Editor’s Note: Sarah has chosen an article from the tarot archives for today. Originally published in October 2011, it fits well with a time of year when we tend to want to know what’s coming up for us in the ensuing weeks and months — but do we really need to know?
By Sarah Taylor
Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
— Rainer Maria Rilke
This week is ‘devil’s advocacy’ week in terms of the tarot. It’s the week when I ask you to consider the possibility that sometimes tarot is not the answer we are looking for. More: that it is sometimes a material hindrance to progress — for readers and for recipients of a reading alike.
I have approached this topic from a different angle several times, most notably in When you’ve got it, when you haven’t, and knowing the difference and Two approaches to tarot — and why it’s tricky reading for yourself.
Both of these times, the focus has been on what happens when you do a tarot reading and there isn’t sufficient detachment, or when you don’t feel connected to your intuition. What I want to focus on today is the flip-side of this idea: that is, what you potentially allow to happen when you don’t look to the tarot for answers.
I am not saying that we should simply give up on tarot altogether. Far from it. Tarot can be a profoundly effective tool for transformation when we are clear about what we want and we are willing to look at what it shows us.
However, there are times when we use tarot so that we don’t have to look at what is going on. We seek confirmation of what it is that we hope for; we seek collusion in the denial of what it is that we don’t want to acknowledge. And tarot doesn’t tend to play ball with our hopes or our denial. Tarot is a mirror: we see who we are in it. When we look in that mirror and realise that what is looking back is more Wicked Queen than Snow White, we have a choice. We can either try to replace that image with something more agreeable, or we can open our eyes with acceptance.
How do we achieve this? By being still. By being willing to stand by ourselves as witnesses. By, in the context of this article, resisting the urge for a tarot fix to numb ourselves to the reality of who we are in the moment.
This is what choosing not to do a tarot reading can offer us:
We allow ourselves to feel
We are capable of feeling joy, happiness, optimism, love. We are also capable of feeling despair, rage, hopelessness, hatred. We are the sum total of our emotions, both light and shadow, and yet nearly all of us will go to great lengths to feel some and to avoid others. Tarot can be a compelling justification not to feel — another rabbit hole down which we can jump and hide. Having ducked and dived from my emotions for years, I know this tactic well.
Tarot has been a source of sustenance for me. It has also been a narcotic. It has been what I have reached for when the emotions have gotten to be too much, and when the pain has become unbearable. Today, when I feel that sense of excruciating restlessness and anguish, I am more likely to stay with it, because I now know that my feelings cannot destroy me; I will not be annihilated by them — nor will they annihilate others. The reality is far more valuable: letting emotions move through me without judgement or attachment has liberated me.
We learn to relinquish control
When we move against the flow of what wants to be expressed, we move against the flow of our own lives. In the same way, when tarot is used to deny what is really going on, we are using it to try and control something over which we have little or no control.
The paradox is that when we stop trying to control the incontrollable — when we let go — we open ourselves to miracles. Tarot can help us in that process of opening. Approaching a reading with a sense of curiosity and equanimity is tantamount to moving with the will of something greater: we resist the urge to grab on to something that seems secure but which ends up holding us back. When tarot seems to offer a comforting rock in the changing currents of the rapids — something solid, familiar, apparently safe — that might be the time to reconsider relying on it to save you. It only holds you where you are; it doesn’t move you to another place.
We deepen our trust in ourselves
Tarot can be a great way of keeping us caught in the drama of second-guessing ourselves. We feel strongly about something — we have a sense of knowing — and yet we doubt our knowing, and so we go to the cards for confirmation. But what if we don’t get confirmation? What do we do then? Do we stand by what we believe, or do we change our minds based on what the cards tell us?
If you can feel a deep resonance with a thought or idea, why not take a leap of faith in yourself — eschew the need for reinforcement — and see where it takes you? This approach might seem to contradict the previous point about relinquishing control, but it doesn’t. By acting from knowingness, you are aligning with a deeper truth. You are moving with your own flow.
We develop our intuition
Tarot is an effective method of tapping into and working with our intuition. But imagine how much more effectively we could work with it — and how much more frequently and flexibly — if we were to start using our intuition without relying on cards to put us in touch with it, or to confirm its presence.
This goes back to a sense of trusting oneself and being able to discern intuition from the many other ‘voices’ that vie for our attention. Working with our intuition ‘freeform’ — without using props — puts us in the driving seat. This doesn’t always feel comfortable, but once we are competent drivers, we have so much more scope to explore the terrain of our lives. Tarot then takes its rightful place as a partner and not a master. Tarot as parent or outside authority limits us. Tarot as a reflection of inner wisdom liberates.
We, as readers, meet our limitations
Sometimes, as tarot readers, we can feel a tangible sense of pressure to solve, fix or save. I have had clients who have approached me with such a sense of need or uncertainty that it has been hard not to reach out to provide solutions or to reassure. At those times, it can be immeasurably helpful not to do a reading — both for reader and for client.
A reading cannot ‘fix’ anything. It can only empower. When either reader or client is in a position of palpable disempowerment, a reading will never achieve what it is that is wanted. True empowerment is giving the client back to themselves — gently and compassionately. Sometimes I will ask them to come back. I might also refer them to someone who is trained to help in a crisis.
We begin to live with paradox
I love a neat ending — one where all the loose threads are tied up, where everything has a place, where it all seems to fit. I used to want that in my life too. I wanted events to be predictable and explicable; I wanted my emotions to make sense; I wanted people to make sense. I wanted ‘to be understood as to understand’. When I didn’t get what I wanted, that’s when I would take out my deck of tarot cards.
Thing is, life is not neat; people don’t always do what you want them to do; you cannot always get what you want; things don’t always line up. And perhaps that is exactly how it is meant to be. There is the paradox: the tension between expectation and reality. Weirdly, it is getting increasingly comfortable to live in that tension. I am actually beginning to like it just for what it is. It doesn’t need resolving. It is where life happens. It can be unbearable, but I am in no doubt as to my feeling of being alive in the moment of paradox. It is expansive friction, potential created under pressure. In times of paradox, tarot can offer a release valve — not for the paradox itself, but for our anxiety about the paradox. I am becoming increasingly of the mind that this is not helpful at all.
How about we learn to make friends with paradox instead of trying to control it? Imagine what gifts we could find if we chose to live inside it for a while — even if the gift is simply the moment of living itself. That might be enough.
We seem to be hard-wired to pursue instant gratification at the expense of deferred riches, pleasure, insight, change. Tarot can be a rich repository of wisdom; but it can also be a seductive quick fix — and at what cost? When we put that drive for instant gratification to one side, we open ourselves to the potential for transformation rather than surface change. We stop getting seduced by gloss and start exploring the depths of possibility, in all their murky, mysterious wonder.
If you want to experiment with tarot cards and don’t have any, we provide a free tarot spread generator using the Celtic Wings spread, which is based on the traditional Celtic Cross spread. This article explains how to use the spread.