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Tarot: A Path to Creative Thinking

This article was written by Mark McElroy
posted under Tarot

If we are to solve problems, from those confined to a single individual to those afflicting whole nations, we must learn how to identify and break out of restrictive mindsets... In other words, we must learn how to keep an open mind – one of the most difficult things we human beings can do.
-- CIA Analyst Morgan D. Jones

My book What’s in the Cards for You? takes an experimental approach to learning Tarot. There are no keywords or card meanings to memorize. Instead, you’ll find a series of hands-on experiments, each of which can be completed in fifteen minutes or less. By completing one experiment a day for thirty days, readers gain first-hand insight into the benefits of working with Tarot cards. In other words, by “testing the Tarot,” you discover exactly what Tarot can do for you.

Which raises a great question: Why bother?

The Tarot: It’s Not Just for Mystics Anymore
I mean, let’s face it … in most people’s minds, Tarot cards fall somewhere on the spectrum between kooky and spooky. This is, after all, the twenty-first century; when it comes to strategies for solving problems and improving our lives, we’re more likely to turn to technology than Tarot. What possible benefits could fiddling around with seventy-eight pieces of laminated cardboard provide?

As it turns out, there’s more to the fortune teller’s favorite prop than meets the eye. And, surprisingly, the best reason for exploring What’s in the Cards for You? has nothing to do with psychics … and everything to do with science.

The Key to Creativity

Experts agree: the human mind, left to its own devices, will limit options, defer to tried-and-true approaches, and ignore new information. According to some of the latest research into creativity, skepticism toward the value of new ideas may even be hardwired into our brains.

As CIA Analyst Morgan D. Jones notes in The Thinker’s Toolkit: 14 Powerful Techniques for Problem Solving, cavemen who consistently scurried away at the first sign of danger survived more often than those who paused to consider all their options. Those who did the same old thing in the same old way survived to pass along that approach in their genes. Innovators, on the other hand, were far more likely to end up as a saber-toothed tiger’s lunch.

Today, though, our environment has changed. Many Americans work more with their minds than their hands; more often than not, we support ourselves with brains, not brawn. Businesses and corporations want problem solvers and out-of-the-box thinkers; creativity and innovation are the hot new buzzwords in most industries.

Unboxing the Brain
Unfortunately, our schools and universities focus on accuracy – not creativity. As physician and medical writer Ulrich Kraft notes in a recent article, “Experts in a field will often internalize 'accepted' thought processes, so that they become automatic. Intellectual flexibility is lost” (“Unleashing Creativity.” Scientific American Mind. Volume 16: Number 1, p. 22). Instead of teaching graduates to identify, explore, and evaluate a range of options, the system reinforces our innate obsession with finding one “right answer.”

What’s the most powerful remedy for this anti-creative conditioning? According to Jones, we need “visual processes that involve … depicting elements of a problem … where we can see them. Why is seeing them important? By enabling the brain to actually see the … depictions of the problem, we engage more brainpower in analyzing and solving the problem and so gain added insights.”

So our brains respond more creatively, it seems, when we take the time to build a visual model of the question under consideration. But that’s not the only benefit. Jones argues that a structured, visual technique “allows us to apply our intuition – that mysterious internal sense of knowing – to alternative decisions or solutions in an organized way.”

It’s All in the Cards
Hmmmm. Building visual representations of problems … employing structured layouts of information as a problem-solving tool … consciously applying intuition as a means of identifying alternative solutions. Sound familiar?

As it turns out, a Tarot reading incorporates all these elements. During the reading process, the illustrations on the cards become visual representations of the problem under consideration. Spreads – layouts that assign additional context and meaning to each card – enhance our analysis by providing structure. And what is a Tarot reading, if not an opportunity to draw intuitive insights into the conscious mind, where they can be translated into options for action?

So back to our original question: why bother with Tarot? Here’s one answer, supported more by science than speculation: Tarot cards are a powerful, flexible, visual short-cut to creative thinking on demand. The images, numbers, and keywords on the cards give our powers of associative thinking a jolt, forcing us to see our situation from an entirely different perspective.

Beyond Creative Thinking
Creative problem solving is one of Tarot’s most intriguing and practical applications – but in terms of What’s in the Cards for You?, it’s just the beginning.

Almost ever since my work with Tarot began, I’ve been on a mission to encourage people to try the cards for themselves. My mantra – Take What Works – emphasizes the practical over the mystical. As it turns out, though, many applications that appear purely mystical on the surface also offer extremely practical benefits.

Here’s a great example. For ages, Tarot has figured prominently in magickal operations, especially as a tool for focusing intention. In this case, the practitioner draws or selects a card representing his or her goal: something he or she wants to achieve. Focusing on the card is said to channel the practitioner’s intention … and increase the likelihood that the desired result will come about. This sort of work has a name: spell casting.

Let’s be frank: down here where I live – the Deep South – talk of spell casting gives most folks the willies. More often than not, the folks who run away screaming when I pull out a Tarot deck do so specifically because they associate it with magic … and they associate magic, of course, with The Devil.

No Need to Focus on Hocus Pocus
These same people, however, don’t even flinch when self-help gurus like Anthony Robbins preach the power of “creative visualization.” You’ll hear everyone from beginning body-builders to commission-based salespeople talk about the value of “seeing the outcome” before work begins. My tennis-playing nephew talks about the necessity of “seeing” a successful shot before he takes it. Psychologists cure phobias by asking patients to visualize stressful situations and “see” themselves maintaining control.

So whether you’re more of a spell caster or a creative visualizer, you’d be hard pressed to find a better tool for “seeing your success” than Tarot. The illustrations on Tarot cards are rich with symbolism; in a well-designed deck, each card amounts to a visual encyclopedia of related ideas. Finding a card to associate with your goal is easy!

Want to be more productive? Pull the Tarot Empress. Want to remind yourself to question assumptions and break rules? Pull the Freedom trump from the Bright Idea Deck. Breaking a bad habit? Pull the ultimate middle-of-the-road trump: Temperance. Placing the card where you can see it often allows it to serve as both a first step toward your goal and a constant visual reminder of what you hope to achieve.

Personally? I don’t get caught up in the debate over whether this application is mystical or practical. It’s effective … and, as mentioned before, I’m into what works!

But Wait … There’s More!
Brainstorming your way “out of the box” and visualizing your goals are just two great applications for the cards.

The thirty experiments in my latest book explore six broad categories of applications, including planning, prediction, psychology, magic, creativity, and education. I even include tools to help you identify which applications you have a knack for … and recommendations for making the most of your newly discovered Tarot talents!

Who knows what insights or achievements await? Visit the Llewellyn store, order a deck (for beginners, I recommend the Universal Tarot, the Medieval Enchantments deck, the Gilded Tarot, or the Bright Idea Deck), and find out for yourself: What’s in the Cards for You?


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