The thing about Death (most fowl) #WeeklyTarotFYI

A darkened room. Flickering candles. A bangled, bedazzled psychic. Red velvet drapes. A curl of incense and/or a mist machine on the “low” setting. The querent leaning forward, tense. The dramatic pause before, in a jangle of costume jewellery and a flurry of grey, curly hair, the psychic turns over a tarot card – Death!

It’s not really strange that even before getting within spitting distance of tarot, most people have at least some vague notion of the Death card. It’s a dramatic device par excellence, and why not? Most card imagery features a Grim Reaper of some variation. Coupled with the general misconceptions about tarot (for most people’s it’s something to do with “the occult”, which covers all manner of sin), Death is great for the cheap plot trick.

But here’s the thing: even after some time of knowing about and working with the tarot, Death still gets a nervous chuckle out of me whenever it shows up in a reading. Even precluding the common misconceptions about its meaning, it generally signifies that most uncomfortable of things to a two-times natal chart Taurean – change. And not surface change: it goes beyond externals and circumstance. It’s a change inside, a dying and a rebirth, often crucial, but almost always uncomfortable, disconcerting or downright unpleasant.

A few months ago, Death showed up in a daily draw I did for myself. I won’t say I shit a brick, but I spent most of the day on edge, expecting devastating news or some stark betrayal or the end of my life as I knew it. Very melodramatic, right? Of course, a piano didn’t fall on me, no dark secret of mine was revealed, and my world didn’t crumble down around me. In hindsight, I think Death meant the start of some long-ailing thing’s last slither from my soul, but to Past Me, doom was imminent.

That’s Death in a nutshell: it prompts a hell of a lot of self-reflection.


The #WeeklyTarotFYI card for this week is Death (no shit). Nervous chuckle begat, I reminded myself that I’d asked about guidance and had a bit of a stare and a ponder. What struck me most about Kim Krans’ The Wild Unknown version is that the card doesn’t actually portray death, just decomposition. The bird’s death happened off-screen or on Krans’ Hierophant, depending on your interpretation of that card. If the focus of The Wild Unknown’s Death card is decomposition rather than death itself, it waters down the “scare factor” of the card somewhat because it’s talking about something that’s already dead.

That gives us something even meatier to consider. When decomposition occurs in a field somewhere, in an open space, exposed to nature and the elements and the work of animals and insects, decomposition is “good” in the sense that the bird’s corpse goes through the natural process of breaking down. That process feeds and nurtures a whole array of critters as it occurs, and in the end little is left of the bird’s corpse. It’s only when decomposition is resisted – a dead rat in a crawl space, for instance – that it becomes problematic.

This week, Death’s asking us to “air out” the dead stuff we’ve left to rot in our minds, hearts and souls. It’s time for us to get out of the way of a process that is ultimately for our own well-being. The change has already happened; within us, something’s already died. Keeping it hidden away won’t bring it back. Rather than holding on to it, we need to trust that its breaking down will nurture something within us.

What to let go of, though? When we see the Death card in a reading, I think most of us instinctively think of one thing or another. Much like a dead rat left to rot in a ceiling, we know it’s there – we smell a rat! Well, it’s time to put a plastic shopping bag over our hands and go fish it out so we can send it to the Great Field Out Back in the sky. An unpleasant task, but a needed one.

What card/s did you draw for yourself this week?


Patrick Bateman is full of shit


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I’m pretty sure my intuition was just waiting for me to do the Weekly FYI to deliver these babies: the four of Pentacles with the Daughter of Wands as a jump card. I won’t say these two are diametrically opposed, but it’s as close to it as “Damn it!” is to cussing. They remind me of the yin/yang symbol: vitally different but for a kernel of similarity at their very cores.

The four of Pentacles is sort of the Patrick Bateman of the tarot. In the Waite we see a king using his wealth to literally isolate himself from the world around him. The Wild Unknown paints a more harmonious picture of a closed-off, self-sustaining system. It’s interesting how the lemniscate is layered over itself in the Wild Unknown’s four of Pentacles. For all that it signifies infinity, it seems almost…trapped. There’s nothing wrong with wealth or material possessions in and of themselves unless we use them in the wrong way; in this case, as building blocks for our identity. We can’t be looking for infinity in the finite.

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It’s into this hot mess that the Daughter of Wands whips. Like the four of Pentacles, hers is a journey fundamentally about self-definition, but the means are totally different. The king in the Waite four of Pentacles uses his disks to define himself. Outside of these, he thinks, I need nothing or no one! Except, of course, that material success is always about external validation. In contrast, the only yardstick the Daughter of Wands uses is herself: am I doing what I want or need to? Am I walking my path well? She curls eternally around a flowering branch. Her growth is potentially infinite and nourished by the world without being defined by it. But the four of Pentacles can never be more than what it already is because it isn’t rooted in anything.

I think the cards ask an important question: not what defines us so much as how we define ourselves. What, or whose, yardstick are we using? Do we use the external trophies of “stuff” to define ourselves, often stunting ourselves emotionally to do so, or do we pick the less straightforward but more rewarding approach of The Daughter of Wands, who follows the way of The Fool?


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Back yon when I was in school, one of the favourite topics in our “life science-y” classes was peer pressure and how not to succumb to it. And what a waste it was, because as it turns out the adolescent brain is wired just so to be vulnerable to peer pressure. The “Let’s be reasonable about this” and “You could get pregnant!” and “But it’s the same t-shirt just without the brand name!” part of your brain is literally lagging behind the rest of it, doubled over and out of breath as all the other parts race ahead. Adolescents are wired to make dumbass decisions, which is probably why we’ve survived as a species.

What they never tell you, though, is that despite the reasonable part of your brain catching up eventually in your twenties (!), peer pressure never really goes away. It just becomes more sophisticated and more subtle, which is why at this very moment there are people excited to pay $1000 for a phone out there (and God bless them).

I’d judge them, I really would – as a Christian I’m really good at it, too – but then I’d have to sit right down under the same censure. For example, I have a friend who is dear to me…except that she’s super competitive. A few months ago I picked up a second-hand book at an antique store for R20 (that’s, like, a buck and a half in American, or a pound if you’re British). It’s a reference book and very expensive new. Its cover was in a bad way, and it smelled a little odd, but I jerry-rigged a new cover and the book is perfectly usable, if not all that pretty. I’m two parts Taurean so the only thing I love more than potatoes is a bargain.


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A few weeks later, I noticed my friend now has a version of this same book on her shelf…brand spanking new, all glossy and gilt-edged. She never said anything, but then she didn’t really need to: in comparison to the new, shiny version of this book, my slightly smelly bargain paled significantly. And just like that, it had become a comparison: like that scene in American Psycho where Patrick Bateman is forced to confront a business card that’s better than his own…only, you know, with less misogynistic killing sprees.

The funny thing is if I hadn’t been competitive myself I probably wouldn’t even have noticed this tendency in Otherwise Dear Friend. But I am, and her insistence on outdoing me in the “stuff” department annoys me like only a water sign can annoy an earth sign. And so the tarot has set out these two cards and the tension between them like Nanny 911 giving pesky toddlers a choice between two outfits: the four of Pentacles and the Daughter of Wands. Which one do you want to wear?

I’m no expert, but when one of the choices is Patrick Bateman’s quintessence, you generally choose the other option.


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Mercury you son of a bitch


I don’t really keep track of astrology; the new and full moons are about it, and that’s more for interest’s sake than any finger-wavey reason. But boy oh boy do I believe in Mercury retrogrades fucking shit up. When a major cell service provider here in good old R of SA had disappearing data issues a few weeks back, I crossed my hands over my generous middle, sat back in my chair and nodded sagely. Of course it would happen during a Mercury retrograde. Mercury retrogrades are like the universe stacking everything communication related with a .5 towards chaos instead of order, and Vodacom got shanked up its treacherous little tuchus.

I’ve had a few Mercury retrograde-related casualties on the home front. Foolishly (this was before the Vodacom fiasco, which was the blip that alerted me to the retrograde) I signed up for a new internet service, and it’s been a fortnight of wailing and gnashing of teeth, and that’s just on Twitter. I’m hoping tomorrow’s direct will slingshot the situation back to the Lands of Competence – not familiar territory for Telkom, but still – and will be putting in a prayer or two to that effect. I’ve had my fair share of miscommunication, minor and major, my mom’s (until then perfectly functional) phone broke, and an old “pal” (it seems gratuitous to label someone as an enemy, so observe the quotes) crawled from the woodwork to try and poison my spiritual well.

Still, it wasn’t all bad. I found a lovely organiser on sale at 1/5th of its usual price. I’ve reorganised, re-prioritised, and made an impressive amount of lists. I finally unstoppered my piehole and shared some issues I’ve been having with supportive friends, which didn’t change the situation but sure made me feel better about it. I cleared my email inboxes. I put labels on things. I got around to watching Me Before You. Mercury retrogrades are astrology’s yoga pants: nice little hiatuses from having to suck your stomach in and have it all together.

Tomorrow, though, it’s back to business. This week’s FYI card is “Strength”. Can I be honest? I sometimes want to punch Strength in its magnanimous little face. It’s so serene. I mean, yes, that’s the point of it. But nothing’s quite so irritating as serenity when you’re not there yet yourself, which came through strongly in my reading.

Two connections stood out for me. The first was the relationship between Strength and The Magician: both have the lemniscate on their person. I read using The Wild Unknown deck; The Magician’s is in its fur, Strength’s lion above its head. Strength is what happens when The Magician puts on its big girl panties. The Magician’s all about will, and its will can be relentless – too relentless. As the first card The Fool encounters on her journey, The Magician still has much to prove, both to her or himself and the world. By the time The Fool reaches Strength, that will has changed, softened into the confidence of initial mastery. Strength doesn’t have to prove anything to anybody.

Strength is also in relationship with The High Priestess (11 = 1+1 = 2). The High Priestess’ search for inner mysteries is actualized in the peace at the heart of the Strength card. When you’ve been tested (Wheel of Fortune) and found yourself true to your inner guidance and resilience, you no longer roar and rampage – you don’t need to. In Christian terminology, I think of Strength as the peace of Christ. This peace is incomplete as yet, though – it’s not until you die to self and live to Christ that it finds its perfection.

Practically, I think Strength is often being able to…but choosing not to. It’s being able to say something that’s right but not necessarily kind and choosing not to say anything. It’s mercy over judgment. Strength asks us who and what we are when we no longer have anything to prove to anybody. That proof’s been provided in The Chariot. Now what? From the times in my life I’ve felt most “Strong”, I’d say Strength is patient, generous, grateful, aware. When Strength permeates our lives, we take deeper breaths, listen more than we speak, pause. Sometimes it’s less of a presence than it is an absence: an absence of comparison and envy, of defensiveness and irritation, and of materialism, waste and excess.

In that vein, I consulted the cards on how I can best combine Strength with the energy of tomorrow’s Mercury direct. I used Temperance as a loaded card and pulled the cards preceding and following it and got Death and the Knight of Swords. I thought this was an interesting combination: isn’t Death but the Knight of Swords’ final charge, realised? These energies aren’t dissimilar, but unless a conscious effort is made to combine these internal and external forces of change, their interaction will be combustible and oppositional.

The Mercury direct will test the resolve of our Strength. It will put us and our aimed-at serenity straight in the path of people and things we might wish to avoid. Mercury is infernally chatty, but is our Strength Strength unless it can bear the unpredictability of interpersonal relationships? Not really. The proof is in the pudding, after all.

This week’s challenge, then, is not to let the onslaught of Mercury’s Knight of Swords rush or hamper the steady progress of Strength’s implacable, Death-like energy. For me, that means holding onto Strength even when Mercury’s energy is tugging at your sleeve, urging you to ask the question you know you shouldn’t, go to the party you don’t have time for, reschedule an appointment last minute because something more tempting’s come up. Mercury can be a real son of a bitch, retrograde or not, but he doesn’t always have to get his way.

Do not sit on The Emperor’s face

The bad news is that South Africa’s parliament failed yet again to pass a vote of no confidence in beleaguered and hopelessly corrupt President Jacob Zuma, even using a secret ballot. The good news is that my tarot reading predicting this result turned out to be correct.


The Wild Unknown Tarot deck.


I’m still novice enough to be pleasantly surprised whenever a reading makes sense. Looking at the cards (I used Kim Krans’ Clarity Spread), with The Emperor crowning the lot, my hopes that Zuma would be ousted faded. I’m not The Emperor’s biggest fan. Intellectually I know The Emperor represents rules, order, society: humanity’s will imposed on the natural world. But emotionally? Humanity’s will has been awfully patriarchal, and Lord knows I resent having to pander to patriarchy.

For me, Zuma is the reflection of both these aspects of The Emperor. On the one hand, he is South Africa’s third democratically elected president, and so The Emperor here speaks of the victory of order over the apartheid era’s chaotic discrimination. But then we have Zuma the man. He behaves like a king rather than a president. He has massively enriched himself at state expense; most recently with the notorious Gupta family, but his corruption has a long and rich history. He’s been tried for rape. He has six+ wives. In short, he’s what happens when The Emperor’s energy is left to run riot without The Empress’ to balance it out: toxic masculinity on a national scale.


The other cards in the spread speak volumes about the impact his tenure has had on politics. There’s a sense of hopelessness in the 8 of Cups. This was the eighth motion of no confidence against Zuma and like the others, it failed. The Father of Cups speaks of continuing indecision: the ANC majority was led by emotion for their party rather than the consequence for their country. The Lovers mark this choice. Interestingly, The Lovers reflect a choice with ethical undertones more than romantic love (as per Benebell Wen); the ANC majority chose wrong, giving in to the temptation of corruption and pride.

2c32f033f3556687cbc084978fe2c5adThe Emperor’s biggest frailty, though, is that he believes his own press. In The Wild Unknown Tarot, The Emperor is a strong, tall tree under a burning sun. Yet it’s that same tree that’s destroyed in Krans’ The Tower, toppled by a lightning strike. The Waite Emperor seems painfully aware of this danger: he’s a haunted, isolated man, clad in armour and wild-eyed even though no feasible danger seems to exist. Emperors and empires were made to fall.


Though Zuma wasn’t ousted, he’s a marked man. The no confidence vote was very close – 198 against, 177 for – closer than it’s ever been. It will have showed him and the ANC that his loyalty and thus his leadership is suspect. His lightning strike might not be that far off.



“You can’t handle the truth!” Reflections on Justice


Lucky old me had “Justice” as my stalker card all week. I spent more than a moment staring at Kim Krans’ The Wild Unknown Tarot version of it, puzzled. “Decisions, karma,” the Not-So-LWB said, and like every other relatively innocuous person in the history of the world, I had a brief sensation of terror: which of my sins would come back to haunt me? Then I remembered I don’t subscribe to karma and went from horrified to horrified and confused.

Perhaps Justice is not so much about decisions and karma here as it is about its central concept, that of truth. How can one have justice without truth? But what is the truth? In the Tarot, The Fool steps off the cliff (or tumbles from the branch, in The Wild Unknown) in search of truth, only to discover The World at the end of an inner journey. The truth has been inside her all this time. It’s not a lesson taught so much as it is a journey of rediscovery. Similarly, tarot’s Justice isn’t concerned with external laws. It isn’t about the truth so much as it’s about a truth in your life right now.


I’ve been staring at both cats on the Justice card, insisting that there’s a choice to be made: an external “truth” to trump an inner truth. But my gut’s been right all along. Don’t do it. Step back. Trust God. In other words, retreat like the Hermit, the Fool’s next stop after Justice. Today was a reminder of that in miniature. There’s no way to skip the inner contemplation of the Hermit and expect to get past The Wheel of Fortune, another stalker card, unscathed.


Stepping back as a way to move forward is counter-intuitive. It’s why I’ve been so reluctant to retreat, like Krans’ Hermit tortoise settled in its shell, the light of inner truth burning securely atop it. I’ve wanted to do do do, even if it was only spinning wheels.

But so the Fool(e) learns! Hopefully next time round I’ll rediscover this without quite so much drama, politics and nonsense.


Deck interview: The Wild Unknown Tarot


*inhales* Ah, that new card smell! After a wait of more than a week, I finally got my Wild Unknown deck yesterday. It’s more beautiful than I’d anticipated and, true to its name, it’s got a “wild” undercurrent that doesn’t appreciate artifice or dallying. I think we’re going to get along just fine.

Since I had such a great “interview” with my old and neglected Dark Angels Tarot deck last week, I thought I’d interview my new deck in the same way. I’m not going to lie, the transition from the Universal Waite deck to this one has been a little jarring and I find myself squinting at the images of the Wild Unknown in pseudo-meditation (it’s really bewilderment, but lets at least try to keep the mystery alive, shall we?) The Universal Waite is “suburban cul-de-sac”* to the Wild Unknown’s “cabin in the woods”, so I guess some adapting is necessary. A big change for me is that The Wild Unknown doesn’t use reversals. I guess I could just invert the cards, but I’m curious to learn how to go without and doing so with a new deck seems wisest. I’m looking forward to the process.

The Wild Unknown interview


(I used Little Red Tarot’s spread again.)

1. Tell me about yourself – what is your most important characteristic?

The Chariot

It’s a confident and wilful deck, interested in helping its reader to run free like a wild horse.

2. What are your strengths as a deck?

Two of Swords

The Wild Unknown will lead you to confront things you’d rather avoid and will “cross swords” with your ego to this end.

3. What are your limits as a deck?

Father of Swords

I had trouble interpreting this one. Can a deck be too perceptive or emotionally unattached? Perhaps it’s a question of bias: its unbiased nature cuts too close to the quick?

4. What are you here to teach me?

Two of Pentacles

The word that immediately came to mind when I saw this card was “Metamorphosis”.

5. How can I best learn and collaborate with you?

Father of Wands

I can best collaborate with this deck by practising compassion, awareness and patience.

6. What is the potential outcome of our working relationship?

Six of Cups

A positive, joyful and nurturing relationship is on the cards.