Doctor Who and the Major Arcana: The Fool

In honour of Doctor Who day on November 23, I’m launching a new series here: Doctor Who quotes that express or align with common interpretations of the cards of the major arcana: #22DoctorWhoTarotQuotes. Each week we’ll explore a major arcana card by pairing it with a quote from Doctor Who that plays on the essence of it.

How does one come up with such a project? I was thoroughly enjoying myself recently, reading through a list of the best quotes from Doctor Who, and musing about how they cover the great panoply of human experience. A bell (but not a cloister bell) rang somewhere deep in my subconscious as I thought about the other thing I love that covers the great panoply of human experience – tarot cards! I started reading the quotes more carefully, and realized that I could easily find quotes that matched the essence of each of the cards in the major arcana. I’ll admit that some fit better than others, but some fit so well they made me grin with delight.

We start, as any journey should, with card 0, The Fool. Of course, the Doctor themselves is the Fool, the hero on a quest, an adventurer exploring the universe. The Fool, perhaps not coincidentally my favourite card in the deck, is about making the leap and trusting the universe to catch you. When things go really wrong, the Doctor will be to save the human race yet again. Also, the Fool is unpredictable because they live outside of convention. They are the cosmic egg, the beginning, where the adventure starts. And so of course we start this adventure with the Fool.

It was Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor, one of the more overtly positive incarnations of the Doctor, who said, “I am and always will be the optimist. The hoper of far-flung hopes and the dreamer of improbable dreams.” I can’t think of a more Fool-ish set of sentiments than optimism, hope, and improbable dreams. What do you think of this quote as an interpretation of, or a riff off of, the Fool? Does it work for you? Why or why not?

Join me over the next 22 weeks as I merge the wisdom of two of my very favourite things: Doctor Who and tarot cards, in #22DoctorWhoTarotQuotes.

Tarot cards and copyright

As a photographer who licenses her photos professionally, I’m particularly sensitive to intellectual property laws around copyright. When I launched this site and wanted to use photos of my cards and spreads for posts, I started looking into what kind of permissions I might need to display a copyrighted tarot card design.

In short, any published tarot card is protected intellectual property, and using that card in any manner, except personal readings for yourself and friends and family, may infringe on the creator’s rights. In order to use tarot card images online or in any published material, you need to secure permission or face a potential lawsuit for copyright violation or be at risk of having your site or social media account shut down. Some tarot card creators may be happy to have you share their designs, some may require attribution, and some may require licensing fees for certain types of use. The onus is on you to find out what the conditions for use are before you use images of the cards online.

Copyright holders vary in how stringent and aggressive they are about enforcing their rights. Posting your card-a-day pulls on Instagram is unlikely to attract undue attention (though is still technically an infringement and violates the terms of service for Instagram that you agreed to but probably didn’t read when you signed up for the service) while publishing and selling an e-book with images of cards and spreads is a serious violation. In between are websites and blog posts, YouTube readings, tarot courses, and even online readings for profit.

What does this mean? If you want to use someone’s intellectual property on your website or for reasons other than entirely personal use, you need to secure permission at minimum, and potentially pay a licensing fee. Look for the copyright symbol © on the cards, the box, or in the little white book that came with your deck, and reach out to the copyright holder. Some of the larger publishing houses like US Games Systems and Llewellyn provide explicit guidelines on what you can do without explicit permission or licensing fees, and in some cases supply a form to fill out. Llewellyn and US Games Systems both state, for example, that you can use digital images of their cards in an email tarot reading for profit without explicit permission, but to use the card images in a tarot course you deliver for profit will incur licensing fees.

The Rider-Waite-Smith deck is an interesting study in the complexity of copyright law. It was first published in the UK in 1909, before the establishment of copyright law. There seems to be some debate as to whether the original card designs as commissioned by A.E. Waite and published in his book, The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, move into the public domain 70 years after his death, or 70 years after the death of the artist, Pamela Colman Smith. US Games Systems published their version of the commonly known and used Rider-Waite-Smith deck in 1971 and hold the rights to that design, which is a very slight variant on the original. This article provides some interesting context to the debate about the copyright status of the RWS deck. General opinion seems to hold that the images as originally published are now in public domain in the US, and that they will pass into public domain in the UK in 2021.

Copyright, like most legal issues, is a complicated field and I am not a lawyer. Finding yourself on the wrong side of a copyright infringement suit can be an expensive and unpleasant endeavour, and it’s definitely worth the time and effort to learn the basics and protect yourself. It’s also the right thing to do to respect the intellectual property of creators by giving them attribution at all times, and paying licensing fees when necessary.

Five ways to use tarot cards that aren’t fortune telling

I think that most people think of fortune telling when they think of tarot cards – they equate it with using a crystal ball to predict the future. Heck, this is the way I thought of the tarot for years. While a lot of people do use tarot for divination, it’s really limiting to think of it only in those terms. In fact, I use tarot cards every single day but I don’t use them for predictions at all.

So what else can you do with tarot cards? Here’s five ways to use tarot cards that are not fortune-telling or divination.

1. As a prompt for storytelling.

I recently listened to a podcast about how to use tarot as a writer’s tool, and I was fascinated. You can use tarot to look into a character’s motivations, or to discern their personality. You can use tarot to help create random plot twists. You can use tarot to generate character sketches for minor characters, or to create origin stories for your characters. Or just pull a card when asking yourself, “What happens next?”

2. To seek daily mindfulness 

This is my favourite way to use tarot. I try to pull a card each day and ask myself what that card’s energy means for my day. Sometimes I do it looking ahead, but often I will pull it at the end of the day, asking what lessons were brought to me in this day.

This serves two purposes. First, it was terrific when I was trying to learn the card meanings in context of day to day life. Tarot cards show the panorama of human experience, and it’s interesting to see the themes and archetypes at play in our universal experience, and how we manifest the energy of the four suits in our everyday lives.

But more interestingly, it has caused me to pause and really *think* about what the day held. Was it a good day? Why? What went well and what didn’t go so well? Were there lessons to be learned? If you’re feeling extra keen, try journaling your card and what you learned. Are there patterns you can see over time? Are they positive or are they highlighting something that needs attention?

3. To amplify the voice of your inner wisdom

Sometimes the tarot cards are like a trusted friend, one who listens to your concerns and has the perspective and objectivity to point out what you may be missing. Guess what? That trusted friend can be your own inner wisdom, and sometimes hearing it echoed back in the cards is what we need to shine a little light on our blind spots and pull the truth out of the shadows where we’ve been trying to hide it.

Let’s say you’re trying to make a decision between two options: applying for a promotion versus staying with your current job. Lay out three cards: one for the benefits of applying for the promotion, one of the benefits of staying with the current job, and one for guidance on which one to choose. Reading the cards will help clarify your own feelings and intents about each option. Please note that I am absolutely not recommending that you draw cards to make the choice for you. The cards are a tool for insight, not something you should use to absolve yourself of responsibility for your actions. The cards are not the boss of you, YOU are the boss of you.

4. To help set your intentions and your goals

I first came across the idea of intentionally selecting tarot cards face up in a podcast featuring Mary K Greer. (Yes, I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts these days!) I love the idea of replacing the element of random card selection with intention. What do you need in your life right now? What energy do you need to bring into your life? Let’s say you’re thinking about your career.

Pull all the Pentacles cards from your deck and lay them face up in front of you. (Pentacles are the suit of our worldly material concerns – job, finances, home.) Scan the cards. Which one speaks to you? Maybe it’s the Eight of Pentacles, which shows an apprentice hard at work on their craft. Study the card. Look at the symbols, the colours. What draws you? What insight does the card offer. Is there anything you’ve never noticed before? Why is that card interesting to you right now? Do you relate to the careful diligence of applying your skill? Or is it time for you to add a new skill to your toolbox? Are you doing things in your life that will help you evolve into a hardworking, trustworthy individual who is a master of their skills? What can you do to take the first steps on that journey? Then identify any obstacles in your way. How can you address or overcome those obstacles? This is a great exercise, and you can build a great mind map just drawing on your own inspiration taken from the elements of a single card.

5. To generate random encounters in Dungeons and Dragons

Okay, I will admit, this one is niche. You might not be a Dungeon Master looking for inspiration on how to create interesting NPCs or random encounters in the fantasy world you are building, but I think it’s an amazing (and close to my D&D loving heart) example of some of the weird and wonderful ways that tarot can be used outside of divination. I came across this post on Reddit where the author has explained how they use tarot to generate interesting D&D encounters. They draw a card for each of these elements: the goal that the players are trying to reach, the obstacle they face, the hook that draws them, the setting they’re in, the non-player characters who might also be present, and the villain of the encounter. It’s like creativity-in-a-box, and you can see the obvious parallels to my earlier point about storytelling. It also reminds us that in its origins, tarot was simply a card game, and sometimes it would do us well to remember the more lighthearted side of the cards.

Heck, if you’re looking for a less esoteric way to play with your tarot cards, how about a simple game of War or even Go Fish? After all, tarot cards were originally simply a card game not unlike Hearts or Euchre.

The message here is that using tarot cards for fortune telling is really just a tiny bit of the spectrum of possible ways you can use them. You can use them for inspiration, for introspection, for creativity, for play. The only limit is your own imagination. And if you happen to be someone who thinks they can predict the future too, more power to you!

What do you think? Have you heard of other wild and wonderful ways to bring the tarot cards into your everyday life?

Tarot and Myers-Briggs Personality Indicators

Discovering my Myers-Briggs personality type back in 2010 or so rocked my world. I’d only vaguely heard about the MBTI before, and took the assessment as an exercise during a leadership course through work. Learning about my personality type and how it affects things like how I take in information and stimulus, how I interact with the world and others, and seeing it in the context of how it affects my behaviours, was a lightning bolt of insight that has had long-lasting effects for me. It was one of the first times I had a clear and deep insight into the mystery that is me, and I have used it to great success in understanding my relationships with others, and how their personality types govern their behaviours as well. Having grown so appreciative of knowing my MBTI, it was a shock of recognition to see the same deep understandings into my life possible through tarot cards.

Are you familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)? It’s rooted in Carl Jung’s theory of personality as expounded in his book Personality Types. Jung believed that we are governed by four primary cognitive functions: thinking, feeling, sensation, and intuition. Each of these manifests itself in one of two orientations, either extraverted or introverted, yielding a total of eight “dominant” functions. Elaborating upon Jung’s work in subsequent decades, Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Myers refined the theory by adding two secondary personality types, “judging” and “perception”, which also take extra- or introverted forms. These two extra elements, in combination with the others previously mentioned, yield a possible of 16 personality “types,” each of which is represented by a four-letter abbreviation. (Source)

Myself, I am an ENFP, the most introverted of the extroverts. Reading the characteristics common to other ENFPs was a huge series of “aha!” moments for me. So many things about me crystallized into cognizance when I started looking into it: how I am happiest on my own in a crowd, how I think through any situation  by speaking to others about it, how I love to interact with other humans but find it exhausting, how I am driven to find connections and meaning in the chaos of human experience. (Hello, tarot cards!) So while I’m far from an MBTI expert, I certainly am grateful for the insight into my own personality that I’ve received through the lens of MBTI.

I’d only scratched the surface of learning about tarot when I started seeing the parallels between MBTI and tarot. Both are deeply connected to Jungian psychology, with ideas of archetypes and the collective unconscious. Both use an external tool to help you elicit, categorize, and make sense of patterns and behaviours that are already ingrained within you. Neither tells you something that isn’t already there. Both can be used to help you understand your own motivations from an objective perspective. Both are adored and reviled by opposing camps. 😉

The four suits of tarot are each representative of an element, and can be linked directly to the four Jungian primary functions of MBTI as follows:

Wands -> Fire -> Intuition

Cups -> Water -> Feeling

Swords -> Air -> Thinking

Pentacles -> Earth -> Sensation

Further, in tarot the “court” cards are the Page, Knight, Queen and King of each suit, and are often seen as representative of people or personalities in our lives (as opposed to the major arcana, which are archetypal experiences, and the minor arcana pip cards, which cover, in the words of Rachel Pollack, “aspects of life as people actually live it.”) So we have 16 court cards and 16 MBTI personality types, each combining various levels of the four primary functions / elements. While I see this as too much of a coincidence to be an accident, I am not quite proficient enough in either MBTI or tarot to ascribe a court card to each personality type, but this blogger seems to have taken a good run at it. I’m not sure I’m 100% on board with his interpretations, but I think I’ll need a little more experience in both tarot and MBTI to figure out how to ascribe the dominant and auxiliary functions correctly to more perfectly match up the court cards and personality types.

I definitely see myself doing more research into MBTI and tarot – there are just so many linkages. How about you? Are you a fan of MBTI or tarot or both, and have you noticed the strange congruence of personality types, suits, elements, and court cards? What has your experience been?

Tarot reading: Past, present, and future considerations

This is a simple spread I did last weekend for myself. I’d been looking into what it would take to become a coach and mentor, so I asked the cards, “What from my past, present and future do I need to take into account when contemplating this path?”

“What from my past, present and future do I need to take into account when contemplating this path?”
(Everyday Tarot Mini deck)

Past: Six of Pentacles, the giving and receiving card. That makes so much sense. I’ve learned a lot in 50 spins around the sun and I truly believe it’s time for me to share that knowledge. I’ve learned from some great teachers.

Present: Page of Wands (the same card I pulled the day I launched my tarot Instagram account!) Embrace new opportunities and chase that creative spark. Amazing!!

And I laughed out loud when I turned the future card: the Nine of Swords. The nightmare card! It’s true, taking on this sort of role would give me a LOT of anxiety. That much interaction with people would truly be a challenge for me and I know it would cause me a lot of stress. Now I guess the question for me is to decide if I can manage that stress and make it all worthwhile. I do love it when the cards make me laugh out loud, though. What advice would you give based on these cards?