Saturday, December 5, 2015

Why A Study Deck?

What is a study deck? Basically, a deck that you may or may not use for readings, but do use for contemplation, meditation and study. Maybe it’s a little too unwieldy to use for regular readings, or perhaps you have a favorite deck you prefer to use. We do tend to be creatures of habit, us readers. A study deck can be a useful tool for a beginning reader or someone with years of experience, as well as everyone in between. How do you find one? There isn’t really one specific Tarot deck used for study, though asking around can usually produce a number of recommendations.  I’ve used the Haindl Tarot for a while now, and can often find some new angle in Hermann Haindl’s funky artwork. One criteria I recommend is that the deck be one of the more symbol-heavy types, of which this is a good example. You may want to use a more straightforward deck for your regular readings, as this can give you a quick and easy take on the card and on the situation.
 Haindl's Fool and Devil cards

Think of it like this. Tarot is, on a very basic level, a set of symbols. They can correspond roughly to words in that sense, and thus in the course of the reading the cards form a narrative. However, when we think of words (kind of like the ones you’re reading) we look at a combination of letters to form a meaning. When you use the cards, it’s a bit more like an ideogram-based means of communication. Taking a look at the Japanese kanji script, we see largely the same thing. An ideogram is a symbolic representation of a thought or idea that doesn’t necessarily contain the phonetic components of the word used to express it. The written English language has combinations of letters that correspond to phonetic sounds. These phonetic sounds then are assigned meaning by the ideas they represent. Kanji is different- it uses a symbol to express an idea- and so does the Tarot deck. An example is the character for nothing- Mu.
Mu: Literally no-thing. 

Mu, however, doesn’t necessarily indicate an absence of something, rather it’s an indication of a state of nothingness- uncrowded, uncluttered, and still. When we apply the English “nothing” to it, it becomes an approximate translation. It conveys largely the same idea, but different cultural contexts and common usage mean that we take it to mean somewhat different things- though, curiously, the same root meaning is there.
One of the original covers for The Metamorphosis-
note the absence of Gregor

Consider also Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, in which Gregor Samsa, the main character, is changed into a bug, insect, beetle, cockroach, or something like that. Kafka no doubt knew the terms for each of these insects, but that’s not the word he used. Cockroach in German is Kakerlake, while a beetle is Kafer. The words Kafka used were Ungeheueres Ungeziefer, roughly translating to “abnormally large really icky creepy-crawly thing that if you offered it to someone, they would be thoroughly disgusted and probably run away”.  It’s been said this is a deliberate literary term on Kafka’s part, keeping the appearance of the thing changing throughout the story, and left to the reader’s imagination. But more specifically, it also has with it a specific sense of something foul, vile and generally unpleasant. The English translation often uses the term insect or bug, as the one above is a bit long-winded for a story. But the point being is that in a simple, small symbol we find worlds of meaning. What comes to mind when you hear the word “Bug”? No doubt if we asked ten people, we’d get ten different variations on a theme- meaning different things to different people, but with the same core meaning.
It’s the same with the Tarot. We have a core meaning to the cards, but at the same time different aspects of it can come to prominence. The Hermit is one example- here’s a guy with a lantern and a staff. We can make some assumptions about the card- he’s looking for direction, he’s finding his way, his aspect suggests travel and a journey. Maybe he’s holding that lantern out for someone else, having come down the road already, and returning to offer his light and guidance. Whatever we take from it, we still have the same idea of what the Hermit is and what he’s doing.
"We'll leave the light on for ya."

To bring this back to a study deck, the goal of studying Tarot is never rote memorization of the meanings- the “little white book” that comes with almost all decks out of the box. A useful starting point, yes, but don’t take it as the first and last authority. That’s up to you to determine. Hence, again, a study deck! What do the images convey to you? Many people who have never seen a deck before are surprised to find that their initial impressions of the imagery are accurate. But the value of a study deck is that it really takes you beyond those few words and into the multiple facets of the card’s meaning. When you can really take time to sit with a card, absorb its meaning and look for different aspects of it, you find there’s a lot more there to it than just the imagery.

So what does this mean for your practical, everyday reading? Don’t sit down with the intent of going through every possible aspect of the cards. You’ll be there all day! Look at the way the cards interact, and look for patterns. What message is in there? As you’re reading this, you’re not looking at single words, but rather sentences. You can rearrange the words to form completely different meanings, and change things around to change the meaning. There is, as an old grammar school teacher liked to point out, a difference between “Let’s eat, kids!” and “Let’s eat kids!” Often you’ll find a particular aspect of the card coming up, and this can depend greatly on what other cards surround it. Knowing the meaning of the cards in this multifaceted sense can allow you to pinpoint what exactly is being communicated, and allow you to gain more understanding of a reading. 

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