You’ve no doubt seen tarot fortune teller shops around town. And I think I can safely say you know what a “down dog” is (and possibly have done a few yourself!) But can you imagine what yoga and the tarot have in common?
Even during their most debased, old-fashioned forms (bodily tortures and fortune-telling), Yoga and the Tarot held onto the wisdom of the ages. At the turn of the 20th Century both evolved, respectively, into popular fitness and intuitive guidance systems in modern culture. But how can these two seemingly disparate things be used together to shine a brighter light on each, as well as guide you towards reaching your greatest potential?
- Both Yoga and the Tarot are complete shastras (Sanskrit for teaching schema). Both shastras teach of invisible realities generally not known from the surface levels of life. These types of teaching are called occult arts and sciences; as a yogi or tarot card explorer, you are an OCCULTIST. Occultists inquire past the range of the ordinary into unseen realms of experience, beyond those of the senses leading to a wholistic understanding of our world and the truths behind it. Occult secrets are hidden in the pictures of the Tarot. The cards work as practices to enhance Yoga, such as memorization, categorization, concentration and visualization meditations. The cards can also serve to illustrate concepts of the major shastra text of Yoga – Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (PYS).
Interestingly, both the Tarot and PYS are extremely fluid and ambiguous and may be interpreted from many angles, viewpoints and contexts. Luckily, occult knowledge is taught most efficiently from ambiguity!
- Both Yoga and the Tarot may be used as tools to delve into the human psyche. Complete systems of self-development and evolution, these tools help to understand yourself and relationships to others. Hence, they can both be called dharma shastras – teachings on how to lead a good and moral life. I might also mention at this point that both systems use as their basis a glyph or map of both cosmology and the psyche. Yogashastra is based on a numbering system called Sankhya; Tarot, a letter and numbering system called Qabalah. Sankhya and Qabalah are arcane and esoteric underpinnings of the exoteric wisdom teachings of the East and of the West.
- Lastly, both systems look to AWAKEN THE SPIRIT WITHIN. Thus, both are precious moksha shastras – teachings that lead to liberation and freedom from anxiety and discontent, as well as initiation into true happiness.
The earliest mention of Tarot cards comes from Renaissance Italy where they were used as a card game called Tarocchi. They were hand painted and contained figures from Catholic parade festivals. These 22 picture cards were called “Trumps,” and the remaining 56 cards were the familiar deck of playing cards with an additional court card (Kings, Queens, Knights and Pages) in each suit. The game is similar to modern-day bridge, and is still played today in some European villages.
Legends say the Gypsies were the first to use the Tarot for fortune-telling, but, in the late 1800s, the cards evolved into a system of esoteric thought. This happened as the French Occult revival movement correlated the 22 Trump cards with the 22 Hebrew letters, and thus placed on a glyph known as the Qabalistic Tree of Life. Originally part of Jewish mysticism, the Tree of Life had evolved over the ages as a syncretic system of Abrahamic occult knowledge.
Each pictorial and symbolic Tarot card can be said to be a “packet of experience,” and may be arranged in innumerable ways to illustrate narratives of behaviors, mental processing and the deeper experiences of meaning and feeling. These miraculous teachings are hidden in plain sight and simply await your study and investigation.
Yoga is the ability to direct and control the changing states of mind at will in order to understand the truth about the world, other beings and yourself. (I am using the “packets of experience” pictorial tarot cards to illustrate “changing states of mind”) –
Then the Self abides in its true nature: the innermost conscious essence (Spirit). You become fully AWAKE to who you are –
Otherwise, there is identification and bondage with the changing states of mind –
The changing states can be categorized into five activities, and can be problematic or beneficial for Yoga mind-training.
The five activities are APPREHENSION and MISAPPREHENSION. Correct apprehension can be verified objectively by sensory information, inference and verbal testimony. Misapprehension is erroneous knowledge when the objective basis is false (not verified) –
CONCEPTUALIZATION – uses words or symbols devoid of an actual object. SLEEP – a state based on abstracted experience –
MEMORY – an experience that hasn’t slipped away from recollection and retention –
The art and science of mind training is accomplished through practice and dispassion. Practice is effort in the direction of stilling the mind and said to be established when done over a long-period of time with consistency and devotion.
Dispassion is the mastery of mind and appetites where there is non-attachment to the changing states (packets of experience). The highest stage of dispassion transcends, yet includes and accepts all narratives of behaviors, mental processing and the deeper experiences of meaning and feeling as everything experienced is simply “witnessed” by the innermost conscious Self.
Hatha and Jnana Yogas
There are many types of Yoga and practices. One of the most popular is Hatha Yoga, the physical type of yoga. Flowering in the late middle ages, it evolved from practices designed to overcome the body to practices that honor the body and mind link. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Indian masters modernized hatha practice into the health and fitness styles of today. The genius encoded in this type of yoga, like the Tarot hidden in plain sight, is the transformational aspect held within the body. The breath, nervous system and bio-chemical responses from hatha practice influence mental state patterning. Just as the hatha poses, asanas, require that the body wakes up the mind follows suit.
Conversely, another type of Yoga called Jnana, or “study of knowledge.” Yoga uses the capacity of thought and the practice of intellectual study to influence mental state patterning. Words speak to the conscious mind but symbols and pictures speak directly, without words, to the deeper recesses of mind. The study of Tarot is a Jnana Yoga.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, Carl Gustave Jung modernized a hatha yoga practice that worked with energy centers in the body called chakras. He placed onto the chakra system a stage model of psychological development. From the basic animal survival instincts of the lower chakras to the fully-human individualization of integration and wholeness of the upper chakras, each chakra is first objectified then integrated into the personality.
Dispassion is an attitude of de-personalization where the subject of one level of experience is transcended to become the object of the next. In simplest terms, you learn to objectify, let-go and re-integrate. This stage development is modeled in hatha yoga practice. For instance, in poses such as standing balances, the actions of the leg must separate from the actions of the hip, then reintegrate in the wholeness of the pose.
In thinking terms, you know you have a body, but you are not the body; you know you have a mind, but you are not the mind; you have experience, but you are more than experience. YOU are the witness to experience, ever free from bondage to its changing nature.
Experience is conceived by perception. Experience is the conditioned side of consciousness itself. The heart-center of YOU is pure consciousness, Spirit, God, the SELF. It, we, YOU are eternal.
You have just read and used the visual aid of the Tarot to explain the first sixteen sutras of Patanjali’s yoga manual (circa 400 CE). I hope it was helpful.
I have developed a system of looking at the Tarot Cards that illustrates both state awakening and stage development. And am looking forward to sharing more insights with you in the future.
It is my sincere wish that you benefit from these teachings in a personal way, that your relations improve from your learnings, and that you are inspired to continue your exploration of both Yoga theory and Tarot insight.
Feel, think, relax…and AWAKEN!