A Full Moon on July Twenty Second

Before the day passes here in Colorado, I want to share a little about the numbers in the date, and why they are special.

It is 7-22-13 today. We’ll start from the year, and work back through the day and the month.

13 in Tarot is the Death card; In that sense, it could be said that this year is in general painful, difficult, and transformative, which is going to be a bit truistic (Though it seems the theme aroundthose I’m close to). But, the 22 and the 7 together evoke the turning point of absolute dissolution and reformation which are implied by the 13; Letting things go that are dead to make resources and space available for something new.

22 is the number of major cards in a Tarot deck, and, some would say intentionally, the number of letters in the Hebrew aleph-bet. Each letter represents a different, fundamental facet of the universe, and their combinations teach us about the world, eachother, and God.

7 is a number often used in esoterics to denote a whole process or complete progression; 7 notes in each octave of the major scale, 7 liberal arts to be considered educated, 7 seals between us and the apocalypse. 7 is also the number of the letter G, and so is connected in Masonry with the name of God. In Tarot specifically, the fool is sometimes said to be traveling along the other major cards in group of sevens; Achieving inner strength in the Chariot, outer strength in Temperance, and strength in community in the World. At least, that is one way to interpret the 7 groups; There are, of course, many beautiful ways.

To top it all off, right in the middle of the day today was the full moon. The Moon pulls on our hearts and deep desires, and through that our greatest capacity for love and growth – and of course, our greatest capacity for fear. The moon is both intimate and mysterious, a fitting allegory for our deepest selves.

So, it may’ve seemed like any other Monday, but today – in at least some hidden ways – was a very special day.

Some and Sundry, Nine of Swords

Elephant Bush Tarot

It looks a little like rain outside, an unidentified sapling is brushing cool green leaves against my window while soulful folk guitar fills the air. Its a crisp morning, and still just early enough that I feel like the world outside is more plants than people. A good time to wander in the woods, and if I were camping I think I’d be out exploring.

It seems lonely to think about anything but the present at times like these. I just pulled the nine of swords, and it echoed my morning so well – laying in bed, remembering my troubles just the same as I laid down last night, as if sleep was just a brief interlude between bouts of preoccupation. The swords against the black background is so bizarre contrasted with the peaceful light coming through my windows.

I began this blog inspired by my daily cards. I had just quit a job I almost hated and had decided to give myself, at least for awhile, over to the things I loved. A dear friend had recently moved away to study love and landscape, and I found I suddenly had nothing to do, and no-one to see. I was lonely, but free. I would spend whole days swimming in my daily cards and cobbling together blog posts to express some of the things I thought about.

Lonely freedom is a quality of the big nine, the Hermit. It is only lonely if the focus is on what isn’t present, who isn’t there with you. The Hermit himself may be at peace, no more lonely than if he were surrounded by people. But the nine of swords, today I think the Hermit of Swords, is tormented. The symbols stitched to the bedding offer no comfort. The swords press heavily in the background, pointing all in the same direction. I notice today there is less confusion in the card than raw misery. The swords all pointing the same way tells me that perhaps the card depicts a struggle against knowledge, a struggle against truth, a relentless search for a solution to a reality we can’t deny but also can’t accept.

The search may be conscious, unconscious, or both. In the card, it is subconscious, coming out in the night, but during the day we can consciously struggle against the way things are when they don’t feel right. Consciously, we may search for symbols to comfort us, a frame to understand, some way to make the reality more palatable. But the deepest parts of us may still be suffering, struggling, long after we’ve found a balance in our conscious lives. This is where expression is most important, where we stifle our thoughts and feelings for the sake of others, or even for ourselves to make relating simpler. I know I do this, I hide my difficult feelings to simplify my life, but in the end it comes out like it does in the nine of swords – misery in the dark, depriving me of peace, and in that way it complicates my life much more. I’ve often buried my feelings because I felt they didn’t match my values, who I wanted to be in my life and in my relationships. But that habit of burying has in my life compromised much more than my private world and my self image. It has compromised my ability to be honest, open, and loving in my conscious life. The nine of swords for me is my way of hiding inconvenient feelings, of struggling against reality by denying it, of being exhausted and feeling separate by keeping my words and feelings so tightly to myself, of walls so strong others rarely knowing how to get close enough in to soothe me.

The green light from the leaves outside my window and the small plants I keep make this card feel more natural. Plants express themselves as fully as they can every moment, never turning down an invitation to thrive, never hiding shriveled leaves or dying stalks. I try so hard to balance how I feel like I ought to show up for others against how I am feeling. My lesson is that I need to be more open and honest in my life, so I don’t feel so alone in my thoughts and feelings. Each sword might be a word I didn’t say, a loving word or an honest feeling. Today I’ll try not to hide my feelings so much, but I’ll also try and be present so I can feel the real space I actually inhabit, instead of running into the sharp edges of what I’m missing.

Trusting an Oracle: Tarot’s Ability to Heal

This article was written as a proposal for one of my courses, so its tone is academic. Enjoy!

About three years ago, I was introduced to a young woman, here fictionally named Merida, for a Tarot reading. A friend of mine had met Merida at work, and by listening to her troubles had decided a reading would do her good. Since Merida was a friend of a friend, it felt right to give the reading informally and for free. This ended up being a good choice, since Merida was young and poor, and would never have considered consulting a professional of any kind for help, let alone be able to afford such help. We ended up becoming friends and having several readings over the year, where I found her troubles to be surprisingly difficult and complex. Over the time we met, she realized a lot about her circumstances and made many brave choices to improve her life. Continue reading “Trusting an Oracle: Tarot’s Ability to Heal”

Counseling, Tarot, and Ethics

Graffiti found in NYC, 2012

This is a more formal essay written with a broader audience in mind than I typically write for. I want to reproduce the essay here since I feel the topic of ethics in divination can’t be discussed enough, and I’m eager to offer Tarot’s virtues as a counterpoint to the suspicion it endures in popular culture. Enjoy the essay and let me know what you think!

Tarot has come a long way from being a niche fortune telling tool. One can enter a mainstream bookstore and buy dozens of decks and books selling tarot as an oracle, meditation device, path for spiritual development, and a method of insight and healing. Contemporary psychologists have considered and documented Tarot’s therapeutic usefulness. In Tarot and Psychology by Arthur Rosengarten, a practicing psychologist, writes at length of Tarot’s usefulness in healing and therapy.

Unfortunately, tarot reading is represented in the mainstream as either hokey fortune telling or con-artistry, preying on superstition and magical thinking. Continue reading “Counseling, Tarot, and Ethics”

Distilling the Essence of Tarot

This is the article I had published in Tarosophist International issue 12 under the title ‘The Tarot Machine’, and I’ve been wanting to repost it here for quite some time. I originally wished to make it longer, so I hope to create a second part to it soon.

The issue has many great articles from great authors, so pick up a copy if you’re wanting something to add to your Tarot library!

If there was a machine named Tarot, what would be at the heart of it? Inside its engine belts and gears would spin ceaselessly in response to our curiosity, moving through fantastic patterns and dizzying algorithms, making undreamt connections to answer all our questions. But what would give wisdom to this mechanical oracle, how would it know the deck when it can neither see the cards or know the words?

Crawling inside you might get lost looking at all the unlikely relationships between element and number, shades of meaning being generated and forgotten as quickly as the questions that inspired them. But seeing the extravagant logic of the gears and switches you might get a question that you may as well ask whenever you buy a new deck off the shelf: What makes Tarot what it is, if it isn’t just a pack of cards?

To get to the essence of anything, it is helpful to strip away all our variables. In our machine, this would be to remove the decorations, any superfluous functions. For our deck of cards, this means taking away all the names and elaborate pictures we are so fond of and familiar with, leaving us with an essential deck. Several questions arise: What do we call the Suits, if we can’t name or draw them? Also, how do we tell apart our court cards if we can’t see or read which member of the court they are meant to be? Finally, what about the Fool in decks where he isn’t given a number? Continue reading “Distilling the Essence of Tarot”

Omega Tarot Conference

I sit in the Salt Lake City airport, waiting to leave for my connecting flight in Detroit. My final destination is the prestigious Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, to attend the 3rd Annual Omega Tarot Conference. I am excited and a little overwhelmed. Robert Place will be there, whose book on Tarot history and symbolism I thoroughly enjoyed, as well as many other famous Tarot names. Rachel Pollack has written a great post about it, posing a great question: What would you ask?

I will be ruminating on what I would ask. Whats your style? What decks your favorite? Want to trade readings? But more than questions for other readers, I am starting to understand what I am looking for in attending this conference: Community.

In the psychotherapeutic community there are many different approaches, but the binding aspiration between therapists is to heal and relieve suffering. I cannot call, accurately, what I do with Tarot fortune telling, so much as fortune wondering, fortune seeding, with a hope that together we can create a moment of healing and relief. I strive to stimulate insight, inspiration, and joy through my readings – and to my delight most readers I have met have had shared my passion for accompanying those they read for on just such a journey with care and compassion.

When I meet another reader, it is no question that our approaches are different. Rather than technicians with stringent procedures, Tarot is rather more an art, like painting or music. There are archetypal fortune tellers, reading with quick, specific (and often impressive) interpretations from their ornate and unusual decks. Spiritually inclined readers may focus on the spiritual journey of the querent, while someone more practically minded may focus upon immediate problems and solutions. Some readers reveal a lot just through the question itself, consulting with the querent lengthily upon the question, letting answers reveal themselves. More academic readers may explain symbols thoroughly and ask questions, while readings with storytellers may spin an engaging and hypnotic narrative.

This diversity makes Tarot exciting and constantly new for querents, but for readers it may feel isolating; that we share a medium but rarely a method. At a gathering like this, our community can sharpen itself to a point. To heal, and to grow. To connect, and to inspire – In one another, our querents, and ourselves. I’m very much looking forward to meeting and sharing with this community, learning from our differences and celebrating our common inspirations.

I Hope to see you there!

Fill in the Blank: Putting Words to the Trumps

One of the highlights of my week are my Friday evenings, where I co-facilitate a Tarot study group. Our format is very free and open to all levels of experience, and as such we get a lot of new ways of seeing cards I’d never imagined before.

Going over the Death card with the group, a member who is going through the cards for the first time (So exciting!), made a good point. He said he was having trouble with the words on the cards. The first set of cards, we talked a lot about ‘being’ the figure in the card; How might it feel to be the High Priestess, or stand like the Magician? Some cards had names which didn’t fit the formula of a figure, but up through The Hanged Man, there was always clearly people to identify with in the cards.

“Am I supposed to be Death, like the Grim Reaper? Or be the idea of Death in general? How am I supposed to do that?” All are great exercises, but for someone just trying to get a handle on the card the differences in approach represented an interesting question, which he posited: “What are the Major arcana really for? Are they archetypes of people, are they supposed to represent qualities, or what? On the one hand I have this Emperor guy and the Magician, and on the other I have cards like Death and Strength. I’m not feeling any consistency here.”

Exploring the differences between the literal categories of the cards immediately seemed like an interesting idea. Death in particular fits more than one category; Death can be an event or a mythical figure, among many other options. The simplest approach is the definition: The action or fact of dying or being killed; the end of the life of a person or organism. So it is the process of dying, or the instance of the death itself.

But what cards have clear categories, and what happens when you try to express a card like the Magician with a quality, more like Strength? What words would you choose? Would you also alter the image, or leave it the same?

Continue reading “Fill in the Blank: Putting Words to the Trumps”