Returning to Tarot and meditation

Daily practice used to be very difficult for me. I’d forget, or there wasn’t anything that seemed to be important enough to do every day, or my heart wasn’t in it… any number of excuses.

Just this year, however, I’ve finally begun (and maintained!) two daily practices that are often recommended for beginners: meditation and Tarot. And I’ve found that both of them really are useful, separately and together.

Back when I first started — I love that I’ve been around long enough to need that qualification! — meditation practice was very different. Guided meditations were included in many books published in the late ’90s and early 2000s. But how do you actually have that guided journeying experience from a book? Personally, I developed a mental ability to be in two places at once; part of me was reading the words on the page, and part of me was off doing the journey. That’s not as satisfying as participating wholly, but it got the job done.

My alternatives were to memorize what the journey was supposed to be, then put on a CD of drumming (yes, I paid money for a CD of nothing but drumming in different increments of time) and attempt it, or have a friend read the meditation for me. Highly embarrassing. Or I could get out my trusty Walkman cassette tape player and some blank cassettes, record myself reading the meditation, and then listen to it later. (A lot of folks went the tape recorder route, but this is also how I memorized Bible verses for quiz team, so I didn’t want to touch it.)

Or you learned Zen meditation, which was about emptying your mind, and you didn’t need a book or drumming or a friend with a good reading voice to do that. However, you were supposed to come out of the meditation after so many minutes by hearing a note played on a special bowl… and how were you to know how long it’d been without watching the clock? And if you were “back” enough to play the note, did you even need to hear it?

Here in the future, however, we have iPhones and apps. I’m hitting my meditation groove with Insight Timer, which is so much easier. Yes, there is a timer that will play a number of calm sounds when time is up and at intervals along the way, but there are also thousands of guided meditations in many languages available, and — crucially for me — there are milestones shown by stars for the number of days you’ve meditated with the app and the number of days in a row (because daily practice isn’t important for everyone). Some guided meditations help you sleep, some help you ground and center, some help you clear your chakras (or focus on specific chakras), and I’m sure there are tons I haven’t explored. And you can even do the old-school meditations outside the app by recording them on your phone, no blank cassettes needed.

Also, this practice has already borne fruit, less than three months after beginning. I really wanted to keep my days-in-a-row streak alive even though I was fatigued and it was nearly midnight, so I meditated with the timer for five minutes and had some experiences of second sight. In that moment I understood why newbies are told to learn meditation: not only is it important to learn how to focus your mind and keep that focus where you want it for as long as you want it (a skill you need just to cast a circle), but regular practice will also open you up and make you more sensitive to spirit and to altered states of consciousness. And I’ve also used meditation twice now when I was writing rituals to let something bubble up: the perfect activity, a concept to tie the whole thing together, the best order of steps.

Speaking of sensitivity to spirit, my practice with Tarot is also improving quickly. When I started out, I bought a deck or two, didn’t really understand how to read the cards, and the books that came with the decks didn’t clarify things much. I don’t think I had driving divinatory questions, either. I set Tarot aside as “not for me” for a few years. However, sometime around 2008, Tarot struck me as a necessary occult skill to learn, and I picked up the Universal Waite deck so I wouldn’t have to translate image descriptions. I also bought 78 Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack and read it cover to cover, cards in hand. I found Aeclectic Tarot and did many readings with many different spreads. My interpretations gained more depth (and I successfully predicted my first pregnancy, which shocked the hell out of me when I realized), but I was still dependent on the book; I understood the Major Arcana well enough but the Minor Arcana eluded me.

I didn’t read Tarot often when my kids were babies, however. I didn’t like my reliance on the book, didn’t how I’d get past that without investing time I didn’t think I had, and had lost four cards from my Universal Waite deck so I couldn’t read anyway. (Finding them again felt like a sign.)

Becoming much more active in Wicca this year brought back my interest in all of this, though, and I decided two weeks ago — on the night of the New Moon — that I was finally going to learn Tarot in a more structured way. I’d become more confident in reading with Earth Magic Oracle cards, which used a symbol set that I understood immediately and intuitively, and I’d been doing daily single-card draws with Extraordinary Oracle cards, which were much the same. So I began drawing daily Tarot cards as well, and with guidance from Biddy Tarot, pressed a pretty notebook into service as a Tarot journal (tip: steal ideas from bullet journaling, like adding a table of contents and page numbers and pretty headings!). So far I’ve discovered that the two cards work with each other, the oracle card often building on or highlighting an aspect of the Tarot card; for example, today’s cards are the 10 of Swords and Broomstick, which tell me to quit my whining and tackle some overdue housecleaning chores I’ve been putting off because they’re haaaaaaaaaard or they’re groooooooooooss. (And I didn’t even need to get out the book to know that, because I’d drawn the 10 of Swords reversed earlier and had written the upright and reversed meanings in my journal.)

So, one important idea here is that the advice given to beginners is sound. It’s not just busywork or distractions aimed at teens or twentysomethings who are interested in Wicca — these two practices, among others, really will help you later on, so they’re good first steps (and don’t cost much or take up much space). Another key idea is that you can always come back to something that wasn’t important to you at an earlier point on your path, and you might find that it’s important now or that experiences you’ve had along the way can shed light on it now.

Also, just know that Tarot cards will call you out sometimes. It’s way more fun to write 1200 words on reminiscences and lessons learned than to do gross household chores. FINE, I’ll DO IT now, ugh.

Books: On borrowing and buying and keeping and returning

I just have to share: I’m rediscovering the joys of the local library and inter-library loan. This is a story about how I get books.

When I was first studying Paganism and witchcraft as a college student in the early 2000s, I read every book on the topic I could get from the university library, so obviously I knew all about borrowing the books I needed. However, right around that time, Amazon (and free shipping!) became popular. Folks on Pagan email lists (yep, that’s how I first learned) spoke with astonishment about all the hard-to-find books that were now readily available on Amazon. Buying my witch books has pretty much been a habit since then. Why would I not, especially when I can get them used for cheap?

But six or seven years ago, when my first daughter was born and my attention span dropped off sharply because infant, in stolen moments I started reading way more fiction and very little nonfiction. (I just did not have the brain cells left for history or theory. It happens.) That’s when I discovered ebooks and, specifically, that the reading experience and the quality of the books themselves and had gone way up while the price had gone down. Joy of joys! The future is awesome.

Within the past year or two, however, enough of my bitterness had faded and my heartbreak healed that I was ready to pick up witch books again, and I do have a few ebooks. But they’re largely priced around $10, and when you get used to snagging ebooks for free or cheap ($1-2), laying out $8-12 for a book starts to look like an investment.

I’d also been thinking about what I wanted to do with my books when I was done reading them, rather than just indiscriminately collecting them. Did I just want to read this book once, and maybe I didn’t care if I kept it after that? Did it end up being shitty, and added to my pile of shitty books no one else wants, either, so I can’t sell or donate them? Or was this book so good, I wanted my daughters to read it, too, without having to ask permission to use a tablet? Did I want to loan the book to anyone else? Did I want to make sure I had it forever and ever, no matter what changes ereaders and apps and publishers and sellers went through? (I started out buying Nook books, and it is now a process to get to them on my Kindle, let me tell you.)

There’s one more factor at play here, too. When I had resolved to start a coven (or, given my current status, a weird not-coven maybe-study-group thing) and I started developing the Resources page here, I went to the libraries closest to me to evaluate the books they had on the shelf. Could I tell my future students to go get this or that title from the library? Or would I need to loan out my own books instead? Also, could I test-drive being “out” locally by borrowing books that were very obviously about Wicca and witchcraft? (Librarians could hardly give someone my contact info, but maybe they could tell some lonely seeker that someone else was borrowing witch books too, and they weren’t alone. Or maybe that lonely seeker would see me checking out the books and strike up a conversation with me.)

Side note: The Greenville library has a small but decent Wicca-specific section. The Lakeview library has a few mythology books and only two on Wicca, both by Steve Russo and published in 2005: Protecting Your Teen From Today’s Witchcraft: A Parent’s Guide to Confronting Wicca and the Occult and What’s the Deal with Wicca? A Deeper Look into the Dark Side of Today’s Witchcraft. So, you know. Not particularly friendly.

Instead of trying to find cheap used copies of books that were recommended to me but that I didn’t know for sure I’d want to keep always… enter the library! And thanks to the MelCat interlibrary loan system, it doesn’t matter if my local library only has books that are antagonistic to Wicca. If a participating library anywhere in Michigan has a copy of a book I want, I can borrow it. It’s not quite so broom closet-friendly as Amazon, because you can click buttons to request books online but you do have to interact with another human to pick them up. It is free, however, and that’s hard to beat.

This post was brought to you by the books I’ve read recently that were interesting, but not worth keeping on my shelf or in my ereader, and books I’ve just requested that are similarly interesting but I’m not sure I’ll love them (and if I do, I’ll buy a print copy to keep). If I’d paid money for the books I just finished, I’d be cranky. But I didn’t! And they simply go back to the library! Off you go, mediocre books! May you be just the thing someone else is looking for.

A decade-long cycle of growth and regrowth

On the old version of this blog, I wrote (somewhat poetically) about my experience of waiting. Let me say a few words about it in a little more depth.

From 2007 to 2010, I was actively studying Wicca on the East Coast. I sought it out, found Blue Star, and for much of that time I circled with two different Blue Star groups, one in the city where I lived and one further south, where my teacher lived. As a shiny new Dedicant, I had many new experiences, learned a ton from a lot of people, made friends, even survived a falling-out or two. So much growth happened in these years! I expected that things would just always be like this, now that I was “home.”

At the end of 2009 and heading into 2010, there were major changes all around. I made a difficult decision to leave one group. I thought an elevation to Neophyte was coming, but instead, doors seemed to close all around me. My teacher’s family had to move, and they struggled to find a safe, secure new place to live. I was laid off from my job. My husband’s disability became severe enough that he missed the safety net of family and friends back home in Michigan, and after a few months of job searching didn’t yield much for me, we decided to move. By the time we arrived, I was pregnant, and preparations for baby plus a new job with a long commute took up much of my time. Our daughter was born in 2011; about a year later, I deactivated my Facebook account over some privacy setting, and I stopped updating my LiveJournal because I no longer had time to write or read there. As a young working mother, I no longer had time for the lengthy, ponderous online discussions I used to love or the same round of 101 questions that often cropped up in Pagan discussion groups, and I stopped participating in those places too.

And thus I was cut off from the community I’d taken for granted. Now I was too far away to visit regularly, and I had (perhaps unwisely) removed the easiest ways to keep in touch. I was lonely and isolated; I thought that having a baby was a kind of isolation I’d chosen, but I was devastated and hurt when life went on for my community, and I didn’t see that there were ways I might have continued to participate. All I saw was closed door after closed door.

Every Blue Star elevation announcement made me bitter. It should have been me, I thought. I was ready.

Time has since mellowed some of that bitterness. I wasn’t ready — even at the time, I thought, if I’m feeling this way, I probably do need to wait a bit longer and do some self-work — and the people closest to me weren’t ready, either, though I didn’t know this at the time. Their stories aren’t mine to tell, but I can say that I wasn’t the only one who experienced major life upheavals.

This is the part of the story that’s still weaving itself together. By 2013, I’d changed jobs again, had another baby, and moved to the rural spot we live in now. My first attempt to fit in with a Grand Rapids Pagan community hadn’t gone well, and I was too disheartened to keep trying. Why? I now implored the gods. I’m ready. Why am I out here? Why am I still so lonely?

The Craft can wait, I had heard; the Craft will be there. So I waited. And then I had a battle with postpartum depression to fight.

In late 2014 and 2015, I started therapy and I started running. Slowly, the gray clouds parted. They’re still not gone, but I learned how to cope, how to function when there didn’t seem to be any point in it, and then I learned to find the point.

I started to wonder if the gods hadn’t thrown me into the wilderness just to see if I’d find my way back. So I decided to come back.

I reached out to a new Grand Rapids Pagan discussion group, one that hadn’t been around when I searched before, and I found enough of a fit to attend a circle or two. They were active on Facebook, so I activated my account again, and just like that I had my network of family and friends and acquaintances back.

In 2015, a treasured priest of Blue Star suddenly became very sick, and he didn’t have much longer to live. The community rallied around him to share their love and ease his passing, and because I had learned from him and circled with him and feasted with him, I shoved aside the last of the bitterness that I still felt and I joined in. At this point, I had been away from the community for years, and the hurts that seemed fresh to me were ancient history for everyone else involved — I wasn’t even sure that I’d be remembered.

It turned out that I was remembered, and I was loved, and I was welcome.

Through 2016, I took baby steps toward restoring my sense of community. I renewed my relationships with close friends who I’d lost touch with. I attended a couple of circles with the discussion group and participated on Facebook. I brought my children to Grand Rapids Pagan Pride and participated in the rituals. And in the last days of the waning year, I started participating in a new Blue Star group aimed at connecting those of us who were solitary and lonely and feeling isolated. Simply the knowledge that I wasn’t alone — that others had rows as tough as mine to hoe — let so much of my grief and heartbreak fall away.

This is the part of the story that has yet to take place. I feel that I’m on the cusp of something new, that other doors will soon open, and that I have to really absorb the lessons of the past decade. I’m not sure what will happen next, but I am here. I’m still here.

In which I get back something lost

I have a few Tarot decks, and the one I’ve been reading with most often is the Witches Tarot. It’s a solid deck, but it uses Wands/Fire and Swords/Air and the court cards are special cases in a few respects, which I have to remember to keep track of. I have a Rider-Waite deck that I learned on, working through Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack, but I let my kids check out my decks at some point. Long story short, I lost four cards from my Rider-Waite deck and couldn’t read with it anymore. (Well, I suppose I could have, but the idea of reading from a deck with missing cards bugged me.) In October 2014, I made a note of what cards were missing, I stashed the rest of the deck in a safe spot, and that was that. Periodically I looked through the kids’ toys or anywhere else the cards might be, but they never turned up. And I considered re-buying the deck, but I’d worked with this deck. I didn’t want a new deck, I wanted my cards back.

I was thinking about this last night, listening to the Lucky Mojo Hoodoo Rootwork Hour podcast from December 6, where cat yronwode read for a client on air from a Rider-Waite deck and described what was on each card. Even though it had been a while since I’d read from this deck, I could see the cards clearly in my mind as she described them. The VI of Wands came up twice, I remember, because I thought it was remarkable for the same card to show up in readings done by two different readers (cat and Madame Nadia) for the same client’s question.

The second part of this story is that I have a hate-hate relationship with opening mail and filing important papers. It triggers an “I can’t deal with this right now” anxiety thing. I chuck mail and papers in a box to deal with later. Months and years pass, until this bullshit hits a critical mass and, in this case, papers spill everywhere and threaten to take over my office (when they’re supposed to be relegated to a small file cabinet in a back corner). Today I hit that point and hauled all the boxes and papers out, put on some music, and enlisted the fam to help me open envelopes and sort through things.

In one of those dusty boxes, Matt found a jack-o-lantern cookie tin Margaret once kept special things in. And in that tin, there was a stack of Tarot cards from the two decks I let her play with back in 2014… and my four missing Rider-Waite cards: VI of Wands, Page of Cups, X of Pentacles, Knight of Pentacles. We’d never have found them if I hadn’t hauled all that crap out of the office to finally straighten up the room.

I knew the four cards had to be the same ones I was missing, because I don’t have two Rider-Waite decks, but I checked my note anyway (curious about the date): VI of Wands, Page of Cups, X of Pentacles, Knight of Pentacles. Same order.

So thank you, Universe, for the impetus to get my witch on last night, to listen to that podcast, and to tear up the office today. Thank you for sending my four cards (and, by extension, the whole deck) back to me. They get a brand-new bag sewn for them tonight.