The New Tarot – A Consciousness Map

By Ralph Metzner, Ph.D.

When I first encountered the images of the “Reverse Tarot” here described and presented I was immediately struck by their evocative force. Unlike the images of the old Tarot deck, which (to me) had appeared lifeless, these had a kind of direct electric-emotional “charge,” and some of them were strongly reminiscent of images found in dreams or under the effects of certain chemicals. 

I started to “work” with them – that is, I put the ones I was most drawn to up on the wall and began to meditate and reflect on their meanings. Over a period of a few weeks they would become strikingly “familiar” – they would intrude suddenly in my waking thoughts, fragments might appear in dreams or during quiet moments. 

Front cover of The New Tarot for the Aquarian Age by Rosalind Sharpe & John Cooke. This text by Ralph Metzner appears as the Introduction in this book (first edition published in 1968).

They appeared to work a kind of subtle transformation of unconscious, pre-rational “complexes” (to use the Jungian terminology). A fixed image-complex, surrounded by anxious feelings, could, by contact with one of these Tarot images evolve into an enlarging, affirmative, enlightening vision. Then after a time, another one of the series might emerge as an indicator of the “next step.”

The images, in other words, represent a kind of consciousness map. A series of markings to guide the spirit in its quest for the light. At all times when men have concerned themselves with the possibilities of human evolution and the practical means for realizing it, they have tried to devise maps of the path in terms of symbolic images. Direct verbal analyses and descriptions of the “path” have also been given (in particular in the various Indian systems of yoga) and numberless attempts have been made to encode the message in song or Scripture, in temple or tomb.

Different groups at different times have emphasized various phases of the process and have used different structural metaphors. Some, like the Indian yogis, have employed a linear model; others, like the Buddhists, in their Wheel of Life, and the Chilean astrologers with their circles of “Houses” and Zodiac “signs,” have employed cyclical images to diagram the progress of the soul on its way to the One. Still others, like the I Ching and the Tarot, employ a kind of multi-dimensional “web” pattern. Everything is interconnected and one can start at any one or several points simultaneously; yet there are also sequences to go through and inherent directions.

To many persons trained according to the current canons of scientific credibility, the authors’ claim to have received these images and their interpretations from a non-human, non-physical being, identified only as “One,” through the ouija board, might make them automatically suspect. Such phenomena are still regarded as somehow unscientific, somehow not quite “above board.” 

I myself have no reason to doubt the authors’ claim, knowing them both to be honorable, sane persons not given to deceit nor subject to delusion any more than the rest of us. 

Yet the question of the source of this material is, it must be remembered, quite distinct from the question of its value. Even if the authors, let us imagine, had perpetrated an enormous hoax, and “made the whole thing up,” its value as an aide-guide to psychic transformation is not thereby impaired in the least. It is a practical spiritual map and can only be evaluated by being used. In other words, I am suggesting, taking it at face value, try it; if it works, fine; if it doesn’t, perhaps you’ll find a system that does elsewhere.

This leads us to the question of how such a “map” of consciousness evolution, as this series of images, might be used. Traditionally, the Tarot is a set of cards used in making “readings,” which may have had spiritual or psychological factors depending on the level of the reader and the questioner, but mostly is a variant of “fortune-telling.”

It is possible that the groups who originally worked with the Tarot conceived the idea of concealing their esoteric teachings in the garb of a “game” or pastime, thinking it would more likely survive in this form in the dark ages they anticipated. However, the technique of concealment worked too well, in that the “playing cards” of the present day have lost all meaningful connection with the esoteric Tarot. 

A similar fate seems to have befallen the various symbol systems of “astrology” which degenerated from being spiritual ciphers to more or less arbitrary prediction games. 

The communicator of the present Tarot expressly discourages its use for such purposes. There is apparently no longer any need to hide the teachings. Everything can be revealed. This is in keeping with a world-wide trend towards bringing the hitherto “occult” (that is, academically unfashionable) out into the open, to publicize hitherto zealously guarded oral traditions (as by the Tibetan Buddhists).

It may of course be that there are still further layers of meaning hidden in this new psychic alphabet which would be clear only to initiates who had the key to the understanding of those layers. It is possible that the pictures contain, in some instances, detailed instruction in methods of inner work, in a disguised form. 

One might, for example, make the experiment of physically adopting the position of the figure in a given image, and then visualizing repeatedly and consistently the other parts of the image. The “Reverser,” for example, with ‘water’-energy flowing from above down the right side and ‘fire’-energy flowing down from the left side to the ground. Particularly persons who are experimenting with image-amplifying chemicals such as lysergic acid diethylamide could find such experiments instructive.

Another possible application of this Tarot is in psychotherapy. The Rorschach Ink-Blots and the fantasy-stimulating pictures of the T.A.T. are commonly used as diagnostic devices to assess unconscious factors in a person. 

The present images would, I suspect, prove far more useful in many instances because of their tremendous psychic force. One could, for example, let a patient study the whole set for a while, then pick out the ones he liked best and the ones disliked most, and then use those as starting-points for guided association and fantasy-symbol work of the kind practiced in Gestalt Therapy, in Psychosynthesis or the Jungian technique of “active imagination.”

By giving concrete expression to certain consciousness processes and states which are inaccessible to verbal-conceptual mentation, this revised form of the Tarot brings again into the open one of the most ancient symbolic languages of the world. As such, it represents another of the increasing numbers of rays of wisdom-light in the fast-accreting darkness of our unfortunate age. 

The above is the Introduction of The New Tarot for the Aquarian Age by Rosalind Sharpe & John Cooke.

Ralph Metzner, PhD, (1936-2019) was a world-renown pioneer in the study of consciousness and transformative experience. His work stretched the boundaries of traditional psychology by incorporating shamanic methods that transform consciousness and expand understanding of the human psyche. While at Harvard he collaborated with Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert in classic studies of psychedelics in the 1960s, co-authored The Psychedelic Experience and was editor of The Psychedelic Review. In the early 1970s he wrote Maps of Consciousness, one of the earliest attempts at a comparative cartography of consciousness; and Know Your Type: Maps of Identity, a comparative survey of personality typologies, ancient and modern.