Does a well developed memory make us better at Tarot?

by Douglas Gibb on September 20, 2010

Yes, I think it does.

In mythology, memory was worshiped as a vital part in connecting with divinity. Mnemonic — the word we use for a device that aids the memory — is related to the name Mnemosyne, the Greek Titan goddess of memory, who was said to have known everything that is past, present and future.

History, science, anything requiring the remembering of previous states to determine future states is under her power and without her, nothing would exists (at least, nothing we could remember). Humans, without memory, without her, wouldn’t even be able to remember their own name, where they were, how to speak, how to walk; there would be no ability to develop pattern recognition, no ability to recognise faces, enemy’s or friends — survival would be difficult.

Mnemosyne role, therefore, is linked to time. She is the organiser of time and an oracle’s best friend. Think about it. Even time can erode the memory of what was, and what will be. Without our ability to remember, time would cease to even be a concept.

On a more spiritual level, the act of enlightenment would never be a possibility; the act of Being could not be understood without her.

Mnemosyne, memory, is the goddess of Diviners of Time.

She is the Mother of all the 9 Muses. The muses are the inspiration for all that we know, and all that can be dreamed off — for even dreams can’t exist without her.

Lethe, the river of oblivion

Memory was so important to the ancient Greek understanding of Being, that they told stories of Lethe, the river of oblivion, that flowed through Hades. It is known as the river of forgetfulness, and the shades of the dead were required to drink from its water in order to forget their earthly life.

These mythological associations are profound in that they associate forgetfulness with death.

What does that mean for us Tarot readers?

There was a study conducted by a Russian psychologist, Alexander Luria, between 1920 — 1950. The subject of this study was a journalist known simply as, “S”, who could remember names, dates, and telephone numbers without every having to write them down. As Luria tested S with increasingly complex data, all of which he was able to remember years later, it transpired that S accomplished his amazing feats by translating everything he heard into strong mental images or sensual experiences. It turns out that he had a condition called synesthesia — it means that the boundaries of the senses sporadically become blurred. This means he could see the word “Cat” and experience the taste of chocolate, salt or the colour red at the same time.

This study goes some way to indicating that people with great memories use all their senses to create memorable links between random bits of information.

When I read about this experiment, I immediately thought off all the Spiritual, Tarot included, techniques that use the 5 senses to bring two random bits of information vividly to life.

Okay, this is what it really means for Tarot readers!

It means two things. First, that memory is linked to divination for without memory there would be no ability to conceptualise Time; that memory is linked to Spirituality, for without memory there would be no ability to conceptualise Being (that without memory we have already drank from the river of forgetfulness and are experiencing a living death). Second, that a great memory uses those same visualisation techniques that are harnessed to develop Spirituality. With these two reasons combined, I can only conclude that by developing a good memory, I also develop my ability to read, use and understand Tarot (both its spiritual and divination applications).

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13 comments… Let's discuss

Catherine September 20, 2010 at 1:29 pm

Great post! It makes me wonder though, about the ability to use your intuition as opposed to memorised facts about tarot cards. Is it necessary to have a well develped memory to ‘channel’ information – is memory actually required to channel at all?


Douglas Gibb September 22, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Hi Catherine,

Good question!

It all depends on what intuition is. For me, I would define it as something that is outside of logical control or rational deliberation. Intuition is that spark of inspiration, that spark of connection that seemingly comes from nowhere. Often times I experience it with a feeling that it doesn’t even belong to me … it feels independent of me.

Personally, I feel they both Memory and Intuition go hand in hand. The Goddess of Memory was the Mother of the Muses – those very goddesses that are responsible for inspiration and intuition. Without Memory, they also could not exist.

It is also possible to argue that channeling is independent of the individual because the source of what is channeled is a Spirit – however, even Spirits need memory in order to communicate.

What do you think about what I’ve said? Agree, disagree, let me know. :D


Helen September 25, 2010 at 10:12 am

I agree with your comment that memory and intuition go hand in hand. It is being able to memorise those vast meanings to the individual cards that help you to give a good reading, but when intuition kicks in, well good turns into something far better.

Catherine talks about channelling information, here we seem to be, at least to me getting away from “reading tarot” and more into psychic reading – not the same.


aurarcana September 20, 2010 at 8:36 pm

This is an excellent post Doug. The first thing that came to mind was Druid lore and how none of their stories were recorded. Memory served as necessity for people to communicate and share stories and lessons to others in this example, as well as others throughout history.

Regarding Tarot, we use our memory to make connections between the archetypes presented, colors being used and symbolism. We use our intuition and personal experience to read the cards in a unique and personal way.

Cheers! Nicole :)


Douglas Gibb September 22, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Hi Aurarcana,

Great point! I find it inspiring to think of the developed memories people used to have (Homer, for instance) – in modern times, memory is no longer required. We can record information in a journal, we can look it up on the internet, we can read about it in a book. Having a well developed memory nowadays is no longer a cultural requirement. There is also the suspicion of the imagination which is current with our culture. This suspicion is, in general, anti memory techniques.


Nancy September 20, 2010 at 9:56 pm

I think I’m splitting hairs here, but I see a difference between “memory” and “memorization”. Memorizing card meanings doesn’t make me a better reader. But remembering bits of songs, places I’ve seen, people, situations, animals, even arguments (!) does make me a better reader because I have a meaningful sense (or a memory) that I associate with specific cards. When I can bring feelings from the past to bear in interpreting the cards, the reading is far better.

Great post, Doug.


Douglas Gibb September 22, 2010 at 1:51 pm

Hi Nancy,

Interesting slant. Meaningful memories, it seems to me, are associated with the ability to make connections between unrelated events and make them meaningful. This type of memory, if we think of its construction as a product of the brain, can be associated with “big picture” thinkers throughout history. These thinkers had the ability to view a problem in a unique way, often using unrelated information to illustrate (or aid) their solutions.

I do think that this type of “big picture” brain structure definitely makes us better Tarot readers for all the reasons you mentioned :D


Cher Green September 21, 2010 at 4:45 pm

Doug, interesting post. I have to agree, memories enhance the connections. Personal experience, remembered, brings a new layer into a reading. Of course, these memories, in my opinion, could come with us through our many life times.


Douglas Gibb September 22, 2010 at 1:44 pm

Hi Cher,

That’s interesting that you mention past lives. I was recently reading a study involving “genetic memory” – the really interesting thing for me is, how do we unlock, not just memories of past lives, but perhaps the hidden potential and knowledge that has accumulate through those past lives?


Fiona September 21, 2010 at 6:56 pm

Thanks for the post Doug. Apparently Pamela Coleman Smith also had synesthesia!


Douglas Gibb September 22, 2010 at 1:37 pm

Hi Fiona,

Interesting! Didn’t know that.


Katrina Wynne September 22, 2010 at 7:07 pm

Hi Doug and Tarot Friends,

Excellent post. I really like the direction you are going with sharing this information and enjoy the reference to mythology. I concur with Nancy, Memory may include, but is not limited to memorization. And adding to your comments, intuition can draw from knowledge and memory as well as other sources.

What resonates with me and my style of work with Tarot is the “sensory-grounded” aspect and potential of working with the cards. That is why I emphasize a full-body experience in Tarot readings, not just information from the neck up. For a querent to truly experience a reading and to carry that impression with them beyond that moment, something needs to be touched through their sensory awareness in order to remember, “re-member,” their guidance, what they consulted the cards to receive. To be “alive” in the reading is supported by inviting the presence of the querent’s body, mind, and emotions. This usually can not be accomplished by only delivering an interpretation of the cards. It requires engaging the client in their own reading so they can invest themselves in the experience.

In Spirit,


megan March 24, 2011 at 12:43 pm

That is an excellent post. So informative and the historic data and relvance are beautiful. I had a thought that yes memory would be useful – as the more memory data one has access to the more information the reader would be able to use to decipher the cards or the query?
thank you


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