Exploring Trauma, Madness, Chronic Illness, & Disability with Tarot: Part Three

In Part Three (of who knows how many?!) of Exploring Trauma, Madness, Chronic Illness, & Disability with Tarot, I’ll be writing about the Nine of Wands and Three of Pentacles, and I’ll be using Pixie’s Tarot, The Collective Tarot, Thea’s Tarot, and Kitty Kahane’s Magic Mirrors.

Read Part One, where I wrote about the Five of Pentacles and Three of Swords, here, and Part Two, where I wrote about the Two of Pentacles and Eight of Cups, here.

I chose these particular cards for this entry because I feel they both communicate using our wounds to create a spiritual purpose in our lives, and cultivating magic and art through loneliness and pain. I have lately thought about things like what I’m gonna call “cripping Tarot” (& cripping astrology & cripping witchcraft, etc!) and about the necessity of Tarot and witchcraft for crazy people, obviously, but especially those on the margins, and especially poor people.

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In my interpretations of the Nine of Wands, I address migraines & sickness, feelings of futility, sleep paralysis, euphoria, faith, and the possibilities of mad lineages; and in my interpretations of the Three of Pentacles, I discuss misfit spirituality, the illusion of community, borderline-imagination, valuing obscurity, not-belonging, privacy, and meaning-making.

As always, the way I’m choosing to read the cards is not definitive, absolute, or static. They’re definitely not permanent or fixed. And they’re certainly not exhaustive or prescriptive. I’ve seen enough generic, and often ableist, madphobic, and frankly, boring interpretations of the cards to know I need to make my own. I focus much more on the imagery of Pixie’s Tarot in this entry, but I encourage you to look at the other cards and create your own meanings and connections with the images, patterns, and stories.

As a reminder, I also offer Tarot readings online and offline, prioritizing mad folks, crazy people, disabled queers, misfits, and outcasts. You can book a reading with me here.

Nine of Wands / Nine of Keys

The Nine of Wands developed a deeper meaning for me last Winter (and so did the emoji of the little face with the bandage wrapped around their head!), when I drew it as my daily card as I was recovering from another migraine. It was a particularly strange migraine, one in which I had a visceral out-of-body experience. I’ve written a bit about sleep paralysis in the past; this time, I was paralyzed while nauseous with a migraine, too. If you’ve never experienced sleep paralysis, it’s something like accidentally waking up from a dream (but more often for me, nightmare) state, in which your body isn’t keeping up with your brain, and no matter how hard you’re trying to scream and scream, or roll over, or open your eyes, or protect yourself, absolutely nothing will move. My sleep paralysis nightmares often involve men breaking into my apartment, and I can’t speak, move, fight, blink, open my eyes, anything. But because I’m partly awake, it feels like the intrusion is happening in real life, not dreamland. It’s completely terrifying, and years and years of this have contributed to insomnia, fatigue, and chronic pain.

On this particular night, I was lying on my back, listening to voices around me, unable to move, and I began to feel one form of my body begin to detach itself from another. Although my eyes were closed, I could see it happening, too. Something about one body and the other felt as though they were trying to uncling themselves through layers of velcro and glue and weird viscuous flesh-slime. There was a kind of snap when not-quite-flesh, more-like-ghost body detached, and floated up, remaining in the same position as my sleeping body. I remember distinctly thinking, “Will I find a revelation up here? Is that what’s supposed to happen?” But I didn’t. I floated up, searched and waited, and then returned.

When my bodies were inside one another once again, I woke up with the ability to move my limbs and eyelids. I don’t remember if I took more meds, but I went back to sleep. When I woke up in the morning, I was still sick, and I puked water and spit onto the floor. After a while, I made coffee, took another Tylenol 3, and drew my daily card.

Wands, of course, represent the element of Fire, creative energy, and as most Tarot readers will be quick to remind you, fire is both creative and destructive, depending on how well it is cared for and maintained. I associate it also with cycles of mania and burnout. The bandage on the Nine of Wands reminded me of eyemasks, ice packs, cold cloths across my eyes and forehead. The bandage can also represent craziness, sadness, madness, fear and worry, anxiety, self-protection, self-consciousness, and past harm. The wand the figure is holding onto might represent a material object, like a pen or a cane, or it might symbolize just trying to hold on, be steady, keep it together; it can also symbolize increased awakeness, awareness, and amplified creative energy.

The wands rising up behind the figures became all those creative projects set aside while sick. Not just deadlines, not just ideas, but all the new dreams that always come to me as I’m emerging from a migraine. And when I’m migraine-sick, I don’t just “take a break,” I don’t just “rest.” No. I decide that nothing is worthwhile, everything I’ve ever written is worthless garbage, I don’t want to live and I don’t want to write and I don’t want to talk to anybody ever again. I cannot function, I cannot think. I almost always feel suicidal when I have a migraine.

But when I begin coming out of yet another one (and they’re chronic – this is a frequent and predictable experience for me, but it still feels like death every time), I am overwhelmed at everything I need to write, everything I need to do, everything I need to share, and everything I need to change. There is a brief state of euphoria I find myself in where I am suddenly overwhelmed at all the possibilities and connections. Sickness prevents me from doing a lot of things I want to do, but it’s also how I’ve become so prolific with writing. (Incidentally, I lived through two more migraines while writing this.)

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In The Collective Tarot, one of the main themes in the Nine of Keys is faith. It shows somebody jumping through a ring of fire inside a circus tent, not knowing where they’re gonna land. They write, “Faith is not a passive belief… Leaps of faith require trusting what you know and accepting what you don’t when facing the mysteries, doubts, and paradoxes that come with being alive.” The Nine of Keys/Wands is about distinguishing between real and imagined danger. The keys on fire, like the wall of wands, might hurt us or it might protect us; it might be a bit of both. But we can’t know until we do something with them. In many imaginings of this card, the figure looks worried, hinting at anxiety or paranoia. They are unsure of themselves, unsure of their surroundings.

I also see this card as a reminder of our innate ability to create our own path. With madness in particular, although we’ve had all kinds of mad pride and survivor movements, all kinds of options for understanding and exploring psychology and trauma and depression and mania and intuition and oppression, all kinds of insights found in books and psych wards and relationships with other crazy people, all kinds of activism and art and advocacy, it can still feel very difficult to connect with any kind of mad or crazy or disabled lineage, find and communicate with mad and disabled elders (because many have died, because friendship is difficult while crazy, because our nervous breakdowns don’t always bring us to places where crazy people can support us, etc etc etc…), or feel a connected sense of community, which can lead to feeling more alone, more confused, more indecisive, more lost. “Intuition” is a complex topic for me as a crazy person (my gut instincts are not always “healthy,” and I frequently predict “negative” events in my own life), but the card does encourage us listen to the weirder instincts, to not try to live exactly the same way somebody else is living, to not try to do the same thing somebody else is doing. This card is about learning to cope with the stories we must carry, doing something different with them this time, and using our creative energy to resist normality, sanity, and to consider prioritizing the so-called irrational.

Questions to Explore

– Do I feel lonely? How can I transmute loneliness and sadness to creative energy? Can I re-imagine myself as connected to movements and communities and histories, albeit disparate and difficult to access?
– Have I become too determined in attempting to be self-sufficient? Do I need to ask for external support? What does it mean to consider and imagine lineages and histories of madness? What does it mean to queer or crip those lineages?
– Do I feel as though I participate in life, or observe? What are the positive and negative qualities of each of these positions, and where do I wish to be?
– Is the situation as dire as it feels, or do I have more options than I am currently aware of? Does this situation feel too chaotic? Where can I redirect my energy?
– Have I become bored with the creative projects I’ve been working on? Do I need to try something else?
– Do I worry about being forgotten or underappreciated? Do I worry about missing out? How do I feel about external limitations preventing me from doing what I want to do, making what I want to make, going where I want to go, and writing what I want to write?

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Three of Pentacles / Three of Bones

For me, this card is about using madness and creativity toward a spiritual purpose, even if that purpose feels entirely unclear and undefined. There’s a community element in this card, and it won’t surprise you when I say that I have always and continue to not felt/feel connected to any kind of community, collective, or support system – when I write about community, I am often describing the illusion of community, the perpetual disappointment in the countless searches for community – at the same time, I feel this card asks us to trust that something like community might exist, but/and it will necessarily be imperfect. I also think it points toward finding the value of loneliness.

I often ask myself what the purpose(s) of my own writing is/are, and the answers always vary. Sometimes it’s survival. Sometimes it’s friendship. Sometimes it’s documentation, evidence, anger. In one of the zines I’m currently working on, I talk about my writing as contributing to what I’ve named “borderline-thought” and “borderline-imagination.” I’ve been contemplating what it means to value obscurity, what it means to self-publish, what it means to be affiliated with nobody but myself (no institution, no diplomas or certificates, no academy, no awards, no collective, and often no – or very little – credit or compensation or recognition or invitations, etc…), which has led me to contemplating how / what / where / why / I contribute, i.e. write.

Many descriptions of the Pentacles suit will mention “work ethic,” a phrase that makes me cringe for so many reasons. With sickness and madness, I’ve been learning to value non-productivity and non-work, and I so strongly believe that none of us should be forced to earn a living that it breaks me just to think about it. I have often defined what I do as work and labour, but I have resisted those terms as well because they don’t feel like enough, and because I don’t feel like a worker or a labourer. I feel like Maranda. But I do feel under-valued and under-recognized sometimes (these feelings are intermittent, not constant – I do have supportive friends & readers). The Three of Pentacles encourages me to make my own meanings. I’m much more of a loner than collaborator, so I imagine this card as collaborating with each of my selves, and to think of my art as a collaboration with spirits or with a Higher Power, or as a contribution to crazy & crip & traumatized lineages.

As I was working on this piece, I had a dream that I forgot until I was walking by a nearby church to go to the laundromat. In my dream, I was inside the church, and it was as if I had come upstairs from the basement depicted in the card, and was looking for a seat. The church was crowded – everybody was contained within small groups of friends and family, and I looked and felt distinctly alone. I worried that my not-belonging was very visible, and that the wooden pews would hurt my bones. I worried about having to introduce myself and make small talk when I didn’t want to. The service was open to the public, and I wanted to be inside but remain unnoticed. I wanted to look at the stories on the stained glass windows, but church-goers’ shifting bodies obscured my view.

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I’ve written plenty about not-belonging. The dream helped me to find more in this particular card about a kind of misfit spirituality, a true embracing of weirdnesses, and the necessity of having private practices, as well as finding magic and purpose through discomfort and loneliness. I think it means something about being okay with the very weirdest parts of yourself that others can’t or won’t see.

I have also written about writing as a form of contribution, a form of being of service. The Three of Pentacles involves foundations and plans, and I think it involves necessary invisibility, too, as the figures are in the basement, unseen – this could also refer to the underground and subcultures. In Pixie’s Tarot, this is the only card with black Pentacles – the others are golden. To me, this conveys more about privacy, invisibility, protection, and spirit communication. I think also about creating our own meanings for terms like renunciation, reverence, art, and oddness. I think the card says something about trusting in the value of your labour and your visions. I think it has something to say about knowing your spoons, gathering your reserves, and seeking information. It also seems to me to hint at the idea of building a world, which is useful to me as a fiction writer and as someone who dreams of new worlds everyday.

There’s no boredom in this card, as there can be in others. Organizers might see themselves in this card, as well as writers working with editors or editors working with writers. It might also represent a kind of care team or spiritual resources, space, coven, or group. Three, of course, represents harmony, and you might connect it to body-mind-spirit, past-present-future, or the Threefold Law.

In The Collective Tarot, this card also shows a visibly wounded creature, but the figure is alone, rather than interacting with others. In Thea’s Tarot, the figure again is alone. Yet they each seem to embody a kind of strange, divine purpose.

Questions to Explore

– What aspects of my creative processes feel meaningful to me? Which parts are no longer feeling meaningful to me? Am I ready to discard them? Am I ready to re-dedicate and re-devote myself to art and recovery when I don’t know what the rewards will be?
– What are my roles or purposes with my art/work and spiritual practices? Do I tend to create alone or with others? How do I feel about collaborations and shared energies? To where and to whom am I contributing?
– Can I practice my art/work as a form of prayer? Who is my art/work in service to, what is it in service of? Does this service feel effective, worthwhile, and appreciated?
– What are the spiritual purposes and lessons of madness, disability, illness, and/or trauma in my daily life? What happens when I shift my perspective from achieving productivity to being of service?
– Do the ideas of not-belonging &/or misfit spirituality resonate with me? How? Why? Is there anywhere I feel I belong? Do I feel a sense of community in my days? How do I alleviate the feeling of loneliness, or what do I learn through it?

Tarotingly Yours,
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P.S.: If you’ve benefited from my writing in any way – if my words have inspired you, helped you feel less alone, or sparked some weird feeling within you; if you’ve felt encouraged, or curious, or comforted – please consider compensating me by offering a donation of any amount. Whether you’ve been reading my writing for years, or just stumbled into me this afternoon, I invite you to help me sustain the process!

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