Dive into Occultism with the Alchemystic Tarot
Facetune_21-06-2018-15-22-27.JPG

If you’re a fan of woodblock prints, Hermetic Qabalah, and obscure occult references then you’ll definitely enjoy The Alchemystic Tarot.  This deck is jam packed with symbolism and ideas that span multiple religions and spiritual systems. The artwork is derived from woodblock images found in books from 1600 - 1900 CE.  The creator of this deck, D.W. Prudence, clearly has an in-depth understanding of ceremonial magic and various western occult traditions. It’s delightful to find a deck that really uses and incorporates vast amounts of knowledge.  I’m a complete sucker for a puzzle to solve (see my review of the English Magic Tarot) so I love the idea of sitting down with these cards and researching the origins and symbolism of the woodblock print images.

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a big fan of the Rider-Waite Smith deck - I’m a tarot classics girl, what can I say ;) - so I do tend to initially scoff at decks that deviate considerably from the RWS system.  While the Majors do fit in well with a classic RWS understanding of tarot, the Minors are a bit different. To begin with, instead of using Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles we have Alchemists, Mystics, Shekinah, and Magicians.  I’m pleased to see that the Minors do have full detailed images as opposed to minimalist pips and that each Minor card seems just as jam-packed with symbolic wisdom as the Majors. Rather than the Minors showcasing narrative scenes, like in RWS, the Alchemystic Minors relish in advanced inclusion of numerology, hermeticism, and Qabalah.  

Facetune_21-06-2018-15-24-40.JPG

The detailed and often obscure references contained within means that this deck is definitely not for beginners.  There is a guidebook, which helps considerably with understanding the enigmas presented - though I still would recommend this deck for people who already have a base understanding of occult systems and history.  Personally I plan on using this deck to help with my own personal tarot study and knowledge of the occult.  However, I don’t think I will end up using this deck often for my client readings as it might be tricky to interpret this deck through a lens that examines our daily lives.  As my tarot clients well know, my reading style is very therapeutic and practical so this deck might not be the best fit for my professional readings.  Though someone who has a different reading style might find this deck to be right up their alley.

Facetune_21-06-2018-15-23-24.JPG

My main issue with this deck is not the complexity of understanding required to read it properly - instead my biggest issue is the design of the artwork.  The concept of using woodblock prints is wonderful and the woodblock prints chosen for each card I find to be well thought out. My issue is with the execution of the overall aesthetic design. The backgrounds use various saturated colors with radiating beams of light.  While this design choice might work well for a psychedelic themed deck, I find the colors distracting from the gorgeous design of the woodblock prints. I would have personally chosen plain backgrounds and a more matte finish to create a historical feel that better encapsulates the design of the woodblock images. Though, this is just my own artistic preference and I’m sure many will enjoy the bright background colors.

Overall, this is a really fun deck for anyone obsessed (like me!) with occultism and I encourage you to try your hand at deciphering all the symbolic and numerological meanings hidden within.

What are your thoughts of this deck? Would you use it as part of your tarot practice? Share in the comments below.

Do Witches Believe in the Devil?
Snapseed 81.jpg

It's certainly tempting to just immediately say 'No, of course witches don't believe in the devil!'  But today I'd like to take the time to think deeply about this question and I don't think the answer is as clear cut as many would suggest.  To begin with, not all witches believe in the divine or would consider themselves religious.  To me, witchcraft is a practice or something you do and as such it can be completely void of any belief in the divine.  And if you choose to perform witchcraft without the addition of divine energy than of course the answer would be irrelevant as the devil is Christian religious entity.  

There are, however, many witches who do channel divine power for their witchcraft practice.  Sometimes this may include calling upon the power of the Goddess and the God. The god in this case is sometimes called the Green Man or the Horned one and can appear as a satyr type figure with horns or hooves.  This archetype is inspired by pre-christian gods like the Greek God Pan or the Celtic God Cernunnos. This pagan God rules over the wild energy of the forest, our own human sexuality, and is a manifestation of the masculine energy in the world.  Like many pagan Gods, he is neither good nor bad as Pagan societies did not view their religious figures in a rigid binary system.

When Christianity came to Europe it viewed chastity and modesty being righteous and sexual freedom as being immoral.  So naturally, this put figures like Pan and Cernunnos in a difficult spot. Over time Christians overlaid their own story of the Devil with the much older masculine archetypes of pre-christian Gods, which is why the Devil often looks like the Greek God Pan.  This is why it’s so difficult to say if witches work with the energy of the Devil. If a witch is calling upon the divine masculine energy of the wild, are they working with the Devil?

 

To complicate matters further, there are also some witches to do work with the Christianized concept of the Devil as opposed to the Pagan masculine archetype.  Some believe that the Devil represents the very embodiment and power of witchcraft. In Christianity the Devil is connected with things such as ecstatic pleasure, celebrations, feasting, and unbridled revelry.  These are things that are often connected to various witchcraft traditions. This concept of the Devil is still somewhat removed from the character of Satan - the one who casts evil doers into the fiery realms of hell.  So in that way, you could say that yes, some witches do celebrate the wild and unpredictable power of the ‘Devil’, but not the fire and brimstone figure that is Satan.

My 'Pan' costume I wore for the Lyric Opera House Masquerade Ball

My 'Pan' costume I wore for the Lyric Opera House Masquerade Ball

On the other end of the spectrum, there are many witches that do not work with the wild masculine energy at all.  There are some groups, like the Dianic witches, who focus more on the Goddess and the ideas of the sacred feminine.  There are also groups that work with a much more watered down version of the sacred masculine that is very much removed from the idea of the Devil.  So once again I leave you to determine the direction of your own spiritual path and which, if any, divine forces you will choose to work with in your witchcraft practice.

So, to conclude, I think this question is more complicated and I don't believe a 'yes' or 'no' answer would suffice. To practice witchcraft requires a thinking beyond the binary of Good vs. Evil (or God vs. Devil) to which most belief systems are based. 

Unlike the Abrahamic traditions, Witchcraft is not based upon a strict division of what is good and what is evil.  Witches use nature to fuel their concept of the divine and in the world of nature there is no battle between good and evil.  A lion is not ‘evil’ because it kills the gazelle, and a deer is not ‘good’ because it eats only plants. Nature is both cruel and beautiful at the same time.  Likewise, witchcraft can be used for both positive and malevolent gains.  

With witchcraft there is no governing body or official rule book telling you what you can and cannot do.  Witchcraft is not something that was invented and controlled - it has always existed.  The power of witchcraft lays within the plants, the moon, the stars, and ourselves.  Witches over time learned to tap into this natural power and created spells for what they needed help with in their day to day lives.  There have been many witches that have cast curses against others from time to time and there have been many that have dedicated their craft to healing and helping others.  There are some witchcraft traditions, like Traditional Witchcraft, that are not morally opposed to hexes and will perform them if a significant need arises.  There are also some belief structures, like Wicca, where most of the followers are very much morally opposed to casting hexes and curses.   

How you choose to perform witchcraft is entirely up to you, and the moral consequences of those actions will likewise lie entirely on your own shoulders.  Witchcraft respects that you are an individual, capable of defining and establishing your own sense of morality and justice.

What are your thoughts on this?  I'd love for fellow witches to share their thoughts in the comments section.  Do my ideas resonate with you or am I way off the mark? 

The Sacred Symbolism of the Death Card
Snapseed 72.jpg

A menacing card of skeletal figures and morbid despair, the Death card has brought worry and anxiety to countless individuals.  Though is true purpose of this memento mori to bring about fear? Or, is there something more complex going on within this image?  

In my view the Death Card is a card of transformation and by reading the symbols you can uncover a beautiful narrative of death and rebirth.  I view this card as equally about things ending and new things beginning. This is why the scene represented here occurs not at night but during the sunrise - A reminder that after the darkness comes light and that after death comes rebirth.

The Four Riders of the Apocalypse (1498) by Albrect Durer.jpg

This card asks you to consider what needs to be cut out of your life so that new things can flourish, whether that be a relationship, a dead-end job, or anything that’s been preventing you from manifesting joy or success in your life.  This card uses the metaphor of death and rebirth to remind us that after we make these difficult decisions we will be creating space for something new to flourish. This card tells us that we sometimes must take on the role of the horseman and commence with the difficult task of bringing things that no longer serve us or our goals to an end.

When we read the symbols in this image you begin to understand the profound complexities of this card.  When looking at the horseman you are reminded of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, after all it is said that ‘death rides a pale horse.’  While here in the Rider-Waite-Smith card he conjures images of the apocalypse, in many other interpretations, such as the Visconti-Sforza and the Pagan Otherworlds Decks, he is shown as a simple Grim Reaper wondering the land and collecting his souls.

Illustration of a group of Templars being burned at the stake.jpg

Perhaps this macabre figure is even tied to the Knights Templar.  When you look to the top of the image you see that this is card number 13.  In 1307 King Philip IV of France sent out a secret letter across the realm that the Templar Knights were to be captured on killed on Friday the 13th.  Even today the number 13 is considered unlucky. Perhaps our skeletal character in this image is one of these murdered knights coming back from the dead to kill King Philip.  And indeed, there is a deceased king beneath the horses hooves. There’s also the idea, though unconfirmed, that the Knights Templars were guarding the Holy Grail. The Holy Grail is of course is a powerful object of transformation in of itself so it would make sense to connect the Knights Templars to this card.  

The horse that Death rides is white, a color tied to ideas of purity.  Death is therefore the ultimate purifier. All things are reborn fresh, new and pure and he passes by.  He also rides the same horse as the child seen in the Sun card, so Death and Rebirth are connected through a purifying force represented by the horse.  The skeleton in Death card and the Child in the Sun card also wear the same orange feather. Are they perhaps the same individual? Does Death go through his own transformation and become reborn as the child in the Sun card?

By looking at the other figures in the Death card you can see that Death does not discern between age, gender, or status.  All are equal before death, so death is also the great equalizer. He destroys class structures and hierarchy as he passes.

The woman and child here even get their own transformation narrative as they appear once more, in the Judgement card, as figures rising to their rebirth in a better place.

art130.jpg

The banner that death carries is not some morbid image, but a beautiful white rose.  The white rose indicates beauty, purification and immortality. The white rose makes an appearance in the Fool Card which is the very first card in the Major Arcana. Once again we see how endings and death is always tied to beginnings and rebirth.  
The specific rose seen on the banner ties to a real historical event known as the War of the Roses.  York and Lancaster were the 2 families involved in the War of the Roses for the English Crown in the 15th century.  The two rose symbols which represented these families were later combined to create the device for the Tudor dynasty. The marriage of Henry Tudor & Elizabeth of York brought about the end of the Wars of the Roses and started a new royal dynasty for England.  The rose featured here in the death card is the Tudor Rose. After so much death from the War of the Roses, comes the peace and unifying force of the Tudor dynasty. So here England itself has gone through a state of transformation - from war and death to the rebirth of strength and prosperity.

Looking to the background scene in the Death card we see a long river with a solitary boat.  Perhaps this is the River Styx from greek mythology where the souls travel from the realm of the living to the dead.  There is another card in tarot that shows a boat traveling along the river. The Six of Swords is often seen as a card representing journeys and significant rites of passage.  The idea of death and rebirth can definitely be seen as a journey and a rite of passage so could the woman and child in the Six of Swords be the same figures in the Death card? Is this a scene in their story line that occurs after they die in the Death card and before they reach rebirth in the Judgement card?

What happens to after you board the boat in the river styx?  Where do you go next on your journey? Perhaps you travel to card number 14 - Temperance.  Temperance represents balance, patience, and moderation. The water the angel pours between two vessels is flowing upward, defying the laws of gravity.  Perhaps we two are traveling from a physical plane to a higher place of divinity.

There is a valley behind here as if we travel along a continuous route, from top edge of the death card, down into the valley of Temperance.  You can see here that it is no longer the Winter of death, but it now Spring and one of the earliest spring flowers, daffodils, bloom by the pond.  

temperance-universal-waite.jpg

The sun is also beginning to rise higher in the sky.  Enclosed in the image of the sun is a crown. The crown in the Death card was a crown of status, hierarchy and power.  Though as death travelled along the image, he brought equality to all the figures, so here the crown that rises is no longer a symbol of ego, but a symbol of higher ideals.

Once you pass through the realm of temperance, where do you travel next?  Looking back at the death card we see two watchtowers you need to pass through before reaching the Sun.  These watchtowers appear in the Moon card, a card of great mystery. The moon represents the subconscious, falsehoods, and even emotional instability.  After all the Moon, or Lune, is the base of the word of lunacy. The moon card is also tied to the idea of the shadow self, which was a concept created by the great thinker, Carl Jung.  

Here our pathway goes between two monolithic towers.  With their one small window they look like guard towers which begs the question - What are they guarding?  Are they meant to prevent us from visiting or understanding the darker aspects of our own subconscious. Maybe we wouldn't like what we find.  Yet there is no gate or barrier between these guard towers, only a jagged pathway leading to yet another pond. Before we arrive at water we first must walk between the dog and the wolf.  As we do so we delicately walk the road between or civilized or tamed selves and our wild or untamed side that we often try to pretend doesn’t exist.

the-moon-universal-waite.jpg

The Moon card represents the unknown and that can be scary.  And so is death, death is the unknown and it can be a terrifying concept.  But here in the Moon card you have to bravely pass through this unknown and liminal space before you reach the stage of rebirth.  As we reach the pond we greet our final challenge. Our own fears, here represented by the monstrous lobster creature, comes out the waters of the subconscious.  To reach the Sun, you first need to face this monster head on and plunge into the depths of the unknown. Just like in the real world where we need to face our subconscious fears before creating any transformative change in our lives.

After you face the monster and passthrough the realm of the Moon card, you finally end up at the Sun, the place of rebirth.  The Sun is also a symbol of the divine. Some of the earliest deities were Sun Gods and Goddess, such as Horus in Egyptian Mythology and Amaterasu in Japanese Shinto.  Even today, it’s no coincidence that our olympic athletes are given a gold ‘sun disk’ to wear. There is this primal connection we humans feel to the Sun and idea of divine success.  So here we are receiving our golden reward after making it through the river passage in the death card and past the great guard towers of the moon. We end up here, at the Sun, a perfect symbol of rebirth, vitality, and success.

cf9b529822f8bbd3020ff2f6e9922ed2.jpg

When we get the Death card in a reading it forces us to face an uncomfortable truth.  When it appears it means that our life is in stagnation and there are various forces preventing us from achieving our goals.  As humans we reflexively stay in situations longer than we should because we fear transformative change. The Death card reminds us that only we are responsible for our life path and that occasionally need to become the horseman ourselves and cut what no longer serves us out of our life, weather that’s a dead end job, an abusive relationship, or a draining friendship.  This is not meant to be an easy task, this is process (like the journey through the realm of the Moon Card) means facing our fears and taking action.

What is so brilliant about the Rider-Waite-Smith Death card is that is contains a whole narrative within it’s symbols. Reading tarot is not simply memorizing some keywords connected to each card.  In my view tarot is about really looking, looking at the images, looking at the symbols, and understanding the wider idea or metaphor being presented. The role of the reader then is to comprehend these narratives and frame them so that they can bring guidance and understanding into our own daily lives.  

If you’d like to learn more about the Death card you can watch the video below.  Let me know your thoughts on these ideas and interpretations in the comments below.

Controlling Your Energy
ff0fb22489ab1c20d01b6320d060c960.jpg

***This is a guest post written by the lovely Rena from her blog, The King Paimon.  Check out her blog for more great content on the occult and spirituality. 

_____

It is very important, both when working with magic as well as in mundane life, that you have an awareness of your personal energy and how it affects your body and mind. This post discusses various techniques for managing your personal energy and “remaining present” in ritual and magic.

There are a number of ways to control your energy levels, as well as your mental, emotional and spiritual states. Here are some:

Mundane-ing – Get the person out of the ritual mindset and into a mundane, normal mindset.  Ask them what they did yesterday, if they like their boss, what their favorite color is.  Anything to engage their rational mind and get it to focus on something other than what is/was happening to them.

Shielding – Create energetic shields around the person to block energy flows that are causing them problems.  If they are unable to create their own shields, do it for them (temporarily).

Blocking – Like shielding, but more physical.  Put yourself physically between you and the source of distress.  Provides the energetic benefits of shielding with the physical obstruction added in for additional blocking power.

Charging – Raising a person’s energy level by putting energy into their system.

Re-Tuning – This is where you re-tune someone’s energy to a higher vibratory level (or rarely, lower level) so that they can handle the higher levels of energy without adverse effect.  This is analogous to shifting a car into a higher gear.  Like when you shift to a higher gear, the engine sounds quieter, but it is actually capable of running faster.  Retuning someone’s energy has a similar effect in that they will perceive energy levels as lower than they actually are because their capacity has increased, and people tend to measure energy related to their own capacity to hold and use it.  Retuning should not be done without permission as it can permanently change the person’s vibration and energy levels.  It often has an adjustment period of a day to a week where physical and energetic problems may be noticed as your physical and energetic bodies realign.

c278da7fad6f350133ab8d9e2c894765.jpg



Energy Shifting – Like Retuning, but on a smaller and temporary scale. Temporarily shifting the person’s vibration rate, either higher or lower for a short period of time.

Finding Equilibrium – Hot water poured into cold water creates warm water.  Energy will naturally seek to find balance on its own.  This state is called Equilibrium.  Simply relax and allow energy to flow in, out, around or through without forcing it.  This technique is also good for finding harmony with your environment by allowing it and you to flow through and into each other.

Breaking Connections – Energetic ties or threads can be formed while working magic or ritual, usually unconsciously.  By breaking this connection energetically or physically you can often remedy related problems.

Regaining Focus – A simple reminder to focus on a particular object or task is often all that is needed to help bring a person back to where they should be.

Stilling – Bringing your body to a calm, steady, relaxed state.  The physical version of Centering, Balancing and Attuning.

Centering – “Getting a grip” mentally.  Useful for when the concentration is poor, thoughts are scattered or coming in a flood.  The mental version of Stilling, Balancing and Attuning.

Balancing – Consciously working to balance energies.  Like Equilibrium, but can be used when the person is unable to relax enough for Finding Equilibrium to let energy flow naturally.  The energetic version of Stilling, Centering and Attuning.

Attuning – Getting in touch with your spiritual core and Spirit.  The spiritual version of Stilling, Balancing, and Centering.

Closing – Closing a person’s chakras temporarily, either in whole or in part, to prevent the flow of energy in or out of them.

914ce6b992826aea4dfc15bdf5dcff3a.jpg



Cocooning – Creating a shielding bubble of energy around someone.  Can be used to cut someone off from the energy of a circle without them realizing it.

Resting – Sometimes a person just needs a break.  Quiet time, a quick nap or a good sleep does wonders at all levels.

Remaining Present – A collection of skills for recognizing the signs and feelings of being moved out of control of your own body, such as through channeling or possession.  Training for noticing the warning signs, such as trace states, spontaneous body movement, perceiving thoughts, voices, and feelings that are not your own and ways to slow or stop the process if desired, along with establishing your boundaries and rules for passing messages through you to others.

Shock – A surprising sound or sensation can break someone out of many states where their attention is no longer present.  A loud noise near them, such as a sharp clap of the hands, will often snap someone out of an altered state.  In extreme cases, a physical action such as a slap in the face or a moderate kick to the shin will bring people back immediately with no long-term side effects.  These should obviously only be used as a last resort and under circumstances that would allow for it.

Radical Grounding – Techniques can be used to quickly remove excess energy from someone.  These involve physical, more than energetic, action.  For example, Heel Drop – Have the person jump up into the air.   When they are in the air, have them lock their knees and land hard on both heels.   There will be a physical jarring when they land that serves to drive their energy deep into the ground immediately.   Repeat if needed.   Note: This technique is not recommended for anyone with knee or spine problems.

Grounding – Grounding is listed last because it is the most overused technique available.  It is often suggested for nearly every situation and is usually the wrong thing to do.  If you are low on energy, grounding won’t help you.  If you have an imbalance or blockage of energy, grounding won’t help you.  If you are trying to build energy, grounding will suck it out of you.  If you are trying to be fluid and mobile, grounding will interfere with this and keep you rooted.  If you are trying to do out-of-body work, grounding will keep you in it.  Grounding is useful when you have some extra energy that you want to get rid of, and not much else.  In most cases where you would want to ground, you can simply do some “instant magic” and project the energy out with an intent behind it, and you will still get the benefit of getting rid of the energy, but you’ll have put it towards a goal.

By learning to practice these various techniques you will be able to better control your own internal world, which then lets you focus better on your external world.

What has been your experience with energy during ritual or spellwork?  Have you ever used these techniques and if so is there one that you find the most helpful? Share your thoughts below in the comments. 

Making Your Own Incense

My first memory of incense came from a church service when I was very young.  My parents did not often attend church but would make an exception when my mother's parents would come to visit.  My grandparents firmly believed in the Episcopalian faith so when they visited we made our yearly pilgrimage to our local church to attend Sunday service.  It may come as a surprise to hear, but I actually enjoyed going to church. As a child I was captivated by not the words of the service, but by the atmosphere of the church itself.  The stained glass windows gleamed with bold colors as the Sunday sun streamed through. I would look at the sequence of windows and wonder if the images were all related, as if they told one continuous story like a comic book or graphic novel.  

As the service began the altar boys clad in their crisp white robes would swing incense burners back and forth as they walked down the aisle.  The scent of the smoke filtered all the way to the back pews and made the whole church smell, well...heavenly. I would breath deeply as they passed and the scent would transport me somewhere other than my little upstate New York village.  I would get visions of spice markets from far away lands and imagine myself traveling there someday.

I believe that atmosphere is strongly underrated when it comes to ritual.  It is often the feeling you get, not the words, of a religious service that brings you closer to divinity.  I think the Catholic church has always understood this and this is why they consistently fill their services with pageantry, gilded statues, and of course incense.  

Incense goes back much farther than the Christian or Jewish faith.  There is evidence of incense being used as far back as the early Indus Valley Civilizations.  Quickly after incense was developed it began to be used in rituals and ceremonies to honor the Gods and Goddesses.  I sometimes like to close my eyes and imagine what some of the ancient Pagan temples must have felt like. I imagine that incense must have enhanced the mysterious quality that imbued these ancient mystic sites.

Nowadays we mostly use incense in our homes as a way to improve the smell or help us relax.  Though as practitioners of witchcraft we have the ability to tap into the esoteric qualities of incense and use it to enhance our spellwork and rituals.  You can of course purchase incense from many places but by taking it a step further and choosing to make your own incense cones you are tapping into a spiritual craft that has been done for centuries.  Making the incense cones yourself allows you to choose the herbs which best correspond to the intention of your spellwork and ritual so that your practice will be imbued with even more meaning and purpose.

 

MAKING YOUR OWN INCENSE CONES

Step 1 - Choose your dried herbs

You can use many different dried herbs to create incense.  The most common ones to use for homemade incense are Sage, Cedar, and Sweetgrass.  It’s even better if you’re able to use herbs that you’ve grown and dried yourself. You can also choose the herbs for your incense based on the magical qualities of the plant.

Step 2 - Crush the herbs into a powder

Using a mortar and pestle crush the leaves until they are the consistency of a rough powder.  This process may take awhile depending on which herbs you are using.

Step 3 - Add makko powder

Add one teaspoon of makko powder for every three teaspoons of ground herbs.  Makko powder is from the bark of the Thunbergi tree. The makko powder will act as a binding agent when water is added, helping to shape the incense into cones.  It’s also a natural combustible material that will allow the incense cones to burn slowly and evenly. While you can grind your own makko powder from Thunbergi tree bark it is much easier to purchase it online for the purpose of making your incense.

Step 4 - Add distilled water

Add water very slowly, a couple drops at a time, to the powder mixture until a ‘dough’ is created that you can mold in your hands.

Step 5 - Form the cones

You can either form the incense ‘dough’ into cones by hand or you can use a small conical mold.  I recommend checking your kitchen cupboard to see if you have any piping bags. The metal tips on these bags can be detached to make a perfect mold for your incense cones.  Measure out a ½ teaspoon of the mixture and press it into the mold. To help release the cone you can insert a pin or twisty tie into the tip of the mold.

Step 5 - Dry the cones

Place your cones on wax paper and allow them to dry for at least 12 hours.  Turn the cones over so the bottoms are exposed half way through to insure they have time to dry as well.

Step 6 - Burning the incense

Fill a heat-resistant bowl or small cauldron with sand or salt and then place the cone on top.  Light the tip of the cone, wait a couple seconds, and blow it out. The cone will continue to smoke for about an hour.

What is your earliest memory of experiencing incense?  Have you ever tried to make your own incense?  Share your thoughts in the comments below. 

*Images on this post are from Pinterest

The Restless Tarot - An Interview with Winslow Dumaine

The Restless Tarot is morbid, perhaps even sinister, yet I bet you won't be able to look away.  The longer you stare at the characters in these cards the more they appear grotesquely lifelike.  They seem to stare right back at you, pulling you down into their frenzied dystopian world.  

When I first saw images of this deck I knew I had discovered something truly unique.  This deck pushes the envelope in every sense of the word and these images are certainly not for the faint of heart.  Upon further research I discovered that the creator of this deck, Winslow Dumaine, happened to live in my city.  So for you my readers, I met up with him to discuss his story behind the creation of this dark and depraved deck.

Scarlet: Can you tell me what inspired you to make this deck?

Winslow: I would look at other tarot decks and think “how can we crank it to 11, how can we make it as extreme as possible?”  

At its core, this deck is based around the end of an relationship.  This deck came from a breakup with the woman I had known since childhood.  The cover of the box has an illustration of my left hand with the ring finger cut off. On the back of the box that the deck comes in, it shows the ring that I wore when I was with her. In a morbid way, I’m trying to show that the experience of this breakup prevents me from ever thinking about relationships or marriage again.

When you experience trauma, you might think ‘I’ll make something out of this; I’ll use this pain to propel me into doing something cool with my life’ or ‘I’ll simply recover.’  I think that there’s not enough attention paid to how trauma can hamstring you and cause explicit distress. In all my work, I want to examine the experience of suffering, and how trauma changes a person's life.

Whenever I found myself in these intense, heated arguments with my former partner, I would find myself thinking “Well, this is it, this is what it is from here on out. The foundation is cracked; even if we make up, we’re just making cosmetic changes to something fundamentally flawed.” That sense of permanence is what helped to guide me to an eventual recovery.  The way that I’ve explained it is that - You should look at your pain.  You should look at your suffering, and ask, why am I here?

Too many people try to brush off serious pain. When I would tell people, “I’m in so much pain, my heart is so broken,” the first thing they say is “It will get better.” I want to say, “Yeah, but I’m suffering now.” When you say “it will get better”, it’s like going up to somebody who just lost their legs and saying “Well, someday you’ll be able to do some cool tricks with a wheelchair.” I don’t care, talk to me about my missing legs. When someone is suffering, talk to them about their pain, not some nebulous future when things are better.  

In a way, this deck is an act of revenge. All my work is. Revenge against the people who failed me, who betrayed me. I do believe that living well is the best revenge, but I focus on the humiliative aspects. The expectation that I will fail drives me to succeed.

As much as this is a deck about my experiences with this one relationship, it’s also very much about the culture of sex violence as a whole. I took a lot of inspiration from strong women in my life, and their experiences guided me throughout the process.

Scarlet: One of the things that really drew me to your deck is that you wrote a short story for each of the cards.  And on top of that you created your own storyline that places the characters within a wider dystopian world caused by the end of fertility.  Why did you choose this wider narrative for your deck?   

Winslow: The deck has one consistent storyline and the cards represent little vignettes of the wider story.  The feeling I was trying to go for was to convince people that they are just seeing the tip of the iceberg; where it leaves you wondering but not questioning ‘what was that about?’ You feel an appreciation for what’s going on but you’re not lost.

My goal with everything that I do is that I want it to feel heavy and ominous, like an asphyxiating wall of confusion and fear. That’s why I set it in this vast cosmological scale.

On a personal level, because I was in this relationship for so long, and we had always planned on having a family together, I developed a sort of relationship with the notion of this potentiality.  The potential for marriage and an eventual child.  As the relationship ended, it was the destruction of this future and the eventual child.

When people are suffering they try to push their pain down and pretend they’re fine.  What I want to say is take that pain and rip it open.  Make it as big and as terrifying as you can because that’s closer to your truth. So I take this sense of ‘I’ll never have a child, I’ll never be with this person I love’ and I expand it to a cosmological degree.  A future, as shown in the deck, without love and without fertility.

Scarlet: How did you get interested in tarot and decide to use tarot as your medium?

Winslow: My interest in tarot came from a few different things.  Before the collapse of the relationship we went to my Dad’s house where he did a tarot reading for us with the classic rider-waite deck.  I thought it was really interesting and artistically it caught my eye.  I just remember that relaxed evening being the last peaceable night of the relationship before it became this avalanche of transgressions and betrayals.  The tarot reading was this last little oasis before the storm.  

I was also inspired to create a deck from this computer game called Hand of Fate that is based around a deck of tarot cards.  I thought the artwork in Hand of Fate was really cool but asked myself ‘What if it was stranger, more morbid, more extreme?’

Scarlet: What is the hardest aspect to creating a tarot deck and do you have any advice for aspiring deck creators?

Winslow: You need to have an idea that is so broad and full of so many different variations that you can reliably get 78 interesting cards out of it.  You need to have an inspiration that is massive and ambitious. Don’t start on the major arcana - those you’re going to have ideas for. I started with the minor arcana because that’s the hardest part. If you can’t figure out how you’d convey your theme while incorporating nine cups in the image, you might want to reconsider your theme.

The most important thing is just sitting down and doing the work. Great ideas are worthless if you can’t just sit down and get the work done.  I would draw during every free moment at work and then I would go home and draw all night. Six to twelve hours a day, every single day. When you make a work of art as an act of revenge, you are unstoppable. If you stop, you cede to them that you are a failure.

To create a tarot deck, you have to have a great fire in you. I take my fire, and I burn their house down.

 

 

What are your thoughts on the Restless Tarot?  Is this a deck you could see yourself working with in your tarot practice.  Share your opinions in the comments below.

You can purcahse this deck and find more details about Winslow's creative projects on his website

The release party for the Tarot Restless will be at "The Chicago Museum of Contempt" at the Gallery Cabaret on Friday, March 2nd starting at 6 PM.  If you're in the Chicago area feel free to stop on by to pick up a deck and meet the artist.  

tarotSarah Johnson Comment
Exploring the Ethereal World of The Fountain Tarot
Snapseed 63.jpg

The key inspiration behind The Fountain Tarot seems to be light itself.  Ribbons of light cascade throughout these images.  Sometimes the light is veil-like, obscuring the figures in a luminescent glow.  In other cards, the light becomes structure and forms the sacred geometry of glass-like cubes and pointed triangles.  Even the silvery gilding of the card edges cast a moon-like glow with each flick of the wrist.

If I could pick one word to describe this deck it would be ethereal.  Ethereal is defined as extremely delicate and light in a way that seems too perfect for this world.  And indeed you get the impression that inspiration for these images came not from our mundane world, but from some more mysterious force.  The figures in these cards are clouded as if they lie just beyond the veil and the images are punctuated by mysterious forms and surrealist structures that draw out your own imaginative thinking.   

The subconscious seems ever present in these cards.  This is not a deck you can interpret from symbolism alone.  These cards beg you to forget the book and tap into your own intuitive force to garner a developed understanding of these images.

Snapseed 62.jpg

The artistic style of The Fountain Tarot will not be for everyone.  It’s unique and light-driven aesthetic sometimes feels ungrounded and some may find difficulties connecting with this deck.  Regardless of your feelings about the workability, the sheer artistic talent in these images cannot be denied.  It’s inspiring to find so many contemporary artists that have chosen tarot as their medium and I look forward to seeing what the creators behind The Fountain Tarot will come up with next.

 

You can find out more about The Fountain Tarot on their site.

What are your opinions on this deck?  Share in the comments below.

tarotSarah JohnsonComment
Uncovering the Secrets of the Fool Card
Snapseed 53.jpg

For many people the fool card represents things like new beginnings, a childish sense of enthusiasm, naivety, and even risk-taking.  This is of course all true but by looking at both the evolution of this card and the significance of the symbolism we can really get a better understanding of what The Fool card really represents.  

The early tarot decks, The Fool is titled Le Mat in French, or Il Matto in Italian.  These archaic words can mean either "the madman" or "the beggar.” The problem is that these two words definitely bring to mind two different things. Also, these are surely not the first words that come to mind we look at what might be the most popular image of the Fool from the Rider-Waite deck originally published in 1910.  

the_foolRWS.jpg

The Rider Waite fool with his fancy clothing definitely does not make you think beggar.  However, you could possibly describe this image of the Fool as a Madman as he looks like he is without a care in the world.  And here his “madman’ like qualities might not necessarily be a bad thing. There is a sense of great courage in the leap of faith he is about to take off the cliff, and perhaps he knows that this leap is a necessary part of his journey.  After all, there is definitely a thin line between madman and genius.  And indeed, perhaps The Fool here too represents the concept of “divine madness.”  This idea of “divine madness” is not unique to the character of The Fool and it can be found throughout narratives in Christianity, Buddhism, and countless other spiritual traditions.

fool-copy1.jpg

On the other hand you have the idea that The Fool represents Il Matto or Le Mat in terms of a beggar.  And yes, the earliest interpretations of The Fool do show him as a beggar or a lowly Jester.  Here in these early interpretations, the childish optimism of the Rider-Waite Fool is lost.  And instead we get something much more real and perhaps fearful.  The early interpretations of the Fool show the trepidation we experience whenever we start out on a new journey or adventure.  

In some intrepretations, like the Visconti Sforza, The Fool is shown wearing ragged clothes and stockings without shoes, clear evidence that he has fallen upon hard times.  This hits upon our own fears of financial ruin when we decide to venture out on our own.

ce2afe654f9aea45e23e8729c634025d.jpg

The Tarot de Marseille Fool shows a man in classic Jester form.  In this image a dog has humorously pulled down his pant leg making the Fool even more of a laughing stock among his peers.  This of course mirrors our own fears of ridicule when we decide to forge our own paths.

So then, how are you as a reader meant to interpret this card?  In the Rider Waite Fool, the risk taking is encouraged and is seen as a beautiful first step on our path to enlightenment.  However, the earlier decks show it more as a cautionary warning that by going along this path you will inevitably run the risk of ending up worse then where you started.  

This is why deck selection is a vital component when doing a reading.  If a Rider-Waite Fool shows up in a reading you might advise to go ahead and begin your new project and embrace the enthusiasm and excitement you’re feeling at the moment.  However, if you’re reading with the Visconti Sforza, you might instead recommend that more planning is necessary before starting this new journey so that you will have all the resources you need to be successful.  

Another way to get a better handle on how to interpret this image is by relying on your own intuitive abilities.  If you as a reader feel a sense of joy when you pull this card, then likewise a more optimistic interpretation makes sense and vice versa.  You can also use your intuition by paying close attention to which specific symbol in the card first catches your eye or seems to draw you in.  This symbol, perhaps, holds a better clue of what aspects of the card you should emphasize in your interpretation.  

So next let’s review some of the symbols in the Rider-Waite Fool and how they can enhance your interpretation.  Let’s start at the top with the number zero.  Because we are starting with zero as opposed to one, it seems to set this card completely apart from the other Major arcana cards. And zero, while yes is a powerful number, it is also the shape of a circle.  And the circle here reminds us that cycles represent a foundational component of tarot as a whole.  There is a sense that we, like the Fool are in a constant cycle of completion and beginning.  The major arcana ends with The World card, the globe representing another cycle.  It reminds us that the Fool then is not just about beginnings he also represents the completion of a previous achievement.  The circle is perhaps also foreshadowing another powerful symbol we see on the following card, The Magician.  The Magician wears an Ouroboros belt, yet again another representation that this cycle is infinite.

Moving to the bottom of the card you can see the dog warning the fool about the cliff ahead.  While earlier decks show the dog as an active member in the beggar's or jester’s humiliation, you definitely don’t get that feeling when you look at the Rider Waite dog.  Images of dogs in general make us think of loyalty.  You can go as far back as The Odyssey, where Odysseus had a loyal dog named Argos who was the only one who recognized him when he returned home from his travels.  Perhaps in this instance, it shows the dog’s ability to understand the essence of who we are even after we’ve evolved and changed.  You get the sense that this dog, too, will still be loyal to Fool after he undergoes his transformative journey.  

Dogs are also seen as symbols of companionship.  The specific dog represented here is a Maltese, a breed favored by the wealthy during the Renaissance.  You can see this type of lap dog featured prominently throughout many portraits during this time.  Perhaps this suggests that the Fool also needs a companion on his journey.  So if you feel intuitively pulled to the image of the dog in this card, you likewise might suggest during the reading that it would be a good idea to have a partner or friend help you out as your begin this new journey.

IMG_4877.JPG

The knapsack in the top left of the corner reminds us of the things we ourselves carry in our daily lives.  On the one hand it can allude to materialism.  While the fool appears to be nicely dressed, he oddly carries very little in this bag.  Perhaps a suggestion that on a spiritual journey one needs little in terms of material items.  The specific image on the bag is not clear, though some say it is the head of an eagle. Again the idea that by removing our own physical attachments to the world, we can take flight on our own more profound journey.

The rose the fool holds is white, the color of purity, and assures us this the journey while difficult, will also be beautiful.  In addition, the white color encourages us to clear our own minds as well in order to forge a greater intuitive connection to this card.  

There are many other symbols in this image but I hope this gives an idea of how an understanding of symbolism can bring further context and complexity to a reading.  To fully understand the meaning of the Fool as a reader, you too need to go on your own journey of development.  Tarot study is so fascinating to me because it combines the study of history and symbolism with the more mysterious aspect of cultivating your own intuitive abilities.  

When it comes to interpreting this card for day to day situations, there are several insights you can make.  Since the Fool card is all about new beginnings, it can herald that we too are about to start something new in our lives.  This would be something we are excited about, but perhaps we are also a bit naive about what to expect.  There are so many times when we take on the role of The Fool in our lives.  For example, when I left for college many years ago I was starting out on a new adventure. Physically I travelled across the county to go to college and had to make all new friends.  Like the Fool, I was excited beyond belief but also naive about how much work it would entail.  There are so many examples of moments when we experience these qualities in our own lives, like perhaps you’re starting a new career, or maybe you just had a baby.  

In a more broader sense the fool can represent the beginning of our own spiritual journey.  Some refer to the whole of tarot in general as “The Fool's’ Journey” as if the fool is like the protagonist in a great story and the other cards of the major arcana represent people he will meet and learn from as he goes along his journey.  Perhaps we too are the fool here - we are the protagonists in the story of our own spiritual development.

Whichever way you choose to interpret The Fool in a reading, one thing is certain, that this new journey we’re on - while difficult - will definitely be worth it in the end.

How do you like to interpret the Fool Card?  Is there a particular symbol in that has always stood out to you in this image?  Share your thoughts in the comments below. 

All About Imbolc
Snapseed 46.jpg

Imbolc falls on February 1st and 2nd in the Northern Hemisphere and it marks the center point for the dark half of the year.  What I love about Imbolc is that it is a celebration of hope; a reminder that Spring is just around the corner.  This is the time of year when the lambs give birth and the earliest of flowers reach upwards towards the sun.  As a whole this sabbat represents ideas like growth, renewal, and purity.  This is a time to appreciate the budding fertility of the earth and it is also a time to purify both our spaces and our minds.  A great activity to do for Imbolc is to go for a simple walk outdoors and try to notice and subtle hints that spring is on it’s way.

Imbolc may also be called St. Brigit’s Day or Candlemas.  Brigit is a Celtic fire goddess and is considered a guardian of the home and the hearth.  She is also tied to things like healing, midwifery, and smithcraft.  When early Christians were unable to stop pagans from worshiping Brigit they decided to make her a Saint and you will often she her referred to as St. Brigit in various sources.

The Christian holiday of Candlemas also comes from the reinterpretation of the older pagan traditions celebrated at this time of year.  During Candlemas all the candles in the home are to be lit.  This ties into celebrations of Brigit who is seen as a guardian of the eternal flame.   

57a912147506d2a12f7f89e7d93c29bb.jpg

Here in America, we have the unusual holiday of Groundhogs Day which usually falls on the same day of Imbolc.  The unusual superstition of a groundhog predicting the remaining weeks of winter is certainly in alignment with Imbolc divination traditions that used this day look for signs that heralded the hope of spring.

You can place items on your altar that you feel relate to this time of year.  As Brigit is considered a fire goddess, candles would be an excellent item to place on your altar.  You can also use an altar cloth in one of the colors associated with Imboc, which are white, pink, yellow, and green.  If you’d like to incorporate stones, the ones connected to Imbolc are amethyst, bloodstone, and garnet.  You may also place plant seeds on your altar and ask Brigit to bless them with fertility for the upcoming planting season.  

More importantly you should think about what in your local environment makes you feel connected to this time of year.  As the seasons and weather differs around the world, what you feel connects to this time of year may be different.  Don’t be afraid to find inspiration from your local environment in items to collect for your altar or for activities that will help you connect with this specific time of year.  

What are your plans for Imbolc this year?  Share in the comments below.  You can watch my video below for more ideas on how to celebrate Imbolc.