Suffering is part of the human condition. Most spiritual thought and psychological study, is, in great part, an effort to understand and ease suffering. As a professional tarot reader, I often feel that my job is to help clients identify, understand and mitigate the things that cause them unnecessary suffering, and to help the manage the suffering that cannot be avoided.
While our current pandemic has sharpened everyone’s focus on the many problems we face, there were certainly problems before the pandemic, and there will be problems even once our current crisis is solved.
I have always been interested in the concept of suffering. I remember as a child asking my father, a Methodist minister, why God allowed people, or perhaps caused people, to suffer.
In college, I was fascinated with a book that was required reading in my psych 101 class, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. You are probably familiar with his premise, that we can tolerate a great deal of suffering, as long as we can find meaning in that suffering.
Often, I find that a purpose of tarot reading is to find meaning in difficulty. The process of divination with tarot lends itself well to discovering these sorts of insights.
When we study tarot, we realize that tarot study is not simply memorizing seventy-eight cards. Tarot study introduces us to the archetypes of tarot. That is, the characters, themes, lessons and experience that are common to all and understood by all.
As we learn these archetypes, and find that commonality of experience, we learn spiritual lessons to help us on our own journey through life. Over the past fifty years this process has come to be known as ‘The Fool’s Journey’.
Each Major Arcana card has a lesson to teach us about how to live life, find our balance, and journey toward our spiritual enlightenment. What is interesting is that none of these Major Arcana cards address suffering specifically, although all people suffer. While the Major Arcana cards address a host of issues, including things such as oppression, addiction, fairness, closure, patience, wisdom, compassion, mastery, responsibility, loneliness, self-awareness, education, meditation, and change, there is no Major Arcana card that is specifically and exclusively about suffering.
I think there is a lesson in that. Suffering is not the event, or the situation, but a reaction to the event or situation. The Hermit may speak of our loneliness, but whether we are suffering in our loneliness or handling it with patience is up to us. The Tower may reflect an uncomfortable occurrence, but how much we suffer with the Tower will depend largely on us.
In the Minor Arcana there are certainly cards that can speak of suffering. The Three, Eight, Nine and Ten of Swords, for example, or the Five of Pentacles or Nine of Wands, can all depict suffering.
Sometimes, in a reading, acknowledgement of our discomfort and misery is helpful. Sometimes holding space for our struggle is an important part of our healing.
We see that tarot divination can help us find meaning in our suffering, can help us find our place on our journey toward enlightenment, and can help us acknowledge our suffering. Divination can also help us find solutions for our suffering that are both practical and spiritual.
Tarot can also help us see the suffering of others.
I often think that the world divides itself into two types of people. There are those who have suffered and therefore want others to suffer as well. There are those who have suffered and want to help others avoid those same difficulties. The lessons of tarot that we learn in tarot study and find in tarot divination tend to steer us toward a path of compassion. In this way, tarot helps us heal ourselves, and each other.
Suffering is part of human existence. Tarot helps us understand our suffering, manage our suffering, heal our suffering, and learn from our suffering.
Tarot makes us aware of the suffering of others, and often holds us accountable to act with compassion toward others.