Tackling the legacy of racial injustice and white supremacy by applying Buddhist principles to take down privilege and trigger collective awakening, ministered by African-American Buddhists who temper Black prophetic traditions with the Dharma may seem ambitious, but that would be the incredible premise of Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation by Rev. angel Kyodo Williams, Lama Rod Owens, with Dr. Jasmine Syedullah. With chapter sections like “The Abolition of Whiteness” and “A Theory of Queer Dharma,” Radical Dharma reads like a sermon at the kind of church I would want to attend regularly.
The book is philosophy; the book is in part memoir on spiritual journeying (“Remembering in Seven Movements” by Lam Rod Owens) and in part the proposition of a new religious doctrine, Radical Dharma. Through Radical Dharma, people of color and those from marginalized groups can finally achieve the healing they need and recover from the traumas of social injustice.
Let me tell you what your favorite go-to tarot deck says about you. That’s right. I think I know you better than you know yourself. And all from knowing which tarot deck you like.
Tarot de Marseille
You’re kind of an elitist snob. You think your tarot deck is more authentic than other people’s tarot decks and so that makes you better. When you’re talking about tarot, you make sure to emphasize that you read with the Marseille (no, you would say “TdM”) deck because you’re pretty sure that fact alone conveys the depth and breadth of your tarot knowledge.
Esoteric Tarot Deck Pre-1900
You’re an elitist snob. You’re probably a voracious reader of obscure books, especially books bearing titles that begin with “Liber.” You get all academic and historian-y when talking about witchcraft or ceremonial magic.
While reorganizing a closet that contained boxes of things I hadn’t touched in years, I came across some of my grandmother’s personal effects and found a trinket box with the above sigil painted underneath, on the bottom of the box. It’s a feng shui talisman of some sort, that much I know.
According to my mother and those who are in the know, it’s “a spell.” Their words, not mine. A blessing spell meant to guard and protect.
The left-most column of text calls upon the guardians of the four cardinal directions, which in feng shui theory are the Red Phoenix in the South, the Black Tortoise in the North, the Blue Dragon in the East, and the White Tiger in the West.
The right-most column of text calls upon the spirit guardians of the five relative directions, or Up, Down, Left, Right, and Center.
The center column is about the founder of the Ba Gua, or eight trigrams, and calling upon that energetic legacy for protection. I might liken that to praying to a venerated saint and hoping that the saint will come and bail you out of trouble.
Meanwhile the guardians of the four cardinal directions are about the universal, collective Qi energy while the guardians of the five relative directions are about the personal Qi, like a call for summoning up your own inner strength. Then the characters inscribed in the circles with the little squares at the center are just various characters for good luck and fortune, like happiness, prosperity, yada yada.
The square within the circle is symbolic of the harmony between heaven and earth. It’s basically a pictorial expression of “heaven is on my side.” The diamond thing forming the four points are representative of the four gates of…something. It’s a mandala thing.
The chain of lemniscates or infinity symbols reinforce the intensity of power or the efficacy of the spell. It’s the insurance policy. I suppose it’s like adding a string of exclamation marks behind a statement to show you really mean what you’re saying!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Then you have the overall form or structure of the painted sigil, which is meant to represent a bell or wind chime, which is superstitiously believed to ward off evil spirits. Allegedly, evil spirits are afraid of the sound of bells, which is a pretty interesting belief if you consider the cross-cultural employ of bells in religious services. A less abracadabra way of phrasing it (though no more scientific) is to say that the sound of bells or wind chimes can scatter malignant energies or bad Qi.
Sutras are Buddhist texts that memorialize a particular teaching, not unlike Sunday school parables (which I got big doses of as a kid: Bible Study classes in some offshoot wing of a church, playing tag or hide-and-seek in said church, and daring one another to utter H-E-double-hockey-sticks in God’s house will forever be ingrained in my memory). Recently I got into reading sutras and came across one that I felt compelled to illustrate. In jest, I tell people this is the kind of bedtime story I’d tell my kid if I had one. Here’s how it goes:
Now my sewing “skills” leave a lot to be desired, for sure, but it means something to me to use tarot bags I’ve made myself. I hand-stitched these without a sewing machine and during that time I spent sewing my tarot bag, I burned sage, concentrated my intentions into the process, and I believe the end result is something special, even if it’s quite imperfect and ugly to the lay observer.
Recently I acquired the Medieval Scapini tarot deck (don’t let the name fool you; the aesthetic is medieval art but this deck was created in the 80s) and decided I really wanted to become fluent in reading with this particular deck, so I promoted it temporarily to my primary reading deck du jour. However, that didn’t mean I was ready to displace my normal reading decks from their pretty little bags, and the number of pretty little bags I have are limited. I decided to make a bag just for the Scapini.
I didn’t have any nice fabric at home, but I did have a bunch of microfiber glass wipes. Don’t ask. Long story. I’m near-sighted (horribly so) and bulk ordered glass wipes for my glasses because I thought I was saving money. Anyway. Glass wipes. Great quality for making a tarot bag with, but each piece was definitely too small. I had to sew them together, which ended up having a nice duotone effect. I might just do this on purpose next time.
These are simple to make. I promise. We’ll be sewing these by hand, so you don’t even need to know how to use one of those damn sewing contraptions. Needle and thread will suffice. It’d be ideal to match the thread color to your fabric color or choose a complementary color, but if you’re scrappy like me, that’s just a luxury. I scrounged for old spools of thread and used whatever I had around the house.
The above Diagram 1 shows what I had to do since I was sewing two pieces together for each side of the bag (four separate pieces total). If you’re using one fabric only, then each side of your bag pattern will look like Diagram 2. Layer up if you want an interior lining for your bag. I did.
Here are the stitches you should know:
Either the overcast stitch or the blanket stitch will work for the edges of the bag. When you go to create the drawstring part (more on that later), you’ll use the top stitch.
Remember you’re sewing these inside out first. Diagram 3 above shows what it should look like after you’ve stitched together 3 sides of the bag with either the overcast stitch or the blanket stitch. The red string represents the chord or ribbon you’ll be using. I used an old black shoelace I found. I snipped off the gross plastic edges and then dipped the edges in melted wax to seal them. (if you’re really going to make a whole ritual out of this, dip in purple wax for intuitive support, white for spirituality and clairvoyance, or black for power; and while you’re at it, do it during a full moon). Be sure to wrap the cord around the top two pieces as illustrated.
Diagram 4 shows the top flaps folded down. Stitch along that edge to close the loop. Be careful not to sew the two flaps together, or else you’ll have sewn your tarot bag shut. Diagram 5 shows the final product. Once you reverse it, gently straighten out the edges. They’ll still be slightly curved, however.
I also tie a knot on the ends of each cord. Now you have a drawstring tarot bag. Below you can see up close just how imperfect my stitches are. Well I didn’t say I was going to try and sell these. They’re special to me and that’s what matters.
If you’re a tarot enthusiast, do save your money and try making a tarot bag or two yourself. Even by hand, the whole ordeal takes less than an hour. Use decent fabric and be sure to line the interior by doubling up on said fabric and you’ll have some durable, long-lasting drawstring bags to store your tarot cards in. My stitches are ugly, I won’t deny, but the quality amazes me. I pull and tug at these things willy nilly and they just last and last nevertheless.
Many traditional Asian societies follow the lunar calendar (I once litigated a case involving an elder Taiwanese woman and all the document evidence she had was dated per the lunar calendar, which completely tripped us lawyers up and a lot of conversion work had to be done, but that is neither here nor there; just mentioning it to affirm that it really is still used today) and the super-traditional even believe that certain energies are more dominant during certain phases of the moon. Not kidding: they’d schedule major surgeries around certain phases of the moon because they believe they’ll bleed less and chances of success will be higher. They consult the Chinese almanac, which is based around the lunar calendar, for everything, from when to launch a business or throw a wedding ceremony to the optimal time for a funeral.
I’ll say that I haven’t lived or observed the universe long enough to confirm whether there is any validity to following moon phases, but if it worked for my ancestors and there is no actual adverse effects from continuing the tradition and it makes me personally feel closer to my heritage, then why the heck not. My mom was adamant about calibrating Hubby’s and my engagement and marriage to moon phases. Did it work? So far so good I’d say.
Anyway, that was a long tangent of an introduction. Sorry. This post is about cleansing a tarot deck.
To demonstrate, I’m using the DruidCraft Tarot deck by Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm and Will Worthington (a highly recommended deck, by the way; though there is a great bit of nudity in the illustrations, which I understand why would be featured in a Wiccan-Druid-based deck, but just does not resonate well with me).
(Note: Must watch in Slide Show format, due to layered animations.)
I’ve created a self-guided intermediate tarot course on a cross-cultural interpretive framework for reading tarot that I have not seen anyone present before. The Five Components of Circumstance is a cosmological theory based on the Chinese maxim that one’s fortune is based on five factors: 1) fate, 2) luck, 3) feng shui, 4) karma, and 5) education. That theory is a cornerstone in Chinese metaphysics and is used to diagnose an individual’s personal formula for success.
By integrating Five Components analysis with tarot reading, the tarot practitioner will have a new set of vocabulary for interpreting a spread, any spread in fact, and can more precisely pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses in a querent and what adjustments need to be made to expedite the querent’s goals.