Communication topography: A reading from a friend, with the Collective Tarot

A few days ago, a friend and I exchanged tarot readings by email.

It’s helpful to have a pal with whom you can swap readings; reading for yourself can feel like something of an echo-chamber, especially in times of change or big decisions. Receiving a reading from a good friend (or an acquaintance, or a stranger for that matter) is an opportunity to step outside of the rigid frames we inevitably apply to our own cards, and gain new perspectives to ponder.

I didn’t have a specific question, I just asked for some guidance and clarity around my current situation, which is one of both flux and limbo together (I’m moving from Skye to Machynlleth, mid-Wales in a few months’ time – something I’m incredibly excited about, but also feel there is a profound way for me to use the remainder of my time here.)

She used the Collective Tarot, and a nice variation on the Celtic Cross, where the overall shape and flow of the reading remained the same, but some positions have been renamed. Emma’s words were thoughtful and gentle but she didn’t shy away from probing into a few shadowy corners, too. This is one of the most helpful things about a reading exchange: your reader has no agenda, except to convey to you the information they see in the cards.

This morning, an overcast, rainy, quiet Sunday, I brewed myself a big pot of coffee and cleared space on the kitchen table to dig in to Emma’s reading. I printed out her words, laid out the cards, and slowly worked though the reading, noting my own responses.

(Note: this is a distant friend called Emma, not my partner of the same name!)

This was a lovely way to go deeper into the wisdom Emma shared with me.

So often when we receive a reading, we take in the information at speed, and then quickly move on. Recreating it for myself and adding my own thoughts to Emma’s felt indulgent, but also a way to honour her work and build upon some of the messages she shared with me. So it’s not only her interpretations, and not only mine, but the conversation that arises from both.

I’ve shared these below if you’re interested, but the point of this post is really to encourage you to try a reading exchange. If you haven’t recently had someone else read for you, it’s such a lovely way to step out of your own head for a moment and get a wider perspective on your situation. And you still get to practice your tarot skills and offer the same nurturing, generous service in return.


A reading with the Collective Tarot

1. Where you are: Five of Keys (Wands)

During big sweeping changes the “micro-ecosystems” of our lives can be the first to come undone and we might not notice the loss immediately as we focus on the bigger, more significant things.

Over the past few years, I have become more and more aware of my tendency to focus on what’s new, and quickly move on from situations that aren’t working. Historically, I’ve not given much time or thought to processing just what it was that didn’t work, neither have I spend much time acknowledging loss or honouring grief. Recently, I’ve been making an effort to change that – through ritual, through slowing down, through taking the time to notice what hurts and looking more deeply into that pain, through thanksgiving, through writing and photography and tarot. The Five of Keys, with it’s desolate, burt-out forest, presents “an opportunity to work through grief”, pointing out that this slowed-down moment of change gives me space to actually witness what is changing, what is being given up and/or lost as I move forwards.

2. Challenge/potential: Two of Keys

Daring to unlock and peep into the depths of what you really want.

Following on from the Five, this card brings gentle encouragement to give this process time. I love the Two of Keys (Wands, in a traditional deck) for this – in the midst of a suit that’s fiery and passionate and dynamic, the Two offers us time to actually direct that powerful energy. It’s where the intention comes in, where we get to be still with all that bubbling energy, observe its ebb and flow, and consider where it most wants to go, where we most want it to go. It’s where all the potential inherent in the wands/keys suit can become intentional.

My challenge is not to fixate purely on change, but to stand up and be an active participant in this change, purposefully using the ‘limbo’ time I have now and consciously shaping the next chapter. Emma writes “I imagine it being related to the first card in terms of daring to focus on the sense of loss or grief that a big departure might bring up”, and this feels profoundly relevant. Where the Five of Keys showed me that my current situation is as much (or perhaps more) about grieving as it is pastures new, the Two is gentler, showing me that I have the tools I need to honour the challenge/potential in this situation.

3. Suggested focus: Six of Bottles (Cups)

It’s a sign to look after each other and it’s specifically about others.

What a welcome place to put my focus now: on others. Though my tarot cards and journal are of course a place for self-reflection, it’s helpful to direct at least some of my energy towards what I can offer to others.

In particular, I’ve found that my journey towards finding a stable home – and the privilege that means it’s not hard for me to find one, the challenges of this journey have been of my own choosing – has reminded me of the infinitely bigger plight of other folks without homes. Whilst I’ve been wringing my hands over not having space to spread out and run my business properly and feeling crotchety that I don’t get enough ‘quiet morning time’ (due to having lovely housemates), millions of people around the world are living without shelter. The Six of Bottles is a reminder of how lucky I am, and it encourages me to focus on sharing what I do have with others.

4. Past: Four of Feathers (Swords)

We have the person attempting to use the blood from the gaping would in their heart as ink to write a letter, but they are unable to produce any words, […] What jumps out at me most is the loss of language, and I mean that figuratively, the loss of a large and important part of your communication topography along with the loss or change of the relationship in question.

This card hit me hard. I thought of the letter sitting unsent, in a basket upstairs. The third draft. Unsent because I still can’t make it say what I want it to say, to a friend lost years ago. The impotent letter writer on this card is me, still probing an old wound, trying to make sense of it.

It’s in the ‘past’ position. Should I abandon the thought of ever sending this letter? Burn it in a ritual? Try one more time?

5. Strengths: Apprentice of Bottles (Knight of Cups)

I wonder if there is a message here about life beyond the joy of hurling yourself off into something new, and what does ‘going deep’ look like for you, on arrival?

Emma has me pegged with this one. The Collective Tarot’s re-visioning of the traditional Knight of Cups is refreshing and feels appropriate – and I appreciate how it tempers its recognition of ‘my strengths’ with a gentle warning about the limitation of these qualities. I have no trouble launching myself into chapters new, throwing myself into another big change. In this way I continually invite a dynamic flow of energy into my life.

But endless change grows tiresome without an anchor, a destination or a deeper awareness of the journey’s twists and turns, its meaning, the lessons learned, the personal shifts and growth that takes place en route. I’m reminded of the Two of Keys again, that encouragement to take the time now to really dig into my feelings and desires and wishes, so that the leap itself – the beautiful backwards dive of this card – can be concisely done and propelled by intention.

6. Near future: Mentor of Feathers (King of Swords)

This card is about fearlessly owning your experiences, warts and all, and recognising the the value in sharing the harder aspects of your life as healing and guide points for others.

I’ve felt shy of writing lately, a little afraid that I’m blathering too much about ‘my feelings’, ‘my journey’, when folks are having a much tougher time. So I’m happy to see the encouragement to write and share. (I guess this blog post is a part of that!) The Little Red Tarot blog started life as a personal tarot journal – nowadays it’s a whole big tarot magazine co-created by a diverse bunch of magical writers… but my own journey is still in there. I hope it always will be.

This card also prompts me to put all the more energy and thought into the face-to-face tarot workshop I’m currently preparing to teach (and indeed the online class I’ve been writing off and on for almost two years…). I want both to be a warm and safe experiences where students can learn how to use tarot to reflect on their own experiences and to grow. The Mentor of Feathers encourages me to bring more of myself to my teaching materials classes, to use my own stories – especially the tougher ones – to help others access the lessons tarot can teach us. I’m grateful to see this card in my ‘near future’.

7. Suggested approach: Seeker of Keys (Page of Wands)

Being a game-changer and finally realising that you had the key in your pocket and the ability to light your way all along.

It’s one thing to apply this card to upcoming changes, but for me it also has a more immediate application. Seeing it, I realise that right now, as at all other times, I have choices. For too long I’ve allowed myself to be a victim, dwelling in that space of believing I’ll be a ‘better person’ when some external change happens. Maybe you can relate: I’ll be more creative when I move to [this place], I’ll be a better friend once I’ve finished [that thing], I’ll be the person I actually want to be when [this thing changes].

I have three months ahead of me. The Seeker of Keys asks, what will I do with this time? Will I sit back and wait for the external change, then leap up, excited to finally begin living the life I want to live? Or will I accept that I have power and responsibility right now?

8. What you need to know: Two of Bottles

Love is your anchor through all of the change.

Love is my anchor. Emma (as in, my partner Emma) is the rock I am able to lean against, my co-captain on stormy seas, an alternative set of eyes on a creased and torn map.

Thanks to a recent forecast from astrologer Chani Nicholas, Em and I have talked a lot about possible changes and developments in our relationship. Like, we’re not sure exactly what is shifting right now, but we’re open to it, we’re ready to enter a new chapter in our partnership. So this, from Emma’s reading, felt appropriate: “I know that long term relationships also enter new phases and new cycles and it is always lovely to rediscover or re-visit some of the earlier feelings of romance or the excitement of untapped potential.”

Em’s been away all weekend. I’m catching the ferry to the mainland tonight to meet her off the train, and we’re going camping, just a one-night mini adventure. This is something we’ve done throughout our relationship. I’m packing her favourite tarot cards so we can explore this Two of Bottles/Cups together and talk about the shifts that are happening.

9. Hopes and fears: Seven of Feathers

The Seven of Feathers is about uncomfortable choices based on cynicism and distrust. […] the decisions in our life that do not sit well with us and point to a bigger picture of disconnection and broken trust.

Decisions that do not ‘sit well’. The Seven of Feathers/Swords asks uncomfortable questions about motivations. It ignores the shiny happy surface of exciting decisions and prompts us to see the full picture of what is driving those decisions.

I have some big fears around domesticity. Years ago, back in Todmorden, I remember Em and I sitting down with a bottle of wine to pour over houses to rent on Rightmove. We gave up after about an hour, realising that we simply couldn’t imagine ourselves living as a couple-unit in domestic bliss in a little terraced house. It was just to… straight? I don’t know. And now, four years on, we’ve come full-circle. I’ve lived in a caravan, two boats, a workshop, a holiday home and two spare rooms, and meanwhile Em and I are busy building a tiny house on wheels. Am I choosing this cosy, cheerful terrace because it’s easy, after so much instability?

Yet these fears are also hopes. I yearn for that sense of ease. To have a fridge full of food and books on the shelf and a space to work and a warm bed to share with the love of my life. I want that more than anything, if I’m honest – a sold, comfortable base from which to grow into the next phase of my life. ‘Too domestic’ suddenly sounds ridiculous. Too home-like? Too stable? I’ll take it.

It’s funny how hopes and fears so often turn out to be the very same thing.

10. Your potential future: Death

I’d like to invite you to consider what would need to change or shift in order for [these big life changes] to not feel scary.

Death. Transformation. An overhaul. A letting go. In the Celtic Cross, I read this ‘potential future’ card as a trajectory, based on the lessons of the other cards. Death brings together all of those lessons: the willingness to experience grief and loss in the Five of Keys, the challenge of really digging in to my own desires and wishes in the Two, the prompt to take ownership of my own power right now, rather than waiting for change as shown in the Seeker: Death’s transformative energy comes whether we like it or not, but we always have the power to become an active participant in its process.

Then there’s the encouragement to step up, claim, and ever share my experiences in the Mentor of Feathers. The reminder of the power in my partnership in the Two of Bottles. The acknowledgement of my own shadows and how these, just like the good times, have shaped me, have shaped the skin I am now shedding.

What a perfect and beautiful card to finish this reading. I’m grateful for the sight of this snake, slipping with apparent ease out of one ‘self’, reborn effortlessly into something new.


These cards, read through the filter of Emma’s interpretations, have given me so much more than I might have found reading for myself. As well as useful and helpful lessons for my current situation, going through this re-reading process has reminded me of the power of shared tarot readings. It’s been a while since I read together with friends. This reading reminds me to do so more often.

All cards shown in this post are from the Collective Tarot (out of print).

8 comments

  1. angharadlois says:

    Thank you for writing and sharing! I always find it valuable and inspirational when people do write and share. There’s no qualification – no amount of “tough times” that makes one person’s story more or less valid than another’s; the willingness to tell it is enough.

    “It’s funny how hopes and fears so often turn out to be the very same thing” – this is so true, and your fears of / hopes for domesticity really resonate. Appropriately enough, after leaving behind my West Wales hometown, I have found that previously-rejected domesticity in a cheerful Todmorden terrace!
    Good journeying.

  2. Roger says:

    Hi Beth,
    One of the many super cool things about your blog is your willingness and courage to share your journey in all its forms and how that enriches our lives, I’m reminded of your focus ‘connection’!
    This is a shared Tarot reading in many ways!

    All the Best, Rog

  3. Kate Love says:

    Beth,

    I so feel you here: “‘Too domestic’ suddenly sounds ridiculous. Too home-like? Too stable? I’ll take it.”

    I’ve spent (wasted? no, spent, used, journeyed through) so much sticky bracken tackling my own calling to embrace my domestic-side. Like, if I fully embody this part of me which has a soul’s calling to create a nest, tend for it, feeding and caring for my love, can I truly be ‘evolved’? (The answer is yes). Can I be a ‘true feminist’ if I receive such deep joy from simply feeding him a meal he delights in? (The answer, again, is yes).

    It took painfully brave soul-searching to uncover the cultural much, the vestiges of bad relationships, and my own fears over ‘settling’ to get here.

    Now I recognize that I am, indeed, settling…

    I’m settling for peace, for passion, for trust and trials, friendship and joy.

    I’m settling for being exactly all of who I am, for practicing radical self-acceptance and self-compassion and finding, in this space of ‘being’, a beautiful new understanding of what home has always meant to me.

    Thank you for sharing your journey.

  4. SJ Witchling says:

    Your words about digging at a wound with an old, long-past relationship are making me wonder about my own long-gone friendships, and if I’m making my wound worse. I know that hurt. Sending you love; thank you for continuing to share your journey.

  5. Loved this post. I had never seen the Collective Tarot before. When I saw the images something just clicked. I suddenly saw beauty in people that I had been critical of before. It changed my life. I went to an Independence Day festival in a park that was full of all kinds of people and I saw beauty everywhere! I so wish this deck was still available. Thank you Beth.

    • Beth
      Beth says:

      It’s a powerful, beautiful and radical deck that does that transformative work each time it’s used. I’m so glad seeing these images helped you with that! (And yes – I would give anything to have this back in print.)

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