Friday, March 20, 2015

Spring Fling Tarot Blog Hop: Saving the Hierophant

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Welcome to the Blog Hop celebrating the Vernal Equinox! See the links above, or at the bottom of this post, to continue navigating through the circle of blogs, and should you lose your place, you can always access the Master list.

(Please note! The URL for this blog has changed to

Our hop wrangler this time around is Ania Marczyk, and she has set a cool task for all of us hoppers: 

"The standard Tarot deck is over 500 years old and the cards are very much a product of that time, particularly the Major Arcana and Courts. So I am asking you to consider which cards you think need to be updated, removed or added to reflect our modern society?

Are there any glaring omissions? What is redundant? Which card has you scratching your head wondering where it fits in today? Or do you think that archetypes are so universal that there is still a relevant place for all, be they Hermits, Pages, Knights or Emperors?"

My basic answer to this is: no, I don't think the deck needs to be changed, updated, or altered in any way. But if I ended on this note, it'd be a very boring post! So I'm going to talk about a card that I know that many people struggle with: the Hierophant. I understand that some people are turned off by this archetype due to negative experiences with organized religion, or because they resent the idea that a spiritual authority figure might hold the only key to the divine. Setting aside the role of the Hierophant as representative of higher education, therapy, and the like, I want to focus on the role that this archetype plays specifically in terms of religion and the spiritual journey, using my own life as an example.

Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot
U.S. Games

I always felt a bit unmoored in terms of spiritual practice, as a kid and young adult. I didn’t have a tradition or framework in which to map my mystical experiences, or spiritual elders (aside from my mother and step-father) to whom I could go for deeper understanding of the mysteries of life. I knew that God existed, without a doubt, and was raised with various aspects of religion and spirituality such as Christianity, indigenous mythology and practice, and Buddhist ideology. I always had some level of sensitivity to "other worlds." I appreciated all religious paths, recognizing all of them as having beauty and truths to offer, while simultaneously understanding that none of them were the “one, true way.” How could they be? We arrive at the sacred in a multitude of ways, we pull it from inside our bodies, surround ourselves with it like an embrace from the sun, consume it with every breath we take. Yes, the divine is within us. However I was deeply missing a sense of anchoring in a specific tradition, a form of practice, and a community.

I came to Lukumí in a roundabout way. When my husband, Jorge, and I first moved in together a decade ago our altars sat side-by-side: my buckskin covered with sage picked from Pine Ridge, stones that carried special significance for me, a small vessel of earth, feathers; his Elegua and Ogun and Ochosi with honey and candy and jacks and pennies scattered about. I never thought much about it (except for once when the cable guy came to fix a cord and I realized that he had a prime view of our pair of altars, and must wonder what he’d gotten himself into by coming into our home!). It was a few years later when we’d moved on to a new house, that I decided to teach our older daughter about the Orishas (divine, saint-like beings). I created a binder for her, and each page contained therein covered a separate Orisha, and all the meanings and associations attributed to him/her. It’s funny – I distinctly remember quizzing her on them - “And Ochosi? What are his colors? Tell me about him.” - and yet I didn’t have any particular impulse at that time to practice Santería; I simply wanted my kids to understand elements of the tradition. To this day I have no idea where that binder ended up….

Wildwood Tarot
Will Worthington

I dove back into card reading more intensively in about 2006 and the years passed. Elegua and Yemaya and Ochun and Obatala, Ochosi and Ogun, had come to feel like family members to me; I cared about them. When my husband went through a difficult time in his life, it was I who lit the candles and put out alpiste for Elegua, who sat at the oceanside and quietly beseeched Yemaya to help heal him. When he took a distant trip, I was so anxious that I prayed with Ogun to protect the car. I didn’t really know what I was doing at the time; I only knew they were part of me, of our household, and that we were part of them, and I did what I could.

It was probably a year later that I had my first consulta with a babalawo in Cuba, and five months after that our close friends from Cuba came to Miami, and we reconnected. The young boy my husband had last seen in Cuba years earlier was now a young man and babalawo, and he would become my padrino in Ifá.  On the night of Ochun’s feast day, September 8th, I dreamed that Elegua, my best friend, came to me and told me that he would help organize my initiation into the religion. It was immensely touching. About three months later I received my Warriors, and two months after that I received ikofá along with my daughters, and my son (who received awofakan).

New Orleans Voodoo Tarot
S. Glassman

The religion of Lukumí has given me a deeply rich and satisfying focus, tradition, and practice for my spirituality. My relationship with the saints is humbling, empowering, strengthening, grounding, and above all, loving. I have a community of practice in Florida and Cuba, family who, along with me, experience the tapestry of life through which Santería/Lukumí is woven. My younger daughter comes to me and asks if she can take a dollar from her birthday stash and give it to her Elegua; I consent, moved by her desire. When she peeks over my shoulder to see what I’m doing online, I tease her: “Mmhmm…. Just like your sign from your itá said, too curious for your own good!” She laughs and walks away.

In Tarot, the card that always pops up in regards to my relationship to my faith community, or to initiation, is the Hierophant. The Hierophant represents tradition, knowledge, group experience, learning, and guidance. All of those are elements of my path in Lukumí. The Hierophant does not say “my way is the only way,” or “I am your only connection to the divine.” The Hierophant is simply a bridge – one of many – to help us understand our lives and explore our faith within the context of a deeply rooted traditional and mystical practice.

Vision Quest Tarot
Gayan Silvie Winter, Jo Dose

In my extended family the Hierophant manifests in many ways: my sister’s love of her Islamic faith, my cousin’s Hindu customs that she has passed on to her children, my brother’s deep Catholicism. All of us coexist harmoniously together. There are touches of Buddhism, indigenous American practices, ancient pre-Christian European influences. All of these are woven into our fabric of life, our spiritual journey, our communities of practice, and the Hierophant’s energy permeates it all.

Call it what you like - The Hierophant, the Shaman, the Master of the Head, the Ancestor, or the High Priest. In all of its forms, it has a sacred and universal place within the Tarot.

Happy Equinox!

(Please note! The URL for this blog has changed to

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Deck Review: Silver Witchcraft Tarot

I'm admittedly a bit slow in the trends department. It's been quite a while since I acquired a new Tarot deck, and now while everyone is oohing and ahhing over the Cook's Tarot, here I am taking it back to 2014 with the Silver Witchcraft! This is a deck I'd admired for a long time, from when I first saw sample images prior to printing. I liked the simplicity of the art, the lack of card borders, and the warm, vibrant colors. A few days ago I decided to take the plunge, and this morning as I was outside mowing the lawn the delivery man pulled over and handed me a box - way faster than I'd anticipated! So let's jump in:

My overall feeling about this deck is very positive, and I will enjoy the process of getting to know it better over time. Naturally there are things I really like about it from the start, and others that aren't my favorite, though the pros definitely outweigh the cons. I'll discuss both:

What I Like

-The box is well done and very sturdy. It flips open to reveal the book and cards within, and the cards can easily be lifted from their recess with a white ribbon.

-The color scheme and art simplicity (by artist Franco Rivolli) are as nice as I'd hoped, and the lack of borders allows the images to "pop" when laid out on a reading cloth.

-Shuffling is a breeze; the cards have a smooth finish and are a nice size at roughly 2.5x4.5."

-The silver gilt edges on the cards are a nice touch, and don't "catch" (which has been a downside to some other gilt-edged decks I've worked with in the past).

-The accompanying book, written by Barbara Moore, is well thought out (of course it is!), providing insights into the inspiration for the deck design as well as multiple approaches to considering card meanings. Card images are in full color, which is a plus, and in the back of the book there is a selection of spreads to choose from.

-The deck follows RWS in many ways, and yet very much has its own voice. Each number series across the Minor suits follows a particular pagan holiday, from Yule to Samhain, and includes the Self (Aces) and the Universe (10s). I thoroughly enjoy decks that bring something new to the plate, so I appreciate this feature.

A peek inside the Silver Witchcraft book

I want to show some of the cards that I like the most from both the Major and Minor Arcana:

Here we have a selection of Major cards that are particularly lovely. The Fool shows an eclipse over a tree in a country field, and you can just make out the tiny figure of someone walking off on a new adventure. The Strength card features the traditional lion standing serenely next to a robed figure wearing a Green Man mask. I like how the sense of embracing and directing the energy of our primal nature is depicted so simply and clearly. Justice is pretty awesome: a pregnant woman blows a handful of multicolored butterflies over the image of a black tree - black and white symbolizing two natural poles that are kept in balance. The Devil features a mirror reflecting the image of a dead tree branch, reminiscent of confronting our shadow selves. The elderly Hermit bears a glowing lantern in one hand, and a caduceus staff in the other - a symbol of the healing power of learning about ourselves and about life.

In this photo are a selection of Minor cards that I love. The 9 of Chalices (Cups) shows a woman communing with nature - not a typical depiction, but one that speaks to me, as it brings to mind just how many times I've sat alone in the woods, in bliss. The 8 of Chalices shows a woman settling her child in for the night, warmth provided by a glowing campfire. Again, another non-traditional portrayal, but what I see here is a woman on a journey. She's separated herself from the "fray" so that she can reflect on her feelings, what satisfies her, and what needs to be released. The Ace of Wands conveys the feeling of pure creative fire, and the 10 of Wands (showing a figure working to bolster a weak fire) expresses the difficult necessity of bearing out our responsibilities. I really like the image of a woman concluding a ritual in the 5 of Chalices, extinguishing candles as the moon shines above. The book explains that she must decide which candles to blow out, and which to leave burning, symbolic of having to let go. However what I see is a woman concluding a ceremony of remembrance, and I find that to be very appropriate, and even touching.

What I Don't Like

-The card stock is a bit cardboardy; this is good in that it's on the thick-side, but it still feels more like cardboard, and lacks the strong-yet-supple quality of stock that I prefer.

-While there is diversity in the kinds of people represented in this deck, it doesn't feel consistent or balanced.

-Some of the card images feel a bit awkward:

Here are a few of the Majors that are not my favorite. Maybe I'm being a little nit-picky, but there's a lot of smiling going on in this deck, and most of the smiling feels a bit out of context. This Wheel shows three very happy looking women - Maiden, Mother, Crone - touching an ethereal wagon wheel. Their expressions look joyous, which is not necessarily an emotion I tend to associate with this card. Temperance shows a grinning young lady rather stiffly holding two cups - one pouring its contents down over a flower, and the other providing sustenance for a bird. Why is she so...happy?? Serene, I could understand, but what's with the toothy grin? And the Hanged Man is not hanging at all, but is in a headstand yoga pose (looking rather like he's sunning his nether regions). Well, I get that, and I appreciate that the focus on the willingness to change perspective is very evident, but I just don't really like it that much. Maybe it's the striped pants.

There is a similar element in this selection of Minors that I feel rather "meh" about, in that these 5s (which are meant to reflect conflict/challenge/energetic instability) show rather...happy....looking people. The 5 of Wands crew appears to be having a pleasant talking circle, while the cats battle it out at their feet. The man and woman in the 5 of Swords are playing some sort of game in the sand, and from the looks on their faces it's apparent that they're both enjoying it quite a bit. I understand that the focus here is on how we can turn conflict into compromise, we can hear each other out, we can choose to support each other rather than becoming wrapped up in winning or losing. But I think there is value in showing challenge, and I would prefer to see that. Then we have the 9 of Pentacles.  I like the idea of honoring silence, of enjoying the peaceful liminal space between the rich harvest and the coming of winter. But this card left me feeling a bit confused... a well-manicured blonde woman is shushing me, while a random pentacle floats behind her, stuck to her robe with strands from a spider's web. At any rate, I can work with it!

A Reading

I decided to draw a card, asking "What do I need to know about working with this deck?" As I started to shuffle, the Queen of Chalices jumped out at me, assuring me that my intuition will get along just fine with this set of cards:

When I finished shuffling, I drew the 6 of Swords, inverted. This deck will take me on a valuable journey, but I must be willing to suspend my rational mind and allow the cards to tell me their own story. Alright, I'm game!

All in all I am happy to have this deck in my collection, and I look forward to exploring its depths, and learning what unique wisdom it has to share.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Triumph of Life Tarot Project

Andrew Kyle McGregor, owner of the Hermit's Lamp shop in Toronto, Canada, has spearheaded a project called "Triumph of Life Tarot." The aim of the project is to bring together 78 artists to create and donate art for the cards, and eventually to sell the deck and donate the proceeds to cancer research foundations.

Most, if not all, of the participants have been touched by cancer in some way, directly or indirectly. I decided to participate, as cancer has certainly touched my family (my step-father is recovering from prostate cancer, one of my aunts suffered from breast cancer, my grandmother had uterine cancer, and my husband's brother and father both died of aggressive lung cancer). It's a destructive disease that impacts far too many people in our world. Below is the explanation of my process of creating my card for the deck. If you want to keep up with the development of this project there is a Facebook group, and as things come to fruition and are available for purchase I'll also post updates here!

6 of Disks - Triumph of Life Tarot
O. Destrades
This is what I've created for the 6 of Disks, acrylic on canvas. First I will discuss color scheme, and to some extent the symbols, and then I'll discuss my thoughts/process:

The 6 of Disks is associated with the Moon exalted in Taurus. Both the Moon and Taurus are also associated with color scales (Moon - blues and silvers; Taurus - red/orange, brown, indigo) so I've represented these scales throughout the image. Taurus colors are noted in the candle and the color of the woman's skin (the earthy, material elements), and the Moon in the blue and silvery qualities in the sky and moon itself.

In Thoth the keyword for this card is "Success" - manifesting things on the material plane. In RWS this is a card of reciprocity, give and take, receiving assistance, guidance, generosity.

In this image a woman sits next to an ancestral altar - a table covered with a white cloth, bearing a lit candle. She looks up at the moon in a deep blue sky. 6 comet-like rays descend toward her. In my spiritual/religious practice, ancestor-veneration is integral. Our ancestors and loved ones that pass on don't remain in the past; they are often here with us in the present. We welcome them into our lives, request their help and guidance, and honor them with physical offerings of candles, glasses of water, and even foods and drinks that they enjoyed in life. Even though we lose physical touch with our loved ones when they pass, they are always available to help support us and aid us in our physical lives, whether via the feeling of companionship, the sense of being grounded in family or spiritual heritage, or even through mundane-yet-important experiences such as looking for work opportunities. We request their help and open ourselves up to receive it.

In this image the woman is alone, but surrounded in a golden glow representative of an ethereal embrace. She is aware of her ancestors, and they are aware of her. She's looking for a connection, her altar candle is burning, and all she has to do is ask. These comet-like rays fall upon her, representing those sparks of insight, gentle nudges, whispers from our departed loved ones as they support us and point us in the right direction on our earthly path.

I asked my brother-in-law Manuel, who died of lung cancer, to give me my card for this project. Mañe (short for Manuel) was diagnosed with aggressive cancer and died before he was able to leave Cuba and reunite with us in the USA. It was one of the biggest blows to my husband (and to Mañe) because they were like soul mates. Mañe is still a part of our lives. We talk to him, honor his memory, ask him for guidance and assistance and clarity, request help with centering ourselves on our paths in order to achieve success in our lives.

One story I can tell: After a year of asking for help conceiving our first child together (my husband was hoping for a girl), Mañe came in a dream and handed my husband a baby girl. The next day I took a pregnancy test and found I was indeed pregnant, and when all was said and done, it was a girl. The relationship that we have with Mañe felt like the perfect example of the energy of the 6 of Disks united with the questions posed by this project.

Our give-and-take crosses paths at the ancestral altar, and positively impacts the physical manifestation of success in our lives.