Suzan E. Lemont
(the following forms part of chapter 5 of Suzan Lemont’s MA thesis submitted in 1997)
Once a comfortable level of familiarity in working with the Tarot has been achieved on one’s own, it can become a valuable resource for doing therapeutic work with others. This chapter describes what occurred during a group Tarot workshop, using Tarot therapeutically. Although these were not expressive therapy sessions, the descriptions of what emerged show how Tarot could act as a “jumping off point” into increased awareness and creativity; especially with the companionship of a trained expressive arts therapist.
We are gathered together in my living room, six women and me, each with Tarot decks of various design, and all hungry to learn something new. The Tarot group had mushroomed out of a support group for foreign women living in Zürich. They were looking for a way to connect with the voice inside; the one that said “You are a valuable person. You know more than you think you do.” They were all attracted to the possibilities the Tarot seemed to offer as a doorway to another dimension. They had the time and the desire to knock on this door and find out what lay on the other side.
In each session I covered some of the Major Arcana cards, with regards to general meaning/feelings associated with the card, and pointed out certain symbols. I tried to include, in each session, ways of working with the cards that were intuition-based, and to show how to do this with one person willing to share an issue or question through working with the cards. The group would then give feedback to the person who had shared her issue, and if clarification was needed about some aspect of how to do the work, it was given after the “reading”. I would also give suggestions for carrying the work further into some creative or artistic form such as writing or painting. I had planned a second workshop in the Fall which would include working with paint, clay, writing and movement but unfortunately, I moved from Zürich before this could happen. However, what did emerge from the issues presented shows the potential of Tarot to unlock hidden stores of intuition and insight.
I tried to stay with the phenomenological way of working, although I ocassionally offered clarification or assistance through a more analytical or intuitive approach. In all cases presented here the names or other identifying features of anyone in the group has been altered to protect confidentiality and privacy.
Story #1: Isabel, a highly educated woman in her forties, had purchased the Mythic Tarot deck on a recent trip to England. We were exploring the Personality/Lifetime/Soul card technique of beginning to work with the cards, and she said “I don’t like my Personality card!” Her Personality card was represented by number 4, The Emperor, and after looking at the cards from the decks of some of the other group members she said “Well, it’s better in some of the decks than others, but I just don’t like it.” I asked her if she could say specifically what it was about the card that bothered her, but she couldn’t define it clearly. I decided to try a dialoguing technique, to show the group how to work with a card that produces unpleasant associations or feelings.
Since this was the first time we had used dialoguing technique, I asked her to talk to the image in the card, while I would respond as “the emperor figure”.
I asked her first to just look at the card for a minute, without saying anything, and then when she was ready, to address the figure as “you”; for example “I don’t like you because…”.
After a moment she said “I don’t like you because you sit there on your mighty throne, just giving orders and thinking so much of yourself!”
I responded as The Emperor figure with “But that’s my job! Someone has to run things, and that’s the job I’ve been given to do.”
Isabel: Well, you don’t have to be so arrogant and unfeeling about it. No, I think you like having all the power and control.
Me: No, no! It’s not that way at all. It’s not fair of you to attack me for just doing what I’m supposed to do. You don’t know how much of a burden it is to sit up here and be so responsible for everything.
I: You don’t have to be responsible for everything… you could give some of the responsibility to others, but you won’t. You don’t care about others and you like being the boss. You can’t let go of the control.
Me: Well, no. If I did that then everything would fall apart. Who will make sure things get done the way they are supposed to if I don’t keep track of things? You just don’t realize what a burden it is to have to keep on top of things all the time. I get so tired.
I: But you COULD give some responsibility to others. You should do that if you feel overwhelmed. You have a choice.
Me: No, no. I don’t have a choice! I can’t let everyone down…
I: You can’t let YOURSELF down. Come on, you aren’t concerned about what others think, you don’t care at all about that. You need to control, and manipulate, and tell everone else what they should do! [She was getting quite agitated and forceful with her words now, so I intervened as the therapist with a question.]
Me: What are you feeling towards this character right now?
I: I’m just furious at him!
Me: Tell him that.
I: I’m furious with you! [she laughs a little]. This is what always happens when I get angry. I feel choked here [she puts her hand on her throat and upper chest area] and I either laugh or can’t talk.
Me: Does this remind you of any other time you were choked or angry?
I: Yes! I remember being two and sitting in a high chair and my grandmother was forcing me to eat. She kept stuffing food into me, and I was suffocating. I was terrified that I would suffocate to death and I couldn’t talk, and I was so angry that she could do that to me and I was so helpless and stuck in that chair! But what good does it do to realize this now? I can’t change anything or tell her how I feel because she’s dead.
Me: Does the choking and the anger you feel affect any of your relationships now?
I: Yes! Whenever I get into an arguement with my husband I get this same choked feeling and I get mad because I can’t express myself and I feel enraged and helpless. It’s very physical [she puts her hand back on her throat].
Me; Can you take a deep breath and go back to the card? I think you should try to tell this character how not being listened to makes you feel. This is your chance to say whatever you want to him. It’s true that he isn’t your grandmother, but you can still use this time as “practice” getting through that choked feeling.
I: [to the card] Well you know, maybe you do have a lot of responsibilities and pressure, and I feel some compassion for you but don’t try to manipulate me into pitying you! You have a choice about that, and I don’t want to feel guilty for my feelings. I would help you if you asked, but if you can’t accept my help then I am not going to feel sorry for you. I have my own problems to worry about.
Me: How did that feel?
I: That was great. I’m going to try and remember this the next time I get into that place where anger chokes off my expression… I had forgotten about the feeding thing.
Isabel told me later that the next time she had experienced anger in her relationship, she had been able to breathe more easily and to get past the stuck, helpless feelings, and to say what she needed to say. She said that just remembering the incident in the high chair had helped her to move past the affect it was having on her adult life.
Story # 2: Melinda was an animated, energetic woman in her forties who had a question she really wanted to tackle through the Tarot. We laid out the cards in a spiral mandala pattern (one of my own designs which continues to lay out cards in a spiral until the question has been sufficiently addressed). The significant card came when she turned over the 9 of Swords from the Universal Waite deck. The dilemma had to do with a working relationship between Melinda and two other people who were friends. They were trying to set up a business together, but Melinda felt things weren’t going well. She needed to confront them about her feelings, but had been hesitating.
When she turned the card over Melinda exclaimed “Oh! That’s just how I feel in this situation!” The image of swords hanging over a distraught figure’s head really hit home for her. We talked about the feeling of “waiting for the axe to fall” and how it was making her a “nervous wreck”. She also identified with the image of hiding one’s head in one’s hands, and hoping the problem would go away. She said that was exactly what she had been doing; feeling paralyzed and afraid of hurting other people’s feelings, but she knew she would have to take some action soon; the situation and her nerves were deteriorating rapidly, and she didn’t think she could avoid the confrontation much longer. At the heart of the problem was the issue of “cutting off friendships”. She didn’t want to lose the respect and frienship of the two women she was having the problem with; but she really felt like she was splitting herself in half by trying to continue to make the arrangement work. The group offered support for her decision to face the problem, and talked about ways the confrontation could be handled so that no one got “cut to ribbons”. Melinda told me later that drawing this card and looking at it from different angles had given her the final push she needed to confront the situation, which had relieved a lot of the stress she had been feeling.
In both of the instances above, it was not neccessary at all for me to offer an interpretation of the cards, and the meanings did not need to be looked up to provide the information neccessary for insight and transformation. This is why I prefer to work within the phenomenological framework; it frees everyone to experience his/her own perceptions and intuitions about what s/he wants or needs to know. And it places the responsibility for making decisions with the client, instead of vesting all the power with some outside agent, such as the therapist or reader.
It is also interesting to observe synchronicity at work again in these two cases; both women had an attraction or repulsion to a card which spoke exactly to their needs of the moment. The more I work with the Tarot, the more I find this to be true; whether the drawing of the card is from a face-down spread, and therefore not visually influenced, or from a deliberate searching through the pack for the “right” image. Somehow the unconscious makes a connection to another point in the web, through the card images, and another leg of the journey gets completed.
Although the two previous examples focused on an individual’s dilemma, they show how the group can participate and benefit from seeing how one person engages in the Tarot and therapeutic processes. Each person in the group was given room to provide feedback to the Querent, and I demonstrated how to give feeling feedback rather than interpretative feedback or advice (“I could really feel the choking sensation,” rather than “I think you should try to talk to your husband about this”).
Other possibilities for group work include a group Tarot collage or mural; sharing journal entries made from Tarot meditations and then getting artistic feedback from the group members; theater and drama therapy, or a sort of bringing to life of the Tarot characters; making masks based on one of the cards and then sharing what came up during that work; and finding a musical note or melody for different cards and then trying to construct a group song or phrase from the different notes.