Knowing whom to ask
I’ve been fascinated by Tarot ever since I was a kid. I was doing a play at a small amateur theatre when I was about nine or ten, and I found a book on the Tarot forgotten in the lighting booth. It was a small, thin book hardbound in dull yellow cloth. The illustrations, if I remember correctly, were of the Marseilles Tarot. I may have taken the book home with me when the show was over, but I’m not sure; I think I remember the director telling me that I might. In any case, when as a teenager I started to see cheap paperback books about the Tarot in stores, I snapped them up and read them long before I ever owned a deck. If you are of a certain age, you, too, may have read those mass-market paperbacks by Eden Gray.
The first deck I owned was, I think, the Mythic Tarot, which assimilated the deck to Greco-Roman mythology. I had a workbook for it, too, but I don’t know what became of deck and book. The first really significant deck I bought, having already bought the book, was the Motherpeace Tarot. Yes, I went through my matriarchy-Goddess-peace phase just like everyone else. I remember thinking how expensive the book was: $12.95! I defended the purchase to my mother by saying it had color illustrations.
While I haven’t used it in years, I still have that deck, in a bag I hand-sewed for it, and the book, crack-spined and falling apart. If nothing else, it’s an important artifact of my personal history, and there are still some cards in it I like very much.
The next deck which stands out in my memory is the Hallowquest deck or Arthurian Tarot, created by John and Caitlin Matthews and illustrated by Miranda Gray. This has gone in and out of print several times; I think I bought one of the first printings. It, too, remains personally important to me, with its figures from Arthurian legend and its mysterious number cards, open landscapes peopled only by bird and beast. I read the accompanying full-length book multiple times. My love for Arthurian legend goes back to childhood, to a coloring book of the movie Camelot and children’s versions of Malory.
Other decks I own include the Druidcraft Tarot, the New Hermetics Tarot, the Thoth Tarot, and of course the Waite-Smith Tarot, commonly known as the Rider-Waite. I have the Universal edition, which has a handsome dark blue reverse sprinkled with dull gold stars. It was Taroist Mary Greer who pointed out in one of her excellent books that several popular Tarot decks had been designed by a man but executed by a woman, particularly the Rider and the Thoth, and that instead of honoring the publisher and the male author, we should honor the female artist, too, and call it the Waite-Smith deck. The power of those images, now the standard for many people, surely owes much more to the astonishingly creative Pamela Colman Smith than to stuffy old Arthur Waite. Likewise Crowley had the ideas, but it was Lady Frieda Harris who produced the actual paintings that were eventually published as the Thoth deck.
I’ve spent quite a lot of money on Tarot decks and their associated books, and I’m not even going to mention the divination decks I have that aren’t Tarot (well, except the Druid Animal Oracle, which is probably my favorite non-Tarot deck. The Druid Herb Oracle is very nice, too.) Here’s the thing, though: I’m a pretty crap Tarot reader.
I can mess around with the idea of Tarot and do things like tell you what Court cards I associate with my friends, or what a Harry Potter Tarot or an Avengers Tarot would look like. My husband and I used to joke about drawing a Birdie Tarot. The High Priestess would depict our finch Hildegard perched between the cuttlebone (white) and the mineral block (black), and the Devil would be that terrifying force, The Broom. But as for actually laying down a spread of cards and getting some kind of clarity out of them, I’ve never gotten past the level of looking things up in books.
When I was in the Ancient Order of Druids in America, I made a thorough study of the Ogham system used in the order and did not only daily divinations but regular meditation as well. I think I was a rather better diviner with the abstract figures of the Ogham; they were the carriers of words, not pictures, and with the words came lines of poetry and reminders of stories and links to things in the world, a bird, a tool, a color, an animal. I don’t think I’m ever going to go into business as a diviner, though; what intuition I have seems not to work very well when you prod it too hard. In fact, it sometimes seems that the more intently I study a kind of divination, the less I pay attention to cues in the outer world, and my intuition suffers. I think it’s supposed to work the other way round.
When I became involved with Antinous, I fell back on divining with another method that had never worked terribly well for me, that is, using a pendulum for yes/no questions. I soon felt that something was different this time. Rather than using the pendulum to ask my subconscious, or my inner knowing, or my guides or whatever, I was using it to contact a specific divine being. I wanted a yes or a no from someone outside myself, not just a confirmation of what I or my inner wisdom *really* thought. And I noticed that the answers were pretty trustworthy.
In the past year of consulting the gods I worship, I have slowly refined my technique. I have learned not only to adjust my questions, but to start by asking if the gods are willing to answer questions about what I have in mind. I have also begun to work with a second method of divination, the Ephesia Grammata. These are letters which are actually words which are a kind of sacred formula that might also be six or seven individual spirits… and that’s all I’m going to say about them, because I don’t really feel competent yet to say more than that. I will just refer you to PSVL’s writings on the subject, which include a small but rich and helpful book.
I’ve found that oracles can be useful if you know not only what you need to ask, but whom. Consulting the Tarot is consulting the Tarot, unless one consciously makes it otherwise, and the Tarot rarely told me anything I didn’t know. I’ve seen skilled diviners use the deck and that’s obviously not the case for them. Using my pendulum or the Ephesia Grammata to consult the gods, or one specific god, using the method as a means rather than an end, has gotten me useful and trustworthy answers; it’s also boosted my ability to catch intuitive flashes and divine nudges and pick up what my gods trying to tell me. And that, I think, is the way it’s supposed to work.