Tarot: How To Re-Create Yourself With a Deck of Cards

by Philippe St. Genoux

Picasso's neoclassical etchings: "almost like tarot cards"
Picasso's neoclassical etchings: "almost like tarot cards"

A game which you play

This is a really interesting book.

It's not like a normal “How To” tarot book.

There's no lists of meanings telling you how to interpret the cards.

Instead it offers you various ways you can approach the cards to discover the meaning for yourself.

It ditches a lot of the old tropes of tarot reading – the Fool's journey, synchronicity, archetypes, psychic powers and the like – and offers in their place a new understanding of the process, as an art-form.

Well I say “new”. In fact he delves into the tarot's past to rediscover its roots—as a game, which you play—and introduces us to a long-forgotten form, originating in the Renaissance period in Italy, known as Tarocchi Appropriati.

The idea of the game was to select one of the trumps (the major arcana) and to assign it to an opponent in a witty, clever or poetic way, in order to amuse the other players.

This may have been a separate game from the game of trumps, or it may have been incorporated into it, so that a game of cards became an exercise in artistic or poetic license.

Whatever the method, this was a game which continued for many centuries, right up until the 19th century, and shows the cards in a new light: as tools for the imagination, as launchpads for flights of fancy, as catalysts for inspiration.

This seems to me a genuinely new approach to our understanding of the cards.

As the author says: “the tarot game can be played by all.”

And that is the secret of this book's approach: playfulness.

This is no po-faced occultism. You approach the cards in a spirit of play, as an artist approaches his canvas, as a poet approaches his page.

This is tarot as Picasso might have painted it. It is tarot as Dylan might have sung it. Tarot as art. Tarot as poetry. Tarot as a conversation with your own inner self.

The world of the imagination
The world of the imagination

I've chosen Picasso and Dylan as my examples because they were the first to come to mind. I'm sure you could think of others. But they are both, in their own way, very apt: Picasso because of his neoclassical etchings, almost like tarot cards themselves, both in their simplicity of line, and in the sense you get from them that you are entering another world: the dream world, the mythic world, the world of the imagination. That surely is the place where tarot readings should come from.

Likewise Dylan in his song “Lilly, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” from his Blood on the Tracks album. In this case the Jack of Hearts is the trump in a western folk-tale, a figure who strides the song like a mythic presence, just like an image from the deck.

Backstage the girls were playin’ five-card stud by the stairs

Lily had two queens, she was hopin’ for a third to match her pair

Outside the streets were fillin’ up, the window was open wide

A gentle breeze was blowin’, you could feel it from inside

Lily called another bet and drew up the Jack of Hearts

— Lily, Rosemary And The Jack Of Hearts: BOB DYLAN

Cold reading isn't cold.

What the author has managed to do in this book is to remove the cards from the vagaries of the occult world, with it's recourse to pseudo-scientific jargon.

Whenever an occultist attempts to justify his work in terms of a barely understood, highfalutin, mysterious-sounding scientific concept like Quantum Mechanics, you just know that he's talking bollocks, and every proper scientist can mock his efforts. But no scientist can mock Picasso's claim to the truth because Picasso isn't arguing from a scientific standpoint. He's an artist, and his truth, profound and mysterious as it is, is forged in the laboratory of his own imagination.

It is in this spirit that the author manages to dismantle that old accusation against tarot readers that what they are engaged in is “just” cold reading.

Yes it is cold reading – defined as “picking up clues through observation of a person's appearance, speech and body language” – but it is not “just” anything.

Cold reading is itself an art-form, and a useful and subtle one at that.

To define it as “just” anything is tantamount to saying that art is “just” splashing paint on a canvas, or that poetry is “just” stringing words together.

It is cold reading that saves us from being ripped off by con-merchants. It is cold reading that ensures that a Mother knows what her child needs before the child has learned to speak. And – what's more – it's not even cold. It is warm, as humans are warm. As humans warm to each other, so they read more and more into what the other person is saying to them, in all these other, subtle, secret, interesting ways that lie outside the realm of grammar.

This is a liberating thought, and one that all of you tarot readers out there could take on board.

Next time someone accuses you of “cold-reading” you can honestly deny it, not in terms of your psychic ability, but by simply saying that it's not cold-reading at all. It is warm-reading: your warmth as a human being touching another's warmth, in order to allow you to “read” them, along with the cards.

© 2016 CJStone

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