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Making up the answers

I don’t normally find it easy to read tarot blogs – I just don’t know enough about tarot to ‘get’ it most of the time – but I’m delighting in Ginny Hunt’s post about Intuition and Making Shit Up. She’s definitely talking about people’s experience with the I Ching, too:

What is this thing we call Intuition?  So many, including myself, urge tarot novices to rely on this intangible concept, that “other knowing” “gut feeling” “flash” that some label psychic and others intuition, but what if you stare at the cards and see nothing but pretty, or not so pretty, pictures?  No flash, no nothing?   You rely on the ascribed meanings, you read the cards by rote, but what if you can’t see or feel or sense or intuit anything else?

For ‘what if you stare at the cards and see nothing but pretty pictures?’ read ‘what if you stare at the words and see nothing but weird old imagery?’ For ‘you rely on the ascribed meanings,’ read ‘you do the rounds of the books of commentary in search of something that makes sense.’

Then comes one of my favourite bits:

A still picture doesn’t provoke much in me but questions.  Little did I know then that those questions were precisely the place to start listening.

Exactly. Again, for ‘still picture’ read ‘obscure ancient imagery’. I think, if anything, it’s even easier to get stuck with words than with pictures: people at least know the pictures are meant to ‘point to’ something, but we mostly expect words to be transparent – either you understand them or you don’t, and if you don’t, you need someone to explain them to you in different words that are less obscure. Only with readings, not understanding the words is where you start.

(This is where I had a great advantage when I started out with the Yijing: just a few years previously, I’d been writing an M Phil thesis on Goethe’s poetry. I was used to assuming that a very, very few words could contain huge depths of meaning, and if I didn’t ‘get it’ at first glance this just meant I needed to spend longer looking – and hours, weeks and years of attention would always reveal more of the riches stored there. When I started to get to know Yi, working with the wonderful Ritsema-Karcher edition, this basic assumption came in Very Handy Indeed.)

Approaching a reading with questions is a way to wake up your intuition. ‘The cart’s axle straps come loose,’ says Yi. Since I’d asked what message the deer I saw in the woods might have for me, the meaning is not exactly leaping off the page here. I start asking questions… what happens when the cart’s axle straps come loose? If there is a connection come loose, what is it? What needs repairing; how would you repair it? What cart, anyway? What are carts for? OK, what am I trying to ‘move’? (First answer to that one: some of the three stone of excess weight I’m currently ‘carting’ around with me – hence the early morning exercise when I met the swift, fleet-footed deer. I have the strangest suspicion Yi isn’t being entirely polite.)

…and so on. The thing is, I may or may not be able to work these answers out. Sooner or later – especially when reading for other people, but also with my own readings – I’m going to ask a question to which I can’t possibly know the answer. When an answer comes up anyway, then I must just have made it up – right?

Ginny again:

I now recognize when my intuition is kicking in.  It’s when my rational mind in my left brain chides the fanciful  right side of my brain, “Now you’re just making shit up.”  Whenever I hear that I know I’ve hit on something. That party pooper, my left brain, was the bane of my readings for a while.  I would listen to it and not to the other side that apparently knew what it was talking about.  Enough feedback from clients told me to freaking LISTEN to that storyteller part of me, particularly when  the rational side of me protested, because that rational side is a bit of a control freak and doesn’t like uppity right brain interference even when correct.

Exactly 🙂 . I find the questions are a nice way of tricking my control-freak-ish rational mind into imagining it still runs the show, when in fact we’ve been way out of its depth from the start. Only after the reading will I realise how I’d had absolutely no logical reason for emphasising this image or making that connection, now that the querent is asking me ‘how I knew’.


Let’s worry a little less about knowing, and spend more time playing and imagining and making up the answers.

7 responses to Making up the answers

  1. I think this is a very important discussion. When working with any form of divination whether the Tarot, Yi, or working with dream imagery. I think the most important thing (thank you Carl Jung, via James Hillman) is to _stay_with_the_image. To the extent I am able to maintain my focus on the images, all kinds of details, associations, etc. usually come up. The attachment to an answer often prevents from really drilling down into the inner source of wisdom. It’s very much like the way zen practitioners are instructed to work with koans. In fact, its exactly the same. When reading for others, I try very hard to resist the temptation to interpret, and keep their attention focused on the images.

    Gregg (Tao Liu)

  2. Thanks, Gregg. Agreed. And the interesting thing is that staying with the image is perfectly (beautifully) compatible with acting on the reading in practical ways.

    I’ve just been reading the sample chapter from Stephen Aizenstat’s Dream Tending. (Here’s the page with the link) It begins with a really clear, easy-to-grasp introduction to the evolution and layers of working with dreams – association, amplification and animation – and I think all could be taken as ways of working with readings as well. ‘To explain away an image is to lose contact with an important visitor,’ he says.

    (Going to buy the book!)

  3. Sometimes, if I don’t have a clue about a reading and the feeling is persistent, I’ll start with that. “I don’t have a clue … do you? Let’s explore …” — and I’ll ask a few questions that hopefully will pique the other’s curiosity or spark a connection …

    There are other times that images, quotations, and connections occur to me so quickly that the intuitive excitement goes off like a winning slot machine — DING! DING!!

    I combine my readings with images and words, so both sides of a querent’s brain can engage with the hexagrams and their meanings. I keep my mouth shut as much as I can, at the beginning … I want to know what the hexagrams draw forth from the other person’s imagination and memory. We humans tend to start at the surface of things and eventually dive into the depths, the substance … so it’s usually not long before something tweaks the associative strings 🙂
    .-= Jaliya´s last blog ..Spring! (Hexagram 24) =-.

  4. Oh, definitely – give the images, let the divination happen, watch and learn.

    I don’t think I knew you did readings for people. Really happy that you do 🙂

  5. How can anyone know, to know would mean that you would not need to share. Eg: a monk who knows so, spends all his time alone in a cave

    Waiting, then someone comes to him wanting to know.
    Suddenly he doesnot know, so he leaves the cave in search……
    to begin to know again…….

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