Reverse Tarot Reading: An Anxiety Palliative


Strange morning… perhaps it’s due to the strange weather—wide swings in temperature and precipitation and barometer. I seemed to sleep just fine through the night, but upon waking I could not escape an oppressive sense of anxiety.


So, yes, dear readers, if you would like to know the truth, I am an anxiety sufferer. It’s often unreasonable, but like so many other mental-physical conditions, sometimes it’s just how one is “wired.” I think that anxiety is in part an environmental-reaction condition as well, however. In other words, some stressors, like…I dunno…growing up gay and in fear all the time…have a cumulative effect on one physiology and brain development. I’m sure there are neuro-scientific studies that have come to such conclusion, but I’m not going to go into that kind of investigation right now—it’s just something my experience and observation can determine on the grander scale of humanity, maybe.


Cold Morning Sunrise — Ridgeline illuminated

The Sun and clouds do amazing tricks on a recent cold winter morning…


It also might be any number of other things that I foolheartedly think I am able to juggle and handle: the learning curve at my new job as projects start to heap-up and co-workers need data that I’m supposed to produce; my Dad coming down with a particularly hard flu—and feeling helpless while watching him suffer; the car trouble I’ve been having because of the sub-zero weather and having to pay a lot of money to the garage even though they couldn’t find anything wrong with it; or maybe it’s the devolution and disintegration of the American Republic that we’re watching in real time… Frankly, it could be any or all of these thing compounded.


Anyway, sometimes I never know when these anxiety attacks are going to hit. I think I’ve learned how to cope with them fairly well over my lifetime. But coping and presenting one’s self to the world isn’t the same as alleviating the condition. The anxiety is still there, wreaking havoc under my façade of serenity (or what I think is a reasonable acting job of serenity!). I am not too proud to admit that sometimes I take the herbal supplement kava—capsule or tea form—and that this often works in astonishing ways to take the edge off harsher episodes.


It would be nice if it was as simple as reading a book in order to enter another world…but there’s usually too much anxiety weighing in my mind to be able to focus on the written words—it’s like a distraction—and usually it ends with me not even knowing what I read afterwards.


But there is another way is to create environmental conditions, or enter a mental arena where I can eradicate triggers (triggers can be known or unknown). Meditation is usually the key, and here’s where my tarot cards come to the rescue…


Instead of doing a tarot reading for myself—pulling cards randomly and interpreting them—this is the time when I do a REVERSE reading. This entails going through my deck, face up, and observing the pictures and finding those [supposedly universal] images that reflect a place that can calm my soul. Yes…what I’m simply saying is: go through the deck and find those cards that induce a sense of solace and calm to you. Let your observant eye fall into those pictures and relax your mind. Unlike reading—or even unlike interpreting a random card—your brain doesn’t have to figure anything out (necessarily), doesn’t have to decipher an author’s intent, doesn’t have to find collateral meaning in symbols. The point of this exercise is simply to find the images that provide your mind with relaxation. So…you know…your favorite tarot cards.


If you’re like me, I often ultimately end-up trying to assign meaning and to interpret some of the symbols in my cards… But it’s probably because after a while of immersing myself in my favorite images, I have eliminated some of that anxiety and have become relaxed enough that my brain wants to start “participating” again. The freneticism subsides and my brain wants to be creative again. It’s almost like I can tell when the healing starts.


This exercise is likely in part successful because of the distraction that the images provide, focusing my brain’s electric impulses on something familiar and comfortable that re-aligns those electric synapses into a more functional mental state.


I’m sure there are neuro-scientifc studies about that phenomenon, too, but I’ll suffice to attribute this technique to simply another way that the tarot works as a magic salve…


It doesn’t matter what deck you use, but I’d recommend one that appeals to your aesthetics. There are so many decks out there with amazing artists creating new decks all the time. In case you were curious, I used James Wanless’s Voyager Tarot—really my first learning deck—as my salve during my latest attack. This deck is filled with unbelievable collage work. It’s a very “active” deck—and because it’s all photography, most of the images are in motion, or infer motion, or progression, or constant flow. Psychologically it’s a great deck that way because it reflects the fourth dimension of the world and the universe—time. Real life is not static. It is constantly in motion moving forward,…even when we are “stuck” on something and need to review how we felt in a very specific moment in time, the world is still moving forward, ever changing, ever trying to survive, grow, strive, attain, search…


Voyager Tarot—Three versions

Three versions of the Voyager Tarot by James Wanless (artwork by Ken Knutson). At center is the very first version I bought to start my tarot journey (11th reprint, about 1996). At left is a 1984 First-Edition copy (complete) that I found at a used bookstore. And, at right is the current incarnation edition that can currently be purchased at retail. Earlier editions were larger, taller, more elongated. They are less easy to shuffle and handle, which I think the publishers took into consideration during revisions and reprints. The Voyager Tarot is one of the most successful tarot decks ever published.


Sometimes—like with my anxiety problem—we just want things to slow down and stop. We’re not really thinking in realistic terms when we believe that we can make things “stop.” But finding a place to retreat and take a “slower” break from the busy-ness of the world is a completely reasonable desire. Sometimes it is more of a challenge to find those “slow” movement cards in this particular deck…but they’re there.


Ironically, time seems to slow down the farther away we get from something; when we look at things from a distance, the grander scheme of things seems to take forever (even though on the micro scale they may be furiously in motion). This is in opposition to the theory of relativity, whereby the closer we get to a body or mass, the gravity of that body makes things speed-up. (Just an observation—but not super relevant to our purposes!)


Here are the “comfort” cards that I happened to choose during my last anxiety attack from the Voyager Tarot deck:


Voyager Tarot — Six-card spread


My favorite card in the deck—based solely on its imagery and not necessarily on the card’s meaning or definition—is the “Child of Wands” card (farthest to the right). This was my “comfort” card that I set-out looking for when I pulled-out my deck, but as I rifled-through the cards, I pulled out other cards that somehow gave me a sense of ease, comfort, or evoked some reflection of the mental place I was looking to attain.


Some of the other cards included:


Voyager Tarot — Hanged Man (Maj. XII)


The Hanged Man (Major XII)… This popped out at me in the reversed position when I pulled it. I’ve always liked this particular Hanged Man card; the actual “hanged man” is represented by a figure-form representing the Christ hanging on the Cross, although the figure-form has been removed from the timber. It reminds me of one of my favorite sculptures that was hanging in my chamber cell at my Benedictine monastic community—also a sculptural depiction of the hanging, suffering Christ but with the timber Cross absent. Among the other things I like about this card is the shining reflective light in one of the hands of the Christ-figurine. Virtually every card in the Voyager deck has some sort of reflective light depicted in it, and I like to think of those lights as an indicator that no matter how dark and how desperate things seem at the outlook…there is always that teeny point of light that says there’s hope, a way past, a shred of good still flickering. I also like the reflective mirror (which looks more like a polished stone) held in the hands of an anonymous person. It seems the very thing I’m trying to do against my anxiety—focus my gaze at a small place where the busy-ness of the surrounding world can be ignored for a little time…even when there is a whirlpool of worry ready to gobble and swallow everything. Tumultuous times, yet this card reminds me to draw myself into reflection when I need it (exactly what I’m doing).


Voyager Tarot — Two-of-Worlds


Two of Worlds… in the RWS deck this card depicts a man walking on extremely shaky ground, while juggling and keeping things in the air. How does he do it??! This depiction from the Voyager Tarot is much more serene. It reminds me of the quiet of cold, snow-laden winter landscapes in rural Vermont (where I live). Or of standing under massive star-lit skies at night. It’s the bigness that makes us feel small, makes us feel awe, puts things in a completely different perspective of time, importance, and relevance.


Voyager Tarot —Sage-of-Worlds


Sage (King) of Worlds (Coins/Pentacles)…I guess I just like the wisdom of age that is depicted with this card. Pentacles—the Earth sign—convey a sense of groundedness that can only come with age and experience. Also with practice and ritual—like the expertise of crafting—basket-weaving, or wheel-making, or forging iron products (smithing).


Voyager Tarot — Nine-of-Wands


Nine of Wands… This is an interesting version of the Nine-of-Wands. The key-word proffered at the top of the card (“Integrity”) definitely fits the traditional definition of this card…so I get the “backbone” depicted. But the rest of the card depicts things that are rather grandiose, and individuals in remote locations. Again, the “feel” I get from this card is something like I described in the Two-of-Worlds above, with its looming mountains, and height-reaching architecture—awe at our small-ness in the larger universe, which is something to be humbled by. The faceless ivory figurine depicts for me the humility of reverence…that the things we revere don’t necessarily care who we are, even though we feel indebted to them and awe-struck by them. Part of our awe is created by how inconsequential we feel in their presence. The mountain has a timeline of life just like we do…it’s just that the mountain’s timeline is much, much longer.


Voyager Tarot — Child of Wands


And, the Child (Page) of Wands… I don’t know why I like this card so much, but I do. There’s definitely that sense of wonder at nature going on: the backlit fog; the magnificent tall trees creating their own sort of cathedral; the deference of the animals towards something magickal in the forest; even the holy wind blowing the fuzzy seed pods on top of those wands… They are all prayerful things in their simplicity, and simplicity is just what I need in my hour of anxiety…just bringing my focus down to observing the wind whistle through the pines, not saying anything in particular, but reaffirming that it is the voice of the Holy Spirit that encircles the earth, watching through the eyes of the animals of creation, listening for my prayers…





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