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?)
Day 18: What cards relate to you personally. NOT just your astrology association or court cards. – Lizzie Bolton
Four of Swords: The peace, the quiet, the restfulness. Whether or not I’m successful, I’m always looking for these.
Nine of Swords: I am well-acquainted with being unwillingly awake in the night.
Four of Pentacles: I view this card as being about good boundaries and conserving your resources. The Rider-Waite-Smith depiction, suggesting greed and stinginess, is certainly a possibility, but I see this card as being healthier than that.
Nine of Pentacles: I want this life: independent, comfortable, yet with community within reach.
Day 19: If you were shipwrecked on an desert island, which five tarot or oracle decks would you want to have with you and why. – Lisa Sumiyoshi
Sun and Moon Tarot: My go-to tarot deck. Also, it’s more of a Thoth-genre deck rather than RWS, and variety is good.
Universal Waite Tarot: My favorite version of the RWS tarot. It’d be good to have one version of the classic deck at hand.
Pagan Otherworlds Tarot: This deck pulls no punches with its readings. Not that the other two do, but somehow I feel the impact more with this deck. And I love the art.
BYO Lenormand: The most personally-relevant Lenormand I own.
Story in Color Lenormand: Pretty! And it conveys emotions more easily than many Lenormand decks do.
Although I should just grab the Seventh Sphere Tarot de Marseille and the Seventh Sphere Lenormand as I head for the lifeboat, as the cards are plastic and will survive a shipwreck better than paper cards.
Honestly, this should probably be an easier question than I’m making it.
Day 17: What is your favorite way to Tarot Journal? Planners, apps, bullet journals? – Jen Sankey
What I want is a straightforward physical journal, organized by suit, where I can flip through to the page I want to consult. I like a looseleaf journal so that I can add or take out pages and rearrange them to my heart’s content. I can carry the journal with me, and it’s simple, but attractive.
(If this photo looks familiar, yes, rearranging and improving my tarot journal was one of my 2019 tarot goals from the Day 9 post.)
Despite having that nice purple journal, I currently do most of my tarot journaling in Evernote. (I’m sure other services would let you do many of the same things; I happen to already use Evernote.) I can take a photo of a reading and easily include it with my interpretation. The cards are right there, preserved for future insights. I can search my journal by keyword or tag entries for improved searching. If I find an interesting article on the Web, I can upload it instantaneously and send it to the proper folder, maintaining the original formatting or simplifying it as desired. I don’t have to worry about reading my handwriting, because everything is neatly typed up. I am unlikely to ever run out of space. Nor do I have to lug a heavy book with me—all I need is my tablet or even just my smartphone. But it lacks the charm of a print journal.
Day 16: What Tarot card in the deck do you look out for the most when you get a new deck? If you don’t like that card does it ruin the deck for you?
It’s a tie between the Queen of Swords and the Nine of Pentacles. And yes, sometimes one or both are just not all that great to look at. But I like or dislike a deck based on the deck as a whole. My key factors are the art style, the theme, and the symbolism, all of which shape every card, not just those two.