The Art of Nonsense and the Art of Divination
Vocatus atque non vocatus, deus aderit,
                      from the Oracle at Delphi  

in the final analysis, there is no language for the ultimate nature of things.     
                       Arthur Young
Perhaps this might come as a surprise to many people interested in Tarot as a
“serious” divination tool, but I hope that some of the observations in this article will
strike a chord or two in some readers or inspire a new way of looking at this magical
art which is Tarot, for I believe that one of the most “reliable” ways to access any
form of divination is when we open ourselves to non-quotidian reality, as when we
drop the mind and access the boundless world of nonsense.

Divination is not the same as prediction or fortune-telling, but rather a way of seeking
Knowledge through transpersonal ways that intimately connect us with the numinous.

In her insightful book about divination and synchronicity, Marie Louise von Franz
notes that any divinatory technique is linked to synchronicity and, therefore, becomes
an act of creation that cannot be predicted because it works on principles of Chance
and Chaos. In divination we step into the world of nonsense in order to drop
conscious thoughts and be part of the creative energies of the unconscious: “One
cannot make head nor tail of a chaotic pattern; one is bewildered and that moment of
Bewilderment brings up the intuition from the unconscious” (
Syncronicity and
, p. 40).

I assume that the reader knows what I am talking about when I use the word
Synchronicity, which is really (as Carl Jung defined it) an “arrangement” of events by
the transpersonal Self that often defies the rational or prescribed way we have come
to associate with what is supposed to be normal.  During these events, the ego
consciousness is caught unawares and we are able to experience what von Franz
calls, “the rhythm of the Self at a particular moment.”  This rhythm can be invoked
with the throw of Tarot cards, which are a very effective method to receive immediate
imprints of the psyche.  If these imprints don’t make sense to us at first glance, it is
normal because we are entering new territory and the images and layouts usually
challenge us to approach and interpret their allusions from a completely different point
of view than the one we are accustomed to.

Just like any other divination tool, Tarot is a non-rational source of knowledge and it
works precisely because it makes no (logical) sense.  Whether the information we
receive from the cards is coming from what Jung called the “collective unconscious” or
from the invisible world of ancestors, guides and teachers, from the Higher Self or
from Spirit, the important thing is that this information is not coming to us from
predictable, normative or prescriptive ways of acquiring Knowledge.

As a linguist I have always been intrigued by language and how it structures and
determines our every-day reality.  When we step outside of syntax and allow the
boundaries of logic and the bindings of confined language to dissolve, we enter an
alchemical realm of creative potentialities.  The worlds of Tarot, Alchemy, dreams,
Cabala, divination and magic are much easier apprehended from the platform of
nonsense, which asks us to set aside our understanding of what is sensible or
rational, but doesn't necessarily tell us what to replace it with.  That step is fully left
up to each one of us.

The Art of Nonsense

The etymology of “oracle” (oraculum) derives from “orare,” to pray, and like the word
“divination” implies invocation or a message from the gods. Oracles of antiquity were places
dedicated to the gods and to the search for knowledge.  How this knowledge was eventually
accessed and revealed to the seeker tells as much about the rites of divination as it does
about the archetype of questing and about the importance of nonsense to attain revelation.  
Today, we often seem to reach for the quick answer to our needs and questions, instant
gratification and easy solutions; and yet, Spirit requires that we engage either physically or
mentally –or both- in some sort of adventure (or odyssey) before truths are revealed to us.  
In ancient Greece and Egypt, for example, both psychological and physical preparations
were necessary to access the oracles; the onerous physical location of some of the temples
already implied an odyssey or quest; there were several rituals the seekers had to go
through before reaching the actual chamber where the divination would take place (usually
behind a veil) in obscure riddles and verses that would need to be “translated” by the
psychopomps or attendants.  There is a whole tradition of seeking knowledge, divine
intervention and healing that has lasted for thousands of years more or less this way.  Even
when the rituals leading to the act of divination or the methods of delivering the messages
vary, there has always been a sense of alluring mystery, dislocation of language structures
and of time and space, intimations of something unseen or invisible that must sneak through
in the processes used to invoke the spirits or gods.  

Like the I Ching text, which carries within a soul that is animated by the power of the throw of
marbles or coins or yarrow stalks, we can look at a deck of cards as a field of energy waiting
to be awakened and where there are no limits to the possible levels of interpretation.  
Therein rests the magic of Tarot.  Because in the infinite potentiality of the chaos unleashed
with the drawing of the cards is where we find the order of our existence; or rather where we
start to organize our reality by tapping, seemingly at random, higher sources of knowing.

Do we “read” the I Ching?  Do we engage in a conversation with the hexagrams and the
trigrams?  Jung called the I Ching, “a formidable psychological system that endeavours to
organize the play of the archetypes… so that a ‘reading’ becomes possible.”  Here Jung is
using the word “reading” as it is used in Tarot divination.  If we look at the Latin roots, the
notion of reading cards parallels the idea of reading a letter or missive. When we draw a
Tarot card, it could well mean that some spirit, ghost or ancestor energy is leaving us a
calling card (just like it might happen in dreaming).  How we react to this calling card might
well determine the outcome of an illness or any other life’s challenge.  In the I Ching a
reading starts by literally seeking the answer from specific –and ancient- texts with a long
wisdom tradition.  From the literal, the message then moves to metaphoric and spiritual
levels.  We must do the same with Tarot because the display of archetypes and energies
that the cards reflect requires a movement from the literal to the symbolic, regardless of the
deck we are using.  One may start by reading the literal message from the books first; but at
some point words can no longer serve to reveal the higher allegorical meanings.  As we
move into other levels of interpretation and inspiration, we must allow the energies of the
images to lead the way.  Our ego consciousness must relinquish power through any creative
methods that work with our imagination and that allow us to feel the silent energies, the
hidden meanings, the interconnections, and the innuendos that are unveiled at a nonverbal
level of communication.  

Stephen Karcher reminds us that it is impossible to try and figure out literally what the words
in the I Ching text mean because both images and texts must be processed in our heart and
in our mind.  I would say the same about Tarot interpretation.  The moment that we try to
start making sense out of the cards, we are using the left side of the brain and something
will always be lost in the translation.  It is often better to allow the energy of these
contradictory and nonsensical images to penetrate our psyche without too much analysis or
interpretations.  A rational mind, after all, is not the answer when dealing with the numinous.  
Copyright © 2008 Yolanda M. Robinson, PhD