by Inna Semetsky
email@example.com – columbia.academia.edu & innasense.org
This paper is an excerpt (with some modifications and abbreviations) from my book Re-Symbolization of the Self: Human Development and Tarot Hermeneutic. It contains two real-life readings for spouses, Pam and Ross (not their real names). The readings were conducted in the form of 50 minutes counseling session each, with reference to Jungian archetypes of the collective unconscious embodied in Tarot images. As part of my research in the area of Marriage and Family Therapy, all readings were free of charge, however all participants were asked to complete a questionnaire indicating their feedback.
Reading For Pam
Pam, a white professional woman in her forties, invited me to her house for two readings, for her and her husband (see reading for Ross further below). She specified her main reason for this reading as a professional problem, stating that she was about to make a choice between several career options, and to further advance in her pursuits. The purpose of this reading for Pam was to gain insight into the future, herself and significant others, to focus on solutions, to feel empowered and to gain self-understanding. Pam’s layout is shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Pam’s layout
The first position happened to be occupied by the Major Arcanum Judgement. It indicated that, spiritually, Pam had outgrown her current profession and at the deep, what Jung called “psychoid”, level she felt the urge to evaluate herself and her previous accomplishments. To stay in the present state would have been spiritually degrading or, simply speaking, selling herself short. Not in the material sense, though. Regarding her personal development, Pam felt that her present occupation had become too narrow for her, so the time had come to transgress the boundaries and rise towards new beginnings. The sounds of the trumpet were very much active in Pam’s psychic template, and she was ready to be symbolically “reborn”. The Arcanum of Judgement often indicates a vocation or calling – in contrast to just earning a living. A process of self-appraisal was going on, and Pam was getting the message from the collective unconscious that either over- or underestimating herself would be erroneous.
At this point Pam interjected, saying that she felt ready to make a choice about her career change from being a school teacher to either law school, or a Ph.D. program, or art school. The Knight of Cups in the second position suggested that the field of arts was a possibility, but may be rather a hindering influence to Pam’s main desire to maintain the wellbeing of the family (the Ten of Cups in the fourth position). Another Major Arcanum, The Hierophant in the fifth position, represented a somewhat conservative, rather than artistic, influence, and being a major card, its influence was stronger than the one represented by the image of the Knight of Cups. It appeared that a conventional career like law school, with its institutionalized rules, laws and regulations symbolized by The Hierophant, would be a better choice and one quite aligned with Pam’s deepest desires on the spiritual level. On the physical plane, such a choice was also linked to the high probability of stability and security for the whole family as represented by the “outcome” card in the tenth position, the Ten of Pentacles.
Was there a woman in Pam’s life, perhaps a relative, who was particularly sensitive and supportive to Pam’s desires and able to understand her to such a degree so as to communicate with her at a subtle level? The Queen of Cups in the third position represented female energy that guided Pam in her search, quite likely even appearing in her dreams. Pam said at this point that she often sees in her dreams her grandmother who has passed away, and yes, they do communicate. The unconscious realm, inhabited by the Queen of Cups, thus represented a strong and positive influence, and the unconscious messages which Pam perceived in dreams were to be listened to carefully as they guided Pam in the direction which was to her best advantage.
The constellation of three cards that fell out in the supplementary, eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth positions represented the energy that accompanied Pam in her day-to-day life, even if the events depicted by the imagery may have happened long ago. … After initial hesitation, as it was a sensitive issue, I asked if Pam was concerned with the loss of a child (the Five of Cups next to the Page of Cups strongly suggested that she was still mourning the loss of someone she holds dear). Yes, said Pam, she had miscarried four years ago. The grief and bereavement, though, as transmitted by the cards in those supplementary positions were as acute as ever and the emotions were raw. Pam still was looking back to the past (the Two of Wands), contemplating her loss. But the future promised new alternatives after the initial waiting period. Pam was definitely developing a new outlook, and the Two of Wands suggested perseverance, as new initiative could overcome old obstacles, this card’s imagery depicting some, as yet unfulfilled, potential and perhaps gathering more information on the subject-matter. Pam replied telling me that she has been thinking about adoption.
The sixth position of the immediate future with the cluster of three cards was the one that presented the most concern for Pam. It was the strong possibility of a confrontation – perhaps unspoken but nevertheless strongly felt through – with a woman, represented by the image of the Queen of Wands and connected with Pam through a likely change of residence (the Five of Wands and the Knight of Wands). The whole event would have been initiated not by Pam but by this woman. Pam responded to this interpretation that a friend visited from Thailand and was staying in Pam’s house, and the whole day had been spent by Pam going through an internal struggle with herself due to the presence of this woman under her roof. When Pam asked for this issue to be clarified, she pulled out the card from the remainder of the deck that, when turned over, happened to be The Hanged Man. It looked like the situation with Pam’s friend was a testing period in Pam’s life, perhaps a lesson to be learned. This Major trump carried connotations of a certain duration thus accentuating the sixth position and advising Pam to be prepared to go through The Hanged Man’s challenge. It would be a sacrifice she would have to make, perhaps for her friend’s benefit.
The Eight of Pentacles in the seventh position (Pam’s mental outlook) indicated that whatever choice Pam would make, she should be prepared to work diligently and in sequential steps during the process. Pam was slightly apprehensive at the idea of starting her education all over again but nevertheless highly motivated under the influence of Judgement.
At a time of the new beginnings one would appreciate support from significant others. The Ten of Swords in the eighth position demonstrated, however, a sharp contrast with the otherwise overall positive and encouraging mood of the layout. This picture indicated that Pam was surrounded by quite a negative energy in her immediate environment and for some reason was not supported in her pursuits. This looked strange, especially in view of the Ten of Cups depicting a lasting, happy, and committed relationship. It seemed to be an issue, and the collective unconscious was attracting our attention to the specific imagery of the Ten of Swords with the powerless figure pierced by the ten swords in her back. Yet this image was making it explicit that such possible ruin had already reached its peak and nothing would make it worse, even if Pam buried this issue deep in her subconscious and was unlikely to articulate it. Her personality reflected the Nine of Pentacles in the ninth position, which suggested that on many occasions Pam used to rely on herself and was quite self-sufficient while continuing her quest for becoming even more self-sufficient. Finally, the reward of a settled way of life was a highly probable outcome of Pam’s achievements as depicted by the tenth card, the Ten of Pentacles.
Pam wanted to consult the collective unconscious regarding her three career options, so she pulled out three cards for each of her options. The Nine of Cups for the query with regard to law school suggested the attainment and assurance of both material and emotional security and also that this course of study should not be too great a challenge. (Was Hierophant pointing in this direction? It seemed so.) The card for the choice of a Ph.D. program happened to be The Chariot. With determination, control and willpower Pam would succeed on this path too, but real self-assertion would be required and the process of obtaining this degree would be of a greater duration than attending law school. She picked up the Three of Cups for the choice of an art school. This suggested a hobby rather than profession, and recommended to Pam not to leave the idea altogether but enjoy it with friends, during weekends or vacations or on some other joyful occasions. Her options were thus discussed: the collective unconscious provided the information, but the choice was left for Pam to make (as was also visible in the overall card, The Hermit, as the manifestation of the “Know Thyself” principle in Pam’s personality).
Pam then filled out the questionnaire. She wrote that the reading contributed to achieving her purpose and explained her answer by the following statement: “I feel validated in my concerns, and supported in other areas where I questioned my perceptions. Though I am a strong person according to both my friends and co-workers’ observations, I know that my ‘style’ is to constantly ‘bounce off’ other people and present reality. I am always checking where my opinions, feelings, perceptions are in relation to my reality.” She wanted to have a follow-up session. She wrote, “I feel the reading was VERY relevant to me today, and included several things that I have been dealing with in the last twenty four hours!” This reading was significant and meaningful to Pam, and she explained her answer as follows: “Yes – the information about: concern for the lost child (miscarriage four years ago); interaction with female (argument); female guiding me (my grandmother); whichever course I choose will be attainable, though need to be step-by-step; final success is to be!”
Reading For Ross
After the session with Pam, I conducted a reading for her husband, Ross. He was a graduate student at Pacific Oaks College and picked up my flyer there. He indicated his age in the over-forty category. His main reason for this reading was a professional problem specified as seeking assistance in the Master’s Thesis process. The purpose of this reading for him was to gain insight into future and to gain self-understanding. Ross’s layout is shown in Figure 2.
Figure 2: Ross’s layout
The picture that stood out in the layout was the card in the second – crossing – position, the Ten of Swords, which instantly depicted the general mood of the layout or the main affect projected by Ross: depression, desolation and the feeling of misfortune; possibly with regard to the issues of material security. But not only that: it was the same card that in Pam’s reading occupied the eighth position, the one which indicated her immediate environment and significant others, and the presence (or absence) of a support system. It became clear that the atmosphere at home was permeated with the depressive mood projected by Ross, although at the time of the reading for Pam the reason for the Ten of Swords having appeared in the position of Pam’s support system was yet unknown. Not only could Ross not provide any emotional support to his wife, but he was hardly capable of coping with his own stress. The timely guidance of the collective unconscious thus became of paramount importance.
The card in the first position of Ross’s presenting problem was the Major Arcanum Death. Its appearance shifted the focus from what had been stated by Ross as a professional problem to the much deeper, archetypal, level. Ross’s psyche had been affected by the archetype of change, renewal and transformation. His unconscious was protesting against any status quo, perceiving it as stagnation, even if at the conscious level Ross remained unaware of the conflict in his psyche that led to feeling depressed. Ross was going through a process of transition which started quite abruptly with the collapse of the existing structure of Ross’s life as depicted by The Tower. In fact, a symbolic death often means clearing the way for a really big change, and The Tower often destroys what is outdated, superfluous and counterproductive to the development and growth of personality. The Tower in the fourth position of the recent past carried the connotations of destiny itself that had to interfere into Ross’s life by means of a shock. The lightning-struck Tower had destroyed everything that he did not need for the journey ahead, even if such Tower had been constructed and built by Ross himself in the course of his life. However the time came when this lightning, this new vision, empowered Ross with the freedom to choose, to break down the existing form in order to make way for a new one.
Spiritual meaning aside, it was not totally clear from the layout what happened at the actual physical plane. Did Ross lose his job (as The Tower may have suggested) and as a result was feeling confused and depressed? Ross responded that he’s chosen to leave his job of many years and to start a new career, for which he needed a Master’s degree, which meant again going back to study. His answer supported the idea carried by The Tower of the defeat of the old world view and breaking down old habits. However if it was Ross’s free will, why was this change so painful for him, as implied by the Ten of Swords bringing him to the verge of depression and nervous breakdown? The Death card carried the message that his sudden decision was the starting point of the whole transition period in the course of which Ross’s Ego was transforming into the individuated Self, yet with all its growing pains, and at the moment of the reading Ross was at the point of no return along his road to individuation. In this respect the Ten of Swords manifested the end of a cycle which meant that the worst was behind and from now on, with a newly acquired awareness, Ross’s mental state would only improve. Ross’s Ego was lost halfway between his “Id” (in Freudian terms), represented by the King of Pentacles in the third position, and the Superego depicted by the Knight of Cups in the seventh position of his mental outlook. This current split in Ross’s personality caused an intra-psychic conflict and led to him feeling ruined, in doubt and desolation, as per the Ten of Swords.
While consciously Ross was pursuing a noble goal of being of service to others, with all good intentions and inspired by spiritual ideation and idealistic aspirations (the Knight of Cups in the seventh position), his subconscious (in the image of the King of Pentacles with all his practicality) in the third position representing the root of the matter, was pulling him back. Ross commented at this point that his purpose contained in fact certain altruism. In the meantime unconsciously he resented the fact that his income had to stop when he went back to study, as he has been working hard and honestly during many years towards creating financial security.
Was money an issue? Had Ross’s apprehension grown from the necessity to make tuition payments while he was not earning anything? Ross confirmed that he was concerned with this. The Seven of Pentacles in the eighth position indicated that an investment has been made and Ross confirmed that his moneys were tied up now. Well, the Ace of Pentacles in the sixth position of Ross’s immediate future suggested to Ross not to worry about the financial side, as money (perhaps some return on investment, or maybe a grant or a stipend) was to be given to him and he would be able to make tuition payments. A helping hand would extend itself, advised the Ace of Pentacles, and this correlated with the overall message, depicted by the Nine of Cups, that Ross’s wishes were coming true. So should financial matters be the least of his worries, asked Ross. It sure looked that way from the layout.
However the spread contained a warning for Ross: if his old self – the King of Pentacles – remained unrecognized and not dealt with, the probability of Ross’s depression turning into an ailment at the level of the physical body (the Three of Swords in the fifth position) may well manifest. Thus the whole layout was attracting our attention to the appropriateness of the intervention by the collective unconscious right here-and- now. During the archetypal transition of such depth as in the imagery of Death, Ross’s total personality was changing. His old world view was slowly and not painlessly being erased from his psychic template so as to make room for a new set of values to be created and nourished. The pain suffered by Ross under the influence of the archetypal Death was related to the part of him being unwilling or unable to surrender to the inevitability of evolution and transformation.
The ninth position of hopes and fears was emphasized with three cards: the Ace of Cups, the Queen of Wands and the Eight of Swords. This indicated much anxiety: while Ross’s relationship with his wife Pam was in fact at the level of a loving and emotional union, his own perception and an unconscious fear (especially under the effect of the Death card) was permeated by feeling that his wife, being a very strong independent woman, was overpowering him in some respect or capacity. Ross’s perception, in the midst of his existential crisis, was far away from reality; and the collective unconscious, while acknowledging and respecting Ross’s feelings, was nevertheless bringing to his awareness the fact that there was no foundation for such anxiety. Just the opposite, his whole existence was permeated with the activated Temperance and The Empress together with the Ten of Cups, as depicted by the supplementary position of the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth cards. This constellation of images suggested that the marriage was bringing into his life a much needed balance and compassion and was a calming influence on his psyche at a time when his personality was in danger of becoming fragmented.
Pam was prepared to support and cooperate with him during the process of transition and even compromise if necessary. She had completed her life tasks in the current cycle and, in the image of The Empress was projecting the energies of the protective Mother archetype into Ross’s being, making his own transition easier. The Empress was bringing to Ross’s awareness the lesson that each age of man has its phase, and each phase must end when it is lived out. This lesson was being learned by Ross within the process itself, which was certainly creating an extra stress on his state of mind. I made a suggestion at this point that although so far Ross was going through this difficult period in his life by himself, he may need weekly counseling sessions to monitor the individuation process.
The tenth card, the Six of Wands, was a terrific and timely encouragement for Ross. It suggested the high probability of a successful outcome in Ross’s pursuits. The previous phase has cleared the ground (the Ten of Swords) for the current transition, and a reward for Ross’s efforts was soon to follow. The Six of Wands indicated a sense of achievement in the near future, precisely what Ross, being depressed, was lacking presently. Thus the future was very promising.
Ross then filled out the questionnaire, answering yes to the question if this reading contributed to achieving his purpose and explaining his answer by the following statement: “My feelings have been positively reinforced that I am making a correct choice in my life change.” He was not sure if a follow-up session was needed as he “was still sifting [his] thoughts and reactions.” This reading was significant and meaningful for Ross as it was “specific enough to align itself with [his] thoughts and concerns.” His overall comment was: “I feel comfortable with this reading and the personality which I feel manifests itself. And I do not feel that there is a search for earthy reward, it is not easily explained.” This last sentence was a confirmation how deeply Ross’s old self was engraved in his unconscious. It was a search for earthly reward before (the King of Pentacles usually gives earthy practical values their dues), and in Ross’s psyche this issue presented a conflict, a sort of personality clash with the emerging Knight of Cups with his highly romantic, idealistic values. Never would the Knight of Cups admit in himself the existence of something he would not consider to be refined and high-principled!