The truth about tarot


James McConnachie in Aeon:

‘Why does tarot survive?’ In a sense, tarot does encode wisdom – albeit within an invented tradition rather than a secret one. It is a system for describing aspirations and emotional concerns. It is a closed system rather than one based on evidence but, as such, it is not dissimilar to psychoanalysis, another highly systematised, invented tradition whose clinical efficacy depends ultimately on the relationship between client and practitioner.

Carl Jung, certainly, was interested in tarot. (Though not well-informed: he thought the cards were derived from gypsies, and possibly also ‘distantly descended from the archetypes of transformation’– those ‘true and genuine symbols that cannot be exhaustively interpreted, either as signs or as allegories’.) In, or shortly before 1960, he experimented at his Zurich Institute with tarot and other forms of divination. But he spoke most lucidly about tarot in the private seminars he gave in the early 1930s:

They are psychological images, symbols with which one plays, as the unconscious seems to play with its contents. They combine in certain ways, and the different combinations correspond to the playful development of events in the history of mankind … therefore it is applicable for an intuitive method that has the purpose of understanding the flow of life, possibly even predicting future events, at all events lending itself to the reading of the conditions of the present moment.

In The Occult Tradition (2005), the historian David S Katz describes how deeply psychoanalytic theory, and Jung in particular, drank from the well of occult literature.

More here.