For so many of us, the start of a new calendar year brings with it a feeling of opportunity, a chance to leave behind old habits and beliefs about the self that are no longer serving personal progress and happiness. On one level, it always seems strange to me to be thinking about such awakenings in the dead of winter when nature seems shut down, but where I live, there are already glimmers of the spring that will certainly come, as well as the perpetual winter bloomers – camelias, hellebores, and crocuses – giving us hope that the Wheel will continue to turn. It is also a time to plant bulbs and over-winter seeds that will become our bright spring gardens in just a few short months. Within all this I find a mirror for the work I am proposing to you here. The first month of the year is an ideal time to take stock of where we’ve been and what we’d like to change, begin, grow.
For this work, I always turn to the tarot first. I like to think about the general year card (2020 = The Emperor) as well as my personal year card(s) (calculated using my birthday) to help set a general focus for the year. I then lay out a wheel of cards – a year projection spread – to help me explore opportunities and challenges that might arise as the year progresses. For this type of reading, I prefer to use Major Arcana cards only, as it results in one overarching theme to cover each calendar month, with the opportunity to follow up on each one later to discover more details. Once the cards are chosen, I suggest taking a look at how concepts move from month to month. Are adjacent cards speaking to each other? Can you find any correlations between certain cards and events you have planned for their months? How do the cards in this spread connect to the year cards you have calculated?
As each month arrives, consider how you can construct a personal ritual to reinforce your focus for that month’s work. Ritual is often a combination of words, actions, and objects, so I’ll offer some ideas for crafting your ritual to include all these components. You really don’t need much to do these exercises; a deck of cards, paper, and pen are enough. Anything else you’d like to add can be found among your existing belongings or in nature. You can also plan this as a cumulative ritual over the course of the month rather than one concentrated session. More on that in a moment…
First, unfold the details of your monthly theme card with a follow-up reading using the entire deck. This can be as simple or as complex as you desire. I think a three-card spread works well. I suggest removing your monthly Major Arcanum (*) from the deck before you shuffle and placing it above the new reading as shown here:
Consider how the three cards connect to this month’s theme. They might be offering shades of meaning, ways the theme will play out in your life, or advice for handling that particular energy. You could even assign such specific meanings to the three cards if you like. I’m a fan of writing down readings and suggest keeping a journal just for this year’s readings so you can look back and make connections as it all unfolds. Take a few minutes to write about how these cards resonate for you. Then determine their essence – what is a goal for the month that you can work with? Write that down in one simple, clear statement (or even distill it into a single word if you’re able). This gives you the language for your ritual.
Next, consider how to build out your ritual using correspondences. You can consult correspondence charts or just use your intuition to find associations between your ideas and the components of your ritual. I find it helpful to identify objects that symbolize my goals for the month. For example, let’s say I’m working with the Justice card. Its energy is very mental/rational (related to the Air element), so the herb rosemary comes to mind as an ally to enhance my connection to the airy aspect of this card. I could place a sprig of it on my altar that month or even carry some around in my pocket. I associate the colors blue and yellow with the Justice card (blue for truth of communication and yellow for the mental realm), so I might include items of those colors in my ritual or even wear those colors throughout the month.
Next, consider symbolic actions that can reinforce your goals. To continue with the same example, I might press the rosemary leaves between my fingers, releasing the scent as a reminder of my goal to be more exacting in my declarations and corresponding actions. Justice is also about balance, so I might work both sides of my altar equally, alternate moving opposite sides of my body in the same symbolic gesture, etc. The Air element is also commonly symbolized by burning incense during a ritual, so that would be another action to reinforce the nature of this card, as would be writing out my goal on a piece of paper then tearing and scattering it into the wind in order to activate my stated intention. I might also think about the timing of such actions. The Air element is often associated with the waxing moon, so performing all or pieces of my ritual during that part of the month could strengthen the impact.
You could choose to combine all these facets into a single, one-time ritual, or as the month unfolds, continue to perform a variety of reinforcing actions. If a more consistent reminder of your goals would be helpful, retain at least some element as a daily practice. The nature of the card in question could determine your process as well. To honor Justice’s balance, I might perform two rituals, one at the start of the month and one at the end. The Strength card, as another example, might require constant, low-level work. The Chariot might be best served by one forceful push at the beginning of the month. Ultimately, you will know what is right to do as you explore the aspects of the cards in your daily life. Let their personalities speak to you and guide you. Think of them as allies for each month, as friends with whom you can engage in meaningful conversations about yourself.
I’ve recently released a book of spreads, including some new ones of my own design as well as an assortment created by other card readers I respect. In that book is a section of spreads for each Major card; these are meant to help you find the energies of the individual cards at play in your life. If you think that could be helpful to you, you can find it here!
Coleman Stevenson is an artist, writer, and educator living in Portland, Oregon. She is the creator of several tarot and oracle decks, including the Dark Exact Tarot, the Vitriolic Tarot, and the Personal Oracle. Her publications include The Dark Exact Tarot Guide, a book of essays accompanying the Metaphysik deck by artist Daniel Martin Diaz, and two volumes of poetry. In addition to her work as a deck designer, her fine art work, exhibited in galleries around the Pacific Northwest, focuses on the intersections between image and text. She has been a guest curator for various gallery spaces in the Portland, Oregon, area, and has taught poetry, design theory, and cultural studies at many different institutions there, most currently for the Literary Arts Delve series, which includes seminars at the Portland Art Museum.