Which method of divination should you learn?

I’ve written before about how important I believe divination is to successful magic, but what I haven’t done is to write about which divination method one should use. This is because the answer to that question is: it’s up to you.

In my experience, which system of divination someone uses is a deeply personal choice. Yes, accuracy should be the most important factor in selecting a method of divination, but there’s also the question of feel. When you’re looking for guidance, answers, or knowledge of the future, whichever system or method you’re using should be something you resonate with.

It’s also important to understand that some methods of divination are better suited to certain kinds of questions.

That’s kind of what I want to unpack in this post: which sorts of questions you’re most likely to ask, and which systems of divination might be most suited to answering them.

Asking questions, getting answers

To be clear, regardless of which method of divination we’re looking at, the purpose of them all is more or less the same. You ask questions, you get answers. These questions might be specific, such as: “Should I go to the party tonight?”

Other times, we’re looking for a more “general read” on a situation, such as: “What does the next month hold in store for me?”

The most important thing to remember about any system of divination is that it’s only really useful if it gives you meaningful, actionable answers to the questions you ask. The more well-suited a method of divination is to the question, the better your chances of getting actionable information.

This is why I’ve studied and practiced many different methods of divination over the years. While I do have my favorites, I’m not opposed to reaching for whichever method is best suited for the kind of question I need answered.

With that said, let’s get into it. We’ll look at the kinds of questions we usually want to answer. As you’re experimenting with different systems, consider each of these broad “classes” of questions, and try to sort out which systems are best for answering each.

Yes or no?

One common sort of question we’d like to get an answer to are “yes-or-no” questions. Should I go to the party? Will I get a raise? Should I start looking for a new apartment? These are all questions where we’re looking for a direct “yes” or “no” response.

Unfortunately, many of the more popular methods of divination seem to be almost comically bad at answering direct, yes-or-no questions. For instance, I know relatively few Tarot readers who will even try to get their decks to cut to the chase and answer these questions directly.

In my experience, horary astrology is the best method for getting a yes or no answer to a question.

In horary astrology, you cast a chart for the moment you ask a question, then you follow a set of interpretive rules to determine the answer. You’ll almost always get a definite positive or negative response, along with a fair bit of other, relevant information.

For example, let’s say you were to ask: “Will I get a raise?” You’ll get a “yes” or a “no.” Let’s say it’s a “yes.” You’ll probably get a sense of how large or small the raise will be, as well as a pretty good idea of the time when you’ll get the raise. If it’s a “no” response, you can probably sort out why you won’t get it by looking at other factors in the chart.

The one real drawback to horary astrology (and astrology in general) is that it’s a pretty complicated subject with a lot of nuance. It can take months or even years to get even halfway good at reading a chart.

This might be why the most common divination tool I see used for getting a simple yes-or-no response is the pendulum.

Do a Google search for pendulum divination and you’ll find hundreds of articles and videos on its use, but the main idea is quite simple. Hold the pendulum by its cord and let it hang straight down in front of you. Make sure you start off with the pendulum still, then ask: “Show me yes.” Watch what the pendulum does. After a little while, steady the pendulum again and ask: “Show me no.”

Repeat this a few times until you’ve “calibrated” the pendulum, then ask the questions you want answered.

I don’t do a lot of work with pendulums myself, but according to those who do, it usually only takes a few sessions before you start getting consistently good results.

Either or? Should I?

Another very common kind of question is the “either-or” question. In fact, many “yes-or-no” questions can be re-phrased as an “either-or” one, particularly if you are asking a question that begins with the words: “Should I…”

For example, consider the question: “Should I go to the party tonight?”

That could probably be better expressed as: “Should I go to the party tonight, or should I stay home?”

In a case like this, I find the Tarot to be exceptional. My go-to way of answering such a question is to perform a “three-versus-three” reading.

I throw down six cards. The first three are to answer the question “What if I go to the party tonight?” The second three are for “What if I stay home tonight?” I look carefully at both situations, and choose whether or not to go based on which set of cards looks the best.

Most “either-or” questions tend to be rooted in this idea of “should I.” These are tricky sorts of questions to answer with most of the divination methods I’m familiar with. Horary astrology doesn’t do well with “shoulds,” unless you can honestly re-phrase the question to be a direct yes-or-no.

For example, let’s say you ask: “Should I invest in my friend’s business, or should I hold onto my money?”

Assuming your main interest in asking this question is growing your wealth, the question you’re really asking is: “Will I make a profit if I invest in my friend’s business?”

Horary astrology can answer that question quite easily.

Natal astrology can also help us a bit with “should” questions, although in a more roundabout way. By looking at your birth chart, and taking into account the current and upcoming transits to it, you can get a reasonable picture of which areas of your life are likely to be easier, and which are likely to be more challenging.

For out investment question above, let’s say that you look at your chart and upcoming transits and see what looks like a pretty hairy period of financial difficulties in your near future. You might want to set that “extra” money aside.

When?

Questions involving the timing of events can be among the most frustrating.

“When will I get married?”

“When will I find a job?”

“How long will it take for my business to take off?”

I already mentioned that horary astrology can usually give you a good idea of when events are likely to occur, but using other divination methods to get answers to a “when” question can be tricky.

In my experience, there are two broad approaches to answering these questions, and both come with drawbacks.

The first method involves trying to get a specific time or date, or at least a very narrow range (down to a few days or hours, depending on the nature of the question). This really is a question horary astrology. To be perfectly honest, I’ve never gotten a reliable, specific time with anything else.

Another method you could try is to use Lenormand cards. This is an oracle deck, as opposed to the Tarot, and some people I know have had good success in getting precise timing out of it. Myself? I only use Lenormand on rare occasions, and when I’ve tried to get a time, it just doesn’t pan out. Things might be different if I really took the time to “master” the deck, but I just haven’t.

The second method of getting a time involves choosing a reasonable one as a starting point, and then asking whether the event will happen before the chosen time, or after it. You can then try for a yes-or-no answer, or try to ask a more general question with an eye toward that time.

For example, let’s say you’re unemployed and running out of money. You’ve put in for a number of jobs, have some good prospects. You want to know when to expect a job offer. Let’s pick a time—say, two weeks.

You could simply ask “Will I get a job within two weeks?” Assuming you have a good system for answering yes-or-no questions, you should get the information you’re looking for.

Taking the more general approach, you could ask “Show me what my work situation will be like in two weeks.” This tends to be the approach I take when using the Tarot.

One more thing I should point out is that, when using a system other than horary astrology for “when” questions, I usually get better results when I use “natural” events for timing. What I mean by this is, instead of asking if something will happen before “next Thursday,” I’ll ask if it will happen before “the next full Moon,” or “in the summer.”

Try it both ways and see what happens.

Where?

Sometimes you’ll want to know either where something will happen or where something is. These questions both involve the word “where,” but they’re very different, and they usually benefit from different approaches.

To be clear, “where should I move to,” is one kind of question. “Where are my car keys,” is another one entirely.

For the first kind of “where” question, you can usually sort out the answer doing variations on “either-or.” There are also some specific forms of divination which are tailored toward finding places, such as locational astrology.

When you’re trying to find a lost object (or a person, or a pet), again, horary astrology is a pretty decent choice. It can sometimes be a little tricky to find things using horary, because the methods involved usually give you a list of possibilities which don’t always narrow things down satisfactorily. For instance, if you’re looking for your missing cat, you might get an answer that it’s “a short distance to the north of your house, inside or under something.”

Well, that’s certainly a start, but it’s not exactly “sleeping under your neighbor’s car.”

Despite not using it very often, I’ve actually had a surprising amount of success with the Lenormand deck for “where” questions.

For example, maybe I’ve misplaced my keys. Well, there’s a “Key” card in the Lendormand deck. I’ll take out my Lenormand cards, shuffle them, and then look through the deck for the “Key.” If I find it between the “Book” and the “Letter” cards, I’ll go search my desk. If I find it between “Garden” and “Lillies,” I’ll go outside and check my flower beds.

It doesn’t always work, but sometimes the answers you get from Lenormand really can be that literal.

Getting a general “read” on a situation

We’ve covered several different types of “specific” questions, but in my mind, it’s the “general” sort of question or reading that’s the most useful. I find getting my head around a situation as a whole to be more helpful (and easier) than attempting a “surgical strike” for only the specific answer I might be interested in right then.

The answer to “will I get the promotion,” is less valuable to me than “show me my work situation for the spring.”

Astrology is an excellent tool for this, particularly natal astrology. I can pull up a birth chart, check the current and upcoming transits, and get a good sense of how things are going to go. This is especially true when I want to see which areas of a person’s life are likely to go well in the near future, which areas might be more challenging, and how these areas will affect and influence each other.

And, yes, the Tarot is my very next choice. I usually stick with a five-card spread when doing this sort of reading, but for particularly complex or confusing situations, I’ll use a full Celtic Cross.

Another method of divination which can be used similarly (and which I haven’t touched on yet) is geomancy. Put very simply, geomancy involves creating a series of figures using lines or points either drawn on paper or in sand, then arranging those figures into a kind of “astrologically-themed” chart. You then read this chart according to a set of fairly simple rules.

This is far from an adequate description of geomancy, and I encourage you to look into it yourself, especially if you don’t find yourself drawn to the Tarot. Geomancy was one of the most common forms of divination during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, prior to the rise of the Tarot and cartomancy in general.

Finding what works for you

In case it isn’t obvious, even in this long post I haven’t covered all of the types of questions you’re likely to encounter. For instance, I didn’t even touch upon “who” or “how” or “why.” Whenever you’re experimenting with a system, you’ll want to throw all of these kinds of questions (and more) against the wall and see what “sticks.”

As I wrote way back at the beginning of this overly-long post, don’t go looking for one system which will fit every situation. In my opinion, such a system just doesn’t exist.

Instead, you should study and experiment with several different methods of divination, and learn not only how each of them works, but also which kinds of questions or situations they’re best suited to. You should also consider whether or not you personally resonate with a system.

Some people just don’t like the Tarot. Other people find astrology too complex and confusing. These methods work very well for me, but they’re not for everyone.

Good luck on your search!

The three biggest mistakes people make when learning the Tarot

Over the years, I’ve seen the Tarot attract many people. The images on the cards, the history of the deck, the mystery of it—no matter how they are drawn to study the Tarot, I’ve watched dozens of would-be readers buy their first decks, and dive head-long into their studies.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen nearly as many people slowly lose their interest and enthusiasm over the days and weeks following. The decks come out of their boxes on fewer and fewer occasions, until they end up just sitting on a shelf.

Sometimes this is for the best. As much as I love the Tarot, it’s not for everyone. Some people never develop an affinity for the cards, or find that they don’t have a meaningful connection to them. This is perfectly fine, but a lack of connection is neither the only reason I see people get frustrated and give up the Tarot, it’s not even the most common one.

The most common reason people abandon their Tarot studies is, I think, because they don’t approach the cards in the best way. And, to be quite honest, many of the books written about the Tarot tend to encourage these less-than-ideal approaches.

So, if you’re new to the Tarot, or otherwise find yourself struggling to wrap your head around it, let me highlight some of the most common “mistakes” I see new students make.

People don’t look at the cards

One of the most common mistakes I see beginning Tarot students make is that they get their first deck, open it up, and go straight to the Little White Book without even looking at the cars themselves.

Don’t do this.

When you acquire your first Tarot deck, set aside some quiet time to open the box. Ideally, you’ll want about one hour, in a room to yourself, where you won’t be disturbed.

Once you’re in that quiet place, look over the box. Turn it over in your hands. Really get a sense of the weight of it, and allow yourself to feel at least a little anxious about opening it. Not fearful, mind you. What I mean is that you should come to your first deck with a sense of excitement and anticipation.

If you can open the box with the same thrill as you might have done when opening a present as a child, you’re in the perfect frame of mind.

After you’ve opened the box, set that Little White Book aside, along with any other promotional materials or add-in cards. The only thing you want in your hands are the seventy-eight cards of the Tarot deck itself. Turn them over and over in your hands. Feel the size of the cards, the stock they’re printed on—just run your hands all over them.

Also? Give them a smell.

Seriously. Try to engage all of your senses during this first encounter. Really attempt to absorb and remember everything you can about this experience. They say first impressions are everything when it comes to human relationships. Why should your relationship with the Tarot be any different?

Now—and this is the most important part of this initial meeting—look at the cards. Examine their backs, then turn over each one and really, really study it.

What do you notice first? How does the card make you feel? What do you think of the art style? Do you notice any symbols, animals, or people on the cards? Do any of these stick out? Do you notice any objects or themes repeating from card to card?

Take your time, study the images, and think about what they might mean. What questions might they answer? What questions might they be asking?

If doing all of this touching, feeling, and “impression gathering” seems strange to you, remember: this is what the first Tarot reader had to do.

The Tarot was originally conceived as a deck of cards to be used for playing games. Divination came later. And the first people to use the Tarot for divination didn’t have a Little White Book to tell them what the cards “really meant.”

Instead, they looked at the cards and used their intuition.

For your first encounter with the Tarot, why not approach the deck in the same way as those earliest of readers?

After you’ve taken this quiet time, then you can go ahead and read the Little White Book that comes with it. Check out the meanings given for each card, look at the card in your hand, and try to see where the author or deck designer is coming from.

Just give the deck a chance to speak for itself, first.

People think of the Tarot as work

A lot of the Tarot readers and students I know explain their practice as “working with the Tarot.” I use this phrase myself, from time to time.

Why is that?

Why is the first word which comes to our minds a word associated with labor? Even if you are (or wish to be) a professional Tarot reader, why use the word “work” when you could use words like “play,” or “talk to,” or even “hang out with?”

To borrow a quote, why so serious?

Yes, the Tarot is a wonderful ally which can provide wisdom and guidance to help you, and those you read for, even at the most serious and desperate of times. And yes, when you’re preforming a reading, you should treat the questions you’re asked, and your answers, seriously.

However, I think you’ll have much better results in your readings if you treat the Tarot as a friend, first and foremost. It’s not your co-worker who you never see outside of the job.

It’s also not your priest or your therapist.

Some readers treat their Tarot decks like holy objects—sacred things which must only ever be approached with reverence and timidity. Or, perhaps even worse, they treat their decks in the same way that they treat a medical professional—thinking of the cards as cold, objective, and secretly disappointed in you.

I’ve never understood this attitude.

Try grabbing your Tarot deck, sitting on the couch, and binge watching your favorite show while shuffling the cards.

This is one of my favorite things to do, especially when I’ve just acquired a new deck. I’ll keep the Little White Book next to me, shuffle for a while, then flip a card out. I’ll look at, maybe check to see what the book has to say, then shuffle it back in.

This is a great way to learn the “traditional” meanings of the cards if you’re not already familiar with them.

Another fun thing I frequently do is ask the deck what it thinks of the show or movie we’re watching together. Or I’ll ask it questions about what’s going to happen next.

What!?!” You might be shouting. “You ask the Tarot ‘whodunnit’ while watching some police procedural on Netflix?”

Yes! And why not?

What’s wrong with hanging out with a friend, watching television, and getting to know each other?

People try to read way too many cards

In many Tarot books, the first spread you’ll encounter is almost certain to be some version of the “Celtic Cross.” This is a spread of ten (or eleven) cards which you lay out on a table and interpret.

To be perfectly frank, this is way, way too many cards for someone just starting out with the Tarot. In fact, I think it’s too many cards for most readers in most situations. I can count on one hand the number of times in the last month that I’ve felt this spread was necessary. It’s a good spread, to be sure, but only for certain situations.

Most of the time, I use either a three cards or five cards. Sometimes, I’ll use only two.

A two-card spread is good as a kind of “daily check-in.” If I’m looking at a busy day, or otherwise feel a bit overwhelmed by what I need to do, I’ll throw two cards. For the first card, I’ll ask “What should I focus most of my attention on?” For the second card, I’ll ask “What should I not worry about too much?”

I’ve used slight variations of this two-card spread at various times, and even wrote about it here. It works really well to help me navigate those challenging days where I feel like I’m being pulled in too many different directions.

My go-to three-card spread is pretty close to your basic “Past, Present, Future” reading. This is great when I have a clear picture of a situation, but I’m just not sure of what specific action I should take.

The first card in this spread represents the situation up until the point I asked the question. The middle card represents either the best action I can take right then, or else it shows me a hidden factor which is influencing the present. The last card shows me either the most probable outcome of the situation, or a further action I can take.

Knowing which cards mean what in which position is a bit of an art, and is something I was only able to become better at through practice.

As for the five-card readings I do, they’re what I use when someone has asked a question (usually a client, sometimes me) but I feel like I don’t know enough of the context in which the question is asked. I lay out five cards from left to right, with those on the left usually indicating the past, and those on the right usually indicating the future. In these cases, the card in the middle is related to present.

I say “usually,” because sometimes the question or situation involves a choice between two alternatives. In these cases, the card in the middle will often depict or suggest a choice, and the cards on each side will carry a definite theme.

Again, practice and time will help you sort things out.

So when do I actually use the Celtic Cross?

When I absolutely, positively need to know everything I can about a confusing or complicated situation. And I have a solid hour to spend in ceremony pulling on all of the threads. Mostly, these situations involve either myself or a client being in a tough spot, and I’m contemplating doing a whole lot of magic to get things moving in the right direction.

I wrote before about the importance of using divination before performing magic, and my opinion hasn’t changed. I rarely dive into “big enchantments” without getting a good read on the situation first, and the Celtic Cross is my preferred spread when it comes to such reads.

The bottom line? If you’re just starting out, begin by reading with as few cards as possible. Start with a daily two-card reading as I described above. Once you’re comfortable with that, bump yourself up to three cards, then try your hand at five.

Remember, Tarot cards are meant to be read in relationship to one another. We don’t typically read cards in isolation (unless for a daily meditation, or perhaps to get a sense of the overall “theme of the day”). Rather, we either compare and contrast them, or else we are attempting to weave them together into a story which answers our question.

That’s a lot to ask of someone just coming into relationship with the Tarot, so start small.

Less really is more.

Good luck on your journey!

Tarot readings are open

If there’s a question on your mind, or a specific situation you would like some guidance with, I want you to know that I provide tarot readings via email. I try to respond to requests within twenty-four hours, and ask only for a small donation in return, provided that you are completely satisfied with your reading, and you are able to afford it.

That’s the short version. Here’s the longer one…

I’ve been offering tarot readings and other types of consultations for quite some time, but earlier this year I had to close my services to the public. While I still provided assistance to family, friends, and friends-of-friends, my life had become hectic enough that I didn’t feel comfortable with an ongoing commitment to provide readings to others.

Fortunately, things have since settled down, and I’m now in a position to offer consultations to anyone who wants one.

During the time when my consultations were closed, though, I came to some conclusions about how I wanted structure my services, as well as how to best meet both my need to help people as well as my need to pay rent. It was after a lot of meditation and soul-searching that I came up with what I think is the best solution, at least for now.

At this time, I am only providing tarot readings via email, rather than over the phone or through a service like Zoom. This not only affords me the flexibility that scheduling “face-to-face” consults lacks, it also means that I can get back to clients much sooner. I do my absolute best to respond to clients within twenty-four hours, and am usually able to respond more quickly than that.

I also decided that I did not want to request any payment in advance of the services I preform. Rather, I wanted to experiment with a donation-based approach. That is, I ask clients to consider making a donation after I have handled their request. I have a provided a “suggested donation,” which is a dollar amount that I feel fairly compensates me for the time and effort I put into my work.

I prefer this arrangement for two reasons which are both very important to me.

First, I don’t want anyone to be reluctant to reach out for assistance because they aren’t in a good financial position. A person’s ability to pay will have no bearing on the quality of service I provide.

Second, I want every client to be 100% satisfied with their consultation, and to not worry that they’re simply “out the money” if they don’t feel that they received a good value. I think the best way for this to happen is to leave money “off the table” until our work is done. And if you are dissatisfied with your consultation for any reason, please let me know so that I can try to address your concerns.

At the end of our exchange, I will provide a link which you can use to send a donation. Please use it if, and only if, you are thoroughly satisfied with my work, and you are able to afford it.

With that said, and with the understanding that I will try my best to help everyone, I do reserve the right to revise this policy in the future, or to politely decline to provide a consultation if I feel as though I am being unfairly taken advantage of. I truly do not think this will be necessary, though.

If you would like to know more, please read my updated terms and conditions page. If you would like a tarot reading, you can request one here. If you have any questions, or just want to say “hello,” please email me and I’ll get back to you soon.

Have a great week!

Two Wizards

When I was about twelve years old, my parents dragged me off to a used book store we liked to visit, and I was in a mood.

I don’t remember why, but for some reason I’d decided to be a sulking little brat that day, and had zero interest in going anywhere. That’s kind of weird, when I think about it. I loved that store. The shelves strained under the weight of books piles on books, and every corner of the place had at least two tall stacks of tomes leaning precariously.

I’m sure if a fire marshal had ever visited the place, it would have been shut down in an instant. Then again, maybe they were a book lover, too.

Anyway, my parents insisted I come along for the trip I didn’t want to take, and I made various unhappy “harumphing” sounds in the back seat the whole way there. Once we’d arrived, I dove out of the car, probably slammed the door, and went inside to find the deepest corner of the store in which to hide and pout.

As it turned out, the deepest corner of the store was home to the occult section. And just about five minutes after stepping into it, my life changed forever.

I know that’s a cliche, but honestly there’s no other way to describe it. I walked into the aisle crammed with esoterica, found myself drawn to a mustard-colored paperback, and pulled it off the shelf.

It was a book on the Tarot.

I don’t remember thumbing through it in the store, though I must have. I do remember that it was two dollars. I took the book, went in search of my mother, and sheepishly asked if I could have it. She glanced at the cover, then said “sure” without even blinking.

There’s no real way to explain how remarkable her unremarkable reaction was. First, since I’d been so miserable on the trip, it was somewhat of a miracle that my mother let me have anything that day. Second, while I’d never heard her disapprove of the Tarot or other “occult-type” things, she’d never glowingly endorsed them either. The fact she didn’t even question my interest was a little odd.

Also? She didn’t even ask the price. She just said yes.

On the car ride back, I didn’t sulk. I was too busy reading the book I’d just acquired. And once we’d gotten home, I dove out of the car again and spent the rest of the day in my room, reading the whole thing by that evening.

The next morning, I asked my mother if I could get a deck of Tarot cards. Once again, she replied with a “sure,” and asked no questions. That afternoon, I had a copy of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, and started re-reading the book.

Over the next thirty-plus years, the Tarot has come in and out of my life. I’ve set it aside, picked it up, and put it down again. Over time, the cycles grew shorter—I spent more time with the Tarot than without it.

Now, I’m forty-four, and the Tarot is as interwoven into my life as anything else. It’s my go-to tool for divination, and central to my magical practice.

And, if I’m being perfectly honest, it’s pretty much the whole reason I began to study magic in the first place.

I’ve spent thousands of hours in the occult sections of various bookstores since that first day, and even more thousands of hours learning and practicing every form or approach to magic I’ve been exposed to.

To be fair, I was never very disciplined about my studies. It was only about seven or eight years ago that I began to seriously and consistently practice magic, and it was only about five years ago that I decided to make magic my “full-time job.”

In some respects, at some points in my life, I’ve thought of this as a bit of a waste. If I’d been more “mature” or less “lazy,” I’d be able to straight-facedly claim an additional twenty years of experience and study. I like how that sounds, of course, but more importantly the idea has me looking ahead, staring down the “back nine” of my life, and wondering if I have time enough to learn everything I want.

The answer is “no,” of course. Magic is infinite, and no one can ever learn it all, in one human lifetime or a hundred.

Anyway, I was thinking these thoughts the other day, while trying to ignore my to-do list, and I found myself considering the “Magician” of the Tarot.

In the ever-popular Rider-Waite-Smith deck, the Magician is modeled closely after the ceremonial magicians familiar to anyone who’s come upon the “Western Magical Tradition.” They’re a serious-looking character, with their wand upraised as they stand before an altar bearing the traditional four “weapons” associated with each of the four elements.

The Magician here definitely never skipped classes or blew off their homework. You can easily imagine that their house resembles a library more than it resembles a home, and I suspect they can rattle off “correspondences” from dawn to dusk.

Then, there’s “Le Bateleur.” This is the “Magician” as represented in the earlier Tarot de Marseilles. We can clearly see some similarities here, which point to the evolution of the card, but there are enough differences to be intriguing.

First, the name of the card, “Le Bateleur.” This is a French term which means a street performer, tumbler, or juggler depending on who and when you’re asking. “Juggler” is interesting, as it’s a term that was sometimes used to describe magicians, and the term “jugglery” is usually defined as “manipulation or trickery, especially to achieve a desired end.”

Suffice it to say, magicians haven’t always been held in high regard by mainstream society. And there’s a casual, almost carefree air to the Bateleur that we don’t see in the Magician.

Not only is it hard to imagine the Bateleur as a hard-working student of Super Serious Esoteric Mysteries with a house full of books, they might very well be homeless. A drifter, roaming from town to town, plying their trade—at least until the fine, upstanding citizens of the town drive them off.

When I first came upon the Tarot de Marseilles about six years ago, the appearance of the Bateleur (and its contrast to the Magician of the RWS deck) was what struck me the most. Here was a wizard I could relate to.

I don’t mean to say that I consider myself a shiftless drifter to be driven out of the country (although I do like the idea of living the “van life” someday). Rather, I mean that if you look back at old stories about magicians, wizards, and witches, you’ll find that, yes, they often liked their magical tomes and had great power, but they were also apt to be tricksters—and maybe even a little bit mad.

Look into the literary history of Merlin, if you don’t believe me.

The point of all this is to say that as I’ve been working myself to exhaustion these last few weeks, more and more I’ve come to appreciate my own evolution as a wizard. A slow, wandering drift from Magician to Bateleur. A leaving behind of memorized correspondences and fixed rituals, for the more expressive lands of spirit communication and celebratory performance.

So while I’m by no means some huckster, shining folks on until the torches and pitchforks say it’s time to leave, I am taking myself less seriously than did years ago, and I’m having much more fun doing it.

Incidentally, you can get both the Magician and the Bateuler on a t-shirt from my Spring store.

Just sayin’.

I hope you have an excellent week.

Playing the Fool

In the Tarot, the Fool is often considered the first of the twenty-two cards in the Major Arcana. This ordering isn’t universally subscribed to, of course, but in most modern decks, the card is given the number zero, and placed at the beginning because that’s how math works.

Image of the Fool from the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck.

In many older decks, however, the Fool bears no number at all, and this is sometimes taken to mean it belongs both nowhere and everywhere. And, “Because Reasons,” there are few schools which place the Fool as the second-to-last card, sandwiched in between the card called Judgement and the card call the World.

Myself, I lean toward putting it at the beginning of the suit, mostly as a nod to a popular and sometimes useful conception of the Major Arcana as a whole.

The Hero’s Journey

In Western storytelling, there’s a narrative pattern which seems to crop up rather frequently.

Someone, usually a someone of no particular note or skill, is called to adventure. At first they refuse, but ultimately they are drawn into an epic journey.

During their adventures, they face many challenges, all of which lead up to some huge, decisive crisis. They deal successfully with this crisis, but are profoundly transformed by it.

Finally, the adventure over, they return home.

This pattern is often called the “Hero’s Journey,” or the “monomyth,” and it was popularized Joseph Campbell. A professor of literature, and a student of comparative religion and mythology, Campbell’s work on the subject is so well-known as to fall safely into the realm of pop-culture.

In fact, George Lucas himself credited Campbell as being a major influence on the Stars Wars film series.

Campbell’s work has also influenced many Tarot readers’ approach to the Major Arcana. More specifically, many readers consider each of the cards of the Major Arcana as being one step or stage on the archetypal Hero’s Journey.

In this view of the cards, the Fool is our Hero, and on its own it represents the very beginning of the journey, where our innocent and naïve would-be adventurer has just set out, full of youthful energy, despite their earlier misgivings. Each subsequent card in the Major Arcana is a kind of way station along their path, representing the challenges or lessons which the Fool must face, understand, and overcome. Finally, at the end of the Major Arcana, and in true “monomythic” form, the Fool returns to the World, transformed and complete.

If you’re interested in the details of this Hero’s Journey approach, and how each card of the Major Arcana fits within it, you can find many different takes both online and in books. I may even bring my own version to the table someday, but for now, though, I want to focus on the Fool at the beginning.

Beginner’s Mind

Shunryū Suzuki was a Zen Buddhist monk and teacher, whose work helped to popularize Zen Buddhism in the United States during the late 1950s through early 1970s. He passed away in 1971, at the age of 67. Just prior to his death, a number of Suzuki’s talks on Zen were collected and published in a book: Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.

This concept of “beginner’s mind” (called “shoshin” in Japanese) is worth some deep consideration, and I highly suggest you read Suzuki’s words on the subject for the real truth of it. To give you the briefest, most surface-level description in my own words, the beginner’s mind is one which is eager, open, and holds no preconceptions.

It is the innocent and naïve mind of one who has just embarked on their path, without any real knowledge, but with great enthusiasm.

To me, the Fool possesses just this sort of mind. And it’s a mind we sometimes experience ourselves, to one degree or another, during our daily lives.

Think of how you feel when you first encounter something new which draws your attention. Maybe it’s a new city you’re visiting, or a new book you’ve decided to read. It might even be a new skill to learn, or some other topic which almost seems to call you over to explore it.

There’s excitement, right? Enthusiasm? Maybe even sheer joy?

Whenever we encounter something new and thrilling, whatever it may be, we experience a kind of passionate ecstasy. And it’s this initial passion, this feeling of a mind open, enthusiastic, and holding no preconceptions which the Fool represents.

It’s the height of “Foolishness” to throw one’s scant belongings in a bag, leave the known behind, and step out into the realms beyond our experience with nothing but hope and wonder to guide us.

It’s also might be the wisest thing we could ever do.

Foolish Meditation

This week, I wanted to connect with the Fool, and their beginner’s mind. That raw, unbridled enthusiasm and confidence which only innocence and newness can inspire. Tapping into Fool energy is a powerful way to rekindle one’s passion for things which may have become “old” or “stale” in our eyes. It also serves as a wonderful method of “reformatting” ourselves and our attitudes when we feel stuck in old patterns, or “in a slump.”

The easiest way to tap into this “Foolishness” is through a simple meditation exercise, which almost doubles as a kind of journey in and of itself.

For this exercise, you’ll need a relatively comfortable place to sit where you won’t be disturbed. You’ll also want to find an image of the Fool from the Tarot. I recommend the Fool from the Rider-Waite-Smith deck for this exercise, but any will do so long as it invokes that sense of “beginner’s mind” for you.

Place the card in front of you, or otherwise find some way to hold it comfortably so you can see it for the duration of the exercise. When I do Tarot meditations, I usually place a stack of two or three books on a table, and then lean the card I wish to focus on up against them.

Once you’re set, begin with your eyes closed. Take a deep, full breath in and let it out slowly. Do this again, slowly and deeply, and feel your body start to relax. Breathe in, breathe out, and just let all of your muscles slowly release their tension. Focus first on the muscles around your eyes and mouth.

Breathe and relax. Let a slow, comforting wave of relaxation flow down your body, from your head through your shoulders and torso, then finally your legs and your feet.

Feel your body relax and become heavy, breathing in and breathing out.

Once you feel totally and fully relaxed, slowly open your eyes and look at the Fool in front of you.

At first, let your eyes wander over the card however they wish. Let them take in the card as a whole, or allow them to focus on some specific detail which draws your attention. Whatever happens, happens. Just breathe, relax, and experience the card as though you are seeing it for the first time.

After a few minutes, take hold of your attention, and shift it to the background of the card. The far distance. See what is there. Let your eyes thoroughly explore the landscape behind the Fool.

Don’t leave any sight unseen or unconsidered, but slowly turn your attention toward elements of the card which are nearer to you.

Take in each detail of the card, slowly and carefully, from those furthest away to those nearest, until you are left regarding the Fool themselves.

Here is the Fool, with their beginner’s mind. Innocent, free of cares or preconceptions. No prejudices cloud their judgement, no shame obstructs their intention. They know nothing of the path before them, and so fear no dangers which may be ahead.

The whole of their being is filled with the simple delight of this: their leap of faith into the unknown.

Let these ideas swirl in your consciousness as the image of the Fool comes to life. See and feel the Fool in their beginning, with a mind open and full of joy and wonder at the newness to be found in even the simple objects surrounding them and you.

Imagine the card and Fool within not just as some lifeless picture, but as a doorway to that Great Beginning. Let the Fool’s enthusiasm and innocence become your enthusiasm and innocence.

And, should you feel it begin to happen, let yourself enter the card and become the Fool. Let the beginner’s mind of Fool fill you and thrill you, until there is no longer you and the Fool, but you as the Fool.

Feel this connection, this unity, and embrace the Foolish mind full of openness, innocence, and fearlessness. Let all preconceptions fade. Let every breath feel like the first breath your ever took. Let every moment come and pass as if time itself is nothing more or less than the constant flow of the New and Exciting.

Stay in this place however long you wish.

Then, slowly, allow yourself to come back to yourself. Allow the Fool to part from you. As the Fool settles back within the card, and you settle back into the place of your meditation, allow the card to become an ordinary picture again.

But let the feeling of this “Foolish” experience remain with you.

Breathing in, breathing out, still relaxed, allow this connection with the Fool to recede into the background, but know that a thread of it still remains, and that you can pull on it whenever you wish. Because once it has been felt, once you have truly experienced it, there is always a lingering echo of the Foolish mind. And that echo can be listened for, and embraced again, as it is needed.

As you slowly allow yourself to return to the world around you, that place where you began, know that you’ve taken a leap into the unknown—and the World is waiting.

A simple prosperity ritual using the Ace of Coins

Among the four minor suits of the Tarot, the Coins seem to have had the most name changes. In the earliest decks, Coins were Coins, represented by circles of gold which linked them to money and prosperity. Centuries later, some decks represented them as Pentacles, and authors linked the suit to “materiality” in all its forms. And even later still, this suit became known as Disks in some circles, keeping most of the “material” significations, but adding or subtracting certain subtleties.

But what are Coins, really?

For most of us, they’re those little hunks of metal we let pile up in the cup holders or unused ashtrays of our cars. We almost never really even use them now, unless it’s to throw them in a jar or can which we later haul to a bank and trade in for “real” money. Otherwise, they just get in the way or get sucked up in the vacuum cleaner whenever we decide to clean under our sofa cushions.

Honestly? We just don’t think of them as money anymore.

Money, to most of us, means paper, but even that is a bit of a stretch these days. I almost never carry cash of any kind, and I know very few people who do. Instead, most of us rely on debit and credit cards, or even apps on our phones, for our mercantile needs.

And of course by “mercantile,” I mean “Mercury.”

Trade and commerce today is almost entirely under the rulership of Mercury in every sense. Money changes hands as fast as electrons can fly through the air. It’s ephemeral, intangible, and interconnects every aspect of our world in innumerable and often-imperceptible ways.

And when we see the stock market booming while record numbers of people are out of work, well, it’s hard to imagine money as being anything other than under the rulership of a capricious deity too clever for their own good.

There’s absolutely nothing about money which can be properly called “material” in this day and age. It’s as immaterial as a thing can get, so equating Coins with money doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

Instead, in my opinion, Coins best represent tangible things which possess intrinsic value.

Take a look at the suit of Pentacles as illustrated in the world’s most popular Tarot deck, the Rider-Waite-Smith.

In the Ace of Pentacles, a hand issues forth from a cloud, bearing a single, enormous Coin. The scene takes place in a garden, with a path and archway leading out, to twin mountains beyond.

The handle cradles the Coin both gently and securely.

Is it presenting the Coin to us? Receiving the Coin from us as an offering? Or has it plucked the Coin from the bounty of the garden in which we stand?

Is the garden itself the Coin in some way? Aren’t the fruits, flowers, herbs, and vegetables we might find there more “real” than the zeroes and ones flipping about in our bank’s computer system?

In every bit of the scene below the hand, we see tangible, recognizable things which have intrinsic value. We see (or can infer) food, for instance. The walls of the garden provide us with a kind of shelter, don’t they? And the mountains beyond can provide us with stone to build with.

There is a solidity to the ground in this card which echoes that of the hand wrapped around the coin, even as the hand itself seems somewhat ephemeral, what with it coming out of a cloud and all.

If you look at the other cards of this suit, you’ll see patterns emerge which echo that of the Ace. In the three, we see a clear picture of an artist at work, crafting something which likely will outlast themselves. In the four, we see someone holding the Coins close, almost like armor. Are the Coins protecting the person, or is the person protecting the Coins?

Most clearly, though, I think the image on the eight most clearly shows the true meaning of this suit. A laborer, carefully and methodically creating piece after piece. They sit on a bench, hammer and chisel in hand, bringing tangible things into the world. We see a castle in the background, with a path leading out.

And just there in the corner, at the opposite end of the path from the castle—is that a forest? Or is it the edge of a garden? Is the laborer on this card actually in the garden of the Ace, and we just can’t see it from our perspective?

If so, might not the hand in the garden be the hand of the worker? Or is it our hand, receiving the fruits of the worker’s steadfast labor?

The concrete things we create. The physical objects we can hold in our hands to feel that “spark of joy.” The tangible items which fulfill our needs through their intrinsic value. These are all Coins, and the Ace is the source of them.

A Quick-and-Dirty Prosperity Ritual

One of the simplest ways to both see and use “Ace of Coins energy” in your life is to do a little “quick-and-dirty” prosperity work.

Variations of this spell or ritual can be found all over the place, most of which involve the use of paper money. For the reasons I discussed above (among others), I don’t do prosperity work with currency. I use Coins.

For this ritual, you’ll need a small candle, either white or green; a copy of the Ace of Coins (or the Ace of Diamonds from a regular deck of playing cards); a fire-proof or heat-safe plate; and a safe place where you can set a candle burning and keep an eye on it.

When I say that you want a copy of the Ace, I mean it. You’ll be getting wax on it. A photocopy is fine, but I usually just use an Ace of Diamonds from one of the ten million decks of playing cards I’ve somehow acquired.

As for the candle? Don’t be shy about using birthday candles. They’re cheap, come in an assortment of colors, and burn quickly enough that you don’t have to wait around for an hour or longer for them to burn down.

When you’re ready to begin, gather your materials where you’ll do the work, and take a few minutes to relax.

Put the plate down in front of you, then lay the Ace face up in the middle of it. When you do, imagine that this Ace is the seed or root of the prosperity and bounty which is to come. Remember, this isn’t the seed of money, but of the tangible rewards and goods which are about to come into your life. It’s better to think about the Ace as the root of the things you would use money to buy, rather than to think about the money itself.

As you place the card down, say something like this…

Ace of Coins (or Ace of Diamonds)

Seed of prosperity, root of good things

Promise of all that I need

Set your candle on top of the card, preferable in the middle of the Coin or Diamond. If you need to use a candle holder, you may. If it’s safe to do so, however, you can instead melt the wax on the bottom of the candle and stick it directly to the card.

After you’ve done this, light the candle, saying something like this…

As the Sun gives light to the seedling

Let this candle give light to thee.

Root of all I need

Fulfill your promise to me!

Allow the candle to burn down completely, imagining the light nourishing the Ace, allowing its gifts to grow. Imagine the heat and the smoke from the flame bringing the gifts of the Ace to life, and carrying them to you.

The words I provide above are just a suggestion, and I vary what I say a great deal whenever I do this work. Sometimes I’m looking for something specific, but most of the time when I use this for myself or on behalf of others, I’m looking for “generic prosperity.” It works either way.

And if you give it a shot yourself, let me know how it works for you!

Should you read tarot cards which fall out of the deck?

There’s an expression you might have heard: “What falls to the floor comes to the door.”

This is a popular saying among tarot enthusiasts, and it refers to the fact that sooner or later even the most able-handed shuffler is bound to drop a card or two during a reading. When this happens, many readers will consider the card which falls out of the deck to be significant–either placing it directly into the spread they are using, or else they’ll set it off to the side and allow it to inform their judgement as a sort of “background influence.”

It might surprise you, though, to know that not all tarot readers follow this practice. So let’s consider what this idea of reading cards which fall onto the table is rooted in, what other opinions are out there, and how we might best handle a clumsy shuffle.

Everything is significant

Some tarot readers consider everything which happens during a reading to be a sign. This is especially true for those tarot readers who view divination as a magical act or ritual. These readers will frequently begin a reading by setting up a sacred or ritual space, calling out to their guides or spirit helpers, and asking for their assistance. Everything which takes place from that point forward can be taken as part of the answer to whatever question is being asked.

Even those readers who wouldn’t necessarily call themselves magicians often consider the time and space of the session to be significantly different from the “mundane.”

In Yoav Ben-Dov’s excellent book, Tarot: The Open Reading, he writes:

The reading of Tarot cards involves a particular perception of reality. In the normal everyday perception, which is sometimes called “consensus reality,” the cards are pieces of printed cardboard, and shuffling them is a random process. Yet when we read the cards, we shift to another framework of reality perception in which there is one basic rule: everything is a sign.

The rule is first and foremost expressed in the fact that we interpret the cards not as a random collection of cardboard pieces, but as a meaningful sign with a message for the querent. However, the signs to be interpreted are not limited to the specific cards in the spread. Everything which takes place in and around the reading session may also be seen as a sign. In other words, during the reading session our perception of reality is that nothing happens by mere chance. Everything is a sign.

A little while later, he goes on to write specifically about cards which fall out of the deck during shuffling…

If at the initial shuffle in the reader’s hands a certain card pops up time and again, it’s a sign. If during the shuffle a few cards fall from the querent’s hands, we can look at them and try to understand what they signify. Maybe it is something which does not fit with the way we formulated the question, or a message that the querent rejects as it is too much for him to hold.

In my experience, this approach to dropped tarot cards tends to be the most common. The card popped out of the deck during the reading, so it’s a part of the reading.

There’s another wrinkle to consider, though.

Intention is everything

In the Western esoteric tradition you’ll see the word “intention” come up again and again. For example, in many How-To-Magic books the author will explain that if you perform, say, a spell for prosperity, it’s likely going to come to nothing if you don’t have a clear idea of what “prosperity” means to you fixed in your mind. Understanding what you want, and being able to concisely and confidently express it in a single thought is often seen as the first pre-requisite to performing any sort of magic.

Many tarot readers adopt this thinking with regards to how one should ask a question. It doesn’t do much good to throw the cards if you don’t know what you’re looking for.

The same thing, however, could be said about the act of laying the cards on the table. If we consider the cards in the spread to be individual pieces of a whole story, shouldn’t the act of drawing and placing each card be an intentional act meant to fill in that piece?

I know very few people in the tarot community who would give much credibility to a lazy, haphazard reading given by a tarotist who didn’t care about the session in the slightest and just sort of tossed the cards down. Given that, why give much weight to cards which just happen to fall out of the deck without deliberately intending to lay them down?

When worlds collide

Personally, I tend to lean toward the “everything is a sign” approach. I’m maybe 60/40 in the camp that, yes, when a card pops out of the deck, you ought to pay attention to it. That said, I also consider intention to be pretty important.

When I perform a reading, and either myself or the querent is shuffling the cards, I watch to see if any cards peek out accidentally. If one or more cards either “flash” or fall out of the deck, I take note of them, but I allow them to be shuffled back in. After I’ve laid out the cards of the spread (intentionally) the first thing I look for is whether or not any of the cards I saw during the shuffling have re-appeared.

Should a card on the table have been previously revealed, I consider that card to be strongly emphasized in the reading. For instance, if the querent has asked me a question about their financial health in the next few months, and I see the Five of Pentacles pop out while they’re shuffling, if that card also makes an appearance in the spread, it tells me that they are likely to experience some significant challenges.

If a dropped card doesn’t appear in the spread, however, I don’t necessarily discount it entirely. Rather, I keep it in my mind and consider whether or not it seems to be in agreement with, or otherwise related to, the cards on the table or the question which was asked. In particular, I try to determine whether or not the cards which fell out might be seen as pre-cursors or pre-requisites for the situation shown on the table.

For example, if a querent is contemplating a career change, and the Eight of Pentacles falls out of the deck, that’s probably a sign that what is revealed in the spread will only happen if the querent works or practices diligently to build up the skills they will need.

What this idea of “what must come first” is rooted in should be obvious. The card or cards fell out of the deck before the spread, so they most likely speak to what will or must happen before indicated answer will either make sense or come to pass.

All of that said, sometimes a dropped card is just a dropped card. If it doesn’t re-appear in the spread, and it doesn’t seem connected in any way to either the cards on the table or the question which has been asked, I chalk it up to having drank too much coffee and leave it at that.

At least, that’s my take on dropped tarot cards.

What’s yours?

Understanding the Court Cards

When most people first begin to study the tarot, the court cards can be especially challenging to understand and interpret. Laid out on the table, they frequently just sort of sit there, offering little in the way of explanation or inspiration. I once heard them referred to by another reader as “folks on thrones,” and that’s a pretty apt description when you compare them to other cards, such as the number or “pip” cards of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck. In contrast to these often dramatic, action-oriented cards, the courts can seem downright impenetrable.

Fortunately, there are a few different approaches you can take to the court cards which can aid you in unlocking their meanings in the moment. In this post, I’ll share a few which have worked for me.

First, a disclaimer

Before I jump into the meat of this post, I should make it clear that I don’t believe the cards of the tarot have strict, fixed meanings. Rather, cards take on meanings in the context of a reading, and those meanings directly relate to the question being asked and the circumstances surrounding it. This goes for the court cards as well. While there are some general ideas we can associate with particular cards, and while we can look at the so-called “traditional” meanings of each for inspiration, the ultimate answer as to what a card means can only be known when we know what question is being asked.

That said, here are a few ways which can help you read with the court cards.

Court cards are people

In my experience, whenever a court card comes up in a reading, it almost always refers to a specific person in the querent’s life. Unlike the major cards (which usually point to abstractions, archetypes, or Big Forces beyond our control), or the numbered minor cards (which usually indicate situations or actions), the courts are literal, concrete individuals.

I recognize that some readers tend to think of the court cards as sometimes representing attitudes, or certain broad personality traits, but almost never find this approach to be useful. Once in a while, I will see a pair of court cards together which seem to indicate that the querent is undergoing either a significant change in their thinking, or needs to shift from one attitude to another, but this is relatively rare. And it’s usually so obvious that I don’t bother looking for it until it jumps out at me.

So in nearly every case, the court cards are people. That means our real task when dealing with them is to figure out who they represent.

Appearance doesn’t matter

In over thirty years of working with the Tarot, I’m pretty sure I can count on one hand the number of times the physical appearance of a court card bore anything but the most superficial resemblance to the person they indicated. Hair color? Eye color? Skin tone? I’ve never found any of them to be reliable indicators, so I avoid such attributions entirely and suggest you do the same.

Gender doesn’t matter (usually)

Our present understanding of gender is different and more nuanced than it was when decks such as the Rider-Waite-Smith were first put together. Because of this, trying to apply the rigid gender binary often expressed in the court cards to the people around us is challenging, if not entirely doomed to fail. You’re far better off trying to sort out the courts using the techniques I describe in the following sections.

That said, it’s not always nor entirely wrong to consider the genders presented on the court cards, and to then compare and contrast them with the genders presented by the people involved in the situation.

Again, don’t hold too closely to thoughts like “Well, this card is a King, and so we’re definitely looking for someone who presents as male.” Rather, just sort of keep them in mind, especially in those situations where you have narrowed things down and know that a court has to represent one of two people. In such cases, sometimes gender presentation can be the deciding factor, but I’d still proceed with caution if a court card’s gender was somehow my only clue.

Age, authority, and seniority

What ages are represented by which court cards can also be an area prone to confusion, usually because we tend to think of “age” as a number of years. The tarot, however, is much more symbolic than this simple calculation. In the context of a tarot reading, “age” is much better understood as being about authority and seniority.

Photograph of the four Kings from the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck.

A King is usually the person with the most authority in the situation. They are large and in charge, and usually have the power to either uphold the status quo, or change it entirely. In terms of seniority, they are usually well-accomplished, secure in their position, and at little risk of “being dethroned.” In questions about the workplace, a King tends to represent the boss, maybe even in the Big Boss. In questions about school, a King could either be a teacher, or perhaps the dean. In questions about family life, it’s usually a parent, or other well-respected (and usually obeyed) elder. Sometimes it can refer to a dominant or controlling partner or spouse, but keep in mind that a King doesn’t have to be a “tyrant,” so be cautious about jumping to conclusions.

Photograph of the four Queens from the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck.

Queens, on the other hand, tend to have slightly less authority and seniority than the Kings. They often have similar levels of responsibility, but are less free to make big, sweeping changes. Or, if they do have the same sort of agency that a King would have, they might only be able to exercise their power in a narrower context. In the workplace, this would be a middle-manager or perhaps a department head. In the classroom, a Queen might be an assistant teacher, or perhaps a student who does the bulk of the work and management in any group project. In the family, Queens often represent older siblings who watch out for their younger siblings, or other similar caregivers. Yes, they can sometimes point to a more passive partner in a relationship, but don’t rush to this conclusion, and be especially sure you aren’t assigning someone the role of “passive partner” due to social stereotyping.

Photograph of the four Knights from the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck.

The Knights have far less authority and seniority than either the Kings or Queens. They may be tasked with making certain day-to-day decisions, or be responsible for handling some critical details, but they have relatively little power to make big changes to the overall strategy. Still, Knights have what we might call “youthful energy” if we want to use an age-based metaphor. They tend to be productive, being the “boots on the ground.” More than any of the other court cards, Knights tend to represent your peers. In the workplace, Knights are usually coworkers. In school, your fellow classmates. In the family, brothers, sisters, cousins, etc. are all possible candidates for Knighthood.

Photograph of the four Pages from the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck.

Finally, we come to the Pages. A Page has the least amount of authority or seniority in the situation. They’re at the bottom of the organizational chart, and often almost completely at the mercy of others. At work, the Page is the unpaid intern. In school, they’re the new kid who can’t find their locker. In the family, Pages usually represent young children, or those family members who never seem to “grow up”. A Page could also represent a brand new parent who feels entirely unprepared for the responsibility ahead of them.

As you can see, we do find the idea of age represented in the court cards, but there’s a lot more nuance here than the number of years a person has been alive. A parent might be a King if they run a “tight ship,” set the rules, and expect them to be obeyed. Or, they could be more Knight-like, seeking to be the “cool parent” and treating their children more like friends, without bothering to set or enforce many rules at all.

I should also point out again that context matters. A person could be a King at home, a Knight at work, and a Page in school, which might be the case for a forty-year-old parent who decides to take some college classes because they feel their career has stagnated.

Elements, temperaments, and complexion

In most readings, I find that I can sort out who a court card represents just by looking at the situation and considering the relative authority/seniority of the parties involved. However, when it still isn’t clear, I usually start to lean into those “traditional” meanings which have accrued over the years. In particular, I consider the elements associated with the suit and rank of the card, and how they relate to what some call the temperament or complexion of the individual.

In this section, I’m going to try to give you the basics of this method of interpretation, but I’m not going to write up a detailed, one-size-fits-all meaning for each of the sixteen court cards. As I wrote way back at the beginning, I don’t think such a thing would be all that useful. Rather, I would like to present the idea of using the elements and temperaments as a way to think about the courts. Consider this technique and the meanings which fall out of it as a kind of “ice-breaker” when you’re sitting at the table and the court cards don’t seem to be talking to you.

The Four Elements

The four classical elements in Western esotericism are fire, water, air, and earth. In case you aren’t familiar with them and their general attributes, I’ll run through a very bare-bones description of each of them.

Fire tends to be associated with things that are expansive, fast, radiant, and extroverted or prone to action. It tends to resist changes or challenges which are imposed upon it. It is associated with bursts energy, ambition, and getting things started.

Water tends be characterized as receptive, malleable or moldable, and introverted. It’s associated with deeply-felt emotions and dreams. Love and relationship matters are sometimes considered water’s domain.

Air is considered to be expansive like fire, and just as dynamic, but it’s also adaptable and responds to changes and challenges more easily. It’s often associated with mental acuity, reasoning, or knowledge. It is also sometimes associated with the pain and suffering which knowledge or hard-earned experience can bring.

Earth is introverted like water, but less malleable and more static and stationary. It resists change, but also has a steadiness which can help sustain it when faced with challenges. It’s often associated with practical, material things.

These four elements are found all throughout what we usually call the “Western esoteric tradition,” so of course they make an appearance in the tarot literature. Each element is assigned to one of the four suits of the Minor Arcana. While there are several different ways of connecting an element to a suit, this is the most common arrangement:

FireWands
WaterCups
AirSwords
EarthPentacles

Now, in each of these four suits, we have four court cards which bear the ranks you’re familiar with: King, Queen, Knight, and Page. Each of these ranks is also often assigned to one of the four elements, like so:

FireKnight
WaterQueen
AirKing
EarthPage

Again, opinions as to which element goes with which card differ. You might notice some tarot authors and readers assign the King to the element of fire, and the Knight to the element of air. There are a number of complicated reasons for this, but suffice it to say that in most of the literature on the tarot written in the last hundred or so years, you’ll find the Knight associated most closely with the ideas of action and initiating things. As such, attributing it to the element of fire tends to make the most sense in this technique.

The Four Temperaments

Alright, so we’ve talked about the elements and how they relate to the court cards. Next, we need to talk about the elements and how they relate to people. That’s where the idea of temperaments and complexion come into play.

Each of the four elements is associated with one of four temperaments. These temperaments are part of how people in the ancient world (and some magicians today) understood the physical and psychological makeup of people. Each person is thought to incorporate all four of the temperaments, in varying degrees. Taken together, the balance and proportion of the temperaments makes up the total complexion of the person.

The four temperaments are assigned to the four elements as follows:

FireCholeric
WaterPhlegmatic
AirSanguine
EarthMelancholic

You’ve probably seen the names of these temperaments before, or words which are similar, such as “melancholy.” Just so we’re on the same page, though, let me give you a brief explanation of what they mean for us here.

The choleric temperament appears as rapid action, enthusiasm, and bold energy. It’s ambitious, courageous, and never flinches when faced with a challenge. There can also be a bit of aggression here, or even violence in the right (or wrong) circumstances. There’s an emphasis here on doing as opposed to planning. There is also a tendency to change one’s mind. People who are predominately choleric don’t so much lose their enthusiasm for things, but rather they find new things to be enthusiastic about.

The phlegmatic temperament is associated with reserved and sensitive personalities, as well as strong emotions, though their natural reservation means these emotions are not always openly expressed. They are adaptable to the point where they may seem almost too subjective, inconsistent, or sometimes passive to the point where others might call them lazy. They favor feelings and emotions over reason and logic.

The sanguine temperament most commonly manifests as an active, dynamic personality. Spontaneous, enthusiastic, but also able to adapt to changing circumstances. There’s a versatility and quick-thinking nature to the sanguine temperament which makes them not only good students, but also excellent communicators who can socialize with almost anyone. This can also sometimes lead to a lack of organization, or perhaps make the individual a bit superficial, or else lead them to not work as hard as they perhaps should.

Lastly, we have the melancholic temperament. These individuals tend to be reserved and reflective, but also quite firm to the point of stubbornness. Their emotions tend to be more moderated in their expression, and they usually focus on more “practical” concerns. Others can sometimes see them as cold, distant, or unengaged, but this is not often correct. The melancholic focuses on what is objective and useful. Sometimes, though, this can result in someone a bit “cold hearted.”

Still with me? Great. Trust me, this is easier than you think it is.

Complexion

So now we have the four elements, the four temperaments, four suits, and four ranks. How do we put them all together? Well, if we remember that each of the court cards always represents a specific person, and we remember that each person has a complexion made up of their relative temperaments, we start to see this system in action.

The primary temperament of a court card comes from their suit. This primary temperament is moderated or augmented by the secondary temperament which comes from its rank. To be clear, the temperament of the suit always takes center stage, but it is adjusted or balanced by the temperament of the card’s rank.

For example, the primary temperament of the Queen of Wands is choleric, because Wands is associated with fire. The secondary temperament of the Queen of Wands is phlegmatic, because Queens are associated with water. Therefore, we say that the Queen of Wands has a complexion which is primarily choleric, yet moderated by the phlegmatic temperament.

To show you what I mean and how to apply it, here’s one way to think about the complexions of the four court cards belonging to the suit of Wands. Note how we take the primary temperament associated with the suit, and then we blend it with the secondary temperament which we get from the card’s rank. This blending of temperaments gives us the overall complexion of the court card and the individual it represents.

Photograph of the four court cards of the Wands suit from the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck.

The King of Wands is choleric and sanguine. Intense, filled with energy and enthusiasm, yet there’s a tendency toward sociability and adaptability which moderates what might otherwise be an impatient or “graceless” person. This adaptability, though, can sometimes lead to inconstancy and an inability to stick to the task at hand when they get frustrated.

The Queen of Wands is choleric and phlegmatic. The phlegmatic nature tends to moderate the Wands’ choleric inclination to impulsiveness and its need for action. That said, this combination of opposites can sometimes lead to intense emotions and dramatic shifts in mood.

The Knight of Wands is choleric with choleric on top. Impatient, impulsive, and lacking in social graces sometimes to the point of hostility and rudeness. When faced with a challenge, their reaction is immediate, intense, and may even come off as aggressive, violent, or cruel. They often lack staying power, though, and can sometimes be found by following the trail of incomplete projects they leave behind.

The Page of Wands is choleric and melancholic. More constant and able to stick to what they started, there can also be a tendency to hold grudges for long periods of time. They don’t tend to let things go, even when they should.

Putting it all together

Let’s say we’re reading for a client. He’s a recently-divorced, middle-aged father who is finding it difficult to balance his changing family situation with beginning to date again. His ex-wife has primary custody of their two children, while our client sees them every other weekend. Our client admits that he does a decent job of coordinating his work schedule such that he can attend school and extra-curricular functions whenever possible, though this isn’t always easy. He wants to know what he can do to be both a supportive and attentive father, as well as give him the best chance for a loving and stable relationship.

We throw the cards, and see the Queen of Swords come up. Who might this card represent? In this case, most likely the client.

Our client is someone who still has authority and responsibility, though not as much authority and power as the King (which is likely his ex-wife, since she has full custody, and he seems to be prioritizing the family side of the situation over the dating side). He’s also clearly adapting himself to his new situation, attempting to reach out and socialize, and is looking for a plan or ideas he can use to meet his needs—all very airy and sanguine. And his desire to be a “supportive and attentive” father, while also looking for a “loving” relationship reveal just enough watery, phlegmatic energy to make the Queen even more appropriate.

It’s also possible to guess at which court cards wouldn’t be good fits for our client. He’s not using aggressive language or describing an inflamed situation, so Wands are probably not appropriate. Similarly, we’re not getting a ton of “feeling” words, so the phlegmatic Cups are out—he’s primarily air and Swords, as mentioned above. And while he’s not totally in control of the situation, he does have enough agency to change his schedule around and look for solutions, so he’s definitely not a “helpless” Page.

But, let’s take another card, such as the King of Cups. Would this fit our client better? Worse? The Queen of Swords is a sanguine and phlegmatic card, and the King of Cups also has the phlegmatic and sanguine temperaments. How are they similar? How are they different?

On choosing a significator

Some tarot readers (and some tarot spreads) make use of the court cards as “significators.” That is, at the beginning of a reading, the tarot reader will in some way choose one of the court cards to represent the querent they’re reading for and lay it down on the table before shuffling and throwing the rest of the cards.

There are a number of ways in which tarot readers will choose significators, most of which involve personal appearance, gender presentation, and age. It should be obvious at this point why I think such methods are…less than ideal.

So let’s talk about another way to choose a significator, and how it can be used.

First, I almost never lay down a significator at the start of the reading. Even when I use a tarot spread such as the Celtic Cross, I keep all the cards in the deck, let them all be shuffled together, and begin laying them out.

However, I do ask myself which court card most likely represents the person I’m reading for, using the techniques and methods I’ve already described. If I decide that the querent is the Queen of Swords in the situation, I’ll make a mental note of that fact and proceed with the reading.

So why do I choose a significator, but then not bother to lay it out on the table beforehand? Simple. If the querent’s significator shows up in the spread, I consider that to be extremely significant (pun very much intended).

Let’s say I’m doing a Celtic Cross spread, and the querent’s card comes up in the “Crossing” position. This tells me the querent is likely getting in their own way. If it shows up in the “Recent Past” position, they may be living in the past themselves, or otherwise be left behind as events are moving on without them.

In a similar vein, if the querent’s card doesn’t appear in such a spread, that can sometimes be an indicator that the querent doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of agency in the situation, or perhaps they aren’t truly invested in it yet. To be honest, though, I don’t think the lack of a significator is nearly as meaningful as its presence. There are seventy-eight cards in the deck, after all, and even in the Celtic Cross we’re only drawing ten of them.

Go forth and make friends

The real secret to getting to know the court cards is to treat them like what they are: people. Get to know them through reading for yourself and others, using the techniques I described above. If you keep in mind that every court card you come across represents an actual, literal person in the situation, and that your task is to figure out which person that is, interpreting the court cards becomes much easier.

One way to help you build this understanding is to look to the people around you and ask which court card best represents them. Keep in mind, though, that people will be represented by different court cards depending on the situation or circumstances surrounding them. Like I wrote above, a person might be a King of Cups at home with their family, a Knight of Swords at work, and a Page of Pentacles at the community college they just enrolled in.

By working through the material with simple exercises like this, you’ll quickly improve your understanding of the court cards and begin to build a meaningful relationship with each of them.

Have fun with your new friends!

A Different Kind of Daily Tarot Pull

Many tarot readers make use of a “daily draw,” wherein they’ll pull a single tarot card when they wake up, looking for a kind of “theme of the day.” Some readers will take this a step further and draw one card for the morning, one card for the afternoon or evening, and maybe even another card for the day as a whole. In any case, the reader isn’t looking to answer a question per se, but rather they’re using the tarot to get a bird’s eye view of what to expect as the day unfolds.

This works for many people, but personally? I’ve never gotten very much out of it.

Partly, this is because I find that the tarot works much better for me when I’m asking a specific question. Further, I don’t tend to get very good or clear results when the question I’m asking has become mechanical or rote in nature. And asking the tarot “What’s today going to hold?” or something similar every morning tends to feel pretty mechanical to me.

As a kind of default, when my life circumstances are particularly hectic, or I’m otherwise dealing with a lot of stuff, I’ll sometimes ask the tarot “What do I need to know right now?” I’ll throw a few cards, and usually get a workable answer. Even so, I rarely do this sort of reading more that two or three days in a row. Any longer than that, and the answers start getting less useful.

Lately, though, I’ve been doing almost daily tarot pulls using a fairly simple two-card spread which seems to give me good results. And since I recently shared this with someone on Twitter who’s also been struggling with the utility of daily draws, I figured I’d write it up here for everyone else.

To be clear, this isn’t a unique or original method of my own design. I’ve seen similar versions of this two-card technique shared by several tarot readers and authors over the years. At most, this is just my own, slightly different spin on it.

Setup

First things first—as I wrote above, this is an almost daily tarot reading. If I already know how I’m spending the day, and I intend to spend it pretty close to home, I don’t bother throwing the cards.

Second, I usually take about five minutes to set up my reading area, clear my head, and really invest myself in the reading before I do it. This means I don’t just hop out of bed and deal the cards all willy nilly. Instead, even when doing this simple and short reading, I intentionally create a serious space both around and within myself before proceeding. I find this not only helps me read the cards when I deal them, but also it seems to keep that “mechanical attitude” at bay.

So, if you normally burn some incense or light a candle before doing a “serious” reading, do the same thing before you try this method. Treat it just as intentionally as you would any other attempt at divination.

The Questions and Spread

After I’m in the right mind space, I shuffle the cards and ask the following:

“What do I need to work with, embrace, or focus on today?”

Then, I deal one card to my left.

Next, I ask:

“What do I need to avoid, be wary of, or not engage with today?”

I’ll then deal one card to my right.

A diagram of the two-card spread. The card on the left stands for "What do I need to work with, embrace, or focus on today?" The card on the right stands for "What do I need to avoid, be wary of, or not engage with today?"

This gives me a simple, two-card spread. The first card reveals what I need to put my attention toward during the day, whereas the second card tells me what to watch out for. Looking between the cards, and how they interact with each other, gives me a pretty good idea of the sort of tension, decisions, and energy I can expect to encounter.

Following Up

Using this method, sometimes it isn’t exactly clear what a particular card means. This makes sense given that we’re only using two cards, and asking each one to summarize what might be a complex circumstance or event. I can usually work out what they’re pointing to with a few minutes of patient reflection, but when I can’t, I’ll gather the cards, reshuffle them, and do a more typical three-card spread asking for clarity.

For example, let’s say I get the Tower as the answer to “What do I need to avoid?” This card usually points to some sort of significant and abrupt disruption. If I’m not expecting or worried about such a thing, I’ll throw the cards again and ask for specifics.

Similarly, let’s say I draw the Two of Cups as the answer for “What do I need to focus on?” This card often signifies friendships, or relationships between two people in general. If I’m not quite sure which relationship I should focus on (or why), I’ll do a follow-up reading for the details.

As a Daily Draw

Like I’ve already said, in my experience, a daily tarot draw isn’t always the most reliable or useful tool. But this method? It’s pretty close, and it almost always gives me both reliable information, but also information I can use as my day goes on. If I get the Five of Wands as my second card, I know it’s probably not a good day to get into any verbal sparring matches. The Nine of Swords? I usually take that to mean I should keep busy and not let myself get bogged down with inward reflection since it’s likely to turn a bit dark and unproductive.

It’s a short and simple sort of reading, but I find the “heads up” it gives me to be pretty useful.

Let me know how it works for you!

Stranger days

The last week has been a bit of a wash for me, mood-wise. I’ve made very definite progress on some things which I’ve been meaning to do, but I’ve also been dealing with some personal issues which have caused me no end of stress.

Then, of course, there’s…[gestures broadly at the world]…all of this, which comes with its own sack of conflicting emotions.

Life’s been exhausting, to put it plainly—a never-ending flip-flop between intense, positive experiences and equally-intense negative ones. Good news, bad news, and nothing in between except for a very tired wizard.

I’ve been a bit “stuck,” as many of us seem to be these days. And when I’m stuck, I usually throw some tarot cards and see what’s up.

More specifically, I asked: “What’s going on and what can I do about it?”

And since I also had the thought that I would write this up as a blog post in case it could be of help to someone else, you might consider whether or not some of this might apply to you.

A tarot spread of three cards, showing The Fool (reversed), the Four of Pentacles, and the Ace of Swords.

Right now, we’re the Fool. We’re in a world that’s upside down, facing a future filled with uncertainty, seemingly ill-prepared for the challenges which may be ahead. We might have our hope, we might have a few tricks left in our bag, and we might even have an ally or three to aid us, but there’s really no knowing where the road is going to lead.

But we can see the first fork in the road, in the two cards just up ahead.

On the one hand, we have clinging to the old, trusted, habits and lives we’ve been leading thus far. We can cover ourselves in the armor of our possessions and previous actions, lock ourselves up in the relative safety of the familiar worlds we’ve built for ourselves, and wait things out.

On the other hand, we can take up our swords and strike off into distant lands, which are anything but familiar and even less developed. Throw a crown on our heads, claim sovereignty over these new worlds, and get to work building something uniquely ours.

I say this is a “fork in the road” ahead of us, because I see it as a definite choice between polar opposite modalities, and not a progression through one to the other. It might be tempting to think that we have to spend time under siege and on the defensive, before we can sally forth, but I don’t think so.

I think the old and familiar is a trap.

After sitting with the cards for a while, I’ve decided a good first stab at cutting my way through the siege probably looks a lot like this:

  1. Don’t use social media unless it is to actively engage with other people as potential companions and allies. No doom-scrolling. No arguing with people. No time-wasting.
  2. Pack light for the journey. This means some uncluttering about my house, as well as being even more careful about what I choose to spend my time, money, and energy on.
  3. Don’t forget to take a “flower” with me. The road ahead is going to be long, and the work to do will be challenging. I’m allowed a pleasant distraction now and then, so long as it inspires hope, and reminds me why I’m doing this work in the first place.
  4. Remember that the flower isn’t an unwieldy bouquet, and it’s certainly not a clutch of Pentacles which would ultimately just weigh me down. If the Sword is there for only one purpose, it’s to cut out anything which no longer serves a purpose.

We’re heading into strange lands, and living in even stranger times. That makes this an excellent time to re-evaluate the things we’ve allowed to clutter up our lives and thinking, and to toss anything we don’t need.

Pack light for the road ahead.