Storytelling with the Tarot

Thoth EmpressOn Wednesday, May 25th, to celebrate World Tarot Day, I led a workshop entitled ‘Demystifying the Tarot’ at a natural food store in Erin called Treehaven.  The small turnout caused a ‘rethink’ of the structure of this workshop. So, three Tarot peeps… me, a woman who had been part of our bi-monthly Tarot study group and another who I had met through the Guelph Occult Meetup group proceeded to spend 2 hours just talking Tarot. I must say, despite my initial disappointment at the turn out, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

We began by simply talking, about our favourite decks, cards we see often in our Tarot work, our past experience with the Tarot and how we work with it. The three of us asked each other questions. We moved to an unstructured comparative look at cards from different decks, looking at the differing symbols and meanings in front of us.

We then moved to a storytelling activity. I can’t give direct credit as to where I got the idea from but I won’t claim it as my own. I know Rachel Pollack does a significant amount of story-based work in the Tarot. Maybe I read it in one of her works. I was also inspired by the teacher-librarian at my school who had shared a storytelling deck with me that she was using in one of our classrooms.  Regardless, I’m sure it’s an adaptation of someone else’s idea.

To prepare for this workshop, I had previously divided the decks I brought into 3 sections: the pips, the courts and the majors.  I suggested we use these 3 piles to tell a story. We selected the Thoth deck and randomly drew our cast of characters from the courts, our theme from the majors and began developing a plot with the pips. It was a great process. At first, we laughed a little at a suggestion that the story might become risqué. We then began the process. The deck shared our sense of humour and offered up the Empress, home of abundance, fertility, and sensuality,  as our theme.

Thoth Queen of CupsWe continued the exercise by drawing the Queen of Cups as our protagonist (a supportive, but at times overemotional and menopausal mother), the Queen of Swords as a secondary character (her sharp-tongued adult daughter – although, upon reflection, maybe her equally sharp-tongued neighbour would have better suited the Queen but, for our purposes, the daughter worked fine) and then began constructing our story. Our starting plot points were the 6 of disks (success) and the 2 of swords (peace).  I believe, had our time not expired, we would have created quite the story; we appeared to be in fine form 🙂

Try the activity. Divide your deck into three sections (pips, courts, majors). Shuffle them well. Begin by drawing a card from each. Remember that your major card will remain the overarching theme of your story. Draw just one. You drew ‘The Fool’? Your story could develop into an adventure story. ‘The Chariot’? A fast-paced story a la ‘Fast and the Furious’.  ‘The Moon’? Could be a little twisted and scary, don’t you think?

You might find that, once you’ve drawn your characters, beginning your story with ‘Once upon a time, there was a …’ and then proceed to describe the character using your knowledge of the Tarot or the image presented on the card. Then make them go somewhere or do something by drawing cards from the pips.  The 6 of swords might take them on a journey over water, the ace of wands might be the sign of a new song idea or the 5 of pentacles might indicate a struggle to make ends meet.

The three of us decided that at some point, we would take this concept further. If you decide to as well, please feel free to post about here.

In Honour of Mothers’ Day

Queen of Cups

It was a recent episode of Modern Family that got me thinking.

Mitchell serves his partner Cameron breakfast in bed and all is well until Cameron realizes that it’s Mothers’ Day. This upset Cameron because he feels that Mitchell is casting him in the role of woman. (As an interesting aside, of all three couples portrayed on Modern Family, it may be the same-sex Mitchell and Cameron who most closely represent the ‘Rockwell-esque’  ideal of the distinctive roles of the two-parent family).

What it made me think about is what and who exactly are we honouring on Mothers’ Day? I suspect the first intent is that we all honour our mother. That’s a given, since we all have one. We may not know her, we may not live with her, we may not talk to her much, but she is the reason we are here. There’s no way around that one (and Happy Mothers’ Day to mine, BTW :)).

But, on this day, (and we might not even realize it) we also honour ‘Mother’. We recognize the importance of the nurturer, the care-giver, the empathetic listener, the cuddler, the keeper of the den, the compassionate one, to name but a few roles that ‘Mother’ would take on.

This week’s ‘Modern Family’ episode reminded me that there is an important distinction between the two.  The episode ended with the acknowledgement that just because Cameron was ‘slightly mommer’ than Mitchell, didn’t make him any less of a man. I know as a half-time single Dad (albeit with significant support from my fiancée), there are many times where I take on a ‘Mom’ role.  But I never feel as if I relinquish my masculinity.  In fact, I believe that by embracing different aspects of the role of mother, regardless of our gender,  we honour the archetype. Actually, a little while ago, while sharing praise for one another as part of a Circle activity, one of the most powerful compliments I ever received from a friend was the following: “Peter, I honour the fact that you don’t always have to act like a man to assert that you are one.”  As a male whose spiritual practice equally celebrates Feminine and Masculine divinity and the importance of those archetypes in all of us, I was touched by the words.

So, this morning, I turned to the Tarot and chose a couple of ‘mothers’ from the deck.  I selected the Queen of Cups from my RWS deck as representative of the role of mother . She is the penultimate listener. She is nurturing and emotionally receptive. I also selected the Empress from the same deck as representative of the Archetype of Mother. The Empress is fertility, compassion and, for fear of sounding a little Freudian :), sensuality.

The RWS Empress

Take a moment and reflect when and where you or others around you play ‘Mom’? Was it while listening to a friend in need? Perhaps you’re a teacher and needed to show compassion to a struggling student? Or maybe you know someone who happily nurses a sick animals back to health?  Find a Tarot deck and select a card that best exemplifies the role played in this situation. If you feel the need, honour us by sharing.

Wishing a Happy Mothers’ Day blessing to all.

Where’s the Love: A Valentine’s Day-inspired look at the Tarot

Two of Cups - Rider Waite
Two of Cups - Rider Waite

Where’s the love?

Like all other emotions, love has its place in the Tarot. The Lovers, card of choice and, perhaps obviously, card of love, would be a great starting point for a search for love in the Tarot. It is the card where passion and reason come together, where difficult choices need to be made and where the very concept of synergy lives.  

The Two of Cups, representing a covenant or a coming together of two, is another obvious place to find love in the Tarot. Interestingly enough – well… at least interesting for me 🙂 – many couples have their songs and will be listening to them during a romantic moment on Valentine’s Day.  My partner and I have our card… it’s the Two of Cups and it will be on display on the 14th. (We have our songs as well but perhaps I’ll save that for another Valentine’s Day blog.)

The Cups are the resident suit of our feelings. Many cards in that suit at least hint at Cupid’s emotional realm. The Ace is the seed of love’s potential, the Three is the celebration of a love of company and companionship and the Ten is one’s recognition of the presence of emotional abundance and fulfillment.  Our Queen of Cups, who possesses the never-dormant ear, is an endless source of compassion, is the Tarot’s version of the Kindergarten teacher 🙂 and is another place to find love.

Our other Cup courts are no strangers to love. Our Page is the personification of the Ace and the representation of being in the early stages of love. Our Knight is in the business of love ‘em and leave ‘em. Upon reflection, that might not be how one would define love but don’t tell that to the knight. When he’s in love’em mode, he’d tell you that he’s clearly residing in the realm of Eros, as would the beneficiary of his attention. Our King is the master of love. He is blessed with the ability to both love fully and to keep his love in check as opposed to wearing it for all to see.

The Lovers is not the only place in the Major Arcana where we find love. The Empress represents, among other things, a mother’s unconditional love. As the home of the outwardly Feminine principle, hers is a passionate love.  A little further along the path of the Fool’s Journey, Strength shows us the resultant action of the Empress’ unconditional love.  Looking for one example of this strength-based love in action? Try crossing a lioness when she has her cubs nearby.  I would also argue that we can easily find love in two of the last three majors: The Sun, where our overwhelming optimism and joy includes a love for all things; and the World, where, as the card of completeness, contains all things, love included.

Like it or not, Valentine’s Day is a day where, at least commercially (oops, my bias is showing), we are reminded that love indeed makes the world go ‘round and is a many splendid thing. And I’m sure I’ve just scratched the surface of the presence of love in the Tarot. Do tell… where’s the love for you in the Tarot?

Full Moon in Aries – Priestess + Emperor = Empress

At almost the same moment I began creating this post (and wondering WTH I’m doing up at this hour), the Moon became full. This occured only moments after it transitioned from Pisces to Aries. This Full Moon occurs only hours after the autumnal equinox (a term I used yesterday in my school-wide writing prompt and which sent most young writers scrambling for a reference of some kind). My previous post explored the Sun’s movement into Libra from a ‘Tarot perspective’.

My favourite astrologer Kelly Surtees  stated that the Moon moving into Aries was a prime time to fight for fairness for the underdog.  This seems also to apply when we look at this through our Tarot lens. Very few cards better represent the underdog then our Priestess, the Tarot card associated with the Moon. Champion of feminine strength and wisdom, intuitive healer, mysterious master of the dark, her worth is often unjustly underrated by patriarchal structure. She  frequently lives in the shadows. With her full Moon in Aries, she dons the garments of the emperor, which the Sun wore just six months ago.  If the Sun represents our ‘best-self’, the Moon best represents our shadow self, the part of us Jung would associate with our instincts and our perceived flaws.

When cloaked in the Emperor’s robes, the Sun in Aries allowed us to focus on our ability to lead, increased our confidence and our level of assertiveness. Our Priestess, when  the Moon is in Aries, benefits from this imperial influence. This is indeed a time for us to stand up and be counted in whatever area of our life we feel disadvantaged. It is a time to shine the bright light of the Full Moon onto our shadow and celebrate our shortcomings.

The RWS Empress

What will you do to celebrate your imperfections? How will you recognize you’re ‘perfectly you’ just the way you are?

Interesting that when we delve a little deeper into the Full Moon (Priestess) in Aries (Emperor) we seem to find the Empress, card sometimes associated with the full phase of the Moon 🙂

The Sun ‘wears’ Justice

Later on this evening, the Sun crosses that point in the cosmos where the celestial sphere and the celestial equator intersect, signalling the arrival of autumn. This is known as the autumnal point. In astrology, it is refered to as zero degrees Libra.

Several hours later, the Sun and Moon are in direct opposition and the Moon becomes full while in the sign of Aries. Long-time readers of my blog know that I love blending these powerful astrological points with the Tarot (see as an example).

A variety of Tarot themes can be related to these to celestial periods. When the Sun moves into an astrological sign, I often imagine the young child on the Sun card of my RWS deck wearing the card associated with that sign. This month, our young lad dons the robes of Justice. His usual optimism and positive attitude are tempered by rationalization. He seeks balance in thought and in deed. His exuberance is more cautious as he weighs out pros and cons before acting.

As Canadians, at this time on the calendar, we move out of the crazy, hazy days of summer, where kids are kept active, parents even more so and most people do everything they can to get outdoors.  And in late summer, back to school shopping dominates for parents as well as college and university students.  Movement patterns in cities and towns get back to normal as work schedules return to their regular routine. Kelly and I noticed that the town market this past Saturday was much busier as people found their regular rhythm and slid back into their typical Saturday.  As we approach the autumnal equinox and the Sun ‘costumes up’ with Justice, remember this time as one in which to seek balance.  It is a time when reasonable solutions trump rash decisions. Don’t be afraid to pause when needed. There’s nothing worse than rushing to make a bad choice.

What about the Full Moon in Aries? Has the esoteric wisdom of our High Priestess been provided the ruling voice of the Emperor? Or is the fullness of the Moon in Aries more closely linked to the powerful fertility of the Empress in this abundant time of harvest? You decide.

Keeping in the theme of Tarot and Astrology, the 2011 Wellbeing Astrology Guide is available for order now!  It includes my article “On the Cards”. Visit Astrologer Kelly Surtees to order your copy today!

Queen Victoria and her place in the Tarot

Just a reminder to those blog readers in the Sydney area that I am available for in-person Tarot consultations from Tuesday, May 25th until Friday, June 4th. Contact me at for more detail. I expect space to book up very quickly!

I have a list near my writing space in my home which outlines dozens of possible topics for potential Tarot blogs.  This morning, I was glancing at the list and noticed that Victoria Day is a little over a week away here in Canada. Victoria Day? I decided to challenge myself. How can I link Victoria Day to the Tarot? The result is this examination of Queen Victoria as a member of the major arcana.

Queen Victoria: Empress or Emperor?

Queen Victoria’s reign over the British Empire lasted for almost 70 years. The reign that bears her name conjures up images of industrial, colonial and military expansion, the onset of urbanization and the beginning of the era of unlimited use of resources for industry. As an interesting aside, it was also during this era that emerging esoteric societies began to explore the mysteries of the Tarot. This led me to the question, if Queen Victoria were a Tarot card, which would she be? Since she had a major influence over an era, I assigned her near-archetypal status and determined she had earned her place in the major arcana.  And, since she held a position of power, I narrowed my selection down to two, the Empress and the Emperor.

The RWS Empress

Victoria as the Empress: Pictures of Victoria on her throne in the latter part of her reign could easily be transposed onto many Empress cards. Her maternal stature, her elaborate and ornate robes and her ample bosom (I even managed to get a Victorian-sounding word in) bring to mind visuals of the RWS Empress, abundantly poised on her throne. The British Empire, under Victoria’s reign certainly prospered economically and produced in great quantity. The rise in the accumulation of wealth during this era is almost uncanny. Via colonial domination, she even took the official title of ‘Empress of India’. But, the abundance came at a price for most. A burgeoning middle class left a larger number of poor in its wake, with the poor working to provide for the rich. Unregulated child labour with horrid conditions was a mainstay of Victorian Britain. Colonial expansion happened without regard for the indigenous people or resources. Comparatively few benefitted from the ‘abundance’ of the Victorian era.

Victoria as Emperor: Since her husband Albert bore the title of Prince, in a way, Victoria wore both the title of ‘Regis’ and ‘Regina’. She ascended to the throne as an eighteen year old and soon became entwined in the political turmoil of the time. She made early attempts to exert her power and struggled with the diminishing role of the monarchy and the increasing role of parliament. Laws were being floated and discussed without her advice, dispatches sent without her knowledge. It was during her reign that Britain became a true constitutional monarchy. The head of state title became one of ceremony rather than one of politic. My own country, Canada, was created in 1867, right in the middle of her reign and epitomized the idea of a constitutional monarchy. Canada was run by politicians, nobles and bureaucrats. Surely, the Tarot’s Emperor would not tolerate such dilution of power.

After this brief examination of Queen Victoria, and in honour of her upcoming holiday here in Canada, I’m going to create a blended card for Queen Victoria. Her reign contains both element of the Empress and the Emperor. Her nation grew with an Empress’ abundance, but it was unchecked and at significant cost to many. The Emperor’s political power was desired but restricted and unattained. Victoria becomes the 23rd card of the major arcana, Trump 3 and ½, reversed 🙂 Now all I need to do is design it. Any takers out there?

Gods Behaving Badly

It’s been quiet on the blog front, although I must admit that although the writing bug hasn’t bit me, the reading bug sure has.

I just finished reading “Gods Behaving Badly” by Marie Phillips. If you haven’t read this gem, I would suggest you quickly place it on your ‘must-read’ list. Without giving too much away (although, if you truly want to explore the book without prejudice, come back to this blog entry after you’ve read it), ‘Gods Behaving Badly’ is a modern tale of the Greek gods as they plug their way through mundane life in modern-day London.

One of the aspects I found utterly fascinating in this book was the range of activities attributed to each god. Phillips stays true to the archetype each god represents. She attaches both desirable and questionable character traits to her pantheon. Like the gods of ancient times, these representations have a truly mortal appeal. Aphrodite possesses beauty beyond imagination and has the ability to make mortals fall in love with her on sight. She also runs a phone sex line from her mobile. Apollo’s ego is plentiful and is occasionally blind-sided when others don’t feel about Apollo the way he feels about himself. He is also the star of his own psychic television show.

These characters immediately made me connect the text to the Tarot. How often do we forget that card meanings have a range of possibilities?  We often get stuck on the idea that some cards are favourable and some are not. I would argue profusely that all cards have a continuum of possibilities, and all can be looked at favourably or unflatteringly.    I partook in an online webinar with James Ricklef earlier this year that explores that same concept. You can read more about it in his blog entry entitled, Good Cards, Bad Cards.

Here are a few examples. Feel free to add your own.

Apollo and the Sun card: The Sun card can often signify joy. It can also represent our creative self. But what happens when the joyous light that our sun gives off is blinding to us or to others?

Hermes and the Magician: The Magician can indicate strong communication.  But what if the message is garbled? The Magician is also often seen as the tool master. But what if we are using the wrong tools for the task at hand? You can’t build a house with a butter knife.

Demeter and the Empress: The Empress is a card of harvest, fertility and abundance. At times, we lose sight of the work that is essential to the harvest. We forget that fertility often requires planting, nurturing and waiting and are then surprised when our yield is diminished. Can we see the Empress there, too?

I am packing my knight`s tunic, my cards and my desire to learn in my suitcase and heading off to NYC for a weekend of Tarot at the Readers` Studio. This is my first visit to the RS and I am excited to be getting the chance to meet and work with a world-wide collection of Tarot enthusiasts.