Dreaming the Myth Onward: Jungian Neo-Paganism

Carl Jung's ideas have been influencing the development of Neo-Paganism from its inception in the 1960s and 1970s. But what if Jung's ideas have been misunderstood by many Pagans: literalized on the one hand and oversimplified on the other? What fresh insights can a Jungian Neo-Paganism contribute to Pagan discourse and practice today? And might Jungianism serve as a bridge between the earth-centered and deity-centered Pagan communities?

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Jungian Pagan Practice, Part 4: Tarot

I've been promising for a while to write about how I use Tarot as a spiritual practice.  I've written about how I view the major arcana of the Tarot as a micro-cosmograph.  I've shared my favorite Tarot decks.  And I have shared pictures of my own Tarot deck which I created from popular and fine art and shared a little about how I interpret each card here and here.  What I have yet to do is share what I actually do with the cards.

To begin with, I do not use the cards for any kind of divination.  As will be seen below, when I do a spread, I do assign one of the cards to a position I call "the future", but it is not intended to be a prediction.  Rather, it is a projection, my own anticipation of a possible future. 

Here's what I do.  I work with only the 22 cards of the major arcana.  I draw five cards randomly and lay them out in a cross pattern.  The first card goes in the middle, which represents the present, the here and now.  The next card goes to the left of the center and represents the past.  The next card goes to the right of the center, and represents the future.  (Again, this is a projection, not a prediction.)  The next card goes above the central card and represents the macrocosm or the world or the God Without.  The final card goes beneath the central card and represents the microcosm or the Deep Self or the God Within. 

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I don't lay all the cards out at once.  Rather, I draw and lay out the first card and think about how the meaning of the card corresponds to its position.  Then I move to the next card.  With each addition, I think about, not only the meaning of the individual cards, but how the cards interrelate.  For example, how has the past led to the present? How is the present leading to the future?  How is this process facilitated by the God Without and the God Within?  I find it is difficult, but helpful, to try to tie the images to specific events, people, or feelings.  In this way, Tarot functions as a vehicle for my self-exploration. 

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Here's an example:  In the spread above, the Death card is in the central position, representing the here and now.  This card represents transition for me.  I am in transition in several ways right now, but the one that is the most difficult is a transition in my relationship with my wife.  I've been taking an online course on marital communication with my her, and I have recently come to realize how our respective upbringings and socializations have put me in a position of privilege or entitled in relation to her.  I had always taken it for granted that we were equals in our marriage, but I am seeing now that this is more of an ideal than a reality.

The second card, in the past position, is the Hanged Man. For me, the Hanged Man represents a reversal of fortune or of values.  The therapist who teaches the course I am taking with my wife uses the terms "one up" and "one down" to describe power imbalances in a relationship.  I am recognizing that I have been in a "one up" position.  The goal for both the "one ups" and the "one downs" is to move to a more central position, which is neither "one up" nor "one down".  But this can feel like a sacrifice or a reversal to a person in a "one up" position -- hence, the Hanged Man.

The third card, the Lovers card, is in the future position.  This card represents, for me, the union of opposites.  The meaning in this context is obvious. I am hoping for a more complete union with my wife in the future.  This requires my surrendering the "one up" position.

The fourth card, in the Macrocosm position, is the World, which represents wholeness for me.  And the fifth card, in the Microcosm position, is the Fool, which represents the wisdom of innocence.  These two cards are the facilitators or means of moving from the past into the future.  I recently have been learning a little about Internal Family Systems therapy (which resemble Jungian analytical psychology in many ways).  One of the concepts in IFS is one can identify one's Self -- as distinct from one's ego -- by the qualities of curiosity, connectedness, compassion, and calmness.  For me, the Fool card expresses curiosity and the World card expresses connectedness and calmness.  

Therefore, I interpret this spread as telling me that, in order for me to make the transition in my relationship with my wife from one of imbalance to one of greater connection, I need to focus on the qualities of curiosity, connectedness, and calm.  As you can see, this is a very idiosyncratic interpretation.  It did not reveal anything to me that I did not already know, on some level know, but it drew my attention this concept in a sacred context, and offers me an opportunity take a step forward to make this image a reality.

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John discovered Jungianism and Neo-Paganism at the same time through the writings of Vivianne Crowley, Margot Adler, and Starhawk, and the two have remained intertwined for him ever since.  John is the managing editor at HumanisticPaganism.com, a community blog for Naturalistic Pagans. He also writes about his spiritual quest on his blog The Allergic Pagan (www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/), where he explores his personal religious history, Paganism, UUism, and Jungianism.

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