Learning the Tarot

I’m still doing my one card a day tarot study, though I’m not sure if I’m learning anything. The whole thing confuses me — if the card tells me what I already know about myself, then it seems unnecessary. It it’s supposed to help me see where I am going, then that too seems unnecessary since I will know what I know when I get there. And if it’s about delving deeper into my psyche and coming in contact with my higher self — well, so far that hasn’t happened.

It’s possible the lack is in the tarot itself. After all, the tarot is only a deck of cards — specialized cards, but still just cards. Although each card is assigned a meaning of sorts, a core truth, the cards are open to interpretation, so whatever a person thinks the card means that particular day is the meaning, and that meaning can be different on a different day. This all seems too imprecise and ambiguous for my logical and concrete mind.

It’s possible the lack is in me, not just my inability to intuit any meanings, but my inability to connect with any particular deck. It’s possible I’ll be able to find such a deck — after all, I have dozens of them. Each month I use a different deck, and so far, the ones I’ve used are off-putting. The artwork doesn’t speak to me, and the symbolism of the artwork seems specious at best. Still, I’m sure I will find an affinity with at least one, and then we’ll see if my studies take a different turn.

Having said that, I’ve been keeping track of my daily card, and I do see a pattern to the cards I pick, vague though that pattern might be, because the same cards seems to show up again and again. For example, the king and queen of pentacles show up at least once every month, sometimes two or three times. Since I pick a card randomly, this repetition seems to indicate that more than mere chance is at work. If I used the same deck all the time, I’d think that perhaps the card hadn’t been shuffled well enough or was sticky or had some sort of defect that made the card stand out, but I use a different deck every month.

These two cards do seem to be a reflection of my life. The queen, in a few words, represents someone who is secure in her personal possessions and in her place in life, and the king refers to stability and not having to prove oneself. Since the cards are open to interpretation, and since every tarot writer has assigned various meanings, these few words don’t tell the whole story, but they suffice for the purposes of this article.

Another and seemingly opposite card that I get frequently is the ten of swords which spells ruination, disaster, calamity, though this seems to reflect my thoughts about the current USA situation rather than my own. The card is also a reminder that though I can’t change the actions of another person, I can change how I respond, which seems a timely reminder, for sure.

The cards I pick are mostly swords and pentacles. Very few cups or wands. Very few of the major arcana, though The Tower shows up periodically, which among other things, points to changes — a release of tension that has been building up, a flash of sudden insight, or maybe a warning.

So does any of this mean anything? I don’t know. My daily card pick is helping me get used to the tarot, and it is getting me familiar with the various way experts interpret the cards, so that’s something. The card itself sometimes seems to refer to me, sometimes it seems to refer to what’s going on in the rest of the country, sometimes it seems to be a reflection of my worries. But does it add anything to what I know? Not that I can see.

Sometimes the cards tell me I am more intuitive than I know, other times they seem to think I rely on my intellect. Either way, does it matter?

I do try to find a bit of advice in the daily card, as I did with the ten of swords mentioned above, but these are merely reminders of what I already know.

I suppose it’s possible that after years of study, I might find . . . something. But then, that’s not the point of my studying. I have the cards, and I do find the array of the different decks compelling, and if there is any esoteric knowledge hidden in the cards, I’d like to know what it is. But more than that, it’s about connecting with my deceased brother, the one who collected the cards. “Connecting” might be the wrong word since I’m not trying to connect with him in any psychic way. It’s more that I am connecting with my memory of him, with the private person buried beneath his polarizing personality, the beloved brother I lost way before his death.

That connection, if nothing else, does give my daily card reading a meaning.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Feeling Clunky

I finished rererereading The Wheel of Time and resisted the urge to start over again, mostly because I have library books due and need to read them. I considered returning them unread, but the librarian was kind enough to deliver them and I didn’t think it proper to be so dismissive of her kind gesture.

The Wheel of Time has some hugely glaring faults, not the least being that Robert Jordan fell in love with his world and apparently didn’t want to waste even a single idea that crossed his mind, even if it didn’t fit with the story. He also had the annoying habit of creating characters for no apparent reason, pounding away at unimportant plot points and then simply dropping them, while at the same time, barely touching on some important issues. He seemed to like playing games with his readers and he especially seemed to like being mysterious for the sake of being mysterious, neither of which did anything to move the story along. He also seemed to change his mind about things he set up in early books, so that there are some awkward gear changes in later books.

But, that being said, the work really is brilliant. He is one of the few major writers I have heard about in the past few decades who actually spent years researching and building his world before he ever began writing. It’s fun trying to pick out all the symbolism and cultures, philosophies and costumes, influences and archetypes. But more than that, it’s a world of old-fashioned values such as honor and obligation, as well as being a world of less pleasant strictures such as compulsory obedience. But without the bad to push against, the good wouldn’t be as apparent. At times, the writing is almost lyrical, which helps lend an otherworldly air to the work.

I wondered how spending two months reading and rereading such a massive work would affect my interest in books taking place in today’s world, and as I feared, today’s world feels . . . clunky. It’s not just books that feel clunky, to be honest. Other things do too, such as modern methods of doctoring. In Jordan’s world, the “witches” can delve into people and heal them almost immediately instead of having them go through horrendous “therapies,” such as the cancer protocols of today. In some cases and places in The Wheel of Time, thought becomes real, so that one isn’t always battering against the solidity of this world. (Our world truly shouldn’t feel so solid, considering that things are made of atoms and atoms are comprised of a few particles, a bit of energy, and a lot of empty space.)

Still, it’s probably good for me to do something other than spend so much time in a fake world, especially one not of my own making. (Though oddly, my as yet unpublished book is a world of my own creation, which takes our world then breaks it and remakes it in a different way. I can honestly say that Jordan did not influence me in any way since my book was written — and the sequel planned — long before I discovered his works.)

Meantime, I’m still chiseling away at the tarot, picking a card every day and seeing what it means as well as how other tarot artists depict the symbol. (Today’s card is the hierophant, if you’re interested. The word hierophant means “revealer of sacred things,” and the card indicates someone who helps unravel mysteries. It’s also about intuition, i.e.: inner tuition — inner instruction or guidance.)

I almost started a tarot journal today, but who starts a new project on the 28th of the month? It is the beginning of the week, so there is that, but the first of the month is just a few days away, which seems even a better time to start. It also gives me plenty of time to change my mind. If I don’t change my mind, there is the decision of how to do it, whether in a long hand journal, or on line. Long hand is easier in some ways since there is the possibility of hand/brain connections, but online would be easier if I wanted to include images. I considered continuing my tarot studies as part of this blog, adding a bit of my tarot learnings to the bottom of the daily article as I did today, but I have a hunch I am alienating readers who see the tarot as something less than admirable. On the other hand, posting to two blogs every day is a bit much.

On a lighter note, I’ve had a surprise. I thought all the wildflower seeds I planted were defunct, but I think it’s more that our severe drought kept them from germinating, because I found a small patch of bachelor buttons below a gutter drainpipe. I didn’t plant it there, but there it is.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

 

Fool’s Journey and Hero’s Journey

I’m still playing around with the tarot decks I inherited from my brother, which seems an appropriate way of counting down the days to the second anniversary of his death. I haven’t been learning anything about him from the cards, though it still interests me that he collected them — not just one deck (which would indicative of curiosity), but so many of them. There are about four dozen different decks, another dozen or so duplicates, plus the triplicates I sent to a sister who also found the fact of the collection fascinating.

I have learned some things about the tarot itself, though. The most obvious lesson is that there’s no consensus on what the individual cards mean since the creators of each deck put their own slant on the cards to match their vision and their artwork. The instructions on how to learn the tarot invariably say to study the picture on the card, to figure out what the card means to you, but if every “sun” card, for example, is different from every other sun card, if the artists have added their own embellishments, then the images become simply pretty pictures to illustrate the simple idea of “sun.”

There’s no consensus on what the various suits of the minor arcana are, either. Normally, they are wands, swords, cups and coins or pentacles, but in the Robot Tarot, the suits are laser, light, void, and scarab; and in the Servants of the Light Tarot, the suits are weapons, spheres, crescents, staves. Even more confusing, there’s no consensus on what constitutes a tarot. Most decks are composed of 78 cards, but some tarot decks comprise only the 22 cards of the major arcana. Or less. Or more. The Deva Tarot has five suits instead of the normal four (the fifth is a suit called Triax and is supposed to represent the ether or the spirit). If the Deva Tarot is a deck that’s beyond the realm of a tarot, does it become a tarot if you remove the additional cards?

In other words, the tarot seems a rather arbitrary tool depending on what deck you use, what system of meaning you apply, what you read into the cards, and your own inclinations.

(This kind of reminds me of when I decided to learn the names of birds. After a while it began to seem laborious and arbitrary, especially when it dawned on me these were simply names humans gave the birds, not what the birds called themselves, and in no way imparted a sense of “birdness.” To this day, I only know a few common names, though I do have a bird book if I want to know more.)

However, there is one underlying, non-arbitrary aspect of the tarot: as story-telling cards. I was reading about the Major Arcana (the twenty-two trump cards) and discovered that they tell a story — the fool’s journey, from naivete to wisdom. And suddenly I understood — the fool’s journey is nothing more than the hero’s journey. See? Story!!

More than that, how the cards are laid out tell a story — the story of a person’s future; the story of their past, perhaps; maybe even a deeper story of their self. And since there are infinite possible layouts (and infinity squared when you take into consideration all the various types of cards and decks and meanings), there are an infinite number of stories.

So my idea of using the cards to write a story is not at all farfetched. I used the hero’s journey to tell the story of Daughter Am I, and I could use the fool’s journey to write a completely different sort of story. Each character could be assigned a role based on the Major Arcana, or I could do a reading for each character to see what their particular needs are. Or both.

Meantime, I’m on my own fool’s journey when it comes to the tarot. I’ve been doing a one-card reading for myself every day to get familiar with the cards. My question is always, “What do I need to know today?”

So far, the cards aren’t letting me in on any secrets, but the cards do seem to reflect my reflections. For example, today’s card was the sun card, which, according to the particular deck I used, means enlightenment, especially artistic enlightenment. Although card didn’t answer my question, simply reflected it, the card did answer my unasked question: Why should I blog about today?

So, arbitrary or not, the tarot, even in the simplest practice, has meaning.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Life, Death, and Tarot

According to what I’ve been reading about the tarot, there are infinite meanings to each deck, each spread, even each card depending on how it falls and how the reader reads it and what s/he reads into it. Such a lack of logic and unpermutability offends my sense of rightness (though it shouldn’t since in my own life I rebel against absolutes and allow myself to live however my personal wind blows).

If I ever do learn to use any of the decks, especially as they are supposed to be used — as a way to look inside oneself (at least that’s the impression I get for their true use) — I will need that intuition because some of the instruction booklets that come with a few of the more esoteric decks are written in Italian. Online translation programs help, but not when, as in one case, the booklet is written in an archaic version of the language that no one seems able to interpret. Too bad — it’s a lovely deck, with beautiful imagery, and all sorts of mystical symbols on the cards that are missing from other such decks. In another deck with an Italian instruction book, the suits are completely unfamiliar (lasers and scarabs. light and the void.) And one deck has an additional suit, which makes for an unwieldy stack of cards.

I’ve been spreading out the decks themselves, instead of the individual cards, to see if I can learn anything about the brother who collected them. I know he was interested in a world of things, both practical and mystical, and yet, since he was homeless, I have to wonder if he ever got a chance to use any of the things he collected, or if they were all for a future he never got to live.

The timing is right to be thinking about him — next month, it will be two years since he died. It’s not just his death that gives me pause, but that the death of this homeless man was instrumental in my gaining a home. (A change in my attitude, perhaps, from never wanting to own a house to thinking it would be a good idea, from believing it was impossible, to finding a way to make it work.) And then there is the age difference I mentioned a few days ago: growing up, he was always older and more knowledgeable, and no matter how old I got, there he was . . . a year older, too.

Well, he’s not getting any older, and I am. I’ve now lived a year longer than he did, and knowing that I caught up to him and beyond brings me no comfort.

Oddly, though, he does. Bring me comfort, I mean. Despite my being ambivalent about what if anything besides energy survives after death, I sometimes sense that he is watching out for me as he wanted to do in life but never quite managed. Obviously, I have no way of knowing whether it’s true or not, but this feeling allows me to live fearlessly in a house by myself.

It’s hard to know the truth of oneself, let alone another person, but here I am, moving the tarot decks around, trying to see . . . something. This is the second time I’ve done this — the first time was a couple of years ago when I first got the cards. Maybe this time — or the next — will bring enlightenment. I hope so. It would certainly be easier than actually learning how to use the cards.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

 

A Lovely Day

Today was a lovely day — immensely hot, but the still air and clear blue skies made up for any discomfort from the heat. It seemed such a harbinger of summer that I considered going in search of hanging plants, but tomorrow the wind will pick up again, and I don’t relish the idea of worrying about the poor things flailing around. Nor do I want to fill the planters I have until a more benign time. With any luck, once the windy season is gone, there will be some cooler days when I could do the work. And if not, the potting soil should last a while. If worst comes to worst, and the expiration date passes, I can always spread the soil on the ground. It won’t hurt, and it might help revitalize the dirt. (Odd to think of soil having an expiration date — dirt been around since the beginning of time. But then, salt has an expiration date, as does bottled water, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise.)

I built a bookcase from a kit today. It seemed a heavy mental burden, so the kit has been sitting unopened for a week or so, but when I got down to actually building the thing, it went together nicely. I also cleared the storage boxes out of the second bedroom to make room for the bookcase. Once the garage is done, those boxes will finally find a home, but for now they are in the dining room. I’m sorting out all the storage stuff into various piles — craft and fabrics, household goods, camping equipment, office supplies, — to make it easier when it’s time to move everything onto the shelves that will be set up in the garage. I’d planned to do the moving myself, but I don’t want to take a chance on reinjuring my knee, so the contractor and his workers said they’d do it for me, and I don’t want to waste their time dithering about where things go.

Meantime, I’m enjoying the extra space in the room where I spend so much of my time. No more cave-like dwelling!

I’m not sure what to put in the bookcase. My collection of tarot cards, perhaps, which was a legacy from my deceased brother.

I started learning about those cards before I moved here, but ever since then, they’ve been packed away. If they were where I could see them, maybe I’d take up my studies again. Or not. As interesting as I find the idea, it doesn’t seem valuable from a personal standpoint since any question I would want to ask the cards will be answered on its own given enough time. Still, the history of tarot is fascinating. And oh, there’s always the I Ching and the rune stones that came with the collection if I really wanted to delve into such esoteric matters.

Meantime, I’m enjoying the empty shelves. I seem to see any sort of emptiness as a place of possibility, and once the emptiness is filled, the hint of possibility disappears.

Also, once an emptiness is filled, there seems no chance of ever unfilling it, so it’s best to keep the shelves empty as long as I can. Things (in my life, anyway) tend to stay wherever they’re put.

As if that wasn’t enough excitement for one day, I also got to see two different friends at different times, as well as chat a few moments with the worker who was here painting the garage.

Yep. A lovely day.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.