A Multimodal Approach
Whether it’s for training, teaching, tutoring, or tarot reading, I like to use a multimodal approach in order to get a full picture and rich experience. Tarot is, in fact, just one aspect of a multimodal approach that I take to my own personal wellness. Multimodal is just a fancy word for using a variety (multi) of methods (modes) to address an area of interest or issue. And I think many tarot readers use a variety of methods to do their work. Some of the most common I see are pairing tarot with crystals or oracle cards.
I received my second oracle" deck just the other night, and I absolutely love it. (I should note that the creators of the Threads of Fate deck, pictured here, say it’s not simply an oracle deck, but it isn’t clear what else it would be in terms of genre of cards, so consider it to be like an oracle deck in that it is a spiritually resonant deck of cards with images, titles, and a book of meanings.) I’d been reconnecting with my first oracle deck that same morning (after about a month without thinking to pick it up), and it was such a joy that seeing the new deck was just that much more inspiring. Oracle cards can be used to affirm tarot messages, contextualize cards, or provide their own, unrelated interpretations. Because they don’t have to follow a pattern, oracle decks could contain pretty much anything, and that makes me a bit more skeptical of them in general than tarot decks. (I could have an oracle deck that lets me pull a card that just says “Potato,” and what the Hell do I do with that?) But that free range is also a large part of their power: the messages can be much more direct (e.g., “Get Creative” or “Withdraw,” as seen here in the Threads of Fate deck). And then when you do find a deck with which you resonate, the messages can have enormous impact. I include them every now and again with my own tarot readings, so you might find them here every now and again, but I would recommend looking into some decks firsthand if you’re at all interested. They can really add a little something to your spiritual practice.
But oracle cards and crystals, which I don’t at all use because, honestly, I don’t need all that shit in my house, aren’t the only ways to use complementary tools to inform your tarot practice. Others might include reading the tarot alongside the I Ching, Lenormand cards, and other forms of psychic prediction, or pairing tarot with dream analysis or psychotherapy, or using tarot cards with spellwork, “plant magic,” and magical crafts. Several popular methods of interpreting the symbolic imagery of tarot cards are already built in to most tarot decks, such as numerology, astrology, and elemental sympathies. Another facet that is more subtle in some decks (e.g., decks inspired by the Smith-Waite/Rider-Waite deck) than in others (e.g., decks inspired by Crowley’s Thoth system) is the influence of Kabbalah on the cards themselves, or rather, Waite’s and Crowley’s interpretations of Kabbalah for Western esoteric teachings, distinguished as Qabalah.
As a Renaissance man/dilettante and intellectual magpie, I’m thrilled that I’ve found a few different occupations that allow me to make use of different sources of inspiration and understanding. And I’m glad that I’ve learned from others how to apply such teachings. For years and years and years, I used to use a list of 5–10 definitions for each tarot card in my Rider-Waite deck, and that was all. There was nothing beyond those definitions. It’s hard to imagine now. In some ways, those rote definitions were handy because I had a limited framework to consider when doing readings, but it was definitely a less fulfilling experience for me and (usually) the people for whom I read. (Granted, I would spend less time interpreting cards, and I would definitely be writing shorter letters if I still only had that limited framework of definitions, so there are always trade-offs.)
I’ve recently finished reading T. Susan Chang’s Tarot Correspondences: Ancient Secrets for Everyday Readers, and it’s been so thought-provoking in helping me understand a hundred or so different associations for each card, which can then be used with a variety of methods of interpreting the cards or of working with the cards in new ways. It isn’t a perfect book, but it’s an incredibly useful reference, and I highly recommend it. It was Jess Rollar of Radical She Tarot who tuned me in to the book, and I’m so glad that she posted about it on her Instagram feed because it’s been such a helpful way of digging into the esoteric knowledge undergirding these cards. (Benebell Wen also has a brief review of the book, but it is not as thorough as other reviews of hers—perhaps because it’s a much denser text—and Jess’s Instagram posts actually went through her process of using the book for study, so it’s the clear winner on this front in my opinion.) I had been looking to structure my tarot study a bit more when I ran across references to it, and it definitely served the purpose of opening my eyes to new aspects of the tarot, such as decans, or 10-day periods tied to each of the “pips” minor arcana (the 2–10s of each suit). The author also provides an explanation for common questions, such as why there are inconsistencies in the major arcana numbered 8 and 11 (i.e., Strength in the Smith-Waite/Rider tradition is 8 while Justice is 11, but Strength/Lust in the Tarot de Marseille and Thoth systems is 11, while Justice/Adjustment is 8). I found all of that very interesting and something to easily bring into my tarot practice.
What I’ve struggled more with, and what I therefore want to learn for myself, are some of the Qabalah influences. I have very little knowledge of Qabalah or even Kabbalah besides the fact that Madonna (temporarily?) studied the Jewish mystic tradition in the late ‘90s. Yeah, so definitely not much. But I like systems and logic and patterns, so my hackles rose when I saw some seemingly inconsistent patterns in the way that the 22 Pathways of the Tree of Life were introduced and described. Since those 22 pathways are very clearly tied to the major arcana, and some of those connections seemed less productive than others, I’ve been invited by my own curiosity to investigate further. Why do the figures on the Fool’s Journey start so human and then get so abstract and ethereal while walking the path from the abstract and divine down to everyday life? Do the numerical paths make sense using the Hebrew alphabet as it’s currently structured? What about ordering by types of Hebrew letters (i.e., Mother, Double, Single)? And what happens with the pathways for Strength/Lust and Justice/Adjustment if you flip them around? Last, for the love of whatever, why is the Devil placed on the path from Beauty to Glory rather than from Beauty to Foundation given the ties between that card and the realities and desires of the much more mortal world? For 99% of people in this world, those are not particularly interesting questions, so I won’t dig into them in this more general blog post, but they’re things I think about, and not just for my own study since I’ve been thinking about making my own tarot deck. (I’ll talk about that in another post as I work through some of my rationale.)
What I’ve learned with tarot, though, is that you can use any method you want as long as you decide that before you finish shuffling your cards. It’s not that the cards necessarily need to know what you’re going to do because they’re just pieces of cardstock. But the practitioner benefits from removing the doubt that unclear practices creates. If you don’t know if you’ll use reversals, what do you do when you see them? If you don’t know what court cards mean to you for a question like the one you’re asking, you’re left with a half-dozen ways to even begin to know how to start reading them. I like multimodal approaches that expand my ability to understand a situation, but even to me that sounds like a headache and a lot of ambiguity.