Choosing a tarot deck for yourself.

It is easy to see why people hesitate about buying their first tarot deck or adding another deck to their collection. It’s hard to predict before using it whether or not a particular tarot deck will work for you in the long-term. This is normal because tarot is a tool. If I am a carpenter, it will probably take me some trial and error to find the brand and style of hammer that works best for me. As I become more skilled, I begin to understand the features I like best in a hammer and make different buying decisions. The same goes for tarot. If you are hesitating about buying any decks because you’re afraid of buying one you don’t end up liking, let me assure you right now: you are going to buy at least one deck you don’t like. Don’t let it hold you back. 

Unfortunately, with the floor starting at $20USD, tarot isn’t a very cheap hobby. Even if you’re not a deck collector, a collection of 8 or 10 decks could still set you back a few hundred dollars. Here are my main tips for choosing a tarot deck that is more likely to click with you and less likely to waste your money. (Although you should also just accept some wasted money as part of the process.)

Understand how important it is to you that you do—or don’t—see yourself in a deck.

One of the best things about the tarot renaissance of the last 5 or 6 years is that we are seeing a lot more diverse representation of people depicted in decks. Although it might have been the case that in prior centuries, readers saw the people in decks as symbols and not actual human beings, we are now in a world where people want to see people who look like themselves in the tarot. It’s still a small corner of the market, but the number of decks that feature diversity of race, gender expression, size, age, ability, etc. has grown a lot. If you know that seeing yourself in your decks is important to you, it will make the pool of available decks more focused.

On the other hand, some people do not want to see human beings of any kind represented in decks for various reasons. There are also lots of decks out there that do not feature humans or humanoid creatures. Knowing this about yourself will narrow down your search considerably.  

Just because you’d hang it on your wall does not mean it works well as a tarot deck—and vice versa.

This was the biggest lesson for me to learn: art that looks beautiful doesn’t necessarily do well when it comes to divination. When we are reading cards, we need a few things from them: 

  • that they’re immediately recognizable and distinguishable from other cards, 
  • that they engage in some sort of symbolic language, 
  • And that the imagery can be easily seen and understood without needing to hold the card right up to your face. 

The (somewhat) exception to this are cards that are deliberately abstract so as to pull messages from your subconscious, rather than speak in a symbolic language. 

There’s a lot of great art out there that would function terribly in tarot decks. Likewise, I have decks in my collection that are extremely powerful for divination but have art that I’d never hang on my wall. In tarot decks, I have learned to choose clarity and power over beauty. That being said, if a deck is so ugly to you that you feel repulsed when looking at it, then take that as a very good sign to not buy it!

Figure out what your deal-breaker cards are and try to see the whole deck if possible before buying.

You may not know it, but you probably have some deal-breaker cards. That is, cards that gauge how closely a deck creator’s understanding of the tarot aligns with yours. If the deck looks great overall, but they messed up this particular card, will that impede your ability to use the deck? Deal breaker cards are often cards that we closely identify with, or cards whose interpretation we feel strongly about. My deal breaker cards are often the High Priestess, the Queen of Cups, Death, Temperance, the Three of Swords or the Ten of Swords. If I am looking at a deck that interprets these cards in a way that I dislike or disagree with, I just won’t get the deck. Figuring out deal-breaker cards takes time. Sometimes you need to see someone really eff up the Ten of Swords or Strength before you understand it’s a deal-breaker card for you.

Knowing your deal-breaker cards is only half the battle, though, because sometimes it’s difficult to see all of the cards before you buy. The ideal scenario is if a friend owns the deck and you can flip through their copy and get their opinion on it. Some metaphysical shops will have demo decks so you can handle and flip through a deck before buying. In the world of online retail, more indie deck creators are understanding that providing low-res images of all 78 cards makes people more willing to buy the deck. In other cases, readers and collectors do deck flip-through videos to show all the cards one by one. If you have a rare or ultra-new deck yourself, consider doing a flip-through video as a public service! And if you want to take a gamble on spending money…in order to not spend more money… buying a tarot app is a good way to see all of the cards in a deck and read the guidebook before you decide to invest in a hard copy.

Be prepared for some trial and error, and have an exit strategy for your decks.

Even if you do your best research beforehand, decks will surprise you. One deck may click with you while another turns up answers that don’t make any sense. Sometimes, a deck will sit on your shelf for years until one day the readings start to be meaningful. Other times, you’ll find that you have outgrown a deck that worked for you right out of the box a couple of years before. Unfortunately, none of this correlates with how much money a deck cost or how much you wanted it before you bought it.

If you have been cherishing the fantasy of the One True Deck that you can use in every context forever, know that it might take years and a lot of money to find that deck. (Also, as a polyamorous person, I’m just gonna say—it’s a lot of pressure to put on one deck to serve all of your needs. Needing multiple decks is OK!)  As you grow as a person and a tarot reader, you may find that what you need in a tarot deck changes. Being flexible and willing to swap out your decks over the years means you’ll have a collection that’s in tune with you as a person. 

If you do want to sell, I have found that it’s pretty easy to re-home unwanted decks. If you already have an online store for something else, just put your used decks up there. You can sell over social media or on tarot forums to people you trust. People are also often willing to swap a deck of theirs for one you don’t want. There have been a few decks that have been hard for me to sell or swap, but you can likely find a willing person in the right place. Giving a used deck as a gift to a friend or a stranger is also a good strategy to send a deck on the next stage of its journey.

Before you open the flood gates, a note on tarot deck shopping addiction: it is real and it can damage your finances. This isn’t unique to tarot; you can wreck yourself financially over shoes, enamel pins, board games, or anything else that doesn’t seem expensive yet adds up very quickly. If you find yourself obsessing over decks and buying one every time you get a little spare cash, you’ll probably want to get a clear picture of how much you’re spending on your deck habit. Don’t try to justify deck buying as a need. Even as a professional reader, there’s no way that I can justify the 25 or so tarot and oracle decks that I have! It’s ok to be truthful with yourself and want something just because you want it. 

For the first couple of years I read tarot, I spent a lot of money on decks. I even wrote a post about it. The good news is that I eventually did get over it. If you are struggling with wanting to buy decks, sit down and create a document or spreadsheet of all your deck purchases and their costs (including tax and shipping!) to see how much you’re spending. I have seen people give themselves an allowance for decks in their budget, or allow themselves to buy a certain number a year, or have a policy that they can only buy a new one if they sell one first. A big part of curbing my deck spending was getting off of social media so that I wasn’t flooded with pictures of people buying shiny new decks all the time. Finding a strategy that keeps deck buying in the healthy range also means that you can have a relationship with tarot that isn’t tinged by guilt.

Anti-Supremacist Statement

All discussions of tarot on this blog are specifically anti-supremacist. As a person of European descent, I reject the narrative that tarot is a purely European phenomenon or that it should be used only by “white” people. I understand that some of my ancestors, specifically those from places like Alsace and the Rhenish Palatinate, may have used these decks for game play and I am interested in what the imagery of those decks has to say about the world in which my ancestors lived. But I reject any claim that tarot is only authentic to those descended from Europeans, or that tarot decks need to feature Europeans to be legitimate.

The four-suited card deck was not invented by Europeans. It was co-created over several centuries by people across East and Central Asia, the Middle East, and northern Africa before arriving in Europe in the 1300s. The specific contribution of Europeans is the 22-card trionfi, or trumps, now often known as the Major Arcana. In discussions of historical and present-day tarots, there is no room for Euro-centric purism. As a card game and as a tool of divination, tarot is by the people and of the people; it continues to change and be enriched as it encounters new cultures. And that is as it should be.

Those of us who are of European descent have to be vigilant to make sure that our culture is not mis-appropriated by those who would distort our history and our sacred tools in order to build white supremacist and white nationalist narratives. That is why from March 2021 going forward, discussions of historical tarot decks, like Tarot de Marseille and the Visconti-Sforza deck, will link to this statement.

Uncomfortable Curiosity: The Page of Cups

Once during a weekend trip, my partner, his other partner, and I decided to play a board game. My partner’s partner is a board game enthusiast and they had a brand new indie game still wrapped in plastic. It was so beautiful and intriguing that even though I am entirely unfamiliar with that kind of game, I wanted to give it a try. 

As we removed the pieces from their wrappers and set up the board on the dining room table, we realized just how complex this game was going to be. This was on an afternoon in early winter. It took an hour and a half to set up the board and read through the rules, and during that time the sun had gone down. Both my partner and his partner had played this general type of game before, so even though the game was complicated, they could at least see the overall structure. I, on the other hand, had nothing. It was difficult for me to understand what the game’s objectives were and what basic gameplay even looked like (each player’s turn had at least 5 separate steps.) As the sun went down and I sat there at that dining room table listening to the rules, I began to get angry, and then very, very sad. Without warning, I was fighting back tears and I had no idea why. As we were about to begin the game, I apologized, said I was tired, and laid down in another room to cry.

Why on Earth was I so upset about a board game? I was bewildered by why I felt so bad (I mean, I was sobbing) but I knew that I didn’t want to repress the feelings or blame them on someone else. I just allowed myself to be with myself as I went through it. 

After a while, a thought struck me: this wasn’t about the board game. This was about something from my past. Almost immediately, an image came to my mind of myself as a child sitting at the dining room table on darkening early winter evenings, despairing of ever understanding my math homework. Feelings of worthlessness and frustration about math were a constant companion in childhood and my teenage years, but I almost never think about them anymore. However, getting lost in byzantine board game rules felt similar enough to those childhood scenes to trigger feelings from years before. I realized that I had never healed from this part of my childhood, I had just forgotten about it. But my body hadn’t forgotten. 


Every instance in which we are triggered is an opportunity to work with the Page of Cups. While some may think that triggers only happen in the context of PTSD, my definition of trigger is any time our body-mind reacts to an event in the present as if it were something that happened in the past. In my case, my adult self was listening to the rules of a complex board game, but my body-mind reacted as if I were a child unable to understand her math homework and unable to get the help she needed. This is a non-intellectual, instantaneous response that involves the whole nervous system. The work, then, is trying to bring the trigger into conscious thought so we can heal the patterns that keep our nervous system stuck in painful loops.

The Page of Cups in the Smith-Waite deck looks kindly at the little fish that popped out of their cup—which can symbolize emotional or psychological material arising from the unconscious. The Page of Cups is not less developed than the Knight, Queen, and King of Cups, but they embody curiosity and willingness to learn from unexpected thoughts and feelings. Willingness to learn is one of the qualities that distinguish the four Pages from the other court cards. 

While The Moon might symbolize material from the unconscious erupting into everyday life, the Page of Cups is about our relationship with that material. If the Page appears in reverse or is close to several Fire cards in the spread (suit of Wands or certain Major Arcana cards), it might suggest that we’re unwilling or not ready to work with that material right now. But in any case, the appearance of the Page of Cups means that we’ve found a piece of the puzzle.

Once I recognized that I had been triggered, I was able to take care of myself. I allowed myself to fully feel the feelings and cry as much as I needed, I told my partner what was going on and asked for support, I was able to understand what kind of food and sex I was craving. And after a few hours, my nervous system was able to relax. I think about what might have happened if I had not been curious about my feelings. I would have gone away from the experience thinking that I was really just that upset about a board game. Or maybe I would have taken it out on my partner or his partner. Or maybe I would have just concluded that I am crazy or broken. Instead, I allowed a deeply buried wound to disclose itself and gave that wound much needed care.

Summoning Page of Cups energy isn’t something that comes naturally to most of us, by the way. Often, we’re taught to repress and be ashamed of our feelings from a very young age. It took me years of therapy and meditation and self-help books to instinctually turn toward my feelings in that moment. Now that I know the energy embedded in this card, I can consciously call upon the Page of Cups whenever I am triggered and don’t know why.

Resting in Wisdom: Tarot for the Aftermath of Friendship

Recently, I wrote about coming to the realization that someone I had been in a very close friendship with for 7 years is a narcissist or has narcissistic tendencies. This realization was liberating, not because it made the friendship better, but because it finally confirmed for me what I had been fearing all along: things were never going to get better with this particular friendship. Try as I might—and I did try, mightily, for years—to give this person what they wanted, my efforts were never going to be enough. My former friend denied that this was the case and told me that he never wanted to change me and then would proceed to tell me all the ways I was not being a good friend to him and should try harder.

I did a tarot reading with the Wooden Tarot to help process this final ending of things. I asked myself four questions:

What have I learned from this friendship?
How can I keep it from happening again?
How do I forgive myself?
What am I missing?

I also pulled a significator card for myself from the Inquire Within deck.


These are the cards I got:

The lesson I’ve learned from the friendship is Temperance. What it truly means for people to be friends, to be equals, to be coming together on a level playing field. The playing field of this friendship was not level from a gender, age, or economic perspective. Maybe that was an issue, maybe it wasn’t. But things definitely were not equal from an emotional perspective. Looking back on it, the amount of emotional labor I did for this person is astounding. And it’s not as if he didn’t care about me, because he certainly did. But somehow it always ended up that I was taking care of him. I did not require a lot of emotional labor from him because…I just didn’t need it. I didn’t need affirmation and reassurance. I didn’t need compliments. I didn’t need to have someone patiently listen to me describe the same problems and neuroses over and over again. His perspective was that all the things he wanted from me were just things that friends should always automatically offer each other. But looking back on things, I never asked for any of that because I never needed it from him, and so our contributions to the friendship were completely skewed. Having spent so long in a friendship that was so imbalanced, I now see Temperance.

How can I keep it from happening again? The Ten of Blooms (Cups) is showing me that I only need to seek out close friendship that are truly nourishing to me. I already have a life and partners and friends that are wonderful. There is no void that I’m trying to fill. I don’t need, therefore, to seek people out just to make myself feel better OR to put up with someone’s crap because I am afraid of love leaving my life. When I come from a place of wholeness, I can meet others on that level. I have done so, so much healing since I first met my former friend at the end of 2010. In many ways, my life is completely different. I accepted his overbearingness in the first few years of our friendship because I didn’t know better back then. I thought, “Well, this person seems to really like me, so I better like him back.” Now I understand that, if I met him today, I would never become close to him. He would have remained a professional contact or an acquaintance. I can see the red flags that I couldn’t before.

How can I forgive myself? I felt so much when I turned over the Hermit. In fact, pulling this card was in itself a final and full act of self-forgiveness. I felt affirmed in my introversion (as opposed to my former friend’s often overbearing and sometimes violating extroversion) as well as my self-knowledge. The bear has cataracts, which means not only that they have gained wisdom with age, but that their sight has been turned inward. I was right in my self-knowledge. I was right all along to put up boundaries when I felt that they had been crossed. I was right in knowing myself instead of my former friend’s ideas about who I was. I forgive myself by understanding that I was right to trust my own wisdom, including my feeling that unfortunately the friendship would never recover, which was confirmed for me when I finally saw the narcissistic and trauma-bonding patterns.

What am I missing? For the time being, nothing. I have a lot left to learn on this path’s journey, but Page of Plumes (Swords) reversed is showing me that I have emerged whole and more wise from this experience. As difficult as it was, I am glad it happened because of all I have learned. But it’s truly time to turn the page (so to speak) and move on to the next chapter. My friend is not a demon—just a complex and hurting person, like we all are. But I can’t save him and I can’t change him. He doesn’t believe that he can change, either, which also means that he doesn’t believe that I can change, despite the huge amount of change that I have undergone right in front of his eyes.

And now it’s time to Make Space For It, as the card says. Time to create some spaciousness around this issue, which has been so difficult and draining for the past couple of years. Time to stop trying to solve things, time to stop trying to make things better. I had hesitated about finally cutting off all contact, even thought that’s what I knew was for the best. But now that I truly understood that things will never get better, I am making space in my life moving forward and never looking back. I make space for myself, my partners, my family, my friends, my work. I mourn the friendship I lost, but I am moving on to better things.

Freeing Myself from Narcissistic Friendship

I have decided to share this personal story here because I think it might help others to understand what it took me too long to: narcissism takes many forms and can look like many things. There is no tarot content in this post, but I will post later about a tarot spread I did regarding the realizations below.

I recently had the liberating insight that I had been in a seven year friendship with a narcissist. Liberating because it put all of the pieces about his behavior together for me, and also liberating because I lost any residual guilt about cutting off all contact with him. The main reason why it never occurred to me that my former friend is a narcissist is that I had a very narrow view of what narcissism is. I thought that all narcissists were swaggering blowhards who are violently cruel to their victims. I didn’t know that narcissism is really at its core about obsession with oneself, which can imply a range of behaviors and beliefs, including self-deprecation and desire for closeness with others.

I do not believe that my former friend was a deliberately scheming narcissist trying to manipulate me. Rather, I think he has set of views about himself and the world that cause him pain, and he will do whatever it takes to try to relieve it. I believe that he is like a small child who wants something, and who might cry, sulk, rage, hold his breath, wheedle, make promises, flatter—anything to get what he wants. It’s not premeditated or calculating, but it’s still just as destructive.

My former friend believed that I owed him certain types of physical affection and verbal affirmation, because “those are just the kinds of things that friends do for each other.” He always pushed for greater closeness and intimacy in the friendship and several times threatened to leave  because I just hurt his feelings too much. Now, I am not saying that I always acted perfectly in the course of that friendship. However, I do know that when two people in a relationship can’t agree on what they owe to each other or how they should treat each other, the relationship just ends, or never progresses past a certain depth.

My former friend, on the other hand, insisted that I was not being a good friend (aka. didn’t give him what he felt he was entitled to) but remained obsessed with me. He wanted to get together as often as possible and told me frequently how much he cared for and admired me. Yet he would lecture me periodically about how I wasn’t being a good friend to him and everything I had done to hurt him. At first, those lectures happened once or twice a year. By the end of the friendship, I sat through these lectures every week.

Over the years, I had to state boundaries with him over and over about a variety of things—touching, my time, etc. Every time I put up a boundary, he would question and test it, argue against it and make me justify it. After a certain amount of testing, he would generally accept the boundary, but not without periodically bringing up how the boundary wasn’t necessary and how much I had hurt him by putting the boundary in place.

Why did I put up with it for so long? There are several reasons, but one of them is that I bought into his ideas about what it means to be a good friend. That’s the weak spot—convincing me that I’m not being a good person, and that if only I do the things that a good person does, everything will be OK between us. And so I tried. I modified my behavior by expressing more gratitude, apologizing more often, saying certain things he wanted to hear, doing certain activities with him that he knew I didn’t want to do. And yet, I would be in the exact same place the very next time I saw him. It was as if all the things I did to try to please him went in one ear and out the other, that he literally did not remember. It became clear to me eventually that he had this very fixed idea of me in his head and that he spent much of his time apart from me building up a case against that imagined Emily, no matter how I actually treated him in real life.

So, if you have a frustrating friendship or relationship with someone who seems to be very sensitive and empathetic, who claims to care about you maybe even more than anyone in the world, and yet you find yourself asking, “What do they want from me? When will anything I do ever be enough?”, narcissism is a possibility.

If there is someone who criticizes you for hurting them, and yet insists on being your friend or partner, you may be dealing with a narcissist.

If someone insists they care very deeply about you but always challenges and questions your thoughts and feelings that are not convenient to them, you may be dealing with a narcissist.

If someone doesn’t respect boundaries but tries to punish you or get your attention by breaking off contact or giving you the silent treatment, you may be dealing with a narcissist.

If someone insists that the two of you are closer than you actually feel you are and pressures you into agreeing, you may be dealing with a narcissist.

If someone has lots of ideas and rules about how to be a good friend or partner and is constantly asking you to measure up to them, you may be dealing with a narcissist.

That person may be kind and empathetic in other contexts and they may genuinely care about you to a certain degree. But, at bottom, what they care about most is how much you can prove to them that YOU care about them. Even if you rolled over and capitulated to everything they demanded, they would not care about your pain or discomfort in doing so AND your efforts would still not be good enough for them.

A lesson I learned here is that not every narcissist swaggers around like Donald Trump. Some do genuinely care about other people. Some are more open and forthcoming about their insecurities. And if a narcissist has decided that you are the special person that they can open up to about all their insecurities, the person that they are closest to in the world, then it’s only a matter of time that you, from their perspective, also become the person who hurts them most in the world. And once they get that idea in their head, they will eventually do everything they can to blame you and shame you into complying with their demands.

My former friend took advantage of my patience. He took advantage of my empathy. He took advantage of my good listening skills. He took advantage of desire to be a good person. One reason why our relationship lasted so long, I now see, is that I was so good at deflating and deflecting his harangues because I was willing to listen to him empathetically, sometimes for hours, about all of my supposed failings, resist the urge to take it personally, and then respond by affirming how his perceptions were wrong and I did indeed care about him a great deal. However. Every piece of evidence that I cared about him was forgotten or ignored. In the end, he even accused me of being a liar when I tried to prove to him how much I cared.

Fortunately, over the seven years that we were friends, I changed a lot. I got better at understanding my own needs and boundaries. I got better at being direct with people who are manipulative and calling out that behavior. I stayed in the friendship way longer than I should have because I truly loved him. Because I had invested so much time in it. I also stayed because my former friend would temporarily agree with my assertions of how much I cared, only to come back in a few days with the same old complaints against me. I participated willingly in the cycle because I wanted to make things better and it took a long time for me to admit that even if I made things better for a few days, weeks, or months, things would never actually get better.

It was my therapist who suggested to me that my former friend is a narcissist and right there it seemed so obvious. Once I started with the premise that narcissism is not simply about feeling superior, but about being obsessed with oneself, so much of his behavior toward me and others made sense. I had already broken off contact with him, but this realization was the final push I needed to feel peace and closure that I had done everything that I could, and that I was not wrong to leave him. Right after I came home, I blocked his phone number and email address with no hesitation or regrets. I do still feel empathy for him because he is in a hell of his own making, and he will certainly inflict it on other people. But I did everything I could over the course of seven years and, while my efforts to be a good friend didn’t make any difference to him, I learned a lot about true friendship.

It’s My Birthday! Receiving is Hard.

It’s my birthday.

Recently, I went over to my boyfriend’s apartment. It had been a long week for him and he had recently had a minor surgery, so understandably things were untidy. There were a lot of dishes to be done, a couple of loads of laundry to do. An ongoing conversation between us is about how uncomfortable he feels receiving care and pleasure from others. So when I got to work washing his dishes and doing his laundry, it wasn’t long before I heard some water running and some scrubbing sounds coming from the bathroom.

He was cleaning his shower. Because even though we had talked about me coming over and taking care of him, receiving that care was just too uncomfortable. He didn’t want to sit still while I was busying myself taking care of him. Even though he had expressed a wish to be taken care of, when it actually came time to receive, receiving was difficult. He squirmed away from the discomfort of receiving by “making himself useful”—cleaning the shower.

I poked fun at him about this because as soon as I heard him cleaning the shower, I knew what was up and why he was doing it. I deluded myself for the moment that I had transcended such discomfort around receiving. I’m really good at receiving. In fact, I am kind of selfish and probably receive too much. *nervous laugh*

Well, no. I had to admit to myself this week that I actually haven’t transcended struggles with receiving. This was a big admission for me. I of course knew why my boyfriend was cleaning the shower because that’s his style discomfort with receiving. You are giving me a massage? Well I must give one to you, preferably at the same time that you are giving one to me. My style, however, is that I just kind of shut down. Do I have an inbox full of words of praise directed at me? Oh god I can’t bear it. Do I have friends who are excited to attend a birthday dinner for me that I invited them to? Ohhh it’s so uncomfortable.

Here’s what I am learning: receiving is a form of vulnerability. Receiving is like letting all of your muscles relax completely, which takes a lot of patience and a lot of trust. And it occurs to me that the society I was raised in designs things so that the ideal, successful person never has to receive. Because you can just go out and buy whatever you want and have a choice over that. But you don’t have a choice when it comes to receiving. When you give me a gift, it’s what you want to give me. If you praise me, I have no control over which words tumble out of your mouth. It takes so much trust and presence to receive them fully.

Part of the reason why I realized all of this is that I never anticipated how hard it would be to receive requests for tarot readings. I am comfortable with framing my business as a service and myself as a service provider. But I didn’t really realize that, in addition to the money and goods I get in exchange for my services, I would also be receiving implicit or explicit messages: “I trust you. I believe that you are competent. I come to you with my struggles and questions and ask you to guide me.” And wow, receiving that is SO HARD.

It is my birthday, and I am giving a gift away so that I can receive more. Until the end of May, all readings in my shop, at every level of sliding scale, will be 25% off. Please send me your birthday wishes in comments or over email. Please buy a reading from me. All so that I will be drowning in the delicious and difficult need to receive.

I have not yet made back my startup costs for this business (logo, website hosting, etc.), but when I do, I will begin giving away 25% of the total reading price to Black and Indigenous people in the United States as reparations. I have plans and dreams for how I want to give this money away, but for the moment I will concentrate on receiving.

My Logo: Symbolism

Back in October when I revealed my logo, drawn by the amazing Audra of @heavyhands.embroidery, I said that I would talk about the symbolism in it.

HIGH PRIESTESS. First of all, the tarot card featured here is Key II, the High Priestess. This card is my birth card and one whose meaning I strongly identify with. The High Priestess is at the threshold between what is known and what is yet to be discovered. I see myself in a similar role, helping people in their current understanding of a situation discover a deeper level of wisdom within themselves. For that reason, I am less like a teacher and more like a person who guides people across thresholds. Therefore, the High Priestess presides over my business. The moon and flowers are a gender-neutral way of symbolizing the developing fruits of intuition. I will also say more about the moon below.

LEFT HAND. I loved Audra’s hand designs and as soon as I saw them and just knew I wanted a hand for a logo. This is a left hand, of course, because (a) I am left-handed and (b) the left hand symbolizes the intuitive and creative faculties. Also, I asked for a hand that did not have long nails because long nails are very much not my aesthetic. Audra NAILED IT, as it were. Hands are also important to me because in addition to the fact that I use them to draw tarot cards, my hands always shake. They are a reminder for me of my own embodiment.

CRESCENT MOON. The crescent moon appears in two places on the logo—the tarot card (High Priestess) and the coin. Again, the moon symbolizes intuition for me, but it was also important for me to put the moon on my logo to acknowledge the nature of my business, that things will ebb and flow. I explicitly decided against including the triple moon symbol (waxing, full, waning) that is on the HIgh Priestess’s crown in the RWS deck because I don’t want to give the impression that I am pagan or Wiccan when I’m not. That’s also why I wanted the moon, rather than a pentacle, to appear on the coin suit symbol.

SUIT SYMBOLS. These are just FRIGGIN ADORABLE. I just wanted to include them as part of the tarot-y imagery.

ELEMENT SYMBOLS. The triangles on the fingers are the alchemical symbols for the elements. Index finger is fire, middle finger is water, ring finger is air, pinkie finger is earth. The elements are probably the most powerful tool that I use to read tarot. Some people love the astrological correspondences of the cards, some people love numerology. Me? I love the elements. They inform the meanings of the cards and show how the cards talk to one another.

SHIP’S WHEEL/DHARMA WHEEL. This one is sneaky. I believe that the tarot is a tool that we can use to navigate through our lives. It helps keep us in line with our values and our highest good. I want my readings to be a ship’s wheel for my clients, helping to them to steer through choppy waters toward the lighthouse of their values and gifts.

But this symbol also resembles a Dharmachakra, or Dharma Wheel, which is the symbol of Buddhism. I have been very clear about never wanting to use my religion as a Buddhist to make money. Those who have started following me more recently may not know that my blog used to be called Dharma Eyes Tarot. Once I knew for sure that I wanted to start offering my services in exchange for money, I changed the name. However, I put the Dharma Wheel as a secret symbol in this logo just for me. It is a reminder that my ethics and highest values must always guide my work as a reader. This is why the symbol is on the wrist—it guides what the hand does.

Pricing Tarot Readings

I want to talk here about why I have priced my tarot readings at their current rates because transparency is important to me. Pricing services can be such a fraught thing. I remember a few years ago when I did some freelance tutoring, I AGONIZED over what to charge. A similar challenge faced me as I decided to go into business reading tarot. This time around, though, I was able to mostly set aside doubts about my own worth and price my services based on the math: my financial needs, how much time I spend on my business overall (not just doing readings), and what I am willing to be paid on an hourly basis. The result is that my rates may seem a little pricey, but I also know deep down that they are fair. My prices are based on a few guiding principles:

1. It is OK to have financial needs and ask to get them met. It’s OK to price my services according to my needs.

2. I have reached a point in my life where I will not work for less than I think I’m worth. I am asking what I think my time and skills are worth now and slowly building a client base, rather than underselling myself now and raising prices later.

3. The practice of tithing (h/t Sarah Faith Gottesdiener) is important to me. Asking for what my time and skills are worth is important because I am going to pay a substantial portion of my profits toward reparations. The more money I bring in, the more I can give away.

4. Accessibility is important to me, which means that I will always have sliding scale or another instrument of financial accessibility built into my pricing. Currently there are four tiers on my sliding scale and a long list of goods and services that I am willing to barter for.

5. I am worth a lot. I have four years’ experience reading tarot, but also a PhD in English (interpretation of symbolism; communication skills), 6+ years’ experience as a meditator engaging in formal spiritual practice, and a wealth of life and relationship experience. I am not the Font of Wisdom, but I have learned a thing or two, and continue learning.

But how did I come to the actual number I charge—in this case, $75 for a single reading? I’ll break it down here.

Each of my readings involves drawing the cards, making a recording of myself doing the reading, writing a document with journal prompts and symbols to consider based on the reading, taking a picture of the cards, uploading all of these files, and emailing them to the client. All in all, it takes me over an hour, so I am essentially charging a dollar a minute. Unlike a lot of other readers, I do not charge different rates for online and in-person readings. I believe that my clients get the same amount of value from both, even though they are different experiences.

One thing to consider about this dollar-a-minute rate, though, is that for every one minute I am spending actually doing tarot readings, I am spending at least 2 minutes working on other aspects of my business—social media posts, answering emails, bookkeeping, blog posts, etc. When you take that into account, I am actually charging $0.33 a minute, or roughly $20 an hour. (While these activities are not part of the tarot reading itself, I would not be able to run my business as a tarot reader without them.)

But that doesn’t mean I am making $20 an hour. I hold a quarter of that aside for taxes and overhead. I may need increase or decrease that amount after my first year, but we’ll see. Then, I take a third of what’s left over and give that away as reparations to black and indigenous people in the U.S. The rest is what goes in my pocket.

In terms of ACTUAL CASH, every time I receive $75 for a tarot reading, I set aside $18.75 for taxes and business expenses, I give $18.75 away, and keep $37.50. In terms of RATE, I am earning about $10/hr for my work to give readings and maintain my business. These are numbers that I feel comfortable with. $75 for a reading my feel a bit steep—even cheeky!—for a tarot reader who I just entering the scene to charge. But I feel that it is at the intersection of the value my services bring to others and the value I place on my own time and work.

I want to be clear that this is not a judgment on anyone else’s pricing. Everyone’s reality looks different and everyone’s needs are different. Because I have the stability of a day job, I can afford to charge higher prices in the beginning and build a client base slowly. Some people may need to build a client base as quickly as possible, while others just do readings for fun and some coffee money. Privilege comes into the equation, too, which is again why I want to make more money to give more away.

My goal is not to make six figures. Really, my pie in the sky goal would be to bring in US$1,000 every month with tarot. At this point, I am not even sure that I have the time or energy to do $1,000 worth of readings a month, but it’s my stretch goal. At this level, all of my household expenses would be covered and I would no longer have to pull money from savings, plus I would be able to give away over $300 each month. If I actually reach that $1,000 goal, then it will be time for me to reassess if I want my business to grow further.

Realistically, I would be happy if I brought in $1,000 during 2019 in its entirety. I know that by launching my business, I’m starting at a bad time (January and February are slow for tarot readers), and I need to build my client base. I am OK with growing slowly. I am also being realistic about my startup costs and understand that I need to cover them before I begin giving money away, which make take some time. My costs include: tarot decks, my logo, website hosting, and business cards.

Overall, this is my hope: clients will be attracted to me not only because they like my style, but because they will respect the fact that I value myself. I want this endeavor to be one that grows organically and in line with my values, rather than being about making money for its own sake. I deserve to be paid for my time and skills. But I am also looking forward to learning so much from my clients, the cards, and yes–my mistakes!

Jobs and Aces

Things have been quieter than usual around here because I’ve been really busy with job applications.

Near the end of February, I found out about a fellowship for humanities PhDs who want to work in nonprofits. The organization and job looked great, and the money was excellent–far more than I could expect to command on the regular job market–and it would put me much closer to my family. But it would mean having to move to a commuter/bedsit stripmall McMansion hell suburb of a large city for two years. Oh, and I would have to move there on two months’ notice. (This is a place I have actually been, so I’ve seen it first hand and know I would hate living there.) I worked my butt off on the application and asked people for letters of recommendation, but the entire time I got this feeling like I was writing my own death sentence. But I submitted it anyway, because–career and money and all that.

Two days later, I got an email from a woman at a local land trust. I’d done an informational interview with her back in January, and she wanted to let me know that a full-time communications position was opening up there. I was overjoyed at this news–not only at the prospect of doing a cool job with a cool organization, but especially at not having to move. I got my materials together, easily wrote a great cover letter, since I’d just had practice writing one for the fellowship, polished my resume, and submitted the application ASAP.

In about a week and a half, I got an email saying they wanted to interview me for the fellowship. And then I got an email saying they wanted to interview me for the local job. The process for the fellowship was moving more slowly, but I told both parties I was interested, all the while hoping that I would get the local job and could just tell the fellowship people that I had to withdraw my application after receiving another offer.

In the midst of all this, I was reading Benebell Wen’s Holistic Tarot from cover to cover for the second time, and as I went along, I tried, or re-tried, many of the spreads featured there. One of them was Eden Gray’s “Yes/No” spread using aces. This spread is interesting in that you don’t actually spread anything out, but just count cards. Shuffle the cards and draw them off the top, putting them into a pile until you get to an ace or draw 13 cards. In either case, you move on to a second pile, again stopping when you get an ace or get to 13, and then do the same thing with a third pile. Upright aces mean yes, a mix of upright and reversed aces means yes, but with delays or complications, and all reversed aces means no.

Now–I don’t do yes/no questions generally for a couple of reasons. (A) Unless the question is, “Do you want basil on your pasta?,” yes/no questions are really not that well suited to answering life’s quandaries, from the small to the big. In my academic training, I also learned to avoid yes/no questions in my research and my teaching because nothing kills actual inquiry and learning faster than a yes/no question. (B) Yes/no questions in tarot tend to  have a more fortune-telling focus by their very nature, and since I don’t have much interest in fortune telling, I don’t ask them.

But the spread looked interesting, and so out of idle curiosity, I decided to do it and ask straight up, “Will I get either of these jobs?” So I counted out cards in a pile until I got to 13, with no aces. Then I put down the first card of the second pile–BOOM, Ace of Cups reversed. Then I put down the first card of the third pile. BOOM, Ace of Wands, reversed. Two reversed aces, right in a row. By all appearances, the answer was no for the fellowship and the local job. The Ace of Cups suggested that one of the jobs would be unfulfilling emotionally or regarding relationships. The Ace of Wands suggested that one of the jobs is in line with my desired career path, but I may not have the skills or experience to get it.

Well, that was incredibly to the point. I looked at those two aces and wasn’t sure what to think, since it seemed like I had pretty good chance at both.

In fact, I was afterwards informed that I was a finalist for the fellowship and I made it to the second (final) round of interviews for the local job. When interviewing for the local job, I loved the people I was interviewing with and the organization and really did my absolute best. But I knew all the while that the major factor out of my control was who else had applied. And, indeed, I got a call yesterday morning saying that they were impressed with my work and thought I would be a good fit, but they decided to offer the job to someone with more experience. The Ace of Wands reversed. At the beginning of the week, I had also done a week-ahead spread, and the Ace of Wands reversed showed up in the “what will I be challenged by?” position. (So, just for future reference, Ace of Wands reversed = you’re not going to get the job.)

Within 30 minutes, I was also notified by email that the people with the fellowship position wanted to schedule interviews with me. And there was the rub.

Although I genuinely wanted the local job, I was also hoping it would be an excuse to bail out on the fellowship without having to feel bad for wasting people’s time or seeming contrarian. Having been handed the Ace of Wands reversed, I knew that it was time to deal with the Ace of Cups reversed. But you know, why not do a tarot spread about it first? I don’t have a photo of either the ace spread or its follow-up (wasn’t feeling particularly documentary in either of those moments), but the highlights included the 8 of Swords, the 7 of Swords, the 3 of Swords, and the 4 of Cups. Like, really, tarot, can you tell how much I do not want this job? I asked what the next steps were and got the 7 of Pentacles and the Empress–“reassess what is actually best for you.”

So this morning I sent off an email to the fellowship, as graciously as I could, thanking them for their time, explaining that I couldn’t move right now and needed to withdraw my application, apologizing for doing this so late in the process, and offering to do any remote volunteer/consulting work they might need in the future. Who knows if I would have gotten the fellowship had I gone forward with the interviews? But that’s not important–only I knew that my gut was screaming NO! and I didn’t want to waste more of anyone’s time.

So I went from having two irons in the fire to having none. And that’s OK. The interviews I did for the local job were my first ever (aside from food service and retail interviews I did as a teenager.) In the back of my mind, I knew that it wouldn’t be quite right if I got the first job I’d ever interviewed for–not out of principle, but just because I’ve got some more lessons I need to learn. And one of those lessons was in saying no. In learning to honor my gut feelings over what seem like good intellectual reasons to do something.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve actually worked with tarot very little. I usually end up doing several readings a week, but while working on this job stuff I pared it down to one or two. I honestly felt that I didn’t need tarot to guide me thought this process, and that I just needed to do as much work as I could on my own to make things happen.

And I still think that’s true. I’m glad that I didn’t act on the yes/no spread by simply giving up or assuming that I would not get either job. I do think it’s interesting, though, that it correctly “predicted” what would happen, even if in the case of the local job, I had no control over the outcome of the situation, and in the case of the fellowship, I ended up taking things into my own hands. It’s cool, I suppose, that I was able to accurately predict the future using some cards, but I doubt I was any better off because of it.

Tarot has been incredibly useful, though, in helping me check in with my feelings and intuition, which ultimately led me to make the right decision. So while I may have the power to predict the future–I guess???–I found out first hand that it wasn’t actually as helpful using the tarot to understand what’s already going on inside me. I’ll stick to tarot for mirroring and guidance, not yes/no answers.

The bright side is that I feel a lot more focused now, ready to resume informational interviews and start putting in local job applications with some interview experience under my belt.

And, well, even though I didn’t get either job, I can truthfully say that I ACED it!