I started playing with the tarot cards about twenty years ago with my friend Tania, who already knew how to read the cards and had several decks. I remember sitting with Tania in my old apartment in Iowa City staring down at the cards laid out on my coffee table. Tania would tell me what the cards in the lay-out meant to her and invite me to say what I saw in each one myself, and gradually I picked up the meanings and developed a relationship with the cards myself. She and I have been reading the cards for each other on some kind of regular basis ever since. For a long time we used the Rider Waite deck and threw the cards in the Celtic Cross formation. Then we switched to the Thoth deck, designed by Lady Frieda Harris, and started using the High Priestess lay-out, a variation on the Celtic Cross which roughly follows the body of a woman, if a woman had three heads and one foot, with a secret in her lap.
In 1999 Tania fell in love, moved away to California and got married, and at that point we took a break from doing the tarot together for a good long while – maybe ten years. Then one of us got the idea for a way we could do the tarot long distance: While we were talking on the phone, the reader -- say, Tania -- would lay the cards out for me in her house in California and tell me what they were, and in my house in Iowa City I would search through my deck till I found the right cards, lay them out too one by one, and then she’d read for me. Then we’d do it all over again for her. That worked perfectly, and we happily took up giving each other regular tarot readings again. After we’d been doing that once a month for a few years, Tania came up with another idea: Why didn’t we each pick a card when the readings were finished and let that card be the card of the month? I think I was the one who came up with the idea of writing about our cards of the month when the month was over, recording what the card had to say about what happened during the month.
So we started doing that too, and the results were fascinating. What I love about our card of the month practice is that it forces me to think about the cards and what they have to say to me in real, non-abstract ways. When I look up the cards and their meanings in various books I often don’t quite know what to make of what I find: The meanings are too abstract for me to translate them into anything personal that relates to my life. So, for example, when I looked up the Aeon, my card of the month this time, in The Tarot Handbook by Angeles Arrien (a book I usually love), I found something about the principal of good judgment utilized in both personal and professional situations, and our perceptions coming from our ability to look at the whole. As hard as I try, I can’t figure out what any of that means, let alone what it has to do with my life this month. Online I read that the Aeon is linked with Aries and Aries is linked with new birth and masculine creative energy (huh? masculine creative energy?), and that for Alistair Crowley the Aeon had something to do with the times and the changes dictated by the times. That sounds nice but I still can’t figure out what it really means, let alone what it has to do with me.
So I’m forced to look closely at the picture, at the colors and details and symbols on the card, and wait for some meaning, some connection to my own life and current situation, to come to me. Which is how Tania and I have always read the cards together: We sit there and stare at them, we say what we notice, and then we say how, symbolically, that seems connected to… and here I run into that problem again, the problem of describing how symbols speak, how we look at them and translate them into meaning. Symbolism talks in an intimate language as complex and multi-faceted as the tapestry of life itself, which also talks to us, through metaphors and symbols, I believe it, if we could only know how to listen.
So because I can’t describe how the tarot cards talk symbolically, I’m thrown back on looking at the images on the card and saying what they mean to me, by way of offering an example. The Aeon in the Thoth deck is a picture of two figures, one inside the other. (There’s some other stuff too, like a giant blue snake/woman with fingers on either end draped over the head of the two one-within-the-other figures, and three small orange leaves with infants in them down by the figure’s feet, but I barely have time to deal with the figure/s right now, let alone any of them). So, the figures: The outer one looks like a large, see-through child (my research tells me this is supposed to be Horus, symbol of our current aeon, the aeon of Osirus, but I’m not sure what that means, let alone what it means about anything as specific as my life with all of its everyday details). The figure inside the large translucent child is smaller but colored in. That figure is not see-through.
I like to read this card as having to do with the old era growing up inside the new era – in other words, personal growth, the way a new self grows up inside you while the old self is still there but gradually fading away. And because in the card the new self is colored in while the old self is less substantial and see through, I like to think that the old self has to do with your fantasies, your ego, your fake ideas about who you are and what you’re going to be, but the smaller colored-in self is more realistic and therefore pared down: It might be smaller, but it’s real, and it’s growing up inside you because you no longer need the old ego-driven fantasies to feel good about yourself. (On the Internet I found some language about the Aeon having to do with the relationship between the ego and the Imperial self, so maybe I’m not too far off the mark with these ideas.)
I’m still not sure what the Aeon had to do with my month, but since I’m always growing and changing – since the real, somewhat diminished, humbler but happier version and most of all healthier psychic self is always growing up inside me – I’m pretty sure it was talking about that.
And now I get to pick another card and see what that has to do with my month to come.
In this blog, Tania and I will be sharing some of our musings about our cards of the month in the hopes of giving you some insights into the cards and what they have to say, in particular, to you -- about your day, your month, your life, and maybe even life itself.
Where to begin? but with a cup of tea, and a friend. And one’s open heart, full of the secret questions and weights of the day. And a deck of images to consider in relation to those questions.
I met Mary in Iowa City at a potluck; within fifteen minutes we moved on from the known (our love of words as writers) to our love of searching the unknown for answers to how our minds and hearts worked. We both had Tarot decks, we discovered, and though we came with other friends that day, we left with a fast date to meet and throw the Tarot cards.
Over the course of the seven years I lived in the heartland, Mary and I played with the Tarot cards through all manner of changes, highs and lows—whether we traversed failed love, failed jobs, publishing successes or life path changes, the joy remained steadfast for the chance to sit down together over a cup of tea (or once a year at Christmas, a quarter glass of Sherry).
There’s a lovely rush of anticipation every time: what will the cards say to me today? Each card, face down, waits on the table between us to be turned over and revealed like a tiny messenger. Then there’s the particular constellation of cards in relation to one another to consider, a collective riddle we approach with curiosity and levity tempered by respect for our lives and our vulnerabilities.
As is often the case in life, we found during Tarot readings we tended to be hardest on ourselves. The mirror of Mary, trusted friend, has proved essential over the years, as I’ll often project my worst fears or outcomes onto the images on the table. Mary will say things I never thought of, just as I will listen to her take on the particulars of her life and what the cards might be referring to and offer back to her the kinder, gentler interpretation I see emerging from my point of view.
For two years now we’ve chosen a card of the month, recording at month’s end the happenings of the month and connecting them to the card we pulled. At Tarot for Two we share our card of the month findings and our process to contribute to the circle of Twentieth-century lived understanding of the Tarot, its symbols and how they can help us pay attention to our spiritual growth as we go about our daily lives. But even more so, we share this work with the hope of inspiring other pairs of friends to walk down Tarot’s Royal Road together.