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Seeing Into The Emptiness

For the Marseille reader, backgrounds are a bore. Everything’s white / whitish. In some cards, like the Moon or the Tower, have a nice background, with buildings, hills, lakes and whatever else graces the cards. Others, have some elements, usually hills, plants, water, things like that. But in all of them, when you look at the beyond the central figure, you face the white. In some, like La Force or L’ermit, white is all there is, and you either focus on the figure in front of you, or you’re faced with the emptiness around it.

Now I like the white space in the Marseille cards. In an age where every image is saturated with color and detail, it’s wonderful to rest your eyes in something that matters  instead of having to fight your way through a ton of meaningless embellishments. After all, less is more and even though your sight is as keen as a lion’s, all that cutting down will soon dull your sight’s sharpness.

When dealing with the whole 78 cards of the Marseille deck, this white space is important, specially when reading the pips: do the objects have enough room to breath or are they crammed together? Can you devise a path between the coins / cups / spades or clubs or are they placed in a random order? All cues matter here and as with any other language, silence (or emptyness) is there to let you know when one thing ends and another starts.

If you’re just using the majors, chances are that all this emptiness won’t bother you. If you’re like me, you will take a cue from the remaining cards and assume that, unless otherwise noted, all the scenes before you are played outside. But like anything else in the cards, assumptions can be misleading and you should be careful, else you find yourself in the woods, with no light to guide you back.

It all starts with a question

Yesterday, I had a message in my facebook wall. A woman had met what she thought was a promising man and wanted to know how she should handle this. She was concerned because she had made some choices there weren’t that good and she didn’t want to tread that path again.

She was even more concerned, because as a seasoned tarot reader, she’s not used to not be able to read for herself, lucky her. After all, staring at yourself takes a lot, as you need to be detached from everything that connects you to the subject of your reading in order to fully understand what the cards are trying to say to you.

Time to bring out the swords

You can take this from a fully-pledged Thothite: ‘nothing beats the Marseille when what you want is instant clarity.’ There! I’ve said it. It’s really all in the whiteness: the lesser elements you have before you to consider, the better. Your eyes can cut to the chase and reveal the bones beneath in a snap.

My client gave me two concerns, so two spreads were in order: one about her future with this new acquaintance and a second one relating to her lack of vision. This meant that two spreads were in order.

What lies ahead for this woman and her new acquaintance?

The central line was clear enough: the meeting was pleasant and the two were in sync. There’s a good possibility that things might develop into something more, specially with this guy being represented by the gallant King of Cups. And yet… That Empress doesn’t seem too impressed! She’s looking away from the King of Cups and, even worse, her shield is facing our new guy. She’s leaning forward, trying to reach something, so an additional sight card was drawn: the Hermit.

My first reading of this additional card was a classic one: there’s something else at play here. Is she actually ready to let go of the loneliness or is she waiting for someone that has become absent? Questions, questions!!! And this card becomes even more important once you realize that the whole spread is directing your gaze to the Hermit. Surely this is the gist of the matter! But more on this latter.

Given the situation, what she should do was simple: she should open up to the new guy just enough to figure out how comfortable she was with him. If you look at Queen of Batons you will notice that the shield that the Empress has is gone. And more than that, the scepter the Empress held changed hands and is now leaning towards the King of Cups. You will also notice how the eyes are shut and the baton rests on her shoulder: there’s no need to remain alert anymore: things are good as they are. But she’s also facing that Hermit, so nothing’s really resolved. It’s more of a compromise than anything else: “be opened to what comes in, but don’t let go of your stuff.

This idea is also corroborated with the Judgement card in the don’t position: “don’t blast your way in.” Again, things should be taken softly and without too many waves. Roll along quietly instead of making any sudden calls.

Why can’t she read the cards about this matter?

These are interesting cards. The three-card spread would suggest good things, but as  La Force, below, indicated, it’s all about letting go. The 2 of Swords then, can be seen as this bubble she built around herself. There’s still enough room there for her to grow and develop, but what about what comes from the outside? Well, no matter how many flowers there are, it’s still not enough. Look at how the outside flowers are small when compared to what grows inside this bubble. The fear then, is that this situation might break this bubble. The central flower dulls and wanes as all those coins come into play. They might be good, but they sure feel like they’re too much to handle. And with that Judgement blasting in at full force, you can be sure that her bubble will pop!

The Hermit and Danger of Words

When she got back to me after the reading, her thoughts were on this bubble as related by the 2 of Swords. According to her, ‘I don’t really know what that “prison” is, however. I don’t consciously feel it so it’s hard to say.’

‘Well, it’s all in the cards’, I think… and I go back to that first spread and again my eyes stop at the Hermit.

Now, as tarot readers, we’re “educated” into seeing the usual concepts of loneliness and abandonment in the Hermit. “it’s the hermit, the one that leaves everything to pursue its goal of enlightenment”. All fair and good. But that really doesn’t play in here. There’s something else… Something important in the card, that only the Hermit can point to. And, as usual, something so clear and blunt it’s staring in your face, but you’re just too close to see it.

But all there is pictured there is this monk holding a lantern! There’s nothing else except that damned monk and its little light. And it hits me with the full might of a lion’s paw: ‘it’s the monk! That’s the thing about this card.’

The card is called “The Hermit”, but in the end, “Hermit” is just a word. And words have no business in cards, other than to facilitate the transmission of knowledge to the client. I should be hit 30 times for getting stuck in a word. ‘Loose the words, keep the pictures’, should be the motto of every card reader.

So, if you forget about the card’s name, everything becomes clear: like the hermit, a monk will withdraw from society to pursue its goals; but unlike hermits, monks live in monasteries. It’s normal for them to walk down shadowy corridors holding their light up to see the path ahead. And, unlike the free life of hermits, life in a monastery is all about routines: there are fixed times to pray, chores to do, etc etc.

Now routine is something that agrees with the story at hand: as we settle in our routines, we tend to see them as comfortable / safe / predictable. And when something comes to disrupt this routine, we might look at it wondering if all this commotion is actually worth the trouble of leaving the security of our little bubble for the uncertainty that waits outside. The more stable out life is, the less we’re inclined to change it to accommodate all the novelties that might come our way.

Thus, in this reading, the Hermit stands for the contentment that arises from routine. What this woman has is enough for her, or so she thinks. In this light, the QB in the “do” and the Judgement in the “don’t” make perfect sense. She should let down her shield (see how the shield in the Empress rhymes with the space delineated by the two swords in the following question) and allow him to come closer, but not change her routine over this. The fact that the new guy is represented got the KC as him is a good thing: he’s experienced (as opposed to Jack and Knight) and he knows what he wants. So you can allow yourself to relax a little and see what happens, while going about your stuff.

Her “prison” then it’s the routine she settled into: the way she’s comfortable with how things are. As the 2 of Swords indicates, this barrier she erected for herself works for her: the flower inside grows and blossoms. It defines her space and how content she is with it, as well as how ready she is to come outside.
Loose the Words, Keep the Pictures
In the end, it all really boils down to this little mantra. ‘Loose the Words, keep the pictures’. Words might feel safer, but it’s all an illusion. In reality, they have a way of sticking to you and soil things out. Pictures, on the other hand, will always point you out in the right direction. They are there for everyone to see. As tarot readers, we are asked to “see”, not “read”. Even that name, “tarot readers”, is misleading. Maybe we should be called “tarot seers” and just to keep looking at the pretty pictures wonder what might be hiding in there.
When it comes to interpret pictures, everything can be useful; even a white background. Specially a white background. By forcing you to look at what really matters and loose all that doesn’t, that empty space is your best protection against all the noise that might creep in.

Tarot deck: Der Lombardische Tarot

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Connecting With Your Ancestors Through Tarot

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Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about death, dying, and honoring ancestors. I even wrote my November newsletter on the topic. Much of this was sparked by reflection on the recent All Souls’ Day on November 2. I realized that not only did I have no active practice to honor my ancestors; I didn’t even have the vaguest idea about who had come before me.

My parents didn’t teach me about my ancestors, so I realized that anything I wanted to know, I’d have to research on my own. I embarked on a free trial membership at Ancestry.com, without much in the way of expectations. However, I was able to trace my ancestry back to my fifth great-grandparents on my father’s side. It was exciting and satisfying to learn the names of the family members who came before my generation. It was also eye-opening to look at some of the public records and piece together little bits of history that relate directly to my flesh and blood relatives from decades and centuries ago. I even found a few photos of some of my relatives from the 1800s that other members had posted on their own family trees.

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Example of an ancestor altar from Parting the Mists

Ancestor Altars and Rituals

Recently Diotima Mantinea of Urania’s Well Astrology wrote a post called How To Talk With Your Ancestors At Samhain, and I used her instructions about how to make an ancestor altar and hold a ritual to honor them.

Here’s the thing, however: if you, like me, aren’t clairvoyant, then how, exactly, do you go about “communicating” with your ancestors? How do you know you’re making a connection, if you don’t “see” or “hear” anything when you attempt to commune with them?

I get around this by using my cards. Because I am such a rational and logical thinker, it’s always been hard for me to trust any sort of impressions that may come to me during a meditation or prayer reflection. Perhaps the reason I work so well with the cards is because they provide me a concrete visual confirmation of a message, rather than requiring me to trust something more nebulous like an intuition or impression.

In my recent attempt to make a first connection with my newly discovered ancestral line, I conducted the ritual as suggested in the above-mentioned post, but, I also added one step: in the phase of the ritual where you are encouraged to reflect and “listen” for your ancestors’ messages, I felt compelled to pull out my Thoth tarot deck and ask my ancestors for a message through the cards. I explained to them that this is the way I feel most comfortable communicating, and invited them to share with me through the cards.

I was feeling particularly frustrated that I can’t seem to easily receive messages or visions like I hear so many of my magical friends talk about. It’s hard not to compare yourself to others and feel like you may lack some crucial skill or component. What I was forgetting, however, is that there isn’t one way that’s better or worse. What’s important is that you find your way that works.

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A Simple Three-Card Ancestor Reading

I drew three cards as follows:

  1. My ancestors’ message for me
  2. My ancestors’ advice for me
  3. How I can best connect with my ancestors

The messages, unsurprisingly, were filled with love and encouragement and a gentle push for me to lighten up a bit and not be so hard on myself for the fact that I can’t “directly” communicate with them through clairvoyance, because the cards are just as valid a vehicle. Rather than comparing ourselves to what others can do, we must remember to focus on what we can do and work within that.

Developing and cultivating a relationship with blood relatives who have come before you can be a beneficial practice that helps link you to the life/death/rebirth cycle. When we actively think about death and dying, and we actively ask for guidance from those who have come before us and wish to help guide us on our earthly journeys, we can grow in our faith and diminish our fear of death.

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Starting The Relationship

Even if you don’t know the names of your ancestors, call on them and ask them for support. Even if your family never taught you about where you come from, and even if you don’t have access to records that trace your ancestry, trust that your ancestor tribe is there for you and wants to help support you.

Here are some more resources to help you get started:

How To Communicate With Your Ancestors
by Michael Shankara at Gaia

Ancestral communication has been an ancient practice in every wisdom tradition throughout time. Your ability to connect with your ancestors is always available.

Accessing the Wisdom of Our Ancestors
An interview with Sobonfu Somè, a teacher of African spirituality from the Dagara tribe of Burkina Faso

It is important to create a relationship with the ancestors first, but it cannot be a one-way kind of relationship. Your relationship with your ancestors is a relationship that must be nurtured like any other relationship.

Five Ways To Honor Your Ancestors
by Dr. Daniel Foor, Ph.D. of Ancestral Medicine

Direct contact with the spirits of the ancestors can be cultivated through ritual practices; however, communication may also happen spontaneously in forms such as dream contact, waking encounters, and synchronicity. When we have a framework to receive their outreach, their work is made easier and we are open to the enjoyment of conscious, ongoing relationship.

The Worth of a Scorpion

Once upon a time, a great warrior went hunting with the goddess Artemis and her mother, Leto. During the hunting, he boasted that he would kill every beast on Earth. The Goddesses were not happy, and so they decided to create a Scorpio to do battle with this great hunter. It is told that it was an epic battle. So mighty it was, that it caught the eye of Zeus itself. In the end, the mighty warrior fell and the scorpion won.

After the battle was done, Zeus decided to honor the victor and place it in the skies, among the stars. When Artemis and Leto knew about this, they asked Jupiter to also raise the fallen warrior to the skies, which Zeus ended up doing, as a cautionary for humans about the dangers of excessive pride. The hunter’s name was Orion, and you can easily see both constellations in the sky. Interestingly, Orion and Scorpius appear on opposite sides of the celestial sphere and they’re best seen on different times of the year: Orion in the northern winter; Scorpio in the summer. But never both at the same time, just in case Orion gets boastful again and that nasty Scorpio is somewhere near…

The bringer of Death and the gatekeeper of Darkness

The idea that a small, crawling beast like the Scorpio can kill a hunter capable of “destroying all the creatures of earth” is an amusing one. There are echoes of that story of David and Goliath, with the small, puny scorpio being able to take down such a mighty warrior like Orion. Now all scorpions have venom and this venom is enough to paralyze or even kill its intended victims. But only a few species have a venom capable of killing a human being.

Even so, the Scorpio is equated with death. Orion’s death is not the only one credited to this tiny animal. Another example is the story of Mithras, the Persian god of light who slew a bull so that its blood could fertilize the Universe and thus create life. However, the evil Ahriman, sent a scorpion to sting the bull’s testicles and thus, destroy all life.

From Egypt, comes the story of Isis and the 7 scorpions. According to the myth, these seven scorpions have all sworn to protect both Isis and Horus, who were fleeing from the killer of Osiris (husband of Isis and father of Horus). One night, Isis and Horus, along with their seven guardians arrived at the Delta Town of the Two Sisters. They seemed shelter there for the night, at the house of a rich woman. This woman, however, was not convinced by the scorpions and refused them lodging, making them all take refuge at the home of a poor, but well-intentioned woman. The 7 scorpions, however, would have none of that and decided to take matters into their own hands.

Six of the scorpions lent their sting to the seventh, a large bold scorpion by the name of Tefen. Tefen crawled its way back to the rich woman house and stung her son. The son died and immediately the house burst into flame and water fell from the sky, even though this happened outside the rain season. The rich woman was completely distraught. She ran throughout the village, crying and asking for help, but no one would come. As she had refused help before, so help was now being refused to her. Eventually, Isis heard her cries and relenting, restored the child’s breathing by reciting the names of the 7 scorpions, sons or Serket and her guardians. The poison died; the child lived and both the fire and the water stopped. As for the mother, realizing what had happened there, donated all her wealth to the poor woman who had welcomed Isis in.

In China, the scorpio’s venom was part of a formula to create something truly potent: gu poison. Spiders, centipedes, scorpions, toads and snakes would be put in a jar and forced to fight each other in a highlander-styled competition where only one could survive. It was believed that this survivor possessed such a concentrated toxin, it could kill a men in a matter of days.

In old Babylonia, scorpio men were employed by Tiamat to guard the gates that give entrance to the Land of Darkness, to which the sun god goes each night to rest before rising the next day.

As below, so above

These stories are just a few examples of the type of narratives that were built around the Scorpion animal and that ended up being reflected on the star sign of Scorpio. Which is why when people speak about the themes of this star sign, they will usually mention death (and eros, which is never too far behind), the journey into the underground and even their sense of justice.

And Power. Power is big with Scorpios. As you saw in the first story, a scorpion was powerful enough to take on Orion and kill him. But not only that, his power caught the eye of Zeus itself who decided to celebrate the animal and its accomplishments, by getting him a place in the sky to shine upon us all. In the second story, a scorpion is responsible for a house starting to burn and for rain to fall down from the sky on the dry season. Power. Scorpios have power to correct misdoings and power to kill as they please. Now that’s something!

When Jupiter entered the sign of Scorpio last week, all I could think were the stories. Specially the one about the Death of Orion, as it involved both parties: Jupiter (as the Roman equivalent of the Greek god Zeus) and Scorpio. While most texts that I chanced upon stressed how important and revealing this transit would be or what the consequences were of the movement of the Lord of Expansion (Jupiter) into the Realm of the Underworld, I continued to think that Jupiter is entering the House of an animal he admired so much he placed it (again, as Zeus) in the sky. True, there is the revealing and the raising the whole dark / shadow / repressed part of oneself, but still…

Orion died at the hands of the Scorpion, because he was too boastful and attracted the attention of the wrong people. Orion died, because what he bragged around didn’t correspond to the truth. And Orion died because the truth that that Scorpio represented ended up being too much for him. In the end, Jupiter elevates the Scorpion, not only for its power, but also for being a reflection of a Truth so mighty most people don’t resist. Scorpios love Truth and they will wield it as a weapon against you if need be. Be aware of that, the next time you provoke a Scorpio; remember Orion and how lucky you were by not being killed by their sword play.

The entrance of Jupiter in the World of Scorpio could then be seen as a two movement dance: the first act would be the confrontation with the issues that need to be handled / killed, which will obviously lead us into Shadow work territory and all that it entails. But the second act would the the ascent of the Scorpio to the heavens itself, as a recognition of the qualities that make Scorpions such powerful animals..

Now shadow work will most probably take us to those places where we lock everything that we deem not fit for our daily life: emotions, impulses, desires, fears, and more all get buried far away from the light, in the Underworld. Confronting these issues will undoubtedly takes us through these Nether realms, something that — as stories warns us — is not an easy thing to do. The fates of Inanna and Orpheus should be enough to shine some light on how those journeys can change those who end up doing them. But these stories also shows us something else that we might already have intuited with the title: there are great riches in the Underground and now that Jupiter — Lord of Expansion, Sovereignty and Abundance — entered the House of Scorpio is the time to go after them and bring them up to the surface.

As we do this, and again taking the myth of the death of Orion as a guide, we will draw the necessary attention from the outer powers to elevate us to the stars. By killing that which needs to be killed, we are opening the door to something bigger, more powerful. But to achieve this, we need to be faithful to who we are. It is a time of sharp truths and unpleasant honesty which, like the Scorpion in the story, we will be called to face.

What do the cards have to say about Jupiter in Scorpio?

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The idea is to go deep inside oneself and to emerge from this cycle in balance. There are some common elements in the cards of the World and the Hierophant, like the four elements at the corner and the two center figures. So the background remains the same. However, the woman is no longer wrestling with the snake, but has, in the Hierophant card become the sage. The serpent is also transformed into a shadow-person and now lies peaceful at the feet of that very sage. But to achieve this, we need to pass through the Hermit. To walk along the dark corridors of the mind, looking for those things we have left encased and forgotten.

Looking at both the World and the Hermit, it’s easy to see why this cycle has been seen with caution: the shift inwards implies that we have to face ourselves and whatever lies inside us. The horizon turns pitch dark and not even our weapons can shed some light here. You can see exactly that in the card of the 3 of Swords.

But while things doesn’t look good, what exactly are we being asked to deal with? Our motivations and expectations for once (as seen in the King of Cups and the King of Coins). Well… that’s to be expected. If indeed, the Lord of expansion goes Underground, then luck and abundance will get buried. Whatever you might think, this is not that bad. Riches have always been underground. Our food, water and everything else we might need also comes from the earth. So our focus has to change and turn into the earth. To get to those riches, we need to use our roots. Which takes us nicely into that third card, the 8 of Coins: we stop expanding, trying to reach higher planes. We stand our ground, and that’s it. There is a need to be cautious, for sure (5 of Wands) and centered (4 of Swords) while we deal with the naked truth that comes to meet us (Prince of Disks) and how it binds us.

All of this just to say “stop defending yourself from yourself, and open up to what’s inside  of you”. As below, so above. As we turn into ourselves and deal with what’s inside of us, so too does the world turns to us and extends a hand or two to ease our way up. The first thing that comes to us is a sense of lightness, that we’re so light we can almost escape the ground and fly. And why wouldn’t we fly? We’re dealing with the excess luggage so now it’s time to rise. To move up. So off we go.

The second thing that comes to us is we are now able to operate fully. The shadow-woman who appeared in the card of the Hierophant is now glued on the Pope, meaning that for all intents and purposes, this work was successful and we’ve managed to rise from a split personality to a fully working character where even our “ex-shadow” is called upon to contribute. Which again, goes into the whole theme of Riches in the Underworld. And what could be more precious than that part of us that we decided to lock up in the basement?

In the end, the cards say that this will be a time of personal discovery. It will be a time to get re-acquainted with who we really are, ground ourselves and close every rip we can find in ourselves. The Scorpio is once again asked to kill that which boasts it’s better than the rest of the world, but can’t resist a single creature of darkness. Or a single creature of truth.

 

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[Review] The Marseille Tarot Revealed by Yoav Ben-Dov

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Yoav Ben-Dov was an asset to the tarot community who passed away nearly a year ago, in December 2016, at age 59. He studied physics and the philosophy of science in Tel Aviv, was a student of Chilean-French cartomancer (and film director and polymath) Alejandro Jodorowsky, and held a doctorate in the philosophy of quantum mechanics.

He worked on a restored version of the Marseille based on the deck published by Nicholas Conver in 1760 and titled his restored deck the CBT (Conver/Ben-Doav Tarot) Marseille.

He developed his own method of reading the Marseille, which he called the “Open Reading” and which he detailed in a book of the same name.

In 2017, Llewellyn published his comprehensive book on the Marseille tarot, titled The Marseille Tarot Revealed: A Complete Guide to Symbolism, Meanings & Methods.

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I first ran across this book at my local library this summer and wanted to have a look before I bought it. It had been on my radar since it was published but I hadn’t had a chance (or time) to get my hands on it. It wasn’t long before I had decided I wanted to make this volume a permanent part of my essential tarot library.

Ben-Dov said he had three principle aims in this book: a general introduction to the tarot and the reading process, a guide to his “open reading” method, and a handbook to reading the Marseille specifically.

A few things set this work apart from the many others out there on the market, especially given the resurgence in popularity and “trendiness” in recent years of the Tarot de Marseille and the French school of cartomancy.

The Open Reading Method

First of these is Ben-Dov’s method, which departs from a vast majority of readers (including myself) who insist that the question is of vital importance. (It should be noted that when he refers to a reading, he is working in person and face-to-face with the querent, which gives him a lot more to work with in terms of body language and psychological input than is possible when doing telephone or email readings.)

Regarding questions, he states:

“As I see it, even if the querent comes to the reading with a clear and precise question, we should regard it only as a starting point. People are not always self-aware enough to know what exactly it is that troubles them.”

Open reading relies much on the skill and experience of the reader to help the querent uncover what’s “really” important in terms of the reading session. He says that taking a querent’s question “at face value and giving them a definite answer is usually not productive.”

Right or wrong, an optimistic prediction may lower the motivation of the querent to make an effort, as they may believe that success is guaranteed. A pessimistic one could also lower their motivation, this time because they may think all is lost anyway.

I absolutely agree with Ben-Dov’s observations here and he succinctly states the reason why I also avoid making “predictions” for clients and prefer to view the reading session as a process of coming to clarity and insight for proactive decision making.

Ben-Dov’s way of assigning meaning to the cards in the open reading method is something I found particularly challenging. It caused me to stretch my thinking in terms of card reading. I had already worked on elements that loosely resemble the open reading in my work with Enrique Enriquez, namely the idea that cards have no fixed meaning, nor do their positions. This will challenge many readers who used “cookbook” style texts to learn the cards, especially non-Marseille decks. However, it’s a worthwhile exercise and challenge for any reader who wants to develop a more holistic approach to card reading.

We don’t start by interpreting each card separately; instead, we first try to see the whole picture that the cards form together.

Everything Is a Sign

Ben-Dov relies on another concept that may not appeal to all readers, but which plays an important role in his way of reading: “everything is a sign.”

Generally speaking I tend to agree with him on this (ex: cards jumping the deck during shuffling, spontaneous mental images or phrases I may receive prior to shuffling or during a reading session), but personally he goes a little too far for my own taste, truly including everything as a potential sign, down to the querent’s choice of clothing, accessories, and hand movements while shuffling.

I don’t disagree with him that everything can be read as a sign. However, I think each reader has to draw in for him or herself how much he or she wants to accept to read as a sign. I would be overwhelmed if I felt I had to systematically consider absolutely everything down to the last detail in the reading session and surrounding environment as a sign. But the principle here—that meaning can come from any stimulus that arises during the reading session—is absolutely valid and worthwhile.

He includes several practical examples with actual spreads in which his interpretation draws on his own intuitions and experiences. He describes how “usually” cards are interpreted as such but in a particular reading he “felt” it meant something different, based on “something in the querent’s presence.” This could be too ambiguous for a beginning reader who’s looking for hard and fast maxims to grab onto.

His method will also present a challenge for readers who insist that a question provides the necessary context for interpretation. When he provides a three-card combination without providing a question and begins offering possible interpretations (“may be” and “could represent”), it could sound to some like random speculation with no anchor point.

What’s refreshing, however, is that this method opens up new possibilities to readers who have self-taught with mass market books.

Reference for Individual Meanings and Divination

The book will prove useful as a reference manual. Each card of the major arcana is delineated with a large photo and several “functions” of the card. This gives structure with enough flexibility to leave room for individual interpretation based on the open method.

Many readers struggle with reading the pips in the Marseille because they have very little symbolic content, and here Ben-Dov has an entire chapter on how to read them, including a quick reference section of brief interpretations for each of the “number cards.” The court cards have their own chapter as well.

This is a thorough manual that does a great job of multitasking. It teaches accurate tarot history, examining the French and English schools past and present; the particulars of the Marseille deck; Ben-Dov’s own reading method; reference information for each card in the deck; as well as symbolic meanings in terms of colors, numbers, figures, and body parts.

In addition, Ben-Dov’s background in Hebrew (he wrote the first tarot book to be published in Hebrew) allows him to comment on Cabbala and possible uses for Hebrew letter correspondences. There’s also a handy reference table.

The book is printed on a lovely stock, in full color on a satisfyingly shiny and heavier-weight white paper than you normally find in paperback books. At $15 for either paperback or Kindle version, the price is also very affordable. I’m a Kindle fan, but I recommend you purchase this volume in paperback because the tactile quality is worth it.

Did you like this post? Read more of Shelley Ruelle’s writing on the tarot here at Maelstrom Tarot or at her tarot blog, Sparrow Tarot.

Gaining Clarity By Using Multiple Tarot and Oracle Decks

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The Fortuneteller, Mikhail Vrubel

In the past on my own blog I’ve talked about the fundamental differences between tarot cards and oracle decks. I’ve also shared here about how I complement my tarot readings by using other systems of divination such as the I-Ching. Now I’d like to explore how readers use multiple decks of cards in the same reading or in multiple readings on the same issue.

Most of the cartomancers I know own several, if not several dozen, different decks of cards. And most of them, if they aren’t outright card collectors, own different types of decks, not only tarot. Card readers often use various decks to suit their mood, question, or need, such as playing card decks or oracles like the Lenormand or the Vera Sibilla.

Sometimes, a reading will end by presenting additional issues that need further depth to fully clarify. Perhaps the initial question was something that was already generally understood, and the cards nudge the recipient of the reading to push a bit more to get to the real nitty gritty. That happened to me in a reading today, where I was left with an overabundance of swords (!) and not knowing how to proceed or handle that, given that the initial scope of the reading was already complete. You can see this reading at my post What To Ask When You Don’t Know What To Ask.

I’m going to explore this issue further by using a combination of card decks.

First, I want to spend some more time with my newest deck, Rebecca Schoenecker’s Creatures of the Moon oracle.

When you want to gain clarity into a murky issue, it can be helpful to start with a broad question to an oracle to gain a general overview of the scenario and its main theme or themes in your current life path.

Referring back to my previous reading, I ask:

“What are the cards Judgement, 10 of Swords and 8 of Swords trying to tell me about what’s coming into my life now?”

Rebecca’s deck is a unique double-sided one, with a moon side and a creature side. I got it because one of my aims this year is to connect more deeply with the moon cycles and learn about their different energies.

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On the moon side, I got Waning Moon Fourteen. Even though I don’t know much about the moon cycles yet and haven’t used this deck much yet, I can immediately see how the super narrow sliver of a waning moon could easily symbolize the closing of a chapter shown in the 10 of Swords and the step just before the deep transformation and rebirth of Judgement.

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As for the creature side, I got the snake of Courage, and this also comes as no surprise because all those swords look mighty challenging, especially the work that will be required to step out of the psychological limitations I’ve imposed on myself shown in the 8 of Swords. And it goes without saying that answering the clarion call of Judgement requires a huge dose of courage; how else might one have the audacity and strength to rise up from the proverbial dead?

Rebecca’s deck comes with a lush full-color, 296-page LWB (which is neither white nor little). Waning Moon Fourteen is in fact the last waning moon card in the deck. Rebecca says that Waning Moon Fourteen is the skin of Snake. The story of Snake perfectly reflects that of Judgement in my previous reading:

The uncomfortable process of shedding your skin shows that as Snake, you are filled with true grit. You need to trust that change may not be clear, but that the end results clothe a new you.

In fact, the people who rise up from their tombs on the Judgement card are of course unclothed. Rebecca also mentions the symbolism of the ouroboros and the cyclical nature of life and death. Metaphorically speaking, this oracle card reflects Judgement and further indicates a transformative process. She says the message of Snake is to embrace change with courage.

Already now I have more food for thought and reflection. I can move further in this process by bringing in the Lenormand. Even a simple three-card spread can give some information. I learned the following easy spread from Marcus Katz and Tali Goodwin’s Learning Lenormand, which I found to be a good beginner book for me.

For this reading, I decide to charge the Lady card to represent me. The process involves taking the card out of the deck and concentrating on it for a moment to “charge” it. Then, shuffling and cutting as normal, after which, you go through the cards face-up until you find the charged card, in this case, the Lady. You then lay the card before it and after it on each side and you have your three-card spread. (You can increase the cards as you wish, for a five, seven, or larger card spread).

I ask the cards:

“In what area of my life is this upcoming transformation going to manifest?”

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Fish + Lady + Garden

The fish represent money, generally speaking, and increased material abundance in terms of projects. The Garden is about being social and expanding networking and opportunities with others. It could be that change is coming in terms of increased money from work through more contacts.

I expanded it out two cards further and got:

Mountain + Fish + Lady + Garden + Tower

Perhaps this money/social transformation is couched within overcoming an obstacle or sticking point and then needing to become more strategic and long-range visionary in overseeing my career, without isolating myself. Tower can also indicate security from risks and thus could be the natural outgrowth of a transformation towards increased material abundance in work and widened social contacts.

All true things. And, all things I’m aware of but don’t feel the ambition or energy to pursue at the moment. (Maybe that’s why Judgement needs to trumpet his horn and get me to rise up from my “dead” position. But I’m tired!)

Further questions can abound, especially regarding how to best approach the transformation and work with it to bring it successfully about.

When you need additional clarity on a reading, don’t be hesitant about bringing out different decks and different oracles. It can be eye-opening to see how the same message and themes are expressed across different vehicles. You’ll also increase your symbolic vocabulary as well as your ability to translate the imagery of the cards into practical, everyday scenarios. Plus, you’ll be practicing through different mediums which increases your overall cartomantic fluency.

Your thoughts?