A Few Introductory Thoughts on Tarot

Cartomancy, to the best of my understanding, lies somewhere between a technical skill and a psychic gift. One selects a deck by intuition, at random, or after careful study. Some bless or enchant their cards, others carefully nurture the spirit of a deck. Some favor traditional decks – true Tarot decks based on the Rider-Waite and Golden Dawn originals – others favor oracle cards whose artists have abandoned the five suit structure altogether. Some people I know have intense visionary and psychic experiences while working with divinatory cards, sometimes almost completely unrelated to the actual cards at hand; others, like myself, are more decoders of the symbols within the cards, occasionally assisted by strong intuition.

The traditional structure of a Tarot deck is of five suits: four lesser and one greater. The lesser suits associated with the ceremonial magician’s tools and with elemental power. Disks, Cups, Swords, and Wands. Earth, Water, Air, Fire. The suits have other names, of course, varying from deck to deck. Disks are known variously as Coins, Pentacles, or even simply Earth; Wands are sometimes Rods, Staves or just Fire; alternative names for Swords and Cups are rare, but not unheard of. The lesser suits are comprised of fourteen cards each:, most commonly known by the numbers and titles: ace through ten, page, knight, queen, and king. The fifth suit, the “Trumps” or “Major Arcana”, are a series of twenty-two ascending images and archetypes, originally from Renaissance Italian theology and popular culture (I don’t have the book on hand for a proper citation, but look to Robert Michael Place’s The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Interpretation) .

The suit of Disks – I favor the name “disks”, for whatever reason, though I recall that my first deck, the Hansen-Roberts, called them Coins – deals with the material world, material things, and material resources. Being associated with elemental earth, themes of fertility and fecundity are also found here. The suit of Cups deals chiefly with emotional attachments, memory, and romance. Being associated with elemental water, there are also some associations with psychic gifts and dreams. The suit of Wands deals with passion, glory, and drive. Frequently, this entails themes conflict, victory, and loss. The suit of Swords deals with suffering and torment. Being associated with elemental air, there are also associations with matters of intellect and understanding.

The major arcana is where the imagery of tarot cards get really, really interesting. It’s also where things begin to vary wildly between decks, as authors and illustrators embrace or discard the original Christian and Hermetic symbolism.

I’ve worked with four decks since I began my practice in 1996.

My first was the Hansen-Roberts deck, and Rider-Waite variant that moved a couple of the major arcana around (I can’t remember which ones, all these years later, and I’ve long since lost the original booklet that explained the decision; it may even be that they made the same moves as the Waite deck from the previous “traditional”, not instead of) and replaced the lackluster art with images that were infinitely more visually appealing, although symbolically similar if not identical. The deck developed a serious attitude over the years I used it, with a caustic voice to rival some (gentler) Thoth decks by the time I retired it. The deck was still in full working order, and I have it to this day, but at the age of 18 or 19 when I stopped reading the cards for a while, I simply couldn’t trust myself to read what the cards said, not what I wanted them to say.

The second is a Tarot deck only insomuch as it has the five suits. DJ Conway’s Shapeshifter deck owes more to the Thoth deck, I think, than the Rider-Waite, but softens the brutal voice of Crowley’s work with the fluffy-bunny attitude one rightly expects from Conway, with a dose of faux-shamanism and animal totem. The art and imagery are beautiful, drawing from that transformative/animal theme. If nothing else, I recommend it as a piece of art.

The third was the Robin Wood, another Rider-Waite variant, even more beautiful than the Hansen-Roberts. I purchased it when I resumed doing card work at about the age of 22. The deck was reliable, consistent, but unfortunately printed on slightly inferior paper, and I was forced to retire it when several of the cards became too badly damaged.

The fourth deck, my current deck, is one of two Art Nouveau decks I’ve found and purchsed, largely because they’re pretty. One of the two I will never use – the imagery is too sexist – but the one I am using has some interesting variations to the traditional themes. The images on the minor arcana are greatly simplified: a single man and woman, seemingly made out of stained glass, in a tableau depicting the theme of the card, with a different couple and color scheme for each suit. The major arcana is similar in meaning, but more modern in imagery and certain themes than older Rider-Waite based decks, and as I begin to explore the meanings of the Tarot, it is to this deck that I will refer most often and in greatest depth.

Seasonal Transition

If Samhain is my most favorite season (tied, perhaps, with Beltane) – the autumn weather, the symbolic emphasis on death and rebirth, the opportunity to wear my “Witchy clothes” out in public without drawing the attention that it does the rest of the year – then Yule is my least favorite. This has nothing to do with Yule, itself- the embryonic year which we will shape with our rites between Samhain and Imboc – and everything to do with the American holidays that take place at about the same time.

Thanksgiving and Christmas have been a nightmare for me ever since I was old enough to pick up on the social tension within my family. The details are beside the point – you all have families, and while the particulars vary from one family to the next, the dysfunctional dynamics are largely similar. Suffice to say, I’d skip it all if I could. Moreover, working in jewelry, I’m exposed to a uniquely savage side of the holiday shopping frenzy: propitiative diamonds, engagement jewelry, and frantic “what do you mean it will take an hour?” repairs and alterations. There’s the incessant Xmas music and – as I currently work in a mall – the screaming children and the grownups fighting like children. And so on, and so forth, ad nauseum, ending with New Years – a fantastic drinking holiday that I might like more if I weren’t so scared of being run over by the amateurs who only drink and drive on St. Patty’s and New Years.

That the weather has finally turned cold here in Kansas City both helps and hurts the situation. On the one hand, it’s comforting that the season is finally moving on – 60-70 weather in November and December was somewhat disconcerting. On the other hand, the cold makes me want to hibernate, which just makes me grouchier. Whether it’s seasonal stress, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, or just Pavalovian conditioning, I’m finding it difficult to react to things proportionally.

I’ve been trying to get into the spirit, I really have. Last year, I even bought a Santa hat (of course, it does read “Bah, Humbug!” across the front). I’m wearing it at work again this year, and I’ve got a little reindeer at my bench, clutching a bottle of Jack Daniels (which I might well drink in an emergency). I’ve been studying the Sabbats a lot – that whole “starting at the beginning again” thing – and I’ve volunteered to write the ritual for my working group. Last week at the full moon, my partner and I changed over the house altar from Samhain to Yule. My Death God’s Mask was replaced by the still-drying Solstice God Mask, which I am painting and ornamenting to serve as both Oak and Holly King, and our various symbols of death and tributes to the dead were packed away; she made dinner out of the winter squash we’d had on the altar, and we decked it up in garland, put a golden Sun Candle in the center, and finished our first semi-formal Esbat with some trancework. The Yule altar is turning out to be pretty spectacular, actually: the garland, the candles, the mask. I even let Aradia talk me into putting up a tree (something I actually forbade my previous room-mates to do): it’s a three-foot plastic thing that she already had (we really wanted a live tree, but we’z po’), and surprisingly attractive and tasteful.

The Solstice will come soon enough. And spring soon enough after that.



My name is _______. I have been a practitioner of magic and a member of the neo-Pagan community since I was sixteen years old; astronomical Samhain marked my twenty-ninth birthday. I have identified as a witch, specifically, for about three years now, during which time (between moving from St. Louis to Kansas City, starting a new job, attending college for the first time ever, and getting involved in a romantic relationship that is quickly approaching the one-year mark) I have been rediscovering the basics. I am looking for ways in which to give back to the community that has sheltered me for almost half my life.

I am a bisexual hedonist witch. I am a writer of fiction and a student of history – and, as such, I would like to see both better prose and better scholarship coming out of the neo-Pagan world. I am a jeweler and craftsman, and I believe that this makes me a better witch that I would otherwise be: that fire, metal, clay, and the blank page have taught me Mysteries that can be learned no other way. I have been involved with working groups for most of the last decade – most notably the WPA, now the KU Cauldron, as well as several smaller, private groups but I have always been a solitary practitioner. (Although, recently, my working group started has asking, “Have we turned into a coven?”) Out at Heartland Pagan Festival, I am known as “that guy who hangs out with Camp Taco and the Big Damn Heroes” and “that guy who always carries around a bottle of massage oil”.

Drawing on my research into and growing experience with Wiccan ritual and neo-shamanic practice, I am developing a Tradition of my own: the Obsidian Dream, named after the Void that has been my experience of the astral and inner planes. Dionysus and Hephaestus are my patron gods; I am still searching for my goddesses.

If you follow beyond this, my introduction post (Yes, the introduction post! That inteweb font of self-aggrandizement and self-mutilation!), this weblog will be a place for me to explore and share my experiences and musings, exercises and rituals, hopefully to the benefit and amusement of those who stumble across it. The primary focus will be just what the subtitle says: jewelry, hedonism, and witchcraft. But, because these things also fascinate me, there will also be some politics, history, feminism, and good, old fashioned, sex, drugs, and rock&roll. As such, while this will never become an “adult blog”, there will certainly be some discussions that are not for the immature.

Welcome, then, to this space. Thank you for joining me on my journey.