As I write the final installment of See the Cripple Dance, I’ve been asking myself what my intentions were when I began, and what they are now that it’s ending.
I wanted to re-interpret the cards, and I wanted my re-interpretations to mean something to others, to outsiders. I wanted to write something different from what I was reading. Tarot was important and interesting to me, yes, having encountered my first decks and books as a teenager, but much of what I read about the cards couldn’t be accurately or meaningfully applied to my own life.
I found that many texts didn’t have much to say about disrupting the status quo, let alone living in a disabled body, an inaccessible society, and coping with poverty, marginalization, and general misfittery.
As I began integrating Tarot into my written works, I knew that spirituality and self-development could be more critically, collectively, and politically engaged, and need not teach one how to participate more successfully within capitalist systems and structures. Also, I was feeling cranky witnessing Tarot and witchcraft (and the so-called nostalgia for particular forms of witchcraft) become commodified, branded, become a form of branding. I want(ed) to write something that could be a kind of intervention, something political and vulnerable at once, something anti-capitalist (as messy and contradictory as this can be), something both challenging and affirming to crip weirdos, to misfits among misfits, to chronically ill witches, sick solitaries, and queers who were drawn to Tarot but not finding them/ourselves reflected in the multitudes of decks, books, blogs, and other writings.
When I was invited to write a column for Little Red Tarot, I was deep into one of the most severe depressions I’ve ever experienced, triggered by losing my ability to walk, losing meaningful friendships, becoming more and more isolated, and being in intolerable, constant pain. At the time, I wasn’t able to walk from one room to another, or to stand fully upright. When I was able to sleep, I had recurring dreams about being trapped in public places without my cane and without anybody around to help me. And when I awoke, my body was too weak and pained to even adjust my blankets, which were layered upon one another to keep me warm in Winter. Still, I drew a card every morning, wrote it into my diary, and searched for its possible meanings throughout each day. When I began writing See the Cripple Dance, I was writing through acute loneliness and rage, suicidal but determined to contribute something new to the realms of mad and crip art and spirituality. I knew that what I had to say about Tarot and witchcraft would be valuable to others.
A year and half later, with the generous, encouraging, and thoughtful support of Beth and Tango, acting as publishers and editors, I’ve been able to build a significant body of work, something that I hope will continue to find its way into the lives of those who need it, something that I hope will inspire more and more thought and interpretation.
One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to get enthusiastic and dedicated to developing my writing skills, always practicing. That dedication has waxed and waned depending on changes in my life, depending on moods, but it’s coming back to me again, especially as I’ve celebrated another birthday, becoming that much more aware of time, age, and the need to commit myself to what I feel is most important for my own mental health and collective change.
In The Spolia Tarot, the figure in the Eight of Pentacles is an old woman, painstakingly carving intricate details onto coins with sharp instruments in each hand, her head lowered and focused on her work. The expression on her face reads as being in a state of what the psychologist and writer Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has labelled “flow.” Seeing someone ageing in the cards, a card that shows apprenticeship and learning, rather than knowledge and wisdom, helped alter my perception of the Eight of Pentacles, and how to apply it to my own work. In an irreverant and highly relevant description in the guidebook, Jessa Crispin writes: “It’s not flashy, it’s work that is rarely rewarding, and yet it is satisfying, and it is something that can be built on. The end result of the work you’re doing here should be refined skills rather than hey I figured out this one thing so let’s go sell some shit on Etsy.”
Akin to what I had in mind when I made that New Year’s resolution, I’ve been hoping to / trying to become a more skilled writer, to use language playfully and poetically at once, to build on what I’ve already accomplished, and let my writing style change and grow. To be a kind of student, and to delight in the process rather than the completed piece.
See the Cripple Dance is itself incomplete. Some cards I haven’t written about at all, while others (including the Eight of Pentacles), I’ve interpreted multiple times. There are thoughts I’ve wanted to share but haven’t had a chance yet, and others that will come in the future. While each individual column is a whole piece, the work feels unfinished nonetheless. A practice for whatever comes next.
I’ve been writing this final column during Venus, my ruling planet, Retrograde. Ending with a card that shows work in-process makes sense to me. I could have written about Death, or the World, but it’s the Eight of Pentacles that’s been on my mind the most.
Throughout Venus Retrograde, I’ve been re-evaluating what I value and how, who I value and how, as well as who values myself and my work and how.
Thinking about what I want in my friendships, relationships, interactions with others. Thinking about support systems, thinking about material realities, mutually beneficial exchanges, and how I and my mad, crip, poor pals and comrades and companions will get through another Winter. Maybe you’ve been contemplating similar themes.
What legacy would you like to build with your work?
Who do you want to be when you’re older? How do you want to live? What kind of home do you want to live in, what do you want to write / make / contribute? How do you want to dress, to adorn yourself and your home? What kinds of friends and relationships will you want to have?
Sometimes I see people who remind me of who I want to be when I’m older. Elderly women dressed in leopard print and too much make-up, poor people who look glamourous and eccentric, scribbling in notebooks.
“I’m a firm believer that language and how we use language determines how we act, and how we act then determines our lives and other people’s lives.” – Ntozake Shange
Language has always fascinated me, and has been a major focus of mine while writing this column.
It’s been important for me to notice when ableist, racist, gender essentialist, and otherwise harmful language is used within discussion of witchcraft, Tarot, and spitituality, and to contribute alternative words and ideas, to make room for multitudes of meanings and re-interpretations, suggestions and premonitions.
With the Eight of Pentacles, each installment of See the Cripple Dance could be one of the pentacles being carved, as much as each word is a pentacle, too, each sentence.
In considering legacies, the Next World Tarot rendering of the Eight of Pentacles is befitting. Labelled “creation,” the card shows artists, writers, and collaborators Elena Rose and Nia King, standing back to back, smiling with pride, endless stacks of books around them. Creators of the Queer & Trans Artists of Color book series, transcribing interviews from the We Want the Airwaves podcast, the two are building, word by word, an archive of queer and trans POC genius and art, a record of lives lived in critical, artful, and engaged resistance and creativity. The work is built in pieces, eventually adding up to something much larger.
Although I haven’t been able to respond to each message, I’ve read every comment readers have offered on my column, and I’ve saved them in a dedicated folder in my inbox so I’ll remember that there are people who care, people who value the work. See the Cripple Dance will remain online as an archive, something that can be re-visited again and again, consulted and shared. I’m still offering Tarot readings for misfits and outcasts on Etsy, and Tarot is sure to find its way into my other writings now and then. I do still draw a card a day, and would feel lost if I didn’t.
This piece serves as a farewell, a culmination of an important period of my life and work, and also one more prompt for my readers, a question, a question to keep asking:
What does it mean to see the cripple dance?
Maranda Elizabeth is a 30-something writer, zinester, identical twin, high school dropout, cane-user, recovering alcoholic, flâneux, and non-binary amethyst-femme. They write about recovery with BPD, c-(p)TSD, and fibromyalgia; writing & creativity; friendship, self-care, support, & $upport; and feelings, madness, disability, and magic! They’ve been writing zines for 15 years, and have published three books, including two novels, Ragdoll House, and We Are the Weirdos. Maranda is a Libra Sun, Sagittarius Moon, and Gemini Rising. They read Tarot for crazy people, cripple-queers, misfits, & outcasts!
Etsy shop: schoolformaps.etsy.com