I Ship It: A Tarot Spread for Fandom and Personal Development

A strong marker of my life, and of many people of my generation, is the propensity toward fandom. Fandom being, in my own definition, an intense intellectual and emotional attachment to the characters and world of a book, movie, TV series, or something else. I was predisposed toward fandom from a pretty young age, no doubt because, as all of the adults in my life said when I was growing up, I have a strong imagination. From pre-pubescence to my early 20s, I bounced from fandom to fandom, going through cycles of obsession, writing and reading fics, contributing to discussion forums, and engaging in light cosplay (generally only on Halloween.)

However, while I have respect for fandom in a lot of ways, I’ve since given up on it almost entirely. I almost never watch movies or TV anymore, preferring to spend my time reading, knitting, doing tarot, taking walks, etc. I have done this because I have begun to realize that I actually don’t like the feeling of having someone else’s fictional universe imposed on my mind. I said that I spend a lot of time reading, and even that is usually non-fiction or poetry because I don’t even really like to read novels anymore.

All of this is apart from the actual quality of the novel/TV show/movie in question. I understand that there’s a lot of really good stuff out there that I would enjoy reading and watching, but I just don’t like being immersed in fictional universes. Why? It feels like limerence to me. (I had a lot of experience with limerence in my late teens and early 20s and have to say that I have come to intensely dislike it, as much as our culture fosters and promotes it.) Fictional universes pull me out of the present moment and set me on a track of obsession. I have spent a frightening amount of my life fantasizing about people who don’t exist, even when said fantasizing brings me no material or even social benefit.

However, there is one fandom—not even the entire fandom, just one ship within a fandom—that has continued with me. There’s a fanfic in my mind that I have been composing on and off for about 15 years. I’m not going to say what ship it is, but I have started to think about it in different terms. For a long time, I wished that I could just get rid of this fantasy, but it would always come back. I do wish that it played a smaller role in my life and took up less of my energy, but nowadays I’m examining it with curiosity more than anything.

This is why: I’ve noticed that, as I’ve matured as a person, so have the characters become more deep and complex. The lessons that I’ve learned in my life, especially about relationships, then make their way into the fic. In other words, the fic has become a tool for witnessing my own personal growth and testing my beliefs about relationships and personal development. Usually, the fic only exists in my mind, but I’ve been writing about it more openly in my journal to record these insights. I also decided to build a tarot spread about it, which is why I’m sharing here.

This spread is very customizable, and can be modified based on the particular details of whatever fic or recurring fantasy that you have in your head.

Card 1: In creating/modifying Character A as they are, what do I long for in myself?

Card 2: In creating/modifying Character A as they are, what do I long for in others?

Card 3: Same as Card 1, but with Character B.

Card 4: Same as Card 2, but with Character B.

Card 5: In bringing these two characters together, what do I want from how the parts of myself relate to each other?*

Card 6: In bringing these two characters together, what do I want in my relationships?

Card 7: What shadow is in this story that I can’t see?

Card 8: Is this even a healthy story for me to be telling?

Card 9: How can I take steps to make this story useful for myself in my own life?

The answers I got were interesting. They did not dredge up any deep shadows, but they showed me that continuing to work with the fic in this vein will be useful and that there are insights that I can put to practice in my life if I look at the fic with curiosity and detachment. That is—if I stop running away from it and being embarrassed by its existence, but also stop getting completely caught up in it.

This is a preeetty embarrassing topic to write about, but I decided to put it here because I bet that many of us have a ship/fantasy/story rattling around in our heads that might be better served by curiosity and analysis.

* This very awkwardly phrased question comes from my realization that each of these characters represents different parts of my own psyche.

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.

Mid-Summer Check-In

luckLately, I have needed to put my feet in the water. Lately, my life has been feeling so stagnant and stifled and I need to experience the flow of the river. Still no job, but I haven’t been looking for one. I’ve felt like something needs to stay on hold. Yes, I’m doing volunteer work–building my portfolio, I tell people, to ward off suspicions (in others and myself) that I’m just not doing enough, or that I’m being perverse or irresponsible.

But I have never done anything irresponsible in my entire life. Not one single thing. I make good decisions, I have my shit together. How would I have gone from the 17 year old from a working-class background and a 2.8 high school GPA to a 30 year old with a Ph.D. if I didn’t seriously have my shit together? Well, I’ve had lots of luck and privilege too, don’t I know it.

So mostly, I stay in. I knit, I read. I’ve begun a journaling practice again after letting it go for at least a year. I’ve been doing asana yoga and thinking about shadow work and soul work.

The river near me goes through many widths and depths as it winds through the city, but my favorite place is where it’s wide, fast-flowing, and shallow. People regularly struggle to get kayaks and canoes through certain spots, often having to get out in mid-calf high water to carry them to deeper areas. This summer, I have realized that getting out into nature alone must be a priority for me, and right now the river is calling.

I’ve found so much life in the fast-rushing shallows–mussels, crayfish, minnows, dragonflies and damselflies, ducks, geese. I saw an osprey diving for fish, and a painted turtle digging her nest. I sit quietly and watch; or wade slowly and turn the river stones over with curiosity and trepidation. I take my cards, too.

In May, I spent 10 days in an intensive with Joanna Macy, which is an experience I will be grateful for for the rest of my life. I brought my Mary-el with me, and while I did almost no readings for myself, I got the chance to do several readings for other people, and news of my crazy-ass tarot deck spread like wildfire among the participants. People saw and recognized the depth of Mary-el immediately.

After returning, however, I didn’t touch my cards for a week or two. I don’t know why–it just didn’t feel right. When I began doing readings for myself again, they were mostly focused around the circle teachings of the four directions. I’m still not sure what I’m doing with that, but I may write about it in the future.

I’ve been feeling the closest to my nature-centered decks: the Wildwood Tarot, the Wild Unknown Tarot, the Druid Animal Oracle, the Earthbound Oracle. 20160630_150041I feel like my practice is shifting and deepening somehow. I’m trying to take a more intuitive turn, but it’s also been hit or miss. I think my problem is that I want to do bigger spreads (especially spreads I’m just making up on the fly) and it’s not really clicking with me. I’m sort of groping my way to a more body-centered, nature-centered way of card reading.

Looking at my site traffic (which was bizarrely high in May and nearly as high in June, despite the fact that I published almost nothing), I see that a lot of people are landing here looking for info about the Wooden Tarot. I finished the minors months ago, but looking at the majors will take more time. I haven’t even begun with them yet, to be completely honest. I tried to start soon after I finished the minors, but something just wasn’t clicking. I didn’t feel like I could find a way into them. That may begin to loosen up and change a little bit, but I imagine it will be a while before posts start going up.

Today I made up a small daily spread that may be useful to some. Right now, all of my questions are about finding my place in the world–that is, my true place. It’s a much bigger question than getting a job; it has to do with what I was born to do, and I don’t know. Remember how my word for 2016 was UNKNOWN? Well, I’m finally making it into the unknown. It may be irresponsible, perhaps, but I don’t to get a new job–a new set of responsibilities and identities, a new social scene–until I dwell in this place of unknowing a little longer. Anyway, this spread is a version of the questions that I’m asking myself all the time nowadays, so here goes.

  1. Today’s theme, or most important feature
  2. What do I need?
  3. What needs me?

I hope you find it useful; if you do, let me know.

I just felt the impulse to apologize for all this navel-gazing, but you know, I’m not going to apologize. It’s part of what I need, and it’s part of what the world needs from me.

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!

The Mirror

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

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

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

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

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

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

mirror spread

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

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

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

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

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