Consulting the cards...

Fear is dangerous, not the tarot. The tarot represents the spectrum of the human condition, the good, the evil, the light, and the dark. Do not fear the darker aspects of the human condition. Understand them. The tarot is a storybook about life, about the greatness of human accomplishment, and also the ugliness we are each capable of. ― Benebell Wen

Having been in a relationship with a pagan for several years, I was exposed to a different side of spirituality, which included practices different from my own. One of these practices is the reading of tarot cards. If you're one of those people who believe that tarot is inherently of the devil, evil, and ungodly, I challenge you not to go screaming for the hills quite yet. Stick with me.

I can remember the first time I saw Frankie read the cards. He was dealing with some questions about his own career path and life journey, and there in our bedroom, on top of a comforter gifted to us for our wedding, he laid out a spread. I was dealing with my own questions at that time, particularly about pursuing chaplaincy and ordination. So I asked him to read for me, and he proceeded to do so. But I had questions. Was he telling the future, or something else? How did he know what the cards meant? Where and how did he learn to tell the story? Was this divine (or demonic) inspiration? 

Tarot helps us look within ourselves to understand our emotions, the reasoning behind our words and conduct, and the source of our conflicts ― Benebell Wen

Since Thanksgiving, I've purchased two very different decks, the Fountain Tarot, and the Wild Unknown Tarot. Both are very beautiful decks, dripping with meaning and the clear intentionality of the artist. The cards of the Fountain deck are individual oil paintings with silver gilded edges, while the cards of the Wild Unknown are simpler, nature-themed, hand-drawn images. I don't foresee needing any other decks at this time considering how much I'm enjoying these two. Truth be told, I bought them both on a whim, and in hindsight, part of me did so to feel connected to Frankie, to the life I shared with him, and to the lessons he taught me. 

I grew up being taught that things like reading tarot cards, palmistry, or going to see a psychic are sinful, evil, and open one up to demonic oppression and activity. These days, after talking with him, consulting with others, doing my own research, and spending time becoming aware of my desires and motivations, I feel like my own use of Tarot is not about telling the future. Instead, it's about reflection, self-awareness, and filling the gaps of my own consciousness. 

I don't read often, though I'm working on getting in the habit of at least drawing a card a day — both to help me learn the decks and to give me something on which to focus, of which to be mindful as I go through my day. Some people read poems or fiction in the morning. Others sit down with a Bible and a highlighter. I've done both, and both have given me a sense of connectedness and inspiration. Tarot is simply another tool for being mindful and developing awareness. 

The Majors are the preachers, teachers and wisdom keepers, The Minors are your everyday highs, your lows, your woes and what grows, while the Courts are the actors, the players, and the troublemakers ― Tonya Sheridan

One of the first cards I encountered was the Five of Cups, a card symbolizing loss and difficulty. In the Fountain's description of the card, its subtitle is "Befriending Grief." In the readings I've done and the spreads I've laid out since, this card has shown up several times, reminding me to stay connected to my grief work. In most interpretations of the card, three cups are overturned or broken while two are upright and full. In times of loss and difficulty, it can be hard to see or recognize what's still there, what remains. We can be so overwhelmed by the death, the separation, the ripping away of something or someone dear to us that the remaining gifts, strengths, or blessings lie outside our periphery. 

For me and for many, reading the cards is not about connecting with some divine force outside ourselves. Instead, it is about connecting with the strength and awareness we carry within. And if the cards are wrong, if something doesn't happen the way we expect it to, we can still learn from it. In the months since I got my first deck and started reading, I've learned this much: a good relationship with the cards is one that allows you to stay in the present moment rather than using a possible future to avoid it. 

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photo credit: Ricardo Rosado (via Flickr)