Tarot and Care of the Soul

I’m reading a book I had forgotten I’d even downloaded on my Kindle. It’s Thomas Moore’s “Care of the Soul.” I’ve just started it, but already it’s led me to make some parallels between tarot and how one tends to the proverbial garden of soul in this life.

Moore makes a case for care vs. cure. In today’s highly allopathic-oriented society, the aim is usually to fight, combat, and eradicate any pathology that exists. The total removal of symptoms is often the objective when we’re faced with any sort of dis-ease in our lives, from emotional distress to health issues. While it’s clear that allopathic medicine has its place, Moore maintains that in the frenzy to cure what ails us, we’ve forgotten how to care for the symptoms that trouble us, and in so doing, we’ve lost touch with the parts of our self, our soul, that are crying out for expression.

One of the phrases early in the book that struck me is this one:

Let us imagine care of the soul, then, as an application of poetics to everyday life. What we want to do here is to re-imagine those things we think we already understand.

This, to me, can be directly correlated to a thoughtful use of tarot. In my own practice, I use the cards to assist clients in “re-imagining” as Moore says, their current situations. This creative exercise digs deep into inner knowing and areas of soul that are surfacing to be heard and acknowledged and integrated.

I also like Moore’s mention of applying poetics to everyday life. In my work with Enrique Enriquez, I’ve learned a lot about how poetics and wordplay can be one manifestation of how the symbolic world operates, and how tarot can be yet another of these manifestations.

Working with the tarot can help us to perceive how things and circumstances in our lives are constantly changing. It can also show us how sometimes, things are not necessarily to be eradicated with brute force but rather simply followed and understood.

I remember something that Enrique told me early on in our work together: “Follow the oracle.” This is a beautiful expression of what we can do as tarot readers and clients—simply follow the oracle, rather than trying to bend it and twist it to our own will and desires, hoping that it will provide us with a definitive cure to the distress in our lives. That is the beauty both of working with an oracle, as well as the beauty inherent in caring for soul rather than trying to “cure” it. When used this way, tarot can offer us a less subjective perspective on our lives, thereby allowing us to “care” for ourselves and our situations rather than try to “cure” them.

Let’s draw three cards as a closing commentary on the care vs. cure approach to soul and living.

We can ask the cards: “How can we nurture and care for our souls, rather than trying to cure and get rid of what we perceive as defective within?”

Devil3_WandsHanged Man

We have The Devil, the 3 of Wands, and The Hanged Man.

In care of the soul, first we have to become aware of and respectfully acknowledge the power that our personal assumptions, addictions (mental, physical, emotional), ego-based thinking, and self-destructive behaviors have over us, that keep us feeling trapped and dis-eased. Easier said than done! But soul-based living and care for the soul requires that we own up to our own role in keeping ourselves chained to feeling “less than” and not already whole. Also, in keeping with the concept of “care” versus “cure,” we need to own “The Devil” in our own lives, in our own souls. Care means tending to all facets of self and giving all parts of ourselves respect and a voice, in order to understand our intrinsic wholeness.

Many people want to eradicate any trace of “bad” from themselves and their lives, and yet, that’s an unrealistic proposition. Recognition and acceptance of the dark side of ourselves and what we perceive as unworthy and unlikeable is the first step, then, in embracing the totality of our soul and caring for it. According to this spread, if we can’t find it in ourselves to embrace our own personal demons and shadow side, we won’t be able to properly care for our souls in their entirety. Remember, care means acknowledging, observing, and giving voice for expression, rather than fighting against, disowning, and repressing out of fear and loathing. Does this mean we can’t change behaviors? No. But it does mean that before we can change things, we have to sit with them for a moment, get to know them, open our eyes to them, understand what they are and what they are about, rather than trying to obliterate them with reckless abandon as if they never existed. Those chains will hold us back until we are brave enough to try to figure out what got them there in the first place.

Once that process is recognized, the time comes for visioning a new perspective. We can now look out on our horizon with new eyes, dreaming big about where we want to go now that we no longer feel chained to negative self-image and fear of darkness and entrapment. The way is clear, the outlook is expansive, and exploration is ahead: exploration of areas of the soul that we haven’t given voice to, and we can get ready to actually embark on the journey of tending to the garden of soul.

Finally, we’re called to attend to the soul. “Attending to” means paying attention to, waiting upon, and being present with. It means having patience, listening, and perhaps even a “hands off” approach, all qualities we see in The Hanged Man. We must “hang out” with ourselves and see what unfolds when we take a non-action approach.

These cards pinpoint precisely the difficulties inherent in the concept of care of soul, tending to it rather than trying to ruthlessly manipulate and bend it to our will or what society thinks we “should” be in order to be “good.” In Western society we’re constantly encouraged in “self-improvement” and “taking action.” Yet, in this spread, the cards that provide the “bookends” to taking action are completely counterintuitive regarding “self-improvement” as an obligation for living a soulful life. Rather, they emphasize quiet observation and humble recognition.

So, here again we have one of the graceful capabilities of the tarot. Coming full circle, we can see how the cards here have helped us to “re-imagine” a way of approaching our soul’s evolution in a more holistic and compassionate way, re-imagining something we thought we already understood.

9 thoughts on “Tarot and Care of the Soul

  1. Wonderful article, Shelley!

    Following the client, as well as the cards, tends to be a more empowering experience for the reading, rather than a quick fix method. The soul is deep and deserves the time and care necessary to cultivate a more personal and meaningful exploration with the cards as our tool.

    Another term for this approach is “wholistic” for it takes the complete person or system into consideration, rather than only focusing on the identified “problem,” the scapegoat in Family Systems Theory. Using your example, the “dark side” may appear as the problem on the surface, but a deeper look may reveal hidden powers and unexpressed wisdom that is crying to be heard.

    Thank you for this thought provoking post with all the heart put into sharing your wisdom with us.

    In Spirit,

  2. Excellent piece of writing and insights. If I should anything it would be an extension of your idea of the necessity to pay attention. After you actively turn your back to the obsessive, what you must pay attention to is also that which the Zen Buddhists emphasise: that it is not through your own efforts that you accomplish anything. I see the Hanged Man there very much as a manifestation of this nuance. The Zen reminder is a good rule to remember in case one might fall into the temptation of falsely praising oneself – you know, grand vapid new age style – of how well one is doing, how splendidly one is handling the situation – including closing eyes and ears to all criticism (including the constructive kind) – and how busy one is now with getting relaxed and receiving omens from nature. Right. You get the point. Carry on with this great work.

    1. Thanks Camelia! I was just reading recently something written by a Western Zen Buddhist teacher. He was talking about a supplemental meditation practice that one can do throughout the day in 3 minute intervals. The first 3 minute period of the day is spent simply listening to sounds around and then asking “who is doing the hearing, who is the knower who knows these sounds” and realizing that feeling of emptiness knowing that it isn’t “you” knowing the sounds. It’s about going beyond the daily appearances and imagining something more simple and complex at the same time! I always keep in mind your comments about the glory of aloneness as well.

  3. love this shelley. i saved the article from “biddy tarot” on how you approach your readings. i totally identify with you. i have experience in psychiatric and addiction nursing. now you’ve added another dimension regarding the soul and spirit. wonderful.

    also, love the excellent insights from katrina and camelia. it’s been awhile since i’ve encountered such kindred spirits. i am very touched to know you all exist out there. <3<3<3

    1. That is so sweet! Thank you so much for your kind words and for sharing with all of us here. And God bless you for your work in psychiatric and addiction nursing. Takes a very special person with a very strong heart.

  4. Good writing! When we observe, we are present. A tarot reading is a way to be present. Healing begins the moment we observe the experience. Tarot shows us the parts of our soul that are in need of recognition. Maybe not to stay freeze in the pain (though it may happen for a while), maybe just to be acknowledged and accepted and cared of. I read , Care of the Soul, 20 years ago, and it still resonates within.

    1. I love that “Healing begins the moment we observe the experience.” That is so true. Acceptance is intensely counterintuitive when all we want to do is rid ourselves of unpleasant feelings or symptoms. And it’s an inadequate word to express the soul purpose here: not resignation or “giving up” but acceptance in the sense of embracing the totality of experience and then stepping forward towards change from that point. Yes, the book remains very current despite being at its 20 year anniversary!

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