2 of Wands

Take the initiative to explore outside of yourself.

Twos take us from the sole oneness of Ace to something outside of ourselves + Wands represent energy and identity; the life force that drives our actions.

from The Relative Tarot

And so, in its upright or balanced position on the spectrum, the 2 of Wands is standing at the threshold, considering the initiative to go beyond what we’ve been comfortable with and allowing ourselves to explore new territory; to reach out; to set goals; sending out our ships, sharing something of ourselves with the outside world. We may be confronted with a choice between inner emptiness and outer fulfillment; between action and inaction. Will we forge a new path or choose to risk nothing?

When this desire is blocked, we may have some hesitancy or indecision around this outward venture, or we’re stuck in a pattern of complacency. For some, negotiating the outside world can be challenging. What holds us back?

In excess, we’re never content with what we have, always searching elsewhere for gratification, or for something bigger & better.

Questions we may ask when this card comes up include

  • Is there a part of you or an identity that’s ready to be brought forward?
  • How are you holding back? Why might you be doing so?
  • Are there competing desires you’re trying to integrate?
  • Is there something about success that frightens you? What might that be?

What else? Of course, this is just a sampling of this card’s spectrum, and you may have other insights. How do you see this card? How has it come up for you? Feel free to share in comments.

Ace of Pentacles

take the first step in manifesting your idea

Aces are offerings or opportunities of the highest potential of the suit.

Pentacles deal with the physical domain of earth, and how we as spiritual beings navigate the material world. This has customarily focused on money and resources, but this suit has so much more breadth than being limited to materialism. The realm of earth includes our physical bodies and health, but is a grounding force, rooted and slow. It is practical in the ways that we manifest and pursue our soul’s work and spiritual ideals in the physical world. We can see hints of this in the church imagery that Pamela Coleman-Smith included in her pips (3 of Pentacles, 5 of Pentacles).

Historically, the four suits were associated with the four classes of society, and Pentacles or diamonds represented the merchant class. In modern classist or Marxist tarot, this translates to the bourgeoisie – industry leaders, real estate, and other financial and physical structures of society.

If we consider the four humours of the body and temperament as in Galen’s time, Earth correlated with black bile and therefore melancholic — thoughtful and considerate (but may struggle with perfectionism and be easily depressed). As Jung’s cognitive functions go, the suit of Pentacles corresponds to Sensation, which is how we observe the physical and manipulate it.

from Darkness of Light (1st ed.)

And so the Ace of Pentacles, Disks, or Coins is the potential or foundation for manifesting in the earthly realm. It asks us to get out of our head and implement that thought, desire, idea; take the first step to give it concrete expression. (This is the Ace that brings the others to tangible form.). This journey will likely take time and require tending, like the seed we plant in the soil of our garden and nurture.

In resistance, we’re stuck. We just can’t move beyond our thoughts and dreams. What holds us back from taking the first step toward manifesting? Perhaps we doubt our ability to manifest.

In excess, is there an overemphasis on the material or physical, of security, or some other aspect of earth?

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

  • What seeds are you planting?
  • What prevents you from pursuing your soul’s work?
  • Do you feel secure? Is there a part of you that does not?
  • How is your health? Do you get the physical exercise and nutrition that your body needs? How is your relationship with food?
  • Do you have a need for more time connecting with nature?

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 Pentacles, and how are its shadow aspects portrayed?

Ace of Swords

bring forward your ideas; speak your truth

Aces are offerings or opportunities of the highest potential of the suit.

Swords deal with the mental realm of air, and our belief systems. Where the Cups dwelled in our unconscious, the Swords reveal our conscious mind. Here, we’re dealing with ideas, words, communication, thought, reason, perspectives, principles, study, ethics, information, truth, insight, clarity of mind. Historically, Swords / Spades represented soldiers and warriors and the conflicts we face, which seems to have evolved in Air as thoughts and interpretations creating strife in our lives.

As such, there is much conflict in the shadows of the Swords. Their reason and strategy may help the lawyer presenting an argument in court, but we must also guard against being argumentative, self-righteous, seeing issues in black & white. While Swords can help Cups in understanding their emotions, they do so rationally and so they can be unfeeling, cold. They’re also prone to overthinking, allowing brain chemistry to run amok in worry and anxiety.

Historically, the four suits were associated with the four classes of society, and — as mentioned above — spades or Swords represented the warriors or knights. In modern classist or Marxist tarot, this translates to govt (including the military), police, as well as institutions of higher learning (academia).

If we consider the four humours of the body and temperament as in Galen’s time, air correlates with blood and was therefore sanguine — energetic and courageous (but may be impulsive and unpredictable). As Jung’s cognitive functions go, the suit of Swords corresponds to Thinking, which is where we strive to understand and discern so that we may make decisions.

from the Medieval Scapini Tarot

And so, the Ace of Swords offers an opportunity to bring forward whatever it is that needs to be expressed through us. There may be a challenge to our belief system, perhaps new info or a choice (note that the sword is often double-edged); but the mind is open and we have the clarity to express our ideas and speak our truth.

In resistance, we may not feel ready to articulate. We may be confused or foggy, or don’t have all of the information, yet.

In excess, we may be overthinking.

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

  • What keeps you from expressing your ideas? Is there a part that holds you back from realizing your potential? Why?
  • What holds your tongue from speaking your truth? Where did these limiting beliefs come from?

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 Swords, and how are its shadow aspects portrayed?

Ace of Cups

expand our capacity for compassion and healing

Aces are offerings or opportunities of the highest potential of the suit.

Cups rule the domain of water, representing our emotional experiences and how we relate to others. Where fire rises, water descends, conforming to the shape of its container. This is the realm of feelings and relationships, but also the flow of the psyche in dreams, intuition, memories, imagination, and spirituality.

While compassion, self-acceptance, and healing fall in the higher realm of Cups, its challenges may include irrationality, hypersensitivity, fantasy. Cups are also often seen as the vessels for alcohol used to drown emotional hardship.

Historically, the four suits were associated with the four classes of society, and Cups or hearts represented the clergy. In modern classist or Marxist tarot, this remains clergy but includes those who provide spiritual or emotional services — such as therapists, social workers, nurses.

If we consider the four humours of the body and temperament as in Galen’s time, water correlated with phlegm and were therefore phlegmatic — kind, calm, and compassionate friends (but may be shy and uninspiring). As Jung’s cognitive functions go, the suit of Cups corresponds to Feeling, which is where our value systems are developed. Expanding on ‘feeling’ a little, Cups also relate to psychic feelings we may get, and spiritual endeavors.

from Sola Busca Revisited by Tarot by Seven

And so the Ace of Cups reminds us to expand our capacity for compassion and fulfillment in whatever situation is coming up (whether toward self or others). It offers us a chance to more deeply consider what we’re available to receive or take part in.

In resistance, we withdraw. Our heart isn’t available for connection with others, this new experience, or acceptance (again, whether socially or of the self).

In excess, we may hold unrealistic ideals in this new experience or relationship. Are we a little starry-eyed?

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

  • How connected are you with your subconscious parts? How can you better connect with and accommodate their needs ?
  • How connected are you with your spirituality or a higher power? What do you hope to cultivate in spiritual practice?
  • What parts of you feel the need to protect your heart?

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 Cups, and how are its shadow aspects portrayed?

What Exactly is Shadow Work, Anyway?

We see a lot of mention in tarot circles of shadow work, but what is it, really? It seems to be increasingly trendy in social media, and the term is often thrown around without much explanation or context, so a proper explanation is in order.

Shadow work is a term coined by Carl Jung to describe the collective parts of the psyche which we suppress from consciousness as the least desirable aspects of our personality. He called the shadow “the thing a person has no wish to be.” The more these parts are denied and suppressed, the darker and denser the shadow becomes; thus the more likely they will slip out during our daily interactions, when we least expect them or understand what they are suddenly doing there. Our projections about others, our slips of the tongue, our addictions, our dreams, even our physical symptoms are the manifestations of these parts that have been denied another outlet. We all have a shadow as part of the Self, no matter how much inner work we may have done, and this work can never truly be finished.

The goal of shadow work is to identify those deeper parts and engage compassionately with them to bring them up to the light, so that we may correct their functions and better integrate them into the known parts of the Self. This requires a lot of honesty with yourself. The approach that I like best is to engage them in open dialogue to better understand their role. Most shadow parts are trying to help the Self, and believe they’re doing so. By offering it acceptance and a channel for compassionate communication, we can better understand why and how it’s functioning, and perhaps guide it to a new job in the psyche – one more productive.

So, how do we use tarot in shadow work? I should start by stating that tarot shadow work is absolutely, in no way, shape, or form, an alternative to psychotherapy. If we have complexes which are causing dysfunction in our lives, we really need to consult a trained mental health professional. While health care in the U.S. (never mind mental health care) is often not accessible to those who need it most, there are resources such as betterhelp if coverage is a barrier for you.

Done seriously, shadow work can be an arduous and lengthy process; it really shouldn’t be glamorized and isn’t really meant to be done with a single simple tarot spread. Search Instagram with #tarotshadowspread and you’ll get hundreds, in all shapes and colors and sizes — many so vague or generalized that you’re left with no real insight or next step after having done it. They often portray the shadow as one entity when it’s really a multitude of different parts functioning in complex relationship with the others to, say, protect more sheltered parts or to manage the environment to reduce harm. Sure, these generalized spreads can be helpful in identifying things to work on, but the work doesn’t end there. Shadow work is often a difficult and messy process of reliving old wounds and grinding through the painful memories of a younger you and committing to new practices.

First up, get a notebook or journal. You will be asking yourself a lot of questions with the cards, exploring different aspects of their meanings, and digging down deeper and deeper, like a 2-year old asking “why?” after every single answer you get, and engaging parts of yourself in dialogue — which is all facilitated by free-form writing. Pages of it.

Step one is as simple as identifying a behavior or thought pattern that you’d like to change. I know I have plenty of these, so I’ll bet you can find one, too. In fact, I do actually keep a little list in the Notes app of my phone, which I add to when I’m out in my daily world and notice a shadow part. Later, when I’m aligned and sitting peacefully with my cards, I’ll pull out my handy dandy list and start shuffling the cards.

As a little aside, here: People often ask which decks are good for shadow work, and my suggestion is to use a deck you’re comfortable with and have a good familiarity with. You don’t need a new deck for shadow work, and you definitely don’t need a “dark” deck. The issues that come up for you may be dramatic enough, and you just want a deck that feels like a trusted friend. One of my favorite decks is Bohemian Gothic, with its cold castles and evil dwellers and creepy kids in graveyards — a vibe I love, but don’t necessarily need when trying to create a warm and compassionate approach to shadow parts. Some readers say they want an “honest” deck, but I think each of my decks is honest (or I wouldn’t keep it). Honesty lies in the reader’s interpretation, not a deck of cards. If a certain deck elicits that from you more than another, then that deck would be a good choice.

The key when beginning shadow work is to be in a place of mindfulness or a centered state, free of the complexed parts that often take the driver’s seat. I do this through a simple tripartite soul alignment using breath, but whatever practice allows this for you is right. Many do this as a regular part of their tarot practice before reading, so feel free to adopt whatever works best for you in creating a clear head or channel.

Using the cards in a more conversational style when accessing shadow parts can enable us to tap into them more easily, and function as a tool in deciphering their identities and needs. Start asking questions as you would of any close friend. “Hey, what was up with that outburst, earlier?” Some like to pull 3 cards, some prefer shuffling for jumpers- whatever feels right to you. See what insight is revealed. Ask if there is a part that would like to talk, making sure to create a warm and inviting mental space for that, and start shuffling. Ask who that part is and start shuffling. Ask about the root of that anger / fear / shame / envy / anxiety / whatever, and start shuffling, for as many questions as may be helpful in clarifying the issue or identifying and defining this part. Was there a specific incident or pattern when you were a kid that prompted this? As mentioned above, don’t be afraid to ask “Why?” over and over and over again to dig deeper down. Don’t forget to journal both your questions and the cards – you will likely be able to glean great insight over time as you move through this process, through repeating cards and connecting the dots with the way the cards portray this inner landscape.

Are there attainable goals in shadow work? Meeting our shadows is vital in spiritual practice (and in just being a better person) to help us to correct those things that cause us fear and shame and guilt, allowing us to evolve past our dysfunctions and into growth, so it is an ongoing process. It can be really effective as a tool in goals work. We can establish attainable goals and set action steps til we’re blue in the face, but without identifying the blocks we’ve put in place to protect us from harm (prevent us from stretching outside of our comfort zone), we may remain stuck in our progress without forward momentum.

So, there are many reasons why shadow work can really help to foster growth and unlock our potential, and various methods how. I’ll continue this series with spreads and questions and techniques, and add some resources in the comments, in the hopes that it grows and blossoms over time; but I hope this is helpful in getting you started with a little bit of clarity and inspiration. Now, get yourself a pen and a notebook and pull out your favorite tarot deck. Shadow work can be really challenging, but I hope and believe it’ll be an amazing journey of discovery for you!

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 Tarocco Soprafino by il Meneghello

Wands as a suit represents the element of Fire, which is our energy. Here, we see the various ways our vitality influences the events in our lives. This is our life force and its activity, initiative, passion, inspiration, drive, will. It’s shadows may present as impulsivity, rashness, indecisiveness, taking risks, hyperactivity, and such.

Wands may also represent the identities we adopt. This is where issues of identity and ego are most revealed, as well as the expressions of jealousy and other shadows of ego identification. The invitations and teachings we confront here ask us to honor our inner flame. Are we ready to step into a new role?

Historically, the four suits were associated with the four classes of society, and Wands or Staves (as clubs) represented the peasantry. In modern classist or Marxist tarot, this translates to the proletariat – labor and the working class, as well as artists and other makers.

If we consider the four humours of the body and temperament as in Galen’s time, Wands or Staves correlated with Yellow Bile and were therefore choleric — energetic and ambitious but easily angered and dominating (hence a “fiery” temperament). As Jung’s cognitive functions go, the suit of Wands corresponds to Intuition, which is more figurative than literal ‘big picture’ thinking. Unconstrained by the restrictions of what is, in favor of more imaginative ideas and possibilities.

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:

IMG_7993

  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

IMG_6831

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.

IMG_6819

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.

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The Fool from Rackham Tarot

Truth be told, I’m a crazy dog lady.  I paint dogs and I walk dogs and I have a dog (only one, though!) 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 studying herbal medicine and 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.  Just like the cards.  Dogs aren’t here to tell us what the ego wants to hear, and the cards aren’t either.

One of the things I’ve learned from dogs is to live in the present, and it’s a great lesson to bring to a reading.  Questions about the future are absolutely welcomed — part of what I do is planning for the future — but let’s take it from right 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.