In early 2013 I started the process of dissecting my life to figure out why what looked so good on paper, felt so bad in practice. At the end of 2013 I got my eye palm-tattoo to commemorate my commitment to this process of introspection. 2013 was also the time my friend and fellow cartomancer Kaite Stover gave me “the push” and I reluctantly began to read Tarot professionally after 24 years of private study and personal practice. 7 years ago I set changes in motion that are still unfolding in my life today. I had no idea where the path would lead me. I had no way of knowing just how challenging, enriching, harrowing, painful, and beautiful any of it would be. The examined life is worth living.
7 years of accepting change with my right hand, wearing gloves when visiting small towns, and daily reminders of my commitment to “know yourself.”
For 6 days I gave myself the gift of time. Other than obligations I had already made or could not delay, I spent 6 days in my studio beginning the art for a new deck. I fiercely protected those hours, turned off my phone, ignored emails, asked my family to fend for themselves in the kitchen. For the first time in a long time I had to face my own silly fears about my art and actually push through and solve problems as they came up rather than put it aside to work on something else. I am happily surprised by the art that came crawling out of my pen once I stopped fighting it for not looking like the abstract intangible ideas that had been floating around my head. It was scary, and beautiful, and I know I will treasure those 6 days for years to come. Today my studio is “back to normal” and I’m at my computer working on less creative work. But I feel balanced.
When I started reading Tarot professionally several years ago (for strangers, for money) I had already been studying and working with the cards for 20 years. But I was afraid to have my name associated with this largely misunderstood practice. So I chose Moth & Candle to put on my business card instead. Kept myself removed, never put my face on my website, and kept it quiet from most people who knew me. Then as my life changed and I needed to support myself on my own financially, Tarot was the one avenue of my work that was consistently there for me. As I started to be more public about my career path I got some push back, some raised eyebrows, even some “poor fallen woman” shakes of the head. Cartomancy is a living and evolving art form that has deep roots… as long as there have been playing cards there have been people assigning significance to them. I’m honored to carry on the tradition, to protect the lineage, to help push it forward and watch it transform to meet the needs of people now in this time. I still get mixed reactions when I tell people what I do for a living. But I no longer hesitate before I tell them. I am a card reader.
Every once in a while I “fall in love” (not romantically) with a client. Today it happened FIVE times. One man in his thirties, three young men in their twenties who came as a group (two fresh off of heartbreak who refreshingly carried no bitterness, just eagerness to avoid the same pitfalls again), and the woman who took this photo. She is facing major life changes beyond her control as well as significant heartbreaking grief. Their individual cards and readings fade from my memory. They normally do. I read cards in the moment and try not to make a habit of hanging onto personal info that comes up once the client has left my table. It’s their information, not mine. But the memory of having had deeply personal conversations with people that are so genuinely interested in bettering themselves and consciously finding their way through life lingers. When their eyes widen or their posture changes and the recognition arises… that’s what stays with me. So here is a photo of me, dehydrated and bedraggled, but absolutely smitten with the beautiful soul I just read for who asked if she could include me and Sadie in the photo of her cards.
What is Tarot? Where did it come from, how does it work, and what can it do for you? This class aims to supply you with enough foundational history and information for you to begin working with the cards in a way which is meaningful to you. Where you are. At this moment. Bring your own deck or Laura will have decks you can borrow during class. You will receive a copy of “The Armchair Tarot Reader” booklet to take home for further study.
The archetype of the old wise woman in a cabin at the outskirts of town… so many assume that she has been pushed there, held at arm’s length. But I always assumed she was there because she chose to be. She cares about and wants to be available to the town, but she doesn’t need to put up with their baggage on a daily basis either. I know I’d be in that cabin by choice! Not a total hermit, but not immersed either. Find temperance in your service, be available to help without losing yourself to the process either. ((Photo taken at Oracle, Kansas City.))
New clients tend to panic when they see “The Devil” card show up in their reading. But really it’s just referring to patterns and habits we’ve developed that are no longer serving us: everything from that daily Frappuccino all the way to toxic relationships. This past weekend a very calm and poised woman sat at my table. When we got to “The Devil” in her reading she stopped me, looked me in the eye and said, “I know this well. I quit heroin after a decade of abuse 11 months ago.” I looked at her, “Whoa. That is not small. Good for you!!!” We high-fived, celebrated her strength and accomplishment, and talked about learning to have tea with our personal demons. I love my job. It’s odd, I agree. But not many other jobs have opportunities for such intense and pure moments of connection with strangers on a daily basis. I will always be grateful to this art form.
In the Moth & Candle studio is a shelf dedicated to decks without a home. These decks are up for adoption!“Take a deck, leave a deck.” Adopt a deck from The Moth & Candle Deck Orphanage by exchanging it for a deck of yours or leaving a $5 donation. All decks in “good and complete” condition are welcome: Tarot, oracle, playing cards, Lenormand, etc.
I believe instruction for contemplative practices and tools should be as accessible as possible to anyone who wishes to use them. I also believe basic civil liberties should be accessible to all… all monetary contributions to the Deck Orphanage are donated to the ACLU.
Check the “Deck Orphanage” highlights section of the Moth & Candle Instagram page for current decks available for adoption.
I was lucky enough to pick up a copy of The Key to the Kingdom deck and book set at a used bookstore last month. The Key to the Kingdom is a transformation deck* designed and illustrated by Tony Meeuwissen and was first published in 1992. So I was pretty excited to find the complete set and unopened!
There was even a little brochure for a contest by the publisher! Solve the riddle found in 14 of the cards and mail in your answer. Sadly for me, the contest ended in 1994. But I’m still enjoying working through the riddle! I’m chipping away at it here and there in the studio… some of the references are somewhat obscure so it’s a work in progress.
Meeuwissen was comissioned by London’s Victoria and Albert Museum to design a set of court cards (Jacks, Queens, and Kings) based on traditional nursery rhymes. Meeuwissen went above and beyond and completed 53 designs (a standard 52-card deck plus a joker) over three years. Each card is paired with a rhyme.
The Ace of Hearts starts off the individual card listings in the book. “I’m a little butterfly / Born in a bower, / Christened in a teapot, / Died in half an hour.” A lovely red butterfly sits heart-shaped with folded wings. The Ace of Hearts is often associated with love and romance in traditional cartomancy, so the fleeting and fragile nature of the butterfly’s life can reflect either a jaded philosophy on romance or more of a seize the moment sort of attitude.
The Ace of Spades features a beautifully spotted black spider hanging from its silk. “If you want to live and thrive / Let a spider run alive.” The book claims that this rhyme “reminds us that a London card-maker was actually sentenced to be hanged for forgery at a time when this card doubled as England’s duty stamp.” (The individual they are referring to was Richard Harding d. 1805) The duty stamp** they are referring to was from the 17th century in England. King Charles I introduced the idea, but in 1711 Queen Anne (featured on the Queen of Spades in this deck…) extended the law and it lasted until 1960. The Ace of Spades is traditionally known as “the death card.” Here the Spade is formed by the spider’s body which is decorated with markings resembling a cross and perhaps two doves flying above it.
The Ace of Hearts meets the Ace of Spades in the Joker card. Here the butterfly has been trapped in the spider’s web and the spider is in the act of grabbing hold of the butterfly. The colors have been reversed (fitting for the topsy-turvy nature of the Joker), the spider is now red and the butterfly is a somber black. Perhaps implying that Death triumphs all in the end.
From what I can tell the Ace of Spades spider makes one more appearance in the deck: The Queen of Spades. “I am Queen Anne, of who ’tis said, I’m chiefly famed for being dead.” The Queen of Spades shows what appears to be a tombstone with a dodo bird carved into it. The tombstone is decorated with a golden crown and the Ace-of-Spades spider has spread its web artfully around collecting various symbolic dinners. The date barely visible is 1714. Queen Anne Stuart of England did die in August of 1714 and the dodo bird is estimated to have gone extinct sometime between 1688 and 1715. The spider hangs down to become an earring on the dodo bird; the spider’s web trails back making the dodo-queen’s long hair (or possibly a train); the butterfly caught in the web is a hair bow. There are two other insects caught in another section of the spider’s web, but I am having difficulty making out what they are.
Meeuwissen is clearly passionate about rhymes, riddles, and enigmas; The Key to the Kingdom deck and book are packed with esoteric references, nods to art history, visual and literary puns, and card-making history. Unpacking even a portion of the references in this deck will take a good deal of study time with these cards.
This is a beautiful deck. The bold eye-catching images make it a difficult choice for game play when quick identification of a card is an advantage. I think it would be a really interesting deck to work with for cartomancy and contemplative practice. However, reading with the deck will require spending some time with it, getting to know it’s language a bit more. And it definitely has some quirks to work around. The card backs are not a mirrored image and therefor you won’t be able to read randomized reversals (cards that appear upside down in a reading without conscious selection). Reading with this deck could be really rich and layered, I think… but it definitely requires that you spend some time really getting to know these cards. Overall this is a fascinating deck and I’m looking forward to gradually unlocking some of its mysteries.
*Transformation decks are playing cards that artistically incorporate the icons on the pips into an illustration of some kind. The first known transformation deck was published in 1803.
**There is a whole fascinating history to card rankings and politics related to the Ace of Spades, but essentially the stamp duty was a tax imposed on cardmakers by the government. When the tax had been paid the highest ranking card in the deck was stamped with the government seal showing it to be a legal deck of cards.