Learning Tarot on your own can be intimidating. Rooting out what is most integral from walls of books, decks, websites: in the best order of comprehension, stacking aspects to memorize or extract intuitively… Tarot and Astrology, Tarot and the Kabbalah, Tarot and Numerology. So many interesting paths to delve down that it can get a little overwhelming. I have done my time carrying around more sources than a college student (as a glutton for punishment, I still prefer to wear the cuffs.) Basking in a Tarot book is bliss for a reader, but it takes so much time and there are so many paths to explore; as a once new and determined Tarot “initiate,” I was glued to Joan Bunning’s Learning the Tarot for a year or more before I felt comfortable enough to give a reading to a friend without it. Once that book was pressed into my brain folds I moved onto spreads, and from there explored the world of Tarot associations. There are a few key concepts that can help save you from the maze of mystery. Methods that require no memorization skills and will get you reading rather than reading (cards in place of books.) Hands on learning is the fast pass to learning.
Begin with a deck that has figures doing things. I really like the Ryder Waite and recommend it to all beginners as a staple deck (in my huge collection, the Ryder Waite is the deck I continuously return to and use for my core readings.) The cards each have their own unique personality, energy, or “attitude,” as Crowley says. Let the cards speak to you. Leave your intuition and pre-conceived ideas out of it for a moment and pretend that you are glimpsing into a scene from the middle of a movie. I saw one blogger phrase a similar method as, “seeing the cards move like Harry Potter images.” So you are in a theater and walk into the wrong film… first, what kind of movie is it? Describe the lay out of cards like a scene you just popped in on. “Dude, there was this tower, and people were dying, but then there was this Queen and I think some kind of horror love story involved…” There are so many different ways to see the four suits. In creating a Tarot movie summary, I like to associate the following suits with the following genres:
This is a great method for spreads. It’s fun to look at the interaction between the cards. Tell the story by looking at how the cards literally relate to each other. Look at the expressions, who they are looking at, and why. Maybe you have three cards laid out: The Two of Wands, The Four of Pentacles, and the Seven of Swords. If these are Ryder Waite cards, none of them would be looking at each other. I see a story of selfish betrayal forming. Re-order them so that it’s the Seven of Swords, the Four of Pentacles and the Two of Wands and now the center figure is drawing the attention of the other two cards, making the story in this split second screen shot look a little more interesting. Instead of using a spread with exact meaning in each of the placements, try out card pairs. Practice (using card couples) figuring out whose looking at who and why. How does your movie scene look? By taking a quick once over you can pretty much tell, right away, if this movie’s ending is going to be a happy one or not.
Mandalas are balanced, geometric, and usually elaborate compositions created for spiritual awakening and artistic expression. Usually circular, the word mandala derives loosely from the Sanskrit word for “circle” – a Hindu and Buddhist symbol representing the radial balance of the universe and the organizational structure of life itself. Mandalas are wonderful instruments for relaxation, contemplation and to enhance the energy of a ritual. Various spiritual traditions use mandalas to focus attention, collect one’s thoughts, establish a sacred space and as an induction into meditative and trance states. Mandalas appear in all aspects of life, as the circular shape is found within all of life, from the shape used to describe cycles and patterns to the literal circular reality of the celestial bodies.
Mandala symbolism was intensely studied by psychologist and mystic, Carl Jung. His writings describe the use of mandalas to transform both the inner self and outer world. Using sacred geometry, a mandala illustrates a natural and ultimate illusion of wholeness. It is the microcosm and the macrocosm, and we are all a part of its design. Used as a vehicle to explore art, science, and the essence and structure of life, the mandala contains a road map to infinity. Carl Jung quoted that mandalas were “a safe refuge of inner reconciliation and wholeness,” and that “it is a synthesis of distinctive elements in a unified scheme representing the basic nature of existence.” Jung used mandalas for his own personal growth and wrote extensively on the subject.
The mandala design form radiates out from the center. It is the magic circle and has ritual and religious meaning culturally everywhere. Tibetan and Hindu mandalas usually are square with four gates at each edge, with the circle in the center as the house of a deity. During meditation, Tibetan monks will imagine the mandala as a three dimensional palace; creating a mandala in sand demonstrates the impermanence of life. Native Americans created medicine wheels out of mandalas. The Taoist “yin-yang” mandala represents opposition as well as interdependence. Ancient Aztecs used a circular calendar (mandala) as a time keeping device integrated with religious expression. It is said by Tibetan Buddhists that mandalas consist of five “excellencies:” the teacher, the message, the audience, the site, the time.
Sand mandalas, unique to Tibetan Buddhism, are constructed from sand and believed to effect healing and purification. Typically, the teacher will choose the specific mandala which the monks begin by consecrating the site with sacred chants and music. Next, they etch a detailed drawing from memory that is then filled with millions of grains of colored sand. The monks then enact the impermanent nature of existence by sweeping up the colored grains and dispersing them in flowing water. According to Buddhist text, sand mandalas transmit positive energies into the environment and into the viewers. During construction, chanting and meditation is done as an invocation to the divine energies of the deity that resides within the mandala. The deity is asked for it’s healing blessings. A mandalas healing power extends to the whole world before it is swept up, an expression of sharing the blessings with all.
As “the support of a meditating person,” personal mandalas are gaining in popularity and simple to create (for more meditative art, check out “zentangles”.) There are three basic properties in mandala structure. First, the center, which represents the self, the ego, birth, and eternal being. It is the psyche of the individual. Second, symmetry: the path of order in a chaotic universe. Symmetrical patterns restore balance and wellness within the self and the environment. Finally, third: cardinal points. Numerology is often employed in the purpose and orientation. The number and design of the cardinal points will direct the flow of energy. In creating a personal mandala, two or more points are used and a circle is constructed. In astrology the circular horoscope chart of twelve zodiac signs and houses assume a mandala form. Seven, the heptagon, is especially powerful. Seven draws upon the symbolism of the colors in the rainbow, the chakras, the days of the week, the seven seas, and the notes in the musical scale. The Witches’ Wheel of the Year is an octagon, a circle of the eight seasonal festivals or sabbats. In Feng Shui, the ba’gua diagram is also an octagonal mandala. Four, the square, is another popular and powerful number to select in constructing the cardinal points of a mandala. The square suggests stability and accepting responsibility. The five pointed pentagon shape adapts beautifully to mandala construction and symbolizes life and growth. It appears repeatedly in living organisms. Oriental carpets, Pennsylvania Dutch hex symbols, the rose windows in Cathedrals, shields, heraldic symbols, and yantras are all examples of the mandala concept. All demonstrate the profound universal significance of mandalas.
Drawing a personal mandala and dedicating it to a goal or life passage is an extremely transcending, healing and magical experience. First, select which number resonates with you. Draw a perfect circle. Place the cardinal points of your chosen number with dots at equal distances around the perimeter of your circle. Then, proceed to explore mandala magic for yourself by repeating symbols and designs that appeal to you. Modern mandala art includes the use of totem animals, painting mandalas on rocks or creating crochet mandalas, placing crystals or flowers in a symmetrical circle shape for energy transmitting and meditation practices, or even etching your own sand mandala labyrinth to walk. Creating a mandala is a personal and creative project, make it your own!