Read an Excerpt
What is Tarot For?
AAccording to the best current historical assessment, Tarot was invented in northern Italy in the early 1400s as a card game. From those very mundane beginnings, Tarot has come to be used in a wide variety of ways by a wide variety of personsfor meditation; as inspiration for song, poetry, and film; for divination; for role-playing games; and, in some places, still, as a card game. My favorite way to use Tarot is as a tool for self-discovery.
can be used for self-discovery: raindrops falling against a window, shadows falling on a wall, daydreams, animal messengers, spirit guides, synchronicity, fortune cookies, journaling, and more. Tarot is particularly useful for self-discovery because its seventy-eight cards portray many universal symbols and archetypes that work well with our subconscious minds.
like to think of Tarot cards as a bridge connecting the conscious mind to the subconscious mind. Our subconscious minds have much to tell us, but they cannot speak directly to our conscious minds. Instead, they use dreams, hunches, and feelings. Tarot cards work very well to help us listen to and understand our subconscious. The subconscious mind does not communicate in complete sentences. Instead it uses pictures, images, fragments, representations, substitutions, and transferred references. Tarot cards can be extremely useful in helping us to decipher the messages from our subconscious since, the pictures on the cards speak in the language of the subconsciousthe language of symbols and pictures and imagination.
What Is Self Discovery?
is all very well and good to say that Tarot cards are excellent tools for self-discovery, but what exactly do I mean by self-discovery? Many people have a feeling that self-discovery is about warm, fuzzy feelings of self-love, self-acceptance, and healthy self-esteem. This is definitely one part of self-discovery. However, it is not the whole picture. Often, our conscious minds will suppress self-knowledge because it is painful or negative. For instance, I was talking to a friend, saying, "Remember when you got your hand caught in the car door?" Becky replied, "I sure do. You're the one who shut the door on my hand!" I had remembered that she had gotten hurt, but I had forgotten that I was the one who was the instrument of her pain. After she reminded me, I was able to play back the experience in my mind, and I realized that I had indeed shut a car door on my friend's hand, but that I had suppressed the part of the incident that was personally painful. After dealing with the pain and guilt that I felt, I was able to have a more accurate memory.
we are unable to deal with a flaw or weakness in our personality, and we will either suppress or deny that knowledge. If we are to move on and grow, it is necessary to see our faults and flaws and to recognize them honestly. This can be extremely painful, extremely difficult, and many of us will need or want some help to deal with some of these issuesa friend, a counselor, or a therapist.
Some of us have a tendency to deny our flaws and faults and to attribute all of our failures to fate or to others. Others of us have a tendency to blame ourselves for everythingthe failures not only in our own lives but in the lives of those around us. Some of us flipflop between both of these tendencies, sometimes falling to one side, sometimes to the other. Neither tendency is healthy; both are extremes are to be avoided. The truth is in the middle.
me, self-discovery is about discovering the truth in the middle and about learning to live life in balance. Sometimes self-discovery is painful, showing me my flaws, weaknesses, and mistakes. Sometimes self-discovery is full of joy and thanksgiving, showing me blessings and gifts and strengths that I had ignored or believed nonexistent.
I really throw sand in a boy's face when I was six? Yes, I did. Can I apologize to him? No, I do not remember his name or know where to find him. Do I feel guilty over this action from my childhood? Yes. There are countless incidents from my past that have often wracked me with guilt and pain and sorrow. Can I learn to accept this guilt, release it, and move on to areas of my life where I can make a positive difference? Yes. Indeed, not only can I, but I must, if I am to grow.
can see that to me, self-discovery is closely linked to growth. If I merely take self knowledge and do nothing, then I run the danger of falling into negativity or egotism. I find that it is also important to balance the type of self-knowledge that I'm working on. If I'm tending toward depression and low self-esteem, then I work on ego-boosting self-knowledge. If I am feeling strong and positive about myself, then I'm in a good place to deal with some of my faults and flaws.
metaphysical teachers suggest to their students that they keep a journal where they write their positive qualities on one side of the journal and their negative qualities on the other side. The goal is to keep both sides in balance. Some of us tend to dwell on the positive, others on the negative. Both are necessary, for truth resides in the middle.
is frequently contradictory. My journal frequently reveals this by expressing on one side, “I am lazy,” and on another side, “I am hard-working.” Both are true. Sometimes I am lazy, and sometimes I am hard-working. Like Emerson, I contradict myself gladly.
is difficult. It often takes great work, great effort. It takes time. It takes energy. It often takes brutal honesty, whether this is in acknowledging our talents or in admitting our faults, in giving validity to our hopes and dreams, and in giving voice to our unspoken fears.
again, balance is the keynote. Self-discovery must be balanced to keep our growth moving forward. Just as plants need both the coolness of night and the heat of day, the dryness of earth and the moisture of water, so do we need various elements and in healthy amounts. Sunlight is good, but too much sunlight leads to sunburn and heat stroke. Rain is good, but too much rain leads to flooding and root rot. Too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing in our own lives as well as in the life of a plant.
is my belief that the Tarot is basically amoral, like most tools. That is, it can be used positively or used negatively, depending on the intent of the user. A hammer can be used to build a home, or a hammer can be used to inflict pain. The choice is not the hammer's but the user's. Tarot can be used to enlighten, or, unfortunately, in the hands of manipulative and power-obsessed persons, it can be used to frighten and control.
its own, Tarot is neutral, except perhaps in one regard. There seems to be an inherent message of balance in the cards themselves. Over and over, the cards suggest that it is the middle way that we should seek, that extremes can be useful, but that living in an extreme state for a prolonged time is not healthy. Over and over, the cards show a central figure sitting or standing between two extremes: a white or black pillar, a man or a woman, a pair of sphinxes, twin towers, and more. Over and over, masculine is balanced with feminine, action is balanced with inaction, solar is balanced with lunar, light is balanced with dark, and Tarot makes no judgments against male or female, action or inaction, solar or lunar, or light or dark. The only judgment seems to be that both are needed, both are necessary, both are valuable.
teaches us not only this lesson about the duality of life; it also teaches us the lesson of balance with the four classical elements of air, fire, water, and earth. Water is not better than fire, nor earth than air. All four elements are necessary. All four have valuable lessons for us. All four have gifts and challenges for us.
if a person were just to look at the deck of Tarot cards, over and over and over, I believe that he or she would learn valuable lessons about the nature of life and about how to live so that his or her life would be a vital life of growth and exploration. It is with this belief that I began to write exercises using the Tarot for self-discovery.
this point I need to be very frank. I did not start writing Tarot for self-discovery exercises to help other people. I started writing them to help myself. I had reached a point in my Tarot studies where I was getting stale. I also had gotten out of touch with many of my old Tarot friends that I had known in a now-defunct computer network. I came up with Tarot for self-discovery as a way of resparking my own passion for Tarot and also reuniting me with my out-of-touch computer friends. I started an email discussion group where I would post an exercise every week or so, and then the members of the list would work the exercises and comment on each other's work. At the outset, I did not intend to write original exercises, but rather to find exercises in various books and websites and to use the exercises of others. It was also my hope that members of the list would aid me in finding exercises to share. My plan succeeded admirably in one area and not at all in another area. It also surprised me in ways that I had no way of foreseeing.
my passion for Tarot was resparked. No, my friends did not flock to join the email list. No, the way that the list was intended to workas a community with each person commenting on the work of every other person and finding exercises for the groupdid not work. However, this is not to say that the experiment was a failure. The experiment just went in directions that thedesigner had no way of predicting.
I disappointed? Yes. Was I pleased? Yes.
first pleasant surprise was that I enjoyed writing original exercises and that I seemed to have a talent for it. People responded to the exercises that I wrote, and I abandoned the idea of looking for pre-existing exercises to use with the group, since my own proved so popular. Most of the earliest exercises were prompted by events in my own lifeweddings, sorrows, problems, and disappointments. Later, I began to take requests and to tailor exercises for others based on their needs. Surprisingly, music seems to have inspired many of the exercises. I did not realize how important music was in my life until I had written about twenty of the exercises. As you read through the exercises, you'll be reading, in part, a biography of my life for two years and also a library of the songs that I love.
the exercises vary, a few common elements run through most of them. First, Tarot for self-discovery exercises are about using Tarot for self-discovery and spiritual discovery. They are not really about learning Tarot, although you do learn Tarot if you work through these exercises. Tarot is our tool; self-discovery is our goal. As you work faithfully toward your goal, you get to know your tool very well. For many of the exercises, you can also use other kinds of cards and not just Tarot cards. However, they were designed to be used with Tarot and they seem to work best with Tarot.
for Self Discovery is not a substitute for therapy, either with a private therapist or group therapy. In some ways, however, doing these exercises can be as challenging and enlightening as some forms of therapy. If you work these exercises honestly, you will find that they reveal tough truths about yourself and about life. These exercises are sometimes easy, sometimes difficult, sometimes fun, sometimes thought-provoking, sometimes quick, and sometimes longalthough they have much in common, there is much variety here too. The exercises are worthwhile for those who are brave and willing and who make the time to work them. Although I have written all of these exercises, they seem to have developed a life and energy of their own that goes beyond any intention or wisdom of mine.
exercises will not fix problems in your life nor automatically change your life. Working one exercise will not solve your problems and enable you to live happily ever after. However, if you honestly work at a series of exercises and follow through by doing the concrete steps, you will find that your life will improve, that your self-understanding will be enriched, and that you will have blessed yourself in many ways that you had not even dreamed of.
of these exercises have a strong spiritual component as well. They are not a substitute for a personal spiritual practice, although they may certainly enhance your spiritual practice.
exercises may be worked alone, or you may choose to work them with a friend or in a group. If you work them in a group, I do have a few suggestions. I would suggest making clear that working the exercises is not a form of group therapy. Your group should be committed to self-discovery and be prepared for surprises. A Tarot for self-discovery group is not a group for getting strokes or "Oh, you poor dear" comments. It is not a place for seeking sympathy (although you may find sympathy). It is not a place for seeking friendship (although you may find friendship). It is not a place for seeking free counseling (although you may benefit from free counsel that you receive). It is not a place to find a spiritual leader (although spiritual leadership will shine through from your fellow group members).
you work these exercises honestly, you will find that they reveal tough truths. A group working these exercises will not be an easy group to participate in, but it will be worthwhile for those who are brave and willing, and who make the time to work the exercises. Be sure to stress that anything said at a group meeting stays in that meeting. Keep confidences within the group.
can work the exercises in any order that you like. You can begin with any exercise and go from any exercise to any other exercise. I have broken the exercises into three groups: easy exercises, intermediate exercises, and exercises for special occasions or situations, but this division is just a general indication that you may feel free to ignore. Some of the exercises are light and funny. Other exercises are anything but light and funny. If you don't like one exercise, try another. There is a wide variety here, something for everyone. Pick and choose. Have fun.
you really enjoyed an exercise, you can work it more than once. If you feel that you didn't quite "get it," you can also work an exercise again later. I don't recommend working more than a maximum of three exercises per week. Most people will find that one to two exercises per week work best. For others, one to two exercises per month will be best. Some people get so excited about the exercises that they want to do as many as they can, as fast as they can. Quality is more important than quantity. The exercises will be more powerful if you pace yourself. You will be discovering some deep truths, and you’ll need time to assimilate these truths.
time and let the exercises soak in. Mull them over. Meditate on them. Ponder them. Let them go deep inside you. If you do too many too rapidly, it's sort of like coming up too quickly when you’ve been doing deep underwater divingyou'll get the bends.
you're waiting, go back over the exercises that you've already worked and see if you get additional insights. Work on your concrete steps. Remember: Faster is not better.
an aid in your Tarot for self-discovery work, I recommend keeping a journal of your exercise work. If you already have a Tarot journal, you may include these exercises in that journal. If you wish you may start a special journal just for these exercises. I recommend including the following information in your Tarot for self-discovery journal.
• Time of Day
• Sign that the Sun is in
• Sign that the Moon is in
• Phase of the Moon
• Name of the exercise being worked
• Deck that you are using
• Any special factors to consider or events in your life that may impact on the working of these exercise
• Any grounding or centering or meditation that you do before beginning the exercise
• Your state of mind before starting the exercise
• Your exercise notes
• Your state of mind afterthe exercise
• Blank space for notes to be added later upon review
reviewing your journal from time to time, you can gain additional insights into yourself. You may want to use a loose leaf notebook for your journal, a blank book, or even a special file or folder on your computer. The important factor is that the format of your journal feel comfortable to you. Use whatever method you are most likely to stick with.
Working the Exercises
students frequently comment, "I hope I did the exercise right!" Most of the time, "righ"” is not something that I focus on because there are lots of different "rights," and no one "right" is better than the next one.
do have an overall suggestion for working the exercises. They seem to work best if you work them through as you read them. In other words, either don’t read all of the way to the end, or, if you do, don’t think about the end of the exercise. As you work the exercise, focus on the step that you are in, not on the next step or the final step.
my experience, there are only two basic problems to watch out for in working the exercises. One is failing to narrow the card choices and trying to work an exercise with more cards than is feasible. The second is leaving off or misinterpreting what is, to me, the most important final step. Many times, without doing the final step or in misunderstanding the final step, the real effect of the exercise is missed.
main reason to limit the choice to one card (or to however many cards are mentioned in the specific exercise) is to make the exercise manageable in length. Without limiting the number of cards used, an exercise can take six, seven, or eight hours. This is way too long to be practical. In addition, there are other reasons to limit the number of cards used in an exercise, primarily, in my opinion, because it is better to focus deeply on one card (or two or three cards) than to look more superficially on a great number of cards. After all, if you feel like you did not get all of the information you needed from an exercise, you can always go back and do it again later, this time using different cards. People are often surprised at how well this works, and often doing the exercise a second or third time can be even more powerful than the first time.
many people find themselves unable or unwilling to narrow the choices. What I suggest to people who have a hard time choosing is this. First, initially choose several cards. Then spread those cards before you and study them. Do you see themes? Can you see that you can group some of the cards together as being variations on a similar idea? If so, choose one card for each theme. Then, look at those chosen cards. Is there one that sums up the issue and your feelings more than the others? If so, choose it. If not, then work with the two-three representative cards that you have.
if you just can't decide on one card, take all of your choices and turn them face down. Mix them up, and then randomly choose a card. Work the exercise using this one card.
the other hand, some of the exercises call for using several cards together, and some people have trouble with this. If you find yourself with this difficulty, here are some suggestions for using more than one card in an exercise.
some time to look at each card individually. See how it fits its position and you. It may not fit, or it may take some thought to make it fit. I have been known to turn to books myself when stumped, but when I wrestle with the cards by myself first, I usually do best. Even when I do resort to the books, the book insights are much richer for coming after my private wrestling over the cards.
you've worked a bit with each card alone, you might break them into pairs and read two together or maybe three, if applicable. Look at how your cards are similar, how they are different. Which direction do the characters look? What is the mood or tone of each card? How are they alike? How different? What colors predominate? Are there any symbols that repeat each other? Are there any numerological relationships between the cards? Any thematic ones?
does one card capture one side of you and another card capture another side of you? How well do those two sides of you work together? How well do the cards representing those sides work together? What aspects of yourself seem most evolved? Do the cards reflect this? If so, how? If not, how are they off?
of working with the cards as something like going fly fishing. You keep tossing out your lure until you get a bite, and then you play with it, reeling it in with as much finesse as you can master. Experience helps, but perseverance helps more than anything else, that and a willingness to play.
than failing to do the concrete step or using too many cards, I think that the exercises have a great deal of flexibility and can tolerate a lot of personal improvisation and mistake. Besides, who am I to say that by doing it wrong, you might not be doing it the right way for you? Might you not be getting more from the exercise by doing it wrong than by doing it right? That said, the exercises are carefully designed to be worked without leaving out steps, so please try to always finish the final step, which often is taking a concrete step of some kind.
people confuse a general plan or goal with a concrete step. A general plan or goal might be to study Tarot more, to learn more about a new spiritual practice, to meditate more, to relax more. These are worthy goals, but they are not concrete plans. Concrete plans are generally something specific that you can do either immediately, in the next twenty-four hours, or, at the most, in a week. Let me clarify what a concrete step might be by giving examples.
• Letting someone else go in front of you in line
• Giving someone else your newspaper when you are done reading it
• Taking a load of cans and jars and papers to the recycling
• Calling up an old friend
• Mailing an "I Love You" card to someone who lives in the same house
• Taking a walk
• Getting rid of three boxes of "stuff" that's been moving with you from home to home to home, but never getting used
• Meditating on a specific issue for twenty minutes, today (not planning on meditating later)
• Complimenting a harried or tired checkout clerk or telling her/him how much you appreciate her/his work
are very specific actions. This is what I mean by concrete step in the exercises.
cannot stress too much the importance of finishing the exercise, of going all of the way to the end and devising a concrete step and in carrying it out. Until you have completed your concrete step, you have not completed the exercise. By taking the concrete step, we begin to move beyond self-discovery into the realm of self-transformation.
is one thing to become aware of ourselves, to discover deep inner secrets about ourselves and the world around us. However, knowledge alone is not enough. It is necessary to go beyond knowledge into action, which is why I normally include the concrete step.
we have a series of steps involved. First, we work the exercise in order to gain knowledge and understanding. Second, we devise a concrete step to take that will carry the knowledge into action in our lives and begin to work with our knowledge, making changes in our lives. Third, we must actually do the concrete step. Often, this is the hardest part. However, this is the most important part. If, in working through the exercise and the concrete step, you find that it isn't working, feel free to modify the concrete step into something that does work for you. The important thing is to do the transformational work, not to stick to your original plan.
performing the concrete step, we find the true magic and mystery and power. This is where we remake ourselves. This is where we get things done. This is where our higher selves begin to manifest. This is where we begin to become all that we can be, where we begin to transform ourselves and to transform the world around us. All of the exercises in the world will not make any difference in us or our world unless we follow doing the exercises with action. All of the exercises in the world will be only moments of enlightenment unless we take that enlightenment and make changes in how we live.
Tarot terms, we go from Swords (discovery) to Cups (feelings based on the discovery) to Wands (actions based on the discovery and feelings) to Pentacles (results based on actions).
A Note on Study
am a firm believer in study. I believe in taking workshops, classes, and seminars. I believe in studying a wide variety of books. However, in these exercises, you’ll see me over and over advise, "Don’t look at the book. Go with your intuition. Go with your intuitive response."
working these exercises, I do suggest that you temporarily put your books and studies aside. These exercises are primarily for teaching you about yourself, not Tarot. Therefore, what the experts have to say about a card is not as significant at the moment of working the exercise as your response is to the cards you are working with.
you already have a wide knowledge of Tarot, you do not need to put it aside to work these exercises. Your knowledge will only enhance and reinforce the power of the exercises. You may find yourself needing sometimes to remind yourself to use your personal insights first and to supplement them with your body of knowledge, rather than the other way around.
exercises work for beginners and more advanced students. The study of Tarot benefits us all, beginners and advanced students. However, the time for study is not in the middle of working an exercise for self-discovery. Study before doing an exercise or afterward, but, please, do not stop in the middle of an exercise to consult a book.