This is Part 3 of Cat Mulrooney’s guest post series Divining Motherhood. Read the rest here!
I never loved him more than I did on the day I knew it was over.
That ís the funny thing about my heart – it opens when broken, like an iris blooming full flower.
I was going to be a single mother of three children.
Lost in my heartbreak; the kids on my mind, I staggered through the first years of my life post-divorce, blind – seeking out people and situations that would continue to break my heart, since pain was the only feeling I had left. Pain, the only thing I could chart my course by in the strange new landscape I found I was lost in.
I had forgotten how to love, forgotten how to love myself. I was divided from the kids I’d been the full-time mother of, filling up every second they weren’t with me to try to mitigate the loss of them, their dad, and my dreams all at once.
The Lovers card is the one that speaks to the harmony and balance love brings to the individual. In Rider Waite Smith, the two figures stand naked and vulnerable and open to one another beneath a radiant sun and an angel offering blessings on their union.
When we married, I stood with a crown of flowers on my head, a baby in my belly, and my whole heart exposed. Our love was verdant – was the Lovers’ garden where our three children took root. You never could have convinced me on that May afternoon when cherry blossoms rained down pink on us, and we linked hands and said yes, that we would ever end up like we did. It was the love I’d never believed myself worthy of. The love of a childhood dream.
And then, shuffle forward to card thirteen, to our thirteenth year of marriage – Death. We were finished. There was another woman. I spent a full year tasting her in our kiss and trying to get them to stop seeing one another. But, I failed. Our promises were broken. We were broken. I was broken.
My biggest fear about leaving was what would happen to the kids. I am a child of upheaval and divorce myself. It was the very last thing I wanted for my own children. But, the ending, the transformation, the death of our marriage meant that their lives would forever change.
In the traditional Rider Waite Smith deck, Death rides in on its white horse, black banner waving. A religious figure pleads to stay alive. Children with red blossoms in their hair fall down to the earth. The sun is setting in the distance. A way of life as it has always been known is gone.
I turned to tarot regularly as the marriage ended, and I set out on my own to transform and rebuild a new life. Whenever Death visited me in readings, I knew it was just the counterpart to the Lovers I was learning to let go of. Instead of reacting negatively to the dark presence astride its horse – the ruin Death left in its wake – I instead shifted my focus to the boat sailing off in the far background of the image. That, and the fact that the person of faith was still standing fast, even in the face of such darkness.
Traditional religion was not my path, but eventually, after a few years of self-harm and suffering and choosing that which wounded me further, I finally sank into ritual and faith as self-care. I leaned my way fully into tarot, divination, and moon magic – as well as intention-setting and reclaiming my story via creativity, tattoos, and women’s circles. I leaned fully into my role as a mother and embodied it with all I had, putting my relationship with my children as my primary focus and nurturing them while nurturing myself – tapping into the Strength of my maternal instincts and femininity in ways I’d never done before.
photo by Danielle Cohen
The Strength card in RWS depicts a person draped in garlands of flowers gently soothing a lion – soothing that which could kill them. Every tarot card I threw, every moon I watched coast through the darkness, every women’s circle I assembled to write and to share – I felt Strength come to life. Each time I sat down to dinner with my children or navigated a new trial with them on my own, or when I sat beneath the tattoo needle getting their birth flowers etched beneath my skin: I felt Strength. The struggle I had to overcome in my years after my divorce was a fierce, howling, teeth-baring beast, but with faith in kindness and quiet tenacity, I, like the figure on the card, tamed the pain.
What I am left with, as so many mothers are when the structure of the Lovers meets the wildness of Death, is a new appreciation for Strength.
My Strength. My children’s strength. My mother’s strength, as she was also a survivor of infidelity and divorce and single-motherhood. And beyond that, I have a renewed sense of hope, a release from the pain of my past, a chance for me to give.
In the journey through the major arcana, this would be the Star. No longer do I stand opposite my children’s father, as in the Lovers. Now, I am alone, touching the Earth, pouring water forth from two vessels, naked, nothing left to hide. I wish I could say that there was healing and wholeness between their father and me, but unfortunately, lately, that is a hope that remains unrealized.
Still, I am the mother of our children. The mother of my children. Still, I have used the evisceration of Death, the pain my divorce, and subsequent situations wrought to tap into my Strength. Somehow, I have been gifted the Star after this grueling process. When she comes to me in all of her independent, nurturing, bare, maternal beauty, the Star is a reminder that – when in doubt – create and give and love.
My bold, wild-hearted children.
My strong, courageous self.