Monday, April 24, 2017

Start a Local Tarot Club!

I recently started up a tarot club with the help of a local coffee shop, and it has been a wonderful way to connect with others and expand my own practice. It's something I wanted to do for a long time and only recently got around to starting. At first, I thought I had to have something highly structured and exciting, and that it would only be successful if I had a dozen or more people each time. I'm finding, though, that our loose, small group is deeply satisfying.

If you're interested in cultivating a local community of tarot readers, but you're not sure where to start or think you aren't "advanced" enough to organize a meeting, don't worry! I'm here to share the structure and origin story of our tarot club to help get you started.


1. The Prep Work: Location, Time, & Publicity

If possible, find a place that will partner with you and let you announce club meetings on their social media. I approached my local coffee shop because they were used to seeing me there and I knew they were interested in creating a welcoming, creative space. You'll want a public space that is as accessible as possible and doesn't require people to spend money (or at least not very much). Our club meets once a month, and it's posted on my blog's social media as well as the social media of the coffeeshop. Include the time and place, but also a sentence or two about the purpose of the club. It was important to me that our tarot club be open to everybody from experts, beginners, and skeptics, but you can decide what tone you want to set for your community.

2. The Structure

When I started planning our tarot club, I thought I had to have a unique theme and activities for each session, plus exciting new educational material for people. Fortunately, I was extremely wrong. Since I technically initiated the club, folks did look to me for structure, but I ended up keeping it simple.

We start each meeting by going around in a circle and introducing ourselves and briefly describing how and why we read tarot; this is useful because we are a drop in group and there are new people each week.  Of course, we read cards, too: Every person pulls three cards for the person to their left and interprets them while the group observes. After the reader finishes their interpretation, the querent and group members describe what they learned and what they have to add. Just the intros and this simple activity fill up an hour or two quite easily, especially if you factor in all the time we spend drooling over each others' decks!

This structure ended up being really great; since the personalities in our group are very supportive, it turns into a really empowering experience that pushes us to interpret the cards in new ways. It also gives new readers a chance to hear different ways of interpreting, showing them that there isn't one correct way to read the cards.

3. The Follow Up

My tarot club is pretty low-maintenance. I keep up with my social media and try to respond in a timely manner when club members contact me, or when people reach out with questions about us. I announce our meetings ahead of time, and I also try to drop in and do some donation-based readings at the coffeeshop just to keep the tarot presence active. Additionally--and this is important--I do my best to support the venue in other ways. Our coffee shop supports us by hosting us and publicizing us, so I also make sure to promote other events that they offer. We're lucky because our coffee shop is the kind of place I want to promote anyway--that's why I picked them!


Cultivating a local tarot community is enriching and empowering. A tarot club is a relatively simple way to do it; would this approach work where you live? How would you change the structure? Would there be a benefit to restricting it to advanced practitioners? Please share your thoughts in comments!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Storytelling Practice for Tarot

Many of the beginner approaches to tarot out there focus on learning card meanings. There's a good reason; 78 is a lot of cards to learn, and the basic meanings are foundational to reading the cards. But I find comparatively few resources out there to help us practice synthesizing meaning. This is frustrating if you are somebody who struggles to "just use your intuition" around the cards. In other words, it's hard to find beginner resources for the storytelling aspect of tarot.

The exercise I'm sharing today works even if you have zero knowledge of card meanings; you can do it with your first tarot deck, fresh out of the box, with no background! It's also an exercise I still find useful even after reading cards semi-professionally for the past few years. Long-time veteran cardslingers, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

The first step is to take your deck and pull two cards.  Lay them side by side.  I'm using the Tarot of the Magical Forest today, and I pulled the knight of wands and the nine of pentacles.

Now, I want you to tell a story about these two cards.  Forget that they are tarot cards; view them as adjacent illustrations in a children's book. Don't worry about associating them with tarot meanings.  Write or say a few sentences about what is happening in a way that connects the two pictures into a cohesive narrative.  Here's my "story" about these guys:
Sir Swampington is a young noble, famous for his ability to tame wild frog-steeds. He has pined after Patricia Pentacles, a dashing young fox woman; however, she has taken a vow of silence and celibacy. She lives content tending to a wildlife refuge. Sir Swampington has decided that the heartache is too much, so he leaves to seek a new adventure. 
Is it silly? A bit over the top?  Heck yeah. That's kind of the point here; creativity and storytelling are skills that require practice, and this exercise is the basic version of it (think of it as practicing your scales on the piano so that you can play a sonata later). Also, ignoring the tarot meanings for awhile gives you the freedom to get a bit silly with it, and whimsy can be a great tool for allowing yourself some creative freedom.

Once you're comfortable with this exercise, you can try another permutation.  Pull three cards, but this time assign them a specific role. The first card is your main character; the second is their best friend, and the third, their antagonist. I pulled Judgement, the three of pentacles, and the High Priestess:

I'm doing the same kind of children's-picture-book storytelling here, but I've added more structure with the roles.  I'm still not thinking about tarot-related meanings. Here's the story I came up with:
Lucretia Flufflywings is a sheep-angel who is in charge of leading a band, but she is nervous about being in charge.  Her best friends, Foxypants and Weasel-nose aren't good enough musicians to be in her band, but they know she is stressed out, so they invite her over to their weird church-house so she has a relaxing place to stay. Their landlord, Queen Owl, doesn't like this; she makes it her goal to keep Lucretia from staying with Foxypants and Weasel-nose, and even tries to break up Lucretia's band. However, it only galvanizes Lucretia, and with the support of Foxypants and Weasel-nose, she leads her band to win all the Grammies the next year. 
Guys, that story was so silly that I was almost embarassed to type it out. This brings me to another point: obviously, our querents are in a vulnerable position when we read for them, but we are also vulnerable as card readers. That is to say, we are exposing our own intuitions, instincts, and values. This story-telling exercise not only helps us practice connecting cards together, it helps us practice letting go of the inhibitions that prevent us from really tapping into our intution.

These two exercises will help you get used to joining multiple cards together in narrative. Whether you use the simple two-card version, or the more structured three-card, you'll get to work on an important tarot skill without the pressure of "doing tarot."  This exercise should also work with any non-abstract deck (I don't necessarily see it being super useful with a Thoth deck, but hey, I could be wrong).

Do you think this exercise would be helpful for you? What are other ways you practicing combining cards? What story would you tell based on the cards I pulled here?  Let us know in comments!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Reading a Spread: Self-Compassion

I am certain that I am not the only person who struggles with shame and vulnerability. They are experiences that are a normal part of the human condition, but shame can easily hijack our minds and prohibit us from growing or moving forward. I came up with this spread last week after realizing that I needed some concrete, tangible way to frame my feelings.  This spread provides a scaffolding that makes space for shame and pain, but also a pathway for self-compassion.


CARD 1: Querent's ego

When I say ego, I mean the self-aware part of ourselves with cognitive, critical focus. In this case, it is the part of us that replays every sentence uttered, every gesture attempted, and finds it wanting. Pulling the five of wands in this position was some major real-talk; when I am in a defensive, reactive place, I lash out. Some of the blows hit my attackers, but inevitably some also land on my allies and even myself. It feels not unlike being in a chaotic fight with a bunch of guys with sticks. For me as the querent, it leads to shame, which makes it difficult to find self-compassion.

CARDS 2 & 3:  A container for the pain

I pretty much sighed with relief with these two; I think the ace and the ten of pentacles provide a lovely symmetry here.  If the ace is the essence of the suit, and the ten is the suit come to fruition, then I see here that my pain and discomfort is held in a container of tangible security. I always have the earth, and I always have my home. I can relax into that certainty when facing my ego.

CARD 4: A strength of the querent's

This card, the four of swords, surprised me a little.  While I may struggle to control my reactions in the moment, I'm actually pretty good at finding time later to retreat and consider what happened.  This card also speaks to recovery; it tells me that whatever pain I suffer, I have the resilience to spring forward from it.

CARD 5: A message of compassion

Possibly the most empowering card I could have pulled, Strength is about emotional fortitude. In this position, she is a reminder of my own courage as well as the loving support of those around me. I'm actually struggling to write out an interpretation because this is one of those cases where the simplicity of the card, and the impact of the visual with her basic meanings, really conveys the message better than words.  It's one of those lovely moments in tarot that seems to transcend language... although I guess that's kind of a cop-out for a blogger!


This spread gave me a chance to honor the painful experiences of shame by providing a safe vessel for vulnerability. Do you think you would use this spread when you need to practice self-compassion? Could you see this spread working for somebody trying to cultivate compassion for others?  Did I totally just leave you in the lurch with my inability to describe the fifth card?  Please share your thoughts in comments!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Pentacles: Three and Eight

One thing I’ve noticed when working with beginner tarot readers is the reluctance to bring idiosyncratic meanings to cards. One of tarot’s greatest joys is learning the traditional meanings of each card, but as readers we should also be willing to trust our intuition and provide our own interpretations, even if they differ from precedent. In fact, most aspects of tarot are not hard and fast, even down to the specific meanings of individual cards. The three and eight of pentacles is a great example of competing interpretations, and it’s an opportunity to bring your individual preference into your reading style.

The suit of pentacles is about concrete, tangible aspects of our lives, and traditionally has also correlated with wealth and work (the suit is still called "coins" in many decks). The three and eight show chapters in the journey from apprentice to master, but how those meanings are assigned varies from reader to reader.  Some read the three of pentacles as the apprentice, and the eight as master, while others reverse those meanings.  Others read the three as professional collaboration at any level. 

I personally learned the three as the master, while the eight is the apprentice.  If we're looking at the Waite-Smith symbology (pictured below), we see in the three of pentacles that the stoneworker is interacting with two others (including a monk), presumably to update them on the project's progress. This stoneworker, then, is in charge of an important, permanent project (stone decoration on a fancy building). On the other hand, the eight of pentacles is alone in the frame, making the same simple plate over and over, like a beginner practicing a simple skill. Looking at the card, I'm reminded of the hours I spent at the piano just playing scales. Boring, y'all, but foundational. 

From the Universal Rider-Waite (Waite-Smith)

But what about the opposite interpretation? Why read the master-apprentice dynamic in the opposite direction, since I've just given such a compelling explanation for the inverse? Well, the monk and hooded figure in the three of pentacles could just as much serve as instructors for the stoneworker as they could patrons. Maybe he needs extra monitoring as he works on his first major project.  The eight of pentacles, in contrast, can be read as a master worker who has enough skill and reputation to set up his own shop, and no longer needs to take commissions.  Additionally, eight is the larger number and comes later in the suit; if we are looking at the progression of numbers, we see that three is about growth and collaboration, whereas eight is about forward-moving energy.

Ultimately, you will decide which interpretation resonates most with you.  Additionally, your interpretations will be altered based on the surrounding cards, the query posed, and even the deck you're working with. This post is intended to give you a foundation for working with these two cards, but ultimately to encourage you to explore your own individual interpretations.

How do you read these two cards? Are there interpretations beyond what I've presented here? How does all this translate to other non-Waite-Smith decks you've worked with?  Let us know in comments!