Theres been a change to your billed Seminar Series this month. Do not adjust your monitors, for my tarot related lark is here now, rather than Febuary.What can a druid do with tarot cards (other than read with them)?
To introduce Tarot to people in a seminar is a very overwhelming task! So many books, websites, tarot associations and guilds worldwide that are still trying to find ways to introduce the concept of the tarot to people! I will comment and introduce little ideas or practices but these are just ideas for you to try. As ever in OBOD Druidry, if these exercises do not feel right to you, don’t do it but put it to one side to see if you want to try it another day. One thing I am not going to go into great detail about is reading the cards. For me tarot is more than just a divination tool, but a mirror for the soul, a companion though life, a holy book to draw inspiration and comfort from, so we need to find other ways to ‘play’ like a Bard does with words and notes so we can let Awen and understanding flow. Plus others far more knowledgeable and more experienced in reading the cards can share their thoughts with you, or there are some great books available that discuss the process of reading the cards far better than I! My advice for those struggling to learn how to read the cards has always been ‘say what you see’ which really makes for a very short seminar!
I am by no means a tarot ‘academic’ and so this seminar is drawn from my own experiences and thoughts inspired by the cards themselves and what little hints and tricks I’ve picked up or learnt from others on the way. My journey with the Tarot started in a very informal, in the moment sort of way and so that’s how I talk about Tarot. So, as you’re reading this, think of us sitting in the Druids Head Pub like in the Druidcraft Tarot’s 3 of Cups, sitting, discussing and pondering the ways of the Universe together. If you have a deck with you whilst you sit back and ponder on this seminar, then all the better and I hope you will take these seeds of my own thoughts and perhaps make them your own to grow tarot trees of your own experience! Let’s break down that pack of cards that you have in front of you..What is Tarot?
To tarot purists out there, Tarot should be very strictly structured – 78 cards, 22 of which are the Major Arcana and the others make up the Minor Arcana. If it doesn’t match this structure then it’s just not Tarot, but an oracle or another form of cartomancy (divining by the use of cards), however decks like the Fifth Tarot have an additional fifth elemental suit as well as the 22 Major Cards. Tarot itself evolved out of the card playing games in northern Italy in the early 15th century, and so there are decks out there with more or less than 22 Majors, but soon it became fairly standard to have 22. However to this day much is debated on the numbering and ordering of the Major cards, but that’s something for the academics to worry about, me, I just like the pretty pictures!
22 Major arcana cards – with the figures and archetypes like Death, Empress etc. These are transitional moments in human life are depicted in all their glory. Many artists tend to change the titles of the cards to suit the theme of the pack or their expression of the archetypes. There is a great fluidity in it. For example, traditionally the 15th Trump or Major card is titled the Devil, but pagan tarot decks have given it a new title of the Horned God (like the Witches Tarot) or Cernunnos (Druidcraft tarot). In fact, throughout history these titles have shifted where the Magician was once the Conjurer, or the High Priestess was the Papess or Juno, due to local politics and religious boundaries at the time or the message the commissioning Italian family wanted to portray.
The Minor Arcana makes the other 56 cards, divided into the 4 suits of the 4 elements. If the Major cards reflect the great archetypes or transitions of our experiences, then the Minors reflect the everyday nature of our lives. Again the names of the suits have shifted throughout history, theme of the deck or inspiration of the deck creator(s).
Earth may be represented by coins, pentacles or even pumpkins (the Halloween tarot) but tends to relate to matters of finances, home and security. They are concerned with our roots and what is vitally important to us in our every day lives.
Air tends to be represented by swords, although I have seen decks where Air has be represented by Guns (Victoria Regina Tarot). They relate to our thoughts, and often they are the cards that seem rather ‘gloomy’ traditionally depicting pain, torture of our minds, trickery, theft and betrayal.
Fire can be shown as wands, although in some decks they are Pens (Victoria Regina Tarot) and relate to our enthusiasm and energy through our projects. Sometimes it reflects our warrior spirit and what we fight for, and when its time to take a more defensive strategy.
Water can be depicted as cups, chalices or Cauldrons (Tarot of the Old Path) and reflect our emotions, of love romantic and platonic, as well as inspiration and intuition.
If you have a deck in your hands, look at what symbols the Minors are shown as. Rather than reaching for the book, think to yourself what that means to you. Would your thoughts be different if it was another symbol? If your deck has a theme, why would that symbol work better in that theme rather than a traditional symbol i.e. a Pumpkin rather than a Coin?
The Minors also have characters called the Court Cards, traditionally of Page, Knight, Queen and King but in some decks as Princess, Prince, Queen and King or Daughter, Son, Mother , Father (as in the Haindl Tarot). These tend to be the trickiest cards to learn and I think it’s because we rarely have a friend that is totally made up of one of these personalities. Traditionally Pages reflect young people, or King of Cups is meant to be a Piscean etc, but why limit our understanding of tarot and of the complexities of our human natures? Right now I am thinking of myself as the Queen of Swords as I type and think about ideas for this seminar, but I am also the Page of Pentacles, drawing on experience, trying to be grounded and practical in what I am speaking about, and a little bit Page of Cups as I am drawing on my intuition as well. The courts are facets of our beings. See which court characters you really like or don’t like – does that reflect qualities within you that you like or don’t like, what you fear or what you aspire to be? I have a deck, now what?
There are many ideas of what to do. My personal recommendation is to flip through the book or little white book your deck came with and then hide it away! Remember the deck creators worked with their ideas, the concepts of what the cards are and created pretty pictures. Why refer to a limited secondary source of a book with words, when you have the original material of symbols and pictures that can say so much more right in front of you? Humanity communicated through pictures before the written word, it invokes and moves us in a very primitive way, whilst words have to be deciphered and then comprehended. Art talks to our instincts, our intuition and taps into our collective consciousness far better (in my opinion naturally) than words.
Although there are only 78 cards, there are a million different ways to pick up on something in that card! This is where images speak more to us as humans that words can. An image can invoke so much in us and it will never right or wrong, only what is present at that moment of looking. OBOD Druidry is about being experiential and exploring our spirituality through deepening our sensual connections to Nature, so we only can ‘learn’ the tarot if we experience it and jump in head first!
When my mind is feeling chaotic I shuffle my deck and pick a card and just look at it. Sometimes my thoughts can be reflected, explored, enhanced or just plain old distracted by a card. As I type this the Fool card has just flipped out of my Druidcraft pack so let me explore this dude. Do I see the Fool as male or female and what that might mean to me right now? Are they blissfully unaware of the cliff edge or someone that knows the edge is there but decides not to look down before they fall, that moment of holding your breath and close your eyes before you jump into the unknown? Do I feel drawn to the dog or the brooch on his hat or the cliff-face? I am the Fool who in typing this is leaping into a new understanding of what I consider tarot to be? Or is this archetype a guide for you if you gain a new perspective on your tarot journey with this seminar?
Now shuffle your cards and just pick a card at random. Look at the card that you’ve drawn and see what you can see or the different ways you can look at it? Does that reflect how you feel about tarot at present, or what you aspire your development with the tarot to be?
You will see that in every card we will interpret different things on different days and we will be drawn to different parts of that card, even though we’ve seen that image 100 times before. Just as I look at the Fool card now I was immediately drawn to the mistletoe and how the seeds are contained in those white ripe berries, and to me this seminar is a reflection of that, as I type seed thoughts for your own tarot experiences yet to come.
I would suggest drawing a card-a-day and writing about your thoughts on that card, what symbols you are drawn to on that day and if anything on that day reflected that card, or helped you in any way? Keeping this in a journal can steadily build a working knowledge of the cards, a card-al as opposed to an herbal if you like (groan I know!). Granted, this can depend on time and enthusiasm, but you will reap the rewards. You don’t have to dissect every tiny symbol but just the one or two that you feel drawn to that day, as another day you may be drawn to something different. It could just be a learning experience, or the card could synchronise obviously, i.e. Ace of Pentacles on payday, or over a few weeks you could spot a subtle synchronicity you keep getting Cup cards when you’re feeling very drawn to the element of Water in your spiritual practice.
If the deck that you have or are drawn to seems to be very rich in symbolism and with concepts that need books and other information to ‘get it’ then don’t fear. Even with a deck like the Thoth, your relationship with the card is based on your own interaction with the card and the artwork itself – symbols, colours, chaos or order etc. Crowley’s thoughts and musings are interesting (if you can get your head around them!) but let the images speak to your intuition and your heart first, before your brain kicks in with random Crowley facts. Think of how you learn your native language, you learn how to speak it, how to form sentences etc but you might not know what the subjunctive verb is in it – and is it really important to know it ?Tarot and Story Telling – Power of the Bard
One lady that inspired my tarot learning suggested that rather than trying to divine a message from the cards, I simply tell a story. Sometimes that story has hidden meanings and morals in them, and sometimes they are just fun to do! This isn't a 'new' idea at all (is there such a thing?) but its fun and interesting to try.
Randomly pick 3 cards and see what story you can make by letting the images speak and the Awen flow. Look at the cards, see if it’s a love story, or one of betrayal or one of finding hidden treasure. It may seem silly but Tarot is part of our humanity and part of our humanity is to be silly and creative so try it.Tt’s especially fun to do after a glass of mead or two as your mind isn’t thinking about the meaning but too busy look at how the King of Wands is eyeing up the pretty independent woman of the 9 of Pentacles!
Perhaps if you are a local sacred site or a place in nature you find special, ask the Spirit of that place to tell you its story via the medium of the cards. Then draw as many cards as your intuition guides you to do and read the story. Sometimes it can be very surprising.
Children are great with this ‘game’ and easily make up stories that can contain hidden truths!
Books such as Corrine Kenner’s Tarot for Writers (Llewellyn 2009) is a great book to get ideas for stories, storytelling, forming characters, plots and all sorts! Tarot and Ritual
Tarot is often linked with ritual and in particular Hermetic rituals and the Kabbalah. The images, the ‘powers’ of the tarot are part of our psyche, a reflection and a development of our humanity and so very easy to use them in creating ritual space or doing rituals in a OBOD style.
For example, when drawing a Circle think of the Wheel in the Druidcraft tarot, as the woman carefully draws her space in the sand. Perhaps you may want to think of the Wheel or Wheel of Fortune card in other decks that depict the wheel of our lives or the festivals, and how that Wheel is always turning, how the energy in your space is always moving. In the Rider Waite Smith deck the wheel has written on it the letters A R T O, which make up 3 words of Arto, Rota and Taro. Perhaps you want to chant those 3 words as you cast your circle?
The aces reflect the raw power of an element, so perhaps rather than calling the quarters with words you may call the quarters by visualising and ‘being’ in that tarot card, which can be particularly helpful if you struggle to connect with an element. So rather than just saying the words off a script, you are really tuning into those powers sensing the heat or cold, the time of day, any animals etc. Within OBOD Druidry you can easily call the quarters visualising the Aces from the Druidcraft Tarot. You may see other decks that have different symbols or scenes, and see if your circle feels ‘different’ if you visualise those aces rather than others?
Your may want to look at cards to commune or visualise and call on archetypes or deities. The Death card in the Druidcraft Tarot may be used to commune with Ceridwen. Perhaps even circling that card with the 5’s from the Minors so she is surrounded by the chase of her and Gwion Bach like in the story of Taliesin.
If your exploring an element you may want to spend time exploring that element in its tarot suit, and then if working ritually with that element, have those cards making up the boundary of your circle to reinforce those energies you’ve explored?
I personally have lots of issues with horses, so one day I just looked at some tarot decks for any cards that had horses on them. Soon I was surrounded by cards like the Knights/Princes, Death, Chariot, Sun, 6 of Wands etc and just looked at how these creatures were involved on those scenes and worked with those images. Perhaps, if you have done a meditation and suddenly an animal or a tree has appeared to you that you’ve never worked with before, look to see what tarot cards that creature appears in. It can’t hurt right? And you might even learn or become aware of something or the lesson it may be trying to teach you. I had often looked at the Queen of Cups in the Druidcraft tarot and only one day in the pub did I notice that tiny beetle at the bottom corner, which lead me on a whole interesting journey.
There are lots of ways of working with the cards individually – through visualising and path working that involve stepping into the card and talking to the figures in the cards, smelling the flowers and feeling the atmosphere.
Books have been written on exploring the idea of Tarot and spellcraft – using the images as ways of focusing your intent to bring about your goals! There are no ends to the use of Tarot in rituals for our modern branch of tarot came from an inspired bubbling cauldron or in the forge of rituals and workings of Golden Dawn and a certain Mr Waite who with Pamela Coleman-Smith created the Rider Waite Smith deck! The late Scott Cunningham said the only way to really work with the cards in ritual and spellcraft is to have several copies of a deck so you can anoint, burn, bury, cut up and generally be willing to destroy cards and have half a deck left. Now if you are squeamish about cutting up the white (and sometimes annoying) borders around the artwork then this is not the plan for you. However, if you are going to regularly use one deck to anoint, or work with magically and have on your altar, perhaps with crystal grids etc then a ‘magic only’ copy of the deck is useful just so you don’t have to keep putting up and taking down your cards when you want to do a reading or want to play with that deck.Tarot and Healing
The Ovates would be both Seers and Healers – one to see a problem and the other to fix it, so if tarot is a tool to see it has to be a tool to heal, right?
Of course having a tarot reading done for you or by someone else can open that dialogue which can be a very explorative and therapeutic process. Especially as lots has been written that links psychology with the tarot, and even counselling with the tarot as a focus for what needs to be looked at and explore. There are many times when someone has come to be for a reading and the issues and possible solutions that pop up sound just like they would ‘fit’ for me! Synchronicity can be a great healer also (although others would say I’m only reading what I need to read and not the other person).
Sometimes readings and exploring ideas can bring about areas or blocks that need working on or healing. Perhaps keeping a tarot card from the reading on your altar or to act as a focus in other readings for a week or a month onwards can help, as they can almost seem like a guardian or guide through that healing and investigating process. However, for a more explorative and deeper work with the tarot and healing I suggest reading Tarot for the Healing Heart or Tarot Shadow Work (see bibliography for details) as you can really go into your darkness, with the tarot like the lamp in the Hermit cards and sit and explore recurrent patterns of negative behaviour, or learning how and why you ‘suffer’ then how you can build yourself up and heal. It’s a long process, being broken down and rebuilt in the Forge (so to speak) but its rewarding and has lots of positive energy to bring into your perspective of you.
However, say you have had a week of feeling very blue for an unknown reason. Perhaps you could sit and shuffle the cards and ask for an element to appear to heal or balance your energies out. This might be easier to do if you separate the minor from the major arcane and just use the minors, or pull the 4 aces only. If you lay the 4 cards face down you may want to try dowsing or just feeling with your non-dominant hand what feeling you get from each card, and decide to turn over the one that changes your ‘ill’ feeling into something positive inside you. You may want to then meditate or visualise with that card, sit with that element, journey to the realm of that element or perhaps literally spend time with it in the physical world, i.e. if its water perhaps you need a good bath, or if its earth you may need to feel the grass between your toes or hug a tree. You might notice that you need more of one element in your everyday life to feel balanced, or rather an aspect of it, say fire’s soft heat of the hearth fire or candlelight, rather than the blazing flame of anger and over-ambition.
Sometimes in a physical illness there are reasons why it has happened that need to be addressed before wellness and balance can be restored. So a quick reading could be done to explore the why you are ill rather than a rush to find solutions for getting better.
If you like to work with symbols or mandalas when exploring concepts and seeking healing, tarot is easy to use to set up a ‘medicine wheel’ to walk through and see what is out of balance or needs work on. This sort of thing can be really interesting you work with decks like the Transparent Tarot. This particular deck is made up for 78 individual printed pieces of clear acetate, so you can layer the cards over each other. I know Emily (the deck creator) often has Transparent Tarot baths, having the cards in the water with her so she can bathe in their energies, which is fabulous for healing and letting the energies they represent just seep into you (although I have not tried this so warn you to be careful if putting any cards in the water with you!). A safer way is to have the transparent cards form a mandala that you can put on a window and let the sun’s rays go through the cards and on to your skin, another way to soak up the energies (and an excuse to bask like a cat in the sun, which is very healing in itself).
If you work with crystal grids or techniques such as Reiki to send healing energy to people, situations etc then using a card to reflect the situation that needs healing or a court card that would reflect the person you are directly that healing to can be a real powerful addition to the energy you are putting together. Using court cards can be interesting as you can use your knowledge of that person and their personality to pick on, or their physical appearance, or work with the traditional idea of kings are mature male figures and pick the suit depending on their job or their astrological sun sign etc.
There are lots of ways, you just need to be willing to explore and play! My final thoughts- The Sacred Book.
I hope with all these little ideas I haven’t overwhelmed you! These are just little ideas that I have tried and found successful. You may feel drawn to one in particular, or maybe all of them and even think of ones that are better (if so please tell me because I’d love to know and try them out). The one thing I can’t stress enough with Tarot is to keep using it, even if its just to shuffle the cards whilst gazing out the window or pondering something on the TV. The more you let the images and ideas seep into your conscious, the more ‘fluent’ you become in it’s deeply symbolic language. It needs time and practice but can be so worth it.
For some people, a tarot deck can be seen as a sacred book of 78 pages. Where-ever the original inspiration came for the cards themselves, and how they evolved from a card game and into a tool for reading and spiritual work, I can’t help but feel a deck is a sacred thing. Think about the deck in your hands, sitting on the shelf or the ones you’ve seen in shops. Each deck is a physical manifestation of the sacred dew drops of Awen, they depict an artist’s interpretation or channelling of human consciousness and the cosmos within the structure of a tarot deck.
Each deck is made up of 78 drops of Awen and if there are hundreds of decks out there, that’s a lot of inspiration folks! If you see how every living thing has been created with Spirit and Awen then your humble tarot deck has the potential to become very special. Each deck is made up of our human experience, of our daily lives and the big experiences and transitions in our lives, our very own 78 degrees of wisdom to draw upon, find inspiration and comfort in. All our experiences feel new to us, but not to humanity as a whole. The tarot pack is like the Hierophant, the High Priest or Guide that is depicted, a voice of experience if we wish to talk and if we wish to listen to its reply.
I think of the Hermit card, and how the solitary figure has a lamp to guide its path in the darkness. If I ever made my own deck, I would have a Hermit type figure holding a deck of tarot cards aloft, which shines a ray of light into the darkness. Tarot can be a valuable guide on your journey through life and its limits are endless if you’re are willing to be creative and a touch of the ‘mad hermit’ with it! For me on my druid path, as a seeker of truth as well as a student of Tarot I can learn so much from these humble little pictures – and it’s not just an excuse to have many decks and lots of pretty pictures around me all day!
If I look at the Lovers card in the Rider Waite Smith version of the card, I see figures representing myself with my own awareness, other people and their awareness, and Spirit sharing in that awareness and learning. Together working to do the ‘Great Work’ which to many is the greatest of all love affairs, to make one with Spirit by searching and reflecting, experiencing and being, to gain wisdom from our lives and all that is around us. For me, Tarot is a huge part of this process and I hope that I have shared that with you here. So I hope by now you’ve finished your drink in our 3 of cups-style tarot pub and full of ideas, inspiration and mad tarot waffles that I am always eager to hear!
To finish I will say a blessing that Marcus Katz from Tarot Professionals says, which I find really inspirational and magical ‘May a full deck of possibilities be yours!’Deckography
, or decks mentioned in the text with links to sample card images;
Druidcraft Tarot – Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm and Will Worthington (available as a deck and book set and as a deck only pack) http://www.aeclectic.net/tarot/cards/dr
Fifth Tarot – Martien and Teressena Bakens http://www.aeclectic.net/tarot/cards/fifth/
Haindl Tarot – Hermann Haindl http://www.aeclectic.net/tarot/cards/haindl/index.shtml
Halloween Tarot - Kipling West http://www.aeclectic.net/tarot/cards/ha
Rider Waite Smith Tarot – there are many versions of this deck in print, as different deck creators have played with the original artwork and changed the shading, lighting etc. In fact many decks are just ‘clones’ of this deck but in a given theme – such as the Halloween Tarot. However my preferred version of this deck is the Pamela Coleman Smith Centennial Commemorative Set http://www.aeclectic.net/tarot/cards/sm
Transparent Tarot – Emily Carding http://www.aeclectic.net/tarot/cards/transparent/
Thoth – Aleister Crowley and Lady Frieda Harris http://www.aeclectic.net/tarot/cards/al
Victoria Regina – Sarah Ovenall and Georg Patterson http://www.aeclectic.net/tarot/cards/victoria-regina/
Witches Tarot – Ellen Cannon Reed http://www.aeclectic.net/tarot/cards/witches/Bibliography
Whilst the best way of building a relationship with the cards is through your own experience, you may feel the need to refer to some books, here are just a few of so many wonderful tomes available to get you going and start exploring Tarot.
Bunning, Joan (1998) Learning the Tarot, Red Wheel/Weiser, England. This ‘course’ is also available for free on Joan’s website http://www.learntarot.com
Greer, Mary. K (2003) Tarot Tips : 78 Practical Techniques to Enhance Your Tarot Reading Skills, Llewellyn USA
Greer, Mary K (2002) Tarot for Your Self, New Page Books, USA - a classic in exploring the cards.
Jette, Christine (2001) Tarot for All Seasons, Llewllyn USA – this book is a collection of spreads to support and explore the solar and lunar festivals.
Jette, Christine (2001) Tarot for the healing heart, Llewellyn, USA
Jette, Christine (2000) Tarot Shadow Work , Llewellyn USA
Kenner, Corrine (2009) Tarot For Writers, Llewellyn, USA
Louis, Anthony (1996) Tarot Plain and Simple, Llewellyn USA – that goes into some symbolism and exploring the tarot card by card, and uses the Robin Wood Tarot, although can be used with any Rider Waite clone deck.
Pollack, Rachel (1997) Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, Thorsons, England – another classic that goes into detail and disects the symbolism within the Rider Waite decks. Organisations
- this is not a complete list, but some key tarot organisations from around the world. UK based
TABI, Tarot Association of the British Isles ( http://www.tabi.org.uk
) a non profit organisation that promotes tarot, offering courses in learning to read tarot as well as a reading endorsement process where you buddy up with a mentor as you do readings (mostly online).
Tarot Professionals ( http://www.tarotprofessionals.com
) a fairly new organisation, which amongst other things produces a magazine called Tarosophist International, it will be interesting to see how this organisation develops with this courses, conferences and talks as well as the magazine etc. Rest of the World
American Tarot Association (http://www.ata-tarot.com/
Association for Tarot Studies (http://association.tarotstudies.org/
Tarot Guild of Australia (http://www.tarotguild.org.au/
Canadian Tarot Network (http://www.tarotcanada.com/
Tarot Canada (http://www.tarotcanada.ca/
Association Tarodition (http://www.letarot.ch/
German Tarot Association (http://www.tarotverband.de/
Tarot Aotearoa (http://www.tarot.net.nz/index.htm
) New Zealand
Tarot Society of South Africa (http://www.tarot.co.za/