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  • Writer's pictureTero Goldenhill

Creating the Future with Tarot, Part 1

The above image and quote come from the legendary X-Files episode 'Paper Clip' (S3 E2, 1995). In the scene the Well-Manicured Man (played by the late, great John Neville), a high-ranking member of the Syndicate, confronts Agent Scully, who asks him "What kind of business are you in?". The Well-Manicured Man replies, "We predict the future. And the best way to predict the future, is to invent it." It's a chilling scene, with John Neville delivering the lines in a manner which is both eloquent and brutal. Here's the expanded dialogue from the scene:

Scully: Why, why kill me?

W-M Man: You want something they don't. Justice. And because they are now quite certain you don't have the computer copy of the files they're looking for.

Scully: Why are you protecting me?

W-M Man: I feel my colleagues are acting... impulsively, and your death will draw unnecessary attention to our group.

Scully: You're not protecting me, you're protecting yourself.

W-M Man: Why should that surprise you? Motives are rarely unselfish.

Scully: What kind of business are you in?

W-M Man: We predict the future, and the best way to predict the future is to invent it. Good day, young lady.

Although the purpose of the scene was to expose the magnitude of the Syndicate's power, when I saw the episode on telly I remember thinking, "This is what Tarot should be about - not waiting for a future to happen to us, but us finding ways how to create a future for ourselves."

By then, in 1995, I had already been studying and reading tarot for five years. I was reading for friends, friends of friends, family members and relatives, and - occasionally - for strangers as well. The readings were rather B&W, old skool fortune-telling type of predictions: "The 6 of Swords indicates a journey by water, but with this 5 of Pentacles it will be a disappointing journey" or "3 of Wands and 5 of Cups: you think you'll be going to the role-playing event, but you won't – you'll be ill by the time of the event." You get the idea. Much to my surprise, the readings quite often turned out to be correct. During those formative years I became aware of the power of a single reading, and the impact it can have on someone's life. I got to see both sides of the coin with fortune-telling. Even those of my friends who said they wouldn't allow themselves to be affected by the reading at all, that is was all just light-hearted fun, cleary were affected by it. By the time the X-Files episode aired on telly in Finland, I was seriously questioning my own future as a tarot reader. Do I want to continue making predictions? Why should I want it? What's the role of free will in all of it – does it exist, and if so, to what degree in terms of predestined events? Is it all down to coincidence, or is it about fate? Is this all Tarot is for, or is there more to it?

Pia Virtakallio (1919-2010), the Tarot Grand Old Lady of Finland

I came to the conclusion that if Tarot is only a fortune-telling device, then I'd rather not continue doing readings at all. Thankfully, I found a book (or it found me, whichever way these things go) written by Pia Virtakallio. Her book Tarot (1995) is based on three important books on Tarot; 78 Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack, Jung and Tarot by Sallie Nichols, and Tarot Therapy by Jan Woudhuysen. Pia's book answered the burning question in my mind: "To what should the cards be used for?". The answer was, "Self-knowledge". This opened a door for me, an inner door into the Tarot and into myself, of which I had been until then unaware of. Stepping through this door, I also became aware of Tarot as an "Instrument of Change", and how it could be used to craft a future for ourselves. Tarot is a wonderful tool, a magickal tool, which can be used for many different purposes. As I nowadays often say to my students and clients alike: Tarot certainly can be used for fortune-telling. I just don't think it's the best possible use for it.

The Magician creates. What kind of a future do you want to create?

Next year will mark 30 years since I began my journey with Tarot. During this time, I've been doing readings almost on a daily basis – if not for someone else, then for myself. I've had ample chance of discussing and thinking about fortune, destiny, fate, chance, and free will with clients from all walks of life. The idea or belief that tarot cards – or any other method or system of divination – can reveal to us a destiny that is pre-written, continues to hold a deep fascination. Maybe there is a sense of acceptance and closure, even relief, if God or the Fates or some other, external power has decided that our life will go a certain way. Maybe, behind all of these, we might find more than just a drop of good, old-fashioned laziness? If we can create our own future, then this implies doing – creating is action. We can't just sit back and enjoy the show. If you can create your future, then you also need to take responsibility of your own life. Taking responsibility means being an adult. Waiting (passively) for a future to unfold is not too dissimilar to being a child waiting for a parent to tell what to do.

Staying imprisoned or freeing oneself, tough question. What is the prison, and what are the chains?

A good example of this dilemma is featured in the Waite-Smith Tarot Devil card. Two semi-human figures are tied from their necks by a chain, which is attached to the pedestal upon which the Devil sits. However, the loops created by the chain are wide enough to be easily removed. Yet, the figures appear both at ease and at peace. As Rachel Pollack writes, "With chains comes the removal of responsibility. You can always blame the other people, or the situation itself. There is nothing you have to do if there's nothing you can do." (Tarot – The Open Labyrinth, p. 32). Quite often this comes down to adaptation and conditioning. We human beings seem to adapt to almost anything. If we have believed in a certain way for a long time, or been told that the "truth" is so and so, it can be difficult to break the chains. We might even actively resist doing it. If we are unaware (un-conscious) of something, there's very little we can do about it. Think here of the elephant, which continues to believe it's still imprisoned, long after the chain has been detached from the stake which originally held the captive in place. If we are to use Tarot to create a future, we need to believe that there is a future which we can create. The first, and often biggest, obstacle to remove is our conditioning to a certain way of thinking.

The perils of negative thinking: this is how it is, and how it's going to be, now and forever, into infinity. Amen.

While we might be willing to believe that the only constant is change, for some reason this doesn't seem to apply to negative thoughts. Maybe Heraclitus' wise words could be slightly twisted to better suit today's world, "The only constant is stress". This kind of thinking, to which Yours Truly is certainly no stranger to, is basically keeping ourselves in a box of predetermined fate. If we are to use Tarot to help us create a future that we want, then we need to step out of this box. Personally speaking, I do believe that certain things in our lives are meant to happen, and there's very little we can do to stop them from happening. However, I do believe that for most part it's up or down to our own free will, to shape ourselves and our lives. It's not only thinking and thought patterns, but emotions and emotional patterns, that come into play here. They also go very much hand in hand. It's not enough to become aware of our inhibiting and restricting thoughts and beliefs; we also need to uncover the emotional energy to which these thoughts are attached to.

Five of Swords: the Terrorist

Using the Tarot to create a future starts with Shadow Work. This is about uncovering those energies (whether mental, emotional or something else) within our psyche, that need to be integrated. By integrating they become transformed. When encountering a negative, restricting thought or emotional pattern, it does little good to try to destroy it. We can't simply dynamite negative thoughts away, it doesn't work like that. The way I see it, these negative patterns are different aspects of the Terrorist. This, in turn, is an aspect of the Shadow archetype. To view the Shadow – or the Terrorist hiding within it – as only evil, is to see only half of the picture. To create a future with the help of Tarot, we first need to remove the blockages on our way. These blockages are the outdated and unbalanced tapes, that still keep playing on repeat in our psyche. The good news is, every single tape can be replaced. Or, to slightly modernise this, we can uninstall an app if we don't like it, and download a better one, whether this is about our iPhone or psyche.

Going back to the Terrorist, I love what Tori Amos says about this in an interview:

"Yes, it's easy to see the enemy if it's in another country. Yes, it's easy to see the enemy in another culture... find the enemy in your own culture... then find the enemy in your own being. And she's there. We all have this part of ourselves that will choose to obliterate an idea, instead of negotiate with it. Because it takes great skill to negotiate with ideas. It doesn't take a lot of skill to obliterate. Unfortunately." (The Beekeeper: A Walk Through the Gardens at 23:07 mark)

Dealing with the internal Terrorist requires patience and discipline. Also, we need to be slightly ruthless, and keep both eyes open. There's no room for sugar-coating things, not if we want to make real progress. Whenever encountering a negative thought or emotion, do exactly that, but using your Will: don't only encounter it, but confront it. Say to it, "I see you, and I know your name". Integrating various, separate aspects of our psyche – travelling the path of individuation, to give it its Jungian title – won't happen in a second or minute. It will take days, months, years. But one fine day we'll be sitting in a big hall, at a big round table, with all the many aspects of our Self gathered together, to enjoy a fine meal and raising a toast. Among the guests there'll be all the members of the Terrorist family, too: brother Guilt and sister Shame, mother Fear and father Hate, and grandmother Love and grandfather Joy.

Creating the future with Tarot starts by recreating yourself.

Continued in Part 2: Practical Steps for Creating the Future with Tarot

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