My mother taught me that you never display a candle in your home without at least lighting the wick just long enough for the flame to dimple the wax. She would see unburnt tapers as decorations in peoples homes and bristle. “Tacky,” she said. “Like putting a lamp in your living room but not plugging it in.” My grandmother let me know that it was considered “tacky” to place the candle without lighting it because you must invite the light to stay in your home by letting it know it is welcome. In college I had a roommate who had a pair of antique-German-decorative candles that were her pride and joy… never ever lit, pure untouched wicks. It endlessly annoyed me to have these soulless candles in my living space. Beautiful but empty. Flame not only never invited but actively unwanted. “Tacky” wasn’t really the problem… They were empty, cold, lifeless. We are not a family of snuffers either. I was taught to safely cup the flame, extinguish it with a breath, and whisper “Thank you.” None of this was ceremonial. None of this was magical. This was just how you keep a candle in your home. Grandma would worry when the candles would drip a certain way or if the smoke darkened or the flame flickered too much… but she never really explained much. I would feel her anxiety or laughter in my gut… and my mom would generally roll her eyes and dismiss it all. I know little of my great grandmother, except the way grandma would get a sweet enchanted look as she described her mother and the way Great Grandma decorated their small home and lit candles and made the world magical on Christmas Eve… so my image of Great Grandma came to be something like The Ghost of Christmas Present: larger than life, welcoming you to join Her by the hearth, evergreens and sparkling beads strewn everywhere, and a wreath of candles on Her head making it all twinkle. Sometimes it is Her I think of as I blow out my candles and whisper, “Thank you.”
Another focus card you can work with over the course of the year is your Personal Year Card. This card covers you from your most recent birthday to the next one. Calculate this the same way we did the Tarot Birth Card but use the year of your most recent birthday (2019 or 2020) instead of your birth year. I’m a Sagittarius, so my birthday December 2019 to December 2020 works out to be my Temperance year. I’m trying to embrace and relax into the idea that I will be learning how to achieve more balance within my life on both a large and small scale. I know Temperance seems like it should be a relatively “chill” card to have as a focus, but Personal Year Cards have a way of letting us see where we need to shift our attention and do some work. So being open to using Temperance as a part of my personal practice means being attentive to not only the areas of my life that are currently in-balance and clicking-along smoothly but ALSO noticing the areas of my life that are hovering around the extremes. I have to hold my achievements and my perceived failures in equal weight in order to really embrace and benefit from all that this archetype has to offer. This means accepting some current clumsiness for the sake of the longterm goal. Temperance is active; balance is not passive. I work with Temperance now so that I can integrate it into my “normal” for the next year. New year, new lessons. If you choose to work with a Personal Year Card in your practice I suggest thinking of it a bit like a coach or personal trainer… they are there to encourage you, for sure, but the real reason you’ve enlisted them is because they will push you in areas you wouldn’t easily push yourself. (Example of how to calculate a Personal Year Card: June 9th Birthday = 06 + 09 + 2019 = 2034. Then 2 + 0 + 3 + 4 = 9 The Hermit)
My “card of choice” for 2020 is The Fool. This card I picked intentionally (not through synchronicity or numerology). I want to bring a sense of optimistic adventure back to my life as well as cultivate open-hearted acceptance of the vast unknown. Incorporating The Fool card into my contemplative practice will help remind me to ride the waves and “enjoy the journey” in the face of personal, communal, and global uncertainty. It’s also handy to have my constant companion, my own little white dog Sadie, as a visual reminder by my side urging me to relax and explore. I’ll share more of how I incorporate The Fool into my practice as the year progresses. I encourage you to pick a “card of choice” for your year as well. Something that inspires you, something you’d like to cultivate, or maybe just something you’d like to get a better handle on. It’s totally up to you. Pick your card, any card!
2020 is the year of The Emperor in Tarot. (2+0+2+0=4) In your contemplative practice you can use The Emperor like a filter to view events through or a seasoning that adds a flavor of this archetype to your intentions this year. Explore and consider what you like AND what you don’t like about The Emperor as a symbol. What do you admire about The Emperor? What frustrates you about him? Over the course of the year I’ll share some of what I unpack about this particular card, but I encourage you to add him into your own practice here and there too. The Emperor archetype can feel complicated during unstable political times. There will be days you might just feel angry looking at his stoic chill face sitting there on his throne, let it motivate you to bring positive change. Other days you’ll feel his burden of responsibility as your own, let it evolve into compassion rather than weigh you down. And there will be times we will be empowered with that experiential wisdom The Emperor brings to the table, run with it! It’s ok to have shifting and conflicting feelings about the idea of The Emperor. It’s complicated.
Each year I check in with my birth card and consider how it played out in my previous year. Then I spend some time considering how that archetype may effect my upcoming year. My birth card is 8 Strength. The last half of 2019 taught me valuable (albeit scary and challenging) lessons about fortitude. Learning to not expend more emotional energy than necessary. To leap the hurdles as I get to them and not waste my energy either in nervous anticipation or after-the-fact anxiety. Strength (or the depletion of it, rather) taught me to be more present. For 2020 I’m approaching my birth card in a much more literal way that I’ve never considered much in my contemplative practice before: exploring Strength as it physically manifests in the world. Two days before my birthday in December I was in a car accident. Although minor, it physically effected me quite a bit. My chiropractor describes me as hyper-mobile. I’m flexible, my bones float in and out of place easily; a combination of some natural hyper-extension and 22 years of “finding my edge and letting go” in yoga. My chiropractor urged me to shift my focus in my exercise to building strength. Not to go “as far as I can go” into a pose but to exercise restraint, pull back just a bit so that my focus shifts to developing muscular endurance and strength rather than length and surrender. “You’ve got that part down. You have got to build strength to keep from being totally knocked out of place.” I laughed. Psychologically as well as physically, flexibility without developed strength just leaves you vulnerable to any bump in the road. I’m interested in finding where the two overlap as well. So for the first time my Tarot practice is going to focus a bit on my physical wellbeing and experience of life. (Tarot deck: Rider-Smith-Waite / page in photo from Magic of I, 2020 planner / domesticated cat skull from Oracle, Kansas City)
Your Tarot Birth Card is the card (or in some cases two cards) from the Major Arcana that correspond numerologically to your birth date. There are different ways to calculate your birth card. The simplest and one of the most common is to add the month, day, and year you were born together and then reduce the number down by adding the digits of your result. Example for January 3rd, 1976 you would add 01 + 03 + 1976 = 1980. Then add 1 + 9 + 8 + 0 = 18. Because this number is under 21 it will correspond to a card in the Major Arcana, but it can be reduced further still. 1 + 8 = 9. Therefor this birth date has two corresponding Tarot cards: 18 The Moon and 9 The Hermit. Why go through the process of figuring out a birth card and what do you do with it? The birth card gives you an archetype to examine and explore over the course of your lifetime. By noticing how the archetype shows up and plays out in your life you are given the gift of a longterm touchstone for your contemplative practice. Use it as a theme for a meditation, let it prompt you in journaling, explore the ideal aspects of the archetype, consider the shadow or perceived negative side of the archetype, let it be a starting point for your annual goal setting. Do not be disappointed if you have only one Tarot birth card or if you perceive your corresponding card to be “negative.” Every card in the Major Arcana contains knowledge and the wisdom we can gain from contemplating these archetypes with an open mind and willingness for growth is a precious gift. Precious and simple.
Happy New Year! October 31st through December 31st of each year is always a sort of intense time of closure mixed with looking forward for me. My birthday falls in this window too. The season itself also tends to really interrupt routines, so there’s an extra sense of groundlessness underlying this cycle of transitions. I tend to do my largest overview card spreads for myself during this time because I’m already in a state of self-examination. When looking to make big moves or major shifts it’s good to work with tools that encourage big picture mindsets. Cartomancy and other sorts of sortilege and divination helps break up our routine thought patterns which makes us more open to new perspectives and opportunities. It asks us to consider the possibilities. This year, in my own journaling practice I’m working with the Tarot cards for my birth date, my year birthday 2019 to birthday 2020, the current year 2020, and a card of my choice. For spreads, I’ve focused on a Lenormand Grand Tableau and a Tarot “Wheel of the Year” spread. Over the next few days I’ll post more about how each of those works and you can use what you like to supplement your own intention setting process.
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.”
(Photo by Paul Andrews Photography)
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.