Tarot: The four suits

Week 2 of the Alternative Tarot Course looks at the four suits; Wands, Cups, Pentacles and Swords.

I’ve read a lot about the suits but I thought it would be helpful for me to brain dump, or free write, what the suits mean to me.  Partly as clarification for myself but also because being able to explain something to another person really helps you understand what you do and don’t know.

There is no one ‘good’ suit.  Like most things in life, it is about balance and moderation.  Too much of most things can be harmful.  It also depends on what else is around – the way the different suits and their corresponding elements interact.

Wands – Fire

This is the suit I have less of a handle on which I think is appropriate as it is about things which aren’t tangible.

It is a suit of energy, of passion, of ideas, of inspiration.  Things which aren’t yet real.  Beginnings.  It is what fuels us.  That spark of excitment when you get an idea.  And like fire, it can be creative or destructive.  It can fuel or it can burn out.

Cups – Water

This is the suit of emotion, love, relationships, the inner world. The depiction of the water or the cup can represent how you’re doing emotionally -is the water stuck, flowing freely etc?

For example, the five of cups is sometimes shown as someone upset looking at spilt cups but not seeing the river behind them. They are focussed on their pain so tightly that they miss the positives.  The mother of cups in the wild unknown deck has her wing above her cup. she is protecting her emotions but she isn’t stiffling them.

This suit is also associated with creativity and expression through arts, music etc.

Pentacles – Earth

The nitty gritty, day to day stuff.  The things you can actually grasp.  Like money, resources, jobs but also less tangibly, health and the body.

The eight of pentacles is all about craft and honing your skills and using your hands (whether that’s literal or not) to create real things.

Concerned with the material world, this is sometimes called the coin suit instead.

Swords – Air

Thoughts. Where the cups are the inner realm, swords are the mental realm. They are knowledge, truth, communication.

They are often linked to construction and destruction.

Interactions

Looking at how the suits play with each other has been a really helpful part of my readings over the last year.  I always look to see if a particular suit dominates and if so, what other cards are in the mix.  How do they interact?

As an example, you may have a wand and a cup, fire and water.  Now fire and water can interact in different ways; fire can heat the water or water can put out the fire.  In terms of the suits, this could be read as the wand adding energy and excitment to the emotional cups card, or is the cup too emotional and that’s causing the idea to fizzle out?  This was something that took a bit of thinking out for me and whilst it isn’t always relelvant to a reading, it is a useful tool.

You might also notice more than one element portrayed in a tarot card, if so, look at how they are interacting in the image.  This can tell you a lot about a card and its meaning.

Alternative Tarot Course: Take 2

At the beginning of the year I completed the wonderful Alternative Tarot Course from Beth over at Little Red Tarot.

As I mentioned back then, it’s a great course which Beth provides at a very accessible price.  I got a discount through her newsletter so only paid $20 but full price it’s only $25.  It’s designed to cover 8 weeks but as a learn at your own pace course, it’s obviously very flexible.  And you get possibly life long access.  At least I can still access it now!

So, it’s been one hell of a year.  My life looked so incredibly different when I first started the course back in January.  It was my first venture into learning about tarot in detail.

And I feel like it would be interesting to work through the materials again, in this new permutation of my life and with the tarot knowledge I have developed throughout the year.

I had intended, the first time round, to blog about the course but time and life meant I didn’t really do this, or at least not as much as I’d have liked.  Perhaps this time will be different.

Week One: What kind of tarot reader do you want to be?

I answered this in part in my 10 questions every tarot reader should answer post.

The main answer is that I use tarot as a psychological tool and a way of communicating with myself.

Beth provides a number of prompts and questions to help us explore our journey with tarot, our thoughts around the possibilities etc.  How did you find out about tarot, what is the purpose of tarot etc.

The reason I want to learn tarot is… as a tool for connecting with myself, as a method of self care, as a way of meditating and being mindful, as a way of listening to myself and of caring for my mental health.

I wrote that in January and to be honest, my reason for wanting to read tarot hasn’t changed.  I still use it to connect with myself, to check out if my needs are being met, as a way of listening to myself and a way of carving out a space and time for my emotions.

In learning tarot, I hope to… find a way of listening to myself, and of hearing myself, a way for me to validate myself and acknowledge and act on my needs

I do think I have found a way of listening and hearing myself through tarot. However, I know that I often listen and then don’t act on what I’ve heard.  So I might realise I need to get out the house more but then I willfully forget that discovery and not actually get out the house more.  That’s a rubbish example but I hope it illustrates the point!  I also know I need to look at ways of using the cards to validate my feelings and experiences.

I think my main challenges will be… maintaining a routine, reading and putting in the effort on bad days when my depression is worse, physical challenges because of my hands.

But I will try to overcome them by… keeping the cards nearby, working through this course, signing up for newsletters etc about tarot so that there are lots of reminders and reading isn’t a hard thing, letting other people handle the cards whilst I read them for myself.

Having retired, some of the physical challenges have lessened as I am no longer using my hands all day at work.  I have been reasonably good at using the moon cycles as a way of maintaining a tarot routine.  I do read at other times but I almost always do a reading on a new or full moon.  I have also recently started drawing a card a week, a sort of riff on the Memento Mori that Carrie Mallon is doing.  My tarot cards are in my eye line when I’m in my living room chair and given that I spend most of my time there, this works as a helpful reminder.  It also means I don’t have to put much effort in to getting cards out etc.  I have subscribed to a number of newsletters and as well as the Alternative Tarot Course, I have done Susannah Conway’s 78 Mirrors this year.

Learning tarot, the low cost way

Taking up tarot can be expensive. There’s the cost of the decks which vary dramatically (my beautiful Wild Unknown deck was £34 and I felt I had to get the book as well as i was a beginner, another £16); the cost of books for general information as well as specific books for specific decks; the cost of courses ; the cost of getting readings (which can be a helpful way to learn).

Before you know it, you’re down a few hundred pounds…

This blog post was prompted by someone finding my blog by Googling “alternative tarot for someone with no money” so here are my thoughts on ways you can learn and practice tarot without the high price tag.

Deck

Some decks are cheaper than others but you can also download and print some decks eg from Dark Tarot, through Etsy or David’s Tarot. Print them on card (or glue onto card) and you have a very cheap deck.

If you want a professional printed deck, you’ll find Rider Waite Smith decks cheap online or even in second hand or discounted book shops.

However, if you can, I would recommend waiting for a deck that leaps out at you and asks to be taken home. My wild unknown deck was expensive but I use it most days and I love it more than all my other decks and connect to it much more strongly. So for me, it has definitely been worth the cost. I wouldn’t have got anywhere near as much insight if i’d started with the Rider Waite Smith deck and possibly wouldn’t be so into tarot.

Other tarot readers are a good source of second hand decks – they’re so tempting that often people buy lots and don’t click with them all.  Indeed one of my fellow students on 78 mirrors has offered to sent me their Lumina tarot deck which they’ve not clicked with.

Another way to dramatically reduce the cost of tarot is to get a tarot app instead. There are some good ones and a few do a free tester version so you can see if you like it.  Galaxy Tone seems to have a good reputation.

Books

Other than the Wild Unknown book, I didn’t buy my first tarot book until a few weeks ago. There is a vast amount of great information online so I haven’t needed to.

A few of my favourite sites for understanding cards, getting ideas for spreads, finding out about decks etc are:

The book I have bought is one which I’ve seen recommended over and over again, Carrie recommended it when I asked for her suggestions and its come up again in 78 Mirrors. It’s 78 Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack and seems to be a bit of a tarot bible.

My copy is 350 pages starting with a bit of history before moving onto the major arcana, the minor arcana and then readings. It was first published in 1980 in two parts. I’m onky up to page 73 (the strength card) but so far it’s very informative, very readable and very helpful. She goes into a lot of detail about each card and looks at the imagery and symbolism (predominately that in the Rider Waite Smith deck which is helpful for other decks as well). I don’t know much about myths, religion and symbology so I’m finding it quite illuminating.

My copy was about £5 from amazon but given its popularity I would expect to find it in charity shops as well (side note, I would prefer more charity bookshop shopping but so many of them round here have steps or are too tightly packed to get a wheelchair round. If you run one, check on how accessible you are).

There are other amazing looking books out there about tarot that you might really want, but if you’re strapped for cash, you really don’t need them.

Courses

Again, you don’t need to do a course but they can provide a structured approach and possibly other learners.

Little Red Tarot ‘s alternative tarot course is $25 and gives you 8 weeks of lessons and exercises. I actually got the course for $20 through a discount code Beth sent with her newsletter. There is also the alternative tarot community which has a section for people following the course to talk. The course itself is one you do alone at your own pace and because it’s very reflective, I didn’t feel I missed having course mates

I haven’t done it but Susannah Conway’s Daily Guidance course is supposed to be very good, although it is pricier at £67. Her second tarot course, 78 Mirrors is £117 and is very good so far. These do have an optional Facebook group for peer support and Susannah has posted a lot in there herself. If you sign up to her newsletter you get alerted to new courses and often a discount code.

There are other courses available free via regular emails etc including learn tarot and The Tarot Lady.

7/9/16 Edited to add: Beth has written a good post about starting to learn tarot – http://littleredtarot.com/start-youre-tarot-newbie/ 

​10 questions every tarot reader must answer

I subscribe to a number of tarot websites and get emails from time to time. Last night, I received one from Lavender Moon which included an article about the ten questions every tarot reader must answer.  The idea is that it’s a way for potential clients to get to know your approach and your style of tarot reading. I found it interesting as I did a similar exercise as part of the fantastic Alternative Tarot Course at the beginning of the year and the beginning of my tarot journey.


1.Were you mentored, or were you self-taught?

I’m self taught, through blogs and Google mostly. I’ve taken Beth’s Alternative Tarot Course, and part way through 78 mirrors. Prior to learning tarot, I’d never had my cards read.  I recently bought a reading by Carrie Mallon and I know it’s something I’ll do again (another reading from Carrie and one from Beth are on my radar for the future).

2. Are you a psychic or a Tarot reader?

Tarot reader. I don’t know what I believe around psychics. Other than there are definitely a lot of frauds. Rationally I want to say they don’t exist but I’ve had my own weird experiences including feeling my sister’s (very specific) pain on a number of occasions despite there being no way I could have known about it at the time I felt it.  I’m trying to be more open minded and I know I believe in the power of all that’s good in the world and the synchronicity of the universe.

3. Are your predictions accurate, and is accuracy important to you?

I don’t use the cards in a predictive way. I use them as a tool for reflection, a tool for accessing my mind, a tool for psychological wellbeing, a tool for helping the decision making process. As such there is no accuracy, what I read in the cards is what I need to hear at that time. However, that being said, you do get some freaky coincidences and strange synchronicities with the cards. For example drawing the same card time after time despite shuffling the deck at drawing at random. Also, I sometimes use two decks, drawing a card from each for each position in the spread. A reading I did recently gave me the Tower and the two of pentacles paired together in two places. I mean what are the odds of that?!  With 78 cards per deck and four places for them to show up, the odds are low. I’m tempted to work it out but despite my maths degree, my stats has always been sketchy…

4. Is there anything you can’t predict in a reading?

I believe strongly in self determination and as such I can’t predict anything. However I do believe that once you’ve done a reading, your mind looks out for things related to it, thus making it more likely that what you’ve read in the cards will be noticed and “come true”. I tell you I see a tall man in the cards, the next time you see a tall man it will have added relevance so you’ll note that he’s a tall man and then perhaps place meaning on him.

I think tarot tunes you into your world more sharply.  It helps you to see patterns and notice details.

I think, as is human nature, we are prone to believing the good predictions and disbelieving the tough ones. But for me all the cards can be positive or negative, I don’t read reversals, instead I read each card as the positive and negative and see what chimes best with its position, context and where I am mentally and physically. Sometimes “negative” cards are something which has happened or will happen and other times they’re a warning of what could happen.

5. Do you use only Tarot, or are you multi-disciplinary?

I use tarot and oracle cards as well as using crystals for setting intention. I’m interested in runes although I’ve not done much (very little) research into them yet. I am interested in herbalism and am waiting impatiently for my horrid neighbours to leave so I can plant things in our shared yard (if I did it now, their dog would wreck things and I don’t like being in the yard in case they come out, they are not nice people). I’m trying to follow moon cycles and seasons but am not doing as well as I’d like yet.

6. Is the message in the cards, or in your head?

Both. Your head interprets how you see the images and what jumps out at you on a given day.  The cards can include beaut, incredibly detailed images which clearly have a message.  It’s like the image is a phrase in a language you don’t speak and the reader is the translator (when reading for another person, otherwise you’re translator and receiver).

7. Are you a priest or a fortune-teller?

Priestess please… Er, no, someone who’s interested in spirituality, who’s working out what they believe and who’s using tarot to build a stronger connection to herself and the universe

8. Are you a fixer or a looker?

Both, depending on the time and place and what’s happening. I do like to problem solve but I’m getting better at stepping back and letting the other person lead.

9. Do you read for free, or for fee?

I’ve only done a couple of readings for others and they’ve been free. Due to complicated, stupid rules, any money I earn will go straight out of my bank and into the hands of the government. But that’s a different post. My point is most people can’t do readings for free and nor should they but as it makes no odds to me, providing I’m not undermining people who do get paid, I will read for free. So I’m thinking friends who wouldn’t turn to a paid reader cos they aren’t interested enough or can’t afford it or whatever.

10. Is there anything you won’t predict in a reading?

Everything but in particular I don’t like readings about a third party. It’s either me and me or me and the querant, I don’t want to read about someone for someone else (eg does he love me, is she cheating…). You put so much of yourself into readings the way I do them that third party readings just don’t make sense. Think of tarot as a conversation between you and the cards, that doesn’t work if the person doesn’t know they’re in the conversation!

If you want a reading from me, let me know but bear in mind I’m a beginner and I have a chronic pain illness and fatigue so it may not be quick!

Peace: Quarter year review

 
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You may remember back at the beginning of the year, I chose the word peace for my year, a la Susannah Conway.

So, three months on, how am I making space in my life for peace?  Well, firstly, I guess it’s expanded.  The underlying essence is still about making a life more peaceful but it’s uncurled to include exploring spirituality, getting in touch with myself, getting in touch with nature, the seasons, the moon, the stars etc and doing lots of creative stuff.  It also includes letting go of judging myself, building up self care routines and letting go of things I cannot control.  If I am waging war on myself, I can never been at peace.

I have a pinterest board which is helpful in reminding me that I am cultivating a more peaceful life as well as for pulling together ideas to explore.

I am doing regular tarot readings and I’ve completed the Alternative Tarot Course which was really interesting and helped to develop and hone my skills at reading the cards.  As I’ve mentioned before, this is a really good way for me to check in with myself and figure out what’s going on in my subconscious.  I’ve also got a pack of beautiful medicine cards, I’ve not used them much but the idea is the same.

I have got a few crystals which I’m using to set intentions and to help me remember those intentions.  For example, I had an important meeting this morning and I wanted to be calm, articulate and level headed.  Last night, I lit a candle, held the crystals and said that was my intention for the meeting.  I put the crystals in my pocket and they just acted as a reminder.  So when I started to ramble, they prompted me to stop, breathe and start again more clearly.

I’ve had weekly check in sessions with myself, mostly at a local cafe.  I have a stack of question cards to use as prompts to help me reflect on the week, how I’ve coped, what went well and the week ahead.  Ensuring I keep space in my week for this is really important in helping me to process emotions and keep my life ‘peaceful’ or more balanced.

As part of my checking in with myself, I have also done some work around fighting (systems mostly) and trying to find a way of moving out of the state where fighting is my default mode.  I’ve done some work to let my ‘inner warrior’ rest whilst knowing that when I need to fight, she’ll be there (and be well rested).  Staying on fight mode is not sustainable.  Its not a criticism of myself, I had hell of a lot of things to be fighting for; house, wheelchair, work, physical health care, mental health care, benefits… so many things you’d normally take for granted… But I have a house, I have a wheelchair, I’m going through the process to leave work so I’m in a much better position now.

Cultivating peace is also about the little things, noticing a bird singing outside the window or managing to find the time and energy to read and enjoy reading.

Challenges to my peace include the upstairs neighbours’ dogs. There are two and they bark whenever their owners are out.  When I catch myself tensing up and getting particularly irritable I notice it and physically uncurl and take a deep breath.  The dogs are still annoying but I’ve interrupted my unconscious reaction which helps stop it from building.  I think knowing my word is peace is helping me to notice when I am getting wound up by this kind of thing.

I know I have a long way to go with this but I do feel I’ve made progress since I set the intention to bring more peace into my life.

Did you set any intentions at the beginning of the year? How are you getting on?

 

The Fool’s Journey…

Apparently the Major Arcana are said to tell the story of the Fool (card 0) and part of the Alternative Tarot Course is to look at the cards and find a story.  Here’s my, almost complete, story.  The more experienced of you will notice that I have missed the last four cards.  When I reached the Star card, it felt to me like pushing the story would be a bit like the time when I was 7 that I wrote “and they walked for a day and slept for a day and then they walked for a day and slept for a day…”.  It felt like I was trying to pull out the story just to make it longer.

NB. This is using the Wild Unknown cards which I believe have Strength and Justice in a different place to some decks.


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The Fool starts off naïve, innocent and curious about the world.  As she starts to look around her, she meets five interesting people.  The Magician is exciting and inspires in her a sense of purpose and a need to get moving and doing.  The High Priestess tempers the Magician with her calm, collected and reflective aura.  Where the Magician is full of energy and dives into new projects, the High Priestess prefers to consider and looks within for answers.

The Empress and the Emperor make a powerful pair. Sometimes considered to be Mother Nature, the Empress is a warm woman who creates and nurtures life.  The Emperor is more of a traditional stereotypical father figure who wants to protect life.  He is more logical and mind focused where she is more focused on caring and emotions.

The final person of the five is the Hierophant.  He is a Wise Man who has spent many years reflecting and thinking about the world and is full of teachings that he enjoys sharing.  The Fool respects and admires him.

In fact, she builds strong friendships with the five people she has met, each offering a different aspect of support and as such, she experiences the union, partnership and joy of the Lovers.

After this, the Fool starts to experience the world and sets off on her path.

Setting out with the action of the Magician in mind, she is filled with purpose and adopts the strength of the Chariot.  However all adventures reach a point where decisions are required or karma unfolds.  As Justice makes itself known to the Fool, she decides it’s time to make use of her friends the High Priestess and the Hierophant.  Pulling on their reflective ability and knowledge, she learns about the Hermit, his life of solitude, self reflection and meditation.  Still overwhelmed by the looming decisions, she spends a period in solitude, reflecting and meditating on her life so far.  Her meditation leads her towards the Wheel of Fortune and she realises it is necessary to change course, to move towards her destiny.

Stepping off the easy path takes courage and strength and the path she has chosen is often unclear and unnerving, to continue on she must be patience and master her emotions so that she doesn’t lose faith and revert back to the easy path.  She also feels the Hanged Man pressing on her.  Changing course, however minor, requires letting go of a future you had envisioned, more dramatically, it can require letting go of believes, friends and security.  However this is necessary sacrifice, a necessary death.

Once she makes the sacrifice, she is able to bring closure on the old path and use the energy spent battling the path to instead move forward more easily and transform into the version of herself she felt drawn to whilst living like the Hermit.  As she does this, with the help of Temperance, she continues to heal her wounds from her old path.

As with all stories, there comes a point where the balance is knocked and negativity enters.  As she has walked on her new path, she has picked up glittering objects which have slowed her down and detracted her from her intention. She has become more focused in gathering shiny trinkets than following her path. Indeed, she has built herself a home of lures from the devil and no longer follows her path at all.

Suddenly, her home is robbed, all her shiny trinkets are stolen and she has no place to live. She is panicked and in her crisis, she turns to her five friends.  It is the hierophant who reminds her to take a step back, reflect and meditate as she had done earlier in life.  He guides her to the wisdom of the Tower.  Through doing this, she realises how off course she has become and vows to find a way back.

The crisis has forced her to look up and around her, and she now sees the shiny, glittering stars, trinkets which she cannot collect and which instead she can use to guide her.  Reassured by this, she sets out again, with hope of her new life and peace of mind that the stars will show her the way.


I just got my deck out to photograph the fool and some of the cards got stuck in the box, with the fool on top.

My introduction to tarot

I don’t remember when I first came across tarot, but I expect I was skeptical.  I do remember that to start with I thought it was all about predicting the future and that, like horoscopes, you can ‘read’ something generic and relatable and keep everyone happy about this pretend future.  The idea of tarot as a way of connecting with self is more recent, through people like Susannah Conway who includes cards in her newsletters and Be Love Life.

For me, tarot is a way of connecting with myself, listening to myself and helping me explore my emotions in a focused way.  It is a tool for self care and I have started to learn more as my psychologist appointments are coming to an end.  I am very aware of how helpful it has been having weekly opportunities to check in with myself and reflect on how the week has been and feel that this is something I need to continue to do in order to manage my mental health. By learning and practicing tarot, I hope to develop a regular practise of checking in with myself and listening to and identifying my needs.  As I develop this, I also hope to use tarot to help me find ways of meeting those needs.

I think my main challenges with tarot will be maintaining a routine (which is important to me as without a routine, it won’t be able to fill the gap of therapy as effectively), in particular reading and putting in the effort on bad days when my depression or pain is worse.  I’m going to try to maintain a routine by keeping the cards nearby, working through the alternative tarot course and signing up for newsletters about tarot so that there are lots of reminders and reading isn’t a hard thing. I will also reduce the amount of ritual involved in reading the cards, potentially keeping this for particular occasions.  I will use ritual breathing to get myself into the right space and mindset but for the most part, that will be all I do.  I think it’s important for me to retain some ritual so that you draw a line around your time and make it about the cards rather than what you want for dinner.  I am also aware that I’ll struggle on a physical level because of my hand pain and difficulty handling the cards.  So far, I’ve managed this although I’m aware I don’t shuffle cards well etc and looking towards the future, I will either need to explore online tools or apps to replace my deck or involve someone else.

As I said, I’m very early on in tarot reading and I have used a book alongside my readings and the internet when I wanted more information about a particular card.  In addition to this I am also using the cards themselves and the images on them to help me understand their meanings, and more particularly, the meanings at that point in time.  The Wild Unknown are a beautiful deck and it would be a shame not to spend a lot of time looking at them!

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t believe that tarot can predict the future because interpretation of cards is so wide and depends so much on your context and history.  However, I do believe that being more attuned to a possibility of something happening means we are more likely to notice if it happens and possibly attribute it to the cards.  The cards heighten your awareness of a possible future and our minds are predisposed to focus on the link over the times when it hasn’t happened.  But for me, their merit is in the present moment and helping you to understand yourself in the present moment.