Telling Stories With Tarot

This is a sample of part of a series of classes that I will be conducting in the months ahead. The example used is only a small piece of what will be covered in the class. Be on the lookout, eastern and central Iowa, for more information about these classes.

The Tarot is amazing. It is so adaptable. Sure, you can “tell fortunes” with it, but that is its most mundane use. In fact, it is my opinion that the “is my boyfriend cheating on me” type of question, so often asked of casual Tarot readers, is an insult to the deep, eternal wisdom that is Tarot.

Tarot is a tool for self development. This is especially true when talking about the Major Arcana, the 22 cards that have wonderful names like The Fool, The High Priestess, The Tower, etc. These cards are no less than a road map of the unconscious. They are archetypal symbols that speak to our deepest selves. What’s more, each card contains a lesson, a story if you will, to give us a sense of how to attain the state intimated by the card. This is done through the Hebrew letter that has been paired with each card. This is very handy, as there are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Divine providence, perhaps?

Hebrew is one of several languages that have been considered the language of creation. I’m not here to argue the pros and cons of any of that. I use Hebrew because that is language that the Western mystery tradition has used. And it works for our purposes, especially since each letter has multiple associations and a meaning all its own.

So, let’s tell a short story. storybookI’ve decided to use one of the scarier cards of the Major Arcana as an example: The Devil (number 15 of the 22 – I’ve already talked a little about this card here). Really, this card isn’t scary at all. It is a simple reminder of the deception put over on us by our senses. That is to say, the world, as we perceive it, is an illusion. The reality which lies behind this illusion is God’s energy, the very stuff of creation itself. This actually meshes quite nicely with some of the tenets of modern quantum theory. Oh, those ancients. They knew a thing or two.

At any rate, the letter for this card is ayin, which not-so-coincidentally means “eye,” the sense organ most of us rely on as our primary way of gaining information about the world. To get more of the message behind this pairing of card and letter, we need to spell out the name of the letter. For example, in English when we spell the name of the fourth letter of the alphabet, it’s done thusly: dee. Well, ayin is spelled with three letters also: ayin-yod-nun. Don’t worry about the details now, just take my word for it. I’ll guide you along.

Since each letter has a Tarot card paired with it, we can look at those cards to help us out. The three letters and their cards are: Ayin (Devil); Yod (Hermit); and Nun (Death). Laying them out right to left, the way Hebrew is written, we get:

13 - Death 9 - Hermit 15 - Devil

You can see the letter for each card in its lower right corner. Several stories are possible for each arrangement of cards, by the way. That’s part of the beauty of this process. So let’s look at these three briefly. We’ve already talked a little about the Devil. The Hermit is the light of God showing the way. Death isn’t death at all. It signifies a transformation, a radical change. Taking this information and reading right to left, the message is: In order to see the illusion for what it is (Devil), one must concentrate on the light of God (Hermit), which will lead to a transformation of perception (Death). Using just the letters in the same order, we get: Use your inner eye (ayin) to see what God is truly giving you (yod means “hand”) in order to plumb the depths of the unconscious for an answer (nun means “fish” and, by extension, the deep water of the unconscious).

Once you have a vocabulary of associations to the cards and letters, lots of stories can be told with the same arrangement of cards. I didn’t want to cross your eyes (your ayins?), so I kept it simple today. This same process can be extended to the names of the spheres on the Tree of Life (see here and here), or to other words and phrases. The layers of meaning are many, and informative.

Keep an eye out for my class series, where we will explore the intricacies of the Tarot for personal growth and spiritual insight. Coming soon!

Why Is the Devil Laughing?

Did you ever notice how, in the movies, the bad guy is always laughing?

(Apologies to the late Andy Rooney for this opening line)

It made me wonder. After all, you see it all the time. Eventually, though, it occurred to me that since bad guys are a representation of Evil, and hence the Great Deceiver himself (a.k.a. the Devil, Satan, Old Nick, Mephistopheles, Beelzebub, etc.), I think they take their cue from him. I’m sure you’ve encountered this business of the laughing Devil somewhere. A poor schlub is going to Hell for some reason or another, and the Devil is standing there laughing his tail off at him.

How can a being who is theoretically condemned to eternal damnation be so friggin’ jolly? I mean, ensnaring souls and poking those unfortunates with a pitchfork for all time must get repetitive and boring. One can get giggles out of that kind of thing for only so long, I would imagine.

I believe that there is an answer for this archetype of the Laughing Devil, and that answer lies in the symbology of the Tarot. In the Major Arcana of the Tarot, The Devil is card number 15 (picture at right). It is associated with the astrological sign of Capricorn, and therefore with Saturn, the planet of limitation. Some even see Saturn as oppressive, which it can be under certain circumstances. However, it is primarily linked with material manifestation, for without limitation, nothing could take form.

The Devil reminds us how easy it is to be ensnared by the illusion of the physical, placing us in a prison of our own making. The primary message to us is to look beyond illusion to the essential spirit underlying all things. This is the ultimate cosmic joke – that what we perceive is “how things really are.”

The realization to be grasped is that The Devil is actually God in disguise. We can undo that disguise by turning the pentagram in the picture right-side up, so that the proper order is restored.

The human faculty associated with The Devil card is mirth. It is important for us to see the humor in the everyday and, by seeing beyond, to approach the Divine.

So, now it is easy to see why the devil is laughing. He gets the joke! It seems that the deeper meaning of the symbol has been misunderstood, even perverted, into the laughing devil, or bad guy. In actuality, the archetype of The Devil wants us to join in and enjoy the joke that is being played on us by our senses. This is one of the crucial elements to understand in order to travel the path of enlightenment successfully.

Laugh it up!

Seeing, Not Just Looking

Some time ago I had a dream in which God gave me the ability to see with my eyes closed, like looking through my eyelids. Not a great superpower, but something. Oh, and what did God look like? In this manifestation, the Almighty was a 40-ish guy who was pretty nondescript, slightly chubby, looked kind of
Hispanic. Thin mustache. Polo shirt and chinos. Loafers. I suppose the Ineffable One can look — however, you know?

Anyway, I did a few parlor tricks with my new-found ability (the Ancient of Days was rather amused, looking on), and woke up. Pondering the dream, one message I got was that this ability was so that I could look at the true nature of things, rather than just the illusion of consensual reality playing out before my senses. Now, if I could only hold onto that gift . . .

In the Tarot, 15 - Devil the illusion of reality is often represented by the card known as The Devil (Major Arcana number 15). The card is also associated with the astrological sign of Capricorn. Just because this card represents Capricorn, though, doesn’t mean that Capricorn is bad. We need our inner Capricorn to push us forward in the world, and Capricorn rules career and business. Also, a certain little Savior was born a Capricorn, according to popular reckoning.

No, the problem comes from being captured (note the chains that attach the two figures to the Devil’s throne) by that illusion. Looking deeply, we can begin to peel back the frilly distraction to find the spiritual core, though. Take a good look at the card. You can see pretty easily that the chains around the figures’ necks are roomy enough that they could remove the chains on their own, if they so desire. That’s the trick — wanting to remove the chains. Don’t be fooled like Faust, who nearly condemned himself by wanting the illusion of reality to stay. “You are so wonderful,” the doomed doctor said. That was all Mephistopheles needed to hear, and ol’ Faust was almost a goner. Thanks goodness the cavalry (angels) came to the rescue.

Don’t let yourself get bamboozled by appearances. To paraphrase Smoky the Bear: Only YOU can prevent hellfile.