78 Notes to Self: A Tarot Journal

We are all wanderers on this earth. Our hearts are full of wonder, and our souls are deep with dreams.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Yes We Can
Usually I keep at least a corner of my eye on presidential political races but not this time. I had become so cynical, so tired of the same old, same old, that when Senator Clinton lost the primary, I had no further reason to care. Just a couple days before this election, I started paying attention. The night before Election Day my boyfriend, who, though he does not read tarot, is quite intuitive in his own right, said Senator Obama was going to win. Of course, given the polls, that wasn't such a grand psychic revelation. Still, I had my cynical doubts and thought it was just wishful thinking. I'm not impressed with either party anyway, but between the two evils, I'd have to say I'm definitely more Democratically inclined than Republican.

Election night we drove my daughter back home after she'd spent a few days here and I wasn't following the votes at all. As we drove into Virginia I made the statement that although Obama might win, he won't take Virginia as it has always historically gone Republican in presidential elections. When we got back home and I called my daughter's father to let him know she got home safe and sound, I casually asked, "So what are you doing?" He said, "Watching Obama win Virginia."

"WHAT?" I said, shocked.

"Yeah," he said, "he's taking Virginia." Any Democrat that can take Virginia is worth my attention.

I'm still cynical, but I am quite frankly amazed at the election of a president of the United States that is not white. I am relieved and have felt something for this country that I haven't felt in a very long time: Hope. I harbor no illusions that this or any president can significantly better things. Still, this election speaks volumes in many different ways. It's not only about electing a Black president, which is historic and encouraging, but also displays the extreme dissatisfaction so many of us have had with the current administration. Hope for the state of affairs in this country and in this world is something I haven't felt in a long time. While it still irks me that we have yet to elect a female president, and this election lends a whole lot of credence to something feminists have said for a long time -- that men, all men no matter their race, are more privileged in our society than women -- I acknowlege that this is a profound change in the right direction anyhow.

My hope is not tied to this president-elect, nor to our government, but to the people that voted for progress and change. And since I came very late to this election process this year, I missed the speech Senator Obama gave in New Hampshire. I listened to it the day after he was elected and was inspired most by this:
"We have been told we cannot do this by a chorus of cynics who will only grow louder and more dissonant in the weeks to come. We've been asked to pause for a reality check. We've been warned against offering the people of this nation false hope.
But in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope."

How true is THAT? Now, I don't know who wrote his speech, but that hit me right where it matters. It reminded me of something attributed to the Apostle Paul in the book of Romans in the Bible: "For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience." (Romans 8:24-25) Hope differs from faith as this quote from the book of Hebrews explains,"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." (Hebrews 11:1) One can hope without faith, without being sure what they hope for will come to pass, but honestly, what good is that? And if you know anything about the Law of Attraction and manifesting your own life, hoping without the faith that your hopes will come true is practically useless. But I think we do that sort of thing all the time. We possess this random, floating, aimless hope that things will get better...someday.

In respect to tarot, I think tarot readings, whether you do them yourself or have someone read for you, place your hopes in context and can empower you to focus that hope and have faith in that hope as well. We often look to tarot readings for advice and insight into a situation. When a good tarot reading confirms that which you already know in your own gut, it allows you to focus your energies towards the outcome you desire. If the reading shows the current of events flowing in a direction you really do not want, you can shift your hope and focus your faith in a different direction. Tarot can be a really helpful tool in shaping your own destiny by clarifying your hope and reshaping it from a formless, airy wish to something with active energy and power to actually change your life. Because once we have that focused hope we then tend to make choices and act accordingly. We literally then step into our hope because we now have faith in it.

See, it's not that a tarot reading is telling you what will happen. It's more like a weather prediction that, based on the past and present conditions, it more than likely will rain tomorrow. Certainly we have all experienced weather predictions that have not come true, but given the prediction, we can at least prepare ourselves by taking an umbrella. We cannot control the weather and we cannot control all the various acts and decisions and so forth that come into creating the circumstances of our lives. But we can hope. I may disagree with President-Elect Obama on many things but I fully agree with him that there is never anything false about hope, particularly when it is accompanied with faith and action.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Squirrely Intuitive Readings
I just don't understand where some people come up with certain meanings for tarot cards. As far as I'm concerned they just pull them out of their underwear and parade them around like it should be perfectly evident from looking at the card that it means just that. So many times I just scratch my head and think: WTF? Let's say the Three of Wands shows up in a predictive position and the reader goes, "Well, she's going to go out and buy herself a new pair of earrings." Um. Mkay. Whatever. So then I start, painfully, trying to fit that interpretation to the card. I think, well, it is Wands and it could mean she goes out to actually do something. But it's a three, not a two, so I don't know where the pair of earrings comes into play. And it's not pentacles, so what's with the tangible purchase? And earrings? Ok, so maybe the card being used has a figure wearing earrings, what do I know? There are so many decks out there, maybe the reader honed in on the earrings in the image. So I try, hard as I might, to fit that to the Three of Wands. Finally I throw up my hands and give up. I can't do it. It feels wrong anyhow.

So then I hear, oh, it was an INTUITIVE reading. There. Now everything's all better.

Hell not!

Most people who know me would say I'm very much an inclusive, live and let live, no rules tarot reader. I'm open to practically everything where tarot is concerned because I believe the practice of reading tarot is a fluid, ever-evolving thing, but even I have my lines, my boundaries. I am a very intuitive reader. Any good tarot reader certainly utilizes their sense of intuition to a great degree but...and how can I say this without being misunderstood or without alienating my fellow intuitive readers...I believe the interpretation of the card must be somehow hedged in, based on a foundation of traditional, historical, symbolic meaning of the card in question.

I think fully intuitive tarot readings are great for firing up the intuitive neurons. It helps a reader look at all the various elements in a card image and begin really tapping into that place a bit to the side and beyond the card where actual reading of the cards happens. But I tend to look at it as an exercise, not an actual tarot reading. A fully intuitive reading doesn't need tarot cards. You could do it with a picture book, a magazine, toothpicks, stones, pig entrails, you name it. It's a reading, yes, but it's not a tarot reading even if you use tarot cards to do it.

I'm a big fan of those flashes one gets while reading, but if the flash of intuitive insight bears no relation to the cards in question I would certainly deliver said flash to the querant but I would preface it with, "I don't see this in the cards, but I feel I need to tell you..."

Maybe its my respect for the history of symbolism, of tarot, of having a tradition based on something rather than making it up as we go along that fuels my stance, but I feel very strongly that without these historic meanings, tarot is no more than a deck of pretty, or not so pretty, pictures. Why use them if you're not going to use their meanings? I mean, it's not like the pool of historic meanings is not deep or wide enough to swim in. There are some pretty off the wall traditional meanings, too. And I don't even really care where you derive those meanings be it the Marseille tradition, Waite, Golden Dawn, Crowley, or the freaking little white book. Ok, forget the little white book, that's going too far. But you get my point.

Intuitive readings are very suitable for oracle decks. I particularly like Froud's Fairies, personally. Those fey folk chatter and dance and give all kinds of messages you might not hear in a tarot reading. I love playing with those cards and they allow full rampant, random reign of my intuitive senses. Tarot, on the other hand, well...God forgive me...there are Rules.

Ack! Did I say that? *sigh* Yes I did.

I don't know if they are rules, per se, but they are a kind of framework, a tradition, a tried and true kind of consistency of semi-agreed-upon understandings. In looking into the number symbolisms, for example, I was amazed to find that, cross-culturally, numbers mean very much the same thing to people in different civilizations in different time periods. Same goes for colors and other symbols. When applied to tarot, these symbols actually mean something, have meant something for a very long time, and I see no sense in tossing all that out in favor of something you pulled out of your underwear just now. Your underwear may very well be psychic and that woman may very well go out and purchase a new pair of earrings, but you didn't get that from the tarot card in question. No, you didn't.

It annoys me, too, because there is such a wide and vast array of tarot meanings to pick and choose from, why pull something else out? That Three of Wands is not going to mean the same thing in every reading anyway, so why spin something else off it? Also, I might see something different about that card than another reader, all within the traditional framework, depending on the question, the spread, the position, and whatnot. It's vast, I tell you, utterly vast. I see no reason to muddy them up with random intuitive things that have no relation to the card. These random intuitive things may be very relevant to the situation, absolutely, so don't get me wrong here and think I'm against such things. Just don't say these things are in the cards, they're not. Unless your deck has a Happy Squirrel card, that is. A few decks actually do include this card and its from an episode of The Simpsons:

Episode 2F15
"Lisa's Wedding"
Written by Greg Daniels
Directed by Jim Reardon


Woman: I've been waiting for you, Lisa.
Lisa: [gasps] How did you know my name?
Woman: Your nametag. ["Hi, I'm Lady Lisa"] Would you like to know your future?
Lisa: Heh, sorry, I don't believe in fortune telling. I should go.
Woman: What's your hurry? Bart and Maggie and Marge are at the joust, and Homer is heckling the puppet show.
Lisa: [gasps] Wow, you can see into the...present.
Woman: Now we'll see what the future holds. [turns over a card from what looks like a Tarot deck]
Lisa: [gulps] The "Death" card?
Woman: No, that's good: it means transition, change.
Lisa: [relieved] Oh.
[the woman turns over another card]
Lisa: Oh, that's cute.
Woman: [gasps] "The Happy Squirrel"!
Lisa: [timid] That's bad?
Woman: Possibly. The cards are vague and mysterious.
[Image from The Happy Squirrel card from Victoria Regina Tarot copyright © 2000 Sarah Ovenall]

An ironic parody of the melodrama often shown in film regarding the Death card in tarot readings, the Happy Squirrel pokes fun at our own practice and keeps us from taking any of this too seriously. I love that some deck creators have included it in their decks. While I'm ranting about some readers not reading the cards themselves, please know that it's not all that serious. None of this is. It's tarot reading, for heaven's sake. Still, I can't help but be bugged when I hear some interpretation that is so obviously random. Do that, if you must, with the Happy Squirrel, but please refrain from that with my beloved tarot cards.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Ooooh It's So Shiny!
This is simply the coolest microphone ev-AH! It makes such a huge difference in the sound quality of my podcast recordings for Leisa ReFalo's Tarot Connection and there's nothing like a new toy to inspire, so we're about to release my 78 Notes segments for the Tarot Connection on their own, separate from the show, so they can be downloaded and even purchased on their own. I will likely be re-recording old segments as well as the series on The Tarot Court. I was talking with Leisa on the phone last week, which is always so enjoyable as we seem to spark ideas off one another like fireworks, and got jazzed about some possible ventures into recording tarot lessons/exercises/experiments in a format that one could purchase and use. Not sure about video. The webcam that came with my laptop is pretty crappy and video editing is tedious, but at least the sound would be GREAT thanks to this jammin' Snowball mic!

And speaking of sweeeet new things, there is a brand spanking new Tarot organization called Tarot Professionals. Founded by Marcus Katz, former chairman of the Tarot Association of the British Isles (TABI), this organization promises to meet the pressing need for the networking and professional growth of tarot enthusiasts around the world. According to the first issue of the organization's professional newsletter, Oracles and Auguries, to which I got an advance looksee as an ACE member, quite a few recognized names in the tarot community have joined Tarot Professionals as Honorary Members: Rachel Pollack, Mary K. Greer, James Wells, Art Rosengarten, and Naomi Ozaniec. The article continues,
"ACE Members also include some of the most innovative designers and experts in their fields; Emily Carding (Transparent Tarot), Cilla Conway (Intuitive Tarot), Maja (Maroon Tarot), Ginny Hunt (78 Notes to Self Blog) and Lyn Birkbeck (Watkins Guide to Astrology, the Astrological Oracle, Understanding the Future). Join us in what the tarot world has been waiting for!

Tarot Professionals has a number of membership categories, whether you are a new student, tarot reader, professional, or an artist, academic, or therapist with an interest in tarot. We are actively promoting inter-disciplinary study of tarot and work/play across boundaries. Join us now to contribute your talent and take tarot to new levels!"
I'm very excited about the possibilities of this new organization and how much more interconnected the tarot community will be as a result of this endeavor.

Granted, I haven't had a lot of time to devote to tarot in the last year, but these two things have really reignited my enthusiasm. It's not so much that I lost enthusiasm for tarot...well ok, I did a little, but in all honesty my life had undergone such a radical change that I couldn't keep my balance. I took that Fool's nosedive off the cliff and I'm finally regaining some firmer footing. So I'm taking some of those sparks Leisa and I shot off as Aces of Wands and we'll see what can be done with them.








Sunday, July 27, 2008

I Vant To Be Alone

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. "-- Henry David Thoreau

Maybe its a perspective unique to western society that when we see the Hermit in tarot, we become a bit puzzled or worried. Our immediate association is to think he must be lonely, hurt or even pissed off at the world, a misanthrope. We imagine he probably got stressed out and fed up and, like Garbo, exited the social scene with a dramatic, "I just vant to be left alone!" Certainly no one would willingly, consciously choose a life of solitude. He must be an exile, banished, or one of those poor lonely souls like Eleanor Rigby.

Poor guy, alone on that mountaintop holding that lantern out as if he's looking for someone to come find him. Pity.

No doubt that we are social animals and we are not meant to live our lives in an entirely solitary fashion. However, there is a big difference between loneliness and solitude. Loneliness implies a negative state of being where something is being taken from you. Solitude, on the other hand, is wholly positive, an active state that one chooses in order to quiet the external stimuli and focus on the richness of one's inner being.

The sole cause of man's unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room
Pascal, Blaise, Pensées, 136 (1660)

Being alone is suspect. People tend to worry about you when you spend what they consider to be too much time alone. Something must be wrong with you if you're not in the company of others more than being alone. Personally, I enjoy being alone. I sometimes go to the movies alone, eat in restaurants alone, wander museums and spend a lot of time in my room alone. I tend to prefer it to what I experience as stressful chatter among people. Anne Morrow Lindbergh observed, "What a commentary on civilization, when being alone is being suspect; when one has to apologize for it, make excuses, hide the fact that one practices it - like a secret vice." My solitude is even portable. I have developed this enveloping "bubble" that I wear when out in public so that even when someone speaks to me they often have to say, "Helllooo, I'm talking to you," to snap me out of it. So if you see me in the grocery store and I act like I'm ignoring you, I'm not. Well, I am, but not on purpose. Feel free to come right up to me and wave your hand across my face as it's probably the only way I will notice your presence.

So when I see the Hermit, I am not so inclined to feel sorry for him. I am more curious about what he's thinking about, to find out where his mind, left to itself, has taken him. I am less concerned about what drove him to that mountaintop than what he has discovered since being there. He has something important to tell me, even if its only to say I need to get some space to myself. That's good advice in itself.

The early Marseilles decks show the Hermit in similar fashion to the later Smith rendering: old man in a monk's robe, lantern, walking stick. The main difference is not in the image but in the titles. Earlier cards were labeled, "The Hunchback," "The Old Man," or "Time." Apparently his first appearances represented the iconic Father Time with an hourglass instead of a lantern. However, the associations with the exile, the hermit, can be drawn from the title "The Hunchback" as people with such infirmities were often ostracized. Old age is also associated with wisdom and understanding and the monk's garb is associated with the acetic, the Christian desert monks who retreated into the desert to avoid Roman persecution in the early days of the common era.

The Hermit could represent someone like Peter the Hermit
a monk living in the 11th century that is credited with the beginning of the First Crusade. He's a symbol of hope for the poor and downtrodden as it is said he rallied an army of paupers in order to secure pilgramage routes and holy sites in Jerusalem.

Guibert of Nogent
's account of Peter is the earliest and is likely the more accurate than the much later inflated accounts which prevailed from the time of William of Tyre until the mid-19th century:
Therefore, while the princes, who felt the need of many expenses and great services from their attendants, made their preparations slowly and carefully; the common people who had little property, but were very numerous, joined a certain Peter the Hermit, and obeyed him as a master while these affairs were going on among us.
He was, if I am not mistaken, from the city of Amiens, and have we learned that he had lived as a hermit, dressed as a monk somewhere in Upper Gaul. After he had departed from there - I do not know with what intention - we saw him going through the cities and towns under a pretense of preaching. He was surrounded by so great throngs of people, he received such enormous gifts, his holiness was lauded so highly, that no one within my memory has been held in such honor.
He was very liberal in the distribution to the poor of what he had received. He restored prostitutes to their husbands with gifts. By his wonderful authority he restored everywhere peace and concord, in place of discord. For in whatever he did or said it seemed as if there was something divine, especially when the hairs were snatched from his mule for relics. We do not report this as true but for the common people who love novelties. He wore a wool shirt, and over it a mantle reaching to his ankles; his arms and feet were bare. He lived on wine and fish; he hardly ever, never, ate bread.
Source: Dana C. Munro, "Urban and the Crusaders", Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European History, Vol 1:2, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1895), 20
Though his fame may seem contrary to his status as a hermit, it really is not. It is within solitary walls that such inspiration and conviction is born. Whether one agrees with Peter's politics is not the point. Clearly he was not some social misfit but instead preferred his solitude for personal, spiritual reasons. The word hermit is from the Greek word for "desert" or "uninhabited." The term means "desert-dweller." The Christians didn't invent the concept of running off to the desert to escape civilization, but it was a good place to go when the early Christians were being persecuted. It had its basis, however, in the Old Testament story of Moses wandering the desert for forty years for spiritual enlightenment. In any case, early tarocchi players would have likely associated the Hermit in the deck to one like Peter, a veritable hero of the Catholic Church. They would not have made the negative associations with "loneliness" as we might today. He would have been seen more as visionary, wise mentor, and spiritual leader.

As with all of tarot, by questioning one's responses to the cards, they can serve as that wonderful soul mirror that can tell you so much about yourself. If you recoil from the Hermit or think him sad and lonely, it may serve as a sign that you need to examine why you feel that way about being alone. Does being alone equate to loneliness or solitude for you? Certainly the upside down meaning of the card would include the more negative, misanthropic and lonely aspect to one being alone or withdrawing from society, but upright the card holds no such meaning. More often he comes to represent that wiser part of oneself only accessed through solitude. He comes up when someone needs time to themselves to really consider what is true and valuable to them and when being embroiled in human drama is absolutely not the course you want to take.

He's a reminder, too, that there's nothing wrong with liking being alone. No, you're not weird. Ok, maybe wearing a loincloth and eating only honey and berries might be a little odd, but hey, whatever floats your boat. When you're alone, you can do as you please.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Gypsy Skin
One of my recent reading victims -- Muahahahaha!-- wanted to know how I got into tarot and learned all this vast reservoir of tarot knowledge. I will tell you all a secret: I am a tarot newbie. I've only been reading the cards for about four years.

About 20 years ago I had my first tarot reading. A friend of mine read my cards at her dining room table. The pictures on the cards made no sense to me, so I just walked about the room making sure my four year-old son didn't do anything he shouldn't do, listening to what she said. At the time I had just recently left my first husband, was semi-seeing an old boyfriend for comfort's sake, but was really more concerned with gaining legal custody of my child and staying alive. My ex was psycho and I didn't know what he was liable to do. So when she told me that he was going to remain in my life for a long, long time to come, I was, needless to say, really disappointed. She also told me that a new guy was coming into the picture, not this old flame I was sorta seeing, someone else that I would be seriously involved with. Well, at least she didn't say I'd be getting back together with my abuser ex. I wasn't thrilled with the reading until later, years later in fact, I remembered what she had said and realized it had all happened. My first husband did indeed remain in my life for years as he insisted on visitation with our son even though he did not pay child support, and he continued to be a threat and a thorn in my side until our son turned 18 years-old. I didn't continue seeing that old boyfriend either. It was just an itch that had to be scratched. And that October I met the man I would marry a year and a half later. Hmmmm.

Meanwhile, I had become Born Again, was a pretty darn serious fundamentalist Christian and tarot cards were doorways to demonic activity. I still couldn't shake that feeling - the cards were right. Luckily, I wasn't the kind of Christian to check my brain at the church door, so I eventually read my way out of Christianity. Reading the Bible is probably the best way to do that, but that's a whole other discussion. As I came to more fully understand and grasp grace and freedom, I found my interest in tarot pique once again. I started by reading about tarot online, then in books, and in tarot forums. I got another friend to do a reading for me and once again, right on the money. That was it, I had to get my own deck. So off to Border's I went to purchase a beginner tarot book and deck of cards. I tend to avoid woo-woo. That's super-spiritualistic speak. I've learned my lessons in all that the hard way and nothing but down to earth, real, and sometimes getting dirty and gritty, just like real life, appeals to me. So I had to wade through some books to find one with a minimum of woo woo. I settled on Introduction to Tarot by Susan Levitt. Interestingly, she used both the Rider Waite Smith deck and the Thoth to illustrate the cards. I was torn between these two decks as I really adore the art nouveau of the Thoth and the early 1900's storybook art of the RWS. I finally settled on the Universal Waite deck and planned to maybe purchase the Thoth at a later date.

The book helped to do exactly what it said: introduce me to tarot reading. I went looking for more, more, MORE! I found so, so much online and yet the best place by far that I found was Aeclectic Tarot Forums.

Wow. This place was jam-packed full of all manner of tarot readers from your skeptic to your newbie to the very seasoned professional. Deck artists, writers, dabblers, teachers, students all. I learned so very, very much there. Interacting with others, posting stupid questions, getting wise and not so wise answers, exchanging readings, chatting live, reading live over IRC all helped me grow in tarot at, I believe, an accelerated pace. However, one person truly helped me come into not just knowing what the cards meant but actually reading the cards as well as the space between the cards. On the forum she is known as GoddessArtemis. I won't unveil her identity here as I do not have her permission to do so. She was so open and friendly with me and we became very good friends, though we have never met in person. We read the cards incessantly together, for each other, for ourselves, bounced interpretations off each other, researched meanings, connections to astrology and symbolism, and got entirely obsessed with readings, the cards, decks, etc. She encouraged and supported my decision to start reading professionally and has been such an incredible mentor and friend, apart from tarot.

It was GA that said, "Stop over-thinking the cards! Say what you first think and see!" If ever there exists the best EVER advice about reading tarot, that's it. In all our studies and classes and practice, we so often second guess, and third and fourth and so on only to come back around to that first rush of intuition. Or we ignore it and find out later we were right. Hate that!

The first year I read tarot the cards went everywhere with me. I read them incessantly. I read about them incessantly. I couldn't get enough about tarot, tarot, tarot. That tends to be the way I am, though. When I am into something, I go in up to my eyeballs, bathe in it, eat it, drink it, dream it. I still have a deck with me most of the time. However, I find there are days that go by now that I don't pick up a deck or read the cards at all. A full week can go by without a look at the cards. I feel very comfortable with my 20-some-odd decks I've collected and my one shelf of books. I don't need any more. I learn more and more about tarot all the time and mostly now I learn by reading -- both doing tarot readings and reading about the history and lore of tarot. I'm comfortable in my gypsy reader skin. Tarot just fits me and I found that out fairly quickly. Others have their own coming to tarot stories. I'd love to hear yours.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

On The Bias
In sewing, to cut on the bias means to cut across the grain of the fabric. When you create bias tape, the pieces of fabric are arranged diagonally to form strips. Bias is slanted. We form these diagonal lines in our opinions, our biases, that draw lines that tend to be rather slanted. We each have our opinions and hopefully they are based on fact and experience and not being randomly pulled out of our asses or other people's asses. They make for good discussions, debates, conversations and even the rousing argument or two, but they do not benefit the tarot reader. One of the most challenging aspects of reading tarot for others is leaving one's biases entirely out of the exercise. That can be really difficult especially when you're not even aware of your own biases or if you tend to think your biases are universal truths.

Biases and preconceived notions have no business in a good tarot reading. I have what I think to be a pretty open mind and accepting outlook regarding other people and their choices and lifestyles. I learned a long time ago not to pass judgement. I try not to censure. However, my most embarrassing readings as a tarot reader have come when I have allowed my own preconceived notions and biases color what I see in the cards.

Working as a professional tarot reader on the online equivalent to a 900 line makes it easy to start making a lot of assumptions. After reading for so many who seem to all say the same thing such as, "He came on strong but he's not calling anymore, what happened?" and seeing the cards say, over and over, "He's just not that into you," it becomes way too easy to begin to give canned responses and presume this reading, this situation, is just like the twenty before. This is a surefire way to eventually make an ass of yourself. Assumptions tend to do that, don't they? I'm not saying there's no place in tarot reading for common sense and mundane wisdom. I don't think we can completely separate ourselves from our own life experience so much that we don't draw on it, nor should we. However, I've learned that I need to treat each and every reading as a new experience, a clean slate, and not to think any situation is "just like" one before.

The cards have often surprised me with their seemingly off-the-mark advice. They tell querants to do things I would never tell them to do. Though I've never seen them advise anything criminal, I have seen them advise pursuing relationships, careers, and other courses of actions that seem untenable. Still, I have to remember that with the very limited information I am given with which to do a reading, it really is quite presumptuous of me to draw conclusions about that person's life and circumstances. Sometimes it seems so ridiculous not to draw on common sense. I mean, hello! The guy is married with three kids and tells my querant he loves her, his wife "just doesn't understand him" and he plans on getting a divorce "soon" but it's just not the right time now...

Um. Please. Take your line of bullshit elsewhere, right?

As a tarot reader, though, you have to resist the urge to slap your querant upside the head saying, "Wake up and smell the lies!" As useful as that advice might be for your friend over Manhattans during Girls Nite Out, it really gets in the way of an effective tarot reading. If you approach any reading with your mind already made up then your mind has shut tight. No other alternatives can enter in. Each card will then be read on the bias, with slanted interpretations towards your foregone conclusions. Even if what you tell them is your standard Good Advice, and it very well may be very good advice, no harm done, right? Wrong. They aren't coming to you for that, they are coming to you for a Tarot Reading. If they wanted Good Advice, they'd ask Dear Abby. If you fall back on handing out prepackaged advice, you may as well toss the cards in your bag and buy them a Manhattan.

I'm not quibbling over the quality of the advice. You may be a very fine counselor with sage wisdom. More than likely, though, the querant already has enough people in their life that are more than willing to hand out unsolicited advice about her choice to hook up with a married man. She also has her own board of censure yelling at her in her own head. Her girlfriends a busy clucking their tongues and rolling their eyes. She doubts him, wonders if he's telling the truth. She doubts herself. Hence...the tarot reading. Querants want objectivity most of all and objectivity is what we need to do our best to give.

So you read the cards. Just read the cards. And they tell her to wait, to hold on, he's on the verge of a big decision and she should wait and see. The cards say he does indeed love her deeply. He needs more time.

WHAT?!?

Great. Now you feel guilty. You feel like this is very Bad Advice and sharing this would be giving her false hope. Now you, as a reader, feel compromised between what you believe to be the right thing to do and what the cards have instructed. I sympathize. There have been quite a few times I have looked blankly at the cards in disbelief and have thought there is no way in hell I can, in good conscience, tell this querant to wait for her lying, cheating scoundrel of a lover to come around. But then I do and what unfolds is often amazing. It never comes out the same way twice. If I am fortunate enough that the querant returns for a follow up reading or writes me to tell me how things worked out, it is usually for the best. Whether she uses that time to better understand her own feelings and decides to kick him to the curb, or whether that big decision he finally makes is to reconcile with his wife, or if they do indeed begin a legitimate relationship after he initiates divorce doesn't really matter. What matters is that the time the cards advised was crucially necessary for the situation to come to its natural conclusion.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Love Makes the World Go `Round
A long time ago I asked my mother why so many songs were about love. She smiled as she answered, "Because love makes the world go 'round." At the time I didn't get the irony that she was answering my question with song lyrics, probably Perry Como's given her musical tastes. But she probably didn't realize she was referencing medieval theology either, which held that the power of love literally set the universe in motion. I wasn't fully satisfied with her answer, actually, and I'm still not. I vascillate in my airy Libran way between being a full on sucker for love and examining it under a microscope with proper scientific objectivity. It's a curious subject, love, and it is no less curious in tarot when it appears as the Major Arcana card: The Lovers.

This card has no problem showing up when a romantic relationship is in question, but doesn't it make you scratch your head a little when it shows up when you're doing a reading about something completely non-romantic? You stare at the image of the passionate couple and think...wtf? The fallback meaning is of "choice" and of following one's heart to make that choice, so at least there is that.

This painting, A Huguenot on St Bartolomew's Day by Sir John Everett Millais, would make a perfect Lovers card. Not only because the lovers are so perfectly evident, but because of the story behind the image. Over a period of several days in August 1572, French Roman Catholics slaughtered thousands of Protestants in Paris. In this scene, a young Catholic girl is trying to persuade her Huguenot lover to save himself by binding around his arm the white cloth that is to be the Catholic's means of identification. He pulls at the cloth and resists, preferring to put his life at risk rather than deny his faith. Indeed, the choice to refuse the armband is one of deep commitment. It seems foolish yet it is the choice of his innermost self and soul that he must abide. And what a monumental and difficult choice it is. He could stay alive and in his lovers arms but a betrayer of his faith by one choice and by another his conscience clear he rests in peace. This moment of inner choice is what the Lovers card is about.

Love has been a constant theme in art for as long as people have been scratching images onto surfaces. However, the theme of The Lovers is not simply as straightforward as Gustav Klimt's The Kiss. As lovely and as passionate as this painting is, it only shows one aspect of The Lovers card, the most obvious one. Cocoon-like, the lovers embrace and complete one another like finding one's missing piece. The earth is green and bountiful, their clothing literally glows, emanating their emotional union. The expression of sheer bliss on the woman's face needs no commentary, it speaks in a language we know if we have known love or have yearned for it to be just this perfect.


Ok, snap out of it! Seriously, love's great and all and sometimes it does feel just like that, but the Lovers has a lot more to say than that. Originally, it probably didn't have much more to represent than our well known concept of romantic love. Two lovers and a cupid graced the earliest known decks and it was titled "Love" not "The Lovers." The Tarot de Marseilles changed that scene with the interjection of a third party and titled the card The Lovers. Now, instead of mere symbolic representation of the concept of love, there was a storyline. What exactly is going on in that snapshot? The one woman appears older, less seductive than the younger woman, is she a romantic choice for the young man or his mother advising him? In other ancient decks such as Gumppenberg Neoclassical deck (reprinted by Lo Scarabeo as "Ancient Tarots of Lombardy"),the concept of choice is clearly illuminated with a young woman choosing between two male suitors, a king and a soldier. Cupid is pointing towards the soldier and her gaze is clearly on him as well, and the implication to me seems to be to follow one's heart, no matter what the "wiser" choice may seem. Comparing the scenes on the older tarot decks Lovers cards is fun as you get to make up your own stories about the three figures and what they are doing and saying. Waite's rendition brings back the couple and cupid, at least in essence, with Adam and Eve and the angel between them, but also includes the concept of choice, as the the Biblical story of Adam and Eve, no matter which version you read, has as its pivotal theme free will and a very crucial choice made. The central idea is there as well of a perfect mate, someone who was made just for you, fitting in every way. Yet, in the early Marseille decks, the notion of choosing virtue over vice, even though cupid is pointing at vice, alludes to the theme of temptation which the whole Adam and Eve concept does as well. As cliche as you may think Waite's card may seem, it actually combines the various Love and Lovers themes and messages throughout the history of Tarot quite excellently.

So which is it? True love? The kind poets only dream about? Or decision and choice? Common sense will prevail if you're asking tarot a question having nothing to do with relationships and The Lovers appears. Of course it could possibly be saying that in the course of working on your Masters thesis you will meet your soulmate in the library or coffee shop just like in the movies, but if nothing else in the cards indicates such, you really must lean towards the concept of choosing a heartfelt and heart-directed path over another "more sensible" option. When this card appears it pretty much screams, "Follow your heart!" no matter how crazy it may seem. It can indicate a "perfect match" in occupation or it can tell you that you've found the perfect home, though it may not look like much on the outside. If you choose against the Lovers, you may be fine, sure, but you may also feel, later on, as if you missed out or something is missing and you can't put your finger on it. This, whatever it is, completes you in some very important way.

Love is crazy and not wise and yet it is what it is and being who you are, choose for love. Life is just too short not to.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Wish I May, Wish I Might...
The Star is one of those cards in tarot that feels good when we see it, but we're not always sure why. I see it as a light at the end of the tunnel, a signpost that tells me I'm heading in the right direction, no matter how lost I may feel at the time. The disappointing thing, and probably the only disappointing thing about the Star is that the thing or event that you're heading towards and hoping for is a ways off. It's not going to happen today nor tomorrow, but sometime in the future. For those of us who adore immediate gratification, this can be almost as frustrating as seeing The Hanged Man show up.

The symbolism of the Star is curious. Often there is a naked woman portrayed pouring out two jugs of water, one onto the earth and the other into the water. One immediate sense is that of abundance. But as one friend of mine noted, this woman is pouring herself out to a ridiculous degree: "She's watering the water, for heaven's sake!" my friend said. When we look at what water symbolizes in tarot, the emotions, we can see a dual meaning here. On the one hand, there is emotional healing going on. She's pouring out, releasing her emotions, both for their generative qualities and just for the sake of releasing them. Her nakedness suggests both a vulnerability and a healthy sense of self. Being transparent and not hiding one's feelings is imperative for emotional health and healing. Yet it does leave one vulnerable to further injury, so it takes a good deal of courage to do what this woman is doing. Going back to my friend's observation, women especially tend to overextend themselves emotionally and give rise to the need for the Star's emotional down time. Someone represented by the Star in a reading could signify someone who is an emotional giver, sometimes to their own detriment. The advice then is to take some real time for oneself and attend to one's own emotional waters and dry, parched soul.

The Star is an incredibly peaceful card and brings with it a sense of wholeness. It's a relief, a breather, on a long arduous journey. It reminds us to slow down because any amount of stressing out about when you'll get there isn't going to make the trip go any faster. It quiets those voices in your head that sound like children in the back seat chattering, "Are we there yet?" every five minutes. It answers soothingly, "No, but we will get there at just the right time, now relax and enjoy the scenery." It's the kind of card that makes you stop and experience the present moment in all its peaceful beauty and reminds us that the journey IS the destination.

The Star makes me wonder where is the There we're all trying to get to in life? Does it even exist? How many There's have we had in our life's journey? When we graduate school, then what? When we marry, then what? When we raise our kids, land that job, travel to Indonesia, then what? The Star says, "Oh please, stop fretting about all that." You're There right now. At least you're somewhere, at some There. You don't like where you are? You don't like this There? The Star says, ok, you'll get to another There.

My favorite rendition of The Star is in The Hudes deck. The woman is neck deep in soothing, calming waters and her hair swirls around her. Her eyes are closed and she is immersed in the moment. Traditionally, stars have symbolized a divine source, heavenly guidance, and hope. Stars have figured prominently in religious symbols in most major as well as minor world religions, crests, coats of arms, and national symbols. As humans we've always been fascinated by stars and have divined by them, wished on them, used them for navigation, and attempted to reach them. They remain mysterious and beautiful, unreachable, and indiscernible. The Psalmist in the Bible says that God has counted out the stars and knows each by name. They are a wonder to see, to observe, to simply lie beneath and dream.

Polaris, the North Star, is always a constant in the Northern Hemisphere and hence has been used for ages as a guide for seafarers and nomadic folk. It's not only constant, in that it doesn't dip below the horizon, it is always usually the brightest star in the sky. The Phoenician sailors noticed that the North Star Polaris could be used for celestial navigation and soon Ursa Minor gained in recognition from about 600 BC. The box-like body and tail of the smaller bear constellation pointed to the North Star, making those stars a welcome sight on a foggy night out at sea. The constellation Ursa Minor would speak to the sailors and guide them on their voyages. The constellation Ursa Minor resembles a mountaintop that is at the top of the world. That mountain was considered a place of meditation and calm. The sight of it brought with it the relief of knowing you are headed in the right direction. It symbolized the end of fear and indecision. The pole star gave hope to the sailors who wanted to see their native lands again.

These ancient beliefs continue today as we gaze at the night sky and wish upon a star, usually and often it is Polaris that receives our wish because it shines brightly and is often the first star seen at dusk. The Star in tarot continues to mean we need to keep hoping, keep folloiwing that star of heavenly guidance, look to the future but keep focused on now. It is numbered 17 in the Major Arcana which reduces to 8 and is connected with Strength...the inner strength to persevere and keep going, no matter what. It heals from the wounds of those tangles with lions and gives us our direction when we've lost or think we've lost our way. That light at the end of the tunnel does seem far away, but the Star assures us it's not an oncoming train. It really is going to be ok.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Like Riding a Bicycle
I finally saw The Celestine Prophecy last night, and despite the buzz surrounding the book and the movie, I can see why its critics roll their eyes. The movie itself is, well, how do I say this nicely? Let's just say it won't win any Academy Awards ever. Gorgeous scenery, though. The acting was, for the most part, pretty stiff, but enough with the armchair movie critic stuff. It seemed to be a kind of propaganda primer for some very basic concepts that actually make sense. Some scenes in particular, using very simplistic imagery and symbolism, held quite profound messages.

In a very condensed nutshell, this movie shows how we can tap into our intuitive guidance system and follow those nudges and hunches and thereby live our lives as we are intended. Also, it explains how to shift one's focus from the very mundane material day-to-day world of power and control to seeing all of life with greater vision, seeing all of it as linked with energy.

I believe we're all born with this internal guidance system, a kind of intuitive GPS, that we are taught, over time, to ignore. We are then taught to rely only on facts, what we can see with our eyes, touch with our hands, and know from "science" and proper research. We're taught that it is dangerous to do things any differently and people who do things differently are viewed as foolish and unwise, or worse, as woo-woo crackpots.

When I was a fundamentalist Christian, I entered the faith through a door that strongly stressed relying on an internal guidance system called the Holy Spirit. Throughout the New Testament there are strong urgings to follow that internal Guide and not to rely on one's own physical senses. But Christianity is rather schizophrenic about this subject. On the one hand, we are told to follow the Spirit, but on the other hand we should "test the spirits" to know whether we are following the Holy Spirit or some other random human or demonic spirit. Some branches of Christianity don't advise any of this at all and instead instruct its followers to just follow what is written in the Bible and don't rely at all on what you feel inside. They believe that we have a human spirit that is corrupt and the Holy Spirit that is pure and because it's often just too difficult to know which spirit is sending messages to you, just rely on what is written to be safe. Then some factor in the influence of the demonic spirits as well, so just forget all that esoteric stuff and follow The Word to bypass confusion. The problem is that The Word urges the following of spiritual urgings and promptings. That's just circular reasoning and it makes one a little crazy when you try to actually live it out.

In some Christian circles, the spiritual promptings are embraced and encouraged. The caveat is that the Holy Spirit will never prompt you to do something contrary to the words in the Bible, so if you believe the Spirit is prompting you to smoke crack or something, it's probably not the right spirit giving you that message. (However, the Holy Spirit did instruct a major Old Testament prophet to walk around the streets naked, so....) Still, they do encourage the development of that intuitive guidance system, within a certain framework. Issues tend to arise when the Holy Spirit tells one person to do one thing and another person to do the opposite and then it becomes a battle between whose intuition is correct.

This Sunday School lesson is all to say that what I found in the realm of Christian practice regarding this issue is like a microcosm of the rest of the larger world. Some people will embrace and encourage intuitive guidance and others are skeptical and will dismiss it altogether. The protagonist's journey in The Celestine Prophesy was encouraged to be done entirely "by faith and not by sight." There was a line in the movie where, after the guy was told to just take off on a motorcycle into the rainforest willy nilly to find a woman who was captured by rebels, he responded by saying, "But I don't know where I'm going!" The reply was, "None of us do."

Think about that. Just take a moment and think about that. Do any of us really know where we are going? Sure, we have plans and goals and may even have a map drawn with the steps laid out to the fulfillment of those goals, but can any of us say what event will happen tomorrow or even five minutes from now? We have expectations that if we do this then that will happen, and it might. Or it might not. There are far too many variables in life that can throw even the finest laid plans into disarray. Ok, so what to do?

Well, our guy in the film takes off and really tries to rely on this unseen guide inside himself. He comes to a literal fork in the road and tries to sense which way to go. One path appeared a bit brighter to him, it pulled at him a bit more than the other. So he takes off on that road and promptly gets captured by rebels and thrown into a crappy little jail cell out in the jungle. Oops! As he sits there kicking his own ass, knowing he effed up and made the wrong choice, it turns out he made exactly the right choice because the woman he was searching for was being held in a cell right there, too.

Ok, aside from the painfully obvious being whacked over your head with rather poor script writing, this was an important point. I know how it feels to follow that flow of intuition and it feels "right" and it gives me a strong sense of hope and wellbeing when I am in that mode. I tend to think ok, I've got it now, I'm riding the wave of intuitive guidance and all will be well. I will see life just roll out the red carpet for me and things will go smoothly and there will be a pot of gold at the end. And then what happens? Something shitty. Uh oh. So then I think, crap, I did it wrong. I must have made the wrong decision there back at that fork in the road. Damn. How can I get myself out of this mess I've made? I'm then tempted to throw all this intuitive stuff out the back door and just go back to relying only on traditional advice. Following that intuitive guidance doesn't necessarily mean it will all be easy. It doesn't mean bad things won't happen to you. But it also doesn't mean you didn't make the right choice. You have to wait and see what unfolds.


Learning to use this intuitive guidance system is a lot like taking an old bicycle out of storage. It's rusty, the tires are flat, and it squeaks and rattles when you roll it out. Tarot is an excellent oil for this old bike. Using tarot encourages the intuitive part of our brains to pay attention and come to the fore. But once you've got the bike all cleaned up and oiled and its tires pumped up, you've got to ride it. That's the real scary but super fun part. Take it for a spin around the block. Follow that intuitive nudge and just go. You don't have to go far at first, but go. Pretty soon you'll be going on cross-country trips on that old bike and the more you ride it, the better your own conditioning will be. You will go places you never thought you'd go in a million years. Some of those places might be scary and uncomfortable, but...this is truly living life, isn't it?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Thank You
Wow. You all are amazing, wonderful and super fantastic. That's really all I can say. You've rendered me speechless and that's quite a feat, let me tell you. I have done enough readings to pay cable and get caught up on some other bills, too. Some of you have referred me to friends and that's so great because I love reading for new folks as well as my "regulars" -- you know who you are. *wink* You've inspired me to really pay attention to what makes my heart sing and put my energies towards that which I love and when I do that, there is tangible reward following. Not to mention, I am feeling much calmer since I last posted in panic. So thank you, thank you, and thank you again.

Such great readers we have here! Your insight on my posted reading has truly helped give me perspective on myself, my situation, and much needed assurance that I can get through this and succeed. I don't measure success in dollars and cents, but it sure can feel disheartening when the bills pile up. That accusing voice in one's head screaming, "LOSER!" drowns out all others. Well, I may be pathetic sometimes, but a loser I'm not. Thanks for helping me see that again.

Monday, January 14, 2008

A Cluttered Mind
I've been trying to figure out which tarot card exemplifies the theme of my life at the moment and like potato chips, I can't pick just one. The divorce has left me financially devastated. That would be five of pentacles. I'm losing the battle of the bills. The Wheel of Fortune would fit, though I'd be on the bottom hemisphere at the moment. Then there is the 5 of cups, which is me right now because I can't seem to see past my current situation. I still have hope, though, and the Star shines in the darkness and tells me that things will get better, and that does give me some peace. I work and work and work at a pretty unexciting, repetitive job to pay what bills I can, so that's 8 of pentacles. I'm trying to deal with it all with Strength. Where's that Magician when I need him? I need Rumpelstiltskin, actually, to spin this straw into gold.

SIGH

Here's the deal: I'm about to lose my internet connection because I can't pay the bill. If you feel inclined to help, check out my tarot reading page and I'd love to do a reading for you. I also take donations, just let me know whether its for a reading or not.

I will say that when I do readings on this mess, awfully good cards often show up in the outcome position, so I'm confident that things will work out for the best. It's just that its really hard to see that right now. Then I think tarot is lying to me and then what? Throwing the cards across the room just invites a lovely game of 78 card pick up. Not only that, it's so hard to intuit esoterically when I've got pentacles problems staring me in the face. My car needs a major repair so it can pass emissions and be registered, my cable and phone bills are past due. I just put groceries on the credit card. I try to remember things certainly could be worse, but I don't want to think about that.

So this dilemma asks the question: How does one accurately read tarot when the mind is cluttered with all this mundane bullshit? Not easily. When I'm in such a state of mind, inevitably the High Priestess wants to show up and mutely accuse me that I already know the answers to my own questions if I could just calm down and listen to my senses. Oh, go the hell away already! I can't tell her to shut up because she doesn't say much. She simply sits there with her Mona Lisa smile and her book of answers clamped shut tight. Next up is The Fool, and in such a mindset I am apt to look past all his wonderful qualities and only hear tarot shrieking at me, "You FOOL! You should have known better than to take that leap! Now look at you!"

For example, here's a reading, a simple three card Situation/Advice/Outcome on this predicament and my initial interpretation:



Well, there I am, the beggar. I need money, for sure, and while I'd rather not take any handouts, I'm needy and desperate. Gah. That's not very flattering. It's making me feel pretty humiliated and vulnerable right about now. Then the advice shows, what did I tell you, the Magician! Somehow I am supposed to be able to pull a rabbit out of this hat? It's telling me I have all the tools I need to create my own reality. Or my own illusions, anyway. And isn't it just like tarot to give me a court card for an outcome. Good lord. Exactly. The King of Cups. (Why is that card always showing up in my readings? Who the heck is he???) At this point I'd have rather seen the King of Pentacles who at least might loan me some money, but here I have the King of Cups who is here to rationally deal with my fears and stirred up emotions. But honestly, all I see when I look at this card is a man adrift on the sea which is exactly how I feel.

So who wants to take a crack at this reading and approach it with a clearer mind? Mine is entirely too cluttered to deal with it.