The Fool’s Playlist – Exploring the Major Arcana Through Music (15-21)

The first post in this series is available here, and the second is available here

The Major Arcana cards represent the biggest, deepest, most spiritually important aspects of our lives. But it can be hard sometimes to relate their energy and importance to bloodless words on a page.

Music helps with that, though. Music can connect us to the energy of the cards in a way words can’t. So here are my current picks for songs to represent each of the cards. This post covers cards 15-21.

As before, if you disagree with my choices or have alternate/better suggestions let me know in the comments!

Devil:  Hotel California, Eagles

The Fool coming out of Temperance is feeling pretty stable, right? They’re secure in their new sense of self and ready to continue moving forward. Now that they’ve cleared out the more obvious issues, though, underlying toxic behavioral patterns suddenly stand out in stark relief. These can include serious addictions, but can just as easily be things like codependency, self-doubt, insecurity, ignorance, hopelessness, and even imposter syndrome. The Devil card encapsulates all the many things we do to sabotage ourselves from moving forward.

I can never think of this card without thinking of the classic Hotel California by the Eagles. The singer is driving down the highway full of energy and direction, as we all are when we leave Temperance. Then he grows weary, as we all do, and wants to take a break. When we relax is when those underlying patterns spring up, seemingly out of nowhere, and hijack all of our hard work. Since the Death card the Fool has been exhuming parts of their past they’d rather not consider, and their devils offer them easy ways to avoid dealing with them. “How they dance in the courtyard, sweet summer sweat/Some dance to remember, some dance to forget”. Like with all of our devils, “we are all just prisoners here of our own device”. And the final lines? “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!” It’s so easy to both know freedom rests in our hands and still feel trapped by our devils, to think we’re not good enough/strong enough to leave the personal prisons we’ve built. It’ll take something cataclysmic to prove us wrong.

Tower: Falling Down, Duran Duran

The Devil is a tenacious bastard. Gradual weaning away from our personal demons isn’t going to free us, not completely. The Fool needs a sudden change, a cataclysmic event, to finally shed those chains and rewrite these deepest of patterns.   Eventually, awareness and focused self-improvement will help mitigate Tower events, but they’ll never go away completely. It’s probably a good thing. We’d hate to get complacent.

I’ve never heard another song that so clearly gets the Tower. The art of the actual card shows us noblemen falling out of a Tower that’s been struck by lightning. In this song – Falling Down by Duran Duran – we hear what those noblemen might be thinking as they plummet to earth. What I love about this song is that the singer doesn’t yet understand why he’s falling. That’s true for most Tower events, I think. We rarely understand why our lives are crashing down around us until long after the fact. It takes distance and a completely changed perspective for us to look back and go “oh, of course that’s what triggered the Tower’s fall!”.

The Star: Lucky Star, Madonna

After the Tower falls the Fool stands blinking in the aftermath. The walls of ego that held them high but confined them to its limits are gone now, and the Fool can go wherever they like. But where might that be? Well, when all seems darkest, look for a light. The Star represents hope, a guiding light we can see and follow now that the Tower is out of the way. Our view of this beacon fills us with a child-like faith in the world and we’ll trustingly follow where it leads.

This is the song that actually kicked this whole project off. I was listening to an 80s playlist when it came on and the second verse snagged my attention. “You must be my lucky star, ’cause you make the darkness seem so far/And when I’m lost you’ll be my guide, I just turn around and you’re by my side”. That’s very much what the Star is – a guide out of the destruction of the Tower and into a more illuminated future, simply waiting for us to acknowledge it before it guides us onwards.

The Moon: – These Dreams, Heart

After the trials and travails of the last few cards, the hope and peace felt at the Star are like balms to the Fool’s senses. And the Fool, becoming drunk on them, enters the Moon. I think that’s where the Moon gets its Jekyll-and-Hyde reputation. On the one hand, it is very much a card of instinct and intuition. With our conscious minds quiet we can explore things we never would have been able to see otherwise, and the insights we get here can be as deep as they are revolutionary. It’s hard to navigate by moonlight, though, and what looks to be a monster might merely be a stately oak. Or vice versa. Our minds can play tricks on us here, and in the aftermath of everything the Fool has experienced of late they may be particularly vulnerable.

The dreamy and mysterious nature of the Moon card is perfectly captured by Heart’s These Dreams. We try to tell time on “a watch with no hands”, and “words that have no form are falling from [our] lips”. We clutch candles, but it’s hard to remember to do that when we’re “hiding away from the pain” we’ve endured over the last few cards. We may even want to live forever in a place where “our feet never touch the earth” and we can “walk without a cut through a stained-glass wall”, and the seduction of that makes staying in the realm of the illusory Moon tempting indeed.

The Sun: Here Comes the Sun, The Beatles

The lure of the Moon is strong, but eventually morning does come. It’s time to let a little sunshine in! The bright light of the Sun shreds the illusions of the Moon, showing the Fool that their deepest and darkest places really aren’t that deep or dark. They can finally banish the shadows, accepting that they’re worthy of all the love and joy they can possibly find. The Sun allows them to see the world as the beautiful, happy place it can be, and they understand that it can always be this way if they would only get out of their own way.

Once we see the meanings for this card there’s really only one choice for the song, isn’t there? The Beatles perfectly nailed the energy of the Sun with “Here Comes the Sun”, cheerily assuring us that while it’s been dark and hard up to now, smiles are returning and ice is melting. When the Sun appears, everything really is all right.

Judgment: Killing Me Softly, The Fugees

After traversing the three Celestial cards the Fool is ready to tackle the rest of the journey. And really, the only thing left at this point is looking back over where they’ve been thus far. There’s an element of analysis to this card that’s similar to what we see with Justice, but we’re now far beyond ideas of simple cause and effect. It’s not about fairness anymore, it’s about progress. From here the Fool can see what they did, acknowledge how it affected others, do their very best to make amends to everyone affected (including themselves), and endeavor to do better on the next go-round.

 

The song for Judgment is Killing Me Softly by the Fugees. (The older version works too, of course, but I like this one.) The singer in this song is listening to what seems like their life coming from a stage. That’s how we have to approach this card – as something we experience outside of ourselves and then handle to the very best of our abilities. The process can be profoundly uncomfortable, but once we’ve done it we’re ready to leave it all behind and embrace our new future.

The World: On Top of the World, Imagine Dragons

Now that our Fool has finished processing they’ve completed the Fool’s Journey. This piece of it, anyway! They know that there are more journeys in their future and that the call to set out on a new adventure will soon become too strong to resist. They also know that, just like before, they’ll rush off half-cocked to start the whole cycle again. That’s for tomorrow, though. Today is for celebrating and appreciating the view from where they stand. It’s pretty damn spectacular!

The song for this final card is On Top of the World by Imagine Dragons. The Fool has crossed the highest mountains and deepest rivers, paying their dues, all the while dreaming of being where they are right now – on top of the world.

 

And that completes the Fool’s Playlist! May it provide inspiration and solace on your  next journey!

 

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The Fool’s Playlist – Exploring the Major Arcana Through Music (8-14)

The first post in this series is available here

The Major Arcana cards represent the biggest, deepest, most spiritually important aspects of our lives. But it can be hard sometimes to relate their energy and importance to bloodless words on a page.

Music helps with that, though. Music can connect us to the energy of the cards in a way words can’t. So here are my current picks for songs to represent each of the cards. This post covers cards 8-14.

As before, if you disagree with my choices or have alternate/better suggestions let me know in the comments!

*Note: This post is full of embedded videos. FYI.

Strength: You Gotta Be, Des’ree

No one gets every single thing they want, and sometimes hard work and dedication simply aren’t enough. It’s easy for our ego-driven Fool to become disillusioned when things don’t work out. However, it’s through those losses that the Fool learns Strength, the first of the three Virtues in the Major Arcana. Here the Fool begins to learn the strength of their own convictions and character, and how they apply to the larger world around them.

I had my choice of songs for this one, but eventually went with Des’ree’s You Gotta Be.  What makes that song fit so well are the lines “Herald what your mother said, read the books your father read, try to solve the puzzles in your own sweet time”. Strength doesn’t abandon what came before, it combines it with personal experience to build something more fitting and lasting. The song also focuses on many character traits instead of just brute strength or endurance, like the strength to be found in vulnerability. I’d really rather simply call this card “Character”, because that’s how I read it, but no one asked me (yet!).

Hermit: Crawling in the Dark, Hoobastank

At this point in the journey, the Fool has learned everything they need to successfully navigate the material world. Most folks seem to stop their spiritual development at the Strength card, in fact, and have no interest in going any further. But our Fool senses that something’s missing. Why are we the way we are, and why does the world function as it does? The Fool is starting to ask probing questions and look for deeper truths. These questions aren’t exactly light topics, and the Fool may be surprised at how quickly questions alienate them from the people they thought they knew. That’s fine, though – a period of seclusion reduces distractions, and the Fool appreciates that as they dedicate themselves to finding answers.

While Hoobastank isn’t normally a group I’d turn to for meaningful lyrics, and the vibe of the song certainly isn’t the more ethereal one I associate with the Hermit, Crawling in the Dark undeniably captures the essence of this card. “Show me what it’s for, make me understand it! I’ve been crawling in the dark looking for the answer. Is there something more than what I’ve been handed? I’ve been crawling in the dark looking for the answer.” Me too, Hoobastank. Me too.

Wheel of Fortune: Where Are We Going From Here, Blackmore’s Night

The Wheel of Fortune can be a challenging card to read. I follow a goddess of transition and fate symbolized by wheels, though, so for me this is very much a card signifying a leap of faith. I think it’s appropriate that the Fool is card 0 and this is card 10 – they feel like mirrors of each other. Except by the time the Fool encounters the Wheel they have some experience under their belt. They’re no longer clueless Moana setting off on an adventure they can’t comprehend. They’ve survived enough to know what adventuring means while still appreciating that they’ve still got a long way to travel – they’re not even halfway through the journey. And while it might be tempting to quit, the Fool still thinks there’s something more meaningful at the end of the road. They just have to get there.

There are many songs that play with the idea of cycles and change, but few do it with the contemplative grace of Blackmore’s Night. “We’re all on this road, miles to go, braving new pathways into the unknown/But who do you ask, when no one really knows, where are we going from here?”. When this card appears I answer with “the Powers – let Them guide you”. This is the first card where I think the Fool really grapples with the idea that there are Powers out there beyond human understanding, that can provide assistance along the way if only we take a leap of faith and ask.

Justice: Beds Are Burning, Midnight Oil

Justice is the second Virtue card of the Major Arcana. The Fool has just taken their first spin on the Wheel and now they’re pausing to consider cause and effect. While the Wheel was the first place the Fool encountered the Powers, Justice is the first place the Fool encounters universal laws. They begin to see their actions as part of a larger world, developing concepts of “fairness” and “balance” they maybe didn’t have before. I always think of college freshmen when I see this card, encountering ideas of intersectionality for perhaps the first time and wondering why the whole world doesn’t work for everyone equally. It should, right? Right?

Any number of social justice anthems could be used here, but I went with Beds are Burning by Midnight Oil. An Australian protest song, it advocates giving land back to the Aboriginal people who were forcibly relocated to settlements by the government. What clinched the choice for me was the chorus: “The time has come to say fair’s fair/To pay the rent, now, to pay our share!”. Seeking justice for the oppressed even if it’s against their own self-interest is a turning point for our young Fool on their journey that deserves a moment of reverence. What better for that than a rock song?

The Hanged Man: The Hanging Tree, Jennifer Lawrence

The Hanged Man is another of those cards that can be challenging to read. In this card the Fool encounters their personal “cross”, a situation or experience that threatens to break them. None of the skills they’ve learned thus far can help them carry the burden of it, so they have to submit to it instead. In so doing they learn that things will work as they should if we simply let them. As the Hanged Man is hanging upside down, so too do we take what we think we know and turn it on its head. What can we learn, and where can we go, if we focus on inner growth instead of outward measures of success?

This song – The Hanging Tree from the Mockingjay movie – is creepy in the extreme, and the “hanging” in the title isn’t even why I chose this song. On the one hand, we have the song itself, where the narrator is asking his love to join him in death so they can both be free. He even refers to a noose as a “necklace of hope”. I love the way that plays with the idea of sacrifice embedded in this card while flipping expectations. I also appreciate how a simple story ballad about a murderer becomes, through the singer in a specific time and place, a song of rebellion against corruption and a battle cry for a better (living) future. How’s that for turning something on its head?

Death: Dust in the Wind, Kansas

Having gained wisdom in the last card, the Fool is now prepared to cut out the aspects of self that hinder future growth. By the time our Fool finishes this stage they’ll have an easier time moving forward. Like a forest fire, it clears out old tangled growth to make room for a whole new life. Death is a card of transition and change, and with practice we realize that we’re always in the realm of this card. Consistent self-improvement leaves us no other choice.

The best song I’ve found for Death is Dust in the Wind by Kansas. A song that speaks of impermanence and transition, it perfectly encapsulates the idea that everything eventually passes. Even the most entrenched habits we despair of mastering. We just have to keep chipping away at them.

Temperance: Sober, Kelly Clarkson

Temperance is the third Virtue card of the Major Arcana, and like Strength and Justice is also about balance. There have been substantial changes in the Fool by now, and a new equilibrium needs to be established before further progress can be made. Think of a sword that’s been heated and beaten over and over – it requires plunging in cool water to harden the metal and temper the blade. Temperance literally tempers us, or allows us the space to temper ourselves, to make sure that we’re strong enough to handle the rest of the journey. After all, the most challenging bits that still lie ahead.

Kelly Clarkson’s Sober is a perfect fit for Temperance. The imagery even works! After realizing “nothing’s real until you let go completely” with the Hanged Man, and “picking your weeds but keeping your flowers” with Death, we start to see a light at the end of the tunnel when we realize that “we might catch a glimpse” of who we’re growing into.  And while we could backslide, and need to repeat the lessons we’d thought we’d learned, we know that it’s more important to do it right than to try to rush it and lose our way.

 

The third and final post is available here.

 

The Fool’s Playlist – Exploring the Major Arcana Through Music (0-7)

The Major Arcana cards represent the biggest, deepest, most spiritually important aspects of our lives. But it can be hard sometimes to relate their energy and importance to bloodless words on a page.

Music helps with that, though. Music can connect us to the energy of the cards in a way words can’t. So here are my current picks for songs to represent each of the cards. This post covers cards 0-7.

Disagree or have alternate/better suggestions? Hit me up in the comments and let me know! I’d love to see!

*Note: This post is full of embedded videos. FYI.

The Fool: How Far I’ll Go, Moana

I find that the Fool’s Journey as a concept really speaks to me, on both a Tarotic (is that even a word?) and spiritual level. With that being said it should be no surprise that the image of our brave Fool setting off on an adventure with just a knapsack of tools they can’t yet use and maybe a small dog for company resonates strongly, too. Hell, make the knapsack the size of a small car and I LIVE this life, small dog included!

The song that immediately came to mind for this card is How Far I’ll Go from Moana. Moana is called to seek something more than she knows, so she sets off to find it. In a boat she can’t sail. With no water, no provisions, and no plan. But she does it anyway, because settling for the life she knows is scarier than the unknown. Her companion here is a little pig, but it’s close enough to the little dog of the Fool card to count!

The Magician: Razzle Dazzle, Chicago

The first two people the Fool meets on their journey are the Magician and the High Priestess. They exist only in balance to each other, so definitely come as an equal pair. The Magician is the card of the tangible and material, the part of the world we can sense and affect with our conscious minds. On the one hand, the Magician can seem awesomely powerful. He knows what all the tools in the Fool’s knapsack can do, and he knows how to use them well. He’s got charisma and flair to spare, but sometimes it’s hard to see what’s really there and what’s just smoke and illusion.

What better song is there for this than Razzle Dazzle from Chicago? The singer is a highly successful lawyer who delivers on what he promises, but he does it by creating such a spectacle that people focus on his creations instead of the truth. He’s undeniably skilled in the ways of the world but not necessarily ethical, and that flexibility is part of his power.

The High Priestess: Rhiannon, Fleetwood Mac

Where the Magician represents the physical world, the High Priestess represents the hidden depths of our unconscious minds, our individual potential that has yet to meet a catalyst for manifestation. As such she is a confounding, mysterious figure. She doles out our inner truths in riddle and rhyme, and often it’s only later that we understand what she was telling us. If we’re lucky we’ll figure it out before we need it, but that is in no way guaranteed.

I debated a few songs for this one, but eventually settled on Rhiannon by Fleetwood Mac. The lines that clinched it for me were “she’s like a cat in the dark and then she is the darkness; she rules her life like a fine skylark and when the sky is starless”. She’s a mystery and an enigma, everything and nothing all at once, and mystery is where she gets her power.

The Empress: In My Arms, Plumb

As the Fool starts interacting with the world the Empress is usually the first “other” to impinge on their awareness. My relationship with the Empress is surprisingly complex, and I find that her meaning shifts for me quite a bit as I read. At her core, though, she’s the quintessential mother of the Tarot, often depicted in burgeoning fields with a babe at her breast and a shield at her side.

I wanted a song that captured both the love and the fierceness of this card, and I found it in Plumb’s In My Arms. She talks about the joys and pains of motherhood, knowing that she’s doing everything she can to keep her child safe while acknowledging that eventually that won’t be enough. She’ll always be a rock to cling to, though, and a safe space, and if that’s not the essence of this card I don’t know what is.

The Emperor: March of Cambreadth, Alexander James Adams (as Heather Alexander)

If the Empress is the loving mother of the Tarot, the Emperor is certainly the stern father. This is a card of top-down authority, dominance, and law and order. While the Empress is focused on her child first and foremost, the Emperor is focused on the whole of those for whom he is responsible (family, tribe, even nation). Individual happiness within that group is great but not required. He protects his people from anything that could be seen as a threat with swift and decisive action. In return he expects obedience. After all, hasn’t he demonstrated over and over again that father knows best?

I see him as a very black and white thinker, with a streak of ruthlessness that can’t be denied. If he can’t cajole things into going his way he’ll damn straight make them. Which is why this song is such a great fit. It’s a call to battle, tribe against tribe, where “us” vs “them” thinking is paramount and top-down authority must be heeded to prevent disaster.

The Hierophant: Tradition, Fiddler on the Roof

And now we’re at the Hierophant! The teacher, the sage, the guide, he who guards tradition like treasure and upon whom the continuation of society rests. The Hierophant represents both the underlying worldview and the formal education the Fool encounters when they first venture from their family unit into the wider world. He also represents faith and mystery traditions both. Anything that is passed on from generation to generation eventually falls into the Hierophant’s realm.

He too is very much about the whole over the parts, but while the Emperor comes at it from a familial or even tribal place the Hierophant thinks of the soul and society. He’s usually represented as a Pope-like figure for just that reason. The song I chose for this card is more Jewish than Catholic, but I think the meaning shines through clearly enough regardless!

The Lovers: Take Me to Church, Hozier

The Lovers is a surprisingly difficult card to find music for. There are a billion love songs out there (and I’m probably low-balling that number), but the Lovers isn’t just any love affair. The Lovers is where the Fool reaches for that which completes or complements them on a soul level (sometimes a person, sometimes not).  It’s one soul finding another, or us finding pieces of ourselves. It’s soulmates and alchemical weddings and keys fitting locks, not giggly crushes and bubblegum. Claiming what we yearn for also requires us to critically assess what we’ve learned from our elders, weighing the values we’ve been taught against the values we’re now mature enough to choose and prioritize for ourselves. That’s a lot to put into one song!

Thinking of the Fool’s Journey, though, brought this card’s song into sharp relief for me. Especially as we’re coming out of the Hierophant! Hozier’s Take Me to Church is a direct rebuke to the traditions and norms that would keep the Fool away from that which fits them best, a rebellion of the purest kind, and as such is the best fit here.

I normally try to choose lyric versions of songs for this, but it would be a crime not to showcase Sergei Polunin’s dance to this song. So here it is, in all it’s amazing glory.

The Chariot: – Lose Yourself, Eminem

The Chariot is the ultimate card for setting your own course and charting your own way. Wishy-washy people who don’t know what they want can never hope to master the Chariot. It takes will, dedication, and tenacity to keep the horses moving together so we can reach our goals. This is the ego of the adult Fool, strong enough to persevere and triumph over the world around them.

There was really only song to choose for this. It even has a driving beat that sounds kind of like hoofbeats! Eminem’s Lose Yourself is about pursuing our goals – whatever they are – with everything we’ve got. When we enter a zone where failure ceases to be an option we’re touching the essence of this card.

 

Want more? Click here for the next set!

The Acolytes of Beltane: Re-examining the Sabbat Through the Tarot

The Lovers. Centennial Waite-Smith Tarot.

Beltane is the last of the three Planting festivals. In the old days these festivals revolved around the agrarian year, and for some they still do. However, my urban self relates to all the festivals in a slightly different way. For me these are more personal festivals, encouraging and celebrating more personal types of growth.

Beltane is usually the hardest of all the sabbats for me to find personally relevant. I’ve written about it before, and every year it’s still a bit of a struggle.

However, this year I took a new approach and examined Beltane through the lens of Tarot. It works for almost everything else, right? The most obvious Tarot card to start with for Beltane is the Lovers, but as you’ll see my examination rapidly expanded out from there.

 The Lovers

Beltane is almost always associated with love and marriage. The union of the Lord and Lady (as seen through any number of sacred marriage stories) is perhaps the single most common symbol of the holiday. The aptly named Lovers card perfectly encapsulates that whole concept.

However, no card of the Tarot exists in a vacuum. The Lovers is linked, by both image and theme, to other cards too. In fact, it’s one of six Acolyte Cards.

So I had to wonder. If one of the Acolyte Cards relates so well to Beltane, could the other Acolyte Cards somehow relate too?

The Acolyte Cards

In addition to the Lovers, the Acolyte Cards also include the Devil, the Hierophant, the Chariot, the Six of Pentacles, and the Tower.

The Acolyte Cards are called that because, in all six cards, we have two “acolytes” at the feet of a larger figure or archetype. The visual composition of each card is almost identical, and their meanings are similar too. In all six cards the two figures in the foreground are submitting to whatever the figure behind them represents. The only difference lies in what precisely that happens to be.

The Lovers. Centennial Waite-Smith Tarot.

The Lovers. Centennial Waite-Smith Tarot.

In the Lovers, the figures commit themselves to each other under the eyes of an angel, making this a sacred marriage. By so doing they collectively place their relationship above their individual desires, submitting to its influence in their lives. While it depicts a sacred marriage, this card can refer to any great love to which we commit ourselves.

The Devil. Centennial Waite-Smith Tarot.

The Devil. Centennial Waite-Smith Tarot.

The Devil is often called the shadow card of the Lovers, and it’s easy to see why. The figures in this card don’t submit to each other, but to the worst parts of themselves. The chains represent the attachment of the figures to fears, addictions, self-serving behaviors, and hedonism. They’re wholly committed to that which holds them prisoner, but they retain the ability to free themselves from bondage any time they choose. The Devil is ultimately a helpful card, because it points out that which holds us back and encourages us to pursue self-improvement, independence, and true freedom.

The Hierophant. Centennial Waite-Smith Tarot.

The Hierophant. Centennial Waite-Smith Tarot.

The monks of the Hierophant submit to the leader of their faith, and by so doing commit themselves to a higher purpose. I also think it’s significant that, out of all six cards, the monks of the Hierophant are the only figures with their backs to us. Part of their devotion is a rejection of the world, while the other five cards are of the world and face it more directly.

The Chariot. Centennial Waite-Smith Tarot.

The Chariot. Centennial Waite-Smith Tarot.

The sphinxes of the Chariot submit to their princely driver, who is completely focused on worldly conquest. Since the world can never truly be conquered by one person, the drive to succeed is never-ending. Total success isn’t really the point, though. The sphinxes are committed to the journey itself and carry the driver onwards regardless.

The Six of Pentacles. Centennial Waite-Smith Tarot.

The Six of Pentacles. Centennial Waite-Smith Tarot.

As befitting the only Minor Arcana of the set, the Six of Pentacles shows a more scaled-down version of the dynamic seen in the other cards. Here the two acolyte figures submit to their need for aid from a wealthy benefactor, who is committed to helping them. Unlike the other cards, though, the benefactor isn’t a larger-than-life archetypal figure. He’s human too, and a quick reversal of fortune could cause the acolytes and the benefactor to switch places. This unites the acolytes and the benefactor in a way not permitted by the other cards.

The Tower. Centennial Waite-Smith Tarot.

The Tower. Centennial Waite-Smith Tarot.

The Tower is also considered an Acolyte Card, but it differs from the others in two fundamental ways. For one, the archetypal figure in this card – the Blasted Tower – represents the destruction of commitment. The figures in this card were dedicated solely to their own egos, and that is the sin that could not be borne. That’s why the lightning physically removed them from their high station and returned them screaming to the earth below. None of us are immune to natural law or natural forces, and the figures of this card were required to submit to that if nothing else. And that leads to the second fundamental difference between this card and the others: the lightning didn’t ask for or require the consent of the figures in the card.

If the other cards are facets of life we’re invited to explore, the Tower tells us that the worst thing we can do is ever think we’re done exploring.

The Acolytes of Beltane

As a culture, we’re kind of obsessed with the values represented by the Lovers card. It makes total sense that the type of submission and commitment explored there is the one that gets its own holiday, especially when we consider the history and focus of modern Paganism.

However, maybe this singular focus is unnecessarily limiting. The Acolyte Cards invite us to explore love, self-improvement, faith, drive, and a recognition that we’re all in this together. They also caution us against the idea that we’re ever done growing and provide an ego-check when we need it.

All of the Acolyte Cards, even or maybe especially the Tower, provide us the tools we need to grow into our best and most authentic selves. That sounds like the very definition of what Beltane is supposed to be, and to my mind makes this holiday much more interesting and personally relevant.

Now I’m eager to see what kind of light a similar study might shed on Midsummer!

The Diary Tarot Spread

When I first started reading cards, the first question I asked querents was “how much info do you want – a Telegram, a Letter, or a Diary?”. It was the easiest way I knew to convey the length and depth of different spreads to people with zero knowledge of Tarot.

The “Telegram” spread was a standard three card draw. The “Letter” was my version of the Celtic Cross, which I discuss in detail here. This post covers the Diary Spread.

The Diary Spread is in depth and sprawling. It consists of neat rows and columns, making it easier to lay out than the Spirals of Life Spread. Like that spread, though, this one relies on intuition and basic positioning more than specific questions for interpretation.

I can’t claim total credit for this one. My aunt taught it to me, and I have no idea if she got it from a book or learned it in some other fashion. I’ve tweaked it since then, of course, but the core of it hasn’t changed.

The Diary Spread

This spread consists of six rows of five cards each. Each row is based on one broad topic, but individual cards are intuitively interpreted. Placement may matter and may not, depending on how the reader feels about it at the time. It’s a remarkably flexible spread.

Here’s what it looks like all laid out.

The Diary Spread completely laid out with the Bonefire Tarot.

The complete Diary Spread using the Bonefire Tarot (because of course it is). Overlapping the cards isn’t required, but it does help make it more manageable space-wise. Mini Tarot decks help keep it smaller too. I recommend laying out and interpreting one row at a time to keep it simpler, starting at the top and working down, because all of the flipping gets tiresome otherwise.

Row 1 – Prelude: This row shows us what events led up to the current moment. It can refer to events that happened yesterday and/or events that happened decades ago, and they always relate to present concerns. LOTS of long-standing patterns and foundational beliefs show up here, so don’t be shy about referring back to this row as you interpret cards further down. Sometimes these are all separate events, sometimes they’re all facets of one event with the center carrying the emphasis, and sometimes the whole row is a timeline. Depends completely on the reading and what your intuition says.

Row 2 – Present: This row is all about the (surprise!) present. It might dip into the last week or so, if it’s pertinent, but it generally doesn’t. Again, like the previous row, the cards here can be read a number of ways depending on how your intuition guides you. However, now that we’ve got more than one row we can add in column relationships too.

The kinds of relationships I look for in this spread, as well as a handy way to refer to specific cards.

Yet another Paint masterpiece. This one shows the kinds of relationships I look for in this spread, as well as a handy way to refer to specific cards.

Does A1 relate to A2? Or D1 to D2? These relationships might add clarification to otherwise confusing issues. I usually stick to only vertical and horizontal positioning relationships – this isn’t a Lenormand-style Grand Tableau – but if diagonals or squares call out to your intuition go for it.

Row 3 – Others: Now it’s starting to get interesting. This row shows us little glimpses of the people around the querent, who might be affecting their Present and Immediate Future (foreshadowing!). I often find that the center card (C3) is the person closest to the querent, with the flanking cards (B3 and D3) being close friends and the cards at either end (A3 and E3) being acquaintances (coworkers and the like). It could jut as easily be people ranked by closeness to the situations mentioned, however, meaning a coworker at the center of a promotion dispute could take center stage. Again go with your gut on this. Column relationships are big here, too – is the Other of A3 related to the situation described in A2 or even A1? This is an especially good time to look for patterns.

Row 4 – Immediate Future: The thing I always say about this row is that the events described are already in motion. There’s not much time (if any) to head these events off, so the best idea here is to prepare as best as possible for their coming. Column relationships are big here, too – B2 might lead directly into B4. As always let your intuition guide you through it.

Row 5 – Potentials: If everything predicted in Row 4 happens as described, these are some of the likely results. This timeframe is more elastic, so if there’s something here the querent doesn’t like they can change it. They just have to move fast! This is a great time to discuss plans of action and figure out ways to encourage what’s desired and discourage what’s not. Don’t forget to check the column relationships here too!

Row 6 – Outcomes: If all the Potentials are allowed to develop as described in Row 5, this row shows us where those might lead. This can absolutely be changed – it’s far enough out that events can be drastically shifted, if not avoided completely, if that’s what’s the querent decides to do. This is the most empowering row of the whole spread. Again, column relationships are key! Look back over the whole of the reading for any patterns that may have appeared during the spread.

A Note on Distributions: Check for the distribution of similar cards. A cluster of Majors should focus attention/emphasis there, for instance. Progressions – a 7, 8, and 9 in the same suit and column, for instance – should be noted too. As always, let your intuition guide you through what this might mean and how to work it. 

A Note on Art: Is a figure in one card looking at another figure in a different card, or distinctly looking away? Is a hand in one card reaching for someone or something in another card? Look for these kinds of things in your spread, as they can intuitively guide you to relationships beyond the row/column setups we’ve already discussed.

A Note on Clarifications: I will occasionally do clarifications on the final card of Row 6 if needed. I was taught that clarifications can be up to but no more than three cards, and to stop clarification attempts immediately if a Major appears. If further clarification on anything else is needed, either reshuffle this deck (make sure you took good notes first!) or pull out another deck entirely for a whole new reading. By the end of the Diary Spread we need more cards to clarify than we have left!

And that’s it! The Diary Spread is fantastic for those who don’t know what they want to read on because it can cover everything. I often find that things come up requiring further exploration, too. I allow at least an hour for this spread to account for that, so it’s something to keep in mind when scheduling.

 

The Spirals of Life Spread

In my Seeing the Wheels post I talked about using armillary spheres as a visual aid for the different Wheels in our lives. I also mentioned my epiphany of how the Wheels are actually all part of one giant spiral.

This Tarot spread uses that concept to help us zero in on different parts of the spiral to which we need to pay attention. It’s a bit different than the usual spread in that it relies more heavily on a reader’s intuition than on specific placement-based questions. The cards are read in relation to each other, both in groups and as a whole, allowing us to deeply explore what rises to the surface.

The Spirals of Life Spread

Here’s the spread layout and the order in which cards are put down. You’ll need some space for this one! And don’t worry – it’s way simpler than it looks.

The Spirals of Life Spread.

The Spirals of Life Spread. One of these days I will actually learn some sort of graphics program. Since that day is not today, enjoy this retro Paint masterpiece. Retro’s cool, right? Right.

It looks complicated until you see the colors. There are only 5 of them! This spread only asks and answers 5 general questions, making it super easy to remember. Specifics beyond those general questions depend on placement and intuition.

Lay cards down in the order shown above and they literally spiral clockwise around the center (hence the creative name). Reverse the order and you might have a rather nifty shadow spread, too (although I’ve not experimented with that yet). Nifty, huh?

So let’s dive in!

Red (Cards 1 and 2): This the Wheel of Self and shows us what’s going on for the querent right now. Card 1 shows the primary focus/motivator while Card 2 shows the primary challenge/block. If this looks familiar give yourself a gold star – it’s exactly the same as the Celtic Cross spread.

Green (Cards 3-6): The Wheel of Earth shows what’s happening in the realm of physical health and concrete resources. Lay these cards out and look at their positions. Does anything jump out at you? How do these cards interact with each other, or the Wheel of Self? Placement might matter here, depending on what your intuition says. Maybe the above card indicates the aspect of this Wheel that’s getting most of their attention, or their goal in this area. What’s below could be the foundation of what’s going on or even a subconscious motivator. What’s to the left – the “sinister” side – could relate to a problem area while the right indicates an area of growth. Or the two together could show what comes most readily to hand, or the best tools to use going forward. Or maybe all four cards simply show what’s surrounding the querent right now and placement doesn’t matter at all. Let your intuition guide your interpretation. Are any patterns emerging yet?

Blue (Cards 7-10): The Wheel of Water shows the influences surrounding the querent. These can be people or situations, but either way they tend to elicit emotional responses. What’s the environment looking like right now? Do these cards relate to each other? How do they interact with the other Wheels? Placement matters here, too, because cards are more likely to be connected if they’re in close physical proximity to each other. Again, let your intuition guide you through these cards and their relationships to the rest of the spread. Are any patterns emerging yet?

Yellow (Cards 11-14): The Wheel of Air shows the querent’s ways of thinking and modes of thought. Goals and aspirations show up here, as do past traumas and present concerns. What mental patterns are helping or hindering their progress? What don’t they know that they need to figure out, and what do they hold to be true that might need to be reconsidered? Intuitively work the cards and see what comes up. Are any patterns emerging yet?

Black (Cards 15-18): The Wheel of Mystery shows things surrounding the querent that are beyond their direct/immediate control but influence them all the same. Karmic patterns can pop up here, for instance, as can spiritual tasks and life purpose issues. Again, let your intuition guide your interpretation. This is where looking for patterns becomes key to the whole thing. As you worked outward to get to this Wheel, work your way inward again to see what might relate and reflect. See what you can see. (For a fun variation, especially considering the nature of this Wheel, maybe try using oracle cards instead of Tarot here. Some might find that easier to work with.)

A full Spirals of Life Spread done with the Bonefire Tarot.

This is a full Spirals of Life Spread done with the Bonefire Tarot. The key to keeping this spread workable is offsetting each Wheel from the others. It also took up the whole of my 30″x30″ divination table, so keep that in mind when laying it out! 🙂

And there you have it! The deep diving, exploratory, and revealing Spiral of Life Spread! I’d love to see your commentary about it once you’ve tried it out!

Numerology notes: There are 18 cards in this spread as designed. Numerologically that reduces to 9. Leaving off the outer ring – which might be preferable for those who aren’t here for mystery – yields 14 cards, which reduces to 5. Adding a clarification card to all cards except 1 and 2 (since they clarify themselves) yields 34, which reduces to 7. Leaving off the outer ring and using clarification cards uses 26 cards, which reduces to 8. Keep that in mind when plotting out exactly how you want to use this spread! 🙂 Aren’t numbers fun?

The Bonefire Tarot – Tarot Review

The open box with cards in the interior well is displayed with the book and a few spread cards.

The first time I saw the Bonefire Tarot I was attracted by the rich colors but kinda turned off by the seemingly chaotic art. Vintage tattoos have never been my thing. In the end I only picked the deck up because I thought it would photograph well for my Instagram #cardaday pulls.

Then I got into it. Overnight this deck shot from photogenic oddity to one of my Top Three decks ever. I’m seriously considering buying a backup copy just in case tragedy strikes and this one goes out of print!

The Bonefire Tarot is definitely worth a deeper look.

The Deck

I missed the Bonefire Tarot when it was privately published but snagged Schiffer’s mass market package. I can’t say I mind. Like all of Schiffer’s decks this one comes in sturdy box with a magnetic closure. The deck is split across one wide interior well – with cutouts for your fingers! – and the book sits on top.

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The Bonefire Tarot set. Note the pretty ribbons that keep the top open, and the ribbon loop to open it when it’s closed.

The box itself is fine for home use, and would probably even work for gentle travel, but it’s a bit unwieldy to shove into a backpack on the regular. I had a pouch custom-made for mine instead and happily toss it in my purse when needed.

The deck in the custom pouch I had made for it, with the flame pattern on the inner layer exposed.

The pouch I had made, complete with flame-patterned inner fabric and a bright blue ribbon to tie it closed. I adore it. This is one of those decks that cries out for edging, too – black, navy, and red would all look amazing with this deck.

The cards themselves are proportioned differently than regular Tarot cards, more square than rectangular. I personally like it. It opens up space for the art without making the cards too big to handle. Shuffling them is an adjustment, especially with the somewhat stiff cardstock, but I adapted fairly quickly. They feel like they’re going to stand up to a lot of use, which makes me happy.

A row of three cards, showing the size/shape differences between the Centennial Waite-Smith, the Bonefire Tarot, and the Gilded Tarot.

A quick size/shape comparison. The Centennial Waite-Smith is on the left, the Bonefire is in the center, and the Gilded Tarot is on the right. Also interesting to note here is that the Bonefire follows the TdM practice of not specifically naming the Death card.

The art is multi-layered and intense, with a plethora of symbols to engage intuitive readers. There’s lots of color saturation here, too, and the art seems to almost melt into the thin dark navy border. (The dark navy looks black in most lighting – I only noticed the navy when the light was super-bright – so keep that in mind if it matters to you.) I know some folks have issues with borders, but in this case it feels more like an extension of the background than anything else. It’s really well done.

Judgement, the Wheel of Fortune, Temperance, The Tower, and The Chariot from the Bonefire Tarot.

My favorite Major Arcana cards. It was a tough choice, too! In Judgement we see the events of our pasts playing across the skin like a movie, letting us reflect on them and analyze what we see. The Wheel of Fortune, though blinded, is also at the helm – and if that doesn’t encapsulate the idea of this card I don’t know what does! In Temperance we see blood-like ego spilling into a glass of ice cubes, cooling it off and transforming it in the process. I love this Tower card – all the different symbols falling from the Tower’s explosion can help guide the reader to the parts most applicable to its fall. And the Chariot’s determination is reflected in the bulldogs that pull it! How awesome is that?

The mostly reversible image on the back is in that dark navy and white. I say “mostly reversible” because there are differences between upright and reversed if you care to look for them. The biggest ones are the suit symbols in the corners and in the middle around the bones. I find the differing details so small, though, that the backs wind up being effectively reversible regardless.

The back of the Bonefire Tarot, with one being upright and the other reversed.

The back of the Bonefire Tarot, one card upright and one reversed, to show the differences.

One fun thing about the cards is that they’re labeled twice – once at the bottom of each card and once in the actual art. I have no idea why it was done this way, but I’ve found it to be an interesting way for me to switch between analytical and intuitive reading. Every card also has the bonefire symbol somewhere in the art, making it a fun hide-and-seek type activity.

The Fool, surrounded by the Aces.

The Fool, surrounded by the Aces. The Bonefire in the Fool has three bones instead of the more usual two, representing Idea, Plan, and Action.

The book is beautifully done, too. Each Major gets a two-page write-up, with the Minors and Court getting one. In addition, we get a welcome/intro to Tarot from the author, two fairly basic spreads and one that’s become a personal favorite as a Celtic Cross alternative, a two-page section on using Tarot for personal growth, and a glossary of symbols used throughout the Bonefire Tarot.

Top Row: Nine of Swords, Nine of Cups, Seven of Cups. Bottom Row: Three of Wands, Eight of Coins, Four of Swords.

Some of my favorite Minor Arcana cards. The Nine of Swords has her fingers around her eyes like a character in a well-known movie (bonus points if you know!) and her bedposts look like chess pieces. The Nine of Cups has the RWS Nine of Cups IN THE ART, which is just cool. The Seven of Cups shows the airy nature of this Cups card better than most any I’ve seen. The Three of Wands shows the planning and the journey, and also some of the pitfalls we might find along the way. The Eight of Coins shows a modern take on the work required to succeed, and the Four of Swords offers an image of rest and recuperation we can all relate to.

The author – who is also Bonefire’s artist – managed to give this book a friendly conversational tone. It’s incredibly approachable, and peppered with the artist’s insight and personal stories as well as the standard card meanings and symbolism. It’s also in full color, so it’s possible to curl up in bed to read it while leaving the actual cards safe in their box. I always find that to be a plus!

Using the Deck

When I first got the Bonefire Tarot I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. While the meanings are fairly close to standard RWS associations the symbolism certainly isn’t. Still, though, there was something arresting about the cards. Every time I glanced at them it felt like they were trying to tell me really important things, if only I could understand them. So I did what anyone would do and read the book.

Holy hell, guys. It’s the first time in the 20+ years I’ve read Tarot that the book has had this strong an influence on my connection with the deck. Everything clicked, all at once, and the most baffling cards were suddenly crystal clear.

This deck is loud, and I’m not even talking about the art! Although really, that should have been a clue. Vintage tattoo art isn’t known for its subtlety, and neither is this deck. There’s no floaty New Agey esoterica going on here. I’ve found this deck almost brutal in its clarity, and it pulls no punches when telling me what’s up. It’s also very energetic, and because of that it simultaneously feels both grounded and transformative.

One aspect of the Bonefire that I need to mention is that there’s an emphasis here on balance in the imagery. There are no “all good” or “all bad” cards – each encompasses both. As someone who doesn’t usually read reversals I’m thrilled to see the light and shadow aspects of a card equally expressed in a deck’s art.

This is the deck I turn to when I’m doing readings for myself. I’m careful when using it with clients, though, and only pull it out when I know they can handle a more rough-and-ready approach. It’s also fantastic for meditation and self-exploration, and while I’ve not yet used it for Tarot spellwork I have no doubt it’ll be awesome for that purpose.

The Bonefire Tarot is amazing for intuitive readers. There’s so much going on in each card that it’s easy for symbols to jump out and grab attention. More logical and analytic readers can use this deck too, of course, but I wouldn’t recommend it for that purpose.

The perspective offered here is different enough from the standard to be illuminating while still retaining the core we’re all used to. Because of that I’d have no qualms about recommending the Bonefire to anyone, regardless of experience level. There’s plenty here to get a beginner started, and the images are so lush that even advanced readers can get a lot out of it.

The trick with this deck, I think, is appreciating the art for what it is. If you can do that the Bonefire might become one of your favorite decks too!

Available for about $30 here.