by Sharyn Peacocke

June 2005

Tarot cards are not just for the mystically inclined. Fact is, they are used in some surprising ways within mainstream business.

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TAROT - IT HAS OUTED the witch in me. But forget big screen images of Jane Seymour’s ‘Solitaire’ foreshadowing death in the 1973 James Bond flick Live and Let Die; and psychic taroist ‘Annie’, played by Cate Blanchett, on the hunt for lost souls in 2000’s The Gift. Although tarot is commonly seen as a mystical tool, its use is gaining considerable legitimacy in psychoanalysis, corporate training and professional writing.

Author Bruce Holland Rogers (Wind Over Heaven; The Dead Boy At Your Window) admits he uses a form of tarot to inspire his work. In reviewing a deck designed to encourage and structure innovative ideas in business, art and writing, Rogers - the recipient of various literary accolades - reveals that he has “adapted divination systems like the Tarot [and] the I Ching for brainstorming” using them and the non-esoteric but tarot-inspired Bright Ideas Deck to plot stories and remedy writer’s block.

The Bright Ideas Deck was developed by American Mark McElroy who spent more than ten years in the corporate arena authoring and developing training materials. Later, after studying more than 150 tarot decks and almost as many books on the subject, he began to see tarot’s potential as a brainstorming tool. “I consider the cards my ‘Swiss Army Knife’ of creativity,” he says on his website. “The techniques I share in my books are designed to help you ask better questions, see more options, and achieve your goals faster than ever before.”

One of the books McElroy refers to is Putting the Tarot to Work. Riding on the catch-phrase “No Focus on Hocus Pocus”, he insists that his brand of tarot can help business people strategise, inspire artists and writers, and enable therapists and counsellors to “tap suppressed memories, confront difficult issues, and author new strategies for coping with life’s challenges”.

Jean-Michel David, co-ordinator of the 2005 Melbourne International Tarot Conference, “History, Symbols, Inner-Path”, hosted by the Association for Tarot Studies, says he enjoys McElroy’s approach despite the fact that it differs vastly from his own. David, whose background includes teaching philosophy, maths and psychology, has a specific interest in tarot’s iconography and a vast store of knowledge on the subject in general.

“Such individuals as the founder of Mensa, as well as famous artists like Dali, have created their own decks,” he tells me, “[and] I’m aware of increasing usage by psychologists. I know of at least two people who use it in that field.”

One of them is Monash University’s Inna Semetsky, PhD, whose paper, Memories of the Past, Memories of the Future: Semiotics and the Tarot, looks at the distribution of cards within a tarot spread “in terms of a symbolic representation of [what Jung called] ... the collective unconscious”. According to Semetsky, tarot readings can enable memory re-creation through interpretation of the cards’ images.

Linda Marson and Jeni Bethell, two of the 28 speakers at the 2005 Tarot Conference, are also committed to the positive psychological potential of tarot’s archetypal imagery.

“The images are so evocative – they tell about the universal journey,” says Marson, a Melbourne vocational and training consultant. “They are an excellent trigger for discussion [and] definitely have a role in counselling and dream analysis because they stimulate the visual side of the brain.”

Marsen, who also uses tarot to teach English as a foreign language, recently penned an atypical travel book called Ticket, Passport and Tarot Cards. Published by Brolga, the book explores ways in which her travels through various parts of the world – China, Europe, America, the Middle East and Australia – correlate to her inner journey.

“I’ve used travel stories as a way of explaining the meaning of the major cards,” she says. “Over the years I’ve seen how laying the cards can help people see beyond immediate concerns to the bigger issues in their lives.”

Melbourne-based Jeni Bethell, who as well as reading and teaching tarot has an MA in Women’s Studies and uses archetypes in her work as a consultant, seems to concur, although she is wary of large corporations exploiting tarot.

“At some levels it is trivialising tarot,” she says. “The corporate world to me is so amoral that I personally have some misgivings about its use [in that way].... But there are many people within the tarot movement who would probably say I’m being a bit precious.”

Nevertheless, Bethell does believe in tarot as a valuable psychological tool. “I think that the tarot has an extraordinary amount to offer in that area .... As we get to know ourselves, we get to know our role in the world. We get to see the bigger picture.”

Twenty-eight-year-old Byron Mulligan is a qualified trainer and facilitator, youth services manager, counsellor and mental health worker. In recent times he has worked in project management for the Queensland Department of Education and Training. But on a long-term basis he runs Lightworks Education & Training Services which delivers leadership and social development programs to young people.

Perth-born Mulligan, who has been using tarot as a self-help and divination tool for almost 15 years, firmly believes the cards have potential in professional counselling.

“I was once on a plane ... with someone from Auckland Mental Health Services who told me of their success in using archetypal imagery as a therapeutic tool with indigenous young people,” he recalls. “Focusing on cultural myth and lore, it was found that participants responded strongly to the historical archetypes that provided their cultural spirit with direction and strength.

“I was thinking about tarot all through this conversation and how helpful imagery can be to convey a deep or abstract message. When used thoughtfully and in appropriate settings, it can be a highly suitable tool for counselling.”

On a casual basis, Mulligan reads the tarot for people seeking knowledge about their path in life. He doesn’t focus on prediction, but has no problem with it either.

“I’ve had a line for ages I’ve used with many clients, where I have stopped a reading to say, ‘do you want me to be helpful or do you want to be entertained’? .... I see no value in a session where a client leaves thinking ‘Wow, that was amazing – but I still don’t know what to do!’ .... I would rather leave someone with a plan than a hope.”

American sociologist, academic and author Pamela Eakins earned her doctorate at the University of Colorado before spending ten years researching women’s health and life stages at Stanford University. The author of several books on childbirth reform, her spiritual epiphany was sparked by witnessing innumerable births and then having a mystical encounter with a taroist. Although Eakins had played with tarot in childhood, her years in academia had rendered her sceptical.

“Tarot cards!”, she exclaims when relating the incident to her readers. “After all the deep thinking I had done! [But then] I began to perceive the depth of the tarot’s subtle and exquisite ability to describe the human spirit, human relationships, and, in general, human psychology .... never, in all my studies, had I encountered such a beautifully refined theoretical system for describing the human psyche.”

Eakins, who for so long had seen herself as “purely an existentialist ... an educated materialist with a library full of Satre and de Beauvoir”, was hooked. Her ensuing book, Tarot of the Spirit, along with its evocative companion cards painted by her artist mother Joyce Eakins, is not of the tarot norm. For the most part, her cards eschew the ‘light’ and ‘dark’ images common to more traditional decks, and the text is oriented neither to the masculine nor feminine perspective.

But perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of Tarot of the Spirit is Eakins’ literary ability and profound insight which, combined with her background in sociology and the rare beauty of Joyce Eakins’ artwork, makes this a stand-apart tarot experience. My bias is clear, but I believe it can unlock doors to the subconscious, even for the realist. In turn, this can bring about heightened awareness of metaphysical elements that the querist may not previously have considered.

Michael Allen* provides one such example. Employed in Sydney by a leading multinational, this 33-year-old executive and self-confessed pragmatist was introduced to tarot as a lark five years ago.

“I must admit that the tarot has given me some new insights and, for the most part, the cards I have drawn have been extraordinarily appropriate for the situations that have confronted me,” he says, referring specifially to the Eakins’ text and deck.

“The sceptic in me rationalises that they’re really just wise words. But not all of the cards suit every situation ... yet I find it difficult to remember an occasion where I’ve picked up an entirely inappropriate card. So I think, overall, that there is a spiritual component to the tarot – I certainly feel it’s more likely now than I did before I used them.”

Allen’s attendance at numerous corporate training sessions gives rise to my question on whether he feels the tarot could be a useful tool for business brainstorming and analysis. He responds enthusiastically, but asks to remain anonymous.

“Tarot is a very interactive way of getting people to reflect on their options and give different perspectives on the decisions they’re about to make,” he says. “However, there are some who would no doubt feel the use of tarot cards is so ridiculous that they’d struggle to make use of it, even as a rational analytical tool. I think this is a bit of a missed opportunity.

“The fact remains that, whether you believe in its spirituality, or see it purely as an analytical device, tarot can be an excellent way of getting people to take a step away from their situation, look at it in a considered way, and get a new perspective.”

Perhaps the last word should go to Pamela Eakins whose intelligence and insight have stimulated much of my own self-development. I use her Tarot of the Spirit not only for esoteric inspiration, but also in the practical pursuits of my work as a writer, designer and small business operator. It rarely lets me down.

“We must be skeptical and scientific, but we must take the long view as well as stay open,” she suggests in her book. “We must not forsake the material for the spiritual, just as we must not forsake the spiritual for the material. Matter and spirit are not opposing forces. They are inseparable.”

*Not his real name

Story this page © 2005 Sharyn Peacocke


Tarot Links

Dr Inna Semetsky: Inna's research interests include Philosophies of Gilles Deleuze, John Dewey, Charles S. Peirce & Alfred North Whitehead, Hermetic Philosophy, Semiotics in general & specifically the symbolism of Tarot, Spirituality & Depth Psychology, Mental representations, Philosophy of Education.

Dr Pamela Eakins: A renowned American sociologist, Pamela is author of Tarot of the Spirit and various other texts of a metaphysical, philosophical and sociological nature. She has taught at the University of Colorado, Stanford University, and the California Institute of Integral Studies. Her mission is peacemaking and social change. Her current joy is teaching Writing, Transformational Symbology, and the Evolution of Consciousness.