Monday, 20 October 2014

Richard Abbot's Tattva Spread

Tattva symbols
As I said last week, I really enjoyed Richard Abbot's workshop at the UK Tarot Conference.  He explained a bit about the Sanskrit approach to the basic elements of life, the 'that-ness' that underlies existence (that's the translation of tattva).  This system recognises Akasha/Spirit, Tejas/Fire, Vayu/Air, Apas/Water and Prithvi/Earth as the fundamental elements of existence.

From this, Richard derived a spread with positions/associations which are somewhat different to the way I generally approach the elements.  He also had the interesting idea to use only the cards of the associated suit in drawing a card for each element's position in the spread.

For Spirit, the question is 'What is the lesson here?', and a card is drawn from amongst the Majors.  Fire is seen as hot, burning, forging, expanding, so the question is 'What is growing?' and is answered by a card from the Wands suit.  Air is invisible, colourless (though represented by a blue circle!), and odourless, so Richard's question is 'What is hanging in the air?'  Water is wet, cleansing, purging, and as something being washed away the question is 'What is receding?'  And Earth is solid, fixed, heavy, dense, and his question is 'What is fixed/stable?'

Finally, Richard suggested that we draw another Spirit card to answer 'And if I learn this lesson, what next?'  He also said we could draw another for if we don't learn the lesson.  However, my belief, which he also expressed, is that we will keep being presented with opportunities to learn a given lesson until we do get it, so I decided to skip that card.

As you can see, the questions end up being quite different from those we might expect with more Western, tarot-based associations.  For example, following those ideas the question for Water might be 'What emotions are being felt?' and for Earth might be 'What is involved at a practical level?'  It's also interesting to only answer each element's question with a card from that element, rather than from the full deck.  While the latter approach can be insightful in noting whether or not a card from the associated suit falls in 'its place', Richard's idea brings a different set of possibilities to the table.

To explore this, I asked the cards about the lesson offered to me by the Conference itself.  Here is my answer, from the Mosaic Dream Tarot (Bridgett Trejo, 2014):




1) Spirit - The Tower

My lesson was to cope with having my fixed ideas challenged and shattered.  Mary Greer did some challenging, with her recommendation to seek cognitive dissonance - to try to challenge our own assumptions.  And she helped this along by showing how much we jump to conclusions, and by getting us to look at tough ethical questions like "Is it acceptable to tell a querent what they SHOULD or SHOULDN'T do?"  Richard's workshop challenged my normal elemental associations and preference for pulling from a full deck, but the results were really interesting.  Les Cross' talk challenged my assertion that I don't want to learn any more systems of divination.  Yep, plenty of shake-ups :)

2) Fire - Nine of Wands

What is growing is my ability to push on in the face of these kind of challenges, to not let them put me off.  As one book title famously put it, to Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway!

3)  Air - Five of Swords

What is hanging in the air, there but not spoken, is the question of whether I will let these challenges leave me feeling defeated.  Whether I will take them as destroying my understanding of things, or pick up and dust myself off, richer for the changes.

4) Water - Seven of Cups

What is receding is my sense that I have to choose one thing or another, to make a firm choice.  As Mary had us say in one exercise: "Yes, and... Yes, and..."

5)  Earth - Ace of Pentacles

What is fixed is the potential that is there, the seed that is always available to be planted and to grow in the rich soil left after the Tower has been razed.

6) Spirit - Justice

What next?  Well, I hope I can be fairer, jump to less rushed judgements, and give credit where it's due.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Pagan Lenormand Overview

Box, deck and booklet
Gina Pace created the Pagan Tarot (Lo Scarabeo, 2005), so authoring the Pagan Lenormand (Lo Scarabeo, 2014) was a clear step along the same path.  Though in terms of artwork it is closer to the Silver Witchcraft Tarot (Lo Scarabeo, 2014) by the same artist.

Lo Scarabeo are really breaking the mould this year.  Once again, this is a borderless deck, with no international titles.  And the box, too, is a nice, solid contraption with a lift-off lid and a ribbon to help get the cards and booklet out. 

As for the booklet, it is most definitely not a LWB.  Rather, it is nice, has greyscale images to show spread layouts, as well as some decorative images.  There is a page devoted to each card, with keywords and an explanation of the Pagan Lenormand image, as well as the Lenormand interpretation.

Gypsy Heart Spread
The spreads offered are interesting and thematically appropriate, though some may complain of their single card positional meanings.  They are a ten card Gypsy's Heart Love Spread, an Elemental Square of Nine Spread (a nine square with alternate positional meanings based on the four elements), a six card "U" for Universe Spread, a six card Fork in the Road Spread, and a Pentagram of Five Spread.  However, traditional reading methods are left out for the most part - there is no explanation of how to combine card meanings, and no explanation of the Grand Tableau, either.

Multi-cultural People Cards
The only thing that came as a slight disappointment here is that the booklet is only half the length it seems, as it comes in English, Italian, Spanish, French and German (though the foreign language sections are condensed and don't give the spreads or some additional information).  Overall, though, Gina has made thoughtful choices to represent Lenormand ideas in a modern, pagan context.  From a labyrinth walking meditation to candlelit spirit guide quests, via a trip to the mountains and pagans in a regular suburban house, she achieves her aim well.

Another aspect I like about the deck is the people cards.  As has become frequent practice, there are two man and two woman cards, facing in different directions.  These allow same sex readings if desired, but also have two other uses.  Firstly, they offer a good cultural balance, with a Native American, an African American, a Caucasian and an Asian figure.  Secondly, each wears different colour robes and holds a different object (smudging sage, an incense burner etc), so together they represent the four quarters of a sacred circle, and could be used as such on an altar.

House, Dog, Garden, Mountain
In terms of the cards, the artwork is accomplished, though not everyone may feel comfortable with the robed figures (an issue also raised with the Silver Witchcraft Tarot).  Although there are vignettes of modern pagan life on many cards, the Lenormand object or person is still mostly very clear.  One slight exception to this is the Dog, which is represented by a spirit Wolf (wild ancestor to the dog).  In fact, the Fox, Bear, Stork and Dog are all "spirit guides", which means they rise up ethereally from meditating people.  I guess there aren't many real wild animals in most modern, urban pagans' lives, so there is certainly a logic to this.

Pagan Lenormand (large) and French Cartomancy
Each card also has a playing card insert.  These are taken directly from the Dondorf Lenormand, which Lo Scarabeo issued as the French Cartomancy deck (Lo Scarabeo, 2005).  At first, I found this a little jarring - having an old-fashioned, hand-drawn card insert on these modern, CGI images.  However, as it is basically a card from a separate deck, the lack of consistency between the two styles isn't as strange as having Majors and Minors by different artists in a tarot deck.  And it makes a good deal of sense to have something which readers will already be quite familiar with, given how different the images are generally.

Pagan Lenormand (centre) and Silver Witchcraft Tarot
Overall, my only complaint about this deck, and unfortunately this is a big one, is its size.  The cards are huge, bigger than many tarot decks (well, they are tarot deck height, but more square).  They are nearly twice the size of a regular Lenormand deck!  So, it comes as no surprise that the companion book doesn't talk about any spread larger than ten cards: you'd need a huge table or a bed to lay a Grand Tableau.  Even a line of five won't fit on my scanner, and for a line of three I had to turn them sideways and then rotate the image.  These are unwieldy, and though I enjoy the theme and the imagery, I sadly won't be using them very often.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

11th UK Tarot Conference + Giveaway

Mary K. Greer
On Friday and Saturday, I attended the 11th Annual UK Tarot Conference.  Once again, there was a fabulous line-up of speakers, overflowing goodie bag, and lots of wonderful fellow tarotists to meet and get to know, as well as old friends to spend time with.

Things kicked off with a talk from Mary K. Greer, the keynote speaker, on Intuition and Neuroscience.  Mary drew on lots of scientific resources, as well as personal experiences, and brought in plenty of interactive elements, too, to make this a fascinating presentation.  She had us all fill out a form at the start to say how experienced a tarot reader we felt we were, what our "accuracy" was, and how we believed that we read.  She then did some exercises to show just how much we are influenced by what is happening around us, and what we see and hear, in how we respond to questions.  We also did a larger group exercise to look at how we are influenced by initial knowledge and how we deal with tricky ethical questions (a querent asking about abortion).

Our "querent"
Personally, I found it very hard to rate my "accuracy", given that I do not even aspire to do predictive readings.  In the group exercise, four people read for a querent, played by a fifth person.  Our querent said at the end that she had felt listened to, helped to consider different options, and supported to make the best choice possible for herself.  Coming from a counselling background, that is what I aspire to in my readings, rather than "accuracy".

I liked that Mary did still leave a space open for "mystery".  She said that in her experience there are a very few people (even from the pre-selected tarot community), who do better than the average 50-50 in their predictions.  While I don't count myself among them, I hope I do bring "educated intuition", that balance of experience and openness to the various messages from the cards and the querent, to provide helpful readings.

Krysten and I, so glad we got some time together!
There was an hour-long break, in which Baby and I took a walk with my dear friend Krysten, of Queen of Stars Tarot, who has been in the UK over the summer.  It was great to get to spend some time with her, which is always one of the great joys of the Conference for me.  Unfortunately, this year I got rather less of that, as Baby wasn't very impressed with the Conference room :(

Next thing up was Kim Arnold, the Conference organiser, leading us through some fun tarot activities.  She took these from The Tarot Activity Book by Andy Matzner, and it was a great way to break the ice and get into a more playful mindset.

Israel Ajose
After another break, Israel Ajose gave a talk titled Tarot + Astrology = Magick.  He gave a simple, practical approach to applying astrological houses to creating tarot spells.  It was definitely something anyone can do, all explained with great humour as well as knowledge.  At the end, people got to try it out, with Israel helping guide and explain: an excellent workshop.

Finally, Geraldine Beskin of The Atlantis Bookshop gave a talk on Lady Frieda Harris, who painted the Thoth Tarot.  This was a talk I was very much looking forward to, but unfortunately didn't get to attend, as the baby was thoroughly bored of sitting in the Conference by that point, as well as tired and teething.  So, an early night for me instead of drinks and nibbles with my co-attendees - the trials of motherhood...

Mary K. Greer
Saturday got off to a great start with another talk by Mary K. Greer.  This time, she explored the history of the High Priestess card, and her expression and symbolism in the Rider-Waite-Smith deck.  As well as lots of fascinating historical and symbolic insights, she also had us work through a spread based on this card, which was definitely deep.  A wonderful mix of information and experience, again.

After a short break, which I once again spent breast-feeding rather than socialising, Richard Abbot was up with a talk about Tarot and the Tattvas.  Basically, this is the sanskrit take on the elements - earth, air, fire, water and spirit.  Despite disagreeing with Richard's comment that most people these days pooh-pooh elemental understandings (personally, I use them either implicitly or explicitly in all my readings), I loved this workshop.

Richard Abbot
Richard presented a subtly different take on the elements than is typical in pagan circles, had us do some powerful visualisation exercises (which I will certainly try again), and offered up a fascinating spread.  All this was put across with great humour, and an excellent balance of information and practice to keep it interactive.  I liked this presentation so much I will  write a post specifically on it for next week, so others can try the spread for themselves!

Dr. Maria Antoniou
During the lunch break, there were another two workshops.  First, Dr. Maria Antoniou presented on Soulful Enterprise.  Although I missed the first half of her workshop (baby and lunch called), I caught the second half, and saw the spread she presented.  From what I saw, there was an excellent mix of business savvy, focus on being true to yourself, and drawing on the cards to support both of these.

Dr. Les Cross
Second was Dr. Les Cross, talking about an updated version of geomancy, Astrogem Geomancy.  Although I was interested to hear about this, I thought "I don't have time to learn a whole new system of divination right now".  Once again, I'm glad to say my prejudices were wrong.  I found the workshop fascinating, bought his cards, and found the first reading I tried for myself very useful.  I'll write in more detail about this one, too, next Friday (24th October).

David Wells
After the lunch break, David Wells spoke about the Tree of Life, and led us on a guided meditation to travel the Sun card's path between the Sephiroth Yesod and Hod.  It wasn't as technical as it might sound, starting in a forest, going into a temple, and being guided by Archangels.

The reading circle run by Mary Greer after this was a fascinating experience.  Everyone got to have some mini-readings, and we also experimented as readers with ideas like just describing cards literally, describing the "feeling/ambience" of the card, creating a fairy tale from it, and relating all of these back to the querent and their cards.

To close, Kim led another beautiful meditation (though I had to skip out on that as Baby was no longer feeling patient).  Altogether, it was another amazing Conference, full of deep learnings, humour, history, insight and a lot of experimentation.

As I mentioned, the goodie bag we received was once again very generously endowed.  So, I'd like to share a little of the Tarot Conference love by giving away the Numerology Guidance Cards (Hay House, 2013) from my bag.  To enter, just comment on this post, and I'll annouce the winner next Friday, 24th October, in the post on Astrogem Geomancy.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Pagan Lenormand Reading

Another new Lenormand deck this week, the Pagan Lenormand (Lo Scarabeo, 2014).  The creator is Gina Pace, who also created the Pagan Tarot (Lo Scarabeo, 2005), and both decks share a modern pagan theme.  More on that on Friday, for now let's dive into the reading...

Man, Snake, Anchor
Well, a traditional way to read this would see your partner getting together with another woman from work.  However, I don't see much point to that kind of reading.  I know my partner isn't involved with anyone else, and reading this way would provide me with nothing helpful or empowering.

Instead, this week I want to explore the first way of reading small spreads with House positions which I mentioned last week.  Using this method, you simply apply the position number as the House.  So, in a three card draw you use Rider, Clover and Ship as your Houses.  Here, then, we have Man in Rider, Snake in Clover, Anchor in Ship.  This gives us a few possibilities:

☛ Actively seek information about short-term twists and turns involving an international work project.
☛ Dynamically apply logic to find the opportunities in the boundaries around a stable venture.  (Examine the boundaries, for example contractual obligations, or the limits of those people assigned to it, in a project that seems secure or perhaps overly rigid, in order to figure out a better, more fluid way of dealing with it).
☛ Use your ability to communicate effectively in order to tempt someone into an opportunity related to a past connection.  (What is someone you are dealing with feeling nostalgic about, that perhaps brought them a sense of security?  How can you use this information to tempt them to do something which is a good opportunity for you both?)

For myself, it is a combination of the first and second which feels most helpful.  I'm involved with a couple of international work projects, and could definitely do with getting more information on each, as well as assessing where they are in terms of boundaries and opportunities.

I haven't been focusing on these projects much lately, with responsibilities at home in the foreground, and then the UK Tarot Conference to attend (P.S. there's an extra post and a giveaway on Wednesday about this).  However, a couple of emails and the delivery of a huge wodge of paperwork that I need to read highlight that this is something I should spend some time on sooner rather than later.  While I may be tempted to do something that feels more exciting, sometimes I just need to get down to the work that needs doing.  And the faster I get to it, the sooner I can turn to other, more interesting things...

Friday, 10 October 2014

Burning Serpent Oracle Review

Book and cards
First published in the TABI Autumn Ezine 2014:

The Burning Serpent Oracle (self-published, 2014) is the latest deck from tarot greats Rachel Pollack and Robert M. Place.  This deck truly deserves its subtitle: A Lenormand of the Soul.  Firstly because, despite four extra cards (an extra Man and Woman, and Isis and Osiris) and the renaming of nearly half the deck (15 cards), it reads very well as a Lenormand.  And secondly because it achieves brilliantly its creators' intent to offer more, for those that want it - a means of soulful communication.


In terms of the cards, they are a nice quality card stock.  Lightly laminated front and back, they are flexible enough to riffle easily, while still feeling robust enough to last well.  The size is a little larger than standard Lenormand cards, at 7 by 11 centimetres (2 3/4 by 4 3/8 inches),  but still noticeably smaller than most tarots.  Still, the difference is enough to make Grand Tableaux a bit unwieldy.


Beautiful and insightful book
I will admit, I'm not a big fan of Robert Place's artwork, which always feels a little flat to me.  The colour palette, too, is somewhat muted, without a great deal of texture.  Yet, it works quite well here, given the simplicity inherent in Lenormand imagery. 

 As for Rachel Pollack's accompanying book, it is a masterpiece!  The introduction gives a good overview of the current understanding of Lenormand history, via Mademoiselle Lenormand, Hechtel and the original Game of Hope, and back to the Coffee Cards discovered in the British Museum.  She also explains that she based her interpretations on the study of the original meaning sheets included with Lenormand decks for decades, as well as the verses both on the original Coffee Cards, as well as on several traditional Lenormands.


Coffin, Child, Fish, Cross
For each card, Rachel gives four levels of interpretation: keywords; an expanded look at the basic meaning, including where it came from traditionally; a broader context to the subject matter including myth and popular culture; and finally an examination of the image specific to this Burning Serpent Oracle.  So, for the Scythe, there are keywords including danger and a shock.  The expanded basic meaning describes what a Scythe is and does, and how this relates to it being used in the Lenormand system for weapons and tools generally, as well as for surgery.  Rachel discusses near and far interpretations in a Grand Tableau, before moving on to the Scythe's iconographic connection to Death through Saturn and Chronos.  Finally, she discusses the image chosen for this deck, which includes Demeter as grain mother, the Eleusian mysteries and the shock of life changes. 

 There is also a section on readings, including thoughts on the differences between tarot and Lenormand.  All the basics are covered: reading lines; the nine square; and the Grand Tableau.  There are brief yet thorough explanations of diagonals, knighting and houses. And there is also an interesting spread that Rachel has designed, a ten card triangle, which is very fluid in how it can be read.


Book, Owl, Path, Ring
A word must be said about the renaming of many of the cards, fifteen in total.  Some of these are simple expansions which are obvious and easy to understand, such as the ‘Red Clover’ for the Clover, the ‘Book of Life’ for the Book, and the ‘House on the Hill’ for the House.  Others are a little more complex, substituting the ‘Voyage’ for the Ship, and the ‘Girl and Boy’ for the Child.  Still others are more challenging yet, altering the Coffin to become the ‘Dead Tree’, the Birds to become the ‘Owl and the Mouse’, and the Rider to become ‘Hermes the Messenger’.  

While the book makes clear how these connect to traditional titles, they are certainly a little surprising at first glance.  The cards remain readable according to traditional Lenormand keywords and systems, though they may take a little mental adjustment on the part of the reader.  Yet, it is precisely this which is one of the strengths of the deck, making us stop and think about our understanding of the cards.  In this way, the deck can both strengthen our understanding of traditional meanings, as well as opening us up to different ways of reading, should we so choose.


Altogether, this set offers everything necessary for a beginner, as well as a lot of extra insights and interest for those already familiar with this system.  While taste in artwork is very personal, the book is undeniably erudite, encompassing the Lenormand tradition as well as a broad range of cultural understandings.  And while the renamed cards may take a little getting used to, the Lenormand numbering and playing card associations are clear.  In this way, the cards remain fairly easy to read straight out of the box.