Blog Hop: Jokers, shadows, and totems: Bird-themed playing cards as a tool for divination

Welcome to the Tarot Blog Hop.

This is the Tarot Professionals Tarot Blog Hop, where a group of Tarot Professionals share the same topic across their individual blog posts.

This month, Fiona Benjamin asked us to write about new decks.

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If you have recently bought or received a special deck for divination, here are some examples of -- and suggestions on -- how to get acquainted with it.

A unexpected interview

My husband and I have been playing Rummy in the evenings and he's wanted to use a deck with a pair of Jokers. 

When we visited a favorite books and gifts store, Sqecial Media, I spotted their playing cards. In typical Libra fashion, he asked me to pick the deck we would purchase and play with.

Each were themed. I struggled between insects and birds, but decided on birds. Birds crop up often in tea leaf readings, which I do in addition to tarot readings. And I don't know that I could really handle bugs on playing cards.

This blog looks at my experience of beginning to understand the deck's potential as a tool for telling fortunes and offering guidance.

Ideas for readings to warm up a new tarot deck

Some tarot readers have spreads that they use for new decks.

I typically draw three cards, asking "What will you teach me?" and then go from there. 

I enjoy seeing what the initial cards uncover. It is only recently that I have learned to continue interviewing.

Whether yours is intended for ritual, fortune-telling, or soul-searching, here are some suggestions as to what questions you might find useful as you explore a new tool like a deck of cards.

What did the playing cards have to teach me about divination?

Wanting to know what the cards might show me when it comes to seeking guidance and looking to possible outcomes and the future, I shuffled the deck and thought of this question.

Here's what I drew, and the initial meanings I associated with the cards. The deck is The Natural World Playing Card Collection, Artwork by Vaclovas Butrimas.

What will the bird-themed playing cards teach me about divination or fortune telling? Here are the cards I drew as an answer.

What will the bird-themed playing cards teach me about divination or fortune telling?
Here are the cards I drew as an answer.

Hopeful to incorporate the associations the cards have with tarot counterparts as well as the birds on the cards, I did my best to interpret.

First, the African Pitta, the Five of Clubs:
The Five of Wands can be interpreted as friendly competition.
The bird is colorful, so "A colorful way to engage in friendly competition."

Second, the Hoatzin, the Three of Spades:
This deck requires serious study (this is my interpretation, based on the bird itself: The Three of Swords is the tarot counterpart here, associated with sorrow or an opportunity to heal emotionally).

Third, the Capercaille, the Ace of Diamonds Inverted:
With the Ace of Diamonds upside down, this deck isn't going to jumpstart my career as a reader.

How do I use the Jokers as an intuitive reader?

I felt that the Jokers could be used in two ways, because both of them have a different bird on it.

What did the cards have to say?

The Bald Eagle, the Two of Diamonds:
Initially this seemed a call both to get perspective and practice reading with the deck, and affirmation that each Joker should be treated independently, rather than both being read the same.

Then I remembered: Many depictions of The Fool card have an eagle's head on the bag he carries.

This definitely seemed to confirm my impulse to use the penguin version of the Joker as a Wild card and give the pretty Great Blue Turaco one the job of standing in for The Fool. Some of the features seem to echo one another, even the coloring of the bird and the Universal Waite-Smith Fool.

The head position, the fancy feather cap, the pose on a branch or cliff: It seems like this bird is a good fit for The Fool card.

The head position, the fancy feather cap, the pose on a branch or cliff:
It seems like this bird is a good fit for The Fool card.

An immediate impulse, after discovering these similarities, was to declare the Emperor Penguin Joker a substitute for The World card.  The Major Arcana cards, present in tarot, but not represented in a typical playing deck, begin with The Fool and end with The World.

Looking through my tarot deck brought up a couple fine examples of other cards that could be represented by the other Joker, based partly on the colors and the bird's pose.

What will others gain from readings with this deck?

Interpretations were more fluid with this reading.

First,  The Electus Parrot, The King of Spades Inverted:
Two communication symbols merge in this card.

The King of Spades, or Swords, cuts through the BS and can express harsh truth.
Parrots mimic and repeat human speech. In tea leaf readings, they are associated with gossip.

Others, then, might receive upside-down gossip, or possible truth.

Second, The Andean Condor, The Queen of Clubs:

This card's tarot counterpart is also my significator, the Queen of Wands. It's the card I first associated myself with. She has red hair and a cat in various decks (we had a number of cats when I began to study tarot), and the wands often depict passion for creativity and writing.

My take on this was to "Know thyself". Perhaps this deck can be used to help others examine their own natures, in a different way than tarot.

Third, The Harpy Eagle, The Eight of Spades:

The potential to have new vision and confidence!

Both the eagle with its keen sight and the Eight of Swords tarot counterpart harmonized in this message. The Eight of Swords, seemingly opposite of the independent and skillful eagle predator, often indicates illusion, imprisonment. 

All it takes is a reality check and some confidence to determine how true of a prison someone is in. After that tough work is done, you can plan your own release. 

The only way out is with daring, new vision and confidence.

Is this a deck for shadow work or discovering bird totems?

Given the previous reading, the cards seemed to nudge me to ask about using them to develop my interest in Jungian psychology. Specifically, shadow work, which you can read about in my article on using the Halloween Tarot for a spread exploring how to appreciate and work with your dark side.

But the cards have much potential, too, for use as a device to lead myself and others to bird totems. 

I drew one card for each possibility, eager to compare them side by side.

The King of Hearts and the Ten of Diamonds

The first heart card in the series of readings emerged: The Northern Sparrowhawk, The King of Hearts.

It answered the question about shadow work. I feel the response is that this deck can efficiently get to the heart of the matter, swiftly hunting down lingering shadows. The deck is keen to help.

As for using the deck to look into bird totems, The Great Gray Owl, The Ten of Diamonds, appeared.

Owls are probably the most pervasive bird totems around, especially for educators. In 2015, a recurring card for me was The Hierophant, associated with teaching. That particular connection made much sense, as I began to teach various communications classes in December 2014.

It seems this deck is a natural fit to teach others -- and myself -- about bird totems.

How do your decks expand your world?

I'd love to hear from you about the ways you use your cards. Do you draw a daily card and journal about it? Do you use tarot to create poetry, or for other inspiration?

What walls have you knocked down with a set of cards? What breakthroughs have you had or long to experience this year?

I look forward to your comments and wish you a happy new year.

What's next

It's fun to work with published decks, but what about creating your own energy oracle card? I'll share some ideas on how to create a card to harness your muchness and prepare you for your goals. Expect it on Jan 12.

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Thanks for the read.

Tabitha Dial is a tarot, tea leaf reader, and creative mentor in Lexington, Kentucky. She facilitates theCreate your Fate (Tarot and more) Meetup and teaches seminars at the Mystical Paranormal Fair once a month. Her poetry has appeared in articles on, in "Arcana: The Tarot Poetry Anthology", and in "Tarot in Culture" Volume Two.