The Bright Idea Deck – Tarot Review

Three Trump cards from the Bright Idea Deck - Passage, Shadow, and Demolition.

I’m always on the lookout for new and innovative approaches to Tarot, so when I started hearing about The Bright Idea Deck I was intrigued. The more I heard the more I liked, and eventually I got it into my hot little hands.

Interestingly, this deck makes absolutely no claim to be a Tarot deck. That’s deliberate. It is a Tarot deck, but it’s marketed as a creativity and brainstorming tool in the Self Help/Business section.

That’s kind of fitting. Like any other Tarot deck, it can be used for divination, but it’s specifically designed to jump-start creativity and foster insight, especially in corporate settings. Suggestions in the book include using them for novel plotting and character development, marketing campaigns, party and event planning, and career navigation.

I was skeptical at first, but after working with them a bit I have to admit I kind of love them. They just have to be used within their intended design.

The Deck

The “bright idea” of this deck was realized by reconsidering and then redesigning everything about a traditional Tarot deck.

I’ve got to give major props for out-of-the-box thinking. What Mark McElroy came up with is recognizably Tarot, yet utterly unique and in line with his vision.

Some of that out-of-the-box thinking?

  1. The backs of the cards are standard reversible, but the borders on the face side of the cards are color-coded. Majors are purple, and the Minors are bordered in their associated color. I didn’t realize just how helpful that would be until I started looking for specific cards, or culling out the Majors for dedicated uses. The color-coding just jumps out. This isn’t the first deck in history to use this technique, but it’s not all that common either. After using it with this deck I kind of wish it was.

    Three cards from the Bright Idea Deck are showcased here, the two "helper" cards and the reversible back image. The rest of the deck is fanned out below, and the accompanying book's spine can be seen above.

    The deck comes with 78 face cards and two “helper” cards with black borders (the back image is in the center). The one on the left shows basic suit associations and the one on the right shows the way the pip cards are streamlined.

  2. Almost all occult anything has been stripped out. There are symbols scattered throughout the art, especially astrological ones, but honestly having them in the art is kind of gilding the lily. The keyword and the art together make reading these cards dead easy even without symbolic help.

    Blue 1 (the Ace of Cups) from the Bright Idea Deck.

    Let’s take this card, Blue 1 (equivalent to Ace of Cups). The astrological signs for Scorpio and Cancer are behind his head, but we don’t need them to interpret this card. The keyword is Motivation, and that’s what this card asks. What is your motivation? Rewards or praise? Avoiding punishment? Or simply swimming around your comfort zone and not making waves?

  3. The Majors have been significantly overhauled. If you know what you’re looking at they still retain their traditional roots, but every single one of them has been renamed and approached from a less esoteric (and less off-putting for newbies) angle.

    Three Trump cards from the Bright Idea Deck - Passage, Shadow, and Demolition.

    Here we see the three cards that most often disturb people new to Tarot: Passage (Death), Shadow (The Devil), and Demolition (The Tower). I personally adore Shadow – what a cool (yet creepy) interpretation of this card!

  4. The pips have been overhauled, too, and streamlined as steps in a process. I’ve seen other decks approach the pips as stages in a story, but it’s rare to see a deck make everything as consistent between suits as this one does.

    Yellow 9 and Yellow 10 from the Bright Idea Deck.

    Here we have Yellow 9 and Yellow 10. In Yellow 9 we see that the product is finished and is ready to go. We’ve accomplished our goal. Yellow 10 shows us what happens when we refuse to let it go and move on – we obsess over minutiae while neglecting research and development for the next project.

  5. The Court cards, y’all. We need to talk about those! Ranks and hierarchies were completely ditched. They’re called Approach cards here, and each shows an approach that can be taken to a situation. This might be my very favorite aspect of the whole deck, especially for newcomers to Tarot. It makes the Court much easier to understand! Again, it’s not a unique-to-this-deck approach, but it’s utilized here to amazing effect.

    The four Approach cards of the Red suit.

    The Red Approach cards.

The cards themselves are a bit stiff out of the box, but they’re perfectly shuffleable. They feel sturdy and aren’t too slippery to work with.

The horizontal tuck box everything comes in is flimsy, though, and honestly kind of useless once the plastic’s peeled off. There’s a bigger-than-the-deck well the shrink-wrapped cards are dropped into, an empty white cardboard insert that takes up space (although not enough space to keep the cards from banging around), and the book just sits on top of everything. It’s one of the least appealing packaging jobs I’ve ever seen for this kind of set. I’d suggest acquiring a sturdier box or bag for the cards at the same time you purchase the deck because you’ll need it immediately.

The full-size softback book is fantastic, though, which makes up for the shoddy packaging. It offers ways to use Tarot I’d never considered.

Speaking of which…

Using the Deck

The deck itself is innovative. The book continues the theme. It’s hard to find truly fresh takes on Tarot these days, but this provides a whole new toolkit to play with.

The first section lays out the deck and offers some usage suggestions/exercises. I’m used to seeing some unique spreads in these kinds of books, but the Bright Idea Deck goes beyond that to offer truly unique approaches.

One of my favorites is called “What Would the Trumps Do?”. The book compares the Trump cards to 22 wise advisors, each with their own powerful perspectives and tried-and-true strategies to bring to a problem. Regardless of the issue, the book says, it can be brought to the Trumps for insight and advice.

Three cards from the Bright Idea Deck.

Three Majors from The Bright Idea Deck. Here we see this deck’s interpretation of the Magician, the Star, and Justice.

Pull out all the Major Arcana cards, put them in order, turn on a recorder, and then ask “What would Freedom (the Fool) do?” while thinking about your situation. Spend no more than 30 seconds on it and spit out the first idea or approach the card suggests. Then move on, asking “What would Capability (the Magician) do?” and consider that card. If you draw a blank keep moving. Progress this way through all of the Majors. Twenty minutes later, when you’ve finished the exercise, you’ve got 22 new approaches to your situation. Not all of them will be doable or advisable, but there should be a few that at least hint at a new direction. I certainly get some interesting insight using this technique!

After that section, each card gets 2 scant pages of explanation (with no pictures, so keep the deck close as you go through it). There are a collection of keywords, then 5 open-ended questions to encourage the reader to make their own connections with the cards, and then a brief story-type thing about each card to explain the meanings of specific artistic elements. The author states at the beginning, though, that you should feel free to ignore what doesn’t work for you. That fosters intuition from the get-go. Journaling is highly recommended with this deck!

Personally, I don’t find these to be cards for deep spiritual exploration (although I do occasionally use them for #CardaDay pulls). I also don’t like them for Tarot-based spellwork or altar meditations. If you prioritize those uses I’d suggest looking elsewhere. However, the Bright Idea Deck shines for more mundane introspection and really does encourage brainstorming. I also find the emphasis on process to be incredibly helpful – this is the deck I turn to for project kick-starts. The removal of traditional Tarot imagery makes them palatable for those who shy away from excessive “woo-woo stuff”, but it can also limit more esoteric interpretations.

Many of the qualities that make these cards fresh and unique also make them especially suited for Tarot beginners. If this deck appeals then, by all means, pick it up! You’ll have to order it because it’s out of print, but there are lots available online. However, please do realize that this is not a standard deck. If you plan to start here and eventually move on to other decks, know that the transition might be more jarring than if you’d started with something a little more traditional. That’s by no means stated to dissuade you, but it is something to keep in mind.

On a totally personal note, there are a few blonde guys in suits, like in the Capability card, that remind me entirely too much of Melon Mussolini. I find that to be hella distracting when I read. Now that this review is done I plan to go through the deck with a Sharpie and change the blondes into brunettes. It’s my deck. I can do that.

Available here for about $15.

Reclaiming My “No” and Consent Culture

The elements of Consent: Freely Given, Reversible, Informed, Enthusiastic, and Specific.

I walked out of a leadership training session this past weekend.

There were close to 200 people there, most having incredibly transformative experiences. I was encouraged to attend by a friend, and people I’ve never met worked behind the scenes to ensure I could. Investments were made with me, for me, to get me through the course. I met other people I liked there. And five hours before it was over, when all the hard stuff was out of the way, I calmly and lovingly explained myself to six different people who wanted me to stay and walked out.

It was one of the most empowering things I’ve ever done.

Prologue

A large bulk of my childhood was a series of abusive situations, and for awhile my adult life wasn’t much better. I learned early on, back when I was a very small child, that resistance – resistance of any kind at all, to anything – led to harm and pain. So I never really learned how.

I had exactly as much resistance to anything as a glass of water has to incoming ice. Picture shows a glass of water with a dropped ice cube just before it breaches the surface.

I pushed back as much as this water will when that ice cube finally hits it.

I filled whatever container I was given. I said, did, and became whatever was asked of me. I meekly accepted whatever happened, nodded and smiled, stuffed down every “bad” emotion and put on a happy face for everyone’s benefit but mine.

And all of it was a lie. Every single solitary bit of it. Because how could any “yes” be real when “no” wasn’t an option?

The Value of Consent

When I was in my early 20s a friend invited me out to a BDSM event. She said I would find myself there. I was a bit hesitant about the whole thing but I went anyway.

I’m glad I did. It was there that I was introduced to “Consent Culture”. It completely changed my life. (I talk about it here too, albeit in a sexual context. If you’re not familiar with consent as a code of conduct – or even if you are – maybe click the link and check it out. It’s that important.)

Consent Culture is based on the idea that every single one of us is independent, autonomous, and empowered. The rules are simple: a “no” is to be assumed in the absence of permission, stated boundaries are to be immediately honored and respected, and the power of the “yes” always resides with the one who gave it.

Consent – the “power of the yes” – is as easy as FRIES.

The elements of Consent: Freely Given, Reversible, Informed, Enthusiastic, and Specific.

Hooray for the elements of consent in an easy-to-remember form!

So let’s look at that.

  • Freely Given: A “yes” must be given only because the person giving it wants to. No guilt-tripping or other emotional manipulation. No ultimatums. No coercion or threats of any kind. The person saying it also can’t be in a highly vulnerable or chemically-altered state at the time. Permission is freely given or it’s not given at all.
  • Reversible: The person who said “yes” can change their mind at any time, for any reason, and that’s absolutely ok. Even if they agree to have a boundary pushed past a stated or signaled “no”, they still get a safeword that recognizes the reversal of their “yes”. The power remains theirs.
  • Informed: People can’t agree to do something if they don’t know what they’re agreeing to. It’s important to be clear at the start. Changes or unexpected developments require additional permissions, which must also be FRIES.
  • Enthusiastic: The person saying “yes” must be into it, excited about it, saying “Bring it on!”. This point especially relies on examining body language and tone. Reluctance of any kind is an assumed “no”.
  • Specific: Agreeing to one thing in no way implies agreeing to something else. Agreeing to something today in no way implies agreeing to it tomorrow. Each permission given is for that specific thing in that specific moment. Anything beyond that requires another permission.

Empowering and supporting people with the concept of consent is what allows us all to have real, valid choice. And it’s the act of choosing that moves us from a life we have to live to a life we are blessed to live.

“Yes” has no meaning without “no” to give it context.

The Training

Consent Culture is pretty much a given in the BDSM scene, most Pagan/Polytheist groups I’ve encountered, and feminist-oriented spaces. It’s also the baseline from which I operate. Sadly, however, it’s not widely understood in more mainstream society (although progress is being made all the time).

It was absolutely foreign to the training in which I was engaged. And while I get that the program is designed to push our buttons, and for some folks the framing is helpful, I found it all to be incredibly manipulative.

Throughout the course, over and over, it was reiterated that any resistance we felt towards the material wasn’t about the material. Of course not! It was, instead, the result of something undesirable in ourselves, something that the material would help us break through and/or overcome. They told us that our inner voice was not to be trusted and listening to it was self-sabotage. They told us that every trauma/illness we’ve ever experienced (up to and including cancer – that was specifically mentioned several times) was because we invited it in by not being positive enough.

And according to their rhetoric, anything other than agreement with all of the above was by definition wrong. Add in the fact that the speaker was speaking from a position of “authority” and it all seamlessly worked together to invalidate our “no”.

Furthermore, the whole premise was that we’re blocked or stymied by unnecessary internal walls we build throughout our lives. And I agree with that to a point. I even talk about it here, although using different terminology. Some of our boundaries are indeed arbitrary. However, some of them are necessary for health and safety. Never once were we offered a single tip or technique to help us discern the difference. I found that disturbing, and for some folks that could be downright dangerous.

With all that said, though, I’m a very results-oriented person. I’d heard amazing things about breakthroughs people had with these techniques. The friend who encouraged me to take the class said it changed his life. He had dozens of people on speed-dial who told me amazing things, too. I decided that, for the weekend, I would do my best to trust the process and go with it.

That worked until the last exercise of Saturday night.

It was completely based on platonic physical contact with other people. At first we were given a choice about our level of engagement. However, it was made very clear at the start that choosing anything less than the highest engagement level was deficient.

Ok then. I didn’t like the setup but I was still game. After a bit of that, though, even the illusion of choice was taken away. Not cool. I almost balked completely at that point, but I just wanted to be fucking done. So. Continue.

Then a guy grabbed me, painfully groped me, and propositioned me. In the middle of the exercise. Amidst 200 people.

A clown stands in the doorway of a scary overgrown building.

Not exactly a vibe that encourages trust.

Three strikes and I’m done. I found the entire exercise, from beginning to end, to be a demo of consent violations. The groping was just the cherry on top.

Between the low lighting, the speed we were moving, and my shock I honestly couldn’t say what the guy looked like. With no one specific to report I didn’t have much recourse. And if this guy was willing to behave that inappropriately in a room with almost 200 people, what would he be willing to do if there were fewer people around, or if he caught me alone somewhere? I couldn’t answer those questions, but I did know that someone there had already blatantly crossed a line. Given the tenor of the training I also had no reason to trust that anyone on staff, with the notable exception of the friend who encouraged me to go, would have my back. (That was later substantiated, but I’m getting ahead of myself.)

So I did what I always do when threatened: put on my happy face, kept my back to the wall as much as possible, moved with purpose, and removed myself from the situation with urgency.

Once I got home and processed I realized that I didn’t want to let one guy ruin what until then had overall been a good experience for me. I decided to go back and finish it out. I’d already invested so much and worked so hard that staying home felt like quitting.

Vintage image of a woman in an apron rolling up her sleeves. Text reads

Rollin’ up my sleeves and gettin’ to work. Aw, yeah.

Sunday started out ok. I was trying my best to focus on the constructive parts of the event and could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Then we had an exercise where I stood in one place and answered the same question over and over while someone got in my face and yelled at me. I knew what was coming, knew it could be triggering, and knew I was still shaky from the night before. Because I knew these things I was careful to pick a partner for the exercise that in no way registered as threatening. I was as safe as I could arrange to be.

It was fine until two staff members I didn’t choose unexpectedly joined in. Suddenly I had three people – two of them in authority positions – getting into my face and yelling at me. The switch flipped.

I did not consent to that level of interaction, and my repeated attempts to say so – my “no” and “quiet” and “time” and even “red” – were ignored. Once more my consent was hugely violated. I no longer felt safe.

I immediately escaped the area, regrouped in the bathroom, and assessed my options.

  1. Stuff it all down, pretend everything was fine, and power my way through the little that was left. I was almost done, and I could have managed it without anyone being the wiser. However, the whole experience would then have been tainted for me, because I’d know I’d only gotten through it by falling back into my established patterns after a violation. I’m trying to break old patterns, not reinforce them!
  2. Create a huge scene, making the rest of the event all about these consent violations and how I felt as a result. However, no one would have been served by that. It wouldn’t have done anything to make me feel better, the feelings of my attacker were so not my concern, and it would have disturbed the peace and accomplishment everyone else was feeling from all of this.
  3. Exercise my power and agency by quietly informing staff about what had happened and then leaving. That choice allowed me to support my integrity by not accepting continued consent violations or behaving inauthentically, support the rest of the attendees by not interrupting their experience with mine, and support the aims of the program as a whole (even if I personally disagree with the approach and implementation).

With it laid out like that the choice was clear. I am, after all, a woman of power and integrity. So I walked.

Picture of Christopher Walken holding up a pair of boots. Text reads

Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

Walking Out

I didn’t just grab my shit and hit the door, however tempted I was and justified I may have been. I’m proud of that.

And let’s be real, they could have maybe talked me into staying with the right approach. I was almost done, and gods know I enjoy completion. What I needed for that to happen was threefold:

  1. Staff to acknowledge that there were consent-based issues that needed to be addressed.
  2. Assurance that I had their support if I decided to move forward with the program.
  3. Some sense that my experience (and the experiences of a few others I heard about while there, because no it wasn’t just me) would maybe inspire them to work on ensuring a safer space was created and maintained in the future.

That’s it.

The friend that originally encouraged me to attend got it, but he couldn’t do anything except help me leave.

The first (male) staff member I spoke with who had any authority tried to gaslight me, supported my attacker’s intent while calling me “reactive”, and majorly guilt-tripped me. The second (female) staff member tried more emotional manipulation, complete with tears, to get me to stay. Both of them, representatives of a program supposedly based on integrity and authenticity, advised me to fake my way through the rest of the training so I wasn’t disturbing the other attendees, abandoning my exercise partner, or blocked from further trainings with their organization.

Every non-supportive thing they did further violated my consent. Swallowing that, not standing up for myself and my integrity and my choices, would have let me down.

And they didn’t even see it.

As soon as that first staff member started spouting his nonsense it ceased to be about me. It’s not like I needed their understanding or some sense of closure for myself. All I could think about is what could happen if someone who wasn’t entrenched in Consent Culture encountered the same things I did. How much of that rhetoric would they internalize? I can resource other people as sounding boards and sanity checks – what about those people who can’t? How would someone else respond in the face of the non-support I received?

That shifted everything into a matter of principle. I put my teacher/priestess hat on and began to educate.

I openly and lovingly explained my stance, empathized with their confusion, and listened to their input. I acknowledged their experiences, offered mine, and even found some common ground. I didn’t shut down, didn’t get defensive, and used my active listening skills to create an environment of collaboration and sharing. I also did not cave and did not move.

When they were as at peace with my decision as it was possible for them to be, and I had at least introduced the foundations of consent, I drove away with a huge smile on my face.

Reclaiming My “No”

The whole experience put so much into perspective for me.

I guess I’d taken it for granted before that an organization offering this sort of emotionally intense training would understand the concept of consent. It absolutely blew my mind that they didn’t. When I brought it up I might as well have been speaking Swahili.

I don’t find that to be acceptable. How is consent not a universally understood concept yet? It’s 2017! I now have a burning desire to fix that, to bring Consent Culture to more mainstream people. I don’t know what that looks like yet, but it’s something I’m actively thinking about.

An arm in a suit passes a flaming torch to another arm in a suit. Caption reads

Some torches need to be passed on.

I’ve been inspired to consider other, similar programs too. We’re all a work in progress, and parts of my experience were helpful. The one I attended doesn’t have a lock on guided self-exploration! Now I’m just looking around for a program based on consent. And you know what? If I can’t find one maybe I’ll make one.

I also take a lot of pride not just in leaving but in how I left. The gentle-yet-firm stance I took is one that felt beautiful and right. It’s also one that’s been difficult for me to reach in the past. I feel like everything snapped into alignment with that event, in that moment, and what would have before been a difficult thing to achieve instead became as natural as breathing.

Interestingly, walking away gave me the transformative event I was looking for. It wasn’t in the way I’d imagined, of course, but I’m learning that detours from my preconceived path are actually ok. That’s new for me too.

Overall I feel like I’ve entered a new zone, a new phase, and I’m really excited about what the new, powerful, secure-in-her-boundaries-and-choices Caer can accomplish this year and beyond. All because I reclaimed the power of my “no”.

The Five Keys – Unlocking Meaning in Tarot Readings

Note: This wound up being more advanced than I usually address on this blog. It’s aimed at those doing readings for others. I considered not posting it at all, then figured someone out there might be able to use it. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments below!

There’s more to reading Tarot than memorizing the little white book that comes with the deck. Sure, we need to learn what each card means, but we have to go beyond that to best serve our clients.

Luckily there are Five Keys to help us unlock the meanings of our readings. The more we as readers utilize these Keys the more accurate and applicable our interpretations will be.

The Five Keys are Question, Art, Placement, Relationships, and Follow Through.

1) Question

Tarot is a tool that helps us answer various questions. We need to understand those questions before we can use the tool. That’s what this Key is all about, and this part of a reading takes place before the cards are even shuffled. It sets the stage for everything that follows.

If the client comes in with a clearly thought out, simple, and concise question, then yay! They’ve already done the heavy lifting with this Key, so we can use it as-is and quickly move on.

That’s not always the case, though. Some clients, especially first-timers, go to a reader because the situation they’re dealing with is confusing or overwhelming and they’re a bit lost. The sign that I look for here is a client who, when asked what they’d like to read about today, offers up a whole explanation instead of a simple sentence.

A woman holds her temples with a confused expression in front of a chalkboard covered in squiggles and arrows. Caption reads

I think we’ve all seen this before. Hell, I think we’ve all been this before!

That gushing, stammering, stuttering explanation is a plea for help. Help them.

It might be that the situation appears overwhelming because they’re not seeing it clearly. For instance, let’s say they ask about changing jobs, but everything they say about why has to do with this one coworker they can’t stand. Readers can help by pointing that out and talking it over with the client. Maybe the question they really want to answer isn’t about changing jobs so much as how to most effectively deal with the coworker. Figuring that out before we begin gives us a totally different read.

Or maybe the situation appears overwhelming because they’re lumping several separate things into one overwhelming issue. This is often the case when multiple issues inspire a similar emotion. The client focuses on the emotion and doesn’t see what all is feeding it. As a reader, we can help them untangle that big knot into separate threads and then read each one individually. That leads to the resolution the client sought in the first place.

2) Art

The art of the card itself can help us interpret it. We’re all drawn to different styles of decks, right? There are also types of decks that we find easier to read than others. Those decks, for whatever reason, work with our minds and intuition in a cohesive way. So let’s use that!

Run your gaze across the card while considering the client and how this card might apply to their situation. Does something about the art jump out at you? If so, free associate with that symbol to see how it might influence the reading.

Strength, from the Voyager Tarot.

Strength, from the Voyager Tarot. The collage style of this deck is particularly suited to this technique.

For instance, take the above card. The book meanings of the Strength card all tend to reference inner strength or self-control. That’s fine as far as it goes, but how incredibly vague! There are lots of different kinds of inner strength and ways for it to manifest. To truly help our clients we need to get more specific and narrow this down some.

When we gaze at this card, maybe our eye is drawn to the butterfly. That could indicate a need to focus on the Strength that comes through change and evolution. Or maybe our eye goes straight to the ancient ruins in the background. That could indicate that the Strength of endurance might be more applicable in this reading. The flowers? There is Strength in expressing our vulnerabilities, too, and it’s one many overlook.

The Magician from the Rider-Waite Tarot.

The Magician, from the Rider-Waite Tarot. This technique works on traditional decks too!

Or gaze at this card. There’s a lot of symbolism here, and where your eye catches can direct the thrust of your interpretation. Does your eye catch on his hands? That symbolizes bridging the gap between the heavens and the earth. Maybe this card is referring to the client’s ability to bridge a different kind of gap. If your gaze lingers on the chalice, this card probably has a lot to do with an emotional-type question. The red of his robes? Maybe the client needs to seek out more worldly and material forms of attainment (which is what that red robe symbolizes).

Clients rarely go to a reader for abstract philosophical expositions of where they are in their current karmic cycle or whatever. They want applicable answers to their present concerns. This technique helps us give that to them.

3) Placement

Every book I’ve ever picked up on Tarot has a whole section on spreads. There’s a reason for that. Spreads offer placement-dependent questions that further clarify the card’s meaning.

Perhaps the most famous spread is the Celtic Cross.

My version of the Celtic Cross, showing the order in which I lay out the cards and what each position means.

This is the version of the Celtic Cross I use (which is why you’re all stuck with a graphic made in Paint). Cards 1-6 are the Cross and 7-10 are the Staff. Don’t worry if your version of the Celtic Cross is different from mine – there are a thousand variations on this particular spread. Experiment and find the one that works for you.

Let’s say we’re doing a reading and the previously-mentioned Strength card pops up in the Celtic Cross. It gains shades of meaning depending on which position of the spread it’s in.

Is Strength the Covering card? That’s where the client is right now. However, if that same card is in the Crossing position, then Strength – either a deficit or a surfeit – is a challenge that must be overcome. If in the Above position Strength is a goal to which the client aspires (perhaps indicating a current position of powerlessness or helplessness, or attempts to move out of such a state), while in the Advice position Strength is something they need to address the conflict.

See how much the position changes the emphasis? Combine that with a clear question and free association of the card’s art and deep, intricate meanings start jumping out!

4) Relationships

Cards are not read in isolation (unless we’re doing a quick one-card pull, anyway!). They’re read in relationship to each other, and those relationships invite conversations between the cards. It’s those conversations that lift a session from “interpreting a series of individual cards” to “doing a reading”.

Let’s look at that Celtic Cross again (and reuse that splendid graphic). There are some obvious links between cards to explore there.

A diagram shows relationships between cards of the Celtic Cross.

Relationships between cards of the Celtic Cross.

First, we have the Covering and Crossing cards. Those obviously relate to each other, and even the name of the Crossing card tells us that this is a little Cross in the middle of the big one. So look at them together. What do they have to say to each other?

Then we’ve got the arms of the Cross to look at. Vertically we’ve got Above, Covering/Crossing, and Below. This whole axis gives us amazing insight into the client, showing us where they’re at right now and what factors are most influencing them. How do all of these cards work together? If Above and Below – their goals and what drives them – are complimentary then moving forward is easier. However, if they’re working against each other then resolving that disconnect in the Now might be necessary before forward progress can be made. (Look to the Advice card for insight here.) How does their Crossing card relate to the goal or what drives them? Does it? Or is it just an irritation that distracts them from where their focus should more productively be? Lots to pick through here!

The horizontal axis of Behind, Covering/Crossing, and Before is a straight-up timeline. How did the Behind card contribute to the current situation, and how will the momentum those cards create together lead into the immediate future? This clarifies the whole thrust of the current situation.

Once we’ve done all that we’ve got the Staff to work with. Interpret the cards individually in their places, then take in the reading as a whole. Is the Outcome something the client is happy with? If so, excellent. Carry on then. If not, though, the future’s not set. We can change it if we like, and now that we have an overview of the whole thing we can look at ways to do that. For instance, maybe the Advice card could be shifted to get the client where they want to go.

Now we can start tying the cards of the Staff to each other and back to the Cross.

Compare the Above card to the Outcome card. Are they in alignment? If so, then the Outcome shows the client’s goal is reached. If not, then either the goal is misunderstood (by the reader or the client) or the Outcome is not desired. Clarify that and come up with possible approaches to reconcile those cards.

Does what’s going on Below have anything to do with our Hopes/Fears? Would dealing with what’s going on in one change the other?

How does the Others card relate to the Crossing card? If they’re related, then there may be a way to defuse the external drama and thus deal with the conflict. If they’re not, then the struggle may be more internal to the client. Perhaps Others can assist with easing it.

I could keep going, but you can see what I mean here. The cards aren’t static in their places. They talk to each other. Regardless of the spread you choose to use in your readings, use the relationships between the cards to further clarify and amplify your interpretations.

5) Follow Through 

This is the Key that happens when the reading is done and we’ve gotten all we can from the cards. We can’t just say “ok, we’re done here – have a great day!”. Clients come to us for perspectives, tips, and ideas they can apply to their lives. What can they do, on a practical level, to navigate their challenges and reach their goals after they walk out the door, hang up the phone, or close their email?

Sometimes they need to open themselves to a new way of approaching or looking at the situation, or work on some personal development that will assist with the current situation. I’ll often draw a “for further thought” card at the end of everything and recommend that they meditate on it for the next little bit. That can help. (As a nice touch, email them a picture of the card you drew for them or recommend they find an example online they prefer. This is especially useful for phone or online readings.)

Another idea in the same vein is suggesting an affirmation to help them focus on attaining their goals. One I offered recently is “I am a strong, fierce, fabulous woman who stands my ground”. Work with the client to come up with something that works for them, then make sure they have a copy.

Cleansing baths, spelled candles, and charged stones are all wonderful options here too. For in-person readings, I like to charge a glass pebble with good vibes towards their goal and gift it to them.

Be creative!

From clarifying the question to following through, these Five Keys are designed to help us as readers best support our clients on their journeys. Try using them in your next reading to unlock the meanings in your readings!

Gilded Tarot – Tarot Review

I clearly remember when I found the Gilded Tarot by Ciro Marchetti.

I was surfing the internet and listening to Mark Knopfler’s Shangri-La when I stumbled across some Tarot pictures that blew me away. I was absolutely captivated by the fantasy-meets-steampunk vibe of the deck. I found all the pictures available, getting more and more excited, and within about 30 minutes I blew off my college-student budget and ordered it. I had to have it.

The week of ramen afterward was worth it.

The Deck

This is a review of that original deck, so I can’t speak to the card stock quality of the newer ones. The one I have, though, is my absolute favorite deck for shuffling. (Note: I bridge shuffle every Tarot deck I have and get frustrated if I can’t. So there’s that.)

It’s also been over 10 years of heavy use since I first opened the box. The edges are a bit worn, and the original box is toast (I use a bag now), but the cards still shuffle better than any other deck I have

And the art! The art is exquisite. Seriously breath-taking. Here, look:

Six Major Arcana cards from the Gilded Tarot.

Six Major Arcana cards from the Gilded Tarot. The High Priestess and the Hierophant are my favorites.

See the light? These cards seem to glow from within. How cool is that? The colors are vibrant and vivid, the cards themselves are lush, and the textures (check out the Empress’s dress!) are fantastic. He used real faces for the figures too, which gives them realistic expressions and life-like proportions. What’s not to love?

Marchetti digitally drew every card. It’s obviously based on traditional Rider-Waite-Smith imagery, making it easy for RWS people to pick it up, but the art has Marchetti’s own unique and visionary flair. The Gilded ditches the standard medieval backgrounds in favor of a more cosmic setting, including stars, planets, and the occasional comet. I find that especially fitting for the Majors, as they reflect a universal theme, but it works for the Minors too.

Using the Deck

I find this to be an unusually responsive deck. Some readers are turned off by the Gilded’s combination of mysticism and technology, but I find that a plus. We live in a technological world – why shouldn’t our cards reflect that? I don’t want every card to look like a circuit board or anything, but I find the fantasy/steampunk feel here awesome. (I also do cybermancy, though, so take that as you will.)

This is actually a fine deck for beginners. It’s RWS inspired, but it doesn’t have the dense Golden Dawn symbolism of the original RWS. What symbolism it does have is easily understood by modern readers, too.

Don’t take that to mean this deck is stripped down, though. I’ve been reading for 20+ years and still enjoy using this deck. I use it with clients, too. There’s nothing stripped down about it.

If you’re just starting out and are drawn to this deck, by all means, grab it! The publisher even made it easy for you and released it as a kit. It’s called The Easy Tarot and packages the Gilded Tarot deck with a Tarot 101 book.

Don’t need the intro book? The Gilded Tarot is also available here with a much more basic companion book. I wouldn’t bother with it, though – the kit has the exact same deck and is about $8 cheaper on Amazon.

Connecting with Your Cards

Learning Tarot can be a long and involved process. Starting with a good beginner deck can help, of course, but once we get the deck what do we do with it?

Study and practice, of course!

These are the exercises that I personally credit with my understanding of Tarot. Give them a whirl and see what they can do for you!

Journaling

Whether you’re new to Tarot or simply have a new deck, this is a really useful way to start connecting with your cards. All you need is a card and a way of taking notes.

For this technique, I like to start with the Fool and work my way through the deck card by card. You can pull cards randomly too, though. Just stay consistent with whatever method you choose.

Feel free to light some candles and incense if that helps you focus, then pick a card.

Study the art. What do you get from it? Look at the label of the card – the Fool or the Hermit, for example. What does that word/concept call to mind? Pull out a Tarot book or two (the one that came with the deck is fine) and check that write-up. Does it enhance the meaning any for you? Do any words or phrases jump out at you? Think about the number the card is associated with – does that have an application for you? (If you’re new to numerology check out this convenient link.) Think about real-life situations that bring this card to mind and how the card reflects that. Write down any associations you come up with.

My process is a bit old school because I like to have the physical card when I do this. It’s not strictly necessary, though. Pretty much any card from any deck (especially the Majors) is available online, and there’s a lot you can learn by simply looking at the images on your computer. You could also type your notes out, although again I’m personally pretty old school with this part and prefer writing by hand.

My suggestion? Get a three-ring notebook and some tabs for each deck you plan to study (table of contents tabs are the best!). Make dividers for the Majors and each Suit. Write everything down on loose-leaf paper, and before you begin on the next card file the finished one in the appropriate section. By the time you’re done you’ll have a handy personal Tarot guidebook!

Card Dialogues

Here’s a fun one with the Majors and the Court cards!

Pull two Major Arcana cards or Court cards from the same deck and put them together. Then imagine the figures having a conversation. What would the Empress say to the Emperor, or the Hierophant, or the Star? What would the World have to say to the Fool? How do the Queen of Swords and the Page of Pentacles get along? Are any of them natural allies or complete opposites? Write down any conversational snippets that come to mind, and especially focus on how the personality of each card comes through their conversations.

File in your Journal, with the Majors in the back of the Major Arcana section and the Court cards in the back of the Minor Arcana section.

Card Comparisons

If one card can tell you a lot, what could you learn by comparing several? Lots!

There are a couple of ways to approach this.

From the Same Deck: This is handy for mastering the Minor Arcana. Pull out all of the Aces and compare them. How are they the same? How are they different? How does each Suit manifest in its respective card? Write down your comparisons. Then move on to all the Twos and do the same thing. Then the Threes. Then the Fours. Progress all the way through the Minors, comparing numbers/ranks together across Suits, and see what you get! File these in the back of your deck-specific Journal.

Across Decks: This technique is wonderful for learning a new deck! Grab two or three different decks (or a deck you’re comfy with and the new deck) and pull the same card out of each. (Again, I’d recommend starting with the Fool and then working your way through.) Compare them. First, what springs out to you about each card separately? What do you notice when you examine them together? What’s the same? What’s different? Does studying one card enhance your understanding of the other? Pull out the books that go with each deck and compare what they have to say. Does that add to your knowledge?

This is especially useful when comparing cards between different style families.

justice-deck-comparison

Justice from the Golden Tarot (RWS) and the corresponding Adjustment from the Tabula Mundi Tarot (Thoth). Their approach to this card is distinctly different, and studying both enhances my understanding of each.

Divide a binder out just like you did for the Journaling exercise, except this one will be for each card independent of a deck. (I call it the “Tarot-General” binder.) Each time you do a comparison, file it with the other ones you’ve done on that card. Make sure to note which decks you used for the comparison and if possible print out a picture of each card and attach it to your notes. This is less about connecting you to an individual card and more about connecting you to the concepts behind the card.

Color Your Cards

Cards are full of symbolism, and we may not recognize that symbolism until we really dive into the card. One of the most fun ways to do that is to color them!

This is dead easy with the Rider-Waite deck (pick up a coloring book like this one and/or this one, or just print them out), but decent photo manipulation software allows you to do it with any deck you like. Some Tarot workbooks (like this one for the Mythic Tarot) come with coloring panels too, and there are even a few Tarot decks on the market (like this one and this one) designed to let you color the cards themselves.

Whichever way you choose, get what you’re coloring and what you’re coloring with together. Sit down and really look at the image, and then figure out how you’d like to color it. Don’t feel like you have to match the colors other people have used, either. Go with your gut on this.  This is a wonderful way to explore the cards in a deeper, more intense way than you might have before.

tarot-coloring-pages

Here we have the Sun and the Seven of Wands from the Rider-Waite.

For instance, look closely at the 7ofW above. Did you notice that the guy in the card is wearing two different shoes? If you didn’t before you certainly would when you colored it! As you color the card, think about that. Why don’t his shoes match? What might that symbolize about him, about his situation, about the card? After you finish coloring, jot down any thoughts you had about the art and file.

Opening the Tarot Door Meditation

Daily meditation is a wonderful practice. Adding Tarot to it, either daily or weekly, can lift meditation up even higher. This takes journaling o the next level, and I highly encourage you to try it.

First prep your space. Dim the lights (or light some candles), burn some incense, play nicely meditative music, and prop up your card.

Then study the card. I mean really study it. Learn it until you can recall every detail with your eyes closed. (Having trouble? Color it! It’s easier to retain details after you’ve colored it.)

When you can easily recall every detail with your eyes closed, visualize the card in front of you growing larger and larger. Keep expanding it until it’s big enough to step into, until the card’s borders are like a doorway.

Visualize yourself stepping through.

What’s it like in the card? Is it hot? Cold? Windy? Still? What is the figure in the card doing? If you speak to them, what do they say, and how does that relate to the card’s meaning? What elements in the frame can you interact with? What does that feel like?

When you’re through exploring the card and interacting with the figure, step out of the card and visualize it shrinking back to card size. Open your eyes.

Now write everything down and file it with your Journaling notes.

One a Day Pulls

Add a bit of divination to your Tarot study!

Every morning think about your day, and with your cards in your hands ask what card will either best inform your day or guide you through it. Then shuffle and look at the card that comes up.

Write down a few notes about it. What comes immediately to mind? Then either carefully pack the card in your bag so it doesn’t get destroyed (in a book, maybe) or snap a pic with your phone (my preference).

Think about the card throughout the day. How does it relate to what’s happening? Does keeping it in mind help you manage your day? Do you see anything that brings the card to mind? What situations does it relate to? Add these notes to the ones you made earlier before you go to bed.

File them in a binder specifically for One a Day pulls when you’re done.

For a fun twist, those of us with multiple decks can also go with whatever deck “calls” to us before starting this exercise. I do this with the daily pulls I post. One day it’ll be one deck, and the next could be a different one. See how switching daily between decks changes your experiences!

Three-Card Spreads

I do this every week.

Think about your upcoming week, and with your cards in your hands ask for information or guidance that will help you manage it. Then shuffle and lay out the cards in a simple Three Card Spread.

3cardspread

Three card spread. Image from here.

What does the spread say to you? How do you interpret it?

Write it all down.

At the end of the week, before you do the next spread, go over your notes from the previous week. What happened? How did this reading relate to your experiences? Was there anything that could have been interpreted differently to better fit your circumstances? Make notes at the bottom of that record, then file it and do the next one.

File with your One a Day Pulls.

Beyond Tarot

These exercises are in no way exclusive to Tarot. They can easily be adapted for any card-based divination system, and with a little creativity can be adapted for a wide variety of other divination tools too. Runes spring immediately to mind, as does lithomancy

Golden Tarot – Tarot Review

A few years ago I set off to Baltimore from New Orleans to present at a conference. But I forgot my Tarot deck in Baton Rouge! Oh, noes! Obviously, I wasn’t able to just pop back home and grab it, but I couldn’t go without a deck either. I had several readings scheduled during my trip and wanted to meet my commitments.

When the reader needs a deck, the reader goes shopping.

I hit a little shop down in the Marigny and picked the best deck available out of a rather sad lot. I couldn’t open it to check it out or anything, and I was in a hurry, but the box looked sturdy and the art sounded interesting. So fine. Beggars can’t be choosers.

Lucky me, it was the Golden Tarot by Kat Black.

The Cards

In keeping with the deck’s name the edges are all gilded in gold. The gold does make the cards stick together a bit at first, which can be frustrating. A little use takes care of that, though, and over time the edges acquire a lovely worn patina that’s totally in keeping with the theme of the deck.

patina

On the left is a brand new Golden Tarot, and on the right is my own well-loved deck. I personally prefer the worn look on mine and think it enhances the feel of the cards.

Unlike the Mythic Tarot, what sets this deck apart is absolutely the art. It’s made to look like something from the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The artist digitally blended different elements from existing art of that time period to create each composite image. It’s collage work, but done so skillfully it can be hard to tell. A large chunk of the companion book (about a third of it) lists all of her sources, too.

Take this card:

magician

The Magician from the Golden Tarot.

This is a collage of images from TEN DIFFERENT WORKS. They’re all listed in the companion book, too, so if you’re interested you can look up the art and see the material she worked with.

Seriously, the skill Black used to put this whole thing together is incredible.

golden-majors

A selection of Major Arcana cards from the Golden Tarot.

Stylistically the artist blended her favorite elements from both RWS and Visconti-Sforza symbolic traditions. That’s why the Star above looks similar to an RWS Temperance – she’s blending traditions the same way she’s blending images. It’s easy enough to adjust to, though.

Aside from the deck itself, the set comes with a few extra cards (title card and the like) and a little 200-page bound companion book that tucks inside the box.

The box deserves a shout-out of its very own. Most decks end up getting after-market bags or boxes because the packaging they come with blows, but I’ve been using the original box for years now and it’s still solid. The top can slide off in a purse or backpack, but otherwise the super-thick walls on this box make it just about perfect.

Using the Cards

As a reader I find this to be a weird deck for me. I’m actually not personally fond of the art style. I can appreciate the work that went into it, and objectively it’s beautiful, but I don’t resonate with it at an aesthetic level at all. Doesn’t seem to matter, though – I read it incredibly well, and I specifically reach for this one when reading for other spirit-workers.

Honestly, I wouldn’t recommend the Golden Tarot for a beginner. Since Black blended two different style families for this deck the books on the market won’t exactly fit. The companion book is a fine intro to the deck itself but won’t do much on its own to teach Tarot to a novice, either. If you’re new to things I’d say look elsewhere while you get your feet wet and circle back to this one later.

If you’re an art person, though, and especially if you enjoy the artistic time period Black worked with, I’d highly recommend grabbing the Golden Tarot. It’s fancy-looking enough to use with clients, looks gorgeous by candlelight (a fab choice for altar meditations and Tarot spellwork!), and if you’re already familiar with Tarot it’s fairly easy to read with a few adjustments.

Available here.

Tarot Card a Day Posts!

Hello, all! I am now posting Tarot Card a Day pictures on Instagram!

If you’re interested, you can see them there, on my Mystik Nomad Facebook page, and by following me on Twitter (@mystiknomad).

Here’s what I posted today, just to give you an idea of what these look like:

I look forward to sharing these with you!