On the Collective

It’s not surprising to me that I was in a tarot slump in the months leading up to the election. I was having trouble looking deeply into anything because I was in a state of numbness/denial about the possibility of Trump becoming president. No wonder that I didn’t have a lot of patience for slowing down, sitting with myself, and understanding what was happening inside me. Since the election, however, I’ve been turning inward–and turning toward darkness. I’ve been absorbing a lot of lessons about power, not only the kind of power coming out of the White House right now, but power dynamics between people and in movements, and where power resides in me.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been spending a lot of time with my cards, a lot of time alone in the dark with candle light. I’ve been using Slow Holler pretty much exclusively, although the Animal Spirit oracle by Kim Krans recently came into my life and I have a feeling I will be using it quite frequently for a while. Right now, I’m very interested in the spread of movements and ideas and Slow Holler is perfect because its wisdom is very much focused on the collective, and on seeing individuals as part of collectives. The deck substitutes the Kindred for the Empress, the Guild for the Heirophant, and Intersection for Justice and throughout the guidebook we’re asked to think about how our actions affect the collective, and vice versa. This deck landed on my doorstep when I most needed it, but I couldn’t have known that when I backed it on Kickstarter nearly two years ago.

I have been thinking about the collective a lot, and I have been acting in the collective, too. On January 21st, I went to my local Women’s March, which ended up being 11,000 people strong (about 1/5 my city’s population.) That night, I slept through the night for the first time in months. Just yesterday, I attended a protest against Trump’s Muslim/refugee ban at Detroit Metro Airport with about 7,000 other people. Being an introvert, I feel pretty drained after protests and marches, and have to do some conscious breathing when things get tense, as they did for a minute last night when a Homeland Security cop threw a guy to the ground. But I want to keep going to them because knowing that I’m not alone, that there are thousands of people willing to get out in the street (and in the case of last night’s protest, on less than 24 hours’ notice) with me, and that I’m willing to get out in the street with them, is the best way I know how to avoid feeling powerless.

There is so much to be scared about right now–the ban on Muslims and refugees has been at the forefront of everyone’s mind for the past couple of days, but the gag orders and hiring freezes at the EPA and other government agencies, the re-starting of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, attacks on the Affordable Care Act, are all deeply unsettling. I think what’s most unsettling to me is that Trump is clearly bent on destroying the US government, both as a functioning democracy and an institution that is supposed to support and protect the people. (I’m not saying that the US government actually has been doing these things as it should, but it’s better than Government As Business Making Profit for the Very Few, which Trump clearly wants.) He’s doing this by appointing people to office who want to destroy the agencies they would head.

So what did the two protests I attended actually accomplish? Nothing. Nothing, except that they gave people hope, helped make connections, inspired other people to act in similar ways, normalized our outrage, de-normalized Trump, and said to all of us, very powerfully, that we are not alone.

I have been doing reading and listening, too. Here are a few different voices that have made their way to me through various means, talking about what is being asked of us, and how we can take care of ourselves for the long term.

First, How to #StayOutraged  without Losing Your Mind by Mirah Curzer. There’s much good advice here, but for some reason, the following is really, really resonating with me right now:

The movement works as a coalition of people focused on different issues, so don’t let anyone convince you that by focusing your energy on one or two issues, you have effectively sided with the bad guys on everything else. Ignore people who say things like, “you’re not a real feminist if you aren’t working to protect the environment” or “you’re betraying the cause of economic justice if you don’t show up for prison reform.” That’s all nonsense. There is a spectrum of support, and nobody can be everywhere at once.

By the same token, don’t allow yourself to be shamed for being new to the game. Ignore people who tell you that your protests of Trump are hypocritical because you didn’t protest Obama. That’s hogwash for many reasons, but most importantly, YOU ARE HERE NOW AND THAT’S WHAT MATTERS. Do not engage in activist one-upmanship, and don’t allow yourself to be shamed for not being fully briefed and up to date on everything, for not spending your days glued to CSPAN and Twitter, for not making someone else’s number one issue yours as well. That is a demand for emotional labor from you, and you do not have to give it.

I think this is resonating with me because within the resistance community, it can be hard to separate the signal from the noise, legitimate critique and dialogue from people tearing each other down because they feel helpless in other venues.

Second is a video that I just found this morning, by Jill Freeman, whose wise voice is emerging beautifully in the YouTube community. One of her main points that I’ve really taken to heart is that bullies like Trump do things very suddenly and quickly because they want to disorient you and see how you react. Jill makes the point that it’s imperative not to freak out right now because this is a test–because if we freak out, this is going to be a sign that our MO is freaking out, and we can be taken advantage of very easily. (She puts it a lot better than I do.)

I don’t feel like either the Women’s March or these airport protests are freakouts–even though the conservative media would like to paint them this way. The words that I’ve heard in these spaces are, “I am not afraid. We are not afraid.” They are messages that if you push us, we’ll push back. I have come away from them feeling stronger, not weaker. But if you are feeling scared and powerless right now, Jill’s video contains much good advice.

Third, a couple of Facebook posts from the author and activist James O’Dea. The first is from the day after the election:

This is not a time to fall into fear or project calamitous consequences for America but it is a time to be very, very vigilant. Vigilance is a state of conscious alertness and full-bore engagement:
Hold a vivid and dynamic vision of collective well-being and a truly positive future.
Act from a place of radical inclusion.
Listen with full-bodied attention to unspoken wounds and to the whispers of indefatigable hope.
Activate the fullest expression of your own morally inspired conscience.
Incarnate and manifest your values down to the finest detail.
Attune to Mother Nature’s gathering voice and speak her language with eloquent clarity
Attest to the power of love and warm its fires by building beloved community.
Put a light in your window to welcome kindred spirits, those afraid of persecution and as a sign that you are always, always open to healing dialogue.

The second is from two days ago:

The death of complacency…the birth of conscious activism

What does it mean to be complacent? Well, you know it will all turn out fine. Let’s not get all hot and bothered: a wrinkle here a wrinkle there doth not the great unraveling make. Right?
Wrong. Dead wrong. On a day when refugees from majority Muslim countries who had visas and undergone full screening were taken off planes and detained at airports we can’t be complacent. Christians were not affected by the ban.

No more shrugs about cutting funding for climate change research; deportations , refugee bans, reviving fossil fuels, supporting torture, coddling dictators etc. If you have been shaken from complacency frenzy is not the answer.
Have a little burial ceremony for our collective complacency then celebrate the birth of truly conscious, visionary and inspired activism.

 

And, finally, this beautiful meditation on Instagram from Dori Midnight:

Friends, we are magic. Our magic is our power, our resilience, our protection, our way. It’s a rough day, and by day I mean a time outside of time, a dream, a folk tale we are living in in which the shadow beast monster is sitting at the decision making table trying to destroy, imprison, and control our earth body and the magical ones. It’s okay if we lose hope right now, because we are going to move beyond hope. We need more than hope. We need magic, we need all our senses, all our eyes, our plants, stones, songs, dances, poems, ancestral love, hexes, spells, chants- we need to reach deep into our baskets and purses and toolkits and pockets. Deeper than marching, deeper than making calls and writing letters, though those are part of our magic, we need more. We need to dream and vision and hold on to our visions of justice and liberation. We need to take the leap, beyond the structures that no longer serve us, and never did- the police, the government, all the architecture of patriarchy and white supremacy- what is on the other side? Mutual aid, plant medicine, networks of care, kinship, feeding each other, circles of people singing, learning how to prepare our bodies in death, remembering what we know in our bones, talking the way whales talk to each other, listening to what the earth and the ancestors have to say in this moment about how to stay alive, how to stay present, how to work like the tricksters we are. White people, now is the time to do some deep ancestral healing and connecting- get right with your bloodlines and make it right with both magic and real, concrete reparations- give money and put bodies on the line.

In the folktale, the hero/ine always has more than human allies and always outsmarts the asshole with humor, magic, trickery, dance, song, and ancient ways. Let’s remember ours.

Let’s stay together, let’s stay strong. Let us continue to envision what we want as we fight against what we don’t want. I feel surrounded by so many beautiful people with strong spines and open hearts, I feel that we’re beginning to find that within us which is indestructible.

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.

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!

Slow Holler, for healing and waking up

I’ve been messing around with various potential posts for this blog because there are so many things happening inside me that are not getting written down anywhere. My tarot slump has continued, but two things happened yesterday that have rekindled my faith that tarot can help me with the changes that we are facing on Earth right now.

Yesterday morning, I found this post by Siobhan Rene on Little Red Tarot: Face Up Judgement: Trumpets, Grief, and Getting Woke. Siobhan drops some serious wisdom about the Judgement card and its relationship to waking up.

The Judgement card heralds a cycle of sleeping consciousness, its awakening, and resistance to the revelation. Nothing is static. No one arrives and stays woke forever to all things. No one sleeps forever. At least not without a ton of grief.  We regularly face opportunities to awaken or resist reality again and again. The direction we move in the cycle depends on our willingness to wake up or our commitment to bury our heads in the sand.

Please go read this beautiful post. It puts so much stuff that I’ve been thinking and feeling lately into an entirely new context. I’m a proponent of the work of Joanna Macy, who points out that the grief we feel for the world–which others may try to privatize and pathologize as personal neurosis–is actually proof that we are inseparable from the world. When we hear the trumpet calling us to awaken from the sleep of distraction and separation, we actually awaken to several things all at once: our love and gratitude for the world, our grief at its destruction, the interconnection of all beings and things, and the need to take action.

As Siobhan points out, we go through cycles of sleep and awakening–it’s not true that we sleep forever or wake up once and for all. Instead, waking up is something that we choose over and over, whether it’s a self-prompted awakening from within, or a trumpet call from without. (And yes, I am deliberately playing on the fact that trump is embedded in trumpet.) In either case, we have a choice to either move toward waking up or to fall back asleep. I’ll also add here that what is usually translated as “enlightenment” or “awakening” in Buddhism is in many schools not seen as a permanent state. Zen in particular, which I study, talks about awakening as a series of experiences both sudden and gradual.

slow holler 2.jpgAnyway, I was pondering all of this when a package arrived at my house well after dark. Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, the Slow Holler deck!

In some ways, it’s hard to even believe that I now hold this deck in my hands. I wrote my first blog post about it back in March of 2015–over a year and a half ago. The creators ran a great Kickstarter campaign, keeping us all apprised of updates as the deck has progressed, and shipping it out on schedule.

slow holler 1.jpgAlready, I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about this deck, but I think it will be a while before I write a review. Let’s just say that, in working with the Slow Holler Tarot, I have felt more supported and healed by the tarot than I have in months. I knew the deck was going to arrive soon and kind of wistfully thought that it might pull me out of my tarot slump, but I did not anticipate that it would be this powerful. The deck is true to its promise of diversity of all kinds, but I think what is making the biggest impression on me now is its orientation toward the collective. The messages behind the Slow Holler Tarot are about sustaining yourself by sustaining others, and vice versa. It’s clearly a deck that has been created by people who know the challenges and rewards of collective action.

It’s time for me to wake up and lean in–to keep waking up and leaning in–and the Slow Holler Tarot has offered itself as a compass.

awakening.jpg

The Mary-el and a small trip

Tomorrow I’m heading out for a 10-day activist training intensive, so I will not be posting here for at least a couple of weeks. The past few weeks have been filled with preparations for my family to come watch me graduate, and then preparations for this trip so my tarot practice has fallen off a little bit. We’ll be digging deep at this activist intensive, however, so I think it’s a good idea for me to bring a tarot deck to process things as they’re happening.

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My newly acquired Mary-el Tarot, which I bought used in excellent condition. I probably won’t be featuring many photos of it here, though, considering how difficult the laminate makes it to photograph.

This morning, I decided to pack my Mary-el deck, even though I am far from having it mastered. I will not be bringing the book, which will force me to work with it intuitively. I haven’t used this deck that much, but I already trust it enough to handle more intense inner work.

When I get back, I’m looking forward to blogging more and sharing my experiences with my new decks.

#decklust, or, When I own every tarot deck will I finally be happy?

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I don’t even use two of these decks anymore. Guess I really needed them, huh?

For those in the tarot community on Instagram, sharing pictures of newly purchased decks is a favorite pastime. Every day in my feed, I see pictures of packages containing decks, or new decks still in shrink wrap, usually with a caption that goes something like, “Just got home to find this in the mail! I’m so excited!” But a couple of months ago, I saw a post (I can’t remember whose, unfortunately) that featured a picture of two new shrink-wrapped decks and the caption:

When I own every tarot deck, will I finally be happy?

The tiny Buddha inside my head went, “Nooooooooooo! You won’t because that’s not how desire works!” But this was a person I’d never really engaged with, so I didn’t feel like jumping in and giving her a lecture. I also didn’t because, you know, it’s not like I have this shit figured out either.

For those who talk about tarot on blogs or social media, the temptation to share new decks with followers is irresistible. I do it, too. While we might not associate buying a $20 tarot deck with conspicuous consumption–a term we usually reserve for McMansions, BMW SUVs, and Prada handbags–that’s literally what we’re doing: making our consumption conspicuous to others. I don’t think there’s any harm in a person showing off a new tarot deck to their friends and followers, but strange things begin to happen when you share with dozens or hundreds of tarot folks on social media.

I follow about 220 people on Instagram, and while each of those people might buy a deck every once in a while, I see posts about new decks every day–often multiple times a day–which makes it seem like people are consuming more than they really are and that it’s normal to be buying decks all the time. Rather than conspicuous consumption, which focuses on one person’s wealth, I call it the spectacle of consumption–the illusion, though watching mass consumer habits, that each person is consuming more than they really are, and that it’s normal to consume at such a rate. (Not surprisingly, I’m not the first person to make this term up–if you google it, you can find it in critiques of Late/Post-Capitalism. But anyway.) And from what I can tell, this spectacle of consumption causes people to consume more–or at least desire to consume more.

Since seeing that Instagram post, however, I’ve been thinking a lot about the tarot community and what we call #decklust. On Instagram, and probably other platforms where tarot people hang out, the hashtag #decklust sums things up pretty well. As soon as a beautiful new deck comes out, everyone has to have it. And if you can’t afford it, at least you can publicly opine about how you want it. People use #decklust jokingly, of course, but there’s a kind of self-consciousness about it as well. On Instagram and in other places, I’ve seen people talk about how they spend so much money on decks that it’s actually harming their personal finances. Or about how they see tarot as a big part of their spiritual path and feel conflicted about how commercialized it has become. I myself have thought about all these things and have also undertaken measures to work with my own #decklust.

I recently ended a 6-month hiatus of buying anything having to do with tarot. From last April to October, I managed to blow almost $500 on tarot decks, books, and apps. So I decided that from November to May, I wouldn’t buy anything having to do with tarot. I did swap a couple of decks, and received a couple others as gifts. I also made the exception of backing the Next World Tarot on Kickstarter since it was a time-sensitive thing, but aside from that I held to my promise pretty well. During this whole time, however, I was building up my wishlist–putting things on, taking things off. In the end, I had up with a wish list three decks long: the Mary-el Tarot, the Japaridze Tarot, and the Tarot del Fuego.

As I saw these decks on Instagram, especially the Mary-el, I became really fixated on them. But this time I was smart enough and really began to watch the whole #decklust process. I watched the feelings of hope and excitement I got from the idea of buying and owning the Mary-el. I watched the feelings of resistance that came up when I thought: What if I don’t buy it? I watched my state of mind as I purchased it, opened it, and began to use it. The result? I realized very quickly after opening it that, although the Mary-el is a great deck and I will enjoy using it for years, I am not a whit happier for buying it. Furthermore, the amount energy I spent researching it and lusting after it was far greater than the enjoyment I get from actually owning and using it.

My conclusion is that #decklust is a time-waster and an energy vampire. And, most importantly, it’s endless unless you work with it. I still have #decklust, of course, but watching how it works gives me some perspective. Watching other people’s #__lust is helpful, too. For instance, I’m fairly rare in the tarot community in that I have no interest whatsoever in buying crystals. And yet I see people going through the same process with crystals and think, Why is this even an issue? But, of course, most people in the world would look at me and go, Why would someone spend so much money on a pack of cards?

A great way to get some perspective is to poke around in other communities on social media that are centered on collections and hobbies different from your own. One night on Instagram, I stumbled across an entire community of people who collect little pins that you buy at Disney World. I was amazed that anyone would spend their money on this–and then thought about my own spending habits and how stupid they would look to an outsider. My point is that our desires, no matter how well-founded they seem to us, are completely arbitrary.*

But more importantly, just as you can be in love with love, you can desire desire. The desire of desire, masked as the desire for things, is basically what US culture is founded upon. The reason why a new tarot deck will never make me permanently happy and fulfilled–no matter how much I enjoy working with it, and no matter how much happiness it brings in the short term–is that the process of desire is always focused on continuing to desire. It’s a system that is set up to continue desire indefinitely, not bring contentment. Even if I buy a copy of every tarot deck in existence, I will always be waiting for the next one, or turn my sights on something else.

Over the past six months, I have also become more alive to the ethical implications of buying tarot decks whenever I want to–even if I have the means. Why am I buying decks for myself when I could give that money to refugees or famine victims? And what about the reality that decks come from living forests which are chopped down, shipped to China, processed and made into cards using exploited labor and heinous chemicals, shipped back to the US (using tons of fossil fuels in the process), and into Amazon warehouses where they are packaged and shipped by exploited workers. I’m not trying to give anyone a guilt trip, because guilt is not an emotion conducive to positive action, but these are real ethical questions we all have to ask ourselves about anything we buy. Is another tarot deck worth the well-being of workers, the lives of trees, and more carbon released into the atmosphere?

I’ve adopted two strategies for dealing, at least partly, with these questions. The first is to buy used decks whenever possible. It’s not a perfect system, of course, since somebody has to buy new ones in the first place, but I think buying used is a great strategy for many things. The second is to make sure that I donate a dollar to charity for each dollar I spend on tarot. Not only does this curb my tarot spending, but it keeps me from focusing on myself and my own pleasures all the time. I have no illusions that either of these solutions is perfect, but they do make a difference in how I see decks. I’m forced to consider the social impact of spending money on myself, and the environmental/social impact of buying new.

The point I’m trying to make here is not that we should squash and eradicate our #decklust. Rather, I think we should bring curiosity to it. Does wanting new decks make me happy? What does it feel like in my body? Do the decks themselves make me happy permanently? How does it happen that I buy decks even when I don’t mean to? How do I feel about the social/environmental consequences of buying decks I don’t need? Answering these questions may or may not change our habits of consumption. But these are questions that every person needs to answer for themselves, and when approached with curiosity, #decklust is a gift, an opportunity for self-exploration.

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*I want to point out that I’m talking about consumerist desires–hobbies, collections, fashion, gadgets, and the like. Basic desires for shelter, food, financial stability, human companionship, etc. are a different matter entirely.

Introduction to the Wooden Tarot Series

The Wooden Tarot is a 79-card self-published tarot deck by Atlanta-based artist A. L. Swartz in 2014(?). The deck was conceived in the Rider-Waite-Smith tradition, but Swartz’s unique style and artistic preoccupations make this deck a big departure from  mainstream visual tarot traditions. The Wooden Tarot features no human beings, with the exception of a human skull on the Devil card and the four Gods, or aces, with human-bodies but floating eyeballs for heads. The imagery of the deck is instead nature-based, including everything from bones to mushrooms to crystals, and an eclectic mix of animals, from the more familiar White-Tailed Deer to the fairly exotic Blue Angel Nudibranch.

This is a bizarre world, however, one in which animals may have sunflowers or mushrooms for heads, or crystals may grow directly out of their bodies. Third-eyes abound, showing us that the Wooden Tarot hovers somewhere between the natural realm and the spirit realm.

One of the most striking features of the Wooden Tarot, however, is that it does not include any sort of booklet of card meanings. At the time I purchased the deck, Swartz  stated on his Etsy page that any book of Rider-Waite-Smith meanings could be used alongside the deck. Many people, however, have found the deck’s visual simplicity, its wide range of plants and animals, and its severe departure from Rider-Waite-Smith imagery to be intimidating or confusing.

When I first got back into tarot in early 2015 and began looking at decks to buy, I was for several months trying to decide between the Wild Unknown and the Wooden Tarot. I chose the Wild Unknown in the end, which was probably wise, given that the learning curve for the Wooden Tarot is a bit steeper than that of the Wild Unknown, which I struggled with at the time.

I purchased the Wooden Tarot after I felt more comfortable with the Rider-Waite-Smith system, and was almost immediately drawn to the challenge of writing a blog post description for each card. To be clear, I do not consider this to be a definitive or “correct” interpretation of the deck in any way. Other people have looked at the same card as me and taken away vastly different interpretations. My interpretations are as much a reflection of myself and my place in my tarot journey as they are a reflection of the cards.

I took on this project because I wanted to learn more about the Wooden Tarot. Over time, I have come to see that, while this series has taught me a lot about this particular deck, it has also taught me a lot about the tarot in general, made me reassess my interpretations of the RWS system, and also try to understand how the Thoth relates to that system. I have also begun to realize that other people find this series helpful, and than a good percentage of my blog hits come from people trying to find an interpretation of a specific Wooden Tarot card. Thus, while this series is for my own knowledge I am also gratified if I can help others.

It’s rumored that Swartz is coming out with his own book of card meanings, given the feedback he has received that people have difficulty using the deck without one. I will finish this series for my own learning, and because while I’m sure that my interpretations will overlap with Swartz’s to a certain extent, they will also reflect a unique perspective on the deck. I do plan, however, to read Swartz’s meanings once I have finished the series.

For those interested in more about this deck, there is a Wooden Tarot Study Group on Facebook, which is quite active and in which Swartz himself sometimes participates. Swartz also has a playing-card-sized oracle deck, the Earthbound Oracle, which shares many of the same visual themes with the Wooden Tarot and works with it beautifully.

If you are ready to dive in, begin here.

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Information for those interested in purchasing the deck:

The Wooden Tarot is more or less a standard sized tarot deck. The backs feature a triple-moon design, with a large eyeball taking the place of the full moon and are reversible. (Since the design for the backs was painted on wood, it’s not 100% reversible, given the natural variability of wood grain. However, I am very picky about this sort of thing and I use reversals with this deck quite easily.)

The card stock of the Wooden Tarot is very high quality. It is flexible but strong and has a buttery finish that surpasses any tarot deck or playing cards I have handled. The cards stand up to repeated riffling and have not chipped or frayed after several months’-worth of use. I imagine that this deck will withstand years of tarot readings. The deck comes in a tuck box, which I personally do not use to store it, as tuck boxes generally cannot stand up to frequent use. I recommend making or buying a bag for this deck.

At this moment, the deck is priced at US$35 plus shipping and can be found on skullgarden.com or Swartz’s Etsy shop.