The Question is Insight

NOTE: I mixed up the 7 and 8 of Cups in the Thoth tarot. That’s what I get for working with a trimmed deck!

I’m not sure that we give ourselves enough credit for asking the question.

What I mean by this is: in tarot, we generally see the question as a means to an end, and the question itself doesn’t matter so much as long as we get a good or meaningful answer. Of course good questions are important–I’m not saying that the tarot community doesn’t think that. Nowadays, any tarot reader worth their salt will have a whole page dedicated to guiding querents in phrasing the question. But.

We also allow other people to ask the question for us, or, more commonly, a series of questions. These are called spreads. I have several myself that I designed for personal use, and then made public for others to use. It’s deeply gratifying to find that some of them have been useful to others. But.

A few mornings ago I sat down with my notebook and cards and some questions came forth. The questions in themselves are nothing spectacular, but they are not the same questions that I would have asked even a month ago. I’ve done a lot of tarot-assisted hand-wringing about what I want to do with my life, what’s meaningful to me, and how I can get there. I have wanted the cards to give me answers about how I can change.

But the questions that came forward were actually the result of change that’s been happening subliminally, in my emotions and my body. The role of the cards wasn’t so much to point the way towards the future, but to show me what changes have taken place.

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Where should I be focusing if I want to get more done this year? Three of Stones
Where am I resistant to change? Seven of Branches
What do I need to add to my life? Three of Vessels
What do I need to drop? The Storm
What do I look like when I’m the Boss? The World
What do I look like when I let others be the Boss? Eight of Vessels

This term “the Boss” comes from a sudden insight that I had over the Christmas holiday, in which I really realized that I need to “Boss it up” this year. In 2016, I was very reluctant to apply for jobs that I didn’t think were exactly what I wanted. Actually, at the beginning of the year, I was reluctant to apply for jobs at all. I had this idea that I should take a break (very true!) which then transmuted into an idea that I was going through so much personal growth that if I got a job I would be hampered in the new understandings that were unfolding in me (sounds good, but a complete line of bullshit.)

By being the Boss, I don’t mean a stance toward the world in which I want to control or dominate other people. Rather, it’s about not allowing myself to be limited by stories and concepts, and about taking responsibility for my own life, even in–especially in–situations where the outcome is beyond my control. Being the Boss means the buck stops here.

It was only after having this insight that it became possible for me to ask these questions. And I have to say–as a tarot spread on its own, this set of questions looks pretty lackluster! But for me, asking these questions was my way of admitting to myself that yes, things do need to change in some pretty specific ways.

All of the cards held a significant message, but I want to focus on just one, the Eight of Vessels, which I think will illustrate what I said earlier about being limited by stories and concepts.

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Eight of Cups/Vessels in several different decks (clockwise from the left): The Wildwood Tarot, The Wild Unknown Tarot, the Smith-Waite Centennial Deck, the Slow Holler Tarot, and the Thoth Tarot.

The Eight of Cups/Vessels has long been one of my favorite cards. When I began reading tarot back in January of 2015, I was still in grad school and gearing up to finish and defend my dissertation, having already decided to leave academia for something more closely aligned with my strengths and values. When I first took a good look at the Waite-Smith card and saw the red-cloaked figure walking away under the silent moon, it touched something inside me. Seeking rocky, high ground, moving into the unknown, moving away from what was logical or easy–I found myself in this place. Just look at the header of this blog–it features the Eight of Cups alongside the High Priestess (my birth card) and a statue of my favorite bodhisattva, Ji-jang Posal. There was an ascetic streak in me at that time, for sure.

More recently, when I saw the Eight of Vessels in the Slow Holler Tarot, I also fell in love with it–dark, moody, laden with sorrow and strange symbols, sadness and potential for rebirth (and amazing use of perspective.) But when it came up in this position in this reading, I got a very different message: I have been holding on to the energy of this card for too long, and it is time to move on.

Two years ago, the energy of the Eight of Cups was fresh and piercing; the card was a descriptor of what I was trying to do at that moment in my life. But now it’s stale. I am still in the posture of walking away rather than walking toward. But what is there that I still need to walk away from? Leaving academia behind, actually, turned out to be as easy as dropping a stone in water. Yet I am still allowing ideas about my personal growth in this period of transition get in the way of the one thing that I actually need right now: getting out in the world and doing things, even if it’s not my dream job. I will discover my dream job, my strengths and potential, through trial and error, not through sitting around and doing nothing.

eight of cups.jpgAlthough I say I’ve always liked the Eight of Cups, it’s true that I’ve never liked the Thoth version–Debauch. Withered lilies dripping green slime, no thanks. But now I see that I’ve moved into that place, that what started out as the ascetic’s journey has ended with self-indulgence. [The Seven of Cups is actually pictured above, but here’s a picture of the actual Eight of Cups–Indolence, which, in retrospect, applies to what I’m saying even more.] But I never would have come upon this insight if I hadn’t first understood that I’m not being the boss of my life right now. That insight came first and pulling the Eight of Vessels refined and deepened it.

The Wooden Tarot: Suit of Blooms 6-10

This is part of an ongoing series in which I write about my interpretations of the cards in A.L. Swartz’s Wooden Tarot. You can find the other posts here.

Blooms 6-10

Well, this post clocks in at over 1,700 words!!! I didn’t mean to do so much writing, but these cards were more difficult to interpret than I thought they would be. I got them intuitively, but it was difficult to put it into words. Anyway, around the time I started this post, I saw that Marianne at Two Sides Tarot also published a post on these five cards. I waited until after I wrote mine to read hers, and I’m pleased to see that she could pull totally different things out of them!

Six of Blooms

A white lily-like flower on a stalk emerges from a seed. The flower has six stamens, on the end of each of which is an eyeball.

Here we have another botanical impossibility–although this might not be as impossible as two flowers blooming from each other or fruit and flowers on a branch at the same time. A flower emerges from a seed–showing its close connection with its origins. In the Thoth tarot, the Six of Cups is called “Pleasure,” and denotes general enjoyment of the pleasures in life. The Waite-Smith deck, though, has a bit more of a specific meaning. In it, we see a little boy handing a little girl a cup full of flowers, denoting innocent and nostalgic pleasures. This card holds both of those meanings, I think.

For the first time, we encounter eyeballs, which we’ll see in the next three cards. The eyeball is also featured prominently on the backs of the cards as well (which makes doing a “messy pile” shuffle a lot of fun) and on each of the Gods, so now it might be time to reflect on what the eyeball might mean in the context of this deck.

When I do a spread, I draw all the cards from a fan and keep them face down until all and drawn. This means that if I am doing a Celtic cross, for instance, I will have 10 eyeballs staring at me before I turn the cards over. (This is far less unsettling than I thought it would be before I got the deck.) The eye on the back of the card promises insight: your question has a 10 part answer, and each of these cards is an eye, a different perspective on the issue. As for the Gods, with their floating eyeballs, they seem to me to signify not simply beginnings, as aces do, but also the purest manifestations of the suits. The God of each suit is pure insight removed from the body of particulars. Interestingly, it should be noted that disembodied eyeballs do not appear anywhere in the major arcana.

The eyeballs that appear in the Suit of Blooms, then, have to do with insight into emotions and relationships–that is, emotional intelligence. The six eyeballs on the flower in the Six go beyond pleasure or nostalgia, but have to do with understanding of the roots of pleasure and nostalgia. The six eyes can show us different perspectives on issues surrounding our relationships, not only remembering the good times, but keeping our perspective during challenging times.

Keys: sharing pleasures with friends and family; acting skillfully in maintaining relationships; being generous and patient with loved ones when they are challenging; getting perspective on what is truly important when it comes to relationships

Reversed: emotional conflict or discord; forgetting why you love someone in the first place; refusing to see eye to eye on issues; keeping the blinders on

Seven of Blooms

A yellow flower with an eyeball at it center. Nestled in the petals are fourteen shiny white spheres.

Despite the Wooden Tarot’s reputation for creepy/unsettling art, this is the only card in the deck that gives me the Jibblies. It’s not the eyeball itself–it’s the little white things, which I imagine have the texture of fish eggs and jiggle a little bit when you touch them. Ewwwww.

OK!! Moving on. It’s worth noting that the Seven of Blooms in this deck corresponds to what is also the grossest card in the Thoth deck–the Seven of Cups, “Debauch.” I don’t know if Swartz actually meant for this to be the case, but I think the gross factor can help us relate the card to both the Waite-Smith and Thoth meanings.

In the Smith-Waite deck, the card is about fantasies and false choices. A person stands in front of 7 cups filled with the stuff of daydreams–good and bad–which themselves float on a cloud. All of the options seem both illusory and bewitching, but not worth putting your trust in. For the Seven of Blooms, I think of the eye in the flower as being the only true choice out of 15 possible choices.

In Tarot Wisdom, Rachel Pollack notes now drastically the Waite-Smith Seven of Cups departs from what seven means on the Kabbalist tree of life. Going by the Kabbalist attribution, the card would mean “great emotion, someone who loves powerfully.” In any case, “This is a card that might need balancing with other elemental energy.” (p. 325) That’s why I think the Thoth card means debauch, and we can get from the Seven of Blooms, too. There’s something not right about this flower–it’s literally overblown, and the color is sickly. Are those pearls nestled in the petals, or are we going to reach out to find gross jiggly things instead? This card suggests too much. Whether that too much has come to pass, or is only fantasized about, it reminds us that “decadence” and “decay” are rooted in the same word.

Keys: overblown feelings; fixated on ideals of love and relationship, rather than reality; getting yourself stirred up emotionally over something that won’t happen–like getting a crush on a celebrity; investing emotions where they are not wanted or will not be reciprocated

Reversed: disillusionment; choosing to withdraw emotional energy from somewhere and invest it in something healthier; realizing when enough is enough; getting out of a bad relationship

 Eight of Blooms

A waning moon/eyeball is surrounded by eight pinkish-white flower petals.

The eyeball in this card is only suggested–it is frosted over, or perhaps it has a cataract. The waning crescent moon suggests a cycle, as if the intelligence that animates the card is going through a pattern of waxing and waning over and over again. The circular arrangement of the petals suggests this as well.

The detached petals remind me of the “He loves me, he loves me not” game of pulling petals from flowers as a means of divination. All it comes down to is whether or not there is an even or odd number of petals on the flower. If they are odd, “He loves me.” If they are even, like they are in this card, “he loves me not.” After the debauch of the Seven of Blooms, we have sobered up here, and are able to see things in perspective. Feelings come and go; relationships come and go. They follow cycles, like the tide follows the moon. This card is about seeing the larger perspective, understanding how the cycle works, and realizing that when the moon is waning, or when “he loves me not,” there may be grace in walking away.

Keys: seeing things in perspective; diminishment of something that once nourished or excited you; walking away from people, habits, jobs, hobbies, or anything else that no longer support your emotionally

Reversed: clinging to a relationship or emotion that feels stale; seeing, but not following, signs that it’s time to move on; staying in a bad or stifling situation for a reason that makes sense: financial stability, keeping the family together, being a caregiver

Nine of Blooms

Eight small pink blossoms emerge from a branch bent to make a circle, and within the circle is a ninth, larger bloom.

After the weirdo eyeball flowers, this card may seem merely decorative–and yet it’s next on our list of botanical impossibilities. Notice that the branch in this card looks as if it were attached to the tree at both ends. How could such a branch grow? Would it connect two trees together, or would it connect to the same tree in two places, making a closed loop?

The Nine of Cups in the Waite-Smith deck features a guy sitting in front of his impressive cup collection, looking supremely self-satisfied. In the Thoth tarot, this beautiful card is simply called “Happiness.” The closed loop of the branch suggests as much–completion, security, fulfillment. Nothing needs to be added. But like the Waite-Smith card, it also suggests isolation and perhaps a certain smugness–particularly if paired with another card suggesting stagnation, like the Four of Blooms. The question is: are you happy because you know how to balance the good and the bad and grow emotionally, or because you are shutting out the suffering of yourself and others?

Key: happiness; a wish fulfilled; emotional contentment; having a strong circle of friends and family; may mean smugness or ignoring the suffering of others, depending on context

Reversed: getting what you want, but it turns out to be disappointing or destructive; dreams deferred; realizing that something you wished for is no longer worth it; setbacks in the pursuit of a goal

Ten of Blooms

A pink lotus flower with dew dripping from the leaves. In the center is nestled a crystal ball, slightly reminiscent of an eyeball. Behind the flower are rays of rainbow light.

Ah! And here we are–the rainbow colors of the Ten. If the Nine of Blooms is about insulated and perhaps isolated happiness and pleasure, then this card radiates outward. It’s a card about broadcasting love into the universe, which makes for a strong center. This may be the last appearance of an eyeball in the suit–the sphere in the center is somewhere between a very blurry eye and a clairvoyant’s crystal ball. This card connects happiness and love with intuition and insight–perhaps the person who can see unhappiness in other and knows how to respond in a positive way, or someone who just radiates good feelings to all around them.

I know this card is traditionally associated with family/domestic life, although I would expand it generally and say: this is a card about having a stable home base, whether that be your family, your circle of friends, but most importantly: yourself. With a solid foundation, radiance is possible.

Keys: self-esteem; healthy, loving relationships; being emotionally generous; putting emotional intelligence to good use; emotional stability and fulfillment

Reversed: emotional disconnection with others; relationship difficulties on a small or large scale; lack of self-esteem; longing for loving relationships, but not wanting to work for them