Tarot Therapy, also known as TarotMania.
Tarotmania, a map of the Tarot world, c. 2004, by Jess Karlin (AKA Glenn F. Wright)
It should of course be easy to answer a question like that. It is, actually. But consider that a definition is something like a biography, and the more we edit for the sake of off-topical convenience, the less justice we do the telling of the story. So, I seek here to definitively answer the above question—i.e., I shall endeavor to tell you much more than you shall ever want to know.
Let us begin with a disclaimer—if somebody wants to pick up a Tarot deck and have whatever ignorant impressions he gets from looking at it be the source of meaning of this deck, he doesn’t require any authorization from anyone to engage in such a solipsistic exercise. Most especially, you don’t have to buy a book to tell you not to bother reading books. I will tell you this for free right here. Now go get yourself a Tarot deck and start masturbating all you want—although, that is a rather odd erotic stimulus—but different strokes for different ends, or asses.
This process of semantic (or orgasmic) acquisition is generally called by a misleading term in most pop Tarot books and websites: intuitive. This is claimed to provide better, more accurate, i.e. more personally relevant meanings, than can be gotten from reading meanings provided in books, or from studying the symbolic contents or historical contexts of Tarot decks.
On the other hand (the evil, chastising one, which of course does it for some of you), don’t for a moment pretend to yourself that such a lazy and witless self-indulgence is going to teach you much of anything about Tarot. If you blather to somebody that the Hermit means that you need to take a vacation and get away in the mountains, because that’s what it personally makes you feel like doing when you look at it, knowledgeable people will naturally treat you as if you just spammed them with 78 photos of your misbegotten kids for them to suffer through. What it means to you is just not that interesting to anybody else.
But again, who says you need anybody else’s approval to feel what you want to? Nobody.
The thing is, nor does anybody owe you their approval if all you bring to the table of public Tarot discussion are ignorant personal opinions. Tarot is no different in that respect from other subjects requiring serious study to understand.
So, what follows is not, as is often alleged by Tarotmaniacs, an attempt to deny somebody’s right to be intuitive, or to make up whatever personal narratives comfort her in her tiny dark troglodytism. No, what follows is simply a cartocultural excavation.
TAROTMANIA, a Brief History of a Word and its Constituencies
The notion of mania being associated with playing cards is an old idea. Tarot of course always had a Fool card, and gambling has been described as a craze, even a madness from time to time. In the 19th century, there was a famous cartomania, basically a photographic social-networking phenomenon. The first mention I have been able to find where playing cards and the word mania were mashed up, is in an 1814 Italian book, Dialoghi italiani e francesi all' uso delle due nazioni, by P. L. Costantini, in which fortunetelling with cards is ridiculed, as the cartomania of witches.
Of course, cartomania is very similar in sound to cartomancy, the word meaning to divine the future with playing-cards. The root -mancy is from the French -mancie, tracking back to Latin mantia and Greek manteia. Mania can also be tracked back to Greek, in mainesthai, ‘be mad’.
Perhaps it is fair to say there are two main understandings, and political affiliations having some use and claim upon the word Tarotmania. One party, which I think can fairly be called the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tarot (or POFLOT), views the word as a weird kind of therapy, understanding mania as a means to sanity in effect. This is not a view the opposition party, which could fairly be called Opus Taroticae (OPTARO), would wholly dispute; although Optaro’s understanding of the word and the mania as a positive or therapeutic characteristic is meant purely (or impurely) in an ironic sense.
Optaro defines Tarotmania in the following way:
1. A term describing the affections and obsessions of Tarot enthusiasts and advocates.
2. A term of sardonic derision, describing the hopeless and implacable irrationalism of the Tarot community, sometimes referred to as the land of Tarotmania.
Tarotmania is, obviously, the product of a collision of two words:
Tarot—the pack of 78 cards used for various games, including fortunetelling and occultism.
Mania—madness, “marked by periods of great excitement, delusions, euphoria”; also “excessive enthusiasm or desire—an obsesssion.”
In 1979, Jan Woudhuysen wrote a book, Tarotmania: or why only an Idiot would want to become a Fool. So far as I have been able to learn, this is the first appearance of this word, and in fact Woudhuysen calls it “his” term. As we have seen, there was precedence for a carto-maniacal mashup of this sort.
On Woudhuysen’s website today, he says he originally wrote Tarotmania:
“as a protest against all the mystical back-to-the-Egyptians books that explain the tarot cards. As far as I am concerned, I don't believe in tarot cards, I just make use of the cards to find out what's going on. Tarotmania was first published in England, then in the US (under the title Tarotherapy) and subsequently in Holland and Germany.”
Woudhuysen’s book is a very peculiar production, and most uncharacteristic of modern Tarot books, which are usually proudly ahistorical (or anti-historical) works of popular fiction, aimed at peddling weak ideas to weak minds. Tarotmania on the other hand at least attempts to raise the bar a bit on the ideas, and the author does say a few provocative and even interesting things about Tarot. Unfortunately, his reasoning as to how these things work or make sense is often defective.
For example, to his credit, Woudhuysen obviously did bother to do some research into the history of Tarot, and understood enough about it to know that the occult claims for an ancient heritage of the Tarot were at best a mythos, and no history at all. However, he stops short of looking deeper into why the occultists chose to make this myth and how it impacted the development of Tarot, and instead, in a chapter called “Tarot And Its Lack of History”, Woudhuysen attempts to establish there is so little factual basis (particularly any written records) for anything like history to be performed on Tarot, and that our only reasonable option in the face of this is to dismiss all authorities on the subject and admit we do not know and likely never will know the history of Tarot.
This sets up a major premise of his book, that meaning in Tarot is mainly the result of a personal relationship between a Tarot reader and his deck. Ultimately, the only definitions of meaning for any Tarot card that should matter, Woudhuysen tells us, are the ones any individual feels are correct for himself.
At the same time, Woudhuysen doesn’t exactly mean by this that the modern preference for purely personal meanings of Tarot is the right way to go. He seems to have had a problem about that level of freedom of choice in Tarot, as he may have realized what utter chaos that makes of the notion of Tarot having any but the slightest of any transmittable significance (see Tarot, a Semiotic View* for a discussion of this), and that it essentially reduced Tarot to a glorified coloring book.
*—Ask me about this if you are interested.
*—Ask me about this if you are interested.
But, Woudhuysen had a difficult time making the distinction between perfect freedom to color as one desires (however ignorantly), and what he viewed as the stunted expression of somebody seeking the one true Tarot authority. He hoped to free the latter kind of person, while not giving license to the former, who he viewed as wanting to make a “new life” (for themselves and Tarot), by completely reinventing the meanings of the deck.
This internal confusion and conflict about the right level of freedom of personal invention in Tarot is evident in Woudhuysen’s writing, as he is constantly telling readers that he wants them to pay attention to some idea or set of meanings, as if he were an authority to listen to, even though he has told them before they are the only real authority. In fact, he never says to completely throw out the occult meanings, or to ignore the mythos of Tarot, because again he realizes how much that is interesting and valuable in Tarot would be lost if you did that.
At the end of his book, in a postscript, Woudhuysen attempts to explain what he means by Tarotmania.
He says there are three kinds of people, Morons, Idiots, and Fools.
“We are all Morons to begin with: we follow the dictates of the world, and grub around trying to fit in with the order of things…the main thing all Morons have in common is the desperate insistence on the ‘rightness’ of certain principles…”
Woudhuysen tells us it is only through the destruction of his confidence in the rightness of his principles, that the Moron makes progress, and becomes an Idiot. The Idiot is one who “admits to himself that he doesn’t know.” More than anything though, the Idiot realizes his opinions, right or wrong, don’t really matter, because he has no power to implement them, and realizing his own ignorance, he understands this is a good thing. The good thing about being an Idiot is that one can shut up blathering about his own ideas, and try to learn from someone who might actually know what he is talking about.
An advanced Idiot finally comes to realize that in fact nobody truly or completely knows what he is talking about, and that at best everyone is just an Idiot, or should be anyway, i.e. a person with non-consequential opinions. At this point of awareness, that the Universe is beyond conquering with knowledge, and so one is really foolish living with a certain fixed brand of gravitas as his guide, the Idiot becomes a Fool.
I think the following is an example of how Woudhuysen’s understanding of Tarot is sometimes useful and interesting, although in this example I think one reason for this is how much his opinion resonates, instead of deviates from, occult tradition:
“In the Tarot, the Fool is the first and last card, it is the card without number. The Fool can do anything, be anything, say anything. In a sense, the Fool is the person who allows the Will of God to flow through without impedance.”
Let us just say that sounds like a very occult view of things, and not the product of bold, personal reveries about Tarot.
Woudhuysen concludes his book:
“But the change from Idiot to Fool requires tremendous work on oneself; the use of the Tarot is one way to aid the work.”
As noted above, when Tarotmania was published in the United States, they changed the name to Tarot Therapy, the implication being that the “work” was therapeutic in nature and Tarot could be used as a kind of psychological analysis tool to help the patient overcome his obstacles to achieving Mania, or his ultimate goal of becoming a Fool.
Needless to say, these ideas of Tarot as a personal tool of self-discovery or a therapeutic aid had much influence on the Tarot books published in the 1980s, which themselves would go on to influence the dogma of much modern exoteric Tarot.