The system of thought being presented everywhere on this site, and the tarot decks that have been created to illustrate those thoughts, are meant to be an alternative to the more traditional forms of thought that dominate the landscape of tarot today. As an alternative, one could well expect the ideas presented here to not be as popular as those of tradition. Indeed they are not. In fact... after superficial examination of this web site, many have come to question the appropriateness of some of the more violent and gruesome images that are to be found within decks like The Isomorphic Tarot (see The Isomorphic Tarot elsewhere on this site). In the minds of many, tarot is not supposed to be so gruesome. To many, tarot is meant to be used for healing and reassurance, where violent and gruesome imagery might indeed be considered inappropriate.
As a result of the anti-violent, anti-gruesome bias that dominates tarot today, many modern tarot decks have been designed with violence and gruesomeness removed or watered down. The fact that imagery handed down to us by decks of old are often themselves violent and gruesome carries no weight when confronted by people who want, and insist, that tarot be about healing and reassurance. Thus, the imagery of these old decks gets re-interpreted in less and less violent and less and less gruesome ways to accommodate a particular bias.
In many circles of tarot study, this practice of accentuating the subjective "good" of tarot imagery, to the relative, or sometimes total exclusion of any subjective "bad" imagery, is referred to as the "Fluffy Bunny" approach to tarot. In this approach, with decks that have had their violent, gruesome or scary imagery watered down, lessened or removed entirely, the tarot becomes analogous to a little fluffy bunny that would never think of doing anyone any harm, and on the contrary, would probably comfort us in every way possible, the way holding a gentle fluffy bunny comforts a little child. This is what the majority of people want from tarot today. But there are alternative points of view that, while less popular, still have much to offer.
Telling It Like It Is
Obviously, the study of tarot being presented everywhere on this site does not subscribe to the Fluffy Bunny approach to tarot. To the study of tarot being presented everywhere on this site, USE of tarot is not ONLY about healing and reassurance, it is first and foremost about revealing what is what about a situation... nakedly - warts and all. The study of tarot presented on this site believes that the tarot is, and should be, more like a mirror held up to the seeker. It by itself does not, and should not, care who we are, or how much need we might have for reassurance by way of a fluffy bunny in our arms comforting us as we attempt to cope with life, it by itself should be designed to tell us what is what about a situation, regardless of who we are. In other words, like some of the most famous oracles of our mythological past, the tarot should be blind. It should not care who we are personally, in order to guess whether it should spare our feelings and pull its punches. It should not care who we are emotionally, in order to guess whether we can "take it" or not, it should tell us what's what, regardless.
This study of tarot believes an oracle should be blind and tell it like it is. Toward that end, it is believed that the design of the deck should be centered around providing as complete a vocabulary as possible for conveying the truth about a situation... nakedly - warts and all. But, people who prefer fluffy bunny decks don't necessarily want the naked truth. In a lot of instances, they want all those warts, and other violent gruesome vocabulary of visual or verbal description, removed, so that such ugliness never enters the discussion. Is such a bias really the best description of reality?
The study of tarot being presented on this site believes that a deck that wants to describe all of life's ups and downs should illustrate both ups and downs - warts and all. Toward that end, it is believed that the best design for a deck is one that includes a high degree of contrast so that a complete vocabulary of human experience is made available to the reader. With such a deck in hand, it would then be the task of those who consult the oracle to determine exactly where along a spectrum of contrasting possibilities an interpretation of the oracle's message puts them. If someone consults a reader who mitigates the bad out of all cards, that person might be more compassionate, and put a "good" spin on everything. If they consult a reader who is more like a blind oracle or a compassionless mirror, that reader might be less sensitive and give them some tough love and a metaphorical slap in the face. But either way, it is the opinion of this study of tarot that the cards should have the visual and verbal vocabulary for describing both pleasant situations as well as unpleasant situations.
The point is not to resist painful experiences or grasp at pleasant ones: that's a kind of craving - and craving leads to suffering. The art is to find a balance in which you remain mindful, accepting, and curious regarding difficult experiences - while also taking in supportive feelings and thoughts.
-- Rick Hanson Ph.D with Richard Mendius, MD from Buddha's Brain
In order to have balance, we need to be open to experiencing as many sides of life as possible, and not shut out the ugly in favor of clinging to a fluffy bunny. That is why The Numerical Tarot is designed with attention to balance, symmetry, contrast and consistency. The deck is then fully capable of telling it like it is. Which can then be mitigated or not by a reader.
Telling It Like We Want
All of the decks presented on this site focus on spectrums of possibilities (see the essay A Spectrum of Possibilities elsewhere on this site). With this idea in mind, it is to be understood that the images presented don't ALWAYS have to represent their most extreme interpretation. For example: The Wretched Heathen, found in The Isomorphic Tarot (which would be equivalent to The Tower card in a traditional deck) shows a pretty gruesome image of a person being tortured and cut to pieces. Hopefully none of us ever witness or experience such unspeakable horror. But (obviously) some people do. Thus... The Wretched Heathen shows one man's unspeakable horror. Maybe there are others who have had unspeakable horrors in their life. Maybe not. Maybe someone else's horror wasn't quite as bad as this guy's. These things are all relative. The idea is that the Wretched Heathen card represents that kind of feeling - however severe it may or may not be compared to others. If one were doing a reading for someone who is, or was, having that kind of feeling, wouldn't it be helpful to have an image that points to that concept? In traditional tarot decks the violence and gruesomeness of the Tower card is often preserved for just that purpose. Unfortunately, as decks become more and more "fluffy" the dwindling number of violent gruesome cards, causes cards like The Tower to become a catch-all card for all forms of "bad" that a person might encounter. By maintaining the ugliness of The Tower, The Devil and a couple others, these "fluffy" decks only preserve a handful of cards to represent our "bad" or disastrous situations. Thus it is the point of this essay to suggest that the BALANCE between these not-so-fluffy or "ugly" cards and cards that either are, or have been altered to be more "fluffy" is off. Way off.
As an alternative, the decks presented on this site attempt to be much more balanced in their description of contrasting concepts. In the decks presented on this site, every card in the deck has another card of contrasting quality to balance it. When one learns the system behind these balanced and contrasting cards, the ideas of spectrums of possibilities and extremes and in-betweens comes forth. Obviously, only one image could be drawn for any one card, so... the high level of contrast is used to suggest as broad a spectrum as possible. With such a tool in hand, it becomes the task of the reader to LEARN the full spectrum that each set of cards attempts to describe. For those who like to USE a deck without ever STUDYING the deck, this design of balance, symmetry, contrast and consistency may be of little value and may never be known. But for those who STUDY the design of these decks, the purpose of providing as complete a spectrum of vocabulary as possible will be appreciated. For those who prefer a deck to be as "fluffy" as possible this kind of balance, symmetry, contrast and consistency will most likely be offensive, because of how it increases the number of "ugly" cards to contend with, instead of minimizing, diluting or removing them entirely. However, for those who appreciate the idea of a deck that is a blind oracle, the need for this kind of balance will become apparent.
The Numerical Tarot is a blind oracle. But... during a reading a reader can "lead" a person to think which ever way they want. If they are using The Isomorphic Tarot, they they can look at the Wretched Heathen card and jump up screaming "Oh my GOD! You're going to have your arm cut off by crazed bats from Hell - LOOK it's right here in this card!!" Or... they could say "This card represents a disastrous situation of some kind, see this guy, he's having a real bad day, have you experienced any disasters lately??" and the client might say "Yes, I was in a car accident and got cut up pretty bad, I felt just like that guy in the card - ripped to shreds, it was a real gruesome scene." In such cases, it could be a real cathartic thing for them to talk about their disastrous scene, or it could open old wounds and make them sad. But those emotional reactions come from asking about "any disasters lately" not from the image on the card. The image on the card simply suggest a level of experience. Whether someone gets sad or happy as a result of such a suggestion is not something the deck is responsible for regulating. It is the duty of the deck to tell it like it is. It then becomes the duty of those interpreting the results to also tell it like it is, or... to tell it like we want. The point being that the image on the card is just a trigger. It points to the concept of disaster. Then... we talk about the disaster. One can do that in a sympathetic or "fluffy" way or not. The point being, that the image itself does not dictate the level of disaster, only that something like a disaster is there. For those who don't want to even think that such things exist in life, the "bad" or scary or "ugly" cards can all be removed, and a happy "fluffy bunny" reading could follow... if preferred. The decks of this site are a blind oracle.
Telling it like it is often hurts. Telling it like we want it to be usually soothes. In a "fluffy bunny" reading one can reassure and heal. To many, being a source of healing and reassurance is more important than any structural balance a deck might have. Because of this, a deck that promotes balance, symmetry, contrast and consistency generates little interest, when compared to decks that promote a "fluffy" bias that promises to assist in the task of healing and reassurance. It is this mentality that has overtaken modern tarot and caused it to morph into something distant and removed from its origins.
The need or desire to project a 100% positive atmosphere is strong. And I would say that's a great philosophy to promote. Stay positive. Believe that everything is somehow okay, and just a series of life lessons. I can agree with that approach to life. But I do NOT agree that that is "what the cards want as some believe. I believe the cards are a blind oracle, and that WE, as humans looking for comfort in a cold cruel world, can choose to interpret everything with a "positive" philosophy or not. Some people think that life is a shit sandwich ... and then you die. I'm sure they could interpret any "fluffy bunny" reading 180 degrees the other way, if they wanted. And that is because interpretation is separate from what the cards are showing us. The cards show us an answer to a question, or portray a life situation. We then interpret what is shown. We can do that with a bias to be fluffy, or not.
Ultimately, this idea of interpretation is why it is important to understand the primordial patterns that lie beneath the images. Because the patterns are abstract and conceptual. In the abstract, there is no tower. There is no heathen getting his arm cut off. There is only an abstract concept. When that abstract concept appears in a reading, we interpret its meaning into the life of an individual. The image is just there to remind us of what the primordial pattern is, and what kind of concept it points to. We then have to decide where along a spectrum of possibilities we want to interpret meaning. If the card is illustrating the worst possible scenario for this abstract concept, we have to decide whether to interpret it even worse, or minimize the severity. That is our interpretation. But the patterns fall the way they fall, regardless of whether we are an optimist or a pessimist who will eventually interpret the abstract concepts in a "good" or "bad" light. In other words, the DECK is a blind oracle.
As a reader who chooses to mitigate the "bad" out of every card, one might prefer to protect and shelter people who have experienced tragedies from the shock of seeing such a gruesome image as The Wretched Heathen, found in The Isomorphic Tarot. But I believe that such a practice could indeed do as much damage as viewing the "ugly" or "scary" card itself, and carry with it a potential to deny a therapeutic release of cathartic emotion. It's therapeutic to talk about difficult experiences. In fact, some people LIKE to talk at length about their suffering. On the other hand, if someone is doing readings for fun, where perhaps people are only looking for idle amusement, maybe it's better to not ask them about any recent disasters. In such a case, one could simply tell those people that The Wretched Heathen just symbolizes difficult times, and allow them to NOT talk about their recent difficult time. Just gloss right over it, and continue with the entertaining reading they came for. Stay positive. But... if they DO want a serious reading, that really brings out the truth about their life, then I would think that an open discussion about a disaster or tragedy in their life would be beneficial. Or as stated above - cathartic.
A tarot reading has the potential to be as beneficial as any session on the psychiatrist's couch. Unfortunately, as more and more "Fluffy Bunny" decks appear, I think that readers who mitigate and dilute the bad out of every card in order to stay positive at all costs are being too overprotective of people's psyches, and making decisions for them about what they can or can't take, or what they want or don't want to talk about in a reading. This is a bias - clearly. I don't believe tarot has, or should have, this kind of bias - when viewed in its unadulterated form. And an unadulterated form is what the decks on this site attempt to present. A blind oracle.
A story was told to me of a young boy who had experienced the tragedy of the death of his parents. It was suggested that a harsh and gruesome image like the Vicious Beast, seen on The Isomorphic Tarot, might further impact this boys grief and offend his sweet and gentle disposition. I suggested that indeed he may very well be a sweet and gentle kid, but that he may also be stuck in the anger stage of his grief process, and be filled with rage. He may be holding it all in, because everyone has come to expect him to be a sweet and gentle kid, so he doesn't know what to do with all that rage. I suggested that The Vicious Beast might be a better card than realized, that it might be cathartic for him to talk about all the rage he feels, instead of just giving him the life lesson of The Hanged Man's acceptance of suffering. Maybe he isn't at the acceptance stage yet, and the "mitigate-the-bad" bias to see everything in a positive light is denying him an opportunity to express his rage.
The point being, that bad news is bad news. If a positive spin can be put onto everything after the fact, fine! But if we're in a plane that is about to smash head first into the ground, we're not going to be thinking "Wow, if I survive this, what a life lesson this will be." No, we're probably thinking "Holy shit, this can't be happening." In such a case we would be experiencing unmitigated horror. The key word there being "unmitigated." Horror is horror, when it is happening. We may be able to mitigate it in retrospect. Or we might require the assistance of a tarot card reader to help us mitigate it after the fact. But while we are in it, it is horrible. Where is the card for that horror, and why can't we (tarot people) talk about unmitigated horror? Why do we always have to mitigate the "bad" and stay positive?
The Intoxication of Staying Positive
One answer to the question of why some people think we should always mitigate the "bad" and stay positive at all costs could come from the spiritual philosophies of the world that suggest to us the "inevitability of manifestation" that comes from anything we think. Philosophies that suggest that whatever we think becomes a command sent out into the universe to be fulfilled as part of our destiny will usually recommend that we remain positive in all our thoughts, at all times, and at all costs... so as to avoid all potential for calamity that might come about by thinking a bad thought. With such a mindset, one can understand the desire for "fluffy bunny" decks that have had as much "badness" or "ugliness" removed or diluted from them as possible. One can also understand the desire among tarot card readers to decide for others how much "ugliness" to discuss in the interpretation of cards in a reading. If one believes that all thought has the potential to become manifest experience, then any talk of bad things would be potentially catastrophic.
But... when taken to extremes - as so many things involving belief so often are - this idea of avoiding all forms of negativity or "badness" can at times make people downright phobic of any mention of "ugliness." Like a Germ-a-phobe who will refuse to touch things, or people, for fear of catching a germ and getting sick, people following the "Stay positive, or else...!" philosophy of life will often become phobic of anyone attempting to even discuss negative or "ugly" concepts in any way. In group settings, such phobic - or shall we say "committed" people will often make every attempt possible to have "negative" people removed from a group, in the same way they would remove a "scary" card from a tarot deck. God forbid these phobic people should ever encounter a true pessimist or misanthrope!! Such an encounter would most likely lead to violent rejection and lots of drama.
The more someone tries to avoid all forms of hurt,
the easier it becomes to hurt them.
-- Guy Palm
Staying positive is a good idea. But... becoming "committed" to the point that cards in a tarot deck must be removed or altered so as to never have a negative thought cross our minds is clearly obsessive and highly biased. Becoming so "committed" to the pursuit of positive thinking that people who do not cooperate must be removed or altered so as to not allow them to contribute any negative thoughts to a discussion is also obsessive... not to mention rude, hostile and anti-social behavior. Especially in the face of scientific studies concerning the nature of happiness and how good feelings can be so intimately dependent upon sad, fearfull or bad feelings as a precursor to knowing anything to be good in the first place.
The highest joys, it turns out, sometimes follow releaf from our worst fears.
-- Martin E. P. Seligman Ph.D., Authetic Happiness
Almost every spiritual philosophy the world has ever known acknowledges our inability to know good without also knowing bad. It is, in effect, a figure/ground situation - meaning... we need the "ground" in order to see the "figure." In the same way, we need bad in order to see good. In fact it has been shown neurologically that such contrast is vital to any pursuit of happiness. So... to remove from our lives anything or anyone who threatens to show us a complementary side to our current situation is to remove the "ground" from the figure/ground equation that determines happiness. When we do this, we get a distorted view of reality that is not real but delusional. We are just living in denial. That is considered by many to be... not good. And that is how we eventually loose sight of the good; by denying the "ground" of bad that reveals the "figure" of good we loose our appreciation of goodness and loose our grip on happiness. By pursuing 100% good, we end up with something bad. How ironic!
Contrast is the key to enjoyment.
-- Stephen Lehmann, The Science of Happiness
Staying positive is a good idea. And there are a lot of self-help books out there that also acknowledge the need to know bad in order to appreciate good, or that acknowledge our inability to be happy 100% of our lives. In acknowledging the need to deal with bad as a necessary evil in understanding good, these philosophies of happiness will often recommend that periodic assessments be made throughout each day of our lives, in order to monitor our mood so that we might better direct our course through life and stay happy more often - that is... if staying happy is a goal we value. This idea of using our subjective sense of "good" and "bad" as a course correction device (for those who happen to put value on life) is also mentioned in the essay Good and Bad, Right and Wrong, Smile and Frown seen elsewhere on this site. Over the years, many have suggested the use of a tarot deck as a device for assessing mood. But... if the tarot deck being used is a "fluffy" deck that has had as much "badness" and "ugliness" as possible removed from it, what chance does it have to reveal all of our moods, including the bad ones? Not as much as a deck like The Numerical Tarot, which is devoted to the use of balance, symmetry, contrast and consistency in its very design!
So, once again, The Numerical Tarot stands as an alternative to the "Fluffy Bunny" approach to tarot... and life. Elsewhere on this site there are devices, other than just a deck of cards, that one can use to assess one's moment to moment mood or condition. The invention of Quintagrams would not have been possible if a traditional or "Fluffy Bunny" form of tarot had been followed. But with the invention of Quintagrams, things like the Binary Influence Calculator and the Dream Analysis Calculator can be used to calculate every possible mood known to humankind! Give them a try, and see if they work! But... only if negative thoughts are allowed.
Money, Money, Money
Another possible answer to the question of why we always have to mitigate the "bad" and stay positive might be money. If someone doesn't want to offend, for fear of losing a paying client, or perhaps not getting a book published, mitigating the "bad" out of everything could easily become a preferred mode. A reader is much less likely to get referrals and return visits if they become known as the purveyor of bad news. But... a problem occurs (in my opinion) when these people go out into the world and teach what they believe to others while carrying this "mitigate-the-bad" bias into every interpretation they give - teaching people that their mitigated interpretation is in fact what this or that card was or is intended to mean, as opposed to what they have mitigated it to mean so as to not offend. Big difference, in my mind. This same "mitigate-the-bad" bias is also what causes people to preach that healing and reassurance is what tarot is supposed to be about, as opposed to what they want it to be about. It's the same bias that causes people to preach, that healing and reassurance is "what the cards want" as opposed to what they want. I don't believe that healing and reassurance is "what the cards want." I don't believe the cards "want" anything, other than to describe what is going on in the life of those consulting its wisdom. If the life of a client is all sweetness and light, then that is what the cards "want" to tell them. If a client has big problems or is experiencing a big freaking disaster, then that is what the cards "want" to tell them. So... if we remove all the cards that might be used to describe a big freaking disaster, or water down our interpretation of what looks to be a big freaking disaster - mitigating it to nothing more than another "life lesson" - we are limiting the tarot's ability to do what it "wants" to do. Why? Why do that?
What do we say when someone returns after a reading and says that they experienced a big freaking disaster, and wonders why we didn't see it in the reading we did for them? Do we say "Oh, I saw that big freaking disaster, but I didn't want to bring it up because I didn't want to upset you - I wanted to stay positive" or "I didn't see any big freaking disaster in your future because I use a "fluffy bunny" deck that doesn't have any upsetting cards in it that would indicate a disaster" or "Tarot is about healing and reassurance, that's what the cards want, so scaring you to death by mentioning a big freaking disaster would be counter to that objective, sorry."
Ultimately, a reader of cards has to do what they feel is right. If they are face to face with someone, and dont want to offend, then by all means use a "fluffy bunny" deck. However, if a reading calls for a deck that has a more complete vocabulary of human experience - warts and all, and covers a lot more ground, across a wider spectrum of possibilities - both subjectively "good" as well as subjectively "bad" extremes and inbetweens - then the decks being presented on this site may be useful. Matrix organization and the invented terminology of tarot semantics (as seen elsewhere on this site) provide a degree of clarity to tarot that has not been seen before. Like all systems of tarot (Qabalah based, Astrology based etc.) it will take time to learn. But once mastered, a more complete vocabulary will emerge. A vocabulary capable of discussing ALL aspects of human experience - not just the fluffy side of things.
Are you one of those people who are likely to dismiss a deck of tarot cards because you notice it having more "ugly" or "scary" looking cards than usual? Or, are you intrigued by a deck that attempts to present a balance of thought to its form? If your opened mind has enabled you to read this far, perhaps you would be interested in another speculative idea concerning the destructive influence of a "mitigate-the-bad" bias. If so, please read on...