I teach academic writing and young adult literature as part of my Jill-of-all-trades portfolio. I rely heavily on the meaning and use of symbols when I help my students craft better phrases and understand what authors are trying to tell us. Symbols carry cultural, social, and personal weights that can convey far more meaning than “plain talk.” Once my students understand the various symbolisms contained in seemingly ordinary objects such as a bird, for example, they suddenly read and write with more excitement, passion, and meaning. I’ve literally had students gasp, say “aha!”, and widen their eyes when realizing the importance and weight of a symbol in writing.
Sandy Evans, author of THIS IS NOT A WEREWOLF STORY, talks to my class every year about how she crafts her stories around intentional and deep-rooted metaphors. She asks my students to come up with metaphors for how they feel after their first few weeks of college. The exercise is always eye-opening for my students. They learn a lot about how they think and view the world based on the kind of metaphor they chose. Some choose metaphors grounded in nature. Others choose ones that reflect the daily grind of life. Sandy’s exercise gets them to think about symbols: what we know about them, how we feel and think about them, and how they relate to our own lives. After we read and unpack Sandy’s books, my students come away with a much wider and substantial view of her work. (Check our her web site, it’s gorgeous!)
The same goes for tarot. When we take time to notice the symbols embedded in our decks, we can increase our appreciation, understanding, and wisdom about the cards. Now, this is not a new idea. Lots of talented tarot readers have written books, blog posts, and crafted excellent podcasts about this. But it is a topic worth revisiting and hearing new perspectives on in order to hone your craft.
Let’s take a look at a few symbols in some of my favorite decks: the Cosmic and Wild Unknown (WU). Both decks are visually stunning and wildly different. The Cosmic has a slight 80s vibe with Nagel-worthy portraits and is chock full of symbolism ranging from Hindu to Jungian. You could read this deck for decades and still discover new symbols. The Wild Unknown is deceptively simple (and can be more of a challenge for new readers) but every color, brush stroke, line, shape, animal is carefully chosen and illustrated.
The Wheel of Fortune in the WU is one of my favorite portrayals of this complex card. A few things to notice immediately are a waxing moon, an owl, the sun, and the very messy but beautiful G-d’s Eye* representing the wheel. Ok, so those are the main elements of this piece so you would notice them anyway. Quick: what do owls symbolize to you? And from where did you get those ideas? And why do you think the owl is sitting ATOP the wheel, near the waxing moon as opposed to down below?
Waxing moons symbolize growth and promise. They can sometimes symbolize the promise of pregnancy or the early stages of pregnancy. CAN symbolize, not always. Symbols often carry many meanings and therefore the context of the query and the other cards that pop up next to it can help you pinpoint which meanings are most likely present. Finally, I love that the wheel is a colorful but slightly chaotic G-d’s Eye. I think of these crafts as the creations of children (children are rich symbols, so go there in your mind). I prefer this representation over the more mechanical, precise wheels often seen.
The Four of Wands in the Cosmic deck varies distinctly from most portrayals of this card and for that, I lurve it. SOOOO MANY SYMBOLS pop up, but let’s break down just a few. The Cosmic color palette is significant in every card. Here we have the creative, passionate colors of yellows, reds, and oranges. Joy radiates from these colors. The pyramid is very striking in the background (the backgrounds of the Cosmic cards are rabbit holes of symbolism in themselves). Pyramids represent our higher selves and the lengths to which humans will go to keep our legacies going long after we cease. They are storehouses of all we’ve accomplished in our lives. They are thresholds to our reward in the afterlife.
I love the pose practiced by the woman in this card. She appears to effortlessly hold her body in a very difficult pose with grace and strength as she peers contentedly into the distance. She does not appear to be looking at anything in particular, but is just gazing. Finally, let’s examine the spiral pattern made by the wands and the flowers (which are thriving out of a dry landscape, natch). Spirals are lovely patterns to see in cards. They are soothing to our eyes. Spirals represent an easy path, a smooth solution to a conflict.
I could actually write many more paragraphs on each of these cards and their symbols! What symbols stand out most for you and from where do your meanings come? Wishing you love and abundance.
*13 years of Jewish day school means I cannot write the name G-d in full.