Last Wednesday, which happened to be the day after Rosh HaShanah, I had my final chemo treatment for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. This was a good day to do this, since the Jewish New Year (which paradoxically takes place in the 7th month) traditionally marks the anniversary of Creation, and thus a renewal. It also marks the beginning of the ten Days of Awe leading to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and a very active spiritual time. I decided to take along my cards and do a reading while I was having the treatment. The deck was my personal copy of the Shining Tribe Art Deck, which is made from the original art, and hand-cut, and thus has no titles or borders. Here is a picture of the cards.
Before I describe the cards I should explain the form. The top two cards are what I call “Teacher” cards, derived by cutting the deck and looking at the bottom of each pile. The first card was at the bottom when I finished shuffling, the second after I cut the deck and put the bottom pile on top.
The middle line is the basic reading, a spread created by Zoe Matoff that has become my favorite go-to spread, for matters large and small. The middle card goes first, then the card on the left, then the one on the right. 2 1 3
1. The situation, what is going on.
2. Don’t do. This card on the left represents an action or approach that would not help the situation. This is often the most valuable card, since it can reveal our inclination or habitual response.
3. Do. An action or approach that will benefit the situation.
These three are the reading as originally developed by Zoe. I often add a fourth card, the one shown here by itself, below the line of three. This card signifies what can result from this situation, how it might evolve.
The Teacher Cards
The Four of Rivers (on the left). This card is about renewal, letting go of an old self and consciously taking on a new and more meaningful life. It is also directly linked to Rosh HaShanah (notice the shofar, or ram’s horn on the upper left). There is a ceremony done on Rosh HaShanah called tashlich, in which people cast bread crumbs into a stream or river, to symbolize casting off, or releasing, their negative actions or emotions of the previous year. When I was creating the Shining Tribe deck I somehow had the idea that there was an earlier version of this ritual, in which people cast off an old worn-out garment and put on something new. Though I’ve never found any evidence of this, I drew it for the card. The figure has given up a torn, ragged robe, and put on a Jewish prayer shawl.
I’ve actually done this ritual, myself, and with others. When I led a group of people on a sacred journey in Greece some years ago I told everyone to bring some old article of clothing, and something white that they’d never worn before. We did an overnight ritual on the beach to Aphrodite, who was born out of the sea at dawn and clothed by the Hours. Each person took off their “something old” and entered the water. then when they emerged two others dressed them in the new clothing. (And yes, I am aware that Aphrodite is a Pagan Goddess! A friend, who’s an ordained minister, once told me how she had to write down her faith on a hospital form, and put “Druidic.” i wondered what I might put and instantly thought “Heresy.”)
As a Teacher card, the Four of Rivers told me it was time to cast off the torn garment of my year of sickness, and be renewed.
The World card (on the right). This is the ultimate card in the Major Arcana, the final integration and liberation of the spirit. Seen here it becomes more than a Teacher, it promises wholeness and healing. The World card is a personal emblem for me. It’s on the home page of my website, http://www.Rachelpollack.com, and on my business card, and will be engraved on the barrel of a fountain pen that is being made for me to mark my 70th birthday (which took place on Aug. 17, almost exactly a month before the end of chemo).
The Three Cards
1 (in the middle). The Fool. The flying child in the Fool card signifies a complete new beginning, a return to freedom and instinct. At the opposite end of the Major Arcana from the World, it bears the number 0, from which all things are possible. In many ways, this is the perfect card to receive at the end of such a grueling treatment as six months of chemotherapy, which itself followed six months of illness.
2 (on the left, Don’t Do). The Ten of Stones (Ten of Pentacles, or Coins in traditional decks). While this card has its spiritual side, it speaks to me here, in the Don’t Do position, of being too concerned with the details of re-establishing my life, perhaps the economic issues. Even that spiritual aspect, shown in the totem images on the stones, can become a “Don’t Do,” if it becomes too obsessive, too caught up in details.
3. (on the right, Do). The Gift of Rivers (Queen of Cups). This is quite simply the gift of love, both emotional and spiritual. Two rivers merge into one, and where they meet we see a shining bowl that represents the Holy Grail of healing. So what I should do is quite simply acknowledge, and accept, the great gift of healing, and the love that sustained me. Also, be joyous. Do not do details, do joy.
The Fourth Card
4. (bottom row, by itself, what can come from this situation/moment). The Hanged Woman (Hanged Man). Many people see the Hanged Man in very negative terms, including being stuck, painful sacrifice, even treason (based on Renaissance Italy “shame paintings” of supposed traitors hanged upside down). For me, the Hanged Man has always been a deeply spiritual card, in some ways the very key to the Tarot’s message.
When I created my Hanged Woman I tried to make the picture deliberately playful to show there was not pain. The card is about attachment to the great Tree of existence, the Tree of Life, not as a Kabbalistic diagram, but as a living and vibrant connection with existence, a tree with its roots in the dark waters and its branches among the stars. Thus, it becomes a truly wonderful image for “what can come” from this moment of finishing the grueling months of chemotherapy–and all the fear surrounding it.
Two things worth noting about the card: 1. The posture is very much like the World dancer, but with the arms tucked in, and of course upside down, a kind of mirror image. 2. The Hanged Woman is card 12, the following card, 13, is Death. So, in the most literal meaning, what can come from this situation is not death, but life. And indeed, one of the “secrets” of the Hanged Man or Woman is that it is an image of birth, for we emerge from our mothers head first.
This blog post is dedicated to David Schaar