Temperance, Strength, The World, and Justice from Emily Carding’s Transparent Tarot
Lately I’ve been in need of healing. My digestive health took a turn for the less-than-good last December. Ever since I’ve been struggling to get back to eating and sleeping without pain. Doing the dance where you accept the need to pare down, maybe ask for support. You know the one. The kind where you explore the new less-able normal. Tarot helps me name the new normal. Especially when I’d rather insist “I can still do it.” Below is a free-form face up spread I used to envision my own healing as well as the thoughts that inspired the spread.
Food & Privilege
Last week hip hop legend Phife Dawg of Tribe Called Quest passed away. Tribe was a staple in my childhood and again later when I grew old enough to understand their music. I didn’t know Phife struggled with diabetes, but with my personal experience losing young relatives to various autoimmune diseases, it did not surprise me. Phife’s passing reminded me that early death and autoimmune disease goes beyond my family. Statistics suggest these things affect countless other people of color. His passing reminds me of the relationship between privilege and health care, of the less popular relationship between health and food, and of my own food journey and autoimmune lineage.
I’ve lived with low grade food allergies my whole life. The fact that I can even name it sets me apart from my past. My history is not that of naming and knowing but of mystery and magic: strange unexplained aches, pains, and moods. With limited access to health care and the like, faith was put into faith. In adulthood, I transitioned from the mindset that good health happens by chance to the mindset that by herb, energy work, mantra, habit, or doctor’s appointment, one way or another wellness is something you do any way you can.
This month I spilt broth on my laptop, because I was writing 3000 words or more a day on a small serving table and transitioning to a diet that meant constant eating and constant broth. Also, I believed it best to take up as little space as possible as I work. Best to stay small and inexpensive. With the spill my concept of “enough” crashed right into my attempts at healing. I saw an immediate link between gut health and scarcity thinking. I inherited both during domestication.
To keep both is to live without questioning and without choice. And how might my body interpret a directive such as “stay small and low maintenance”? Maybe less breath, less blood flow, less oxygen, less space. Clenched. Cut off. What other ways have I decided to stay small even in the face of recent rapid expansion? How might I claim more space? For starters I got myself a desk. One big enough to spread my cards all over the place and do a proper Face Up Spread.
A Free Form Face Up Spread
Maybe it was the size of the desk but this spread ballooned out. It started with a reversed knight of cups from the Tarot de St Croix. I pulled it face down during the last full moon eclipse in answer to the question: What stands in the way of my self care? I have a history with this knight. Last time we met I pulled it face up to represent the way out of the prison of my over analysis and judgement. Here, context dictates another interpretation entirely. I notice this knight looks overrun. They succumb to emotion. They kneel. This knight asks me, When do I let emotion rule me? Food. When I think of food I want to do what it is comfortable and easy. Even when it’s not what I need. What card represents this craving of comfort?
I linger at the six cups. Memories of quarter waters and ices in the summer time. When three times a year there was real cooked food at a relative’s, and the rest of the time food was something out of a box. Food was never alive. But it was comfortable and it was easy. Memories are like the guests at the tea party in my head and heart. The tea party – with its warm memories, familiar faces, and sweet treats – feels complete. How can I integrate the familiar and emotionally satisfying with new things that nurture the physical body? Integration. Wholeness. What does wholeness look like?
The World card jumps out at me. I notice the differences in the symbolism in the St Croix: The four figures that normally adorn the corners of the card are located toward the top, the bull faces inward, an angel-like figure seems to perch on the central figure, the central figure stands on the world. The card is at once more cosmic and more grounded than traditional versions of the card. It brings to mind interrelated systems, both ancient and modern. Different strata in society and intergalactic strata. The hands of the figure say “as above, so below.” The card begs a larger question: What does wholeness look like on a larger scale?
Mainstream Wholeness – The Four Cardinal Virtues
I detour into philosophical wholeness. Maybe it was the similarity to the zodiacal figures in the World card. Maybe it was the number four, or my persistent habit to frolic in academia, or the World card and it’s association with prudence. One way or another I arrived at the Four Cardinal Virtues: Temperance, Courage, Prudence, and Justice. The classical building blocks of a virtuous life according to Plato and company. The necessary strata: the temperance of all classes (especially that of the lower), strength of the warrior class, prudence of the ruling class, and justice – the balance between the three.
Even as I’ve grown to prioritize non-linear, nondualistic, and unlimited consciousness, I still recognize in myself the domesticated need to separate and categorize in that overly active western way. I looked at the tarot cards associated with these virtues looking for wholeness and how I might integrate warring parts of myself: that which thoughtlessly judges, categorizes, and separates, and that which consciously expands and transcends the dominant paradigm, that which includes.
There’s an abundance of fire in these cards with Temperance and Strength. Fire – matters of the spirit and will. Even if the symbolism overlaps in these images, there’s differences in the meanings. Whereas in tarot today temperance means doing and alchemy, the classical meaning would have had more to do with not doing or refraining. The classic strength shows an adversarial relationship with humankind and animus-urge unlike the affirmation and recognition we see in the Tarot de St. Croix. The World, which used to mean prudence or wisdom, currently trends towards integration or wholeness. The first three virtues are cautionary – refrain, beware, limit, protect, confront. Only with justice do we start to see the relationships between things, the balance that pervades even limited concepts of self.
Still, none of it serves day to day.
Not the theory. Not the antiquated and oppressive hierarchical breakdown nor the modern manifestation of said hierarchy. What serves, in this case, is what’s missing. The story that’s left out of the books. With the World representing earth and Justice air, water is the missing element. The soul of things. The spirit. The emotional core. What might alternative wholeness look like?
Wholeness starts small. It floats on an ocean of feelings atop its own expanded consciousness. It tends the spirit. It mends. Like a mess in a kitchen, made or cleaned. Like dancing first thing, a song in the car. Full blast or lip synced. Like time to not-do. Wholeness lives in the everyday guided by the heart. The half-written poem. In the untold story.
Last week I read a food justice piece by friend/mentor Naya Jones that challenges stock stories about food and the global majority. As I read it I heard my own stories at war within: my countless experiences with processed food, my own food ignorance, and my grandmother’s stories about cultivating the garden that would sustain an entire community throughout the depression. Before she moved to a city where she would never use the bulk of these skills. I never tasted her stock. I never smelt her pie. But I still think of her whenever I open a homemade pickled jar of anything. Because even if I wasn’t there for it, I still know her story.
What does wholeness look like?
Page of Cups, Four Pentacles, Nine Cups, Two Cups
Wholeness looks like a day that starts and ends with loving self-care practices. It looks like building a solid foundation of healthy habits and taking it in stride when the ocean of life tears it down and you need to rebuild again. It looks like receiving love and being filled with what serves. It looks like the accompanying gratitude. It looks like patience when your effort and discipline feels universes away from its physical manifestation – your healing. It looks like faith in faith. Wholeness is where my symptoms, memories – painful and sweet, current privilege and past lack, and the memories of my foremothers sit down for tea and the tea still tastes good.
How-To: Free Form Face Up Spread
- Ask a question about a challenge, block, hope, or intention. Make sure to ask questions that open doors rather than search for certainty. Use How and What rather than Will and When.
- Spread your cards face up and let your eyes roam until you choose. Maybe you keep returning to a card or it reminds you of something. Set it aside. You may have half the deck or a single card. Alternatively you can take each card one by one or choose a card right away if one came to mind. If you still have a stack, go through it once more, narrowing and noticing. Until you have one or just a few cards.
- Interpret as usual or maybe the card leads to a memory, a feeling, a meal you need to make, a song to sing. Something about this kind of pull invites doing-the-thing. Let understanding take a back seat to embodiment. Ask how can I embody this card? If questions build on one another and keep flowing, go until some semblance of wholeness. Use a time limit if you must. How did it go?
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Siobhan (she/they) is a NYC-born writer, spiritual ally, and #radicaltarot reader living in central Texas. Her facilitative reading style is the blended result of over a decade of study of tarot, nonviolent communication, shamanic ritual, sacred sexuality, and alternative relationship. She geeks all those things in her newsletter and blog. She is also the creator of “The ‘Scopes,” the first-ever monthly collaborative tarotscopes which have featured over 40 professional tarot readers in the last three years.