Thoughts on Tarot
I came to Tarot on tentative feet. Over the years I have occasionally visited psychics who used Tarot and, although I found their help invaluable, some part of me felt a good amount of discomfort with using the medium myself. The lion’s share of that probably has to do with my Catholic upbringing. But, despite my cringing, I do recognize the importance of challenging these points of resistance within myself.
Periodically in my work on the Spiritual path, when I’ve gotten “stuck”, I have employed various strategies to unblock. One of my favorites is to walk through the library aisles with my eyes half-closed and just “feel” when I should stop and where I should look to find a meaningful book. As you can imagine, I have to be a little judicious in using this tactic to avoid alarming other patrons. 🙂
On one such jaunt in early 2012 I found Sonia Choquette’s book 22 life lessons. I decided to use the book much the way I treat the exercise in the library; flip it open to a random page and see where it takes me.
The page I flipped to happened to be the lesson, “Accept Death.” Immediately this resonated. Nine months prior my husband and I had celebrated the birth of our first child and when I saw this lesson I knew instinctively that it was speaking to the death of our old life.
With the new baby, our lives had transformed. She was extremely sensitive (Actually I’m beginning to think she’s just incredibly intuitive) and needed constant attention. As a result, many staple activities of our prior existence were no longer feasible. To me, this lesson was saying – recognize that that life is over. Stop clinging to pieces and living by half-measures. Cut the cord and embrace this new existence.
I worked with that lesson for about a month until I felt like I “got it” and then went back to the well. This time when I was flipping through the book a voice in my head said “turn to page 32.” I listened and found the lesson “Follow Your Inner Voice.”
It’s difficult to describe what I felt in that moment. There are moments when things come together in such a particular way that it almost forces you to stop and take notice; your whole being goes on alert. In relation, I should note that not every page is a lesson in this book.
There is a ’front page’ to each lesson – like a chapter heading – and then several pages of text explaining the lesson in more depth. It’s interesting that all three times I have done this now my ’random’ opening has always landed on the ’front page’ of a lesson not somewhere in the middle of a chapter.
So, on the one hand, that was clearly a guided moment. The irony that it was in listening to my inner voice that I found the lesson to “Listen to your inner voice” is not lost on me. On the other hand, I have struggled with distinguishing between my inner voice and my ego for years and years. But, as is the case with guidance, once given it’s ours to own or abandon and if the choice is ’abandon’ you’re going to be treading water for a while.
I grappled with this lesson for a few months before I made any headway. It’s impossible to pinpoint quite when it “occurred” to me that Tarot might help me bridge this gap. As I mentioned in the beginning, at first I felt significant internal apprehension about going down this road.
I do know that, at the time, I was reading a teeny-bopper pop culture novel that featured characters from Tarot, it’s possible that this provided the initial spark of interest. I think I felt something like – heck, if this is a subject of young adult novels these days what’s the harm in just looking at it?
I may also have been reading Jung’s autobio, Memories, Dreams, and Reflections at the time and, of course, Jung’s work places a high emphasis on the connection between symbols and working with the unconscious mind. It’s difficult to say two years on precisely how my path to Tarot unfolded. I do know that at some point I was curious enough to pick up a few books on Tarot at the library. At the time I told myself I was merely intellectually curious about the subject. I was not ready to accept that I would ever own a deck
Reading the books helped relieve my internal anxiety over using Tarot. After all, on some level, the Tarot is just a deck of cards. Inflated histories aside, it’s the energy and desire that’s brought to it that makes Tarot what it is. Historically, similar practices have been done with things as mundane as tea leaves, sticks, coins, etc.
From such a perspective working with Tarot was really just a different medium for type of work I was already doing. I reasoned that I could always get a deck and see how it felt to use it. If using it made me uncomfortable (in a negative way) I could just stop and get rid of it.
More than one book mentioned that “traditionally” a Tarot deck had to be “gifted.” The chances of that happening within my circle of family, friends, and acquaintances was absolutely nil. This didn’t really bother me though. Having decided on this course, I was excited about the idea of finding my own deck.
At First Sight
I tried searching online, but quickly realized I wanted to physically hold a deck and feel if it was the right deck for me. I know many people are advanced enough to work with energy and intuition via remote channels such as the internet, but I’m just not there.
At first I thought I was going to have to wait until I could get to an occult bookstore – which would be awhile given my schedule at the time. Then I remembered that I’d been seeing tarot decks in Borders books and music stores for years. Borders is gone, but I knew there was a bookstore walking distance from my work – I decided to check it out.
Sure enough, they had decks! I knew I wanted a Rider-Waite deck. That seemed to be the ’standard’ that all the Tarot books I read went by. I didn’t want one of those “silly” non-traditional decks. One in particular caught my eye, called the Dreaming Way Tarot. The Art on the box looked like something out of a manga. I snorted derisively.
The store had two Rider-Waite decks. I excitedly grabbed the one that seemed most appealing, held it in both hands and closed my eyes. Nothing. Nothing? I tried again. Not a blip. I picked up the other Rider-Waite deck. Nothing. I sighed in frustration and turned the box over and over in my hands. Did I need to open the box and hold the cards to feel a connection?
One of the Rider-Waite boxes opened partially so I could see the art on some of the cards. No. This was not for me. I was so disappointed, I had thought for sure I was going in the right direction. Half-heartedly I picked up some of the other non-traditional decks.
Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Ugh.
Finally I reached for the Dreaming Way deck, the only one left. I turned it over in my hand and on the back was this beautiful picture of The Fool card. Snap. My breath caught. This was it. This was my deck.
Sigh. Of course it was. How could it not be?
When I experience something like this it always completely surprises me and yet makes total sense. I’ve been a closet manga / anime fan for some years. Not so much that I dress up (although, who knows? Maybe one day. At this point there’s not a whole lot I’m ruling out 🙂 ), but enough that I’ve spent more hours of my adult life than I care to admit to consuming products of this genre.
Since, at least in the US, there’s a sense that the audience graphic novels are geared to is younger (and by younger I mean like more than a decade younger than me), I’ve always been a little ashamed of this ’habit.’ The fact that this deck was the right one for me, to me, is a message of reconciliation. The universe saying, don’t even think you can hide; what resonates is what resonates. In a loving and supportive way, of course, but still sometimes it makes you want to yell “Seriously?!”
On the walk back to work my heart chakra was reacting like crazy. It’s a difficult sensation to describe (People experience energy differently, but those of you who also feel energy physically will understand what I mean, I think). It’s not painful, but it’s kind of like being tickled. Being tickled is actually a nice sensation, I mean it makes you laugh, but it’s incredibly, incredibly distracting. You have a hard time concentrating and so, even though it’s not unpleasant there’s a part of you that wants the sensation to stop.
For me, because it’s such a moment of connection and rightness whenever my heart chakra feels like that, I don’t necessarily want it to stop right away – but it is so distracting that it becomes hard for me to do things like carry on a normal conversation. So ultimately I do make an effort to dial it down, just so I can function.
In The Cards
When I got home that evening, I found some space to meditate and do my first reading. It focused on a particular soul test I was really struggling with. In my heart I knew I needed to get out of my own head for guidance. I had gone to a psychic and a past life regressionist for guidance (over a year apart from each other and that timeframe is only about a third of the time that I struggled with this test) but the answers I received hadn’t really satisfied me because there seemed to be a gap in the guidance given and the magnitude of the experience.
For my first reading I planned a three card draw; current situation, advice, and outcome. Excited, nervous energy coursed through me. I wasn’t even sure how to shuffle. I am horrible at shuffling cards so I settled for a ‘loose’ form of shuffling, going to the place of ‘not-thinking’ and when a particular card stuck ‘up’ out of the deck, I pulled it out and laid it down; eight of cups, five of cups, seven of wands. Before I even looked up the card meanings, my heart stilled just looking at the pictures. I got the guidance without needing to look up a single thing.
On the far left, in the position representative of the ‘current situation,’ the Eight showed a blond haired female walking away from eight cups that were standing on a sandy beach. In my heart I felt these cups were representative of past lives. The card was showing ‘me’ moving on from my past lives. This resonated because the particular situation I was dealing with seemed to have a heavy amount of past life influence. Additionally, I had resolved a previous past life situation several years before, so – interpreted the way I was reading it – it definitely represented a theme of my life.
In the ‘advice’ position, the Five of Cups, showed a brunette facing out of the card – the brunette actually resembled me – I have actually had that haircut – the height, the frame. She’s not a dead ringer, but there was enough similarity to signal that something powerful was going on here. The brunette held two cups in her hand. She was back-to-back with a woman with long blond hair who seemed to be dropping or spilling her three cups.
To put this in a clearer perspective, in the past life regression session I had several months prior, I witnessed myself as a young woman with long blond hair. In that lifetime – as remembered by me – I was somehow separated permanently and irrevocably from my husband and two children either by death or external conflict or something very tragic. It was strongly felt enough that it had me sobbing uncontrollably in the session.
Additionally, in that session, I had a very strong feeling that the separation was somehow my fault or that I had some guilt related to it.
In keeping with the cup / life theme, then, in this depiction of the Five of cups – the woman facing away represents my past life self who somehow was careless with the ‘lives’ (or cups) that she loved. The meaning of the Five of cups in general speaks of grieving that is ‘overlong.’ It’s an acknowledgement of loss, but can be advice to ‘notice’ the two cups you do have. So here, the brunette who resembles me in the current life is holding on to two cups – which I interpreted as my husband and (at the time) baby daughter.
Part of understanding how remarkable this experience was for me, and why it was so deeply personal requires an understanding that the Five of Cups from my deck does not at all resemble the Five of cups in the Rider-Waite deck. If you’re not familiar with it, you can find a picture and the meaning here at Biddy Tarot (a wonderful Tarot site that makes learning the Tarot really accessible).
If I had bought the Rider-Waite deck, this message would not have resonated so powerfully. If you’re unfamiliar with the Pak-Choi Dreaming Way Tarot, the ‘introduction’ card of the deck explains that the images for the cards came to the illustrator in a dream. This is one of those examples where it’s so good to keep the bait-thief lesson in mind (see my post Trickster Makes this Road for more on that). Clearly, the creator did not dream up this card just for me. However, things came together in such a way that his (her?) illustration could deliver just the deep and meaningful message I needed to hear.
Incidentally, although this message was not different from the guidance I had already been given, this delivery mechanism was finally successful because I felt recognition from my higher self / guides / universe that “yes, you are dealing with a past life situation that’s very difficult” and “yes, you suffered a loss in that lifetime through your own carelessness that has been difficult to overcome, but it’s time to move on from that now.”
Sometimes we just want our own struggles acknowledged (No, you are not imagining this is hard, it is hard) and when they are, we are ready to tough it up and keep going.
Over the last two years of owning a deck, I have used it only for myself (except once I did a reading for my husband – with his consent – for fun) and mostly for Spiritual Path related guidance. Perhaps there are still some old vestiges of the Catholic upbringing that make me shy away from a strictly divination aspect, but, even so, the guidance and help I have gotten through Tarot have been invaluable.
It’s difficult to say whether I would ‘recommend’ Tarot to someone outright. Like any other tool in life, it seems most of its value is derived from the way it is used. If a person goes ‘fishing for particular answers’ in a Tarot deck, he or she is not likely to find it very helpful. Likewise, if you get guidance through your deck that you don’t want to hear, and you either ignore it or keep going ‘back to the well’ as I like to call it, the deck may exacerbate some already existing issues versus helping to solve them. If you can approach Tarot from a space of respect and openness, though, and allow yourself to receive and ruminate on the guidance, it could become an indispensable tool for your spiritual path and other life work.
 At least I thought so at the time, I am coming to realize as I write this that I may not have been as abysmal at this as I believed
 Lewis Hyde mentions this in his book on the Trickster, Trickster Makes this World. Talk about finding a Hermaion in a Hermaion 🙂
 (footnote about alchemy)
 things like aliens transmitting the tarot or tracing Tarot to Hermes Trimegestus, similar to alchemy
 I don’t reverse cards in my deck. In fact, I actually make very sure that none of the cards are reversed before I shuffle. Because I go to the place of not-thinking when I draw I don’t even notice how I lay the cards, it just sortof happens, and thus some of the cards do end up reversed. When this happens I take the reversal seriously and treat it as a very intentional message.
 I did actually use it a couple of times in preparing for the birth of my second daughter – I truly believe that the guidance I received helped me have a much better birth the second time around and avoid a couple of potentially life-threatening (especially for my child) complications. Interestingly enough, I saw on Brigit Esselmont’s website this year (post-birth) that it looks like she actually did something very similar in preparing for the births of her own children several years ago.
 More about ‘allowing’ in an upcoming post