Tarot Review: Tinker’s Damn Legacy Edition

I’m always on the lookout for something new and different when it comes to Tarot. When I saw the Tinker’s Damn Legacy Edition on Kickstarter I pledged in about, oh, two seconds. It’s billed as both a Tarot deck and an expanded Mantegna, which obviously meant I had to have it.

It finally came in this week, and while I’m still getting acquainted with this edition I’m absolutely thrilled. It’s also a limited edition, so I wanted to get it reviewed and bring it to your attention before all chance to grab it for yourself disappeared.

Let’s do this.

The Deck

This is not one deck, but two. The packaging reflects that. It consists of a flat box with two plastic wells inside. The packaging is sturdy and looks nice, but I rather quickly picked up a bag instead. Cards easily slip from one well to another, irritating my sense of order.  If you like matching your bag to your deck, Tinker’s Damn bags are available on the designer’s website (you’ll want the largest size offered for this set). I tossed some options around and eventually used the green bag from this set on Amazon, which matches the back of the cards and beautifully holds the entire deck with the LWB. Go with whatever works for you!

Here we see the the decks in their plastic bands. Also shown is the LWB that comes with the deck. The whole set has a very steampunk vibe.

Here we see the the decks in their plastic bands. Also shown is the LWB that comes with the deck. The whole set has a very steampunk vibe.

The Tarot

The first deck is a standard Tarot deck. I say “standard” because all the cards you expect to see are present, but they’re not presented in the way you might expect to see them. For instance, many of the cards have changed names (like “The Librarian” instead of “The Hierophant”, which I happen to love). Also, while quite a bit of traditional iconography is there, you have to squint to see it.

Tinker's Damn

A few cards from the Tinker’s Damn Tarot. Here we have the Tinker’s Damn version of Justice, the Hermit, Strength, the Page of Swords, the Eight of Cups, and the Ten of Swords.

Some of the more obvious changes:

  • Major Arcana

    The order of the Major Arcana follows the RWS pattern, but almost every single name is different. Suspension for the Hanged Man and The Wild Unknown for Death are fairly easy to adjust to, but Evolution for the Lovers and Moloch for the Tower take a bit more work.

  • Minor Arcana

    The names for the suits are elemental, with Swords being Air and Wands being Fire. Cups and Pentacles are Water and Earth respectively. This is probably the most common place deck designers deviate from the RWS template, and there are no curve balls here.

  • Court Cards

    Another interesting shift. Pages are instead Couriers (although the LWB calls them Messengers). Knights have become Soldiers. Queens are Mayoresses, and Kings are Mayors. Meaning-wise they’re still RWS Court cards.

The Mantegna

That brings us to the second 78-card deck, the expanded Mantegna. The first 50 cards consist of the original five suits of the fifteenth century Mantegna deck, which is an ancestor to the modern Tarot and dates from around the same time as the Visconti-Sforza decks. The remaining 28 cards expand on those themes.

A selection of cards from the Tinker's Damn Mantegna.

A selection of cards from the Tinker’s Damn Mantegna.

It is unlikely the Mantegna was originally designed as a gaming or divination system. They appear instead to be visual learning aids, and they cover the five “estates” of Humanity as understood during the Renaissance. However, divinatory meanings are provided in the LWB, and I’m pretty impressed with them so far!

The five suits of the Mantegna all consist of ten cards.

  • The Conditions of Humankind

    These conditions are overall more socio-economic than spiritual, and ascend in a hierarchy from Pauper on up. Note that the King is trumped by the Emperor, and the Emperor by the Pope. The Pope is the highest “condition” possible.

  • The Muses and Apollo

    These are the nine Greek Muses (representing epic poetry, history, flutes and lyric poetry, comedy and pastoral poetry, tragedy, dance, love poetry, sacred poetry, and astronomy) and Apollo, who according to some sources led the Muses.

    So far this is my favorite of the sets, just because it offers such intriguing reading possibilities. As an example, Terpsichore is the Muse of Dance. The meaning of the card is “Discover the hidden melodies of Life and move in harmony with them”. Euterpe is the Muse of Lyric Poetry, and the meaning of that card is “One who observes the passions of life and records them for others, but does not live them herself”. How fun is that?

  • The Arts and Sciences

    Again, these are the arts and sciences emphasized during the Renaissance. They are Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric, Geometry, Arithmetic, Music, Poetry, Philosophy, Astrology, and Theology.

  • The Virtues and Geniuses

    These are the four cardinal virtues (Temperance, Strength, Justice, and Prudence), the three theological virtues (Faith, Hope, and Charity), and the three “geniuses” (Intellect, the Senses, and a sense of the vastness of the Universe).

  • The Cosmic Spheres

    The seven celestial bodies known during the Renaissance (so the planets out to Saturn, plus the Sun and Moon). Also included are the Upper Heavens, the Celestial Power, and the Divine Light.

The other 28 cards in this expanded Mantegna are pretty interesting, too. They consist of:

  • The Modern Zodiac (12 cards)

    Aries through Pisces.

  • The Alchemical Elements (4 cards)

    Earth, Air, Fire, and Water.

  • The Phases of the Moon (4 cards)

    Waxing, Full, Waning, and Dark. Excellent for timing and gauging where an event is energy-wise.

  • Totem Animals (6 cards)

    These are fun. Each animal – Gryphon, Sphinx, Phoenix, White Stag, Satyr, and Selkie – is seen as the “Keeper” or Guardian of an abstract concept, like Hope or Mysteries. I’d prefer a collective name other than “totem animal”, though. I’ve already started calling them the Keepers.

  • The Wild Unknown and The Legend (2 cards)

    The Wild Unknown is listed in the LWB, but no interpretation is given. The Legend card isn’t even mentioned. I’d suggest using your own interpretation for both.

There are two Wild Unknown cards in this set - one as Death in the Tarot (left), and one in the Mantegna (right). They have very different looks, though, so you won't get them confused.   

There are two Wild Unknown cards in this set – one as Death in the Tarot (left), and one in the Mantegna (right). They have very different looks, though, so you won’t get them confused.

The cards themselves are on really nice cardstock. They feel comparable to any other mass market deck out there, with a slick surface that works well for the bridge shuffle I favor. They’re also done in the standard Tarot size (2.75″ x 4.75″), which gives plenty of space for the art without feeling too big.

Note: Estara over at Caw, Motherfsckers reviewed this deck as well and noticed a representation problem. All 156 cards are white folks except the Devil (Enslavement) and the Muse of Erotic Poetry (Erato). Those cards are black. The hand on the Arithmetic card is also that of a black person, but that’s it. I’m ashamed I didn’t notice that on my first pass-through! If you’re specifically looking for a racially-inclusive deck this is not the best choice. 

Style-wise the art has a very steampunk vibe, with lots of Victorian and mechanistic elements. The color palette combines black-and-white and sepia tones with pops of bright color in a way that’s somehow simultaneously consistent and jarring. Elements jump out at the reader without taking away from the fact that these cards were all clearly designed to work together. I don’t personally like the art style, but it’s very readable.

The little white book lives up to its name. It’s the standard type and size of LWB you’d find in any tuck-box Tarot deck on the market. It even includes a unique spread, one that has the subject of the reading pick their own cards from an up-facing deck. If you already know Tarot the LWB has plenty of info to get started with this set. If you don’t, though, maybe start with another deck and come back to this one later.

Using the Deck

There are so many reading options with this deck! It’s an embarrassment of riches! How you choose to use it depends on your personal style, but here are some suggestions.

Separate Decks

It’s a two-fer! With this approach the Tarot is read as a Tarot, the Mantegna is read as a separate oracle deck, and never the twain shall meet. Honestly, the Mantegna feels almost like a Lenormand deck in that it’s more focused on external aspects of life than internal ones, so this approach works well. You could even go with making this three decks – the Tarot, the core Mantegna, and the expansion Mantegna cards.

A bonus with this approach is that cards could be traded between the two decks without any real loss of functionality. For instance, don’t like “Librarian” as a Hierophant? Swap it out for the Pope card. Don’t like “Alchemy” for Temperance? Swap it with the Mantegna’s Temperance card. The Wild Unknown cards seamlessly swap with each other too. This gives you options for choosing the Tarot representations you’re most comfortable with while still allowing a full Mantegna for oracle purposes. Some folks might really dig that.

Auxilary Decks

With this approach, one deck takes point during the reading and the other is used to clarify any problem areas.

If emphasis is placed on the Tarot, readings would rely primarily on the Tarot with the expanded Mantegna as an auxiliary oracle deck.

If emphasis is placed on the Mantegna (which is especially good for out-in-the-world questions), Tarot would be used as an auxiliary for clarifications. It doesn’t flow as well as the reverse, but it’s totally doable.

Merging Decks by Separating Meanings

This is an easy place to start merging decks, and it’s especially useful for those of us who use both RWS and TdM systems. Basically, we can supplement the Tarot deck with additional cards from the expanded Mantegna to kind of straddle the line between the two systems, and then read our expanded deck just like it’s Tarot.

For example, the TdM Magician is a very different animal than the RWS Magician. When we read we have to choose between those two meanings. This set gives us the flexibility to avoid that choice. We can pull the Pauper (“Misero”, the Wretch) from the Mantegna and have him stand in the for TdM Magician, leaving the designated Magician card to represent the RWS meanings.

Another example here is the Star card. In Tarot it’s got two distinct interpretations – hope after a time of darkness, and glad tidings/blessings/grace. Pull in the Mantegna’s Hope card to represent the hope aspect of the Star, and use the designated Star card for the glad tidings and blessings part.

Other possible pairs are the Empress (Actress) and the Lady of Leisure, the Hierophant (Librarian) and Faith, the Emperor (Businessman) from the Tarot and the Emperor from the Mantegna… Get creative! This allows you the flexibility to use what you already know in a whole new way.


I’ve talked before about my love for Minchiate decks. This set gives us the option to combine cards from the Mantegna with the Tarot deck to make a usable modern Minchiate! That’s three distinct decks to play with. How freaking cool is that?

First, remove the High Priestess (“Minerva”, here) from the Tarot deck. Then add to the Tarot deck from the Mantegna the four missing Virtues (Faith, Hope, Charity, and Prudence), the Zodiac cards, and the cards for the four alchemical elements. The order and names of the Majors won’t match up to a classic Minchiate, but to be fair the names don’t match to a classic Tarot either. *shrug* I find myself supremely unbothered.

And that’s all it takes! Bam – a whole new historical system, available with a little rearranging, and it’s all visually cohesive!

Tarot with Expansion Packs

Like the idea of using this set as a Minchiate-style deck but don’t really dig the Minchiate as a whole? Start off with a Tarot core and add whatever Mantegna suits you like to it. Maybe you like the idea of adding in just the Alchemical Elements, say, or the Conditions of Humankind. Maybe you want to keep your Tarot cards available for use in a reading and decide to use the Conditions of Humankind cards as significators. Who’s to stop you? The card stock, art style, etc are all consistent between the two sets, so this will look cohesive too!

Creating Multiple Special Purpose Decks

This is a little more advanced but super-cool. Break the expanded Mantegna apart into its nine separate suits. Then break the Tarot out too! You could do it by suits, I suppose, but I choose to do it by Majors, Courts, and Pips. Then mix and match for different purposes! Here are some ideas.

    • Add the Conditions of Humankind to the Major Arcana of the Tarot for a deck focused on growth/development. Interpretations could be super interesting here!
    • Use the Conditions of Humankind with the Tarot pips for a deck focused strictly on worldly concerns.
    • Combine the Muses, the Virtues, and the Totem Animals/Keeper cards for a deck focused on deity readings or other spiritual uses. This could be a handy ritual prep deck too.
    • Combine the Arts and Sciences with the Muses to help choose a path of learning. Could be useful for navigating college, choosing an area to expand knowledge, or even picking a focus area during a journeyman period. I can personally see using this combo at Candlemas (when I pick a focus of learning for the coming year) and for choosing the next book out of my TBR pile.
    • Combine the Alchemical Symbols, Moon Phases, and Zodiac cards into a “Timing” deck, and use as an adjunct to a Tarot reading. Whenever a timing question comes up you can check on whether it’ll happen within weeks (phases), a given 4-week-ish period (Zodiac), or a season (element). Timing is one of the hardest parts of a reading, and this could be super helpful.
    • Combine the Tarot’s Court cards with the Conditions of Humankind to have a people-focused deck. This could be especially helpful when it comes to selecting Significator cards, or when figuring out who best to approach to carry out a plan of action.
    • Combine the Virtues with the Muses to create an “Approaches” deck – what mindset would be most useful in a given situation? The Arts and Sciences cards, the zodiac cards, and even the Alchemical Elements might be fun additions here too.
    • Combine the Cosmic Spheres and the Zodiac cards for astrologically-based readings. Could be a fun way to do things like work a chart in card form, or compare different elements from different people. The Elements could be useful here, too, since they’re used in astrology.

This is one of the most engrossing and flexible deck sets I’ve ever seen. I feel like I’ve barely scraped the surface of all the possibilities here, and I’m really stoked to keep working with it. I wouldn’t recommend it for newbies, but if you’re already an experienced reader who wants to push themselves I highly recommend giving the Tinker’s Damn Legacy Edition a go.

RIght now it’s still available as a boxed set here for $60. There are only 500 of these available, though, including what sold on the Kickstarter, so I don’t expect these to stick around for very long.

If you miss out on the boxed set don’t despair – it looks like you’ll still be able to buy them as separate parts after the sets are gone. You’ll just spend more. The parts are available here and here for a total of $92. Make sure to select the full expanded version of the Mantegna if you go this route, or you’ll be missing out on cards!

Rethinking Daily Tarot Draws

The Centennial Two of Cups next to the same card from the Thoth Tarot and the Marseille Cat Tarot.

The Daily Tarot Draw is a ubiquitous practice in the Tarot community. It’s commonly recommended as a learning tool for those new to Tarot, and even more advanced folks often pull a card for direction or inspiration every morning. It’s an easy way to bring Tarot into our daily lives.

The technique is simple: we draw a card in the morning and ponder it throughout our day. Then, before sleep, we jot down the results of our pondering. In this way we focus on the cards one by one, allowing us to dig deeper into their meanings.

My Instagram post for the Two of Cups from Das Delphische Tarot, the German version of the Mythic Tarot.

My Instagram post for the Two of Cups from Das Delphische Tarot, the German version of the Mythic Tarot.

I’ve long been a fan of the Daily Draw, but over time I started getting less and less out of it.  Daily draws moved from “ooh, what could this mean today?” to “ah, better prep for that then!”. Questions became statements, and I grew bored.

I think that’s perfectly normal. The better we know the cards the less likely we are to question their meaning, right? Unfortunately, it’s the questioning aspect that makes this such a useful learning technique in the first place!

Thankfully, all it takes is a little twist to make the Daily Draw once again useful for even the most advanced Tarot students. Here are a few of my suggestions.

Change the Question

Most of us, when we do our daily reads, ask general questions about ourselves. “What do I need to know today?” “What situations do I need to prepare for?” “How will my event go?”

As an alternative, ask more specific questions about topics outside of ourselves. “What news story should I pay particular attention to today?” “What weather should I prepare for?” “What’s today’s office vibe?” Treat the one card draw as a mini-spread related to something specific and then record your results afterward. Stretch your limits and see how it goes!

Change the Deck (and Consult the Book!)

It’s easy for us to get so comfortable with an established deck that we stop really thinking about it. The fastest and easiest way to shake it up is to simply start working with a new deck. Those following my Instagram see this regularly – I never use the same deck twice in a row for my daily draws.

A comparison of the Two of Cups from the Centennial Waite-Smith and the Gilded Tarot.

A comparison of the Two of Cups from the Centennial Waite-Smith and the Gilded Tarot. Both are RWS decks, but they have completely different visual representations for the core ideas. We can use that.

Another thing? Every time I pull a card from a deck for daily draws I consult the book. Even if I’m already super familiar with the deck. Sometimes a word or phrase jumps out of the description, encouraging me to focus on that particular aspect for interpretation. It also sometimes helps me see new facets of the card I hadn’t before considered. I highly recommend it.

Change Up the Deck Style

Using a different RWS deck every day, while helpful, will only take us so far. Up the difficulty and increase results by changing deck styles as well. Use an RWS deck one day and follow it up with a New Approaches deck the next. Toss some Thoth or TdM up in there, or even some Visconti, to keep it fresh and stretch your skills. I’ve personally found TdM and Visconti decks to be transformative to the way I read Tarot, and using them for occasional daily draws is a great way to ease into these new systems.

The Centennial Two of Cups next to the same card from the Thoth Tarot and the Marseille Cat Tarot.

The Centennial Two of Cups next to the same card from the Thoth Tarot and the Marseille Cat Tarot. Each one has such a different take on the core meaning that becoming familiar with them increases our connection to ALL of them.

Use Quotations

This technique ties phrases to card meanings, making it particularly useful for more auditory learners. Draw a card, think about what it means, and find a famous quote that fits the meaning. Pondering a quote instead of a card image or string of keywords engages our minds in a whole new way.

Finding the perfect quotation can sometimes take more time than we have, though. Don’t despair – there’s a deck for that! The Art of Life Tarot is based on general RWS meanings, but it matches up a piece of fine art and a well-known quotation for a truly unique approach to Tarot. Consider the below pic a teaser for my forthcoming review!

The Two of Cups from the Art of Life Tarot.

The Two of Cups from the Art of Life Tarot.

Write a Haiku

This adds a creative twist to the daily draw. It works on the same principles as using quotations, but instead of finding a suitable quote we write a haiku. In my opinion, this technique encourages a much more personal relationship with each card.

Haikus are a Japanese form of poetry with a rigidly set structure of three lines. The first is 5 syllables, the second is 7, and the third is 5. Capitalization and punctuation are left up to the author. They also generally don’t rhyme.

My haiku for the Two of Cups.

I  JUST started posting these on Instagram. Feel free to join me using the #haikuthetarot hashtag! You can also follow my IG – I’m @mystiknomad.

Writing a haiku for each card of the Tarot forces us to play with different ways of expressing the core meaning of each card. We can’t rely on keywords to do it, either, which is a fantastic way of breaking out of book bound interpretations.

A huge bonus of this technique is that it stays fresh regardless of how many times we cycle through the deck. Trust me – the haikus will be entirely different with each go round!

This technique is equally effective when we use one deck the whole way through or change the deck by the day.

Participate in Tarot Challenges

Both Instagram users and Facebook groups set up Tarot challenges to be done in groups. Usually lasting for a calendar month and often based around a specific theme, the idea is to meet a daily challenge for as long as challenge lasts.

The Tarot Nerds Challenge for March 2017.

My first official challenge was in March with the Tarot Nerds Facebook group. I had so much fun sharing my answers with other people doing the same thing!

This can be an excellent way of focusing on cards in new and exciting ways, because the challenges change each month. Some folks even do more than one at a time! Posting our results on Instagram or Facebook also lets us share our draws with others responding to the same question. That can introduce us to different interpretations of the cards, new decks we’ve never seen before, and the wider Tarot community as a whole. Participation provides its own kind of accountability, too, by reminding us to do them every day.

Use Two Cards

Want to get into something more spread-like? Pull two cards for your Daily Draw instead of one. It seems like such an obvious thing, but it can really push us to see the cards as interconnected energies instead of discrete ideas.

The picture below shows some possible layout options using the same two cards. Doesn’t that second card add so many options for interpretation?

Two card layout possibilities using the stunning Prisma Visions Tarot.

Two card layout possibilities using the stunning Prisma Visions Tarot. The first lays them out in a linear fashion. The second uses the second card as a clarification of the first, a way to focus the first’s meaning on a particular area or in a particular direction. The third layout is the core of the Celtic Cross, letting us see the day’s theme and something that might be challenging that.

As a bonus, adding a second card doesn’t require much more time/energy investment than a single card would!

If even that’s not enough we could stretch it to a three-card reading, but to my mind that feels like a little much for a daily draw.

And there we have it – a range of ways to make daily draws more interesting and relevant to our daily lives!

Have you tried any of these? Does anything look interesting? Will you be joining me as I #haikuthetarot? Let me know in the comments!







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!

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!), whatever labels the card originally had 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.

There are more creative trimming options, too. 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?

Regardless of how the cards are trimmed, the corners are likely to be sharp when we’re done. They’ll need to be rounded off. For 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. It’s such an essential part of trimming that it’s considered part of the same process.

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.

Want to take trimming to the next level? Change the card back as you trim! It’s super easy, and is especially useful for cards on poor cardstock or getting a lot of use. Check it out!


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.


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, edging, 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. Letting the cards bang around inside their container can lead to increased wear on the card edges and damage the corners, causing the cards as a whole to break down faster. It’s also excessively noisy during travel.

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!

The Minchiate – Tarot with an Expansion Pack

We tend to think of Tarot as this long, winding road of development from early game to modern divinatory powerhouse. That’s an oversimplification, though. There were several “splits” off of the Tarot line that led to other interesting decks.

Like the Minchiate (min-key-AH-tee).

The Minchi-whatie?

Originating in Florence, the Minchiate is essentially a Tarot deck with an expansion pack. It’s got the 56 Minors we’re all familiar with (although they’re non-scenic, like TdM pip cards), as well as a whopping 41 Majors!

That sounds really intimidating until we realize that 21 of those cards are damn near identical to Majors we already use (barring some name and number changes). Of the remaining cards, the majority are correspondences we pick up as we study Tarot. Really, by the time we winnow it down there’s only 4 new concept cards to learn, and they’re easier than we might think. How ’bout dem apples? 🙂

The Minchiate Majors break down like this:

  1. There’s a reordered (and in places renamed) Major Arcana that includes every card of the Tarot’s Major Arcana except the High Priestess. I thought that would be a deal-breaker for me but I found it surprisingly easy to adjust. Other cards fill in for her. This might be a challenge to those devoted to the order of the cards or relying heavily on the Fool’s Journey, though, so it’s something to keep in mind.
  2. All twelve zodiac signs have their own cards. No more trying to remember if the Chariot is Cancer or Sagittarius because there’s a separate card for that. Woohoo!
  3. The standard Tarot has cards representing three Virtues already: Strength, Justice, and Temperance. The Minchiate adds Prudence (the last cardinal Virtue) to the mix, as well as the three theological Virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity. Their shadow sides would, of course, be the Seven Deadly Sins.
  4. The Minchiate also includes the Elements. Air, Water, Fire, and Earth all have their own cards. That might be my favorite addition out of all of them.

Once we’ve studied Tarot for any time at all we’ve come across most if not all of those ideas. Even the Virtues aren’t mysterious. Hell, even the spreads we’re familiar with work just fine!

All the Minchiate does is separate out some of the layers, coincidentally making all the cards less dense and more approachable.

It also gives us the flexibility to layer things in whole new ways.

Easing into the Minchiate

When I first started with the Minchiate I jumped in all at once. While I eventually sorted myself out, it’s not the approach I’d necessarily recommend. Instead, I suggest easing into it. It helps to find bearings as we go.

The first step is getting solid with Tarot. Seriously. That’s a HUGE leg up! That teaches us most if not all of what we need to read the Minchiate, and there are lots of books and study groups out there to help. Minchiate is much less popular than Tarot, to my eternal dismay, so we kind of have to forge our own path and develop our own systems within the Minchiate framework. Tarot helps us do that effectively.

Once we’ve got a solid grasp of Tarot, we can gradually add Minchiate cards into what we already know by going through the following stages.

1. Read it like Tarot.

This is kind of like first-stage Minchiate reading. Here the reader removes all the extra cards except one of the Virtues (usually Charity because of the visual similarities). She stands in as the High Priestess card. That gives us Tarot’s 22 Major Arcana cards. How handy!

The "Charity" card from the Minchiate Tarot by Brian Williams.

“Charity” from the Minchiate Tarot by Brian Williams. Easy to see her as the High Priestess holding the sacred fire!

Then we set aside the extras entirely and read our deck just like we would the Tarot. We can use the spreads we’re used to, do daily draws, journal, whatever. This is a great place to start for those needing some time to adjust to the name and numbering changes in the Majors. It also helps those new to reading pip cards.

2. Oh, look. Clarification cards!

This next step is fun and trippy. I like it a lot. It gives some fantastic and occasionally mind-bendy twists to the cards we’re familiar with.

First, pull out all the strictly Minchiate cards and set them to the side. (Yes, this includes Charity.) We wind up with two stacks of cards, a standard working deck and a smaller deck of clarification cards.

Read as usual with the larger working deck. However, if/when we run into a card that requires clarification, pull a card from the clarification deck instead of the working deck. Simple, right?

This can be loads of fun! Stuck on how to manifest the Queen of Swords and want some direction? Maybe Prudence is the key. Not sure how to progress with the Magician? Maybe working with Scorpio energy is the way to go! Ace of Pentacles makes no sense? Maybe accessing the Water of that card will clear the way.

This really showcases the flexibility of the Minchiate system and forces us to interpret the energy of the cards in whole news ways. It also lets us tackle learning one card at a time in an actual reading instead of studying the book. I’m a fan.

3. Add in the Elements

As soon as we dip our toes into Tarot we learn the four classic elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. We’re used to seeing different phases of these elements as we progress through the pips of the Minor Arcana, and that doesn’t change in the Minchiate.

However, in Minchiate decks the essence of each element gets its own Major card, too. Think of the keywords we have for Cups, for instance: spirituality, emotion, compassion, flexibility, receptiveness, interactions, relationships, etc. Those keywords are represented in their entirety by the Water card. We’ve already got this info in our heads. All the Minchiate does is give us a card for it.

The Element Cards of the Minchiate.

The Element Cards of the Minchiate Tarot by Brian Williams.

When comfy with using the elements as clarification cards, remove them from the clarification deck and add them to the working deck. They can be a bit of a challenge to get a specific answer from, but that can be said for ALL the Majors. At least they’re in good company!

3. Add in the Missing Virtues

As I mentioned earlier, the traditional Tarot already includes the three Virtues of Strength, Justice, and Temperance. Those cards are in the Minchiate, too. However, the Minchiate also adds four more.

Hope, Prudence, and Faith from the Minchiate Tarot.

The other Virtues of the Minchiate Tarot by Brian Williams – Hope, Prudence, and Faith. Charity is pictured above.

These are the cards of the Minchiate that might be the most perplexing for modern readers, so here’s a brief description of each so we can see how they break out.

Temperance – balance, moderation, restraint, equilibrium. Standard Tarot stuff.
Strength – power, dynamism, will, moral force. Also standard.
Justice – fairness, uprightness, equity, impartiality. Again, standard.
Hope – Think of this as half of the Tarot’s Star card. Hope sustains comfort in trying times, looking above and beyond present circumstances to something brighter and better in the future. In the Minchiate, the Star thus becomes a messenger of glad tidings, blessings, and the presence of grace. As it does in so many ways, this is an example of the Minchiate breaking out what Tarot layers together, giving us two distinct aspects to play with in our readings.
Prudence – seeing things as they truly are, instead of the illusions we may prefer, and having the wisdom to roll with that. This is the card I tend to most often associate with Tarot’s High Priestess card on a divinatory level.
Faith – Think of this as half of Tarot’s Hierophant card. It represents religious beliefs, doctrine, and even fervor. The Minchiate’s Emperor of the East (the renamed Hierophant card) thus becomes a card of formal and traditional authority. It retains the connotations of complexity, refinement, and even secrecy, but ditches the religious implications of the Tarot’s Hierophant. Again, this unpacks and separates those two distinct aspects.
Charity – spiritual love, generosity, and empathy for fellow man, loving others as we do ourselves.

None of these are difficult to manage, and they’re the most challenging part of the deck! I found them remarkably easy to add into my readings, actually, and find that the enhance it way more than I’d previously thought they would.

As before, use these as clarification cards until they feel super comfortable. Then add them to the working deck.

4. The Zodiac Cards

Almost done! All that’s left in the clarification deck by now are the Zodiac cards. There are twelve of them, and unfortunately they can’t really be added in batches. They need to all get added to the working deck together.

Four of the twelve Minchiate astrological cards: Libra, Aries, Cancer, and Taurus.

Four of the twelve Minchiate Tarot’s astrological cards. In the Minchiate they start with Libra and run through Gemini.

On the plus side, though, it’s almost impossible to live in the West and not have at least a vague idea that Cancers are homebodies and Taurus folks are stubborn. We get that from newspaper horoscopes. Most Tarot books talk about the astrological correspondences of Tarot cards too, so huzzah for those already having that background. It helps.

If the zodiac descriptions don’t speak to us as readers, we can always consider using the associated myth as a launching pad instead. Why not take an alternative approach? We can do that. 🙂

As usual, these can all be added to the working deck once we’re solid with them.

5. Reading the Minchiate

And BAM! That’s it! Success!!! From this point on we’re golden! That’s all it takes to move from Tarot reading to Minchiate reading. Wasn’t that painless? GO US! *high fives and cheering*

I wish you much joy in this unusual – but hopefully interesting – variation of Tarot!

Are you interested in the Minchiate but unsure where to start? Feel free to ask questions in the comments.

Are you an experienced Minchiate reader? I’d love to read your take on things in the comments too!





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!


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!