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!

2016 Part 2: Gathering In

A happy New Year’s Eve to you. Things have been quiet here because of the holiday craziness, which has finally died down. (Or rather, it died down a few days ago and I’m just now recovering.) A couple of weeks ago, I posted my massive Year Ahead Spread for 2016. While it is a predictive (i.e. fortune telling) spread, I’m not a predictive reader, so I did it for fun and also because whether it predicts the future or not, it has given me a broad range of things that could happen, which is important to think about.

When I did that spread, I chose a card each from the Wild Unknown deck and the Earthbound Oracle for the theme of the year ahead, and got the Emperor and Failure. Yup. I don’t know about Failure, but we’ll get back to the Emperor in a second.

After I did that spread, I downloaded and filled out Susannah Conway’s workbook Unravelling the Year Ahead (last year’s version of this workbook, by the way, is the reason why I got back into tarot.) Part of her method for helping people plan the year ahead is to choose a word that will set the theme. Last year, my word was OPEN, because I really felt like I needed to open myself to new experiences and others. This year, I chose the word UNKNOWN because I  have now graduated and am switching careers, so my life is one giant unknown. I believe that embracing what is uncomfortable or uncertain is a vital part of spiritual practice, so my hope is that UNKNOWN will help me not only deal with uncertainties in my life, but also cultivate curiosity about things that I think I know. (Being a know-it-all is one of my biggest–and most tiresome–habit energies.)

Inspired by Unravelling the Year Ahead, which has a page for you to mediate on the four elements of your life and how you’d like to cultivate them (air/intellect, water/relationships & self-love, earth/possessions & connection to nature, and fire/creativity) I decided to create a year ahead spread that involved the four elements. And I added a fifth, spirit, just for fun. I never actually work with this element in my tarot practice, but I know a lot of people do. Then I added four cards about your direction and personal power–not predicting what will happen from the outside, but the things that help you though any situation, not matter how unpredictable. Finally, the last optional card is to choose a theme for the year ahead, or reflect upon one you’ve chosen.

The Gathering In Spread

Gathering In spread.jpg

This spread could be used for a new year (either a calendar year or a new birthday year) or the pieces of it could be split off and used for different purposes. The Gathering part of the spread could be used anywhere, anytime. It’s the bringing together of your resources and personal power–how to stay on track, what your personal power is, how do deal with the things, as they say, that you cannot change, and how to take care of yourself. For mine, I used the Wild Unknown Tarot (fitting for the theme, eh?)

1-5: The Elements

1: Fire This is the realm of creativity. What is the theme of your creative life for the coming year?
2: Air Air is intellect–how should you be thinking about things, how do beliefs or knowledge help or hinder you?
3: Earth Possessions, finances, your body, your environment–anything tangible. What role do these play in your life the coming year? How should you work with them?
4: Water Emotions and relationships: what’s the theme for this year?
5: Spirit What is the tenor of your spiritual life? Even if you are an atheist, what’s the role of your connection to others in your life?

6-9: Gathering

6: What is my guiding light? This is the lighthouse beacon. It calls you back when you get off course; it provides guidance in times of darkness or confusion.
7: What is my personal power? What is that place of untouchable power in you–the thing that others can’t break, the thing that only you can access?
8: How do I deal with things that are out of my control? While we use our personal power to guide our selves, the truth is that control over people or events doesn’t exist. From a recalcitrant two-year-old to someone rear-ending you to the politicians signing off on oppressive legislation, no matter how many protests were had, sometimes we can’t control things. But how do we deal with them?
9: How do I take care of myself? Let’s remember to make this a priority.

(Optional) 10: What is ________? (Word, theme, card of the year, etc.)

When drawing these cards, I decided to work with upright cards only. Those who read this blog know that I work with reversals most of the time, but for big, archetypal energy stuff like this, I prefer to just stick with upright cards. As I turned each card over, I was amazed at what I drew:


I wrote my findings in the back of my 2016 planner, so I could flip back to them whenever I feel the need.

1 Fire of this year: 9 of Cups. Spiritually driven and creatively fulfilled by things that make me emotionally fulfilled.

2 Air of this year: The Star. Intellectually at my best when I am optimistic and focus on hope, larger lessons, and deeper meanings.

3 Earth of this Year: Daughter of Cups. Striving for a relationship with money and possessions that fosters emotional simplicity and gratitude.

4 Water of this Year: 8 of Cups. Walking away from things that are not emotionally fulfilling. Knowing when to move on.

5 Spirit of this Year: The Magician. My practice is whole-hearted and combines all elements of myself. Powerful because balanced.

6 My Guiding Light: The Sun. At this point, I have nothing to lose by pursuing what makes me happy.

7 My Personal Power: 9 of Wands. Sticking to my values and principles. This is the card of personal power. I have it!

8 How to respond to what I can’t control: 7 of Pentacles. Take a moment to remember that this is a small step in a larger process. Overall, progress with happen.

9 How to take care of myself: 3 of Cups. Do not isolate! Seek friends and lovers for comfort.

10 What is UNKNOWN? The Emperor. My encounters with institutions, organizations, and people in places of power.

If you’ll remember, the Emperor was the yearly theme card that I drew in my Year Ahead Spread. I did that spread before Susannah had made Unravelling the Year Ahead available and before I had even begun to think about picking a word. And yet–my yearly theme and my word of the year collide. This is why, when I want to get all super-rational about tarot and say it’s just completely random and it only works because of the things we project onto the cards, I pause. There is something amazing about opening ourselves up to chance on a daily basis, because stuff like this happens.

Overall, I feel empowered by this spread. Since it’s now in the back of my 2016 planner, I hope to return to it periodically, especially when things get rough. And I will keep my eye out for the Emperor since he showed up in critical places in both of my New Year’s spreads.

If you use this spread for the beginning of 2016, or for any other turning point in your life, please let me know how it went!


2016 Part 1: The Year Ahead Spread

Year Ahead Spreads are quite common in the tarot world–the idea is that you draw one card for each month, or some variation thereof, and perhaps also a card signifying the overall theme of the year. From this reading, you will be able to predict or plan for the coming year.

Now, I am not a predictive tarot reader, meaning that I don’t use tarot to predict the future or think that it can do a particularly good job of doing so in many cases. (That is, it can’t “predict” things that the querent doesn’t already intuitively know.) While tarot can predict the outcomes of certain events based on our habitual patterns and known factors of a situation, this is more like a meteorologist predicting the weather than anything else. And when I said “tarot can predict” in that last sentence, I meant, “tarot can open up a space for understanding.”

And yet, last week I decided that I wanted to do a year ahead spread. And I’d out do myself (and everyone else) by drawing THREE cards for each month plus an oracle card! That’s right–we’re talking a 50 card spread here; definitely the largest I’ve ever done. I chose the Wild Unknown Tarot and the Earthbound Oracle because they are both rich in meaning but simple in imagery.  I imagine that doing a spread this large with very visually complex decks could get pretty overwhelming. I also went through both of those decks and turned all the cards upright. (With a 50 card spread, there’s enough going on without the added complications of reversed cards.)

So here’s what I got:

year ahead full.jpg

Now, if you look closely in the center, you can see my two yearly theme cards: The Emperor and Failure. AAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!! Yes. The Emperor and FAILURE. With, like, a flaming moth and everything. Who would be happy turning these cards over? I mean, it could be worse–I could have gotten the Tower or the 10 of Swords or something, but these are pretty two intense cards.

I am not going to go into all the details of this spread because it would take forever and you don’t want to read them. (I am thinking about doing a monthly post using these draws, though. We’ll see.) But I had a ton of fun with this reading: counting courts vs pips vs majors, seeing how the elements break down, following the thread of each suit through the months and seeing what stories it creates, and figuring out a narrative for the oracle cards.

Following the suits through the months was the best way to make sense of all this information. For instance, from March to July, there is a Pentacles card for each month: Six, Eight, Son, Two, and Four. This narrative would suggest that in these months I will not lose financial stability, but I will need to work to maintain it (Eight and Son), that I will be faced with some choices surrounding money, like perhaps a new job and new benefits package (Two), and I will reach financial stability (Four) by July. After that, Pentacles basically peace out for the rest of the year, with the exception of the Ten in November, suggesting that I will be in a place of abundance by the end of 2016.

A long Cups narrative picks up just when the Pentacles are leaving off, with a Cups card in each month from June to November: Mother, Five, Seven, Three, and Nine. The Five and the Seven suggest that around the time I’m gaining financial stability, there’s some emotional upheaval going on–perhaps because I’ve had to move for my new job and I’m sad at leaving my old home behind (Five.) Perhaps I will encounter a new group of people and won’t know quite who to trust at first (Seven.) The month that the Seven is in, September, also contains The Devil and the Mother of Wands, as well as the oracle card Resistance. This suggests to me that I may actually fall prey to some sort of emotional temptation and will have to stay on my toes if I want to keep on course. Overall, however, the narrative ends happily with the Three in October and the Nine in November–that I will be able to find a new group of friends and figure out how to keep in touch with the old ones.

OK, I’ve bored you with this stuff long enough. Yes, it’s fun! I had so much fun doing it, but the question is: do I believe this is what the future holds? I’d love it if this were so, but I’m pretty skeptical of the idea that some cards I drew on an evening in December 2015 can predict every twist and turn of my life for the next year. Nonetheless, putting this narrative together was useful because it reminded me of a lot of basic things it’s easy to forget: yes, finding a new job is probably going to take a lot of work and involve some uncertainty. Yes, moving away is a big possibility and that entails grief as well as new beginnings. Yes, entering a new social circle is going to involve uncertainty and a lot of ego, as well as a lot of joy.

But honestly, it’s the Emperor + Failure that makes it. If as my yearly theme I’d gotten Fluffy Bunnies + Sugardoodlins, this spread wouldn’t have been very useful. The Emperor reminds me of what I’m up against: applying for jobs, dealing with health insurance, moving all our stuff from one place to another, renting or buying a home. Almost nothing is certain for the coming year, except one thing: I am going to be dealing with institutional structures and people in positions of power A LOT. And not only that, but I am bound to screw up a lot of stuff along the way because I’ve never done most of these things before. In the midst of the diversity of things happening in the monthly card draws, Failure reminds me that failing is a necessary part of the process. That I don’t deal with the Emperor by never failing, but by learning from my mistakes. What a beautiful and necessary message for the year to come.

Since I’m not a predictive tarot reader, I don’t think of the Year Ahead Spread as actually predicting what will come in the following year. I do think, however, that it’s a great way of entertaining and preparing for the range of possible things that could happen. I want to check in with this spread periodically to see if it was “right” about anything, but that’s for fun more than anything. Whether it comes true or not, the purpose of doing this spread was not to predict my future, but to leave me feeling empowered. I believe that’s the purpose of tarot, anyway, and it did indeed succeed.

Stay tuned for a significant (and frankly, sort of creepy) reappearance of the Emperor in my actual, non-predictive Gathering spread for 2016.

The Difficult Conversations Spread

difficult conversationsDifficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen, is a book I’d recommend to anyone. My copy has a thing on the front that says “New York Times Business Bestseller” and it’s categorized in “Psychology/Business” on the back, but I’m glad I didn’t let the association with business culture get in the way of reading this book, because it’s truly applicable from the most professional situation to the most personal one.

The authors’ argument is that difficult conversations–those that are difficult to broach or that trigger us emotionally–have three layers to them: the facts, the feelings, and the identity. If someone leaves a comment on my blog saying, “This post was poorly written,” three things are going on: the post itself (the fact), how I feel about being criticized (how I feel), and what part of my identity is being threatened by the criticism. If I am clinging to an identity of being a good writer or a smart person, I may feel defensive or angry–or I may do the opposite and give into despair: “I’m not a good writer after all.” I may respond by arguing about the facts–“This IS a good post, you just didn’t read it carefully!”–when what’s really important, and what are motivating 99% of my response to the comment, are my feelings and threatened sense of identity.

Now imagine a situation where it’s more complex: firing someone, breaking up with someone, telling a tenant that you’re selling the property and they’ll need to move, telling your parents you were sexually abused by a relative 20 years after it happened. Feelings and “identity-quakes” are going to be flying around and this book gives much great advice on handling them.

In preparing for a difficult conversation, tarot can help us, too, because it provides what we–who are so often identified with our identities and who act from our feelings–need: perspective. They get us out of the temporary feelings and thoughts of the moment and give us a space to see what we might be missing otherwise.

I mean, in approaching a difficult conversation you could just ask “what should I say?” and pull three cards, but working with an advanced model for how to think about this will make the tarot spread all the more effective.

The Spread

1. What happened: the facts of the situation. This is important because, as we all know but tend to forget when we’re reacting strongly to a situation, is that every story has at least two sides. Don’t assume that your story is the only story or that you know what the story even is. (An argument about, say, carpet vs. hardwood floors could really, in fact, be an argument in which one person is trying to get the other person to demonstrate commitment, while the other person has no clue about this and simply doesn’t have a preference for either carpet or hardwood floors!)

2. How do I feel about this situation? Seems like a stupid question to ask the tarot, but I find it to be one of the most illuminating. Sometimes the answer is not what you expect, but even when it is, it’s wonderful to see your feelings mirrored in the cards.

3. What identity or sense of self is being threatened, challenged, or changed by this situation? This is the big one. We carry around so many identities without even knowing it, and defend them not even knowing what we are doing. If someone says that I said something racist, I may argue with them about whether or not it’s a racist phrase or that it wasn’t racist because I didn’t intend to use it that way. I may go ballistic, research the history of the use of the phrase/word, or just shut that person out of my life. But what I didn’t know was that my entire response was motivated by feeling that my identity as a good person was threatened.

4. What is my goal in having this conversation? In Difficult Conversations, the authors ask you to think about this. What exactly is the goal? To tell the other person that they’re wrong or chew them out? To express your feelings? To come to an understanding? Before you even begin a conversation, it’s important to know what your motives are–because sometimes the conversation isn’t even worth having in the first place if all you want to do is chew someone out or complain to them about a situation that can’t be fixed.

5. What really needs to be said? Here we’re at the meat of it. What do you really need to say? What is your truth?

6. What is true but doesn’t need to be said? Telling a person that you want to break up with them because you don’t feel emotionally compatible is legit. Also telling them that you think their art is shitty is unnecessary. Sometimes things are true, but that doesn’t meant they need to be said.

7. What is the most important thing to keep in mind? I think of this as much of a how question as a what question. Think of this card as the lighthouse beacon for when the conversation begins to get off track. Sometimes this card will match up with #4–your goal. Sometimes it will be at odds with your goal, in which case you may need to reevaluate your purpose in having this conversation in the first place. You could even use this card as a talisman–bring it to the conversation or wear or carry something that reminds you of it.

dc spread edit.jpg

Here is a sample of this spread that I did recently. I got into an argument with a friend based on issues we’ve had before and now feel that I need to go back and talk about things. I won’t go into the details, but I’ll briefly run through each card.

  1. What happened? Mother of Swords, RX. I lost my temper, let my emotions get in the way of the facts. I was projecting my identity onto the situation.
  2. How do I feel? 10 of Wands, RX. Hell yes. Burnt out, exhausted, tired of having the same argument over and over.
  3. What part of my identity is being challenged? Mother of Cups. This one is funny because both the Mother of Cups and the Daughter of Cups are my significators. My sense of myself as a patient, compassionate person is being challenged.
  4. What is my goal in having this conversation? Five of Pentacles, RX. To undo pain and feelings of misunderstanding/isolation.
  5. What needs to be said? Four of Swords, RX. Some things that should have been said a long time ago, but weren’t. I need to stop covering things over and tell them my truth. These things need to be actionable.
  6. What is true that doesn’t need to be said? Daughter of Cups, RX. I don’t need to bring all my emotional immaturities upfront. I don’t need to go over in detail every time I was annoyed or upset. This is not about emotional venting.
  7. What is the most important thing to keep in mind? The Empress. That my goal is healing and I have it within me to do this.

Wow! I was very impressed with these when I turned them over. So much clarity here.

If you feel moved to use this spread, please comment and tell me how it went! And also consider picking up a copy of Difficult Conversations if you have some especially difficult conversations you need to have, or you have to have these kinds of conversations fairly often.*


* I bought this book with my own money and am recommending it based on my own experience.