Alien: “The alien tends to represent a person of an introverted nature who may feel alienated due to a feeling of separateness from the world. Often times this person intentionally alienates themselves from others in order to gain outside perspective, possibly suppressing emotion in favor of logic…sometimes at the expense of having a good ol’ fashioned human experience. They have a tendency to observe and ‘probe’ the people they do come in contact with.”
Arts: “Pretty much anything having to do with the various arts (typically in reference to aspirations or collaborations). Visual, musical, performing, culinary, etc. If you can find zen in the act of doing it, you can probably call it an art of some kind. If you’re a back-rub wizard, I’d say that qualifies as an art-form.”
Balloon: “Do you think you’re hot stuff? Can you laugh at yourself and your shortcomings? Do you feel less than adequate? How big is your metaphorical head? How do you define the ‘you’ that I am referring to? How much do other people’s interpretations of the you they perceive affect your identity? The balloon represents ego, identity, self-worth, and the difficult task of being an individual confident in their abilities while maintaining humility. The ego tends to be fragile. Some might refer to it as an illusion. Merely air trapped in a balloon, waiting to be released.”
Bee: “Who’s more busy than a bee? Maybe a beaver. The bee tends to represent productivity through collaboration, which often necessitates some form of compromise. Teamwork!”
Birds: “The concept of companionship can best define this card. It could refer to lovers, friends or confidants. A secondary interpretation of this card might have something to do with freedom…or maybe taking a sh&t on the hood of someone’s car.”
Books: “They say ‘knowledge is power’, but sometimes dogma presents itself as knowledge. The books often represent how dogma disguised as knowledge causes inflexibility to learn through new experiences or a resistance to change. However, the books can also represent the quest for knowledge and an individual’s perception of truth through their own experiences. Keep in mind that your interpretations of external reality more closely resemble a map or a written description of an event, rather than actually embodying THE ONE TRUE REALITY (if such a thing even exists). The map is not the territory. The description is not the experience. Our individual interpretations will have inconsistencies and similarities. We should try our best to respect these separate interpretations and communicate about them as effectively as possible.”
Clouds: “Uncertainty is the name of the game. It can often lead to indecision (which often times is the only “wrong” decision). Dark clouds obscure the view ahead…maybe even the view in hindsight. Will it rain tomorrow? What’s my likelihood of getting a promotion? How much will my haircut affect the rest of my future? Will she say yes? Do things get easier? Am I going prematurely bald? Does my dog secretly hate me? What if my baby is born with a rare condition that makes it smell like smoked meats for the rest of its life? We waste a lot of right-nows thinking about back-thens and what-ifs. Uncertainty seems to be an integral part of the human experience. Deal with it however you see fit, but remember that the only moment you exist in is the right-now. Lao Tsu said it best: ‘If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.'”
Devil: “The devil represents conflict, a problem, or tragedy, or uncontrollable external forces that we might perceive as especially evil in some way. Humans seem to need an adversary; a bogeyman who we can blame for all of our disasters, obstacles, shortcomings, and sins. For some reason, we picture this embodiment of evil and inconvenience as a red, impish, mustachioed goat-man wielding a trident as he cackles from the bowels of hell…whispering temptations into our left ear. More often than not, we end up being our own devil, constantly getting in the way of ourselves, sabotaging our relationships, breaking promises, giving ourselves diarrhea, etc. Other times life can be a total f&cker and there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot we could have done to prevent a less than ideal situation. Encountering the devil often leads to creative problem solving or having to find strength within ourselves that we previously were unaware of. He initially presents himself as an enemy, but in many ways winds up being our weird-looking crimson companion.”
Dog: “If you took art history in school, you’re probably aware that the dog typically represents fidelity or loyalty. The generic dog name ‘Fido’ bears a striking resemblance to the Latin word ‘fidus’ which means ‘trust’. The dog card tends to symbolize a loyal person or your own loyalty to an individual or concept. Hopefully your loyalty is rewarded with a mutual sense of respect, and/or fidelity.”
Doorway: “The doorway represents a threshold that one must cross or may be in the process of crossing. It involves changing from one state to another. We can never be certain what lies on the other side or if the door will close and lock behind us once we’ve made the transition, which can be a scary thought to grapple with. What are you going to do, stay in the same room forever? Don’t be a baby. That door could lead to a room full of puppies.”
Eyeballs: “The eyeballs card typically acts as a directional card that modifies the cards that it looks towards or away from. Think of it as a way to visualize where you appear to be focusing your attention.”
Factory: “It’s safe to say that the Grandma’s deck was probably created sometime during the 19tth century when factories were briefly perceived by many as symbols of progress, cooperation, and productivity. The smog billowing from the smokestacks most likely seemed less like a middle-finger to mother earth and more like black, puffy, beacons of hope…maybe. I don’t really know. The factory card still represents productivity but now that we’ve read The Jungle and watched Captain Planet, the smoke adds an underlying symbolic warning: increased work-related productivity often comes with a price. Being an overly productive worker can lead to neglecting ones health or being an absent friend/lover. The trick is finding a healthy way to balance all aspects of your life so that you can feel productive not only as a worker but also a human being.”
Fan: “The fan tends to represent things unfolding before your eyes. The story may be incomplete but you’re starting to become aware that a narrative is present. The fan may also symbolize a fanning of the flames…whatever that means to you.”
Female: “This deck contains two female cards: one facing to the left, and one facing to the right. They tend to be directional cards that modify the cards they look towards or away from. Oftentimes they serve to help us identify ourselves or certain people in our lives. It is important to note that in some instances the female card can represent a female energy/gender without representing someone who has a vagina. It could have something to do with finding balance between the feminine/masculine attributes within us all.”
Fish: “While fish travel in schools, the fish card focuses on one fish and often represents the assertion of one’s individuality. Think of a salmon swimming against the stream. Perhaps it has to do with self-employment…maybe transcending the status-quo in some form.”
Flowers: “Imagine the first day of spring…like the first day where it actually feels like spring after a long winter of runny-noses, chapped lips, and cursing at the wind as you trudge through parking lots. While butterflies are slinking out of their cocoons, you’re peeling off multiple layers of wool and performance feel in favor of something a little less constricting (like booty shorts). You rise like a half-naked phoenix from the ashes of whatever frump-lord you were in the winter, ready to take on the world until allergy season starts. Rebirth! New Beginnings! Romance! Enjoy it while it lasts because pretty soon you’re going to be sweating your metaphorical balls off.”
Ghooste: “Sometimes you find yourself presented with multiple opportunities and you’re not sure if you should pass on them because you think (or believe) that something better might lie in the future. The problem is that this future-thing may or may-not exist. You feel like you’re on a wild goose chase, but the goose might be a ghost…a Ghooste.”
Gift: “The gift tends to present itself rather literally: a gift of time, a gift of patience, a talent. Usually the context becomes more clear when the cards around it become defined.”
Heart: “Do I even need to explain it? Love. A strong desire. Matters of the heart. Maybe cardio vascular health. Where does this symbol come from? Is it a stylized butt? Boobs? Pubic mound? Spread vulva? Mildly swollen testicles? Some kind of leaf to cover those body parts? Whatever. You’re probably too distracted by cupid’s arrow in your ass-flesh to care.”
Horizon: “The future. We take two steps towards it, it takes two steps back. We can vaguely see something out in the distance, but not enough to have any reliable information. There appears to be a sunrise on this particular horizon which means you’re probably looking fat some kind of metaphorical brand spankin’ new day. Seize the sh*t out of that day! Buy it dinner. Rub its feet. Kiss its forehead and tell it how you really feel.”
Horseshoe: “I don’t generally subscribe to superstitions involving luck, but the horseshoe tends to present itself as a concept involving good (or bad) fortune, and highly improbable circumstances. It’s interesting to note that the using of a horseshoe as a symbol or talisman of good luck has a pretty ambiguous set of rules. There exist cultures that believe the two ends pointing upward bring good luck, while the two ends pointing downward bring bad luck. Other cultures believe the opposite to be true. Some believe its power lies more from the iron it is forged from rather than the actual shape and orientation.”
Ice-cream cone: “You drop your ice-cream cone and it lands ice-cream side down. Will you cry about it? Will you express your rage? Will you calmly go get a new one? Maybe you’ll take it as a sign that you didn’t need all of that extra sugar in your diet. What you chose to do is your business. The best way to describe the experience might include the words “an unexpected inconvenience.”
Letter: “You might be waiting for something…a message or a person to come around perhaps? It seems so close, yet so far. How long should you keep waiting? When does waiting turn to stagnation?”
Life-raft: “Sometimes you fall overboard and need someone to toss you a life-raft. Who will it be? Maybe you have already found yourself floating in one of those fluorescent doughnuts…no sight of ship or land to be found. You might feel doomed to float endlessly in watery limbo until a shark chomps through your legs like soft flesh noodles. You’re going to have to paddle those flesh noodles if you want to get anywhere other than where you are. Good luck, and remember that the ocean is a giant toilet for whales.”
Luggage: “You could be going on a trip, but let’s get real. This card probably has something to do with some kind of psychological baggage that you feel bound to. As humans, we have a tendency to handcuff ourselves to our baggage and swallow the key. Only we can free ourselves and sometimes that means sifting through our own shit to find the freedom we desire.”
Maid: “The maid often symbolizes an uneven power dynamic. Perhaps you feel subservient to a person/concept, or vice-versa. As a directional card that modifies the meaning of the cards around it, the maid can also represent someone/something presenting a particular concept to you (most likely having to do with one of the surrounding cards). Respect the maid and she’ll leave a mint on your pillow.”
Male (right): “This deck contains two male cards: one facing to the left, and one facing to the right. They tend to be directional cards that modify the cards they look towards or away from. Oftentimes they serve to help us identify ourselves or certain people in our lives. It is important to note that in some instances the male card can represent a male energy/gender without representing someone who has a penis. It could have something to do with finding balance between the feminine/masculine attributes within us all.”
Pine-cone On Fire: “There exist certain species of trees whose pine-cones will not release their seeds until after a forest fire has burned the tree down (or at least exposed the pine-cone to extreme heat). This concept of destroying something old in order to make room for something new served as the inspiration for the creation of the Pine-cone on fire card. What sacrifices must be made in the name of progress? Will the new you spring forth from the old you and eat the carcass for sustenance?”
Sad Pizza: “Some claim that going with the flow has beneficial qualities. I would tend to agree. However, a distinction should be made between going with the flow and floating down the Lazy Rive on a raft hastily cobbled together from empty pizza boxes and energy drink cans that you found under the driver seat of your Honda Civic. The sad pizza tends to represent an unhealthy complacency and lachrymosely dances to the tune of half-hearted sighs and ambivalent yes’s.”
Poop: “Maybe you’re currently having the best sex of your life, maybe you took a much needed day-off to J-off, maybe you told that person how you really feel, maybe you just finished your thesis: whatever the case may be, the poop card typically represents some kind of satisfying release. Good for you.”
Santa: “Santa tends to represent a belief in something that may or may not exist. One might even use the word ‘faith’ when you’re talking about this card. Maybe what you’re believing in does exist, but not in the form you expect. When I was young Santa wore the same shoes as my dad and had my mother’s handwriting.”
Ship: “Looks like someone might be going on a metaphorical or literal voyage! Those waves can get pretty choppy. You might want to pack some Dramamine.”
Snake: “Exercise caution. Watch where you step. The snake typically means you should probably be paying close attention to something. Do you feel constricted? Does it feel like you need to shed your skin? Are weasels eating your eggs. Is there a snake in your boot?”
Sword: “Decisions. You might be experiencing feelings of uncertainty about choosing between option A and option B. Have you tried making a pros and cons list for each possible decision? This card tends to imply that a decision needs to be made soon and hopefully with some level of confidence. Failure to decide might result in less than ideal consequences.”
Table: “It looks like opportunities are presenting themselves to you. It may feel like things are conveniently falling into place. Perhaps you have been given the tools, but you may still have to do some of the work. Be proactive. Be grateful.”
Testicles: “Millions of years of human evolution and our bodies still haven’t figured out how to incorporate the testicles into the torso. Sure, sperm need to be kept at an optimal temperature which for some reason needs to be several degrees cooler than the body in order to live. The solution: a skin bag that hangs slightly away from the body, swaying to and fro, exposed to the great external yonder. The testicles card draws parallels between an individual’s emotional vulnerability and the literal vulnerability of those poor, often mistreated, glands. Perhaps you’ve recently put yourself out there and feel completely exposed. Maybe you’re waiting to get accidentally sat on, or whipped by a towel, or kicked by some sadistic freak. While potentially dangerous, exposing yourself to another person can result in a rewarding bonding experience. Just keep in mind that timing tends to be important. Try not to expose yourself when you’re in a grocery store.”
Trophy: “The trophy typically represents a focus on achievements or the process it takes in order to achieve a particular goal. Keep in mind that sometimes the journey contains more value than the destination.”
Unicorn: “The unicorn seems to present itself in several forms. It can represent the search for whimsy or the desire for a magical, glittery experience. It may also refer to a unique individual in your life, someone whose value appears to be unquantifiable and thus should be treated like the precious entity you perceive them to be. Unicorns of myth proved to be difficult to capture and/or tame, the same could be said of the unicorn in your life.”
Vase: “The vase often represents a container for one’s emotions. If the vase faces upwards, it may represent withholding or collecting emotional information. If the vase faces downwards, it might imply a pouring out of emotional information.”
Vice: “The males of a small mouse-like species of marsupial, called the antechinus, have a particularly extreme dating ritual. During the summer season in Australia, sexually mature male antechinus spend about two weeks chronically mating with as many females as possible until their hair falls out, internal bleeding occurs, organs fail, and gangrene sets in. They literally f*ck themselves to death! I think we can view the life of the antechinus as a parable about excess. The vice card tends to involve participating in a particular activity that has the potential to become an excessive and unhealthy habit. While drugs and alcohol come to mind as obvious candidates, vice can take many unexpected forms: lying, being emotionally withholding, shopping, being a yes-man, masturbating at work, etc. Practice moderation when you can. Go to rehab when you can’t.”
About two years ago I took a freelance job to illustrate a childrens’ book which was described to me as “a book about cosmic consciousness with the aesthetic of the Muppet Babies.” While working with the author of that book, I discovered that she fancied herself a renaissance woman…a dabbler. We bonded over alien conspiracy theories as well as what can best be described as metaphysical and philosophical jokes. I learned that she identified as an adept tarot reader as well as an empath. Eventually, I observed her skills firsthand as she read other people’s cards as well as my own. I found myself impressed not only with the information she was able to provide for the read-ees, but also their reaction to her technique and child-like whimsy. She used multiple decks during a single reading. One of the decks had been given to her by her grandmother who taught her how to read cards. This particular deck could be better described as an oracle deck (more on those later). It seemed this deck in particular provided the most resonant information for the people being read and also attracted the most interest. I myself became enchanted with the simplicity and mystery of Grandma’s deck. The cards were numbered, the highest one being 45. However, my friend only had 33 of them.
After doing some extensive internet searching, I found nothing satisfactory in terms of information about Grandma’s deck. We had no way of knowing how many cards it originally contained or what the missing ones might be. We didn’t even have anything pointing to a name for the type of deck it was other than “Grandma’s Oracle Deck.”
Oracle decks have a tendency to be more free-form in how they are structured and utilized in comparison to the Tarot’s common employment of 78 cards divided into a major and minor arcana. This lack of specific rules appealed to my sensibilities. It felt as though we were in the wild west of divination. I proposed that we try an experiment to see if I could figure out how Grandma’s deck worked…and so we did.
I went out and bought a pack of hot pink index cards with the intention of testing to see if the physical nature of Grandma’s deck was somehow magical in an unexplained way. With a particularly juicy paint-marker, I wrote down the shorthand names we had been using for the different cards in Grandma’s deck (i.e. dog, factory, horseshoe) to produce a hot pink replica. I didn’t draw pictures on my deck aside from some quick doodles to illustrate the directionality of certain cards where that mattered (i.e. the dog card faces to the right) because I also wanted to see if the lack of pictures somehow affected the accuracy of a reading as well.
We then took turns reading each other using Grandma’s deck and the pink deck in parallel. To see if the same message and/or cards would surface.
To both of our surprise, the parallel readings appeared to be just that. They mirrored one another with eerie accuracy. At times, the same card (usually the most important concept of the reading) would appear in both readings and in the same location. Since it was just the two of us at first, it should also be of interest that the same message kept coming through for each of us throughout the multiple readings that we performed.
The flaw with this experiment comes from the openness to interpretation that each card tends to permit, potentially encouraging two very enthusiastic experimenters to bend the cards’ meanings to their will… which would result in some serious confirmation bias in an already questionable experiment. After reading each other about 15-20 times, our verbal explanations of what we were reading devolved into a series of “ooohs” and a lot of yipping and whooping on my end. Upon realizing this, I suggested that we incorporate some outside people into the experiment who did not share the same enthusiasm/familiarity with the cards.
We relocated to a mutual friend’s apartment. This particular friend could be identified as a cynical-materialist-non-believer in most instances having to do with matters of the paranormal. Our initial explanation of our experiment was greeted with snarky skepticism, but our friend humored us between bong rips. He appeared impressed with the information presented to him as did his roommates who also ended up joining the conversation/experiment.
After doing several rounds of readings and debating how much of what was going on was left up to chance vs. interpretation, I was itching to add an additional spice to the experiment. I proposed that we create new cards with new meanings to add to the pink deck. This would alter the permutations of the two separate decks so that they were no longer identical. I added an alien card, my partner added a unicorn, and our skeptical friend added two cards: a public humiliation card and a pizza card which he said represented unhealthy complacency (as if there was any other kind). We thoroughly shuffled the deck and prepared for the next reading. Skeptical friend proudly announced he was going to ask the pink deck a specific question: How am I going to die? I recommended he rethink his decision because that’s the type of thing that has the potential to mess you up, but he insisted. His reading proved to be a spooky reference to his lifestyle at the time. The public humiliation card as well as the pizza card made appearances amongst several other cards which formed the picture of a broken person coping through vices, leading to a type of heart failure. Damn son.
I continued this experiment for months, bringing the cards to parties and get-togethers which often evolved into what could also be perceived as group therapy sessions. The pink deck took on a life of its own as it collected new cards from various participants. It started to feel like it had a personality. It sometimes told jokes. We read a cat’s cards and the reading appeared not only humorous but accurate. Friends and acquaintances started to refer to the deck as “Brown Magick” in reference to my name but also the way in which I straddled the roles of skeptic and true-believer depending on conversational circumstances (neither black nor white nor gray). While I have a butt-load of anecdotes involving strange coincidences and spot-on readings, I acknowledge that they are anecdotal at best and not necessarily helpful to you, the reader.
What appears to be going on?
I can’t claim to know whether or not the cards somehow have a connection to a “divine source” or if some cosmic inter-dimensional space grandpa arranges them with his arthritic trans-dimensional finger specifically for each individual. Making such a claim wouldn’t really help anyone. It’s best to decide those types of things for oneself based off of one’s personal subjective experience in conjunction with an assessment of the logical probability of such things.
However, I can say with some certainty that there does appear to be something very psychological going on. Most people getting read tend to be looking for something specific, most likely an answer to a question. I’d argue that in many instances, those people already know or suspect (at least on a subconscious level) the answer to that question. It would make sense that they’d project whatever they have bouncing around their brains onto the spread of cards containing relatively universal symbols/concepts laying before them. Possibly for the first time, they find themselves looking at a relevant symbolic diagram of what previously existed in their head. As the card reader, I feel my main duty is to help them navigate this diagram.
When doing a reading, I usually explain the general symbolic meaning of each card in the spread while watching the subtle changes in the read-ee’s body language and facial expressions. These tend to be the tells. I often announce what I observe, sometimes as a way of getting them to divulge more information but usually as a means of expressing transparency. I could internalize my observations in order to appear clairvoyant or powerful, but this does nothing to serve the person being read and feels irresponsible on my part. I try to empower to the read-ee as much as possible by explaining every step of the process, that they are the ones doing most of the work, that the cards are just made of paper, and that the power of belief might be the strongest magic we have access to.
While the cards may just be made of paper, it doesn’t stop some spreads from seeming so improbably meaningful that you just have to roll with it. Let the eerie feeling and goosebumps caused by it do the magic for you. “How strange! What are the odds?!!!?” I’ve heard many exclaim after a particularly relevant reading. Sometimes the element of chance serves as the perfect catalyst for such an experience to feel magically-significant enough to inspire an individual to proactively enact the changes they’ve been subconsciously longing for.
So what are the odds of getting a particular spread? I can tell you, but in order to do so we’ll need to talk about the mathematical concept of permutations. Permutations can best be defined as: all possible arrangements of a collection of things where the order is important.
I had to enlist the help of a more mathematically inclined friend to find the vocabulary to describe the type of equation I needed to calculate the permutations of various spreads with different numbers of oracle cards in a deck. The equation ended up looking like this:
In our particular situation, the (n) represents the number of cards in the deck. The (!) is the symbol for the factorial function. This basically means you’re taking whatever number is next to the (!) and multiplying a series of descending natural numbers starting with that number. (4!) would end up being 4x3x2x1=24. The ® represents how many cards you plan on having in your spread.
When I was learning how to read Grandma’s oracle deck, my friend was teaching me using a 4-card spread using her grandmother’s incomplete 33 card deck. To figure out the number of permutations using those variables in our newly learned equation would look something like this:
33! = 8,683,317,618,811,886,495,518,194,401,280,000,000
33 – 4 = 29
8,683,317,618,811,886,495,518,194,401,280,000,000 (divided by) 8,841,761,993,739,701,954,543,616,000,000 = 982,080
So there are 982,080 potentially different readings that could arise from a 4 card spread using 33 cards!
(and that’s not even taking into account that some cards have different meanings when they are inverted).
I found myself more compelled to do 5-card readings because I find the number five holds more symbolic weight. Changing from a 4-card to a 5-card spread increases the number of permutations to a whopping 28,480,320! That’s an additional 27,498,240 permutations just from adding one more card to the spread.
Now watch what happens when we take into account the alien, unicorn, public humiliation, and pizza cards from the earlier mentioned anecdote. The deck goes from 33 cards to 37 cards. A five card spread using this newly updated 37 card deck will yield up to 52,307,640 unique permutations. The numbers get CRAZY BIG, CRAZY FAST!
A note on adding cards
Whenever I suggest that someone add a card to the deck before a reading, it’s usually because I think they might benefit in some way from the potential “WOW” factor if the card ends up being in their reading. Other times I do it because it’s a good way to gauge what type of information they are hoping to get from the deck. On rare occasions, I do it because I’m just having a lot of fun talking to a particular individual and I want them to stick around for a longer amount of time. These factors sometimes dictate how permanent the newly created cards will be to your deck.
I usually go through the already existing deck and explain each symbol to the person so they have an idea how the symbols and meanings interact. It’s sometimes worth mentioning that the best cards tend to be the ones whose symbols can resonate with a large group of people and whose meanings can be summarized in a few sentences.
I’ve found that sometimes a newly created card doesn’t carry enough symbolic weight to work within the deck. Typically these cards are made by individuals who really needed that specific card to show up in their reading, which usually means the card is too specific to one person’s needs. When I first started doing this experiment, I had a woman draw a card with a sperm and egg on it. She said it represented “creation.” I later learned that she was extremely worried that she had become pregnant during a one night stand. I decided to remove the card from the deck after it mucked up about 5 different readings. As the owner of your deck, you reserve the right to curate it however you see fit. If Grandma’s oracle deck can operate effectively with 33 out of its 45 original cards, then your deck can operate with however many you choose to add/remove.
Sometimes the meaning of a newly created card needs to be modified or sharpened. I’ve found that these modifications are usually best made by the people being read. When I originally added the Santa card to my deck, I had intended for it to symbolize “secrets.” During a reading, a read-ee asked if it was possible that the Santa card could mean “believing in something which may or may not exist.” This sounded plausible and more accurate than my originally intended definition, so I agreed. Since then, I’ve described it using that new interpretation and it appears to be working much better as a card.
"This, then, is the ultimate paradox of thought: to want to discover something that thought itself cannot think."- Soren Kierkegaard
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