Izzy and Berenjager Explain the Nine and Ten of Swords

Okay, so first of all, Berenjager is honey liqueur, and it is good stuff. The name means “bear hunter,” and the German version is Barenfang, or “bear trap,” which are the best liquor names of all time. The label says it’s made with a “generous amount” of honey, and holy shit they are not kidding at all about that. 10/10.

You really want to have your bear-themed honey drunk on when approaching the next two cards. Yes, the swords=negative thing may be exaggerated for reasons I’ve mentioned before (weapons as symbol, Tarot developed by feelings-having romantics, and so forth), but intellect and particularly power can be dangerous things to mess with in our society, long-term associations have their own kind of power, and, in general, Shit Gets Real here.

“Real” in some terms in The Nine of Swords, or HOLY FUCK How Much Did I Drink Last Night?

I mean: there are nine swords on the wall, sure, that’s a thing, but someone is sitting up in bed, burying their face in their hands,  and I guess this pose indicates Existential Dread if you’re more innocent but it mostly reminds me of a lot of Sunday mornings. Like, you could replace the central figure with any picture from Hungover Owls and get the same general effect. You consumed substances. Some of them were blue. Then you had a lot of opinions about sitcoms from the nineties, you think, and now you’re in a motel where the lobby features tourist booklets about Maine. Are you in Maine? You’re pretty sure that wasn’t in your plans.

This is probably not what the original or indeed the Victorian artists intended, but it’s also not inaccurate. The specific meaning has a lot to do with doubts, fears, guilt, and other bad shit that is mostly in your head. Shit may indeed be bad, but it’s not as bad as you think, and you can get through it, but worrying will only make it worse. Yes, you may have sung a lot of “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” and you may have tried to catch mushroom poppers in your mouth like a seal, but you know what? It’s not the end of the fucking world. Most people do worse by the time they hit thirty.

Similarly, in the mnemonic sense, the Nine of Swords is intellect, power, and freedom, but not enough or not what’s needed in the situation. All the power in the world won’t make your own brain shut up, because your brain is a dick, and knowledge often just makes it more dickish, particularly in these situations: yeah, you’d love to un-know what your friend’s cousin looks like naked, but here you fucking well are until those brain cells die. As for freedom? Yeah, you had free will. Look what–and who–you chose to do with it.

That said? You can roll with this. Take some Alka-Seltzer and dim sum, or the mental equivalent, and call in sick. This isn’t the end of the line.

The Ten of Swords

This…kind of is. This is probably the card for which the consensus is most clear that it means Nothing Fucking Good For Someone. A person–or in one case, a whale, because it wouldn’t be the modern occult scene if we didn’t have motherfucking whales involved with everything–has been stabbed with ten swords, and I am not an expert, but this is way more swords than is actually needed to stab most people.* Furthermore, the person doing the stabbing has just left the swords in the victim, even though swords are pretty valuable.

My Dubious Profiling Skills say that this means either the perp has plenty of swords and/or cash to go around and can just walk away whistling and leave a goddamn arsenal behind, either to show contempt, to ditch the weapons, or because they find the victim so goddamn gross that they don’t even want to wipe off their blood, or the victim was so threatening that whoever stabbed them wanted to leave them good and stabbed, in case they got any ideas afterwards.

(In the background, generally, some clouds are either approaching or departing, and it’s either sunrise or sunset. Also, mountains.)

(I will note that the Gummi Bear Tarot shows the victim-bear looking not only stabbed but squished, and it’s very sad.)


Mnemonically, this is All The Swords: all the air, all the power, all the knowledge, all the freedom.  This can be great, but usually you don’t get that without a sacrifice. Maybe you sacrifice who you were, or your old ties, to get freedom–this card sometimes gets a “rebirth” optional meaning. Maybe you have to invoke power in tense situations or act powerless to get what you need or want. Maybe you find out more than you want to know. Maybe you crush your enemies and see them driven before you.

And maybe your women are the ones lamenting.

I’m not gonna lie: most specific interpretations of this card are along the lines of Wow, It Sucks To Be You. Disaster, endings, betrayals, despair–your dog dies, your girlfriend leaves, your truck breaks down, and they’re serving dubious fishsticks in the cafeteria. Part of the human experience is getting as low as you think you can, and this is, conventionally, that card.

Now, there are a couple of possibilities that make it maybe suck less.  One is, as I hinted at earlier, that the person with all the swords in them isn’t actually you. This is not a common interpretation, which is partly due to me learning a different tradition and partly due to a lot of modern-day mystics being sweetness-and-light types who would clutch all sorts of pearls at the notion that sticking a bunch of swords in your enemy’s back and walking off is a viable option. These people are silly.  Power and knowledge are dangerous things to handle, but if you can do it well and in a good cause, fucking go for the kidneys, is what I say. And yeah, keep the asshole from getting up again.

If it is you with swords in your vital bits, well, first of all, your pain isn’t insignificant. As I mentioned above, someone went to a lot of fucking trouble to stab this person and make sure they stayed stabbed. If this a thing someone did to you, it’s likely you put some marks on the son of a bitch beforehand, and there’s some satisfaction in that.

Second, this is as bad as it gets. A lot of interpretations have the light in the sky as sunrise, and the clouds lifting. If the worst has happened, then the worst is over. Insert Janis Joplin lyrics here. That doesn’t mean it’s not awful, it doesn’t mean you don’t hurt, but it does mean there’s no further down to go. You’re alive, and if this card means an ending, it’s probably an ending that needed to happen. If it means betrayal, at least you know who your real friends are–or aren’t–now.

For the record: last time I got this card in a daily reading, it was right before a bus trip where I had to first act all sweet and desperate to get on without printed tickets and then get into it with an asshole from Hartford who kept yakking on his cell phone. Definitely some power/knowledge/freedom issues, but I didn’t die or anything.

* Next week, I will tell the story of Brandon and the Emo Zombie.




“Of A Broken Heart,” Sure, or A Dumbass Victorian Trope Explained

CW: Pregnancy, childbirth, holy shit health issues connected to same

So I was reading about one of the more idiotic Revenge of the Sith aspects on Twitter, as you do, to wit: Padme dying of The Sad in a world of advanced robot medical care. Someone else mentioned, as a dumb reason but not as an excuse, that Lucas had said he was drawing on the traditions of Victorian drama.

First of all: those are *generally* nothing to mess with unexamined. I’m more than passingly familiar with Victorian media, and everyone in the dominant culture back then was some degree or other of racist, sexist, imperialist, and on all the goddamn drugs. Sherlock Holmes stood out because he used that shit immoderately, but this was a time when you not only could buy cocaine and opium over the counter but were actively encouraged to do so, to say nothing of Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Tonic. (The vegetable is gin.)

I’m not saying that all Victorian fiction was made by or for stoned bigots, and I’m not saying the time didn’t produce some damned fine works, but…it’s a lot easier to get away with certain tropes if your audience thinks a certain way about women or whoever, and it’s a whole hell of a lot easier to get away with anything if your audience is at least forty percent high at any given point. (I haven’t tested this scientifically, and don’t plan to unless Pringles offers me sponsorship funding, but there were Some Incidents in college.)

Second, and more specifically, the “woman gives birth, dies of broken heart slash disgrace” trope…okay, let’s talk about childbirth.

I admire, respect and, in some cases, love, people who choose to have kids, but/even more so because pregnancy and childbirth are the most fucked-up states that a healthy body can be in. Things Happen. Bones shift. Organs move around like they’re Busby Berkeley dancers. Substances emerge. The whole process has always struck me as less beautiful mystical experience and more late-Akira Tetsuo but ideally with a happier ending, and pretty much always a less trippy one with fewer motorbikes.

There is a lot going on, and a lot of places it can go wrong. The New Agey “oh it’s totally natural women used to just have babies in the field and then go back to harvesting crops” thing happens sometimes, but sometimes it super doesn’t. I have friends who work as genetic counselors and maternity nurses, I have friends and a sister who’ve given birth, and I watch a lot of Call the Midwife, and…hips aren’t always big enough, fetuses are assholes and turn the wrong way around or onto their sides or onto their own damn umbilical cords, and holy shit the placenta is just fifty-seven kinds of horror waiting to happen, is my impression. Nothing good involves the word “abruption.” Yikes.

(The TVTropes article on Death by Childbirth, by the way, describes the human placenta as unusually “aggressive” for mammals, in case that thing wasn’t Silent Hill enough.)

There are some evolutionary reasons this is worse for humans–basically, our heads are too damn big–but it’s not great for animals either. I read a lot of James Herriot as a kid, and while the picture book adaptations are all heartwarming puppies and kittens, in the actual stories the guy spends half his time shoulder-deep in the equipment of some reproducing farm animal. (Prolapsed uteri are easy to fix in sheep, hard in cows, impossible in pigs. I have never used this knowledge in my life, but I’ve had it since I was twelve. All Things Bright and Beautiful indeed.)

Before the parts of modern medicine that involve blood transfusions and surgery, childbirth was pretty frequently deadly, which is one of the reasons we get all those fairy tales about stepmothers. (Also half of them were real mothers and then people got squeamish, but that’s another story.) We didn’t have those in the Victorian age. We knew, in fact, just enough about medicine to completely fuck things up most of the time (q.v. the healthful cocaine thing).

See, certain elements of medical knowledge, like taking out bits of placenta (see above re: Fucked Up), advanced faster than others, like…washing your hands. And I’m not here to claim that midwives were better because of Intuitive Nature Womynnne Blah Blah Blah, but midwives were also generally not going from dissecting corpses to assisting in childbirth. Yes, that’s a thing that happened. A surprising amount.

Note: at one point, people did suggest that maybe some kind of sanitation would be a good idea, and a bunch of doctors got offended because “gentlemen don’t have dirty hands,” and if it seems like a fair number of men haven’t changed in two fucking centuries WELL HOW ABOUT THAT?

So a bunch of women got “puerperal fever”–read fucking streptococcus–and died, in addition to general childbirth-y dying, which was also pretty damn common (and the tight corsets of the age sure didn’t help, come to think of that). Hospitals weren’t exactly friendly to visitors or great about providing explanations, so if you weren’t a doctor or maybe a close relative, what you probably heard was that such-and-so gave birth and then died for some reason.

Plus, you definitely had the cultural connection between mental/spiritual character and physical health–it is well known in Victorian lit that women die either of being too worldly (Ruby Gillis, Daisy Miller) or too saintly (Beth March, Helen whateverhernamewas in Jane Eyre)–and the additional fact that childbirth means you Had The Sex and a baby was actually coming out of your less-than-mentionable parts oh my God the horror. “We never talked obstetrics when the little stranger came,” indeed. I read the darkest Anne of Green Gables novel, the one where her first kid actually dies and her friend has a Traveler-style angsty backstory involving being blackmailed into an abusive marriage *after* her father hanged herself and she found him *after* she saw her kid brother get run over by a hay wagon, and Anne’s two pregnancies get weird handwaves of “precious burdens” and “counting her days” and in one case a prolonged stork metaphor. This was an age when you never said “pregnant”–you were “in the family way,” maaaybe, or “in a delicate condition.” And that’s if you were *married*.

Combine an all-but-unmentionable condition, frequent deaths from mysterious-to-the-layperson (and even to many doctors, where infection was concerned) causes, and the attitude that people, especially women, could basically die  from either being too good for this sinful world (Brave Mother Gives Life for Child) or no better than they should be (Wanton Hussy Repents Too Late). I can’t say for sure that this is how the “dies of The Sads after giving birth” trope developed, but I can totally see a potential path there. (Plus, fictionally, dead parents are wicked convenient.)

That doesn’t mean it’s a good trope, though, and it’s sure not a good trope when it comes from people writing in the twenty-first century. It’s sexist, and furthermore, it makes no damn sense. People do die in or after childbirth in real life–especially when they’re doing so in less-than-favorable conditions–but it’s a nasty, gross business, more John Hurt than Beth March. It’s no less tragic than any other death but no more saintly or deserved. Glossing over that by saying “well we have Superscience Robots but she died of a broken heart what can you do?” just makes you look dumb.

More Swords Than Is At All Feasible

Welcome back to the Swords section of Izzy and Booze Explain the Tarot! Tonight’s episode is brought to you by St. Elder, elderflower liqueur, which was a holiday gift from a friend and is all kinds of good.

Seven of Swords

Holy shit, look at this guy. Seriously, do an image search for “Seven of Swords” or get out a couple decks and have a look at this card, in which some random if smug looking dude is just making off from a castle or a tournament ground carrying five swords like it’s no big deal.

First of all, someone’s GM is clearly not enforcing the weight rules,  or really anything else, because swords are both kind of heavy and pretty sharp.  Dude seems to be carrying them unsheathed and bare-handed, and not bleeding all over the damn place, and furthermore is carrying them pretty casually,  despite not looking in any way muscular. At least he usually leaves two in the ground, I guess? (There is legit one deck where he’s clutching all seven in his hands, behind his back, and I’m like, one, what kind of freakish giant hands do you have, and two, HOLY JESUS TENDONS.)

This guy is either secretly Superman or he’s going to be rethinking his decisions really damn soon.

Most of the time, he looks like he’s sneaking away, so this is clearly not authorized barehanded multi-sword carrying.

That might be part of the point. Sevens are bright luck, and bright luck isn’t the same as good–it looks good, but there’s generally a catch. More specifically, this card is about secret plans, treachery, dishonor, and generally being a sneaky motherfucker. So yeah, the person this card refers to has most of the power and knowledge in a situation, but they got it through underhanded means, and maybe aren’t handling it in the wisest or safest ways, and it definitely could come back to bite them.

And why the hell do you need five swords anyhow? You’ve got, like, a general sword for killing things, and a silver one for werewolves, and an iron one for fae or tanar’ri or whatever the hell side of the Blood War takes hits from cold iron and first of all, at that point, just level up and get a damn Holy Avenger already, and second, you still have two swords for no particular reason I can see.

Also, what criteria are you using to tell the swords you leave in the ground from the swords you pick up and stick under your arms so you can give yourself a really intense shave?

The Seven of Swords: yay, you got knowledge and power! Do you really want…all of that? Will the way you got it come back to bite you? It’s worth thinking about.

The Eight of Swords

These swords make more sense. Not that they’re being used as intended, but they’re at least being used. Namely, they’re sort-of-but-not-really imprisoning a woman: she’s in the center of a horseshoe, and there’s an opening in front of her so she could just walk out, but to be fair, she’s bound and blindfolded and, in one excessively creepy card, her mouth is stitched shut. (The swords are all stabbing her in the heart, too, and you can see the heart, and it’s this whole Virgin-Mary-Clive-Barker thing, and Google Image Search gives me no actual deck for this one, so there’s even odds this is some kind of curse and I’ll die in seven days.) She’s generally near water, under a cloudy sky.

This is a major challenge in knowledge, freedom and power, and the three are pretty clearly linked here. If the woman in the center could see, or had her hands free to feel more cautiously, she could easily walk out. But she can’t.

The specific meaning here is feeling trapped or constrained. Some interpretations say that’s self-imposed, and some say that it means your judgment is clouded, and I think it’s a little of both. Like, she can’t just take the blindfold off, because her arms are bound, so escaping isn’t an easy thing or a simple choice.

But: the swords are point down. Running into them would be a bad idea, and walking into them might still hurt, but “collide slowly and carefully with the things until you find a path out” is totally a non-lethal option, as is “kneel down and use the hilt to nudge the blindfold off,” and probably a couple more things. Hell, she can walk forward and hope for the best.

Getting out of the situation you’re in, if the Eight of Swords is where you are,  probably isn’t going to be painless or dignified, and you might have to take a small leap of faith. But you’re not actually as trapped as you think.  Life is not old-school Nintendo: running into obstacles won’t kill you. It won’t even take away your raccoon suit most of the time.




Sincerity is Bullshit, or Fuck Off, Holden Caufield, Again, Some More

Hello, it is time to rant again!

And because of my blogging schedule, this rant is proximally—though not entirely—inspired by a thing that happened two weeks ago. Breaking News, 1870s Style! (Fox did just show “RENT” live, though, and God knows that’s relevant.)

If you’re unaware of the Gillette ad telling men not to be dicks, that happened. A lot of guys freaked the fuck out about it, because a lot of guys get really angry at the suggestion that they should maybe try to get their shit together, like, you suggest that maybe some of their shit could be in the same room (and there could maybe be less of it, but the KonMari thing is another can of rage) and you unleash an avalanche of HOW DARE YOU, I HAVE NEVER ACTED BADLY AND ALSO THE FOUNDING FATHERS FOUGHT AND DIED FOR OUR RIGHT TO BE ECONOMY-SIZED DOUCHEBAGS.

This is not about those guys. I get those guys, not in the sense of understanding or condoning them or not wanting spiders to lay eggs in their nasal passages, but in the sense that they are a familiar and easily-explained phenomenon. You check the Defensive Inadequate Ragewad box, you giggle at the guy who tried to flush his razor down the toilet, and you move on.

What I don’t get are the people who smugly point out that, well, Gillette just did this for marketing purposes and therefore it is totally invalid and nothing to celebrate, because clearly the rest of us were under the impression that large corporations ran entirely on the love of small children and the tears of fairies and needed a harsh awakening from the only people who truly understand. Some of these people are clearly guys trying to disguise the aforementioned Defensive Inadequate Ragewad tendencies behind a transparent veil of anti-corporate sentiment, but some are not, and some are women, and…I don’t get this.

I am not a fan of capitalism, as a general rule, and definitely not a fan of the unrestrained US version where basically our leaders openly masturbate over Captain Planet and/or Dickens villains. My political tendencies are best described as “pragmatic socialist.” Some of what advertising does is a legitimate problem, because it misleads people (whether factually or via the “buy this thing and you will be happier” model), feeds into stereotypes or destructive ideals, and so forth.

Objecting to the presence of ads in general, or the use of existing media for them (I am no fan of Yoko Ono either, but every time someone brings up the Nike thing, my eyes roll: so she made a little money by letting them use a song, so what? The song is still out there in the original version), or the equation of sincere with worthwhile and profitable with insincere…is fucking insufferable, not to put it too strongly. It’s the Reality-Bitesiest, RENT-iest approach to life ever, and all of the point-of-view characters in those works are awful goddamn people (except Jeanne Garafolo and the gay guy in RB, and maybe Mimi in Rent).

First of all, as I may have hinted before: yes, we know. WE KNOW. You aren’t the first person to note the distinction between corporations and Santa Claus. We are adults. We live in the world. We know how it works, and you? Do not sound smarter by pointing it out. You’re being the equivalent of the “friend” who slides up when you’re eating a hamburger and starts talking calories and saturated fats: dude, if I wanted a nutrition lecture, I’d have stayed awake in PE class, NOW SHUT IT.

Second: sincerity is bullshit.

Let’s say the motives are completely amoral and the company would have put out a pro-murdering-puppies ad if it thought the revenue was there.

So what?

The ad is still out there, which means that the message is out there—and yes, you can be all iconoclastic “well advertising doesn’t shape *my* ideals” but it does for a lot of people, and also nobody fucking likes you, Gary. There have been a number of studies showing that, while ads are not the only deciding factor in how people think, they are an influence for most of the population (and those of you about to use the word “sheeple” can go die in a fire right now). Seeing particular concepts used to sell things means society, or a part of it, sees value and appeal in them. It’s related to the reason we don’t use “fat” or “gay” as an insult, no matter how awful the person we’re insulting is.

And frankly, if the result is good, I could not give a shit about the motives behind it. (Obvious disclaimer that this doesn’t apply if we’re talking one step in a long con to steal your kidneys—that’s a difference between short- and long-term results, not results and motives.) It’s like when a Painfully Earnest chick in high school was whining about people who joined Habitat for Humanity just to put it on their college application—you really think the folks who get housing out of the deal care, Elizabeth? Really? Well, you’re a fucking idiot, then, and one who cares way more about purity policing than effectiveness, by which I mean a completely nonhelpful fucking idiot.

Plus? The fact that enough PR wonks at a big company think LGBTA rights or feminism or whatever make for profitable messaging is a sign that those ideals are doing pretty damn well. If a spreadsheet puts “love is love” or “maybe don’t be a rapey asshat” in the same category as family Christmas trees, Little League games, and supermodels in Corvettes, it’s because it thinks enough of us do, too—and PR spreadsheets don’t, I’m given to understand, come to those conclusions absent of evidence. How is that not a good thing?

Third, and bearing in mind that I do not love the megacorps, companies are made up of people, and people—you may want to sit down for this—can have more than one motive.

I know, right?

Hold on and have some clean pants ready: that’s true even when one motive is money.

I write books. I enjoy writing books, and I try to do it well. Odds are I’d write even if I wasn’t being paid, but I really like to get paid. Money can be exchanged for goods and services, and those include vodka. So, while a lot of what I write is what I want to write, I have absolutely worked toward markets: I’ve gone with one storyline rather than another because the subject matter is more popular and I’ve made revisions to avoid weirding out audiences too much. There are lines I won’t cross—jealousy as love, “oh my god it’ll never fit” virgins, and so forth—but if by going with one story I like rather than another I can make more money? I’ll absolutely do that, and I’m not ashamed.

(I’ve done some of my best work that way, because really, the inside of my own head is not a magical garden that births perfect specimens of Art. Listening and responding to an audience is an excellent quality even when you leave money out of it.)

Final decisions about ads are based on profit, absolutely. However, it’s not impossible or even unlikely that a number of people in PR really do believe in the message they’re sending, especially in these cases, and are doing their best work because of it. Working for money doesn’t invalidate that at all. (I remember the reactions to the end of “Mad Men,” and how people were insisting that if Don did make the Coke ad then HE HAD LEARNED NOTHING AND ALL WAS IN VAIN because there was no way he could, say, go back to working at an ad agency and supporting his family while sending a genuinely good-if-schmaltzy message in said ads and maybe having his ducks in some kind of row personally, nope, either you run off into the sixties and reject all works of The Man or you are forever lacking a soul. I remember thinking that these people were morons, and I still think so.)

Anne Shirley going into full-on drama mode because her story mentions baking powder is not a role model—she was a college student at the time, IIRC, which is a fairly insufferable age—and neither is whatever juvenile pouty Holden-Durden-Hawke conglomeration of suck spawns the But It’s All Just Selling Out, MAAAAAN hordes.

These people irritate me partially because they’re pretentious assholes, but also because this particular form of pretentious assholery feeds into a mindset that really hurts actual artists, like, the ones who are trying to make a living from it. If earning money from what you make—if making it to earn money–taints it, or means you can’t celebrate that creation or its message, then the conclusion is that all artists should work “for exposure” and your art is only worthwhile if it’s obscure and you die in a garret. On a social level, it’s also fucking terrible: if I’ve heard one story about a nonprofit that paid its workers sub-minimum wage while expecting them to do sixty hours a week because it’s “in a good cause,” I’ve heard fifty.

This is awful for artists (and it’s also hyper-privileged, because it means that only people with substantial personal resources can make True Art), and it’s even worse for art. As a reader, and a viewer, and a listener, and someone who’s bought a painting or two, I don’t want the predominant standard to be obscure iconoclastic Visions made by people who can’t take criticism. As one of those social justice warriors you hear about, I don’t want the only venue for messages of social change to be street-level movements with hand-painted signs, much as I’m fond of them, or organizations whose claim to fame is never having made a buck.

Yes, that ad is made by a large corporation. Yes, that corporation can probably do better in many ways, and no, the ad doesn’t excuse it, nor does it mean we shouldn’t hold the company accountable on those issues. (We, also, are capable of doing multiple things! No, really! No, even multiple things with the same entities!) But it’s good that it got made, and it’s good on the company for making it,  and for the people who complain about “cynicism,” I’d much rather have cynicism in a good cause.

Cynicism gets things done. Sincerity is bullshit.

Five and Six of Swords

Hello! It’s time once again for Izzy and Booze Explain the Tarot, the only vaguely-occult blog entries I know of that feature this much swearing.

Five of Swords

Here we see a light-haired person in masculine medieval attire who has All The Swords: two in his right hand, one in his left, and two on the ground facing him. He seems pretty pleased with the state of things. In the background, two other people have turned their backs on him. They might be pissed, or resigned to defeat, or just sad, but the foreground guy doesn’t care, because he has All The Swords. They’re his. So there.

Systematically, this means dark luck in matters of air, which leads to the conclusion that either the person being read for is not, in fact, Mr. Excessive Arsenal Or Possibly Profitable Resale Business, but the folks in the back, or that what the querent thinks of as triumph is actually not great. Fives and sevens are generally pretty complicated, because all dark luck has a silver lining and all bright luck has a rake waiting in the grass. So on the one hand, dude has all the swords, but swords are pretty heavy to carry, and those other people probably hate him now: power/knowledge/freedom comes at a price, and they might not be worth it. On the other hand, those people in the back are disarmed and defeated, but they’re alive. The swords aren’t actually in them.

Complicating things more: the guy left his foes alive, which is not the smartest thing to do to your enemies on a short-term level. Is he more honorable or humanitarian than his smirk makes him out to be? Are they former friends, which makes this situation more emotionally painful but maybe means they won’t come back with an army of trees or dudes disguised as trees? Is he doing the Evil Overlord thing where he lets them go so he can gloat and then they come back and, y’know, trees and beheadings and so on?

Fucked if I know.

That’s kind of a theme there. The more specific meanings of this card include conflict, discord, treachery (either for or against you) and generally being a dick. These are all situations where it’s tough for at least one party involved to know what’s going on—treachery sort of depends on it, otherwise it’s just aggro—and this card says that even if that guy thinks he knows, he doesn’t. You can win temporarily by thinking only of yourself, but you leave a lot of people thinking you’re an asshole (maybe those two are alive to represent the fact that you really can’t get rid of them all, as Thulsa Doom could tell you), some of them are going to act on that, and at least a few of them stand a pretty good chance of being effective.

This card can say that you’re going to get fucked over, and it won’t be fair, but you’ll survive and can regroup. Or it can say that if you’re going to act without thinking about other people, you might do pretty well for a time, but it probably won’t be as great as you think. You should be prepared for that if you go ahead, and definitely don’t turn into a snake.

Six of Swords

One to three people are taking a boat full of swords across a body of water. When there are two people, one is rowing while the other sits huddled in a cloak, sometimes with a kid by them. The solo traveler is usually rowing, but once in a while just sits there hanging out with their sharp objects, as you do. There’s often land visible, more often than not in front or to the side of the boat—which is, by the way, definitely more canoe than luxury yacht.

The meaning of this card, ninety percent of the time, comes down to Fuck This Noise—or, to go with the swords and be gratuitously British, Bugger This For a Game of Soldiers.

Sixes are the journey-slash-training montage cards, as I’ve mentioned, and swords, for reasons I’ve gone into elsewhere, tend to be the least happy about it—partly for stupid Victorian reasons, but partly because power, freedom, and knowledge generally take some struggle to get and are heavy things. (Also because sixes are usually good, overall, but they’re not trivial.) Even when this is an easy choice, like going off to a college you really like—well, as Homestar says, you’re gonna have to share a bathroom with some kid from Alabama who kinda sucks, and eat dubious cafeteria food, and deal with classes where you might be over your head.  Or you might decide to learn a new subject, or skill, but find that comes with giving up a fair amount of your energy and free time. (Just picking up a new thing casually is more of an Ace/Two situation.)

Those are the best-case scenarios. Sometimes, the card just gets super basic and means travel. Most of the specific meanings, though, have to do with getting away from a bad situation—leaving the old and familiar behind, even if it hurts. The excessive damn number of swords in the boat represents rationality, and the water is emotions. Whatever the journey here is, you’re probably at least a little bit conflicted about it, with the possibility of feeling like absolute shit, but you know damn well it’s the right thing to do.

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I support Marie Kondo’s approach to housecleaning—“if it doesn’t spark joy or you don’t actively need it, throw it out”—but with interpersonal relationships. If contact with a particular person, group, or situation doesn’t make you feel something better than obligation at least half the time, fucking ditch them. Dump the motherfucker already; single life is great, and you probably shouldn’t be in a relationship until you can enjoy it. Stop calling your toxic family member, and stop taking their calls. Find friends who aren’t using you as an unpaid therapist or a human wailing wall, and ankle the ones who are—they’ll either shape up or find another sap to put up with them, and either way it’s not your problem. If you can’t leave your shitty job or your horrible roommate yet, start thinking of what would let you do that and see if you can start working on it.

Knowledge, power and freedom come from knowing that you’re not obligated to sacrifice your own happiness for someone else’s bullshit ideal, from pushing through when other people or society or your own mortal uncertainty about the future threaten to manipulate you back into a bad situation, and from being willing to strike out into uncharted territory because, to paraphrase Giles, it has to be better than what you’re leaving.

It probably will be, and this is the card that says so.

Western PA Media Report

I’m back home, after three weeks with my parents, and my liver is finally starting to recover. (Did you know they make pineapple wine? I know that now. I also know that it costs six dollars. And I might be out of the will again.)

It’s always interesting staying there, because my media habits change. I end up watching whatever my parents watch, and doing most of my reading from the local library, which is a terrific mix of new stuff and medical romances they’ve had around since the thirties. (There’s an entire shelf of books with names like “The Doctor’s Secret” and “The Doctor’s Decision,” it’s never the same doctor, and it’s never a female doctor, because it’s the thirties and romance.) Here are…well, not a few, but some…scattered thoughts as a result:

  • I kind of liked the Polar Express movie. I know it’s supposedly narmy as hell and all kinds of 20whatever Uncanny Valley, but…I don’t know, I was into it. Maybe I played enough crappy 20whatever video games that I’ve become more inured to CGI faces, or maybe the pineapple wine had a lot to do with it.
  • Watched two episodes of Poirot (Vicar-Adjacent Murder is a good genre with my family), and apparently the leading cause of death among wealthy white men in the 1930s was antique daggers applied very precisely to the neck, despite the murderers’ lack of previous experience. Was there a correspondence course?
  • Leading cause of death for sort-of-wealthy white women who’d done something dubious but hadn’t actually murdered that particular guy? Veronal. Ask for it by name!
  • I read one of the aforementioned doctor romances, wherein the central Social Issue was narcotics. It was a weird mix of compassionate modern “hey, addicts just have a disease, do what you can to help them in society” and freaking the fuck out over pot, because the devil’s lettuce leads directly to morphine, or “dope” as the kids call it.
  • Boy howdy does “hey, this strange woman obviously doesn’t want to talk but I’m going to keep talking to her anyhow because I can” from a hero make me nope out of a book in Chapter 1, doubly so when that book was written in the 21st century. Not a “cute” dick move, just a dick move.
  • John Michael Greer’s Monsters not only kept me entertained on a ten-hour bus ride but gave me some excellent ideas for future writing and/or RPG campaigns. Really neat perspective on a lot of legends.
  • TBS was showing In the Good Old Summertime as part of a marathon of every movie ever with a Christmas scene in it, and holy fuck, how many movies have been based on The Shop Around the Corner anyhow?
  • I feel like “fall in love via correspondence” as a plot device doesn’t go over nearly as well now that most of us have spent some time on dating sites and, well, falling for someone’s mind is all well and good until you meet up and find that he looks like Alfred E. Neuman and is wholly unfamiliar with the concept of deodorant.
  • Paladin of Souls is just as good as I remember, and I love that the central issue in the heroine’s previous marriage has nothing to do with sex.

Next week, I’ll be back on Tarot, and then probably Why Originality is Bullshit.



Swords Three and Four

2019! The year that…something. Despite the Tarot-ness of this blog, I actually make very few long-term predictions. With any luck, it’s the year that I finish Drunk Tarot, or, in this case, Idle Bus-Riding Tarot: not that I don’t enjoy it, but given that there’s one and three-quarters Minor Arcana suits left, the timetable seems obvious unless I get abducted by aliens or my life gets ridiculous, and I’d prefer neither happened. Probably. Except for values of “ridiculous” that involve glamorous parties and interesting men and/or values of “aliens” likewise.

Insert segue here.

Three of Swords

Not much variation on this one, and not much subtlety either: a three-way heart-ka-bab. Some decks show it raining in the background, and others show a whole person getting stabbed, in case you didn’t get the message from the plain old excessively stabbed vital organ. Once in a while there’s an eyeball on the heart, which honestly makes me feel better about the swords. A heart with an eyeball on it should be stabbed at least half the time, probably more, and you want to be thorough about it.

With or without the variations, this card is fucking emo.

As per usual, swords often get the negative take when maybe they shouldn’t, and systemically, this one represents real growth in knowledge, power, and freedom. This can be painful, because blah blah innocence is bliss, power corrupts, freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose, but it’s not like growth in emotions or willpower or material well-being isn’t.

Swords qualities can increase much more suddenly than qualities associated with the other suits, generally: significant changes in emotion or willpower tend to take a while to sink in, and dramatic and completely unexpected changes in material well-being are negative nine out of ten times. (Meeting a really amazing sexual partner, gaining money by unexpected inheritance or winning the lottery, or miraculous recoveries could all qualify, but on the other hand, most people expect those at least in the sense of hoping or daydreaming about them.) Many situations that involve significant increases in knowledge and freedom hit completely out of the blue, and many people are either thrust into positions of power or find themselves having to take control to prevent others from misusing authority. If the shanking portrayed is intrinsic to the card, it could still represent shock rather than pain as such.

Naturally, the traditional complex meaning is pain, heartbreak (thank you, Extremely Nuanced Tarot Designers), betrayal, and disappointment. But, and this is important, and also why I used the term “fucking emo,” above, this is not the total disaster shitshow that the Ten of Swords mostly means in these interpretations. All the stuff I just named happens to everyone (although “betrayal” is really subjective a lot of the time for most of us), everyone lives through it, and everyone learns from it—if only because the next time, and there will be a next time, we know we’ll survive. This card is the rejection letter, the nasty rumor, the breakup where you mix ice cream and rum and sing along to songs with a lot of plaintive guitar wailing.

The non-mnemonic meaning of this card, in fact, can be boiled down to Drunk Evanescence Songs: OMGTRAGIC in the moment, but not, in fact, an actual tragedy of any sort.

Four of Swords

If Three of Swords is Drunk Evanescence Songs, Four is Taking a Fucking Nap Already.

The picture is a figure, mostly but not always armored, lying down, mostly but not always in or on a tomb, with three swords above them and one at their side.

Despite the tomb, this card doesn’t really have anything to do with death most of the time. (General statement: most of the cards that appear to show dead bodies, or Death, don’t mean death. The Ten of Swords could be an exception, but even disaster isn’t that much disaster for most of us.  I actually can’t think of any cards that regularly do mean someone has or will die; the obvious material explanation for this is that people paying for Tarot readings don’t want to hear that sort of news, but on the other hand, there are plenty of cards in the deck that can be read as extremely unpleasant, so…I don’t know.)

The systemic reading doesn’t contradict the specific ones at all for this card. Four is stasis, swords are power, knowledge, and freedom, and most card-specific interpretations say that the Four of Swords is rest, stillness, exile, and solitude. You’ve done stuff. Maybe it was great, maybe not. Now it’s time to take a break, let what you’ve learned sink in, give yourself time to get used to a new role, or just get some damn sleep already.

Depending on your belief system, that could be death. But it’s usually not.