Table of Contents


Tarot Reflections

 November 15, 2004

Sample Chapter: Tarot Outside the Box
Valerie Sim, CTGM

Valerie Sim serves as the VP of Communications for the ATA. She received her first deck of tarot cards 32 years ago and began studying astrology in 1973. Both have continued to be passions for her over the years and have led to the authorship of her own tarot and astrological teaching materials, with which she has been an online teacher for the past year and a half.

Valerie is the Listowner of a popular tarot email list, Comparative Tarot, a list which is populated by tarot students, readers, teachers, authors and artists. Her book about the Comparative Tarot method and ways to keep tarot fun and exciting, Tarot Outside the Box, was published by Llewellyn in 2004. She also wrote the pamphlet, or "little white book," for the recently published Lo Scarabeo Comparative Tarot Deck, and is the Editor for both Tarot Reflections and The ATA Quarterly.

On the shamanic path and active in animal rescue, Valerie has many favorite decks including Animal-Wise, Vision Quest and Shining Tribe. She is currently writing her second book, Shamanic Tarot.



How many times have we rejected or missed a message from one person only to take it to heart later when delivered by another person with a different approach or choice of words? Why is a musical remake proclaimed by some people to be incredible, yet detested by others who see it as an insipid imitation at best? It is this sort of thinking that led me to a method of teaching and reading Tarot cards that I call the Comparative Tarot Method.

Comparative Tarot is a method of studying and reading the cards that utilizes the subtle nuances of meaning found in the same cards as depicted in different decks. Because of these nuances and the artwork with which they are portrayed, one deck will be regarded as meaningful and evocative by some, yet useless or ugly by another. Those of you that enjoy working with several decks may be intrigued enough to give this method a try.


Tarot Outside the Box
by Valerie Sim
published by Llewellyn

I began my Tarot studies, like many people, by making a journal out of everything that each card meant to me. I included meanings from different authors and readers, and my own personal meanings and associations as they occurred to me through work with the cards. As I became a collector of decks, I started adding to my notes the various meanings attributed to these new decks by their creators. I saw many reinforcements, yet many differences. I became fascinated by the richness of symbolism possible in portraying the various Tarot archetypes, in the artwork itself and in its interpretation. Cards that I had previously found to be relatively "flat" in meaning frequently came alive by this method. Previously somewhat mute cards screamed for my attention.

I began to take this a step further by physically using this method in my studies and readings. Repeatedly I was excited by the added layers of meaning and subtle nuances to be gleaned by incorporating a second deck as an echo into the process. To illustrate this, let's do an exercise using the Robin Wood deck (RW), a softly-colored rendition of the Rider-Waite deck with a pagan orientation, as the primary deck and the Shining Tribe Tarot by Rachel Pollack (ST) as the comparative deck. Our spread will be a simple three card spread addressing underlying problems, (cards one and two), and a direction or potential for alleviating those problems, (card three), in response to a client's desire to identify what the crux of the communication problem was in a familial relationship.

The following cards were drawn from the Robin Wood deck:

Card one - 5 of Swords
Card two - 10 of Wands
Card three - Page of Cups

Interpret the RW cards according to their positions and synthesize the combination. What message or insights are you getting from these cards? Now using the ST select the corresponding cards from this deck and lay them alongside their RW counterparts. What do these cards tell you that you might have missed in the previous layout? What further amplification are you getting with these cards? How are you hearing that 'second voice' with this deck? Is the message stronger? Does it change? Are you getting reinforcement of the initial message, or is this additional information that needs to be synthesized?

The 5 of Swords in the RW deck shows a man in possession of three swords while two lay behind him on the ground. He has a smirk on his face and appears by expression and posture to be gloating as he looks at the people in the background. For the Shining Tribe's depiction of this card, Rachel Pollack has painted a dead Shaman around which circle many-feathered vultures. As she mentions in her book, one is tempted to turn the card around seeking the proper orientation, which seems slightly elusive from every angle. She has made the card deliberately disorienting in an effort to shake us out of our fixed Western perspective. While cultural biases may lead you to concentrate on the dead body or the vultures themselves, it is important not to miss the nimbus of light surrounding the head of the Shaman that signifies his understanding and self-knowledge. This takes us beyond the usual RW meanings for this card (self-interest of the personality/body, discord, possible dishonor) to self-empowerment from the proper confrontation of a situation and the resultant process of healing in order to release that inner light.

Problem: This family seems to suffer from competitiveness carried to the extreme, a sense of one-upmanship and a tendency to gloat over minor victories. All of these things aggravate communication and make it a real sore point. This problem will only get bigger if ignored. Things need to be put back into perspective and healing needs to occur.

The 10 of Wands in the RW shows a man struggling with ten heavy wands he is carrying awkwardly as he heads in the direction of a house in the distance. His back is bowed under the weight of the wands... In the ST depiction of this card (the Ten of Trees), we see a Tree of Life bursting forth with energy and signifying the pleasures and satisfactions of daily life. The abundance and variety of our lives is accentuated rather than the "burdens" of attaining such joys. I find in this 10 a message we should heed more often, that of thinking less of our burdens, and more of the blessings they truly represent. Only through experience, both challenging & rewarding, can you arrive at consciousness. Perhaps the man in the RW card should glance up and see just how close the beloved house to which he journeys really is?

Problem: One or more members of this family are feeling over-burdened. The family has the health and strength to offer support to the burdened member(s). All members seem to have suffered from dysfunctional communication for so long they have missed seeing how close they were in the past and can be again.

The RW Page of Cups shows a young girl holding a cup from which a flying fish protrudes. Common interpretations of this Page would include: Listen to your emotions and intuitions; don't miss the opportunity to experience deep feelings and your inner life; don't be afraid to receive guidance from within... The comparable ST card (Place of Rivers) is a simple and beautiful depiction of inner peace. An androgynous figure kneels before a pool of dark water fed by two lighter-colored streams. Ms. Pollack mentions that we enter this Place "simply by stopping our compulsive outward rush of attention and turning our awareness inward".

Solution: Get rid of that "neener-neener" approach, that sense of superiority and pre-occupation with who is richer or more successful than whom. Remember the love that unites you, but has been overlooked for so long. And most importantly, remember to love yourself. Until you have discovered yourself and are truly happy on a soul level you will not relate well with others, nor will you find peace within. Look into your cup. It is truly full. See your reflection and then experience the depths of the liquid within. Therein will you find inner peace, and the love for and communication with others you misplaced along the way.

As you use this method, you will find that certain decks work better together than others, and you will begin to realize which decks to use for certain querents or types of questions. The messages are endless and the many voices of Tarot a siren's song to further study.


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