Great suffering for brief pleasure.
The Bruegel Tarot


I love this new deck! Before I get  into  the rather straightforward message of this card, please take a moment to look at the image and enjoy the great variety of imagery, both comic and macabre. There’s a man in this card who appears to be the main character. The top of his head has been removed and his brain appears to be flying away while he stumbles cluelessly, grinning like an idiot. In the background, a couple is cupcaking1 beneath a tree, while a card game has been interrupted by a man having chest pains.

True to the classic imagery in this card, a sneaky ruffian is lurking with three of the swords. Oh, and look closer: Behind the upturned card table, some kind of green monster menaces the lovers beneath the tree! What does it all mean?

Prudence is a Good Idea

This card shows lust, gambling, too much excitement, thievery, idiocy, and greed. These are all behaviors we engage in when we lack the foresight of prudence. Short-term pleasures need to be measured carefully. It is far too easy to indulge in them while forgetting their long-term consequences.

The message of this particular card is pretty simple: Don’t trade in your long-term happiness for immediate pleasures. This is a card that urges you to plan for the future, to step cautiously, and to temper your pleasure-seeking in exchange for easier times to come.

  1. My younger brother informs me that this is the new hip term for public displays of affection. 

My apologies for the lateness of this post. I found myself in a place without Internet access and was unable to finish uploading what I had.

Avid Tarot student Russell asks:

How much should the client interpret the meaning of the cards? In other words, how much should the client decide what each card means for them in their situation or question? How much should that come from yourself as the expert reader? How do you know where to draw the line if the client is going to far astray?

I’ve given Tarot readings to clients with all levels of skill with the cards, from the completely ignorant to the seasoned reader. I’ve also received readings from readers of various skill levels. Personally, I try to avoid interpreting the cards for myself when somebody else is reading for me, but it’s difficult to avoid. My opinion is that if you’re paying somebody to read the cards for you, you’ll get the best value for your money if you listen to what they’re saying.

If you’re a student of the Tarot, the biggest benefit to getting a reading from somebody else is that every reader approaches the card in his own manner. A seasoned reader has a unique relationship with the cards. His interpretation of the symbolism is not going to be the same as yours. The value comes from a fresh, outside perspective. After all, if you are a client and a student of the cards, then you can always read them for yourself later.

Reading as Conversation

An exception to the rule is when you approach a reading as a conversation. You should be upfront with your reader beforehand, though. In this case, the client and the reader build a composite view of the reading. I’m not sure that it will offer the same insights, but it can be a great learning experience for both parties.

I’m guilty of second-guessing readers when I’m the querant. It’s a fault that I’d really like to work on. For me to get the most out of a reading, I know that I need to spend more time listening. Letting the reader read means figuring out how to let go of control and accept information as it comes. That can be hard for a lot of people.

Free Email Readings

Russell will be getting a free email reading, and you could, too, if you ask a question that I answer in this column! Feel free to email me or leave your question in the comments.

The Festival of Thoth

This post is just marginally related to Tarot. Today I’d like to talk about Hermeticism and the Feast of Thoth.

ThothHermeticism describes a poorly-understood school of mysticism from the early centuries of the Common Era. It arose in northern Egypt, around Alexandria, and was contemporary with the early Gnostics. We don’t know a whole lot about the early Hermeticists. Their religion seems to have evolved from the ancient Egyptian religion. It definitely had an initiatic element and was deeply entangled in mysticism, gnosticism, and Neoplatonism. Most of the surviving literature from the movement can be found in a collection of short texts called the Corpus Hermeticum.

Hermes Trismegistus and Thoth

The Corpus Hermeticum relates a series of lessons from teachers to students, beginning with the lessons of Hermes Trismegistus to his son Tat and his student Asclepius. In later books, Tat and Asclepius have become the teachers. Hermes teaches about the nature of the Cosmos and human consciousness. His lessons are profound, mystical, and sometimes obscure.


This weekend, I met with Jeff Weissler of Pairings Portland and we came up with a novel idea: Pairing wine with Tarot cards. Join us on Friday, August 15th, from 2pm to 8pm as we experiment with crossing the exotic world of wine with the esoteric world of the Tarot! You can learn more about it on the Facebook page for the event. I will be offering 10-minute Tarot readings for $10, and each reading comes with a bonus wine pairing reading. In addition, Jeff will be serving a $15 flight of wine specifically paired with five of the most delicious Major Arcana.

5% of all proceeds will go to Pacific Pug Rescue.

Pairings Portland is located at 455 NE 24th Ave in Portland, Oregon. The shop looks really amazing, and you’re going to love the way Jeff pairs wine with just about anything you can think of, including your astrological Sun sign and favorite cult TV show. You can find your way there using the map below.

Card of the Week: The Sun

“Everyone plants their own happiness, everyone sows their own joy, and everyone holds their own destiny.”
The Bruegel Tarot, by Pietro Alligo and Guido Zibordi Marchesi

XIX The SunThe Sun is the 19th Major Arcana, and the third of the celestial Trumps.1 This is perhaps one of the happiest cards in the Tarot, and indicates that things are going extremely well. This week, I’m giving myself an additional challenge by looking at the Sun as depicted in a deck that’s brand new to me: the Bruegel Tarot.

The House You Built

The nice thing about the Sun is that it’s not telling you to simply sit back and relax, but that the happiness and joy that comes to you is because of your own labors and efforts. The background of this card is filled with people enjoying the fruits of their labors. We can see a farmer hard at work in the field, a woman seeming to enjoy tall trees, and somebody hanging up their laundry in the Sun’s warm rays.

This card is also a reminder to enjoy the good times when they happen. In the foreground, a man and a woman are building a wall. The tools of the trade are scattered about them, and the wall is obviously unfinished. However, they are happily rejoicing. This is also mirrored in the background, where crowds gather on the hillside and gaze up at the Sun in admiration.

The unfinished wall indicates that happiness and joy don’t need to wait until the completion of your work. You should find ways to also enjoy the process. The means to an end need to be as good for the soul as the end itself. A wall built with faulty materials is not going to be a great wall.

Strong Celestial Influence

This card also carries some potent esoteric symbolism. In the sky, the Sun shines brightly, illuminating the rest of the imagery in the card. Peeking over the horizon are a crescent moon and two planets, one of them ringed. This is a reminder that while the influence of the Spheres may be overshadowed by the power of the Sun, they lurk forever on the edges, waiting for darkness to fall and their power to increase. The happiness of the Sun must be worked for. While you can stop and enjoy it, you still need to sow the seeds of joy in order to reap the fruits of happiness. Like all things, the Sun is part of a cosmic cycle.

What are your thoughts on the symbolism of the Sun? How does this interpretation differ from other decks? Discuss!

In the photograph, the card is from the aforementioned Bruegel Tarot, copyright 2003 Lo Scarabeo. The image in the background is the Tower of Babel from Athanasius Kircher’s Theatre of the World: The Life and Work of the Last Man to Search for Universal Knowledge by Joscelyn Godwin (Inner Traditions, 2009).

  1. I drew it randomly. It’s a weird coincidence to have the Moon last week and the Sun this week, but sometimes that’s how the Tarot works. 

Since launching this website a few weeks ago, I’ve been catching up on all of the Tarot material that’s available online. There’s a lot of it. One of the websites I’ve been enjoying is Tarotize, by the prolific Lisa Frideborg. She recently linked back to an older post of hers called Top 10 Tarot Tuition Tips in which she lists a number of ways that one can get started reading cards. The list is interesting in that it lists a few things that I certainly have done and have recommended to others, and a number of things that I’ll probably never do.

Syncretic Divination

As a part of the modern Western Mystery tradition, Tarot is a syncretic system. Its association with Hermetic Qabalah and ceremonial magic probably doesn’t date much earlier than the 19th century. This link was either invented or popularized by the influential occultist Eliphas Levi. Since then, the popularity of Tarot and other cartomantic systems has skyrocketed. You can now find systems of cartomancy incorporating all manner of other systems, including runes, astrology, and other symbol sets.

Tarotize recommends familiarizing yourself with astrology, numerology, and the chakras. Astrology has had a strong link to the Tarot simply because it’s been a part of our cultural landscape for so long. Modern astrology hit its peak in the 17th century, with the explosion of astrological almanacs and popular public figures such as Sir Christopher Heydon, Nicholas Culpeper, William Lilly, and others.1 Its history goes back much further, however. It’s very difficult to study Western Esotericism without learning something about astrology.

Numerology takes a number of forms. Some of them are divinatory, but others are deeper and stranger.2 Because Tarot decks are numbered, it makes sense to draw numerical connections between the cards. In fact, kind of like a poker hand, I will interpret cards differently if multiples show up in a reading. Three 4’s, for instance, can mean some significant stagnation. Tarotize points to a novel system of Tarot numerology that was initially introduced by Mary K Greer.

Find the Symbols You Need

While I like to think that you don’t need to incorporate other symbolic systems into Tarot, avoiding them will make your path more difficult. However, you don’t need to use astrology, numerology, or chakras. Finding a symbol set that speaks to you is one of the best ways to find a deck that you’re going to like. If you’re interested in Tarot, then you’ve probably already explored something else. Maybe you enjoy Ancient Egypt, or you’re really into cats, or you’ve got a thing for Celtic knots. There are many, many Tarot decks out there, and you’ll be able to find one that matches what you already love.

If you haven’t already seen it, Aeclectic Tarot is a great resource for exploring the variety of Tarot decks out there.

Did You Catch the Free Reading Offer?

In my last Client Query post, I offered a free Tarot reading by email to those who ask me good questions. If I pick your question for a future Client Query post, then a free reading is yours!

  1. Monod, Solomon’s Secret Arts: The Occult in the Age of the Enlightenment, Yale University Press, 2013, pp. 53-59. 

  2. For instance, Gematria is an esoteric Hebrew system of numerology that uses the numerical values of words to analyze holy texts. 

When I first started doing public readings about a year ago, my routine would be to shuffle the deck and then hand it over to the client for a shuffle or two. I feel like it’s important for the client to get involved with the readings by getting their hands on the cards, and shuffling seems like the perfect way to do it.

Those Cards are Important

I had to rethink this after just a couple of sessions. Every time I handed over a deck of cards for somebody else to shuffle, I cringed. It’s rare that anybody sitting across the table shuffles cards as often as I do, and Tarot cards are awkwardly large and usually pretty slippery. If you slip up while shuffling, you can send the cards flying all over the place. Nobody wants to play 78-card pickup. To make matters worse, when the cards go flying, there’s a big chance one of them will be damaged. Some of my decks are impossible to replace.

It’s Not Bad Juju

You’re not going to mess up my deck’s ancient mystical powers. Each Tarot deck, after all, was machine printed and packaged in a box by a large, unfeeling machine. They weren’t produced by magical cartomancy leprechauns or something like that. I just don’t want you to physically damage the cards. I still make my clients cut the deck before the reading begins, but no shuffling. Please no shuffling.

Why Do You Keep Answering Dumb Questions?

I was jotting down topic ideas for this blog the other day, and a friend looked over my shoulder and said to me, “Those are stupid questions. Don’t write about those.” Well, frankly, these are questions that I get a lot. I know they’re not really complex, but I need my readers to ask me good questions before I can answer them. Use the comments form below to ask me a question. Please.

I’ll throw in an incentive: If I pick your question to answer on my blog, I’ll throw in a free Tarot reading by email!

Card of the Week: The Moon

XVIII: The MoonThe Moon is one of those great mystery cards in the Major Arcana. In many decks, the imagery includes two hounds, water, towers, at least one moon, and a crustacean. It’s the second of the three celestial Trumps, between the Star and the Sun.

Time For Reflection

Unlike the Star and the Sun, the Moon doesn’t create its own light. Though it shines, all of its light is reflected. Because it can only reflect light cast upon it, the Moon spends much of its time partially occluded. Light represents knowledge. If the light is hidden, so must knowledge be. Because of this, The Moon represents thoughts and ideas that we have hidden within ourselves. The water can indicate that the hidden things are lurking in our unconscious mind.

The two dogs, usually one dark and one light, also symbolize two parts of ourselves. One is the part with which we’re familiar. The other is the darker half, or Shadow, which we must learn to face if we hope to grow as individuals.

Wax On, Wane Off

Different Tarot decks depict the Moon in different phases. In the Alchemical Tarot, the Moon is pictured as waxing, or increasing. However, in the classic Rider-Waite deck, the moon is waning. One shows more light and the other less. Both, however, should remind us that our work at understanding ourselves is cyclical. At times, we feel as if everything is clear, and at times, nothing makes sense. Patience and reflection help us integrate more Light and knowledge when it is available, and help us understand the darkness while we wait for the Light to return.