Friday, March 30, 2012

Card Du Jour- The Fool

The Fool is often considered neither fish nor fowl in the Tarot deck- many scholars do not consider it a numbered Major Arcana card, as its number is zero, and it's not one of the suit cards. Some old decks have two Fools, one belonging at the beginning of the sequence of Major Arcana cards, the other going at the end. The Major Arcana can be said to represent a journey the Fool undertakes, learning about himself and the world around him. The Fool placed at the end of the sequence represents the learned Fool, with these experiences and knowledge added to him.
As we can see, the Fool occupies a somewhat unique position among the cards. The Fool bears the number zero, giving us a clue to its nature. The Fool represents first and foremost beginnings- where the journey starts, with all its potential and perils. This makes the Fool one of the most difficult cards to interpret in the deck. This particular card comes from the Tarot of the Silicon Dawn, a fairly recent deck. It shows some usual images of the Fool, here that the Fool is at a cliff. The cliff represents the Fool's potential-this particular Fool, apart from being a pretty snappy dresser, is on a journey. What the future holds has yet to be revealed, yet like any undertaking, there's a good deal at risk. The Fool could wind up falling, or making it safely wherever she's going. Ultimately, that outcome rests with the Fool herself. There's also a dog in the picture, which, like most all of the images of a dog on this card, is giving a warning. He's standing at the edge of the cliff and barking, indicating he has a warning to give- be careful, there's a cliff here. The dog represents an aspect of the Fool- awareness, guidance and wisdom. Here's everything the Fool has been taught, and everything that her studies and learning have given her. The Fool doesn't just wander into the world completely blind and uninformed- just untested and not yet tempered by the world, and by experience. Interestingly, the Major Arcana cards are often said to represent the Fool's symbolic journey- each card represents some aspect of himself or lesson the Fool learns, arriving finally at number 21, the World, signifying both completion and beginning again, moving along in an upward spiral.
To find the Fool in a reading, it represents starting over, or starting initially. It could be a new job, a move, something like that, but in a broader sense it's finding oneself out in the world, ready to fly or fall at the foot of that cliff. It's a time when we leave our comfort zone and venture out into the world- success is not guaranteed, but the Fool will do everything he (or she) can to make sure that success happens, and build upon past experience and learning, ultimately becoming a complete person. In many decks the Fool is carrying a bag, or backpack, or something like that. The bag in some depictions is empty; in others, it's full. In the first case, it represents the empty mind of the Fool, soon to be filled with the lessons, teachings and gifts the Fool receives along the road. In depictions where the bag is full, it represents the fact that the Fool is not such a fool after all- he brings with him intuition, logic and reasoning, as well as life experience.
What the Fool means to us is not that we're inexperienced, or foolish- rather, that at some point in our lives we are all of us the 'new guy'. As time goes on, inexperience gives way to learning and understanding, and this takes time. The future is not yet written- it's up to us to do that.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Card Du Jour- 8 of Swords

Today's card design comes to us from Steve Dismukes, artist. I chose this one because it seems to pretty well express the message of this card. The Eights in the Tarot are related to the Strength card, and indicate restriction. Restriction often has the purpose of giving structure and imposing limitations where they are needed. Here, though, the card is related to the realm of ideas, and deals with finding yourself in a tough situation. What do you do when you're in a tight spot? Seems like anything you do will end badly- like this figure here, everywhere you turn, and every direction you could take, you're probably going to get cut, metaphorically. The question becomes, in this case, not how to avoid trouble, but rather how to avoid the worst trouble, and find the path of least harm.
The message of this card is not so much avoid all trouble, but rather just to avoid the worst trouble. And almost always that involves moving out of the current situation. If you're surrounded by swords, your best bet is to go stand somewhere else. If you get nicked by a blade on the way over there, it could be worse. The trouble you can imagine is never as bad as the actual trouble you face. So this becomes a message of putting aside fear and doubt, and simply pushing forwards. This is not always the easiest thing to do, and can sometimes be the toughest part of the whole ordeal. The card is in the suit of Swords, which here emphasizes our own thoughts and fears about the situation- we can imagine a great deal of terrible potentials, and those fears can end up paralyzing us, preventing us from moving forwards. This is the message of this card- not to let those fears overcome us, but rather to simply put your shoulder to the wheel and press through it. This message is also reflected in the 9 of Swords as well-
Here the nine swords seem almost to form a prison, or an impenetrable wall. At this point, we've made the move, and set in motion our path. Though those swords may seem confining, things have been set in motion- whatever will happen, it's just going to run its course, and life will go on. Though we can't escape consequence, life will go on. There are very few things in life you can't recover from, and that's an important thing to keep in mind when these cards come up in a reading. We all find ourselves in situations we'd rather not be in now and then- it's how we pick up the pieces and move on that determines success or defeat in the long run.

To Certify, Or Not To Certify?

That is a common question! I'm hoping to avoid taking one side on the issue, as I have my own thoughts on it, but can understand both sides of the issue. The first question is, what does certification mean? Simply put, it means that someone or some organization has recognized you as competent and knowledgeable enough to read the Tarot for other people or yourself. There are a couple different organizations out there that provide certification, and the certification process is usually done by paying a fee and passing an exam. The American Tarot Association actually has varying levels of certification, taking into account both knowledge and experience.
The next question becomes pretty obvious from this- is it necessary to be certified? It is not necessary to read professionally- however, some people like to become certified, and if you want to call yourself certified, ethics state you need to identify who has certified you. But again, it's not necessary to have a certification to read for others. I myself did not certify, however I have read the certification requirements, and have completed them. Again, ethics prevents me from saying I'm actually certified- I'll go with able to be certified, but not certified. Some people do not choose to certify, for whatever reason. If you're looking for a reader, a certification can be a good indicator that this person knows what they are doing, but I find word of mouth tends to work pretty well also, and that there is no substitute for hard work and experience.
Ultimately certification as a reader boils down to whether you yourself feel it is necessary, either as a reader yourself or as a client. Beware any organization that claims you need to be certified to read; there is no nationally or worldwide-recognized organization of readers- no AMA for Tarot readers, so to speak. But what it all comes down to is how well a person can read the cards- part of this is intuition, and a part of it is research, I've found. Knowing the common meanings of the cards is a start, though there are multiple levels of meaning in each card, all tied together. This is where intuition comes in, as well as communication with your clients, if you're a reader, and communication with the person reading for you, if you're a client! Asking questions can help point you in the right direction, and help you to choose among the different aspects of each card, as well as establish an overall trend among the cards. Of course, before you can go off on a tangent, it definitely helps to have a good solid background knowledge of the cards, and their common meanings- these meanings and interpretations have existed for so long for a reason, but are not really absolute, and are subject to each reader and different directions they may take each card.
So in the end, it's not racking up a long list of organizations you're certified with, but rather what you know, and how experienced you are. And experience comes with time, and brings with it confidence.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Beware The Ides Of March

What you fear
Is coming near
-Warning from the "Black Doll" card, from Edward Gorey's Fantod Pack
I came across this odd and somewhat humorous deck recently. Whether or not it's designed for serious reading, I don't know. The deck has pretty interesting illustrations, however. Whether or not you can make use of it, I leave to each reader. Personally, I've often wondered at whether or not all systems of divination are created equal. What I mean is that the Tarot, as well as any other divination system, deals with patterns. These patterns come from the world around us, that we ourselves are a part of. It's inherent in every aspect of the world, so looking at a part of the world contains the same pattern as the whole. There's a fun little mathematical puzzle called a Mandelbrot set, which makes a fractal design. Basically, the pattern gets more and more complex as time goes on, yet at the same time retains its distinctive shape, sometimes called the Mandelbrot man, as it looks like a little roly-poly man. The point is, the pattern remains constant throughout one iteration to the next- it never changes. So the same pattern underlies everything, much like our own lives. Things change, yet change according to a pattern.The individual components are in flux, but overall the system is stable. The world operates according to principles and laws, and gaining understanding of the world is to gain some measure of control over it, working with it instead of either being completely subject to it, or attempting to control every last detail.We are subject to change, but we can act to control the change, and make real the things we fear- or the things we will.
So from this, we can discover that the world is simply what it is. It is neither for us nor against us, though there is a higher purpose in our existence, as opposed to everything simply being random and the result of chance. Our actions have consequences, and it simply becomes a matter of putting the pieces together.
So how does fear fit into all of this? Fear comes ultimately from the same source, regardless of its individual manifestations. Some people say it's a reflection of our shadow selves, the parts of us that we don't want to see, or don't want to acknowledge. I'm not suggesting that you go do something reckless, as we are sometimes afraid for a very good reason. Fear comes from what we don't know. What we know, we can put into perspective. It's the unknowns that scare us. It could be the possibility of hurt, of heartbreak, or financial trouble. But it is always a possibility- not something we know for sure.
However, remember that we are not powerless in the face of fear. We can make something more or less likely to happen in our own lives, and don't need to be paralyzed by fear. Though no one is immune from the occasional ego bruising, there's usually a lesson to be learned. It's not always an easy one, and sometimes the hardest thing to do is letting go of past hurts and injuries and moving on. It is true that we learn from getting hurt; this is how we survive in the world. But when that fear becomes overwhelming, and we can no longer face the day-to-day challenges of life, it's a good indication that we're holding on to the past, letting it govern our present and future. When this happens, we need to address those issues and let them go. Not everything in life gets resolved nice and easily, but the one constant in this world is change. So conquering fear is simply a process of coming through it in one piece, and putting it in perspective. If you get your heart broken, remember that that was then, this is now. Learn from your injuries and mistakes, don't repeat them, and don't be naive. Fear is a part of developing as a person, and of growing and maturing.
Fear comes from the unknown; so to quell that fear, make the unknown known. Look into the things that make you afraid- sometimes there's a good reason to be afraid, and sometimes it's simply wishing to avoid a repeat of past hurts. A great tool to have at this point is objectivity- just because one day you got burned doesn't mean at all that you're destined for failure. When you learn from mistakes, those mistakes cease to become screw-ups and start becoming lessons in this road of life.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Hermit And the Oxherd

I noticed an interesting parallel between the Hermit card (traditionally numbered 9 in the Major Arcana) and the Ten Oxherding Pictures, which are an old Zen Buddhist parable of taming one's mind. To start, there is what the Zen masters called "monkey mind"- actually, this too was used as an allegory for the human mind, a monkey in a house, running around and looking out all the different windows of the house. First our thoughts are here, then there, then somewhere else. A variation of this has the monkey in a tree- first eating fruit from one branch, then another branch, all the time jumping around and never sitting still. This can be like our thoughts, chaotic and jumping from point to point, never settling down. However, Buddhism teaches training one's mind to relax, to stop and simply reflect- another analogy, the calmed-down mind has been likened to a mirror- simply reflecting what goes on, not judging or putting one thing above another.
So what does this have to do with this Obi-Wan Kenobi-looking guy? The Hermit represents mastery- notice the two things he carries in this picture. First, a staff, symbolizing his dominion and rule over his own mind and his own life. Think of the staff more like a scepter- a symbol of rulership, such as a king or monarch would hold. The second is a lantern. The job of the lantern is to illuminate- to show things hidden, in this case aspects of the mind and of the self that the Hermit might have been unaware of- bringing the unconscious to the conscious mind, revealing things not only about the Hermit himself, but about the world around him. The Hermit appears to be outfitted for some walking, so the lantern will also illuminate the path he's walking on, and the staff will support him on his way. Being a Major Arcana card, the Hermit refers more to this process of discovery rather than a specific person who is doing the discovering. It's a call to enlightenment, if that doesn't sound too New Age-y. When this card appears in a reading, it points to a need to examine yourself, and the opportunity to fearlessly examine one's own life- bring things to light that in some cases we'd rather forget. But when you do this, use it as an opportunity not to beat yourself up for shortcomings or failings, but rather to use your mind like that proverbial mirror- reflect, and  from reflection, learn and develop.
But on to the Oxherding Pictures. There are ten, and we can examine them one at a time, to see how they parallel the Hermit's journey.

The first picture is titled Searching for The Ox. Our subject has never seen an ox, but knows of its existence. Here the ox symbolizes the mind, or more specifically, understanding of the mind. This person goes everywhere, looks everywhere, but can't find the ox. It's like running to find your legs, or looking everywhere to find your eyes. It's there, and is not so much a process of  finding it as it is coming back to it. It's said that we're all born with this awareness, but need to come back to it, to remember how to do it rather than discover it anew. So we are already enlightened- we already know what we need to know- we just need to rediscover how to find out what we already have known all along.

The second picture is called Discovering The Footprints, and here we get a clue about the nature of mind. Instead of starting from square one, we have some ideas, perhaps have read and studied, and now begin to at least grasp what we're looking for. We begin to understand the nature of mind, yet still have that "monkey mind". A part of the Hermit's journey is that it doesn't happen overnight- we don't suddenly wake up one morning and everything makes perfect sense. There was a long debate between two schools of Zen, one in the north of China, the other in the south. The northern school argued that this state of awareness was gradual, while the other, southern school, argued that awareness happened all at once, an event called satori- suddenly everything falls into place, and you grasp what Buddha was talking about, and achieve the same state of awareness Buddha had under the bodhi tree when he became enlightened. Many modern Buddhists believe it's a little of both- you study and practice, gradually increasing your understanding, and then, you all of a sudden might get a flash of insight- a brainstorm, so to speak. This is reflected in the Hermit's journey- the whole reason the figure of the Hermit is on this journey, instead of just chilling in his cave, is because to grow and gain understanding requires work, mental or otherwise. 

The third picture is titled Perceiving The Ox, and here our subject is a lot closer to understanding- instead of just following footprints and traces, he actually sees the ox. There's still a good deal of work to do, but the objective is at last in sight. It seems the Hermit's study and work are paying off. You might wonder at this point, why does the Hermit need to be alone on this journey? Well, because he wouldn't be much of a Hermit otherwise. But seriously, both the Hermit and the Oxherding Pictures represent a process of self-examination and discovery- ultimately, we ourselves are the beginning and end- the one person who can truly understand one's own mind is that person. As the Hermit goes along, he learns more and more, and discovers more about himself, and has come closer and closer to that state of reflectiveness- of putting aside judgments of good and bad, and coming to a state of simple awareness of the world around him. This also would be the 'satori' event, where perhaps a sudden flash of insight brings everything together.

At this point, the subject has caught the ox, and this fourth picture is called Catching The Ox. The reason this person is after an ox, and not a monkey is because oxen are stubborn and powerful, much like the mental habits we ourselves can get stuck in. If you train an ox long enough, eventually it will learn what you want it to, but you have to get past its own stubbornness and resistance to change first- much like our own minds. At this point, the ox has been caught, but it's not too thrilled about that fact- it is resistant, and will do everything it can to get away and fight. At this point, the Hermit wrestles with his own mind- he knows the state he wants to achieve, but it seems every other minute his thoughts wander, his old habits keep cropping up to distract him- the monkey of his mind is intractable, and won't settle down and pay attention. But nonetheless, at this point, a good deal has already been accomplished, and our Hermit is a lot closer to the understanding he's been hunting for all this time than he was before he set out.

Next, the Hermit works on taming the ox, and this picture is titled Taming the Ox. Through patience and work, the Hermit learns to control his mind, and gradually the old habits are replaced with new ones. At this point, the Hermit remembers his first glance of  the ox, and works to understand that state- work with the ox, don't fight against it. The Hermit knows he's not stronger than the ox, but working with the ox can allow him to make use of its strength.

Next, the Hermit, our subject, has learned to work with the ox. This picture is titled Riding The Ox Home. Whereas at first he met resistance with resistance, he can now work with the ox- he can make use of his mind, as a boat makes use of the current to travel. There is still a distinction between the Hermit and his mind- he views it as something separate, and maintains a sense of ego- "I" as opposed to "mind", or the world around him, yet he now knows how to make use of the world around him, and to make use of his own understanding and wisdom that his efforts have produced.

The next picture is called The Ox Transcended, and here there's a noticeable absence of ox. Where did it go? The Hermit has learned that he is not separate from his thoughts, or from his mind. He sees a distinction between himself and the world, but has 'internalized' his mind- it is at his command, and does whatever he wants it to, much like our hands are at our command, doing what we tell them to do. The Hermit has gone from first off, starting out on his path, to coming to a state of understanding, working with that understanding, and finally coming to a state of awareness of what his mind really is- no longer thinking of it as something to fight against, some entity separate from himself. Rather, he understands it as only himself- you can't take away the Hermit and still have mind; nor can you take away mind and still have the Hermit, any more than you can take away the words and still have the thoughts they express. 

The eighth picture is called Both Ox and Self Transcended, and reflects the state of pure awareness the Hermit has been striving for. There no longer is a sense of "I", as interestingly I is defined by what it is not, rather than what it is. A common definition of self is not the world- that which perceives rather than that which is perceived. Okay, but really, you can't have one without the other. There is nothing that you can point to and say "self". This is an interesting revelation the Hermit has along his journey. He is both more and less than the sum of his parts.His thoughts, mind, are not in his physical body, but they have nowhere to exist if not in his mind. They are not in the world, yet the world gives them a point of reference and understanding. The Hermit comes to terms with this paradox, and ultimately winds up in the next picture- 
This one is titled Returning to the Source- the Hermit has journeyed very far, and had lots of revelations and insight along his journey. He realizes at this point, sometimes the journey ends where it begins. The world, his thoughts, and everything else are still the same. Nothing changed- except one thing. The Hermit's understanding has deepened, and he now understands the nature of the world, and of himself in it. Now, one might argue, what was the point of all that, when the answers were there all along? The fact is, without the steps in between, the Hermit would never have come to the realizations that he did. It's not the journey, but rather the fact that the Hermit studied, made the effort, and overcame all the obstacles to come to this place that matter most. Without these steps in between, the Hermit would never have been able to gain the insight and understanding that he did. And this is the essence of the Hermit's message- discovery and learning don't come free. You can read a book, (or this blog, for that matter) but understanding it requires mental effort. I can't simply transplant my own thoughts into your head. (So no need to wear tinfoil hats, ha ha) The words and language used here are a good means to communicate ideas, but ultimately it's your own understanding and your own mind that causes ideas to make sense.

The final picture is called In The World. The Hermit doesn't stay the Hermit forever. A part of the journey he takes is going back to the world, coming down from his mountain, or coming out of his cave. He can apply his wisdom, insight and learning to teaching others. He can't go catch their particular ox for them, but he can tell them how he did it- what worked, and what didn't. The figure here is actually Hotei, a Chinese figure often attributed to Buddhism, though his roots predate the introduction of Buddhism into China. He has a bag on his back (actually the word Hotei means "cloth bag") which never empties, and he uses it to provide for anyone in need- food, clothes, whatever. Hotei is like the returned Hermit in that he uses his wisdom and resources (his bag, symbolically) to help other people. He's been there, done that, and come back, and now uses that wisdom to help others. The Hermit is on a journey- we ourselves, in our time on this earth, are likewise on a journey. Like that long and exhausting pursuit of the ox, our objectives are not always in sight, and sometimes it seems like we'll never get anywhere. Some of us have returned Hermits in our own lives, or perhaps may even be one ourselves. So the message of this card is that we're not the first person to travel this road, but it's the first time we ourselves have been down this road. Both a message of growth and consultation, we discover that though others can help show us the way, it's up to us to take that all-important first step.

special thank you to for the pictures on this entry.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Brief History of the Tarot

In our modern new-millenium society, there are a great many Tarot decks available, and the Tarot has inspired a great many artists as well. Above is a rendering I did a long time ago, of Death. Crude, but I had a good time doing it. Probably the most widely known deck is the Rider-Waite deck, and this particular deck has distinctive medieval imagery. But this is far from the point where the Tarot began. One of the oldest known card games dates back to the Mamluk Sultanate, where the cards appear earliest in 1375. During this time the Islamic forces of the Sultanate invaded North Africa, Spain and Sicily, and brought with them cards that were used for playing games. Presumably the cards existed  before that time, though we don't know how long the cards and the game were in existence before that. It's thought that the modern name of Tarot derives from the Arabic word turuq, meaning "four ways". 
In the Germanic territories, we find a game of cards was played, with records of this as early as 1310.These may have been different from the Tarot or Tarocchi decks coming from Italy at the time, and both were used for card games rather than divination. At any rate, the cards became popular, though keep in mind mass printing had not yet been invented. Thus, cards were hard to come by. They would have had to have been hand-painted and designed, and thus became a status symbol, as being able to commission a deck meant affluence. There is a record in 1392 of Charles VI having a deck of cards commissioned, though not all of them remain. Interestingly, the playing cards we know today evolved alongside the Tarot- the symbols and designs we see were actually used as a cheaper alternative to the hand-painted decks, and they were mass-produced for French soldiers as well, and are identified as early as 1480. 
The first Tarot deck on record comes to us from northern Italy, in 1422. It was a hand-painted deck, done by an artist named Bonifacio Bembo for the Duke of Milan. The city of Milan remains one of the largest cities in Italy to date, as well. These cards were commissioned for a wedding, and are today known as the Visconti-Sforza Tarocchi. These cards would be used in a game not unlike bridge today, with the Major Arcana identified as triomfi, or triumph cards. This is actually where the modern day term "trump card" comes from, as these cards were able to 'triumph' over other cards. But regardless, the original images were a reflection of a common practice among the nobility, of staging elaborate parade-like spectacles with symbolic figures- these were used to reflect common images and allegorical themes, and were later translated to the trump cards of the deck. There are references to cards being used for divination as early as 1487, but keep in mind that both the Tarot deck and the playing cards we know today were both in existence at this time. Some people believe the Tarot originated with the Romany (Gypsy) people, and this might lend some credence to that idea, though other sources say the Gypsies would use regular playing cards rather than the Tarot deck for divination. 
As time goes on, the game of Tarot continues to gain popularity. In the 1500s the Gutenberg printing press is invented, and decks of cards, like books, are able to be mass-produced. At this time, the names, much of the imagery and the numbering of the cards becomes standardized. We know that by the year 1781 the cards were in common use for games, as this is the year the cards are first identified as having an occult correspondence. This was the year that Antoine Court de Gebelin publishes the book Le Monde Primitif, identifying a correspondence between the cards and occult principles. This was later reinforced by the occultist Eliphas Levi, who identified a correspondence between the Tarot and the Jewish mystical system known as Kabalah or Quabalah. The next major event of this type happens a long time later, in 1944, when Aleister Crowley writes The Book of Thoth, further commenting on the link between occult symbolism and the Tarot. The result of this was later to become what was known as the Crowley-Thoth Tarot, created posthumously in 1969. But back to the late 1700s.
In the year 1888 the Hermetic Order of The Golden Dawn is founded, an occult society that flourished during the following years. From the Golden Dawn comes what we now know as the modern Tarot deck. When you say "Tarot" most people think of either the Rider-Waite deck itself, or one based on its symbolism. The deck was first created in 1909 by Arthur E. Waite, who was behind the concepts of the cards, and Pamela Coleman Smith, who created the artwork for the original cards. This system incorporated the Golden Dawn principles, and both Smith and Waite were members of the Golden Dawn. The Rider-Waite deck is also notable for being the first deck created with the express purpose of divination, which explains a good deal of its symbolism and design- the pictures are intended to explain and illustrate the underlying divinatory meaning of the card itself. Curiously, Waite is credited with popularizing (though not creating) the Celtic Cross spread, also for divination purposes.
The deck continued to gain popularity, and perhaps can be called the first Tarot deck inasmuch as it's the first deck intended for Tarot readings rather than card games, though both the principles of using cards for divination and the Major Arcana cards were in existence long before this point. 
Another popular idea on the origins of the Tarot is that it dates back to Egypt. This could be possible, though there's a lack of historical evidence to support this. The Mamluk Sultanate did in fact bring cards to Egypt, so it's possible that there is some truth to this. It was originally supposed that the Tarot cards represented a kind of secret teaching, not unlike the Eleusian mystery cults of Greece. There were pictures shown to initiates that held these secret teachings- the teachings were concealed symbolically in the pictures, and the initiate would have them explained to him. But again, there is little historical evidence to support a direct link between the Tarot and the mystery cults of Egypt. 
So what conclusions can we draw from all this? I find one offhand, that there is a commonality of human experience that can be summed up by symbols. Carl Jung, one of the earliest psychologists to propose a collective unconscious, called these symbols archetypes- universally recognized principles. The fact that the cards and their depictions resonate with us is not really because of any deep underlying mystery, but rather due to the fact that we humans have common experiences across time and culture. There are common factors to being human, and a common bond between all living things. The end result is this- it's a convenient set of symbols for understanding the world. In actuality, the patterns in the Tarot are pretty much everywhere in the world. As everything is connected and dependent upon everything else, really the same pattern is expressed in anything you choose to see it in. The Tarot just happens to be, for a lot of people, the easiest system to use. The power is always in the person, not the cards; the cards are merely a road map, pointing out where you've been and where you're going. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Court Is In Session

There are three major divisions in the standard Tarot deck- the first is Major Arcana cards, those that are numbered, but not assigned to a suit. There are also the number cards, which are assigned to one of four suits, and numbered Ace through 10. Then there are the Court cards- King, Queen, Knight and Page, in each of the four suits. The suits are relative to four areas of life, as well as the four elements, and four different categories of people. The Pentacles, Coins, or Stones suit is assigned to merchants and laborers, the suit of Wands, Batons or Staves to nobility or aristocracy, the suit of Swords to intellectuals, thinkers and fighters, and the suit of Cups or Chalices to the priesthood, healers and spiritualists. The Court cards are able to be interpreted in one of several ways, and relate to their respective suits. Do they represent people of a certain disposition, of certain physical characteristics, born under a particular zodiac sign, or in a particular stage of life? Or are they merely indications of a dominant set of traits that situations bring out in them? The answer to both is yes, and it depends on how you interpret the cards, and how you use them.
A term you might run into in reading is the significator. This is the card that represents the person being read. You can choose a significator out of the deck, which in many cases is based on gender or element, or zodiac sign. The zodiac sign is connected to one of the four elements; the element is related to a suit of the Tarot, and the age and gender of the person point the way to a significator. And the hip bone's connected to the thigh bone, the thigh bone's connected to the leg bone, and so on.Older guys are usually represented by Kings, younger men by Knights, adult women by Queens, and younger women by Pages. This is one method to it. Another is that each Zodiac sign (there are 12 Zodiac signs, and 16 Court cards in the Tarot- some of them double up) is assigned a Court card, also depending on what element that particular Zodiac sign falls under.
Of course, none of this is set in stone- it's actually somewhat variable. My own Zodiac sign of Libra, for example, puts me squarely under the Queen of Swords. However, I could also use the King of Swords, a strong Air sign, as Libra falls under the element of Air. And if you really want to get confusing, I could also fall under the King of Cups, as my Sun sign in the Zodiac is Libra, however all the other planets in my chart are under Scorpio, a Water sign. 
Confused yet? Well, the point is, find a method that works for you, and use that method. Keep in mind the key to understanding the Court cards- that they represent characteristics of the person. These characteristics can change as circumstances change, and as people mature. The most common change is from child to adult, which would move you from Page to Knight to King or Queen. Some people assign children and young women to the Page card, however again, it depends on the type of person. I've had adults come up as Pages in a reading as they are facing changing circumstances in life- sometimes a change of career, a change of marital status, or just a new chapter in life. But the point is, different cards represent different people. An easy way to approach it is with the elements- Kings represent Fire, Queens represent Water, the Knights Air, and the Pages Earth. These combined with the elements of the suits represent the characteristics of each person.
Here are some of the general characteristics of each Court card- I used the suit of Swords here, from various decks and depictions, simply for the sake of brevity and because it also happens to be the suit most closely related to myself. 
First up is the King. I couldn't pass this one up, as it's actually a pretty good representation as well as being kind of an in joke. The King represents a mature man, in intelligence if not in years. Their element is Fire, indicating action and determination. The King is a person who has a clear intent of what they wish to do and how to do it. They are smart, organized, and on the negative side, perhaps even a little cold-hearted and calculating to a fault. They may tend to put either their own desires or own ends ahead of the consideration of other peoples' feelings and needs, and can be manipulative and cruel. The defining feature of a King is willpower and determination.

Next up are the Queens- here we have Water as their element. Less results-focused than the King, they tend to value relationships and happiness- not everything is a goal with them, sometimes the journey is important too. Like Kings, they are mature and have life experience. They differ from Kings in that they are more cooperative; that is, they are concerned more with support and helping others. They are more concerned with cooperation as a means to achieve goals rather than the more calculating aspects of the Kings. Notice that these are not gender-specific qualities; the fact that the cards are marked Kings and Queens does not mean that they necessarily connote men or women. 
Next are the Knights, whose element is Air. They are much more idealistic, perhaps lacking the experience and wisdom of the Kings and Queens. They tend to see things in black and white, or good and evil. They are idealistic people, and as such are highly energetic and intelligent and fiercely devoted to their ideals and understanding. However, like Air, they are transitioning, in motion. Idealism is certainly a commendable characteristic, and it does not necessarily fade with the Knight becoming older and more mature. Actually the Knight is not foolish as much as he or she is inexperienced. As time goes on, this idealism can change, become more realistic. This is the negative side of the Knight's persona, that he or she has their own view of the way things are, and doesn't let reality intrude on the perfection of their vision. This can lead them to extremism, and though it is a necessary stage in human psychological development, it can be a dangerous force if one never grows out of it. 
Finally, the Pages. They are the youngest of the Court cards, and are often said to represent kids, or the least mature people we meet. Again, not that being immature is a bad thing- we all started somewhere. The Pages correspond to Earth, the primal source from which new things spring. I kind of like this depiction of the Page as an untested but eager person, ready to learn and ready to grow. Often the Page cards show a young person holding the symbol of their suit, in kind of a "What can I do with this?" pose. And this is the essence of the Pages- that they are students, able to learn and develop. What they lack in experience and understanding they make up for in eagerness and enthusiasm. To sum up the Pages, they are enthusiastic and dedicated. From this point, the Page will move forwards, developing to the more autonomously-thinking Knight, and then onwards to a King or Queen.
Another interpretation of the Pages are messengers, that is, they represent bringing on change or a message of change. Being related to Earth, the Pages represent potential, as the ground has the potential to bring plants out of seeds. The same thing applies here- the messages these Pages bring are not just advertising circulars, they mean drastic change and upheaval, and with this, the potential for a new beginning.
So ultimately there are several ways to interpret the Court cards- ultimately, it's a two way street- the cards respond to different people in different ways, and it's really just a question of learning how best to interpret the cards as they show the same message to you. 

The Sun Also Rises

Happy Ostara everyone! Yes, it's that time again. The winter ends, the spring begins. The sabbat of Ostara marks the spring equinox- the term means "equal night", when the night and day are equal in length. Interestingly, this has to do with the orientation of the axis of the earth. It is a point at which we recognize the balance between light and dark, and realize that we need both. You can think of it as night and day, light and dark. If you've ever experienced jet lag, you know we need both waking and sleeping. We need death not to take away life, but so that life can be renewed. Would we say, by extension, that negative things happen in our lives to prove a point, or to teach us a lesson? Well, notice I didn't say bad things. Bad and good are often relative terms, and situations are defined by consequences. So are all things meant to serve a purpose? Well, yes and no. Remember that every action has consequences- these are not always the negative, harmful connotation the word has. Action causes reaction, so saith Newton.
Sounds pretty fatalistic, doesn't it? Again, yes and no. There is no force I know of that can stop karma- that action- consequence link. However, karma is not always bad- there is good karma, too. It's often misunderstood as "I'll give to charity so that karma will look favorably on me and I'll never be broke." Not quite. Sure, what you send out comes back to you, but thoughts also carry their own karma. Actions produce action karma- thoughts produce thought karma. What we think of is what we give energy to, and what we give energy to strengthens those connections in our own mind, ultimately leading to actions.
And like any muscle, our mind can be trained and strengthened. I find that it's not so much being 'happy' all the time- life goes on, some days are good, some not so good. But it's not always running around with a big smile on your face and sprinkling fairy dust on everyone and pretending you have no worries in life. It is, however, remaining calm and objective. Sometimes we all need to step back a bit from our involvement- look at the situation and say well, it could be worse! It might very well be along the lines of "Well, at least I'm not on fire", but every problem has a solution.
The spring season is a time of renewal and rebirth- the balance between life of the spring and death of the winter, and is a good time to consider those things we need to put to death in our own lives, or simply let go of. Again, what we give our thoughts to is what we invest energy to. It's not always easy to change habits, but as time goes on, you'll find it's easier to do. Do it twelve times and it becomes a habit, as they say. We tend towards a state of equilibrium- changing something will mean that it'll take a little time to re-balance. The question and the motivation is that the benefits of that change will outweigh the difficulties. And remember, some things in the long run are worth fighting for. Have a great spring, and be well!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Card Du Jour- The Hierophant

Spring forward! I hope everyone is doing okay with losing an hour's sleep! Spring is a time of new birth and growth, and soon Ostara will be upon us, marking the vernal equinox. Today I chose a kind of tough card to explain, as it's a card with both positive and negative connotations. This card is the Hierophant, which is also one of the tougher ones to spell. The name comes from the old Greek term hierophanta, meaning a priest of the Eleusinian mysteries. Wow, that narrows it down. But in a general term, a hierophant is a religious figure- the dictionary goes on to define it as an advocate or expositor, someone who is an authority on a subject and explains that subject to others. A religious figure, in other words, as this card indicates. Let's first consider the role of a religious figure or priest. A priest is the guy who joins the spiritual world to the more mundane world. He (or she) connects the community to the spiritual, and therein lies the down side to the Hierophant, that this figure can represent stubborn adherence to tradition.
Likewise, the Hierophant represents the accumulated knowledge and experience of a society or group, and its authority. It can be a source of comfort and advice in our lives. Or it can be a force to hold us back, when tradition and dogma bind us to the past, preventing us from moving forwards in our own lives. For better or worse, the Hierophant is that which says "We've always done it this way".
Though the Hierophant is almost always portrayed as a religious figure, it represents any tradition- social, spiritual or cultural. The value of these things is the fact that they've evolved over time, and survived. Some things exist beyond their useful life span, and act to hold us to the past, while others can help us make sense of the world around us. Carl Jung, the psychologist, proposed that among our other instincts, mankind has a religious instinct. That is, we have a natural tendency to try to make sense of the things we don't understand. Interestingly, there's a similar figure in the High Priestess, though this card represents individual understanding. The Hierophant represents more revealed truth- not that we don't have to work for it ourselves, which is actually a negative aspect of this card, but rather what's come before. Instead of reinventing the wheel, so to speak, we can act on what's come before.
Another negative aspect of the Hierophant is dependence. What does this entail? When we let someone do our thinking for us, and it's also one of the more subtle aspects of this card. Peer pressure can fall into this category as well- instead of thinking for ourselves, we let others do that thinking for us. Not that this is in and of itself a bad thing. You'd go to a surgeon when you need surgery- that way you don't have to learn to operate on yourself. Let someone who has this expertise take care of it for you. But with this, ask questions!  Just because we ourselves don't know how to remove a tumor, it doesn't mean we can't ask questions and do some research on our own. Just keep in mind that there are things we don't know. The authorities in our worlds are there for a reason- because though given enough time and effort, we ourselves could learn these things, it's simply easier sometimes to turn to an expert.
So to sum up, this is a card of authority and tradition. These things can be powerful influences in our lives, and can help us make sense of the world around us. However, tradition and dogma should never be substitutes for experience and our own understanding. Seeing this card in a reading can indicate the need to talk to someone, perhaps an authority figure- someone we recognize as more knowledgeable in that particular area than we are. But at the same time, always think for yourself! It's never a crime to ask questions, nor is it a sin. Advice is always at a premium in this life- good advice, perhaps a little less so.
Stay well everyone, and have a wonderful spring!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Questions and Myths

Today I decided to take on some common questions about the Tarot, that both experienced and beginning readers encounter. So here goes- these are in no particular order, and my answers come from insight and experience, much like reading the cards itself.
First off, a question I encounter all the time, how do the cards work? Well, it's not exactly 'work' in the sense of an engine working, something mechanical like that. Since our actions in the present decide the future, and the present is always moving into the past, things are, to a degree, uncertain. However, the Tarot is simply a set of symbols that can identify what's likely to happen given what's already happened. Throw a rock in the air, and it's more than likely to fall down and hit the ground. Drop a glass on the floor, it's more than likely to break. Gravity is pretty much a constant force, and combined with experience, we can predict what will happen. It's simply a matter of being able to recognize the pattern, and extrapolate the information you want from it, and that comes easier and easier with experience. Interestingly, the Tarot is not unique in this regard; technically speaking, you can look at any pattern, and knowing what to look for, extrapolate the same information. It's a question of how you can pull information out of the world around you. However, many people (myself included) have found the Tarot one of the easier systems to use.
The next question at first struck me as an odd one- do you need to be given a Tarot deck, or can you purchase your own? The answer is yes, you can purchase your own. It's a long-standing superstition that buying a Tarot deck is bad luck, though really how you interact with and understand the deck is what's important in determining which deck you should use. Which brings up the next question, which is a little tougher- how do I choose a deck? There are thousands of thousands of decks in the world, some new, some old. Probably the most commonly known decks are the Rider-Waite decks and the Crowley-Thoth deck. These are commonly known because they're fairly user-friendly, and easy to interpret. Luckily, we live in the age of the internet, so finding out information about different decks is not difficult at all! Personally, I recommend Aeclectic Tarot, they have a brief review of many different decks, some of which I've seen, some of which I've not. A good way to get recommendations is from others- friends who read, or simply ask around. If a deck catches your eye, for whatever reason, do check it out! Tarot decks are, after all, a visual medium, so what do your eyes tell you? Many decks are based around the Rider-Waite symbolism and design, so it's not uncommon to hear of a deck described as 'using the Rider-Waite symbols' or 'based on the Rider-Waite model'. This is one of the reasons the deck is so popular. But choosing a deck is not a lifetime commitment. Many readers make use of several different decks, choosing between them for certain questions, or as the impulse strikes them. But as time goes on, many readers accumulate multiple decks. This is why, if you're an experienced reader and can find one, Tarot swap meets are a good place to unload some of the older decks you don't get much use out of, and see what other decks you can find. A deck is not necessarily better by virtue of age; I find I make regular use of a couple different ones, some new and some old. Your best bet in choosing a deck is to do lots of research. Find out what you can, and trust your own intuition on that one.
The next question also is close to this- how does one read? A lot of readers like to set aside a space to read in, or have a certain ritual before they begin. It can and will vary among each person, though the idea is to get settled mentally, clear your mind and maintain a state of alert openness. Doing this will enable you to easily read the cards, and keep your mind active, looking for connections and patterns. It's very useful to keep the cards 'isolated' when not in use- many people prefer to keep them in a cloth bag or wrapped in cloth. This is said to clear out any residual energy from a reading, and to keep the cards from absorbing any other energy knocking around. Keeping the cards going in one direction (no upside-down cards) and wrapped up is a good idea also, though upside-down cards can occur in a reading. Many readers also set the cards they spread out on a cloth, simply again to isolate the cards from any unwanted energies. In terms of how one actually reads the cards, are there any books you should read? Any secret esoteric orders one should belong to? The answer is there are a lot of books out there on the Tarot- some more in-depth and thorough than others. Many decks will come with a 'little white book', which may offer some details about the deck's publication and symbolism, as well as a very brief overview of each card, and usually a couple methods of using the cards- how you lay them out. I wouldn't rely on these books alone- though they can provide a few interesting details on the deck, such as why a particular symbol or design was used on a card, there simply isn't enough information for a novice reader in them. And when I say 'novice reader' I don't mean that in any negative way, even the best readers had to start somewhere! The further along you go, the more experience you get, and hopefully the more confidence.As with everything else, ask around and find out what books are recommended the most. From my own library I can recommend Easy Tarot by Josephine Ellershaw and Ciro Marchetti, as well as the Tarot Handbook by Angeles Arrien.
I suppose I should include also the oldest question in the book- are Tarot cards evil/against the Bible/Satanic/choose your term? The short answer, not that I'm aware of. I've heard Tarot cards condemned as evil, and on the opposite spectrum, a way for god to speak to us. The answer is, the Bible in the Old Testament does advise against divination. It also advises over a hundred reasons to stone someone to death, as well as performing animal sacrifice. My personal answer is, I'm not a Christian, I happen to subscribe to a different set of beliefs. If you're a Christian, well, make your own judgement on this one. If it's a problem for you, that's fine. If you're interested in the Tarot, look into it! The best answer for something you don't know about is to go digging, do some research, find out what you can! The best decision, I've often felt, is an informed one. I'm not an expert on the Bible- I have read it more than once, but am not a scholar or theologian. I know I haven't found any negative effects from reading- the Devil hasn't popped up in his Armani suit and held out a pen and contract written in blood, or anything like that. Tarot is not equivalent to witchcraft, and many Witches I know would be first to point out this distinction. The two are similar, true, and often a Tarot reader will either be a Witch or have a knowledge of witchcraft (I've never been certain whether to capitalize either of these or not), but the two are not synonymous.
Another question, should I go to a 900 number for a Tarot reading? Well, having talked to a couple people who have worked as 900-number readers, I'd say it's a crapshoot. There are, beyond a doubt, legitimate Tarot readers out there who hire out to these services. They get a percentage of the income generated by this. There are also less ethical people out there, who essentially are playing a confidence game to keep you on the phone. Your best bet is to find an in-person reader. I say that not because I do that myself, but because it provides a little less pressure on both sides, you don't have to worry about cramming a whole reading into a short time. I like to allot about an hour per reading, that way we can go through any other questions that may arise.
One final question that a lot of people get tripped up on, is there a certification board or organization? The answer, if you're thinking of one nationally recognized certification board or professional organization, no there is not. There are groups that provide certification, usually by means of an examination. Should you seek out this certification, there is nothing wrong with that, but understand, it's not like, say, a license to practice medicine or something. The field simply isn't that regulated. I myself am kind of halfway- I have looked into and found the requirements for certification, although regard the actual certification as unnecessary. I find references and word of mouth combined with experience and familiarity with the cards to be more than sufficient, but again, it's a matter of persona choice! Should you wish to become certified, or have a certified reader do your reading, certainly seek one out! The certification exams are difficult for a reason! So long story short, seek out a  reputable, ethical reader, and if you wish to learn Tarot, seek out a good teacher, and remember that your own intuition, when it becomes developed, can be a powerful tool.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Card Du Jour- The Devil

Extra big shout out to Mark Simmons of San Francisco for today's depiction of the card. I happened across this one, and while I can't attribute it to a deck (I don't think there is one), it gets the point across. Let's look at yet another negative card- numbered 15, here we see above it the more traditional depiction from the Rider-Waite Tarot. Looks a lot like the Judeo-Christian Satan, and this is not by chance. Actually it is a representation of Baphomet, a figure very similar to the depictions of Satan, the Devil, Lucifer, whatever name you know this figure by. Let's look at the common theme between these two cards- looks like a goat? Okay, true, but not what I'm getting at. There are chains in both pictures, in different places, as one is binding up the Devil himself, and the other binds two human-like figures to his pillar. Look also at the five-pointed star in both pictures. One shows it on Baphomet's forehead, the other shows it almost digging into his face. What does this tell us? Well, the figure is common in witchcraft as well as Wiccan religious practice, representing the four elements, with a fifth point, spirit, at the top, when the figure is upright. Here, it's upside down, indicating that the physical world of sensation has taken precedence over spirit. How does this happen? In a word, pleasure. Think of the chains as addiction. Addiction is an overwhelming desire for something, whatever it might be. Drugs, alcohol, sex, power, status, all of these are possible candidates for addiction.
Now, are these things evil in and of themselves? No, they are not. There is nothing wrong with enjoying the good things in life. However, addiction comes when these things take precedence uber alles; they become the most important thing in the world to us. We sacrifice ourselves, relationships, careers, self-esteem, you name it, it can go on the addict's chopping block to serve that need. This is why the card is titled the Devil rather than say, Addiction, though in more non-traditional decks it has different names. The point being, actually curiously enough, the Devil provides a convenient scapegoat (no pun intended) to blame for our shortcomings and addictions. "The Devil made me do it."
Well, let's take a closer look at these chains. The first picture shows the figures chained around the neck... but isn't there something a little odd about that? Look closer, and see how loose that loop is around their necks. Surely those figures could just lift the chain and throw it off, and just walk away. In the second picture, it seems like the Devil is looking down at something, or looking at something in front of him. He can't reach it though, because he is pressed up against those chains. But are there chains behind him? The only thing holding him in place is his own forward straining. And this is the key to understanding this card- it's all within our own power. We choose to remain in whatever negative situation we find ourselves in not because of the action of another- but because we do not choose to release ourselves. Now, again, this is not a character judgement- perhaps we never even considered the possibility of living any other way. Sometimes the card can indicate that new perspective coming to us. But therein lies another aspect of the card- it's not always the easiest thing in the world to acknowledge that we need to make some drastic changes. It could be wishing to salve our own egos (perhaps, arguably, another aspect of those chains) or simply a definition a friend of mine once put forth- that addiction will continue until such time as the cost of the addiction outweighs the benefits. There comes a point when you say it's just not worth it anymore. Alcoholics Anonymous calls this hitting rock bottom. Then you can bounce back up, and come to terms with the addiction you're dealing with.
So there is a negative message, as well as a positive one. The negative is that you may need to make a painful self-evaluation, and admit that there were some messed-up things in your life, and you may have been responsible for them. I'm talking hypothetically here, by the way. Each situation is different, so keep that in mind if and when you need to undergo this process. But once this is done, we discover that knowledge and understanding can be a powerful tool. It allows us access to things that previously we were, essentially, kept out of.
There is also another positive message in the Devil. The card reminds us that often great things are accomplished by that self-centered desire. How else would inventions occur, so many of which are geared toward human convenience? Of course, human convenience must be tempered also with knowledge of sustainability. We can build eco-friendly houses that keep us cool or warm, depending on the season, that run on solar power. This means we have a renewable resource (well, until the sun burns out) as well as convenience. This is what I mean, that in the long run we'll realize that it's possible to enjoy life responsibly. This too is a message of the Devil- not that the things we enjoy need necessarily be bad for us, but rather that we can enjoy them in moderation, instead of becoming chained to them. Learn this, and you'll recognize that life can be as good or as bad as we ourselves make it. Rather than being a fatalistic card, us pulled like puppets by our addictions, we can actually enjoy life to its fullest, and live well and responsibly.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Card Du Jour- 9 of Swords

Continuing the study of 'negative' cards, today's offering comes from the Dark Grimoire Tarot, a pretty grim one published by Lo Scarabeo. Unlike many of their other decks, this one has seemingly little optimism, and is loosely based on the Lovecraftian mythos, as perhaps indicated by this card's illustration. It looks a good deal like one of the final scenes in H. P. Lovecraft's The Shadow Over Innsmouth. The narrator discovers a town full of worshippers of the sea-god Dagon, and that the residents of this town have interbred with the sons and daughters of this peculiar immortal fish-god, resulting in a curious kind of cross-breed, such as we see here. The narrator is alternately thrilled and frightened at the prospect of his new-found ancestry, as he too is of Innsmouth stock, and notices that indeed, he begins to closely resemble the more advanced cases of the "Innsmouth look", after he discovers his own ancestry tied to that of the town.
So what does this have to do with the card? The card itself is of the suit of Swords, which is tied to thoughts, communication and ideas. The mental realm, one could say. It indicates here being caught up in one's own mind, rumination, perhaps even to the point of obsession. The progression through the number cards (Ace through 10) can be seen as a developing story when the cards are taken one after the other; they tell a story. Here is the chapter where our hero finds themselves looking back over all that has transpired, from the birth of a new idea in the Aces, up through trouble, reconciliation, hard work and even disappointment of an idea unfulfilled. The 9 tells of introspection and self-examination, and perhaps disappointment when that self-examination leaves us wanting more. So where do we go from there? The correspondence to the Major Arcana puts this card under the Hermit, a solitary figure who represents also introspection, and a time of self-examination. Though it may be difficult to examine our own lives, and face things that may damage our ego, sometimes this is necessary. A great deal of mental energy is taken in many cases to preserve our ego, our sense of self, and the positive things we tell ourselves about it. Having that ego damaged by an insult or event can be hurtful, and that's perfectly understandable- no one likes having their feelings hurt. But the focus here is somewhat different. When this card comes up, ask yourself, what am I ruminating about? What am I afraid of? Actually, writers like the venerated Lovecraft rely on a principle that can make even a few simple words very frightening, and that is the power of imagination. We fear the unknown, simply put. Any horror a writer or film maker can show us is simply not as scary as that which they can imply, setting our imaginations to fill in the details. When I was a kid I heard a story that gave me nightmares for weeks after. An expedition to the Arctic was lost. They simply vanished, never to be heard from again. A while later, a second expedition was put together, to go find out what happened to the first. The second expedition arrived on the scene, and found the camp set up, everything in order, and not a single person to be found. One of the tents had a bulge in one side, like something was pressed up against it. One of the expedition's members went to the tent, opened the flap, and looked inside. And then went mad, running screaming off into the Arctic expanse. The remaining members set up camp, and the story ends with the narrator writing in his journal at night, hearing the sound of something moving around outside. He opens the door to look out...
What did he see? I don't know, but the monsters summoned by my young imagination terrified me more than anything that could have been written in that story. The same principle applies in this case- what we imagine could happen is never as bad as what actually does. So this card tells us, don't go jumping at phantoms- we have chosen our course, and if there's danger, either real or imagined, or hardships or trouble, we should do our level best to face them, not run and hide. If our ego gets stung in the process, so be it. The message of these negative cards is not that things are going to hell in the proverbial handbasket- usually we don't need a reading to tell us that. Rather, it's what we can do to change the course of that handbasket, perhaps to cooler climes. The message here is don't be afraid. There are very few things in life we can't recover from, very few things that will destroy us so completely that we have no chance of renewal. Similar in this way to the Tower, the focus here however is on our own perception- remember, this is the suit of Swords, our intellectual, thinking, imagining and reasoning aspects. It's imagination run wild, and the fear that it brings. It calls for letting go of those counter-productive thoughts, and replacing them with something a little more useful, like a realistic appraisal of the situation.
A final comment on the card that may help, the last sentence of The Shadow Over Innsmouth ends on a more positive note, foretelling the promises Dagon makes to his followers, either willing, or in the case of our narrator, inadvertent- "We shall swim out to that brooding reef in the sea and dive down through black abysses to Cyclopean and many-columned Y'ha-nthlei, and in that lair of the Deep Ones we shall dwell amidst wonder and glory forever." Not too bad, although from a human perspective, pretty frightening, and a major change to the life we would have known. But in the end, it's all what we make of it, much like so many things in our lives.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Card Du Jour- The Tower

Ah, the infamous Tower. Probably one of the most feared cards in the deck, it signals bad news. Or does it? This particular version comes to us from the Vertigo Tarot, published by Vertigo Comics, and making use of the characters of this publishing company for most of the Major Arcana. In the Tarot there is a division made in the 78 cards that comprise a standard deck. The Major Arcana cards are 22 in number, 0-21. They are not assigned to suits, of which there are four, as in a regular deck of playing cards. I use this deck myself more often than not, and despite the weird and sometimes grim imagery, it's a very versatile one.
Let's look at the imagery of this card- which is why I chose this particular one. What it shows, first and foremost, is destruction. And that's an important clue to understanding this card. The structure here is getting torn down, utterly destroyed. To the left we see a book falling down, also a symbol.In the foreground is the symbol of Mars, a symbol of conflict, destruction and war, among other things. Lightning strikes the top of the tower, and it seems that the lightning has struck the very core of the building, destroying it from the inside out. It looks like all the work, all the effort that went into constructing this tower is lost in a moment.
So from this optimistic imagery, we find the surface meaning of this card. The Tower tells of an "oh sh*t!" event. Sometimes in life we find what a professor of mine used to call the Hindenberg Effect- (not to be confused with the Heisenberg Effect, which is something different). The Hindenberg Effect comes into play when everything goes wrong all of a sudden. The world comes crashing down around our ears. It could be financial trouble, car trouble, loss of a job, ending a relationship... the list goes on. But this isn't your couldn't-find-a-good-parking-space variety of trouble, this is a little more severe. It may seem like there's no coming back from all this- all our ideas and assumptions about an organized, logical world come crashing down- all that we thought we knew, and all that we've built upon that (symbolized both by the book, and the tower itself) are uprooted and torn apart. Now, this isn't a very comfortable experience, and may take a while to recover from. But is it really that bad? There's another important symbol on this card- the rock the tower is built on. The lightning does not affect the rock; it just stays there. So the implication is, though destruction has come, there is still a firm, unchanging foundation. Though there is a definite sense of loss, and tearing apart, there are those things in life that will endure. To what do we look when things fall apart? This is important to remember when the events the Tower tells of happen.
Like most of the cards, these seemingly grim messages also have an upside. When the Tower appears, it tells us it may be time to do a little spring cleaning, mentally or emotionally. Consider what falls away, and what remains in this scenario. There are things that we cling to that no longer serve us, perhaps even hold us back. Sooner or later, we all face the Tower, and face the trouble it brings. Now, only an incredibly strong (or crazy) person would go through this situation without blinking an eye. But unfortunately, you don't get any guarantees that life will be free of difficulty. It's how you respond to difficulty that makes all the difference. When these things happen, you have a chance to rebuild. As the old passes away, it makes room for the new. So even in your darkest hour, there's still hope, even though it may not seem like it at the time. When you see this card in a reading, the best thing to do is not freak out! Stop and think about it- what this card is telling you is not all hope is lost, but rather to examine your own life. What things might need to be changed, what will need to be given up to make room for change? Your life is a lot like a house- you can fill it up however you choose. Sometimes it needs to be renovated; knock down a wall, pull up a floor, and replace it with something new. And what we put in that house is equally important- some people can't throw anything away. There's a show called Hoarders, which is on the bizarre side to a lot of us. Some people have a near-pathological obsession with accumulating stuff, and can't throw anything away. The Tower can be an antidote to this, in some ways. If something isn't part of that foundation, it will pass away sooner or later. The important thing is to know what's worth keeping- and what's not.
So what would this foundation be? It's easier to understand in terms of what it's not. Destructive relationships and habits, or past hurts and bad memories all fall into this category. I've always held to a philosophy of forgive, but don't forget. Not to say don't give someone a second chance, but history does repeat itself, especially where past mistakes are concerned.
So to sum up, the Tower is a painful learning experience. Life has them on occasion, and the best thing to do is learn what you can from that lesson, pick up the pieces, and rebuild. Every such event can be a stumbling block, or an opportunity to learn. I can't promise that this event will be fair or easy, only that by finding what's truly important in life, we can press forwards, and rebuild the fallen timbers.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Productive Reading

How can you get the most out of a Tarot reading? Well, there are several ways. Remember that a Tarot reading, regardless of how it's done, is a back-and-forth process. So first off, ask questions! If you find a reader who says something to the effect of "SILENCE! The Oracle is SPEAKING!!" you're probably first off, in the wrong place for a serious and in-depth reading, and second, probably have someone doing readings for the wrong reasons. A common question I get is, "You predict the future, don't you? So why should I have to ask you questions?" Good point. Say you were asked to summarize, say Ulysses. It's a big book. What would your first question be? Probably something to the effect of "What aspects of the book should I focus on? Character development? Social implications and commentary? Joyce's use of language?" Asking questions allows your reader to focus more on one particular aspect of the situation. True, the cards can be read without it, but it can help to home in on what you would like to know. Good readers are flexible, and know that there are layers of meaning in the cards themselves as well as their interactions and patterns that they form, and will be able to see how these patterns relate to your own question.
On the heels of this, another good approach is to "do your homework". Not necessarily go finding out background information on the reader themselves, though that certainly is your decision, and readers will be able to tell you about qualifications, certifications, if any, and so on. There are certification organizations in the United States and Europe, though there is no real "official" Tarot certification process. What I mean by homework is get your thoughts together before a reading- walk in knowing not only what you want to ask, but your feelings about possible outcomes. If you have trouble clarifying or getting your thoughts in order, that's also all right! Bring that to the table too. But in a nutshell, try to put together an idea of what you hope to gain from the reading, and go from there.
Another useful thing to remember is that free will always plays a role. Each person makes their own decisions- granted, there's no getting away from karma, but ultimately what we decide plays a role. And karma is not necessarily a bad thing- simply put, karma is like thermodynamics- for every action, there is a reaction. Good or bad doesn't really apply in this definition- merely action and consequence. However,there are those actions that are beneficial to you, and those that are not. But remember, the time to change your future is in the present. If you find something on the negative side in a reading, don't panic! Stop and think about it before you go running off hanging garlic in your windows and sprinkling goofer dust around the house. If something is up, ask yourself (and your reader, depending on the situation) what you can do. One of my favorite cards in the deck has always been the Wheel of Fortune. As the name suggests, it tells of things going around and coming around. The image is usually, well, a big wheel. Often there are figures on the wheel, indicating good and bad fortune. The concept is that everything comes around- when you're up, sometimes you'll be headed back down. Not to be pessimistic, just know that fortune can change. So don't try to always be on top of the world (or the wheel, as the case may be), just remember that the opposite is true also- when you're down, you're going to head back up as the wheel turns. The only constant in life is change, after all. Know how the change operates, and know that when you're down, the situation is not permanent! You always have the power to change it- it may be a little chip off a big boulder, but every little bit helps.
So go out there, if you're a reader, read well and true and honorably, and if you're having a reading done, and even if you're not, live well and true and honorably.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Card Du Jour- The Three of Swords

One of the reasons for writing this blog is to elucidate some of the cards, so I figured this would make a good weekly (or so) installment. I decided to start with the 'negative' cards, mostly because they have interesting aspects to them. I decided to start with one that seems to be the most famous- the infamous Three of Swords. Today's image comes actually from the Haindl Tarot, a funky deck designed by one Hermann Haindl, and incorporating a variety of different elements, such as the I Ching, Quabalah, and even Native American mythology. 
But enough about the deck. Haindl identifies this card as simply "Sorrow". An interesting interpretation, and as is often the case, a word can speak volumes. As we know, it is tied to the suit of Swords. Swords in turn are related to the element of Air- more symbolically, this deals with communication, ideas and thought. The meaning here is a sorrowful message, or one bringing heartache. Readers might be more familiar with the Rider-Waite version of this card- an ominous sky, gray and cloudy, is behind a heart with three swords piercing it. It tells of suspicions confirmed- we feared the worst, and we were right. Perhaps it seems like the world we knew and trusted in has come crashing down around us.
But the Threes correspond in the Major Arcana to the Empress- a figure of nurturing and sustaining, like a tree draws its sustenance from the earth it is rooted in. How does this correspond with this crushing heartache? Well, this is about moving on. Things may seem bad now, but tomorrow, as the venerable Scarlett informs us in Gone With The Wind, is another day. Not all lessons in life are easy or comfortable- nor are they all academic and intellectual. We all experience heartache and trouble at one time or another in our lives. The real question is, what do we do with that experience? We can be driven back, want to run and hide, and that's okay too. Sometimes we need the help of other people, and a part of this card is knowing when to seek out that help, and where to find it. 
For a moment, consider the idea of a comfort zone. It's composed primarily of habit energy- the things we do, pick up, or look to when trouble comes. Beyond this, it's where we feel comfortable. Sometimes we're thrown out of that comfort zone, and therein lies an opportunity to grow as a person- to become stronger, better, faster than before! Okay, maybe not exactly, but you get the idea. The only constant in this world is change, and that change can serve to make us stronger in the long run. Life is an upward spiral- we go from one set of limitations to slightly larger limitations. A baby first learns to roll over and sit up, then to crawl, then to walk, then to run, then perhaps to ride a bike, then (every parent's nightmare) to drive a car. We move beyond our limitations! This is not always easy- sometimes our pride gets dashed to pieces, and we experience pain and suffering. It hurts like hell! But ultimately we can choose to learn from that lesson- to pick up the pieces and start over, to accept the pain and move on. Now, this is not always easy, and no one says we have to do it all alone. But in the long run- it's worth it. 

Beginnings and Endings

Well, here goes! The latest word is, I'm back from Afghanistan, "taking care of the nation's business", as the battery commander liked to say. The deployment was where I first got the idea for starting a business of reading the cards. The idea is obviously not terribly original, but I figured it would be a good move, as first, it's a way to network- find people of similar mindset, and work with the community on whatever scale that might cover. And of course provide great readings, and hopefully lots of help wherever I can!
One of the difficulties I ran into was not finding clients- seems like my dear wife tends to refer people to me! Not that I'm complaining, I think it's really sweet. Rather, it was determining fees. That sounds kind of like an odd thing, but there are all manner of superstitions, as well as a wide range of fees people charge. Ask five readers what they charge, and get five different answers. I was at first not comfortable charging for my services, but am realizing it's ok to be professional about it. However, keep in mind, dear reader, no one will be turned away for lack of funds, not ever.
I set up this blog as kind of an ongoing chronicle of the business, and to hopefully provide some interesting reading. Should you wish to contact me as well, my email is, I'd love to hear from you- onwards and upwards!