*—Videos since removed, this was a series called "Joseph Campbell on the Tarot".
The funny thing about Campbell, who along with Mighty-Archetypal Carl Jung, are the two main intellectual inspirations for the modern, i.e post-modern, Tarot, is that he proudly admitted that he knew nothing about Tarot, although he does it in a manner intended to convey that he was just so knowledgeable about all things symbolical that he could be Alfred E. Newman (What? Me study?) regarding any new symbolic system he encountered.
After all, as Campbell understood Jungian things, ALL symbolism in the world, ALL myths, ALL human work in creating metaphors of the myriad contexts they inhabited, were reducible to basic Archetypes. Proof of that? Well, look how that idea works when Campbell got asked to blow hard about the subject of Tarot.
In the vids, Campbell says he was lecturing at Esalen, "a long time ago", and "somebody asked me “what about the tarot cards?”
Yeah, what about those things, asked the students of Oz College. Certainly a certified Wizard ought to be able to tell us.
Joe modestly pointed out, in the lecture, that he'd need an evening to ponder it a bit.
"Well, I said, give me a pack, and I’ll go to my room and tomorrow morning I’ll come out and tell you what I think."Now, before we consider what Joe produced out of this pondering, we should consider that there is a bit more to the setup than he's letting us know here.
In an interview with David Kennard, the filmmaker who directed "The Hero's Journey", Campbell provides some additional, and pertinent, data about this incident:
"The most interesting question I ever got was when I was lecturing here at Esalen in the [Abraham] Maslow Room in 1967. Somebody asked, 'What about the symbolism of the Waite deck of tarot cards?'"So, it was the Waite deck Campbell was supposed to explain, not a Marseilles Tarot at all.
Campbell continues in the interview:
"Well, I hadn't thought about it. I'd seen tarot packs and I can remember my old master, Heinrich Zimmer, giving lectures on cards, and I remembered a couple of things he'd said. So I said, 'Well, give me a tarot pack and let me take it back to my room and I'll say in the morning what I found.'"So, this is the guy you want an insight from? A fellow who admits "I hadn't thought about it"? But just hang on, because it's Joe Campbell, and if he thinks about it for a few hours, he can straighten out anything, right?
But, now we have a little problem. Both in the video and in the interview, Campbell says that one of the cards that immediately struck him, and about which he Jungianally understood the meaning and the medieval roots, was the Waite card, Temperance—a Tarot card made in 1909. Not exactly medieval, except as a fanciful modern ornamentation.
Here it is, compared to the Marseilles Tarot version of the same card, that is used in the video:
In the video, Campbell tells us:
"...here is a woman pouring water from a blue into a red vessel. Now, knowing medieval symbolism, this is pouring the energy of life from the earthly to the spiritual vessel. And this is called Temperance. It’s called Temperance because when that happens you may become inflated, you know—Oh, I’m just spiritual—[laughter] in some ashrams you notice this."So, this medieval image is intended to instruct us about the Jungian concept of "inflation"? And anyway, wasn't this supposed to be an exposition about the Waite-Smith Tarot Temperance? The one with two golden cups? And should I just read Waite to figure that out anyway? Unlike Campbell, Waite had taken more than a single evening to think about the meanings of Tarot cards.
But the thing Campbell was seeking was the quality of an immediate recognition, which he explains is the only authentic way to deal with spiritual or mythological symbolism:
"A mythological image that has to be explained to the brain is not working. When you move to a culture field that is so alien to your own that the images don’t click off any response and any recognition then you’re out of sync."To get something like Tarot cards, the meaning of whose symbolism is often intentionally veiled (and thus requires an explanation to the brain), to work, Campbell resorted to squeezing their symbols into neat little boxes called "archetypes", which are general forms of ideas allegedly found everywhere. The forms would then be "filled" with specific contents as per the culture. When Jungians interpret symbolism, they ignore the specific cultural or creator content, and instead force the forms they encounter into the Jungian archetypal explanation that seems to fit.
As you see in the videos, which run a constant stream of Tarot cards from different decks, including many from occult decks like Waite and Thoth, the implication is that the specific meanings intended for the symbolism are not pertinent—rather the archetypal data should simply erupt because the images are "clicking" for you in the way you require.
Or as Sallie Nichols puts it:
"It seems apparent that these old [Marseilles] cards were conceived deep in the guts of human experience, at the most profound level of the human psyche. It is to this level in ourselves that they will speak...Although the text which accompanies the Tarot in [modern occult] cases is usually introduced as an elucidation of the symbols portrayed on the cards, the net effect is more that of an illustrated book. In other words, it is as if the Tarot cards were devised as illustrations for certain verbal concepts rather than that the cards erupted spontaneously first and the text was inspired by them."So, what you're looking for in good Tarot, according to the Jungians, is an immediate eruption of a connection, and recognition. If you have to read a book, unless it's a Jungian's book of course, the Tarot is alien or broken.
As I explain in some detail in my article on Cartofeminism, this is how Angeles Arrien, one of Campbell's acolytes, argues for the erasure of Aleister Crowley's text, "The Book of Thoth", as a proper guide to the meaning of his Tarot cards, painted by Frieda Harris. Instead, the Jungian idea is that Crowley can only obstruct the true meaning of the cards by trying to fix them according to a specific scheme of meanings.
Thus, the Jungian and occult approaches are in fundamental conflict. As most people who have studied Crowley's Tarot will note, the Jungian approach is hopelessly vain and Angeles Arrien's book on the Thoth deck, The Tarot Handbook is the key example of why that approach is such a terrible idea for helping people to understand Tarot cards, and especially complex occult decks like the Thoth Tarot.
Meanwhile, back at the videos, people are praising the fact they are learning so much about Tarot from Joe Campbell. And he should get the credit or blame he is due for teaching Angeles Arrien, who then taught Mary K. Greer, and so on. These are the people, along with a host of other similar writers, who have dumbed pop Tarot down to the point where it has no discernibly interesting heartbeat left.
Thanks Joe, you fucking bastard.