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.  

Additional Links:

Tarot for Two's First Podcast, on YouTube: