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.

jan 7.jpg

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.

eight of cups.jpg
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!

Keeping Secrets Like the High Priestess

A little over two years ago, I took a career seminar in which I found out that my Meyers-Briggs personality type is INFJ. This explained so much about my life to me, I can’t even tell you. Some time later, after I got into tarot, I also learned that my birth card is the High Priestess. Getting this card as my birth card may have been ordained by the universe or it may have been a great coincidence, but in either case it has helped me think about patterns in my personality and how they have shaped my life.

INFJs are altruistic and caring people; they are sensitive and idealistic, but have a strong discipline/pragmatic streak and do well at following through on concrete tasks. This combination of idealism and pragmatism makes them the rarest personality type. (Being idealistic enough to go to grad school for English literature and being pragmatic enough to actually finish the program strikes me as a classic INFJ thing.) The High Priestess, too, has a combination of taking the world (and being taken) very seriously while sitting at the border between worlds in secrecy and detachment.

Perhaps the greatest thing that the High Priestess and INFJs have in common is secrecy. And I’ve got that in spades. Being secretive is not the same as being deceptive, mind you. I don’t lie to people. It’s just that I don’t bother to tell people what’s going on in my inner life until way down the line. For instance, at the age of 24 I left the area my family lives in to go to grad school. When I talked to my family, I mostly told them about my classes or teaching or social life. But then basically, one day, they wake up and find out that their daughter is a Buddhist! Like, she goes to a temple and has taken vows and has a Buddhist name now and everything! They did not know that I had been interested in Buddhism since about the age of 21, or that I began practicing seriously at the age of 26. All they know is that, at the age of 27, I’m now a card-carrying Buddhist.

This analysis from 16 Personalities about the weaknesses of the INFJ personality is a great description of my kind of secrecy:

INFJs tend to present themselves as the culmination of an idea. This is partly because they believe in this idea, but also because INFJs are extremely private when it comes to their personal lives, using this image to keep themselves from having to truly open up, even to close friends.

So yeah, big inner questions and issues are things that I work through on my own and nobody else really finds out about them until I’ve completely processed or figured them out. As another example, I decided over the course of a couple of years that I did not want to go into academia. So one day after I had firmly made this decision and even informed my dissertation committee, I called my best friend and told her that I was not going to pursue an academic career. She was devastated because her whole fantasy is that we’d get jobs in the same department and be academic best buds forever. But that’s not the reason why I didn’t tell her beforehand. It just did not occur to me to tell her my doubts about academia while I was in the process of making the decision.

Over the past couple of years, I have gone from complete obliviousness about this secrecy of mine to being quite self-aware about it. But even that self-awareness hasn’t changed much. My secrecy has been brought to the forefront of my mind recently because of murder of the beautiful men and women at Pulse in Orlando. I am queer, but I’m basically in the closet. (I pass as straight for a number of reasons, so oftentimes my sexuality is erased, even if I am trying to be open about it.) This is not because my friends or (immediate) family would react negatively any way (my mom would probably run out and join PFLAG or something), but I just always felt that my sexuality is a personal part of me, so why bother telling people? Also, I’m married to a man, so it seems like moot point. But it’s not. After the shooting, I realized how I needed to grieve it as a queer person in queer community, which actually means being part of queer community, which means coming out.

So now, at 31, I’m thinking–how am I going to tell my family, but also: why did I keep this a secret for so long?

Well, tarot to the rescue. I realized that I needed to spend a little time with the High Priestess as well as ask some questions.

hp reading

I could have chosen more decks, but I decided to take the High Priestess (or its equivalent) out of six of my decks: Thoth, Waite-Smith, Mary-el, Japaridze, Wild Unknown, and Wildwood. I didn’t do readings with these images; I just wanted to study them and have them as a focus. Then I took out my Earthbound Oracle and asked five questions:

What is the quality of things that I hide? Healing
What is the quality of things that I make known? Death
Why do I hide things? Transformation
What needs to stay hidden? Vision
What needs to be revealed? Voice

I have found the Earthbound Oracle to be the most powerful part of my readings lately, and this is no exception.

I hide things, not surprisingly, that are tender and vulnerable in me; things that I’m still working on, trying to figure out. Like it would be painful and perhaps counterproductive to take a bandage off of a wound to show someone else, I don’t want to show my developing thoughts and feelings to others until I feel that they’ve healed enough.

When things are no longer moving in me, when they’ve healed and become stable, that’s when I show them to others. There are already new questions and processes going on inside me, but the ones that I show to others are dead, not in the sense that they are gone, but that they’ve gone from being living questions to solid properties of my life. They’re dead in the way that death often signifies in tarot, something that has gone through transition.

So why do I hide things then? I hide the process of transformation. I hide things that are wounded and vulnerable in me, that haven’t had the stitches all put in place, are still undergoing metamorphosis. I hide those things like a caterpillar hides itself in a cocoon as it undergoes a transformation that nobody else can see. Transformation through healing is a fragile time for me. Perhaps I fear that I’d let other people talk me out of my process, perhaps I don’t know how to reveal to others what isn’t clear to me yet.

But it’s also clear that I don’t need to reveal everything to everyone. Some things need to stay hidden–the inner vision that drives my life questions is mine and mine alone. I just finished Bill Plotkin’s Soulcraft this morning, which is about the practice of actually being initiated into adulthood and finding your true purpose in life (soul) beyond what society or your social self thinks. These encounters with soul, which often come in the form of visions, generally happen when we go through experiences–willingly or not–that shake us out of our everyday social selves. Plotkin makes the point that telling other people about these visions

might even be a bad idea. You’re likely to be misunderstood and very few people –maybe no one–will be able to grasp the luminous vitality that the vision holds for you. (p. 325)

The owl on the vision card is blindfolded, meaning its vision is turned inward, but at the same time it holds onto a jewel. The vision and the jewel, my purpose in life and my guiding light, are mine and mine alone. The vision drives the questions and the transformations in me, and while I might reveal them to others, revealing the vision itself makes less sense.

All that being said, my voice still needs to be heard. I think part of my problem is not that I keep silent about things that I’m experiencing while I’m experiencing them, but I sit on them for a really long time, even after they’ve become a part of my psyche and everyday life.  I need to give voice to these things while they’re still vital because otherwise I’m just sitting on a bunch of secrets that are actually powerful qualities about myself, and I’m sharing them with no one.

Since we’re so close to the summer solstice, this strikes me as a good time to reflect on secrecy. What am I keeping in the dark from others that needs to be brought to light? I’m pretty good at uncovering shadowy places in myself, but once I’ve discovered them, how do I make them into a light for other people? I don’t know if this series of questions would be helpful to others, but if you find yourself in a similar place and want to give them a spin, I’d love to hear about it.

Jobs and Aces

Things have been quieter than usual around here because I’ve been really busy with job applications.

Near the end of February, I found out about a fellowship for humanities PhDs who want to work in nonprofits. The organization and job looked great, and the money was excellent–far more than I could expect to command on the regular job market–and it would put me much closer to my family. But it would mean having to move to a commuter/bedsit stripmall McMansion hell suburb of a large city for two years. Oh, and I would have to move there on two months’ notice. (This is a place I have actually been, so I’ve seen it first hand and know I would hate living there.) I worked my butt off on the application and asked people for letters of recommendation, but the entire time I got this feeling like I was writing my own death sentence. But I submitted it anyway, because–career and money and all that.

Two days later, I got an email from a woman at a local land trust. I’d done an informational interview with her back in January, and she wanted to let me know that a full-time communications position was opening up there. I was overjoyed at this news–not only at the prospect of doing a cool job with a cool organization, but especially at not having to move. I got my materials together, easily wrote a great cover letter, since I’d just had practice writing one for the fellowship, polished my resume, and submitted the application ASAP.

In about a week and a half, I got an email saying they wanted to interview me for the fellowship. And then I got an email saying they wanted to interview me for the local job. The process for the fellowship was moving more slowly, but I told both parties I was interested, all the while hoping that I would get the local job and could just tell the fellowship people that I had to withdraw my application after receiving another offer.

In the midst of all this, I was reading Benebell Wen’s Holistic Tarot from cover to cover for the second time, and as I went along, I tried, or re-tried, many of the spreads featured there. One of them was Eden Gray’s “Yes/No” spread using aces. This spread is interesting in that you don’t actually spread anything out, but just count cards. Shuffle the cards and draw them off the top, putting them into a pile until you get to an ace or draw 13 cards. In either case, you move on to a second pile, again stopping when you get an ace or get to 13, and then do the same thing with a third pile. Upright aces mean yes, a mix of upright and reversed aces means yes, but with delays or complications, and all reversed aces means no.

Now–I don’t do yes/no questions generally for a couple of reasons. (A) Unless the question is, “Do you want basil on your pasta?,” yes/no questions are really not that well suited to answering life’s quandaries, from the small to the big. In my academic training, I also learned to avoid yes/no questions in my research and my teaching because nothing kills actual inquiry and learning faster than a yes/no question. (B) Yes/no questions in tarot tend to  have a more fortune-telling focus by their very nature, and since I don’t have much interest in fortune telling, I don’t ask them.

But the spread looked interesting, and so out of idle curiosity, I decided to do it and ask straight up, “Will I get either of these jobs?” So I counted out cards in a pile until I got to 13, with no aces. Then I put down the first card of the second pile–BOOM, Ace of Cups reversed. Then I put down the first card of the third pile. BOOM, Ace of Wands, reversed. Two reversed aces, right in a row. By all appearances, the answer was no for the fellowship and the local job. The Ace of Cups suggested that one of the jobs would be unfulfilling emotionally or regarding relationships. The Ace of Wands suggested that one of the jobs is in line with my desired career path, but I may not have the skills or experience to get it.

Well, that was incredibly to the point. I looked at those two aces and wasn’t sure what to think, since it seemed like I had pretty good chance at both.

In fact, I was afterwards informed that I was a finalist for the fellowship and I made it to the second (final) round of interviews for the local job. When interviewing for the local job, I loved the people I was interviewing with and the organization and really did my absolute best. But I knew all the while that the major factor out of my control was who else had applied. And, indeed, I got a call yesterday morning saying that they were impressed with my work and thought I would be a good fit, but they decided to offer the job to someone with more experience. The Ace of Wands reversed. At the beginning of the week, I had also done a week-ahead spread, and the Ace of Wands reversed showed up in the “what will I be challenged by?” position. (So, just for future reference, Ace of Wands reversed = you’re not going to get the job.)

Within 30 minutes, I was also notified by email that the people with the fellowship position wanted to schedule interviews with me. And there was the rub.

Although I genuinely wanted the local job, I was also hoping it would be an excuse to bail out on the fellowship without having to feel bad for wasting people’s time or seeming contrarian. Having been handed the Ace of Wands reversed, I knew that it was time to deal with the Ace of Cups reversed. But you know, why not do a tarot spread about it first? I don’t have a photo of either the ace spread or its follow-up (wasn’t feeling particularly documentary in either of those moments), but the highlights included the 8 of Swords, the 7 of Swords, the 3 of Swords, and the 4 of Cups. Like, really, tarot, can you tell how much I do not want this job? I asked what the next steps were and got the 7 of Pentacles and the Empress–“reassess what is actually best for you.”

So this morning I sent off an email to the fellowship, as graciously as I could, thanking them for their time, explaining that I couldn’t move right now and needed to withdraw my application, apologizing for doing this so late in the process, and offering to do any remote volunteer/consulting work they might need in the future. Who knows if I would have gotten the fellowship had I gone forward with the interviews? But that’s not important–only I knew that my gut was screaming NO! and I didn’t want to waste more of anyone’s time.

So I went from having two irons in the fire to having none. And that’s OK. The interviews I did for the local job were my first ever (aside from food service and retail interviews I did as a teenager.) In the back of my mind, I knew that it wouldn’t be quite right if I got the first job I’d ever interviewed for–not out of principle, but just because I’ve got some more lessons I need to learn. And one of those lessons was in saying no. In learning to honor my gut feelings over what seem like good intellectual reasons to do something.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve actually worked with tarot very little. I usually end up doing several readings a week, but while working on this job stuff I pared it down to one or two. I honestly felt that I didn’t need tarot to guide me thought this process, and that I just needed to do as much work as I could on my own to make things happen.

And I still think that’s true. I’m glad that I didn’t act on the yes/no spread by simply giving up or assuming that I would not get either job. I do think it’s interesting, though, that it correctly “predicted” what would happen, even if in the case of the local job, I had no control over the outcome of the situation, and in the case of the fellowship, I ended up taking things into my own hands. It’s cool, I suppose, that I was able to accurately predict the future using some cards, but I doubt I was any better off because of it.

Tarot has been incredibly useful, though, in helping me check in with my feelings and intuition, which ultimately led me to make the right decision. So while I may have the power to predict the future–I guess???–I found out first hand that it wasn’t actually as helpful using the tarot to understand what’s already going on inside me. I’ll stick to tarot for mirroring and guidance, not yes/no answers.

The bright side is that I feel a lot more focused now, ready to resume informational interviews and start putting in local job applications with some interview experience under my belt.

And, well, even though I didn’t get either job, I can truthfully say that I ACED it!

 

Self-Care Spread–and a Conundrum

I’ve been focusing a lot on posting my Wooden Tarot card meanings lately and I’ll continue to do so after I sit with the majors a bit. But this blog isn’t just about the Wooden Tarot and I want to do some different things, too.

This morning I woke up feeling subtly off-balance. I sort of looked at everything with a “why even bother?” attitude and generally felt discouraged. So I decided to reach for my cards and googled “self care tarot spread.” I figured there would be a million of them out there, but there aren’t as many as you’d think. So I just made up my own.

This is a very straight-forward spread with six positions, although the sixth one was a little tricky for me, as you’ll see in a moment. The questions are: How can I take care of my…

  1. Body
  2. Mind
  3. Heart
  4. Practice (that is, my daily asana and meditation practice)
  5. Practical concerns
  6. And how do I implement these answers?

I used the Thoth tarot, as I usually do when I’m looking to the tarot for some sort of comfort. The answers were lovely until the very end, when I got a nice little jab that I’m still thinking about.

self care spread.jpg
The original spread was done with my huge Thoth deck, but I’ve recreated it with my trimmed tiny Thoth. The order is 1-3 down the left-hand column, then 4-6 down the right.
  1. The Priestess. I can take care of my body by listening closely to it. Many of the signals about what I need to be eating, drinking, or how I need to be moving, sitting, and standing are not going to be obvious, so I have to listen carefully and intuitively. Lately, I learned this lesson the hard way by knitting with bad posture, which gave me pain in my shoulders, arms, and hands for over a month. The pain has mostly gone away now because I’ve made a point of correcting my posture, but I wish I hadn’t waited until my body was screaming at me before I changed what I was doing. This is also a wonderful card to draw because it’s my birth card.
  2. The Two of Swords–Peace. Wow, what an amazing card for taking care of one’s mind. It’s literally the peace of mind card! Not everything needs to be worked out in my head; not everything is a problem that needs to be solved by logic; sometimes it’s OK to leave decisions undecided or to reside in paradoxes and contradictions. Honestly, it’s probably better to live that way most of the time.
  3. The Star. Another lovely card! I can take care of my heart by remembering that everything is workable, that new things come to flush out the old, that blood moves through the heart like tides.
  4. The Four of Wands–Completion. Ha–I actually did this spread before I had done my morning practice. I can take care of my practice by completing it!! But more generally, this card is about wholeness. One of the most difficult aspects of meditation practice (and yoga practice, as I’m learning) is to remember to practice throughout the day. Ideally, we take our practice into each moment. Sometimes I do my morning practice, but really resist taking it into the rest of my life. The Four of Wands is about wholeness, and I have to remember to think of my practice as something I do with my whole life, not just something I do for 45 minutes each morning.
  5. The Ace of Cups. How to I take care of my practical affairs? By reaching out to people, interacting with others, opening myself to new experiences. This is about saying yes to opportunities that feel joyous–and to bring a sense of joy to new opportunities.
  6. Nine of Swords–Cruelty. DUN-DUN-DUNNNNNN!!! So how do I carry all this stuff out? The Nine of Swords? To me, if there’s a card that embodies self-hatred, it’s this card. Even more so than in the Waite-Smith deck, this is about self-cruelty.

So what do I do with the Nine of Swords? What happens when you ask a question and the cards give you an answer that is literally the least appropriate of all possible answers? I think many would say that, well, it’s obviously telling you what not to do. I usually never read cards that way, though–it feels like bending the answer to what you want to hear.

And yet, it does seem significant, as if the card were saying, “You have a choice. This is what you have to keep in mind.”

In any case, sitting with this spread did indeed make me feel better. It’s good to remember that doing a self-care tarot spread, regardless of what the cards say, is an act of self-care already. Instead of proceeding in my foul mood, I recognized what was happening and approached it with a sense of curiosity and caring. I think the cards reflected back to me what I was already feeling for myself, but the Nine of Swords is a little sting in the tail that will keep me thinking for a while (or not, as per the Two of Swords.)

I also had Angeles Arrien’s Tarot Handbook by my side when I did this which helped me frame the cards in a healing way. I’ve been meaning to do a post on this book for months, having worked a lot with it this fall. I let it fall by the wayside over the winter as my tarot practice slowed down in general, but now I’m fired up about tarot again. I finished reading Rachel Pollack’s Tarot Wisdom and have started my second pass on Benebell Wen’s Holistic Tarot. I hope to show you all my work with Arrien’s book soon as well.

If you do this spread (or have any ideas about wtf the Nine of Swords is doing here) let me know!

Reading Tarot when You’re Emotional

Very common advice you see in many tarot books and websites is: don’t do readings when you’re upset about an issue, or about an issue in which you’re emotionally involved. And when it comes to doing readings for other people, I think this is absolutely true. A tarot reader should have the responsibility of being an impartial observer.

But I don’t have others to read for right now. I’m not to the closed-book stage of my study yet, so I don’t feel comfortable asking to read for others, even if it’s only for practice or fun. I’m trying out a number of different spread and techniques, and, well, that means that sometimes I just have to break some of these “rules.”

When I’m perplexed by a problem or upset about an issue, sometimes I just pull out my cards, much like I would vent about my problems to a friend. If my friend is a good listener, he or she will just listen and mirror what I’m saying back to me. I think one of the goals of good listening is to listen to the person until they can hear themselves. I think we’ve all had the experience of venting to someone until we realize that we’re being too whiny or we’re boring or we just needed to get it off our chests and are done now. I’ve also had the experience of listening to friends’ problems, and then they suddenly say, “OK, I’m tired of complaining about this, sorry.” Good listening is valuable because it helps us listen to ourselves and begin to understand what we need, where we hurt, and where we’re deluded. Tarot is a very good listener. Continue reading “Reading Tarot when You’re Emotional”

Reading and Making Meaning in Literature and Tarot

In the summer of 1971, the professor and scholar Stanley Fish pranked a class of graduate students. He was actually teaching two classes of grad students back to back–a class on theoretical linguistics from 9:30 to 11am, and a class on 17th century religious poetry from 11-12:30. For the first class, he had written their homework on the chalkboard, a list of linguists whose work he wanted them to read. The list looks like this:

Jacobs-Rosenbaum

Levin

Thorne

Hayes

Ohman (?)

After the first class cleared out and before the second entered, he drew a frame around these names and wrote “p. 43” above it. Once his students of 17th century religious poetry settled in, he pointed to this list, told them it was a religious poem, and asked them to analyze it.

And oh, they did! The students were able to find significance in the shape of the poem (although whether it is a cross or an altar one can’t be sure) as well as the names. They saw the poem as a religious riddle. “Jacobs”=”Jacob’s ladder,” “Thorne”=”crown of thorns,” “Ohman”=”omen” or “Oh man,” etc., etc. I won’t go into detail about everything Fish reports that the students saw in this “poem,” but suffice it to say that they found a lot of significance.

So what was Fish’s point in giving his students a fake poem to analyze? Continue reading “Reading and Making Meaning in Literature and Tarot”