The theme of this month’s tarotscope is strength. Sarah Marie Griffin writes beautifully about a recent reading, the Major Arcana and the one question everyone is grappling with.
Last month, I reached out to the friend who taught me the tarot for a reading. I normally only seek a big, serious reading once a year, in winter, where the cards are drawn out for each month – a calendar for myself, for my year. But in March I needed a map. That is what these cards are and always have been for me: a map. A series of tiny legends, of true stories that can be strung together to light the dark, to soften the road.
This spring has been metal, to put it frankly. To only talk of how metal it has been for me personally feels ridiculous: to talk about myself as the world continues to roll with horror is kind of absurd. I find it very important to remain personally opaque in these columns, while still offering something human and true, but please trust me when I say it has been, well, mental.
The stage where my own challenges were cocktailed with the lockdown reaching further than I could have imagined into the year and an international climate of bad news had reached tipping point. So, I asked my friend and teacher for advice, for perspective, as the tarot offers me again and again, even as I stare blankly at my own deck, disengaged. She drew a spread for me which she entitled the What The Fuck spread. Sometimes, there is no other question really, no succinct little line you can place around your life – no query can cover it. Rhea knew that there was only one question as in, so many times there is only one question: what the fuck. What the fuck.
And overturned the cards. Out of nine, five were from the Major Arcana. Huge figures, looming towards me through the screen, from their own little rectangular frames. Statistically, that is very unlikely, to be fair. I say again and again here, that the Major Arcana are the 22 loudest cards in the deck – the parts of the story to take notice of. The other 56 cards are important, certainly, but they speak about the ins and outs of the everyday: they are all happening to us all of the time. Whereas the Major Arcana cards are landmarks. They pose big questions. None of them really offer big answers, not resolutely – but the tarot should make us more curious, not satisfied with a bottom line. They are the bold text of the tarot. And this reading was alive with them. None more important in the scheme than any other, necessarily, but one struck out to me and I thought I would unpack her a little here with you this week because if there was ever a time we needed her, it’s now. Card eight in the Major, Strength. The lion tamer.
Jessica Dore, my favourite tarot writer, said as part of her wonderful Instagram post about Strength: ‘When Obi Wan-Kenobi says, “May the force be with you” it means, may you stay human in a world that will try to make you a machine at every turn.’
Strength, in the Rider-Waite, depicts a woman in a white dress holding a red beast – a lion, presumably – softly, by the mouth. She wears laurels in her hair, her face is serene. The beast’s teeth are white, its’ tongue is out. She is holding it, and holding herself. In the distance, the sky is yellow, with dawn. In the stories we can tell from this image, we are all her, in her gown, and we are all the lion, too. Dore’s interpretation of this card asks us to work out what it means to handle the brutality of the world, without becoming brutal ourselves. To somehow transcend the ugly tasks we must carry out, to not mirror the worst things though the worst things are often so contagious – the things we see the most of. It asks us to not become brutal, though the world often demands a brutality of us – though the body is brutal, and capitalism is brutal, we must somehow dig deeper than both the systems we live in and find a still, steady, calm hand. Even a kind one. That act of digging is what I think she means when she references The Force, you know.
And what a difficult invitation. What an impossible task, though it must, somehow be possible. A task that always feels like it is burdened down upon the marginalised, upon women and queer people and communities of colour. I do not think this card is asking us to hold still, any of us. or be peaceful, even, necessarily. It is a frustrating thing, how patriarchy insists that we must hold steady when we should, frankly, fucking riot. With this card, I’m not talking about that kind of holding steady. I’m talking about the deep riot. Travelling down into the mineshaft of the self and rioting there, at the centre of the earth of yourself so that when you keep your hand steady it is not because you are holding anything back, it is because you are guiding your behaviour with intention – that you are not holding closed the wrong jaw, that you are not turning your focus to the wrong beast, or, without noticing, becoming one. Strength asks us to pay attention and god, what is left of our attention now in this strange, hard spring.
There’s a lot of too-casual talk about being strong, staying strong. This word is used to sell us things: food, clothing, experiences. It is used ham-fistedly to speak about people soldiering on through difficult times. I am not contented with that. With just breathing deep and staying calm – I do not know how to access that peaceful place and I am not sure I know anyone who truthfully does. So here in April when I am rancid, rotten with What The Fuck, I think about the parts of me that are the lion, and the parts of me that must, apparently, be the blonde figure in the dress. I think maybe it is inevitable, and thus, alright to be part lion, as long as you are not all teeth, as long as you are not ripping apart the hands of those who come towards you. I think about making peace with monstrosity, even if it means I’d probably never make a Jedi. I think, I don’t really want to be a Jedi anyway. I just want to be alive, and not a machine.
In the reading, I saw The High Priestess. The Hanged Man. Judgement. All of them hold equal place in the story I am unravelling. But I thought, Strength for this month, for Rogue. We’ll get to the others in time. Right now, I can’t be the only one who needs strength. I can’t be the only one deep into what the fuck.
Cheryl Strayed, ended her arguably most stark column from her Dear Sugar series with this line and it rings through me clear as a bell every time I find myself out of my depth, asking myself what the fuck, what the fuck. ‘Ask better questions, sweet pea. The fuck is your life. Answer it.’ And I think about the beast, and my gentle hands around its jaw. And I think of myself with teeth, and the hands keeping me from biting. I think of the figure and her white dress, the infinity above her head. I think, keep asking questions, but always ask better questions. The fuck is your life.