Ancient Wisdom and 3 Modern Change Models
When I tell people I'm an archaeologist, sometimes I can see people's eyes light up. Is there something that the ancients knew that we have forgotten? Some key to life that those before had discovered? Is there an ancient code, in some long lost scroll or on some clay tablet, that tells us how to live more elegantly, how to ride the waves of change and find our destiny? I think there is.
As a trainer of coaches, I am also searching for the keys to help someone achieve their destiny. I use several overview models of the coaching and change process. It would be possible to claim that these were developed in modern times, and in the context of Neuro Linguistic Programming (the field I train in). However, as an historian I also know that these models are implicit in very ancient teachings. I thought it would be interesting to acknowledge some of those ancient models of change here. The three models I will discuss are:
A. The Wheel of Change (The I-Ching)
B. Neurological Levels (Proclus' Levels of Reality)
C. The RESOLVE Model (The Hero's Journey, the Prophetic Healing models and The Tarot)
A. The Wheel of Change (I-Ching)
The Core Idea
It is a truism to say that life consists of a continuous series of changes. Every intentional change we make in our lives goes through a sequence, from the time we first become aware that things are not the way we want them, to the time when we focus again on how things are OK as they are. If we understand the natural sequence of change, then we can behave in ways that are appropriate to the particular place in this cycle where we find ourselves at this moment, rather than just appropriate to the part of the change cycle we are most comfortable with. This is also true when we are helping others to change, or helping an organisation or community to change. For example, rushing in and suggesting solutions when a person is just becoming aware of a problem usually provokes resistance because they are still trying to understand if the problem needs action and what the problem is. Generating solutions is extremely valuable, but not always the most appropriate immediate action.
Richard Bolstad: The Wheel of Change
Bill Moyer works with organisations seeking social changes. Moyer has proposed that "There are four different roles activists and social movements need to play in order to successfully create social change; the citizen, rebel, change agent, and reformer. Each role has different purposes styles, skills and needs, and can be played effectively or ineffectively. (Moyer, 2001, p. 21). I want to apply these roles to individual change work. I will call Moyers' four styles:
- The Auditor (what Moyers called the Citizen)
- The Rebel
- The Innovator (what Moyers called the change agent)
- The Reformer.
The above sequence is the sequence in which the change styles are required, as a person, organisation or society shifts from their old state to their new state. This sequence is what I am calling "The Wheel of Change". Different stages of the change process require different relationship styles. As a result, some helping practitioners (coaches, trainers, consultants, counsellors etc) are good at helping clients who are starting this process of change, some are good at helping clients who are good at finishing the process, and others are good at helping clients who are in the chaos at the centre of the process. If you understand this whole change cycle, you can recognise the strengths of your own helping style, and develop the skills you have previously found difficult. These change styles differ in their relationship to two personality continua (metaprograms) described in NLP (see Charvet, 1997):
- Preference for Sameness (Matching) vs Preference for Difference (Mismatching)
- Towards Motivation vs Away-From Motivation
The following table summarises the relationship of the NLP metaprograms (personality styles) to the change roles. Matching and Mismatching refer to the extent to which a person pays attention to and appreciates the similarities (between two aspects of their experience, between their view and yours, between what has previously happened and what is happening now etc) or the differences. Sameness people notice similarities and prefer that things stay the same, whereas Differences people notice differences and prefer that things change. Towards and Away From refer to the "direction" in which someone is motivated to act. Some people are motivated mostly towards their goals and desired results, some mostly to avoid risks and problems.
Different coaching and consulting styles are more effective for dealing with clients "stuck" at different stages of the wheel of change. For example:
- Reflective Coaching is important for dealing with the Auditor style/stage. It matches the person's concern about the problem and helps them clarify what needs to change to re-establish harmony.
- Provocative Coaching is useful for dealing with the Rebel style/stage. It utilizes the person's challenging style and challenges them to stop complaining and start doing something different.
- Cognitive Strategy Creation is useful for dealing with the Innovator style/stage. It helps the person create new and innovative ways of responding to situations.
- Tasking is useful for dealing with the Reformer style/stage. It helps the person plan how to integrate their new learnings into their daily life.
The Wheel of Change and the I-Ching
The wheel of change and the ancient Chinese I-Ching (Book of change) are parallel models of change (易 经). In the diagram below, the cycle of change also flows clockwise, but begins at the bottom. The stages of change are listed as 8 rather than the 4 in the wheel of change, and each of the stages is symbolised by an element of nature. The sequence is understood if you rotate the traditional model of the Later Heaven Bagua (後天八卦) by 180 degrees. Different action is required at different stages of the cycle of change, beginning at the most yin or low energy point (winter, if thinking of this as a seasonal sequence). In divining with the I-Ching (rolling coins or shaking yarrow sticks to create two random "trigrams"), the person trusts that synchronicity will help them understand where they are in the two interwoven cycles of change which are most relevant to their current challenge. The 64 "hexagrams" of the I-Ching are formed by combining the original eight trigrams in all the possible combinations. The Bagua diagram itself is thought to be "lucky" and its presence reminds students of the I-Ching, that cycles of change are found everywhere.
Wheel of Change (Later Heaven Bagua 後天八卦)
Kan 坎 ( ☵ water: yin. First just be aware of the problem)
Gen 艮 ( ☳ mountain: align with immovable shared values)
Zhen 震 ( ☶ thunder: challenge the system, revolution, conflict)
Xun 巽 ( ☱ wind: gently penetrate whole system with your challenge, use provocative actions)
Li 離 ( ☲ fire: yang. Radiance and inspiration. Immediate action to express the change positively)
Kun 坤 ( ☷ earth. Be receptive of new possibilities and be grounded in realities)
Dui 兌 ( ☴ lake. Creating satisfaction in the wider system, beware the risk of stagnation, being coopted by system)
Qian 乾 ( ☰ heaven. Celebrate achievement of the change in the whole system)
B. Neurological Levels (Levels of Reality)
The Core Idea
Any human experience can be understood at different levels of "abstraction". At the least abstract level, it can be understood as simple physical interactions in the concrete environment the person is positioned in, as actions initiated by the person, as an expression of the broader skills and capabilities that the person has, as an expression of the person's deeper values and beliefs about what has and will happen, as an expression of who they are as a "being" or an "identity", or as an expression of the entire system they exist as part of. In different contexts one or other of these levels of abstraction may be more useful to pay attention to than others. When there is a problem with traffic in a big city, paying attention to how many cars are moving where at what time may help us plan new traffic systems, but paying attention to the more abstract idea of how information moves around the city may help us design a better "internet of things" that makes cars less relevant. While the Wheel of change looks at the cycle of change though time, this model looks at the levels of abstraction through which we understand our life at this moment.
Robert Dilts' Neurological Levels Model
When a client says "I can't seem to create the right state of mind to manage the pressure in my job." NLP trainer Robert Dilts points out that you could assist change at a number of different levels depending on which phrase in the sentence you attend to. Here are examples of choices for change at each level:
- The final phrase "...in my job." refers to the Environment where the problem happens. e.g. find a new job.
- The phrase "...manage the pressure..." refers to the specific Behaviours which the client is unable to do. e.g. show the client specific behaviours which will reduce the sense of pressure.
- The phrase "...create the right state of mind..." refers to the Capabilities which the client would need in order to solve the problem. e.g. show the client new strategies for creating useful states of mind anywhere.
- The phrase "...can't seem to..." refers to the level of Beliefs and Values. e.g. change their beliefs about what is possible or why this is important.
- The deepest level in the statement is the level of the word "I...", the level of Identity. e.g. help the person create a new sense of themselves as a confident and successful person.
- There is a level before the person says anything, though. This level is the level Dilts calls Spirit, and involves the person's connection with greater systems of which they are a part (communities, the universe etc). eg offer a powerful experience which changes the person's sense of their life's meaning in the world.
The important thing about using the neurological levels in changework is that, as a generalisation, a problem at one level needs to be dealt with by a solution at a level at least one "higher" than the problem. For example, a person who is gets panicky whenever they are in an elevator tends to think they have an "elevator" problem. This environment level issue needs to be solved by a behaviour level change (thinking differently). A person who cannot learn a new strategy for resolving conflicts in their relationships may think they have a problem of capability, but this capability level issue needs to be solved by a beliefs and values level change (such as reframing their beliefs about what conflict means and clarifying what their true priorities are). Change at a "higher" level affects all the levels below it, virtually instantly. When a client changes their belief about anxiety, they find they can learn new ways to manage it, and they behave in different ways to previously.
Some clients specifically ask for change at a certain level. Change agents often have their own preferences about which level they want to work at. It is useful to be able to accept, for example, that not every client comes in wanting spiritual transformation, or fundamental changes in their self-image. Sometimes a person just wants to get rid of their anxiety about public speaking. And, after all, once they have changed that, they may decide to learn a strategy that enables them to relax in any situation, and that may change their beliefs about what is possible.
Proclus' Hierarchy of Levels of Existence
The Hierarchy of Levels of Existence developed by the Neo-Platonist philosopher Proclus of Lycaeus (Πρόκλος ὁ Διάδοχος), 410-485AD is a clear analogue of NLP trainer Robert Dilts Hierarchy of Neurological Levels. Even the number of levels and the names of the levels are similar. Only the level of Soul (which sits where Behaviour does in Dilts model) seems at first to be out of place.
Proclus says that these levels represent a chain of causality, by which the unknowable oneness manifests itself, and the various gods and goddesses of ancient belief can be understood as metaphors representing one or other of these levels. In this way, religions vary by the level of their conceptualising God, from the most abstract (seeing God as a oneness behind all) to the most concrete (seeing God as manifested in the specifics of Nature). A God may have the same name but be conceptualised by different devotees or by different mythologies as at a different level. This is also strikingly similar to the Jewish idea of sephiroth in the Kabbalistic teachings (see the next section).
Proclus aim was not only to make sense of the vast array of belief systems he saw around him (Christianity, Atheism, Mysticism, Paganism etc), but also to indicate that these different ways of conceptualising the world may each be useful at different times and to different people. Another aim he expresses is to attempt to explain how the undivided and un-manifested "essence" that Platonists held was behind all things becomes the detailed and concrete manifestations that we observe in the natural world around us. In Platonism, this thinking moves from abstract to concrete, because the abstract essence is considered to be the central reality. In modern cognitive psychology we tend to move from concrete "things" to abstract conceptualisations, because the concrete objects are considered to be the central reality. However it is easy to see that Philosophy and Religious Guidance provided many of the same benefits in ancient Rome that Psychology and Coaching provide today. Solutions can be found at the level of the intellect, or at the level of understanding all creation as one, for example. Proclus argues that both levels exist and focusing on them allows different solutions and ways of experiencing life to emerge.
1. The One (Spirit)
2. Being (Identity)
3. Life (Values/Beliefs)
4. Intellect (Capability)
5. Soul (Behaviour)
6. Body/Nature (Environment)
To understand the level of the Soul (the level that seems by name to contradict Dilts model, perhaps because its meaning is poorly translated by that word) it is useful to view the subcategories of Proclus' "Soul", which are The Demiurge (the activating principle controlling the material world), Generating (starting), Perfecting (improving), and Protecting (purifying). The Deities associated with this level (most of whom are female) are what Proclus calls "Leader Gods". I think as we get into the detail of his description we have more of a sense of this level as corresponding to what Dilts means by behaviour. The diagram above is used in Proclus' work to explain his model.
C. The RESOLVE Model
The Core Idea
Sometimes, rather than just managing the experience of change, we want to take conscious charge of the story, and guide ourselves or someone else to their destiny. Setting a goal, perhaps to resolve some issue that has inhibited our enjoyment of life, is like a journey. We need to start by collecting the "resources" we may need on that journey, then often we make a connection with someone who knows the path better than us (even if that is just Google Maps). We need to set our desired destination, knowing that the journey is never quite that simple (the map is never quite the same as the territory). When we set out on our journey, there may be challenges that we need to study and resolve, and then we need some way of confirming that we have reached our destination. Finally, we plan how to re-establish our life with the new understandings and experience we have collected on the journey. The fact that these metaphorical similarities to a journey occur in any project, in any relationship, in any of the specific struggles that we face in daily life: that fact is fairly obvious to people in most cultures. In psychotherapy, counselling and coaching, this metaphor has been embellished to create step by step guides that can work in almost any specific life story.
A coaching or consulting process can be understood as having 7 main steps (described by me using the acronym RESOLVE). These steps are detailed in the books "RESOLVE" and "Outframes". We can see them used in changework by many ancient teachers and of course they are the essence of the Hero's Journey, discussed by Joseph Campbell.
Resourceful state: first remember your own abilities, create a good mental state.
Establish rapport: create a sense of trust and mutual respect between yourself as client and the guide (even if that is you).
Specify a goal: describe positively what you'll see/hear/feel when you get what you want from this session, in detail.
Open up your model of the situation: Notice how you created the old situation and can change it by acting differently.
Lead: At this step you do some of the NLP change processes, eg Submodality shifts, Anchoring.
Verify: Check that it feels different when you think about that situation now.
Ecological exit: "Futurepace" (step into the future and check it will work for you) checking that change is "ecological" (all the results are OK for you to live with).
RESOLVE in the Hero's Journey
Researcher Joseph Campbell describes an archetypical "hero's journey" that each hero in mythology goes through. The psychotherapist Milton Erickson, in his work, often gave clients the sense that they were doing something great, something heroic in their life, and this journey seems a meta-structure behind many traditional stories. The steps of this journey are:
1. Hearing a calling that relates to our identity, life purpose or mission.
2. Accepting the calling leads us to confront a boundary or threshold in our existing abilities or map of the world.
3. Crossing the threshold propels us into some new life "territory" outside of our current comfort zone; a territory that forces us to grow and evolve, and requires us to find support and guidance.
4. Finding a guardian, mentor or sponsor is something that often comes naturally from having the courage to cross a threshold.
5. Facing the challenge (or "demon") is also a natural result of crossing a threshold. "Demons" are not necessarily evil or bad; they are simply a type of "energy" or "power" that we need to learn to contend with or accept. Often, they are simply a reflection of one of our own inner fears and shadows.
6. Transforming the "demon" into a resource or advisor is typically accomplished by either:
1. Developing a special skill or;
2. Discovering a special resource or tool.
7. Completing the task for which we have been called, and finding the way to fulfil the calling is ultimately achieved by creating a new map of the world that incorporates the growth and discoveries about the journey.
8. Finding the way home as a transformed person, and sharing with others the knowledge and experience gained as a result of the journey.
Here is Robert Dilts' Process that Embodies this Story:
In this case I will list Robert's questions and associate them with the RESOLVE model steps. Note that specifying the outcome occurs at the very beginning in this metaphor.
Specify goal: identify the task you want to achieve.
1. Hearing a calling. Ask your client to select a life mission or heroic journey they are on. What are they called to do?
Resourceful State: Create a state where you are willing and able to change.
2. Accepting the calling. Have them check if they are willing to accept this journey. What would it take to allow them to take this risk?
3. Crossing the threshold. What is the unknown territory that they will face?
Establish Rapport: Create a connection (real or metaphorical) to a helper or wise guide.
4. Finding a guardian. Who would be a guide or mentor whose advice they could internally seek in this quest. What would that person advise? Who can protect them from some of the challenges they may face?
Open Up The Model Of The World: Face and understand any challenges that have obstructed your journey.
5. Facing the challenge (or "demon"). What are the challenges this journey will bring up. What could lead them to give up or abandon their journey?
Leading: Transform the challenge.
6. Transforming the "demon": Developing a special skill or discovering a special resource or tool. What is the positive intention of this challenge? What resources do they need to transform this challenge into that positive intention? Where have they hidden that resource in their past experience? Stephen Gilligan suggests that the three fundamental resources for the hero's journey are strength, compassion and humour.
Verify Change: Confirm the success.
7. Completing the task. What would let them know they are complete with this journey?
Ecological Exit: Plan how to live in future with these changes in perception and experience.
8. Finding the way home. How will they share with others the knowledge and experience gained as a result of the journey? Ask their future self to give advice to them now, becoming an additional mentor and guardian from the future.
RESOLVE in the work of the Prophet Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him)
The steps of the RESOLVE model are evident in many ancient teachers and prophets. In the book "The Prophetic Medicine", Imam Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyah, 1292--1350 CE / 691 AH--751 AH, explains the sequence that the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) went through when healing. The core of his emphasis in terms of healing anxiety and depression is to focus on the one source of true resourcefulness, and he quotes from the Prophet (peace be upon him): "Whenever sadness and grief intensify on someone, let him often repeat, "There is neither power nor strength except from Allah." " (Abd El Kadir, 2003, p 249). At the same time, Al-Jawziyah understands that the client must have a model of the world in which cure is possible. He says "When the heart accepts that a certain medicine carries the cure, the body will feel an elevation in its strength." (Abd El Kadir, 2003, p 124).
Al-Jawziyah then describes the sequence of healing thus: "We mentioned before that the Prophet (peace be upon him) used to ask the sick about what they complained from and how they felt. He would in addition ask them about what they had a taste for and would place his hand on the forehead or even on the chest, asking Allah to bring about whatever benefits them in their condition. Sometimes the Prophet (peace be upon him) would perform ablution and then pour the water he used on the sick person. Sometimes the Prophet (peace be upon him) would say to the sick person "It is alright. You will be purified (cured), Allah willing." This indeed is the kindest way to treat the sick when visiting them." (Abd El Kadir, 2003, p 145). This description covers the elements of the RESOLVE model very fully, as listed following:
- Resourceful state: "There is neither power nor strength except from Allah."
- Establish rapport: "He would in addition ask them about what they had a taste for."
- Specify outcome: "Asking Allah to bring about whatever benefits them in their condition."
- Open up model of the world: "When the heart accepts that a certain medicine carries the cure, the body will feel an elevation in its strength."
- Leading: "He would in addition ... place his hand on the forehead or even on the chest, asking Allah to bring about whatever benefits them in their condition. Sometimes the Prophet (peace be upon him) would perform ablution and then pour the water he used on the sick person."
- Verify change: "It is alright."
- Ecological exit: "You will be purified (cured), Allah willing."
RESOLVE in the work of Jesus
The steps of the RESOLVE model are also evident in the healing work of Jesus.
- Resourceful state. "The crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes." (Mathew, 7.28-29)
- Establish rapport. Jesus was well aware of the importance of pacing the three key sensory systems (Visual/Auditory/Kinesthetic), and of the power of metaphor. When asked "Why do you speak to them in parables?" he answered that his aim was that people needed to be led through stories so "they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn for me to heal them." (Mathew, 13.15 More literally put in older translations, "so that those with eyes should see, those with ears should hear, and those with a heart turn to me and be healed.")
- SPECIFY outcome. "And when he came near, he asked him "What do you want me to do for you?" He said "Lord, let me receive my sight." (Luke, 18.41). One man was there who had been ill for 38 years. When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be healed?" " (John, 5.6)
- Open up client's model of the world. "When he entered the house the blind men came to him; and Jesus said to them, "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" They said to him, "Yes, Lord." " (Mathew, 9.28)
- Leading to desired outcome. "And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God." (Luke 13.13)
- Verify change. "And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices and said "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us." When he saw them he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went they were cleansed." (Luke 17.12-14)
- Ecological Exit. "Afterward, Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, "See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you." " (John, 5.14)
Playing cards first entered Europe in the late 14th century, probably from Mamluk Egypt, with suits of Wands, Cups, Swords and Coins. The "Tarocchi" deck first appeared a century later in Italy (the name Tarot emerged with the French "Tarot de Marseille"). the Tarot was used for gambling, divination and as a teaching aid to explain esoteric symbolism related to the Jewish kabbalah and Egyptian magical tradition. It was utilized and spread by the Roma people who are of North Indian origin, though their common title (Gypsy) also references Egypt. Its name may come from the Egyptian Arabic word طرق turuq (ways), with similar meaning to "Tao" (道) in Chinese. and it describes a spiritual journey to awakening. It contains a "Minor Arcana" (small secret) of four decks analogous to the four decks in ordinary playing cards (Wands or Clubs, Cups or Hearts, Swords or Spades, Pentacles or Diamonds), as well as a "Major Arcana" of 22 numbered cards describing a journey from innocence to cosmic consciousness. As with the I-Ching, the Tarot is often used by a person randomly selecting cards (e.g. by shuffling the deck of cards) and assuming that by synchronicity cards that shed light on where they are in their journey will be revealed.
A. The Major Arcana: The Tarot Journey of Transformation
The Tarot's 22 Major Arcana cards show the sequence of personal transformation that a student of the esoteric arts goes through, and this story is directly analogous to the 7 step RESOLVE model. Here, the significance of each step is briefly mentioned and linked into the RESOLVE model, and then the meaning of the 21 steps as a card in the pack is noted (these correlate of course).
0 Fool: Choose a Problem/Project to transform.
1 Magician: Get in touch with your Resources -- Conscious Mind.
2 Priestess: Get in touch with your Resources -- Unconscious Mind.
3 Empress: Get in touch with your Resources -- Creativity.
4 Emperor: Get in touch with your Resources - Self-Control.
5 Hierophant: Choose a guide. Need for external help or use internal help?
6 Lovers: Create rapport with yourself and/or the guide.
7 Chariot: SPECIFY the goal of session.
8 Justice: Balance action to make changes with care for your own "ecology".
9 Hermit: Identify deeper inner resources that could help you achieve this specifically.
Open Up the Client's Model of the World
10 Wheel of Fortune: Elicit the old strategy you have used and see how it trapped you in a cycle.
11 Strength: Believe that you are in charge of your life and have the strength to change.
12 Hanged Man: Confront the Patterns that have bound you. Accept the changes.
13 Death: Interrupt old Patterns. Die to the past.
14 Temperance: Integration of internal conflicts.
15 Devil: Use Processes that help you understand you are not bound by past trauma.
16 Tower: Sudden instantaneous change.
17 Star: Create Future Expectations of possible new choices.
18 Moon: Do a Final check for Ecology - are there any hidden dangers in this new way of being?
19 Sun: Test for and confirm/celebrate your Success.
Exit - Futurepace
20 Judgment: Discover what Results are released by the changes.
21 World: Open yourself up to new Possibilities and joy.
The "Meanings" of the Major Arcana
0 The Fool: New developments, fresh starts, taking a risk.
1 The Magician: Opportunities, working with your hands, communication skills.
2 The High Priestess (The Papess): Intuition, hidden motivations, inner wisdom.
3 The Empress: Creativity and abundance.
4 The Emperor: Authority and control.
5 The Hierophant (The Pope): Good advice and conforming to the rules.
6 The Lovers: Emotional choices, relationships.
7 The Chariot: Assertiveness, progress.
8 Justice: Decision, clarity of mind.
9 The Hermit: Going it alone, listening to your own counsel.
10 The Wheel of Fortune: Changes.
11 Strength (Fortitude): Quiet strength, good health, dealing with petty problems.
12 The Hanged Man: Sacrifice, waiting.
13 Death: The end of a situation.
14 Temperance: Balancing, moderation.
15 The Devil: Materialism, greed, lust, bondage, anger.
16 The Tower (Lightning): Sudden catastrophic change.
17 The Star: Hope for the future, good omen, education.
18 The Moon: Confusion, loss of control.
19 The Sun: Success, fame.
20 Judgement: Rewards, karma, judgement.
21 The World: Completion, success, seeing the whole picture.
B) The Minor Arcana: The Tarot Model of the World: The 4 Life Journeys
The Tarot's 56 Minor Arcana cards provide a map of all the various permutations possible in ordinary life experiences - a map that can be used to generate 56 new ideas for solving your problem or achieving your goal. It's like the I-Ching, mentioned above - it claims to represent each of the possible variations in enacting daily life strategies. Each strategy (habit or pattern of action) we use in our life has 4 steps (TOTE): a Trigger that starts us doing it, an Operation or action we take, a Test where we compare our results with the challenge of the situation, and an Exit where we are complete with the process. When we want to change, changes can be made by intervening at each of these 4 steps. In the Tarot cards the 4 steps are represented by the 4 suits:
Trigger: Wands: Finding the passion, energy, and ideas to initiate action.
Operation: Cups: The actual actions & interactions from which we get new awareness.
Test: Swords: Checking whether our actions met the challenges from the time we initiated them, enough to create change.
Exit: Pentacles: Acknowledging our new results, possessions, and attainments.
The Tarot's four Minor Arcana suits (wands, cups, swords and pentacles) each have a guardian family (King, Queen, Knight and Page) and here the same "law of 4" is repeated from the suits. They each have 10 numbered cards representing the 10 "sephirot" (plural of "sephira") or emanations through which the universe is created, in the esoteric Kabbalah (tree of life). These move from the transcendent Kether at top (crown) to the fully embodied Malkuth at bottom (kingdom). This is a system analogous to the Neurological levels model discussed above.
The ten numbered cards represent the universal "story" of life, from the beginning of an event through various universal challenges and developments to its fruition. The story has four specific forms: Wands are the story of a project, cups are the story of a relationship, swords are the story of a conflict, and pentacles are the story of a prosperous result. The Minor Arcana thus represent a system for understanding the sequence of changes, similar to the Bagua of the I-Ching. The Kabbalistic diagram of the sephirot is shown below. The steps of each journey correspond to the meanings of the original sephirot. Kabbalists believe the Tree of Life to be a diagrammatic representation of the process by which the Universe came into being, from Keter to Malkut. It also represents, in reverse, a diagram of the path back to spirituality from material existence
The Summary Story
The basic idea of the Tarot is that there is one great story in life that continuously repeats itself. This is again kind of similar to the Hero's Journey idea promoted by Joseph Campbell. The sequence has ten steps, and 5 of these steps (2, 4, 5, 7, and 9) are more likely to be challenging for the person on the journey.
1. Beginnings: You get a great new idea, or a new sense of mission.
2. Choice/Balance: You're not sure about committing yourself to it.
3. First results: You step into the experience. It starts to deliver results.
4. Stability: There's a plateau phase where you don't want to go any further. This seems safe and OK.
5. Unexpected strife: There's a challenge to your stability (what Campbell might call a demon).
6. Help/Continuance : You get help to cope with the challenge, from outside or inside resources (what Campbell calls a guide).
7. Overload/Plans: Now you can manage the challenge, but it's overwhelming work
8. Results Focus: You learn how to focus just on what matters.
9. Risk near the end: You're near the end and that's also a risky phase, where it is tempting to abandon the process due to unforeseen challenges.
10. Conclusions: It all manifests as anticipated from the beginning.
The "court cards" (Page, Knight, Queen and King) represent influences from outside people that may affect this core story. Specifically:
Page. Messages/Naive: You get messages about the story.
Knight. Action: A person does some real action moving the story forward.
Queen. Wise/Subtle: A person helps by modelling the kind of success you need.
King. Mature/Guiding. A person helps by telling you how to be successful
Applied to the four stories (remember: wands are the story of a project, cups are the story of a relationship, swords are the story of a conflict, and pentacles are the story of a prosperous result), we then get the following 56 meanings.
Wands: The story of a project.
1. You get a great idea and start a project.
2. You're in two minds about the new project.
3. You get your first success with a project.
4. The project is stable, like a new building.
5. There's an unexpected challenge to the project.
6. You get help with the project from something/someone already established.
7. There's an overload of project ideas internally or externally.
8. You focus on your project
9. Near completion, there are last minute challenges in the project.
10. The project is successful.
Page: Messages about the project
Knight: Action about the project
Queen: A woman into projects
King: A man who helps projects
Cups: The story of a relationship.
1. You start a relationship with a person or creative idea.
2. The relationship is balanced.
3. You get your first success with a relationship, group.
4. The relationship is stable, and a little boring.
5. There's an unexpected argument and you feel bad about what happened.
6. You get help from memories, resources from the past.
7. There's an overload of attractive possibilities.
8. You focus on your dream, hope for relationship
9. Near completion, you hope the dream will come true.
10. The relationship creates happiness.
Page: Messages about a relationship
Knight: Action inviting interaction and relationship
Queen: A woman into relationship/love externally or internally
King: A man who helps with love externally or internally
Swords: The story of a conflict (internal or external).
1. You discover a crisis (opportunity/danger).
2. The conflict is at a truce.
3. You get bad feelings from a growing conflict.
4. The conflict is stable because you avoid it.
5. There's an unexpected defeat and you learn your limits.
6. You get help by moving to somewhere safe.
7. There's an overload of conflict (the conflict is hidden by another conflict).
8. You focus on the limits you face.
9. You feel as if you are near the ultimate results of conflict.
10. The conflict ends in failure.
Page: Messages about a conflict
Knight: Action expressing a conflict
Queen: A woman who is severe and harsh
King: A man who "helps" by authoritarian methods
Pentacles: The story of a prosperous result.
1. You start accumulating wealth and health.
2. Wealth, health involves issues that must be balanced.
3. You get your first successes with prosperity.
4. The prosperity is stable because you hold back from action.
5. There's an unexpected loss of prosperity or health.
6. You get help from others who are prosperous.
7. There's an overload of new preparation needed for prosperity.
8. You focus on and learn about prosperity
9. Near completion, you begin to get success from your efforts.
10. The prosperous results give you wealth and health.
Page: Messages about opportunities for prosperity
Knight: Action creating solid prosperity
Queen: A woman who is practical and focused
King: A man who helps practically with prosperity
Because we are unfamiliar with the worldviews of ancient China, Roman Judaea, Roman Greece, medieval Arabia, and medieval Europe, it would be easy to read these source works and dismiss them as obscure and outdated attempts to produce elaborate and essentially useless philosophical categorisations. However, once we pay attention to the structure of modern helping processes, and modern models to explain the process of change, the same general principles re-emerge. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. Change does still cycle through 4 "seasons", the world can still be conceptualised on several levels from concrete to abstract, and the journey of discovery still has a predictable structure whether we call it the Hero's Journey, the Initiation process, or the Coaching process. With increased respect for those attempting to explain their understandings in ancient contexts, we may be able to learn from their wisdom, rather than dismiss it as superstitious rambling. These three models are merely three examples. There is so much more to discover.
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