I often refer to my interest in tarot as being an activity that combines cross-cultural approaches to both the history of tarot and the practice of divination. Where history is concerned, although much can be said about the development of Tarot after the Golden Dawn days, when the occultists Edward Waite and Aleister Crowley let the cat out of the bag, on all things magic, I’m much more influenced by Neoplatonism. I stick to Marsilio Ficino, Giordano Bruno, and Picco della Mirandola. “The task of Magic consists in comparing things to one another,” said Bruno, suggesting that everything can be manipulated by the sheer power of the imagination, by a phantasm which is erotic in origin and which arises in the subject. The subject, however, has to make himself immune to his own phantasms if he is to remain in control of what he is doing.
We create magic when we see magic in the most ordinary things. This is what we do when we read Tarot cards. Although the practice of going about it can vary from reader to reader – some like to connect with the querent in the form of asking background questions, others go with quick comparisons. I fall in this latter category. Although a session with me can stretch itself between 10 minutes and 2 hours, the one seeking advice always gets an answer within the first 30 seconds. If I do a French cross (all major Arcana), a 4-card spread (+ the invisible synthesis), the answer can fall even faster, say, within 10 seconds, unless I stumble over adding the numerical value of the 4 cards put together to arrive at the 5th card that can say something either about what emerges against the background of the 4, or what underlies the forces identified in the 4. If I do a tirage-en-ligne, a 3-card spread in line, an idea can emerge after 30 seconds. In most of my 3-card readings, I prefer not to lock the cards in any specific position, so that I can better see what narrative emerges out of the images. Generally, I’m against spreads. If the querent is still with me after the initial yes, no, maybe, or probably not, what the time goes with is reflecting on images. As the case may also be, when the minor arcana enters the picture, we discuss geometry, abstract theories of the soul, cultural identity, or love that makes us stupid thus calling for assessing the need to either hang on to it or give it up.
Take this example for instance. I lay down 3 cards and here’s what I get:
AS DE DENIER (Ace of Coins) LE FOL (The Fool) LA ROUE DE FORTUNE (The Wheel of Fortune).
Now, this narrative is quite interesting (they all are, really), as it presents us with the possibility to go literal, visual, and poetical, either independently or all at once. Following the literal meaning we can say that even before the Fool gets to taste what a sack of money can offer him, he’s off on a new spin, yet losing some of his floating freedom. Becoming enchained to the wheel, putting his shoulder to it, is suddenly a less attractive activity where the experience of something new is concerned. Routine is here, what goes up comes down. The Fool is pinned to evolution and involution. This is rather contrary to the nature of the Fool, to be above all relations, material or cosmic. And unless the Fool can appreciate the roller-coaster, he will not be very happy with the situation. He will become reckless and inconsiderate and nostalgic after the flying carpet. That’s right, the Ace of Coins in the Marseille deck always makes me think of the magic flying carpet.
Following a visual interpretation here, and combined with our cultural competence, we can easily see how giving up the ability to fly on magic text(ure), which constitutes the materiality of any one interpretation when it comes down to it, is a bad idea. But as with any coin of the caliber of the Ace, even when you slide off its surface, some of that magic will rub off on you. The hot red center of the coin becomes the opening of the Fool’s knapsack, of which he is however not aware. There is thus a chance that where the money is concerned, betting it on the roulette, and letting it spin, may provide some providential stability, provided that the fool is interested in that, which he is never.
Looking at the numbers on the cards, we note that neither the Ace nor the Fool are marked in any way, even though they both have a numerical value (depending on which tradition we go with, we assign the 11 to the Ace and O or 22 to the Fool). Optically speaking we’re left with 10, marked as an X. Here we can say that the X marks the spot, yet by locating the Fool in the place of the Magician (1+0), we force him to speak abracadabra, join Ali Baba and his 40 thieves, and try to roll that big round stone open: Open Sesame! The question that remains then is this one: will the Fool be able to do that, when he’s tied down to tedious circling around? As the Wheel indicates, only time will tell. Meanwhile, he will take advantage of whatever opportunity comes his way.
I’m staring at that Ace, which has now turned into a Chinese yellow Gong sounding the triumph of matter over providence. Some things are worth living for: your freedom, your magic, and your roundness.
Note on the deck: Jean-Claude Flornoy: restoration of Jean Dodal’s Tarot de Marseille, 1701.
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