Do You Have To Believe in Tarot For It To Work?

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I have often heard people tell me, “Oh, but I don’t believe in the tarot.” I’ve heard that almost as much as I’ve had people ask me: “But how does tarot work?”

The idea that one has to believe in the tarot in order for it to work puts it on the same level as either 1) religion or 2) chicanery.

The idea that tarot either does or does not work implies that it sometimes can go right and sometimes can go wrong, much like a car or a computer, running smooth on some days and broken down on others.

In my opinion, there’s nothing inherent in the deck in which to necessarily believe. I think the declaration from people that they “don’t believe” in the cards comes from not understanding what the cards are about and how they can be used, and perhaps fearing them for that same reason. It’s a way to dismiss the cards as insignificant, unimportant, unworthy of faith, silly; and as such, reassuringly impotent, unintimidating, docile, unthreatening. We know that ignorance breeds fear. And doesn’t organized religion often require a firm belief in its tenets so as to keep the faithful in line (controlled, manageable, unempowered)?

Tarot doesn’t ask anyone to believe anything. It simply exists and is available as a tool, as a mirror, to those who wish to consult it.

There’s no need to associate belief with tarot. There’s nothing to believe in.

As far as how it “works,” that’s another story. When I asked that very question to my tarot teacher Enrique Enriquez, his immediate response was: “Who said it works?”

This one is a bit tongue-in-cheek, because obviously those of us who have a tarot practice wouldn’t spend time with the cards like we do if we weren’t getting some benefit. So I’m not dismissing the cards here as saying they have no use or no purpose. But the idea of them either “working” or not working is a loaded question.

I appealed to some of my friends and colleagues for an answer; if you haven’t read “Five Tarot Experts Explain How Tarot Works,” I encourage you to have a look.

It’s important to take the multiple layers of mysterious, imposed potency off of the cards. It’s important for readers to stop insisting that other people agree with them that the cards are useful, special, magical. Tarot is not a religion, it’s a practice. Tarot cards are not imbued with super powers. They don’t either work or not work.

What makes them so special, then? Why are people afraid of them? Why do people sometimes dismiss them, fear them, belittle them, or impose otherworldly powers upon them? Why do those of us who use them keep coming back to them, despite all the misunderstanding?

Well, let’s ask the cards themselves.

  1. What’s the most misunderstood aspect of tarot?
  2. What’s at the core of a tarot reading?
  3. What’s the best way to sum up the cards?

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In the 8 of Cups we see someone actively walking away from a set-up that seemed nearly perfect, but something was missing. No matter how hard this person tried to make things work, to fit the square peg into the round hole, it simply wasn’t going to ever be the way the seeker, the person walking away in the image, wanted it or needed it to be. As such, he or she is walking away from something that he or she invested heart and soul in, but is now letting go of. This person understands, even if it’s hard to acknowledge, that it makes no sense to keep devoting energy, time, heart, and soul to something that is clearly never going to change.

In my interpretation the most misunderstood aspect of tarot, then, according to this card, is that it isn’t about having all the answers tied up with a pretty bow and presented to you in a perfect gift box. It’s about seeking the answers and being honest about what you receive, and knowing when to take action, even if it hurts to do so, because it furthers your personal growth. It’s about knowing when to walk away, knowing when to give up, knowing when to let go. (In fact, I’d say this flies right in the face of the pop-culture notion of tarot as providing neat and accurate “hits” or predictions that give querents the answers and outcomes they desire, or, on the other extreme, cards that foretell of terrifying and unavoidable doom. Both of these concepts remove agency from the seeker. Tarot doesn’t show you what you want, it shows you what you need.)

At the core of a tarot reading is speed, and news. The 8 of Wands is about getting a message fast, about events moving at lightning speed, and about not having enough time to fully digest and comprehend everything that’s swirling around you. At its core, tarot goes straight to the heart of the matter before you even realize what’s happening. You either learn how to dance with this, or you resist it, or you try to rationalize your way out of it, or you try to control it. But at its core, it’s like a speeding bullet. You either consciously ride the fast current of the river, or you get swept up in it and carried away.

The best way to sum up the cards is the 4 of Swords – total silence and stillness. I’ve often had people tell me, after their first-ever reading, that they think “everyone” should have a reading, because it “puts you in touch with your inner self.” Let’s get quiet, and still, and listen, and stop. That’s what the cards can do for us. They can give us respite, a place to be silent and reflect, a place to recuperate and to regenerate, a place to completely stop and focus.

Your thoughts?

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Every Picture Tells A Story: An Interview with Aliza Einhorn

Aliza Einhorn is a recent find. I was over at Patheos a few weeks ago when I saw an ad for one of her astrology posts there. At the end of the post, Aliza had a short text plugging her latest on-line tarot workshop on how to create your own tarot deck, which is being developed in collaboration with the Sequential Artists Workshop (SAW). For those of you who don't know what SAW is, SAW is a school for cartooning, comic art and graphic novels that started its activity in 2012. But more that just a school devoted to teaching the art of making comics, they're invested in bringing more people to comics and guiding people on how to communicate through images. Which is, basically, what we all do with tarot cards. Watching comic book people discovering the tarot is always a joy. Tom Hart, both a comic book professional and the director of SAW and has just posted his reaction over at the SAW's newsletter and it's great.

This is why, when I learned of Aliza's course, I was all over the place and immediately contacted her for a short interview. After all, comics and tarot are two of my major passions. Capital M, capital A, capital J, capital O, capital R. And I will take every chance I have to bring them on. This time, I have invited a tarot reader / astrologer / poet. Which, as you probably know, is a great combination to have together. She will talk through images and words and will spin those into a charm just for you. With her new course, she proposes to bring some of that magic forth and show you how magic is just another word for art.

So, without any further delay, here's Aliza Einhorn, about tarot and comics.

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1) How did your collaboration with Tom Hart and SAW, the Sequential Artists Workshop, come about?

Synchronicity! I was messaging with my friend, illustrator and cartoonist Leela Corman (who is married to Hart) and was saying how I'd like to do another local Tarot workshop for SAW students. I had already done one, a few months before. Literally a second later, Tom asked her if she thought I might be interested in teaching in the on-line SAW school. It felt like it was meant to be.

I've been teaching Tarot and Astrology classes on line for years, on my own. This was the first time I’d ever done anything local and also my first collaboration. Astrology lovers reading this know that Jupiter is in Libra and I have had all kinds of new partnerships spring up during this transit.

2) What is the class about? Who is it for?

I like to say that the class is for everyone! Artists, writers, those who want to create their own decks, Tarot lovers, Tarot curious.
It’s also for folks who simply want to get more in touch with their creativity, or feel blocked, using the Tarot as our template. It’s different than anything I’ve done before, more structured with weekly videos and writing and drawing assignments, and a private forum to talk about it all.

3) How can comics benefit Tarot readers?

Exposure to any art form will benefit Tarot readers because art, good art, moves us on a deep level, just as the Tarot does. This makes us more sensitive humans and thus better able to read the cards with compassion and truth and help people.
For me, comics are like holding a movie in my hands. It’s an immediate, raw experience. Happens so fast and so deeply. The best comics, for me, are like arrows to the heart and I can’t put the book or the comic down. It’s the feeling of not wanting to take the arrows out.

4) You said that reading comics is a raw immediate experience. How would you define a tarot reading?

I really love this question! Although Tarot reading, for me, is art and magic, ultimately I want clear answers, whether I'm drawing for clients or for myself. I want clarity. I want the road ahead. And I want to know what is most likely to happen. I'm in pursuit of truth, more than mystery. And if mystery comes, then I wait, and seek the truth again. So to answer the question of "how would I define a Tarot reading?" a Tarot reading is daily life. Just like I brush my teeth, drink coffee, eat food, work, etc., I draw the cards. For me, the spiritual is practical. And yet I often say to people: I don't know why it works, just that it does. I know a lot of Tarot readers who shy away from prediction. I run towards it!

5) What do you think is the most important aspect when creating a deck?

Courage. To be yourself and to tell your story. Your own imagination is key. This is a theme that runs through the class, but also it’s important to have some knowledge of Tarot history and tradition. You don’t need to be a Tarot scholar, but I think one should know some of the history they’re stepping into.
Still, the most important aspect is YOU and to discover your personal vision, what you want to say, show, within the Tarot context. Every new deck is a conversation with the decks that came before.
There may be folks in the class who decide to NOT make a Tarot deck at all and instead create some other Oracle or head off in a different direction. Folks who do want to create their Tarot deck though will have ample opportunity to explore and experiment and sketch out their ideas with plenty of support. I’ve just started creating mine and class hasn’t even started yet! I got inspired just from the process of putting together the class.
But in order to be yourself and to tell your story and to go deep in that, it helps to be fearless, vulnerable, and allow yourself to feel. Allow yourself to draw (or write) how you feel. That’s the hard part, that letting go, but that’s what will cause you to create something unique and authentic and beautiful.

 

Every Picture Tells a Story, Aliza Einhorn's Tarot Deck Creation Class starts September the 5th. For more information on how to sign on and a freebie, do please go the SAW website, here. For more Aliza goodness, you can check her personal website MoonPlutoAstrology and her Patheos column.

 

My Little Faun

I’ve always been in love with drawing and painting. It’s not something that I’m good at, or ever was. In fact, I’m the only one in my family that can’t draw, or paint, to save his own life. My parents, however, are both very good painters, which is something that I’m really proud of. Specially my mother. She can work with watercolors and oil and charcoal and produce the most interesting pictures. Some of them I’ve been fortunate enough to get my hands on.

The reason I’m bringing this up, is that I wanted to write about a picture my mother drew. A charcoal drawing that was made some fifteen years ago. It’s a picture that I find very special and alluring and even though it is not mine (yet!), I have no doubts that it will eventually fall into my hands. After all, what kind of a panda would I be if I couldn’t charm a picture out of her? 😉

The picture is about a boy. There’s something very primal about it. It looks like a faun with its little horns an pointy ears and his face is very seductive. He stares at me, daring me to come closer, to find out about hidden mysteries and forgotten secrets. He is smiling. I can see him easily seducing everyone in a room with that smile. He knows the power he has over people and finds it easy to play with them, if he so desires. There’s a fire burning inside of him and everything is crackling with energy. Even his hair seems like flames rising ever so high, his energy and power wanting to escape somehow.

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Looking at this picture, I can see a part of me staring back to me. I can see myself as a child who loved to play and to provoke others. Mischievous, even. Someone who can make himself noticed just by walking into a room. He shines and he reminds me of that little kid that shone, defiant to all the world and its surroundings. Looking at this picture, I can see someone that I used to be a long long long time ago. Someone who is still there in a way, even though family and society have done their work on me as it usually happens. It calls to my inner most nature and asks it to manifest itself. To come out just be…

So I just stared at him and asked him “what do you have to say to me?”

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As I laid three cards of the table, The Wheel, Death and Judgement, I could tell that it was important. You are tarot readers, you know what I mean, right? That feeling of looking at a spread and thinking  “Now this is the real stuff! This is what this is really about!”? There is something in the way the cards look next to each other that will whisper this to your ears. Or is it to the eyes? Looking at the spread, I could hear it here. That little voice in the back of my mind alerting me to what was right there in front of me. In those tiny little pictures.

I looked at the wheel and I immediately recognized my little faun. He’s all grown up now, and with no fire in his head. He has the weight of the world on his shoulders. Wheels turn, but this one didn’t. It happens, right? Sometimes, you just look at them and they are frozen. Immovable. However, what did move were all the animals and the angels surrounding the wheel. Funny that. An immovable wheel, but everything else is moving. I started to think how things were spinning all around me in my life. People coming and going. The routines of my daily life. All the various places that I needed to go everyday due to work. And how tiring it could be just to run from place to place; from person to person. That little devil sure has had its due. And maybe more than its due. Does he actually carry the wheel or is he just being hit by that damned wheel? It looks like he is being run over. Specially if one looks at the next card.

Death is walking away from all of this. Of course it is. It’s death and this is what it does. There will be a time when everything in the Universe will be dead, and death will just walk out of it and close the door. Because it is death, so what else is it going to do? So, I’m to walk away from all of this. But looking more carefully at the card, I can see that it’s not just about walking away. It is also about walking over everything and everybody. Which is understandable. This is death, after all and no one (I’m reminded of how misery got the best of death, but that’s another story and we don’t have the time, so let’s just get along with “no one”) gets the better out of it. Death gets to do what it wants to do and that is that. Ah! so here is the defiant bit. Do your own stuff and don’t you worry with anything else. This is you in your power, walking the path that you want to walk. Away from the confusion and the pressures of the wheel.

Which takes me to the Judgement card. Someone is being called from the grave by an angel. Tradition would say he or she is being called to a new life. Stepping into a new phase, one would read in the tarot books. Which seems all good. As soon as I cut with all that mess, a new life will open itself to me. This is one of those times when I’m pretty grateful for not using a horror-inspired deck and having to ask myself if those people in the Judgement card are zombies or not. New life it is, with stuff heralded by the heavens themselves. The three figures in the wheel are here again, now all in human form. My faun / devil is at the right and has turned into a blond woman. His hair has grown back and it is as fiery as I ever imagined it to be when looking at the painting.

This is important, after all. My little faun is daring me to just let go of all the stuff I have in my life that is just dead weight. He’s asking me to cut through it all and revert to the true me. To that kid that got buried somehow, sometime ago and needs to be brought back. My little faun is asking me to become more like him and do the stuff I want to do. For it seems that little kid that I was, the kid that somehow the faun recognized in me is still there. And it’s stronger than death.

Resonating With The Cards

As any book on tarot will tell you, each card has associated a certain number of meanings, which are called “keywords”. These could be single words, but also expressions, sentences or whatever fancies your state of mind. Many books on tarot will also tell you that in a reading, you can get a glimpse of what is before you by putting keywords together. So, for example if you have the Wheel and The Universe, you can assign to the first the keyword “change” and to the second, the keyword “world”. The reading of such a combination would then become “changing the world” or “changing your world” or something like that.

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Choose a different set of words, like “luck” for The Wheel and “fulfillment” for The Universe, and you get a completely different meaning.

And this is just one of the problems that arise by constantly thinking in terms of words and expressions, instead of thinking visually. By choosing a certain keyword, we are ignoring every other possible keyword / meaning. By going with a certain combination of words, by extension, we let go of all possible combinations. At best, we might get a superficial reading. At worst, we might get it wrong, deluded with the interpretation we got.

An alternative way is to just look at the images as images, not as coded text. To think of them as images, as a combination of shapes, colors and patterns and try to figure out how they can relate with each other, if indeed they relate. In this case, we can, and still taking the above example, notice at how the circle in the Wheel card expands in the Universe card and what looked like a sigil is in fact a girl dancing. Expansion can thus be a possible meaning for this combination. Another possibility could be “a detailed look”. Or maybe “bringing forth life”, by reasoning that the cold, metallic wheel has been transformed into a girl inside a laurel circle.

Now compare these last readings with the ones we got by combining words.

Another interesting thing about this particular process is that it communicates with our brains in a way that he is more comfortable with. It allows us to access our own personal image banks and find some other things. Let’s say for example that the Wheel, for whatever reason, reminds you of a compass, and that the girl has a look on its face, in fact her whole body language seems to suggest, that she is lost / looking for something. Then the reading would be something like “finding your north” or “whichever way the wind blows, so shall I go”.

Or maybe the yellow circle that’s on the Wheel card reminds you of a pocket watch. Not just any pocket watch, but a familiar pocket watch. Maybe you’ve seen such a device in some movie. Or maybe it was a pocket watch passed in your family for generations, the memory of some distant familiar sitting on a couch looking at the watch trying to determine if it was time to go to a football match… the girl in the Universe card would then become some cheerleader whose job was to keep everybody on their seats while waiting for the game to start.

Or maybe that circle is meant to symbolize a cake. A birthday celebration. The promise of that special gift we were asking our parents for so long. A present that when unwrapped will disclose our heart’s desire. Or perhaps the Wheel is there to just point to us a coin found by chance on the street. A coin that’s exactly what we need to buy that special something / a bus ticket.

Or maybe it has nothing to do with coins or cakes or watches or anything round. Maybe it’s about the four elements. An exam we need to study? Or the clouds: a bad time that’s finally ending?? Some moody someone???

When looking at images and trying to figure out what they are trying to tell us, the possibilities are virtually endless. And, best of all, they don’t cancel each other out, but can build upon each other and provide countless layers of meaning, depending on how far we need to go. ‘The cards tell you about a girl who wants to go to her parents’ house for Christmas. However, she doesn’t have enough money for the ride back home and is asking people for some help. In the end, she manages to get the bus fare and travel home.’

In the end, each tarot card provides us with an image. In some cases direct images; in others irrational ones. Even so, part of their charm and their endurance can be justified by how powerful these images are. How they can point us at some hidden truth, or some hidden treasure if we only take the time to look at them and try to figure out why what is it that’s there that’s being reflected to us. What is it that is making us vibrate / resonate with that particular frequency. But for this type of work we need to look inside ourselves at the same time that we look at the pictures before us. We become a passage linking everything that makes us us and the mirror that’s in front of us and listen to the communication that arises between them.

The spread before us, calling up to us and making us wonder what’s so special about that particular communication that we get pulled by it. That we need to stop and listen. And keywords, although useful (specially if you’re learning the ropes of the trade) are usually so general, that will pass this by, as they can be used by anyone, anywhere. Not just you, in that particular circumstance. Because, no matter how great they are, only you can unlock your imagination / memory / intuition / connection to that very special place where true insight arises and blossom.

The Christmas Advent Tarot Board

 

For a very long time, I was against having too many decks. I figured that two/three working decks were more than enough for day-to -day practices and would allow a greater focus on understanding each deck, instead of just jumping around from one deck to another. However, this started to change a few years ago, when I bought my first deck mainly because I enjoyed the artwork. It was the Sakki-Sakki Tarot, a cute and playful take on the Rider-Waite Smith deck. There was something special about that deck. The cards were playful; the deck reeked of good vibes and well, even though I would take it and stare at it for hours, I just couldn’t bring myself to use it. It felt special. Way too special to be used in “common” readings and, God forbid!! on others. In fact, if I’ve used it 10 times, it was way too much. This deck taught me that some decks are not for day-to-day situations. Rather, they are to be appreciated and used only when the time is right. Or in a special occasion.

As the years went by, I ended up adding a few more decks to the group of “For Special Occasions Only”. Decks which I felt had such a personal vision or a special perspective. Decks that truly felt magickal in one way or another. And, in time, I learned to use those decks. Some of them, like the Tarot of the Crone, I have already mentioned in previous texts; others, like Emily Carding’s Tarot of the Siddhe, I’m mentioning here for the first time.

You see, there is a special game I do twice a year. Once in July, the Nativity Board, and once at Christmas, the Christmas Advent Board.

It’s concept is pretty simple and derives from the Card-for-a-Day concept: Starting at the beginning of the month in question, you build a board with as many cards as there are days to the actual events: in this case, 27 for the Nativity board and 25 for Christmas (and yes, I’m actually counting the actual day of the event). These cards are randomly picked from the deck and randomly placed on the table. Every morning, you turn a card at random from the board. This is your Card for this Day. Your Special Card. The objective here, is not to make a prediction. Rather, it is to take the card as a guide and try to do your best to do something that not only lives to your reading of the card, but also feels truly special. In short, this is your cue to a very unique and special day. An opportunity to make this day a special event as catalyzed by a reading from a deck you consider in someway special.

This year, I went with the Tarot of the Siddhe.

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At the time of this writing, four days had passed, which means that four cards have already been turned. Day 1, Dreamer Five: Winter’s Bite (fifth card, fourth tier); Day 2, Dancer Eight: Escaping Stagnation (third card, fourth tier; Day 3, Dreamer Queen: The Gift of Reason (second tier); Day 4, Dreamer Six, Insight’s Voyage (third tier).

As an example of what this Board can entice, here is today’s card:

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The two main elements which immediately struck my attention are the boat and the Siddhe who is blowing some air, in order to make the boat go forth. Her hand stands below the boat, as if to give it protection. There is an owl carved in the boat (maybe symbolizing wisdom) and a sword on the sail. We’re in reason’s domain here as air propels the vessel of knowledge to go forth. The card is colored blue and yellow (also colors pertaining to the elements of water and air). So maybe a beach of some kind. The sun seems to be setting, as it’s at almost the same level as the boat. And then there’s the title, “Insight’s Voyage”, which made me think of gaining inner knowledge. So, for the special day… a voyage to be had, probably starting or ending at the beach, which is meant to give a deeper understanding of something. Psychogeography, a technique for shamanically finding meaning in urban landscapes immediately came to mind. I would then start at the beach, near a statue of a man at the helm, conveniently placed near the see here in my hometown of Oporto:

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The walk would then proceed randomly, letting fate or chance (or the winds of the card), carry me to my destination. I would turn when I was told to turn, eventually do tasks (there was a part in the walk where I had to throw a stick into a lake in order to see where next to go) and generally let the city slowly show me what I needed to know in its own time.

I passed through many of its landmarks connected, in some way or another, with freedom. There would be statues celebrating victories against invading armies and ancient prisons known for having, among others, people who dared to think for themselves. I ended up passing through streets with names like “Praça da Liberdade” (Liberty Square) or the the remaining defensive walls. And at every other turn, there would be a fountain or a lake or a view of the river. Water was always present, always reminding me of being fluid. Freedom and Fluidity. That sure seems like Swords to me.

In the end, I took the message to be something like “don’t get constrained either by what others expect of you or by your own sense of identity. Let yourself flow, like a river to the sea or, as I walked, like the sea into the river. Remaining true to yourself doesn’t mean stagnation but rather the ability to honor your essence at every single opportunity”

And that, my friends, is the Christmas Advent Tarot Board.