A Reading of Bones

Once, on a beach, I found a bird skeleton. This was the first time I found some animal bones. For a moment, it felt like being in an adventure movie, suddenly finding some lost treasure. Excited, I picked up the whole thing and happily brought it home with me, regularly checking on the bones to make sure that it was real. My adventure, however, ended badly, as I soon developed an acute rash in the skin and had to be brought to the hospital for a cortisone shot. The lesson was simple: treasures might be cursed and bones found in the wild are to be left alone, lest they bring some pestilence with them.

I never thought of going back to bones. In fact, I quite forgot the whole thing until today, when it came back to mind as I was writing this text about the newest tarot deck to grace my doorstep. A deck with one of the most interesting concepts I’ve seen in quite some time. A Tarot of Bones. As a recent Marseille convert, the idea of “reading to the bones” has become increasingly familiar, and in some cases, a mantra. How then would a set of cards which depicted only bones do, when one wanted a tarot reading?

Enter Lupa, a Neo-Pagan author who has been working with animal parts for some years now and published some work on the subject. For this deck, she has amassed an incredible amount of animal parts (both real and replicas) and assembled them into artistic installations that incorporated tarot symbolism. For the deck, skulls, rib bones, vertebrae, teeth and jaws and long bones from the legs and feet have been amassed, each particular sort of  bone attributed to either the Major Arcana cards or one of the suits of the Minor Arcana. Hence, we find Skulls in the trumps, while rib bones were used for the suit of cups, long bones for wands, vertebrae for disks and teeth for swords. For the court cards, skulls and the bone that was attributed to a particular suit are present, so for example, the Knight of wands shows us the skull and the wing bone of an American Turkey.

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Assorted cards from the Tarot of the Bones. Artwork and conception by Lupa

Browsing through the deck, each card is both unique – with a particular background that agrees with the image depicted – and easy to identify, the name of the card plainly visible in the cards. The pictures are pleasing to the eye and invite us to return to a more natural world or, at least, a more nature-friendly world. This is, I think, one of the strengths of this deck. To let go of usual images that populate our human mind, with all the symbols and images that we use to stand apart from Nature and open the door to the natural world which lies all around us and let it in. I’ve been taking this deck with me for walks in beaches and parks and lying random cards on the ground to look at and meditate. They connect well with the natural world and, in fact, they seem stronger with this little exercise, speaking with a louder and clearer voice.

As for reading, well… skulls and bones don’t make for an easy reading if you, like me, can’t tell a hyena skull from a wolf skull. When I first opened the deck, and started looking at the cards my first thought was “how in hell am I going to read this?”. My problem was that I never got used to rely on keywords and when you’re used to work with images, it helps to actually be able to tell what you’re looking at. This is where Lupa’s companion book comes in handy (since there is no LWB accompanying the deck), by giving us both a description of the card and a peek behind the making of each assemblage as well as the reasons for a certain animal being selected. The book also tells us how the Waite-Smith system was used as the inspiration of the deck so expect to find some Waite-Smith inspired imagery.

But there is another way to read with it, and one that I found to be more fulfilling, which is to forget about everything you know about the tarot or, indeed, about the animals represented here and just let the images soak you. To let them come forth and freely enter your mind to tell you their story. My first question to the deck was “How can I work with you?” After laying three cards on the table, I got:

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10 OF WANDS / 7 OF PENTACLES / 3 OF CUPS
“What is tied needs to be let loose. Spread us around your space and watch the ripples as they unfold.” Oh! This was easy, I thought. To forget about meanings and  traditional depictions and reading systems. To forget about bones and animals and everything related to them and just let it flow. But then, what was I to expect from a deck that prompt us to reconnect with the rhythms of nature? To just let go of everything and go with the flow. If you want a reading to the bones, strip out all the meat and fat to focus on focus on what’s necessary.

All good and dandy then. Time to go to the next question, I thought. “What do you have to tell me?”

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9 OF SWORDS / 4 OF PENTACLES / ACE OF WANDS.
This one took me a bit longer than the previous one. Which, to be quite honest, I liked, as it tells me that there’s things to explore in here. Mysteries to be discovered. So I went with the theme: 9 sets of bone shards are spread all around the tableaux. They might be teeth but spread out this way they will hardly cut anything. What good then, does to be sharp, if you can’t exercise that sharpness? In the next card, the four of pentacles, four vertebrae are joined together in a cross. It almost seems as if all those shards came together to form these larger structures. Where previously there was chaos and entropy, now there’s stability; there’s a sense of order. And then, as we look at the ace of wands, we can easily see how each branch of the bone cross rose and melded to form the long bone visible in the last card. My snappy sentence would then be “What is separated needs to be put together. Do this in steps, looking first for stability and then for unity.”

The progression from Swords to Pentacles to Batons tells me that there are advantages to this approach. Swords turn into coins, loosing their sharp edges and bringing in rewards which can then be used to build a wand. Batons being associated with work and might, this tells me that by bringing focus to my work, things will be able to grow faster and stronger (notice how the size and the volume of the bones increase from card to card).

Looking up to the first reading I can see how they complement each other. One telling me to let go and become looser, the other, to concentrate and focus. If anything, I’m again recalled of the rhythms of nature. Of things expanding and contracting and how important it is to stay in the flow of things. Nature has seasons, after all, and these seasons teach us that there is a time for everything. It’s back to the basics then, remaining open and aware of what lies in front of us. 

The Tarot of Bones can be ordered from the author here. Be sure to pass by her site and check all the cards of the deck as well as the sculptures that were made for each card. There’s great work there. For more about Lupa and her work, just visit her site.

 

 

Could You Help Us Create a New Queen of Cups?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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