Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Be the Reader You Are (and Don't Stress About What You're Not)

This sign stands outside of Mirabai, a New Age bookstore in Woodstock, New York.

I have to think of it this way. I read tarot before him. I read tarot for him. And I read tarot after him.

My ex was a tarot reader. He was quite good at it. He was not my first boyfriend to read tarot, but there was something about his readings that were so scarily accurate that I was in awe.

Consequently, when it was mutually realized we were both readers, we agreed to exchange readings. He read for me. And when it came time for me to read for him . . .

. . . I was reduced to tears. Absolute mental breakdown-worthy tears.

I don’t know why I thought after he read for me that I was suddenly incapable of doing a reading for him. I don’t remember panicking while he was shuffling the cards. I don’t remember panicking when I took the cards back from him and started to lay them out. It was when I was done with laying out the cards that it kicked in. The thought: “Oh crap, now it’s really my turn.”

And I started to cry. That first reading was horrible. I don’t think my first reading for a stranger was as bad as that reading. Oh, I’m sure I was accurate. It was the feeling that went along with it, the “I can’t read as eloquently as he just did.” That first reading I did for my ex he walked me through, point by point, card by card, and at the end prompted me with, “What does it all mean altogether?” The reading was like pulling teeth or taffy, the information exchange like molasses with sharp shards in it.

I don’t blame my ex in any of this. I blame myself. He was an intimidating guy, and his tarot-reading was no exception. But I let myself be intimidated by another reader. Therefore, the fault lays with me.

A few years after this, I started reading professionally. During one of these “out of the tarot closet” readings, I read for an acquaintance who admitted after the reading was finished that she was a tarot reader, too. I thanked her profusely for telling me after the reading and not before, since my nerves would have been shot “reading for a reader.” After that, I silently told myself that reading for readers was “too hard” and vowed to avoid it when possible . . .

. . . and then two months ago I was at Readers Studio, surrounded by fellow readers. Not reading for another reader at a tarot conference is impossible. It is a part of the learning process. You take classes at the conference and then you immediately apply them to help absorb that new information. Compounded by that were threats from people to read for “heap big tarot readers” (see The Tarot Apprentice Speaks for said threats), furthering amalgamating my already paralyzing fear of reading for readers. At Readers Studio, you are reading for readers right from the get-go with the Foundation Reading. Theresa Reed (who just happened to be sitting next to me at the start . . . coincidence? Absolutely not!) and I paired up. I wanted to tell her about my fear of reading for readers, but just from the look on her face I could tell it was a bad idea. Theresa could see right through me, look at my fears, and know what I didn’t realize until after Readers Studio: all of this “I can’t do this” self-flagellation was and is bullshit.

In short, you cannot be another reader. You can try, but it simply won’t work. Readings that should come easily will suddenly be nightmarish and hard if you so much as attempt to read like someone else. The tarot senses the bullshit and those cards that you have come to know as your friends transform into monsters from under the bed.

I’m not an eloquent reader. Much of the time when reading I curse, am pretty blunt, and rarely tint the world rosy when that’s not what I’m seeing. I try not to beat around the bush and frequently dive right into the core reason as to why you’re coming for a reading. I use words such as “asskickery” to describe the suit of Swords.

I’m not particularly slick like my ex was when reading, but I have my own style, and that’s okay. You have your own style that makes your readings special. Don’t let your specialness be overshadowed by your own fears. Be your own person. Be your own reader.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Why the Tarot Nova Made Me a Better Reader (and Almost Made Me Not Become One at All!)

Courtesy of

This is the story of baby's first Tarot deck.

The Tarot Nova was my first deck. It came in a Fortune Telling Kit with a small book on Palmistry (which I read, but never used).

I got it as a birthday present for my mother when I was sixteen. I thought it was awesome, the bee's knees, the boss-a nova (emphasis on "boss" & "nova"!). There was no way she wouldn't like it. I was sure about that.

Yeah, not being a tarot reader before that point, my certainty in my mother liking the gift was misplaced. I was wrong. She didn't like it.

"Didn't Like It" is probably the wrong thing to say about it. I think she feared it, and I think she feared she was either going to be really accurate (thereby scaring herself) or just would make too many mistakes. She never outright said she didn't like it. She just said, "You can hang onto it so you can read for me."

Thus, a tarot reader was born.

I relied on the "little white book" for a long time. The little white book for the deck was a large brochure-type-thing, about 8 1/2 x 11 (see above). I just simply couldn't read the cards without it.

The first spread I learned was a four-card spread, which may be surprising to people considering the three-card "Past, Present, Future" spread is my tarot bread and butter.

It says: "This basic tarot layout was designed for use with the 'Tarot Nova.' If you're familiar with other layouts, you can use them with this deck too or you can design your own. Be creative!" [not bloody likely, thought my newbie self]

The positions:
A: What's at hand
B: Past influences
C: Ponder this
D: What to do

How I would go about a reading: I would shuffle the cards. They were small cards, so I was able to shuffle them as I would playing cards (a rarity, I have come to find, since most tarot decks I have owned since I have to shuffle in a different way because of my freak-like tiny hands). As I shuffled, I thought of a problem I was having, and then I would stop when ready, and then lay out the cards A through D, with the deck resting in my right hand and my left hand doing the pulling of the cards. This is not how the "little white book" said I should do things, suggesting to shuffle and separate the deck into four piles, pulling cards A through D from the top of each pile. I don't know when I realized it was "okay" to do it a different way. One day I was following the instructions to the letter, and at some point I just didn't anymore. I also don't remember who my first "client" was, when I transitioned from reading for myself to reading for others. I would guess it was my mother, and as it is now so it was then... I don't remember any details of that reading.

So, long story short, why I think the Tarot Nova deck made me a better reader: the deceptively simple Minor Arcana. I remember for a long time thinking, "I will never remember any of this stuff; I will never be a true tarot reader." I would cry because I would quiz myself on memorizing the meanings in the "little white book" in a flashcard kind of fashion. Tarot card came up: 4 of Wands. What did the "little white book" say? And I would struggle to remember without opening up the book. For new readers, I don't recommend this kind of torturous learning... 'tis far better to build a rapport with your deck in other ways, making connections between the imagery on the card with memories/associations from your own life (see my past post Advice for New Readers and you'll get some more of "Do As I Say; Not As I Did" type of advice).

The problem with deceptively simple Minor Arcana cards is they're very bare bones. Only one or two images on the card as "clues" with which to interpret with. I find the Minor Arcana to be the most daunting of all things new readers learn... and perhaps a reason why I nearly didn't become a tarot reader. Simple imagery is a double-edged sword: it gives us very little to go on, and when we latch onto those few meanings we glean, we don't let go of them and could become short-sighted because of it.

Examples from Tarot Nova:

4 of Pentacles: I will always think of this card as a greed card, keeping and hoarding money for the sake of being a miser and not to put it to use. Why? Because my first association is linked to this deck's depiction of this card: A greedy little piggy with his arms wrapped possessively around four golden coins.
Some of the other cards in the Pentacles Suit only have one symbol that catches the eyes, such 3 of Pentacles (vine wrapping around a ladder with coins growing off of it), 5 of Pentacles (a lizard with a coin for an eye and four coins surrounding him), and 6 of Pentacles (bread baking, three coins in its center with three additional coins scattered). I couldn't wrap my head around these cards, making reading them difficult and me to the point of tears.

9 of Swords: The Nightmare card. Will always say it, will always see it for this card. When someone is sitting in a bed made of swords, cowering as swords are flying above them threatening to decapitate them if they dare to look up to the sky for reprieve... well, let's call a spade a spade, shall we? (or in this case, let's call a sword a sword)
The 3 of Swords is depicted as a turnip getting his leaves chopped off. Something in the imagery here is definitely lacking for what I now know to be a very complicated card. A lot more than chopping veggies here is needed to get the point of the 3 of Swords across.

I don't know when I stopped using the "little white book" as my personal tarot bible. Probably a few decks after Tarot Nova. I wish I could pinpoint the time I went from "I'll never learn this" to "I know this", but perhaps it's best that that portion is left to the nice hazy fog of memory. The bigger point: if I can do it, so can you. As long as you're willing to do the work. There really is no shortcut to learning tarot; just many paths. And this was my start along that path.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Pitfalls of Tarot Deck Addiction

I was about to give up on the "Wednesdays will be my new blog post day" idea when I thought I had nothing to write about. I shuffled and pulled a card on this issue. The Queen of Swords impassively stared back at me. I know, I know. She doesn't need to say anything. She says it all with one look: "Get over yourself, you wench, and just blog. The words will come." Okay, I'm blogging. You don't mess with the Queen of Swords.

Today on twitter the tweets were aflame with my fellow tarot readers' admissions of tarot deck addiction. It seemed the more decks we accumulate, the more we want (and I'm most certainly not immune). The newest, the latest, the prettiest, the edgiest. But no matter how you dress it up, the cards will still say what they want to say. For example, you can dress up the Queen of Swords, but no matter what, she'll still kinda be a bitch. (It's okay I'm saying this; she knows damn well what she is.)

The problem with tarot deck addiction is that if you have too many decks, it's really hard to build a rapport with any one of them. It's the "spreading yourself too thin" syndrome. The cards speak to me. Each deck has its own language of symbols. With each new deck, it is a new system of symbols to learn. Yes, the symbols are usually the same from deck to deck (rarely is the High Priestess unrecognizable, no matter what deck you're looking at), but with artistic license comes additional symbols specific to that deck alone. I'm only talking about the people that build up a collection of decks that they read with. There are some people I know that simply collect decks for the art alone, and have never read with them. "Spreading yourself too thin" syndrome does not apply to collectors.

I admit, I have the attention span of a ferret sometimes. Pretty and shiny and new decks are like a siren call to me. But now that I think about it, it's probably best that I stick with the collection that I have for now, and not drive myself crazy with amassing decks.

She says with three new decks in her possession...

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Don't Shoot the Messenger!

Oh crap, the Tower!!!

The other day before I did a reading for someone on, the client said, "Not the Tower, not the Tower!" It is almost the tarot version of "No Whammies! No Whammies!" Poor Tower Card. I think that might be the only time you will ever hear anyone, anywhere, say that.

It made me think about those misunderstood "big baddy" cards that no one wants to get. You know the usual suspects. I'll put them in the order of what I think are the biggest and baddiest (your list may include the same cards, more of them, and/or less):

  • Death ("Does this mean I'm going to DIE?!")
  • The Devil ("I'm possessed?!")
  • The Tower ("Oh my, that doesn't look good at all...")
  • 10 of Swords (the resolution of a very volatile situation... maybe)
  • 9 of Swords (what I like to call the nightmares card)
Of course we all have had some experiences in readings of cards that we, personally, don't want to see. Perhaps a certain card that is the significator of an ex popping up in a reading, giving us a warning that sometime soon he would come a'knocking back at our door. Perhaps you had a reading that stuck with you in a bad way, and seeing one of the cards from that reading takes you back to that time and that bad memory. Whatever the reason, what is it about these cards that make them into the boogiemen of the tarot?

I would say, a) misconceptions, and b) no one likes to hear difficult news. Simple answers, yes, but let's keep in mind the title of this post. I'm not talking about me being "shot" as the messenger, just by being a tarot reader. The messengers in question are those self-same big baddy cards.

Donnaleigh ( tweeted a quotation that really hit this idea home with me. The quotation was, roughly, "Nothing is good nor bad. It just is." Again, a simple idea. But I have found lately that "keeping it simple, stupid" is increasingly harder to do in an ever-more-complicated world, but so necessary.

So the next time the Tower comes up in a reading, I'm not saying to welcome it with open arms. But don't blame the Tower for the destruction it's telling you is happening (which will consequently lead to the building of a strong foundation after the dust has settled). Accept the message the Tower carries with it, but do not let the Tower become that message forever.

Guest Post on The Tarot Lady's Blog

Hi y'all, and Happy Wednesday! The Tarot Lady has just posted my guest post "What Cards Are Saying When They Aren't There" on her blog. Go check it out!