Sunday, May 31, 2015

6 of Cups: Joy and Reunion

This morning I drew the 6 of Cups from the Navigators Tarot of the Mystic SEA, and it's quite apt and lovely for today. This card represents memories, reuniting with friends or loved ones from your past, and soft, pleasant love. It also carries the essence of childhood: spending time with children, considering your own childhood, and embracing the innocence of children. All of these meanings are appropriate for today as my mother flies in this afternoon, and will escort my kids north tomorrow morning. Today is a day of enjoying my babes, welcoming my mom into my home, and recalling the adventures I had with my family as a child as we would make long drives out east to visit aunts, uncles, and cousins.
Navigators Tarot of the Mystic SEA
J. Turk
The image in today's card captures the element of happy reunion; a person stands at a table, perhaps waiting for the party to begin, and turns, surprised, as a long-awaited guest arrives and touches him on the arm. Their proximity indicates the closeness of their relationship, and the pinks and oranges, the flowers and candles, all give a gentle warmth to the scene. In the background an open door can partially be seen, with blue sky and broad landscape beyond...who else is on the way?

My oldest daughter is planning a big dinner for tonight, so we will end up having a party of our own - a light-hearted, loving send-off as our kids' big adventure begins!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Fool: Embracing the Adventure

This morning I pulled the Fool card from my Navigators Tarot of the Mystic SEA. I am indeed on the verge of an adventure, of sorts. This is the last weekend before my three babes fly north with their grandma for their own big summertime adventure! I feel surprisingly at peace, and yet I've noticed a tightness in my neck and chest which suggests to me that I have some pent up emotion that needs expressing.
Navigators Tarot of the Mystic SEA
J. Turk
This Fool card is full of color and movement. Below floats the Earth, while the Fool seems to surf through the universe on strands of golden DNA, surrounded by a hawk, orca, and even a little dog riding a green rocking horse that features the symbol for Pluto! Quite an interesting assortment of symbols. Pluto is a powerful symbol of transformation and rebirth, which has been a common theme for me of late. This Fool is engaging newness in the most artful way possible: going with the flow. And he suggests that I do the same. Pluto doesn't care much whether you want, or are ready for, big changes to take place. They're coming, and it's time for them to manifest, so you have a choice: resist and experience the fear and burden of avoiding the unavoidable, or release the handrails and let the current take you where you're meant to go. I've been happily surprised with the way I've been able to embrace the coming adventure over the past month or so. I've come to a place of peace and even happiness. Now that I'm on the doorstep of the Big Day, I do feel some anxiety and sadness bubbling up to the surface. The Fool invites me to let those feelings flow through my body and out into the universe. The purple face in the upper left corner of the card tells me to "breathe." And so I will.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Black Panther: Knowing the Dark

Two nights ago I had a vivid dream where I was alone in the house I grew up in. As I looked out of the dining room window I saw a massive black panther emerge from some trees along the property line. I was a bit shocked as it's not a typical thing to see in a suburban neighborhood, so I decided to call 911 on the nearest device handy to me at the time: a fork (gotta love dreams!). I was worried that it might not have reception, being a fork and all, but was pleasantly surprised to hear an operator's voice on the other end, asking me to describe my emergency. I explained the situation and she said, "Oh, they're looking for that panther [in such and such a place] but I'll tell them to head over to your area." I encouraged her to have them come as soon as possible. I felt that the panther was good, and I knew it was female. However I had an instinctual fear that it would attack me if I went outside, and in fact I felt that it was trying to find me, in particular.
Photo Credit: Shaani Bawa
After I got off the phone I walked up to the window when suddenly the panther came racing toward me and stood, face almost touching the window pane, staring fiercely at me from the other side. I was worried that it might break the glass and jump in to me. I decided the safest thing to do would be to go to the second floor of the house and into a bedroom with a lockable door. So I did. Shortly after entering the empty, sunlight-filled bedroom, I saw the door knob start to twist and turn. I thought that the panther must have found a way into the house and was trying to open the door with her nose. I ran over to the handle and realized that in fact I'd forgotten to lock it, so I did so. Then I started making wild cat growling noises at the door, to see if she would reply so that I could confirm that it was her. When I heard growling noises coming back at me through the door, I knew it wasn't the panther; it sounded like my son Gabriel having fun with me. I thought I should make sure it was him, and then get him in the room as fast as possible, to safety. Then the dream ended.
Medicine Cards
The next day I was exhilarated by the dream and the black panther. I felt very drawn to her, that she was there for a special purpose. Rather than feeling the fear from my dream, I was thirsting for connection. I did some research on black panthers, and found that they are deeply symbolic of feminine power, mysticism, death and rebirth, and working through fear. They also have a strong association with the moon, which is fitting for me in so many ways, of late. I knew that the panther in my dream symbolized the changes I'm experiencing now, and encouraged me to face the fear of impending transitions. In my dream I was afraid that she would eat me up, even though my intuition told me that she was good and kind. That afternoon I pulled some Medicine Cards, and what should be the underlying energy but....Black Panther! I placed her on my bóveda (altar) which is where she currently resides, front and center.

A bit later the mail came and delivered my new Navigators Tarot of the Mystic SEA deck, and I decided to sit outside and enjoy the late afternoon breeze while I flipped through each card. When I came to Judgment (one of my favorite cards in any deck) I was amazed to see none other than Black Panther! In this image a person sits upon a low table, deep in thought. Above him there is a line of faces, all belonging to this yellow figure, perhaps different aspects of his identity, or different phases of his life. To the left a magenta man looks deeply into one of the faces, while to the right a blue woman looks startled by another of them. This strikes me as the fear and attraction inherent in change, particularly when we are about to leap into a brand new phase of life, or embrace a new part of ourselves that we've not fully explored or recognized before. At the apex of the arch a black panther head gazes upward, a fiery head in its mouth: a transformation is taking place, a new Self is being born. At the feet of the man lies a cage holding a red fruit, and the door hangs open. As he realizes who he is he will lift his precious offering out of the cage and share it with the world.
Navigators Tarot of the Mystic SEA
Perhaps Black Panther does want to eat me - eat up who I was in order to allow me to become something new. Perhaps my own fiery rebirth will come from the mouth of this dear, fierce guardian. As Ina Woolcott wrote about the black panther: "They can show us how to welcome the dark and rouse the light within it."

The Lovers: Be Impeccable With Your Word

Thanks to Victoria, from Eternal Athena, I have come to know the Navigators Tarot of the Mystic SEA (by Julia Turk), and have fallen totally in love with it, such that I acquired it in this past week! If I didn't know any better, I'd say that I didn't know it was possible to fall even more in love with a deck upon holding it, but hey, that's just what has happened. This deck is amazing, and if I hadn't already compiled my 3x3x3 Favorite Divination Tools post, this surely would have landed there! (Or maybe I would have just made it the 4x3x3 Divination Tools post) ;-).

I don't usually post regularly with the same deck - I like to switch things up according to my mood. However this deck is so detailed, so intriguing, I just might give it special focus for a while! So for today, I shuffled asking for a focus card for the day, and the Lovers flew out, calling for my attention. And here it is:

Navigators Tarot of the Mystic SEA
Julia Turk/U.S. Games Systems
Each card in the Navigators Tarot has a keyword. I'm not a huge fan of keywords, but I don't mind them so much here, and find that they give a very interesting take on various aspects of card meanings. Here we have the keyword "discrimination" which goes very well with the "choice" element of the Lovers card. In general this is a card of important relationships and of critical decisions - and sometimes of both, intertwined.

In the image on this card we see an orange male figure looking downward toward a pale female figure that looks upward, and their hands touch through the surface of the sea. He is connected to the sun, light, day. She is connected to the moon, dark, night. They represent balance, and the harmony possible when opposing forces meet.

One thing that stood out to me was the fact that the woman is perched in a crescent moon, in what looks like a pool of blood. This reminds me of the monthly menstrual cycle and its impact on my mood. Usually I'm very calm, peaceful, and relaxed, but in the few days surrounding the start of my "time" I can get pretty touchy and irritable. I don't always filter myself as I normally would, nor am I always as thoughtful as I should be. To one side swims a turtle, and to the other side a jellyfish that shows a theatrical sad/happy face. This suggests that when under the influence of hormonal fluctuations it's important to move more slowly so that I'm less likely to say something I don't mean. After all, despite the time of the month, we are always in control of what we choose to say - sometimes we just have to try a bit harder than others!

This is the aspect of this card that is most relevant to me today as I sit here typing. That familiar discomfort is blossoming in my pelvis, my skinned knee is really sore, and on top of that I'm particularly sleepy as my little son is dealing with an asthma flare-up (for the first time ever - scary stuff when the babies can't breathe well!). Last night, under the influence of all of these things, I was uncharacteristically grumpy and a bit coarse with my dear husband. The first thing I did when I woke up this morning was to kiss him and apologize to him. No matter what, like the golden circle binding the arms of the man and woman in this image, he's my counterbalance, my partner, my love, and regardless of what's going on within or around us, I honor that sacred bond.

Discrimination is about having the ability to tell what is of value, and what is not, in a given situation or matter. This goes for knowing what we want versus what we need, what has the ability to provide the greatest return versus what gives us only fleeting benefits. We can apply discrimination to outside decisions, and to our inner selves. Are you fair to yourself? Can you recognize your own inner impulses and how they manifest in the world? How do those impulses influence the decisions that you make? To be impeccable with your word (one of the Four Agreements by Don Miguel) means that you work to understand your desires and motivations, that you take time to identify the source of your emotions and that you use that knowledge to guide your actions and speech. This is about being as honest as possible with yourself and with others.

So when I'm grumpy and crampy and I'm on the verge of being snippy with someone I care about, the turtle reminds me to slow down, to be aware that my snippiness stems from what's going on within me physically and is unrelated to the other person, and allows me the brief moment necessary to respond more calmly, compassionately, and honestly. Thus, instead of creating disharmony, I allow room for open communication and the opportunity to be understood in return.

On that note, I'm off to brew up some raspberry leaf tea!!!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

3x3x3 Divination Tag: My Favorite Tools

Once again I find myself posting a "top 3" list, and this time it's all about my favorite divination tools. This is timely as I'd recently been thinking about that impossible hypothetical situation: "If you could only ever use one deck for the rest of your life, which would it be?" I'm grateful not to have to make that decision, as I find it hard enough to choose only three tools per category for this post! Chloe from Inner Whispers recently discussed hers, and then Ellen at Greylady's Hearth took up the challenge, so here is my own contribution (these "favorite" posts are never in any particular order):

Top Three Tarot Decks

1. Thoth Tarot, by Aleister Crowley and Frieda Harris

I love the art in this deck, which I find incredibly vibrant, sumptuous, and expressive. The cards have a great all-around size and stock, so it's a pleasure to shuffle. I love the card backs. While it's true that I like reversible backs, the color and intricacy of the art on the Thoth card back is so lovely that it doesn't really bother me at all. In fact all of the decks in my top three list have non-reversible backs! If I truly had to choose only one deck to use for the rest of my life, it would probably be this one.

Thoth Tarot/New Orleans Voodoo Tarot
2. New Orleans Voodoo Tarot, by Louis Martinié and Sallie Ann Glassman

This deck resonates with me in important ways because it connects to a spiritual/religious system that is home to me. I don't practice Voodoo/Vodou, but I respect it greatly. I do practice Santería/Lukumí, and I love that the suit of earth features Olodumare and many of the Orishas. The artwork is earthy and rustic and sensual, and it attracts me in ways that other Orishas/Santería/Umbanda decks I've seen simply don't. You can use this deck for "standard" readings, yet it has the additional layer of religious associations that make it valuable for tradition-focused meditations as well.

3. Light and Shadow Tarot, by Brian Williams and Michael Goepferd

Based on art created from wood cuts, this black and white deck is simply stunning. The cards are way too big for me to shuffle as I normally would, so I spread them out on a flat surface, swish them around, and pick the cards that call to me. I enjoy breaking my shuffling routine in this way, and I would never trim this deck - partly because I think there is value in allowing it to be what it is, and partly because the size of the inner borders is not consistent across all cards, so it would essentially be impossible! No matter, however. The artwork leaps from the stark white background, and the lack of color doesn't impede the reading process. It's a total pleasure working with this deck!
Light and Shadow Tarot
Top Three Oracle Decks

1. Viking Cards, by Gudrun Bergmann and Olafur Gudlaugson

The imagery is simple, but the perspectives are refreshing and very insightful. There are 32 cards in this set, and each one features an aspect or symbol of Viking culture, such as "The Stone of Thor: Sacrifice", or "Sleipnir: Changes." My ancestry on my father's side is Frisian and Danish, and Norse culture and spirituality is something I enjoy honoring and exploring. This has been a wonderful part of my relatively small collection of oracle decks, and is one I use often. It's provided me with some very thoughtful and helpful readings!

2. Medicine Cards, by Jamie Sams, David Carson, and Angela Werneke

This, along with the Druid Animal Oracle, is a favorite of mine as it highlights the power and wisdom of animal energy and teachings. They are excellent for readings all on their own, or in conjunction with Tarot. They're also great for exploring animal symbolism across various contexts. This is the first deck of divination cards that I ever used, starting with them at the age of 12 or 13, and I fondly remember the valuable insights they gave me at the time. They helped me think about myself, my environment, and my behaviors in ways I hadn't before, and they are still a precious part of my collection.

3. Halloween Oracle, by Stacey Demarco and Jimmy Manton

I remember the first glimpse I had of the cards in this deck during its production period, and I really loved the art work and the way that Halloween symbols were used in unique ways to highlight aspects of the human experience. I found this deck at a local bookstore rather unexpectedly, became very excited, and headed straight for the check-out line. They have not been a disappointment. Quite the contrary, they are beautiful, engaging, and deeply meaningful. And hey, I love Halloween, so that doesn't hurt! This deck is often by my bedside, as I enjoy simply pulling a card from it now and again and using it for meditation.

Top Three "Other Tools"

1. Lenormand (Enchanted Lenormand by Caitlin Matthews/Virgina Lee is a mainstay)

Lenormand is technically an oracle, as is Tarot, however it is a defined system which sets it apart from the kinds of oracles I listed in the previous section, which vary in card quantity, card meanings, and just about everything else. Lenormand constitutes an essential part of my divination practice; I read with it every single day, and I find it's a wonderful complement to Tarot. If I want very specific, concrete information about a course of events, this is my go-to reading tool. I also use Lenormand prior to, and sometimes following, root workings.

Lenormand, Runes, and Apophyllite
2. Runes

The set I use most often is one I made myself out of smooth black stones. Rune study is something I enjoy quite a bit, and definitely constitutes a regular part of my divinatory practices. Once you start to work with runes, you see them everywhere, such as in broken twigs on the sidewalk, or in spray painted markings left in the grass by the electrician. I use runes for readings in much the same way as with cards, however I also use runes quite commonly in magical workings, such as engravings, or including a carefully thought-out script on a petition paper.

3. Dream work; apophyllite

I've always been fascinated by dreams and dream interpretation. In fact I remember once in high school when, just as we were strolling into the ladies room, an acquaintance suddenly told me about a dream she'd had the night before. I started talking her through the symbols and what they might mean, and she looked at me, wide-eyed, and said "Whoa! That actually makes sense!" I laughed (and was also pleasantly surprised with myself, I'm sure). I've had what you might call "prophetic" dreams, where what is dreamt is cluing you in to something that is going to happen, or that is already occurring outside your conscious awareness. Those are pretty helpful and interesting. I also find dreams to be wonderful guides, and insightful reflections of our true, inner world. Apophyllite crystals have amplified my dreams in many ways, and is a great tool for working in the dreamworld.

That wraps it up for my 3x3x3 Divination Tag. If you decide to compile your own list, be sure to let me know so I can read (or watch) it!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Making a Calendula Salve

All of my children have suffered from eczema, but my littlest one has had it most extensively ever since he was an infant. We've used lotions especially suited to the task, as well as steroid creams from the doctor's office, with varying degrees of success in treatment.

Finally I decided to simply make my own salve at home to help my little one via the goodness of the earth. Calendula (Calendula officinalus), also called "pot marigold," is an antiseptic and anti-inflammatory that soothes skin ailments such as bee stings, scrapes, burns, chapped lips, and dermatitis, so it's quite useful for treating eczema. And making salves at home is a simple and satisfying process.
Dried calendula flowers; two types of beeswax (beads and unprocessed)
I used dried calendula petals (a little over 1/4 of a cup) with roughly a cup of canola oil and 1/4 cup of beeswax beads. I gently heated (on the lowest setting on the stove - the goal is not to stir-fry the poor things!) the oil with the petals for about a half an hour, then strained the oil through a cheesecloth into a steel pot and added the beeswax beads. Once they melted, I poured the mixture into a small canning jar to cool. And that's that! 
Calendula oil, after straining
This is the quick method, and in all it took about an hour to an hour and a half to finish the entire process. You can use fresh petals/flower tops for this as well, though you must use a much higher quantity, and you can also steep the flowers in your chosen oil in a closed jar for a week or two for a slower, gentler way to infuse the oil with the flower's essence. You can use beeswax beads (which I did for this particular recipe) or raw, unprocessed beeswax (I have this in stock for the next batch!). If you know a beekeeper, you may even be able to secure some wax through them! Otherwise you may find some at a health food store, metaphysical shop, or herb supplier. 
Petals strained from the oil
Cooling in a glass jar
Gabriel was quite excited to have his very own, homemade eczema salve, and it goes on smooth and light, with a lovely aroma of calendula blossoms!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

XII: Sacrifice

This morning as I sat on my older daughter's bed, waiting for my younger daughter to slowly wake up, I laid out the Goddess Tarot deck that was sitting on their bedside table and pulled a card of the day. It was XII Sacrifice: Kuan Yin.
Pocket Goddess Tarot
U.S. Games Systems
I had just a few minutes before been chatting with my husband about the kids' upcoming vacation with their grandparents, so that was on my mind. And the card (traditionally called the "Hanged Man") featured a particularly poignant image, as Kuan Yin floats through the sky holding a child. Letting my kids go for such a long vacation time does feel like a sacrifice. But the sky in this picture speaks to me. Kuan Yin is carrying a child away from the moonlit night and into the beautiful pastel glow of a sunny day. I've been talking a lot lately (to both my husband and to my children) about anticipation being worse than reality. The unknown (the moon, the dark sky) can be scary and cause feelings of apprehension. But the sunlit sky shows that everything is going to be okay. Yes, this is a sacrifice of sorts, but there is so much joy to be had, too. The sacrifice is not in vain, and it's only temporary. What new insights will I uncover by letting go? This has been a theme for me lately: relinquishing control, going with the flow. And Kuan Yin encourages me to let go, as well, and to remember that there is a lot of good in this arrangement, and if I am willing to shift my focus from the moon to the sun, I'll find healing comfort there.

As I examined the card I noticed that the inner border is filled with pink water lilies, which is a flower associated with Kuan Yin. Just yesterday I attended my younger daughter's 2nd grade graduation, and she gave me a late Mother's Day gift after the ceremony: a pink water lily that she had made out of clay in art class! These synchronicities are like gentle nudges from the universe. Water lilies symbolize death and rebirth, transition and transformation. In the context of the Hanged Man, it suggests the need to retire one perspective so that a new paradigm can be born. If I release my hold on one way of thinking, or at least open myself to the Great Mystery (death/night), I allow space for new wisdom to blossom (rebirth/day). <3

Lourdes' water lily

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

3x3x3 Witchy Tag, Or: My Favorite Things

Chloe from Inner Whispers recently posted a video called the "3x3x3 Witchy Tag," where practitioners of the magical arts (I'm casting a wide net here) vlog about their favorite "witchy" things in terms of three categories: 1) favorite herbs, 2) favorite stones or crystals, and 3) favorite "witchy" activities. I enjoyed listening to her discuss her choices, and was inspired to participate by sharing my own!

I will say that, as I'm sure is true for everyone asked to narrow down their preferences, or sum up their practices, this was a difficult challenge. And really this post is just the tip of the iceberg. However I'm going to give this a go, so here we go!

My Three Favorite Herbs

I'm adding a little disclaimer here, because there are so many herbs I love and use that narrowing them down to three is nearly impossible. There are herbs I tend to use more for rootwork, and there are herbs I use more often for making healing teas, or oils. I decided to highlight the the latter for this post. And I'm cheating here, I know, but I'm just going to say that garlic must go at the top of my list - perhaps I'll honor it with being Number Zero. I use garlic for warding off colds and flu by drinking it raw with orange juice and cayenne. I cook with it. It's useful for treating ear infections when combined with olive oil and used as drops in the ear. It's wonderful for the heart. There is just no excuse not to have garlic in your cupboard at all times. Now on to the next three.....

Dried rosemary and lemon balm
1) Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalus)

First of all, rosemary just makes me feel content. The aroma alone is deeply satisfying for me, and I often go out into my garden simply to run my hand through my rosemary bush and inhale the lingering scent from my skin. As with garlic, I sometimes cook with rosemary; I suppose that's a given. But it's also a great tea, especially when dealing with respiratory issues, as it's an anti-inflammatory. Rosemary can help relieve headaches, and as a wash it's great for the hair. You can use it to increase circulation and to help with muscle and join pain (arthritis, for example). This herb helps improve memory and relieve menstrual cramps (it's an antioxidant). In magic it's often used to help increase feminine power, cleansing, and for protection.

2) Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalus)

Lemon Balm smells pretty amazing, too, and is a great herb for calming anxiety, frayed nerves, and mild depression. You can drink it as an infusion to treat indigestion, as well as for colds and coughs. In fact this is one of the core ingredients in my anti-cold tea because it has antiviral and antibacterial properties! I don't tend to use this herb for magical anything, though some do for healing and sometimes love purposes.

Dried elder berries
3) Elder (Sambucus nigra)

Elder berries and flowers form a core part of my herbal medicine cabinet. Both are useful for fighting colds and coughs, and for fighting allergies. With antiviral properties, it's another major component in my anti-cold infusions, and it has such a lovely, subtle flavor. Some people just use flowers for this purpose, or only use berries for tinctures, syrups, or cordials, but I like using them together; the flowers are gentle and light, and the berries rehydrate and release their deep purple essence during the steeping process, which I love. Elder can be used to treat eye inflammation as well as arthritis. It's a diaphoretic and stimulant so it increases the efficiency of the body's systems, and helps increase perspiration which is an effective body cleanser. I feel like Elder is a loving mother, always ready with arms wide open. She's gentle and soothing, which is also why I find this herb a wonderful addition to herbal baths for the purpose of emotional healing.

Dried elder flowers
My Three Favorite Stones/Crystals

Of course I have more than three that I value highly, but these three are definitely core staples!

1) Quartz

Pretty much all quartz, though I do love clear quartz and quartz crystals. I also love snow quartz. Quartz is an amplifier and indispensable for healing and transmitting. Crystals can be programmed for specific purposes, and can hold energy. I found my first crystal at a nature/science store when I was probably thirteen, and I fell in love. I had heard that you should try not to let people hold your crystal because as they hold energy, the ideal situation is that your quartz is imbued with your essence rather than a hodgepodge of random energies. So my crystal has only ever been held by me (since the original purchase, naturally), thereby having accrued about 22 years of Essence of Olivia. Quartz is one of the stones associated with the sign of Capricorn, which was another initial draw for me. Quartz can help amplify the properties of other stones, and in particular I love combining it with black tourmaline, another one on my top three list!

Varieties of quartz
2) Black Tourmaline

I originally bought this stone for the sensations it gave me when I held it. Later I researched its properties and it all made sense! I came across this stone at a witchy shop. I had heard of it before though hadn't thought much about it, but as I was browsing it drew my attention. These dark jewels seemed to be almost glowing with powerful energy. I picked one up and immediately felt my crown start to buzz. The feeling I had was sort of a combination of relief and satisfaction, something like how it feels to lay down on the floor or bed and totally stretch every part of your body. It was awesome. I thought it would be amazing to dive into a bathtub full of black tourmaline and stay a while. Later I learned that  this stone is powerful for protection and deflection of negativity, as well as for transforming ill vibrations into positive ones. You can actually use black tourmaline to protect yourself against the electromagnetic emissions from computers and cell phones due to its natural electrical current. That is pretty amazing all by itself. So even if you're not into magic, here's a really sensible, practical reason to acquire this wonderful stone! Another side effect of black tourmaline's electrical charge is that it helps connect the energy sources/chakras throughout the body, increasing and smoothing the flow. This is great for everyone, really, but especially for healers.

3) Apophyllite 

I wrote about my experiences with this wonderful crystal in September of last year and I've hyperlinked the previous text in case you're interested in reading more about it. Suffice it to say that my dreams are stunning, clear, and educational!

Apophyllite and Black Tourmaline
My Three Favorite Witchy Activities

1) Spending time in nature

I would imagine that this would apply to most people. It has been my favorite thing to do ever since I can remember, and in fact as a pre-teen I spent long hours alone in the forest across the street from my house, picking raspberries, building living-wood shelters, looking for raccoon prints by the river shore, observing deer and fox. It was pretty wonderful. This is still something I can't do without, and one of my regular, favorite things to do is simply stroll around the neighborhood, watching the breeze move the tree leaves, noticing how the sunlight filters through palm branches, taking in the smells of backyard fires, grass, moist earth. This morning I spent about a half hour taking pictures in my back yard; this time of year the sun hits all the sweet spots, so the early hours of the morning are especially lovely. And one way I love interacting with nature is through tending my herb garden!

Gardenia bush in my back yard
2) Helping people via herbs and other natural things

Some of the most satisfying things I do are: make healing teas for my loved ones; do work to help those I care about to heal, attract new opportunities, or repel negativity; create spiritual/cleansing baths for the home or body; and the list goes on! Watching my child laid up on the couch with a nasty virus is difficult, but spending thirty minutes crafting a soothing medicinal infusion and then slowly watching the symptoms ease, is very fulfilling and empowering.

3) Divining

It would be entirely remiss of me not to put this in the top three activities, because divination is an important facet of my life (and hey, it's the main theme of this blog). Not a single day goes by that I don't divine in some fashion, for some purpose, whether with cards or with runes, or sometimes with both. It's an art; it takes patience and dedication, and an open heart. In short, it's wonderful.

So with that I conclude my 3x3x3 Witchy Tag. If you're a witch, rootworker, conjurer, diviner, herbalist, or anyone at all, really.....consider yourself tagged!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Hermit: Light and Shadow

I don't order new decks very often, but when I do it's because I've come across something that really draws me in. It's been a while, but I've finally found one: the Light and Shadow Tarot, by author Brian Williams and artist Michael Goepferd. I'm so excited.

The artist has created a series of wood cuts for this deck. I find I'm very drawn to the texture and movement in wood block prints of this nature - there is something rustic and earthy that draws me right in - so having a whole deck of them is pretty awesome! The only other deck that I own that is not full color is the Ship of Fools Tarot, by Brian Williams. It's based on Das Narrenschiff, by Sebastian Brant, and all of the images are fine-line ink over a sepia-toned background. I find the deck very interesting, but don't read with it very much as it takes time for the eye to process everything that's going on in each card. However the Light and Shadow Tarot, while black and white, is bold and simple such that it reads quite well. This is a huge plus.  I will eventually do a review of the deck, but for now I want to focus on the simple loveliness of the initial card that called to me (it helps that it's on the front cover of the packaging): the Hermit.
Light and Shadow Tarot
The Hermit's candle guides him onward in pursuit of self-knowledge, and the snail and raven are his constant companions. Ravens symbolize mystery, introspection, mysticism and transformation. The snail represents patience, process, and wisdom. If you look closely you'll see a yin-yang symbol in the flame of the glowing light - the Hermit understands that life is balance, and is cyclical. Without challenges would we appreciate the times of joy fully? Heartbreak is only possible if we have loved deeply. The crops would perish without the rain. By embracing Hermit energy we come to know ourselves, our own patterns and cycles, and can learn and grow from them. We come to appreciate the night, knowing that it won't last forever.

Happy Tuesday!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

New Moon: Release and Embrace

Today is the New Moon and it sort of snuck up on me this month! Usually I'm very attentive to the moon phases but with all the shifts and transitions going around me I've been a bit distracted. Today is also a Sunday, and I love spending some time with my thoughts and a hot cuppa coffee on Sunday mornings, so it seemed like a good moment to pull some New Moon cards.

The New Moon is the the first phase of the moon cycle, after which it begins to grow in visibility (waxing) as it approaches the Full Moon approximately two weeks later.  This is commonly a time for doing workings that invite positive new opportunities into our lives, or that seek to nurture and grow the abundance we already experience. For this New Moon I decided to pull two cards in the following manner:

New Moon Spread

1: What to release into the past

2: What to embrace and nurture over the next two weeks

Now before I discuss the cards I pulled, let me digress momentarily! It's funny how the moon has become an important symbol for me lately. Exactly one week ago, on Mother's Day, my family and I stopped briefly at a local rootwork/magic shop so that I could restock some of my tools, and I decided to review the stones and crystals. I have several moonstones, but I was very drawn to the store's selection - their sizes, shapes, and luminescence. I spent almost ten minutes holding and examining all of them before choosing one that was an elongated oval with areas of pearly sheen broken up by chunks of transparent, quartz-like stone. It's currently sitting by my bedside in a small, antique wooden box.

Additionally, over the past week or two I've been having image flashes of some of the cards in my Deviant Moon deck, which is one I haven't used in quite a while. It seemed to be calling to me. Last night I finally pulled it out for several readings, and spent time admiring the dark-yet-warmly-vibrant color scheme. When I realized this morning that it was the New Moon, I simultaneously felt compelled to draw a couple of cards from this deck, and was drawn to the moonstone in the little wooden box by my bed. There is a theme here, about cycles, shadows, emotions, and acceptance that are highlighted in the cards I pulled:

Deviant Moon Tarot - P. Valenza
U.S. Games Systems

1: What to release into the past - Wheel of Fortune reversed

2: What to embrace and nurture over the coming two weeks: 10 of Cups

Hm! Sometimes you pull cards and sit with them for a while in order to allow the meanings to steep and bloom like tea-flowers in your heart and mind; other times the significance is immediately apparent. This reading fell into the latter category. 

First we have the Wheel with its connection to cycles, movement and change. Inverted it suggests that I've been resisting, to some degree, the fluctuations in my life over the previous months. This card highlights the sense of feeling somewhat powerless in the face of major life events, and that has certainly been true for me. I wrote a short while back about my children, and how they're going to spend two months with their grandparents this summer. This is essentially an awesome vacation for them, but the length is due in part to the fact that my husband is leaving for work overseas and will be gone for most of the summer. This arrangement allows the kids to enjoy their summer break properly, and spend quality time with their extended family. But of course the thought of being away from them (and my husband) is painful for me, no matter how much I can rationalize the benefits. A few weeks ago I was really struggling with my feelings on the matter when I felt drawn to a selenite stone (which I am just now realizing is also a moon stone!) on my table. I wondered why, as it's not a stone I've worked with much before, but I generally follow my intuition, so I stuck it in my pocket and went about my day. Several times throughout that day I realized how calm and at peace I felt. The sadness seemed to wane considerably, and I realized that I was feeling very reasonable! Of course my husband should go on this work opportunity, and the kids are only going to be gone for two months, during which time I'll see them for a week when I take my own mini-vacation. That's not so bad! I was both impressed with this new emotional development and immensely relieved. And that feeling has stuck with me. Now my husband has been away with our two youngest kids for a few days (they're coming back tonight) and while I've enjoyed the down time, it's reminded me how much I miss them when they're gone. So now I'm facing two weeks (almost exactly) until they're scheduled to head north with grandma: the countdown begins. The Wheel reminds me that life is change, and that breaks in routine (like my field trip on Friday) are important for our health. That everything is temporary, including summer vacation, and that as I'm not planning to alter our plans, resisting the movement is a waste of precious energy. I can't control everything, but I can release my intense attachment, just a little bit. 

So if I'm releasing my futile attempt to control my environment, where should I focus? The 10 of Cups! Well isn't that the truth! I have two weeks left before my children depart (on the precise date of the Full Moon, mind you). I have a choice: spend the next two weeks worrying and feeling sad in anticipation, or go with the flow, and make the most of this time with my loved ones. This second option is the clear winner. The image on this Deviant Moon card is the perfect representation of my family (just add an extra kid!). The parents embrace each other while the children galavant about. There is a clear sense of unity and love which is exactly how I feel with my husband and children. This is an awesome, beautiful gift to be able to experience and share - why waste even a moment of it?
Tarot de St. Croix
Lisa de St. Croix
What is it about the moon? In Tarot this card symbolizes those things that are not tangible, obvious, or direct. It calls forth our fears, our shadow, our concerns about things that can't be known, or of what might be. Above all the Moon offers us a valuable invitation to know ourselves better, and to face the source of our discontent. It's not always fun, but it's always worth it to dive right in...and to remember that the moon, like all aspects of our lives, moves in cycles and phases; there is great comfort to be had in understanding that when things are feeling dark, you can always count on the tide turning once again.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Ehwaz and the 4 of Wands: A Breath of Fresh Air

This morning I pulled a rune for the general energy of my day, and a card from my Thoth deck to give me some advice about embracing it. I pulled Ehwaz and the 4 of Wands.

Ehwaz literally means "horse" and symbolizes Sleipnir, Odin's 8-legged steed (which has been a recurring theme for me lately, it seems!). This is the 19th rune in the Elder Futhark, and in simple terms deals with partnership and trust between people, positive change, and modes of transportation. Horses and humans had a deeply symbiotic relationship for so many thousands of years, and the bond between them was (and I suppose still is) sacred. Ehwaz can represent the bond of friends or romantic partners, and can indicate marriage. It can also signify movement, or travel that is necessary to achieve a goal (horse = transportation!). 

The 4 of Wands can also represent celebratory times such as weddings or marriage (or in my case, the joy of simply being at home!). This card embraces the feeling of relief - relief from everyday challenges, a positive event or shift that brings refreshing change. The wheel on this card highlights this sense of forward movement that gives wholeness to the way we experience our world. Remembering to enjoy ourselves is critical to living a rich life, and weddings and vacations certainly help us to do that. In my line of work, so do field trips!

Today a colleague and I are partnering up to take our respective classes via car and train to a major sports and entertainment venue in the downtown area. We try to build these experiences into the curriculum to give the students access to the outside world (many stay on or near campus), to give them opportunities to engage the English-speaking populace (they're all international students), and to give them a break from the typical lecture/project-based classroom routine. Ehwaz is certainly apt both in terms of partnership and travel, and the 4 of Wands encourages me to embrace the day and the breath of fresh air that it provides. Hey, even teachers need to get out of the building once in a while!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Kenaz and the Knight of Fire

My blogging friend Ellen, from Greylady's Hearth, has been composing posts lately that focus on a blend of Tarot and runes, to lovely effect. I decided to try this combo out for myself, using my hand-made runes and my Vikings Tarot deck. I drew the rune first, asking for a general, predominant energy in my life right now. Then I drew a card asking about the best way to engage this energy. The results were very interesting!

Rune: Kenaz

Kenaz is connected to the element of fire, and signifies a door opening up to new things. This is a rune of energy, power and movement; troubles ease and creativity gathers momentum. The force that gathers with this rune is not erratic but controlled and purposeful. This is energy that has the potential to get things done. I envision this as a fire that builds and expands within until it bursts forth from its vessel and illuminates the path forward, like the Hermit's lantern.

Vikings Tarot/Lo Scarabeo

Tarot: Knight of Wands

This card features the giant Hrungnir astride his horse Gullfaxi. Hrungnir was rather boastful and had a competition with Odin and Sleipnir to see whose mount was faster (Sleipnir won; apparently there is nothing faster than the wind!). Odin invited Hrungnir to Asgard to hang out, where he drank too much ale and started tossing threats around. Thor decided to put him in his place, and slew him with Mjöllnir (Thor's souvenir was a shard of Hrungnir's whetstone lodged in his head).  This card, like Kenaz, is associated with fire, creativity and movement, and I love that this energy is mirrored between the rune and Tarot. There can be no doubt that this Knight is ready for an adventure.

Both Kenaz and the Knight of Wands symbolize energy in motion, and positive developments. Kenaz, in the image I posted, does appear very much like a door opening, and the Knight appears to ride forth from the mouth of the rune, ready to carry this heated torch forward to explore new worlds.

There is certainly movement in my life at present, and travel is in the forecast for the next month or two. The Knight of Wands is encouraging me to embrace the new forces unfolding around and before me, to open myself to new insights, opportunities and possibilities that Kenaz brings, and to see where it takes me. I'm game!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Empress, Mother

This morning my daily draw was the Empress. When I saw it I immediately felt pleased and at ease, because this is such a nurturing card; it exudes loving embraces, and material abundance. That's pretty much what my day has been all about!

Today is my younger daughter's birthday, and before school my husband gave her a special necklace set: one of those broken coins with ragged edges that fit together, symbolizing a close connection between the two people that wear each piece. One said "mother" and the other said "daughter." That was sweet, and she was very happy. I put mine on, and helped her to fasten her own. After work and school she saw that I still had the necklace on and said, "I'm glad you're still wearing that - you have to wear it for the rest of your life." I love that kid.
Thoth Tarot
F. Harris/A. Crowley
U.S Games Systems

A close family friend is here visiting for a couple of days, and though he had attended school in a health field, his true passion is music. It just so happens that I teach at a school for entertainment, where students can earn Bachelor's and Master's degrees in anything from recording arts, to computer animation, to entertainment business. It suddenly occurred to me last night to take him on a tour of the campus today while I had a break between classes. My husband and I had an excellent time watching his face light up as we toured the recording studios, sound stages, and dubbing stage. He was in heaven. As we chatted with the admissions counselor, I realized that the woman was talking to me as if I were the responsible party, and I laughed and commented about feeling like his mother. Later we found that because of his close ties to me and my husband, I'm able to nominate him for a legacy scholarship which will help cover his expenses, so there was a double whammy of Empress energy!

This evening I've been orchestrating the goods and goodies for my daughter's birthday celebration, and in the meantime trying to take care of myself as I'm getting that tickling in the throat that warns of an oncoming cold (I have to thank my son for that!).

The Empress has manifested in many ways today, and every one of them has been deeply satisfying.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Synergy of Rootwork

From time to time I find myself pausing to ponder the beauty and mystery of the universe: how energy works, the way in which everything in our environment is connected, the simple yet awe-inspiring moments where you just know that there's a God (sunsets tend to do this for me).

I was having such a moment this morning as I was considering our relationship to cause-and-effect in the world, and the methods that we can use to influence positive outcomes in our lives. Rootwork, in my experience, is one such method that is both subtle yet powerful in its efficacy. A working, when well planned and executed, softly influences the energy of the universe, something like tossing a stone into a pond and watching the ripples unfold. It is nothing more than a suggestion we make, but it is real, and can be very effective. For me there is great mystery and holiness in that.

So I decided to pull a card from my Halloween Oracle, while holding this topic gently in my mind, and I pulled: Barmbrack.

Halloween Oracle; S. Demarco, J. Manton
Rootworking tools

Barmrack is the name of an yeasty Irish fruit bread that is traditionally made at Samhain (Halloween). Before the bread is baked various objects are inserted into it, such as a toothpick, a coin, or a ring. If a party-goer received a slice of bread with the toothpick they could expect a year of disputes ahead (similar to the Birchrod in Lenormand). If they received the coin, they could expect money, and if the ring, a marriage.

In the Halloween Oracle this card is subtitled "Sweetness and Synergy" and refers to value and power that exist in the present, as opposed to worrying about the future. The author, Stacey Demarco, writes:

"We have the tools to change our future should we choose. The sweet energy of barmbrack - all the ingredients including the objects [baked within] are more complete and powerful together than they are individually."

This is a beautiful representation of what rootwork is and does. Rootwork is a ritual process of utilizing roots, herbs, stones, and things made with natural essences (such as oils) in combination to help achieve a specific end (such as finding work, improving finances or business, healing those who are ill, and even for protection). The ritual of rootwork - the careful and purposeful selection of materials, the process of preparation, the focus and intention of the worker and the work itself - is like a sacred dance, a weaving of energy where each element merges and combines to create something greater than the sum of its parts - powerful synergy.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Illusion of Permanence

I was walking near the shores of Secret Lake yesterday morning when I noticed a rather large ant mound rising up out of the grass and beginning to spill out onto the sidewalk. It was so complete, so busy, that I had to stop for a moment to appreciate the work. Between a smattering of tiny holes, red ants scurried with clear purpose, some carrying what appeared to be tiny larva. It was an active community of living beings that had spent countless hours, perhaps days, on the creation of their sandy home.

And in that moment I realized how terribly precarious it all was. One child mesmerized by the movement could, with a single excited swipe, destroy it completely. Or perhaps someone riding a bike, or a heavy rain storm, or even a park maintenance person out mowing the lawn. Any of these things could, in an instant, erase this ant town from the surface of the earth (temporarily though it be). And in fact it most certainly would happen.

But the cool thing about ants is that when the fruits of their endless labor are washed away, they will simply rebuild. Which got me to thinking about fluctuation and the impermanence of life. There are many cards in a Tarot deck that can point to instability and change. Some of the obvious cards include Death and the Tower. Some others include the Wheel, the 4 of Wands reversed (I call this the 'transition' card), and even the 8 of Cups.

Last week I pulled a card from my Viking Cards deck in a moment when I was feeling a bit oppressed by the movement in my life. I believe my actual question was: "What is happening to me?"  The card I drew was Sleipnir: Changes.

Viking Cards
U.S. Games Systems, 1997

I think I actually laughed out loud when I saw it, and said, "Yep!!!" What I found most helpful about this card was the correlation to Odin's mystical, 8-legged horse, Sleipnir, who is often described in the Sagas as being the wind that Odin rides to other dimensions. I love that concept. The book, written by Gudrun Bergmann, states:

"The Changes may be like the strong summer winds that blow across Iceland's interior and stir up a lot of dust, so that even the Sun is overshadowed and one cannot see clearly. But such winds also subside. Sleipnir tells you not to fight the changes, but to jump on his back and ride the winds of Change (pg. 88)."

There is something particularly revitalizing about the idea of jumping onto Sleipnir's back and riding forth into the great unknown; change abounds, but you're never without excellent company. Like the ants' intricate hills, like Tibetan Sand Mandalas, or Navajo sand paintings, changes are necessary, inevitable, and learning to embrace the movement is both empowering and healing.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Mud Dauber Wasp: Beautiful Persistence

Here in Florida we have a lot of interesting flora and fauna. One particular insect that I've come to admire and enjoy (as strange as it may seem) is the mud dauber wasp. Mud dauber wasps are solitary creatures, so while you may see several flying about your property, they never gather or create communal nests. They are very industrious which becomes clear when you see the mud cells that they build. A single female will build a collection of little tubes, one on top of the other, and in each she will place a few (or more) paralyzed spiders and an egg. Then she seals it up and moves on the to next. After creating a series of these, she will fly away. Her eggs slowly develop until the young wasps are full size, at which point they consume the paralyzed spiders for initial sustenance before breaking free from their cell and flying out into the wide world.

A mud dauber "village" with a cell being built
Credit: O. Destrades

I have spent quite a lot of time observing these wasps as they tend to their little "villages." We currently have one in the upper corner of our front door, and I've watched with great admiration as a single cocoon-like mud tube grew into three, then five, then eight. She finally stopped when she reached somewhere around the 12-mark. She would fly back and forth developing layer after earthen layer - I could even see the ripples in the walls of each little structure, evidence of each trip she made with fresh mud, like rings of a tree. I would see an open cavern, and could even make out the faint impression of spider legs within. Then later in the evening as I would come or go, I would see that the hole had been sealed, and she was now prepared to work on the next.

Mud Dauber wasps are not aggressive at all, and prefer to keep the peace rather than attack (unless clearly threatened). This is why I treat them as friendly neighbors for the duration of their stay at my doorway. And once all of the wasps have flown the nest, I will harvest what remains, crumble it into a fine powder, and store it away for use in future rootwork.

Mud dauber nests are often utilized for work focused on fidelity in love or commerce, such as attracting and keeping clients to a business, specifically because these wasps always return to the same place to build their mud villages. Even for practical purposes mud dauber nests come in handy: you can powder and carefully filter the mud from a dauber's nest and use it to help cure and prevent diaper rash in infants.

If you should like to harvest your own mud dauber nest, just remember to be mindful of ecology, and try to be sure that the wasps have abandoned it first.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Lusting for Connection, Owning Our Selves

Strength is one of my favorite cards in any deck - not because I've always been innately drawn to it (like I am to the Hermit, for instance), but because it has presented itself to me consistently over time, showing up in important, deeply meaningful ways. It resonates with me on a profound level; I've come to love it and value what it's taught me.

Strength is titled "Lust" in the Thoth deck. It's one of my favorite depictions of the card in the palpable rawness of energy, passion, and vibrance that emanates from Babalon astride the great Beast. It's interesting, the cultural associations with the term "lust," and what it means. Though at its core it signifies deep desire and longing, it has over time come to represent this impulse primarily in the context of human sexuality, and in particular female sexuality, something that has been stigmatized in many ways throughout time. Many attempts have been made (since the beginning of time, perhaps) to dampen, control, and subdue the sexuality of women, precisely because it is the source of great power. In so many ways, it is the womb of all of humanity.

XI. Lust
Crowley/Harris; U.S. Games Systems

Babalon is a woman, a mother, a creatrix, who entirely owns who and what she is. She is not a whore, she is the source of all that we are, sculptor of the energetic depths of her counterpart, Chaos. She owns her sexual power (upon delving deep, deep down, it becomes clear that energy is energy is energy, and sexual energy is an aspect of divine energy - Lust is not only about sexual energy, but all energy, raw force, which includes sexual energy as a source of vibrant, spiritual power).

On the most mundane levels, Strength, Lust, is inner power, strength of character, confidence and self-understanding. It is primal ferocity, tempered by intellect and wisdom. It is compassion and love. It is the divine spark within us.

I absolutely love what Lon Milo Duquette wrote about this card in his book titled, Understanding Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot (Weiser Books, 2003):

The supreme spiritual message of this card may be summed up something like this: Eventually each of us will come to a level of consciousness so profoundly high that the only level higher is the universal consciousness of deity itself. Our dissolution into the infinite is the ultimate sacrifice, the ultimate marriage. Deity lusts for that moment when all her children will return to her. Someday, each one of us will also lust for that moment (pg. 127).

Friday, May 1, 2015

May Day Blog Hop 2015: Hard is Real

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Welcome to the May 1st 2015 Tarot Blog Hop! Please use the links at the top and bottom of this post to navigate through the circle of bloggers. Our wrangler, Morgan Drake Eckstein, has asked us to discuss the "difficult" cards in the Tarot deck, such as the Tower, Death, 10 of Swords, 3 of Swords, and the Devil. How do we work with cards like these? What do we tell clients? 

Last July I wrote a post about Death which covers the essence of how I feel about this topic. I'd like to repost it here, but first I want to mention some additional thoughts I have about why these cards are so important, and how versatile they really are:

Pamela Colman Smith Commemorative Deck
U.S. Games Systems

1) It's a slight misconception that receiving "difficult" cards in a reading is always a turn-off; sometimes it’s cathartic to receive a card like Death, or the 3 of Swords, in a reading because it acknowledges where we’re at. Sometimes all we really need is to know that we’re not struggling in a vacuum.

2) Without light, there is no shadow. We feel relief because we struggle. We hurt because we have loved. The dawn can only come after the night has passed (you get the idea). We read for the whole story, not for an idealized version of reality. Grief is part of life. To erase, or minimize, the difficult cards would be to ignore and gloss over the deeply real, painful, important parts of what it is to be alive. (I'll talk more about this in regards to Death, below)

3) Cards have degrees of intensity (even upright). Sometimes the 10 of Swords signifies a painful ending, but sometimes it’s back pain or exhaustion. The 3 of Swords can mean heartbreak or betrayal, but it can also highlight a sense of disappointment or subtle loneliness.

4) Change isn’t always external, or relationship-based; it doesn’t always mean that your house is going to burn down, or that job loss is imminent. Sometimes it’s about our inner worlds, our perspectives on life. The Tower can represent sudden illumination, a breakthrough that changes your understanding of a situation, or of yourself. It can be transformative and exhilarating, surprising, maybe, but not necessarily disastrous. And if it covers a short span of time, it can be perfectly mundane (the Tower was my weekly draw once when my cell phone fell and broke and my car battery died).

These cards are here for a purpose. They are just as crucial and necessary as the Star, the Sun, and the 2 of Cups. We should not edit the Tarot deck (as we discussed last Hop); if anything we should edit, or clarify, our intentions, release our expectations, prior to requesting, or conducting, a reading.  If we can approach the reading process with an open heart and a discerning mind, great insight, truth, and healing is available, no matter what cards appear in our spread. 

Silver Witchcraft Tarot - XVI Tower
Moore/Rivoli, Llewellyn Publications

Now I want to share a post that I composed specifically about the Death card, titled "Death Isn't Just a New Beginning":

"I've read several times recently (and it comes up quite a lot) that Death is nothing to be scared of, it simply means a new beginning, and isn't that wonderful?

I think this happens because of the over-vilification of Death in the past, especially on television shows or in the movies, where the card was played up as a symbol of impending doom, and usually physical death. There are many readers that want to make the card more friendly by now playing up the "new chapter" of life that is a natural result of big change, but I think that mindset, while understandable, robs the work that Death does, detracts from the importance of its process in our lives.

Because Death is a process. It's not called the "New Beginning" card because before something new (regardless of how wonderful it is) can begin, something else has to end. And with endings comes mourning, struggle, fear, and loss. And those are challenging emotions to experience, but there is great catharsis in allowing that grief to unfold. Anyone who has experienced the energy of the Death card understands that there is far more to it than a nice new start (even though if we have any awareness of what that new phase might be, it may serve as a nice focal point for us while we're in the trenches). It's work! It's sad, and it hurts, and at the same time there is a touching beauty to it because it's a sacred aspect of the experience of being alive, and of growth.

Vision Quest Tarot
Winter/Dose, U.S. Games Systems

I hope that all readers honor that sacred space if Death should appear in a reading. Rather than rushing to the "happy ending," place value on the journey involved.  It's true that having to convey difficult messages is a skill readers must work on (and one that takes time to develop) and sometimes it's easier to play up the sunny part - the new start - but it's really an art worth honing so that the full and powerful message that Death symbolizes isn't lost in translation.

I read a wonderful quote today that quite honestly made me cry, and it's the truest definition of the Death card (and some many recognize the Tower here as well) that I've ever read, and I want to share it with you:

Whatever can be threatened, whatever can be shaken, whatever you fear cannot stand, is destined to crash. Do not go down with the ship. Let that which is destined to become the past slip away. Believe that the real you is that which beckons from the future. If it is a sadder you, it will be a wiser one. And dawn will follow the darkness sooner or later. Rebirth can never come without death.” 
― Robert M. Price"

Finally, in honor of all of those "difficult" cards, here is a powerful, soul-piercing song from Ulali about death, healing, and honoring our ancestors:

Happy May Day, Happy Beltane, Happy Hopping!

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