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.

self care spread.jpg
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: Suit of Stones 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.

Stones 2-5

Two of Stones

Two ram’s horns with a large, gem-like stone in the middle. A smaller stone appears directly underneath. A lemniscate hovers above.

Here we come to the last of our twos. When I look at them, I want to do a more Marseilles-style reading of number + element = meaning, but then I’m drawn to reflect a little more upon the symbolism here. The ram is, after all, one of the oldest symbols of virility that I can think of.

Virility means manliness in a basic sense. Vir in Latin is the word for “man.” In Latin’s cousin Sanskrit, virya means “energy,” and it’s an important component of Buddhist practice–the energy and diligence we bring to it. Behind this word virility, then, we get the sense, not only of manliness, but power, energy, fertility, and even aggression. However, as the word’s use in spiritual practice suggests, virility/virya need not be literal–it can apply to the spiritual or creative process.

I see the stones as bases of such power. However, this power isn’t stagnant, nor is it oppressive. The heavy stone and the two rams’ horns seem to balance on top of the small stone as if on a fulcrum, and like the slightly askew lemniscate, show that this power is always in motion. Like the wings in the Two of Plumes, these horns are meant to act together–I imagine that a one-horned ram would be at a disadvantage when it came time for breeding season. Power comes from the transfer of energy back and forth.

These horns symbolize a breakthrough, creatively or spiritually. Whereas the God of Stones represents a rush of inspiration, this card is the push forward to make things happen. It also suggests formidable power to overcome obstacles that may come one’s way.

Keys: creative or spiritual breakthrough; beginning a creative project or spiritual path; optimism; faith in one’s own strength; the power of coalition

Reversed: getting cold feet about undertaking a project, job, or spiritual practice; a scattering of energy–something takes the wind out of your sails; stagnation because of a lack of new ideas or influences

Three of Stones

Two antlers are crossed at the base and are joined at the tips by a third to form a triangle. A large stone with a sharpened tip pointing upward appears at the base of the triangle, while two smaller stones with long sharpened tips point down at the ends of the antlers.

I’ll be honest that the relationship between the Two of Wands and the Three of Wands has always baffled me a little. I think that’s probably because Pamela Colman-Smith’s images show two dudes with their backs to us standing around with wands while looking out at something. In the Thoth tarot, Two of Wands is “Dominion” and Three of Wands is “Virtue.”  Not terribly helpful, either. However, I think the cards’ relationship is easier to see in the Wooden Tarot.

I think of a three-legged stool when I think of the Three of Stones. This card reminds me of the corresponding one in the Wild Unknown tarot–of which I accidentally got two when my deck came, so I have it out where I can see it from my desk. Anyway: you would not want to sit on a two-legged stool. It may have enough height to keep you off the ground, but no stability. Three legs form a base of stability–perhaps not as sturdy as four legs in all circumstances, but effective enough.

So while the Two of Stones is that breakthrough that puts everything in motion, the Three of Stones provides the foundation on which a project can stand. The Two of Stones is the beginning of an endeavor, with the resolve and intention to do it, but the Three of Stones is actually doing it. Note how the crystals are pointing inward, suggesting that power is being directed inward and concentrated. The Three of Stones is about gathering your resources, girding your loins, and getting to work.

Keys: actually embarking on a creative project, new job, or spiritual path; gathering resources for a creative or spiritual endeavor; turning inward, trusting that you have what you need within you to get the job done

Reversed: feeling unfocused or indecisive; taking on a project without necessary resources or training; committing to something even though your heart isn’t in it

Four of Stones

Four antelope horns stand upright with a string of magenta beads connecting them together.

These antlers most likely belong to the Addax, a type of African antelope that is unfortunately critically endangered. Several species of antelopes have twisted horns, though, so I can’t be sure of the exact species.

Swartz’s card is a direct shout-out to the Four of Wands in the Waite-Smith deck, which features four wands festooned with garlands of flowers. In the background of Smith’s card, two flower-crowned women wave bouquets, making the message of celebration unmistakable. Here, however, the horns themselves are celebrating. Because they’re twisted, it almost looks like they’re dancing where they stand. The embodied wiggliness of celebration in the horns is complemented by the feeling of community in the string of beads connecting them all.

My own added interpretation, given the grave endangerment of the species possibly represented, is the celebration of life and a reminder to acknowledge what is precious to us because it will not last forever.

Keys: celebration, particularly communal celebration; togetherness with family or friends; a group of people who see beauty or the good in the same thing

Reversed: (Traditionally, this is one of the very few positive cards whose positive meaning is not changed in reversal.) counting your blessings; gratitude or happiness after a period of separation or trial; deepened appreciation of the good things in life because they have been threatened

Five of Stones

Two sets of antlers tangled together.

Well, if this isn’t the perfect image for the Five of Wands, I don’t know what is. The Five of Wands is all about butting heads and locking horns in a variety of ways. It could range from roughhousing and play-fighting, like young bucks do, to more serious power struggles and territorial disputes.

One thing we’re not talking about here is mortal combat. The struggle or strife (as the Thoth tarot calls it) in this card may mean that someone is getting in your way as you are trying to accomplish a goal, or that you are indulging in some healthy competition. You don’t have your back against the wall, but are able to handle the challenges as they come. This may delay the progress of your creative project or rattle the foundations of your faith, but it’s all part of the process and you will come out stronger and more centered because of it.

Keys: locking horns; playful rivalry; being challenged to articulate your stance or prove your strength; healthy competition

Reversed: a dispute about something small that is being blown out of proportion; inability to take criticism; refusal to listen to people who have different opinions; unable to differentiate between competition and enmity