tarot_scholar: A black mystical-looking sigil on a white background. (Default)
[personal profile] jenny_evergreen's first monthly card draw for me was in regards to prior thoughts on the nature of deity. So I put a question to the birds: "What do I need to know about my relationship to deity?" Since I brought up both her Patreon and Hekate here, I guess it's fitting I should follow up with a post that combines both of those topics.

The card that came up for me was blue jay:


Relevant bit of a slightly longer description: This bird is the cheerful, flexible opportunist...[and]...[h]e is a shameless thief (doesn't recognize the ownership concept, except for territory).

This is the part I keep coming back to. Maybe [personal profile] jenny_evergreen too, I can't know what her thought process is. She pointed out some options:

1. Trickery afoot (in which case either myself or Arwen or both are being hoodwinked)
2. A kind of deity being recommended (in this case, trickster)
3. I "should be emulating Bluejay, especially the 'cheerful, flexible opportunist' approach. So maybe this is not so much about making a lifelong bond with a deity, but letting them come and go..."

I list these in order of likelihood.

1. My instinct when it comes to both this particular deck and to [personal profile] jenny_evergreen's singular instincts is that a warning against trickery would be much stronger, and be much less oblique. And since I'm not paying anyone money, time, or energy for the privilege of having a relationship with a deity, I don't need someone to tell me not to get tricked. :P (Related to deception and manipulation, though, this dude is getting major side-eye in a Facebook group I'm in.)

2. More or less equally unlikely is a trickster deity. Sometimes we're repulsed by things because we secretly admire them, or wish we could be them; sometimes we don't click with something because that's just not our bag. And that's how I feel about trickster deities, by and large. A mode of being I can roll with out of necessity (think an actor putting on a "show" to help Jews escape an increasingly dangerous Germany, a la Mel Brooks' To Be Or Not To Be) but not for the lulz (think 4chan).

3. Now we're in the realm of the very likely, and [personal profile] jenny_evergreen admits as much herself, saying her instinct tilts towards this one as well. There are three aspects of this idea for me and they're all kind of related to this point. The first is the one that she speaks about directly: allow energies to come and go as they will. This is about not taking things super seriously—relationship with deity can and should fluctuate as necessary—but the second point is also being allowed to take something seriously if I want to.

The third, if I can build on this card and bring my own past to bear, is that it's okay to pick and choose. Not universally, necessarily. Definitely not, actually. But for me personally—I err on the side of the very careful and very fastidious (when it comes to the spiritual, anyway) and feeling like everything always needs to be the roots, the original, the purest form of whatever... so it's okay to relax, and it's okay to mix and remix and take what works for me and disregard the rest.
tarot_scholar: A black mystical-looking sigil on a white background. (Default)
Long-time LJ/DW friend [personal profile] jenny_evergreen/[personal profile] wrenstarling has started an oracle Patreon, and I would absolutely recommend giving it a look!

What makes this stand out from other divination Patreons is that she uses a deck of her own creation, featuring birds. I know birds are special to a few people I follow here, and I can tell you right now that this is an immaculately and thoroughly researched deck. (That's just the kind of person [personal profile] jenny_evergreen is.)

If you're unfamiliar with the Patreon model, the idea is that you can make a recurring monthly payment to, well, just about anyone: artists, writers, even some small businesses, in return for small (to large) goods or services. With [personal profile] jenny_evergreen, that means at least one monthly reading from an experienced reader using her own personal deck rich in meaning.

A quick snapshot of a spread in action:

Even though I'm comfortable with Tarot and often read for myself, sometimes you need someone outside of your own head to provide input and guidance; in the readings I've had from [personal profile] jenny_evergreen, she's been dead-on. She reads with intuition paired with healthy skepticism and rationalism, which is something I very much appreciate in occultism and the esoteric.

The minimum pledge ($1 / month) grants you access to the monthly single-card draws for the entire group; increasing pledges correspond to spreads of increasing personalization and complexity. Or you can be a rockstar just by sharing this Patreon with people you know who would be interested in it.

Thanks much!
tarot_scholar: A black mystical-looking sigil on a white background. (Default)
I've come across a couple of Tarot apps that I think are worth having. They're both the work of Tina Gong, in terms of code as well as art. Multifaceted!

I had been looking for a Tarot deck app for a while before I stumbled across her apps. I just wanted something quick and clean that could generate cards on the fly, which turned out to be a more challenging task than you might think. I had another one before, but it was gummed up with ads and was just a mess. (I don't remember which one it was, but even if I did, I don't think it's generous to badmouth a free app that was only mediocre.) For a while, I was using a random number generator. Golden Thread and Luminous Spirit Tarot are both what I wanted, plus more. (In a good way, not in an OPTIONS OVERLOAD way.)

Golden Thread is targeted at beginners. You can draw a daily card, and there are also spreads: one-card, three-card, and Celtic Cross. The single-card reading was perfect for my "I just need to draw a random card on the go" needs, and I'll be using it for that for the foreseeable future. It also helps you track a lot of neat Tarot data about yourself: how positive/negative your readings have been over time, the most common card keyword that's come up, etc.

The Luminous Spirit app is more intermediate focused and assumes you already have a solid working knowledge of the Tarot (though keywords are always available for each card, plus its reversal). Instead, it connects your readings to lunar cycles. You set an intention for each cycle, and then at each new phase of the moon, there's a different reading.

Each app uses a Tarot deck that has a physical, printed equivalent (hence my use of the "deck lust" tag here). The apps are free, and are free of ads. It's the sale of the physical items that helps support the apps. (And Gong's enthusiasm, natch.) I don't know how much I like the aesthetic of the Golden Thread deck, but I might very well pick up the physical Luminous Spirit deck:

This is a really well designed app, and I appreciate that they use original decks instead of just using the Waite–Smith deck. I admit that it wasn't until I did some research into Pamela Colman-Smith that I really appreciated the Waite–Smith deck, but now I'm totally onboard with it. My beef with Tarot apps using the Waite–Smith deck is more how it usually indicates a sort of lack of effort—just grab a public domain Tarot deck with easy-to-read images and go! No original decks, no recent decks that would mean paying licensing fees to artists or estates. (Of course, not every app or software with a more unique, modern deck is necessarily paying its artists. I recall a sketchy app ripping off a deck from the Magical Realist press.) But it's that extra attention to detail that makes an app really stand out, and that's why I think I'll continue to use it for a long time to come.
tarot_scholar: An image of Norman Rockwell's interpretation of Rosie the Riveter (Rosie)

What is the lie I keep telling myself? )

Speaking of Tarot history and the origins of the card, Biddy Tarot has a really great interview with Robert Place about the history of the cards. It is academically and authentically grounded (protip: they're not Egyptian) and easy to digest, and even though it's a podcast interview, Biddy is really great with having transcripts so you can read instead.
tarot_scholar: An image of Norman Rockwell's interpretation of Rosie the Riveter (Rosie)
I love projects that combine the arts and the sciences (you should check out the #sciart hashtag on Twitter if you haven't already). This Science Tarot deck is so wonderful, I might make it my Christmas present to myself.

Each card, from the Majors to the Minors to the court, has been associated with a scientist (courts), a scientific concept (Minors), or a "science story" (Majors). Care has obviously been taken to align the energy and meaning of the card as best as possible with the concept. Each suit has its own theme that in turns tells the larger story of creation: Wands as creation, the nuclear fusion burning in each star; then Pentacles as exchange, elements forged in the star now coalescing into matter; Swords as scientific observation, the higher thinking of conscious life and the beginning of abstract, scientific fields like mathematics, chaos theory, and physics; and finally Cups as the integration of the scientific consciousness into a more holistic picture of life and the return of the scientific observer to a participant in the system. The deck creators also employed Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey to tell the "story" of the Minor Arcana suits, for that extra layer of meaning. For example, the 2 of Swords:

Sitting under the apple tree, we contemplate a choice to be made. The tree branch lifts an apple high in the air, and gravity continuously pulls it toward the ground. These equal and opposite forces hold the apple in place. But soon the balance may shift and the apple may fall, releasing the branch from its burden and shaking the leaves as they swing upwards.

Isaac Newton observed that every action caused an equal and opposite reaction and so reasoned that every reaction could be predicted from the action that triggered it. Like a game of billiards, Newton's world is a predictable knocking around of objects: the force of the impact equals the mass of the moving object times its acceleration. To send an apple flying in a specific direction, we only need to know where to hit it and how hard. To move a gigantic apple, we'll need to hit it with a great deal of mass, or we will need a running start.

A decision is hanging over your head. You can choose to leave the apple suspended in the tree, or you can apply enough force to bring it down. Either decision may bring good results, but if you wait too long, the apple may fall on your head.

Hero's Journey, Step 2: Refusal of the call. The hero is reluctant to use this new power.

The court cards are all illustrated with famous scientists; Page, Knight, Queen, and King are all associated with Helen Fisher's work in personality and attraction. Pages are the Explorers of their suit, Knights are the Innovators, Queens are the Storytellers, and Kings are the Visionaries.

There is obviously just so much thought and attention to detail in this deck—but then, would you expect anything less from a science-themed Tarot deck?—and I am just in love.

tarot_scholar: An image of Norman Rockwell's interpretation of Rosie the Riveter (Rosie)
It's been a busy few months for me. My online presence everywhere has suffered, not just this blog. I will probably continue to be absent until the middle of July, but I wanted to take the time to share this post from Benebell Wen: Mah Jong Divination. I mostly wanted to share it because I am a Mah Jong fiend but knew nothing about what the images represented. I'd always wondered, and now I know! And now you do too. :) You can also read more about divining with Mah Jong, Serena Powers has a tutorial. If you don't have a set of tiles, the Wen article above is a review of a card deck designed for play—but pour que non los dos?
tarot_scholar: An image of Norman Rockwell's interpretation of Rosie the Riveter (Rosie)
A friend of mine alerted me to the existence of The Ghetto Tarot, and I wanted to share it here.

I love the idea of photographic Tarot decks, especially updated or just new interpretations of the iconic images. I love the idea, but the execution so far has been lacking. Things got one step closer with Alice Smeets's The Ghetto Tarot, a collaborative fundraising art project. I encourage you to read more about the project at the above IndieGoGo link.

The Afro-Caribbean milieu of this project is certainly appropriate, given Pamela Colman-Smith's own heritage; I haven't seen all of the images yet but I can say already that I particularly love Death and The Sun, as they are less literal recreations of Colman-Smith's plateaus and more a portrait of Haiti, Haitians, and Port-au-Prince themselves.


The Sun

I admit to liking the simple recreations less than these images, but I still love Smeets's collaboration with Haitian artists on this, and the fact that the profits from the deck will go to them. Tarot and art as a force for good in the world. Plus, sometimes the literal recreations actually work out well, like in The Moon and the 3 of Swords.

The Moon

The 3 of Swords

Others work because the Colman-Smith's original artwork was striking and made for a well-composed photo. Yet somehow, the impression is starker when it's a photograph. Take the 9 of Swords, one of my favorite cards (in terms of aesthetic, not in terms of divinatory meaning. Obviously!)

9 of Swords

I don't know if I'm going to buy a copy of this deck yet, or if I'm going to opt for a poster print. I know already that I probably wouldn't use this deck much to read, but some of these photographs are just too beautiful to pass up. Besides, it's for a good cause.
tarot_scholar: An image of Norman Rockwell's interpretation of Rosie the Riveter (Rosie)
People have lots of different opinions on how to best shuffle a Tarot deck, mostly with an eye towards preserving particularly lovely and/or rare decks. Preservation is a concern for me with some decks (I would prefer that my Victorian Romantic keep its gilt edges!), but also of importance to me is the matter of focus. In a typical riffle-in-the-hands-and-bridge shuffle, I tend to get lost in my thoughts; unless I make a point of focusing, my attention is directed away from the matter at hand, mostly because I'm so good at shuffling cards I can do it without thinking. Does that affect readings? Who knows. But I think Tarot at least deserves focus, especially if the matter at hand is important. So I feel better, both about my focus and about preserving my nicer decks, using my Klondike method.

I haven't seen anyone else describe this particular method of shuffling ("shuffling") and perhaps with good reason: it's not truly random—or at least, it's not as close to "truly" random as a riffles shuffle is. (Though, side note: it takes a deck about seven tries with a riffle shuffle to be truly randomized. How many times is your dealer shuffling in between rounds of poker?) My Klondike shuffle method is just a variation on pile shuffling. Pile shuffling is what it sounds like: dealing out cards into a certain number of piles, and then stacking them all together for a "shuffled" deck. While it's probably one of the safest shuffles in terms of preserving cards, it is fairly easy to manipulate. Plus, this is a shuffle that doesn't account for reversed cards. Reversals don't matter much in poker, card tricks, or Magic: The Gathering tournaments, but they can matter a lot in Tarot readings. The randomization (or lack thereof) is a problem I have yet to solve, but reversals is easy enough.

Anyway, enough setup. The Klondike shuffle!

I was a card games and solitaire fiend as a kid. I don't know why. I guess I didn't have a lot of friends? But like everyone, the first version of solitaire I learned was Klondike (thanks, Windows). I found the layout very aesthetically pleasing; honestly my favorite part of the game was dealing out a new hand. So all the Klondike shuffle is, is dealing out a few new games of Klondike, right on top of each other (without turning over any cards). I use 5 piles, or tables, because I have a small space for readings. If I had room to spread out I would probably use 7, like a proper game of Klondike. In other words:

1. Deal out 5 (or however many you like) cards to make 5 (or X) amount of piles.
2. Skipping the first card on the left, deal out 4 (or X - 1) cards in a second row.
3. Move another card to the left and deal out 3 (or X - 2) cards in a third row.

And so on. I like to continue until I've dealt out the whole deck, so once I reach the last pile, I just start another "game" right on top of the first one. But maybe you'd prefer collecting each "game" into a stack to keep things from getting messy.

I find that counting out the cards I'm dealing in each row helps me focus. Counting is weird like that, isn't it? Almost hypnotic. "1, 2, 3, 4, 5. 1 , 2, 3, 4. 1, 2, 3. 1, 2. 1." And repeat.

When the whole deck has been dealt out, I stack the piles together (sometimes starting with the "5" pile and putting the others on top, other times putting them under) and then cut once. I turn one half the deck like I would if I were going to riffle shuffle (to ensure that more or less the same amount of cards end up getting reversed or unreversed; it strikes me that you could also reverse the card you'd turn face-up in a proper Klondike game to add another layer of random) and then start dealing out another set of Klondike games. Once I've done this three times, I consider the deck shuffled enough to read. I cut it twice, then stack, then cut once again, and I read.

Do you have a favorite or unique way of shuffling your cards—Tarot, oracle, or otherwise?
tarot_scholar: An image of Norman Rockwell's interpretation of Rosie the Riveter (Rosie)
The woman to whom all modern Tarot readers owe their hobby received a pittance for her artwork and died in debt, unknown outside her circle of bohemian friends.

Just so you know.

I mean there's more I could say, but someone else has already done an excellent job writing a comprehensive biography of her, so I will link to that and use this space to share some brief, notable facts. If you don't follow that link or remember anything else I mention here, remember that thanks to prevailing Victorian attitudes (read as: patriarachy, white supremacy), Smith never received the credit, money, or prestige she should have for her work on the groundbreaking Rider-Waite-Smith deck.

Unfortunately she has no direct descendents that could possibly benefit from her work (US Games estimates that, were she given her proper royalties, her estate would be worth millions today), so I guess the best we can do is remember to call the deck the RWS deck instead of just the Rider-Waite. Or maybe just Waite-Smith, as they did the work; Rider was just the publisher.

Anyway, here are some brief facts about Pamela Colman-Smith!

First of all, she was a cutie patootie and seems like she would have been a vibrant and interesting person just to know:

What a smile! She went by the nickname "Pixie" which I imagine suited her quite well.

Colman-Smith was born in 1878 to a British father and a Jamaican mother, their only child. She spent her early years in Manchester, then in Jamaica, until finally studying art in Brooklyn. While we remember her today for the RWS Tarot deck, Colman-Smith was engaged primarily in set design for the theater. She also became involved in the women's suffrage movement and illustrated pamphlets on the topic.
Additionally, Colman-Smith illustrated a handful of books: a rare copy of Bram Stoker's Lair of the White Worm, Ellen Terry's The Russian Ballet, The Book of Friendly Giants by Eunice Fuller, Seumas McManus's In Chimney Corners: Irish Folk Tales, The Golden Vanity and The Green Bed, and two books she wrote herself: Widdicombe Fair and Anancy Stories. Widdicombe Fair commands a 4-digit price on Amazon, but Anancy Stories is easy and cheap to find.
Colman-Smith was a member of the Golden Dawn in her own right. (I was always under the impression that she was just a random artist Waite had simply contracted out to. I don't know why. But in case anyone else was under that misconception, I thought I'd clear it up.) Outside this occult group, many of her friends were the movers and shakers of the early 20th century.

After this explosion of work in the turn of century, records of Colman-Smith dwindle until her death in Cornwall in 1951. She was in debt and her belongings were auctioned off. Hopefully among them is a well-preserved journal or diary that will one day be found and help clue us in on those missing thirty years of her life!
tarot_scholar: An image of Norman Rockwell's interpretation of Rosie the Riveter (Rosie)
Almost never. Aside from the one reading I did for B (about her dad's health, I think?) when I first got my RWS deck, I've always used the whole deck in all of my readings. I don't like the idea of reading with an incomplete deck, generally. The one exception is this court card technique, though even then the entire deck factors in.
tarot_scholar: An image of Norman Rockwell's interpretation of Rosie the Riveter (Rosie)

...and how much stress do you place on the “feeling” you get from cards through their artwork/symbolism, etc.? Do you do both, or one or the other?

I hold with the "textbook" meanings first and foremost, then the LWB that shipped with the deck (if there is one) and anything particular the artist is saying with their rendition. While it certainly helps to have a deck with gorgeous art, I rarely lean on the art alone to convey meaning. (Especially because there are many cards where the art is a nonstarter for me.) Generally speaking, I hold with Ginny Hunt about "the Tarot bones."

Which is funny, because as a system Tarot is not that old and it seems a bit ridiculous to get all in a huff about historical accuracy and so on. But at the end of the day I am a creature of structure and orderliness, so I opt to to read Tarot instead of using a Tarot deck to read intuitively. I do not really experience sudden, prophetic flashes of inspiration the way that many Tarot readers seem to do.

Besides that, I think very few people have enough intuition to go diving into cards without a lot of study first. If nothing else, study shows that you are dedicated to your craft and to being the best that you can be at it. Like with writing, you gotta know the rules before you break them.

tarot_scholar: An image of Norman Rockwell's interpretation of Rosie the Riveter (Rosie)
It was probably the Celtic Cross, though I also learned that alongside the numerous ways you can read a simple 3-card spread and also the value of single card daily draws.
tarot_scholar: An image of Norman Rockwell's interpretation of Rosie the Riveter (Rosie)
I've been a fan of the-toast.net for a while now, mostly because of their recurring series of commentary on Western art, courtesy Mallory Ortberg. Ortberg has another series on the art of Tarot Cards: Highly Literal Tarot Readings. So far she's looked at Wands and Swords. They're killing me.

The Stick War Has Begun

Now Let Us Attend a Good Charlotte Concert Together

Don't Look At Me

Okay You Can Look Now
tarot_scholar: An image of Norman Rockwell's interpretation of Rosie the Riveter (Rosie)

I was searching Aeclectic for all things related to anger (relevant to an upcoming post, maybe, if I feel like writing it will be worthwhile), when I found this Hulk-themed spread on anger by Glass Owl. Usually I find pop culture themed spreads to be a bit frou frou and gimmicky, but this one cuts right to the chase. If the Hulk terminology makes you roll your eyes that much, you can of course just use other words.

This is a 5-card spread, laid out like so:

 Here are the card meanings:

1. Bruce Banner
This represents your typical, usual self.

2. Turning Green
This is what makes you angry or what aspect of your current situation is making you angry.

3. The Hulk Is Unleashed - SMASH!
This card will show how you express your anger, whether it is towards yourself or others.

4. Calming The Monster
This calms you down or helps you regain control.

5. A Lesson In Anger Management
This is an important truth you need to recognize or accept about yourself or your situation. This card may put things in perspective, or offer insights into how you can positively manage or channel your feelings.

I'll be giving this spread a try soon!
tarot_scholar: An image of Norman Rockwell's interpretation of Rosie the Riveter (Rosie)
A common method for teaching the Major Arcana is to frame it in the context of The Fool's journey, from The Magician all the way through The World, each card (theoretically) a logical consequence from the previous. But how long has this particular narrative been ascribed to the Major Arcana?

Many of the websites I visited and books I read when I first started to teach myself Tarot used this paradigm in elucidating the meanings of the Major Arcana. While I learned the card meanings easily enough, the nature of the relationship between the cards and the logical nature of the procession from the one to the next eluded me. No one really explained why the Major Arcana were ordered as they were, or why, for example, The Chariot necessarily follows The Lovers. Maybe my lack of understanding there means I don't truly comprehend the cards' true meaning; that's possible. Either way, the Fool's journey and the progression of the Majors has been a sticking point of mine, so I decided to do a little scratching.

As Robert O'Neill points out, mystical journeys are perhaps the most universal of tropes and they predate the Tarot by nearly immeasurable years. In Middle Ages Europe, those visions and journeys with pious Christian messages tended to be the ones saved and copied by churches and monasteries, and were also often referenced in sermons or artwork in the church. Given the ubiquity of these images, it's hardly surprising that some of them became the Trump cards of tarocchi decks of the time. Other images were derived from common secular visual tropes of the day, such as The Hanged Man. Art is always a reflection, and a product, of its era.

Prior to the advent of the printing press in Europe (1450), decks were individually created and inspired hand-painted works of art commissioned by wealthy patrons, bound together only by the rules of tarocchi. It's unlikely that they (or at least, that all of them) were used to teach any sort of lesson about piety or Godliness. While nearly all of the personages in the Major Arcana can be traced to popular literature (most notably Italian), there is no one definitive work with all of the Trumps in a particular order to tell a particular story; no one religious or occult order got together and dictated that the Trumps should be ordered just so for whatever purpose. Franco Patesi has suggested a few works in particular that may have served as inspiration and, while not rejecting the idea that a definitive source exists and hasn't been found (or existed but was destroyed), admits as more probable the "multiple streams of influence" hypothesis.

In other words, while the images in the Major Arcana probably came from a multitude of tales and illustrations of spiritual progression, the final version we have today is not (so far as we can tell) based on any extant occult source's recommendation. The Waite-Smith deck, perhaps the most popular and recognizable Tarot deck in the world, was likely based in large part on the Sola-Busca Tarot, which A. E. Waite and Pamela Coleman Smith both probably saw in display in the British Museum. The Sola-Busca is the only extant and complete full-color tarocchi deck with full-color illustrations of the Trumps and the pips, though that is not to suggest the Waite-Smith deck is a mere clone. Smith and Waite adjusted some of the card meanings and images so that there are major differences between the two, even though there also many similarities. Here are some more sample images of the Sola-Busca deck so you can check for yourself. Giordani Berti suggests that the Sola-Busca deck, which has been attributed to Nicola di maestro Antonio, is an occult deck (not only a mere gaming deck) with ties to alchemy, but it's my unlearned opinion that those similarities were not meant to be any kind of lesson or secret code, but are just more contemporary images and ideas Nicola di maestro Antonio used for the sake of art. In any case, those ties are through the use of images in cards throughout the deck, more or less at random; Berti is not referring to any secret "recipe" (literal or metaphorical) contained with the ordered numbers of the Trumps.

This is not to say that it is impossible or inappropriate to read other traditions—like alchemy, astrology, or the Kabbalah—on to the cards. If you happen to know a lot about them, that certainly enriches your understanding of the cards and adds new layers of meaning to draw on. I'm not questioning the legitimacy of such a practice; this reading-on is the exact reason Tarot as a divination tool exists today. I only mean that my goal in this investigation was the strictly-defined Fool's journey in the Majors: was this a narrative that artists had in mind when creating the early decks? Is there a long-standing historical tradition of the Major Arcana as a story or some kind ? If so, where did it come from? If not, when did people start applying that idea?

Since I think it's safe to say that the Fool's journey was not the intended framework of the Majors in the earliest decks, when did it start getting read on to the Major Arcana?

Such a narrative is not really the focus either in Waite's Pictorial Key to the Tarot (1911) or in Tarot of the Bohemians (1896). Nor was I able to detect one in Eliphas Levi's Transcendental Magic: Its Dogma and Its Rituals (1854–1856). S. L. MacGregor Mathers, in his summation of the meanings of the Major Arcana in The Tarot in 1888, provides a little fable almost as a mnemonic aside:

The Human Will (1) enlightened by Science (2) and manifested by Action (3) should find its Realisation (4) in deeds of Mercy and Beneficence (5). The Wise Disposition (6) of this will give him Victory (7) through Equilibrium (8)* and Prudence (9), over the fluctuations of Fortune (10). Fortitude (11), sanctified by Sacrifice of Self (12), will triumph over Death itself (13), and thus a Wise Combination (14) will enable him to defy Fate (15). In each Misfortune (16) he will see the Star of Hope (17) shine through the twilight of Deception (18); and ultimate Happiness (19) will be the Result (20). Folly (0), on the other hand, will bring about an evil Reward (21).

*Here Mathers is using the Major Arcana model with 8 as Justice (or Adjustment) and 11 as Strength, instead of the reverse we see in Waite's model. Note that both of them do not number the Fool before 1, but in between Judgment and The World, though it retains its value of 0.

P. D. Ouspensky, famed proponent of the Fourth Dimension, also took some time out to write on the Tarot: a tract titled The Symbolism of the Tarot (1913). He talks only about the Major Arcana, and the bulk of the writing is a first-person narrative through every card in the Majors. While each stage of the journey (each card) is connected to each other, the order Ouspensky chooses for his story isn't to simply follow the traditional numbering. Starting with the Magician at one end of the Majors and The Fool at the other, Ouspensky works from either side in to the middle. He starts with the Magician, then to the Fool, then to the High Priestess, then to the World, and so on, ending with The Hanged Man as the ultimate end of the tale. According to Ouspensky, in each pair of opposite cards, "one card complet[es] the sense of another and two mak[e] one." That is the the only thing approaching The Fool's journey I could find, though as you can see there are strong differences between Ouspensky's narrative and the story suggested by the numerical order of the Major Arcana.

Finally, Crowley opens The Book of Thoth with:

Be this thy task, to see how each card springs necessarily from each other card, even in due order from The Fool unto The Ten of Coins.

which implies that there is a logical sequence behind not just the Major Arcana but the entire deck. The imposition of the Qabalah on the Tarot does create something of a natural progression, though there are multiple paths on the Tree of Life and there is nothing to suggest that the Tarot was originally designed with the Qabalah in mind. Moreover, this logical progression is not limited to the trumps and is not described by Crowley as "the Fool's journey."

On and on my research could go, and hopefully it will, but it requires more time and more than just cursory readings and searching for terms. There are numerous 19th and 18th century texts in French I haven't been able to find online and in English (my French skills are not up to the task of 200-year-old treatises on occult topics); they may shed some more light on the topic, or at least contribute to a clear and unequivocal "no." I largely suspect that the popularity of Joseph Campbell's work in comparative mythology and the 1949 publication of The Hero With a Thousand Faces is the leading contributor to the idea of The Fool's journey.
tarot_scholar: An image of Norman Rockwell's interpretation of Rosie the Riveter (Rosie)
I found this spread on Arwen's blog, though the original credit goes to Pamela Adkins on Aeclectic. This is a generic, all-purpose sort of spread, but it's especially applicable at the beginning of a new anything: trip, business venture, relationship, etc.


(The idea is that it resembles a winding woodland path.)

1. Stepping out into the crisp Autumn air, you go for a walk in the woods. This is where you are starting from.
2. As you walk down this path, you hear a twig cracking in the brush. These are the fears you will encounter.
3. So you wrap your shawl tightly around you, and grasp it tightly as you quicken your pace. This is that which you will find comfort in.
4. Off in the distance you see a deer with its fawn crossing appearing in your path. This is what you don’t expect.
5. A wise owl swoops above your head and lands on a far up branch. This is what you will learn along this path.
6. As you reach the end of your journey, you ponder all that has happened and what has resulted. This is the outcome of your journey.
tarot_scholar: An image of Norman Rockwell's interpretation of Rosie the Riveter (Rosie)
A 10-card spread from rwcarter on Aeclectic, best applied to situations where one isn't directly involved but still invested in. The original thread and discussion is here. Here is the spread:


1. What I know about the situation that is true
2. What I don't know that I know/What I need to know about the situation
3. What I think I know about the situation that's NOT true
4. What I should do with the information in the first card
5. What I should do with the information in the second card
6. Why I think I know what's in the third card
7. What I shouldn't do with the information in the first card
8. What I shouldn't do with the information in the second card
9. What I should do with the information in the sixth card
10. Outcome if the above advice is followed
tarot_scholar: An image of Norman Rockwell's interpretation of Rosie the Riveter (Rosie)


My biggest struggle is reconciling the mystic with the scientific. A good cold reading can be extremely impressive and, at first glance, look and feel extremely "real"; not all cold readers are as clumsy as John Edward. The myriad of ways we communicate without even knowing about it, the sheer volume of information we radiate when we talk (and often when we don't), is really an exciting and mind-blowing concept. Things like our dress and posture convey so much, and our body language even more. Check Amazon for books on topics like "body language" or "non-verbal communication" and you'll find plenty of sources.

The fact that a skilled interpretation of these cues, in addition to standard "cold reading" methodology, can sound very much like a "good" Tarot reading, is a bit troubling (at least for me). How can you know you're reading Tarot cards instead of a person? Is that all there is to it?

The line is blurry for me, especially since cold reading and Tarot reading have one big thing in common: interact with the querent.

A cold reader will toss out a bunch of general statements and then periodically ask for confirmation from the querent. In addition to a simple yes or no, the querent often volunteers additional information: for example, the cold reader says that something traumatic has happened recently in the querent's life. He stops and asks for confirmation, and the woman says that her father died of cancer last year. The cold reader than picks up that specific fact and runs with it some more. Repeat that for a few more general statements.

This sounds a little too familiar, doesn't it? The 3 of Swords shows up in a querent's reading, and we say that there's some kind of heartache going on. The end of a friendship or relationship, death, what have you. We ask for the querent's input and they say yes, they had to leave a job they really liked. We then take that fact and incorporate that into the rest of the reading.

What's the difference between the two?

After all, any and all good Tarot readings could be cold readings in disguise; people who think they are psychic just have a natural "knack" for cold readings. There are a fair amount of "psychics" who have admitted as such.

True, the Tarot reading has at least some restrictions built in by virtue of having visual cues to go by. Instead of just starting with random generalizations that apply to anybody, there are now specific (though still general, in a way) situations outlined by the cards. If you have, say, The Wheel of Fortune rx, The Tower, and Death in a simple three-card spread, you're not going to start with sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows. The combination of those cards is pretty clear, and pretty clearly not fun. The cold reader has no such "requirement" to limit (or guide) him.

Even without this information fishing, people are designed to make sense out of chaos. Give a general enough outline of a problem or situation, and people will do most of the interpretation themselves to apply it to their own lives. That, and people are often unsure of themselves; if an "expert" tells them that they are this or that way, they will be inclined to agree just to make sense of themselves. Consider the Forer/Barnum effect:

You have a need for other people to like and admire you, and yet you tend to be critical of yourself. While you have some personality weaknesses you are generally able to compensate for them. You have considerable unused capacity that you have not turned to your advantage. Disciplined and self-controlled on the outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure on the inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You also pride yourself as an independent thinker; and do not accept others' statements without satisfactory proof. But you have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, and sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, and reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be rather unrealistic.

How many of these statements would you say were true about yourself? How accurate would you say this description of you is? Consistently, people have given this "result" of a personality test very high ratings, anywhere from 4 to 5 on a scale of 1 to 5. Never mind that it's just a bunch of randomly chosen but very general statements.

Likewise, there are certain situations that people are more likely to see a Tarot reader about: career, love, health. Often times when I am faced with a relationship question, for example, the advice I'd give without reading the cards is the same as I would without: back off, cool your heels, this person isn't a good idea. Maybe this means I need to work on reading what the cards actually say instead of fitting them to my own preconceived answer, but nonetheless the commonality of human experience is not easily ignored.

So I find myself in a predicament where, while I know all of this, I can't help but believe, somehow. I have gotten plenty of readings that seemed little more than cold readings—here I'm thinking of a five dollar palm reading I got for shits and giggles at a music festival from a heavyset Latina woman who told me to go into real estate—but other ones I've gotten seem so much more than that. Ones over the internet where there is no interaction or questioning, but where very specific situations have been picked out with a minimum of generalities, and no methods of "hot reading" (illicitly searching for information on the querent, like going through wallets and coat pockets, etc) were available to them.

So then, to the original question: What is the difference between a good cold reading and good Tarot reading? I don't have the answer, and I don't think I ever will. But I will keep plugging away.
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