The Dark Side of Tarot
The Tarot Association of the British Isles (TABI) asked me to write an article for their member’s newsletter. I took the opportunity to explore my Dark Side and thought I’d share it with you. Do check out TABI. They are a great group…and you don’t have to live in the British Isles to join. Learn more about them HERE.
Recently, someone said to me, “you are entirely too cheerful. Where is your dark side?” I told her that I did indeed have one and kept in the drawer where I hid my candy.
Anyone who knows me will likely think it odd that I am writing about the dark side of tarot, as people generally think of me as a “fluffy bunny” and associate me with such things as glitter and cupcakes and excellent footwear. But I think that an important aspect of being a good reader is also being a healer, which means being comfortable with my dark side.
Where Healing Happens
I like what Paul Levy says about healing:
“…the wounded healer refers psychologically to the capacity ‘to be at home in the darkness of suffering and there to find germs of light and recovery with which, as though by enchantment, to bring forth Asclepius, the sunlike healer.’ The wounded healer only becomes able to heal and help others when instead of being resentful, bitter and feeling victimized by their wound, he or she recognizes their wound as a numinous event, an archetypal moment that seeks to make them participants in a divine, eternal happening.”
To be at home with darkness, to see it as a numinous event and from it, accessing archetypal power. Now that’s what I call hanging out on the Dark Side of Tarot. Unfortunately, most of us are not at all comfortable with the dark side. Of course we aren’t. Another term we use for the dark side is our shadow, which is nothing more or less than all the things we hate about ourselves.
The tarot, we know, is all about balance, and so we know and accept on an intellectual level that we should integrate our dark or shadow side with our light, or what I think of as our “daily,” side. Is this not what the Strength card teaches us? Of course it is. Integration is not suppression, we see in the Strength card a lovely woman gently controlling a noble beast as if she were channeling its power.
Mystery author, Sue Grafton, says: We all need to look into the dark side of our nature—that’s where the energy is, the passion. People are afraid of that because it holds pieces of us we’re busy denying.
Finding Our Power
Again, we have this idea of power within the darkside…ancient, archetypal power. Magicians and magic workers talk about raising energy before casting a spell. Where does that energy come from? It exists in the world around us, obviously. But we also have it within us. InTarot and Magic, Donald Michael Kraig writes:
“There is another aspect of wanting to explore our own depths that is of value to a magician, and that is my belief that our strength and energy come from our darker sides. Consider, for a moment, what those darker sides might be: anger, lust, rage, etc. Note that these and other emotions/feelings/experiences are often short-lived but very intense and powerful. Now, if we can take that intensity and power and filter it through what I believe is our innate goodness and love, how powerful that could be!”
This sounds very like the Strength card, doesn’t it?
Is Our Shadow Too Happy?
All individuals have their dark sides, their shadow selves. Cultures do as well. And I believe that specialized groups also have collective shadows shared to some degree by its members. What is in the shadow of tarot readers these days? What is something we all seem to dislike to some extent?
I had a friend once who told me that she hated the New Age movement because it was based on the premise that there was always something wrong with you, something that needed fixing or improving. What bothered her is similar to what I see as our (by “our” I mean the “tarot community’s”) dark side.
What is this deep, lurking monster, you ask? Simply this: the notion that we can do whatever we want and have complete control over our lives.
I know. That idea is meant to be empowering. And in moderation, it is. But we do take it to extremes sometimes. We refuse to let “negative” cards be negative. We say “there are no ‘bad’ cards.” In terms of accessing our archetypal power, this is very disempowering.
Of the 3 of Swords, we say, it only hurts because we are focusing too much on it, making it bigger than it should be.
Of the Devil, we say, oh, they can easily slip away, if they want to.
Of the 5 of Cups, three may be spilled, but two are still upright plus he can cross the bridge, go to the castle, and all will be well!
Of the 8 of Swords, she may be surrounded by swords, bound, and blindfolded, but she can easily walk away…her feet aren’t bound, after all.
Of the 5 of Pentacles, there is no reason for them to be sick and hungry…the church is right there!
The Tower…it is a new beginning and you didn’t need all that stuff anyhow.
And of Death and the 10 of Swords, but look! The sun is rising in the background.
Now don’t misunderstand. I do agree that these more positive interpretations can apply to these cards. However, I think our dark side is leaping too quickly into the light. By focusing exclusively on how lives can be “made better,” we don’t allow ourselves or our clients to “to be at home in the darkness of suffering and there to find germs of light and recovery with which, as though by enchantment, to bring forth Asclepius, the sunlike healer” and recognize “their wound as a numinous event, an archetypal moment that seeks to make them participants in a divine, eternal happening.”
Unless we dwell for a time in those dark places, for enough time to be at home and comfortable, we will not access that archetypal power. We cannot raise the energy needed for true transformation. We merely apply a bandage. That is not healing. That is first aid.