Tarot Study

The Best Tarot Books & Resources for Beginners and Beyond

I’m often asked what resources I’d recommend to people keen to learn more about tarot. We’re so blessed at this point in tarot history to have such an abundance of books, blogs, podcasts, courses, and conversations, both online and off, to nurture our understanding of this rich and complex art form.

When you’re starting out, though, that abundance can be pretty overwhelming. Who’s got the time or the cash to try courses that don’t resonate, or read books that barely skim the surface? Sometimes, we need a little help sorting the signal from the noise.

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To that end, here is a list of books and other resources that have boosted my tarot game and enriched my understanding of the cards. Of course, I can’t claim to have tried everything that’s out there, but I do have a stable of recommendations I can wholeheartedly hand over to tarot beginners, and also some juicy gems for more advanced readers to sink their teeth into.

I intend for this list to be a rolling resource, so I’ll update it from time to time as new and worthy things cross my path.


My Ultimate Go-Tos

This is a pair of books I always recommend in tandem, because I read them both when I was first learning, and together they helped me to deepen my understanding of both the philosophy and the practical applications of the Rider-Waite-Smith system.

Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack is hands down, my go-to for learning the Rider-Waite-Smith system. It gives some history, and looks at individual card meanings with a lot of focus and depth, particularly for the Major Arcana. The real gold in this book is the way it describes the underlying philosophical structure of the deck, with attention to its historical origins in the Western esoteric tradition. I’d say this is essential reading for anyone hoping to understand what this branch of tarot is, in the deepest sense.

If that all sounds quite theoretical, fear not! Rachel Pollack’s masterpiece is well paired with a more accessible and practical tarot handbook, Tarot: Plain and Simple by Anthony Louis. Louis’ book is also based on the Rider-Waite-Smith system, and it goes through card by card with key words and phrases, as well as situations and types of advice that might be represented by each card.

The approach is immensely practical, so I often recommend this guide as an on the go reference, when you need some clues about how a card might relate practically to a particular query. It also arranges the Minors by number rather than by suit, so you see all the Aces side by side, and so on. This gives the reader excellent grounding in how the numerology of the tarot functions, and how readers use the structure of the deck, rather than just individual cards, to make meaning.

New Favourites

My go-tos, dating back to my beginner days, might be some of the most well-thumbed books in my collection, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t found other new favourites over the years. Here are some other tarot books I’d recommend:

The Creative Tarot by Jessa Crispin is one of only two tarot books I’ve sat down and read cover to cover, like a novel. That’s how juicy and compelling it is! The Creative Tarot is exactly what it sounds like - a method of reading tarot for creative questioning, especially as it relates to art practice and other creative work. There are many things to love about this book, but one of my favourites is that Jessa gives recommended media - books, poems, songs, films - for each card, so you can dive deep into the archetypes. You can find tons more detail about this book in my full review here.

Tarot for Life by Paul Quinn isn’t a new book, but is a new favourite here at Two Sides Tarot. I love the anecdotes that Quinn includes to demonstrate how each card might play out in real life, but what really captured my attention is the table he lays out for each card, which includes Keywords, then suggestions for each card as Being, Doing, Shadow, Reversed, and Possible Advice. I like thinking of card meanings as different parts of grammar - like, what is the Nine of Swords as a verb? A noun? Thinking about cards in this way gives them flexible applications, and Quinn’s handy dandy tables have plenty of accessible inspiration for that way of thinking.

I picked up Michelle Tea’s Modern Tarot mostly because I love Michelle Tea. I wouldn’t say that Modern Tarot is a perfect resource for the beginner, because it doesn’t include what I would consider essential learning tools, like a history of tarot, and chapters on how tarot spreads work, how to shuffle, how to read for others, and so on. What does make it great, though, is that it includes extensive anecdotes from the author’s own experience to illustrate how each card might appear in the world, and it includes a spell or ritual for working with every single card of the deck. LOVE!

Finally, an honourable mention goes to a funny little book called The Tarot Masters, edited by Kim Arnold. This isn’t really a reference book, but when I was getting more seriously immersed in my tarot studies, it proved to be a rich treasure trove of stories that inspired me to go deeper with the cards. Editor Kim Arnold has assembled a true dream team of tarot masters, and each one writes about a card from the Major Arcana, as well as a memory or story from their own tarot history. It’s like eavesdropping on the ultimate tarot celebrity dinner party. There is tea!

Advanced Books

Some of the books mentioned in this post (especially the ones in the next category) do deal with more advanced level tarot practices, so in terms of books that stand alone for more advanced readers, I’ve just got one that I love.

Tarot Interactions by Deborah Lipp doesn’t include card meanings, instead, it gets straight into how cards interact in a reading, and how readers can use the structure of the deck - the suits, the numbers, the elements - to inform the way they read multiple cards at a time. My favourite part of this book is the table where Lipp uses some basic maths to help readers determine what is statistically significant in a reading (what counts, mathematically, as “a lot” of Pentacles, or a lot of Majors, in a reading with six cards, or ten cards, for example). I’ve never come across that in a tarot book before, but it seems like pretty important knowledge to have! This is particularly useful intel if you read with reversals.

Books That Are Kinda Like Courses

Rather than sitting down and reading a book cover to cover, many of us would prefer something that feels a little bit more like a course or a workshop, with a bit of reading, a few worksheets, and maybe some homework if we’re feeling super motivated (and who isn’t feeling super motivated to learn tarot? Come on!).

Tarot for Yourself by Mary K. Greer is stuffed full of exercises you can undertake to really go deep with the cards. Its focus is on using tarot for self-inquiry, and it contains a ton of practical ideas from figuring out your soul card, to doing meditative pathworking with the cards, and so much more. You’ll learn plenty about the cards, of course, but this book is really focused on putting the deck to work so you can learn about you.

Tarot 101 by Kim Huggens is not numbered like a college course for nothing! This book is best treated like a term of study, and worked through in order. Huggens weaves her lessons in interesting ways, arranging archetypes thematically, and interspersing the study of individual cards with exercises on designing spreads, doing readings, and using the cards for self-reflection.

If you’ve not seen Holistic Tarot by Benebell Wen in the flesh, you’ll have to trust me when I say it is A Tome. This brick of a book from one of the most knowledgeable and prolific esoteric scholars working today will see anyone go from stumbling beginner to sage expert, because there is just SO much in here to learn. This book is technical, academic in its approach, so if you’re an absolute beginner I’d say you could start here (and certainly, the earlier part of the book is aimed at beginners), but if you’re easily intimidated by vast swathes of occult knowledge and you’ve never read so much as a blog post about tarot before, well, maybe proceed with caution! When you’re ready to dive in, you may want to supplement your reading with the Holist Tarot resources on Benebell’s website.


I’ve taken an online course in tarot here and there over the years, most of which don’t seem to exist anymore, but I’m thrilled to find that one of my favourites, Little Red Tarot’s Alternative Tarot Course, is still very much alive and kicking. This self-paced, delivered-by-email course is a really great way to dive into the cards. I especially love that it reflects Little Red Tarot’s ethical, inclusive approach to, well, everything! So many tarot decks and resources fail to grapple with problematic and exclusionary power structures and gender roles that exist in traditional tarot, but you can be sure that this course isn’t afraid to challenge that status quo and make tarot available to all of us.

If you’d rather take things card by card, Little Red Tarot also offers a Card A Day course. I haven’t tried this one myself but I think I’d happily vouch for the quality of anything that Beth makes.

For those of us with a passion for the Tarot de Marseille, or perhaps just for a different approach to the heavily metaphorical way many of us read in the Rider-Waite-Smith tradition, Camelia Elias’s courses are fantastic. Who wouldn’t want to read like the devil?

Other Resources

This part of the list is a grab bag of things I’ve found helpful and interesting, across different media. No doubt there’ll be updates to come!

First, if you’re looking to deepen your relationship with the archetypes of the Major Arcana, you might enjoy a free resource I created for journaling with each of the tarot trumps. This guide will encourage you to dig into your own experiences and make connections with the cards.

If you enjoy doing some tarot study on the go, try Lindsay Mack’s podcast, Tarot for the Wild Soul. Lindsay shares deep dives into individual cards and themes, as well as some really amazing interviews with luminaries in the worlds of tarot and other spiritual crafts.

I mentioned above that Little Red Tarot has some great courses, but if you’re not ready to commit to a course (and even if you are), don’t miss the incredible blog. It’s an overflowing wellspring of tarot knowledge and exploration, and captures so many marginal, magical, and necessary voices.

And of course, you can find lots of deck reviews, tarot spreads, and card analysis right here on the Two Sides Tarot blog. Perhaps start with this one, or this one. Enjoy!

What are your favourite tarot resources? Give your beloved books, blogs, and podcasts a shoutout in the comments!

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Working with The Wooden Tarot: The Suit of Plumes Court

In this instalment of my series on The Wooden Tarot, I'm getting acquainted with the Suit of Plumes court. So far, we've seen that this suit signifies its element, Air, and its key themes, momentum, communication, the intellect, and just a little danger, with feathered things - birds and arrows. Let's see how these play out in the court cards.

I must say, I find the court cards in this deck particularly challenging, because my identification skills are not great! Although I have some ideas, I don't immediately recognise the birds in this court and so I had to do a little digging before their significance could fall into place. As well as being an exercise for the intuition, this deck is also very educational! 

I will posit that the fellow on the Page of Plumes is a sparrow. This light little bird is a great choice for the light touch of the Page of Plumes. This card is traditionally associated with nascent ideas, whispers of inspiration that sneak in on the breeze, looking for a mind that will grab hold and run with them. It's so clever that the artist has included the birds in flight in the background, as they give the sense of air in motion, which is quite strongly linked to the windy Page of Swords in the Rider-Waite deck. The breeze brings breakthroughs, new perspectives, and the youthful and eager Page encourages us to be inspired by them. Pages are, of course, usually associated with youthfulness, play, the idea of beginnings, and the philosophy of "beginner's mind". Here we have a caterpillar, a creature in its juvenile stage, learning what it can about the world before it takes that knowledge, and shapes itself into a mature form. 

The image of the caterpillar leads us naturally into the Knight of Plumes, where our humble green friend has transformed into a butterfly. Clearly, the line between these two cards is one of growth and maturity. The ideas that whispered on the wind in the Page of Plumes have been grounded and transformed by conscious action into real, measurable things. The Knight of Plumes is depicted as a great egret, a fish-stalking, solo hunting, water bird. The great egret, like many herons, catches its prey with a rapid swipe of the bill, a quick-fire manoeuvre  very apt for a speed- and movement-loving Knight. Where the Page of Plumes rests atop two arrows, the Knight grasps an arrow in its beak, which suggests to me that this card demands a proactive approach, that we take our situation in hand, and shape it according to our vision and intention. And quickly! 


The Queen of Plumes is depicted as a Victoria crowned pigeon. A cursory read of available online resources about the attributes and behaviour of this beautiful and unusual bird didn't immediately put me in mind of this Queen, but knowing how meticulously this deck has been constructed, there's bound to be a connection (and if you can discern it, do let me know in the comments below!). I suppose the most obvious link is the fact that this bird is rather rare and elegant, a good aesthetic fit for the Queen of Plumes. This species is also known for its strange and resonant call - perhaps a fitting feature of the Queen of the suit of communication and transmission? Whatever the connection, I do think she very accurately conjures the vibe of the cool and remote Queen of Swords. This Queen certainly seems ready to give zero fucks and look great while she's doing it, which is definitely an approach I associate with the Queen of Swords!

The Queen of Plumes' correspondences can be further found in those outward-facing crescent moons. Their placement puts me in mind of the symbol for the triple goddess, signifying this Queen's multifaceted feminine power. Outward facing moons, as well as the full moon in the background, may also suggest the idea of receptivity and intuition, qualities traditionally associated with the feminine (if you want to get all binary, which I know not everyone does!). The notion of power is reinforced by the arrowhead, suspended between the crescent moons - a tool that the Queen presumably has no qualms wielding when the situation calls for it! 

Heading in the opposite direction, the King of Plumes is the yin to the Queen's yang. The sun in the background is the day to the Queen's night. These cards actually put me in mind of The High Priestess/Magician opposition that we find in the Major Arcana - on the one hand, we have the watery light of the moon, the intuition and subconscious, and on the other, the fiery, outward-looking power of the sun. I'm not entirely sure if the inwardly facing moons are an established masculine symbol, but when placed side by side with the Queen's open and receptive lunar feelers, I have to wonder if the moons on the King's card are intended to signify the other side of the binary, whether that is masculine/feminine, receptive/active, yin/yang, and so on. Certainly, the King's upright arrow does seem obviously *ahem* manly! 

The King himself appears as some variety of vulture, a bird with interesting associations. Being a consumer of carrion, vultures are associated with death, decay, inevitable demise. This King isn't the most uplifting fellow! He is resourceful though, and not one to let a good lunch go to waste! This King is always ready to make the most reasonable and practical decision, never one to be swayed by emotions or sentimentality. That can be threatening for some of us, but there will always been times when a King of Plumes approach is needed. 

A final note - all the cards of this court have a visible third eye, reminding us of the importance of insight and clear-mindedness. This suit may not be as strongly associated with intuition as, say, the suit of Blooms, but the airy suit of Plumes does put us in mind of vision and clarity, so a piercing, triple-eyed gaze is appropriate!

And that's all she wrote for the suit of Plumes. As I've said in the past, these musings aren't intended to be exhaustive or definitive card meanings but rather, a collection of my own impressions on this strange and marvellous deck. I'd love to know what your thoughts are on these cards! If the spirit moves you, please do share your impressions in the comments!

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Working with The Wooden Tarot: The Suit of Plumes Six to Ten

It's been a little while since we revisited my old pal, the Wooden Tarot. I've had a lot of other posts I really wanted to get out over the last month or so, but fear not, I haven't forgotten this card-by-card series! Before we kick off this instalment though, you should definitely take a look at the forthcoming art book from the creator of the Wooden Tarot. If you're a fan of the Wooden Tarot, there will no doubt be much to love in this new book. It's available to pre-order from the artist now!

Ok, let's get to it. In this instalment in my series on The Wooden Tarot, we're moving right along into the next set of cards from the Suit of Blooms. You can find the post on Plumes Ace to Five here.

We discovered a painful scene of defeat and loss in the Five of Plumes, and I posited that the Six might offer some consolation. The Six of Plumes depicts a mallard swimming away, towards the horizon (such as this card could be said to have one). In his wake, he sheds unneeded or unwanted feathers, lightening his load as he makes his getaway. Traditionally, the Sixes of the Minor Arcana represent an opportunity to heal and grow after challenging experiences. I think this purposeful duck speaks quite strongly to that traditional meaning. Here is an encouragement to shed unnecessary burdens - painful memories, unhelpful patterns, limiting situations - and light out for new territories. 

In the Seven of Plumes, we have a raven, adorned with shiny beads, clutching an arrow in his claws. My initial impression of this card is of something tightly held, maybe hard won, and certainly not given up without a fight. Traditionally, the Seven of Swords speaks of theft, trickery, subterfuge. Perhaps this impressive bird has been collecting shiny objects that don't belong to him! In many mythologies, raven is a trickster, so it's no surprise to see him in this card. When this card appears, we're called to ask ourselves what is going on beneath the surface. Are we being fooled, or do we need to do the fooling? Luckily, like many of the critters in this deck, this raven's third eye is wide open, so we're called to use our intuition to sort trickery from truth.

I must admit, The Eight of Plumes didn't speak strongly to me when I first encountered it. It was only when writing my previous post about this suit that it became a little clearer. As well as being weapons, arrows are also representative of direction, movement, and momentum. Here we have an arrow that has become stuck before even leaving the quiver. Instead of the energy of this card flowing, arcing through the air like an arrow, it remains fixed, stuck at its starting point with no place to go. Sound familiar? The Eight of Swords challenges us to think of obstacles as opportunities, and to identify where our mindset might be preventing us from finding solutions and making progress. Here, we're called to notice when we're unwittingly sticking ourselves with our own mental arrows, rather than letting them fly. 

The Nine of Plumes is polarising in its effects. Emily of Dharma Eyes Tarot finds it to be super creepy, but when I saw it I was like "Oh cool, owls!!" I did find it hard to imagine what could possibly be troubling about a cluster of disembodied barn owl heads with three eyes. And then I thought just a little bit harder, and it clicked. Owls are creatures of the darkness, silent predators, with watchful, penetrating gazes. That does seem resonant with the insomnia, anxieties, and night terrors usually associated with this card. Even an owl apologist like me probably wouldn't be too keen to have my nightmares haunted by this parliament! I believe, too, that in some Native American mythologies, owls are considered to be death omens, which speaks to heavy, fearful quality that is traditionally associated with the ninth card of this suit. 

Finally, the Ten of Plumes, the bloody conclusion! In this card, the two visual signifiers of this suit - birds and arrows - meet in a painful convergence. This image is very similar to that which we find in the Rider-Waite Ten of Swords. The struggle is over, the battle has been lost. Is it wrong that when I look at this card, I think, "Well, at least you got stabbed in the front this time!"? Like its traditional counterpart, this card shows the moment of rock bottom, total collapse. While this little sparrow may not be rising again, this card always prompts us to ask, how do we accept this defeat, and start again? 

The more I look closely at this deck, the more I see the obvious references to traditional, Rider-Waite meanings, always with a unique Wooden Tarot twist. This has been a very interesting exercise for me - I hope you've also been finding it useful or thought-provoking. 

To that end, what are your thoughts? On these cards, or the Wooden Tarot in general? Let me know in the comments!

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Working with The Wooden Tarot: The Suit of Plumes Ace to Five

This post is part of a series in which I am exploring The Wooden Tarot. You can find other posts in this series here. For me, the joy of this deck is how much it challenges you to connect to your intuition, to make personal and meaningful connections with the card images according to your own instincts. That's the benefit and the challenge of going without a little white book! So, consider this to be, not an exhaustive or definitive almanac of card meanings, but rather, a catalogue of my impressions of these cards. I hope that they act as points of inspiration for you to make your own connections with the cards of The Wooden Tarot! 

Let's begin at the beginning of the suit of Plumes, with the God, or Ace of Plumes. (The Gods are one of my most favourite things about this deck, and I've spent a little time on them specifically in this post). The God of Plumes gives us clues about its suit - a feather, the alchemical symbol for air, and puffs of cloud for the background. We are entering the realm of Air, the realm of communication, information, perspective, reasoning, and intellect. Just a note on the artwork - until this very moment, I hadn't noticed that the God's hands and feather are shadowed onto its cloak. Isn't that such a beautiful touch, a little addition of depth and drama to the painting! 

From the Two of Plumes, it becomes clear that the God's feather is not the only plume in this suit, and the elemental connection with Air (and thus, the traditional suit of Swords) is reinforced by card by card, as we encounter more feathered and flying creatures. These wings, and the lemniscate that hovers above them, symbolise the sacred balance that underpins all the twos in the tarot.

What makes this card interesting for me is the waxing moon in the centre. It could almost be mistaken for a yin yang symbol, until you realise that the light is, like a waxing moon, coming to dominate the sphere. This suggests that the divine balance of the Two of Plumes is dynamic, in motion. When faced with this card in a reading, it calls us to ask whether we tip the balance towards the light or away from it. Are we waxing or waning in our energy, or the situation? Twos demand decisive action, and the Two of Plumes asks unequivocally which path we intend to choose - light, or dark?

The Three of Plumes is one of the most traditional, Rider-Waite inspired cards in the deck. The visual parallel between this card and the Three of Swords is obvious. Of course, the Wooden Tarot errs on the side of naturalistic (even when it is fantastical), and so we have an anatomical heart, rather than the symbolic heart we find in the Rider-Waite. This pierced organ reminds of the traditional meaning of this card - heartbreak, pain, emotional wounding, betrayal. 

It's in the Three of Plumes that we first encounter the second type of symbol in the suit of Plumes. Here, feathers have become flights for arrows, which reminds us of the double nature of the airy suit of Swords. I think I'm not the only reader to feel that this suit has always walked a fragile line between extreme clarity and cleverness, and the wielding of weapons. Just as feathers carry beautiful birds aloft in the cool, clear air, so too do they make arrows fly towards their targets. Arrows, too, are objects of both beauty and danger. They represent clarity, direction, momentum, and also injury, intention to harm, even death. In this way, the Wooden Tarot manages to stick to its own aesthetic guns (or arrows, as the case may be!), while still retaining the traditional tensions and double-edged nature of this suit. 

Put aside your arrows for a moment, and let's return to birds. The Four of Plumes shows a sweet little pigeon - or is it a dove? - in repose. She's lost some plumage (perhaps from those three arrows in the previous card!), and needs to take some time to recover. Again, we find quite a traditional message, if not a traditional image. The Four of Plumes invites us to recognise our limitations, to see where we're tired and worn out and over it, and to see the value of taking time out to rest and recover. Being a prolific taker of afternoon naps, I'm quite a fan of the Four of Swords, and this version of it seems extra comforting (perhaps I just identify more with pigeons than paladins?). 

The Five of Plumes sees a return to an image that was recurrent in the suit of Blooms, the visible third eye. This suggests to me that, when we find ourselves in a Five of Plumes situation, it's time to draw on our inner wisdom and intuition to navigate it. Here, a blue jay has returned to her nest to find three of her eggs broken (can I take this moment to admit that almost all I know about North American birds comes from being a baseball fan on the other side of the world?!). An attack has taken place, something irreplaceable has been lost. What can we do? The Five of Swords always challenges us to answer that question - do we need to surrender, do we fight back, do we try to make peace and mitigate our losses? The Five of Plumes shows a real moment of sorrow, the cost of conflict. We're asked, like this grieving Blue Jay, to open our third eyes to ease our suffering and find a solution.

As in all the suits, the Six offers some consolation and healing from the challenges of the Five. We'll look at the suit of Plumes, Six to Ten, in the next instalment of this series. 

What do you make of these cards? I'd love to hear your impressions and input in the comments!

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Working with the Wooden Tarot: The Suit of Blooms Court

Happy new year, everyone! I hope 2016 is treating you well so far. I was planning on kicking off the new year with a round up post of favourite books, decks, blogs, and other stuff, but I must confess I haven't made it to that yet! It seems fitting though, since Mercury just went retrograde, to return to an old project that needs reviving.

It's been a little while since my last post about The Wooden Tarot, so we're well overdue! At this rate, I'll be writing up the 78th card in 2020. Before we kick off, in case you missed it, I wrote a review of The Wooden Tarot for Little Red Tarot back in December. If you're looking for a general overview of this deck, that article might satisfy your curiosity!

Now, where were we? The court cards of the watery suit of Blooms.

As ever, elemental cues are strong in these cards. We now know that Blooms are the suit of Water in The Wooden Tarot, so it makes perfect sense that the courts of this suit are represented by a selection of aquatic-dwelling wildlife. 

The Page of Blooms is a slightly gruesome but compelling fellow - a glaucus antlanticus. Credit goes to the Wooden Tarot Facebook Study Group for identifying that one! To humans venturing into the ocean, this creepy creature signals nought but painful stings, but in the context of the Page of Cups, it's worth spending a little more time in this sea slug's company. Among its abilities is the miraculous capacity to eat other venomous sea creatures and store their venomous cells within its own cells, to use for its own defence. That is pretty flippin' cool!

This process of transmuting brings to mind the Page's resourcefulness and creativity, and signals a capacity to use one's environment to advance one's own goals and dreams. Like the Rider Waite Smith Page with the fish in her cup, this Page asks you to look in unlikely places for inspiration, and to work with what you have available to you. There is an element of danger and toxicity attached to it which perhaps isn't traditionally the purview of the Page of Cups, but doesn't that just keep it interesting? Pages are traditionally childlike, and there's certainly a lot of youthful bravado required if you're to get in the pool with one of these creatures! 

The Knight of Blooms is all about direction, and what better way to signal momentum, movement, and intention than the very-directional swordfish - or is it a marlin? In any case, I think the visual metaphor is clear! Indeed, both marlins and swordfish are known for their ability to swim at great speeds. I can't claim to be an expert in the field, but one result of a cursory google suggests marlins can move faster than cheetahs! Certainly a very Knight-like quality. As well as the urge to move, this guy possesses other Knight of Cups qualities. The third eye signifies connection with intuition, and bursting out of a rose suggests that this Knight is driven from the heart, motivated by emotions.

Queen of Blooms is represented by some kind of deliciously squidgy octopus! I hardly know what to say about her, but I just love this image! This octopus radiates the kind of damp, expansive, feminine energy I associate with the Queen of Cups. She can a be a little cool and remote, down there on the ocean floor, but the Queen of Cups is also ready to reach out those vast and soft tentacles and offer a supportive, smothering octopus hug! 

First impressions and psychic associations aside, the octopus is a great choice for this card. Octopuses are known for their intelligence, and ability to use tools and creatively problem-solve. The Queen of Cups isn't just a pretty cephalopod face! Using her octopus qualities and her intuitive third eye, this Queen is able to use her instincts and wisdom to practical effect, and set an example for those who need her guidance and support. 

Depicting the King of Cups as a betta fish adds an interesting layer of interpretation to this card. This King has always seemed to me to be the protective mother hen of the suit of Cups, the one always ready to take on other people's problems and to go in to bat for his tribe. The Siamese Fighting Fish isn't exactly known for being a team player, but there's no doubt this species is ready to meet challenges head on! This King of Cups will fight for his fishy family in order to create stability and safety for those who are part of his club.

I do think, though, that this card offers up a darker take on the King of Cups - here is a creature that is certainly happy to defend its home and hearth, but it isn't in its nature to cultivate closeness and intimacy. The masculine, Kingly energy, which in some circumstances can represent safety and loyalty, threatens to spill over into aggression and domination. The shadow qualities of the King of Cups - remoteness, moodiness, isolation - are in full effect here. While I don't often see that aspect come up in readings, I know that when working with this deck, it's impossible not to be aware of this King's shades of grey. 


And that's a wrap for the suit of Blooms. You can find the other posts on this suit here and here

Before I sign off, a couple of notices! I am still offering 12-card New Year Readings in my shop. There's still time to do some plotting and scheming for the year ahead! At around 4000 words, this beast of a reading is great value for the price, and will give you a ton of stuff to think about as you launch yourself into 2016!

It's been a little while since we've had an Agony Augury column here on the blog! In case you missed the previous posts in this series, The Agony Augury is your chance to ask your questions and air your grievances, and I'll respond here on the blog with a tarot reading! Think of it like an oracular advice column! I'd love to get this series up and running again, so please do send me your questions

Finally, if you'd like to receive these posts by email, you can subscribe right here!

That's all from me this week! Thanks for stopping, and happy new year from Two Sides Tarot <3

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Working with The Wooden Tarot: The Suit of Blooms Six to Ten

Here begins the next instalment in my series on the Wooden Tarot, part two on the Suit of Blooms. I must admit, it's in cards Six to Ten that this suit starts to slip away from me. All those eyeball flowers! What do they mean? As with all the posts in this series, I'm just going to sit with these beautiful images and see what comes up! This blog series is intended to offer impressions and intuitions, rather than exhaustive or definitive card meanings, so don't feel like you have to take my word for it! I'd love to know your thoughts on these cards, especially if you've figured out any working definitions that are really meaningful and useful to you!

There's an undeniable blossoming to the Six of Blooms, a sharp contrast to the barren and pillaged vibe of the Five (read more about the Five of Blooms here). It's a perfect progression, because numerologically, Fives are all about setbacks, pain, and struggle, while Sixes offer the promise of healing and renewal. I like to think that these blossoming eyeballs represent not only healing and new growth, but also new perspective. It's through our most challenging experiences that we gain the most wisdom, and here we have a flower growing actual organs of sight out of the ashes. It's only by enduring the difficulties of the Five of Blooms that we may learn to see the world anew in the Six. I think I'm getting the hang of these eyeball flowers!

The Seven of Blooms offers a cornucopia, a whole array of shiny objects, with a hopeful eye gazing out. In the tarot, Sevens are often a moment of pause, a call to evaluate before more progress can be made. Although this is an unusual image, in some ways it's quite traditional. Just as the Waite-Smith Seven of Cups invites us to consider our options with a critical eye, the Wooden Tarot Seven of Blooms serves us up a smorgasbord of jewels and invites us to really look, both at what is on offer and into our own hearts. 

As in all suits of the tarot, after doing some evaluating with the Seven, we're then called to make a decision in the Eight. For me, the key to the Eight of Blooms is that waning crescent moon. It invites us to ask, "What energies are waning in this situation? What cycle needs to be brought to an end?" The shapes floating around the orb in the centre look like they could be petals plucked from a flower. There is a sense that something that has come to full bloom is now on the wane, and a shift away from this dying, waning energy must be made.

If we can make the right decision and say farewell to what needs to be let go, then we might be lucky enough to find ourselves in the Nine of Blooms. I love the energy of this card! This image perfectly captures that feeling of eager yearning, of looking to the future with excitement and optimism, of accomplishments reached and expansion achieved. Traditionally, the Nine of Cups is the wish fulfilment card, the card in which we feel open and positive enough to place our hopes, with confidence that things will go well and the outcome will be joyful. The Wooden Tarot's take on this card captures that supportive, abundant vibe. 

Finally, after allowing ourselves to fall in love with our hopes in the Nine of Blooms, we reach the Ten. Big sigh! There's that lotus again, that symbol of higher consciousness, opening up to show us the precious jewel of the self at its centre, with the full spectrum of our experience represented in colour. It's a lovely image, and I feel, very successfully conveys the feeling of growth, completion and wholeness that we'd expect to see in the Ten of Blooms. This suit really takes us on a journey, from seeds planted to flowers opening. It's funny how my first response was, "I don't know what the heck to make of all of these eyeballs!" but when I actually sit down and let these cards tell me their story, it's obvious how cohesive and simple they really are. 

What do you make of the suit of Blooms? Thoughts to add, differing interpretations to offer? Let me know in the comments! As always, if you'd like to keep up with the Two Sides Tarot blog, you can subscribe by email here

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Working with The Wooden Tarot: The Suit of Blooms Ace - Five

I've mentioned in a couple of posts in this series that I find the suit of Blooms in The Wooden Tarot particularly hard to get my head around. Something about those strange, eyeball flowers was making it difficult for me to pick up the story! Not that I have a problem with eyeball flowers, of course (if you do, this probably isn't the deck for you!). With a view to making friends, I'm going to explore this elusive suit in three parts. Today, let's look at the first five cards and see what we can learn.

Before we begin, I must warn you that I'm writing this on the eve of the Pisces Full Moon (which is now a whole full moon ago - this post has been ripening for quite a while!), and watery Pisces looms strongly in my chart. This is not intended to be an exhaustive almanac of card meanings, so much as me capturing my responses on the page as I spend time with each card. Prepare yourself for a meandering, unstructured, and (hopefully) intuitive ramble! 

Every time I see the Aces, or Gods, in this deck, it strikes me anew how fabulous they are! Look at that wonderful God of Blooms! I've written about the Gods at some length previously, so I won't spend too much time on this fellow here. It is worth emphasising, though, that this card cues us in to the suit's concerns. The element of water, represented by the waves curling around the figure on the card, and the reversed triangle of the head, the alchemical symbol for water. We can also see the lotus blossom, floating above the God's hands, which signifies spirituality, intuition, the third eye. The God of Blooms clues us in to the fact that Blooms are analogous with Cups in more traditional decks. The Gods in this deck are so carefully and cleverly done, and they provide such a useful framework from which to interpret the rest of the minor cards in the deck. 

That lotus flower also gives us a nudge about the visual symbolism we can expect to find in this suit. Plant imagery is central to the suit of Blooms (obviously!), which is interesting as plants are often associated with the element of Earth in the tarot (the Japaridze Tarot represents the suit of Earth as Gardens, for example). But, Earth isn't the only essential element in the garden, and I think it's quite original and interesting that this deck associates these images with water. Lotuses do grow in ponds, after all! 

From here on out, I plead for you to bear with my poor botanical identification skills, and invite you to step in and correct me in the comments if I'm blundering!

The Two of Blooms looks, to my eyes, like the Australian native waratah, but I'm happy to take corrections on that from any flora experts out there. Maybe it's unlikely that an artist native of the American south would choose to paint a flower from the other side of planet, but you never know!  In any case, whatever its official name, this flower depicts that quintessentially "Two" idea of balance, of mirroring, union, connection... all those notions that are central to the Two of Cups. The idea of partnership is strong here, because it seems that each flower grows out of the other. In that sense, this card is quite traditional. The lemniscate is an interesting addition, given that the Two it usually partners with is the Two of Pentacles, but it's nice to shake things up! The idea of divine balance and wholeness doesn't go astray in the context of the suit of Blooms, and I like it that this card applies that principle to emotional, intuitive, and creative life. 

I really love the sweet peach blossom of the Three of Blooms! What a beautiful image. Those flowers do look like three fabulous babes, hanging out and gossiping on the branch. As in our Two of Blooms I can see the gesture towards traditional RWS meanings in these three companions. I love the addition of the ripening fruit, because I think that image takes this card a step further, suggesting that collaboration bears fruit that is greater than the sum of its parts. It's an invitation to join forces and give birth to something new!

The Four of Blooms immediately suggests a feeling of withdrawal, closeness, tightness, retreat. This rose certainly isn't going to open into bloom today! This illustration so perfectly captures the feeling of pulling inward, it almost seems as though this flower is holding itself closed. Again, there is a nod to traditional meanings of the Four of Cups - solitude, reflection, withdrawal - however I feel like this image conveys a sense of patience that the traditional card lacks. The RWS Four of Cups is often equated with obstinacy, a kind of brattiness in refusing to engage with the world, and while that could be at play here depending on the context, I think this reluctant rose's message is more about blooming in your own time. It's a little more nurturing, a reminder that flowers can't be forced to blossom. Sometimes we need a little quiet time before we're ready to show ourselves to the world!

After the flowers and fruits of the Two, Three, and Four, the Five of Blooms shows us a stricken landscape, stripped of life. There is certainly a sense of loss pregnant in this card - who knows what those five decapitated stumps might have been had they not been cut short? Like the spilled cups of the RWS Five of Cups, this card suggests an act of violence or a catastrophic mishap that is deeply felt. Given that we are working with nature images here though, it's impossible to forget that Fives are stages of challenge that can be overcome. Mother Nature is voracious, and a barren stump doesn't stay that way for long! With the right approach - perhaps a period of mourning to honour the loss, and some intentional maintenance - this field will bloom again. After the Five comes the Six, a card of healing and transformation. We'll see what form that takes in the next instalment of this series! 

What are your thoughts on these cards? I'd love to hear your interpretations of these cards, any corrections or disagreements, and any other thoughts you might have! Please do share in the comments. 

If you like the look of this deck and are thinking of adding it to your collection, you can order a copy from the artist here

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Working with The Wooden Tarot: Nine of Stones

Just a quick one today, to document what came up when I used the Wooden Tarot for the Weather Report one day. I was a little apprehensive about pulling a card for my daily reading from this deck, since I still feel very much in student mode with it, but I decided it was better to be challenged than not! Here's what I posted on instagram:

WEATHER REPORT - NINE OF STONES. The Nine of Stones reminds us that it is often when our spiritual work feels most frustrating and limited that we're closest to a breakthrough. All that learning and ritual and meditation and yearning and inner work can be painful and draining, and often its reward is so intangible. It can be tempting to give it all up, but if you're feeling that way today, this card says, hang on. You're on the path and you're getting closer. Growing and expanding in this way can be painful and challenging, but it will be worth it. Stick with it today, no matter how much you might not want to. Trust the path!

The most striking thing about this image is the red crystals, seeming to burst out of the antlers like growths, so when I first looked at this card I became very preoccupied with the idea of organic growth, expansion, and growing pains. Traditionally, the Nine of Wands is about shouldering a heavy burden in the late stages of a journey, so in this context, I see the Nine of Stones as being about the pain and frustration and struggle of continually expanding the self on one's spiritual path.

I've often described my discovery of tarot as being like growing an extra limb, the sudden discovery of a new kind of mobility and dexterity that I didn't previously have, so seeing these crystals growing felt personally resonant to me. My discovery and growth as a tarot reader has been more of an easeful and joyful than riddled with frustration, but as in any spiritual practice, there are times when it is hard to see the road ahead. This card acknowledges how startling it can be to have that extra limb burst through the skin, and how challenging it can be to learn how to use it. It also encourages us all, no matter where we are on the road, to keep on travelling. 

What do you make of this Nine of Stones? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments! 

Before I sign off, I wanted to let you know that The Agony Augury is taking questions! If you have a tricky problem or juicy dilemma that you'd like some insight into, please do write to me, and your question may be chosen for The Agony Augury column!

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Working with The Wooden Tarot: The Sixes

So far in my little project to get to know The Wooden Tarot, letting the deck decide upon my course of study seems to be working out just fine. Again, I pulled a card to see where I should be looking today, and who should appear but VI The Lovers.

Aww. Conjoined twin hummingbird! Does it get any sweeter? I love the image on this card: aforementioned hummingbird, in the bosom of a flower, sitting atop a green anatomical heart, which sprouts the odd leaf and a string of fern fronds. Like all of us, this heart bleeds red. This card, for me anyway, reads quite traditionally straight out of the gate. It's a sweet and strange image, but the bleeding heart gives it the gravitas that The Lovers requires. For me, this card is always about choice - what do we choose to bring into our lives, what people and pastimes and causes do we give our hearts to? Do these things reflect our true values, or are we misdirecting our energies? This heart has the potential for growth, provided it is given the right conditions to flourish. How can we use our free will to cultivate those conditions?

With The Lovers as my point of departure, I turned my attention to the other sixes in the deck. Numerologically, sixes are usually about healing, peacefulness, recovery, and/or movement. With that in mind, let's see what we make of these fellows.

The Six of Plumes we've met before - this card cropped up in my Wooden Tarot deck interview as this deck's most important characteristic. It baffled me a little then, but ultimately I stand by my interpretation of it as being about healing transitions. We get to shed old feathers and swim off into new horizons!

The Six of Stones was also a feature of my deck interview, so you may already be acquainted. Again, I feel good about my earlier interpretation of this card as being about support and elevation. The encircling antler offers us the best seats in the house to witness this beautiful crystal rising up and holding its own. This card does remind me quite a bit of its Rider-Waite-Smith equivalent, its just that here we behold a symbolic resurrection, and in the RWS, it is a actual victory march.

The Six of Bones immediately makes me think of The Princess Bride. I'm a child of the 80s, I can't help it!  I'm assuming that wasn't what this deck's creator had in mind when he drew this card, so I think it's safe to say it doesn't signify cold blooded murder (or righteous vengeance). That extra finger immediately suggests to me some sort of extra capability, gaining an additional skill or resource or capacity that perhaps we didn't have before. This acquisition is an opportunity, and hey, if you apply this card's traditional meaning and use this for the benefit of others, all the better!

Finally, the Six of Blooms. I must say, so far I find the suit of Blooms utterly baffling! Grasping at my first impulse while staring at this card with a thoroughly puzzled look on my face, I want to say that it represents the opportunity for new intuitive or emotional insight. It is the suit of Water, after all! And just look at all those eyes, blossoming. This six offers the possibility of a new, more heart-centred way of seeing. Perhaps this indicates a chance to take what we have learned and let it expand out into new insight.

What do you make of the Wooden Tarot's Sixes? Agree or disagree with my interpretations? I'd love to hear your insights and impressions in the comments!

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Coming to Grips with IV War

In today's post, I want to catalogue an evolving and challenging relationship I'm having with a particular card in a recently purchased deck. It's a little long and rambly, but I'll do my best to keep it interesting, and I hope, too, that it gives some insight into my process of working with individual cards and archetypes. If nothing else, it is further proof that one never really stops learning tarot!

The Japaridze Tarot depicts archetype IV, The Emperor, as War. When I first looked through this deck, I was swept away by the lush and vibrant colours, but my reverie came to a screaming stop when I saw IV War. What the heck? Here, in amongst the rich and colourful fantasy worlds of this deck was a stark, bleak scene of violence and conflict. It's a pretty striking change in language from "The Emperor", and I think, takes a strong, almost non-negotiable position on how this card should be interpreted. It really stopped me in my tracks! It didn't, however, stop me from purchasing the deck and so now, IV War is sitting on my coffee table.

In my deck interview with the Japaridze Tarot, I mentioned that I wasn't surprised to see this card come up, given that I had had such a strong reaction to it. In that context, it felt confrontational. The Japaridze Tarot knew I was judging it, and it was demanding that I listen to its side of the story. Alright, fine, I thought. The Emperor can be a tyrant at times. I guess I can see your point.

This wasn't a peaceful, "let's hear each other out" kind of negotiation, though, and the conversation sure wasn't over. A couple of nights later, I decided to do some meditation with a random card from the deck. I wanted to visit one of those rich, colourful landscapes! After giving it a good shuffle, who should appear, but IV War. Are you kidding me? The Japaridze Tarot effectively snuck up behind me, threw a hessian sack over my head, and chucked me in the back of a van! I can see I have no choice but to go along for the ride.

Dutifully, I pulled out my journal, and started writing whatever I could come up with - "It looks like an upside down ghost horde facing off against an army of naked humans. Does it represent suppressing the subconscious, the spiritual? I'm having trouble get past its violent implications. I suppose I can see that it could represent times when we need to stand up for our worldview and impose our will. Metaphorically, perhaps some things are worth going to war for. The flipside is - are we being too tyrannical? Are we fighting for something that isn't worth it? There are times when we need to lead our troops into battle, and times when that is a futile, destructive quest. This doesn't look very glorious to me though." Grappling, grappling!

The Emperor is a card I rarely see. In fact, I can't even remember the last time it came up in a reading for a client, much less for myself. The only connection I really feel to it is that it is the birth card of one of my most beloved friends, and I sure don't see her reflected in this bleak scene. Given that I did have such a strong reaction to this version of it, though, I obviously have some pretty firm ideas about what The Emperor means. In the hope they could offer some guidance, I dragged out a few other Emperors in my collection and stared at them. What's with you guys? 

That strong, stable, ancient tree of the Wild Unknown is hardly about to shoot somebody. The Green Man, he's a little scary with his staff, I guess, but over his bubbling cauldron, he's more creator than destroyer. The Steampunk Emperor - inscrutable. One thing I didn't notice that now seems screamingly obvious to me, is that the Rider Waite Emperor is wearing armour beneath his robes. He might be reclining on his throne, but he's ready to jump up and whoop ass at a moment's notice. Huh. I obviously haven't looked up his skirts before. Perhaps physical conflict has never been far from The Emperor's reach.


The accompanying booklet describes IV War thusly - "... this card embodies the archetypal father possessing a worldly masculine energy... His power is often seen as the stabilising energy that counterbalances the feminine energy of The Empress and represents authority, social order, and control. ... The artist has chosen to portray a less harmonic facet of patriarchal power; the darker side of social power wherein emperors send other men off to war."

Maybe therein lies the key to my discomfort with this card. The Emperor himself is nowhere to be seen. He might be wearing armour back at the palace, but he's not going to get down here in the mud and squalor with his troops. I suppose that is implied by the more traditional Emperors - they are excellent delegators, after all - but here that reality is stark. This is not so much a depiction of the act of imposing one's will but of the potential consequences. Perhaps this card is to be read as calling out bad leadership, a chance to stop and question how one's decisions might be affecting others. 


The following day, I set the timer again and sat in meditation with IV War. This time, I focused more on visualising the scene, walking around in it, making it a sensory experience (incidentally, if you are interested in learning more about working with cards in this way, I recommend the Four Queens video, How to Pathwork with Tarot. There are also some great exercises like this in Tarot for Yourself by Mary K. Greer). I approached the crouched figure in the foreground, put a hand on her shoulder, and asked, "What happened here?" She replied, "Chaos." Man, I just love this exercise! All kinds of things bubble up from the depths of the subconscious! 

Chaos. That's an interesting keyword to attach to The Emperor archetype. Chaos is actually the antithesis of this card of discipline and order. This card could be depicting a place where The Emperor's energies are needed, where unrest and violence need to be transformed into peace and stability. Or, it could be showing us where discipline and order go too far and become oppression. IV War is toeing a fine line here! I do feel like this card is starting to unlock for me. I like the idea that it can be explained as either a need for or an excess of Emperor energy, although I think I'll always struggle to say to a client, "You just need to bring more War to this situation!" That's just really not my jam! Notice, too, that I'm still not quite comfortable with calling this archetype "War", even in this paragraph!


Later that day, I was pottering around, doing some reading and ruminating, and I had a sudden impulse to take out my Dark Goddess Tarot. It's not currently in my regular reading rotation, so it's packed safely away, but I just had a feeling it might have something to say about this whole War situation.

IV Sovereingty, The Morrigan, Celtic Goddess of the Blood. From the guidebook: "Prophesying after a battle, she speaks of peace, 'peace to the sky... strength in everyone.' The peace of the goddess is achieved by power, vigilance, and the willingness to shed blood, one's own and another's." It seems IV War is not without precedent! Because you're unsurprised by synchronous connections, you're just going to smile knowingly when I say that The Morrigan's army is traditionally naked.

Maybe it's because I like the idea of badass warrior goddesses, but this version of the fourth archetype of the Major Arcana is so much more accessible and comprehensible to me than War. However, I'm coming to understand that they essentially mean the same thing. I think I have been failing to see this archetype for the warrior king that it is. The Emperor, The Morrigan, War must be willing to impose order by force at times, and force can both disperse chaos and create it. You guys, I think I just "got" this card! 

It has been an interesting little journey, from rejecting and doubting this card to questioning, exploring, and finally, coming to an understanding with it. It did require some outside input - I feel like I've got a bit of a king's council situation going on with all these Emperors spread out around me - but I think I got there in the end. Most importantly, I feel like working with War has given me a deeper understanding of the traditional Emperor archetype that I think was lacking before. No doubt, now that the door has opened, I'll be seeing more of this card in the future!

What's your take on the Japaridze Tarot's fourth archetype? And how do you feel about The Emperor? I'd love to know! Please do share your thoughts in the comments.

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Working with The Wooden Tarot: The Beginning and the End

I had been ruminating for a few days about the next post I would write about The Wooden Tarot. Where to go from here? There are so many options! As usual, after trying to figure it out with my rational brain, I realised that the best answer would come from - duh - pulling a card. Even if I couldn't decide what to do, I was pretty sure the deck itself would have something to say. Lo and behold, I was not disappointed when XXI The World showed its pretty face! 

So, let's look at the bookends of the Major Arcana. From the moment of conception to the last gasp of glorious completion, 0 The Fool, and XXI The World. 

The Fool has such an interesting energy to it. This is usually a card that fills me with joy and anticipation, but in this incarnation, things are a little bit more complicated! While the cliff's edge of the traditional Rider Waite Smith Fool can present a pitfall, the next step on this little Fool's journey is a matter of life and death. Taking that next step could very well mean this intrepid field mouse becomes dinner! It's interesting that this card puts such a strong emphasis on the potential dangers of the journey. I don't often interpret The Fool as being about foolishness, but here I think that interpretation is hard to ignore! 

As with all things Wooden Tarot, there is more to it than meets the eye, though. Given that our mousey friend is already standing on the belly of a python, it seems she has no choice but to forge ahead. When this card comes up, we have to ask ourselves, what is the cost of standing still? Are we placing ourselves at risk by declining this opportunity, by refusing to walk this path? Notice that the mouse's swag is in fact a lotus flower - symbol of divinity and enlightenment. The journey may present many dangers, but with the promise of enlightenment at our backs, what choice do we have but to take it? Like the lotus blooming out of the mud, it may be those very dangers that propel us to be reborn. Our bags are packed, the sun is shining, and hey, this snake just might be asleep, so let's make a mad dash and go for it!

If you avoid getting eaten for lunch by that python and any other pitfalls that might ensnare you on the way, you just might be lucky enough to end up here. And what a beautiful place it is! I love this take on The World. What a gorgeous vision! The shape of this image is quite unique. Of course, we are all used to seeing a circular depiction of The World, but here, we have a kind of floating island, a self-contained universe that encompasses everything we might have experienced on the road to this point. As above, so below! Although it isn't actually a circle, I think there is still a sense of a flow of energy in this card, from the draped greenery on top, through the clouds in the middle, to the swirling seas of the subconscious below, and back again. 

Everything is here, and yet, there is still somewhere else to go. In those treetops, we see a door opening onto... what? Who knows what comes next! The World is both an ending and a beginning, a cycle that perpetually renews itself, and I love the way this card represents that idea of a journey without end. We are both arriving and leaving here all at once. Perhaps, when we step through that door, we find ourselves again perched on the belly of a snake, ready to undertake another grand and perilous adventure! 

Before I sign off, I just had to share that the fabulous creator of The Wooden Tarot has a new oracle deck available to pre-order. Squee! Naturally, I have my order in. Do you?

What's your take on these two cards? I'd love to know! Please do share any interpretations or inspirations you might have in the comments.

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Working with the Wooden Tarot: The Gods

I recently wrote about taking on a little tarot study project - namely, the Wooden Tarot. This enigmatic deck has been in my collection for a while, but it has only been recently that I've been game enough to spend some serious time with it. It's unique and strange, and deserves some close attention. When I started out, I decided not to impose a particular structure upon my study with this deck. Instead, I'm going to follow my whims. I think it's what the Wooden Tarot would want. 

My first whim has led me to look at the Aces, or Gods, as they are described. Just look at them.

Aren't they spectacular? So, so odd. I can't get enough of them! 

The more I think about it, the more I realise that this is a perfect representation of Ace energy. If Aces are the perfect representation of the energy of a suit, what better way than to depict them than as Gods? Similarly, Aces are ephemeral. They're potential, amorphous ideas waiting to be given form by our thoughts and actions. What are Gods but formless notions that we give shape to through our devotions? 

The Gods show us the descriptors of the four suits - Bones, Stones, Plumes, and Blooms - and clue us in to the symbolic cues we might find as we work through the Minor Arcana. Not only that, but they offer elemental associations for the suits, if we just peek over their shoulders. Bones are earth, Stones fire, Plumes air, and Blooms water. Their triangular heads also give us an indication of the energetic correspondences of each suit - pointed upward for the outwardly-focused, active, yang energy of Stones and Plumes, and pointed downward for the inwardly-focused, receptive, yin energy of Blooms and Bones.

Strange as they are, I find these Gods have a very nurturing energy. Those monastic robes and steady, cycloptic gazes seem to suggest that these fellows are gentle guides, ready and waiting to shepherd us into the world of their chosen suit. In a way, they remind me of a cadre of junior Hermits. They hold their elements in their hands, but lightly. They're ready to pass these batons on to the traveler who comes their way, seeking guidance. They're the gatekeepers, ready to usher us into the work of Bones, Plumes, Stones, and Blooms. Now, we just have to take hold of their creepy, delicate white hands, and let them show us the way!

What do you make of these strange fellows? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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Tarot Project: The Wooden Tarot

The strange and beautiful Wooden Tarot has been sitting on my shelf for a while. Every few months, I take the cards out and peer at them, filled with longing and curiosity, before tucking them back into the box and stepping away. Why, you ask? It's tricky. I felt very drawn to the artwork of this unique deck, but until now, something about it has made me reluctant to read with it. The images are odd, many of them unorthodox in terms of traditional tarot symbolism, and the deck comes with not even a skerrick of a little white book to guide a lost traveler on the path. The deck's unifying philosophy seemed opaque to me, at a glance at least, and I long delayed sitting down with it and putting some in serious study. I couldn't walk away altogether, though, and something about it kept nagging at me.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how I wanted to work more closely with deck images, and bring a deeper level of visual interpretation to my readings. What better place to work those muscles than with a deck that offers only visual information, no text or theory for my academic brain to latch onto? This little project has been nipping at my heels for a while, and finally, the time has come. The Wooden Tarot and I are going to get familiar!

I'll be documenting my progress here on the blog, which I hope will be interesting for you, and also useful to anyone else who might be working with this deck. At this stage, I haven't developed a formal curriculum, but I imagine this work will combine tarot readings, studies of the suits, meanings of individual cards, and any other exercises I turn up along the way. 

With any new deck, it's nice to start with introductions! Thus, a deck interview spread, courtesy of the delightful workings of Little Red Tarot. Here's what I came up with.

1. Tell me about yourself. What is your most important characteristic? Six of Plumes

The deck leaves behind what is extraneous and goes straight for the point. In a way, I feel like this mallard duck is swimming away from me, and I'm grasping at feathers, crying, "Wait! I don't know what you mean!" At the moment, "the point" feels elusive. Maybe that is the point - this deck can be elusive, and isn't going to go slow and accommodate those of us who might not be so quick on the uptake! 

Interesting that this and the following card are both sixes. I think this deck will be deeply engaged with positive transformation, it loves to bear witness to shifting situations, and work through transitions. Movement is key among its interests. I think this will be a great deck for reading on questions of change.

2. What are your strengths as a deck? Six of Stones

Its strength is providing a container for that positive transformation - the most compelling thing in this image for me is the encircling antler, which feels like a supportive, enveloping web that gathers things (people, ideas, opportunities) together and raises them up. Reading strictly from the image, my strongest connection with this card is the idea of support. This deck is able to hold a lot, and it will use its resources to encourage transition and elevation.

3. What are your limits as a deck? XIV Temperance

It is slippery, like an otter! It combines many things, plays many roles, and perhaps these disparate parts and themes don't always add up. Just when you think you're dealing with one thing, this deck becomes another, and meaning slips through your fingers.

It may be, too, that Temperance suggests that sometimes this deck sits too much on the fence, hedging its bets, unwilling to go firmly one way or the other in a reading. Could Temperance point to indecisiveness? It may be that the supportive Six of Stones means that sometimes it might pull punches, preferring to coddle rather than deliver things straight. I didn't expect to feel over-nurtured by this deck, but maybe that will be the case!

4. What are you here to teach me? King of Bones

My first thought upon looking at the image is about the age of this venerable, ancient mammoth skull, covered in leaves, lichen, and one stray mushroom. The King of Bones represents the wisdom of lifetimes, won not through study but through practical engagement with the world. There is old wisdom here, deeply rooted. This deck will teach me to dig it up!

5. How can I best learn from and collaborate with you? Eight of Blooms

By peering into the looking glass! This card seems like a mirror, but not one that shows your reflection as you expect to see it. There are chasms to be ventured into here, journeys to make into unknown realms. The best way to engage with this deck is to allow it to transport you. Peer into the mirror and be open to what you see, even if it is alarming, confusing or mysterious. This is an invitation to adventure, possibly down a strange rabbit hole!

6. What is the potential outcome of our working relationship? Queen of Stones

Passion? Self discovery? I feel as though this image doesn't give much away, but they are the associations that roll off the tongue when I look at it. The crystals are bursting out of the skin of the doe's neck, but she seems unbothered. Working with this deck will us both to blossom - possibly in a weird way! - and grow. It feels very... embodied, bodily, physical. It may be uncomfortable at times, but this working relationship will be dynamic and flexible enough to allow for mutation and expansion.

I presume the moon is intended to signify feminine or yin energy for the Queen, which in turn makes me think of the plumbing of subconscious depths. Perhaps through working with this deck, hidden worlds will be revealed. The subconscious and subterranean seem particularly important, things bursting out of dark places. My feeling is that this card is about shining a light on what is hidden, letting it come out of you and into the open. A wonderful outcome for work with a tarot deck! 


It was my intention when approaching this reading to stay close to the images, and to make associations without trying to justify or systematise everything that popped into my head. It doesn't feel wholly coherent now, but over time, I hope this way of working will give rise to an organic and personal system of interpretation for this deck. Let's see, anyway!

Interested in joining me on this weird and wonderful journey? Pick up your own copy of The Wooden Tarot here (this is not an ad or an affiliated link, just a nudge in the direction of an artist whose work I genuinely love!).

Working with The Wooden Tarot already? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Oh, and remember, you can subscribe to the Two Sides Tarot blog by email, and never miss a post!

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Checking In: Reader Development Spread

Put the jug on, friends, and settle in. It's time for a tarot reading!

A little over a year ago, I posted a reading with the Reader Development Spread, designed by the exceedingly wonderful Sarah Dawn of The Tarot Parlor. I'm a firm believer that, no matter how experienced, a tarot reader is a student of the discipline for life. There's always so much more to learn, and one's style as a reader is ever-evolving. 

This time last year, I was nearly six months into running Two Sides Tarot, and was experiencing a period of rapid growth as a reader and as a business owner - what a learning curve! The insights that this spread gave me back then really helped me to put my work in context, and to think about where the potential was for further growth as a reader. A year on feels like a good time to check in again and see how much my practice has grown, and where it might lead me next! 

Using the Centennial Edition of the Pamela Colman Smith Deck, here's what I came up with.

1. My strengths as a tarot reader - Ace of Pentacles

My strengths as a reader lie in the solid foundation that underpins my work. I'm pleased to see the Ace of Pents here, because I think it speaks to the many hours of courses, study, and reading (both books and cards!) that I've put in over the years, which in turn, I bring to every new reading I take on. 

Being an Ace, this card also reflects what I mentioned above - that being a tarot reader means being a perpetual student. As with any Ace, there is a suggestion here of beginning, the first step in a journey. My strengths lie in being ready to take a new approach, in starting afresh with the cards whenever I pick them up, and in being open to going in new directions with my reading and learning style. 

Finally, my strengths as a reader lie in an insistence on practicality. Pentacles are the suit of the grounded and the worldly, after all! It has always been my belief that, although tarot is an esoteric practice, it must have practical applications. There's no point in doing a tarot reading if it isn't going to offer tangible insight that can be applied to real world situations. I'm glad to see that this philosophy is still serving me well! 

2. My weaknesses or areas that need improvement - Four of Cups

I must admit, at first I didn't know what to make of this one, the irony of which is not lost upon me since the Four of Cups is all about not being able to see the thing that's right in front of your face! There was obviously a piece of my tarot puzzle that I just wasn't seeing. Perhaps this is a new skill, a system I haven't yet learned, or a way of using my existing reading skills that hasn't yet dawned on me. There is an offering available, but I haven't yet taken it up and that delay is working against me. 

When in doubt, I refer back to my own best practices, and for this card that means I would urge my client to take some time out and reflect, to turn within and see if they can uncover the nature of the blockage they're facing. I took my own advice and did some quiet contemplation with the card image, and believe it or not, a burst of intuition popped right into my head. The key lies in the image itself. When you examine it closely, that suspended Cup has much to teach about where I need to strengthen my skills.

It may come as a surprise, but I'm not much of a visual learner. My recall and comprehension is much better with text on a page than it is with images, and I have noticed a tendency in myself to defer to my verbal/linguistic understanding of a card over, say, examining the imagery in detail in the moment and letting that speak for itself. Playing with language is one of my favourite pastimes, and sometimes that may overshadow other ways of representing meaning. Of course, tarot is a visual art form, and engaging with the artwork on a card is an essential part of what I do, but this is definitely something I want to expand in my practice. I've witnessed readers I admire delving into the imagery on a single card, and drawing out minute symbols, pictures and patterns that lend themselves to such original and complex readings, based almost solely on visual cues. There is myriad visual information on every card, both obvious and subtle, just waiting to be mined for understanding. This is something I want to improve on and integrate more deeply into my practice.

3. How to develop my skills as a reader - XV The Devil

Well, this is a juicy one! The Devil is inviting me to come face to face with my own demons in order to grow my tarot skills. What fun! It should come as no surprise that even your trusted tarot reader has their own lifetime of baggage to unpack, and I think for all readers, being attentive to our own personal growth can only be helpful for our work with our tarot clients. 

My tarot skills will continue to develop as I engage fully with my personal, spiritual, and emotional journey in this lifetime. The Devil does represent certain things in my own life that I am working through over time, and I'm happy to know that this personal work has positive implications for my tarot practice. I'll just have to keep at it!

4. How to deal with blocks in my development or readings - Knight of Swords

Could there be a more effective enemy of blockages than the Knight of Swords? This card asks me to use momentum, focus, and clear intent to overcome any obstacles I might be facing in my practice. The Knight of Swords has eyes on the prize at all times, and he never allows fear, anxiety, or any other emotional trepidation to stop him in his tracks. 

I am being called to maintain steady focus on my goals as a reader, and to allow my core motivation - my passion for tarot - to continue to fuel me, even when I might want to shy away from difficulties. It's an emboldening card to see here, and I'm happy to have the Knight of Swords on my team. I hope his courage is contagious!

5. What to avoid or what will block my growth - Two of Pentacles

Interestingly, the Two of Pentacles appeared in the previous position, How to Deal with Blocks, in my reading last year. Last year, the Two of Pents was helpful, but this year, not so much! Last year, this card cautioned me to hone my focus, to be mindful of taking on too much at once. This year, it seems this card's insistence on prioritising could limit my development as a reader.

This ties in quite nicely with the Ace of Pentacles and the Four of Cups. The focused, solid foundation of my practice is already there, so what I should be thinking about now is the beginner's mind aspect of the Ace - always be ready to try something new, even if it means a bit of a juggling act. Instead of worrying about prioritising in my tarot study and practice, I should take a more expansive approach. Follow whims, take on disparate systems, ideas, and methods. Working more deeply with images a la the Four of Cups, as well as exploring the theory, is only going to enhance my work as a reader. It's ok for me to have multiple balls in the air right now! 

6. The lesson I am learning at this stage in my tarot practice - I The Magician

For me, The Magician is always about preparedness. The Magician's table is heavy with materials, holding the symbols that represent all four suits of the tarot. In her right hand, a wand stretches to the heavens, and her left hand points down to the worldly realm below. She has all the elements at her disposal and the power of heaven and earth on hand, which is just as well, because she is right at the beginning of the Fool's Journey, and who knows what is to come? I'm not sure that I have achieved quite Magician levels of readiness, but it is great to know that I might be in the midst of acquiring some of this badassery!

Interestingly, there is a parallel between the Ace (one) of Pentacles, and I The Magician, the first numbered card of the Major Arcana (given that The Fool is usually zero, or sometimes twenty-two). One seems to be my lucky number in this reading, and suggests that I am embarking upon a new phase of my tarot journey. The Magician says that I am learning to marshal my powers and skills in readiness for this new adventure, whatever it might be. Bring it on, I say!

7. The outcome of my work with tarot and my development as a reader - Seven of Pentacles Reversed

Subtle workings! The Seven of Pentacles reversed is a curious card to find in this position, but one I think has a lot to say for itself. Upright, this card is about standing back and evaluating one's progress, and seeing how far one has come from the start (from the Ace of Pentacles, in fact). Reversed, my intuition is that this progress is not so obvious. It can't be easily measured, represented on a chart, quantified or counted.

The expansive approach this spread is urging me to take might lead me in many different directions, into disparate disciplines and methods. Focusing too much on set pathways or particular results, such as the step-by-step road to completion represented by the Seven of Pentacles, would be missing the point. I'm going off-map here! Outcomes will be intangible, ephemeral, subtle, possibly even difficult to show or communicate.

In one sense, I would have preferred to see a more structured, victorious card here, maybe the Six of Wands, or Ten of Pentacles! That certainly would have been a more comfortable direction to take. However, the reversed Seven of Pentacles really reinforces the message of this spread - I have the opportunity now to undertake a new phase of my tarot practice, a journey into uncharted territory. My hunch is that this new phase requires less of an earthy, methodical approach, and more of a watery, whimsical one. The Ace of Pentacles might be my existing, earthy strengths, but the Four of Cups is an invitation to dive in and swim somewhere new. Things might get weird, but I think I'm ready!

If you have a tarot practice on any kind, I highly recommend trying out this spread from time to time, and if you do, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments! If this isn't your bag, do you use any kind of tools - tarot-related or otherwise - to reflect on the development of your tarot practice?