Wow. So the inspiration for this next exploration of archetypal realities just became pretty obvious:
THE DEVIL (THE SHADOW)
In the Devil, we may be under the spell of a lie, and in denial that what we believe is an illusion. We are also in the dark about the negative consequences of our ignorance.
As a culture, we may be caught up in a collective delusion that perpetuates an extremely narrow view that is overly focused on superficial appearances, with a strictly materialist, reductive, and transactional approach to existence.
This card signifies all forms of bondage: obsessive thinking, habitual dependencies, addictions, compulsions, entrenched patterns, or clinging to toxic relationships.
Perhaps we blindly accept a deeply troubling situation; we do not even notice how loose the chains that bind us truly are, or have become so accustomed to them that we do not protest our own oppression. We allow our obsessions or desires to control us.
As a result of this self-enslavement, we may become hopeless and fall into despair, trapped in cycles of suffering that perpetuate our sense of a bleak future. We may also feel great shame about our own desires, stuck in self-limiting beliefs.
In its Shadow aspect, we have repressed something we find unacceptable-our greatest fears, our deepest desires, our hidden biases, the traumas we are unable to face. We may then project this material onto others, where we can distance ourselves from our inner demons.
Collectively, this dark side of the unconscious gets projected onto the Other--all out-groups and outsiders--as psychic defense against what feels intolerable.
The potent medicine of this archetype is to compel us to confront our personal and collective shadow material without shame; to take our own and humanity’s positive and negative aspects as a whole.
We are held responsible for dispelling our own illusions; to begin the process of removing the loose chains that do not actually bind us, so that we may move towards wholeness. We are asked to examine our assumptions carefully; to crack open the deeply embedded belief systems that protect an entrenched problem.
This attempt to break free from the misery of our bondage begins a process of liberation that is essential for our own personal and collective freedom, and allows us access to greater energy from our deepest selves that will be necessary for the next phase of our struggle.
We’ve all struggled in our own ways to adjust to the unfolding global crisis. Though the severity of the impact varies widely, humanity is generally contending with not only the tangible disruptions in every domain of our lives, but also the loneliness and isolation in being cut off from nourishing social contact and our various communities. We may be in intense grief after losing a loved one; we may be overworked or furloughed, bored or overwhelmed, checked out or completely frazzled, anxious or depressed.
We are trying our best to cope, and coping can look a lot of different ways.
This week, I felt inspired to share with you one of my favorite cards (that lodestar for so many therapists!):
In Strength, we are presented with a delightful alchemy that combines the opened heart--filled with compassion, patience, kindness, and acceptance--with great courage, fortitude, and quiet determination.
The tender communion between the two beings pictured on this card portrays an inner relationship, in which we cultivate a compassionate stance towards ourselves.
Our cultural programming often encourages forceful self-control; we criticize, repress, and order ourselves around like tiny tyrants. However, we may learn that we get better results from soft control, gentle guidance, and tempering our self-discipline with benevolence.
In Strength, we are invited to gently, lovingly tame our inner beast. We turn to face our personal demons, examine our own dark sides, and engage in deep shadow work, opening to what we most deeply dislike in ourselves.
It takes momentous bravery to look with a soft, yet unflinching eye at our unrestrained impulses and instincts, and so this image is a true portrait of integrity and resolve.
Strength is the domain of distress tolerance and emotional regulation; of developing inner coping resources that help us endure when times are tough.
This is the face of equanimity and composure, dealing calmly with our frustrations by allowing them to exist, without letting them drive our actions.
If we are working on managing our alcohol use, this is the moment where we open to understanding our urges to drink, rather than judging or denying them.
This archetype encourages us to face our fears, and to endure life’s challenges with perseverance and tenacity.
It also suggests that we bring similar generosity to difficult others, knowing that many of our reactions may be grounded in avoidance of the qualities we disavow in ourselves, and that firm boundaries can be set with tolerance and kindness.
And finally--perhaps most pertinent to our current moment--Strength reminds us to not despair or give up, calling upon the deep wellspring of endurance that we will need on the road ahead.
Much love, compassion, and Strength to you all!
(Card pictured here is from the Universal Waite, a recolored version of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck.)
This week seemed to evoke less of those massive-tectonic-plate-shifts in the collective, and hence had more of a Minor Arcana feel for me.
A friend wisely described this moment as “the calm between two storms,” which inspired this offering:
SIX OF SWORDS
This card depicts moments where we are coping with or recovering from a painful ordeal, while still carrying the burden of difficult memories or past baggage. We feel numb, disengaged, and listless; we may be functional, but not exactly thriving.
The image here is of somber passage through a troubled time; a transition between two shores. We are not entirely out of the choppy, rough currents yet, but may be able to see calmer waters ahead.
There is some hope that the difficult choices we’ve had to make, and the hardships we’ve endured, will eventually lead to a better path, even if there are no overnight solutions or immediate transformations available. In any case, we are leaving behind what is familiar, and so we may notice a sense of loss, even as we begin to pick up the pieces.
Whenever multiple figures appear on a card, we are prompted to think about which ones we identify with most. Are we the huddled, mourning passengers, unable to see through the dense thicket of troubled thoughts obscuring our view? Are we steering the boat, using our elevated perspective to assist others through this rite of passage?
Or is this--as parts-oriented therapists like myself so love as an interpretation--a portrayal of an inner state, wherein we are both the helper and the one needing support? Perhaps there is a part of us that is contracted with sadness, unable to step back from the ruminative cycles of worry, regret, and anguish; there may also be a part of us that has some clarity, and can help steer our ship through the agitated waves.
This image has a quiet heaviness to it, and yet also invites us to begin getting some distance from a troubled past; to think about what to keep and what to leave behind. It also hints that we may want to reach out for help as we sort through this, whether that means venting to a friend, entering therapy, or simply calling upon the sturdier, wiser parts of ourselves for guidance.
Jessica Katzman, Psy.D.
I'm a psychologist with a private practice in San Francisco's Castro District. I'm interested in harm reduction, LGBTQQIAAP issues, psychedelic integration, social justice conversations, size acceptance, and any intersections of the above. I welcome your comments!
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