The morning after my first Tarot card reading, I woke up and noticed the light had changed. Everything felt different. Was it that the Tarot guides had calmed my nerves with the foretelling of my future? Or was it just meeting with a nice lady who told me everything was going to be alright in that big sisterly, reassuring way? Will the things she told me come true because our destinies are predetermined, or will they be self-fulfilling prophecies? I still don’t know if I believe the tarot cards are 100% infallible, but she showed me things and intuited things she couldn’t have otherwise known…
My friend and I had been planning it for weeks. We’d arrived on this rainy spring Sunday morning to a sweet little culdesac of new row houses, with pristinely landscaped front gardens. The kind of neighborhood where kids might ride their bicycles in the 1950s. I wondered if the neighbors knew a psychic lived in their midst! Growing up, any form of magic or fortune-telling – crystal balls, tarot cards, ouija boards, had been considered the devil’s games.
While my upbringing may have been conservative Christian in nature, my education instilled in me a lasting love of the logical – only what could be proved was worthy of my attention. I love science, I love facts, I love the truth. But I also can’t help loving that grey area between what is known and what is unknowable. The curious spaces where, the more questions you ask, the less you know. This is the fascination that led me to the metaphysical realms, and to a curiosity for divination, or the practice of seeking knowledge of the future or the unknown by supernatural means. Besides, who couldn’t use a little guidance?
I’ve always believed that some things can’t and shouldn’t be fully grasped. A healthy dose of mystery is vital for humility, curiosity, and the never-ceasing journey into ourselves, i.e. mystery is vital for what it means to be human. Like picking up a book and reading the last page, where’s the fun in knowing how it all turns out in the end without the plot twists along the way? I believe we are here for the character development – this is the soul’s journey. Besides, prophecies are so often self-fulfilling. Nanuk, our Tarot card reader, cautioned us on the importance of having a trustworthy reader. When she was young, she saw an intuitive who told her she would die in water. What if she had spent her whole life so afraid of the water that she never learned to swim as a result? And then one day, there is a flood and she drowns as result? While knowing the final destination might not be helpful… a little direction couldn’t hurt, so long as it is given and taken responsibly.
WHAT IS TAROT?
Tarot is a form of cartomancy, or divination practiced through card reading. Academics speculate Tarot arrived in 14th-century Western Europe by way of Turkey as a form of “playful divination (source),” much like the childhood game of MASH. You know – the one where you drew a spiral and counted the lines to find out if you’d live in a mansion, attic, shack, or house?
Tarot decks are made up of 78 major and minor arcana cards. The 21 major arcana cards signify the reading’s larger theme. Some of the darker cards are commonly misunderstood, but I love how Kim Krans, creator of The Wild Unknown Tarot describes the death card:
“With the Death card, the idea is re-birth. In order to make space for something new — even if you think about it mathematically or scientifically — something has to let go so that newness can emerge. So the idea is: what are you willing to soften, or loosen, so that you can make more space? You can make your interpretation subtle, you can make it as intense as you want, but the idea is, what can you do to make space? (source)”
There are also obviously positive major arcana cards as well. For example, the High Priestess might illustrate psychic power and the World could mirror wholeness or completion of one’s life purpose. The subtler concepts of a reading are indicated through the 4 suits of the minor arcana. Each suit follows the traditional deck of cards format – ace through 10, a young man (Jack), a Queen and a King, and a Princess (added bonus!). Did you know they originally only included the King and 2 male underlings? The Queen was later added and one of the males turned into the Princess card to balance things out, gender-wise. These court cards represent the individual receiving the reading and/or key people in their life. Each suit within the minor arcana symbolizes a different element – the wands represent fire, pentacles (these look like coins with stars on them) represent earth, cups represent water, and swords represent wind. The family of wands (fire) could tell a story of passion and creation, the suit of pentacles (earth) often correlate with career or the home. Cards in the suit of cups (water) deal with greed or generosity, and the swords suit (air) could mean truth, justice, fairness or a challenge.
We were invited in, and to sit at her small kitchen table by an open window. The table was covered with a colorful cloth, and on it was the deck of cards and a bottle of rosewater. She asked if we had ever had a reading before. I hadn’t, but my friend had when she was younger, and it had been a positive experience. This reminded me of how every time I’ve had a new therapist they’ve asked about my previous experiences with therapy, trying, I assume, to get a read on my level of skepticism and comfort with the practice which can deeply affect how the guidance lands. I offered to go first, and Nanuk sprinkled the rose water on her hands and began shuffling the deck. As she did, she asked me if there were any questions I had or themes for guidance. I opened my mouth to answer in my noncommittal verbal equivalent of a shrug, but she interrupted and said, “You’re here because you want to start writing and you need an extra push.” I couldn’t believe it.
All morning I had been struggling to get my blog off the ground. And by all morning, I mean all year. What has it been about this process that has left me so self-deprecating? No matter what I do, I end up in my own way. I’ve wanted to launch Luminous Leanings forever, but continually self-sabotage, procrastinate and delay. Just that morning, before lately jumping in the car and speeding to our Tarot reading appointment, I had every intention of sitting down and writing a blog post, but had ended up designing my logos and working on site structure for 3 hours (obviously these things are critical for a blog, but I can’t keep letting the act of writing – the bread and butter of a blog – get sidelined). Nanuk could not have been more spot-on in her analysis of why I was there, and I hadn’t even uttered a word yet.
“Yes,” I croaked in utter disbelief, and proceeded to tell her the story of my unfinished blog. I asked her if I would ever find success in the spiritual blogging world. She held the question and intention in her mind, with her eyes tightly closed, while she picked up the card-shuffling pace. As a card would stick up from the rest, she would pluck it and place it, in a pattern I didn’t understand, first looking at the card and expressing either a knowing nod or a skeptical frown as she placed it. Some cards would jump out of the deck and those she would also place, piecing the story together in her mind as she did so.
She did several card pulls and readings. The first was extremely positive, telling her I was meant for Lightwork (subtle body/energy healing work) and writing, specifically. Two cards in particular, she says are drawn in her readings as writing guides – The High Priestess and The Empress. These two major arcana women each represent feminine wisdom and creativity. The High Priestess is the seat of spirituality and wisdom, while the Empress symbolizes grounded wisdom and being comfortable in your own skin.
She also said I could become easily entangled with too many decisions, and have a tendency to make things more complicated than they are. “Keep it simple,” she urged me, after drawing the Seven of Cups, which features the individual looking at seven cups filled with various things, with a perplexed expression, arms reaching out almost in hesitation to make the choice. I related to this card instantly.
Nanuk also drew The World card, as she did she said, “As above, so below,” as this card represents the ability to manifest your own reality. My thoughts are powerful, and I took this as a sign that my desire to manifest through intention is leading me on the right path, in the Universal Flow. Whatever I’m thinking has the energetic potential to become my reality, which is both an enormous blessing and a profound responsibility. I cannot get lazy or tired in my thinking, but I always have to be aware of the inner life and vigilant toward its hygiene and health.
After analyzing my near-future, Nanuk decided to gaze down the road several years to the long-term. First she drew the Eight of Wands, which can represent travel and swift change. Her interpretation was that a very good, very big, unexpected change was coming into my life shortly, and I would know it when it happens. She was getting very excited and said not to worry, it’s going to be extremely good, not just for me, but for the world I am called to help. She urged me to relinquish control and keep my eyes on the prize, which is ultimately helping others. She kept saying she saw me as a mentor, leader and guide for others, and to put myself in positions where this would manifest.
She then drew a card of cups, although I can’t remember which one, that meant I should view money as energy and not be afraid to spend it in the advancement of my dreams. After all, you get what you pay for and it’s necessary to invest in ourselves. These were most welcome words, as I’d been researching lately taking Tara Brach’s mindfulness meditation teacher training or a yoga teacher training, all of which are expensive. Money has been tight, and – TBH – a lot of the insecurity stems from my limiting beliefs and fears surrounding my own self-worth.
Ultimately, I was very impressed by my Tarot reading. I was confused about some things, certain about others, and wished she had explained the Tarot process a bit more before the reading and how she works. Nevertheless, I came home and promptly read all I could about Tarot and ordered my own The Wild Unknown tarot deck. I want to experience for myself and get to the bottom of this intuitive tool that inspired within me a feeling of great peace and understanding.
Perhaps that’s the role of divination on this journey of life – to explain in simple symbolic language the inner struggles we’re facing, and draw out of us our own explanations and intuitions about what we really want in life. Nothing is set in stone, we create our own destinies. But looking at the mechanism through which we manifest them is vital! Left unchecked, we could unconsciously be manifesting a life of suffering day after day – of longing for a life unlived. Maybe prophecies and fortune-telling are ways to lay it all out on the card table and examine the innermost workings of our spirits. Maybe the artists of divination are highly sensitive beings being guided, not by some supernatural higher force, but by the other human spirit right there in the room. Follow me on my journey of exploring the Tarot deck for myself!