Thursday, November 4, 2010

Further on the Eight Of Swords; the lessons of compassion,detachment and acceptance

In the comments on the previous article about the Eight Of Swords, I mentioned the business of detachment and how that doesn't necessarily mean physical detachment or leaving a situation but rather not being defined by it - being "in it but not of it". This is a tricky business for some.

I've started this post with Van Gogh's Starry Night. I was looking for images that could depict a person's attempt to break through isolation and convey a unique and at the same time relatable feeling. This image speaks to millions of people both in it's beauty and in it's poignancy. Although Van Gogh's life held a lot of suffering, his work ultimately has been a legacy of the vision he needed to share. Some experiences of suffering, like Vincent's, seem inescapable and sadly not all have happy outcomes.

The key thing to (hopefully) overcome in what the Eight Of Swords describes is isolation. Whether it is our own difficulty or that of someone we care about, the tools we can work with are compassion, detachment and acceptance. We can hear, we can try to listen and out of that to understand. At the same time we can never know entirely what another person's experience is and we have to be rooted in some degree of well being if we are to be of any good.

Many of us grow up believing that to be compassionate we must feel what the other person is feeling. How often in a caring situation do we feel compelled to say "oh I feel badly for you". We are often taught that this is compassion, but what good does it do? True we need understanding and the ability to relate and empathize to a degree, but this needs to be balanced with our own healthy well being.

A lesson I have often seen with the Eight Of Swords is that sacrifice for others must be balanced with our own demonstration of responsible self care. The alternative is suffering for others, a kind of martyrdom. When we do this we actually are making others responsible for our state and we are not living our own potential. The other side of the coin is not selfishness but rather a sense of sharing what we can, and what others can receive. Being responsive to, not responsible for others while being whole and responsible and accountable for ourselves. This is a life lesson that I'm not great at. It's a learning we move through many times. I can say it get's easier and along the way there is a lot of beauty, even in the hard stuff.

I will only give brief mention here of those (happily few) that often want to make others feel responsible for the state they are in, or in some way apologetic for not being in their suffering with them. But these people are rarely and only momentarily satisfied. All I can say in regards to them is a big thank you to whoever invented call display. I usually don't avoid the call altogether but that brief pause gives me fair warning where my boundaries can be in place. That's a swords lesson in itself!

Detachment is not being aloof or uncaring, far from it. It is about being responsible for one's self so that you are in good shape to be of service to others and to be a healthy demonstration. A healthy nurse can better look after people. A good teacher doesn't necessarily have all the answers but rather the tools that they are willing to share to find answers. If a good friend has the flu we don't say "here, sneeze on me, we'll both be miserable", but rather we avoid the sneeze, bring them soup and wash our hands and take our vitamins while doing so.

This is a challenging lesson, especially with those nearest and dearest when trauma is going on. Being caring means that of course we are affected, but it's also the recognition that we can't be in the same place as those directly suffering, nor would it be constructive to try. I learned this in some of the deepest grief situations my friends have gone through, both in loss and in facing their own passages. I learned that it is sometimes better to say "I have no idea what this must be like for you", because it was the truth. At the same time it is important to try to relate and understand.

Compassion is about knowing that others move through these situations and we can learn from those experiences. The circumstances are often not that unique (if they were there'd be no such thing as country western music, or Shakespeare or any form of art) but our individual experiences are.

There is comfort in knowing others move through similar situations. That's a big part of creativity. Music is a great example of people relating over heartache, joy and hope and most forms of art are about people expressing their individual experience and perceptions in a way that others can identify with, each in their own unique way. It is one of the things that makes the symbolism of Tarot useful. It is a way of relating these common themes with a degree of intuitive understanding from the reader and in what the person being read can relate to.


Being in the Eight of Swords state also means having compassion with one's self. This is not narcissistic victim-hood or self pity, rather it is being a friend to ourselves, being able to drop the ego's expectations, the false armor of pride that isolates us. Being open to the experience of others is often an important start. It means giving up the familiar identification with pain, though what have we really got to lose?

This also has another word running through it all, acceptance. Acceptance is not a resigned giving up or (as I said in the comments section before) playing "possum" to a tyrannical force. It is also not about trying to run from or deny the circumstances.It's about seeing it as part of the journey, useful in our understanding and compassion to others and yet not the entire definition of ourselves.

All of the Eights are our relationships with circumstances. They are not the totality of ourselves, simply where we are momentarily on our journey. We might get stuck in them for a while (or choose to stay stuck). Swords are about conflict but they are also about our responsibilities in working with boundaries, making decisions, articulating ourselves, dropping the unnecessary baggage and protecting what is important.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Eight Of Swords

There's trends I sometimes notice, where certain cards are more prevalent. It sometimes seems that there's lessons we all are moving through and symbols become more evident during these times. Lately I have noticed a stronger than usual emphasis on the Eight of Swords.

The suit of swords itself is where we often are having to work with issues around conflict, stress and the part of consciousness that makes decisions, sometimes a more dualistic (good or bad, right or wrong) decisive focus.

None of the suits are good or bad in themselves but swords do seem to indicate more trouble on the surface than the others, yet they are necessary and when we work with what they represent we grow.

Not many people can say they like conflict, but conflict resolution is a very good thing. Any relationship that doesn't have a degree of conflict (internally or externally) isn't much of a relationship. How we work through these issues and identify problems is an essential part of our life experience.

Eights as a number are often about how we are identifying with our experiences. They are a sort of "you are here" indicator. We have to remember that our circumstances don't define us entirely, we have to be in them but not of them. When we define ourselves by conflict, when our main subject matter is our battles and conflicts there is a self victimization that the eight of swords can illustrate.

Sometimes that victimization is from an external source, an abusive relationship whether it is with a partner or one's environment can be shown by this card. Feeling powerless in our circumstances is also a big part of what this represents.

Looking at the illustration in the Rider deck there are some useful clues and insights. The figure is bound and blindfolded, surrounded by swords and abandoned on a beach, a castle is seen high on a cliff. Small puddles surround the figure, it is also significant that she is wearing red. What this seems to be is an execution by drowning. The tide will come in and this figure will be washed away. It's almost as if the executioners didnt have the guts to do the job themselves but rather have left it up to a force of nature to do the dirty work for them.

In some cultures a woman in red represents a dangerous figure, a "fallen woman". In the Tarot deck however she represents a resourceful woman of experience, the crone aspect of the female trinity (Mother, Maiden and Crone). In a happier aspect she is present in that trinity in the three of cups and also the Queen of Pentacles herself wears red (again symbolic of resourcefulness and the ability to see many sides of a situation).
So our figure in the eight of swords has fallen into a bad situation. The manner and style of execution suggests she is a powerful woman, again so much so that no one wants to directly do her in, nor do they wish to be identified hence the blindfold. In some cases so much as a look from this person would be enough for her to either do damage or to influence her escape.

The water is significant too. In many instances in the Rider deck, the ocean represents the vast unknown of our life experience, to venture out, to risk going beyond our comfort zones. This is different symbolically than just water as an element (cups). I always have felt though that the very thing meant to do our lady in red in, will be the very thing that sets her free. We have to sometimes "surrender to win", let go of the defining circumstances and sink or swim but in doing so we reclaim the freedom we have lost.

In practical application this card comes up a lot for caring people who have lost their way in taking on the worries of others. I sometimes call it the "Achilles's Heel of Empaths". When our feeling for others has taken over our lives, we are in this state. Sometimes to take on our own feelings can be overwhelming at first (like the great ocean tide) but when we surrender to these things rather than run from them, we find our way out.

The term "Empath" has come up more in the last few years to refer to a person who has the ability to pick up on the feelings of others. I didnt hear the term so much until one of the Star Trek Shows ( I think it was Next generation) had a character who identified herself as one. Sometimes this seems to be an involuntary condition, a person who is an involuntary empath has not yet learned to set boundaries and is strongly affected by the vibes in their environment. Also there is the danger of projection, or ascribing to others the very dark emotions we do not want to own up to in ourselves. When we lack these boundaries or the accountability to see that the dark emotions we are "picking up" are sometimes our own, we have fallen into this trap. For some who are addicted to feeding off the emotional turmoil of crisis situations, boundaries can be frightening. To feel seperated from or cut off from others is harsh, but this is where the illustration of the card takes on new meaning. Sometimes we need the boundaries that the swords represent and the blindfold makes us look inward, we can begin to rescue ourselves (we often need help though in opening these things up) rather than using crisis as a way of avoiding.

I also sometimes call this "the flannel nightie card". In relationships this can be an indication of a lack of safety or security, a need to withdraw from intimacy. We cannot truly share ourselves with another if we are feeling hurt or threatened. So like putting on a red flannel nightie that would look good on grandma and getting a good night's sleep, we have to stand back, take back our space and be whole before we can share.

Sometimes this card can indicate physical problems. I don't diagnose health, but the physical aspects of stress come up here. Some people don't know they are on fire til they smell the smoke. This is not a good card around issues of pregnancy or fertility issues. It usually suggests a strong need for self care before any new undertaking can be accomplished.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Winnipeg stories, a unique Winnipeg tarot deck, AND readings for charity

Some local Winnipeg Artists and entertainers have come up with an interesting way to collect stories about Winnipeg, combining Tarot iconography with quirky Winnipeg symbolism, they're donning turbans and will be visiting locations throughout the city exchanging readings for people to tell their stories. The original deck is worth checking out and will be available for sale. More on this to be found here:
http://winnipegtarotco.ca/

One of the things I like about Winnipeg is that we have a rich history of readings being both a fun and at the same time useful resource. Many people have readers in their family history, people that didn't necessarily do this as a profession but still either worked with this gift or appreciate those who do. I think most people view it as something fairly down to earth. There are some great local resources for Tarot and intuitive study that don't charge unreasonable amounts and rank among some of the best in the world. Most Winnipeg readers are pretty ordinary folk who read constructively. Many of us who do work professionally also do some free (pro-bono) work and will also donate our time free of charge for charities etc. I frequently do shorter "psychic fair" style readings at events put on by Gio's Cares, a charity that helps people living  with HIV / AIDS. I usually post to this site when these are upcoming.

Part of doing what I do for as long as I have is having the ability to laugh at myself. I take what I do seriously, but I have to take me with a grain of salt and good friends help with that too, - (thanks Charley, particularly for your insights lately :).

And no, I don't own a turban ;)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Knights and sixes and position six in the Celtic Cross

Years ago, when I was bumbling through an understanding of Tarot's relationship with the Qabbala (it's spelt a number of different ways before you correct me). I found a curious relationship between the Knights and the Sixes, particularly relevant in the illustrations found in the Rider deck.

All of the sixes show a modified force, a kind of conscious adjustment and responsibility of guardianship, things we would associate with the duties of a knight. Also position six in the Celtic cross, in my interpretation, is our first interaction of inner experience to the outer world. This position is where we often get our marching orders in terms of the evolution of our life path.

So the sixes in the Rider deck give us a clue as to the responsibilities the knights have and their optimal function in each suit. If fives are disruption, sixes are a sense of working things out, not simply putting things back to where they were but with better understanding, helping things to evolve.

The knight of wands has a challenging bucking bronco of energy that we see brought under close rein. The blanket covering the horse's lower body suggests a great underlying force. The figure has laurel wreaths of attainment and is moving in parade through a crowd. No one is being trampled. Ambitious force is being used constructively.

We can almost overlook the knight symbolism in the 6 of cups but he is there, doing sentry duty in the background as the childlike figures work to establish trust. He can be called upon if need be. Our sense of trust is brought into being through compassion and communication.

The six of swords is perhaps the most poignant in it's representation, the knight of swords who was so intense is like the guardian figure watching over the grieving hooded figure and the child who looks ahead to the future. Again undercurrents are suggested by the figure poling the boat (rather than rowing). This is done when we have to cross a current. The pole extends down to the very bottom of the river. By plumbing the depths of our reactions and undercurrents, we can safely work through extreme situations. The swords provide protection and the knight keeps balance through a time of great peril.

The knight of pentacles is epitomized like the charitable figure who measures carefully how much to give.This is not blind charity but a conscious sense of response to those in need. Rather than just keeping the beggars in poverty there is a sense of moving things along.

I love congruence, the idea that a number or symbol has a unifying relevance. Some of the recent posts have been about the struggles of growth in using our gifts and strengths. Perhaps there is an aspect of all of us that is on a quest, finding it's way. I like to use the symbolism of the sixes, especially when there's upheaval (as seen in the fives) and I'm looking for that next right thing to do. I think these images are pretty good marching orders.



Friday, August 13, 2010

Q and A: (or a key to giving freely, or better yet, insightful and happy)

In a comment to my last post, Anonymous asked "your interpretation begs the question, how is it possible to "give" freely, and if it is not possible, how to get as close to it as you can"? Also a Comment from "Catspajamas" that sort of kiddingly referred to the challenge of being insightful and happy. I know of quite a few happy insightful people, I also know a few miserable idiots.

This is a question that I don't have an easy answer to, simple yes, easy no, It's been asked of far far more learned people for millenea and there are some very different answers. The one thing in most of those answers that seems to work for most people is of the same essence.

By "work for" I dont mean you get a smug little credo that takes care of that, but rather an answer that helps us go on working on the question more constructively and comfortably.

It's one of those things that seems terribly simple (because it is) but it's not altogether easy (because it's not).
The answer is to drop the self opinion, the egoic drive and to begin to see development of what most would call humility.The word comes from the Latin "Humus" and it's not what you get from the deli,. humus means "of the earth". It is in the word humor. I think all three mean to be of the earth,  be a work of creation and remember that the creating aint done yet and have a sense of humor about ourselves.

Some of us are quite proud of our (percieved) humility, I'm sure that there are designer hair shirts out there. I've heard people say that humility is thinking less of self and more of others, but the very character trait of the last post is the sort of martyrdom that can creep in with that. "Living for others" can be a kind of tyranny. So how do we get "good" at it?

I'll point out that the question contains an insight. Getting good at something, having it down pat, "no flies on me" is as much an egoic desire, however altruistically it is intended. Is it impossible then? I'd say yes. So do we just give up? Yes (well we surrender) and of course not we keep on.The Dalai Lama says the key to enlightenment is to have an undefended heart, He has great insight, has known great loss and is also a happy person.

You'll find this answer in everything from the Upanishads to Brer Rabbit (remember the tar baby?). It's no secret (but people love to think it's very mysterious and therefore elusive and exclusive and worthy of Oprah's couch). I also need to learn things many ways, over and over and then realize it was there all along.

From a Christian perspective (ooh I can hear the shrieks, here's this card reader talking about a Christian perspective, oh well) but I Don't mean MY perspective, but rather a man whose writings have helped me a lot; C.S. Lewis. I have mentioned him before and any friend of J. R. R. Tolkien's is a friend of mine. Lewis was a person of great intelligence and insight and yes, he knew grief, but he also was "Surprised By Joy".
The following is from "The Screwtape Letters":

(God) wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the, fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another. (God) wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favour that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbour's talents—or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall. He wants each man, in the long run, to be able to recognise all creatures (even himself) as glorious and excellent things". -There's more, which I went back and trimmed, there is an e-text of the book online but it really is one that deserves to be read in a comfy armchair, there is also an audio book version read by John Cleese (who is perfect for the narration).

This is also what Eckhart Tolle is reffering to in "A New Earth" and "The Power Of Now", recognizing the voice of the ego. Much as Tolle claims to have vanquished his ego completely (I'm not sure I'd like that entirely), he went through some grief to get there. Much as what he says is certainly not new (he says so himself) there is a lot of value in how he writes about simply recognizing that self opinion is there. That in itself is important. Sometimes I have to just see that what I'm usually struggling with is my big fat idea of me and drop it, then carry on anyway (the alternative is pouting and that isn't fun). So we keep on keeping on. Integrity is how we play, win or lose.

It also means being present, (Yes Tolle says this too, in a regurgitation of what's been said a zillion times over, but maybe we need a Tolle right now to tell it, there have I appeased the Tolle fans?). It means in our doing with others we don't presume to know whats best for others so much, maybe we have to ask, to check. To be kind and gentle, not ham fisted. There is a great value in being a little unsure. A very good rule is sharing more than giving and letting others share back. "Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach him to fish and he eats forever" but you cant teach a starving person much, so maybe do both.

I really should go back and read Tolle again. Lewis is a lot more fun though. Either that or "The Myth Of Freedom" by Chogyam Trungpa (which is so good every time I start to read it I have to go back to the beginning, so I have never finished it, I'll shut up about it till I have). 
Another good book I REALLY love (and have mentioned before) is by Pema Chodrun and it's called, quite appropriately; "Start where You Are".

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Further Thoughts On Reversals of Elements - Reversed Queen Of Cups (when nurture goes awry)

Anyone who has ever remotely worked on a committee or in a group effort, often will see certain human traits that surface in themselves and others. Archetypes that show up again and again and human frailties and booby traps we can all fall into.

There is the very self sacrificing person who perpetually saves the day, does too much and is often teetering on the brink of burnout. They often hear "we don't know how we'd get by without you", but the flip side (which can be detrimental) is the organization then is one person away from falling apart.

Martyrs aren't great role models. It is a great truth that healthy compassion is not about needlessly suffering along with others, but rather being in a place of well being and caring from there. This is not easy (at least it hasn't been for me, I don't know, but if it's been a walk in the park for you from the get go then I'd love to read YOUR blog, send me the link). 

I often remember a quote from Dorothy Parker -one of my favorite authors (see left), -she was very ironic and a lightning wit.

Someone once commented that Claire Booth Luce (see right) - who Dorothy didn't like - just "lived for others", to which Dorothy replied "Yup and you can tell the "others" by their hunted look".

In another instance, someone said "Claire is so kind to her inferiors" and Dorothy responded "wherever does she find them?"

I'd probably put Dot's take on Claire as Queen of Cups reversed. Important to note though that Dorothy was at times a suicidally romantic alcoholic, (rather Queen of Cups reversed-ish herself). Maybe that's why Claire rankled her so, there is an ancient saying; "who smelt it dealt it".

Righting The Reversal

Personally I've had to go through bumps and discomforts (and no doubt still will from time to time) before I've seen my own patterns and baggage and been able to find release from them. I sometimes have cycles where I find I'm doing way too much in some areas and am off track in others. 

I have found that whenever I am living under the threat of an "or else", that in some way I am already in it. The first times I had to recognize this were the hardest. Many of the people who were around playing into that pattern DID leave, they found another person to play into that pattern with, some got fed up and moved on in their growth. The crisis of letting go of that addictive behavior of rescuing was frightening but moving through that "or else" turned out to be one of the most positive things I could do. I had a lot of help (we usually do when we are honestly trying to move beyond this).

I listened to what some good people had been trying to tell me all along. I spent time alone and found it wasn't bad, as a matter of fact it was nourishing. I sought (and still seek) the counsel of others with experience. I know I haven't seen the last of these lessons, in truth I think we always are moving through them in some way. I can tell you it does get easier, and the neat thing is, it's very very ok. We can see it more readily and move through it more gently. When the poop hits the fan and that "or else" plays out, there's a lot more that comes into view, a lot of it very good possibilities and potentials that are hard to see when you're busy turning yourself into a pretzel. It's usually been there all along waiting to be discovered.

After a while, we start to see too, that the universe never gave us a gift by mistake. It didn't get the name tags mixed up on the presents. If we have been abusing gifts, they sustain damage, but the human spirit is very resilient. When we recognize that we're in that trap, when we release the "or else", there's an opportunity to come back and work with our gifts. They come into more graceful use, they evolve. We are given the chance to see something more than acceptance. Acceptance is important but there is something greater, recognition is seeing the genuine potential that has always been there and the use of the gift starts coming from that place instead. We start being kind for kindness sake (instead of a gritted teeth kind of NICE), we can give more freely with less of a drain or a price tag. People find us more comfortable to be with as we are more on a level playing field. Reciprocation goes on and we start to experience the intimacy of sharing ourselves and being shared with.

On that perky note -I have a good friend who closes most of his messages with "LIFD": Life Is Fabulous Dahling!

Reversals Of Fortune, Or When Your Gift Owns You

One of the things that Tarot can help us identify is where our strengths are working, where they may be blocked or, often with the best intentions, are being misused. This is often shown in the reversal of an element. I should stress from the start that I am not necessarily just referring to a card being upside down. Reversals of cards are not as simple as the opposite meaning of it right way up. I should also mention that I don't always pay attention to a physical reversal, it can sometimes be more the muting of the card's potential (a little like the two pedals on a piano, sustain and mute). This is where the "reading" of the cards is different from simply memorizing what a book says they mean. The messages of a card have a consistency but the inflection changes everything. Sometimes a reversal may be indicating a potential not yet realized or working on a more unconscious level. This can be a warning depending on what is present in the bigger picture.

When other people are described in a reading (through the court cards), I try to remember that it is not an absolute definition of the person. It is the aspects of that person in relation to the person being read. We might have a difficult conflict with someone who may or may not have those difficulties with others. This is where I always have to remember that a reading is subjective and also that the main focus has to be in identifying what the client can work with. If the other signals (both the cards as well as what I am receiving intuitively) indicate problems resting with someone else, we can only go so far in terms of identifying that other person's stuff. We cant drink medicine and make someone else get well. A very big part of what a reading SHOULD do is show us where our own elements are on track and where they are not.



It is also often, (but not always), the case that when a quality in someone else rankles us, it can be a good opportunity to look at something in our own character that is being triggered. When someone sticks their big oar in our plans, when someone has the audacity to ask "just who do you think you are", these are opportunities to see where our gifts or strengths might be getting the better of us. Same goes with those times when we find ourselves saying " I try and try and I keep getting the same result". These are the moments where we can wake up and recognize we are sometimes in that reversal ourselves. Usually something our ego thinks is terribly necessary needs to be let go of. We need to pause and see where we may be running up the down escalator.


One of the very big signs that an element is reversed is the lack of satisfaction. There is never enough. Classic examples of this are when our compassion becomes tragic martyrdom, constructiveness becomes negative competitiveness, protection becomes domineering tyranny and our values become manipulative greed. However people are rarely as simple as comic characters. What we often view as heroes or villains are usually people with mixed qualities (and motives). There are truly very few absolute "good guys" and "bad guys" out there.

Most recently the situation of Conrad Black could be easily described as King Of Pentacles reversed. This is someone who obviously has had an enormous amount of talent and charisma to have accomplished so much, but there aren't many who have sympathy for this guy right now.

In the instances of dealing with other people's reversals, we can learn from their mistakes, not play into their game and sometimes ask the question; "what is it I need to recognize and learn from this"? We can't always choose what life puts on our path, but a reading can show us what kind of place we are giving these things in our consciousness, what we are giving up our own worth to and where we often have the choice to engage or detach  and move on.