The Wooden Tarot: Court of Stones

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 Courts

The Court of Stones features animals that are by and large more familiar than the other courts–at least for North Americans (the Page of Stones as the Dik-dik is the exception.) All members of the court are ungulates and herbivores, which makes sense, given the prevalence of horns and antlers throughout the pip cards. It’s almost as if we’ve been following a trail of antlers back to their source, but instead of animals with real horns and antlers, we instead find…animals with stones for horns! (The King is a significant exception.) The other visual theme that unites the members of this court is the smoke that rises from behind them as if they were engulfed in flames, emphasizing the element of fire in the suit.

Page of Stones

The neck and head of a Dik-dik, with stones growing out of its head instead of horns. Two large stones are crossed in front of it.

It took me a lot of internet searching to figure out that this guy is a Dik-dik. I knew there was some tiny cute deer creature, but I couldn’t remember its name without the help of Google. And indeed, the Dik-dik must be one of the cutest creatures in existence. I know there’s some stiff competition for that title, but do an image search for them and you’ll see what I mean.

Like the rest of the Pages, the Page of Stones is diminutive when compared to the other animals of the court–Dik-diks are a little over a foot tall at the shoulder. Male Dik-diks do have horns, but they are short and it does not seem that they use them for combat. And given the species’ small size, I imagine that it does not fight many of its predators, either. Dik-diks’ best defense is their ability to sense when a predator is near, alert other members of their group, and to flee.

These small stones grow from the Page’s head like inspiration. We can think of the Page as representing nascent creative ideas or desires, having ideas but for the moment lacking the ability to focus them into action or make them manifest. Yet the Page represents an important place in the creative or spiritual journey–with the huge eyes and ears of the Dik-dik, they are able to absorb inspirations and influences.

The stones crossed (locked, really) in front of the Page, however suggest a more defensive posture. The Page may have lots of ideas, but they are not ready to open up and express themselves. Like the Dik-dik, they protect their ideas by hiding them or only showing them to trusted friends, rather than debate things in the open.

Keys: creative or spiritual apprenticeship; artistic imitation; the beginning stages of a creative idea; trying out new ideas or techniques without having mastered them

Reversed: abandoning a project or spiritual path early in the process because of challenges that seem overwhelming; being unsure of oneself; jumping into something too fast without a proper foundation or proper enthusiasm; being so hostile to criticism or feedback that progress is impossible

Knight of Stones

A horse with stones growing out of its forehead, transforming it into a unicorn. A small, gemlike flame floats between two stones that point outward.

If you look at this Knight, you’ll see that they are not a true unicorn. Two very small stones poke out from the base of the larger one. It’s almost as if the small stones on the head of the Page were then appropriated by the Knight.

The Knight of Stones is a magical creature. They are able to take the initial energy and enthusiasm of the Page and focus it into the creation of something. The Knight always has a clear purpose, and the stone on their head always points the way forward. Given the mythical quality of the unicorn, however, the Knight may also be hard to pin down or contact. The Knight of Stones may have more of a “wham, bam, thank you, ma’am” approach to creative or spiritual endeavors (or, well, sex for that matter), doing things in short, focused bursts and then moving on to something else. The outward orientation of the stones in front of the Knight suggests that with them, energy is open and expansive, always growing and moving outward. I think of the Knight of Stones as one of those people who (magically, it seems to me) never gets tired.

Keys: very focused creative or spiritual energy; a burst of inspiration that leads directly into action; innate talent or enthusiasm; infectious energy; championing a cause

Reversed: scattered energy; the inability to commit to a spiritual path or see a creative project through from start to finish; a great amount of talent mixed with lack of practical skill

Queen of Stones

A female White-Tailed Deer with a cluster of stones growing from her neck and shoulders. The moon rises behind her.

There is a steadiness and dignity to this image. The Queen is direct–they look us in the eye without flinching. However, unlike much of the suit of Stones would suggest, they are not combative because they don’t need to be. The fruits of the Queen’s creative or spiritual endeavors are on display for everyone to see. Not because the Queen wears them like jewelry or medals, but because they emanate naturally.

It is in the Queen that we see long-lasting achievement. The earthy studiousness of the Page makes them unprepared to make things happen, while the airy fire of the Knight is brilliant but unfocused. Water and fire balance each other here, and we can see that balance in the Queen’s profusion of jewels and their calm expression. Like the Queen of Plumes, I imagine this Queen as a mentor–someone who is brilliant and accomplished, but has also decided to help others instead of just focusing on their own work.

Keys: creative maturity; an artistic or spiritual figure who mentors others; not letting creative or spiritual pursuits diminish quality relationships with friends and family; nurturing inner fire

Reversed: relationships and creative/spiritual pursuits somehow out of balance: a family situation that stifles one’s inner fire, or neglecting relationships in order to pursue one’s own path; arrogance in one’s accomplishments; unwillingness to help others

King of Stones

A leaping ram, bursting from a cluster of stones, and with stones growing out of his horns. The sun rises behind him.

The King is the only member of this court who we see from the neck down, as if a conventional portrait were simply not possible because the King can’t sit still. The ram bursts through/from the stones, suggesting someone who is both supported by their creative/spiritual path and able to transcend its limitations. The King is also the only member of the court to have both real horns and stones growing from them, suggesting their ability to break through obstacles.

I have always thought of the King of Wands/Stones as the get shit done card. The King will not fail, will not take no for an answer, will not give up. In a situation, they may be the part of you that refuses to be broken in the face of obstacles, or they may be the person who can pull some strings (or act as a battering “ram”) in order to get things done. The King is the fire of fire, pure energy and power. This part of you may get you very far, but may also lead to burnout in the long run.

Keys: unbreakable will; being able to carry a project through to the end; the “fire in the belly”; never giving up.

Reversed: a Captain Ahab-like tendency–obsession with accomplishing a goal no matter the cost; focused on ends over means; burnout

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.