The aces are the essence of the suit; maybe a beginning, but also something whole in and of itself. They aren’t exactly a one. They are more like the source or the wellspring of the suit. Thus, they are often interpreted as a new opportunity in the area of their suit.
Today I got the Ace of Branches. Branches are passion, desire, drive, spark, creativity, and aliveness. I’ve been thinking about this card for a while and what’s really speaking to me is the desire aspect.
Wanting things is really vulnerable. Naming your desire is risky. It’s vulnerable, admitting to yourself that something is important to you. Wanting things means taking up space, taking a position. It might mean setting boundaries, or letting someone into your space.
Our desire is there whether we name it or not. We push it down and it emerges in places we didn’t expect, tangled up with other stuff, sometimes in destructive ways. We cut it off and it grows back.
So maybe we learn to name our desires—but naming our desires means facing our fears and, sometimes, confronting grief.
If you tell that babe you like them, it might turn out they don’t like you like that. Your inner critic might get mean and tell you it’s because you’re not good enough, you aren’t worth it, you aren’t smart enough or fun enough or cute enough—somehow, you aren’t enough. Or you are too much: too big, too loud, to opinionated, too needy, too broken, too emotional, or too much work. You find yourself in a big shame spiral, and you might treat yourself and other people badly in the fog of that.
Or they might like you like that after all! And they might be really great! And you might find the joy you feel comes with a side order of grief. Sometimes getting your heart’s desire hurts, because it brings you face to face with everything you settled for, because you didn’t think you were worthy of more, or maybe because you didn’t know there was more.
For me, creating space in which I can name desire requires more than just figuring out what I want. It means I need concrete skills to manage the results of naming my desires. It means I have to stay grounded in my own worth, rather than being dependent on external validation. It means I have to act according to my values, towards myself and towards others, even when I feel hurt or scared or disappointed or rejected. It means I have to manage shame. It means I have to care for my grief.
I’ve spent a lot of time running away from desire, or pushing it down or trying to cut it off. I’m trying to be different now. The Ace of Branches reminds me to keep trying, and to keep caring for myself so that I can make space for desire.
Okay, since I’m doing this mask-taking-off project, here are my true and real feelings: face cards freak me out. I know that a lot of people find them difficult and I am one of those people!
What is it about face cards?
I think part of it is that they are just so different from the other cards. Like, you’ve got the Major Arcana—big life themes, check. Then the Minor Arcana (minus face cards)—everyday life, check. This is fine, everything is fine. Then the face cards—people? I get it, but sometimes it’s complicated to integrate into readings.
Another issue is whether the face card is an aspect of the seeker or a person in the seeker’s life. I always interpret them as an aspect of the seeker; the reading is about the seeker, so intuitively it makes sense to me for everything to be about the seeker. But the way we relate to people in our lives is also part of us, so I feel torn! I also think it’s confusing to offer “aspect of self” and “person in seeker’s life” as two possible card meanings, although logically that’s not that much more complicated than the multiple meanings any given card has. Maybe you differentiate between “aspect of self” and “person in seeker’s life” in the context of other cards in the spread, but that’s often unclear.
The other thing that makes face cards feel complicated to me is that they are people, but not exactly. They are exaggerated archetypes that are intentionally unbalanced to highlight a certain characteristic. Like, maybe you know a Queen of Swords that is always a 100% logical, no bullshit, tough love, seen-it-all and tell-it-like-it is type of babe. But I am pretty sure that person, once you get to know them, has a secret love of emotionally needy teacup poodles or competitive ballroom dance or what have you. So I struggle with that too.
Nevertheless, face cards are a thing and this is me going bravely forward! Student of Vessels!
Can we take a moment to sit with how lovely this card is? The storm-tossed waves, the mermaid tail, the crescent moon, the heart in a jar? I mean, who hasn’t been where this person is? I feel like this is my life.
And what does the jar mean, anyway? Is this about a disconnection from emotion—the heart taken out of its housing and kept apart, sealed away in a jar? Is it about holding your own emotional container when connecting with others? Is that feeling of intense emotional vulnerability, where you’re being tossed around in an ocean (of feelings) with your heart exposed and wobbling around in a fragile glass bubble that could drop and smash at any moment?
All of those are valid interpretations, but I think it’s intended to be something different: an offering.
“The Student of Vessels brims with awe and wonder at the various capacities of the heart... While eager for connection, they have little experience. They may offer their energy or their heart to the first person they encounter, making The Student susceptible to heartbreak and disappointment... Open yourself to new connections, spontaneous encounters, and unexpected vulnerability. Be patient with yourself as you learn to trust your intuition and what you create in this world, without disclaimer or qualification.” –Slow Holler Tarot
This is tough for me. On the one hand, I want this openness and connection so much. On the other hand, this person is so vulnerable, so hurtable. It’s scary.
And maybe that's where we get into the "aspect of self" and exaggerated archetype issues. It feels scary to be open to love and connection, but I'm not just the Student of Vessels. I'm also the Queen of Swords, who is not here for any bullshit, and the Queen of Cups, who knows their own heart through and through. I can tap into the Student of Vessels aspect of myself safely, because the other parts of me have my back.
I’m going to try to be more Student of Vessels-ish tomorrow and see what happens.
“Start a tarot journal,” I said to myself. “It will be great. Writing is fun!”
I’m sitting here feeling like I have to write something good every day, and that’s a lot of pressure. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure the only one reading this blog besides bots and webcrawlers is my friend Sara (Hi Sara!!), so who cares? (I care though.)
I'm gonna do it , y'all. Let's do it!
The Moon is always a little creepy and scary, and this is a pretty scary version of it, I think. The rattlesnakes, the eclipsed moon, the hanging flowers (I feel like these are datura, which is a hallucinogen), the night sky… there’s a lot happening in this card. To be fair, the Rider-Waite-Smith has stark towers, a lonely winding road, a dog, a howling wolf, and a big lobster crawling out of the sea at you. It’s intended to be unsettling.
The Moon can be about a lot of things—madness, cycles, shadow-sides, confusion, masks, deception.
But here’s the real question: what does The Moon have to say about me feeling tarot blog performance anxiety?
I’ve got a lot of flippant answers but here’s some real shit that just occurred to me—maybe it’s telling me to drop my mask of being a “good writer” or a “good tarot reader”.
Y’all, I really want to be those things. I do! And sometimes I want that so much that it gets in the way of me becoming those things. Like, sometimes I read other people’s writing and it’s so brilliant and my biggest reaction is to feel bad for not writing like them, instead of celebrating their brilliance and letting it inspire me to nurture my own voice. And then when I do write, sometimes I'm so focused on trying to figure out what other people want to hear that I forget to pay attention to what I want to say. I also get really self-judgmental when I’m reading tarot and end up putting so much energy into trying to seem like a good reader that it makes me a worse reader!
This is such a human reaction, right? We want to be loved, and we believe that to be loved we have to be seen as good and as worthy, but we don’t feel good or worthy, so we just try really hard to project an image of worthiness. But that mask keeps others from really knowing or connecting with us.
I think the true need, for me as a writer, is to be witnessed: my real thoughts and feelings and some part of my inner life. As a reader, it’s to witness others.
I’m going to sit with this, and encourage myself to take off my mask more often.
Okay, this is one of the Slow Holler interpretations that has always puzzled me. Like, what are the images supposed to mean? The branches, okay, it’s got to have seven. I kind of get the bars/crossed sticks thing—standing your ground/boundaries. The polka dots confuse me a bit, and I’m not sure what to do with the cut stump. But also… the teeth? Why are there teeth?
This card is about strength and conviction and resistance—not collective resistance, but personal resistance. It’s about standing up for what you believe in and being willing to fight for it. That sounds great, right?
But it’s so much more complicated than that. We can destroy ourselves in the pursuit of activism, so focused on our personal relationship to power, on our shame or guilt or need to atone or crushing grief, that we fail to understand our communal relationship to power and our need for connection; our need to be human. We can be so determined to stand up for ourselves in relationships that we can't see others as people who are fighting their own battles, or attend to our own most vulnerable needs and hopes and fears.
I think the pulled-out teeth and the sawed-off stump (the LWB says the wood is petrified) are about the tension between the need to be unyielding in what we know is right, and the ways that hardness can cut us off. About how it can pull us to pieces.
“Your fierce protection of yourself is honorable. Sometimes, however, the best use of your fire is not casting out demons, but illuminating them and preparing for their eventual transformation into qualities and skills that serve you rather than harm you.” –Slow Holler Tarot
Eights in tarot are about movement. The Eight of Cups is about that moment when you say, “you know, actually…. nope” and walk away. The Eight of Pentacles is about cranking and getting shit done. The Eight of Swords is about discovering a way to free yourself in a situation that seemed hopeless.
I love the Slow Holler take on the Eight of Branches:
“The Eight of Branches indicates that you’ve become a central node in a complex network. You may be coordinating something demanding with a lot of different tasks and the need to communicate with many different folks…. Being pushed to the outer limits of your capacity is taxing but can also be empowering when you realize how much you can actually do. Take a deep breath, take care of yourself, and then buckle down for the task at hand.”
This is what my actual life feels like right now, especially my work life.
My new job feels too busy and too hard. There are so many things to keep track of, so much to do, and so much I don’t know. My relationships are changing and I need new skills to keep up. And it’s all happening so fast! In the first few weeks, I didn’t even have time to pee.
The rest of my life feels just as full and confusing and intense. Personal creative projects, collective creative projects, old and new friendships, falling in love, basic self-care, trying to figure out how to live in this world—it feels like so much.
But also… I’m fine. I’m doing it. Even though it’s often uncomfortable, I’ve got it. And a lot of it’s better than comfortable—it’s amazing.
A few years ago, I was so burned out that I could barely take care of myself. I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to go back to work. And then when I did go back to work, for the first few months I would get home too tired to eat and pass out at six pm. I remember how hurt and traumatized and fucked up I was.
I got to heal from that, with a combination of privilege and luck and hard work.
And now I get to have this gorgeous, chaotic, scary, thrilling, heartbreaking life. I get to go hard at things that matter to me, and I'm learning how to do that in a sustainable way. I’m so, so grateful for that.
Oh wow, this is an old friend who hasn’t come up for a while.
The Hermit is about focusing inward, seeking truth and knowledge inside yourself, and following your own light. It’s often solitary, and when it’s about connection it’s about a student-teacher connection.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about connection and loneliness.
In the past, I felt most safe when I was walled off from other people, like The Hermit in their cozy eggshell. I was really isolated and lonely.
After a lot of healing work, I learned to connect to other people in some ways that feel safe and nourishing. I still felt isolated a lot of the time, but the solitude allowed me to develop a really grounded, friendly relationship with myself.
Now I’m connecting on a more intimate level. It’s wonderful and it’s terrifying and it’s hard to process it all. I’m wrestling with a lot of fears and old patterns. It can be hard to stay connected to myself when I’m putting so much energy into connecting with someone else. It can be hard to remember that my sense of self-worth has to come from within or it will always be fragile.
“Remember that no one can answer all of your questions or find your meaning for you.” Slow Holler Tarot
I think this card is reminding me that The Hermit is something I can always access, even in the midst of connection with others. It doesn’t have to be walls or isolation—it can be a small quiet space where I reconnect with my values and my truth and my worthiness. Solitude can be part of connection. It can be a haven.
Ten of Cups is about coming home. It’s not the material side of home—some financial security, shelter, food in the fridge—but the emotional side of home.
It’s having your needs met and your boundaries respected. It’s being known and loved and cared for; knowing and loving and caring for your beloveds. It’s being connected and part of a web of intimate community. It’s being welcome as your whole self. It’s belonging.
I want so badly to come home. I don’t think I’ve ever been home, not fully. I can imagine home now, but I don’t know how to get there yet.
Today, when I was thinking about home, I thought about The World, and about change.
“The only lasting truth is Change.” Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Sower
I’ve been thinking about the Ten of Cups as all or nothing. Like, either I’m there or I’m not, and once I get there I’ll get to stay forever. But I realized that can’t be right. Nothing is forever; nothing is that simple. Especially emotional experiences—they are always fluid and shifting.
I thought—what if there are already pieces of Ten of Cups in my life?
On Friday night I went dancing, and I had this quiet, gentle dance in which I felt so held and so cared for. My dance partner was someone I don’t know well and probably never will, but that dance was a piece of Ten of Cups. It’s a piece of Ten of Cups when I’m on a hike with my best friend and every meaningful and silly conversation we have is threaded through with love and affection and years of shared experiences. It’s a piece of Ten of Cups when I do experimental fat dance with my dance friends and we talk about our feelings, and when I connect with a new beloved and feel seen in a new way. It’s a piece of Ten of Cups when I hold my tiny nephew and we stare at each other in wonder.
There are so many pieces of Ten of Cups in my life already, and I’ve been missing out on them.
What I think might be true—what I hope is true—is that I am always surrounded by pieces of Ten of Cups. Sometimes they are few and far between, but they are real. With time and work and good luck, they may coalesce into something more substantial; something big enough to hold all of me.
I want that. I believe I am worthy of that. I believe that is possible.
And then the pieces will fall apart, and come back together again, and fall apart, endlessly.
This card feels complicated today. The World is about completion, success, reaching the end of a journey, graduation. I usually think of this as a joyful card, but today I am feeling the bittersweet side of it.
And that is how fleeting The World is.
We are conditioned to believe certain things about success and completion. We are told that we live in a just world. That if we try hard, if we are good, we will be happy and content and secure, and that will be a lasting condition. If we save up a little money, we’ll always have our material needs met. If we go to therapy for long enough, we won’t have so many big messy feelings.
But none of those things are true. The world is not just. Trying hard and being good—our actions—matter much less than our positions within hierarchies, when it comes to the conditions of our lives. No savings account can ever give us security. And being full of big messy feelings is the goddamn human condition, at least for most of us.
The Major Arcana represents The Fool’s journey, and The World is the end of that journey: its purpose accomplished.
But it’s just a moment in time. The Fool is always on their endless spiral journey. The end of one thing is always the beginning of something else. We get a moment of sweetness and joy and accomplishment, and then it’s time to jump off the cliff again.
What this card is saying to me today is: soak it up. Take a breath. This moment in time is precious and unique and perishable. Slow down and experience it. The cliff isn’t going anywhere—your next leap is already inevitable.
I have always seen this particular version of The Lovers being super negative about romantic relationships. They seem to be bloodied with conflict and entangled and masking their true intentions and trying desperately to get free.
But now I look at it and wonder—what if it’s not their blood? What if it’s the blood of their enemies?
But seriously, what if the blood represents all of the trauma and pain of trying to be a person in this world, and these two people are facing that together?
Maybe they are allowing their past hurts to polish and strengthen them. Maybe they are weaving their bodies, their material conditions, their tangible care together. Maybe the crossed fingers aren’t a lie, but hope for good luck, because they know their labor and connection may not be enough to sustain their relationship--that life will keep happening. Maybe the scissors are a commitment to maintaining their individuality in the midst of deep connection; a promise to choose themselves while also choosing each other.
"love--romantic, familial, political, communal--all of it is messy and risky and full of possibility. how is love transforming you?" -tiny lantern tarot
At the bottom of the card, their hair is like tree roots; their connection digging deep into the earth and sustaining them.