A Ship, a Romance and Twenty-Two Tarot Cards

by Cherry Gilchrist

Sometimes in life our wishes and dreams do work out, but in a way quite different to what we expected. In 2006, I was guest lecturer on a ship cruising the Baltic, giving talks on mythology. Also on the ship was Robert Lee-Wade, artist-in-residence. Our early chats at the lecturers’ dinner table gradually blossomed into something warmer, and finally into romance. We had both been married before, and had both come through difficult times to a more mellow stage of life. Were we ready to try again? A few years earlier, I had had a reading from a lady who pronounced that I would soon meet someone who lived over the water. Hmm, I thought at the time – I don’t really want to start again in another culture, or have to handle an overseas relationship. She was right; he did live over the water but only in Belfast, Northern Ireland, which is another part of the UK. As my chief Tarot teacher used to say, ‘Funny how it works!’

We decided that a shipboard romance was wonderful, but that we really ought to test our relationship on dry land, to see if it had long-term potential. Water, in psychic terms, is powerful. I always have deliciously vivid dreams when at sea. Would this just prove to be another, waking version of the magical effects of water? We also had another kind of dream, that we would make a book together – I would write it, and Robert would supply the artwork.

A Ship, a Romance and Twenty-Two Tarot CardsTwo months later, we were able to meet again, and by the end of that year we were a united couple sharing a home. In 2009 we married, and are now living in Devon – it seems we can’t quite keep away from water though as our new, long-term home is close to the wide estuary of the River Exe!

Just as our romance seems to have had the helping hand of Providence, so has our book come about now too, but not exactly as we envisaged. Tarot Triumphs is a joint effort, with Robert creating the images of the Tarot cards to illustrate the expositions that I’ve written for them. Originally, I guess we had in mind some lavish travel-type tome, where Robert could provide his highly-skilled and sought-after oil paintings of places we have visited, and I would write up the myths and legends of those places. Again, ‘funny how it works’!

Tarot has long been dear to me, and when I decided to distill a lifetime’s experience of working with Tarot, into a book which would also to preserve the heritage of my own Tarot Master’s teachings, I wondered what I could do about illustrations. Obtaining permissions for reproducing existing packs, even historic ones, was very expensive, and it wasn’t going to be possible to use color plates either.  I was concerned.

‘Shall I draw them for you?’ Robert asked.

RLW Tarot 18
Well of course! Sometimes, the obvious solution is staring us in the face. So together we pondered series of marvelous images, mostly of historic Marseilles-style Tarot packs downloaded from the British Museum’s digital library. I brought out my own collection too, of course, lovingly assembled since my student days. Robert was new to Tarot, so it was an excellent opportunity for me to work out what was really essential to the image, and convey it to him with clarity. This in turn helped me to focus on the key components of the cards as I wrote about them.

Robert produced exquisite pen-and-ink line drawings of the cards, and as each one was completed, we scrutinized them to see if they conveyed the essence of the card. We were looking for the direct, vivid and vigorous form of Tarot imagery that is implicit in the old woodblock prints, for the cards that were printed for popular use in the 17th to 19th centuries. And we didn’t have the use of color to help us here, so each image had to  speak for itself, but still be a part of a coherent set. Gradually, the pack attained completion. It now graces the pages of the book, illustrating the individual cards as I explain their symbolism, history and significance. And so Tarot Triumphs contains another kind of ‘triumph’ too, the achievement of a dream that we hatched over the waters of the Baltic ten years ago.

RLW Tarot 01

Cherry Gilchrist is a long-term practitioner of the tarot. She has researched its provenance and related it to the systems such as the Kabbalah, alchemy, and astrology, of which she has special knowledge. She holds MA degrees in English literature and archaeology/anthropology from the University of Cambridge. Visit Cherry at www.cherrygilchrist.co.uk.

Cherry Gilchrist Titles

Tarot Triumphs | Alchemy: The Great Work

Honoring the Fortune-Teller

by Cherry Gilchrist

Is it acceptable to use the term fortune telling in conjunction with a Tarot reading? It might sound too simplistic, especially in such a skeptical age, when we are keen to prove that what we are doing is not superstitious nonsense. Tarot readings today are seen by serious practitioners as a sensitive interpretation of the archetypal messages relayed by the symbols on the cards. In my book Tarot Triumphs, I certainly encourage this approach, suggesting how we can contemplate the Tarot images in depth, and perhaps transcend individual limitations to align ourselves with a greater consciousness.

However, fortune-telling is firmly embedded in human culture. From time immemorial, we as human beings have longed to catch a glimpse of what is to come. You can see it in children – for me, in childhood, fortune-telling was a key to an enchanted kingdom. I loved counting petals on a flower or plum stones on a plate, and wiggling my fingers in those folding paper oracles which delivered a prediction when you unfolded the final paper corner. Was this just a foolish child’s game? I would say not; I didn’t really expect to get any definitive answers about who I would marry or what I would be when I grew up, but I did sense a magical world just around the corner, just out of reach, and I felt that these fortune-telling games opened the window into that world just a chink.Honoring the Fortune Teller

Perhaps we could describe fortune-telling as a kind of mechanical process that will never deliver a fully-attuned, wise reading of what the gods hold in store for us. So, by this definition, the kind of Tarot practice we aspire to should avoid such an approach. Again, I am not so sure. Such full, meaningful readings seem to be to be the apex of a pyramid that does include fundamental, ancient traditions of fortune-telling – after all, children’s games are often the last repository of ancient customs. And there is certainly a wealth of folk fortune-telling customs in human cultures – predicting the weather through omens, reading the progress of love through the flickering of candle flames, or the fall of tea leaves in a cup. Folk fortune-telling practices are a fascinating study in their own right, and are not so outdated, either. I visited Russia many times, where people are very much attuned to signs, portents and spirits of place. Here’s what I wrote in my book ‘Russian Magic’:

One of my guests dropped a knife on the floor as we were eating supper:

‘Oh – a man is coming,’ he told the assembled company.

‘And what if it was a spoon?’ I asked.

‘Then it would be a woman.’

He was absolutely right; a male visitor knocked at the door before the meal was over. Although he had only come to deliver a message, we invited him to sit down with us, and coaxed him into accepting a small plateful of food and a glass of vodka, as custom demands.

In Tarot, we have an exceptionally rich set of symbols, which can provide all the subtlety and complexity we need to penetrate the meaning of a situation. But Tarot itself has survived through adoption into folk culture. It has been preserved over the centuries by wandering fortune-tellers, perhaps too by gypsies and strolling players, and by thousands of ordinary people who played gambling games with Tarot packs and may have practiced fortune-telling with them from time to time as a kind of domestic game. In Tarot Triumphs, I write about an encounter with one such fortune-teller that I had many years ago in northern Italy, an old lady, reading Tarot in the market place for a young couple, and who was perhaps the last of a long line of traditional Tarot card readers. It showed me how a magical heritage can be found in humble places.

'Cherry reading the cards' - oil painting by Robert Lee-Wade, RUA
‘Cherry reading the cards’ – oil painting by Robert Lee-Wade, RUA

Tarot can therefore be simple and earthy, as well as a more sophisticated tool for divination. Most Tarot users in past centuries were probably illiterate, so the pictures were therefore their guides, with perhaps just a few simple rules handed down orally. But plainly, the crudely-printed, brightly colored Tarot packs produced for popular use in the 17th to 19th centuries, were meaningful to people, despite the lack of written explanation, or artistic finesse. Otherwise, Tarot itself would not have survived.

So I for one honor the place of fortune-telling in the Tarot tradition. It reminds us
that simplicity and playfulness can have their place in the spectrum of our Tarot practice. In my book, I suggest ways we can approach this, for instance by setting up a basic three-card reading before progressing to more complicated spreads. Keeping as part of our Tarot practice helps us to remain authentic, and in touch with the lineage that has carried Tarot through the centuries. You will see, in my book, that I also recommend the traditional Marseilles pack which is itself a part of this heritage, and has gathered a powerful resonance during its lifetime of several hundred years.

Cherry Gilchrist is a long-term practitioner of the tarot. She has researched its provenance and related it to the systems such as the Kabbalah, alchemy, and astrology, of which she has special knowledge. She holds MA degrees in English literature and archaeology/anthropology from the University of Cambridge. Visit Cherry at www.cherrygilchrist.co.uk.

Cherry Gilchrist Titles

Tarot Triumphs | Alchemy: The Great Work

A New Perspective on Interpreting Court Cards

by Marcia Masino

Accurate interpretation of the Tarot Court Cards can be a challenge for a reader when they appear in a spread for a query that doesn’t include other people. The Kings, Queens, Knights and Pages usually represent the individuals involved with the inquiry. The Page of Wands represents a youth, so why does it appear in financial question? Why does the Knight of Swords turn up for a woman’s property search when her realtor is a woman and there is no male influence involved? What about that repetitive Court card that shows up in your own readings that you haven’t been able to identify?

Usually a Court Card represents a person who is influencing the question from a past, present or future perspective and that may be a correct card interpretation however there is another explanation. When an unidentified aka cannot recognize him or her Court Card appears it may represent an aspect of your own nature that is influencing the question and therefore your future for good or ill. The positive character traits ascribed to the card are the qualities that may be utilised to bring about the desired outcome. Negative descriptions, usually read as reversals, will not only explain the behaviour that is creating a problem but how to correct adversity by simply looking to the card’s good personality qualities for guidance. The idea is to use this self awareness to interact with and co-create your future from a self empowered vantage point.

Here is a great example of the significance of the unrecognized Court Card. Recently a student asked me about “some weird man” that showed up in her Tarot session during her visit to a new reader. “She insisted he would be with me forever. I am seventy years old I have never had a loyal male figure in my life and I don’t think I will in the future since I do not want one. Anyway, I was asking about finding a new house, not romance.” Her opinion of the reader and therefore the reading had diminished. She had asked for guidance about her confusion in choosing the right home for herself and was frozen in fear, self doubt, scepticism and mistrust of her own judgement when assessing the virtues and flaws of the houses she was viewing.

A New Perspective on Interpreting Court Cards

The way she described the reader’s explanation struck me as indicating quite a different interpretation than the one offered to her. I asked my student which card it was and she said the Knight of Swords. This Knight appeared in her reading as a way shower, a healer and an agent for self transformation. The Knights are powerful cards that herald breakthroughs and positive direction. The Swords quality of personal integrity, in other words keeping true to her values, reason, intellect and clarity is what she needs to find her home. The Knight of Swords is an aspect of her own nature being pointed out to her. Of course he will always be with her, he is her! But, and this is where the healing challenge comes in, she needs to recognize and integrate his qualities in order to get unstuck from her house hunting dilemma. Her self – perception is the problem because she regards herself as the opposite of this Knight, indecisive, unable to accurately assess situations and inadequate.

By suggesting her past held many times when where she did make good decisions, trusted her observations and did act decisively with successful outcomes I refocussed her stuck fearful viewpoint using her own positive experiences. Of course she will require repeated reminders that she is the Knight of Swords to maintain her new positive self-awareness. One of the easiest techniques is one she devised, she now carries a picture of the Knight of Swords on her phone, goes to house viewings, looks at the card and is constantly reminding herself that he is her companion and ally.

Adding Court as character qualities to your interpretation repertoire can be very helpful. You can describe positive personality traits, challenges, lessons, best strategy, soul nature and spiritual strengths through them. Highlighting the individuality is empowering and shifts the focus of the reading from, “this is going to happen” to “this is who you are in relation to the question, these are your strengths and flaws by understanding them and being pro-active you are shaping your own future.”

I believe life gives us character challenges and gifts and to understand how they function within the context of a perplexing life area is important. For this reason, I designed The Whole Self Spread for my Best Tarot Practices book; it only uses the Court and Aces. The reading reveals who you are in relation to a repetitive or stuck situation based on all four court cards and qualified by their suit significances.

I explain the Kings as the authoritative, well developed personality that you know yourself to be, the Queens as the soul powers possibly unknown or underutilized, the Knights are spiritual lessons, powers and healers and they also denote turning points and significant life lesson accomplishment. The Pages since they represent youth denote the part of yourself that is growing, your evolution. The Wands represent courage, the Cups are faith, Swords are integrity and justice and Pentacles are labors with love.

Someone once said, the most important card in the spread is the one you cannot relate to. The unidentified, unknown Court card can point to an aspect of yourself and a character trait that holds the key to understanding the message of the reading. By interpreting the Court as qualities of self, soul, spirituality and evolution you may have discerned the hidden meaning of a life lesson, one in which personal empowerment is the real message.

Marcia Masino is a certified Grandmaster of tarot and author of the tarot classic Easy Tarot Guide. She has lectured at numerous tarot conferences and is a popular speaker for the Lily Dale Assembly workshop program. Her articles on metaphysical subjects have appeared in Fate and on the Web at www.Stariq.com. She lives in Pickering, Ontario, Canada.


Self Awareness and the Tarot Cards

by Marcia Masino

I believe that creative visualization with the Tarot cards can open new gateways to self awareness and personal transformation. Information held in the subconscious and soul self can become available by using guided visualizations based on the rich archetypal symbolism in the pictures. For many years I’ve guided students and clients alike in this process and witnessed the remarkable results so in order to share this aspect of Tarot I wrote specific meditations for each of the Major Arcana as well as for some of the troublesome Minor Arcana for my book Best Tarot Practices.

Think of the Major Arcana cards in your reading as the helping healing archetypes and the challenging minors + reversed court cards as describing the issue and personality responses. For example, the Minor card the Ten of Wands may be appearing frequently in your spreads. It represents blocked energy and obscured vision, burdens and pressures in need of rebalancing. But how?

Here is an example of the actual visualization from my book and a client’s meditation with this card.

Perform breathing and relaxation before starting your meditation.  Imagine you are the character in the Ten of Wands, hunched over with your burden of obligations and responsibilities symbolized as the bundle of wands.  Doesn’t it feel strained, as if you could drop the bundle at any time?  It isn’t carried appropriately.  It should be neatly bundled and on the character’s back, using the back’s natural strength, not carried on the front.  Feel the strain and the weight of the wands in your arms.  Feel how your vision is blocked.  The inability to imagine how to handle the responsibilities differently is also part of the problem.

Now see yourself slowly lay the bundle down.  Stand up straight and stretch.  Feel the release of tension and breathe deeply.  Take time to examine the wands before you pick them up again.  Are they really yours or are some responsibilities and burdens placed unfairly upon you?

Self Awareness and the Tarot Cards

Ask the character in the card, or your Higher Self, to help you to sort what is necessary for you to carry, what should be discarded and what can be tackled later. Concentrate on each of the ten wands and name them.  For example: career issues pressure, expectations, health, relationships, past pain, inappropriate behavior from self and others, guilt, martyrdom, etc.  Place each wand in one of three piles – now, later or never. Can you see how your preoccupation has kept hope, life and positive options and helpful influences from your attention?

Consolidate and repackage the bundle of wands in the “now” and “later” piles.  Leave the wands in the “never” pile (other people’s problems etc.) behind. You can burn them in an imaginary bonfire or actually write the titles on pieces of paper and burn them. Watch them disintegrate into ashes. Feel the peace and freedom from this gesture.

Place the later pile in a safe place this could be a cabinet, chest inside a tree in your imagination. Finalize the practice by easily carry the remaining wands in an appropriate container. Visualize yourself confidently striding towards your future holding the choices of personal responsibility in a carefree and mature manner.

This is an empowering meditation.  It helps you realize that you have choices about the responsibilities and beliefs you carry and the right to decide their priority in your life.

The client’s experience. “Love the image of me as 10 of Wands! Basically I wrote down 10 things I felt I was carrying and then I noticed that the phrases all started with the word “trying” or some version of trying. It felt like I was just pushing, moving blindly, very off balance, have to get this done, can’t stop, must keep going, always more to do, trying, trying.  It all felt like way too much trying.  Not so much the burdens, but the attitude.

So, I rewrote all the statements, reframing them.  “Trying to stay healthy”, became “being healthy”, “trying to make new friends”, became “enjoying my friends”, “trying to find a new home” became “waiting for my new home” etc.  Very simple but effective!  Then I hurt my back, ha ha.  I think I left out “trying to improve my physical mobility”!  It will now become “honouring my body”

“Amazing what cards can do for you with the right meditation!  The framework to unlock the personal meaning of the cards is very important.  I don’t think I could have connected with it myself after reading the card description alone.  Somehow the experiential part brings out that unique message.”

Without the visualization exercise she wouldn’t have known that she was carrying attitudes that were weighing her down and affecting her vision or viewpoint.  The hallmark of a true meditation is the realization of something new. In this case the client discovered her self sabotage attitude and was able to take her power of choice back from the unconscious by creating new positive statements, therefore accomplishing transformation of a negative to a positive through the Tarot visualization.

Marcia Masino is a certified Grandmaster of tarot and author of the tarot classic Easy Tarot Guide. She has lectured at numerous tarot conferences and is a popular speaker for the Lily Dale Assembly workshop program. Her articles on metaphysical subjects have appeared in Fate and on the Web at www.Stariq.com. She lives in Pickering, Ontario, Canada.