The Tarot Muse
Carolyn R. Guss
Certified Professional Tarot Reader and Teacher

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by Carolyn R. Guss, The Tarot Muse ©

first published in Yoga Living magazine, November/December 2003

What Fassbinder film is it? The one-armed man walks into a flower shop and asks, “What flower expresses days go by, and they just keep going by, endlessly, pulling you into the future?”

          And the florist says, “White lily.”

--Laurie Anderson, from Home of the Brave


     People often ask me, “How does the Tarot work?” Although not a simple question, the answer rolls easily from my lips: “I don’t know, but it does.” The more complicated response, however, is that the Tarot works, in part, by connecting us to both the collective unconscious and the concept of synchronicity. The collective unconscious, a term coined by Carl Jung, consists of an inherited repository of images, thoughts, feelings, and memories shared by all humanity in all cultures throughout time. These primordial images become archetypal, forming a symbol system, or—as I like to consider the Tarot—a symbolic language. The concept of synchronicity, as defined by Ed Buryn in The William Blake Tarot, “is the notion that all things happening at a given moment are related to each other in a meaningful way. Thus it follows that we can learn about unseen things by examining other things related to them, especially via symbols that connect the unseen with the seen.”

For example, you go into work one day and find a phone message from a person with the surname of Fox. Thinking nothing of it, you return the call and go about your business. On your lunch hour, as you glance at the paper, you notice the title of a movie on television that evening: The Little Foxes. And on the way home, an actual fox crosses the back road you chose over the main highway in hopes of avoiding the rush-hour traffic.

        Is such synchronicity merely coincidence? Is coincidence merely coincidence, for that matter? And should we ignore such messages, or is there something in them for us to ponder? If so, then the Tarot cards, being a collection of universal symbols, pictures, and images, aid us in understanding these messages by connecting us to energies that are already in play. In a reading I did for someone using the Haindl Tarot, the Son of Stones (aka Knight of Pentacles in more traditional decks) turned up. The querent immediately pointed to a small image of an intricately patterned fish at the top of the card. “I saw that in my dream last night,” she said, and—after we had discussed the meaning of the card and what significance it might have for her—“now I understand why.” That is how the Tarot works—or at least in part.

Humans are visual creatures, and as so much of ancient art makes clear (cave paintings, earth works, standing stone monuments, for example), pictures may well have preceded written language. The Tarot, with its series of symbols and images, forms an unwritten code that is readily understood by most people who view it, sometimes with the aid of an interpreter. Just as archangel Gabriel helped the prophet Daniel interpret the visions he saw, the Tarot reader can use the cards to aid others in understanding what they “see” and how they might best use this information for their higher good. (This is NOT to suggest, however, that Tarot readers are on the same plane as archangels!!)

For example, to people in most cultures, the depiction of a skull or skeleton signifies death. And indeed, the Tarot contains a DEATH card, trump XIII. It is up to the Tarot reader, however, to help the client expand that basic symbol from meaning physical death—which it very rarely does in a reading—to the “death” of something in the querent’s life. The card frequently presages a release—an instinctive shedding of something, as a tree in autumn loses its leaves or a molting snake sheds its skin (both processes lovingly depicted in the Motherpeace Tarot’s version of the DEATH card). To Tarot readers, the DEATH card signifies a willing passage, the closing of one door so that another may open: in short, a step toward transformation.

        So, what about that “white lily”? A flower that appears most prominently on the Rider-Waite-Smith version of the MAGICIAN and HIEROPHANT trumps (although it can be found on certain other cards as well), it stands in the Tarot for a purity of knowledge or, as the late Eden Gray says, “abstract thought untinged by desire.” Both cards also sport red roses, known to articulate that desire, because life requires each, in some measure.

And through that partnership “days go by, and they just keep going by, endlessly, pulling you into the future”—with the Tarot as your guide.