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

The Mirror

mirror spreadI tend not to watch or read the news on a regular basis, preferring not to learn about the sufferings of the world through the heavy filters of  daily mainstream media. But I do think that it is important to know about suffering, even if everything in our own existence is comfortable for the moment.

Yesterday I found Sympathy at Slaughter, a Toronto-based project focused on bearing witness to the suffering of animals as they are about to be trucked into the slaughterhouse. I am vegan–but my cats are not. I also ate meat–and lots of it–for the first 20 years of my life. I am just as complicit in this suffering as anyone else; I am not trying to put myself on a pedestal or bathe in self-righteousness because the truth is that ALL food–even vegan food–involves suffering, violence, and exploitation. I have complex views about killing animals for food and am not a knee-jerk member of the Vegan Police or a supporter of PETA.  I realize that not everyone is in a position to go vegan–people live in food deserts, or they can only afford the cheapest of cheap food, like ramen, and yes, some people need meat in their diets in order to live.

That being said, I feel it’s important that those who buy meat from a grocery store or eat it in restaurants bear witness to the suffering that they are eating. Not only is factory farming one of the most environmentally destructive factors in the world right now, but the suffering of the highly intelligent animals featured in Sympathy at Slaughter is palpable: animals piled on top of one another, driven to the slaughterhouse in freezing temperatures or in temperatures so hot that they smother; animals standing in their own feces and that of others; animals covered in cuts and scratches; animals who, if they cannot get off of the truck quickly enough, are struck and poked with cattle prods over and over. This is the reality of the cheap meat that North Americans eat for two or three meals a day, every day of the week.

I then read the story of another kind of suffering: 6-year-old Strider Wolf, who at the age of 2 was beaten so severely by his mother’s boyfriend that a hole was punched in his stomach and his intestines were broken open. Strider and his younger brother now live (in poverty) with their grandparents, the only adults stable enough to take care of them. Living in rural Maine, they spent a spring and summer in an RV, moving from place to place after getting kicked out of their mobile home for failure to make rental payments on their lot. Strider’s grandparents’ health problems keep them from getting regular work and they struggle with not only financial stability, but creating an emotionally stable environment for the boys.

Bearing witness to suffering like this is difficult, but necessary. How could I begrudge some cheap meat to Strider and his brother? And yet, I know where it comes from. Reading these pieces, however, will lead to despair if it’s not done within the context of cultivating compassion and not followed up with self-care. Last night, feeling heavy with what I’d seen and read, I decided to turn to tarot, not to make the suffering go away, but to affirm what I was feeling.

When I am in pain, the most helpful thing to do with tarot cards is to not ask them a question. When we ask questions,  we want answers–we want certainty. But I didn’t need any answers, I just wanted confirmation of what I was feeling. So I pulled out my small Thoth deck and asked, “Can you please just mirror what I’m feeling back to me?” I then laid the cards out in a cross formation (I did a Celtic cross, but I have also done a full-on Latin cross for this exercise.)

mirror spread

This is what I got: the Empress, surrounded by Justice/Adjustment, The Knight of Cups, the 3 of Wands (“Virtue”) and the 5 of Disks (“Worry.”) I wrote in my journal:

Seeking justice,
supported by virtue,
worried, saddened,
a questing heart,
a grounded healer.

An earthy center surrounded by the four elements on all sides. The Empress is an expression of my desire to heal and my capacity to feel compassion. She looks forward to the Knight of Cups, whose heart seeks after ideals based in love. She is supported in all that she does by a strong sense of goodness and virtue–not ethical perfection, but the desire of trying to figure out what is right in every moment. Above her is the ideal she seeks for: justice, the righting of wrongs. Behind her, compelling her actions, are the worries and sorrows of the world.

I have not done this mirroring exercise many times, but when I do, it always turns out to be a potent method of self-love and self-care. It’s not that the cards are somehow sentient and tell me things about myself that I don’t know. Rather, the images and words on the cards give me a space to remind myself of my own good qualities, the validity of my struggles, and the fact that I feel pain when seeing the suffering of others is a positive quality. That being said, it seems like the art of the Thoth deck is most conducive of this result for me and I’ve never entrusted this exercise to any other deck.

Tarot always functions as a mirror, but I think sometimes we can see more clearly when we do not expect anything of the deck apart from simple recognition. No answers, no certainty, no advice; just confirmation and a sense that your feelings are valid. I’ve never seen this method written about anywhere else, but I doubt I’m alone in practicing it. Has anyone else tried?