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:

Ale­jan­dro Jodorowsky’s 82 Com­mand­ments For Liv­ing

Mœbius & Jodorowsky’s Sci-Fi Mas­ter­piece, The Incal, Brought to Life in a Tan­ta­liz­ing Ani­ma­tion

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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Comments (7)
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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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