One of the blogs I like to read is by Alan Joel, called the Esoteric School of Shamanism and Magic Blog. In his most recent postÂ he advises that when you get a new Tarot deck you should “throw away the book that comes with the Tarot deck.” By that I assume he means the “Little White Booklet” (LWB) that often comes inside a box of Tarot cards. More and more decks are coming with larger booklets or even full-sized books, and I’m going to guess (I could be wrong) he doesn’t mean those.
Often, the LWB provides the most minimal of information. So to my mind it would be better not to throw out the LWB, but rather to study it in conjunction with other books or courses on the Tarot. Joel does say that you have to know the meaning of the card and implies that it has multiple levels (I’d agree), and that in a reading, the position of a card in relation to the other cards influences the meaning. I agree.
However, I would respectfully disagree with the concept of throwing out the LWB. There is an enormous growth in number of Tarot decks available today, often with unique and original designs. Some have symbolism and meanings that go in different directions than the Rider-Waite-Smith tradition. There’s even a growing tradition that includes a new card, “Happy Squirrel,” that started out as a joke on “The Simpsons” animated cartoon show and is becoming popular with some Tarot users. Without some sort of information a reader might not know what to do with this card.
The Map is not the Territory
The statement in the headline above is a presupposition used in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). It’s meaning is that a map is not the territory itself, it’s just a model of the territory. The closer the map is to being the actual territory, the more accurate it is.
Similarly, our individual understandings of the universe and the world around us form our personal map of reality: what we believe and think is a map, not the actual territory; it’s our truth and not the truth.
Say you’re driving and someone speeds ahead of you and cuts you off. “What a thoughtless idiot,” you think. So your map of the person is that he’s a thoughtless idiot. However, what you don’t know is that lying in his back seat is his dangerously ill child, and all he can think of is doing anything to get the child to the hospital. So is he a “thoughtless idiot” or “someone trying to save a life?” I’d say he’s both. Both descriptions are just maps of the actuality, the real territory.
In his blog Joel writes,
the Tarot is a small mini-version of the Universe so knowing the real tarot card meanings is important.
Wow. That simple sentence surprisingly has a lot to analyze. First, I somewhat agree that “the Tarot is a small mini-version of the Universe.” But so are you and I (we’re each the “microcosm” to the universe’s “macrocosm”) and so are the rules of physics, astrology, psychology, and many other things. Each is just a map and gives an incomplete view of the actual universe. Each is useful in different ways.
The word “so” is used in the quote to link the two clauses. It’s a form of what NLPers call one of the language patterns of the Milton Model. In NLP jargon it’s called “cause and effect.” In NLP (and in hypnotherapy) we use this technique to help encourage results. “You’re sitting in that chair so that means you want to make a change in your life.” It seems to make sense, but the clauses are actually unrelated. It’s the use of cause and effect presented seemingly reasonably to the mind even though the cause is not actually related to the effect.
The same is true with Joel’s statement. Just because the Tarot can be seen as a mini-version of the universe doesn’t mean knowing real Tarot card meanings is important. There is no real cause and effect here, but it’s used to imply it. In fact, if you accept either part of the sentence, the implication is that you also have to accept the other half. I congratulate Joel on his excellent use of language patterns. Well done.
However, if we take a step back, we see that not only is there no true cause and effect relationship, but he makes a claim that there is a “real tarot [card] meaning.” In the language patterns of the NLP Milton Model this is known as a “Lost Performative.” This is when we apply a value judgement (in this case the judgement is that a particular Tarot card meaning is “real” implying that other meanings are not real) where the determinant of the value judgement is omitted. Here, we’d have to ask, “who says what is real?”
So this simple sentence is actually a complex bit of written manipulation and is done very well.
Did You Say, “Manipulation?”
Yes, I did say that. The concept of manipulation has an incredibly bad reputation. The truth, however, is that we manipulate people every day. “Pass the salt” is a form of manipulating someone to do something they hadn’t planned on doing. “Brush your teeth” is a form of manipulating someone to do something that’s good for them. Manipulation can be good, indifferent, or negative. In Joel’s case he’s using his writing skills (either as a result of training or instinctively) to convince you that he’s correct. We all do this to varying degrees, and his work, here, is very good.
The thing is, if you analyze what he’s writing, he gives the idea that there is a real meaning to Tarot cards, but the meanings change depending upon the position in a layout and the card’s relationship to other cards. So if the “real” meaning of the Tarot card changes, who determines the meaning at any particular time? Would that be Joel? My guess is that he would deny it, but that is certainly the implication of what he’s doing. But is he, or anyone else, right?
When Death isn’t Death
Joel writes, ”Â the Death card does not mean physical death.” Generally, that’s true. But after giving thousands of readings, I’ve discovered that on rare occasions it exactly means a physical death. So I would suggest that his interpretation here is usually “real” but not always so.
He continues, “Traditionally in magical and mystical circles, death represents a major, usually sudden, unexpected ending and beginning.” I would respectfully disagree. It is the Tower card that represents sudden and unexpected changes (ending and beginning). The Death card represents positive evolutionary change, like a caterpillar dying so a butterfly can live.
Joel further writes, “Although it [the Death card] usually applies to something unexpected, it can also apply to something expected. It can be making a real positive shift or a real negative one, depending on how it shows up in the reading layout, but either way, it is a major happening in the spiritual realm, to the being as a spirit. It may or may not affect the physical levelâ€¦” So it’s unexpected or expected, a positive or negative shift, and it happens on the spiritual level and may or may not affect the physical level. Whew! That really leaves a lot of openings to mean just about anything.
Joel present a meaning of this card that can mean just about anything, and although the implication of his post is that what he presents is the “real” meaning of the card, I respectfully disagree. So the question we all have to ask is, “Who is right?” The answer is that we both are 100% right and we’re probably wrong, too.
Earlier, I wrote that I “somewhat agree that ‘the Tarot is a small mini-version of the Universe.’” To clarify, I would say the Tarot is a small map of the universe, and the map is not the territory. Joel’s map is right for him. My map is right for me. Each version gives us what we feel is the closest model of the actual territory. The closer that map is to the territory, the more accurate it is. The more accurate the map the more accurate your reading will be. I would say that the more you learn about the Tarot (or any divinatory system), the closer your personal map will become to the territory of our universe. And that means you’ll be more accurate.
No, I Don’t Think You Should Throw Out the LWB
So I would suggest that you don’t throw away the LWB that came with your Tarot deck. Study it. Then study books. Joel offers a course in Tarot and you might want to study it. You might also want to study the books of Barbara Moore, Rachel Pollack, Mary Greer, and so many others.
Joel concludes, “So the next time you work with Tarot cards, really examine the cards and listen to what they have to say. Just taking the literal meaning from a book can often lead to misinterpretations and lead to disappointing readings.” I agree with this. However I wouldn’t limit yourself to this only. Take classes, read books, and meditate on the meanings of the cards.
You may discover that the real meanings for you are slightly different, largely different, or completely different from my meanings, Joel’s meanings, or the meanings of any other teacher or writer. That doesn’t make one of us right and everyone else wrong. It just means that we have our own maps, each of which, I hope, leads up the same mountain.