The Wooden Tarot: Introduction to the Suit of Bones

Recently, I broke down and bought The Wooden Tarot and the Earthbound Oracle by A. L. Swartz. The Wooden Tarot in particular has been on my list for a long time. In the spring, when I was deciding which new tarot deck to buy for myself, I had it narrowed down between the Wild Unknown and the Wooden Tarot. In retrospect, I still think that was the right decision. While I wouldn’t call the Wild Unknown an easy deck for beginners, I think it’s ultimately easier to read. That being said, the Wooden Tarot has been tempting me for a long time and now that it’s in my hands, I feel like it’s already a good friend.

Swartz says he based the imagery of this deck on the Waite-Smith deck, and therefore does not include a booklet of card meanings with the deck. Many readers have noted, though, that the deck has sparse imagery in places and can invoke a lot of puzzlement. Since getting it, I’ve had the strong urge to study it systematically. Marianne over at Two Sides Tarot has a wonderful series where she is working through the Wooden Tarot and there’s a Wooden Tarot study group on Facebook as well. (You have to request to be added, but I was added no problem.) Despite the helpfulness of these sources, I can’t resist the temptation to dive in myself.

I would like to get through the whole deck, like Carrie at Happy Fish Tarot has done with the Wild Unknown (she’s almost done!). I won’t make a post for every card, and will do them in small batches instead. Nevertheless, it will take at least 19 posts and probably more to get through the deck, so yeah, it’s gonna be a while.

I decided to begin with the suit of Bones, which corresponds to Pentacles/Disks. This is where I wanted to begin because to me the suit of Bones is the most difficult to interpret. Also, since I order my tarot decks so that Pentacles/Disks comes at the end, it would take me FOREVER to get to the suit of Bones if I just started at the beginning and worked through the deck. So let’s jump in, shall we?

The Suit of Bones

The most immediate question:

why

BONES

for pentacles/disks?

It seems as if stones, which other nature-centered tarot decks like the Wildwood Tarot use, would make more sense. The suit, after all, corresponds with the element of earth and stones come directly from the earth. But bones are made out of minerals, nonetheless, and they are certainly the most earth-like solid part of our bodies.

Bones are limited to vertebrates–fish, reptiles, birds, mammals; beings who are pretty far up the evolutionary scale. Bones are the structures that support our bodies, giving us shape and definition and allowing us to move. But unlike exoskeletons, they are invisible from the outside (except for teeth.)

Bones, then, give structure and solidity to our existence. Their support is visible but they themselves are not. Without bones, it would be impossible for creativity, emotion, and intellect–the domains of the other three suits–to function since their seat is in the skull-protected brain and they ultimately move throughout the rest of the body.

Since the suit of disks/pentacles corresponds to what is solid and tangible in our lives, it often gets interpreted as being mostly about money and possessions. Illustrations for cards in this suit are often lavish–I think of Pamela Colman Smith’s 9 of Pentacles, for instance–but the suit of Bones in the Wooden Tarot is by far the most spare in an already sparsely illustrated deck. The cards are literally what they sound like–paintings of bones in various configurations. While this deck sees the element of earth and hence bones as being vital supports to our existence, it also suggest that the “bare bones” of material wealth don’t amount to much, and that creativity, emotion, and intellect are needed to flesh things out. It’s interesting to me that the Empress in this deck has the alchemical symbol for water behind her instead of her usual association with earth. The lushness and fertility symbolized in the card, then, may have less to do with material wealth and more to do with emotional fulfillment.

You could think of this deck, then, as taking more of an ascetic’s or renunciate’s view of the suit of earth, relegating it to a supporting role. Because of this, I have a feeling that the Wooden Tarot would be a deck better left for emotional and spiritual inquiries, rather than inquiries about work, wealth, and property. And with all this in mind, we encounter the…

God of Bones

God of Bones

The God of Bones wears brown and drab green robes, mountains peek out from behind their shoulders as a solitary eye peers out from the alchemical symbol for earth–a downward pointing triangle with a line drawn across it. The robes, drawn diagonally across the chest and over the shoulder, are reminiscent of many styles of Buddhist monks’ robes. The God holds one hand palm pointing outward to the viewer and one is held downward, echoing the “dispelling fear” and “generosity” mudras. Between their hands floats a single bone. The God of Bones’s eye, like the eye of the God of Blooms, is angled slightly downward, signaling the receptive energy of the suit.

The monk-like God of Bones, with a single, bare bone in their hands and the bare mountains on their shoulders is the root of the powers of earth, the creator of the physical world. The God of Bones is the source of all that gives structure and stability to our lives; our bodies, possessions, and the physical world are all under their care. This God, however, is more like a renunciate than a god of plenty. They say: “I offer what is necessary for support and no more.” They are our entry into the suit of bones and ask us to question wealth, its purpose, and its necessity.*

Keys: new home, possessions or financial opportunity; a benefactor; an epiphany about money, security, or wealth; encounter with a new standard of living or day to day routine.

Reversed: stuck in habits of spending and consumption; wasted opportunities; misuse of resources; lack of insight into the role of wealth or possessions in one’s life

A God of Bones Reading

The Eye: What insight is waiting for me regarding the role of money and material things in my life?

The Bone: What gift do I need to receive from this area of my life?

_____________________

*When discussing the Gods in the Wooden Tarot, I will be giving them the pronoun “they/their.” No need to assign a gender to a floating eyeball!

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