowledge can be tapped, although with varying degrees of difficulty. Unconscious knowledge may require the help of a therapist, as the experience can be daunting. Delving into these forms of knowledge can be done through exploration, introspection, and creative reflection—activities that are greatly enhanced with the use of Tarot cards.