Sacred Practices and TArot
People who know me know that I love podcasts. One that I really enjoy is Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. If you are a Harry Potter fan, I highly recommend this podcast.
The hosts, Vanessa Zoltan and Casper ter Kuile, don’t just talk about the books; they talk about them as if they are sacred, as if we can find wisdom and revelation in them. A book doesn’t necessarily have to sanctified by someone or some organization to be sacred. They read the books, one chapter per week, and then examine the chapter in details through a theme, like forgiveness, love, humor, loneliness, commitment, being a stranger, change, confusion, etc.
Another thing they do is draw sacred practices from different traditions, practices that were designed to be used with that tradition’s sacred text, and use them with the Harry Potter stories. One that most of us are familiar with is Lectio Divina. Another is Ignation Contemplation, which is very similar to something many tarot lovers already do: imagine the scene and put yourself in it.
Vanessa and Casper introduced me (through their podcast) to a new practice called Pardes. It’s from the Jewish tradition and is a method for exploring a specific passage in a text, usually the Torah. It is such an easy thing to extrapolate this practice to a tarot card.
It is only four steps. I almost said “four easy steps” but I don’t think they are necessarily easy. Spiritual reading and contemplation isn’t like vegging out binge watching The Magicians or something (however, it is also an activity I can recommend).
Give it a try and let me know what you thought. Better yet, try it with some friends or a meet up group. Enjoy!
May you always find new ways
to see the beauty
in the things you love.
Exploring Reader Bias
If you are not comfortable with reading for public figures, perhaps you would be reading for fictional characters. Some people who don't read for those not present or without permission are okay with ideas like this because these are practice techniques, meant for your learning only.
The idea was born when one of my students did practice readings for public figures. She admitted that when she read for Trump that she had trouble finding anything positive to say because of how she felt about him, because of her judgment of his character and his choices. As readers, we know that not all our clients share our beliefs and are walking differnt paths than ours. When we feel very strongly about their paths, it can be hard to give an objective reading free from our own ideas about what is best.
You may wonder if you have such biases. This activity can help throw some light on that question. It does not solve the problem but rather is simply an experiment to explore potential biases, perhaps illuminating a tendency that you might not have been aware of.
Step 1: Select 2 "clients"
Pick one public figure that you admire, like, or respect. Pick another one, someone who you don't like.
Step 2: Decide on the question
Develop one question that would be appropriate for both clients.
Step 3: Decide on the spread
Pick one spread that will address the question and use it for both readings.
Step 4: Create the blind testing environment
Write each name on small pieces of paper and fold them up so that you don't know which is which.
Step 5: Do the first reading
Pick one piece of paper, without looking at the name. Do the reading. Make notes or record it. When done, do NOT look at the paper.
Step 6: Do the second reading
Follow the same instructions as Step 5. Note: unless there was some miracle in shuffling, you will have different cards for each reading.
Step 7: Journal or reflect
Note how you felt, not knowing who was the client. Did you have moments where you wished you knew who the reading was for, thinking that it would "help" you with the interpretation? Did you consciously think about how you might interpret the reading differently if it was for one client rather than the other? Were there any moments of cognitive dissonance?
Step 8: Reveal the names
Unfold the papers and learn which reading was for which client. Note your reactions.
If you listen to Rose Red and Charlie's podcast, Tarot Visions, you have already heard this idea. And you can skip my ramblings and hear it from them firsthand, plus sample readings HERE (or subscribe on iTunes).
The idea is to take a show (or probably a movie, book, comic, whatever pop culture thing you love) and make a spread from it using the characters.
I think this idea can be super helpful when doing readings for others. One thing we usually want to do is make readings more relatable to whoever we are reading for. TV shows, movies, books, etc. all have elements of story, often with what we may think of as stereotypes but more generously we can think of them as archetypes. So in some ways pop culture is kind of like the mythology of our times. Whatever you think of pop culture, people relate to these stories and the characters living them.
What would happen if you asked your querent what is their current favorite show or movie, one that really has grabbed their interest. Ask them to describe the characters from the show that are most intriguing or interesting to them (which may not necessarily be their favorite character), including at least one that they don't like. Then create a spread based on those characters to discover what advice they have about the situation or question. I think it is important to include one(s) they don't like because, as we know, we often dislike something in someone else that we dislike (but don't acknowledge) in ourselves. These parts of ourselves often have something important to say.
I've not played with this idea yet but think it has so much potential that I wanted to share it with you...and give a shout out to Rose Red and Charlie. Thanks Rose and Charlie! Love your podcasts!
I have two advanced copies of my next book, Your Tarot Your Way, to give away. You can read more about it HERE.
To enter, leave a comment telling me what TV show, movie, book, comic, etc. you would use to make a spread for yourself. On August 18 (noon CST) I will randomly draw two names. US addresses only.
1-Year Novice Program, September Session
The next session of the Novice Program begins September 1. There are still a few spots left. Join us for an intense and fulfilling year of tarot! Find out more HERE.
A Little Change, a Lot of Power
Last month, the first group of my Novice Program students worked on the lesson about spreads. While spread design was not something I set out to do, it became clear early on that I had a natural understanding of spreads, how they work, and how to create them. That's why I ended up writing a book on the subject (which you can learn more about HERE). Consequently, I was really curious to see how my students did with this lesson.
Part of the homework is to use what they learned in the lesson to analyze a few spreads. Then they pick one and do a reading with it. After that, they modify the spread based on their analysis and do another reading.
Most of the modifications were fairly small, but I was shocked (and they were, too!) by what a difference those changes made for them. Without exception, the readings flowed better, made more sense, and were simply easier to use while providing better results.
For anyone who has never modified an existing spread, let me encourage you to try it. Spreads are not these unchangeable, holy things that must remain intact. They were created by someone to meet a need. It is perfectly okay to adjust them to meet your own needs. Rearrange the layout. Change some positional meanings. Add or eliminate positions. A spread should be, in some ways, like a matt for a framed picture: something that helps show off and highlight the work of the artist. You, as a reader, are an artist. Let the spreads you use showcase your unique skills and style and your readings will be stronger because of it.
Or perhaps it is enough to illuminate a specific corner of someone’s world.
Many tarot readers believe that the question asked before the cards are shuffled and spread is very important. There are many facets of discussion about this, though, and no universal agreement. There are probably just as many readers who do not have their clients ask a question. However, for those who find questions useful, it’s always interesting to think about how to phrase a good question.
Years ago I read The Great Influenza by John M. Barry (published by Penguin Books) and one passage (pp 60 – 61, paperback edition, 2005) struck me as so interesting I copied it out in a journal. I’ll reproduce it here.
“The greatest challenge of science, its art, lies in asking an important question and framing it in a way that allows it to be broken into manageable pieces, into experiments that can be conducted that ultimately lead to answers. To do this requires a certain kind of genius, one that probes vertically and sees horizontally.
Horizontal vision allows someone to assimilate and weave together seemingly unconnected bits of information. It allows an investigator to see what others do not see, and to make leaps of connectivity and creativity. Probing vertically, going deeper and deeper into something, creates new information. Sometimes what one finds will shine brilliantly enough to illuminate the whole world.
….To see questions in these ways requires a wonder, a deep wonder focused by discipline, like a lens focusing the sun’s rays on a spot on paper until it bursts into flame. It requires a kind of conjury.”
From this observation, I took four main points:
1. Ask an important question
This does beg the question “how does one know what is an important question.” Perhaps we know intuitively or perhaps we ask the question and wring out all the answers we can and determine the importance of the question based on the significance of the answers.
A common example of what many consider a “bad” or “less useful” or in the words used here “not important question” would be something like: Is my ex going to come back to me?
The answer could be yes or no or maybe. But how significant is that answer to the asker’s life? How is it going to change or illuminate them?
Some readers would encourage digging deeper. For example, asking why the person is having trouble letting go of the relationship, how this information would shape his or her present actions, or how can the wound caused by the ending of the relationship be healed?
2. Frame the question in a way that creates manageable pieces
This is where spread selection is influenced. After assessing the question and determining the facets of it that may yield the most useful information, use (or design) a spread that can best reflect these aspects.
3. Probe horizontally
After the cards are laid out for the reading, scan them looking for patterns and connectivity. Use that information to pinpoint insights. This aspect of reading, especially the initial scan, can answer the whats and the hows of a situation.
4. Probe vertically
I found it fascinating that by delving deeper, we actually create new information. “Create” rather than “discover.” Part of going deeper is asking “why.” So, in a relativistic way (in which the observer influences the outcome), probing vertically “creates” new information that can influence the outcome, either of a situation or of the insight and/or guidance gleaned from the reading. When we “create” new information, we can then cycle back to the probing horizontally, seeing how the new information affects the previously established patterns or creates new ones. Again, this aspect can answer the whys of a situation.
If used, these steps can create an interactive, dynamic reading that will provide more insight than a simple, static one. Answering what one might call a “non-important” question may give someone comfort (or the opposite, depending on the answer). But spending time with any question and teasing out its complex layers can lead to the “important” question nestled within the surface concern. Once you find that question, you open the door to greater illumination.