Struggling Lovers

Civil Rights, Art, and Tarot together at the Seattle Art Museum

They say the Lovers card is about choice, which means it is equally about consequence. That often overlooked corollary of this tarot card is, for me, the central take-away from Robert Colescott’s paintings currently on exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum. (The exhibit, Figuring Historyruns until Sunday, May 13th 2018). Thanks to Colescott, the American struggle for civil rights will forever more inform my understanding of the Lovers card, and vice-versa.

A Visual Parallel

Because of the composition, the connection is most obvious in Natural Rhythm: Thank you Jan Van Eyck, from 1976 (below, left).

Riffing off the iconic 15th century painting by Hans Van Eyck, Colescott seems to say: Here’s a marriage to consider: Black and White in America. How do you like me now? With a single visual change – the skin tone of the female figure – Colescott opens a door from this composition to the struggle for civil rights in America. SAM’s Modern art curator, Catharina Manchande, says: “Changing the woman’s skin color to black raises issues about power dynamics, gender, and race.” I’ll say. That this is done so effectively in a visual language is the hallmark of a good artistic encounter. It feels similar to that “aha” moment in a good tarot reading. (The contrasting tarot image above is from the Pamela Colman Smith Commemorative tarot deck).

A tarot aside: Clients tend to give happy cheers when the Lovers card turns up in tarot readings. This isn’t a happy romantic card, I explain. It is about commitment, for better and for worse. Richer and poorer. Oppressing and oppressed. Choice and consequence. Still, clients express a flush of victory — it will be different for us!

Back to SAM

The first parallel I notice with the Lovers card is in the 1969 painting, Night and Day, You Are the One (below, left), which is displayed on the 2nd floor of the museum, before the larger exhibit upstairs.

Here the figures are two women and a child, reminiscent of the Lovers card from the 18th century Marseilles deck (right). (Colescott’s detail is difficult to see in my snapshot, especially since so much of this painting is affected by the texture. Go see the real thing if you can.) The child completes the triad typical in the Lovers card: two humans and one spirit. The male figure from the Marseilles card (omitted in later versions of the Tarot), is us — the viewers — looking in. The traditional tarot interpretation says that this man is in the position to choose between two desirable opposites. And while everything about the two female figures seems incongruous in Colescott’s painting, the women are connected like night and day. How can we move forward without fearing each other? How can we both exist, with equal stature, on the same canvas? How can we be equally revered by the viewer, and by one-another?

Almost too much to take

The final piece that screams Lovers to me is almost too powerful for me to be near for more than a few minutes at a time. I return to this room several times, trying not to overhear the incredibly personal reactions being shared in the crowd. The painting is: A Cruise to Southern Waters, 1988.

Colescott cruise 1988What slays me about this painting is how it incorporates the issue of aging – another inevitable aspect of the Lovers card that tends to fall into the shadows. The reading glasses! The dentures! Lust and death! Imagine this image turning up in a tarot reading about your romantic future. Would you cheer?


Surrounded by Colescott’s work, I feel The Lovers in terms of struggle, longevity, and the impossibility of ever escaping history. I feel different tarot connections in the works of Kerry James Marshall and Mikaline Thomas, the two other artists in the Figuring History exhibit. Do you see tarot in their works? Share your associations below.


If you enjoy seeing tarot in the world around you, please check out my Instagram feed.


Tarot Royalty at the Conservatory

To get to know the tarot suit of Swords, I suggest spending an afternoon in the cactus room of a plant conservatory near you. I recently went to the big glass house in Volunteer Park to soak in the energy of these prickly friends.

Here’s the diminutive Page of Swords, which Benebell Wen describes as, “an aggressive but graceful young woman. She is a strong intellectual, with great capacity for learning, great potential for diplomacy, and likewise, great potential for becoming a fighter.” (Holistic Tarot, p. 202). You go, girl!

Page of Swords cactus

Her sibling, the Knight of Swords, is messier and more reckless, but still has a tender side. Arthur Waite describes him as “riding in full course, as if scattering his enemies. … A prototypical hero of romantic chivalry.” (The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, p. 230). Angeles Arrien says this card “represents the inspired mind that does not want to be limited, restricted, or restrained in any way.” (The Tarot Handbook, p 111).

Knight of Swords cactus

The Queen! I found her in the most mammary of the Mammillaria! She has order, finesse and beauty, with a biting sense of humor. Most textbook definitions describe her as angular and refined, but mine has an additional layer of irony. Isn’t this the design my grandmother once stitched on a pillow? What does that say about the Queen of Swords through time?

Queen of Swords cactus

How does she differ from the King? The King of Swords is someone who knows what he does well and does it repeatedly. “…Someone of authority who is on guard all the time” (Thorson’s Way of the Tarot, p 121). Up close, you can see that each leaf of this mighty aloe holds an imprint of the leaf that grew before it, informing its shape and determining a pattern that won’t easily change. Until the spring, when a towering pink flower shoots up from its center, surprising us all.

King of Swords cactus

My prickly d8I can spend hours in the conservatory! All the tarot cards can be found there — sometimes distinctly, but often overlapping in thought-provoking ways. This particular outing was inspired by my lovely d’8, disguised here as the matronly Queen of Pentacles. She took me to this earthy place for my virgo birthday, knowing I would revel in it. (Thanks, Rojo!)

If you want to see the card images referred to in this essay, check out my Facebook post.


Enjoy the Solar Eclipse, Tarot-Style

Here’s a tarot reminder to enjoy the solar eclipse on August 21st, and protect your eyes! (Dressing up my cards is a little hobby I’ve picked up since my cards paraded through the Women’s March in January)

RWS Sun for EclipseCrowley Sun for EclipseMarseille Sun for Eclipse

XOXO – Yetta


The Earliest Tarot Cards

Handmade cards dated 1430-1540. These are photos from my visit to the Cloisters Museum in New York City, Feb 2016. So grateful to the museum for allowing pix!


I documented many more of the cards and dates in a Facebook post on February 11, 2106. Look here for the whole installation:


The sun came out today, and along with it, mountains that have been prettying themselves up behind clouds.

The card to sum up this moment is the Last Judgment card, aka “Judgement,” which tells you that a glorious change is underway. You are emerging from a long, dark gray time, and have the sun’s warmth to welcome you to the next chapter. This card comes up for new jobs, finalized divorces, improved health and more. When this shows in your reading, you are moving swiftly into a promising new stage of life, old negatives falling away like the rain.

Treat yourself to a reading with Present Day Tarot! Visit my FB page and message me (, or email to set a date. Gift certificates available.


Congratulations, All Blacks (all Wands)!

It was impossible for me to watch today’s Rugby World Cup without imagining the fiery suit of wands playing out across the field. The New Zealand All Blacks gave the best rendition ever of the 9 of Wands (with Death and the Ace) in their amazing pre-game Haka:

My friend Ken has taught me that the most common version of the Haka — different than today’s — starts with the words: Ka Mate Ka Mate (It is Death, It is Death) and then Ka ora Ka ora (It is life, it is life). Death, Vitality (the Ace of Wands), and Strength (the 9 of wands) are embodied together in the pyramid of All Blacks teammates. Don’t mess!


Ace of Coins Room in the Arctic Club

Check out the Ace of Coins room in downtown Seattle! It’s in the Arctic Club and is open to the public. It’s actually called the “dome room” — same difference. The Ace of Coins represents the energy source for manifesting things in the physical realm. The earth sign suit, also called Pentacles or Disks, is strongly associated with money and other tangibles. A good place to mediate and ground yourself when you’re pregnant or starting a new business. The hotel bills it as a great place for auctions — I bet!