Ash Wednesday and the Five of Pentacles

Today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of Lent: forty days of penance, reflection, and fasting. A lot of Christians will be walking around with smudges of ash on their foreheads — but otherwise, they’ll look like their usual selves.

Centuries ago, they probably would have looked more like the figures in the Five of Pentacles.

Normally, the card is associated with hope and guidance, because most of us have been taught to turn to the church during times of trouble. Traditionally, it’s the one place we know we can find spiritual support. Most churches also offer emergency assistance to people in physical need, too.

There was a time, though, when some congregants deliberately turned their backs on the church — because they didn’t believe they deserved the blessings and forgiveness they could find in the House of God. On Ash Wednesday, they dressed in sackcloth and ashes, and they were ritually cast out of the sanctuary to contemplate their faith.

Think about that: there was a ritual in which some believers could voluntarily be thrown out of church.

Today, a lot of people have turned their back on organized religion, because it doesn’t seem to meet their spiritual needs. Most leave with at least some feelings of bitterness and recrimination.

In a tarot reading, the Five of Pentacles can be a gentle reminder to reclaim their faith, even if they need to find a new structure for its expression.

Personally, I think the concept of Lent is remarkable. For most people, a forty-day period of intentional separation and contemplation would certainly be easier than forty years of estrangement.

I also like the concept of Lent as a time to reconcile our thoughts and deeds with our spiritual beliefs. We could all use that “time out” once a year.

. . .

Here’s a good description of Ash Wednesday from

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Season of Lent. It is a season of penance, reflection, and fasting which prepares us for Christ’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday, through which we attain redemption.

Why we receive the ashes

Following the example of the Ninevites, who did penance in sackcloth and ashes, our foreheads are marked with ashes to humble our hearts and reminds us that life passes away on Earth. We remember this when we are told

“Remember, Man is dust, and unto dust you shall return.”

Ashes are a symbol of penance made sacramental by the blessing of the Church, and they help us develop a spirit of humility and sacrifice.

The distribution of ashes comes from a ceremony of ages past. Christians who had committed grave faults performed public penance. On Ash Wednesday, the Bishop blessed the hair shirts which they were to wear during the forty days of penance, and sprinkled over them ashes made from the palms from the previous year. Then, while the faithful recited the Seven Penitential Psalms, the penitents were turned out of the church because of their sins — just as Adam, the first man, was turned out of Paradise because of his disobedience. The penitents did not enter the church again until Maundy Thursday after having won reconciliation by the toil of forty days’ penance and sacramental absolution. Later, all Christians, whether public or secret penitents, came to receive ashes out of devotion. In earlier times, the distribution of ashes was followed by a penitential procession.

The Ashes

The ashes are made from the blessed palms used in the Palm Sunday celebration of the previous year. The ashes are christened with Holy Water and are scented by exposure to incense. While the ashes symbolize penance and contrition, they are also a reminder that God is gracious and merciful to those who call on Him with repentant hearts. His Divine mercy is of utmost importance during the season of Lent, and the Church calls on us to seek that mercy during the entire Lenten season with reflection, prayer and penance.

Image Note

The Five of Pentacles card that illustrates this post is from an original “Pam B” Rider-Waite tarot deck that was probably printed in the 1920s.

Have You Seen this Card? UPDATED with the Answer

Do you recognize this image?

It might look rare, antique, and obscure, but it’s a detail of an actual tarot card, from a commonly available deck that you can still buy for a reasonable price. In fact, it’s from a deck you should probably have in your collection, if you’re a die-hard enthusiast or a serious student of the cards.

Which card is it? Can you name the deck? Take a guess, and leave your answer in the comments. Tomorrow I’ll reveal the source.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Did you see the responses in the comments section? Richard Todd and Guido were correct! The card is the first trump in the French Ducale Tarot deck. According to Thomas L. McDonald’s State of Play blog, the card depicts an Italian Pagliacci and a French jester holding his ninny stick.

You can find all of McDonald’s posts on the French Tarot deck here:

Aesop’s Fable: The Old Man and Death

AN OLD MAN was employed in cutting wood in the forest, and, in carrying the faggots to the city for sale one day, became very wearied with his long journey. He sat down by the wayside, and throwing down his load, besought “Death” to come. “Death” immediately appeared in answer to his summons and asked for what reason he had called him. The Old Man hurriedly replied, “That, lifting up the load, you may place it again upon my shoulders.”

— from Aesop’s Fables, translated by George Fyler Townsend

Image: The Ten of Wands from the Wizards Tarot by John Blumen and Corrine Kenner

Quick Tip: Shuffle Upside Down

For the last few months, I’ve been shuffling my tarot deck “upside down,” with the cards facing me — not my clients.

That’s because, without realizing it, everyone seemed to be staring at the cards they could see during the shuffling process. They tensed up whenever they saw a scary-looking card, like the Tower, peeking out at them from the bottom of the deck. Some even said things like, “Wow, those cards look bad.”

With the cards facing up — and facing me — I’m the only one who can see the images during the shuffle. The clients only see the card backs.

After the cards are mixed, I put the deck face down on the table, each client cuts it in half, and we start with a clean slate and an open mind.

The Gypsy Fortuneteller

Gypsy Fortune Teller Oil Painting by Enzie Shahmiri

On her Flickr page, artist Enzie Shahmiri has posted a copy of her painting, “The Gypsy Fortune Teller” — and she asks, “Who can guess what the tarot cards in front of her read?”

Do you want to try?

Here’s a close-up of the cards, taken while the painting was still in progress. Click the thumbnail for a full-size version.

If you’d like a closer look, here’s a link to the finished piece, with a zoom feature that you can use to see the cards in maximum detail.

  • I think the bottom row shows the Moon, the Queen of Swords, the Lovers, and the Hanged Man reversed.
  • The top row seems to be the Tower, Death, the Fool reversed, the Wheel of Fortune, the Devil, and the Four of Cups.
  • I can also see the World and Justice lying on the table, but I don’t think they’re part of the spread.

Do you see the same cards? Take your best guess; I could be wrong. There are a few other cards on the table, too … Can you tell what they are?

Now here are some questions for us to contemplate, based on the image:

  • Imagine that you’re actually at the scene. Are you the client, or is she reading for someone else?
  • If she’s reading for someone else, who is her client? Can you picture that person, too?
  • What question do you think she’s trying to answer?
  • If you were the gypsy tarot reader, how would you interpret those cards?
  • If you were her client, what would you expect her to say?
  • She’s holding some coins in her hand. Someone has obviously “crossed her palm with silver.” But why is there a knife on the table?
I’m curious to hear what you think. The comments section is open!

“Telling the Future” by Barbara Moore

I can’t post much today, because I’m headed off to the dentist for a day of fun and frolic. I thought, instead, that I’d recommend this post by my friend and fellow tarot author, deck designer, and reader Barbara Moore.

image of Barbara Moore

Telling the Future

But it Doesn’t Feel True

We who read the cards know that the cards don’t lie. Sometimes we doubt them. Sometimes we hesitate. Sometimes we don’t see how they can possibly be telling the truth. But deep down, we know. And sometimes we are even freaked out by how true they are.

Learning to trust the cards can be a long process, especially in terms of telling the future.  I’ve had three very “in my face” experiences this week to remind me that there is truth in the cards. …

Click here to read the whole thing.

Tarot and Astrology

Tarot and Astrology

Here’s a sneak preview of my next book — the one I woke up early to work on this morning. My editor has made her first round of changes, and she’s waiting for me to throw in a couple of last-minute sample readings.

The publisher is already taking pre-orders, and the copywriter has come up with this description of the work:

Enrich and expand your tarot practice with age-old wisdom from the stars.

Entwined for six centuries, the link between tarot and astrology is undeniably significant. This unique and user-friendly guide makes it easy to explore and learn from this fascinating intersection—and you don’t even need to know astrology to get started. Discover how each major arcana corresponds to an astrological sign or planet, where each minor arcana sits on the Zodiac wheel, how the court cards and tarot suits are connected to the four elements—and what all this means. Also included are astrological spreads and reading techniques to help you apply these new cosmic insights.

The World of the Wizards Tarot

Here’s one of my favorite cards from my new deck, the Wizards Tarot. The Major Arcana cards depict professors at a school of magic — and the accompanying handbook includes a corresponding lesson in magic, as well as a related tarot spread.

The World

Queen of the Witches

The World is a card of completion and success, and this final image in the major arcana marks the successful completion of your first year of classes at Mandrake Academy. It depicts the Queen of the Witches.

Like you, the Queen of the Witches was once a student herself. She walked the path of the Initiate, and now she guards the secret world of magic and mystery for all who follow in her footsteps.

Key Symbols

  • Mandrake Academy rises up in three dimensions from the pages of an open book. The text represents the permanent records of the Akashic plane — a cosmic compendium of human experience and spiritual wisdom.
  • The book also symbolizes the tarot, an unbound manuscript that can be shuffled and re-read, time after time, like a never-ending story.
  • The book seems to be floating in mid-air — a sign of its ethereal nature.
  • The young woman in the card is crowned with wisdom, in the circular shape of a victory wreath.
  • The wreath is held together by ribbons in the shape of a lemniscate, the figure-eight symbol of infinity.
  • She wears a flowing white scarf, a gauzy piece of fabric that suggests three milestones in the journey of life: a swaddling cloth for a newborn, a veil for a bride, and a shroud for a corpse.
  • In the background, four silhouettes take shape in the contours of the clouds: an eagle, a lion, a bull, and an angel. They represent the four fixed signs of the zodiac: Scorpio, Leo, Taurus, and Aquarius. They also symbolize the four dimensions of width, length, height, and time, the four directions, the four seasons, the four elements, and the four suits of the minor arcana.
  • The World card corresponds to Saturn, the ringed planet, and the woman in the card wears the symbol of Saturn on a chain around her neck. While Saturn’s rings do imply a certain number of limitations and restrictions, they also delineate boundaries that can help us define our position and relate to other people without losing our own individuality. In other words, Saturn’s boundaries don’t merely confine us: they define us.
  • The young woman is using a pendulum that features the Hebrew letter Tav, which means cross. Historically, both Saturn and the earthly world have been symbolized by an equilateral cross — a plus sign — which symbolizes the intersection of mind and body, heaven and earth, and the four fixed signs of the zodiac.

Practical Magic

The queen in the card is using a pendulum to make magic happen at Mandrake Academy. Pendulums are remarkably simple to use. Simply hold your pendulum so it dangles from your fingertips. Make sure it’s motionless, and then ask it to show you which direction it will move for “yes,” and which way it will swing for “no.”

Typically, a pendulum will indicate its response in one of several ways:

  • Yes — up and down, like someone nodding his head.
  • No — back and forth, like someone shaking his head from side to side.
  • Maybe — a diagonal movement from the lower left to the upper right.
  • Don’t want to answer — a diagonal swing from the lower right to the upper left.
  • Probably — a clockwise circle.
  • Probably not — a counter-clockwise circle.

Pendulums aren’t limited to simple yes-and-no questions. If you’re looking for a lost object, hold your pendulum over a map of the area in which you are searching. If you’re trying to schedule an important event, hold your pendulum over a calendar. And if you’re trying to select cards for a tarot reading, fan them out and hold a pendulum over the deck.

The World’s Seven Planets Spread

World Spread

This variation of an old gypsy spread can be read both vertically and horizontally. It incorporates the symbolism of the seven ancient planets, all of which can be seen from our vantage point on earth without the aid of a telescope.

  • Sun — Your self-image
  • Moon — Your emotions
  • Mercury — Your thoughts
  • Venus — Your love life
  • Mars — Your energy and drives
  • Jupiter — Your luck
  • Saturn — Your restrictions

The First Review of the Wizards Tarot

Wizards Tarot

The first review of the Wizards Tarot has appeared on Angelo Nasios says it’s a “Highly unique and exciting tarot deck! Simply magical.”

He deducts a few points for the quality of the card stock — which is ordinary, standard-issue tarot card quality — but since that’s not my department and I have no control over production, I’m okay with it! Angelo loves the concept and the execution, and that’s what really matters.

Here’s his review:

5 Pentacles
Card Stock
3 ½ Pentacles
Design (Back design & Boarders)
4 Pentacles
Shuffling quality
4 Pentacles
Originality and uniqueness
5 Pentacles
4.3 Pentacles

I pre-ordered The Wizards Tarot back in December 2010 with great anticipation, this deck does not disappoint. The Wizard Tarot is the intellectual creation of respected tarot author Corrine Kenner and is manifested by artist John J. Blumen.

The Wizard Tarot is a magic themed tarot deck where witchcraft and wizardry is the focus of the deck. Set in the mythical world of Mandrake Academy a magical school where you are a new student learning the ways of magic. Each of the Major Arcana cards is your new professors, teaching each their own magic subject. The Minor Arcana are fellow students. Each of the four suits represents four schools of magic. Which are, fire magic, water magic, air magic and earth magic. The Court cards are renamed as the Royal Families. Each Royal Family depicts elemental creatures associated with the suit.

The design of the deck is great, the backs have this nice golden like swirls, lines and stars that is unique. My only problem is they are not reversible so if you use reversals you will know which cards are reversed. The pattern on the back carries over into the boards around the card images which is really nice and ties the whole deck in nicely. The titles are spelled out in a clear font that is not overpowering or distracting. They are written on golden banners at the bottom. All cards are spelled out and are not numbered. Reordering the deck might be a hassle if you have a forgetful memory and forget the order of the Majors.

The card stock is typical. It is thin but thankfully not overly flimsy. They are printed by Llewellyn Worldwide. They are easy to hold and shuffle in my hands. If you have little itty bitty hands then you might have a problem, you should be fine if you have “average” sized hands. The cards a smooth and slick, shuffling is easy but you need to shuffle with attention so they don’t slide out of your hands. I can bridge shuffle without much trouble, again watch to make sure they don’t go flying. I do prefer thicker & firmer card stock with all my decks, decks with think card stocks in my experience warp out of shape and edges get damaged. Ticker stock lasts longer. A few cards in the set I ordered seem to be out of shape with the rest of the deck.

The artwork is top notch digital illustrations. The art is clear, well defined and not cheap looking at all. There are plenty of details to give the images a whole and completed feeling that does not leaving wanting more. Faces of the people are life like and not plastic looking like in The Pictorial Key Tarot. The colors are strong and bold. The reds and blues are just perfect I love them very much, it stands out.

This deck is based on the Rider Waite Smith tradition. Strength is placed before Justice. The Royal Families follow the tradition of Page, Knight, Queen and King. Most of the originality can be found in the Majors where many of the titles are renamed. The Fool is now The Initiate. Death is now Transfiguration. Temperance is now The Alchemist. The Devil is now The Dark Lord. The rest of the Majors retain the traditional titles.

Creative freedom runs wild in the Majors; images of many of the Majors are unique and original while still holding a sense of familiarity. The Initiate (Fool) depicts the start of a young students journey into Mandrake Academy. We lose the normal Fool walking off a cliff. Instead we have our student in a forest, dressed in white and a cute rabbit instead of a dog which is a nice change. The Magician is one of my favorite cards in the deck, it is what I expect The Magician to look like plus enough unique to make it fresh. A well-dressed (I love the robes) magician stands in front of a large open window with his hand raised above holding a wand with one hand pointing down. We lose the table; tables get in the way in my opinion so good move! Around the magician floats a sword, pentacle and cup. The wand is held in his hand so we do not have an extra wand in the air. To the left and right are white candles. To his feet is the magic circle with flowers sprouting. The Hanged man goes in a new direction than other decks; this Hanged Man is not hanging. He is sitting. But the best part of this card is to the top left there is a portrait that has a reversed image of the card inside of it, which then in itself has a portrait that is upright. Continuing inward like a never ending tunnel. This great detail retains the traditional feeling of being upside down and changed perspectives. The World is another Major that is very unique and goes in another direction than other decks. We have a woman known as the Queen of the Witches, she was once a student but now has completed her training at Mandrake Academy. She appears in front of an open book with a 3-D image of Mandrake Academy appearing over the book.

The Minors stay close to Rider Waite tradition. There is nothing new to learn or try to decode which I like. I would prefer the Majors to be more unique than the Minors and that is what is done in the Wizards Tarot. The Five of Swords stood out to me the most; I did not get the feeling of “open dishonor” or someone who cheats to win like as most decks show. Instead it gives me the feeling of someone having to clean up the mess of others, maybe covering their tracks. There still is a sense of “no winners” and feeling defeated but minus that grinning bastard in the Rider Waite.

The images are child safe, there is no nudity but The Moon card does depict a sexy looking Lunar Goddess but how do you expect a Lunar Goddess to dress? The Tower does not show explosions or people falling to the ground. The Dark Lord (Devil) is not demonic looking, people are not chained but instead are some ugly looking toads. All is safe here.
It has been a new trend to include the zodiac symbols within the cards to give you a clue as to which zodiac sign is at work within each card. As handy as this might be, I’m not a huge fan of this new trend. It feels like subliminal astrological advertisements, which may sound odd but some of you might understand what I mean. Along with the zodiac signs, Hebrew letters and Runes are includes in the cards. To which I have no problems with.

The companion book for the Wizards Tarot is great and is a must have if you get this deck. It is as unique as the deck. It explains the mythos of the Wizards Tarot world, the academy, detailed explanations of the cards symbols and meanings. The book explains what professor each of the Majors are. A few examples, The Magician is the professor of basic magic. The High Priestess is the professor of divination. The Dark Lord is the professor of the dark arts. What is most special is that each Major Arcana card has with it its own spread. For example, Transfiguration (Death) has a detailed 11 card past life spread. The Sun card includes a chart of the Sabbats, their dates, sun sign and degree along with their significance. In the Minors you are offered a Magic Charm which is offers a suggested way to focus on the cards energy to manifest it into your life. This is great if you want to use them for visualization and spell-casting. For example the Magic Charm for the 2 of Cups is “Focus on the two of cups when you want to begin a new relationship or add new life to an existing relationship”. The Royal Families do not have Magic Charms, they only have descriptions.

Overall this is a fantastic tarot deck that is a must own. It is highly unique while staying within the boundaries of tradition. It is easy to read, exciting to use, learn and explore. The companion book is one you will actually use, most companion books don’t have enough to make me want to use them, this book however does. The material in it is a great resource.