For some, it is acceptable to work with dreams but not with the Tarot. With the Tarot comes some unfortunate baggage. It is quite possible, in fact, to utilize the Tarot to facilitate self-growth and understanding. No divination required.
With the Tarot, as with a dream, comes many and varied images – and images do pique the unconscious in the most delightful way.
In this article, we’ll discuss how dreams and the Tarot may be cut from the same beautiful cloth, yet are distinct threads.
First, the Tarot and dreams both are ripe with symbols.
Tarot decks like the Rider Waite Smith and the Thoth Tarot have a finite symbol set, as the originators aren’t alive to produce more cards. (There are many who have taken it upon themselves to create decks with their own symbol vocabulary, but it is not those decks I’m referring to right now.)
With dreams, on the other hand, the symbol set is constantly being added to by the dreamer, even multiple times per night!
Second, both dreams and the Tarot yield insight from way more than just the symbols.
With the Tarot, many factors contribute to the meaning of a reading: the question asked, the layout of the cards, the position in which a card lies, the meaning of a given card, the pattern across and connection between cards (e.g., “elemental dignities” which way characters in the cards are facing, etc.)
The richness of dreams certainly doesn’t come from just the symbols (contrary to a “dream dictionary” approach). The meaning of dreams comes from the gestalt of the dream, the sequence of events in the dream, and the emotions within the dream, to name a few elements off the top of my head. You can even ask a question before you go to sleep, called “incubating a dream,” and stimulate a dream that relates to your question (no guarantee that it will make sense on a surface level).
With dreams, also, symbols are both uniquely the dreamer’s but also carry an element of universality (how many people do you know that have dreamt of their childhood home? why not take a poll right now and send along your results!)
Both Tarot and dreams can be consulted in the service of set-breaking insight.
Both modalities tap into looser, more associative ways of thinking rather than logical a->b thinking, with swirls of images and evoked emotions. This may represent something spiritual to you (a Highest and Best Self or Higher Wisdom), or it may be simply a source of creativity or innovation.
A big difference between Tarot and dreams?
The Tarot is helpfully external. You don’t have to go to sleep or go into a reverie to produce the symbols in a Tarot deck and you don’t have to put effort into remembering them or recording them in the dead of night – they already exist in the world to project onto, on easily shufflable card stock.
Dreams are internal. They have to be brought out from within. They are, as the Talmud is reputed to say, a letter that needs to be opened. However, dreams may benefit the dreamer without being communicated. Seriously! According to some theories, simply experiencing the dream may be enough sometimes.
Happily, I’ve noticed a complimentary relationship between Tarot and dreams, that is, working in one modality stimulates the other. When I work with Tarot cards, my dream source “perks up”. It’s funny, though, Tarot images don’t find their way into my dreams. Working with dreams, on the other hand, has improved my ability to read tarot cards in a more holistic, less “keywordy” way.