31 Days of Tarot 2019: Days 12-13

Day 12 is barely more than a tweet in its own right, so another combined post:

Day 12: Have you ever dealt with Impostor Syndrome in your Tarot practice? – Maria Alviz Hernando

No, as most of the time I read for myself. When I read for others, 99% of the time it’s for a friend, often one who reads tarot cards themselves and knows what’s involved.

Day 13: From the Major Arcana Cards, what card correlates to your sun, moon and rising sign? How has that resonated or played out in your life?? – Nya Thryce

Astrology is my first love: I began studying it years before I acquired a tarot deck. When I learned of the Golden Dawn astrological associations, I was thrilled for a while, because it looked like a way to combine two things I really liked. The problem was, I couldn’t get the two systems to mesh. To me, it feels as if the Golden Dawn forced astrology and tarot together because they were philosophically convinced that there had to be a near-perfect correlation, instead of respecting each system’s individual variations.

Devil and Chariot tarot cards

It’s the Devil twice over for my Capricorn Sun and Ascendant, and the Chariot for my Cancer Moon. I identify with many characteristics of Cancer and Capricorn. And I’ve gotten the Chariot and the Devil in a lot of readings over the years, usually pointing out issues in accordance with their standard meanings. I just haven’t seen those cards reflect the qualities of those astrological signs to any great degree, or vice versa.

Prompts: Ethony’s 31 Days of Tarot YouTube Community Challenge and 31 Days of Tarot 2019 * Prompt Walkthrough

31 Days of Tarot 2019 – Day 10: Tarot decks that you want to work with more in 2019

Sorry—no clever intro sentence today.

Day 10: Tarot decks that you want to work with more in 2019

  • Seventh Sphere Tarot de Marseille. I’m currently absorbed in reading Minor Arcana (“pips,” usually, when speaking of a pre-RWS deck) where you don’t get a mood for the card from the illustration on it. Four cups, ten swords, nine coins, eight wands—they’re just patterns on Marseille-style cards. And it’s important which direction a person (on the Major Arcana—do I have to call them “trumps”?—or the court cards) is facing. Fascinating.
  • The Orbifold Tarot. As above, for only having number and suit to read with. Not even people, with this deck. But the deck creator used the colors and patterns he did with intention, and I want to learn more about that.
  • The Pagan Otherworlds Tarot. Because I really like it.
  • The New Era Elements Tarot. I bought it for some reason, even though it’s not the kind of deck I’m often attracted to. I’d like to find out why.

Prompts: Ethony’s 31 Days of Tarot YouTube Community Challenge and 31 Days of Tarot 2019 * Prompt Walkthrough

31 Days of Tarot 2019 – Day 9: Tarot goals 2019

Having glanced back at 2018, a turn towards the year to come.

Day 9: Tarot goals 2019

I probably wouldn’t have thought of having tarot goals if I hadn’t seen this prompt, but I did, and here we are.

  • Write “The Moon through the Minor Arcana.” In 2016 and 2017, I wrote a series of posts examining the Minor Arcana in light of the Golden Dawn astrological associations. Each post looked at the cards that had a planet in common. I started with Saturn, the slowest of the classical planets, and worked my way through the solar system: Jupiter, Mars, the Sun, Venus, and Mercury. The last post in the series was to be “The Moon through the Minor Arcana.” I got a draft written but never posted. I got distracted? Life got in the way? Whatever. Anyway, I want to get that last post out in 2019.
  • A workable tarot journal. Why yes, I have a tarot journal. It’s at least my second, maybe third attempt at one. I have the most pleasant visions of the ideal tarot journal will work: it holds all my insights on various cards, it makes studying the cards so delightful that I’ll look forward to writing about each and every one of them, and it’s an easy-to-access repository of all the best spreads I’ve found or created. In reality, I need to weed the thing down to a manageable size, reorganize what’s left, and decide what to add in the future.
A purple discbound notebook lying on a table.
Less would be more.

I suppose I’ve committed to doing these things now. Well, not until February at the earliest. After all, I still have this challenge to finish!

Prompts: Ethony’s 31 Days of Tarot YouTube Community Challenge and 31 Days of Tarot 2019 * Prompt Walkthrough

31 Days of Tarot 2019: Days 5-8

My answers to the next few prompts are so brief that it seems best to combine them into a single post.

Day 5: The card that stalked you in 2018

The Four of Swords. I name it because it showed up in several of my readings, but so did other cards, like the Seven of Pentacles. But one day, a friend was telling some of us about a reading she’d done for herself, and I knew, a moment before she said it, that the Four of Swords was one of the cards in that reading.
4 Four of Swords tarot cards

Day 6: The deck you finally crossed off your wish list in 2018

Two of them, actually. First, the Arcanum Tarot, because I acquired it. Second, the Kawaii Tarot, because I saw more pictures of it and decided not to get it after all.

Day 7: Most worked with Tarot deck in 2018 and why

The Sun and Moon Tarot, because it’s my current go-to deck. Sure, I spent serious time this year with the Orbifold Tarot and the Seventh Sphere Tarot de Marseille, and I had a major reading with the Pagan Otherworlds Tarot…but if I’m rushing out the door and need to grab a tarot deck on the way out, it’ll be the Sun and Moon Tarot.

Day 8: Top 5 decks on your wish list now

  • Scrying Ink Lenormand (Siolo Thompson)
  • Millennium Thoth Tarot (Renata Lechner)
  • Thelema Lenormand (Renata Lechner)
  • Tarot Grand Luxe (Ciro Marchetti)
  • Tarot Decoratif (Ciro Marchetti)

Prompts: Ethony’s 31 Days of Tarot YouTube Community Challenge and 31 Days of Tarot 2019 * Prompt Walkthrough

31 Days of Tarot 2019 – Day 4: Top tarot books of 2018

And now for the literary side of tarot.

Day 4: Top 5 Tarot Books of 2018 (ones you purchased and/or released in 2018)

Merely buying a book doesn’t give me much to say about it, and several of the tarot books I bought in 2018 I haven’t read yet. Meanwhile, one of the books I did read was bought in 2017. So I’m changing this to the tarot books I read in 2018.

Book covers: Tarot Compendium, Your Tarot Your Way, Untold Tarot, Tarot on Earth

Tarot Compendium. The concluding volume in a three-book set from Lo Scarabeo, this one covering more advanced topics. It was big (656 pages, a bit over 4 pounds (1.8 kg)), it was beautiful (fully illustrated), but it tried to cover a lot of territory and it couldn’t do justice to it all. It was like a sampler platter of advanced tarot techniques, and I value the introduction, but I will only pursue a few of the things I read about in it.

Your Tarot Your Way by Barbara Moore. I got this as a door prize at the North Star Tarot Conference last February. It was a perfectly decent beginners’ book on the tarot and I enjoyed it.

Untold Tarot: The Lost Art of Reading Ancient Tarots by Caitlín Matthews. There’s this saying: When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Well, this was more like When the reader is ready, the book will appear. The year I began working with the Orbifold Tarot and the Seventh Sphere Tarot de Marseille was the year this came out: a book about reading Marseille-style decks. I devoured it.

Tarot on Earth: A Practical Approach to the Cards by Tom Benjamin. Oh look, another book on tarot cards without illustrations on the pip cards! Benjamin alternates chapters on how to read the tarot with interludes on ethics, being wrong (and being right), spirituality and magic, intuition, and doubt.

Prompts: Ethony’s 31 Days of Tarot YouTube Community Challenge and 31 Days of Tarot 2019 * Prompt Walkthrough

31 Days of Tarot 2019 – Day 2: Top 5 tarot decks of 2018

Show and tell time!

Day 2: Top 5 Tarot Decks of 2018 (ones you purchased and/or released in 2018)

Well, this will be easy to list as I only bought five decks last year. (“Only.” Sheesh.)

In order of acquisition:

Arcanum Tarot. I bought this at the North Star Tarot Conference last February, but I’d been planning the purchase for months. I have Renata Lechner’s Thelema Tarot as well, and I was looking forward to seeing more of her art. While I like Lechner’s art, I haven’t used either deck much for readings. I’ve admired individual cards, and I can get good readings from the decks, but I have more emotional connection to other decks in my collection. But have I mentioned the art?

Arcanum Tarot: The Star, Ace of Swords, King of Pentacles

Orbifold Tarot. Unlike the Arcanum Tarot, I’d never heard of the Orbifold Tarot before I saw it at the North Star Tarot Conference. Every now and then, a deck insists on coming home with me, even when I can’t come up with a single rational reason for it to do so. As you can see, the Orbifold’s illustrations are brightly colored arrangements of circles. It makes a Marseille deck look heavily illustrated by comparison. How on earth was I going to read the darn thing? And then I ended up using it for readings and writing blog posts about it.

Orbifold Tarot: Temperance, Four of Air, Queen of Earth

Seventh Sphere Tarot de Marseille. For whatever reason, many artists take the symbolism of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck and create decks in completely different styles. Most don’t feel obliged to imitate Pamela Colman Smith’s art too closely. But so many Marseille tarots look nearly identical to my untrained eye, and all of them in the style of old woodcuts—a look I just don’t care for. Make a Marseille deck in a different style, and I’m willing to consider it. (I also own the Marseille Cat Tarot.) The Seventh Sphere Tarot de Marseille is definitely modern, while keeping many of the characteristics of the old decks, like an unnamed thirteenth trump and a giant cup at the top of the Ten of Cups. Unlike most tarot decks, the cards are thin plastic. The deck comes with two new trumps, the Return and the Tree of Life, but I haven’t used them.

Seventh Sphere Tarot de Marseille: The Fool, Nine of Coins, Queen of Wands

New Era Elements Tarot. I like color. I also like not-modern imagery in my tarot decks. So I have no easy explanation of why I decided to buy this deck soon after seeing a photo that a friend posted of it. Sepia. Modern, 21st century imagery. Nice illustrations, yes, but not my kind of deck at all. Did you catch the bit back at the Orbifold Tarot where I said sometimes decks come home with me for no rational reason?

New Era Elements Tarot: Judgment, Six of Fire, Daughter of Earth

The Simple Tarot. Because I needed more decks with modern imagery? I learned about this deck on Kickstarter, and dutifully tried to resist—after all, I’d already bought four tarot decks this year!—but in the end, I committed to it. I chose the Classic Deck, but there’s also a Beginners Deck version with keywords for the main symbols printed on the cards. Sometimes simple is good.

Simple Tarot: The Emperor, Eight of Cups, Knight of Wands

Prompts: Ethony’s 31 Days of Tarot YouTube Community Challenge and 31 Days of Tarot 2019 * Prompt Walkthrough

31 Days of Tarot 2019: Day 1

I first heard about Ethony’s 31 Days of Tarot challenge towards the end of last January. It was too late to do anything for it that year, but it sounded interesting, so I set myself a reminder to see if it would happen again. And it is: 31 Days of Tarot 2019 YouTube Community Challenge.

I figure, sure, I’ll play…with a few changes. The biggest one being that I like to write, but I feel no calling to make videos, so I’m responding to the prompts here on my blog. Plus, some (many?) of those prompts will be combined into single posts. But this first post can stand alone.

Day 1: 2019 – Reading – Energy – Major Lesson

Knight of Swords and Ten of Coins tarot cards

Energy: Knight of Swords

Oh, there’s energy here. To me, the knights fit the description, “if all you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail.” So the Knight of Swords is the conviction that if I can just analyze the problem—any problem—correctly, I’ll find a solution. But the Knight of Swords isn’t a consistent energy. I know from past experience I don’t have a lot of patience for problems. If I can work out what’s wrong quickly and come up with a solution, and it works, that’s great. But if the issue drags on, or the analytical approach isn’t the best way to deal with it, I stress out. That could turn into an awful lot of nervous energy.

Major Lesson: Ten of Coins

I suppose I can tell you about a year from now what the lesson actually was. At this point, I’m relying on intuition and guesswork. With the Ten of Coins, I’m thinking this may be a year of fulfilling material ambitions (financial, health, etc.) and then learning how to wrap up old projects and point that zingy Knight of Swords energy towards new goals.

Pondering grim cards

When I was at the North Star Tarot Conference, I got the Orbifold Tarot. The pictures in this deck are abstract patterns of colored circles. The number of circles depends on the number of the card: six circles for the Lovers and the Sixes, nineteen circles for the Sun. The cards are colored depending on the elements involved. It’s a great deck if you habitually consider numbers and elements in your readings, but the patterns mask the emotional impact of a card. For instance, the Three of Cups is often seen as a positive card of friendship and celebration, while the Three of Swords depicts grief and sorrow. In the Orbifold Tarot, however, the Three of Water and the Three of Air have identical patterns of three circles, the former in blue and the latter in yellow.

Three of Water and Three of Air from the Orbifold Tarot

Despite their reputation, I like the Swords, not because I adore misery, but because Swords are the rational, logical, intellectual suit and that describes a lot of my approach to life. I love the tarot, but I’ve never been thrilled at how the Swords have been saddled with a large number of dread-inspiring cards when that hasn’t been my experience of rationality and reason. Also, my favorite color is yellow, frequently associated with the element of air and the suit of Swords. So imagine my reaction to a deck with a beloved suit all in my favorite color,* and the higher the number, the more yellow on the card. The Orbifold Tarot’s Eight, Nine, and Ten of Air are…pretty.

The Eight, Nine, and Ten of Swords from the Thoth and Waite-Smith decks, with the Eight, Nine, and Ten of Air from the Orbifold Tarot between them.
Top row: Thoth Tarot. Middle row: Orbifold Tarot. Bottom row: Waite-Smith Tarot.

It hasn’t been easy for me to leap into reading a deck without concrete illustrations. I’ve needed to think to recognize the cards. Between the lack of familiar illustrations and my unexpected reaction to commonly dreaded cards (“ooh, nice!”), I started wondering about a few things. Like, are the Eight, Nine, and Ten of Swords innately grim—that is, the combination of number and element mandates grimness—or do we think of them that way because of how they are illustrated in the most influential decks?

The pictures on both the Waite-Smith and the Thoth decks do lead one to think of unpleasant things, as do the card titles. In the Eight of Swords (“Interference”), the two vertical swords in the Thoth deck are willpower and firmness, but they’re under siege from all the problems symbolized by the other six swords. The woman in the Waite-Smith deck cannot make much progress either, being bound, blindfolded, and hemmed in by swords.

The Nine of Swords? Ah, “Cruelty.” In the Thoth illustration, nine swords drip blood. Those lighter-colored drops? Poison. Meanwhile, over in the Waite-Smith illustration, in addition to the sleepless figure clutching their head in the night, notice that the scene on the bed frame is of someone running a sword through a seated victim. Good times.

And the Ten of Swords—”Ruin.” Personally, I love the color scheme of the Thoth Ten of Swords, but it’s not peaceful and calming. (Also, never trust jagged, sharp background patterns in a Thoth card.) Still, bright colors, no dripping blood or poison…things are looking better than in the Nine of Swords, right? Well, those ten swords form the Tree of Life. While you can’t really see it in this photo, nine of the swords are breaking the tenth sword, the one with a heart on its hilt. The heart is at the Tiferet position on the Tree of Life—the Tree is losing its heart. This is not good. And the Waite-Smith illustration is of someone who’s been stabbed ten times. In the back.

It’s not that life never delivers situations this serious. But there are situations not nearly as harsh as the illustrations in these cards suggest which are Swords/Air situations, yet not easily described by the more moderate cards in the suit. The Orbifold Tarot and its emotionally neutral cards led me to consider if there were less dramatic ways to interpret these cards in any deck while staying within range of the common meanings.

One theory is that the higher the number on the card, the closer it is to manifestation. Cards early on in the suit are more like ideas and inspirations, but as the numbers increase, the situation becomes more fixed and committed, harder to change. Traditionally, water and earth are said to be more comfortable in the higher numbers than fire and air, so the Nines and Tens look a lot more positive in the Cups and Pentacles than they do in the Wands and Swords. Another approach is that the Nines are the culmination of the suit, while the Tens go overboard. When you’re at the Ten, the situation has developed as much as it can—it may even have gotten a bit stuck—and it’s definitely time to end this cycle and start a new one. Keeping these two approaches in mind, here are some thoughts on what the Eight, Nine, and Ten of Swords/Air might mean if they show up in a reading when the end of the world is not nigh:

Eight of Air: Constraint. If you make a commitment, you’re constrained. If you have things to do at work, you’re constrained. Planning to keep to a schedule today? Drive at the speed limit? Cross things off your to-do list? You’re constrained. It may not be fun, but it’s necessary. Often, that schedule or to-do list or those laws are mental/intellectual creations, which is why I see this as fitting for Air/Swords. Many people have pointed out that the woman in the Waite-Smith Eight of Swords could free herself if she tried. Many times, the only force holding you to your commitments is yourself. Is it wise to do so? Only you know.

Nine of Air: Lost in thought. The Waite-Smith picture suggests that if your mind is racing in the middle of the night, it must be because of horrible thoughts. Not necessarily. Me, I’m more than capable of lying awake working out some interesting idea or thinking about something intricate and fun. But this late in the suit, at the level of the Nine, things should be manifesting, becoming real. In the Nine of Air, they’re not. This is one of the downsides of Air: keeping everything theoretical and perfect** instead of making the commitment to earthly, flawed reality. Do something.

Ten of Air: Bringing something to an end, letting it go. Which can be painful: just one more edit, okay? Let me just tweak this one thing, proofread one more time, redo this one bit here, it’s not ready… In the Ten, the idea has become reality, and now there’s no denying that it’s not as perfect as the original inspiration was back at the Ace. On the other hand, it at least exists, which is more than can be said of that first idea. You can’t really commit to new projects if you never bring the old ones to an end. Even if it feels like killing something, say “The End” and move on.

*To be accurate, the ten pip cards have yellow designs on white backgrounds and the King of Air (Air of Air) has a yellow circle on a yellow background. The other Air Court Cards have yellow backgrounds with circles of different colors for the other element in the card: a green circle for the Page of Air (Earth of Air), a red circle for the Knight of Air (Fire of Air), and a blue circle for the Queen of Air (Water of Air).

**”Perfect” could mean perfectly horrible. Nightmares of how awful something could be are no more rooted in reality than the beautiful fantasies of how wonderful it could be.

North Star Tarot Conference 2018

Two years ago, I went to my first North Star Tarot Conference and figured I’d be back the following year. That didn’t happen, but I was able to make it this year.

Structure- and schedule-wise, not much changed. The conference started on Friday evening and wrapped up on Sunday around lunchtime. I got there in that liminal period between when I could check into my hotel room and the beginning of the conference, and ended up watching vendors set up. Indeed, I bought my first tarot deck of the weekend (of two) before the conference even officially got going.

The Orbifold and Arcanum Tarots, with sample cards.
New decks! The deck on the left is the Orbifold Tarot; on the right is the Arcanum Tarot.

This year, knowing there’d be a swap table, I remembered to bring a few things for it. They mostly disappeared, and I feel much better about setting them free in the world rather than slipping them into a recycling bin. In return, I’ve acquired a laminated card of tarot keywords. Do I need one? Not particularly, but I’m interested in how other people summarize the cards, and it’s not like it takes up a lot of space. Perhaps I will set it free on another swap table someday.

It must be traditional for the conference to start with a beginners’ program and a session on tarocchi running concurrently. I still have minimal interest in tarocchi, so off to Nancy Antenucci’s beginners’ session I went. From a handout of statements, we chose ones that described our daily lives and the current themes in our lives. We then pulled the cards that were linked to those statements and read those cards to a partner. It was a flashback for me, because the statements were taken from Gail Fairfield’s Choice-Centered Tarot, which was one of my first tarot books back in the ’90s. The evening continued with the opening Imbolc ritual. Unlike two years ago, at least I managed to stay awake through it! I would dazzle you with stunning photos of the altar piled with blue cloths (to be blessed by Brighid), but I’d left my phone back in my room and was camera-less. After that was “Late Night Tarot Hoopla,” which I must leave up to your imagination as I went back to my room after the ritual.

Every year, the conference features one or two cards from the Major Arcana as its theme, and this year, the cards were Justice and the High Priestess: “Speak the Truth You Know.” On Saturday, Jeannette Roth from the Tarot Garden gave a talk on the evolution of the Justice card. I enjoyed the talk, and the pictures of how the design of the Justice card has changed over the centuries were fascinating, but, um, well, the card still doesn’t appeal much to me aesthetically. Still, the discussion brought up interesting points: should Justice have wings or sit between pillars? How about the name of the card? Is “Justice” good, or do you like Crowley’s “Adjustment” better, or maybe something else? Where does karma figure into this? (Does it at all?) After lunch, Michael Foster discussed ethics and tarot reading: what do you do when the cards say one thing, but you’d prefer to advise the querent to do something else? He shared a spread he’d created that evokes the essence of Justice to distinguish between the two. The third speaker of the day, James Wells, explored “How to Be a Priestess of Justice.” I’m glad this had handouts that I can review in my own time, because it involved some thinking and writing, and needed more time than the schedule allowed. Saturday night’s programming was a movie night with games, but again, I headed back to my room.

On Sunday, we were back to two options in programming, with Chuck Boe doing an introduction to Lenormand cards and Melani Weber doing something that sounded artsy-craftsy. Since I know Chuck and I wanted to see his presentation, that second track remains a mystery to me. Chuck started with the story of Marie Lenormand and the invention of the cards. He then led everyone through a brief introduction to the Grand Tableau.* I assume the presentation was a success: at least one person at my table sounded interested in learning more, and perhaps acquiring a deck. (Plus I hear the Tarot Garden sold lots of Lenormand decks.) After that, there was a reading practice session from Nancy Antenucci and Michael Foster, and a final ceremony that closed the Imbolc ritual from Friday night.

Besides the tarot decks, I got a nice door prize. It was a two-parter: a blank book with a Temperance card printed on the front cover, and Your Tarot Your Way: Learn to Read with Any Deck by Barbara Moore. A book by Barbara Moore I haven’t read yet: cool!

A blank book with the tarot card Temperance on the front cover, and the book Your Tarot Your Way.

*The Grand Tableau is a layout that uses all 36 cards in the deck. (This is less scary than it sounds.) If you’ve studied tarot, you know that the Celtic Cross spread is included in almost every introductory guide, even though it’s not the easiest spread for a beginner. Well, it’s the same thing with the Grand Tableau and introductory Lenormand guides.

Mercury through the Minor Arcana

And on to Mercury, the second fastest planet in the Chaldean order. In Roman mythology, Mercury was the god of commerce, communication, travelers, and thieves. He also guided souls to the underworld. In a natal chart, Mercury represents the conscious mind, communication, and perception. It doesn’t show how intelligent someone is in the sense of an IQ test, but it’s the main indicator of how someone thinks (concretely, in intuitive leaps, focusing on the details, etc.).

Eight of Wands (Mercury in Sagittarius)

Mercury in Sagittarius is energetic as all get-out. All three fire signs are associated with creativity, passion, and enthusiasm, but in addition to that, Sagittarius is mutable. The mutable signs are adaptable and flexible, but also restless and scattered. As a result, Mercury in Sagittarius has more energy than focus and may end up trying to do a gazillion things at once.

Eight of WandsMost Minor Arcana cards depict a situation, such as the aftermath of a battle (Five of Swords), walking in a garden (Nine of Pentacles), or a family celebrating together (Ten of Cups). In the Waite-Smith deck, the Eight of Wands is one of the only Minor Arcanum without people in it.* To me, because there are no people acting in this card, the emphasis is on movement and speed rather than any specific action. The Golden Dawn name for this card is Lord of Swiftness, and most standard meanings for this card don’t stray far from that concept. While some decks show the eight wands shooting towards the sky, Smith’s illustration shows them descending. They’re finishing their journey, and that’s also in keeping with Mercury in Sagittarius. Like the arrows of Sagittarius, it’s time to retrieve them and prepare them for their next launch. They’re like the arrows of Sagittarius.

Three of Cups (Mercury in Cancer)

When Mercury is in Cancer, thoughts and perceptions are shaped by feelings and instincts. Cancer is a water sign, and the water signs are emotional, intuitive, and subjective. Cancer is associated with nurturance and protection. It’s a sensitive sign, and Mercury in Cancer is attuned not only to the literal meaning of what’s being said, but to the tone in which it’s being said.

Three of CupsFriendship and celebration are obvious meanings of the Three of Cups. Three women dance together, in a clear patch ringed with fruits and vegetables, appropriate for the Golden Dawn title for this card, Lord of Abundance. The joy and celebration in this card are clear, but it’s a private party. Note that the women are facing inwards, almost entwined in each other’s arms. If anyone else were in the area, they would find it difficult to join in unless the women chose to let them in. Cancer’s sensitivity and protectiveness can lead it to take care only of those it recognizes as family, as part of its tribe. In the Three of Cups, the women support each other, but they may only support each other.

Six of Swords (Mercury in Aquarius)

Mercury is comfortable in Aquarius, an air sign that supports its natural inclination to be detached and approach life rationally and intellectually. But Mercury’s natural home in the air signs is flexible, mutable Gemini. In fixed Aquarius, Mercury becomes more committed to seeing ideas through to the end instead of flitting away to the next interesting thought. That can mean it’s open to hearing new ideas, but won’t necessarily change its mind until it’s rationally convinced that it should.

6SThe Six of Swords is another one of those cards that differ noticeably between the Waite-Smith and Thoth decks. Smith’s image shows two people being ferried away by a third. Their destination may be a better place than where they came from, as there is calm water between the boat and the far shore and turbulent water between the boat and the viewer. There’s a feeling of sadness in the card, though. The adult passenger sits hunched over, shrouded in a cloak, the sky is gray, and that far shore is gray, not green with life and vitality.** One possible inspiration for this scene is dead souls being ferried across the Styx in Greek mythology. While that was Charon’s role, not Hermes’ (Mercury’s), this card does reflect Mercury as the god of travelers at the very least, and possibly in his role as psychopomp. The Golden Dawn called this card Lord of Earned Success, but I admit that’s not what comes to mind when I see this card. Common meanings for the Waite-Smith Six of Swords include  travel (especially by water), sadness, and moving on.

Six of SwordsIn the Thoth deck, the Six of Swords is called Science. Science goes well with Mercury in Aquarius’ intellectual focus, and the general meanings for the Thoth Six of Swords reflect this: intelligence, curiosity, insight, progress, perception, and rational thought. Honestly, these sound like the general meanings for Mercury in Aquarius. This is pretty much as positive as the Swords get, and Crowley describes it as “the full establishment and balance of intelligence with humanity.”

What the two versions of the Six of Swords have in common is the idea of progress and improvement. Mercury in Aquarius symbolizes innovative thinking, which is often associated with science. Less obviously, to make a complete break with your past and set off to an unknown future, as the passengers in the Waite-Smith Six of Swords are doing, also requires innovative thinking.

Five of Pentacles (Mercury in Taurus)

Mercury is even more stabilized in Taurus than in Aquarius. Earth, after all, is solidity and permanence, and fixed earth, symbolically, is as immovable as you get. All this immovability is counter to Mercury’s mobile nature, and in the tarot version of this combination, it’s mired.

Five of PentaclesAs Mercury is “trapped” in the material world, so are the people in the Five of Pentacles trapped in poverty and illness. In Smith’s picture, they trudge through snow, one barefoot, the other on crutches. They’re moving, but like Mercury bogged down in Taurus, they can’t outrun their problems. The Golden Dawn called this card the Lord of Material Trouble, and it’s Worry in the Thoth deck, both names doing a fine job of capturing the essence of this card. Are the two people even communicating (Mercury) with each other? They’re looking in different directions, lost in their own thoughts. They’re also cut off from anyone who might be inside the building and who might be able to help them; here, Mercury’s perception fails.

Ten of Pentacles (Mercury in Virgo)

Given a little wiggle room, Mercury’s outlook improves noticeably. Like Taurus, Virgo is an earth sign, but it’s mutable earth, with the flexibility that suggests. Mercury does quite well there: grounded, yet mobile.

Ten of PentaclesHere we have the opposite of the Five of Pentacles: the Golden Dawn name for the Ten of Pentacles is Lord of Wealth. Given the Golden Dawn’s distrust of materialism, however, this card isn’t necessarily entirely positive. Ever since I read Rachel Pollack’s explanation of the Ten of Pentacles in Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, I’ve been wary of the apparent abundance of this card. I tend to read it as “money can’t buy happiness.” Certainly everyone here is better off than the people in the Five of Pentacles, and yet in Smith’s illustration, they’re just as disconnected, not looking at each other. The only exception is between the old man and the dogs. Still, they’re all close enough to touch each other; they’re not nearly as isolated as the people in the Five of Pentacles. Plus, the pentacles aren’t “in” the scene as they are in most of the other cards of this suit. They float between the viewer and the scene in the form of the Tree of Life, suggesting a spiritual meaning in the most material of the Pentacles cards.

*The others are the Aces, the Three of Swords, and the Four of Swords. Although the Four of Swords does have a human figure in it.

**Well, it’s gray in the Universal Waite Tarot, anyway!

For other posts in this series, see Astrology of the Minor Arcana.