This spread is my intellectual property. Reproduction without written permission strictly prohibited.
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Though it was designed to be used in May, this spread may be done whenever the querent needs this kind of insight, no matter what time of the year it is. Its connection to the month of May comes from the folk ballad "Barbara Allen", which inspired it. This song tells the sad story of two lovers, the one too proud to forgive the other's hurtful behavior.
The earliest known versions of this ballad date back to XVIIth century Scotland, where Barbara and Sweet William are common folklore figures. Throughout the years and due to people leaving Europe, the song was brought to the United States and was soon integrated to the musical folklore, too. It was collected by Francis James Child during the XIXth century when he decided to compile American traditional and folk songs with English and Scottish origins, attributing a number to each one in order to make classification easier. That is why "Barbara Allen" is also referred to as "Child Ballad #84" or "Child 84".
As it survived through the centuries and spread in different areas, the ballad went through a large number of transformations and adaptations. The song was transmitted orally, which led to many variations as the legend evolved as nuances were added to the main frame according to which features or feelings singers wanted to put into light. However, the basic structure is always the same: the story takes place in May when flowers and trees are in bloom, in a small town which is sometimes identified and sometimes nameless. The love he feels for Barbara Allen makes Sweet William very sick, which forces him to stay in bed. As he wants to talk to her, he sends his servant to get Barbara Allen to come and see him. She reluctantly accepts to come to his bedside but as she gets there her attitude and words are cruel, for she explains she cannot forgive the way Sweet William behaved with other women, which made her feel humiliated. She thus refuses to listen to what he has to say and only tells him coldly that he must be dying before leaving him to his sorrow. Sweet William understands he lost her for good and dies asking his friend to take care of she who broke his heart. While walking back home, Barbara Allen hears about Sweet William's death and realizes how hard-hearted she has been. She falls on the ground in sorrow and understands she has lost her true love. She dies the day after and is buried besides Sweet William in the old churchyard. On William's grave grows a rose and on Barbara's a briar. As they grow from William's and Barbara's hearts, the rose and the briar intertwine to form a true lover's knot, the rose wrapping around the briar. Sweet William and Barbara Allen are thus reunited beyond death.
The renditions of this ballad are countless, for various artists made their own versions by reappropriating the legend and the tune in their own style. Among the best adaptations are those by Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan ("Barbara Allen" is one of his all time favorites and inspired several of his own songs), The Everly Brothers, Dolly Parton (with Altan, with the first and last verses in Irish Gaelic), Crystal Gayle, Johnny Cash (text adapted by Johnny Cash), Emmylou Harris, Simon & Garfunkel, Judy Collins, Marie Laforêt, or Blackmore's Night.
Ever since I listened to it for the first time, this song has been one of my favorites for I was enchanted by its magic and by the poetical way it deals with love and the different aspects of this complex feeling. The briar and the rose are very strong symbols and since they are at the heart of the story, I decided to use them to design this spread. That is why its shape pictures them as they grow from Barbara's and William's hearts, intertwining into the true lover's knot that brings them together again at the end of the ballad. The spread follows the usual structure of the story in chronological order, and each of its steps are represented by a card in one plant or in the other. As the story unfolds, one climbs up against the wall with the briar and the rose to finally reach the possibility of potential reconciliation, or in any case to find solace depending on the querent's situation.
This spread aims at examining to what extent and whether it is possible to heal a damaged relationship and find solutions to get what keeps the two lovers apart out of their way.
After shuffling and cutting the deck, draw fourteen cards and lay them as follows:
This spread has four parts, each of them referring to key elements in the ballad. The first part is made of cards 1, 2 and 3 and represents the cemetery ground where the briar and the rose grow from; cards 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12 are the second part and depict the briar; cards 5, 7, 9, 11 and 13 are the third part and depict the rose. The last card (14) crowns the whole picture and represents the true lover's knot formed by the intertwining briar and rose.
First part: The cemetery ground, the roots, the situation as it is – cards 1 to 3
Card 1. The roots of the current situation, the situation as it is right now, what the two lovers' feelings are like when the cards are drawn.
Card 2. The roots of the briar: what broke the relationship, the grievances that initiated the quarrel.
Card 3. The roots of the rose: the feelings of love that still exist despite the current misunderstandings and animosity.
Second part: The briar – the situation as Barbara sees it (cards 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12)
Card 4: The sorrow that causes Barbara's heart to turn to stone. The painful feelings generated by the actions and facts alluded to by card 2. The sorrow caused by the discord, and the resentment that keeps the two lovers apart.
Card 6: As she is hurt, Barbara refuses to listen to Sweet William. The reason why communication is not good between the two lovers.The lack of communication, why one refuses to communicate.
Card 8: Barbara hears about Sweet William's death and realizes that she loves him. This card shows the emotional shock that leads to understanding that a painful change is needed in order to focus on the situation with a different point of view. Only then will it be possible to determine whether the feelings of love are still there. One realizes what they have lost.
Card 10: As a consequence to William's death, Barbara's sorrow is stronger than her resentment and she blames herself for being so cruel to him; she thus follows him in the grave. This card represents what one will regret (not) doing or (not) saying and points towards the first signs of reconciliation.
Card 12: Barbara is buried next to Sweet William. This card shows what leads the two lovers to get together again.
Third part: The rose – the situation from William's point of view (cards 5, 7, 9, 11 and 13)
Card 5: Sweet William suffers from the situation and gets very sick. The consequences of the pain caused by the quarrel. This card shows what keeps the two lovers apart despite the feelings they share.
Card 7: Sweet William tries in vain to explain how he feels to Barbara. The communication attempts that were unsuccessful or that kept the two lovers apart instead of bringing them back together. The reasons why these communication attempts failed.
Card 9: Sweet William's death. Resignation. Accepting the situation as it is and the possibility of a definitive break-up, of non reconciliation. This card can also show one's good wishes for the other person. How one considers stepping aside and disappearing from the other's love life if there is no other solution.
Card 11: Sweet William is buried in the old churchyard. What one is willing to sacrifice to mend the broken relationship, what one is willing to let go or to forgive in order to facilitate reconciliation and go towards a peaceful future.
Card 13: The rose that grows from Sweet William's heart. The feelings that will survive and/or that will be reborn, helping the relationship to be peaceful again, giving it one more chance.
Fourth part: The true lover's knot – the reunion of the two lovers and the overcoming of all difficulties (card 14)
Card 14: The knot formed by the briar and the rose as they grow up the wall. How the quarrel will be resolved; how the two lovers will find each other again (or not). How the efforts will pay, thus leading to the resolution of the conflict. The final outcome of the situation.
This spread is quite complex, which is not due to the number of cards involved, but rather to its structure and to the fact that it allows a thorough analysis of a given situation. Indeed, it explores the querent's relationship and the current conflict in the details. As a consequence, in order to produce a good interpretation, one has to take into account the complexity that is inherent to any relationship and to this kind of feelings.
The two parts entitled "the briar" and "the rose" respectively depict Barbara and William's behaviors and feelings in the ballad, but one has to remember that things are rarely that clear or that distinct in everyday life. Though one of the two lovers might be blameless while the other might take full responsibility, things are far from being that simple: feelings are very often confused (and confusing), which leads to apparently contradictory words or actions that do not reflect what one really feels. That is why it is very important for the querent to be willing to be completely honest with themselves while doing this spread, for they will have to face their darkest – and most shameful – aspects.They will thus be face to face with their feelings, but also with their ability to hurt the one they love, which is rarely considered in such a detailed manner in tarot readings.
In addition, it is important to note that although the structure of the spread follows the events alluded to in the ballad in chronological order, there is no guarantee that the outcome of the querent's relationship will be the same! In other words, the end of the legend has the two lovers reunited beyond death, which marks their eternal and unbreakable union. Though it is obvious that the outcome shown in the spread uses Barbara and William's death on a symbolical level, it is necessary for the interpret to keep in mind that the outcome shown by the cards might not be as favorable to the couple: depending on the final card, it might indicate that it is impossible for the relationship to continue. The only outcome might thus be separation, for it is sometimes the only way for the two lovers to find serenity and peace of heart again.
This spread thus provides detailed analysis, taking into account all the aspects – however intricate they are – that govern any relationship, especially in difficult times when distance settles between the two lovers. Thanks to this spread, one can identify what caused the situation and get a glimpse of what they can do to mend the relationship... if these solutions exist. In any case, it helps to find solace, no matter what the actual outcome might be.
Which decks for this spread?
A tarot or an oracle deck will be the perfect tool for this spread. However, considering the main subject of the spread, I recommend to choose a deck whose main theme is love. There are many decks displaying references to mythological or literary love stories, such as The Lover's Path Tarot by Kris Waldherr, which is a wonderful tool. Decks focusing on self-exploration and introspection will be perfect, too. Among them, Madame Endora's Fortune Cards and the gorgeous Chrysalis Tarot will be particularly relevant.
(© Morrigann Moonshadow, May 22nd, 2016, trans. June 1st, 2016. Further reproduction prohibited.)
Along with Brighid's Cross, Brighid's Mantle is one of the main symbols used at Imbolc and just like the Cross, it is part of the rituals and celebrations. While the Cross refers to the Irish goddess, Brighid's Mantle alludes to Saint Brighid (of Kildare), who is no other than a Christian form of the ancient goddess.
It is said that Brighid went to the King of Leinster to ask him for some land where she could build an abbey. As one can imagine, as the King did not want to see such a thing done, he replied that he would give her the surface that could be covered by the mantle she was wearing. Of course, when Brighid spread her cloak on the ground, it expanded and covered all the surface that was necessary for the construction of the foundations of the building.
According to other sources, Brighid was with the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem when she gave birth to Christ. She acted as a midwife and wrapped the newborn child in her mantle, thus protecting him and keeping him in good health.
In other tales, she hangs her mantle on a sunbeam to get it to dry after being caught in a storm.
All these legends contribute in making Brighid's Mantle a sacred item. Various beliefs are still attached to this cloth today. The most common idea is that Saint Brighid gives some of her healing powers to the pieces of cloth that are hung at Imbolc. According to the custom, a cloth has to be hung inside or outside the house at Imbolc so Brighid can bless it when she comes. This cloth is then called Brighid's Mantle and is hung again each year at Imbolc so Brighid can bless it every time. That is how it keeps its healing powers, which grow year after year.
The spread presented here takes the shape of Brighid's cloak and refers to the protection and healing energies she blesses the querent with at Imbolc. Of course, the different parts of the spread are inspired by the abilities and attributions attached to this very peculiar figure who, while being Christian, represents a link between the old ways and the new ways.
This spread shows what Saint Brighid wraps the querent in at Imbolc in order to give them the protection they need and to help them heal from what they need to leave behind.
After shuffling and cutting the deck, draw eighteen cards and lay them as follows:
The cards are read in the same order they were drawn. It can be noticed that the first and last cards of the bottom line are tilted in order to give more fluidity to the mantle shape. Of course, this special position gives these cards special meanings, which are revealed during the reading.
Card 1 shows the querent's desires and wishes. It reveals what they want to accomplish the most.
Cards 2, 3, 4 and 5 refer to the querent's present situation. They show what is happening around them in general and express their main concerns.
Card 6 puts into light the querent's fears and what they worry about, especially regarding the present situation.
Just above the first line, cards 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 show what the querent needs to heal from, what they need to let go before they can move forward peacefully. These cards represent what Saint Brighid will help them to overcome.
Cards 12, 13, 14 and 15 describe what kind of protection Brighid blesses the querent with regarding their general situation and their healing process.
Cards 16, 17 and 18 reveal the strengths and qualities Brighid gifted the querent when she leant over their cradle as they were a newborn child. These cards insist on what will help them the most in dealing with their present situation.
This spread is rather easy to work with. The different parts contain a small number of cards to read together each time, which makes it easier for those who are not used to reading spreads with so many cards.
Each part can be read in two different ways: either by establishing links between the cards as if they were telling a story (thus showing a situation as it unfolds, or successive events), or one card at a time (each card thus depicting one or several aspects of one or several situations). The reader chooses the best way to read the cards according to what they think is relevent depending on the cards that appear in the spread.
Which decks for this spread?
Tarot and oracle decks can be used for this spread. Of course, Neo-Pagan themed decks will be preferred, as well as decks that display Imbolc related symbols and customs. Decks with an Irish setting are also particularly appropriate.
Imbolc honors Irish goddess Brighid (also Brigid, Brigit, Brigantia, etc.), the goddess of poetry, smithcraft and crafts, and of healing. She is also the goddess of fire: the flame she carries and protects is the fire of creativity. She is known as the goddess of fertility, and is said to lean over every cradle, thus bringing protection and good health to newborn children. Last but not least, she also embodies wisdom, especially when it is gained through inspiration.
To celebrate Imbolc, this special spread calls on the energies brought by Brighid in order to reveal what they bring to the querent. To do so, it is shaped as Brighid's Cross, which is one of the main symbols used at this time of the year. Usually made of straw, Brighid's Cross is traditionally crafted at the time of the sabbat and included in the rituals and celebrations, thus inviting the goddess to bring her blessings, protection and healing energies to those who display this item. In this spread, each part of the Cross alludes to one of her several aspects. This allows a large overview of what she blesses the querent with at Imbolc.
This spread aims at giving the querent an overview of what Brighid brings to them at Imbolc, thus putting into light in what way she will help them in their personal evolution and in meeting success in their projects and aspirations.
After shuffling and cutting the deck, draw twenty-one cards and lay them as follows:
This spread can be divided into two main parts: the central knot and the four branches of the Cross. The reader starts with the nine cards in the center and continues with the branches, each one of them alluding to one of the main aspects of Brighid.
First part: the central knot
On three lines, cards 1 to 9 describe what is offered to the querent by the goddess at Imbolc and the kind of protection they get. Cards 1, 2 and 3 thus define the kind of energy Brighid gives them. Cards 4, 5 and 6 show the stability she will help them build. Cards 7, 8 and 9 underline the protection offered to them by the goddess and that will be with them throughout the phases put into light in the branches of the Cross.
Second part: the branches of the Cross
The four branches of the Cross show what is in movement within the querent or around them, what is awakening deep inside of them and stimulates them. The several aspects displayed here are related to four of the main characteristics of the goddess.
First branch — Brighid's Fire: cards 10, 11 and 12. These cards describe the creative energy that stimulates the querent. They reveal their potentials and show their chances to succeed in their projects.
Second branch — poetry and inspiration: cards 13, 14 and 15. These cards allude to poetry and inspiration. Consequently, this branch reveals the nature of the inspiration that stimulates the querent, as well as their capacity to use the language in a subtle way, their sense of eloquence and their ability to put their intentions into words. These cards not only show the nature of the inspiration, they also reveal how the querent can bring this inspiration to the tangible world by using their ability to shape ideas into words.
Third branch — wisdom: cards 16, 17 and 18. These cards show the wisdom the querent will need, and the wisdom Brighid will help them to gain. They can also show what they will learn throughout their personal evolution and the development of their projects.
Fourth branch — the forge: cards 19, 20 and 21. The cards in this branch reveal the decisions the querent will have to make and the actions they will have to take to get their projects to succeed. The forge is the area of crafts, where the querent will find the tools that will help them to build their projects and to bring them into being.
Though it is made of twenty-one cards, this spread is not difficult to read, for it is composed of several groups of three cards each. The most difficult part consists in finding connections between each part of the spread, but they usually appear naturally.
The cards are read by groups of three and no specific position is attributed to any of them. Thus, they can either be read together as if they were telling a story or were showing the evolution of a situation, or individually. If they are read individually, they are to be taken as a succession of pieces of advice or warnings. They will thus describe what the querent need to pay attention to if they want to be successful in their enterprises.
This spread can be done either with a tarot or with an oracle deck. However, given the references it develops, Celtic-themed decks will be perfect, especially if they depict gods and heroes. Decks with a Neo-Pagan approach are also appropriate, for they will probably contain Imbolc related illustrations and symbols. In the same way, decks presenting mythical creatures such as dragons and phoenix (or any other creature associated with this sabbat) will be great tools too! For instance, I recommend the wonderful « Celtic Dragon Tarot » by Lisa Hunt and D.J. Conway, for it displays dragons in the Celtic world, which is perfect for Imbolc!
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For Samhain/Halloween, one of the traditions consists in making a lantern in a pumpkin – or any other cucurbit – in which a scary face and smile are carved. This tradition comes from the Irish legend of Stingy Jack, which tells how this character was denied the access to both Heaven and Hell after cheating the Devil several times. As a matter of fact, God did not want to welcome such a crook in Heaven while the Devil was still upset with Jack, who had been a better liar than him. The Devil thus condemned Jack to endlessly roam the Earth at night with a piece of burning charcoal as hi only guide. So he would not burn his hands, Jack placed the charcoal in a big turnip, which he had first hollowed out.
Since then, scary faces and grins are carved on hollowed out pumpkins or gourds at Samhain and a candle is placed within those to make lanterns in order to frighten away evil spirits like Stingy Jack and other in case one comes across them.
This spread was inspired by this tradition and presents the Querent with the "evil spirits" they might come across at this time of the year. They can be their own fears, but also painful memories and the "monsters", the "demons" that are buried deep inside of them. Just like in the legend, the lantern protects the Querent from all these. It then gives an overview of what awaits the Querent once the "monsters" are vanquished.
After shuffling and cutting the deck, draw six cards and lay them as follows:
Card 1 shows the Querent as they are when the spread is done, that is to say during the night of Samhain. It represents how they are dealing with this very special time of the year.
Card 2 is the lantern. This object stands between the Querent and the roaming around monsters who could assail them during this special night. Just like the carved pumpkin does, this lantern protects the Querent from what is in front on them, that is to say his fears, old demons and painful memories which could crawl back to the surface and everything else that could bother them.
Cards 3, 4 and 5 depict what the Querent is protected from by the lantern. They are the monsters lurking in the dark, the Querent's fears, and what could assail them out of the blue. These cards are to be read separately (one after the other) when they describe several kinds of events or together if they show the evolution of the same situation. This is, of course, to be determined by the reader according to the cards that appear in the spread.
Card 6 is a sort of conclusion, an opening. It gives an overview of which path the Querent can take to keep on walking within the protection of the lantern's glow.
I designed this spread for the "Salon Fantastique 2014" (the Fantastic Fair), where visitors could try it out and enjoy it for the first time.
This spread is highly recommended at Samhain, but it can also be very useful beyond this very special season. For example, it can be used in order to get an idea of one's own fears and of the way one can find a protection from them and even overcome them.
This spread can be done either with a tarot or an oracle deck. The season – and the main theme – obviously invites the reader to use decks related to the very special Samhain/Halloween atmosphere. The "Halloween Tarot" by Karin Lee and Kipling West will just be perfect, as well as the gorgeous decks by Jasmine Becket-Griffith and Lucy Cavendish, like "Oracle of Shadows & Light", "Oracle of the Shapeshifters" and "Les Vampires"! Monica Knighton's "Tarot of the Dead" will also be a perfect choice, just like Joseph Vargo's "Gothic Tarot" or the "Halloween Oracle" (Blue Angel, 2014).
Any other deck will also do fine, as long as one likes the artwork and the way it presents the World. Considering the period, focusing on decks with an imagery related to fairy worlds and mythologies, especially if they develop a Celtic approach, is also very interesting.
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It's only recently that the sabbat corresponding to the autumn equinox was given the name of Mabon, son of Modron, who is a god belonging to Welsh mythology. Presented as the oldest man in the world, he is among other things the god of eternal youth and is associated with the sun gods known in other Celtic traditions.
According to the legend told in the Mabinogion, he is kidnapped from his mother Modron (who is an incarnation of the Mother Goddess) when he is only three nights old. Taken to a place nobody knows about, no one knows anything about his abduction, not even whether he is dead or alive. In the tale telling the story of Culhwch's quest to win his beloved Olwen, Culhwch engages in a series of trials. Each one of them enables him to succeed in the next one. One of these trials consists in finding Mabon. Culhwch has to release him from his prison but before he can do that, he first has to find information that will reveal to him where Mabon is held captive. In this quest, King Arthur offers his help to Culhwch and takes his knights with him. Culhwch and his companions investigate by questioning several animals, but none of them knows where Mabon is nor whether he is dead or alive. Each creature directs them to an animal that is older than them and who might have heard something that could help them. As a matter of fact, Mabon is the oldest man on earth for he was there before anybody else. As the story goes on, the only animal who may know what happened to him is the Salmon of Llyn Llyw, who happens to be the oldest animal on earth. The companions find him and he leads them to the prison where Mabon is held, which is identified as Gloucester. At the foot of the prison, Culhwch and his fellows hear lamentations. When they ask who is crying so hard, Mabon names himself. The companions engage a fight and release him.
Symbolically, Mabon was born twice: the first time from his mother Modron, and the second time with his release by Culhwch. Though he is a god, he helps the humans with whom he has peaceful relationships. He thus belongs to both worlds (divine and human), which reflects what happens at the autumn equinox for which he recently became a symbol. Representing light, Mabon is indeed kidnapped and held captive in a prison underground, that is to say in the darkness. Here as well as at the equinox, darkness is victorious over light.
During his long detention, Mabon is held in a prison underground and thus in the dark, in which he is forced to live and which he has to accept. This introspective spread was designed especially for the autumn equinox and invites the Querent to explore his own part of darkness so as to release himself from the prison built by his fear of it.
After shuffling and cutting the deck, draw eleven cards and lay them out as follows:
Reading and interpretation
Card 1 represents the Querent in his prison and the way he deals with his own darkness. This card alludes to Mabon as he is imprisoned in Gloucester and to the obscurity that surrounds him during his long captivity.
Cards 2, 3 and 4 are the top of the tower that holds Mabon prisoner. They show what prevents the Querent from finding a balance between light and darkness and the reasons why he is afraid of his dark side.
Cards 5 and 6 are the first wall of the tower. They enlighten the difficulties that will be encountered by the Querent during his introspection.
Cards 7 and 8 build the second wall. They picture what will help the Querent in his introspection and the personal resources in which he will find what it takes to accept his dark side and be at peace with it.
Cards 9, 10 and 11 are the prison's floor. They show how the Querent can be at peace with his own darkness and balance shadow and light within himself. They describe what he will gain from his introspection. Card 9 gives some advice about how the Querent can achieve this. Card 10 is what grounds him in both his bright and dark sides. The card shows what he can hold on to in order to preserve this fragile balance. Card 11 takes card 10 further by picturing what he will gain in this and insists on the strengths which will develop inside of him as a consequence. It is a kind of opening and can be a synthesis.
This spread is shaped as a crenelated tower to refer to the prison in which Mabon is held in captivity. In terms of structure, it is important to note that the Querent has a central position, between the walls of the tower in order to show what makes him feel prisoner of his dark side, which he has not "tamed" yet. The roof is what prevents him from seeing the daylight, but also what triggers his introspection since being deprived of light, he has no other choice that to face it. The two walls are on the one hand what holds him back and on the other hand what releases him. The ground depicts quite logically what makes it possible for the Querent to find a balance by finding a sort of milestone that will help him grounding.
The main elements of the legend and the symbolism behind it are used in order to insist on the perfect balance between light and darkness which the Querent can achieve within himself in the same way as day and night are the same length at the autumn equinox. By searching for peace with his dark side at this time of the year, the Querent is reenacting a myth on a personal level, in accordance with the cycles of Nature.
Which decks for this spread?
This spread can be done with any tarot or oracle deck. However, considering the nature of the inspiration here, the most interesting decks to use are those with a Celtic orientation. Those who want to remain very close to Welsh mythology in general and to the Mabinogion in particular will be delighted with Anna-Marie Ferguson's, Llewellyn Tarot, for this gorgeous deck explores those legends in a very interesting way. The Arthurian legend, which includes the Mabinogion, is also remarkably illustrated in another amazing tarot deck by Anna-Marie Ferguson called Legend: the Arthurian Tarot.
Those recommendations are, of course, no barriers. They are here only to help you take all the benefits you can from this spread as well as of the sabbat by using Tools that fit the moment in a very accurate way. This spread can be done with any deck as long as the Querent likes it. However, try as much as possible to use decks which favor introspection and self-exploration.