Tarot Nerd Alert

I’m working through the tarot correspondence course with Wald Amberstone.  Enrollment was my gift to myself last year when I won one of my department’s fellowships.  I reasoned that it’s no more money than a college class—just more interesting and potentially more likely to help me generate an income in the future (because plan B is still fortune teller).

It’s one thing to turn tarot study into school.  It’s another thing to further turn it into an outlet for my meditations on social theory.  The following section on The Magician was written after a long evening spent reading and considering Pierre Bourdieu.

It’s relatively easy to assert that the central meaning of The Magician is will.  Anyone who has been involved in any kind of magical practice or community for any length of time has heard that magic is change occurring in conformity to will, that one must possess will to work magic, that magic is only as strong as the magician’s will, etcetera ad nauseum.  These sometimes come to sound like platitudes.  They are true, of course, but I don’t think that many of the people making such statements (often casually and in the format of New Age self-help) are aware of just how profound a thing Will is.  In contemplating The Magician, I think about the role that Will plays (or doesn’t) in my own life.

When I was an undergraduate music major, I was involved in countless conversations about talent.  Brilliant musicians are often described by laymen as “talented” or “gifted,” and treated as though they possess something supernatural.  And, indeed, some people seem to possess inborn aptitudes that feel almost magical.  But in music school, we saw things very differently than the people sitting in our audiences or listening to our recordings.  Behind practically every “talented” musician are thousands of hours spent practicing, listening, and analyzing.  Students who were more “gifted” than others—prodigies—almost always came from musical families, where their training began sooner or was carried out in greater depth.  If not, they simply spent more hours sealed away in practice rooms than the rest of us.  Those who would chock things up to “talent” were often excusing themselves from working as hard (in the case of jealous classmates), creating theologies that justified their innate specialness (in the case of the prodigies themselves), or simply mystified and engaging in magical thinking (in the case of nonmusicians).  Usually, none of this is conscious—most of us believe in talent, even if intellectually we can explain it away.

I tell this anecdote because for me The Magician is that Will that creates the prodigy.  The prodigy makes it look effortless and mystifies his audience, even though intellectually we understand that, obviously, he practices a lot.  We would describe him as talented or gifted, but that’s never the whole story (and maybe not part of the story at all).  In the Transcendent Interpretation, you describe him as “the embodiment of surrender,” and this to me is most apt.  Keeping with my musician analogy, the prodigy is a prodigy at the expense of a great many other things.  I was no prodigy, but there were days when even I didn’t see sunlight because I was buried in a basement practice room all day.   Our Will drives us to be great at whatever our Craft is, but at great personal sacrifice.  We surrender much of what we would call “ourselves” in order to be great.

And most people, of course, are not prodigies.  Very few of us—an almost insignificant few—were graced with the social locations, time, and resources to pursue greatness.  But I believe (and a number of scholars in the fields of education, psychology, and cognitive science would agree with me) that we all possess that potential.  We are not all The Magician, but we all could be or could have been given the proper circumstances.

The Magician for me is the unshakable impulse to keep pushing myself to achieve.  Every time I lose the day, forget to eat, and finish whatever academic project I’m working on, and do so with joy, I am The Magician.  My work is not effortless, but it feels effortless and often looks effortless to outsiders.  My best friend thinks that I’m smarter than her, but the reality is just that I spend more time practicing the sorts of things that we associate with smart people: reading, writing, making connections, retaining information, etc.  I had to be taught how to do those things.  And it is Will that drives me to continue doing them.  It no longer even feels like a decision that I make every day—it’s just what I do now.

So the central meaning of The Magician is Will, but for me it’s more profound than just the decision to do something.  It’s heavier than the simple act of setting a goal and deciding to work towards it.  The Will of The Magician occurs at the point where what was initially a simple decision (“I’m going to play the violin.”) becomes so much a part of what you are that you almost forget ever having made that decision (“I am a musician.”).

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2 thoughts on “Tarot Nerd Alert

  1. Peter Alexander Vaughn

    “The Magician signifies the divine motive in man, reflecting God, the will in the liberation of its union with that which is above”. AE Waite.

    I think that the deepest meanings of this card can keep one occupied for eternity.
    Peter

    Reply
  2. Stacey

    In a way, it’s a shame you’re leaving the academy; it seems like you really love it. Not that I intend to try to talk you out of leaving. There are so many fantastic reasons to run screaming from the academy right now, it would be funny if it didn’t resemble a slow-motion train wreck so much.

    It belatedly occurred to me that I asked to read one of your papers but forgot to give you an email: so, Stacey dot lawless at gmail. Oh wait, you can get it from the comments manager, right? Well, whatevs.

    It was cool meeting you and Ali and Celeste at PPD. I probably should have said so sooner, but this week has already eaten my brain.

    Reply

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