Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Signs and Wonders

I turned the cards over one by one as I sat in the garden yesterday morning, before I set off for a day that would call for a grounded sense of who I am and the gifts I can offer those I meet; for openness; for risk-taking.

Temperance. The High Priestess. The World.

I was happy not to see again the dark cards that have turned up dauntingly often over the last two weeks: Death, the Nine of Swords, the Ten of Swords.

Along with relief came surprise that I'd turned up three Major Arcana together. A Tarot deck consists of seventy-eight cards: the Minor Arcana in four suits, and twenty-two named cards outside the suits--the Major Arcana. Your chances of turning up one of the Major Arcana are less than three to one. Your chances of turning up three of the Major Arcana in a row are, obviously, much lower. (I'll leave the correct statistic to those who know more math than I've long forgotten.)

Then I settled into the slower, more ambiguous search for what these cards could tell me, digging into the uncertainties, looking in the shadows cast by hesitation for what I might otherwise fail to see. Reading your cards, or having them for you, requires a kind of faith. You have to trust that a series of random occurrences has something to teach you--that hovering just behind pure chance is a sign that points to something you'd do well to notice. You have to get past calculating the odds in order to embrace what Thomas Moore has called "the reenchantment of everyday life."

You don't have to believe deeply. You just have to behave as though you do. You have to give yourself permission to imagine and play with the possibility that the randomness of the world is speaking to you. You can use the Tarot as a technology for the expansion of your soul. You could just as well use astrology; or the I Ching; or ink blots; or the pattern of the flowers that have opened this particular summer day, in this particular meadow. The truth isn't in the cards, but in the dialogue you have with them--a dialogue that can both take you out of yourself and invite you to enter more deeply into yourself.

The faith that the accidental encounters of daily life can speak to you is right next door to naïveté; and just across the street from narcissism. My life history makes me painfully, uneasily aware of what can happen when well-meaning people lose their critical edge. I grew up with a born-again uncle who claimed to have prayed his gas-tank full between paychecks; with an aunt who met the Devil on her way to a family reunion, turning him down, I'm glad to report, when he needed a lift--and who had an unnerving habit of sharing with new acquaintances (like my former partner, the first time she met him) a few of the most important miracles she'd experienced in her life. I've known hyper-rationalist empirical types who've fallen off the wagon into talking about auras and chakras as though they were subject to the same verifiability as the laws of thermodynamics.

And this is why I think a sense of play (and a healthy dose of irony, our cultural birthright as queers) is ever more essential as we integrate the spiritual importance of our everyday experience. As we search the ordinary for the wisdom it has to impart, we need to remind ourselves, more or less continuously, that it's what happens between us and the signs and wonders of our lives--the cards we read; the dragonfly that settles on our arm; the coincidental meeting that feels too providential to ascribe to dumb luck--that opens us up, not those occurrences in and of themselves. There's no objective, "scientific" truth to the Tarot, as far as I'm concerned, but there is what it calls forth in us as we play with what it offers. The chance happenings of my day aren't direct messages from a God who has nothing more pressing to do than send me personal telegrams; but I can choose to take them as evidence of a Mystery that unfolds before me, and, sometimes, an invitation to allow it to unfold within me as well.

(If you're interested in learning the basics of reading the Tarot, Joan Bunning offers a very user-friendly (and free) online course at

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