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 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.

Bones 6-10

Six of Bones

The bones of a hand with six fingers.

Again, since I don’t know that much about skeletal anatomy, I googled whether or not there are any mammals that have six fingers/toes. There are some that have an extra toe as part of their regular anatomy–pandas and elephants, which have an extra toe for supporting weight–but most six-toed creatures are polydactyls.

In this card, I see a clear nod to the Waite-Smith deck, which features a wealthy man distributing alms to beggars. The extra finger on the hand suggests abundance–having more than is necessary, and thus being able to give some away. Likewise, the image of a hand suggests both giving and receiving. What this card leaves out is the shadowy side of the Waite-Smith card–the potentially cavalier and judgmental attitude of the donor, who seems to be giving money to the better dressed beggar and not the raggedy one. This card could have that shadow element, but it would be dependent on the context and the other cards in the reading. I’ve also tossed in a couple of keywords based purely on the hand association of this card.

Keys: abundance; surplus; profit; charity; giving or helping with money or volunteer work; hand-made gifts

Reversed: financial insecurity; inability or unwillingness to help others in need; refusal to ask for or accept financial help; idle hands

Seven of Bones

Seven mushrooms grow out of a bone. Beside it is a small bone fragment. (Also see the Three of Bones.)

The Seven of Pentacles/Disks is where we see a pretty clear divergence between the Waite-Smith and the Thoth deck. The Thoth meaning is clear and unmistakable–“Failure.” The Waite-Smith image, on the other hand, is a little more ambiguous. A man leans on his hoe as he assesses the progress of his pentacle-harvest. Things look pretty successful at this point, but he doesn’t look so sure. We’re at a point of honest assessment–my keyword for the card–seeing how things are going and figuring out the next steps.

Compared to all of the cards so far, this one has the richest, most surreal imagery. I figured that mushrooms growing out of bones is just fantasy, but they can grow out of wood, soil, and poop, so why not see if they can grow from bones? I did some googling and all I came up with was a bunch of stuff about Minecraft, so my guess is that mushrooms growing from bones is not something that happens in the wild.

But let’s talk about mushrooms! They are the fruiting bodies of much larger networks of mycelium. Mushrooms are fruitful–they signal abundance and fertility since they are the reproductive parts of the whole organism. At the same time, mushrooms are the hallmark of decay. Their presence means that something is being broken down and transformed by the mycelium.

So what does that mean for this card? Unlike the teeny first fruits of labor that sprouted from the joint in the Three of Bones, we’re now seeing BIG fruits. These mushrooms are ready for harvest and eating (that is, if they’re not poisonous. Anyone who knows mushrooms well–please feel free to comment with suggestions on what they are.) At the same time, the seeds of decay are inherent in the fruits. The mycelium-filled bone will be broken down and turned into something else. Thus while this card is a sign of success, it’s also a nudge that we may need to turn our attention elsewhere. If we stay fixated on the bone, we may end up with nothing but bone-dust before long.

And what about that teeny fragment of bone at the bottom of the picture? It’s inscrutable to me, like the man’s expression in the Waite-Smith card. Is it a broken piece, signalling the breakdown of the bone, or is it something new–perhaps a new bone that could grow into something else? Not much is certain with this card, except one: this is not the time to rest on our laurels. Success may have arrived, but much more assessment and planning are required to keep things going.

Keys: fruits of labor; assessment; substantial but not long-lasting success; the transformation of a job or project–time to figure out the next steps; a nagging feeling that something isn’t quite right

Reversed: failure; clinging to a job or project after it’s time to have moved on; rashly moving forward with plans

Eight of Bones

Eight vertebrae are stacked to form a spinal column.

After the fruitful imagery of the Seven of Bones, we’re back to the “bare bones” imagery. In terms of a straightforward depiction of bones, this is matched only by the Four of Bones (hmmmm…think there’s a connection there?) In the four we had the stability and protection of a rib cage, but here we’ve got something even more vital–a spinal column.

The Eight of Pentacles/Disks is the card of hard work, and this is no different. In the Thoth deck, the keyword is “Prudence,” while the Waite-Smith deck features a worker diligently honing his craft in making pentacles. This card shows the accumulation of achievement, not through the spontaneous fruiting of mushrooms as in the Seven of Bones, but through the deliberate stacking of achievements one on top of the other.

The spine is what allows us as human beings to stand up straight, but we also shouldn’t forget that we share it with so many other creatures. The spine is a red thread that connects us with other forms of life and is an evolutionary achievement not only of upright humans but hunched armadillos and slithering snakes.

This card has the feeling of building something that is central to one’s existence–a core of stability around which other things in one’s life can happen. Like the Eight of Pentacles in the Wild Unknown, which also features a similar stacking mechanism, we have to read “hard work” into the card if we so want to because it’s not immediately apparent. I think of this card as the “storehouse” card, and from there we can think about what it actually takes to fill a storehouse.

Keys: stability; steadfastness; studiousness; saving up for a rainy day; creating a strong financial foundation; diligently working to save money; building a house or making your own possessions; short-term sacrifice for long-term gain

Reversed: spending when you should be saving; laziness; working hard at something that’s not worth it; short-term gain with long-term sacrifice

Nine of Bones

Mushrooms and grass grow out of the hollow in the middle of a pelvic bone.

So I did some more googling and found that this is almost certainly a dog’s pelvis. Don’t know if it’s really central to the meaning of the card, although it does give me the feeling that Swartz is someone who keeps around a huge collection of animal bones!

I would say that this is the most lavishly illustrated card in the suit, aside from the courts. No surprise there.

This pelvis forms its own little terrarium, with mushrooms and grass sprouting out of the earth. Given that the pelvic bone is close to the genitals, there is a suggestion of fertility here. Likewise, the situation of the growth between two tall bones suggests isolation. Both of these recall the Waite-Smith’s fine lady standing alone in her lush garden–there’s much growth, gain, and beauty here, but perhaps at the cost of being too isolated.

Keys: wealth; luxury; fertility; living in a walled/gated community–literally or metaphorically; feeling unable to relate to other people because of one’s wealth or status

Reversed: buying luxuries you can’t afford; a step down from a luxurious life style in one’s standard of living; giving money away–voluntarily or involuntarily; obsession with status symbols

Ten of Bones

The muzzle of an animal skull missing many teeth, but with 10 still intact.

I will flat-out admit it: this is my least favorite card in the suit of bones, and perhaps in the entire deck. But, hey, no big deal. Every deck has to have a least favorite card and this is the one. I am having a hard time understanding how this relates to the traditional meaning of the 10 of Pentacles/Disks–but let’s give it a try.

The animal that this skull belongs to is most likely a lion or mountain lion. Most of the teeth are missing, but nonetheless this is the card that suggests to us most completely a whole creature. We now return to the jaw theme, but unlike the disconnected jawbones of the Two of Bones, we have top and bottom–ready to chew.

My sense then is that consumption is the main angle of this card. We’ve reached a place where we no longer have to work and we can instead consume the fruits of our labor. Being the completion of this suit, it also suggests that while wealth is plentiful and we can rest on our laurels, it is also part of a larger cycle–like the retired person who can rest on her accumulated wealth but whose children will have to work for their own bread. As with many of the other cards in this suit, the Ten of Bones can be taken literally or metaphorically. Remember the ascetic God of Bones who asks us to question what true wealth is: having lots of money and things or having a sense of there being enough?

Keys: wealth; retirement; consumption; having an abundant mindset; no longer needing to work or worry about money

Reversed: conspicuous consumption; acquiring wealth for its own sake; always wanting more; having a scarcity mindset