How do I get started with tarot?

Cat Tarot Wrap, Purple Tarot Pouch, Purple Tarot Cloth, Four of Cups: This Might Hurt, Ace of Cups: Sasuraibito

Your First Deck

There’s this really pervasive myth that your first tarot deck should be gifted to you. I don’t know where this comes from, but to me that seems a lot like gatekeeping. I wouldn’t have gotten started in tarot if I had waited around for someone to gift me a deck. I don’t know anyone in my personal life who is interested in tarot, so this myth seems like a way to keep it inaccessible to most people.

When picking a deck for the first time, I recommend picking something that really appeals to you personally. This is another reason why waiting for a deck to be given to you doesn’t really work. If you don’t like the artwork of the deck, you won’t use it. 

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If you have the opportunity to look through the images on each card, whether in a physical store, or by looking it up online, you will have a much better idea of whether a deck is right for you. Don’t only focus on whether you like the art, but also if you are able to get a good sense of the symbolism or meaning of the card. You want a deck that gives you instant messages, not one that leaves your head a bit cloudy.

When you’re just starting out, it can be good to have access to a Rider Waite Smith deck. You can just check the images online if you like, but many tarot books are centred around the symbolism of the RWS. Being able to quickly check what a particular card looks like can really help you learn at first.

You can have one deck or many, just beware of becoming addicted to buying new decks all the time! Indie decks can be pricey, so if you can only afford a cheaper mass-produced or second-hand deck for now, don’t worry. All that I would ask is that you don’t buy a deck from somewhere like Wish or AliExpress. They are all poor quality faked versions of existing tarot decks, which takes revenue away from the artists, creators, and publishers of the real deck. 

Books

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There’s so much information online that buying tarot books isn’t exactly necessary. But if you’d like to deepen your knowledge or learn a little history and context behind the cards, I do recommend picking up a book such as Seventy-eight Degrees of Wisdom which is pictured above. Here are a few popular tarot books you might like to take a look at:

Seventy-eight Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack

Holistic Tarot by Benebell Wen

The Easiest Way To Learn Tarot Ever by Dusty White

Modern Tarot by Michelle Tea

Kitchen Table Tarot by Melissa Cynova

Tarot For Troubled Times by Shaheen Miro and Theresa Reed

All Of Our Stories by Beth Maiden

For more ways to learn tarot, check out the Resources page of this blog.

Journal

If you take no other advice from this blog, please at least do this: keep a tarot journal! Write out your spreads and what meanings you took from them. Monthly readings are a great way to reflect on how your life is going, and you can also do readings for events such as birthdays, moon phases, or any other special occasion or event. Keep notes, little messages to yourself, stories, anything you like. You can use any notebook, but if you need something more guided, Liminal 11 are coming out with this tarot journal soon. 

Storage

You can of course just keep your cards in the original box. But some boxes are a little flimsy, and if you want to take your cards out and about, consider a tarot wrap or pouch. There’s an old myth that you have to keep your tarot deck wrapped in black silk. As luxurious as that sounds, you want something that is easy to access so that you can quickly and easily use your tarot deck whenever you feel like it. In the caption of the image at the top of this post, I’ve linked some storage options that I really like. Etsy is a great resource, especially for supporting small and home businesses.

Reading Cloths

Having your own little ritual for practicing tarot helps to make it a mindful and relaxing experience. You should do whatever you are most comfortable with, but it can be nice to set out a cloth, get a cup of tea ready and take some deep breaths before drawing cards. Reading cloths draw you into the spread that you’re looking at and help to prevent you from losing your cards. Again, Etsy is a great resource, but if you have any furoshiki they’re the perfect shape and size to use as a tarot cloth, and also to store and carry around your deck. 

Other Tools

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I really like this card stand I found on Etsy. I recommend beginning a new tarot practice by drawing a daily card. If you’re able to display that card somewhere you can see all day, it will help you to keep the meaning in mind, and to apply it to the rest of your day. You could keep it in your journal or your wallet if that works for you. Just don’t lose it!

 

If you are an experienced tarot reader, what do you wish you had known when you started? What has been most useful for your practice? I’d love to hear some tips and tricks. 

 

What’s the difference between sympathy, empathy, and compassion, and why does it matter?

Simon Baron-Cohen (yes, related to Sacha) is a British researcher who developed the idea that Autism is caused by an ‘extreme male brain’. This is a very controversial hypothesis. It’s the idea that Autistic people, regardless of gender process the world ‘through a male lens’, have typically male interests, and struggle with tasks that women are supposed to be better at. Men are typically better at systemising, which is recognising and understanding patterns and systems, and are not as ’empathetic’ as women. Therefore, the idea is that Autistic people are extremely ‘male’ in terms of the way their brains work. 

There are issues with this, such as that the questionnaires used to diagnose Autism typically contain a lot of questions about ‘male’ topics, so there is almost certainly confirmation bias at play here. It also erases the experience of non-binary people, Autistic people who are more feminine, and many trans people. 

An issue that has arisen from people hearing about this theory stems from a misunderstanding of the word ’empathy’. People hear ‘Autistic people are less empathetic’, and think that we are uncaring, unable to love, and even equate Autism with conditions such as sociopathy. This can be very stigmatising. 

Many Autistic people struggle with a concept known as ‘theory of mind’. This is being able to interpret others’ thoughts and behaviours as separate from your own. For example, a test used to diagnose Autistic children involves showing cartoon images of a doll being hidden from a character, and asking the child if the character knows where the doll is. Someone who struggles with theory of mind may think that because they know where the doll is, the character must also know. 

This is where the idea of a lack of empathy comes in. If you can’t understand what someone else is thinking, how can you be empathetic- that is being able to feel their emotions as they do. From the Cambridge dictionary, empathy is defined as:

the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation

Colloquially though, that’s not really how most people view empathy. Many people think of empathy as caring about another person. Therefore, when they hear that Autistic people may struggle with empathy, they think that Autistic people struggle to care about people other than themselves. 

Sympathy is defined as:

(an expression of) understanding and care for someone else’s suffering

It’s really quite a subtle difference, and in colloquial use, the difference is subtler yet. Sympathy doesn’t require a person to feel what the other is feeling. Sympathy is when you say sorry to someone because they lost a loved one, empathy is feeling the same sadness that they do.

For what it’s worth, I don’t believe that Autistic people never feel empathy. I can only really speak for myself, and I certainly feel sad for someone else when something bad happens to them. I can feel pain when I see another in pain. My issue is that unless someone tells me how they feel, I can often miss signals in body language or vague language that perhaps neurotypical people would pick up on. Sometimes I don’t know that something even makes another person feel a certain way unless they tell me. But as soon as I know, I can feel something for that person. Whether it’s the same as they feel, can neurotypicals even claim to know if they do that? You can’t really know.

What I’m more interested in as a concept is compassion. I talk about it a lot in my tarot posts. I like it because I see it as more powerful. It’s a skill, you can learn it, get better at it, and best of all, there’s evidence that you are less easily exhausted. Empathy burnout is definitely a thing and it’s a problem. It’s when you have spent so much time caring about someone and feeling their pain, that you get exhausted and can’t empathise with others as well. You know when you see adverts on TV over and over again from charities about starving children, abused animals, people affected by natural disaster, and the shock starts to wear off. You care less. That’s dangerous. 

Here’s the abstract for an interesting journal article about compassion vs empathy (check references for source). Some of it is a little hard to understand so I’ll bold the important parts:

Although empathy is crucial for successful social interactions, excessive sharing of others’ negative emotions may be maladaptive and constitute a source of burnout. To investigate functional neural plasticity underlying the augmentation of empathy and to test the counteracting potential of compassion, one group of participants was first trained in empathic resonance and subsequently in compassion. In response to videos depicting human suffering, empathy training, but not memory training (control group), increased negative affect and brain activations in anterior insula and anterior midcingulate cortex—brain regions previously associated with empathy for pain. In contrast, subsequent compassion training could reverse the increase in negative effect and, in contrast, augment self-reports of positive affect. In addition, compassion training increased activations in a non-overlapping brain network spanning ventral striatum, pregenual anterior cingulate cortex and medial orbitofrontal cortex. We conclude that training compassion may reflect a new coping strategy to overcome empathic distress and strengthen resilience.

Compassion doesn’t require feeling what the other person feels. That is why it’s less likely to lead to burnout. The article mentioned above shows that compassion and empathy even come from different regions of the brain. When you feel compassionate, you want to relieve another person’s pain. You don’t have to feel their pain, you might not even want to, initially. Compassion extends to people you don’t like, even people who have done terrible things. Compassion is recognising the inherent similarities in all human experiences and showing unconditional care. Compassion isn’t feeling sad when another is sad, it’s feeling love for them.

Thich Nhat Hanh said: In the eyes of Great Compassion, there is no separation between subject and object, no separate self.

I’d like to introduce you to a meditation that I learned from the teacher who ran my high school’s meditation club. It’s the practice of metta, also known as lovingkindness. 

Close your eyes, take a few breaths, and imagine yourself holding a ball of light. Imagine this ball of light contains your compassion. If you have aphantasia, perhaps you could stare at a candle or draw instead. 

Say to yourself ‘May I be well, may I be happy’ and let the ball of light envelop you. 

Think of a person you love and say ‘May you be well, may you be happy’ and imagine the light also enveloping them.

Think of a person you are indifferent to, maybe an acquaintance. Say ‘May you be well, may you be happy’ and imagine the light enveloping them.

Think of a person you dislike and say ‘May you be well, may you be happy’ and imagine the light enveloping them.

Think of the building or area that you are in, say ‘May you be well, may you be happy’ and imagine the ball of light enveloping all of the people inside it.

Think of the country you are in. Say ‘May you be well, may you be happy’ and imagine the light enveloping everyone in that country.

Think of the world. Say ‘May you be well, may you be happy’ and visualise all beings on the planet being enveloped by that light of compassion. 

Take a few breaths, and then open your eyes.

how-to-meditate
Source

 

References:

http://www.spectrumnews.org/news/profiles/simon-baron-cohen-theorizing-on-the-mind-in-autism/

http://www.spectrumnews.org/news/extreme-male-brain-explained/

https://academic.oup.com/scan/article/9/6/873/1669505

3 Magical Musicians To Uplift Your Tarot Practice

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.

The Visitor – Kadhja Bonet

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.

Orbit – Shenandoah Davis

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. 

Sztoj pa moru – Laboratorium Pieśni

Laboratorium Pieśni are an all-female folk group from Poland. From their about page:

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?