Sunday, 24 October 2010

Bad rep well deserved? King of Swords

Coming to the last of the Swords court, we meet the King of Swords.  In the Rider Waite Smith image, we see a kingly figure holding a sword tipped slightly to one side.  He faces us directly from a landscape of mountains and clouds, and a throne engraved with butterflies.  Some suggested interpretations are of someone who does not hold so tightly to pure truth that he is unable to act, but rather who balances different ideas and then decides one way or the other.  Definitely not a procrastinator or someone to put off til tomorrow what can be done today!  The butterflies, native to the card's element of air, also imply the transformative power of resolving questions rather than letting them hang around.

Taking a historical perspective, drawing once again on Paul Huson's fascinating book, we see Etteilla interpreting the King of Swords as "A man of the judiciary, a man of law, a judge, an attorney...a senator, a businessman, an advocate, an agent, a doctor, a physician"  These views of the King of Swords as either judge or doctor are repeated by later tarot authorities such as Mathers, the Golden Dawn, and Arthur Waite.  Interestingly, when reversed Etteilla spoke of "wickedness, perversity... crime, cruelty, atrocity, inhumanity."  The Golden Dawn, while listing positive traits such as being "active, clever, subtle, fierce," also say, "but inclined to domineer."

This fits well with how the King of Swords has appeared to me in readings: as a plastic surgeon, a domineering tyrant of a husband, or (on a subtler level) as the querent's inner critic.  On the more positive side, though, he can represent taking decisions in a very calm, rational way, weighing up all the pros and cons without being swayed by emotion, a trait which has sometimes been called for in love readings in particular!

The Bohemian Gothic Tarot (1st Ed) version of this card shows this calm side, but seems to me to attribute it to being entirely closed off to others and to emotion.  After all, he wears a heavy suit of armour, completely protecting and enclosing him.  In fact, we are hardly sure there is a real person in there at all!  This coldness is one of the more negative traits we can potentially see in the King of Swords, but alternately, it may sometimes be good for someone to protect themselves this way.  This is implied by the red that shows through the armour - underneath is a soft, warm core, a passionate person who may feel overwhelmed without this protection.

I find the golden crown on this King interesting, worn on top of his helmet.  This may just be to differentiate him from any other armoured warrior, but it speaks to me of his wisdom, of fighting for what he believes is right.  This is not the hasty charging in of the Knight of Swords, but a much deliberated choice.  That doesn't make him always right, but I would hope it makes him less prone to rash decisions, more open to researching the question before rushing in.

I really like the Gay Tarot's take on the King of Swords, renamed the Sage of Swords.  Here, following traditional interpretations but unbound by the need to show a King, we see a judge with his gavel.  This also highlights, for me, the unconscious competence aspect of this character I discussed in my previous post.  This person is so used to making decisions and weighing up different aspects and arguments.  There is a suggestion of wisdom, of having a vocation to help make tough decisions.

However, not everyone may have such positive associations to this kind of authority figure, and there are certainly valid questions about how often justice and judgement coincide!

After this little glimpse of different variations, and look at a number of interpretations both historical and modern, what are you left with?  How do you interpret the King of Swords?

Images: Radiant Rider Waite Tarot, Bohemian Gothic Tarot (1st Edition), Gay Tarot.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Bad rep well deserved? Knight of Swords

Returning to the idea of the Swords cards getting a lot of bad press, and asking if they really have no redeeming features, I wanted to take a look at the Knight of Swords.  This fine fellow is traditionally seen charging into battle, rage in his face, sword in hand.  Phrases that come to mind are: rushing in where angels fear to tread; using thoughts and words to attack others; like a bull in a china shop.

Following these ideas about the Knight of Swords, elementally air of air, he is often seen as someone quite aggressive and negative.  For example, I have sometimes thought of him as being a combative debater or orator, delighting in the ideas and words being bandied about, fighting his cause and not above making personal attacks on his opponents in order to score a point or two.

Looking to Paul Huson's historical take on this Knight, Etteilla talks of: "an armed man... a duelist...opposition, resistance, destruction, ruin...hate, anger, resentment... bodyguard."  Waite even went so far as to say: "There is a sense in which the card signifies death, but only in its proximity to other cards of fatality."

In the Bohemian Gothic Tarot we see a less obviously bellicose, but nevertheless very dark figure.  Around him are instruments of torture, and he applies his intellect to study how best to use them.

So, what might the positive points of the Knight of Swords be?  For one thing, as air of air he can certainly be seen as a harbinger of change.  And while this is something people often fear, in reality life is always changing and it can be very good to sweep out the cobwebs and move on.

On a more personal note, a couple of days ago I was in a situation where I ended up feeling very defensive.  Someone asked me if there was anything I could do to protect myself, and what came to mind was an image of the Knight of Swords.  Thinking of his energy and ability to wield his intellect in defense of what he believes helped support me to do the same.

Even the scary Bohemian Gothic Knight can be seen in this light: I feel he is willing to torture and kill only because there is a cause or a person he feels he is defending.  He needs information to do so, and will get this by any means.

This highlights another of the Knight's strengths: he is interested in knowledge.  While he may not yet have the wisdom to use this kindly (as I think the Queen can), at least he is on the path Maslow described from unconscious incompetence, towards unconscious competence.

In fact, I think a case could be made to associate each of these stages to one of the Swords Courts.  The Page as unconscious incompetence, not yet knowing all that he doesn't know.  The Knight as conscious incompetence, hence wanting more learning to move him along.  The Queen as conscious competence, aware of all the lessons that have been so hard won.  The King as unconscious competence, wielding his sword without conscious thought after years of practice, or making decisions without knowing exactly why he is making that choice, but trusting his gut.

I am left with a sense that the Knight of Swords may at times go a bit far, but that I can see how there is a positive intent behind what he does.  If he attacks, it may not just be for the joy of winning, but rather to protect an ideal or a loved one.  And if he digs for information, it may not be from mere curiosity, but from a need to know to be able to make better, more conscious choices.  To end on an up-beat historical note, the Golden Dawn said of him: "Full of ideas and thoughts and designs... firm in friendship and enmity,"  So, a good friend and a bad enemy?

How do you feel about the Knight of Swords?  Who does he most represent to you?

Images: Radiant Rider Waite Tarot, Bohemian Gothic Tarot (1st Ed).

Friday, 22 October 2010

Bad rep well deserved? Page of Swords

Continuing my foray into the world of the Swords Court, it being today's #pmtarot it seemed appropriate to turn to the Page of Swords.  In this first image, from the Radiant Rider Waite, we see the Page of Swords, not even really looking at the implement in his or her hand.  This is perhaps one of the least negative takes on the Page of Swords, and fits with Maslow's idea of unconscious incompetence.  This Page isn't yet aware of just how much s/he doesn't know.  Still, often seen as being a student starting on a new course of study, I think one of the positives is the Page's desire for learning.

More often, though, the Page of Swords is described as being someone rather careless, thoughtless, or even nefarious.  Paul Huson, in his academic yet readable tome "Mystical Origins of the Tarot" states that as far back as Etteilla (1785-1807) meanings given for the Page (or Knave) of Swords included: "A spy, a curiosity amateur...speculation".  This idea of spying is also found in Mathers (1888), and Waite (1910).  The Golden Dawn, while mentioning "Wisdom, strength, acuteness, subtleness in material things," also say that: "If ill-dignified, she is frivolous and cunning."

In the Gay Tarot the renamed Youth of Swords shows us someone who, from his facial expression, seems more likely to be a hacker than just someone answering an email.  Nevertheless, this image does highlight some of the strengths of the Page of Swords: a desire to learn; a quick mind; the ability to use modern technology; and good communication skills.

Perhaps with mental acuity and a sharp wit there comes more potential to do harm while not yet fully aware of your strengths and weaknesses, and while still being rather naive.  This may be why the Page of Swords is more likely to be seen negatively than any of the other Pages, as there may be a greater chance of him hurting someone, even if unintentionally, or getting carried away with the joy of information, even if it means sneaking around or gossiping.  While the Page of Swords definitely has a lot to learn, at least s/he has the ability and desire to do so.

What do you think?  How do you see the Page of Swords?

Images: Radiant Rider Waite, Gay Tarot.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Bad rep well deserved? Queen of Swords

Recently, Ali (Hestia) posted a comment about Swords cards getting a lot of bad press.  It was something I'd been thinking about, especially in light of several decks out this summer.  While Swords cards in general are often perceived as being "bad", what of the Court cards?  I think the Swords Courts are generally interpreted in a more negative light than their counterparts in any of the other suits!

In particular, in these recent decks, I was struck by how the Queen of Swords was portrayed.  In the new A King's Journey Tarot, she's represented as a bitter, old shrew.  In the Tarot of the Celtic Fairies, she's a little needle-wielding fairy who pokes people she doesn't like, who she thinks are lying or just being vain.  And in the second edition of the Bohemian Gothic Tarot, from being a rather dark but demure figure, with a suggestion of intellectual leanings and a warm heart, she has become a sword-wielding vampire.  This isn't totally clear in the images here, but if you examine the second queen closely, her hair is much blacker, and there is only a hint of red at her throat, while tiny canines poke out the sides of her mouth.  Also, from just holding a book in the first version, in the second edition her other hand is now wrapped around the hilt of the sword that before merely stood beside her.

In any case, these three instances in such a short time made me think about how the Queen of Swords is generally represented, and also about how I perceive her.  Being a Gemini myself, my element of Air is often considered to correspond to the suit of Swords.  And while according to good ole Uncle Aleister my birth decan officially corresponds to the King of Swords, I have more frequently felt an affinity for the Queen of Swords.  She is Water of Air, so a tempering of the sharp air energy through an immersion in the depths of emotional water. 

With Swords representing intellect and communication, and the Queen being the nurturing aspect of the suit, I see her being a good fit for a blogging mum, for instance, interested in sharing ideas around how to live life and deal with family and relationships (or cleaning and plumbing) :-)  Good examples might be Hestia, Kismet's Companion, or Ania!  She could also be someone who uses their mind to think of good ways to manage others and their emotions, and who communicates clearly and kindly. 

In the Rider-Waite-Smith version of this card, we see a woman on a throne, with a sword held straight up, suggesting a dedication to the truth, and with a tassel around one wrist, a Victorian symbol of widowhood.  Hence someone who has been through emotional pain and come through it all the wiser.  I also like the idea, based again on Victorian society, of a widow as a woman who is now, perhaps for the first time, in charge of her destiny, emotionally and intellectually mature enough to make something of it.

We find another positive interpretation from Aleister Crowley (whose birth card was actually the Queen of Swords), who said of her: "intensely perceptive, a keen observer, a subtle interpreter, an intense individualist, swift and accurate at recording ideas; in action confident, in spirit gracious and just."  So, what's not to like?

Looking to other traditional pictorial interpretations, it's easy to see where the Queen of Swords got her bad rep.  Following Golden Dawn tradition, Alesiter Crowley asked Frieda Harris to draw her with a decapitated head in one hand, and a sword in the other.  While extremely positive in his description of the Queen of Swords upright as quoted above, Crowley tells us: "If ill-dignified... She will be cruel, sly, deceitful and unreliable; in this way, very dangerous, on account of the superficial beauty and attractiveness which distinguish her."  This seems far closer to the intuitive reading of how she is drawn in the Thoth.

In terms of her sword-wielding, Lon Milo Duquette highlights that: "Using the sword of discretion and reason, the Queen has separated the higher faculties of the intellect from the influences of the lower nature."

Still, if we look at a deck such as the Initiatory Tarot of the Golden Dawn, we see the Thoth Tarot's interpretation taken to a bloody extreme, which on the face of it would not incline anyone to think well of this lady.

So, cruel b**ch or insightful woman, what's your take on the Queen of Swords?

Images: Bohemian Gothic First Edition, Bohemian Gothic 2nd Edition, Initiatory Tarot of the Golden Dawn.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Ace of Swords

Last night's #pmtarot on Twitter was the Ace of Swords.  Sometimes I tweet something that just springs to mind, but for some reason I felt drawn to actually look at a card version of this.  I pulled out the Tarot of Vampyres, one of my current favourites, and found the card - called the Ace of Knives in this deck.  What I tweeted based on this image was: it's time to talk, can you do it from the heart?  However, I felt this card deserved a deeper look, perhaps just because it really drew me.

Here we have a knife, dark blade pointed straight up, and with a golden heart directly under it.  Behind the knife are yellow roses, still attached to their very thorny and tangled branches.

The first thing I saw was a call to communicate from a loving place - knives/swords representing the element of air which is often associated with both the intellect and communication, and the golden heart representing purity of intention and kindness.  However, there is also something about being careful what you say, because of it's potential to hurt and break someone's heart, or at least draw a little blood.

Looking to the language of flowers, we are told that yellow roses represent jealousy, infidelity, betrayal, a broken heart, but also intense emotion, dying love and an apology.  Several of these seem to fit well with some ideas, both positive and negative, around the Ace of Knives: infidelity implies having made an insincere promise, and can certainly cause a feeling of betrayal and a broken heart.  An apology would be a communication from a place of love or kindness, and might well be expected from someone dying to someone they loved.

Returning to the specific image, another thing that sprang to mind is the need to be aware that seemingly sweet words can still have a sting in their tail - along the lines of a back-handed compliment: "You look very nice for a change!"

Writing this suddenly reminded me on an incident a couple of days ago, and this may be why this card chimed with me today.  A friend called me a guru in front of some other people whom we know, but who I don't feel that comfortable with.  Although a seeming compliment, it made me feel very defensive and ill at ease.  While I know it was said with good intentions, how I interpret it is somewhat different.  I have always balked at the idea of someone else knowing what is best for me, and likewise of my knowing what is best for someone else. 

This may be to do with issues around authority, and why I have long had a problem with the Hierophant.  However, this month the Gaian Tarot Circle is discussing the equivalent card from this beautiful deck, the Teacher.  This card gives a very different sense to me.  Instead of a churchy authority figure telling people what to do, we find a kind, wise person willing to share what they have learned from nature.  In some ways, it feels as though the teachers are the plants and animals themselves, rather than the person.

These ideas of learning from nature, and of sharing wisdom, are closer to what I would like to think a guru is.  Originally the term did just mean teacher in Sanskrit, too, but it has also come to be associated with religious authority.  It has been tainted for me, too, by some gurus whose intentions were far from pure, who were self-aggrandizing, or abused their position of trust. 

So, I reacted negatively to words meant in kindness, because of the multiple meanings a word can have.  I think this is another important aspect to the Ace of Swords - the way that anything we say can be double-edged.  This darker aspect of the card is brought out well by the Tarot of Vampyres version with it's dark blade and the tangled and thorn-covered branches of the rose, enticing you in with the flower's beauty only to stab you when you're unawares.

Do you generally associate the Ace of Swords with more positive things - new ideas, new ways of communicating?  What do you make of this darker Ace of Knives?

Images: Ace of Knives from Ian Daniels' Tarot of Vampyres, the Teacher from Joanna Powell-Colbert's Gaian Tarot.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Food scripts

One of the comments on a previous post mentioned the scripts in our heads from childhood telling us what we should and shouldn't do.  While clearly not limited to food, I don't think any of us can avoid having this kind of script around what we eat.  After all, food is such an important part of life and there are so many ideas around it regarding what is right and wrong.  We get these messages both from our culture at large and more especially from our family.  Things like: "No snacking between meals", "Eat everything on your plate", "An apple a day keeps the doctor away", "If you don't eat your meat, you can't have any pudding!"

On Deanne Jade's course we explored these scripts a little with some questions.  I thought I'd adapt and share some of these here.  They could be an interesting prompt either for journalling or for discussing with a group of friends.  Certainly, doing this exercise made me realise the root of some of my habits and fixed ideas around food, and with awareness we can decide if these ideas really suit us or whether we'd like to change them and their associated patterns.

Were you told or forced to eat everything on your plate as a child?

Were you ever made aware of food shortages, eg. the starving children in Africa, how your own family suffered at some point?

Were you ever told that certain foods are good/bad for you?

Were you ever rewarded with food treats?  How and by whom?

Did your parents eat between meals?

What special foods, if any, were you given when you were ill?

Did you ever sneak food as a child? How and where?

Who did most of the cooking in your family?  Did this person enjoy cooking?  Who did this person cook for?  How did this person feed themselves?  What does that tell you about how that person felt about themselves?

Did your family ever/always eat together?  How was the atmosphere?

I'd love to hear your experiences of examining your food scripts!

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Tarot, food and change

Continuing my theme this week of change and our attitudes to food, I thought I'd draw on the strengths of the tarot to help.  So, adapting a basic three card spread and using the Gaian Tarot, I asked:

1) What will help my relationship with food? 2 of Air

Here we see a woman taking her own pulse, listening with her inner ear to what's going on inside her.  The first thing this suggests to me is that listening to my own appetite, to when I'm hungry and what I need to nourish me, will help me to improve my relationship to food.

However, this is something I have long found very difficult.  Years of not eating between meals, or not eating until it was convenient according to someone else's schedule have habituated me to ignoring my hunger.  As for what I desire and what I need, they have long felt miles apart.

I am hoping that by following the suggestion I gave in my last post of eating small, regular meals with a balance of protein and carbohydrates this will in time change so that I can tune in to myself in the healing way I see this woman doing.

2) What hinders my relationship with food? 10 - the Wheel

When I first saw this I thought, "How can such a positive card be what hinders me?"  Then I thought about the sense in which the Wheel is about the continuing cycles of change in life, and that resonated so strongly with my last few posts on flexibility and change!

In many ways I consider myself very adaptable and open.  However, doing the Eating Disorder course really pointed out to me the ways in which I wasn't even aware of how rigid I was in some areas (especially around food) because those rules had become so much a part of my life that I didn't even think about them.

Hence all these exercises to foster change and flexibility - I've been doing my one a day of the yes-no exercise :-)  Certainly, the butterflies suggest the importance of being open to change: otherwise we cannot grow, transform and fly free.

Another idea which springs to mind is the fact that so many of us no longer eat according to the season.  With air freight items from around the world, we can eat whatever we want to, whenever we like.  However, there is something very grounding, real and respectful of our body's needs in following the seasons.  It is reasonable to eat warmer, heartier meals in the winter and maybe put on a bit of weight, to eat more light meals of fresh fruit and vegetables in the summer and lose weight.  With our ideas that we should be a certain weight, as well as ignoring individual and genetic differences we also ignore seasonal variations that are normal!

3) Guidance on changing my relationship with food? Explorer of Fire

I smiled when I saw this vibrant figure!  She is so full of passion, daring and trust.  She isn't afraid of getting burned, and does what she feels is right even if it isn't easy.  Equivalent to the Knight of Wands in more traditional decks, in the Gaian Tarot she seems less of a fly-by-night and far more grounded.  She is willing to explore, experiment and trust that something will come out of this.  Dancing with fire is not something learned in an afternoon; she is willing to dedicate time and energy to this pursuit.

Another thought that came to mind is that playfulness is a part of this, too.  In trying to change my relationship to food, if I focus on the shoulds and oughts I will simply make myself feel bad.  If, on the other hand, I can hold these ideas lightly and make change a dance, a game,  then I have a far better chance of succeeding in the long run.

This idea of shoulds reminds me of another exercise, which Deanne Jade suggests will trick the subconscious into not resisting healthy options, called the and/and strategy.  The notion behind it is that, if I go into a shop and see an apple and a chocolate bar, my inner parent will say, "You should have the apple!", my inner child will say, "Mmm, chocolate!", and I will probably end up having the chocolate but feeling bad about it.  With the and/and strategy, I would have both the apple and the chocolate.  Do this a few times, and I might go into the shop and actually think, "Mmm, apple!"

So, this Explorer of Fire suggests playing with the idea of change, finding games and tricks to make it easier.  She is open to exploring and trying things, to putting energy into seeking change, because she/I know it is something worth believing in and working towards.

Will anyone else come and play with me, exploring their relationship to food and/or change?

Images from the Gaian Tarot by Joanna Powell-Colbert.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

More on diet and change

Talking about change, another great exercise we were taught on the Eating Disorders course I attended was the yes-no exercise.  Here you list 10 things you feel define you, that you do most days, and 10 things that you don't do.  For example (cutting it short): I always take my handbag when I leave home, I eat lots of fruit and veg, I wear low heels, I check my email, I cook for others; I don't wear make-up, I don't drink coffee, I don't snack between meals, I don't watch TV news, I don't leave dirty dishes in the sink overnight.  Then the idea is to see if you can say yes to something you would generally say no to, and say no to something you would normally say yes to.  Try with just one thing each day for a week (so, a total of 7 from your list of 20).

How this relates to dieting and issues with food is that we often get very fixed habits around food, too.  For example, ideas about not snacking between meals, which we may have had drummed into us as a child, aren't helpful if it means we get so hungry that when dinner time comes we eat our main meal and dessert and then some more.  The suggestion on this course was that we should eat regular small meals and snacks throughout the day, preferably including protein (meat, fish, eggs, cheese, quinoa, soy) and carbohydrates (pasta, bread, potatoes), or nuts and seeds, which have an almost equal balance of both.

The logic behind this is based in physiology.  If you just eat carbohydrates, your blood sugar shoots up and then drops down fast as insulin gets pumped into your system.  This encourages all kinds of bad things like diabetes and sugar cravings.  What makes it much worse is that high insulin stops our cells letting carbohydrates in to be used as fuel, so those carbs may be converted to fat instead!  Bizarrely, therefore, if you eat a lot of carbs you still feel hungry, you may put on weight, and at the same time your body, deprived of protein and essential nutrients, believes it is starving!

Far better, then, to eat regular meals with small snacks in between, and always include protein.  The course leader suggested that protein calories shouldn't really count as such, as they are so necessary and help strengthen the body and process other nutrients, as well as satiating hunger.

Oftentimes, though, we have fixed habits, for example: I always eat a doughnut with my morning coffee; I don't eat meat; I always have pasta for dinner.  None of these may be bad by themselves, but they may not help us to have a balanced food intake over the whole day.

Working on being more flexible, whether it be in what we wear or how we get to work, will help us to accept change as a constant.  And then, maybe, we can also start to change what we eat so that it is more healthful (rather than "healthy").

Are you up for the yes-no challenge?

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Diets and change

Having just spent four days on a CPD (Continuing Professional Development) course on Eating Disorders, I've been trying to put some of what we learned into practice for myself.  There were so many interesting ideas and techniques, as well as loads of fascinating, sometimes shocking information.

One of the things the course leader suggested which really struck me was the importance of learning *how* to change our patterns.  She also said that the first step towards change is always the hardest.  Therefore, why make that step in the area that is emotionally hardest?  Instead, we were encouraged to choose one thing to do different, be it wearing our watch on the opposite hand to normal, wearing odd earrings or socks, not brushing our hair or changing our parting, having a different morning drink, getting up on the other side of the bed, taking an alternative route to work - whatever we felt was manageable for us.

It was quite amazing how powerful something so small can be!  And also, how what one person chose and was happy with was unthinkable for another.  I also loved hearing how people felt about the exercise.  I wore odd socks for the first time in my life, and felt a bit of a rebel though the person next to me said she couldn't tell the difference ;-D  Some people felt completely lost with their watch on the "wrong" wrist, and one person was horrified that someone could sleep on the "other" side of the bed.

So, would you like to be more flexible in your approach to life?  If so, why not start with a small step?  I'd love to hear what you make of it...

Image "Pippi Longstocking" courtesy of

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Tarot and Dreams

A friend, F, asked me recently whether I'd written about dreams in my blog, and I said no. However, it reminded me of a technique advocated by Rachel Pollack to explore dreams. So, I decided to share that here.

The basic idea is to draw cards to help clarify or remember the dream. Rachel suggests outlining the parts or events of the dream you remember and then drawing a card for each one. An alternative, along Gestalt lines, would be to draw a card for different elements, objects or people in the dream.  I think tarot and dreams are, in many ways, a particularly good fit.  Both are what Freud termed "overdetermined", that is, both can represent more than one thing or person at one and the same time.  Like the image of a woman in your dream who you know is your sister, but is also your friend, and then morphs into yourself, the tarot images lend themselves to being interpreted from a number of different angles.

To demonstrate what I mean, I thought of a dream I have had repeatedly, which I find disturbing and don't really understand.  Dividing it up, I came up with the following events:

1) I am being chased.
2) I have to make big jumps down stairways like parkour/freerunning a la opening sequence of Casino Royale.
3) When my pursuer catches me I feel forced to turn and murder them.
4) Although it makes me feel sick, I turn the blade in their flesh to be sure to stop them.

I also decided to draw an additional card as a summary for what is going on for me to have this dream recur.  Given that this reading is on dreams, I felt it appropriate to use Ciro Marchetti's Tarot of Dreams and used the iPhone app, so I could send myself an image of the reading to add to this post (gotta love technology).

1) Being chased - Five of Coins

This card often denotes a time of hardship, but with the promise of a brighter future if we can raise our eyes from our begging bowl and see the spiritual riches available to us.  As such, I see it suggesting that my view has been too narrow and fixed. There is a sense of feeling like everything is hard, but perhaps that view is skewed and if I could change my attitude, the situation would suddenly look very different.  Perhaps also a suggestion that being chased might encourage me to look a little further, try something new.

2) Parkour-style jumping - Two of Wands

This card has a somewhat magical feel to it.  Often seen as being a gateway and a choice, this makes me think about the fact that, in responding to being chased, I don't just run, or run as though through toffee.  Instead, I leap and bound in a way that has similarities to flying.  Perhaps this is an encouragement to myself to think outside of the box when faced with problems, to dare to try something risky rather than playing it safe.  So, the choice here is to carry on as I have always done, or to take a chance on changing things, even if that is scary.

3) Murdering my pursuer - Two of Cups

Now here's an interesting card for this position.  The Two of Cups is traditionally taken to represent a close relationship, new love, a partnership of some kind, and seeing eye to eye.  How much further could this be from murder?  And yet, looking at the image, what I see is that both the two cups and the two swans are mirror images of one another.  This reminds me of the Gestalt notion that everything and everyone in your dreams represents an aspect of yourself.  So, I turn and murder myself, I destroy the part of me that feels persecutory, that hounds me and doesn't let me rest or act freely.  The part of me that has found I can jump far further and more daringly than I believed possible negates the part of me that wants to trap and control it. 

I also like the synchronicity of the Two's here - first I find and choose my magical, creative, daring spark in the Two of Wands, then I recognise that I have to make a choice between two aspects of myself, and kill the side that doesn't work towards growth and opportunity.  In murdering the aspect that is chasing, I am embracing the part of me that dares to do something different.

4) Twisting the blade - XIII - Death

The only card of the Major Arcana in this reading, in the position of twisting the blade to be sure to kill my pursuer, and it's Death.  How very a propos!  In this version we see a snake, symbol of transformation.  Only by being sure to fully destroy the entrapping, limiting part of myself can I allow myself to move towards the part of me that is more free, daring and open to possibility.  Perhaps the reason why it makes me feel sick is because it's scary to give up a part of myself that I know well, that I have relied on for years.  I don't like that I have to go to such extremes, either, but entropy fights so strongly I need a powerful response or else I will fall back into the narrow confines of my tried and tested way of doing things, closed down to wider possibilities. 

Another common suggestion with the Death card is the need to mourn what is being said goodbye to.  And maybe there's an aspect of that here.  A need to acknowledge what I am letting go, so that I can move forward with eyes open and unencumbered.

5) Summary - Six of Coins

Interestingly, from the Five of Coins at the start of the reading we now move on to the Six, a clear sense of progression.  The Six of Coins shows someone weighing up their resources and then freely giving some of them away.  Here I see the echo of the message about giving away/killing a part of me that I don't want or need.  Also, the sense of having enough without it. 

What the figure offers up is the symbol for Libra, the scales, balance.  Despite being an air sign, Libra is considered a fiery, fiesty sign, standing up for what it judges to be right.  That is what this card offers me.  So, this dream is an encouragement to give up old ways that are no longer helpful for me, and to move towards what I now believe to be worthwhile.  Taking a risk and leaving behind previous patterns of behaviour may not be easy, but it does offer the chance to be authentic to what I now believe.

In this particular version of the card, the offer is being made, but hasn't yet been accepted unlike some versions where coins are in the hands of different people.  This suggests to me that one reason why this dream has recurred several times is that I haven't yet taken on board its message.  Let's see whether, after analysing it like this, it comes back again or not...

How often do you remember your dreams?  Do you think they hold a message, or are they just random neurons firing?  Can you imagine using this technique?  

Images: Judgement from the Ancestral Path Tarot by Julia Cuccia-Watts, spread from Ciro Marchetti's Tarot of Dreams app.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Reading Tarot for Yourself

In my last post I did a reading for myself because I was feeling nervous about something. This directly goes against what many people say about reading for yourself, that you should only do so when you don't feel too emotional about the subject. That, combined with readings on counselling that I've been doing recently, got me thinking.

The first thing I noticed is that I do quite different kinds of readings for myself at different times and in various circumstances. For example, last week I did a reading on a meeting where I was unsure if the meeting would take place, if I would receive documents before hand, if I would receive a follow-up appointment, and how I would get on with the person I was meeting. The reading I did accurately predicted the answer to all of these questions, which were all resolved within 24 hours.

On the other hand, the reading I posted was more about working through my emotions. In that sense, I see it as being related to counselling, in particular Gendlin's Focusing where he talks about a six step process of getting in touch with your bodily felt sense or implicit knowledge (= intuition?) around a particular issue:
Shuffling the cards = clearing a space/relaxing.
Framing a question = "felt sense" of the problem.
Examining the cards intuitively and trying to put into words what they are saying = getting a "handle" on "all that".
Going back to the cards and their relationship to the question = "resonating" between felt sense and words/images.
Trying to understand the relationship between the cards = "asking" for more information from the felt sense.
Accepting what you've got from the reading = receiving.

Although the parallels aren't exact, and though I'm sure a traditionalist would object to my comparison, I find it helpful in explaining how and why a reading for yourself when you are feeling emotional about the subject matter can work.

In this type of reading, I'm not trying to get to some objective truth or to predict the future. What I'm trying to do is better understand my own emotions, where they come from, and how I can best deal with them. So long as I don't get caught in narrow interpretations or believing the cards are telling me what to do or think, but rather see them as keys to help me unlock what is going on inside me, I think this type of reading can be very beneficial.

The point is to use the cards as a way of focusing on what is troubling you.  Then you look at what particular people or symbols in the cards suggest to you as you think of this issue.  You can use traditional meanings, completely intuitive understandings, or a combination of both.  The question is to use the images and ideas to work towards comprehending what is bothering you, why it is bothering you, and what you can do about it, if anything needs to be done.  Any kind of spread can be used for this, and any kind of deck.  You just have to feel comfortable with both, yet not trapped by them into a single way of seeing things.

And, despite the title, this approach can also be applied when reading for others.  The other person has to be willing to explore their emotions, and to get involved in the reading.  It's also best done face-to-face, or perhaps via Skype.  I think it could be done with a querent by phone given the right relationship between you. So far, I've only done this face-to-face, but it has generally worked really well.

Can you imagine doing this kind of reading, for yourself or for others? Or does it go against what you believe the tarot can do? I'd love to hear about your experiences...

Image is the High Priestess from Tarot of Vampyres by Ian Daniels.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Good parent, wicked witch, or a bit of both?

My partner and I are going abroad this afternoon for two nights, leaving our young son (two and three quarters) with two grandparents and three carers.  It's the first time we've left him for so long, and the fact of leaving the country makes me extra nervous.  To try to calm my nerves, then, I decided to do a reading on the weekend, using the new Tarot of the Vampyres from British illustrator Ian Daniels.

Now is the time for... the Seven of Knives

My first impression here is, yes, I'm doing something wicked and then turning my back on it.  However, calming my inner drama queen a little, I see that despite the mess on the floor, there is also a key.  It may seem like disarray to me - last minute notes about various things my Baby Boy needs, quickly washing stuff that will (I'm suddenly convinced) be absolutely necessary - and yet it is also a key to new experiences, for him and for us, and to a bit of freedom.  There is no treachery and deception here, but perhaps a feeling of getting away with something, of sneaking away and leaving others to tidy up.  The waxing moon tattooed on her arm makes me think of the possibility of growth and expansion from this, for all involved.  A bit more independence for BB (no longer such a baby, after all).  And for me, as I'll confess I still find it hard to set any limits on what I should do for him.  It will also be a chance for the grandparents to show how capable they are, and to have some time with him to themselves.

Now is not the time for... the Seven of Grails

An interesting juxtaposition here between the two Sevens.  Now is the time for the Seven of Knives, equivalent to Swords, the suit of air, intellect, the mind.  A reminder that knives are often, as in this image, double-edged, cutting both ways, and so we must try to see more perspectives.  In contrast, the Seven of Grails, traditionally Cups, shows a medusa-headed woman dancing in trance, with a staircase disappearing down behind her, and an apple tree in the background.  Traditionally associated with daydreaming or being overwhelmed by emotions around making choices, here the message I see is more one that now is not the time to let myself sink into emotion, get entranced by my own sentiments.  I need to stay more with the logical, rational side of myself, avoiding the over-excitability of my panicked parent.  There is wisdom to be gained here, but not by plunging into the depths of dark emotions: worry, guilt, self-recrimination, distrust of others. 

Guidance... the Two of Knives

More Knives energy, yet traditionally this card is associated with being unwilling, or unable, to make a choice between two ideas.  Perhaps this is suggesting that in going away this weekend I don't really have to choose between being a good parent and being an individual with my own projects, plans and desires.  The two blades seem almost joined, two halves of a pair.  I notice that she also has a crescent moon on her neck clasp.  Growth comes through allowing myself to see that the two aspects aren't actually opposing concepts, but can perhaps both be allowed.  Perhaps, also, with the blades crossed at her heart, that if I can hold both ideas at the same time, I can become more open and loving to myself, my partner and my son. Holding that tension between two me's (parent and person) and not being able to see what's going on (so, no texting my mum at 3am just to be sure!), will be hard, but it is also the path of growth.