Tarot cards, both old and new, are full of communal wisdom. They are rich in symbols for study and learning. Some of the symbols are universal. Others are individual expressions of particular artists or cultures.
Symbols are interesting and powerful. But Tarot's strength is not limited to traditional meanings or personal artistic intentions. The cards have the ability to evoke powerful responses from people who know nothing about Tarot history or interpretation.
The cards can be used as mirrors. They allow us to peek into the hidden depths of our own unconscious minds. They have the power to speak to us directly without the need for outside interpretation. Because they help us bring repressed thoughts and desires into conscious awareness, the messages they carry will vary from person to person and day to day.
What do you see?
What do you see when you look at the Hermit? A lonely old man, worn out from a journey, seeking warmth and a place to rest? A wise elder ready to lead with his light? A nondescript figure hiding his true colors behind a cloak of gray? These are only three of many possible responses the Hermit has the power to evoke. What does it mean that we can experience such different reactions to the same card? How can we use these responses to transform our lives?
Images as mirrors
Knowing yourself well is one of the keys to making successful changes in your life. It helps you see where you are, where you want to go, and the strengths you can call on to get there. Because the cards are mirrors, you can use them to see parts of yourself that are normally outside your view. Your responses to the cards say something about you and how you view your life at a particular point in time.
When I see a lonely old man in the Hermit card, the chances are good that I'm engaged in what the early psychoanalysts called projection. Projection occurs when we see our own feelings and behaviors reflected in someone else and overlook the same tendencies in ourselves.
Since I know human beings have a tendency to project their own thoughts and feelings onto others, when I see the lonely old man, I ask myself this question: Is there a part of me that's feeling lonely or out in the cold right now? A question like this can puts me in touch with an unacknowledged need—in this case the desire for company or understanding. Similarly, when I see a wise elder ready to lead, I ask if there's a wise part of me I can call on for guidance. And when the Hermit appears in disguise, I wonder what it is I'm not yet ready to reveal.
Using the cards in this way helps me get in touch with thoughts and feelings I may have repressed, forgotten, or never been in touch with before. This is useful information for my search to know myself. But the cards do even more than this for me. The same card that calls a problem or issue to the surface also carries the seeds of a solution somewhere in its image.
Mirrors reveal solutions to revealed problems
The lantern the lonely old man carries reminds me that I need to find a way to shed new light on my situation. Why am I feeling lonely right now? What has pushed me out into the cold? Is there a staff somewhere I could be leaning on?
The Hermit as wise elder reassures me. On days when the future looks bleak, he reminds me that I can't see the total picture. My lantern casts only enough light to see the next step. But that's all I need to see today. The light moves with me. The next step will be revealed after I take this one.
And the Hermit hidden in gray? He reassures me too by reminding me that some situations call for protection. It's important for me to know what I'm concealing, but I don't have to shed my outer garments until the conditions are right to do so.
Is it helpful to study the traditional meanings behind the cards? Certainly. Studying the symbols of a certain deck as understood by custom or design adds depth and greater dimension to our work. But when we get too caught up in other people's visions, we run the risk of losing sight of our own.
Choose decks that speak to you before you read any books about them. Trust what you see when you draw a card. Explore your own vision before you adopt someone else's. You'll be surprised at the treasure that begins to unfold.
How to Use Tarot as a Mirror
- Sit quietly. Shuffle the cards and fan them out face down in an arch like a rainbow. Imagine yourself spread across the arch as if you were on a diving board. See you feet at one end and your hands above your head at the other.
- Close your eyes and think about where in your body you feel the greatest sense of self. When you have found it, draw a card from that position.
- Alternatively, you may fan the cards out face-up and draw one that seems to call you.
- Once you have chosen your card, look at it quietly. Let your mind wander where it will. What do you notice about the card? Which symbols attract you most strongly? If there are people in the card, what do you think they are doing? Feeling? Thinking?
- Write a few sentences about the card. For example: "I see a lonely old man. He's standing alone in the cold snow. He has a lantern and a staff. He needs a warm place to rest.
- Now rewrite the sentences in the first person. For example: "I feel old and lonely. I'm out alone in the cold. I have a lantern and a staff, but I need a warm place to rest."
- Allow yourself to experience these sentences. Do any of them ring true?
- If the sentences are true and positive, rejoice in your success. Be grateful for what you have or what you have achieved. Gratitude and celebration speed successful transformation.
- If the sentences are true but problematic, look at the card again to see what solutions it suggests. Think about the symbols. What do you already have that can fill the function of the lantern and the staff? What do you still need? How can you get it, and how will it help you?