Tarot, Memory, and Personal Narrative

I will start off by saying that I’m thankful to the many people before me who’ve opened up about their occult interests. Because of them, I’m able to speak openly about my usage of Tarot and oracle cards to deepen my self knowledge and help to narrativize my life journey.

I kept this side of myself under wraps up until pretty recently partly because of the fact that I work a “normal” office job and didn’t want this interest to impact my professional life. But the new atmosphere of self exploration has really enabled me to come out with some of my alternative interests, and I am happy to share them.

I was first drawn to Tarot about four years ago when I purchased the Aquarian Tarot deck. I don’t remember where I got it, probably online. But it sat in my room for a long time. I had the learned false understanding that Tarot was evil and that it was somehow tampering with fate or the future. When I cracked open the pack, the cards themselves were intimidating, as the symbolism was difficult for me to grasp. There are 78 cards in each Tarot cards, each of which has a distinctive meaning. I jumped in too deep and too quickly. I started with laying large spreads, or card formations. I relied heavily on the booklet, not realizing that I could learn the cards based on imagery and intuition.

The Aquarian deck wasn’t around long. If you’ve stuck around my blog, you’ll know I’m a failed minimalist who used to compulsively purge items. It was a couple of years before I purchased another deck. This time, rather than dive straight into Tarot again, I stumbled onto oracle cards. These decks generally have fewer cards, and they do not follow a specific formula like Tarot does. Oracle cards tend to be easier to read, providing a word or sentence with accompanying imagery. These decks usually also come with a booklet of thorough descriptions for each card.

When I became comfortable with reading oracle cards, I moved back to Tarot by purchasing the Rider Waite Smith deck. This is the most widely used deck and recommended to beginners. The imagery can be frightening at first, especially when you see cards like the Tower and the Ten of Swords. But I was able to soften how I view the cards after learning the symbolism more in depth. I am now very comfortable looking at the deck’s imagery.

I learned Tarot by sitting with the cards, working with them daily, and reading a good amount of literature on the meanings of the cards. The beauty of Tarot is that it encourages you to trust in your remembrance of the meaning, and also to engage your inner trust to bring the messages together. Tarot is a lot like writing in that it takes seemingly disparate concepts, figures, and abstract symbols, and requires you to weave a narrative. It connect concepts, and enables the reader and the answer-seeker to work in collaboration to strengthen their conceptualization of the matter they have brought to the table for questioning. One of my favorite things about Tarot is that it is not an absolute. It’s rather a practice in seeing possibilities, living in the flow of life, and reawakening trust in self.

Tarot and Memory

I have had a weak memory for my whole life, and I believe this has come from continuous and prolonged childhood neglect, abuse, and trauma. There is research indicating that if you do not receive the proper emotional attachment to a parent figure in infancy, it will permanently damage your brain. Many resources discuss how devastating your childhood can be on the remainder of your life. Every adult relationship is impacted. There are ways of healing, and it takes time for some. Others unfortunately never see themselves as the lovable and completely whole, unique people that they are.

With the outbreak of COVID-19, I have had a lot of time to myself to sort through painful memories. Part of this recent recover of memory seemingly has to do with the fact that we are all socially isolated. However, I have socially isolated myself on and off for my entire adult life. So I believe that part of the reason for the influx of memories has to do with my deeper and more consistent engagement with Tarot and oracle cards.

I have been reading Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, which walks you through the Major Arcana. This is the first 22 cards of a Tarot deck that represent various stages in a human’s life on Earth, from the Fool to the World. These archetypes can stand for stages like motherhood (the Empress), the influence of institutions (the Emperor), intuition (The High Priestess), Death, and so on. These are universal archetypes that all of us go through. When I look at the images and see them as part of a greater order and story, I am able to form some sense of the experiences that I have gone through. I feel connected to humanity through the pain and beauty that has entered and left my life.

More personally, I have been able to connect details of my life to cards, as they spark a connection for me to explore. Sitting with the Star card, which is associated with Aquarius (also my astrological Sun sign) has triggered memories from my childhood that involve the feeling of the card. If you have not seen it, it shows a naked woman pouring water into a body of water and onto land. She is the calm after the storm. She rests in nature and I view her as unbothered. When I was a child, I was unbothered and connected with nature when I kept a diary of the plants I encountered at my local botanical garden. Memories like this help me to construct a more composed collection of instances that can help me with strengthening my sense of identity.

As someone with my background, it is important for me to have daily rituals like using image association to trigger memories. It enables me to collect data about my identity, which without kindling, would lay a path for me to remain a shell of a person like I was expected to be as a child. When I look at images, remember something, and then write it down, I solidify my place in this world. I encourage myself to take up space and to work towards expressing myself more fully.

Tarot and Personal Narrative

I have been working with Tarot daily in conjunction with journaling. This is the most effective way that I have found to lean into my spirituality, while remaining grounded and practical. I find that the combination enables me to whirl the world of symbolism and mystical messages into the tactical act of writing pen to paper. The practice feels well rounded to me, as it employs color stimulation, meditative awareness of visual details, and engaging the analytical act of writing down concepts and self-reflective streams of consciousness.

The diversity in stimulus boosts my ability to formulate my personal narrative. As I learn more and more that it’s okay for me to have and express my personal identity, I find that it’s more and more important to work every day to connect the neural passageways that reinforce to me that I’m multi-faceted, hold a range of emotions and beliefs, and can continue to learn and grow. I quoted Orwell in my last article in saying that the true way to destroy someone is to undermine and dismantle their understanding of their own personal history.

Tarot has helped me slowly build up my own conception of where I came from, what my past looks like, why I’ve done certain things. Importantly, it’s also provided contrast with my past self in encouraging journaling as a counterpart to picking cards. In this process, I have been able to record my process of identity construction, and can track progress. Journaling in accompaniment of Tarot has also given me a historical document to reference when I am in need of clarification for timelines and recollection of specific details.

Writing my personal narrative has been the most effective technique so far during my process of healing, and will continue to be an important part of my life. It is the text that will never see the light of day, but perhaps it is the most important body of literature that I will produce. That’s since it’s the one place where I am able to be fully, completely myself. And in that, I will one day be able to provide public-facing writing that may have an impact on others.

But back to Tarot. It is far from evil, as I’d previously thought. It is an incredible tool for the process of diving into the self, including the good parts and the not-so-good parts. The Tarot is non-judgmental. It’s simply a representation of the parts of life that make us human. It’s neutral. It requires you to come up with a lot of your own answers. It pushes you to get to your own core to tap into the things you already know. It doesn’t condescend. All the imagery is laid out. It doesn’t put a time limit on your session; you can walk around with the same card for days.

Tarot is a tool for the self, the whole self. It reminds you everyday that you’re perfect just the way you are, and that things are happening because that’s just life. And it’s okay. Life is moldable, malleable, inevitable, and incredibly, insanely thought-provoking and transformative. Life doesn’t pause. And I hope more people feel open and vulnerable enough to engage in self-healing practices that they feel drawn to. A lot of people are suffering in the world, and we can make the biggest difference by caring deeply and profoundly for our individual wellbeing.