Ace of Wands

Few things feel as nice as a new beginning — that’s why I like the Aces so much.

They’re a fresh start, the energy of limitless potential. They’re a blank page, an unlocked door, and a new day. They’re the impetus to take the first step on a journey of a thousand miles.

The Ace of Wands card from the Rider-Waite deck.

From the Rider-Waite deck, illustrated by Pamela Coleman Smith.

I didn’t have anything in particular in mind when I drew this week’s card. I’m still working on things from last week, still looking forward to more medical tests. Sometimes, it’s just nice to have the encouragement that I’m going the right way.

It’s hard to interpret aces, sometimes. While they have the energy of all of that possibility, that’s all it is: possibility. Tarot never guarantees anything, aces doubly so. They’re the seed of an idea that needs effort to grow. They’re a promising opportunity, but only an opportunity.

I always seem to draw Wands when I have something creative going on. In this case, it’s the fact that holy crap I am completely sick of figuring out how to display things, I mean damn.

See, pre-stretched canvas is expensive, unwieldy, and difficult to store and ship. Canvas stretchers are cheaper, but still need space to store. Roll canvas is less expensive to buy, and easier to ship and store, but it’s also more difficult to work with and a pain to display. Want to frame it? Good luck — unless it’s smaller than 11×14, you’re probably going to have to figure out how to either stretch or mount it first. Hopefully there’s room to stretch it without losing any of the image! Good luck with mounting, too, because any permanent mount will decrease the piece’s lifespan (and probably its value),

I have a plan, I think, albeit a harebrained one. I’ve no idea if it’ll work. It’ll look really neat if it does, but will also involve ignoring a lot of what I’ve been taught and picking up a few new skills. It’ll be interesting to try, if nothing else, and the Ace of Wands indicate that it might not actually be a bad idea!

The Ace of Wands can also indicate an opportunity for personal growth. I’m hoping it’s pointing to my doctor’s appointments later this week — if I can get that resolved, if I can put those years of pain and frustration behind me, it’ll open up more opportunities than I can even begin to imagine.

Either way, I have a lot to look forward to.

 

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Painting What You See

cropped-drawingThe simplest piece of artistic instruction is also the most useful: Draw or paint what you can see.

It’s surprisingly difficult to keep our minds from filling in the blanks — we see a cup, and we know the cup is round and three dimensional. Our eyes tell us the mouth of the cup is a flattened oval, but that isn’t what our hands want to make. Our brains know better than what our eyes tell us.

The ability to “know better” and anticipate shape and distance like that is an adaptation that’s probably helped us, in an evolutionary sense, but it isn’t much use when it comes to accurately translating a three dimensional object onto a two dimensional space. That’s when the admonishment to create only what you can see becomes useful.

For me, it’s also a bit ironic.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I was diagnosed with idiopathic intracranial hypertension about seven years ago. It used to be known as “pseudotumor cerebri” — in essence, a brain tumor that isn’t. It mimics all of the symptoms of having a large brain tumor, but without any mass present. One of its hallmarks? Vision changes. As cerebrospinal fluid pressure increases, so does damage to the optic nerves.

I can’t drive, because I can’t see well enough to. I have dead spots in my vision, which are almost impossible to describe. It isn’t really not seeing anything, it’s seeing nothing, in the same way that House of Leaves‘ Zampanò defines uncanny as ‘full of not knowing.’ Lines and space warp and deform around their edges like miniature event horizons, wholly confined to my eyes. Sometimes, I turn my head too quickly and see showers of golden sparks, or scintillations like the sun reflecting on water.

My brain often tries to “help,” by compensating for the strangely existentially horrific idea of seeing nothing, like a kind of neurological horror vacui. It inserts spectacularly mundane things into the places where my eyes don’t work anymore — a spare copy of my laptop stuck in my peripheral vision, or a stack of books I’ve never owned. A poached egg in the middle of the floor. A glass of water that yields only air when I reach for it.
I’m not sure why it does this, but it feels like the bones of a good short story. You would think that having your brain spontaneously insert images into your vision would be the opposite of helpful… Unless hallucinating several bunches of bananas was somehow preferable to what it’s trying to protect you from seeing. Fun!

If I said that coming to terms with the idea of potentially, possibly, let’s-face-it-probably going blind was difficult, I’d be lying, because that’d imply that it was possible to begin with. I don’t know that it’s any harder for me because I work with visual media — who wouldn’t be upset at not being able to see anymore?

I’m at the point where my vision loss has slowed considerably, if not entirely stabilized. With time (and, hopefully, a prolonged remission), some of my vision might come back. A lot of it won’t.

Sometimes, I do paint what I see.

And it’s fucking weird.

The World

Does this stranger really expect me to tell him every traumatic event I’ve ever been through? I thought. As I looked at the tiny laptop balanced on the edge of the examination table, I began to doubt it had enough hard drive space to hold this particular interview.

Let me back up.

My S.O. didn’t just manage to get me a doctor’s appointment — he managed to get me one with the doctor I’d originally wanted to see. Someone dedicated to restorative medicine, with rave reviews praising his patience and understanding. So why, now that I was actually in front of him, did I get the distinct impression that I was a waste of his time?

I’d filled out the medical history forms as best as I was able. There was a lot to fit, and not nearly enough space to do it in. I prioritized, skipping over a bout of flu here, or an ear infection there. I fit in everything I could remember. Still, it wasn’t enough. He said he wouldn’t get to examine me, because he had to spend so much time going over my medical history now. He wanted to know everything — why did I move to California? Was the pomegranate orchard there regular, or organic?

“What am I even here for?” He finally asked. I was stunned by it, but, by then, I also wasn’t even sure how to answer him. I was doubled over in pain, to the point where it was hard to walk. I said that I was hoping for help with what I thought was an ulcer. A referral to a specialist, maybe? A recommendation?

He wanted to delve into emotional trauma. His voice was accusatory, his sighs impatient — as if I’d left my parents’ divorce out of my medical history on purpose. (I didn’t know it mattered. I also didn’t find it particularly traumatic. If anything, it was a relief.) I’d also neglected to mention a lot of other things. How traumatic did something have to be to count? How far back did he want me to go? Was evading a kidnapper at age 13 good enough, or did I have to go back to being sexually assaulted at 5? Maybe the time a man I’d briefly dated decided to stalk me at my job? Or should I cut right to finding out that one of my room mates was murdered?

I didn’t think his laptop had the space for me. Judging by his words, he didn’t have it, either. I only told him about the divorce.

I mentioned intracranial hypertension. He said he didn’t “know if that’s even a thing.”  (Trust me — it is.) I felt my stomach drop into my knees. What was I going to do if I needed to go on Diamox again? Or worse, needed a shunt? I don’t have vision loss and brain damage for no reason, dude. 

While I waited to have blood drawn, he patted my shoulder in passing in a manner I think he thought was reassuring. It wasn’t.

I’m not good with blood draws. I always faint, I usually need a butterfly needle, and giving any amount beyond what’s needed for a basic metabolic panel has always made me sick. When I found out he needed twelve tubes of blood, I asked if there was a way to split the requisition — I’ve had to do it before. Most of the blood tests were for thyroid hormones, a CBC, blood lipids, the usual checkup stuff. Maybe I could give some blood that day, then go to the lab on another day to get tested for Lyme disease and the other myriad tests he’d ordered? The phlebotomist (a very kind, patient woman who really seemed to be doing her best) asked if it was possible. A few minutes later, I was given the requisition form for all twelve tubes of blood and orders to go to the lab and make them deal with it instead. At that point, I could almost feel the words “pain in the ass” branded into my skin.

When my S.O. and I got back to the car, I was fighting tears. Not only was I put in a vulnerable position by a stranger who apparently couldn’t care less, I knew it was going to be awhile before I got the help I needed. I’d laid there, curled up like a prawn, in pain, and wasted the doctor’s time because I’d neglected to mention my parents splitting up when I was 4.

I was afraid to tell my S.O. that I had no intention of going back for the actual physical exam. Not because I was afraid of his reaction, but he’d worked so hard to get me in to see this doctor — making phone calls when I couldn’t, rearranging his schedule so he could be there for me. I had a recommendation for a gastroenterologist and a neurologist, did I even need this doctor right now? I could see a specialist, get this problem under control, and worry about preventative care once I was able to… you know, eat and walk properly again.

Undecided, I figured I’d do a reading. I don’t generally let cards make major life decisions for me, but I really didn’t know what to do. My gut was telling me that continuing to see this doctor was not going to do me much good right now… If I wanted to be condescended to by someone who doesn’t know anything about IIH, I could get that at a walk-in clinic for a fraction of the cost.
Then again, my gut has also made me view plain rice and dry toast with intense dread and suspicion, so maybe it’s not always to be trusted.

Should I find a new primary doctor, continue seeing this one, or follow my instincts and just call the gastro?
I drew the Five of Pentacles, the Ten of Pentacles, and the World.

Finding a new doctor would be the economical choice — it’d definitely cost less to see a conventional doctor over an integrative one, even though this guy takes my insurance. Continuing to see this doctor would yield rewards far down the line. Going right to the specialist would be the best option of all.

The World is one of the most positive cards in the deck. It is harmony, fulfillment, and satisfaction. It’s the card of ultimate achievement, of everything finally meshing together. It brings a sense of joyful closure. It’s exactly what I need. As soon as I saw it, I felt a surge of relief — moving on isn’t a mistake, and I should pay attention to my instincts.

I made an appointment with the gastroenterologist. If nothing else, at least this doctor pointed me towards someone who might be able to help me better.

 

 

 

 

The Two of Cups

Can I complain about stomachs for a bit?

My life has been pretty limited by health issues for awhile — I don’t just mean intracranial hypertension, either. I try not to dwell on it, because that’s not really helpful for me. If anything, it just keeps me from being useful when and where I can.

Sometimes, though? I just want to be a gigantic baby about it, dammit.

Part of my problem is a digestive issue that, to date, three different ERs, five doctors, a barium swallow, three ultrasounds, four x-rays, and countless dietary adjustments have not solved. There’s still a lot of diagnoses to rule out (I’ve never been scoped, or tested for H. pylori, Celiac disease, or SIBO, for example), but it’s been a long slog finding a doctor willing to pursue things and not just shrug and hand me a PPI . I’ve been told to “come back if it still isn’t better in a week” when it hasn’t been better in years, and, when I do, it’s another shrug and a recommendation to try fasting for a day.

If I fasted every time I felt sick, I’d be dead.

Getting insurance was a pain. Finding a doctor who I felt confident would actually help me continues to be a pain. Some won’t do anything for me because they have no experience with idiopathic IH (statistically speaking, I’m one of 7 people in this entire city who has it. I guess I can’t be too surprised). It’s frustrating. It’s disheartening. It’s very… physically unpleasant.

Through it, my S.O. has been a huge help. He calls doctors for me, sends in paperwork, deals with the ongoing, complicated mess of adding me to his insurance. Sometimes, I feel powerless not only because I’m physically unwell, but because that illness makes me less able to advocate for myself. I don’t like having him do this, so part of my contribution was hunting down a doctor I thought would be willing to do more than order another ultrasound and ask me, for the nth time, if I’m really, absolutely sure this isn’t all just anxiety. I even found one!

Unfortunately, they don’t answer the phone.

“I can get you an appointment with my doctor,” my S.O. texted me, but I didn’t want to get another five minute visit with someone who’d just order the same tests that were no help the first seventeen times. I didn’t want to go through trying the same handful of acid reducers, only to end up anemic, covered in bruises, and feeling no better. I’d gone through a lot of trouble to find a doctor whose approach seemed like one that would actually help me, who my insurance would cover. We’d already filled out the new patient paperwork and sent it in, why wasn’t this office answering their damn phone? 

I was having a low point when I decided to pull out one of my tarot decks. What could I do to help myself heal? It feels like I’ve tried everything I can, physically speaking. Taking more Mylanta probably isn’t going to help at this point. I had my doubts about eating nothing but banana smoothies for a(nother) month. FODMAPs was already a flop. What else was there for me to do?

2ofcupsThe Two of Cups.

The Cups are the cards of emotions, and the Two of Cups is full of partnership imagery — a pair of figures, the twining snakes of the staff of Hermes. While it doesn’t always mean a romantic partnership, it does point to one where both people are very emotionally invested in the same endeavor.

Right now, my goal is getting well (or, if not well, then at least less awful). I know my S.O. is invested in it, too, or he wouldn’t be filing paperwork and making calls. My approach obviously isn’t working, or I’d have an appointment by now. It seems like I need to defer to the other person in this partnership — he cares about my well-being just as much as I do, just as I care about his. If I’m going to listen to anybody right now, it should probably be the other person with a vested interest on keeping me on the right side of the dirt, you know?

I asked him to call his doctor.

Fingers crossed.

 

The King of Wands

Ever have a card that ends up showing up a bunch? Seemingly out of the blue, it starts showing up in every reading you receive or do for yourself.

Right now, I’ve got the Kind of Wands.

Across multiple decks (he’s been a crow, a man, and even a taxidermy fish in a squirrel suit), he keeps showing up. The first time was when I tried a very interesting three-card reading — how you see yourself and how others see you, versus how you really are. Ever since then, any time I have a question about feeling sure about my place in the world, or keeping up my confidence, he’s there. The funny thing is, I don’t think I’ve ever received the King of Wands in a reading before then. Not when I pulled cards for myself, not when I paid for a reading by someone else, not even when my ex’s stepmother was teaching me to read.

kingwandsIn truth, I could do a lot worse than the King of Wands. He’s a leader. In the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, he’s holding a blossoming branch that symbolizes verdant life and the energy of creativity. He’s surrounded by symbols of strength, nobility, and the element of fire. In the Crow Tarot, he is a sign that focus and energy will ensure a successful outcome. In the Deviant Moon Tarot, he’s a charismatic (if easily annoyed) leader or innovator. In the Regretsy Tarot, he is a fish in a squirrel suit.

The King of Wands is a determinator. If he wants to throw his weight behind something, it will blossom. If he doesn’t, it will wither. As a King, he is less impetuous than a Knight. Unfortunately, that also means that the success or failure of an opportunity rests entirely on the King’s willingness to act on it. No pressure, or anything.

I often feel like I’m spinning my wheels. Even during the times when I know exactly what I need to do to feel happy and successful, health challenges mean that I don’t always have the ability to do them. Here, at least, it seems like the King of Wands is a reassurance that all isn’t lost — I can still achieve what I want with energy and focus.

 

6 Signs Your Spiritual Advisor Might Be Full of It

Once, I mentioned to someone that I was interested in visiting a Reiki massage therapist. Immediately after I said it, I received a very baffling piece of advice: “Don’t join a cult.”

I say baffling, because:

  1. What do either of those things have to do with each other?
  2. Cults have a very definite set of characteristics that make them destructive to the people they trap. People don’t join a cult because they’re foolish or don’t know any better. They join them because they are desperate, and cults have a highly evolved set of strategies for preying on this desperation. Saying “don’t join a cult” is an extremely reductive treatment of a set of very complex psychological and social problems.
  3. Cults work because people don’t realize they’re about to join one. Saying “don’t join a cult” is a bit like saying “don’t choke to death on a potato” or “don’t get malaria.”

In Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America, Margot Adler points out that Pagan groups don’t share the characteristics of cults. I can’t reasonably say that no Pagan group leader has ever used their influence the way a cult leader does, but the motivations for being Pagan, or even being a secular witch, are not rooted in the desperation and desire to belong that are the hallmarks of someone vulnerable to a cult. (Given the number of solitary Pagans and witches, it would really odd way to go about obtaining a sense of belonging.)

A fangy-toothed cat sleeping upside down.

I have no idea what image would be appropriate for this sort of post, but all of the blogging guides say I need to have one. So, here’s Pye’s enormous, doofy face, because the rest of this post is heavy.

That said, sometimes spiritual advisors and Pagan group leaders take a hard left into toxicity. I mean, there’s a whole range of behavior between garden-variety low functioning manipulators and Shoko Asahara (and none of it is good).

So, how do you tell if your spiritual advisor may not have your best interests at heart?

1. “You’re cursed, but I can save you.”

I can’t tell you how many horror stories I’ve heard from people who went to a psychic or other advisor only to be told that they were suffering from a terrible curse, and only the advisor could help them.

By the way, that help will run you into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Dealing with curse-breaking, like other forms of witchcraft, requires practice, learning, and dedication, but there is nothing so special about it that only one person in the world can help you… and it definitely shouldn’t cost you four easy payments of $10k each. But, while most people know to get a second opinion if their doctor delivers some bad news, they often don’t necessarily feel the same about spiritual advisors.

I hate to be all “not all psychics,” but it’s true. Just like with any other bad news, get a second (or third) opinion, and learn what you can do to help yourself first. Curses also aren’t nearly as common as many people think, so the odds of you actually having a curse that needs removing are not very high.

2. Nudity is not optional.

“Going skyclad” is a thing that I think a lot of people have weird ideas about. It’s a way to remove the trappings of rank from people, to place all of the participants on equal footing. It’s also a way to delineate the ritual setting, since most people don’t go about their daily lives in the nude, and to celebrate the body without shame — if you’re uninhibited enough to be in the buff, you’re uninhibited enough to fully give yourself over to the emotions and feelings of the ritual.

That said, nobody has any place to tell someone that they must be skyclad. Nobody.

There have been instances where gross perverts have maneuvered themselves into leadership positions in part to preside over a space full of naked people. Anyone who insists that you absolutely have to be naked in front of them (and isn’t, like, a literal emergency room trauma surgeon) is not anyone who should be trusted.

3. Something something root chakra.

There’s a lot of crossover between Western new age spirituality and the concept of chakras in Hindu tantrism (something which both Hindu people and members of new age movements often feel several ways about). Part of this is the appropriation of the idea of chakra opening.

The root chakra is part of a complex physical and spiritual energy system. I can’t speak for Hindu tantrism in particular, but, in Westernised practices, this chakra is associated with sexuality, survival, security, and all of the other lower Maslow-type business. A blockage of the root chakra also impacts all of those above it. This makes sense — if you don’t feel safe and have your basic needs met, you probably aren’t going to really open up to much else in life.

The weird part is the number of people who want to personally unblock your chakras. Preferably with their junk.

As with going skyclad, there is no reason to allow someone to do anything to you that you are not comfortable with, even a guru. This isn’t like overcoming fear through skydiving or bungee jumping — this is a predator who wants to take advantage of someone in a vulnerable position. Cloaking it in a veneer of spirituality doesn’t legitimize it.

4. “You’re special!”

Here is where things cross over into cult recruitment tactics. One of the things cults are known for is love bombing. Love bombing is sometimes used toward positive ends. More often, it’s manipulation.

Love bombing takes a vulnerable person and makes them feel wanted and special. It can also take a person who just thrives on praise and make them feel elevated and unique. Once that “loved” status is obtained, most people don’t want to let go of it — so they put up with a lot to keep the love coming.

For a very brief time, I was involved in a small coven led by someone I trusted. All of the people involved in it were friends, and we all knew each other pretty well. I didn’t stay long, because my gut feeling pulled me away — I could tell something in the milk wasn’t clean, even if I didn’t know what. In the short time I was there, though, I could see the leader love bombing one of the members. This member got endless compliments, elevated to a higher rank, and the leader insisted that a kiss was part of the ritual structure.

Long story short, some rumors of sexual misconduct and a broken marriage later, that coven isn’t a thing anymore.

5. “The world doesn’t understand.”

Here’s another crossover into cult territory. One of the signs of a cult is isolation — the cult can only function if its members have a complete reliance on it. So, it shuts down critical thought and fosters the sense that the rest of the world is at fault, and it’s good and right to be at odds with it.

I’m not saying that it’s wrong to be against a lot of the things society accepts as normal. Being anti-capitalist, anti-overconsumption, or anti-patriarchal doesn’t make someone weird or wrong — far from it.

It does become toxic when that feeling extends to being unable to associate with anyone outside of a given belief system. When a trusted advisor tells you that you should alienate anyone who questions what you’re doing, that’s bad news.

Weirdly, it’s something that shows up in multi-level marketing schemes, too. Amway even has a name for these outsiders: dream stealers. This name is a way to “other” people who are suspicious of their activities. If a person doesn’t want to join your downline, buy Amway products, or otherwise go whole-hog into the Amway lifestyle? “Why, they’re just a loser who doesn’t want to see you succeed! They want to take away your dream!”

If your advisor tries to control the narrative by shutting down critical thought, that’s bad news.

6. “Your doctor is holding you back.”

It used to be an oft-repeated refrain that you simply couldn’t practice witchcraft if you were under the influence of anything. While this is understandably interpreted as a caution not to drink your weight in sacramental beer or rip a fat rail off of the back of a toilet immediately before entering the circle, you can still find people who take a dangerous, hard line approach.

As in, you shouldn’t be on anything. The medication you need for anxiety? Nope. The mood stabilizers that help you function? Nah. Antipsychotics? No way.

I think this happens when the importance of practicing with a clear head gets crossed with a kind of orthorexia — the idea that you must adhere to a contrived standard of internal “purity” in order to be worthy, and relying on outside help to function somehow makes you lesser. From my observation, this doesn’t seem to arise out of a desire for control (trust me, I’m much less tractable when I’m anxious), but telling someone to stop taking medication that they need is still destructive.

 

I’ve had some great experiences with spiritual advisors and group leaders, and some not-so-great ones. When spiritual advisors are good at what they do, they can help foster tremendous growth and creativity. “Help” and “foster” are the key words, though — they are there to advise, while the actual growth comes from within. If someone tries to make you dependent on them by claiming to be the only one who can save you, forces you into a vulnerable position, love bombs you, urges you to isolate yourself from anyone else who might see them for who they are, or tells you to stop taking your medication, it’s time to drop them.