Inspired by Dr. Irvin D. Yalom’s book The Gift of Therapy: An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapists and Their Patients, I am looking at each chapter through the perspective of tarot reading…*
From Chapter 5:
“What do patients [read: “clients”] recall when they look back, years later, on their experience in therapy [read: “a tarot reading session”]? Answer: not insight, not the [reader’s] interpretations. More often than not, they remember the positive support statements of their [tarot reader]…”
I love the Five of Coins from Kat Black’s The Golden Tarot (U.S. Games Systems © 2003). It depicts a woman holding up a destitute, weak, and impoverished man in a church setting so that he can experience the grace of the Virgin Mother—depicted in the stained glass window above them. The Virgin Mother is often depicted as the epitome of charity. (We are speaking of “charity” in the medieval sense that it was known—as the care, rearing, and nurturing of children. Every time you see a Madonna image of Mary the Mother of God holding an infant Jesus, you are witnessing a medieval commentary on one of the most revered theological virtues of the time period: charity.) And charity is what the woman is exhibiting behind the impoverished man in the card’s image. She also is exhibiting, I suppose, a kind of humility in the way that she is almost hidden in the picture, tucked away in the corner, holding up another human being and helping him to experience his moment of ecstasy—exemplifying the unrecognized and selfless work of women throughout history.
Normally the Five of Coins is a tragic-looking card. In the Rider-Waite-Smith version of this card, the lame and the destitute trudge through the cold blizzard snow, begging for pennies, while we know that on the other side of the richly decorated and colorful stained glass window under which they walk, exist silver candelabra and golden gem-encrusted wine goblets used in the mass. Sheltered benches, marble-tiled floors, lush carpets, the riches of a hypocritical Roman Church that espouses charity for the poorest people, yet hoards its riches in objects, and excludes the poorest and most bereft from inclusion in its most lavish ceremonies. The historical reference depicted in the RWS Five of Coins has to do with the fact that in the Middle Ages those afflicted with leprosy were not allowed to enter the church, partly because they were considered “unclean,” and partly because the condition was believed to be more contagious that it scientifically actually is. So small holes were included in the construction or architecture of the church building, which were meant to be small viewing portals through which those with leprosy could witness the mass and the host (of which they would never be able to partake). Thus the card’s classic interpretation of “exclusion” really was referencing a very real exclusion from the healing grace of receiving the communion host. (The fact that it was considered a sin not to take or receive communion exemplifies the height of hypocrisy since the Church was intentionally withholding it from certain populations.)
So it makes a wonderful resolution in The Golden Tarot that the possibility for grace exists through selfless charity. There is still a hard life depicted in the card—the man is literally wearing rags over his naked body; he still needs a helping hand in order to stand upright. But there is support from a stranger who is willing to provide him with the opportunity to receive grace.
If, as Dr. Yalom states, the client is more likely to remember the positive support they receive than they are the revelations from the session itself…what is the most important facet of the reading? Is the point to make interpretation?… Or, to provide an experience that will remain memorable to the client?
I often refer to the virtue moralizing of the tarot imagery as “visual pedagogy” because it’s essentially meant to ingrain a lesson. But those “lessons” are more effectively ingrained if they are taught by example… and here we can incorporate the Golden Rule to some effect…
Conduct your readings the way that you would yourself enjoy receiving a reading. Be gentle; be receptive; be attentive; be a careful listener; be sympathetic; provide advice or observation in a way that endears a confrère spirit… in other words, if the thing that is most going to make an impression on the client is the tone and the empathetic nature of the reading, then perhaps we should be teaching by example…be the empathy that you would like to experience yourself; be the virtue that you want to see in the world.
Everyone deserves to have positive affirmations reinforced about them…confidence and self-esteem engender creativity and positive anticipations about future endeavors.
Sometimes we find that illuminating positive attributions might be an intimidating prospect, or an especially challenging task, in regards to the particular choices a client has been making. But often there are facets of the client that you can still discover that reveal his or her positive (or potential) characteristics. For instance, a lot of people use extremely creative methods for circumventing responsible choices and achieving their addictive preferences. Highlighting the client’s creativity as a positive asset and refocusing how his or her creativity could be used towards more constructive goals might be one solution.
To practice—using your tarot cards; not an actual person or client yet—spread your deck out face-up on a table and choose your least favorite card(s)… Perhaps this will be a card with normally dread-bearing implications (the Nine or Ten of Swords, for example), or maybe it will be a card that simply aesthetically turns you off or creeps you out because of its colors, poor illustration technique, or tasteless subject depiction…
…Then verbally or in your journal detail FIVE positive affirmations about the card… Make the card feel good about itself with your compliments.
I’ll use the Nine of Swords as an example here:
1. Even though your nightmare was scary, our dreaming subconscious is a reflection of our mind’s creativity in trying to relay information to us… Your mind sure can produce some amazing creativity!
2. The more vivid and specific all the horrible details are in your dreams, the easier it is for you to know what you need to extract or cut-out of your life in order to turn things around.
3. Think of all those knives as the perfect arsenal of protection. The monsters in your nightmares are never going to be able to hurt you because you are armored with the weapons (figuratively) you need to defend and protect yourself.
4. What doesn’t kill us in our dreams makes us stronger in life…and you’re amazingly strong and courageous!
5. I love your bed quilt! Is it hand-made?! (Humor can be an effective impression-maker, too!)
Although I am exploring Yalom’s reflections on the profession of Psychology and Psychiatry, I do not claim or pretend to have any training in either of those professional fields. I am simply interpreting Yalom’s reflections and concepts from the perspective of the art of reading the tarot, which although it is a talent for which I have had certified training and for which I have several years of professional experience, is not a clinical or licensed profession or activity. Readers of this blog are reminded that unless you have training and a license in the psycho-therapeutic arts, that you should NEVER be diagnosing or attempting to diagnose a reading client for clinical symptoms. Rather, you should always refer the client to seek professional help if the concern arises that the client’s issues may be related to or appear to be psychosomatic in nature.