(This is a tandem, collaborative post: The other half is over on Liz Emrich's blog. My reaction to her full reading is below this original background post, after the double-divider.)
Cards from the Rider-Waite Deck--The "Original" Tarot
I Went Through A Witchy Period And All I Have Left Are These Nine Tarot Decks...
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a college-aged woman with post-Christian feminist friends is in want of a coven.
In 1988, I found one.
After schlumping, disgustedly, out of my dark-ages-throwback childhood Catholic parish for the last time, I didn't exactly feel a spiritual void. But I was still (relatively) open to the notion that there may be Something Out There, somewhere, somehow engaged in the the workings of billions and billions of human lives.
I was certain to the bone that the literal "father" notion of "God" I'd been taught in Catholic school doesn't exist: It makes no sense that an omniscient, omnipotent force would act like an angry drunk half the time, through threats and intimidation and damnings-to-death-eternal. I couldn't believe in the existence of, let alone worship, such a dysfunctional idea.
But might there be, out there, something not-so-personal (and not so deranged and obviously based on human nomadic tribal patriarchs)? Something natural? Something like The Force? A Ben Kenobi-style We-are-all-cosmic-dust-and-subject-to-more-laws-of-nature-than-we-know-of kind of way?
I'd messed around with Ouija boards in high school (and always felt my friends tugging the little pointer thingy around to "prove" that Unattainable Gorgeous Boy did, in fact, secretly have a crush on one of them--not the most mystical experience). Beyond that, I didn't think much about "spirituality" in my teen years.
By the mid-college, though--fresh out of my first life-shattering breakup (the kind that makes you cry yourself dry and sink into a dark bedroom for months at a time) I found myself looking for reassurance, comfort, some notion that the current, transient pain was part of A Greater Plan. (Which, when it comes right down to it, is sort of what I conceive of as the "religious impulse"--a burning desire for things that hurt to make sense--not to be random, cruel, chance, meaningless.)
I started acquiring books on astrology (real, ephemeris-and-Dalton's-Table-of-Houses-based natal astrology--not mushy newspaper sun-sign stuff). I cast birthcharts for all my friends (hand-drawn and illustrated). Friends recommended other books.
I branched off into reading about Wicca--some beginning texts were Scott Cunningham's Wicca for the Solo Practitioner and Marion Weinstein's Positive Magic. I very much appreciated the underlying philosophy that sees humans as a part of nature, not separate from it; it made sense to me in a visceral way. The balance of masculine and feminine in the traditions was another appeal--the notion that we are, and need, both male and female, yin and yang, in equal proportions, to live life fully.
In the context of exploring Wicca more deeply, I picked up my first Rider-Waite tarot deck and a book on how to read the cards.
And then somehow, I fell in with friends-of-friends who actually had a small, functioning, active coven.
Cards from the Voyager Deck (my second-favorite deck)
The coven's rituals were warm, upbeat, positive, beautiful. While a couple of the girls privately expressed suspicion that a couple of the guys in the coven were hoping for a whole lot more "skyclad" action than we engaged in (i.e., none at all), for the most part I remember the coven members as warm, generous individuals with enough extra love to give that it sloshed all over everybody around them.
Before rituals, we cooked a lot. Food was central to the collective experience. Crescent almond cookies were one of my favorites for moon celebrations. (I suppose I've retained that part of the coven period--cooking for people I love remains one of the greatest pleasures in life to me.)
We worked only at positive magic--nothing even mildly suspect. Prosperity, love, renewal, strength spells. We lit candles and incense; we chanted; we held hands; we drank wine; when we broke the circle and drank a lot more wine. And we danced.
One glorious midsummer midnight (or was it Samhain?) we gathered in a local public park. We celebrated that shortest night by joining hands and playing--first skipping, then jogging, then running in a connected circle, the way small children do--gripping each other's fingers for dear life as we "raised power," spinning clockwise, faster and faster, until we felt it was time to break apart and we let go simultaneously, tumbling backwards onto the cool, damp grass, dizzy and laughing until we were breathless.
That night remains a favorite memory.
The Bosch Tarot (as in Heironymus)
I played with the coven for perhaps a year.
And then, as I inevitably do with all organized spiritual collectives, I lost the motivation that drove me to actually leave the house at specifically appointed times. I don't particularly Do Spiritual Stuff on a schedule.
So my official witchy period was over, but I still spent plenty of hours hunkered down on the beds, laying out cards. Trying to figure out where my life was going. What choices I should be making. What directions I should be seeking. (Even occasionally returning to that perennial High School favorite: "Do X and I have a romantic future?" The answer was generally "No.")
I was never particularly good with the cards. They didn't "speak to me" the way they do with some people. Gleaning meaning from a spread was always a sketchy business, and I read only for myself. But I loved--still do, actually--the imagery, the poetics beneath the surface of each card, the details, the questions each image could raise (new ones every time). The way I could meditate on a card and construct a narrative around it. In that way, I suppose, individual cards did "speak to me."
But full readings? Ouch. Give me a book and a couple of hours and I might stumble into something halfway helpful...but usually not.
The Witches Tarot: My Favorite Deck, By Far
I bring all this up because most of the accoutrements of my Witchy Period are long gone now. The astrology books and Wicca tomes got offloaded to a local occult bookstore many years ago. I still have my cauldron and its various effects (the knife, the pentacle, the cup, a few candle stubs, a bunch of stones), but they're sitting next to the fireplace and haven't been visited in a forever.
The tarot decks also remain with me. They've been my companions through (counting on fingers) 23 years, 12 homes, ~6 serious romantic entanglements, 2 marriages. They're some of my oldest friends.
I have nine decks. Some were whimsical purchases, others more considered. (The Lord of the Rings deck seemed like a good idea...until I realized that keeping straight all of Tolkein's characters was going to be much harder than the old familiar Rider-Waite cast.)
Until last weekend, I hadn't really thought about my decks in years.
I was inspired last weekend to haul the decks out of the closet where they've been resting in a wooden jewelry box, neglected, each deck wrapped in a silk scarf.
The inspiration was talking to our own Liz Emrich (thanks for the call, Pretend Farmer!). Liz is somebody who does have the knack, the insight, the knowledge and the ability to tap into whatever subconscious mechanisms there are that make a good card reader.
- Do I believe tarot cards are some kind of mystical conduit to The Universal Font of Knowledge And Wisdom? Not really.
- Do I still believe in Something Supernatural out there? Not really.
- Do I have any sort of "faith" or "spirituality" at all? Not really. (When pressed to place myself on the atheist--------agnostic spectrum, I come out on the atheist side, at least in terms of a "god" personified with human urges, emotions, and qualities).
- Do I believe there's potential value in tarot card reading? Perhaps surprisingly, yes. I do believe in the power of storytelling--of myth, symbols, and imagery--and that's what cards do. They construct a story, from a finite set of elements. Some people are better than others at deciphering the stories and gleaning applicable meaning from them, that's all.
So, I asked Liz if we might do a tag-team post.
- I would haul out my decks for the first time in a forever, do a spread and send a photo of it to her.
- She, with no prompting from me (no specific question to answer, nothing to guide her or noodge her) would read that spread in an OS post, explaining exactly what the cards are telling her--how and why she perceives and concludes what she does from the cards and their relative positions to each other.
I sent her the spread photo Wednesday morning. She sent me back her "preliminary impression" Wednesday afternoon.
I replied, "Holy CRAP, Liz. No wonder you get paid to do this."
Stay tuned for her full reading/teaching/explanation.
Afterwards, I'll chime back in with a few final reflections.
In the spirit of Cartouche's recent post "What was she thinking?" I've summed up my own internal monologue as I read Liz's interpretation of the spread.Check. Check. Yep. Uh-Huh. Oh, hell yes; you just said a mouthful. Ouch. Have you been reading my diary? (Oh, wait, I don't have a diary)...Well, no, actually that's not quite accurate but I can see where it came from...Yeah...well, that's good to know...Eeeeep...Triple EEEP...[sigh] Yeah, isn't that always the way?
And then I hit this line: "The reason this is such a problem for her is largely because she can’t seem to get her brain to shut up."
Get out of my head, Emrich. You kinda scare me.
What Liz did with that tarot spread is something I could not have done with a thousand intensive hours of additional reading and study. I could look at the same cards in the same array and never, ever piece it all together the way she did.
- Did the reading tell me anything I didn't already know? At some level? Not really.
- Did it rub my nose in some things I'd been trying to deny or ignore or futilely wish into nonexistence? Oh, yes.
- Am I OK with having done this little experiment? Difficult to say. Then again, I'm probably overthinking...
- Would I pay Liz to read my cards?
Whatever her method or approach to reading may be, it's obvious to me as a recovering Witchy-Poo that Liz also has a sizeable intuitive gift (as Bob Eckstein mentioned in comments, she could probably be a very good psychologist. Idle thought: I wonder if any psychologists use the tarot in their practice? Hm. Probably not. I'm being silly. Where was I again? Oh, yeah, that's right; concluding this experiment. Distractedly. Always, always distractedly.)