276. talisman

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4w-druid-cropA few weeks ago I decided to do a tarot reading for myself.

It’s been a while, and I’m always curious about what’ll come out of a spread, what different patterns and combinations of cards will resonate with my mind in its current state, and so on.

Interacting with tarot is always entertaining, mainly because of how terrified I was conditioned to be of it growing up. They were the Devil’s Cards, tools of Satan, gateways to the demonic, right up there with Ouija boards and troll dolls.

Of course, I don’t believe in any of that anymore—the Occult, the supernatural, angels, demons, God/god/gods/goddesses, etc. Still, it’s amusing to be aware of the vestigial parts of my child mind that retain that primal fear of tarot cards.

I actually got into tarot by way of the wonderful 2004 novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, wherein John Childermass carries a deck of tarot de Marseille cards.

Anywho, my view on tarot is that it functions much like an inkblot, or Rorschach, test. The cards and the patterns they form are random and arbitrary, but the meaning you find or the story you see is an indication of what might be going on in your subconscious, just beyond the edges of the conscious mind. The randomness that the tarot introduces can bring awareness to underlying and inarticulate thoughts or influences that often end up speaking to us through the images in the cards.

In fact, the purpose of tarot is largely misunderstood. The popular trope is of it being a divination or fortune telling tool, when really it’s just a means of exploring possibilities. Sure, most people who use the cards believe in some higher power that speaks through the cards, but that lends itself more to the theory that you get out of it what you put in.

Anywho, the reading I did a few weeks ago.

It was interesting because just a few days earlier I’d written about my compartmentalized personality, that there are these fundamental parts of myself that I was taught weren’t acceptable. In order to survive, I buried and cut those parts off from the forward-facing Self that is me, and that grew and developed.

And yes, I’m a Jungian.

huit_depeeThe card that I ended up drawing for the “Hopes and Fears” position (9) was the Nine of Swords, or the “nightmare” card. The deck I was using (the gay-themed “Son Tarot“) appears as a broken mirror, with swords aimed at the center.

A friend of mine who has studied tarot thought this card was about anxieties about my future library job prospects, which is true. That has been causing some anxiety, especially as graduation (and graduate loan repayment) looms closer.

wands04But it was the Four of Wands  card in the “Below” position that was the most thought-provoking. In most readings of this spread, this position signifies the underlying feelings and subconscious movement associated with the querent.

The Four of Wands is the “hearth” card. It signifies harmony, contentment, a happy home, celebration, good times/news.

My friend thought it described my current living situation and job search.

I had a different theory. My sense from looking at that card was that the root of the winter of my discontent may be the memory of the happiness and harmony in early childhood (before I was aware that anything was wrong with the world), and that the unhappiness and discontent I experience now stem from wanting to return to that state.

Yes, there was a time before I stopped smiling in photographs, before I was keenly aware of being observed by others, before I’d fully learned to hate myself, and before being alive was a painful experience. It’s what we might call Paradise, a state of blissful unawareness.

Between that and now is a gulf full of unresolved pain and regret.


A few days ago, on Tuesday, the therapist I’ve been working with since the beginning of the year suggested that it was time we end therapy. She thought we’d done good work towards building better habits and skills around managing anxiety and stress, and practicing mindfulness and identifying when negative scripts are playing themselves out in my head and my behavior.

Her theory of practice is that therapy is short-term and goal-focused, and that we’d accomplished the ones we’d set at the beginning.

On the one hand, I agree. The last couple sessions have felt positive, overall. I have been more emotionally stable over the last few months. Disappointments and minor setbacks have less of an emotionally destabilizing effect than they used to.

There has been significant progress, and perhaps this is a sign than I’m ready to handle things on my own for a bit.

On the other hand…

I worry that in telling her about my fractured persona last session that she decided she was way in over her head, and ended things on as positive a note as possible.

… that my health insurance no longer covers mental health visits, and this was the subtlest way of ending things.

… that while I’ve got my forward-facing self relatively well-managed, the leviathans swimming beneath have simply learned to be more clever.

… that I’m never going to achieve full integration of those aspects of my psyche that are compartmentalized and currently inaccessible.

… that I’m never going to fully reconnect with my sexual self, which will cause future boyfriends to lose patience and dump me, and that I’m never going to find a partner.

Of course, these are irrational fears to varying degrees. Do I really know what I’m doing in healing from religious trauma? No. But did my therapist show me how to turn on the flashlight I already had to illuminate the path in front of me? Sure.

Yes, it was nice to unburden myself with someone who could restate and rephrase my words and remind me that things aren’t as bad as I make them out to be.

Maybe it’s time to do that for myself.

243. risibility

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Dungeons_and_Dragons_gameAt 32.5 years old, I’m getting around to correcting a deficiency in my nerd cred.

Up until very recently, I had never played Dungeons & Dragons or any tabletop role playing games.

Part of this was that until my mid-twenties, I believed games like this were a real gateway to the occult and to demonic powers.

A Hellmouth, if you will.

Oh, yes—that went for shows and movies like Buffy the Vampire SlayerCharmedBewitched, Ghostbusters, The Craft… even Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Simply watching a positive portrayal of witchcraft or the occult was an insidious threat to our Christian faith. We were like heavenly soldiers adrift behind enemy lines, like Frodo and Sam in Mordor. Unless we spent time every day reading the Bible and praying, and watched and read only Bible-based media, the constant inundation of worldly temptations would lead us astray into the grip of the Devil!

“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” – Colossians 3:2-3 (ESV)

I’m not even kidding. That’s what we believed.

I had a good friend in high school, Jennie Purino, who was really into RPGs. (And vampires.) At age 15, having been brought up to believe that all that stuff was literally evil, this was a real brain teaser. From how she described and talked about it, it didn’t seem particularly dangerous or threatening. And as far as I knew, she didn’t worship Satan. (I think her family was nominally Catholic.) It actually sounded like fun… which, to my then Christianity-saturated brain, sounded exactly how Satan would lure people in.

So over the past few years I’ve been getting caught up on things that were previously verboten for me. Everything from music to games, to television shows, graphic novels, movies, card games… and now role playing games. My housemates are long-time D&D players, so they’ve been trying for a while to get me into it. And while I no longer think it’s evil, I was a little resistant. My understanding of games like D&D was that they attracted nerdy math freaks who could keep track of all the rules involved in game play. I pictured tons of calculations, and memorizing arcane amounts of information about races, monsters, spells, weapons, combat, and so on.

To be honest, I have a huge chip on my shoulder about anything math or science-related. I struggled to learn even basic math, like algebra and geometry, and science was equally daunting. Chemistry was fun though. But that meant that I chose to focus on the humanities, especially on literature and music, and wrote science and math off as being for people who were logical, and “smart,” and who probably fell somewhere on the autism spectrum. (Irony.)

Julia Sweeney says in Letting Go of God:

I had this prejudice that doing well at science was somehow an admission that you didn’t have the complexity of mind or subtlety of character to take on the humanities. Science was for people who couldn’t handle ambiguity and needed black and white answers, people who couldn’t get in touch with their feelings and had nothing left to think about.

Then a few weeks ago, I was invited to play Pathfinder, a game system similar to Dungeons and Dragons (and, as I recently learned, is backwards-compatible with D&D 3.5), but set in a different universe and setting. My friend Ben is running this game, which is the first chapter in a much longer campaign called Rise of the Runelords. Earlier this year I played a card-based version of this game, so the setting and the world itself was fairly familiar to me, but this was the first time I’d be building a character and rolling for stats.

Look at me, using phrases like “rolling for stats.”

The past few weeks have been spent researching and building this character—in this case, a half-elf bard named Casevar. I wrote out a fairly lengthy detailed biography for him, and this was the basis for a lot of the skills, abilities, and classes I chose to assign. It was actually a lot like the experiences I’ve had building a character in theater—you can do almost anything, within the confines of the play and the world the playwright has set, but you have to be able to justify those choices.

For example, one of the skills was Linguistics, which allowed me to choose an additional language that Casevar knows. For this instance, I chose Gnomish. When Ben asked me how on earth Casevar would know that language, I could point back to his biography where one of his close childhood friends was a Gnome named Mikkkaer. (Told you. Detailed.) It works in the context of his history.


What I’m learning is that the rules and the nuances of RPGs are almost secondary to what seems to be its more primary aim—collaborative storytelling. Mechanics are necessary, but are more the tools for storytelling than an end. It allows for people to experience a different reality through a collective imaginative effort, and maybe for a few hours to be someone else. It draws on narrative and mythic elements that have shaped human cultures and civilizations for thousands of years, and that still continue to speak to us today.

There are also an increasing number of studies suggesting that RPGs help in the development of critical thinking, creativity, and compassion, and can be useful in the treatment of conditions like bi-polar, depression, and even autism-spectrum disorder.

So I’m looking at this as an opportunity to not only broaden my horizons but to also step outside my comfort zone and try on different personalities and personas as I build and shape my own post-Christian identity. Perhaps in this way I can overcome some of the demons that have been keeping me locked up in my own head, and from moving ahead with my life.

Not to mention that it’s also fun.