Saturday, April 22, 2017

Review of The Science Tarot by Logan Austeja Daniel, Martin Azevedo, and Raven Hanna

In honor of the Marches for Science taking place around the country today, and for Earth Day, I'm sharing again my review of the Science Tarot. This review first appeared at The Mojito Literary Society, and it describes why I consider the Science Tarot to be the perfect blend of data and divination.

You can still find this deck for sale. It's gorgeous, cohesive, and wonderful for readings. I highly recommend it!

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As the new year begins, I find myself hard at work promoting the book that's coming out (February 1st! OMG!) and writing the book that my editor wants to see a hundred pages for (another OMG). So my To-Be-Read pile of books is nearing skyscraper proportions, and it's not looking to be reduced anytime soon. Even when I'm too busy for reading, however, I always find time for working with my tarot cards.

This Christmas, I was excited to find a deck from my engineer hubby under the tree. Even better, it was a deck that managed to combine the awe and wonder of the material universe with the mystery and magic of the Tarot. I am having a great time reading about the creation of The Science Tarot, but an even better time working with the cards.

The key to making this combination of seemingly contradictory systems work is structure. Both science and tarot are highly organized, orderly collections of information. Both involve a progression that feels linear, but which is actually a series of cycles. The difference between the two is the main perspective lens -- science uses logic and rationality (left brain stuff) and tarot uses intuition and subconscious processing (right brain stuff). That's a bit reductive as an explanation, but as the Ace of Scalpels (Swords) points out, reductionism is a valid method for comprehension. It's part of the seeker's toolkit. It's just not the ONLY part.

Like traditional tarot, the Science Tarot is broken into the major arcana and the minor arcana. Likewise, the minor arcana are broken up into four thematic suits, which each contain numbered cards ace through ten, plus four court cards. The difference is in the nomenclature. For example, in traditional tarot, these suits are called Wands (Energy), Cups (Emotion), Swords (Intellect) and Pentacles (Physicality). The Science Tarot uses Bunsen Burners (Creation -- astronomy and cosmology), Beakers (Integration -- biology and ecology), Scalpels (Observation -- physics and math) and Magnifying Glasses (Exchange -- geology and chemistry).

For example, the Nine of Pentacles (represented in this deck by the Magnifying Glass) is Aurora, the stream of energized particles accelerating along Earth's magnetic lines that cast off excited electrons in the upper atmosphere, creating the mythic glow of the Northern Lights.This card in both decks represents the release of outdated things and ideas, leaving only the refined and cultivated newness behind. This process often entails sacrifice, but it is worth it for the end result.

Instead of Pages, Knights, Queens, and Kings, the Science Tarot present Explorers, Innovators, Storytellers, and Visionaries. For example, Carl Sagan is the Queen of Wands, the Storyteller whose intelligence and empathy welcomed others into scientific discovery.
The Major Arcana tells famous stories from science, or as the deck describes it, "shared experiences and moments of transformation." In traditional decks, these are the cards of grand archetypal experiences, the "big stuff" we all discover as we grow and evolve as human beings. For example, the Empress in traditional decks is represented here as Mendel's Peas. But both cards represent nurturing attendance and natural processes, a time for growth, patience and gestation.

By honoring the connection that science and myth share -- the wonder and awe that occur as we try to explain this universe and who we are within it -- the Science Tarot creates a bridge for skeptics who might dismiss the power of this ancient divination tool. Plus, it's just gorgeous, with each five sections rendered by a different artist, providing continuity within each suit and creating a tapestry of lush imagery overall.

I highly recommend this deck for both tarot beginners and more experienced readers. And it's especially useful for introducing someone who is maybe a little weirded out by tarot's "woo-woo" reputation to the power of their own subconscious.

To read more about the Science Tarot -- or to order it -- visit the website:

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Writerly Tarot: The Two of Swords

Hoodwinked, says Edgar Waite, one of the creators of the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot.

It's the word he uses to describe the figure on the Two of Swords. The current meaning of this word involves tricks and deceptions, but its original meaning takes us back to the same ancient sport we referenced two weeks ago in the Nine of Pentacles—falconry.

Falcons are hooded to keep them calm. A falcon's sight is much more acute than a human being's, which means the bird responds strongly to visual stimulus. Despite our decidedly inferior vision, we humans have the same inclinations. We chase distractions as if they were squirrels and mice, dashing here and there. Catch a Facebook post, pounce on an email.

The lady of the Two of Swords may be hooded, but she is hardly deceived. She has chosen the blindfold, chosen her weapons, though she is not holding them in an offensive manner. A blend of gracefulness and tension, the woman of this card is often pictured seated, with a dark body of water behind her, the moon hanging in the twilight sky. This is a challenging pose to manage, sitting poised and ready, feet flat on the ground—the swords are long, probably heavy, definitely sharp. It takes talent and skill and concentration.

The Two of Swords is a slice of edge magic, when circumstances balance on the thin clear line between yes and no, left and right, go or stay. Its power lies in its either/or aspects, and in its ability to inhabit both outcomes simultaneously until our choice unfolds into one reality, allowing the other reality to slip into the realm of "what might have been." It is the Schrodinger's Cat of magical phases, one that occupies the overlapping territory where decision and destiny meet.

This week, find your equipose, a temporary balance of force and interest. You'll find it where action and receptivity intercept, in a separate place that is nonetheless exactly where you already are. As you balance your talents and energies, as you pull away from the need to react and wait only for the time to act, you will discover what Waite called "concord in a state of arms."

What does it mean for your creativity, finding your equipose? It means to make your choices this week from a place of stillness and balance, not bustle and grasping. Yes, your to-do list may be long, but there is a reason each item is on there—you brought each item into your life. Before you engage, pull away from activity, plant your feet, arrange your swords in the proper manner...and contemplate the power of choosing. And then, when you are ready, make your move. An entire universe will be extinguished when you do, and an entirely new universe will flare into being.

May your edge magic be strong this week. May your swords swing quick and true.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

A Writer's Guide to Mercury Retrograde

It's here! Again!

Yes, Mercury Retrograde is once again upon us as of tomorrow. As a very Virgo Virgo (six of my ten planets are in that fussily practical sign) Mercury energy hits me with a wallop (Geminis, also ruled by Mercury, get an ever stronger dose, right in the veins as it were).

The retrograde refers to the time that Mercury appears to be going backward in the sky. It's not, of courseTHAT would be the retrograde to end all retrogrades—but because astrology is all about perspective, it's a time of significant and potent energy swirls nonetheless.

But Mercury gets a bad rap (one of my mystical friends calls it "The Scapegoat Planet"). Yes, its energy often manifests in a chaotic manner, but that's most often because we fight it. Mercury loves a good tussle, and will give as good as it gets, so put down your dukes and power up your flexibility muscle. You can emerge from Mercury Retrograde not only intact, but stronger for the bargain.

Here are some excellent strategies (if you have more, share them in the comments).

1. Think like The Magician.  Instead of fighting energy or trying to wrestle it into obedience, the Magician understand that when lightning strikes, best to make like a lightning rod and let that pow-bang move through you. Mercury will return your opposition as reaction if you work against it, but if you channel the energy, it is now yours to harness.

2. Ponder like the Seven of Pentacles. We are too often enamored of forward motion. We like speed. We like word counts. We like page totals and checklists checked off check check check. But Mercury Retrograde is about moving forward even if it feels like we are moving backward (emphasis on the "feels"; Mercury loves to play with our "feels"). This is the time for any activity beginning with re—: review, rewrite, rethink, rejoice, recalibrate, recheck, resubmit, rewind, reconsider, rework, and, my personal favorite, revise. Those efforts will be especially powerful now.

3. Chill like The Hanged Man. This is a card of ultimate paradox—to control we must let go. Be receptive to the gifts of surprise and delight that often bloom during the retrograde. Don't get trapped with a bad case of "ought to be"; instead, open to "what is." This is a time when you'll find yourself unexpectedly taking the scenic route, discovering serendipitous connections in mundane places, or finding that a setback has actually led you to an Aladdin's cave of treasures. Just breathe, watch, be patient. And relax, for crying out loud.

So there you have it, a recipe for creative success during Mercury Retrograde. Enjoy your time backtracking across the sky, and remember, the energy is only what you make of it.

You might want to back up that hard drive, though. Just saying.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

This Week's Writerly Tarot: The Nine of Pentacles

It seems only fitting that following so many cards related to tribe and community and collaboration, we now have a card of sovereign success and powerThe Nine of Pentacles. We last had a visit from this lady and her falcon back in June of 2015 (you can read that here) and I am heartened to have her grace us with her presence again.

Pentacles are considered a feminine suit in that they are about gathering inwardthey ask us to be receptive. Pentacles are also one of the order-making suits. Like the Swords, their masculine counterpart, they are about transforming chaos into understandable patterns. But while the Swords can often be efficiently brutal in this processyes, those blades do cut both waysthe Pentacles are gentler and at the same time stronger. Pentacles are foundational cards: seeds into mighty oaks, bricks into cathedrals, a humble abode into a safe and nurturing home.

Our Lady of the Falcon is all of these things. She is successful, as those golden coins and sumptuous clothes attest. She has labored long and hard, as anyone who has ever tended a garden will tell you. And she has tamed her wilder impulses, as personified by the predator on her arm.

Ah, but we are creative folk, yes? We know that below the surface lies a much more interesting tale. And it has as much to do with the nature of storytellersand storymakersas it does with the nature of falcons.

Writers court wildness. We offer our arms as a perching spot. We train and hone our minds to call it to us. Because if you've come this far in your creative journey, you know that wildness does not respond to being chased. As I explained previously, "Wildness comes to stillness. We must learn to be composed and self-contained to develop a relationship with the part of us which flies clean and high. The part of us that swoops in ever-widening gyres, but which--with trust and proper care--will always return to our arm."

This week, become the Lady of the Nine of Pentacles, the tarot's example of the self-made woman. Trust, release, and know that your wild soul will never desert you as long as you partner with it instead of trying to control it. Pull off the feathered hood. Do not fear its big sharp talonsthe better to feed you with, my dear.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Call It The Rider-Waite-SMITH, Please

Today is the last Sunday in March, which is Women's History Month. I thought it fitting to close out with a repeat of a previous column celebrating the woman at the heart of tarot, Pamela Coleman Smith, whose designs make up the famous Rider-Waite-Smith deck and whose name is often unfortunately, heinously, criminally left out of the deck's name.

You can still see her on the cards, though. Look on each for a small monogram of a “P” crossed with a looping “C” and “S.” It looks like a cross between a sigil and a logogram, and it is the signature of Pamela Coleman Smith.

You can find it easily in the lower right of the Three of Cups, the card that celebrates the richness of deep friendship. Smith chose to illustrate that card with three women dancing in joy and abundance and camaraderie, their golden chalices held high, and so now that card has become synonymous with the power of female relationship.

Pamela did that.
The Rider-Waite-Smith, also called the RWS, is the most famous of the tarot decks. Its images are well-known in popular culture. What is less well-known is how revolutionary those images are, how they completely transformed tarot interpretation. As the illustrator for the deck, Smith created pictorial scenes not just for the major cardsthe heavy hitters like Death and The Foolbut also for the pips, the numbered cards. By portraying the minor arcana in this way, Smith removed the separation between the "big" cards and the "little" ones, making the more mundane moments of our lives, the nostalgia and ennui and first heart-flutter of romance, as important and worthy of contemplation as the milestones.

She created scenes and peopled them with with dynamic characters, allowing the reader to literally imagine herself in the cards. Her background as a theatre major shows in these stagings, which are clear enough to get right to the heart of each card's energy, but intricate enough that the reader can layer her own life on top of them and read the detailshere a white dog, there a handful of rosesas personal revelation.

As Smith herself explains in an article entitled "Should the Art Student Think?":
"Note the dress, the type of face; see if you can trace the character in the face; note the pose. . . . First watch the simple forms of joy, of fear, of sorrow; look at the position taken by the whole body. . . . After you have found how to tell a simple story, put in more details. . . . Learn from everything, see everything, and above all feel everything! . . . Find eyes within, look for the door into the unknown country."

The door into the unknown country. Yes indeed.

It's one of the great unfairnesses that Smith received very little compensation for her work, and even less recognition for helping create what has become the most accessible and popular tarot deck of all time. As she wrote to her mentor, Alfred Stieglitz, "I have just completed a big job for very little cash!" Even her name got dropped from the deck, which is why I both write and speak that SMITH now in all caps.

She was a multi-faceted persona woman of color, a synaesthetic artist, and a member of The Order of the Golden Dawn who eventually converted to Catholicism. She published writers like William Butler Yeats in the magazine she founded, had her work exhibited at top notch galleries, worked as an illustrator for Bram Stoker, and yet she died penniless.

She was a fervent supporter of women's suffrage, lending her voice and her talents to the cause. Little is known about her romantic life except that she never did marry, preferring the company of women, it seems. She was eccentric, brilliant, generous, and lived a life of adventure and whole-hearted creative joy.

So when you speak of the tarot, be sure to give Pamela Colman Smith her due. Say her name loud and proud. 

In honor of her, and as a gift for you, I offer the Three of Cups this week. May you find joy and support and abundance among your tribe, and may you always know the love of good strong creative women.

For Further Reading:

The BBC's Bio of Pamela Colman Smith (with fascinating footnotes)

"Giving Thanks to Pamela Colman Smith" on Little Red Tarot

"Pamela Colman Smith" at Wikipedia (also with interesting footnotes and further source reading

Holly Voley's Website devoted to Pamela Colman Smith

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Reading for the Vernal Equinox

Like full moons and solstices, an equinox exists as a point in a continuum. Though we celebrate it as the day when light and dark are equal, it is actually a singular moment. Fleeting. Impossible to pin down. As liquid and relentlessly flowing as time itself.

The 2017 vernal equinox will be on Monday, March 20 at 6:28 AM when the sun crosses the celestial equator to enter the sky’s Northern Hemisphere. Known as Ostara, Eostre, or Alban Eilir in the Wheel of the Year, the spring equinox reminds us of the importance of balance. We are letting go of the hibernating, nurturing night and moving into the clean, fresh day.

Like an equinox, a tarot reading is also a moment. A snapshot of a slice of time. Unlike an equinox, however, a tarot reading captures that moment and holds it still. Once the cards are laid out, a tarot reading exists outside of time even as it perfectly preserves it. This allows us to make one singular moment tangible enough to look at and think about and quite literally hold in our hands.

I designed this Vernal Equinox spread in the shape of a flower, with one card as the stem, two cards as leaves, and one card as the blossoming petals. I also added another wild card floating above my flower (like a bee or butterfly) to represent any external energies affecting our reading. This allows us to explore the foundational conditions carried over from the winter, supporting energies, the flower itself, and any other something that might come buzzing up.

And here is what I got.

Well. Things started off solid enough with the Six of Pentacles as the stem. This is often called the karma card, described in the Steampunk Tarot (which you'll see pictured in the spread) as the card of flowing material resources. Flow looks like a very chaotic and random processand in many ways it as, as one cannot predict where one particular droplet of water will end up when all is said and donebut fluid dynamics calculates the process of flow quite accurately. And that is what karma is, after allaction flowing inexorably into consequence.

(PS: We see this idea continued in our final result, our blooming Wheel of Fortune. But we'll get to that in a second).

Our supporting influences (the leaves) are the Queen of Pentacles and the Two of Cups. This Queen represents someone who provides material comfort and support, so be grateful when she shows up this spring, and say thank you. The Two of Cups classically refers to a romantic attraction, but it can also mean any emotionally exciting partnership, especially in its early stages.

Our final resultour bountiful floweris the Wheel of Fortune. For while the Six of Pentacles is about cause and effect, the Wheel is about randomness. But if you've ever studied fractal patterns, you know that even in the most seemingly random occurrence, you'll see the spiraling patterns of order. Which is so seductive, after all. To know the rules is to know the order, and to know the order is to predict and protect.

Ah. But then there is the Tower. I had hoped that spring would bring us something like a bee or butterfly, a pollinator of some kind. Alas. We get the unexpected freeze and the hard rain as surprise guests. But not all is lost. The Tower is no friendly card, but the destruction it foretells has always been inevitable. And the clean space it leaves behind is the best ground to till for whatever you want to come next. What will that be? That is up to you.

So creative ones, batten down the hatches and the hatchlings and any other delicate objectsthis spring is going to be a wild ride. Projects will live and die and be reborn in astounding ways. You will receive help from unexpected quarters and unforeseen partners. Yes, rough winds may shake the darling buds this month, but destruction and construction are two sides of the same coin. Practice what Keats called the negative capability, the ability to hold two contrary ideas simultaneously and not seek to reconcile them, and you'll be fine.

Is it all just a big dice game? Or is there some inherent meaning under it all? The answer is yes.

Now go out there with the birds and the bees and create something. Will it last? Who knows? Make it as beautiful and true as you can regardless. That's all the Universe asks of us. And enjoy the creating. The birds and the bees surely do.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

This Week's Writerly Tarot: The Devil

Say what you will, the Devil is certainly an attention-getting card. I mean, look at itin the Rider-Waite-Smith, it's a symbolic buffet of everything our culture regards as evil, personified by the goat-headed and bat-winged Baphomet, the upside-down pentacle, the naked human figures in chains. Darkness. Damnation. Despair. It's all in there.

Except that it's not.

Like most of the more unfriendly-looking cards, there's a deeper meaning that isn't so overtly terrifying. In the Steampunk Tarot, the Devil is a red-hot coal-guzzling machine of our own making that requires constant stoking, constant attention. In the Druidcraft deck, the Celtic horned god Cernunnos takes the place of the Devil, and reminds us that our pleasures can sometimes become our addictions. In the World Spirit tarot, the Devil looks like a rock star with flowing black hair and skintight leather pants, and he stands on a stage with hellfire burning behind him; this Devil is all about temptation and the taboo.

So what does the Devil right in front of us have to say? As always, a closer look reveals the truth. For even though the slightly demonic humans on this card are chained to their demons (literally), the chains are loose around their necks, easy to slip off if they wanted to. And that's the key to understanding the bondage pictured here—it's voluntary. We forged the chains that hold us. We are complicit in our own domination. But we have the power to slip free.

Ponder the things that bind you—how many of them are things you have created yourself? As a writer, I sometimes spend more time emailing, blogging, Facebooking, tweeting, reviewing, promoting, marketing, and updating my website than I do actually working on my WIP. And the thing is, I invited all these things into my life. I heaped them on my plate all by myself. Busyness can be utterly addicting, I have discovered.

This week, look at the chains you have willingly created link by link. Some of them might be pretty; some of them might have been useful once upon a time. Surely some are loose enough to slip right off your neck. Shake 'em off, baby. Leave 'em on the floor as you walk away.