The Tarot cards have had a checkered past. They have been used for card games, fortune-telling (based on the idea of inexorable fate), serial art projects by people such as Salvador Dali, background structures in novels, symbolism in mysticism, analyses of mythic structure and the psyche, and divination (based on the idea that we have free choice).
It is in this last category that the Tarot compares to another divinatory system, astrology. There is a belief among some people that astrology predicts what must happen. This is a belief held by people with little knowledge of the subject and by the debunkers who wish to exploit this false belief. However, astrologers will clearly tell you that the stars impel, they do not compel. As I see it, astrology provides a person with access to information he or she might not ordinarily possess. With this information, a person is far more likely to make accurate decisions in his or her life. The same is true with the Tarot.
How do the Tarot and other divinatory systems work? I think that if you put fifteen Tarot readers in the same room, they might give you twenty different answers! So I'll add to this by giving you mine. Is my answer the "right" one? I honestly don't know. What I do know is that it represents a paradigm, a mode of thinking that is useful in helping us make desired changes in our lives.
I see our path through the past as being similar to moving through a very narrow tunnel. That past is completed—finished—and there is nothing we can do to change it (although we can change its effects on us). The present is like a huge room with infinite possibilities represented by thousands of doors. Most likely, we will continue in a direct line out of that tunnel, so the most likely door to the future we choose is directly opposite the tunnel.
Of course, it is possible that we might go through the door on either side of the one opposite the tunnel. The odds of us moving to doors farther away from that most likely door decrease in direct relation to the distance from the original door.
Why would we move to another door which, of course, represents a different possible future? Moving to a door near the most likely one could be due to a whim or a hunch. But moving further away from that most obvious of futures requires a conscious desire to do so. That is, it is the result of a conscious or willed act. And as the occultist Aleister Crowley said, any willed act is a magical act.
Using the Tarot
Perhaps the best way to describe this process is to give an example. Let's say you have two job offers. You go to a Tarot reader (or do a reading for yourself) with one question in mind: Which one should you take?
Your past has led you to a point where you have the job offers. At the same time, your past has also helped you develop your personality which would include what you like and dislike, your goals and dreams, etc. So what can the Tarot do? What type of answer might it give?
The information you receive through the Tarot will indicate what your likely choice will be. It may include information about inner desires and motivations which have moved you to this point. Some of these motivations may be from your subconscious and you might not have even been aware of them. It will also show what external forces might be working on this situation. Again, you might not be aware of these forces, including everything from the importance of the way you dress to someone where you are being offered the job to whether your potential employer had an argument with his or her spouse.
In this example, let's say that your likely choice, the one that would bring you the most mental, emotional, spiritual, and financial success, is job A and not job B. But there is a catch. Even though you have been offered the job, there is a person there who doesn't like you and could cause problems. Depending upon the reader and his or her training and abilities you might get some suggestions of how to deal with this. In my experience of teaching and learning from many hundreds of Tarot readers, the information is often rather general.
Specific methods of dealing with the situation—overcoming negative influences, turning neutral indications into positive ones, enhancing positive opportunities—require the training, creativity, and cleverness of the Tarot reader. Often, the reason one professional reader is more successful than another is based on his or her ability to come up with solutions to achieve a desired goal with guidance from the Tarot. This means that the personal desires, goals, ethics, morals, and philosophy of the reader will cause adjustments to the advice. And because of this, such advice can be wrong or ineffective if the reader simply doesn't like the information given by the Tarot. I knew one woman who would repeatedly give herself readings on a subject until she received the answer she desired! This was simply the Tarot reflecting her wishes rather than an accurate answer.
It is in this way that the Tarot is again similar to Western astrology. Most astrologers use the information gained from their charts, combined with their personal beliefs and experiences, to help themselves or another create a desired future. The problem with both Tarot and Western astrology is that you end up with suggestions based on the beliefs and experience of the Tarot reader and/or astrologer rather than being strictly based on the cards or the charts. Is it possible to avoid this?
Answers From India
Western astrology is descended from earlier cultures such as that of Babylon, some 4,250 years ago. My own research indicates that certain astrological concepts go back further to the ancient, pre-Hindu culture that existed in northern India. There are astrological and astronomical records in the ancient text, the Rig Veda. Many older Western historians date this book at about 1500 b.c.e., although this may be due to a desire not to have such a text be earlier than some of the books of the Bible. More recent scholarship points to a date of around 5,500 years ago. Still others have suggested a date of around 8,000 years ago. Modern Eastern astrology from India, known as "Vedic Astrology" or Jyotish, is certainly not the same today as it was 5,000 years ago. Among other things, it has been influenced by Western astrology. But it does have a feature which I believe will sooner or later become a part of Western astrology: remedies.
Remedies are magical techniques that can be used to overcome problems indicated in a chart or to ensure that positive things will happen. There are several types of remedies, but the most popular consist of magical repetition of phrases (mantra), the use of talismanic symbols (yantra), and the use of magical gemstones. But the important difference between the use of such remedies and the creation of methods by a Western astrologer is that the remedies of jyotish are determined by specific rules based on the astrological chart. The indications in the chart tell you which mantra or yantra you should use. The chart tells you which gem(s) you should wear. To me, this is very important. The astrologer ceases to be the star ("Come to me for answers") and instead, the person for whom the reading is being made is empowered. The person getting the reading is free to choose to follow the explicit advice of the charts or not. The beliefs and experience of the astrologer are not as important as his or her training in how to accurately interpret the diagrams. It's even possible that the astrologer might disagree with what the remedy is (and should certainly say so), but the remedy is determined specifically by the stars.
Currently, there is nothing similar in the field of Tarot. Remedies are not determined by what's indicated in the cards. Instead, the Tarot reader must invent remedies based on his or her beliefs and experience modified by the information derived from the cards. But there is another way.
The Body-Mind Connection
Try this experiment. Sit in a chair with your feet on the ground. Slump your shoulders together and down, your hands hanging between your legs or resting on your lap. Look down and frown. Now say, aloud, "I feel wonderful!" Chances are the words will feel quite strange and inappropriate.
Similarly, try standing with your shoulders back, chest out, head looking slightly up, and have a smile on your face. Say aloud, "I really feel terrible and depressed." That feels strange and inappropriate, too.
The position of the body and the state of the mind are quite interconnected. This knowledge, along with the information of a Tarot reading, can allow you to make powerful changes in order to achieve a desired goal. And since the actions you do are willed acts, this can certainly be called magic.
It is not the purpose of this article to describe how to do a Tarot reading. There are numerous books on the subject and you may use any you like. Most Tarot readings include two pieces of information: one card represents the "current situation" and another represents the "outcome." For the purpose of the method I'm about to describe, either use just the Major Arcana cards of your deck or use a deck that has pictorial symbolism on all cards such as in the Rider-Waite deck or the Universal Tarot of Roberto De Angelis (I think the people on this new version of Waite's deck have more personality). Not all decks are fully pictorial.
After you (or a reader) finish the reading, take a look at just the cards that show the current situation and the outcome. If the outcome was negative, reverse the card by 180 degrees.
Physically assume the position of one of the characters you think is most important on the current situation card. You may need pillows, chairs, or other paraphernalia to do this. If you don't have them available, use your imagination.
Spend a few minutes holding this position. Feel it in your very being. Visualize the symbolism of the card as if it were life-sized around you. In this way you are associating yourself with the linked body/mind of the archetypal character on the card. You literally manifest, in your body language (and thus, your mind), the current situation. Make it a part of you. Think it. Feel it. Be it.
Now look at the position of what you feel is the most important character on the outcome card. Allow yourself to physically move across the room. Feel yourself gradually changing into the position of the character on the outcome card. Your motion may be slow or fast, jerky or smooth. You may even perform a bit of a dance as you move from one position to the other.
Finally, fully take the position of the character in the outcome card. Know that the physical position is a manifestation of the outcome you want. Think, feel, and "be" that character. Again, visualize the symbolism of the card all around you. Hold that position for several minutes as the position has an effect on your mind. This method, known as "Dancing the Tarot," was originally published in the now out-of-print book, The Magick of the Tarot by Denning and Phillips, and explained in detail in my book, Tarot & Magic.
In this example, using the Universal Tarot, the current situation card might be The Moon, representing deception and things going on underneath the surface of which you might not be aware. There is no human in this card, so choose to be the crustacean. To assume the position of the lobster, get down on the floor, prone, and use a pillow to raise your head and arms. Visualize the water covering your legs and the wolf and dog on either side of you. See the Moon in the distance and two pillars on either side of the road in front of you.
The final outcome card is The Empress. She is sitting on a throne with pillows for comfort. Roll out of the water in The Moon and sense yourself evolving from crustacean to human. Dance around in joy of this feeling. Move up the road, and the Sun begins to rise, turning the sky yellow. Finally, sit in a comfortable chair, the water you were in now a river running beside you. In your hand you hold a wand of power. Realize that the strength of your power is not based on power over others, but over yourself. Visualize the fertile scene around you and know that the position you're looking for must allow you to exert your creativity, and that it is through creativity that you will win over the person who doesn't like you and assure yourself of the job. Sit and sense yourself as the Empress. Then, let the visualization fade and return to your normal consciousness.
This may not sound like a magical ritual. It may sound more like psychodrama. Where are the wands and chalices of the mage or the cauldron of the Witch? But magic, as stated above, is a willed act. This certainly is a willed act. Instead of a chalice, we use our own body. Instead of waving a wand, we dance the Tarot.
The mental/physical associations of this ritual can affect you so you can achieve the goals you desire. In this case, it sets you up to not only get the job you want, but to thrive in it, win over the person who doesn't like you, and keep the position. The magic lets you become more aware of what is going on around you so you can react more quickly to changes and have continued success.
This method does for Tarot what remedies do for Jyotish. It empowers the person getting the reading. It allows him or her (or you) to not depend upon the beliefs and experiences of the reader. Instead, you can directly use the powerful information of the Tarot without interpretation. I really think that this is the next step for people who practice Tarot divination for themselves and friends or as a professional.