30 March 2019

The Court Cards

The traditional Rider-Waite Deck court cards

Traditional tarot decks, like the playing cards to which they are related, have four court cards: Page, Knight, Queen and King. The court cards usually stand for people in readings, whether the person asking the question or people in the querent’s life. These court designations feel archaic and hierarchical to me, though, and the way they’re gendered leaves only one female, the Queen. I don’t want to follow suit (a little joke there) but what to do instead? I just purchased the small deck pictured below, called the Mesquite Tarot, that shows an alternate approach to the court cards. The Mesquite Tarot calls the court cards “character cards” and the designations they’ve chosen are Novice, Student, Knower, and Leader. Those don’t quite work for me (I especially don’t think that “student” captures the force and action of the knight card), but I like the idea of a progression, from less to more experience and accomplishment.


I’ve been working closely with a thesaurus and consulting with a friend who knows the cards quite well and he’s helped me get clear about what I’m looking for in naming these four characters. I want words that are evocative and poetic, that work with the traditional meanings of the cards, that hang together as four related words, that aren’t gendered, and that don’t carry a lot of baggage. Tall order, but we’re getting there.

16 March 2019

Ten of Air



The ten is both an ending and a beginning. A cycle, event, or undertaking has reached its full expression and has concluded and now a new cycle begins, which will be informed by the wisdom and experience gained in the previous cycle. There’s an emptiness and perfection in the ten. Nothing is wanting. There’s no going backwards, but there’s also no way forward until a new impulse (Ace) arises.

The Ten of Air (swords in the traditional deck) is often depicted as a man who is apparently dead, with ten swords in his back. I don’t see the ten that way. If anything, I see the Ten of Air as “empty mind” — the interval between one thought and the next, a space which is both empty and full, a space of pure awareness. Some people find this emptiness intolerable, so maybe that’s why it’s been depicted as a death. But if we truly observe our minds, this empty space is quite natural. It’s the field in which all of our thinking and believing and scheming take place. And new thoughts will come, as surely as dawn follows night.

I'm about to leave for a week-long mokuhanga teaching adventure in Maryland at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center, so I'll be taking a short break from my tarot cards, which is good because I have some thinking to do about how I'm going to handle the "court cards" of each suit—the Page, Knight, King and Queen found in the Rider and many other decks.

15 March 2019

Nine of Air


With the nine comes the final stage of action. Things have run their course, everything that can be done in this situation has been done, and the goal is in sight. The nines tie up loose ends and begin to wind things down. Whether wanted or unwanted, endings must be honored. The task of the nines is to synthesize and integrate what has been learned and gained, to look at the big picture and find the larger meanings of what has been experienced.

The Nine of Air brings a mental reckoning. Ideas have come to fruition, beliefs have hardened and perhaps begun to crack, and familiar ways of thinking are ending. Even if one’s beliefs and ideas have served well over time, self-judgement and regrets often arise as one takes stock. The new insights and clarity that come from self-evaluation can feel like waking up from a dream, not always a pleasant one. Along with heightened awareness can come a feeling of isolation.

14 March 2019

Eight of Air


The eights bring the energy that was born in the aces closer to its conclusion, and the momentum is now unstoppable. The eights are a burst of pure energy, and the challenge of these cards is to find the right way to handle so much power. The eights call for introspection and self awareness in motion. The stakes are high because so much has already been invested, but an application of will and perseverance in just the right places can get us through to our goal. An eight turned on its side is an infinity symbol, and the danger inherent in this card is the possibility of getting trapped in a repeating energy loop rather than moving forward.

The Eight of Air could best be summed up as "overthinking." The influx of mental energy that the Eight of Air brings can be very hard to control. It’s easy to become trapped by one’s own circular thought patterns, overwhelmed by rumination and overthinking, or enthralled with illusory ideas. A certain amount of holding back is required in order to discern what is true and move forward.

11 March 2019

Seven of Air


With the sevens, the restive state of the sixes ends and life changes gear again. New challenges and obstacles arise now but, unlike the external challenges of the fives, the challenges of the sevens are inner-driven. There can even be a feeling of playfulness as we understand that we’re challenging ourselves, testing our own strengths and weaknesses.

The Seven of Air is tricky and playful. Its tag line could be "mind games." It denotes mental agility and a unique way of thinking which is countercultural and outside the status quo. Just be careful that your feeling of uniqueness doesn’t become a sense of superiority, and that your mental agility doesn’t become devious.

04 March 2019

Six of Air


By now you’ve probably noticed the trend of odd numbers being more active or disruptive and even numbers more passive and harmonious. The sixes are the clearing after the storm, a place to rest and receive some help from the universe or from people around us. Sixes are also the departure for the second half of the journey from one to ten, a new beginning that can look daunting after the shakeup of the five. The sixes are a time to regroup, refuel, and recover.

The Six of Air offers a time for reflection, collecting the wisdom gained from past experiences, reframing beliefs and world views after the confusion of the Five, and reaping insights for what lies ahead. The movement in this reflective card is mental expansion, but for now the currents are gentle and supportive.

02 March 2019

Five of Air


*A tarot deck in progress, made from a collage of digitally assembled woodblock-printed elements*

The fives shake up the stable resting energy of the fours and bring change, whether wanted or unwanted. With the fives come struggles, challenge, loss, or even chaos but, as the halfway point on the way to the number ten, more often than not the shakeup of the fives is necessary for the second stage of the journey.

The challenge of the Five of Air is a mental challenge—ideas get shot down, the ego receives a shock, outmoded beliefs and thought patterns are challenged. Confusion, uncertainty and doubt are hallmarks of the Five of Air.

01 March 2019

Four of Air


When I think of the number four, I think of a rectangle or a box—a solid container. Stability and structure are the key words for the fours, bringing the creativity and dynamism of the threes into a more reliable state. The container of the Four brings security and safety, but stagnation can occur if things are held in this stasis for too long.

The Four of Air indicates that thoughts and ideas have coalesced into beliefs, conclusions, doctrines, or other mental constructs. It’s a time of mental rest and comfort, so enjoy this moment of clarity, but bear in mind that a rigid adherence to your ideas can make you blind to the bigger picture.