I know many of my readers are keen tarot enthusiasts, and experienced and even professional readers. We have a whole lot to say to each other! Today's post, though, is for those of you lurking in the wings.
Maybe you stumbled upon my blog by accident, or while doing a little research into a subject you don't know too much about (yet!). Perhaps tarot has just appeared on your radar and you want to learn more, or you've been curious for a long time but haven't yet taken the first step on your tarot journey.
Image via The Lioness Oracle Tarot
For the newly tarot-curious, the very word “tarot” is evocative, summoning up images of psychic priestesses in their temples, fortune tellers glimpsed through clouds of incense smoke, and secret ceremonies conducted by moonlight.
All of that is seductive and magical, but I know when you're just starting out, it can feel a little unapproachable. The arcane, occult trappings of tarot can be part of its appeal, but from the outside, all those rumours and rules can also feel like impenetrable obstacles!
Over the years, I’ve encountered so many people interested in the art of tarot, who felt that it wasn’t accessible to them because they weren’t psychic enough, or because they hadn’t been initiated into the Secret Psychic Tarot Readers’ Club (we have a secret handshake and everything!).
Sure, I’m the first to admit that one of the most alluring things about tarot is that it has its own mythology and mysticism. But popular culture and occult tradition alike tell a lot of stories about what it means to be a tarot reader, and way too many of those stories suggest that tarot is only available to a certain kind of person, for a particular kind of use.
I’m all for embracing arcane traditions if they make things a little more magical, but all that stuff that holds us back? Let's take a hard pass on that! The gates are open. Tarot is for everyone who chooses to make it their own.
Let's break down some barriers, shall we?
1. Your tarot deck must be a gift
We’ve all heard it said that in order to be a real tarot reader, you must be given your tarot deck as a gift. Over the years, so many aspiring tarot readers have said to me that they’d love to start reading tarot, if only someone would give them a tarot deck.
The origins of this myth are hard to pin down. Many of the occult aspects of tarot as we know it originated with the esoteric society, The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, so it may be that this myth was cooked up to reinforce the idea that becoming a tarot reader required initiation and secrecy (the Golden Dawn were definitely big on ceremony!). It's possible, too, that secret initiations were necessary to keep occult practitioners safe at times in history that were less tolerant of alternative spiritual practices.
Fortunately for today's readers, though, this myth is just not true. Just think, if it were, how few tarot readers there would be in the world!
If you want to start reading tarot, I have good news. You don’t need permission. You don’t need initiation. You don’t need to be given your deck as a gift. And don’t let anyone tell you that your deck should be stolen, either – theft really sucks for bookshops, new age stores, and your bestie's carefully cultivated tarot collection, so please don’t do it!
All you need to get started on your tarot journey is an interest in tarot and willingness to get going. Treat yourself to the tarot deck of your choice, and get reading!
2. You can't start reading tarot until you've memorised all the cards
A standard tarot deck contains seventy-eight cards, which is a lot to take in, especially when you’re starting out. So many tarot-curious folks have expressed anxiety to me about how much there is to learn before you can get started, and I know there are plenty of people out there too daunted to even begin. What a pity!
Tarot is a rich, many-layered esoteric tradition, which pulls symbols, ideas, and beliefs from all corners of the Western occult and philosophical canon. From Hermetic philosophy to Kabbalah to numerology to astrology, there’s certainly plenty you can investigate to enrich your understanding of this beautiful discipline.
To begin with, though, all you need to do is shuffle, and pull a card.
Seriously, I mean it! Take out your tarot deck, and draw a card. Look at the image. What feelings does it provoke? What does it remind you of? Are there any colours or symbols that are significant to you? What would it be like to be in the situation on the card? What could you learn from this situation?
If you answered these questions, congratulations! You just read a tarot card. Well done!
When learning tarot, it is important to bury yourself in the books and drink up all you can about the symbolism in the cards. Theory is nothing without practice, though, and so it’s just as important that you give yourself time and space to play with your cards, to respond to them intuitively, through the lens of your own experience and subjectivity. In time, you’ll learn to draw your book learning and your intuitive reading together, thus transforming yourself into a tarot reader extraordinaire.
And as for memorisation, well, it’s a little overrated. Even the most seasoned tarot reader consults the books from time to time, because there’s always more to learn. Let memorising the cards be a natural side effect of your intuitive play with tarot, and not an overwhelming goal that stops you from ever getting started!
Image via the Spirit Speak Tarot Reversed
3. Tarot is only used for telling the future
This myth probably doesn’t need too much busting among the seasoned tarot readers, but if you’re new to tarot, this might be an assumption you’ve inherited. In the popular imagination, tarot readers are psychics, predicting when and where that tall, dark, and handsome stranger is going to come along and sweep you off your feet.
In practice, the turban-wearing, crystal ball-toting tarot fortune tellers are few and far between (although Two Sides Tarot has nothing against a good turban, don’t get me wrong!). There are great readers out there who offer predictive services, but this is certainly not the only way to use a deck of tarot cards.
Many readers – myself included – are more interested in the present than the future. When it comes to the questions and conundrums we all face, we want to know what’s going on under the surface. What extra information can we glean? What perspective should we take? What approach will help us make a good decision? What skills or tools should we use for this or that situation? How can we challenge our perceptions and ignite our creativity and move towards our goals, starting right now?
Sure, a good tarot reading equips us with tools for what’s to come, but I believe that the cards are most useful when we focus our attention on what’s happening now, in the present moment. Chances are, it’s more than you might think!
So, don’t be fooled. A tarot reading doesn’t have to be all about sitting back and waiting for a pre-destined future to come to you. A good tarot reading explores your inner and outer worlds as they are now, so that you can use that information to shape your own future. Knowledge is power, after all!
4. You have to be psychic to read tarot cards
This one is definitely intimidating for beginning tarot readers! Of course, in pop culture, tarot readers have long been associated with mediumship and psychic revelations and, well… a certain kind of spooky knowing. You could be forgiven for thinking you need to have prophetic dreams or communicate with the dead in order to read tarot cards.
Sure, there definitely are some folks out there who feel blessed with The Sight and who have no qualms identifying as psychic. Many of them make great tarot readers.
For a lot of us, though, “psychic” isn’t really a word we throw around. Personally, I don’t believe I’m psychic, but that’s ok, because I’ve found that there are other, even more valuable skills that make a great tarot reader.
For one, a willingness to practice. Tarot is a skill anyone can learn, and like any skill, it takes a little time to learn and a lot of time to master. Any person who picks up a deck of cards, psychic or not, will get the best from this art form if they’re dedicated to honing their craft. Practice, practice, practice!
The next thing that will help you on your tarot journey is intuition. Believe it or not, we’re all intuitive. Maybe some of us have spent more time honing that part of ourselves than others, but everyone has the ability to take information and experience and instinct and use it to make cognitive leaps in understanding about our situations or environments. And like any skill, practice only makes our intuition sharper!
Finally, it’s important to remember what we call ourselves. That is, tarot readers. Tarot is a language of symbols and associations that beginners simply need to learn to read through study and practice. Your tarot skills will grow and flourish if you focus on reading what you can see with your own eyes on the cards in front of you – no Second Sight required!
5. Tarot decks don’t reflect real people’s identities, backgrounds, and lives
This last one is really important!
A look at some of the most popular decks from the last hundred-odd years might lead you to believe that tarot is only representative of certain kinds of people. I.e., slim, able-bodied, gender-conforming, straight, white people.
Like so many types of media, tarot has been historically poor at giving a voice to the truly diverse and often marginalised types of people, relationships, and lived experiences that we actually embody and see in the world around us.
Tarot readers and creators, like people from all walks of life, come from many genders, cultures, sexualities, and ethnic groups, and in all shapes and sizes, and of course, we want to see our true selves represented in the decks we read with. For a long time, though, decks like that were few and far between.
The good news is, this paradigm is slowly changing. When second-wave feminism got hold of tarot in the 1970’s, woman-centered, and queer decks – like the Motherpeace Tarot and Thea’s Tarot – began to appear. Court cards were renamed to reflect family and social relationships, rather than feudal hierarchies, and figures on the cards were liberated from at least some of their traditional and gendered roles.
There was still a ways to go, though, and fortunately, in the last few years, this shift has really picked up in pace and scope! In the midst of tarot’s current renaissance, more artists than ever are creating tarot decks that better represent diverse lives and identities.
They may not yet comprise the majority of decks on the market, but if you go looking, you can begin to find decks that give voice to people of colour, differently-abled people, gender-diverse and queer people, and roles and relationships that don’t conform to so-called traditional norms. And thank goodness for that! It’s so, so powerful to draw a card and see our own, true stories reflected back to us, whatever they may be.
For help on your quest for truly diverse and representative tarot decks, check out Asali Earthwork’s wonderful labour of love, the Tarot of the QTPOC list. Therein lies goodness! And for broad and inclusive tarot discourse, you really can’t miss Little Red Tarot.
We’ve come a long way, but the world of tarot publishing is by no means perfect, so let’s keep this conversation going! And if you value inclusive and expansive tarot decks and resources, vote with your dollar and support the artists doing this vital work.
So, tarot novices, lurkers, and babes who got lost here via google search, take it from me: tarot is for you, if you want it to be! Forget about the rules and restrictions. If you want to embrace this beautiful, intuitive, dynamic, weird art form, you don't need permission. All you need is a deck of cards. Good luck out there!
Unless you’ve been in a cave working on some seriously dark witchcraft, you’ve probably noticed that tarot is having A Moment right now. Public figures are coming out of the closet as long-time readers, your best friend has a copy of the Wild Unknown Tarot, and even that preppy dude in your office knows that the Death card doesn’t mean literal death. The cards are everywhere, and suddenly tarot is more than just a curiosity. Suddenly, tarot is actually kinda cool.
Just because tarot’s de rigeur right now, doesn’t mean that our flirtation with the cards can’t have serious substance. Tarot is a powerful tool for self-reflection and exploration, and an amazing way to work with art and archetypes in our every day lives. “Every day” is key: tarot might seem occult and mystical (and it definitely can be – if turbans are your jam, please don one now!), but it can also be infinitely practical and worldly wise.
Of course, you already know that. You’re probably shuffling your deck as we speak, In fact, I bet you'll recognise at least a few of the following traits of the tarot-obsessed!
1. You can’t leave the house in the morning without drawing a card
We’ve all been there – you wake up late, five minutes after you were meant to leave the house, throw your clothes on, juggle your keys and handbag and a piece of toast, you’re seconds from racing out the door when you realize, “Oh shit, I need to pull a card for the day!”
Ok, ok. It isn’t always so hectic. Sometimes we even manage to get up early, light some incense, and meditate for a few quiet minutes before doing our daily draw. But whether it’s at the altar or on your lap in traffic, you know the best way to start the day is by checking in with your tarot deck.
A daily tarot draw is a great way to ground and centre yourself in the morning, to take a conscious pause before the day kicks off, check in with yourself, and choose your focus or intention. It’s also an excellent way to get to know your tarot deck, one card at a time. You might draw a card on what energies are coming up during the day, or ask what approach it would serve you to take right now.
Can’t manage a draw every morning? Try once a week instead, or even once a month. Checking in with your cards on the reg the perfect way to build a close relationship with your deck.
2. You know your tarot birth card and either do an epic fist pump or burst into happy tears every time it appears in a reading
Your birth card uses your birthday to determine which card of the Major Arcana is your mascot or your archetype. A little like your sun sign in astrology, your birth card highlights some of your most integral traits and tendencies.
You know tarot’s in your blood when you’re facing a tough situation and visualizing the awesomeness of your birth card, because it reminds you to play to your innate strengths. You also know your birth card makes a great cheerleader. When it shows up in a reading you take it as a sign you’re in the right place at the right time, and you can trust yourself to make the best of it (hence the triumphant fist pump or the relieved tears!).
Don’t know your tarot birth card? It’s super easy to figure out! Just take your birthday – day, month, and year – and add the numbers together until they reduce down to 21 or less. For example, 25/7/1987 would be 2+5+7+1+9+8+7 = 39. 3+9 = 12, making your birth card arcanum number 12, The Hanged Man. Go forth and learn about your card and see what wisdom and encouragement it can offer you!
3. You use tarot as a metaphor for literally everything
When you’re living and breathing tarot from dawn ‘til dusk (and let’s face it, probably from dusk ‘til dawn, too, since witching work naturally lends itself to the cover of darkness!), it’s totally normal to see your cards everywhere, from that sweet Nine of Pentacles feeling you get when your pay rise comes through, to visions of Beyonce with her babes as the resplendent Empress on your instagram feed.
You’ve probably even confused a colleague when she announces her imminent breakup by nodding emphatically and saying, “I get it, a total Eight of Cups type sitch!” Jenny from Publicity might look bewildered, but you know that the Eight of Cups teaches us to choose growth over security, innovation over the status quo, which is a great sign for Jenny’s next adventure.
When you’re out in the world, keep your eyes peeled for real life manifestations of your cards, whether it’s your workmate’s breakup journey with the Eight of Cups, your meditation teacher channeling The Hierophant, or The Devil appearing in your urge to buy shoes after a bad day at work. Tarot might be a centuries-old art form, but its concepts and scenarios are as relevant as ever. Looking for chances to see your cards in the world is a great way to put tarot’s ideas into action!
4. You mark all occasions on the calendar with a tarot reading
You know your tarot deck is a valuable tool for reflection and self-exploration, and what better way to reap that benefit than a reading for the new year? While you’re at it, better check in each month on the new moon, with a follow up for the full moon. Is there a solstice coming up? Better line up a tarot reading for that, too!
You know you’re mad for the cards when nary a significant day goes by without a chance to check in with your cards. Birthdays, new months, moon cycles, Mondays… all great opportunities to draw some cards and reflect on where you’re at and where you’re going.
If you don’t already, explore reading your cards with the phases of the moon – what’s waxing in your life as the moon waxes, and how might you bring it to fruition? What’s waning, and needs to be released? With its journey from The Fool to the World and back again, tarot teaches us about the ever-turning cycles of our lives, so casting a spread for the turning of the lunar calendar is a great way to dig deeper into your deck.
5. You have a crick in your neck from sleeping with your new deck under your pillow
Is there anything better than racing home from your local new age store with that cellophane wrapped deck in your bag, or finding your latest Kickstarter-funded tarot parcel waiting on your doorstep? You know you’re truly tarot obsessed when you can’t wait to get to work on bonding with your new deck and getting it ready for use.
There are a ton of popular rituals for building your relationship with a new deck, and you’ve probably tried them all, from cleansing with smoke to charging under the moon to sleeping with your new deck beneath your pillow. Tarot readers have been known to charge and cleanse their decks with salt or flour, and some light to place a clear quartz crystal on their decks between readings to clear any leftover vibes.
Subliminally bonding with your deck while you’re snoozing is great, but if it’s too hard on your head you might also like to try something more practical. Get to know your new deck by looking through the cards, pausing on the images and symbols that grab your attention. Journaling with your deck is a great way to forge a relationship, or you could invite your new friend to speak for itself with a classic deck interview spread.
There are so many ways our cards can positively impact our spiritual lives and our day-to-day routines. No doubt you’ve tried at least a few if not all of the above! Of course, there’s no right or wrong way to make tarot part of your life. Do what feels resonant to you, and remember, if you love your cards, they’ll love you back!
If you've been here before, you probably know that when it comes to writing, I like to follow my whims. If it's been quiet on the blog front, which it has, it's because at the moment I'm mostly sharing my writing in my occasional email newsletter (that's where this piece originally appeared). If you'd like to keep up with my latest tarot musings and news, you can sign up here.
Lately, I've been thinking a lot about love. In a little over a month, it'll be a year since my last relationship ended, and throughout that time, I've thought a lot about what place love ought to have in my life. I also wonder what it means to love well, not just your lover, but your family, your friends, your community, your clients and colleagues, your work.
I recently devoured bell hooks' meditation on this subject, All About Love, and it left me with a lot to ponder. hooks borrows her definition of love from the psychiatrist M. Scott Peck (who in turn follows the work of psychoanalyst Erich Fromm), who describes love as "the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth." I haven't yet managed to fully understand and integrate that as a definition, but suffice it to say that lightbulbs are going off in the deep recesses of my mind! I hope this idea - one that seems simultaneously obvious and world-shaking - gives you pause, too.
hooks draws on Peck further, quoting that "love is an act of will - namely both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love." Again, this seems both obvious and revolutionary. What if we didn't think of love - in any of its forms - so much as a feeling that steals over us as a course of action we willed ourselves to undertake?
As it turns out, the trusty tarot already has this idea well and truly covered. Our friends in the Major Arcana, The Lovers, are all about helping to guide our choices. We're all familiar with the Rider Waite Smith Lovers, the union of a woman and a man presided over by an angel, but unless you're Marseille Tarot savvy, you may not have noticed that earlier iterations of this card depict a man, struck by cupid's arrow, choosing between two women (see Rachel Pollack's excellent book, Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, for a more extensive history of both these cards). The notion of choice, particularly in matters of love, has always been at the forefront of this card's meaning.
Here we have a marriage, ordained by spirit, freely entered into, of opposites, complements, chosen loves. Of course, when we look at the Rider Waite Smith's imagery, we must acknowledge that not everyone is straight, not everyone believes in marriage, not everyone sees their gender represented. As we get better at listening to each other and seeing each other's unique identities, we know that this isn't the best way to represent the choice to love and to commit. Nonetheless, the ideas here remain powerful. This is love in service of spiritual growth and inner unity, and when we draw this card, we're being invited to choose that path.
While this card is usually associated with romantic love, its lessons about choice have a much broader application. Just as The Lovers must choose the right partner if they are to reap the spiritual benefits of an angel-blessed union, so too must we choose what and whom we love, and choose again and again to love well so that our spirits - and the spirits of the people and places and projects we love - can grow and flourish.
What does this mean, practically speaking? I don't think bell hooks wants to make a prescription, and for my part, well, I'm still figuring that out. For now, though, let's chew on this idea that when we love well, we're striving to nourish each other's - and our own - spirits. And that it's through our will that we make this commitment. Every minute we get to choose to love, or not, and choose again.
What are your thoughts on The Lovers - or on love in general? Love it? Hate it? Been there, done that and bought the t-shirt? Leave a comment below or share your thoughts on Twitter. I'd love to hear your perspective!
The Wheel of Fortune popped up as today's Weather Report, so it's on my mind today. In many ways, this card is always on my mind - it's my year card for 2016, so it bubbles away in the back of my consciousness at all times (by the way, if you wish you can find out how to calculate your card for 2016 here).
The Wheel of Fortune from Dame Darcy's Mermaid Tarot, Second Edition.
I never used to like this card much. It used to feel like a dark card to me, risky, chancy, a portent of potential mess and chaos that no amount of planning or good intentions might avert. Sure, it governs good fortune as well as bad, but I've never been much of a gambler, and I feared any mechanism that might detract even as it was adding.
I wish I could point to the moment when my relationship with the Wheel changed. Actually, I don't think it was a moment so much as a slow unravelling. Perhaps a credit to my spiritual practice, as I confront and unpick my need to know, to influence, to control, to have certainty of any kind. Perhaps it's a result of exposure, as the more I work with the cards, the more their nuances reveal themselves, their darks and lights flushed with a whole spectrum of grey. Maybe I'm just getting more chill, or a little wilder, in my old age. Whatever the cause, I'm grateful to feel less anxious, less desperate need to dictate the outcome.
These days, when I see the Wheel come up in a reading or in life, I feel a rippling thrill deep in my insides. It's a little flash of temptation, of warning. A reminder that anything can - and probably will - happen. It's a risk, a dare. That used to scare the pants off me, but these days, I'm suddenly inclined to chase that chancy, spinning feeling.
Spinning is, after all, what the Wheel is all about. Cycles, seasons, twists and turns. Sweeps and cranks of fortune and luck. The Wheel tells us that things are motion, and we can't always know which way that momentum is going to take us. Perhaps we'll rise up, get a grand view of the landscape from the top, or perhaps we'll get a face full of dirt, squashed beneath the turning.
The Wheel is a rogue, a renegade, who gives zero fucks about pandering or pleasing. It challenges so many problematic paradigms in the current popular, Western, spiritual model. It is, frankly, a big middle finger to phrases like, "Do what you love and the money will follow", and to much of the law of attraction lite philosophy that gets thrown around in inspirational quotes on social media. You can do what you love, but you might never make a living out of it. You can try to raise your vibration, but it doesn't guarantee you'll get that job or find fairytale romance. This card is a challenge to entitlement, an honest and thus destabilising, anarchic force.
The Wheel reminds us of the fundamental truth that no matter how well and how intentionally you live your life, you will probably face loss, confusion, existential doubt, illness, abandonment, and death. You will probably also experience love, curiosity, deep satisfaction, revelation, belonging, and untold physical, intellectual, and spiritual pleasures, whether you deserve them or not. The Wheel cares not for promises, compromises, worthiness, prayers, or pleading. It treats all outcomes as neutral, and possible.
So, what do you do with that? What can you do, when circumstances and possibilities spin out of your sphere of influence? As I see it now, there are only two options when the Wheel appears. You can tap out, resist, petition your chosen deities, stay in bed and wait for it - whatever it is - to be over. Or, you can climb aboard the spinning carnival ride and try to laugh it up if you happen you puke your guts out (your chosen deities will probably be laughing along with you). Who knows, you might manage to keep your lunch down and have a good time. And even if you spew, it won't be too long before it makes good story. When it's over, all we can do is remind ourselves of this basic truth, and try to find the fortitude to get back on the ride.
The Wheel says, climb aboard, take a risk, surrender control, accept the outcome. Or don't. Your call!
How do you relate to the Wheel of Fortune? I'm a little obsessed with this card, so I'd love to hear your thoughts. Leave me a comment or come over and chat on Twitter!
A couple of weeks ago, I was walking home from my job at the bookshop, thinking about, as you do, executing creative ideas. It's that time of year when that time of evening is decidedly twilight-y; summer's over but winter hasn't quite arrived, so my evening stroll puts me in a dusky dream-state. Perfect for thinking about the execution of creative ideas, no?
Perhaps it's the season, but lately I've been in full download mode with the muse. New ideas for blog posts, ebooks, videos, paintings, tarot offerings, conversations I just absolutely must have with certain people in my life. I feel blessed to say that ideas have been pouring thick and fast across my mental windshield. The difficulty is, though, that unless one gives them the space to take shape, they remain just that. Ideas. Hypotheticals.
On that gorgeous, dusky walk, I started musing - with not a small amount of panic and frustration - about what I should do to help these gifts from the muse crystallise into something real. It's my knee-jerk reaction to say, "The reason these ideas aren't being executed is because I don't have time." Luckily, many years of self-exploration have afforded me enough awareness to know when my inner monologue's feedback stinks of bullshit. Sure, I'm busy. I have a job and a business, and two cats with complex and nuanced emotional needs. But since when was creative work only done by the idle?
So, I did what I usually do when I need to get out of my own way and start thinking differently. I mentally shuffled my tarot deck, and invited a card to pop into my awareness and give me some juice and perspective (an aside - does anyone else do this? Who needs a physical tarot deck when you have one in your brain at all times?!). I was surprised to find myself in that moment visited by the muse herself, The High Priestess.
From the Tarot of the Cat People.
She was like, "Psst! I know a little secret." And I was like, "Well, obviously. You're The High Priestess. Secrets are your purview." And she was like, "Bitch, don't sass me! You're going to want this one."
I know when this witch comes calling, it's time to make a little inner space. The High Priestess's wisdom truly does live between the cracks, and unless you're willing to peer into those cracks, you're not going to see anything. So, I walked in the door, dragged out my journal, and got to scribbling.
The High Priestess - keeper of secrets, guardian of wisdom, queen of the unconscious, the intuition. What was it that the High Priestess could show me in this situation? She is certainly a reminder to listen - or more likely, to make more quiet space in order to better hear. Perhaps I should be meditating more, or scheduling time to stare into space and think of nothing? The trouble is, what I'm looking for is not new ideas, but support for making existing ideas come to fruition. The idea of "just meditating more" didn't quite feel right.
From the Sakki Sakki Tarot.
I kept pondering and scribbling, and wondering what the passive receptivity of The High Priestess might be trying to show me about getting things done. She guards the portal from which creative ideas come, but she's not all that concerned with getting her hands dirty and making those creative ideas manifest in the real world. It's all well and good to have a visit from the muse, but the muse isn't the one who's going to do the work.
When feeling a little stumped about a card, I often turn to the structure of the deck for support. Each card has its own inherent meaning, of course, but tarot being the way that it is, every card has a place in a sequence - whether that's its place among cards that share the same number, its place in a numerical sequence, its home among the court cards, or its stage of the fool's journey of the Major Arcana. Even if they're not present in a reading, I find the surrounding cards in the sequence can often tell us everything we need to know about a card that's puzzling us.
So, I cast my mind back to the master of manifestation, The Magician, who appears just one step prior to The High Priestess. Although it didn't appear in the imagined reading I did for myself, this card can offer some ideas for how best to prepare for working with The High Priestess. Prepare is the word I would use - The Magician is all about being ready, assembling the tools you need and summoning up your power before you embark on a journey. Interesting, then, that in the sequence of the Majors, we're asked to call up our power, lay out our materials and then... sit quietly with The High Priestess. One might want to go rushing into the "doing" part of the work, but it seems another ingredient is required first.
I pulled out my current favourite deck for personal and creative work, The Sakki Sakki Tarot, to illustrate this sequence, and I wasn't disappointed! The Sakki Sakki Magician has all the equipment necessary for a creative project there at hand. This Magician is seated at the desk, ready to get to work. Rather than being depicted with wand in hand though, before they begin their magical working, they gaze up to the heavens and says, "Ok muse, I'm showing up! What inspiration or guidance can you share with me today?" That facial expression is so whimsical, so open to inspiration. The Magician might be a master of manifestation, but they remind us not to start work until we've checked in with our intuition.
So, I realised I had to step back for a moment. What was I hoping to do? What materials would I need? How could I ready myself for doing this work? Only then would the transmissions I received in the realm of The High Priestess be of use. Although I was flooded with ideas, I wasn't making the necessary preparations to do the work, and nor was I showing up, materials in hand, to let inspiration guide that first step. Sitting meditation wasn't what I needed, but sitting down with pen and paper in hand? Not to be underestimated!
So, what's the takeaway?
Reflecting on The High Priestess (with a little help from The Magician) left me with a checklist, some questions to approach before I start panicking about my failure to execute my ideas. Perhaps this little checklist might be of help to you, too.
The High Priestess reminds us that if we feel stuck, we should cast our minds back to The Magician consider our preparation. Do we have our tools at hand?
The High Priestess doesn't make house calls. It's not enough to be strolling around, waiting for good ideas to strike. We have to make the effort to go into our workspace to meet her. How are we showing up for the muse - in our physical space and in our mindset?
Finally, The High Priestess challenges us to go beyond our conscious minds. In creativity, that often means releasing fear and judgement, so that the weirdness of our subconscious can bubble up. How can we get out of our own way?
For me, this means making the time to take up my materials - be that my laptop or journal, for a writing project, or my paints for an art project. This means, setting aside sacred time and space to allow my creative self to be drawn out, uninterrupted. This means, quieting the mind, and letting the wisdom of the priestess be heard. With the right preparations (thanks, Magician!), I'll be more than ready to capture those stray inspirations as they float on by!
What can you learn from The High Priestess in your creative life? How do you use tarot to support your creative practice? I'd love to know! Drop me a line below or on Twitter.
Lately, I'm seeing archetypes everywhere. Tarot has been such a big part of my life for years now, but in recent months I've felt our connection deepening and deepening. More than ever before, cards are making themselves felt in my everyday life, sometimes whispering a subtle notion in my ear, sometimes whacking me over the head with an epic solution. Maybe it's the Pisces season, making everything all soupy and psychic, mixing connections and brewing relationships?
Speaking of brewing (stay with me here), I've recently come back to reading poetry as a devotional exercise, something which I haven't done in months. Poetry can be such a gorgeous distillation of divinity, a perfect way to invoke, or awaken, or transmit an idea, a feeling, a vibration. When it feels right, just reading a poem - whether aloud or silently - is all I need to open up a sacred moment.
When I revisited my poetry shelf, the collection I dragged out was A Book of Luminous Things, an anthology edited by Czeslaw Milosz. After opening it at random, I found myself in the garden of The Empress, with Allen Ginsberg. This impulse to marry up a tarot archetype with a beloved poem has seemingly come out of nowhere, but I must be tapping into that ol' collective unconscious, because Siobhan, of Siobhan's Mirror, has also recently written about exploring tarot and poetry side by side. Siobhan, in turn, linked to a wonderful strategy for creating poetry-inspired tarot spreads over at Alexis J. Cunning Folk's blog. There's obviously something in the water right now!
I can't say I'm particularly familiar with Ginsberg's oeuvre, but this poem, I love. It's just heaven! When I came upon it again, that heavenly feeling conjured to mind the third trump of the Major Arcana, the mother goddess, The Empress.
A Strange New Cottage in Berkeley
All afternoon cutting bramble blackberries off a tottering
under a low branch with its rotten old apricots miscellaneous
under the leaves,
fixing the drip in the intricate gut machinery of a new toilet;
found a good coffee pot in the vines by the porch, rolled a
big tire out of the scarlet bushes, hid my marijuana;
wet the flowers, playing the sunlit water each to each,
returning for godly extra drops for the stringbeans and daisies;
three times walked round the grass and sighed absently:
my reward, when the garden fed me its plums from the
form of a small tree in the corner,
an angel thoughtful of my stomach, and my dry and love-
(from Collected Poems 1947-1980, Penguin UK, via The Book of Luminous Things, Harcourt, 1996).
Something about this poem just seizes me! I don't know what. The simplicity? The gentle tension between sorrow and salve? The boon of finding a useable coffee pot in the bushes of a new home? When I first came across it I read it many times over, and again and again The Empress made her presence known in my mind.
Wet daises and bramble blackberries are the natural territory of The Empress. She speaks to us of the bounty of nature, the fecundity of a garden left to overrun. She also reminds us that natural things must run their natural course - those apricots won't stay ripe if left on the branch.
She also gives insight into any structure - physical or otherwise, natural or man-made - that we inhabit, or call a home. Moving into a strange new place demands the ritual of enrooting. Tidying, clearing, repairing, making our mark. The Empress allows us to make our nests upon her, and in doing so, we make a sanctuary for sore hearts and love-lorn tongues.
Not only a space for us to nest in or a bounty for us to nourish ourselves, The Empress is also a persona we can adopt when needed. The act of watering the garden, clearing the rubbish, harvesting the fruit may allow us to reap the ultimate benefits of The Empress, but it also allows us to embody her, too. We are both the nurtured and the nurturing. Offering water and attention, receiving plums and vessels for a strong morning brew.
This small verse captures so perfectly how we can experience The Empress in our lives. As a garden, rich and overgrown. As a home we make for ourselves. As the labour of maintaining and nurturing the world around us. As a place that offerings us succour - for our bodies and our spirits - when we need it most. As the hidden blessing of a good coffee pot, discovered in the vines by the front porch.
Where do you find The Empress archetype in everyday life? And, hey, in Ginsberg fans in the house? What should I read next?
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.
Oh, and if you enjoyed this ramble around The Emperor, you may wish to subscribe to my blog by email! Sign up for future rambles here.
Such a polarising card, The Hierophant. In fact, polarising could be the wrong word, since its opponents seem myriad and defenders very few! Almost universally disliked might be more appropriate. Stuffy, conservative, oppressively masculine, disciplinarian, tyrannical, overly traditional, restrictive, limiting... These are only a few of the charges often levelled at this card, and when we look at The Hierophant in its historical context, it's hard to disagree.
The Hierophant in modern tarot grew from The Pope of the Marseille Tarot. It was Waite who threw off the overtly church-y title and made it the figure most of us know today, although even with a new name, the Rider Waite system still associates him with "the 'outer way' of church and dogma" (Pollack, 53). Unsurprisingly, this card's association with religious doctrine and Renaissance political power-playing doesn't do much to endear it to the modern reader!
Apart from the creepy priest/oppressive father figure sort of vibe, The Hierophant signifies education (mean maths teacher?), conformity and orthodoxy (boring!), doctrine (stupid rules!), traditions (but wait, I'm an original thinker!), and patriarchy (don't even get me started). What's not to like, right?!
So, I get it. It can be an ugly pill to swallow, and one that feels like it's going to force itself down your throat whether you want it or not! It's tough to fly in the face of all that tradition (and indeed, would The Hierophant want us to?), but I think there's a possibility here to see the same old stuff from a new perspective. Beneath the papal undergarments, there are opportunities for us to connect with the divine, with our ancestors, and with a long tradition of wisdom that shouldn't be ignored. I'm calling for a Hierophant do-over!
The Direct Line
In the Catholic tradition, The Pope is God's representative here on earth, and in the modern tarot, The Hierophant isn't much different. He's the guy with all the answers, and the one who makes the rules. He's the direct line to the Big Cheese, a conduit for divine grace and wisdom down here on the earthly plane.
Most of us modern seekers, however, know that the Divine doesn't always call the boss's number. We don't need to go through an old guy in a tall hat to connect with god or spirit or the universe or whatever you want to call it. So in that sense, I can see that The Hierophant's privileged position as God's rep is a bit presumptuous and annoying. But! If you'll let me stretch that metaphor, sometimes we just can't summon up the right change for the holy pay phone.
What about those times when we feel cut off from the universe? To whom can we turn when that spirit part of ourselves feels remote, unreachable? Alone? The Magician might tell us to start a new creative project. The High Priestess to go into meditation. The Empress to bring it in for a hug. The Emperor to get back to work. But The Hierophant? He picks up the phone on our behalf and puts us back in touch. Having the numinous on speed dial is his superpower.
They're Called Traditions For a Reason
In practical terms, how does that work? There are a number of forms that lifeline to the cosmos might take, but ultimately, what The Hierophant offers is tradition. When you don't know how to call your power by its name, when you can't see past the separateness into the big everything, traditions and rituals are there for you. These practices, whatever they be in your school of thought, generally become traditions for a reason. I.e., because they work.
There's no denying that some circumstances demand original, innovative thinking, and for that reason, we can all be glad that the deck contains such out-of-the-box thinkers as The Fool or the Page of Wands. Sometimes, though, conforming to a set of tried and tested prescriptions is just what the doctor ordered.
Indeed, look at the tarot itself. Although it has undergone countless mutations in the last five hundred years, and countless more of those in the last thirty, the structure, the logic, the tarot-ness of the tarot prevails. We know the difference between an oracle deck, a deck of playing cards, and a tarot deck. Whatever the artwork or philosophy, something of the tarot's internal integrity - that Hierophant quality - remains unchanged. It is within the bounds of that rich tradition that we all get to play!
Your Personal Hierophant
Like all things tarot, the deepest connections come when traditional ideas are placed in personally meaningful contexts. Forget about oppressive old men in tall hats. I've focused on The Hierophant in some of the deck reviews I've done, and you'll see it takes many forms - nature gods, Turkish goddesses, and even sassy felines - which draw out the nuance of this card and its relationship to our spiritual lives. But, even in its most traditional, mitre-wearing incarnation, there are valuable and supportive energies available in The Hierophant. So, where is that energy in your life?
Look to your teachers, mentors, gurus, sacred texts, predecessors, ancestors, priestesses. Call your grandma, if you can. Ask, "What does this mean?" "What do I do now?" "I've made a huge mistake and I don't know how to fix it!" and let those tried and tested pathways be your guide. Much like calling your grandma, there's no guarantee you won't get a little tough love for your sins, but you'll get some good advice, too. That's the function of The Hierophant.
So, how do you feel about this tricky fellow? Love it? Hate it? Don't mind it in the right circumstances? Share your thoughts in the comments!