How Tarot and I-Ching Work Together

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If you use tarot for divination, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t explore other systems of divination as well.

Although runic divination is on my bucket list (and if it’s on yours as well, enjoy this gorgeous post from Camelia’s archives, Renewed (M)antics), the complementary system I use most often with tarot is that of the I-Ching, or the Book of Changes.

Because my tarot practice is largely based on the principles of humanistic psychology, empowered decision-making and self-determination, it was only natural that I would discover the I-Ching in the course of my reading and research over the years. I came to this system of divination by way of the work of Carl Jung, who was working with the oracle some 30 years prior to meeting sinologist Richard Wilhelm. Wilhelm’s translation of the I-Ching remains one of the most well known.

For those of you who know not a thing about the I-Ching, let’s back up for a moment.

What is the I-Ching?

The I-Ching is a book that, according to my favorite I-Ching translator, the Taoist Master Alfred Huang, existed more than two thousand years before Confucius (ca. 551-479 B.C.). Just think about that for a moment. Ancient doesn’t even begin to describe this work.

Huang says the I-Ching was originally a handbook for divination, and only later, once Confucius wrote his commentaries, did it become a book of ancient wisdom. He goes on to say:

It is a book that not only tells one who consults it about the present situation and future potential but also gives instruction about what to do and what not to do to obtain good fortune and avoid misfortune. But one still retains free choice.

Hence it becomes clear that this system could complement a tarot reading quite well.

How does the I-Ching work?

The Book of Changes is divided into what we might refer to as chapters, each of which is called a hexagram (in Chinese called a gua), which is a symbol that is arrived at after a systemized ritual that provides six lines. I often think of each hexagram in much the same way as a tarot card, or perhaps even an entire tarot reading in and of itself, and the ritual, such as a coin toss, as the shuffle.

There are 64 hexagrams in all, and each is formed of two trigrams, of which there are eight in all. Each trigram is named such because it is composed of three lines. The readings go into numerous possible permutations because each of the lines can also be determined through the casting process to be “changing” and this adds more depth to the overall reading and also can comment on possible future outcomes.

How can I-Ching complement a tarot reading?

Rather than this being a tutorial on the I-Ching, which is far beyond the scope of this post, I’d like to share with you how I use the I-Ching as part of my overall practice.

I find that the tarot and I-Ching provide complementary messages that overlap only in how they are able to pinpoint and highlight different aspects of the same question.

The tricky part is when the client hedges in identifying the meaning or wants to avoid the message.

I was looking for a question and at the moment I was writing this post I got a text message on my desktop and started chatting with an acquaintance. I asked if he had any pressing questions, and he agreed to be a willing participant in my experiment, but didn’t give any details about his situation or context.

His question for the cards was simply:

“Which is stronger: my desire to change or my fear of leaving?”

I don’t know much about this person at all; he’s an acquaintance, but someone I recently met and who isn’t very forthcoming about his personal life, so there’s really no way for me to hypothesize much about the meanings of these cards as they apply directly to him. He didn’t offer up much by way of what resonated, either, so we’ll just have to go on theory and practice.

In any case, I decided to go for an old-fashioned A or B for this one. When you have two options, it’s a nice way to put it out on the table and get a baseline idea. A (left) being “desire to change” and B (right) being “fear of leaving.”

Here’s what came up:

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I tell him: look, your desire to change is stronger. And I go on a little bit about the element and characteristics of the Knight of Wands, which I won’t go into here. That’s just a whole lot of fire, so, that desire for change is literally burning strong.

But you want to know what really intrigues me about these two cards? The story. Right? Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

I go: “Here’s the thing. Who’s the woman? Because she’s tied to your fear of leaving.”

Now, generally speaking I don’t always assume court cards are real people, but when you’ve got two court cards of the same suit and close in age (woman slightly older or more mature here), you’d have to be blind not to make the connection, amirite?

We were chatting online as I read the cards. I asked no less than four times who the woman was or if there was a woman in the middle of whatever this question was about, and it got DODGED and DODGED and DODGED like a mean game of dodge ball and let me tell you I could not get a hit on this guy to save my life. So I let it go. As an out, I suggested it could be “interior conflict” rather than a real person, and he latched onto that. But you see, we already know there’s inner conflict: it’s at the heart of the question itself. I just provided it as a comfortable place to rest. It’s not important for me to force a client to see what I see. I make suggestions, and like spaghetti on a wall, I let what sticks, stick. It’s their reading, not mine, and the bottom line is that clients will see what they’re ready and willing to see.

I say: “Look, your desire to change is so strong that you’re actually riding away already. And you’re not looking at this woman, and she’s not looking at you. You’re looking in opposite directions. But you’re actively moving away while she’s just sitting there, more stable, more calm, more mature in her inner fire.” (A note on the Knight of Wands, FYI, at least according to my experience with the RWS deck: if you ever get a question about love, this is your quintessential player. The Knight of Wands in a love context often really just wants to play the field and does not want to settle down to save his life. He needs freedom, and even if that’s a psychological hang-up a lot of times, it comes out in a perpetual string of affairs because there’s a restlessness and a need for adventure.)

I say: “Ok, let’s do an I-Ching reading. How about ‘What’s the best thing for me to do now?'”

In my practice, I write the hexagrams I cast on pieces of paper as I’m doing them. Here’s what came up:

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Without going into the specifics of method (I actually just used three US quarters I found lying on my desk), here are the themes that emerged:

What’s the best thing for me to do now?
This gua expands on the truth of avoiding contention. It talks about how conflict and contention is a part of life, but it must be resolved in order to move forward. Huang: “Generally, dispute arises from one’s mean intention and overly self-willed conduct” (italics mine: Knight of Wands, anyone?) “lacking flexibility in considering other people’s situations.”

The idea here is to find common ground, to try to see eye to eye, and there’s a special focus on trying to clear some sort of blocked truth.

I go back to this not seeing eye to eye, as we saw in the tarot cards, not seeing each other, not looking at each other. “Who’s the woman?”

(I imagine the conflict is with this woman.)

I say: “Didn’t you have a girlfriend? Do you still have a girlfriend?”

He says: “Yes, but we hardly ever see each other.”

I about die. I go “AH. Right.”

I mean, people, really?

When I point out that this is what the cards have been trying to show him, he says, “That’s too simple.”

[My greatest tarot teacher ever, Enrique Enriquez, taught me many things, but one of the recurrent themes of my work with him was this: “Shelley, you need to be dumb to read the cards.” Every time I’d complicate things, he’d remind me BE DUMB. Meaning: read what you see. Don’t embellish, don’t overthink, don’t complicate. Just read.]

Anyways, you get the point. It was like a dog chasing its tail.

If I had to craft a story based on these narratives, I’d say there’s some sort of decision going on deep in this man’s psyche and on the surface of his mind that he’s wrestling with, and this woman is part of the fear that’s attached to whatever it is he means by “fear of leaving.” It doesn’t much matter, though, this stated fear, because he’s already mostly out the door anyways. She seems pretty cool with it, after all, she seems to accept his restless, playboy nature. Perhaps she has her eye on someone else. (I should have and could have tried Isabel’s sight card trick here. Damn!)

At the heart of this, and where the I-Ching comes in with specifics, is in pinpointing this need to find common ground, resolve disputes, and “unblock” truth before moving on. It’s almost as if it’s a shame, as if these two people are two pieces of a puzzle that would have otherwise fit together, if he weren’t so intent on running away. In fact the man himself made an interesting unsolicited comment at one point: “But if the woman had come up first, they would have been looking at each other.”

Indeed. And there wouldn’t be any question then, would there?

Hilary Barrett calls hexagram 6 “Arguing” and states “You’re in dispute with how it is.” (Italics hers.) The two moving lines five and six show that this is coming to a head anyways (he’s already riding away): “you have truths to seek and aspirations to follow, so make yourself heard” (Barrett, line 5); and yet, line 6: “there is no such thing as a final victory.” I take this to mean that running away isn’t going to necessarily help you find what you’re searching for, but, as Barrett says (line 6): “This is not the way to leave Arguing behind; it’s the way to trap yourself in a struggle for scraps, constantly hampered by the fear of loss.”

There’s much to unpack here. If you can debrief with clients to get their honest and unguarded feedback, lots of stuff can come out into the open. If, however, your client isn’t willing to open up, this can be a run around. You may find, however, that the client despite their best efforts to the contrary does somehow inadvertently slip once in a while into dropping a tidbit or two almost against their own will. This one, as we were chatting, kept denying there was a woman, and then his autocorrect inserted a woman’s name where he meant to say something about how he’s “too demanding with the world”—where the female name popped in before “the world,” inadvertently changing his intended statement to read “I’m too demanding with [woman] world.” The name wasn’t his girlfriend’s though, as far as I know. :-p

However, he insisted the question “wasn’t about love” and I told him I wasn’t insisting the message was about love, either. Here’s something most tarot readers will identify with: the cards respond to the question asked. The querent knows what’s behind that, but, confused and/or vague questions can generate confused and/or vague responses. However, in this case I think it was the cards showing a message that needed to get out, intentions behind questions be damned. It happens.

I dunno, folks. This is our service. We offer it up, we tell people what we see. But we absolutely cannot be attached to what they see. Tell it like it is. Say what you see. But let your sitters do the heavy lifting of applying the message to their lives and finding meaning in it—or not.

Thoughts?

Sensing Through…

PICTURE…

a pitch-black space. Nothing but darkness all around you. At some point you can’t quite fathom there’s a light. A small light that seems to grow little by little as you walk in its direction. As you get closer, you realize that its shaped like an arrow. The arrow, a keyhole on a door, pointing up. You want to know what’s on the other side, and so you peep through the door, getting a glimpse on what’s on the other side. There’s not much to see – it is a keyhole you’re peeping through after all – just a bright open space. You open the door and enter this new world, the darkness becoming a distant memory as the door closes behind you.

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Sequence from Sens, by Marc-Antoine Mathieu

As with all worlds, this too embodies the spirit of the Labyrinth, even if it isn’t your regular. There’s no walls here, just empty space punctuated with the ocasional structure. As with all labyrinths, this one also have rules. And they are simple. He is to follow the arrows until he gets to the end of it. That’s it. Just follow the arrows until he gets to the other side. But there’s a catch: not all arrows are visible. Some are buried in the sand. Others, hidden on the top of strange walls, or imprinted in an ice cap. It is his task to find the arrow that will lead him to the next stage of his journey.

That this labyrinth has no walls is of no consequence. You see, all labyrinths are the same: they’re a gathering of paths that meet and combine only to later diverge again. It is rumored that all labyrinths share the same path. A place outside our perception of time and space where they all meet. A place where every traveler can meet with each other or, maybe, change courses and decide for a new path for himself. A place where the traveler can become one with the labyrinth and begin to transcend it. If there is ever a place to know oneself it is there. At the crossroads of every possibility.

We, however, don’t know anything about this man whose journey we’re witnessing: we don’t know his name or his story, we don’t know where he is going. We don’t know what he’s searching or if indeed he is searching for anything. All that we are allowed to do is watch. Watch as this man silently (progresses) through the maze, taking his directions from arrows that appear every now and then, pointing the way forward, hinting at the possibility of a trajectory. Of a path. But when he realizes where he is, all that we get to know is this:

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“Vous êtes ici”. You are here. A page form Sens, by Marc-Antoine Mathieu

Our hero continues on his solitary walk until a moment where he finds the arrow that leads to the exit. He is now an old man and has lost almost everything he carried with him. He tried to avoid this one last arrow, but to no avail. The arrow follows him. It becomes his shadow. He has no choice but to accept what comes next. But then, why would he want to avoid this? Hasn’t he been following all the other directions? Hasn’t his life been a walk from arrow to arrow across strange / deserted landscapes? What is he afraid of? He stops for a moment, looking at the arrow. Trying to figure out where it will lead him. And resolutely, he steps down and exists the labyrinth.

What you’ve just read is a brief summary of Sens (which you can also get it here), one of the latest works by french cartoonist Marc-Antoine Mathieu. If you’re not familiar with the French, don’t worry. The book is mostly a mute graphical account of this man’s journey. But don’t let its simplicity fool you. Inside its pages is one of the most interesting explorations about the meaning of life and the journey each and every one of us takes from the moment of birth to that final moment where we leave the maze of life.

As tarot readers, and even as humans, that is something that every once in a while concerns us. Where did we come from? Where are we headed? What is the meaning of all this? You know… the BIG questions. Sometimes, it’s easy to find a path and follow it. Other times, not really. It is at those moments when we pick up our cards and start asking questions. What should I do? What is the meaning of? Why did this happen? How can I proceed?… And, like the man in this story we take our cues from visual hints. We look for directions, because, well… things do get easy when someone or something points out the way forward. For some, it’s about removing the burden of choice. For others, it’s about strategy: to know possible outcomes in order to decide the approach that best serves their purpose. Others still, just want to know what the heck is this all about.

For all, it is about seeing. Is this why we need images to tell us stuff? We do tend to believe what we see, after all. What is fashioned before our very eyes. With the tarot, events are presented to us as images. In a way, we are there in those images and it is those images that we take with us when the reading ends. This is, I’ve always thought, one of the greatest allures of the tarot and other image-based divination systems. The ability to perform an autopsy. To see with our own eyes.

With this in mind I’ve asked the cards “Why are images so special that we turn to them in to figure stuff out?

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La Maison de Dieu. La Force. La Mort.

They are needed to bring down our defenses. By doing this, they make us confront all the nastiness that’s inside of us, just waiting to creep out. All the things that we’d like to keep in check and in fact, we probably fight to keep them under a leash. They are important because they make us see all the stuff that we don’t really want to face. But face them we must, if we want to deal with what’s at the root of our problems and sort things out. They are special because they show us things and make us act upon it. That’s their power and our weakness.

Like St. Thomas, we’ve developed a soft spot for information that comes through the sense of sight. Whether they are visions, dreams, or whatever’s hanging in front of our doorstep. “A man profits more by the sight of an idiot than by the orations of the learned“, an arabian proverb goes. “Foresight could make wise men of Durraman’s donkeys“, as another proverb goes. Or the classic “out of sight, out of mind“. Even in the Bible we get things like “preserve sound judgment and discernment, do not let them out of your sight“. Sight has a special place in the way we perceive the world. Our world. It is only fair that it should be sight that pinpoints what we need to work upon and calls us to action.

Placing our need / desire / wish to become aware on a set of random images that pop up from a deck of cards might be just absurd. But, as Marc-Antoine Mathieu points out in this very same book, “the absurd only makes sense if it is accepted“.

 

 

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.

 

New Stories For Old Cards 1 – The Stone and the King

In each tarot card lies hidden a myriad of stories. You can see each tarot card as a frozen moment of the story, normally the climax. Sure, we can assign a list of keywords to each card.. an infinite list of keywords. And even so, we wouldn’t get near of the possibilities offered by a single story. Sometimes they can give us a radically different take on a card; other times, a different nuance. Stories can also change its meaning depending on who’s narrating them. So, with each story you can also get various points of view and how each character is affected. It is then useful to know a few stories for each card. Either from published/oral material or maybe we can invent a few ones, personal ones, in order to better understand and assimilate the card in front of us.
Many times, when reading a book, I end up finding information that I can use to better understand the tarot cards. Stories that inform my view on Suits, Cards, Themes, etc. In a way, most of my reading skills came from these stories and the information contained therein. As such, I thought it would be a nice idea to share some of these stories here at Maelstromtarot.

We start with a cute story that came out in Dave McKean’s Cages, a book about art, creativity, life and cats. This story starts with a stone placed on a map, signaling the exact place where a tower shall be built and goes on focussing on some aspects of the Tower card. I’ve already discussed some of the significance of the Tower card here. As you all know, the main story for this card comes from the Bible, more specifically from the Tower of Babel. And, while we usually take the main story beats from the Tower of Babel (man’s pride, the divine punishment, etc, etc), sometimes it is useful to look around us and see what exactly is this Tower we managed to erect affecting or how it relates to our environment and to those around us.

Hope you enjoy it 🙂

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