A guest post shared by Rebecca.
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How (and why) I made my own ‘little white book’
A reasonably common bit of advice for students of the tarot — both those new to it and those who have studied for many years — is to make a daily study of a single card. Some people draw a card at random; others work through the entire deck in order. Many will switch back and forth as suits them.
Another frequent thing we hear is to keep a tarot journal, to record in it both readings and daily meditations.
Frankly, I’m not terribly good at keeping up with either of these practices for more than a few months at a time.
Fortunately, for my own favorite way to study, I don’t have to keep it up for more than a few months.
It’s not a thing I do often. I’ve been studying and reading the cards for twenty-four years. In two more years, it will be two-thirds of my life. I’ve done the whole thing maybe three or four times. It is, for me, a fairly serious undertaking. I do it when I find my understanding and practice have become jumbled, the meaning of a Six disconnected from its Five and Seven, or when I’ve taken a long break and want to recommit. This time it was the latter. With few people to read for and many small things and one Very Big Thing taking up my attention, both my tarot practice and my religious practice had fallen by the wayside. In the fall of 2013, it was time to fix that.
I started simple.
A morning prayer, and a daily card study. Get up, wash my face and hands at my Ocean altar, say a prayer. Sit down at my divination altar, where my favorite decks were lined up, the cards of each put in order, a stack of books beside. Start with the Fool, and work onwards. Major Arcana, Pentacles, Cups, Swords and Wands. Flip over the top cards, find the one that appealed the most. Read what each book had to say about it. Tuck the card into the book I was reading, and carry it with me all day. In quiet moments, take it out and contemplate it. At the end of the day, write about that card, what it means to me. Pick a character from a novel or movie that the card reminds me of, for the trumps and face cards. Tells stories for the pips. Reintegrate the cards into my life. When I finished the individual cards, I did a lateral study, all the aces, all the deuces. The whole thing took nearly five months, 6 September through 30 January.
I put each day’s journal on my Dreamwidth and Livejournal, where I could find them.
The Fool is the ultimate audience insert character. He (and the Fool is usually depicted as male, because men are default humans; women are assumed to be able to sympathize with male characters in a way that men can’t with female characters; there are female Fools and Fools of unspecified or nonbinary genders, but on average, the Fool is a man) is as clueless and unprepared as all of us feel regularly. He has the freedom to not give a fuck about real life that all of us crave sometimes. He has the freedom to keep his idealism pure and unsullied by gritty reality, at least until he falls off that cliff at his feet. He is the one who experiences the rest of these cards, the one who takes this trip again and again, the one stuck in life, who must grow and evolve and move forward, who must weather life. The Fool is us.
Maybe. Or maybe the Fool is a fool in older and more insulting meanings of the word. Perhaps he has a developmental disorder, or a very low IQ, and is literally unable to understand a lot of things about the world. Perhaps he has a mental illness, is so distracted by his own mood swings and hallucinations, the world generated by his brain, that he can no longer see the real world. Perhaps he is afflicted or blessed with divine madness, and is so caught up in the passion of his god or his own divinity that the physical world is no longer important, only the spiritual. Perhaps he is ignorant, too self-centered to look beyond himself and his own wants and interests. Perhaps he is innocent, without enough knowledge to know that the world holds dangers.
Perhaps all of these things make him more relatable for us.
When I was done, I let it lie fallow for a while, thinking I was done with it.
I have ambitions to write books. Devotional cookbooks, a book on the magics of fibercrafts. Maybe a publisher will pick them up, but then again, maybe they won’t. Maybe I’ll self-publish. So I thought I’d learn to put together an epub, and cast about for something to use. I settled on the study journal, not sure whether anyone would want to read it, not sure it would make sense in that format, but what the hell, it was a largeish chunk of text that was mine and broke up into chapters and subchapters.
I was greatly relieved to find that, with a bit of editing, it did make sense as a text, and that more, it was useful to me for readings, at those moments when I couldn’t quite figure out which aspect of a card should be foremost. It became my own personal Little White Book, something to use as a quick reference. It’s also something I can read back over to remind myself of the story a suit tells. It’s a personal meditation, often rambling and stream-of-conscious.
Sometimes I came to revise my traditional ideas of a card, update it for my better understanding of the world.
I’m going to grab on to the idea of the Empress as Radical Femmeness, as Radical Motherhood or Radical Parenthood, as Radical Creativity. She exists for herself and her own sake, not just as the complement to the Emperor. She is independent of him, and does not live for him. She is a generative force, but she does it for herself. She embraces her sexuality for her own pleasure.
Sometimes, I realized that my understanding of the card itself had changed without my realizing it.
I don’t know. I don’t have much on this one. Just, I guess, Strength is whatever gets you through the day.
Some days, that’s just endurance, or even apathy. But whatever gets the job done.
Sometimes I’d diverge to talking about astronomy or technical aspects of cooking, rant about gender, deliver little lectures to myself thinly disguised as writing about the type of person a card represented. At least once, I came to a new understanding of a family member.
The part of the whole exercise that was most surprising to me was the characters. I hadn’t meant to include that, but a few days in, the blossoming of my new view of The Empress centered on the amazing Countess Vorkosigan, and it was immediately clear that this was a useful thing. So I went back and picked characters for the previous cards — all of them were immediately apparent the moment I considered the question — and found that just the process of selecting one often clarified the card for, brought it into tight, sharp focus, in a way nothing else did. When I struggled with The High Priest, Lord Chung-Sik Finkle McGraw eventually brought me to terms with him. Often, the less anthropomorphic cards stood out more clearly as a particular character than many that were focused on a person. The Chariot, Strength, The Wheel and The Tower were all that way. I knew who they had to be immediately. I hope that, if you’ve read (or in one case watched) the work they’re from, those characters help you to see what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, well, maybe you’ll pick up something new off my list. I hope you like it. All of those are books, comics, and one movie, that I love.
I hope you like it. I found the process fascinating, and it’s a course of study I highly recommend to anyone, novice or old hand, as a way of beginning or of deepening your understanding of the tarot.
You can find my blog at Hex.Ink, if you want to see what else I have to say.
It’s about 30% fibercrafts, 30% Hellenic polytheism, 20% magic, and 10% whatever else happens to come up.