Approaching the end of lockdown week two, I hit a wall.
I feel stuck, stagnant. I don’t mean in terms of being physically unable to leave the house, but in myself.
I realise how I have taken for granted a sense of flow in my life. I’m not the most wildly active person around, but I generally feel a sense of movement, of flow, moving through my life. Like a river, moving with grace, finding new possibilities, ways around, shaping and being shaped by its own journey, sometimes bubbling and pooling, other times gushing and falling, ever flowing towards the sea, towards wholeness.
That’s all very nice of course, but right now, glued to my screen, I feel like that river is dammed. Becoming stagnant. Still, murky, dark. Like a swamp. I feel up to my shoulders, limbs struggling to move. The dark forces that lurk there feel very close today. I feel an itchy, sad mixture of apathy, fear and powerlessness.
And y’know, it’s hard for me not to respond to feelings of stickiness by just saying to myself “we, do something!” The ‘Busy Woman’ is an archetype I identify with strongly (for better or for worse, at different times – and I see how it is socialised into me by forces I’d like to see crushed). I have a strong, practical ‘keep busy, mustn’t grumble’ ethic instilled in me by generations of women before me, and it’s been my first line of defence against the encroachment of (gasp) Uncomfortable Feelings.
Today, though, Busy Woman has gone elsewhere. Ignoring the stay-home guidance, she’s headed off and left me here to feel these feelings with nothing to distract me.
Time to seek support from my tarot cards.
All this talk of swamps has me reaching for the Delta Enduring Tarot, a beautiful and unflinching celebration of the people, history, culture and landscape of the Mississippi Delta, Louisiana. It is a deeply political deck, a social document of a diverse and resilient ecosystem of communities rising up again and again as threats – natural, cultural, institutional – loom on the horizon. It’s an incredibly special deck, and I dearly wish it was still in print.
But yes. Back to the swamp. Tatiana Tarot, in the deck’s guidebook, describes a “swampy wonderland”, whilst the deck’s elusive creator Egan writes “there is savage beauty in the depths of the swamp.” I know that in juxtaposing the lush sparking flowing waters of a river with the murky depths of a swamp, I’m deliberately missing the dark and wonderful magic that is hidden in those more shadowy, more foreboding places. I drag myself out into the sunshine of the back yard, and turn to the Delta Enduring Tarot to help light my way.
I leaf through the deck, letting my mind go quiet, and simply letting the images speak to me.
First, I’m seeking a mirror. I laugh when I see the Four of Oysters (cups) – sitting in the dark (while the sun blazes through drawn curtains), scrolling, this figure reminds me of myself.
I continue leafing through – this time I’m looking for inspiration. Who is comfortable, at home, in this swamp? Who can offer the guidance I need at this time of fear and apathy?
I pause by the Moon (all alight with moths and mystery), the High Priestess (a black cat in this deck, perhaps not the swampiest), the Seer of Oysters (Queen of Cups, who just feels a little too bright for me right now.)
Oh..here they are – the Empress.
In this deck the Empress is a far cry from the earth-mother-pregnant-nurturing-fields-of-golden-wheat we may be used to. This Empress lights up the dark with fireflies. This Empress is a crawfish, a crustacean. This Empress wears moons in their ears, a shawl of ragged fishing net, and five watches, each telling a different time.
The Empress Crawmaid sits on her throne of dirt. The swamp is hers to protect, to nurture, to defend with lethal force if necessary. She has captured the light of fireflies, telling of her ability to see into the darkness. She is alluring, her eyes inviting, but she is no alluring maiden. […] this card reflects on your nurturing and sensual side. This card urges you to consider your feminine power, but also speaks more broadly about empathy. […] Seek out and create beauty. […] Express yourself in new and creative way.
Egan, Delta Enduring Tarot: A meditation on Southern cartomancy
I love this fierce femme, creative matriarch of the strange depths, bringer of sensual life force from unknown or misunderstood places. There is inspiration here for me too.
I reach out to a friend I know is also struggling, a creative sister, a neighbour who is often my co-conspirator. I say “let’s be artists”. And through excited and whispery voice messages we agree a simple, small, daily art practice, and a weekly share. The idea has sparked joy, fostered connection, revived my flagging spirit. Inspired by this spiky-haired and bejewelled Empress who creates beautiful, makeshift art from the depths of the swamp, I am excited to find out what magic I can find in the pools of my own stillness.