Alejandro Jodorowsky Explains How Tarot Cards Can Give You Creative Inspiration

The practice of cartomancy, or divination with cards, dates back several hundred years to at least 14th century Europe, perhaps by way of Turkey. But the specific form we know of, the tarot, likely emerged in the 17th century, and the deck we’re all most familiar with—the Rider-Waite Tarot—didn’t appear until 1909. Popular mainly with occultists like Aleister Crowley and Madame Blavatsky in the early 20th century, the tarot exploded into popular culture in the new age 70s with books like Stuart Kaplan’s Tarot Cards for Fun and Fortune Telling, and by way of cult filmmakers like Alejandro Jodorowsky.

Since its relatively recent popularization, “fun” and “fortune telling” have more or less defined most people’s attitude to the tarot, whether they approve or disapprove of either one. But for artists and poets like William Butler Yeats, T.S. Eliot, and surrealist director Jodorowsky—whose film narration is perhaps the most poetic in modern cinema—the tarot has always meant something much more mysterious and inspiring. “The tarot,” says Jodorowsky in the short film above, “will teach you how to create a soul.”

After studying the Major and Minor Arcana and the suits, and puzzling over the symbols on each card, Jodorowsky discovered that “all 78 cards could be joined in a mandala, in just one image.” Learning to see the deck thus, “You must not talk about the future. The future is a con. The tarot is a language that talks about the present. If you use it to see the future, you become a conman.” Like other mystical poets, Jodorowsky’s study of the tarot did not lead him to the supernatural but to the creative act.

And like many a poet before him, Jodorowsky explored the journey of the Fool in his 1973 film The Holy Mountain, a “dazzling, rambling, often incoherent satire,” writes Matt Zoller Seitz, that “unfurls like a hallucinogenic daydream.” Jodorowsky’s cinematic dream logic comes not only from his work as a “shamanic psychotherapist.” He also credits the tarot for his psychomagical realism. “For me,” says Jodorowsky in the video at the top, “the tarot was something more serious. It was a deep psychological search.” The result of that search—Jodorowsky’s singular and totally unforgettable body of work—speaks to us of the value of such an undertaking, whatever means one uses to get there.

Or as Jodorowsky says in one of his mystical pronouncements, “If you set your spirit to something, that phenomenon will happen.” If that sounds like magical thinking, that’s exactly what it is. Jodorowsky shows us how to read the tarot as he does, for psychological insight and creative inspiration, in the video above, addressed to a fan named John Bishop. Spanish speakers will have no trouble understanding his presentation, as he quickly slides almost fully into his native language through lack of confidence in his facility with English. (The video belongs to a series on Jodorowsky’s YouTube channel, most of them fully in Spanish without subtitles.) Selecting a translation on YouTube yields rather garbled results.

Nevertheless, for English speakers, the subtitled video at the top offers a surprisingly dense lesson on the Chilean mystic’s interpretation of the tarot’s supposed wisdom as a symbolic system, and a way of telling the present.

Should you wish to know more, you can find it in Jodorowsky’s book The Way of Tarot: The Spiritual Teacher in the Cards, and practice on your very own deck of Jodorowsky-designed tarot cards.

Related Content:

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Aleister Crowley & William Butler Yeats Get into an Occult Battle, Pitting White Magic Against Black Magic (1900)      

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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  • Carl Russo says:

    I love Jodorowsky precisely because he’s full of shit. He’s not a mystic but a jester or trickster with a fabulously artistic mind. This becomes clear by listening to any of his interviews or DVD commentaries. In “The Holy Mountain,” his actors were pissed off over the ending, when the camera pulls back to reveal the lights and camera crew. After having plied them with drugs (mushrooms, I think) and putting them through a beautiful and excruciating odyssey, he reveals the artifice.

  • mike says:

    Jodorowsky is a true magician and mystic. He isn’t blowing smoke, he’s the real deal. Today’s woo woo is tomorrows taken for granted science.

  • Camilla Morandi says:

    Can I have a tarot reading?
    I need help
    Thank you

  • Carrie says:

    Hi Camilla: You can either book online through my website or email me.

    _ Sacred Path Tarot

  • Jonathan emanuel alon says:

    Hi carrie!

    I would lije to get a reading how can i contact you?

    Thank you!

  • C. says:

    I don’t doubt Jorodowsky was ‘full of shit’ about a lot of things but he was a pretty ardent Tarot adept, a devoted tarot user for I think over 50 years, and he even helped create his own version of the Tarot of Marseilles (which originated in the 15th century) and co-wrote a book to go with it more than a decade ago.

    One might also say he was pompous, self-aggrandizing and self-deluded, but his reliance on the tarot for himself and others was all too real.

  • John Carston says:

    I’m glad that you talked that an unimaginable thing could happen if you affirm something will. Yesterday, my friend told me he was hoping to find a tarot card reading that could provide some information for his future. He asked if I had any idea what could be the best option to do. You did a great job explaining. I’ll tell him that consulting trusted tarot card reading gift shops could help provide more information about their services.

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