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.

january 2016.jpg

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 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;