Mid-Summer Check-In

luckLately, I have needed to put my feet in the water. Lately, my life has been feeling so stagnant and stifled and I need to experience the flow of the river. Still no job, but I haven’t been looking for one. I’ve felt like something needs to stay on hold. Yes, I’m doing volunteer work–building my portfolio, I tell people, to ward off suspicions (in others and myself) that I’m just not doing enough, or that I’m being perverse or irresponsible.

But I have never done anything irresponsible in my entire life. Not one single thing. I make good decisions, I have my shit together. How would I have gone from the 17 year old from a working-class background and a 2.8 high school GPA to a 30 year old with a Ph.D. if I didn’t seriously have my shit together? Well, I’ve had lots of luck and privilege too, don’t I know it.

So mostly, I stay in. I knit, I read. I’ve begun a journaling practice again after letting it go for at least a year. I’ve been doing asana yoga and thinking about shadow work and soul work.

The river near me goes through many widths and depths as it winds through the city, but my favorite place is where it’s wide, fast-flowing, and shallow. People regularly struggle to get kayaks and canoes through certain spots, often having to get out in mid-calf high water to carry them to deeper areas. This summer, I have realized that getting out into nature alone must be a priority for me, and right now the river is calling.

I’ve found so much life in the fast-rushing shallows–mussels, crayfish, minnows, dragonflies and damselflies, ducks, geese. I saw an osprey diving for fish, and a painted turtle digging her nest. I sit quietly and watch; or wade slowly and turn the river stones over with curiosity and trepidation. I take my cards, too.

In May, I spent 10 days in an intensive with Joanna Macy, which is an experience I will be grateful for for the rest of my life. I brought my Mary-el with me, and while I did almost no readings for myself, I got the chance to do several readings for other people, and news of my crazy-ass tarot deck spread like wildfire among the participants. People saw and recognized the depth of Mary-el immediately.

After returning, however, I didn’t touch my cards for a week or two. I don’t know why–it just didn’t feel right. When I began doing readings for myself again, they were mostly focused around the circle teachings of the four directions. I’m still not sure what I’m doing with that, but I may write about it in the future.

I’ve been feeling the closest to my nature-centered decks: the Wildwood Tarot, the Wild Unknown Tarot, the Druid Animal Oracle, the Earthbound Oracle. 20160630_150041I feel like my practice is shifting and deepening somehow. I’m trying to take a more intuitive turn, but it’s also been hit or miss. I think my problem is that I want to do bigger spreads (especially spreads I’m just making up on the fly) and it’s not really clicking with me. I’m sort of groping my way to a more body-centered, nature-centered way of card reading.

Looking at my site traffic (which was bizarrely high in May and nearly as high in June, despite the fact that I published almost nothing), I see that a lot of people are landing here looking for info about the Wooden Tarot. I finished the minors months ago, but looking at the majors will take more time. I haven’t even begun with them yet, to be completely honest. I tried to start soon after I finished the minors, but something just wasn’t clicking. I didn’t feel like I could find a way into them. That may begin to loosen up and change a little bit, but I imagine it will be a while before posts start going up.

Today I made up a small daily spread that may be useful to some. Right now, all of my questions are about finding my place in the world–that is, my true place. It’s a much bigger question than getting a job; it has to do with what I was born to do, and I don’t know. Remember how my word for 2016 was UNKNOWN? Well, I’m finally making it into the unknown. It may be irresponsible, perhaps, but I don’t to get a new job–a new set of responsibilities and identities, a new social scene–until I dwell in this place of unknowing a little longer. Anyway, this spread is a version of the questions that I’m asking myself all the time nowadays, so here goes.

  1. Today’s theme, or most important feature
  2. What do I need?
  3. What needs me?

I hope you find it useful; if you do, let me know.

I just felt the impulse to apologize for all this navel-gazing, but you know, I’m not going to apologize. It’s part of what I need, and it’s part of what the world needs from me.

#shadowworkoctober Days 1-10

Truth be told, I started my tarot Instagram account, @emilytarot, because there were some cool tarot challenges coming up in October and I did not want to spam the people following my personal account with tarot stuff. One of those challenges is #shadowworkoctober hosted by @mnomquah. Those following along are supposed to be keeping journals, but mostly my Instagram account has been serving as the journal. I want to sum up my thoughts and insights here, 10 days into the challenge.

What is shadow work? The concept of the shadow originated with Carl Jung and although I’m sure in the psychoanalytic tradition it’s much more complex than this, the overall idea is that our shadow is what we disown and repress about ourselves. Usually, we project our shadow onto other people. That’s why we see a person criticize someone for doing something and then turn around and do it themselves! We all have shadow parts–parts of ourselves that we believe are unacceptable, so shadow work is discovering those parts and integrating them into ourselves in a healthy way. Interestingly, for me the overall theme of this month hasn’t been about uncovering a bunch of monsters in my closet as it has been about revealing ways that I’ve been limiting myself.

Because I’ve deleted several of the original pictures (I only have but so much storage space on my phone!), I’m going to start with links first. We began with a mandala representing ourselves. I’ve never drawn a mandala before, but this is what came out of the creative process. Those familiar with tarot will probably recognize the four elements and faculties here: (clockwise from top) air/intellect, with its ability to draw lines and put things into boxes; fire/spirituality, with its refracting, jewel-like energy; earth/materiality–the disks of coins, tree trunks, the earth–roundness, wholeness; and water/emotion–waves, change. These five are surrounded in purple by what is simultaneously shadow and spirit or consciousness–the thing that makes me greater than the sum of my parts. The purple also represents shadow, those qualities which are still part of me, but which I have tried to cast out.

Day two was the Hero’s Journey spread, and the results I got are here. Notice the reversed Queen of Wands and the King of Swords. Court cards have been coming up for me a LOT this month, and all my wands cards have been reversed. I don’t think this spread shows a triumphant journey, like the kind you’d see in a movie. I think it’s a move from depending on those outside of me to moving into a darker, internal place and giving up ruses and disguises in the process.

I think this movement into darkness is somehow mirrored by the source of my greatest fear, which is the Sun??? (I was a bit puzzled by that one.) And the way of releasing that fear is through the determination of the Two of Wands. These were days 3 and 4. For day 5, we chose a card, rather than drawing one at random: our least favorite card. Mine is the 5 of Swords, for reasons I think I explain pretty well on the page. I definitely see this as a shadow part of myself.

dauwandsrx The next few days focus on questions: What do I need to forgive myself for? (Day 6) The Daughter of Wands, reversed. I think this is about the way that my life–not simply the pursuit of a PhD, but a lot of my life choices over the past decade have made me a happy, responsible person, but have sapped my creativity. I have felt a lot of sadness and shame about this, but I also need to forgive myself for not spending my 20s being an artist or a poet. I really do have a lot of creativity and vitality that I can put to use and that I can foster. It’s no surprise, then, that my inner truth (Day 7) is the Daughter of Pentacles, reversed. The Daughter of Pentacles is studious and dutiful. I have really embodied her over the past several years, but now that identity no longer serves me.

The Ancestor--one of my very favorite cards from any deck-- is just there for support.
The Ancestor is just there for support

Day 8 was a bit of a detour from this theme, as we spoke about reclaiming the most negative Major Arcana card as a positive one. I chose the Heirophant and you can read what I have to say here.

Day 9, my greatest misperception about myself, was the Magician, reversed. I pulled two other cards along side him to see what commentary they had. The reversed Magician is about lacking power–I consistently underestimate myself and think I’m less versatile than I actually am. It’s funny because I don’t think that I do this, but when I get feedback from others, they point out that I have skills or talents or opportunities that I hadn’t even considered.  Not surprisingly, the Daughter of Pentacles showed up reversed again, showing me that my studiousness is part of what’s sapping my Magician power. I think I’m trained to do one thing really well, but I’m actually pretty versatile. The Ten of Cups, appearing upright, suggested to me that the way to get my Magician mojo back is to follow my feelings. It’s funny, because although I feel things deeply, I don’t act on my emotions very much. This suggest that I need to get over that!magician rx

And lastly–and not surprisingly–today’s card was in response to the question: what do I need to let go of? The Father of Wands, reversed. Geez, all I need now is the Son of Wands reversed and I’ll have the whole set! Again, I need to let go of feeling like I need permission from the universe to undertake creative projects or do the kind of work I want to do.kingwandsrx For this month’s challenge, I was expecting to get all of these messages about my foibles, but actually, the messages that I’m getting are about my strengths and how I am not living up to my potential. I think all the court cards are showing me the different personas and identities that I need to shed or take on in this process. It’s been a very interesting month with this challenge so far. Looking forward to the next 21 days!

Daily Reading with the Thoth Tarot: Learning to Lose

Every morning, I usually do a daily reading–a practice that has evolved over time for me. I do these readings primarily as a way of studying the cards, but when I get a deck that I feel really connected to, the reading usually offers some good guidance, too. While I’m not too crazy about the common tarot blog practice of posting a card and calling it “Your card of the day,” I do hope to post more of my daily readings as a record of my practice and life.

So here we are: I am defending my dissertation tomorrow. TOMORROW. Less than 24 hours from now, there will be a Ph.D. behind my name. (Well, not legally–I don’t officially graduate until December 20th, but it’s common practice for people to call you Dr. So-and-so after the defense.) The few weeks leading up to the defense have been a strange mixture of doing nothing—after submitting my dissertation for my committee to read on the 1st, I didn’t touch it again until yesterday—and doing a lot of thinking about big issues in my life. It’s a good time to be using the Thoth tarot for daily readings, then, because while my outer life has been quite lazy, my inner life has been intense.

I wanted to share this morning’s reading, not only because I love the guidance I gave me, but because it shows off this deck’s strengths. For now I have settled on a simple 4 card spread for morning readings: top row is the check-in or weather report (what things are looking like for me right now) and the bottom row is advice.

sept 22 readingWeather report: The Chariot and the 8 of Disks (Prudence.) In this deck, the Chariot is about victory, so victory plus prudence: looking good! All my ducks are in a row with paperwork and preparations and I feel pretty confident about the defense tomorrow. I still have a little work to do, but I plan on doing it. These cards strengthen each other, since the Chariot is water and the 8 of Disks is earth, and these two elements like each other a lot.

But then we get to the advice: 5 of Swords (Defeat) and the Tower! Had these two cards been part of the weather report, I would have raised an eyebrow. But I think the advice they give can be summed up in three words: “Learn to lose.” That is, on the eve of this most important event, victory may be right around the corner but that victory will mean not only happiness but change. I am about to give away my identity as a graduate student and an academic. I am about to let go of this degree that I have been working on for six years. I am about to make final revisions to a dissertation that I will then shelve. In the 5 of Swords, I see the acceptance of loss, and in the Tower I see the breaking down of old forms and identities to make way for the new. (By the way, the Tower in this deck is my favorite of any I’ve seen.) This is only the part of what I take away from these two cards of advice–the rest I can’t put into words.

I think many people might be made uneasy by seeing the 5 of Swords and the Tower before their dissertation defense. However, for me it feels like excellent advice–what I needed to hear but didn’t know that I needed it. I have no road map in front of me like I would if I had been applying for academic jobs. The world after December 20th is exists past the edge of the earth. Learning to lose, learning to let go will be, I think, the most important lesson for me but it might have taken longer for me to see that I hold this wisdom if the Thoth tarot hadn’t brought it out.

Daily Cards: April 26th-May 2nd

Eight of Cups

Choosing a daily card for contemplation is part of the Alternative Tarot Course. I decided that I would try to post my reflections, but would do it in a weekly post instead of daily. With the exception of the last entry, these are transcriptions of my written tarot journal. Each morning I draw a card at random from the Wild Unknown deck, and then draw the corresponding card from the Smith-Waite deck. I write down the keywords from various sources I have (listed at the end) and then go from there. Many of the references will make sense only to me. It’s very different from my usual bloggy voice–with the exception of the last entry.Continue reading “Daily Cards: April 26th-May 2nd”

March 14th Reading: Turning the Page

For about 2 months now, I have been doing a daily 4-card pull almost every morning. It’s a spread I modified from Benebell Wen’s beginner’s study guide to Holistic Tarot. Four cards every day is simply too much info to work with, and I know that. But it is helping me learn Tarot…approximately four times faster than if I just pulled one card a day! Some day I only have time to pull the cards, take a picture of them, and paste it into my Tarot journal. Most days I pull the cards, take a picture, note the card meanings in my journal, and move on. But sometimes I have time to really sit with the spread and try to do some reading. So I’m going to write up what I got out of the spread I pulled this morning, with the caveat that this is for learning and I will probably make mistakes.


Position 1: What is today’s outlook/overall energy? Page of Pentacles

Position 2: What am I carrying with me into this day? Three of Swords

Position 3: Yesterday’s unfinished business. Page of Cups, Reversed

Position 4: Something I need to work on. The Wheel of Fortune

Position 1: Today’s outlook–the Page of Pentacles. I also got him in this position the last time I did a reading two mornings ago. It’s little synchronicities like these that keep bringing me back to Tarot and make me want to keep doing morning readings. I shuffle the cards quite thoroughly, doing a mixture of riffling and hand-over-hand. Then I spread them all out and choose which ones feel right for each position, so it’s not as easy to pull the same card twice, as it would be with drawing off the top, I think. It’s a coincidence that I picked this card in its upright position out of all 78 for the same position in a spread two times in a row. But sometimes random chances make you sit up a little straighter to see what’s going on.

Anyway, the Page of Pentacles. I feel like I get a lot of Pentacles. Or rather, Pentacles are the cards that I seem to pay the most attention to in readings right now. And that makes sense, given that I’m looking to start a new career after I finish my Ph.D. But when I look at the Page of Pentacles, I really feel this guy right now: he’s a dreamer, but he’s also a student. He straddles the line between the world of imagination and the earth. I’d say of all the court cards, this is the one I identify with the most at this point in my life. I’m constantly shifting between dreaming and doing–between thinking big and mucking around in the particulars.

Position 2: The Three of Swords, which I’m carrying with me into this day. YIKES!!! Or so I thought at first. This is the classic card of grief and loss and made the strongest impression on me visually back when I messed around with the cards as a teenager. But am I really carrying grief, loss, and sadness into this day? Not literally, no. I had to think about this one for a while, and Biddy Tarot helped:

The Three of Swords therefore serves as a reminder that if you can start to see pain as a learning opportunity, life will suddenly become less painful. You need to really get in touch with pain and sorrow. Challenges remain but once they are no longer perceived as negative or ‘bad’, they lose a lot of their impact. This card is therefore encouraging you that you have the ability to conquer any pain that comes your way. Understand how the pain can help you grow.

This makes much more sense to me, particularly because I spent all of yesterday reading a book about exactly this topic: No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering by the great Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. His basic argument is that “the art of happiness is also and at the same time the art of knowing how to suffer well” (p 10.) This is a pretty familiar Buddhist teaching, but only as I read this book yesterday did I really start to get it. More on that in a bit.

Position 3: Yesterday’s unfinished business–the Page of Cups, reversed.This guy has shown up a few times for me in the past month or two, usually in this position. Since the Page of Cups is a card of intuition, emotion, and creativity, its reversal suggests that something is out of balance here. Looking back on yesterday, which was an emotionally balanced day if there ever was one, I’m going to go with creativity. I can pin this to a very specific thing, which is that I am trying to create more art. While I’m doing better with drawing more regularly, I think, I need to keep going. There’s more work to be done–hence the unfinished business.

Position 4: The Wheel of Fortune–things to work on. I don’t get this card all that often, so I’m not that familiar with it. It seems to me that it’s about things that are out of my control, but as I looked at it in conjunction with the Three of Swords, things started to make sense. And so…

Bringing it all together. I really do think that this morning’s reading is a snapshot of where I am right now. There are lots of Pages because I’m at that a Page-y place in my life: once again, I am transitioning from mastery (or at least competence) as a scholar and teacher into a novitiate re: the new career I am choosing for myself. The Page of Pentacles is where I want to be, but I can’t neglect the Page of Cups–creativity, intuition, and emotional sensitivity are things I need to cultivate alongside earthy studiousness and planning. The Page of Pentacles dreams, but the Page of Cups tells him why he’s dreaming what he’s dreaming about. Why am I choosing a career in environmentalist nonprofits? What are my real goals in doing so? Even as I prepare to start networking, resume-writing, and all that nitty-gritty stuff, I need to enlist my intuition and creativity to help me figure out what my real goals are.

But even more poignantly (pun intended), I was struck by seeing the Three of Swords paired with the Wheel of Fortune. Frankly, I am coming out of a fairly crappy few months. Only fairly crappy–not the worst, but from about mid-September to the end of February, I was not feeling good. Part of this was the stressful class I was teaching last semester, which made me realize that classroom teaching at the university (or probably any) level is not my path and takes a serious toll on my mental health. Part of it was also the Huge Family Emergency that happened in November, which came at a time when I was feeling pretty numb and withdrawn already. I don’t usually have Seasonal Affective Disorder, but I am wondering if the weather has had something to do with my mood as well. During times like this, my feelings begin to dry up and anxiety creeps in. I’m in a MUCH better place for dealing with it than I was three years ago, however. Only in the past couple of weeks has life been starting to feel juicy and inviting again, so now I’m in a place to reflect on the past half-year.

The Three of Swords and the Wheel of Fortune together remind me to reconsider the value and place of pain in my life. When I feel crappy, I think back to times when I wasn’t feeling crappy and assume that happiness is the default and any time I’m not happy is wrong.

What the Wheel tells me is that, no, life is actually made up of a mixture of happy and not-happy times and that’s just how it is. Therefore, appreciate happiness when it’s here because it is impermanent. Likewise, the Three of Swords tells me: learn from sadness, grief, numbness, and depression when they are here. Don’t look back on happy times as the default or the way things should be. Don’t beat yourself up for not being happy. Enjoy happiness in the now, learn from suffering in the now.

As my two Pages saunter forth into uncertainty, hopefully the Page of Pentacles can help the Page of Cups pull himself upright and they can work together with the wonderful and terrifying things that are coming and learn to appreciate both.