Dreaming Way Tarot

My Five Desert Island Tarot Decks

If you spend a little time in the tarot community on youtube, you may already be familiar with the gauntlet that Kelly Bear recently threw down before those of us with healthy (i.e., large and ever-growing) tarot collections. Kelly challenged her viewers to name the five decks they would use if they could only work with five decks for one year.

Although I don't have youtube channel, I just couldn't resist answering the question. You may notice, though, that although I said "recently" above, the date on that video is actually March 24th. This lil' post has been languishing in my drafts for that long because this question is TOUGH, y'all! The struggle is real. 

I'm no stranger to tarot deck overwhelm. I have a big collection, and even though my working decks only form a small proportion of that collection, I often feel like my attention is spread too thinly. This is particularly true now that I have decks in my shop, as I try to give a little airtime to all the tarot and oracle decks I carry in the store. Of course, having the means to build a large collection of tarot decks is hardly something to complain about, and I am gratefully that I'm able to pursue my passion in this way. Sometimes, though, all these deck options can feel like a double-edged sword.

Periodically, I think about using a single deck for all my work for one month... and then I break out in a cold sweat and try to pretend I never had the thought. Different decks serve different purposes, and each deck brings its own unique sensibility to a reading. Not to mention, at different phases of one's life - even different seasons - some decks feel more resonant than others. Decks that I thought essential to my tarot practice two years ago now don't speak to me at all. Decks that I thought would never ring my bell (like the Sakki Sakki Tarot) are now at the top of my reading rotation. 

Having said all of that,  it's a hypothetical question, so calm the heck down! But it does seem valuable to ask the question - what is essential to me in a tarot deck? Even if it's just at this moment that the answer resonates. What do I need out of a deck? And out of a group of decks, what sensibilities and styles would I want to capture? 

Ok, quit stalling. If I were going into tropical exile for a while, which decks would I choose to take with me?


1. The Spirit Speak by Mary Elizabeth Evans

Regular readers won't be surprised to see the Spirit Speak tarot at the top of my list. It's one of my favourites - deeply intuitive, deceptively simple, supportive, clever, clear to read with, and its images have a kind of bendable quality that really encourages personal interpretations. Something about the stark, symbolic style of the deck allows me, as a reader, to be more receptive. I like having those blanks to intuitively fill in!

(By the by, the pictured second edition of the Spirit Speak Tarot is on the way out, but Beth over at Little Red Tarot still has some copies in stock!)

2. Dame Darcy's Mermaid Tarot

It wouldn't be a desert island exile without the mermaids! Once again, if you're a regular around these parts, you'll know how I feel about Dame Darcy's Mermaid Tarot. It sticks quite closely to the symbolism of the Rider-Waite-Smith, but with sailors and mermaids and hot, seaside babes of indeterminate genders. It reminds me of the riot grrrl zines I loved as a teenager, so fresh and raw and beautiful. If any of that makes it sound like it's not a practical deck to work with, don't be fooled - these mermaids read well! And hey, if anyone is going to help me get back to civilisation (and the rest of my tarot collection), it'll be these seasoned sailors.

3. The Sakki Sakki Tarot by Monica Clio Sakki

I mentioned above that the Sakki Sakki Tarot was a slow grower for me. When I first became aware of it a few years back I was immediately certain it wasn't for me, but when our paths crossed more recently, something about it just clicked. Perhaps it's the emphasis on creative practice (this deck includes an additional trump, The Artist), which is increasingly what I use tarot for in my own life, or perhaps my taste has just lightened up, but I love this playful, colourful, and sometimes-abstract tarot deck. It has a kind and slightly silly vibe, and always gives supportive and practical readings. Definitely essential for lightening the mood when one's desert island exile is getting one down!

4. The Wild Unknown Tarot by Kim Krans

At this point, The Wild Unknown Tarot doesn't require much of an introduction. It's one of my workhorse decks, ready to take on any and all types of queries, treading a perfect balance between the practical and the esoteric. I use it for clients and for myself, and thus far haven't read for anyone who didn't respond to its nature-inspired images. Somehow, The Wild Unknown never seems to run out of juice! Handy if we're spending a year together, trapped on an island.

5. The Dreaming Way Tarot by Rome Choi and Kwon Shina

The Dreaming Way Tarot is an old favourite of mine. In fact, it was one of the first decks I bought back when I started getting serious about tarot, and unlike some of the decks I've worked with over the years, the shine has never worn off. Like The Wild Unknown, it's a workhorse deck that reads well under practically all circumstances. Perhaps there won't be wifi on my desert island so I may not be doing many client readings, but this is one of the decks I use most frequently when reading professionally because it's very accessible, even to the casual user. And don't get me started on the outfits! With this as my inspiration, I'll be carving out a fine silhouette in my Ariel-style sail canvas island attire.

I ummed and ahhed over this list for weeks, knowing that whatever five decks I decided upon would be subject to change at a moment's notice! Who knows what five decks I'd deem essential in a week, a month, year?

For now, though, these are my picks. What are your five desert island tarot decks? I'd love to know! As ever, leave me a comment below or come and give me the lowdown on Twitter.

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Ask the Agony Augury: The Fork in the Road

Before we kick off with today's question, I want to give you, loyal reader, a heads up - for a limited time, my Deep & Detailed Tarot Reading is buy one, get one free! This reading is my most in depth and explorative offering, so if you're seeking some big insight, this is the reading for you! When you purchase one for yourself, you can share your free reading with a friend, save it for yourself for later, or use them both right away to address different questions or aspects of your life. I'm limiting this to the first ten orders, so book yours here before they're all gone! 


Today's question has more than a little bit in common with the last question The Agony Augury tackled back in September. I hope today's querent takes a little comfort in knowing that she's not the only one facing a crossroads! 

Dear Agony Augury, 

I recently graduated college, moved back in with my parents, and am working a slow job at a grocery store. My mom has ideas for where my future should go -- and part of that involved persuading me to take more classes at a local college -- but I don't want any part of it. It's hard to be motivated about something you didn't decide on, y'know? I've been enjoying a fraction of the freedom I had at university, and I've had to lie to my parents every day which makes me feel awful. I quit my classes but haven't told my parents, for fear of their reaction. I'm feeling trapped, like I'm a teenager all over again, and I'm starting to resent my family; all I want is the freedom to decide my own life path and take risks without parental guilt/expectations looming over me. To add to the frustration, I haven't been contacted by any of the jobs I've applied to. To get to the point: should I stay and not make (more) waves, or should I walk out I my parents (my boyfriend will soon need a new housemate) to carve out my own life? Should I stay or should I go -- what can you see for me in the cards? 

A Girl at a Crossroads

A Girl at a Crossroads, thanks for writing in! As I said above, this kind of question crops up all the time for tarot readers, so take a little heart in the knowledge that everyone finds themselves paralysed before that fork in the road at some point in their lives. To answer your question, I've decided to get back to basics, and use a classic, three-card spread. We could spend a whole bunch of time exploring option A versus option B, but I think it's more useful to cut out the umming and ahhing and go straight for the jugular. Let's dive right into the heart of this situation - ie, right into your heart - and see what the cards can illuminate for you. 

For your reading, I'm using the Dreaming Way Tarot. It's a whimsical and supportive deck that isn't afraid to dish out some firm advice when the situation calls for it. Just what the doctor ordered!

At first glance, this spread gives me the feeling that you're in the midst of a developing story. A crossroads indeed! It's impossible not to notice the two trumps, Temperance and The Devil, which are numbers fourteen and fifteen in the Major Arcana. The Major Arcana represents all the possible stages of development we can experience on our life's journey, and to see two of those consecutive stages in sequence here suggests that there's a lesson or a major life development bubbling away under the surface here! 

1. The Situation - What's really going on here? XIV Temperance

Temperance speaks to the fact that you feel caught at this crossroads. In all aspects of this situation there are two sides to the story, two options at play, and you're frantically trying to keep them in balance. There's what you want, and what your parents want for you. There's following your own impulses, and trying to keep your parents' approval. You're in a situation where you're trying to do two things at once - you've quit your classes because that's what feels right to you, but you're also living something of a secret life in order to keep your parents happy - and you're trying to keep both of those contradictory balls in the air. It's stressful, as you've no doubt discovered!

Temperance often gets associated with the word "balance," but for me, it's about so much more than that. What we're talking about here is alchemy, the creative and magical combining of two disparate ingredients in order to make something entirely new. What you're working with right now are the ingredients for the recipe, not the final product. As in cooking and chemical reactions, in order to get to that final product, there has to be a catalyst. You have to activate what you have on hand to bring it together and transform its nature. 

What does this mean in the context of being stuck at this crossroads? This situation is calling for more of your creativity and courage. Trying to keep all these options open and not make any waves isn't making you happy, but you also don't want to say, "Screw you!" to your parents and cut them out of the equation. Temperance says that you can't keep these two parts of your life separate forever. There must be a way for you forge your own path and to preserve your relationships, even if, as in making a cake, you do need to apply a little heat to the situation in order to spark a change! One thing is certain here, though - you are the alchemist. If you'll allow me to extend the cooking metaphor, it seems that this situation - and your wellbeing as you try to weather the status quo - is reaching boiling point. Simply having your ingredients on the table isn't enough. You have to be the one stirring this pot!

2. The Obstacle - What is the nature of your biggest blockage or problem in this situation? Page of Swords

Crossroad, it's my hunch that the Page of Swords is about your relationship with your parents. Pages are the children of the deck, that playful, youthful, fresh and inexperienced energy we all need to channel from time to time. When this energy comes up as an obstacle, though, it suggests a lack of agency, perhaps childishness on your part, perhaps infantalisation of you on your parents' parts. Put simply, even though you've left home and received a university education, it's easy to slip back into being the kid when back in your family home. It happens to the best of us! For some inexplicable reason, as an adult my first stop as soon as I cross the threshold of my parents' house is the pantry, where I madly and vacantly eat dry cereal out of the box, even if we're just about to sit down to dinner. What's with that?! I haven't lived at home in over a decade, and in my "real" life I don't ever even buy cereal! Something adolescent comes over me when I get into that house, clearly. But, I digress!

You're in a situation where you have hidden your true desires in order to keep parental approval, and you're resenting and rebelling against the dominating influence of your parents, your mother in particular. On the flipside, you don't sound particularly excited about your current job, and the hunt for something better is frustrating and disappointing. No wonder you're feeling like the Page of Swords, with that powerful Queen (that'd be your mum) and King (the world at large) trying to thwart your destiny! All of this has cohered to create a situation where you feel like it's impossible to make a decision, let alone know which path you'd want to take.

Another aspect of this Pagely obstacle is the idea of making a new start. You are in a transitional period of your life, between the end of one major commitment and the beginning of whatever comes next. Scary shit, dude! We put a lot of pressure on people at this crux of college and "real life" to make the right choices, as if your choices are immutable and the life you want for yourself at 21 will be the life you'll always want. That blank slate weighs heavy indeed, and I think the Page suggests you're feeling that acutely. Perhaps in some ways it feels easier to hide under the parental blanket and be resentful, because the alternative is, "What the hell am I supposed to do with my life?!" Realistically, though, you don't want that. You've said as much. This situation is becoming untenable, and your fear of making a move is going to level out with your irritation at your family any minute now and force your hand!

To tie all of that into a nice little package, the obstacle that you need to overcome is your lack of agency and autonomy. I don't mean to suggest that your relationship with your parents isn't good, and it's certainly a wonderful thing to have family to support you during this transitional time in your life. This isn't about saying, "Screw you, motherfuckers!" and riding off into the sunset so much as it is about you allowing yourself to take on your fully adult form. You're not a child anymore, and while you'll always be their baby in your parents' eyes, that doesn't mean you need to live your life as if you are an actual, literal kid. You really don't have to take classes that don't interest you, and you don't have to pursue a career path you don't like just because your mother thinks you should. How you negotiate your blossoming adulthood with your parents will probably take some consideration (as I said, there's no need for door slamming!), and it make take some time for them to accept your decisions, but this is coming to a head. The pot of your adult life is bubbling! You're the freakin' alchemist! 

3. The Advice - What course of action or approach can you take to get that energy flowing again? XV The Devil

Ooh, mama! I love/hate it when The Devil shows up, because this means we need to do a little work on ourselves. Oh, joy! Well, I say "ourselves," but really, I'm just the messenger. You're the one being called to do the heavy lifting! The good news is, though, that the rewards of The Devil are great. This card really forces us to get to know ourselves, and to work through the demons we might be sheltering that get in the way of us being happy and fulfilled. 

The question that The Devil is proffering to you is at once extremely simple and highly complex: What do you need to do right now in order to let yourself grow up? I don't mean that as insult; please don't think I'm being flippant or accusatory. What's at stake here is the chance for you to evolve (which we're all being called to do, regardless of age or experience - it's all the journey, or whatever it is they say!). We've already noted that you have two sequentially numbered Major Arcana cards in this reading. You're in a transitional, liminal place in your life, AND you're engaged in the most archetypal of conflicts, the cutting of the metaphorical adolescent umbilical cord! I know I keep saying it, but Crossroads, your pot is boiling! 

And yet, you're stuck in limbo. Why is that? Is it fear of that new beginning, fear of taking responsibility? Fear of upsetting people you love? The trap of old habits in your relationship with your parents, making you behave in ways that don't serve your interests? Uncertainty about how to navigate adult conversations with the people who've known you since babyhood? All of that is completely understandable (hell, I confessed to my compulsive parental cereal eating, so you know you're not the only one!). We all have little devils within us that stop us from growing. The thing is, you're obviously unhappy and looking for an out, so it's time to take those little devils to account. 

The enemy of The Devil is self-reflection. The shady shit this guy gets up to can't go on once you shine the light of your awareness on it. Rather than tackling the problem of what to do for the entire rest of your life, start with the inside of your head. What's going on between you and your parents? Do you feel like a kid when you're with them? Are there any childish or regressive thoughts or behaviours sneaking in as a result? What are your fears and hopes for this situation? If you can't get those jobs you're going for, what would a bearable plan B for you right now? In what ways might you be contributing to your own stuckness or holding yourself back? Confronting The Devil can be really uncomfortable, so go gently, but I think you'll find that if you're prepared to do the work, you'll be able to navigate yourself out of this corner. Whether that ultimately means you decide to move out, or apply for different jobs, or go back to school, or wait it out and spend some time chillin' at the grocery store and living amiably and honestly with your folks is all up to you, but a little inner inquiry will go a long way towards helping you cultivate true agency and use it in service of your own good! 

Good luck, Girl at a Crossroads, and thank you for writing in!


The Agony Augury

Got a question for the Agony Augury? Drop me a line, and your quandary might just get answered right here on the blog. And don't forget, my most comprehensive tarot offering, the Deep & Detailed Reading, is currently buy one, get one free! Head to my booking page to order yours!

Ask the Agony Augury: How Do I Get Off My Butt?

The Agony Augury is a new regular column here in Two Sides Tarot Land. Think a trusted agony aunt, armed with tarot cards, the Agony Augury is here to take on your most pressing problems and difficult dilemmas! Got a question? Drop me a line, and your quandary might just get answered right here on the blog.

I'm cheating a little bit with this week's question, because it is, in fact, from... myself. I've been ruminating on this issue for a little while and considering going to another reader for guidance about it. I may yet look to someone else for help, but for now, I thought, why not role play it out here on the blog and see what happens? It could be interesting, and hey, I might just be able to solve my own problem! Shall we give it a go?

Dear Agony Augury,

I need a little help to get my fitness mojo back. I used to work out very consistently, and went through a period of several years where exercising was rarely a chore or something I complained about. It used to be just a fact of my routine, and I was even at times one of those weird people who LOVED it. In the last 18 months or so, my habits have become more sporadic, and although I do still work out, it's more like a weekly yoga session than five sessions a week of hard cardio or weights like it used to be. I put it down to the fact that in that time, I've started running my own business on top of working full time, and what with wanting to keep up with pursuing other interests and giving love and time to my relationships, I feel as though I just don't have the time or brain space to work out like I used to. 

I did go through a phase of self-recrimination about all of this, but now I have mostly separately my self-esteem from my level of fitness, so I no longer berate myself or my body if I don't exercise. Thank goodness! I do feel though that my body wants to get moving again, and I miss those post-workout highs and that powerful, embodied feeling that comes with being physically fit and well. All of that hasn't been enough to get me to work out consistently though, and now, whenever I try to get started with a new routine (even a small commitment like exercising twice a week), other things take up my attention and it falls by the wayside after a couple of workouts. I want to get physical exercise back into my life in a regular and meaningful way, but I just don't know how. Help me, Agony Augury!


Couch Potato 

Oh dear, Couch Potato. What a familiar dilemma! And I'm not just saying that because you and I are the same person. You could buy any women's magazine (and a good proportion of magazines for men, too), or watch any breakfast television program, and hear about ways to overcome widespread couch potatoism and find the motivation to get fit. As a species, it seems we're just not that great at habitually doing the things that are good for us. Because you're actually me, I know that you think most women's magazines are a simmering anti-feminist hotpot of capitalist propaganda, so you're hardly going to turn to them for advice. And don't even get yourself started on breakfast television! Let's turn instead to the noble art of tarot, which I hope will provide a more holistic, personal, and possibly even spiritual solution to your fitness dilemma. Before we begin, let the record show that I, both Agony Augury and Couch Potato, am desperately scrambling for the crumbs from the bottom of a corn chip bag as I write this. Zero irony, zero fucks given. Ok, now we can start!

I chose the Dreaming Way Tarot for this reading because it has both an earthy feel and a nurturing approach - excellent qualities for dealing with sensitive matters of the body!

Well, Couch Potato, there are a few things of note upon first glance at this spread. Firstly, a lot of Swords going on here! I suspect the message for you will be something along the lines of "mind over matter." Also note that we have two Eights here - a number of transition and breakthrough. It seems to be a good time to ask about this matter, because there is momentum at your back! Provided you can get over this last obstacle, you'll be able to get that mojo back. Now, let's get into the details!

1. What do you need to know right now about your relationship to your physical body and health? II The High Priestess

In many ways, I think you'd be hard pressed to find a less embodied card in the deck. The High Priestess governs the ephemeral, the emotional, the spiritual and intuitive. She's not exactly the type to hit the gym, and she keeps her figure because all she eats is the odd pomegranate seed from the underworld. Not a great prescription for health! 

This card has couple of points to make for you, Couch Potato. Firstly, you're not connected to your body in the same deep and grounded way that you used to be. This is probably because your priorities have shifted - running a spiritual business, being a professional tarot reader (hello, High Priestess), has engaged those upper chakras at the expense of the lower ones. You're so focused on the great mysteries that going for a run doesn't hold a lot of appeal. Understandable, I guess, but how is that working out for you, really?

The High Priestess archetype is both the obstacle and the answer, because the other point she has to make is that there is intuitive wisdom coming through to you from your connection to your body, tenuous though it may feel at present. You said yourself that your body wants to get moving again. All that hip stiffness and those knee twinges that you didn't mention in your letter but I know about because I am you? They are protests from underused muscles, whispers from the fleshy bag that you live in on this planet, demanding that you give it some love and attention. Your body is inviting you to come back in. You've spent way too much time honing your spiritual craft to be an idiot about this, Couch Potato. Don't ignore it. Use your High Priestessly powers to attune to your body's wisdom, and listen carefully.

A final note on The High Priestess - she may hold a clue about a way to get back into this. You mentioned in your letter that you're more likely to do yoga these days than hit the gym hard, and perhaps that's because this holistic practice speaks to you in a spiritual sense, as well as a physical one. Your priorities have changed, and you've changed, Couch Potato. It makes sense that you don't feel connected to the ways of working out that you used to. It could be time to find a new way. Consider how you might incorporate your inner High Priestess into your workout routine. She's hardly a gym bunny, but her style of activity would have to be something that connects body and soul. Perhaps therein lies your answer.

2. What unconscious or hidden factors are holding you back from following through on your desire to exercise regularly? Eight of Swords

I can be frank with you, Couch Potato, because you're me. I wouldn't ever say this to a client so brashly, but I think you can take it. Stop bullshitting yourself, yeah? You tell yourself a lot of stories about why you don't make the time to work out. You're so busy, work is so tiring, you'd rather be reading, you're "listening to your body and letting it rest" - for A YEAR? Yeah, right! You've built such a convincing fort of swords around yourself on this issue that you've bought your own crap, hook, line and sinker. 

Your challenge now is to lift that veil. Throw off your blindfold, and see how easy it would be to lace up your nikes and jog out of this field of self-deception! Let's try working with a new story, that goes like this: "Am I being totally honest with myself in telling this story?" Now, every time you think about working out and then immediately start to tell yourself a little Eight of Swords sob story about why it's ok that you don't follow though, pause. Say to yourself - out loud if necessary - "Am I being totally honest with myself in telling this story?" Dig deeper. Interrogate the stories your mind is habituated to throw at you. Take off your blindfold and look them in the eye, and you'll see them for the steaming load of B.S. that they are! I'm not saying that there aren't legitimate reasons to miss a work out, and it's not the end of the world if you do, but you'll never get started if you take everything as a legitimate reason to miss a work out. Capisce?

3. What are you consciously resisting about exercising regularly? Eight of Wands

Once again, I'm going to be straight with you. Resisting the Eight of Wands says to me you're being a bit lazy, Couch Potato. You don't want to make the effort, even though you know the rewards are worth it. You don't want to be uncomfortable, you don't want to have to push yourself, you don't want to have to get all red and sweaty and take a shower (N.B. I have neither conscious nor unconscious resistance to showering, thank you very much - Couch Potato). Given that this is conscious resistance, you're well aware of it and prepared to own up to, too. I know working out seems like a hassle when sitting on the couch reading for seven hours without pause is pretty much your idea of heaven, but you wouldn't be asking this question if you didn't know that you could benefit from it.

Our friend here from the suit of Wands is vastly outnumbered by Swords in this reading, which I take to mean you need to switch your rational brain on and cut this lazy crap right out! You know that the kind of energy represented by the Eight of Wands, the kind of energy required to do some exercise, is an intense but short burst. It doesn't last for hours, and it doesn't even come every day. It's a little bit of time coupled with a concerted effort, and then it's over. Your resistance to it is irrational, and you have to cut through that by being realistic about what it will entail. It'll be quick, it's good for you, and in the immortal words of Jillian Michaels, you're not going to die from being uncomfortable. So, pony up!  

4. What mindset, approach, or archetype might you adopt to overcome these blocks and hindrances? Five of Swords

Couch Potato, I think you're going to need be a bit ruthless with this! Those irrational, habitual stories about why you don't want to follow through with your intentions to work out are so ingrained, they're overwhelming your ability to make good decisions for yourself. Effectively, you will need to do battle with that sluggish mythology you've created and seize back control for the smart, sensible part of yourself that knows how good you feel when you do the work. 

If you look at the image on the card, you'll see there are two figures, one empty-handed, and the other clutching all the swords and looking pretty smug. Right now, this is the excuse-making part of yourself. She's totally winning, and she's pretty pleased with herself about it! We all make excuses from time to time, and that's fine, but if we always let ourselves get away with it, nothing gets done! What you need to do is tip the balance back in the other direction. When those excuses start to filter through, take a minute to ask yourself that magical question - "Am I being totally honest with myself in telling this story?" Give the rational, intentional part of yourself, the part who knows that your body wants to do the work, a chance to have a say. Let her reclaim some of those stolen swords so she can help you act in alignment with intention. It might feel like an inner battle at first, but trust that this confrontation is necessary for you to take your power back!

5. What mantra or power phrase can you use to fire yourself up and help you stay focused on your intention? Page of Swords

It might be a little hackneyed, but I'm going to borrow from a well-known purveyor of exercise-related paraphernalia and say, "Just do it."

Like all Pages, the Page of Swords embodies the energy of her suit with excitement, enthusiasm, and anticipation. She doesn't get bogged down in dreading discomfort or worrying about whether this is best use of her time. She really doesn't have any mental baggage at all! Lucky for some, eh? The Page of Swords invites you to get back to basics with this - remind yourself why you want to start exercising regularly. Let this perceptive and rational Page cut away any inner misdirection, and help you identify all those good reasons for following through with your plans. Then, borrow some of her exuberance, and just do it. Get started. You don't have to be a master or even aiming for a marathon. Start at the beginning, where you are, and just do it. That's all it is. Mind over matter, my friend!


The Agony Augury

I must say, I had a great time giving myself some tough love with this question! Now let's see if I can take the Agony Augury's advice and get going with my plans! I'll report back.

I did kinda hog the spotlight this week, but next week I'd love to answer a question from YOU! If you have a juicy dilemma that you think the Agony Augury could take on, drop me a line at readings@twosidestarot.com.

P.S. You can invoke the Agony Augury straight into your inbox by subscribing to Two Sides Tarot right here.