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!

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The Wooden Tarot: Suit of Plumes 2-5

Plumes 2-5

This is part of an ongoing series in which I write about my interpretations of the cards in A.L. Swartz’s Wooden Tarot. You can find the other posts here.

Two of Plumes

Two partially folded, white-gray wings appear on either side of a waxing crescent moon. Above it floats a lemniscate.

As with the other twos, the lemniscate indicates balance and change. In a bird’s wings, balance is extremely important since a bird cannot fly with an injured or deformed wing. Without perfect symmetry or equal participation, flight can’t take place.

I see this card’s meaning as being closer to that of the Two of Swords in the Thoth deck–“Peace”–than in the Waite-Smith deck. In the latter, a woman sits holding two crossed swords across her chest, suggesting that the swords work at cross-purposes. Hence the common interpretation of this card as being about needing to make a decision–either this sword or that sword must be chosen, but not both. In the Wooden Tarot Two of Plumes, the wings work together, making for a very different meaning.

The question this card asks is: How do ideas or belief systems hold each other in balance? For instance, in a legal case, one wing cold represent the law, while the other could represent what is fair from a human-centered perspective. A common image in Buddhist thought is the wings of wisdom and compassion. Wisdom without compassion is cold and heartless, and will ultimately not benefit anyone. Compassion without wisdom is misguided and perhaps even harmful. Just like a bird needs both wings to fly, we need wisdom and compassion to act skillfully.

The Two of Plumes, then, is not so much about making a one-or-the-other decision, but about figuring out how to balance ideas and paradigms. And if the lemniscate didn’t clue you in, the waxing crescent moon shows that there is no one right answer for all time. Things are in constant change, and so the kinds of knowledge and practices are appropriate to bring to any situation will always be changing as well.

Keys: balance; fairness; tempering extreme ideas; balance of head and heart; making a decision or undertaking a project with a balanced perspective; neither extreme optimism nor extreme pessimism; sense and sensibility

Reversed: continually favoring one set of ideas or beliefs over another; dogma; unwillingness to meet halfway  on an idea; assuming that the same idea or procedure applies equally in all situations; losing perspective

Three of Plumes

Three arrows pierce a heart.

This is one of the few places in the deck where Swartz stays close to the Waite-Smith image. It’s one of the most universally recognizable and interpret-able image in tarot, and its associations with pain and grief are easy to see.

It’s worth noting a couple of things about this card, though. The first is the thickness of Swartz’s arrows. All throughout this suit, arrows are thin–basically drawn as a single line, rather than cylinder. To me, this emphasizes the airy insubstantiality of thought and the truth that thoughts and words can hurt so deeply even though they are not “real” in a physical sense.

Second–look at the arrowheads on these arrows. Make no mistake–these are for hunting, not archery. Whether true or not, it feels like someone has taken direct aim at us and is trying to bring us down.

But to me, the most important thing about this card is the anatomical detail of the heart, which is very different from the stylized heart in the Waite-Smith or Sola Busca (the deck whose 3 of Swords the Waite-Smith image is based.) While, miraculously, no blood drips from this heart, we see it in great detail–muscle, ventricle, artery, vein. This could mean that the pain is raw–almost too much to look at–or that we are prone to over analyzing it and thinking about it in detail.

This reminds me of another classic Buddhist teaching: the two arrows. We get struck with the first arrow, which causes a great amount of pain–we get fired, snubbed by a friend, cheated on, etc. That pain is an inevitable part of life. But then we hit ourselves with a second arrow in the same place (which of course hurts much worse) because of the way that we react to the first: lashing out in anger, drowning in self-hatred, and obsessing about what has happened. So in this card, the heart’s detail has two dimensions: the pain itself, and the additional pain caused by obsessively thinking about and examining it. It asks: where is the line between necessary grief and refusing to let go and move on?

Keys: pain; grief; loss; betrayal;

Reversed: obsessing or over thinking something painful that has happened; feeling stuck and unable to move on (Note: depending on the context of the reading, this card reversed could also mean a lessening or ending of pain)

Four of Plumes

A small gray bird lies with its wings stretched in front of it, eyes closed. Four of its feathers are scattered around it.

This is the first of several birds we will encounter in this suit. While Swartz can be extremely precise as to species, this one strikes me as being a fairly generic bird. It may be worth noting that its wings look similar to those in the Two of Plumes.

I usually see the Four of Swords as a fairly positive card, but this card is a little darker. This is not a natural position for a bird to be in. If I saw one like this outside, my first assumption would be that it had died a violent death (even when they die from hitting windows their wings usually fold back up.) At best, it has been knocked unconscious. I’m just going to take it on faith that this bird is alive, but in any case it’s been through some sort of trauma. Perhaps it can pull itself back together, but those feathers are gone for good.

[Note: I know that some people might have a gentler interpretation of this card, since it kind of looks like the bird is cuddled up sleeping. But once a birder, always a birder, you know?]

Keys: slow healing; after-effects of trauma, recent or far in the past; moving slowly in grief; licking your wounds; cutting your losses

Reversed: readiness to move on; completion of healing

Five of Plumes

A three-eyed Blue Jay is perched on the edge of a nest. Three of the five eggs in the nest have been broken.

In this card, Swartz’s precise attention to bird species is on display. For those who do not live in eastern North America, let me give you the low-down on the Blue Jay. They are beautiful, loud, aggressive birds. They will not hesitate to terrorize the neighborhood cat that comes too close to their nests. They will send up loud alarm calls at the slightest hint of a predator. They are absolutely gorgeous, but have a mixed reputation at feeders due to their habit of chasing smaller birds away.

Blue jays are also omnivorous and have been known to eat eggs and nestlings, which makes them the perfect species for this card. The Blue Jay perched on this nest wears an inscrutable expression. It could be just finishing its meal of three eggs, or it could be a mother returning to the nest to find all but two of her eggs eaten. All is not lost–this is not the lowest point in the suit–but damage has been done. This card carries the same ambiguity as the Waite-Smith Five of Swords, which could be about the haughty aggressor or those who walk away from him in battle. The third eye on this Blue Jay does suggest, however, that whether aggressor or victim, there will be an opportunity to gain spiritual insight from this encounter.

Keys: aggression; theft; domination; trickery; OR being on the receiving end of aggression or some sort of fraud–a good deal of damage has been done, but it’s best to learn your lesson for next time and be thankful for what you still have

Reversed: rectifying an injustice or striking back at an aggressor; a battle in which there may be no clearly right or just side;