I think Tarot is often an ecstatic experience, but not in the way we usually think about ecstasy. Most people, even most devoted Tarot readers, wouldn’t describe Tarot as necessarily a joyful experience. A lot of people who only get an occasional reading would argue quite the opposite: they get a reading when there’s something particularly difficult going on in their lives, not when they’re happy about things. But the Greek root of the word, ekstasis, doesn’t mean pleasure or joy. It means “to stand beside or outside of oneself,” something which is both simpler and more profound than happiness.
In this sense, Tarot is ecstatic, because as a means for self-reflection, it helps us stand outside of ourselves. Sometimes we do that alone, and the process of standing outside ourselves as we interpret the cards is fairly clear. Sometimes we use the help of a guide or reader; in my style of reading, I’m still trying to create opportunities for self-reflection, as well as potentially providing an outside point of view.
It’s no accident that position eight in the Celtic Cross spread, representing that outside view, can be one of the hardest to interpret. It’s inherently challenging for us to get away from our own point of view. That’s precisely what positions seven through nine of the Celtic Cross spread are all about, though, which is where that spread gives us the opportunity for an ecstatic experience, to take up a position outside ourselves and our usual point of view.
I’ve already considered position eight, but I’d like to look at positions seven and nine individually and in contrast to each other. If position eight is extra hard to interpret, sometimes position nine, the querent’s hopes and fears, is sometimes especially easy to interpret. In my experience, I’ve seen a lot of very clear cards turn up in position nine, cards that might be an exaggeration of other cards in the core of the spread. Sometimes a five, one, or ten of a suit shows up in position nine, when other intermediate cards show up in the central
If I were using keywords to describe the numbers, I would say that ones (aces) are about raw energy, tens are about fulfillment, and fives are about challenge or conflict. These more dramatic cards embody the duality of hopes and fears: if we have high hopes, they can also be dashed; if we have tremendous fears, a relief from them is something to hope for indeed.
Sometimes a Major Arcana card will show up in position nine, where it can represent an archetype that the querent is either hopeful or fearful of. Again, since the Major Arcana tend to represent overriding influences or storylines, their powerful pull means they can go to extremes, both good and bad, very easily.
Position seven, the querent’s own point of view, also provides a different perspective on the central cross. For a reader, this card is an opportunity to start to sum up the central cross and interact with the querent a little more about not just what the cards might represent, but what the querent thinks about the situation as a whole.
Sometimes a querent will look at the card in position seven and have a rueful moment of recognition: yes, she’ll say, I do tend to see things in that particular light. In particular, if the card in position seven corresponds strongly with one part of the central cross, it can signify that the querent is stuck in looking at the situation from that point of view. Using both the central cross and position eight to contemplate other points of view may help free up the imagination or perspective.
But sometimes position seven seems opaque, or unrelated to the central cross and the primary matters at hand. In those situations, it’s useful to think of the querent’s point of view as a kind of “spin” or additional layer of meaning that might have been added to the cards in the central cross. This can be hard, because interpreting the central cross usually involves imagining oneself to be a character in the cards, so it’s easy to take a look at this card and say that there’s no one doing that particular action involved in the situation.
When this card is difficult, that can be when we most need it to help us stand outside ourselves. Try imagining this card in terms of attitude, not action: how would that character describe the central cross? How is that similar to and different from the way the querent described it?
The contrast between positions seven and nine can help clarify both of them. If they are very similar, it can indicate that the querent is reading his hopes and fears into a situation; how accurate is that likely to be? If they seem totally unrelated, that might represent a mismatch between what the querent hopes/fears and what she actually sees in the situation as it exists right now. Which approach is more realistic?
When position eight is taken into account, you now have three different perspectives. The outside view can be especially helpful in sorting out how justified the querent’s hopes and fears might be, as well as whether her own perspective is blinding her to particular aspects of the issue at hand.
Now, these are all perspectives, and since Tarot tends to be more about possibilities than simple facts, no one of them is going to tell the whole story or be totally accurate.
The ability to compare and contrast these approaches is what lets this part of the spread so helpful. Just as we might ask a friend to give us a different point of view, these cards can help us reflect on different potential perspectives, and to weigh the benefits of each.
Ecstasy gained its current meaning because people can experience this kind of broader perspective or being outside themselves when they are swept away by tremendous emotions like joy, love, or pleasure. The benefit of seeking ecstatic expeiences with Tarot is that we can consider these different perspectives while in a calmer frame of mind, not exhausted or overwhelmed, which gives us a better opportunity to contemplate and integrate the insights we achieve. Then we can act on them to create opportunities for ecstasy – in the joyful sense – as well.