A Feminist Tarot: The Devil

I found this card one of the most interesting to redesign, as it taps directly into one of the most difficult issues in feminism:  sexuality and morality.  So much of feminism and resistance to feminism is rooted in conflict over how a woman’s sexuality can and should be expressed, right down to the ultimate conflict of reproductive rights.

The Devil is all about choices and desires, pleasure and power.  The card’s imagery often includes a man and woman chained at the feet of the devil, held prisoner by their desires.  And it’s easy to see the image and take it as a warning that worldly, physical pleasures lead to such bondage and imprisonment.  But the images also often show the chains as easily removable, if the man and woman realized and/or wished it.  Further, many depictions show those who have indulged in those choices and profited, shrugging off the bonds once they’ve served their purpose and climbing distant mountains to new goals.  The card speaks of pleasure and consequence, but not in the sense that the worldly leads to hell.

Too often, though, this card brings to mind ideas of hell, of punishment meted out for indulgences in pleasure and desire for power.  And it is that very idea – that the worldly and physical are dangerous and bad – which is wielded as a weapon against women. We are discouraged from wanting, from indulging, from choosing our own interests and desires as priorities.  We are treated as if we cannot be trusted with our own bodies, and those women who choose to seek what brings them pleasure are shamed and doubted and punished.

Is the woman who builds her own career in adult films a victim?  A smart businesswoman?  A shameless whore?  A brainwashed tool of the patriarchy?  Can she benefit herself without further oppressing those who are victimized within the industry?  Is our assessment of the impact of sex work on sex workers correct?  Do we have a right to judge those who choose?  Is a woman who makes a choice which can harm her necessarily a victim in need of saving?

Are women only to be trusted to make their own decisions if they make perfect ones?

Who decides what choices are correct?

All I Ever Wanted

If there’s one thing I’ve always wanted in my life, it’s the freedom and ability to be independent.  I’ve wanted to choose how my time is used, to prioritize what matters to me, and to not be restricted by the opinions of others.

If there’s one way I can describe the spiritual path I’m on right now, it’s one of freedom and ability to be spiritually independent.  I alone choose how to use my time and resources spiritually, I alone prioritize what’s important in my spiritual life, and my path is not subject to anyone else’s beliefs or opinions.

What have you always wanted in life?  Is your spiritual path giving that to you?

A Feminist Tarot: Temperance

Temperance, despite the word’s association with the prohibitionist movement, has nothing to do with giving things up.  Think of an alloy – two substances blended to get some of the best qualities of both.  Temperance is about taking two opposites and creating a stronger third option.

Thinking of this concept in terms of gender equality actually got me to thinking about the way we have historically treated gender as a binary.  Two opposites, meant to complement and contrast and never blend.  But let’s face it, that’s the entire problem with gender inequality, isn’t it?  If feminine and masculine are to be opposites, how can equality ever be achieved?  How are we ever to combat the negatives engendered by such a system if we don’t challenge the system itself?

We’re increasingly seeing acknowledgement of the idea that gender and sexuality exist on a spectrum, not as a binary.  If we view feminism through the lens of temperance, I think it becomes clear that the way forward may be found not in belittling traditional femininity or in elevating it above traditional masculinity, but in seeking to simply find a unified humanity by celebrating the full spectrum which lies between.  Temperance means redefining how we place value on expression and presentation.  It means no longer placing importance on “male” and “female” and shifting all that importance and energy to creating and developing what lies between.

Faith and Fairy Tales

If there’s one thing you don’t want to do in the process of indoctrinating someone to a belief system, it’s telling that someone to study science.  Science and religion are both processes by which some form of truth is sought.  Religion tends to teach trust.  Science teaches us to look at evidence.

This is why, so often, the two are painted as opposites.  As enemies.

And that is why I am no longer in the faith I was raised in.  I was taught the faith, but I was also sent to school to learn and excel.  I was encouraged to take advanced classes, to be a good student.  So I did.  And I learned.  I learned to look at the world around me.  To look for evidence.  To not ignore certain pieces of evidence.

So what I learned to question most about my home faith was its method of verifying truth.  If the truth I was taught didn’t match with the evidence in reality, how were we so sure it was the truth?

Now, I will absolutely admit to trying to reconcile the two.  I didn’t know what it was called at the time, but for a while I followed the lead of those around me and got pretty good at apologetics.  It could get complicated, but there are all sorts of explanations one can come up with to bridge the gap between fact and faith.

But over time, those structures inevitably begin to crack.

If it takes that much effort to map reality to faith, faith to reality, then is your truth really true?  If you have to exclude evidence to validate your beliefs, isn’t your truth a lie?

Useful spirituality needs to apply to reality as it is, not as we imagine it to be.

Does your belief system describe reality or fiction?

A Feminist Tarot: Death

Ah, Death.  The card misused in movies and TV as the card of doom, the harbinger of tragedy.  We’re supposed to fear death more than anything, especially when predicted by a probably stereotypical female tarot reader in a tent or a trailer or whatever.

But there’s some truth in it, isn’t there?  We’ve been taught to fear death — actual death, not just the card — more than just about anything else.  In fact, we’re taught to fear it so much that we try to avoid anything that leads to it.  Like aging.

Women, especially, are still taught by the culture in which we live that we’re really only valuable while we’re young.  After that we’re relegated to doting on grandchildren and hanging out with other old women, pushed out of anything we might have once really enjoyed.  Looking younger than our actual age draws complements.  Signs of aging are covered up.  And it’s sad, because you’d think that in all the feminist advances we’ve made so far, surely we would have stopped judging each other for doing what we can’t help doing:  getting older.

But Death in the Tarot isn’t about death as much as it is about rebirth.  It’s not a card to fear because the message is really about the necessity to let things go when their time is up, to mourn and bury and move on in order to enable something new to grow.  It’s the image of the phoenix, not the reaper, which should adorn this card.

And the message in it is, in fact, to stop fearing death.  The more we fear it, the more we resist it, the less we are prepared and capable of moving past it.  And it is on the other side where the rebirth happens.

Becoming the Hero

There was one particular period in my life that I consider a turning point towards becoming a fully integrated human being.  I won’t tell the whole tale, as it’s long, but the short version is that I finally realized that other people and other things could not be blamed for the fact that I made the same destructive choices over and over again throughout my life.

In our heads, we get to tell ourselves our own life story.  We do it often.  And because we are both the storyteller and audience, we get to paint whoever we want as villains and heroes, victims and saviors.  And since we’re living out the plot of that story as we tell it, how we choose to characterize ourselves within the narrative makes a huge difference in how the rest of the story unfolds.

Until that point in my life, I painted myself as the victim waiting for her moment to become hero.  I was a good character, one with good characteristics and good intentions and dreams which ought to dramatically come true to formulate a happy ending.  When my day didn’t arrive, it was because I was still stuck in the early part of the tale, like Cinderella scrubbing floors and being oppressed by her stepfamily.

After finally tearing through much of the artifice and defensive walls I’d built up in my life to allow me to tell my story that way, my viewpoint changed.  I figured out that I couldn’t leave the difficult, unsatisfactory, darker parts out of my story because I’m not a Disney character.  I wasn’t the princess waiting for an invitation to the ball.  If I ended up in the same situations, the same predicaments, over and over again, it was probably because I made the same mistakes and poor choices over and over again.  If I didn’t change the pattern, I would never see a different outcome.  I was the protagonist of my own tale, yes, but whether it ended in triumph or tragedy hinged more on my own choices than outside plot twists.

I didn’t want my life to be a cautionary tale.  So I dug down to the plot device that kept leading me astray, the choice I continually made to undermine my own chance at success out of fear of failure, and centered the story instead on a struggle to choose differently.

And that’s when lots of things changed in my life.  Taking responsibility for my own choices, good and bad, completely altered the landscape.

How do you tell yourself the story of your own life?  Are you the hero?  Will you be the hero in the end?

A Feminist Tarot: The Hanged Man

A redesigned deck with feminist iconography would not be the first time this card has been named “The Hanged Woman” rather than “The Hanged Man”.  Essentially, this is one of those cards where it literally makes no difference to the interpretation to change the imagery that way.

The message of the card, though, is another one that is exceedingly relevant to the feminist movement.  It has to do with having to sacrifice something, to put oneself in a position which may be uncomfortable and strange, to see the world in a new way and enable change and a move into something new.   I’m reminded of the exceedingly cheesy motivational motto:  If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.

I can’t believe I really typed that.

But, okay, it’s true.  To make progress towards full gender equality, we have to shake up our point of view and see the world through different perspectives.  We have to sacrifice some things — most notably the ways in which some of us actually benefit from the patriarchal system and the ideas which have been deeply ingrained in us by our culture that cause us to negatively judge each other — in order to build something better. Equality and justice has to be fought and worked for.  It’s never just given willingly.

And even more importantly than that, this card speaks to a period of suspension between the end of something and the beginning of something else.  Change doesn’t happen instantaneously.  We have to be willing to hang on through the really uncomfortable transition periods to get to the other side.