The description of the tarot cards as “pictures printed out in paper” has become increasingly common in recent years. It is an apt description, and one prone to take the mystery out of what we do, and present it as an activity which anyone can do. As card readers, we do know that anyone can read them. We all managed to learn them, regardless of our background, our education, our “sensitivity” to spiritual planes. We learnt that there were keywords that could frame the picture. And we learnt that if those keywords couldn’t be used for whatever reason, we could always go back to the image, and search it (and our unconscious) for some more.
With time, this reading process starts to become easier, as we tune in with the frequency of the cards. Little by little, the walls start tumbling down. And there comes a time when the images and its meanings break out of the “fourth wall” and start to take a life of its own in our own reality. As if they are crossing over from their pictorial reality into this Universe and are taking shape. Shapes of people; shapes of objects; shapes of places, etc. And that is something that when you start to notice, it can take a life of its own. You start looking at buildings and seeing this little part that resemble symbols from the minor arcana. Or situations, that immediately bring to mind something portrayed in the cards.
For me, it’s people. It is not uncommon for me, to look at someone and notice something that instantly makes me think about a certain card. Some people will remind me of Court cards; others, of characters that appear in the minor arcana and others still, of the major arcana figures. And as I usually work with the Rider-Waite deck, which was the deck I started with and the one closest to my heart, this type of exercise becomes even easier.
A few days ago, I was walking in a garden. There were some people there, playing domino, others just sitting in benches passing the time. One in particular, caught my attention. One of the old guys playing domino.
He was somewhat old and his face was stern. That’s the first thing I’ve noticed. His stern face. He was playing dominoes in the garden and you could see, from the way that he moved, that he knew very well what he was doing. He moved with certainty, placing pieces around like they belonged there. You could see that his face was calm and his eyes gleamed. There was conviction in his stare, like he already knew he was going to win and it was just a matter of time before it happened.
There was no chair. Rather a garden bench. He would move, back and forth, going backwards and raising a hand into his chin; the other, resting on his lap. He would go forth to place another domino piece. One hand only, his eyes fixed on the exact place he would put the piece down. Then going back. And forth. And back again.
There was no armor. Or maybe there was. Not a physical armor, but the way he would act. Sometimes, he would tell a joke, and then he would laugh, melting for a few moments that severity in his expression. But the game was never forgotten, and the concentration would soon reappear.
There were no rams there, obviously. No dogs, no animals. But there was no need.
The Emperor card might speak to us of various things: of courage, will to win, confidence. Of spoiled brats and determined individuals. It tells us of someone who wants something and is going after it no matter what. Of anyone success driven. But there is also a joy to live, to experience, that is common to the Fire cards. Every moment should be savored and every battle should be won.
And here I was seeing my little emperor… ruler of his own kingdom – it might not be more than some garden benches, a table and a few domino pieces, but he sure made good use of them. There were his partners, or maybe subjects, whose role would be providing him with a game to be played and, of course, won. For this game was his whole world.
I always enjoy seeing something like this. A little fiction playing itself right before my eyes. In a way, it tells me that I can visualize an aspect of the card, establishing a connection with its image. As the fictions change, so to does my understanding of the card changes. And, what’s probably more important to me, the card looses its esoteric meaning and gains something else. Something more concrete: it tells us of how it would play out in a day-to-day scenario. No keywords, no mythological stories and fables. Just plain day-to-day situations. Knowledge that we can then bring to our work and help ground our readings.
There is an exercise which we, as students would make, which is to imagine how would a certain character behave. This is nothing more than a variant of it. You’re not going to imagine, you’re going to see it, to examine it with your own eyes. And by doing this, you will start to take your own conclusions about meanings and situations related to each card of your deck. For each card has a way to present itself. And better than phrases and words in a book, nothing beats real-life observation and connecting what we see with our cards. With this method, you’re going from the statistical to the personal. You’re building your own vocabulary and your own references. You’re building your own relationship with the cards.