Sometimes an author chooses the subject; other times the subject chooses the author. 365 Tarot Spreads was a case of the latter; this book chose me.
You’ll discover, as I did, a plethora of 365 books if you look for them. Daily books of spells, goddesses, simple advice, daily living, sexual positions, creativity guides, meditations, journaling suggestions, recipes, happiness boosters, motivations, and ideas ad infinitum for each day of the year.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover no tarot book for each day of the year existed, especially since for many cartomancers (a fancy name for tarot lovers), tarot is a hallowed daily practice. Pulling daily cards is not only an excellent tarot learning tool but a ritual for what I’d imagine are hundreds of thousands of readers.
Even my sister, director of a large drug addiction rehabilitation facility in the healing airs of Malibu, California, pulls a card from her mermaid deck for guidance and inspiration before important meetings. She wouldn’t describe herself as a tarotist, but she understands the importance of a clear, concise message or theme when one is needed and the usefulness of a card as a focal point when focus is called for.
This is the sublime nature of tarot: tarot pulls focus. It gives your attention a resting point. The dialogue a reader has with their cards is a rapid-fire, emotion-filled experience leading to informed decision-making and change. Why? Because we tend to live in our heads and in the experience of our brains. Tarot brings us out of ourselves. It moves our perception outwards and onto the cards before us. Rather than living with the possibility imagined in our mind’s eye, the possibility is spread on the table before us. This small bit of space—this foot or two of distance between reader and cards—allows us perspective. Like the value of age and wisdom, tarot spreads allow us to step back, reevaluate, and consider motives, actions, and outcomes from a different vantage point. In this space intuition leaps to life and we actively listen for guidance.
For many of us, this is done on a daily basis. So why not create a tarot spread for each and every day of the year?
The root of a question is a quest—a journey, act, or instance of seeking or pursuing something. A tarot reading is a search, a journey, a quest for truth. Tarot decks lie in wait for your questions: “What do I want to know, see, meditate on—?” The first thing a tarot reader asks the client is, “What do you want to know?” To come to tarot is to come with a curious mind. A tarot spread can alter the course of your life—or not; it is entirely up to you. Will you sit on the information gathered or will you act on it?
At some point in the process of writing this book, it occurred to me that there must be a set number of questions someone could ask about themselves and their life. While each individual’s journey is infinite, the language surrounding the journey, the articulation of those questions, must have a set limit. The questions wouldn’t include the likes of “What makes volcanoes erupt?” though you can ask tarot anything you want. This book is concerned with questions in regard to one’s life: “Does he love me? Am I making the right choice? What should I do?” There are small differences in how questions are phrased, but the essential quest, search, desire, and intended or hoped for outcome is essentially a set number. This is why most tarot readings come down to the same few subjects: love, money, career, and life path.
Interestingly, the relatively small number of questions one could ask doesn’t make the experience of life feel small; it’s quite the opposite. Magic and uniqueness occur in the way we color our existence. We are far from robots operating in a factory line of mindless repetition. A simple description of the human body states two arms, two legs, one heart, one brain. On the surface, this appears simple, set, and staid. But the way we inhabit our bodies is unique. Therein lies infinity. And if you don’t believe me, look at the bodies ambling down Forty- Second Street in New York City. Gaze at ballet dancers leaping across the stage. Watch toddlers move. Infinity exists amidst essentials.
Small, finite sets of human existence are apparent everywhere. The twelve signs of the zodiac cover the fundamental qualities indicative of the human psyche, thus millions of people look at the same horoscope and say, “Yes. This is me!” Shakespeare’s thirty-seven plays comprise the essential dramatic narrative of human existence. He’s told all of our stories. The Hero’s Journey is apparent in cross-cultural mythology. Its narrative arc is rife through the major arcana and resonates with every person on earth. All religious dogma boils down to a handful of essential truths. Our life ultimately contains a few vital themes, issues, and problems. We find ourselves continually working out these same issues over and over again. Even sacred geometry tells us nature is made of repetitive patterns. The tiny spiral of a black snail in morning sunlight is the same shape of spiral galaxies light years away in outer space. Everything repeats.
With repetitiveness comes opportunity—a chance to do something again, to cultivate newness, to reach higher, to love deeper, to become smarter. And if we are lucky—if we work hard, if we question well amidst the repetition—something Charles Darwin referred to as “saltation” occurs: the pattern changes.
On Being Human
The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of humanity’s earliest surviving works of literature and the subject of a college lecture I think of often. “Why do we care?” asks Ron Long, professor of religion at Hunter College. “Why bother to read this ancient story? Why does it matter?” Great question. Why consider an old story like Gilgamesh? Why study a 4,000-year-old adventure about two best friends?
“It matters,” Long explains, “because it is what makes us human.” The second half of the epic focuses on Gilgamesh’s heartbreak and distress when his best friend is killed. Gilgamesh’s sorrow is excruciating and sends him off on a quest for immortality. Long’s point is that the sudden loss of a best friend for a person living 4,000 years ago is as heartfelt, as tragic, as it is for us today. Four thousand years later we remain the same delicate, fragile, and emotional creatures we have always been. External circumstances may be different—we may fly in airplanes rather than ride camels to traverse deserts—but at our core, we are the same. We are human.
Approaching 365 Tarot Spreads, I encountered, once again, that not much separates us from our ancestors or our neighbors. The challenge was writing a book where anyone, anywhere, could discover a set of questions applicable to their current situation, desires, and needs—to make it possible for anyone, in any situation, to find articulation for their quest.
It is the same goal a professional tarot reader faces: to offer insight and information to the people who come to them. People from all walks of life cross the path of the professional reader: young, old, wealthy, poor, bored, excited, depressed, enthused. The professional tarot reader becomes an inadvertent sociologist. Within the intimate framework of a reading, be it a five- or fifty- minute session, as complete strangers bare their hearts and souls, a delicate lesson is learned and relearned. We are the same. We are human.
From Superbowl athletes to Little League coaches, from movie starlets to housekeepers, from the wealthy to the poor, it doesn’t matter; each person yearns for love and validation as much as you do. People’s questions are the same. No matter class, color, or creed, everyone wants love, security, and acceptance from their peers. Everyone desires a sense of belonging and purpose. Our essential needs and desires remain the same.
I get the feeling that if any of us sat in ancient Babylon in the corner of a bar, reading tarot for those Babylonians, the questions asked would be the same questions people ask today because we are all human. We all feel scared, we all feel rejection, we are all uncertain, we all have highs and lows. At our core we are all the same.
Why does any of this matter? Because it means we are not alone.
Writing a book for each day of the year, one begins to consider with greater interest the nature of a calendar. What is it and why? Calendars exist to mark the passage of time. Ancient people crawled out of caves, and as summer days grew longer, they knew more sunlight meant greater safety from the hungry beasts lurking in darkness. Our first calendars were the glittering constellations, our night sky. In agricultural societies, calendars let us know when to plant and harvest. Calendar knowledge equaled survival. The Industrial Revolution brought calendars and clocks telling factory workers when to get up and go to work. We are not much different than our farming or factory-working forebears. We use time to coordinate busy lives, careers, schedules, knowing when and where to be. At the movies, we calculate with precision the time it takes to get our popcorn before the previews begin.
But time offers us something more on a profound level: security. Life’s true nature is terrifying; it is random. On a deep level we intellectually realize Earth is literally spinning beneath our feet, hurtling through space. We know, on the other side of the world, people are literally upside down from us but feel right-side up to themselves. We know from the painful lessons of tragedy that life can change in the blink of an eye. But time is something we can depend upon. Humanity’s agreement of time is regulated. If you buy a ticket to see Bruno Mars next Saturday at 8 PM, 25,000 other people will show up right alongside you to hear the Mars man sing. The dependability and agreeability of time makes it a comforting thing, so calendars prevail and a year is sliced into 365 sunrises and sunsets.
But time is a slippery subject. None of us know how much time we have. When we find out our time is up, it will be too late. Why, when we were ten years old, did a summer last forever but fly in the blink of an eye at age thirty? Maybe because children live in terms of possibility, while adults tend to live in relation to the past. We all fall prey to living in relation to the past. But tarot intercedes. Tarot contains a gift. Tarot, like childhood, presents us with the possible. Each time we flip a card, we sense the possibility. This is why no matter how many years you’ve worked with tarot, every time you pull a card feels like the first time you’ve ever done so; it’s why tarot never loses its excitement. Tarot makes virgins of all of us.
Author Jeanette Winterson says time stops everything from happening at once. She says there are two times: that time belonging to the outer world—to the calendar, Earth’s revolutions around the sun—and time in our personal inner world, our inner landscape. Inside ourselves, we experience events as if time were happening simultaneously. To challenge linear time, realize that events separated by years lie side by side imaginatively and emotionally inside of you. She suggests an attempt to live in total time. While abiding by the time on my computer, I simultaneously feel the warmth of my first real kiss, the thrill running down my spine, the smell of his skin, the song playing in the background. I am fourteen and I am forty-two, in two places at once. Can you do this? Of course you can. You are a supernatural creature. You too can live in total time.
It is the province of the tarot reader to move backwards, forwards, even sideways in time. It is what we do best. Readers, our cards—our imaginations—lie outside of calendar time. These are the highways, landscapes, and environments visited by shamans, artists, seers, and mystics—the world of the imagination. Story, essence, truth, gods, eternity, and symbols exist here. This is why tarot is a gateway to worlds of esoteric study, why tarot is an entrance to the occult. Because what is hidden can only be revealed by experience. Archetypes are experiential. Tarot is experiential.
This is what Greece’s ancient mystery schools offered. Their lessons could not be taught, explained, or orated. The lessons had to be experienced. You can’t know the mystery until you experience the mystery. A boy in a New Guinea tribe cannot be lectured on his initiatory experience. He is given tools for survival for his three-day initiation in the woods. He is equipped and taught to fend off wild beasts, but his experience occurs alone. He quests for himself. He comes through the process changed. This is exactly what the Fool does. This is what tarot does. It is what you will do if you allow it. This quest occurs outside of calendar time. It is entirely internal. And 365 Tarot Spreads is here for you on the outside, provoking you with questions and ideas when you need them.
I hope you enjoy this book—hope it aids you, no matter your quest. May the roads you choose be filled with magic and wonder, with galaxies of possibility and oceans of love. Hopefully you’ll never have to use the Divorce Spread, the Rejection Spread, or the Letting Go Spread. But life is full of bumps and bruises just as it is full of soft baby kisses and snuggles, so the spreads are there in case you need them.
I hope you find your truth and that when you do, you stand in the middle of it strong, beautiful, and nimble like the World dancer. Because when the Fool followed her own path and trusted herself, she found herself in the World. And by the time she did, she was so high on the music—so enraptured by the dancing, so lost in the beauty, so in tune with herself, and so filled with magic—she didn’t even realize that she’d arrived at her destination.
new york city, 2013