Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Hermit, The Seven of Swords and Fortune’s Wheel

September 16, 2016: The Hermit by Mary Allen

I had a vision involving my card of the month this month.  Sometimes I have a hard time figuring out what to say about the card of the month because I’m not sure exactly where the card and the month intersect—I don’t really know what the card said about the month—but this month I don’t have that problem.  This month the problem I have is describing the vision.

Let’s start with the easy part:  The card was the Hermit, the ninth major Arcana card.  In the Thoth deck the Hermit is an abstract figure:  All you see that’s person-like is a hand and a head.  The rest of the card is full of symbols:  a large paper-hat-shaped crystal, a peacock-feather background, something that looks like an egg with a snake wrapped around it and something that looks like a sperm heading directly ward the center of the card; Cerberus, the three-headed dog guarding hell, down in the corner, one dog head looking back at the past or at whatever’s coming from behind, the other two looking forward. 

The face of the Hermit is featureless, turning to the side, and the hand is holding a diamond-shaped crystal lamp that contains a small glowing sun.  It’s that sun inside that little lamp, held by the hand in the rough center of the card, that seems to be the focal point of the card, and it was that lamp that I saw during the vision I had this month.

I had just been traveling around in the deep dark waters of my earliest childhood via EMDR (it stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing; it’s a kind of therapy that helps with symptoms of PTSD and other inner disturbances; I do it once a month with my friend who’s a therapist and once a month with my regular, paid therapist; on this day I was doing it with my friend).  There was deep trauma in my early childhood which is stored now in my unconscious, in the very bottom of the basement of my mental house, under some trap door that in regular life you could never get open.

It’s only through the agency and the miracle of EMDR that I can go there at all, how I got there on this day, how EMDR works, is too much to write about now.  What I want to say is that at the end of my time down there, when my session was almost over and it was time to start coming up from below, my friend suggested I might picture a container inside myself where I could store those painful feelings until I needed to take them out again.  Maybe a container with a lock on it, she said, using an image she’d learned in her therapy training, a good image that works to help many people. 

But in that moment it came to me that I didn’t want an interior container with a lock on it, I didn’t want or need to keep those feelings locked away, that was the problem I’d been having all along.  And a vision of something started forming in my mind—if mind is a word you can use to describe the vast airy mysterious world of consciousness that lives inside of us or that we live inside and that isn’t inside or outside of anything.   In that moment in that place I started seeing something, some image started forming vaguely inside me. 

It was familiar but I couldn’t figure out what it was.  Some small vessel full of light.  Light that would illuminate the feelings I had just dredged up from the deepest darkest place inside me, the subbasement of the unconscious underneath a trap door.  A vessel that would hold the energy of those feelings, not keep them locked away somewhere but transform them, turn them into a glowing warmth inside me, starting somewhere around my solar plexus and spreading out, filling me with their light and healing.

It wasn’t until I was on my home that I realized that what I was seeing in that vision was the light in the lamp at the heart of the Hermit card.  And then I was stunned by the synchronicity of it—by the way that life collaborates with dreams and the unconscious and the tarot cards, maybe even the ordinary details of the everyday world itself, to talk to us about out deepest selves and about our healing, as if life has a mind and a consciousness of its own that’s just waiting for us to ask it a question.

September 16, 2016: The Seven of Swords and The Wheel of Fortune by Tania Pryputniewicz

Sometimes Mary and I pull Tarot cards we respond to negatively—so we select again. Why not? Even though I’m a Tarot seeker committed to equanimity, I get a wrinkle in the spiritual cape like anyone else when I get certain cards on certain days.

Which is what happened this month when I drew “Futility,” also known as the Seven of Swords in the Thoth deck. We see a central sword starting to fracture under impending tips of six other swords. But notice: the six sword tips are not actually touching or fully breaking the main sword. It is an apt metaphor for how imagined trouble creates fractures in mindset such as feelings of failure or hopelessness.

Not wanting to spend the entire month in a “Futility” narrowed state, I pulled The Wheel of Fortune as my back-up. I felt immediately cheered reading Angeles Arrien’s promise for this card that “expansion and abundance come with the willingness to change and keep things moving by taking risks and being open to new opportunities” (The Tarot Handbook: Practical Applications of Ancient Visual Symbols, Arcus Publishing Company).

Still, I kept my Seven of Swords out of some kind of Tarot allegiance. And both cards spoke to me this month. It started when I got my latest Social Security statement detailing my life earnings. Or not detailing them—years of zeros stared up at me starting sixteen years back (when the first of my three children came along) with a few $500 to $1000 per year earnings sprinkled in there.

I know better than to reduce my worth as a person to my earnings, but I couldn’t help but do the math. The lifetime sum of money, which I started earning at the age of 16, averages out to earnings of just under $400 a month. I hamster-wheeled through my past, reviewing what seemed at first a futility of repeated tasks that have only slowly started to yield financial gain: years of journaling, editing, making art, blogging about writing and motherhood, teaching poetry, blogging, and Tarot writing online, in person, and at writing retreats, editing and publishing poetry, and making poetry movies--all in disparate sequences that prioritized my children, my marriage, and my mental health.

I’ve often felt frustrated trying to figure out how to earn more while keeping the family mobile as peacefully as possibly balanced. But something shifted me out of Seven of Swords angst and into The Wheel of Fortune this month, just as the cards suggested. In part due to the obvious—that I live a privileged life and have a partner lucky enough to persist in a career he loves and secure enough about his own views of parenting that he encouraged me to stay home with our children, and also due to conversations with other mothers. And a conversation with my brother. He listened to me vent on the one hand and then he listened to me talk passionately about the latest group of classes I’ve designed and he said, “You are a fabulous mother. And you are so much more than only a mother.”

All the at-home prioritization is a soul investment you can’t see mirrored in a Social Security statement—a document not set up to account for the cost of childcare for three children, the acting-as-a-taxi time, the doctor time, the food preparation and shopping, the emotional and psychological cost of supporting the wage earner…all those blessed and chosen hidden costs which are truly the cost of presence.

My poet friend said, “You take a pen to that Social Security statement: Next to all those so-called zeros, you write in what you were doing all those years! All those hours of time with your children! Make up your own Social Security statement. You’ve been investing in creating socially creative and responsible adults.”  

My shift from Seven of Swords thinking to Wheel of Fortune blessings might also be prompted in part by the Paragrams in my purse, those 1x2 inch cards you can get in a tiny envelope for free at the Self Realization Fellowship Garden just down the block from the Encinitas Meditation Garden with excerpts taken from the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda… which I keep right next to my little red Pocket Pema Chodron….

…which means when I’m sitting in my battered, dusty, blue van waiting for my son to race out of the house in time to catch the school bus--and out he comes with tennis shoes in one hand, back pack unzipped and listing last night’s math homework, bowl of oatmeal in the other hand, milk sloshing out across the van carpet as he slides in--I use those twenty second not to lay on the horn or yell, but to select a Paragram and read it. Or to open to Pema, to read how we are perpetual children ourselves, that all of us eternally long to fall back into our mother’s protective aura, perpetually not feeling “ready” to risk. Pema says we get stuck in wanting to wait to feel fully ready to risk (Awakening Loving-Kindness, Shambhala Pocket Classics).

But we’ll never be ready…so we just need to keep jumping into the fray.

There must be plenty of other mothers and stay-at-home fathers sharing this stymied mix of heart-centered joy/satisfaction of doing right by the kids and low self-esteem that gradually creeps in when we are not earning (or at least not earning as much as the primary wage-earner).

I can do my tiny part to change the culture of how we view stay-at-home moms and dads by changing how I treat myself: I can stop being cruel (goodbye Seven of Swords) about my long list of zeroes…stop seeing them as evidence of a Fool choosing not to earn…and see them instead as reminders of the repeated choice to stay within arm’s reach of my children during the years they needed me.

And I can welcome the Wheel of Fortune: the children blossoming in their independence. From under my son’s door, I hear the lovely strains of his guitar music. On my kitchen table, I see the intricate fern spiral designs taking form inside of my daughter’s Medusa drawing. And under my palm for a second before he’s off to shower, heat radiates up from the sweaty forehead of my youngest just back from skateboard practice. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Chariot and the Queen of Swords

August 5, 2016:  The Chariot by Tania Pryputniewicz

Always the framing colors in this card call to me—cobalt blue of Chariot canopy with ice blue interior and shining red rims of wheels. This Chariot, though confined to a sphere, is somehow entirely believable and ready to roll thanks to Lady Frieda Harris and the sacred geometry she uses throughout the deck.

The golden armored charioteer holds a violet-rimmed chalice in lap so we are looking down into its interior. It forms a disk of spinning colors from violet to blue to the very center’s red which we can construe as blood or the Holy Grail in which our life stream spirals in a stilled view of the self in motion. Or an apt image of what we try to do as writers with our words, artificially portioning off stills from a life ever in flux. I’m thinking about that balance of vulnerability and shielding that we navigate always. And the strength it takes to survive the memory field, going in a second time after having lived through the events under scrutiny in order to write about them.

All month long I participated in a thirty-one day poetry challenge offered by Zoetic Press in the hopes of rounding out The Fool in the Corn (my manuscript in progress about an Illinois commune I lived on as a child). What came were a lighter, humor-based series of New Age misadventure poems. I wasn’t expecting to find humor, but there it was--and much welcome, as I considered spiritual tools, teachers, and fellow seekers I encountered after leaving the commune. With a steady habit of daily writing already firmly in place, the challenge was pushing from free-write to culled draft of poem.

Traditionally The Chariot calls on us to consider which vehicle we need in order to move forward, and to size up one’s terrain. Am I going into battle? Heading into a new career? New direction? What is the ordinary life-sized message in the soul metaphor of this card?

As I’m still immersed in child rearing, there’s no great career I’m trying to embark upon. The only battlefield is the one I traverse internally, as when I sat and waited for students to arrive for a poetry workshop I was teaching last month on the theme of Harvest. I waited with a swath of books and ideas about gardens; a deck of constellation and star cards from the boys’ room; my battered copy of a Child’s Garden of Verses still containing my little sister’s signature on the inside cover, with her tiny star dotting the “i” in Christy. I brushed dust off the spine of an old encyclopedia I’d grabbed on plants and fanned and re-fanned my worksheets.

Twenty minutes later when a student finally appeared, I put on the teacher armor and pretended not to doubt myself or be embarrassed no one else came. The class meets once a month; it’s the right speed for my life, and yet, here comes this feeling of not doing enough, being enough.

I place this internal seed of doubt in the chalice and offer it up, writing my way through it with Mary. How blessed I am to reflect on the Chariot card and realize that yes, that thirty-one day challenge was the perfect vehicle for hearing the next layer of the journey out of child’s view of the commune. Sure, the leader was one of the Fools in the Corn, as were perhaps my parents and other followers, initially duped, but what of my own adult self, who had to find her way out of “Fool-dom” and into reality, sorting the True from the Not True. I see now that structures of religion can give us a false sense of security—the answers laid out as if we can somehow magically forego the threshing and sorting of experiences that being human affords us by birthright. As if we won’t have to learn to use our internal compass, regardless of outer chariot.

Maybe that spinning chalice in the Charioteer’s lap is a centrifuge. I want, in my writing, to distill, arrive at, some sanguine insight, some life-giving idea that I haven’t wasted my life believing in false prophets.

When I look once more here at the card, I hone in on the placement of the chalice: middle of body, between heart and root, over the will center, where our free will blooms. Yes, the freedom to choose is a responsibility, but far more, it is a gift. At some point we have to give up our Leaders and listen within. 

And that is what I am doing, resting in process of this second book, still sitting in the Frieda Harris's Chariot and poised at the pale blue tunnel of the entrance to the Now—those blue nested background rings like so many contractions, as of a woman in labor.

August 5, 2016: The Queen of Swords by Mary Allen

This month I had one of those cards of the month where I know what I think the card generally means and I know it’s a good card for me in general, one that I identify with and get fairly often, but I have no idea what if anything it has to say about the particular month we just passed through:  The Queen of Swords.  I picked her while I was on vacation, throwing the cards with Tania at her house.

It was the next to the last day of a seven-day trip so I was in transit.  Nothing in that moment was particularly stable, and my trip home couldn’t have been more unstable, driving in the middle of the night from San Diego to LAX on those much-bigger-than-I’m-used-to highways, getting lost midway there, being terrified of the trucks and traffic and being late when we got closer to LA. 

Then flying into Iowa in the middle of a possible tornado, roiling clouds outside the window, turbulence like I’ve never experienced before.  The Queen of Swords sits high in the blue sky on top of a bank of blue-tinged clouds, and maybe the cards were talking about that trip home, making a sly little comment about it, when they gave me her as my card of the month.

She’s bare breasted, wielding a sword in one hand and grasping a gray old-man mask in the other hand; the idea is that she cut that mask off herself and isn’t afraid to let show her true face show.  And rising up above behind her head, staring toward heaven at the top of a large crystal many-pointed star, is a child’s face; the idea there is that she also sees the world, not through an old, worn-out, false perspective as in a mask, but from a child’s fresh, innocent, honest way of seeing things. 

And I guess I’m not too modest to say that’s true of me. I spend my days writing and engaging in other activities—thinking, meditating, going to twelve-step meetings—that involve seeking clarity, truth, and authenticity beyond roles, trying to take down my old worn preconceived notions and habits and fears and you name it and let my true self show through.  According to Angeles Arrien, the Queen of Swords is a kind of counselor and also seeks counseling for herself when she needs it, that people ask her for clarification when they have the need to get to the bottom of things, and I’m willing to say that that’s true about me too, as a writing coach, sponsor, long-time therapy-goer, twelve-step-meeting attender, and most of all writer who unceasingly tries to get to the bottom of things.

But when I look back on my month I can’t think of any particular instances where I was doing that any more than any other times.  In fact, I was probably doing it less.  There was that trip home, and then recovering from the vacation as well as three weeks of teaching and chronic insomnia before the trip.  I didn’t feel particularly connected to myself during the weeks after I got home and got back into my life; I was sleepy in the afternoons when I was coaching, I took lots of naps, I was grouchy. 

But I did kind of notice the absence of that Queen of Swords part of myself; she wasn’t entirely gone, but it was as if she had stepped aside for a little while, taken a vacation from my life when I did. Noticing that she was gone when I was on vacation made me aware of her in a way I’m usually not; I kind of missed her, though usually I take her for granted. 

Traveling, I felt a little disconnected, discombobulated, not quite myself, and it took a while for the Queen of Swords part of me to slowly and gradually come back to me.  She’s here now again, with me every day, as I write, and coach, and think, and go to meetings, and go for walks and try to observe what there is to see—observing, that was another word that I saw in the Angeles Arrien description of her.  I’m relieved to have her back, to feel that that part of me is back, at least more or less, though I’m still a little sleepy in the afternoons. 

Related link:

Next course from Tania's Wheel of Archetypal Tarot Series:

Calling all Lovers of Tarot: Are You Ready to Make Your Own Deck? starts on September 12, 2016

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Queen of Cups and The Ten of Disks

May 17: The Queen of Cups by Mary Allen

My card this time was the Queen of Cups.  The queen herself is virtually invisible on this card in the Thoth deck, just a small dim face almost hidden among blue swirls and green reeds; there are lotuses, a stork, and a large greenish crayfish shell that are more visible than the queen is too. About three quarters of the way down the image is a line separating the upper and lower parts of the picture; below the line is water, with the queen, the blue swirls, the bird, and everything else that appears above reflected in the water below.  As above, so below, is the message of this card. 

This is a very watery card, but when I look at it I think of air.  I’ve been thinking about this card all month when I meditate in the mornings.  I’ve got a few button-pushing things going on, and when I get out of bed, find my slippers, go to the bathroom, feed my cats, I feel a bit of heaviness, a little bit of anxiety roiling around in my solar plexus, like the remnants of an uneasy dream.  Then I go upstairs and sit in the green brocade chair in the corner of my attic study, close my eyes, and meditate for twenty minutes.  In meditating I focus on the moment and the world as it comes wafting through the open-because-it’s-May, east-facing windows on my right: the many-layered tapestry of bird songs, the green-smelling spring air, some background sound which is probably distant traffic on Route 80 but which seems like the happy humming or breathing of the world itself.  And I start to feel lighter, happier, more expansive.  My upper self starts to match my lower self; the part of me above the water line, in the world, gets more like the light airy place of the unconscious. 

It’s kind of the opposite of what Angeles Arrien says when she talks about the as-above-so-below aspect of the Queen of Cups in The Tarot Handbook:  According to her, the double reflection of the water in the Queen of Cups “is representative of the Queen’s constant choice to reflect her feelings accurately.”  In other words, as I read what she’s saying, the Queen lets the dark feelings, the pain and anxiety and other bad feelings left over in the unconscious from earlier traumas, come to the surface instead of pushing them down and keeping them hidden from herself. I can go with that too; I’m all for accepting and admitting those feelings without “blame or judgment,” as Angeles Arrien says. 

Last month I did some more accepting and admitting, letting rise to the surface of those old dark feelings.  I visited the deepest regions of my inner self through a therapy called EMDR and broke off a chunk of the old frozen emotions—shame, terror—that I felt around my mentally ill mother when I was a kid.  Those feelings are still stubbornly stuck inside me, or have been until I’ve located them, every single one of those remnants of trauma, years and years worth of them, and broken them up with EMDR.  I’ve been doing EMDR therapy for longer than I care to say and I’ve yet to come to a place where I don’t feel any of that nameless roiling anxiety, that unspecified dread, at least some of the time—maybe there is no such place—but I feel that dread and anxiety less and less.  I’ve gotten lighter and lighter, happier and happier, more and more peaceful—I can feel it in my solar plexus—as a result of all that finding and releasing of childhood trauma. 

Many years ago I pictured myself like some kind glass of liquid, clear on the top half, inky on the bottom—I knew I was suppressing a lot of stuff.  It wasn’t a good way to live, and I thought if I could just find some way to shake up the glass, the liquid of myself would get all mixed up and become pink and beautiful and healthy.  That is to say, my upper consciousness would match my lower consciousness, my interior world would be lighter and more permeable, more able to breathe, to hear and see and mingle with the beautiful outside world.  And now, in this May, 2016, I think that I can honestly say that my glass of liquid is pretty much the same color all the way through, that as above so below is true in my personal universe.

But that isn’t really what interests me most, I realize, when I look at the Queen of Cups today.  What interests me is the unconscious itself.  In the tarot cards water is a symbol for the unconscious.  With the Thoth-deck Queen of Cups the water takes up half the card, it’s all that water below the line.  In the Rider-Waite deck the Queen of Cups is sitting on a throne with a pool of water at her feet; she’s wearing a kind of cape made of water too. Maybe it’s seeing her sitting on that throne that makes me think again of sitting in my own chair in the mornings trying to access the water of my own unconscious as I meditate.  How you get to that water, that unconscious place, and what you find there is what really interests me. 

Every day it’s different for me.  It takes longer on some days than on others to get my thoughts to shut up to the point where I can make contact, even briefly, with that place of the unconscious.  I try to listen to the sounds but I keep getting distracted, I find myself rehearsing what I’m going to do that day or what I’m going to say somebody or blah blah blah.  This morning I could kind of feel the two worlds, the two states of consciousness, one superimposed on top of the other, the thinking, the incessant blah-blah-blah-ing, on top and the unconscious, that beautiful light airy place of water, showing through underneath.  And then I was there.  I can always tell when I arrive there:  Suddenly I feel my body relax and sink more deeply into the chair, and at the same time some part of me—my spirit, maybe—expands a little, like a flock of birds rising into the air.  It truly is like visiting some other place inside myself.   Sometimes when I arrive there I get a deep feeling of what I can only call being at home.  I didn’t have a real home when I was a kid, my relationship with home was extremely broken, and I’ve always thought I had no early experiences of feeling at home. But it turns out I did, I must have, because I find those feelings, memories of those feelings, when I get to that place when I meditate.  This morning, as well as those feelings, I felt a longing for home.  And I felt, in some deep way I can’t possibly articulate, that the place inside me I found by listening to the sounds around me and getting my thoughts to shut up, if only for a few seconds, was home.  I’ve come across a lot more in there too, in that vast deep airy watery place inside myself, during other very short windows that open while I meditate, and for slightly longer periods while I’m doing EMDR, and a few times in the 1980s when I got there with the help of a hypnotherapist.

As I look at the Queen of Cups now, the cup she holds in the Rider-Waite deck seems like a magic lantern containing an entryway to that magical place, and the watery blur of blue and green in the Thoth deck seems like a promise that we can all find that magical place inside of us and all around us if we just get still enough.

May 2016: The Ten of Disks by Tania Pryputniewicz

I was delighted the Ten of Disks fell as my card of the month! In the Thoth deck, the disks are thick as cut rounds of wood or foil coins full of chocolate you might get in your goody bag at a Pirate Party. Behind the ten main coins positioned in the pattern of the Tree of Life we see the pale green coins of spring, and beyond them, dusky violet coins rimmed in red.

Having sold our home, we are poised here at a respite during which we can afford to fill the family cupboard and portion funds to keep us above the poverty line. The blessing of the card extends to my many jobs I am grateful to, for the way they contribute financial and spiritual dividends: teaching, writing, and stewardship of others, including writing mothers, while raising my family.

In the Rider Waite Smith version of the Ten of Disks, we see a curtain of falling disks obscuring our view of a family: seated grandfather, several dogs, husband with back to us, wife facing us, child clutching mother’s skirt. Rachel Pollack, in Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, suggests the card in part refers to, “hidden experience in ordinary things” and suggests the family might fail to “notice the magic all around them.”

Coming out of six months of financial strain, I am acutely aware of the magic all around us again. And the practice of regularly reflecting on one’s life in journal entries or photos or blogs fosters the currency of precisely such an awareness of “the hidden experience in ordinary things.” I have found it to be true of the domestic monastery, but it applies to any life in which one stops to reflect in writing day by day (a hands on form of meditation).

I don’t know if my children and husband see the magic all around us, but I feel it in the Sundays we rise and hop in the van to drive along Route 75 parallel to the sea.  A four-minute spin delivers us to Katie’s CafĂ© where its surfboard sign, hung by a pair of chains, greets us with image of a mermaid resting on her side. In we go past the paintings of surfers emerging from sunlit-backed barrels and tables adorned with glass goblet worlds holding cacti and succulents anchored in multicolored pebbles, miniatuure clay surfboards at the ready. A life-sized Neptune covers the supply closet door; even inside the bathroom we’re met by undersea imagery of kelp and fish lit by lone strobing urchin lamp.

“Welcome to Katie’s,” the barrista beams, pushing menus at us down the counter though we already know we want Davos, acai fruit bowls, Hammerheads, apple-shaped apple juice for the littlest, the middle son sporting his first ox-blood leather jacket and white t-shirt. Katie herself--if we are lucky--with her long blonde braid down her back reminds us to sign the kids up for her summer surf contest. We corral my husband from the inevitiable two or three former students or current trainees he’ll run into and snake a couple tables out back. Over the sound of the surf, the ocean breeze chills while the coffee warms our palms.

I’m grateful for these Ten of Disks mornings with gift of breakfast the five of us gather to share before the scatter:  youngest to skateboard practice, the middle (James Dean boy) to work out at the gym with three buddies, the daughter to lifeguard-aide training, and the husband to tackle the Obstacle course on base…which leaves me free, free to breathe, and best of all, free to harvest the bounty in words.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Hierophant and Art, or Temperance

April 2016: The Hierophant by Tania Pryputniewicz

In the Aquarian deck, the Hierophant’s gloved hands remind me of falconry and I step right into the world of Robert Duncan’s poem “My Mother Would be a Falconress.” When I first read the poem in the heartland, I recognized that form of psychic connection bordering on bondage that Duncan captures, though it is a fertile way of relating I associate more with my father than my mother.

In the Hierophant’s red scepter I see the telephone poles and redwing blackbirds of my Illinois childhood. Two keys sit in the left hand corner of the card. Which door does the Hierophant guard or welcome me to unlock? His pale pink and pewter complexion makes him appear invincible. Intellectually I know he often represents formal religion, as in the Pope and other more rigid traditions of spirituality as defined by large groups that appoint a leader to embody their teachings.

As I write new poems about the Illinois commune I lived on as a child, I’m thinking about borrowed religions and ideas.  Raised as they were by Christian and Catholic parents and struggling under the duress of a breakdown my father suffered, my parents opted to start over on the commune after reading The Ultimate Frontier (a book written by our leader detailing his spiritual journey and the lessons of many prior civilizations). We moved from upstate New York to Illinois to join the Stelle community.

Our leader, we were taught, incarnated as King David and further back in time, as the Pharaoh Akhenaton. We drew on diverse traditions to shape our daily ways—out of yarn we made Eyes of God; on Easter we walked a spiral bordered by lit candles. The literature of those commune days still fills my imagination from The Education of Oversoul Seven by Jane Roberts to The Sun Rises (a book written by Dr. Stelle about cavemen Rhu and Hut and the White Brotherhood our leader claimed carved an insignia on his hip).

Knowing there were multiple incarnations made this one seem optional, mundane. Traipsing around on our various field trips, I wondered: Why learn about fertilizer for seed crops or butchering methods at the slaughterhouse or chemical mixtures for sewage? Why would we, the chosen children, need to know these things, if we were once Lemurians or Atlanteans? Why did we fall from grace? How was it possible to skin a knee? To lose a cat to a car on a hot tar road in summer? And how am I to know which past incarnation’s work I need to complete in this incarnation?

I’m using poetry to call a Truce against the pressure of the commune’s unconscious, absorbed, and borrowed beliefs. I begin to make peace with my parents’ pilgrimage in the corn when I look through not only their eyes, but those of the other adults operating at that time in my circumference: the practical, simple, daily “teachers” acting as collective counterbalance to the Hierophant, our leader, at the helm.

When the leader was exiled for alleged inappropriate relations with the mothers of Stelle, our family left the group. The door swung open and out we went into the free bright air, traveling in a Maroon 57 Chevy with wooden camper my father built for hand by us. In California where we landed, I spent years mistrusting the Hierophant. Neither traditional nor wildly creative forms of religion seemed real though memories of the past both haunted and inspired.

When I look at the Thoth Hierophant, I see the comforting earth-tone browns of a robed man and in front of him, in his path, a barefoot Egyptian woman in Blue. Who wouldn’t want to be that agile, graceful, poised Egyptian queen, crescent moon in one hand with downbent sword at the ready?  And yet in this image, I see nothing real or of this world I live in at present.

But maybe that is the point, we are to feel outside of the card, eager and wanting the state of grace the Hierophant and female in front of him seem to possess. Trust in me, they seem to say—I know the way. I don’t think we are meant to revere symbols, Hierophants, our parents, or other human beings so much as we are meant to revere the process of searching, looking, and listening to our responses to them.

And maybe the Truce is realizing we can learn just as much, if not more, from a derailed Hierophant as a pure, perfect Hierophant.

April 7, 2016: Art, or Temperance by Mary Allen

My card of the month was Art, or Temperance, as it’s sometimes called.  It’s the fourteenth major arcana card, the one that follows Death.  I love this card and was overjoyed to see it come up when I picked it. In the Thoth deck it shows a woman with what I can only call a two-sided face—one side dark, the other side light—mixing fire and water together over a cauldron. There’s a bluish-white lion standing on one side of the cauldron and an orange eagle on the other side, both of them with their feet in the pointy orange flames that are heating up whatever’s up in the pot.  This is a beautiful card with many strange and arresting images:  a circle in the woman’s chest holding a clutch of celestial blue balls, a large oval of pale yellow light behind the woman, with writing in it (what does that writing mean? I don’t even know what language it’s in), the woman’s green dress decorated with bees.

When this card comes up I think it’s talking, not so much about art as we think about it but about the art of life, the alchemy of mixing things together—a little of this, a little of that, sorrow, happiness, darkness, light, and what you do with all of that—to create a life.  Living a life is the ultimate creative act, I read somewhere, and to me this card is talking about that.  And I guess it’s an apt card for my month that just passed. 

Angeles Arrien says that every symbol on the Art card “represents the union of opposition which creates something new.”  Something really great happened to me last month, and something not so great, or actually a few not-so-great things, happened too.  The nice thing was huge and the not-so-nice things were all kind of small, but on balance, in some metaphorical weighing scale of suffering versus pleasure, the not-great things probably at least equaled the nice ones if they weren’t heavier.  They didn’t cancel them out though; all those things were just mixed together, creating a month.

The wonderful thing was:  I was on vacation in the desert for two weeks, writing and hiking, resting and thinking and laughing and talking with my friend.  The not-so-great involved being sick for two weeks before I left, losing a bunch of sleep and feeling sort of sick again after I got back, and, in the middle of the vacation, like a drop of black ink falling into a glass of clear liquid, a rejection letter that arrived in my inbox, for a memoir I’d spent the last two years rewriting after spending at least fifteen years writing.  Just one little rejection letter, I know—everybody knows you have to get thousands of no’s before you get a yes, and blah blah blah.  But, for various reasons, psychological and otherwise, I found it discouraging, disheartening, dispiriting, faith-in-my-writing-diminishing, and a whole bunch of other things.  Still, later on in the day it came, my friend and I went out and hiked through the desert, baking in the sun, buffeted by the wind, and I started the work of digesting that letter, making sense of it in the context of my story, scrounging up the courage to try again.  By the end of the day I was ready to go back to the cauldron of life, to keep mixing in new ingredients, creating more faith.  

Related Link:

A discussion the formative influences of the Stelle commune on Tania's writing life, poetry, and a bit about the beauty of Tarot writing:

Podcast, This Choice, hosted by poet Ren Powell