&#39Tarotic Relativism&#39


(Yes, I just made that phrase up.)
My thoughts only and I would glad to hear all comments and opposing views:
I have been reading the Aeclectic Board for only a few months, but one viewpoint that I see very often is that if any meaning, interpretation, way of reading or working of a symbol seems right to the person, then it IS right, automatically. I find I have been calling this 'tarotic relativism', after the more famous 'moral relativism'.
Surely there needs to be absolutes somewhere in this field, or as Carl Jung said (more or less) you just float from meaning to meaning, symbol to symbol and everything means everything.
As an example, take Christianity. Now the Church has the Bible, plus numerous accepted writings, and accepted interpreations of those writings plus the odd bit of sanctified papal bluster. Now, I assure you, no one ever says, "well yes, we have this material, but you just follow Christianity in any way that seems right to you." It may be interesting, and it may 'feel right', but ladies and gents, it ain't Christianity!
And, I will go on to say to anyone out there who is getting huffy and saying "well, of course not, Christianity is repressive and doesn't let you think and feel" that if you aren't thinking and feeling it isn't the Church's fault!
The law for example is a reference point, within a society anyway. I bet those two boys who murdered James Bulgar thought that it felt just right. Okay, extreme example, but that's what examples are for.
I think Tarot has reference points too, mainly in thw writings of those skilled in the field who have mastered its depths. Their teachings need (in my opinion) to be taken as reference points. For one thing, as an aside, it saves the llesser lights... and I count myself as one... from working everything out from scratch every time.
I guess from this you can see that I am no fan of the 'if it feels right it is right' school of thought. On the other hand, it will be a strange day indeed if I was to put myself forward as a deep thinker in Tarot or anywhere else.
Other thoughts?



You don't think Christians interpret Christian theory in different ways to suit their own needs??? How then do you explain the difference between the Catholics and the Methodists? Between the Baptists and the Mormons? Between the Episcopalians and the Holy Rollers?

The ONLY thing most of these agree on is Jesus himself. They have all provided wildly different interpretations of religious law and the gospels basically to suit their own needs. You claim that no one ever says, "well yes, we have this material, but you just follow Christianity in any way that seems right to you." What do you call the bible then? How many versions of that book have been printed and how many different "Christian" faiths follow each one? The only real criteria for being a Christian is that you believe in Christ as a Savior. Other than that, it's ALL interpretation.

Same thing with your argument about laws. In the U.S., no two states have exactly the same law. Sure, murder is murder, but the penalties vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Lots of local interpretation going on here too.

The writings of so-called experts (anyone can write a Tarot book) in Tarot are great reference points. But that's all they are - one individuals INTERPRETATION.

I absolutely believe that in order to properly understand Tarot that you should at least be aware of the traditional meanings assigned to the cards. But Tarot, unlike Christianity or Society, is an individual pursuit. As such, it is vital that each person have their own understanding and their own appreciation of it.

I enjoy reading other people's interpretations of the cards, and I enjoy sharing my own interpretations with other readers as well. But just because I've been reading for 30 years doesn't make my opinion any more valid than someone who has just been reading for a year. My approach works for me, but it probably wouldn't work for anybody else.

THAT'S what I love about it!


Hello Marion,

before all, as said before, there is never "the book of the books" (also not the bible), that is what humanity was and is always looking for; so there is no canon in any religion or belief which is followed always in the same way by different people.
Some outstanding people though have had a deeper insight into the topics, and they marked directions (they themselves mostly thought they marked THE direction). For Tarot one of these persons was surely Aleister Crowley, and when you move within the system of the Book of the Law, the Kabbalah and his cards this will be a closed and all-compending universe. The question is whether you really want that and if it is not far more enlightening and more joyous to go beyond the borders set by certain systems, as bright as they might be.
This is for me the main and supreme beauty of tarot and I dont want to have it smaller than it could and can be.


Personally, I think Marion is on to something and has voiced a question which I have had for some time, too.

According to the paraphrased hippie philosophy ("if it feels good, do it"/"if it feels right, do it"), someone could decide to view 3 Swords as a blissfully happy card! (That would definitely call that person's sanity into question, but you get the point.) 13 Death? Aaaah...stability! 21 World? OH, NO! Catastrophe!!!!

Every rule is meant to be broken under the right set of circumstances, but there have to be some kind of guidelines. I think that Mojo (his ridiculous sanctimony notwithstanding) hit upon the closest thing Tarot has--the traditional interpretations. The way one arrives at some semblance of those interpretations, and the nuances associated with them, is open for discussion; but straying too far from the traditional (and obvious to most people) interpretation makes little sense.

As for Mojo's obvious acrimony toward Christianity (after all, he spent more bandwidth addressing an example, rather than the actual question/issue at hand!), take it for what its worth: "Two tears in a bucket....."


Mojo, Kimon, Yarnie,
Very interesting responses, thank you. Whichever of you said it, I agree that locking any system into completely rigid guidelines would be the kiss of death for that system. And I certainly agree that all systems need to grow and evolve to meet the needs of those who practice/follow them.
Mojo, your reply definitely made me sorry that used Christianity as an example. In fact later, when I was thinking over what I wrote, I could in fact come up with numerous examples of people/sects and especially original thinkers who did indeed interpret Christianity in their own way. Some of these took it into new and fruitful directions, and some still send Jehovah's Witnesses knocking on our doors.
I guess my comment was about boundaries, and Yarnie added to that part of what I said. I also withdraw the Christianity example... I guess that wa a poor one!


Argh! I can't help it... I have to finish what I meant, at the risk of being seriously annoying.

Mojo's comment was about interpretation of the law, and how it is different everywhere:
quote> Same thing with your argument about laws. In the U.S., no two states have exactly the same law. Sure, murder is murder, but the penalties vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Lots of local interpretation going on here too.
Well, it isn't different. As he himself said, murder is murder. Yes, the penalties vary somewhat, yes, sometimes rich folks buy it off etc. But behind all that, there are absolutes, boundaries, edges, whatever. Collective wisdom focussed by the insights of original thinkers have codified the laws.
I guess what I am saying is that Tarot, and the understanding of collective unconscious, is not completely amenable to the idea that whatever you think it means is right. I think of it like a big swimming pool.... you are free to swim all over the pool, dive, do the back stroke or whatever, but in the end the walls of the pool are what hold in the water, and if you unheedingly break those down, you haven't got anything left.


Yarnie, your examples are so ridiculous that the rest of your post doesn't even deserve to be addressed.

No one on these forums has been advocating changing the traditional meanings of the cards as drastically as you suggest. If you've managed to pay attention to any of my postings, I always advocate LOOKING AT THE CARD and letting what you see guide you in interpreting it.

Marion, I actually like your pool analogy. Sure there are boundaries, but even those are subject to being redrawn based on what deck you're using (among other things). So some of the pools are rectangular, while others are oval, and yet others are kidney-shaped.

Do you suggest eliminating any decks that don't follow the specific imagery set forth by some pre-determined "tarot master"? I have some decks with images that are so completely different from the Waite-Smith deck as to make one wonder if they belong in the Tarot classification at all. Does this make them any less valid? No. They are powerful and effective in their own right.

Tarot has been practiced for at least 500 years and probably a lot longer than that. The roots of Tarot can be traced to the outer fringes of society - gypsies, gamblers, vagabonds and a whole host of metaphysical types. These aren't groups who traditionally place high value in rules or structure.

Tarot belongs to the practitioner, not to some regulatory agency or some self-selected group of experts. There are too many Tarot "snobs" out there who, for some reason understood only by their own fragile ego, believe that Tarot needs to be something mystical and magical and understood only by them and a select "elite" of people who agree with them.

What it all comes down to is what works and what doesn't work. If you limit your interpretations to something you read in a book, you are doing yourself and your querent a great disservice. Readings based on book definitions are usually pretty one-dimensional.

On the other hand, if you let your intuition, compassion, and intellect guide you, you will have some really incredible readings. To me, Tarot is a passionate undertaking. Every time I pull out my cards, I am surprised, shocked and titillated by what I see in them, and it's different every time.

And it keeps my clients coming back for more. Enough said.


I think the symbols give people different feelings. So if it feels right...Prehaps there is no right or wrong way to read a card, its what the card means to the seeker, not to the analyzer. ???

Just a thought.


I believe others have summed it up much better, but I'm going to add my 2 cents anyway....

If everyone was strictly obedient to what the Bible said, we would not be allowed to wear red, eat lobster, and women would be lumped in with cattle and property.

If we all believed that tarot card X ONLY means X, then it would mean X for every single tarot reading now and forever into the future. Such a rigid belief system would destroy what we do...we are reading for the INDIVIDUAL...and all individuals are different.

The American Tarot Association and it's related Tarot Certification Board are trying to set standards for READERS, but any concept of freezing tarot meanings or 'writing it in stone' forever and every and always...how boring!


To me, Tarot is like literature. I had a teacher in school who told us that we could interpret a piece however we wanted and it would be correct, as long as there were points in the story to back up our ideas. The only problem with her saying this was she had been teaching this class and it's assigned readings for so long, she thought that she had found and heard every valid interpretation. She used to get frustrated with me because I would see things that no one else had and be able to back it up.

In Tarot, I feel that any interpretation is valid as long as it can be backed up by symbols, placement, etc. For example, I did a reading last week for a friend of mine and the Ace of Wands came up in the Immediate future position. I was using the Robin Wood Deck and in that deck, there is a band of what appears to be DNA in the wand. There are sunflowers behind it and a moon at the tip of the wand. I took these symbols to mean that there would be an addition to the family through birth. (Sunflowers=Growth, DNA=Bloodlines, Moon=Fertility) She called the next day, her daughter had announced her pregnancy the previous evening.

In a different reading, it is possible to interpret the sunflowers as reaching for the sun or goals, the DNA to represent life itself and the moon to represent mystery. This card may be interpreted to mean that it is time to figure out what it is you want from life and go for it.

I know that not every one will think that this is correct, but that is okay. They may see things that I don't in this card, but it in no way makes them wrong, it is just a new perspective.