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.

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 Monday morning spread

Image description: A four-card spread, using the Wild Unknown Tarot. At the centre is the Ace of Swords, crossed by the Father of Swords. On the left is the Father of Pentacles and on the right is the Six of Wands.

Good morning!

I’ve been dealing with a lot of indecision in my own life, and I know I’m not the only one. When we’re dealing with persistent primary and secondary trauma, as many of us are in this current political, economic, and ecological climate, it can be incredibly difficult to make decisions.

So, this is a spread to help guide decisions this week!

At the centre:

What will be helpful in guiding decisions, and what is crossing it? 

The Ace of Swords will be helpful. What new knowledge or insight can help you make decisions this week? What have you learned? What do you know? What have you become aware of in the last while that can help with the decisions that are in front of you this week?

Looking at this card, I am particularly struck by the rainbow infinity snake wrapped around the sword. Unlike the rainbow sword in the Father of Swords, which crosses this card, this symbol looks, to me, like an invitation to complexity and intersectionality. Justice and liberation does not happen in a linear fashion, and our struggles are linked. We must maintain an awareness of those members of the community who are more or differently marginalized than we are ourselves. The community is more important than the sword – the sword is a tool, and we wield it.

Crossing this helpful card is the Father of Swords. Is old and established knowledge getting in the way of making decisions based on new knowledge? Are you being invited to let go of a sense of expertise or mastery, and be a beginner again? Are there ways in which established knowledge is hindering your ability to make decisions this week?

On the left:

Something to move away from or be aware of

The Father of Pentacles is so tempting right now. Security, stability, material sustainability. Where are you making decisions out of the fear of scarcity? Where are you trying to control your material world, to master it and keep it stable? Can you loosen your grip, let yourself be something other than “in control”?

I get it, bbs! I feel it, too. So much. This card speaks directly to the heart of my financial instability and the way I make decisions right now with one eye always on the money. Capitalism, scarcity, shame, fear… I want to find Father of Pentacles magic to banish my fear and my feelings of precarity.

In this position, I see this card as a reminder that making decisions from a place of fear and scarcity can lead us away from justice rather than towards it. Our fear is so valid, and the scarcity is so real. We are not obligated to harm ourselves for “the cause”, so I do not read this card as an exhortation to “be selfless” or any of the discourses that get so weaponized against us.

Rather, I see this as a gentle reminder that sometimes clinging tightly to a false sense of security based on materiality can actually get in the way of finding a deeper security based on justice and community.

And on the right:

Something to move towards

The Six of Wands. Can you let your decisions be guided by what helps you feel free? What gives you a sense of spaciousness? What moves you towards liberation? What moves you towards transformation? Where do you have the ability to rise above the sharp thorns of the tangled wands below – where can you spread your wings?

I see this card as an invitation to keep our hearts tuned to collective liberation and justice.

We all have so many decisions to make.

Will we speak up to the racist at the rally or in the grocery store? Will we make space for the people of colour around us?

Will we reach out to our friends who are struggling?

Will we reach out when we are struggling?

Will we pay attention to the news, witnessing the injustice in the world?

Will we take care of ourselves, witnessing our own needs with the same compassion we bring to what we witness in the world around us?

Will we confront our own biases? Will we allow ourselves to learn?

Will we take up anti-colonialism, anti-oppression, anti-ableism?

How will we move through the world this week?

Can we move away from those Father cards – can we move away from patriarchal, hierarchical, established ways of being, doing, knowing?

Can we be butterflies, allowing ourselves to dissolve and transform?

Can we be aces, allowing ourselves to be new, to be beginners?

Yes.

I believe in us.

We can.