Monday, May 30, 2016

Deck Review: Shadowscapes Tarot by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

I was very pleased recently to purchase the Shadowscapes Tarot by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law.  This deck is well-loved by the tarot community for its lush, detailed, evocative illustrations.  The deck essentially follows Waite-Smith conventions, but even where the symbology doesn't match up, the feel of the cards lends itself to intuitive readings pretty easily.  I'm not generally somebody to drool over soft watercolors, but the sheer skill in Pui-Mun Law's execution--combined with the dynamic energy in the cards--has me seduced.  Apparently, Pui-Mun Law has a background as a flamenco dancer, and that movement is very clear in the illustrations!

The cards are a bit bigger than playing cards, but much smaller than my Universal Waite-Smith; the Shadowscapes deck is actually the perfect size for my hands.  The backs are reversible (in case you want to read reversals), featuring a lovely circular design evocative of carved stone, seemingly illuminated by stars. The cardstock quality is firm but with enough give for easy shuffling.  Pui-Mun Law has associated each suit with an animal, a device I always love.  Wands are foxes, providing the suit with a clever, fiery energy.  The fish and aquatic creatures in the suit of cups conveys the watery world of love and emotion.  The swans, with their aloof nature, are a perfect fit for the airy suit of swords.  Finally, in an interesting twist, pentacles are accompanied by lizards and dragons of varying shapes and sizes (traditionally, salamanders and lizards are historically associated with fire, and thus the suit of wands). 

Below, I have a selection of cards that I pulled for a deck interview spread (I took this one from Little Red Tarot, who credits TABI).  I learned a lot about the deck and its uses through this exercise!


What is your most important characteristic?

This card is a great example of the swirling energy present throughout the deck.  The Knight of Cups has confidence in the compass provided by his emotional reality.  He sees beauty and love everywhere.  This deck believes in the validity of dreams, and in celebrating that which is true and beautiful. 

What are your strengths?

I quite like this take on the Eight of Swords. While the large, frantic swan is trapped amidst the thorns, the tiny, nimble hummingbird can navigate them with little danger.  This deck shines as a source of calm when facing a crisis or stressful situation. 

What are your limits?

Pui-Mun Law's Temperance features a turbulent balance between yellow and blue, warm and cool, light and shade.  The meaning of this trump card--balance and cooperation--is very apparent in the illustration.  As a limitation, this deck may not always provide a balanced view.  It will be a good source of assurance and comfort, but probably not the deck to go to if I need a harsh wake-up call. 

What are you here to teach me?

What a delightful card to pull!  The Magician calls on all the elements in balanced measure, as represented by the hanging adornments fastened to his wings (each represents a classical element, and thus, a suit).  This deck will be a good source of strength and motivation towards manifesting my goals. 

How can I best learn and collaborate with you?

This card is really breathtaking.  The swirling energy so common in Pui-Mun Law's art is evocative of the nautilus, a perfect crown for this King of Cups. The ropey texture of the kelp gives this card a unique feel, and the dignified turtles give a special weight to the king in a suit mostly characterized by small, whimsical fish. I especially like this card as an echo to the earlier Knight of Cups.  I am reminded to approach this deck with patience, and expect and accept from it compassion.

What is the potential outcome of our working relationship?

The Two of Swords can represent an impasse or stalemate (when teaching myself card meanings, my mnemonic for this card was "between a rock and a hard place.")  I have since learned that the card can also be read as tranquility and acceptance for the pauses in our lives.  This deck, then, is not here to get me all the way to my goals and tell me everything I need to know; instead, this deck will help me find tranquility when I feel stuck.  


It looks like my relationship with the Shadowscapes Tarot will be less about finding balanced, complicated truths, and more about reconnecting with my most authentic emotional self. I can think of no better guide than Pui-Mun Law's delicate, luminous art.  

Is this a deck you could see yourself using?  Is this the first time you've seen it?  Let us know!

Friday, May 27, 2016

My Morning Tarot

I'll be honest.  When I started tarot, it was to give me something to do with my hands, and a hobby for my spare time.  It has since become a practice that I do regularly, and I come to with specific needs, energy, and respect.  But the truth is, I really didn't do much to be mindful around my tarot at first.  I barely even kept a tarot journal, the ultimate necessity if you're trying to learn the cards. I slapped the cards around while watching TV, or mindlessly while in conversation with my partner.  I'm not saying any of that is bad, necessarily, but my relationship with my deck became much richer when I brought more mindfulness to my practice.

My early inspiration came from photos I saw shared by other tarot readers on their websites.  They often had altars prepared, or beautiful cloth laid out for their spread.  Many folks adorn their readings with gems and special herbs.  All of these things can have special, sacred meanings, but damn, they also just look pretty!  I realized that I could make my tarot experience a little more magical if I took a bit of time to create a special space for my readings.  Now, I pull a three-card reading for myself every single morning, and the ritual has become a really important part of my day. I'd like to share it with you!

I do my readings at a desk in my small home office.  There's my coffee on the right, and an open window to the left.  

You can see my tarot cards are laid out on a silk scarf, which I picked up at a thrift store.  I lay out little trinkets and curios that I have collected.  Some of them have special meaning, and some of them I just think look cool!

After I unfold my silk scarf, I lay out the curios in whatever way strikes my fancy.  I shuffle and meditate on my cards, and then lay them out.  Then, I place that huge hunk of quartz at the bottom of the tableau, and sort of let the whole display wash over me as I interpret the cards.  When I feel like I've come to the end of the reading, I take my journal out and note the cards I pulled and how I interpreted them.  Then I carefully put everything away. 

As a result, I am much more centered and mindful for my readings, and I find their significance stays with me steadily throughout the day.  You may not want to do something that takes this much effort; in fact, you may not be interested in something this serious.  If, however, you find yourself wanting to use tarot in a more spiritually significant way, I definitely recommend creating a sense of ritual.  It could be brief and uncomplicated.  The space you create may be more mental and less physical, but by giving tarot a little more room to breath, you will be rewarded by a richer experience.

Do you have a tarot routine?  Do you see yourself developing one?  What are ways that you create space in your life for introspection?

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Posing Your Query

When reading for folks who have only a passing familiarity with tarot, you  may have to help your querent craft their question. The inquiry shouldn't be too vague, but looking to the cards for very specific direction can also leave you disappointed.  Many of the topics people think of as "classic" tarot questions are actually avoided by the best tarot readers.  Ultimately, how we pose questions for the cards depends a lot on how we understand the purpose of tarot.

Today, I'll be walking you through what tarot can and can't do for a querent, and how that helps us ask more effective questions.  You will learn what kind of questions to avoid, and how to reframe them in an effective way.

Tarot and Divination

Sometimes, when folks hear the word divination, they think of magical ways to see into the future and methods for psychically reading people's minds.  In contrast, I think of divination as a method for getting in touch with your own intuition in order to gain insight into a situation.  I see tarot as less supernatural, and more a function of universal archetype and narrative.  Others may see divine spirits, angels, or fairies guiding the selection of cards, but they still recognize that tarot is not predicting an immutable future or dictating literal instructions for us. Both of these approaches still necessarily acknowledge the role of free will.

Questions to Avoid

We want to phrase questions that allow for free will.  For example, "How do I make this sexy dude love me?" is not going to yield satisfying results, because that sexy dude has free will, and he may never love you in a way you find satisfying, no matter what you do.  Tarot can't change that.

Really, anything that is asking for advice on how to create a "sure thing" isn't great.  Tarot isn't making claims for certainty; it's providing you a scaffolding to help you find a direction from your own intuition.  For these reasons, I avoid questions that include:

  • discerning or influencing motivations and actions of third parties
  • identifying precise dates when something will occur
  • asking for specific, literal instructions on how to make something occur
  • anything that treats Tarot like a Ouiji board (yes/no questions, or looking for one-word answers)

I really like The Tarot Reader's explanation of questions to avoid, if you're looking for a quick and easy way to think about it.

It's also important to acknowledge that some people may come to tarot with specific questions about their physical health ("Why can't I sleep well?" "How will my surgery on Friday go?").  I will not answer medical questions with tarot, and will instead refer those querents to healthcare resources.  If a querent is interested in learning more about dealing emotionally with the consequences of a medical situation, I may consider it.  This can be a tricky rule, since what is a medical health problem and what is an emotional or spiritual issue isn't always cut and dry, but I encourage you to use tarot as it should be--as a spiritual tool--and not a supplement or predictor for medical care.

How to Phrase a Question

When we are trying to learn more about our place in the world, we tend to look outward for answers.  After all, a querent has turned to you, another person, to help them translate tarot cards, an external tool.  The truth is, tarot helps us focus inward.  Questions should reflect that inward direction.  I encourage people to frame questions in terms of internal mental or spiritual processes, and not minimizing their role in crafting their own future. (I've seen this described as having the querent take responsibility.) Let's look at an example.

A casual friend has asked for a tarot reading.  They are tired of job searching, and they want to know when they will find a job.  They ask you, "When will I get a job I'm excited about?" hoping that it will give them a timeline, and a way to recognize the right job when it comes along.

The querent is asking a question that looks at the job search like an inevitable, fixed destiny.  If they could only pin a date on it, they wouldn't have to worry about the job search anymore!  Well, unfortunately, tarot isn't really about eliminating our worries.  It's about helping us find new ways to process and learn from them.  So how could we change this question?

Well, spend some time finding out more about the querent's motivation. What urged them to ask this question?  Perhaps frustrated and anxious, and just want the whole thing to be over.  Maybe they don't know what to do next, so they are looking for simple, explicit answers.  Ultimately, we want come up with a question such that the results give the querent a framework for introspection.  I might suggest:

  • What kind of energy should I try to bring to my job search?
  • How will I recognize a good opportunity when it presents itself?
  • What should I change about my approach to the job search?

You can see that each question is about the querent's internal life--the energy one brings, the ability to recognize value, and the need to adjust one's own perspective.  I think Biddy Tarot's comparison of two similar questions is instructive here. Remember, tarot spreads essentially come in the form of a narrative; the responses we receive are stories, not solutions.

Ultimately, my rules for formulating tarot questions are pretty simple.  Avoid questions that treat destiny as a fixed certainty, or that disregard the role of free will.  Encourage questions that address internal processes.  My go-to phrasing is often something like, "What kind of energy do I need to bring to [x]?" or "How can I move forward with [x]?"  I will also often ask, "What can I learn from [x]?"

The links in this post all take you to some great sites with further suggestions for question-phrasing, so I won't list out other frameworks here.  I will finish up by sending you over to Daily Tarot Girl, who has a great list of 20 simple, accessible questions for you to practice with.  These would also be great questions for getting to know your deck better.

I hope this makes framing questions a little easier, and that this approach yields rich results for you and your querents!

Monday, May 23, 2016

A Closer Look: The Tower

Key words and concepts
  • Sudden change
  • Upheaval
  • Disaster
  • Breakthroughs
  • Reexamination of beliefs
  • Death of hubris

A few days ago, I had a dream with the Tower in it; the next day, it jumped out of my deck, so I figured that I would use it as my Closer Look.  I'm also paying close attention to the breakthroughs in my life this week!

Cards are not "good" or "bad," but rather show experiences and energies in our lives.  We decide how to interpret and act upon these experiences.  There are a few cards, though, that have such vividly fearful imagery that it's hard to see past the negative.  The Tower definitely has a reputation as one of these cards.

In one sense, I understand it.  The Tower shows sudden, unavoidable change, and it's change on a pretty profound level.  This isn't the change that comes with, for example, starting a new job after a long and purposeful job search; this is the change that comes with realizing that some of your deeply-held values no longer reflect your needs and experience.  While this isn't always a negative thing in the long-term, this kind of disruption to our worldview inevitably leaves us confused, uncomfortable, and probably at least a little scared.  You can see, then, why the Tower has a bit of a reputation!

On the other hand, the discomfort and destruction shown in this card ultimately make way for new growth, like a natural forest fire allowing for the resurrection of the ecosystem.  In the Fool's journey (the story told by the progression of the Major Arcana), the Tower comes after the Devil; if the Devil represents bondage and enslavement, the Tower is actually the destruction of those chains.  Even though it doesn't feel good to have our beliefs dismantled, it is likely that those beliefs did not actually serve our authentic values.  The Tower allows us to rebuild our beliefs in a way that is healthier and stronger, but this reconstruction can't occur without the loss that precedes it.

I am using this appearance of the Tower to embrace a recent change of perspective in my life.  It's been uncomfortable, and I have definitely had to mourn the loss of some cherished beliefs, but there is a part of me that is hugely relieved.  I have much more hope for the future sustainability of my beliefs, now that I've had a breakthrough.  When the Tower appears, it is likely that sudden change--accompanied by discomfort and disillusionment--is a factor.  Don't let that hide the fact that destruction ultimately makes way for creation!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Quick Update + I need your help!

Hello folks!  I will be returning with regular content on Monday, May 23rd (the Closer Look on deck is the Tower).  In the meantime, I wanted to let you know about an opportunity to get a reading for half price!

Most of my tarot reading experience has been done in person.  As you know, however, my Etsy shop offers readings done through email in a .pdf file.  I would really like to get some feedback about how that format is working for people.

This is where you come in.  If you are interested in filling out a short survey about one of my readings, you will get 50% off any spread in the shop.  Here's how the process goes:
1.  You are interested in the discount; awesome!  Send an email to with the subject "Feedback Discount."  In the email, tell me what your favorite card is!  (If you don't have a favorite card, or if you don't know the deck well enough, that's cool too.)
2.  You will receive an email from me with a discount code for my Etsy shop.  After selecting your spread, enter the code and pay half for your reading!
3.  The results of your spread will be emailed to you as a .pdf file.  I will also send you a brief survey (5-10 questions) in the body of the email; you fill out the answers (1-2 sentences per question is plenty) in a reply.
4.  You get a discounted reading, I get feedback on how to provide better readings, and everybody wins!
This discount  is available to the first five people who email me.  I'm really excited to be offering this discount, and I can't wait to get your feedback!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Trump Cards and the Zodiac

There is a ton of overlap with astrology in tarot, and many practitioners incorporate its principles when reading the cards. I'll confess: I get really overwhelmed by astrology!  I have friends who are really interested in it, and I love hearing them talk about it, but for some reason it all feels like too much to keep track of.  It's funny, because I'm sure it's not any more complex than the infinite combinations of tarot cards.  I guess we are all drawn to different systems.

But you know what I'm going to say: Down Home Tarot is about keeping it simple, and only adding complexity if it's easy and fun for you.  Today, I'm sharing the area of astrology that I incorporate sometimes.

Each (western) Zodiac sign correlates to a card in the Major Arcana, so if you know you're birthday, you can find an associated trump card that is your Zodiac card.  What does this mean?  Well, it means if it shows up in readings, it could signify you in that position.  Or it could mean that the characteristics of that card can give you insight into how you approach life's challenges.  Or, you know, it could just be one more card that you remember a little easier!  Despite my surface-level understanding of the Zodiac, I really like my sign, so I like seeing my card pop up in readings.  It doesn't necessarily reveal some huge amazing insight, but it's one more tiny connection that creates a richer experience for me.

I've included what I know about each sign's association with its trump card (which is, admittedly, not much.)  This is intended to help you see if you are interested in this system, not necessarily give you detailed information. Without further ado, I present to you the Tarot Zodiac!


Aries (March 21-April 19)— The Emperor

Your card, the first in the Zodiac, is about leadership and power.  Note that the Emperor's throne is adorned with rams, signifying the connection to Aries.

Taurus (April 20-May 20)— The Hierophant

The Hierophant is often associated with institutions and mentorship.  

Gemini (May 2-June 20)— The Lovers

There are other cards in the tarot deck that more literally represent love; this card, fittingly, is about our dual nature, and making important decisions.

Cancer (June 21-July 22)— The Chariot

The Chariot often symbolizes mastery over opposing forces, and sometimes travel. Check out his star-spangled canopy, and the Hermetic Zodiac-like symbols on his skirt!

Leo (July 23-August 22)— Strength

The lion on the card makes it the obvious correlate to Leo.  This isn't my sign, but it's one of my special cards!

Virgo (August 23-September 22)— The Hermit

The Hermit calls on us to look inward for strength and guidance.  I know very little about its association with Virgo.

Libra (September 23-October 22)— Justice

The only inanimate Zodiac sign, Libra's scales match up nicely with the scales of Justice.  This is my sign, so I note this card carefully when it comes up in a personal reading.

Scorpio (October 23-November 21)— Death

I was supposed to be a Scorpio!  This date range includes Halloween, Samhain, and el Dia de los Meurtos.  Like the card, these holidays address not only Death, but the cycle of renewal.

Sagittarius (November 22-December 21)— Temperance

Temperance is a comforting card to me.  She signifies balance, moderation, and cooperation.

Capricorn (December 22-January 19)— The Devil

Capricorn includes the prefix capri-, referring to goats (what does capricious mean if not playfully goat-like?).  You see how the Devil has been conflated with the horned Pan, a satyr who represents mirth and indulgence.

Aquarius (January 20-February 18)— The Star

The Star is a card of optimism and clarity.  Notice how water dominates the imagery, with the woman pouring water from jugs in both hands, making it a fitting card for Aquarius. 

Pisces (February 19-March 20)— The Moon

The moon is a mysterious card! I associate it with hidden knowledge, and the intuition that arises from our limbic brain.  Note the blue lobster up front (representing that limbic brain), giving us a reference to Pisces' fish.


Are you particularly tied to your Zodiac sign?  What do you think of its associated card?  Do you see yourself incorporating astrology in your practice, or will it be more of an incidental interest?  Share your thoughts!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A Closer Look: Queen of Pentacles

Key words and concepts

  • Comfort
  • Security
  • Abundance
  • Family
  • Compassion
  • Stewardship
  • Sensitivity to surroundings

I grew up in a small town, and like most teenagers, struggled a lot with friendship and identity.  In middle school and high school, I hung out pretty exclusively with a small group of guys.  In typical teenage fashion, I often struggled to relate to my own mother (she is an awesome lady, but we are both similar to the Queen of Swords and didn't always mesh), so having the mother of one of my guy friends sort of take me under her wing was really valuable.

She was a passionate gardener, and her name was Rose, of course.  She had the quiet patience and compassion that goes with being a kindergarten teacher (her profession), as well as the sense of humor and quick wit that comes from growing up as a dorky, not-traditionally-beautiful girl (something I desperately needed to relate to as a teenager).  Whenever I pull the Queen of Pentacles, I smile and say, "Oh hey, Rose, nice to see you!" This Queen--and my childhood role model--both serve to remind me that compassion for yourself and others is never a bad move, and that there is comfort to be had in cultivating your home.

The Queen of Pentacles offers warmth, comfort, and security--but she worked for it.  This queen doesn't hire a gardner or groundskeeper; she is in the dirt, caring for her flowers and vegetables.  She's up at dawn to milk the cows herself, and the result is a cultivated and healthy domain of her own doing.  And look at the results!  Her throne is richly carved with animals and fruits, and vines of roses wind their way around the border.  She's even attracted a happy little bunny at her feet (when she was younger, she was probably that Disney princess who had birds help her get dressed in the morning). I think of her very much as a steward of not only her land, but of its plants and creatures, as well as the human subjects of her kingdom.  

When I read court cards, I often think of them as attitudes we can take (as opposed to reading them as literal people in our lives).  The Queen of Pentacles' motto is, “Hard work is most noble when it serves not only your own house, but your community and the earth.”  She values abundance and hard work, but in the context of service to the greater good.  She is a reminder to prioritize our values, even if we are in the midst of the rat race of capitalism, and to use our gains in a way that encourages healthy, equitable growth. 

Is there somebody in your life who provides this queen's energy?  When have you embodied it yourself?  How else does the Queen of Pentacles show up in your life?

Monday, May 9, 2016

Reading a Spread: Fried Chicken

Awhile back, I was tweeting with Fiona Benjamin (of Modern Fortune Teller) about the joys of Southern (USian) living... especially the food!  When I moved to the South, I was particularly delighted to find out that fried chicken was an acceptable breakfast. Our conversation inspired me to create the Fried Chicken Spread, with special kudos to Fiona for suggesting the Gravy Card!


Though this spread is playful, it's based in the real value of sharing a delicious meal from your culture.  Food not only nourishes us, it delights us and connects us with our family, community, and history.  This spread is a good way to gain insight into self-care, and to encourage you to do what you need to for your body, mind, and spirit. Using my Universal Waite-Smith, I served up this spread!

CARD 1 - Something to Nourish

First and foremost, we eat food to survive.  Even something like fried chicken--which may not seem that nutritious--provides calories and protein that we need.  The Empress nurtures and protects, and symbolizes abundance.  This warm, maternal energy tells me not to feel guilty about indulging sometimes, because self-care is important.  Even fried chicken can be part of a balanced meal!

CARD 2 - Something to Delight

There's really nothing like the first bite of your favorite dish.  It's a full-body appreciation that is difficult to put in the words, but "bliss" comes close.  That simple, visceral joy is powerful, and we can prioritize it by looking for additional ways to experience it.  Though the five of wands is often associated with ego and conflict, I couldn't help but see a friendly pick-up game of soccer or football in this context.  The high energy and playfulness of impromptu games helps us manifest joy in a very physical way.  

CARD 3 - Something to Connect

I think we'd be hard-pressed to find a culture that didn't use food as a focus for social gatherings.  This card demonstrates that connection with others is often an important part of self-care, and the three of wands appropriately signifies collaboration and opportunities for partnerships.  I imagine making space for creative acts that involve others.  Examples include joining a local theater group, starting a band, or being a part of a table-top gaming group. 

CARD 4 - The Gravy Card:  A Little Extra!

And finally, on top of it all, something special to tie it together.  The gravy card adds a little extra flavor and richness, infusing the other cards.  The two of wands is forward-looking, relying on a stable sense of self for progress.  In the end, one of the most powerful ways to care for ourselves is to acknowledge the validity of our unique experiences and worldview.  Connect with whatever makes you feel the most like yourself!  Observe that feeling, and let it guide you through the nourishment, delight, and connection of the other cards. 


I recently talked about reading runs of Minor Arcana, and having three cards sharing a suit show up in this spread provides a perfect chance to practice. Wands symbolize passion and creative energy, and maybe a little spontaneity.  Within the context of this spread, I interpret this run to mean that the querent can embrace an energetic, intuitive approach to self care, with special focus on creative outlets.


I hope these cards inspire you to connect not only with others, but with yourself (and I hope I didn't make you too hungry!)  What kinds of energized, creative, collaborative activities do you enjoy for self-care?  Does your self-care tend to manifest itself differently?  What is your favorite heritage food? (Who knows, it may end up in one of my spreads!)

Friday, May 6, 2016

Sensitive Topics in Tarot Readings

During my Closer Look post on Monday, I ended up discussing how we approach sensitive issues as tarot readers who are not necessarily equipped to deal with diagnoses and treatments.  In this example, addiction was the issue at hand, but there are a host of other things going on in a querent's life that may be difficult to address.  I was very lucky to have some members of my online communities give their feedback.  I'm especially prioritizing the comments of one person who disclosed that they are in recovery from addiction.  After reading Monday's post--and after I solicited feedback--they observed:

 "'s easy for me to imagine somebody on the outside not realizing how huge something like addiction is, especially for people like me who don't seem like a stereotypical addict/alcoholic. I can certainly understand the reluctance to ask that kind of thing if the client hasn't mentioned it, but most addicts know on one level or another what they're doing to themselves. In that sense, acknowledging that addiction can be a major obstacle in any area of life seems like an important part of the interpretation" (emphasis mine).

I think this is a really important point, because ignoring an issue or displaying a lot of discomfort with it can add to stigma.  That's the last thing I want to do during a reading!

Other readers shared that it can be difficult to find the right words for disclosing topics like addiction or mental health, and so querents might be taking their cues from you.  If we seem reluctant to talk about it, querents are not likely to feel comfortable disclosing.  So how do we, as card readers, make sure we are upfront with our querents not only about the limitations of our readings, but the fact that we are somebody who is open to talking about sensitive issues?

I think for me, the answer is to incorporate it into my spiel. Before any reading I do, I tell the querent my approach to tarot.  Here is what I plan on including:

Tarot readings can bring up unexpected, sensitive issues.  Please know that anything you share with me in this reading will remain confidential (unless it poses an immediate threat to you or others)*, and that it is not my role to judge you or make assumptions about your life.  I also have a list of resources available that I can provide after the reading. My goal is for you to leave this session feeling more empowered.

*Different states have different laws regarding mandatory reporting for things like child/elder abuse; I recommend checking your local laws (apologies for the U.S.-centrism!)

Ultimately, the querent decides whether or not we are a safe person to disclose to. We simultaneously do not want to stigmatize through avoidance, nor do we want to assume that the querent owes us information.  It's not easy, and we may not get it right all the time, but it is important to work on it.

I'll leave you with what I see as a really great example. At Autostraddle, Beth Maiden of Little Red Tarot provided an online reading for a querent experiencing anxiety.  Beth included this lovely explanation before launching into her reading of the cards:

"First, a note about anxiety. For some, ‘anxiety’ may be a temporary feeling of worry or fear, and perhaps a period of sleepless nights. For others, this is a serious mental/emotional health condition which shouldn’t be taken lightly. A tarot reading aims to shed new light on your situation, to encourage you and help you to find approaches that can help, but I can’t diagnose you, and a tarot reading cannot ‘cure’ anxiety. If you’re worried about your mental and/or emotional health, please consider talking to a professional counsellor or doctor."

She touches on the important stuff in a gentle tone that doesn't sugar-coat nor stigmatize.  She doesn't make it the focus of the reading, but she gives it the weight it deserves.

Are these approaches realistic, in your opinion?  What are other ways we can be accessible and responsible in our readings?

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Suit Meanings and Reading Runs

Part of the Down Home Tarot approach is not to overburden beginners or casual tarot enthusiasts with tons of hidden or esoteric information; I've said before that just knowing one meaning per card can lead to plenty of quality interactions with your deck.  However, if you're reading a blog about tarot cards, you probably enjoy learning a bit more about them, even if you choose not to incorporate every detail into your own practice. Personally, I don't use sacred geometry or much astrology in my readings. But I do incorporate suit meanings, which allows me to read runs of minor arcana.

A run of a suit means that you have three or more cards of a given suit in your spread.  For example, if I read a Celtic Cross--which has ten cards--I could end up with, say, five different sword cards.  That means I had a run of swords in that spread.  You can, of course, have runs of more than one suit if your spread is large enough.

So what does that mean?  Well, each suit is associated with not only its own domain, but a cardinal direction, a season, and a classical element.  I especially like incorporating the seasons into my reading.  You can totally pick and choose what works for you!  Probably the most significant and frequently-used associations are the domains of each suit.

Swords are the domain of intellect, and govern communication, truth, objectivity, and logic.  If you get a run of swords in a spread, it could mean that the querent is preoccupied with finding out the objective truth of a matter.  Perhaps it means that the querent is a particularly strong communicator.  The classical element associated with swords is air.

Cups signify emotions, and often indicate dreams, fantasy, intuition, and the subconscious. A run of cards could indicate that the querent relies heavily on their emotional reality, or that they often make decisions based on intuition.  Water is the cups' classical element.

Pentacles traditionally signify the domain of work or commerce, since they are originally literal money (coins).  More and more often, though, they are read as the physical aspect of reality, structure, and tangible existence.  A run of pentacles may mean that the material needs of the querent are prominent; it could also mean that the querent has a very practical, down-to-earth approach to life.  Pentacles are linked to the classical element of earth.

And finally, wands refer to the somewhat ill-defined domain of spirit. In this context, spirit refers to passion and creativity, energized action, and sometimes sexuality.  A run of wands may mean that the querent is eager to use their creative energy, or excited about changes and progress in their life.  Wands' classical element is fire.

When I am reading runs, I use these domains as a starting point for interpretation.  If you want to give it a try, I recommend not reading it too literally; allow these suit meanings to round out the narrative that is already present in the cards.  If that seems too intimidating, but you still want to work on reading runs, you can always just point out the run to the querent.  Saying something as simple as, "You have four wands in your spread; that usually indicates high creative energy," can be enough to add depth for the querent.  As always, it is up to you!

Do these domains resonate with you?  Do you think you will try to incorporate runs in your readings?  Would you like to here more about different associations with each suit?  Let us know in comments!

Monday, May 2, 2016

A Closer Look: Seven of Cups

Key words and concepts

  • Overwhelming possibilities
  • Lack of focus
  • Inspiration
  • Imagination
  • Indecision
  • Numbing through excess

Seven goblets brimming with treasures float among the clouds, tempting the character in the foreground. He hasn’t yet reached for any one cup, not having made a decision.  The character is overwhelmed and unable to evaluate his options, even though he is excited by the possibilities.

The seven of cups can be read simply as overwhelming possibilities leading to an inability to decide.  Each cup looks so tempting that it’s hard to pick just one!  The idea here is that, before we commit to a decision, we can let our imaginations run away with each unique opportunity. One description gives the example of somebody considering three possible romantic partners; instead of evaluating the decision and picking one person to date, the character on this card would instead spend their time imagining in great detail how each relationship could go, and get caught up in the fantasy.  In the end, their opportunities pass them by because of indecision. 

You can also look at this as the “careful what you wish for” card.  Some cards are full of exciting treats, like a fancy castle, a pile of jewels, or a laurel wreath (which symbolizes victory).  But look a little closer at that cup with the victorious laurel crown: There’s a skull hidden inside that cup!  Creepy, right?! Though our fantasies may gleam and shimmer in our minds, the reality may be much more mundane or even unpleasant. 

You’ll notice that one of the key concepts listed here is numbing through excess.  Some folks read this card as addiction or substance abuse.  I personally do not read cards that literally.  My tarot readings are not the place to explore medical or mental health issues in a diagnostic way.  A querent who is managing an addiction doesn’t need me to probe their substance use specifically; if I open the door by exploring themes of being overwhelmed or using excess to escape, the querent can decide whether or not it is helpful for them to disclose their addiction.  Tarot is about universal human experience, and everybody—whether or not they have experienced substance abuse—knows what it’s like to be overwhelmed and want to escape.  Use that as your starting point, not an assumption about addiction.

This brings me to another point about tarot.  You’ll notice on my Request a Reading page and my Etsy store, I point out that tarot is for entertainment purposes only and not a substitute for healthcare.  That’s not because tarot isn’t useful for healing, growth, insight, or even recovery from trauma; indeed, that’s what draws many people to the cards in the first place.  The disclaimer is because tarot readers are not necessarily trained to deal with the specific challenges posed to trauma survivors, or folks in recovery from addiction, or somebody working through a mental health diagnosis.  Tarot can certainly inform those experiences, but not in the same way treatment does (and not everybody pursues treatment in the same way).  I’m a social worker by trade, and work very hard not to “social work” my clients, because that is not the role in which they are coming to me.  

If you decide that you want to read tarot for strangers, I recommend having a list of local hotlines on hand.  If something comes up during a reading, do your best active listening and let the querent know that there are resources (and free ones are best).  Some populations for whom I keep hotlines on record include:

  • Survivors of trauma/violence
  • Veterans
  • Folks in recovery from substance abuse
  • Folks with mental illness
  • Folks with disabilities or chronic illness
  • Folks experiencing food scarcity (pantries, etc.)
  • LGBTQIA folks
  • Ex-prison residents (especially for jobs and housing)
  • Immigrants and refugees
  • Folks experiencing unwanted or unintended pregnancy

Local resources will vary greatly, but you can almost always find a national or state-level hotline for each of these issue.  

Having your cards read is an inherently vulnerable act.  We need to respect that vulnerability—and its associated risks—by recognizing our own limitations.  Tarot is such a powerful tool for growth and self-awareness; as readers, let’s also be a source of connection to resources for people in our community who need it the most.