Due to the current health crisis, all workshops and face-to-face lectures/presentations have been suspended until further notice. To express interest in future events, please contact James on: firstname.lastname@example.org
Below: Texts reviewing aspects of the tarot and tarot practice, by James Douglas, August 2020.
1. Reading the traditional Darkwater Tarot. Information
All ideas and terms identified in this text and table are the intellectual property of James Douglas, with copyright on the Darkwater deck dating back to 2016. The use of the name Darkwater in this form, is design protected, and is the Gaelic interpretation of the name Douglas.
A pamphlet containing advice for reading the Dartkwater Tarot is in production, and will be available later this year. JD
2. Intuitive Reading and the Traditional Tarot. Update: 05.10.2020
Before exploring some of the ideas relating to intuitive tarot reading, I would like to send my thoughts and best wishes to those individuals and communities who have been affected by the current health crisis.
As an intuitive tarot reader, I have been drawn to ideas relating to the development and meaning of images and their composition. In the early seventies, as an art student, I became interested in the ideas of Carl Jung: in particular, the idea that we possess a reservoir of experiences, which we were born with, and which are separate from our conscious mind.
Looking toward one possible visual interpretation of Jung’s ideas, the artist Paul Klee, in his notebook, The thinking eye, wrote “...the ambiguous images are formed by ourselves. It is almost as if we evoke them from the darkness of a lost dimension, and reanimate them by the rhythm of our actions, giving them meaning and form.” In my pamphlet, Language of the Tarot, I talk about a body of universal wisdom, quoting Rudolf Steiner in his reference to the Akashic records as a place where “...every word and thought may leave its trace.” For me, the themes of the tarot are omnipresent in our lives, and fully recognisable to the unconscious mind.
If for one moment, we can imagine that the ideas of Klee, Jung and Steiner could be applied to the intentions and actions of intuitive tarot reading, then we might conclude that the intrinsic meaning(s) of the traditional tarot can be accessed through our deep rooted and shared human experience, within our root memory. If this statement is in some way true, do the images and themes of the traditional deck act as signals, which transport the unconscious mind of a reader, to where they need to be?
As an artist, my interest in the language of images is an integral part of my life. In my tarot practice, I explore the themes and images of traditional decks by observing and questioning the themes, symbols and images [archetypes]. The randomly placed themes within a spread, enables the meaning of each card to become more nuanced, depending on the narrative of adjacent cards. I believe, that by adopting this method of reading, a reader is able to ‘open’ and develop each two dimensional story contained within any card, and identify a pathway relevant to their client’s needs. In addition, I believe that this method of reading provides the client with a unique insight, with the potential of guiding them toward their short term personal development, or identifying the potential of a life pathway.
Certainly the practice of intuitive reading using the observation and questioning of tarot themes, its images, signs and symbols, is challenging. Although I have been working with this method of tarot reading since 1997, I struggled, in those early years, to consistently find the right questions; often presenting my clients with a technical, rather than an insightful reading. On reflection, it would appear that I was unable to calm my imagination before a reading; enabling a unique moment of peace to manifest. I would liken this moment of peace, to seeing a perfect and complex vista for the first time; an experience not unlike the ‘0’ card (?)
I believe the spiritual clarity of traditional tarot images help identify a vast range of human experiences, taken directly from the physical world; with their content defined by occult wisdom, realised over the past six hundred years. The traditional decks identify the opportunities and challenges facing us all on our journey along our chosen life pathway.
3. The Language of the tarot: Workshop and Lecture (in this form) is an educational, not for profit presentation.
First presentation at the Tarot Association of the British Isles Conference, In Birmingham, England, July 27, 2019
The ideas proposed in this essay are based on the research and practice of a working tarot reader. The search for an understanding of the tarot, its meaning and purpose, are still ongoing. The ideas proposed here in this essay, are a collection of thoughts from a student, not an Adept.
Many differing opinions regarding the tarot and the work of the intuitive reader exist in the public domain; the intention of this essay is to widen the debate on the tarot experience. The term intuitive, as used by the author in this essay, refers to any tarot reader whose primary method of reading is through the themes and images of the traditional tarot. Such a reader may work without reference from a secondary source of knowledge. Psychic, empathic, and holistic readers, in addition to readers who offer life coaching or counselling, might share aspects of what is here referred to as, intuitive reading.
The second part of this essay revisits the ideas which led to the creation and development of the Darkwater Tarot; a new and unique deck, based on the themes of the traditional tarot. The Darkwater deck is the only double-headed tarot in use today and has been created especially for the intuitive tarot reader. End
The intuitive tarot reader
The traditional tarot deck is an object of extraordinary beauty and considerable mystery. The images and themes of the seventy eight card deck are based on thought and belief systems developed in Europe over the past six hundred years; with some tarot historians referencing influences of early non-European cultures. Originally a deck of playing cards, the tarots incarnation over the past two hundred years provides the engaged tarot reader with a pictorial record of complex themes, which identify and express elements of human nature, culture and society.
Central to this essay are ideas relating to the development of individual spirituality; ideas which connect directly to specific archetypal images and themes associated with the traditional tarot and its histories. In addition, this essay explores certain ideas relating to the work of intuitive tarot readers. There are clear limitations when reviewing the tarot experience from a single view point, however, this essay goes on to identify the work of others, who have also focused on the significance of ‘theme and image’, and the potential of these elements in the process of identifying and understanding elements of a life pathway.
There are two fundamental questions which need to be answered, in order to move our understanding forward in the quest for spiritual insight, by way of the tarot. The first being, what evidence do ‘we’ have that spirituality exists in the practice of tarot divination, and secondly, what role does esoteric iconography play in the spiritual tarot experience?
Before exploring questions relating to spiritual insight and tarot iconography, it is important to acknowledge that not all intuitive readers work in the same way. Despite differences between readers and the methods they use to read the tarot, one might presume that the common factor linking all tarot readers are the images themselves. The unique images and themes of the traditional tarot direct the engaged reader toward the search for a profound understanding of human nature. Over the past six hundred years scholars, artists and tarot readers have developed the themes and images of the traditional tarot. Largely based on historical and religious research, tarot practitioners have employed the use of archetypal signs, symbols and image patterns, to create seventy eight interconnected stories, reflecting our human cultural and spiritual evolution. In his book, Philosophy of occultism in pictures and numbers, 1913, P. D. Ospensky wrote ...for the interpretation of symbols a special cast of mind is necessary; in addition to knowledge, special faculties, the power of creative thought and a developed imagination are required. When we begin to explore the question of spiritual insight in relation to the tarot-experience, we see that many themes and images from the earliest decks, relate to Christian and Hebrew beliefs of the late medieval period in Europe. A straightforward example of the Christian influence would be the Francesco Sforza deck which contains the themes of Faith, Hope and Charity and including the Devil. A Hebrew influence on the tarot relates to the number of cards in the Major Arcana and letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Later developments of the tarot modify some of the overtly religious themes, looking instead toward esoteric ideas and the occult. Regardless of their design, many tarot decks explore the important elements of human nature, reflecting changes to public education within a number of European societies. Despite changes to the tarots illustrations and designs, the Fool’s journey remains intact.
It is important to establish from the beginning, that the tarot deck is simply a variation on a pack of playing cards, and as such, are not a sacred object. It is the act of reading that sets in motion the cascade of unique ideas. An informed and principled approach to tarot reading, transforms the process of laying cards and identifying complex elements of human nature, into something akin to ritual magic. The transformation from card game to insightful practice is conferred to the tarot experience by the tarot reader. It would appear that the practice of intuitive divination enables the reader to translate a visual language into a verbal explanation of any given card, or spread of cards. With their attention drawn to prime images, both familiar and obscure, the intuitive reader might engage with the themes of individual cards, as if they view these complex tarot scenes for the first time: that is, without particular regard for any prescribed meaning.
When the traditional tarot themes and the focused energy of the engaged reader come together within a reading, then it could be argued, that the unveiling of unconscious thought, might contribute to the seeding of spiritual insight.
If intuitive tarot readers use images to develop original narrative pathways, how do they assimilate the information from a selection of obscure tarot themes? One might speculate that these readers are able to access, or ‘draw down’ information from a body of universal wisdom. Should the intuitive reader choose, for a brief moment, to ask the question “what do I see with in this card, what do I understand from looking at the images before me? Some intuitive readers report that at this moment, they become open to a unique stream of thought. Other readers go further, describing a moment where they ‘slip’ between conscious and unconscious thought, recalling impressions or ideas connected to the images of the traditional tarot. This process of cognitive meditation enables the intuitive reader to focus on and identify specific images, signs and symbols to develop a narrative pathway. In the interests of clarity, the previous statement proposes that the themes and images of the traditional tarot, are based on a spectrum of human experiences, and associated esoteric knowledge.
Through the exploration and discovery process, linked to reading traditional tarot themes and images, the intuitive reader is able to use the juxtaposition of obscure and familiar images, within the themes of each card, to develop narrative pathways. When recalling and explaining outcomes relating to any given tarot reading, the intuitive reader is able to present an ‘objective interpretation’ of events, situations and relationships, in order to direct an individual toward possible life opportunities, and to identify potential challenges. Over time, the reader learns to recognise subtle changes to their understanding of the traditional tarot cards and their sequences, including the meaning(s) of repeat images occurring within different contexts; a development which allows the reader to gain a higher knowledge of the tarot’s intricate pictorial language.
To amplify the idea of an ‘open approach’ to understanding the images and symbols of the tarot, we might consider the quotation from Austin Osman Spare who wrote, “The Ego is ignorant towards both sigils and symbols, but they both give the Ego a flow of knowledge from themselves. All knowledge of ideas, gained by means of sigils, should be re-clothed in pure symbolism to designate and stimulate its own wisdom.” As a footnote to this section of the essay, it is important to revisit the idea of ‘a body of universal wisdom’, existing outside the physical body of the reader; accessible through the interaction with specific traditional tarot images and themes. There are intuitive tarot readers who propose that they are able to access the Akashic records; a repository, archive or library existing on the etheric plane. The Austrian philosopher, spiritual scientist and founder of the spiritual movement Anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), identified the Akashic records as, a place where ‘every action word and thought may leave its trace’. The physicist Ervin Lazlo use theoretical science to explain, that the Akasha contains templates for human ideals, such as harmony and serenity, relating to the human evolutionary process. Based on the proposals outlined in this essay, there might be a case for suggesting, that the knowledge contained within traditional tarot has been derived from an external spiritual source, and that the ethical use of the traditional tarot draws on a universal source of spiritual understanding. Without wishing to exaggerate its purpose and function, the tarot experience could be described as a form of spiritual alchemy, the act of transmutation which forms (themed) images into streams of unconscious thought.
We must look no further than the words of A.E. Waite, in order to gain some understanding into the importance of tarot iconography. He writes, in the opening paragraphs of his book, The Pictorial Key of the Tarot, ‘The Tarot embodies symbolic presentations of universal ideas, behind which lie all the implicits of the human mind, and it is this sense that they contain secret doctrine, which is the realization by the few of truths embedded in the consciousness of all.’ A brief review of tarot’s long history identifies a number of significant developments to the themes and images of the seventy eight card deck. Perhaps consideration should be made in relation to Renaissance art, and the early tarot decks. Although there is no direct evidence of artistic influence between the religious paintings, and the design of tarot decks from the fifteenth century, it is important to note, that a number of tarot decks were commissioned by wealthy patrons, who were also collectors of ‘religious’ art.
Whilst the Visconti-Sforza deck, created in the workshop of Bonifacio Bembo (c.1440), contains some of the named cards within a traditional contemporary deck; many of the Visconti-Sforza images do not conform to the traditional images of today’s decks. For example, Strength depicts a man in the act of striking a Lion, whereas, the Waite-Smith tarot identifies a woman holding open the jaws of a lion. If we develop the comparison even further, we see that the chained ‘couple’, depicted in the contemporary Devil card, were originally two small devils within the Visconti-Sforza deck.
In order to explore further the historical influences within the tarot images, it is essential to review the life and artwork of Pamela Colman-Smith, Lady Frieda Harris and Osman Austin Spare.
Pamela Colman-Smith (1878 –1951) exhibited a drawing style, which clearly shows traces of Symbolism and the Romanticism of the Arts and Crafts movement. European Symbolism was influenced by poets and writers such as Baudelaire, and the American writer Edgar Allan Poe. W.B. Yeats introduced Smith to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (1901) where she met Arthur Waite – their creative union creating the Waite-Smith tarot. The British artist Austin Osman Spare (1886-1956), whose work was based on the aesthetics of Art Nouveau and the Symbolist movement. In addition, he was heavily influenced by the occult and the ideas of Aleister Crowley in the early 1900s. He believed that ‘Art is the instinctive application of the knowledge latent in the subconscious,” which can be seen in his allegorical landscapes. In 1906, Spare created a hand painted tarot deck, a clear homage to the Tarot de Marseille deck. In addition to the books of Aleister Crowley, Frieda Harris (1877-1962) studied the work of Rudolf Steiner, developing an understanding of Anthroposophy which in turn, played a significant role in the creation of the Thoth deck. In 1937, Lady Harris began working with projective synthetic geometry, based on ideas from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a drawing system reflected in the teachings of Rudolf Steiner. One such teaching reads, “The strength people need to proceed along the path of human development can come only from the spiritual world.
The tarot and other tools of divination are often an outward sign of an individual’s search for personal development. The tarot, when used intuitively, provides a challenge for the ‘seeker’ in their pursuit of spiritual direction. There are some who believe that the process of ‘intuitive recognition’, and the exploration of what is seen and understood, refines the tarot practitioner’s ability to reflect on universal ideas of human nature. Alone with their images, the intuitive reader absorbs the torrent of visual information (subconscious), and through the conscious mind’s natural editing process, a story takes on its own form; independent of the reader. The words spoken in recognition of these impressions, forms a record of what has been seen, and the spiritual magic is complete.