Seeing Into The Emptiness

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

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

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

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

It all starts with a question

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

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

Time to bring out the swords

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

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

What lies ahead for this woman and her new acquaintance?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hermit and Danger of Words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tarot deck: Der Lombardische Tarot

The Ultimate Lesson of the Cards

Today I wanted to talk about a great experience I recently had in my life. It happened about a month ago, when I had the opportunity to meet two amazing people that welcomed me in such a wonderful way that we can say that yes, it is possible to have several families in the heart. In this case, I’m talking about this particular family which is the Maelstrom gang that happened to get together, even though we remain scattered throughout Europe. Talk about social networking…

I’ve already knew Miguel, with whom I studied, but I still had to personally meet the two ladies that are part of this family, Shelley and Isabel. Shelley knew only Miguel, and I think Isabel didn’t knew anyone personally. Thus, a weekend was arranged and set so that we could all meet up and hang out. I and Miguel were meeting Shelley at the Amsterdam train station on Saturday morning. We were supposed to travel south to Den Haag, where Isabel was waiting for us all. But meeting Shelley was the real ice-breaker. She had such a beautiful and truthful smile, that combined with her warm and powerful hug, I immediately lost all anxiety that this meeting was causing me.

Here, I want to confess that meeting up with tarot people usually leaves me anxious. I never did have that many contact with other tarot readers, apart from a few persons here in Oporto and once, when I was at a tarot conference in England. That experience helped me open up a bit (if you want, you can read about it here), but I still get all jittery inside just thinking of it.

I guess that happens because we almost never speak the same language when talking about cards: most people have this thing about keywords and how each card means this or that and I just keep staring at them trying to figure out what the hell do they mean. Or, if I start to talk about how I see cards and how the images seem to dance in front of my eyes, building up a story right there, there’s usually someone looking at me and wondering where can he or she find that liqueur I just had. I mean, I do understand their point: there are no references in how I read, just images. But then, that’s part of the magic of reading cards. How the same card can indicate so many different things instead of the same old same old. Ok, so maybe I’m simplifying things, but you get what I mean, right?

Well, meeting up with my colleagues here at Maelstrom was quite a treat. First with Shelley on the train station, and later on the train towards Den Haag. It all seemed like we knew each other for quite a long time, that not even the old hag complaining about the noise inside the train — hey! we’re latins, know what I’m saying? — was able to spoil anything. In fact, quite the opposite occurred, since right after we were shushed and that learned that “silence usually means not talking”, this wonderful child — which no doubt also has some great latin genes — started making all kinds of loud noises for the remaining of the journey. This is magic of the highest level, when the Universe itself deems to tell you that you’re right on the spot!

Then it was arriving at Den Haag, a city where I lived in about 16 years ago, during that short time of my life that I was living in the Netherlands. And a place that really I had such a great time, it really grew close to heart. This return to Den Haag was stirring all kinds of emotions and memories inside me. But the that wonderfully pesky child in the train told me, if this was to happen, if we were all supposed to meet, maybe things would be easier here, as in a way it was like coming back home.

Returning to Den Haag after all this time was lovely. Isabel was there with a greeting in everything the same as Shelley’s. And we had some time to walk around the city, although I couldn’t really relate to anything from the time I was living in there. Guess that too much time has passed. But I got to know this wonderful cafe, run by one of Isabel’s friends…And quite a fierce card reader as well.

You know the old saying… whenever there’s cards and readers, there will be readings. It’s as sure a thing as death and taxes. And we did! We did! We did read cards. Isabel read to Shelley, Miguel read to me and Shelley, I read to Isabel and so on and so forth. But we didn’t really read the cards. We would lay the cards on the table and everyone would talk about what they saw. Whatever was on the table, the Tarot of the Bones, The Sibilla Oracle, the Waite-Smith, the Carolus Zoya, the reading came out not from an individual mouth, but from the whole collective. More than a reading, we got into a sharing process where everyone was building on top of everyone else, until a conclusion was reached that was beyond the individual.

For me, it was an eye opener: I was used to people arguing about the meaning of a card. Curiously much more about the meaning of a particular card than the importance of that particular card in the spread. Usually, but not always, it’s those that have a fixed set of meanings for each card and immediately start running infinite mental combinations in search of that special sentence that provides the answer to what they’re seeing. The whole thing feels like it’s some sort of safe-cracking gig, but to each it’s own. Then, there’s the ones that see different things in the same cards, but arrive at the same conclusions: their readings reinforce your own, but add little value to what you’ve put to the table. And finally, there’s the ones that go synergistic, everyone combining their eyes to build a better eye that comes closer to an all-seeing eye.

Because, let’s be frank, the secret to card reading is not so much what we know, but what we allow ourselves to see. What I strive for, as a card reader, is the ability to see everything that is in front of me. But, that means that I must not care about anything: I must not care about my feelings or about anyone else’s feelings for that matter (empathy, is such a big no-no that it should be cut down the instant it approaches). This also means that I must not care about the results of the reading or any consequence that it may entail. There is only the reading and nothing more than the reading.

Reading like this would be perfect! But I’m still so far away from that that to actually have people around me that can make me overcome my blind spots to go that extra mile is great. And when I can also do this to them, then there is equal sharing. There is symbiosis. And what comes out of it is no longer a simple group of people, but something much larger than that. Something that takes you to a whole new level of reading and perception.

In all, it was a truly magical day, where people from different parts of the world got to meet in a special city and understand how they functioned better together than apart.

It was no surprise than that when all things were over and I was alone in my room, I got this for the question “Did we really need to be together for this journey?”

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We did. Justice on the side (in the position that reflects what’s behind the question) is arbitrating the whole thing. And justice stands for truth, so there it is.

I usually use this as a yes or no spread. But here, it’s one of those special cases where there is no “yes” path and there is no “no” path. There only is. And you can find a single story through out all of these cards.

What the cards are indicating was that this was the right moment for us to meet each other and start profiting from each other’s strengths. We will push each other’s boundaries so that all of us can get out of their comfort zone and see things in a different fashion that will ultimately lead us to a higher level. And even if we took the bottom line as a “no”, the first two cards are very explicit: you will go out and search for what is missing, but in the end, you would not leave your own backyard, becoming content with playing with your toys. The question that pops up to this reading would then be “what is it that is missing?”, but this would just send us back to the original question: “Did we really need to meet…?”

When things need to happen, they need to happen. When they are special, they are indeed special. You will know, because there are pointers everywhere. Even if it’s just a little child on a train making sure you know that you should not shut up. It does make me wonder why do we need card readings at all, if all it takes is to be aware of all that’s happening to us and with whom things are happening. I guess that’s the ultimate lesson the cards can give us: be aware… now and for ever. But, while you’re working on it, do read some cards.

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.

A Little Seed of Life

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Every Christmas, I like to shuffle my deck and ask for a card. This is one of those situations where I’m not particularly interested in a reading. Rather, I’m looking for a new take for a season where everything seems to be invented. Something simple, but that will give me something significant for myself and others around me.

With this in mind, I shuffled my deck and drew The Strength. As tarot readers, we all know what this card is all about. How it’s supposed to relate to playfulness and lust and this struggle about what we want to do and what we have to do. A struggle between obligation and pleasure; between kindness and harshness; between our animalistic side and our “more evolved” side. And how a balance between both is needed. How we need to be in touch with our primal instincts, but also to keep our feet on the ground and don’t get carried away by them. I find it interesting how this card speaks to us about control and, at the same time, of going with the flow.

Anyway, the first question that popped in my mind was how demanding are we to ourselves and others? We live in a society that likes to impose itself upon its people. And most of us grow up in an environment where we are continually told what to do. How to behave. Either from family or from teachers, or staff workers or whomever. It seems that many times our needs are put aside in order to fulfill someone’s wishes or someone’s idea of how to behave. Like everyone knows what’s best for ourselves, with the exception of ourselves… We reach adulthood and we get word about what is expected and not expected from ourselves: our performance at work; in social circles; and even at home. We tap into ourselves, into our juices and our inner strengths and try to find a way in which to correspond to the demands of society and still maintain a way of living that might suit our needs.

And here, a click happened. Inner strengths… We all have this inner strength within us. Something we tap into when we need that extra push or that extra hand in order to fulfill a certain objective. In some individuals, this energy, this spark, burns very brightly; in others, it radiates a certain amount of heat and strength and nothing more. But in all cases it is there. This little seed of life…

As a part of that all-powerful force that is life, this little seed has the potential to overcome our limitations and give us enough power to accomplish what we set out to do. However, as with life, this force is chaotic and all over the place. By itself, it is directionless and exists only to create life and to destroy that which can not evolve… that which has become stagnant. When we tap into it, we feel like we can accomplish anything we set our minds into it, like nothing is too hard for us. It’s slightest touch is enough to make us glow in such a way it’s impossible not to notice. It’s as if a certain kind of radiance passes through us and makes us more visible, more special… But fail to guide it and the results can de disastrous, as it will slowly consume you and leave nothing but a broken husk.

This seemed to be very much in tune with the strength card. The life seed, represented by the lion (or corresponding beast); the theme of control and letting go, which is at the heart of the card. That edge, which can make us truly shine but, at the same time, burn us to the ground.

Such a force of continuous creation and destruction has often been associated with a phoenix: the bird that dies by fire, only to be reborn from its ashes. But the strength card usually gives as a lion. Not a phoenix. A simple Google search shows us that the phoenix is used in association with cards such as Judgement (in the Twilight Realm: A Tarot of the Faery); as Death (in the Soulscapes Deck and the The Amazing Fortune Telling Book) and even as Atu XVII, Hope (in this Harry Potter  influenced Tarot Deck). In both the Death and the Judgement cards, we have change; transformation. In the last, well… the title says it all.

By tapping into our very own seed of life, we tap into an Unlimited Potential. Something that its very mere touch is enough to makes us shine like the truly special person we all are. And something that when properly directed can makes us reach whole new levels.

May we all be so fortunate to truly understand this little seed of life we have inside of us. And to use it to transcend our very own limitations.

And Merry Christmas to all!!!