A 21st Century Tarot: Early Thoughts on Decolonized Readings and Interpretations

I've been doing a lot of thinking about narrative/storytelling models for coaching purposes. I've been thinking about what could be adapted / adopted and what would need to be updated with some of the tools that I have used personally for many years. This entry is intended as an introduction to my early thinking on tarot decks and how/if they could be made accessible to a broader set of clients than those who happen to love tarot decks and are comfortable with the tradition and its archetypes.


I also want to note at the start that there are folks out there who already have done thinking on decolonization in terms of tarot so I am in no way pretending to be doing something original per se. These posts will be focused on my own personal journey and the awareness that internalizing decolonization principles and anti-racism into my worldview and my sense of self needs to happen across all the tools that I use, i.e. not just at a conceptual level.


To begin, I'm going to focus on the Major Arcana card starting with The Magician (I). But first, a brief introduction to clarify how I used the cards and where I am currently in terms of practice. Don't worry, I'm not ignoring The Fool - but I'm going to come back to zero at the end of the Major Arcana reflections - essentially treating 0 as card 22.


And so we begin ...


I've always loved tarot. As a reader in history, fantasy, science fiction, literature, psychology, poetry, spirituality, eastern and western philosophy broadly, I'm comfortable with creatively addressing issues or opportunities using the tarot as a mechanism/process to connect with my subconscious. I fully admit that if I find a concept or idea that works for me, I am going to incorporate it into my personal practice. I'm not going to sell it or pretend to be it but in my personal practice, I use what is useful.


I make no claims to being psychic and take no position on the practice, it's just not the way that I personally engage with tarot. I am more keenly, at least that moment, interested in the tarot as a doorway into narrative that accesses both what I'm thinking <and> what I'm not aware I am thinking. In this sense, the positions in spreads of "past, present and future" become entrance points into how I think about those things rather than an esoteric reading.


I should note at the start of this piece that while I understand the need for 'rules', 'conventions' and 'traditions' in terms of providing common pathways of understanding, that I fall more in the camp of - do what thou wilt, else it harm none - so these are personal reflections on tarot and everyone's mileage is likely to vary.


It will come as no surprise to those that know me that there are a number of cards in both the Major and Minor Arcanas that I struggle with. I struggle with the Emperor being posited as the highest form of authority that should be obeyed. My 21st Century self would rather have a card where the archetype is an embodiment of the rule of law. It bothers me that the tarot has not shifted its fundamental world view since the Victorian era when empires were good (from the perspective of the empire); when empires were the divine will of a god as expressed through an anointed/appointed king. As we become increasingly awake to the impacts of colonization, of racism, slavery, white supremacy, the current rise in fascism and antisemitism; as we think about state and/or parental control of learning in a way that is detrimental to curiosity and inquisitiveness etc., taking the tarot apart seems to me more and more a necessity.


What would a tarot that was consciously aligned with truth and reconciliation look like, as one example of a lens to look through? An interpretation that views colonization impulses, for example - as the shadow side of authority, the deeply shadowed side of ingroup belonging. (Note, I'm not using "shadow" here in its Jungian sense of the parts of ourselves that we discard, but rather shadow in it's sense of the corruption of a principle. )


What would a tarot look like that took a critical lens to the Pentacles Suit and looked at the degree to which the capitalist drive for continual growth is an ideological worldview that needs to be interrogated in interpretations of the cards? Is there an approach that balances communitarian approaches to property and wealth and land and resources with capitalist? Should the Industrial Era understanding of wealth as expressed in the traditional decks be expunged entirely. What would a Marxist tarot deck look like?


I don't know if it can be rebuilt in a better way, or if we need a completely different process that expands the collective unconscious by re-imagining all the archetypes in a way that reflects current learning on how the brain works etc. but for this article, I am going to assume the same Tarot cards but reinterpreted through current levels of knowledge (not limited to Western ways of being or understanding the world but again looking to incorporate concepts and philosophy in a respectful way). And I am still thinking about how and if that can and/or should be done.


I'd be interested in any thoughts folks might have - feel free to leave comments. I begin a very preliminary journey into re-interpreting the Major Arcana in the next post with The Magician archetype.




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