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.
This Halloween season I got to read for a wide variety of people at various events. At one party, a four year-old girl sat at my table and wanted a reading. Many professional readers I know refuse to read for children. Very often children are struggling with very real and somewhat heavy issues too. And many readers are uncomfortable having a conversation with a young querent* about these topics if they show up in the cards. And that’s fair, it is much better to set boundaries and refer a querent to another reader who would be more suitable for their needs.
(*querent: one who is receiving the reading)
I, personally, enjoy reading for children. The most important part of reading for a minor is that you treat them like every other querent… you have a conversation with them as a person. The card interpretations and the suggestions should be specific to their life situation and needs. Just as you would for anyone who would sit at your table. Being aware of their sensitivities and taking care with their emotions.
Also… not every deck is appropriate for minors. I suggest carrying a family-friendly deck with you if you read for minors and your regular working deck is too mature, startling, esoteric, etc. I happened to be using my Halloween Tarot deck by Kipling West for most of this Halloween season’s events and it is a perfect deck for family and youth readings.
While I have read for many children over the years, I think that four years-old is the youngest querent I’ve ever had (with the exception of my son who was also four when he asked for his first reading).
9 of Swords –
Me: “Do you ever get bad dreams?”
8 of Wands –
Me: “Sometimes, if you have one bad dream, does it seem like they just keep happening when you try to sleep again?”
Girl: (lowers eyes slowly and nods)
Me: “See this card? What’s happening in the picture?”
Girl: “There’s a lion by her.”
Me: “Looks kinda scary, right? What about the lady… who is she?”
Girl: “I don’t know.”
Me: “Is she a lion tamer maybe?”
Girl: “Maybe. Yes.”
Me: “She’s looking at the lion’s teeth. Does she seem scared?”
Girl: (shakes head enthusiastically “no”)
Me: “Exactly. Next time you have a bad dream, you be the lion tamer and look that bad dream in its teeth.”
Girl: (slightly cheerier) “Ok!”
The Moon –
Me: “Have you ever looked at your back yard at night? Looks kinda spooky, right?”
Girl: (wide eyes, vigorous nodding)
Me: “But it’s still just your backyard. Nothing’s changed. Right? Just spooky lighting.”
Me: “When you wake up at night, it’s still your bedroom. It’s just dark. That’s all.”
Girl: (happy smile)
Me: “You’ve got this. Look that bad dream in its teeth and say ‘This is my room, if you want to be here… you behave.’”
(we high-fived, she giggled, hopped off the chair, and ran to hug her mom)
Now if I’d done this reading for myself it would’ve looked more like this:
9 of Swords – Stress and anxiety are starting to have an affect on your health. While there are things to cause concern… you are giving them too much power over your thoughts.
8 of Wands – It’s a busy time and there’s a lot to do. Busyness itself, is neutral. It’s how you handle the busy times that shape your experience of them.
Strength – Remember you have inner strength and stamina. Tend to it to keep yourself healthy.
The Moon – Really look at your habitual reactions to stress and triggers… are you acting based on old patterns that grew from anxiety and trauma or are you truly engaging with the present? Don’t let your subconscious keep playing the same nightmares over and over again. Are you really talking to the person in front of you or to ghosts from your past?
Conclusion – Keep your focus on maintaining your inner strength during this active time and don’t let subconscious triggers overshadow reality.
Obviously interpreting the cards like this would’ve been confusing, boring, and not relevant for my young client. So when reading for a young querent make sure you are speaking to them appropriate to the stage of life they are currently in. One of the greatest gifts you can give to a child who sits at your table is to treat them like a regular client; don’t speak down to them and don’t underestimate the depth of their experiences. Have an honest and caring conversation with them guided by the cards and they will remember that you took them seriously. Really, that’s what any seeker truly wants.
The Zillich Tarot by German artist Christine Zillich was released by U.S. Games Systems, this Spring, 2018. I purchased my copy about a month ago and have been working with it for a few weeks now.
This is the first Thoth-style* deck I have owned. In the past I have had strongly negative reactions to every single Thoth deck I’d ever picked up. Even before I knew anything about the background of Thoth decks or their designer, Crowley. The Zillich Tarot, however, I instantly loved. It is beautiful. Zillich’s watercolors are ethereal and timeless, the human figures are vague and culturally indeterminate, and none of the illustrations seem violent or overtly alarming which makes this deck a great choice for giving public readings.
It comes as a pocket-sized (2.5” x 3.75”) deck which is my FAVORITE size for a Tarot deck; small enough to carry and handle easily but large enough to clearly see the images. It is printed on glossy, firm card stock in a full-color tin box. The little booklet is black and white, 60 pages long, and was written by Johan von Kirschner (translated from German to English by Jonee Tiedemann).
Now, while the publisher says this is a Thoth-style deck, it truly seems to be a bit of a hybrid between RSW and Thoth*. For example, The Zillich does title the Strength card as Lust in the Thoth manner, but keeps it in the VIII position like the RSW rather than move it to the XI position like a standard Thoth. Some of the cards cary strong RSW-influenced imagery and, thankfully, Zillich leaves out Crowley’s esoteric Aeon.
The booklet by Kirschner is poetic but abstruse. The syntax is a little odd and I’m not sure whether it’s just an awkward translation or if the original German has the same jumbled feeling to it as well. The opening essay is confusing and references both Knights and Kings although the Zillich deck follows a Thoth structure to the court cards (Princess, Prince, Queen, Knight) and has no Kings. However, the booklet does include associated signs and ruling planets for each card, which is a plus.
As with most Thoth-style decks, it is not necessarily beginner-friendly and the booklet doesn’t help with that at all. However, this is a beautiful and gentle deck. If you love the art and are intrigued by this deck, don’t let me deter you. Love always wins and you will find a way to work with this deck if you are motivated to do so! Just don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t come easily… this isn’t an easy deck.
I would declare my undying love and devotion to this deck and never, ever put it down…:
- … if it had borders. There’s a reason cards have had borders for HUNDREDS of years. Actually several reasons. I’ve talked about this before.
- … if U.S. Games Systems removed their copyright stamp from the otherwise lovely card backs. Come on, guys, copyright and your name does not need to appear on every single card. At least not in such an artless way. Ick.
- … if it was printed on slightly nicer card stock. The card stock it’s on is decent. Not great. Pretty average feel. The images would be better served on a higher quality stock that would allow the pigments to shine.
- … if it had a better font and no typos. The card images are so beautiful, but the titles really should be hand-written by the artist. I get that the original was probably in German, but surely Zillich would be willing to write titles for multiple translations? And, oh man, that doubling of XIX on both the Sun and Universe cards is a rough mistake to overlook. Hopefully U.S. Games Systems will fix this in subsequent editions.
But even with these four quibbles… I truly adore this deck. Zillich’s art is mesmerizing and creates a unique world. If you’ve been looking for a Thoth deck to try, I highly recommend this one.
*There are two main styles of contemporary Tarot decks. Both decks were reinventions of the original Marseilles-style Tarot decks and were heavily influenced by the beliefs and practices of the British occult group The Golden Dawn which existed from 1887-1903. The Rider-Smith-Waite (RSW) deck was published in 1910 and was illustrated by Pamela Coleman Smith under the direction of A. E. Waite. The Harris-Crowley-Thoth (Thoth) deck was illustrated by Lady Frieda Harris under the direction of Aleister Crowley in 1943 but was not published until 1969.
Last week I purchased a vintage deck: a 1960’s Parlour Sibyl oracle deck. It’s a charming deck… except for the casual racism and misogyny found on some of the cards and in the LWB (little white book); which really just makes it not charming at all. What I had hoped would be a fun oracle deck to work with is simply not usable for me or my clients. It is, however, a great deck to study and critique. And we should absolutely critique our decks.
If Tarot and oracle decks are a tool we use to help connect ourselves and our clients to the subconscious, we should be very careful about the messages that the decks we use for these readings are sending.
We could argue if the reader and seeker are aware of the cultural context for older decks and systems, that we can overlook the outdated and toxic ideas. But readings are a time for us to be open, be more vulnerable, and bring in new perspectives. I absolutely do not want my clients (or myself) to be taking in negative ideas about ourselves or others on even a subliminal level. It’s important that we look at our decks and really understand what their images, keyword associations, and general structure are telling us.
Given the traditional structure of card decks, there are often cards that represent both the female and male archetypes. And so… very often there is, in fact, a “woman card.”
“The woman card, also called … the gender card or the sex card, is an idiomatic phrase … used to describe accusations of women either mentioning their gender to gain an advantage in discussions or implying or accusing other people of sexism in order to garner support.” (Wikipedia, 5/4/2018)
The phrase most often shows up in workplace or political settings; generally when someone competing against a female peer is feeling frustrated and hasn’t found more appropriate responses to the conflict. Even if someone actually is inappropriately trying to use gender in a given situation, simply shouting “the woman card” is not productive and does not address anything of substance constructively. It’s pejorative.
One of the most famous instances of this phrase being used in the United States was during the 2016 presidential elections by then-Republican-nominee Donald Trump in reference to his opponent Democratic-nominee Hillary Clinton. Trump complained that Clinton was “…constantly playing the woman card. It’s the only way she may get elected.” (Turns out it may have been one of the main reasons she didn’t get elected… amongst many other things that are way outside of a Tarot blog’s domain.) The public response to his remarks was immediate, varied, and often hilarious. From the Clinton campaign’s NYC MetroPass-style “Woman Card” they issued as donor rewards to any number of role-playing style card mockups to an actual poker deck of famous women in US history.
This is the beginning of a new series for the Moth & Candle blog: The Woman Card. I’ve started looking at the cultural implications of various decks and will be reviewing the female representations in the decks in my own library.
Many of my fellow readers and I lament the lack of diversity (for want of a better term) in the decks available. Sadly, even contemporary decks have been slow to expand the representations of people in their images. There have been multiple times when I’ve optimistically opened a deck only to find one card that makes me stop and feel a little uneasy. (Even contemporary decks! Come on, fellow deck-designers, we need to do better!)
Have you come across cards in your own decks that make you pause? Have you found a deck that is really representative of contemporary clients’ needs? Please let me know what you have found in your own study. I look forward to exploring the cultural contexts of our decks more in depth!
“What are people’s opinions on trimming Tarot decks? I’ve done it to my main one and I think it looks pretty good.”
Someone asked this question in one of the Tarot forums I browse regularly. My stomach turned when I read it. I asked him to clarify, “Why trim? To remove the border?” He said, “Yes, they had a white border before.”
Ok. So I know that I preach that Tarot cards are literally images printed onto thick card stock. However… the idea of taking a blade to my cards or ANY cards, for that matter, is upsetting. (*This is not to say that I’m opposed to altered decks. But there is more to an “altered deck” than simply cutting off part of your card.)
My first reaction as a card designer… “Oh NO! Those borders are there for a reason!” For most contemporary decks, the artists are the ones making the call to include a border on their cards or not. Think of it like the difference between tacking your photo straight to the wall or framing it nicely under glass with a mat. The white (or whatever color) border is there as a way to present the main image. If you’re unconvinced… take a doodle you’ve done and frame it like you would a treasured work of art. I guarantee, your doodle will suddenly take on a little more importance.
White borders on playing cards also help protect the image. Unlike most art on paper, we actually touch cards. We handle them a lot! Those borders help extend the life of the main image. It protects them from the wear-and-tear of our hands and shuffling. When you shuffle cards (even gently) it stresses the ends of the card stock. Think of a paperback book after it has been taken on and off the shelf for several years… the corners and edges fluff up a little bit, get nicked, and gather dirt. Very often the borders are white because the core of the card stock itself is white, which means it will show less wear if there isn’t a contrast right next to the edge. Distance between the edge of the card and the pigments of your main image is a good thing for your cards.
When I mentioned this question of “To cut or not to cut?” to a fellow Tarot reader, she looked horrified and also said she felt sick to her stomach. She said, “That’s violent. ‘I don’t like the way my pinky finger looks… let’s hack it off!'” She felt that it’s disrespecting the deck. I completely agree.
While Tarot cards are a tool… they are a tool for a job that I take seriously. When I read cards for someone, I’m helping them do self-awareness work. As part of that job I create sacred space for myself and my clients. I carry my work deck with me at all times; here’s how I create that sacred space no matter where I am:
- I leave the box at home, but I wrap the deck in a large silk scarf buffering its edges and corners. Then I tuck it into a double-lined velvet pouch which adds an additional layer of padding. This does two things. First, it protects my cards as best as possible while keeping them usable and portable. A small steel box would get really annoying to carry everywhere really fast. Second, the silk and velvet make it feel nice. I’ve spent a little extra on these accessories for my tools because I feel they are important and I love my job. So while bubblewrap and a sandwich bag might be equally effective at protecting my cards… how seriously could you take me if I presented my work this way?
- I wash my hands before working with my cards. Obviously this helps extend the life of the cards by keeping them as free from dirt and oils as possible. Hand washing is also a very common aspect of many rituals. It helps establish a mindset that this is something I want to treat kindly; that I want to pay attention to.
- I lay a cloth under them before I spread them on a table. This keeps them clean. It also sets a space where the cards can be considered together. So while I’m often giving readings on cluttered tables out in public, I’ve still designated a space for the reading simply by laying a cloth down. Like the framing and matting analogy I mentioned earlier.
- The decks that get used most I clean with a special fanning-powder mixture I’ve made. (That’s my concoction there in the glass container on the bottom shelf of the cabinet.) I use the powder to help clear dirt from the surfaces and maintain the smooth finish. I did my research and found the safest powder to use for the cards themselves and infused it with various scents. This helps my hardest used decks feel clean. And having clean tools in a sacred space is important to keeping that space sacred. Dirt is truly just a distraction when we want to be focused.
- My decks are stored in a specific cabinet. When I’m not actively using them they go straight back to their cabinet. My decks don’t get lost or accidentally damaged this way. I also keep those little silica gel packets in there with them to help control the moisture.
When we treat the objects we use in meditative practice with a certain reverence and care, it helps us treat what we are doing (important self-awareness work) with reverence and care.
As a reader, your cards are your connection to your client. And you should respect your clients. If you read for yourself… your cards are a vehicle for a conversation with yourself. YOU should be respected!
So if you feel that you just absolutely can’t live with the border on your deck and you STILL want to cut it off… (sigh) do so carefully and make sure that you treat your cards with care and respect in every other possible way.
The High Priestess card is a strong contender for my favorite card in a traditional Tarot deck. In fact, I’ve used the High Priestess card as my primary focus card for the past three years. Let me break down a few of her main attributes:
- INTUITION. The High Priestess represents our intuitive side. In the Smith-Waite deck she is sitting in front of “the sea of the unconscious” which is hidden behind a veil suspended between two pillars. The columns represent Boaz and Jakin which stood outside of the door to Solomon’s temple. The High Priestess is intuition backed by wisdom and knowledge. This card asks you to understand and trust your “gut feelings.” These impulses we have are based on our personal and collective experiences. I’ve personally been fascinated with understanding the roots of our impulses and the book “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell is a nice jumping off point.
- INTROSPECTION. With intuition though, we must have a significant degree of self-awareness. We must be alert to personal traumas or negative experiences which may have developed some instincts that might not serve us well. The better we know ourselves the stronger our intuition can grow. This card may be a good signal to make sure that you are spending quiet time alone thinking through your goals and desires.
- FEMININE DIVINE. The High Priestess is strongly associated with the moon. She speaks to lunar cycles, feminine wisdom, and the divine within us all (regardless of gender). When this card appears in your reading it can ask you to honor your spiritual side. It could also refer to someone in your life who embodies the High Priestess archetype: a studious, quiet, and highly intuitive individual.
- ESOTERIC EXPERIENCE. The High Priestess is the patron of the obscure, the mysterious, the arcane. There are many experiences in this world and not everything can be encompassed by the “universal.” There is value in the specific. While The Hierophant card speaks strongly to established societal structures, The High Priestess asks us to honor our inner selves no matter how odd it may seem.
The Sun card is making an appropriate appearance for June. With the bright light of the sun we can find plants flourishing, living creatures basking in the warmth, and… in the startlingly harsh glare of a summer sun… we can find clarity.
But that can be the trick, can’t it? While the light can reveal what was previously obscured in the shadows, what we find can be hard to accept. The light can feel blinding. Truth can be overwhelming if we’ve grown too accustomed to the darkness.
So what should we do when The Sun shows up; when we are faced with what we know should be our fulfillment and yet we feel overly exposed in the light? For now, I’m treating The Sun as a call for acceptance of the true self. You’ve worked hard and gotten to this point. Enjoy what you’ve attained but also take a look at exactly where you are. After all, with each completed goal comes a new one to work towards. There’s truly no need to be afraid of the realities we find, we are always a work-in-progress. There is always somewhere to go from here.
The Sun Meditation: Draw The Sun card from your favorite deck. Sit with it quietly for a few minutes. Note it’s dominant qualities: the main colors, symbolic themes, general impressions. Now think about how these qualities relate to your current situation. How is The Sun manifesting in your life at present? Are you feeling comfortable in your accomplishments or are you feeling exposed in the light of day? And why? Now look at any aspect of the card as it relates to your present situation that feels uncomfortable, lacking, or incomplete. How can you reconcile your accomplishments with that which is still unfinished? Visualize a bright light encompassing all aspects of The Sun as it relates to you. Let the light continue to grow until there is nothing but the light. Sit with this light for several minutes. Eventually let the light dissolve into darkness. Look at the card once more and, with gratitude, place it back in your deck.
The Sun Spread: Place The Sun card at the top of your reading. Form two columns of three cards each underneath. The cards in the left column are the things you have accomplished. The cards in the right column are the aspects that can be taken further. It’s important to not think of the right column as things which are lacking. These are simply aspects of your path that have room to grow. Finally, draw one more card and place it at the bottom of your reading. This card is the suggested action or focus which will help bridge the accomplishments (left) with the works-in-progress (right).
Many people I know are emerging from prolonged periods of self-reflection. Now we find ourselves in the bright summer sun. We must learn to love and trust what we have found there. Running back into the darkness is not the way to go. Work with the light. Let it show the way.
Pictured: Old English Tarot, The Sun XVIIII
It’s a new calendar year and, of course, I’ve been thinking a lot about setting intentions. While planning and pondering what my touchstone should be, the Strength card kept making an appearance. Over and over.
Strength is one of my favorite cards (if not my absolute favorite) of the Smith-Waite deck. It’s a powerful image: a female figure calmly subduing and closing the jaws of a lion. There is no brute strength going on here. This is tapping into the inner power at your core.
When this card comes up for my clients I often explain that this isn’t the hard unyielding strength of a bulldozer… this is the fluid and enduring strength of a wave.
The Strength card is asking us to find that leonine power within ourselves and to channel it. The lemniscate (infinity symbol) over her head reminds us that we aren’t being called to find one big burst of strength, but to develop real fortitude; turn the fiery bursts of energy into a steady stream of stamina. Endurance is the name of the game and we can handle it with grace.
Happy new year.
I am currently living out The Hanged Man card in my life. I am in the midst of personal and legal issues and really all I can do is wait. There’s frustration and humiliation and a very real sense of powerlessness. I’m moving towards a better time and I know that fairly soon I will be cut down from this scaffolding, but for now… here I hang.
Times like this can be excruciatingly unpleasant; like riding passively in a car on your way to an emergency. Sometimes it feels like if you could just get out of the vehicle and run it would feel better, even though you clearly can’t run as fast as a car can drive. It seems like if only you could exert enough effort you could make time go faster. The feeling that you need to “do” something about the situation can be tough to fight.
So how can I tap into the resigned grace of The Hanged Man in the Major Arcana? Intellectually, I definitely understand that there really is nothing to do but just wait it out. Find an interesting pose, take some deep breaths, take in the view. Time to just “hang” or “be” with the situation. If I can stop flailing and settle down enough, I know I can gain a lot of insight during this time that will serve me well once the rope is removed from my ankle. So for now, deep breath and wait. This too shall pass.