Writing through the TAROT deck, one card at a time. This is number nineteen in a 78-week durational project.
Betrayal / Stabbed in the Back / Victimization / Bad Boundaries / The End of a Difficult Story / Cognitive Dissonance / Breakdown / Paranoia / Collapse / Psychic Attack / Realignment of the Spiritual Spinal Column / Invitation to Release Past Traumas / Invitation to Reject the Projections of Others / Piercing of Unhealed Original Wounds / Painful Information / Disaster / Liberation /
No one is psyched to see this image appear. In the Aquarian deck (c. 1970), we see a body, face down, ten swords sticking out of its spine. Stormy sky. Pale ground, sharp-edged mountains. This image hews closely to its source deck, the collaboration between Pamela Colman Smith and A.E. Waite (c. 1909), in which we see a similarly skewered figure within an even more foreboding landscape, where an annihilating black cloud blots all but a thin strip of yellow sky and a distant and desolate cold blue range. The figure’s right arm is twisted into an ugly position, in case you thought maybe they were just catching a nap. A red sheet, banner, or blanket covers the lower half of their body from view. In the Sola Busca deck (c. 1491), the image is actually much closer to how Colman Smith and Waite represented TEN OF RODS, with a figure bent over from the burden of all that they carry. In Crowley’s Thoth deck (c. 1943), ten swords clash together to form the shape of the Kabbala’s Tree of Life. The sword points are broken and hot yellow and orange glow radiates out from the centre of impact. Jagged geometric clusters of asymmetrical shards fill the background above the word: “Ruin.” No one is having a good time here.
When my mother was at a particularly difficult stage of her dementia, she believed that I had poisoned her. When I was pregnant with my son, nine years ago, she left a message on my voicemail to tell me that the pain of childbirth was nothing compared to the pain she felt when I poisoned her. I kept that message for a long time. At some point, while working on my memoir about our relationship, I transcribed all of the messages, many of which were accusations and threats (mixed together with expressions of love and longing), before deleting the recordings. They were too heavy a burden to hold and they were too alive to ignore, so I shoved them into the mouth of my art. (To play off the title of this newsletter, I had to choose which beast I wanted to feed.) By preserving the language of those messages inside the container of a text, I created a lasting documentation of that crisis and simultaneously let it go.
When we identify as the body on the ground, we forget who we are, we forget what we’ve accomplished, what gifts we carry. We feel annihilated, betrayed, violated, destroyed. When my mother lashed out at me, trapped in a state of fear and mental disintegration, she was the body on the ground. She was convinced that I had tricked her into an assisted-living facility as a way of stealing the family piano from her. In my experience on the other end of her delusions, I was the one being struck down. I lived in fear of the phone, I hated checking my email — I had no idea when or from what direction the next blade would strike. As painful as this card is, it also offers the opportunity of release. Surrender. The letting go of a difficult cycle through which we have received a lesson. My mother was angry with me for the fact that I was unable to care for her myself, for the ways in which I passed the burden of her constant care to an institution, a revolving door of strangers. Despite the fact that it felt like my only option at the time, I understand her fury. And though I “did my best” with the resources I had at my disposal, I resented her desperation and how it fucked up my own plans. I drew a hard boundary, in order to function. It hurt.
TEN OF SWORDS is never fun, even for those who dig a fight. The final defence is to unhook from the source of attack — trying to “win” by proving your point of view only prolongs contact with the sharp end of the ten blades coming for you. TEN OF SWORDS challenges us in moments of devastation to pause, rest, and absorb the information that has been revealed. Sit with what you can make of your part of the conflict, uncomfortable as that may be, and then begin again from a position of compassionate liberation. TEN OF SWORDS is never a permanent state. If you feel like someone is attacking you or projecting a confusing narrative onto you — twisting your words, telling you what you are thinking, making bad-faith assumptions — TEN OF SWORDS speaks to that shock. You are responsible for your actions, but you cannot curate the reactions of others. Draw a hard boundary. If you remain conscious and hold the line, TEN OF SWORDS will, in fact, have your back. TENS, once unlocked, spin towards the next ACE.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER
How do you react to threats? Where in your body do you store pain? Is there a story that needs to be shifted from the “continuous present” into the past? What can you learn from the stories others project onto you? How can you protect yourself and your experience of reality from wall-melting paranoia? Who have you betrayed? Who has betrayed you? What did you learn? Is it time to disengage?
IDEAS FOR PRACTICE
Every practice is a physical practice. Stretch your back before you work, paying particular attention to your spine. Stand straight: shoulders back, heart open. Be brave and be cold. Get still. Don’t dissociate but do pull up to get an aerial view. Switch perspectives. Explore sites of miscommunication and misinterpretation in your project. When you look into a dark mirror, what do you see? Integrate into the goals of your piece the ideal of forgiveness — of the self and all that threatens the self. Surrender the need to be right. Accept the imperfect ending.
We have reached week number nineteen. I like this number, my son was born at 19:19 and my husband on the nineteenth day of the month. In some systems of numerology, you reduce a two-digit number by adding them together: one plus nine equals ten. Tens then reduce to one (one plus zero). In TAROT, though, traditionally the cards are linked together by the last number, or “degree,” and so nineteen in this system links to the nines in the minor arcana and THE SUN (XIX) and THE HERMIT (IX) in the major. THE SUN shines a bright light on the extreme acupuncture of the TEN OF SWORDS and provides the strength, consistency, power, heat, and light to make this a healing experience. THE HERMIT reminds us that we carry that radiant illumination within ourselves, the bright lantern that we lift when we are alone in the cave of our inner world/resources. Retreat here is not an act of avoidance, but an opportunity to penetrate deeper into the reality of our own stories. This is a safe container in which to examine a point of inflammation without judgement or recrimination. Observe, take note, strategize. Victory, however it is best defined for this moment, is assured.