Tag Archives: divintation

Is Tarot Necessarily Spiritual?

Photo on 8-3-16 at 1.35 PMOkay. First, I need to put on my religious studies scholar hat.

There.

“Spirituality” is not objectively a thing that we can locate and measure.

It’s constructed, both culturally and by individuals. Over time, we ascribe meaning to objects and practices, and eventually those things take on greater symbolism. They become spiritual. For some people.

As a community, we tend to talk about certain things as though they’re inherently spiritual. Meditation, crystals, drinking tea, tarot cards…you can probably make your own list based on the various “spiritual” hashtags from Instagram or Tumblr.

Like the more we meditate, the more spiritual we inherently are. Or the more tea we drink, the more enlightened we become.

But here’s the thing: those things are tools. They’re not in and of themselves spiritual. Thanks to some selective history and, frankly, marketing, we associate them with “spiritual” people. We forget that “religion” and “spirituality” (again, even the perceived difference between those terms says more about our cultural locations than it does about objective things called “religion” or “spirituality”) have looked different across millennia—continue to look different wherever we are in the world. Just doing and having particular things doesn’t automatically make us more anything.

I have at least a dozen Bibles in my house right now. In my hands, they’re just books. For Christians, they may be symbols of something else, but my owning and handling them has zero impact on anything in my life. The power isn’t literally in the book, or I’d surely be glowing by now.

Drinking tea might relax you and make you feel super witchy and receptive to the voices of the gods, and that’s fantastic and valid. But it’s not inherently in the tea. The thousands of other people drinking that tea from the same manufacturer aren’t having the same experiences you are. Your experience has more to do with you.

Someone else (hint: it’s me) is a lot happier with coffee or vodka.

And that’s cool.

Something becomes spiritual when you assign spiritual value to it. If it’s meaningless to you, it will continue to be meaningless no matter how much of it you drink, buy, or practice.

Tarot cards are not inherently spiritual. They became spiritual in time, thanks to the efforts of particular people. They used to just be a weird card game for rich Italians.  If they are spiritual to you, then that says more about you than the cards themselves. And you’re probably awesome, so that’s great news.

Cool.

Okay, taking my religious studies hat off.

Tarot is a part of my spiritual practice, but not really because it’s a divination tool. I see my tarot reading as an acquired skill, developed with long hours of practice over the course of years. Part history, part religious studies, part literary studies, part storytelling, tarot makes sense to me the way interpreting any kind of text makes sense to me. We take a set of symbols and we build meaning, based on our cultural backgrounds, our personal experiences, and our impulses (which are often just sublimated pieces of our experiences, not external messages from nowhere). If the gods are involved, it’s because, on some level, I’ve involved them.

Instead, tarot is spiritual for me because it’s given me this huge body of symbols—a language, if you will—to make sense of other things. Tarot is a map to my world. I think of people and events in terms of cards. I understand abstractions like “spiritual growth” or “initiation” or “shadow work” in terms of tarot symbols. It’s a way of creating meaning for me. It gives me context. I can say, “Oh, this was totally a Seven of Swords moment,” or “Holy shit I need to stop dating Knights what the fuck is wrong with me.” Instead of feeling like I’m alone in the world, feeling something no one has ever felt before, I can find reassurance in the cards. Yes, other people have been here, too. This is the next step on the Fool’s Journey.

It may not make sense to anyone else, but it works for me. It becomes spiritual.

So is tarot necessarily spiritual? That depends on what world you’re occupying, I suppose. For me, the Bible is just a book and a tarot deck is just a stack of printed cardboard. But I can see the power that they hold for people, in different circumstances, and I can respect that. It’s the thing the symbol represents that matters, which depends on context. The American flag itself isn’t holy, but perhaps liberty and justice are. When people get upset at the misuse of flags, it’s not because they believe that the flag is literally the country. The Book of Shadows I keep isn’t my practice of witchcraft. You could set it on fire and I’d just make another one.  I wouldn’t stop being a witch just because you took it from me. My tarot deck isn’t the source of my divinatory powers. If I lost it, I’d just buy another one.   The tea you’re drinking isn’t what’s making you magical. You’re magical all on your own. Your tarot practice is spiritual because you are spiritual.

These Oracle Cards are Ruining My Snobbery

photo-4So oracle decks fuck with me on a couple of levels.

I’d never had any interest in them. In the realm of cartomancy, tarot is my reigning mistress, with a bit of Lenormand on the side just for variety. The history, the blending together of fascinating magical systems, the provocative artwork…

Oracle cards seem to be mostly devoid of all of the things that make me love tarot. Aside from all of the pastel airbrushing and sparkly foil borders, oracle decks seem to necessarily rely on intuition, impulse, and feelings. “I feel that this card is saying…” as opposed to “this card traditionally means…” With oracle cards, there’s usually not a lot outside of the deck itself to turn to for information. We’re left with our guts (and not in a fun, haruspicy sort of way).

This works for plenty of readers, and it’s certainly an effective way to divine. But it’s never been my preferred style. If I want to practice divination that relies primarily on my woo (a term I use with reverence and which encompasses my witchcraft, my relationships with my gods, and anything we might call “psychic” abilities), I have other preferred methods. Oracle cards have always struck me as super New-Agey, with their cutesy artwork (or Sports-Illustrated-swimsuit-issue portrayals of goddesses), feel-good messages, and plethora of writers with fake PhDs.

But! But! I’m having to throw out my previously established negativity when confronted with Stacey Demarco’s Halloween Oracle. Which I can’t stop handling. The artwork is gorgeous, the book is full of fun Halloween factoids, and even the print job is solid. So what the hell do I do with myself now?

I don’t really know yet. I’m screwing around with a totally different way of reading cards, trying to come up with spreads that make sense to me, and challenging my tendency to rely on external sources for information. It’s fucking with me. But in a good way.

I’ll write more about all this as things progress, and maybe persuade some of my regular clients to allow me to experiment on them.

I will say that, in my cursory reappraisal of oracle decks as a thing, I’ve continued to be disappointed (so many decks are just…gross), but the Halloween Oracle gives me some hope.

The 5 of Cups: Facebook and the Public Display of Suffering

photo-2For the past several months, I’ve caught myself sort of involuntarily rolling my eyes whenever the 5 of Cups comes up in a reading. It’s taken some contemplation, but it finally hit me: the 5 of Cups reminds me of everything I hate about online social networking sites.

Hang with me for a second.

Typical interpretations of the 5 of Cups include statements about suffering, focusing on the negative, failing to appreciate what’s right within your reach, mourning loss, etc., etc. The ensuing advice is usually something about shifting your focus to the good stuff that’s right there for the taking (if only you would turn around!). You’ve got to suck it up, move on, and start rebuilding, blah blah blah. It’s time to heal. Those things are true and important, I think, but there’s something more about this card that really hits me lately: this guys isn’t just suffering, he’s suffering in public.

On some level, this is totally understandable and expected. As social animals, we’re dependent on others witnessing our losses and helping us to cope. Sharing our problems with a community not only enables us to receive the support we require in order to both survive and to be emotionally healthy, but it also enforces social norms and expectations. It helps us to remember what is right and wrong, how we should behave, and what we can fairly expect from others. Like all of our other experiences, suffering allows us to construct our identities. We can use it to define ourselves and even gain a kind of status, just as we would use our accomplishments or our good fortune (which is not to glorify or romanticize suffering, only to point out that we often use it to define ourselves). We construct identities like survivor and warrior around experiences of suffering. Suffering often gives us context. Like everything else that happens to us, for good or ill, suffering makes us who we are.

Weirdly, suffering—both our own and that of others—can bolster the ego by creating a place for ourselves in the community that we may not have otherwise. For some people, public suffering becomes an act of vanity. I immediately think of the passive-aggressive status updates that many of us encounter on Facebook and other social networking sites.  Facebook makes it easy to overshare. Facebook makes it easy to wallow.

You know the person I’m talking about. We’ve all met that person. The one for whom every little thing is a tragedy. And not only is it a tragedy, but it’s a worse tragedy than anything you could possibly have going on in your own life.   You know that guy who has to one-up you at everything, even shitty stuff? The one you tell about an injury or financial loss or heartbreak and he has to tell you about how he’s got it even worse? That guy.

Every break-up is a “betrayal” and every lost job is “persecution.” One fight with a friend and it’s, “I just can’t trust anyone!” Life is one big crisis after another. And not only is the world out to get them and them alone, but it’s all over their Facebook wall in cryptic posts. Life is just so hard.

The guy in the 5 of Cups isn’t just coping with shit, he’s donned his black cape and strolled out into open space so that we can all see his shit, too. And from the observer’s position, his shit doesn’t look particularly remarkable. He’s got two perfectly good cups behind him, and there’s a fully functional bridge over all that troubled water.  My sympathy only stretches so far.

Everyone suffers, and while I would never presume to tell someone that their suffering was insignificant, I do think that we can fairly declare that some people suffer more than others. Some wounds require clean water and a bandage—others an ambulance, surgery, and months of physical therapy. Pain and suffering are relative. What wounds one person might kill another, and it’s impossible to make the distinction sometimes. The best course of action is usually compassion and, with the one-upping guy on Facebook who’s so obsessed with betrayal, the best response is probably silence (he’s not posting for comfort or practical solutions, after all).

But I think the 5 of Cups might have something to say about where we draw the line with regard to the process of public mourning and suffering in general. What limits do we place on the expression of pain? The 5 of Cups is a reminder that everyone suffers and that, socially, we have ideas about good and bad ways to do so (whether or not this is fair is up for question, naturally).

Tarot Salon is Officially Open!

10441033_818956708135722_639949037861208438_nI’m very pleased to announce that I’ll be leading the Tarot Salon at Laughingbrook Spellcrafting & Ancentral Arts in Huntersville, NC. Tarot Salon is a new program designed to appeal to tarot readers at all stages in their practice, inspiring and encouraging beginners, rekindling enthusiasm in jaded pros, and building a strong local community of people who just love tarot, however they might choose to use it.

The first Salon session is a special two-evening event for those of you who are just trying to get beyond the basics or who need to break out of tired patterns. We’ll talk about building upon popular intuitive styles of reading, complementing what you already know with solid esoteric tradition. You’ll learn a series of strategies for improving and deepening your abilities as a reader, plus solutions for tackling reader-anxiety head on. Never go blank again!

We’ll also unravel tarot’s real, no-nonsense history (hint: it doesn’t include ancient Egypt or romantic fantasies about the Romani), trace its development through the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the European occult movement, and discuss its relationship with contemporary New Age and Neo-Pagan movements. All designed to increase your knowledge of the cards, explore their myriad uses, and strengthen your abilities as a reader.

Finally, there will be plenty of time for guided practice! If you’ve never had the chance to read for others, this is it. You’ll try out new techniques and exclusive spreads, and you’ll do it surrounded by people who are there to support and encourage you. There will be plenty of discussion, you’ll have the opportunity to share your own ideas and experiences, and make friends with readers from diverse backgrounds.

This class contains material that is useful for readers at all levels, but it is best suited for those who have at least some working knowledge of individual card meanings. If you’ve read a beginner book or two and screwed around a bit reading for yourself or for friends, that’s all the experience necessary to get the most out of the course. If you’ve been reading intuitively for a long time and have always been intimidated by tarot’s esoteric traditions and history, this is a great way to kick-start your explorations! If you’re bored with your current practice and just need to be re-inspired, Tarot Salon can help you there, too!

Two-evenings, six hours of presentation, discussion, and practice for only $80. We’ll also be providing light snacks. And all in the comfort of the Charlotte area’s newest and swankiest magical retailer, chock full of awesome handmade tools, jewelry, art, and spellcrafting supplies.

You can find additional details here, and I’ll be posting a flyer the second it’s finished. This is just a first peek! If you’re as pumped as I am and already ready to register, give the shop a call at 704-903-3527.

Tarot Salon is designed to be intimate and conversational, so only 10 seats are available. Register sooner rather than later to avoid disappointment.

Future Salon courses are in the works as well!  And, as always, I’m available for private readings (tarot and runes) on Mondays.