Using Tarot to Connect with the Sacred Knowledge of Inner Wisdom
Welcome to the Samhain Tarot Blog Hop! Our topic, proposed by Jay Cassels of Sacred Healing Blog, is Sacred Knowledge. Jay asks us, “What secrets or knowledge have you gained from the tarot?” Read on to see how I have used tarot to find the sacred knowledge of my inner wisdom, then use the links at the top or bottom of this post to navigate the circle of blogs to see what our other writers have to say.
the Veil of Sacred Knowledge
The process of reading tarot is one of crossing a veil. This veil separates the seen and known from the unseen, unknown. As such, it can be the line between having the facts or acting blindly, the chasm that separates two individuals, or the delicate, shifting line between knowledge and wisdom.
When we do a reading, we have a question, an empty spot that needs to be filled. We desire answers, knowledge, insight, advice. We need connection with something or someone else. Reading for ourselves can connect us with the information and guidance we need.
Reading for others is a different kind of veil to cross. Here one person has the hole in need of holism, and the other provides the lath and plaster. As reader, the cards are the narrow strips that cross and crisscross the gap between strangers. The interpretation is the daub that holds it all together. But how does that interpretive process work? If the reader is spitting out dictionary definitions of the cards, are they making a real connection? And if standard meanings answered all questions, every querent would be totally fulfilled with a tarot book or two, or a single, comprehensive tarot website. But we know that fails to fulfill.
Communicating meaning is part of a reading. But for a life-altering moment of perfect clarity, something else is needed. We must provide the soul-baring revelation of truth, completely unique to the individual across the table, flowing from us in the very words that hold a lifetime of understanding for them. How do we create this tremulous, gossamer mesh that connects not mind to mind, but soul to soul?
How to Cross the Veil of Sacred Knowledge
How can we cross this veil?
Thirty-five years ago, in Northfield, MN, I sat in a freshman English seminar taught by a swollen-nosed professor with the wide face and writer’s stare of Garrison Keillor. He drew a straight line horizontally across the board. “This is the text.” He looked blankly at us. I’m sure we looked, at best, blankly back. He turned back to the board and produced another line a foot above the first. “This is the reader.” He looked over his shoulder at us. Next he proceeded to connect the two lines with a spiral of overlapping circles. He looked over his glasses at us, as if to see better. “These are the hermeneutical circles of interpretation.” I had no idea what he was talking about.
Until I learned tarot.
The lower line that my professor drew is the spread of cards. The top line is the tarot reader. The circles that spiral from the reader down to the cards and back up to the reader are the hermeneutical circles. In other words, the interpretive process. The magical method for crossing the veil.
We lay a card down. A circle begins to form, curving up from the card to our mind. As it peaks in our mind, we layer knowledge and experience onto it, then that circle arcs back down, informing the first card, then advancing to scoop up the second card. As it sweeps up, it grazes on more knowledge and experience. But this time it selects not the entire glossary of meanings for the second card, but only those which share relevance with the previous card. And again. And again. An interpretation forms. A unique story that can only be read one way, each new episode built on the foundations of the previous cards.
Hermeneutical circles are a ferris wheel, lifting us up to see everything, then bringing us down to share sight and insight with others.
The One-Eyed Emperor
Waite got the Emperor wrong. His shifty-eyed, feet scuffing, throned ruler fails to capture the essence of the temporal lord. The Tarot de Marseille Empereur and the BOTA Emperor know the truth. The Emperor has only one eye.
Norse mythology has a story of how Odin learned the future and gained wisdom. Overcome with foreboding, Odin visited the three Norns, who knew the whole of the Past, the whole of the Present, and the whole of the Future. The Norns confirmed his fears. Odin now knew what will happen. But he didn’t yet know what to do about it. He said, “I would change what knowledge I have into wisdom, so that the things that are to happen will be changed into the best that may be.”
In the guise of the Wanderer, he goes to Mimir’s well to ask for wisdom. Mimir asks if he will pay the price to drink from the well. Odin says he will. Mimir fills his horn at the well and hands it to Odin. Odin drinks deeply and sees everything that is to come, but also why it is to come, how to bear these trials, and so-doing, how to destroy “the evil that brought terror and sorrow and despair into the world.” This was the wisdom that Odin sought.
Mimir asked his price. Odin already knew what payment would be required and that he would give it willingly. He plucked his right eye from out of his skull and dropped it into the well. The shining orb remained forever at the bottom of the well, proof that Odin had paid the price of wisdom.
Odin the Wanderer is often characterized as the Fool or Hermit. But as All-Father, Odin is certainly the Emperor. The Emperor, whose right eye is hidden from us. Mimir is the Hierophant, the keeper of the sacred knowledge. He knows the way to inner wisdom. The eye cannot read this wisdom in letters, symbols, or omens. Knowledge reveals what, wisdom explains why. And furthermore, wisdom shows us how to redirect the fated course and gain the best outcome.
Straddling the Veil
In order to gain the sacred knowledge of inner wisdom, we must read on two levels at once. We must travel back and forth across the veil like the circles of interpretation that climb to the vast overview, then descend to the specific explanation. Like Odin, we look outward to knowledge and facts, and inward to causes and effects. We straddle two worlds.
Tarot readers do this every day. When we read the cards, we tie together the image with the symbols and correspondences of the card. Our mind naturally links to a comprehensive landscape of meaning. Like a mind map, we assemble alternate illustrations of a card, previous experiences with a particular card or combination of cards, and insights we’ve gained from personal study or group sharing. We easily shift between the personal story of the querent and the universal story outlined in the sequence of a suit or arcanum.
The secret to connecting with your inner wisdom is to walk these two levels simultaneously. No longer bouncing back and forth, or looking first right then left, or alternating between within and without. Instead, we discover how to walk two paths at once. Try holding two contrasting philosophies in your mind at once and discover the links between them.
For example, read a philosophical or sacred text with a tarot card in mind. You can choose texts that were designed to be read this way, such as The Doctrine and Ritual of High Magic by Eliphas Lévi, or Meditations on the Tarot by Anonymous.
Some texts are not designed to be read together, but naturally fit, such as studying the twenty-two Hebrew letters with the twenty-two Major Arcana. Or applying the Majors to the twenty-two chapters of the Book of Revelation. Or to the stages of the monomyth by Joseph Campbell.
Alternately, instead of mapping one sequence onto another, perform a more random study. Read a sacred text, a book of mythology, or a dense philosophical text, stopping periodically to pull a random card and discover how the text informs and deepens the card, and how the card sheds light on the text.
See what happens to your brain when you practice this.
You can practice this by yourself, with a partner, or in a group. Sharing perspectives is a wonderful way to both be a student of the group as well as connect with your inner teacher. An open group of us have been studying the Cube of Space and all benefiting from the shared wisdom.
Finding Your Inner Wisdom with Tarot
But more than looking ahead, gaining insight, or receiving guidance, we can use tarot to connect to the sacred knowledge of our inner wisdom. We not only chart our path through the ups and downs of the world, but we create new mapping software that can show us the spiritual influx that carries our little boat through this life, and those previous and next. By crossing ever-widening rings of the veil, we translate hermeneutic circles into expanding spirals that reach beyond our own limited understanding, lifting that most diaphanous gauze to let in the warm glow of the invisible. The divine secret. The sacred knowledge. The threshold to wisdom. Tarot is the door of light we step not through but into.
Hop On For More Sacred Knowledge!
What secrets and sacred knowledge have our other tarot blog hoppers gained from the tarot? Use the links below to find out!