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!

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!


The Wooden Tarot: Introduction to the Suit of Stones

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.


Since stones evoke images of earth, and since other nature-based decks like the Wildwood Tarot have used stones to represent the suit of Disks/Pentacles, it may be a little confusing that stones in the Wooden Tarot represent, not earth, but fire. I think Swartz included both Stones and Bones for rhyming reasons–blooms, stones, plumes, bones. (Hey, rhyme matters!) But once we see what a stone looks like in this deck, it becomes clear very quickly that they represent something more active than the element of earth. Stones in the Wooden Tarot generally have a reddish/magenta cast, and they are what we would usually call gems or crystals.

In addition to the stones themselves, the suit also has a second symbol: horns and antlers, much like the suit of Plumes frequently features both feathers and arrows. Horns and antlers (there is a difference between the two) to my mind more easily represent the element of fire: they are used for self-defense and to show sexual prowess. They are a visible manifestation of power.

Those who are in to crystals and/or horned gods will probably have a field day with this suit. I, unfortunately, can’t really speak to either of these things, but will do my best to interpret things as I see them in the cards.

And first up in this suit we have

The God of Stones

God of Stones

The God of Stones wears a red robe with a purple mantle. Flames can be seen emerging from their shoulders, and between their hands floats a large crystal, the Stone of the suit. The God’s lavender-grey eye is tilted slightly upwards. The God’s eye peers out from a triangle–the alchemical symbol for fire. On either side of this triangle, two antlers float.

Here is our horned god. While each of the gods has their own special type of power, the God of Stones strikes me as being the most active and powerful. Unlike the God of Plumes who cooly demonstrates detached intellectual mastery, the God of Stones strikes me as being more powerfully embodied, and may very well relate to sex in readings. Backed by the heat of the fire, armed with antlers, and effortlessly holding a heavy crystal, the God looks slightly, but powerfully upward.

The Ace of Wands generally denotes a rush of inspiration, and entirely new idea. Here, I see that energy embodied. Looking at the God of Stones, we get an influx of fiery creative energy. With the heat of the flames behind us, we can’t turn back.

Keys: a new idea for a creative project; an epiphany–not just an intellectual realization, but a new insight about our life’s purpose; pure sexual energy, intense attraction to another person

Reversed: creative mania–lots of energy, but nowhere to focus it; or an idea or project that is a nonstarter; the God of Stones reversed is generally a “no”; lack of sexual desire; sexual incompatability

A God of Stones Reading

The Eye: What insight is waiting for me about the creative projects in my life?

The Stone: How do I grasp that creative energy?