The Wooden Tarot: Suit of Stones 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.

Stones 6-10

(Notice the switched order of the Six and Seven in the picture–Six is on the top right and Seven is on the left right. The switch has no meaning–just an accident.)

Six of Stones

An antler which curves into a circle has five small gems growing out of it. Above them hovers a sixth, larger gem.

Traditionally, this is the victory card. That’s the title of the Six of Wands in the Thoth tarot and the Waite-Smith card features a victorious laurel-wreathed rider on the back of a horse in some sort of victory pageant. In the same way that rider is elevated above the people looking on, this large stone rises above the smaller ones. Something decisive has happened and the larger, more important stone has risen to the top for better recognition.

This card also suggests independence, since the large stone floats free while the smaller stones are still attached to the antler. This is about leaving the community to go accomplish something on your own and returning. However, doesn’t mean that it has an antagonistic relationship with the stones below it. To me, the antler curved into the circle suggests wholeness, a solid foundation from which the large stone has grown, like the others, but also from which it is distinguished. If this is the card of victory, it’s very different from a card like the Five of Swords/Plumes, which is about winning at all costs. This is a well-recognized and deserved victory that brings honor to the community.

Keys: victory; independence; recognition for one’s accomplishments; a victory for oneself as well as others

Reversed: delayed success or a partial victory; not being recognized by the community for one’s achievements or a victory that is not in line with the values of one’s community

Seven of Stones

Six gems clustered together form a base out of which a spiraled horn emerges.

My guess is that this is also an antelope horn, although I can’t be sure of the species. But let’s get down to what’s really important about this card. Every time I see it, a voice in my head says PHALLIC! Not just “phallic,” but PHALLIC ringed in flashing lights. This is our penis card, people. I suppose there has to be one in every deck, and this is it. My comments on virility in the Two of Stones are also relevant here in thinking about what masculinity symbolizes in this card: energy, effort, courage, and will.

When I see this card, well, after my brain screams PHALLIC!, it then says “defiance.” It’s pretty consistent with both the Waite-Smith card (a man defending himself from an elevated position) and the Thoth card, whose keyword is “Valor.” This is a card about standing up for yourself and your values. Unlike with the Five of Stones, this card may find you with your back against the wall needing to be your own defender when nobody else is willing to help. But it’s not just about being egotistical and defensive. The energy and courage behind this defiance come from knowing that you are on the side of right. The erect horn doesn’t just symbolize virility, it also symbolizes backbone.

Keys: standing up to a challenge to your values or integrity; maintaining a sense of self-worth in the face of setbacks; not backing down; feeling embattled; defending (or being) the underdog

Reversed: being worn down by challenges; questioning yourself or your values because they are being challenged overwhelmingly; being the victim of gaslighting or crazymaking; giving up

Eight of Stones

Eight long, thin gems all point in one direction as if flying through the air.

This is one of the few cards, along with the Three of Plumes and maybe a couple others, that directly mimics its corresponding card in the Waite-Smith deck. In that card, eight wands have been launched in the air like javelins, traveling upward or about to hit their mark, depending on how you look about it.

As such, I don’t have a whole lot to say about this card. The traditional meaning is swiftness–a project is coming together quickly and there are a lot of details to keep together. I imagine it’s like getting a new job and having to do a cross country move because there are a lot of things that need to be dealt with all at once in a short amount of time–selling/subletting your current place, renting/buying a new one, switching insurance, finding a school for your kids, etc. etc. This card can be a mixed blessing for sure.

Keys: swiftness; many things happening quickly all at once, especially with employment or a creative project; labor on something finally coming to fruition, everything falling into place

Reversed: things moving ahead too quickly to keep tabs on; losing control, dropping details or responsibilities; OR (depending on the context of the reading) being stuck; a situation that can’t move forward; timing is wrong

Nine of Stones

Nine gems grow out of an antler.

The interesting thing about Swartz’s choice of stones for this suit is that it emphasizes heaviness in a way that we don’t really see with the Waite-Smith deck or the Thoth, except for Pamela Colman-Smith’s rendition of the Ten of Wands. (The Sola-Busca Tarot, on the other hand, makes the wands look extremely burdensome throughout.) And yet, that’s how I always feel about the last few cards in the suit of Wands–“Oh wow, there’s all this cool creativity and stuff and there’s just so much of it and it keeps coming AND OH MY GOD WHAT DO WE DO WITH IT?

So here we have an antler that looks quite heavy, with stones coming out of it almost like encrustations. The antler shows that, even though much has been achieved, fighting and self-defense are perhaps necessary. This recalls the defensive-looking man in Smith’s card who stands in front of his eight wands, jealously clutching the ninth as if preparing for an attack. In the Thoth tarot, this card is called Strength, so we could also think of these stones as amassed resources that can be used in the face of adversity. After all, I’m pretty sure that an antler covered with stones could put a hurtin’ on somebody.

The question, however, is whether such force or strength is justified. The wands in the Thoth card seem….I dunno, pretty confident and self assured (if wands can feel that way), but the look on the man in Smith’s card has long had people questioning whether his defensiveness is necessary, or he’s just so used to being challenged that he’s looking for more fights. It’s interesting that the word “defensive” has come to have a mostly negative meaning–“He was being so defensive”–suggesting that someone’s need to defend themselves takes precedence over everything else.

Keys: strength; resourcefulness–as in, having many spiritual or creative resources at hand in the face of a challenge or crisis; responding to challenges from a fortified, secured place; defending oneself successfully

Reversed: over-use of strength; reacting to events with unwarranted defensiveness or hostility; feeling insecure and over-compensating with displays of power and authority; thinking too much of one’s own credentials

Ten of Stones

Ten gems of various sizes form a clustered mass.

The stones signify a great amount of spiritual or creative achievement that now need to be properly tended to. So great–you became a certified Dharma teacher or got that new job, but now you have to deal with the responsibilities. More so than Pamela Colman-Smith’s dude walking away from us holding a bunch of wands in front of his face, the Ten of Stones shows that great achievement can be both wonderful and burdening.

In this last card, the horns and antlers drop away. We no longer need to defend ourselves from outside attacks or prove ourselves to others. Instead, we’re left with both the richness and the weight of our accomplishments. Almost all of the last five cards have been about fighting or working, but what happens when we finally achieve our goals and everything is as we wanted it? There’s a familiar phenomenon in which people work for years to achieve a dream that they think will make them truly happy–perhaps becoming a doctor, moving to a country the fantasize about, having a child. But then as soon as they achieve that thing, they fall into depression because they realize that they had depended on this accomplishment to make them happy…and it didn’t.

If we understand that accomplishing things doesn’t make us truly happy, then we may be able to savor the gems in this card for what they are. However, if we worked for them because we depended on them to make us finally happy, they may become little more than dead weight.

Keys: something that is both a great joy and a great responsibility, like having a child or a job with a lot of authority; being able to keep things together, but only with a great amount of work; “living the dream”–and all of the burdens that come with it

Reversed: being crushed under burdens and expectations; the realization that a hard-won accomplishment or possession does not bring happiness; not being able to keep up with responsibilities; being forced to drop some things

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.*


* I bought this book with my own money and am recommending it based on my own experience.