You don’t need to know the sex, gender, or sexual orientation of a character depicted on a tarot card in order to form valuable takeaways for yourself or your clients as a tarot reader.
Masculine and feminine energies are causing big problems in the wellness community. Today’s tarot readers are very much a part of this growing group and, through their card-slinging ways, they have the power to shape the way we view ourselves and others and the way we heal through valuable personal development tools like the tarot. That’s why it’s so important for readers to understand why viewing energy as either masculine or feminine encourages us to look at each other from a perspective that is just as limiting as it is harmful.
Like many things in life, tarot isn’t perfect. If you’re familiar with the Waite-Smith (or Rider-Waite) deck and its origins, you know that its illustrator is yet another overlooked and unsung woman creator. You may have also heard some people refer to the angel in the Temperance card as a “hermaphrodite”—a stigmatizing and outdated word that adds yet another problematic layer to a character said to symbolize the “ideal” balance between masculine and feminine energy (whatever that looks like).
Whether you intend to do harm or not, examining your use of energy and exploring your own discomfort (or your clients’) with the effect it has on readings can help you become a more confident and conscious tarot reader.
So how can you read tarot without employing the masculine/feminine framework? Here’s a few ways to start.
1. Avoid Labeling Characters as Male, Female, Masculine, or Feminine
It’s easier to distance your reading from the gendered imagery of the Waite-Smith deck when you’re using cards that put a fresh spin on old symbols with animals, objects, words, and unique themed designs. But you can still move away from readings that draw meaning from stereotypes, even in decks that feature characters.
Unless you really want to adopt the pronouns pulled from a deck’s guidebook (or you’re working with a brilliant deck like Our Tarot, which includes real women from history), it’s easy to refer to characters using “they,” “them,” and “their.” Make an effort to search for meaning in each card without arbitrarily labeling who you see. When we assign shallow qualities to the cards based on gender constructs, we effectively put our characters in a box—and we close the lid on readings that could carry greater depth and nuance.
2. Explore a Greater Spectrum of Meaning in the Cards
Have you ever questioned why the Emperor and King are associated with power and authority when the Empress and Queen are rulers too? These characters don’t have to represent traditional gender roles or amplify the stereotypes (positive or negative) that we associate with men and women. Just as reversals bring new considerations to a reading, upright court cards and cards throughout the major and minor arcana can prompt us to consider all angles of people we see, the traits we think they embody, and actions we imagine them taking.
Try reading each card as if it holds a message for you or your querent that could be positive, negative, or neutral. In other words, don’t view upright cards as strictly positive or reversed cards as strictly negative; find meaning hidden among all of the possibilities they hold. Then you can think of upright and reversed cards as swaying more carefree or gloomy. They could also indicate a specific outcome, offer a yes or no answer, reflect the success of efforts and endeavors . . . The applications are endless.
So rather than asking what the Empress card says about mothering and femininity, ask what message it brings about parenting, care, nature, creativity, stagnation, and all the other positive and negative elements associated with that card. Pulling a Sword or a Wand doesn’t have to be a sign about taming or boosting masculine energy. It can simply be a message about communication and decision-making, or passion and willpower.
3. Demystify the Divine Feminine in Your Readings
You may think that the narrative of the divine or sacred feminine is an empowering one, but it’s really an amalgamation of female stereotypes repackaged into a shiny, hip, unattainable new standard for women.
Nurturing and unabashedly in touch with her emotions, the divine feminine is an uplifting role model on the surface. And a closer look reveals that she’s a one-size-fits-all goddess—certainly not representative of human women who may not look like her, may not mother children, and don’t want to be force-fed the notion that there’s something wrong with them at their core if they don’t “do the work” to unleash their inner goddess and tend to some intrinsic feminine energy. The Outline has a great piece on the problems with deifying women in this way.
So when it comes to reading cards that feature characters traditionally viewed as female—like the High Priestess, the Empress, the Star, the four Queens—be aware of the picture you paint of women for yourself and your clients. What god-like standards are you setting for yourself? Are you pushing and pulling your body and mind to conform to something that doesn’t feel right? When you interpret the tarot for clients, what messages are you sending them about worthiness and strength that might be causing harm?
4. Examine Other Instances of Limiting Language
Modern misuse of the tarot extends beyond straightforward use of masculine and feminine energy. Labeling card suits as either “active” or “passive” also leads readers to link images of traditionally male characters with ambition, force, and control and images of women with patience, submission, and benignity. But if we want to achieve clearer messages in our readings, we should add some distance between these associations and the insights that naturally bubble up from our intuition. Many of the messages I’ve gotten from “passive” cards are still about taking action: planning, reflecting, relaxing, listening, creating, grounding. So what value do these terms really add? Not much.
And I’m sure you’ve heard of the power of “light” and “dark” in discussions on good vs. bad and positive vs. negative. Writer and tarot reader Rashunda Tramble of Stay Woke Tarot dives deep into what these words mean in the esoteric community. The more we are conscious of the biases and stereotypes our language perpetuates, the more opportunities we open up to alter the course of our tarot practice for the better.
Share Your Thoughts
Where’s your head at? Let me know your thoughts on using masculine and feminine energy in tarot. And if you know of other techniques that would help readers transform tarot into a more positive and approachable tool, feel free to share!