Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Omily Tarot: Archetype-Casting

I had a lovely job interview yesterday, and when I was asked to tell the interviewer about myself, no surprise, tarot came up in the first sentence! Since I wasn't applying for a position as a tarot reader, I had to take the time to explain how the tarot informs my other pursuits in life. And it does. A lot. Fortunately, my interviewer was pro-tarot and very interested, so it was ok that it took me some time to articulate the way the tarot has provided a powerful lens for viewing people and the world. By the time I was done, I knew I had to share my insights with you guys. If you're on the fence about exploring the tarot, this post may be the one to tip you over! It's not just about telling your friend's fortunes, or enjoying gorgeous artwork, though these things are definitely fun.  It's about an ancient art/science working for you to help you handle life's complicated twists and turns.

You see, the whole Tarot, and the Major Arcana in particular, is made up of archetypes.  'But what ARE archetypes??' You may ask.  Well, google defines them as:
  1. A very typical example of a certain person or thing.
  2. An original that has been imitated.
Wikipedia talks about them as a generic version of a personality.

And then there's Jungian archetypes. Carl Jung didn't believe that we are born into this world blank slates.  We have instincts already present in our minds, and we also have archetypes. As Jung defined them, it's really dificult to talk about archetypes. We can talk about archetypal images, though, and strictly speaking, that's what the images of the Tarot are. Archetypes themselves are vague, nebulous ideas in our minds. When we find an example of an archetype in mythology, history, or are daily lives, we're recognizing this vague idea as having crystallized into a concrete image: the archetypal image. Yes?

So, the idea is that the archetypes (technically archetypal images but archetypes is a convenient shorthand) are present in all of us as part of the collective consciousness: we are born knowing who these figures are, and when we see a Tarot deck, we may not consciously recognize these figures, but if we sit down and write our observations and what we think the cards might mean based just on the images, we often find our insights are shockingly similar to the complex interpretations attributed to the cards.

This makes the Tarot a fabulous tool for connecting to these pre-existing archetypes, and getting to know them on a deeper level. When we do this, we become ready to use this knowledge in our daily lives.  We encounter real live archetypes all the time. We all contain all of them, and at different times, they come out.

Thanks to studying the Tarot, I understand that my ex-Marine father (The Emperor) craves order, and believes in the rules for the sake of the rules.  No wonder we butted heads so frequently as I was growing up!  Of course, my dad's not only the Emperor (he can't resist petting an animal whose enclosure bears the sign, "Don't pet me; I bite!" he has a goofy sense of humor, and he can be moved to tears by one of his children giving him a drawing), but when his Emperor archetype comes out, I understand what's motivating him, and I can do my best to give him what he needs to feel secure, or at least to assure him that I understand where he's coming from and am sorry I'm causing him discomfort.
 When my fourteen-year-old sister expresses dissatisfaction with, well, everything, and retires to her room to cry over what seems like nothing, I know she's struggling to make peace with the Hermit inside of herself: to find spiritual order in an imperfect world, and to somehow negotiate the high principles she's developing into complex human social interactions. I can cut her some slack, and offer reassurance that she's right to want the world to be a kinder place, but such change takes place slowly, and only if we all work at it. Isolating ourselves can only take us so far.
When my husband announces his work has been featured on another prominent blog, or he's been contacted about another exciting freelance opportunity, and to my surprise, rage bubbles up inside of me instead of pride and happiness, I understand that that's the Devil, my shadow side, coming out. Feelings of insecurity are making my ego lash out, wanting to see him do less well so I can feel better about myself. I can acknowledge and make space for these feelings without needing to share them, reminding myself that I'm only human and having some selfish feelings is natural, but I also have limitless wellsprings of grace and love, and it's that place I want to act from. It wasn't until I stopped feeling ashamed of these feelings and stuffing them down that I was able to stop occasionally acting on them, and saying things I very quickly regretted.

In some yoga classes I've had students speak out of turn, announcing their displeasure with a pose I'm teaching or a song that's playing. It's easy to get flustered in those moments, but now I can remind myself that this student is the Magician, a figure who has only just mastered controlling his or her own world.  He or she knows he or she has control over his or her situation, and as such, this person doesn't see any  reason to remain in less than ideal circumstances. I can make space for this person, offering modifications or other options for the pose in question, or turning down the music or changing the song (or politely refuse, if that's the appropriate response), without losing my place in my sequence or losing my hold on the space for the other students because I can immediately understand that the motivation for this outburst isn't anything wrong that I've done, but the opinion of one person who isn't in a place to appreciate how all things, even uncomfortable ones, are here to serve us, at this particular instant.

Has knowledge of archetypes served you in your life?  Do you think this knowledge will serve you now that you've seen these examples?  You can learn more about archetypes easily enough on the internet, and if you're interested in Carl Jung's views on archetypes, his books, The Red Book, and Man and His Symbols are available from the Brooklyn Public Library, and from other libraries and book stores as well. 


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