“I’m struggling with my self-esteem,” a friend declares. “Where is my goodness?”
She pulls the 2 of Pentacles, reversed.
She pulls the 2 of Pentacles, reversed.
For Tarot-Loving Seattleites
The Tarot Salon is a place for people to discuss, learn, and practice reading tarot for one-another. The Tarot Salon takes place one Sunday of every month from 11:00 am to 12:30 pm in the Present Day Tarot studio in Southeast Seattle. Each Tarot Salon includes:
This is a casual forum for tarot students, readers, and enthusiasts. Since it is held in my home, I ask for people to sign up and pay ahead of time. The address and other details are sent to you when you sign up and pay.
Continue reading “Introducing the Tarot Salon”
Tarot’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.
Intuition. 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.’
Those 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.
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 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:
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.
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 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:
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.
I have never been a fan of Aleister Crowley, one of the big personalities in early 20th century tarot. However, I am grateful for his contributions. His was one of the clashing egos that led to the breakup of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, an occult group that was active in England until the late 1800’s. The split of that group precipitated the unveiling of its Secrets — including tarot. Crowley wrote, taught, and eventually created the Thoth Tarot deck, which adds layers of astrology and Jewish mysticism to the standard tarot platform. Without Crowley and the undoing of the Golden Dawn, tarot might still be in the shadows today.
As I prepare for a trip to Sicily, I just learned that Crowley spent a happy decade in the North Sicilian town of Cefalu, before being driven out by Mussolini in 1923. He created a school of the occult and housed it in what he called the Abbey of Thelema, overlooking the sea. As it stands today, it looks more like a dilapidated crack house than anything else, and the stories I have found support that general impression. Still, I may seek out the abandoned building while I’m there. Wouldn’t you?
Pictured here are two of my favorite cards from the Thoth deck, which was painted by Lady Freida Harris over the course of many years. It was not published until 1969, after both she and Crowley had died.
I am excited for this trip! I’m flying through London where I will attend the London Tarot Festival of 2017. (Angling for a speaker’s position in 2018, doncha think?) Then to Palermo, where I will meet up with card-playing friends who have been practicing “Scopa!” and other games played with the Sicilian deck — an obvious derivation of 15th century tarot. While I explore catacombs and ruins, and keep and eye on the rumblings of Mt. Etna, I will be on the lookout for visceral connections to my own Italian ancestors, the Caiazzo family. More to come.
While I am abroad, I am putting my readings on hold. But you can schedule ahead to mid-June and later by visiting my online scheduling software.
A group of child-free women gathered on mothers’ day today to talk about and celebrate their life paths. I had the privilege of doing individual tarot readings in a side room during the party. When I do many readings in a row, I expect to see lots of repeated cards, but that wasn’t the case this time. The individuality of the 10 or so friends came through so strongly, with each one drawing a distinct and personal message from the cards. One of the few cards repeated in several readings, however, was the 3 of cups: friendship, celebration, abundance! Thank you to all you lovely women for letting me join your party. What a great group!