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!

The Wooden Tarot: Court of Bones

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.

Bone Courts

Finally, we come to the court cards in the suit  of Bones. These cards feature some old themes that we’ve already seen in the numbered cards, as well as some new ones.

General Notes on the Wooden Tarot Courts

I have decided that for the court cards in this deck, I am going to refer to all of the figures on the cards with the gender-neutral pronoun “they.” Likewise, I will refer to the energy of the cards as active/receptive rather than masculine/feminine. To me, the Wooden Tarot seems like a deck in which gender doesn’t really matter that much, and as such I see it as a pretty agender deck–even more so than the Wild Unknown. I personally would have loved it if Swartz had renamed the courts Collective Tarot style, referring to each card as a stage of development, rather than the court position, but, hey, you can’t have everything.

I may do a separate post about all of the Pages, Knights, Queens, and Kings separately. For  now, it’s good to point out some patterns. The first pattern is in which direction the character on each card is facing. In the receptive suits of Blooms and Bones, Queens face right, while Kings face left. In the active suits of Stones and Plumes, this is reversed. The same pattern would hold true for Pages and Knights (receptive suits: Knights face left, Pages face right; reversed for active suits.) Here is a crappy picture so you can see what I’m talking about. But as you can see in the picture above, the Page and Knight of Bones break this model. They should be facing each other, just like the Queen and King do. I am wondering if this was deliberate on Swartz’s part, or if he painted the Page and Knight of Bones before planning the whole set of courts.

The second pattern is that of the sun and moon. The sun always rises behind the King, signifying the active/fire energy of the card, while the moon rises behind the queen, signifying the receptive/water energy.

And a note about how I read court cards in general: I read them metaphorically, rather than literally, meaning that I read them as parts of one’s personality instead of people in one’s life.

Page of Bones

The skull of a canid floats above a barren mountainous background, facing left. Moss covers the skull in places, and from it sprout fungi, a dandelion gone to seed, and a clover.

I spent way too long on Google image search trying to figure out if this was a coyote skull or a wolf skull. Despite many helpful resources out there, my search was inconclusive. I’m leaning toward coyote, though. Coyote’s reputation as a trickster is no doubt partly based on its skull, which looks like it’s laughing. Indeed, this card seems to have the most whimsical air of the suit, with the dandelion and clover (two favorites of children) sprouting from the skull.

The mountains in the background recall those on the shoulders of the God of Bones and are the more well-defined on this card than on the Knight of Bones. This reminds us that the Page of Bones is the earthiest card there is: Earth of Earth–earth as elemental dignity and affinity.

We might think of the social natures of wolves, coyotes, and dogs when looking at this card. These animals can be playful, but also fiercely hierarchical and territorial. The Page of Bones, then, combines both the playful elements of the coyote with the imperative to do things according to order and form.

Keys: trying your hand at a new skill; bringing a sense of playfulness to work; learning from and cooperating with others

Reversed: perfectionism–not wanting to try something unless you can be perfect at it right away; not allowing oneself to benefit from the help or wisdom of others;

Knight of Bones

The skull of a rhinoceros faces right. Moss, lichen, and small mushrooms grow on it while three oak leaves dangle. Above the skull there appears a faint mountainous background.

I had never seen a rhinoceros skull before looking at this card, and was rather startled by it. (This also led me to read a lot about the poaching of rhinos for medicinal trade and the things that people are doing to combat poaching, like sedating rhinos and removing their horns or even infusing the horn with a substance safe for rhinos but toxic to humans! But I digress…)

The rhinoceros is a huge, thick-skinned creature. But don’t think that this means they are sluggish–rhinos can be highly aggressive and can run faster than humans. The Knight of Bones is the Air of Earth (see the airy mountains floating above the skull), combining stability and practicality with intelligence and aggression. The oak leaves sprouting from their skull reinforces this as well: oaks are associated with strength and stability, but an oak leaf crown is a symbol of victory.

Keys: throwing your weight behind something; putting your nose to the grindstone; diligence; determined focus on accomplishing an objective; being methodical but efficient

Reversed: lack of focus, diligence, or energy; it might be time to take a break; a less logical, methodical approach may be called for

Queen of Bones

The skull of a Smilodon (aka Saber-Toothed Tiger) faces the right. One of the large teeth is broken off. Flowing ivy, moss, and two small mushrooms sprout from the skull; the moon rises behind it.

With the King and Queen of Bones, we make the transition to animals who are no longer with us, showing the maturity of these figures relative to the Page and Knight. (There were, of course, canids and rhinoceros living at the time of the Saber-Toothed Tiger and the Woolly Mammoth, but these two just scream, “We came from the Ice Age!!” Also, the Queen and King of Bones have more aged skulls than the Page and Knight.)

The ivy trailing from the skulls of the Queen and the King is significant. In addition to the mushrooms (which we talked about with the Three and Seven of Bones), which symbolize growth and fertility, ivy suggests strength and stability. Ivy finds stout things to wrap itself round, like buildings and large trees. The ivy in these cards suggests that it clings to something substantial. Ivy binds things together–the strong ties of family, as well as familial wealth and security.

I have no idea what we know about the social habits of Saber-Toothed Tigers, but let’s extrapolate from what we know about large felids generally. Female lions and tigers are providers–whether they live in prides or live on their own. They are territorial as well. Regardless of gender, then, the Queen of Bones signifies the person who puts food on the table and keeps the parameters of the living space intact. The Queen’s broken tooth shows that doing so can come at a price. The moon rises behind the Queen, showing their association with water and receptivity, but the fact that the Queen faces right–the active direction–also shows that in this receptive suit the Queen is in their element. This is further reinforced by the fact that the Woolly Mammoth/King of Bones is a possible prey animal for the Saber-Toothed Tiger/Queen of Bones. We’ll see the same kind of dynamic between the Queen and King in the receptive suit of Blooms.

Keys:  protection of family members and family property; responsibility–the buck stops here; creating bonds between people; careful stewardship of resources

Reversed: smothering or domineering; lack of self-care; valuing property more highly than people; obsession with social status rather than healthy family ties and spending;

King of Bones

The skull of a Woolly Mammoth faces slightly left. Moss and ivy hang from it and a small mushroom sprouts from the top. The sun rises behind it.

As I mentioned above, in the receptive suits of Bones and Blooms, it’s the Queens who are in their element and who dominate. The King of Bones, then, is not the breadwinner/predator, but is instead a woollier, more socially oriented figure. If the behavior of modern day elephants is anything to go by, the King of Bones has a penchant for family ties. Unlike the fiercer Queen, the King may be more of an avuncular figure: large, imposing and protective if need be, but ultimately gentle. The King’s strength  is in fostering cooperation and in being inclusive–never forgetting to leave anyone out. (Interestingly, it’s also worth noting that in modern elephants, the societies are actually matriarchal–again, why literal gender is not terribly relevant to this set of court cards.)

Keys: hearthfire; strong community and family bonds; happiness and harmony at home; generosity

Reversed: wealth at the cost of social isolation; lack of unconditional love or emotionally safe space; associating with irresponsible people, or with friends who are harmful to family or the larger community

Tarot Cards for Dissertation Writing

I’ve been working on my dissertation since September of 2013, I believe, and I will turn it in to my committee on September 1st, 2015. Over the past nearly two years, my relationship with my dissertation has changed a lot, as have the daily habits that I’ve come to cultivate. I only started studying tarot recently, but lately I’ve noticed that many of the cards embody energies, ideas, and perspectives that I’ve discovered in the process of dissertation writing. Only some of the cards below concern the intellectual side of the endeavor. Others correct for grad students’ tendency to focus on the intellect at the expense of everything else. I have found out how to live while writing my dissertation, rather than being a slave to it, and these cards express some of the lessons I’ve learned. Continue reading “Tarot Cards for Dissertation Writing”