Welcome back to our series for the Tarot-Curious bellydance folk!
So you recently bought, found or were gifted a set of cards. Now you want to know how to take care of them. You ask yourself, “Self… Are there special rules to be aware of? Weird chants or arcane rituals to perform? Should I pour out wine for my homies or pray to the saints?”
Well, be reassured! Like bellydance fusion, there is no one unbroken tradition of tarot that dictates your course from here, but read on for some good guiding principles as you find your own way. As with personal habits, from skin care to keeping track of our finances, smart actions reinforce themselves (And poor habits make work you will learn to avoid).
Taking Care of the Deck: Storage
Keep your deck in a bag or box (Or both, a bag IN a box) of your choosing. I recommend something sturdy and noticeable, so that unlike me you don’t spend 50% of your life squinting at shades of black fabric in your studio, uncertain as to whether you are looking at a skirt, your bathrobe, a dance bag, tarot cards, nor the cat. The goal after all is to keep them in one place, away from mess, where you can find them. Some folks prefer bags in either patterns that evoke their meditative or spiritual side. Traditionalists will go with draw-string solid-hued silk (or silk velvet) bags. Possibly the silk became traditional because of its ‘fancy’ i.e. High-brow and serious connotations, and also for the pureness of it, literally one natural fiber that is sturdy, lovely, and ultimately compostable. Back in the day, synthetic fibers had been invented, so they haven’t had time become ‘traditional’; who knows what traditions our poly-blend future holds? In any case, many old decks in my collection are stored In these old silk bags. As far as boxes go, many things can work. I have old cod fish boxes that I have illustrated, wooden cigar boxes, jewelry boxes, etc. These are for ‘stay at home’ storage; just the bags go traveling.
Taking Care of the Deck: Reading Surface
You can READ on any levelish Surface, from special painted ceremonial table-covering to car dashboard. It just depends in how ceremonial or showy you like to get, Being a kitchen witch, I can’t take time for a lot of new age frippery, and I read on anything dry, clean, nonwindy, and flat. BUT, if candles and incense and OMing get YOU in a good intuitive place to use the cards, go for it. now, just like game and playing cards, these cards can be readily damaged by the elements, notably fire and water. Alcohol-splattered surfaces near open flames not totally recommended. Keep a clean surface!
Taking Care of the Deck: Traveling
I keep my favorite first edition in a shabby black zip bag just the right size to fit in my carry-on. I don’t check it. If I’m doing a schmancy gig like a corporate party or cabaret show, I’ll transfer that little black bag into a black beaded purse on a long strap, keeping everything in character, but close to me.
Other People and Maintaining your Deck
Some folks dont permit others to touch their cards. That is a personal choice. I DO let others handle my cards, making the reading interactive and hands-on. I’m not afraid of people’s mojo and I find letting them work with the cards empowers them.
However, every now and again it may feel like your cards need a ‘reboot’, sort of an energetic spring cleaning, to rinse all the ‘other peopleness’ out of your deck.There’s a number of ways to do this, and some are more ‘far out’ than others. I won’t offer any theories why they may work, but I do pass them along in good faith.
First, restack your deck in factory order, from Ace of Wands through to The Universe, in the sequence they appear in your book. Doing this helps to both reorder your thoughts and settle the cards. This is generally sufficient for my ‘cosmic cleansing’.
Some other options are to take your bag of cards and set it in a bowl of salt, a stand-by for grounding and cleaning in ceremonial circles, or if you are really into rocks, set them down for awhile with crystals. Friends who do tarot and are on the First Peoples/ Red Road also smudge their cards with sage, which entails burning sweet-smelling ceremonial herbs over them, which truly is amazingly soothing. I have heard of tarot lovers putting their decks on a window sill in moonlight as well.
Preparation for Reading
Now we examine the actions we take as a prelude to reading. There are no rules but there are many traditions to choose from – and new ways to make. Some traditions involve elaborate rituals to sanctify the space, to invoke your guardian angels, to enter a meditative space. As a busy mom, dancer and event producer, I ain’t got time for that. Building on the methods of Kate Nordstrom, my original tarot mentor, I have developed a simple and expedient way to prepare for readings for myself or a querant. You can develop your own method too!
Shuffling the cards for a minute, I hold in mind the intention of acting as a conduit for information to help the client or querant. I counsel them to fashion a clear, answerable question preferably with a time frame (this week, six months, this year) and hold it in mind while THEY shuffle the cards. I discourage them from small talk me while they shuffle – their task is to remain focused on their question. While they do that, I unobtrusively rest my palms face up on my knees and continue to think of being a conduit for them. When they are ready, they place the cards on the table and with the non-dominant hand, cut it to three piles and re-stack randomly, repeating this cut and stack process till it has been done three times. I never ask them their question but they sometimes opt to share.
The querant sets the deck back on the table and fans them out face down. With that non-dominant hand, I have them select their cards by feel, feeling for warm or cool cards, placing them face-down in any order. Once they remove their hands after all this, I turn their cards, face up, and move into the interpretation phase.
And… Crazy People, Pushy People, Funny People
I don’t mind people touching my cards, but I have heard some absolutely spurious bull over the years about the cards, so this paragraph is dedicated to the hilarity and audacity of some folks. Favorite foibles include the woman who interrupted my lecture on the history of the deck to insist the cards came from Atlantis (possible I suppose in an infinite universe, but she was unable to substantiate this claim). I had to cleanse the cards after that one.
In another vein of kooky, I had a teenager tell me recently, “No offense, but my friend told me that no REAL tarot reader would ever charge money for readings”, and then hang around my table… just in case. I bowed to her friends expertise but, no, I did not do free readings for her and her assemblage of hopeful friends to prove myself authentic.
And now at the last, something awesome; at a corporate costume party gig for extremely affluent people, I read for a man and his wife who were crassly and hilariously dressed as Donald Trump and his Mexican girlfriend. They got the Greater Trump, card of corporations and infrastructure, The Emperor. For the tarot reader, that’s such a great pun!