Candles for an Uncertain Spring

I am an American.

I am also Polytheist and queer. My queer roommate is here in the US on asylum. My sister, who also lives with me, has a Hispanic last name. Of the two children in our house, one of them is disabled. Two of the above-listed people are trans.

We are 11 days into the Trump presidency, and while I am American I am also scared.

The dawn of this year’s Imbolc illuminates what is for many of us an uncertain spring. It’s challenging, I think, to appreciate the growing light when so much appears so, so dark.

sunrise

Sorry, I couldn’t find a picture as apocalyptic as my Facebook feed.

Maybe it’s just me, but Imbolc feels more poignant than it usually does. I find that I desperately need candles, and torches, and even bonfires to beat back the dark. I need purification and renewal, illumination and inspiration.

So I will take my inspiration from the following and let it define my Imbolc ritual:

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” ~Frank Herbert, Dune

Soon I will take a long cleansing shower, washing away the tension I’ve held since November. I will then go to my altar, and light candles, and invite the Powers to attend.

After that, I will stop compartmentalizing and burying my sorrow and fear. I will instead sit with them, and honor them, and then let them pass away. I will acknowledge that I could have maybe done more, and done better, but I will also recognize that the time for regrets is done now. It’s time to look ahead. Despair and hopelessness are luxuries that we can ill afford. I will do my best to leave them behind in this passing winter as I step into the coming spring refreshed and renewed.

And when I light a candle to honor a new dawn, I will do it with purpose. I will take the energies of this Imbolc and become a candle. I will commit to holding my small, fragile flame against the coming darkness. I will pay attention, and speak out, and help my neighbor as best I can, because only by combining all of our candles together will our light be bright enough to show a better path.

I will do these things. I Will these things. I WILL.

So mote it be.

Tarot Style Families

There are literally thousands of Tarot decks in print and more are created every single day. Some are faithful reproductions of old decks, some offer variations that stick very close to original source decks, and some challenge traditional structure or imagery or both.

It can all be a bit overwhelming. Luckily, Tarot decks can be loosely sorted into what I call “style families”. These families group cards based on card pattern or design, and sorting cards this way is surprisingly helpful.

For starters, knowing the styles we like (and don’t) can help us quickly zero in on the decks we’re actually interested in. With so many decks on the market, this can be a huge time-saver!

Furthermore, decks within the same style tend to read like others in that style (with the exception of decks with new approaches, discussed below). One TdM deck reads like another, RWS decks read the same, etc. Sure details can differ from one deck to the next, but the general gist of things is present. If we see a new or interesting deck in a style we’re already comfy with, we know the new one will be stylistically comfy too. Switching between styles can be an adjustment, however, and knowing that in advance helps us avoid confusion and disappointment.

There are five general style families altogether*, plus related-but-not-Tarot Oracle Cards. Let’s check them out!

Visconti-Sforza 

This style of Tarot dates back to the mid-1500s, when Tarot cards were still emerging from the cards used to play a game called Trionfi (“triumphs”, another word for “trumps”). About 15 decks – none complete – have survived. They were commissioned by Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan, and later by his successor (and son-in-law) Francesco Sforza, hence their name.

Fit for a Duke, these cards were meticulously crafted with precious materials. Members of the family are depicted in the cards, too, like little portraits. They are wonderful for collectors and inspirational for artists, who either use them as a jumping-off point for their own work in other styles or create compatible cards to get a full deck. We can thank these early Visconti-Sforza decks for ideas like the visual style and card numbering, both of which are important to the Tarot we use today.

v-s-cards

Here we have examples from, in order: the Cary-Yale Visconti Tarot, the Visconti-Sforza Restored Tarot, and the Visconti-Sforza Pierpont Morgan Tarot.

Tarot de Marseilles

The Tarot de Marseilles (TdM) style first appeared in the Conver deck, published in 1760. The Conver deck underlies all subsequent TdM decks. They’re the dominant card style in France, and after a version was published in 1969 with a booklet in English more American readers began discovering them too.

ancient-tarot-of-marseilles1

The Ancient Tarot of Marseilles is a faithful reproduction of the Conver deck of 1760. I personally can’t look at the colors very long without blinking spots out of my eyes, but it’s hard to get more authentic!

You may have noticed that the “pip” cards (1 through 10 of each suit of the Minor Arcana) in the above deck don’t depict full scenes. That’s one of the traits that sets this style apart from others. Like the playing cards from which they came, TdM pip cards feature a geometric arrangement of whatever symbol is used for the suit.

The images in TdM decks as a whole tend to be simpler than other styles because the originals were printed with woodblocks. Modern TdM decks still reflect that. For instance, even cards with scenes (Majors and Court cards) rarely have backgrounds. The sky is simply left blank.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There’s a purity of purpose to a TdM deck that other styles are hard-pressed to match. They’re especially useful for those who rely more on numeric, astrological, and elemental correspondences when interpreting Tarot. Those of us distracted by overly ornamental artwork, or overwhelmed by the symbolism grafted onto the cards by later styles, might very well find these cards a welcome change too. However, if you rely more on lush imagery for interpretation these decks might not work for you.

le-tarot-noir

Cards from Le Tarot Noir, my current Tarot deck crush. Here we can clearly see the heritage of the original Conver deck, but the colors have been muted from the original garish hues and the lines are much more finely drawn. There’s also an almost melancholy whimsy here I find gorgeously compelling.

Rider-Waite-Smith

In 1909 AE Waite commissioned Pamela Colman-Smith to do the art for a Tarot deck later published by the Rider Company. It was the very first Tarot to use fully-realized scenes for the pip cards and quickly became the American standard. Often labeled as Rider-Waite decks, many Tarot enthusiasts honor Colman-Smith’s contribution by naming her too.

The original RWS deck is available in several sizes and coloring styles: the Commemorative, the Original, the Radiant, etc. Beyond that, this is such a popular deck that the market is flooded with “RWS clones” and “RWS-inspired” decks. Clones redraw and/or recolor the original art but otherwise exactly copy it (thank you copyright interruptions!), while inspired decks use much of the same symbology but put their own spin on the actual art.

rws-cards

Here we have a string of RWS clones. They are from, in order: the Rider-Waite Tarot, the Albano-Waite Tarot, the Radiant Rider-Waite Tarot, the 8-Bit Tarot, the Golden Tarot, and the International Icon Tarot.

rws-insp-cards

These RWS inspired cards have a lot more variation, but their heritage is obvious. They are, in order, from the Gilded Tarot, the Fenestra Tarot, the Hanson-Roberts Tarot, the Sacred Isle Tarot, the Tarot of the White Cats, and the Wizards Tarot.

RWS decks are by far the dominant style in the US. When most of us think “Tarot deck” it’s an RWS deck we picture. Because of that, learning to read Tarot with one is fairly standard. Many Tarot teachers and Tarot books recommend starting with one, too. I have to disagree. In my opinion RWS decks usually (but not always) add more complications to the process of learning Tarot than necessary. That can be a stumbling block for those new to it.

There are more accessible approaches. I suggest beginners start with one of these other decks, get comfortable with Tarot basics, and then tackle one of the many gorgeous RWS decks available. In my experience, learning Tarot is less frustrating and overwhelming when we can ease into it a bit.

Thoth 

Lady Frieda Harris painted the original Thoth deck according to directions from Aleister Crowley, who called them The Book of Thoth and wrote a companion book for them. Some of the cards were painted as many as eight times over the course of five years! A limited edition was published in 1944 and the deck was published for a wider audience in 1969.

Since then artists have created their own intensely layered artworks based on the Thoth framework, leading to the birth of this style family. This is the third most common style, behind the RWS and the TdM.

Decks in this style are a radical departure from TdM and RWS decks. The original Thoth deck incorporated elements from many different philosophies and magickal traditions, ranging from  Kabbalah and I Ching to Western magick and Egyptian mysticism. It also debuted a new way to number and name the cards, changed established associations and correspondences, completely overhauled the Court cards, etc. Decks based on the Thoth deck use the same unified-magpie approach but come at it from areas Crowley didn’t, giving a wide variety of expressions to the core ideas.

thoth

Several examples of Thoth decks. They are from, in order: the Aleister Crowley Thoth Tarot, the Haindl Tarot, the Kingdom Within Tarot, the Magickal Tarot, and the Via Tarot.

Using a Thoth deck well requires familiarity with Crowley’s work and a lot of study. In the hands of a skilled reader, though, they can be extraordinary. These are absolutely not beginner cards.

New Approaches

This style family includes all of the new, different, and unique decks on the market that can’t be easily lumped in with the other style families.

A definite product of its time, The New Tarot was channeled by Ouija board and published in 1969. It was the first modern deck to break from the more established style families. The Mountain Dream Tarot by Bea Nettles came out in 1975 and was the first deck based on photographs. The following year we got the first deck based on a non-Western culture (The Xultun Tarot), and in 1981 the first round deck (The Motherpeace Tarot) came out. The Motherpeace Tarot was also the first feminist-based deck to find widespread distribution. As artists and readers experiment and push the limits of what Tarot can be, more and more decks join this style family.

New Approaches decks can vary from the other style families by taking singular artistic approaches, using nonstandard symbol sets, including a few additional cards, going with different names and/or orders for the cards, etc. Most use a combination of the above.

pm-and-experimental

See what I mean about variety? SO. MANY. OPTIONS! In the first row, we have, in order: the New Tarot, The Mountain Dream Tarot, the Xultun Tarot, the Motherpeace Tarot, the Darkana Tarot, and the Voyager Tarot. In the second row, we have, in order: Tarot in the Land of Mysterium, the Goddess Tarot, the Australian Animal Tarot, the Dante Tarot, the Dreampower Tarot, and the Merlin Tarot.

Oracle Cards

This category includes all the other cards used for divination and/or self-exploration that aren’t Tarot. That doesn’t mean they can’t complement Tarot – Lenormand cards are gaining a following among Tarot readers, for instance – but they are completely different systems.

In addition to the aforementioned Lenormand cards, this category includes Minchiate cards, angel oracle decks, animal wisdom cards, affirmation decks, and playing cards used for divination, among others.

Tarot decks contain 78 cards spread across 5 suits – one for the Major Arcana and four in the Minor Arcana. The four Minor Arcana suits include four Court cards each. Names and orders may change, meanings may be tweaked, but all of these elements are present in a Tarot deck.

Oracle cards are way more free form. They can have any number of cards, follow any rules they like, and create their own structure as they go. The art can range from incredibly simple to ornate, and many include quotations.

oracle-cards

Oracle cards. Here we have a card from the 45-card Archangel Oracle, a card from the 44-card Rumi Oracle, and a card from the 80-card Archetype Cards.

Some are simpler than Tarot, but others (like the 97-card Minchiate cards) are more complex. While most are packaged with the only book you’ll need to understand them, information on others can be scant. Make sure you have the info you need to get started before investing in one of these.

*There are other types of Tarot decks, specifically historical ones, that I didn’t cover here because they’re not widely referred to or used. If you’d like to learn more about these other styles check out Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Tarot: A Comprehensive Guide.

Tarot Decks for Beginners

Let’s say you’ve never touched a deck before in your life but want to learn Tarot. Or maybe you’ve been reading for years and want to know what to recommend to students. Please don’t automatically reach for the standard Rider-Waite! There are better options!

I know them are fightin’ words for some of us, so let me explain.

What makes a good beginner deck? 

New students aren’t looking to do professional readings right off the bat, so they don’t need to look for decks with that in mind. Instead, they need a deck that will get them familiar with Tarot structure, ground them in basic meanings and associations, and introduce them to intuitive card interpretation. Once those skills are firmly in place the student can move on to more challenging decks and broaden their basic skill set.

In my opinion, the best decks for beginners hit the following few points:

  1. A good deck consists of the standard 78 cards, broken into the standard Major and Minor Arcanas with Court cards. The names and associations can deviate from the traditional, and the Majors can be reordered, but they all need to be there.
  2. A good deck is approachable. There should be something about it that is familiar, comforting, or interesting enough to immediately engage the person using it. This is completely up to individual preference.
  3. A good deck ideally relies on stories instead of complex symbolism to convey meaning. If meaning is conveyed symbolically, the symbols need to be carefully chosen, easily understood, and as minimal as possible.
  4. The art of a good deck is at least moderately attractive, and all labels are clear. This is, again, a wholly personal choice.
  5. It’s readily available and affordable (preferably under $25, but definitely under $50).

So which decks hit all the notes?

Recommended Beginner Decks

These are my nine beginner picks. A few might even surprise you! They run the gamut of themes and approaches while meeting my requirements and staying true to the essence of Tarot.

They are, in alphabetical order:

The Beginner’s Guide to Tarot Kit (aka the Sharman-Caselli Tarot)

If a student must go with a straight-up RWS-style this is my absolute favorite of the bunch. The creators deliberately stripped out most of the esoteric Golden Dawn stuff and simplified the presentation. They wound up with a deck that has the feel and associations of the original Rider-Waite without all the extraneous bits that can confuse newcomers. The book works well as an intro to Tarot, too.

sharman-caselli

Three cards from the Beginner’s Guide to Tarot, a simplified and approachable version of the Rider-Waite.

Available here for about $30, book included.

The Bright Idea Deck

Marketing-wise this isn’t a Tarot deck (even though it totally is). It’s been pitched to businesses and professionals as a way to “generate ideas, expand creative expression, and stimulate thought processes”. As a result, there’s almost no esoterica in this deck, making it uniquely accessible to beginners and those turned off by overt mysticism.

bright-idea

The Bright Idea Tarot. Here we see this deck’s interpretation of the Magician, the Star, and Justice.

One of my favorite aspects of the deck is that the companion book offers more open-ended questions than it does rock-solid meanings. That encourages the reader to engage their intuition from Day One, as opposed to having to learn over time to trust themselves enough to step away from the book when necessary.

This Tarot is fantastic for practical application. It’s not very suited for deep spiritual reflection, though. Students may also find it challenging to move from this to another deck, especially with the way the Minor Arcana is streamlined. For those attracted to this one, I’d suggest also eventually getting a more traditional Tarot for meditation purposes. That’ll make it easier to transition to other decks when you want to spread your wings. I review it in depth here.

Available here for about $15, book included.

The Gaian Tarot

The Gaian Tarot shows people experiencing spiritual moments during daily activities and while out in nature. Those students focusing on conscious living and environmentalism in the modern world might find this to be a very comfortable deck. It is softened yet powerful. It’s also inclusive, which is very welcome in a Tarot deck!

gaian

The Gaian Tarot. The Guardian of Water is one of my favorites in the deck, the Three of Earth shows a modern kitchen, and the Strength card resonates with serene power.

The Gaian Tarot is very Rider-Waite-like in structure, but some of the card names have been changed to reflect the deck’s theme. The Court cards were carefully balanced for gender (two men and two women for each rank), which I like, and associated ranks have been changed to stages of life (Child/Explorer/Guardian/Elder). Traditional suits are dropped in favor of elements: Pentacles, Swords, Wands, and Cups become Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. The book is solid, too, so bonus.

Available here for about $30, book and awesome box included.

The Mythic Tarot

This is my standard recommendation for beginners. It’s based on Greek mythology, giving those who have studied it a nice sense of familiarity with the deck. Major Arcana and Court cards are associated with a specific story or mythic figure, while the pip cards take us step-by-step through a story associated with the given suit. That makes the cards much easier to remember!

majors

The Mythic Tarot. Here the Lovers card depicts the Judgment of Paris, The Star shows Pandora opening the box, and The High Priestess evokes the whole story of Persephone’s abduction.

I’ve already done a fairly in-depth review of this deck here. The original, which I prefer art-wise, requires a bit of hunting down and can be expensive. However, the NEW Mythic Tarot, with “updated” art, is available here for under $10. I also highly recommend the workbook, available here for the New Mythic and here for the original. I’d say get the book for the original version regardless of which version of the Mythic you go with, though, as the information is the same and it’s much cheaper. Yay bargains!

The Pagan Tarot

Ok, the Pagan Tarot is one of a kind. The structure and meanings of the Rider-Waite are maintained, but all the art is thoroughly and completely modern. There are cars and computers in here! It focuses more on scenes from day-to-day life than esoterica, which makes this deck easily relatable for those new to Tarot. It’s also very Wiccan in focus, so that may or may not appeal.

pagan

The Pagan Tarot. Here we have a fantastic modern interpretation of the Hermit, a relatable Nine of Pents, and a Death card showing the transition of between “old self” and “new self” that happens during initiation.

As a note for those interested, this deck is careful to balance genders among the Court cards. Not surprising for a Wiccan-based deck, but still worth mentioning. I don’t personally like how it’s done (Swords and Wands for men, Cups and Pentacles for women), but I do appreciate that an attempt was made in that direction.

Available here for about $30, book included.

The Tell Me Tarot

Think of this deck as a Rider-Waite with training wheels. The artwork is vastly simplified and interpretation suggestions are actually written on the face of every card! This makes getting started much less frustrating – going back and forth to a book sucks. This deck doesn’t even bother with a book. Instead, it comes with a couple of extra cards that give the barest of basics and lets the cards clarify themselves.

tell-me

The Tell Me Tarot. On the face, we can see both a cartoony version of traditional Rider-Waite symbolism as well as some text. The traditional name is given, as is a keyword and card alignment (whether it’s generally a more positive or negative card). After that come interpretation suggestions.

This is definitely a transition deck. It’s excellent for beginners and sets them up well to move on to other Rider-Waite decks, but they will need to move on – and fairly quickly at that – if they want to get deeper into the cards. Students may find it worth the investment, though.

Available here for about $20.

The Science Tarot

In the Science Tarot, traditional mysticism has been exchanged for scientific theory. It works remarkably well. Also, since we did learn science in school and didn’t learn mysticism it’s wonderful for the beginner. We might have to think back to our school days or look up things that we’ve forgotten, but the meanings come across brilliantly.

While it’s set up in Rider-Waite fashion, the art and associations are quite different. Here the Major Arcana have all been associated with scientific stories or concepts, such as Schrodinger’s Cat for the Wheel of Fortune. The traditional Pentacles/Swords/Wands/Cups suits are instead Magnifying Glasses/Scalpels/Bunsen burners/Beakers. Court ranks have been exchanged theme-wise as well while keeping standard meanings, and each one is associated with a famous scientist. There’s even some gender exchange in the Court, which is always a plus for me.

science

The Science Tarot. Here we have a Major, Court, and Minor card.

As a bonus for the scientific and mathematically minded there are equations and formulae scattered all throughout the art. Have fun finding them!

Available here for about $25.

The Whimsical Tarot

Don’t let the cutesy art fool you – this is a fantastic beginner Tarot that can grow with you. Designed by the same woman responsible for the classic Hanson-Roberts Tarot, all of the images here are drawn from fairy tales and nursery rhymes. That gives us access to a ton of nuance we already know!

The cards that can scare Tarot novices are rendered in a friendlier fashion, too. For example, Death is Sleeping Beauty, the Devil shows Pinnochio as a puppet, and the Tower is the Wolf blowing down the house of the Little Pigs. We know that the situation was transitory for the characters in all of those stories, which reassures us that the scary stuff can pass for us as well.

whimsical

The Whimsical Tarot. Notice how the label for the Major Arcana card isn’t static. The numbers are, but the labels are placed differently depending on the card.

I will say that the book is pretty lame, though. It’s super small and the descriptions are brief. It doesn’t even tell us which story the card comes from! Not to worry – this list gives us the stories in case we can’t figure them out, and we can use those to flesh out the sparse meanings. There’s also a full-length book you can get for this, but it’s so pricey I wouldn’t bother unless you love the deck. It’s certainly not necessary.

Available here for about $20.

The Wizards Tarot

Into Harry Potter? Give this deck a whirl! From the get-go, we’re pulled onto the campus of a Hogwarts-esque school called the Mandrake Academy. Each of the Major Arcana cards is reimagined as a Professor of various magickal disciplines, while the Rider-Waite-inspired Minor Arcana cards show students of the school. The Court cards depict elemental creatures associated with the suit.

wizards

Three cards from the Wizards Tarot. The Initiate is the Fool, starting their magickal education. We can see Mandrake Academy in the background of the Six of Cups. The Hanged Man is also the Professor of Runes, particularly fitting in this location when we consider Norse lore about the origin of the runes.

One of the coolest things about this deck is the companion book, which is a pretty entertaining combo of Tarot guidebook and Basic Magick 101. Each Major Arcana card teaches both a practical magickal technique and has its very own associated spread. How cool is that?

Available here, and the most expensive one I saw was $30. Make absolutely sure you get the one with the 200+ page book that came out in 2011, too. The 2014 version’s 80-page booklet just isn’t the same.

Have any others you’d like to recommend? Let me know in the comments!

The Mythic Tarot – Tarot Review

As many of you know I’ve been hard at work on my new and unique Tarot deck. Add in the fact that I’m now advertising my reading services and I’ve been breathing Tarot. Because of that, I thought it would be wonderful to present some of my Tarot favorites and go into a bit about why I like them. Even if you don’t read Tarot, the symbolism is fabulous and the art is gorgeous.

Yes, this will be a series. 🙂 Bring on the Tarot reviews!

To kick things off I thought I would start with my favorite deck for beginners. And it’s not the Rider-Waite!

The Cards

The Mythic Tarot was first published in 1986 and has gone on to become a classic. There are now two versions, though. The Mythic Tarot is the original, and the New Mythic Tarot has redrawn the art while keeping the meanings and associations. The art of the original is kinda meh – I’m not a fan of this style, and even within the style the figures are very stiff-looking – but I loathe the art of the New Mythic Tarot. Loathe it. It’s a personal preference, and I’m sure there are a ton of people who prefer the new one, but there ya go.

The Eight of Swords from the Mythic Tarot is displayed next to the Eight of Swords from the New Mythic Tarot.

The Eight of Swords. The original Mythic Tarot is on the left, and the New Mythic Tarot is on the right. And I have to ask – what the hell, y’all?

Either way the art’s not the reason I recommend the Mythic to beginners. It’s the structure that sets this deck apart.

Every card of the Major Arcana is based on a story or figure from Greek mythology, and most of us are at least a little familiar with that without trying. That gives us a little familiarity right from the start.

Additionally, the image on the card isn’t meant to be symbolic solely on its own, it’s meant to evoke underlying mythic associations in the reader. How nifty is that? Not only does it lend scope to the reading, it makes the meanings of the cards MUCH easier to remember.

majors

The Lovers depicts the Judgment of Paris, The Star shows Pandora opening the box, and The High Priestess encapsulates Persephone’s story.

The Minors (1-10) are set up in a similar fashion, but each suit is a story. Every card reveals the next stage of the narrative in a linear fashion. The story of Eros and Psyche, from meeting through struggles to happily-ever-after, makes up the Cups. We learn about Daedalus the Artisan and get to see how success and failure manifest throughout his life in the Pentacles. Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece is depicted in the Wands.  Orestes and the curse on his family are explored through the Swords, and I really appreciate how this deck doesn’t try to downplay the conflicts of this suit or the story.

Through this story-based technique the memorization required for 40 cards is handily reduced to four stories, prompted by the pictures on each card but not limited by them. I love that, and it helped me move from book-reliant reader to intuitive reader.

The Court cards are my least favorite part of this deck, but for me that’s pretty par for the course. (I don’t tend to like Court cards. *shrug*) Each figure is associated with their own story, and while they’re harder to remember than the Majors they still serve the purpose.

Using the Cards

If you’re an experienced reader the booklet that comes with the deck should be fine. You’ll need it, though, because while these are very close to standard Rider-Waite meanings they’re not exact. If you’re new to Tarot in general I’d recommend picking up The Mythic Tarot Workbook with the deck. It offers exercises for getting more in touch with the stories and symbology of the cards, giving a much firmer foundation to start with.

Available here.

Hierarchies and Devotions

When people first start establishing a devotional practice they often focus on actions they can take, such as extending hospitality, planning major holidays and festivals, and building altars and shrines.

How we think doesn’t usually rate a second glance until much later.

Here’s the thing, though. The hierarchies we carry around in our heads can completely derail our devotional work before any of those actions are even a blip on the radar. Even once we’ve got something established, those hierarchies can still spring out like a possessed jack-in-the-box and catch us unawares.

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I looked for a pic of a jack-in-the-box but creeped myself out. I figured I’d let you imagine your own horrors instead. YOU’RE WELCOME. 🙂

What’s a hierarchy? 

Hierarchies are the systems we use to rank things by status or authority. We rank everything: jobs, physical attractiveness, workplace chain-of-command, preferred handbag brands, etc.

We learn the importance of hierarchies as soon as we learn that our parents have authority over us. As we grow we add on to and refine that initial ranking system until we have an entire series of hierarchies, all nested together in our heads.

And we automatically use them to compare ourselves to other people.

high-school-social-hierarchy

Here’s an example of a high school popularity hierarchy. Did you automatically look for where you’d have ranked on this when you were in high school? I did.

It’s a pretty simple process. We rank a bunch of things from worst to best, or least desirable to most desirable, figure out where we fit in that ranking system, and then use that as a basis for how we feel about ourselves. The higher we are in rank the better we are as people.

Given how much we rely on these hierarchies to navigate our lives, is it really a surprise that we use tend to use them for our spiritual practice, too?

That makes sense. Why is it a problem, though?

For one, it’s dead easy to start ranking the ways different people practice according to some arbitrary scale we make up, compare ourselves to that ranking, and then start drawing conclusions based on whatever we come up with.

In other words, we either think our practice is lacking because someone else out there is doing “better” or we think our practice rocks because someone else out there is doing “worse”. That’s of course a completely ridiculous comparison to make, but people do it anyway.

Lots of people have talked about that particular issue, though. A more serious problem, to my mind, happens when we start comparing ourselves to the Powers.

It’s an easy trap to fall into, too. Once we start thinking of the Powers as individuals with Their own agendas and personalities, it’s really tempting to put Them on a hierarchy just like we do everyone else. Again, it’s just habit. And since They’re always at the top of whatever hierarchy we’re working with, we’re always beneath Them.

Some folks may feel so far beneath Them that they’re too intimidated to interact with Them at all. How can we have a relationship with Them if we can’t even talk?

It’s the exact same thing that happens when we’re attracted to someone at a bar.

girl

Maybe this girl? I dunno, go with me here.

We see someone who pushes all our buttons, who seems like the most amazing person ever. We look at them longingly from across the room. We ask the bartender about them, maybe, or see if our friends know anything about them. We fantasize about saying something hilarious to make them laugh, having a good time, maybe even getting their number.

Then the comparisons start, and our inner monologue runs amuck. “Should I say hi? Naw, they’re outta my league. Who needs that kind of humiliation? I need to find someone attainable.” We psych ourselves out before we make a move and let our internalized feelings of inferiority hold us back.

Or maybe we see a favorite author/musician/celebrity around town and want to gush about how meaningful their work has been in our lives. Once again we fantasize about what interacting with them would be like, once again we compare their place on our internal hierarchy to our own, and once again we psych ourselves out before making a move.

If we’re inhibited by a perceived distance between ourselves and other people, how much more inhibited might we be by a perceived distance between ourselves and the Powers? And how much more likely are we to avoid interacting with Them because of it?

It takes a different form with devotional work, of course, but it’s the same idea. The self-talk sounds similar, too. “I’m a mess right now. I’m sure the Powers are busy and have better things to do than talk to me anyway. If all relationships are reciprocal, what could I possibly bring to the table that would interest Them? I’m just human! I’m not going to ask Them for help. After all, if I was as together as They deserve or expect me to be I wouldn’t even need Their help. I’ll reach out when I’m not so embarrassed. When I’m not so scattered. When I’ve got a better offering for Them. When I’ve studied more. When I’ve accomplished more. When I know what I’m doing. When I’ve sacrificed enough to earn Their attention. When I’m better. When I’m deserving. When I matter.”

It’s a vicious cycle. We feel lesser, we feel intimidated, we avoid interaction. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Avoiding interactions with Them doesn’t exactly help our devotional practice flourish.

So how can we fix that? 

The answer is an easy concept with difficult implementation, but the more we do it the easier it is to keep doing it. Momentum is our friend.

Human hierarchies tend to be based on the things we can easily see and assess (socioeconomic level, appearance, accomplishments, etc). But we have to remember that the Powers aren’t human. Why would They use human-based hierarchies?

The hierarchies on which the Powers rely (at least in my experience) rank traits, or virtues, and judge off of that instead. The harder we try to meet the standards by which They want us to live, the higher the regard in which the Powers hold us. Our effort makes us worthy, not our perfection.

But what exactly do They look for? 

That depends on the Powers you follow. In my experience this is loosely answered on a pantheon basis – for instance, most of the Greek deities tend to value the same set of traits, and the Norse another set – but individual Powers within that pantheon may rank those traits differently.

As usual I’d ask Them first. What do They tell you?

Beyond that, I’d suggest consulting source documents or, if possible, living traditions. Most faiths with written records have some sort of “right actions” guideline to follow, whether it be explicit or inferred. That’s a fantastic place to start sorting things out.

For instance, as someone on a more Celtic path, I do my best to use a hierarchy based on a system of Celtic values (and wow does this need to be a post all on its own!). Wiccans and Wiccan-flavored Pagans often use the Wiccan Rede or Rule of Three the same way. Those on an Asatru-type path might prefer to work with the Nine Noble Virtues, while Egyptian/Kemetic folks might look to the Forty-Two Negative Confessions.

anubis-and-maat

After death, Anubis weighs the heart of the deceased against a single feather of Ma’at, the Egyptian goddess of law and morality. If the heart is the same weight or lighter than the feather, it proves the deceased led a virtuous life and so deserves a reward. If it’s heavier… well, there are consequences for that too.

Outside of all that I can’t think of any Power offhand that doesn’t value Authenticity, Integrity, and Hospitality in some form or fashion. If nothing else start there and see what comes to you.

Make those right actions the basis of your life, and then assess yourself accordingly. Are you keeping your word? Are you working hard to meet your goals? Are you treating yourself, other people, and the Powers with respect? Are you living authentically? That’s where you need to focus your attention. The rest is just noise.

The beauty of this system is that even missteps and mistakes are ok because we show honor by handling them appropriately. Every single choice we make allows us to demonstrate right action, and thus further right relationships with the Powers. They bring us closer together instead of pushing us further away.

Once we’ve sorted this whole issue out we can then engage the Powers from a place of security and strength, making the devotional work we do even more meaningful and effective.

Revamps and Updates

It seems like 2017 is ushering in change, and I am not immune. Thankfully the tagline for this blog applies here too!

not-all-those-who-wander-are-lost

So what’s happening?

Glad you asked!

Mystik Nomad – encompassing this blog as well as the services I offer – is now a distinct Facebook page. Feel free to Like/Follow me there to get all the updates!

I have overhauled my much-neglected Twitter account and hope to use it more often over the coming months. If you’d like to subscribe to my feed it’s @MystikNomad.

This blog is up for a long-overdue overhaul as well, which should be finalized in the next month or two. Details will be posted as they become available.

I am also in the process of getting my Tarot deck ready for publication, as well as working on a book containing the curriculum I use to teach beginning polytheists. I am making strides on both projects and hope to have beta copies of at least the Tarot deck ready by Ostara.

Everything is so exciting!

Transition and change have become old friends, and this is more of the same. I’m so grateful to have all of you wandering this path with me!