Saturday, July 16, 2016


I have not posted about the myriad of tragic events over the past few weeks because I am utterly overwhelmed. I literally do not know where to start.  This blog was intended for me to be a sort of refuge, where I was not called on to do the emotional processing required of my work and volunteering. However, I'm realizing that trauma does not stay neatly packaged in one area of our life. People reading my blog can't assume that I mourn the loss of Black life in the United States, because that is tragically not a given. I have to state it, otherwise I am complicit in white supremacy.

I am mourning Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

I am still mourning Sandra Bland and Eric Garner and Freddie Gray and Trayvon Martin.

As an U.S. American, I can list names of Black victims of white supremacy as easily as I can recite the pledge of allegiance. And I've only scratched the surface.

I have so little to give right now, and for that, I am sorry.  I would like to tell you, the reader, that your feelings of sadness, anger, frustration, exhaustion, and numbness are.... well, "normal" feels reductive. But they are all responses to unceasing exposure to violence. I see you. I see your sorrow. I see your pain.  I see your anger.


For more on anger in the wake of injustice, especially for healers, see this post at Little Red Tarot.


This summer has been hard for me. I've been very raw, and struggling to process both what I see in the news and what happens in my personal life. I've been watching wildlife in my backyard a lot, as it is one of the few things that brings me peace.  My partner and I watched a pair of Carolina wrens build a nest in the watering can on our back porch, watched them lay eggs, watched the clutch hatch.  I checked on them (discreetly) first thing in the morning and right before the sun went down.  The parent birds got so used to us that they would feed their babies while we had our coffee on the back porch.

Two nights ago, a snake ate the baby birds. They would have started fledging towards the end of next week. 

It was a loss that hit me quite acutely, at a time when I thought I had no space in my heart for additional loss. It felt silly to cry over it, in the wake of such greater tragedies. 

the last picture I got of them

But my grief over these little birds is all tied up in the mourning I've been doing all summer, and I just can't begrudge it. I often understand large experiences and feelings in my life by contextualizing them through nature and animals, and I suppose this is no different. 


I have the nest, still. I am trying to decide on a ritual to do with it, to honor the four tiny lives. Small as matches, snuffed out as easily. 


I hope that you are connecting with the ones you love, and resting within the comfort of your community.  I hope there is something in your life, however small, that is providing you some measure of peace.  I hope you are holding yourself with compassion. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Reading a Spread: Prioritizing Your Energy

I started designing this spread a while back, with the intent of developing a spread with a lot of cards. I wanted to challenge myself to interpret larger quantities of cards at one time. But the spread designs just never came together, and my readings weren't especially helpful.  Today, I felt the need to do an energy-focusing spread, but just looking at the original design of nine cards was tiring.  I spontaneously came up with this four-card alternative, and I found the results much for useful for focusing my energy. I can't claim to have these bursts of insight often, but today I was lucky!


Being overwhelmed is more than just having too much to do.  It includes not only the stress of being overburdened, but the confusion of not even being able to tell what's important anymore. We probably don't feel like we have the support we need, but we're not quite sure how to ask for it. This spread is not intended to provide you with the full range of support or advice you might need to resolve all your issues; instead, it's a bit of triage. Use this spread if you need permission to let go of a view things, and for some gentle guidance on your next step.

CARD 1: Something to set aside for the moment.

Alright, I don't think this card is telling me to set aside The World in its entirety. Instead, I can release myself from worrying about the larger, overarching aspects of my life. This card suggests that, while planning ahead is healthy, now is not the time to obsess over what my life's legacy will be when it's time for me to leave my community. What a relief!

CARD 2: Something on which to increase focus

The eight of swords is about determining the best of limited options. I notice that the character on the card probably isn't thinking about her long-term plans; she just wants to know how to get those bindings off! Right now, my focus is on immediate issues and restrictions. I'm not necessarily searching for the perfect solution, just one that will help me move forward. Though it was a little striking to get this card, I think it makes a lot of sense when contextualized by the previous one. 

CARD 3: A perception or belief to challenge

I am really, really good at reviewing every single action I do or word I say in search of major screw-ups. Mostly my concerns are around being a good ally and not unwittingly perpetrating any forms of oppression. The queen of swords is, indeed, about the practical enaction of justice, and weighing all information fairly. In this position, though, she challenges me not to spend all my energy determining if my every tiny action is perfectly just. She's not asking me to reject my goals of a more equitable world, just to give myself a break sometimes to avoid burnout. 

CARD 4: Something to hold with compassion

Aw, I always feel so bad for the nine of wands. He just looks so tired. He's not frantically overburdened, like the ten of wands. No, he is resigned to his post, not necessarily believing that he actually makes a difference; I see him as going through the motions. This is the burnout that the queen of swords is warning me about! But to pull this card in this position reminds me: Even if I don't meet my goals, or don't handle my challenges perfectly, it is not a weakness. Being all used up isn't a personal deficit, and it is when we are feeling most useless that we need to hold ourselves with compassion.


Does this spread seem like it would help you focus your energy constructively?  Do you have alternate readings of these cards?  Do you find larger spreads difficult to manager, or do you find them rich and engaging?  Let us know in comments!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Storing Your Tarot Decks

Whether or not you see your tarot deck as a sacred tool of divination, a practical work of art, or some blend of the two, you want to keep your cards safe and preserve them well.  Cards inevitably wear with use, and no deck will last forever, but you can increase its lifespan by storing it well.

Additionally, how you store your cards influences your relationship with them.  Sliding your deck out of a flimsy, falling-apart cardboard box feels a lot less magical than opening a wooden box or untying a silk bag. If you plan it right, your interaction with your cards begins before you even shuffle them.

While I can't claim to have silk bags or wooden boxes, I thought I would share with you the many ways I store my decks.  See if there are any storage strategies you like!


 My favorite storage method involves sewing a small bag for my cards.  The one pictured to the right is just calico and ribbon; nothing too fancy, but it still feels special.  I hand-sewed it, and while that process did increase my intimacy with the bag and the deck, the only reason I didn't use my sewing machine is because it is broken.

Lots of folks put small crystals or herbs in their bags while storing their cards, with the intent of recharging their magic. I don't use crystals in my bag because I am afraid of them scratching my cards, but I am tempted to add a little lavender sometime.

It's always such a pleasure when a deck includes robust packaging. As you can see in the picture to the left, the Tarot Mucha comes in a thick, crisp box that stands upright with its own lid. The box is quite sturdy and will protect the cards just fine, and there is something very satisfying about opening or closing the lid. The packaging help gives substance to the experience of using this deck.

And here is what happens when your first deck that you don't really care about comes shrink wrapped in cellophane and nothing else.  This was my "false start" deck, that I bought and then ignored when the pips proved too difficult to interpret, quickly replacing it with my Waite-Smith.  It's no surprise, then, that I store it in what is basically repurposed garbage (old index card box and some motivational bracelet).

The thing is.... it works really well! This deck and I already have a playful relationship. I don't use it for serious questions, and it looks so goofy in its make-shift home, that the whole experience is aesthetically and spiritually consistent for me.

Finally, my good old Waite-Smith.  This is my default deck, and the deck I still return to when I need some real talk. I use this deck so often--multiple times a day--that it is never really put away.  On my desk, it sits on top of its bag (machine sewn by me), with my Zuni badger fetish sitting on top.  This deck and my badger fetish are probably the two most spiritually important objects I own; I don't know why I started doing it, but it just seemed right to perch it on top like that.

I will note that this deck is getting quite worn, and there is a risk to leaving it on my desk like this (it will be more likely to fade in the sun).


You'll notice that with each of these methods, I discussed how it influences my relationship with the cards. Your first priority is, of course, keeping your deck clean and preserved, but I encourage you to look to your card housing as another way to enrich your practice.  Maybe sewing your own bag is not in your wheelhouse, but would tying a ribbon around the deck (or a plastic bracelet!) make your tarot practice a bit more magical?

Do you see yourself using any of these strategies?  What other methods are there for keeping your deck comfy?  Let us know in comments!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Cross-Deck Comparison with Two of Cups

You may have noticed that most, if not all, of my Readings and Closer Looks are done with the Waite-Smith deck. Indeed, some tarot readers do stick to one tradition, and all my decks are based roughly on that same deck. However, tarot artists interpret Waite's and Colman Smith's work in so many weird, robust ways, that there is still plenty of variation to explore. When I began to move into other decks, I wanted to challenge myself without being too overwhelmed by new meanings or inscrutable artwork.  There are many decks that cleave very closely to the Waite-Smith, but other ostensible "clones" seem entirely disconnected at first glance.

This cross-deck comparison looks at the Waite-Smith and three other decks in the same tradition, each with different levels of abstraction from the original imagery. I hope it gives you some insight into how to be flexible with different decks while still relying on the system you've already learned. We're looking at the Two of Cups across the decks listed below: 

  • Universal Waite: Art by Pamela Colman Smith, coloring by Mary Hanson Roberts. Published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc. (Note: I refer to this deck as my Waite-Smith deck.)
  • Tarot Mucha: Art by Giulia F. Massaglia and Barbara Nosenzo. Published by Lo Scarabeo.
  • Shadowscapes Tarot: Art by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law. Published by Llewellyn Publishers.
  • Wooden Tarot: Art by A.L. Schwartz. Published by Skullgarden.


Let's start out with our Universal Waite. Simple, clear, and accessible, this imagery conveys a sense of romantic love by evoking a sense of formal commitment.  Facing each other, exchanging cups (as one might exchange rings or vows), framed by some divine winged lion, the two characters play their parts with little ambiguity.

The Tarot Mucha interprets Waite-Smith imagery through an art deco lens.  Though not drawn by Alphonse Mucha himself, the art evokes his style.  Our winged, lion-headed caduceus still frames the picture, and a pair of actors still exchange cups.  This illustration, however, exchanges the stiff formality of the Waite-Smith for willowy lines and postures of repose. If the Waite-Smith shows a scene from a play, the Tarot Mucha is its real-life correlate.  Interpreting the meaning will not be much of a challenge.

I've written about the Shadowscapes Tarot before, and I'm happy to have another chance to show it off. This deck has us moving further away from the classic Waite-Smith imagery; notice that Pui-Mun Law has removed our weird winged lion dude, and our characters are not really exchanging cups in a ceremony (though you will see there are still two cups in the picture).

This artist conveys her meaning through a sense of movement and intuition. Instead of two humans exchanging an item, we have two nymphs/dryads/ents literally wrapping around each other, with a cute little heart ornament hanging above them, like a sprig of mistletoe encouraging a kiss. Glowing golden fish linger nearby, blurring the lines between earth, water, and sky.

While drastically reinterpreting the Waite-Smith deck, Pui-Mun Law calls on her own tools to convey the same meaning. Interpreting this deck won't be too hard, but will become much easier the more you work with it.

Finally, we have the Wooden Tarot, one of my current favorite decks.  By far the most surreal version we've seen, this two of cups forgoes human actors altogether.  Indeed, you'll note that it's not even the two of cups; the Wooden Tarot replaces cups with blooms.

This bloom may at first look like a single blossom, but it actually appears to be two flowers back to back, creating one large double bloom. This suggests to me the synthesis of two things becoming one. The suit of blooms in the Wooden Tarot very strongly convey a sense of tenderness to me, so I can extrapolate that meaning into the synthesis of two passions into friendship or love.

Here, we have a card that is technically based on Waite-Smith symbology; however, interpreting this card in isolation will work better if you are familiar with the deck as a whole.


What do you think, folks?  Of these two of cups, do you have a favorite? Does seeing the same cards across several decks give you any insight into the meaning?  Let us know in comments! 

Monday, July 4, 2016

June + A Closer Look: Four of Swords

If you have been following DHT, you'll notice that June has been slow/nonexistent on the blog.  I'd like to apologize to any readers that have continued to check, or have been waiting for an update.  Without getting into too much detail, I've had to focus on my job search more intently and needed to free up some energy.  Now, I'm looking forward to getting back into a regular posting schedule, and I hope you're still along for the ride!

June was, in some ways, a month of recovery for me.

I didn't necessarily have an Event or Issue to recover from, but I clearly needed to withdraw.  Seems to me, then, that I should start off July with a Closer Look at the Four of Swords.


Key words and concepts

  • Retreat
  • Recovery
  • Solitude
  • Rest
  • Seclusion
  • Reflection

The four of swords radiates calm to me. A quiet tomb, featuring a peaceful statue with hands folded in repose, lies safely in a place of worship. There is little movement, and no living actors.  It is a time of rest and recovery.

Like many cards in the suit of swords, the imagery here is easily misread as pessimistic. My culture (anglo USian) does not have a particularly positive or healthy relationship with death, in my view, and thus any representation of it usually invokes fear first.

But what is portrayed here is not death, the final good-bye. This death is total stillness, where all movement--even metabolism--ceases. It is the relief of a held breath exhaled, a moment of released tension. Only with this ultimate relaxation can we truly gather the strength needed to move forward onto our next challenge.

The four of swords, despite its seeming portrayal of finality, is actually about resting up for the next big thing.  It says you've worked hard enough, achieved something worthy, and it's time to stop worrying. It necesitates solitude, either physical and mental, in order to achieve stillness. Don't worry, though; you're not going away forever, and when you return, you'll be stronger than ever!


Does the four of swords speak of recovery to you? Is the death imagery too strong to be comforting? What other symbols or landscapes evoke a sense of solitude and inward recovery in your life?