This is part of an ongoing series in which I write about my interpretations of the cards in A.L. Swartz’s Wooden Tarot. You can find the other posts here.
I think this set of cards may be the most sparsely illustrated in the entire deck, which is both freeing and intimidating. The Wooden Tarot, while it may be based in the Waite-Smith tradition, also calls upon me to use my experience reading with other systems, particularly the Thoth tarot, and so I will be drawing a little bit upon both of them here.
Two of Bones
Two nearly identical jaw bones (the one on the left is missing its lower canine) with a lemniscate above them. (Well, that was the shortest card description in the history of tarot!)
It’s worth noting that all of the 2’s in this deck are similarly illustrated–two nearly identical suit symbols with a lemniscate above them. This makes reading the 2’s closer to Marseilles style of reading suit + number = meaning. While I know that the lemniscate is a symbol for infinity and that it appears on the 2 of Pentacles in the Waite-Smith deck, I wanted to know more specifically what it might mean. And so, I turned to Rachel Pollack’s Tarot Wisdom. The lemniscate
symbolizes the truth that life is eternal, without beginning or end, that nothing is destroyed but only changes form. –p. 36
This reminds me of the Thoth tarot 2 of Disks, which features an ouroboros twisted into the shape of a lemniscate. The keyword for that card is “Change.” Change, or impermanence, is one of the three marks of existence in Buddhist thought, and hence its connection to the eternal qualities mentioned by Pollack. As long as we exist–as long as anything exists–there will be change.
So how does all this apply to this image of two jawbones? Jaw bones are things that need to work together (you can’t chew) but are also constantly shifting their responsibilities. When we chew, we shift the food from one side of our mouths to the other. I think this very practical application says a lot about this card in the suit of Bones/Pentacles: physical things in our lives are not static; we do a dance with them as they change and wear out or as we change and wear out. Money flows in and out, clothes get worn out and need to be replaced, the seasons change–everything in our lives changes, all at different rates, all needing our attention in some way.
The missing tooth on the left jaw bone, then, is a signal that change is inevitable, that the tooth fell out and now we need to do something to compensate for the loss of the tooth. We shift from one foot to the other and back again, taking care of material needs as they arise. The missing tooth isn’t a sign of imperfection, it’s simply a sign of how things are.
Keys: making do; dealing with fluxes of money or material goods; keeping goods and finances in tune; adjusting to changes in living situation, whether those be human-made or caused by changes in the environment
Reversed: in denial about changes; feeling stuck or unable to cope with them; losing balance with financial responsibilities, material possessions, or work situation
Three of Bones
Three bones come together to form a joint, and out of the joint itself sprout two little mushrooms.
It’s images like these that make me wish I knew more about anatomy, either human or animal.I want to say that this image is of the tibia, tarsus, and metatarsus bones, perhaps in the hind leg of a dog or cat. At any rate, unlike the jaw bones of the 2, which are separate and we have to imagine working together, these three bones are already working together to form something really important: a joint. Each bone has its separate function in giving structure to the leg, but working together as a joint the bones are greater than the sum of their parts. We have three rigid things that come together to make flexibility.
As implied by the little mushrooms growing from the joint, it’s a fruitful thing. (“Fruiting body,” the term for mushrooms and other fungus that emerge from the mycelium to reproduce, is one of my favorite terms ever.) There are some implications for decay and change here as well, but I will talk about the whole mushrooms-sprouting-from-bones thing when we get to the 7 of Bones.
Keys: cooperation; something greater than the sum of its parts; the first fruits of collective labor
Reversed: insisting on working alone, for better or worse; losing time or money because of lack of cooperation; types of cooperative work (like needless meetings) that are unproductive
Four of Bones
The four bones of a rib cage. (I take that back, THIS is the shortest description of a tarot card ever.)
I will be honest and say that I’m not a huge fan of how the 4 of Pentacles is portrayed in the Waite-Smith deck. There are a few cards (the 9 of Cups also comes to mind) where the shadow of the meaning is illustrated more than the meaning on the face of it. The guy sitting there with his 4 big pentacles, clinging to all of them, is certainly one aspect of the card: miserliness and clinging to material things. But that’s not the only meaning.
The Thoth deck keyword for the 4 of Disks is “Power,” and indeed the illustration to the card is a bird’s-eye view of a moated fortress with four watch towers. So while the 4 of Pentacles/Disks can mean that you are hoarding stuff and being stingy, the other interpretation is simply that you are financially stable or, what I like to think, that you have arrived at a place where you feel like you have enough.
The rib cage on the 4 of Bones, then, could go either way. The four ribs provide structure, stability, and protection. At the same time, they are a cage, and may suggest protecting something that doesn’t need to be protected. I think this card is very context-dependent and I like that the open-endedness of the Wooden Tarot allows for multiple interpretations.
Keys: financial or material stability; the feeling of having enough; having a good home base or “nest” to return to at the end of the day
Reversed: miserliness; clinging to money or things; hoarding
Five of Bones
The bone pictured in this card is a scapula, or shoulder blade (although not a human one.) It has been severely damaged: cracked in five places with two large pieces broken off. It should be noted, then, that the “five” of this card refers to the fractures themselves, rather than the suit symbol.
While the Waite-Smith card shows two ill/disabled beggars in the snow, the Thoth deck names this card “Worry.” Again, I think Swartz’s card falls in between them.
Alright, so I’m learning a lot about skeletal anatomy today. It is interesting that of all the bones Swartz chose for this card, that he chose the shoulder blade. Although scapula fractures are apparently rare in humans, the significance of this bone is perfect for the meaning of the card. The scapula is necessary for moving the arms/front legs, and its place on the shoulders makes one think of “shouldering” burdens. With this card, we could be shouldering a significant amount of financial worries, or we could be like the beggars in the Waite-Smith card–encountering financial hardship because of illness, disability, a bad job market, or other life circumstances. Unlike the other bones featured so far, which seem pretty flimsy on their own, this strange fracturing of the scapula shows the brokenness of what was once strong and whole.
The one aspect of the Waite-Smith card that I really love is the church window above the beggars, which suggests that financial hardship may be an opportunity for spiritual and personal growth. In that light, the card could even mean deliberate austerity, such as a vow of poverty. But that’s just one of the quirks of Smith’s deck and it’s not shared by the Wooden Tarot.
Keys: debt; homelessness; job loss; illness (especially with large hospital bills); or a great amount of worry about these things
Reversed: mending financial situation; accepting help from others; adjustment to a lower standard of living
I haven’t seen this deck yet. It seems so fascinating!
It is very fascinating! So many independent deck creators have really been breaking the mold of tarot decks.
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For some further insight, the jawbones are of a cat, the three of bones shows the humerus/radius/ulna of a predator, and I think the 5 of bones is based on a predator also. Also worth looking into the concept of scapulamancy, a form of divination used in China and among the Cree and other First Nations groups.