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Second Thoughts

This post was written by Barbara Moore
on November 13, 2009 | Comments (6)

Reading the comments in my post about the High Priestess from the Tarot of the Elves has raised many questions for me that I had not thought about while writing that post, so I thought a follow up was in order, most of them not necessarily related to the card I originally wrote about. Here are a few things I’ve been mulling over and would like to what you think:

1. The Tarot of the Elves is a narrative deck. It tells a story and the cards relate directly to that story. Is it right to take a card from a narrative deck, totally out of context, and ask “so, what do you think about this?”

2. Is it right (or should I say useful?) to draw conclusions about any tarot card based on just looking at it? If so, who can/should draw conclusions? Those who read the supporting material (such as the companion book or the designer’s notes)? People who have studied tarot extensively? People who have studied a bit? People who know nothing or very little about tarot?

3. How much of the card’s meaning should come from the image on that card? How much of a card’s meaning should come from our responses, both immediate and considered, to it?

4. Are all tarot decks meant to be read with? I recently participated in a teleseminar called Divination: How to read the Future Now. Rachel Pollack was the first presenter. She said something about art not just being part of tarot but that tarot itself is an art form. Are some decks meant to be study decks rather than reading decks? If so, how are they different from reading decks.

I am sure there are more thoughts wandering around my brain, but those are all I can round up for now.

Reader Comments

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#1 
Written By Ellen-Mary
on November 13th, 2009 @ 4:50 pm

If you were doing a reading for someone with this deck you would be pulling the cards out of sequence. The querent would be probably seeing them for the first time and the narrative wouldn’t mean much at that initial moment. Part of your original post was to ask if you would read for someone with this deck. The card would be out of context and it would be up to the reader to put it in it’s place. I’m not sure this is the right sort of deck for that interaction with such jarring images even though I’m sure they serve a purpose in the accompanying narrative.

My initial response to this deck was that I didn’t like it. That was a personal reaction to the images. That’s how it works for me. The first thing I see about a deck are the images. I’m not sure if that is what you’re after with the phrase “drawing conclusions”. If this deck relies so much on its narrative as opposed to standard understanding of tarot meanings is it still a tarot deck? Does the included narrative tell a complete story and this image is just one scene in that story? I understand the majors to be archetypes that stand alone as well as exist in a story. If the cards in this deck can’t do that then perhaps it isn’t mean to be read with.

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#2 
Written By Mark McElroy
on November 14th, 2009 @ 1:32 pm

Some thoughts on these questions:

1. Is it right to take a card from a narrative deck, totally out of context, and ask “so, what do you think about this?”

I’m not sure it’s ever wrong, under any circumstances, to ask “What do you think about this?” I am aware, though, that, on certain topics, what Mark McElroy thinks may have limited value or relevance. (I can, for example, tell you what I think about a Jackson Pollock painting … but my knowledge about such things is limited, and my impressions may say more about me than they do about Mr. Pollock or his work.)

To bring this back to Tarot: I think most anyone can glance at a card and say what he or she thinks about it. I did this myself, early on, with the Thoth deck, which I initially disliked and was even a little frightened by. But with time — and study, and experience — my opinions about and insights into that deck evolved beyond first impressions.

In the end, I think that’s the heart of what I have to say here: when exposed to something new, I try not to mistake the intensity of my initial response for depth of insight. Meanwhile, I take all first impressions with a grain of salt.

2. Is it right (or should I say useful?) to draw conclusions about any tarot card based on just looking at it? If so, who can/should draw conclusions?

Anyone *can* draw conclusions about any card. In fact, this is *all* some people will ever do with Tarot … and they may be quite happy with this approach, and it may serve them well.

That said, when visiting Buenos Aires for the first time, would you want to hire a guide who had been there four hours (but who had many interesting first impressions to share), or someone who had been born there, lived there for decades, knew all the best local restaurants, and could bring the city’s history to life for you?

I guess I’d say first impressions and initial conclusions are just that: *first* and *initial.* Can people stop there? Certainly — and many do.

3. How much of the card’s meaning should come from the image on that card? How much of a card’s meaning should come from our responses, both immediate and considered, to it?

This gets us into the tricky subject of semiotics, but I’d suggest every card has many meanings: those intended by the creator, those suggested by universal and culture symbolic systems, those we come up with by free association, and those we don’t.

The weight and value we assign these meanings is likely rooted in our goals. If we’re brainstorming and free-associating (which is at the core of many Tarot readings), then the meaning we assign on the fly may do just fine. If we’re hoping to be taken as an authority on a deck … or making an effort to understand an unfamiliar deck from that deck’s own, unique perspective … then we’ll have to go beyond first impressions.

4. Are all tarot decks meant to be read with? Are some decks meant to be study decks rather than reading decks? If so, how are they different from reading decks?

Hmmm. To me, that’s a bit like asking, “Are all computers meant to be computed with?” Tarot’s a tool; whatever someone “means” for us to do with it, we’re always free to do with it as we please, and that use may or may not have much to do with the creator’s intentions.

That leaves me free to read or study — or not — with any deck, without passing value judgments on those who do otherwise.

About the Elves deck: using it to its best advantage will require more than a cursory glance at one or two cards. There is a mythology there … a story … a language … a point of view. There are benefits to learning that language and seeing your own situation from that deck’s point of view.

But no one *has* to explore that, and folks are free, if that’s what floats their boats, to glance at a card or two and say, “Not for me!”

Are those first impressions appropriate? Are they accurate? Are they deep? Are they insightful? Are they useful? Are they valuable? Should we assign them any authority?

If we stop at first impressions … I guess we’ll never know. ;-)

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#3 
Written By Nathara
on November 24th, 2009 @ 1:34 pm

When learning a new deck and discussing interpretations, I think any method used is appropriate. Whether you like to study the arcane symbolism of the card, use the designer’s notes, or understand the whole of the deck and the role that card plays in it. With the way tarot decks are used, designers must keep in mind that, though the cards tell a story, each one of them will be representing some element of the story that can be expressed out of context without the rest of the cards. In comparing note with other people (asking “what do you think”), the goal shouldn’t be to come up with the ‘right’ or ‘truest’ answer, but instead to compare individual experiences and celebrate both the differences and similarities.

Just my two cents!

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