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!

The Wooden Tarot: Suit of Bones 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.

I think this set of cards may be the most sparsely illustrated in the entire deck, which is both freeing and intimidating. The Wooden Tarot, while it may be based in the Waite-Smith tradition, also calls upon me to use my experience reading with other systems, particularly the Thoth tarot, and so I will be drawing a little bit upon both of them here.

Bones 2-5

Two of Bones

Two nearly identical jaw bones (the one on the left is missing its lower canine) with a lemniscate above them. (Well, that was the shortest card description in the history of tarot!)

It’s worth noting that all of the 2’s in this deck are similarly illustrated–two nearly identical suit symbols with a lemniscate above them. This makes reading the 2’s closer to Marseilles style of reading suit + number = meaning. While I know that the lemniscate is a symbol for infinity and that it appears on the 2 of Pentacles in the Waite-Smith deck, I wanted to know more specifically what it might mean. And so, I turned to Rachel Pollack’s Tarot Wisdom. The lemniscate

symbolizes the truth that life is eternal, without beginning or end, that nothing is destroyed but only changes form. –p. 36

This reminds me of the Thoth tarot 2 of Disks, which features an ouroboros twisted into the shape of a lemniscate. The keyword for that card is “Change.” Change, or impermanence, is one of the three marks of existence in Buddhist thought, and hence its connection to the eternal qualities mentioned by Pollack. As long as we exist–as long as anything exists–there will be change.

So how does all this apply to this image of two jawbones? Jaw bones are things that need to work together (you can’t chew) but are also constantly shifting their responsibilities. When we chew, we shift the food from one side of our mouths to the other. I think this very practical application says a lot about this card in the suit of Bones/Pentacles: physical things in our lives are not static; we do a dance with them as they change and wear out or as we change and wear out. Money flows in and out, clothes get worn out and need to be replaced, the seasons change–everything in our lives changes, all at different rates, all needing our attention in some way.

The missing tooth on the left jaw bone, then, is a signal that change is inevitable, that the tooth fell out and now we need to do something to compensate for the loss of the tooth. We shift from one foot to the other and back again, taking care of material needs as they arise. The missing tooth isn’t a sign of imperfection, it’s simply a sign of how things are.

Keys: making do; dealing with fluxes of money or material goods; keeping goods and finances in tune; adjusting to changes in living situation, whether those be human-made or caused by changes in the environment

Reversed: in denial about changes; feeling stuck or unable to cope with them; losing balance with financial responsibilities, material possessions, or work situation

Three of Bones

Three bones come together to form a joint, and out of the joint itself sprout two little mushrooms.

It’s images like these that make me wish I knew more about anatomy, either human or animal.I want to say that this image is of the tibia, tarsus, and metatarsus bones, perhaps in the hind leg of a dog or cat. At any rate, unlike the jaw bones of the 2, which are separate and we have to imagine working together, these three bones are already working together to form something really important: a joint. Each bone has its separate function in giving structure to the leg, but working together as a joint the bones are greater than the sum of their parts. We have three rigid things that come together to make flexibility.

As implied by the little mushrooms growing from the joint, it’s a fruitful thing. (“Fruiting body,” the term for mushrooms and other fungus that emerge from the mycelium to reproduce, is one of my favorite terms ever.) There are some implications for decay and change here as well, but I will talk about the whole mushrooms-sprouting-from-bones thing when we get to the 7 of Bones.

Keys: cooperation; something greater than the sum of its parts; the first fruits of collective labor

Reversed: insisting on working alone, for better or worse; losing time or money because of lack of cooperation; types of cooperative work (like needless meetings) that are unproductive

Four of Bones

The four bones of a rib cage. (I take that back, THIS is the shortest description of a tarot card ever.)

I will be honest and say that I’m not a huge fan of how the 4 of Pentacles is portrayed in the Waite-Smith deck. There are a few cards (the 9 of Cups also comes to mind) where the shadow of the meaning is illustrated more than the meaning on the face of it. The guy sitting there with his 4 big pentacles, clinging to all of them, is certainly one aspect of the card: miserliness and clinging to material things. But that’s not the only meaning.

The Thoth deck keyword for the 4 of Disks is “Power,” and indeed the illustration to the card is a bird’s-eye view of a moated fortress with four watch towers. So while the 4 of Pentacles/Disks can mean that you are hoarding stuff and being stingy, the other interpretation is simply that you are financially stable or, what I like to think, that you have arrived at a place where you feel like you have enough.

The rib cage on the 4 of Bones, then, could go either way. The four ribs provide structure, stability, and protection. At the same time, they are a cage, and may suggest protecting something that doesn’t need to be protected. I think this card is very context-dependent and I like that the open-endedness of the Wooden Tarot allows for multiple interpretations.

Keys: financial or material stability; the feeling of having enough; having a good home base or “nest” to return to at the end of the day

Reversed: miserliness; clinging to money or things; hoarding

Five of Bones

The bone pictured in this card is a scapula, or shoulder blade (although not a human one.) It has been severely damaged: cracked in five places with two large pieces broken off. It should be noted, then, that the “five” of this card refers to the fractures themselves, rather than the suit symbol.

While the Waite-Smith card shows two ill/disabled beggars in the snow, the Thoth deck names this card “Worry.” Again, I think Swartz’s card falls in between them.

Alright, so I’m learning a lot about skeletal anatomy today. It is interesting that of all the bones Swartz chose for this card, that he chose the shoulder blade. Although scapula fractures are apparently rare in humans, the significance of this bone is perfect for the meaning of the card. The scapula is necessary for moving the arms/front legs, and its place on the shoulders makes one think of “shouldering” burdens. With this card, we could be shouldering a significant amount of financial worries, or we could be like the beggars in the Waite-Smith card–encountering financial hardship because of illness, disability, a bad job market, or other life circumstances. Unlike the other bones featured so far, which seem pretty flimsy on their own, this strange fracturing of the scapula shows the brokenness of what was once strong and whole.

The one aspect of the Waite-Smith card that I really love is the church window above the beggars, which suggests that financial hardship may be an opportunity for spiritual and personal growth. In that light, the card could even mean deliberate austerity, such as a vow of poverty. But that’s just one of the quirks of Smith’s deck and it’s not shared by the Wooden Tarot.

Keys: debt; homelessness; job loss; illness (especially with large hospital bills); or a great amount of worry about these things

Reversed: mending financial situation; accepting help from others; adjustment to a lower standard of living