Tarot is best used as a tool for self-discovery, healing, growth, empowerment, and liberation. Tarot archetypes provide the reader with a window into present circumstances and future potential. But what if that window only opened up on a world that was white, European, and heterosexual? The interpretations of the tarot that have been passed down through tradition presuppose a commonality and normalcy among humanity. At the root of card meanings are archetypes that we accept without questioning. But at what point do archetypes become stereotypes?
Humanity is diverseculturally, spiritually, sexually. Tarot has the power to serve a greater population, with the right keys to unlock the tarot's deeper meanings. In Queering the Tarot, Cassandra Snow deconstructs the meanings of the 78 cards explaining the ways in which each card might be interpreted against the norm. Queering the Tarot explores themes of sexuality, coming out, gender and gender-queering, sources of oppression and empowerment, and many other topics especially familiar to not-straight folks. Cassandra's identity-based approach speaks directly to those whose identity is either up in the air or consuming the forefront of their consciousness. It also speaks to those struggling with mental illness or the effects of trauma, all seekers looking for personal affirmation that who they are is okay.
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About the Author
Cassandra Snow is a professional tarot card reader who teaches Queering the Tarot and Tarot for Beginners classes and coaches new and intermediate readers. She also runs Gadfly Theatre Productions, a queer and feminist theater company. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Beth Maiden is the founder of Little Red Tarot.
Read an Excerpt
THE MAJOR ARCANA
Traditionally the Major Arcana are the first twenty-two cards in the deck, ranging from The Fool to The World. (I say traditionally because we are in a bit of a tarot renaissance, and there are so many wonderful decks reinventing what tarot can be.) The cards of the Major Arcana address matters of fate, spirituality, and anything the gods have ordained necessary in our lives. If we consider the suits of the Minor Arcana as representing the four elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, then the cards of Major Arcana indicate the fifth element, Spirit. Spirit assures that we are being guided by higher principles. In truth, I don't stray too far from those accepted assignations — they just look a little bit different. I do believe there are elements of fate at play in our lives, but I don't think we're its pawns. In fact, that's a pretty oppressive viewpoint. The ideas of fate, karma, and one or several gods choosing for us have been used to justify everything from slavery to caste systems to abuse of members in exclusive and dangerous cults. They are no friend to those living in the margins. Yet I am not without a sense of mystery or romance. I do think there are people that are supposed to be in our lives. I believe that there are places we are supposed to visit, things we are supposed to achieve, love we are supposed to know. Does that mean I think we've irrevocably screwed up our lives if we don't? Absolutely not.
To me, then, fate indicates things that are best for us, things where the ball has already started rolling (and are therefore unavoidable), or anything you feel called to do. There are so many places to turn in the Majors for healing, empowerment, or even just to reflect on one's own identity, and that's especially true for queer people. Fate is not necessarily totally divorced from the queer experience, but it's also not the only factor in our ability to heal and thrive. It's important for anyone who has been oppressed to be able to take control of their own lives. Autonomy matters to everyone, but it especially matters to people who have spent most of their lives being told they are wrong about who they are and how they feel. We need to claim it, own it, and live it. That makes fate almost a secondary or tertiary factor in our lives. The ball is already rolling on that major career change, for example, but we have other fish to fry while that's picking up steam. So what major role do the Majors play in our lives?
As I've mentioned, these twenty-two cards represent Spirit — the often recognized fifth element. Spirit is our soul, our aura, the us that we were given, and the us that we are building. Spirit is what survives and keeps us going in the face of trauma. Spirit is that part of us that is already healed. Spirit is also, of course, the part of us that prays, does magick, and manifests our dreams into reality. The Major Arcana pull together the best of the other four suits. These cards give us the Fire to become powerful activists and fighters. They give us the Water to heal ourselves, and the heart to love in terrible times. They give us the Air to make quick and sound decisions and the logic to ensure we don't float away. And they give us the Earth that allows us to grow and thrive no matter what we are planted in. All of this makes the Major Arcana a powerful series of cards that can be used in any aspect of our lives.
Most often, I use these twenty-two cards to represent the general life and spiritual journeys we are on and where we are in those journeys. Other readers do the same thing, and in fact the Majors are often collectively called The Fool's Journey. When queering the tarot, I take into account the unique ways LGBTQQIP2SA+ people have been hurt and where healing may be needed. I take our unique joys, communities, and chosen families into account, too. I think about what someone's journey specific to all of their identities might be, and how each card looks different in that person's journey. Tarot is highly personal, so looking at it as a monolith is always going to get you in trouble. Still, there are points common enough to all of us to explore. With that, let's jump into these cards!
The Fool promises exciting new beginnings and encourages youthful optimism. This card represents babies being born, college students setting off into the world on their own, and anyone who takes the plunge to ditch their day job and start their own career. It's a card that encourages big, almost foolish leaps of faith. Such leaps of faith also require us to keep a positive attitude and assume that things are going to work out for the best. This is true of The Fool more than it is not. It's important to view this card as a card of early stages or starting fresh. There are a lot of cards that show major upheaval, big risks, and new chapters. This one is special because we aren't starting a new chapter. We're starting a totally new book. That means the road ahead might get treacherous, but we're meant to learn from the pitfalls.
The Fool shows up frequently when we're starting on our path toward our soul's purpose. It came up a lot when I made my decision to move to the Midwest. It came up when I started my theatre company. It came up when I said, "screw day jobs," and made writing and tarot my career. All of these were big, bold choices that I knew were right for me. And they were also all times I listened to my intuition and followed what I knew to be a calling. That is really where The Fool shines — in getting us to live out our highest purpose.
It makes sense, then, that this card comes up frequently for queer seekers. (A seeker or querent is anyone turning to the tarot for guidance.) We cannot live our soul's purpose if we are denying pieces of who we are. If you're considering or have recently come out of the closet, you will likely get the encouraging message of The Fool. You really cannot start your soul's journey or work toward your purpose carrying big secrets on your shoulders. That's not to say that this card doesn't encourage experimentation. Quite the opposite. Admitting you're queer and deciding which letter of the beautifully long acronym we use now are totally different. My own journey has seen several different identities, all of them queer, and all of them honoring who I truly was at that time.
I mentioned though, that this card came up a lot when I was making my decision to move to the American Midwest. That was an incredibly queer application of this card. Why? Well, I was living in the Bible Belt, attending a Baptist college that refused to let students form a Queer Student Alliance. The college even banned any new groups from being formed on campus in retaliation. I was in the closet for most of that hubbub, and I'm not sure which side of the closet was worse. All I know is that from my side, it hammered home the self-loathing I'd felt over my sexuality for years. It was not a healthy environment for me to be in. The Midwest is hardly a paragon of radical politics, but it's also not a Baptist-run cesspool where even rumors of LGBTQQIP2SA+ students getting together would cause an administrative meltdown. The Fool showed up to encourage me to literally start a new journey, one where I could make my own way and find my own voice in an environment where it was at least marginally safer to do so. That's what The Fool wants for all of us: to find a place where we can truly begin our journey.
The Fool represents any time we are starting new or starting over. While the examples I've written about deal with very specific situations that many queer people face in their lifetime, there are countless others. Finding a new group of friends or a queer chosen family is one. Starting a new spiritual journey that won't make you feel crappy for being queer is another. Gender transitions often bring up The Fool. So does that first truly queer relationship (whatever that means to you). Queer applications of The Fool abound in our lives, but its message stays the same: remain true to your identity, trust that inner voice, and jump! Sometimes as LGBTQQIP2SA+ people, that is all the encouragement we need.
Magick. Luck. Creation. These are just a few key words ascribed to The Magician, a card full of magick and moxie. The Magician represents being able to use the skills and resources at your disposal to create change in your life and the world at large. This card also indicates creating the life you desire through the law of attraction (or other magickal means). This is a next-steps card — The Fool starts us on a journey, and The Magician is what happens once we've traveled for a bit. It's a card signifying that a transformation has happened within, and you are now ready to take all of the skills and magick contained inside of you out into the world, transforming your own life and creating good for others. The minor prophecies therefore include instances of luck — meetings, emails, phone calls all meant to take our life from the "I'm ready" to the "I'm actually doing this" stage.
When we look at reading for the queer crowd, the base interpretation of this card doesn't change. This is one of those cards where knowing a lot about the queer experience comes in handier than knowing a lot about the tarot. Queer people often go through quite a journey to reach the point of realizing they are a queer person, let alone coming out and living as one, and it can come with a lot of shame and missteps along the way. While The Magician is usually seen as an early-stages life card, for queer people, assuming this would be a mistake. It often takes years to feel comfortable presenting as a gender you weren't assigned at birth. It can take many sexual partners to figure out how you fall in terms of sexual identity, and that goes double for those of us who are kinky too. This card showing up for a queer person is not necessarily about that moment after The Fool, when you realize it's okay to be you. It's possibly years later when you've actually hammered out what being you looks and feels like. This, for LGBTQQIP2SA+ people, is when the magick starts happening.
Then, there's the issue of confidence for queer seekers in all other areas of their life. Most marginalized people take years learning the skills they want to build their career from, where others take mere months. Does that mean we're not ready sooner? No. What it means is that our inner voice has been so beaten down (by ourselves or others) that we don't think we can acquire that set of skills quickly enough. We wait to start our lives until we are 1,000 percent sure we know what we're doing. The Magician shows up to encourage us to step out and try for success sooner. This card that brings luck to people who are both straight and cisgender also brings confidence to queer people. That's really important, and a side of The Magician that's easy to miss. We can all create the lives we want with spiritual prowess, luck, and the work required. It takes a card as sure of itself as The Magician to make queer seekers see that.
The Magician is a card of literal magick. What that meant for me several years ago while I was still stuck in the Bible Belt was that it was time to explore alternative spiritualities. Christianity in the right hands is every bit as healing and empowering as any other spiritual path. It's not for everybody, though, and a significant number of LGBTQQIP2SA+ people have been hurt by or even pushed out of their home churches because of who they are. Sometimes, what we need to heal that betrayal is a different spirituality altogether. I found witchcraft, ghosts, and tarot in dorm room basements and on various walking paths in the mountains of North Carolina. I was scared at first. I was convinced I was wrong. Some gentle nudging from the tarot and Pagans I trusted eventually won me over, but The Magician showed up a lot for me back then. For all of the life purpose and practical application we see, sometimes this card just wants us to find ourselves spiritually.
THE HIGH PRIESTESS
The High Priestess digs deep, y'all. This is a card of mystery and intrigue, but it's also a card of deep, profound knowledge. This can be a frustrating card to pull at times since we are taking to the tarot to solve mysteries or rely on wisdom that is not our own, but it is often a necessary wake-up call to tune in to ourselves. This card, generally speaking, shows up in one of two ways. Sometimes The High Priestess shows up because we aren't supposed to know what's around the corner. We are new to our path and should still be surprised and excited by the things our Higher Power throws at us. In other words, it's best not to know. Alternatively, this card comes when all of the answers we need are sitting buried in our guts, our minds, or our bones. There are truths we can see or know, but there are also truths we can feel. The latter are the deepest truths there are, and the ones The High Priestess urges you to seek.
Feeling our truths as queer people is one of the most important gifts we can give ourselves. Where does our awareness of our own queerness start? Our minds? Our hearts? Or somewhere deeper, hidden even to us? We've already seen in our short journey to The High Priestess that LGBTQQIP2SA+ are quieted and have their intuition thrown off by pressure and bigotry from the world at large. This card is a deep, necessary wake-up call to find that voice again.
The High Priestess is all about feeling our truth, and there are few, if any, things more awakening than sex. Queering the tarot, or taking any radical approach to it, means embracing sex positivity and not quieting the significant role it has in most of our lives. The High Priestess is a fairly dominant force, insisting that if they sleep with you, their needs will be met. Once a partner enthusiastically consents to these conditions, though, game on. Queering The High Priestess means committing to your own pleasure, indulging in sensuality, and finding partners who genuinely enjoy being under you. Don't settle for less than that; you've been through enough in your queer life.
As we talk about The High Priestess' enviable sex life, we touch on another important message for queer seekers: don't settle for less than what you deserve — ever. It is heartbreakingly common for me to see my community members take jobs that do not pay enough because they are queer friendly, or, alternatively, take jobs where they must stay somewhat closeted because they need the money or benefits offered. There's not always a positive solution to this. Sometimes we have to balance the harsh reality queer people live in with our own needs. When The High Priestess is on the table though, that simply isn't true. You can have a partner who stokes your intellectual fires and accepts your gender identity. You can have a job that is lucrative and safe. You can be who you are and meet your needs. Don't worry about the details for now. This card loves its mysteries. It will all sort out the way you need it to, though, only so long as you refuse to settle for less than what you know in your bones you deserve.
THE EMPRESS AND THE EMPEROR
As we continue to journey through the tarot, queering it every step of the way, some cards make more sense to queer as a set or a series. The Empress and The Emperor are two such cards. Traditionally these cards are seen as Mother and Father, each representing the best and worst of those archetypes. The Empress is historically said to deal with maternal energy. This is understood to be the nurturing side of ourselves, as well as the side that deals with unconditional love. She's also a positive omen for creative energy and fertility. In the negative, this card can represent a flare-up of mommy issues, or love that is overbearing. Not very flattering, but The Emperor has a dark side, too. This card represents so-called fatherly wisdom and the self-discipline we supposedly all learned from our dads. The card also represents control and stability, and, sure enough, angry or strict fathers are also represented here.
Most readers, at least at the professional level, have figured out how to read around gender in the court cards, but this pair presents a different challenge. Mother and Father are different archetypes with deeper ingrained biases than King or Queen, or even Male or Female. To truly queer these two, you have to be willing to throw out any gendered notions of them — not only to acknowledge same-sex relationships, but also to acknowledge the experience of transgender people, including those who don't identify on the binary. Furthermore, the way these cards interpret Mother and Father is troublingly outdated in a world where dads often stay home and do the nurturing, moms are frequently charged with both roles, and many people aren't even raised by their birth parents.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Queering The Tarot"
Copyright © 2019 Cassandra Snow.
Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
What is Queering the Tarot? 3
1 The Major Arcana 9
The Fool 11
The Magician 13
The High Priestess 15
The Empress and The Emperor 17
The Hierophant 21
The Lovers 23
The Chariot 25
The Hermit 29
The Wheel of Fortune 32
The Hanged Man 37
The Devil 47
The Tower 51
The Star 53
The Moon 56
The Sun 59
The World 66
2 The Suit of Wands 71
The Ace of Wands 73
The Two, Three, and Four of Wands 75
The Five and Seven of Wands 78
The Six and Eight of Wands 82
The Nine of Wands 85
The Ten of Wands 89
3 The Suit of Swords 93
The Ace of Swords 95
The Two, Three, and Four of Swords 98
The Five and Seven of Swords 104
The Six of Swords 108
The Eight, Nine, and Ten of Swords 111
4 The Suit of Pentacles 115
The Ace of Pentacles 117
The Two of Pentacles 119
The Three of Pentacles 121
The Four of Pentacles 123
The Five of Pentacles 126
The Six of Pentacles 129
The Seven of Pentacles 131
The Eight of Pentacles 133
The Nine of Pentacles 135
The Ten of Pentacles 137
5 The Suit of Cups, 139
The Ace, Two, and Three of Cups 140
The Four of Cups 143
The Five through Seven of Cups 146
The Eight of Cups 150
The Nine and Ten of Cups 153
6 The Court Cards 157
The Page of Wands 161
The Knight of Wands 164
The Queen of Wands 167
The King of Wands 170
The Page of Swords 173
The Knight of Swords 176
The Queen of Swords 178
The King of Swords 181
The Page of Pentacles 183
The Knight of Pentacles 185
The Queen of Pentacles 187
The King of Pentacles 189
The Page of Cups 191
The Knight of Cups 193
The Queen of Cups 195
The King of Cups 197
Final Thoughts on Queering the Tarot 201