A couple of months ago, I decided to create a subreddit. I really didn’t have any idea what that would involve. I had only just started to get involved with Reddit, but after looking around a bit on the Tarot subs, I thought they were great for people who were interested in reading cards and showing off new tarot decks; I was enjoying them and joining in, but I also hoped to find a community in which people could discuss different topics at greater lengths, so I found a YouTube video tutorial and started a community. Then I shuffled my Conver-Ben-Dov TdM and drew these cards.
I should state at the outset that I do not believe in the prognosticative powers of the tarot. I would never ask the tarot’s advice about anything or make a decision based upon a draw of the cards. I do believe the tarot can be an incredibly useful medium of self-exploration: through our interpretations, we gain insight into ourselves. I practice a form of the Open Reading method developed by Yoav Ben-Dov, which means I do not memorize or research predetermined meanings for any of the cards but instead I look for patterns in the spread, try to pick up the threads of a narrative and pay attention to how the images engage with one another. This approach, of course, necessitates that my interpretation for individual cards will vary from spread to spread. In many respects, my way of reading is not unlike dream analysis: it has to begin with individual response and association.
Initially, my attention went straight to the only trump card, La Maison Dieu, the House of God, and this sparked my curiosity and led to several journal entries and an investigation of the symbolism of that image. The other two cards, however, proved to be a bit more challenging.
The lack of popularity of Tarot de Marseille decks is mainly due to the difficulty readers encounter when faced with the prospect of having to interpret the number cards of the four suits. A. E. Waite and Pamela Colman-Smith devised the most popular tarot deck ever brought to market primarily because they made the pip cards more reader-friendly, so instead of seeing seven cups arranged in a formation of three on top, one in the center, and three more on the bottom, the WS Seven of Cups shows the silhouette of someone looking upon an apparition in the clouds of seven cups, “seven chalices of vision,” as Waite writes, each filled with either a treasure or a danger. It’s a bit silly, to be sure, but it is less abstract, thus easier to relate to.
Nevertheless, when I looked at the TdM Seven of Cups in the context of my inquiry, I was immediately reminded of the alchemical saying, “Heaven above, heaven below; stars above, stars below; all that is above is also below: know this and rejoice.” When we think in mythological terms, we see what is above as primary: it was in existence first (is possibly eternal), and it came from on high to manifest in physical aspect below. In many belief systems, the manifestation is viewed as a “less perfect” imitation at best and as corruption or imprisonment of the celestial form in far less generous interpretations. In the Seven, we see two rows of indistinguishable cups above and below and a single indistinguishable cup in between them. In this sudden insight, I identified with the center cup, saw the row of cups above as the heavenly host – in Jungian terms as the archetypes, or in philosophical terms Platonic universal forms – but creation begins below and flows upward. This also reminded me of the quote, though I do not know from where it comes (nor have I been able to trace it online) that “man has put into the mouth of gods the only words they have ever spoken.”
The creative force is rendered as a flowering plant arising out of the center cup on the bottom, flowing around the single cup on the second level, and constellating the vision of three cups above. In a concretistic analysis, we might say that the lowest level is the earth and the highest is heaven or the sky, but in a more psychologically-oriented interpretation, the three cups at the bottom might represent the unconscious mind, and the three cups above are the reflection: we look outward and we see our inner firmament projected upon the heavens (and upon everything else as well).
In this glimpse, the Seven of Cups signifies the idealized goal that inspires the undertaking. In La Maison Dieu, reality strikes.
The tower, consciously built, is blasted open. It is not destroyed. In so many decks, we see the structure being blasted apart, and that image leads us down an entirely different path in which God/Nature and man are at odds: it is not simply that God/Nature is taking down what men have built, but it is also that men have constructed something that they should never undertaken to build, so it must be obliterated. In this channel, the parallels with the Tower of Babel are understandable (though God did not destroy the Tower at first but instead confounded men’s speech, so they could not continue their work. In some ways, what God did was worse than leveling the great tower, for He turned men against each other. In Legends of the Bible, Louis Ginzberg relates a Jewish myth that amplifies the biblical account: “Thenceforth, none knew what the other spoke. One would ask for the mortar, and the other would hand him a brick; in a rage, he would throw the brick at his partner and kill him. Many perished in this manner…” Once God had plunged the builders of the tower into a murderous chaos, He punished them for their actions, and caused the tower to partially sink back into the earth – the triumph of rational ingenuity consigned to the subconscious – and what remained above He razed with fire – the destructive extremity of an exclusively rational approach). However, in the TdM, nothing of the tower is wrecked. The structure is a product of conscious endeavor and as such is necessarily a monument to man’s potentiality as much as it is to whatever end it was meant to serve; this is all symbolized by the crenelated battlement which is also depicted as a crown. If God had intended to eradicate it, it would have been obliterated. Instead, we see an image more suggestive of a deflation, an absolutely necessary remedy for people who have become inflated. It is not wrong of man to want to build towers, but sometimes he must be reminded of his place in the overall scheme and not unduly promote himself; the structure remains intact for man to occupy again when he is ready.
The two cards are separated by the Four of Wands, which, with its flowering leaves, holds them apart.
To make this overly long story – not short, I suppose, as that train has already left the station, but to wrap it up: I quickly lost interest in the subreddit. It now exists in the void, a project I leapt into long before I was prepared or knew what I was getting into. It did not fail because of the spread; I did not lose interest because of the spread, and my analysis might be the result of 20/20 hindsight. However, if you believe, as do I, that we inhabit a cosmos (rather than a chaos) informed by a teleological directedness, then you must be at least open to the possibility that every moment is stamped with a unique signature, and every detail of that moment bears at least a trace of that stamp. Thus, a spread would not necessarily be a random manifestation but might provide genuine insight provided we can properly interpret the images.
Just a thought…