In my second weekly draw, I found myself in need of an ally for clarity around a few challenging conversations that needed to happen. Nothing terribly stressful or troubling, but those conversations were up for me when I was drawing the cards that Sunday.
Ally Draw #2: An ally for clarity
Card: Four of Swords
Newsflash: This image seems to be all about silence and space. We have four swords decorating a crypt, which seems maybe a little morbid, but actually kind of rocks. I’m good with words – I’m a decent writer, and an excellent speaker. Words are the tools I use to effect change in my communities and, in very small ways, in the world. But I know, too, that I can forget about the power of silence, of taking a breath and pausing from time to time. The image in this card is a needed reminder of that. I’ll take the opportunities to allow time to pass, to breathe and use my words more sparingly. Clarity isn’t just about making my own needs and messages understood, after all. It’s just as much about (or, if I’m doing this well, even more about) understanding others. It’s hard to do that when the only words I’m focused on are my own.
“Allow space. use discernment, and cultivate the gifts that can only come in the quiet places of your life.”
Now that the remodeling is done at home, I’ve been feeling more time and space to relax and breathe. In addition to wandering around the apartment and saying, “Look! There are multiple rooms available to me!” I have started doing a weekly tarot draw on the weekends – just a single card, asking which ally I might work with in the week ahead. I might not share all of those here, but it’s been a nice little practice for me so far, and I find that being more public about what I’m doing helps me continue to do it. This just started a few weeks ago, so it’s just a matter of making a few catch-up posts here.
As I’ve noted before, I am nothing like a Tarot expert, and my knowledge of what any given card REALLY means is accidental at best. My interpretation of these draws, such as it is, is very much through the lens of the lens of the ally I’m seeking.
So. Disclaimers aside, here we go.
Ally Draw #1: An ally for peace
Card: Queen of Cups
I am so fortunate in my life that when I talk about a time that isn’t peaceful, I’m not talking about physical violence, or a lack of survival-level resources, or housing instability, or anything like that. In my privileged existence, peace – or the lack of it – is very much connected to my emotional state. I’ve had some stuff going on of late, and it’s good to note that “stuff” for me isn’t major, terrible upheaval. But I’ve still felt disquieted, like there’s something on the horizon that’s concerning.
So I’d like some more calm and interior peace, if you will. And if I’m going to ask for advice or help, who better than this queen to approach? She is sitting on her throne, but so close to the water that is her domain. Is the tide coming in, or going out? Either way, what it tells me is that the emotion is not something that she is divorced from, that she keeps separate. Rather, she welcomes it and its gifts. They bring riches to her, and yet she remains who she is.
The queen is not emotion, is not water herself, but instead she accepts it – takes in what is needed, fills her cup for when times will be dry, and allows it to flow away in its own time.
“Stop trying to control, to corral.
Instead: trust, and accept, and have faith.
Do not forget who YOU are. You are a being of love and connection. You must allow the water to soak down and feed your roots as well as quench your thirst.”
‘Wheel never stops turning, Badger.’
‘That only matters to the people on the rim.'”
-Malcolm Reynolds and Badger, Pilot episode of Firefly
I’m about seven months into a Wheel year, which means that, from a numerological standpoint, the year that started on my last birthday has been (is being) ruled by the number 10, which corresponds to the Wheel of Fortune card in the Tarot (if you believe that stuff, which mostly I don’t, but sometimes I sort of do). This is a card that usually, to me, at least, invokes some feelings of anxiety and worry. That wheel goes round and round, and it’s scary out on the edge, man.
One of the things that I’ve been told about dealing with the Wheel in general, and a Wheel year in particular, is that you want to stay in the center to take advantage of the stability there. And I think that is a wise thing, for sure. Standing in the center isn’t about ignoring the change that manifests with the Wheel (or, rather, the change that’s always going on, but perhaps seems to be magnified during this time) – it’s about being in a place of centered stability, from which I can engage with that incessant change without being flung off the side.
Here’s a thing, though. What if the change that’s happening needs to be engaged with differently?
For the past four months, our home has been in various stages of a remodeling project. So: decision-making, packing, culling, demolition, rebuilding, finishing, culling, unpacking, more culling, swearing, more decision-making, and so on. It’s felt like an immense project, and for me it’s been at least as much emotional labor as it has been physical (to be clear, professionals are doing basically all of the physical work with the exception of packing, unpacking, etc). When we moved here in 2010, we had intentions that turned out to be wholly beyond our ability to manifest. A combination of factors have contributed to that – circumstance, personality, foolishness, shifting priorities, and good old-fashioned overconfidence and naïvete. So the place I’m living won’t be a lot of things that I had hoped for – it’s not going to be a housing cooperative, and we won’t live here with a family of choice that treats the space as shared and communal in the way that I hoped (and sometimes still ache) for. Instead, it’s a place that in the long term is as much an investment as a home for me. And that really makes me sad, a lot of the time. The improvement of the physical space, as welcome as it is, also serves as a reminder of that fact, and of that failure. This whole process has been – still is – very difficult for me.
All of that is true. What’s also true is that the change, the transformation, the shifting of the physical space to match the reality of what is true and what will be true for the foreseeable future is a crucial thing. Hanging onto the symbols and trappings of that dream-that-was has made me ill, made me angry, made me feel the loss and sting of failure all the more.
There is a grief that runs under all of this for me. I’ve had other grief in the past few years, and I’ve discovered something about how that works for me. I don’t process grief from the center of the Wheel. Other people can, I know, and I imagine that it’s a better way of approaching the whole business. But as much as I might wish that that was true for me, it’s just not. It’s a sort of change, of loss and sorrow, that I need to lean into. I need to let it be, let myself be, and step away from the center, at least for a little while.
So I think that’s what I’m going to do for the rest of this scary year. Stop fighting my way back toward the center and hang out on the edge. Lean in the direction of change and know it’s the only way, for me, to begin to turn loss into something else.
Back in June I spent several days at Christ in the Wilderness, a retreat center in western Illinois, spending an intentional period of quiet and solitary self-reflection. As far as I know, there were three people on the land – me, one other retreatant, and the part-time caretaker who was filling in for the nun who is otherwise there, and was away for meetings of some kind. I stayed in a hermitage named after Paul of Tarsus, which included a twin bed, one chair, a small but functional kitchen, and a bathroom, all in a very open floorplan that reminded me of the first apartment I lived in by myself, if you removed the bedroom from that apartment and put the bed in the living area.
As for the land itself, there are several miles of paths through the extremely hilly woods and around the two large elevated meadows. I started keeping track of the chairs, tables and benches throughout the paths, but gave up after I reached twenty. There is also a screened in gazebo, a lovely small chapel, and a building called the Granary that reminds me of the chicken coop where I grew up (sans chickens, but with the same old wood smell and the same rather frightening number of wasps). In the hermitage and the Granary, I found several notebooks filled with words shared by previous visitors, and at the main house there is an extensive library of CDs, tapes and books in the library, most (naturally) of a spiritual bent. It is, very clearly, a space dedicated to the idea of solitude and contemplation. I could see immediately why it was recommended to me. The place is absolutely stunning.
My experience was, in a word, excrutiating, and I mean that in the best possible way. It was necessary the way setting a broken bone is necessary, but that in no way makes it a pleasant experience.
Other than my own thoughts, my most constant companion was music. I brought a number chant recordings on my phone, and listened to them a lot during the drive, in the hermitage and while walking the land. I was familiar with most of them already, having been present at events where they had been written (or at least where they were used for rituals). One that was new to me is called “Who Did I Say I Would Be?” Give it a quick listen, if you’re so inclined.
I found myself fascinated by the two alternating questions – “Who did I say I would be?” and “Who am I?” during one of my long walks, and when I got back to the hermitage I drew a card for each of them.
Who did I say I would be?:
Who am I (and I assure you I am not joking)?:
Since this is a different sort of draw, I thought I’d look at the cards together and compare and contrast them.
First, how are the cards similar?
- Water, unsurprisingly, features rather prominently in both cards
- Both the King and Queen are holding big damn cups (another shocking development)
- Both figures are sitting on thrones
- The cards share a similar color scheme (though certainly not an identical one)
Well, all of that makes sense. The differences between the cards, though, are really interesting.
- The figures are facing in opposite directions – the Queen is facing to the left, the King to the right.
- The King is looking away from his cup. He holds it in his right hand, and is looking up and to the left. The Queen, conversely, is looking directly at her cup, which she holds in both hands.
- While both characters are on thrones, the King’s is on what looks like a platform that is floating in the water. The Queen’s throne is right on the beach, with no extra barrier.
- Their cloaks are also interesting. The King’s is yellow and green, and some of the green is reflected in the water around him. The Queen’s cloak is blue and white, and on her right side it seems to trail right down into the water. It blends perfectly into the waves.
- We can see the land in the Queen’s image – she’s sitting on the beach, and there’s a cliff face behind her. The King is surrounded by water. We can even see a ship in the background.
So, what does it mean?
Comparing these cards is really interesting. People who know about such things have told me in the past that the Queens are about internal mastery of their suit, while the Kings are about outward mastery. The inward/outward focus feels really apparent in these cards. It looks to me like the King uses the water. He’s floating on it, and he holds his symbols (including the cup) in a way that indicates action somehow. The Queen, conversely, is of the water. The water flows over her, even though she’s on the beach. It looks like it’s washing over her and through her in a way that isn’t true for the King.
Something I hadn’t thought of before…this shifting focus thing seems to be true with the Page and Knight cards, as well. When I look at a Page I find that my eye is drawn to the symbol – the big damn cup, or sword, or whatever. The Knights are more action-oriented. Looking at the Queen and King, my sense is that the Queen is dedicated to the cup and the water that it represents, and the King intends to use it to accomplish his goals.
It seems like these two cards, in combination, suggest that I am oriented to see how my gifts may be of use, perhaps to the detriment of truly dedicating myself to those gifts. That’s not all bad, I don’t think. While I could say that the King’s orientation could turn the Water (or anything else) to his own ends, it could also be that he turns the gift to the ends of the people he serves. To his family, his community, his people. But while that is certainly a noble aim, I think it’s also one that might bring about a more surface-level relationship with that gift. The image of the King seems to say, “I know how to use this tool to do my work.” The Queen, I think, is all about depth and dedication. In this image, she’s entirely focused the cup she holds. If I want a model for using my gifts in service to others, the King looks like a good mentor. But if I want to dedicate myself and be in service to my gifts, then I think the Queen is the model that I should be drawn to.
Three weeks ago today, I was packing up for a trip to Missouri. It was the sort of flurry of activity that I tend to retreat into when I know that slowing down is going to force me to look closely at my feelings, and lord knows we can’t have that. That said, one of my self-imposed intentions right now is to be as present to myself as I try to be to others, so I decided to pause for a moment.
For this draw, I pulled two cards. I’ll talk a bit about the purpose of the draw in a bit.
The Six of Cups
So, we have a lovely picture of two children, one boy and one girl. There are six chalices filled with beautiful flowers, and the boy is handing one of them to the girl. In the background, and armed adult stands, seemingly guarding the children from possible harm. I note that there is no threat visible or even implied in the image. So is the guard superflous, or is the threat kept at bay by his presence? Let’s come back to that in a moment.
The adorable children are straight out of central casting, aren’t they? One can almost hear their ultra-serious voices declaring their affection for one another. It’s that sort of interaction that most adults are obliged to say, “Awwww,” when they observe. They’re cute as hell, but what stands out for me is innocence. They seem to have eyes only for the beauty around them – the flowers, the sky, their friendship. If their lives are destined to be complicated someday, they don’t seem to know it. Their affection for one another is the most important thing facing them, and there is an innocent, lovely vulnerability there.
Now, back to that guard for a moment. He is pretty clearly making his rounds of the area. It could be that it’s simply his job, but given the rest of the image, I think it’s a bit more than that. It feels to me like the children are innocent, and innocence deserves to be protected. The guard’s job is to keep the adorable children sae so that they are free to be innocent.
I’ve drawn this card a number of times, and I have a complicated relationship with it. The Emperor is a symbol of structure and mastery. His power is the power of tradition and law, of rule and hierarchy. He rules because it is proper that he do so, and his appearance demonstrates that clearly. I mean, look at him. He’s the very image of patriarchal authority, isn’t he? He has his crown, his throne…he appears, to me, to be absolutely certain of his place and his rule.
One thing I really notice about the Emperor is his armor. While his crown and other symbols are golden, his armor isn’t. It appears to me to be functional, not symbolic. I look at the Emperor and see someone set in his ways, perhaps too rigid for his own good, but also someone who epitomizes strength and a willingness to stand and defend his lands and his people. If not for the armor, I think I would like him a lot less.
So, how about those cards, man?
Yeah. We have these two two very different images, one of innocence and vulnerability, and the other of strength and protection. The first was drawn for my father, and the second for me. I drew them about 32 hours before he died. There was no question that he was very close to death by then, of course, and I was looking for some idea of what to hope for for each of us, and what to attempt to manifest in myself, and what to try and make possible for him.
I look back at those children now, at their innocence and the single-mindedness that can come about when one is safe and innocent. It’s easy to see my father there. After 67 years of life, several of them spent suffering through a series of a series of illnesses and medical problems I hoped he would be spared, he had only one task left. It was time for him to let go, to set down the burdens that had, in many ways, defined years of his life.
But it’s not ever that simple, is it? In the spiritual work that I’ve participated in and offered, we often say that doing that sort of work requires safety above all other things. Vulnerability requires that it be safe to be vulnerable.
Enter, once again, that soldier standing guard over the children. And enter, too, the Emperor. Strength and power, protection and defense of that which he loves. If the images from these cards were part of the same story, I would like to imagine that the Emperor sent the solider to watch over those children. To do what he could, however little that might be, to make them safe.
Sadly, I am no Emperor, and Dad’s work wasn’t so easy as that of the adorable children…but the intention to be strong and to embody strength and safety for him to the best of my ability? That sure felt right to me. Still does, in fact.
In a little less than three weeks, I will leave my job at the bank for a couple of days so I can head to Kansas City to present at an event called “The Seduction of Spring: Persephone Ascends.” I will stop teaching clients about an updated corporate credit card management system (and stop teaching my coworkers about how to behave like reasonable human beings) in favor of joining a team of amazing teachers to facilitate workshops on personal growth, cycles of the natural world, myth and magic, and, with a little luck, assist in offering a little bit of life-changing spiritual work. You know, like you do.
(I will also, for those couple of days, take about a 90% pay cut. But that’s neither here nor there.)
In any case, we’re very much in the midst of planning the details of the event. Don’t get me wrong – the broad strokes and theme were settled months ago, but as we get closer to the big day and get a sense of how many people have registered (and who they are), it’s time to put some more form into place and shape the theme into something more concrete. This is the point in the process that is either a lot of fun or a little terrifying. Or both.
While doing some brainstorming today, I remembered that it’s been approximately forever since I wrote up a tarot draw here. I’ve been working with the cards a little more often recently, but none of those questions have been particularly fit for public consumption. I figured that this was a good time to
Question: What should I keep at the front of my mind while planning the Persephone event?
Card: The World (no shit, The World)
First impressions: Well, I suppose a more perfect card could have come up, but I’m not sure what it would be.
About the card: We have an almost-naked woman floating in a bright blue sky, in the center of a green ring. Surrounding her are four clouds, each with a different head in it. From the top left and working around, there’s a man, an eagle, a lion and a bull. The woman is holding a wand (?) in each hand and has a long piece of fabric sort-of draped arond her. Her hair and the cloth are both blowing back over her shoulder, as if caught in the wind.
The story without words: It’s difficult for me to put a narrative on this particular card. With only one person there, and that one pretty obviously not, you know, a run of the mill human being, I find myself jumping pretty quickly from “What’s the story?” to “What does it mean, man?” One thing I will say, though. The lady isn’t standing still. She looks like she’s running, or dancing. She seems to be pretty pleased with herself. I imagine that if I was able to fly, I’d feel much the same.
Okay, and one other interesting note. The imagery here is actually very similar to that of the Wheel of Fortune, where we have similar images in the corners of the card, and of course a circular pattern in the center. But while that card draws attention to the edge of the circle, The World seems to be all about being right there in the center, where one isn’t in danger of being thrown off the wheel entirely.
But what does it mean?: Well, if we consider the cards in the Major Arcana as a single trip through life, The World is at the end of that journey. I like to imagine that way back at the beginning, the Fool (or Jason) took a tumble off the edge of the cliff and entered life, learning lessons from each of the cards along the way. And now, at the end, what do we find? Dancing, and flight, and magic, and joy.
And also mystery, I think. Persephone’s story is one of cycles. She returns to to the Underworld for half of the year, and then to the world Above for the other half. The pattern repeats itself every year, and the world is changed by it. Her movement from Above to Below is, in that myth, the explanation for why the Earth has seasons. So this looks like a card of fulfillment, and journey’s end…but isn’t that also the beginning of another journey? What will Persephone learn in the next cycle? What will the Fool learn in his next life? What draws each of us over that cliff?
I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m pretty geeked about this event now.
The other day, I posted something to Facebook along the lines of, “Lately, I don’t give a damn about any virtue other than generosity.” I wouldn’t say that that’s literally true, but it’s pretty darn close. Certainly, calling someone generous is one of the highest forms of praise in my book, and it’s a characteristic that I challenge myself with pretty regularly.
Of course, to be generous can mean any number of things. There’s generosity of “stuff” – that is, giving gifts, sharing tangible resources and wealth, that sort of thing. That’s an important aspect, though certainly not the only one. There’s also, I think, generosity of spirit. To me, this can look like a lot of different things, but one of the most important manifestations is thinking well of another person, of giving them the benefit of the doubt. There’s generosity, I believe, in facing a situation where I can just as easily think ill of someone as I can think well of them, and to make the conscious choice to think well.
In my world, there’s also generosity of time. When my partner offers to go to the grocery store while I am working so the ingredients I need to bake cookies are available when I get home, her generosity of time allows me to be generous in turn – because then it is possible for me to spend my time baking cookies for friends. Also, there are sometimes extra cookies, and this is no bad thing.
At the end of the day, my working definition of generosity is “Looking for ways to say yes.” Because you know, I can’t always do it. Nobody can. Even when we’re feeling flush or are otherwise in a place of abundance, resources are limited. Even when the right answer is Yes, sometimes the only answer I can offer in good conscience is Not Right Now. But I do try, at least a good amount of the time, to find that place of Yes as a default position – even when the question isn’t asked directly. Perhaps a better definition is to look for a way to live “Yes” rather than just to say “Yes”.
Clearly, my thoughts on the subject aren’t as well formed as I would like. I want to be more generous, and I want to surround myself with people who embrace generosity as a way of moving through the world. I know that much, at least…but this evening I find myself curious about what I might see in a random draw on the subject. So after dusting off my long-neglected deck, I pulled one card.
Question: What do the cards have to tell me about generosity tonight?
Card: The Seven of Pentacles
First impressions: Huh. That seems oddly direct.
About the card: Well, we have a guy in simple clothing – a tunic, leggings and boots – leaning on a scythe or other harvesting tool in what looks like a garden, looking very very serious. On the left side of the image, there’s a bush that is bearing fruit. Or, you know, pentacles. In any case, he’s got seven of them, one of which seems to have been harvested while the other six are awaiting his attention.
The story without words: I can’t help but be drawn to his expression. Dude looks tired to me. His shoulders are a little slumped, and he is looking at the bush like, “Oh, come on. I’ve got six more of those freaking things to harvest? Are you freaking kidding me?” At the same time, though, there are resources there, and they didn’t arrive out of nowhere. This guy looks like a farmer, a peasant – not someone who had a great deal to start with. It seems to me that he’s catching his breath and wondering if maybe tomorrow would be a better day to tackle the next part of the task.
But what does it mean?: It’s interesting. If I ignored the person in the card, I would say, “Hey, this thing is obviously about abundance. Look, the resources are literally falling off the bush. On the other hand, if I looked only at the person and ignored everything else, I would say, “Oh, geez. This guy is just done with this shit.” The person and the surrounding image seem a little bit at odds with each other.
Of course, the one fruit that is on the ground didn’t fall there. The bush was planted, and tended, and it grew, and then the fruit was harvested. This looks like a successful growing cycle to me – the bush is full of fruit, after all. But even in the midst of that success, our hero is tired and seems to be wishing that he could have outsourced the “harvesting” part of this operation.
So what about the generosity thing? Well…our farmer can’t share what he hasn’t harvested, right? Likewise, I don’t know that any of us can share what we haven’t yet manifested in our lives. It’s often tempting for me to say, “Hey, look, I just yanked this one bit of extra energy (or extra time, or extra money, or whatever) into being. Of course I can share it.” The problem, often, is that when I offer that up too quickly, later I’m angry with myself, or resentful of the other person, because I realize just how much work is before me to get the next fruit from the tree, as it were. At the same time, recognizing the resources I have access to (even if it will take a great deal of effort to manifest it) can serve as a good reminder that abundance does exist, sometimes.
I start my new job in two days. At-freaking-last. It is by no means a perfect situation, but it really feels like it should be a good fit in a lot of ways. The short, mass-transit-only commute is a huge advantage to me, as are the generous hourly rate and (from the outside, at least) the well-defined scope of the job.
One problem, though. I hate starting new jobs. You wouldn’t know it to look at the way my resume reads up until about 2003 (when I changed gigs like clockwork about every 12 months), but my most comfortable work environment is one where I feel like I know what I’m doing and have a good sense of the personalities and politics of the company. I’m going to have a lot to learn here, and while everyone already knows that, I know that one of my biggest challenges will be to avoid the temptation to dive in too quickly and to push too quickly. Intellectually, I know that the early part of the job will be my only opportunity to really learn certain aspects of the project (or at least the only opportunity to do so at a time when “just learning” is my primary job function), but I have a well-established pattern of wanting to contribute immediately, and sometimes that mindset has worked against me.
I’m aware, then, that one challenge will be to deal with the discomfort of being the newbie on the project. I thought it might be instructive to draw a card today, while this is really up for me.
Question: Entering a period of uncomfortable “apprenticeship,” what card can I look to as an ally?
Card: The Devil
First impressions: Are you fucking kidding me?
About the card: Well, all right then. The background of this card is black, all the better to add to the shiny, happy, optimistic imagery. Perched on a black pedestal (altar, perhaps?) is the Devil…well, sort of. He has wings and goat’s horns, and looks more like Pan than, say, a “traditional” interpretation of Lucifer. Above his head is an inverted pentagram. In his left hand, he is holding a torch toward the earth, and his right hand is held up in a position that I am incapable of seeing as anything but the Vulcan salute.
No, Jason, the devil is not a Vulcan. He is not telling you to live long and prosper. Let’s move on.
In the foreground are two nude people, one female and one male. They both have horns and are bound to the pedestal/altar by chains around their necks. Each of the figures also has a tail – the woman’s tail ends in a bunch of grapes, while the man’s is flaming. Looking at them, I sort of want the figures to be the same ones from the Lovers card, though the connection might go no farther than the fact that they are both naked and standing before a supernatural being.
Although…well, okay, let’s look at the Lovers for a moment.
One other thing that stands out for me when looking at the two cards (other than, you know, the nudity) is that the symbols are similar. In the Lovers, the man is standing before a flaming tree (is that actually right? It looks like it to me, anyway) while the woman is in front of a fruit tree. So we have fire and earth both symbolized in the Lovers – but there the symbols are not connected to the human figures. In the Devil card, these elemental symbols are literally part of the figures. I have no real sense of what this means, but it sure is interesting.
The other obvious thing that jumps out in the Devil card is that the figures, while bound, aren’t exactly trapped. The chains around their necks are very clearly loose enough that they could slip out of them quite easily. So, why don’t they? I can make up all sorts of stories as to why that might be true, of course, but I’m not really sure it matters. The fact that the chains aren’t actually secure implies that one way or the other, they remain where they are by choice. There are lots of reasons why one might choose to be (or to feel) vulnerable and bound, some perfectly healthy and others not so much. Psychology aside, once I dispense with the idea that they are being physically held against their will, a fair bit of that “Oh, crap” value of the image goes away.
But what does it mean?: All of the “Hey, you know, it’s not actually what it looks like,” stuff aside, there’s not a lot in this card that gives me warm fuzzies about my question. When I flipped through the deck to pull out the Lovers so I could compare the images, I thought, “Well, what card would I have liked to see come up today?” The most obvious one is this:
Now that’s what I’m talking about. A person with well-prepared, consecrated tools and the will to use them? That would have been a little more comforting, is all I’m saying. Of course, part of the point right now is that in starting this new job, I will need to spend some time getting ready to really do it well. I have a lot of confidence in my ability to do the job (it’s nothing particularly new, just a lot of new systems to learn and some interpersonal dynamics that I expect to be rather challenging to navigate), but I’m stepping into an established group without a sense of where I’ll fit just yet. So while the Magician is a much more comforting image, it’s not accurate just yet. I’ll be there soon enough, and one of my temptations is to try and shortcut the process of learning so I can be helpful and contribute more quickly. It’s better to look at the Magician as something to aspire to, rather than my ally today.
Back to the Devil, then. What in this card can be an ally? I guess I see two things here. The first is the vulnerability symbolized by the figures’ nudity. It’s rather difficult to be anything but open in that state, after all, and while it might not be comfortable, there’s something to be said about embracing that. One of the things that I find difficult about learning sometimes is that asking for help feels uncomfortably vulnerable, after all. A reminder to sit in that place is probably a useful thing. The other helpful piece is the realization that the figures aren’t trapped, despite what it looks like at first. If I’m not trapped in this place, then I have the ability to leave it. So the challenge, I think is to choose to remain in that place of vulnerability and discomfort as long as it is the right place to be, learn what it has to teach me, and then step into what comes next.
I realized rather to my surprise today that it’s just 4 weeks until the Spring Equinox. In a winter that has felt very much like it’s just getting started for…well, pretty much the entire season, this seems almost impossible. Much like the weather, I’ve soft of felt like I’m just getting ready to start something for most of the winter. That’s no bad thing, but I’m feeling a need to do whatever the next thing is. Rather than angst over the fact that 2012 is already seven weeks old, I decided that today I would ask about this last phase of winter and see what the cards had to tell me.
Question: What card will be my ally in this last month of winter?
Card: King of Pentacles
First impressions: Well, this is interesting. If I think about Winter as a time of work beneath the surface, I expect the fruits of that work to remain hidden for some time. The imagery on this card, though, smacks of work completed and goals attained – the fruits of a well-laid foundation, in other words, not the foundation itself.
About the card: The King is sitting on a black throne that is decorated with images of bulls. He is holding his symbols of office and is surrounded by well-laden grapevines. In the foreground we see a few flowers, and there is a large castle in the background of the image. The King is looking down and to his left, and under his cloak we can see that he’s armored.
The story without words: The King looks well-satisfied with his lot, and why shouldn’t he be? His kingdom feels like a place of plenty and comfort, at least based on this snapshot. The combination of natural beauty (in the form of the flowers and grapevines) along with that which has been crafted (the castle and his throne) seems to flow well together, and in fact kind of comes together in his crown, which is decorated with three red flowers. In short, it looks like his realm is well-designed, well-constructed and well-maintained. I suspect that a lot of thought and planning went into each phase of the construction and maintenance of this kingdom. I also get the idea that what the King has achieved has had more to do with the day-to-day work he’s set out for himself rather than random moments of insight. I don’t get a sense of, “Eureka!” from this card. It’s more like, “Chop wood, carry water.”
Kind of a side note…the imagery of this card seems incredibly masculine to me. Masculinity and femininity don’t usually speak to me very strongly from visual artwork, but it’s honestly just about the first thing that came to mind when I turned the card over, so I suspect there’s something there. It might be as simple as the darkness and squared-off construction of the throne, or I might just be projecting from the fact that the card is, you know, a King. I dunno.
But what does it mean?: Generally, this card feels like some pretty traditional forms of success have been achieved. The image is full of images of food, shelter and plenty. It seems clear that the King has achieved what he set out to do, and it also seems clear that he has both worked for it and is prepared to work more. The fact that we can see the armor beneath his cloak seems important. I just looked at the other Kings, and noticed that the King of Pentacles is the only one in this deck that is obviously armored.
So what does that mean? To me, it suggests that while the King has achieved a great deal of success and mastery, he hasn’t forgotten about the work he did that led to that success. It seems to me like he’s ready to ditch the pretty cloak and get back to work the moment it’s necessary.
Ultimately, I’m taking two things away from this card – that success is possible, and that it takes work (even work that I feel like I’ve already “mastered”). I’m still unemployed, and frustrated by that fact, but hey – the days are getting longer, and soon enough it will be Spring. Having an ally to remind me of the importance of the work that’s brought me to whatever success I have enjoyed to this point is a pretty good idea, I think.
One of my favorite things is to find a piece of wisdom in the last place I would have expected. There’s a sense of delight there that just feels good to me. A great example comes from the movie Men in Black, when Tommy Lee Jones’ character shares this:
“A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.”
See what I mean? It’s one thing to find some insight in, say, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but to find it in a random science fiction movie? That’s way more fun. In any case, it’s something like this idea of unlooked-for wisdom that prompted my latest Tarot draw.
Question: What card has an unexpected gift for me today?
Card: Page of Swords
First impressions: My first thought with any of the Pages is generally the same: “Wow. That’s a big damn ________.” I haven’t looked closely at this one before, but the same is true here. That’s a big damn sword.
About the card: The card is pretty simple. In the foreground, we have a young man holding the aforementioned big damn sword. He’s standing atop a small hill, and in the background we see the ocean, a beach, a cloudy sky with a few birds and a couple of palm trees. The page is holding the sword back over his left shoulder. Looking at the trees, the large swells in the ocean and the page’s hair, it’s clear that it’s very windy in this scene. Given that swords are associated with Air, that certainly makes sense.
The story without words: Given the way the page is holding his body (turned to the side, with one foot extended and his weight held back), what I’m seeing here is that he is practicing forms. His attention seems very focused on whatever is before him, but he’s not precisely in a fighting stance. While it’s obviously a windy day, it looks like a very pretty one – the sky is what I call a “Ferris Bueller shade of blue” and the page is dressed in a way that suggests that the temperature is very comfortable. It’s possible, I should note, that I’m noticing this in particular because it’s late January in Chicago, and blue skies and warm temperatures are both in short supply. 🙂
But what does it mean?: One of the things I’ve heard about the Pages is that they’re the apprentices of the various suits/elements. It’s not about being a champion of the element, as in the case of the Knight, or of external or internal mastery of it (in the cases of the King and Queen, respectively). It’s about dedication, to learning, and perhaps even to surrender to that symbol or element, and to what that means to you.
I find that read particularly interesting with this card, because if the sword symbolizes air, then I generally don’t consider myself an apprentice thereof. Intellect, clarity of thought, discernment in communication…these are natural gifts I possess, and also tools I have spent a good deal of time honing. This is not to say that I wield those tools perfectly, by any means – far from it. But at the end of the day, this is the element, and these are the tools, that I am most generally comfortable with. One thing I am not comfortable with, though, is the idea of being an apprentice at anything. I love learning, but on my own terms, thanks. I do like trying new things, but generally in controlled environments where I get to set the parameters (and can ensure that nobody is around to witness my inevitable stumbles). An apprentice doesn’t have the luxury of dictating the terms or parameters of his or her learning, and an apprentice very often has an audience – all the better to learn, of course. This does beg an obvious question.
What might it mean to apprentice myself to tools that I am already skilled with? What might it mean to surrender to an arena in which I typically excel?
A number of possibilities come to mind, but the one that stands out right now is this: I admit that in the grand scheme of things, I don’t know as much as I like to imagine I do, and recognize that even in this area of strength I have much to learn. I look for opportunities to throw out what I already know. In short, I ask, “What if?” a lot…and then find out.
Looking at the question for this draw, then…what’s the unexpected gift that the Page of Swords offers? I think it’s the opportunity (which I mean in both the “sweet!” and the “Oh, shit!” connotations) to explore the tools I’m familiar with, an orientation to the world that I generally find comfortable, but to do so in a way that takes an intentional step back. Not just to question my actions after the fact, but to try something new, or try something I already “know” I can’t do, and learn what lessons I can from the experience.
(One other note that doesn’t quite fit with the above…for comparison, I pulled out the other Pages a few minutes ago, and saw something interesting. The Pages of Cups, Wands and Pentacles are all facing the symbol that they are apprenticed to. The Page of Cups, in particular, makes me chuckle because my immediate impression is, “I have a CUP! Whoa, look at that CUP!!” The Page of Swords, though, is already wielding his sword (not with a particularly effective-looking grip, it must be said, but that’s neither here nor there). He isn’t quite in motion yet, but there is motion all around him. He looks to me like he is preparing to move, while the other Pages are not.)