The other day I was listening to a piece of music that activated a strong “memory trigger” in my head. In a moment I was transported some 20 years back in time, to a troubled and turbulent period in my life. At the time, I was living and working in the San Fernando Valley, northwest of Los Angeles. The Northridge earthquake had recently occurred, and much of my immediate neighborhood had been more-or-less destroyed. I was also going through a marital separation (and eventually, a divorce) at the same time, so you could say that both my inner and outer lives were in a state of ruin—at least, that’s how it seemed to me at the time. To cope, I consulted a psychotherapist, who advised me to get “reacquainted” with the various Western religious traditions that I , like so many others of my secular generation, had little to no connection with. To that aim, I immersed myself over the course of a year in the teachings and writings of the Gospels, the Torah and the various biblical commentaries and exegeses, as well consuming the leading works of the many Western mystery schools—Kabbalah, Gnosticism and alchemy—and a great number of Jungian psychological texts and works of modern esoterica. It was during this time that I began to apply myself fully to the Tarot, no longer dabbling in the cards on occasion but engaging with them in everyday readings and prolonged meditations. Over the course of a year I came to appreciate the power of the Tarot as an analytical teaching tool, and to experience firsthand the power of its images to unleash the powers of the unconscious mind. Sometimes I took these lessons too close to heart!
How close is too close? Well, during this time I began receiving “visits,” mostly at night, from various spiritual or “angelic” entities. Some were assuring and forgiving—including a genuine “come to Jesus” visitation that has stayed with me ever since—while others were rather less so; ever wake up in the middle of the night to see a medieval archer menacingly pointing his bow and arrow at your head? (I told him to go away, I needed to sleep, and he went away.) Looking back, it was a mystical time—most likely, the closest I’ll ever come to practicing the kind of “active imagination” that can literally conjure spirit-beings for good or ill—and I came away from the experience with a deeper understanding of the metaphysical traditions that inform our perceptions, both knowing and unknowing, of the world around us, and of ourselves.
It was also, however, a lonely time—a time of solitude and withdrawal—so as not to romanticize the experience, I have to admit that I was also miserable for much of the time. This is probably why, in retrospect, I haven’t revisited this chapter of my life too deeply over the past 20 years (the “Jesus” visitation notwithstanding, which deserves its own post); so it surprised me that, out of the blue, so many memories of that time would suddenly flood my mind and demand my attention today. I thought I would ask the Tarot for some guidance and some context, and after shuffling the cards, this is what turned up:
At first I thought this was a case of the cards having a laugh at my expense—but in reality, it’s a reminder that your humble blogger is a much happier and contented person today than he was 20 years ago, even though he was younger, healthier and more financially secure in those days. This in turn should remind us that personal satisfaction isn’t something that can be gauged by purely material means, and it should likewise remind us that the only period of existence that truly matters to us is the unfolding perpetual Now that transcends the boundaries of space and time. The person I was “20 years ago” no longer even exists in physical form, and even the spiritual “me” of that distant time represents but a slender fragment of the whole “me” that is, in turn, just a tiny glimmer in an ever-expanding firmament of Divine light. With that in mind, whenever we feel the need to consult the Tarot, we should look for guidance not from an arbitrary “past”—experience can be a useful guide, true, but it can also easily deceive—but to the lessons we can learn from our lives as we experience them in the Now of every moment. In this case, specifically, the Nine of Cups—known traditionally as the “wish card”—tells us that life is meant to be lived in a spirit of abundance, that we are uplifted when we share our good fortune with others, and that whatever happened to us 20 years ago, the only thing that really matters is our happiness and well-being right Now.
On that note, perhaps it’s a good time to review the “cycle:” of Cups; for the pip cards, read in order, convey a coherent narrative that describes with great fidelity our inner, emotional lives. Cups are, after all, the “love suit” in the Tarot deck, and in that sense they represent the most enduring element of our psyche—the impulse to love. Laid out in a mandala pattern in numerical order, the suit reveals its own inner logic:
If the Ace of Wands represents the First Thought that summons forth Creation, the Ace of Cups represents the First Feeling that incubates and nurtures it within the universal mind; in this manner the impulse to love is as natural to us as any of our cognitive and physical functions, though most of us only become initially aware of its presence when we first fall in love (Two) or form bonds of friendship with others (Three). At some point in our lives, usually in adulthood, a “psychic split” occurs; when it happens, we lose sight of our interconnectedness with others, and we begin to think of ourselves as “separate” and unique entities (Four). In the Western world in particular, the concepts of “individualism” and “free agency” have been long ingrained into our psyches as civic virtues, when in fact they are a root cause of much human misery and suffering; to exist in a state of separation, after all, is to exist in a state of isolation and loneliness (Five).
When we apprehend at last our state of isolation (and sadly, many people don’t), we sometimes look back in time to what we perceive to be a more innocent age, when we had not become so corrupted by the ways of the world, for answers: how shall we “become as little children” and know the grace of the Divine again? This is achieved sometimes through prayer, through meditation, or through counseling and psychotherapy. Whatever means we employ, sometimes we find the answers in our “past” (Six), and sometimes we grow confused when we realize how illusory a concept as the “past” really is (Seven). When this happens, it is generally wise for us to go “off the grid” for awhile (Eight), to spend some time re-evaluating our beliefs and priorities, and to rededicate ourselves to living rich and spiritually useful lives. If we carry out this work in earnest—and usually, it takes years to accomplish—we eventually emerge from our “dark night of the soul” into a radiant new dawn of self-awareness (Nine) in which we rediscover our capacity to love. At that point, it is the Divine Commandment that we share those feelings with the wider world, for that is how the collective psyche of man is made whole (Ten). For most of us, this “loss” and “recovery” of love is a cyclical process that plays itself out many times over the course of our waking lives. In any event, it is essential that we allow it to unfold if we are to achieve our fullest potential as loving spiritual beings. It’s the reason we’re here.