Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Seven of Disks, Two of Swords and The Ace of Swords

May 5, 2017: The Seven of Disk by Tania Pryputniewicz

Last month when the Seven of Disks in the Thoth deck fell as my card of the month, I joked with Mary that the blue tree-like branches, arched and feathered, draped to form an owl with blue coins for eyes. Owls belong to the Illinois landscape of my childhood; I’m reminded of one little white owl I once caught sitting on a branch, nearly invisible in the falling snow and blue dusk. How swiftly she surveyed the landscape in one sweep! Equally brief: The sudden portal of our eye contact. Then she was gone.

The Rider Waite version of the Seven of Disks could be part of this landscape too—we see a gardener in a tan smock, blue leggings, and tan boots leaning on his hoe while gazing down at his garden of vines bearing seven blossoms. His expression is morose, bereft, despondent. The harvest is abundant and apparent—Why the long face? Did he want more?

The line I remember in relation to this card is “fear of failure” or “failure of the imagination” to see oneself thriving materially. When I referred back to Angeles Arrien, though, I found the phrase, “picture of fear of failure, or fear of success.” That particular variation on my memory, “fear of success,” intrigued me. Am I afraid of succeeding? Too comfortable hanging back? Relative anonymity has provided a beautiful shield behind which to incubate and create.

So how does the Seven of Disks relate? In a month when my online class enrollment dipped, at first I felt like the mournful gardener. But very quickly, I realized I could redirect my teaching energy into the new prose project I’ve started. And while writing prose is not entirely new to me, poetry has been the “home form” for years. While raising my children, teaching, and blogging, I discovered I can write poems in short distracted bursts around pick up and drop off, ER rooms, lunch making, bake sales and what it takes to run a household with a frequently traveling husband.

But writing prose requires more unbroken stretches. Additionally I am anxious as I go back into the terrain mapped in the poems. I’m doing this by re-examining an old prose manuscript I wrote just after finishing my MFA.  It is overwhelming to see how many ways I’ve tried to write about it all—reincarnation, poverty, and mental duress—and still I am rummaging around, very much like that troubled gardener in the Seven of Disks looking down at his seeds emerging, vining, blossoming. And I’m wondering, how will I ever convey the beauty in the poison, the gifts in the obstacles? 

Mercifully, the press of “now” interrupts to keep me grounded. My son wants his guitar and amp dropped off in town, the dentist calls looking for my youngest son due in the chair ten minutes ago. As I drive to town, I’m panicked I’ll never have the time to see my story’s structure clearly enough, never know how to create a garden a reader could walk through with me. But even deeper than that is the fear of dying. Today I am laughing about it a bit—I feel desperate as a century plant tossing up all my seeds at once! I remember these feelings surfacing during the editing of my first book—and even further back between being accepted to the Writers’ Workshop and actually arriving there to start—this gripping fear that I’d die or somehow get in my own way and not be able to do the work.

Of course, the only antidote is to keep writing. And to keep reading memoirs by other writers. Like H is for Hawk…which teaches me that you must allow yourself to love what you love without censor and bring that love to the page. And to allow time for the transition from writing poems—with their one luminous image focus—to writing prose, which is more like weaving a hammock than suspending a single crystal coin to catch the sunlight. 

May 5, 2017:  The Two of Swords and Ace of Swords by Mary Allen

I ended up with two cards of the month last month. 

Before I pick my card of the month I spread all the cards out face down on the coffee table and then run my hand back and forth about three inches above them, hoping to feel some heat or impulse or something that will help me pick the right card, a happy auspicious card that will tell me something good is going to happen in the next month instead of something I don’t want to hear.  When I was picking my card of the month last time my attention was strongly drawn to a certain spot in the row of cards, so I picked a card from there.  

I have to admit that I cheat a little when I pick my card of the month, pull it out and peek at the bottom and if I see it’s something I definitely don’t want—the three of swords, say, or the Tower or the 10 of swords—actually I don’t even have the 10 of swords in my deck because I took it out, but if it’s something else that I definitely do not want I put it back and pick another one.  This time it was something I did want—the two of swords (Peace, in the Thoth deck, something maybe not quite as unambiguously favorable in the Rider Waite deck, more about that below), so I kept the two of swords.  But then I thought, why not see what the card next to it is, since you felt so drawn to pull something out of this spot, what if that card is something better than the two of swords.  So I picked that card out too and it turned out to be the ace of swords.  So I decided to keep them both and have two cards of the month this time.

The ace of swords, like all the aces, is about a gift from God or the universe.  With the ace of swords it could be a gift of clarity or something else related to thought.  I particularly like the aces in the Rider Waite deck.  (Last time Tania and I decided we’d start looking at those cards too, in addition to the Thoth deck which we always use.)   The four Rider Waite aces all show a hand coming out of a small cloud in the sky, and the hand, surrounded by white lines of light, is always holding something.  With the ace of swords it’s a big sword with a crown at the top and two green garlands drooping from the crown.  The sword looks kind of like Ex Calibur and there’s something vaguely Arthurian about the whole card:  A line of small purple and blue mountains at the bottom look like medieval mountains, the regal crown with red jewels and garlands looks like King Arthur’s crown as it’s usually depicted.  I guess I can say I like that ace of swords better than the Thoth one, which is also beautiful—that sword is bigger and looks, not exactly contemporary but timeless and a bit abstract.  You don’t get the sense of history from it, not medieval history or any history, and instead of a crown at the top there’s a crown of huge rays of light (I do actually love those rays of light), and the sword is resting on a field of yellow light with a bed of clouds around the edges.  They look like clouds you’d see from the window of an airplane instead of a cloud producing the hand of God above a medieval landscape.  

But I like the Thoth two of swords a little better than the Rider Waite two of swords, not necessarily because of how the Rider Waite two looks but because of something about it that I don’t like thinking is true of me in the last month.  In the Thoth deck the two of swords is a simple image of two swords crossing, there’s a blue lotus at the crossing point, pleasing white geometric shapes in the background.  At the bottom is the word peace.  (All Thoth minor arcana cards have a word at the bottom; some of them bother me a little or don’t exactly capture what I think the card is about, but that’s not the case with peace for the two of swords.)  

The Rider Waite two of swords shows a woman sitting on a bench holding two swords, her arms are crossed and the two swords stick out at angles.  There’s a shore and an ocean behind her, a yellow sliver of moon in a blue sky above, and a blindfold over her eyes.   That blindfold that makes all the difference between the two twos.  Whereas the two in the Thoth deck is about simple peace, the two in the Rider Waite deck suggests a slightly more complicated peace, peace achieved through denial, through not seeing something.  At least that’s what it suggests to me, and when I see the image my heart sinks just a little.

So what does this say to me about my month?  When I looked at these three cards all month, the Thoth ace of swords and two two of swords, I thought of my meditation practice:  How every morning I sit in the green brocade chair in the corner of my attic study, close my eyes, listen to the sounds around me, and meditate for twenty minutes.  During that time I almost always do achieve peace, not for the entire twenty minutes, not by a long shot, but for at least a few moments here and there when I somehow manage to stop thinking and just listen to the sounds are me.  When I get to that place I feel the gifts of light and energy and peace and clarity, I feel life itself, all around me, and I know in a deep way that that’s always there and all I have to do is get peaceful and quiet enough inside to find it.

So is there something I don’t want to see, something I need to put a blindfold of denial on about, in order to achieve peace, a la the two of swords in the Rider Waite deck?  I suppose so.  There always is.  Right now it’s a few messy relationships issues, worries about money and not getting published and all kinds of other stuff.  Maybe I am putting on a mental blindfold, trying not to think about those things. But maybe the card isn’t talking about that, doesn’t have to be talking about that, or maybe I don’t have to worry about (deal with) whether it is or not.   Maybe I can just think of myself sitting in that chair every morning trying to turn my back on the ocean of thinking, worrying, planning, projecting, that seems to go on inside my head during every waking, non-meditating minute, whether I’m aware of it or not.  

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Empress and the Knight of Cups

April 7, 2017: The Empress by Mary Allen

My card this month was the Empress, the third major arcana card in the deck.  According to Angeles Arrien the Empress is about love with wisdom.

The Empress isn’t one of the cards I associate with myself or particularly relate to, although I love how it (she) looks in the Thoth deck:  A crowned female figure holding a lotus, her face viewed from the side, two moons and a bower of green leaves surrounding her, a swan and a shield with a double phoenix on it at her feet.  Except she doesn’t really have feet—her lower body is green—the whole card is predominantly green and pink, she’s wearing a pink top covered with symbols—and the green striped lower body might be a mermaid’s tail.   At first glance I can’t figure out what she, and love with wisdom, had to do with the month I just went through.
I spent two weeks in the desert last month, on a writing hiking vacation with my friend JoAnn.  We stayed in the same Air BnB house in 29 Palms we stayed in last year, sat across from each other at a formica table on the sun porch and wrote every morning and then went for a long hike somewhere in Joshua Tree National Park every afternoon.  I decided to write about the vacation during the vacation, which made me notice everything, made me more mindful more often, than I would have otherwise. 

I love the desert, love Joshua Tree, love hiking along the stony sandy trails that wind among the huge ancient tan granite boulders in the park, I love that house and the bedroom I’ve slept in there for two weeks, two years in a row now.  I love the sound of the oleander scratching on the window at night when I get into bed, I love sitting on the back patio in the sunshine every morning looking out across the sandy yard dotted with cactuses to the mountains in the distance, I love the air, the light, the cactuses, the mourning doves that roost on the clothesline and the hummingbird that sips and sips from the hummingbird feeder at the corner of the house.  I loved every single thing about that vacation, and I suppose you could say that by writing about it while I was there I loved it with wisdom.   Knowing I was going to write about it made me feel, if not exactly wise, then awake, aware, which I suppose is a kind of wisdom.

I don’t see the desert in the Empress, the way I could see it in the Prince of Wands with his golden corona and vehicle of fire, which I picked as my card of the month a couple of years ago during another trip to the desert with JoAnn.   The Empress is a watery card rather than a fiery one, all those pinks and greens and lotuses and water birds.  But the empress herself is resting in a bower of her own making, an inner bower made of peace and loveliness and happiness, and my desert vacation rests in my memory as a time of airiness and peace and happiness, and the desert with its fierceness has a kind of loveliness of its own.

A couple of days before the end of our vacation, JoAnn and I hiked a steep trail up one side of a mountain and down the other side to an oasis, a place where forty-nine ancient enormous palm trees grow in a fold among the rocks, fed by a spring.  We sat there for a while on a large flat piece of granite, eating almonds and drinking bottled water, listening to the wind rattle the flat dry leaves of the palm trees, breathing the cool, green, moist, pure air.  The green and pink Empress sitting in her leafy bower makes me think of that cool green oasis resting in the middle of the hard tan desert, and of our vacation opening like a window of summer in the middle of our winters.

April 7, 2017: The Knight of Cups by Tania Pryputniewicz

Oh the birds of San Diego are happy, warbling over one another’s songs in elaborate riffs and rounds! I’m sitting in the sun at a new wooden rectangular table on our back patio. At first I was sad to move aside the old weathered round umbrella table where I usually write, but the new one affords me room to scatter out my sketchpad, colored pencils, and my Tarot book library.

Before we hung up to write, I asked Mary where she’d be sitting. I can see her in my mind’s eye at her kitchen table in Iowa. How cheerful to be so vividly bridged these mornings, to be “taroting” (the verb Mary coined for our tarot play), together again.

For two months now the Knight of Cups has presided over my altar. A pair of heart-shaped shadows catches my eye first. They form the bottoms of the horse’s hooves as he kicks up his heels. This white horse with a blue bridle bears a rider with blue wings that echo pale blue shell-shaped sweeping waves, foamed, and one ethereal blue peacock at the card’s bottom.

I love most the rider’s wings. I’ve often thought the wings belonged to the horse, but the wings spring from the shoulders of the green-armored knight. The knight holds a chalice to the sky, a red crab emerging at cup’s rim. He’s offering up his heart and the heart’s questions. In the image of the crab I see a layer of protection, the color red so vibrant, a salute to the passionate heart.

The images suit the heart work I engaged in this month. On the heels of completing a cycle of poems about the commune I lived on as a child, I started mining the material again in prose. I’m still excavating divorce, loss, geographical and psychological moves—not in order to blame, but to understand motivations. Like every writer, I must balance heart concerns for those I write about with concerns for younger versions of myself. I need all three tools: chalice of open heart, sheltering shell of the crab, and wings for aerial perspective. 

Alejandro Jodorowsky puts these words in the mouth of the Knight of Cups: “My sole desire, to realize this endless talent with which I’ve been invested, is to survive so that I may remain within its service” (with Marianne Costa, The Way of Tarot: The Spiritual Teacher in the Cards). The part of this quote that interests me most is the line: “to survive so that I may remain in its service.” In other words, to write about difficult things, but to not get lost or feel eclipsed. To survive, thrive, and be of greater service on the other side of whatever I discover.

When my husband and I walk the dog at 6 a.m., usually the sky and sea mirror back blues. But this morning found us under a light pink sky, ocean’s surface beveling towards us in gentle silt grey and light pink waves. Near the parking lot we passed a crab. Upside down and yards from the tide line, it glittered wet and bright red as the chalice in the Knight of Cups card. My vote: dropped by a fisherman. My husband: dropped by a bird. I love that the crab showed up scant hours before today’s Card of the Month writing.

I also see in this Knight of Cups my husband and I offering up our hearts like parallel knights in pursuit of our loves. He spends hours swimming in the sea and running on land and mentoring others to bring their bodies to peak performance. And I spend hours writing and when I can, mentoring others to find their words. As the Shadow of Oz deck so beautifully states in relation to the Knight of Cups, you must find a way to appreciate, “The overwhelming beauty haunting your situation.” For today, I carry on, blissfully haunted by colors from the blue prairie snow skies of the past to the sunrise pinks of now.

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Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Three of Cups and The Hierophant

January 20, 2017: Inauguration Day, or Three of Cups by Tania Pryputniewicz

It’s raining here in San Diego, fitting for the blues I woke with today and assuaged by writing my own inauguration poems with my students in the Election Blues: The Gift of Agency in Poetry class I teach and consider my act of rebellion. We sat writing our poems even as we all as a nation were heading for a poetless inauguration ceremony for the swearing in of the 45th President of the United States and people were either getting on trains or not getting on trains to attend or not attend the inauguration, or enroute or not enroute to attend the following day’s Women’s March on Washington in Washington D. C. and in sister cities in the United States and globally from Mexico City to Sydney to New Delhi, to London  and Paradise Bay, Antarctica, and hundreds more.

Earlier this week on the radio, I heard someone speaking about how it is never good to boycott an inauguration ceremony because in a democracy the peaceful transition of power is a big part of what we stand for--but what comes to mind is the President Elect stating his own reservations about honoring the peaceful transition of power should Hillary Clinton win during the Presidential debates leading up to the election.

In another snippet of radio interview this week, I overheard a woman designer speaking about a male designer helping with inauguration decoration; the phrase they used, that it would be characterized by “soft sensuality,” triggered speculation that the inauguration would suffer from Trump’s brand of beauty pageantry, girls on stage or in the wings. Other comments followed, speculating that “soft sensuality” might be used here to pull in television viewers either curious to see what was meant by the phrase or those attracted to the lifestyle Trump formerly lived as when he was taped making lewd comments and accused by former pageant contestants of entering their dressing areas because he owned it all. These kinds of banterings, more often than not, consume the air-waves, and I, more often than not, have children in the car on the way to or from school listening, always, and I more often than not turn off the radio in favor of silence when my children are with me.

How does this relate to my card of the month, The Three of Cups? In the Thoth deck, golden light overflows from down bent lotuses into rich red pomegranate chalices. How can this image relate to this month and the intensely charged political climate of fear, anxiety, and opposition?

In Pamela Waite Smith’s version of The Three of Cups, three women raise their cups to the sky; one wears a white robe, one wears gold, the third, red. One dons blue boots, one yellow boots, and the third, feet shrouded by the robes of her companions, perhaps goes barefoot. Flowers garland the heads of the trio; a cluster of grapes trails the down bent palm of the wearer of the golden gown.

Maybe this card is a tiny symbol of the joyful, celebratory, strength created by groups of women such as those gathering to march as an antidote to the myriad collective upsets, knitting and wearing pink hats in an attempt to reclaim a word so disparagingly used by the incoming President. Or on behalf of the seeming failure of checks and balances as the incoming administration’s candidate confirmations barrel along unopposed despite so many concerns raised about qualifications in the hearings. Maybe this card is a pictorial version of joining hearts through bridgework, as one might do, during this kind of strife, helping communities galvanize to take practical and ethical action on behalf of the greater good for all.

Angeles Arrien says the cups in this card symbolize the “abundant communicating heart.” At night, I have been raising my own heart to the sky, to the stars, praying, listening for the next right action to take towards harmony. So that harvest be possible, oranges ripen on trees, pumpkins on the vine, like those at the feet of the Three of Cups women.

I also see in this Three of Cups an image of the women in the Obama family celebrating their hours under the White House roof: the hundreds of dancers, performers, writers, and children of all nationalities Michelle Obama invited to perform and visit, the thousands of young African American girls now believing they have a chance to be President--indeed cause for donning of gowns and the braiding of flowers in our hair. No matter who sits in the White House, there are children to raise, hungry to feed, people to love right in front of us in our own country and across the seas globally. Thank you Michelle, Satia, and Malia for the hours of your life you gave to us. I raise my pomegranate chalice to yours, draw strength and courage, from the example you set.

January 20, 2017: The Hierophant by Mary Allen

My card of the month this time was The Hierophant, the fifth Major Arcana card in the deck.  The Hierophant is also my life card.  (You can figure out your life card by adding together the numbers of your birthday, including the year, if you come up with a double-digit number higher than 22 you add the two digits together.)  I’ve always been sort of dismayed by having the Hierophant as my life card, thinking, probably rightly, that it predicted a lifetime full of painful lessons and opportunities for growth for me.  The minor arcana fives aren’t much fun either, depicting, as they do, strife, poverty, defeat and disappointment, mostly all in the mind, as the minor arcana usually are.

I’ve read that the Hierophant was originally meant to represent the pope or some other powerful figure in organized religion, maybe the power of organized religion itself, a concept that doesn’t mean much to me when I pull this card.  Much more meaningful to me, and closer to how I look at it, is Angeles Arrien’s interpretation that the Hierophant has to do with learning and teaching experienced through life challenges. These days when I look at the Hierophant—big bearded orange-outfitted male figure with a smaller, blue-dress-wearing female figure standing in front of him, a tiny baby penciled into a star in the male figure’s heart—I think of higher powers, my higher power, which, as someone who has belonged to a twelve-step program for almost twenty-five years, I’ve cultivated a relationship with, tried to turn my will and my life over to daily, for so long I can hardly remember not doing it. I’ve grown into the habit of at least trying to live in concert with my higher power, of wondering what my higher power could be trying to teach me or tell me with all the major and many of the minor events of my life.  So when this card came up for me as my last card of the month, I wondered what the universe, Life, my higher power was going to be teaching me or telling me in the weeks to come.

I did have an interesting December.  And for once the lessons I seemed to be called upon to learn weren’t painful ones.  For at least thirty years I’ve had a recurring dream that I had to fly to Hawaii and I was scared to and I couldn’t bring myself to get on the plane, and last month, on the 15th of December, I was called on, in the form of a text from my ex-partner’s oldest daughter, to actually get on a plane and fly to Hawaii.  Plane ticket, lodging, other expenses all provided.  I couldn’t help but look at it as a higher power thing, as my higher power calling me to give up that old fear, whatever it was, not exactly fear of flying but more like fear of moving forward in life, fear of getting off the ground. 

Flying to Hawaii in real life was nothing like flying there or actually not flying there in the dream and I had a lovely trip, full of warmth and sunshine, the ocean, palm trees, coconuts, walks on the beach, time with my ex-partner’s family which, it turns out, is still one of my families even though he and I haven’t been a couple and have hardly spoken to each other for at least five years.  He was there too and it was nice to spend time with him, but whatever lessons I was supposed to learn from him in this lifetime have already been learned, so it was painless, easy, simple, and not particularly significant to be around him for six days.  So maybe here the Hierophant message could be about lessons learned, big lumps of old spiritual food having been finally swallowed and digested.

Donald Trump was inaugurated as our 45th president a week or so ago, when I had this card as my card of the month.  And as I look at the Hierophant now I’m thinking that maybe, in the larger spiritual sense which the tarot cards talk to us about through symbols, our current political circumstances could be happening for a reason, that we’re getting Donald Trump for our 45th president so we can learn something, maybe many things.  Lessons about how to have faith and accept others and affect change, about how destructive and bad form blaming, mocking, and name-calling are, ditto the objectification of women, homophobia, racism, and who knows what.  In any case, it seems we are all being called on to stay close to our best selves and higher powers, to stand in the shadow of them and be protected by them so we can learn what there is to learn.