Skip to main content
Ages 13+
Under 13
two rows of tarot cards

Jodorowsky Explains What Makes The Tarot A Creative Tool


A masterpiece of universal knowledge, the Tarot is a mirror that looks directly into the eye of the soul.

In the cult film, The Holy Mountain, filmmaker, poet, and magician, Alejandro Jodorowsky said: “the Tarot will teach you how to create a soul.” Did all of us not come into the world with a soul, our own, ready-made? But to ask about the nature of the soul in these abstract terms is a theological and speculative problem and one toward which little progress can be made. But to ask any individual and earthly soul is to open a door onto a passage along which the Tarot will help one to move.

The Tarot is an ancient game of cards, most likely created, anonymously, during the 14th century. Jodorowsky doesn’t hesitate to call it “an encyclopedia of symbols.” But during the 20th century, the use of Tarot became popular thanks to the printing of massive editions of the Tarot of Marseilles or the Raider-Waite deck. These cards don’t have fixed meanings, but are related and visually associated with one another based on the lives and experiences of both the seeker and the reader (i.e.; the person doing the reading).

The structure of the Tarot can be explained relatively easily: the Tarot consists of 22 Major Arcana – archetypal figures – and 56 Minor Arcana. The 56 are divided into four suits: wands, swords, cups, and coins, for a total of 78 cards. The Tarot, according to Jodorowsky, “must see” rather than be read. In a classic study on the subject, written jointly with Marianne Costa (The Way of Tarot), Jodorowsky showed how these 78 cards could be seen as a mandala, that is, as a single image. Each of the cards is one aspect of a living totality, a monument to the wisdom that speaks through the questioner. The discrediting of magic in general, and of the Tarot in particular, resides in the popularly held idea that the cards are used to foresee the future. For Jodorowsky, “one should speak of the future. The future is a scam. The Tarot is a language that speaks about the present. If you use it to see the future, you, yourself, become a swindler.”

Take for example Arcana number IX, the Hermit: The card depicts an old man with a long robe holding a lamp in one hand and a walking stick in the other. He is an ancient, initiated in magic, walking in the dark but bearing an inner light. If you’re looking to see the future, the magician is blind, because as Plato taught, too much light will also impede vision. On the other hand, the Hermit walks confidently into a future which he cannot see, guided by the inner light ignited by his heart.

The Tarot as a Tool for Creativity

three face-up tarot cards


The Tarot can serve in the performance of introspective exercises: what do we feel or think when we look at the cards? Do we feel fear, disgust, revulsion, or love, compassion, peace? These aspects aren’t “contained” within the cards, but they may reflect our impressions of the world through their own symbolic language.

Creativity or inspiration, from the Tarot, is the unleashing of creative potential in each of us through the awakening of patterns that occurs when reading the symbols. “Inspiration” is a respiratory movement. To inspire is to allow the body to take in the air necessary to keeping it alive. To expire, though is the removal of the residue of that breath as a vital part of transforming it into air, namely, as a word.

If we trust our concerns or doubts to the Tarot, all that we receive is a reformulation, a change in perspective, a suggestion, perhaps advice, but never a clear-cut answer. This is because the Tarot doesn’t make decisions for anyone. Tarot simply reflects the origins and possible outcomes of such decisions. “Trust” here is the keyword because, from the time that we ask a question of the Tarot, even if we read it for ourselves, we’re creating and formulating a mood, we’re putting a doubt into the world where that doubt had not explicitly existed. Thus, it can already be considered a creative act. The next part of the reading is to create the sayings and the associations between the figures and symbols that appear on the randomly selected cards, all the while focusing on the intention of the question and maintaining an attitude of openness.

By working with such a system, it’s possible to read based on the study of and meditation over the figures. But beyond the readings of masters like Jodorowsky, Aleister Crowley, and Eliphas Levi, one can’t ever “graduate” with a degree in Tarotology. As long as we’re alive, our minds and our understandings continue to change and to evolve. In some sense, the Tarot will reflect those changes, because, as mentioned, the Tarot is a mirror in which we’re reflected. The Tarot also serves as a contrast to both reflect and help others.

*Images: 1) Kyknoord – Flickr / Creative Commons; 2) Creative Commons

Related Articles