Panda Talk

About two weeks ago I got to go to Madrid to see live pandas. I’ve been wanting to see a panda for a few years now. Unfortunately, there aren’t many places in Europe where one can go to see a panda. According to the Wikipedia, only five European Zoos have a panda exhibition and Madrid was one of them. Being the closest one – the visit was supposed to happen during a weekend – Madrid was the logical choice.

This all started a few years ago, when I started to feel a close kinship with bears. Not just pandas, mind you, but any type of bear. But little by little, pandas began gaining my heart until they finally became it. My special animal. In a way, they became my spirit animal and not a day goes by where I won’t do anything to honor them.

The journey to Madrid was uneventful. I had pulled an all-nighter, since I was leaving of the 6:25 am flight to Madrid, but that didn’t matter one bit. Inside, I was glowing and trembling with excitement as the chance to see a live panda became nearer and nearer.

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On the way to Madrid. Me looking out the plane with my Panda

The trip to the Zoo happened the very afternoon of the day that we arrived. I went with some friends of mine and with a newly met couple. It seemed that everything sparkled that day. As I started to see the signboards with the pandas, my heart beat stronger and stronger. With every step I was coming closer to fulfilling this dream of mine and, at the same time, becoming more anxious. More nervous. Until I was finally at the panda site and for a moment, the whole world disappeared and only me and the pandas remained.

There were three pandas in two cages. In the cage at the right, a male panda was sleeping; at the left, a cub and its mother kept passing around the cage. We were separated by a glass, since on the day we went there, they weren’t allowed to roam outside their cage. But that didn’t matter. Or better, it did matter, as I felt uncomfortable to see them confined to a closed space. The cub seemed oblivious to it all, playing around on its own. The she-panda felt uncomfortable too, always walking around left to right, right to left. Every once in a while, the mother would go to the cub and lick it or play with it. This would last a few moments, before the mother would become restless again and would start pacing back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

Now, being a tarot reader is all about being able to see the moment when it pops up. To recognize it either in a string of cards or when something pops up in real life. Not just the bad moments or the ones where we feel lost and confused, but also the good moments. The ones that bring us joy and contentment. If there was a moment that qualified , this certainly was it. So I picked up my cards and asked them “what did they have to say to me?”

A three card string was quickly pulled, presenting me with The Sun, The Hermit, The Lovers.

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“You came to us, bringing joy and warmth”, they seemed to say. “We were waiting for you and here you are, bringing your love and radiance to us. Bringing your warmth to us who are so far away from home with only a few leaves to nourish us.”

A message of thanks then. As if the privilege of this meeting was theirs and not mine. But in a way, when we meet someone special isn’t this what happens? Both parties are happy that the moment happened. True, here we aren’t talking about two people. Even so, this was a meeting between the spirit of an animal that held a special place in my heart and myself. A communion of sorts between kindred spirits.

And, as with all good magic, the moment passes and I’m standing in front of a glass watching pandas. The spell had faded on its own, as it should and I was left to wander through the remaining of the Zoo visiting other animals and enjoying my time in Madrid.

As I am writing this, I can’t stop looking at the Hermit card and how it stands out from the reading. true, it’s the only gray card in a colorful spread and yet, it invites me to stop and think about it for a moment. About how things can be accomplished by pausing and taking small steps, making sure with each step of where do I put my foot. The grayness of the background and the lack of any vegetation speak of a solitude so great, but somehow not unbearable. Looking back at my pandas, I’m reminded of how they would spend hours alone in the forests looking for food. You see pandas are slow animals. They eat mainly bambu leaves, which doesn’t give them too much energy, and as such, they tend to keep to themselves and avoid any unnecessary use of energy.

Keeping this in mind, the card of the Hermit seems to say something more. it seems to tell me that my path is slow and that I should understand the value of slowness. The kid in the Sun card can come charging carrying his dreams and celebrating the light above him. But this is not the whole of the story. Whatever dreams I might have, I still need to stop and watch where I’m going. To take time. It’s as if Father Time is my ally and that if I want to achieve my goals, I better start walking instead of running. In a way, this is what happened here. I waited until an occasion presented itself to meet my pandas. The magic of the moment came not because I met them, but because I took the time to nurture our relationship and to slowly build it. Until that moment where I finally got to be face-to-face with them. When Heaven and Earth met, and each was looking to each. The cub to the mother to myself. Me to both of them.

Discovering the Magical World of Ellen Lorenzi-Prince

It’s not everyday that a deck grabs you by the balls and leaves you speechless. It’s even rarer when the same artist manages to do it again and again with every deck she puts out. And yet, this is exactly what happens to me every time I get my hands on one of Ellen Lorenzi-Prince’s work. With the forthcoming release of the third edition of the Tarot of the Crone and the reprint of the Tarot of the Dark Goddess, this is exactly the time to spread the word about this wonderful artist.

My first exposition to Ellen’s work came with the Tarot of the Crone. Unlike most decks out there, this one fulfilled all my personal needs. The lines were simple and clear. The colors added to the feel of the card, without overwhelming it. The human figures had expression and body movement. In fact, you could actually feel that these scenes were happening right there in front of you. Even better, the figures were facing us, the readers, inviting us to take our place among them and participate in what they were doing or, perhaps, confronting us with issues unresolved. But the most important thing of all, the one that actually cuts the deal for me is “do these pictures tell a story?” And well… they do! They spoke of ancient mysteries, of our connection to nature and the part women played in that process. They reminded us of what we once held sacred. How the elements of earth, fire, water and air had their role to play in our lives. And how, somewhere along the line, we had severed that connection to revere gods of electrons and statistics.

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The Tarot of the Crone, by Ellen Lorenzi-Prince. 2nd edition.

The tarot of the Crone because an instant hit with me. For months, I would use it for every reading I would make, its voice whispering “Break down the mold. Go back to the basics and see where the important stuff lies.” Having started my tarot path as a full-pledged Thothite, this deck delivered the first major clue that the esoteric system with its elegant, complex and clockwork mechanics might not be as formidable as it seemed. Instead, I was asked to look below to the earth and to discover the magic in the little things that Nature continuously throws at us. And for that, I was eternally thankful. Click here for a glimpse of the kind of insights that I would get from the Tarot of the Crone.

A few months later, her second deck, the Dark Goddess Tarot, arrived. The deck presented images of 78 entities – as they aren’t all goddesses  – drawn from various mythologies and legends from around the world. I remembered being excited with this deck because one of the entities portrayed was that of Tlazolteotl, one of the goddesses that had a big impact on my life at that time. The inclusion of Tlazolteotl in the deck made me wonder who else might be in it. And while some of the more popular goddesses have found their way there – like, for example, Shekmet, Isis, Hecate (as Phosphorus), Aphrodite, Kali or Santa Muerte – a number of other interesting, even if less known, entities are there.

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Cards from the Tarot of the Dark Goddess, by Ellen Lorenzi-Prince.

In all, these 78 cards bring us tales of love, vengeance, loss, pain and fury. If the Tarot of the Crone spoke about our connection about Nature and how far we’ve deviated from it, the Tarot of the Dark Goddess offers us a way back. By following these entities, learning their stories, hearing their advice and acting upon it, we can trace our way back to that communion with the natural world that was pictured in the Tarot of the Crone.

Coincidently or not, the first card of the deck, the Fool is attributed to Sheela Na Gig, figurative carvings of naked women with an exaggerated vagina, that are found throughout Great Britain and Ireland in churches, castles and other buildings. According to the LWB (Little White Book) that accompanies the deck, this card asks us to “Dare to come back to where you began”. For the last card of the deck, the Hag of Earth, Ellen gave us a painting of She Who Watches, a woman turned into stone by a trickster spirit so that she could fulfill her desire to be and stand by her people forever. Referring again to the LWB, the message Ellen gave to this card is “Remember history or more will be lost”. In-between, there’s 76 cards to leads us to this process of journeying back, once we decided to pass the Fool’s invitation.

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The Fool and the Hag of Earth, from the Dark Goddess Tarot. 

With her next deck, we journey to Ancient Creete, home of the Minoan civilization. 78 cards, painted in the style of minoan images, while still maintaining that characteristic Ellen line, propose to show us aspects of the day-to-day lives of people that are in communion with Nature, the Goddesses and themselves. In a sense, this is the next stage of Ellen’s story. After the shamanic visions of the Tarot of the Crone and the journey back home with the assistance of the  various goddesses and mythical figures that populate the Tarot of the Dark Goddess, we suddenly arrive to where we’re supposed to be. And it’s a place filled with light, where everything feels in harmony with everything else. Looking at the images, one can’t stop to wonder why did we ended up diverging from this.

 

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Cards from the Minoan Tarot. Art and conception by Ellen Lorenzi-Prince.

More or less at the same time, The Kali Tarot Prayer Cards were released. This deck, a set of 22 cards fashioned after the Major Arcana of the Tarot, gives us a glimpse of the work Ellen did with one of the Dark Goddesses present in the her second deck and how these entities can help us navigate to the places suggested by both the Tarot of the Crone and the Minoan Tarot. While this deck can also be used in readings – and to devastating results – it is a  a meditation tool that the deck shows all that its capable of. In every card there’s a painting corresponding to an aspect of Kali. An aspect that somehow can be framed as one of the Major Arcana of the tarot. All the pictures are presented as they are. With no names or numbers to indicate to each the Major Arcana they belong. In what feels like a conscious choice, we are asked to consider the images as they are. To truly read them as images, not as an assortment of keywords or any other tarot luggage that might get in the way. Behind each card, along with the indication of the Major Arcana, there’s a prayer to the goddess. A message, if you will of how we can connect to that goddess or how that particular aspect can help us with our issues.

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Cards from the Kali Tarot Prayer Cards. Art and conception by Ellen Lorenzi-Prince.

In all, Ellen’s work with the Tarot is unique and deserves your attention. So give yourself a treat and treat yourself to one of her decks. You will not be disappointed.

 

Finding Cards in the Wild

Pretty much every card reader I know finds cards on the ground. Now, this could be a “chicken and egg” sort of thing: which comes first – the reader looking for cards or the cards finding the reader? Personally, I don’t ever actively “look” for cards. But, at the same time, I always pick them up when I see them on the ground. Does this happen to other, non-cartomantic people? Perhaps. But no one else in their right mind would pick up a card off the ground. That’s why people like us exist.

I like the phenomenon of finding cards “in the wild”, so to speak, because it reminds me of a larger concept—that of paying attention. Miguel and I (and both of my tarot mentors) always advocate for simply LOOKING at the cards as the main foundation for reading them. Enrique used to always say to me, “What do you see?” and then if I got too caught up in a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, he’d say “Shelley, just LOOK at the card, don’t read it.”

The photo above is a series of four cards that crossed my path, in the sequence in which I found them. The Five of Cups came one day all on its own, then the 2 of Diamonds, 10 of Spades and – UNO card! – came one after the other on one particular walk.

Can we read anything? Can we apply meaning to things that apparently have no inherent meaning?

Reading cards is like this. We are presented in a completely spontaneous—but conscious and aware—manner with images on paper. We are then charged with telling the story they convey. Although there are certain baseline “meanings” that come from long lines of cartomantic tradition, as far as I know, no one reads UNO cards. And yet, it begs the question: why not?

Exercises like this are useful because they free up our mental space to stretch and expand, allowing us to PLAY with cards and LOOK at them.

We can read this line as a time-sequence of events. Five of Cups to Two of Diamonds to Ten of Spades to UNO – what shall we call it? – going both ways? Reversing course? Twisted in two different directions? You can see how symbolism depends on the interpretation you give to it, based on the context around the question and the surrounding cards.

Here, no question was asked, other than my simple presence on the face of the Earth and being in my environment. Can we remain open to receive messages even when we don’t ask for them?

While developing a tarot teaching course, I created a related exercise. I’ll reprint it here, so you can try it if you want. Let us know how it goes by writing a comment after you complete it.

And by all means, share your interpretations of my cards in the wild! No wrong answers.

When I wrote the following exercise, I hadn’t seen a playing card on the ground for a long time, probably a year or more. What do you think happened after?

Give it a try.

The art of paying attention: can you make something appear?
Some card readers love to find playing cards on the ground. Do they find the cards because they’re actively looking for them, or do the cards find them? Are there cards everywhere that people just don’t notice? Do you create the event by “willing” it to happen? Over the next week—seven days from the time you’re now reading this and bringing the idea into your conscious awareness—are there cards that might cross your path?
Journal exercise:
After seven days, note in your journal whether or not you found any playing cards cross your path this week. If not, do you think it was because you weren’t actively looking or searching them out, or because you simply weren’t paying enough attention? If yes, do you think it’s because you were specifically looking for them, or because you were paying more attention to details in your surroundings in general? Or even because you simply forgot about the exercise and weren’t attached to the outcome? Can we “will” an event to happen, like noticing a playing card, just by bringing it to our conscious minds and focusing on it? Or is it just the opposite: bringing something to our conscious awareness and then letting go of it? How much of our noticing things is random, and how much is intentional?

Of Pandas, Death Gods and Birthdays Presents

As some of you might know, I’ve recently celebrated my birthday. And, amongst the various presents I got, there was one that felt very close to heart: a box. What made this box so special was that it was specially made for me. A reminder of what I am and what I can become. A place where I can go into to rest or to gather my strengths and even find help for problems that might arise. A talisman, if you’d like.

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On the top, there are three black spots on a white background, which represent the black spots of the giant panda, an animal I find very close to my heart, up to the point of seeing myself as a sort-of panda. The same spots are repeated on the bottom part of the box.

On the sideways, there were a mentions to two cards, a Hoodoo deity and my astrological sun sign. As you can see in the picture above, the words “the fool” and “The World” are in consecutive sides of the box, linked “over the abyss” by a line that stretches from the letter L of the fool to the letter “T” in “The World”. It reminded me of a jump of faith, the jump the fool makes so many times into the unknown, with due to carelessness or to faith. Since the words are joined, I like to think that in this case, it is because he believes in his goals. He goes after them not stopping just because there might be a problem or two. Your mind is set on your goal. Your path is drawn in the sand. Follow it, no matter where it takes, and let both your heart and your vision guide you right into your goal. Confidence. Faith. Adventure. Vision. These are some of the things I take from this. I like it that there is no dog. No need of warnings, as if nothing bad can come of it. In fact, the only animal is the panda, which has its similarities with the fool. Go forth and reach your goals, knowing you’ll stay true to yourself, this seems to say. Go forth and be yourself.

Be yourself. Be a Sagittarius. Be blessed by Jupiter, and dream of the sky. Shoot for the stars, the arrows seem to say. Go after your dreams. I’ve never seen this Jupiter sigil before. And, from what I’m told it’s a modern sigil redesigned by Jason Miller from the classical planetary sign. If it is, they sure did a good job. The lines reaching upwards again brings me that reaching for the sky. But the sigil also reminds me of a flame. Burning with passion and desire. A giver of light and warmth.

And, on the forth side, the Veve from Baron Samedi. I first encountered Le Baron when I saw Nick Philips and Kim Huggens’ Sol Invictus Tarot, and I was immediately drawn to the card. I was surprised to find it was a death god, as the card seemed to be about parties and drinking and sex and generally having a good time, all things I enjoy doing. But then I learned that he wasn’t your typical death god. Sure, he could be moody and serious when necessary, but treat him right, give him a cigarette and a nice drink and things will go as smoothly as a nice cold drink on a hot summer day.

Baron Samedi, or "the Nurturer of Wands", from the Sol Invictus Tarot
Baron Samedi, or “the Nurturer of Wands”, from the Sol Invictus Tarot

 

As attracted as I was to the card, I ended up working with him. It seemed so easy to do so. Just thinking of him and lighting a cigarette or having a drop or two of my favorite drink, a fortified wine we have around these parts called Favaios (do try it, if you have the chance) and there he is …

But a box has 7 sides and I’ve only six. The six external sides of the box. The ones that are visible from the outside. Which leaves us the inside: the box came empty and for it was up to myself to recognize it as mine and make it mine. If it truly was to become a reminder, a talisman, so it was up to me to charge it and fill it with my stuff. With everything that I found it appropriate. But how could it be any other way? It’s my energy that has to stay there. Mine and everything else I hold personal or precious or of importance. Mine to fill with olive tree branches or cigarettes or rings or figurines or anything else I might fancy. And so it was. It so it remains. A little treasure trove of everything I hold dear. And personal. And myself.

 

Could You Help Us Create a New Queen of Cups?

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Yes… That’s the original painting you’re seeing here. Poorly photographed by yours truly in a dark room with no flash, so there you go. As for the how… it was a few months ago, at the Biennalle in Venice. As some of you might recall, a few of the Original paintings for the Thoth deck were part of the main exhibition, the aptly titled “The Encyclopedic Palace” or, as I prefer to call it, the En-Cyclop-Edic(t) Palace, a truly wonderful showcase of what human imagination is capable of.

Anyway, the subject of this post is not to talk about the show, but to tell you about a wonderful reading I had the privilege of giving today. Or, more up to the point, of one of the themes that got asked.

The consultation started as I usually start with my readings. “What is the most important thing I need to know right now” which then evolved into various particular questions regarding the querent’s life, a young woman in her thirties. At the end, when we were about to close the session, she popped out the question “Should I let Magic back into my life?” (Actually, the exact word she used was “Esoterism”, but what she really meant was Magick, as the cards so plainly expressed).

So I drew three cards from my ever so faithful Thoth deck and got

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And as always, the cards seek for themselves, and better than any words could do. We have Queen of Swords / Ace of Wands / Ten of Disks. And here’s the first special thing about the reading: you’ve got the cards that both open and close the Minor Arcana in a three card reading!!! And both of them have a representation of the Cabalistic Tree of Life. As tongues of fire, in the upper half of the Ace of Wands, or as metal coins filling out the ten of disks. She was offered a choice. A choice between the Ace of Wands and the Ten of Disks. Between the Primordial Fire and the security of the mundane; the gift of creativity or the security of the Earth. The vibrant ascending energy of the Wands or the dull free-falling coins. It was one of those questions where you really can’t give an answer, rather you should point out the available paths and where they might lead you. Which was exactly what I did.

But then I got curious. What would happen if she did indeed embrace Magick back into her life? I shuffled the deck a little more and got for the reading the King of Cups / Three of Cups / Queen of Cups.

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What an odd thing to get. The Royal Couple of Cups with the Three of Cups in between… Her attention was first drawn into the three of cups, which she saw as “Light”. Never-ending light. To which I added the balance of the card. It’s an odd number (three) but every element is placed in such a way that the picture is balanced. And then there’s the never ending flow of waters and the cups made of raspberries and you have this feeling of fulfillment, of nurture it truly feels like the Lord of Abundance, as Crowley put it. And the Queen of Cups, I could only see it as a preliminary stage into what could one day become a High Priestess.

Have you ever wondered how some cards seem to repeat the same themes with the same motives over and over? This is how it felt when I saw this Queen of Cups. As an embryo for something that can turn out to be truly special. Here’s the two cards side by side:

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And these two cards, which were laid side by side so that she could see what I meant, had such a mesmerizing effect that she ended up taking both cards with her. She just couldn’t stop watching.

Getting to the gist of the post, here’s what I wanted to do today. To ask you, friends and readers and all tarotists or otherwise magickal people (which, of course means every single one of you) to write down one or two sentences in the comments below about  what it means for you to let magick inside of your lives.

Why? The magickal scene here in Portugal is appalling. Even though we are one of the oldest countries in Europe and even though we had contact with practically every major magickal culture there is in the world (African, Indian, Arabic, Phoenician, Greek, Roman, Pre-Colombian, Chinese, Japanese, Norse, Gaelic, etc, etc), what most people have access to is a mash of wishy washy New Age/Saint Cyprian kind of thing. The low level Esoterica. Something that doesn’t really translate all the vibrancy and life of that Ace of Wands. Or the soft energy of that Queen of Cups.

It can be a poem. It can be an observation. Or a thought. It can be whatever you want. A gift from all of us to someone who through a tarot reading rediscovered a spark within herself.