Face Up Tarot is a series by Siobhan exploring what happens when we consciously choose the tarot cards in our readings, drawing them face up.
Not too long ago I wrote about the Hierophant as the glue between all and nothing, between the spiritual and the mundane. That piece inspired this one.
A few years ago I did a face-up spread on my old blog.
The spread was meant to be a cord cutting done with tarot. Some of the witches out there may recognize this phrase as a ritual where the practitioner cuts an energetic cord to a person to reclaim energy lost in the process of relating.
Different lineages have a variety of practices related to letting go each with their own beliefs about the process: Toltec Recapitulation, Pranic healing, etc. Cord cutting is meant to help you let go and heal and proves useful in situations where we are likely to cling, in love relationships and with our parents.
At least, that’s what I used to think.
I used to be really interested in letting go.
It makes sense. I’ve lived with a lot of less than favorable things, depression, crippling anxiety, alcohol addiction, emotionally abusive people, trauma-induced PTSD. Some stuff you want to be done with. And when it comes back we want to get some distance and separate from the things we don’t like.
That’s what this spread was about, turning sharply away from things I didn’t like. I called it the about-face. A nod to my marching band days and the feeling you get from a swift pivot on the ball of the foot. In one swift motion you’re somewhere else and ready to move forward and away from what’s behind you.
When I wrote about the Hierophant, I was reminded of this spread and looked it over again.
I realized I no longer related to large parts of what motivated me to do the spread and in the way I did it. I didn’t even like the name anymore, The about-face. I now believe there is no turning away. There is no letting go. No need. Not possible. It’s been quite a few years. It didn’t really surprise me though. That’s what spiritual practice looks like. Fluid enough for large parts of your beliefs to be swept away. It’s unsettling. It confuses people around you and is alienating. It is what it is.
After revisiting the spread, I wondered what it would look like remodeled through the lens of my current beliefs. What would it look like without the false duality implied by letting go?
It’s common in the interest of spirituality to bypass the darkness. I know, at least, that I do it and have done it. Hence titles like Light and Shadow, the title of the blog series where I wrote about the Hierophant. I came up with it when I was too focused on ‘love and light’, to call it what I wanted to call it, “Difficult Cards”. That’s really what it’s about, even if it doesn’t sound nearly as friendly.
All things that come up when thinking about the Hierophant. I had a mouthful to say about all these. Too many things to say. Nothing to say. In the end, I decided to stick to the spread for now.
Here is that first-ever Face-Up spread with a new name and new perspective. This time I’m calling it the Turn-Around spread.
A nod to The Work of Byron Katie which inspired it along with other things. I used this spread on one of the issues I addressed with the original About-Face spread. A situation that, despite my work on it that day, still angered me concerning a person that I wanted some distance from. Rest assured that I used an old issue as an example. No more distance or anger required. The guts I reveal here have long since healed. ~grins~
Here’s what I did.
Step One: The judge-your-neighbor worksheet
I filled out a judge-your-neighbor sheet in its entirety. It’s the sheet on the right in the picture above. In this case, I was working with anger about a (very long) argument I’d had with my dad.
If you’d like to try one, there’s a direct link above, and this site has everything you need to know about the whole process. Basically, it’s a written meditation where you take your thoughts and beliefs, and you inquire about them. I’ve been using this work on and off for seven years or so. I do it because it gives me peace about issues that seem impossible to make peace with, and I tried it in the first place because I felt a connection to Byron and her work both through reading her books and from attending a live event of hers. In person, she feels like peace in the flesh. I listen carefully to people like this.
Do I agree with everything she says? Absolutely not. In fact, that was one of the three blog posts I almost ended up writing instead of this one. We agree about enough that I still see the value in her work and I stand by it enough mention it by name, something I won’t necessarily do with a teacher I find to be problematic in any way.
Step Two: Do the four questions on each of the thoughts
After I filled the worksheet out, I asked the four questions about the top few on the sheet. If I were still angry, I’d have questioned everything on the sheet. And I’ve noticed that when I’ve tried to skimp and not do them all, the work isn’t as effective. You’ve been warned. ~more grinning~
At this point, you may be exhausted af. If you really did the whole sheet and questioned it all, you deserve a break and something nice.
Step Three: Stop and do something nice
This one’s self-explanatory. What’s ‘nice’ mean to you? A bath? Drinking some tea? Eating something yummy? Cuddling? Don’t skip this step unless you have a really evolved sense of pacing and self-care and you can recognize for yourself, because of experience, exactly when it’s time to pause. The signs might be subtle for the novice to this kind of work: tightness in the throat, chest or stomach, or the feeling of having lost touch with your body. Sweating. Hell, you might just be outraged again.
No need to push through. I can stay focused and in ritual or meditation anywhere from 1 hour to 11 days, and even I decided after completing just the top of my sheet to sleep on it and do the Face-Up spread the next day. Know when it’s time to rest.
Step Four: Make the initial Face-Up pile
I don’t know about you, but whenever I consciously pull cards, I always start with a pile. In this scenario, I kept a question in mind, What repulsed me in this situation with my dad?
Then I pulled out every card that seemed relevant as I remembered our argument. When I was done I had 15 cards, and it looked like this:
Some of the cards were stereotypically ‘negative’, some weren’t. I left my knowledge of tarot out of it and responded to the art within the context of the experience I was doing the Work with. You don’t need to know how to read tarot to do this spread.
Well, I lied in that last paragraph. I pulled 14 cards that way. But for one of the cards, I didn’t connect to the art but instead picked because of what ‘I know’ about tarot. It was the Emperor. I thought this card had something to do with my dad and me and that it belonged.
It didn’t. My thoughts about what ‘I know’ about tarot got in the way, so I took it out. Down to fourteen cards.
Step Five: Sort the cards into categories (optional)
I say this part is optional because even if you don’t do this, you can narrow your cards into smaller numbers just by singling out the most repulsive ones from the bunch. I was curious if there was already some order in the pile that I had, so I did this but I didn’t need to. Sure enough, I saw themes.
Here’s what my categories looked like:
- What I’m afraid of him doing
translation: What I’m afraid of happening (to me)
- What I feel he’s trying to make me do
translation: Action I don’t want to take
- Qualities that I perceive in him that I don’t want
translation: Qualities that I’m afraid to possess
- What it feels like when we fight
translation: How I react
These categories gave me four piles instead of one big one. So I narrowed down which card best represented the categories above. I started with the smallest piles.
What I’m afraid of happening: Conditioning (XV – The Devil)
I chose the card on the right, because I most dislike the idea that I have to stuff my desires deep down for the sake of fitting in. When I pulled the card, I was thinking of when I am silent to avoid conflict. It seemed at first like a behavior that my dad compelled. While I might have learned it from him, he has nothing to do with my choice to do it now. I’m doing the thing I’m most afraid of when we argue: disingenuously blending in.
The card on the left looked like someone being reluctantly pulled. I hate the idea that I’m supposed to believe something I don’t believe. I hate the idea of being guided by someone I don’t want to follow. Conversely, my resistance to authority means I often miss out on divine guidance right in front of my nose.
Action I don’t want to take: Compromise (6 of Pentacles)
I don’t want to be forced into a worldview that lines everyone up and judges. This is what I felt like my dad did. Ironically, the card on the right is about how I resist the notion of compromise, of accepting a worldview different from mine. I don’t want those two views in the same space touching pinkies like these two samurai, because my view is right and his is wrong (obviously), and if I don’t make that very clear it might say something bad about me, like I think it’s OK that he believes what he believes.
If I’m going to be honest, I prefer a worldview that lines everyone up and judges. Starting with my dad. I’m holding up a yardstick to his beliefs, and because they aren’t the same as mine (and let’s be honest, how could they be considering the world he grew up in and his experiences?!), not only do I want to reject them, I want to reject him. I’m doing the very thing I don’t want him to do to me.
Qualities that I’m afraid to possess: Laziness (9 of Cups)
There was a lot here. Eventually I came to the conclusion that I see a lot of myself in these cards that are supposed to be about him. The one I felt most distant from at the start was the 9 of Cups at the top. Rather than laziness, I viewed this card as privilege. This is what it looks like when someone feels they are the center of the world and never has to consider the experience of someone beneath them. It’s the evil of hierarchy and expecting to be served.
After I really sat with it, I could see the ‘turn-arounds’ for all of those things, the ways in which I already embody all of that which I’m judging in him. This card comes up again later.
How I react: Morality (Queen of Swords) & Stress (7 of Wands)
This was the most involved pile, but once I got going, it was clear that two of these cards stood out more than the others. Morality is about this role I feel I have to play with my dad – like I need to be my most grounded and adult-looking self or he might not take me seriously. All of this based on assumptions I make about him and experience. I don’t like the role, but no one is making me play it. The 7 of Wands is an accurate picture of what it feels like to play that role. This is what I was left with:
At first I just sat and looked at these.
What I’m afraid of happening. What I don’t want to do. Who I don’t want to be. How I react when I’m ‘in it’.
What I make happen. What I need to do. Who I am. The reaction with the most effort.
I thought about which card most captures how I react in the situation, and it was the Queen of Swords. It’s as if I have rules about when everything will be OK and she’s the gatekeeper. From my perspective and when I’m in the situation, things can’t be OK until I assume this confrontational and holier-than-thou role. Meanwhile, I’m the one who’s not OK. The last question echoes the last question from the worksheet at the beginning.
Step Six: Who would you be without the thought?
To answer this question, I decided to pull from the cards I’d already drawn. I walked through each of the cards in turn including the qualities I wanted nothing to do with and the most interesting among them was the 9 of Cups.
I would receive. I would allow whatever transpires to serve me and my awareness, and I would stop trying to make everybody agree with me. I would be settled in my own worldview. I would allow. I’d hop over my own mean-af gatekeeper Queen and just be OK from the start.
It felt absolutely true.
I want for myself the same things I reject in others. I want to be treated the way I didn’t dare treat him. Lunacy but also average human-stuff.
Throughout this exercise I kept in mind six central questions:
What repels me? How do I act with it? How would I act if I didn’t have my thoughts about it?
What attracts me? How do I act with it? How would I act if I didn’t have my thoughts about it?
If I had wanted to be balanced, I’d have pulled face-up for either what attracted me in the situation with my dad or maybe what qualities that I like and want to embody in general. But I was curious to see if I would find clues about my own desire in the pile that contained what I wanted to avoid. And sure enough, I did.
How would you answer these? And more interestingly, how would you answer these when applied to specific difficult situation?
Let me know in the comments if you try this, or use #faceuptarot
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Deck featured: Osho Zen Tarot (Padma, St. Martin’s 1995)
Siobhan (she/they) is a NYC-born writer, spiritual ally, and #radicaltarot reader living in central Texas. Her facilitative reading style is the blended result of over a decade of study of tarot, nonviolent communication, shamanic ritual, sacred sexuality, and alternative relationship. She geeks all those things in her newsletter and blog. She is also the creator of “The ‘Scopes,” the first-ever monthly collaborative tarotscopes which have featured over 40 professional tarot readers in the last three years.