By Arthur Rosengarten, Ph.D.

Excerpt From TAROT AND PSYCHOLOGY (Rosengarten, 2000) (Order information at bottom of this article)

Tarot symbols, in effect, are not collections of human knowledge so much as intuitions of human possibility.  They offer captivating and enigmatic portrayals of psychic life which cannot be simply stated otherwise.  In this sense, they play a crucial mediatory role between the known and the unknown, and are not to be taken literally or allegorically for then they would be about something already familiar. illum-tarot-6-of-swordsSigns, on the other hand, certainly serve a necessary function of their own, and heaven help the road carnage that would ensue if bright red stop signs suddenly became “stop symbols.”  Tarot symbols, we might say, serve as psychic vehicles that transport their unknown contents to a surfacing consciousness.  Creating and expanding consciousness may well be the very purpose of life.  Notes Edward Edinger:

The key word is “consciousness.”  Unfortunately, the experiential meaning of this term is almost impossible to convey abstractly.  As with all fundamental aspects of the psyche it transcends the grasp of the intellect.  An oblique, symbolic approach is therefore required.     

            Each of the 78 cards of the full Tarot pack carries a specific, differentiated, discrete, and oblique symbolic meaning emanating, as Buddhist teachers are fond of saying, “from its own side.”  The vehicle through which such meaning is conveyed has traditionally been called “divination,” admittedly a term quite foreign if not disconcerting to conventional professional parlance and practice.  Divination, in its modern psychological context, can be thought of as conscious blind selection, or as I prefer “empowered randomness.”  As we shall see, this fascinating procedure operates within the philosophical parameters of Jungian synchronicity and is inferred in the ancient Buddhist doctrine of dependent co-origination (mutual co-arising).  Empowered randomness assumes with great confidence that personal meaning will be accessed from an intelligent nonpersonal source.  The medium of that intelligence is the symbol.

              A debate in the emerging science of consciousness centers around the co-occurrence of phenomenal and psychological properties of experience.  As philosopher David Chalmers (1996) laments:

We have no independent language for describing phenomenal qualities.  Although greenness is a distinct sort of sensation with a rich intrinsic character, there is very little that one can say about it other than that it is green.  In talking about phenomenal qualities, we generally have to specify the qualities in question in terms of associated external properties, or in terms of associated causal roles.  Our language for phenomenal qualities is derivative on our nonphenomenal language.                                         

           It seems to me that what is often overlooked in this debate are the unique properties of symbols.  J.E. Cirlot, author of the classic A Dictionary Of Symbols  (1962) notes the essence of a true symbol “is its ability to express simultaneously the various aspects of the idea it represents.”  Symbolic expression may include affinity and correspondence to related entities (as the moon corresponds to love), but never reduction to a single conclusion (the moon means love).  The latter is considered the “degradation of the symbol.”  Symbols whose integrity are upheld tend to generate and catalyze great psychic energy.  Each Tarot card is a condensed collage of image, number, and color symbols expressing simultaneously and energically the various aspects of the mystery it represents.  In Jung’s words, each card is “an intuitive idea which cannot yet be formulated in any other or better way.”

            Depending on the artist’s execution individual cards may themselves include their own internal symbolism, much say as the fish inside the Ace of Cups is associated with the zodiacal sign of Pisces and the cup itself to the transcendental Chalice of the Holy Grail, or the Empress’s red roses serve as a symbol of passion (“dyed from the blood of Aphrodite”).  While mastery of each individual symbol is not necessary to grasp a particular card’s gestalt meaning, a reading’s true interpretive elegance, much as the signature of a “big dream” or the selectivity of a successful poem, is often carried in the detail.  Appreciation of symbolic particulars will enhance a reading’s richness, but practitioners can still be quite effective without thorough comprehension of a card’s every feature.  Like less analytical-reductive approaches to dream interpretation or even the Rorschach, Tarot symbols can also be read impressionistically as well.

Excerpted From: TAROT AND PSYCHOLOGY: SPECTRUMS OF POSSIBILITY, By Arthur Rosengarten, Ph.D. To read more about this classic text, or to order directly from Paragon:


Book Review

Book Of Ordinary Oracles by Lon Milo DuQuette

By Art Rosengarten, Ph.D. 

OK, so you’re not getting married tomorrow? You’re not switching careers from stockbroker to yoga instructor, and you’re not dreading your upcoming ten-year reunion.  No worries, right?  Not so fast, there’s always the “everything else” factor that has a way of insinuating itself upon the normal course of a quiet day. Tasks, choices, calls, people…you know, your L.

The question is: Should you consult a so-called “oracle” when things seem so ho-hum ordinary?  Ask author Lon Milo DuQuette and he’d likely tell you:  “By all means! You’ll probably enjoy it.”   In his highly entertaining and instructive Book Of Ordinary Oracles, DuQuette reveals why these mysterious techniques of prediction really work, and how they make your life a lot more interesting. Says DuQuette: “Oracles don’t show you the future or answer your questions. They are simply devices that announce the status of the Great Now.” Truer words were never spoken.

Coins, cards, charts, as all oracular mediums, are simply practical tools for self-discovery; they force us from our comfort-zones and knee-jerk reactions.  They require us to reconsider daily occurrences from the perspective of high curiosity. And they make us  honor the “luck of the draw” or “just the way the ball bounces.” A window into the present moment has opened.  You must ask yourself  “Is there a lesson here?” How to observe and interpret things that arise seemingly at random is the secret of ordinary oracles. Whether it’s the first line of the next song on the car radio, the natural swirls in a yard of sand, or the flight patterns of a fleet of  birds, a snapshot is taken in the mind. You are now left to ponder questions like: What gathers together in the present moment? What part of myself is mirrored here? What feels like this in my life? 

Your own answers (with a little help and guidance from the oracle) will amaze you for the fine insights generated. These are experiments that you’ll want to try soon. ‘The Book’ demonstrates that ancient mystical practices work just as effectively with modern household items (“pocket change, popsicle sticks, the tv remote, etc…”).  Who needs Houdini or Hogwarts when the real arts can be mastered in the comfort of your own livingroom?

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© ART ROSENGARTEN, PH.D., All Rights Reserved.   Reprints Only With Written Permission of The Author, Dr. Arthur Rosengarten