Andrea Vitali's Historical Essays on the Tarot

Predicting the future with the tarot

Significance and potential of tarot cards as divinatory symbols


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Translation from the Italian by Michael S. Howard, December 2014 


Many have asked me what the magic of the Tarot is, why it is able to predict the future, and about the Jungian thesis which reflects such a prerogative.


We start with the statement that the Jungian symbol manifests itself as receptor, conductor and transformer of energy.


What does this mean, receptor? We will explain with examples.


Millions and millions of people throughout the ages, when they thought, for example, of the Devil, attributed the characteristics of evil, chaos, disorder, sin, the great opponent of God, malice. But we could also consider other symbolic forms not specifically related to the tarot, such as words’ or 'formulas'. With regard to words, the Arab world believes that the word ‘death’ in its written form is able to stop the pain caused by a sprain. Hundreds of millions of people for centuries have believed in this power because it has been taught. In this way the energy of their thought has loaded - the academic term is 'enformed' - the word so that it has acquired the power to cure the sprain. The word  ‘death’ (in Arabic) thus manifests as a receiver and also  as a conductor in so far as while receiving that energy it holds, i.e. conducts it.


A personal example will be helpful for a better understanding: it was in February of 1980 when I went for the first time, as a responsible cultural authority to the  Villa Rondinini cultural center and library of the City of Brisighella. Well, r mounting steps and opening the door, I  gave me pain in the left foot and a serious sprain. The pain was atrocious. I thought to myself: "I am in good shape, I do not think that this is a good omen for good work". While I was lamenting with little movement because of the pain, fate would enter in a "vu comprà" (as it was called  then) [‘Vu comprà’ means ‘Do you want buy?’]: perhaps for the first time in the history of Brisighella, an Arab with many cassette drawers, where he kept his wares to sell. When he saw that I was holding my aching leg, without saying anything he grabbed my leg and began to pull it towards him. At which of course I tried to remove his hands from it, not knowing the reason for that pull, and I thought, "But what is happening today? This is too crazy. Things are not going at all well". But time shortly revealed his plan,  because the Arab, in a fraction of a second, gestured at the area of pain,  and it vanished as if by magic. Think about how I was then: I had not yet begun to deal with the tarot, and the concept of symbolic energy was distant from me by at least five years. Then I asked, amazed, what he did and if he were a magician. To which he replied with a smile: "I have written ‘death” in Arabic because we feel that the word ‘death’ in its written form makes  the pain of the sprain go away". I accepted his assessments without replying, thinking, however, that the man had special powers; and of course I bought everything he had to sell.


In this regard, however, about  words with energy, in the Jewish world there are numerous expressions to enunciate so as to remove evils. We find several, for example, in the celebrated Testament of Solomon. If a person suffers from migraines, it will be sufficient to  put your hands over your head and say in a loud voice  Gabriel sera Barsafel. Where Gabriel, that is, the archangel Gabriel, is charged with the power to take away that kind of pain, while the devil Barsafel is characterized as responsible for that pain, but with a very limited power. It goes without saying that since the greater power takes precedence over that of lesser value, Barsafel is rendered impotent by the Latin verb serare, meaning to close, to block.


This word-ritual passed from the Jewish world to the Roman one, given that the words have been transmitted in Latin, thereby betraying their use also in the Rome of antiquity. Please note however that this is not a headache due to cervical problems, as in this case the devil will be defeated by other means.


Returning to the power of the symbol as a receptor, conductor and transformer of energy,  we have thus also understood the signification  'transformer' because with its power it is able to transform the energy.


When the so-called witches made special signs on certain areas of the body of a patient and performed rituals that led to the patient’s recovery , that means that those acts and those rituals were charged by millions of people in ancient times with the power to heal a particular given disease or a certain part of the body. Apart from the so-called ‘herbarie’[i.e. who cured with herbs], which cured by means of herbs, the other ladies who, healed with words and gestures, did not know why those rituals were effective: they cured well enough, and that was sufficient for them.


In addition, Jung came to affirm that the symbol is able to bring forth, from the depths of intuitions of a superior character, special information - which we now call simply flashes - which manifest without being set in motion by an attitude of rational character..


This will occur again in my personal experience. It was in 2002 when, as artistic director of the “Marriage of the Sea” in Cervia, an event that traces its origin back in the fifteenth century, I became friends with the mayor of the city of Split, with which Cervia had forged a relationship of cultural exchange during the event. When the event ended, the Administration wanted to thank the mayor for all his kindness and helpfulness. So   refreshments were set upset up at the meeting of the Department of Tourism,, attended by artists, directors and employees of that office. I stood in line to say hello, or rather embrace the mayor, for whom I felt a sincere affection. Then I started to retire to give others the same opportunity. At that moment the phone fell from my hands . I heard a loud bang. I bent down and picked up the phone hoping that it was not broken. It still worked. So, as is my habit, I let it slip into a shirt pocket; but it so happened that the shirt I was wearing that day did not have a pocket. So the phone fell again and this time it shattered into many pieces, making a loud noise. While all this was happening I was watching the mayor of Split and without thinking anything beforehand, there came to my mind this message: "Something will happen to the Mayor." Obviously for any of us and I think that would include  me, as it would be 'stupid', as I say to my students, to believe that from the fall of a cell phone someone could suffer. I turned then to the office employee saying that maybe something might happen to the Mayor, without explaining why. Imagine the ladies, who interpreted sacramental gestures, telling me that I was a bit out of my head. The fact is that when the  Mayor’s driver  went out onto the  main Adriatic road without stopping at the stop sign, the car he was hit by a Volkswagen Golf from Lugo (Lugo is a village near Ravenna). The Mayor was taken to the Hospital of Cesena Buffalini with several broken ribs. multiple bruises. and torn muscles. He remained hospitalized for three months or more.


What I have described is what Jung called signs, that is, improvised information that  only the symbol is able to arouse. And the  symbol in this case manifested as the noise of the phone hitting the ground.


Has there never happened to you  a similar feeling, sudden information which you are amazed to receive,  only because at that time you were thinking about other things completely? If it did, it is because you have seen or heard something that you did not notice, and that thing, whatever it may have been, was manifested as a symbol that  brought forth in you that particular sign.


Of This phenomenology, is also expressed in the scientific studies made by Prof. Daryl Bem together with his team of scientists at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, coming to the conclusion that it is possible to predict the future. Please read  the article "Predicting the future is possible: science says it, not a fortune-teller," online at the link


To translate what has been expressed so far into tarot card reading one should therefore know the true meanings of the symbols, where by ‘true’ is meant the significations with  which the meanings of the symbols in the tarot cards have been charged over the centuries by millions of people.


This is necessary because there will be established, at the choice of the cards by the consultant, a relationship of synergy between his thought referring to situations or people to which the consultant has to constantly refer mentally and the value of the different symbols in the cards, so these choices are ones that correspond exactly to the situation required by the consultant. In this way the symbols that appear will highlight the reality of the present and what might happen to the consultant on the basis of the current situation.


The symbols see still more, because they are able to capture not only the energy of the consultant, but that regarding the people or situations of which the consultant has chosen to think in shuffling and  choosing the cards. Out of many examples I will speak of a friend who asked me if it was the case that her daughter, who attended the session, would choose to get married in the fall or in the following spring. The house was ready e, also the  wedding dress, in short, no problems. From the cards chosen in three different spreads on the relevant question, I realized that I did not see any wedding, something of which I informed her mother. A few days later my friend called me saying that the future husband had spoken to her daughter telling her he no longer had the intention to marry her because he had met another person with whom he had fallen in love. The symbols had seen very clearly this situation: not falling in love with another woman, but that there would be no marriage of her daughter with the man. The girl fell from the clouds, as  no problem had loomed on the horizon; in fact she was thoroughly convinced that her betrothed loved her very much.


The Jungian thesis which states that 'the future is prepared in the unconscious long before, so it can be guessed by clairvoyants' (Carl Gustav Jung, Memories, Dreams and Reflections) must be expanded in some way, because in many cases what comes out of the cards is not a possible future tied to the unconscious, but a future totally divorced from it. I could give countless examples of this in addition to the one mentioned.


On the another hand, it must be said that the reason why the Minor Arcana have a lower weight than the Majors is that the former cannot have been allocated precise and continuous meanings over the centuries. Anyone would be able to talk about the meaning of pictures of the Pope, the Moon or the Sun, but no one but the experts would know the meaning of the Four of Swords, Five of Batons,  and so on.


The symbol must be read in its real sense, choosing among its different meanings that attached to the request by consulting each other. The reading of the card corresponds to straight and reversed a trend that was referring to the fortune telling games made in the company, parlor games, or certain esoteric visions that have nothing to do with the attitude Jungian symbolic energy. If visiting a museum we realized that a picture is upside certainly notify the guardians of the situation. Do not evaluate this framework by giving opposite meanings from what is known only because at that time is reversed.


The group of cards chosen will appear to the view of the fortune-teller like handwriting that he will have to decipher, linking the different meanings of the symbols together to come to a conclusion. On the occasion of this kind of reading, which we might call 'grammatical', there may come to the mind of the reader a message, which Jung called a sign, as we pointed out above. When you reach a sign then you can stop reading grammatically, because the sign reveals the truth by throwing out a real glimpse of the future. I wrote "real" because the grammatical reading, which also has this privilege, can fail, depending on the grammatical interpretation, due both  to the skill of the card-reader  and their knowledge of the different symbols, which they could interpret incorrectly.


This part is good. The analogy works here, between the witch or Arab and the card-reader. It is the card-reader’s unconscious that is activated, based on unconscious signals from the consultant and the card’ reader’s viewing of the fronts of the cards.


This is not the place to dwell on what has been  expressed , but you should know that since the choice of the different symbols may be affected by the attitudes of pessimism or optimism of the consultant, the methodology of cartomancy knows various techniques to remove these energies.


If you wonder what topics can be investigated by the tarot I tell you: all, from work to love, from health to the character of people or situations, from psychological problems to  spiritual ones.


We have previously written that the knowledge of the meanings of the different symbols expressed on the cards must be well known by the  card-reader, meanings that can not be invented or derived from assumptions dictated by the feelings emanating from the figures. Nor can the reader make their own the meanings that  eighteenth and nineteenth-century esotericism and occultism attributed to the symbols, because those meanings were determined by a few thousand people, and not by millions and millions of individuals. In addition, the esotericists used the tarot cards primarily to derive indications of a moral character, where the meanings assigned by them to the cards turn out to be far different from those typically associated with the simple knowledge of tomorrow.


This of course needs more explanation. It is not obvious from my knowledge of such systems.


I will provide below  the most important meanings of the Magician and the Hanged Man, deducing them from the values attributed to them over the centuries.


From the first known document showing the names of the Arcana, dating from the late fifteenth century, the Sermones de Ludo (Sermon on Games), the Magician is called El bagatella and defined by the words "est omnium inferior" (is inferior to all), signifying its minimum value in its gaming use, a value that coincided with the character represented, a "bagattegliere", a prestidigitator, considered of the lowest status, a vile person. “Bagatelle” is in fact an Italian word born right at the beginning of the fifteenth century and still used today, which means "little thing". It also has two other meanings: games of sleight of hand - of conjuring and deception - and fraud, and in this sense was used in literature by several authors, including the Italians Aretino, Ariosto, and Vasari.


The Church of the time condemned prestidigitators because they earned their bread by means of work in which they employed tricks, and the falsity of those who worked “bagatelle”, whether it was a prestidigitator or a master of deceit, came to be united with the falsehood of the opponent of God, the enemy par excellence of every virtue.


What's more, the Church called by the name of 'Bagatelle' a particular sin, which was to think in the following way: "Certainly if I do not go to Mass every Sunday, if I do not confess regularly, if sometimes I do not observe the Lenten fast, etc.., for these bagatellas [i.e. unimportant things] God certainly will not send me to Hell", defining such sin  in the following words:" the sin called Bagatelle is  that whose nature degrades humanity the most, that enervates it,  blinds it,  strips it of its nobility and its legitimate pride, in service to the most humiliating sentiments. It is with good reason that the Sage tells us that the foolish man commits a crime in the manner of a joke. Almost laughing, the fool commits his sin. (Proverbs, X, 23)".


This concept crosses the centuries, so much so that even today, albeit with rare frequency, 'sin-bagatella’ is still mentioned. An example: on November 19, 1998 an interview appeared in the Express with Prof. Luigi Lombardi Vallauri, Professor of the Philosophy of Law at the University of Florence, according to whom the admission of the existence of Hell on the part of the Catholic Church is a "colossal injustice ....: rather than rehabilitate the offender, such as would be right, Hell condemns him to eternal punishment, no escape .... Catholic Hell  is a penalty too huge in relation to offenses committed "because you can go to Hell for a"bagatella-sin", like a calm kiss sine peril pollutionis [i.e. 'without danger of emission of semen'].


In addition from bagatella derive the terms ‘bagattato’, meaning 'ruined', and ‘bagattare' that is spoil someone or something', as we find already in the sixteenth century.


So what did people in general think of a prestidigitator or bagatella ?


A person who employed tricks

An unreliable person

A thing, person, or situation of little value

A sinner, and therefore a culprit (in reference to a Bagatella-sin)

A person who was playing (by sleight of hand)

A person who worked  (the fact that people thought that he was a magician was  for him a real job, though condemned by the Church)

A person who moving from one city to another to work

A ruined person or a thing, or a situation or a person who could ruin someone


These are therefore the meanings attributed to the card of the Bagatella:


1 - An unreliable person, who employed tricks

2 - A thing, person, or situation of little value

3 - Be guilty, sinners

4 - A Work, to work

5 - A play, to play

6 - A move, to move, to bustle

7 - A ruined person or a thing, or a situation or a person who could ruin someone


We turn now to the figure of the Hanged Man.


In the Middle Ages, but also earlier, all those who betrayed the government or their superiors were hung by one foot. Even Mussolini was hung so, with both feet in so far as being considered a traitor to the homeland. It is therefore an offense that crossed the centuries. The first term by which this card was called, even today well known, was precisely ‘il Traditore’, i.e. the Traitor.


It is therefore obvious that if the question asked by the consultant was aimed at knowing  situations of betrayal, this card testifies to the possibility. With other cards it will be assessed whether  the betrayal exists or if it reflects only a fear of the consultant.


But what was thought when people saw a person hanging by one foot in the public squares all over Europe? Certainly that he was suffering, that he was in a state of sacrificed position and suffering and again in that position saw the world upside down or reversed. Also, since disown own Creator by worshiping other gods or not worship at all, it existed as a real betrayal, the image of the Hanged man suggested to appeal to the virtues of Prudence, because the man who possessed this virtue knew that betray own God meant the death of the soul.


These are therefore the meanings attributed to the card of the Hanged Man:


1 - Traitor, betrayal

2 - Suffering, be in a sacrificed position

3 - Seeing things in a different way than they are in reality because  one is in a situation of suffering

4 - Over turn situations, one’s actions.

5 - Prudence, be cautious


I report what Jung wrote about the power of symbols in relation to their ability to predict a possible future:

"Those are sort of archetypal ideas, of a differentiated nature, which mingle with the ordinary constituents of the unconscious. The Tarot in itself is an attempt at representing the constituents of the flow of the unconscious, and therefore it is applicable for an intuitive method that has the purpose of understanding the flow of life, possibly even predicting future events, at all events lending itself to the reading of the conditions of the present moment" (Visions: Notes of the Seminar Given in 1930-1934 by C. G. Jung, edited by Claire Douglas in two volumes, Princeton University Press,  Princeton, New Jersey, 1997. Vol. 2, p. 923 


Jung  held to on these considerations, seeing the symbol as a means to prophesy a possible future on the basis of the energies of the present. But is it really so? Based on my thirty years of experience in cartomantic studies that I've developed along with the historical studies on the tarot, I can say that you can predict much more. a future  independent  of our unconscious.


To a journalist who asked me if tarot cards possess a consciousness, I replied in the affirmative. The symbol is the power, and the set of 22 symbols - which number in numerology mysticism of almost all civilizations represents the union between the earth and the sky, between humanity and the divine, between the sensible and the higher reality - express an extraordinary energy and power.


I answer this question with a question to ask the skeptics. "How is it  that in three consecutive spreads of cards relating to the same question, they come out the same cards, something that happens very often?". I could also bring an experience recently at a training course on tarot at in Taranto I held for several Gestalt psychologists, a psychological current focusing on the themes of perception and experience. Well, after carrying out a particular reading based on a real question asked by one of these doctors, the discussion that followed had as its object the card of the Fool, the last card. which appeared crucial to the deciphering of the problems expressed by the consultant. In a repeat spread intended to verify the accuracy of the previous spread, the card of the Fool came out first. Because I teach that if the last card of the first spread comes out as  the first card of the next,  the meaning expressed by first spread is confirmed, one of those present said, "It is one case, it can happen by chance." Then I  shuffled the cards again for the consultant and asked him to think of a number between 1 and 22 (the number of the Major Arcana) and take the card from the deck that corresponded to the number chosen: it was the Fool. "Strange coincidence" was the reply.


Not satisfied, I shuffled once again and opened it to fan the cards in front of the consultant and told him to pick one: the Fool. A round of applause arose spontaneously in everyone present that thanks to those 'strange coincidences' Jung had understood what he meant when he said that no card ever comes out at random, and above all he understood that the continual appearance of the tarot card of the Fool testified to the perception that they possessed a conscience. That was the card that had to appear and did appear.


I don’t see where you get the statement you attribute to Jung, that no card comes out at random.


Skeptics will insist that it was always by chance, which seems to me highly unlikely, but certainly they will want to verify the reliability of my assertions. Because the world is full of Thomases, I invite you to study the tarot in depth , its symbols and translation into cartomantic terms so as to be able to give their answer  themselves.


There are no days auspicious or inauspicious for reading tarot cards, nor is it necessary to choose the cards with the right hand or the left. The only ritual, if you want to call it that, is the need not to keep your legs crossed when choosing the cards;  this is because any crossing of legs or arms leads to an attitude of closure of energies. An attitude that the ancients knew very well so as to adopt, in different situations, the opposite tendency: in the Sachsenspiegel or book of laws formulated in Dresden in the twelfth century, the judges, at the time they issued their verdict,  are depicted with crossed legs, the 'prescribed position as outward sign of calm and security in the assessment of judgment'  because that intersection prevented any extraneous thought from inserting itself into the mind of the judge.


The courses offered and directed  by our Association, based on how hat has been expressed thus far, are divided into two types:


Basic Course, in which a the real meanings of the Arcana are taught, and the spreads to be adopted according to the different questions that a consultant might advance, so as to interpret grammatically the sequences of cards and how to let oneself be guided by intuition.


Advanced Course, for those who have attended the Basic Course, where the meanings are deepened, by matching them with more cards in relation to the different questions.


I conclude by pointing out that it is not necessary to have a particular predisposition, or a perhaps a kind of culture, to learn to read tarot cards; a: it is a skill that develops gradually through observing the symbols. The more they are read, the more you understand how to decipher them. One of their great prerogatives is to develop insight in those who attend to them, insight that should not be understood as finalized exclusively  in reading the cards, but in every circumstance of our daily lives.