As Rachel goes through her treatment for Lymphoma, she was kind enough to write us this inspired piece on Tarot, which is testament to the brilliance and wide-ranging knowledge Rachel has contributed to the Tarot. If you are using Tarot today, it is in great part due to Rachel’s pioneering work with the subject. Enjoy this thoughtful piece of writing, and please help us support Rachel by contributing to her recovery campaign.
Recently I was thinking about what epitaph I might want if I had a tombstone (sounds morbid, but it’s actually a kind of fun exercise—trust me). At first I thought of a line from a Gabon Pygmy song celebrating life and consciousness—All lives, all dances, and all is loud. Then I recalled a line I love from the book Awakening Osiris, Normandi Ellis’s poetic translation of “The Egyptian Book of the Dead”—Give me not words of consolation. Give me magic.
Then finally I came to something more simple and more personal—Story. It’s all story. I am certainly not alone in this belief about the world, and people. And Tarot. The great Italian writer, Italo Calvino, wrote “The tarot is a machine for constructing stories.” More broadly, a famous Hasidic saying tells us “God made humans because God loves stories.”
To me, the Tarot has always been story. This is what I fell in love with the moment I saw it, in early Spring of 1970. The deck was the University Press edition of the Rider, now quite rare (it was rare enough back then—it took a while before I could track down a copy). A friend of mine offered to read my cards, and when she laid them down, then found the meanings in a book (Eden Gray) I found I had no interest in any predictions, it was the Tarot itself that fascinated me. Each card seemed a frozen moment in a story. The mysterious Six of Swords must have been in that reading because it comes into my mind whenever I recall that day.
Some people love the cards because they can give us glimpses of the future. Still others love Tarot as a spiritual science. To me, these too are stories, for all time, and all science, are sets of interlocking stories. For some, this might sound as if I’m suggesting that nothing in the cards is true, that it’s all made up. But I’m not sure truth is something that simply lies there, like a rock. We engage it, we bring it into being. This holds for our own future, and it holds for such complex structures as the Kabbalistic Tree Of Life, and even physics. I once asked a physicist friend if it was possible that the complex array of sub-atomic particles did not actually exist until scientists predicted, and then looked for them, and he said that was entirely possible.
The cards originated as images, not doctrines or the set of meanings we attach to them. This allows them to pull together strands and possibilities, to create stories that are meaningful in people’s lives, whether personal or on the larger scale of sacred teachings and spiritual pathways. When we read the cards there are three “people” present, the subject, the reader, and the cards themselves. Together, they create a story, or allow a story to emerge, of the person’s life and possibilities. If you’re a reader, people will often ask “How does the Tarot work?” As if we could answer that! I just say that nobody knows, but it does. Sometimes the story the cards tell is meaningful but not precise to that person. At other times, however, the deck finds the one exact card to answer someone’s question. And to make the experience even stranger, it’s usually when that question has genuine importance, when the person seriously needs a precise answer in order to make a decision, or to unlock something in their lives. And this brings me to something else I’ve learned through the Tarot, and another line that might serve as an epitaph—The world is not what we think it is.
We would love to have your support in the donation campaign for assisting Rachel through her treatment for Lymphoma. The treatment is progressing well, and every dollar you can give today helps Rachel recover to full strength and continue to write and create wonder in the tarot.