The Wanderer’s Spread

The name of this blog isn’t an accident. I am a mystik nomad. I travel as often as possible, to as many places as possible, reveling in the unique song my soul sings in each new location and learning something new everywhere I roam.

It sometimes feels like I’m spoiled for choice, though. There are so many places to go, so much to see, so much to do! How can I ever pick?

So I made a spread for that.

The Wanderer's Spread, designed to help you choose your next adventure!

The Wanderer’s Spread, designed to help you choose your next adventure!

The Wanderer’s Spread helps us see what types of experiences we might have at a given place at a given time. When choosing where to go, simply lay out cards for each possibility and then compare. Then make the arrangements and head out!

The cards can go down in any order, but I start at the 3 o’clock/East position and work my way around clockwise. Start wherever makes the most sense for you.

1) What might this destination do to or for my mind?

Every new place we go stimulates our minds in different ways. Some are mentally exciting, causing our attention to ping-pong from bright light to bright light like a squirrel on speed. Think Disneyland, or the Vegas Strip. Others still our minds, turn us inwards, encourage us to reflect and consider. An example for this would be quietly drinking coffee at dawn from a cabin porch. Which is this trip likely to offer?

2) What might this destination do to or for my body?

Is this trip likely to be relaxing and restorative? Adrenalin-filled and active? Sore and uncomfortable? All have their place – what are you in the mood for?

3) What might this destination do to or for my heart?

Every trip is a journey of the heart as much as anything else. Is this particular journey full of joy? Unexpected love? Anger and rage? Despair? Cleansing and renewal? This is your chance to tailor your destination to meet the needs of your emotional self.

4) What might this destination do to or for my spirit? 

Every place has its own spirit, its own frequency, its own voice. Each one of them resonates with our souls in unique ways, and between them they create a song unlike any other that can be heard by anyone anywhere. What kind of song does this place sing to your spirit? Is it the kind of song you want to hear?

Lay out as many different spreads as you have options. Nothing’s likely to be perfect, of course, but which options best suit you and which tradeoffs are you most willing to make?

This spread can add a whole new dimension to your trip planning! Do it ahead of time, record your results, and compare them to how you feel when you get home. It could help you examine things in a whole new way!

Online Class on Ritual Construction

Thista Minai is a dear friend of mine, a nationally-known educator and Ordeal facilitator, and author of the forthcoming “Casting a Queer Circle – Non-Binary Witchcraft”. She’s also running rituals around the country for 100+ people on the regular. (Seriously, her travel schedule is insane.)

The cover for the soon-to-be-available Casting a Queer Circle.

The cover for the soon-to-be-available Casting a Queer Circle. I am SO EXCITED to see this book published, y’all. So much yummy goodness inside!

When it comes to ritual construction she knows what she’s talking about and has a resume to back it up.

She loves teaching her approach to ritual construction, too, so other people can learn first-hand the tricks and tips that work. Thing is, most events don’t really have a demand for ritual construction classes. They’re looking for more beginner/intermediate stuff, and this class is a little too specialized and advanced for that.

We started talking about it yesterday and I mentioned wanting to take her Essential Ritual Construction class myself. Always good to pick up new skills and approaches, right? And chatting about it over tea just isn’t the same. We tossed some ideas around, and she’s willing to offer an online class (probably through something like Udemy) if there’s enough interest.

So. Is there enough interest? Would you (or your group) be willing to invest a few bucks and an evening of your time to attend an online class on Essential Ritual Construction?

Here’s the blurb from her website:

Essential Ritual Design

What does it take to create meaningful ritual? In this nondenominational workshop, we will explore ritual’s essential components, and discuss what makes a ritual ‘good’. We will examine both practical and spiritual considerations in designing and executing effective ritual for groups small and large, public and private, traditional and eclectic.

Comment here or PM me if you’re interested. And feel free to share! This is a more advanced-level topic, and it can be hard to find resources that go into the nuts and bolts of it. Let’s work on getting more of those resources out there for those who want/need them!

Note: Queer Witchcraft is now available here.

Tarot Blind Dates!

Oh, this is just too clever. I had to share! Estara T’shirai over at Caw, Motherfsckers is currently doing a series of posts where the Court cards go on blind dates with each other. How well do the Page of Cups and Queen of Swords click?

(Mucha Tarot) Ariel arrives on time, as she always prefers to do; her outfit is smart but not pretentious. She signed up for this out of idle curiosity, and now sits with a glass of sparkling wine, hoping for a good conversation to arrive. Shelley runs late. She made sure to put something visible in […]

via Tarot Blind Date: Page of Cups/Queen of Swords — Caw, Motherfsckers

Or the Knight of Cups and the Queen of Pentacles?

(Mucha Tarot) Amber has made a comfortable living for herself, and it shows. She wears brands that are both well-made and well-known. She knows her best colors and shapes and wears them; she’s always in season, and her makeup game is on point. Having made a priority of her career early in life, she is […]

via Tarot Blind Date: Knight of Cups/Queen of Pentacles — Caw, Motherfsckers

What a great way to get more familiar with Court card personalities! I highly recommend heading over and checking these posts out. They’re quick reads. And when you’re done, maybe try doing a few of these yourself!

Ladies of the Fourth Branch: Goewin

Goewin as the foot bearer for Math son of Mathonwy.

CW: Rape. It’s fairly light in the “Goewin in the Fourth Branch” section, but much more graphic in the “Beyond the Text” section. Reader discretion is advised. 

The Mabinogi are a series of Welsh stories written in the 12th and 13th centuries. Their actual origin is much older than that, though, because the stories were based on the centuries of oral tradition that came before.

By the time the Welsh got around to writing these stories down they were firmly Christianized, and that Christian worldview was laid over the traditional stories to make them more palatable to the audience of the time. Luckily for us that Christian overlay is mighty thin in some places, and with some work we can pull it off the rest of the story too. When it’s gone we see that the entire thing is a sprawling saga rooted in Welsh polytheism.

My Lady is Welsh, so studying the Mabinogi is important to my personal practice. Her story appears in the book’s last section, the Fourth Branch, and combined with UPG gives me some important insights into Her motivations and character.

She’s not alone in that story, though. There are two other women in there too, each contributing Her own piece to the whole. Together Goewin, Arianrhod, and Blodeuwedd are the women of the Fourth Branch, and they’re connected by far more than a mere narrative.

But who are They? And how do They relate?

Let’s start at the beginning and find out.

Goewin in the Fourth Branch

The Fourth Branch opens at the court of Math son of Mathonwy. According to the story, Math could only live while his feet rested in the lap of a virgin. The only exception was when he marched to do battle, at which point he could go take care of business before putting his feet back up. In the first paragraph, we learn that the virgin serving Math was named Goewin (GOH-win), “the fairest of all the maidens that were known in her time”. Because of course she was.

Goewin as the foot bearer for Math son of Mathonwy.

Goewin as the foot bearer for Math son of Mathonwy.

The life of the king and the stability of the kingdom both rested, like the king’s feet, on Goewin and her chastity. A threat to her chastity was both an attempt on the king’s life and an act of treason. She was the most untouchable woman in the whole kingdom.

So of course, of course, that means some bastard had to take relieving Goewin of her virginity as a personal challenge. Enter the king’s nephew, Gilfaethwy. He went beyond infatuation with Goewin into full-on obsession. He couldn’t seduce her without bringing all kinds of hell down on himself, so he just heaved a lot of heavy sighs, refused to eat, and presumably wrote bad poetry in her honor while artistically crying into his wine.

Eventually, his brother Gwydion noticed Gilfaethwy’s distraction and called him on it. Once Gilfaethwy confessed his unquenchable thirst for Goewin to his brother, Gwydion decided to “fix” it.

I guess Gwydion’s solution was obvious once you remove all honor from the equation. King won’t leave the target – sorry, girl – unprotected unless there’s a war? Well, why not instigate a war then?

So they did.

Gwydion masterminded the whole thing, with Gilfaethwy riding his coattails (which honestly seems to be the usual way things went down with those two). The first step of the plan was picking a fight with a neighboring king. Once that was accomplished the two brothers sold their uncle Math on their version of events. Math, being a dutiful king who trusted his nephews, left his Court and went to win the war.

Leaving Goewin defenseless.

While the king was occupied, Gilfaethwy and Gwydion snuck back to the castle and together raped Goewin repeatedly in the king’s own bed. The next morning they went back to the battle like nothing had happened. The abused and defiled Goewin was left behind, a broken toy with which they were no longer interested in playing.

Many men on both sides died during the fight the brothers instigated (the Mabinogi calls it a “massacre”), including the other king to Math’s own blade, but Math’s forces were declared victorious.

Math son of Mathonwy fighting in the battle Gwydion orchestrated to rape Goewin. Art by Alan Lee.

Math son of Mathonwy fighting in the battle Gwydion orchestrated to rape Goewin. Art by Alan Lee.

Once it all wrapped up the king returned to his castle, eager to put his feet up again and get back to his regular routine. That’s when Goewin had to tell Math that she couldn’t be his foot bearer anymore because his nephews had raped her and shamed him in the doing.

She made it very clear that the whole thing was against her will, that she fought and screamed so that the whole Court heard it, but no one stepped in to save her. There was no one left in the castle who could. Anyone who could have prevented it was in battle with the king.

The king was shocked and, rare for both the time and a man of his rank, supportive. As her chastity had been stolen while under his protection he immediately married her, to both show that he still valued her and to reassure her that she should bear no shame for what had happened.

Then he magically punished her rapists, causing them to shift into three animal shapes over the course of three years and mate with each other like the animals they had proven themselves to be. They switched sexes during those three years too, so that each would know what it was like to be raped.

Once the sentence was served Math forgave them and welcomed them back into the Court, restoring them to their previous position and embracing them as kinsmen once more.

Math changing the brothers from wolves back into men.

Math changing the brothers from wolves back into men. Available here.

Beyond the Text

After the king says he’ll marry her Goewin is never mentioned again. We don’t know what became of her or what her life was like after that. Honestly, we don’t really know a lot about what it was like before! We can, however, infer quite a lot.

Goewin wasn’t born a foot bearer. Math had to find her. We learn later in the story that, when the king needed a foot bearer, he asked his courtiers for recommendations and then summoned potential candidates to the castle.

This tells us two things. One, to be recommended for the position Goewin had to have already been favorably known by a courtier in Math’s court. Two, replacing a foot bearer was common enough to have a system in place to do it.

The likeliest reason for Goewin to have already been known is that she was being dangled as marriage-bait by her parents. Aristocratic girls were married off pretty early in those days, as early as 12, so she would have been a very young woman when her name came to Math’s attention.

I can just picture a young Goewin preparing to leave her home to serve her king – who she may have never met – in a position of such importance. Was she excited? A little nervous? Terrified? Overwhelmed? And what did she do upon meeting the king to have him choose her from among the other candidates?

It states in the story that Goewin was “the fairest of all the maidens known in her time”, but I doubt that alone would have been enough to endear her to a king. After all, Math knew before he chose her that’s he’d wind up spending every waking moment with his foot bearer, and we all know a pretty face isn’t enough to make up for a slow wit or an irritating personality. Not for any significant length of time, anyway!

I can’t imagine anyone, especially a king, voluntarily saddling himself with a shadow who wasn’t at minimum intelligent, a good conversationalist, and kind. They spent too much time together for them to dislike each other.

Goewin was already in service by the time the story opens, so we’re not sure how their dynamic was at the beginning. Math would have been her official guardian, but how that manifested is up for grabs. Did Goewin see Math as a father figure? An uncle? An older brother? A friend or colleague? A star-crossed lover barred from her by chastity and magic? And how did he see her?

Regardless of how it started, by the time Math returned from the war Goewin trusted him enough to call out his kinsmen as her rapists, and Math valued her enough to marry her in apology. Neither of those is a trivial act.

Her time as a foot bearer would have been limited, though, and both of them would have known that going in. Foot bearers did eventually marry. That’s why they had to be periodically replaced.

I’m sure canny families with daughters who’d chastely served their king leveraged that into securing more favorable marriage contracts. It would likely be the only reason parents accepted their daughter’s serving at all. Additional exposure in the Court introduced maidens to many men of high rank. Being a close confidant of the king was definitely something a potential bride could bring to the bargaining table. And in addition to everything else, there would likely be a significant financial contribution from the king towards the maiden’s dowry when she “retired”. All of that together would allow her to marry (and her family to gain entry) into the highest levels of society.

That just adds to the horror of Goewin’s story, though, because those high social levels would have included Gilfaethwy.

It’s easy to overlook because they behaved with such depravity, but neither brother was an untried youth. Math physically couldn’t travel from place to place, for the same reasons he required a foot bearer to start with. Travel was customary for kings of the time, though, so he sent Gwydion and Gilfaethwy to represent him instead. They were trained and trusted diplomats, handling all the negotiations Math couldn’t physically attend and carrying news from their travels back to Math. They were trusted enough by the king to act in his name and held high in his esteem.

If Gilfaethwy had wanted Goewin for more than a night – or even wanted to honorably have her once – he could have asked for her hand in marriage. And he’d have likely gotten it! Nephew of the king, highest position it was possible to have in the government, a well-known diplomat … it’s unlikely Geowin would have found a better match short of the king himself. Sure he would have had to wait until Math found a replacement, but that’s a small price to pay to claim the object of your obsession. The story is very clear in stating that Gilfaethwy was pining away for want of Goewin – did honorable marriage never enter his mind?

Such a desire certainly never entered the story. Gilfaethwy instead helped his brother engineer a massacre and kill a neighboring king simply so he could rape the one woman he couldn’t immediately have. And somehow I doubt Goewin was the first woman either brother had raped, separately or together. She was simply the woman who had enough influence to have them called on it.

And not even having the ear of the king saved her from the pair of them.

Can you imagine what that night was like for her? I picture Goewin relaxing with the other women of Math’s court while the men were off at war. It was an extremely rare chance for her to spend time with other women without having a man’s feet in her lap. Maybe she danced, or walked the gardens, or simply sat around chattering the way young women do when there aren’t men around to listen in. The women would have been looking for ways to distract themselves from the battle they knew the men were off fighting, and what better way to do that than with the medieval version of a slumber party?

Into this serene female space came two men who weren’t supposed to be there. Goewin knew them, of course. They might even have been friendly. I’m sure the brothers had quite a bit of business with the king, and Goewin would have been there for all of it.

I have to wonder – did her inevitable closeness to Math color her feelings towards his nephews? Did she view them as extended family, or friends, or colleagues? Did they treat her like a little sister or an extension of Math or a piece of furniture? Did their attack on her feel like even more of a betrayal because she’d trusted them as Math did?

Whatever she felt for them, she couldn’t have known that Gilfaethwy had been lusting after her. He’d successfully hidden it from Math. Goewin wouldn’t have seen it coming either.

When the brothers banished all the other women except her from their presence she would have been confused, perhaps even concerned. It wouldn’t have been until Gilfaethwy grabbed her and started dragging her to the king’s bed that she would have known exactly what was happening. That’s when she would have started fighting, yelling and screaming and sobbing, but she had to have known it was futile from the start. There was no way an untrained teenager could have fought off one trained warrior, let alone two, and there was no one left in the castle with the authority or the strength of arm to stop them.

When they reached the king’s chambers it would have been Gilfaethwy stripping Goewin down, glorying in finally slaking his lust in her body despite her struggles. Maybe her struggles even spurred him on. Gwydion would have sprawled in a chair and smirked as he watched his brother rape a woman they’d literally created a war to get their hands on, a predatory cat waiting for his turn with the mouse.

The story doesn’t say when Gwydion decided to participate in Goewin’s rape. Maybe it was his plan all along. Maybe he saw raping her as his due, a prize he was owed for arranging things for his brother. Maybe raping women together was a regular brotherly bonding experience, their version of a beer and a game. Or maybe it wasn’t until his brother was finished taking her the first time, when she was naked and sobbing and bruised. She’d have been too exhausted and sore at that point to fight back much – maybe that’s what finally turned Gwydion’s crank.

The whys don’t really matter, I suppose. He did decide to participate, and by the time he was finished raping her Gilfaethwy would have been ready to go again. And so it went until the sky began to lighten beyond the windows. They could take their time and be as loud as they wanted. No one was there to stop them.

When they finished both men got dressed and went back to the battle they’d instigated. Mission accomplished.

The story doesn’t tell us what happened to Goewin in the immediate aftermath of her rape. Did anyone comfort her after her rapists had left, or tend her wounds? How many apologies did she hear from people who knew she was being attacked but didn’t try to stop it? Did she accept those apologies or find the words stuck in her throat? How many women commiserated with her pain? Were what men were left in the Court able to look her in the eyes when next she walked the halls? Was she able to meet their gazes? Did she feel vengeful and angry, or shamed and small? Was there anywhere in the castle she felt safe?

The next we hear of her is her telling Math why she could no longer be his foot bearer. To his credit Math is horrified by the news, immediately promising to make Goewin his queen. It was more than many rulers would have done in his place, no matter how much he valued Goewin and her service. Then he turned around and punished the two rapists in a rather elegant way, which is again more than Goewin might have expected.

When that punishment was served Math declared all forgiven and welcomed them into his home. Into Goewin’s home.

I have to wonder if Goewin was as forgiving as her husband. Somehow I don’t think so. No matter how well adjusted she was, it had to be difficult to be duty-bound to treat her rapists as beloved family and tend their needs.

Did she try to smile at them? I’m sure she had to. Were her smiles from her heart, or brittle? When she spoke words of welcome were they sincere or like acid on her tongue? Was she able to eat in their presence without feeling threatened, or sick, or fantasizing about killing them in their sleep? Did she pray for them to ignore her, or fend off their lustful looks or dismissive sneers when Math wasn’t looking? Did she see Math’s forgiveness of their crimes as a dismissal of her pain or did she eventually find her own peace with everything that had transpired?

Her rape forced her out of an honored position and shunted her into another vastly different role, with no notice and against any wishes she might have had to the contrary. Did she find it to be an equitable trade? How did it feel to see another woman sitting at her king’s feet, doing the job she was no longer allowed to do? Did she miss being a foot bearer and resent her replacement, or do what she could to take the next maiden under her wing? Did she long for the days of being included in all the king’s meetings and negotiations, or was she relieved by her exclusion and the freedom it brought?

Was her marriage night scary for her, or awkward? How did she and Math handle the abrupt adjustment to their relationship dynamic? Did it change at all, growing into a content marriage, or did it forever feel like something forced upon her? It’s likely that she slept with the king in the same room where she’d been raped, perhaps even on the same bed. Was she ever able to rewrite the bad memories with good ones? Did Math’s presence make her feel safe, or was even that safety taken from her?

Did she ever get a chance to flirt and tease, to be courted with music and sonnets, to blush over a man’s compliments and wonder if he meant them? Or did she obediently pass from young maiden to chaste foot bearer to devoted wife, continuously serving her king as her duty required without ever being allowed the freedom to grow into herself?

Above all, though, I wonder how she felt watching what happened to the next women to interact with Math and Gwydion, the women who came after her. Did their stories resonate with her own? Did she feel a kinship with them that went deeper than blood and duty? Did she envy their choices or scorn them?

What advice would she have given to Math, if he’d thought to ask?

Honoring Goewin

It both surprises and saddens me that there are three women in the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi, all with damn near equal page time, but only the latter two are commonly honored on Celtic altars. That’s even more upsetting when we realize that Goewin’s story set the stage for both Arianrhod and Blodeuwedd’s tales.

Thalia Took's image of Goewin.

Thalia Took’s image of Goewin. Available here.

In my practice, Goewin is the Lady of Duty and Honor. She represents sacrificing our wants and needs for the greater good, doing what’s necessary because it’s necessary and finding fulfillment in that.

She helps us understand the personal fulfillment that can come from fulfilling our duties and meeting our obligations. We pay bills because it’s a demonstration of our integrity. We call our parents even when we’re tired because it’s not always about us. We go to work and clean our homes and take the car in for maintenance and donate to charity and vote because it’s these actions that provide a foundation for everything else, just as Goewin’s lap was the foundation that allowed Math to rule.

It’s Goewin I turn to for steadfast resolve, for slogging through difficult times, for faithfulness in the face of despair, for trusting despite heartache. Sometimes the only way forward is through, and She understands that better than most.

Goewin shows us how to love others through service. She shows us that careful attention and devotion supports those around us, lifting them high without stealing their thunder. She shows us the value of grace and kindness and gentle wit when it comes to being a friend, the potentials of intimacy without and beyond sexuality, and how helping others creates support systems that in turn support us when we need them.

And She does all of these things while still sticking up for Herself when necessary and claiming Her due.

Goewin is ideal to call on for help with interpersonal relations and politics. She learned to negotiate and govern at the feet of a king and learned to influence the Powers That Be even when She officially didn’t have a voice. She understands etiquette and decorum, modesty and small talk, veiling our thoughts to keep the peace. She knows how to mingle, and persuade, and be the sounding board that provides clarity with the phrasing of a single question.

She also shows us that there is life after trauma. She shows us that things might be different, and might be hard, but better times do lie ahead even if they’re not what we originally imagined them to be.

Goewin is foot bearer and queen, maiden and wife, woman and Goddess. And She is the first of the triad within the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi.

Fourth Branch Spread: Approaching Dilemmas and Analyzing Situations

I’ve been working long and hard on a series of posts exploring the women of the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi: Goewin, Arianrhod, and Blodeuwedd. Me being me, together They inspired a Tarot spread! Consider it a teaser for what’s ahead.

The Fourth Branch Spread uses only four cards to offer us a ton of insight. It’s designed to help us sort out situations that may be too complex for us to easily navigate. Each card represents the perspective of one of the ladies in the Mabinogi’s Fourth Branch, giving us a series of viewpoints we can then use to figure out the best approach moving forward.

The Fourth Branch Spread.

The Fourth Branch Spread.

Goewin’s Take: We spend our childhoods learning a series of ethical guidelines, often based on social standards or philosophical principals. We put these concepts into practice as adults, and they’re usually the first gauges we use to examine a difficult situation. Goewin helps us explore what facets of duty or honor are at play in a given set of circumstances. Pronounced “GOH-win”.

Arianrhod’s Take: It can be comforting or even validating to follow the standards set for us by other people, but we’re not helpless pawns in our lives. We have our own sources of power, and our own ability to affect change in a given situation. Arianrhod helps us figure out what leverage we might have to shift our circumstances, or what resources we might be able to use to sway things in our favor. Pronounced “ahr-ee-AHN-hrod”.

Blodeuwedd’s Take: It’s easy to lose sight of ourselves and our needs when caught up in complicated situations, or to put ourselves last when making decisions. That might work in the short term, but if we do that too often or for too long it leads to nothing but resentment and regret. Bodeuwedd encourages us to look for that which supports and nurtures our most authentic selves. Pronounced ” bluh-DIE-weth”.

The Fourth Branch: When we put all the above perspectives together with our own instincts and preferences, which path offers us the best potential for success moving forward? What’s our takeaway from the reading as a whole?

I’m eager to hear how this spread works out for you. Feel free to let me know in the comments!

For those intrigued by my inspiration and wanting to learn more, stay tuned – Goewin’s Tale will be posted in the next few days!

The Elephant in the Room: Racism in Tarot Communities

This post from Tarotprose came across my feed recently and I immediately felt the need to share it. Written by a queer person of color in the Tarot community, it mirrors similar experiences I’ve heard from POC in the general Pagan/polytheist community too.

“I believe we should all feel safe and welcome [in the Tarot community] and to be completely honest, I haven’t always felt that way… I do not think anyone should feel threatened by the shared space they are part of. I do not think anyone should feel uncomfortable. I do not think racist acts should be ignored, silenced or tolerated. Tarot readers of color should not be forced to choose between silence and safety.”

This post outlines specific instances of racism this reader has experienced in what should have been a safe space. Do they ring any bells for you? For your community? For any POC you may know? We have to do better, folks. This is unacceptable.

AA Tarot

Three Major Arcana cards from the African American Tarot – the “black deck” mentioned in the original post, which was referred to as being inferior to a “normal” deck at a public event and then used to humiliate the reader. Which is a pity – that Empress is particularly gorgeous.

Sharing and brainstorming for solutions are welcome in the comments!

The original post can be read at Tarotprose.

Making a Deck Your Own: Tarot Mods

Here we can compare a card before the borderectomy and after.

Conventional wisdom tells us to make our spiritual and magickal tools our own. If we can’t make them outright, they’ll work best if we customize them somehow.

However, Tarot is a strange tool when it comes to making something our own. Due to the logistics of deck creation we almost always stick to mass produced decks, and since the cards are already “finished” out of the box customizing them doesn’t readily spring to mind.

That’s disappointingly unimaginative. There are so many possibilities! After all, at the end of the day a Tarot deck is simply a pile of cardstock with pretty pictures on it. And we’ve all been playing with papercrafts since kindergarten. We’ve got the skills. We just need to apply them.

But… but WHY? 

I tend to modify decks as a way of charging and bonding with them. Not necessarily into that? That’s ok. There are practical reasons to consider it, too.

Cards too big to comfortably shuffle or easily carry around? Trimming makes them smaller.

Do the borders distract from the art and make it harder to read the cards? That’s a frequent complaint when there are bright white borders around a deck done in darker hues, but it comes up with overly complicated and/or thick borders too. Trimming takes care of that.

Are there aspects of the card art that need to be altered/corrected, or details not on the card that need to be? That’s doable too.

Are the front and back of each card richly colored while the edges are bright white, making the deck as a whole look unfinished? That too can be corrected.

Has a beloved deck been used so much that the edges are ragged and hindering use of the deck? Trimming it down can give it a new lease on life.

Additionally, every single one of these techniques, used singly or together, will make our decks utterly unique in all the world. That alone might be reason enough to mod our decks!

Cool. So how do I do it?

Some of the most common options include altering the card face, trimming and corner rounding, and edging. I’m going to walk us through the creation of my beautiful pocket Mythic Tarot and show some of the techniques I used, and I’ve included some awesome Youtube videos throughout if you want to see the techniques first hand!

Altering the Card Face

The two most popular decks in the US (the RWS and the Thoth) were both created by ceremonial magicians. It’s not surprising to learn that magickal correspondences are buried in every card! Over time, even readers who aren’t particularly ceremonial themselves have come to rely on and even enjoy those correspondences.

Other decks have since come out that take different and sometimes radical departures from those two sources. As a result, the original correspondences may be lost or deliberately discarded along the way. Some readers are fine with that. They either didn’t use those correspondences anyway or have them memorized. Others, though, really want that symbolism on their cards.

Even beyond esoteric symbolism, there are some decks that don’t even have labels on the cards. Counting the number of pentacles on a pip card before we can even read it gets tiresome! Once deck trimming enters the picture (no pun intended!), those labels we found so handy might wind up on the floor in a pile of scraps.

That’s ok, though. It’s dead easy for readers to simply add what’s missing to the cards. The most common things I’ve seen added are labels, numbers, and astrological correspondences, but anything useful can be added too.

Sharpie and paint pens are both go-tos for this. Sharpie gives a more subtle result, but metallic paint pens can add a dash of glam. Choice depends in large part on the design of the card itself, and considering the many options out there can be loads of fun!

While I haven’t found myself personally adding many correspondences to cards, I do have a deck I had to artistically alter to effectively use. The Bright Idea Deck is one of my favorites, but I couldn’t get past the blond guys in suits who reminded me way too much of a current politician. So I took a fine point Sharpie to them. All the blonds are now brunets!

Capability - the Magician - from the Bright Idea Deck. The one of the left is pre-alteration, and the one on the right is after I changed his hair color.

Capability – the Magician – from the Bright Idea Deck. The one of the left is pre-alteration, and the one on the right is after I changed his hair color.

It might be a small and insignificant change to some folks, but it allowed me to keep using this deck without weird associations I didn’t want to taint my readings. This deck is also now 100% unique, because even if other people do the same thing the results won’t be perfectly identical to mine. And it took a whopping 10 minutes to do.

These same techniques can add keywords, change color correspondences, add flowers or herbs, whatever. Get creative!

Trimming and Corner Rounding

This kind of card alteration is a bit more drastic and involves actually cutting the cards.

It’s usually – but not always – done to cards with heavy borders that distract from the art. Simply trimming off the borders and then rounding the edges can make a HUGE difference in a card’s appearance. It also makes the card smaller, which is fantastic for those who have problems handling larger cards and those who want to have a deck stashed in their car or purse.

In the case of my Mythic it fixed a problem. I’m only interested in the art on the old, out of print version, and that runs around $100 used on eBay. However, the original art can still be found on the $9 German version. Dealing with German labels saves me $90? SOLD!

Once I got it, though, I found that the German labels bothered me more than I’d anticipated they would. The cards are also proportioned differently from the US version, so the borders that had been tolerable were now a bit much. Together they were ridiculously distracting. So I fixed it.

This High Priestess from the Das Delphische Tarot.

This High Priestess from the Das Delphische Tarot. Isn’t she just crying out for a borderectomy? 🙂

When trimming cards there’s no “right” way to do it. It’s a series of totally personal decisions, from exactly where to place the cuts to what tools to use to do it. For instance, here are the possibilities when it comes to trimming the HPS card.

The Mythic's HPS card cut in various ways.

Here is the Mythic’s HPS card cut in various ways. Watch the card get smaller as we cut more and more away from it!

The first image is the original HPS card. The second removed three borders completely and just a little off the top. That definitely lightens the whole thing up! The third basically created a narrower frame around the card. (I think that’s the worst option of the bunch, but it’s a definite choice that could be made.) The fourth cuts off everything except the bottom border, and then the label is written there instead. Since that’s a more typical label location some readers might prefer it. The fifth and final image shows the card with all borders removed completely.

Since I know the images backwards and forwards, and found myself intrigued by the idea of making a tin-sized deck, I decided to go with option #5.

Then it was time to select the tools. It is absolutely possible to do this with scissors alone, especially since these cards have distinct borders around the images. However, a little investment makes the process much easier!

I’m a fan of this thing. It doesn’t cost much more than a good pair of scissors. I’ve done several decks with it and haven’t yet had to change the blade. It also cuts in both directions, and the wire guide makes sure the cuts go where they’re supposed to. It’s even got built-in measurements! I found I could trim a card in less than a minute even being super careful. That’s not bad! Because of the stop the cuts are straight, too. There’s a fixed blade version available, but I haven’t tried that.

Fiskars 9 Inch SureCut Paper Trimmer.

Fiskars 9 Inch SureCut Paper Trimmer. The blade is mounted to the little orange square on the left side of the track.

The process is really simple. Slide the blade to one end, lift the piece with the blade on it, push the card flat against the stop opposite the blade, and lower the lifted piece. Line up the guide wire with the exact place you want the cut to go, use one hand to steady the card, and with firm pressure slide the blade across the cutline. Done! Repeat for every cut.

The Two of Swords in the cutter.

Like this. The guide wire is the vertical line we can see running up the side of the image all the way across the top of the card.

Once I trimmed it I wound up with this kind of result. Isn’t the difference amazing? I fell in love the second it was done. It looks like a little painting now! The image pops more, the colors look more vivid, and the figure looks significantly more dynamic.

Here we can compare a card before the borderectomy and after.

Here we can compare a card before the borderectomy and after. If you look really closely you can see where I added labels before trimming. Once I rounded the corners they disappeared, and luckily I didn’t see any need to replace them. So keep that in mind when doing yours!

That’s really all there is to basic trimming. Lather, rinse, repeat. Once I did all the cards it was time to move on to corner rounding!

Corners are rounded for two key reasons. One, cards with rounded corners are less likely to catch on things when handled or shuffled. Two, rounding the corner protects it from excess wear and tear. As you can see in the Ace of Swords pic I posted above, trimming leaves sharp corners. Those need to be rounded off.

Luckily that’s even easier than trimming. Again, scissors can be used, but no two corners will match if they’re all done by hand. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I am absolutely not ok with that. I use a corner rounder.

There are billion of these on the market, in all different sizes, but I use the clear fan favorite.

The Sunstar Kadomaru Pro Corner Cutter.

The Sunstar Kadomaru Pro Corner Cutter. As you can see from the picture, this one cutter does three different sizes.

It’s easy to do. Pick the desired size, slide the corner of the card in until it’s square, and then press the top of the rounder down. Once we hear a “click” we can move on to the next corner. I got as fast as 2 cards a minute while punching my Mythic (although that felt silly, so I deliberately slowed down a bit).

I recommend doing some experimenting with the rounder before going to town on actual cards, to make sure the right/most aesthetically pleasing size is chosen. I went with the medium size for my Mythic project as I felt they best matched the overall proportions of the card. See how much more finished the cards look after rounding than before?

The trimmed cards before and after corner rounding.

The trimmed cards before and after corner rounding. One thing to note is that parts of the bottom border were still visible on the trimmed deck. That could have been a problem. Rounding the corners fixed the issue, though.

There are more creative trimming options, too, though. The one in the video below I find particularly fascinating, and I might end up trying this approach with my Commemorative Waite-Smith deck. Here the reader cut her deck into perfect squares. The images of the standard RWS cards are so iconic that it’s easy to tell which card is which just from the focal image, and because of the square shape cards can be read upright, reversed, AND facing left or right! Imagine what that could mean for intuitive card interpretation!

Who knew taking a blade to your deck could open up whole new ways of engaging with Tarot?

Another technique involves trimming and then changing the card backs. And it’s super easy! Check it out!

Burnishing

This is a step that I do after trimming and rounding. I’ve never seen anyone talk about it with cards, though, so I thought I’d cover it here in a separate section.

Basically, when I finish trimming and rounding the whole deck I take a spoon and slide the curved part of the bowl along all the edges of the cards, pressing firmly inwards and kind of rocking it. Once that’s done I use the spoon to press along the edges straight down before flipping it over and repeating on the other side. I’m trying to mimic the mechanical action that happens when a deck is originally cut, and I find that it really does make a difference.

Two stacks of cards. The ones on the left are not burnished, which the ones on the right are.

I took this picture when I was exactly at the halfway point of the burnishing process. See how much smoother and more finished the burnished cards on the right are than the unburnished ones on the left? Also note that the burnished stack on the right is noticeably shorter, even though it contains the exact same number of cards.

Do every card and, unless you’re edging, you’re done! Huzzah!

A random selection of cards from my trimmed and rounded Mythic Tarot!

A random selection of cards from my trimmed and rounded Mythic Tarot! Isn’t it gorgeous??? I’m madly, madly in love with everything about it.

For those wanting some more examples of trimmed and rounded decks, check out the video below. Particularly pay attention to the Thoth section – trimming completely changes the whole feel of that deck and makes it much more approachable! The Druidcraft might be one of the most trimmed decks out there right now – it’s freaking huge, more like an oracle deck – and he covers that one too.

Edging

Cards are printed on the front and back on cardstock. The sides of the card aren’t printed, though, and that can be an aesthetic problem. It’s particularly obvious when the deck is stacked for use during a reading. The uncolored side of the card can scream out, especially on darker decks.

Edging fixes that. It colors the edges of the card so that they match (or artistically contrast with) the printed parts of the deck. Black is by far the most common color, but navy, red, and even purple are used quite a bit too. I’ve even seen white used to brighten up light decks, and browns used to make a deck look aged. The process makes a world of difference in how a deck looks.

I don’t get too fancy when I edge my decks. I use a chisel-tipped permanent marker or paint pen, carefully put the card edge on the flat part of the chisel, and hold the card steady as I move the marker around. Other people have different techniques, though, and Youtube is a great place to find some options if you’re curious.

Remember those edges in the burnishing section above? Here’s my Mythic after edging with a black Sharpie.

The trimmed Mythic Tarot after one pass of edging.

This is the deck after one pass. I usually do two or three to make sure I hit all the angles. It’s easy to miss a spot!

Doesn’t that just make the whole thing look super special?

Keep in mind, though, that cards are paper. Water-based inks and paints, including both Sharpies and acrylics, will likely bleed through the paper. How much it bleeds is largely determined by the grade of cardstock on which the deck is printed and the type of finish added after printing. (I find that burnishing helps minimize bleed too.)

A super closeup of the Mythic Tarot's World card after edging.

A super closeup of the Mythic Tarot’s World card after edging.

See that faint black line along the edge? That’s where the Sharpie bled through. I thoroughly enjoy the effect on this deck – it looks like char lines around the cards. IMO it gives each one an incredibly subtle black frame that makes each image look complete.

Instead of using water-based inks, some folks prefer going the oil-based route. The paint doesn’t get absorbed by the cardstock so bleed is avoided. Other people like using stamp pads instead of markers, but I find the technique messy and don’t use it.

While I went with black for my Mythic, don’t feel compelled to do the same with whatever deck you’re using! There are as many options out there as there are colors.

This is an example of what we get with a silver acrylic paint pen. I like the softer tone, but a more metallic finish is possible by using pens made for quick fixes of metallic scratches. Rustoleum makes one, and there are other brands too. I’ve seen silver and gold, and think there might be a copper too.

The Clair de Lune Lenormand, edged with acrylic silver paint.

The Clair de Lune Lenormand edged with acrylic silver paint.

We don’t have to use the same color all the way through, either! Multiple colors can work beautifully with a deck. For the below example, I divided the Bonefire Tarot into three piles – Majors in one, half the Minors in the second, and the second half of the Minors in the third. Then I edged each pile with a different color (red, orange, or yellow). Here’s a pic of the deck after shuffling.

My edged Bonefire Tarot.

My edged Bonefire Tarot.

Edging can completely change the character of your decks!

Storage After Mods

If we stick to altering the front of the card, and maybe even rounding the corners, then the box a deck came in is fine for storage. The second we trim it, though, the box it came in is too big.

For decks that are small enough (like my German Mythic), mini Tarot tins are available online. I chose that for my Mythic and enjoy the extra sturdiness of it. I’m still dithering over what to do with the lid though!

Two options for the Mythic Tarot's tin.

Two options for the Mythic Tarot’s tin.

On the left is a panel from the front of the box the deck came in. I trimmed it to fit and rounded the corners. While it includes the author and title, and the card makes it very obvious what deck this is, I find it a bit garish. The deck also came with an extra blank card, and I’ve trimmed that as a possibility too. I think it looks much classier, personally, but it doesn’t include any identifying info in case I maybe possibly one day need it.

Decisions, decisions. Have some input? Tell me in the comments.

Bags, wooden boxes, and even cloths tied furoshiki style are all handy too. Go with what you like!

And that’s it on Tarot mods! Has this post inspired you to do your own? I’d love to see your results in the comments!

Note for those looking at doing this with the Mythic Tarot! The German version is smaller than the US version. While the OOP US version COULD fit into a tin if trimmed this way, it would be tight. Besides, it’s OOP! Sacrilege! The German version fits in the tin with some room to spare.

Size variation between the German and US versions.

Size variation between the German and US versions. The trimmed German version – with borders removed but image untouched – is on top of a card from the US version. The difference is definitely noticeable!