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!

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 Wooden Tarot: Court of Plumes

Plumes Courts

 

 

 

 

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.

Page of Plumes

The head and shoulders of a bird with an extra eye appear above two crossed arrows. From the arrows dangle three cocoons, and along the length of one of them crawls a caterpillar. The silhouettes of four birds can be seen in the distance.

So this is the only bird in the courts I haven’t been able to ID. It looks like some sort of Kingbird to me, but I can’t get it down to the species. It has the look of being modeled after a real bird, though. As with all of the other Pages, the Page of Plumes is diminutive in comparison to the rest of the courts. Kingbirds and flycatchers can range from the very tiny to the decent-sized (for passerine birds, that is) but nowhere the size of the other birds in this court.

I don’t think I have ever seen a Kingbird in person, but let’s check out the description of it over at All About Birds. First, these birds are aggressive toward competitors and predators. When they hunt, they are still most of the time, and then swift and decisive, snatching large insects out of the air, “which they take back to the perch, beat into submission, and swallow whole.” The crossed arrows can also symbolize conflict. Vigilance, decisiveness, and aggression are keys here.

But then what to do about the caterpillar and cocoons? I love the added layer of interpretation. While the Knight, Queen, and King of Plumes all feature butterflies, echoing the appearance of butterflies on the royal regalia of the King and Queen of Swords in the Smith-Waite deck, this Page isn’t quite as developed. While they embody the cool detachment and aggression of the Court of Swords, they also represent nascent ideas. The Page may be swift and bright, but they are also somewhat intellectually mature. They might enjoy playing with ideas and debating for the sake of debate, but they haven’t figured out how to make those ideas into a reality.

Keys: playing around with ideas; arguing for argument’s sake; precociousness; cleverness; a bright young person who may think they know better than everyone; working well with ideas in the abstract

Reversed: basically the same as upright, but with added conceit; someone who may get themselves into a dangerous situation because they think they know more than they actually do

Knight of Plumes

The head of a four-eyed Great Egret (Great White Heron, for those who live in Europe) emerges from behind an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly. The Egret holds an arrow in its bill.

I love seeing egrets. Their presence is imposing and unmistakable both while standing and in flight. When they are in breeding plumage, the males grow beautiful long, whispy feathers on their back (used as decorative feathers in ladies’ hats for many years, unfortunately) and the skin on their face turns lime green. These birds have the showiness and style that becomes a Knight.

Great Egrets stand motionless in the water, waiting for frogs or fish to swim by. Then they snatch them out of the water at lightning speed. In a sense, the Knight of Plumes hunts very much in the same way that the Page does: with stillness and patience, waiting for the right moment to strike. While the more traditional image of the Knight of Swords is of someone charging into battle, this card shows us someone whose aggression and action is calculated and contained.

As for the butterfly, like many butterflies, Eastern Tiger Swallowtails can engage in mimicry. The caterpillars imitate bird droppings, and the adults can mimic poisonous butterflies. This, then, suggests that we may need to be wary of the Knight of Plumes–they could apply their genius to making the world better or to selling snake oil.

Keys: intellectual prowess–especially on display (if the Page is an undergraduate, the Knight is in grad school); cooly considering all options, but acting quickly and irrevocably once a course of action has been settled upon.

Reversed: snobbery; intellectual deception; arrogance; choosing and acting on a plan, and clinging to it even when things go awry; someone refusing to admit they are wrong

Queen of Plumes

The head of a four-eyed Victoria Crowned Pigeon appears from behind clouds. The moon rises above it, and below is a large, blue butterfly. Two crescent moons, with points facing outward, flank a feather/arrow with the point facing down.

As for the crescent moons on the King and Queen cards, I’ve got to say: I’m stumped. I understand everything else about these cards, but why the moons??? I’ll just just have to move on without figuring it out.

The Victoria Crowned Pigeon is the largest pigeon in the world–it’s almost as big as a turkey. Having looked up this bird’s behavior and watched many YouTube videos of it (which you should do, because this bird is amazing) I’m tending to think that we should be relying more on the bird’s appearance than its life history to figure out its relevance to the card.

Both male and female pigeons have the crown, which is one of the most fantastic bird crests I have ever seen. Beautiful achievements of the mind are on full display here. While traditionally the Queen of Swords is about sadness (Waite says the card signifies “female troubles”…which are??) I see more intellectual confidence and grace here. This card reminds me of the many amazing female professors I have had in undergrad and graduate school–women who are beautiful, gracious, and intimidatingly smart, and who can ask the one question or point out the one flaw that makes your intellectual facade crumble if they want to. Most of the time, though, they won’t want to do that–they will want to support you in your intellectual endeavors as long as you are earnest. But they will not suffer mansplaining fools gladly.

Keys: effortless intellectual achievement; displaying the intellect with grace and graciousness; helping others think through problems or express themselves intellectually; protecting oneself or others from intellectual condescension or belittlement

Reversed: showing off intellectually in an egotistical manner; using the intellect in a way that doesn’t benefit the community; refusing to help others or give them the benefit of the doubt if they don’t know something; being harsh and judgmental about what other may not know

King of Plumes

The head of a four-eyed Bearded Vulture (Lammergeier) appears from behind clouds. The sun rises behind it, with a Monarch butterfly flying upward. Below the vulture, two crescent moons with their points facing inward flank a feather with an arrowhead, the point of which is facing up.

Let’s start with the Bearded Vulture, because its characteristics speak volumes about what the King of Plumes means in this deck. This is a fascinating bird, distributed across high altitudes in much of Europe, Asia, and Africa. These are huge birds, 3-4 feet tall with wingspans of 7-9 feet. What makes this bird particularly special is its habit of eating bones. Yes, bones. Most of its diet is made up of bone marrow. It waits until other animals have picked a carcass clean and then it retrieves the bones. But since some bones are too big to swallow, it flies up to great heights and drops them on rocks to break them. Its stomach acid has a pH of 1, meaning that it can digest bones easily.

So what does this mean for the King of Plumes? The King is detached–instead of getting into intellectual tussles, they like to watch things play out before making their move. They have the ability to crack tough problems, and use creativity to do so. They are a large, imposing presence. They’re not in the habit of throwing their weight around, but when they do, it will be noticed. There may be an acidic quality to the King of Plumes, which may allow them to digest hard truths and make good choices for the sake of others, or they may be harsh to be around.

The other aspects of the card point to its position as an active card within an active suit. The sun rises on the King of Plumes, as it does on all kings. The butterflies that appear in these court cards are a nod to the butterflies that appear on the crown of the Queen of Swords and the throne of the King of Swords in the Waite-Smith deck. Monarch, here, is of course a pun on King, but it’s also worth remembering that Monarch butterflies are beautiful but poisonous to many animals, again showing the potentially dangerous nature of the King.

Finally, the inwardly turned crescents and the feather/arrow that faces up shows the active energy of this suit–the drawing of energy in and up, rather than downward and outward, as in the Queen.

Keys: intellectual detachment; being an impartial judge; considering all your options; digesting a lot of information; solving problems creatively; powerful intellectual prowess

Reversed: aloofness; using the intellect to intimidate others; adhering to just the facts/the letter of the law, even if it is hurtful to others; using logic/intelligence to justify something that is acidic and poisonous, or using the intellect in an acidic or poisonous way

Checking in, January 2016

Well, I had some big blogging plans for this month, but this month did not want to go along with them. It’s been a very interesting time for me, and as I look at my planner, I see where I’ve written down the cards that I drew for January for my big Year Ahead Spread. When doing that spread, I thought it would be fun to check in every month to see if the cards I drew for the month actually described what happened. This is not because I think the cards predicted what will happen for each month, but because it’s fun, and because the cards can provide a focus around which I can consciously build my experience of the month.

In a way, this month’s cards were spot on: The Chariot, the Knight of Wands, the Three of Swords, and Life from the Earthbound Oracle.

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Looking at the cards in the abstract, we see the beginning of something new and creative, although the experience is not without loss and grief. I originally pulled the tarot cards from my Wild Unknown deck, but I decided to use the Wooden Tarot to revisit them this month, just for a change in perspective.

The Chariot, despite its associations with movement and victory, is actually a water card. In some ways, the Chariot and the Knight of Wands are similar in spirit, but different in their approaches. The Chariot in the Wooden Tarot is probably my favorite of any that I’ve seen, and it was the card that really floored me back when I first saw the deck. The snail here picks up on the card’s watery properties beautifully, showing that it’s not about kicking ass and taking names, but rather, it’s about becoming victorious by honoring organic growth.

The Knight of Wands/Stones signals a lot of forward movement in career and creative projects. Much has happened career-wise this month. Although I haven’t started applying for jobs yet, I met several people and made several contacts, getting a better idea of what kinds of jobs I’d like to do and what kinds of organizations I’d like to work for. Much is also happening creatively. I began to learn how to knit on the 20th of last month, and I have made a lot of progress in that time. I secretly knitted two mini-scarves for outdoor statues at my temple and placed them on the statues under the cover of darkness. I’ve seen and heard people remarking about them, and pictures of the statues were even included in my temple’s weekly newsletter! I’m also working on my first legit project: a cowl. And I made a mini-deck bag for my Earthbound Oracle. Everything that I’ve made so far is lumpy and full of mistakes, but the more mistakes I make, the more quickly I learn.

I’m also taking a Sketchbook Skool course right now, which is really pushing me to confront my apathy and laziness when it comes to drawing. Like knitting, I am having to deal with mistakes and discouragement and persist in the face of them. Somehow, doing so with knitting is a lot easier than doing so with drawing! But still I go on.

But then we come to the Three of Swords. Which has, indeed, been appropriate for this month. Usually when I see this card, I go, “Who died?” And well, yes, someone did die. At around 4am on Monday the 11th, my husband crawled into bed. I’d been awake for about 10 minutes, having woken up from a nightmare. “Are you awake?” he asked. I said yes. He said, “David Bowie died.” I would have really liked to have believed that this was a nightmare as well. Generally, I don’t grieve over celebrities or people I don’t know, but Bowie’s passing continues to be difficult. While many people my age only know him through Labyrinth, my husband (who, btw, has been a fan of Bowie’s since 1973 or so) introduced me to Bowie’s music about ten years ago and I’ve been a big fan ever since.

In our culture, we get the message that grief is generally bad. I mean, it’s appropriate for a short amount of time to grieve in public, but after that–why don’t you just get over it? Also, it’s OK to grieve over a friend or family member, but an animal, or someone you’ve never met? Sorry, that’s just embarrassing. You can be sad for a day or two, but otherwise you need to get over it.

I think David Bowie’s passing led me consider grief more deeply than I had before, and it made me more open-hearted toward other people I don’t know who have died of cancer. I was very much saddened by Alan Rickman’s passing as well (I was literally closer to Rickman than to Bowie, having been within about three feet of Rickman a couple of years ago.) He was one of my favorite actors even before the Harry Potter films, and I remember being overjoyed when I heard that he was going to be playing Snape, my favorite character. And yet for some reason, David Bowie has been the locus of my grief. I have put a picture of him on my altar, and it will stay there until February 20th, his 49th day in the bardo. (Traditionally, in Buddhism, it takes someone 49 days to transition from one incarnation to the next. Even though I’m a Buddhist, the jury is still out for me on whether reincarnation actually exists, but I do love the idea of having 49 days of formal grieving.)

Opening to grief has had a deeper impact on me this month than I would have ever thought possible. For I have begun to seriously think about and feel grief, not simply for indiviual people, but for our planet. Last week I attended a panel on climate change, held by some local delegates who were at the Paris summit last month. What I took from that panel was the unshakable conviction of something that I have been avoiding looking in the face of for a long time: at this point, climate change cannot be stopped. Even if we were to stop the use of fossil fuels tomorrow, there is no way we can stop the effects of climate change, which will continue to persist for at least a thousand years. At first, this seems like deeply despair-inducing news. And yet, it made things very simple for me, really. While I’ve been thinking a lot about my career and what I can do to further it in the short term, this has also made me think much about my purpose in this life, on this earth, at this time. Overall, I have been feeling tender and joyful, more sensitive to the beauties of our world which we are about to lose. I have come to understand that my purpose in this life is to help people cope with collapse and disaster mentally and emotionally. My purpose is also to help them understand the beauty of life that we have on this earth, and to cherish it while we still can. I don’t know if the future is going to be some sort of Mad Max scenario (I actually kind of doubt that it is) but it is clear that Business As Usual is going to become impossible during my lifetime.

Last night I did a tarot reading to help me clarify my focus and approach to all this, which I may share here. For now I’ll say that I have let the Three of Swords come into my heart, which I am holding lightly and tenderly, and for which I am thankful.

So there has been my month. One one hand, all I’ve been doing is sitting around knitting! On the other hand, I’ve been growing and opening and grieving and enjoying life in ways that makes me think I haven’t just started a new year–I have started a new era of my life. And this is where the Life card, with its little sprouting seed, comes in. Yes, new life is coming and it’s taking root.

 

The Wooden Tarot: Suit of Plumes 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.

Plumes 6-10

Six of Plumes

A Common Mallard swims away, looking over his shoulder with two eyes on the same side of his head. Six dark-brown feathers trail behind him.

This is another card that conjures up the image of its corresponding card in the Waite-Smith deck fairly well. This somber-looking Mallard decisively sims away, although his backward look suggests that he is not moving on without leaving something worthwhile–or painful–behind. This card echoes the Four of Plumes as well: the bird’s plucked feathers suggest a respite after pain or trauma.

Keys: leaving a painful situation behind; learning from past mistakes; sacrificing comfort or certainty for the great good; abandoning an idea, belief, or ideology that no longer serves you

Reversed: being unable to move on; operating from beliefs that are not helpful; stuck in outdated assumptions about yourself or others; making excuses for staying in an unhealthy or painful situation

Seven of Plumes

A Common Raven with an extra eye perches on an arrow, holding a small yellow transparent orb in its beak. Six other orbs stick to its feathers.

I think this is a raven, rather than a crow, for a couple of reasons: the more pronounced curve of its bill and the face that it dwarfs the arrow on which it perches. (Ravens are huge.) I am not the best person to discuss raven folklore, but suffice it to say that the raven is association with a lot of it all over the word. It seems that the raven most often appears as a bird of ill-omen or a trickster.

This raven seems to think it’s pretty clever, adorning itself with (perhaps stolen) baubles. I think there are several ways that this image can be interpreted, but the strong sense that I get is that the raven has stolen its little ball, not realizing that it wears the evidence of its theft. This reminds me of our inability to see our own faults even though they are clearly visible to others. How oven have we seen an aggressive person come to the conclusion that someone is an asshole, or a controlling person criticize someone for being a control freak? To me, this card is about trying to get away with something but forgetting that what we try to hide will be visible in some other way, and the things about ourselves we try to repress will always be projected onto others.

Keys: self-deception; trying to hide things from others; hypocrisy; leading a double-life; dishonesty–whether from malice or vulnerability–is somewhere in the situation.

Reversed: being (painfully) honest with yourself; coming clean about a situation; getting caught; seeing through someone’s ruse, or being seen by others

Eight of Plumes

A quiver with seven arrows in it. An eighth arrow pierces the quiver.

When I first saw this card, I thought it corresponded to the Eight of Wands. Then I thought, “No, that’s not right,” and tried to square it in my head with the Waite-Smith image of a blindfolded woman tied up among eight swords. It was only after I realized that one of the arrows is actually piercing the quiver (not easy to see at first glance) that the meaning of this card made sense to me.

I think the meaning of this card is closer to the Thoth meaning for the Eight of Swords–Interference. The arrow, which should be aimed outward to accomplish its objective, is instead turned back on the place that it came from. It may or may not be preventing the other arrows from being shot, but in any case no bow is in sight. Unlike The Hermit or the Four of Plumes, turning inward is not helpful here. This card states that getting out of your head is the best way to move on.

Keys: being hamstrung, especially by self-hating or self-limiting thoughts and beliefs; self-sabotage; focusing on limitations rather than possibilities; turning against oneself

Reversed: clearly seeing through conceptual limitations; taking responsibility for your future; letting go of ideas that limit you

Nine of Plumes

A cluster of four Barn Owl faces. The largest in the center has a third eye.

If the Seven of Blooms leaves me feeling icky, this is the card in the Wooden Tarot that sends chills down my spine. In the Waite-Smith deck, this card of insomnia and mental torment is portrayed by showing a woman sitting up in bed with her face in her hands. Here, instead of portraying that experience, the card invokes it. Barn Owls are the ghost-like faces of the night, completely silent until they send up an unsettling cry. These deep black eyes reflect our disquietude back to us–perhaps in them we see the demons of our past or our fears for the future. In any case, they do not look away. It may be that the only way to deal with these thoughts is to steadily meet their gaze.

Keys: haunting thoughts; regret or remorse; self-hatred; anxiety; destructive thought patterns; depression; being kept up and night by negative thoughts

Reversed: seeing things in broad daylight; getting a new perspective on a formerly troubling issue; facing fears instead of running away;

Ten of Plumes

A small bird lies on its back, pierced by ten arrows.

Like the Three of Plumes, this card closely resembles its corresponding card in the Waite-Smith deck. Unlike the man pierced with ten swords in the latter, however, there is no blood here–not even any dislocated feathers. It is simple, matter of fact, and the lack of gore tells me that this is a death that is happening, not in the realm of the physical, but in the realm of the mind. We’ve arrived at the end of a cycle with this card–in fact, we’ve gone past the end into the place where regeneration is possible.

Since I’ve started reading tarot, my interpretation of the 10 of Swords/Air has basically become: STOP THINKING. THINKING ABOUT THIS ANY LONGER WILL NOT SOLVE ANYTHING AND CONTINUE TO CAUSE HARM. YOU ARE BEATING A DEAD HORSE. YOU ARE FOLLOWING A BELIEF OR IDEOLOGY THAT IS SIMPLY UNTRUE. STOP THINKING! That’s how I see the card, caps lock and all. We have bottomed out in our thoughts and beliefs; this is a kind of death because moving forward will never be possible. It is painful because being in this position requires losing faith in someone or something, or having to give up an identity category, or realizing that something you took for granted as being true isn’t, which throws everything into doubt as well. But it’s only from this place of pain that new wisdom can be sought.

Keys: dead end; crisis of faith in a person or belief system; feeling distressed or overwhelmed by knowledge or lack of it;

Reversed: moving on from loss; being able to enter greater truths by leaving old ones behind; realizing that a thought pattern or belief doesn’t serve you anymore

The Wooden Tarot: Suit of Plumes 2-5

Plumes 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.

Two of Plumes

Two partially folded, white-gray wings appear on either side of a waxing crescent moon. Above it floats a lemniscate.

As with the other twos, the lemniscate indicates balance and change. In a bird’s wings, balance is extremely important since a bird cannot fly with an injured or deformed wing. Without perfect symmetry or equal participation, flight can’t take place.

I see this card’s meaning as being closer to that of the Two of Swords in the Thoth deck–“Peace”–than in the Waite-Smith deck. In the latter, a woman sits holding two crossed swords across her chest, suggesting that the swords work at cross-purposes. Hence the common interpretation of this card as being about needing to make a decision–either this sword or that sword must be chosen, but not both. In the Wooden Tarot Two of Plumes, the wings work together, making for a very different meaning.

The question this card asks is: How do ideas or belief systems hold each other in balance? For instance, in a legal case, one wing cold represent the law, while the other could represent what is fair from a human-centered perspective. A common image in Buddhist thought is the wings of wisdom and compassion. Wisdom without compassion is cold and heartless, and will ultimately not benefit anyone. Compassion without wisdom is misguided and perhaps even harmful. Just like a bird needs both wings to fly, we need wisdom and compassion to act skillfully.

The Two of Plumes, then, is not so much about making a one-or-the-other decision, but about figuring out how to balance ideas and paradigms. And if the lemniscate didn’t clue you in, the waxing crescent moon shows that there is no one right answer for all time. Things are in constant change, and so the kinds of knowledge and practices are appropriate to bring to any situation will always be changing as well.

Keys: balance; fairness; tempering extreme ideas; balance of head and heart; making a decision or undertaking a project with a balanced perspective; neither extreme optimism nor extreme pessimism; sense and sensibility

Reversed: continually favoring one set of ideas or beliefs over another; dogma; unwillingness to meet halfway  on an idea; assuming that the same idea or procedure applies equally in all situations; losing perspective

Three of Plumes

Three arrows pierce a heart.

This is one of the few places in the deck where Swartz stays close to the Waite-Smith image. It’s one of the most universally recognizable and interpret-able image in tarot, and its associations with pain and grief are easy to see.

It’s worth noting a couple of things about this card, though. The first is the thickness of Swartz’s arrows. All throughout this suit, arrows are thin–basically drawn as a single line, rather than cylinder. To me, this emphasizes the airy insubstantiality of thought and the truth that thoughts and words can hurt so deeply even though they are not “real” in a physical sense.

Second–look at the arrowheads on these arrows. Make no mistake–these are for hunting, not archery. Whether true or not, it feels like someone has taken direct aim at us and is trying to bring us down.

But to me, the most important thing about this card is the anatomical detail of the heart, which is very different from the stylized heart in the Waite-Smith or Sola Busca (the deck whose 3 of Swords the Waite-Smith image is based.) While, miraculously, no blood drips from this heart, we see it in great detail–muscle, ventricle, artery, vein. This could mean that the pain is raw–almost too much to look at–or that we are prone to over analyzing it and thinking about it in detail.

This reminds me of another classic Buddhist teaching: the two arrows. We get struck with the first arrow, which causes a great amount of pain–we get fired, snubbed by a friend, cheated on, etc. That pain is an inevitable part of life. But then we hit ourselves with a second arrow in the same place (which of course hurts much worse) because of the way that we react to the first: lashing out in anger, drowning in self-hatred, and obsessing about what has happened. So in this card, the heart’s detail has two dimensions: the pain itself, and the additional pain caused by obsessively thinking about and examining it. It asks: where is the line between necessary grief and refusing to let go and move on?

Keys: pain; grief; loss; betrayal;

Reversed: obsessing or over thinking something painful that has happened; feeling stuck and unable to move on (Note: depending on the context of the reading, this card reversed could also mean a lessening or ending of pain)

Four of Plumes

A small gray bird lies with its wings stretched in front of it, eyes closed. Four of its feathers are scattered around it.

This is the first of several birds we will encounter in this suit. While Swartz can be extremely precise as to species, this one strikes me as being a fairly generic bird. It may be worth noting that its wings look similar to those in the Two of Plumes.

I usually see the Four of Swords as a fairly positive card, but this card is a little darker. This is not a natural position for a bird to be in. If I saw one like this outside, my first assumption would be that it had died a violent death (even when they die from hitting windows their wings usually fold back up.) At best, it has been knocked unconscious. I’m just going to take it on faith that this bird is alive, but in any case it’s been through some sort of trauma. Perhaps it can pull itself back together, but those feathers are gone for good.

[Note: I know that some people might have a gentler interpretation of this card, since it kind of looks like the bird is cuddled up sleeping. But once a birder, always a birder, you know?]

Keys: slow healing; after-effects of trauma, recent or far in the past; moving slowly in grief; licking your wounds; cutting your losses

Reversed: readiness to move on; completion of healing

Five of Plumes

A three-eyed Blue Jay is perched on the edge of a nest. Three of the five eggs in the nest have been broken.

In this card, Swartz’s precise attention to bird species is on display. For those who do not live in eastern North America, let me give you the low-down on the Blue Jay. They are beautiful, loud, aggressive birds. They will not hesitate to terrorize the neighborhood cat that comes too close to their nests. They will send up loud alarm calls at the slightest hint of a predator. They are absolutely gorgeous, but have a mixed reputation at feeders due to their habit of chasing smaller birds away.

Blue jays are also omnivorous and have been known to eat eggs and nestlings, which makes them the perfect species for this card. The Blue Jay perched on this nest wears an inscrutable expression. It could be just finishing its meal of three eggs, or it could be a mother returning to the nest to find all but two of her eggs eaten. All is not lost–this is not the lowest point in the suit–but damage has been done. This card carries the same ambiguity as the Waite-Smith Five of Swords, which could be about the haughty aggressor or those who walk away from him in battle. The third eye on this Blue Jay does suggest, however, that whether aggressor or victim, there will be an opportunity to gain spiritual insight from this encounter.

Keys: aggression; theft; domination; trickery; OR being on the receiving end of aggression or some sort of fraud–a good deal of damage has been done, but it’s best to learn your lesson for next time and be thankful for what you still have

Reversed: rectifying an injustice or striking back at an aggressor; a battle in which there may be no clearly right or just side;

The Wooden Tarot: Introduction to the Suit of Plumes

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.

Air/Swords/Plumes

In both the Suits of Stones and Plumes of the Wooden Tarot, it almost seems as if there are two suit symbols. In the case of Stones, both horns/antlers and gem-like stones appear with equal frequency. In this suit, Swartz has in some ways imaginatively fused together feathers and arrows.

Aside from Blooms, this is the suit symbol that makes the most sense to me intuitively. In the Collective Tarot, it’s called the Suit of Feathers; in the Wildwood Tarot, it’s called the Suit of Arrows. This is because of the suit’s association with air. This suit also has an association with pain and violence, but by using both feathers and arrows, Swartz has more flexibility in how he renders the cards.

Feathers in themselves are harmless enough, and we will see that in the lighter cards of the suit, like Four and Six, what we see are simply feathers. But feathers can also be used to guide deadly arrow shafts, keeping them on course, and so all of the arrows appearing on the cards have conspicuous feathered fletching.

Swartz does not take advantage of this association, but we could also think of plumes as the literal instrument of the intellect: the feather quill, used for so many centuries by people to write down their thoughts.

The God of Plumes

God of Plumes

Dressed in a brown robe, the God of plumes holds a feather with a pointed arrow tip between their hands. Clouds appear in the background. Sprigs of greenery are placed around the God’s shoulders. An eye–directed slightly upwards–peers out from the alchemical suit for air: an upright triangle with a line through it.

We can tell this is an active, rather than receptive, suit because the God’s eye is slightly directed upward. Unlike the Gods of Blooms and Bones, who have fairly open hand gestures, the God of Plumes holds the suit symbol quite precisely between two fingers. The other fingers on their hands are curled inward. This suggests that this God values both being precise and playing things close to the vest.

I haven’t been able to figure out what the greenery around the God’s shoulders is. On first glance, I thought it was mistletoe, but that didn’t seem right. However, looking at pictures of mistletoe foliage makes me think that it is indeed mistletoe. Mistletoe, while associated with kissing at Christmas nowadays, was a sacred plant to the Druids and could be used for healing and to signify nonviolence. If this is mistletoe, it’s an interesting choice, but since I’m not sure I won’t unpack all of the implications.

The feather/arrow held by the God is the perfect emblem of the suit–lithe and graceful but also deadly much like the intellect, which can dazzle with its brilliance but cut to the bone. In some ways, I feel that the Wooden Tarot takes a balanced approach to the suit of air/swords, which can often be interpreted as mostly negative and is where tarot artists get their chance to practice gore if they like. The God of Plumes is an impartial figure, and what they hold in their hands can be used for good or ill. It’s important to remember that Major cards like Justice and the Star are also airy cards (in some systems) and that the intellect can be a very positive force in tarot.

Keys: an idea in its purest form–either a new idea or a thought experiment; the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake; a source of knowledge–anything from a gossipy friend to the library

Reversed: refusing to verify things factually; being in denial; ignorance

A God of Plumes Reading

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

The Bloom: What do I need to 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.

dc spread edit.jpg

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.

Tarot Cards for Dissertation Writing

I’ve been working on my dissertation since September of 2013, I believe, and I will turn it in to my committee on September 1st, 2015. Over the past nearly two years, my relationship with my dissertation has changed a lot, as have the daily habits that I’ve come to cultivate. I only started studying tarot recently, but lately I’ve noticed that many of the cards embody energies, ideas, and perspectives that I’ve discovered in the process of dissertation writing. Only some of the cards below concern the intellectual side of the endeavor. Others correct for grad students’ tendency to focus on the intellect at the expense of everything else. I have found out how to live while writing my dissertation, rather than being a slave to it, and these cards express some of the lessons I’ve learned.Continue reading “Tarot Cards for Dissertation Writing”

Retreating and Advancing

Over the past couple of years, I have had the immense privilege to go on several multi-day meditation retreats. I say it’s an immense privilege because it really is–I don’t have children, the flexibility of my schedule allows me to take the time off, and I have the funds to pay for it. But it’s also kind of funny, because retreats are hard, so it’s like paying money for the experience of being miserable. Whenever I tell people I’m going to a meditation retreat, they usually say, “Oh, that sounds so relaxing.” That’s how you can tell a person has never been on a meditation retreat.

Basically, on retreat  your job is to meditate all the time, whether you’re sitting on a cushion, walking, eating, resting, working, peeing–all the time. At my temple, there are about 9 hours a day of formal meditation interspersed with other activities. By the end of the first full day (which feels about as long as 3 normal days) your knees hurt, your back hurts, your ankles hurt, and every mental demon you have has decided to come out of the woodwork and do a merry jig on the living room carpet of your consciousness. You don’t have a choice as to how you spend your time, what food you eat, how much sleep you get. You can’t talk or write or even look at yourself in the mirror. (Well, of course you can do all these things, it’s not like the Buddhist police are going to throw you in jail if you do. But these are the guidelines for the retreat and pretty much everybody follows them.) As a friend of mine put it, “I can’t believe we’re going to pay money to sit on our asses for five days!”

But I do it, and continue to do it, because retreats build stamina, concentration, stability, quietness, and the capacity to be happy even in less than ideal conditions. You also gain a close connection with your fellow retreatants in a way that doesn’t happen in the small talk of our everyday lives.

Before going to retreat last Thursday, I thought it would be an interesting experience to consult the tarot about it. I’ve never really thought of tarot as having a lot of insight about my meditation practice, but I was surprised by the results. So before I left, I asked the question, “What am I carrying with me into this retreat?” and after I returned I asked, “What am I carrying with me as I go back to daily life.” I didn’t have any set spread–just pulled three cards–but the answers were quite illuminating.Continue reading “Retreating and Advancing”