The Question is Insight

NOTE: I mixed up the 7 and 8 of Cups in the Thoth tarot. That’s what I get for working with a trimmed deck!

I’m not sure that we give ourselves enough credit for asking the question.

What I mean by this is: in tarot, we generally see the question as a means to an end, and the question itself doesn’t matter so much as long as we get a good or meaningful answer. Of course good questions are important–I’m not saying that the tarot community doesn’t think that. Nowadays, any tarot reader worth their salt will have a whole page dedicated to guiding querents in phrasing the question. But.

We also allow other people to ask the question for us, or, more commonly, a series of questions. These are called spreads. I have several myself that I designed for personal use, and then made public for others to use. It’s deeply gratifying to find that some of them have been useful to others. But.

A few mornings ago I sat down with my notebook and cards and some questions came forth. The questions in themselves are nothing spectacular, but they are not the same questions that I would have asked even a month ago. I’ve done a lot of tarot-assisted hand-wringing about what I want to do with my life, what’s meaningful to me, and how I can get there. I have wanted the cards to give me answers about how I can change.

But the questions that came forward were actually the result of change that’s been happening subliminally, in my emotions and my body. The role of the cards wasn’t so much to point the way towards the future, but to show me what changes have taken place.

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Where should I be focusing if I want to get more done this year? Three of Stones
Where am I resistant to change? Seven of Branches
What do I need to add to my life? Three of Vessels
What do I need to drop? The Storm
What do I look like when I’m the Boss? The World
What do I look like when I let others be the Boss? Eight of Vessels

This term “the Boss” comes from a sudden insight that I had over the Christmas holiday, in which I really realized that I need to “Boss it up” this year. In 2016, I was very reluctant to apply for jobs that I didn’t think were exactly what I wanted. Actually, at the beginning of the year, I was reluctant to apply for jobs at all. I had this idea that I should take a break (very true!) which then transmuted into an idea that I was going through so much personal growth that if I got a job I would be hampered in the new understandings that were unfolding in me (sounds good, but a complete line of bullshit.)

By being the Boss, I don’t mean a stance toward the world in which I want to control or dominate other people. Rather, it’s about not allowing myself to be limited by stories and concepts, and about taking responsibility for my own life, even in–especially in–situations where the outcome is beyond my control. Being the Boss means the buck stops here.

It was only after having this insight that it became possible for me to ask these questions. And I have to say–as a tarot spread on its own, this set of questions looks pretty lackluster! But for me, asking these questions was my way of admitting to myself that yes, things do need to change in some pretty specific ways.

All of the cards held a significant message, but I want to focus on just one, the Eight of Vessels, which I think will illustrate what I said earlier about being limited by stories and concepts.

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Eight of Cups/Vessels in several different decks (clockwise from the left): The Wildwood Tarot, The Wild Unknown Tarot, the Smith-Waite Centennial Deck, the Slow Holler Tarot, and the Thoth Tarot.

The Eight of Cups/Vessels has long been one of my favorite cards. When I began reading tarot back in January of 2015, I was still in grad school and gearing up to finish and defend my dissertation, having already decided to leave academia for something more closely aligned with my strengths and values. When I first took a good look at the Waite-Smith card and saw the red-cloaked figure walking away under the silent moon, it touched something inside me. Seeking rocky, high ground, moving into the unknown, moving away from what was logical or easy–I found myself in this place. Just look at the header of this blog–it features the Eight of Cups alongside the High Priestess (my birth card) and a statue of my favorite bodhisattva, Ji-jang Posal. There was an ascetic streak in me at that time, for sure.

More recently, when I saw the Eight of Vessels in the Slow Holler Tarot, I also fell in love with it–dark, moody, laden with sorrow and strange symbols, sadness and potential for rebirth (and amazing use of perspective.) But when it came up in this position in this reading, I got a very different message: I have been holding on to the energy of this card for too long, and it is time to move on.

Two years ago, the energy of the Eight of Cups was fresh and piercing; the card was a descriptor of what I was trying to do at that moment in my life. But now it’s stale. I am still in the posture of walking away rather than walking toward. But what is there that I still need to walk away from? Leaving academia behind, actually, turned out to be as easy as dropping a stone in water. Yet I am still allowing ideas about my personal growth in this period of transition get in the way of the one thing that I actually need right now: getting out in the world and doing things, even if it’s not my dream job. I will discover my dream job, my strengths and potential, through trial and error, not through sitting around and doing nothing.

eight of cups.jpgAlthough I say I’ve always liked the Eight of Cups, it’s true that I’ve never liked the Thoth version–Debauch. Withered lilies dripping green slime, no thanks. But now I see that I’ve moved into that place, that what started out as the ascetic’s journey has ended with self-indulgence. [The Seven of Cups is actually pictured above, but here’s a picture of the actual Eight of Cups–Indolence, which, in retrospect, applies to what I’m saying even more.] But I never would have come upon this insight if I hadn’t first understood that I’m not being the boss of my life right now. That insight came first and pulling the Eight of Vessels refined and deepened it.

Gathering In 2017

As we move into 2017, I think the most thoughtful and pithy thing I’ve read about it is this XKCD comic. I hope you had as good a 2016 as possible, and that 2017 brings everything you need and desire in spite of the confusion and challenges that the world is moving into politically and environmentally.

Last year, I got really, really in to this whole New Year thing. I worked through Susannah Conway’s Unravelling the Year Ahead workbook (which I am now doing again for the 3rd year in a row), did a giant 36-card year-ahead reading, and invented a New Year spread. My word for the year was UNKNOWN, and my overall year theme cards were the Emperor and Failure. Yup. All told, the giant year-ahead spread didn’t amount to much, so I skipped this this year. But I did choose a new word for the year, AWAKENING (or rather, the Slow Holler Tarot chose this word for me) and drew the Traveler of Stones (Knight of Pentacles) and Illuminate for my year themes. I want to talk a little bit about how this year theme thing has worked out so far, and then jump into this year’s Gathering In spread.

themes.jpgIn some ways, I’m glad that I had Failure on the table right from the very beginning, because that’s what this year felt like in a lot of ways. My failure to get a job in particular was something that I really wasn’t prepared for. I apparently wasn’t really prepared to search for a job, either, and I find myself at the end of this year reevaluating my strategies and priorities.

Looking back on my posts about themes for 2016, I’m struck about how I interpreted the Emperor, though. I located the Emperor outside of myself, seeing them as representing institutions and authority figures that I would be up against. Now that I look back on it, it was a strange way to approach the year, to assume that this year would be focused on petitioning large, authoritarian institutions. (Although the Emperor turned out to be a very fitting card for 2016 as an election year.) It wasn’t until a few days before Christmas that I remembered the Emperor card again and wondered–“What if I was supposed to be the Emperor?”

Given the theme of the Traveler of Stones and Illuminate for this year, it seems correct that I missed out on my chance to be the Emperor in 2016 and I’m now being sent back to the drawing board. I look at the equivalent of the Emperor in the Slow Holler Tarot–the Navigator–and wonder if I would have approached the year a bit differently if I had pulled that card instead. (Probably not–I think I needed the experience of this year to learn the lesson.) The Traveler of Stones tells me that I’m going to have to go back to basics, put my nose to the grindstone, and be prepared to sacrifice and let go of some things that I was clinging to in 2016. There are no guarantees of success, but Illuminate echoes the theme of awakening and suggests that this process will awaken me to new possibilities that I hadn’t considered before.

As for the Gathering In spread, last year’s was quite warm and fuzzy, but this year’s is more elusive and abrasive. And I think that’s a good thing.

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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!

 

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.

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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 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.

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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.*

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

The Wooden Tarot: Court of Blooms

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.

I have some general notes on the court cards of the Wooden Tarot in general at the top of my entry for the Court of Bones. I will add a general note because we’re seeing the third eye on the animals in these cards, which was absent on the skulls in the Suit of Bones. The truth is this: I don’t know much about third eyes, other than the association with insight and inner awakening. As I said in the introduction to the Suit of Bones, well…it’s a bare bones suit! It doesn’t seem to have much to do with spiritual endeavor or intuition. Not surprising that the Courts wouldn’t have a third eye.

In the Suit of Blooms, we’re seeing most of the figures from a more 3/4 view, meaning that we can see their third eye quite clearly. In the Suit of Plumes (Swords), the courts all have an extra eye, but since they are all shown in profile, the implication is that they actually have four eyes. Perhaps this has to do with the suit’s association with intelligence. Rather than the mystical third eye, the courts in the Suit of Plumes have four eyes so they can see the facts more clearly.

Interestingly enough, however, the court cards for the Suit of Stones (Wands) have no third eye (although, to be fair, they have crystals growing directly from their bodies, and why would you need a third eye when you have that?) This is a bit surprising to me, given the suit’s association with spirit and creativity. Mostly, it emphasizes to me that Blooms are THE suit of intuition and insight in this deck. We’re not just talking about cards that deal with emotion and relationships, but with the magical things that hold those relationships together–deep insight into ourselves and others.

Bloom Courts

Page of Blooms

A Blue Angel Nudibranch with an eye in the middle of its head swims inside a crystal ball or a large, round drop of water. The ball sits at the center of a white lily-like flower; water splashes from behind the flower and drips off the petals.

I really have to thank the members of the Wooden Tarot Study Group on Facebook for figuring out what on earth this animal is: Glaucus atlanticus. I figured it was some sort of nudibranch but didn’t have a clue as to the species.

This little guy is TINY–only about an inch long. And yet, they are terrifying because they float on the surface of water and sting to death much larger prey than themselves, including Portuguese Man o’ War. That’s right. This little one inch long creature kills and eats Portuguese Man o’ War. And aside from its small size and terrifying eating habits, this little critter also belongs to one of the most beautiful types of animals in the world: nudibranchs. Don’t believe me? Just look at these pictures.

Despite its power, the Page of Blooms (Cups) upholds the tradition of being the most feminine and delicate Page of the deck (although the Dik Dik, which is the Page of Stones in the Wooden Tarot, will certainly give it a run for its money.) The white lily on this card symbolizes purity and innocence. Eating of venemous jellyfish aside, we might think of this Page as being very passive (as befits Earth of Water), waiting to be discovered by friends and romantic interests and needing to be drawn out of their shell. Once they are drawn out, however, they are potent and passionate–a force to be reckoned with.

Keys: quietly carrying a great amount of sensitivity and passion; shyness in meeting new friends or lovers; an inexperienced lover; quiet, delicate beauty

Reversed: being unsure of how to handle strong emotions; emotional immaturity; sensitivity causing one to fixate in unhealthy ways–such as in self-hatred or by seeking revenge; emotional dependence rather than interdependence

Knight of Blooms

A three-eyed swordfish bursts from the center of a rose. Water splashes all around.

Woah! Here comes the Knight of Blooms, and they aren’t messing around. The swordfish is the perfect fish for this card–it’s a literal jouster! (I guess a narwhal would have been a good choice, too, but I like the non-mammal theme of this suit.) These are beautiful, aggressive fish who have a habit of showing themselves off by breaching (jumping out of the water) and using their bills to slash prey.

The rose on this card continues the Knight of Cups’s long association with romance and idealism. The Knight of Blooms makes decisions based on their gut and is quick in carrying things out. They feel strongly and will do whatever it takes to protect those they love. They can also be quick to take offense and long to hold a grudge. As a lover, the Knight is not a slow burn type of person. They will tell you how they feel up front and take the lead in moving through stages of intimacy.

Keys: passion; emotional loyalty; being honest about your feelings; acting on your gut, rather than waiting to figure out things with logic; being up front with how you feel

Reversed: overly-sensitive; wearing your heart on your sleeve and reacting sulkily or defensively when you get rejected; reacting with anger to feelings of vulnerability; holding grudges against other people and/or shutting them out because they–intentionally or not–hurt your feelings

Queen of Blooms

A three-eyed octopus emerges from a large, pink lotus blossom. Splashes of water surround them, while the moon rises from behind.

What an amazing choice for the Queen of Blooms! Octopus are among the most intelligent of invertebrates. They are strong, they are wily, they are masters of disguise. I dare you to watch this video without dropping your jaw. The octopus can disguise itself so well because it can tell in a split second what color and texture it needs to make its skin in order to blend in with its surroundings. When their amazing techniques of self-disguise don’t work, the pull the old ink-and-run maneuver.

The Queen of Blooms is my significator, so I almost feel like I’m writing a self-description here. I was puzzled at first, once I read more about the octopus, I became convinced that it is the perfect animal for this card.

The Queen of Blooms watches their surroundings closely. They have a strong sense of intuition (this card is often matched with the INFJ personality type) and adapt well to a variety of personalities and social situations. They are a shape-shifter, though, and others may have a difficult time getting to know them. The Queen of Blooms may be secretive–but often for no good reason. They may retreat and hide themselves simply because they want to be alone. However, when they are called upon to give emotional strength, they will do so.

Keys: intuition; the ability to get along with a wide variety of personalities; strength in emotional support of oneself and others; emotional independence and self-worth; having good people skills/being good at “reading” people

Reversed: hiding away; pretending to fit in with unhealthy social situations; shutting others out–intentionally or not; being so secretive it hurts those close to you; being so so socially adaptable as to be without a strong sense of self

King of Blooms

A three-eyed purple and blue betta fish emerges from a large white bloom. Splashes of water surround them, while the sun rises from behind.

And now we’re back on the small end of things. Betta fish are small, very beautiful, and very aggressive fish. The males in particular have long flowing fins and often fight each other–even to the death. Like the Knight of Blooms, the King of Blooms tends to combine showiness with aggression. Like the beautiful fins on the betta fish, which advertise  reproductive prowess, the King of Cups has many qualities that would make them a good long-term partner–not least a willingness to fight for a relationship, even in adverse circumstances.

However, the King of Blooms can also be a moody loner (male bettas are usually kept alone in aquariums because they will kill each other.) Their willingness to fight for what they love may have backfired, and now they will fight to keep others out. Hence the reputation that the King of Cups has acquired for being emotionally detached. Whether the King of Blooms is a fighter/lover or a loner will depend on the context of the reading.

Keys: emotional maturity–often on prominent display; wanting to make a relationship work; someone in a “provider” role for a relationship or family–orchestrating things so everyone spends time together and feels included; putting the greater good of a relationship above one’s personal feelings

Reversed: emotional coldness; being detached in a situation that calls for compassion; feeling hurt or embittered by past relationships

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?

 

The Wooden Tarot: Suit of Blooms 6-10

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.

Blooms 6-10

Well, this post clocks in at over 1,700 words!!! I didn’t mean to do so much writing, but these cards were more difficult to interpret than I thought they would be. I got them intuitively, but it was difficult to put it into words. Anyway, around the time I started this post, I saw that Marianne at Two Sides Tarot also published a post on these five cards. I waited until after I wrote mine to read hers, and I’m pleased to see that she could pull totally different things out of them!

Six of Blooms

A white lily-like flower on a stalk emerges from a seed. The flower has six stamens, on the end of each of which is an eyeball.

Here we have another botanical impossibility–although this might not be as impossible as two flowers blooming from each other or fruit and flowers on a branch at the same time. A flower emerges from a seed–showing its close connection with its origins. In the Thoth tarot, the Six of Cups is called “Pleasure,” and denotes general enjoyment of the pleasures in life. The Waite-Smith deck, though, has a bit more of a specific meaning. In it, we see a little boy handing a little girl a cup full of flowers, denoting innocent and nostalgic pleasures. This card holds both of those meanings, I think.

For the first time, we encounter eyeballs, which we’ll see in the next three cards. The eyeball is also featured prominently on the backs of the cards as well (which makes doing a “messy pile” shuffle a lot of fun) and on each of the Gods, so now it might be time to reflect on what the eyeball might mean in the context of this deck.

When I do a spread, I draw all the cards from a fan and keep them face down until all and drawn. This means that if I am doing a Celtic cross, for instance, I will have 10 eyeballs staring at me before I turn the cards over. (This is far less unsettling than I thought it would be before I got the deck.) The eye on the back of the card promises insight: your question has a 10 part answer, and each of these cards is an eye, a different perspective on the issue. As for the Gods, with their floating eyeballs, they seem to me to signify not simply beginnings, as aces do, but also the purest manifestations of the suits. The God of each suit is pure insight removed from the body of particulars. Interestingly, it should be noted that disembodied eyeballs do not appear anywhere in the major arcana.

The eyeballs that appear in the Suit of Blooms, then, have to do with insight into emotions and relationships–that is, emotional intelligence. The six eyeballs on the flower in the Six go beyond pleasure or nostalgia, but have to do with understanding of the roots of pleasure and nostalgia. The six eyes can show us different perspectives on issues surrounding our relationships, not only remembering the good times, but keeping our perspective during challenging times.

Keys: sharing pleasures with friends and family; acting skillfully in maintaining relationships; being generous and patient with loved ones when they are challenging; getting perspective on what is truly important when it comes to relationships

Reversed: emotional conflict or discord; forgetting why you love someone in the first place; refusing to see eye to eye on issues; keeping the blinders on

Seven of Blooms

A yellow flower with an eyeball at it center. Nestled in the petals are fourteen shiny white spheres.

Despite the Wooden Tarot’s reputation for creepy/unsettling art, this is the only card in the deck that gives me the Jibblies. It’s not the eyeball itself–it’s the little white things, which I imagine have the texture of fish eggs and jiggle a little bit when you touch them. Ewwwww.

OK!! Moving on. It’s worth noting that the Seven of Blooms in this deck corresponds to what is also the grossest card in the Thoth deck–the Seven of Cups, “Debauch.” I don’t know if Swartz actually meant for this to be the case, but I think the gross factor can help us relate the card to both the Waite-Smith and Thoth meanings.

In the Smith-Waite deck, the card is about fantasies and false choices. A person stands in front of 7 cups filled with the stuff of daydreams–good and bad–which themselves float on a cloud. All of the options seem both illusory and bewitching, but not worth putting your trust in. For the Seven of Blooms, I think of the eye in the flower as being the only true choice out of 15 possible choices.

In Tarot Wisdom, Rachel Pollack notes now drastically the Waite-Smith Seven of Cups departs from what seven means on the Kabbalist tree of life. Going by the Kabbalist attribution, the card would mean “great emotion, someone who loves powerfully.” In any case, “This is a card that might need balancing with other elemental energy.” (p. 325) That’s why I think the Thoth card means debauch, and we can get from the Seven of Blooms, too. There’s something not right about this flower–it’s literally overblown, and the color is sickly. Are those pearls nestled in the petals, or are we going to reach out to find gross jiggly things instead? This card suggests too much. Whether that too much has come to pass, or is only fantasized about, it reminds us that “decadence” and “decay” are rooted in the same word.

Keys: overblown feelings; fixated on ideals of love and relationship, rather than reality; getting yourself stirred up emotionally over something that won’t happen–like getting a crush on a celebrity; investing emotions where they are not wanted or will not be reciprocated

Reversed: disillusionment; choosing to withdraw emotional energy from somewhere and invest it in something healthier; realizing when enough is enough; getting out of a bad relationship

 Eight of Blooms

A waning moon/eyeball is surrounded by eight pinkish-white flower petals.

The eyeball in this card is only suggested–it is frosted over, or perhaps it has a cataract. The waning crescent moon suggests a cycle, as if the intelligence that animates the card is going through a pattern of waxing and waning over and over again. The circular arrangement of the petals suggests this as well.

The detached petals remind me of the “He loves me, he loves me not” game of pulling petals from flowers as a means of divination. All it comes down to is whether or not there is an even or odd number of petals on the flower. If they are odd, “He loves me.” If they are even, like they are in this card, “he loves me not.” After the debauch of the Seven of Blooms, we have sobered up here, and are able to see things in perspective. Feelings come and go; relationships come and go. They follow cycles, like the tide follows the moon. This card is about seeing the larger perspective, understanding how the cycle works, and realizing that when the moon is waning, or when “he loves me not,” there may be grace in walking away.

Keys: seeing things in perspective; diminishment of something that once nourished or excited you; walking away from people, habits, jobs, hobbies, or anything else that no longer support your emotionally

Reversed: clinging to a relationship or emotion that feels stale; seeing, but not following, signs that it’s time to move on; staying in a bad or stifling situation for a reason that makes sense: financial stability, keeping the family together, being a caregiver

Nine of Blooms

Eight small pink blossoms emerge from a branch bent to make a circle, and within the circle is a ninth, larger bloom.

After the weirdo eyeball flowers, this card may seem merely decorative–and yet it’s next on our list of botanical impossibilities. Notice that the branch in this card looks as if it were attached to the tree at both ends. How could such a branch grow? Would it connect two trees together, or would it connect to the same tree in two places, making a closed loop?

The Nine of Cups in the Waite-Smith deck features a guy sitting in front of his impressive cup collection, looking supremely self-satisfied. In the Thoth tarot, this beautiful card is simply called “Happiness.” The closed loop of the branch suggests as much–completion, security, fulfillment. Nothing needs to be added. But like the Waite-Smith card, it also suggests isolation and perhaps a certain smugness–particularly if paired with another card suggesting stagnation, like the Four of Blooms. The question is: are you happy because you know how to balance the good and the bad and grow emotionally, or because you are shutting out the suffering of yourself and others?

Key: happiness; a wish fulfilled; emotional contentment; having a strong circle of friends and family; may mean smugness or ignoring the suffering of others, depending on context

Reversed: getting what you want, but it turns out to be disappointing or destructive; dreams deferred; realizing that something you wished for is no longer worth it; setbacks in the pursuit of a goal

Ten of Blooms

A pink lotus flower with dew dripping from the leaves. In the center is nestled a crystal ball, slightly reminiscent of an eyeball. Behind the flower are rays of rainbow light.

Ah! And here we are–the rainbow colors of the Ten. If the Nine of Blooms is about insulated and perhaps isolated happiness and pleasure, then this card radiates outward. It’s a card about broadcasting love into the universe, which makes for a strong center. This may be the last appearance of an eyeball in the suit–the sphere in the center is somewhere between a very blurry eye and a clairvoyant’s crystal ball. This card connects happiness and love with intuition and insight–perhaps the person who can see unhappiness in other and knows how to respond in a positive way, or someone who just radiates good feelings to all around them.

I know this card is traditionally associated with family/domestic life, although I would expand it generally and say: this is a card about having a stable home base, whether that be your family, your circle of friends, but most importantly: yourself. With a solid foundation, radiance is possible.

Keys: self-esteem; healthy, loving relationships; being emotionally generous; putting emotional intelligence to good use; emotional stability and fulfillment

Reversed: emotional disconnection with others; relationship difficulties on a small or large scale; lack of self-esteem; longing for loving relationships, but not wanting to work for them

The Wooden Tarot: Suit of Blooms 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.

Yes, I’m going through these quite quickly because I want to keep up the momentum (and also finish them while I have time off of work and school.) Marianne at Two Sides Tarot has a lovely post on this set of cards, and I wrote this before going back to re-read hers. Hopefully both of our posts together will give even more depth and dimension to them.

Blooms 2-5

Two of Blooms

Two many-petaled flowers bloom back-to-back. Above them is a lemnescate.

The Two of Cups is traditionally the card of connection, especially between two people. Its keyword in the Thoth tarot is “Love,” and the Waite-Smith deck features a wreathed man and woman each holding a cup to the other, as if they were taking vows. The Two of Blooms, unlike these, also features a lemnescate, meaning that the card also carries connotations of eternity contained within constant change and balance.

The two flowers on this card seem to do the impossible: they grow from each other, rather than from the ground. They are in a tight-knit, closed system, giving and taking life-force in equal measure. And so while this card clearly has the classic connotation of connection, it speaks more strongly than two (or more) parties liking or understanding one another. It points to the true connection of selflessness–Indra’s infinite, eternal, and utterly connected jeweled net, or the beautiful philosophy from southern Africa that “I am because we are.” Whether we understand this card on a more mundane, “You make a great couple” level or on the vaster level of universal interconnection depends on the context of the reading.

Keys: connection; mutual understanding; unconditional love; interdependence; being seen and valued for who you are; realizing that you can’t do it alone

Reversed: confusing love with obsession or possession; loving or being loved only conditionally; refusing to see commonality; doing it on your own, no matter the cost

 Three of Blooms

Three pink flowers are in bloom on a branch. Below them hangs a ripe peach.

Ah! This card contains another impossible situation: fruit and flowers at the same time. (I dunno–maybe this can happen on some trees? Probably not on peach trees, though.) I feel that this also captures both the Waite-Smith meaning, in which we tend to emphasize joy and friendship, and the Thoth meaning, which is “Abundance.” (Abundance is in the Waite-Smith card, too, in the form of the harvest at the women’s feet, but can often be left out of interpretations.)

Fruit and flowers at the same time: joy, celebration, and connection are their own rewards. There’s no if-this-then-that mentality when hanging out with friends and loved ones. You don’t spend time with people in order to reap benefits down the line. This card is about enjoying the present moment and shows that the true gift we give and receive is none other than presence. (That was not a pun, I promise.)

Keys: spending time with loved ones; feeling emotionally fulfilled in relationships; having fun; deepening friendships

Reversed: spending time with people who don’t have your true interests at heart; shallow friendships or relationships; not spending enough time with friends or family; imbalance in the give or take of relationship

Four of Blooms

A faded, withered rose bud.

O Rose, thou art sick! (OK, I said this of the 5 of Pentacles in the Wild Unknown, too, but it’s still apt.)

O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

–William Blake

The Four of Cups is called “Luxury” in the Thoth deck; the water in the four cups simply flows between them, rather than flowing freely outward. The Waite-Smith deck features a young man seated, his arms crossed, refusing a cup being handed to him from a cloud. Something is stopped-up, dammed here, and life begins to wither as a result.

This rose bud is not simply experiencing the effects of old-age, since it is still tightly drawn into a young bud. It was picked before it had a chance to fully bloom and is fading before its time. This card reminds me of a phrase shouted (yes, literally shouted) as part of morning practice in my temple each day: “Do not waste your life!” What we see in the Four of Blooms is life being wasted. The waste here is not happening because of oppression or outside pressure; it is the “invisible worm” eating the rose from the inside out; it’s an inside job.

Keys: apathy; withdrawal; risk-aversion; boredom; stagnation; wasted potential

Reversed: dissatisfaction with stagnation; wanting to take the first steps toward a goal; realizing that new ways of being or thinking are possible; gaining understanding of self-limiting or self-destructive patterns

Five of Blooms

Five tree stumps cut off close to the ground.

My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,
  Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,
  All felled, felled, are all felled;
    Of a fresh and following folded rank
                Not spared, not one
                That dandled a sandalled
         Shadow that swam or sank
On meadow & river & wind-wandering weed-winding bank.
–Gerard Manley Hopkins

The desolation and feeling of being cut off in the Four of Blooms has become more serious in the Five. As depressing as this card is, I think it’s a very apt visual for the Five of Cups. There are no blooms here–life has been cut off. Unlike the Waite Smith card, which features a person grieving over three spilled cups while two still stand upright behind them, the desolation here seems total. I think it is similar to the Thoth tarot’s take on the Five of Cups: “Disappointment.”

The Five of Cups has always been a card that, to me, is less about an emotional state than an invitation to enter that emotional state. Feeling disappointed, dried up, rudderless, and isolated is the essence of this card, and I think Swartz’s art captures it perfectly. Not only have these stumps been cut off, but it’s not even particularly clear from the picture that they have roots. This may mean that there’s no place to go from here: neither up into new growth or down into roots. This feeling of being disappointed and cut off must be rested-in. All this being said, some species of tree can sucker back up even after the main trunk has been cut off. While suckers may not be like the original tree, this card offers the distant promise of a new phase.

Keys: disappointment; loss; grief; depression; sadness that must run its course before new growth is possible

Reversed: refusing to grieve or sit with feelings of sadness; conversely, a period of grief that is coming to a natural end

The Wooden Tarot: Introduction to the Suit of Blooms

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.

The suit of Blooms in the Wooden Tarot corresponds to the suit of Cups/Chalices/Vessels, etc. in other decks. This means that Blooms are ruled by the element of water and preside over the realm of emotion and relationships.

I think blooms are a very fitting replacement for cups–they’re lush, watery, and beautiful. Human beings have long related flowers with emotions–either the emotions that the beauty of flowers gives rise to, or the expression of emotions through giving flowers. Compared with the suit of Bones, the suit of Blooms feels fertile and luxurious. But as you’d expect with the Wooden Tarot, this suit has a few twists: many of the blooms feature Swartz’s favorite visual: the eyeball. We’ll get to this further on down the line with the later cards in the suit.  Another twist on the suit of Cups, which I’ve always found to be pretty gentle and introspective, is the court cards which all feature deadly, powerful, and/or aggressive sea animals: the Blue Angel nudibranch, the Swordfish, the Octopus, and the Betta Fish.

Like all of the cards in The Wooden Tarot, the Suit of Blooms takes what we think we know pretty well–our own emotions–and reflects them back to us in an inscrutable fashion. In this case, they literally stare back at us from the card and take the shape of some very non-humanoid creatures.

The God of Blooms

God of Blooms

The God of Blooms wears a blue robe with a green mantle. Four cresting waves emerge from their shoulders and a pink lotus flower, from which four squirts of water emerge, hovers above their open, upturned hands. The God’s amber eye–directed slightly downward–peers out from the alchemical symbol for water: an inverted triangle.

Like the Ace of Cups in the Waite-Smith deck, in which a hand holds an overflowing cup in its open palm, the upturned palms of the God of Blooms suggests the receptive, rather than active, energy of the suit. Whether the God is giving or receiving is unclear, but their hand gesture nevertheless signals the openness and reciprocity of Blooms. As with the suit of Bones, the God’s eye is tilted slightly downward, again signaling receptivity, unlike the Gods of Stones and Plumes, who look slightly upward. The blue and green colors of their robes suggest not only water, but the affinity that water and earth have for each other. (I found a suggestion of Buddhist monks’ robes in the God of Bones, but the robes of the other three gods are a mystery to me. Please comment if you see something they represent.)

With the God of Blooms, things overflow. Unlike the dry, hard symbols that surround the God of Bones, this card signals that the Suit of Blooms is about things that ebb and flow. The waters of this suit are life-giving, but they are also volatile. With the God of Blooms, then, we may want to think of this suit as being about giving and receiving and being open to the present–of looking in a mirror and bearing witness to the strange fishiness of what we see.

A God of Blooms Reading

The Eye: What insight is waiting for me about the role of emotion in my life?

The Bloom: What do I need to be emotionally open to receiving?