Inside a Tarot Reading: Seek & Ye Shall Find Yourself!

The Seeker, Six of Wands & King of Cups from the Pagan Otherworld Tarot Deck by Uusi.

The Seeker, Six of Wands & King of Cups from the Pagan Otherworld Tarot Deck by Uusi.

In our monthly emails (sign up here), we send a message from a three-card Tarot reading conducted just for the occasion—a message for contemplation or guidance.

What follows is my rationale for reading a particular combination of cards that showed up for the month of April. I wouldn’t walk through this much detail with a client, but I offer this to help new Tarot practitioners gain insight into different ways of reading. (Mine is merely one; I am no authority; this merely is an articulation of how I came to a particular story after seeing three cards side-by-side.)

My only question to the cards was this: What message does our community need to hear at this time?

Here’s the fortune cookie interpretation of The Seeker, 6 of Wands, and King of Cups: 

Remain open to cosmic grace, to magic. In doing so, find  stronger connection within your community and discover more fully the nature of your own heart.

To go a bit deeper, here’s a break-down card by card.

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The Seeker

This card was designed to function as a significator—a card you can pull from the deck and set down in a spread as a stand-in for the querent, the person coming to the cards for insight. Other cards that arise in any given reading will begin to form shapes and formations around the querent (or Seeker).

I didn’t realize this fact when I first opened the deck. I thought, “Oh, they added the most incredible major arcana card in the history of the Universe!” and I shuffled The Seeker in with the rest.

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I viewed this card as a more intentional version of The Fool—a person actively seeking spiritual knowledge, whereas The Fool seeks knowledge more generally, even if his journey is ultimately spiritual. 

When I finally realized this card wasn’t intended as part of the major arcana, I thought,  “Oh, makes sense,” but carried on just the same because I liked my mistake—and to each her own Tarot moves!

In any case, here’s The Seeker, a bold opening overture, extending a spiritual invitation in striking terms. On his knees, the figure peers into the great unknown, wrapped in a spiral of wisdom and blessed by the illumination of the full moon. This card encourages our surrender to the spiritual; it invites us to step into mystery as a way of enriching our existence here on earth.

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The next two cards in the progression move us back to the earthly realm, showing us how this spiritual curiosity can pay off for us on the ground.

Six of Wands

This is a card of victory and accomplishment, of feeling noticed by friends and comrades for successful fulfillment of one’s efforts. When we embody the energy of The Seeker, our spiritual appetite automatically helps us connect more meaningfully with our community—we’re suddenly open as we weren’t before. Others will notice the shift within, the way we walk with greater self-possession and integration, the way we approach life with greater joy and vivacity, with appreciation for complexity, duality, and nuance.

King of Cups

If the Six of Wands describes results in relation to others, the King of Cups describes evolution and growth that takes place within as the result of our spiritual quest.

In this card, the king sits on his on rocky pedestal, gazing out to sea, holding his cup in contemplation, one hand almost fondling his heart space. He looks outward into another kind of abyss, but an earthly one, and yet holds himself with strength and fortitude, at peace with the man he’s become, content to marvel at the unknown.

We know the cups represent the emotional realm, the zone of the heart, and the king is the master of this domain. He understands his own emotional landscape; he doesn’t fear his emotions or find them confusing, however they may shift or change. He reads his emotions as signals, opportunities for greater curiosity. 

He can use this emotional wisdom when he interacts with others—intuiting their emotional chemistry and calibrating his reactions to provide emotional support, but without overextending himself or taking on emotions that belong to others.

This card describes the internal shift that awaits when we take up the path of The Seeker. We come to know ourselves more fully; we feel more at peace with the shifting waters of our lives, our psyches, our changing desires; and we come to know the nature of our own hearts. We can find stillness and reassurance in times of loneliness, chaos, conflict, and deprivation. 

In full possession of our hearts, we can connect easily and meaningfully with others—and ourselves—in ways that reverberate through and across lifetimes.

A Bird’s Eye View

We can see how the cards speak to one another individually, how they create a narrative. But one thing I’ve noticed about this deck and its fabulous design—the cards also communicate by aligning visual scenes across cards, using sight-lines, angles, and horizons that traverse the entire row. We can read these three cards together not only as chunks of a story, but sectors of a map, or pieces of a visual puzzle coming together.

It helps that the horizon reaches seamlessly across all three cards. Like illustrations depicting man’s evolutio—each stop a milestone in a new phase of development and being. In our reading: the spiritual plane, the communal plane, and the individual plane.

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Notice how the first and third card create bookends that culminate in a literal shoreline (in King of Cups) and a metaphysical one in The Seeker. This is the island of the self. On one side, boundless cosmic real estate; on the other, the endless depths of the ocean.

Notice how The Seeker is turned away from the scene. Before him, the infinite abyss of cosmic wisdom. Behind him, earth, solid ground, the place he knows and inhabits. When he returns from his journey—even if he’s merely glimpsing briefly into a higher realm—he returns to find the world as he remembers it.

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Imagine The Seeker pulling his head from of this bubble of insight, shaking his head with wonder, trying to gather his senses again. When he’s ready, he turns around, retracing his steps home. 

As he begins, he’s greeted by the six wands—recognition and accomplishment. He’s likely to stop at the party awhile and enjoy his new ability to relate and connect. He sees his friends as gentle souls, all trying to find their way through the swirling, orderly chaos of the cosmos. His sense of compassion is heightened; he is curious to know how his loved ones struggle and succeed in their own lives.

But eventually, he needs to get away, seeking time and space to return to himself, to digest his spiritual experience. So he takes himself to the edge of earth and water, sitting alone, contemplating and processing what The Great Mystery had to offer. (Remind you of anyone? \/ \/ \/)

He may not have concrete answers, but he feels greater emotional resonance within because he joined with spirit—all he ever was in the first place. He returned home briefly (to cosmic love and oneness), then returned home again (to groundedness and gravity and the pleasures and pains of life on Earth). 

* * *

As you continue practicing Tarot, connections of all kinds will gradually emerge for you intuitively. It’s like slowly and gradually learning a new language. You become more fluent with time, but the language will never completely give up its mystery.) Just continue looking, noticing, asking, receiving… seeking, seeking, seeking!

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3 Ways to Read The Hanged Man

In its shapes, forms, and construction, the Tarot's Hanged Man is rather simple compared to many of the other cards saturated with symbology. Yet The Hanged Man remains one of the most mysterious images in the deck.

Often regarded as a representation of martyrdom or sacrifice, The Hanged Man embodies so much more. Though it depicts the figure of a man hanging head-down on a cross-like tree, he appears to be far from death. The shape of his body (with one knee bent and arms behind his back) looks almost like that of a dancer, especially if you view him reversed (right-side-up). His crown is illuminated with a halo of warm light. Even the tree from which he hangs is verdant, covered in clusters of green leaves.

To me, The Hanged Man represents an attempt to convene with the spiritual forces that can dramatically alter our lives. Like a yogi in an inversion, The Hanged Man has willfully placed himself in an uncomfortable position in order to gain a new, fresh perspective that comes with a quick rush of blood to the head.

In a reading, The Hanged Man can pose some difficulty, depending on the context. Through my encounters with him, I have been able to map out three prominent meanings or characteristics to keep in mind when he pops up in your next spread.  

1.     Individuality

"His head glows with the radiance of his autonomy."

The Hanged Man hangs alone. He lacks the company of peers, rulers, angels, or even animals, which we find elsewhere in many cards throughout the deck. His experience of the world is his own, and is one that may not be understood by others. The Hanged Man’s plight is to perceive the world from an opposite angle, to deviate from the norm.

The Hanged Man from  The Golden Tarot ,  The Efflorescent Tarot  by Penny Coin Archer, and  Personal Space Tarot

The Hanged Man from The Golden Tarot, The Efflorescent Tarot by Penny Coin Archer, and Personal Space Tarot

We are so often herded by society into paradigms that are mostly arbitrary and not of our own creation. The Hanged Man takes a different approach, willfully altering his perspective and allowing his inner thoughts to guide him. His head glows with the radiance of his autonomy. His body reclines in an impossible position, discarding society’s instructions to blend in. He is enlightened, having found total freedom through his own self-awareness and acceptance, regardless of his physical entanglements.

As a representation of individuality, I see The Hanged Man not as the selfless martyr, but as the self-aware nonconformist who has dedicated himself to the task of free-thinking. When you see him in a reading, he may be an indication that you need to let go of an unattainable lover, and learn to love yourself, or that you need to let go of the prescribed notions you may have about life, spirituality, or your own place in it all.  

2.     Active Experience of Receptivity

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Many cards in the Major Arcana are archetypal representations of a concept. The High Priestess is an archetype of receptivity for the subconscious, a passive representation of received inner wisdom. The Hanged Man is receptivity in action. Imagine him climbing up the tree and positioning himself upside down, hanging himself—not as an act of self-harm, but active surrender to experience. The Hanged Man represents someone opening himself to what I call Creative Forces, an external magic/energy that flows through us, what we might call inspiration, spirit, communing with the subconscious. The concept of active surrender is one of the card’s paradoxical charms—we often say The Hanged Man gains control by letting go.

‘Sensory gating’ is a natural brain function that filters out much of the sensory stimuli we encounter to prevent us from becoming overwhelmed by our very existence! We are biologically hardwired to wear a mental armor against the onslaught of experience. The Hanged Man is removing that armor, even if only momentarily, becoming vulnerable to the full experience of life and its sensuality, emotions, and spiritual forces. He is opening himself to creative forces, much like The Magician, inviting that energy to move through him like a current. This creative juice is then emitted in the golden nimbus around his crown, suggesting a creative enlightenment only be attained through receptivity.

In a reading, this characteristic of The Hanged Man might be seen when someone is concerned with the direction of a creative project, struggling with writer’s block. The Hanged Man suggests the seeker submit to radical vulnerability with the creative forces that exist outside of us, and allow that energy to flow freely through the seeker.

3.     Meditation

The Hanged Man is interested in matters of the spirit.

The Hanged Man has always appeared to me to be suspended in a kind of meditation. When he appears in certain readings, I take this as a message to stop everything and meditate. Whether that means you actually sit down, cross your legs, and dust off your meditation practice, or just allow all the pressures and concerns of life to be contained elsewhere for a while, dedicating the space and time for reflection is one of the most important methods of self-care we have available to us.

The Hanged Man doesn't concern himself with the anxieties of daily life. He's interested in matters of the spirit. This is revealed to us through that glowing nimbus he is so famous for, and the impractical position of his body, which allows him to do nothing but hang! Sometimes, his message to us is simple: just hang (suspend, stop, quit trying and just be). It's easy to make mistakes and get overwhelmed when life’s pace becomes to hurried. Sometimes the most important thing is to take a break from the rat race and reconnect with whatever nourishes us most.  

Signing Off,
Claire Bowman

The Hanged Man Reversed (Tales from Real Life Readings)

The Hanged Man

FROM CECILY: I once conducted a reading for a rather drunk gentleman in a banana costume at a Halloween party. For parties, I always shuffle and present the cards upright to keep the deck fresh and avoid the complexity of reversed cards in shorter readings where time is limited. Nevertheless, Banana Man managed to reverse some of the cards and his Past / Present / Future spread appeared as Eight of Cups (the need to leave a situation behind) / The Hanged Man Reversed (an inability to shift perspective or let go) / Eight of Swords (the self-imposed confinement that accompanies the inability to see reality and oneself honestly). 

I had a hard time talking to Banana Man—he wanted to do most of the talking—but he did tell me a heartbreaking story about his fiancé leaving him abruptly after a tragedy in her life. In his tale, I could hear hints of feelings and needs that his fiancé was trying to communicate, but that he couldn't quite see. He could not view himself as anything but a victim, and the reversed Hanged Man in his reading was a sharp and dead-on indicator of where he was—stuck in a singular and limited view.

The reading was quite difficult and unproductive, and I ended up hurting his feelings after he told me he was a really great listener and I responded by pointing out that he'd been talking through most of the reading. I lost him after that, but he wasn't fully present or receptive to begin with. His was the worst reading I've had ever (by far), and I was a bit devastated that I couldn't reach him. But The Hanged Man Reversed was a sign for me that Banana Man just wasn't ready for the harder truths he needed to accept in order to grow and move forward.