Tarot as the Calm in the Storm


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 fear and shame holds us back from pursuing our dreams (or exaggerates our pursuit), 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 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?

Ace of Wands

reach out and take hold of that energy

One of the things I’ve noticed in books and other writings on shadow work is that they only talk about the trumps, as though the pips are insignificant in these matters. On the contrary; I think the cards that represent our daily interactions and feelings and responses are those we should explore first when trying to better understand the parts of our psyche. So, in this new series on the cards to include shadow meanings, we’ll start with the pips and then go into courts, finishing up with the trumps.

Aces are often considered some of the most amorphous of the cards. As the beginning of the suit, Aces represent the possibilities of their element — and that can seem wide open. If we consider the imagery used in the Smith-Waite decks, the Aces show an article of the suit (wand, cup, sword, or pentacle) held by a hand emerging from a cloud, indicating that there is an offering here. Will we accept it? Are we ready to step up and take it? That’s really the directive of the Aces, isn’t it? Are we going to reach out and take hold of it? What are we going to do with it? What we’re asked to confront in the shadows of this card is what is holding us back?

from Soprafino, by il Meneghello

And so, in fiery Wands, the Ace is raring to go. It’s the spark of desire, the motivation to reach up and grab that energy or desire so that we may actualize it in our lives.

In the spectrum of this card, that positive initiative is in the balanced center. On one end of the spectrum, where there is resistance, we hold back, reluctant to take what is offered. Are we not ready yet? Do we feel incapable? We may miss the opportunity out of fear, complacency, or a lack of focus. Our task here is to identify what may be holding us back.

On the other end, where there is excess, it may be counterproductive by generating hasty, impetuous, or bold behavior. By placing too much importance on it, we may jump the gun and miss the opportunity.

Questions that we may want to ask when this card comes up include:

  • Is there some fear or doubt holding you back?
  • Is there a desire you’re reluctant to allow out?
  • Are you procrastinating about something? What part of you is that serving?

But of course that’s just a beginning. How do you see this card? How has it come up for you? What is your favorite depiction of the Ace of Wands?

The Numbers of the Pips

When embarking on the study of tarot, it’s not uncommon to feel intimidated or overwhelmed by the prospect of having to memorize all of those card meanings. The thing is, though, you can more easily recall the properties of each card of the minor arcana (or pips) by simply combining the suit meaning with the number meaning.

The suits are basically the four elements – Fire (Wands or Staves), Water (Cups), Air (Swords), and Earth (Pentacles or Coins) – each providing a different cycle, journey, or aspect of our being. So, Wands (fire) is about energy and the action we take in the world; the identities we adopt and put forth. Cups (water) encompasses the depths of the emotional realm, including (especially) the unconscious. Swords (air) rules the mental realm of the intellect; where the Cups deal with the unconscious, the Swords deal with the conscious, and the ways in which we communicate and use strategy and logic. Pentacles (earth) rules the physical realm and how we as spirits or souls navigate the material world. Now combine the suit with the number…

[There is no zero in the suits; but as long as we’re talking numbers, I’ll mention that with the zero, there is potential in the void; like conception, it’s both nothing and everything.]

  1. So, we start each suit with the one or ace: the beginning. Any conception or seed holds within it the fullest potential of its suit and the one comes in when we step up. In many traditional decks, we see an offering being held out to us as if from another realm. Will you take it?
  2. With two, the ace begins to find its expression as the addition of another creates tension – whether uniting or dividing. Here we see duality and polarity, the union of opposites, and choice – with balance as the desired outcome.
  3. In three, we see the response to the two, the reaction to the two, the result of the two, as it synthesizes further. As the three is in process of or striving for form, it‘s evolving.
  4. It becomes secure in the four, taking concrete form as in the foundation of a house or shelter. The four is stable and content as is. (I’ve also seen it postulated that four is our response to the abundance of three, which is worthy of reflection as we consider the fours in each suit.)
  5. The five loosens us out of that stability or status quo to confrontation. Here we are taking action in conflict, which may involve struggle or contraction.
  6. As one contracts, another expands, and in the six we see that natural ebb & flow or exchange of energy like the cogs in a machine or the flow of the tides, each prompting the next; perhaps completing a cycle with new info or clarity which prompts a new cycle.
  7. The seven finds us like the eye of the hurricane – not in motion but in the midst of it. Reaction may be swirling around us but we are waiting, evaluating, planning. There may be uncertainty, but this is time for internal work amidst the external noise or activity.
  8. The eight is the resolution of seven with a better perspective from which to launch. It’s a realignment, a readjustment, and we can now open the door with a new direction or movement.
  9. In nine, we near the end of the cycle and take a moment in solitude to reflect or steady ourselves with the gifts of the suit as we emerge to culmination.
  10. As we saw the fullest potential of the element in the ace, we see the full power of the suit in the ten. The cycle is complete and we integrate its lessons while transitioning to the next cycle.

You may have different meanings for the numbers – or are inspired to find your own – and when combined with the suit meanings, this provides clarity on each pip. This is the key to reading Tarot de Marseille, but may inform all tarot card meanings.

Some correlate the number meanings up to the trumps (e.g., Magician as 1 shows full potential of what you may create) and it’s easy enough to stretch our imagination to squeeze a numerical meaning into some aspect of a card, but I see the trumps as an entirely separate component of the deck which illustrates the stages of the archetypal Hero’s Journey.

What do you think?

Meet Your Deck

After another social media post asking about deck interviews and the usual replies reinforcing the notion that tarot decks are their own little entities with their own little sets of emotions and preferences and judgements, I was inspired to create one using the same questions, but from the perspective that the differences between our decks (or, er- stacks of beautiful little art prints) isn’t so much that each is its own little personality, but that we respond differently to each artist’s vision from the parts of our own subconscious.

Of course, we’re all free to see our decks and our tarot practices however we choose; and if it’s working for us and we’re getting great results – super.  In hoping to inspire a more empowered approach to the cards, though, I’d like to offer an alternative to this mindset that the deck is its own entity — mostly because it denies us our own power as readers. Sure, all matter has energy; but as an artist, I don’t ask my paintbrushes what they would like to paint today, much less how they see me or what the outcome of our relationship will be.

With that in mind, I think that interview spreads can be useful from the perspective of how we would best work with that particular deck, and offer a new way to explore it:


  1. introduce yourself: How do I see this deck, overall? What personal lens do I most read this deck through?
  2. describe me: What part of me do I see most reflected by this deck?
  3. what questions does it like to read: What questions or topics do I relate most with this deck?
  4. what questions does it not like to read: What questions or topics do I perceive as not relating to this deck?
  5. strength: What strength of mine does this deck reflect?
  6. weakness: What do I perceive as the limitation of this deck? What challenge of mine does this deck reflect?
  7. what are you here to teach me: How can I use this deck for optimal growth?

I omitted the “outcome” placement because, really, does asking the outcome of the relationship make sense in any context with a deck of cards – enlivened or not?  It does remind me, however, that this spread also applies to those questions dealing with romantic interests – just replace ‘this deck’ with the name of the querent’s beloved. 😉

Happy reading!

Using Tarot to Illuminate the New Moon


The new moon is my favorite time of the lunar cycle.  While others are off worshipping the climactic (or releasing, if post-) energies of the full moon, my optimist self delights in the optimism of the new cycle.  With the new moon, we have the opportunity of a fresh new morning, and we get to choose how we move into it and through it.

When working with major life goals, one of the most magical practices we can employ is the New Moon Master Working, in which the goal is envisioned at a turning point of the year (such as a birthday or the Spring Equinox) and each new moon of the year is mapped out to support an aspect of the goal according to the sign the moon is in as it turns new, harnessing the energies of each sign as we move through the year, resulting in a holistic manifestation of our own design.  It takes a lot of commitment, but is a powerful way of manifesting change.

But when we’re not in the midst of heavy working and just check in month-to-month as we meander meaningfully (wait- is that an oxymoron?) through our cycles, turning to the cards can offer so much guidance and illumination.  Along with the invitation that the new moon brings, what are we overlooking?  What is ready to be released to enable this new focus?  Is there something I should be more aware of? What inner workings should we contemplate for a more comprehensive view of the upcoming cycle?  Consciously choosing our direction is imperative; but the cards reveal the unconscious needs that we may want to consider in order to more fully realize our potential, and the progression and repetition of the cards that appear from month to month is where the real gold is, when tracked and journaled.


For those who work primarily with 3-card spreads, a simple new moon example may be something like

This is a very basic spread, but can offer a lot of info for those who read with few cards.


IMG_6830It can also be optimized by adding layers, such as What / Why / How.  In the example below, What is the central present focus row, Why includes the underlying and perhaps more hidden influences, and How is the upper reasoning; which perhaps could even be read through more of a Lower Self / Middle Self / Higher Self sort of lens.  Regardless, the card in the center is the focal point of the spread with the surrounding cards informing a more dimensional view by reading not only down columns and across rows, but in taking in the larger picture in general.

When I learned to read cards, we were taught only to read in a 20-card tableau-style spread, so I love the larger spreads for the depth and layers they can offer.  I usually do a 10-card spread, which is sort of a morphing of the Celtic Cross with a spread of Lindsay Mack’s, with the positions based on my numerical meanings…  but I suppose that’s a post for another day!

Until then, I hope there is something here that may inspire you in your new moon practice.  Feel free to drop a comment if you’d like clarification on anything, or to share your own ideas.


Come. Sit.

The Fool from Rackham Tarot

Truth be told, I’m a crazy dog lady.  I paint dogs and I walk & hike dogs and I share my home with a dog, and I have studied and practiced herbal medicine for dogs.  So when it came time to name my tarot practice, I thought of Canis Major and Canis Minor, which comprise a portion of the night sky – much like the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana, which comprise the tarot.  Arcana, Canis… you see where this went.

Our dogs are our mirrors.  I learned this first-hand while training and while studying herbal medicine, seeing how dogs manifest issues we have stuffed down into the depths of our psyches.  They can see it, even if we can’t, and they reflect it back to us if we pay attention. As do the cards.  They aren’t here to tell us what the ego wants to hear, but simply to reflect back.

Dogs also remind us to live in the present, and it’s a great lesson to bring to a reading.  Questions about the future are welcomed (part of what I do is planning for the future); but let’s take it from here, now.   What can we do in this moment to step forward to that future outcome?

Our approach to tarot should be much like our relationship to dogs – never a fear-based approach, but with an open heart, as theirs always is.  

May you always have an open heart to accompany you on the path.