Keeping Secrets Like the High Priestess

A little over two years ago, I took a career seminar in which I found out that my Meyers-Briggs personality type is INFJ. This explained so much about my life to me, I can’t even tell you. Some time later, after I got into tarot, I also learned that my birth card is the High Priestess. Getting this card as my birth card may have been ordained by the universe or it may have been a great coincidence, but in either case it has helped me think about patterns in my personality and how they have shaped my life.

INFJs are altruistic and caring people; they are sensitive and idealistic, but have a strong discipline/pragmatic streak and do well at following through on concrete tasks. This combination of idealism and pragmatism makes them the rarest personality type. (Being idealistic enough to go to grad school for English literature and being pragmatic enough to actually finish the program strikes me as a classic INFJ thing.) The High Priestess, too, has a combination of taking the world (and being taken) very seriously while sitting at the border between worlds in secrecy and detachment.

Perhaps the greatest thing that the High Priestess and INFJs have in common is secrecy. And I’ve got that in spades. Being secretive is not the same as being deceptive, mind you. I don’t lie to people. It’s just that I don’t bother to tell people what’s going on in my inner life until way down the line. For instance, at the age of 24 I left the area my family lives in to go to grad school. When I talked to my family, I mostly told them about my classes or teaching or social life. But then basically, one day, they wake up and find out that their daughter is a Buddhist! Like, she goes to a temple and has taken vows and has a Buddhist name now and everything! They did not know that I had been interested in Buddhism since about the age of 21, or that I began practicing seriously at the age of 26. All they know is that, at the age of 27, I’m now a card-carrying Buddhist.

This analysis from 16 Personalities about the weaknesses of the INFJ personality is a great description of my kind of secrecy:

INFJs tend to present themselves as the culmination of an idea. This is partly because they believe in this idea, but also because INFJs are extremely private when it comes to their personal lives, using this image to keep themselves from having to truly open up, even to close friends.

So yeah, big inner questions and issues are things that I work through on my own and nobody else really finds out about them until I’ve completely processed or figured them out. As another example, I decided over the course of a couple of years that I did not want to go into academia. So one day after I had firmly made this decision and even informed my dissertation committee, I called my best friend and told her that I was not going to pursue an academic career. She was devastated because her whole fantasy is that we’d get jobs in the same department and be academic best buds forever. But that’s not the reason why I didn’t tell her beforehand. It just did not occur to me to tell her my doubts about academia while I was in the process of making the decision.

Over the past couple of years, I have gone from complete obliviousness about this secrecy of mine to being quite self-aware about it. But even that self-awareness hasn’t changed much. My secrecy has been brought to the forefront of my mind recently because of murder of the beautiful men and women at Pulse in Orlando. I am queer, but I’m basically in the closet. (I pass as straight for a number of reasons, so oftentimes my sexuality is erased, even if I am trying to be open about it.) This is not because my friends or (immediate) family would react negatively any way (my mom would probably run out and join PFLAG or something), but I just always felt that my sexuality is a personal part of me, so why bother telling people? Also, I’m married to a man, so it seems like moot point. But it’s not. After the shooting, I realized how I needed to grieve it as a queer person in queer community, which actually means being part of queer community, which means coming out.

So now, at 31, I’m thinking–how am I going to tell my family, but also: why did I keep this a secret for so long?

Well, tarot to the rescue. I realized that I needed to spend a little time with the High Priestess as well as ask some questions.

hp reading

I could have chosen more decks, but I decided to take the High Priestess (or its equivalent) out of six of my decks: Thoth, Waite-Smith, Mary-el, Japaridze, Wild Unknown, and Wildwood. I didn’t do readings with these images; I just wanted to study them and have them as a focus. Then I took out my Earthbound Oracle and asked five questions:

What is the quality of things that I hide? Healing
What is the quality of things that I make known? Death
Why do I hide things? Transformation
What needs to stay hidden? Vision
What needs to be revealed? Voice

I have found the Earthbound Oracle to be the most powerful part of my readings lately, and this is no exception.

I hide things, not surprisingly, that are tender and vulnerable in me; things that I’m still working on, trying to figure out. Like it would be painful and perhaps counterproductive to take a bandage off of a wound to show someone else, I don’t want to show my developing thoughts and feelings to others until I feel that they’ve healed enough.

When things are no longer moving in me, when they’ve healed and become stable, that’s when I show them to others. There are already new questions and processes going on inside me, but the ones that I show to others are dead, not in the sense that they are gone, but that they’ve gone from being living questions to solid properties of my life. They’re dead in the way that death often signifies in tarot, something that has gone through transition.

So why do I hide things then? I hide the process of transformation. I hide things that are wounded and vulnerable in me, that haven’t had the stitches all put in place, are still undergoing metamorphosis. I hide those things like a caterpillar hides itself in a cocoon as it undergoes a transformation that nobody else can see. Transformation through healing is a fragile time for me. Perhaps I fear that I’d let other people talk me out of my process, perhaps I don’t know how to reveal to others what isn’t clear to me yet.

But it’s also clear that I don’t need to reveal everything to everyone. Some things need to stay hidden–the inner vision that drives my life questions is mine and mine alone. I just finished Bill Plotkin’s Soulcraft this morning, which is about the practice of actually being initiated into adulthood and finding your true purpose in life (soul) beyond what society or your social self thinks. These encounters with soul, which often come in the form of visions, generally happen when we go through experiences–willingly or not–that shake us out of our everyday social selves. Plotkin makes the point that telling other people about these visions

might even be a bad idea. You’re likely to be misunderstood and very few people –maybe no one–will be able to grasp the luminous vitality that the vision holds for you. (p. 325)

The owl on the vision card is blindfolded, meaning its vision is turned inward, but at the same time it holds onto a jewel. The vision and the jewel, my purpose in life and my guiding light, are mine and mine alone. The vision drives the questions and the transformations in me, and while I might reveal them to others, revealing the vision itself makes less sense.

All that being said, my voice still needs to be heard. I think part of my problem is not that I keep silent about things that I’m experiencing while I’m experiencing them, but I sit on them for a really long time, even after they’ve become a part of my psyche and everyday life.  I need to give voice to these things while they’re still vital because otherwise I’m just sitting on a bunch of secrets that are actually powerful qualities about myself, and I’m sharing them with no one.

Since we’re so close to the summer solstice, this strikes me as a good time to reflect on secrecy. What am I keeping in the dark from others that needs to be brought to light? I’m pretty good at uncovering shadowy places in myself, but once I’ve discovered them, how do I make them into a light for other people? I don’t know if this series of questions would be helpful to others, but if you find yourself in a similar place and want to give them a spin, I’d love to hear about it.

It’s Queer Tarot Time!!!


What is queer tarot? Uh…tarot by queer people. LGBTQ decks fall under this category, but the three queer decks that I’m thinking about are also simply queer as compared to mainstream tarot decks. Mainstream tarot usually features thin, beautiful white people who have heteronormative interactions with each other and traditional gender presentation. Needless to say, many people do not see themselves reflected in these decks. Perhaps people buy decks because they present some idealized version of human beings and it’s a wish fulfillment type of thing? Because I’m pretty sure that 95% of human beings on this planet do not look like the average men and women you see on tarot decks, whether they be lithe fairies or comely vampires.

For those who are not straight, not white, not skinny, not gendered, and/or not possessed of the mainstream ideal body type, working with these decks can be difficult if not downright damaging, so the need for decks that acknowledge different races, sexual identities, gender expressions, and bodies is pressing. I am actually skinny, cis, and white, and even I get put off by people in tarot who look like they fell out of a Victoria’s Secret catalog/Chippendale dancers calendar. (I also want to acknowledge that these critiques were in the tarot community long before I came and to honor the work of people of color and queer and trans folk who have been making them. Just adding my voice here.)

Right now, there are THREE queer tarot decks in the works–one as of yet to be funded, one in its funding campaign right now, and one that is already funded and is being drawn/written as we speak: The Collective Tarot, the Next World Tarot, and the Slow Holler Tarot.

I just got word from Beth Maiden of Little Red Tarot that a Collective Tarot reprint is in the works. I know I promised that I would not spend any more money on tarot stuff from now till May, which is true, but when I made that vow I secretly made the one exception: if there were a reprint of the Collective Tarot.

The Collective Tarot is a queer, multi-racial, body-diverse deck drawn by a collective of five artists. It has only been produced in crowd-funded print runs and has been out of print since 2013. I love the funk to this deck, as well as its diverse cast. Here’s an image search of what the cards look like. No word on a timeline for this deck yet, but I am willing to wait for as long as it takes.

The second is a brand-new deck by Cristy C. Road called The Next World Tarot. This also might tempt me to break my tarot vow–only because (a) I want to support this artist’s amazing work and (b) once it’s printed who knows when I might get the chance to buy it again.

Road’s style is both gritty and slimy (literally–and in the best possible way.) I’m in awe of her line, as well as her colors. I don’t know if it’s 100% my style of deck since I tend to like decks with visuals that are less busy, but that it’s a visionary deck is unquestionable.

The third deck is the Slow Holler Tarot, which I backed in the spring. The best place for deck updates is on their Instagram page, and, I’ve gotta say, as each new card comes out I am so thankful I backed it. The official ship date for the deck is November 2016, but unofficially they are ahead of schedule.

In the meantime, I’ll work with my two queerest decks: The Wild Unknown and the Wooden Tarot. (The former queer because it features no people and lots of rainbows; the latter queer because it features no people, lots of weird stuff, and was created by a trans man, A. L. Swartz.) Likewise, my series of posts on the Wooden Tarot continues!

The Wooden Tarot: Court of Bones

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.

Bone Courts

Finally, we come to the court cards in the suit  of Bones. These cards feature some old themes that we’ve already seen in the numbered cards, as well as some new ones.

General Notes on the Wooden Tarot Courts

I have decided that for the court cards in this deck, I am going to refer to all of the figures on the cards with the gender-neutral pronoun “they.” Likewise, I will refer to the energy of the cards as active/receptive rather than masculine/feminine. To me, the Wooden Tarot seems like a deck in which gender doesn’t really matter that much, and as such I see it as a pretty agender deck–even more so than the Wild Unknown. I personally would have loved it if Swartz had renamed the courts Collective Tarot style, referring to each card as a stage of development, rather than the court position, but, hey, you can’t have everything.

I may do a separate post about all of the Pages, Knights, Queens, and Kings separately. For  now, it’s good to point out some patterns. The first pattern is in which direction the character on each card is facing. In the receptive suits of Blooms and Bones, Queens face right, while Kings face left. In the active suits of Stones and Plumes, this is reversed. The same pattern would hold true for Pages and Knights (receptive suits: Knights face left, Pages face right; reversed for active suits.) Here is a crappy picture so you can see what I’m talking about. But as you can see in the picture above, the Page and Knight of Bones break this model. They should be facing each other, just like the Queen and King do. I am wondering if this was deliberate on Swartz’s part, or if he painted the Page and Knight of Bones before planning the whole set of courts.

The second pattern is that of the sun and moon. The sun always rises behind the King, signifying the active/fire energy of the card, while the moon rises behind the queen, signifying the receptive/water energy.

And a note about how I read court cards in general: I read them metaphorically, rather than literally, meaning that I read them as parts of one’s personality instead of people in one’s life.

Page of Bones

The skull of a canid floats above a barren mountainous background, facing left. Moss covers the skull in places, and from it sprout fungi, a dandelion gone to seed, and a clover.

I spent way too long on Google image search trying to figure out if this was a coyote skull or a wolf skull. Despite many helpful resources out there, my search was inconclusive. I’m leaning toward coyote, though. Coyote’s reputation as a trickster is no doubt partly based on its skull, which looks like it’s laughing. Indeed, this card seems to have the most whimsical air of the suit, with the dandelion and clover (two favorites of children) sprouting from the skull.

The mountains in the background recall those on the shoulders of the God of Bones and are the more well-defined on this card than on the Knight of Bones. This reminds us that the Page of Bones is the earthiest card there is: Earth of Earth–earth as elemental dignity and affinity.

We might think of the social natures of wolves, coyotes, and dogs when looking at this card. These animals can be playful, but also fiercely hierarchical and territorial. The Page of Bones, then, combines both the playful elements of the coyote with the imperative to do things according to order and form.

Keys: trying your hand at a new skill; bringing a sense of playfulness to work; learning from and cooperating with others

Reversed: perfectionism–not wanting to try something unless you can be perfect at it right away; not allowing oneself to benefit from the help or wisdom of others;

Knight of Bones

The skull of a rhinoceros faces right. Moss, lichen, and small mushrooms grow on it while three oak leaves dangle. Above the skull there appears a faint mountainous background.

I had never seen a rhinoceros skull before looking at this card, and was rather startled by it. (This also led me to read a lot about the poaching of rhinos for medicinal trade and the things that people are doing to combat poaching, like sedating rhinos and removing their horns or even infusing the horn with a substance safe for rhinos but toxic to humans! But I digress…)

The rhinoceros is a huge, thick-skinned creature. But don’t think that this means they are sluggish–rhinos can be highly aggressive and can run faster than humans. The Knight of Bones is the Air of Earth (see the airy mountains floating above the skull), combining stability and practicality with intelligence and aggression. The oak leaves sprouting from their skull reinforces this as well: oaks are associated with strength and stability, but an oak leaf crown is a symbol of victory.

Keys: throwing your weight behind something; putting your nose to the grindstone; diligence; determined focus on accomplishing an objective; being methodical but efficient

Reversed: lack of focus, diligence, or energy; it might be time to take a break; a less logical, methodical approach may be called for

Queen of Bones

The skull of a Smilodon (aka Saber-Toothed Tiger) faces the right. One of the large teeth is broken off. Flowing ivy, moss, and two small mushrooms sprout from the skull; the moon rises behind it.

With the King and Queen of Bones, we make the transition to animals who are no longer with us, showing the maturity of these figures relative to the Page and Knight. (There were, of course, canids and rhinoceros living at the time of the Saber-Toothed Tiger and the Woolly Mammoth, but these two just scream, “We came from the Ice Age!!” Also, the Queen and King of Bones have more aged skulls than the Page and Knight.)

The ivy trailing from the skulls of the Queen and the King is significant. In addition to the mushrooms (which we talked about with the Three and Seven of Bones), which symbolize growth and fertility, ivy suggests strength and stability. Ivy finds stout things to wrap itself round, like buildings and large trees. The ivy in these cards suggests that it clings to something substantial. Ivy binds things together–the strong ties of family, as well as familial wealth and security.

I have no idea what we know about the social habits of Saber-Toothed Tigers, but let’s extrapolate from what we know about large felids generally. Female lions and tigers are providers–whether they live in prides or live on their own. They are territorial as well. Regardless of gender, then, the Queen of Bones signifies the person who puts food on the table and keeps the parameters of the living space intact. The Queen’s broken tooth shows that doing so can come at a price. The moon rises behind the Queen, showing their association with water and receptivity, but the fact that the Queen faces right–the active direction–also shows that in this receptive suit the Queen is in their element. This is further reinforced by the fact that the Woolly Mammoth/King of Bones is a possible prey animal for the Saber-Toothed Tiger/Queen of Bones. We’ll see the same kind of dynamic between the Queen and King in the receptive suit of Blooms.

Keys:  protection of family members and family property; responsibility–the buck stops here; creating bonds between people; careful stewardship of resources

Reversed: smothering or domineering; lack of self-care; valuing property more highly than people; obsession with social status rather than healthy family ties and spending;

King of Bones

The skull of a Woolly Mammoth faces slightly left. Moss and ivy hang from it and a small mushroom sprouts from the top. The sun rises behind it.

As I mentioned above, in the receptive suits of Bones and Blooms, it’s the Queens who are in their element and who dominate. The King of Bones, then, is not the breadwinner/predator, but is instead a woollier, more socially oriented figure. If the behavior of modern day elephants is anything to go by, the King of Bones has a penchant for family ties. Unlike the fiercer Queen, the King may be more of an avuncular figure: large, imposing and protective if need be, but ultimately gentle. The King’s strength  is in fostering cooperation and in being inclusive–never forgetting to leave anyone out. (Interestingly, it’s also worth noting that in modern elephants, the societies are actually matriarchal–again, why literal gender is not terribly relevant to this set of court cards.)

Keys: hearthfire; strong community and family bonds; happiness and harmony at home; generosity

Reversed: wealth at the cost of social isolation; lack of unconditional love or emotionally safe space; associating with irresponsible people, or with friends who are harmful to family or the larger community