Elephant Bush Tarot

It looks a little like rain outside, an unidentified sapling is brushing cool green leaves against my window while soulful folk guitar fills the air. Its a crisp morning, and still just early enough that I feel like the world outside is more plants than people. A good time to wander in the woods, and if I were camping I think I’d be out exploring.

It seems lonely to think about anything but the present at times like these. I just pulled the nine of swords, and it echoed my morning so well – laying in bed, remembering my troubles just the same as I laid down last night, as if sleep was just a brief interlude between bouts of preoccupation. The swords against the black background is so bizarre contrasted with the peaceful light coming through my windows.

I began this blog inspired by my daily cards. I had just quit a job I almost hated and had decided to give myself, at least for awhile, over to the things I loved. A dear friend had recently moved away to study love and landscape, and I found I suddenly had nothing to do, and no-one to see. I was lonely, but free. I would spend whole days swimming in my daily cards and cobbling together blog posts to express some of the things I thought about.

Lonely freedom is a quality of the big nine, the Hermit. It is only lonely if the focus is on what isn’t present, who isn’t there with you. The Hermit himself may be at peace, no more lonely than if he were surrounded by people. But the nine of swords, today I think the Hermit of Swords, is tormented. The symbols stitched to the bedding offer no comfort. The swords press heavily in the background, pointing all in the same direction. I notice today there is less confusion in the card than raw misery. The swords all pointing the same way tells me that perhaps the card depicts a struggle against knowledge, a struggle against truth, a relentless search for a solution to a reality we can’t deny but also can’t accept.

The search may be conscious, unconscious, or both. In the card, it is subconscious, coming out in the night, but during the day we can consciously struggle against the way things are when they don’t feel right. Consciously, we may search for symbols to comfort us, a frame to understand, some way to make the reality more palatable. But the deepest parts of us may still be suffering, struggling, long after we’ve found a balance in our conscious lives. This is where expression is most important, where we stifle our thoughts and feelings for the sake of others, or even for ourselves to make relating simpler. I know I do this, I hide my difficult feelings to simplify my life, but in the end it comes out like it does in the nine of swords – misery in the dark, depriving me of peace, and in that way it complicates my life much more. I’ve often buried my feelings because I felt they didn’t match my values, who I wanted to be in my life and in my relationships. But that habit of burying has in my life compromised much more than my private world and my self image. It has compromised my ability to be honest, open, and loving in my conscious life. The nine of swords for me is my way of hiding inconvenient feelings, of struggling against reality by denying it, of being exhausted and feeling separate by keeping my words and feelings so tightly to myself, of walls so strong others rarely knowing how to get close enough in to soothe me.

The green light from the leaves outside my window and the small plants I keep make this card feel more natural. Plants express themselves as fully as they can every moment, never turning down an invitation to thrive, never hiding shriveled leaves or dying stalks. I try so hard to balance how I feel like I ought to show up for others against how I am feeling. My lesson is that I need to be more open and honest in my life, so I don’t feel so alone in my thoughts and feelings. Each sword might be a word I didn’t say, a loving word or an honest feeling. Today I’ll try not to hide my feelings so much, but I’ll also try and be present so I can feel the real space I actually inhabit, instead of running into the sharp edges of what I’m missing.


This article was written as a proposal for one of my courses, so its tone is academic. Enjoy!

About three years ago, I was introduced to a young woman, here fictionally named Merida, for a Tarot reading. A friend of mine had met Merida at work, and by listening to her troubles had decided a reading would do her good. Since Merida was a friend of a friend, it felt right to give the reading informally and for free. This ended up being a good choice, since Merida was young and poor, and would never have considered consulting a professional of any kind for help, let alone be able to afford such help. We ended up becoming friends and having several readings over the year, where I found her troubles to be surprisingly difficult and complex. Over the time we met, she realized a lot about her circumstances and made many brave choices to improve her life. Read the rest of this entry »

Counseling, Tarot, and Ethics

September 14, 2012

Graffiti found in NYC, 2012

This is a more formal essay written with a broader audience in mind than I typically write for. I want to reproduce the essay here since I feel the topic of ethics in divination can’t be discussed enough, and I’m eager to offer Tarot’s virtues as a counterpoint to the suspicion it endures in popular culture. Enjoy the essay and let me know what you think!

Tarot has come a long way from being a niche fortune telling tool. One can enter a mainstream bookstore and buy dozens of decks and books selling tarot as an oracle, meditation device, path for spiritual development, and a method of insight and healing. Contemporary psychologists have considered and documented Tarot’s therapeutic usefulness. In Tarot and Psychology by Arthur Rosengarten, a practicing psychologist, writes at length of Tarot’s usefulness in healing and therapy.

Unfortunately, tarot reading is represented in the mainstream as either hokey fortune telling or con-artistry, preying on superstition and magical thinking. Read the rest of this entry »