As I mentioned in previous blogs Arthur Waite described “true tarot as symbolism.” I agree wholeheartedly with Waite. Since symbolism is at the heart of tarot this is where we start our study of my oracular tarot method. I always find looking at definitions helps me when I jump into an exploration of a new topic. In this case a quick google search shows a dictionary definition of symbol as “a thing that represents or stands for something else, especially a material object representing something abstract.” The site uses this example, “the limousine was another symbol of his wealth and authority.” This is exactly how symbolism works in the Tarot.
“Symbols are the natural speech of the soul, a language older and more universal than words.” —C.S. Lewis, Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature (1954)
It’s through the soul (our inner world or subconscious mind) that we access the collective and Divine realms. This is precisely how we can use tarot to gain insight and messages from beyond. Tarot uses this ancient language of symbolism. And each card in the tarot is thick with symbolism as anyone who begins to read quickly discovers. We learn early in our studies that a card’s symbolism covers a range from shadow to light. However, tarot is as deep as it is wide. By this I mean that each card’s symbolism has levels of depth and if we choose to dive in, we discover a universe within each card. On a practical level, this means that there is virtually no limit to the interpretations that one can come up with from each card. It is because of the vastness of symbolic language that some tarot teachers claim that the cards really have no (specific) meaning. I prefer to see it as the cards hold infinite meaning. So, if we accept that each card represents a infinite universe of meanings, how we choose to interpret the cards becomes critical.
As I mentioned in my blog Oracular Tarot – Approaches and Styles we can be intentional about how deep we go in our interpretation of tarot symbolism if we so choose. I feel that using a system to read the cards dictates the level of depth we use in our interpretation. Systems box us in. Keywords are just the tip of an iceberg. When we read the cards intuitively, we break free of the systems and can use the full range of width and depth to read a card. We dive into the vastness of infinite meaning when we read intuitively.
So, I see two approaches or choices to symbol interpretation. As mentioned above they are interpreting symbols through a system versus through intuition. In this blog the system I selected to explore is the Rider Waite Smith (RWS) system as it is the most popular. In the RWS approach keywords, spreads, fixed meanings, reading methods and “rules” come into play. When we read from an intuitive space, we look to insights that arise during the reading to direct how we interpret the symbols. We throw the rulebooks out the window. Both these approaches are valid. However, I personally find the intuitive approach more useful in most cases.
I will offer two examples of simple one card readings using each of these approaches. These are both very common questions.
Question – I lost my ring, where will I find it?
Card – The Sun
RWS approach– In the RWS system this card is associated with positivity, fun, warmth, success, and vitality. So, the answer may be that you lost your ring somewhere you had fun, that was warm, and you felt a sense of vitality and success. A place where you “shine” and experience happiness and a zest for life. We could extrapolate from there… on vacation? Maybe, but it is too vague to be sure if we stick to the system.
Intuitive approach – You lost your ring in a kitchen near the window overlooking a garden while you were cleaning vigorously with a red floral print cloth.
How did I come up with this answer? I relied on my intuitive insight to guide my interpretation. I didn’t consider keywords or prescribed meaning from any system. Rather I followed my inner guidance to analyze the symbols. So, I see the sun as a source of heat (which is in the same realm as the RWS idea of warmth), kitchens are a room in a building or home with a source of heat. When I look at the image the wall divides the foreground from the background, so I see that barrier as an outside and inside. Seeing over the barrier feels like looking out a window overlooking a garden. So, I interpret this as a kitchen with a window overlooking a garden. In front of my window the human subject rides a horse. I could see this literally as a child playing on a toy horse however the querent asked how they (not someone else) lost their ring, so I see this as the querent. I get an idea of this person being a workhorse when I look at the image of them on a horse (because clearly no one rides an actual horse in a kitchen). What work do we do in a kitchen? Housework. Therefore, the red flag they are brandishing overhead becomes a tool of housework. It’s red and is near the sunflowers so I see it as a red cloth with a floral design. When I say they are working vigorously I feel the energy of the card to be highly active (like the RWS interpretation).
So, my interpretation tells the querent not only where they lost the ring but also when they lost it. This compared to the vague interpretation offered using the keywords and fixed meaning using the RWS system. This makes it clear that for this specific reading using an intuitive approach gleans better results.
Question: Is he cheating on me?
Card: Four of Swords
RWS Approach answer: No, he is being distant because he needs some time to recuperate from life and rest. He is not involved with anyone right now.
Intuitive Approach: Hell, yeah he is. And he thinks you are none the wiser. Wake up and look around he could be literally doing it right outside your window, in the next room or online. Basically, he is doing it behind your back and once you are honest with yourself about the signs you are seeing it will be obvious. You are in denial of something you already know.
Again, as you can see the intuitive interpretation reaches beyond any prescribed keywords and meanings. You may also notice that intuitive approach is much more literal and dives deeper into the card imagery versus relying on keywords or correspondences.
So, we can see that while tarot definitely uses the language of symbols how we approach that language can give us very different results. I feel that it’s common practice to ignore the intuitive and favor the systematic approach. It’s not that I feel that any specific reading system is inferior or less accurate per say it’s more that I feel that systems are limiting while the intuitive approach is freeing and is a defining part of what oracular tarot is all about.
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