Some Thoughts on Literalism, Spirituality and Tarot
Although I was raised in a very religious family, I was a teenager before I confronted Biblical literalism. I remember the conversation as if it were yesterday, because I was amazed that an otherwise intelligent person could be so illogical.
We were discussing Matthew 7:3-5. That’s the part about looking at a sawdust speck in your brother’s eye when you have a plank in your own. I was delighting in Jesus’ use of analogy, symbolism and story, something He does a lot of in the book of Matthew. My friend was thinking about how it must be to have an actual plank of wood in ones’ eye.
I chided her gently, explaining the symbolism Jesus was using to discuss hypocrisy. It was all about the pot calling the kettle black, I told her with some authority. I had been to Sunday School for years, my father was the minister and my mother a Sunday School teacher, so I felt pretty well versed in my Biblical knowledge (pun intended).
My friend became instantly angry and offended. How dare I try to interpret the world of God? Didn’t I know that every word of the Bible was written directly by God, and that true believers neither questioned nor interpreted? Clearly, Jesus was concerned about the spiritual grace of those who had pieces of wood in their eyes, rather than those who had hypocrisy in their hearts.
Many years later, I understand that rigid, didactic literalism is not reserved for Christians. Much of the world is at war, and the rest in fear, due to literal interpretation of the Koran by radical Muslims.
The obvious flaw is that no literalist, in any religion, is able to follow to the letter the directives in their holy book. Why? Because many of the directives were of their time, and clearly no longer applicable today.
This allows fundamentalists to pick and choose which archaic directive they will highlight in their own religious practices, and which they will ignore. Without fail, the directives that are followed most closely seem to be those which empower certain people, and disempower others. Of course, if one questions these tactics, one is summarily dismissed as disobedient, stupid and unenlightened. In other countries, the punishment can be worse.
I believe in a Higher Power. I understand the value of sacred texts. The branch of Christianity in which I was raised values highly the idea that God gave us our brains, so that we could interpret and understand the texts of history, both sacred and secular. I cannot honor any version of a Higher Power who would not want followers to think, and to interpret.
I see the same didacticism and closed-mindedness in the tarot world, although not as often. There is a certain personality who comes to tarot wanting each card to mean a very specific thing, and always that same thing. They will see the Hierophant as a spiritual teacher, even when he appears in a reading to discuss an abusive husband or a know-it-all boss.
These “literalist readers” often become professional, but rarely achieve the success they could. That’s because they are so limited in their approach, and so unwilling to use their intuitive and interpretive minds to discern the deeper meaning of the cards in a specific reading.
For me, the spiritual lesson is this. Whether we are discussing professional tarot, beginning tarot study, or world religion, true insight doesn’t always come from a book, no matter how old and honored. True insight doesn’t always come from a list of memorized key words.
True insight happens when we open our hearts and minds. The teachings of sacred texts, be they the Holy Bible, the Koran, Kabbalah, tarot, or others, are very valuable.
In my mind, though, their value comes when we take the time to think, meditate, discuss, write and intuit their meanings.
Throughout history, folks have believed that gods write books. People once believed that Hermes himself wrote “The Emerald Tablet.” Likewise, people once believed the original tarot was authored by Thoth.
When we consider spiritual writings, traditions and systems in the context of the time, place and people which actually produced them, we can separate cultural directives from timeless insights and lessons.
If a sacred text cannot stand up to some scrutiny and interpretation, perhaps we have over-valued the text. Perhaps, too, we have undervalued our intellect and our intuition, which truly are gifts from Higher Power.