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


Raising Up a Fire to Call Me Back Home the

According to the Mayan Calendar, yesterday, the 31st of July, 2017 was the Day of 10 Owls, also known as 10 Ak’Bal. Since this might not say much to most of you, here’s a little explanation: for the Mayans, the Divine Calendar  — also known as the Tzolk'in— was composed of 13 rounds of 20 days each, for a total of 260 days; each day was determined by the particular combination of two inter-locking cycles, one consisting of numbers which runs 13 days, the other cycle consisted of images and lasted 20 days. Now, much like our tarot cards, each number and image was assigned a particular set of meanings. By decoding both, the Mayans would get the information necessary to make the best out of the day.

As yesterday was 10 Ak’bal, that particular day was about Personifying A Private World. Meaning it was about embodying our private world. Now, I’ve been doing some daily readings with the Thoth deck while taking the Tzolk'in into consideration (which you can follow here or here. The cards that came out yesterday were the Princess of Disks and the 7 of Cups and what they had to say was,

'Today's about personifying a private world. Look after yourself; it's about time you cleaned everything that's messing with you.'


Of course there’s a lot more that could be said about these two cards. In the 7 of Cups we can see all the slime that is dripping from the walls and the cups filling and infecting everything. In a way, it almost looks like things have gone stale and can’t be endured anymore. Which make the need to act all the more pressing.

But the interesting part is what came next. About 30 minutes later, I got a call from my landlord urging me to go quickly to the check my room where I perform my readings as there was some kind of fire in the bar located on the ground floor of my building. Apparently, black smoke had been coming out of the bar for hours and it was be necessary to open doors for the firemen and to check if everything was in order. Nothing came out of it, but that didn’t stop the local news media to hover around trying to get every little dirty detail out of it.


Truth and dare

Still, it forced me to look once again at the place that I rented more than three years ago with the purpose of establishing a practice in my home city. While this never really took off — specially with me being away for all of  the last year in East Timor — I’ve always resisted the urge to pass it, since I felt such a positive vibe in the place and it was so superbly located I grew attached to it. So it remained… not really abandoned and not really being used.

This also came to mind as I’ve been following Camelia Elias's latest series of tarot prompts, this one about the house. [You might notice how Camelia is a favorite here at Maelstromtarot. She is. In a way, she’s also the precursor of this whole journey as we all met at a Camelia Elias event]. As I was waiting for all the commotion to end and finally re-enter my room, I sat at the coffee reading her prompts and thinking about what to do with the space.

Guided by her first prompt, my first action was to determine where did the local spirit of my room resided in order to thank him for calling me into action. To this I decided to engage one of my all-time favorite decks and also one I haven’t used in years, the Tarot of the Siddhe by the talented Emily Carding.


The answer was simple: ‘I stand in a place of gatherings. I am by the door, hovering. Protecting it and kindling the fire.’

The implications were clear: the spirit of the place could be found at that bar that caught fire. It did make some sense, as both the bar and my reading room are in the same building. Also according to the cards, the fire was his own doing, marking all of this as a definite call for action.

Should I stay or should I go?

Sometimes, the best questions come from popular culture. The Clash’s song perfectly echoed what I was thinking about: was it worth it to cling to a good vibe and a promise of what was to be? or was it better to just cut my losses and all attachments to the place and be on my way?

Truth be told, I was leaning more to the second answer. After all, the place was in limbo for about 18 months now, and with a new relocation just looming over the horizon, it would most probably remain there for at least another year. Letting it go seemed like the logical thing to do. The spirits, however, had other ideas:


Things were bleak right now and reaching for that sunny spot there seemed almost like a mirage. Such was the situation, which was accurately portrayed in the Dancer Eight. I also couldn't help noticing the parallel with the 7 of Cups card I drew earlier for the daily remind. Talk about stagnation. And yet… even so I was invited to go beyond all of this and remain at that spot. 'This is a power spot', the cards say. 'Here you will end up channeling the power to move you straight to the sky. Besides, what's the alternative? Trying to figure out how to wrestle with dragons? Well, good luck with that! You will end up bargaining for what is here freely given.' 

'Fair enough', I said. When magic calls, one should answer. No ifs. No buts. Just saying yes will suffice.

I do!

Only one thing to do then: clean the whole place clean and put the show on the road. Offerings of thanks were made to both the local spirits and the ones that were guarding the place. Incenses were lighten and prayers were done. And in the end, a final question, 'How can I honor this place and the ones that inhabit it?'


'Reside in harmony with this place; do not let go of this connection.'

Good, powerful magic is always simple. Even when it looks complex. If I want something out of it, I must give something of myself. The more present I am here, the more I use it for the gift of sight, the better it will be for the both of us. Talk about stating the obvious! Didn't it called me into coming back? What else should I be expecting?

As I lit the final candle and turned off the lights, a final message appeared. What was also a candle became something more; something greater. And the most appropriate seal imaginable.


The Following Day, 11 K'an

For the Mayans, the day would always start at sunrise and would go on until the following sunrise. So even though I'm finishing this post at about 3:30 am of the 2nd of August, the corresponding Mayan day is still 11 K'an, which is about Owning a Public World. The cards that came out for this day were The Fool and the Ace of Swords and they spoke about going that extra mile to break through all those boundaries that wouldn't let us move forward. In a way, it does seem about right that tonight's the night when I post this.





Could You Help Us Create a New Queen of Cups?

2013-09-24 14.16.31a

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


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.


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:


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.