Family Bondings

As I write this, Easter has just passed. I come from a catholic country and, even though I’m not a practicing catholic, I was raised in this religion. Easter is very special time for us catholics, as it tells us how Jesus after being persecuted and passing through the ordeal of his death, breaks the bonds of death itself to come back to life. It wasn’t the first time he had done so, as the story of the resurrection of Lazarus shows us, but according to the Bible he was the first to transcend Death, to assume his place as the Son of God. And, not only that, he did this while remaining true to his values of truthfulness, justice, humility, patience and compassion. For me, this is why the image of Jesus nailed in the cross is so powerful: I see not the suffering but how far he went in his love for Mankind and in his mission of Redemption of all Mankind from the shackles of sin.

The same theme of breaking free from bondage is also found in the Jewish festival of the Passover, which in this year coincided with the festival of Easter. In this case, it is not freedom from death that is celebrated. Or at least not literal death, as in the Christian celebration, but the liberation of the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt.

It is then a powerful time, when freedom is to be celebrated and the reunion with one’s own with those who are close to us. With those of kin. In Portugal, families reunite around the table to celebrate their union. It is a time to put aside all differences and stick together, for even though bonds were broken, some bonds should remain strong and tight. It is interesting to observe how some bonds are to be broken, while others need to be strengthen. How some bonds can become a self-imposed prison, while other bounds are there for our protection. In a way, Easter calls me to think of bonds and to determine which bonds to maintain and which to sever. And here, family plays an important part.

I look to my family in a positive way. We’re not always in the best of terms. We quarrel and argue, sometimes so much that I feel tempted to just throw everything away and walk out on them. Sometimes, it felt that I was sacrificing way to much to my family and this prevented me to lead the life I wanted to have. Still, I was never capable of breaking those bonds. Time and time again, I would return to them, conscious that no matter how bad things were, my well-being was also dependent on their presence in my life.

When I was writing this post, I did a reading with a Lenormand deck, the Day of the Dead Lenormand by Edmund Zebrowski, a deck I’m not at all familiar, having only used once or twice, but that felt important here, since it was given to me by someone special. It was this connection, I think, that brought me to it and that made me think it would have something relevant to say. But since this is one of my first readings with a Lenormand deck, please excuse me for any short-sightings I may have. As I was placing the cards on the table, I got:

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Cards from the Day of the Dead Lenormand deck by Edmund Zabrowski

The Serpent / The Bear / The Clover / The House / The Mountain

The first thing that called my attention was how the outer cards represented negative things (with Serpent speaking about seduction and betrayal and Mountain reminding me of obstacles and problems that need to be overcome). At the center, three cards, Bear, Clover and House, which bring to mind ideas of protection and security (Bear and House) with Luck in between them. My first reading would then be that my Family provides me with safe harbor against all the things which might tempt me in the outside world. It is also a place where good things can develop (The Clover), since they are favored by the protection of both Bear and House.

As I was looking at the cards trying to read them as a sentence, I got the following: “as Snake tries to get to the Clover, she is stepped on by Bear, leaving the Clover to grow near the House by the Mountain”. So Bear here is both the guardian of Clove and the destroyer of the snake. It is the one who guards against the seductions of the world, the things that seem to good to be true and generally aren’t. By doing so, it enables real luck to arise, for good things to happen, even if they are as unexpected as a four-leaf Clover. That this Clover grows near the House in the Mountain, again says that luck and good things need to be fostered: they need the security and the shelter that the House provides in the face of problems (the Mountain).

And yet, as I felt I needed more familiar grounds, I ended up pulling my Waite-Smith deck and drawing three cards for that very same question:

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The Empress, the Temperance, the Magician

A woman is sitting on her throne, calmly watching as the the plants in front of her grow. She’s looking at the plants. Maybe even guarding them? If so, this seems to resonate with what I saw with the Lenormand deck. At the other end, a Magician is up to its tricks. It’s good that he is experimenting, but as often happens to me with this card, I can’t stop asking “does he really knows what he’s up to?” It is the Magician, after all, and not some sage like the Pope. I find him more interested in doing stuff for the sake of doing, without being concerned with any outcome. If the Empress is the one who guards, I have to assign her to my family and think how often my family watches over me. This, then, means that I’m the Magician. The one who wants to do stuff and have its my own existence by myself. That the Empress is looking over to my side tells me that I’m constantly being watched, which is a good thing when it doesn’t step on my toes. On the other side, I might also want too much independence, too much freedom and try to break the bonds that connect me to my family. A compromise needs to be taken, which is, what I feel, is what the Temperance card is all about. Just look at the angel’s toes, one in firm land, the other on the water. Talk about different sides indeed! Above them, two jugs of water are leveled one against the other. My desire to stand on my own ground, against the protective pull of the Empress, trying to embrace me like a tide. It is a very delicate balance, as it can easily overflow if too much water is placed one of the jars. And indeed, how many times do we hear of families members that don’t get along with each other?

I found it interesting how the same message comes from both the Lenormand and the Waite-Smith decks. Looking at my own relationship with my family, I can understand how they have shaped my character, by allowing me to make mistakes and growing on my own, while at the same time trying to prevent me from going so far away that I can’t return. Looking at this, it’s easy to recognize how the positive aspects of this relationship have outweighed the negative aspects. It is a very strong bond, and one that doesn’t let me go very far on my own (with all the frustrations that come along with it). However, there’s also warmth in there and fondness. And gratitude for a bond so strong that it can’t be severed.

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.

 

First Readings

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There’s something particularly odd about first consultations. Two people meet. They want to make an exchange. On one side, there’s someone with a problem. Something that makes her/him uneasy. On the other, there’s someone who is there to talk to them and try to show them how to overcome said problem. Neither of them knows what will come out of that session. There are expectations to manage. The querent, wants to shed light on hir matters. The reader, wants to give something meaningful to the querent, even if at first he or she doesn’t know what or how. And so the game begins…

Each side tries to analyze the other. On one side, just how trustworthy is the reader? Is he truly capable to look into a set of drawings and draw meaning from them? To use them to say something meaningful and pertinent? On the other, what type of answer does the querent expect? A full answer? A short answer? Does he/she want to actually know what the cards have to say? Or does he/she only want to hear pretty things? Comforting things?

The first question is made. Or maybe, it isn’t. Maybe the querent just asks to open the deck and to say whatever the reader sees… As the session progresses, both parties start to loosen up. To become more comfortable in their roles. The reading starts to adjust to the needs of the querent. And things start to flow…

I’m mentioning this, because I truly find January one of the most challenging times to read cards. The year has just begun and people, most probably motivated by their recent vows to change their life, start flooding my practice. You probably know the type. Someone decided things needed to change, and he/she doesn’t quite know how. So, let’s make it easy… Let’s do a tarot reading and see what the cards have to say. So they schedule an appointment, not quite knowing what they are going to get. Most of them, won’t come back to a second appointment, even though it would be in their best interest to do so. Either because they didn’t liked what they heard, or because they lack the will, the determination to act on what they discovered. No matter how satisfied they left, they were, at best, shown a possible path to follow. Solutions might have been discussed, but nothing has been enforced. That’s the querent job. To act upon what he/she heard/found out and to make decisions accordingly.

But if they aren’t willing to act upon the reading, why do it? Do they want to feel like they actually made an effort, even when they didn’t? Or do they prefer to convince themselves that it is “not possible” / “not worth it” / “pointless” / “preferable to just let things stay as they are” / “the cards just got it wrong” ? Maybe there’s a bit of both. As any reader knows, life is not about static. It is about movement. Balance. About going forth and facing whatever problems we might have as best we can. Sure, we might have some tough times. Some hard challenges. Sometimes, we might face something so big and powerful it almost seems impossible to succeed. But as Nature shows us, if we want to evolve, we have to face these odds. We have to find a way and we can be sure there is a way!! And when we get to the other side, when we made it to the finish line and look back… There is such a feeling of accomplishment and self-development that we just can’t stop ourselves thinking about how that particular situation made us evolve and leave us with the comforting feeling that we’re now better prepared for what comes next…

I’ve come to find out that a first reading isn’t really about giving answers. For that people can have the second and the third and how much more they want. The first reading is about giving something more important: is about showing people that whatever they need to face up /change / address is not only feasible, but also within their reach. About showing them that whatever made them come to a reading in the first place actually matters and should be valued. It’s about giving them the confidence to go out in the world and face things for themselves.

I usually spend more time in a first reading than in any subsequent ones. I like to try to understand who it is I have in front of me and why they think the tarot might help. It is only after this that I open the deck and start drawing cards. Even then, my first question is just “what do he/she needs to know at this time?” I’ve felt this to be the most important question one can ask. And, if there isn’t any time to explore anything else, at least they got the main themes covered. And they can leave with something that can actually make a difference in their lives.

An inner voice

Steven Arnold , “Dream of Transformation”

There was a time, in my life, when I used to have to dream. Images started to take shape. First, in a somewhat distorted form but, little by little, people would appear. Or maybe things or colors. Now this could be distressing, as most of the times, these dreams would find their way into reality. They came as a type of warning that something important was about to happen and soon. And happen they did. You can imagine how unnerving it could be trying to figure out what was supposed to happen next. How I tried to fight those dreams from appearing and the sleepless nights I ended up having in a last minute attempt to escape from them.

In one of these dreams, I was inside a room. There was someone else there. A friend. And some cards. And I was playing with those cards. Picking them. Playing with them. It was one of the most weird dreams I ever had, because it was so different from anything else and so hard to understand, but at the same time so clear and so vivid. I would try to figure out why was this important, but to no avail. At least for a considerable amount of time.

I did learn to read cards. In a friend’s house. In the room I dreamt about. Well, … not exactly the room I dreamt about, but it was close enough to actually recognize it when I was there. And, as I was actually learning tarot, a strange thing started to happen: my dreams started to loose their strength. As I became more and more confident in card reading, so would my dreams soften up and become less threatening. It was almost as if I found a channel to get in touch with myself and access my inner self. I started to learn tarot, because I was fascinated with how some pieces of cardboard could provide the answers to most of our problems. Or… I started to read the tarot, because I was in need of a channel to communicate with myself.

It’s funny that nowadays, whenever I read the cards, I can’t be bothered with meanings. I look into a card and I close my eyes and I wait. Wait for a sound, for an image, for a color… for something to spark my mind. To arouse my intuition. It’s funny, because today, I’m doing the exact opposite of what I was doing when I started: I’m using the tarot to access all those images that would swim into my mind. To consciously access them and bring them forth in the form of an answer, a word of advice or a remark. More than a tool of divination, tarot became my own private way to tune in into my own inner voice. And to help others do the same too. When I started my practice, the most curious thing happened. I found out that everyone had its own distinct inner voice. Sometimes, it would be soft and gentle. Other times, angry and powerful. The deck was the same. The images, also. But the voices would always be different. There would always be different shades of colors, different shapes, different sounds. Everytime, something familiar; everytime, something different.

And it all started with a card, taken randomly from the deck. And I would breath in… breath out… close my eyes…  and listen to everything that came my way.