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: 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