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The Dollhouse Oracle

This article was written by Janina Renée
posted under Tarot

dollhouse

Miniature objects play a role in the material culture of magic and divination, because they can signify material goods as well as other things—including intangible qualities—that we’d like to manifest in our lives.  Perhaps the best known miniature is the dollhouse, which intrigues both children and adults.  A dollhouse can also be used in magic and divination, because not only does it convey the charm of the miniature, it also shares the symbolism of the house, and the house and its chambers provide metaphors for different states of being.  As such a symbolic structure, a dollhouse can serve as the basis of a tarot layout, in which the cards are inserted into its miniature rooms, and then interpreted in the context of the rooms’ different metaphorical associations.  Likewise, tarot cards selected to convey special images can be placed in different rooms as a form of tarot magic.

For my own experiments in dollhouse divination, I acquired some dollhouses that are actually pop-out books: when you open them up, they become three-dimensional, two-story, cardboard dollhouses with eight rooms, richly decorated in different period styles.  While any dollhouse can be used for the “Dollhouse Oracle,” the portability of these fold-outs makes it easy for me to take them to entertain friends, and the cardboard tarot cards make themselves right at home in the cardboard rooms.  For these purposes, I like decks in which the human figures are emphasized in the illustrations, because then they’re suggestive of the paper dolls that go with the dollhouses.  In fact, cards can be propped up on the pop-out sofas, dining room chairs, beds, etc., in keeping with the 3D effects.  It’s also a nice touch when you can use tarot cards whose illustrations are in the same (usually 19th century) period styles as the dollhouses, though you can get very good results with other decks, too.

To do a dollhouse reading, shuffle and cut your cards in your preferred manner while posing a request like, “Please show me what is going on in ‘the House of my Life.’”  Then, place the first card in the first room of the dollhouse, the second card in the second room, etc., either following a natural path through the house or moving clockwise, until there is a card in each room.  For the sake of example, the following illustrates the sequence for two of my pop-out dollhouses, (a Victorian and Edwardian, which have the same floor plan):

Start with the front entry.  This tells you something about your linking to the outside world, and how you invite new energies into your life, so consider whether the imagery in the tarot card you placed here is open and welcoming or closed off and fearful.  A reversed card could indicate an energy blockage, or your being uncomfortable with opening yourself to the outside world.  A court card or other personality card in this position can provide insight into your self presentation, the face you show to the world.

The entry hall leads into the parlor (living room), an area of main activity, and the room where we socialize with guests, so it denotes major themes being played out in our lives, and that are visible to our friends.  If a court card or other personality card lands here, it can denote a major life-role that you are taking on.  A card depicting a group of persons may show more activities, or more facets of your personality, or the possibility that you are a more “connected” sort of person.


From the parlor we move into the dining room.  In a formal dining room, we carry on celebrational traditions and show off status, so this says something about our linking to social conventions, (whereas a dinette would be more casual, for socializing with family and taking in nutrition).  Here—as with all of the rooms and cards—it is interesting to note whether objects or activities portrayed in the card are congruous with the sort of objects and activities that would go with the room.  So, Cups cards and other cards with scenes of eating and drinking, falling in the kitchen or dining room may indicate that you’re doing a good job of taking in physical and emotional nutrition, while hardship cards could warn of feeling starved.

Next comes the Kitchen, a place of transformation, where raw materials are converted into appealing dishes for consumption.  What’s cooking in your life?  Can the card you picked tell you something about what sort of “kitchen work” you’re doing?

Having made the full circle downstairs, we go up the front entry staircase to the upper hallway. The nature of the card drawn may say something about how well you are able to move through the house of your life.  Do you move easily from one room to the next?

The hall opens into the master bedroom, a place of rest and refuge—and for couples, a place where the relationship is renewed.  How are you able to restore yourself?  If partnered, how are you able to refresh your intimate relationship?

Next is the bathroom.  What, in your life, is undergoing a process of elimination and purification?

We conclude with the nursery.  How are you expressing your Inner Child?  What sort of new life are you nurturing?  What are your dreams for the future?  

Another popular fold-out dollhouse has an outdoor patio.  If you use a dollhouse like this, think about your linking to Nature and the world of the outdoors.  If you have a dollhouse with an attic, the card you place here may indicate goals that are uppermost in your consciouness, (similar to the “crowns you” position in the Celtic Cross).  Other doll houses may have different rooms or other features, so consider how different symbolism applies.

Here are some other things to consider:

  • A Major Arcana card in a given room indicates that things going on in that area of life currently have more bearing on your larger destiny.
  • A reversed card may indicate you’re uncomfortable dealing with the functions of the room in question.
  • Take note of any interesting graphic relationships between the imagery in the cards and the furnishings and decorations of the rooms in which they have been placed, and consider how these may apply to your personal issues.
  • As a narrower, alternative approach, you can just focus on the house as metaphor of the personality.  After shuffling and cutting, go through your deck, but instead of placing the first card in the first room, the second card in the second room, and so on, put the first court card or other “people” or personality card (such as the Fool, the Emperor, etc.) in the first room, the second personality card in the second room, etc., ignoring the cards that don’t apply to personality types or personas.
  • When unfavorable cards fall in different rooms, acknowledge whatever changes you need to make, then alter your reality by replacing them with cards of fulfillment, (especially if you can pick cards which are symbolically appropriate for the rooms), while visualizing yourself taking the actions needed to achieve happiness.


Much more information can be gained by exploring our philosophical and psychological associations with rooms and houses, but these guidelines provide a starting point.  Furthermore, this technique suggests ideas as to how tarot cards or other types of oracle cards could be used in combination with other types of play-sets, including models and miniatures, pop-out books, board games, etc., that present us with symbolic little worlds.   As there are medieval castle sets, princess castles, miniature villages, miniature railroads, pirates’ treasure islands, fairy lands, and so on, that are commercially available, these would work especially nicely with theme decks.  (For example, try one of the “King Arthur” themed decks in a medieval castle.)   If you are an arts-and-crafts aficionado, you might want to design some miniature settings of your own, to use in combination with your favorite cards.

Naturally, the different play-sets will suggest what sort of questions to ask and what sort of interpretations to apply.  To give an idea how one could use the medieval castle, you could pose the request, “Please show me what is going on in the castle of my life.”  For a castle like the cardboard pop-up in my possession, (made by the same company as two of the dollhouses, but with a different structure), the first card could be placed behind the portcullis to represent what is going on outside the gates (i.e. energies that are seeking entry into your life), while the second card could be propped in the courtyard to represent your public life.  The card that lands in the throne room (propped on the thrones) can denote how you take charge of your life, while a card standing in a passage behind the thrones could denote “the power behind the throne,” (i.e. other factors or persons exerting some influence over you).  Next to the throne room is the banquet hall, which can pertain to the quality of your social life and how that ties in with your place in society and social traditions.  Then comes the armory, which may also be the men’s quarters, so that could relate to a man’s sense of maleness and a woman’s inner male (the animus); above it is what appears to be the women’s quarters (as these were often separate areas in the old castles), so that could say something about a woman’s sense of femininity and a man’s anima (inner female).  A card placed on the balcony above the courtyard could denote your ability to objectively gaze down on your doings, while the passage above the throne room could denote your ability to move through the compartments of your life.  Finally is a bedroom which appears to be the “solar,” (the bedroom belonging to the master and mistress of the castle), so that could denote your ability to restore yourself and your relationship, and your ability to achieve wholeness.

If you don’t want to bother with a dollhouse or other play-set, you can still work with the metaphor of the house, (or castle, or whatever), by applying the same principles to a simple Tarot spread.  Following is a spread that I call “The House of Life.”  It takes the form of a nine-square-plus-one card layout.  Again, you can pose a question like “What is going on in the house of my life,” shuffling, etc. as described previously.  Some of the positions are similar to the Dollhouse Oracle, but the layout differs in including a row of cards for the basement, to represent the Unconscious and other below-the-surface factors.

“House of Life” Tarot Spread


First, lay out a row of three cards (from left to right) to signify your cellar foundations.  The first card is for your furnace and utility area, denoting your ability to draw energy from deep sources to recharge yourself and get things done.  The second is your basement storage area, representing your storehouse of memory, including emotions and experiences that serve as motivating factors.  The third is your root cellar, denoting something you have put aside to help preserve your through the winter, (i.e. a resource to fall back upon.)

Next, lay out another row of three cards above the first.  These signify 1) your kitchen, 2) your entry hall, and 3) your living room.  Next, lay out a third row above these to signify 1) your bathroom, 2) your master bedroom, and 3) your nursery.  Finally, add one more card to the spread, above the master bedroom position (making a fourth row), to represent the attic.  Refer to the previous paragraphs on the Dollhouse Oracle for interpretation.

One could likewise create Tarot spreads to suggest the layouts of a castle, a fairy forest, an old-fashioned village, a country fair, or what have you.  There are no limits, as long as you have the imagination to assign thematic meanings to the different card positions.  Of course, some scenarios have the potential to cover broader areas of life than others, which you have to bear in mind if you choose a highly specialized setting.
    
Whether using a play-set or a simple card spread to represent your fantasy structure, it’s good to leave it out where you can continue to contemplate it, because once you get inside the metaphor, you’ll experience a continuous sequence of insights into the layout of your life.

Janina Renée
Janina Renée is a scholar of folklore, psychology, medical anthropology, the material culture of magic, ritual studies, history, and literature. Her books include Tarot Spells, Tarot Your Everyday Guide (winner of 2001 Coalition of Visionary...  Read more

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