Welcome to your newest magickal life-hack, witchy lovelies! Today, I’m going to walk you through a queenly embodiment exercise designed to connect you to your power and resplendence. Get comfy, take a deep breath, and travel to your mind palace:
You sit on a golden throne, your glorious behind nestled deeply in a plush velvet cushion. You wear a robe or gown of your own design (take a moment to imagine it) and clutch a scepter that radiates a confident, peaceful power. On your head, a crown—it is lush and dripping in rubies and fresh flowers, it holds the power of crystals and herbs. Before you is your kingdom, equally beset by troubles and exalted by triumphs. It effulgently flows forever because of you. You are its creator, protector, nurturer, destroyer. You decide what’s best for it and proceed.
As a queen, you make the best decisions you can for your kingdom. You confront conflicts and issues as they arise and you address them accordingly. You take your kingdom into the future with your bravery, persistence, creativity, passion, dedication, and joie de vivre. Life is a challenge, and you are up to the task.
Take a moment to bask in the glow of your confidence—there is no one who can better lead your kingdom. There is no one more qualified, more fit. You are a badass mother who takes no shit and lets nothing lower her vibe. Nothing can stop you from serving the realm with grace, cleverness and beauty. So it is.
If you ever begin to doubt yourself, return to this exercise and visualize yourself in all your glory. If it resonates, replace “you” with “I” and read it aloud as some sort of mega-affirmation. You are bold and capable and fucking phenomenal, and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. Now, go forth and be the queenly beauty you are.
“What I most appreciate about being a WISE ONE is that, over time, the various approaches to magic and life that Jessi shares + her expansive attitude of personal exploration and empowerment have helped me feel more and more clear about who I am and how important it is to honor myself by doing what’s right for me, whatever that looks like.”
Creating strong boundaries does not make you a “bitch.”
I can’t tell you how many times this missive has been hurled at me when I’ve spoken up, stood up for myself, or changed the dynamic in a relationship.
And I know I’m not alone–one of the most common themes I’ve found through the work that I do is that of the beautiful human being coming into their power and the flack that inevitably follows.
People are threatened by change, by what they can’t predict or control. And if you’re in the midst of a personal revolution, you better believe there’s going to be some pushback–especially if you’ve long been taking a backseat so everyone else can shine.
I never thought I’d be one to fall into this trap, but I did. And setting strong boundaries was what got me out of it.
Once I got married and had my daughter (all within the same calendar year, no less), I was buried under the weight of expectations I never wanted or asked for. Suddenly, I was expected to turn up at every odd family function and to host my own. And I was expected to cook and clean for everyone and to give up my dreams and get practical (because being a mother is all the joy you need, of course). Suddenly, who I was before my daughter seemed to matter little–no one asked about my art or my work or my thoughts. They just asked about how I was adjusting to motherhood and inferred that now I’m a mother, I should surrender my art and the joy it brought me so I could shift my entire focus to building a family.
And everything in my body responded to these expectations with a resounding “Hell no.”
I didn’t care that it would be challenging and that everyone thought I was a fool to keep dreaming. I carved out time for myself to read, to paint, and to practice ritual regardless of whether or not the dishes needed to be done or my child needed tending to. Did I feel guilty? You bet I did–thirty years of conditioning is hard to break, but if I was going to retain who I was and keep my dreams alive, I was going to have to break it.
And break it I did–but not without a fight.
I believe that it’s your goddess-given right to be free to create, to innovate, to dream and to express yourself. But as it is with so many other things, this right often has to be tirelessly advocated and fought for. Sometimes it requires taking a stand and telling others that they’re just going to have to take care of themselves–something I go into in great detail in my latest video. Sometimes it requires you to take a step back so you can reconnect with your passions again. And sometimes it means saying no, even if others don’t want to hear it.
Fighting for your dream is a powerful, self-loving act. It does not make you a “bitch”–it makes you an evolved human being who knows they deserve to be honored and treated with respect.
We all know how trying the holidays can be—the constant stream of events, visits, and gatherings can leave us feeling completely exhausted. The pressures of gifting coupled with our unreasonably high expectations of how our holidays should play out often causes us to feel a hell of a lot less jolly than we’d like. Not to mention the family dynamics that replay themselves when everyone’s under the same roof—it’s enough to make a gal want to jump a ship to the Alaskan wilderness.
Because of this, it’s so important that we bring awareness to what we’re struggling with and serve up our feasts with an extra helping of self-care. I created this spread to help you navigate these choppy waters so you can spend more time focusing on the bounty that the holiday season brings: quality time spent with loved ones, the joy of giving as well as receiving, and the opportunity to connect with your inner delight!
Giving from the heart: how you can connect with your deepest reserves of joy and gratitude this season.
Gathering around the hearth: advice for working through the challenges and triggers of family dynamics.
Keeping up with the Jones’s: releasing unrealistic expectations and embracing the beauty of the present.
Changing things up: advice for shifting perspectives when you’re feeling low.
Speaking Up: how to stand in your power and to put your needs first.
Treat Yourself: Advice for self-love and self-care.
Remember: you’re allowed to withdraw when you need some time. You’re allowed to feel how you feel despite the pressure to feel any other way. Owning who you are and taking care of yourself is the first step to a great holiday season.
Modern tarot is a far cry from the parlor trick antics it was once associated with.
Gone are the turbans, the crystal balls, the sleight of hand. In their place are sage bundles, aura crystals, and the careful consideration of psychology, self-care, and social justice. It’s safe to say that today’s tarot is less about telling the future and more about unpacking the here and now, and for many, it’s a source of insight and guidance through life’s transitions, obstacles, and challenges.
Perhaps you’ve wondered if you should get a tarot reading–after all, Vogue, Bustle, and Marie Claire have all wondered the same. As a full-blown believer in the power of tarot to guide, inspire, and transform, I’m generally quick to recommend a reading (especially to those who’ve never had one before). However, there are some definitive signs and indications that getting a reading would be especially beneficial for you at the moment, and I wanted to share those in case you too were wondering if getting a tarot reading would be helpful!
1. Your Life is Kind of a Hot Mess
We’ve all been there–break-ups coincide with family issues coincide with work issues coincide with health issues. If you’re having a “when it rains, it pours” moment, tarot can be especially helpful when it comes to sorting things out and working things through. Depending on the degree of general chaos and disorder you’re experiencing, a few specialized readings may be more helpful than one generalized one. You could go about this in one of two ways–you can choose a few different readers to work with (readers often have specialities and strengths, and a bit of internet research can point you in the direction of a reader who’s uniquely qualified to address your concerns), or you can choose a single reader to tackle your question from multiple angles for continuity’s sake. Either way, the readings should help you to take stock of where you are and shed light on a way forward.
2. Your Self-Love Practice Needs a Re-haul
A conscious, continuous self-love and self-care practice promotes confidence, compassion, and wellbeing. Unfortunately, it’s often the first thing to go when our lives become hectic and demanding. If you’ve been ignoring your own needs in the service of others or if a recent event has taken a toll on your self-esteem, a reading designed to tune you in to your own magnificence and re-ignite your self-care practice may be the way to go. Depending on your reader, your session may include tips, journal prompts, and actionable advice to help you develop a self-care strategy that works for you. Book a Self-Love Reading.
3. Your Past is Coming Back to Haunt You
One of the most common requests I get from my clients is advice on how to move forward in light of the troubled events of a difficult past. Moving on is difficult for the best of us, and having someone in your corner to provide guidance and advice through that process can help you make some serious headway. If you’ve been tackling these issues alone and still feel like you’re treading water, a reading that addresses shadow work, generational healing, or emotional healing can be particularly useful. Tarot’s incredibly adept at bringing forth that which we’ve repressed or refused to acknowledge, and confronting these difficult truths can be instrumental to our ability to heal, forgive, and move forward. Book a Shadow Work Reading.
4. You’ve Exhausted Your Resources
When we’re facing especially difficult or challenging times, many of us turn to friends and family for guidance and support. Although calling on your support system is one of the best decisions you can make in times of crisis, it may not be able to help you in the way you need. Maybe you’re dealing with something that’s incredibly personal, and you’re not quite ready to let your people in on it yet. Maybe you’ve spoken with them about the issue, but you’ve left the conversation feeling even more confused and unsure. Maybe they are the problem. Regardless, an objective opinion could help you view your situation in a different light so you can consider and explore options you didn’t even know were available. Likewise, it could help you clarify what the best decision is for you without having to consider what your loved ones think is best.
5. Life is Awesome, and You Want it To Stay That Way
Although tarot is incredibly useful in times of crisis, it’s equally useful in times of success. Some of the most rewarding readings I’ve given were for clients who wanted to capitalize on a lucky streak or to ride their current momentum into the land of manifestation and dreams realized. It takes a lot of thought, effort, bravery, and perseverance to overcome the obstacles that stand between us and our goals, and some added clarity and insight (as well as some guidance and support) can help you maintain your strength and confidence as you go after what you want.
The decision of whether or not you should get a tarot reading is ultimately yours, as is the choice to act on the advice and insight it provides. If you’ve never had a reading and you’re curious, however, I’d say go for it–you may be surprised by how helpful and useful it can truly be.
I’ve been in major creatrix-mode lately. I can’t tell you exactly when the muse began whispering her generative goodness, but I can tell you that ideas are running free and wild in my mind 24/7. This is electrifying, of course, but it’s also frazzling–my thoughts are being pulled in so many directions that I’m finding it difficult to actually do anything. Frankly, I can’t seem to decide which ideas to act on and which to disregard.
This is the curse of inspiration–she gives you fifty blueprints, but leaves it up to you to whittle down your options and build the house. And if we refuse to make the necessary choices, we fail to bring our dreams into being. And that, as any artist knows, is simply not an option. So how do we choose which projects to pursue and which to abandon? How do we divine which efforts will come to fruition and which will fall flat?
As a witch and a tarot reader, I often turn to the elemental correspondences to help me make such decisions. Each element represents a cluster of traits, and when the diverse traits dance with one another, they work to illustrate aspects of the human experience. Balancing these elements is key to living a healthy, self-loving life. It’s also key to making wise, self-loving decisions. So without further ado, here’s a guide to consulting the elements to decide which work is worth it.
Fire is the element of action, swiftness, passion, and desire. When we feel a wave of electricity rush through us as we stumble upon a new and exciting idea, we’re connecting with fire (that “lightbulb” analogy exists for a reason). When we’re driven to action by the prospect of excitement, adventure, or achievement, fire is at the helm. Fire is the spark that inspires us, and it’s necessary to maintain that spark if we have any hope of completing an artistic undertaking. For this reason, it’s important to let your grander ideas simmer before you make any major investments (time, money, or otherwise).
Whenever I stumble upon a “grand scheme” idea, I often dabble with its each of its contingent parts to see if I can maintain interest over time. When I began my tarot business, for example, I dipped my toe into the social media sphere, seeing who did what and what was out there. I made a conscious effort not to get sucked into its vortex because a) I didn’t want to get burned out, and b) because I didn’t want to invest too much time and energy before I even knew which platform jived best with my unique interests and abilities. Likewise, I needed to dabble in blog-writing and video making and see if I was interested in any of those. It’s really important to determine if you absolutely loath a contingent part of your scheme before you’ve placed all of your eggs in one basket. And that brings me to my second element:
Earth is the “work” element, the element of manifestation. It represents the blood, sweat, and tears of a project–that which you must do in order to create something. In the dream realm, anything is possible. In the physical realm, however,there are physical limitations, and you must consider them if you’re ever going to bring your vision into being. Before you launch into constructing that earth ship, for example, you have to ask yourself whether or not you’re physically capable of the task. You have to consider how and where you can purchase materials. And you have to reference the zoning laws.
Earth is the element that I grapple with the most. The actual nuts and bolts of a job often elude me, and I underestimate how much I’m going to have to do in order to complete a task. This is artistic suicide–if you get halfway through a project before you discover that it’s physically impossible to complete it, you’ll be forced to abandon ship. The only way to prevent this is to brainstorm, outline, and plan before you even pick up your hammer. which brings us to our next element:
Air is the element of logic and intellect. We channel it when we give words to an idea and when we apply the process of analysis and logistics to a thought. When it comes to creation, air provides us with the language we need to describe our vision so others can share in its formation.
When we apply words and concepts to an idea, we make it possible to create a practical model to guide us through the process of creation. Ever tried to sew a dress without a pattern? Make a candle without knowledge of the boiling and flash points? Paint a portrait without a working understanding of perspective? When we consider these factors, we can determine whether or not a project is theoretically feasible before we get halfway through.
I consciously saved this element for last because it represents the cornerstone of any artistic work. Water is the element of emotion, and the extent to which we are emotionally invested in a work directly correlates to the possibility of it coming to fruition.
Personally speaking, I’ve never completed any creative project that I didn’t care about. NEVER. Work that I failed to connect with lacked meaning, and so I simply didn’t see the point in continuing on. Art is an expression of our unique humanity, of who we are. When we face obstacles, failures, and setbacks, it’s our love for our creation that carries us through. So before you set about manifesting an idea, ask yourself this question: do I love it enough to do everything I can to see it realized? If the answer is “yes”, it’s time to get started.
The pathway of healing is not a wild, untamed path. It is a manicured path, a watered path, a tended path. The sweet bloom of integration can only unfurl under certain conditions; as Miles of Sideways puts it, “Pinot is very temperamental. Only the most nurturing of growers can bring it into its fullest expression.” If the soil is barren and the ivy has strangled the yarrow and the birds have no seed to feed on, we won’t be sustained. The wild, untamed path is that of epiphany and revelation. The tended path is that of returning to wholeness.
I know this logically. I think most of us do. But to know it in our bones and to have the strength to trim back the vines and cut back the shade is harder to summon than a thought. It takes willpower, self-control, and dedication. It also takes a leap of faith.
As of today, I have gone a week without smoking cigarettes. This habit, so taboo in contemporary society and even more so in the witchy/metaphysical/new age community, was the vestige in a string of bad habits I’ve managed to break over the years. I felt shame over the fact that I smoked, but I smoked anyway. A dear friend’s mother died of lung cancer, and still I smoked. Neighbors would slam their windows shut in reaction to my morning smokestack behavior, but still, I smoked. I justified it based on the fact that I had rid myself of all other vices; indeed, that marriage and motherhood were largely incompatible with the word “vice”. As I spoke from my righteous soapbox, however, my convictions felt hollow. I knew that I was harming myself. I knew that my values and beliefs violently clashed with the habit, but I simply didn’t stop. I was the modern day St. Augustine; “give me chastity and continence, but not yet.”
But a week ago, it was time. How could I possibly dedicate an entire month to healing without considering the dire effects that smoking was having on my body? How could I ask others to bravely move through their suffering if I wasn’t willing to let go of my own self-harming behavior? Smoking hadn’t made sense for a long time, but I clung to it like a well-loved, ill-fitting jacket. I’d long outgrown it, and it was time to finally bite the bullet and move on.
I’ve had cravings. I’ve been irritable. I’m experiencing insomnia the likes of which I haven’t seen since I spent the summer of 2008 in Norway (ever wonder what it’s like to live and work in a country/season where it doesn’t get dark?) But my energy seems boundless. I’m happier, lighter. Everything seems clearer, somehow. And my muse has flown from her tower to perch comfortably on my shoulder, and oh, how happy I am that she’s here. Sometimes taking care of yourself means letting go of things you love because you know that you’ll be better off without them. Sometimes healing means trimming back the overgrowth to make room for a new, beautiful direction.
Every year, it’s the same–I wake up one morning, step outside, and just know that midsummer has arrived. The heat rises from the earth and the pavement, the mayflies hatch and glint in the sunlight, the tree-branches buckle beneath the weight of fully grown leaves, and the echo of drum circles heightens my focus like meditation chimes. I love to honor the season’s transitions, to wake up to the shifting of the elements and resonate with the world as it is in the moment. In the summer, this is effortless for me. I feel at home in the cotton caress of shifts and scarves, delight in the way the breeze lovingly plays with my skirt hem and tickles my calves. The well-being and balance I feel is unparalleled, and I spread my arms wide and drink it in while it lasts.
Summer is the season of love, of suspended inhibitions, of ersatz gatherings and weekend bazaars. This energy practically begs us to open ourselves, to set aside duty and expectation and seize the opportunity for universal communication. I find my rituals become more spontaneous and my tarot readings more intuitive–it’s almost as if the collective unconscious is speaking through me, offering primal and cosmic insights that speak to the wellspring of human consciousness itself. Gorgeous literary quotations worm their way into my mind and present themselves through my interpretations, connecting me to my deep love of literature and resurrecting the ghosts of the novel prophets of yore. Their messages are broad and profound like the gentle rolling of placid seas, and just as welcome.
The core is communion and compassion. Self-love. Channelling the wave of emotion outwards like a beacon of hope. Here and abroad, there is a strong opposition to opening, to accepting, to being in peace with the world as it is and striving to create safe spaces for everyone. I imagine an open heart as a giant bubble that expands and welcomes the world in its embrace. I imagine, and as a witch, I believe my imaginings hold weight. They will not stop the hate. They will not stop the suffering. But they will not feed into it. They will not perpetuate it. And so I whisper my wishes of love into the soft summer breeze and hope that they fall on the ears of someone who needs it the most. I hope, and I dream.
Anyone who travels in the circles of my twitter sphere knows that I’m a fan of the two card spread. The simplicity of the one-card is almost too simple–done as a daily draw, it tends to reinforce traditional interpretations which, if you’re starting out and still getting the hang of meanings, is great. If you’ve got that madness on lock, however, the two-card spread can be an accessible (and extremely effective) method of exploring the intuitive aspect of tarot; in other words, it introduces relationships that expand on our understanding of the cards and how spreads function holistically. The best readings I’ve given (or received, for that matter) have paid close attention to the nature of these relationships, creating an arc and a narrative that lays the situation out in a way that makes sense. When we allow the cards to speak to one another, we make room for revelations in ourselves and our querent, allowing for greater clarity and catharsis. This experience, I believe, constitutes the “mystical” aspect of tarot–it’s almost as if we’ve tapped into some greater truth, some pure and holy message that our querent was meant to receive.
Since I post a daily two-card draw to Twitter, I’m limited in my interpretation (140 characters, to be precise). At first, I viewed this as a potential roadblock to the quality of the readings I would give. As I went ahead with the project, however, I realized that the text limitation was unexpectedly expansive–if I was going to do this in a way that resonated, I was going to have to dip into my poetic arsenal and address these things macrocosmically. Instead of truncating the standard interpretation of the cards and crushing them together (which you still really don’t have space for), I would have to address how the cards played off of one another and attempt to express that dynamic in a pithy, wide-ranging way. For example, here are the cards that I pulled for this morning’s spread:
The Seven of Swords is indicative of theft and deception, whether subjectively or objectively. Temperance speaks to the need to maintain a fluid balance in the various areas of our lives, the need to constantly consider the whole rather than becoming fixated on certain parts. A general reading that only mildly considers the relationship between these cards may go a little something like this: “Beware the stranger who threatens to subvert your achievements. Even if you discover the culprit, exercise restraint in your reaction.” It’s simple, to the point, and it certainly touches on the meanings of both cards. The connection between them, however, seems disjointed: treating the “culprit” justly doesn’t explore why you’re being deceived in the first place.
Here’s the interpretation that I actually posted: “Never take more than you need. When you make use of something, you deny others the chance to. Make it count.” It doesn’t speak to the meanings of the cards specifically; rather, it answers these questions: what do deception and temperance have in common? How does the notion of temperance relate to acts of deception? Why did the figure in the Seven of Swords leave two swords behind? What does temperance mean when it’s applied macrocosmically; in other words, how does temperance function in the societal and natural world?
When I first saw these cards, I recognized in the imagery that one spoke of balance while the other spoke of imbalance; five swords were taken while two were left behind. This suggested that this pair was at odds, and I’d need to offer a bit of “guidance” to unite them. The theft depicted in the Seven of Swords sparked me to think of resources, and how the figure was almost weighed down by how much he had seized. I looked back at the Temperance card and saw it as depicting the perfect balance of resources. Then I took it to a macro place and considered the ethical and environmental implications of the unequal distribution of resources and the general cycle of environmental pillaging we seem to be stuck in. I was reminded of the manner in which tribes of indigenous Americans approached the use of buffalo–only taking what they needed and using every single bit so that more would be left over for future hunts and future generations. Thus, my interpretation was born.
This is certainly a lengthy process, and very much a dynamic one. Had I drawn these cards on another day, my interpretation may have been different, but it still would have addressed the interplay between the two. Performing this exercise trains our minds to consider how the archetypes speak to one another, therefore increasing our associations and our ability to “think on our feet” when it comes to interpreting spreads. None of these cards exist in a vacuum; they are presented as a deck precisely because there are unifying elements between each and every one of them. It is our responsibility as tarot practitioners to honor these relationships and incorporate them into our readings so that our querent can understand their obstacles in a holistic way. Decisions don’t exist in vacuums either; we only make empowered ones when we’ve considered the various factors that inform and contribute to them, and the more information we have, the better the chances that we’ll make decisions that truly resonate with what we want and need.
In his book, Kitchen Confidential, chef/author/travelogue god Anthony Bourdain reveals in shocking detail the twenty-five years he spent as a chef and cook in the “culinary underbelly” of the restaurant industry. As one would expect, there are palatable tales: his incomparable dining experience at The French Laundry, for one. But Kitchen Confidential is not a book about food. It is a look into Bourdain’s hero’s journey, a catalogue of his descent into drugs and obscurity and his re-emergence as the head chef of the respected Les Halles restaurant. And as much as I enjoyed his painstakingly crafted descriptions of 15 course tasting menus (I worked for the inimitable Marc Vetri for a time, and by the grace of his conjuring hands was able to dine on food of similar quality), his book ranks among my favorites for the inclusion of a single chapter: “The Wilderness Years”. In these pages, Bourdain admits to seeking out the highest paying gig so he could feed whatever habit he was gripped by at the time. His decline is mirrored by the descending quality of the restaurants in which he works and by the slow extinguishment of his passion for food, ending in a shitty diner and a shittier walk-up apartment and the feeling that there must be more to life than feeding the beast of desire and addiction.
For Bourdain, there was more. Much more. And it was because of a simple shift in his decade-skewed paradigm: he began to believe. To believe that more was possible for him. To believe that he could “choose life”, as Rents of Trainspotting so aptly put it. To believe that life was a choice, and not a tide that tugs us in and out at its whim. The moment he acquired this belief, he changed his direction. He became The Magician incarnate.
When I first read “The Wilderness Years”, I recognized them as my own. I’d been toiling away as a server for the better part of five years, buckling beneath the pressure of short term deadlines and trays heaping with entrees of varying quality. The pressure was enough to break anyone’s spirit and sanity, but we found ways to cope: cigarettes, booze, and drugs, namely. At the end of a body-warping shift, we’d shed our uniforms in cold, dark hallways and emerge in the trendy street clothes our tips bought us and beeline it to the nearest watering hole. When I worked at Amis, that bar was Dirty Frank’s, a dive that’s somehow stayed a dive despite the press it’s gotten over the years. We drank pickle-backs: shots of whiskey followed by shots of pickle-juice. And we drank beers on top of that, but by the end of the night, no one was quite sure what or how much we had consumed. Sometimes the evening ended in someone’s apartment amidst a haze of pot smoke. Other times, it ended with a drunken stumble down 13th Street and a sloppily hailed cab. I’d picked up right where I’d left off in Edinburgh, but this time, I had no straight, studious days to balance me out. Somehow I always got home, but it wasn’t always pretty; one night I walked halfway across the city with sleet slicing at my face because I simply couldn’t function well enough to tell the cab driver where I needed to go. The map was in my blood by that point, so I trudged on, knowing that I’d find my way to my doorstep.
One night, I couldn’t find my way home. The path I walked had deviated so far from the map of my mind that I traveled the streets like a shadow. I wasn’t plagued by darkness; I was darkness. And in that moment of pure and utter nothingness, the world was a microscopic point and an infinitesimal expanse all at once. When the ego is stripped down to its bare essentials, identity is precarious, but possibility is endless. It is from this fiery pit that the phoenix emerges, that The Magician is born.
The Magician is the embodiment of possibility, of new life that has found its agency. When we distance ourselves from our persona, we are no longer governed by it; the expectations we have of ourselves drift away, allowing our true gifts and talents to work through us and manifest in the world. We begin to believe in ourselves, in the primordial concoction of air, fire, earth, and water that dictates the true nature of our souls. Because The Magician has all of the tools at his disposal, he can shape the world as he sees fit. And before he could make use of those tools, he first had to crack through the crust of reality.
A month after I became a free agent, I left the restaurant industry. I look back on the years I spent there with mixed emotions, but I feel that I was fated to make that deviation. Without debasing myself so, I may never have shed enough ego to realize how free we truly are, how our view of the universe shifts the universe and shifts us. Though my departure happened three years ago, I feel as if I’m finally discovering the usefulness of the Magician’s tools, and with any luck, I’ll wield them with as much power and confidence as that glorious archetype.
In 2005, I got on a plane and flew to Scotland. The cabin was cramped and the pressure made me achy; I flooded my senses with artists and playlists, but the songs (dear friends, now) couldn’t distract me from the feeling that I’d left a limb in my homeland. I’d worked my ass off to arrive at this very moment, had sacrificed hours to writing and thinking and strategizing, and now that the fruits of my labour were comfortably nestled in my lap, I was afraid.
I passed the first week mind out of body. As the haze subsided, I began to remember: I stopped at a pizza shop after I handed my fat scholarship check to the bursar. I gazed through the storefront window as I carelessly gnawed on my food, trying to process the curvature of Edinburgh’s centuries old buildings as something real. I went to the pub with my housemates that first night, legally guzzled Stella Artois as a twenty year-old and kissed a boy I didn’t know to make me feel like I existed. The phone lines gave me trouble, so I didn’t speak with family. I mingled with the other foreign transplants, traded stories and cultures, but never touched on what I was missing.
I drank more. Woke up reeling. Looked in the mirror and hardly knew myself. I imagined the deaths of my grandparents and wondered if I’d be able to get back for their funerals. I threw myself into the “uni” culture: studious and straight by day, wild and club-hopping by night. I exposed myself to the city and finally saw what I was; I drank from the two cups before me. Yet, the ties of home tightened and slackened like the ropes of a boat docked at harbor: as soon as I surrendered to the bob of the tide, the anchors of guilt and uncertainty jolted me back. I turned to the tipped cups, became lost in the patterns of their spilled contents. How was my family doing without me? Would I be able to readjust when I got back? Were my unclosed chapters being written by someone else?
The Five of Cups illustrates our fractured heart: unable to move on from the ties of the past, unable to face the offerings of our futures. This strange limbo cloaks us in the darkness of disassociation; our unresolved issues flood into our present consciousness, clouding our vision and influencing our current experience. Meanwhile, we lose the plot of our stories. We keep reading and re-reading the same chapter, never getting to the end of the book.
When the Five of Cups appears, it is a call to face the shadow aspect head on. It is so easy drift through shadow like an aimless traveler looking to an overcast sky for guidance. While looking up, our shadows pass through us unseen, triggering our sorrows in the process. We must look straight ahead and recognize them, and do the necessary work to find the messages they seek to convey to us.
When I returned from Scotland, I found that I’d left half of myself overseas. I’d unknowingly set down another anchor, and the knots I’d tied were numerous and tight. It took years of facing shadows to loosen them, and in the process, I loosened many other ties as well. I feel that the human mind naturally drifts between past and future while rarely taking the time to focus on the present. The Five of Cups warns us against this condition, and offers us the courage to read on, come what may, and finish the book.