Tarot for Teens: Picking a Deck

Grace over Tarot (2)Tarot for Teens is a book I am working creating.  After more than 30 years studying the Tarot, I have realized that even the best Tarot books are incredibly dry and boring to today’s teens and young adults who are comfortable with a more interactive way of learning.  Tarot for Teens is my answer to this.  Its final form might not even be a book.  It might be a series of Youtube videos or maybe a chip that can be directly uploaded to special receptors that everyone will have installed in their cerebral cortexes in a few years.  Whatever its final form, Tarot for Teens is my way of bring the Tarot to a new generation of occult students.

The first thing that I want to talk about is deck selection.  If you are reading this, there is a good chance that you already have a deck.  Maybe it was given to you or maybe you bought it.  However, if you get into the Tarot on any level, you will probably buy at least one more deck eventually.  So you should know what to look for.

All the Tarot everywhere fall into two umbrella-like groups.  They 4 of pentacles comparisonwere either designed to be divination tools or they were designed to be 78 cool pieces of art.  Both are perfectly valid reasons to design a Tarot deck.  Both are perfectly good reasons to buy decks.  However, while Tarot decks that were designed mainly to be cool works of art, can be used for divination, they really aren’t the best choice.  Beginning readers need a deck that has clear symbols and traditional images.  So while you may just LOVE the Vampire Tarot that you picked up, you might want to think about getting a more ordinary deck until you have some experience under your belt.


Within Ace of Swords Morgan Greereach umbrella group, decks can be divided into two more broad categories.  Are they ‘Rider’ based decks or ‘Thoth’ based decks?  Back during one of Western Europe’s many occult revivals, specifically the one during the turn of the 19th century into the 20th century, two very prominent occultists designed Tarot decks.  The Rider pack was designed by A. E. White and illustrated by Pamela Coleman Smith.  The Thoth deck was the brain child of Aleister Crowley and FrAceOfSwordsThothTarotieda Harris was his illustrator.  There are many similarities between the decks and many differences.  Some schools of occult thought adopted the Rider pack and others adopted the Thoth deck.  There are readers who will passionately defend one style as being superior to the other.  I have found it to be purely a matter of personal taste and how a deck ‘feels’ in the
hand.  If you have an allegiance to either style feel free to pick a deck from that tradition.Magician compared

When you are picking up what will be, for all intents and purposes, your training deck, there are some specific things you need to look for besides style.  These are clarity, color, background, symbolism, artistry and empathy.

Art Tarot Card 2It is important for the picture on each card to be clear.  Many ‘artwork’ decks fill the card with a jumble of images.  The card is busy.  There’s a lot going on.  Sometimes the artist adopts an abstract or impressionistic style.  These are often some of the coolest looking Tarot cards ever, but they are difficult to read.  So look at the pictures and see if they’re clear.

“How do I know if the picture is clear when I don’t know what the card is supposed to look like?”  This is reasonable question.  An artist who is creating a picture with the sole purpose of communicating two or three intimately connected ideas better be able to get that idea across in general terms even to a complete novice.  Take, for
example, the five of cups. It does not take an art degree to know that these cards are about regret.  So look for a deck with clear pictures whose meanings come through to
you even without knowing the ‘book cups05bdefinitions’.  Most of the Tarot practitioners I know have three or four cards that they use as measures when picking a new deck.  I use the 2 of
Cups, Death and the 9 of Swords.  You will eventually find your ‘measuring’ cards as you grow as a reader.

Let’s talk about color next.  This part is completely a matter of personal taste.  The pallet an artist chooses says a great deal about the emotions they want to inspire and the themes they are focused on.  How you react to that pallet will affect how you interpret the cards.  I once owned a deck whose colors were circus-poster bright.  The colors nearly gave a headache every time I used the deck.  Needless to say, I didn’t use it that often.  So pick a deck with colors you like and that speaks to you.

Background is related to clarity.  Unlike other forms of divination, the Tarot does not rely on isolated symbols, patterns or runes.  In the Tarot the entire picture tells the story.  It embodies the idiom “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  DB Pentacles 10The ten of Pentacles illustrates this perfectly.  The traditional 10 of Pentacles shows an old man with a young child in the foreground.  Behind them is a castle surrounded by lush fields and an adult couple.  The ten pentacles are often on banners hanging off the castle walls or on pennants flying above it.  The card is about wealth and family and the stability that comes from having both.  Without all three background images, the full meaning might not be clear.

Symbolism.  What can we say about symbolism?  Symbolism is the backbone of the Tarot.  Everything else hangs on the central symbols of a given card.  While different decks sometimes use different symbols, the symbols themselves should be easy to see and their messages clear.  Common Tarot symbols include food, flowers, animals, lightning, pillars, plowed fields/wildlands, tools and the lemniscate (a.k.a dict_lemniscate smallthe infinity symbol {a.k.a. sideways figure 8}).

The second to last thing to consider is artistry.  Do you like the artist’s work?  Period.  If you don’t like the artist’s work, it will be almost impossible to read with the deck regularly.  The Tarot is a divination system completely centered on aesthetics, the psychological responses to beauty and artistic experiences.  If the artistic experience you get whenever you layout a reading is negative, you won’t get much out of the reading.  Pick a deck you enjoy looking at because you’re going to be looking at it a lot.

The last item to consider when picking a deck is closely related to artistry.  It is a nebulous.  One that is completely subjective.  I call it ‘Empathy’.  Do yoaceofcups Robin Woodu feel a connection to the deck?  Does it feel good in your hands?  Do you find the pictures evocative?  Does it speak to you?  Do you get an ‘I-must-have-this!’ feeling when you see it?  You will not have empathy for every deck you buy.  Some you will buy because you like the pictures. Almost every Dali deck ever sold was bought by someone who just wanted 78 Salvador Dali prints.  Some decks you will buy because they’re ‘good enough’ and you just need a deck.  However, if you study the Tarot in depth, you will find a deck that speaks to you and that will be the one you use most frequently.

There is no precise formula to find out which deck is right for you.  The process of picking a deck makes me think of Harry Potter’s first trip to Olivander’s Wand Shop.  For those who have neither read the book nor seen the movie, Olivander announces that “The wand chooses the wizard” after Harry has tried dozens of wands without finding the right one.  Another way to look at it is “You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince.”  You have to try a lot of different decks before you find the one that works best for you.  After you have worked with your deck for a while, you will know if it is right for you or not.  Meanwhile, shop around.  Look online, at bookstores and specialty stores. You will eventually find ‘your’ deck.Occult bookstore

One last thing about choosing decks. If you work with the Tarot over many years, it is possible that you will change decks.  The deck that fit your hand like a glove will slowly stop feeling so right.  Another deck will feel like a better fit.  When that happens, change.  People change over time.  What was a favorite in your twenties, will be on a shelf gathering dust in your thirties.  It is the way of things. When you feel it is time to move on to a new deck, move on.  It’s all good.





I Coulda Been a Lexicographer

When I was growing up nearly everything that interested me was ruled out as a possible life path with the words, “You’ll can’t make a living

I think I would have been a wonderful Mud Pie Baker.

I think I would have been a wonderful Mud Pie Baker.

doing that.”  I couldn’t be a ballerina. I couldn’t be a gardener.  I couldn’t be Wonder Woman.  I couldn’t be a mud pie baker.

Like every high school student in America, my last two years were filled with the question, “What are you going to major in when you get to college?”  Once again everything that I found interesting enough to spend time studying was dismissed with slightly more sophisticated versions of the same statement.  “What can you do with that degree?” or “You won’t make enough money doing that.”  So writing was out.  Acting was out.  History and Literature were out.  When I discovered philosophy that was out, too.  Because I am rebellious and stubborn, I got my BA in Theatre.  I love theatre and was sure that I could ‘make’ it.  Whatever that meant.  A combination of a fear of sexism and a fear of economics kept me from making a serious stab at an acting career.  That will be the subject of another blog.

Time has past and I have seen a lot of the world.  I have met a vast array of interesting people.  In that time I discovered a secret that is so secret even the NSA doesn’t know it.  Here it is – If you are passionate about something you can find a way to make a living doing it.  You may not become rich and famous, but you can support yourself and a family.  The thing is, there are millions of careers out there that require obscure knowledge, unusual proclivities and bizarre skills.  There are people who get paid to tell you how old a rock is.  They are Geochronologists.  There are people who get paid to make food look pretty.  They’re Food Stylists.  There are people who get paid to travel around and watch high school and college sports.  They’re Athletic Scouts.  There are people who collect the venom from snakes.  They’re Snake Milkers.  Ant Catchers dig up the ants for ant farms.  Odor Judgers smell armpits to see if a new deodorant works.  An Ethical Hacker is paid to hack by companies who want their systems to be hack proof.  This last one is my favorite – a professional Cat Catcher is paid to come to your house and get your cat into the cat carrier for you.

Furthermore, just because the chances are slim that you will get the top job in your chosen field doesn’t mean that you can’t earn a living in that field.  Not everyone who studies archaeology gets to become Harrison Ford.  Ooops, I mean gets to become an archaeologist.  However, an archaeologist needs an amazingly big support staff.  They need people to help dig, to clean the items they find, to analyze what was found, to catalog it.  There are a lot of people who work in archaeology who are not archaeologists.  I know a man who got a degree in zoology.  He doesn’t work in a zoo.  He works for a college in the biology department.  He takes care of all the animals that the biologists are studying.  I know a woman who used to get paid to measure the cracks in the bodies of airplanes.  I know a person who has made an entire career of traveling around to beautiful nature places all over the US and Canada.  He takes pictures of place, animals and things that he thinks look cool.  He prints them as posters and sells them all over the world.  How’s that for a cool job?

Erin Mckean's TED talk explores how much fun an evolving language can be.

Erin Mckean’s TED talk explores how much fun an evolving language can be.

Today, thanks to a wonderful woman named Erin McKean, her TED talk is Erin McKean: The Joy of Lexicography, I learned that there is such a thing as a lexicographer.  That is some whose job it is to study words.  They study spelling, pronunciation, meanings, etymology and everything else you can possibly imagine relating to words.  Usually they take all that knowledge and compile a dictionary or edit one.  For someone who loves word play as much as I do, this would be a really cool job.  When I was in college I never even knew it was an option.

During this back-to-school time of year when many people I know are starting high school and college, I have heard a lot of people dismiss a subject they love because they do not believe they can make a living with the degree.  They reject archaeology for accounting; creative writing for education; geology for healthcare services.  They are being practical and have an eye on their future.  Practicality in important.  Earning enough money to survive is the first job of an adult.  However, it breaks my heart to see bright talented young people turn away from what they love in the name of being ‘practical.’  It is important to feed the spirit as well as the body.  I believe that we need to remember that doing something we love and doing something practical are not mutually exclusive.  There are people all over the world doing work they love and getting paid for it.  Typically, they are happier and more fulfilled than people who do a job because it pays the bills.

So if you are a young person trying to decide “What to do with your life’ or if you are an adult trying to decide what to do with the rest of your life, follow your heart.  When some grey unimaginative person asks you, “What can you do with THAT degree?”  Tell them, “I don’t know.  That’s the point.  I’ll find out when I get there.”

What is a Thesis and Why Does My Paper Need One?

This is an important time of year for many people and not because it is the holiday season.  It is important because it is the end of the semester!  For a lot of students this means that the cookie monsterpapers they’ve been putting off for several weeks are due.  Many people, especially if they are new to college don’t really understand about writing papers.  So today I decided to post an article I wrote for an academic e-zine ages ago.  It is one of several I had in mind about how to write A+ papers.  If you are a student and it helps you, please let me know.  If there is an aspect of paper writing you are shaky on and would like some ‘how-to’ tips, post a comment and I’ll see what I can put together.  Meanwhile, I hope everyone gets straight As this semester.


Everything you will ever write needs a thesis. A thesis is the point you are trying to communicate. It is the reason why you are speaking/writing at all. The thesis is the difference between aimless ramblings and a clear discussion. Football, without the goal of winning, would just be a bunch of guys running around on a field. Similarly a paper without a thesis is just a bunch of loosely connected sentences. A well written thesis provides the foundation for writing a great essay, term paper or dissertation.

The jumping off point for creating a thesis is to consider the topic. In high school and college most topics for essays and term papers are assigned. It is up to the student to turn an assigned topic into a thesis which will provide the foundation for a well organized paper.

Many writing guides give contrary advice about writing a thesis. “It MUST NOT be too complex.” “It must NOT be too simple.” “Be specific, but not too specific.” This advice is accurate, but confusing. A simple way to take a ‘topic’ and make it a thesis is to make it personal.

Often a topic elicits a gut level response. For example, “Should the United States be at war with Iraq?” Most people will have an immediate response to that. Either “Yes!” or “No!” That gut reaction is your thesis.

Occasionally, the topic is a ‘no brainer’. “Sesame Street is an excellent program for children.” In this situation the writer can take one of two approaches. The easy one is to agree and provided evidence (aka examples and reasons) to support the obvious statement. The other approach is harder, but might earn the writer points for originality. That is to disagree and provide evidence to disprove the obvious. “Sesame Street is damaging to children because it develops entrenched patters of inactivity and spoon fed learning.”

Sometimes a writer is provided with a topic which is completely alien to him. “Discuss Hemingway’s theme of the futility of war in his novel A Farewell to Arms.” A writer might look at that topic and vaguely remember reading the novel in class. He may not remember much from the book, but he is a fan of heavy metal music. He knows that Metallica’s song “One” is also about the futility of war. He might create a thesis which ties an alien topic with a familiar one. “The futility of war is a common theme in all forms of art ranging from novels like A Farewell to Arms to songs like Metallica’s ‘One’.” Half the paper will be about a topic he knows extremely well and he might get points for creativity.

No matter what the topic, a good thesis is essential. A clear thesis lays the foundation for a clear paper. By taking a given topic and making it his own a good writer can create a thesis on any subject matter no matter how obscure. Once the thesis is written the next step is creating an outline for the paper. That topic will be covered in another article.