There is so. much. HAPPENING in our world right now that it took time to pull back and suss out some of the larger themes around us. I was surprised (again!) to feel myself leaning towards exploring this archetypal pattern:
JUDGEMENT / AWAKENING
Note: many contemporary decks, like the middle one pictured above, have given this card a much-welcomed image reboot and/or new title, since the word “judgement” has such negative connotations to modern ears. Additionally, references to organized Christianity can be especially troublesome to those healing from religious trauma, and so it may be helpful to recast this pattern as one of “Awakening."
“Awakening” can refer to the very moment that we begin to see reality in a brand new light, and so its arrival suggests big epiphanies, realizations, and revelations.
This card may also show up for us when we are reaching the end of one particular cycle or life phase. As our current chapter comes to a close, we are encouraged look back and reflect on the journey thus far. Where did this path take us? How have we changed? What have we learned?
(Those doing 12-Step work get the opportunity to “take a full inventory” as part of the 4th-Step; we may be drawn to borrow from this tradition for our own conscious self-examination and appraisal of our progress.)
The figures rising from their coffins--which many now find distastefully grim and zombie-like--are thought to symbolize the process in which all of our old stories surface, our hidden baggage is revealed, and our secrets emerge into the light of day.
Once all our skeletons are out of the closet, we are then fully able to process memories and question old beliefs. We recognize that we need to acknowledge and own our historical burdens, taking full accountability as we move forward into the next phase of our lives.
This transitional phase, where we begin to emerge from stagnancy, recalls the butterfly freeing itself from its once-safe, now-limiting cocoon. On the other side, we sense a potential rebirth, a second chance, a fresh start. We hope to atone for the errors of our past and feel the relief that comes when the whole truth is known.
This card reminds us that ONLY once we are able to fully come to terms with the past, are we then able to move beyond it.
Yet another perspective on this archetype is the experience of hearing a calling, whether that shows up as an inner conviction to align with a newly felt purpose, or a recognition of a true vocation.
This wake-up call (loud trumpet! so rude!) inspires us to take a new direction towards a more meaningful existence; to make a difference with the time we've been given on this planet.
We may find ourselves contracting here around our deep fear of the unknown, our shame over past actions, or the terror of contemplating a true day of reckoning, and so we must now remind each other how to access the courage we found in Strength, the hope we found in the Star, and the willing surrender and equanimity we found in the Hanged One.
In the end, I refer back to the wisdom of Rachel Pollack, who notes "the person has already changed; the old situations, the old self, have already died. It is simply a matter of recognizing it... [otherwise] the person remains standing in the grave. [This card] implies that the reality of life has changed. The only choice is to follow." (78 Degrees of Wisdom)
Honestly, I did not expect to have this archetypal pattern show up so soon into our current situation, but still felt the emergence of...
Here is where the particular order of the Major Arcana becomes supremely important: in isolation, it’s easy to give The Star a wholly positive spin, such as “hope” or “inner peace.”
However, when taken in context as the card that immediately follows The Towe r, its unique meaning begins to take shape.
You may recall that The Tower brings--that’s right--violent upheaval as our established structures collapse and rigid belief structures are disrupted. The sudden onset and rapid rate of change can be scary, painful, and challenging (especially for those who have benefited for so long from those structures).
But here is the payoff of that painful phase, the true gift that Tower medicine brings:
On the other side of this dramatic shattering lies the clarity and inspiration that points us in a new direction.
So the more nuanced reading of this card is about the calm after the storm, the healing that begins with a crisis, the distant light at the end of the tunnel, and most importantly, Hope In The Dark.
When our personal or collective towers fall, even as we sit amid the rubble and settling dust, we may now notice the newly revealed night sky above.
This larger perspective can bring a fresh burst of motivation and inspiration, which may sustain us on the path ahead.
The Star encourages us to pause here to make contact with our own depths, to replenish ourselves by finding the still point at the center of our storm, to tap into our inner reservoir of strength.
We recall that long before apps and printed maps, we used the constellations to navigate through the world. We may now be inspired to forge a new path, seeing the way ahead by following a north star.
An important note: hope is necessary and yet not sufficient; this is a BEGINNING point, not a final destination. Such faith encourages us to persevere in our toughest moments, and without it, we’d never get started.
However, we MUST harness this newly emerging optimistic note to ongoing positive action.
Rebuilding a better world takes BOTH our ability to dream big, to believe that more is possible, as well as devotion to the hard work of developing practical solutions.
The tragic events of this week (and, frankly, of every week under our current regime) bring awareness to the important principle of…
Justice often appears when issues of fairness and ethics dominate a situation. Its presence signifies that we are now called to determine right action, make equitable decisions, and take responsibility in addressing the injustice we see in our world.
In the Major Arcana, Justice is the card that follows the Wheel of Fortune (to be discussed another week); this progression has some philosophical significance.
The Wheel refers to the larger forces of the universe that lie outside our control, but Justice alludes to how our current situation is a direct result of both these uncontrollable forces, AND how we respond to such external events.
In other words, this is the universal principle of karma--which is, just simply, recognizing cause and effect, or how our actions shape our outcomes and future selves:
“It simply means that, like it or not, whatever you do, whatever you experience, contributes to the development of your personality. Life demands that you respond to every event. Not a moral requirement, just a fact of existence.” (Rachel Pollack, 78 Degrees of Wisdom)
When we are able to honestly face the truth about our past choices--and the underlying beliefs that shaped them--this actively engages us in the co-creation of the universe we share with all other beings, and provides more clarity in how we would like to show up for them (and, thus, ourselves).
When applied to our larger social world, this card encourages us to speak up about both our rights and the rights of others; to be aware of and work to address address existing power imbalances.
As we recognize our own domains of privilege, we can consciously use that power to elevate others. We are urged not to meet this awareness with guilt, but to engage our humility and connect with compassion. We can channel our anger productively into activism, advocacy, art, and mutual aid organizations.
And when we see the places that we, ourselves, face injustice, this card reminds us that our strength and courage can sustain our momentum, and encourages us to rise, reclaim space, and work to determine our own fate.
May justice be served.
There was a stuck, stagnant quality to the collective ennui this week that brought to mind this image:
FOUR OF CUPS
In this card, we have sunk deep into apathy and emotional withdrawal, having become disillusioned, disappointed, and disenchanted with the world.
We may be finding life stale and flat, or are bored and unstimulated by our environment, stuck in an emotional rut. Nothing feels worth doing, and so we have disengaged from life.
(I admit that I grinned at the "OVER IT" shirt in the second image, as I'd privately named this the "MEHHH" card in my head :P)
Extreme versions of this pattern may find us bitterly sulking in our isolation, completely absorbed in the self-referential loop of our melancholy. Our fantasies about the good ol’ days may prevent us from perceiving the fresh gift being offered to us by the present moment.
(A note of caution around these more intense manifestations: incessant rumination and anhedonia--an inability to feel pleasure--may indicate symptoms of depression or other mental health concerns; if you are struggling with this, you may wish to seek professional support. Please let me know if you need a referral!)
Conversely, this card may also signify an introspective period of self-reflection and contemplation. We may just relish being lost in delicious reverie, or seek spiritual renewal by detaching from mundane interactions.
We can use this card as a mirror to help us direct our inner work. As we did in the Hermit, we can ask ourselves: are we turning towards or away from something?
If we are closed off to others, are we being gently invited to open up to potential new relationships, represented by this fourth cup? Can we trust that there is still yet more beauty and possibility for pleasure to be found in life?
If we feel detached, we can ask ourselves what would engage us again? Do we need a fresh start to shake things up, or just some encouragement to appreciate what is already right in front of us?
Or have we just survived a period of intense stress and overwhelm, and now feel the need to turn inward for respite and to restore emotional balance?
Or... do we just need a minute to fully allow ourselves to be OVER IT? Can we grant ourselves permission to deeply explore the textures of this collapse, to really know how this emotional shape arises, without getting stuck here indefinitely?
Can we move past it by moving through it (and by ignoring that bossy disembodied hand and its shiny new cup for the moment)?
As always, dear reader, I present possibilities, and then trust that your inner wisdom knows better than us both, and can point us in the right direction.
Be well and take care!
Well, friends: knowing that this particular archetypal energy was on its way might not have made it any easier, but at least the deep work of surrendering we did in Hanged Man prepared us to encounter the larger inexorable forces of...
This may be the most feared and misunderstood card in the deck--perhaps second only to the Tower--which is why most readers jump quickly to reassure querents that its appearance typically does not indicate literal, physical death. (And in fact, it is considered irresponsible for readers to cause undue stress by predicting such things, as the future is undetermined and we are creatures with some agency for choice.)
Rather, the emphasis is on Death as a symbol of endings, transformation, and change, as we recognize that something in our world is concluding. A chapter is coming to a close; this is the end of an era.
On a smaller or more personal scale, this may be the end of a significant relationship, career path, or life phase. There may indeed be a literal death of a loved one that we are still grappling with. Or, perhaps, we notice a subtler internal shift as we release old beliefs and ideas.
Sometimes rather than predicting a change, Death may also be encouraging us to prune back any excess in our lives, and to eliminate what no longer serves us in order to make room for new possibilities and growth. We are invited to clean out our psychic (or even literal!) closets, to concentrate on the essentials, and focus on what is most important to us.
On a larger, collective scale, this may be a great cultural migration, the toppling of a dictatorship, or even--yes--a pandemic, climate crisis, and economic collapse. (We are living through highly unusual times, and so here Death may actually represent our shared grieving of the lives that COVID-19 has claimed.)
As a result of these changes, we may be immersed in deep mourning and grief. Even the positive changes we choose to make can trigger feelings of loss and fear. (I work with these patterns a great deal in my harm reduction work and in supporting gender affirmation paths.)
Why are endings and changes so excruciating for human beings? The primal fear of death and the unknown is often what lies behind our clinging, as small changes can suggest the larger inescapable and inevitable forces at play in the universe. We may unconsciously feel as if something is being taken from us against our will; this can prompt intense resistance.
(This might also be why the transformations so sought after in therapy, weekend workshops, retreats, psychedelic medicine work, and other growth modalities get stuck,
as our deep contractions around change may not be fully addressed.)
How can we help both our individual nervous systems AND our larger collective begin to embrace and adapt to the sweeping changes in our path?
First: engaging with awareness and acknowledgment of our sense of loss, and really allowing ourselves to grieve what has passed or is ending. We make space to sit with our feelings and begin letting go.
(There is no skipping over this step, and jumping straight to “OMG, a *shiny* new rebirth!!!” does us a disservice that will often get us just as stuck. The only way out is through.)
Then, we may look to the natural world and the cycle of life for inspiration, noticing that whatever dies becomes sacred compost to fertilize new beginnings. Seeds sprout and grow, are harvested, and then die back into dormancy as the wheel of the seasons turns.
Buddhist teachings on the impermanence of all things, and in cultivating non-attachment to physical manifestations, are rooted in this deep honoring of universal transience. We can be supported by such ancient wisdom traditions to guide us through the most challenging parts of this process.
Once we are able to accept that we are standing in front of a door that is closing, to fully feel our emotional responses to loss, to release the past, to be with the transitory nature of all things: THIS is when we truly begin our transition and transformation stage.
We initiate the rebirth and regeneration process, as our next door begins to open.
Have faith, beloved ones. The next door always, inevitably, opens.
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.
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!
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.
Hello, friends. Another week, another archetypal shift in our collective reality...
The random thought “Corona virus may well be a master class in Being With What Is,” percolated up few days ago, and so this particular archetype made its presence known:
THE HANGED ONE
This card can represent situations in which we voluntarily tolerate discomfort, consciously sacrificing our self-interest to prioritize a greater purpose. We delay gratification, suspend action, and ready ourselves for a period of transition ahead.
However, this image also suggests a possible stance that may help us hang in there with difficult moments. We have an opportunity here to drop the struggle, surrender to what is, accept our current reality, and practice patient serenity.
(Note: accept does not mean like or endorse. It simply means validating reality as it is, and releasing our insistence that things be otherwise.)
The other opportunity this archetype provides is via its iconic reversal, as we allow this inversion to provide new perspectives. When our world gets turned upside down, we suddenly see things from a new angle, and here again (much like in the Tower) we have an opportunity to question old belief systems and disrupt our habits.
Shadow elements of this pattern may manifest in martyrdom, passivity, and a sense of being stuck, apathetic, or asleep to existence. Conversely, we may also notice moments of resistance and intense struggle around our lack of control.
(From a somatic/trauma-informed lens, it makes total and complete sense that our nervous systems may activate around feeling being trapped against our will by engaging in a FIGHT response, or by shifting into collapsed numbness.)
For counsel, I turn to brilliant, queer, witchy writer and San Francisco icon Michelle Tea, who writes:
If Hanged Man has come up for you, know that everything is in motion, even if it feels like nothing is moving. That’s the nature of the Hanged Man. It’s a waiting game, and the waiting can be interminable. It’s not a time for activity. If you’re considering making a move to help a situation along, don’t. You’ll probably just mess it up. If you’ve been insulted or threatened, the best recourse under the Hanged Man is to lay low and wait it out. Passivity is rewarded. Don’t send that email, don’t hit back. Just scramble up that tree, get yourself in the most comfortable position you can, and count your breaths until the situation remedies itself. And it will. Movement is always occurring within the Hanged Man; it’s just happening away from you, or so deep inside of you that you can’t see it clearly.
So in order to move through this phase, we settle the best we can into our self-imposed purgatory, relax into our discomfort, and try to take in the new outlook we now have on existence.
Additionally, if you are noticing more intense edges around bodily activation, or if you are processing a trauma response, you may experiment with somatic mindfulness exercises to begin regulating your nervous system. Please do reach out and contact a professional if you need more assistance with this, and take good care of yourself!
Sharing another card whose energies I also felt moving through the world last week, twinned with the Tower, and which I see still spilling over into this one.
This card iconically captures moments of quiet solitude and seclusion, where we withdraw from everyday life and material concerns, initiating periods of deep introspection, contemplation, and inner-focused exploration.
When these forces emerge, we are called to ask bigger, broader existential questions about the purpose and meaning of our lives. We go on vision quests or attend artistic or silent retreats. We meditate, enter psychoanalysis, or engage in dreamwork, giving voice to the hidden parts of the psyche that can only be heard in conditions of quiet stillness.
This card’s imagery also evokes an archetypal wisdom figure who helps guide others through their inner process. This is the teacher, sage, guru, mentor, therapist, or sponsor who offers us direction, having walked their own difficult path, and now holding a beacon out for us to follow.
This may be an external process, in which we seek out a teacher, or step into our own role in guiding others. This may also be a completely internal dynamic, as you are invited to make contact with your own inner guides. Psychedelic assisted therapy frequently refers to “inner healing intelligence,” and practitioners are trained to set aside their agendas and allow this force to do the work.
Like all powerful archetypes, we may notice where it begins to tip over into its shadow. Under the influence of the Hermit, we can be swept away by fears about the outside world or social paranoia, and move into extreme isolation and avoidance. We may shut down into ruminative depression, refusing to participate in life.
In moments of discernment, we can ask ourselves: am I looking inward in an attempt to find or discover something, or turning away to escape something?
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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