Pamela Colman Smith Centennial Edition

On the Bookshelf: The Creative Tarot by Jessa Crispin

It's been a while since we've had a book review around these parts, but I think Jessa Crispin's The Creative Tarot deserves a mention because of its unique approach to the cards, and because, unlike many a tarot book, it kept me reading from cover to cover. Supporting creativity is a big part of the work I do with clients (you can even order a reading specifically for your creative projects!), and something I'm almost constantly thinking about in my own life. Naturally, I would be gripped by a book that promised to fuse these two fields in a new way.

Crispin's new tarot book first came to my attention when one my un-tarot-y friends (is it wrong to refer to them as my muggle friends, I wonder?) sent me a link to its write-up in the New Yorker. It might be unusual for a tarot book to be reviewed in The New Yorker, but it isn't a surprise to see an author with such literary chops as Crispin's snagging real estate in what is probably the world's most beloved literary magazine. A long-time critic, writer, and creator of the lit culture website, Bookslut, Crispin is having her moment to come out of the broom closet and say yes, smart people with many degrees and prestigious careers respect and use tarot. 

Of course, around here we knew that already, and I do admit to issuing a blinding eye-roll when I read The New Yorker's chosen headline, "Making Tarot Literary Again." Remind me, when wasn't it? After relishing my moment of snark, though, I thought, ok, I better find out what this is all about.

As you'd expect from the title, The Creative Tarot: A Modern Guide to the Inspired Life examines the tarot in terms of its application to creative practice. This has always been a subject of great interest to me, both as a maker of things and as a tarot reader, so once I regained my post-eye-roll vision, I got a little excited. Most readers know how powerful the cards can be to shake up stale ideas and offer support in moments of creative crisis, but this book goes above and beyond in championing that as a practice.

The book offers a moderately good introduction to the art of tarot, as Crispin tries (successfully, I think) to engage both total newcomers and more experienced readers. Crispin kicks off by sharing a little bit of tarot history and her own tarot origin story. To settle in the cautious beginners (ie, all those sceptical New Yorker readers), there's a Q&A about what deck to use, whether you can read for yourself, and what to do if you're an atheist (spoiler alert - don't panic!). The author reassures that no crystals and incense are necessary to reap the benefits of self-reflection with the cards (note that the only reason a piece of clear quartz appears in the above photograph is because that's what actual mystics have on hand to hold an uncooperative book cover closed).

Crispin then strikes out into the meatiest section of the book, her card-by-card index of meanings, associations, applications. The Rider-Waite-Smith is her chosen deck for this book, and the meanings are based on the traditional lexicon of that deck. Crispin does stress, though, that her suggested interpretations needn't be applied only to work with the RWS, and in her image descriptions, she gives some leeway for non-traditional card depictions. For each card, we get a general description of the card image (as well as a picture taken from the RWS), some ideas about the story each card tells, and then that story's application to an aspect or aspects of the creative process.

Then, the best part - that application is illustrated with an example from an artist's biography, a nugget of popular culture, or a myth or fairytale. For example, Crispin uses Nikolay Gogol's burning of half of his opus, Dead Souls, to illustrate the destructive fear and anxiety of the Nine of Swords. Temperance's blending of opposites to create a new path is exemplified by David Bowie's genre- and gender-bending period in the 70's. St. Teresa of Avila's fevered holy visions demonstrate the lightning bolt inspiration of the Ace of Wands.

For me, this was the juiciest bit of the book, and I surprised myself by reading this part of it from start to finish. These days, it's unheard of for me to read a book of card meanings from cover to cover, but I was seduced by Crispin's storytelling and eager to see how her unique vision would interpret the next card. Not to mention, I'm a total studio voyeur - I can't get enough of stories about the work practices of creative people (FYI, if that's your kind of thang, see Daily Rituals by Mason Currey). 

Having said that, I didn't agree with all of her interpretations and correspondences (e.g., she associates Cups with spirituality, which has always been a fiery Wands trait in my book), but I came to appreciate that as one of the book's strengths. The interpretations offered may not always be traditional, they may not always resonate with my approach, but they're so obviously born out of many years of direct work with the cards in the context of creative practice. Crispin has a clear and unique voice that shines through in her approach to each card and the deck as a whole. There's plenty here to spark consideration and debate for seasoned readers. 

Wait - did I say the stories of creatives was the best part? I think I was wrong. The best-best part has got to be the recommended materials that Crispin offers for each card. An inspired idea! For the Eight of Coins, we're dispatched to view Chuck Close's Self-Portrait, for the Page of Cups, to read Baudelaire's Flowers of Evil. The Queen of Swords can be found in the works of Diane Arbus, and The Hierophant in The Essential Rosa Luxemburg. Films, photographs, paintings, and books are presented as a means to deepen our understanding of each archetype. It's a tactic I've employed myself, and more than anything, I think its value lies in teaching us students of the tarot to pay attention, always. Mythologies and their attendant lessons lurk around every corner!

After working her way through the deck, Crispin offers a series of thoughtful spreads to address quandaries and questions that might arise at different points in the creative process. Each spread comes with a sample reading, so you can see her interpretations in action. She also keeps those anxious atheists on board by offering some advice for how to start doing your own readings (look for patterns, look for the story, be calm and trust yourself when you're starting out). To wrap up, there are some tips on how to choose a deck, keeping a journal of your readings, and how to read for someone else. 

The Creative Tarot strikes a good balance between being a gentle introduction for beginners and offering new ideas and substantial-enough content for readers who have been around the block a few times. While I wouldn't recommend it as the sole resource for a total tarot noob (bitch please, that's always going to be Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack - accept no substitutes!), there's more than enough here to get you started. Certainly, if you're a tarot reader looking to expand your creative practice (or that of your clients), this will be an invaluable resource. 

In the weeks since I picked up the book, I've seen it pop up all over the tarot instagram-o-sphere, and also in some unexpected places - for example, artist and creativity guru Austin Kleon has posted about it. There's no doubt that the popularity of tarot is on the rise, and if more people come to use the cards to enhance their earthly experience, all the better. The inimitable Brene Brown cautions that "unused creativity is not benign", and if that is the case, then it would behove both readers of the tarot and readers of The New Yorker to put it to good use! To that end, Jessa Crispin is a great cheerleader to have in your corner, and The Creative Tarot a great resource for your bookshelf. 

Are there any readers of The Creative Tarot in the crowd? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this book, and on supporting creativity with tarot in general! Drop me a line in the comments.

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Ask the Agony Augury: Getting Spiritually Unstuck

The Agony Augury is a 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.

Now, let's dive into our question!

Dear Agony Augury,

Ever since I was a small child, I have had a strong connection to all things "weird". Raised in a pretty strict Christian household, magic, tarot, crystals, New Age, wizards, witches, etc. were all banned and "of the devil." And of course, this made me feel horrible. All the things I naturally was inclined to study and all the things that I felt were "me" were considered by my family to be evil. I am now twenty-four and for the past few years have really tried to get deep into my natural magic being. But I feel like I'm stuck. I feel like I'm only scratching the surface and that something is holding me back from really letting myself go there. What can I do, or what can I shed of my old self, to let myself connect with who I have always felt myself to be?

With much love,

Desperate Witch

Desperate Witch, thank you so much for writing in! I think everyone struggles with forging an authentic and personally resonant spiritual path at times, and this struggle only deepens when the expectations and structures around us prevent us from engaging with the type of practice that truly resonates. Before we dive into your reading, I have to commend you for seeking out the kind of spiritually that is personally meaningful to you, despite having that forbidden and negated for so long. You may have an obstacle to overcome, but don't overlook the fact that you're already on the path. That, right there, is an act of courage!

*insert appropriate interval of applause for the courage of Desperate Witch*

Ok, shall we get down to business?

Now, isn't this interesting! Your question is almost entirely about spiritual matters, and yet, your cards are almost entirely Pentacles, the suit of the material and earthly. Before we dig into the details of each card, I think this pattern is asking us to hold an overarching theme in mind. That is, consider how your spiritual practice is reflected in your day to day life. Pentacles refer to work, money, routine, the home, the earth. I suspect it is going to be important for you to consider how your spiritual practice fits (or doesn't fit) into your everyday life, and how you might make your work life, your physical space, and the ways you spend your time and energy better reflect your authentic witchy path. Hold that question in mind now, as we get down to the details!

1. In general, what do you need to know about your spiritual path at this time? Knight of Pentacles

The key idea for the Knight of Pentacles is slow and steady progress. Before I drew your cards, I wrote above that you have showed tremendous courage for walking this path, no matter how blocked or frustrated you might be feeling right now. The Knight of Pentacles agrees with me on this one, and wants to remind you that you are on a journey and you are making progress, no matter how gradual that might feel. I think we've all felt the desire for a epiphany at times, or the wish that some aspect of our spiritual work will yield sudden and dramatic results. Certainly, if you've grown up on Bible stories, it can seem like God should be popping up in some form or other and dramatically dispensing wisdom every five minutes! Of course, this is rarely the case. It is more likely that the progress we might be making on our spiritual paths day to day is going to be subtle and unmeasurable, and even if we don't ascend into heaven in bodily form or start levitating during meditation, we still have to keep practicing.

The other Knights in the deck are all speeding about the place, racing into the wind on their fleet-footed steeds, whereas the Knight of Pentacles rides a heavy draught horse. His mount is not known for its speed, but it is bred for its strength, fortitude, and capacity for hard labour. Stamina over speed is the key here! This Knight is showing you the qualities that are needed from you at this time. Patience is a big one, and continued attention to the work at hand (the Five of Pentacles also has something to say about this, and we'll get to that soon enough!). Also, it's important to trust that you're going in the right direction. Although you might be feeling stuck, you said in your letter that the practices you are exploring have always felt resonant to you. After keeping them at arms length during your childhood, you're now starting to integrate them into your life, and to integrate that rejected or suppressed part of yourself. This can't be achieved instantly, but this Knight says that with slow and steady attention, you will create a meaningful spiritual life for yourself. Forget about the finish line right now, and turn your focus to the day to day. Putting one foot in front of the other is the most important thing for you at this time.

2. What part of your upbringing and spiritual journey so far needs to be cast aside right now? Nine of Pentacles

This card has many facets, but in this context, there's just one thing I want to say to you about it. Loneliness. The feeling of being the odd one out, of being misunderstood and judged and alone in your passions and beliefs and views. Ouch! It's a killer, that feeling. I think this card speaks to the experience of isolation that you've been through, growing up in an environment where a big part of who you are was denied. 

The perpetuation of loneliness and isolation that you may have experienced in your past needs to be set aside, once and for all. It isn't serving you on your current path. This may seem obvious, because I doubt you would want to hold onto that feeling, but sometimes releasing experiences like this can be more challenging than we might think. After years of keeping your spiritual tendencies secret, it may not come naturally to you to be open about that part of yourself, even in a supportive environment. It might feel safer for you to be a solo practitioner, to keep your magical workings on the down low, as you have probably done for many years.

Coming out of the broom closet is tough, Desperate Witch, there's no doubt about that! Trust, though, that you need to seek out your people. You need to be true to yourself, and build relationships that support, not deny, who you are. No doubt you will feel vulnerable and exposed, but the support you will receive on your journey will be so worth the risk! Your time of being alone in the gardens of mystery, Nine of Pentacles style, is over. It's time to get out and mingle!

3. What part of your upbringing and spiritual journey so far needs to be honoured right now? Three of Pentacles

The Three of Pentacles and the Nine of Pentacles actually form a nice pair, even though one is to be cast aside and the other to be honoured. Just as the Nine of Pentacles was about leaving behind loneliness and isolation, a big part of the Three of Pentacles is about finding community. Of course, I can't say what your Christian upbringing was like, but in my experience, church is just a fancy word for tribe. I was raised Catholic, and lord knows, those folks know how to throw an afternoon tea! Just because that particular tribe isn't resonant with your practices and beliefs, doesn't mean you can't borrow a little of their community spirit for your own purposes! 

You'll see in the image on this card, an artisan shows her work to two curious and encouraging onlookers. Right now, you are being urged to practice your craft in company, to share your gifts and interests and experiments with a supportive audience. The internet is, of course, a wonderful place to meet fellow travellers - the spiritual and occult community on Instagram is vast and very encouraging! If you have an interest in tarot practice, and you aren't already a member of Little Red Tarot's Alternative Tarot Network, I urge you to rectify that immediately! That community is a ready-made collective of your people, just waiting to invite you in. If virtual connections aren't doing it for you (or even if they are), you might also want to reach out to fellow witches in your area. You might not be able to find someone practicing in exactly the same way, but practically all sizeable towns and cities will have opportunities for you to learn about or practice meditation, yoga, kirtan, reiki, observance of solar or lunar days, and so on. Put yourself in the path of other spiritual seekers. Talking to other people and hearing what they have to say will be so stimulating and encouraging for your practice. Trust me! 

One more thing I want to say about the Three of Pentacles is that, coming from a Christian background, I dare say you have some notion of what it means to practice your spiritual beliefs with consistency and discipline. Church every Sunday, grace over every meal, rituals and prayers and devotion engaged with as a matter of day to day life. Those specific rituals and practices are no longer yours, but you can still take the consistency and discipline of your upbringing and apply it to your own witchy work. This card is about honing your craft, and you can only do that if you are prepared to be turn up and work at it consistently. 

Coming from a very structured religious system into a more exploratory mode of spiritual practice (which is not to say that all forms of witchcraft or occult practice are unstructured, of course!) might have you feeling a bit untethered. There's no one to say you have to observe the cycles of the moon, or meditate every day, or fill your house with crystals, or read tarot in the Thoth system, or read tarot in the Rider Waite system, or channel your spirit guides, or what have you. Of course, you can try all of these things or none of them, but if you're dedicated to your spiritual path, you have to make time for practice, in whatever form that takes. It's up to you what you do and when you do it, but remember the consistency with which your former Christian community observed their beliefs. Real, tangible, observable practice - this is the suit of Pentacles, after all! You don't have to have your beliefs or rituals totally figured out, but you do need to turn up for yourself consistently, even if it is just a few minutes of quiet reflection on the bus each morning. Let a commitment to practicing your spirituality be your anchor. 

4. What mindset, course of action, area of study, or pursuit might you explore to help yourself get unstuck in your current practice? Five of Pentacles

I must admit, I'm torn about which direction to take this card! My instinct is telling me that angle we should be taking here might actually make you want to go screaming in to the distance, but please hear me out, I think there could be something in this. The Five of Pentacles depicts two lowly figures, cold and dejected, struggling through a snow storm, and passing by a church, lit warmly from within. Often this card is about being so absorbed in suffering that we miss salvation when it's right within reach, and I think maybe there's a little something to that for you, Desperate Witch.

I think you could hit upon a modest spiritual breakthrough by engaging with some aspects of the religious tradition you've come from. Before you say, "Oh fuck no, I'm not going back there!" let me say that I'm not at all suggesting that you need to go back to Christianity in the form that you previously experienced it, or indeed, in any structured or traditional form. I think it could be of interest to you, though, to do some more digging into the Western mystical tradition, because so much of that is informed by Judeo-Christian religion. Hell, you only need to look at the very tarot deck I've used for your reading to see myriad biblical influences! I'm no occult historian, but as I understand it, all of the progenitors of the modern Western mystical tradition - the Golden Dawn, Crowley, Blavatsky, the Rosicrucians, and so on - were influenced to some degree by Christian ideas, archetypes, or symbols. Perhaps learning more about these connections might prove to be an opening for you. 

If you are interested in working with the divine feminine or goddess archetypes, you might find it resonant to do some work with the Madonna, in one of her forms. As a lapsed Catholic, that's something that has proven useful and intriguing to me over the past couple of years. I also recently learned more about the Ignatian spiritual exercises and tradition of imaginative prayer. I'm not about to become Jesuit (I doubt women are invited!), but that way of storytelling and visualisation actually really resonates with the way I read tarot cards, and so it's a piece of intel that I'm hanging onto and considering in my own work. These are just a couple of examples that might pique your interest, but I'm sure there are many more ways in which Christian traditions might intersect with or inform the expansion of your current work. Just pull on that thread a little bit, and see where it leads you.

5. How can you support and nurture yourself as you work through this challenge? VI The Lovers

This last card is taking no prisoners! I almost always include a card that advises on self care, and I always hope it is going to say something nice and fluffy like, "Have more long bubble baths!" Desperate Witch, you have my blessing to have as many long bubble baths as your soul requires, but there is also some deeper work being asked of you here. The Lovers is about the choices we make, the things and people and circumstances we decide to invite into our lives, and it is almost always a lesson about values-based decision making. Not as relaxing as a bubble bath, but I think it will prove to be even more self-supportive and -loving for you. 

This card is asking you to look at the components that make up your life, and to ask yourself if each one reflects who you are and how you want to live your life. Chances are, if your religious upbringing imposed a strict set of expectations upon you, some of those things are still lurking around even though you're now walking a different path. This might mean you still feel like you need to observe certain family or social traditions, even though they make you uncomfortable, or perhaps in your work or education you are trying to tick someone else's boxes as opposed to your own. You may even be committing some quiet microaggressions against yourself by mentally judging or criticising your thoughts or actions in a way that an authority figure may have in the past. The Lovers asks you to look at all these subtle and unsubtle external pressures that are still having a negative influence upon you, and to do what you can to mitigate that influence. If you find some of that persuasive influence creeping in, ask yourself, "what do I value, and how can I enact that value in this situation?" You won't be able to spring clean your life and mind in a single sweep, but just being mindful of your power to choose your own way of living - that great and terrible gift of The Lovers! - is a good place to start.

I think the most obvious place you will be called to apply this is in your relationships - it is people who create and perpetuate social norms, after all! Are there people in your life from your past who aren't willing to accept you for who you are? Perhaps some old friends, or even family members, aren't prepared to love and support you on your new spiritual path? In order to create a supportive and loving environment for yourself, you need to think about managing these potential conflicts and upsets.

The Lovers reminds you that you don't need to give your time and love and respect and attention to people who don't respond in kind. Of course, relationships are nuanced, and while there are probably some judgy, closed-minded people in your life whom it might serve you never to see again, you probably don't want to cut ties with all your loved ones, even if your relationships with them are a little trying at times! In this case, boundaries are your friend. If you can't have a conversation with your high school bestie about your spiritual explorations without her calling you the devil, but you still enjoy going out to coffee with her, set up a firm boundary. Make that topic off limits, if you have to. If she starts to get all "you're the spawn of Satan!" on you, it's ok to speak up and tell her she's crossed your boundary. End your coffee date if necessary, and ask her to behave herself better next time! Same goes for your parents, family members, whoever. The Lovers says you get to choose. It isn't always easy to make your own rules and get other people to stick to them, but being firm with yourself about what you value in your relationships and in your life at large will give you a strong foundation from which to ask for the love and support you deserve. This card says exercising your power to choose, in your relationships and in all aspects of your life, is the most self-loving thing you can do right now!

*

Before I sign off, there's one final thing I want to share with you - I was walking down the street just now, heading home to finish this reading and listening to Elizabeth Gilbert chatting to Rob Bell on her Magic Lessons podcast, and a little light bulb went off in my head. They were discussing the challenge of working a repetitive, mundane job when all you really want to do is be creative, and Rob Bell said, "if you can pay attention in the valley, then you're going to have no problem paying attention on the mountain." That is, we want to be on the mountain having a transcendent experience in the middle of a lightning storm, but if we can stoop to find holiness in the every day, we can find it anywhere. All of these Pentacles say that you're in the valley right now, and perhaps a wish to be on the mountain having an epiphany is part of the reason you feel stuck. Don't lose sight of the fact that the valley is a holy place, too. If you can find the sacred in the mundane and material, you don't even need to go to the mountain. Let that be your point of departure as you set out to get unstuck!

Phew! Desperate Witch, I feel like there is a LOT going on in this reading, so don't be alarmed if you can't take it all in at once. After you've had a read through, go get some fresh air or make yourself a cup of tea. Take that bubble bath, if it feels right! As the Knight of Pentacles says, you're already walking this path, and slowly, I think all of these stray pieces are going to fall into place for you. Good luck Desperate Witch, and thank you for writing in! 

Much love,

The Agony Augury

Got a tricky problem or juicy dilemma for The Agony Augury? Send it my way! Oh and remember, you can summon The Agony Augury into your inbox by subscribing here.

Ask the Agony Augury: What Comes Next?

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.

Now, what better way to kick off a new column than with a big, serious, life purpose-type query? We're getting straight into the deep and meaningful stuff here! A rich question demands a rich answer, so I advise you steep some tea and get comfortable for this one.

Dear Agony Augury,

The last two years for me have been about personal growth, I have been disciplined (on the whole) with a few goals I had set for myself.  Stop smoking (tick), continue not drinking (tick), exercise, exercise, exercise (yup), study to the very best of my ability (hard work), reliable at work and socially (it's a process), loving my family and being there for them and my friends (I find myself feeling guilt at times for not giving enough)...

There have been emotional ups and downs, I am quite an emotional creature, and I have also been working on keeping the dark thoughts in check, and life, yes, is blessed on the whole.  Being in this situation of blessedness, what possible question can I ask? This being the very first I have ever asked of the cards, and again, what wonder, in your very capable hands, here it goes:

I'll let my gut do the talking, what, perhaps, finishing my study, what will the end of the year open onto?

Warmly,

Midnight Muser

Dear Midnight Muser,

Before I even think about turning a card, let me say, huge props are due to you for taking your life in hand in this way. Seriously! This is no small feat. Sometimes when we're focused on where we're going we forget about how far we've come, so take a minute now to revel in your accomplishments! 

Done revelling? Ok, let's get started.

For your reading, I brought out the big guns and turned to one of my favourite tarot experts, the inimitable Barbara Moore, and her wonderful book, Tarot Spreads. Her Through the Shadows Spread is one of my favourites for those times when the path ahead is unclear, and I thought it (in a slightly modified incarnation) would be the perfect way to tackle your query! The spread positions are based on the imagery of the Rider-Waite-Smith trump, XVIII The Moon, which carves a shadowy path from the darkness into the light.

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

1. THE MOON: Your truth, at this moment, AS IT RELATES TO YOUR LIFE POST-STUDY - Two of Swords

This card is about how you think about yourself, your situation, your beliefs about your life's journey at this time. The Two of Swords speaks loudly about someone who is on the cusp. There is a choice to be made, but you haven't yet allowed yourself to look it in the eye. Swords are the suit of the mind, and having this suit appear here is a testament to the fierce intellectual rigour you have brought to bear upon your life so far. Methodically reviewing all aspects of yourself and your life. Cutting away the excess. Throwing yourself wholeheartedly into academic pursuits. Recognising what needed to change, and changing it. 

This Swords approach has been going well, but you might suspect that something different is needed for the future, for that moment when structure falls away and big messy life opens up. Twos are all about balancing disparate elements, and you'll see that although this card comes from the suit of Air, the landscape it depicts is predominantly water. There is tension here between the mind and the emotions. You said yourself that you're an emotional creature, and I suspect there may be a little fear of that emotional tendency in your current view of yourself and your life. Perhaps a fear of emotional excess, or a mistrust of intuition? Midnight Muser, are you afraid that without the structure of academia, you'll be swept away by tides of whimsy or wildness? This card suggests you have reached an impasse, and balance demands to be restored. The key to finding deeper self-knowledge will lie in inviting those resisted or repressed parts of yourself back into the conversation. Trust that you won't be washed away by your emotions. Let them be what they are - not a dangerous weapon, but one tool among many on your worktable. 

2. THE PATH: THE WAY FORWARD FOR THE END OF YOUR STUDIES - EIGHT OF CUPS

Whatever the future brings, it is certain to be a bit of an adventure! You'll see that this card depicts a cloaked figure, turning her back on eight full cups and striking out into the unknown. At the conclusion of your studies, you have the opportunity to head out and forge a new path for yourself. Admittedly, this card doesn't give us too much information about where that might lead. There is a sense of mystery to it - from our vantage point, we can't discern too much information about where the figure is headed.  When faced with this uncertain path, the most important thing is to cultivate a willingness to enter the unknown. There's no way to account for every variable, to predict every turn in the path. All you can do is shoulder your pack, and be willing step out of your comfort zone into whatever comes next.

Let's be honest, this card can feel a little painful. Note that the figure is leaving her full cups behind. You've found a lot of purpose and meaning in structuring your life the way you have, and there are probably many things about the status quo that you'd be unwilling to see go. Focusing so firmly on your studies has given you direction, an outlet for your intellect and creativity, and an anchor, and that's all about to come to an end. That might feel uncomfortable, but I think you know you can't stay in this place forever. You know your life's work is not finished! Numerologically speaking, an Eight is not an ending but a moment of transition. Trust that the time is right for you to shed this skin you've been wearing and to blossom into something new.

We saw in the Two of Swords that you are experiencing some tension between the structured world of the mind and the wild and mysterious world of emotions and whims. Being of the suit of Cups, this card says giving voice to your emotions and intuitions will be more important than ever. As you did in asking this question, you must follow your gut, and your heart. Let your emotional compass guide you as you move through this transition.

The question is, what does this journey involve? Although "The Path" might seem like this spread's big answer, I suspect the next card is actually what holds the key to your conundrum. It is all about fear, but it sometimes happens that our greatest fear and our greatest desire are one in the same. Midnight Muser, let's forge ahead and see what we can learn about your journey!

3. CRAYFISH: Your deepest fear about this situation - Ace of Wands

What could this be, but a fear of starting over? Who among us hasn't had that feeling? Aces wipe the slate clean. They demand that we start from zero, empty handed but for our cunning. Exciting, sure, but terrifying, too! Interestingly, this Ace points to creativity and passion. In theory, our culture celebrates these lofty attributes, but in our elevation of artists and their work, we tend to overlook something that anyone who has attempted a creative project knows: there's nothing more terrifying and lonely than having to face the blank page. Dare you allow your voice to echo into the void?

I suspect, Midnight Muser, that you have a secret hope, an unspoken desire, project, or inspiration that you know will be ignored no longer. Once the final exam is done and your mortarboard flung to the heavens, your secret passion is going to come knocking, and you won't be able to say, "Get lost, I'm studying!" You know you have to make the room in your life for this thing, whatever it is, to be born. There is something your subconscious is burning to do, a tiny seed of an idea that is starting to take root, and frankly, it scares the living shit out of you. I feel you, my friend! There are few things more terrifying than answering that call. What if you fail? What if you succeed, and it doesn't feel like you hoped it would? What if you never even find the courage to take the first step? I know, Midnight Muser, it's a tough one. 

You are being invited, Eight of Cups style, to leave behind what feels safe and predictable and structured, and start something totally new, uncharted, unknown. Is your skin crawling yet? Or are you excited? This might be a deep-seated fear, but at its heart, this fear is also your deepest hope. At what cost do you ignore this calling?

4. DOG & 5. WOLF: These are external fears and distractions that may divert you from your true path - VII The Chariot and Six of Pentacles

These cards have a lot to say about grappling with the whispers of the Ace of Wands. Firstly, The Chariot, the dreaded ego that tells us we're too stupid unskilled foolish unattractive poor unworthy to do the things we most want to do - insert your chosen insult here! If you are to draw out and ignite that smouldering Ace of Wands within, keeping that ego in its box will be more important than ever. You've already talked about keeping dark thoughts in check, and this card says that skill will continue to be needed as you start to tread your post-study path. The fact that this is a Major Arcana card speaks to how life-changing and invasive those ego-thoughts can be, but don't forget it appears here as a superficial fear or distraction. Don't give it more power than it deserves!

Now, the Six of Pentacles. This card has two pieces of advice for you, Midnight Muser. Firstly, pursuing excessive material wealth is an unhelpful distraction. Let's be realistic - we all have to eat. I don't want to underplay the importance of taking card of our basic material needs; however, let basic be your guiding principle here. If you can put food on the table, you're doing fine, and that will leave you with room to scratch other itches. Don't let that chattering ego talk you into chasing time-consuming, soul-consuming jobs for promises of material gain. The other cards in this spread suggest your priorities are not in the material realm. Recognise what is enough, and don't let anything more distract you from your path. 

The second piece of advice in this card is to think about how your energy ebbs and flows. You mentioned in your missive that you value being there for your friends and family, and sometimes you feel guilty about not giving them enough. Notice that this card depicts a rich man distributing money to the poor. This card serves to remind you that sometimes you're the wealthy man, and sometimes the pauper. Sometimes you have enough to spare, and other times you have to be the one asking for help. Bear that in mind when it comes to your relationships, Midnight Muser. Generosity is noble, but it doesn't do much good if it sends you to the poorhouse! It's ok to say no without feeling guilty. It's ok to love with abandon when your heart feels open. It's ok to lean on your friends and family when you're the one who needs support. Guilting yourself into over-committing your energy will take you off course. Remember to save some for your own life, and don't you dare feel bad about it.

6. & 7. THE TOWERS: These are the beacons to light the way, resources you can draw on for inspiration and support - Knight of Wands and XXI The World

Fear not, Midnight Muser! Just when your blank slate, your chattering ego, and your worries about not being enough are about to stop you in your tracks, there is light. The road may be less travelled, but no journeyman need go it entirely alone. At your back are the Knight of Wands, and holy cat on a biscuit, The World. It doesn't get much better than this!

Notice that the Ace of Wands and the Knight of Wands share the same provenance. The Ace is that fledging idea, that empty page just burning to be filled with your genius ideas. The Knight of Wands is the pen in your hand, so to speak. He reminds us that passion is nothing without action. You can have a million great ideas but if you never make them happen, they don't mean anything at all. Thus, the best way you can serve yourself on this journey is by doing the hard work. Packing your bags, taking that first step. Getting your hands dirty. Looking your desire in the eye and saying, "Ok, here's what we can do." The Knight of Wands is a creative bulldozer, and he's here to lend you some of that chutzpah. Action is your ally, and you'll need it because fear can be paralysing! When in doubt, ask yourself what you can do. Then, waste no time. Do it.

Finally, The World. Do you hear that heavenly choir? Here, we have a truly special card. The World is the final trump of the Major Arcana, a culmination of everything learned on life's journey, and sign of wholeness, completion, purpose, and peace. This lady is literally floating in space, that's how great she feels. The World wants you to remember just how far you've come, how much you've learned about yourself, others, and the world. You're in the place you are because you've worked your ass off. Cast your mind back to the first paragraph, and give yourself those epic props again. You deserve it! This card wants you to remember that whenever you need a little light in the darkness. You might be about to enter foreign territory, but you can bring your experience, expertise, and your evolving sense of self to bear upon any challenges you face. You've got this!

Remember, too, that the world is round. There's no end to a circle, and this card is as much a sign of ending as it is of beginning. In the last two years, you've been dedicated to your personal growth, caring for yourself, your future and your relationships like the precious treasures they are. The World says, there's no end to this kind of learning. It's not just about looking back and feeling good about where you've been. There are always new things to discover about yourself, new ways to learn to live and flourish. You've come a long way, but that doesn't mean there's no room to start over. When in doubt, remember to be open to new adventures. Trust that you're in the place you need to be at the time you need to be there. The World is your oyster, my friend! Don't forget it!

Midnight Muser, thank you so much for writing in. I hope this reading has given you some clarity and food for thought about your path. I wish you all the best with this scary exciting new adventure!

Yours,

The Agony Augury 

Got a question for The Agony Augury? Drop me a line, and your dilemma may just make it onto the blog! 

Need some advice, pronto? Don't forget, you can book a reading with me here.

 

 

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?