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.

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240. cavort

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knightofwandsLooking at the title for this entry (which, by the way, I typically pull from Dictionary.com’s Word of the Day), what immediately came to mind is some advice from my birth chart (that I did on Astrolabe):

Give yourself the freedom to look awkward or silly once in a while. The relief you feel will be quite therapeutic and the embarrassment (whether it is real or imagined) will pass quickly.

For the record, I’m an Aquarius, with both rising sign and moon in Libra. And something about being a triple air sign?

Do I believe the stars and planets align themselves in the heavens to provide little old me here on planet Earth with sage wisdom? Of course not. But I do enjoy the moments when general observations such as those in astrological charts or tarot readings happen to intersect with my personal reality.

And there is a perverse part of me that enjoys activities like tarot or astrology precisely because they were at one time forbidden and demonic. So getting my chart done or doing a tarot spread is a bit like giving the finger to that part of my past.

However, the truth from that reading is that I do tend to take myself too seriously. I think too much, analyze too deeply, and ultimately lock up and consequently look awkward and weird… which is precisely what I was hoping to avoid in the first place.

And it has the tendency to create problems for everyone else, too, in that it can create the impression of my being standoffish or rude, when in reality I’m just feeling insecure and uncertain about how I’m supposed to behave.


A few weeks, ago my friends Erin and Matt got married, and that got me thinking (yet again) about my own prospects for romance and partnership, and whether it’s something that’s even realistic for me. The day of the wedding I also left for a two-week hiking and camping trip to the Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma, and the Davis Mountains and Big Bend National Park in Texas. The trip gave me a lot of time to digest some of what I’ve learned over this past semester, and to deal with some of the issues that I just haven’t had the mental space to process because of grad school.

Something that I heard on Minnesota Public Radio the other day also caught my attention. They were talking about why millennials aren’t getting married, and one of the guests, Ann Meier, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota, said something that resonated with me. They were talking about marriage as a status marker, and she said this:

“I think it’s marking an achievement that you’re able to achieve a certain level of education and an income where you feel like [marriage is] the culmination, the icing on the cake, instead of, as Brigid [Schulte] said, a step in the transition to adulthood. It’s the thing you do when your life is set. And people are taking longer to get their lives set these days.”

I think this part of the sense that I’ve been trying to articulate the past couple of months, that it’s difficult watching my friends getting married (especially my gay friends) because it feels like I’m getting left behind. Everyone else has their lives together and, as Ann said, “set” and I’m still trying to achieve a basic level of emotional and psychological subsistence. And it makes me feel incredibly old at 32, watching people younger than me who have been together for almost a decade and seemingly much further ahead than me.

So articulating this view of marriage, that it’s a marker of a certain status achievement, is helpful, because it still doesn’t feel like I’m there. I’m working, I’m working toward a graduate degree in a field I’m actually excited about working in, but I’m also aware of how much further there is to go. Especially when I’m surrounded by couples and married people.


 

But there’s something else that I recently became aware of.

I had a conversation with a co-worker yesterday who said that even though she’s been very successful at work, it’s not something that she’s excited about, and that what she really loves, the thing that gives her the most satisfaction in life, is being a mom to her three kids. She’d been asking about my library science degree and what I plan to do with it, and I shared that for the first time in my life it feels like I have a calling, something I was just born to do.

… not that I believe in destiny or anything, but rather that I’ve finally found a field that aligns almost perfectly with my personal values and what I’m naturally good at. I am absolutely in love with librarianship and science, and cannot wait to get into archiving and special collections.

She said (and another friend of mine recently said) that she doesn’t feel about her job the same way that I’m articulating it, that the work I am planning to do gives my life real purpose and (dare I say it) joy. Will there be days when I hate my job? Probably.

But it brought home for me the reality that I do have things going for me right now.

Another astrological birth chart I looked at for myself said that people with their moon in Libra (lunar Librans) “have a strong need for partnership. Without someone to share their lives with, they feel utterly incomplete.”

I do hope (against hope) that one of these days I’ll find someone about whom I feel the same way that I feel about librarianship… that it’ll be a fantastic match. The older I get, of course, the less confident I am that I’ll even find someone.

In the meantime, I’ll continue rebuilding my life post-Christianity and getting to know myself better so someone can also get to know that person.

209. avoirdupois

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2505_mb_file_2eab8The first couple of days back in an office this week were rough. Not so much the being on a schedule again, although that was certainly an adjustment. Leaving the apartment by 7:40am every day was not fun for this not-morning person.

I’ve been contracted this week and part of next week by a real estate company to gather and put together evidence for an upcoming legal case brought by a former employee. Auditing terminated employee files is tedious, mind-numbing work, made bearable by audiobooks and the reality that it’s work.

(And I’m so grateful to be gay and know that my wages will never be garnished to pay for child support. Seriously, guys. Keep it in your pants.)

The downside of this is that it’s allowed for reflection on how much I hate doing this kind of work. However, my work background makes it damn near impossible to find work other than this. Without further specialized education, the likelihood of finding a non-entry-level job is remote, at best. And getting lucky is something that doesn’t happen to me often.

This is happening on the heels of last week’s game retreat. It might not have been so bad had it not seemed an extension of my real life, where I seemed to lose most of the time. In general, I just don’t get the rules of play. I don’t understand how to strategise, how to posture, how to read other people, or how to plan multiple steps ahead of my current position.

The best example I can extend for what usually goes on in my head during times like these — whether playing a game, reading comment from an editor on a piece of writing, or paging through file after file of someone who was fired for not showing up to work (again) — is a bit from Jason Robert Brown’s The Last 5 Years, where one of the characters, Cathy, a struggling actress, is auditioning for a role. The gimmick is that we hear what’s going on in her head while she’s singing:

«When you come home…» I should have told them I was sick last week, they’re gonna think this is the way I sing. Why is the pianist playing so loud? Should I sing louder? I’ll sing louder. Maybe I should stop and start over—I’m gonna stop and start over… why is the director staring at his crotch? Why is that man staring at my résumé? Don’t stare at my résumé. I made up half of my résumé. Look at me, top looking at that, look at me! No, not at my shoes, don’t look at my shoes, I hate these fucking shoes. Why did I pick these shoes? Why did I pick this song? Why did I pick this career? Why does this pianist hate me? If I don’t get a callback I can go to Crate and Barrel with mom and buy a couch. Not that I want to spend a day with mom, but Jamie needs his space to write since I’m obviously such a horrible, annoying distraction to him… what’s he gonna be like when we have kids? «And once again…» Why am I working so hard? These are the people who cast Linda Blair in a musical. Jesus Christ! I suck, I suck, I suck, I suck… «When fin’lly you come home to…» Okay, thank you, thank you so much.

This is basically what’s going on in my head all the time.

I’ve been feeling a growing sense of deep, inner dissatisfaction with my life, where I am currently, and what I’m doing. It’s leaving me feeling isolated, distracted, and unable to truly connect with the people in my community and life. Last night I went to play games with a couple of friends, and just couldn’t enjoy myself in their company. Ended up getting into an argument with a friend of a friend over whether Dallas Buyer’s Club is transphobic. I insisted that it’s exploitative (and not a good representation) of the LGBT community. She thought that Jared Leto’s character was beautiful and moving.

Hilarity ensued.

Were that this were the only instance. I’ve felt at odds with just about everyone lately.

Today, I decided to do a couple of Tarot spreads (one with my Rider-Waite-Coleman deck, and another with my gay Tarot deck) to try to mine at what’s going on with these dark feelings. I’ve recently been neglecting this aspect of self-care, and it rather feels as if I’ve been putting off housekeeping for a while and now my house is untidy.

Here’s what came up:

Rider-Waite

  1. Page of Wands
  2. Six of Swords, reversed
  3. Strength
  4. Nine of Pentacles, reversed
  5. Page of Pentacles
  6. Five of Swords
  7. Empress, reversed
  8. Knight of Cup, reversed
  9. Death
  10. The Fool

Bursten/Platano

  1. The World
  2. The Protector (→ Empress), reversed
  3. Sage (→ King) of Swords
  4. Ten of Coins
  5. Three of Wands
  6. Hermit, reversed
  7. Strength, reversed
  8. Man (→ Knight) of Cups
  9. Ace of Swords, reversed
  10. Five of Swords, reversed

I’ve written a little about my explorations into Tarot and my applications of Jungian psychology as a replacement for divinatory interpretation. Each card is only a token for exploration.

Psychological Tarot Spread (Cross)The most interesting cards to come up out of the twelve were The World, the King of Swords, and the reversed Hermit.

Usually, The World is a commentary on accomplishment, integration, and feeling complete. These days, I’m feeling anything but those things. It feels as if I’m constantly carrying the world on my shoulders, the weight pushing my mind and emotions down into despondency. The reversed Six of Swords is a continuation on this, the feeling that the past is always with me.

The reversed Hermit in the “future application” position says to me that isolating myself isn’t having the positive net effect it could have. The hyper-judgmental King of Swords residing in my “id” sounds more like Starbuck’s mom in Battlestar Galactica than a helpful mentor.

… why is it so hard to love one’s self?

200. Tempérance

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ainikkiThis post marks my 200th on this site. A look back at the subjects I’ve most written about are atheism (no surprise there), Christianity, community, relationships, religion, depression, fundamentalism, acceptance, experience, and family. These are all things I’ve been pondering since my first post on this blog on April 19, 2009.

“I am many things,” I wrote in that first entry. “An artist. A composer. A writer. A some-time cook. A fan of public radio. Irish-American. A Christian. I’m also gay.”

Two years after writing that, two of those ended up not being true anymore.

Last night I decided to do what many have been advising me to do lately: meditate. That word has always brought up negative connotations, especially since coming out as an atheist it’s basically become a synonym for “prayer.”

Merriam-Webster defines meditate thus: (1) to engage in contemplation or reflection; (2) to focus one’s thoughts on: reflect on or ponder over.

As I’ve been writing about the last few weeks, there’s been a lot to reflect on and ponder over.

Last night I made sure everything was put away (so I wouldn’t think about it), lit candles in the living room on the coffee table, and laid out the cards. There’s an app on my iPod called Altered States that uses “advanced binaural brainwave entrainment to stimulate brainwave frequencies associated with different states of mind.” I used a setting called Mindful Meditation, designed to “create an aware, or awakened, meditative state.”

Here are some reflections that I had while meditating on the cards. This entry will be a little longer than the usual thousand words. But not too much longer.

1. Ego: Three of Cups

This is representative of friendships and collegiate, harmonious relationships.

Despite my hermetical tendencies, I’m surrounded by wonderful people who, even though I have difficult believing it, actually desire my company. This card also reminds me to take stock of the good things—and the good people—in my life right now.

Wikipedia says of this card: “It can also signal that this is the time to reach out if things have been particularly rough in the past.”

2. Crossing: Eight of Wands

This represents a very focused kind of motion and activity.

This reminds me that there are active opportunities to seize, especially relating to the first card. More on this later, but persistence is essential if I’m to make it to the Nine of Wands. One site interprets this card: “You might not realize that your efforts are out of the ordinary.” I’m adept at underestimating my own abilities and strengths, and believing the lie that I’m powerless and inept has, historically, held me back from confidence and going after what I want.

3. Unconscious (Id): Ace of Cups

This represents the beginning of love, happiness and compassion.

I contemplated this card for a while, trying to think back to some of my motivations and sources of joy and pleasure as a child. Thinking about my current career crossroads conundrum, my first love really was writing. I used to spend hours in the closet (oh, irony), writing stories and plays. I also tried to think about some of the blocks getting in the way of reconnecting to that joy.

4. Past: Five of Swords

This action is the foundation of where you stand now. If your life is in shambles, understand that compromising your integrity may have been the source of your undoing.

It hit me last night that a cause of so much trouble has been letting the expectations of others steer my life. The main reason why I chose music composition to major in was because my father thought that I showed promise and talent as a composer—and didn’t think much of my interest in writing. This summer, a good friend of mine suggested I try applying for a master’s in composition. I didn’t want to disappoint him, my friends who’ve expressed that I have talent in music—or my father. No one led me astray per se. They seemed to have a better idea of what I’m capable of and should do—but I failed to listen to my own voice.

5. Superego: Six of Pentacles, reversed

This can suggest that you are not aware of the potential sources of assistance available to you.

So much here. I need to follow up with a director friend of mine about a workshop of my one-act opera; contact friends who’ve expressed interest in singing and helping out with this project; contact a woman I met at an LGBT networking event about a job possibility. This goes back to the first and second card, of seizing opportunities I know are right there, but also recognizing the people who have generously offered their resources.

The image in the card is of two beggars (from the Five of Pentacles) kneeling before a wealthy man. I’ve often said that I don’t really know how to let people help me. To be brutally honest with myself (and you, dear reader), it comes from my pride getting in the way. I fear feeling indebted or powerless to others, even to those who have no ulterior motives. My bloody lizard brain, however, hisses that by accepting assistance, I’m proving myself a failure—that everyone sees me as a failure. So I shut down, secretly resenting the man offering help and hating myself.

This card is reminding me to confront these issues in my superego, the thoughts and attitudes buried at the seat of my subconscious. It’s the disapproving voice of my parents, and anyone who has judged me in my life.

6. Application: Death, reversed

You may be reluctant to let go of the past or you may not know how to make the change you need. Let go of any restrictive, oppressive, limiting attitudes and beliefs.

This card reminded me that life is short—so why am I letting these petty inner voices hold me back? What about my past am I holding on to? Is it really just the cold comfort of being a victim? Of my inner child still believing that God will solve all my problems?

7. Self-image: Four of Swords, reversed

This can suggest that you are feeling frustrated with the lack of progress and change. Part of this lack of change, however, is as a result of your passive approach.

This felt connected to my reflections on the Six of Pentacles. Rather than pick up my sword and go after what I want, I’ve relinquished my power for the time being and opted instead to lie down. I’ve let those negative, judgmental voices crowd out positive thinking. I want things to change, but need to truly accept that no one is going to change them for me. I have to get up from the slab, stop playing dead, and dedicate myself to going after what I desire.

8. Surrounding: Seven of Swords, reversed

This suggests that you may be finding it difficult to take the first step in a new direction.

Usually, this card is about betrayal, deception, or stealth. I had a different thought while meditating. Like the Ten of Wands, the man in the picture is trying to carry too much. He’s hauling five swords. Two are left in the ground, and his gaze is fixed on what’s behind rather than what’s ahead. The group in the background is often interpreted as the “thief” being found out. What I saw is a man going it alone, apart from the group, trying to do it all on his own.

9. Hopes/Fears: Ace of Pentacles, reversed

Your goals may need to be re-aligned to something more realistic. You need to plan and have more foresight and consideration into the aspects that align to your passions and career interests.

Aces are often about seeds of potential. As I contemplated this card, I focused on the garden in the background. The element associated with this card is Earth, and that theme is present throughout the pentacle suit. I pulled out the Nine of Pentacles, which portrays a young woman in a verdant garden with a bird lighted on her hand. I also pulled out the Page of Pentacles (in the court cards, pages are also associated with Earth), and the Ten.

I pondered what might be keeping me from going through the entrance into the garden. The answer seems obvious. In addition to silencing the negative inner voices, I need to apply myself like the man in the Eight of Pentacles, and not be discouraged by the lack of progress in Seven.

10. Summation: Temperance

You are seeking balance between your inner and outer selves, searching for a higher meaning and purpose in life. Throughout this transition, you may experience a clash between the old and the new you, or confusion about which direction you ought to take and what is really important to you.

If we’re talking about a destination for the journey I’m currently on, this would be it. I’m doing at thirty-one what most people do in high school and college—figure out who they are and what they want out of life. For most of my life, I’ve been the figure in the Eight of Swords: blindfolded, bound, and trapped by the thoughts and beliefs of others. Now, I’m finally realizing that the way out was clear all along; and, like Dorothy in Oz, the power to return home was always mine.

In listening to music this past week, trying to figure out what is “progressive” in Classical music right now, and even in trying to get my head into the mindset to compose something more “academic,” I started to remember what turned me off from music academia in the first place. Trying to be clever and “cutting edge” never felt like being creative. Far from it. Do I really want to return to that world, to posture myself amongst other composers who are trying to be ahead of everyone else and jockeying for tenure and pay raises?

I think of the composers I admire: Purcell, Bach, Mozart, Robert Schumann, Britten. They were innovative by fully dedicating themselves to pursuing their passion. The innovation took care of itself.

I also reflect on how I’ve enjoyed getting back to writing, and the positive feedback I’ve received so far.

Perhaps the way forward is to focus on becoming a writer who also composes, rather than the other way around. After all, that’s where I began.

Look at what you want,
Not at where you are,
Not at what you’ll be—
Look at all the things you’ve done for me.

Moving on.

Celtic cross

199. Le Pape

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The Hierophant, reversedIt’s worth mentioning again in going through this Tarot series that I do not approach the cards from the standpoint of divination (i.e., fortune telling). As an atheist, I do not believe in divine or supernatural forces, especially those that may guide our fates. That some force or thing created the universe with us in mind, and that arbitrary positions of cards, stars or planets can somehow foretell a future or course of action to take is silly, at best—narcissism, at worst.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about life goals and directions, as what I’ve been doing job and living-wise has not been bringing me joy or satisfaction. Quite the opposite. This summer, during a moment of particular distress and depression, a friend of mine offered to do a Tarot reading for me. He is also an atheist, and approaches Tarot from a similar analytical perspective. It was he who first suggested that Tarot was really collaborative storytelling; that the cards themselves describe general but universal aspects of the human experience around which a codified “school” of reading and interpretation was defined.

I’ve always been deeply fascinated by Jungian psychology, and in particular the archetypal. As a storyteller, I find myself drawing on these images myself—the wise old man or woman, the cunning trickster, the child, the hero, the dark shadow lurking just out of sight.

The thoughts and questions that I’ve been contemplating lately are on the epic (albeit personal, so not huge in the grand scheme) scale. I’m in the process of doing in a couple of years what most people do over the course of their lifetime—or at least in the process of growing up. A few years ago, I realized that the foundations of my life were fictions. Though there are some mythic truths to be found, the stories my parents and teachers told about a holy and supreme god who made me and the entire universe; who has a divine purpose and plan for my life; who is keeping notes on every thought, word, and deed to determine which afterlife I’ll enjoy or suffer for all eternity—none of it’s true. And now I’m faced with probably the most important question asked by any human being: Who am I?

It’s an insignificant question compared to most of the problems we face. And most people never really give it a second thought. But when you realize that every premise you’ve based your life on (and experience you’ve denied yourself) isn’t true, you start to wonder: What do I believe?

All that to say, Tarot has been helpful the past couple of weeks in bringing up and beginning to confront some of these issues and questions of purpose. What do I care about? What do I want to do? The cards can’t tell me the answers, but they introduce a certain level of randomness to get me mentally unstuck.

One of the big questions right now is that of career. Because I don’t really have one. I’ve been doing office admin work since college, but that’s a job. I don’t care about data entry, filing, document formatting, or any of the pointless shit I’ve done for other people over the years.

What I care about is storytelling. And art—specifically, music and writing.

Late this past summer, I decided to finally explore pursuing a master’s degree in one of those areas: music composition. I somewhat hurriedly (and haphazardly) put together three applications and submitted them this past fall. And they were rejected. These rejections made me question whether this was even the right path I should be taking.

The cards told me what I’ve always known at the core of my being, but have been afraid to acknowledge. Follow your passion.

The Hierophant is an interesting card. It’s also referred to as The Pope. It typically represents tradition, conservatism, discipline, heeding the status quo or social convention, and education. Wikipedia suggests that “it is a warning to the Querant to reexamine his or her understanding of the meaning of things; of the structure of the world; of the powers that be.”

Another interpretation of the reversed card (which is how I laid it out):

The Hierophant reversed is about breaking the rules and challenging the status quo. You no longer accept the rigid structures, tradition and dogma surrounding you, and now seek out opportunities to rebel and retaliate. You want to challenge ideas and concepts that you once thought of as written in stone. (BiddyTarot)

A friend of mine posted a comment yesterday on my previous entry: You didn’t get into grad school because that’s not really your best choice; you’re comfortable in music, and so you pursue it. You have great eloquence as a writer, but you didn’t pursue a master’s degree in writing. Why?

Frankly, I still wonder if I did the right thing in doing my undergrad in composition. Deciding on it was almost a last-minute decision. My original plan was majoring in creative writing, but my father suggested that I had real talent in music. But was that reason enough? Music was always easy for me; and while one’s natural talents should be considered, no field will successfully hold one’s interest without passion.

The ideal would be finding a program where I could somehow combine my love for creating music with my love for writing. This is why opera always felt like such a good fit. In addition to providing the music, I also provided the text and the story, although I’ve always felt like more of a musical playwright than a composer when it came to it.

So that’s where things currently stand, stuck between a hard and a rock place and unsure which direction to go. What comes to mind is (yet another) lyric from Sunday in the Park with George:

“I chose and my world was shaken. So what? The choice may have been mistaken. The choosing was not. You have to move on.”

198. Le Jugement

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Le_JugementThis was a card that came up yesterday, reversed, in the ninth position on the Celtic cross spread. It reminds me just how steeped the Rider-Waite-Smith deck is in Judeo-Christian mythology.

The imagery evokes the Resurrection before the Last Judgement from 1 Corinthians: “The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”

In Pamela Coleman Smith’s artwork, the archangel Gabriel awakens the dead with a trumpet blast, who gesture reverently and welcomingly with open arms. The figures below are grey and ashen, while everything above bursts with color.

the magicianThe banner on the trumpet is likely the Saint George’s Cross, which could be a reference to overcoming the dragon (Revelation 12:8). There’s also a connection in the red and white to the Magician’s clothing. The ocean swelling in the background could be a reference to the sea giving up its dead (Revelation 20:13), but there’s also the connection to the river that seems to flow throughout the Major Arcana cards, starting with the Empress. It mirrors the swelling waves in the foreground of the Fool, the river flowing through Death, and the water in Temperance, The Star, and The Moon. One could say that there’s also a connection to the High Priestess, with her blue robes flowing like water.

Grey is a masculine color in Tarot. The Emperor’s throne, the Hierophant’s church and Justice’s temple; the Chariot, the Hermit, the overcast sky in Death; the Devil’s wings, and the towers in The Tower card and The Moon are all grey (and, dare I say, phallic). The pillars in the High Priestess are black and grey.

The trumpet here has particular meaning for me, as my father is a professional trumpeter.

Some keywords that Waite associated with this card in its upright position are Judgement, Rebirth, Inner Calling, and Absolution. Reversed, it can suggest self-doubt and self-judgement.

Reversed, the Judgement card suggests that you may be indulging yourself in doubt and self-judgement. Your deliberation is causing you to miss the new opportunities that await. A certain amount of momentum has accumulated behind what you have achieved, which could propel you further. If actions are taken now, such momentum will not be lost. Therefore now is not the time for being cautious or introverted, rather it is time to move onwards with confidence and pride.

Additionally, this card suggests that you may be overly hard or critical of yourself and not allowing yourself to truly learn from your mistakes. You may have made some mistakes in the past but see these as learning experiences rather than failures or faults. (BiddyTarot.com)

When I laid out this card, it was in the ninth position in the Celtic cross spread, which indicates any hopes and/or fears of the Querent. One of the major reasons I really haven’t gone out or made any progress with the workshop of my one-act opera is this sea of self-doubt that I’ve been awash in the last couple of weeks. So many things life recently haven’t been working. Job interviews I’ve gone on have proven to be disappointments (the last one didn’t even give a reason: just “applicant was not chosen”); the guys I’ve seen on dates haven’t panned out; my grad school applications… well, that whole thing was rushed and poorly done to begin with.

Tarot scholar Tara Miller writes that “Judgment represents the House of Gabriel, the knowing that Judgment Day can come at any moment; live your life to the fullest, as the trumpet of Gabriel is at hand.” (Wikipedia)

It wasn’t until I renounced my Christian faith that I realized how truly precious and rare life is. As a Christian, I was taught from day one that life is a gift from God. To squander it by pursuing our own wants, desires, and pleasure is arrogance, and a sin. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36)

What I was most angry about after becoming an atheist was not that I’d been fooled or that I’d believed lies my whole life. It was that I’d lost so much time and experience. Instead of learning about Creationism, I could’ve been discovering the wonders of science and our world. I could’ve been discovering who I am, what I care about, what my values as a human being are. I could’ve been exploring my sexuality as a gay man, making mistakes early in life (when you’re supposed to make them), all on the way to finding a partner—and more importantly, a groundedness in who I am as a person. My parents and teachers were wrong: our rock is not Christ. We have to become our own rocks that can weather the storms and arrows of life.

So if life is so short, why do I keep allowing these petty, negative scripts to dominate mine?

Why do I superimpose an inner monologue on everyone, assuming they’re thinking how unattractive, unoriginal, neurotic, unfit, unsuitable, incomplete, and poorly trained I am?

This is why I often stay at home—because, no matter how irrational I know it is, my lizard brain interprets every stray glance or comment as betraying what people really think of me. And the thoughts cascade into self-doubt, self-hate, and self-judgement.

Of course they rejected your grad school applications. You’re a poor excuse for a competent adult and musician.

Of course no one wants to date you. You’re complicated, selfish, difficult to live with, and you don’t enjoy going out to gay bars.

Why bother going anywhere when you’ll just feel like an outsider? No one understands you. Other people know instinctively how to interact with other humans. You? You’re broken, damaged, and worthless.

And so I shut down, retreat and hide myself away. I let my potential stagnate rather than risk having to confront these messages.

The inherent meaning in the Judgement card is transition, one of awakening from death to “new life.” But I need to face the illumination my subconscious is shining on these issues.

197. Huit d’Épées

Standard

huit-d'ÉpéesThe stories we are told as children are templates we unwittingly carry with us through childhood and into adulthood, on which we pattern most of our thinking and the way we ultimately live.

Growing up in the 1980s and 90s, my family watched television shows like Rescue 911. Stories like that of “baby Jessica” falling down a drain and getting stuck there for 59 hours, or a boy who was skewered by a pair of scissors after running with them, taught us valuable lessons for how not to get hurt — as well as instilling us with a certain sense of paranoia.

Anything could kill us.

Other stories were not so helpful. Having been brought up in church, I heard stories that fundamentally shaped the way I viewed the world, myself, and other people. To be a good Christian, I had to blindly accept everything in the Bible as absolutely true, ignoring all doubts, no matter how reasonable.

Anything “wrong” I did, regardless how insignificant, from telling a lie to disobeying my parents, put nails in Jesus’ feet and hands. And because God views all sin as equal (except for homosexuality), getting angry with someone is the same as killing them.

gatewaysCertain activities and pursuits were satanic gateways into our home and lives. (We had several books about this; one was called Turmoil in the Toybox. He-Man, the Smurfs, Care Bears, and G.I. Joe were all discussed.)

Non-Christians will ultimately attempt to lead good Christians off the path of righteousness. Demons were everywhere, spiritually blinding people (including Christians) to more easily drag them to Hell.

And there were always Bible references to back up these claims.

All of these narratives, and more, were crammed into my head from a very young age. Before the age of seven or so, the areas of the brain responsible for critical thinking haven’t developed yet. Dawkins writes in The God Delusion:

A child is genetically pre-programmed to accumulate knowledge from figures of authority. The child brain, for very good Darwinian reasons, has to be set up in such a way that it believes what it’s told by its elders, because there just isn’t time for the child to experiment with warnings like “Don’t go too near the cliff edge!” or “Don’t swim in the river, there are crocodiles!”

There is a condition I learned of recently called Religious Trauma Syndrome. Dr. Marlene Winell, who first identified RTS, likens it to PTSD, clinical depression, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder. It’s brought about when one leaves fundamentalist religion—and often families and entire communities—behind. Symptoms include:

  • Confusion, poor critical thinking ability, negative beliefs about self-ability & self-worth, black and white thinking, perfectionism, difficulty with decision-making;
  • Depression, anxiety, anger, grief, loneliness, difficulty with pleasure, loss of meaning;
  • Loss of social network, family rupture, social awkwardness, sexual difficulty, behind schedule on developmental tasks;
  • Unfamiliarity with secular world; “fish out of water” feelings, difficulty belonging, information gaps (e.g. evolution, modern art, music);

Dr. Winell writes on her website:

The doctrines of original sin and eternal damnation cause the most psychological distress by creating the ultimate double bind. You are guilty and responsible, and face eternal punishment. Yet you have no ability to do anything about it.

In essence, Religious Trauma Syndrome is the void left when the support structures of religion fall away, revealing the deep scars and toxic thought patterns that fundamentalist religion is adept at whitewashing with pat excuses or victim blaming. “You just don’t believe enough!”

Swords in Tarot are associated with action, force, power, ambition, change, and conflict. They’re also connected with thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs.

The number eight (at least in the Rider-Waite Tarot deck) describes boundaries and limitations, as well as inner strength and power of will.

In the Eight of Swords, a maiden is bound and blindfolded, isolated from the distant town and surrounded by swords. The sense is one of gloom, despair, and hopelessness. One website interprets the card this way:

Your “ego” represents the non-trusting, doubting, over-analytical part of your mind which is unable to make any decisions… you have restrained yourself from activity long enough, avoiding the present by trying to convince yourself that there are no alternatives. These beliefs keep you hemmed in—they always provide reasons why nothing will work… You are not being held back by direct force, but by your training – this belief in your own helplessness and your blind acceptance of what you have been taught… Recognize that nothing prevents you from leaving—you are bound only by your own “illusions.”

For ages, my sense of self-worth and my self-image have been colored by stories from my childhood that told me my only value was in Jesus’ death. Nothing about me was inherently good. My purpose in life had been decided by God; to not seek that purpose was arrogance.

Self-denial is a cardinal virtue. “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness.” I attempted to do this by shutting down my id, especially once my libido kicked in. Consequently, I struggle with actually wanting anything, or making decisions. I fear emotions, especially pride. I constantly doubt myself and my capability.

However, my perfectionist drive knows no bounds. For example, during a piano lesson in college, I burst into tears after failing one portion of the piano proficiency exam: black key minor scales. By extension, I was a failure in every other area of my life.

Actress Natasha Lyonne said of recovering from heroin addiction: “Not only do you have to smash down the house, but you have to then take out the Indian burial ground underneath the foundation of the house and then begin to rebuild.”

Actress Julia Sweeney describes her deconversion as having to “change the wallpaper of my mind.”

Mine felt more like burning the house to the ground.

Yet the message of the Eight of Swords is that the mental prison of my parents’ religion is only an illusion.

Time for some new stories.