Enriching your Tarot Visual Vocabulary
When you practice anything, whether it be a musical instrument, a spirituality, an exercise program, or a divination practice, you sometimes have to mix it up to keep from getting stale and stuck in routine. You can mix it up by learning new things, looking at something with a beginners mind, or by expanding your skills. Tarot has a rich heritage of lore, history, visual images, and traditionally assigned meanings. Moreover, Tarot is a place full of exploration, experimentation, building new meanings, vision, and voice. I often tell my students that each deck has a voice and you need to learn to hear the voice and then translate it into meaning, for yourself and for others. How do you do that?, I’m often asked.
One way is to employ Visual Thinking Strategies (VST), an active teaching technique. I learned it in the context of leading it with a group. Today, I’m attempting to explain how I employ these techniques when I am alone and learning a new deck. It’s part knowledge and part intuition as applied this way. I imagine the scholars that develop would cringe at this little bit of Unverified Personal Gnosis! We live in a society where we are bombarded and saturated with visual messages, and yet we are not always literate in the language. This has helped me be more fluent in visual language. It helps as a Tarot Reader. If you read all the time with the same deck, it’s important to keep it fresh, as you know. This helps expand your vocabulary and look at an old friend with fresh eyes.
Visual Thinking Strategies is used by art educators to help people interpret what they see in front of them, do develop an artistic vocabulary, and to aid in better expression, either verbally or in writing. It is usually a facilitated discussion process that encourages depth of analysis. VTS is centered on students and is an experiential process. Students are looking at the primary object, not secondary sources or critical analyses. Participants are encouraged to develop a new vocabulary and VTS provides a structured approach to construct new meaning.
It is a simple process and I’m going to describe how a facilitator does this and then give you some ideas of doing this when you are alone with your cards. The facilitator presents the groups with a painting or other kind of artwork and says, “Take a minute and look at this picture.” After a minute, asks “what is going on in this picture?” As the students gives their response and the facilitator paraphrases their responses and points to what they have pointed out. Then the facilitator probes deeper, “What is going on in this picture?” When the students respond, the facilitator asks, “What makes you say that?” When the responses reach a lull, the facilitator goes for even more depth by saying, “What can we find?”, and then continues, making links to previous statements about the image.
Three things are happening here: Paraphrasing, Pointing, and Linking. Each is an important part of the process of hearing the voices of the images.
Paraphrasing helps students understand that their thoughts are heard, understood, and valued. In addition, they can see their idea grow and contribute to the group understanding as the conversation goes on. This kind of technique is inclusive and creates mutual respect for ideas and interpretations. It also has the potential of growing an individuals’ vocabulary and ability to see nuance and express nuanced meaning.
Pointing engages the student and helps them to keep actively learning and helps the conversation stay on the image. Each student in the group hears other students being acknowledged and sees what they have observed, allowing for collaboration. It also ensures that the facilitator is accurately identifying what the student meant to point out!
Making links between one observation and another builds the ideas and allows the construction of new knowledge and understanding. It helps everyone stretch their ability to reason and pointing out difference and building the meaning incrementally allows the student to experience the evolution of knowledge and wisdom.
The goal of the session is to have the students leave wanting more, more knowledge, more exploration, and to seek more “answers.” The faciltator does not summarize, allowing the students to remember or choose what is most important or memorable. And of course, compliment the students and encourage them for the skills they demonstrated.
As an individual Tarot Reader or student, how can you use these techniques to enrich your understanding of individual cards? You may want to journal your response and practice on each card a couple or three times. That way you create a conversation with yourself. Say, you start on a Monday and repeat on Wednesday, you can look at Monday self and draw a connection,
Take a look at the card at the top of the page. What is going on in the picture? What did you see that made you say that. For instance, I might say that it’s some kind of circus act with a woman and a lion. I say that because if you look at her body, it/she is not pulling against the lion, but rather placing her open hands on his mouth. It’s almost like they are doing a very strong, active dance together. What more can you see? The rope doesn’t seem to be a restraint, but rather something used to enhance their interaction and it forms an infinity sign. It seems that the interaction between human and wild is an active one, that is a constant balancing act. One that combines fearlessness with careful balance and discernment. For both creatures, the ‘dance’ of their connection is through constant awareness and understanding.
I would stop there and come back and look at it another day. I’m not terribly familiar with this deck. On the basis of writing this blog, I went ahead and bought a copy so I could continue my interaction with more “hands-on.” If you, Dear Reader, try this, let me know how it goes. It’s fun to do as a group and great to do alone.
Be gentle with yourself and honor all your insights.