Review: Tarot of the Pirates

I’m a huge fan of pirates — even wrote a kids’ alphabet book about them — so when I saw that there was a pirate Tarot coming out a few years back, I had to have it. Tarot of the Pirates is just plain fun.

Yarr, mateys!

What do I like the most? Frankly, the artwork in this deck is really nifty, and not what you typically see in Tarot artwork. It’s sassy and brash, dark and dangerous, and the imagery is nicely matched to the Tarot card meanings.

The Pirate Tarot deck is one I use a lot when reading for male clients, or for women who are empowered, independent and strong. It’s got a lot of strong masculine energy to it. The artwork takes on a pirate theme that’s a bit campy but still clever and fun — suits are divided into Coins, Oars, Chalices and Swords. The pirates in this deck are not always sanitized or pretty, but down-and-dirty swashbucklers, male and female alike. Images of the moon, sea monsters, sharks, hidden coves and buried treasure abound.

Keep in mind that if you’re looking for historical accuracy, this isn’t the place you’re going to find it. Although most of the pirates are fairly grungy, they’re still representative of a fairly romanticized version of piracy on the high seas. Remember, real pirates were criminals and violent people who did a lot of horrible things to other people.

One thing I’d recommend is just not even bothering with the little white booklet that accompanies the deck. Some of the card meanings seemed sketchy at best, and it almost seemed as though the creators were deliberately trying to take even the more positive, upbeat cards and give them a negative slant, just to keep with the theme of piracy. Honestly, there’s no need for this – the artwork speaks for itself, and a reader will be able to tell from looking at the cards exactly what meaning is before them.

Another thing I really enjoyed about this deck is the level of activity. Characters don’t just sit around waiting for things to happen to them — no, they go out and get what they want, swing from the yardarms, dig up their own treasures, and stage rebellions when needed. It’s a very active rather than a passive sort of deck. In particular, the female characters depicted have a good deal of agency of their own – they’re sexual and sensual, but they’re also in complete control of their own destinies in most of the artwork. It’s a good reliable deck to use for strong, independent people of either gender.

A quick note: if you’re bothered by the sight of bare breasts in your Tarot, you may want to pass on this deck, because there is some mild nudity – not a lot, but some.

Also, keep in mind that with the Tarot of the Pirates, some of the artwork doesn’t translate exactly the way you might expect if you’re used to using Rider-Waite as your default set of meanings. With this deck, you’re probably going to get a better result, and a more accurate reading, if you read intuitively rather than based upon written interpretations.

My main complaint with this deck is that some of the cards are far too similar in appearance to other cards in the deck. You should be able to tell what card you’re looking at simply by looking at the image. If you have to check to make sure it’s This and Not That, that’s definitely a disadvantage to the deck. I won’t spoil it for you by telling you which cards are far too close in appearance, but if you’re a savvy reader, you’ll pick up on a couple of them, particularly in the Major Arcana.

On the whole, though, I do enjoy this deck, particularly because I’m a fan of the comic book style of artwork that’s used. While I definitely wouldn’t suggest it for a novice, if you’ve got some degree of experience in reading Tarot (and, of course, if you enjoy pirate lore), it’s definitely worth picking up and playing around with.

Pagan Festival Tips

It’s nearly spring, which means festival season is looming on the horizon! I’ve finally reached the age where my kids can be left unsupervised for a few days at a time – they’re pretty much feral at this point and can hunt/gather their own food – so I’ve been allowing myself the luxury of going away for a weekend sans familia every now and then. I attended three Pagan festivals in 2016 and they were so amazing that I actually sat down after CalderaFest and wrote an entire article on why you should go to a Pagan festival.

Casa de Patti at CalderaFest 2016

Last year was really my first big festival year, and I’ve set myself a goal of attending three to four a year, whether they’re weekend camping excursions, or single day events. At any rate, though, there are a few things I’ve learned so far this year – just from observation, personal experience, and discussion with other folks – about stuff you might want to bring.

First, there’s the important stuff like your tent, sleeping bag, and food – and all the other things on this list of Stuff To Take To a Pagan Festival.

  • A sturdy tent: for the love of Pete, don’t go to an overnight event without one. I encountered people who arrived to spend the night but who brought nothing to spend it in. Don’t be that guy. If you want a reliable and inexpensive tent, and don’t already own one, you really can’t go wrong with a Coleman tent, or if you’re lucky enough to score one on clearance, Ozark Trail (which is what I use) makes several great varieties that are easy to set up. Make sure you pack a tarp large enough to cover the top and sides of your tent, just in case a monsoon blows in, which is what happened to me at Blue Ridge Beltane. I stayed nice and warm and dry and took a nap in my tarped tent during a massive thunderstorm.
  • Something to sleep on: if you’re young and chipper and healthy, you can probably just lie right on the ground in your sleeping bag, and more power to you. I, however, am 48 years old with arthritis and occasional sciatica, so I have no interest at all in sleeping on dirt. Hell with that. This year, though, I treated myself to a folding camping cot, and it was the best money I’ve spent in a long time. I topped it with a piece of egg crate foam, and it was like sleeping in Nerf. In my tent.
  • Food: it should go without saying, but please don’t be the person who shows up and didn’t bring anything to eat and doesn’t have any money to go buy any food. It’s not that I mind sharing with you – no one will ever sit at my hearth and be hungry – but you knew you were coming to this event, so next time, plan accordingly. Bring a bag of snacks, at the very least.

Now, the stuff you probably never thought about:

  • An altar table: I use a small tv-tray style folding table that I found at a garage sale for $2, and I toss a cloth over it, and add my statuary, a couple of candles, incense, and a few crystals. I set it right outside my tent, so as I start and end each day, I’m reminded of why I’m at the festival in the first place.
  • Tent decor: Normally when I camp, I don’t decorate my tent, but when you’re at a Pagan festival, you’re surrounded by other Pagans, and it really does become a small community. I have a hanging I put up over my tent’s zipper flap, as well as a couple of cool pieces of portable hanging artwork. I saw people with flags, coven banners, and all kinds of other doodads. Customize your tent – after all, it’s going to be your home for a few days!
  • Drums, bells, and other musical thingies: I guarantee you, if you go to a Pagan event, odds are good that a spontaneous drum circle will pop up. If you have a drum, bring it. Another great option is bells, and especially if you have a jingly bellydance scarf to wear, pack those as well. I did, and it gave me plenty of chances to shake my goodies when I wasn’t drumming.
  • A journal and something to write with: If you attend workshops or seminars, you’re going to want to write things down. I also made notes of some of the new chants and songs I heard, because there was a LOT going on at each festival, and even though you THINK you’ll remember it all, you won’t. Plus, a journal is a good place to write down the names and phone numbers of all the cool new people you’ve made friends with!

Are you planning on going to any Pagan festivals in 2017? What are you taking that’s not on this list?



Pagan Craft Projects: Make a Measure Bag

MeasureBagA measure bag is used in some Pagan traditions, including but not limited to a few forms of Wicca, as a way of forming a magical link between an individual and the group to which they belong. The measure bag is often incorporated into a practitioner’s initiation ritual. If you practice as a solitary, you can still use one as part of a self-dedication ritual to the gods of your tradition.

The term “measure bag” comes from the phrase “taking one’s measure.” This phrase means to size someone up, or to see what sort of person they are. Again, this isn’t used in every single Pagan belief system, but if it works for you, go for it!

To take someone’s magical measure, a cord is measured from the bottom of the individual’s feet to the top of the head. The bag is usually decorated with magical symbols – often including the practitioner’s magical name – and stored with bags from other members of the group. In the case of a solitary, the bag may be kept with the rest of the practitioner’s magical tools, in a safe and secure place.

To make a measure bag, you’ll need the following:

  • A drawstring pouch
  • Embroidery floss or fabric paint
  • A length of cord
  • Some sort of taglock or magical link to yourself

Decorate the outside of the bag with either fabric paint or embroidery floss. You can put your magical name on it, or if there is a particular symbol you feel drawn to, you can use that instead.

Use the cord to measure the distance from the bottom of your feet to the top of your head. If someone else is nearby, they can do this for you. If you’re alone, place one end of the cord under your foot and then run it up to the top of your head. Snip off the cord once it’s the appropriate length. Place the cord in the measure bag.

Finally, you’ll add another magical link to yourself into the bag. In some traditions of hoodoo and folk magic, this is called a taglock. It’s something that magically binds you to the contents of the bag – a snippet of hair, a fingernail clipping, even a drop of blood. If you go the blood route, just a drop or two will do just fine – no need to nick an artery.

Consecrate the bag as you would any other ritual tool, and then put it someplace where it won’t be disturbed by others. If you’re part of a group, put all of the members’ bags together in a box, and store it for safekeeping. If anyone leaves the group, their measure bag should be returned to them so they can dispose of it however they like.



Sybil Leek and the 6 Tenets of Witchcraft

In some forms of traditional witchcraft, there are six basic tenets – and that’s not TENANTS, with an AN, but TENETS. These are simple principles, or guidelines, meant to help practitioners lead positive and spiritually fulfilling lives. Do you have to follow them? Of course not!

Although they vary somewhat from one tradition to the next – just like everything else in modern Paganism – they are nearly always similar in spirit and intent. This particular list was created by the late author Sybil Leek as an outline of the basic guidelines of her spirituality. While not universal to all belief systems, these six principles can be a valuable tool for self-discovery – and that goes for people of just about any religious background.


Balance is found in all things. We find it in nature all the time. If balance can exist in the natural world, surely we can find it within ourselves. Our physical selves, our emotional state, and our spiritual plane… by finding the right balance of these three parts of our lives, we can live as better human beings. When our balance is thrown off, that’s when we begin to suffer. Too much of anything sends us off-kilter — for example, someone who takes on too much emotional baggage will begin to feel physically unwell. Someone whose spiritual needs aren’t being met can feel emotionally fragile. Without balance, it’s nearly impossible to be a well-rounded person.


Harmony is something we must give ourselves. It’s not something others can attain for us, nor is it something that we can gain without effort. Don’t rely on other people to provide for you! Harmony is a gift to our soul, from our soul. How do we interact with others? Do we allow the shortcomings of the people in our life to negatively affect us? Are we forever blaming other people, and making excuses instead of finding reasons? If we are, then we are lacking harmony and must re-evaluate our lives, and our perception of what things are. To truly find harmony, we have to stop looking around us and begin looking inside us. To this effect, harmony really has to work hand in hand with the concept of balance.


A key part of many NeoWiccan paths today is the concept of perfect love and perfect trust. To someone who is spiritually whole, trust is a many-layered principle. It not only means trust in those around us, but also in our gods and in ourselves. Trust isn’t blind, but it sure does involve faith. For example, we may know that the gods walk with us and guide us; we trust them to do so because of past experience, not because someone has told us to believe this. Trust is being willing to close your eyes and fall, knowing the person waiting to catch you will actually do so.


When we stand before the gods, we know that we are imperfect, and they know this too — and yet they still manage to tolerate us and guide us. We’re pretty much flawed as a species, and yet we often try to be the best we can. This paradox, then, is an example of humility. It’s the knowledge that while we may be mere lowly mortals, we are also deserving of love and happiness and opportunity — and the chance to make the world a better place, not only for ourselves but for others. As part of this process, we must love ourselves, because if we don’t, who will?


Tolerance may be one of the least acted-upon principles of many modern belief systems. While many people espouse the virtue of tolerance, many refuse to actually be tolerant. They make blanket statements about people whose religion doesn’t coincide with their own. To tolerate someone else’s belief doesn’t mean to put up with it begrudgingly; instead it means to accept their right to choose differently from us. We’re all human beings, and all connected to the Divine; this factor makes us part of the cosmic whole. When in we look at the concept of “do no harm” — and this includes with our words as well as our actions — we refrain from doing harm not because a rule tells us so, but because it’s the right thing to do. After all, what goes around comes around.


Finally, there is the tenet of knowledge. Without knowledge, there’s no growth, no chance to evolve. While we can read books and take classes until the cows come home, true learning also comes from life experience. To advance on a spiritual plane, we must accept the fact that we just don’t know everything there is to know. If we don’t want to stagnate, we have to continue to learn and grow. Once we refuse to learn anything new, it’s pretty tough to develop as a spiritual being.

A final note: It’s important to remember that, much like other guidelines found in modern Pagan religions, this list doesn’t apply to every path. Not all witches adhere to these tenets. If you are an eclectic practitioner, you may want to look at this list and see how it can be applied to your own belief system.

Love Offerings & Donations at Pagan Events

I first got involved in the Pagan community back around 1988 or thereabouts, but it wasn’t until some twenty years later that I heard someone use the term “love offering.” At first, no kidding, I thought it was in reference to some kind of sixties-era sex practice, but as it turns out, it’s just a phrase that means a donation. Who knew? Not me, that’s for sure. However, whether you call it a love offering or just a donation, at some point, you may find yourself at a Pagan event wondering if you should toss a few bucks in the pot. The short answer is, yes, if you can, but not if you can’t afford to.

A reader asked me years ago, ““I recently attended a Pagan event, and it was supposed to be free. When I got there, they had a jar on the table with a note that said “love offering” and people were putting money in it. I went ahead and contributed, because I didn’t want to look stingy, but can they really call it a free event if they’re asking for donations?

Well, ok, no one wants to look stingy. I get that. But on the other hand, events take money to put on, and if making a donation is the cost for me to continue to enjoy stuff, I’m all for it. I’d certainly never shame anyone for not making a contribution if they can’t afford it, but if people say, “I’m not contributing because I shouldn’t have to and stuff should be free,” I’ll have plenty to snipe about then.

Image by Dave Dugdale, Licensed Through Creative Commons ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The phrase “love offering” does appear to be a regional one – I live in the Midwest, and I hear it a lot – but it’s the same as a donation jar. This is something that’s not uncommon in the metaphysical community. It’s designed to encourage those who have some extra money to share it if they can, while not making those who don’t have extra feel bad about it. It’s a donation given out of love and ability and an understanding of community spirit, rather than from obligation. So yes, it’s still a free event, and they’re perfectly within their rights to ask for a donation from those who care to make one. No one is required to do so – if they were, it would be called an admission fee.

That having been said, I think it’s very important to recognize that even “free” events cost someone money – and it’s usually the folks who took the time to host and organize them. If there’s food, tables, chairs, entertainment, ritual supplies or even a venue rental, those charges have come out of someone’s pocket, and it’s not unreasonable for them to make you aware that a donation is appreciated.

Furthermore, even if there was an entry fee charged, that’s generally acceptable too. Again – events don’t just magically happen on their own. Even if the organizers are not making any profit (and I can pretty much guarantee that they’re usually not), it’s still perfectly acceptable for them to charge a fee that helps offset the costs of the event itself. Some of this may include asking vendors for a table fee, or passing the expenses along to the consumer — in this case, guests like yourself. If it’s billed as an entry fee, and it’s outside your range of affordability, then you’re under no obligation to attend the event. Some events offer work equity in exchange for admission – you volunteer to help out for a couple of hours, and you’re in for the rest of the day at no charge. That’s a pretty good trade-off, really.

I know that in some areas, this topic has become a matter of hot debate between groups – one coven will host an event and ask for donations, and then another coven will accuse the first of being greedy and trying to “bilk the newbies.” I can assure you that this is not anyone’s intention when they ask for a love offering, donation, or other type of contribution.

Do you have to donate? Certainly not, and if you can’t afford to do it, no one is going to hold that against you. But chipping a few bucks into a jar, if it’s within your means, is a wonderful way to say thanks to the people who made the effort of putting the event together for you to attend. It’s also a good way to assure they’ll be able to put together another event in the future.

Want to have nice things? Me too. Let’s be willing to pay for the privilege when we can afford to do it.

Animism and the Cosmic Whole


Tree Guy
Tree guy is watching you.

Animism is one of the earliest known spiritual structures. From an anthropological standpoint, it is a belief system based upon the concept of all things having a spirit or soul. Humans and animals have souls, as do plants and trees and rocks, thus eliminating any separation between the mundane world and the metaphysical one. Nineteenth-century anthropologist E.B. Tylor defined animism as a belief that all natural objects – in addition to, but not only humans – have souls. This includes living beings — dogs, horses, birds, etc. – as well tangible items like rocks, mountains, the sea, trees and flowers. It also includes natural phenomena such as earthquakes, wind and lightning.

One thing that anthropologists have yet to agree on is whether or not early cultures had one, all-encompassing and universal belief system that would be considered animism, or if instead, the term applies to multiple mythologies and worldviews.

Typically, anthropologists – particularly those influenced by Tylor – agree that for a belief system to be animistic, there are two criteria. The first is, as mentioned above, that all natural things have souls or spirits. The second, and equally significant requirement is the belief that these souls are capable of moving without a physical form. In addition, many early animistic societies practiced some form of ancestor veneration.

In some societies that are animistic, there is some overlap with shamanistic practices as well.

Although we often think of animism as primitive and ancient, there are some groups that still practice it today. In Malaysia, there are tribes who still honor the rice spirits at the time of planting and of the annual harvest. Shinto, which is the predominant spirituality of Japan, has a strong foundation in animistic beliefs. Following the devastating March 2011 earthquake that struck Japan, many Japanese made offerings at Shinto and Buddhist shrines to the spirits of the land, hoping to gain a better spiritual understanding of all that had taken place.

Although it is not universal to all Pagans, many Neopagans incorporate animism into their beliefs today. It’s not uncommon to hear someone talk about the spirits or soul of a tree, or a river, or a piece of wood. In many cases, these individual spirits are seen as parts of a greater cosmic whole.


Tarot History: Pamela Colman Smith

This is an article that originally appeared on my site, but because of a network overhaul, it’s no longer available there. I wanted to share it with you anyway, because so many people forget the contribution that this woman made to the world of Tarot. Of particular note is that Smith was a woman of color, working in the creative arts during the turn of the twentieth century.

Tarot History: Pamela Colman Smith

The Rider Waite Tarot deck is one of the most iconic collections of images in the metaphysical world. If you see a Rider Waite card, you know exactly what it is. This is the deck that many new Tarot readers choose to learn the ropes on, and it’s often the one that is used in books on Tarot, because the symbolism is so rich and heavy. But where did the Rider Waite deck come from? Turns out it was designed and created by an artist whose name doesn’t even appear on the deck most of the time.

Pamela Colman Smith (1878 – 1951) was a London-born artist who spent her childhood in Manchester and Jamaica with her parents. Smith was biracial; her mother was Jamaican, and her father was a white American (his father, Smith’s grandfather, was the mayor of Brooklyn for a time).

As a teenager, Smith attended art school in New York City, at the Pratt Institute, and developed a stylized look that soon put her in high demand as an illustrator. Some of Smith’s most popular drawings were utilized in works by Bram Stoker and William Butler Yeats, and she wrote and illustrated books of her own as well.

After her mother passed away in 1896, Smith left Pratt without graduating, to join a traveling theater group and lead the nomadic life of a troubadour. In addition to working onstage, Smith developed a reputation as a skilled costume and set designer. Keep in mind that during the early part of the twentieth century, this was an unusual occupation for a young, single woman. She was also active in the women’s suffrage movement that took off in the years around the turn of the century.

Little is known about her romantic life, although Smith never married or had children. It’s certainly possible that she preferred women; there is a great deal of speculation about her relationships with housemate Nora Lake, as well as Smith’s close friend, actress Edith Craig, who was definitely a lesbian. Smith surrounded herself with creative, intelligent people who valued her passion for art.

Her early work with William Butler Yeats would prove to be the catalyst for some changes in Smith’s life; around 1901, he introduced her to his friends in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. At some point in her Golden Dawn experience, she met the poet and mystic Edward Waite. Around 1909, Waite commissioned Smith to do the artwork for a new Tarot deck he was interested in creating.

Waite wanted to see a Tarot deck in which every card was illustrated – which was something completely new. Up until this point, throughout the history of Tarot, decks primarily had illustrations only on the Major Arcana, and sometimes the court cards. The only known example of a fully illustrated deck, up until this point, was the Sola Busca deck, commissioned by a wealthy Milanese family in the 1490s. Waite suggested Smith use Sola Busca for her inspiration, and there are many similarities in the symbolism between the two decks. Smith was the first artist to use characters as representative images in the lower cards; rather than just showing a group of cups, coins, wands or swords, Smith worked human beings into the mix, and created a rich tapestry of occult symbolism that set the gold standard for modern Tarot decks.

The resulting collection of 78 cards was published by Rider and Sons, and sold for a whopping six shillings as the first mass market Tarot deck. Thanks to the publisher and Edward Waite, the deck became known commercially as the Rider Waite deck, although in some circles it is now referred to as the Waite Smith deck, or even Rider Waite Smith, as credit to the artist.

Interestingly, Smith did not receive royalties from the deck, and it appears that she wasn’t paid much at all for her creation of the original work. Although her artwork was popular, she never seemed to gain mass commercial success, and she died penniless in Cornwall in 1951.

Although Smith’s artwork appears simple on the surface, it’s deceptively complex. Each piece represents so many different aspects of the human experience, which is why this deck – whether you call it Rider Waite, RWS, or Waite Smith – has become such a valuable tool for intuitive readers.  Many modern Tarot readers owe a great debt to Pamela Colman Smith, for providing us with a collection of 78 paintings that delve so deeply into our hearts and souls.

For a thorough and in-depth look at Pamela Colman Smith and her life, be sure to read Beth Maiden’s post at AutoStraddle, Fool’s Journey: The Fascinating Life of Pamela Colman Smith or Mary K. Greer’s The Art of Pamela Colman Smith.

Well, Hey, It’s a Book Signing!

Great news! The Good Witch’s Daily Spell Book is now available through Barnes & Noble, so go ahead and order a copy, or pick one up at your local store!

If you’re in the Central Ohio area, though, I’ll do you one better – stop by my favorite witchy store, Blessed Be Spiritual Shop on Saturday, February 25th, from 2 – 4 pm, where I’ll be doing a book signing event! Come on over, hang out with me, and see what Blessed Be has to offer!