See the Cripple Dance | Nine of Wands, migraines, & living a creative life

The Nine of Wands is one of few tarot cards that shows physical injury and disability.

The figure on this card is alone, and their head is bandaged. In Pixie’s Tarot, the expression on their face is one of suspicion, worry, dread. Their body faces forward, but they turn to peer over their shoulder, afraid of what or who might be behind them. They clutch their wand close to their body, protective, guarded. They’ve suffered and they’re sick of it.

The bandage could represent physical or psychic wounds, or the physiological manifestations of trauma and stress. The figure in this card isn’t gonna be rescued – they’ve gotta take care of themself.

I’ve written about the Nine of Wands before, and I want to return to it, continue my interpretations. A couple years ago, I began sharing my process of re-imagining tarot through disability and madness, and designating the cards as essential tools for survival and the (re-)development of imagination and spirituality for crazy people and poor people – most especially crazy, poor people who feel disillusioned and disenfranchised, and are resisting ableism and capitalism while sick and angry, and further, those of us who are drawn to the tarot but frustrated at not finding depictions of ourselves or descriptions of our own lives. I sometimes refer to this as cripping or crippling tarot.

The bandage wrapped around the head of the figure on this card makes me think of visibility and believability. If you’re chronically ill, you know it’s rare for anybody to believe you aside from others who are also chronically ill. The women in my family have been experiencing migraines for multiple generations and have become accustomed to not being believed. I have many childhood memories of bringing ice packs, glasses of water, and ginger ale with ice cubes to my mom as she stayed in bed, drifted in and out of sleep, took meds, made her room as dark and silent and soft as possible. My twin and I weren’t allowed to make any noise. We heard her vomiting frequently.

I remember my own first migraine.

January 1st, 2007. I was alone, heartbroken, sick, unable to get out of bed. I was in a town where I had no friends, and I was going through a break-up that sent me on a downward spiral of suicidal despair and alcoholism for years. I had survived my first suicide attempt a month and a half earlier. My mom drove for three hours to bring me a bottle of meds and a glass of water.

When I was older, she told me that her doctor didn’t believe her when she described her migraines and wouldn’t prescribe her effective medication. This didn’t change until he experienced a migraine himself. He called her from bed and told her that the moment he recovered, he’d return to the office and write her a proper prescription.

In the Everyday Witch’s Tarot, a figure dressed in red appears to be in a fight with an invisible presence or someone/thing outside the frame of the card. They’re backed up against a tree with several wands knocked to the ground. They have a bandage wrapped around their head and a protective cast strapped to their shoulder and upper arm. They look tired and frightened, holding a wand in each hand, weapon-like. They’re wearing heavy boots, and their black pointy witch hat is on the ground. Did they take it off on purpose, or was it knocked off during the fight? Do they know it’s there? Will they pick it up? Will it fit over their bandaged wound?

In Cristy Road’s Next World Tarot, the Nine of Wands is labeled resilience, and a figure with purple hair and a red bandana wrapped around their neck plays guitar in bed. Behind them is a wall of guitars with a ukulele and a banjo – the instruments of their creativity and survival decorated with queer activist stickers. They sit cross-legged on an avocado green blanket, a wall of amps on each side of their pillows. They are barefoot, strumming, smiling in lavender lipstick, looking satisfied as they silently dare you to judge them, to tell them they’re not good enough. They are clearly skilled at song-writing and self-care, and spend both their waking and sleeping life surrounded by art and protest. Like the figure in previous iterations, they are alone.

One of the challenges of the Nine of Wands is learning to understand our limitations.

Not only the limitations imposed upon us by ableist racist colonialist capitalist cultures we’re struggling to endure and abolish, but the limitations we place upon ourselves by not using our creative and emotional resources as wisely as we could, by not taking care of ourselves as consistently as we could, and by not believing in the validity of our own pain and the resiliency of our creative strengths.

How can we understand the limitations we’ve imposed upon ourselves and begin to free ourselves from them? As creative, crazy people who are often inhabiting contradictory states of anger, exhaustion, and futility – as well as inspiration, dedication, and reluctant optimism – how can we continue to create a life worth living when we’re incessantly receiving messages that it is not? Not in our particular bodies, not in our particular financial circumstances, not with our particular traumas.

My migraines are often triggered by stress, insufficient sleep, and environmental illness or multiple chemical sensitivities. I began developing allergies to synthetic scents, cigarette smoke, and vehicle exhaust when I was in my early-to-mid-20s (almost a decade ago). This is common with trauma survivors, although I didn’t know that until I’d been ill for a few years. After suffering far too much and far too long, I attempted to write a list of places in which my illness is triggered. It includes but is not limited to: cafés, bars, and diners; public transit, sidewalks, and patios; libraries, 12-step meetings, theatres, and concerts; readings, arts events, museums, galleries, and zinefests; hospitals, waiting rooms, bookstores, yoga classes, friends’ homes, and my own home. Sometimes I even have dreams about smoke and perfume, and I wake up sick.

Each time I recover, all I want to do is write.

Can sickness be liberating?

In Thea’s Tarot, the figure behind the wands appears calm and rested. They’ve created a safe boundary. What were once new shoots have grown into strong vines, holding the boundary together. They’re someone who’s had a vision and made it come true.

The Nine of Wands is about learning how to do your own thing, learning how to do something that’s never been done before, something that your peers might not understand. It can be as simple as saying no or as complicated as inventing an entirely new literary genre. It can be as momentary as swallowing a pill without shame or as long-term as naming our lineages, studying them, and contributing to them.

The dark rooms that my mom created to cope with her migraines became a necessity for me too. When I have a migraine, I close my curtains, place an ice pack inside my pillowcase, and wear an eye mask that says “Leave Me Alone”. I brush my teeth, and I keep a glass of cold water by my bed. I wear ear plugs. I dab peppermint oil under my nose, and I put peppermint and lavender into my essential oil diffuser. Sometimes I wear a surgical mask, which helps prevent me from breathing the cigarette smoke from neighbours and passersby that wafts in through my windows. I turn off all screens, and I imagine the gentlest shades of amethyst and rose quartz descending over me, creating misty clouds.

I think sickness can be limiting and liberating at once. What about you?

Can you think of any ways in which sickness and disability have liberated you? How? What from?

If not (and even if so), what (else) would you like sickness and disability to liberate you from?

Try using these questions as writing prompts and see what happens.

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  1. Haile says:

    Hi Maranda, thank you for this post. I also suffer with migraines, they literally plague my life, it is weirdly comforting to come across others that also experience these horrible things. I think it is a really important message to recognise limitations and not always easily done. I like this interpretation of the nine of Wands. Thank you!

  2. Thank you for writing this post and for posing this question: can sickness be liberating? I’m going to put some trigger warnings right up here before I post my thoughts – still only beginning to find the middle way between speaking out and keeping quiet, and my card for the month is the 7 of Swords, so…
    Trigger warning: self-harm
    One thing I think of when I see the 9 of Wands is the aftermath of self-harm. This is hard to write. But one thing I used to do was create the conditions necessary for me to look after myself. It’s a measure of how messed up I was, that those conditions required actual physical harm to myself.
    The card from the Next World Tarot gave me a smile – as a teenager, when everything felt like it was falling apart, I used to shut myself in a built-in cupboard in my room with my guitar (three things I was lucky to have) and play until it all felt better. I guess I need to come out of the cupboard, now, and write.

  3. MonaT says:

    I have the Shadowscapes Tarot, and the 9 of Wands is very different in that deck. The main figure is not alone, although they stand apart from their fellows. It’s really interesting, seeing the different representations of the cards.

    I read this post a few days ago, and I’ve been thinking about the questions about sickness and liberation. I have type 2 diabetes, which is another “silent” illness — although since I’m overweight, people sometimes expect me to be diabetic. I also have carpal tunnel syndrome and am developing arthritis. I would never have expected to find these things liberating. But, in thinking about it, maybe they are, in that, no matter how “normal” I may look from the outside, these things are more ways that I am set apart. At the same time, given how many people there are suffering from chronic illnesses and pain, they give me more connections with other people, and a greater compassion for other sufferers.

  4. Liz says:

    Thank you for this beautiful post. I have been experiencing a rash of migraines recently, and pulled 9 of wands this morning.

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