Tarot as the Calm in the Storm

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We humans are complex beings.  Our brains are constantly rationalizing what is in our hearts, and our hearts are busy feeling what’s in our heads.  Headline news screams unrest here in the U.S. (and has been poking our core value systems for at least the past 5 years).  Social media is constantly buzzing with new perspectives, new stories, new vitriol. Put us in a year of chaos and change, and we may just need an escape hatch.  Some strive to close ourselves off like The Hermit, others are feeling so stressed by pandemic isolation that they crave connection and activity.  Either way, it’s not going away any time soon.

As we navigate this terrain, it’s important to find our center of gravity.  What keeps us sane?  What reminds us to breathe?  Where can we close the door on the agitating and dysfunctional chatter and connect with Self?  Where can we open the door to connect with something larger?  The task for each of us is to find that peace.  For me, it became tarot.

My watery nature is comfortable imagining possibilities, and my brain is busy rationalizing them.  I’m a dreamy idealist that loves systems-based methods.  It’s no wonder that when I needed to hit the “eject” button on pandemic and political news for a while, I turned to a practice I had long held dear but had allowed to drift into my periphery.  Reconnecting with the cards allowed me to find that still, quiet space by allowing the parts of my internal system a voice on a come-as-you-will basis, while also opening up channels to higher consciousness.   It’s empowering when they co-exist.

Our fears, our anger, our frustration can stem from any number of sources.  Being able to sit in quiet connection with the cards helps to assuage our fears and feel a sense of control in a climate of uncertainty.  Whether we use it to dissect current events and gain a better understanding of their place in our histories or as a detour to escape the toxicity for a moment, it allows a respite to come back to center, and to operate from a sense of knowing calm.

Tarot offers us a place to check in. It’s nice to have a place to come home to.

The Power in the Precarious

A9B8CADD-0306-464C-B180-5C723D5B8720_1_201_aI’ve been enjoying a relaxing and solitary long weekend of this New Year celebration (good riddance, 2020), and spending  time in my favorite tarot groups and activities.  Everyone is posting their Year Ahead spreads, and I’ve been having some fun creating and throwing some, as well.  I’m also secretly relieved that my own cards have been pretty non-pokey, as I see others with their Towers and 5 of Pentacles outcomes.  A friend texted in the afternoon, deflated by her 3 of Swords theme, “I just remembered why I don’t like new year spreads.”

I’m a silver linings person.  Being an optimist to the very core of my being can prove challenging when reading cards (which is why focusing on their shadow aspects is really balancing, for me); but what I’m seeing this weekend is the highest potential of tarot on full display.  Oh, sure, you say, you’re not the one with the 10 of Swords and 5 of Cups.

It’s really easy to see these shades of doom & gloom and to throw up our hands, resigned to the fate of another tough year, but isn’t this why we use tarot?  Don’t lose sight of your autonomy.  The cards are providing some much needed guidance on your trajectory, and this is a jumping off point, where you start really asking questions.  “OK, 3 of Swords, what are you really doing here?  Are you my reality or just that part of me that overreacts and sees crisis where none exists?  How might I process this realization and respond from a more balanced or Self-led place?”  “I see you, Tower.  What aspect of my life needs my attention and tending right now, in order to re-stabilize on my terms and minimize fallout?”  Don’t just sit there, start shuffling again and get into it with these cards!

This is the beauty of tarot.  Use the cards to help you navigate, to avoid upsets, to recognize obstacles so that you can maneuver more gracefully.  A tarot deck is a powerful thing, indeed.  Use it to help you steer your chariot.

Spectrums of Meaning

To use reversals or not? That is one of the most commonly discussed choices in tarot. I suspect it’s more relevant to predictive readings than introspective, but as a seeker drawn more to the shadowy aspects of the cards, I was spurred by the descriptions in Paul Quinn’s Tarot for Life which separated the reversed and shadow meanings. As I explored them, I realized that while his reversed meanings were often the opposite of the upright, his shadow meanings were often the exaggerated aspects (as our shadows are so often expressed). Over the years of integrating theories and practices, this naturally merged with my tendency to look to the more therapeutic aspects of the cards, as what fears and shame holds us back from pursuing our dreams, and the spectrum just made sense.

We are living in a time when spectrums are, thankfully, gaining a wider acceptance in understanding the topics that we as humans love to polarize. The gender binary is slowly coming to be recognized as a spectrum of gender fluidity. Neurotypical and neurodivergent expressions are now more commonly referred to as “the spectrum.” As artists, we’re trained from a young age to see color in spectrums — not just in the hues of individual colors, but across the whole wheel. Green is simply a point on the spectrum between yellow and blue.

I learned this as an herbalist, as well. When we look at the physiology of health from a holistic framework, we recognize tissue states of the body. Biologically, our organs and cells are constantly striving for homeostasis. But aren’t we always striving for homeostasis emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, as well? In the tissue states of the body, we can look to the four humours, which are always at various points on the spectrum; but a major underlying factor is the spectrum between deficiency and excess. Deficient tissues are weak and saggy; tissues in excess are excited (and we utilize the energetics of plant medicine to influence them back into balance). My Libra moon thinks that everything is ultimately about balance, and so I thought that this translated really well to the cards.

If we look to the suits as humours, excess damp or water can be seen in the Cups, deficient fire in Wands, and so on. Is the bloviating extreme of the Knight of Swords not an expression of excess air? If we compare tarot to herbs, how can they influence us back to center? Mainly, they ask us questions which may encourage us to consider the issue from other perspectives. Hopefully, they help us to connect with the internal parts that may need some tending — or even just the opportunity to express themselves. For example, the 8 of Cups nudges us to move on from something that no longer serves us on our path. In deficiency (or, I use ‘resistance’ with tarot), we may remain in that situation — perhaps out of emotional insecurity — refusing the call to leave. At the other end of the spectrum, in excess, we may have a tendency to always walk away from situations rather than face them. The balanced center is where we consider the situation and take the appropriate action. The cards invite us into the questions which may influence right action. Do you have a pattern of walking away? What are you avoiding? Are you in denial about moving from one stage to another? And more. Lots more.

And so, I am thoroughly intrigued by this notion, and I look forward to exploring it further (ah, my Page of Swords is gleefully activated!). It will, of course, be a neverending pursuit, but the basic skeleton I’m laying out here in these meanings is, perhaps, a start.

The World

level up on the spiral to a new cycle of growth

from Sola Busca Revisited by Tarot by Seven

With The World, it all comes together. Our current cycle of soul work culminates and we’re ready to level up to a new cycle of growth. It brings with it a sense of fulfillment and integration to a more unified (hence the androgyny) whole. We see the big picture. We’ve gained a more holistic view of the universe; just as the four elements, the four seasons, the four directions work together within a larger sphere yet retain their individual properties, the ego realizes that we are a part of a greater whole and yet we are independent, free to be ourselves as we evolve to the next level.

(-) In resistance, fear of change or the unknown causes us to restrict our evolution into new levels of growth. We resist our potential, not quite sure where we’re going, which may result in alienation as we lack connection with or appreciation for our co-travelers.

(+) In excess, the constant pursuit of enlightenment is a refusal to cooperate in the earthly aims of manifestation. We’re trying to transcend our earthly limitations while unable to truly see the big picture. Or, we may be so caught up in the big picture that details and steps are elusive or overlooked. In a more practical application of this card’s meanings, we may be so lost in virtual reality or the World Wide Web that earthly day-to-day takes a back seat.

Questions we may be prompted to ask when this card comes up include

  • What are you having trouble manifesting?
  • Where do you feel constrained or restricted? Are you restricting yourself?
  • How might you gain a broader or more holistic perspective of the matter at hand?
  • Is there something you feel you need closure on? What can help attain that closure?
  • Do you feel the weight of the world’s problems on your shoulders?

What else? The archetypes of the majors are complex and you may have other insights. How has this card come up for you? What are some examples of this card’s energies?

Judgement

awaken to your true calling

from Deck of the Dead, by Tarot by Seven

From the historical depictions of the Judgement card to the more modern Waite Smith, we see the day of liberation as souls are trumpeted from the physical plane to unite with a higher consciousness. This the awakening for Last Judgement, where we are judged for our actions (how Christian!), atone for our sins, and are called to ascend. It is the archetype of callings, of summons to a new life. We’re called to account first, though; and while atonement may carry religious overtones, this is not about guilt. Taking stock in an honest personal inventory and making amends for our misjudgments can foster a sense of renewal — especially in the wake of The Sun’s illumination. Leave the past behind. Here, we awaken to a new awareness of our sense of purpose in this life, our higher calling, our raison d’etre; finding where we need to be in the larger community and making the shifts necessary to move toward that.

(-) In resistance, we deny the call, perhaps always wondering about the road not taken. Passive, we may be waiting to be rescued.

(+) In excess, we judge others, even trying to convert or “save” them in what may be shades of a savior complex. If we can surrender our judgements and look into the mirror, we may realize that what we had judged a problem in an ‘other’ is really ours to own (or vice versa); but the shadow of Judgement is so caught up in its judgements that we’re not even aware that there’s something to be reckoned.

Questions we may be prompted to ask when this card comes up include

  • Are you able to do an honest self-evaluation?
  • Are there amends you would like to make for past actions?
  • What do you judge most in others?
  • How are you feeling called? Are you refusing that call?

What else? The archetypes of the majors are complex and you may have other insights. How has this card come up for you? What are some examples of this card’s energies?

The Sun

move forward with confidence and clarity

from Darkness of Light (1st ed.)

Like moving from darkness to dawn, the unknown depths of The Moon give way to the illumination of The Sun, and we have insight and clarity as what was occluded is now in the light. Eureka! We have come to know our weak points, and acceptance of our whole self has brought confidence with the awareness that the only thing holding us back is us. This clarity may prompt us to revitalize something that has always been with us but never expressed, but we now have the inner fortitude to stand up and take center stage (without the need to; others can shine, too). There is a warmth and a joy that comes with this card, and a sense that we’re not shedding or leaving anything, but growing. Things are brighter and we’re energized with the optimism and enthusiasm of a child.

(-) In resistance, we turn away from the light, failing to see the gold. We are insecure, avoiding recognition and unable to accept success. Physically, we may think of Seasonal Affective Disorder as one expression of a lack of Sun energy.

(+) In excess, it’s all play without any responsibilities. A childish state of vanity and self-centeredness demands that we are the only one shining, with everything revolving around us. The Sun card in excess is all ego, where we feel the need to prove ourselves by being the largest presence in the room.

Questions we may be prompted to ask when this card appears include

  • Do you tend to be more of a wallflower, avoiding attention? What parts protect you by keeping you in the background?
  • Or do you always seek the light, dominating the conversation and attracting attention? What need does that fill (or hide?)
  • Are you avoiding responsibility, having a party of fun & games without expecting the cleanup?
  • Where is your happy place?
  • What is your superpower and why are you hiding it from the world?

What else? The archetypes of the majors are complex and you may have other insights. How has this card come up for you? What are some examples of this card’s energies?

The Moon

relax into the darkness and take guidance from what is revealed

from New Era Elements Tarot, by U.S. Games

Just as the moon cycles across the sky, revealing different sides at different phases and keeping others hidden in shadow, The Moon card is the self in its complexity. This is an invitation into the deep waters of the subconscious and psychic realm. What part of the psyche is driving the current situation? The two wolves often included in the card’s imagery (one soft and one fierce) remind us of the Cherokee legend of the two wolves dueling inside each of us, with the winner being the one that we are feeding.

When The Moon pulls back the tides, that which had been submerged is exposed. If we allow ourselves to relax into the darkness, emotional and psychic gifts may be revealed, guiding us to deeper mysteries and meanings. It’s wise to remember that the psyche speaks in symbols, and to pay attention to dreams and other messages. We may also consider the cyclical aspect of the moon as it relates to our own cycles — not only the 28-day period of menses but any, such as bipolar cycles and others.

(-) In resistance, we find the situation at hand unclear and are confused, or we misunderstand it (are we lost in self-deception?). We may deny our intuitive voice, allowing only rational thought.

(+) In excess, our moodiness fluctuates and may be unstable. Things are not as they seem. We allow ourselves to fall into the depths of our darkest shadows, even losing touch with reality in a state of psychosis.

Questions we may be prompted to ask when this card comes up include

  • What internal part is driving the current situation?
  • How can you access and honor your occluded parts?
  • What did you dream about last night? What meanings or messages do you think lie in those visions? What parts of the Self had a role?
  • How have you been disillusioned? Is this a repeating cycle?

What else? The archetypes of the majors are complex and you may have other insights. How has this card come up for you? What are some examples of this card’s energies?

The Star

recenter, and follow your North Star

from Rackham Tarot, by Lo Scarabeo

After the crumbling destruction of The Tower, hope is restored by the healing power of The Star, which reminds us of the way forward. With an attitude of cleansing renewal, we’re ready to recalibrate and regenerate. This is a card of recovery. We can clear the debris and recenter, hopeful for the future and inspired to nurture our dream. This is our North Star — the true path which we feel called to follow as if guided from above and which allows us to feel comfortable and secure in our own skin.

(-) In resistance, we remain in a loss of hope. Our inspiration gone, we think our efforts and goals futile. We retreat to safe terrain with an intolerance for anything but the ideal. Here, we can exist in denial and fantasy, which serves only to mask the deep discomfort we feel with ourselves — measuring ourselves against external standards and projecting a false status in the hopes of more “likes.”

Or, we become unapproachable, giving the outward appearance of self-sufficiency but are really warding off the outside world by creating a layer of armour — merely a different way of retreating to safe terrain and resisting the healing that The Star can bring.

(+) In excess, we prefer to exist in LaLa Land; always planning for the future and dreaming big, but we may never really act on it. This state of serene hopefulness provides an eternally safe space. Perhaps we’re inspiring others to share our state of constant and uplifting renewal — even promoting that sense of toxic positivity or cleansing that we see in new-agey or pop-health and MLM trends?

Questions we may be prompted to ask when this card appears include

  • What, truly, is your dream? What has prevented you from setting its course?
  • Do you try to project an ideal image? How does this facade protect you?
  • Are you always planning but not actually doing? What small task can you set to take a step forward?
  • How have you survived, in the past?

What else? The archetypes of the majors are complex and you may have other insights. How has this card come up for you? What are some examples of this card’s energies?

The Tower

Re-evaluate the structures in your life and rebuild where needed

from The Relative Tarot by Carrie Paris

When we resist confronting the shadow in The Devil, we get a cosmic whack which shatters our little world and our ego illusions, forcing permanent change. We must push through this upheaval; we cannot go back (and we probably won’t be the same afterward.). We can avoid the more chaotic Tower events by proactively re-evaluating the structures and beliefs we’ve established (whether personal, professional, spiritual, etc.) and rebuilding where needed so that we are enlightened by the Tower’s collapse rather than exposed. The Tower comes in various states and stages and forms; it doesn’t have to be a disaster.

It may feel like divine intervention, and the crown often included in the card signals the involvement of our higher self, with the lightning bolt as illumination. The ego must submit to the divine, which can be traumatic (a blow to the ego isn’t easy for anyone), but it invites us to shift, realign, and grow in its wake. While it may appear suddenly, Jung explained that the inner workings of this archetype “have been at work for a long time in the unconscious, skillfully arranging circumstances that will lead to the crisis.” This is an invitation to re-evaluate the structures we have built and clear out what we’re not meant to carry anymore so that we may rebuild with a stronger foundation.

(-) In resistance, as with The Devil (and a continuation of it), the shadow of The Tower appears when we refuse to confront destructive patterns or established structures, and the stagnation that comes with that. The pressure condenses and eventually blows. We may be trying to maintain a facade. A fear of falling (or failing) may be indicated, here, as well.

(+) In excess, it can hint at the need to create catastrophes and drastic eruptions out of everything — and, perhaps, chaos in the lives of others.

Questions we may be prompted to ask when this card appears include

  • Where have you been complacent?
  • What structures or habits have you outgrown? What is ready to be released?
  • Do you tend to ignore the advice of the cards when they’re not saying what you want to hear?
  • How does your authentic self differ from the persona you project to the world?
  • What fear keeps you locked in safety, afraid of exploring your full potential?
  • What societal structures are you ready to break down?

What else? The archetypes of the majors are complex and you may have other insights. How has this card come up for you? What are some examples of this card’s energies?

The Devil

confront your personal demons

from Touchstone Tarot by Kat Black (trimmed)

The Devil is that Christian construct designed to shame and guilt us with all that our ‘better judgement’ deems undesirable about our choices and actions. It leads us into temptation then aims to restrict us from pleasure with its finger-wagging, and represents those things which we would rather not know about ourselves — much less reveal — instead projecting them onto others in the outside world. The Devil represents our shadow.

I hesitate to demonize anything about the workings of our inner parts, since their true motive is always our safety, and we want simply to engage with our shadow parts to understand them and integrate them (hopefully with a new role or task). Sure, this card is about the lust, the greed, the deceit; but here, we’re invited to confront our guilt, shame, and fear. Do they really belong here? These limiting beliefs are meant to protect us and keep us safe, but we can escape this by understanding what part is driving it and what purpose it’s serving. Have we wronged another? Correct it. Otherwise, we must ask whether that shame is justified, or if this is just the protector part’s narrative to keep us safe by keeping us down. Identifying that is a profound opportunity to liberate ourselves from the shackles of self-destruction and guilt.

(-) In resistance, we lack the desire to change or to correct our behaviors and remain in patterns of materialism, oppression, addiction, and other drives which are concerned only with our own pleasure and gain at the expense of others. We are enslaved in our shadows, powerless, which leads only to a continuation of self-destructive patterns and the constant need of approval from others since we cannot find it in ourselves.

The failure to confront our demons leads to The Tower.

(+) In excess, we condemn ourselves for things that don’t warrant it. Stuck in shame or fear, we desire to change our perceived wrongdoings but are bound to them, which affirms and perpetuates the loops of harmful self-talk and self-loathing that accompanies them.

Questions we may be prompted to ask when this card appears include

  • What do you allow to bring out the worst in you?
  • What decisions have you made based in fear?
  • Can you identify your self-destructive patterns? In what ways are you sabotaging your own success and well-being? How are your protector parts keeping you safe?
  • How is the past influencing your decisions?
  • Where you feel shame or guilt, what action can you take to correct it?
  • What stops you from reaching your greatest potential? What are you making more important than your self-empowerment?

What else? The archetypes of the majors are complex and you may have other insights. How has this card come up for you? What are some examples of this card’s energies?