On symbolic language and personal metaphors

 “There seem to be only two kinds of people:
Those who think that metaphors are facts,
and those who know that they are not facts.
…Which group really gets the message?”

~Joseph Campbell~

I am extremely comfortable with metaphor. Not just as a Tarot reader but also as someone who spends a lot of time in the theatre, exploring subtext to illuminate collective truths is what I live to do. Presenting universal concepts through symbols and fantastical imagery is my jam. I love uncovering repressed wishes, recognizing – sometimes donning – archetypal masks, and revealing universal struggles. But sometimes I forget that not everyone expects metaphor when approaching the Tarot (or dream interpretation or astrology…or theatre, for that matter).

A lot of people are drawn to Tarot readings or astrology or dream interpretation for prognostication, wanting a clear definitive answer to a troubling question. Note that I didn’t say “solution” as that implies personal participation in the outcome. Honestly, many folk just want to hear that everything is going to work out in their favor without any effort on their part. They want to be told that the pictures on the Tarot cards or the stars in the sky or images in dreams guarantee a simply translatable, specific, certain conclusion.

That is an understandable impulse, but it doesn’t work that way. That kind of expectation leaves you powerless to fate, to others, to invisible forces (including your crippling fears and doubts and previous disappointments). To use a metaphor: it leaves you in the role of the helpless princess waiting to be rescued by some prince of destiny.

“Until you make the unconscious conscious,
it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

~Carl Jung~

I was recently asked to do some dream interpretation readings as part of a fundraiser for one of my favorite Los Angeles theatres. I was surprised when some fellow thespians – metaphor professionals – seemed to fall into the familiar trap regarding symbology. “What does a jaw mean? I’ve had a bunch of dreams about my jaw.” “I don’t want to know what all the tornadoes mean, because it’s probably really bad.” “Isn’t it always about sex anyway?”

When it comes to interpreting visual imagery in dreams or cards, the process is personal and requires dialogue. There is no decoder ring that unlocks symbolic meaning. While the symbols in dreams and cards can be universal – like cigars, or dragons, or caves, or angels – what they represent from person to person is individual and must be interpreted in context.

I’ll use an example: behold the raspberry. A bright summer fruit enjoyed in desserts or cocktails, it may remind many folks of the simple sweetness of summertime. If offered in a dream, it could easily represent a delicious option, a sensual opportunity, etc. However, I have a very different reaction to raspberries. When I was growing up, there was a yearly Raspberry festival in a nearby town, and as a member of the marching band I had to participate in the parade. This was at the height of summer, our marching uniform was ridiculously heavy, and we marched for miles (it seemed). At the end of the parade, I was exhausted, sweaty, crampy, sunburned, and sticky with raspberry guts. Any raspberry that appears in my dream is likely to represent something deceptively sweet that comes with a cost or physical labor. That’s the difference personal context makes in interpretation.

The Lovers from the Aquarian Tarot

The Lovers from the Aquarian Tarot

And how about a Tarot example: the Lovers Tarot card. Of course it’s one of the cards most clients hope to manifest, but it doesn’t necessarily mean romantic love or even sexy times. At its essence, it’s about contracts. It’s about being clear about who you are and what you want and what you are willing to share for the benefits of the contract. And sometimes it means being clear about what is not included in the contract, too. It means setting terms and sticking to them for the mutual benefit of all parties involved. For some folks, this card will represent setting boundaries in romantic relationships. But once this card came up in a consultation with a client who was trying to negotiate some issues with a manager, and once it was even appropriate to describe a divorce settlement.

“If you want to change the world, you have to change the metaphor.”

~Joseph Campbell~

Can you believe: I’ve never had a single client who was satisfied with their life exactly as-is. Everyone is a work-in-progress, all my clients are on some kind of quest. Luckily, I find most folks attracted to my coaching style are eager to participate in their life. We can use the symbolic imagery of dreams to uncover your subconscious motivations or stumbling blocks. We can use the pictorial imagery of Tarot cards to make some choices about how to consciously move forward. We can work with the planets’ seasonal transits to embody the qualities of mythical characters represented in the stars. But let’s not accept passive prognostications. Let’s not wait around for life to happen to us. Let’s not try to live someone’s fairy tale.

Your personal myth is waiting for you!

“You are the Hero of your own story.”

~Joseph Campbell~


2 thoughts on “On symbolic language and personal metaphors

    • Hi Teddy! I’m glad you like my free Tarotscopes, but you actually posted this reminder as I was in the middle of updating them. I live in Los Angeles and I update them late on Sunday nights (local time) to appear on Mondays (local time). They don’t all appear automatically, I write them one by one. So, although you may be expecting them to appear in a certain way at a certain time, the reality of my process is a bit different. Thanks for understanding and enjoy your free Tarotscope!

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