Cartomancy

Although many people look down on it or consider it heretical, tarot has been a big influence on my life since I was about eleven, when my dad did my first reading for me. Although I profess the more atheist view of the cards, saying that they are basically inkblot tests to see what rises to the front of your mind, sometimes I feel that they are a little too on target to be just cards and ink.

As the reader for someone else, so much of tarot is based on observation and the human ability to make patterns out of absolutely everything. I love reading someone’s cards for the first time because of the rush. You’re sitting with someone you barely know, asking them to trust you and go into this deep part of their perception of the world, and you get to see all sorts of things that they don’t even realize they’re telling you. And in the end, if you did a good enough job, they are impressed with the accuracy of these randomly chosen cards in front of them. I say “randomly chosen,” but if you do a good job, none of the cards will seem random in the end.

When I was eleven, my dad did my first reading. I don’t remember any of it, except the eerie feeling that has stayed with me from the Queen of Swords coming up, representing clearly my mother’s fiery, stormy, passionate personality which so dominated my life at the time. It was a formative moment for me, and my next goal became to get my own tarot deck.

Aquarian Tarot
Aquarian Tarot

I still love my dad’s deck, the Aquarian Tarot. For my twelfth birthday, I was taken to the absurdly awesome and tasteless Dallas & Co. to find my first deck. As I had been instructed, I looked through the big box of deck samples until one of them very suddenly and decisively jumped out at me, as I had been told would happen. The man fanned out the cards in a slick magician’s move that I would practice for months afterwards, and after a brief inspection, the Hudes Tarot became my deck of choice. You may see some resemblance to my dad’s deck of choice:

Hudes Tarot
Hudes Tarot

I like the deck’s softly-drawn colorful watercolors that nevertheless remain confident, strong, and modern by comparison to many other decks. The introspective faces of the people provide endless meditations for me as to what they might be thinking. The cards avoid the overly pagan or nudist imagery of many decks I’ve seen while maintaining a feminine love and care for human forms, and sense of sacredness. Since I generally try to read cards by intuition more than by book definitions, having cards that show frames out of longer stories (as though the people are in motion) are important to me. Many decks seem to show disconnected esoteric symbols or scenes forever frozen in a given pose, lifeless and motionless. I like to think of the way Patricia C. Wrede describes her version of tarot cards in The Raven Ring, where the scenes in the cards literally begin to move — I feel like my cards do the same thing for me.

When I was younger, I spent a lot of time “grooming” my cards (the same way I groom my D20s, and I don’t allow random people to touch them either!), although I don’t do that much anymore. Still, I think all that time helped me get to know every one of my cards and their stories personally. Even after all this time and several other decks (including the Universal Waite in German!), I have a hard time imagining any other cards as mine. They advise me when I get desperate, and I generally do a terrible job of letting them influence my path, which I do my best to control with an iron grip. Following my tarot cards generally seems like a terrible way to make decisions – but sometimes, I have to admit that they resonate so deeply and accurately, it’s very appealing to just throw myself into the signs I see there. I think we’re good enough friends that they get that.

For example, I have the Magician and the 9 of Wands here in front of me, which seems about right. An interesting juxtaposition of someone who acquires knowledge for its own sake versus using thoughts to barricade against that same thing. Nonetheless, knowing exactly to what they refer doesn’t help me make a decision about how best to tackle the issue at hand — or perhaps they are telling me what to do, and I’m too stubborn to acknowledge it.

2 Responses to “Cartomancy”

  1. Angus Rockett
    | Reply

    I like your writing and I agree with you about how the cards make me feel. There is a surprisingly strong affinity to a bunch of pieces of card stock when doing a reading on both the reader and the readee parts.

    • ellen
      | Reply

      Thanks! Yeah, it is a strange phenomenon. But then, humans are wired to find patterns so well that they find patterns where there aren’t patterns, so…

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