Long absence but I’m still here!

Hello all my tarot friends. I apologize for not being around much recently; I’ve been neglecting this blog but  haven’t been neglecting the tarot!

Recently I was lucky enough to be hired at a company’s open house as a guest reader and it was quite the experience…in fact, it was my first experience reading for people who weren’t my friends or family. I won’t get into the specifics of the experience, but suffice it to say that I gave about 12 people readings and all but two of them were what I would call successful.

In today’s post, I’d like to talk about how to get a really great reading. It’s true that no two tarot professionals (and I certainly don’t count myself amongst their ranks…yet) go about the reading the same way, but there are a few basic things I’ve noticed over the years that remain the same. Of course I couldn’t generalize from a querent’s perspective but I believe there are a few basic things you can do to make sure you get your reading’s (and money’s) worth.

Tip 1: Tarot readings are usually framed around a single question.
Of course that question could easily have many follow-up questions, but basically it all boils down to one thing you’d like to know. That being said, that single thing doesn’t have to be specific to the point of being a life story! Some good questions can be very general, such as “What should I know about my love life right now?” “What should I watch out for financially in the future?” or even—and there’s nothing wrong with this—”what’s going on in my life generally?”
The reason I mention this as a tip is because by and large I think people get tarot readings because they’re curious about the process itself. Unfortuately, being curious about having a reading is not the same as being curious about a new movie or a new book. We readers need you to be actively engaged in the process. After all, the cards can’t tell you anything unless you give them something to investigate. Think of them like the Google search field. You can’t leave the field blank and hit “Search.” You haven’t told the search engine to find anything…and it won’t!

Tip 2: Tarot readings are about what might happen, not what will happen.
This is important! Having a tarot reading does not mean that free will and self-control have been wrenched from your hands. You are still the arbiter of your own actions and your fate is something for which you and you alone are responsible. It might be tempting to think that the cards are showing you what’s on the road ahead like potholes in the street you can’t avoid, but I encourage you to think of a reading more like the ability to call the city and complain about said potholes!  In other words, think of the cards as a fun, wise friend. You can tell her everything about your life and lament out loud that you have no idea what to do. She might say something like “Well it sounds like you’re pretty overwhelmed right now. I don’t think I’d make any major decisions right now. Give it a week and come back to it later? At least sleep on it!”

Tip 3: Be more engaged than an actor in a Jared commercial
We’re not going to Jared, but we ARE asking for a commitment—could you promise to commit to being an active participant in your reading? As the Google metaphor in the last tip illustrated, tarot requires you to be at least a little curious and talkative about what’s happening to and around you. If you’re on the shier side or you feel there are TOO MANY questions to ask, don’t worry! You don’t necessarily have to get a reading done in person. People of my generation are probably accustomed to things like ICQ, Instant Messenger, and online chatrooms. I have only done a handful of online readings, but the ones I’ve had went really well; we were exchanging information as though we’d already met in person. To put it another way, you will get out of a reading what you put into it.

That’s about it for my tips for readings, I’m happy you’ve stuck with me despite my sparse updates. I’ll make an effort to not let the corners of this blog get so dusty. Stay well, tarot friends!

Back to it!

Hello dear readers, huge apologies for my absence as of late. It seemed as though I had gotten this blog off to a great start…and then nose-dived after a week! Without going into too much personal detail, all I’ll say is that life briefly got in the way, but I’m back in control!

For today, I’d like to explore a card I believe many people find very difficult to interpret, if at not least very difficult to spin positively, the dreaded Five of Pentacles.

Lawd I was born a ramblin' man

Five of Pentacles

The Rider-Waite Smith deck shows a very desperate scene: two destitute-looking people, one sick and the other injured pass underneath an illuminated stained-glass window. In the window, the five of pentacles has been stylized to resemble what I personally interpret as a money tree, a legendary symbol of wealth that finds itself present in many cultures across the world. (Rumor has it the author of this blog once had a Pachira money tree that wouldn’t stay alive for love or …that other thing. Symbolism? She certainly hopes not!) The snow falls and it seems to me the people and the point of the “tree” in the window pane make a triangle, again a shape depicting stability. But why in this card? The man on crutches also forms a neat triangle by himself, while the sick person seems to be missing one side of her triangle. You don’t have to be intimately familiar with any sort of symbolism to get a general meaning from this card: hopelessness, loss, physical sickness or injury, feeling left or shut out.

This is a card I enjoy asking my querent for opinions on: “Where do you see yourself in this card? Are you either of these two people here?” Sometimes the answer is yes, and sometimes the answer is “I’m not sure I can relate to this scene.” When people tell me they can’t immediately relate this card to a situation at hand, I ask this: “What about the other side of the window?” Well, what about it? It’s obviously warmer inside the building, which most call a church. Okay, so it’s a church. Why is a church being depicted in a suit that is largely and mostly obviously related to money? Where does spirituality fit into all this? Notice that the V is part of the stained glass panel. What could that mean, if anything?

The light usually clicks on right about now!

People have told me they felt this scene was playing in their head after spending some money unwisely, or over money they were owed and badly needed. Other people have told me they were taking care of a loved one with a chronic illness, and the hopelessness and despair in this card confirmed their quiet anxieties, once the “Caretaker” role was hung on the peg for the day. Still others saw this as representing student loans—ah, so the church is now a university!

The one small glimmer of hope I offer when this card appears in a reading is that if nothing else, the figures in this card are moving. Despite the cold, injury, illness, and despair, these people are headed somewhere. That all our hardships in life are transient is an abstract comfort, like knowing the sun and moon are still in the sky, even during the worst storm. One of the deeper interpretations I like to give of this card is the fact that sometimes we are the people outside in the snow, and sometimes we are the people inside the building, lighting the candles that illuminate the stained glass. Each party is aware of the other, and in that awareness is what some call the human condition. There is unspeakable beauty in that, I believe.

All Hands on Deck

In my last post, I was asked what made me pick up my first deck; what started my interest in tarot. It’s a tricky question for me to answer, because when I first started tarot was not when I was really into it; you could say that tarot and I didn’t immediately click. But in the interest of a good story, I’ll talk about my very first encounter and when I first became really interested in it, wanting to learn more and do readings for people.

I am not sure what spurred it, but I was interested in the apocryphal Bible and its related mysticism from a somewhat young age. Naturally, this led to an interest in the occult, and due to a traumatic turn of events in my early teens, I found myself drawn to spell casting and working spells. As I’m sure many of you know, books on magic and the wiccan religion often share a shelf with books on tarot and divination. I believe my very first deck was a RWS I had purchased myself, but I didn’t know how to make heads or tails of it. I did feel like I was being presented with some kind of secret language that I was capable of unlocking, so I told my family I wanted to learn more about it. They are open-minded people, thank heavens, and got me a couple of introductory-level books. My grandmother also gifted me the beautiful but hard to find Tarot Balbi deck, which was all the more “exotic” to me because it was in Spanish. As much as I had a desire to learn everything about the tarot, my teenage impatience got the better of me, and I devoted my time to school and music, not really thinking about the tarot at all.

It wasn’t until I graduated, went to college, graduated, lived in Japan, and then moved back that I thought about the tarot again. At a science fiction/fantasy convention, I picked up the Golden Botticelli Tarot deck, as I love Botticelli’s paintings very much and thought the concept was neat. As I flipped through the cards, I noticed that certain works of his had been incorporated into certain cards. What was the meaning behind this? I already knew much about symbolism as it applied to art history, so I couldn’t help but believe the deck’s artist made every choice out of symbolic earnestness, rather than simply what looked good. My curiosity piqued, I bought some books about tarot, and began to delve deeper. I soon acquired more decks and it seemed that a whole world opened up for me.

Very early in learning how to interpret the cards was I taught that no person can accurately predict anyone’s future, for we must give great precedence to the concept of free will. For their role in things, the books explained, the cards could simply tell us what forces could be at work outside our perspective. They couldn’t tell us the name of the person we would meet and fall in love with, for example, but they could tell us if we were in the right mindset and attitude about finding a mate…even if we told ourselves “oh, I’m so lonely, I’d love to meet someone.” Such a person might scoff at being asked “Are you sure you want to meet a person to call your mate and share your life with at this time?” But maybe that person would realize that what they really wanted was for someone to listen to them and be reliable, unlike a flaky group of friends or self-absorbed acquaintances. The wish isn’t really for a mate, the cards might suggest. The real wish is to be heard. And as you might surmise, finding a mate does not perfectly equate with having someone who listens. Sadly, some people find their mates don’t litsen. Still others find that when they have meaningful conversations and are listened to, they feel a sort of self-contained happiness.

Of course I don’t mean to discredit anyone here; if you say you want one thing, I’ll take your words at face value! Simply, it was quite the eye-opener when I learned that not everyone knows what they want (or certainly what they need) all the time. A card is a suggestion, then, from beyond the void of one’s immediate surroundings. I know how pretentious and self-important that sounds, so I’ll try to simplify: A tarot reading can act as a fish-eye mirror on your wants and desires. What’s around the corner? Is what you think exists there actually there?

It’s a worthwhile question.

Writing and Tarot Blocks

The dreaded writer’s block. Books have been stalled because of it, posts have failed to materialize because of it, and conversational opportunities have been missed due to it. It sits in the corner of every writer’s mind, almost like a corner that’s a little too unnaturally dark or an inexplicable, unusually cool breeze.

Likewise, I’ve experienced tarot blocks as well… I’ll forget which position means what in a spread, or *gasp* sometimes I’ll blank on a card’s meaning! When you have seventy-eight cards to memorize, and no fewer than 15 spreads kicking around in your head, it’s a challenge to remember everything cold…and mnemonic devices can only take you so far.

Like many people new to tarot, I began with the Little White Book that came enclosed with my first deck (which was the now very hard-to-find Tarot Balbi) and decided I should commit it to memory. I don’t think I made it out of the major arcana, to be honest! For those who may not be familiar, the LWB is a “handy” reference that sometimes briefly explains tarot’s origins as a trumps-taking game created in Renaissance-era Italy. The symbols of it go back much further, most LWBs say, and have been used for divination much longer. It then starts with the major arcana, usually the Fool, and gives one-descriptions that help you get a general idea of what the card represents.

As one progresses in one’s tarot studies, usually these days picking up a book or visiting a 101 Lessons-type website, its’ quite common to run across the advice to throw the LWB away, or never look at it for reference. The training wheels come off, it seems!

While I’ve come to tolerate the LWB’s presence (pervasiveness?) whenever I receive a new deck, I’ve often thought what a handy thing it would be if such a reference book existed for writers. That quick reference would be invaluable, and it would save the sometimes irritating questions that usually pop up on writing prompt sites such as “What’s your favorite memory from your childhood?” or “Name your favorite rock star and give your reasons.” I don’t have issues with these two questions in particular, but they make a couple of assumptions that make me uncomfortable (i.e., that one had a healthy, happy childhood and that everyone [normal] likes rock music…truly one has a lot more baggage to it!).

With that, my fifteen minutes are up, and I’m sorry this post wasn’t as insightful or cracking as the others. That said, I still welcome your comments! Maybe if people have questions for me, I could answer them in a later post.

Rambling…

I didn’t have any particular topic I wanted to cover today, but I still think it’s important that I work on this blog for at least fifteen minutes. After fifteen minutes of writing, I know that a) I won’t feel bad for not putting any effort into this project, b) I may come up with a great idea mid-paragraph and can go from there, and c) fifteen minutes isn’t a huge commitment whatsoever. I remember reading somewhere—perhaps it was her wiki page—that Susanna Clarke, author of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell wrote her wonderful debut novel in between the time she had at her full-time job as a cookbook editor. I believe what she would do is wake up extra early and write until it was time to leave for work.

That amount of dedication inspires me…not so much the flippin’ expensive “Writing Retreat/Clinic/Workshop” idea where a bunch of millionaires get together at a stupid luxury resort and sit around basically passing a huge spliff rolled with some killer vanity. The bleary-eyed millionaire alternative energy CEO takes a puff and passes to the Yale graduate housewife who has nothing better to do with her time. He says, “I love this…fffsssshhhh [exhale]… oh god, man, I’m like, loving this so much right now. It’s….ssshhhh–aaaaaaaah….. it’s like…effin’ fantastic, man. Writing, you know?” She takes the joint from him and inhales deeply: “Dude, like…I think my mind is expanding. I be trippin’. I need to go work on my memoirs, like now.” And everyone else in the circle nods mutely in agreement.

NOT that I begrudge people the opportunity to better themselves and get feedback about something they obviously like, of course not. I suppose the issue I have with these kinds of environments is more that there are so many talented writers out there who simply cannot afford to have the assistance of some review and doctoring by prestigious authors. You might think that most anyone can join a writing workshop to get a suitable fix, but doing so just isn’t possible for the many of us who are currently pinching every penny til it screams. While I don’t count myself amongst the disadvantaged in this respect, I most definitely tread with awareness of my privilege—I could attend such a class, and many cannot.

I took exactly one creative writing class in college, it was about fiction. The professor was this guy, who at the time struck me as some kind of modern Federico Lorca…I don’t know why. I find my writing from this time to be incredibly embarrassing, and my classmates told me I came off sounding pretty much like Girl, Interrupted which annoyed the crap out of me because I HADN’T EVER READ THE BOOK. Granted, one piece I wrote was about a person in a mental institution who didn’t want to be there, and it explored in this horseshoe-crab sort of way how we perceive help when we don’t want it or ask for it. Agh, just thinking about the piece makes me cringe on so many levels.

To keep this post at least somewhat related to tarot, I’m going to randomly draw a card and see what it says about my future as a writer. Here we go…

How can I sum up my career as a writer?

Oh boy, the Six of Pentacles. This is one of the most interesting cards I get when I do readings. I love to ask the querent which person in the card they believes represents their current situation: the man giving out the money? One of the beggars? Asking myself the question in the caption, I’d have to say that I have been all three of the people in the card and can expect to be all of them in the future—my role is not static. Sometimes I help others with their writing (it’s my job!) and sometimes I receive help from others—for pay and for free! One thing I definitely hope comes about as a result of my writing is me being the guy on the left, receiving some moolah for my scribblings! Yes, I would love for that to happen. I suppose it all begins with website views.

And look! I was able to write about something for at least fifteen minutes here without resorting to talking about my day or my favorite food. I’m not going to go back and change the title of this post, because I believe it still fits. Even still, mission accomplished.

Questions?

Hello my dear readers! Sorry for the somewhat unplanned break, I promise we’re still off to a good start around here.

I was very happy with the responses I received last week, which, let’s face it, they were nothing but compliments for me and any writing talent I could say I possess. I appreciated all the well wishing, for many of those who offered praise and a kind word are established writers themselves I personally admire and respect. Feedback is always nice, and compliments are like the fine fondant icing on top.

Today, I’d like to tackle a few common misconceptions people may have about tarot and receiving a reading.

Tarot is not the equal of, or even in the same realm as “devil worship”
Simultaneously, I’m not sure why this stereotype and misconception persists, and I know exactly why. I know I’ve seen tarot cards as the go-to symbol used on popular crime procedural shows for the occult and Satanism (themselves not equal with each other—did you know there is Christianity-based occultism?). I’m sure you’ve seen the same stupid scene: the delinquent teens, often with dyed hair and dark-colored clothing steal away from their parents or lock themselves in a friend’s bedroom, stereotypically loud metal music blaring. Concerned Mom® pounds on the door, but is ignored. She continues down the hallway in a huff. Meanwhile, the kids have dug in the messy room’s dresser to find—a tarot deck in its tuck box. The dumb kids light some candles, giggling like idiots, and say this obviously-written-in-a-boardroom-in-LA “chant” invoking several names of fallen angels. Then one of the friends says, “show me my future! Is Travis going to ask me out?!” The idiot’s friend shuffles the cards and flips them over in no coherent order. The camera pans down to the pile of cards. She has flipped over the Devil, the Lovers, and Death. Everyone looks at each other like strangled fish, wide-eyed and wordless. THE CARDS HAVE SPOKEN GASP!!SURPRISE!ONOES!!


The negative cards mentioned in that wholly inaccurate scene above are the source of a bit of controversy—or, failing that—certainly increased blood pressure amongst professional readers. For example, the Devil is not a sign letting you know that he has come a-knockin’ and is presiding over a reading. It doesn’t mean a person is going to commit one of the Big Seven (or heck, why not go for a blackout and do all at the same time? You might have a bit of difficulty pulling off sloth and anger at the same time, though…), and it certainly doesn’t mean a person is possessed! Instead, think of how many times you’ve had bad thoughts about someone else, whether it’s that grade-a a**hole in traffic, the person who thought it was a good idea to bring their toddler to a midnight showing of a horror movie, or even a convicted killer whose court case is all over the Internet and television. The Devil reminds us not that we are sinners who are only capable of fathoming how unlike God or whatever we are—this card asks its recipient to be mindful of excess, addiction, and good ol’ materialism. In many cards, there is a naked couple depicted in this card, tied by rope to a pillar on which the Devil perches. But look closely—that rope is easily untied. The people are easily freed! The focus in this card is not the big, bad Horned One…it’s the people on either side who can’t (or don’t want) to free themselves. Pardon my language, but who the hell would want to worship that?

A tarot reading can answer questions such as: “Will I find my soul mate,” “Will I win the lottery,” and “Can I buy myself that $500 thing I don’t really need but really want?”
In a word, no. In three words, NO IT CAN’T. One of the first things I cover with querents (people who receive readings) is the fact that free will trumps all. Even the luckiest, most positive tarot reading can disappear into the ether if the querent only sits at home, hands folded in his/her lap, waiting by the phone for some good news. Everyone knows life doesn’t work this way, so why should tarot be any different? (Insert bad pun about “following suit”—har!) Your pal Mia here always steers querents away from asking Yes/No questions because, as I say in the reading, “If you really wanted, you could flip a coin and get your answer that way.” The cards, on the other hand, really want to pain a full, lush picture for you that stretches across all edges of the canvas that is your question. Knowing this, would you really want to only limit your color palette to, say, red and blue? If we’re investigating the unseen forces at work in your situation, that simply won’t do!

Therefore, it’s best to begin questions with phrases like “What do I need to know about…,” “What’s really going on with…,” or “What kind of outcome can I expect regarding…?” When you ask open-ended questions, you avail yourself to the beauty that is an open-ended answer. And really, if you wanted to know “Will I win the lottery?” and the answer came back “nope!” would you abruptly get up from your seat, gather your things, and walk out the door? I would hope not!

Let’s follow this lottery lead. What would make a person ask such a question? Probably because winning the lottery means loads and loads of cash as a result of hardly any effort. Why would someone want that much money for doing nothing other than stopping at the gas station to buy a scratch-off or a Powerball ticket? Because money is difficult to come by, and instant gratification seems the most tantalizing. Why is money difficult to come by for this person? What is the allure of instant gratification? Because of circumstances beyond the person’s control, like his/her lousy job, trouble with the kids in school, and the creeping dread that is elderly parents who are incurring large medical bills. The allure of instant gratification would grant the querent a small relief!
Then the real question for the querent is “how can I regain control of my life, and what can I do to improve my situation?” Only the snarky, unhelpful answer to this question is, “Well, you could win the lottery, I suppose.” See what I mean?

Stay tuned for more tarot wisdom, folks! And if you have any burning questions about tarot along the lines of what I’ve written here, by all means, ask away in the comments.

The Tarot Sessions

In this series, I’m imagining I am able to interview a person or a group of people in a particular deck’s card. I’m not sure whether I’ll keep this feature or not; I suppose it depends on if I ask (and answer) the right questions. Let me know what you think in the comments!

[Just so we're clear, this isn't about any actual person I know in real life!]

The Tarot Sesssions

Me: Good evening, and welcome to The Tarot Sessions. I’m your host, Mia LeStrade, and with me tonight is a very special guest; please give a warm welcome to Her Royal Highness, the Queen of Cups.

[audience applauds as the queen enters the stage, waving to people as she finds her seat]

Queen of Cups

QoC: Hello, Mia. How have you been? Thank you for having me on this program.
Me: I can assure, you, the pleasure’s all mine. [pause] So how are you? How’ve you been?
QoC: Well [laughs] I’m doing well, for the moment. I’m wrapping up my book tour—
Me: Oh my, yes. You’re almost done. And your book! It’s called The Inner Sea, and I’ve read it, just smashing work. Truly—you’re very gifted. I couldn’t put it down.
QoC: Oh! Well thank you. Yes, the tour has been a bit grueling, if I do say so myself. I don’t know if I’m ever going to do this again.

Me: …write, you mean? Surely—
QoC: Oh, heavens! No! No, I’ve got to write. I’ve got to… I could never… well you know how it is when you’ve got a story in your head. It’s like my fingers itch and then I have to get it all on paper. Or a computer as it were. And believe me when I say that it—wait, I shouldn’t say that!
Me: Well now you’ve got no choice but to tell us! You can’t keep us in suspense. [laughs]
QoC: [laughing] Fine, fine fine. Well I was going to say that—I’m ashamed of this, I mean. I wrote The Inner Sea in just four weeks.
[studio silence]
Me: …four weeks?
QoC: [giggling, nodding]
Me: Could I hire you to write the next Song of Ice and Fire novel? Martin would really appreciate—
[audience laughs]
Me: I’m just teasing! Well I’ve read the book,it’s brilliant. For those people in our audience who haven’t had a chance, could you describe it?
by the Queen of Cups QoC: Sure! It’s about a young girl from the middle of the African savannah. She’s never seen the ocean. But then one summer, her older sister and brother decide they’re going to go to Sierra Leone, to Freetown, so they can buy new parts for a water purification system their whole small town has been using. They’ve mostly stayed away from large cities, but she is secretly very excited to go, finally see the ocean.
Me: —and I love this part. What happens when she finally reaches Freetown?
QoC: Can I say that? That’s not a spoiler, is it?
Me: Well, you’re asking the wrong person, I’m afraid.
[audience briefly laughs]
QoC: Well then I don’t see why not. Um, when she gets to Freetown—and I’d say the journey takes about a third of the book—she sees the ocean for the first time and something just awakens in her. She has these feelings she’s never had in her entire life up to this point. All kinds of conflicting feelings.
Me: And what I really thought was brilliant was how you described those emotions. It’s like in reading this, I was having the main character—how’s that pronounced? Is it “Ee-yay-duh? Am I close?
QoC: Close. “Ee-ay-da.”
Me: Thank you. In reading the book, it was like I was there, right along with Ieeda, having those feelings too for the first time. Which is no small feat, let me tell you. What made you want to write this?
QoC: Well, I grew up in Nairobi, I don’t remember very much of it, but water was always something very important to me. I relished whenever we would go over bridges with rivers underneath. And my father took me over the Tana river once, that was… I knew that when I grew up, I had to live near water, near the ocean. I hadn’t ever seen the ocean, but I knew I had to visit it, and I would plant it there. The feeling in me was so strong, I knew it couldn’t be any other way. I would move to the ocean and start a family, I’d think to myself. And it felt so right.
Me: Interesting. So you moved to Denmark… the weather must have been quite an adjustment for you!
QoC: It was! I remember that for the first month straight I was… well so I was there to go to university, and so I was, um, adjusting to many things on many levels. But—and I’ll never forget this—I would wake up at around the same godforsaken hour every night, at nearly three-thirty in the morning, completely freezing. And this was in April! I really had no idea what I was doing. After I figured out that cold could wake a person up, I slept in my parka and some flatmates finally told me that I should probably buy heavier blankets instead! [laughs] But yes, I wanted to capture the feeling I had when I first saw the ocean. [shakes head] It was—it was—nothing has been or will ever be like it.
Me: Astounding. Well that’s all the time we have tonight! Again, the Queen of Cups [extends hands to shake] has joined me tonight. Her new book, The Inner Sea, is out in paperback and hardcover, you should really read it! Good night!
[audience cheers, applause]

See you next time, tarot fans!