Every now and then, my interest in mundane astrology flares up. I can pretty much guarantee that an inauguration will do it. Four years is a length of time I can wrap my mind around, and an inauguration chart doesn’t involve the amount of speculation that, say, the founding chart of the United States needs. Since the Twentieth Amendment sets the time and date for Inauguration Day at noon on January 20, you can look at the event chart ahead of time. This time around, I figured I’d write my thoughts down.
The chart overall
The planets1 in the 2021 inauguration chart are packed into only four houses. Visually, the chart conveys focus, but also limitation. In many charts, some planets aren’t prominent and while interpreting them adds detail, they’re not usually crucial. With every planet in this chart in that grouping, none of them really fade into the background or hide out in dusty corners of the chart.
The elemental emphasis is on earth (green) and air (yellow), but there are only two planets in water (blue) and one in fire (red). This is a time for pragmatism and rationality. The country will be going into problem-solving mode, figuring things out and remaining detached and analytical in the face of crisis. It won’t be a good time to try new and exciting things that don’t look immediately useful. The national mood won’t be all that enthusiastic or optimistic, and people won’t have a lot of energy left over for frivolities (low fire). They’re likely to be feeling insecure, and may criticize what they see as clinginess, sensitivity, and dependency in others because it reminds them of their own vulnerabilities (low water).
I don’t have color-coding for the modalities, but there are six planets in fixed signs, which is above average. Once we decide what we’re going to do and commit to it, we’ll stick with it and give it our all, and given how much needs doing, that’s probably a good thing. But fixed energy is, well, fixed. It’s hard to get going, there’s a lot of resistance to changing course, and there’s inertia to spare. Plus, when there are a lot of planets in one modality, there aren’t many in the others. This chart is low on mutable energy. That suggests a general unwillingness to compromise as well as unwillingness to adapt to changing circumstances and attempting to make the world change instead. (And does this surprise anyone? Probably not. Just that swearing in Biden and Harris will not miraculously fix this.)
Once upon a time, it was mainly astrologers who kept an eye on Mercury retrograde, alerting their friends, families, and clients to back up their computers, postpone signing contracts, think twice before sending a critical email, and verify what they think they heard. Nowadays, Mercury retrograde has gone mainstream. Non-astrology-minded friends mention it on social media as easily as they talk about the full moon and the weather (“So weird at work today! Is Mercury retrograde or something?”).
As people have become more familiar with Mercury retrograde, other planetary retrogrades are starting to get some recognition. I admit I don’t pay that much attention to the retrograde periods of the planets from Jupiter on out. They spend months in retrograde, from about 4 months a year for Jupiter to nearly 6 months for Pluto. I figure, when a planet is retrograde that much of the time, their retrogrades feel almost as normal as their direct motion. However, their stationary periods—when they appear to slow down and stop before changing direction—are more noticeable, but that’s another post for another day.
That leaves Venus and Mars, which like Mercury, go retrograde for comparatively brief periods. They’re not as well-documented as Mercury, so it’s harder to look them up and get examples what their retrogrades are like. But looking at what the planet is associated with is a starting point. As Mars is retrograde as I write this, I’m focusing on it for now.
How often retrograde
How long retrograde
3 times a year
About 3 weeks
Every 1½ years
About 6 weeks
Every 2 years
About 2-2½ months
The Lesser Malefic
At its core, Mars is about taking action. It shows how we go after what we want. It represents willpower, how we assert ourselves, and how we express our anger and aggress.1 Its qualities are traditionally masculine: courage, initiative, violence, independence, brutality, conflict; the symbols for Mars and for male are the same: ♂. Not surprisingly, the planet named for the Roman god of war rules warfare. War is conflict on an international scale, but Mars rules smaller competitions as well: sports, political races, contests—those events where there are winners and losers, victory and defeat. (If you’re interested in compromise and the possibility of win-win scenarios, you’ve moved into Venus’s territory.) Mars also rules the people who participate in these activities: soldiers, the police, athletes, first responders, surgeons. Mars is not an utterly malignant force, but there are elements of pain and danger in many of its rulerships, qualities that earned it the epithet of the “Lesser Malefic” in traditional astrology. In a war, those elements are obvious, but they’re in Mars’s other rulerships as well. Sports often carry a risk of injury, sometimes of death. Even in a democracy, people may live and die by who wins a political contest, even in another country. Surgery—deliberately injuring someone in order to help them—saves lives, but patients die both on the operating table and afterwards.
So if Mercury retrograde has a reputation for misunderstandings, mistakes, travel plans gone awry, and glitches, what happens when Mars is retrograde? We get used to how a planet behaves when it’s in direct motion. By contrast, during its retrograde period, what that planet rules often feel unbalanced, unpredictable, and “off.” When a planet is retrograde, it’s physically closest to Earth, suggesting that it’s stronger than usual. While there’s nothing inherently wrong or bad about a planet’s retrograde period—it’s different, not broken—often the things that we experience and do during a retrograde don’t go the way we’d planned. With Mars, sometimes that can hurt, but it can also feel as though it has stalled out and there isn’t enough drive and focus for your usual activities.
During this retrograde, Mars is in Aries, one of the signs that it rules. This is a comfortable position for Mars. Signs shape how a planet expresses itself, but since Aries shares many characteristics with Mars, Mars gets to act almost as purely “Martian” as possible. So we have the planet of action, assertion, and brutality, strengthened both by being in a sign that reinforces its essential nature and its proximity to Earth, at the point in its cycle that can be discombobulating because we’re not used to it.
The 2020 wildfires
This year, Mars is retrograde from September 9 to November 13, 2020. As of this writing, we’re about two-thirds through this retrograde period. Thinking about what’s been in the news lately that seems particularly Mars-like, the wildfires out west come to mind. Yes, there have always been wildfires and the 2020 wildfire season started before Mars went retrograde. But the fires have been unusually widespread this year, even by modern standards. In early September, just as Mars went retrograde, the media was focused on how there were wildfires not only in California but also Oregon and Washington, even possibly threatening Portland, Oregon. This is when Mars would’ve appeared to have been slowing down, stopping, and then starting up again in reverse: that stationary retrograde period that can make a planet more noticeable.
Just to take one of the better-known wildfires as an example, the El Dorado fire has Mars symbolism in its origins. This fire was accidentally started during a gender reveal party. The Ascendant is in Scorpio, also ruled by Mars, a sign associated with secrets (such as the baby’s gender), and ruling the Ascendant makes a planet more prominent. The baby was apparently revealed to be a boy—again, Mars and “male” share a symbol.2 The announcement involved setting off a pyrotechnic device of some kind, which ignited dry grass in the park where the party was held, starting the fire. Explosives are a Mars thing, even when they’re not meant to kill people. The party was on September 5. This was a few days before Mars turned retrograde, with it less than 1° away from its retrograde degree 28° ♈︎ 08′), in that crucial stationary retrograde period. The act of putting a fire out is called “firefighting,” and like explosives, fighting is a Mars thing. This particular fight, like many of the wildfires, has been challenging, but that’s in keeping with Mars retrograde.
To the best of my knowledge, as of this writing, the El Dorado fire is still burning.
Yeah, that’s a verb. It’s obsolete, but I figured it would be fun to use. And it fits the sentence grammatically.
(Contains major spoilers for Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, so if you’re planning to read it, you may want to come back later. Also, this post will make more sense if you know what happened in the book.)
I’d been hearing positive buzz about Gideon the Ninth for several months before it came out. Although the descriptions were catchy—”Lesbian necromancers explore a haunted gothic palace in space!”—I was having a hard time figuring out what the book was actually about. And while the cover was dramatic, it didn’t give me much of a feeling for the book, except that there would be skeletons involved. But friends were singing ecstatic (spoiler-free) praises of it, so I decided to take a chance on it. And because it was obviously about death and skeletons, I saved it for October.
Reading the book was slightly more planned than doing a reading about it. I’d done a story reading a few years ago for The Lord of the Rings, and it worked so impressively, I’d pretty much never dared another one. I’ve also used this layout for stuff I was writing. But I’d never tried doing a reading on a book before reading it. When I did this reading, I only knew what I could glean from the dust jacket summary. But even though the reading was pretty “accurate,” it’s not the sort of thing you get spoilers from.
I like the Seventh Sphere Lenormand, but the card titles can be difficult to read. Here is a text-only version of the layout:
The Card Pairs
18-Dog, 31-Sun: Common keywords for the Dog include loyal and friend. But in this deck, the dog pictured reminds me more of a guard dog than a household pet. Paired with the Sun, I read this as a good servant as well as a good friend, and with that, I think of the cavaliers generally. The idea of the good servant comes up again and again in Gideon the Ninth as we meet the necromancers and their cavaliers. Obviously, we see a lot of the prickly relationship between Harrow and Gideon. The Third and Eighth Houses also have tense relationships between their necromancers and cavaliers. But other Houses show more amicable (or at least less fraught) pairings: the military hierarchy of the Second House, the happily married couple of the Fifth House, strong friendships in the Fourth and Sixth Houses. There’s even the hint of the long-ago loyalty of the cavalier Loveday to then-necromancer Cyntherea. And at the end, Harrow agrees to serve the Emperor as a Lyctor, even though her world has just fallen apart.
29-Anima (Woman), 24-Heart: Our protagonist, Gideon Nav. And yes, that was my first thought upon seeing this combination, knowing only that Gideon was female. I figured the Heart showed that she was passionate about things, like, say, getting away from the Ninth House. That wasn’t wrong, but in reading the book, I realized that Muir specifically mentions Gideon’s heart:
Gideon had never confronted a broken heart before. She had never gotten far enough to have her heart broken.
Harrow’s dark eyes were on Gideon’s, past the blade pointed at her skull. “Oh, I have hurt your heart,” she said.
“Harrow,” said Gideon, “if my heart had a dick, you would kick it.”
Only at the end, do we hear of Harrow’s heart, after she has absorbed Gideon: “If it had been possible to die of desolation, she would have died then and there: as it was, all she could do was lie on the bed and observe the smoking wreck of her heart.”
1-Rider, 7-Snake: The Lenormand can be wonderfully efficient. I see two meanings for this pair. To begin with, the traditional meaning of the Snake is betrayal and deception, often by a beautiful and intelligent woman. So I see this primarily as Cyntherea, for pretty much all the reasons spelled out by the end of the book and her final confession. The Rider? Well, one definition of cavalier is “a gentleman trained in arms and horsemanship.”* Cyntherea is Cyntherea the First, suggesting that she’s a cavalier of the First House. So Rider + Snake—the cavalier who’s a clever, but untrustworthy woman.
The second meaning? Gideon the Ninth is not lacking in intelligent women. Consider Ianthe Tridentarius. Ianthe betrays (Snake) Naberius Tern, her cavalier (Rider), in order to become a Lyctor.
15-Bear, 12-Birds: I did have some trouble with this pair. I see the Bear as the Emperor, but how did the Birds fit in? My best guess is the short but pivotal conversation between Harrow and the Emperor which sets up the next book in the trilogy.
23-Mice, 27-Letter: Between Gideon and Harrowhark lies the summons (Letter) from the Emperor. It began nobly enough. The Emperor tells Harrow, “I intended for the new Lyctors to become Lyctors after thinking and contemplating and genuinely understanding their sacrifice—an act of bravery, not an act of fear and desperation. Nobody was meant to lose their lives unwillingly at Canaan House.” But the summons brings them to the decay (Mice) of Canaan House, and the Emperor’s plans are corrupted (Mice again) by Cyntherea. Many die unwillingly, and the Emperor’s two new Lyctors are created through an act of fear and desperation (Harrow) and a murder (Ianthe).
6-Clouds, 10-Scythe: Traditionally, what the Scythe points at, it cuts through: in this case, the confusion of the Clouds. This pair was fairly easy to interpret, although that doesn’t mean it was less important to the story. Gideon the Ninth is in great part a mystery, and Clouds + Scythe is the characters trying to solve the mysteries.
14-Fox, 11-Whip: Another pair that is proving challenging to interpret. I’m tempted to say it represents another aspect of Gideon. This would be more physical and less psychological: she’s red-haired (the Fox can represent redheads), she’s practicing deception on Harrow’s orders (pretending to have a vow of silence, pretending to be the cavalier primary of the Ninth House), and she has been training regularly with the longsword, and more recently with the rapier (the Whip can mean repeated activities, such as physical exercise). That would put her in the reading twice, but of course the book is called Gideon the Ninth.
28-Animus (Man), 8-Coffin: Harrowhark Nonagesimus. No, Harrow isn’t a man. But I’ve noticed that the Man and Woman cards don’t necessarily represent literal men and women. Here, with the Anima already in use for Gideon, I think the Animus means “significant other.” Animus + Coffin oppose Anima + Heart across the reading, as Harrow and Gideon are opponents for most of the book.
The Coffin has a couple of meaning in this reading. First off, this is closest the Lenormand gets to representing necromancy. Putting it next to one of the people cards means that that person is a necromancer. But also, the Coffin represents the deaths of the children and teenagers sacrificed by Harrow’s parents to ensure Harrow would be born a necromancer. As she puts it, “I am exactly two hundred sons and daughters of my House, Griddle—I am the whole generation of the Ninth. I came into this world a necromancer at the expense of Drearburh’s future—because there is no future without me.”
32-Moon, 17-Stork: Transformation, especially emotional. The Moon may be the second most emotional card after the Heart, and the Heart has already been used in this reading. Harrow is now physically a Lyctor, and immortal, but she’s also emotionally not the person she was at the beginning of the book. At another level, it’s also a change (Stork) in her “career” (Moon): she’s gone from being the Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House to being Harrowhark the First.
Unlike that first reading for The Lord of the Rings, I haven’t been able to find additional meanings in all the lines of this reading. But here are a few.
Center vertical: Gideon and Harrow are unwillingly paired and opposed in order to answer the summons to Canaan House.
Center horizontal (rearranged): The conversation with the Emperor clears up the final mysteries that came from the summons to Canaan House.
Upper left to lower right diagonal: The most powerful servants are summoned to Canaan House to win transformation.
A couple of weeks ago, I was at Half Price Books. (Someday, I will get it through my head that if I don’t want so many books in my apartment, I should stop going into bookstores.) I investigated the writing reference section, where I found a chunky little book called The Literary Book of Answers by Carol Bolt. I figured it was a collection of answers to common questions about writing. It turned out to be a volume for bibliomancy, probably better shelved in the divination section than in reference.
Bibliomancy is the practice of divining with books. Basically, you choose your book, and then, with the book closed, concentrate on your question. When you’re ready, open the book at random. The first passage you focus on is your answer. The Bible is a popular choice, but it’s not mandatory. Presumably any book would do in a pinch, although a cookbook or owner’s manual might be challenging to wrest useful answers from. (“Should I marry Harold?” Bake at 375° F for 25 minutes until crust is golden brown.) To simplify this process, Bolt’s book has only one sentence per page. The book is “literary” because she uses quotations from famous books.*
I was amused and a bit intrigued by The Literary Book of Answers, but I have lots of divination tools at home already. So my first question was obvious: “Should I buy this book?”
Heh. Perhaps it was tired of being at the bookstore.
Bolt instructs the reader/diviner to ask closed-ended questions—a change from most of my divination tools which work better with open ended questions. But if I wanted a system that could answer only yes or no questions, I could save both money and shelf space and just flip a coin. To see what it would say about a more complicated issue, I asked another question. Without going into too much detail, I’ll say that I’d been trying to decide what I should do regarding a certain awkward situation: talk to someone about it—which would get me more involved with the situation—or leave it alone. I’d been planning doing a tarot reading on the matter, but why not try this hardcover version of the Magic 8 Ball? So I concentrated, then opened the book where it felt “right.”
The book came home with me.
*Bolt also wrote The Book of Answers, which uses generic statements, and The Movie Book of Answers, which uses lines from well-known movies.
Astrologers recognize that the Sun and the Moon aren’t planets, but since they share so many functions with the planets, they’re usually grouped with them. The Moon is the fastest “planet” in the Chaldean order. In astrology, the Moon represents the emotions and instincts. Its placement in your natal chart shows what you need to feel safe and where you feel the most at home. Unlike the other planets, the Moon visibly changes shape in a regular cycle. By extension, the Moon is associated with cycles, and its related tarot cards often have meanings related to growth, loss, and change.
Nine of Wands (Moon in Sagittarius)
In any suit, the Nine is the next-to-last stage of development. By this point, the Wands project has been developed, tested, assessed, reworked, and tested again. The Nine of Wands—called Lord of Great Strength by the Golden Dawn and simply Strength by Aleister Crowley—has survived all its trials, but it’s showing some wear and tear. Sagittarius, the mutable fire sign, is not all that concerned with its personal safety when it’s pursuing the Truth, and the headlong rush shown in the Eight of Wands has resulted in a few injuries and the wisdom of experience. The Moon is not sure all that fiery passion is safe (it isn’t), and safety is one of the Moon’s primary concerns. So the man in the Nine of Wands is on the lookout for the next threat. Unlike the wands flying free in the Eight, eight wands of the Nine have been turned into a defensive line, while the ninth is at hand to be a crutch or a weapon as needed. The man shows an injury, but he’s alert and on guard against whatever might happen next. The tension between the Moon’s need to protect and be safe and Sagittarius’s need to be free to explore may not make the Nine of Wands quite the “bad card” that Waite calls it, but it’s not restful.
Four of Cups (Moon in Cancer)
The Moon rules Cancer and is at home in that sign, usually happier than when it’s in other, more exciting signs. Cancer is the cardinal water sign, and has a lot in common with the Moon: a focus on nurturance and care, a need for safety, and so on. And yet the Waite-Smith Four of Cups is not a happy card. Here, the Moon’s love of security and the rigidity stability of Four has produced a closed system in need of a little fresh air. This is the card of “familiarity breeds contempt:” often we don’t see the beauty in what we’re used to, taking it for granted. Pamela Colman Smith’s illustration shows a young man who has three perfectly good cups and clearly doesn’t care for any of them. The fourth cup is identical to the others, but why it hovers is magical…and totally wasted on him, since he’s too wrapped up in his discontent to notice. Think Dorothy Gale and how she had to be whisked away to Oz before she could really appreciate Kansas.
For the Golden Dawn, the Four of Cups was the Lord of Blended Pleasure, perhaps suggesting that there was some happiness to be had in the familiar, even if you were mostly bored with it. In the Thoth deck, this card is Luxury. In some respects, things are still good. The water flows between the cups and it’s clear. The cups are a bright, shiny gold, and the structure of cups and flowers looks stable. And yet, there are hints that things are starting to stagnate. The top two cups are resting on lotus blossoms, but they’re so heavy, the flowers have been squished flat underneath them. The water on the “floor” of the card is rippling and the sky is gray, as though a storm is gathering. The Moon in Cancer may be unwilling to change even as a situation begins to deteriorate, but change is likely to happen anyway.
Two of Swords (Moon in Libra)
The Moon symbolizes the emotions, and so it’s always at least a little at odds with its placement when it’s in a mental/intellectual/verbal air sign. That said, the Moon in Libra is not in a hostile setting. Libra, the cardinal air sign, desires balance and harmony. Calmness isn’t the same thing as security, but it’s far more soothing than the rambunctious energy of Sagittarius, and Libra gives the Moon a moment to collect itself, perhaps inspiring the Golden Dawn title Lord of Peace Restored and the Thoth title Peace.
But calmness really isn’t the same thing as security, and despite the titles, there’s tension in this card. The Moon is changeable by nature and the emotions it rules can be wild and messy. Libra’s sense of beauty and harmony can be more like a still life, perfect and unchanging. In the Waite-Smith deck, the woman is consciously seeking Libran peace and quiet. She has turned her back on the (changeable) moon and the rippling water. She has put a blindfold on—is it perhaps also covering her ears? Having cut herself off from the world around her, she can focus purely on her thoughts, for better or worse. However, the swords she holds look heavy, and she will have to put them down or drop them soon. The moon will eventually set, the sun will rise…the peace she has created cannot last.
Seven of Swords (Moon in Aquarius)
With the Seven of Swords, the Moon finds itself in the fixed air sign of Aquarius. Aquarius isn’t a congenial home for the Moon. The Moon’s need for emotional connection is at odds with the cool intellectual detachment of Aquarius, and the Moon is stranded in a cold, sterile environment. Perhaps it’s not surprising that the Golden Dawn named the Seven of Swords Lord of Unstable Effort, implying ambiguity. In the Waite-Smith deck, a smiling man runs off with five swords, leaving two behind; off in the distance, silhouetted figures seem not to notice the theft. There’s a sense of unfinished business with the Seven of Swords.
In the Thoth deck, the Seven of Swords is named Futility. Six swords, bearing the glyphs of the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are aimed at a much larger, nicked sword with the glyph of the Sun. (The Sun holds the solar system together in astronomy and it dominates the Moon and the other planets in astrology.) Whether the six weaker forces try to appease the stronger one, or a once-great force is slowly worn down by smaller ones, there will be no great and honorable victory here.
Six of Pentacles (Moon in Taurus)
Back at the Four of Cups, the Moon was at home in Cancer, the sign that it rules. But it was so much at home that this was a bit too much of a good thing. Like lounging around at home wearing any old clothes you feel comfy in, the Moon in Cancer tends to only do what feels good. With the Six of Pentacles, the Moon is in Taurus, the fixed earth sign. Cancer, a water sign, did nothing to stabilize the Moon’s changes, but Taurus is all about the stability. Now it’s less like lazing around at home by yourself and more like being a guest somewhere where you’re having a good time and you’re loved, but everyone expects you to get up, get dressed, and be ready to go every morning. Taurus’s stability tied Mercury down (Five of Pentacles) and its fertility was wilted by Saturn’s austerity (Seven of Pentacles), but it brings out the best in the Moon, leading to the Golden Dawn title of Lord of Material Success and the Thoth title Success. In Taurus, the Moon feels safe. And feeling secure, the Moon is willing to help others. In the Waite-Smith Six of Pentacles, a rich man gives coins to two beggars. The scale he carries suggests several different ideas: that he’s only giving the beggars what he thinks they deserve, that he’s making sure not to give so much that he impoverishes himself, that he’s giving what’s fair. He is successful, and in his prosperity, he reaches out to others.
It’s been a fun month, but it’s time to wrap this up. Generally, I’m pleasantly surprised I made it through to the end. Let’s go for the grand finale tonight!
Day 28: What is your ‘go-to’ Tarot book and why?
Which deck am I using? It’s difficult to say one book works for all decks, when the meaning of a card can change noticeably between decks. The Six of Swords in the Rider-Waite-Smith deck (moving on, leaving troubles behind) isn’t the Six of Swords from the Thoth deck (perception, insight, science) or the Marseille (harmonious communication). So, for each kind of deck, my go-to books are:
Tarot for Beginners: A Practical Guide to Reading the Cards by Barbara Moore (RWS). Does a good job of getting to the core meaning of the cards without a lot of extra material. Mind you, I love extra material, but not when I’m just looking for some help with a particularly confusing card in a reading.
Keywords for the Crowley Tarot by Hajo Banzhaf and Brigitte Theler (Thoth). Even more pared down than Tarot for Beginners, and that’s just fine. It’s also a guide to the symbolism in the Thoth deck, which is really helpful.
Untold Tarot: The Lost Art of Reading Ancient Tarots by Caitlín Matthews (Marseille). Without scenes on the pips, or even the suggestions of mood and situation that are in the Thoth deck’s Minor Arcana, it helps to have a guide with a neutral flavor to its meanings.
Day 29: How do you feel about Tarot deck modification? Do you draw on your decks? Trim the borders or is it a no go for you and why?
I myself am not a modifier of tarot decks. Twelve years of seeing “PUPILS to whom this textbook is issued must not write on any page or mark any part of it in any way, consumable textbooks excepted” in my textbooks has permanently turned me off the idea. I have a hard time even adding marginalia (in pencil!) to books I know I will own for the rest of my life; cutting or drawing on a tarot deck would feel like sacrilege. Admittedly, this makes my tarot-reading life a smidgen harder than it has to be. I have small hands, and most tarot cards are uncomfortably large and difficult for me to shuffle. But aesthetically speaking, I usually prefer cards to have borders. Certainly performing borderectomies would make large decks easier to work with, but it wouldn’t improve their appearance for me. Also, if I did trim a deck, it would have to be machine-perfect. As I’ve discovered, I can now sense a difference of less than a millimeter between two knitting needles. Imagine how I would fixate on every imperfectly trimmed card.
That said, if you want to modify your own deck, you have my blessings, for whatever they may be worth. Make your deck truly yours!
Day 30: Do you carry out predictive Tarot readings? Yes, no, why?
A daily one-card reading is usually predictive. And there’s often a predictive spot or two in my spreads, positions like “near future” or “possible outcome.” But I rarely do a reading of more than one card only to find out what might happen. If it’s a major issue, I want to see what factors created it (positions about the past) and what is currently going on and what’s on my mind (positions about the present). A purely predictive reading usually isn’t full enough for my needs.
Day 31: What question/s do you most often ask the Tarot? (for yourself and for others)
I need perspective on X. Which is how I end up using those spreads that do more than just predict outcomes.
Day 26: What Tarot deck do you wish you could get into or vibe with but just can’t and why?
Like there’s just one. And a lot of the time, it’s a deck I own—because I usually don’t figure out I can’t get into it until after I’ve bought it—and then I’m frustrated and I spent money on it. Grr. By the way, I can usually read with these decks. If a tarot deck uses symbolism that’s fairly close to the classics (RWS, Thoth, Marseille), I’ll come up with some sort of reading, even though I may be relying on standard definitions more than intuition.
When it falls apart is when the symbols aren’t what I’m used to, or the meaning is traditional but the picture doesn’t “say” that meaning to me. A good example of this, of a deck that I’d love to love to read with, is the Gaian Tarot. I really like the art in this deck, and I can squeeze a reading out, but it doesn’t flow. I strain to remember what Explorers and Guardians are (Knights and Queens). I look at the Eight of Air and can’t reconcile the picture with the conventional meaning of the Eight of Swords because it has a different meaning, but can’t hold on to what it means specifically in this deck either. And so on.
Day 27: How do you pick your Tarot decks for readings?
Usually I’m reading for myself, and my choices are driven by impulse and familiarity. My most-used decks are out where it’s easy for me to get to them; much of the time, I don’t remember my less-used decks are even an option because I don’t see them. If I’m going someplace and am bringing a tarot deck with me just in case, I’ll usually choose the Sun and Moon Tarot because I know I’ll get a fairly reliable reading from it—there’s a reason it’s my go-to deck! Sometimes I choose a deck because I’ve decided to use it more. (That’s why I’ve been using the Seventh Sphere Tarot de Marseille lately.) Sometimes I uncover an old favorite and want to get reacquainted. Basically, it’s whatever calls to me.
Those few times I read for others, I consider how familiar the person is with tarot readings. Someone who’s never had a reading is probably not going to hear a thing I say if I use a deck with scary imagery, and the Devil or Death comes up. I’ve mentioned using the Happy Tarot for just this reason. A Marseille tarot might work too, although I feel like a deck with images may be more approachable. And then, of course, there’s the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, which is really versatile, even if it’s not the perfect deck for all situations.
Day 24: What Tarot card do you feel is the most misunderstood and why?
Shh. You know which one.
Pretty much every Tarot 101 book tells you that Death almost never means literal death. If it comes up as your card of the day, chances are, you’ll live to see the next morning. It’s about endings, yes, but also about transition, and clearing the way for new beginnings. I rarely read for other people, and even when I do, those other people are usually familiar enough with the tarot that I don’t have to explain the 13th trump. But I suspect that if I read for someone who didn’t know much about tarot and Death came up, I’d be in for a lot of explaining and reassurance, and they might not really believe me. And I completely sympathize with the confusion. Most versions of the card have a skeleton, a skull, the Grim Reaper, or something that says DEATH—not “transition,” not “ending,” not “figuratively speaking”—on them. It’s an easy mistake to make.
Day 25: Do you have any Tarot self-care rituals that are only for your personal practice?
No. It sounds like a lovely idea, though, so I may be trying to come up with some and watching other people’s posts for inspiration.
Yes, two decks of 78 identically-named cards with similar designs can have two different personalities, and it isn’t just the art styles involved.
Day 23: What is your most sassy Tarot deck, what is your most gentle Tarot deck? Why did you pick these decks?
Almost any of my decks, be it tarot, Lenormand, or Kipper, is capable of snark. I’ve never noticed them show that quality when I read for other people, nor do they do it when I’m too upset to handle it. But more than once, for a daily reading, I’ll get what can best be described as a sardonic reading.
But I digress. The question was about individual decks. I wouldn’t call any of my decks sassy. The Pagan Otherworlds Tarot, however, is forthright almost to a fault. I am learning to be careful if I use it to read for myself around other people because it will happily spell out any hidden issues. Excellent for self-understanding, but dreadful if any of it was embarrassing. Why did I buy this deck? Because I love the art. And how was I supposed to know it had no respect for the social niceties just by looking at it online?
I was going to say that I don’t own any gentle decks, but that’s not true. I own a couple of Radleigh Valentine* decks (Angel and Fairy), which are so gentle, I basically never use them. Indeed, the box for the Angel Tarot Cards says “[Former Co-Author] and Radleigh Valentine have created the first deck of tarot cards that is 100 percent gentle, safe, and trustworthy!” Why did I buy these decks? Curiosity. Decks by these authors take up a lot of shelf space at my local bookstore, and I wanted to see what they’d be like to read with. And one day, I found them in great condition at a used book store and splurged.
However, there’s gentle and then there’s gentle. And sometimes, especially when reading for someone who’s not that familiar with the tarot—or if I’m reading for myself on a topic that makes me anxious—I need a deck that will be honest but not harsh. For that, I use the Happy Tarot. It doesn’t omit the scary cards or imagery, but it manages to make them not scary. Or to put it another way, it just looks sweet and innocent. Why did I buy this deck? It insisted on coming home with me. I most certainly did not set out to buy the Candyland of tarot decks. I picked it up once to look through it. And again. And again. And realized I had to have it, and I still can’t explain exactly why.
*Dutifully not naming Valentine’s co-author, who no longer wishes to be associated with the decks.
Day 20: What is your favorite Tarot Spread at the moment?
I’m interested in tableau spreads. In Lenormand, the Grand Tableau reigns, where you lay all 36 cards out, either in a 9 x 4 grid or in an 8 x 4 + 4 spread (an 8 x 4 grid with the final 4 cards in a line under the spread). I wanted to try that kind of spread with tarot cards, but laying all 78 of them out promised to be unmanageable. But then last year I read Untold Tarot by Caitlín Matthews. She describes how to do tableau layouts with 25 cards, and I’ve been enjoying trying that. I’ve also had good results with a 3 x 3 layout that Tom Benjamin talks about in Tarot on Earth.
Day 21: Do you use the Tarot for mediumship readings? Why or why not? If no, would you like to?
I don’t because I’m not interested, so I’m not likely to in the future either.
Day 22: Where is one place in the world you would love to read the Tarot and why? It could be a sacred site, event, mystical shop, anything.
Hmm. Because most of the time I read for myself, as long as I’m comfortable, I’m happy to do a reading. I suppose it would be lovely to do a reading in a clearing in a forest on a nice warm-but-not-hot day, the sun filtering down through the leaves, maybe the sound of birdsong a few trees over. Oh, and the burbling water sound from a nearby creek. (No mosquitoes, though. No ticks. And a breeze would be nice, but not one strong enough to blow my cards away. Sorry—did I just get too realistic?)