One Method for Reading Playing Cards…

IMG_4008Did you know that some people read ordinary playing cards just like some of us read Tarot cards?  Maybe you’re even one of those people. Or maybe you’re like me, and you had no idea at first how someone might go about reading a plain old deck of plain old playing cards…

But then think about this: the Minor Arcana section of a Tarot deck is essentially a pack of regular old playing cards with a sort of “Princess” rank of Court Cards added alongside the King, the Queen, and the “Prince” level of the Jack.  Aside from that difference, you have Aces through 10’s, plus those royal Court Cards, a full set in each of four different Suits.  So playing cards and the Minors are all but identical, right?

Except we Tarot people have become used to the scenic Minors that were introduced in the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, and have since then been duplicated down through a million descendant decks.  But remember that until the RWS came along, the Minors looked a hell of a lot like playing cards…they just had different Suit names.

So if you want to try reading ordinary playing cards, just draw some correspondences.  The usual method is to see Wands as being equivalent to Clubs, Cups are tied to Hearts, Swords are like Spades, and Pentacles are the Tarot’s version of Diamonds.  Start pulling regular playing cards, and see if working with them by transferring in your stored meanings for the corresponding Tarot cards feels like a good method that’s giving positive results…

Oh, and not to totally leave out the Majors…  To represent his homies from that lofty level, look who managed to migrate his way into the regular playing card context, and who still exists somewhat outside the everyday fray as a sort of zero card there, too…a zero card that we call The Joker.  It’s The Fool!  That guy cannot be kept down…

12 Astrological Houses Spread

IMG_3996In honor of the Full Moon last night, I busted out a big spread based on the 12 astrological Houses.  I’ll be doping out the meaning of this reading for days to come!

Interesting note: the numbered Minors (not counting the Aces) make up just under half of the deck.  So statistically speaking, in a spread of this size, I should have been able to expect maybe 5 or 6 numbered Minors to show up.  I ended up with 9.  It always stabs my attention in the eye when I get disproportionate results like this!

Strength and Justice…

IMG_3984…or is that Justice and Strength?

About 15-20 minutes after you start to study Tarot, you’ll learn that these two cards share a strange sort of linkage.  Much of that is due to sequencing concerns.  In the original Marseilles decks, Justice was card VIII in the order, while Strength was card XI.  Then Arthur Edward Waite came along, and because it made the cards run in perfect order in terms of the astrological correspondences that his mystical society had assigned to them, he switched them in his deck.  And then Aleister Crowley appeared in a puff of smoke, and switched them back in his…

And so part of the legacy of all this sequence-swapping is that in modern Tarot circles, you can find a very vocal faction of readers and scholars who will swear up and down that Justice absolutely *must* be the VIII card in the sequence, or else the deck in question is rubbish — rubbish!  And an equally zealous cadre will insist on exactly the opposite: Strength at VIII or deck be damned!  [And you can generally find a few people — me included here — who will shrug, and read with whichever sequence happens to be in front of them, and don’t have too much emotional energy invested in either direction on this point…]

But conceptually, there’s another interesting tie between the two cards.  I once heard it suggested by someone (and sadly enough, I can’t for the life of me remember who this was), that Strength is the process constantly playing out, in which the lower, animal urges (symbolized by the Lion) of a person or of society as a whole, will vie for supremacy with the higher urges (embodied in the Maiden).  Very rarely does this struggle stay for very long at the perfect balance of the zero-point, though — there’s usually either too much Lion or too much Maiden in the mix, and the best you can hope for is that they’ll kinda/sorta manage a balance if averaged out over long periods of time.

Now say that this is all true, and that you have a cosmic remote-control device, and you can hit “pause” on this Strength process.  You can then see on which side of the zero-point the Strength trajectory currently lies, and how far from zero it is.  And whatever it would take at that specific moment to push the Strength process indicator back to zero…?  That’s what Justice is.  It’s the balancing Force, the zero-ifying factor at work in the Universe.

So in a way it’s no wonder people have always had some difficulty in deciding which of these cards should go where in the sequence of the Majors — they’re actually related in a conceptual way that in some sense wants *both* of them to be VIII and *both* of them to be XI, and all this at the very same time…

Hierophant as Shaman…

IMG_3962My strongest aversion to any Tarot card has always come pouring out in response to The Hierophant. See, I never connected to any of the various religious leaders I met while growing up, and I had zero interest in someone like that telling me what I should be doing with my life. Years later, I found that The Hierophant pushed all of those same buttons for me, and I had a lot of trouble seeing the positives in that particular card. Only after I saw him recast in several other decks as a much less Pope-like figure, and more as one who functions non-denominationally as a pure channel for a general spiritual worldview, could I start to get behind him. A Hierophant who simply seeks to serve humanity as a devout go-between linking the Divine with the mundane is something I can not only accept…I can even celebrate it. Hierophant-as-Shaman, as we see in this example, scrubs away all of my knee-jerk, anti-religion reactions, and allows me to finally embrace the card as the kind of fully-rounded set of meanings that I’ve always seen in most of the rest of the cards in the deck…

Woman of Soul…

IMG_3913When I first learned Tarot, I focused on the Rider-Waite-Smith deck (“RWS”).  I primarily did this by working with a couple of more modern decks that are based on the RWS, but that was my template.  And as I like to tell people, I imprinted on the RWS system hard, like a baby duck on its mommy, and that symbolism and those definitions and nomenclature specifics are the ones that have stuck with me the most.  So now when I use a deck that deviates from the RWS mold, it’s like what happens when I try to dredge up some of my old high school Spanish: I have to translate in and back out of my “native tongue,” be that English or RWS.  I can’t just reel off Spanish or keep up in real-time with Spanish-speakers, and I have a hard time looking at a deck on its own definitional terms, without running it back and forth through my internal RWS filter.

So a few days ago, as I’ve been posting about here, I finally managed to pick up an out-of-print and tough to find (at a reasonable price) deck called The Tarot of the Origins.  I’ve been jonesing for this deck for about two years, maybe more, and as I’ve grown increasingly drawn to concepts from the shamanistic worldview — even having gone so far as to travel to the Peruvian rainforest last Spring to work with a native shaman and his apprentices — the appeal of this deck has only grown, as it really seems to breathe these same concepts from every card.

And now that the deck is at last clutched in my eager mitts, I’m faced with this same issue: it’s based structurally on the RWS…but virtually everything in it has been renamed, and in many individual cases, recast in terms of card meanings.  The Suits have all been renamed, the Court Cards all have new designations, and many of the Major Arcana cards have also been renamed.  And I can feel my brain wanting to go, “Wait…’Sacrifice’…there’s no such card in the RWS!  But it is Card XII in this deck, and in the RWS, XII is The Hanged Man, so if I transfer those meanings to this card that sits in the same place in the sequence…”  Which isn’t a horrible thing to do, because sacrifice is surely a part of what makes The Hanged Man, The Hanged Man.  He understands the notion of sacrificing something to gain something else — to grow and evolve and ascend through pain and trial.

But does it maybe do both decks involved a bit of an injustice?  Do all modern decks need to be slaved to RWS realities forever and ever, amen?  Doesn’t that maybe put a bit too much weight and responsibility on that seminal deck, and drag it out a million times over around the globe every time someone does a reading?  Maybe the RWS wants to sleep in sometimes, or flop on the couch in its pajamas and binge-watch Game of Thrones!  And doesn’t it also rob these modern decks of some of their own unique luster?  Presumably a lot of thought and care and artistry goes into their makings, so does it possibly do them and their creators a disservice to coldly pin these works to the RWS diagram like flayed worms on a biology table, and dissect them down into columns of checkmarks of differences and similarities?

The publisher of The Tarot of the Origins is the Italian company, Lo Scarabeo.  I tend to be drawn to their decks quite often, as they have a fondness for giving work to artists who enjoy channeling rather surrealist inclinations…and surrealism is my personal jam.  I love it.  If I could paint or draw well, surrealism is what I’d be peddling.  But Lo Scarabeo also has an equal if not greater fondness for deck writers/visionaries who enjoy tweaking RWS basics: new card names, new designations, new structure, new definitions and meanings.  Their decks are often challenging exactly because they press this very button, forcing you to either struggle to translate everything in and out of the filter of whichever deck-template it is that you carry around in your head…or to release that urge, and accept their decks on their own terms.

So I can either look at the card above as “this deck’s version of the RWS’ Queen of Cups,” and try to read it accordingly…or I can look at her as the very unique and magnificent Woman of Soul, and cast about no further than that for meaning, because there might not be any need to do so…

New Deck Reading/Meditation – The Tarot of the Origins

IMG_3912Getting a new deck is always exciting.  I don’t give in to the urge-to-buy at the drop of a hat anymore – not like I once did! – but whenever I can feel the pull of a deck that I know will have some real impact on me, I’ll still expand my collection with it.  When that happens, I like to mark the occasion of the acquisition with a bit of a ceremony whenever possible.  I find that this helps to quicken and deepen and sort of “activate” my connection to the new deck…plus, it can also yield up a first initial reading that feels incredibly profound!

So with that in mind, I finally set aside a small chunk of time for reading with this new (to me) deck that I just got – The Tarot of the Origins – and tried to work in a bit of meditation, too.  Tarot and trance go together like peanut butter and jelly, by the way…  With the wind howling outside, the candles going, and some stones, teeth, and arrowheads laid out, it was feeling all kinds of primordial in here…

And fair warning: I may be peppering this space with images of these cards for a while yet to come…

Initiation…

IMG_3898We got into a great bit of side-chatter in last night’s inaugural Tarot Toolkit session about initiations and initiatory rites: putting yourself through some kind of exacting ordeal so as to evolve and ascend. The Hanged Man always embodies this concept for me. In fact, in this deck, the equivalent card is even called “Sacrifice.” The idea is that – as Bruce Cockburn sang in his “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” – nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight (“Gotta kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight…”)…

TT banner Jan 2016