Divining Motherhood: metamorphosis as the Empress, the Hanged Man, & the Moon

This is Part 2 of Cat Mulrooney’s guest post series Divining Motherhood. Read the rest here!

 

Chrys-a-lis (noun):

    • a moth or butterfly at the stage of growth when it is turning into an adult

    • a hard case that protects a moth or butterfly while it is turning into an adult

    • a protective covering: a sheltered state or stage of being or growth

There is a moment when you are ready to walk away.

Bed sheets twisted on the drying line like a sodden grey chrysalis. Sky the color of slate. Of empty. Of ash. Burn it all down and walk. Leave the house to its flames. Leave the laundry to the elements. Forget the baby curled up in a sling at your breast, a different sort of chrysalis.

Match, flame, spark, run.
This is how you become.

I didn’t go. Of course I didn’t go. But, I twisted and spun on my branch like the Hanged Man, like the laundry, like a moth or butterfly becoming.

The postpartum days were never easy for me. One birth, two births, three. And then, everything after. Suspended animation. Tied. Hung. Bound. The Hanged Man comes when we need to be reminded about surrender, about sacrifice, about yielding to what is to await what will be. I was a ripe, fertile Empress in pregnancy and birth, but then postpartum, I hung as the Hanged Man and descended to the dark path of the unknown with the Moon. These three cards together tell the story of my post-birth experiences better than any others I could ever pull from my tarot deck.

viewofcards

The Hanged Man (XII)

stillness. trials. restriction. surrender. sacrifice. being in the present. accepting what is.

The Empress (III)

fertility. mothering. bringing forth. earth. ripening. growth. harmony.

The Moon (XVIII)

unknown. intensity. cycles. anxiety & mental unrest. confusion. intuition.

When they tell you how sweet the baby is and to enjoy every minute of these perfect, fleeting newborn days, you smile at them the way you’d smile at a child talking about the tooth fairy or a stranger remarking on the weather. Oh yes. Yes, sure. Lovely.

It’s a smile that doesn’t catch. Soaked firewood. Bloated with damp. Resistant to all warmth, fire, and light. It’s the best you can do.

In the grips of the Moon’s wild lunacy, you begin to feel paranoid. You keep the dog close by, because you’re afraid someone will come & take the baby, and you think the dog will see it coming & will protect you. Then, the hallucinations begin. Your baby’s sweet hand, resting on your chest as she’s nursing, turns into spiders – their legs flex and tense and you realize it may be you the baby needs protecting from.

You feel the suffocation of your trapped state. A part of you knows you’ve gone under so deep no light will be enough to bring you up out of the shadows again. The spider-hand skitters across the baby’s face. Fear boils in your blood. Reverent, you tuck her hands away inside of her blanket and swaddle them tight.

You breathe and taste smoke. Your heart is burning.

hanging

My journey through the story of the Hanged Man into the uncertain shadows of the Moon were a surprise with my firstborn. All spring into summer, I ripened as the Empress.

The Empress is the epitome of the pregnant, fertile goddess. She is proud of her ability to bring forth life, abundance, and prosperity. In Rider Waite Smith, she wears a gown of pomegranates, bursting open, and a crown of stars. She holds a staff in her hand, ruling over all of nature and her place in it, and she sits on a throne before a field of wheat and verdant green trees.

The Empress knows how to be a mother, how to birth ideas and passions and babies into the world. This was very much my card as I grew with my pregnancy. The births themselves were powerful goddess experiences – with midwives, out of the hospital, veil between worlds paper thin. What I didn’t realize was that there would be a second birth process for me with the postpartum depression and psychosis that took hold afterward. This was where the Empress was forgotten and the other cards claimed their places in the mothering journey.

At first, you see nothing but the darkness. How is it possible to have so much love and so much pain all at once? When the baby cries, you cry. A little blue is normal, they say. When the baby sleeps, you lie awake, panicked, anticipating possible broken sleep and obsessing over it. Frightening thoughts circle and shadows stalk along the edges of everything.

You rise from bed and stare out of windows, watching the moon’s dim path through the sky. Its steady trajectory away haunts you.

If only you could find that much clarity in your direction. That much light.

The Moon card reveals itself through veils of shadow. Nothing is as it appears to be. There is only just enough light to see our way by, barely. In the darkness, we may feel lost and unclear on which direction to take. It can be intense. Painful. Uncertain. But, what the Moon also reminds us of is that our journey is an inner one that no one else can take for us. We are leaving the last life we led behind us and moving on. If we can hold on, trust our intuition, and allow the depths to rise – we can get through it.

window

My postpartum depression was a wild and watery place.

It was easy to be disoriented there. To believe the illusions and nightmares that told me I would never find peace or be a good mother, that I would never overcome it all. It took support, medical help, and a lot of love and time, but I did.

During the journey through motherhood, there are many dark places we tread. Using the cards to tell our life narrative can illuminate our experiences and show us spiritual aspects of our personal struggles. For me, when these three cards emerge together, I can read the story of my early motherhood days and that time of transitioning where nothing is certain. We can think about different events from our histories or as we move through our motherhood experiences and ask ourselves & our deck, What was the lesson/story of this?

For me and my postpartum depression, it was about moving from a place of fertility and power to the unknown. It was about finding my way out of a dark space into the light.

Maybe our tarot cards can’t heal us from our struggles and our illnesses, but they can offer insights and help us to understand the deeper patterns and narratives of our lives. As intuitive tools, they can offer transparency and guidance for our emotions. By putting these three cards together – the Empress, the Hanged Man and the Moon – I am able to have a visual chronicle of a deeply intense time in my mothering life. A time of metamorphosis. A time of allowing myself to be still and accept the full range of my experience without self-judgment. I fought my way to wholeness and health. I surrendered and allowed the transformation to happen and then, on fragile newborn wings, I took flight.

5 comments

  1. Melanie says:

    This has touched me deeply. The Hanged Man describes the experience so intimately, so beautifully. It took me right back, I can taste it. I gave birth 8 years ago, but it still lingers softly in the background. An insightful way to use the cards – thank you for sharing your story x

    • Cat
      Cat says:

      Melanie, I am so glad my writing resonated with you. It has been nearly 13 years now since I went through this experience & the way you describe it as “lingering softly in the background” is spot on. Thank you so much for reading & commenting today. xo

  2. Anne says:

    This is such a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing something so intimate. I would love to be a mother, soon. I have a mental illness and am finding that reading stories such as yours are not just touching, but informative on a deep level about the experiences that so many women have, postpartum.

    • Cat
      Cat says:

      Anne, thank you so much for your kind words about my writing. I hope your journey to motherhood is a beautiful & gentle one. It sounds to me as though you would be very well-prepared for postpartum when that time comes someday. With support, awareness & openness about the difficulties of the experience, healing is possible. All my best to you. xo

  3. saricchiella says:

    Wow. I feel so connected to this. My baby is 1’5yo, and when I was reading your post I could see myself walking the very same steps you describe. The blooming Empress, full of life and wisdom, and the Hanged Man taking her place the very moment we arrived home from the hospital. The confusion, not understanding why everything and everyone around me had changed so deeply, and why I was the only one who seemed to actually see it. I don’t think I had postpartum depression, but I do remember being in a dark place, wanting to get everyone’s hands off my new treasure and at the same time desperate to curl in bed alone and far away from her.

    Thank you for the insight. I really loved your view on this.

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