Thursday, November 3, 2016

Taking Stock at Tarot for Two: Five Years of Tarot Card-of-the-Month Writing

October 28, 2016: Tania Pryputniewicz’s Five Year Card-of-the-Month Retrospective

What a blessing to hear Mary’s sleepy little voice all the way in Iowa! She is drinking the rest of yesterday’s tea and I am here with my thrice-heated coffee and whipping cream ready to celebrate five years of our Tarot Card of the Month practice. We decided to take stock—neither of us realizing we were at the five-year mark—but just instinctually coming up for air with our process to see if we want to shift our focus in some way. We asked, which cards have we gotten and written to over the years? Might we want to narrow our engagement, for example, with just a pool of Majors? People cards?

I set aside this morning after kid drop-off to sit at my computer and go through my entries. But the universe played a joke on me, or maybe it was the Tarot herself, and the power clicked off in the house just as I sat down. I forgot about the scheduled power outage—Power Company note magneted to the fridge, drifting as magneted fliers do to the bottom beneath The Space Night poster along with the template for clipping Box Tops for Fifth grade, the notice about the Rummage Sale and the photo of me and and a dear mom friend at the taping of American Ninja Warrior in Los Angeles.

With black blank screen staring up at me, powerless, I reached up on my shelf, past the Eiffel Tower postcard and one of Mary’s early author photo possibilities and moved aside the adjoined postal stamps of Electra and Ironman flying in a tiny red frame that I gave my husband for Valentine’s Day. Behind it sits the red “Tarot with Mary” folder so used and worn that its seam has long since broken apart. The folder halves act as flimsy, frayed bookends for a two-inch stack of looseleaf Tarot pages.

I have to pour through the handwritten entries individually to make my list, some entries undated. How could I not date certain entries? I must have been in a rush to lift the grief out of my skin and onto the page, to relate it to the healing aura and colors of the card in question, knowing that Mary, on the other side of 25 minutes would listen to me read out loud, would laugh at the funny parts, would let out a sigh at the sad parts, wait for me to finish, and then repeat back to me her favorite phrases in my exact words. That she would then read me her writing and give me the respite of coming out of myself long enough to listen to her, her joys, her pains, and to take notes and capture the phrases of hers I fell in love with as she anchored her life and lived experience of hope to her card of the month.

Over the years, 21 times a Major fell, 7 times I drew people cards, 6 times I chose a wands card, and an equal number of times I drew cups and swords (5 times). As a Capricorn, just as I’d expect, of all the suits, disks fell the most (8 times). Only once the Ace fell, the Ace of Cups, my third entry, during a hard time in my marriage. It followed closely on the heels of the Ten of swords (during a period of trial separation). I remember thinking, what is that Ace saying to me? And yes, I had to learn to love myself, by myself again, in order for the marriage to thrive. Into that dark time came Mary’s voice and the birth of our ritual of card pulling and card writing, one of the most tangible practices I can think of for experiencing the kind of self-love the Ace of Cups promises.


All the way from that first Ten of swords to this month’s Star Card, I see that no cataloging of which cards fell can convey the blessing of shared inquiry with Mary. Our friendship, fertile and rich from the years we lived in Iowa City, picked up again after a ten-year quiet period. We began again to walk the heartland, just not geographically anymore. These days we walk the heartland of the spirit using the Tarot to lift us up. So many pages of writing and hours of phone calls later, I am overflowing with gratitude. I’m thinking of the Star card—with her mediator body of blue and lavendar holding up to sky one cup and spilling out of the other cup the watery starlight of her visions. With Mary I’ve been to heaven and hell and always returned to this body, this life, on the earth we share with renewed hope and strength to face the month until our next appointment with the Tarot.

October 28, 2016: Mary Allen’s 5 Year Card-of-the-Month Retrospective

We decided last time that this time we’d take a retrospective look at all of our cards of the month so far.   It seemed like a good idea; we’ve been doing this for a while.  Then we realized this morning that we’ve been doing this for almost exactly five years—we started on October 6, 2011—and it seemed like an even better idea.

So this morning I read through most of my card-of-the-month writing, beginning back in 2011.  I was sort of shocked to realize I was still with my former long-time partner (we were together for nine and a half years) when I picked that very first card (the Ace of Wands), then interested to see how I got the Five of Cups (disappointment) a couple of months later, on the morning of the very day I found out he was maybe with someone else, and how I got the Seven of Cups (debauch) a month later, after he and that woman had gotten together and he and I had broken up. 

It felt sort of good to look back and see how I used the cards and writing about the cards to search for meaning and healing in all that, how I moved through it and out the other end and then moved on to future cards and months.  It was interesting to see my life through the lens of the cards over the last five years, passing through two devastating losses, the loss of that partner being one, and through various phases of other relationships and with myself, of happiness and optimism or worry or misery, of my own healing or lack thereof.

Some months were more interesting than others:  the writing was better or the connection between the card and the month was clearer or what happened that month was more interesting.  The month I got the Prince of Wands (male figure in a chariot, sun rays all around his head, everything in shades of gold and red) and my friend JoAnn and I were on vacation in the desert and I had a near encounter on a hiking trail with a swarm of Africanized bees, just like the little black bees flying around Prince of Wands’ head.  

There was the month I got the Moon and my sister died—my second big loss during the five-year period, by far the more devastating one—and I wrote about her going to the other world and me traveling to the underworld of the flu and my own grief afterwards.  There was that month when both Tania and I picked the Death card and I decluttered my house, refinanced a bunch of debt, and found a dead rabbit beside my shed, and when my friend John’s father died. 

There was the time I got Lust in December, a card Angeles Arrien tells us has to do with luster, or radiance, then I went for a walk on a short cold day in the middle of a series of short gray almost lightless days, and the sun came out and every leaf and blade of grass and piece of mica in the sidewalk were glowing as if illuminated by a light from within.  The time I had the Ace of Wands and my fire alarm went off in the middle of the night and I lay awake for hours afterwards and decided to put my short pieces into a collection.

There were certain cards that came up more than once, some I never saw at all.  Overall I got 18 major arcana cards, 12 people cards (the Queen of Cups, the Princess of Cups, and the Princess of Wands came up over and over), 5 aces, and more cups than any other minor arcana.  I got the Sun once, the Star twice, the Chariot three times, the Hermit twice, the Devil a couple of times, and— just once— the Universe. 

I feel as if I should make some kind of final statement about all of this, but I find I can’t really think of anything to say.  What is there to say about life itself, the way it keeps going on, when even the big moments, the Universe, the Chariot, the Sun, the Star, just lead to other mostly smaller moments, to worries and disappointments, the seven of wands, the five of disks.  And then those pass too and we move on to something else. 

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. 

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