The Ten of Swords and Intimate Partner Violence

I am tired of watching the people in my life suffer at the hands and words of people who claim to love them.

And it does not escape my notice that it is more often the femmes, the women, the disabled, the neurodivergent, the vulnerable who are experiencing violence and abuse from their partners.

I am overwhelmed with listening to people who consult me for narrative therapy, and who consult me as a friend, talk about what has been done to them, talk about what has been said to them, talk about what has been said about them, and to hear them questioning themselves with the oppressive voices of our culture.

Was it really so bad?
He didn’t mean it.
Am I too needy?
He was drinking.
They were having a panic attack.

Everything I say makes her angry.
He really tries.
Maybe it’s not so bad.

Maybe it’s not so bad.

Of course they doubt themselves! Our culture chronically gaslights marginalized communities. Marginalized communities are often operating within transgenerational trauma, poverty, scarcity (if not in our families, then in our communities). Marginalized communities may also have to contend with other structural and systemic issues that make naming abuse and violence more challenging – Black and Indigenous communities are at such increased risk of violence from any system. Seeking help often means finding more violence.

There is so much normalization of violence in our culture. And although it is not an issue that only impacts women, or is only perpetuated by men, there are patterns. They are painful patterns to witness.

One of my friends recently posted this open letter to men:

Dear men,

Just wanted to let you know I am so over it. I talk to your partners every day. I see their tears and listen to their self flagellation in the effort to make you happy. I watch them cram themselves in tiny boxes so they don’t threaten you. I fume as they suggest, gently, kindly, if it’s not too much trouble, that you consider their needs, but your wants are more important. Men, I watch you casually ask for sacrifice as if it were your due. I seethe as your partners ask for the simplest things of you, and you just don’t even bother. I see you go through the motions and call it love, when it doesn’t even pass the bar for respect. And then, as it all falls apart you claim you need a chance, as if you haven’t been given dozens, that you didn’t know, as if you hadn’t been told relentlessly, and that you can change, as long as you won’t be held accountable.

Men, I am so over watching your partners unilaterally trying to fix relationship problems that are yours. I am tired of knowing your partners better than you. I am exhausted having to buoy them through the hard times because you cannot be bothered. I am tired of you cheapening what love means by buying the first box of chocolates you see (not even their favourite) and calling it an apology but changing nothing.

Don’t hurt my people. Men, do better or go home.

And still, the questioning. Maybe it wasn’t so bad? Maybe it wasn’t so bad. Maybe it wasn’t so bad. Because each incident on its own might not be so bad. Might be a bad day, a bad choice. Might be a bad moment. It’s not the whole story. Maybe it’s not so bad.

And on its own, maybe it isn’t.

Image description: The Ten of Swords from the Next World Tarot.

From the guidebook by Cristy C. Road:

This is the final straw, and the 10 of Swords is exhausted from counting. They have lost themselves, over and over, in the name of love, self-worth, trauma, post-traumatic stress, healing the body from abuse, healing the mind from manipulation, and unwarranted, non-stop loss. The 10 knows healing, they studies it and have been offered power, candles, bracelets, and messages from their ancestors through local prophets who run their favorite Botanica. They are listening, but they are stuck. Proving to their community that while they have known power, they have known pain they don’t deserve.

The 10 of Swords asks you to trust your pain, own your suffering, and don’t deny yourself of the care you deserve from self, and the validation from your community. That validation is the root of safety. The 10 of Swords believes now is the time to ask your people for safety.

I pulled this card after another conversation with a beloved member of my community about an incident of misogyny in an intimate relationship.

I had brought this question to the deck – “How do we invite accountability into our intimate relationships?”

I wanted to know –

How do we create the context for change without putting the burden of emotional labour onto the person already experiencing trauma from the choices and behaviours of their partner?

How do we deepen the connection to values of justice, compassion, and ethical action, for people who have been recruited into acts of violence and abuse?

How do we resist creating totalizing narratives about people who use violence and abuse? How do we resist casting them as monsters? How do we invite accountability while also sustaining dignity?

How do we, to use a quote by one of my fellow narrative therapists, “thwart shame”? (Go watch Kylie Dowse’s video here!)

In moments of distress, I often turn to the tarot. When I don’t know how to ask the right questions, and I don’t know what to say or do, I turn to the tarot. Tarot cards are excellent narrative therapists.

I flipped this card over and the image moved me immediately. These acts of intimate partner violence and abuse do not occur in a vacuum. It is not just one sword in the back.

A misogynist comment from a partner, directed towards a woman or femme, joins the crowd of similar comments she, they, or he has received their entire life.

A racist comment from a partner, directed towards a racialized person, joins the pain of living an entire life surrounded by white supremacy and racism.

An ableist comment from a partner, a transantagonistic comment, a sanist or healthist or fatphobic or classist comment – these comments join the crowd.

And so, how do we invite accountability while preserving dignity? How do we resist totalizing narratives of either victims or perpetrators, resist recreating systems of harm in our responses to harm?

See the whole picture.

Even though it is so painful to look at, see the whole thing.

Rather than locating violence and abuse as problems that are localized to a relationship, individualized and internalized to a single person making choices, recognize that these things happen in context. And for many folks, these contexts are incredibly painful.

It will take time, and patience, and compassion, and gentleness, and a willingness to do the hard work of both validation and accountability. It will take community to find safety.

We need each other to say, “it is that bad, even if this incident might not be.”

When the victim-blaming, isolating, individualizing voices start clamoring, we need each other to say, “this is not your fault.”

We need something more nuanced than “leave,” “report.”

We need to show up for each other, with each other. We need safety. We need validation.

Can we do this by asking questions like:

How did you learn what it means to be in relationship?

What examples of making choices in relationships have you seen around you? What was being valued in those choices?

Does what you’ve learned about being in relationship align with what you want for yourself, and what you value for yourself?

Do the actions you’re choosing in your own relationship align with your values or hopes?

Who has supported you in your values and hopes?

Do you share any hopes or values with your partner(s)?

What have you learned about violence and abuse in relationships? About who experiences violence and abuse? About who enacts violence and abuse?

When did you learn this?

Does this learning align with what you’ve experienced in your own relationship?

What insider knowledges would you add to this learning, from your own experience?

Have you ever taken a stand against violence and abuse in your relationship?

What enabled you to take this stand?

When violence or abuse shows up in your relationship, are you able to name it? Have you ever been able to name it? What supports this ability?

What have you learned about what it means to be accountable in relationship?

Do you have supports available to you that invite accountability while sustaining dignity?

Who can support you in being accountable for the actions you’ve taken when you’ve been recruited into violence or abuse? Who can support you in asking for accountability from a partner who has been recruited into violence or abuse?

Here are some resources if you’re looking for ways to respond to intimate partner violence:

The Stop Violence Everyday project.

Critical Resistance’s The Revolution Starts at Home zine.

The Creative Interventions toolkit.

(This post has been cross-posted to my narrative therapy blog. You can find it here.)

Card of the Day: Seven of Wands

Today’s card is the Seven of Wands. Courage.

From Cristy C. Road’s brilliant Next World Tarot guidebook, “You recently had a vision – you are a priestess, a leader, an energetic plea for peace and justice. You have what you need – the resources, the knowledge, and the revolutionary intent to create something both educational and breathtaking – but a community, an individual, or a system unwilling to comply sits beside you. There is a system of power that excuses hate violence; this system could run through a police state, a political power, or a love. Through intimidation, scare tactics, and lies, they urge you to run from your own magic. The 7 of Wands cultivated a force field that surrounds the space she creates her elixirs, makes her art, and strengthens her intuition – away from the claws of the oppressor. She asks you to do the same.”

Oof.

What is your vision? Your dream? What secret, precious hopes are you holding close but feeling unable to bring into the world?

Maybe it’s a book. A course. A career change. Involvement in a project or process of justice-doing. Maybe it’s just speaking what you know to be true into a world that you know to be hostile.

What is the system of power that sits in your way?

How can you resist this system?

How can you show up for your dreams, for your own deeply knowing self?

What are we doing with, and for, our dreams?

What do you think it means to your dream or vision that you have not forgotten it, despite the resistant system that you face?

Where did you first discover this dream or vision?

Who in your life, past or present, would not be surprised to know that this is your dream or vision? Who knows the secret magical heart of you?

Who supports you in this dreaming? Is this person living, no longer living, fictional, historical? Can you bring this person closer to you in the moments when you need courage?

I believe in us. In you, and in myself. Sitting with this card early this morning, I felt it deep in my bones. Both the vision and the fear.

If you are here in this Seven energy with me, welcome. Let’s put up our force fields and protect our magic. Let’s build.

Card of the Day: Eight of Swords

Image description: The 8 of Swords in the Next World Tarot.

Today’s card is the 8 of Swords. Restriction.

There are so many things that I love about Cristy C. Road’s Next World Tarot, but perhaps my favourite is that the deck offers something liberatory and strong in each card. It’s a deck that welcomes reflection, accountability, and the acknowledgement of how even our “maladaptive” coping strategies are born from inner knowing and self-preservation.

In the introduction to the guidebook, Road writes, “When we’re up, the system wants to tear us down. When we’re down, we sink in an act of resistance or self-preservation that comes from the horror of exhaustion. How do we hold each other up in a world where oppression can be louder than self-love?”

“We sink in an act of resistance.”

I really appreciate this framing of what it can mean to sink in response to feeling down. This is so counter to narratives of positivity and positive thinking, which push us always towards rising, growing, freeing ourselves. There is so little space for contraction, constraint, restraint, restriction. This leaves us with a thin narrative available for this card – it’s something to get rid of, get out of, get past.

Michelle Tea writes, in Modern Tarot, “When the Eight of Swords arrives, you are so deeply stuck that you have given up any hope of fixing the situation. Or maybe you delayed fixing a situation until it swallowed you whole and now you’ve lost hope… If you did allow yourself to see, you’d have to acknowledge that this miserable situation is at least partly your own doing. You have tremendous personal power, but for some reason you are choosing not to use it, or you have handed it over to someone else.”

This is a common interpretation of the card. And sometimes it’s true! But other interpretations are possible. I’m thinking of the cocoon in the Wild Unknown, and the idea of restriction as being about the moment before growth and the painful period of transformation.

Image description: The Eight of Swords in the Wild Unknown tarot.

But I’m also thinking about the Next World Tarot, and this interpretation – “The 8 of Swords was burned once and refuses to be burned again. She hides from the possibility, but knows deep inside that she is greater than her triggers. The 8 of Swords is self-imposed limits for her own protection. She embodies a moment of validation. She asks you to name your needs. What do you need to heal? What do you need to avoid? She asks you to choose your limits and trust your body is the foremost guide for your healing… She asks you to unearth your truth and your personal accountability in order to begin crawling through the exit wound.”

How different is this interpretation!

So, an invitation to explore the discourses we have internalized about restriction.

What has your experience of limitations or restrictions been? What is the difference between self-imposed limitations and externally-imposed limitations? Is there any overlap between the two?

Who taught you about limitations or restrictions? Were these framed as a positive or a negative? Have you had experiences that stood against or challenged this framing?

What are the limits you have imposed on yourself?

What wisdom informed the setting of these limits? What were you valuing for yourself when you set these limits?

What do these limits make possible in your life? Now, or in the past?

Do these limits still align with what you value for yourself? Do they feel necessary? Is there a way to shift your relationship to these limits?

This card is richly, beautifully, complexly multi-storied. There are many true stories that coexist and contradict each other without overwriting each other. This is exactly the kind of thing I want to explore, so if you have had a relationship with this card and would like to talk about it in a narrative session, let me know!

Card of the Day: Seven of Swords

Image description: The 7 of Swords from the Next World Tarot.

Today’s card is the 7 of Swords. The escape plan.

It’s an interesting card to read in the context of Valentine’s Day, a day that has so many of us feeling that the world (or at least today’s dominant narratives) is against us.

Today there’s a wheedling little voice in many of our heads. This voice might say,

“Are you in love? I mean, the right kind of love. Two of Cups love, obviously. And no queer, trans, extended kinship networks Two of Cupsiness, no way. Romantic and sexual love. Head over heels love. Chocolate and flowers love.

No?

Dang. What are you doing with your life?!

Suffering in misery, probably! Is it because you’re broken? Is it because you don’t love yourself, so nobody else can love you either? Is it because you’re in the wrong body? I bet it is.”

Even those of us who have found our way into counter cultural spaces and stories of anti-oppressive love are deeply aware of how this day, and its dominant narratives, cooperate with white cis hetero patriarchal norms in ways that hurt so many people.

And for those grieving a loss – a loss to death or to the unchosen loss of a relationship or even to the *chosen* loss of a relationship – there is little space for grief in this day.

For those of us operating within scarcity, or on the margins, this day highlights all the things that hurt and feel precarious.

No wonder we need an escape plan.

Cristy C. Road writes, “After reading the instructions, she still believed she knew a better solution… The 7 learned how to evade disaster – she questioned her actions multiple times, and multiple times came to the same conclusion to do it her way. The 7 of Swords asks you to do the same, but be mindful.”

Isn’t that what we all do as we become conscious of the cultural stories of heteronormative, cisnormative, amatonormative, mononormative love, and as we start to question, to challenge, to find a better solution.

Today, for all its fluffy marketing, is a sharp day for many of us. Good thing we’re also sharp.

Card of the Day: Page of Cups

Today’s card is The Page of Cups. The home of expression. And so instead of my morning pages, I sat at my desk with my coffee getting cold, reading poetry.

salt. by nayyirah waheed. I read the whole book. I feel thankful for being invited into an experience that is not my own. I feel thankful for her centering of Blackness. I feel thankful for the poems that are about me, too.

‘if i write
what you may feel
but cannot say.
it does not
make
me a poet.
it makes me a bridge.
and
i am humbled
and
grateful
to assist your heart in speaking.
– grateful’

I am thankful for this book. This, and another book of her poetry, Nejma, gifted to me years ago by someone who was a metamour and is now a good friend.

I think about the Page of Cups. Cristy C. Road says, ‘Page of Cups learned to speak in poetry through both suffering and living life to its fullest… They ask you to take your gut reaction and your infatuations seriously. These are your gifts. Your raw talents. Now prepared for battle.’

And I read my signed copy of Pansy, by Andrea Gibson. Crying, as I always do, about halfway through, when the poems spoken under my breath have pulled the emotion out of me like a chemical reaction. This is not my favourite of Andrea Gibson’s poetry books (that is Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns) but today it felt like the right one. It is an ‘Angels of the Get Through’ kind of day. It is a ‘Letter to White Queers, a Letter to Myself’ kind of day.

So, beloved tarot companions.

What poetry speaks its way through your heart today?

When did you learn to tell your own stories?

Who has been a bridge for you, who has helped assist your heart in speaking?

Today, consider this card an invitation. Seek out poetry that speaks to you. Find your story, or a story that your heart needs to hear.

The Page of Cups zine is almost ready. Since I’ve pulled this card again, and found it so rich and meaningful, I’m going to open up submissions to the zine for the rest of this week.

Send your 500-ish word story, on the loose theme of playfulness, curiosity, and storytelling to foxandowltarot@gmail.com.

Being called out by the Eight of Pentacles

On December 24, I shared:

(image description: The Crow Tarot Eight of Pentacles against a bright orange background.)

This morning I’m being called out by the Eight of Pentacles.

Maybe I’ll write a blog post up about it, but not right now because I have too much time-sensitive work I have to get done and not enough time for it.

I’m glad I took a moment for a card draw, even though it was so sharp.

I’ve been working with Michelle Tea’s book Modern Tarot. I really love her interpretations, and for the Eight of Pentacles she includes some suggestions on how to shift our relationship to work when the drudgery becomes soul-crushing rather than meditative.

In my own life, I can see many sides of this card – I love much of my work, but I also have fallen into a pattern of working too hard, too much. The bills DO need to be paid, but my heart needs some attention, too.

This has been a big theme for me lately. “The bills need to be paid but my heart needs some attention, too.” This keeps coming up.

A small selection of where this is coming up in my morning pages journalling:

December 17, “The new year is coming and I want it to be good. I’m so anxious about money, work, creativity, the world…”

December 18, “I want to figure out how to have a work life that feels sustainable and joyful. I just don’t know how that looks… Part of why I don’t know is because it seems so far away. It’s been ages since I felt like I had that kind of stability.”

December 19, “Last year one of my goals was to take a day off every week and I completely failed at that… There’s such a churning excess of tasks-to-be-done swirling in my head. Every time I think about the future, I get distracted by thinking about all of the things I must or could or want to do.”

December 21, “It just feels like I am always too busy for any kind of softness or ritual. By the end of the day, I just want to watch TV and go to sleep.”

Reading back over these days, I see myself valuing sustainability, valuing a feeling of joyfulness and accomplishment in my work.

In many ways, the Eight of Pentacles is one of my heart cards, because I love so much of my work. There can be so much joy in work, especially when I am working with my cherished queer, trans, racialized, neurodivergent, poor, fat, disabled, and otherwise marginalized communities! Even difficult, time-consuming, expansive work experiences can be, if not always joyful, then rewarding. Michelle Tea uses the word meditative, and I can think of many times when I’ve found that deep well of nourishing work.

When I am reading tarot for someone, bringing a queer, trans, and intersectional lens to my reading, bringing in my narrative therapy skills and my connection to the cards and my compassion and that soft purple energy that infuses my tarot practice, I love the work.

When I am engaged in collective narrative practice, consulting with communities and creating resources that collect their insider knowledges, skills, insights, and experiences, I love the work.

When I am meeting with individuals, families, or groups for narrative therapy sessions, bringing curiousity and skill to the conversation, I love the work.

I love writing.

I love generating content.

I love working when it is the work that my heart feels called towards.

I don’t want to not work. But I want joyful work. I want a work life that is not sucking me dry, leaving me sad and overwhelmed.

A lot of this struggle is because of capitalism – it’s worth naming that context!

But some of it is my own habits, my own fears and anxieties getting in the way. The sharper edge of the Eight of Pentacles. The drudgery of it.

I suspect that I am not the only person struggling with this, especially because so much of it is a result of late-stage colonial capitalism. How many marginalized community members have work that they want to be doing, but the drudgery of paying the bills gets in the way? Based on the people I see around me, there are a lot of us. We may feel called to do our heart’s work, but rent is in the way. Underemployment is in the way.

So, when I’m engaging with the Eight of Pentacles in this way, it is not because I want to locate the problem in myself or in any of my community members. The problem is not just our relationship to work, the problem is primarily the context of our work. And so much of this context is out of our hands.

But not all of it.

We have choices, skills, insider knowledges. We have agency. And I think the Eight of Pentacles, in highlighting some of the non-preferred ways I have been working, is also inviting me to extend some effort into changing or challenging, resisting or responding to, the context.

This is not a new struggle for me, but it is particularly present right now because I have just finished my Master of Narrative Therapy and Community Work degree and I’m trying to figure out what comes next.

I want to build this tarot practice and do more readings for other people, and I also want to figure out how to integrate narrative therapy with tarot practice (this had been one of my ideas for my practice innovation project, but I ended up working on narrative therapy and polyamory, and on using narrative therapy to respond to the fear, anger, and despair of our current political situation – you can find my presentation on part of this work here).

There’s so much that I want to do, and there’s so much work in my life. I am currently working two ‘day jobs’ to pay the bills, and neither of them is fulfilling or joyful for me. But I do not make enough money with the tarot work or with my narrative therapy work to replace this income, and I am just so tired.

And into this context, the Eight of Pentacles.

(Image description, Eight of Pentacles from The Crow Tarot, Linestrider Tarot, Next World Tarot, Sasuraibito Tarot, Darkness of Light Tarot, and Wild Unknown Tarot, all against a dark background. These are the decks I am currently working with.)

Michelle Tea writes:

If the Eight of Pentacles has arrived, you can be sure it’s all work and no play… No slacking off, no cutting corners, no daydreaming. The type of work the Eight of Pentacles is engaged in can be tough for a lot of us…

Even creative work has its drudgery. If the Eight of Pentacles arises, you’re probably drowning in it.

Cassandra Snow, in their Queering the Tarot series (which is coming to book format in 2019, and I am so excited about this! You can check it out and pre-order it here) writes:

If the Seven [of Pentacles] is where we are called to plant our own seeds or right our life’s wrongs, then the Eight is where we learn how to do that. This is where we find our own groove and become comfortable doing the work of running our own life. No one expects you to be a master gardener overnight, but they do expect you to do the work of the Eight of Pentacles; the work of learning, studying, and trying. This card is fun when it shows up in readings, because I’ve seen it be this deeper, all-encompassing message…and I’ve also seen it literally mean it was time to take up a new career by studying under someone or going back to school…

The biggest way this card manifests in our queer lives is when we are learning to pave our own way.

All of the hard lessons of the Seven and needing to pull ourselves up and create something out of nothing begin to resolve in this Eight, though not as effortlessly as we would like. It is a hard, gradual learning process, but in the end we move ahead to the next card (the very affirming Nine of Pentacles). First though we land here: in a place of apprenticeship, and the question to ask ourselves is not what we want to learn, but who we want to be after we learn it. That is where the real growth happens, and what the Eight has been trying to dig at all along.

Drudgery, apprenticeship, paving our own way and doing the hard work… All of this resonates for me, but it also feels heavy, overwhelming.

Writing specifically about the Eight of Pentacles as it relates to her business, Beth Maiden shares:

What does ‘taking a break’ mean, and what is actually left of me if I’m not working? What do I truly love to do, besides work? How do I feel right now about the work that I do? And how do I want to feel about it? And you know, who actually am I, these days? How much does my work define who I am?

These questions are present for me in this moment of drudgery and effort. How can I take a break, what does a break even look like? Who am I beyond my work, and do I even need to experience a “beyond” or is it possible to feel integrated into my work in ways that are sustainable?

I’m not sure what the answers are yet. I know that it will be a question that recurs across the year – the Eight of Pentacles showed up in my Elements of the Coming Year spread in the bridge between water and air, heart and mind. In the Next World Tarot, the keyword for the Eight of Pentacles is creation.

In my write-up of this spread, I wrote:

I see Creation in the bridge between heart and mind. The 8 of Pentacles, which often haunts me, calling me out for my unsustainable work habits. But here, coming from my well-tended roots, I see the potential for this to be a new way of experiencing this card.

So that’s what I’ll take forward.

Hope and action.


If you would like to book a tarot reading, either an Elements of the Coming Year spread or something else, get in touch! Coming Year tarot spreads are available on a sliding scale from $75-150.

Monday morning reading for advocates and activists

I woke up feeling the weight of injustice heavy on my chest this morning. Yesterday was Canada Day, a complex and emotional day for so many folks, and a painful reminder of ongoing colonialism and violence.

I spent my day yesterday at Camp fYrefly, an amazing camp for trans and queer youth, facilitating narrative conversations.

Today I wondered, where can we, as advocates and activists, and as marginalized communities, and as people struggling to find ways forward through increasingly terrifying political, economic, and ecological climates, focus our energy?

In the centre, the core of the question, Courage. The 7 of Wands. In the guidebook, Cristy C. Road says, ‘You recently had a vision – you are a priestess, a leader, an energetic plea for peace and justice. You have what you need – the resources, the knowledge, and the revolutionary intent to create something both educational and breathtaking – but a community, an individual, or a system unwilling to comply sits beside you… The 7 of Wands cultivated a force field that surrounds the space she creates her elixirs, makes her arts, and strengthens her intuition – away from the claws of the oppressor. She asks you to do the same; strengthen your magnetic field, strengthen your core beliefs, and realize that you have this.’

To the left, an invitation to turn your energy inward and look for Intersection. The 2 of Pentacles. You do not have to choose ‘right brain’ or ‘left brain’. You do not have to adhere to binaries and false narratives of mutually exclusive paths to the same ends – there are many true stories, and there is value in learning them. ‘The 2 of Pentacles asks you to consider every intersection. Educate yourself of the truths that exist beyond your reality. Judge them, excavate their roots, disregard their inaccuracies, and take the chosen path with total awareness.’

To the right, an invitation to turn our energy outward and work towards Safety. The 10 of Cups. ‘Within true family, whether blood or chosen, there is safety and connection… The 10 of Cups asks you to redefine family, security, wealth, and community on your own terms. The terms that honour your individual story and your definition of safety.’

So, today, how can you find the courage at your core? How can you protect your core, and your magic?

How can you invite inner reflection on intersections? Where can you find new stories and engage critically with received knowledge?

And how can you seek safety in your connections with others? How can you redefine family in ways that honour your needs?