There’s a book that I’ve been seeing on Amazon that’s been suggested on repeat for me. It hasn’t been one that I’ve been particularly interested in for reasons that don’t really matter. However, as it turns out, the author of the book is the host of a tarot podcast I have been meaning to try out.
The episode I listened to was ‘Art vs. Art – Interpretations of the Tarot’, in which they spent time looking at the The Modern Spell-Caster’s Tarot by Melanie Marqueis and Scott Murphy (which is actually a pretty neat deck) and talk about the cards in the deck. There is a running theme to this, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
When I first started the episode, I was intrigued when host White said that he was the author of The Easiest Way to Learn Tarot, and then I was more intrigued when he announced that he was the founder of the Rider-Waite museum. Who knew there was a museum?! (spoiler alert, it’s just a website)
At this point I was quite excited to hear what he had to say. It made it better when he said there were a few others on the podcast itself to discuss their topic. I generally love it when there’s a few people discussing something, since it offers the opportunity of jokes, multiple perspectives, and sometimes a little academic drama.*
However, as the host went on, he began speaking to his competitors (regarding online ‘tarot academies’), calling them out on ‘stealing’ his stuff, and even calling them names:
‘One of the problems that we run into immediately, if you go to one of my competitors’ tarot schools—and they’re listening, so [addressing said competitors] change your curriculum. Again, I’m happy that you steal from me, so keep doing that, but yeah, I’m calling them out on it. But the thing is, these bastards keep trying to present the lie that you can quote “learn tarot” end quote, by memorizing card meanings.’
Everything about this really strikes a nerve with me.
First of all, as a firm believer that tarot is not a competition, it’s a means of sharing information and experiences so that we can all grow as human and spiritual beings, I think that it’s unfair to put down any ‘competitor’ at all.
To me it’s the same thing as say the English department at Durham University slagging off the English department at Cambridge. What’s the point? They are all educators, they are all teachers of something they believe in and find joy in discovering and sharing.
Second, the arrogance behind this also strikes a nerve with me, to accuse them of ‘stealing’—which perhaps is a reference to something I just don’t know about, but if it’s information regarding tarot, or it’s a curriculum that is fairly similar, I feel like it’s not fair to call stealing.
If I read that there are no humming birds native or wild in the UK on Nature Reserve Info (I don’t know if that exists, I just made that up), and I repeat that information on my foraging blog, so long as I’m not using it word for word, it’s not stealing. Academic theft only happens when there is an original idea that is being taken. If there is no original thought and it’s repeated general knowledge, it’s not theft. The wording of it, perhaps, but not the general gist of it so long as it is largely accepted general knowledge. **
For White to claim that his information on tarot to be stolen, is arrogant in that he believes he is the originator of the information on tarot. At least in my perspective. Again, I don’t know the full story. Maybe people literally are copying and pasting from the information on his website or from his book and claiming it as their own. In which case, he would have a lawsuit on his hands, easily.
The theme of he podcast episode was reading the cards based on the art, which I quite agree with. I was interested to hear about how they went about this.
However, again, before they got going on any of it, another nerve was struck. It was posited, strongly, that ‘trying to force Kabalistic or numerological meanings, especially memorized meanings, is the fastest way to being a crappy tarot reader’ (3:50).
I have a massive problem with this, mostly because I believe that it is imperative to break down the symbolism in the cards to understand them, to gain that intuitive connection with them, and gain the deeper meaning that the cards can’t necessarily portray.
Understanding Gimel in the Thoth’s High Priestess and where it corresponds to on the Tree of Life represents not only Mercury, thus communication, but also means ‘intelligence and understanding.’ Knowing this can be the key to a reader remembering the meaning of a card. Understanding the numerological, astrological, elemental pulls of each card helps you understand the meanings.
If I know that fire is active energy and creativity and drive, and that fire corresponds to Wands, and that fire consumes air and grows, or that air feeds fire, I know that having a lot of Wands and Swords in my layout is going to be a highly energetic and creative time. If I know that Mercury represents communication, then I’m going to remember that the Magician is not just bringing the tools of the universe together to manifest, but also that he represents messages, that he is the messenger.
To say that memorizing the symbolism within the cards is going to lead you to being a ‘crappy tarot reader’ is the exact same as saying that we should disregard the representation of the suits and the court cards altogether. Why on earth should we consider them if the symbolism means nothing? In which case, why are we even reading tarot?
The whole purpose of the symbols that are typical depictions in the classic forms of tarot such as the Rider-Waite, the Thoth, the Golden Dawn Tarot and the Tarot Marseille is because it psychologically corresponds with the way our subconscious works. They are symbols and colors and representatives to different aspects of our psyhe and bring about meanings.
This isn’t new age, or hippie, or woo-woo. This is used all the time in every aspect of life. Advertising uses it. I have a friend who’s in his final years of becoming a neuro scientist, after studying the brain and how it works and how we understand and process things for years. I asked him what he’s going to do with his degree, and he told me it’s highly sought after in advertising.
Car insurance agencies will give you a higher rate if you have a red car, because you’re more likely to drive faster and more recklessly in the presence of red (told to me by driving instructors).
Employers are more likely to hire someone they interview wearing grey than they are who wore brown to their interview because brown looks like mud (relayed to me by a former professor). The employer might consciously know they’re doing this, mind you.
These are the reasons we study the different aspects of the tarot, pick it apart and learn that castles in the background represent stability, or that golden skies in the cards are successful times, or that a foot in the water corresponds to intuition and/or emotional influences.
This is why Carl Jung is so well touted in tarot circles!
Another thing I took issue with was when he said that as readers we should throw out all of the books that come with tarot decks, throw any other book away (except his, he reminds his listeners), and just read the cards.
No. No. No.
To me, that’s like saying that if you want to be an intuitive healer, you should throw away all the books on developing the skill, learning about the body, and just open up a practice. Hey, it’s all intuitive, right?
First you have to learn the basics, the fundamentals. You need to learn to develop your intuition, and you need to know how to do that, first of all. We of course all have intuition, and when we’re kids it’s pretty good. But as we grow up, we lose a lot of our ability to listen to it, and for a vast majority of that, we have to learn to listen to that and not mistaken it for our wants, our over-thinking, our anxiety, etc.
Without developing intuition, we might look at the Tower and say, ‘a building is going to fall down,’ and miss out entirely on the metaphor that within the depiction of the tower. We might literally think that people are going to fall out of buildings when lightning strikes. Well, maybe not, but we might not get the sense of how to interpret it.
In English classes, reading novels and interpreting them, we have to learn the skill which teaches us that often repeated and hated line ‘read between the lines’. We read others’ interpretations of them in order to develop our own. It’s why we have conflicting critics who say that Jane Austin’s Emma is a conservative book throwing back to traditional ideals and others who argue that it’s a feminist book that battles the notion of marriage. When you read both sides, read other critics, and read the novel yourself, you develop your own opinion and settle on your own side of the fence, or you might even build your own fence.
By reading lots, reading everything you can, discussing, and integrating yourself with other tarot readers at various levels, you will gain the most from tarot. You are always the student, and always the teacher.
So now that I’ve gone off on a complete tirade, I will say that there are some aspects that I do agree with.
Before White got going on not dissecting the card symbolism, he did preface by saying that tarot is art, and thus we see and interpret things differently. In that, we need to develop our own understanding and meanings with the cards. He uses the example of the Mona Lisa. The painting and emotion gained from that is not through words (in comparison to reading card meanings), it’s through the experience had with the painting itself.
I do also agree that you should, in fact, read the cards as they’re put down in front of you. I think that it is important to acknowledge the artist and their portrayal when you’re reading. I would probably not read the Thoth deck the same way as I would my Spiral Tarot. In fact, I don’t . For this very reason, I have different purposes for different decks. The images in them speak differently to me, and because of this, I believe that they communicate a different tone of message.
I think this guy has the potential to share a lot of really good information, but I feel that he is too focused on competitors and convincing everyone that he is right and that everyone else is wrong. To the point, I might add, that he contradicts himself, and even flat out provides information that’s incorrect. On his website he provides the meanings of the tarot cards (even though we shouldn’t look to a book for our tarot definitions and just read the pictures in front of us), and if you go to his Amazon page, you’ll find a video advertisement for his oracle deck to be crowd funded, in which he claims it’s the only complete astrological tarot deck there is.
Right, I don’t mean to tear this guy down. However, what I do want to point out is warning signs to look for when you’re researching your tarot, your astrology, your psychics. If there is arrogance, there is a lack of discipline and a lack of listening skills. There is too much ego, which means that they are less open to developing into someone better because they can’t hear their faults.
If you are reading for someone, or they are reading for you, a safe place should be provided. That means that for both the querant and the reader, the ego needs to be checked at the door. I can’t say for certain that Dusty White doesn’t do that, mind. This is just the impression I’ve gotten from his podcast, his Amazon video, and his website.
The importance of reading and researching widely is also in that you learn what not to do. You might read this post and think that exactly what I did is what not to do, and that’s fine. It’s more than simply taking information that’s presented and accepting and rejecting it, but it’s looking at the reasons you’re accepting or rejecting it and seeing how that applies to you and how your conduct yourself. Or perhaps you might come across information that sounds like all the other information out there, but you want to reject it. Why?
By looking at how we read, take in information, and share information, we can gain a deeper insight to ourselves and the world around us. That’s why I shared this experience with you. I think it’s important that we take a part what we learn and put it back together. It’s how we understand the ins and outs.
*Fun, every so slightly related fact, re: academic drama: when researching philosophy papers, I love coming across resources that directly argue to each other, using authors’ names and attacking their ideals. It’s like reality TV for philosophy nerds.
** It should be noted that plagiarism is a very real and serious things, and there are many nuances that go along with this. I do understand and recognize when it is happening. There is a fine line between ‘largely accepted general knowledge’ and one person’s idea/discovery/creation going without acknowledgement. It would be like the general knowledge that what goes up must come down vs. taking credit for Sir Isaac Newton’s discovery of gravity.