Sunday, February 12, 2012

Using Pop Culture Imagery as Mnemonic Devices in the Tarot


No one who has worked with the Tarot would argue that it is filled with imagery that allows the reader to tell a story to a client. Each and every card has a whole range of different meanings, and these meanings can be related to all kinds of other disciplines, like herbalism, astrology, and spirituality; while all of these topics are excellent areas to explore in the Tarot, I often use pop culture imagery as I read, both to forge a closer connection with my clients, and to provide intuitive direction and focus.

One of the biggest advantages for doing this is that they provide jumping-off points for your intuitive self. For me it’s easier to use analogies when reading Tarot that are firmly in mind. For example, I often think of Forrest Gump when I see the Fool. Forrest is na├»ve, honest, and willing to try new experiences, although he is nervous about doing so. That image resonated with me, and I often wonder during readings what Forrest’s reaction would be in various situations.

For the client, what you’re doing when you use pop culture imagery is providing a vehicle for her to better understand the point that you are trying to make in a reading. Even though a number of my clients are foreign-born, I think you would be hard pressed to find a client who has not at least heard of Forrest Gump. So the image of this character is one good way I have found to describe the Fool and many of its attributes.

One of the other reasons for using pop culture imagery in Tarot work is for self-development as readers. Many readers still refer to books during readings, and while I believe you should do whatever it takes to understand the message and convey it to a client, I have heard a number of people express difficulty with memorizing meanings for each card, especially if working with reversals. Images from our everyday culture can aid those of us who may not have the time or discipline to study each card individually. And I’m not just talking about novice readers here; experienced readers stand to gain one or more additional ways of expressing the complicated concepts that appear in a reading.

To obtain the greatest benefit from this imagery, it’s essential that each reader come up with his or her own cultural mnemonic devices. Here’s how I’d do it:

1)    Start small.  Pick 3-5 cards that resonate the most with you using your favorite deck. Ideally these are the cards you know best and really connect with.

2)    Identify major concepts or keywords. Choose a few—no more than four—key words or concepts that represent, in your mind, the meaning of each of the cards you selected in Step 1. Personally, one resource that I use is Joan Bunning’s Learning the Tarot; when I decided to stop using a book, her meanings were my inspiration. So I returned to that book as I thought about these images. Rachel Pollack’s 78 Degrees of Tarot Wisdom and the recently-published Tarot Wisdom also can provide excellent sources of ideas. But let me stress that you should use any Tarot book as a starting point for your own ideas.

3)    Consider which pop culture areas interest you the most. I am always fascinated with the development of American culture in all its forms, so this part was the most fun. What pop culture images does this card remind you of? Do some brainstorming and write down whatever comes to mind that expresses the keywords or concepts for the card you chose in Step 2. Here are a few areas I can suggest as you explore if you need some inspiration: movies; television; the Internet; historical events; famous people; songs; other cultures; occupations or fields of study; and literary heroes and villains. Again, these are just suggestions; your heritage, background, and life experiences will play the central role in choosing cultural topics to draw on.

4)    Match up the cultural images with the cards. Pick which symbols or cultural icons represent the cards the best. Before assigning an image to a card in your mind, consider that you’ll probably be stuck with it for a while, so make choices that make sense to you.

It sounds more complicated than it is, and you may already be doing this to some degree. Many of the devices I’ve come up with I stumbled into in the middle of a reading; I’m happy that I was able to retain those images until the end of a reading so I could write them down!

I’ll end with a few examples from my own Tarot practice. When I think of the Eight of Swords, one mnemonic device I’ve chose is the search engine Yahoo!. For me, the Tarot card represents someone looking at their options and realizing that there are none that seem good, or someone stuck in “analysis paralysis”, which is someone good at thinking about the choice but not good at making the actual decision. A few years ago, when I heard that Yahoo! turned 10 years old, I learned that Yahoo! is actually an acronym that stands for “You Always Have Other Options”. So the energy represented by the Eight of Swords embodies Yahoo! for me, this idea of searching for other options without making a decision; even on the World Wide Web, you may not find an option that is suitable for you and you’ll still be stuck with the “least bad” choice.

Another image I use is for the Moon, and it’s the television show, “Lost”. The card represents that there’s probably a lot more going on that meets the eye, people deceive themselves and each other, and nothing on the surface represents the true reality of the situation. “Lost” is filled with unexpected twists and turns, and one of the reasons many viewers tune in is because they are confused and off-balance. So they come back the next week for some closure, and while it sometimes happens, there are only more and more questions to be answered.

I’ll leave you with one final image representing one of my favorite cards, the Hierophant. For me, Gandhi represents the true essence of the Hierophant: the spiritual teacher who makes us question what we truly believe and take responsibility for our own spiritual development. The Hierophant asks each one of us if we are prepared to make a deep commitment to our spiritual path, and Gandhi certainly was. Despite all of the adversity he faced, Gandhi was a non-conformist; his persistence was legendary and he truly believed in what he was going with every fiber of his being.

I hope suggestions I provided will help you along your path as a reader, and that you’ll work some cultural imagery into your everyday practice and study of the Tarot.

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