A Word or Two on my Card Meanings Series

One of the things that I’ve noticed about using cards in shadow work is that no one ever goes into the shadowier meanings of the pips. The majors or trumps always get all the glory; but they represent more archetypal energies, whereas the minors or pips contain the details of our daily lives. Our actions, our frustrations, the battles we have in our minds, our desires, and so on. Why does no one include them? And so I embarked on the task to find them.

Over time, I’ve come to see each card not in a binary sense of upright and reversed, but as a spectrum. In medicinal herbalism, we aim for balance or homeostasis in tissue states, and look at conditions in terms of deficiency and excess. In deficiency, tissues are weak; in excess, overexcited and perhaps bursting. As bodies, we rarely reach homeostasis, or it doesn’t last for long, as the body is always in a state of flux, of ebb & flow and adjustment in seeking it. And so it is with our lives. Our thoughts, our feelings, our actions are constantly in the process of seeking balance; and the tarot reflects all of these various states of our lives, in their aims and aches and glories and imperfections.

So, I see each card as representing both the positive balance as well as the challenges in its particular focus, as if on a spectrum of deficiency (e.g., fears, shame causing resistance) to excess (overcompensating?), with advice or directives for attaining or maintaining that central balanced state — or, bringing shadows into light.

If we envision the spectrum as a line or seesaw, we can start with deficiency at one end, balance in the middle, and excess at the other end. Once we start exploring the concept of each card (using number + suit meanings), the spectrum often presents itself. For example, if we look at the 6 of Wands, the advice (Lindsay Mack calls them invitations, and that feels right to me) is to take pride in our achievement or victory. In deficiency, we may resist due to self-doubt, perhaps a bit of imposter syndrome. Surely, I’m not worthy of attention or praise. At the opposite end, its excess may present as grandiosity, or taking all the credit rather than acknowledging those who helped. It was actually Paul Quinn’s book Tarot for Life that lit that spark, as he lists reversals and shadows for each card in a similar way. Eureka!

As with most tarot study, this is a work in process and will always be. Just like shadow work, there will always be more to learn, more to see, more to integrate. But I feel it necessary to give credit where it’s due and offer a sort of bibliography of my own journey in coming to this project of spectrums.

The general meanings of each card have come from a compendium of various sources over about 30 years (off and on – god, I’d be an expert if I’d been studying for 30 solid years!). From my first class with Pia at Regina Russell’s Tea Room (that sumptuous style of old-school fortune-telling) to deeper and more esoteric work with Christopher Penczak, to the more trauma-informed perspective of Lindsay Mack, I always held an interest in a more psychological perspective of the cards, and was drawn to books with a Jungian lens, such as Tarot as a Way of Life by Karen Hamaker-Zondag and Discovering Your Self Through the Tarot by Rose Gawain, and Choice-Centered Tarot by Gail Fairfield (now Everyday Tarot — and while not Jungian, per se, takes a therapeutic approach).

I think that we can often look back on papers we wrote in school with an amusing sense of foreshadowing, and after studying with Christopher Penczak through five levels of training, I did my final project on using tarot for shadow work. Even returning many years later for a course on the Major Arcana, he joked after class one night of my always being a little too interested in the shadowier side of things. (Hey, I’m a double-Scorpio with my moon in the 12th house.)

Anyhoo, back to the present, one of my closest and dearest friends is a therapist using IFS (Internal Family Systems), and when she briefly explained it to me, I was intrigued enough to dig into a few books on it, and quickly saw how this approach of meeting our parts (shadow work, really) integrated so well with tarot.  Like a dog on a scent, I’m now pursuing a much deeper understanding of and experience with it.

And now here I am, fitting the cards into spectrums and trying to identify questions that each may prompt. In the latter endeavor, Mary K Greer’s Tarot for Your Self and Andy Matzner’s Journaling the Tarot have been great jumping off points.

With that said, on to the fours! Please jump in with any comments or questions you may have, as I go. Discussion and debate help us all to grow.

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