Tarot and Torah? An Intersection of Spirit and Religion

Jewish wisdom teaches that leaving unexamined a dream or synchronicity can be likened to receiving a letter from Divinity that we leave unopened. Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous. It was a serendipitous moment then that led to my unexpected re-consideration of the Tarot. Vaguely familiar with this fortune-telling tool since my teens, in revisiting the mythic portent of the cards as a maturing mystic, the number 22 caught my attention. Not 20, 21 or 25 which are more familiar number groupings. Is it coincidental that there are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet and pathways on the Tree of Life?

The Tarot consists of 78 cards divided into two decks, the Major and Minor Arcana- the latter consisting of four suits of 54 cards, a forerunner to the familiar playing cards. The former deck, consisting of 22 images, named and numbered from 0-21 are as mysterious as the origins of Tarot itself. The cards may have first emerged in medieval Europe- the Marseilles Tarot survived for hundreds of years without a verbal script and first appeared in Europe in the 1500s. The Rider-Waite card, most familiar to us in the English-speaking world was created in London in the early 1900s. Tarot’s teachings, however, both timeless and timely, are believed to predate such medieval origins. Gypsies are probably the people most readily associated with Tarot. Who has not seen a movie in which, after ‘crossing her palm with silver’ the gypsy will foretell what the future has yet to unfold?

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It is suggested that the forebears of the Romani people carried and dispersed the wisdom of the ancient Egyptian mysteries schools through the prognosticative use of these cards. Is the similarity in the root of the words ‘gypsy’ and ‘Egypt’ a clue to this tie? Wherever these cards originate, their mythic themes are universal. Contemporary media use the cards of the Major Arcana as a recognizable symbol of the mystical, triggering different emotional responses, ranging from fascination to fear. Trepidation, in its diverse guises, has kept many from working with these intriguing illustrations. For those who assume only a literal reading of the cards, there is the dread of drawing the ‘Death’ card-especially one illustrated with an armor-clad skeleton, mounted on a horse, trampling bodies beneath its feet. This illustration in the Rider-Waite deck may have been an appropriate symbol of medieval turmoil that now, like the rest of the cards, begs reconsideration. For Jews, Tarot may seem unwelcoming with its strange imagery of ‘The Devil,’ ‘The Hierophant’ and ‘The Hanging Man’-all unfamiliar to Jewish sensibilities.

Just as the origins of the cards, and the Major Arcana in particular, seem obscure, so the teachings of kabbalah were hidden for centuries. To survive the brutal and destructive power of the prevailing medieval church consciousness of earlier centuries, any association, interest or affiliation with an intuitive wisdom tradition, by necessity, needed to be unequivocally broken and forbidden. So horrendous were the consequences of even the slightest suspicion of any such association just a few hundred years ago, that still today, a deep-seated fear of the mystical causes many to approach its tantalizing possibilities with great trepidation. With the dawning of a new era, as human consciousness spirals into ever-broadening dimensions and possibilities, mystical teachings are re-emerging and tentatively finding ready audiences who wish to rediscover and remember, as they free themselves of the shackles of past fears.

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So what happens when an open, universal approach to Torah, the Tree of Life and the Tarot are drawn together by a contemporary mystic in search of the Sacred Feminine? The Syzygy Oracle is born. Pronounced ‘scissor-gee’ this word was used by Jung to describe a balancing of the opposites while for astronomers, it applies to a certain repeating alignment of the sun, moon and earth. A perfect word it seems to describe a journey from the dark and mysterious unknown into the light of consciousness, an odyssey that takes us from ego to essence.

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by Heather Mendel