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The value of the Tarot in the 21st century is much the same as it has always been. Socially, politically, culturally, spiritually – the cards help us think. They offer both clarity and complexity, suggesting patterns, ideas and relationships that can wrench us out of tedious paths, stop squirrel-cage spinning, and cancel irritating re-runs in our minds. The cards act as a medium, their imagery serving as both a source and a reflection, providing the possibility of fresh interactions and perspectives. I suppose I needn’t say, but I’m going to, that the cards cannot tell us what to do or how to think. I like to cite Doris Lessing on this subject: in her great work The Four-Gated City, she created the character Rosa Mendip, a clairvoyante who says, by way of explanation: “I can’t tell you anything you don’t already know.”

I was introduced to the Tarot in Chicago in the fall of 1970, a time when I was undergoing radical change in virtually every aspect of my life. Prior to that time, if told or asked to take it seriously, I’m sure I would have laughed. That attitude changed instantly and permanently when a friend read the cards for me. I began to study, and practiced almost every day for many months. By 1974, I was reading for parties, for fund-raising events, and for people who booked appointments. By 1975 I had a new name; I was Judith Arcana, Reader and Advisor.

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I began by studying Arthur Edward Waite and Aleister Crowley, but soon enough discovered with pleasure and relief some notable contemporary practitioners – critics and revisionists, women who’d been thinking and working as I was: Z Budapest, who was born to it, and newly active feminists like me, Sally Gearhart & Susan Rennie, and Vicki Noble & Karen Vogel.

At first I used Waite’s deck (often called the Rider deck, with images drawn by Pamela Colman Smith), and I still read from that one occasionally. But I switched to the Motherpeace deck, created by Noble & Vogel, because its political philosophy is closer to my own, with imagery from multiple spiritual traditions in the Old Religions of the world. I have other decks, and am always glad to see beautifully drawn cards, new interpretations by practitioners, scholars and artists. Because I got the Motherpeace deck about two years before its accompanying book came out, I created my own forms. With any deck, naturally, what I'm offering is interpretation, sometimes using the designer’s book as a second opinion and sometimes disagreeing with it.

I use the I Ching with pleasure and satisfaction, and have a crystal ball. The Tarot, though, is the medium I use most often. I enjoy contributing this useful magic: I've done readings at a street fair for Write Around Portland as well as for volunteers at Oregon’s NARAL and Cascades AIDS Project, and have donated readings as auction items.

As you might expect, the Tarot appears in my writing; here’s a poem that uses images from two cards in the Motherpeace deck.


In the Cards

- after Motherpeace

He is poised in explanation, his crescentfoot wand
painted clay necklace and dark curls
clearly drawn inside the holy past. Stepping
forward, caught speaking in mid-stride
he lets himself be seen. The great falcon rises
behind his mother's throne; he is open-handed.
You may look, he says. Look.

She owns the sword; her gaping wound is clean
pain is jeweled, mouth screams out
of the flower's heart; blue voice climbs the ladder.
She wants to lift her feather-muscled wings.
She wants her eyes to be sharp as the bird’s
eyes, sharp as a cut. The bird teaches her:
One may fly and not fly away.

........ first published at in Winter of 2008