Gathering In 2017

As we move into 2017, I think the most thoughtful and pithy thing I’ve read about it is this XKCD comic. I hope you had as good a 2016 as possible, and that 2017 brings everything you need and desire in spite of the confusion and challenges that the world is moving into politically and environmentally.

Last year, I got really, really in to this whole New Year thing. I worked through Susannah Conway’s Unravelling the Year Ahead workbook (which I am now doing again for the 3rd year in a row), did a giant 36-card year-ahead reading, and invented a New Year spread. My word for the year was UNKNOWN, and my overall year theme cards were the Emperor and Failure. Yup. All told, the giant year-ahead spread didn’t amount to much, so I skipped this this year. But I did choose a new word for the year, AWAKENING (or rather, the Slow Holler Tarot chose this word for me) and drew the Traveler of Stones (Knight of Pentacles) and Illuminate for my year themes. I want to talk a little bit about how this year theme thing has worked out so far, and then jump into this year’s Gathering In spread.

themes.jpgIn some ways, I’m glad that I had Failure on the table right from the very beginning, because that’s what this year felt like in a lot of ways. My failure to get a job in particular was something that I really wasn’t prepared for. I apparently wasn’t really prepared to search for a job, either, and I find myself at the end of this year reevaluating my strategies and priorities.

Looking back on my posts about themes for 2016, I’m struck about how I interpreted the Emperor, though. I located the Emperor outside of myself, seeing them as representing institutions and authority figures that I would be up against. Now that I look back on it, it was a strange way to approach the year, to assume that this year would be focused on petitioning large, authoritarian institutions. (Although the Emperor turned out to be a very fitting card for 2016 as an election year.) It wasn’t until a few days before Christmas that I remembered the Emperor card again and wondered–“What if I was supposed to be the Emperor?”

Given the theme of the Traveler of Stones and Illuminate for this year, it seems correct that I missed out on my chance to be the Emperor in 2016 and I’m now being sent back to the drawing board. I look at the equivalent of the Emperor in the Slow Holler Tarot–the Navigator–and wonder if I would have approached the year a bit differently if I had pulled that card instead. (Probably not–I think I needed the experience of this year to learn the lesson.) The Traveler of Stones tells me that I’m going to have to go back to basics, put my nose to the grindstone, and be prepared to sacrifice and let go of some things that I was clinging to in 2016. There are no guarantees of success, but Illuminate echoes the theme of awakening and suggests that this process will awaken me to new possibilities that I hadn’t considered before.

As for the Gathering In spread, last year’s was quite warm and fuzzy, but this year’s is more elusive and abrasive. And I think that’s a good thing.

gathering in 2017.jpg

1 Fire of this year: 2 of Knives. What is it that motivates me? What is it that I actually want to do with my life? The answer isn’t so clear. I want to work on tenderly exploring this impasse, rather than remaining defensive and stagnant. I have a lot of very specific ideas about what I want to do and the context in which I want to do it. I’ve got a long list of stuff that I don’t want to compromise, and I may just have to make some compromises.

2 Air of this year: Traveler of Vessels. Let’s let the intellect roam–a year of being a dilettante, not an expert. The question is: how do I bring this out as a strength? Because my lack of discipline means that I got almost nothing written in 2016, and therefore not even close to getting something published. I have so many ideas, but shoot them down before I get too far. The phrase in my head popped up this morning: “Write first, ask questions later.” Did I make that up?

3 Earth of this Year: Ace of Branches. HERE is my fire and inspiration! I may be more motivated this year by finances and the prospect of stability, rather than my ideals. This has been a source of tension for me lately–I could get a job doing something that I don’t want to do, but I’m having a hard time finding jobs for what I actually want to do. Do I change my ideals? Do I just take a “job job” and try to squeeze in other stuff around the edges?

4 Water of this Year: Four of Stones. Notice any tendencies to close off or isolate myself from others, or, conversely, to rely too much on others. How do I preserve emotional boundaries without making them into a prison?

5 Spirit of this Year: Six of Stones. Operating from a place of scarcity isn’t going to cut it. I really need to open my spiritual practice up. This year began to shift my understanding that my spiritual practice isn’t about me, but it’s about all beings, myself included. My head is beginning to make that shift, but my practice is not there yet. I need to come out of that defended, self-centered place and be more generous and giving (which translates to: practice more and take it more seriously.)

6 My Guiding Light: The Devil. Well, this is one to think about! It’s probably prodding me toward a more, well, devil-may-care attitude toward things, being less cautious and less picky. This Devil card is so abrasive and unsettling, but for that reason I kind of love it. (Also: body hair and uneven boobs: yes!)

7 My Personal Power: Student of Branches. Remembering that I’ve got a lot to learn and a lot to build. I’ve been getting a lot of the Student and Traveler cards lately, a reminder that I’m not in a place of mastery. I’m entering a new discipline via work and I am also entering a new world with a radically altered political landscape. Learning and hard work are the main modes that I need to move into. I’m not going to beat myself up about slacking this year, since I did just finish a DOCTORATE, you know. But time to get back to work.

8 How to respond to what I can’t control: Architect of Vessels. And yet the one thing that I can achieve a sort of mastery over is my relationship to my emotions and how I respond to other people. When shit happens, taking care of my emotions, watching my emotions, and watching how I relate to other people’s emotions, will be key.

9 How to take care of myself: 10 of Vessels. I got the 3 of Cups (Vessels) last year, so this is a progression in a theme. Do not isolate! Seek friends and lovers for comfort. Cultivate gratitude and awareness of others’ gifts.

10 What is AWAKENING? 5 of Knives. I really love this card–which is strange, since 5 of Swords isn’t a card that has ever really attracted me. When I saw 5 of Knives come up here, I went “ouch,” but in a good way. Awakening is about understanding hurt: the ways I hurt myself and others, and the ways that I am hurt by things outside my control. It’s time to take a good, long look at this stuff, whether it be understanding my privilege or exploring how I’m carrying old wounds into the present and doing little things that hurt others. I love this interpretation of the card because it’s about the skeletons in the closet–time to get them out, to take out those old knives and put them to work in the kitchen.

Rather than looking at this spread as being predictive, I’m looking at where I am now and what it illuminates as I move forward. This spread isn’t what the year will be, it’s what I need to do.

I hope you move into the New Year with grace and power. Please let me know if you use the Gathering In spread, if you’ve got a word for this year, or if the cards have given you some good insights about the year ahead!

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The Wooden Tarot: Court of Blooms

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.

I have some general notes on the court cards of the Wooden Tarot in general at the top of my entry for the Court of Bones. I will add a general note because we’re seeing the third eye on the animals in these cards, which was absent on the skulls in the Suit of Bones. The truth is this: I don’t know much about third eyes, other than the association with insight and inner awakening. As I said in the introduction to the Suit of Bones, well…it’s a bare bones suit! It doesn’t seem to have much to do with spiritual endeavor or intuition. Not surprising that the Courts wouldn’t have a third eye.

In the Suit of Blooms, we’re seeing most of the figures from a more 3/4 view, meaning that we can see their third eye quite clearly. In the Suit of Plumes (Swords), the courts all have an extra eye, but since they are all shown in profile, the implication is that they actually have four eyes. Perhaps this has to do with the suit’s association with intelligence. Rather than the mystical third eye, the courts in the Suit of Plumes have four eyes so they can see the facts more clearly.

Interestingly enough, however, the court cards for the Suit of Stones (Wands) have no third eye (although, to be fair, they have crystals growing directly from their bodies, and why would you need a third eye when you have that?) This is a bit surprising to me, given the suit’s association with spirit and creativity. Mostly, it emphasizes to me that Blooms are THE suit of intuition and insight in this deck. We’re not just talking about cards that deal with emotion and relationships, but with the magical things that hold those relationships together–deep insight into ourselves and others.

Bloom Courts

Page of Blooms

A Blue Angel Nudibranch with an eye in the middle of its head swims inside a crystal ball or a large, round drop of water. The ball sits at the center of a white lily-like flower; water splashes from behind the flower and drips off the petals.

I really have to thank the members of the Wooden Tarot Study Group on Facebook for figuring out what on earth this animal is: Glaucus atlanticus. I figured it was some sort of nudibranch but didn’t have a clue as to the species.

This little guy is TINY–only about an inch long. And yet, they are terrifying because they float on the surface of water and sting to death much larger prey than themselves, including Portuguese Man o’ War. That’s right. This little one inch long creature kills and eats Portuguese Man o’ War. And aside from its small size and terrifying eating habits, this little critter also belongs to one of the most beautiful types of animals in the world: nudibranchs. Don’t believe me? Just look at these pictures.

Despite its power, the Page of Blooms (Cups) upholds the tradition of being the most feminine and delicate Page of the deck (although the Dik Dik, which is the Page of Stones in the Wooden Tarot, will certainly give it a run for its money.) The white lily on this card symbolizes purity and innocence. Eating of venemous jellyfish aside, we might think of this Page as being very passive (as befits Earth of Water), waiting to be discovered by friends and romantic interests and needing to be drawn out of their shell. Once they are drawn out, however, they are potent and passionate–a force to be reckoned with.

Keys: quietly carrying a great amount of sensitivity and passion; shyness in meeting new friends or lovers; an inexperienced lover; quiet, delicate beauty

Reversed: being unsure of how to handle strong emotions; emotional immaturity; sensitivity causing one to fixate in unhealthy ways–such as in self-hatred or by seeking revenge; emotional dependence rather than interdependence

Knight of Blooms

A three-eyed swordfish bursts from the center of a rose. Water splashes all around.

Woah! Here comes the Knight of Blooms, and they aren’t messing around. The swordfish is the perfect fish for this card–it’s a literal jouster! (I guess a narwhal would have been a good choice, too, but I like the non-mammal theme of this suit.) These are beautiful, aggressive fish who have a habit of showing themselves off by breaching (jumping out of the water) and using their bills to slash prey.

The rose on this card continues the Knight of Cups’s long association with romance and idealism. The Knight of Blooms makes decisions based on their gut and is quick in carrying things out. They feel strongly and will do whatever it takes to protect those they love. They can also be quick to take offense and long to hold a grudge. As a lover, the Knight is not a slow burn type of person. They will tell you how they feel up front and take the lead in moving through stages of intimacy.

Keys: passion; emotional loyalty; being honest about your feelings; acting on your gut, rather than waiting to figure out things with logic; being up front with how you feel

Reversed: overly-sensitive; wearing your heart on your sleeve and reacting sulkily or defensively when you get rejected; reacting with anger to feelings of vulnerability; holding grudges against other people and/or shutting them out because they–intentionally or not–hurt your feelings

Queen of Blooms

A three-eyed octopus emerges from a large, pink lotus blossom. Splashes of water surround them, while the moon rises from behind.

What an amazing choice for the Queen of Blooms! Octopus are among the most intelligent of invertebrates. They are strong, they are wily, they are masters of disguise. I dare you to watch this video without dropping your jaw. The octopus can disguise itself so well because it can tell in a split second what color and texture it needs to make its skin in order to blend in with its surroundings. When their amazing techniques of self-disguise don’t work, the pull the old ink-and-run maneuver.

The Queen of Blooms is my significator, so I almost feel like I’m writing a self-description here. I was puzzled at first, once I read more about the octopus, I became convinced that it is the perfect animal for this card.

The Queen of Blooms watches their surroundings closely. They have a strong sense of intuition (this card is often matched with the INFJ personality type) and adapt well to a variety of personalities and social situations. They are a shape-shifter, though, and others may have a difficult time getting to know them. The Queen of Blooms may be secretive–but often for no good reason. They may retreat and hide themselves simply because they want to be alone. However, when they are called upon to give emotional strength, they will do so.

Keys: intuition; the ability to get along with a wide variety of personalities; strength in emotional support of oneself and others; emotional independence and self-worth; having good people skills/being good at “reading” people

Reversed: hiding away; pretending to fit in with unhealthy social situations; shutting others out–intentionally or not; being so secretive it hurts those close to you; being so so socially adaptable as to be without a strong sense of self

King of Blooms

A three-eyed purple and blue betta fish emerges from a large white bloom. Splashes of water surround them, while the sun rises from behind.

And now we’re back on the small end of things. Betta fish are small, very beautiful, and very aggressive fish. The males in particular have long flowing fins and often fight each other–even to the death. Like the Knight of Blooms, the King of Blooms tends to combine showiness with aggression. Like the beautiful fins on the betta fish, which advertise  reproductive prowess, the King of Cups has many qualities that would make them a good long-term partner–not least a willingness to fight for a relationship, even in adverse circumstances.

However, the King of Blooms can also be a moody loner (male bettas are usually kept alone in aquariums because they will kill each other.) Their willingness to fight for what they love may have backfired, and now they will fight to keep others out. Hence the reputation that the King of Cups has acquired for being emotionally detached. Whether the King of Blooms is a fighter/lover or a loner will depend on the context of the reading.

Keys: emotional maturity–often on prominent display; wanting to make a relationship work; someone in a “provider” role for a relationship or family–orchestrating things so everyone spends time together and feels included; putting the greater good of a relationship above one’s personal feelings

Reversed: emotional coldness; being detached in a situation that calls for compassion; feeling hurt or embittered by past relationships

The Mirror

mirror spreadI tend not to watch or read the news on a regular basis, preferring not to learn about the sufferings of the world through the heavy filters of  daily mainstream media. But I do think that it is important to know about suffering, even if everything in our own existence is comfortable for the moment.

Yesterday I found Sympathy at Slaughter, a Toronto-based project focused on bearing witness to the suffering of animals as they are about to be trucked into the slaughterhouse. I am vegan–but my cats are not. I also ate meat–and lots of it–for the first 20 years of my life. I am just as complicit in this suffering as anyone else; I am not trying to put myself on a pedestal or bathe in self-righteousness because the truth is that ALL food–even vegan food–involves suffering, violence, and exploitation. I have complex views about killing animals for food and am not a knee-jerk member of the Vegan Police or a supporter of PETA.  I realize that not everyone is in a position to go vegan–people live in food deserts, or they can only afford the cheapest of cheap food, like ramen, and yes, some people need meat in their diets in order to live.

That being said, I feel it’s important that those who buy meat from a grocery store or eat it in restaurants bear witness to the suffering that they are eating. Not only is factory farming one of the most environmentally destructive factors in the world right now, but the suffering of the highly intelligent animals featured in Sympathy at Slaughter is palpable: animals piled on top of one another, driven to the slaughterhouse in freezing temperatures or in temperatures so hot that they smother; animals standing in their own feces and that of others; animals covered in cuts and scratches; animals who, if they cannot get off of the truck quickly enough, are struck and poked with cattle prods over and over. This is the reality of the cheap meat that North Americans eat for two or three meals a day, every day of the week.

I then read the story of another kind of suffering: 6-year-old Strider Wolf, who at the age of 2 was beaten so severely by his mother’s boyfriend that a hole was punched in his stomach and his intestines were broken open. Strider and his younger brother now live (in poverty) with their grandparents, the only adults stable enough to take care of them. Living in rural Maine, they spent a spring and summer in an RV, moving from place to place after getting kicked out of their mobile home for failure to make rental payments on their lot. Strider’s grandparents’ health problems keep them from getting regular work and they struggle with not only financial stability, but creating an emotionally stable environment for the boys.

Bearing witness to suffering like this is difficult, but necessary. How could I begrudge some cheap meat to Strider and his brother? And yet, I know where it comes from. Reading these pieces, however, will lead to despair if it’s not done within the context of cultivating compassion and not followed up with self-care. Last night, feeling heavy with what I’d seen and read, I decided to turn to tarot, not to make the suffering go away, but to affirm what I was feeling.

When I am in pain, the most helpful thing to do with tarot cards is to not ask them a question. When we ask questions,  we want answers–we want certainty. But I didn’t need any answers, I just wanted confirmation of what I was feeling. So I pulled out my small Thoth deck and asked, “Can you please just mirror what I’m feeling back to me?” I then laid the cards out in a cross formation (I did a Celtic cross, but I have also done a full-on Latin cross for this exercise.)

mirror spread

This is what I got: the Empress, surrounded by Justice/Adjustment, The Knight of Cups, the 3 of Wands (“Virtue”) and the 5 of Disks (“Worry.”) I wrote in my journal:

Seeking justice,
supported by virtue,
worried, saddened,
a questing heart,
a grounded healer.

An earthy center surrounded by the four elements on all sides. The Empress is an expression of my desire to heal and my capacity to feel compassion. She looks forward to the Knight of Cups, whose heart seeks after ideals based in love. She is supported in all that she does by a strong sense of goodness and virtue–not ethical perfection, but the desire of trying to figure out what is right in every moment. Above her is the ideal she seeks for: justice, the righting of wrongs. Behind her, compelling her actions, are the worries and sorrows of the world.

I have not done this mirroring exercise many times, but when I do, it always turns out to be a potent method of self-love and self-care. It’s not that the cards are somehow sentient and tell me things about myself that I don’t know. Rather, the images and words on the cards give me a space to remind myself of my own good qualities, the validity of my struggles, and the fact that I feel pain when seeing the suffering of others is a positive quality. That being said, it seems like the art of the Thoth deck is most conducive of this result for me and I’ve never entrusted this exercise to any other deck.

Tarot always functions as a mirror, but I think sometimes we can see more clearly when we do not expect anything of the deck apart from simple recognition. No answers, no certainty, no advice; just confirmation and a sense that your feelings are valid. I’ve never seen this method written about anywhere else, but I doubt I’m alone in practicing it. Has anyone else tried?