Tarot’s High Priestess in Polka Dots

Version 3Tarot’s High Priestess is Major Arcana card number two. If she were a book title, she would be Women’s Ways of Knowing. Her masculine counterpart, the Hierophant (whom I wrote about last week), would be something like The Bible, or Gray’s Anatomy.

Unless you’re a poet, it can be hard to write about the High Priestess card. Once you get caught up in the rules of grammar, you sink from the ether into your head, and The High Priestess evaporates. She is intuition and invisible inklings. She is your feelings before you put words to them. Good luck with that.

Version 2Intuition. When we channel it directly, we get an “aha,” and feel momentarily awestruck. Many of us who value that experience spend time trying to cultivate it through meditation, dream work, and art.

Visual artists of all sorts try to capture High Priestess sensation in physical form. I once heard a brilliant local choreographer give a terrible radio interview, finally declaring in exasperation, “If I could TELL you what the piece meant, I wouldn’t have to DANCE it!” It was a High Priestess moment.

My most recent encounter with the High Priestess happened last week at the Infinity Mirrors exhibit of Yayoi Kusama, currently at the Seattle Art Museum. She’s a High Priestess to the extreme, living in an intuited universe of polka dots and mirrors, seeking what she refers to as ‘obliteration.’

Yayoi Kusama on screenThose who manage to exist in High Priestess energy for long stretches may, like Kusama, lose their grasp on reality. When seeing Infinity Mirrors, the first thing you learn about the artist is that she lives in a mental health facility in Japan. They lead with that intrigue, but don’t supply details. We are left wondering if, in her immersive experience as a High Priestess, she has ever been tempted to cut off an ear.

Yayoi Kusama Soft Sculpture

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Here’s a reminder for August, 2017: I’m offering $25 email readings until the end of August. Also, there is still room in two of my summer classes — check it out!

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Pictured from top to bottom after title: 1) The High Priestess card from the Golden Tarot Deck by Kat Black; 2) The High Priestess from the Tarot del Fuego by Ricardo Cavalo; 3) Yayoi Kusama as seen in the exhibit video. (My camera gloriously distorted her wig color from pink to gold); 4) “Phalli” soft sculptures from the Seattle Art Museum exhibit 

Tarot’s Sexy Hierophant

 

 

Admit it, tarot readers, you get crushes on your cards. The Star is romantic. The Magician is dreamy. The Empress… a goddess. Even the Hermit has that strong, silent appeal. But the Hierophant? Not so sexy. Especially given the images I’ve chosen to represent him here. (Portrait of Pope Innocent X by Velazquez, 1650, and Figure With Meat by Francis Bacon, 1954).

Le Pape Marseille Tarot DeckCalled The Pope in Marseilles-style decks, this card is generally seen to represent the religious establishment and its teachings. If Tarot’s traditional Judeo-Christian references make you uncomfortable, this card is probably not your favorite. But more and more I’m warming up to him. I come from a family of educators. Education was our religion, actually. Recognizing this as the teacher card, as many do, makes the Hierophant more approachable.

Version 2When reversed, I think of this card broadly as our collective unconscious. Not just the overt teachings of a ruling class, but all of our invisible agreements that over time weave a thick fabric of directives for us to live by. Individually, that might be the Devil. Collectively, at least from one angle, it’s the Hierophant. The effect can be sinister, like in Francis Bacon’s Figure with Meat. Or it could simply be unconventional (Francis Bacon, again, I suppose).

But I’ve been known to overcomplicate things. When this card shows in my readings, the meaning is almost always surprisingly specific: a contract, a bar mitzvah, a church gathering. My challenge is being comfortable enough with clients to ask, simply, “do you go to church?” or, “What religious conventions do you embrace?”

I remind myself with regularity that it’s not a tarot reader’s job to make a message palatable. Still, I searched the decks I own — animal decks included — for a less imposing visual representation. No luck until I combed through some Pinterest accounts and found this lovely example, with the Dali Llama as the Hierophant, and a nod to Star Wars nerds at his toe.

(Also pictured are Le Pape from the Marseille deck and The Hierophant from the Thoth deck)

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Seattle folks: there is still time to sign up for my classes this month. August 10th, 13th, and 27th. Come to one, two, or all three — I’d love to see you there.

Tarot Workout: Play it Safe or Jump?

Tarot Workouts are short, real-life case studies to help you exercise your tarot-reading muscle. Enjoy this as a sample reading. Or, if you are a tarot student, read the question, check out the cards, and then step away from the essay to formulate your own response. Read the end later to see how my response compares to your own.

The Question

I did a distance reading for someone who was finishing up a teaching certificate and had mixed feelings about the road ahead. “I’ve invested in this program and have no regrets, but I don’t feel like jumping straight into the classroom. What do my tarot cards say?” She summed up her question beautifully: “How can I best contribute to the world with the skills I have now?”

The Layout

I pulled a simple trio of cards from the Golden Tarot by Kat Black. I asked for the first card to show the main energy of her best option, and for the next two to show clarifying details.Present Day Tarot workout

  • CARD 1: (Central energy of best option) Knight of Coins, upright
  • CARD 2: (Supporting detail) The Fool, upright
  • CARD 3: (Supporting detail) 4 of Coins, reversed

***** Tarot students, stop here and formulate your own answers *****

This was my written response to the client (with details altered for anonymity). Did you see it in a different way?

“The first impression I get from these cards is a sense of being open-minded and curious – both you and the people you work with in your next chapter. I feel like the best path for you, as you suspect, is not the status quo, but something that captures your sense of possibility and wonder. My overall feeling is that this shows you pursuing a very specific project next, once your program is complete, and that this chapter will be a halfway point in your best career path. I feel the cards are saying that this experience – which may seem like a temporary fling at first – will lay the groundwork for new inspiration.

I don’t see what I consider the traditional teacher cards in this spread. Instead, I associate these cards with projects and tangible products. I also see a fair amount of inspiration (and some naïveté) on the part of people around you. I feel like your educational skills will be in high demand, but that you will aim them more toward advancing a product rather than, say, educating students in a classroom.

Version 2The Knight of Pentacles is the main energy in this reading. This card can be interpreted in several ways. My first feeling is that it represents another person (possibly someone younger than you) who invites you to be part of a project. (In her feedback to me, the client verified that she was already speaking with a younger potential collaborator). This can also represent the project itself, which I see as a for-profit company, or some other kind of tangible, earthy endeavor. (Again, this was verified by the client). The Knight can also be your spirit of daring and curiosity as you move toward something that is intriguing and new.

Two of these cards show you challenging the status quo. The Fool shows inspired play, which I feel may grow with time out of the work you pursue next. In this deck, she is literally dancing to the beat of her own drum! The 4 of Pentacles, when reversed, is about letting go of your security blanket. This can be uncomfortable, but with a school book in her lap, the figure in this card seems to say that your learning has given you valuable skills that you can bring with you even if you apply them in a different way than you originally thought you would.”

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If you enjoyed this Tarot Workout, these other offerings may interest you as well:

  • Come to my August classes! No tarot experience is necessary — just curiosity. If you live in Seattle, this is a great chance to do something different for yourself this summer. Check out the details here!
  • Contact me for a reading. For a short time, I will offer distance readings (via email) for a discount price of $25 per reading. This price will only last through August 2017, so email me today if you are interested. (yetta@presentdaytarot.com)

Intro to Tarot: The Anatomy of a Deck

***Note to tarot students: If you are attending my classes this summer, please read this. This information is exactly what I won’t be covering in person. This essay covers the concrete and knowable aspects of tarot. In the classes, we will be playing much more with tarot’s intuitive and magical side. Photo credits are listed at the end.***

You bring your first deck of tarot cards home and are at the start of what may be a life-changing relationship. I suggest you prepare for the adventure by learning the basic anatomy of your tarot deck.

Tarot and poker cards are close cousins — like city and country mice. The two decks differ in size (78 vs. 52 cards / 5 suits vs. 4), but are the same in many ways. For a quick visual comparison, download my Anatomy of a Tarot Deck illustration, and read on.

The Pips

The first forty cards to check out are called the “pips,” and are structured the same as the numbered cards in your standard poker deck. They range from Ace to Ten and come in four suits. Here are some well-known pips from the Rider-Waite Deck:

The four suits are most often named in the Italian tradition: Cups, Coins, Swords and Wands. In that order, they correspond to four basic elements: Water, Earth, Air and Fire. In modern decks, the suit symbols may differ, but their elemental dignity is the same. For instance, you might have a suit of Feathers instead of Swords, but they both represent the element Air. Compared to the standard American poker deck, the suits correspond in order to: Hearts, Diamonds, Spades and Clubs.

If the pips in your deck are designed like poker cards – that is, with pictures of each symbol corresponding to the card’s numerical value — then you either have an old deck (made prior to 1900), and/or your deck is a derivative of the Tarot de Marseille. If the Pips in your deck are decorated with narrative scenes, your deck was most likely made after 1900 and follows the Rider-Waite tradition.

This row shows the 6 of Swords/Spades in the historical or Marseille tradition:

And this row shows the equivalent card in the Rider-Waite tradition:

The Court Cards

Following the pips in each suit come the court cards, which are made up of the royalty figures. Tarot has sixteen court cards — four per suit — as opposed to just twelve in the poker deck. The Jack card you know from poker is replaced by a Page and a Knight in tarot. The King and Queen are the same, though these titles are often altered by the deck’s creator. Depending on your deck, your court cards might include a Prince, Princess, Visionary, and/or Shaman, to name a few. Here is a nice array of court cards:

The pips and court cards make up the bulk of the tarot deck and are referred to together as the Minor Arcana, or small secrets, in the tarot.

Minor Arcana Intrigue

At this point, the two decks diverge. An interesting aside before leaving the poker deck… Over time, the poker deck was frequently outlawed and referred to as “The Devil’s Playbook,” while tarot skated through history with relative ease. Some say that the poker deck was the actual divination tool, while tarot was simply an innocent game. They point to the numerical synchronicity: poker’s 52 cards and 4 suits match the 52 weeks and 4 seasons of the year, among other uncanny parallels. For a fun dramatization of this argument, check out this video by respected cartomancer, Ana Cortez).

The Trumps

The big difference between the two decks is the suit of trumps, which diverges in structure and content from the pip and court cards. Also referred to as the Major Arcana, these 22 cards represent the larger forces in life — themes that we all encounter at some point by virtue of being human.

The Trumps are usually numbered from zero (the Fool) to twenty-one (the World). In the first decks, however, these cards were not labeled or sequenced, and there are many theories about how people may have given the cards cultural rank and order. The modern numerical order is based on a linear story referred to as “the Fool’s Journey” from birth to death. Other systems often applied to the Major Arcana include Astrology, Kabbalah, and Jungian Archetypes, to name just a few. As tarot developed in the early 20th century, there was controversy over the order of two trump cards in particular, according to a big tarot personality named Aleister Crowley. If in your deck, the Strength card is number 8 and Justice number 11, then your deck is in the traditional order. If those cards are switched (Strength to 11 and Justice to 8), then your deck has been influenced by the teachings of Crowley.

Finally, a notable card in both decks is trump number zero, the Fool, which deserves a special call-out. I often refer to this card as the Spirit of the Tarot. It represents curiosity, adventure, faith and mischief, wrapped up in the form of a penniless wanderer just about to step off a cliff. Many say that the Fool worked its way into the poker deck in the form of the Joker, and that the spirit of mystery and magic lives in both decks of cards.


This overview of tarot anatomy was put together by Yetta Snow of Present Day Tarot. Here are the image credits, reading left to right from each row of illustrations:

First row: The Ace of Cups, 2 of Pentacles (aka Coins), 3 of Swords, and 8 of Wands from the Rider-Waite tarot deck illustrated by Pamela Colman Smith. This and most of the other decks are distributed by US Games Systems, Inc.
Second row: These are all the 6 of Swords (aka Spades). From left to right you see the Visconti Sforza deck (c. 1450), Tarot de Marseille (c. 1499), and the Bee playing cards (c. 2013).
Third row: These are all the 6 of Swords. From left to right you see the Rider-Waite image (c. 1906), the Ghetto Tarot (2016), and the Fountain Tarot (2014).
Fourth row: Page of Swords from the Golden Tarot, Knight of Cups from the Dreaming Way Tarot, Queen of Wands from Black Fantasy Tarot, and King of Pentacles from Light and Shadow Tarot.
Fifth row: The Star from Visconti Sforza, The Lovers from the Commemorative issue of the Rider-Waite, the Death card from the Thoth Tarot, and the World from the Tarot del Fuego.
Last row: the Fool as drawn by Pamela Colman Smith, and the Joker from the Bee Playing Cards.

 

 

In-Person Tarot Classes this Summer

Tarot is more than a deck of cards. It is a way to examine the world and the choices we face. It is a tool for strengthening intuition and finding one’s inner voice.

I am thrilled to offer three classes for tarot readers and enthusiasts in August 2017! The classes will be small, interactive, and fun for all. All the details can be found on this page (click here). No previous tarot experience is required.

Please check your schedule and register quickly. I accept payment via check, Paypal and Venmo (details given at registration). The classes will be held in my studio in the Mt. Baker neighborhood of Seattle.

Locals, I can’t wait to see you in my studio! For out-of-town friends, please sit tight and communicate with me. I plan to branch out in the future, and would love input on what would work best for you.

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Tarot Workout: Should I Change Jobs?

Tarot Workouts are short, real-life case studies to help you exercise your tarot-reading muscle. Enjoy it as a sample reading. Or, if you are a tarot student, read the question, check out the cards, and then step away from the essay to formulate your own response. Read the end later to see how my response compares to your own.

The Question

My client explained that she had been offered a job in a different company. With very few details, she asked whether switching jobs looked like a good idea. Her precise question was, “Which position would be more advisable for me to take?”

The Spread

3-card tarot spreadI chose a simple 3-card spread:

  • CARD 1 (Highest potential at current job): 3 of Cups, upright
  • CARD 2 (Highest potential at job #2): 2 of Pentacles, reversed
  • CARD 3 (Most advisable move): 9 of Wands, upright

I used the Pamela Colman Smith Commemorative deck for this reading:

Present Day Tarot Reading 1.jpg***** Students, stop here and formulate your own answers *****

My Response

It’s always noteworthy when a reading points in a different direction than my logical brain. If I’d been asked this question from a friend, I most likely would have said, “go for it!” My personal inclination is to try new things and err towards risk-taking. However, for me these cards painted a different story. Below is my written response to the client.

“It looks like staying in your current job will be easier and more enjoyable for you, while job #2 will be a challenge and possibly too much to manage. The overall advice from the cards is to sit tight, rely on your strengths, and be on the lookout for better opportunities.

I always give advice with a grain of salt, and strongly encourage you to look at each card and check it through your own intuition. A card-by-card description may give you insight as to the choice you ultimately want to make:

Version 31) The 3 of Cups is a card that symbolizes a supportive group of friends. It may be that your co-workers at your current job offer this for you, and/or that while you are there, you have access to fun and support (even if it comes from friends outside of work). You are relatively stress-free in this setting. The other side of this card is that it is not particularly challenging or rewarding. You might be bored and looking for something more.

Version 22) The 2 of Pentacles is a card that shows stress and change. It can be dynamic and exciting. However, when shown upside-down, I see it more as simply chaotic and unenjoyable. That doesn’t mean it would be a bad decision, necessarily. You may be looking to shake things up. If this is appealing to you, I would wager that you would not stay at job #2 very long, but that it might advance you to a different scenario and set of choices.

9 of Wands PCS3) The 9 of Wands is about strength and protection. I believe it says to be cautious and not to act impulsively. It reminds you that you have strength and knowledge that will serve you in either situation. The figure in this image looks outward, as if being open to change but wary of nonsense. The advice that I see from this is to stay put for now and keep your eyes open for opportunities that will be a better match for you.”

Following this reading, the querent gave me the feedback that my input squared with her intuition, and that the reading encouraged her to believe that there could be a third, more promising option waiting in the wings.

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If you enjoyed this Tarot Workout, these other offerings may interest you as well:

  • You, too, can get an online reading from Present Day Tarot! I offer written answers to your questions with a 3-day turnaround. You can contact me via email for clarification following the reading. Email me to make arrangements:  (yetta@presentdaytarot.com).
  • For Seattle locals, I offer classes in my South Seattle studio. To learn about my 2017 Summer Series, follow this blog or my Facebook page, and/or email me to get on my mail list.
  • Read other Tarot Workouts in my blog.