Five of Swords

 I have a beautiful new tarot deck, the Anima Mundi tarot, and this is the card I keep pulling out of it: the five of swords (actually, last week it was the three of swords, but that bird has flown and now we’re just left with the feathers). I’ve pulled maybe six personal cards out of this new deck, and the five of swords has been at least two of them. The atmosphere here is oppressive; I saw a sky a lot like this the other day when I was racing my bike to get home ahead of the rain. You can tell it’s about to pour, only maybe not–there’s also a timelessness, a kind of interminable quality.

There’s a big sense of heaviness, for sure. Right in the middle of the card there’s also an emptiness, a missing bird who left only scattered feathers. I think a lot about missing birds, because I think of the Platonist/Sufi metaphor, the two wings that it takes to fly. The wings of the minds are roughly sense data (or data that could be collected with the senses, empirical data), and the stories that allow us to string these data points together in a way that makes sense. In between is an imaginary bird that is as real as anything, although, to be fair, we tend to overestimate the amount that anything is real. What reality is might be the imagination of something solid that is making these two wings of experience work together.

This card confused me when I got up this morning, but now I’m starting to feel it in my bones. Nothing tragic has happened, but I can’t quite settle down. Plans have changed, and I can’t adjust. Something is missing. I feel, looking at this image, a sinking in my chest and a hollowness, but also a quiet in the darkness. Quiet—yes, this card has that in spades (or swords, in the tarot).

Nobody likes this card very much, but that quiet is deep and hard-won. There’s the calm after the storm, the feeling of having really been through it and come out the other side. Maybe there’s something about shadow integration here, too: there’s some aftermath of violence for all of us in late-stage capitalism and maybe just in life, but I can’t help but notice that the swords here are a little like the shape of a door. When you choose to get up and move forward, there’s always something on the other side.

Holiday Gifts, 2021

Back in the fall I finally located a perfect statue of Hekate, so when I was hired for an unexpected Halloween tarot gig I used the money to order it from Russia. According to the tracking information, Hekate was stuck in Germany for over a month. Over the last three days, while I did not receive any further updates on that situation, I did receive a number of other fairly bizarre early holiday gifts from the universe:

First, there was a vision of the shape of a snake (I was trying to read, but I couldn’t concentrate). In the past, I’ve been aware of the moment when snakes shed their skin as discrete, I guess, and I appreciate that I, too, have had occasion to transform dramatically. This time, though, I was struck by the inescapable nature and interiority of snake itself, of personal evolution as an ongoing, all-consuming lifestyle/process.

I succeeded at reading a bit after that. I was starting Stephen Harrod Buhner’s Ensouling Language, which, as I mentioned to James, is possibly my new favorite book. To be honest, I didn’t realize it was possible for a book about writing like this one (which acknowledges that writing is literally magical and still explains some very concrete ideas about how to do it) to exist. The introduction contains the line, “to become a writer, you must shed your skin.” As usual, this kind of thing makes me think about time; in my experience shedding skin requires a lot of that.

When I interrupted myself again to compulsively check my email, I received a third somewhat unexpected thing. It was a message from a long-ago college professor — likely the one, as they say, “most familiar with your academic ability and potential.” I had at this point been grinding for six months on a moon-shot application for a funded philosophy grad program, having admitted belatedly that I actually do care about academics (probably too much). My professor told me that he was retired and would not be writing me a letter of recommendation. He also, oddly and correctly, guessed the specific nature of my late-blooming academic interest and sent me a nice quote by Maximus of Tyre:

“God Himself, the father and fashioner of all that is, older than the Sun or the Sky, greater than time and eternity and all the flow of being, is unnameable by any lawgiver, unutterable by any voice, not to be seen by any eye. But we, being unable to apprehend His essence, use the help of sounds and names and pictures, of beaten gold and ivory and silver, of plants and rivers, mountain-peaks and torrents, yearning for the knowledge of Him, and in our weakness naming all that is beautiful in this world after His nature.”

This was, however, fairly devastating news for me and my project, as I have no real, workable backup plan. The next day was kind of a blur but did not involve any notable gifts unless you count the fact that, due to CFS, strong emotion of any kind tends to leave me feeling hungover or a bit like I’ve got the flu, in any case embroiled in another kind of exhausting process that often takes up a lot of my time and energy.

The morning after that I felt a little better and, before starting work, I tried some writing exercises from the book. I wrote a short poem that isn’t particularly good but is notable in that I’ve never before sat down cold with the intention to start writing and ended up with a poem. It contains the line, “I wonder about radiance,” which is true.

I received two more notable messages that day, too: 1) My editor, who is often difficult to get in touch with, is ready to move forward on laying out my book, suggesting the eventual resolution of that particular process. By spring, perhaps? And, 2) Another old professor — one of my favorites and also my best remaining hope of getting any letters — is dying of cancer. Sad, and that’s also, on the level of my application, pretty much that.

Just before the end of the third day, I finally got this somewhat unexpected package.