About Shelley Ruelle

Welcome! I'm Shelley, and I work with the images and art of tarot, originally a trump-taking game in Medieval Italy, to spark personal growth and insights for self-discovery, choices, change, and empowerment.

How Tarot Cards Play Out in the Real World

If you’re new to the cards and haven’t built up much experience yet with readings, it can be a bit difficult to see how they relate to actual happenings in the real world. At least in terms of how I taught myself tarot, the images on the cards and the stories they could create when placed together all seemed theoretical and impersonal until I had years of real-world experience to relate to each and every one of them.

In an attempt to add a bit to the overall knowledge base regarding how readings play out in the real world, every once in a while I’d like to let you have a peek into my own personal tarot journal. The internet didn’t exist when I started teaching myself tarot, and I would have really liked to have been able to get a look at how experienced readers interpreted the cards and applied them to actual practical situations.

So, in the spirit of learning, I’ll let you in on one of my most recent practical uses of tarot for myself.

As you may or may not know, I am a single, divorced, working mother of three elementary-school-aged children (9, 7, 7). Needless to say, my romantic life has been stalled to non-existent for quite some time. Now, however, I feel happy and serene as a single person and I’m no longer looking for someone to fill up a void in my heart or emotional life.

Some girlfriends encouraged me to try online dating. So I put up a profile and started chatting with some men. One of them was really funny and attractive. We made plans to meet for a coffee. And then it occurred to me (I’m an American living in Italy, btw) – I had forgotten to ask if he was married or had a girlfriend.

Although I certainly don’t want to generalize, in my own personal experience in Italy, I’ve learned that men often don’t have any qualms about taking a lover on the side in addition to their steady girlfriend or wife. While I don’t pass judgement on their choices, I don’t want to be anyone’s other woman. 

Here’s where the reading comes in.

When it occurred to me that I hadn’t asked him, I figured I might as well perform due diligence. So I asked him outright in a message if he had a girlfriend, wife, lover, or was otherwise engaged with a significant other.

His immediate response was a flippant joke, which struck me as a way to deflect and avoid. 

That was suspicious to me, and no answer was forthcoming, so I turned to the cards. Situations like this, when you have a “hunch” but there’s an information gap, are excellent practice readings for learners. When and if you get more real-world information, you can compare it to the information you obtained from the cards and your interpretation of their message for you. The more you make these comparisons, the more your confidence and knowledge will grow.

I drew three cards: 1) What I need to know about Marco; 2) Advice/guidance for me re: Marco; 3) Outlook.

Here’s what came up:

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Three of Wands, Death, Seven of Swords

[Practice exercise: If you had to simply make a sentence out of this string, keeping it in context with the questions posed, what would it say?]

Here’s verbatim what I wrote in my journal:

“Oh, see – now that’s a real shame. I had this feeling smth was going on – like he’s not really single. This spread says he has his eyes elsewhere, let the whole concept and idea of him die, and you’ll see he had smth to hide. Boo! Now let’s see how it plays out…spill the beans, Marco.”

I left it at that and decided to follow the advice of Death – let it go, close it off, leave it behind. It wasn’t easy to follow this advice because my initial impulse was to respond to his jokey message and gloss over it and explain why I had asked. Instead, I stayed silent as a tomb. Death doesn’t utter a word, not even an emoji. Total crickets. 

It was only a matter of hours before I had my answer!

He later spontaneously sent a message admitting that yes, he has a girlfriend; but, and I quote: “she lives abroad and I hardly ever see her.”

Ah, tarot. How I love thee. Let me count the ways.

Let’s now look specifically at two of the cards that, in my own experience, have shown up repeatedly in specific real-life situations.

The Rider-Waite-Smith Three of Wands has come up repeatedly in my readings for clients in situations where there are long-distance relationships and in situations where one of the partners is contemplating a move overseas (or in any case across water or a long enough distance to require relocation) in order to be with the other. I didn’t touch on the overseas part in my own brief written analysis of this reading (because I already knew that part in my head), but I did make sure to note what the figure is doing on the card: he has his back to me. Thus, what I needed to know was that he certainly didn’t have his eyes on me, but rather elsewhere, across the water. In fact, I came to find out that his girlfriend lives in Spain.

Secondly, the Seven of Swords is a card that I’ve seen repeatedly for clients when there is a situation of cheating or getting away with (or attempting to get away with) something secretly. I generally dislike assigning specific keywords and situations to a card, since it’s better to be fluid enough to interpret every card uniquely for each unique reading. However, the Seven of Swords is rather difficult for me to extricate from the context of cheating when it shows up in a relationship reading, especially as it regards trust issues or secrets.

If you’re learning how to read the cards, I can’t stress enough the importance of keeping a journal. I’ve been reading now for nearly 20 years and as you can see, I still physically jot down notes with an actual pen on an actual piece of paper every single time I do a reading for myself. Documenting your readings has immense value for your learning, especially further on in the future when you have real-world findings, information and results of the situation that you can bring to bear on your initial interpretations.

As you grow in experience, you’ll begin to amass a substantial collection of actual situations that you can link back to particular cards, and this becomes a really important toolkit you can draw upon if and when you decide to start reading for others.

Your thoughts?

If you want to experience the power of a tarot reading for yourself, please visit me over at Sparrow Tarot (sparrowtarot.com) to learn how the cards can serve as a road map to help you navigate your life’s journey.

Do Expectations Create Reality?

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One of my close friends is convinced that nothing good ever happens to her. She didn’t always used to say this. But over the past year, she’s been saying it more and more, and for me it’s become a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation. One thing would happen (getting injured, not getting a job, or any other number of unfortunate things that happen to all of us in the normal course of life), and immediately after, she’d say, “See? Nothing good ever happens to me.”

From the time she started making this affirmation more openly, it seems as if the “misfortunes” have increased. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that she’s convinced this is her fate, so she falls back on it whenever something doesn’t go her way. Or perhaps it seems like unfortunate things are happening more often, because she points them out more often now than she used to.

But there’s one more “perhaps”: is it possible that once you expect only bad things to happen to you, not only do they happen, but they even increase?

I come from the “everything happens for a reason” school of thought. I know that cynical people find this idea absurd, but believing it has been a real source of strength for me throughout my life. I subscribe to the idea that our souls incarnate with particular challenges built into the life plan in order to facilitate and achieve specific areas of soul growth. I suppose that’s not for everyone, but so far it’s worked for me.

Finding meaning in my life experiences, both good and bad, has helped me weather difficult periods. And when I say difficult periods, I mean even periods where I, too, could have reasonably said “nothing good ever happens to me.”

But I never believed that. I always believed, as I still do, that things happen for a reason, even shitty things, and that there’s a purpose to life events, both those within my control and those outside of my control. It’s just that I never expect shitty things to happen as a matter of course. And when they do, I don’t automatically assume it’s because good things never happen to me—even if it’s been a bad run for a while.

Do you think there really are some people who never have good things happen to them? Or is it a matter of approach, expectations, and individual evaluation of life experiences?

Let’s ask the cards a few things:

  1. How do our expectations influence our experiences?
  2. What happens when a person is convinced nothing good ever happens to them?
  3. How can we increase the number of positive experiences in our lives?
  4. What advice or guidance should we follow when evaluating our life experiences?

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The Empress – abundance, seasons of change, natural bounty

The Empress shows how our expectations influence our experiences. She is the “Earth Mother” of the Tarot, the one who creates life, and celebrates abundance. Both an expectation of abundance, and a recognition of the abundance that already exists, serve to cultivate more abundance. As she is associated with growth and harvest, The Empress also reminds us of the cyclical, seasonal nature of life. There’s a time for planting and a time for gathering. If we expect to harvest abundance, and we also expect that the world provides for us as part of its inherent nature and the natural order of the Universe (as it does in nature, even without our direct intervention), this card shows that our experiences are likely to reflect that expectation.

Knight of Swords – conquest, fighting against, charging hard in offensive stance

The Knight of Swords tells us what happens when a person is convinced nothing good ever happens to them. They live life in this posture of charging hard into battle. Life is like this – always having to fight, fight, fight, and never getting to rest. There’s a sense of injustice to this card. The Knight of Swords is a fighter for justice, and as such, a person who thinks nothing good ever happens to them is going after life as if everything that lies in their path is somehow unjust and thus must be fought against. This is someone who sees life as an adversarial conquest. This card and its approach directly contrast with the receptive posture of The Empress, who inherently trusts that all things come in their own time, directed by nature and the underlying structure of the natural world.

Page of Wands – enthusiasm, fresh start, curiosity, creative spirit, eager to explore

The Page of Wands shows us how we can increase the number of positive experiences in our lives. The pages are like teenagers in the tarot. Although teenagers lack life experience and the hard-earned wisdom that comes from it, they do have a distinct advantage: they haven’t yet become cynical. The Page of Wands is convinced that his creative energy, enthusiasm, and curiosity will carry his new project forward. He focuses on new growth; notice how he eyes the budding leaves on the wand. If we focus on what’s growing and what’s working for us, this card shows us that we can increase positive experiences in our lives. This is another message of trusting that things ultimately do work out, and also a message of making a conscious effort about where we place our focus.

The red feather in this page’s cap caught my attention. When reading cards, if a particular element strikes you, take notice. In all my years of reading, I don’t remember this element ever jumping out at me before as a message.

I went searching for red feather symbolism, and ran across this blog post written by another Shelley, who also puts stake in synchronicity like I do. No coincidence there. In her post about a red feather, she says:

I found that feathers represent angels, and in particular, Archangel Uriel. He is the archangel of wisdom and is in charge of the red angel light ray. People sometimes ask for Uriel’s help to seek God’s wisdom before making decisions, or help with creative ideas, to learn new things, solve problems, let go of negative emotions and recognize bad or dangerous situations.

This passage seemed like it directly answered the question. We can increase the number of positive experiences in our lives by actively seeking creativity, learning new things, solving problems, letting go of negative emotions, and recognizing bad or dangerous situations. In fact, it appears that Archangel Uriel is the one to call upon for increasing positive life experiences.

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Temperance – balance, head and heart, new dawn, 1+1=3, harmony

When evaluating our life experiences, we must be balanced in our evaluation. It may be our nature to only focus on the negative, but in fact, there is a balance of negative and positive in everyone’s life. No one has all bad or all good.

Temperance teaches us about a paradox I like to refer to “one plus one equals three.” As we see in the mixing of the two liquids in the cups, when you combine two different things, even two opposite things, what emerges is neither all one nor all the other, but something entirely new and unique. We must evaluate our life experiences by recognizing that in the end, we are in constant flux and nothing ever stays the same. One experience blends with another experience to create a completely new reality. We have to keep one foot on the ground (rational, logical, intellectual) and another foot in the water (dreamer, intuitive, emotional). Like the triangle on the angel’s chest, three points are in harmony.

Your thoughts?

Eros, and Why Love Happens When You’re Not Looking

red heart paper with magnifying glass

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: most readings break down into two distinct categories overall. Can you guess them? Love and work. That’s it. It’s what we’re about.

Have you ever heard the saying that love happens when you aren’t looking? Frankly folks, I find it one of the most frustrating pithy pieces of so-called wisdom I know of, and yet I can’t despise it because I actually think it’s true. Every working, functioning couple I know of came into being in the precise moment when they weren’t looking for love.

And yet, can I just tell you how many of my dear, wonderful clients come to me specifically because they ARE looking for love? I mean, is this not the most dastardly Catch-22 conceivable? We’re human beings and we desire human connection, affection, and romantic love to share with someone special. People even tell us things like “get out there and meet someone” as if we could order up a significant other on demand. And yet, then we’re told that, after all, not to worry if we don’t meet anyone because it always happens when you’re not looking.

It begs the question, does it not: how can I look without looking?

I know you feel me here. I’ve asked it myself countless times. It’s like meditating and telling yourself “don’t think”. The more you do it, the more it happens. Human nature – a fairly predictable bitch.

Anyhoo, I figured, why not turn this beast of a conundrum over to our trusty Rider Waite Smith deck? Let’s let Eros speak to us directly on this one. Heaven knows that I myself don’t have any answers.

So here’s what I asked:

1) Why does love happen when you’re not “looking”?
2) Advice for those who are looking!
3) Message from spirit – Eros

And here’s what I got:

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1) The World
Number one is pretty straightforward, and I suppose I could have even told you this myself had I thought of it before. The World is all about being content with what you have, being sort of “self-actualized” and satisfied exactly right where you are. With The World, you don’t need or desire anything else, because you finally realize that all is all. Yeah, pretty enlightened stuff.

But truth be told, when I ask the couples whom I know about what was going on around them in their lives when they met (besides everyone telling me they weren’t looking), the key component almost always seems to be some variation on “I was happy with myself” or “I had finally accepted myself” or “I didn’t mind being single anymore” or “I decided not to settle anymore.”

Thus: The World.

It happens when you aren’t looking because you are no longer in need of anything.

Once you truly realize in your soul that you are all there is and you are all you need, love somehow strolls on in to put the icing on the cake. Don’t ask me to explain how or why. It seems to be so.

2) 9 of Wands
Advice for those who are looking is the 9 of Wands. Oh, no rest for the weary, eh. The poor guy on the 9 of Wands. He’s been through one hell of a battle, a series of battles, really. Refer back to: answer 1 above (ie, looking). I see this card a couple different ways. The first is: keep your damn guard up, because as long as you continue down the same road that you’ve always been down, you’ll most likely run into the same damn minefields and traps you’ve already stepped in. The second is: leave the battle.

Hence: see answer 1 above. [For effing eff’s sake.]

3) 8 of Cups
And what does Eros have to say about all this? Well, in the 8 of Cups (which in my experience comes up a lot around relationships when it’s time to actively move on because we’ve finally realized that it’s never going to be what we want or wish or need it to be), my feeling here is he is telling us: give it up! In fact, what happens when we stop looking is most likely that we walk away from that pretty little tower of 8 stacked cups because we realize that cup number 9 is beyond our grasp. That’s Eros. It’s not all in our hands. Ah, now there’s a concept for you.

And so, what can I tell you? Not much of what you haven’t heard before. I won’t say that looking is hopeless – I don’t think it is, necessarily. However, I also think that the process of allowing (which I wrote about on my own blog recently in the post We Have Forgotten How to Allow) has a lot of merit to it and brings with it some pretty surprising and great things.

I asked my fellow stirrers to weigh in. I wrote my interps before receiving theirs. I love to do stuff like this and discover how other readers see the same cards. Here goes:

Isabel:

1) The World
Oh but you *are* looking. Looking good! Do you know how hot it is when you need no one else to be happy? To make people WERK for an invitation into your life? Strut!

2) 9 of Wands
Just pick one already. If it’s not the right piece of tail there’s plenty more trees in the forest. Conversely, if someone picks you out of everyone, trust they have good reason to!

3) 8 of Cups
Leave behind what you already know. The hollow promises, the tears you shed. Make off with that one stick you picked and don’t look back. If it turns out to be a dead end, at least you’ll have something to light your fire with.

Miguel:

1) The World
You’re not looking, but the other part is. You become more centered in yourself. It feels like you’re alone, but you’re really not. You are shining under the World’s spotlight. And this makes everyone around you notice you. It makes them pay attention to you.

2) 9 of Wands
Don’t look. Let it all go. Try to act as if nothing was happening at all. No matter what it takes. I find it interesting that the guy is holding his own wand, even though there are 8 behind him. It’s almost as if the card is telling us to trust ourselves and our capacities. And not to be too dependent on finding love.

3) 8 of Cups
Again, walk away from love. Love is fleeting and happens by the light of the moon. It’s something conjured by illusions and light tricks. As such it’s best to remain grounded and wait for the sun to shine on what’s in front of you.

Paulinnhhoo:

1) The World
That’s when everything you need to find love comes together. All the elements are there and you are just dancing to your own tune.

2) 9 of Wands
Stop trying to find your prince charming. He’s locked away and isn’t coming anytime soon.

3) 8 of Cups
Love is not a trophy you get to conquer and put it on display. It’s something that should be held and maintained. When you do find love, keep it with you. In the meanwhile, stay away from trophy-hunting.

Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments!

Finding Cards in the Wild

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Pretty much every card reader I know finds cards on the ground. Now, this could be a “chicken and egg” sort of thing: which comes first – the reader looking for cards or the cards finding the reader? Personally, I don’t ever actively “look” for cards. But, at the same time, I always pick them up when I see them on the ground. Does this happen to other, non-cartomantic people? Perhaps. But no one else in their right mind would pick up a card off the ground. That’s why people like us exist.

I like the phenomenon of finding cards “in the wild”, so to speak, because it reminds me of a larger concept—that of paying attention. Miguel and I (and both of my tarot mentors) always advocate for simply LOOKING at the cards as the main foundation for reading them. Enrique used to always say to me, “What do you see?” and then if I got too caught up in a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, he’d say “Shelley, just LOOK at the card, don’t read it”.

The photo above is a series of four cards that crossed my path, in the sequence in which I found them. The Five of Cups came one day all on its own, then the 2 of Diamonds, 10 of Spades and – UNO card! – came one after the other on one particular walk.

Can we read anything? Can we apply meaning to things that apparently have no inherent meaning?

Reading cards is like this. We are presented in a completely spontaneous—but conscious and aware—manner with images on paper. We are then charged with telling the story they convey. Although there are certain baseline “meanings” that come from long lines of cartomantic tradition, as far as I know, no one reads UNO cards. And yet, it begs the question: why not?

Exercises like this are useful because they free up our mental space to stretch and expand, allowing us to PLAY with cards and LOOK at them.

We can read this line as a time-sequence of events. Five of Cups to Two of Diamonds to Ten of Spades to UNO – what shall we call it? – going both ways? Reversing course? Twisted in two different directions? You can see how symbolism depends on the interpretation you give to it, based on the context around the question and the surrounding cards.

Here, no question was asked, other than my simple presence on the face of the Earth and being in my environment. Can we remain open to receive messages even when we don’t ask for them?

While developing a tarot teaching course, I created a related exercise. I’ll reprint it here, so you can try it if you want. Let us know how it goes by writing a comment after you complete it.

And by all means, share your interpretations of my cards in the wild! No wrong answers.

When I wrote the following exercise, I hadn’t seen a playing card on the ground for a long time, probably a year or more. What do you think happened after?

Give it a try.

The art of paying attention: can you make something appear?
Some card readers love to find playing cards on the ground. Do they find the cards because they’re actively looking for them, or do the cards find them? Are there cards everywhere that people just don’t notice? Do you create the event by “willing” it to happen? Over the next week—seven days from the time you’re now reading this and bringing the idea into your conscious awareness—are there cards that might cross your path?
Journal exercise:
After seven days, note in your journal whether or not you found any playing cards cross your path this week. If not, do you think it was because you weren’t actively looking or searching them out, or because you simply weren’t paying enough attention? If yes, do you think it’s because you were specifically looking for them, or because you were paying more attention to details in your surroundings in general? Or even because you simply forgot about the exercise and weren’t attached to the outcome? Can we “will” an event to happen, like noticing a playing card, just by bringing it to our conscious minds and focusing on it? Or is it just the opposite: bringing something to our conscious awareness and then letting go of it? How much of our noticing things is random, and how much is intentional?

My Tarot Bookshelf

Today I was performing one of my readings, and I felt compelled to look in some of my tarot books for a spark of insight about one of the cards. It’s been quite a long time since I’ve opened any of my tarot books during a reading, and yet here I grabbed three right off of the bat to get some fresh ideas.

My guess is that those of you who are learning tarot are using at least one or two books to guide your studies. My guess is also that those of you who are already confident readers or professional readers also have at least a couple of tarot books on the shelf that you may refer back to from time to time. It’s rare to come across a tarot enthusiast or professional who has no books on tarot. While as a professional reader I don’t rely on keywords or generate my readings from copy based on a book I’ve read, our craft is populated by a wealth of creative minds, and as such we are invited to explore what our colleagues have to say.

While I take my inspiration for my readings from all sorts of books and life experiences, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at my actual tarot bookshelf. I have quite a range of books that I’ve collected over the past 14 years, some of which I never open at all, some of which I refer back to again and again.

One book I don’t even have on my physical bookshelf anymore (probably because I wore it out) is Joan Bunning’s Learning the Tarot: A Tarot Book for Beginners. The material from this book is available in a free online course at the Learn Tarot website. Excellent material here that I still find relevant.

And so, below I share with you all the titles on my physical and virtual tarot bookshelf, organized into categories. Enjoy!

Some books I consider classics in the field:

EN TEREX IT: Encounters Around Tarot, Vol. I by Enrique Enriquez
EX
EX ITENT ER: Encounters Around Tarot, Vol. II by Enrique Enriquez
Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom: A Book of Tarot
by Rachel Pollack
The Tarot: History, Symbolism and Divination by Robert M. Place
Tarot for Your Self: A Workbook for Personal Transformation by Mary K. Greer
Mary K. Greer’s 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card by Mary K. Greer
Choice-Centered Relating and the Tarot by Gail Fairfield
Everyday Tarot: Using the Cards to Make Better Life Decisions by Gail Fairfield
The Way of Tarot: The Spiritual Teacher in the Cards by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Marianne Costa

Some books for delving deeper into specific topics:

Court Cards
Understanding the Tarot Court by Mary K. Greer and Tom Little
The Tarot Court Cards: Archetypal Patterns of Relationship in the Minor Arcana by Kate Warwick-Smith

Tarot and Kabbalah
The Fool’s Pilgrimage: Kabbalistic Meditations on the Tarot by Stephen H. Hoeller
Tarot and the Tree of Life: Finding Everyday Wisdom in the Minor Arcana by Isabel Radow Kliegman

Reading Reversals
Learning Tarot Reversals by Joan Bunning

Deck-Specific Texts
Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot by Lon Milo DuQuette
Voyager Tarot: Way of the Great Oracle by James Wanless, PhD
Motherpeace: A Way to the Goddess Through Myth, Art, and Tarot by Vicki Noble
Motherpeace Tarot Guidebook by Karen Vogel
Journey Through the Gaian Tarot by Joanna Powell Colbert

Books Written About the Poetics of Tarot and Wordplay by My Teacher and Mentor, Enrique Enriquez:

Tarology
Linguistick

And a couple other books on the shelf that I acquired along the way:

Tarot for Manifestation: Use the Cards to Make Your Desires a Reality by James P. Wells
Tarot for Beginners by P. Scott Hollander
Tarot for a New Generation by Janina Renèe
Power Tarot: More than 100 Spreads that Give Answers to Your Most Specific Questions by Trish MacGregor and Phyllis Vega

Time: Quality Vs. Quantity

That might sound like a very, very boring title. But in fact I think within it is a discussion rich with possibilities, as it regards the magic of tarot and other divinatory practices like astrology.

The inspiration for this post comes from a book I’ve yet to find in English, which was originally published in German and which I read in Italian (!!) and is called Il Destino Come Scelta by Thorwald Dethlefsen (originally published in 1986 under the German title “Schicksal Als Chance”). Dethlefsen is a German psychiatrist and psychoanalyst whose work is grounded in hypnosis, past-life regression therapy and esoteric psychology.

Dethlefsen has written extensively about the law of polarity, fundamentally that everything has an opposite pole to counterbalance it. One of the ideas from this book that has stuck with me since the first time I read it, and made a profound impact, is his assertion (in the context of astrology) that time also necessarily follows the law of polarity. This isn’t original to Dethlefsen, of course, as the concept is probably as old as time itself, but his discussion of the concept was the first time I’d ran across it. Time, while usually measured as a quantitative phenomenon (how much), also has a qualitative function (the nature of the moment itself, rather than the quantity).

In astrology, this is seen in the phenomenon of the birth chart, drawn up as a mandala representing the quality of the particular moment in which a person takes his or her first breath. By examining and delineating the quality of that moment, and holding to the belief as well that everything contains both its beginning and end (ie, seed also contains fully grown tree), one can determine the characteristics of the soul incarnated into body, and its mission for that particular incarnation.

While this might seem like a stretch to some, to me it makes a lot of sense, because divinatory practices seek to give information about the quality of a moment in time, rather than simply report what time it is. In that sense, we can see oracles as giving us information about what a moment holds within itself, rather than simply how much time is held within a moment or its relative position in time (past, present, future).

Now, how does this come back to tarot? Well, one question I often get asked by those who are skeptical of the value of tarot as a practice, is: “But if you did another reading on the same question, immediately after, you’d get different cards. So, how is that worthwhile, then?”

Statistically speaking, yes, if you do two readings in a row on the same question, generally you will come up with different cards. It would be highly unusual to have the exact same cards in the exact same positions two times in a row in a random draw one after the other. Miguel has also commented on this in some of his writing. Also, I’ve known tarot novices and professionals alike who have fallen prey to “not accepting” the cards that came up in response to a particular question (especially when reading for themselves), and so deciding to draw different cards immediately after, seeking a “better” or more agreeable response. Sometimes querents will also ask me, “Has enough time passed between now and my last reading, in order to do another reading on the same question?”

So, I find this concept of quality vs. quantity quite relevant, when it comes to tarot.

My answer usually to querents is that it’s not necessarily important how much time has passed (ie, quantity) so much as what has happened in the time that has passed (quality, events). Have any actions taken place that might change the outcome? Something could happen in the span of mere hours between one reading and another that potentially changes everything. One moment is never qualitatively exactly the same as the next, and even “a moment” is a concept open to definition.

To illustrate this, I’ll offer a practical example from my work.

The querent wanted to know about her budding relationship with a potential partner. I generally have a more or less standard 5-card layout that I find works well for this type of inquiry, which comes up a lot in my practice:

1-Querent in relationship, their intentions, how they view the partnership
2-Other/partner in relationship, their intentions, how they view the querent/partnership
3-Querent and partner together
4-Potential near future outcome
5-Advice and guidance, what querent should do now

Here was the first 5-card spread:

Queen_Cups9_Cups

She’s pouring her heart out, he’s smug as the cat who ate the canary. Hmm.

Justice3_Swords

Together there needs to be some balance, impartiality, truth needs to surface, no glossing over the facts or letting emotions cloud judgement. Potential outcome: negative thoughts or objective facts that break hearts. The truth cuts through the emotional longing, and it hurts.

Queen_Swords

Advice to the querent? Own it. Speak your truth, don’t mince words, and get over the feelings enough to be able to communicate clearly and coherently, even if it means heartbreak.

Yeah, not so fun.

The next day the querent came back to say that she had spent some time thinking things over, and examined rationally rather than emotionally what she really wanted for herself in terms of relationships, and then followed the Queen of Swords model by voicing her truths to the partner, even if it meant that they’d have to go separate ways due to differing needs or views.

Simply out of curiosity, and to test out this quality vs. quantity idea, I decided to pull 5 more cards, even though less than 24 hours had passed. How would the story potentially change, now that the advice had been followed? How was the quality of the moment altered?

Here are the querent and partner in the second spread:

Ace_WandsPage_Wands

Now that’s quite an energy shift. Not only are the two more on the same page (same suit, and symmetry of the wands themselves), but now we’re in a suit of fiery passion, and some even say love affairs. Robert Place in his book The Tarot calls the Ace of Wands the beginning of an enterprise or a love affair, and curiously, also calls the Page of Wands the beginning of an enterprise. While I wouldn’t necessarily attribute the Ace of Wands myself to a love affair necessarily, I would certainly point out that the energy of the wands has a vibrant charisma, magnetism, and creative energy pulsing through it at full intensity. Also, from a purely visual standpoint, look how interesting things have gotten now. The querent is the Ace of Wands, and the Page is clutching that wand in his hands, looking up at it admiringly. It’s as if the querent and partner have merged into the same card.

Knight_Pent3_Cups

Together now they’re shown as the Knight of Pentacles, a beacon of stability and steadfast loyalty. The most interesting change from the first reading, however, in my opinion, is the 3 of Swords becoming the 3 of Cups. Numerically it’s the same, but from a standpoint of suits, rational thought that caused heartache is now emotional feeling being toasted and celebrated in abundance. Perhaps the act of clarifying thoughts and needs and getting those truths out into the open transformed the situation to one in which the two people involved were able to find a way to harmonize their emotional needs.

Strength

And now, rather than the no-nonsense words of the Queen of Swords, the querent is being advised to take the “soft control” hands-on approach of the Strength card. Gentle, soft persuasion in order to move forward, and, in another bit from Robert Place that I like: “self-mastery through love.”

I think these two spreads serve to show that yes, of course two readings on the same question won’t turn up the same cards, no matter how closely or far apart in time they’re performed.

What we can ponder and keep in mind when working with divinatory systems is that time has a very tangible yet unseen quality to it, and that is precisely what we’re seeking to learn more about and reveal with whatever system we employ. Tarot then could be seen almost like a “watch” measuring the quality of a moment, or perhaps we could call it the energies of that moment, rather than the hour and minute assigned to it.

In conclusion, and returning to Dethlefsen, he counters the argument that certain divinatory systems are less “scientific” than others, for example, that astrology is more “accurate” somehow because it requires precise mathematical calculations while tarot doesn’t. To paraphrase Dethlefsen: “All mantic systems operate on the same principle, only the points of reference change. The value of one practice over another depends entirely on how well the person using the practice is able to translate observations from one plane of reference (the birth chart, the tarot spread) to another plane (delineation, interpretation, reading). That’s why there are infinitely more untrustworthy practitioners than there are trustworthy practitioners in general, and this has nothing to do with whether they are practicing astrology or tarot.”

In this way, we can see tarot not only as a divinatory practice, but as an actual initiatory practice in which the individual grows in self-knowledge, and in so doing, knowledge of the divine nature of the world itself and everything it contains. That “all in all” is what the quality of time can teach us about.

Tarot and Care of the Soul

I’m reading a book I had forgotten I’d even downloaded on my Kindle. It’s Thomas Moore’s “Care of the Soul.” I’ve just started it, but already it’s led me to make some parallels between tarot and how one tends to the proverbial garden of soul in this life.

Moore makes a case for care vs. cure. In today’s highly allopathic-oriented society, the aim is usually to fight, combat, and eradicate any pathology that exists. The total removal of symptoms is often the objective when we’re faced with any sort of dis-ease in our lives, from emotional distress to health issues. While it’s clear that allopathic medicine has its place, Moore maintains that in the frenzy to cure what ails us, we’ve forgotten how to care for the symptoms that trouble us, and in so doing, we’ve lost touch with the parts of our self, our soul, that are crying out for expression.

One of the phrases early in the book that struck me is this one:

Let us imagine care of the soul, then, as an application of poetics to everyday life. What we want to do here is to re-imagine those things we think we already understand.

This, to me, can be directly correlated to a thoughtful use of tarot. In my own practice, I use the cards to assist clients in “re-imagining” as Moore says, their current situations. This creative exercise digs deep into inner knowing and areas of soul that are surfacing to be heard and acknowledged and integrated.

I also like Moore’s mention of applying poetics to everyday life. In my work with Enrique Enriquez, I’ve learned a lot about how poetics and wordplay can be one manifestation of how the symbolic world operates, and how tarot can be yet another of these manifestations.

Working with the tarot can help us to perceive how things and circumstances in our lives are constantly changing. It can also show us how sometimes, things are not necessarily to be eradicated with brute force but rather simply followed and understood.

I remember something that Enrique told me early on in our work together: “Follow the oracle.” This is a beautiful expression of what we can do as tarot readers and clients—simply follow the oracle, rather than trying to bend it and twist it to our own will and desires, hoping that it will provide us with a definitive cure to the distress in our lives. That is the beauty both of working with an oracle, as well as the beauty inherent in caring for soul rather than trying to “cure” it. When used this way, tarot can offer us a less subjective perspective on our lives, thereby allowing us to “care” for ourselves and our situations rather than try to “cure” them.

Let’s draw three cards as a closing commentary on the care vs. cure approach to soul and living.

We can ask the cards: “How can we nurture and care for our souls, rather than trying to cure and get rid of what we perceive as defective within?”

Devil3_WandsHanged Man

We have The Devil, the 3 of Wands, and The Hanged Man.

In care of the soul, first we have to become aware of and respectfully acknowledge the power that our personal assumptions, addictions (mental, physical, emotional), ego-based thinking, and self-destructive behaviors have over us, that keep us feeling trapped and dis-eased. Easier said than done! But soul-based living and care for the soul requires that we own up to our own role in keeping ourselves chained to feeling “less than” and not already whole. Also, in keeping with the concept of “care” versus “cure,” we need to own “The Devil” in our own lives, in our own souls. Care means tending to all facets of self and giving all parts of ourselves respect and a voice, in order to understand our intrinsic wholeness.

Many people want to eradicate any trace of “bad” from themselves and their lives, and yet, that’s an unrealistic proposition. Recognition and acceptance of the dark side of ourselves and what we perceive as unworthy and unlikeable is the first step, then, in embracing the totality of our soul and caring for it. According to this spread, if we can’t find it in ourselves to embrace our own personal demons and shadow side, we won’t be able to properly care for our souls in their entirety. Remember, care means acknowledging, observing, and giving voice for expression, rather than fighting against, disowning, and repressing out of fear and loathing. Does this mean we can’t change behaviors? No. But it does mean that before we can change things, we have to sit with them for a moment, get to know them, open our eyes to them, understand what they are and what they are about, rather than trying to obliterate them with reckless abandon as if they never existed. Those chains will hold us back until we are brave enough to try to figure out what got them there in the first place.

Once that process is recognized, the time comes for visioning a new perspective. We can now look out on our horizon with new eyes, dreaming big about where we want to go now that we no longer feel chained to negative self-image and fear of darkness and entrapment. The way is clear, the outlook is expansive, and exploration is ahead: exploration of areas of the soul that we haven’t given voice to, and we can get ready to actually embark on the journey of tending to the garden of soul.

Finally, we’re called to attend to the soul. “Attending to” means paying attention to, waiting upon, and being present with. It means having patience, listening, and perhaps even a “hands off” approach, all qualities we see in The Hanged Man. We must “hang out” with ourselves and see what unfolds when we take a non-action approach.

These cards pinpoint precisely the difficulties inherent in the concept of care of soul, tending to it rather than trying to ruthlessly manipulate and bend it to our will or what society thinks we “should” be in order to be “good.” In Western society we’re constantly encouraged in “self-improvement” and “taking action.” Yet, in this spread, the cards that provide the “bookends” to taking action are completely counterintuitive regarding “self-improvement” as an obligation for living a soulful life. Rather, they emphasize quiet observation and humble recognition.

So, here again we have one of the graceful capabilities of the tarot. Coming full circle, we can see how the cards here have helped us to “re-imagine” a way of approaching our soul’s evolution in a more holistic and compassionate way, re-imagining something we thought we already understood.