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.
I haven't been posting that much because I'm still trying to figure out what life even is anymore, with Trump being elected and the world burning down. I know it's been burning down all along, but the reality of it is hitting me in a way that it never has before. I'm pulling it together, little by little, and slowly figuring out what my part of the work is, and how to keep myself whole while doing it.
But we have to find space for joy, right? Joy is survival. And in that spirit, here's a story about me getting called the hell out by a pack of cards (to quote some meme I've seen floating around in tarot spaces).
Last week, I'd been sick in bed for a week and a half with the second-worst cold I'd ever had. I didn't know that the human body could make that much snot. It was shocking, and also digusting, and after a while, painful. Yet I perservered, and finally, on day 10 of The Snot Times, things had dried up a bit and I'd begun to remember, at least a little, what it felt like to care about things besides soup and being warm. I was ready to go back to work and resume receiving the wages with which I keep myself in turnips and tarot cards!
There was just one problem. The weather forecast predicted snow and freezing rain, and I live in Portland, Oregon, which means any snow or ice is a total shitshow. That's an actual scientific weather term, by the way. But I was feeling a ton of pressure to get back to work, because I had long since used up my sick leave and it's a new job, so I felt like I was risking getting fired by being out so long. I sat there (really sort of laid there, under a pile of blankets), imagining being stuck at a bus stop for hours with a pair of barely-healed lungs (did I mention my lungs got in on the plague party?) and freaking out about how I was going to get fired. Finally, I decided to pull my daily card and to have my question be "should I go to work tomorrow."
I never do this. I am not a predictive reader, I don't believe that tarot can tell the future, and I don't ask yes or no questions. I was just messing around and trying to settle myself down. And I had a brand new Slow Holler deck that I was excited to explore--have you seen it? It's so good. I actually teared up when I saw some of the cards. More on that later.
Want to know what card I got?
I fell over laughing. This is especially funny because Slow Holler is the only deck that I know of with a Storm card (in the Slow Holler deck it takes the place of The Tower, which is the traditional sixteenth card of the Major Arcana).
I can hear this card talking to me:
you feel like you'll probably go out tomorrow
IN THE SNOW AND ICE STORM
to take the bus
which will not come for hours
when you are just starting to recover from the worst illness you've literally ever had
that time in law school does not count
even though your boss is being really nice about this
and your department has both a high turnover rate and a hiring freeze
so the risk that you will actually get fired is super minimal
do you remember how you had to take a nap after you went to the grocery store yesterday
do you remember that part
but you know
if you want to go out tomorrow
IN THE SNOW AND ICE STORM
you should do what you want i guess
Reader, I stayed home. I did not get fired. And I can breathe through both nostrils now! It's the little things.
I missed writing my Rosh Chodesh post last week. Rosh Chodesh Elul was super magical though! I was able to see the moon if I stood in exactly the right spot on my front porch--it was just behind some power lines, and with the power lines as a point of reference I could almost see the moon moving! So amazing. Then I went inside and pulled my monthly cards, one face up and one face down.
My face up card was Innocence, from Thea’s Tarot.
Innocence replaces The Fool in this deck. It shows a young person standing at the edge of a river, among waist-high reeds. Their feet are set wide apart and planted in the earth. They are wearing knee-length shorts, no shirt, and they have small breasts—or maybe short top surgery scars. Their long dark hair hangs loose, past their waist, mirroring the reeds growing up from the earth. They look calm and determined.
When I look at this card, I see sureness and wholeness. This person is friendly with their body. It’s the same kind of body-friendliness you see in a toddler as she squats down to examine a bug. There’s no self-surveillance or internal division; they are just themselves, solid and peaceful.
Sureness and wholeness in our bodies is often impossible, especially for those of us whose bodies that are labeled “wrong”—fat, of color, gender non-conforming/non-binary, trans, intersex, female, femme, with a disability, and so on. In the external world, we may face harassment, emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual assault, state violence, and more. We are also trained to surveil and control ourselves—to see our bodies as an enemies, or, at best, recalcitrant things to be brought under control. Experiencing sureness and wholeness in our bodies, even inside our own minds, is absolutely not allowed.
That shows up in every facet of our lives. For instance, I used to hate swimming. Actually, I never hated swimming, but I hated swimsuits. Trying to find one in my size was hard enough, and finding one that fit my non-binary gender identity? Forget it. The whole process was a gauntlet of interlocking microaggressions, and then, as a reward for my fortitude, I got to pay a premium price for being fat. Thanks, kyriarchy!
Then I discovered naked beaches. You would think that being naked would be even more stressful than dealing with swimsuits—and it totally is for lots of folks, especially many trans and intersex folks—but for me personally, it was easier. The difference was equal parts not having to deal with swimsuits and being around other naked people. It’s one thing to know intellectually that the “perfect” body type marketed to us is just one of a zillion ways to have a body, and it’s another thing to see fifty naked butts, in all their fabulous variety, over the course of an afternoon. That changed me.
And so, one day last month, I was hiking with a friend in the altogether along a sandbar. The river was sparkling and the sun was hot on our backs and the sky was perfectly blue, and we saw a dragonfly that had just molted. Like, its dragonfly shell was an inch away and it was quivering in the breeze like OKAY WHAT JUST HAPPENED YOU GUYS. We squatted down to look at it and suddenly I noticed that I felt good and happy and just regular about my body. I wasn’t particularly happy about my body, or sad, or anything. It was just my body and everything was as it should be when one is naked on a sunny sandbar, companionably ogling a freaked-out dragonfly. I felt content and at ease and like I fit perfectly in my skin.
That’s what I see when I look at this card. A moment of sureness, wholeness, integration. A hope for resistance and healing, and a place of strength from which to leap into the unknown.