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:


  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 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.