Timeless Spirit Logo     TECHNICALLY TAROT

A Spiritually Enlightening Online Magazine. March's Theme: "Communication"
Volume 2 Issue 3 ISSN# 1708-3265

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Technically Tarot
with Jeannette Roth

"Found in Translation": Improving Communication via the Tarot

The Rosetta Stone is among the most important archaeological artefacts ever discovered. Containing the same text inscribed in three different languages, it allowed researchers to finally "crack" two previously undeciphered languages - Egyptian hieroglyphs and demotic - by comparing them to the text of the known language, Greek. The results opened up a whole new world of understanding about ancient Egyptian history and culture…

We generally tend to think of "translation" as the process of taking a totally unfamiliar form of communication and mapping onto a familiar one - that is, the restatement of one language into another. Yet there is sometimes a more subtle translation process that can occur even between people who share the same spoken and written language. How we use language is partially dependent upon our own perceptions and world view, and upon the limitations of the language itself. For example, a simple statement such as "you're a lot like my mother" can be a compliment or an insult, depending on what the speaker thinks of his or her mother, or the idea of motherhood in general. If the listener's (or reader's) perception of the concept under discussion differs from that of the speaker (or writer), misunderstandings can occur, and thus effective communication cannot take place. The familiar plaintive wail "you just don't understand me!" does not arise because different forms of communication are used, but because the parties involved are applying the form itself differently. This fact often goes unrecognized, but once identified and acknowledged, we can begin to take the first steps toward a "translated world view" that can help us to succeed in the communication process where we have failed before.

In cases of simple misunderstandings, a little empathy may be all that is needed to "translate" one perspective into another. We may not ultimately agree with that perspective, but at least we can understand it well enough to communicate more effectively with those who share it. But what can we do when empathy fails? What if we are attempting to communicate with others whose world view isn't at all clear to us? Unfortunately, there is no "Rosetta Stone" available for translating the subtleties of one person's psychological makeup into the terminology of another.

Or is there?

The "Language" of the Mind

As any student of tarot knows, there is information in the unconscious that is not always readily brought into consciousness or easily put into words. One reason we turn to studying, reading, or meditating upon the cards is for their ability to establish, through their tableau of visual symbols, a pathway into parts of the mind that are less accessible via "everyday means." If we are reading for ourselves, regarding a personal issue, we are most likely to grab our most trusted "comfort deck" - one whose familiarity allows us to travel those pathways with insight and ease. But if the issue under examination is closely tied to our interactions with another person (or group), can such a reading give us equal insight into both our perceptions and the perceptions of those with whom we must communicate with on the matter? To be sure, certain types of readings are designed to provide us with at least some of this type of information. But if communication barriers figure prominently into the problem, then perhaps a more thorough, yet unbiased (or at least less biased), examination of how our counterpart views the same problem - stated in terms that we can understand - would be more likely to yield a solution.

But to what end? In order to establish why such an examination is important, we must first take a short side trip into some communication basics.

"Matching Realities"

In her excellent Gentle Art of Verbal Self defense series, noted psycholinguist Suzette Haden Elgin discusses an effective set of communication processes that she groups under the heading "Matching Realities." Her explanation of how this is done is worth reading in its entirety, as it provides an excellent guide to navigating communication problems in general. However, for purposes of the present discussion, the most important concepts of the Matching Realities approach are as follows:

1) Do not expect the communication process to be founded on logic. On this point, Dr. Elgin says:

One of the hardest things for people to accept about human communication is the uselessness of logic. It comes as something of a shock to go to the research literature and discover that [the use of] logic has been proved to have almost nothing to do with the effectiveness of language. (From More on the Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense by Suzette Haden Elgin, Prentiss Hall Inc., New York, 1986, p. 169)

2) We all construct our own realities, and the way we use and understand language will reflect the realities we construct. Since we cannot rely on raw logic to help us navigate this myriad of realities, we must instead find another way. Dr. Elgin paraphrases the work of George Miller in providing this guideline:

What does all this mean, now, for the person who wants to communicate effectively with someone else? It means that, whether you are trying to understand others or cause them to understand you, one basic rule holds without exception: You must find a way to enter the reality of the other person(s) involved in the language interaction. (Ibid, p. 171.)

Dr. Elgin makes sure to emphasize that by "entering the reality of the other person," you are not necessarily accepting that reality as valid. But you are at least providing yourself with an effective way to understand and to be understood. At worst, you and the other party (or parties) involved in the exchange may at least be able to "agree to disagree" without the stressful emotional components that tend to accompany communication breakdowns.

Tarot as Rosetta Stone

In her books, Dr. Elgin goes on to provide some techniques for using metaphor to match realities in the communication process. Through the use of metaphor, we can build our own "Rosetta Stone" of correspondences, between our perception of reality and that of another person. For the tarot practitioner who uses the cards as the metaphor to draw out information about the more subtle dynamics of a relationship, beyond those expressed by words, these techniques can be creatively adapted to provide us with not only insight, but with real solutions.

In the remainder of this column, my goal will be to describe a process for using tarot as a Rosetta Stone that can be used to map one reality onto another. (From this point forward, I will formally refer to this procedure as the Rosetta Stone Method.) Once this mapping process is complete, we should have the tools we need to establish the appropriate metaphorical foundations for effective communication. A detailed example follows the instructional section, to provide some guidance as to how the process might be approached and applied.

The Rosetta Stone Method

It is important to keep in mind that since we are dealing largely with perceptions, and not necessarily with "real" reality, the type of reading spread used should be selected with care. It is possible for the techniques described here to be used for readings as simple as single-card draws, or as complex as the Golden Dawn horseshoe-style spreads. But the meanings assigned to the positions within the spread should be focused primarily or entirely on internal, personal dimensions, and how we express them, and not on external abstractions. For example, spreads designed to explore emotional and intellectual aspects of a situation would work well with the Rosetta Stone Method, while spreads which are intended to give information about actual past, present, and future events, or provide specific outcome information, would be less suited to working within this procedure (unless the spread was redirected toward an exploration of one's perception of past or future events, etc.).

The specific steps of the process are as follows:

Using the Rosetta Stone Method: An Example

The situation. Dean, a 23-year old male reader, is involved in what he considers to be a committed relationship with Bess, a lovely woman of approximately the same age. Bess has stated that she has deep feelings for Dean, and that she, too, is committed to their relationship. Dean believes that Bess is sincere, yet he can't understand why she doesn't seem to want to spend more time with him. The time they do spend together is wonderful, but they only see each other about twice a week. Bess spends the rest of her free time in other activities - going to the movies with her girlfriends, attending church socials, visiting her sister in the next town, etc. When Dean has brought up the subject of being together more often, Bess has dismissed his concerns politely but firmly, stating that the time they spend with one another is "just right for the type of relationship we have." Dean is not quite sure what Bess means by this, and would like to make sure that she understands how much he values the opportunities he has to be with her.

The reading, step 1. Dean's primary working deck for personal readings is the International Icon Tarot - a Rider-Waite clone with its imagery pared down to the important essentials.

The reading, step 2. In order to provide a well-rounded understanding of this most crucial step, we'll actually look at three possible "Besses," which we'll distinguish from one another with the additional designations of "A," "B," and "C."

The reading, step 3. Dean chooses a three-card "Body Mind Spirit" spread to explore the question at hand. (Note: while the story described above is fictional, these are the actual cards I drew to examine this hypothetical situation.) He pulls the following three cards:

The reading, step 4. Dean now pulls the corresponding cards from the second deck. We'll examine how the results are coloured by the differences in each example.

The reading, step 5. Now that Dean has gained some insights into Bess' viewpoint, and had a chance to reflect on how it differs from his own, he has the information he needs to "enter her reality" and communicate with her more effectively. Let's examine how this might be done in each example.


Effective communication rests on the foundation of understanding and being understood. When understanding fails, so does communication. Fortunately, as students of the tarot, we have a wonderful tool available to us for enhancing understanding and gaining insight. Using the Rosetta Stone Method described in this column, in conjunction with a tarot reading, allows us to explore both how we and how others perceive a particular situation. The results can then provide us with the necessary understanding to make effective communication possible. The metaphors revealed can be applied in our verbal and non-verbal interactions to clarify and, when ethical, to persuade. While we may not always succeed in reaching a consensus, we can at least feel confident that we have removed the barriers of confusion and misinterpretation. But at its best, successful communication can open up doors to marvellous opportunities and experiences that may have appeared permanently inaccessible to us before. And that fact, gentle reader, is as great a discovery as any archaeological find could ever hope to be.

Please check out the International Icon Tarot, the Halloween Tarot, Ramses: Tarot of Eternity and the Londa Tarot at the Tarot Garden today!

Jeannette Roth has been collecting and studying tarot decks for over 20 years, and has presented lectures on topics related to tarot evolution and imagery around the midwestern U.S. for nearly 15 years. She is the co-owner of The Tarot Garden, which maintains the largest publicly-accessible database of 20th and 21st century tarot and cartomantic decks in the world.

Feel free to check out Tarot Garden's auctions on eBay!

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