Tarot and Jungian Archetypes
From the perspective of Jungian psychology, humans are not born as blank slates. They are not empty vessels that get filled up with experiences. They are not formless lumps of clay that get formed into whatever shape social pressures force upon them. Let us see how Jungian Archetypes and Tarot work hand in hand.
The Inner World
No, humans are born with innate capacities, tendencies, and instinctual ways of responding to their environments. When infants enter the world, they carry with them their inner world, an inherited and inherent unconscious structure that organizes experience into recognizable forms or meaningful patterns – Mother and Father, Dark and Light, Presence and Absence, Pleasure and Anxiety, Good and Bad, Empty and Full, Life and Death, Up and Down, Left and Right.
In other words, before we encounter existence, we are prepared, performed, and predisposed to make sense of our experiences in specific ways. We respond to the world with inborn categories of interpretation. We come with an inner map of instincts and interpretive categories that orient and navigate us.
You do not have to tell an infant they have a mother or father. They will take whatever caregivers are present and fill in the Mother and Father forms with their experiences of being cared for. (Or, in unfortunate circumstances, they will fill them in with experiences of not being cared for).
Pleasure and Anxiety
You do not have to explain what pleasure and anxiety are to an infant; they already know in some pre-conscious way what brings joy to them and what provokes anxiety. They know when what they were hungering or crying for has been provided and when it has not. You cannot convince an infant that something has been provided when it has not or that something has been removed when it has not. The appetite for certain forms of experience and the spontaneous reaction against others are autonomous; they happen to the infant from within, and they engage and relinquish apart from any conscious deliberation or intent.
As consciousness develops (an inborn aptitude), we gradually gain the capacity to reflect on our experiences, choose some, and avoid them deliberately. We achieve a certain level of independence from our environments because we are no longer infants at the mercy of our caregivers. We can take care of ourselves.
What does not change is the unconscious structure of the psyche, the forms that form our experience, the autonomous instincts, and the patterns that organize our accumulating encounters with the world. We still unconsciously arrange our experiences of the world according to categories of meaning that are always already present within us. These patterns/categories/instincts – these archetypes – still act on us from within and form us and our encounter with the world, whether we know it or not.
Independence and Development
Unfortunately, with our gradual achievement of independence and the development of self-reflective consciousness, we often lose touch with these archetypal givens of our nature. We assume in some way that we not only can choose when and how to get what we want, but think we can choose what we want or do not want, or what we want or do not want – that we can choose who we are.
Whether knowingly or not, this perspective wrongly suggests that the unconscious is subject to our will and implies that the arrangement of the psyche is rearrangeable. In reality, our structure exists before any deliberation, consciousness, or willingness and remains inalterably prearranged whether we like it.
Addictions and Obsessions
All that happens when we assume a false relationship to the givens of our nature is that they become compulsions, addictions, and obsessions. Our denial of them increases their power over us. No amount of deliberation or willpower can convince the unconscious that it has been fulfilled when it has not. An archetype unacknowledged or unfulfilled becomes an all-consuming gravitational black hole of the psyche. Nothing will satisfy it except what it is looking for. No amount of sex will substitute for Love, no amount of money will cover for Significance, and no amount of spirits will substitute for the Sacred.
We can become more conscious of the unconscious structure of the psyche; we can consciously relate to and align with the archetypes. But because archetypes are by nature unconscious, we can only become conscious of them through symbols. These symbols can convey their character to consciousness.
An archetype is a form, an instinct toward, and a category for interpreting and arranging experience. Each culture fills in the form/category with content specific to the cultural context. Each person also fills in the archetype with their personal experiences. Thus, the archetype takes on a face familiar to the person encountering it.
So while archetypes appear across cultures and their patterns are recognizable among different personal expressions, they are qualified and conditioned by other times and places. They are conveyed by different symbols, even while they remain consistent in character. Hero, Priest, and poet are found in every culture and person. N matter how they express themselves in gender, dress, or tone.
So since time immemorial, symbols have spontaneously arisen worldwide in the form of mythologies, religions, and philosophies, which are kinds of distilled systems, schools, or congregations of symbolic content. Different people find these other distillations of symbols more or less compelling and meaningful. This depends on how well they bridge personal consciousness with the archetypal depths of the psyche.
Tarot is one constellation of images that has gathered symbolic implications over time. This is made up of content that can convey archetypal categories of experience. They can mediate our engagement with and relationship to the inalterable forms of the psyche. By working with the Tarot, we can put a face or image to the conditions that pattern our lives. This also includes the states that gain our acknowledgment by friendship or force, depending on our stance toward them.
Consciousness of Powers
Again, we cannot gain control over them. Still, through Tarot and other symbolic systems, we can gain consciousness of powers that populate our inner life and the processes that govern our growth and development. We learn to live with them, move with them, or live by them unconsciously. We are moved and dragged in specific ways without knowing why. Also, we are unable to satisfy the cravings we cannot face or fathom.
By denying or failing to recognize them, we make demons of the givens of our nature.
We sacrifice ourselves and others to appease them with anything and everything except what they want. When we know who the Emperor is in us, what the Empress, the Magician, the Fool, the Hermit, the Lovers, the Chariot want from us, they become heralds of our depths, angels of the soul. Heeding their message heals us and makes us whole.