See the cripple dance: Re-reading the Five of Pentacles as cripple-magic

No preamble needed, I’m just gonna say it: The Five of Pentacles is widely regarded as an unlucky card because it consistently depicts visibly disabled people struggling. When we draw this card and see the figures in the snow, we’re expected to know that we are not supposed to want to be in their position(s).

Let’s talk about that!

Traditional decks represent the Five of Pentacles with two people hobbling on crutches, hands exposed to the cold, and bandages visible on their feet. They’re nearly barefoot in Winter, and there’s a stained glass window behind them glowing through the snowflakes. This card often represents loss, loneliness, poverty, and exclusion. Those things are real, and I feel them everyday, but there’s a lot more going on in this card than initially revealed.

I tend to use the word ‘non-disabled’ rather than ‘abled’ or ‘able-bodied’.

Sometimes I use the word ‘TAB’ (temporarily-able-bodied), because it sounds delightfully mean and morbid to me and can be a much-needed (if generally unwanted and disregarded) reminder that most of us are gonna be disabled one day, so you might as well give a care. One reason I use the word ‘non-disabled’ is to emphasize the worlds and thoughts and dreams that TAB’s are missing out on. With this word, ‘dis-‘ is no longer the prefix; ‘non-‘ is the prefix, and ‘disabled’ is whole on its own. ‘Non-‘ as in missing something. ‘Non-‘ as in non-disabled people are missing out.

As alluded to in my previous columns on the Six of Swords, Three of Swords, and various forms of intimacy – I want to talk about forced intimacy. For me, one common experience of forced intimacy is attempting to communicate my access needs with strangers, acquaintances, or organizers when I don’t fucking feel like it, when it feels too personal and painful. Recognizing how burned out I felt in those conversations was one way I began to notice that accessibility, in the minds of non-disabled people, was only an idea or a concept or a goal – none of which are inherently negative or wrong, but I realized they were lacking an understanding of the very real and unavoidable emotions of living with and talking about access: loss, loneliness, poverty, trauma, shame, exasperation, etc. Those familiar words I’m bored of listing.

What are the first thoughts that come to you when you draw the Five of Pentacles? If you’ve had your cards read by somebody else, how did they interpret this one? We know that Fives are struggle and Pentacles are physicality and money. But I’ve done a lot of work to find what joy I can find in being poor and disabled, and now this card looks different to me. In fact, it’s become one of my favourites.

Lately, I’ve been having ludicrously good luck with dumpsters.

I’ve collected more than I can eat, but I don’t have a lot of people to share it with. Sometimes I take as much as I can, fearful of never having this kind of luck again, and other times I take what I need and leave the rest, hoping somebody else will rescue the free food. I know where to find sandwiches made with fresh-baked bread, meats and fancy cheeses, donuts and tarts and pastries made from scratch with in-season fruits, apple cinnamon strudels, and chocolate mousse. I know where to find kale, strawberries, and root vegetables. For a long time, I was too sick to carry any of this home. But this year, when the lilacs bloomed, I began to experience another remission. I don’t know how long it will last.

A couple years ago, when I realized I was no longer able to carry groceries, I started having some of them delivered. But sometimes the delivery drivers don’t bother to knock on my door – instead, as I wait for them, they leave a card saying I couldn’t be reached, and they bring my groceries to a postal outlet. Sometimes it’s nearby, sometimes it’s far out in a suburb I never go to. It’s unpredictable.

This happened again last week. Thankfully, it wasn’t too far from home and I was in less pain, so I was able to bring a cart and pick up my stuff. On my way back, I noticed a wall of clear plastic bags in an alley by the dollar store, and I strolled over to investigate. Most of the bags held flattened cardboard boxes, but contained within one of the bags were about a dozen slashed open packages of chips, popcorn, cheesies, and pretzels.

I’d found a dime on the floor at the post office, and a nickel on the sidewalk, and now a bag of snacks. I carried it home, looking much like the figure in After Tarot’s re-imagining of the Five of Pentacles, lugging it over my shoulders. And I thought about the luck – I wouldn’t have found if it weren’t for another access miscommunication.

I keep things like transit tokens and pills on my altars, as well as a purple plastic dumpster. Like the Five of Pentacles in the Amanda Fucking Palmer Tarot, I have candy tins filled with charms, dried petals, meds, and scribbled notes on scrap paper (the note on this one reads: “For All Tomorrow’s Parties”, a lyric in which Amanda Palmer references The Velvet Underground). I cast spells to access very basic needs, and often enough they come true. Sometimes they take time. But they do come true.

Recently, I watched a documentary about raccoons and other animals labeled “opportunists”.

Raccoons have such a strong sense of touch that they can find what they’re looking for under water, under trash, and under ground without examining the treasures they’ve located with their eyes. Their paws know what’s edible and what’s not, what’s alive and what’s not. They sneak around, cute but dangerous, and gather what they need.

When I heard the word ‘opportunist’ used to describe cultivating basic survival skills, I thought of some of the worst words used to describe and dismiss borderlines as well as poor people and those of us on social assistance: parasites, leeches, drains, psychic vampires. I thought of the ways we scrape together our livings, the contortions we make and the methods we’ve adapted to get by, and how underappreciated, undervalued, and misunderstood the ways we cope have become. I thought of how we become, by choice or chance or lack of choice, proficient at making magic in/with the trash to act as an antidote to despair. And of course you know which tarot card this documentary reminded me of..

In the New Vision’s rendition of the Five of Pentacles, one of the disabled figures is now inside the building. Although commonly interpreted as a church, this idea of this space can be broadened in so many ways: It may or not be a spiritual place. It might represent sanctuary, safety, shelter, affordable housing, an accessible event space, a visualization of comfort and care. The figure has shoes now and holds onto a doll or a child. Is it their inner child? A sense of child-like wonder? Their own ability to care for others after/while experiencing the trauma and isolation of inaccessibility? The act of imparting wisdom to other disabled folks? The ability to set boundaries, rest, and play?

In the After Tarot’s rendition of the Five of Pentacles, the figures who once walked, albeit crookedly (my favourite kind of walk!), and the person ahead bowed in prayer (prayer is free!) are now sitting on the ground, huddled together and hugging, hats out for change, snowflakes gathered on their shoulders. They’ve been there for a while. Another disabled figure walks by carrying a large bag over their shoulder. What’s inside? Will they share it? Will they compete with one another for scraps, or support one another with what they’ve got? Will you take the trash that’s available or let it rot? Will you leave an offering for the raccoons?

When my body is crooked, as it often is, one visualization I created to feel comfortable getting around the city is to imagine myself as a black cat crossing everybody’s path: I’ll be good luck to some, bad luck to others. Next time the Five of Pentacles comes up in a reading, remember that black cat. Remember the questions, the knowledge, the cripple-magic. If drawn as a daily card, look out for good luck throughout your day – especially when you’re broke, hurting, and lonely.

3 comments

  1. katje says:

    Accessibility and unwanted intimacy — yes, thank you for that insight and for the words I couldn’t find for myself.
    Recently, I was involved in a FB fight where readers were asking authors to post trigger warnings if there was rape and so forth in their books and authors were lashing out against the requests.
    Accessibility and unwanted intimacy, I think, is what surrounded the bulk of my anger and disappointment – when you don’t know if a book intended for entertainment is going to trigger you, when people expect you to do the legwork (look up reviews, email author and ask) to see if a place is safe for you and when picking apart your scabs to let people see how deep the wounds go only results in people telling you to build a bridge and get over it….
    I don’t think any of the readers wanted to unveil their secrets and how much they were suffering, but it was considered a necessary evil to attempt to reach out for understanding. Yet accessibility was still denied. The circle spirals.

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