Hello and happy Friday! Exciting news: The Witch City Tarot Gathering kindly offered each of their presenters a free event registration to give away to a lucky follower on Instagram! I've bundled that with a free one hour tarot session--your choice of reading or tutoring, via Zoom or Skype. (For entertainment purposes only.)
This conference will be amazing! It's coming up this July 23-25, 2021, and is entirely virtual, so safe and accessible no matter where you are. It includes workshops, performances, roundtables, a witch market, even tarot yoga, with a very exiting speaker and entertainer lineup. I'll be there teaching Tarot For The Creative Process.
Alright, now let’s have another spread I sure hope you don’t need, but you just might all the same! Here’s the Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum spread. These are magic words, meaning “don’t let the bastards grind you down.” I used to wear them in a locket on the sales-floor when I was a closet-case working starvation wages in high-femme fashion retail. It's cheesy, but it helped. Classics geeks, settle down. The Latin’s fake, but it’s a literary reference to Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale. I'm not into the show, but I had to read the book in high school, and I liked it at the time though it was upsetting, and there are some very good critiques against it, especially concerning torture-porn and white-washing. (Why do we pageant-ify misogynist violence to critique that violence, and does that even work? Is it ok to present things that are already happening to women in the world as a middle class white woman's dystopian future? Where are the queer and trans people?) If you dig Atwood, the Netflix mini-series Alias Grace (content warnings here) was gripping and spooky. I binged that in a day when it came out a few years ago.
This phrase has power that points beyond its origin point. The fuckeries we’ve got to weather, and disarm if we can, are many. Most of the spreads in this collection tie directly to the pandemic and its aftermath, but it’s a pandemic during a global fascist resurgence, on the cusp of a climate apocalypse, with sides of Gilded-Age level income inequality, institutionalized racism, ongoing colonialism, warfare, mainstreamed conspiracy cultism, assorted weaponized bigotries, etc.
Marginalized people still have to fight for basic rights and human recognition every day. My own intersections fall with the disabled/chronically-ill and trans communities. (100+ Anti trans bills in one fucking season! Protect trans kids!) This spread goes out to everyone coping with marginalization or bullying, and trying to navigate attack or complex, collective trauma with a measure of grace. (The Usual Disclaimer: tarot can be great for self-help, but it’s not a substitute for therapy. I am an artist, not a therapist. There is absolutely no shame in seeking help when you need it, especially if you’re struggling with depression or trauma.)
Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum Tarot Spread
1. Boundary: A boundary to hold firm.
2. To Hold: How to hold it in fortitude.
3. Oppressors: The state of my opponent.
4. Oppression: What I need to understand about the oppressive forces in my community.
Grind You Down
5. Offense: How this opponent aims to wear me down.
6. Defense: How to wear down the conflict instead.
Now you can point this spread toward collective oppressions, or impersonal ordeals like the pandemic, or you can tuck it in your back pocket for anytime you’re facing a conflict of some concern. This spread will function differently at group or interpersonal levels. Not all dangers and not all adversaries are malicious, and it can take very different strategies to deal with different types of threats, depending on where this is pointed. This is why the emphasis in card six is on wearing down the conflict, as opposed to attacking the other person(s) involved. Diplomacy may be called for. Seek negotiation, boundaries, and nonviolent remedies whenever possible in interpersonal conflicts. (I don’t recommend violence, but nor will I shame the violence of self-defense.) Deescalation is gold.
Whenever you’re dealing with systemic oppression, be aware that many of the people supporting and furthering oppression won’t consciously know or understand how harmful their words and actions are. We are not morally obligated to educate people who meet us with violence, but we are all obligated to soul-search for our own areas of fragility and toxicity, as to reduce our own harm-doing. See the variations section below to flip this spread inward and examine how you may be acting as an oppressor to someone else.
Holding your own while facing conflict does not mean loving or stoking conflict. Some people are going to pick fights, and we can’t always hold to our principles and avoid getting into it with combative jerks.
Abuse is widespread in our culture, so much so that it can be difficult to recognize. That it’s so common as to be taken for granted doesn’t make it okay. Familiarity with abuse tactics is a valuable and basic life-skill, whether or not you've experienced a toxic relationship. (May you gain this skill through reading rather than experience!) One of the most common abuse tactics is to bully, pick a fight, or back someone into a corner, then accost or slander the target for being abusive at the first sign of push-back. Many abusers use projection—they uphold their own virtues or align their worst misdeeds with some higher cause, ideal, or mythos, while accusing and vilifying others for all the nasty things they do themselves. We see a lot of this in the alt-right, in authoritarian and fascist parties, and in the ongoing history of colonization. There’s a direct line between the intimate behaviors of one-on-one abusers, and the broad actions of abusive groups and systems. In some cases, these tactics are absolutely calculated and intentional.
Pay extra attention if you see cards like the Five of Swords, or the Seven through Ten of Swords with this spread. Be cautious not to underestimate bullies—some are very cunning. When somebody forces a zero-sum game, it’s not always possible to damage-control or come out ahead. Victory does not necessarily follow justice or decency. Knowing when to back to back down, bite your tongue, or run away to fight another day is a humbling but necessary survival tactic.
THEME ARCANUM: The Devil/Oppression
The Devil’s an uncomfortable card for many readers. In tarot, we approach the Devil as an archetype. All archetypes are big, but few are quite so intensely charged and riddled with contradictions as this one. The Devil points to a multitude of figures and mythologies, who may or may not describe the same entity, depending on who you ask.
As a reader, you get to custom tailor your own catalog of card meanings to your personal philosophy and worldview. What you see in the Devil will vary immensely depending on whether you’re a Christian, New Ager, pagan, Satanist, Luciferian, folk magician, blues musician, or someone with no connection to any devilish mythos whatsoever.
Personally, my world views are agnostic and animist. I was raised around both Evangelical Protestant and Catholic Christianity, but never took to religion. I have a broad, artistic interest in all mythology, religion, and lore, but without a personal stake in any belief system. I use Oppression as an alternate title for card 15, and frame it as a complex meditation on toxic authority, shadow projection, rebellion, and liberation. That’s how we’ll approach it for this exercise, and you can choose whether to view the oppression side of this coin as upright and liberation as reversed, or vice versa, depending on your own views.
Oppression and liberation are bound together, for the first necessitates the latter, yet the rebellion required to attain liberation so often sparks further and further conflicts. I like to daydream that we’ll eventually evolve beyond the constraints of both. Liberation in the absence of oppression settles into simply being, in freedom, equity, and diversity. (Note that these qualities are anti-hierarchical.) If that day ever comes, maybe archetype 15 will morph back into some gentler sort of trickster, but we’re not there yet.
Whether you’re singing psalms and shouting “not today Satan!,” or off to brainstorm survival strategies with your guides at the crossroads, or keeping out of it in your zen bubble, consider the ways that oppression and resistance feed and call one another. Ask if there’s any way to meet your goals while cutting a trail between or around both, motivated not by fear-born avoidance, but by visionary elseing.
ELEMENTS: Fire & Earth
Passion and action which reach away from constraints while deferring to grounding impulses. Vicious anger un-tempered and let loose becomes abuse and toxicity. Righteous anger, held in heart or hearth, and constructively channeled, gives us the harsh awareness, courage, and energy it takes to break away from what’s constraining, manipulative, corrosive, and wrong.
It takes a different kind of courage to go illuminating your own dirt than it does to call out external wrongs. Ego training, shadow work, and internal decolonization are fights worth fighting too.
Don’t let your inner bastard grind you or anyone else down!
1. Boundary: A boundary to place upon myself as I show up for shadow work.
2. To Hold: How to hold it in fortitude.
Your Inner Bastard
3. Oppressors: How I act as an oppressor.
4. Oppression: What I need to understand about the oppressive forces I’ve internalized and perpetuated.
Grind You or Anyone Else Down
5. Offense: How internalized oppression wears me down.
6. Defense: How to wear down the internalized oppression instead, so I can heal from it without spreading it.
So often we hurt others when we hurt ourselves, and hurt ourselves when we hurt others, so be open to tracing troublesome patterns with both personal and social consequences.
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