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Impermanence - Thoughts on the Tarot Death Card

Impermanence 400 In Tarot, nothing scares the shit out of people more than the Death card.

Well, maybe The Tower or The Devil, but still….Death’s the favored heebie-jeebie inducer.

And it’s a shame, really, because Death—associated with the powerfully intense, deep and transformative sign of Scorpio—offers us a profound perspective on impermanence and the circle of life.

That’s why we named the Snowland Tarot’s version of the Death card Impermanence, to better reflect this card’s energy and remove the intimidation. (And this is also why we’ve renamed The Devil Trapped and are renaming The Tower card Removal).

The snowman, comprised of water molecules, melts. But is he really dead?

A moose drinks from water fed by the melted snowman. Evaporated water turns into clouds and—what’s that I see?—a winking, smiling snowman. And a bluejay is about to eat a bug…

Nature is an incredible teacher, no?

I’ve always felt that Death was an ill-suited name for this Tarot card. Death, in terms of the dictionary, means the permanent cessation of life. The end.

But Death, or in Snowland Tarot’s case, Impermanence, doesn’t reflect permanent endings in the least. The 10 of Swords does, yes, because it’s a part of the Minor Arcana which not only reflects daily living, but also the limited perspectives humanity brings to the “big stuff”. If there’s an “ending” card in Tarot, it’s the 10 of Swords, in my opinion.

Melted Snowman 200 And the “big stuff”—those universal patterns reflected in all countries, cultures, eras—they are reflected by the Major Arcana, which Death is among (Trump 13 to be exact, which is yet another superstitious reason that people great freaked by this card).

So I don’t see the Death card as a permanent ending. A change has taken place, but it’s more than that (change is most reflected in The Wheel of Fortune, from my perspective). There has been an actual transformation (which is why Death has been renamed The Phoenix in other decks, better showing this card’s energy), one in which a passing of one thing has led to the generation of another.

Take reading a book, as an example.

Yes, when I’ve reached The End, it’s, well, the end! But is it really? Of course not! The images stay in my mind! The lesson, message, or storyline has become a part of me!

And if the media gets hold of it, it’s will remain in posterity in the form of a movie, merchandising, sequels, video game, interactive website, fan discussion boards, FB post, Tweet, Amazon review, book club and so on.

If you subscribe to life after death, then you’re already comfortable with the idea of our spirit outlasting our earthly form. But even if you’re an atheist, our life still survives our earthly termination!

Winking Snowman 200 How?

We survive via our family, friends, children, creative projects, conversations, interactions…

So Death isn’t an ending, nor is it necessarily a beginning (think of a caterpillar and a moth). Rather, the energy of Death in Tarot is regeneration. It’s movement, not stagnancy (reversed, however, it is!).

For example, consider these wise observations on the Death card by Lon Milo DuQuette in his book Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot:

The Death card of the Thoth Tarot is the antithesis of those found in traditional packs. This is no stiff grim reaper standing on the Earth, indiscriminately mowing down people, young and old, humble and highborn. This Death is vivacious and flexible. He wears the crown of Osiris and dances madly on the bottom of the sea. Instead of mowing down the living, he uses his scythe to stir up bubbles of new lives from out of the seemingly dead and decaying sediment.

What we term physical death is, indeed, inescapable (much like taxes, another part of the astrological 8th House ruled by Scorpio!). Like the Rider-Waite-Smith version, death does “mow down” everyone, regardless of status.

That perspective a mere earthly take on this card, one not worthy of a Major Arcana key.

No, Death, or what I love to call Impermanence, reminds us that we “die daily”, and anything we see is a mere passing snapshot. How we survive our death, our legacy, is up to us.

But survive, we will.

Have you "liked" the Snowland Tarot on Facebook? If not, here's your own personal invitation! Just visit our Snowland Tarot Facebook page to see sketches, in-progress images, and final cards--or to chat with us or win some Snowland swag in a giveaway. We're also on Twitter at @TeamSnowland. And don't forget SnowlandBlog.com! To see all completed cards, in miniature, take a looksee at SnowlandTarot.com.

-- Janet Boyer, Amazon Top/Vine Reviewer, author of Back in Time Tarot, Tarot in Reverse (Schiffer 2012) and the Snowland Tarot (Schiffer 2013). Featured in Tales of the Revolution: True Stories of People Who Are Poking the Box and Making a Difference (A Domino Project eBook edited by Seth Godin)   

BIT Tarot Snapshot: First Trip to Walt Disney World

The BIT (Back in Time) Tarot Method is a technique created by Janet Boyer for examining events, people, stories and memories, and is the basis of her book Back in Time Tarot  (Hampton Roads Publishing).

“What a celebrated symbol that Star is! So many stories, poems, songs about a falling star, a lonely star, a twinkling star, a shining star, wish upon a star, you are my star, written in the stars, star wars, and so on. Such is the power of a Star, but what makes it so? A Star can convey our wishes to eternity.” – From Playing with Symbols: The Essential Companion Book to the Sakki-Sakki Tarot

Disney 1 “When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are, anything your heart desires will come to you…”  From the Walt Disney motion picture Pinocchio, this lilting, magical song won an Academy Award for best song in 1940. Still readily recognizable by young and old, When You Wish upon a Star captures the childhood nursery rhyme “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight…I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight.”—a rhyme of longed for hopes and dreams.

One of my fondest wishes was to visit Walt Disney World (WDW) in Orlando, Florida. Well, in May of 2006, an unusual dream filled my sleep, one where my family and I were at WDW. When I awoke, a strange feeling overcame me. I felt that I was supposed to go to WDW—that year.

Not expecting an enthusiastic response (let alone in the affirmative), I awakened my husband and told him of my dream. I asked him point blank—can we go to WDW in August for our anniversary?

Imagine my surprise when he was quite open to the idea! In fact, I started planning the vacation that day—and we celebrated our ninth wedding anniversary at WDW.

Disney hatStar – I chose this card to represent the childlike longing I had in my heart to visit WDW. No one I knew had ever visited the parks, and I’m not sure where my desire originated—except, perhaps, my love for Disney movies and their celebration of the Magical Child archetype.

Queen of Wands – Was it the Queen of Wands-like power of persuasion that convinced my husband to agree to a rather spontaneous vacation? While that could be true most times, I can’t help believe that my dream—and our vacation—was something planned beyond this earthly realm…

The Fool – Although I expected a Knight of Pentacles response (or perhaps even the Four of Pentacles!) from my husband, he got in the spirit of the trip much like The Fool. He was willing to take the financial risk, willing to go on a (probable) once-in-a-lifetime vacation and excitedly joined in on this unexpected whirlwind—based on a dream.

Eight of Wands – I see this as a “smooth sailing” card and everything about our flight to Florida was smooth and enjoyable. We didn’t have to wait through security lines at the airport, and although it was the first plane trip for my husband and son (and only my second) we weren’t nervous at all.

Cirque 300 Four of Wands – One of the first things we did in Florida was attend La Nouba, the permanent Cirque du Soleil shows located at the Downtown Disney area. This energetic acrobatic circus group performed astounding feats of agility and daring, while live musicians and interactive clowns accompanied the highly skilled dancers, gymnasts and cyclists. This amazing show reminded me of the Four of Wands card in the Victorian Romantic Tarot by Karen Mahony and Alex Ukolov, which depicts traveling performers on an outdoor stage.

In the companion book to this deck, Karen writes of this card, “The Four of Wands is about the joy and sense of freedom that comes from taking time out from the usual routine. Nowadays carnivals, parades and rock festivals are often the events that allow us to be a bit outrageous, do something daring, have fun and just forget work and responsibilities for awhile.” She notes that in the nineteenth century, it was more likely circuses and traveling fairs “that provided this temporary social liberation.”

Six of Cups – Every “Cast Member”, as WDW employees are called, was extraordinarily kind. One time, we were trying to figure out how to get all of us in a picture, and a Cast Member—not even on duty, just walking through the park—stopped and cheerfully asked if she could take our picture for us. The proactive kindness of WDW employees reminded me of the benevolent gift portrayed in many versions of this card: the gift of flowers.

Disney 5 Six of Wands – One of the many highlights of WDW is the amazing parades held in the various parks. From the brightly lit SpectroMagic parade held in the dark of night to (my favorite) Share a Dream Come True parade featuring spectacular snow globe floats, glorious music and over 100 performers, the gleeful anticipation of beloved Disney characters arriving in fantastical fashion encapsulates a primary energy of the Six of Wands card.

The World – At one point, we were in Epcot and struck up a conversation with a gentleman from Syria. My favorite park in WDW, Epcot features pavilions, entertainment and restaurants from around the world. During the informative conversation, he mentioned that another family from Pennsylvania once talked to him and they were from a “sister city” that shared the same name of his hometown in Syria. Interestingly, my husband once lived in this very town in Pennsylvania! “It’s a small world after all…”—indeed!

Your Turn

• Recall a favorite vacation destination, trip or outing you’ve experienced. Which Tarot cards would you select to represent what you saw, felt and heard during that time?

• Whether on TV, in person, from a book or during a movie, have you ever witnessed what can only be deemed a “spectacle”? Re-create the scenario using Tarot cards.

• Think of a Disney movie, TV special or character that enjoys enduring popularity or currently seems “everywhere” these days. Choose Tarot cards that you feel captures the essence of the character, show or related accoutrements.

Yes, those are actual pictures of our first (and only) trip to Walt Disney World!

New to Tarot? 20 Things You Should Know

Q mark 150 Because I’m a published Tarot author, reviewer, blogger, teacher and reader, I often get emails asking about prevalent superstitions surrounding the cards, as well as questions on the best books, decks, techniques and modes of learning.Here are twenty of my top suggestions for those new to Tarot, those struggling to learn the cards and gain confidence, and those wondering if they’re “doing it all wrong” or confused by all the advice swirling around:

1. Your first deck, or any subsequent decks, does not have to be given to you as a present. That’s just ridiculous (and probably an old control tactic by “those in the know” to keep the cards out of the hands of the masses).

Magician 250 2. Tarot does not conflict with any religion, nor does it advocate any spiritual path. If the Christian-looking images of the Rider-Waite Tarot decks (and its clones) offend your sensibilities, you can view such depictions as symbolic (after all, we all have “moments of judgment” or karma, in case of Judgement, or must confront “spiritual leaders” or traditions represented by the Catholic-looking Hierophant—to use two examples). Alternatively, you can pick a deck that does support your spiritual path (Wicca, Paganism, Gnosticism, Hermeticism, Elementals, Sufism, Buddhism, Mayan, Druidism, Norse, Native American, etc.)—or a deck without any spiritual connection.

3. There’s no wrong way to read Tarot. I don’t care what anyone tells you, there is no wrong way. You imbue the cards with meaning, which you then absorb for your own edification or for the benefit of those you read for. Yes, there may be archetypal patterns, symbols and motifs that may be mined for extra information, but using those for interpretation doesn’t make a method any more “right” (or wrong) than just “saying what you see”.

Hermit 250 4. Studying esoteric subjects like Astrology, Numerology, Kabbalah, Hermeticism or Crowley’s writings are not necessary to learn, understand and use the Tarot effectively and accurately. They may supplement and enrich your understanding, but they are not required.

5. Each person has different learning styles. What works for someone else, or is touted as the “best way”, may not be suitable for your own style. For example, learning rote keywords never made sense to me, nor did they enhance my way of experiencing the cards. However, making the Tarot “mine” by associating real-world examples and pop culture with the cards helped me make friends with any deck (this approach turned into my BIT Tarot Method, the subject of my book Back in Time Tarot).

Find out your preferred learning style, and approach Tarot from that strength. For example, when talking to someone you may say, “I see what you mean” (Visual learner), “I’m not following you” (Kinesthetic learner), “Let me think about it” (Analytical learner) or “How does that sound?” (Auditory learner). When learning, you may prefer hands-on exercises (Kinesthetic), reading text (Visual) or studying with music, surrounded by noise, or by listening to audio classes or podcasts (Auditory).

Mother Nature 250 6. You are not required to meditate, say a prayer, do a ritual or invoke anyone/anything before doing a Tarot reading. If one of these helps you create a sacred space or center your energy, do it. However, it is not necessary. Some people, consider their life a “living prayer”, so doing something special just isn’t relevant most times.

7. You do not need to store your cards in a special cloth, box or bag. Nor do you need to “cleanse” it with crystals, moonlight, sage or any other accoutrement. Again, you may if want to, but it’s not a requirement and will not affect the cards or its messages.

8. Shuffle the deck, and cut it, any damn way you please. “Shuffle with your non-dominant hand, cut into thirds and do the hokey pokey” is nonsense. Do what you feel is best—hand over hand, poker style or “finger painting”. Know, though, that some shuffling methods are harder on the card stock, which may shorten the life of the deck.

Moon 250 9. Choose a deck with an animated Minor Arcana. That is, for the number cards (Ace-10s), make sure the images show people or animals doing things. This will help you come up with meanings and cement card associations. A deck that just shows “pips” alone—four swords, three cups, ten coins, etc.—will be more difficult for you to pair with relevant associations and meanings.

10. Becoming familiar with the cards takes time. Be patient with yourself and the learning process. Play with your cards every day, even if it’s just looking at them. Soak up information on Tarot (as long as it doesn’t overwhelm you). But whatever you do, do not measure your progress against others nor become discouraged if you don’t “get it” within a few weeks…or months. We’re talking 78 cards here! Cards filled with wisdom and symbols and hidden meanings! Just as you can’t truly know a person within super-short time, it will take awhile to comfortably devise, and remember, what each card means for you.

Sun Final 25011. Tarot is not just for fortunetelling. The cards can be used for creative writing, meditation, visualization, affirmations, conscious creation, dialoguing with others, brainstorming, journaling prompts, talismans, art and so much more.

12. If the idea of learning 78 cards overwhelms you, start with your memories, history, favorite movie, a book, fairytale, songs, news headline, etc.—and work outwards towards the cards. (Click here for an introduction to this technique, known as the BIT Tarot Method).

13. Spreads are not necessary. In fact, they can often be cumbersome, and give you a whole bunch of extraneous stuff that only distracts and confuses. You’d be surprised at how much information you can glean from just one card, or even three, for any given situation.

2 of Cups 250 14. Acquire decks that appeal to you, not what others say are the “best” decks to use. If you love fairies and those types of decks “speak” to you, then by all means get them. Likewise, vampires, angels, flowers, constellations, herbs, gummy bears, dragons, snowmen and so on. As long as there is movement in the images, “stories” that seem to be playing out in the scenes, then pick whatever looks attractive and feels right for you.

15. Consider keeping a journal of your Tarot card associations and impressions. Many Tarot enthusiasts regret not having done so. When you start using one from the ground up, you’ll eventually have a comprehensive and illuminating personal cache of associations that you’ll be able to draw upon and, perhaps, one day share with others new to the cards.

16. Get to know one or two decks intimately before acquiring new decks. Not only will this be easier on your wallet, but you’ll also have a better idea of what kind of decks resonate with you…or will likely expand your experience in a different direction when the time comes for new ones.

Ace of Swords 250 17. Keep your Tarot library small…at first. If you feel you must have a few beginner or intermediate books on hand, I recommend The Back in Time Tarot Book (my first first book); Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Tarot by Mark McElroy; What’s in the Cards for You? by Mark McElroy; 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card by Mary K. Greer and The 2-Hour Tarot Tutor by Wilma Carroll. In all honesty, if you follow the methods and suggestions in these five books, you’ll never need another Tarot book. (Note: I said need, not necessarily want!)

18. Hold off learning and using reversals (upside down Tarot cards) until you have a strong grip on upright associations and meanings. You can always add them to your practice later, should you choose to do so. (My book Tarot in Reverse is the first book to provide extensive key phrases and pop culture anecdotes specifically for reversals, which will aid many trying to understand those cards that fall upside down in a reading).

19. If you come across a Tarot card meaning that makes no sense to you, toss it out. Remember, what matters most is the associations you come up with for the cards—meanings that make sense to you.

20. A brilliant researcher and personality system pioneer once told me “Trust Self first, last and only”.  Not only was this one of the best pieces of advice that I’ve ever received about life in general, but also for learning the cards. Lack of self-confidence is the biggest obstacle to sticking with the Tarot and using it effectively. Trust that the meanings you create, and the answers you receive, are valuable and appropriate. This confidence will translate into greater self-reliance, accuracy and insight when reading the cards.

The Tarot cards used to illustrate this post are from the Snowland Deck by Janet and Ron Boyer. You can learn more about this deck at SnowlandDeck.com and the official Facebook page here.

-- Janet

Four Elements in the Tarot

Four elements text 175 The four elements and their respective symbols, which are often on the table (or in the vicinity) of The Magician card, are the Cup (Water), the Wand (Fire), the Coin (Earth) and the Sword (Air).

The four elements are rich and fascinating exploration, especially since the Aces embody the elements and the Minor Arcana suits reflect how they play out in everyday life.

From my experience and perspective, the associations and issues connected with the four elements and suits are:

Water WATER - Cups, Chalices, Bowls, Hearts, Vessels or other receptacle for holding. It is considered feminine/passive in nature. Colors often used in Water cards are deep blues, aqua and, in some cases, gold (in terms of cup color and preciousness) and pink. WATER/CUPS connects with relationships, feelings, dreams, values, moods, the unconscious/subconscious, psychic phenomena, empathy, compassion, forgiveness and matters of the heart. Its energy is often slower in nature--steeping, stewing, and gently flowing. In ancient Tarot de Marseilles style decks, the CUPS suit was associated with the clergy. In the four-humor model, WATER is sanguine. In terms of Jungian function, WATER is Feeling and Introverted.

Earth EARTH - Coins, Pentacles, Disks, Crystals, Diamonds or other round object. It is considered feminine/passive in nature. Colors often used in Earth cards are greens and browns, sometimes gold (in terms of money). EARTH/COINS connect with the physical realm, such as material possessions, money, job, health, land, food, home and environment. Its energy is usually quite slow—
cautious and methodical. In ancient Tarot de Marseilles style decks, COINS suit was associated with the merchant class. In the four-humor model, EARTH is phlegmatic. In terms of Jungian function, EARTH is Sensing and Introverted.

Fire FIRE - Wands, Batons, Staffs, Sticks or Clubs, its phallic shape connects it with the masculine/active. Colors often used in Fire cards are red and orange, sometimes bright yellow. FIRE/WANDS connects with passion, energy, enthusiasm, courage, gumption, vocation, career (as opposed to actual job), and many issues related to the "self" (as in, "self starter", “self esteem”, "self propelled", "self possessed", etc.). Its energy is sudden and sometimes explosive. In ancient Tarot de Marseilles style decks, the WANDS suit was associated with the peasant class. In the four-humor model, FIRE is choleric. In terms of Jungian function, FIRE is iNtuition and Extroverted.

Air AIR - Swords, Blades, Arrows or Spades, its shape is also phallic, and thus masculine/active. Colors often used in Air cards are powder blue, gray, white and at times, yellow (especially pale yellow). AIR/SWORDS suit connects with the mental realm of thoughts, communication, decisions, beliefs, judgments, opinions and so on. Some people believe that thoughts cause suffering, not situations. Thus, the AIR/SWORDS suit is often attributed to arguments, hostility, anxiety and suffering. In ancient Tarot de Marseilles style decks, the SWORDS suit was associated with nobility. In the four-humor model, AIR is melancholic. In terms of Jungian function, AIR is Thinking and Extroverted.

Different authors sometimes associate various functions to the elements/suits, but these are the ones that make the most sense to me. And, you'll get a whole range of associations with seasons, too. For me, what makes the most sense is:

WATER/CUPS: Summer (Pool! Sunshine! Drinks!)
EARTH/COINS: Fall (Harvest time; A slowing down)
FIRE/WANDS: Spring (New life sprouting; New energy)
AIR/SWORDS: Winter (Cold weather; Clarity; Sharpness)

Of course, those are Northern Hemisphere associations.

How do you see the four elements correlating with the Tarot? How might my correlations--or yours or others--inform specific Tarot cards? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

-- Janet Boyer, author of Back in Time Tarot

What is Tarot?

Tarot eBook smallTarot, pronounced "tah-ROW" or "TARE-oh", is a set of 78 cards long associated with turban-clad fortunetellers or gypsies. However, in addition to divination, modern practitioners use Tarot for brainstorming, counseling, creative writing and inspiration. Some Jungian psychologists even use the cards as a part of therapy.

The Tarot is made up of three distinct parts:

The Major Arcana: These 22 cards, originally called "Triumphs" in medieval Italy where they were used for a card game called Tarocchi, reflect universal archetypes. The Fool, The Magician, The Lovers, Wheel of Fortune and Death are some of the most recognizable cards of the Major Arcana. ("Arcana" is a word meaning "secrets"; thus, Major Arcana can be interpreted to mean "big secrets" or "large mysteries"--cycles and themes common everyone).

PCS 13 The Minor Arcana:These 40 cards mirror the numbered cards of a regular playing card deck. Instead of clubs, diamonds, spades and hearts, the Tarot Minor Arcana ("lesser secrets") suits often adhere to the suit pattern of wands, pentacles, swords and cups. These cards are said to reflect the everyday occurrences in our life--both the joyful and the sorrowful. The wands are usually associated with the element of fire and passionate action. The pentacles suit, associated with earth, covers the material world--money, health, home and possessions. Swords reflect the element of air and the realm of the intellect (including thoughts, judgments, decisions and conflict). Cups is the emotional suit, a world of dreams, notions, feelings and relationships.

The Court Cards: Similar to the face cards in a regular playing deck (minus four), these 16 cards are usually known by the page, knight, queen and king demarcation. Pages are youthful, knights are energetic, queens are nurturing and kings are governing. Some Tarot readers interpret the court cards as actual people, while others feel these cards reflect facts of our personality--with several "faces" presenting themselves within a day.

-- Janet Boyer

The card to the right is the 7 of Cups from the Smith Waite Tarot Centennial Edition deck, published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.