Digging the Roots: Why the Two of Wands Freaks Me The Hell Out

Photo credit:  Amelia Quint

Photo credit: Amelia Quint

In the Two of Wands, we find mankind’s spirit of exploration. 

The card as we know it today typically depicts a young nobleman by the shore, with a walking stalk, gazing into an orb or geographic globe. Another wand is perched nearby. The surrounding shoreline is the same fielded area that many of our characters have journeyed, or are journeying, through. Roses and lilies are present, whether they adorn his clothes or the garden in which he stands.

The shoreline tells us his journey will soon take him to sea, and into the great unknown. The orb, as orbs often do, represents the great truths of life and the universe. Traditional interpretations tell us that the white lily is our young man’s innocence, and the red rose is his courage. Or perhaps the lily is his rebirth, as he is soon to be born into a new enlightened state. Or maybe both flowers have had so many countless meanings over the last several millennia that it’s impossible to say. 

In the years of the tarot’s infancy, scientific and other such academic learnings were usually pursuits available only to the rich, or noble, or at least landed. The white lily has been associated with regality, and is perhaps telling us that knowledge is kingly. 

I will try not to obsess over the lily any further.

We often see this card when we are embarking on a new endeavor or journey, perhaps one of self-discovery. But, you know that already. 

As the tarot was taking shape in the late Renaissance, whether as a deck of playing cards, or as a divinatory mechanism and fun party trick, European man’s view of the world was changing dramatically.He had discovered another continent, begun to subjugate its inhabitants, and had sailed around the Earth. With Galileo, the European scientific revolution began, and white man moved into the early modern era.

He started down the path of understanding that, contrary to what he would like to believe, the Earth is not the center of the universe -- it’s not even the center of this solar system. He is a speck, if even that, on a blue and green marble hurtling through the black and infinite sea of space in a great ellipse that is slowly widening, casting him and all his kin farther out into the great void. This is what our young nobleman ponders. He is mankind.

This card is that journey toward understanding, even as it exists today.

Much like the ocean that our nobleman will soon sail upon, the universe is vast and unknowable, filled with knowledge that will mature us, or at the very least, freak us the hell out, and force us to feel our insignificance. 

The Two of Wands is also a call to move into this unknown with courage. The young man is unafraid. Such exploration is in our very nature, and is a large part of what it is to be human. To press on, to learn things simply to learn them, is what makes us us. Whether we are motivated by financial gain, glory, or simple curiosity, we are fulfilling our higher calling. We are moving the species forward.

When we see this card, perhaps we are not just being told that a journey is ahead of us. Maybe we are also being told that we should think bigger, push the boundaries no one else is willing to push, and try to think not as we do, but as we would like to.


This article is part of Digging the Roots, an on-going series by Zach Toman about the cultural and symbolic history of the tarot. Follow @ZachToman on Twitter. 

Digging the Roots: What the Knight of Swords Reveals About Social Justice

Photo credit:  Amelia Quint

Photo credit: Amelia Quint

When someone’s offenses make your ears burn and you shout them down, or you start that fight, or you rush to aid a friend, you are the Knight of Swords.

In many depictions, the Knight is either on horseback, bearing down on his objective at great speed, or he is shown by a burning tower. The Knight of Swords has two parallel threads of historical meaning. Both may be leading us to the same end.

The chivalric code is not something that existed in the way we like to think, as a concrete ethical code followed by all honorable knights. Rather, the code was the ideal of the age during which the tarot originally emerged. This code was later romanticised by Chretien de Troyes, who may be best known for creating Lancelot, now a fixture of Arthurian legend. The idealism of chivalry was in sharp contrast to the brutality of medieval warfare. 

The Knight of Swords is brutality and swift judgment, wrapped in morality. As we swing the sword, we believe that we are doing it in the name of Justice, but who can give us that right? Christian God? The Old Gods? Those that govern us?

The other thread is that of the Crusades. In many decks, the Knight rides through a scrubby plain, or beneath a burning tower, pointing us to that most violent of religious pilgrimages. Again, violence and pain is dealt in the name of rightness. 

Still, this thread points us to another aspect of the Knight that we must confront: not only does he deal this violence in the name of morality -- he also deals for his own financial gain. Knights would return from campaign with great spoils, and could even be awarded with additional lands. Historians have made the argument that the spread of Islam was only the surface concern of many European combatants leaving home to fight in the Crusades.

With that in mind, consider that the burning tower behind the Knight in some depictions is The Tower.

Maybe his rash actions lead to great change, as such actions often do. Maybe that’s not a good Tower we see. If so, we must find a way to use the forward momentum the Knight brings us for good.

Swift action is not inherently worse than thoughtful, measured action, but it is more likely to be such. If you must take swift action, be certain that what you are doing is right for all parties involved. Ask yourself, are you capable of deciding what is right for everyone? Haste prevents us from seeing the wider web of impact.


This article is part of Digging the Roots, an on-going series by Zach Toman about the cultural and symbolic history of the tarot. Follow @ZachToman on Twitter. 

Intuitive Tuesday: 5 Bad Tarot Habits & How to Fix Them

We all have them. The little habits that creep into your tarot practice seem innocent enough at first, but over time they can keep you from getting the most out of your readings. Even if you only read for yourself it's crucial that you are getting as clear a signal from the cosmos as you can.

Why? Because intuition is power, and you deserve to feel powerful.

Over the years, I've seen a few issues come up again and again in my personal practice. Here are my repeat offenders, and how I fix them:

1. Not writing it down.

Do you write down your tarot readings? If you don't, start today. Grab a sheet of paper and scrawl out the results of your reading, as well as your thoughts in that moment. Sometimes the meaning of a spread is instantly recognizable, but other times it takes longer to unfurl. I know you're busy, but it's worth it to give yourself the opportunity to see how the meaning opens up over time. If nothing else, it's a wonderful journal of sorts.

Not into pen and paper? Try using your iPhone to snap a picture of the spread to jog your memory, or log the results in Evernote (two of my favorite methods!).

2. Asking the same question over and over again.

If the cards you pulled weren't what you were expecting, it's natural to want additional information... or a complete do-over. Still, I've found that the first reading you do on a topic is the most accurate. Trust that the cards and your own intuition are giving you the messages you need to hear, even if it's tough love.

Also, be very conscious when using clarifiers. Do you really need to pull another card, or is the answer already there beneath a few more layers?

An aside: if you're following #1, you won't need to ask multiple times. You'll have a beautifully written answer to refer back to whenever you need it.

3. Assuming the best.

I have a tricky habit of trying to create positive interpretations for cards whose message may be less than positive. Don't do this. If sadness is there, feel the sadness. Don't lie to yourself, even if it's tempting.

Instead, try creating an "action step" for every difficult card you pull. Sometimes, I'll even pull another card and place it underneath the tough one to represent what I can do to heal the situation.

Make sure you consider all meanings for traditionally celebratory cards too. Yes, 3 of Cups can be a good party, but it can also represent love triangles or escapism. Be open to all possibilities, and let your intuition guide you to the answer.

4. Assuming the worst.

That said, sometimes historically bad cards can have a good spin. 10 of Swords looks scary, but it can also be a sign that the worst is over and better days lie ahead. Don't let your fear of a card get in the way of a positive message.

5. Not paying attention to how you feel.

The little white book can only get you so far. If you only take one thing away from this post, let it be this: the only way to know if the 3 of Cups is pointing to a night on the town or numbing out is the way you feel when you first see it. Do you feel lit up, excited, and comforted? Or, do you feel sleazy, like you need to take a shower? Your first instinct is nearly always right. Listen close.

Here's to a fresh, clean tarot practice!


PS- Do you have a bad tarot habit, and if so, how will you break it? Share yours in the comments down below!

#StarsAndCards Roundup: A Sneak Peek!

Happy Halloween! Earlier this month, I started an Instagram series (called #StarsAndCards) to explain the astrology behind all 78 tarot cards. Every day I posted one card, its astrological counterpart, and how you can use that connection in your own readings.

It's been on hiatus for a few weeks (thanks to lots of travel and one lovely retreat hosted by none other than Theresa Reed!), but I'm bringing it back just in time for the most magical day of the year.

Curious about playing along? Here's a sneak peek!

The Fool (0)

Corresponds to Uranus. These two share a penchant for rebellion. They're future-oriented + herald a fresh (if abrupt) start. When this card comes up, think about your big vision + how to make your work as original as possible. Check out your own Uranus sign for ideas. For example, someone with Uranus in Scorpio may want to do some deep reflection + hone their intuition as they move ahead.

The Magician (I)

Corresponds to Mercury. They're both about how you can turn your thoughts into reality. It's manifestation, plain + simple. If this card shows up in your reading, look to where Mercury is in your chart or by transit for a clue on how to turn your dreams into reality.Someone with Mercury in Aries would benefit from a fiery, direct approach, while a Mercury in Taurus person would do better going slow + steady.

The High Priestess (II)

Corresponds to the beautiful Lady Luna. Like the moon, she is Artemis, Hekate, and Isis, filled with magic + mystery. Both are a signal to listen to your intuition, pay attention to your instincts, and nurture yourself. Not sure what the right form of self-care is for you? Check out your moon sign! Moon in Gemini people need mental stimulation in order to relax. Others, like the Pisces Moon, need a spiritual connection to feel comforted.

The Empress (III)

Corresponds to Venus, the zodiac's love goddess. She + Venus encourage you think about love, beauty, and what you value. When this card comes up it can be a signal to pamper yourself, or to get in touch with your inner muse. Connect with your inner love goddess/muse by doing your Venus sign. Venus in Virgo types need simple elegance while Venus in Leo people want flash + extravagance.

The Emperor (IV)

Corresponds to Aries. Like his martial counterpart, he's dressed in armor + armed with the symbols of authority. Both represent a call to step into your personal power! When The Emperor comes up and your aren't feeling particularly confident, look to your Mars sign for inspiration. A Mars in Capricorn person may be bolstered by achievement, but a Mars in Pisces needs a creative outlet in order to feel powerful.

Get the idea? Marvelous! Follow along using the hashtag #StarsAndCards.

Don't forget- I love hearing from you! Feel free to post any questions. I've been known to share a quick astro tip from time to time...

Blessed Dia de los Muertos, and cosmic love! XX