Before tonight’s next instalment of our favourite epic, here’s a recap of some of the storylines, told via our Game of Thrones Tarot.
Bran and Jaime: Page of Cups, The Tower, Knight of Wands. Bran and Jaime’s first eye contact since Bran discovered the truth about Jaime and Cersei in the decrepit tower at Winterfell. Bran as the Page of Cups, before being pushed from the tower by Jaimie; the Tower, the infrastructure of lies, about to crumble; and now the return of Jaime, Knight of Wands. The look between Bran and Jaime takes us right back to Season 1. And yet, Bran in the deck is also the Hermit – now the evolved visionary, the Three-Eyed Raven. (I talk in-depth about the Hermit as the wounded healer in my upcoming workshops in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney…)
Samwell and Dany: Temperance, Seven of Swords, Three of Swords. Samwell as Temperance, as the seeker of the higher path, searching ancient texts for information on dragon glass to defeat the Night King. The Seven of Swords depicts the moment Samwell steals Hartsbane, the family heirloom, which he admits to Dany before her revelation that his father and brother were killed at her behest. The result: the painful truth of the Three of Swords. The sorrowful Three also reigns during Sam and Jon’s subsequent conversation, initiated by Bran: Jon learns the truth of his birth, his familial relationship with Dany, and that he is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne.
Jon Snow and Lyanna Mormont: King of Cups, The Empress, Ten of Swords. Bending the knee to Dany has our favourite young leader, Lyanna Mormont, questioning Jon’s commitment to the North. Jon sees Dany’s way as the only productive way forward (Empress) if they are to defeat the Night King (Judgement). Will he be made out a traitor once again? (Ten of Swords). In the deck, it’s worth noting that we have Jon as both King of Cups (King in the North, when the deck went to press) and the Emperor. The truth is out that Jon is a Targaryen, and he sits in our deck alongside Dany, Emperor and Empress together. Will that happen, I wonder? Or will Jon – or Dany – take the Iron Throne alone?
I can’t wait for tonight’s episode, tarotistas…
In the latter days of our Game of Thrones Tarot project, artist Craig Coss sent me a hand-cut deck before publication. Which meant I could get reading right away (after I did my ecstatic dance and phoned everyone, that is). Since then, December 2016, I’ve been reading with Game of Thrones Tarot virtually every day. My reflex deck is the Rider Waite Smith. I use others, too – my Art of Tarot, the brilliant Santa Muerte (perfect for a Scorpio like me) and the Wild Unknown– but I’m always returning to base, to the Rider. So for every reading, I carried both GoT and RWS (there’s an anagram in there, somewhere – grot, grows, and TWOs). Hmm – a two-deck spread, perhaps.
Rather than work with each deck in turn for client readings, I integrated both into one spread.
So, here’s how I I’m reading: I lay down a spread of Rider Waite Smith, interpret the cards, then repeat, overlaying with Game of Thrones. And it’s curious what comes up. There’s often a doubling-up – the same card in the same position, or the same card in another position. After one hundred or so readings this way, an average of two to five cards repeat. When this happens, it’s as if the Universe is highlighting which cards warrant more attention. The GoT’s the kick to go back to the imagery, because there’s more to know. I’ve also found that the GoT layer of the reading, in its doubling, shows cards that are actionable – issues that can be faced, opportunities to be taken.
Next, I look at the cards in non-matching pairs – those that are different – and see them as an additional dimension for each position within the spread. You might interpret them as follows:
The first lay – the cards underneath
Internal issues: what’s hidden; underlying factors. What’s becoming available to you – resources, memories, ideas
The second lay – the cards on top
External issues: what’s known; what’s manifest; decisions; the surface issues
So, the effect of double-reading is, on one hand, compression and emphasis: we note the cards that repeat in the second lay. And on the other, fluidity and development – reading in the space between two non-matching pairs to see what might emerge.
What works here is giving a full interpretation for the first lay of cards before moving on to your second deck. This way, you have a framework, so the overlaying card offers another perspective. For this blog post, I tested what happens when you lay both spreads one after the other, then interpret all the cards together. It felt too heavy; and I got a block on some pairings. So the best process feels like this:
Tips: The Double-Decker Reading
- Lay the first spread using deck 1. Interpret, with feedback from client, as usual – or however you do your readings.
- Overlay with deck 2. Do these cards take the reading further? Is there more to interpret?
If so, you can see these cards as additional to your first reading.
- Note any matching pairs, whether in the same position in the spread or not. For example, you might have a Three of Cups in the past position, and a Three of Cups in the hopes and fears position in a Celtic Cross. Take your focus back to the Three of Cups in the first layout, and see if there’s more. The repeat cards in the second layout act as signposts back to their position in the first layout. See any repeated cards as potential ‘action’ cards.
- Look at the non-matching pairs. Consider if these represent internal/external realities, as above.
- To expand the reading, focus on one card position in the spread and choose a third card from either deck as ‘likely outcome’; threes deepen the story.
Of course, there’s no set system here – it’s very much a starting point (and some of you out there will already have your own methods of reading with two decks). But so far, I find it brings the best of both my Rider and Game of Thrones Tarot in one, and I get to see how the different energies of each deck operate. Using an ‘old’ deck and a new one also means reflecting your own tarot journey. Like books, I identify each deck with a different period in life.
I’ll be reading in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney this May, double-style, and giving workshops, too. Then the London Tarot Festival on June 1, and the TABI conference in July – see the home page for info.
Til later, Tarotistas
There’s a woman standing on stage in a small, dark theatre in London. With a flourish, she holds up a Kellogg’s cornflake box, and rips it to pieces (luckily, no cornflakes inside). She looks at the debris and asks for a volunteer. A million hands go up – this is The Stand-Up Psychic Show, so everyone’s up for a reading – and one woman takes to the stage. The reading that follows is insightful, funny, and very accurate. There’s a huge round of applause.
The presenter on stage is Becky Walsh, an intuitive, TV presenter and author with a background in theatre and stand-up comedy. Becky’s demonstration always stayed with me, because she proved you could divine with literally anything to hand: since that time, I’ve divined with stones, shells, tea leaves, plants, flower petals, egg whites, salt, flour – you get the drift – and wrote up some of these techniques in The Divination Handbook.
Little did I know I was about to venture into new divination territory until last weekend, when meeting two friends in York for a rare day off the writing schedule. I realised I didn’t have my tarot cards with me, so we thought about casting divination stones in the park (I do a lot of stone-casting at home by the beach) but got distracted by hunger and the Vikings in the streets, all dressed up for that weekend’s festival. Heading for food along the packed, cobbled street, we found the perfect location: The Real Ale and Pizza Pub (also full of Vikings in full regalia, carousing, etc).
With much oohing and finger-licking, we polished off a whole pizza each. Then Rachel piped up: How about we read our plates, Liz? She explained this impulse as, ‘I don’t know, it’s just that… bit of crust on that plate, sort of sticking out, is really annoying me.’ An annoying crust? Who knew.
The minute Rachel suggested pizza-reading and Julie nodded in agreement, I recalled not only Becky and her cornflakes box, but the celebrated British psychic, Arthur Molinary (who read for Freddy Mercury). At one of Arthur’s classes at the College of Psychic Studies in London, we’d been given a bowl of sand each. He walked past each bowl and made a random pattern in the sand with his fingers. ‘Now, interpret!’ After that first black feeling of panic, we all began to divine meanings, and to offer Arthur interpretations as he made his way through the class. So, at that moment of pizza-reckoning, I reasoned that a pizza couldn’t be far off an impression in sand. And after all, there’s that time-honoured tradition of reading with food: from chicken entrails (yuk, indeed) to apple-bobbing at Samhain.
These are of course, summaries of just some of the issues that arose from each plate. For confidentiality reasons, I’m not matching the plate to the person (although anyone who knows me will probably guess which was mine).
The stack of scraped-off ham, stacked by the cutlery: Feeling emotionally shredded. The two large, half-eaten slices, clearly cut: a good front. Boldness, doing what you say you’ll do; taking a practical approach. Three clear portions of remaining food: divided time and loyalties. Compartmentalising life to cope with pressure.
Angle of the knife and fork: Forced space; setting very clear boundaries. The multiple pieces of leftover crust and base suggests a multitude of projects. Drawn to three pieces in the centre – two upright crusts and a broader piece between them felt like there would be three primary projects to focus on. It may be time to push the others aside.
The single piece of crust to the left: worry, irritation. The horizontal stack of crusts: planning, working through a series of projects or problems in an ideal order. Getting through work is foremost, as the crusts are at the top of the plate. The need to clear out negative energy; a longing for space. Lots of ideas, but presently scattered thinking – like the blackened crumbs.
Of course, you can try this with the remnants of any meal. Reading without preparation, on the hop, also helps free up your imagination and intuitive knowing: there’s no pressure, and you might be surprised at your insights. And, if you’re feeling a little too welded to one precious deck of tarot, LeNormand or oracle cards, give yourself some time away and read with whatever you have.
After all, we all need a day off from time to time.
Thanks for reading.
In Game of Thrones, Bran Stark sees the Three-Eyed Raven in a vision-dream, which leads him to discover his future identity; visitations from the Raven trigger revelations of the past, present and future. The bird as cosmic messenger goes back to ancient Roman and Greek augury, and its folklore equivalent, today, is the magpie counting song. Remember the ditty – One for sorrow, two for joy; three for a girl, four for a boy?
Over the years, other corvidae made their way in to the Magpie Rhyme – jackdaws, crows – and ravens. Musing on this, as you do, I came across a nineteenth-century variant and as soon as I read it, jaffa cake in hand, I saw connections with the tarot’s minor arcana. One raven (or magpie) for the Aces, two for the Twos, and so on.
One for sorrow,Proverbs and Popular Saying of the Seasons, M A Denham (London, 1846)
Two for luck; (or mirth)
Three for a wedding,
Four for death; (or birth)
Five for silver,
Six for gold;
Seven for a secret,
Not to be told;
Eight for heaven,
Nine for hell
And ten for the devil’s own sell!
So, the Aces are sorrow, are they? No! They’re all positive! I hear you protest. I baulked at this, too – unless we’re looking purely at shadow, or reversed meanings, here. But bear with.
If we take each line of the rhyme as a question, perhaps we’ll find a way to integrate the shadow and reversed interpretations; to investigate a card rather than see its meaning as fixed (my Masters of Tarot workshop at The Omega Institute in New York State last summer took a deep dive into card symbols as live entities – do check out Omega for the great 2019 speakers).
Back to the ravens, our minor arcana messengers. As for those positive lines of the rhyme, we get to put in an additional layer of interpretation. I’ve been reading cards and writing about tarot for over thirty years now, and need to stay woke, as they say – to know when I’m pulling back into those ingrained card meanings I absorbed from tarot books aged nineteen, joss sticks a-burning in my bedroom.
So, here’s how the minor arcana story might evolve with our Magpie Rhyme.
The Aces: One for sorrow
Where’s the sorrow? Is there a defeat concealed within the victory of each upright Ace? If we take the Aces’ reversed meanings, we’re immediately immersed in their shadow aspects of failure – and resulting sorrow. But given I’m not looking at polarised interpretations here, how about merging the upright and reversed meanings, and consider: Did this victory require a sacrifice? Was this worthwhile?T
The Twos: Two for luck (or mirth)
Where’s the uplift in the Twos? Perhaps there’s advice here on dealing with the stalemate of the Two of Swords – to not take it all so seriously, to take a Fool’s leap. The Two of Cups is naturally positive in its upright position as the forerunner of the celebratory Three. The Two of Wands is all planning, preparing for action and decisions, while the Two of Pentacles is decision pending – for both, we might need a bit of luck to send us in the right direction. And add in that it is possible to feel joy, or mirth, at the possibilities the future can hold brings an energy into the Twos which might otherwise feel static.T
The Threes: Three for a wedding
So here’s the first natural alignment, with the Three of Cups. Three merrymakers, toasting. They might be at a wedding, or party, but life, at this moment, is good. The wedding theme also brings to mind early Lovers cards (Etteila’s man, woman, and priest) and Marseilles cards which showed a third person with a couple, indicating choice and possibly affairs. The three in the Three of Swords can be seen as the shadow side of love, with its attendant heartbreak, but what if this card is also an invitation to see truth and commit to ourselves? For the Three of Wands and Pentacles, we’re in action – creating, travelling, forming alliances. Action requires commitment; nothing happens without it, and if we take a wedding as the ultimate symbolic commitment, then we see guidance, here, on how to maximise opportunities.T
The Fours: Four for a death (or birth)
As Denham couldn’t be sure of the meaning here, it’s likely he was quoting two versions of the rhyme, tying them together in one neat contradiction. But keeping in mind the Fool and the World, with beginnings and endings intertwined, we might ask of the Fours: What needs to die so that something else can be born? With the Four of Swords and Cups, it’s breaking an impasse. With the Four of Wands, we’re in a temporary paradise before the tests of the Five (very Lovers). With the Four of Pentacles, the fourth line of the rhyme might be advice: don’t hold too fast to what you have. Change is coming.T
The Fives: Five for silver
Silver being not quite good enough. It’s not gold, after all. The Five of Cups urges us to look at what we still have after suffering loss, as does the Five of Pentacles. Silver also reeks of betrayal, that Judas-silver, and the humiliation we see in the Five of Swords. In the Five of Wands, we might ask ourselves: is this test/opposition/ego situation worth my energy? Am I fighting to be second-best? Silver is also associated with the Moon – with psychic knowing, twilight states and soul-searching. With the Fives of Pentacles, Cups and Swords, we might ask ourselves, ‘How has it come to this? Then, ‘What intuitively is my next step?’
The Sixes: Six for gold
In the Six of Pentacles, we literally have it – generosity and compassion. Then, there are the golden years remembered in the Six of Cups, as nostalgia and the return of the past. The gold within the Six of Swords may represent the best we can give ourselves as we move away from conflict: the gift of peace. And the Six of Wands, as a victory card, talks of a golden reputation, when efforts are publicly acknowledged: on our Game of Thrones Tarot card, we see Daenerys Targaryen riding out from Astapor with the freed Unsullied slave-warriors. As a question, line six of the rhyme could be, ‘What’s worth fighting for? What’s at stake, and what do I value?’
The Sevens: Seven for a secret
Ah, the mysteries: perfect for the Seven of Cups. And so too for the Seven of Swords – theft, underhandedness, or perhaps lateral thinking: a strategy that must be kept under wraps. For the Seven of Wands, we have hard work; anticipating problems, defending values. There’s an immediacy to this card that I like: it has aim, and represents the groundwork needed before a project can fly, depicted in the flying wands of the Eight. With the seventh line of the rhyme in mind we might ask, ‘What’s the secret ingredient? What’s the hidden advantage in this situation? For the Seven of Pentacles, there’s a similar theme, as we see a gardener contemplating his crop. Add secrets and mysteries to the interpretation, and we see that the gardener is at a more critical point than he might realise. The first phase is complete, and he may be satisfied with this, but there’s also the realisation that he needs a strategy. Can he grow more? Can he be even more creative? And if so, what’s the secret of continued and future success?
The Eights: Eight for heaven
Here’s the Eight of Pentacles: perfectionism, ambition, and the earthly pursuit of a higher goal – perhaps a minor heaven-and-earth expression of the Magician. The Eight of Cups and Eight of Swords bring departure and decisions. I see the Eight of Cups’ departure as natural choice; there’s no drama in this leaving as it’s part of our life path, a re-alignment with who we need to become. The Eight of Swords is an invitation to release ourselves from restriction, to decide to be free. If we interpret ‘heaven’ as Higher Self, both cards appeal to us to listen to the Higher Self in order to be free. In the Eight of Wands we have eight dynamic wands flying heavenwards, bringing messages, signified by the raven on Game of Thrones Tarot. These three cards with a higher/heavenly interpretation might then ask us, ‘Are you listening?’
The Nines: Nine for hell
Call to mind the Nine of Cups, and it suggests benevolence and wishes granted rather than a hellish dungeon. Yet, of course, we create our own reality. Which begs the question: which reality are we creating? Even with this positive card, there’s a hint of the smugness we see in the Four of Pentacles. Are you fully aware what you’re manifesting? The Nine of Swords (little drum roll, if you please) is, of course, the hell of anxiety, and it’s created by our thoughts. Now for the Nine of Wands: the card of the psychic wound, the need for self-defence, vigilance and strength. If we see hell as enslavement, perhaps the Nine of Wands suggests self-torture. The Nine of Pentacles might be a gold mine, a place of extreme comfort: what we visualise when life is hell. And then, could this card be interpreted as a form of wish-fulfilment? Is there a plan that underpins the wish? And is this the real goal – material comfort?
The Tens: The Devil himself
Finally, the Tens. (I had to slurp a second cup of tea to get this far.) Following on neatly from the hell of the Nines, the last line of the magpie rhyme introduces the Devil himself. (In northern dialect, ‘sell’ means ‘self’.) If we see the Devil as a surfeit of ego, the Devil can be us, to the extreme. Which doesn’t feel comfortable when interpreting the Ten of Cups, naturally, with all its happiness and sense of completion, or the auspicious Ten of Pentacles. But, if we take it back to the Nines, hell is the shadow outcome depicted in the Ten of Swords. In the Ten of Wands, we have the burden, the accruing of work, responsibility, and the potential neglect of the self. Add the Devil to the cards’ traditional interpretations, and we might ask: ‘Where’s the temptation? Am I sabotaging myself here?’
If we related the ten lines of the rhyme to the major arcana, I’d align them as follows:
One for sorrow: Justice, reversed
Two for joy: The Star
Three for a wedding: The Empress
Four for a death/birth: The Hanged Man
Five for silver: The Moon
Six for gold: The Sun
Seven for a secret: The High Priestess
Eight for heaven: The Magician
Nine for hell: The Devil
Ten for the Devil’s own sell: The Chariot, reversed
Of course, the Magpie Rhyme is a moral tale. Being single is sorrowful, there’s joy in companionship, then the lovers are married, have a child (or the child dies in childbirth or later – children’s rhymes always have a dark side). The silver and gold represent accruing material wealth, then we move into the cosmic realm of the secret mysteries, heaven, and hell. With the devil ending the sequence, there’s excess – before it’s all stripped away and we begin again with the sorrowful One.
Thanks for reading, tarotistas.
Now before you think I’m about to delve into Doreen Virtue’s conversion (see Lisa Frideborg Eddy’s excellent blog for this), here I’m talking about the tarot virtue cards: Strength, Justice and Temperance.
Given that the major arcana cards were not originally numbered – this came later – I wondered what would happen if the deck’s three surviving virtue cards vanished, just for a moment and then how the remaining cards might reconnect. Would there be another story?
Why, you might say. Why oh why, Liz. Well, while researching the Hermit, I found myself pouring over the symbols in a fifteenth-century engraving, The Triumph of Time (above), inspired by Petrarch’s lyric sequence poem Trionfi. (It’s the kind of thing I’m drawn to when I have a cup of builder’s tea in one hand and a Jaffa cake in the other.) Anyhow: in this image, one of the predecessors of the tarot Hermit, I recognised a number of symbols pertinent to other major arcana cards. First up, the chariot of our Hermit, or Father Time, is redolent of card VII, the Chariot. Artists inspired by Trionfi included triumphal chariots for all six paintings in the sequence, but the connection for me is the sense of force and determination: more Chariot, less Hermit. The chariot’s wheels are clock faces, which suggest the Wheel of Fortune, the next card. Father time’s chariot is speeding along – as does time, symbolised by the hourglass. His crutches represent infirmity and his wings, the onset of ascension. These original symbols in van Heemskerck’s illustration seems to embody both the Chariot and the Wheel of Fortune. Time, like fate, is beyond our control. It moves quickly, a chariot chasing after our egos, or quest for Fame. With Strength vanished, we get the Chariot, the Hermit and the Wheel as a trifold lesson on time.
Drop Justice, and we have The Wheel of Fortune followed by the Hanged Man and Death. This makes a kind of narrative sense: life deals us what it will – we enter the world between worlds (the Hanged Man), and if really unlucky, we die. (If we see Death as the Black Death of the Middle Ages, Death’s Danse Macabre would have felt literal rather than symbolic). Without Justice, Death feels even less discriminating. There is no human intervention, or judge to pass sentence – no orderly process of assessment. There is simply Fate, a hanging, then a dying. But what if we see the Hanged Man as a response to the Wheel? Again, without Justice, the arbitrator, there’s no go-between, nothing telling us how to respond to or interpret the world – we must be guided by our own knowing. The Hanged Man exists on the earth plane, but he is in a spiritual bliss-state, beatific, glowing. When exposed to the vagaries of Fate and the universe, which has ultimate power over us, we are changed by the experience. The Death that follows, then, is the death of the ego.
Drop Temperance, and we get Death followed by the Devil and the Tower – the unholy trinity of change, bondage and chaos. With no angel of Temperance between the Devil and the Tower, we hurtle straight from temptation, addiction, entrapment or lust into an almighty calamity, which eventually brings a release. (There’s more to say on this, of course – see The Ultimate Guide to Tarot, which dives deep into the symbols of these wise, dark cards…)
Without the virtues of Strength, Justice and Temperance, there’s no reckoning; no pause in which to find order or assimilate our experiences. With these cards in the deck, we are called upon to seek the higher ground, the higher self; to find a greater authority either within ourselves (Strength, Temperance), or externally (Justice). The moral lesson, then? Perhaps, that we can intervene in our own stories and respond accordingly – whatever happens.
There’s also virtue in exploring the ‘lost’ virtues of the tarot, too, if you’re interested: once, there was Prudence (absorbed into the Hermit, Justice or/and The Hanged Man); and Faith, Hope and Charity. Faith may have made her way into The High Priestess; and Hope most likely into The Star. My theory on Charity is that she surfaces as Temperance by way of Chastity – but that’s another story, coming up in Understanding Tarot.
Thanks for reading, tarotistas… til next time.