Challenging the Rider-Waite(-Smith) Tarot

Arguably, the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck is one of the most famous and influential decks that still exist today.  I respect the traditional Rider-Waite-Smith deck because of it’s huge influence, but I have some issues with the deck as well.  My first thing is that I’m not a huge fan of the art style, classic and traditional though it is.  I need a deck that draws me into the visual style.  But that’s not the biggest challenge around this deck.

RWS_Tarot_00_Fool

What bothers me the most, and I do admit that I didn’t even learn about this until recently, is that for much of the deck’s history it was called the Rider-Waite deck.  The deck was designed by Arthur Edward Waite (also known as A.E. Waite) and then published by the Rider company.  So where is the problem?  The problem lies in the fact that all of the art for the cards was done by Pamela Colman Smith.

“Waite is often cited as the designer of the Waite-Smith Tarot, but it would be more accurate to consider him as half of a design team, with responsibility for the major concept, the structure of individual cards, and the overall symbolic system. Because Waite was not an artist himself, he commissioned the talented and intuitive Smith to create the actual deck … The Minor Arcana are indeed one of the notable achievements of this deck, as most earlier tarot decks (especially those of the Marseilles type) have extremely simple pip cards. One reason for the enduring success of the Waite-Smith deck may be the richness of symbolic signification that Smith brought to the Minor Arcana.” 01

Her name was left off the published work and she was largely uncredited for her revolutionary illustrations.  She was paid a flat fee for the design and illustration of the cards and didn’t receive any further compensation from the deck.  This further illustrates how she was not viewed as a true collaborator in the project, merely relegated to a role as hired help. 02

Swords13Had it not been for her work and creativity we might not have the wealth of beautiful and varied decks that we’re lucky enough to have today.  And it might be at least partly thanks to her interpretations that the women in the tarot decks are powerful in their own right. 03

You might be inclined to say, okay, so yes, that wasn’t cool of A.E. White, but is it really such a big deal now?  Many tarot readers today now refer to this deck as the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, which is the name I use as well.  I want to celebrate this progress.  Adding her name back onto the deck that she was so instrumental in creating is fantastic and long overdue.  Why this is still important is that it was just another slight in a long tradition of ignoring, overlooking, or just outright dismissing the work of women.  It is important to recognize the role of women in history and especially in influential works such as this one.  Calling the the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot is a great first step.

Do yourself a favor and go and learn more about Pamela Colman Smith.  While you’re at it, maybe take a gander at some other contributions of women in Tarot.

Images courtesy of Wikipedia
Footnote 01 – Wikipedia
Footnote 02 – Tarot Heritage – The Rider-Waite-Smith Deck
Footnote 03 – The Tarot Lady – Powerful Women in Tarot
Advertisements

Card of the Day: Ten of Pentacles

S W I M I N T H E S E A

Today’s card comes from the Wild Unknown Tarot deck by Kim Krans.

IMG_0549I love a rainbow.  I’m that crazy lady with the neon rainbow knit hat, the rainbow socks, the fingernails with the rainbow jamberry decals. I once had a giant rainbow umbrella (it broke, sadly).  My entire knitting group sends me links to rainbow projects and rainbow yarn whenever they see it.  I love the association.  I like all the things they represent; I like that they’re the spectrum of light; I love their symbology around queer folks; I like that they make me think of magic.  And I like this card, the Ten of Pentacles.  It’s such a positive card.  It, like all tens in tarot, represents the culmination of the journey of its suit.  Pentacles are the suit of Earth and they represent the physical material aspects of life.  They can be read as involving money, physical health, issues of housing, food, and other physical or material things.

I particularly like the way this ten reads.  Nine pentacles orbiting around the heart of the card.  The center pentacle has another tiny pentacle right in its center.  It has that beautiful spectrum of color radiating from purples on the outer edges of the card down into a warm deep red at the center.  It feels like a kind of magical hearth, and gives the impression of this slowly focusing energy as you move down your path and start arriving at the heart of the matter.

The Ten of Pentacles is a very stable and secure card.  It speaks to security and comfort.  The struggle all through the pentacles, starting out with few material concerns, through the Five of Pentacles which stands for bad health and being cast out, is brought full circle by the ten.  You have all these pentacles, all this success and wealth.  Maybe your health has been faltering and you’ve been feeling out of sorts–this would be a good card to see, better things are here.  It also speaks to permanence.  This isn’t some easy come, easy go kind of energy.  The ten reflects a lot of hard work that you’ve put in building up to this security.

The more I look at this card the more it feels to me like a heartbeat.  Starting from the outside and moving in.  Breathe In – Care for yourself, Breathe Out – Share that stability with others who aren’t as far along in the path of the suit.  You need to be secure in your foundations before you can support others.  And maybe this exists in a cycle: circle down to your hearth and rest there when you feel unsteady, then circle back outwards to others when you’ve built up your energies.  I really like that the card border is white on this card, because white light is all the other colors of light put together.  When you see those rainbows of light when you bend light through a prism, that’s all the colors separated out, combined the light is white.  And that white light, which is often thought of as healing light or as divine light, surrounds everything, never constricting, only supporting.  May you be held in that white light, feeling the safety and support that is the Ten of Pentacles.

Card of the Day: Two of Wands

S W I M I N T H E S E A

Two of Wands

Today’s card comes from the Universal Goddess Tarot deck.  It’s the Two of Wands and it depicts Ataentsic, an Iroquoian goddess.

img_0542Two little boys are engaged in a fight with each other with their wands.  At first glance it looks really dangerous: those wands are on fire, after all.  But a maternal figure is watching over the scene with her arms outstretched–she almost looks like she’s about to embrace them.  The expression on the boys’ faces are sort of mixed, as though they’re not sure what they’re doing, or that they’re reluctant to fight but determined to win.  But if you only look at their feet, this isn’t a fight at all any more.  It’s a dance.

The Two of Wands speaks to a relationship between two things.  It could be two people, two ideas, two places, any kind of duality.  A casual observer sees a conflict, two situations fighting against each other to beat out the other.  Depending on where you look in this card you’ll see a lot of different ways to interpret the action.  Imagine that you’re standing directly behind one of the boys.  It might look like he’s trying to defend himself.  Stand behind the woman and you’re watching her teach them intricate steps of a dance.

The boys are dressed in dark and light costumes, and you could view them as two sides of a coin: one side must come out on top.  Or you could take a more Taoist view and see them as the yin and yang, each must balance out the other.  You may notice that I’m deliberately not talking about them as good vs. evil.  The concept of whiteness being good/pure and blackness being bad/dirty is a hurtful concept that devalues people of color by declaring whiteness to be superior.  It’s more productive to talk about the balance of energies.  Neither is inherently superior and that’s what this card is telling us.

This card reminds us to carefully consider options when we’re faced with a challenge.  You might first think you have to make a choice, one or the other, when really you could have both.  It’s a delicate balance: if one of the boys misses a step, he risks hitting his friend, or even setting him on fire.  The suit of wands is the suit of fire and it can be interpreted a few ways.  It might be that spark of inspiration that lights the way to a new way of life, or it could be that faithful night light, guiding you through the darkness.

There are two players in this dance or there are two opponents in this fight.  Can you resolve the conflict without a fight or do you have to take your place in the dance?  It might be frightening to be caught in the middle of all of this action, but this card also offers comfort.  The whole mess is being watched over by a kind maternal goddess.  The card doesn’t specify, but in some Iroquoian legends she’s the mother of twin warriors, and this card feels that way to me.

Consider all your options and double check what assumptions you might be making, did you bring a knife to a dance fight?  But don’t worry too much, you’ve got someone looking out for you.

Deck Review: Universal Goddess

wooly witch reviews (1)

I’m excited to be talking about one of my favorite decks in this post.  The Universal Goddess Tarot is one of my oldest decks; I think I’ve used it more than any other deck I own.  It’s not my oldest deck, because I have a Robin Wood deck that I owned before the Universal Goddess deck found its way into my life, but this beautiful deck of Goddesses is what really kept me moving forward in tarot.

IMG_0566Obviously, this is a goddess based deck.  There are a few nods to some of the classic Rider-Waite-Smith card designs: the Strength card still features a woman with a lion, the Chariot still has a chariot on it, but other than a few recognizable features the deck strikes out on its own, using goddesses from many different cultures as the central figures on the cards.

Their choice to feature Athena on the Emperor card really won me over right away.  I loveIMG_0570 any deck that can take traditionally male designated cards and spin that on its head.  Athena is my matron goddess, I’ve felt an affinity with her since I first read about her in my Edith Hamilton’s mythology book in middle school.  And what a perfect figure for the Emperor.  A warrior goddess who sprung fully formed from her father’s head, already clad in armor.  She is depicted here as a powerful commander of men.  It’s a nice reminder that women posses all the power and wisdom of men and are just as capable of leading.  This theme runs through the entire deck and is one of the things that I love the most about these tarot cards.

As a queer woman, one factor that influences my ability to connect with a tarot deck is how it handles male and female archetypes.  I look through the deck to find the Lovers card and
see what is depicted on it.  I don’t necessarily need all my decks to feature queer couples, but I find it easier to connect when they have more inclusive representation.  This deck comes through for me in that regard.  The Lovers card features Aphrodite, dancing in the ocean.  She isn’t shown with a partner, which I like here because it gives the card a reading that reminds us that it’s so important to love ourselves.  To quote RuPaul, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else.”

Another rave that I have for this deck is how many goddesses of color are represented.  At IMG_0568least 30 of the goddesses on the cards are women of color.  I chose Pele to show here, since she’s another goddess that I am very drawn to.  Her depiction here on the Five of Wands is great.  As a Hawaiian volcano goddess, she is a powerful creative and destructive force, which is a great representation of the energy of the wands suit and the energy of fire.  The volcano can destroy everything around it, but volcanic ash is rich in minerals and can be an excellent fertilizer.  It’s a lovely symbol of the cyclical nature of life.

I also appreciate that the artists took time and care to create realistic women of color in these cards.  Pele’s face isn’t just a carbon copy of Athena with her skin tone changed.  They are real nuanced depictions of goddesses.  They also include a range of age in the goddesses depicted.  Hestia and Hecate have a more mature look, lines on their faces and wisdom about them, younger goddesses like Aurora fit the maiden archetype better and are shown as such.

Every reader can have a different experience working with a deck, for me this deck is very IMG_0561closely linked with my own spirituality work.  I use it mainly to read for myself and I’ve used it extensively in tarot self-development.  It has a very magical and spiritual energy when I work with it.    When I was just beginning to learn to use my intuition as a reader, I had some trouble reading with these cards and I found myself having to rely very heavily on my notes and the LWB that came with the deck.  There are some cards that don’t seem to fit with what I’d been taught that the cards ‘Had to Mean’.  I found myself stumbling over meanings and only getting half the meanings of cards.  This deck was trying to slowly and painstaking pull me forward into trusting in my own abilities and intuitions.  I owe a lot of thanks to the goddess work, and to the goddesses who guided me to where I am now.  I don’t know that I would have been able to hear their messages if not for these cards.

I love this deck so much.  It wasn’t until I’d been working with this deck for quite some IMG_0562time that I discovered a Tarot Deck Interview Spread on LittleRedTarot that has become my go-to spread any time I get a new deck.  I can’t recommend that spread enough to
anyone starting out as a reader or for a new deck.  Interviewing the Universal Goddess deck revealed to me what I already knew about it.  In this case, the interview just helped reaffirm that I could trust my intuitions around the deck and how we could work together.

It told me that it was a deeply personal deck for me, that it would help me connect with my higher self and to work with goddess energies.  It’s a fantastic deck to use as a meditation tool.  I use a Tarot meditation where you journey into the card and can interact with the figures in the card, and my handful of meditations have been affirming and humbling.

On a purely more physical note, I can recommend this deck as well. I’ve worked a lot with these cards and they’re still in great shape;  the cardboard flap top box shows some reasonable wear around its edges and corners, but the cards aren’t torn and they’ve help up well to lots of shuffling and handling.  I own a not inconsiderable number of tarot decks and this is still one that I come back to again and again.

Card of the Day: Three of Swords

S W I M I N T H E S E A

Today’s card is the Three of Swords, and this particular representation is from the Welcome to Night Vale Tarot deck by Hannah Holloway.  I’m a huge WTNV fan so when I heard they were coming out with a tarot deck, I jumped at it.  I bought it literally the moment I knew it existed.  I hadn’t even seen the card designs and I didn’t know the artists.  I just HAD to have it.

I haven’t actually done any readings with it yet, because although it is visually lovely, it didn’t come with ANY interpretation at all.  And even though I love a deck that forces me to rely on my intuition, there are more than a few cards that depict scenes and characters I can’t immediately recognize, which is a challenge.  My initial thought was that I would just try to work with it and it would tell me more about itself.  But, I’m a librarian, and I couldn’t leave well enough alone.  I did some searching and found that Hannah posted a ‘Little White Book’ to accompany the cards on her tumblr.

img_0543So then, we come to the Three of Swords, represented here by the Trophy that Cecil wanted to give to Carlos in the ending episodes of season one.  The three of swords is a tough card to see: it stands for heartbreak, loneliness, and betrayal.  And the Trophy represents that so well here.  Carlos doesn’t show up in that episode because he’s busy trying to save Night Vale, which is a recurring theme for Carlos and Cecil.  Cecil’s emotions really run the gamut of those three aspects of this card during the episode.  He is lonely and so he invites Carlos to be on the show, then he feels betrayed that Carlos has gone off to do something else, and finally he feels heartbreak when he hears about what has become of his beloved scientist.  Adding one more layer to this card is the fact that the trophy is also a cup, the suit of water and of emotions.  These three are pretty powerful emotions.

Cecil’s three-fold experience is a fantastic way to look at this card.  There’s no getting around that this is a painful card.  The more traditional Rider-Waite-Smith interpretation shows a heart being literally stabbed by three swords.  Sounds pretty bleak, doesn’t it?  One thing to consider, especially with the Night Vale Three of Swords, was that everything turned out all right, even when it seemed so very dire.  So when you see the Three of Swords, ask yourself if it’s just the way you’re looking at the situation.  Is there a different way to approach the situation?  Perhaps by stepping outside of yourself and getting a fresh pair of eyes on it, you might be able to see a way through the pain of the situation.

Maybe you too can end up watching the lights above the Arby’s with your favorite scientist.  Apologies for anyone not familiar with WTNV.  If you’ve not heard this wonderfully quirky, racially diverse, queer-affirming podcast, I urge you to go and give it a try.  It’s terrifyingly delightful.

Card of the Day: The Moon

S W I M I N T H E S E A

The Moon

Today’s card comes from the Wild Unknown Tarot deck (first edition).  When it was first coming out I knew that I wanted it right away but I couldn’t find anywhere local.  We were visiting Salem, MA to see this adorable little shop our friends recommended, Haus Witch, and boom, there it was.  Katie and I each bought one and we were scarcely out of the shop before we were shuffling through the cards.

img_0548The Wild Unknown has such a beautiful aesthetic and that’s definitely evident here.  One detail that you’ll often find the the Wild Unknown cards is watercolor rainbow look, it shows up here in the thin border around the card.  So, even if the Moon card is dark and shows only a sliver of the moon, you can see that it’s bounded by the entire spectrum of light.  This card is all about turning ideas about knowing, daylight ideas, on their heads.  In a sunset trees can look like black silhouettes against a brightly colored sky, but in this card the trees are starkly white against a black sky lit by just a fraction of the moon.

In some ‘traditional’ readings the Moon card can indicate fear and disillusionment and other negative things about operating in the dark, but as a witch and a queer person I find there’s a lot of meaning to be mined and understood in that dark.  The moon is a card that I am very fond of.   The moon is a huge symbol to witches, representing the goddess who is often associated with the moon, and huge volumes of moon magic as well.

In the dark we can’t see as we’re used to seeing in the day, we must rely on other senses, touch, hearing, and other methods for finding our way around.  That’s the message of the Moon.  Use those senses that aren’t made for the daylight.  Trust your inner wisdom and your intuition.  If you’ve ever been in a situation where you’ve felt like you’ve ‘just known’ something that you couldn’t rationally have known, that’s the energy of the Moon card.  Intuition, Magic, and Shadow Work are her hallmarks.  Rational knowledge isn’t what’s at play in this card.  It’s an intuition.  At the risk of going a little too Obi-Wan, trust your feelings.

The moon also represents that feeling of being lost in the darkness, where it’s all too easy to let fear of the unfamiliar take over.  This interpretation of the moon is very much about stillness, it’s the feeling of being lost in the forest on the side of a hill.  There’s a clear view of the moon and the comfort of knowing that if you can sit a while in that stillness and still your mind with all its racing thoughts, you’ll find that inner knowing and you’ll be able to find your way out again.

As a footnote, if you’d like to read more about queering the tarot, there is a fantastic series of posts by Cassandra Snow hosted on one of my favorite tarot blogs, Little Red Tarot.

Elemental Guidance Tarot Spread

Tarot Spreads (2)

This spread grew out of a desire to find the perfect spread to read for a friend who was looking for some guidance around her own personal development.  I wanted to be able to give her the best help that I could, and I realized that none of the spreads I was looking through were quite what I wanted.

I thought that if I could tap into something larger than myself I would be able to give her much more, so I asked for some guidance from a guide that I know she feels strongly connected to.  This was helpful for her case, but I thought it would be a great idea to have a more open spread that anyone could use who was seeking a little more guidance.

Thus the Elemental Guidance spread was born.  There are places for each of the elements and then right in the center of it all, there is a card for Spirit.  This card can represent a deity of your choice, a higher power, nature, anything that you identify as something that can help guide you.  I encourage you to create some space for yourself before you use this spread and invite your deity/guide/higher self to join you in this reading and to lend you their advice.

So, without further ado, here is the Elemental Guidance spread:

Elemental Guidance Tarot Spread

  1. Earth: something to ground you
  2. Water: something to comfort you
  3. Fire: something to inspire you
  4. Air: something to challenge you
  5. Spirit: something to guide you.

    To make it easier for you to try this reading I’m including some download links.  You can view this in google docs or download a PDF.  However you use it, I’d love to hear how it worked for you!  Feel free to leave me a comment or send me an email.

Open in Google DriveDownload as PDF

Card of the Day: King of Cups

S W I M I N T H E S E A

Today’s draw is from Paulina Cassidy’s Joie de Vivre deck.  This deck is a very whimsical and fantastical deck and it has a very Tim Burton meets the world of Faerie feel to it.  Each card has a name and a story to go along with the traditional interpretation of the card.  This King is named Serenity and he’s described as a healer.

File_000

This king radiates power.  It’s a calm and quiet strength.  You won’t find him shouting in any kind of conflict, he’s the figure who calmly presides over a chaotic situation without letting anyone get hurt or overly distressed.  He stands ready to listen and offer counsel when you ask.  I particularly like the dichotomy of motion and stillness I read in this card.  The arc of his magic from the bowl over his head to his open and outstretched hand gives me the impression of a a graceful circle dance, but the rest of his posture is that of a fixed point, a confident and steady stance.

There’s also a wonderful gender fluidity to this king.  He is wearing a gown that reminds me of Queen Elizabeth with that ruffled collar and the ruffled over dress, and there are hearts all over it.  You can see the blending of energies here.  He tells me that gender is performative and that it exists on a spectrum, it’s not a fixed point, we can all move around as we feel comfortable on that spectrum.  I also like that he is filling almost the entire space of this card.  He reminds us that it’s okay to take up space, even if we don’t fit that exact mold that our culture tells us we must fit.  Wear your dress, speak your truth, and trust your heart.  Take up Space.

As a message for the day he reminds us to take time to heal ourselves when we need to. He offers his gentle but powerful healing magic and reminds us to care for ourselves and our hearts.  He is showing us that our emotions and feelings (the water in the cup) can be transformative (as it becomes light, water into steam into magic).  Let yourself engage in some creative emotional work, don’t shy away from it and it can illuminate you.  Also don’t be afraid to express yourself, whether that’s wearing a giant Elizabethan dress or busted sneakers and your favorite T shirt.