Ever noticed how ‘just’ precedes just about everything that’s supposedly easy? ‘’Just write the book!’ (I leave the writers among you to smirk at that one.) Or, ‘Just… run a marathon. In bare feet’. (I blame Nike’s ‘Just do it’ advertising campaign, intended to galvanise us into some sporting hell). Or the favourite, ‘Just get on with it (rebuilding your house, learning Mandarin, finding enlightenment). In all, I reckon ‘just’ is the opening gambit of the self-help devil.
Then there’s ‘just’ in restaurants and shops. I call this one Just Feel Bad.
At lunch today my Dad orders his usual half a bitter (that’s beer, if you’re in the US). ‘Just a half?’ the server enquires, with a niggling look.
‘No,’ breezes my Dad. ‘I’ll have five pints to myself, if it makes you feel better. Then I’ll get in my car.’
In the real world, rather than my fantasy dialogue, he replies, ‘Yes. Just a half, please.’
Marketing subtext: You could have ordered the whole bar! Or a bottle of Bollinger! But all you want is a boring half of bitter.
Congratulations – you’ve confirmed your status as Scrooge of Drinks.
Today, ‘just’ has become interchangeable with ‘only’’, and implies lack: an alleged need unfulfilled which can only (I’m on a roll here!) be redressed by buying more. And more. (Since studying and writing about Switchwords, I’ve become more aware of language and its impact; see my book, Switchwords: Use One Word to Get What You Want.)
And yet, the word’s original meaning is ‘exactly’ (later, it came to mean ‘recently’, as in ‘I just bought another tarot deck and hid it under the bed so my husband/cat won’t know about it’). Which brings me to tarot and the Justice card, because tarot, like only/just, swims in the background of my everyday experience. As ‘just’ first denoted precision, exactness, morality and adherence to the law, the word gives the card its meaning. Strength and Temperance, the other surviving virtue cards of the major arcana* are similarly direct. You get what you see – a judge in session, a woman holding a lion’s jaws, an angel pouring water between two cups.
How to interpret Justice
In readings, I’ve found the card can be literal – a legal process, a lawyer, being judged. Yet, if this doesn’t apply, there is another way to go. I like to consider Justice as the sister of Temperance, as both cards may be interpreted in terms of balance and retribution. As justice wields the sword, she oversees the mind: a call to get practical, to put your affairs in order and make careful and right decisions. Temperance, with her cups, strives for emotional balance. These sister cards have in common the theme of precision. Not a drop of water is spilled from Temperance’s cups. Justice’s sword is perfectly upright, the scales of balance exactly level, which gives a visual right angle and a handy metaphor: the right angle, or outcome.
Rewind to the restaurant: my Dad asks for half a bitter. ‘Exactly a half,’ the server confirms. A completely different scenario, as the server confirms they have the order exactly right. Or, as I’d like to say, just so.
*The tarot’s ‘lost’ virtue cards, Prudence, Charity, Faith and Hope, became submerged into the Hermit, Temperance, High Priestess and Star respectively – see Tarot of the Heart, my majors-only deck that includes the lost virtue cards.
It’s taken me many moons to process the mid-to-final episodes of Game of Thrones. Back in early May, I was teaching tarot in Australia when that cinematic masterpiece, ‘The Long Night’ aired; we’d rented a beachside studio in Perth, brought along a projector and, perched at the one table, angled its lens toward a thankfully white wall. Lights out, jet lagged and edgy with anticipation, we plummeted into Winterfell battle-fear. Samwell Tarley, fingers shaking; Melisandre igniting the blades of the Dothraki horde; Arya’s death-blow to the Night King. And afterwards, I thought I’d just continue to write about it. Then came the block: having seen the remainder of the series by the end of the trip, I could no longer review on an episode by episode basis. And there was a lot to process. Compare ‘The Long Night’ to the series finale, and it’s if we’re seeing a different Thrones: one, telling multiple hero’s journeys; and another, which wraps up a complex narrative by misaligning character and action. My Game of Thrones Tarot partner in crime, the artist Craig Coss, expressed this misalignment as being ‘archetypal untrue to character’.
There are many archetypal truths in ‘The Long Night’. Arya kills the Night King – true to her role as assassin, true to her quest for justice for her family (she’s defending Bran, after all). In cards, then, we have Death (Arya Stark), The Night King (Judgement) and Bran (the Hermit). These three express key stages of the soul’s journey toward spiritual ascension – the search for truth (Hermit) the death of the ego (Death) and the healing of the past (Judgement). In the crypts of Winterfell we have, amongst others Tyrion, Sansa and Varys, the diplomats literally in the dark. This resonates with me as a motif for the whole episode – the story comes from the place of the soul enacted through the body, which cannot be other than true. The intellect is buried, quiet in the crypts, while the soul fights for survival in combat. There’s even a consistency with Melisandre, that paragon of moral ambiguity – when Beric Dondarrion (finally) dies protecting Arya Stark, Melisandre tells Arya, ‘The Lord brought him back for a purpose. And now that purpose has been served.’ She acknowledges her own time to go when after the battle she removes her red necklace, saying, ‘My work is done’ as she ages and falls to dust. While Melisandre has her own card in our deck (The Priestess) I like to see Beric as the Ten of Wands – being brought back to life time and again without understanding why – until he dies saving Arya, who can in turn vanquish the Night King and save the living. As with the tarot meaning of the Ten, he has no perspective on his purpose, weighed down as he is by the burden of service.
When we look at the last episodes of Game of Thrones, I struggle to square the circle. We’re given hints that Varys may be having Dany poisoned and, given Dany’s family history of madness, this would be an acceptable plot development – the poisoning induces madness, likening Dany to her ancestor Mad King Aerys – leaving a clear path for Jon to take the throne. But this doesn’t materialise. We’re expected to believe that power alone has corrupted the queen who once wanted to break the wheel of slavery, turning her into a virtual tyrant who destroys the innocents of King’s Landing. And naturally I felt cheated of a Dany/Cersei showdown: too easy for her to die under the rubble with Jaime; and then, there’s the Brienne situation. Virgin queens are legendary. Why did the writers deem it necessary for Brienne to sleep with Jaime, then be cast as weeping widow-to-be, waving him off into the night, now a ‘whole’ woman? What did work for me, however, was the destruction of the iron throne and Bran becoming King: the wheelchair replacing the throne, hopefully heralding an era of enlightenment.
When I look at the numerology of the cards that represent the characters in the crypt, I get the gender of the next ruler. In the crypts are Varys (V the Hierophant) Sansa (XVII the Star) and Tyrion ( the Fool). Add 5 + 17 + 0 = 22. Reduce (2 + 2) to give four, the number of the tarot Emperor. Now to the numbers of cards representing key characters involved in the final confrontation with the Night King – Theon, Arya, Bran and the Night King himself – and we get the Hanged Man, Death, the Hermit and Judgement (9 + 12 + 13+ 20 = 54). Add 5 + 4 = 9 which returns us to Bran, IX the Hermit, the quintessence, and the final ruler of Westeros.
Episode 2 – what a battle warm-up! Here’s a recap of some of the storylines, told via our Game of Thrones Tarot.
‘Arise, Ser Brienne’. As GoT Tarot artist Craig Coss says, ‘We always knew she was a knight.’ Here’s how Craig depicted Brienne as Knight of Coins: loyal, steadfast to the last. And then Jaime pledges to fight for the living under her leadership. This Lannister has undergone one of the deepest transformations throughout this epic narrative, from antagonist to protector, saving Brienne from attack by brigands and the bear-pit. His arrogance gone, he now comes to some understanding with Bran when they talk at the Godswood – and makes his priorities clear.
Arya and Gendry: Arya discovers Gendry’s take on the White Walkers, whom he describes simply as ‘Death’. And Arya, as our Death card, knows exactly what that’s about. Now she has a handcrafted weapon from Gendry, will she survive the coming battle? In the hours before the beginning of war, she decides it’s time to experience intimacy. Arya and Gendry might be the new Lovers: Our GoT card depicts Jon and Ygritte atop the wall, also on the cusp of death or survival.
Cersei’s Fools: Dany has brought her Unsullied army and dragons (The Chariot) to Winterfell to fight, yet Cersei, Queen of Swords, has tricked them all: she sends no one to the North, intending to murder those who survive the battle with the Night King (she’s surely an aspect of the Devil card at this point in the narrative, depicted in our deck as Ramsay Bolton). And yet Tyrion, known for his intelligence and wisdom, advised Dany that his sister could be trusted. Cersei has fooled even Tyrion – who has been our Fool in the deck all along.
For more Game of Thrones Tarot insights, meet me in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney in April/May 2019 for workshops on Talking Symbols and the Hermit as the wounded healer – here’s the booking link for Perth, Melbourne and Sydney…
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
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.