The Art of Nonsense


The Art of Nonsense and the Art of Divination

Vocatus atque non vocatus, deus aderit,
from the Oracle at Delphi

…in the final analysis, there is no language for the ultimate nature of things.
Arthur Young

This article is dedicated to Dr. Raymond Moody, whose work on nonsense has served as an inspiration in my studies with Tarot and I Ching.

Perhaps this might come as a surprise to many people interested in Tarot as a “serious” divination tool, but I hope that some of the observations in this article will strike a chord or two, for I believe that one of the most “reliable” ways to access any form of divination is when we open ourselves to non-quotidian reality, let go of the personal mind and access the boundless world of nonsense.

Divination is not the same as prediction or fortune-telling, but rather a way of seeking Knowledge through transpersonal ways that intimately connect with the numinous.

In her insightful book about divination and synchronicity, Marie Louise von Franz notes that any divinatory technique is linked to synchronicity and, therefore, becomes an act of creation that cannot be predicted because it works on principles of Chance and Chaos. In divination we step into the world of nonsense in order to drop conscious thoughts and be part of the creative energies of the unconscious: “One cannot make head nor tail of a chaotic pattern; one is bewildered and that moment of Bewilderment brings up the intuition from the unconscious.” (von Franz, p. 40).

Synchronicities are an “arrangement” of events by the transpersonal Self that often defy the rational. During these events, the ego consciousness is caught unawares and we are able to experience what von Franz calls, “the rhythm of the Self at a particular moment.” This rhythm can be invoked with the throw of Tarot cards, which are a very effective method to receive immediate imprints from the psyche. If these imprints don’t make sense to us at first glance, it is normal because we are entering new territory and the images and layouts must often be interpreted from a completely different point of view than the one we are accustomed to.

Just like any other divination tool, Tarot is a non-rational source of knowledge and it works precisely because it makes no (logical) sense. Whether the information we receive from the cards is coming from what Jung called the “collective unconscious” or from the invisible world of ancestors, guides and teachers; from the Higher Self or from Spirit, the important thing is that this information is not coming to us from predictable, normative or prescriptive ways of acquiring knowledge.

As a linguist I have always been intrigued by language and how it structures and determines our every-day reality. When we step outside of syntax and allow the boundaries of logic and the bindings of confined language to dissolve, we enter an alchemical realm of creative potentialities. The worlds of Tarot, Alchemy, dreams, Cabala, divination and magic are much easier apprehended from the platform of nonsense, which asks us to set aside our understanding of what is sensible or rational.


Gazing into mirrors or crystals, consulting oracles, looking at images on a card spread; all these forms of nonsense intrigue us because they challenge our understanding of what is supposed to be normal or logical ways of communication. When we are able to drop disbelief through disorder of the mind, or rather disorder of logical constructs that we have imposed on our minds, fantasy and imagination step right in as if driven by magical energies. Breaking down the logical thinking patterns we have come to accept leaves us open for the paranormal to manifest. After all, we created the word “para-normal” as a verbal (defense) mechanism to designate, like “nonsense,” that which, from our self-conscious point of view, is non-intelligible or lies beyond the parameters of our prescriptive norms.

Carl Jung looked at dreams as a flow of events, a sequence of images which represent a certain surge of psychic energy. This description also serves to explain how Tarot works. We experience this psychic energy in the shuffling of the cards; when placing one card next to the other in a particular spread or sequence; in the way we read each card, making the various connections.

The etymology of “oracle” (oraculum) derives from “orare,” to pray, and like the word “divination” implies invocation or a message from the gods. Oracles of antiquity were places dedicated to the gods and to the search for knowledge. How this knowledge was eventually accessed and revealed to the seeker tells as much about the rites of divination as it does about the archetype of questing and about the importance of nonsense to attain revelation. Today, we often seem to reach for the quick answer to our needs and questions, instant gratification and easy solutions; and yet, Spirit requires that we engage either physically or mentally –or both- in some sort of adventure (or odyssey) before truths are revealed to us. In ancient Greece and Egypt, for example, both psychological and physical preparations were necessary to access the oracles; the onerous physical location of some of the temples already implied an odyssey or quest; there were several rituals the seekers had to go through before reaching the actual chamber where the divination would take place (usually behind a veil) in obscure riddles and verses that would need to be “translated” by the psychopomps or attendants. There is a whole tradition of seeking knowledge, divine intervention and healing that has lasted for thousands of years more or less this way. Even when the rituals leading to the act of divination or the methods of delivering the messages vary, there has always been a sense of alluring mystery, dislocation of language structures and of time and space, intimations of something unseen or invisible that must sneak through in the processes used to invoke the spirits or gods.

Like the I Ching text, which carries within a soul that is animated by the power of the throw of marbles or coins or yarrow stalks, we can look at a deck of cards as a field of energy waiting to be awakened and where there are no limits to the possible levels of interpretation. Therein rests the magic of Tarot. Because in the infinite potentiality of the chaos unleashed with the drawing of the cards is where we find the order of our existence; or rather where we start to organize our reality by tapping, seemingly at random, higher sources of knowing.

Do we “read” the I Ching? Do we engage in a conversation with the hexagrams and the trigrams? Jung called the I Ching, “a formidable psychological system that endeavors to organize the play of the archetypes… so that a ‘reading’ becomes possible.” Here Jung is using the word “reading” as it is used in Tarot divination. If we look at the Latin roots, the notion of reading cards parallels the idea of reading a letter or missive. When we draw a Tarot card, it could well mean that some spirit, ghost or ancestor energy is leaving us a calling card (just like it might happen in dreaming). How we react to this calling card might well determine the outcome of an illness or any other life’s challenge. In the I Ching a reading starts by literally seeking the answer from specific –and ancient- texts with a long wisdom tradition. From the literal, the message then moves to metaphoric and spiritual levels. We must do the same with Tarot because the display of archetypes and energies that the cards reflect requires a movement from the literal to the symbolic, regardless of the deck we are using. One may start by reading the literal message from the books first; but at some point words can no longer serve to reveal the higher allegorical meanings. As we move into other levels of interpretation and inspiration, we must allow the energies of the images to lead the way. Our ego consciousness must relinquish power through any creative methods that work with our imagination and that allow us to feel the silent energies, the hidden meanings, the interconnections, and the innuendos that are unveiled at a nonverbal level of communication.

Stephen Karcher reminds us that it is impossible to try and figure out literally what the words in the I Ching text mean because both images and texts must be processed in our heart and in our mind. I would say the same about Tarot interpretation. The moment that we try to start making sense out of the cards, we are using the left side of the brain and something will always be lost in the translation. It is often better to allow the energy of these contradictory and nonsensical images to penetrate our psyche without too much analysis or interpretations. A rational mind, after all, is not the answer when dealing with the numinous.

The importance of nonsense hardly can be overstated. The more clearly we experience something as 'nonsense,' the more clearly we are experiencing the boundaries of our self-imposed cognitive structures. 'Nonsense' is that which does not fit into the prearranged patterns which we have superimposed on reality. There is no such thing as 'nonsense' apart from a judgmental intellect which calls it that.
Gary Zukav, The Dancing Wu Li Masters.