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The Woman Cards

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argue if the reader and seeker are aware of the cultural context for older decks and systems, that we can overlook the outdated and toxic ideas.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.

The Empress and The High Priestess from the Jodorowsky Camoin Marseilles deck.

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!

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The Armchair Tarot Reader: Free Download

“The Armchair Tarot Reader” by Laura Pensar is a quick-start guide for those interested in bringing the Tarot into their lives. The free booklet covers:

  • Getting Started. Instructions for a “Daily Focus Draw” practice are included to help you begin gaining the benefits of working with Tarot from the start!
  • Brief history of Tarot and explanation of its structure to help you learn the card meanings more quickly.
  • Index of card meanings. Quick and simple reference to use as a starting point for your Tarot study.
  • Advice for seeking a professional reader.
  • Learning to read for yourself.
  • Caring for your deck, a brief glossary of common terms, and background information about myself and my shop.

“The Armchair Tarot Reader” is a reference to introduce you to the Tarot and help you start working with your deck in a simple and peaceful way.

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Respecting the Cards

“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.

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Where Past And Future Meet

PresentMomentWebSafeMy go-to spread is all about the present. No surprise, given that I believe wholeheartedly that the present is “where it’s at.” You can’t look at a map and get to where you’re going if you don’t know where you are. Your present is where your past and your future meet in one fantastic spark of a moment. Your present is where the magic happens.

This past weekend I read cards for patrons of the Kansas City Renaissance Festival. Reading at these types of events is always an interesting mix: the querants range from Tarot regulars and enthusiasts to absolute skeptics and people just looking for something fun to do at the festival.

Given the broad range of querants, the opening exchange is really crucial. I need to know what it is they’re expecting, if anything, and their overall comfort level with the process. Inevitably there were many who, when asked, “Is there anything in particular you’d like to focus on today?” answered, “No, just the future. What’s going to happen this year?” These were also the ones who would not divulge any information about themselves, waiting to be convinced of the validity of a Tarot reading. So, I would proceed with the reading, and about halfway to two-thirds of the way through they would be hooked. Sometimes they’d actually say as much, other times it was a subtle uncomfortable shift of weight until the end when they’d shake their heads in disbelief and shake my hand, and a couple times jaws were dropped. Synchronicity can really knock you off balance if you’re not used to it.

There is something far more powerful and awe-inspiring about gaining clarity over your present circumstances than about generalities of a vague and hazy future. In my view, predictions not anchored heavily to an examination of the present are useless. Just as your route on that map depends upon where you are starting, the future depends largely on what is happening now. The past is fixed, the future is just an idea, the present is workable.