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Davidson, L. (2001). Foresight and Insight: The Art of the Ancient Tarot. J. Amer. Acad. Psychoanal., 29(3):491-501.

(2001). Journal of American Academy of Psychoanalysis, 29(3):491-501

Foresight and Insight: The Art of the Ancient Tarot

Leah Davidson, M.D.*

In the 1970s I became interested in the phenomenon of the growing popularity of fortune-telling and predictions. In an effort to try to understand what about this practice was so attractive to people, I visited several Hispanic Tarot card readers. Their practice of this ancient craft was combined with the practice of “Espiritismo,” which was heavily tainted with the use of Christian good and evil metaphors, which for me interfered with an objective evaluation of the psychological motivations of people seeking out such readers. Almost at once, I came to the conclusion that the Hispanic and Gypsy advisors saw mainly people in crisis, people who were anxious or overwhelmed by their life circumstances.

Under these conditions the manipulation of the cards to give predictions of outcome seemed to me to be an anxiety-allaying transitional phenomenon between the reader and the client. The reader presented herself and was perceived as possessing special gifts of insight into the past, present, and future, immediate or distant. The feeling that special energies were working through her as well as the symbolism of the cards enabled both of them to create a psychologically and emotionally calm space in which to contemplate the problems and their proposed resolutions. In this creation of a transitional space the practice seemed to me to be very like psychotherapy. In addition, the need to control fate, destiny, or karma by one's own correct or reworked thinking also bore a resemblance to psychoanalysis. Subsequently I tried to learn how to do reading for and by myself and discovered a wealth of writing about archetypal humanistic symbols and a philosophy of life's developmental journey that dated back to biblical times.

This article deals with how the rich variety of symbols engages the person who seeks such “self-help” into a contemplation of his or her own development as person—past, present, and future.

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