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Do You Know How to Read a Zeitgeist Tarot Card?

Author: Sarah Elizabeth Schantz

A “Zeitgeist Card” is my own term for a Tarot card that captures the spirit of a particular time period. It’s a specific card that keeps surfacing to send a message to the querent and/or card reader about the present moment.

Zeitgeist is “the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time.” If you break down the etymology of the German term, you get “time” (“zeit”) and “spirit” (“geist”). Zeitgeist literally translates to the “spirit of the time.”

One common example of a well-known zeitgeist is the practice of free love during the 1960s, as protest to the Vietnam War. A Zeitgeist Card nearly always points to whatever wisdom it carries as being essential to the current right now.

My Introduction to Zeitgeist Cards

I heard local writer and diviner Kristen E. Nelson talk about what I’ve come to call a Zeitgeist Card while in conversation with local writer and teacher Selah Saterstrom on the divinatory platform Four Queens, which they both run (and which I highly recommend). Like me, they are both writers and card readers who marry the two disciplines.

Nelson spoke to how she and other card readers who she knew had repeatedly drawn The Tower card right before 9/11. Then afterward, The Tower didn’t just manifest in spreads they’d drawn for themselves, but for their clients as well (which still gives me chills just to think about).

On the top is my collage of The Tower from the Tarot (you can see the lack of sophistication I had as the novice collage artist I was at the time, especially when compared to the other collaged Tarot cards shared in this blog). On the bottom is the traditional Rider-Waite depiction of the Tower card.

If you don’t count the Tarot deck I bought from a metaphysical bookstore when I was 9 years old, and the candlelit readings I started conducting in the bathroom (it was the only room with a door that locked, and I wasn’t allowed to use matches yet), my first real gateway into the study of the Tarot was in 2005.

I began teaching myself the wisdom of the arcana by collaging all 78 cards to make my own deck. The very first card I collaged was The Tower. I was as new to Tarot as I was to working in the medium of collage, so it’s far from one of my favorites (and one I plan on redoing).

I’ve always been interested in Carl Jung, and have been seeing a Jungian therapist now for next-to-forever. I liken the process of creating Tarot collages to working with a sand tray — a classic therapeutic technique that entails arranging miniature figurines and other objects in trays of sand to express and process your experiences in a way that bypasses the analytical brain, and brings to light what is not otherwise visible.

Example of a therapeutic sand tray

Collage can take me anywhere from hours to years to finish because of the way I search for and/or wait for the right image to come. I can continue or complete a particular Tarot card (or vice versa, when certain images present themselves wanting to be certain Tarot cards).

When this happens, I feel it’s the Invisible telling me I need to learn this card and draw from its well of knowledge to be prepared or what may be unfolding in my life at the time.

I wanted to use the image of the Twin Towers to make my Tower card collage because I knew the image of the Word Trade Center was enough of a zeitgeist for anyone in the 20th or 21st centuries to understand the role it plays.

I used the more traditional lightning bolt to strike down the structure. This helped me comprehend the significance of this mighty symbol: While the lightning strike can pertain to a natural catastrophe, it can also represent the nature of life, and the common belief that shit happens (or as my midwife’s bumper sticker read: Meconium Happens). It can also refer to an act of God, making this simple jagged spark of electricity becoming all-encompassing, and allowing itself to be read in a multitude of ways.

I struggled with how to depict the people falling from The Tower (and who should be the ones to fall). My art teacher suggested I look for pictures of people dancing, “And just glue them to the canvas upside-down.” This is precisely what I did — plus, I happened upon the perfect picture of a crucified Christ, which is also what I used.

I compare the collage process with the Tarot cards to the Jungian sand tray because it was via the discovery of these dancers falling (and Jesus) that I first fully recognized how The Fool is manifest in The Tower. Just as he teeters on the edge of the cliff — a dance that is as blissful as it is ignorant — the figures flailing through the void within my montage represent the figure of The Fool finally falling.

But like how Christ is resurrected, The Tower is all about “destroy to create” or the myth of the phoenix who rises from the ashes.

The Sun Tarot Card as the Zeitgeist Card

My collaged version of The Sun card

The Zeitgeist Card that has most firmly positioned itself (and persisted) during my time as a card reader is The Sun. This card first manifested when I was doing readings at the onset of the pandemic, in March 2020. It still hasn’t set for me as a Tarot reader.

I’ve never resonated with The Sun the way I resonate with other cards, like The Star or Two of Swords. Maybe it’s because I’m super pale — someone who gets sunburnt in 5 minutes. Plus, I’ve always been a witch who draws power from The Moon, whose body and spirit echoes the waxing and waning of darkness and light. I understand what it means to glow and to be swallowed by the shadows once more.

While both of my daughters worship at the altar of sunflowers, I far prefer the blood red of a rose whose beauty bears the thorn as its price tag, or the night-blooming datura whose white petals spiral outward once the world draws its curtain on the day.

Learn how to make your own Tarot Altar >

Yet The Sun card started to pop up in every reading I did, and I was doing a lot of readings at the time — often performing divination for clients via Zoom as we remained socially-distanced during the pandemic, trying to make sense of the lack of clarity and sheer confusion of such globally difficult times.

The Sun was positioning itself as the focal card, quite often rising forth from the Invisible to occupy the card I’d draw for Present in the ever-popular Past-Present-Future spreads. But it also showed up when the querent articulated questions regarding how to survive the pandemic world.

The Sun rose on the past spreads, too. When it did, it spoke about how we had all arrived in the states of despair we found ourselves to be in because we had abandoned or neglected our inner child, and the light that archetypal self carries.

The child on the horse in The Sun is naked, as exposed as exposed can be, arms and legs splayed. They share their joy with whomever is watching — there is nothing to hide, everything is illuminated brilliantly.

The Sun from the Rider-Waite deck

While there is a wall behind the child, it represents the past we should leave behind to be fully liberated.

The Tarot is all about the illusion of bondage: Both the major and minor arcana are constantly working to remind us that all we have to do is slip out of the shackles we think imprison us, which are actually too loose to do so. 

The Sun Tarot card tells us to embrace our inner child, and begs us to be radiant in order to brighten any hardship and grow the garden of tomorrow — even in the midst of crisis.

The Sun illuminates all the ways we alienated ourselves from each other, our communities, and ourselves (especially our inner children) before the world shut down during the pandemic. Because we abandoned or neglected our individual inner children, we found ourselves in a mess where a frightening virus spread and politics raged. We were already desolate and destitute long before COVID-19, but the pandemic brought this fact to light.

The Sun appeared again and again in my readings to tell us to shine from within to overcome adversity. If we could do this, we could transform this divisive landscape into the Eden we also carry within, nestled in the radiant heart of each inner child. It is a basic human right to play and daydream.

“The Child” from my collaged version of The Sun Tarot card

But we can’t do that work if all we do is work — as in, toil. This includes those who work to gain more material and net worth than they need, and those of us who work tirelessly to barely get by.

The Sun nears the end of the major arcana, with only 2 more cards to travel through before the child depicted grows up to become The Fool — the end and the beginning.

I’m hoping the Wheel of Fortune will keep turning so more Zeitgeist Cards begin to surface as proof that we have all freed our inner children to help us plant, grow, and harvest a more sustainable inner garden that will be evident in the concrete ones that will nurture and nourish us all.

Keep an eye out for the Zeitgeist Cards that surface from your Tarot to tell your/our story as a whole.

Pictured here is a wall in my house with some Tarot card collages. At the top is my version of The Moon (note how the classic element of water is represented in the actual moon which is a circular cut out of rippling water from a lake). On the bottom right, most of The King of Cups is visible. To the left, about half of The Knight of Cups can be seen. These hang on a western wall to pay homage to the element of water because I feel my home should be a temple.

Deepen Your Tarot Practice With a Creative Writing Exercise

Now that you understand how to identify Zeitgeist Cards, you may be interested in more ways to deepen your Tarot practice. Why not do so while also reconnecting with your creativity?

Try out this Tarot-based creative writing exercise to reignite your creativity — perfect for writers and Tarot users of any level.

Tarot-based writing exercises to reignite your creativity >

 About the Author:

Sarah Elizabeth Schantz

Sarah Elizabeth Schantz (she/her/hers) grew up in a bookstore and discovered the Occult when she was 9-years-old. She’s been a practicing witch ever since. Her novel Fig was selected as A Best Read of the Year by NPR and won a Colorado Book Award in 2016. Her next novel, Roadside Altars, has chapters based on the major arcana. Schantz employs the Tarot and other divinatory techniques to inform her writing process, and has been collaging her own Tarot deck since 2006. She is faculty at Lighthouse Writers Workshop and teaches her own writing series, (W)rites of Passage, and Tarot Tuesdays, a generative writing series that uses the Tarot. Her apothecary, The Witch Next Door, offers Tarot readings, customized rituals, and handcrafted spells.


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