What Makes a Bad Tarot Reader?

Learning Tarot 4 Comments »

Tarot reading still has a slightly disreputable reputation. Readers are often seen as charlatans, without adequate training or quality control. As for the idea that bits of coloured card can give people an accurate glimpse into their lives and future is illogical, even a little crazy.

That’s the left-brained, rational, scientific view. Or – is it?

Einstein, one of the greatest scientists ever, was wonderfully open-minded. He understood the role intuition could play, and was awake to the marvelous. In his wake, quantum physicists are proving that the impossible is, in fact, probable, and questioning everything we think of as ‘reality’. They’re even beginning to explain consciousness and the mind through quantum physics, as well as other strange phenomena such as ghosts, telepathy, mediumship, psychic power etc.

This strange, illogical science can probably explain how the tarot works – watch this space for more articles on tarot and quantum physics.

But the intermediaries, the mediums, the psychics, and the tarot readers – their ability, or lack thereof, are what gave tarot its difficult reputation. Having said that, all the readers I know have high ethical standards and wouldn’t dream of cheating, lying, or carrying on a reading when it’s obvious they’re not getting anything right.

But, unfortunately, there are readers who do lie, cheat, say they can lift curses, etc. I heard one at a psychic fayre piling on the flattery so thickly I was amazed that the client didn’t burst out laughing. As if that wasn’t bad enough, she repeated the same thing to the next one. And there were people lining up to see her! Perhaps bad tarot readers just attract bad clients, the sort that want to be buttered up and told that everything is going to be fine…

Talking of bad clients – one gay man pulled out a wad of money from his pocket and began peeling off ten pound notes, placing them on the table. He indicated that this was a bonus for me. I smiled sweetly and continued reading the cards, which were basically saying that he’d treated all his boyfriends really badly and needed to make reparation. When I got round to that, he said, ‘You’re going to be really angry with me now.’ ‘Why?’ I asked, curiously. ‘Because you’re not going to follow any of my advice?’

‘No,’ he replied, picking up all the money he’d placed on the table. ‘Because I’m going to take back my money.’ And at that he got up and left. I was in hysterics, figuring that the tenners must have been a bribe to tell him what he wanted to hear!

If the cards appear just too good to be true, they probably are. Perhaps the reader is flanneling and trying to tell you what you want to hear (without a bribe), or lying about their meanings for some reason – perhaps because they aren’t very good readers! There is one other alternative which I’ve experienced only a couple of times in the forty years I’ve been reading: that you yourself are psychically powerful and are somehow influencing the cards to say what you want to hear.

Back to bad tarot readers. If the cards (or interpretations) are completely wrong, a bad tarot reader will carry on regardless, ignoring the fact that the energy between you is mismatched or missing. A good reader will say ‘this doesn’t seem to be working, is it’ and give you the option to continue, or return your money.

A quick point about being asked questions. Clients often think that the reader is trying to pump you for information if s/he asks questions. But the cards only offer a general landscape, not a specific landmark, so the questions are to see whether different aspects of the card meaning would be more appropriate to your circumstances. However, there are exceptions: I was shocked recently to hear about a reader in the west of London who spent the whole reading attempting to get the client to interpret the cards, instead of doing it herself. Apparently she charged a fair amount for her readings, too. I find this rather strange – if she couldn’t make head or tail of the reading, perhaps she should have offered a refund.

Finally, the reading is about you, no-one else. A reader who starts talking about her- or himself is bad news. You may get a reader illustrating a point from something they’ve experienced themselves, fair enough; but it should be kept to a minimum.

So what makes a good tarot reader? Someone who uses their psychic gifts to intuit through the cards what is going on for you, and what possible futures you have in store; someone who listens to anything you have to say; can put their ego to one side and concentrate totally on you for an hour or so; someone with good life experience and perception. Tarot readers are counsellors, not predictors, who use their cards as a window through which to gaze on your possible future/s. Your job is to walk out into those future landscapes, using the tarot reading to ensure you notice the opportunities to blossom and grow.

Oracles vs Tarot

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There seems to be a feeling that you must either use a tarot deck or an oracle deck in your readings. But why is it either/or? Why not both?

Since I completed the Devas of Creation – an oracle deck of higher-level energies (Devas are the Shining Ones of Sanskrit tradition, like angelics but more primordial) – I use the tarot for the basic spread as usual, and every now and again I draw a Deva card to look at the higher-level energies around the person, or what will be coming in to help or challenge. It helps that I’m using two decks I painted myself – The Intuitive Tarot and Devas of Creation, because I know them so well, but at the College of Psychic Studies tarot seminar in July, Emily Carding used her Transparent Tarot and Transparent Oracle in a similar way; I’ve also used the Mirror Cards and the Intuitive Tarot together.

The information / clarification that comes from this multi-dimensional approach is usually very helpful – sometimes astonishingly so. For instance, a client drew the 3 Swords which I see as confusion or being split.

She was disinclined to admit she was running away from the problem – until she drew the Deva card I call Storm Crow, which is about splitting / denial.

Another example: the tarot Moon appeared for the client’s son. I sometimes see the Moon as crossing over from sanity to insanity and it certainly is about the deep unconscious intruding into everyday life. I said that it looked like her son was wandering into the Otherworld of the unconscious.

But when I asked for the Devas to clarify what was going on for him, the Moon of the Devas also appeared.

This double whammy indicated to me that he had made a choice to stay in that realm. (Most people see this realm as insanity. I personally think if we had a more enlightened approach to the conscious and unconscious mind, we would be able to help many return from ‘insanity’. The so-called primitive shamans can move at will between these realms; but we have no idea how this works. We say it’s all mumbo-jumbo, and leave the lost souls to wander around between the worlds, never mind that the world needs their insights.)

Still, this is way off the subject, so let’s return to using an oracle deck in tandem with the tarot.

In readings for people who are psychic or very self-aware, I often switch the emphasis to use the Devas as the main deck, with the tarot as clarification. Here the tarot gives the more mundane focus of every-day issues as counterpoint to the spiritual level of the Devas. Obviously, other Oracle decks might have a different focus – the Mirror Cards I mentioned above would concentrate more on relationship issues. And of course it’s possible to do full readings just with an Oracle deck, though you need to know the meanings well in order to do it.

Try it out. Any oracle will work with your tarot deck, it’s really what works for you and what you feel comfortable with. If you have any questions, post them and I’ll do my best to answer.

Strange thing, intuition

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The way intuition works is weird. It is definitely like something other that kicks in. Normally with tarot you work with a low-level intuition – i.e., the base meanings are mostly the same but in each reading they may change slightly; you get a slightly different sense of what the card may mean to this person; or you find yourself saying – or seeing – something that you haven’t said or seen before. So for example, with the Lovers: with one reading the card will be about change, about growth, and about becoming mature. For another reading, it might be about a relationship that has become too stifling and the client needs to move away into the big world.

But as I say, that’s all low-level intuition. Sometimes, though, something else kicks in. The client is often someone who has done a lot of work on themselves so is very aware; or they are pretty psychic themselves. And then, it’s like a path opens up onto a different plane altogether, and information floods through. It’s not INFORMATION like writing on the wall (although it might be for some people); with me, it’s quite subtle and sometimes sounds a bit crazy – but if I trust it, it usually opens up all sorts of avenues for the client.

The trouble with it is that it is so ‘other’. It doesn’t feel like thinking usually does. Trying to explain it is almost impossible, but when I was trying I wrote ‘it comes through’ or ‘something opens up’. Is this opening up to the right brain, or to some other dimension? Who knows? I think this question is one I must put to other tarot readers and psychics to discover how they see it. Meanwhile, if you have any thoughts on this, please send them in!

Tarot Meanings and the End of Times

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At a tarot cafe recently we were discussing the end of times (as one does – nothing like a tarot cafe to get some good discussions going). I decided to ask the tarot about this – is it going to be in 2012, as the end of the Mayan calendar seems to have indicate, or what is coming?

I drew one card, and three more fell out, so I read them all.

The Hermit. It doesn’t look like this is Armageddon. It does, however, look like we’re all going to have to do some soul-searching. This is about a withdrawal – from the rat race, from the status quo, and from the familiar. We follow our sole/soul light from the lantern, and go down into the dark, surrounded by fears of the unknown.

Most people will avoid this journey into themselves. We fill our lives with noise, with material things, houses and mortgages and cars, in order to avoid that dark place within. But – as we see from current society – the lack of substance that results is a soul-sickness which ultimately ends in some sort of a crash, a war or a plague, an enforced re-evaluation. You’d have thought that the recession, and all the other ills we’ve created, would have made us think, but no – still we carry on regardless.

The Wheel. There is a big shift coming though. We have reached the end of one cycle, and it’s time to move on to the next. Again, this is not Armageddon, it’s relatively gentle (far gentler than we deserve, I think). It is an opportunity to change our perceptions and thus improve our lives. We can rewrite the future if we change the way we see things – indeed, we must rewrite the future. We cannot go on the way we are.

What’s good (and a little surprising) about this is its apparent gentleness. This is not the Tower or Judgment. The Wheel is the cosmic cycle, the natural flow of things. Nevertheless, it is the end of an era and change will come – is coming, and our only choice is to move with it or fight it. Either way, the world will change.

Five of Cups. This is the card of grief, loss and sorrow. It’s not terminal – we will recover – but at the moment we need to stay with that grief.

Grief is not something we enjoy. Clients are often scared that you’ll tell them there are difficulties ahead. Actually, though, trying to avoid difficulties is worse than experiencing them. To live – to be alive – often means we have to feel. Again, as stated with the Hermit, most of the stuff we surround ourselves with is a means to avoid facing difficult emotions. Perhaps this is why we refuse to acknowledge the parlous state of the world.Here, though, it isn’t enough to acknowledge it – we’ve plenty of doom and gloom merchants rubbing our noses in it. But none of them actually express the pain and sadness we must all feel, at some level, about what we’ve done – and are still doing – to the earth and our fellow humans. If we can feel that – truly grieve for what we’ve accomplished – then we have a chance to move on into the future without destroying ourselves.

The Four of Cups. Is this looking further into the future, or is it again about the grief we need to feel right now about what we’ve done? The four is about satiety, passivity, draining energy (as a description of our current state of lassitude and apathy, this could not be bettered). It also points out that, although we have lost something precious (the overturned cup), we still have huge gifts being offered to us which we are ignoring. The world is still beautiful, still there, still our birthright. It’s up to us now. There are huge numbers of us who know things can’t go on, and if we banded together instead of feeling it is all too big and too awful, we could change the world.

The Four also indicates that there’s a need to clarify goals and identify what’s important to us, instead of bewailing what’s gone.

Gaia. To get a feel for the energy around us, and the protection and challenge for us now (with reference to the ‘End of Times’), I drew one of my Deva cards (http://www.devasofcreation.com). The Devas often cut to the heart of a question, and this was one of those times, as Gaia appeared (you have to look quite closely at this card to see Gaia herself – she’s in the centre at the top, her arms enfolding the world).

This is the crux of the question. At the time I read it as Gaia herself taking a hand in the story – she can choose at any time to shrug and say enough. In the last few days she’s coughed – or perhaps it was just a little burp (the volcano in Iceland) – and thousands of people are stranded away from home because the planes are grounded. She isn’t well, let’s face it – pollution, deforestation, water and oil running out because of our profligacy and greed. What happens when she really gets sick?

It’s time for us to wake up.

Types of Intuition

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We are all more intuitive (or psychic) than we realise. It’s a natural ability to perceive far beyond our senses and logic; a flash of inspiration or insight; a gut feeling. We all have experienced that ‘inner’ knowing or awareness, a certainty that’s outside logical thought- perhaps as déjà vu, hunches, sixth sense, gut feeling; predictive dreams; psychic messages; solutions to difficult problems. But it’s often quite subtle, and we have to learn how to recognise and act on it.

Every one will have their own unique way intuition manifests. Some will ‘just know’ things – claircognizant – information just comes to you, with the sense that it’s important. You may know who’s on the phone before it rings.

You may see things (clairvoyance) – either inside your head, or in the outside world, seeing energies and / or images. You may see a person, scene, colours, auras, past lives, and visions of the past, present or future – they may be as if you’re watching a film, or still photos. Far-seeing comes under this category.

You may be clairaudient, psychically hearing thoughts, words, songs, or other sounds. These are usually inaudible to the normal hearing range, but can also appear within your voice, sometimes as a voice very different from your own.

Your intuition may also manifest as clairsentient – perceiving information through a sensation in your physical body. It may be a gut feeling, or sense the body issues of someone either with you, or close to you. You may also sense spirit guides, deceased relatives, angels.

Clairscentrist people sense through smell – tobacco, alcohol, a scent of candles, rosewater, etc (this is often reported with thoughts of spirit presence).

Clairgustant is psychically tasting a substance, liquid or food without actually putting it in your mouth.

Oddly, although we all have a certain amount of these so-called extra-sensory abilities, many adults in our culture ignore them or even close them down, either because they are scared, or because they couldn’t depend on their abilities – having been let down a couple of times, they then assumed it wasn’t safe to trust them at all. Certainly you will not have been trained in the use of intuition at school. But ancient humans probably used intuition to live by, sensing where the animals were running and, possibly, connecting with the animals themselves to check which beast to kill. Their cave art reflects the psychic link they felt with the natural world, and it could well be similar to how we work with in the tarot.

Working with the Tarot for Self-awareness (continued)

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The Wheel - traditionally The Wheel of Fortune. An ancient symbol, the Wheel represents the cosmos, time, fate and karma. The medieval concept of the Wheel of Fortune show man helplessly bound to the wheel of destiny, his fate either predestined, or, alternatively, subject to blind chance. In today’s Tarot, however, we can read it with a lighter touch: as the Tao, the ever-changing yet ever unified circle of existence.

The Wheel signals some new cycle of life: an opportunity to alter our perceptions, when we realize that the currents in the river of life are drawing us inexorably along whether we will or no. We can neither control nor fight the flow; all we can do is to allow ourselves to flow with it, in full awareness of what is involved.

The next stage on the path is XI, Strength. Some of the oldest decks show Samson killing a lion. The archetypal hero often has to battle with a primitive or wild man in order to come to his full power, while the lion itself is the archetype of strength, power, and majesty.

In self-development terms, Strength is the first test on the journey of the soul. Our choice to follow the Hermit’s path brings us into direct contact with the unconscious, that level of the psyche we usually encounter only through dreams. The first level we encounter is our animal side, the Id in Freudian terms – the child which rages to get its own way. The woman in the image, who can be thought of as the ego, does not kill the animal, but controls it with firmness and compassion. If we can manage this, the lion becomes our Ally.

XII – The Hanged Man. This is where we see that everything we’ve been taught, all our previous moral certainties – indeed all our previous ideas about who we are, what we want in life – must be re-examined.

The archetype of the Hanged Man is an old one. In ancient Greece, images of the god were often hung in trees to ensure fertility and a good harvest. Many of the gods linked to fertility were sacrificed in different ways – Tammuz (Ishtar’s consort), Osiris, Christ, and Odin, who hung himself upside down for nine days and nights in order to gain wisdom. Less well known is the story of Shemyaza, one of the so-called Fallen Angels, who fell in love with a mortal woman, Ishtahar. After Shemyaza revealed the true name of God to her, God imprisoned him in Orion, hanging upside down, for eternity.

Shemyaza © C Conway 2010

In self-development terms, The Hanged Man is shown as an initiate, like Odin, hanging herself as a sacrifice to growth in the new world she now inhabits. She must have the strength of mind to fly in the face of convention, or she can progress no further. As an initiate, it is also necessary to be able to surrender to chaos and the unknown.

XIII – Death. The ability of the initiate to surrender to the unknown is tested to its ultimate in the Death card. It is not physical death, but the mystery initiate quite often has to live through soliltude in utter darkness for a number of days. At the end of that time they would emerge as from the tomb, profoundly changed.  Every major change in our lives means a death of sorts; each time we end a relationship, change jobs, move house – even the end of the day or year – entails a little death. But without those deaths, we stagnate.

In archetypal terms, Death occupies an pre-eminent position: an inescapable destiny. In many traditions we find a river over which souls pass to the next life. In Greek myth the ferryman, Charon, rows the dead over the river Styx, while in Egypt the boat was guided by Anubis, the jackal-headed god of embalming. In Roman and Celtic myth, the goddess Isis and Ceridwen were in charge of this strangely ubiquitous boat.


XIV – Temperance. The last of the virtues depicted overtly in the Major Arcana. The figure can be identified with Aquarius, the water carrier, or with Ganymede who became cup-bearer to the gods, replenishing the nectar of immortality when it ran low. Temperance is today depicted as angelic, its abilities alchemic: pouring one vessel into another, one quality with another to make a third, a synthesis of the two: water into wine, lead into gold, dark into light.

In self-development terms, Temperance is the deep inner balance of inner to outer, the first inkling of the integration which culminates in The World. It is the ability to temper unconscious emotions with conscious reason; to balance irrational, childish reaction with adult processing. This ability will be tested fully in the next stage along the path.

XV – The Devil. We see the archetype of The Devil in numerous old gods. Indeed, as Paul Huson points out in The Devil’s Picture Book, the gods of a dead religion often become the demons of the succeeding one. Pan, Baphomet, Cernunnos, Satan, all combine to give us the image we see in the Tarot. It is significant that many of these were fertility gods, as The Devil is about our darkest desires: greed, sexual perversion, envy, obsession – and the fear attached to these feelings. This is what C.G. Jung called the Shadow – all that we find unacceptable in ourselves and so repress from our consciousness. The Initiate has to acknowledge and integrate this shadow stuff.

The card reminds us that The Devil does exist – though not as an external agent; not as a dark angel who tempts us, binds us, forces us to do things we would never dream of (‘the devil made me do it’). But the Devil is within us. By projecting our unwanted shadow on others, and then acting out based on that distorted perception, we ourselves create evil. The Devil reminds us that each of us is capable of the worst excesses, of arrogance and greed, envy and murder. If we think we are exempt, we are deluding ourselves.

However, the Devil also holds out a promise of redemption. As the initiate, if we acknowledge our shadow side, and work with it when we encounter it, it becomes our teacher. That requires courage and honesty, the ability to see the dark and not deny or project it onto the outside world. Instead, draw it, write to it, dialogue with it, express it through your body or through a story. Then ask what it wants from you. Usually it wants acknowledgement, acceptance, and then the will to change and grow.

XVI – The Tower. Certain events, both personal and external, are so cataclysmic we can only stand, shuddering, and wait for the fall-out to clear. Hiroshima was such an event; 9/11 another. Both can be seen as diabolic or divine, depending on our viewpoint, but the magnitude of each makes it impossible to continue life as before. We may retrace the steps that led there, but there is no going back. However, the destruction is not wholly negative. As the lightning strikes, for a second we see Divinity in all its magnitude. Even as the old world crumbles, a new world is born.

As an archetype, the Tower is about hubris. It may remind us of the Tower of Babel, Atlantis or even Sodom and Gomorrah. By now, the initiate’s foundations should be firm enough to withstand the storms and destruction of the external world, no matter how apocalyptic. Even though our world can be shattered in a moment, we can rebuild. A new world can emerge from the old.

In self-development terms, this card refers to purification through loss, and the ability to withstand the worst storms. When we reach this level of awareness, we may wish to simplify, challenging any rigid, outdated structures or thought processes. The cosmic bolt from the blue is never something for which we can be prepared, but on the path this winnowing is essential.

XVII – The Star. The Star gives us real recognition of how far we’ve come. We emerge from the depth of the unconscious into the light of the stars. Now we experience a vision of wholeness, a deep gnostic understanding of eternity and renewal. This is the profound inner certainty that comes when we at last find ourselves connected to the mystic Centre. We become a channel for divine energy made manifest on earth.

Medieval Cosmology

The Star is about hope: the light that appears to call us to remember who we were born to be. Archetypally, the stars point the way to illumination. They are seen as luminous celestial beings with the ability to bring home and illumination. The story of the star of Bethlehem, and the Magi from the east, is well known. Other stories tell of how the stars were formed: the Greeks, for instance, saw the constellations as conscious, self-aware entitles who lodged in the dome of heaven. The Titan Atlas balanced this enormous dome on his shoulders, shifting it when the weight became too great, which caused the stars to rise and set.

In self-development terms, the Initiate now has a sustained connection to the Higher Self, that part of us which is aware of being divine. We need to ensure that our minds stay open, reflecting that inner light which allows problems to be resolved with ease and grace. Think about your highest dream – are there things you need to do in life? Miracles happen daily, though we often fail to notice them.

XVIII – The Moon. Like The Star, the Moon has been the subject of awe, ritual and story since humans first became sentient. From neolithic times the Moon was usually seen as the multi-faceted Great Mother – New Moon (Maiden – Persephone, Diana the Huntress, Artemis), Full Moon (Mother – Demeter, Isis, Astarte) and finally the Dark Moon (the Hag – Hecate, dark Ereshkigal, Juno). Even today we bow to the moon’s influence: we mark its passage from dark to full while the sea moves in its wake, while those of unsound mind are known to become even more disturbed at full moon.

Thus the Moon of the Tarot carries both dark and light aspects of the Goddess. The crab or crayfish crawling out of the pool refers to the dark of the moon. In this guise we encounter Hecate, a psychopomp who guides the Soul through the underworld. As the initiate, we have encountered Death already, but this is the crossing between sanity and insanity – a living journey through the underworld. Shamans, artists, and other seekers may cross that borderline, but there is always a risk that they will not return intact. The hospitals are full of people who have lost their way in that ambivalent, delusory realm.


The Moon is about a failure of nerve, delusion or deception. Often we may be taken in by feelings of grandiosity, paranoia, or megalomania as we look at the dizzy level we’ve attained. The challenge of this archetype is not to forget ourselves totally, in the waters of Lethe; but, somehow, remember our way back.

XIX – The Sun. And now the night ends and the sun rises, as it has since the dawn of time. The archetype of the sun is about light, warmth, life. Dawn is about birth, new beginnings; midday is warmth, growth, harvest; evening is the growing shadow, wilting, the coming of the night, death. The tarot image shows the solar twins dancing under the light of the midday sun, protected from its burning rays within a circular garden. The solar twins are found in a number of myths and are potential saviours.

By now the initiate is in a state of grace. The light floods in; we – the steadfast seekers on the Way – are transfigured and renewed. From now on that warmth, that heightened awareness, will not leave us for long – although being human, we may have times when we lose the certainty, the connection. But our vision is so clear now that nothing will get caught between us and the light.

XX – Judgment. The imagery here is mainly Christian – the Last Judgment, when the dead souls are gathered and their ultimate destination decided. The man and woman in the image are the twin souls in the Sun, grown to adulthood, with their divine child. The trumpet is the call to new life; the veils between the worlds lifts and we are redeemed. All the old polarities have been resolved, the child representing our new unified consciousness. Archetypally, the divine child is understood as the birth of new consciousness. Myths from around the world talk of a shining infant, its lambent gaze full of wisdom and compassion, who comes to bring salvation.

Judgment marks the near completion of the journey: rebirth, the reunification of the soul. In Jungian therapy this might appear in dreams as an angelic call, the ‘pearl without price'; the treasure now recovered; in alchemic terms it is the Philosopher’s Stone, the ‘pearl without price’.

XXI – The World. The culmination of the journey: the fully realised soul – the divine child grown to adulthood. This is the Anima Mundi, where male and female, dark and light, inner and outer, are integrated in unity, a synthesis of beauty and completion. The dancer – whom T.S. Eliot called the ‘still point of the turning circle’, is androgenous; s/he is the Coniunctio, the mystic marriage of matter, mind and spirit that was the ultimate goal of the alchemists. Here we move past the limitations of form into a timeless state of grace – of active and receptive love. It is both an ending, and a beginning.

The archetype of this awesome being is alchemic: engravings of medieval alchemy show the conjoined being as the end result of the Great Work. Once the alchemist had attained this level of understanding, it would be reflected in his alchemical work by the ability to turn base metal into gold.

0 – The Fool. And even now there is one final stage on the journey. As Eliot puts it,

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

This is the wise fool: the individual – and mankind itself – ready for the next stage of its evolution into a far more evolved being. A few phenomenal souls have reached that state – Buddha, Christ resurrected, perhaps Gandhi and Mandela; a select few!

Archetypally, the Holy Fool is seen in many traditions. He has transcended physical reality – all the world’s goods mean nothing to him. His vision is humane, wise, and numinous. He is Zero: the Nothing and the All simultaneously. At last, through the unknowable void, the future soul embraces time and matter to become manifest once more, and the cycle begins again.

And, perhaps, we can think of this not as a closed circle, but as a spiral, where the end and the beginning of each cycle do not meet, but begin again on a higher level.

Working with the Tarot for Self-awareness (Part One)

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We may never know for certain why the Tarot was developed, but given that the focus of medieval society was spiritual, we can be fairly sure that it had a spiritual underpinning.

Today, however, most taroists see the Majors as a concise and powerful description of the journey into self-awareness. Each one represents not only a stage in our own development but also an archetype, a mental image we all understand and which find their way into our myths, legends and fairy-tales. In personal terms the Fool reflects the innocence and carefree stance of our infancy. The archetype is of the potent outsider who questions everything, throws life away on a whim – the Fool on the Hill. Alternatively, we see in many fairy tales a slightly unfocused, naive hero, the innocent abroad who either gets by somehow – or makes a complete pig’s ear of life and has to be rescued by some external agency.

The Magician depicts our dawning awareness of the ability to shape our lives – and the need to be seen doing so. It’s about manifestation, control, and often manipulation. We all have encountered the person who demands attention, has to be the centre of the limelight, the consummate performer who always has to be on the move in case we get to know him (or her) too well. We know the archetype, too: Loki, the trickster who loves to throw everything into chaos, who can create or destroy on a whim; Mercurius the ever-changeable; Coyote and Reynard the fox. In everyday terms, he would be the second-hand car salesman who’ll say anything to get you to buy.

In personal terms the High Priestess shows us the sensations of the body-mind as we grow, and the inherent wisdom of life; while the archetype is of the virgin Moon Goddess, with deep intuitive knowledge of time and tide and seasons. She calls us to full awareness of this world (its deep realities, never just surface). Mythologically she is seen as Celene, Artemis or Diana; the cool virgin goddesses (‘virgin’ meaning belonging to no man, rather than our desexualised view of the word).

The Empress, all-giving mother, should perhaps be numbered 1, as our first awareness outside ourselves is of the mother. In our lives we may not have experienced the abundance and lush giving nature of this archetype, which shows the Triple Goddess in her mature, fecund state – the Yin of the Tao. Nor have many of us in the west encountered such potent feminine energy, although we can see it clearly when, as Gaia, she shrugs and thousands die in earthquakes or tsunamis. Most of the time we like to think that mankind is in control. The ancient neolithic figurines of old Europe and Anatolia depict her at her most fecund, while the Tarot shows her multi-faceted potency. But as the ancient goddesses’ day passed into history, and the patriarchy took over, the Greek and Roman mother goddesses became pallid, ineffectual reflections of the archetype’s full omnipotence.

The Emperor is the divine masculine, but also our experience of the male, usually as reflected in our fathers. He is also about discipline, will, and structure – the patriarchy. As an archetype, the Emperor is focused masculine energy – the Yang. In myth he might be seen as Jove, Odin, Zeus, or, historically, Alexander or the Roman Emperors. Today we see a debased reflection of this masculine essence in Hollywood dick-flicks, where the male is depicted as almost superhuman. No weakness, no humanity can be shown in these simulations. Some women reflect a similar two-dimensionality in their animus projections, usually shown in dogmatic assertions that ‘this is the way it is’, while many men emulate the bad example given by their fathers.

The Hierophant represents the growth of wisdom; our teachers, spiritual mentors, inner guidance. The archetype was described the Old Wise Man by C.G. Jung, who encountered a being he named Philemon in his inner journeys. Philemon would give Jung insight into problems, imparting information that Jung himself had no way of knowing. This access to deep inner wisdom Jung later called the collective unconscious. In myth, Merlin is a good example of the Hierophant, particularly in his understanding of magic, while Savonarola and the Witchfinders show the reversed side of the archetype, its rigid and fearful mindset – and the damage that can do.

(From The Red Book, by C.G. Jung)

The first awareness of choice is seen in The Lovers. Each of us becomes aware of our own autonomy at some stage – the ability to make our own lives, choose our own friends. Some of the older tarot show a man trying to decide between two women, perhaps mother and lover (the film The Graduate is an example of that choice) and certainly this is a choice some men find difficult! In mythological terms we might consider Paris choosing between Helen and the goddess Aphrodite. A broader aspect of this card, however, is that as we grow we are constantly offered the choice to stay small or to grow; it is usually fear that stops us growing, but if we give into the fear we constrict ourselves and become scared of life itself.

In The Chariot we have now moved out into the world, and are developing our personae (masks). We may develop an aggressive, driving ambition; or stay invisible in the background; we may be a perfectionist, or get by doing as little as possible. Either way the Chariot is about ambition, will and determination. In Greek myth, Helios, the sun-god, drives the sun chariot across the sky each day; his strong hand on the whip and reins of the chariot ensured it never falters; and a famous Greek statue of Heniokhos (the rein-holder) depicts the need to ensure both horses (dark and light) are going in the same direction. If our unconscious wants to go one way, and our conscious wants to go a different way, we’ll end up going nowhere.

Justice, tarot trump VIII in most decks, shows the inner balance needed for maturity. It’s about discrimination, truth and integrity: often it entails giving our lives a cold hard look, to see where we are lying to ourselves. Mythologically she is Athena: divine Justice rather than man-made justice. Cool, objective, she cuts through untruths and the confusion we create. Archetypally, the concept of fair play, of righting wrongs, is one we seem to understand instinctively – even if the justice we create in society falls far short of the ideal.

The Hermit is the pilgrim who withdraws from the world to walk the uncertain, lonely road to self-awareness. In the East this is an accepted path for men and women, and even in our extraverted western society many seek the silence and solitude in order to gain wisdom. Archetypally the Hermit is another aspect of the Old Wise Man, but we might see him as Saturn – patient, inexorable, contained. This is the stage in life where some inner call is heard: the barest flicker of sound, half the time appearing quite impossible. But some of us do heed the call, and follow that strange inner path – ‘the road less travelled’, as F. Scott Peck puts it in the book of the same title. The remaining tarot Majors describe that journey.

(to be continued…)

Developing Your Own Tarot Reading Style

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When first you start working with the tarot, your ‘reading style’ is probably not going to be uppermost in your mind. You’ll no doubt be concerned about the meanings and how on earth to remember them, or, if you’re an intuitive reader, whether you can trust your intuition and how you’ll find enough to say to the people who ask you for a reading – ‘it’ll take me 5 minutes and then I’ll run out of things to say’. (Actually, that won’t happen; if you make enough of a connection to the cards the meanings will come. You put your mind into neutral and allow yourself to say what streams off your tongue. Even after 34 years I often listen to what I’m saying and think ‘what on earth am I talking about? Is this total rubbish or does it make sense?’ Often it sounds like garbage to me, so I often ask the client whether it makes any sense to them. It’s rare that they look absolutely blank and say it’s total rubbish.)

But to return to style. When I first started researching the tarot I had about 5 books I read constantly, Alfred Douglas The Tarot being the most useful. Douglas’s approach was quite Jungian and that suited me; I’d become interested in psychology at the age of 18 and so references to the unconscious, myth and archetypes rang all sorts of bells, and actually inspired me to start reading into history, mythology, and psychology – I have always said that the tarot educated me. Jung’s personality types – intuitive/creative, feeling- or sensory oriented, or intellectual – made perfect sense in correspondence with the suits (Wands, Cups, Discs/Pentacles, and Swords). My readings naturally had the same slant – they were concerned with underlying concerns, background history and all that entailed, and interpersonal issues, often at work. The readings worked fine, especially using my own deck (The Intuitive Tarot), but I wasn’t sure this was actually what most tarot readers did. So when I began reading professionally, I figured I’d be a one-off, doing psychological tarot – and in fact, I met a psychic fair reader who informed me that she didn’t know what sort of reading I was doing – it wasn’t tarot, she said. It was only when I met other tarot readers that I was reassured: most readers nowadays consider that their readings are more counselling than psychic. Some readers prefer to concentrate on character-readings and past issues, and avoid looking into the future (based on the premise that it’s all in flux and can change without warning). However, I know the cards can, and do, look into the future – often with frightening accuracy. It’s just we haven’t got there yet. Trust the cards – they will be telling the truth; it’s our own vision which is limited.

Don’t worry if you don’t consider yourself psychic. In my experience ‘psychic readings’ contain a lot of the reader’s ‘stuff’, whereas by using the tarot (especially if you get the client to draw the cards), you have a good chance that they will be accurate: all you have to do then is to interpret them. We all have some sort of psychic awareness, but it can exhibit in different ways. Each ordinary sense – sound, sight, taste, touch and smell – is matched by a subtle level, or ‘psychic’ sense. So you might get words or ideas ‘coming through’ (clairaudience), some ‘see’ clairvoyantly; some ‘just know’ things, sense atmosphere or get information on places (claircognizance); some can pick up information from items such as hair or wristwatches (psychometry and psychokinesis). Some can sense energies in and through the body (clairsentience), and the subtle level sense of smell (clairgustant) may well be something we used to rely on far more (animals have far greater olfactory abilities, but we are certainly still able to pick up on sexual pheromones, for instance). Indeed, it may be that all these extrasensory abilities are atavistic – throw-backs to our animal origins, when our lives depended upon what we picked up from the environment. This ‘secondary awareness’ is just about being fully awake. In our polluted, over-stimulated, over-populated world, we have forgotten what life is really about.

Anyway, finally, the most important ‘style’ a tarot reader needs, is to develop empathy. Empathy, the ability to feel someone else’s emotions and reactions, isn’t necessarily inborn. Some have no empathy at all, and they would not be particularly good tarot readers. However, the ability certainly can be learnt: practice by putting yourself into someone else’s shoes. Ask yourself ‘how would I feel in this situation?’ And, of course, the more life experience you have the more you’ll be able to understand how others feel.

The Tarot – Five Common Myths

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Many myths and assumptions have built up around the Tarot over the centuries – many of them wrong. Some of the most common are:

1) The Tarot is evil.

Wrong. The Tarot is powerful, yes. It speaks directly to your unconscious, and the imagery is archetypal and certainly sometimes disturbing – but essentially the Tarot is a mirror: it reflects what is inside you. Thus anyone who considers it evil is merely projecting evil from themselves onto the cards.

Like any powerful tool, you can abuse the Tarot – by becoming addicted to it or obsessively repeating the same question (in which case you may well find that it can get really tetchy). If, however, you treat it with respect, study and use the cards for self-awareness, you will soon discover that the Tarot represents a profound and transformational spiritual journey.

2) You have to be psychic to read the Tarot.

Wrong. All you have to be is intelligent and able to understand pictures (an integral gift for all humanity: we dream in pictures, so – while our schools work hard to make us forget how to do it – you probably will find it easier than you think).

3) You should always be given a Tarot deck: you should never buy one for yourself.

Unless you’ve told the person exactly what tarot to buy, a tarot gift pack is usually one that sits unused in a drawer. The best way to find a deck you can actually use is to go to a good esoteric shop which has samples, and look at every card. The pack that speaks to you, that you love, is the one you need to buy.

4) The Tarot tells you the future

The cards are capable and do foretell the future. However, changes occur every second, and we can also change our lives by how we think. So it is best to consider the cards as suggesting possibilities, of indications of what you need to be aware of, and sometimes, old patterns of thought we need to alter.

5) The Tarot came from Ancient Egypt

No-one knows where the Tarot originated. It is unlikely to have been Ancient Egypt (though it’s a nice story); it’s more likely to have been Italy as the titles on the early decks were in Italian. The Major Arcana might have been designed as part of the Mystery Plays, and no-one knows where the Minors – which are like ordinary playing cards – came from. The latter are first mentioned in 1377, the Majors in 1415. The two sets were first amalgamated in the 1500s. The first decks we know of were beautifully illuminated – the Visconti Tarot is a good example.


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Notwithstanding all the advances made by science over the last few centuries, which have seen our understanding of the universe change from the idea of a mechanical, ordered system in which humans stood triumphantly in the centre, into one where nothing is certain, all is flux, and humans, indeed our Solar System itself, are but miniscule aspects of a vast array of dancing particles. Perhaps the whole of existence is merely consciousness, perhaps part of some Meta-consciousness some might call Divinity. As for human consciousness – well, physicists consider now that the mind must be understood as part of a quantum system: in other words, the function of the mind operates along quantum principles, not through the usual physical laws, but we are still waiting to hear whether we can progress past the theory to the implications of this statement.

In the meantime, arguably, we know more about the workings of the universe than that of the mind. In our materialist, rational world, we find intuition extremely difficult to explain, let alone describe how it works – and yet we are use intuition to a greater or lesser degree. In some the faculty is so advanced we call it ‘psychic’.

My dictionary gives the standard definition of intuition: ‘immediate unreasoned perception; instinctive knowledge’. A second dictionary (published more recently) is more open-minded: ‘the power of the mind by which it immediately perceives the truth of things without reasoning or analysis: as truth so perceived, immediate knowledge in contrast with mediate.’

The standard dictionary’s take on psychic is ‘having occult powers; capable of telepathy, of seeing ghosts and spirits etc; of or studying occult phenomena.’ (The word occult as defined as: ‘pertaining to the psyche, soul, or mind; spiritual; beyond, or apparently beyond, the physical: sensitive to or in touch with that which has not yet been explained physically.

20th Century man’s arrogant view that we knew almost everything, and what we didn’t know would soon fall into place, begins to look distinctly shaky as chaos theory, multi-dimensional maths, and quantum physics redefine our current view of reality. Mystics and artists have of course been saying much the same things as the quantum physicists for centuries. If we wonder about the origin of such revelations we would probably say they are creative and intuitive. We might add that they come from the wellspring, or the collective unconscious, or right brain, or some other term. But they have a different flavour to the normal rational consciousness, which calculates and cogitates, functions in the outsider world.

Researchers in the 1960-1980s found a distinct different in the way the two halves of the brain functioned. The left brain was found to work well in step-by-step arguments, logic, calculations, rational thinking, ‘objectivity’. The right brain sees things holistically, taking the problem as a whole. It tends to jump to conclusions – correctly, but often with little obvious evidence. In recent years more research has found people to be predominantly left- or right-brained. Most of us use both, often unconsciously. In problem solving, for example, we may think we are using our left brain to pull together various different facts. We weigh, and um and ah, and sleep on it. In the morning we wake up, knowing what we need to do. That’s intuition – obviously a right-brain function.

But still we know absolutely nothing about how this marvellous bunch of cells and grey matter works. Synapses, electric currents, hormones, chemicals, and somehow it metamorphoses into intuition and creativity, logic and amazing mental prowess. No wonder physicists think it’s a quantum function: in normal physical law consciousness probably can’t be explained at all. Let alone intuition!

So where does that leave us? Well, rather like walking, we just do it – i.e., use both sides of the brain. Intuition, when we come down to it, is just a matter of listening to a different voice – the one that says ‘move!’ when someone steps too close, or ‘no’, when we think about an unsuitable projected action; the one that wakes us up when we’ve forgotten to put the alarm on, or the one that warns us through a wordless ‘feeling’ that someone we meet is up to no good. Most of us hear the voice and ignore it. Our left brain discounts it for a number of reasons, all ostensibly good; but later, we may well regret ignoring what our intuition has been whispering. It is a very small voice, and easy to talk ourselves out of it.

What then when you get an intuitive tool, say a tarot pack, which can be used purely as a way to open the intuition? Well, our mind is the key. We see in images, dream in images, understand images. We may not understand the message consciously but we certainly get it unconsciously. Think of the dreams you’ve had which made no sense at the time. Often, in a few weeks’ time, we suddenly realise what the dream was about. Dreams are a symbolic language – something that I believe our earliest ancestors understood very well, but the key to which we have mislaid. The more we insist that existence is 3-dimensional, the less we understand. The tarot even has a card that tells us that we need to rethink everything we’ve been taught. If we ignore this wake-up call there’s an even more powerful punch to the psyche that the universe often delivers in the shape of the Tower – the lightning strike of divinity, which destroys our current reality. Intuitively, we can understand these images completely. The archetypes of the tarot speak to us in many different ways: through our eyes, our hearing, our bodies, and our senses.

In the next article I’ll explain a little more about the different sorts of intuition.