One thing I’ve learned from reading tarot is that you shouldn’t ask questions you don’t want the answers to. I wasn’t going to ask.
Still, I needed something to do with my hands, and I have more time and decks than I know what to do with, sometimes. I was waiting for the results of a well check — I’ve called and called my grandfather for days, and gotten no response. He’s very independent for his age, but I still worry (especially now). When another day passed with no answer, I bit the bullet and asked for someone to check on him.
(He’s okay. He was sick, but he’ll be home tomorrow.)
So, agitated and with shaky hands, I forced myself to put my phone down and shuffle a deck instead. I didn’t even really ask a question, I just wanted something to do.
I drew the Nine of Wands.
This card speaks of setbacks and obstacles. It’s the ninth in the cycle — the third card of the third card — the Penultimate End, but not the End End. It’s a conclusion, but not a culmination. It’s challenges, it’s exhaustion.
It kind of sucks.
The silver lining to the Nine of Wands is that, coming as it does at the end of the end, it means that you have a lot of knowledge and resources to draw on. Things are tough. You might be feeling mistrustful, worn out, ready to give it up. When you can leave the past behind and push onward, you can make it throught.
To be honest, I can’t complain — there are people who have it a lot worse than I do. People who can’t work from home, people who can’t work from home and need to find childcare because schools are closed, people who are actually sick. I still feel it like an itchy shirt. There’s a world of difference between choosing not to go out, and not being able to for fear of getting sick or putting others in jeopardy.
If there’s a positive side to this, it’s given me time to write here, finish some paid writing, paint, pursue a few new ideas, and work on learning the Tarot of Marseilles and Ogham divination.
On the flip side, it’s tempting to do a lot of divination. As anyone who habitually reads tarot, runes, or other oracles can tell you, doing tarot spread after tarot spread is an easy way to trip yourself up.
Though I was very tempted to pull out all of the stops and do a full, complete-deck spread, I figured it was better to stick to just one card for this week. (After doing a success reading, and a career reading, and a creativity reading, and a love reading, and experimenting with a Lenormand spread, and…)
Using The Tarot de Maria Celia, I drew the Cavalier d’Épée — the Knight of Swords.
Interestingly, the last time I drew him, it was a time that was fairly similar to this. Though the health challenges causing my isolation aren’t my own this time around, I can feel the same sense of waiting and agitation. In The Crow Tarot, the Knight of Swords points to an energetic start to a new project. In the Marseilles Tarot, the sentiment is similar — he is the feeling of obsession we get when we have a new idea, when we’re so fixated on the fresh and exciting that it seems like nothing can go wrong.
On the positive side, his energy, determination, and enthusiasm make it easy to succeed. On the negative side, they also make it very easy to ignore the challenges in the way of that success. It may even be tempting to ignore the protestations of other people who know better, and ignore the needs of others in the attempt to chase that success.
Sometimes, when I get wrapped up in a project, I do forget things. I might not eat, might not drink enough, might even forget to sleep until the middle of the night. These things aren’t just harmful for me, though — they’re also a sign of neglecting my relationship. If I’m too busy to eat, I’m too busy for meals with my partner. If I’m up too late, he’s up too late because he has trouble sleeping without me.
The Cavalier d’Épée is a warning — ride the tide of optimism, but don’t let it flatten everything else.
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So, I’ve been working on learning a new system of divination — Ogham staves. I used them for this week’s divination, and I’ve been trying to see where else I can incorporate them into my practice.
Many types of wood have their own specific magical and spiritual properties, so choosing a set took me awhile. I also prefer to find tools that are “neutral,” in an energetic sense; I don’t like using wood that’s been cut down, if I can help it. Windfall and reclaimed woods are more my jam.
I love the size and shape — a lot of the other staves I looked at were thinner and more rounded, which I thought might make it more difficult for me to draw them the way I’d like to. The texture is nice, too, with the velvety-softness of sea-tumbled wood. They’re also a very good weight, neither too light to keep from blowing away outdoors, nor too heavy to carry comfortably in a purse or crane bag.
I keep them in a lovely crocheted pouch by Neeedles. It’s just the right size, and gorgeous colors. The crochet is nice and tight, too, so I’m not worried about the staves stretching holes in the stitches and slipping out. At about $15, it was a very reasonable price for a handmade bag, and the craftspersonship is really, really nice. I’m considering getting more of them for my other supplies, they’d be great for carrying a few stones, vials of herbs, and tealights for mobile ritual-doing.
Now I just have to learn the meanings. Fortunately, I have a lot of opportunity to practice!
ADF-structured rituals have an oracle portion that gives us an opportunity to know how our offerings were received, know which blessings we are receiving in turn, and get messages from the spirits we work with. I’ve always used tarot for this, but I’ve been curious about branching out into journeying, geomancy, and other means of divination.
All of this is to say that, for my reading this week, I didn’t pull a card at all.
I’ve been trying to learn to divine using Ogham staves. It’s more than a little challenging for me — memorization isn’t my strong suit (to put it mildly), and the Ogham alphabet is visually very simple. That means that, somewhat like my experience with the Tarot of Marseilles, there isn’t a whole lot for me to go on. Unlike the ToM, however, Ogham letters don’t have suits or numerical cycles on their side, which makes it even more difficult.
My best bet? Lots of practice. There are far fewer Ogham letters than there are tarot cards, so I’m bound to absorb some of it eventually.
This week, I drew two staves. Since I can’t exactly shuffle wood, I placed them face down, mixed them up, and drew them the way I would a tarot card: I moved my receptive hand over the pieces, and waited for the little energetic “tug” that led me to the right ones.
I drew Elder (Ruis) and Willow (Saille).
Elder stands for the passing of an old cycle. This can be something that is due to pass, or something that we want to hold onto. The elder tree has a lot of connections to death and rebirth, so it’s a reminder that the only constant is change.
Willow stands for balance and equilibrium. In some sources I’ve read, it also stands for cycles, learning, and taking time to accumulate knowledge before acting.
I’ve experienced a lot of synchronicity with regards to both of these things, just in the past two or three days alone. It’s a supermoon in Virgo. This afternoon, I was listening to a webinar about living as a highly sensitive person (which, for me, is pretty much shorthand for “on the verge of a nervous meltdown basically always”), and Dr. Christine Page was giving a talk about inviting change in order to quit burning yourself out and making yourself sick. I mean, as I was typing this, I had to pause because I got an alert on my phone. It was an email: “Tips for Working With Change,” from Sharon Ramel.
It’s spring, the birds are singing, the weather’s warming, the sap is starting to run. The trees are still bare, but there are plenty of little signs that the soil’s beginning to wake up. I can’t say that I know exactly what changes the willow and the elder and pointing to, but I can’t help but look forward to them.
I spotted the Marshmallow Marseilles deck, and fell hard for the colors and imagery. It seemed a little daunting, sure — I’m experienced at reading your fairly standard interpretations of the Rider-Waite-Smith-inspired decks… But one with no illustrations on the pip cards?
I’ve talked a bit about how I interpret and familiarize myself with decks before, but it’s a technique that relies on there being images to interpret in the first place. This is something that Marseilles-inspired decks lack by design. Where the Rider-Waite-Smith deck was intended for divination, the original Tarot of Marseilles was a deck of playing cards. Still, I’ve never been interested in anything because it was easy, so let’s go!
Numbers, Cycles, and the Pip Cards
First, I’d like to briefly mention that there are a number of wonderful books on interpreting the Marseilles tarot. That said, I don’t have any of them, and wanted to try to see how the cards “felt” myself before engaging with someone else’s experience.
It seems there are two ways for me to go about interpreting the pip cards:
Apply the same meanings given to the Rider-Waite-Smith cards of the same value.
Look at only the information presented by the card — the suit and the value.
Not gonna lie, the first way involves way more memorization than I feel like doing. With a Rider-Waite-Smith-inspired deck, the images provide a visual cue. Without that, this angle seems, to me, to be more trouble than it’s worth. (Also not discounting the fact that I have access to plenty of RWS-inspired decks — if I wanted that kind of interpretation, I could easily use one!)
So that leaves me with the cards themselves.
Numerologically, there’s a lot going on here. Every suit has ten pip cards — the Ace through the Ten, the beginning through the end. Each suit is a cycle, easily divided up into smaller, three-card cycles within. The Ace to the Three, the Four to the Six, the Seven through the Nine, with the Ten as the ultimate culmination.
Interpreting the pip cards in the Tarot of Marseilles is an interesting combination of the meaning of the suit, the ideas suggested by the numbers themselves, and their position within these cycles. The artwork is completely decorative — there’s really not much information to be gained there, and the imagery is very consistent through each suit. The Five of Coins looks like the Three of Coins, just more of it.
Really, I kind of enjoy the freedom.
Interpreting a more art-based tarot deck is a fun challenge, but ultimately becomes a kind of find-the-hidden-image search. It’s a game of seeing what jumps out at you, what details you notice, and what meaning you can assign to them. Strength depicts someone wrestling with a lion, what meaning do lions have symbolically? Red is the color of passion, blood, and fire, how much red is in the artwork, and where? Are there alchemical symbols? Heraldic? On top of all of that, what overall “sense” do you get from the image?
With a purely suit + number interpretation, it’s free association in a pretty basic numeric framework.
Look at the III de Deniers, for example:
It’s the suit of Coins (or Pentacles), so it relates to wealth, money, security, and the Earth element.
It’s a three.
It’s the final card in the first cycle.
As the final card in the first cycle, the number following two, and three, specifically, Three is the manifestation of the creative joining of the Two. The pollen meets the ovum, the Two come together in a fertile, creative union, and the fruit, a third entity, is produced. As the suit of Coins, it’s the first manifestation of something monetary, economical, or physical — the result of the first effort represented by the Ace-Two-Three cycle. As the end product of the first cycle, it’s an encouragement to continue working hard and moving toward the ultimate goal represented by the Ten.
Reading them is a lot like unlearning the way I usually read tarot. I like it!
This week, I wanted to try something a little different.
Not long ago, I picked up a copy of the absolutely beautiful Tarot de Maria Celia, a deck based on the Tarot of Marseilles, illustrated by Lynyrd-Jym Narciso. The ToM is a bit different from conventional Rider-Waite-Smith-based decks, in that the pip cards aren’t illustrated — they’re much more like a regular deck of playing cards. The meanings of the pip cards also vary a little, with their own subtleties and nuances.
Learning to interpret them has been a bit of a challenge. I’m not a fan of rote memorization, but pip cards that don’t have actual scenes on them don’t leave you nearly as much to go on. That has its advantages, but can make things a little intimidating.
So, for this week’s reading, I settled on an easy three card spread. Even without artwork to read into, I figured three cards would give me enough information to build something from.
I drew the II de Bâtons (Wands), the XIIII de Deniers (Pentacles or Coins), and the XIII d’Épées (Swords).
Twos are the continuation of the beginnings indicated by the Aces. As a duality, they can represent two sides of a situation, or a decision of some sort. Two is a pair, and the fertile, creative energy between them.
As a decision, the Two of Wands represents the shift from the physical to the creative. It’s at the very beginning of the Wands cycle, so it also represents the opportunity to broaden your horizons. If the Ace represents the beginning and the choice of a goal, the Two is the next step: planning in order to make it a reality.
Nines are the completion of their respective cycle. As in other decks, Deniers represent material wealth and physical comforts. The Nine of Pentacles here is a point of freedom and self-governance. It stands in contrast to the Two — it’s nearing the end, knowing the plan, and and understanding that self-discipline and follow through are what got you here.
The Eight of Swords is self-imposed restriction. It is near the end of the cycle, but notably not there yet — there’s an obstacle in the way, and it’s you. Use too much caution, spend too much time devoted to making the right decision, and no decision will be made. At the same time, it’s a good idea not to make any major decisions until you are able to recognize that your entire decision making process has been defined by limits you’ve set for yourself. It’s choice fatigue, the paralysis of indecision, the trouble with Katy Make Sure.
I feel pretty called out.
We are comfortable. I’m at the very beginning of some creative plans, working out the kinks and deciding how to progress. At the same time, because I’m at a point where I’m comfortable, there’s a not-insignificant part of me going, “Now what?”
Growing up poor, much of my thinking was dominated by material concerns. I was presented with many, many different incarnations of the idea that if I just had this thing, I could be that person, and they are better than I am. It was kind of a huge relief when “shabby chic,” thrift-store clothes, capsule wardrobes, and mason jars became trendy, because that’s all stuff I had anyway, just out of poverty reasons.
I’m freer now. I’m more autonomous now. I spent a lot of time pursuing goals that lined up with an idea of success that I didn’t choose for myself, and now that I’ve attained many of them, what now?
It’s a scary feeling. A sort of unsettling is-this-it feeling. Is it just this, and more of this, and then eventually we die? How do I shake the limitations of traditional markers of success?
Four things have made me ecstatically happy recently:
Finding pants that fit. (I’m a 2 now, and a Petite. If I accept this, finding the right size will be much harder, but I also won’t look like I’m wearing my partner’s pants.)
My partner surprised me with a gift. (Otter socks, a card, and a stuffed otter. His name is Philippe.)
I started a painting. (Three guesses what it’s of, and the first two don’t count.)
I always draw my card for the week the way I would draw any tarot card — at random. I cut the deck however feels correct at the time, and hold my hand over each pile until I feel the little “pull” that tells me it’s the right one. When things line up like this, it just feels good. A tiny “yes” from the universe. A pat on the back from the ancestors, guiding spirits, or whoever’s in your metaphorical corner. I dig it.
I’ve been drawing a lot of very positive cards lately. This week was no exception: I drew The Sun.
The Sun is enthusiasm. It’s infectious, effervescent joy. It’s unfiltered light, freedom, and truth. In love readings, it’s happiness. In money and career readings, it’s prosperity and success. In health readings, it’s energy and vitality. In spirituality readings, it’s happiness and optimism. In an advice position, it tells you to take this warmth and this joy, and bring it out into the world. As a person or significator, it’s someone who is energetic, determined, playful, and fun.
With the new moon on the 23rd, it’s a very good sign for this coming cycle.
I don’t really have a specific situation that The Sun applies to right now — my life has been on an upswing in a very general sense. I’ve been doing more. Seeing more. Enjoying more. Trying to meet more people. Learning more things. Growing in ways that bring me satisfaction, in every respect. Spiritually, I’m growing like a weed. Health-wise, I feel better than I have in awhile (if tired — Zoloft fatigue plus IIH hypersomnia is real.) Career-wise, I’ve gotten more work than I know what to do with, lately. Creativity-wise, I’m painting more, cooking more, making more things, and moving forward through Ane’s story on Uruvalai (and man, the upcoming bit is an emotional doozy).
For me, in the place I am now, The Sun is a reassurance that everything really is going well. I don’t have to look for another shoe to drop — not yet, anyway. Things are as they should be. If I experience frustration in the near future, it’s alright. The earth is turning, the sun is shining, the new spring flowers are pushing up through the cold ground.