You sit down with your deck of cards, maybe a cup of tea ready, perhaps a reading cloth laid out or a notebook by your side. Most of the time, I practice in silence so that I can focus on the cards in front of me. But music can add extra dimension to a reading, and I recommend trying it at least once. If you’d like to give it a go, here are three of my recommendations for artists you should listen to when reading tarot cards.
She sets a tarot card A fool lies on his face Lost despite his own Compass yielding pocket
Described as ‘psych-soul’ by Pitchfork, Kadhja Bonet has a honey-rich voice, and the timbre of the instrumentation is comforting and yet at the same time seems to transport you into a different world. From her Bandcamp page:
(sounds like) Kad-ya was born in 1784 in the backseat of a sea-foam green space pinto. After spending an extraordinarily long time in her mothers plasma, she discovered the joys and gratifications of making noise with her hands and face while traveling at maximum velocity through intergalactic jungle quadrants.
If you’ve listened to Root Lock Radio, you might recognise this song from the opening of each episode. Sparkling notes from a toy piano or glockenspiel make you feel like you’re in an old house listening to a music box. I also love the artwork from the album cover of Souvenirs by Shenandoah Davis. This album is definitely worth listening to in its entirety.
Using traditional, polyphonic singing they perform songs from all over the world, mainly: Ukraine, Balkans, Poland, Belarus, Georgia, Scandinavia and many other places. They sing a capella as well as with shaman drums and other ethnic instruments (shruti box, kalimba, flute, gong, zaphir and koshi chimes, singing bowls, rattles etc.), creating a new space in a traditional song, adding voice improvisations, inspired by sounds of nature, often intuitive, wild and feminine.
The rhythmic drumming of this song is great for getting yourself in a good mindset for tarot: forgetting about anything you need to do for the rest of the day, just relaxing and taking time to connect to your unconscious self.
Do you listen to music when practicing tarot? What helps you to relax and focus when taking time for yourself?
Iroh’s words are a huge call-out. This is the part of the journey at which The Fool must take all the lessons they have learned up to this point, and put them into action. It’s a big step. Let’s recap what The Fool been through.
The Fool began full of potential, but unaware of that. As The Magician, they learned that they can use their skills and qualities to manifest what they want from life. As The High Priestess, they learned that they must also look inward, and learn to see things from different perspectives. Next, as The Empress they learned to nurture and love themself. As The Emperor, The Fool learned about boundaries and structuring their life. They learned the difference between good and corrupt leadership. The Hierophant’s lesson was to lean on the experiences of those who have come before them, to seek wisdom from others. The Lovers gave them the power of choice, and then The Chariot taught them to use those decisions to move forward independently and rein in their thoughts. Next they learned Strength, where The Fool learned to channel their beliefs and desires into a productive and compassionate direction.
The Hermit taught The Fool to take time to trust their authentic self, and The Wheel of Fortune taught The Fool that sometimes life is out of your control, and you have to be open to change. Justice was about being accountable, and holding others accountable too. The Hanged Man taught them that when you feel trapped and unable to make a move, sometimes you have to sit with that and let it pass. You may find a new perspective. Death was about the cycles and transitions inherent to life, and Temperance taught them balance and nuance. The Devil taught The Fool to look at their own shame and what holds them back. This was followed by The Tower, which was a huge upheaval that came about from suppressing problems. Rise and try again.
The Fool then learned from The Star that there is a calm after the storm, the strength of vulnerability. The Moon taught them to see through illusion, in particular destructive feelings and thought patterns that could hold them back. Then The Sun taught them to heal their younger self and feel true childlike joy. After this card, Judgement, there is only one more card in the Major Arcana. The journey is nearly over. What can we do with what we have learned?
Like Justice, Judgement asks you to be accountable. Let’s look at the card:
We see an angel, possibly depicting Gabriel or Metatron, sounding a horn. That’s the call. The people below, clearly dead, are eager to face their final judgement. The Sasuraibito and This Might Hurt decks don’t rely on biblical imagery. The woman in the Sasuraibito Judgement card is cocooned, awaiting transformation. This Might Hurt depicts Anubis, the Egyptian God of the dead. He weighs their heart against the feather of truth. Again, it’s about accountability, and uncovering who you really are.
If you have been following this journey as The Fool has, holding a mirror to yourself and allowing yourself to face each challenge step-by-step, then you may have made changes to the way you think. Coming to terms with your past and fearlessly facing your future is no small thing. Trust yourself. You are at a crossroads. Like Iroh asks Zuko:
Who are you?
What do you want?
Forget expectations, forget what anyone else has told you. You go on this journey independently, and you make the decisions. Are you on the right path, for you? Own your past, your mistakes. Take charge of now and the future. If you accept yourself as you really are, as the heart that Anubis weighs, you can find freedom and move on.
If you pull Judgement, look at the bolded words above in the recap. Have you truly taken on the teachings of each of those cards? What do you still need to spend a little time working on? Remember that you have your whole life to be working on these qualities and skills. Compassionately look back on your life and identify what you are doing well, and what you could improve.
The Sun is such a happy card. In the traditional imagery, a child joyfully sits atop a horse, as the sun shines down and sunflowers grow tall in the background. This card represents release, liberation, and feeling totally alive. The baby represents innocence, the banner victory, and the sunflowers represent happiness and positivity.
But if you look at this card and have mixed feelings because you are reminded of your own less-than-joyous upbringing, you are not alone. I want to talk about healing your inner child so that no matter your previous experiences, you can begin to enjoy the positive vibes of this card.
Have you ever had a really strong reaction to something that shouldn’t have been a big deal? You may not know why you felt that way- the root cause. It might be that you hit a trigger of something that affected you when you were a child. Your body remembers, even if your conscious mind doesn’t.
Buddhist monk and peace activist Thích Nhất Hạnh said:
The cry we hear from deep in our hearts comes from the wounded child within. Healing the inner child’s pain will transform negative emotions.
He says that in order to heal our inner child, we must listen compassionately and practice mindfulness. He describes mindfulness as a way to improve your mind’s ‘circulation’, assisting your mind to do what your liver and kidneys do to get rid of toxins. How do you remove these metaphorical toxins from your mind?
When you were a child, you were largely unable to understand the nuances of adult communication. If a parent was angry about something, you may have thought it your fault, not understanding things like a stressful work situation, or mounting bills. If an adult said something cruel to you, you may have believed it must be true. An adult said it after all.
If your childhood experiences were particularly difficult or abusive, you will likely need the help of a therapist to untangle all the threads of your life and heal from those experiences. But there are some things you can do yourself to help the process along. Not everyone has access to a therapist, but that doesn’t mean you are a lost cause.
Think about the parts of you that are most childlike. Playful, vulnerable, impulsive, needing security. Try to visualise those qualities as being your younger self. If you have any photos from your childhood, looking at those can help. You may want to look into Internal Family Systems Therapy, which uses the idea of ‘parts’ within your own mind as a way of healing from trauma. It relies on the idea that the mind is multiplicitous, that is, made up of multiple, sometimes contradictory parts.
In a way, you have to re-parent yourself. Think back to things that happened to you that weren’t okay. Talk to yourself, visualise picking your child self up and giving them the love and support that you needed at that time. If this is too hard right now, try recalling happy memories and visualise being a positive and supportive influence on your child self. If you have issues with visualisation, such as aphantasia, consider writing a letter to your child self instead.
It can be harder to be compassionate to yourself than to others. This is why visualising child you is important. Treat that child like you would any other. Tell them you are proud of them, that they deserve the best in life. Tell them the good things about them, how smart, or kind, or creative they are. Remind them that you are there for them and they do not have to be afraid. Imagine (if you can) playing with the child and spending time with them.
If you pull The Sun, imagine that child in the image is you. You are innocent and joyful, you can be silly and playful, and you are protected.
The Moon is such an important celestial body for all of us here on Earth. The word moon comes from the word for ‘month’, which shows how important it is for us when it comes to measuring time. The Moon’s gravity causes tides, of which there are two high, and two low in 24 hours.
The Moon has been, and in many cultures continues to be used as a way of marking time. According to the Chinese Lunar Calendar, today (12th August) is in fact the 22nd of June.
We only see one side of the Moon, because it is in synchronous rotation with Earth. Occasionally we can see about 18% of the far side, but we didn’t see the rest until 1959. This can make the Moon seem very mysterious. Before the far side of the Moon was photographed, I wonder what humans used to think it was like.
The Moon is also associated with many deities such as Artemis, Selene, and Hecate. In China, they have Chang’e, who flew to the Moon after drinking an immortality elixir. In Japan, Tsukuyomi angered the sun Goddess Amaterasu so much that she created day and night so that she would not have to be near him.
Let’s look at The Moon as a tarot card:
I love how strange it looks. The Star Spinner version depicts Chang’e who I mentioned above. There’s a quote in the Sasuraibito Little White Book for The Moon that I love:
You are the sky. Everything else is just the weather. – Pema Chodron
This card represents illusions and fears. It gives you a feeling that you’re not sure if what you’re seeing or experiencing is real. Think of the word ‘lunacy’ meaning madness, which comes from another name for the Moon: Luna.
According to A. E. Waite, who co-created the RWS deck, the wolf and the dog represent fears of the mind when there is only reflected light to guide you. Your animal self, fight, flight, or freeze. The crawfish represents universal fears.
This card has a lot to teach us if we are struggling with mental health, or if we are neurodivergent and struggle with masking a lot. I am reminded of the concept of Cognitive Distortions, which are thought patterns in which you interpret reality in a negative and damaging way. If you have ever done Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), you will have heard of these:
All-or-nothing thinking– Also known as ‘splitting’ or ‘black-and-white thinking’. This is when you see a situation as all good, or all bad. There is no grey area or in-between. Often perfectionists struggle with this one. Recognise that everyone makes mistakes, no one is perfect, and that you can overcome difficulties without getting everything right. Accept what you cannot change, and know that you’ll get it right next time.
Overgeneralising– This is when one bad thing happens and you think ‘this always happens to me!’ This is a distortion which I think can be improved by gratitude journaling. If you log the good things that happen to you, you can read them back when you’re feeling like nothing good ever happens.
Filtering– This happens when you only remember the bad things out of something that happened. Dwelling on the negative will hurt you. It’s important to recognise when something bad has happened, as rejecting bad feelings will hurt you just as badly. But don’t let the bad outweigh the good.
Disqualifying the positive– This is when something good happens and you dismiss it as a one-off. Alternatively it can mean that someone said something nice to you and you think they don’t mean it. Remember that people say nice things because they care about you.
Jumping to conclusions– It can be frustrating when someone says what they think you mean before you even get to say anything right? So when you’re communicating with others, let them tell you what they mean, and don’t assume. This can also be associated with self-fulfilling prophecies. If you think you can’t achieve something, you probably won’t try as hard and you’ll end up being right. Try to keep an open mind.
Catastrophising– This is where you think the absolute worst case scenario will happen. I recommend letting your mind go down that path and make a quick plan for if the worst does happen. That way, you’ll see that no matter what happens, you can cope. And it probably won’t be that bad anyway.
Please remember that this is just one view, and that CBT does not work for everyone. If you find learning about Cognitive Distortions useful, then great. If not, then feel free to throw that idea out and find something else that resonates with you. My other recommendation when thinking about The Moon is the book The Gift of Fear. This is a book about using your intuition or gut instinct to empower yourself.
When you pull The Moon, take a moment to meditate or journal about fears and illusions, and ways that you can use your own intuition to see through them. The Moon doesn’t ask us to solve anything just yet, only to begin letting your mind work through things.
If you are struggling with your mental or neurological health, please contact your GP. I find tarot to be useful as a self-help tool, but it cannot replace therapy.
Transitions. Not just of life to death, but child to adult, day to night, winter to spring to summer to autumn to winter again. Birthdays, the phases of the moon. Becoming a parent, student to employee to retired. Some of these transitions are easier than others. But we all go through many.
Following and honouring the cycles of the natural world can be very grounding, and if you ever experience dissociation, I recommend it.
Being afraid of death is very common, but so too is being afraid of change. And that’s what the Death card is all about.
I love the symbolism of this card. Look at the different ways these characters react to Death. The bishop is praying, or maybe pleading for his life. The woman is turned away, she can’t even bear to think about death. The little girl doesn’t understand and offers Death a flower. There’s a king lying dead. All the power and the wealth in the world couldn’t protect him from death. Death himself has a flag with a white flower on it. They typically represent purification. In a way, death can be seen as purifying, as you go from rotting flesh to clean white bone.
Like I said, this card represents transition, cycles, and change. How do you react to change in your life? Are you avoidant, or do you jump right in? many changes are unavoidable, and accepting that fact is freeing.
The Fool spent time contemplating their life as the Hanged Man, and now it is time to make necessary changes. What is no longer serving you? Think about things like your career or your relationships. Let go of unhealthy attachments, because if you cling on, you will only experience much more upheaval and pain later on. We will see how that manifests as The Tower in another post.
This card does not represent a literal death, as The Fool still has a long way to go on their journey yet. But it is such a useful metaphor, and can be a healing one to meditate on. If you pull this card, take time to journal or meditate on the transitions in your own life and the ones you experience around you. What do they mean to you and what can you learn from them?
If you are interested in this topic, I recommend the Order of the Good Death, which you can find out about here.
I am reminded of my favourite mantra which comes at the end of the Heart Sutra:
gate gate pāragate pārasaṃgate bodhi svāhā
It means ‘gone gone, completely gone, to the other shore, enlightenment svāhā‘ and the Sanskrit is pronounced ‘gatay gatay para gatay parasam gatay bohdy sva-ha’. Svāhā can’t really be translated but it’s kind of like saying ‘amen’.
You can listen to a performance of the Heart Sutra by Imee Ooi here; please be patient as the lyrics begin about a minute in, and the mantra is the last line!
Something that I’ve thought a lot this year (2020) is that it feels a lot like we’re in limbo.
Limbo is a word I’m sure you’ve used before, but have you thought about where it comes from? It’s from Catholic theology and refers to having died but not entering Heaven or Hell. The reason for this can be that you committed sins and need the redemption of Jesus to enter Heaven. Alternatively, it refers to infants who died before being baptised and therefore have not been freed of original sin.
I think a better word is liminal, which comes from Latin and means threshold. Liminality is a concept which refers to being in a transitional space. Twilight is liminal, as it is neither light nor dark. Flying in a plane is a liminal experience, as you are usually crossing time zones and borders. What time is it on a plane going from London to New York?
The reason I prefer the word liminal is that limbo has this implication that you’re trapped, maybe forever. Liminality is more about going through an uncertain period and being able to come out the other side. I really hope we do recover from the pandemic soon.
This card depicts a person hanging from a tree, but not by their neck. They have one foot tied up, and they look surprisingly comfortable. The Hanged Man has a halo around their head which makes them seem enlightened in some way.
The Hanged Man tells us that there is nothing we can do just now. Be patient and wait for what comes next. It asks us not to be hasty, which can be really difficult. Many of us want results fast, we want to be moving forward and making progress. Sometimes it’s not the time for that.
Have you ever been going through a hard time, maybe trying to deal with an illness, and felt like time is slipping away, like everyone else is moving ahead and you’re stuck in the past? The Hanged Man reminds us that if we don’t give ourselves that time and space to recover, we can’t move on. It’s okay to allow yourself to stop.
Another interesting interpretation is that The Hanged Man has a different perspective from being upside down. Maybe you’re a little stuck in your ways and need to look at things differently.
There’s a place in Japan called Amanohashidate, which roughly means ‘bridge to heaven’. if you bend down and look at the view between your legs, the ‘bridge’ looks like a dragon soaring into the sky. By changing your perspective, you get a whole new view.
Some have suggested that this card represents Odin. According to legend, Odin hanged himself from the world tree, Yggdrasil in order to obtain knowledge. He had to surrender and sacrifice himself in order to get what he wanted. Here’s a poem attributed to Odin about his experience:
I know that I hung on a wind-rocked tree, nine whole nights, with a spear wounded, and to Odin offered, myself to myself; on that tree, of which no one knows from what root it springs. Bread no one gave me, nor a horn of drink, downward I peered, to runes applied myself, wailing learnt them, then fell down thence.
When we have to make decisions, often to choose one option means to sacrifice the other. Have you ever had to sacrifice something to make the right choice for you?
Next time you pull The Hanged Man, consider, is it a time to wait and contemplate rather than take immediate action? Do you need to look at your situation from another perspective? And maybe you have to consider what you’ll have to sacrifice. It can be a good idea to journal these thoughts, and use that time as your liminal space to figure out what is best for you.