All About Shinto - Is it Pagan?
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Envision a winding path that takes you through trees before leading you to an opposing vermillion gate.  As you step through the gate you leave the mundane world and enter the world of ‘Kami’, or divine spirits. Following along the path you reach a large wooden shrine.  The doors and the heart of the shrine are closed - never viewed by visitors as it contains the Shintai or ‘divine body’ of the Kami. To the left you see a large pine tree.  You can tell that this is an Shinboku, or sacred tree, from the rope and paper tassels that hang like a belt along its sturdy trunk. In this moment you are immersed in the sacred; in the power of our natural world.

Shinto literally means “the way of the gods” and it is Japan’s native belief system.  Most cultures begin their spiritual development with animist beliefs, however most nature-based religions have diminished in popularity since the rise of monotheism.  What makes Japan so fascinating is that this ancient spiritual reverence for nature has not diminished among the population. Instead, it has remained an integral piece of the cultural heart of this nation.

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The history and complexity of Shinto would be too lengthy to fully explain in the confines of this post so I would like to merely state the basics of this religion.  The practice of Shinto revolves around the seasons, the land, and its relation with the human inhabitants. This is similar to neo-pagan traditions that develop festivals and ceremonies around the changing seasons.  Shinto at its core is a nature-based spiritual system and these beliefs include recognition of various divine spirits (kami) within trees, mountains, waterfalls, and other aspects of nature. For the item being revered (such as an ancient tree) a rope garland is placed marking the presence of the kami within.  Usually a shine is also built next to the item of nature that is being revered.

Various purification rites are an important part of Shinto ceremonies, these rites are meant to overcome the polluting effects of decay and death.  Rites of passage, such as weddings are also a common ritual performed at Shinto shrines. Unlike most religions, Shinto does not have a moral code or any scriptures.  There is also no specific belief in life after death in Shinto.

As Buddhism entered Japan it did not eliminate the prominence of Shinto.  The pantheons of both religions were expanded so that Buddhist deities adopted Shinto identities and Shinto Kami were associated with the act of striving towards enlightenment.  In this way, new converts to Buddhism were not forced to give up their traditional beliefs.

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So… is Shinto Pagan?  In the sense that it is a nature-based religion consisting of multiple deities I would say yes.  However, as a non-Japanese person I hesitate to lump this ancient tradition under the wide umbrella of Paganism.  It’s likely that many Shinto practitioners would like their religion to be viewed as its own thing, separate from the wider pagan movement.  I will say that I was deeply honored to visit many sacred shrines on my recent trip to Japan and I very much look forward to learning more about this beautiful nature-based religion. What are your thoughts about Shinto? Share your opinions and experiences in the comments below.

I also have a corresponding video where I go into more detail. You can view it here:

Pagan Travels - Joshua Tree National Park
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I’ve always loved the martian landscape of the Southwest. The big empty sky and cactus studded land brings a sense of otherworldliness and stark beauty. As someone who grew up surrounded by the lush trees and farmland of upstate NY, I don’t think I could ever feel comfortable living in this region, though I’m more than happy to travel here from time to time. This has been a particular tough winter for me and my skin was definitely begging for some vitamin D. So, as I was considering a long weekend trip, I happily decided on Joshua Tree for the destination.

Lately I’ve been thinking more about our National Parks. With America as divided as it is, sometimes it helps to revisit our best idea as a country, which in my view is our national parks system. So far I’ve visited Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and The Smoky Mountains, so I still have quite a long list of national parks to visit. My trip to Joshua Tree came at an odd moment. During the government shut down the park was closed briefly from the damage that was being done to the park so I wasn’t even sure this trip would end up happening. Luckily the shutdown did end and park reopened in time for my visit.

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Joshua Tree is one of the many areas of the Southwest known as a vortex or a region for healing energy. I’m always a bit skeptical when it comes to energetic vortices, though I can say that I definitely felt a strong scenes of peace and calm throughout the park. It’s hard to know if that comes from an innate energetic force in the region or just the pleasant contrast in my own experience from leaving the hustle & bustle of Chicago and entering a uniquely different space.

Each day in the park began with a hike among the many trails available. As someone who spends most their working days in front of a computer, it was refreshing to spend full days outside experiencing nature. Despite being a dessert, the plant life was lush, with multitudes of different cacti and trees dotted along the mountain ridges and valleys. Us pagans often talk a big game when it comes to celebrating nature, but how many of us honestly put our words into action. This trip reminded me of the necessity to immerse myself in our natural world with more regularity. It is in these places that I truly feel connected to the divine spirit and the power within nature. It’s one of my goals this year to get outside the city more and remember that being Pagan means to actively celebrate spirituality though nature in its many forms.

5 Witchy Items to Get Rid Of

As a Pagan I often feel pressure to build my collection of spiritual items so that I can create a more cohesive ritual or spell using all the proper correspondences of herbs, incense, candles and ritual items. And while building my collection has certainly been an enjoyable process, I find that often my best rituals are the ones that embrace simplicity. This is why I’ve been on a quest to minimize many of my spiritual items so that I can better connect with the foundational energy that is at the heart of any spiritual endeavor. Going through this decluttering process has revealed many items that I’ve realized I can happily live without. Here’s 5 items you can consider downsizing to refresh your own spiritual path.

 
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BOOKS YOU HOPE TO READ SOMEDAY

My bookshelves house many spiritual books that I’ve been meaning to read but just haven't gotten around to it yet. Every time I look at my bookshelf I feel a twinge of guilt that I’ve let so many books go unread. Instead of leaving these books to collect dust, pick them up and quickly scan them to see if there is any information that you think would be valuable for your spiritual practice. If so, copy this information down into a journal or a Book of Shadows then pass the book on or donate it to your local library.

 
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CRYSTALS YOU DON’T FIND USEFUL OR BEAUTIFUL

Over the years I’ve developed a sizable collection of crystals, minerals, and tumbled stones. However, when I think back to which ones I actively use in rituals & meditation I find that I keep gravitating to only a few. In my case, I regularly only use amethyst, rose quartz, and clear quartz. Consider which crystals or stones you connect with and allow yourself to pass on any unloved or unused specimens to fellow friends.

 
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CANDLES IN DIFFERENT COLORS

While corresponding the color of your candles to a specific ritual or spell can certainly be fun it’s not necessary in order to achieve a positive result. Simple white candles are multipurpose and can work for any type of ritual you may have in mind. Sticking with simple white candles can also save you a fair bit of money. Even better - make your own candles to enhance the overall experience.


 
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TAROT DECKS YOU DON’T USE

As a tarot reviewer and blogger I often get decks sent to me from publishers and deck creators. While some decks I immediately love, a lot of them I don’t end up using very often. If you are a tarot enthusiast like me take some time going through your collection and picking out the decks that you no longer feel connected to and pass them on to someone else.


 
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GIFTS THAT DON’T SPARK JOY

Over the years I’ve received many witchy jewelry & decor items. While I’m of course pleased to receive these items some that are not really my style just end up in my closet. This year I’m giving myself permission to pass on these items on to someone who will enjoy them more.






You can view my corresponding video on this topic below. What items have you been decluttering lately? Share below in the comments.

Decorating Your Home With the 4 Elements

I think a lot about the 4 classical elements of Earth, Water, Air, and Fire. Perhaps that’s rather strange, though it’s not the oddest topic I’ve covered and if you’re reading this odds are you’re a bit odd as well. My unique interest in the 4 elements began back in my teenage years when I first got interested in tarot. Fellow tarot readers know that the minor arcana is broken down into 4 suits and each of these suits correspond with an element.

Each of these elements in turn also correspond with a specific aspect of self. While interpretations vary my belief is:

  • Air represents the intellectual & communicative self

  • Fire represents the energetic & passionate self

  • Water represents the compassionate & intuitive self

  • Earth represents the physical & practical self

In my view, one of the overarching purposes of the minor arcana is to bring a balance of these 4 aspects of self into your everyday life. There are even tarot spreads dedicated to seeing how balanced or unbalanced you are in these areas. I have an earlier video about one of these tarot spreads that you can try if you’re interested in seeing how you balanced you are among the elements.

 
 

To me bringing balance among these 4 elements expands beyond the tarot deck and into my home. As someone who works from home as a full time tarot reader & instructor, I need my space to be intuitively inspiring, energetically motiving, and peaceful. This need is why I developed the idea of furthering the concept elemental balance by decorating the spaces in my home based on each element. This idea began as I was learning about Feng Shui. While I don’t resonate with all the ideas within Feng Shui, the underlying principle of decorating your space to create better energetic flow seemed like something I could benefit from. In my own elementally focused system I correspond each room of my home with an element and then use design details to further the expression of the element within that space.

While your system may vary, I choose to connect the kitchen with the Fire element. To further the influence of that element, I have several items in my kitchen in various orange and red hues. I associate my bathroom with the Water element and choose a blue tone for the towels and the color of the walls. I also brought in some seashell items to further the representation of water in the space.

As my office is a space where I need to be intellectually charged I often burn incense at my desk to connect with the Air element. I connect my bedroom with the Earth element as it is a space where the body comes to rest and rejuvenate. Correspondingly I like to incorporate plants and crystals into that space. My living room was a bit trickier as it performs many functions within my home. So, for that space I bring in all for elements - candles for fire, seashells for water, incense for air and plants for Earth.

Once I began thinking about my home within this context and decorating accordingly I definitely felt a significant positive change in the energetic flow of my home. Of course, this may be due to the placebo effect. Even if it is, the result is what matters and I can honestly say that this practice has made my home feel much more inviting and invigorating.

 
 

Have you ever considered decorating your home based on the 4 elements? Which rooms of your home would you connect to each element and why? Share your thoughts below in the comments. You can also view the video above for more of my thoughts on this topic.

*Note - This images for this blog post were sourced from Pinterest.

tarotSarah JohnsonComment
5 Crystals to Manifest Success + Abundance

There are many types of crystals out there that can help you focus your energy on achieving your goals and desires. Here are 5 of my favorites to work with:

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CLEAR QUARTZ

  • Can be used for anything and everything.

  • It resonates with the higher chakras, bringing in divine white light and connection to higher-self, higher consciousness, higher wisdom and unconditional pure love.

AMETHYST

  • It resonates with Crown Chakra as well as the Third Eye Chakra, which opens up the gateway to divine consciousness and higher intuition.

  • It also provides clarity when there’s confusion in the mind, and helps to relieve stress and anxiety.

ROSE QUARTZ

  • This pink crystal is a very soothing and calming stone symbolizing love and harmony.

  • It helps open your heart to give and receive love. It also encourages you to forgive others and yourself.

  • Place Rose Quartz in your home or workplace to keep the atmosphere harmonious and peaceful.

ORANGE CALCITE

  • Like clear quartz, it’s an enhancement stone.

  • It has the ability to dissolve problems that are blocking you from your true potential.

DESERT ROSE

  • Despite its rose petal like softness, Desert Rose is a stone that will help you stand your ground and confront any hardship.

  • It will show you how to commit to a project with confidence despite the numerable obstacles.

  • By staying focused on your outcome you can meet any challenges with an optimistic attitude.

What crystals do you like to incorporate into your own spiritual practice? Share your favorites in the comments below! You can watch the video below for more information about these 5 crystals and how they can be used for manifestation.

Experiencing the Magic of the Supra Oracle
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As a professional tarot reader I have a tenuous relationship with oracle decks. Oracle decks by their very nature defy convention. They are their own little world inside of itself, immune to the rules and structures that make up traditional tarot decks - and in that way they are both intimidating and intriguing.

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Doing tarot readings and lessons each day I’ve become accustomed to the rules that define tarot. I’ve become comfortably familiar with the meanings and symbols of those 22 archetypes and the traditional 4 suites. So, when faced with something new, like the Supra Oracle deck, I think to myself ‘Do I really want to learn a whole new system just to read this deck?’ Usually with oracle decks the answer is no, but with The Supra Oracle, my answer is entirely different.

The Supra Oracle deck is by far the best oracle deck I’ve come across to date. As with all decks created by Uusi the design details are immaculate. The corresponding book is wonderfully well written, and the box and cards are of great quality. I imagine anyone who owns a deck by Uusi takes a sigh of relief when opening their deck for the first time, thinking ‘Ah, yes, this is deck worthy of my time.’

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The designs themselves are aesthetically minimalist with references to sacred geometry, alchemy, Jungian psychology, and Medieval gnosticism. It’s clear that a lot of research went into the development of these designs and that each card was carefully thought out. The Supra Oracle deck weaves these symbols to create a cohesive magical world; a world that gives space for you and your own subconscious to fill in the blanks with your own interpretation.

But here’s the real reason I’d like to recommend this deck to you and it’s a reason that’s difficult to explain in words. That’s because it’s really a feeling I’m trying to explain. It’s a feeling I had when opening the box and thumbing through the cards one at a time. As an intuitive I do occasionally get profound feelings or sensations from time to time and as I felt these cards in my hand I experienced an unusual feeling of weight, as if each card weighed as much as a dinner plate. The cards seemed to ground me immediately and shift the worries of the day far away from my mind. As I tried out my first few spreads my subconscious immediately entered a state of flow and I was able to relate to each card in such a meaningful way that is hard to describe.

The idea of learning a whole new set of card meanings no longer felt intimidating. That’s because deep down I already knew how to interpret the cards. It was like I knew all along and these images merely brought forth the knowledge from within. So, I encourage you to pick up this deck and experience it for yourself, you might be surprised by the magic that appears within.

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tarotSarah JohnsonComment
The Empress & Lammas
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The Empress... She’s been on my mind a lot recently.  Especially as this past weekend I celebrated Lammas, which is a Pagan harvest festival.  One of the key symbols of Lammas is grain and the bread that is made with it.  The Rider-Waite Smith Empress card is full of abundant nature and fertility symbols.  Right at The Empress’s feet is a field of wheat that promises continued abundance and the happiness that comes when you know that all your body needs is provided for.

This weekend I went to a Unitarian Church service.  I had never been to a Unitarian Church before but I saw that they were in fact doing a special pagan service on Lammas so I decided to attend.  This particular service was run in tandem with a local Chicago coven and the service was indeed Pagan themed.  We called in the directions and invoked the God and the Goddess.  Though what was really inspiring was the ‘sermon,’ which spoke of the value of grain and bread - for both us but especially our ancestors.  For us bread is a common commodity, easily found at our local grocery stores and bakery.  For our ancestors, however, bread and grain was truly a matter of life and death.  I can only imagine what it must have been like to worry anxiously over a carefully tended field and then to finally reach the height of Summer were upon that Lammas day the first of the grain was carefully harvested - such a powerful moment that represented both a successful farming season and the reassurance that one would not starve during winter.  

While most see The Empress card as tied to the Goddess Aphrodite, I think of her more like a combination of Ceres, Demeter, Persephone, and Aphrodite.  All represent love and abundance in their own way.  And with Lammas, they all remind us to be thankful of what we have in our lives.

Aphrodite reminds us to love - to love ourselves, each other, and mother Earth.  

Demeter reminds us of fertility and the love one has for their children.  

Persephone gives us hope when we are in the darkest of winters.  

And Ceres— Ceres gives us the grain, a comforting reminder for us all to be thankful for the bounty we share each day.  

What does the Empress card and the harvest festival of Lammas symbolize to you?  Share in the comments below. I’d love to hear what you think. I also have another post about Lammas that I wrote last year.  You can read it here if you're interested. 

Blessings! 
- Scarlet

How to Choose A Tarot Deck Right For You
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We live in the golden age of tarot my friends.  It seems that every week there’s a new tarot deck being published from the multitude of amazing artists out there.  This means endless possibilities for your own tarot practice, which is exciting but can also get overwhelming at times.  My own personal deck collection has expanded a lot recently and honestly I’m starting to run out of shelf space for them.  I’ve come to the realization that I need to be more intentional about which decks I choose to purchase. I want each deck I own to best reflect my own personal reading style and artistic preferences.  So, I put a list together of things to consider when trying to find a deck that best fits you.

1) WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT LEVEL OF TAROT KNOWLEDGE?

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Some decks are of course easier to read with than others.  When I teach tarot to my students I almost always recommend they start with the Rider-Waite Smith deck.  This is because the images on the Rider-Waite Smith deck are clear, fairly simplistic, and contain easily distinguishable symbols.  I find that the narrative style of the Rider-Waite Smith deck is great for beginners who are still working on memorizing the card meanings and symbolism.  

For advanced readers certain decks might seem too simplistic and maybe you prefer a deck that challenges and adds to your understanding of tarot. The good news is that there are tons of decks out there jam packed with elaborate symbols and cryptic imagery.  

2) DO YOU PREFER HISTORIC OR CONTEMPORARY?  

Some tarot readers love researching and understanding historic decks, such as the Visconti Sforza and the Tarot de Marseille.  Though decks from the 15, 16, and 17 century might not be for everyone. Often the minors in historic decks are in pip form (meaning they only have symbols similar to a playing card deck) as opposed to the narrative imagery you might find in later decks.  It can definitely be a challenge to read the Minor arcana in more historic decks so you should consider your preference when making a choice.

3) ARE YOU MORE SYMBOLOGY FOCUSED OR INTUITIVE?

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I view learning tarot as the development of two skill sets.  The first skill I teach is how to interpret and understand the vast array of symbols that appear in the tarot images.  Once the symbology is learned the card’s traditional meaning becomes clear and easy to remember. Then I focus on teaching people how to grow their own intuitive skills in order to enhance and bring additional meaning and significance to their readings.  With an understanding of symbolism plus an advanced intuitive ability you gain the ability to read tarot with accuracy and intention. However, like most things in life you will most likely be more drawn to one of these aspects than the other. Maybe you prefer a deck full of symbols that can read like a novel, or perhaps you prefer more etherial decks that allow your intuition to fill in the gaps.

4) WHAT ARTISTIC STYLE APPEALS TO YOU THE MOST?

I view tarot as a form of art and we all have our own aesthetic preferences when it comes the type of art we prefer.  Maybe you like minimalism, computer generated, watercolor style, woodblock prints, black and white, etc. No matter what your artistic preference there is sure to be a deck out there for you; it’s just up to you to find it.

5) HOW DOES THE DECK DEPICT YOUR FAVORITE CARD?

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Do you have a favorite tarot card?  For me, I really resonate with the Hermit so I don't purchase a deck until I’ve looked at how the artist interpreted that card.  If I don’t vibe with the deck’s depiction of my favorite card I usually don’t purchase it. You want to make sure that the decks you own are ones that you’ll want to use again and again and this is a good way to make sure all your deck purchases will be tailored to your preferences.

6) DON’T FORGET TO READ REVIEWS

Before choosing a deck it’s best to first check out what other people have said about it.  There are hundreds of tarot bloggers out there like myself that enjoy writing deck reviews so you should be able to find many well balanced reviews that can help make your decision a little easier.


I hope these six strategies help you when pondering your next (or first!) deck purchase.  Remember that it’s a journey and it may take a while to find a deck that you really resonate with, but when you do you’ll form a connection with it that will last a lifetime.  Happy deck hunting my friends and good luck!

Do you struggle with deck overload or being overwhelmed by all the options out there?  Share your thoughts and any additional strategies in the comments below. For more tips and tricks to finding a deck you’ll love you can watch my corresponding Youtube video:


If you're ready to take the leap and start learning more about tarot, I have a special offer where you can try out my Tarot Certification Course with a one-on-one lesson with me through Skype.  Sign up below to begin your own tarot journey!  

 
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The Marseille Deck
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The Marseille deck is one of the classics when it comes to tarot. Its bright cheerful colors and bold lines are striking and playful at the same time. Its characteristic style comes from the method of block printing that was used to create this deck. It took no fewer than four master craftsmen to complete these designs: a paper maker, a designer, a form cutter, and a printer.

The designer would first draw the images on a block of wood. For Tarot cards, the blocks were quite large, with many rows of cards carved into a single piece of wood. Next, the form cutter whittled away the background, leaving raised images that were then covered with ink. Afterward, paper was laid on top of those raised images and rubbed with a wooden implement to transfer the ink. When the ink was dry, the images were colored in by hand or with stencils. Once dry, the cards were cut apart and glued onto heavy paper.

This elaborate procedure is why the deck features only a few colors. It’s minimalism when it comes to color and design make this deck a bright stand out worthy of any tarot readers attention. The more that I learn about tarot history the more honored I am to be part of this ancient tradition. I feel that when you use a classic deck, like The Marseille, you’re able to tap into it’s amazing history which only adds to it’s powerful divinatory capabilities.

What are your thoughts on the Marseille deck? Share below in the comments.