Tarot cards are an excellent tool for helping you find meaning and understanding in your dreams. Using the cards is more personalized than using a generic dream interpretation book, which knows nothing about your personal history or unconscious impulses. With the cards, you can take the information you receive and incorporate it with your own information to form a complete picture.
The heart of Jungian psychoanalysis lies in analyzing the messages your unconscious delivers to you via your dreams. The idea is that your dream material is what’s ready to emerge from the lower iceberg of your unconscious, so that you can now work with this material, integrate it and move forward in a more complete way. You can use your cards to perform this function on your own. Although it isn’t psychoanalysis, it is a valid instrument to gauge what’s going on underneath the surface and help you work with your hidden “stuff” that’s ready to be examined.
Today I’ll use myself as an example so you can see how this process works.
I follow my dreams and often remember them. I’d suggest that you don’t “force” remembering your dreams but rather allow the ones that stick with you to emerge. Work with the material that seems to call for your attention.
Over the past few years I’ve had a recurring dream from time to time that varies in setting and some particulars, but never wavers from its basic theme: my first serious boyfriend (who I broke up with at 20 after nearly two years, for no other reason than I was young and wanted to experience the world, not be tied down) returns to me in my dream and I desperately want to reunite with him. He, however, is unavailable and although he comes close in the dream and at times even indicates he wants to be with me too, he always leaves or is always somehow prevented from being with me (usually it’s because he has another girlfriend).
The most recent iteration of this dream was the most dramatic; I stood before him and looked right into his eyes and said in all sincerity: “Leaving you was the biggest mistake of my life.”
Here is a three-card spread I devised that you can also use for any dream image or message that you’d like more insight about and are ready to really delve into and work with consciously:
- What message is this dream showing me?
- How can I work with and integrate this message?
- What’s the next step?
For my example, I used the Thoth Tarot. While I generally rely on the RWS for most of my readings, I opted for the Thoth as it appeals to me in terms of dream work. The images on the deck are much more nuanced and have a dreamlike quality about them. Since I feel I haven’t fully penetrated this deck’s depth (and perhaps never will, because it really has that bottomless-well quality to it), it seemed the perfect match for working with dream imagery.
Here are the cards I received for my mysterious, recurring ex-boyfriend dream:
With the Thoth, I first like to allow the images to soak in and I take my initial impressions without any additional input. The immediate message to me of the 7 of Cups here is that we have something that has “gone bad.” It made me think of spoiled fruit, something that’s past its expiration date. It’s no longer fresh. Hence, we can garner an immediate interpretation that the dream is trying to show me that my ideas about “going back” to this ex or still desiring him, or imagining that “he was the one that got away” all those years ago, are mistaken. This is a “relationship” that exists only in the realm of things that are spoiled and overgrown, rotten and unsuitable to eat.
Secondly I noticed the opposing symmetry between the 7 of Cups and the 7 of Swords. Such a profound difference. It’s as if all the muck we see in the initial card is purified and clarified and made razor sharp in the third card, in the “next step” after we pass through the integration phase in the second card. Clearly the cards are showing a way forward. Further, if you look closely at the 7 of Swords, there’s a planetary symbol hanging off the point of each sword, with the moon being indicated in the central position. For me this points to being called on to trust my inner knowing and intuition, my emotions and heart impulses, mystery rather than logic, when it comes to taking the next step in terms of relationships.
The middle card for me is such a departure from the two “bookend” cards here, that it seems to be the major message and lesson. In fact, I often see the Knight of Pentacles in my RWS readings when I ask the cards about my love life and future. They continually, continually insist that I must focus on and “go for” the stable man, the one who doesn’t move, the one who’s real, concrete, loyal, faithful, grounded, etc. Here then, we see an example of how the cards repeat their messages across decks and across time.
In terms of the first card, “what message is this dream showing me?”, Duquette says the original title of the 7 of Cups is “Lord of Illusionary Success” (which immediately makes me think about the castles in the sky in the RWS 7 of Cups and how what we think is real or available or possible isn’t always the case). I immediately realize my ideas and longing for this past relationship and my romanticizing of it belong to a world of illusions. In fact, in the card itself, you can see how the lotus plants are covering each cup, much like an umbrella, and as Duquette points out, “all the cups are empty.” We’re reminded there’s no love here, there’s no substance here, there’s nothing here to nurture or grow. Duquette says:
This is much-too-much of what was once a good thing and, this low on the tree and this far off balance, there isn’t a single influencing factor left to remind her the party’s over.
At this point I feel I understand the message that’s trying to break through: what you think is this perfect past relationship really isn’t how you imagine it at all. It’s not real, and it’s not available to be revived.
Granted, this was always obvious to me on a semi-conscious level, but a part of me continued to want to cling to the idea or fantasy. This is where the cards help hammer home the message of the dream.
Moving to the final card, despite the keyword “futility” (I often ignore the Thoth keywords, because they distract me and I don’t get into the Kabbalah aspects of the cards), Duquette mentions Crowley said this card is “like a rheumatic boxer trying to ‘come back’ after being out of the ring for years.”
As it regards my love life, I’ve been “out of the ring” so to speak for about six years as I’ve been floundering around in the dating world since my divorce, coming up not with any healthy fish but rather seaweed and tin cans. In his divinatory meanings, Duquette mentions: “Yielding when victory is within grasp, as if the last reserves of strength were used up. Inclination to lose when on the point of gaining, through not continuing the effort.” This makes sense to me in terms of my love life. I often go for the unavailable or inherently impossible, and then give up when it inevitably doesn’t yield results, which takes us back to the central card, the Prince of Disks.
Everything about Disks suggests stability to me. Duquette suggests Crowley’s prince represents “the ultimate handyman.” Crowley’s take: “He is competent, ingenious, thoughtful, cautious, trustworthy, imperturbable; he constantly seeks new uses for common things.”
Once again I feel I’m being shown the direction for the “right” man in my life – if only I can accept and integrate the messages of letting go of expired illusions and take the next step of understanding how I might get “just this close” and then somehow abandon ship.
Using the tarot to work with dreams is a very organic process. By that, I mean you need to really allow yourself to be fluid and accept what comes through as resonating with you, rather than sticking to super strict rules or interpretations. Dreams offer the messages we’re ready to receive, much as the cards do.