My First Year Learning Tarot: January, The Magician


Infinite looping around the edge

of the brow

Sword crossed on wand, framing

the fixed gase

Cup floating below and above

The coin held

in the hand

Bleeding light yellow and blue

up and down the face

Not fixed;

elemental, vibrating potential

I sit down at my desk with my journal and tarot deck, shuffle the cards two or three times, spread them out face down, and draw intuitively. Sometimes I wind up with five cards and other times I only look at the one at the bottom of the deck. Whatever feels right. As my initial reaction to the card(s) in front of me seeps to the margins of my consciousness, tugging at memories and emotions, I write the suit and number of the card in my journal in a location on the page that corresponds to where the cards appear on my desk.

Then I record my initial reaction to the card(s), their interpretation per my deck’s booklet, my reaction to that interpretation, and any resonances I feel between those three things and different aspects of my life, whether that be academic, social, familial, or mental health. I write in short statements or single words, to leave room for a fluid interpretation if I decide to come back to the reading at a later time to see how my initial assumptions have evolved.

While I go through the drawing process fairly quickly to allow for maximum spontaneity and to give myself space for unexpected card combinations, I know I am not ultimately looking into the cards for answers. As Hunter Oatman-Stanford outlines in his article for Mental Floss, “Tarot Mythology: The Surprising Origins of the World’s Most Misunderstood Cards,” despite stereotypes of divination and fortune-telling, “the ability of [the cards’] small, static images to illuminate our most complex dilemmas and desires” is the source of their true power.

Especially in the 20th century, new decks incorporate the number and symbol of each card into its illustration which adds a “strong narrative element [which] gives readers something to latch onto...it is relatively intuitive to look at a combination of cards and derive your own story from them.” These fixed, external objects become pivot points around which one may move to observe their own anxieties, insecurities, and desires as they manifest in different areas of their life. With that knowledge, I understand that, regardless of the card(s) chosen, there will be an emotional or intellectual reaction that will lead to a realization or recollection.

The Magician is Possibilities Revealed, the reminder that all new things require skill and faith.

With self-confidence, willpower, and discipline, one’s own capacity to speak and manifest their desires becomes the breeding ground for promising new ideas and creations.

In this way, I can meditate on The Magician, for example, and see a multitude of connection emanating from the ideas held in the card.

There is my having finished my first semester of college during which I learned new ways of being that I did not have the capacity to know where possible. They reaffirmed the intuition that catalyzed my initial leap of faith when I believed that New York was the place in which I could be subject to and participate in intense, necessary, beautiful growth, on both a collective and individual level.

There is the transition of attention to different aspects of my life which call for a continued commitment to sitting in discomfort and embracing being wrong for the sake of broadening perspective. There is a necessity for remembering how that practice has been and will continue to be vital.

There is the new found joy in trusting my artistic instincts as I discover the motivation behind different impulses as I become aware of different belief systems and witness their intersections, divergences, and continued mysteries.

And, among all the other examples I could list, there is my deciding to write this column. My hope is for it to become a space where I can intertwine information about the history of tarot with a demonstration of my own practice. Each piece will be based on a card whose meaning will serve as an intersection between a part of the cards’ past and my present understanding of where those themes and ideas are acting on me in the present.

However, I have to have faith here as 2019 will be the first full year in which Tarot is a part of my life. I, too, am still in the early stages of learning all the different forms in which it has appeared across history and the intricacies of my own practice. The faith is that there will be many things to write and learn as well as people who will come on this exploration with me (that is you, dear reader!), and that my own present ignorance in some areas will allow my knowledge in others to become more prominent as I strive for a balance between wanting to know and understanding the impossibility of knowing all.

My skill will be my curiosity and determination to present what I find through embodied, experiential, and academic research, as well as what I know already. Since I know there are individuals much more knowledgeable than I concerning tarot’s past and present, I count on having moments of doubt (I already have while writing this first article) in which I feel unqualified to write this. Yet, and I hold this as a just as important understanding, I know that the way I will combine all of these things in each of these pieces will be a new combination of the old knowledge.


Illustration by Jooyoung Park

written by
Katie Vogel
January 5, 2019