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The Adventures of Fen Fatale ~ Ecoheroine

The Marriage of Tarot and the Empath

On the heels of the beautifully aspected Taurus full moon, my dreams lately have had me thinking a lot about empathy. Recently, I taught a series of workshops for Windham-Raymond Adult Education on folklore, astrology, palmistry, tasseography, and my favorite–cartomancy, the art of reading everyday playing cards for divination. I first began working with the Tarot, astrology, and cartomancy in 1992, while I was a teen-ager. Prior to that, around 1991, before I entered high school, a friend of my mother’s gave me a set of Celtic Tree Oracle cards–a system of divination with a guidebook and cards created by Colin Murray and Liz Murray, illustrated by Vanessa Card (1988). I still have my original deck and guidebook–even though there’s a little bit of tree sap on some of the cards from using them outside 20+ years ago. (I experimented with aeromancy, allowing…

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The Marriage of Tarot and the Empath

On the heels of the beautifully aspected Taurus full moon, my dreams lately have had me thinking a lot about empathy.  Recently, I taught a series of workshops for Windham-Raymond Adult Education on folklore, astrology, palmistry, tasseography, and my favorite–cartomancy, the art of reading everyday playing cards for divination. I first began working with the Tarot, astrology, and cartomancy in 1992, while I was a teen-ager. Prior to that, around 1991, before I entered high school, a friend of my mother’s gave me a set of Celtic Tree Oracle cards–a system of divination with a guidebook and cards created by Colin Murray and Liz Murray, illustrated by Vanessa Card (1988). I still have my original deck and guidebook–even though there’s a little bit of tree sap on some of the cards from using them outside 20+ years ago. (I experimented with aeromancy, allowing the wind or a sea breeze to lift certain cards in the course of a reading in some secret grove on the coast of Maine. But over the years, I fully embraced my true path as a hydromancer, and have never mastered aeromancy, divination with the element of air.) I will have to write a different post on hydromancy.

my original deck of the Celtic Tree Oracle by Liz and Colin Murray from 1991

I had always been intrigued by different languages, different systems–from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs to runes, and even created my own “planned language,” with a full dictionary and grammar guide (my own version of an Esperanto, albeit without speakers other than myself). Learning the Celtic Tree Oracle system of divination was fun for me as a fourteen-year-old; I spelled out my name in the Ogham alphabet, and learned that the ash tree (“Nuin”) was associated with my birthday (in late February). As a result, I’ve always sought out ash trees. Just before I decided to buy my home at Nixie’s Vale in southern Maine, I was pleased to discover that the property beheld a rare black ash seep–full of ash trees–which served an ecological purpose to cleanse and filter the soils around the well, and replenished a perennial stream that meanders through the woods and flowed into the pond. It spoke a language to me: one of wetlands, of trees, of healing and replenishment, of water and folklore–one in which I imagined a water nixie living, protecting the well, the streams, the seep, and the nearby pond. That’s why I named my home “Nixie’s Vale.”

By nineteen, I was serious about the study and practice of cartomancy and Tarot. I began reading for others in college–friends, classmates, total strangers–on campus while a student at St. Lawrence University. Sometimes, my peers approached me on campus–students I didn’t know, and never encountered in a classroom, to ask me for a reading. I’d garnered a reputation for “accurate readings” by my sophomore year. (I read palms, too, but my preference was a deck of Tarot or regular playing cards.) I enjoyed a variety of references to guide my early practice but I loved books by Gillian Kemp. (She wrote The Fortune-Telling Book (2000), among other books.) Later on, I loved working with The Oracle of Love by LeeAnn Richards (2003).

A classic reference on cartomancy by Leeann Richards

Cartomancy is over 700 years old. Scholars in the field of semiotics study ways that signs and symbols as elements of communicative behaviors, which is a robust field of scholarship. Within that field of study, there are those who focus on the symbolism that corresponds with maps and cards. Cartography is map-making; cartomancy is divination with cards; notice the use of the same prefix “carto-” meaning, “map, chart,” or “playing card.” Early in the 16th century, historians and scholars see the use of astrology (see the work of Don Cameron Allen, 1942) and cartomancy in the Tudor court of King Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. (Allen, 1942) and (see the work of Ross Caldwell on the history of cartomancy in Europe). According to Caldwell, what we now think of as “playing cards” appeared in Europe in the 1300s, although the various methods for using them for divination evolved and split into various sub-groups throughout Europe and time. In the Tudor court, Anne Boleyn read cards–but she was likely using what we consider traditional playing cards, which had the likeness of King Henry VIII for several of the kings, and later, he commissioned cartomancers to make a deck featuring four of his wives–none of which were Anne Boleyn. In the Showtime series, The Tudors, we see a couple of scenes in which Anne is “reading cards” and she’s using ‘playing cards’ not Tarot. Then, Tarocchi, an Italian card game, was printed in Europe, and circulating, but it wasn’t until later that cartomancers combined the 52 cards of the traditional deck with unrelated illustrations inked by medieval monks–Christian monks, who created the archetypal illustrations that later became known as the “Major Arcana” of Tarot, to create the 78-card Tarot deck.

Drawing from my Celtic roots, I have always been drawn to decks that have a Celtic theme. One of my favorites is the Wild Wood Tarot by John Matthews and Mark Ryan. I love working with this deck. It’s unconventional–and that might be off-putting to those who are looking for a traditional Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck, but for those interested in Celtic mythology, folklore, or pre-Celtic mythology and folklore, this might be right up your alley, too. For those who are in love with pre-Celtic folklore, such as the old medieval tales of Robin Hood, or the folklore of the Green Man and Green Woman, as well as the animal kinship, connection to Nature, this is a valuable tool for meditation, divination, and drawing inspiration for writing in a journal.

Working with the Wild Wood Tarot deck

The relationship between Tarot and empathy is a constantly renewing interest for me as a practitioner of lightworking and healing arts, and as an Empath. In this context, what do I mean by empathy? It’s sometimes called psychic empathy, and I would like to point out that the definition of “psychic,” is “of or related to the soul,” so empathy is a soulful experience.

While it’s a relatively broad term, psychic empathy can describe the range of experiences one may have as an “Empath.” You’ve probably heard of telepathy and telepaths—Empaths, or highly empathic people, receive information in different ways, but are highly sensitive to the emotions of others. Sometimes these people call themselves “highly sensitive people” (HSP) and refrain from mention of any psychic correlation. Others delve into divination or experience lucid and/or prophetic dreams, as I do, and still yet others call themselves “healers,” “Reiki practitioners,” therapists, counselors, or some other type of healer. Most empaths are healers at heart. In addition, there are a myriad of other layers to the experiences of Empaths–including clairsentient (“clear feeling”) expressions of psychic empathy. I’m a clairsentient empath type, which is not uncommon for those born under the sign of Pisces, or those with strong Piscean energy in their astrological natal chart (Pisces Sun, Moon, Rising/Ascendant, sometimes those with Jupiter or Mercury in Pisces). In fact, in western astrology, all of the water signs–Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces, are likely to experience psychic empathy, and/or clairsentience in their lives, regardless of whether they choose to use this as a gift, or tool for healing (themselves or others), or in their vocation or, express it through creative arts. I’m a poet and writer, and tend to use my “clear feeling” gifts to connect with others, and to transmute those experiences into my writing. I swim at least five months of the year in the lake and the ocean to clear my mind, replenish my body and spirit with the energy of water, essential for any hydromancer, but also helpful for Empaths. Swimming cleanses the body and mind of others’ energy, and for me, recharges my energy physically and mentally.

I’m a Piscean poetess-empath & Mystic, swimming in the sea

Emotionally intuitive, and sometimes physically intuitive people are empaths. There are emotional empaths, physical empaths, intuitive types, and those who connect with animals through psychic empathy, and those who connect closely with the earth (the plant whisperers! I have lots of friends who fit this category!) An empath might be primarily emotionally intuitive, or both, that is, experiencing the emotions and physical ailments/illnesses/injuries or pain of another being. Depending on the individual’s experience, an empath might have additional gifts or abilities, which allow that person to receive other types of information. This might include highly detailed and specific information, names of people or places, details about emotionally-charged events (e.g. a trauma, a memorable event, a rite-of-passage) or just about any other type of thought. It’s not mind-reading. When an empath is a baby, s/he might tune into other babies (e.g. cry when another baby cries, or have a soothing/calming effect on other children). As an empath reaches puberty, the experiences can be heightened and frustrating, especially if the teen-ager doesn’t understand what s/he is experiencing is a form of psychic empathy.  Dr. Judith Orloff is one of the most well-respected experts on psychic empathy. You can find more about her work at her website here. 

Tarot has its roots in cartomancy, the method of divining with the use of what we now think of as traditional playing cards. Playing cards—with the King, the Queen and the suits of Hearts, Spades, Diamonds and Clubs—were invented for the purpose of divination about 600+ years ago. There are 52 cards in the deck for 52 weeks in the year; four suits represent the four seasons and the four elements—earth (diamonds), hearts (water), air (spades) and clubs (fire). And so forth. But Tarot came later. One of my favorite WordPress blogs on Tarot is Truly Teach Me Tarot, by Vivien Ní Dhuinn, who has fantastic information about the individual cards and how to read Tarot cards in various spreads for various purposes. I have referred to her website again and again, even though I have read (and studied) the Tarot since 1992. I’m always learning–Tarot is such a rich, robust arena of holistic systems for mindful ways of knowing, living, being. One of my favorite teachers of Tarot, for me, personally as a practitioner and lifelong learner, is Pamela Loffredo, a professional psychic-medium and Reiki Master Teacher, and Intuitive, based in Maine. She can be found through Leapin’ Lizards in Portland, Maine. Pam taught a series of Tarot classes at Leapin’ Lizards over the years, and I took one of her classes. I’ve learned a lot from Pam. 🙂 Another fantastic resource is Mary Greer. In Mary Greer’s 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card, she explains a bit about the relationship between the empath and Tarot. Her blog can be found here.

But I also frequently rely on my own intuition, my own experiences as a lightworker, an Empath, and a Mystic, and a hydromancer, sometimes, aspiring to draw from dreams, ancestral knowledge, traditional knowledge passed down to me from my grandmothers, including my Irish grandmother, who taught me some elements of Irish cartomancy before she died in 1992.

Reading the Wild Wood Tarot at Nixie’s Vale

Since the invention of Tarot, Empaths have used not only the cards themselves but the whole experience of sitting with another person and “reading” for him/her. In my experience, whenever I’ve “read” for someone without the use of cards, or any other tool (including their palm, or use of a pendulum), the other person can be incredulous. It seems to me, when I have illustrated cards with symbolism in front of the person, or some other tool (e.g. a moving pendulum, lines on a palm) the person embraces the information more comfortably. People like visual aids. I tend to think of Tarot in this way when I give a reading. I’m not unique. Other empaths use Tarot as a tool and their empathic abilities as guidance. It seems to me that this is a long-standing relationship between empaths and Tarot. After a 400 +/- years, we’re talking commitment. A quick Google search will turn up countless results for “empathic Tarot” readers, each explaining their gifts and how they use Tarot to help others. There are hundreds online and many fantastic readers on Youtube. Some of my favorites include AquaMoonlight (she’s in Maine!), Ashley at Hello Tarot, Andrea Leigh Cox on the Detox Intuitive, Reading the Signs Astrology and Tarot (she’s in Ireland!), Wendy Bones Tarot. In particular, Andrea Leigh Cox is a gifted Intuitive, Detox Specialist, a fellow Pisces, a beautiful soul, and utilizes her many gifts to help people. To learn more about her work, visit her website. I have learned a great deal from Andrea, and feel she is a kindred spirit.

How about you? What has been your experience with Tarot, or card reading, and psychic empathy? Please leave a comment to share about your experience, or if you have a favorite deck of Tarot, please feel free to comment below. Thank you for reading, liking, and sharing my blog.

Leah

Poet. Artist. Ecoheroine. Human ecologist. Spiritual mermaid and Mystic. I write about literary ecology, wetlands, water, Romantic ecology, and quirky adventures with my dog.

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