Heal & Harm is a no-bullshit column released every two weeks to honour the full and new moons, affirming the old as hell phrase “a witch who can’t harm can’t heal” and oscillating between summoning good vibes and releasing pain.
I begin the first day of every year by pulling cards.
Tarot cards, that is, of course – and the card I drew for March filled me with dread. The Five of Cups.
Who was gonna die? Would I die? What would happen? Or worse, what was happening?! When my brain – recovering as it is from CPTSD – encounters something it can’t reliably predict or control, it tends to catastrophize, and this occasion was no different.
I ran over what felt like a zillion worst-case scenarios in my head and moved along to something perhaps more sensical than predictable doom and gloom stirred up by fear. I sat with it. The explanation I came up with seemed logical, but it didn’t feel right, seemed a bit sudden. Still, I pushed myself through the theme, committed to it.
Maybe the more I thought about it, forced it, the more true it would be. My need to pin down, control, and understand such a bummed out looking card was strong! Figure out the issue, name it, dissect it, fix it, move past it, recover, rest: all items to mark off on a checklist. Utilitarian, decisive, get it over with, get it done. I clung to this clearly incorrect interpretation because it made some kind of logical sense to me, even though the cause I came up with was not something that was actively upsetting me in a big way – it seemed like something I should be sad about, rather than what I actually was sad about.
Then – on a whim – I revisited my card of the year around career and money, and my relationship to my card of the month (the ever-scary Five of Cups!) changed. A different story revealed itself, one that felt more true. The Five of Cups finally slid into place for me – it wasn’t about what I originally thought, but instead my relationship to a future vision of myself. This vision involved contorting myself into a shape that no longer resonated with me, even though it was something I’d worked towards and dreamed about for more than a decade. That I might have to let this go was actually not something that had ever crossed my mind before.
So why am I babbling about this? What does this have to do with trauma and healing? The point is – I think, for me anyway, right here, right now – sometimes the hardest part of mourning is the locating, the finding of the correct thing to mourn. The scavenger hunt. The reveal, the becoming, the unfurling, the stepping into being and what is rather than what we wish or what we want, where we would like to be. We can even wishfully think about mourning and grief. We can still push under the rug. If we do not need to hide, we shouldn’t.
What we think we should be mourning can be ubiquitous and culturally ingrained, taught to us in ways we often don’t realize. It can be much harder to look in the mirror for extended periods of time and stare at ourselves, stare past ourselves, slink into our shadows: what gets caught in the folds of our skin, underneath our fingernails. What lives there? What hides? Our values, our dreams and visions, our commitment to certain stories we tell ourselves about ourselves? So many stories, some outdated, some dead. Some that have helped us grow, and some we have outgrown.
Sometimes what we need to mourn – really truly – is not an ancestor who is deceased, not a fleshy body made bone beneath soil, but a version or vision of ourselves, or a fantasy we held about our future and who we thought we could be. Something we took for granted as a sure thing, so sure it has crept into us and hidden, stayed, become one with us. Sometimes we get the thing we thought we wanted, the thing we worked toward for years, and it doesn’t quite measure up to what we thought we were asking for, what we thought we wanted. Or maybe it did at the time, but over the years we’ve become a different shape, one that no longer fits. A decade is a long time. In situations like this we are reminded of our power to manifest, to name our intention and goal and to make moves to achieve it.
Sometimes that achieving is what we need to look at, examine, turn over, wonder about, question, let go, let go, let go. The hardest part is sometimes not the grieving but the finding, the discernment, the plucking apart of what exactly needs our focus, our attention; what is in the process of dying and what needs to be mourned. What has died already, what have we not noticed? Mourning and grief can be most effective and healthy when we follow the right thread. If we are not mourning for that which we genuinely feel a sense of loss, we can play-act a charade, contributing further to the dissipation and confusion of our soul. Sometimes what we find is a surprise. A shock like lightning, a sudden rain storm. Sometimes it is not.
We may think we need to spend another month mourning our birth family or a particular trauma. That’s what I thought. But: I invite you to shine light on your self with greater depth, with more attention.
What about internalized ableism? What about issues around body image, be it our size or a facial feature that may be outside of white western patriarchal beauty norms? How about your relationship to capitalism and money – how do these institutions impact you? Maybe you live in perfectionism or workaholism, always striving for that final friendly pat on the head that will never come. Maybe you climb the corporate ladder, never satisfied, always wanting more. Maybe you exist in constant financial precarity. Maybe you are working a job that is unfulfilling, where you are disrespected and bullied. Maybe you have forgotten about your dreams, thinking them too unrealistic and unattainable.
This, too, is something to notice. This, too, is something with which we can heal our relationship. These changes, these shifts are something we can mourn: if we wish to.
What hidden thing do you need to mourn or grieve? Ask your cards! Shuffle until it feels right to stop. What have you pushed under the rug? What aspect of your life or your habits are you trying not to look at? Allow the tarot to reveal this to you. It’s possible that when you draw a card (or two, or three) for this, the meaning at first may not be clear. If it was, you likely would have dealt with it by now, so don’t be too hard on yourself and try to keep an open mind! Sit with the card. Close your eyes, hum, meditate, sleep with it beneath your pillow, put it on your altar for a few days. Sit with it. Dance with it.
Hold it close. See what comes up.