Monday, 13 November 2017

Gay, male and conflicted. Positive inner strife in the Five of Wands.

Five of Wands, from the Son Tarot
by Chris Butler. Published by Schiffer

The Five of Wands has traditionally been known as the card of strife. It may denote discomfort, struggle and exertion but these are battles worth fighting. Stick with this and you'll find yourself strengthened through your battle. Just as in nature, a butterfly's wings can only be strengthened through the struggle to break free from its Chrysalis, we as men must often grow through life's bumps and bruises

The shadow side of ourselves

For gay men in particular, many of our conflicts are internal ones, particularly as we navigate the rocky road to coming out, and  learn to move past societal prejudices to a place of self acceptance. When designing the Son Tarot, I wanted to reflect this inner struggle through the Five of Wands so here, you see the man's main opponent  is his own shadow self. This 'negative' figure is the embodiment of all his internalised fears, along with a fair few prejudices he may not even have realised he's developed over the years. The Five of Wands encourages us to actively engage with these inner struggles, for the sake of our own growth and development. The truth of the matter is, we don't have a choice, unless we're prepared to stagnate and let our lives drift past us before we've even lived. 

Who are your demons?

The first step is  to identify our inner demons. Who is that shadow self you fear so badly? Is he the man who so desperately wants to live the life of an out gay man with no secrets? Maybe he's the one you daren't give a voice to for fear of rejection by family, friends, wives or children. Alternately, he may be your 'angry self'. You won't want to let him have a voice because he may make you face the pain and resentment of that recent relationship break up, or even the anger you feel towards those bullies who hurt you at school. He could also be your 'critical self', for the shadow in your life may constantly lurk beyond your field of vision, whispering in your ear. His observations can be quite pernicious at times, constantly undermining your validity when he tells you your body isn't quite toned enough. Maybe he keeps telling you you're fat and unattractive. maybe he's telling you you're too old to be sexy. Maybe he's constantly critical of your camp behaviour and telling you you should be more straight acting, just like the men you admire so much. At his worst, this shadow version of you won't just be undermining you. He'll be undermining and belittling others as well. Of course you'll never act like them or be like them, he says. You're so much better. Is that what you're really thinking? If so, maybe it's time to come face to face with your shadow opponent.

Look him in the eye and tell him you care

The first step to dealing with your shadow is to admit that he's there and he's part of you. Furthermore, you also need to show him some love rather than pretending he's not there. This may sound strange, but despite your best efforts to pretend nothing's wrong, his voice is still there in your ear, although you keep your back turned to him. Furthermore, you're listening to him as his opinions are affecting your actions. You may fear to face him and you may even hate what he stands for deep down, but it's time you acknowledged him and brought him into the light. Face him square on and say hello. Most importantly, if you're going to acknowledge the negative effect he's having on your life, do it with some gentle compassion and a little understanding. This is no stranger after all. He's your inner self and he's as vulnerable as you are.

You thought he was your enemy. Well, actually he's your friend

Believe it or not, the judgemental, bigoted, fearful, prejudiced, wilful inner self is a valuable part of who you are and, despite his failings, he's as open to learn as you are. Sometimes, the unconscious self takes a while to catch up with the conscious and in situations like these, we need to show a little patience with ourselves. That inner part of us will tug us backwards if left unchecked, but rather than let him do that, you need to give him some gentle coaxing, along with reassurance that the world won't collapse if you don't go where he says. Even if it does, let him know that your bravery will be enough to carry the both of you through. In some instances, your unconscious self actually knows better than you do and at times like this, you need to learn from him. If you're lurking in the closet and he's longing to come out freely, which of you understands better the nature of authenticity? I think you already know, so hear him out.

The fight isn't easy and things won't change overnight

You may have acknowledged your inner adversary and that's a fantastic start, However, if you've spent a lifetime at odds with him, he's not always going to give up without a fight. What's most important is that you show patience and leave your judgmental attitudes towards yourself outside in the cold. If you've spent years functioning from a defensive centre, then there may well be a good reason for it. That said, behaviours that once served to protect us become destructive if maintained when the world around us has changed. There will be times when your shadow self re-asserts himself in the most negative ways and you're powerless to stop him. It feels like a long, uphill struggle. Three steps forward then two steps back. That's absolutely natural and all that matters is this: The number of forward steps remains greater than the backward ones. Dealing with internalised fear, prejudice or homophobia is both painful and difficult. Allow yourself to fail from time to time and when you do, just pick yourself up, brush yourself down and try again.

Some battles are worth fighting. You come out stronger

When we make peace with our inner shadow, we can begin to integrate him back into ourselves. Once done, we're no longer living as conflicted men. We begin to live as powerful men. Think of the energy that's potentially wasted on inner conflicts like these. If you're in one such struggle yourself, make it count for something. Face it fair and square. face yourself and learn from the experience in the process. To do so takes courage, because you'll be facing some of your greatest fears. It's worth it though, for if you can successfully challenge your fears then you'll be able to live a freer, less troubled life. Prejudice comes from a place of fear as well. If you can overcome your prejudices, not only will you be kinder on yourself; you'll be more caring and tolerant towards that great and diverse world around you. The Five of Wands may be a challenging card for us as gay men to contemplate, but ultimately it's an encouraging one too. It's a testament to human strength and the ability to change.


Sunday, 12 November 2017

The one we really don't want to talk about: Facing the Death card.

XIII - Death.
From the Healing Light Tarot
by Chris Butler.
Published by Lo Scarabeo

In the Healing Light Tarot, The Grim Reaper takes the form of a skeletal apparition wandering through a twilight graveyard. He is swathed in mist yet crowned with a bright star and surrounded by a mandorla halo. This is the archetype we often fear the most; that of death, transformation and the finite. The card represents change, decay and fragility.

The mythology of the grim reaper

Death as a force of nature  has been personified in countless religions and cultures across the ages. In Hindu Scriptures the Lord of Death is King Yama, who is seen riding a black buffalo whilst wielding a rope lasso to snare his captives. In Judaism, we see the Angel of Death as described in the book of Exodus. This manifestation  is sent by God to destroy the first-born children of the Egyptians. The Grim Reaper as we know him in the traditional Tarot comes from 14th Century Europe; the time of the Black Plague and Europe's worst ever pandemic. A third of the population was lost to the plague, so death as a concept was a constant companion within medieval culture. As such, the 14th century reaper has stayed deeply engrained in the culture and art of Europe. 

Skeleton and Scythe

Sometimes wearing a black funeral robe, he is shown as a skeleton, wielding a grain scythe. The funeral robe would be an all too common sight in plague times, reminding people of the Reaper's constant presence. The scythe is a tool of harvest, but also a tool of slashing and cutting down. This speaks of the harvest of souls, but also of the indiscriminate ruthlessness of death. Most importantly, the Reaper is shown as a skeleton, for this is the framework of the human body, and all that remains when the corpse has decomposed. This is what remains when personhood has passed beyond the gates of death. For its form to become the living embodiment of death in medieval European mythology is a natural progression.

The Nameless Card

The earliest decks (from the mid 15th century) have no numbering or titles on the cards. Even when it became the norm to number and title the cards, the Death card, though numbered 13 would more often than not be left caption-less. Even through to the 19th century, death was still a fear not to be named in the cards. In modern Tarot, the card carries its rightful name like all the others, but maybe that's because for us, the Death card isn't a literal portent of death in readings. It's a wider reminder of change and that above all, nothing can last forever.

Everything changes. Everything ends

In the natural world, all things die but in the process they make way for something new. Everything  we have is given to us on loan and won’t be ours forever. Change is inevitable and the world is in a constant state of decay and renewal, as is the human race. Maybe that's what we fear the most when we see the Death card. Most of us fear physical death for a number or reasons. For me personally, it's because I love my life, I have a lot to live for and there's still so much I want to achieve. As I grow older, maybe I'll begin to fear it less. On a deeper level, what is death but the stripping away of all we have? I think this is what we fear the most, for as human beings, we posit our security in physical possessions and relationships; the very things that provide constancy and continuity in our lives.

A reminder of our own fragility

Ponder this – there isn’t a single member of the human race from one hundred and fifty years ago now walking the earth. Yesterday’s humanity is no longer here, but they paved the way for us. Hold things loosely and let go when necessary, for the very change you fear is exactly what makes the human race so enduring. When the Death card appears in a reading, it doesn't predict an person's literal physical death, nor should it ever do so. Certain secrets, like an individual's time of passing remain in the realm of nature and with the Gods. It's not for us to know these things and no ethical reader would attempt to predict as much. By contrast, I'd advise you to look inwards when this card appears, and ask yourself what it is you fear being stripped away. When you can answer that question, you'll be on the way to understanding your authentic vulnerabilities. Knowing what we fear to lose is the first step in being able to let go of it.

We can't erase the Reaper

There's been a trend in recent years to sanitise some of the more uncomfortable cards in certain modern decks. Where the Death card is concerned, this has ranged from presenting No.13 as a comforting angel coming to take you away from your worldly strife, right through to re-naming the card as something less threatening, such as 'change' or 'transition'.  I'm firmly in the school of making no apologies for the presence of the Grim Reaper in a Tarot deck. He represents an essential truth in all our lives; a truth that none of us can avoid, despite our fears.  The Reaper isn't just a symbol of our physical death. That's just a fraction of what he represents. On our plane of existence, time is both linear and forward projecting. We can't go back and change anything and we can't stop its forward movement. All is new.

Making peace with the Skeleton

Seen from this perspective, our day to day lives are a constant journey with death. As each day passes, we both lose and gain. Nothing stays constant and nothing lasts forever. This letting go of things on a daily basis is our training and preparation for the day when we will relinquish everything. Make peace with the Reaper, for although he's an uncomfortable companion, he may ultimately be your friend. This is the meaning of the star that crowns him and the mandorla halo, for change and decay are the very things that bring healing and renewal to the world. 


Tuesday, 31 October 2017

The Son Tarot: A gay man's road to self acceptance and confidently coming out.

Back in 2005, two days before my 38th birthday, I began work on what would become the Son Tarot. Of all my projects, this was the most life changing and it attests to the healing power of the Tarot. As I created the Son Tarot, I had to meditate deeply on what it would mean to put myself 'inside' each card. By doing this progressively for each image as I designed the deck, I emerged from a dark period of depression which had lasted several years, as well as dealing with my self acceptance issues. In effect, the Tarot taught me my worth and gave me the ability to enjoy and celebrate being me. As this deck is so personal, it was a great privilege to have it published, along with its companion book by Schiffer in 2012. Here's a new Youtube video I've just created to showcase the deck. If the Son Tarot does nothing else, let it remind you that every time you pick up any one of your own decks, you're holding one of the most powerfully transformative tools you're ever likely to encounter.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Lenormand Cartomancy. An alternative to Tarot.

Apart from my longstanding interest in tarot, I've also been working for sometime with the cartomancy system named after Marie Anne Lenormand, the celebrity fortune teller of the Napoleonic Era and personal sybil to the Emperor himself.

Kay Stopforth, my collaborative partner for the Quantum Tarot gifted me my first deck of Lenormand cards back in 2007. The card images and the system of cartomancy behind them intrigued me, being so utterly different from the Tarot. There were few resources available back then; indeed, I could only find one available text in English. As a result, I decided to learn all I could, develop my own deck and eventually write an easy, how to guide in order to make this truly remarkable alternative to Tarot more widely available.

Schiffer Books published the deck and book as Lenormand Cartomancy in 2013 and thankfully, my publication became one in a number of roughly contemporary publications that heralded a Lenormand revival in the English speaking territories.

The imagery on my cards follows the traditional symbols of the Petit Lenormand oracle deck, but the style of illustration is colourful, vibrant and utterly modern. Take a look at the deck in this, my latest Youtube video.

Fair Fortune.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Introducing the Healing Light Tarot.

The first advance copy of my new deck and book set, the Healing Light Tarot has arrived! Have a look with me as I browse through the cards. The deck will be published by Lo Scarabeo on May 25th 2017.

Friday, 30 December 2016

A nameless fear. The uncomfortable aspects of the Moon card

A full moon rises between tall and ancient towers, casting its rays over a dark expanse of water. On the near shore, two dogs howl at the rising sphere whilst a crayfish emerges from the depth and swims towards it. When it reaches the shore it must crawl onto dry land, journey between the towers. with the Moon as its guide and reach the Mandorla gateway, for this healing portal is its journey's end.

Lunacy as a phenomenon is well named, for human beings have long understood that the Moon can affect human behaviour in a powerful way. The female cycle of menstruation and ovulation is strongly influenced by the gravitational effect of the Moon and its monthly cycle. Furthermore, the full moon has long been known to induce states of anxiety, madness and rising tension.

The Moon card shown here comes from my forthcoming Healing Light Tarot and its design differs little from the traditional patterns found in the Marseilles and Rider Waite traditions. The only addition of note  is the mandorla gateway between the towers.

Exploring the Unconscious

Think of this card as a depiction of the human unconscious where the Moon becomes a sphere of illumination. The darkened lake holds many unseen creatures, some great, some grotesque, some unspeakable and some that can only be encountered at your peril. For the most part, these dark and nameless beings remain hidden, swimming in deep waters while only making their presence known through surface ripples and currents.

The Moon itself is the symbol of anything that enters our lives and stirs up the lake. We've all experienced those moments when something happens to trigger a long buried fear or vulnerability. We may lash out in a way that seems inexplicable to those around us yet in reality we are acting from the deepest, darkest recesses of our unconscious.

Facing our fears

The Crayfish represents the very things we fear to face or struggle to integrate into our conscious existence. Drawn by the rising Moon, it leaves its hiding place like a moth attracted to a flame. As with our unconscious impulses when triggered, it has no choice but to react. It will feel the pull of the Moon and follow it blindly. The barking dogs are symbols of rising tension, both within ourselves and also within those around us as this emergence takes place. Facing our fears is never easy. Being close by when someone else's unconscious insecurities are triggered can often be worse. We can all relate to the backlash of unwittingly touching someone's 'soft spot' or venturing unintentionally into a 'touchy subject' whilst in conversation.

Despite the pain and sensitivity such times are a healing necessity. The monsters of the deep can only be acknowledged, faced and integrated into our conscious lives when they emerge and show themselves. The path of the crayfish is a healing path therefore. The Towers mark the way and on the horizon between them is the Mandorla gateway; the healing portal through which it must pass to complete its journey.

Hope for healing

As always, the Mandorla is a symbol of healing, wholeness and completion. Furthermore, it is the protective womb where fears and vulnerabilities can be unpacked in a constructive healing manner.  In everyday terms, it represents those safe spaces where we can begin to understand and face our irrational impulses. On one level, this could be in therapy space, where the therapist is providing protective boundaries for the unpacking of vulnerability. On another level, it could simply be the support and love of friends that makes it safe to be open.

Whatever the case, listen to your heart, dare to be vulnerable and let your fears begin their journey to find their rightful place in your lives.

Fair fortune dear hearts as we leave behind 2016. I wish you joy, prosperity and freedom in 2017.


The Healing Light Tarot will be published by Lo Scarabeo on the 25th May 2017. It will be available for pre-order on Amazon.

Monday, 2 May 2016

A thank you to all who attended my gay men's tarot workshop

Facilitating a tarot workshop is daunting and exciting in equal measures. It's always good to share something so close to my heart and in presenting my personal take on the Tarot, I'm also sharing a large part of my own inner journey. That said, it's also nerve wracking to stand in front of a group of potential strangers in the hope that what you have to offer will be worthwhile to them. 

This is why I want to thank all the men who attended my gay men's tarot workshop in London last Wednesday. Working with you was a joy and from what many of you said afterwards, I think you enjoyed our exploration of the cards as much as I did. I look forward to catching up with you all in the future (both individually and collectively) and  do keep me posted as to how you're getting on as you journey further. In the meantime, I'd like to make a couple of recommendations for further reading as some of you asked for these at the end of the evening.

The New Tarot Handbook

During our workshop, we used the Rider Waite Tarot deck. Created in 1909, it's become the most widely known deck in the world and  the blueprint for most of the decks that have followed. Learn with the Rider Waite deck and in future you'll find it easy to adapt to most others. For further reading, I'm recommending Rachel Pollack's New Tarot Handbook (Llewellyn. Reprint Edition - 2012). Rachel is widely viewed as the mother of modern tarot, having worked with the cards for 45 years. She's also a Nebula Award nominated Sci-Fi author and was an English Professor in the sixties and seventies. Her understanding of the tarot is in my opinion, unparalleled yet her books are easily approachable and of great value to beginners and the experienced reader alike. Make this your first port of call as Rachel's wisdom will give you a firm foundation to build on. You can purchase this book from Amazon by following the link below:

If you're fascinated by the rich symbolism and beautiful artwork of the Rider Waite deck, you may wish to explore a recently published book by authors Marcus Katz and Tali Goodwin. The Secrets of the Waite-Smith Tarot (Llewellyn. 2015) is a groundbreaking, in depth guide to the Rider Waite deck, delving into the deck's history and creation. Within its pages you'll learn much of the stories behind individual cards and how artist Pamela Colman Smith's background in theatre fed into so many of the card scenes we now take for granted. This is a fascinating book that sheds new light on what have become classic images. If you enjoyed Rachel's book, Marcus and Tali's offering will significantly enhance your understanding of the deck. It's also available on Amazon UK:

Finally, we come to my own deck and book, which many of you saw and chatted to me about during the workshop. With the Son Tarot (Schiffer Publishing. 2012), I've created a deck and book set specifically designed for gay men to use as a personal development tool. Taking your knowledge of the Rider-Waite tarot, you'll find yourself easily stepping into the system of this deck as I've used traditional tarot concepts and adapted them to fit our aspirations, experiences and hopes. From coming out to self acceptance and body image issues, I've attempted to show our daily concerns reflected in the cards. Once again, it's available through Amazon UK but you may want to check out the 'used and new' section as several Amazon affiliated dealers currently offer the set at more competitive prices.

Once again, I can only say thank you to those who attended the workshop last Wednesday. I had a wonderful time facilitating and as I always find when facilitating these events, I learned as much from you as you did from me. 

For those of you who couldn't make it, particularly those who had to cancel last minute due to the train strikes, don't worry as Andy and I are looking to organise the next tarot workshop very soon. I'll keep you informed as we work to schedule a date and in the meantime, look out for 'Love, Sex, Gay Men and a Deck of Cards' in your Meetup events listings.....

Fair Fortune,