Shorthand Tarot – What makes a Tarot card?

When doing Tarot readings, I consistently look at all my deck and then carefully select….the RWS. Or at least an RWS based deck. I love to work with the Marseille deck privately, but seldom use it with a client. I like Thoth and Deviant Moon to explore, but seldom use them with a client. When I am finished with a reading, I take a photograph (or screenshot in online readings) to “write down the reading” for reference and to give it to the client.

A while ago I thought it would be a good idea to have a way of noting down readings by hand. To be able to do something wihtout a smartphone, internet access and all that comes with it. Of course one can simply write the names of the cards, but that was not what I looked for. I wanted something quick and unique. I am familiar with a lot of systems to write down information quickly, such as shorthand notation, Juan Tamariz’ system of symbols to write out magic performance instructions and others. But they all suffered from a serious drawback: For me and the client they do not capture the essence of the reading. The client has to recall what the card looked like in order to recall the reading, which is difficult from abstract symbol. My abilities as a graphic artist are seriously limited so drawing each card was no option.

I tried to work out what exactly I wanted to have and came to the conclusion that I wanted a sort of Icon which would convey the Gestalt of the card, its general look and its numerical, elemental and astrological symbolism without words. These are the things I most often refer to in readings, so they needed writing down. Do these things constitute what a Tarot card is? I think not, there is more, obviously and less as well. To some a Tarot card is an artwork, nothing more. To others it is a projection of a full esoteric system on a symbolic representation, nothing less. Still, I tried to have this information as my minimalistic tarot shorthand.

Each card should be drawable as just line art with a single thickness pen, and in less than a minute. Plus my sore head needs to remember 78 silly pictures, so too much detail could not be included. Thus I developed what I now call the Shorthand Tarot, by no means the only version of a simplistic handdrawn cards, but to me, useful ones. I now use them for notation and also for other activities, subject of future discussion.

I would love to see what you think and what you make of the two cards below.

Shorthand Tarot (c) 2013 Markus Pfeil

Shorthand Tarot (c) 2013 Markus Pfeil

Shorthand Tarot (c) 2013 Markus Pfeil

Shorthand Tarot (c) 2013 Markus Pfeil

I am a Germany based Tarot enthusiast available via http://www.Tarosophy.De

Tarot Symbolism: The Long and Winding Path

by Anita Perez

For the purposes of this blog, I will be using images from the Universal Waite Tarot Deck. The RWS deck has become a Modern Standard; the Coloring used by Mary Hanson Roberts shows the detail admirably, and reproduces well.

The image of the path leading off into the distance is a key image in Tarot, even though most of the cards don’t show it. In some cards, it’s presence is implied rather than shown, (such as in the 10 of Wands, The Chariot, and even The Fool card itself).

ImageHis path may be invisible, be he has faith that it’s there.

Clearly The Fool is starting out on a journey; in fact many Tarot teaching traditions consider the entire deck to be stages in the Fool’s Journey. The presence of an obvious path may not seem necessary, since The Fool is creating the path by virtue of starting out on his journey, (even though the first steps seem to take the Fool over a cliff.)
I’m reminded of the invisible path in the Indiana Jones movie, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” where Indiana has to step out into what seems to be empty space, taking it on faith that he will not tumble into the abyss, and finds that he is supported by a path that he couldn’t see until he was actually on it. The Fool is just such a character- able to take it on Faith that the path is there, even as he steps out into thin air. The mundane world would call him naive and foolish (what better reason to call him “The Fool”?). The fact that he is the key character in the Tarot, and that the journey through all the other cards is his journey, makes it clear that he is right, and that in order to grow and evolve, he must take that chance.


Let’s explore the images where the path is visible. Whether or not it indicates actual travel in the mundane sense, or represents an evolutionary process is up to the interpreter, and depends on the context of the reading.

Let’s begin with the Temperance card. A beautiful winged being with a shining face stands with one foot on land and the other in a pool of clear water. In older decks, this being is depicted as female, but in the RWS deck- the figure shown is androgenous.
A narrow well worn path rises from the water, leading toward the horizon. It meanders from the rocks at the water’s edge, through meadows and rolling hills toward lofty mountains that loom in the distance. A shining phantom crown hovers over those far peaks, seeming to beckon from the heights. The winged being pours fluid from one vessel into another. His  head is surrounded by a halo of energy. On his forehead is a bright yellow sun symbol that seems to add to the radiance of his golden hair and halo. A symbol of alchemy adorns the breast of his white robe.

Traditionally, this card represents moderation in thought, word and action, but it also has a deeper meaning, given by the root of the word itself- “temper”-ance. First, there is the quality of self-control, of not indulging in extreme demonstrations of emotion- either negative, such as anger- or positive, such as passion or euphoria. Also there is the process of tempering metals for fine tools and edged weapons, (very similar to the repeated steps of distillation in the alchemical process), where the metal is heated, worked and cooled repeatedly, giving it a superior tensile strength and flexibility.
In short, following a disciplined path while keeping true to a firm set of principles will bring you to heights where greater nobility of character is attained. The message also seems to indicate that it is more about experiencing the process of the journey than about achieving a specific goal. The process is what creates the changes, rendering you- the traveler- into a stronger, purer metal and an instrument capable of holding a sharper edge.

ImageA primitive creature crawls out of the primordial waters, seeking higher ground

The next card that shows the long and winding path is The Moon.

Again, it begins at the water’s edge, leading off into a mountainous distance. Two towers flank this path, as two animals- a wild wolf and a domesticated dog bay at the full moon shining above. A crawfish-like creature crawls up out of the water onto the beginning of the path. Yods- representing the gift of life energy- rain down from the shining moon.
Again, we have the indication of evolution- a journey that takes us from the watery realm of raw emotion and unconscious existence into the heights- a well worn symbol of enlightenment. The Moon, shining it’s yod-beams down upon the scene provides light for the creature to see the path it embarks upon.

ImageThe path here begins in a garden setting, but leads the viewer toward rocky terrain

Following this, we have the Ace of Pentacles- that most earthy representation of achievement. The scene is a garden of lilies bordered by a hedge of blooming red roses. In this case, the path starts out wide and smooth, leading to an archway that frames a view of a mountainous landscape. A hand offers a shining pentacle from a puff of cloud suspended in a pearl gray sky.

If we can tread the path from relative domestic comfort into the rough mountainous terrain, and not deviate from our purpose, the reward of earthly success is offered. Pentacles represent wealth and abundance, yet they also indicate the presence of creativity and the willingness to do whatever it takes to reach a goal. The fact that the path once again leads to the heights symbolizes that the reward will not just be a physical attainment, but also a refinement of character and spirit. Presumably, such processing will render the traveler more able to appreciate and manage the wealth that is gained with greater wisdom, creativity and fairness.

ImageIn this card, the path is shown behind the person in the card, at the lower left.

Finally we have the 8 of Pentacles.

A young man works diligently to create pentacles. He sits on his work bench, chiseling away at his current project, with a pleasantly absorbed expression. In the background, to the lower left hand side, behind the young man, a castle sits on a green slope. A yellow path partially hidden by trees leads up to the open gateway.
The process of perfecting one’s skills opens up the way to achieve many of the finer things in life. Becoming a competent and successful craftsman makes it possible to rise from your current position to the kind of person who could be invited to such a dwelling for commissions. Eventually, one could attain enough mastery of this skill to live in a place every bit as grand, and presumably support others in their quest for excellence in their turn.

ImageThe path leads to the castle entrance. The gate is open…

Becoming a master at one’s craft does not stop at making beautiful and useful things, and basking in the wealth one is able to earn. It also means that you attain a sense of self-respect because you are living up to your potential. When you know you are worthy of it, you can achieve wisdom and compassion as well, and can act as a mentor for others, who like yourself, start small and work their way up to mastery of their craft. What the master craftsman creates is not limited to finer and prettier objects; the finest product of this process is a finer self.

What more could The Fool aspire to?


Posted in Allegorical Fool’s Journey, archetypes, cartomancy, Metaphysical, Spiritual, tarot, Tarot for Self Discovery, tarot interpretation, tarotcircle | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Tarot Symbolism: No one is here….


People in the cards of a Tarot deck serve to focus the attention. They may signify the querent, or other people in the querent’s life who have a say in the event which is under consideration. They may signify possibilities for the querent. Always, they help in understanding what is, or what has to be, in a given context.

Thus, it is utterly fascinating for me, when a card has nobody in it…!

In the Rider-Waite deck, there are just two cards with no one… the Three of Swords and the Eight of Wands.

All the Aces have a hand holding the symbol of the suit, signifying a start, a step to begin, a root for manifesting the power of the suit. Each and every one of the Major Arcana are peopled… yes, even The Moon has the unbirthed Man in the Moon! And according to the Tree of Life, what you don’t have is as important in shaping your perspective as what is in your face….

The Three of Swords holds a bleak vision, if we would go by our trained mind. A symbolic heart (and this is what makes it unconnected to any person) is pierced through by three swords of such overwhelming weightage that the mere visual can invoke pity. The background contributes to the bleakness… colourless, cloudy, lashing sleet. And the perfectly symmetrical symbolic heart hangs in the middle of nowhere, stabbed yet not bleeding.

In contrast, the Eight of Wands looks uplifting. Again, though our trained powers of observation, we see a bunch of eight wands up in the air… above our heads, as it would seem from the distant hills. They have apparent direction, but no apparent control exerted by any human. And also the height of their displacement makes the action of the flying wands disconnected from humans. The light in the scene is clear and strong, and the perspective is wide open.

To me, here is the connect….

Lack of people symbolises times when we have no control over the situation. It could be that we have taken some action earlier, and the consequences have been ripped out of our hands. Or it could also be that the basis of our action had been assumptions… which is a case of immaturity, and thus, we feel no connection to what is happening now. Else, and more significantly, it could be the moment when we have the opportunity to realise that we have  far greater creative powers over our lives than we are willing to believe.

Nobody has broken anybody’s heart in the Three of Swords. It is a heart one has imagined…. It is an emotional box that one has defined through preferrences and dislikes. It is what we ‘think’ is our heart, and not what actually is. Thus, what is injured is an idea, a perception…. and not love. When our hearts break…. it is really not our ‘heart’ breaking. Our capacity to love is divine. Nothing destroys the divine. But our assumptions and our desires to be treated in a particular way because we are comfortable with it form an armour of egg-shells… threatened at every turn. And what more exemplary proof of that threat than the sword!!! We are easiest hurt by the words of others, whereas we need to be mature enough to realise that people speak their truth, not ours. We are just as liable to poke at other people’s ideas of self-importance, too! So, with Three of Swords, we meet our emotional immaturity and we have the opportunity to be thankful that those prods could grow us up in a hurry!

The Eight of Wands talks about our desire to control our lives being wrested out of our grip, and we are forced to learn… trust. It is when we are at our most passionate that we have the hardest grips. Nobody knows better than ourselves! And particularly, up until the previous card of Seven of Wands, we were striving, battling, pitting and pitching… and winning. We know what to do, and we are good at how to do it, right? Wrong. No matter how much you know, the divine always knows more. Indeed, in following our passion, we have chosen to be in the flow, and then, there comes a moment when it is only the flow. Trying to regain control would be a mistake… a huge one. It would only speak of fear. Letting be, letting go, letting God… That is the Eight of Wands!

When one or the other of these cards appear in a reading I am participating in, I realise that the querent stands at a threshold of growth… where he is being made to (yes, perhaps even forced to) drop his self-image and let in his divine image of far greater potential than he could imagine.

No one is here. The divine always is!


Tarot Symbolism: Ploughed Fields

Ploughed fields are a metaphor for the work that must be done before rewards can be reaped. In the Radiant Rider-Waite Tarot deck I found 5 cards that illustrate ploughed fields. They seemed to speak about the different stages of labour.

The Two of wands speaks to me of the planning that has to go into a project before the actual work begins, not that the planning phase isn’t in itself a labour mind you; it just seems less strenuous than the Ten of Wands who is in the thick of it. “Good planning,” says Two of Wands, “gives us more options later” while he looks over the plouged field from an observer position up high. He is also examining a world-globe in his hand as if trying to decide where to travel to next or what direction to venture into.  He asks: Are we putting enough planning and foresight into our projects or work to ensure that we will have options later on?

The next card, the Ten of Wands, shows an overburdened figure of a man struggling to carry his load. In the background of the card is a building, suggesting a community and a ploughed field suggesting the labour required for provision and self-sufficiency. Working in the community, for the community towards a goal or harvest, but feeling a bit overwhelmed perhaps at the responsibility or enormity of the task. The community of course could be his immediate family or his wider community. He asks: Are we all doing our fair share to contribute towards providing and being as self sufficient as possible, or is there room to delegate and to distribute the workload more evenly?

In the Seven of Pentacles a man is in the field, taking a momentary break while examining the progress of his labours. He looks a bit anxious; perhaps he is concerned that there isn’t enough? In Roxi Sim’s Seven of Pentacles from her Pearls of Wisdom deck we see the characters in more of a celebratory mood.  There is still much work to be done but the rewards of this labour is starting to become obvious and creating reason for optimism and celebration. Seven of Pentacles asks: Are we allowing ourselves to enjoy the early signs of reward for our labour while still diligently working at creating something of significance?

Which brings me to the next card, the Page of Pentacles. Here too we see the ploughed field in the background as the central figure holds the rewards up to examine them. “Should I put a little away for a rainy day” he wonders. “Perhaps I can study to improve my skills.” He seems to be deep in thought about what to do with the reward that he holds in his hands. He asks: Have we made provision for investment in the future by plouging some of our rewards back into our work or project?


This brings me to the last card, the Knight of Pentacles.  This Knight represents responsibility, amongst other. As he sits high upon his horse, carefully holding the reward in his hand, the freshly ploughed fields in the distance are ready to be planted again. He must be responsible in ensuring that seeds have been gathered or saved for the next season. He asks: Are we generous when rewarding others who have laboured alongside us, and are we being responsible with the harvest or rewards to ensure that there is enough to sustain us?


Tarot Symbolism: The Dog – Truly Man’s Best Friend


For personal reasons I wanted to explore the symbolism of the Dog in Tarot for my first Tarot Symbolism post. Having recently lost my own loyal protector it seems apt. Especially as the day before I had to say my goodbyes to my sweetheart the 10 of Pentacles appeared in a reading that I did for myself on the subject and I was immediately drawn to the image of the child reaching out to touch the dog. My youngest child had not had a chance to say her goodbyes to our beloved pet and I knew this would upset her dearly, which it did, yet the alternative of her saying goodbye at the vets the day of the event did not seem like a wise alternative. That little corner of the 10 of Pentacles had tugged at my heart.

So, here I am once again focused on the bottom right corner of the 10 of Pentacles. What can be found here? My first thoughts are of the qualities that both a dog and a young child share… devotion, trust, playfulness, an openness to life and new experiences. As well as that they both have strong instinctual natures. In the 10 of Pentacles two adults are caught up in their own affairs, blind to what is happening around them. The old man in front of the archway with his magical coat may very well be a blessing in disguise, but they do not notice him. The dogs are instinctually drawn to him, and the child to the dog. The dogs and child are open to the magic around them, they are acting instinctively, they are engaged.

Again, in the Fool card I see the dog symbolising our instinctual nature. It is the voice of reason, of those inner gut feelings that can warn of danger. It is our own in-built protection mechanism. Yet although dogs are generally domesticated creatures, they are still beasts within, once running in the wild. They are capable of defending their territory with whatever means is necessary. The Fool is obeying his wild nature, he does not deny his urges. He knows his inner dog is there to protect him, so long as he listens.

In The Moon we see the beast in all its glory. This is the only Major Arcana card where there are no people depicted, the energy is all animal. The dog and the wolf are our id animal natures. They are not afraid to display their lunacy as they are roused to howl at the moon. One full moon some years back I actually found myself literally doing this. I was in such a state of despair. It came from nowhere and felt so good. I allowed it to come up and be released. In The Moon the wild unconscious comes to the surface. Unconscious energy needs to be released. It may take its time but it will come, from a dream, from an inner knowing.

A dog can symbolise many things however looking at these three cards it is the theme of primitive instinctual impulses and desires that emerges strongly for me. The dog is our id, it is our unconscious, our intuition. I know that for me now personally, whenever I view these cards and am drawn to our canine friend, that it will be a prompt for me to dig deep and listen to my gut, to my inner voice. To not ignore raw impulses that well up from within. I may have lost my dearly departed buddy but my inner four-legged friend will always be there. Truly ‘man’s best friend’.

Stella Luna © 2012 The Tarot Reader. All rights reserved.

Tarot Symbolism: Knight of Swords – a surprising discovery

I made a revealing discovery on the Knight of Swords card yesterday, using the Universal Waite deck. A card that has ‘disturbed’ me for the longest time because something felt ‘off.’ In contrast to the other 3 knights he has always seemed less controlled somehow, as if he could easily fly off the handle. Thus the feeling that he sometimes rushes in where angels fear to tread.

The Knight of Swords has often come up in my readings when there is a volatile relationship under discussion. He has represented the abusive husband, the hot-tempered young man, and the person who leaps in before he thinks.

The discovery I made opened my eyes to the reason the Knight of Swords is often so angry and out of control of his emotions. On his horse’s bridle is a small, but clear, perfectly shaped red heart! Informing me that this Knight is led by his emotions rather than reason. It explains why he is so quick to anger and seemingly not in control of his reactions. He allows his emotions to lead him, instead of following reason. His emotional immaturity often causes him to overreact which is not really what I would have expected from a Knight in the realm of Reason (Swords.)

I feel that I understand this Knight a little better than I had before, I  feel less judgmental and  more compassionate towards him  since  making this discovery.