"We teach best what we need to know."
I don't think of myself as prominent or expect to see my name in lights. My photo won't appear on a cereal box because I write Tarot books. Most of the time I feel like a working stiff, shuffling between the coffee maker and computer, with wrinkled clothes and messy hair. But as a published author, I have a type of celebrity. Because of this, and from some of the letters I have received, I sense that a few readers see me as "different" from the average person.
Enter September 11, 2001.
I am not different.
I watched the horrific events unfold on TV and questioned my worth as a writer.
Over the next few weeks, I couldn't concentrate and I stopped writing. What possible value did my Tarot books have? Did anything make sense anymore? As I learned of the death, destruction, and real acts of heroism, writing about a deck of cards felt trivial, even absurd.
Three weeks after the attacks, my longtime therapist was killed on my birthday. Kathleen had been an important part of my life, and I had dedicated my second book to her. My sounding board and emotional support were gone. The national tragedy intensified my personal loss. Depression overcame me. A single phrase began running through my mind: "Use the Tarot, Christine." I didn't feel like working with the Tarot. How could a pack of cards help me understand the incomprehensible?
Tarot for All Seasons was due out at the beginning of November and I had just received my author copies. Who cared? I certainly didn't. What possible value did my silly little Tarot book have now? I couldn't believe that at one time I thought this stuff was important. I halfheartedly thumbed through it. The section on Yule caught my eye:
"Yule is the season for peace, returning hope, and restoring balance." (Page 60) Yes, I needed peace. "Use the Solstice Light Spread to strengthen your hopes for the future. Plan, make wishes, raise your spirits—knowing that the creative fire of spring is promised to you at Yule." (Page 61) Again the thought flashed: "Use the Tarot, Christine." Again I resisted.
I went to the self-help section of a local bookstore. Talk about irony: The writer of self-help books was looking for someone else's self-help recipe. I picked up a little meditation book. I don't remember its title or name. The instructions informed me to open the book at random while concentrating on my concerns. I would find the answer to my problem on the page I chose.
Oh, why not try? I didn't have anything to lose. I concentrated on my feelings of loss: loss of feeling safe, loss of worth as a writer, loss of my therapist's wise counsel. I randomly opened the book and the page had only one sentence on it: "Do the thing and the power will come."
The hair on the back of my neck stood up. When I was in the revolving door of alcoholism and drug addiction almost twenty years ago, I promised myself that when I felt better, I would stop using. It wasn't until I was well into sobriety that I finally understood I had to stop using first in order to feel better. "Do the thing and the power will come." Once more the phrase flashed: "Use the Tarot." This time I listened.
I have never been comfortable using the cards as a fortune-telling device for myself. I can't be objective and my emotions skew perception. When I want a divinatory reading, I get someone else to do it. But, I have always read the cards myself for insight, and insight was needed now.
I went home and looked at the Yule layout again. I felt so isolated in my grief. Was there really a "grand plan?" I wasn't sure the Tarot would help, but I needed to "do the thing" despite my doubts. Change doesn't occur overnight. I did the layout in October, but the change in behavior took place over the next several weeks.
Using the entire deck, I shuffled and laid out the cards according to the picture on page sixty-two:
Position 1—Returning hope: What are you hopeful about? If this card feels negative to you, it depicts painful issues that will be resolved or healed in the coming year. Remember, all cards show a spectrum of life, from happy to sad, and offer opportunities to learn wisdom.
My card: The Four of Cups. Depression, confusion, hurt, and a loss of idealism; the meaning of the card summarized my feelings. It was time to take my own advice: all cards are chances to grow. The promise of the Four of Cups is a more realistic outlook if I can unravel my confusion. In the position of returning hope, could it mean that I would heal in the coming year? How was I supposed to do that now? Kathleen was dead.
Position 2—Making wishes: What does your heart desire? Again, if you don't like the card it is because it shows an uncomfortable situation that you wish were different.
My card: The Tower. Destruction. My deck showed people falling out of a fiery tower, a graphic representation of September 11. While the cliff was not in flames, my therapist fell to her death. My "heart's desire" was that neither September 11 nor Kathleen's death had ever happened.
It was true: The Tower symbolized uncomfortable situations that I wished were different, but "wishin' don't make it so." For the first time since the terrorist attacks, I understood that I had fallen apart when things changed. I was concentrating on what I had lost. The number of The Tower card is 16, which can be reduced to the single-digit number seven (1 + 6 = 7). Seven is the number of inner work. The hope of The Tower is finding inner strength and spiritual meaning in adversity.
In Tarot for the Healing Heart I wrote of The Tower, "Meditation will help you find meaning in tragedy and loss. Soul searching will provide you with answers to the unanswerable" (Page 142). Later, while meditating, I realized I had been focusing on the destruction. But the Tower of Destruction is also the Stroke of Liberation. The people of New York had shown that great good could arise from great evil.
It hit me: Living my life to the best of my ability, while imperfect, is the greatest memorial I can give my therapist. Kathleen would not want me to crumble and fall. I am a writer. My job is to continue writing. "Do the thing and the power will come."
Position 3—Seeking visions: What is your vision for the future? Where do you see yourself next year at this time?
My card: The Queen of Swords. I have always liked this card because to me she represents the queen of the written word. She has lived and loved and lost—and lived to love again. Her spiritual depth is born of struggle. This is part of what she, as the Teacher, can show us. It was time to reevaluate my ideals. I had always felt safe in my own country. My American naiveté died on September 11, but a more clear-eyed view of the world was taking its place.
I base my writing on personal struggles. I believe it takes guts to live on this planet and I try to pass along what I've learned. When I know something to be true for me, I write about it (even if I am unable to practice my ideals all of the time). I am nobody's guru, just a fellow traveler on a tough road. I was hurting and it was time to tend my wounds. I needed to let myself off the hook for being human.
With the Queen of Swords in my reading, I knew that writing would help me understand the way my mind works. Around this time, I was asked to contribute an article for the Llewellyn Journal. At first I declined. I didn't feel like writing my own name, and I couldn't think of a topic. My heart wasn't in it, but the Queen told me to try. I decided to act "as if" I were a writer and see what happened. "Do the thing and the power will come."
Position 4—Sense of balance: What will restore balance to your life? If the card feels negative, it is because it shows an area of your life that is out of balance and where you need to focus your efforts to restore order.
My card: The Empress. This lady knows how to take care of herself, a skill that had eluded me most of my life. The Empress told me that I could restore a sense of balance if I took the time to nourish myself. I hadn't been eating well and I spent too much time watching the blaring bad news on cable TV. I stopped reading books and answering reader mail. Autumn is my favorite season, and I was letting the beautiful weather pass me by. Even though I am in a community concert band, I stopped playing my horn at home, something that usually brought me comfort.
The Empress reminded me that I needed to take care of my mind, body, and creative soul. I didn't feel like it, but I limited my TV news time and replaced the sofa marathons with walks outdoors. I made a conscious effort to eat a balanced diet. I revised my web site and started reading again. I began practicing my horn and a funny thing happened: music brought me solace. I was regaining a sense of balance. "Do the thing and the power will come."
Position 5—Goodwill towards others: Your expression of love. Yule is the season of giving. In what way can you open your heart to others? If this card makes you uncomfortable, it indicates a situation in need of repair, forgiveness or making amends. Note if card four, your sense of balance, is related to card five, goodwill towards others.
My card: The Ten of Pentacles, a card of lasting values. Did anything have lasting value anymore? As I looked at the card, I remembered that ten is the number of starting over at a higher cycle. No, life was never going to be the same, but the ten tells me that life is a cycle of starting, completing, and starting over, with all its attending joys and sorrows.
The key to my future stability was to take an interest in the larger community today. How could I do that? I added a patriotic link to my web site, contributed an article about September 11 to a web magazine, and started answering reader mail, but the gestures felt too small.
I do not believe that we can "pay back" our elders, but I do believe we have a responsibility to "pay forward" to the next generation. I came very close to giving up because I was stuck in despair. I have decided that the way I "pay forward" is by continuing to share my experience, strength and hope with others through writing. The Ten of Pentacles tells me that what I value has lasting value to others, and it is my responsibility to continue giving of myself as long as I live.
I think that in this reading there is a relationship between card four, sense of balance, (The Empress), and card five, goodwill to others, (The Ten of Pentacles). The ten tells me that healing is a process. I can emerge healed from one crisis, but it doesn't mean I have completed my soul work. It is through the ongoing conscious awareness of personal pain and acts of self-healing that I emerge with the qualities of a healer. The Empress reminds me that I cannot nourish others until I nourish myself. "Do the thing and the power will come."
Position 6—Advice: The next step. Planning. The action card. What can you do on the mundane level during the winter months to make your hopes and wishes real? Look at cards 1-5: your hopes, wishes, vision for the future, sense of balance and goodwill towards others. What story do they weave together to advise you on your next course of action?
My card: The Nine of Pentacles. This is my favorite Tarot card. It appears in most of my readings. I am fortunate to be able to write full-time and I am grateful for it. I truly understand how lucky I am, and I don't take my circumstances for granted. I know how transient abundance can be, because I come from poverty.
The nine is in the future position and asks me what concrete actions I can take on my own behalf during the winter months. Writing is a solitary activity. The Nine of Pentacles represents someone who works alone by choice for the good of all, yet despite her independence, she isn't satisfied.
This nine is also a card of self-esteem. My self-esteem plummeted during September. The Nine of Pentacles tells me that only I can find meaning in my life. No one else can do it for me. It is my responsibility to use my freedom well, and continue the healing process in whatever forms it takes, however long it takes. No claps of thunder, just steady progress in the right direction. In Tarot Shadow Work, I call it "taking loving actions in your own behalf." The suit of Pentacles reminds me that the mysterious journey of healing requires patience. "Do the thing and the power will come.
All Tarot cards represent an opportunity to learn about the self and mine are no different. Taken together, my cards weave a story of returning hope, despite the gloomy forces around me. As my wounded psyche heals, my outlook becomes more realistic, (The Four of Cups). If I take the time for soul-searching, I can find answers to the unanswerable, (The Tower). For me, writing holds the key to understanding myself better, and my wisdom is borne of struggle, (The Queen of Swords). The Queen promises that my struggles will bring spiritual depth.
I had stopped taking care of myself. I can restore balance to my life if I take the time to nourish my body, mind, and soul (The Empress). In so doing, I will have the energy to "pay forward" to the next generation of Tarot lovers. The Nine of Pentacles tells me it is my responsibility to use my freedom wisely, and find personal meaning in my work.
I believe that if I take the time to look for them, miracles occur in the details of living. When I was at the abyss of self-doubt, Donald Michael Kraig sent me a Llewellyn Journal article called "Healing with Tarot" by Claudia Ravenscraft. Ms. Ravenscraft wrote that Tarot for the Healing Heart helped her grieve the death of her mother. I can't think of a greater compliment to a writer. I helped her and she helped me, but I would never have known if she hadn't taken the time to write it. Thank you, Claudia.
On page 60 of Tarot for All Seasons I write: "Place the Star, No. 17, on your altar as a sign of returning hope." For centuries, gazing at the star-studded heavens has evoked secret dreams and glimpses of infinity. Stars are lights that guide navigators in the night. The star is a symbol of the spirit that shines despite the surrounding forces of darkness. Stars are part of the natural order of life. As I placed the Star Tarot card on my altar, I realized my gift from the star is more than returning hope: it is an awareness of myself as part of the pattern of the whole sky. I finally understood I wasn't alone. "Do the thing and the power will come."