The illustrations of homes in so many versions of the Four of Wands conjure the magnificence of makeshift shelters, like DIY forts and gardens in wild and mysterious places.
There’s a sense of victory in eccentricity, of enchantment in the unconventional. The Four of Wands is a card about home and security, yet most iterations do not show one of the most integral parts of a home: a roof.
There’s something embodied about this card. I think of all the ways I’ve practiced letting my body become my home, staying with myself when I’m in pain, viewing my body as with me rather than against me.
Home is not (solely) a fixed place.
Home is a process, a practice, a presence. Home is longing and belonging. It’s an imagined place and a felt sensation, a human right, and sometimes a woefully unattainable dream.
The Spolia Tarot shows broken branches balanced on one another, creating a canopy of floral scraps, with figures, identified as the Muses, in outfits that match the garlands of the frame they’ve built dancing together in a gleeful circle. Fields of wheat flutter around their feet, and there’s clear skies beyond the horizon of green.
If Fours represent foundations and structures, and Wands, ruled by Fire, represent creativity, construction, and destruction, it would be remiss to read this card as home without addressing issues like unaffordable rent, unaffordable food, and the unavoidability of trying to make safe, comfortable homes when the spaces we reside within are owned by landlords (individual or corporate) who are – with rare exceptions – negligent, greedy, and selfish, at best.
With situations like this, we know that without radical systemic change, and trustworthy support systems, our homes are bound to be temporary. Yet we – well, I, and I’m not the only one – attempt to plant roots, to have the audacity to refer to our current apartments or rooms as “home.” Admittedly, I tend to refer to my apartment as “my forever home, hopefully,” like a lost little kitten being granted one more chance to have a safe place within which to cultivate and nurture a life.
To be a tenant is to be in a political position – I mean, to be a human is to be in a political position, of course, but I so rarely see ‘tenant’ named as a political identity with a history of protest and resistance. Tenants – particularly those of us who are poor, disabled, mad, of colour, Black, and/or any combination thereof – contain lineages with long, complex histories.
When I look at the Four of Wands, I don’t necessarily see tenants, nor do I see homeowners.
Instead, I choose to envision something else. More options. More ways to build a home and a life than can be named.
As a pre-adolescent, and then as a teen, I knew I wanted to leave my hometown, but I could see very few options for how to do so. Stories, fiction or non, I could relate to were rare. The characters I identified with the most were artists, criminals, and sex workers (not to mention the ill – mentally or otherwise). Although I loved books more than anything, it was tough to find stories that genuinely resonated with me. What had already been written, what I could find access to, gave me an escape, but no map, no plan, no true exodus.
On the news, I’d see stories about squatters and squeegee kids. They were described as though they were nuisances, as though they were irritating the sensibilities of newscasters, of landlords and realtors and banks, of drivers and neighbours and passersby. The legality and value of their lives was constantly in question. I wanted to become them – it seemed the only option available to me. I used to peer into the windows of abandoned apartments and imagine sneaking in and staying. I used to imagine learning how to play a lightweight, portable instrument (a xylophone, a typewriter, a squeegee, whatever) and busking. I didn’t dream beyond that. I wasn’t capable of doing so at the time. It wasn’t just that living on the fringes felt like the only way, it’s that it felt like the only way I could stay alive and remain myself.
I’d run away more than once. I just needed to run further, to stay away.
Pixie’s Tarot shows two floral-crowned women holding bouquets above their heads. Behind them is a grey castle, representing a solid sense of self. We see them in a moment when they’re able to pause, breathe, and stretch after so much labour, to celebrate what they’ve accomplished and where they’re currently at. They get to set aside their to-do lists and have a party. Are they lovers? Collaborators? Friends? Organizers? Therapist and client? That depends on the question and querent, but the relationship is one of importance, of commitment and trust. They are devoted to one another’s liberation – in the material world, and also creatively and psychologically.
Proportionally, it’s interesting to see wands so tall and human figures so small. Creative endeavours, including protest and resistance, even if done in solitude or loneliness, affect the lives of countless individuals – the space the wands take up on the card compared to the celebratory figures (are they inviting us in? waving goodbye? leading a march? giving a speech?) reminds us that creative work carries massive potential for social and cultural change, and helps fellow weirdos find a sense of home and purpose within themselves / ourselves in the meantime.
Tarot of the New Vision flips our view and shows us the crowds gathering with the celebratory figures, dancing, playing, and conversing. While we may feel alone and tired, there are others cheering us on, whether or not we can be close enough to hold hands, to exchange whispers of encouragement and affirmation. The celebration here could be something as large as a protest with thousands of marches, or as small as a couple paying their rent on time or successfully fighting an attempted eviction. The creative endeavour could be something as small as finishing another blog entry, or as large as designing a low-income housing plan and executing its building and completion. Whatever it represents, the sight of a celebratory crowd is a promising sign.
When I’m in my apartment, named Amethyst Cathedral, I think about the lives of the maple trees that made my hardwood floors, and the lives of the tenants who came before me.
I live in a building approaching 100 years old, and I know it carries stories, ghosts, and other mysteries. I don’t know how many tenants have passed through my apartment, let alone the rest of the building. But I wonder about them often. I wonder how they paid rent, how they lived, how they dreamed. I wonder why they left. I wonder if they left by choice or by obligation. And, for those who didn’t die here – and yes, there’ve been multiple attempted suicides and nervous breakdowns in this building, as well as fires and evictions – I wonder where they went, where they are. I remember the time a friend came over and exclaimed, “How can anybody enter your apartment and not fall in love with you?!”
The Collective Tarot’s Four of Keys emphasized finding rest, comfort, and companionship amongst the unfinished. A few friends have gathered in an outdoor hot tub, each of them smiling broadly amidst stacks of wood that are yet to be nailed down to the deck, and wheelbarrow of stones yet to be laid into a wall. A lit lantern hangs above their clothes and shoes. It’s never been a relateable image to me, but it does make me envision warmth and respite.
The Herbal Tarot shows two fairy-like creatures floating over a garden and holding one another. This time, fennel plants grow taller than the figures, and the wands stacked behind them appear like a wall at first, but contrasted with the rest of the image, they might only be twigs. I used to imagine I could shrink myself down to a similar size, and live on the forest floor, or in the fields between my hometown and the villages around it. I’d drink raindrops from cups made from the tops of acorns flipped upside-down, and sleep under fallen leaves. I’d imagine jumping out of the backseat of my mom’s car, diving into a ditch, and disappearing. Building a new life, a new self.
The Next World Tarot shows a proud femme playing the accordion on their porch, their violet-painted fingernails coaxing out tunes, with wands creating a welcoming fence of wide-open slats. Lanterns and chimes light up the scene, with pines growing tall in the background. Fennel Seed, portrayed in the Herbal Tarot and the Next World alike, and creating an umbrella-like shelters in the former, and a wispy, warm frame in the latter, is used for courage, confidence, and strength.
My creative self is my embodied home, and my home is an expression of my creative self. Each are always in process, always becoming. I’m continually creating and recreating, arranging and rearranging.
The Four of Wands doesn’t necessarily represent an individual home – it could also be a neighbourhood or community space, an arts venue or a gathering of like-minded creatures, indoors or out. It might be a temporary place, but that doesn’t make it any less real. The Four of Wands could be a portal to an embodied sense of place, the skeleton of your creative self being constructed or reconstructed, or a safe enclosure, a room where you belong.