Narratives of Work – a tarot exploration

(This post was available a week early to my patrons. My Patreon helps support this work, and I appreciate my patrons more than I can say! This was also cross-posted with my narrative therapy blog, Wayfinding.)

Tarot is an important part of my life, and has been for quite a few years.

I use tarot as a way to think about what’s happening in my life, with tarot spreads acting as invitations to think about situations in specific and focused ways. I have also used tarot in narrative therapy in a similar way – inviting community members to engage with the cards as a visual way to explore their stories. I also use tarot as part of my slowly developing spiritual practice. I’ve written before about how I use tarot as self-care, in this post that introduced my tarot practice, and in this post about how to use tarot as a self-storying tool.

I participated in parts of the Owl and Bones August tarot challenge on Instagram. There was a prompt for each day, and it was an interesting process to notice was came up, what kept coming up, and how I responded to the cards. (I will admit that my participation was a bit more hit and miss while was away, mostly because I was so sick.)

On August 22nd, the prompt was “Where are things out of balance?”

I drew the Nine of Wands.

Image description: The Nine of Wands from The Wild Unknown tarot deck, against a black background.

This card is about stamina and inner strength – it’s about continuing on the long path.

Carrie Mallon, a tarot blogger who has written posts for each of the cards in the Wild Unknown deck (which I’m using here) writes about the Nine of Wands:

“The Nine of Wands shows that sometimes we need to draw on our inner reserves. We need to protect what is important to us, we need to protect our energy. We need to keep going, even though we may feel a little tired from being so on-guard. This kind of perseverance can be admirable, but can also lead to weariness.”

I thought, of course. Work is out of balance! I’m working too much. I’m always on the edge of burnout. I’m too busy, there’s too much going on, there’s too much pressure and stress. Work. This is about work.

But for some reason, I paused before posting the picture and that little response to it on Instagram. Instead, I sat with it for a few days.

I wondered why it was so easy to come to that interpretation.

I wondered about what the effect of having this story so prominently in my mind might be – how does it impact my days to always be framing myself in terms of “the edge of burnout” and “doing too much”?

I was a little uncomfortable with this line of inquiry, because I am always cautious when I feel myself edging towards “shift the narrative.” So often, this is used as a bludgeon against people who are legitimately struggling with injustice.

“Just shift your narrative!”

“Just focus on the positive!”

How about, just bite me.

However, this idea of shifting my own narrative is a theme that’s been coming up for me in a lot of areas lately. I have noticed that I’ve pushed so hard away from weaponized positivity that I sometimes feel like I’ve lost my connection to any kind of positivity at all. It’s easy, lately, to find myself feeling hopeless, trapped, powerless.

Even though it is unjust to demand that hurting people “focus on the positive,” that doesn’t mean there is never a time to re-frame.

In my narrative therapy training, I’ve been taught to “linger with intent” in the problem story – to invite community members to talk about their problems without shame or judgement, and to look for ways to strengthen their connection to preferred outcomes and preferred selves within those stories.

What this looks like in practice is that I listen to the stories that community members bring into narrative therapy sessions with an ear open to “double-storying” – what’s not being said here, but might be present anyway? In a story of anger, for example, there is sometimes a sense of justice that refuses to be silenced. In a story of hopelessness or exhaustion, there might be a cherished belief that things could be, and should be, different.

This means deepening stories of resistance and response, looking for those moments of choice and asking questions that connect people to their own acts of agency and to the ways in which they’ve responded to the problems in their lives. It also means looking for what people are valuing – what they hold to be precious or cherished, what they want for themselves and the world, what they hope for and dream – and working to strengthen their connections to the histories of those values.

This feels different than telling people to “shift their perspective” or to “think positive.”

It’s hard for me to write about this in clear and confident ways because I’m in the middle of the struggle myself.

What I do in a narrative therapy session is try to help people shift how they are oriented towards their problems and their own stories. I try to shift the narrative!

But outside of narrative therapy sessions and the respectful framing that I’m learning in my narrative therapy training, what I see in so much self-help writing is demands to “change your perspective and change your life,” with a subtext that seems to say that people have invited their own suffering, that they’re experiencing the consequences of their own “low vibrations” or “negative thoughts,” or that they have both the power and the responsibility to single-handedly and through the power of positive thinking change their external context. I hate these demands so much.

But what I’ve noticed in myself is that in rejecting the culture of “manifest your best life” positive thinking, I have also rejected a lot of helpful wisdom (wisdom that shows up in narrative therapy, too, and that I love in that context!) In rejecting the idea that individuals are responsible for changing social contexts that they can’t control, I have found myself also rejecting the hope for any change at all. I have focused so much on the harms of individualizing problems that I sometimes think I have forgotten the hope of collective action. I have focused on resisting narratives of “manifestation” and I think that I have sometimes lost sight of narratives of agency and choice.

I don’t know what to do about this.

But I do know this – when I pulled the Nine of Wands, my mind leapt to a very specific narrative of myself. It is the narrative of overwork. The narrative of “the edge of burnout.” It is a narrative I know very well, and anytime a narrative comes that easily, it’s worth questioning.

Because, even though it is a narrative that comes with my critique of capitalism and my feelings of powerlessness in the face of late stage capitalism, it’s also a thin narrative of myself. (“Thin description allows little space for the complexities and contradictions of life. It allows little space for people to articulate their own particular meanings of their actions and the context within which they occurred.” – from What is Narrative Therapy on the Dulwich Centre’s excellent site.)

I started wondering, what if the thing that’s out of balance isn’t work, but my narrative about work?

(And, since it’s Sunday when I’m writing this, and Sunday in the Tender Year is when I pick a binary and challenge it, what if it isn’t either/or, but rather both?)

I started asking myself what is rendered invisible when I focus only on the part of my working self that is so tired and overwhelmed?

The answers came slowly, especially because I was sick. But they did come eventually.

What gets erased is the joy I take in my work.

What gets erased are the positive effects of my work.

What gets erased is the support I have in my work (including from my patrons!) and the growth that I am inviting into my life by continuing to do this work.

My choices get erased in this narrative, which is a narrative of work being foisted on me – work that I have to do in order to pay the rent, work that I have to do in order to get where I need to be.

But I do feel joy in my work.

There are positive effects that result from my work.

I have so much support for my work, and I do make choices.

After sitting with this idea of work / narratives of work, I laid out another tarot spread for myself.

Image description: A Wild Unknown tarot spread and a muffin on a wooden table. The spread includes the Nine of Wands, the Four of Cups, the Ace of Wands, the Four of Wands, and the Son of Pentacles. The Father of Cups is also visible on top of the deck.

I pulled out the Nine of Wands, and then laid out my favourite spread with that as the focus.

My favourite spread is the elements – a five card spread with a focus card (or a card that represents the situation or the whole), and then cards for air/mental self, water/emotional self, earth/physical or material self, and fire/creative, passionate, or spiritual self.

In the air position, I had the Four of Cups.

The Four of Cups in the Wild Unknown always strikes me as being a card about feelings of scarcity – that rat is trying so hard to keep control of all the cups, to make sure they don’t tip or get stolen. The Four of Cups is often about feeling like there isn’t enough, and in this deck (more than most others) it makes me think of the way scarcity can invite us into desperation and a desire to control our situation more tightly than we need to, more tightly than we actually can. This card says, “I can’t let go of anything, or I will lose everything.”

It landed like a hammer and I almost didn’t even flip the rest of the spread. This card speaks directly to what I had been thinking about over the four days since originally pulling the Nine of Wands.

Maybe I’m out of balance about this because I am so focused on scarcity. I am so terrified of scarcity. I am terrified of financial insecurity – I have experienced acute financial scarcity in the past, and I am chronically on the edge of it (and have been since my divorce), and those thoughts consume me sometimes. Especially when I think about work, and about throwing myself more fully into my narrative work.

I noticed the moon in both the Four of Cups and the Nine of Wands. That dark crescent in the Four is a rich golden colour in the Nine of Wands – two different narratives of the same moon. Am I working towards that bright sliver of light, or am I clutching what little I can in the shadows? It’s the same thing, but it’s a very different story of that same thing.

So that first position is air, how I’m thinking about the situation.

I moved on to the rest of the spread.

Water – how am I feeling about this situation? Where are my emotions here?

The Ace of Wands. This is a card about new beginnings, and about passion. When I think about work, I do think in terms of scarcity – a lack of time, a lack of money, a lack of resources, a lack of faith in myself. And a lot of that is justified, but it isn’t the whole story. Because when I feel about work, particularly about my narrative work, my community organizing work, my writing work – I feel passionate and excited. I feel like I’m building something! I feel like there’s value here, and the potential to do something new and needed. This card resonated for me, too.

Then across the spread to Fire – where is my passion and creativity here?

The Son of Pentacles. I see the same golden crescent moon as in the Nine of Wands, and notice the pentacle (a symbol of earth and grounding and materiality) centered in it – another narrative of this same story that adds stability to the potential and “enoughness” of that rich crescent.

Carrie Mallon writes about this card:

The Son of Pentacles leans into the card, pressing forward slowly but surely. An orange crescent moon frames a pentacle above him. The background is dark, but lightens where he gazes.

The Son of Pentacles is not one to act with great haste or passion. He is purposeful and careful in all that he does. Once he has decided to move in a given direction, that is simply where he goes. He sticks the course and slugs through the mud to reach his goals. He doesn’t always trust easily, but if someone does earn his trust, he stands by them without fail.

On the positive side, this attention to detail can be essential. The Son of Pentacles is thorough and has unparalleled determination to finish what he starts. On the negative side, he can fall prone to tunnel vision.

…[The] Son of Pentacles is looking down at his chosen path. He is so resolute in his endeavors that he may forget to look up and assess his current surroundings. He may have a difficult time with changes and flexibility.

That also resonates with what I’d been thinking about this whole work/narratives of work thing. I recognize my own determination, but I can also see how sometimes I get focused on a particular idea or narrative and it’s hard for me to deviate from that. I also find this interesting because this card is in the fire position – it’s all about passion. But the Son of Pentacles is not a passionate card. He’s determined, focused, attentive but not passionate. And I am passionate. I am passionate in general but I am especially passionate about my work.

Except, not so much lately.

Lately, I’ve been so tired. I’ve been so fixed on how hard it is, how hard I’m working, how hard I have to keep working, and I haven’t been feeling my fire. I’ve been feeling sad and hopeless lately – climate change, economics, politics. I’ve been doing my work, but I’ve been doing it more like the Son of Pentacles than I would like.

And the lovely thing about that is that I can make choices about whether I continue like this! The cards are not fixed, fatalistic. The cards are a conversation. And I can make choices, make changes. I can invite more fire into this part of my life.

Finally, Earth – where is my physical and material self in this?

The Four of Wands. Where the Four of Cups is about scarcity and lack, the Four of Wands is about celebration and reaching milestones.

I’m interpreting this card as an invitation to notice successes as they happen, rather than constantly watching for upcoming failures or challenges.

The fact is, some things have gone really well in the last while! I have First Class Honours in my first course of the Masters program. My birthday offer of $37 narrative therapy sessions has been popular, and I only have 25 of these sessions left. (If you’d like to take advantage of this offer, get in touch! I’d love to work with you.) I have a lot of ideas for posts and projects, and lots of people are interested in participating in these projects. The next zine is almost ready to be printed!

I’m going to try to notice those things when they happen, and to let myself linger in those stories of success and hope.

It’s really difficult looking at our narratives and allowing them to shift (or even acknowledging that a shift might be possible or desirable).

I appreciate the way that tarot invites me into these difficult and rich conversations with myself and with my stories.

Onward!

A Spread for Parents

Parenting is challenging.

Sometimes we’re parenting a child. Maybe we are biologically connected to the child that we’re parenting. Maybe we aren’t. Maybe we adopted them. Maybe we fell in love with one or both of their parents. Maybe we’re in their extended family (biological or chosen).

Sometimes we’re parenting ourselves. Maybe we didn’t get the kind of love we needed as children. Maybe we did! Maybe we’ve lost a parent. Maybe we just know that we continue to need parenting throughout our lives, and we’ve chosen to take on that sacred role of caregiving for ourselves, within ourselves. Maybe we are extending the loving parenting we received, and maybe we are healing trauma.

Sometimes we’re parenting in some other way – bringing a project or an idea or a dream into the world and then nurturing its growth.

Parenting is challenging in all of these contexts.

Here is a spread to offer some guidance as we parent!

Image description: A drawing of a 5-card spread (described below) and a small purple flower with a green stem, brown roots, and blue water lines.

I designed this spread from the perspective that parenting is both something we are (a part of our identity), and also something we do (a set of actions the result from that identity), and that when we are doing parenting, we are working towards the highest good of the life we are caring for.

This is certainly not the only way to view parenting, and I am particularly conscious of the fact that not everyone views parenting as part of their identity – so the first card, “Being a Parent,” can also be interpreted as the way you are viewed in your parental role.

I designed this spread on Mother’s Day, because I wanted to create something that could reflect my own experience and orientation to the idea of parenting – I am a non-binary person in a nesting relationship with someone who has two kids half the time. I’m not legally any kind of parent, but I’m functionally a stepparent.

Alright, let’s dive into this!

As always, I fully support choosing these cards intentionally or drawing them after shuffling, and I also think that there is so much room to draw further cards, swap cards out, and otherwise engage in a conversation with your cards. Parenting is, in my experience both parenting myself and parenting these two stepsquids, in a constant state of flux. It is always a conversation between dreams and reality, between conflicting needs and resources, between the self and the other, the self and the young self, the self and the echoes of our own parents. Let that complexity and flux be present in this spread!

1 – Being a Parent. This card represents you as a parent – either your interpretation of how parenting is part of your identity, or how other people perceive you because of your parenting role. If you want, you can draw two cards – one for the internal sense of identity, and one for the external perception.

2 – Doing Parenting. This card represents how you are doing the actions of parenting, and offers an invitation to consider the impact of those actions. What are you doing as you parent? This is another position that invites a second card – one for what you are doing, and one for what you might consider doing.

3 – Nurture. What are you invited to nurture in the child in your life, in the child in yourself, in the project or idea you are bringing up?

4 – Validate. What are you invited to validate? This is so important for those of us parenting children or parenting ourselves. What is present in the experience of this person that may be hard to see or believe? What are they/we feeling, noticing, experiencing that is not finding validation elsewhere? Allow the person you are parenting to be the expert in their own experience.

5 – Witness. Part of parenting involves witnessing the growth that results from our nurturing and validating actions. Especially if we are parenting a child or a project, witnessing how they operate in the world and allowing ourselves to hold a decentered role – to be on the outside of that, witnessing it – is so important. And even when we are parenting ourselves, releasing our own desire to control the outcome and witnessing how we move through the world can be such a healing step.

Let me know if you try this spread out!


Here is the spread that I drew for parents on the margins on Mother’s Day this year.

Being a parent: The Devil. Text on the card reads ‘Justice is not blind’ and ‘when silence equals profit.’ Being a parent in this time of ecological, economic, and political collapse and injustice means seeing and fighting against this. Cristy C. Road writes, ‘how do we evade systems of oppression in eras of destitution?’ That’s the question for us as parents. 

Doing parenting: Wheel of Fortune. ‘Keep spinning until you feel totally safe.’ In the *doing* of parenting there is a push for change, to turn the wheel, to make choices, to think twice, to ask the hard questions. 

To nurture: Page of Wands. Nurture the bravery and power of whoever it is we are parenting. 

To validate: Revolution. Validate the rage and energy of whoever we are parenting. Validate their/our truth, and the the refusal to continue to support systems of injustice. Text on the card reads, ‘defend the sacred.’ Validate that. 

To witness: King of Wands. Nurture those first steps in bravery and power, and then witness the results. The King of Wands ‘doesn’t fear the journey toward enlightenment and global security; he is present for every step of the ride.’ 

Parenting on the margins can feel exhausting, overwhelming, isolating, terrifying. I found this spread encouraging and demanding. This work, however we do it, whoever we do it for, is good work. Hard work. Revolutionary work.

Project Kindling Spread

I’m still working my way through Evvie Marin’s fantastic ebook, Eight Useful Tarot Spreads for Times of Resistance and Change. Today I’m taking the Project Kindling Spread out for a spin!

I’ve been holding off on this spread because I’ve been getting some ducks in a row. Fox and Owl Tarot launches officially – official official! – next weekend. I’m going to open up the shop and start offering readings professionally.

This has meant some behind-the-scenes technical work, and some behind-the-scenes shadow work. (I really love Northern Light Witch‘s Shadow Work Spell Kit, and highly recommend it. I’ll be posting a review, with some snippets from the work I’ve done over this last while, next week.)

I needed to figure out how I feel about money, and about tarot, and about bringing the two together in this way. I needed to figure out how tarot fits in with my other work, because in my non-tarot life, I’m a narrative therapist and I believe deeply the narrative practice of decentring the practitioner and bringing people fully into the centre of their own story. If I believe, and I do, that “you are the expert in your own experience,” then how does tarot fit with that? (It fits beautifully, I think! But I just really had to sit with that for a while and make sure I was fully grounded in my ethics and my focus as I get ready for this launch.)

But this evening, I finally let myself try out this spread!


Focusing on Fox and Owl Tarot as the project I am kindling, I got a reading that is strongly influenced by the work I’ve been doing over the last week and a bit.

Image description: A spread from the Steampunk Tarot deck, with King of Pentacles, Ten of Swords, and Seven of Cups at the centre, The Sun to the left, The Tower to the right, Page of Cups below, and Queen of Pentacles above.

Cards 1, 2, 3 – The sparks: King of Pentacles, Ten of Swords, Seven of Cups. There are the elements that will spark the project into life.

I laughed when I saw the Ten of Swords. It’s true, I am an Eeyore. I bring my despair and my outrage at the injustices so common in our world into this work. I reallly appreciated uncaged-tarot’s recent thread about social justice in tarot, and when I saw this ten, that’s what immediately came to mind. Exhaustion at the many cuts that marginalized communities face. Existential dread. Even a bit of melodrama. But this is not a negative in this context. This is a spark! This is the sharp awareness of injustice and the crushing effects of the kyriarchy on the people I work with.

The Seven of Cups made me pause and think. In this card, I see my indecision, my daydreaming self, my pie-in-the-sky imaginings of what Fox and Owl might end up being. For a moment, I felt myself sinking into judgement and discouragement, but then I thought about how daydreams are beautiful when the spark action. In the moment of imagining so many potential outcomes – will Fox and Owl take off and become a major part of my work life? Amazing! Will I write a book about narrative therapy and tarot? Maybe! Will I develop an entire tightly connected community of fellow Social Justice Mages? I hope so! – and I thought, fuck the judgement. These daydreams are perfect, and they are sparking this project. When they burn down over time, I’ll be left with the glowing coal of whatever lasted. The heart of this will stay, and in the meantime, the daydreams are perfect kindling.

And then the King of Pentacles. I struggle with the King cards in most decks – I am working on a series of posts about how the Next World Tarot queers the kings and gave me my first truly comfortable engagement with that energy. I have found Siobhan’s post on Little Red Tarot about the Kings incredibly helpful, and I came back to it in interpreting this card. Given my interpretation of the Ten of Swords – that this work calls me to be conscious of the cuts and exhaustion of living under marginalization – the presence of a King (with all the privilege that is brought in there) challenges me to be present with balance, to honour my own intuition and wisdom, to be grounded in my own practice just as much as I centre the wisdom and knowledge of the person I am reading for. Sioban writes, “Power is a practice, a pose, a reciprocal biochemical signature that we can share with other humans or experience alone; it’s a privilege that we’ve taken for granted (and which we can use for good). Work with it. Acknowledge its misuse and, also, reclaim it.” I can bring this power into my work. And, in fact, I must bring that power into my work, or the spark won’t kindle into flame.

Card 4, Internal influences: The Sun.

What do I bring to the table? A fuckton of energy, is what. Joyful energy. Generative energy. Hot, bright, Leo Sun energy. I don’t associate myself with The Sun (or with my Leo sign) very often. I feel more Moon, more Cancer-rising. More dark, more watery, more gloom – there is a reason my alter ego is the Gloom Fairy. But there are moments when I know the fire in myself, and I know that this card is accurate. This project was deeply influenced by my energy, my desire to create and to be part of nurturing growth. I bring that fire to this project.

Card 5, External influences: The Tower.

Just like the Ten of Swords, when I flipped this card I immediately laughed in recognition. Fox and Owl Tarot is the product of a few things, one of which was a friend identifying a lack of queer, trans, and polyamory-friendly tarot readers in Calgary. But it is also the product of my ongoing search for ways to participate as a healer and support for people as we go through this calamitous time. Climate change, global economic and political turmoil, the resurgence of overt fascism… These are Tower times, and that external context is a huge influence in how I view this project and what I want to bring to my readings.

Card 6 and 7, Let go of and Move towards: Page of Cups and Queen of Pentacles.

These two cards came out together, so I am reading them as interchangeable in these positions. I think they both have insight to offer in both positions.

Page as card 6 – I’m not a newbie to the cards. This is not the beginning of my journey. I have a strong connection to my cards and to the practice of tarot, and to my narrative practice and my work as a community organizer. I can let go of my imposter syndrome and my anxiety that I don’t have anything worthwhile to offer yet.

Page as card 7 – I will always be a student of the cards. There is always more to learn, and embracing that fact and moving towards it will be a benefit to my work with Fox and Owl Tarot.

Queen as card 6 – Don’t worry so much about the money. I struggle under capitalism, especially right now with the costs of grad school and the challenges of launching my counselling business. I am constantly stressed about money. In this position, I see the Queen of Pentacles as an invitation to let go of some of that stress when it comes to Fox and Owl, and to just let the work evolve how it evolves.

Queen as card 7 – Move towards valuing my work. Recognize that my work with tarot is work and that it does have value. Don’t be afraid of bringing money into an interaction, especially if I maintain my commitment to sliding scale and accessibility. (This has been a bit focus of my shadow work – money shame and anxiety! I am actually putting together a zine on this topic, so if you’re interested in participating, let me know!)

I really loved this spread! The cards challenged me to think, connect to my stories of myself and my hopes for this project, and tie into the wisdom that already exists in the tarot community.

I feel hopeful, optimistic, and ready to launch.

Onward!

Eight Useful Tarot Spreads Day 2: Balancing Action

Image description: A tarot spread, using the Steampunk Tarot. The spread includes Strength, The Moon, The Sun, the Queen of Pentacles, the Ace of Wands, and The Star.

This is the second in my series of posts reviewing/trying out the eight spreads in Evvie Marin’s Eight Useful Tarot Spreads for Times of Resistance and Change. Today I’m trying out the Balancing Action spread.

This is a six-card spread designed to help us figure out which of our actions are helping and which are hurting, and what we should move towards and step back from, as well as balancing cards to help bridge those polarities.

love the design of this spread, and I am looking forward to using it many times. (I am in the middle of a year-long collaborative art project, the Tender Year, and every Sunday our prompt is to “challenge the binary.” You can read about that project here. I think that this spread will be a brilliant addition to my binary-challenging Sunday tools!)

Lately (a long lately), I have felt so far out of balance when it comes to my work life. Even now, I am writing this post rather than having the bath I had promised myself earlier today. I feel like I am constantly overwhelmed, constantly exhausted, constantly running on fumes.

So I came into this spread looking for some clues to point me towards balance in my work life.

The top row, left to right, is “Helpful effects of my actions: Strength,” “Balancing energies: The Sun,” “Harmful effects of my actions: The Moon.”

The bottom row, left to right, is “Where to step up: Queen of Pentacles,” “Balancing energies: The Star,” “Where to step back: Ace of Wands.”

The first thing I noticed was all those majors. Four out of six cards, just like yesterday’s spread! And the fact that the Sun, Moon, and Star all made an appearance.

Here’s how I read it for myself –

I am making progress, and I am resilient. My actions (this constant forward motion I find myself in) is not all bad – I am developing my strength, my ability to sit calmly with the monsters I face, my compassion in the presence of pain. Since most of my work is with marginalized communities and trauma recovery, this was encouraging.

But on the other side, the more challenging aspects of The Moon – hopelessness, a sense of feeling lost and unsure, confusion. I’m not taking enough time to rest, and it is leading me to dark places.

I can balance this with The Sun (the goth in me hisses at this thought, haha). Focusing my efforts on things that renew and energize me, and balancing the despair of that Moon with the resilience of Strength. I also think I should go outside more often. It does help.

Then, where to put my energy.

Step up to the Queen of Pentacles. Step back from the Ace of Wands. I saw these two cards and immediately felt the whoosh of affirmation – I do need to focus on building sustainability into my work (I need to start charging for my work, which is a running theme in my life lately). Step up to the challenging necessity of assigning monetary value to my labour (without falling into violent capitalism! Sliding scale will always be present in my narrative therapy and group facilitation work). And step back from taking on more projects right now.

And how to balance those? The Star. Have hope. I don’t need to keep adding new work to my plate – I can stay focused on what I’ve already committed to, and trust that I’ve chosen wisely. I can balance my fear of stepping up to material stability and my fear of stagnating, and just let myself sink some roots down into that pentacle energy and let that frantic desire to always be starting something new slip a little further to the back.

Phew!

I can think of so many other situations where a spread like this will come in handy. This evening I facilitated a discussion for the bisexual/pansexual/asexual community group that I run, on the topic of The Closet in all its nuance – as a place of oppression, safety, choice, pressure; coming out as liberation and as frustrating expectation. It was a really great conversation, and also fits with this idea of balancing action.

You can find this spread, as well as the entire delightful book, on Evvie Marin’s website, Interrobang Tarot. And she just added a PDF download option, making it even more perfect!

I’ll be back tomorrow with another post, trying out the Emotional Arrow spread.

 

Tarot and Self-Care: Elements Spread

One of my favourite spreads is the 5-card elements*. I use it often, but I use it particularly when I need tarot as self-care. Tarot as self-storying. Tarot as an invitation into a gentler moment with myself. When I use it this way, I am not asking about outcomes or directions for movement – I find that those spreads are valuable and helpful, but when I am in a low moment, I need tarot that meets me in that low moment, I need tarot of the sunken now. Then, once I’ve met myself in that moment, I can think about how to move forward.

This post is a bit of a “how-to” and a bit of an introduction to my tarot reading method. It can be important to know how someone approaches tarot before you trust them with your questions!

First, the spread itself.

Image description: A lined sheet of paper. At the top the spread is labeled: 1 in the centre, 2 at the top, 3 to the left, 4 at the bottom, 5 to the right. The position meanings are described as below.

As with almost all of my tarot readings, I approach this one with some flexibility and an openness to conversation between the cards and myself (or the cards and my querent). What that means in practical terms is that I make choices about which cards to draw after shuffling and which to intentionally select, and when I am drawing after shuffling, I make choices about which cards to lay out first. I’ve numbered the positions in this spread in ascending numerical order, but that’s just for ease of communication.

In practice, if I feel particularly untethered from my solid foundations, I might lay Earth first as an anchor, and if I feel lost in heartbreak, I might lay Water first to honour that. I might put the elements down in the order that I feel most connected with them, or in the order that I feel I most need help connecting to them. And the Core card also works well as both a first or a last card. (Narrative tarot, like narrative therapy, is all about welcoming a diversity of responses and experiences.)

The five positions are:

1 – The core. Sometimes this can be the person that the spread is for, sometimes it can be the situation that they’re asking about, sometimes it can be the primary challenge facing them, or the skill, knowledge, or resource they’re relying on to meet the challenge. This card can be drawn after shuffling, or it can be intentionally chosen. Sometimes choosing this card intentionally can be a way to bring agency into a moment of sadness, discouragement, anger, fear, or other distress. Other times, allowing the card to select itself can give the reader an opportunity to respond dynamically to what presents itself. I also consider this card, even more than others in the spread, to be fluid. Sometimes what presents itself here, even when it’s chosen, takes on a different meaning after reading it in relation to the other cards, and it can be a meaningful act of self-authoring to change this card after the reading is complete.

2 – Air / mental / conceptual. What are you thinking about the situation? How is your mental or conceptual self engaged here, and what might help you feel more at ease in your mind? I think about this card in relation to intellect and thinking, but also in relation to overarching concepts – it might be a card about the metaphors that are at work in the situation, or the plan we have made for ourselves in the situation.

3 – Fire / spiritual. What is fueling this situation, or your response to the situation? Where is your passion, your creativity, your spark in this situation? This position doesn’t need to reflect any kind of metaphysical spirituality – it can also simply reflect spark/passion/creativity for secular readers.

4 – Earth / physical / foundational. What is grounding this situation, or your response to the situation? This can be about the physical self, but it can also be about the material context (finances, housing, food security, health), or about the foundations (history, social context, community).

5 – Water / emotional / relational. How are you feeling about the situation, or your response to the situation? What sorts of social connections do you have, or need? How is your heart in this situation?

When I’m reading, I look for where the elements show up in the cards, and whether there are patterns, interesting interactions, alignments, or opportunities for the cards to inform each other. As an example, I’ll show you the reading I did for myself this morning!

* I first learned this spread from Beth at Little Red Tarot, and she expanded it to a 9-card elements + bridges “Full Circle” spread when she did a reading for me. (She has included that spread in her book of 21 original tarot spreads, and I highly recommend it. You can get it here.)


Tiffany’s ‘Elements on a Tough Morning’ Self-Care Spread

Image description: The five card spread described above. In the centre is the Chariot reversed. Air is the Three of Pentacles, Fire is the Father of Wands, Earth is the Mother of Wands, Water is the Daughter of Pentacles. Around the spread are two small crystals and a small sprig of flowers. All cards are from the Wild Unknown Tarot.

I woke up sad. I hadn’t slept well, I am feeling lonely over here in Australia for the narrative therapy intensive, and I’m anxious about many aspects of my life. I felt untethered from a solid sense of myself. It felt like a good opportunity to use myself as a case study for how tarot can be used in a self-care practice. So, I got up and did this spread and spent quite a bit of time with it before I checked my phone, logged in to facebook, or even looked at email. Tarot can, sometimes, be a way to set a small boundary around a block of time and connect with our own experience of ourselves, not mediated through the news, the memes, or the world outside. It can make space for those conversations with ourselves that allow us to reconnect.

I shuffled and drew all of this – no intentional card choices.

I laid them all facedown to start with. (Sometimes I flip as I go, but this morning I wanted the whole thing revealed at once.)

In the centre, at the core, The Chariot reversed. Oof. I felt this one right into my bones – the sense of enthusiasm and passion, the desire to move forward, the energy, all present but blocked. In the Chariot, especially this Chariot, I see so much of the kind of forward movement I want. This Chariot is grounded – that pentacle on the horse’s chest is so prominent! Not rushing forward and about to skid out, she’s got some solid grounding to push off from. And she’s connected to the moon, which always feels so right for me. She’s not rushing forward without any intuitive understanding or openness to new insight – she’s got that crescent on her forehead, allowing her to learn and adapt. Everything I want for myself! But blocked. Reversed. The gut-punch of an answer that feels so accurate.

Then Air, Three of Pentacles. (I drew it reversed but turned it upright when I flipped itWhy? It just felt right to flip it, just like the Chariot felt right reversed.)

Fire, Father of Wands.

Earth, Mother of Wands.

Water, Daughter of Pentacles.

All Wands and Pentacles! Fire and Earth. Creativity and grounding. Spiritual self and material self.

Reading them together, I was able to see a picture of myself within this feeling of sadness, loneliness, restlessness, anxiety about financial and professional sustainability and success. I am a passionate and creative person – Mother and Father of Wands in Fire and Earth, fueling my actions and also grounding me. The Mother here is so protective of her creative projects, and that protectiveness is something I can lean on. I do protect my work.

In her blog series exploring the cards in the Wild Unknown Tarot, Carrie Mallon writes about the Mother of Wands, “Although she can be kind and warm, she is fierce and loyal, and not afraid to stand her ground. She holds her values dear to her heart and isn’t afraid to live in a way that lines up with her moral code. She doesn’t do anything halfway – she’s in it to win it. She pours all of her love, originality and unique energy into everything she does.”

That’s me. That’s the foundation that grounds me. And the Father of Wands with his fierce determination and courage, he fuels me. The creativity, commitment to my values, and determination that I bring into my work is present even in this moment of soft sadness.

Then the Pentacles in my Water and Air. The work that I do in my mental and emotional self-care to keep myself grounded, because otherwise I’m at risk of drowning or floating away. It felt very encouraging and validating to have Pentacles in both these positions – an invitation to recognize how much work I do to keep myself tethered, rooted, connected.

The Three of Pentacles reminds me that I am not alone, and that I have a strong community around me. Even when I can’t feel that connection, I can think about it and know that it’s present and real. In this ‘conceptual’ position, it also reminds me of the work I’ve done to plan my life out, and the fact that I am following through on that plan. I’m launching this tarot business, I’m working on my Master of Narrative Therapy degree, I am acting on the plan. I’m not just floating aimlessly through life hoping to bump into success – I am approaching this intentionally, from a position of forethought and insight, and I am standing on solid ground in my communities.

And then the Daughter of Pentacles. Soft. Vulnerable. Gentle. But also curious, eager to explore, and living under that rainbow – I love how this deck reflects back to me my queerness, lets me see my queer self as valid and present. My heart is a Daughter of Pentacles – ready to step out into the world and explore, still soft and willing to learn.

After the reading, I realized that The Chariot didn’t need to stay reversed. All those feelings of being blocked and unable to access my forward movement didn’t feel as relevant after being reminded of my strong grounding and the fire that keeps me going. Things are moving forward slowly, but they’re not stagnant, and I’m not stalled.

So I flipped that card, and I felt a lot better.

Image description: The same spread as above, but with The Chariot upright. Onward!

A Spread for Moving Within Grief

There are a lot of things I hope to offer with Fox and Owl Tarot.

Trauma-informed tarot.

Queer tarot.

Trans tarot.

Non-binary tarot.

Polyamorous tarot.

Tarot for grief.

I designed this spread for myself, and this post is about the spread, with an example of how I interpreted the cards that I drew for myself.

So, first, the spread.

I was wondering how we can move within grief, which can often feel like such a mountain to climb, an ocean to drown in, a swamp, a fog, an endless road – our metaphors for grief acknowledge the ongoingness of it, the immensity of it.

I was thinking about my own current and specific grief when I drew the cards for myself, but I was thinking about grief as a larger and more inclusive experience when I designed the spread. We grieve many things – we grieve our lost futures and selves when chronic illness, disability, or socioeconomic insecurity reduce our physical or social mobility; we grieve lost relationships with friends, with lovers, with family members, and we grieve even when these relationships are lost because those people rejected or hurt us; we grieve the deep loss of ecological destruction; we grieve our role in the violence of colonialism, grieving our complicity as settlers, like I am, or grieving the harms done to generations of colonized peoples; we grieve large and small losses and those griefs are valid. And we grieve the dead and the dying.

Tarot can help with this process.

Grief is often an act of storying – as we grieve, we tell ourselves (and ideally we are able to share with others) the story of the lost love, the lost self, the lost future, the lost friendship, the lost parent, the loss. Wrapped up in the story are all of our hopes – the ones we realized before the loss, the ones we couldn’t – and our longings and our hurts and our fears. Grief stories are deep, complex, multilayered narratives.

This spread is shaped like a mountain, because we climb it and it is impossibly steep. And it’s also shaped like roots coming down into the earth, because our grief runs deep and we are able to pull nourishment up from there.

You can work with this spread in a few different ways – you can select cards intentionally, you can draw them all after shuffling, or you can do a combination of both.

Image description: A sheet of lined paper, titled A Spread for Grieving. Numbers 1-7 are arranged like a mountain. The spread positions are described as below.

Position One – Where I come from in this grief. The roots of the lost relationship/self/hope. If this grief is a complex or conflicted grief, particularly if it’s a grief related to losing someone who was harmful or hurtful to you, it might help to choose this card intentionally. The Three of Swords might help validate your experience of betrayal, heartbreak, or pain and also your resilience and ongoingness, for example. The Five of Wands might validate your experience of conflict. Or you can choose a card that validates the aspects of the relationship that were meaningful for you even if they weren’t recognized or honoured by people outside of the relationship. This can be an opportunity to intentionally counter any gaslighting or self-doubt, any external invalidation or invisibility, by selecting an origin card that speaks to your experience in the relationship, whatever that needs to be.

Position Two – How I can receive connection in this grief. This card speaks to where you might be able to find community and social support, and it’s important because grief is often so isolating – especially complex grief, disenfranchised grief (meaning grief that is not socially acceptable or supported – this is particularly true for someone grieving the loss of a polyamorous relationship, the loss of an affair partner, the loss of an abusive parent, an early miscarriage, or a grief that lasts “too long” and has become uncomfortable for the people around us).

Position Three – How I  can receive comfort in this grief. Experiencing comfort within grief can feel selfish, wrong, bad, ungrateful, or otherwise not allowed. I included this card because I think that we suffer enough, and that comfort is allowed. I also think that comfort is complex, just like grief can be. This is another card that might be helpful to select for yourself, especially if you struggle with allowing yourself to feel comforted within grief (this can be particularly challenging if we feel guilt or shame within our grief). Maybe the Six of Cups could give you permission to return to childhood pleasures for a reprieve from the pain of grief. Maybe the Empress can offer you an invitation to engage in some art or creativity. Maybe the Hermit can open a door to some quiet time alone.

Position Four – The loss. This card represents the loss itself, and is another one that works well for choosing for yourself, or allowing the deck to offer up a card.

Position Five – How I can offer comfort in this grief. First, we take in what we need – find our roots, validate our experience, lean on community, allow ourselves comfort. Then, cups more filled, we pour out. Offering comfort to others who may be grieving (sharing our own specific grief or dealing with something else) can be part of the healing process. I also think that this card can show us how to offer comfort to ourselves if we are still in need of that.

Position Six – How I can offer connection in this grief. An invitation to build bridges to community, particularly after we’re starting to heal.

Position Seven – What new roots will grow in this grief-soaked soil. How will we grow as a result of this? What can we dig our toes down into in order to once again feel grounded and solid? Grief is such a destabilizing experience and can leave us feeling like we will never be grounded, rooted, or solid again. This card is an invitation to imagine a future that doesn’t erase, invalidate, or abandon the grief, but also continues to move with the grief rather than staying stuck. This is another position that welcomes an intentionally chosen card.

I hope this is helpful if you find yourself grieving! And if you’d like to do a tarot reading with me using this spread, let me know!

Here is how I used this spread for myself, in dealing with a specific grief that I am struggling with right now.

Image description: A notebook in the upper right with the spread description from above. The Wild Unknown Tarot deck facedown in the upper left. Seven cards (described below) arranged according to the described spread.

1 – The roots. Nine of Wands. Inner strength and stamina, but also work. The work that never seems to end, the ladder that is always almost there but never quite reaches. I didn’t select this card myself, but in my journalling earlier in the morning, I had been writing about how the relationship containing this grief includes this shared experience of work, of striving, of often feeling just at the edge. This was a lovely validation of shared experience.

2 – Receiving connection. Three of Cups. Friendship. Support. Those corvids sharing stories and secrets on that branch. I see my little coven of tenderqueer wonder witches in this card, and I know that it’s true. I also see my many friendships represented here.

3 – Receiving comfort. Five of Cups. Oh, Sad Horse. There is comfort in allowing the grief to be felt. There is comfort in a good cry. There is comfort in looking at the loss directly, and not immediately jumping to find a silver lining.

4 – The loss. This is the only card I intentionally selected. I chose Death. Death means many things – transformation, closure, necessary endings. Sometimes it means physical death.

5 – Offering comfort. Mother of Pentacles. I love this card for her practical engagement with material needs, her ability to recognize and validate her own needs and the needs of others. She’s an interpretation of offering comfort that isn’t entirely outward-focused – she invites me to be sustainable in my work. I see my narrative therapy work in both this card and the next, and I find that very comforting.

6 – Offering connection. Mother of Wands. My creativity and passion can help me build and sustain connections and community.

7 – Judgement. This card came up in a reading I did yesterday within the relationship holding the grief. It feels powerful here. Forgiveness. Renewal. Reawakening.

Phew!