Because “Graphic Organizers” Are My Day Job…


Man, I was really productive with my snow days! In addition to cleaning all the things in my house, doing some organizing, freshening up my ritual space, and hacking two tarot decks to bits, I was able to put together the finishing touches on a tarot workbook for my coven and get the “first edition” printed out and spiral bound.

I’m not really sure how I got started with this project. A few months ago, we’d loosely debated getting a tarot coloring book to augment our year of major arcana study. I think that may have been the start of it. I remember being impressed with some of the options I’d found, like Theresa Reed’s book and Diana Heyne’s. But I knew that I personally didn’t want to have my colored pictures in one book and my notes in another. I am all about keeping my project materials organized in one place. Eventually, I realized that the RWS images were now in the public domain, and that several people across the Internet had created black and white line versions. I figured I would just print off a deck’s worth at some point after work and pop them into a binder with some notebook paper and call it a day.

At some point, my day job crossed over into my mental headspace. For whatever reasons there may be, my high school juniors and seniors don’t really understand how to take notes. I do a ton of work with them to help develop these skills (after all, college is right around the corner), but when we’re slogging through a big text, most of them get overwhelmed. I guess the process of deciding what’s important about a big concept and how to usefully organize your thoughts about it can seem like a Herculean task if you’re not practiced in it, so I’ve taken to “chunking” out things the students should pay attention to in various chapters and creating “graphic organizers” that do at least the “what should I write and were should I put it” for the kids.

When my coven started solidifying out our study plan for this year and I started to think about yet another trip through the major arcana, I realized that I was starting to picture the notes I wanted to take as a graphic organizer. (I have drunk my own Kool-Aid. Send help.) So I jotted down the things I thought would be important to a study, put them into a flow that I thought would help cultivate intuition along with internalization, and created a draft. And because I’m a writer who highly values the editing process, I solicited a round of feedback from my HP and HPS, tweaked the draft, and then sent that out to some professional readers of my acquaintance for final input before nailing it down.


I’m pretty pleased with what I came up with. The first page gives you a picture to refer to and color if you choose, and it asks you to record your first impressions of the card before asking you to describe the image objectively. Then it brings subjectivity into play as it asks you to describe the character’s mood or the emotional atmosphere of the scene. The next page asks you to catalog all the elements you see as symbolic and to posit what those symbols mean.


When you flip to the third page, you get challenged to consider the card’s structure. What could the positive and negative associations of the card mean? How does the card’s number (for the majors and the pips) or rank (for the court cards) influence the card? How does the suit, element, or mode impact it? And because A. E. Waite consciously structured his deck around astrology and the kabbalah, there’s space to consider those influences, too, if they float your boat. Once you’ve got all that sorted, you’ve probably got a good idea of what that card means to you, so the fourth page has you record your meaning and pull out reference keywords. Then it challenges you to consider what an inversion of that image could mean and gives you the opportunity to pull out reference keywords for that, too.


The last two pages challenge you to apply your newly constructed meanings to a context situation (readings about romantic relationships, non-romantic relationships, career, finances, spiritual issues, heath, and creativity…the most common question categories you’re likely to get from querents). And then, finally, you get some space to jot down other things you learn about the card from discussion and additional study.

I like it all right, and my beta readers were very enthusiastic and asked for copies, too. So I’ll probably throw a downloadable version up somewhere here once I get another block of “free time” to make pages for the minor arcana. I’d also like to clean up the “how do I use this workbook?” forward that I rushed and make it a bit more accessible.

So yeah! That’s how I spent my snow days.





Adventures in Deck Modding


A standard Robin Wood tarot deck, and a modified Robin Wood tarot deck. Hacking off borders and coloring the card edges certainly changes the flavor a bit.

This past fall, I realized that without teacher grad school in my life, I pretty much only saw 17- and 18-year-olds all day long. I did not like what that was doing to my brain, so I started taking a tarot class in Indy to get more interaction with adults. It’s been a great experience that I will have to write more about at some point, but today the name of the game is something they exposed me to: deck modding.

All deck modding really amounts to is hacking the borders off your cards, rounding the corners off, and coloring the sides. The more artistically talented (or adventurous) go further to enhance the images with various paints and gilding. It’s not exactly rocket science or even all that destructive to a deck, but when I first learned about modding, I was scandalized. Why would anyone want to remove card borders? They’re literally there to protect the images against damage from repeated shuffling. Take a look at a well-loved tarot deck: the edges will be all nicked and scuffed. I just couldn’t wrap my head around why someone would want to go through all that tedium only to essentially weaken the card. So when the class decided to devote a couple weeks to modifying decks, I happily skipped.

But the next class I attended, I was utterly charmed by all the modified decks. I was surprised by now nice the borderless cards looked and how the images seemed to “pop” more against the reading cloths. For the most part, the cards were a good bit easier to shuffle, too, with a quarter inch shaved off every side. I soon thereafter picked up a spare Robin Wood and a Universal Waite and decided to play around with deck modification when I had some free time.

Well that time certainly arrived with the cold weather. When I wasn’t organizing the heck out of my house, I was curled up on the couch drinking cocoa, watching Netflix, and hacking away at two decks of cards.

Some of the tarot ladies mentioned they had used a Fiskars sliding trimmer to make their cuts. I just happened to have one, and it was a cinch to pick up a great corner rounder. So I blissfully worked my way through a couple movies and my Universal Waite “test deck”. I was beyond pleased with the final trimmed and rounded result…but then it came time to edge them.

To edge a deck, you basically take a Sharpie or other indelible marker of your choice and run it around each card edge individually. If you try to do the entire stack at once, ink will bleed between the cards. I wasn’t prepared, however, to see so much bleeding on individually edged cards. Because I used black ink, it doesn’t look bad per se — more like the edges have been charred — but it still wasn’t an effect I was expecting.

After a close examination of the cards, I think I diagnosed the problem. A sliding trimmer is a fantastic tool for accurate cuts, but it operates by dragging the corner of a razor through paper. It makes a very clean, sharp cut for paper, but the cuts get a little ragged once you start moving into cardstock. Tarot cards are laminated cardstock, which are thicker still. The ragged edges were not obvious until I rounded the corners of the deck. Once I had the entire deck together, I was able to see that the rounded corners were thinner than the edges of the deck were. Unfortunately, this means that the sliding trimmer slightly pulls the two sides of the card away from each other and creates an edge that is wider than the card itself. This means that more of the paper between the lamination is exposed to the ink, which allows it to soak in more and lets it wick through the card. The black bleeding is especially obvious on the corner of the Fool card pictured above with its white sun. As you can see, the only place that didn’t bleed on that card was the more cleanly cut corner.

I very much wanted to avoid the bleeding edges for the Robin Wood deck, for I almost exclusively read with that deck and wanted it to look as professionally trimmed as possible. So I acquired a guillotine-style trimmer, which slices cleanly through paper of any thickness with a long blade attached to a chopping arm. I picked up a small-scale guillotine at the local craft store. It worked beautifully, made exceptionally clean cuts, and was dead easy to use. After five cards, though, I realized that the cutting arm wasn’t properly attached and was cutting everything at a slight angle. I ended up returning it and used long-bladed scissors to finish trimming the deck.

I think the scissors ended up being the easiest to operate, and they made just as clean of a cut as the guillotine. If my blades had been shorter, I don’t think I would have been able to cut as evenly, so it is probably worth it to get some properly big scissors for this job. It’s also probably not a great idea to try to trim all your cards in one sitting: I’ve got a broken blister at the base of my right thumb now that is taking its sweet time to heal.


The Ace of Hearts: unmodified. Ace of Wands: borders cut off. Ace of Swords: borders cut off and corners rounded. Ace of Pentacles: borders cut off, corners rounded, and edges colored black.

I was incredibly surprised by how much the deck appearance changed at each step of the process. Without rounded corners, the trimmed deck seemed amateurish to me, but the simple step of corner rounding made it seem intentional. The black edging also hid all the random colors peeking through the edges of the borderless cards and really made the final product look sharp. There was exceptionally little edge bleeding with the Robin Wood deck, and I think it now looks like it was always supposed to have been trimmed this way.


Well, almost. The Robin Wood deck has these banners at the base of all the Major Arcana cards that display the name and number of each card. The banners run off the artwork and into the white border. Most of these banners were relatively unaffected by the trimming and rounding, but some of them were really obviously clipped. The worst of them were Justice, The Tower, and The Moon. The Moon and Justice both lose an entire “1” off their left hand 11 and 18! Aside from that unfortunate issue, however, the final cards look wonderful…and they’re *so* much easier for me to shuffle now that they are smaller!