My Tarot Story (or There and Back Again)

I recently signed up for a monthly Blog Hop among the Tarot Professionals group that I belong to. It’s a way for me to meet my New Year’s commitment of publishing at least one blog post a week this year. In writing the post for this month’s blog hop however, I realize I have another story to tell first – the story of my own Tarot journey, starting with buying my very first deck in 1990 when I was 13.

The nearest bookstore to the island, where I have lived most of my life, is in the town of Annapolis Royal, a ferry ride and an hour and a half drive away. It also happens to be the locale of the nearest movie theatre. When I was a kid I got to go four or five times a year to see a movie, usually with my best friend with her mom as the driver. I would save up my allowance and babysitting money between trips, not only for the movie ticket but so I could buy something at the bookstore.

At the time there was no library on the Islands but there was a fantastic books-by-mail service. I was a voracious reader from a very early age. That doesn’t nearly cover the truth of it – I lost myself in books. I lived in them. I devoured them. At this point I was reading a novel a day. Every month I would fill out request forms for books and every month I would receive a sack of books postage paid via the provincial library system. I can definitely equate my excitement over receiving that sack of books each month with the excitement these days of a getting a new deck in the mail – the thrill of possibility and secrets yet to be learned. The books by mail system was amazing and it gave me access to a wide variety of books even on my remote island, the downside being that I had to send the library books back at the end of the month. A trip to the bookstore meant I could get something that would be mine forever and not have to be stuffed back into a canvas sack and handed back over the post office counter.

I think the movie we had gone to see that trip was “Memphis Belle”. As our usual custom, while waiting for the movie to start we popped in to the tiny book store next to the cinema. The book store still shares space with a leather goods outlet, so since forever for me, the earthy scent of leather has been inextricably linked with thoughts of books. I remember that evening wandering down aisles of covers tempting me to make them my own, dipping in to sample and taste then wandering further, determined to make The Right Choice. And then I saw the vivid yellow box at the end of the aisle, on a shelf on the wall. A red-robed figure holding a wand to the sky, the other finger pointing to the earth. The only tarot deck there – the good old Waite-Smith – and I bought it and the book that was beside it, the “Pictorial Guide to the Tarot”.

A few years earlier when I was ten my grandmother had died, and I had been given her nightstand. In the drawer was a small bag of twenty five smooth stones with strange symbols carved on the face. A paper tucked in the bag from the manufacturer said they were rune stones. I don’t think they were ever used – I have never heard anyone say that my grandmother had read runes and the paper in the bag makes it seem like they were not used, at least not often. But she had them for some reason, and then they were mine. I wrote “Rune Stones” in the Book Category space on a library book request slip soon after I became owner of the stones, and thus began my reading discovery of all things metaphysical and occult. I read about runes and tasseomancy, cards and channelling. I made a ouija board and tried speaking with spirits (and had a few spooky incidents), and fairly regularly practiced automatic writing. I read about dream work and astral travel, and had a few interesting experiments there, too.  And so, on the fateful day when Pixie’s Magician called to me down the leather-scented aisle, I was already aware of what the tarot was and I had already been wondering how I could ever get my hands on such a mystical, seemingly-intangible item as a tarot deck when I lived in the middle of nowhere. I never dreamed that anything as exotic as tarot cards could be found in mundane, rural Nova Scotia. When I saw the word Tarot on the box, the warm smell of leather already making my head swim, I remember my heart leaped up in my throat, started pounding faster. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I thought it had been put there just for me.

After I paid for the set, I remember I could barely sit through the movie. I just couldn’t wait to get home and crack open that box. After the seemingly endless wait, I remember sitting on my bed finally alone with my cards, sifting through them and consulting Waite’s book, and… being completely baffled. Waite’s words seemed like a foreign language, and since this was before the dawn of the internet age, I did what you did then to learn about something: I  just began ordering as many books on tarot from the library as I could, jotting down what I learned from them in school scribblers before I had to ship the books back. Also, I was a little disappointed that the cards were, in my eyes then, well, quite ugly. I hated that blue tartan back and the bright garish colours. I wanted them to look more mysterious and less cartoony. What can I say? I was 13 and my tastes have changed, and now along with blue cheese and beer, I have grown to appreciate Pixie Smith’s illustrative style.

I read the cards for fun in high school, mainly for myself but also for others on occasion. I remember volunteering at my school’s Hallowe’en Fun fair one afternoon – I think I would have been about 15. The school’s darkroom was my tarot parlour. I dressed in a peasant top with a broomstick skirt and huge gold hoop earrings, with thick eyeliner. My table was set with a crystal ball – a glass rose bowl of my mother’s stuffed with some wisps of her quilt batting. One by one, my sitters would come in to the red-lit chamber and I read them the Celtic Cross. “Before I read your fortune, you must first cross my palm with silver.  That means you’ve gotta give me a Fair ticket.”

When I went to university in the nearest city at 17 I suddenly had access to libraries and bookstores, and even – gasp – metaphysical stores.  I felt like I had finally found heaven. My favorite shop, Little Mysteries, sadly closed this past year. It was there I bought my second deck – the Haindl tarot – at the age of 18. At the time I was very interested in learning about as many religions as I could, and the mythologically diverse Court system of the Haindl drew me in. But it proved to be above my level of knowledge, so my trusty Waite-Smith remained my go-to tool.

The Waite-Smith and the Haindl were my only decks, and then after some years of devoted study and use while I was in university, they were put away for a number of years while I raised young children in the shadow of an abusive relationship. I just kind of forgot about using them. Once in a while I would pull them out from their box under the bed and look at them but I never drew cards. I think I may have been afraid that the cards would have given me the advice to get out of the relationship and change my life, and at that point it just felt so difficult to do. I know now, hindsight being what it is, that I could have well used the steadying influence and introspection the cards would have given me at that time.

Then just three years ago, divorced and happy and starting to feel like “me” again, I saw the Wildwood tarot at a bookstore. And it was just like seeing that Waite-Smith deck all those years ago. It called to me. It sang to me. Even though it had been a good decade since I had touched my tarot cards, and tarot had not even really entered back into my mind, I felt drawn to buy it – I felt I had to have it. The deer ancestress on the cover compelled me, I now believe. At any rate, the purchase of that deck was what sparked my renewed interest in the cards again, what spurred me into serious study and use. And this time coming back to them, I was bringing my own experiences and the wisdom I had gained in the years of being a mother and surviving an abusive relationship. The stories the cards told were not just abstract ideas for me anymore – I had lived them.

My tarot journey has lead me to wisdom, self-knowledge, and the ability to help people. I consider myself so blessed to be able to lay cards for someone and help them see their life from a new perspective, and help them see their way out of problems. Tarot is a constant companion, and I can not foresee a time in my life when it won’t be a major part of who I am. The most exciting thing for me about tarot is that it is a life-long learning process- there is just no way to ever learn all there is to know about it.

I’ll close with a quote I came across recently that eloquently sums up what I feel tarot is best at: fortune-MAKING:
“In a creative way oracles, by their use of analogy and symbol, paradox and ambiguity, stimulate the individual’s imagination in new directions so that he can, if he is able, perceive his relationship with the outside world in a different way and so change his future…. The contribution the oracle makes is to provide an enigmatic utterance which can trigger unused creative potentials….
The possibility of change through self-analysis is the real “magical” quality of fortune-telling systems, which could more aptly be called “fortune-making” systems.”
(From “Nordic Runes” by Mountfort, attributed to Marijane Osborn and Stella Longman from the book “Rune Games”.

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I checked my high school yearbooks because I thought there might have been a candid photo of me dressed up to read the cards. There wasn’t one, but I did find this photo of me dressed as a flower child dancing with Elvis. 🙂

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