Sober Story

Because last week was a game and this week I’ve been catching up on Life.



“Sending. Station M-12, sending. Ready to receive.”


She speaks normally now. Trainees are prone to shouting at first, or to overemphasizing their words, as if dealing with a deaf great-aunt. The instructors tell you that the implants can pick up a whisper and transmit it–well, “distance” really isn’t an issue for the transmission, or anything else out here, where time and space and other things are as close as the lashes on an eye–but the new fish never believe it. Not deep down.


In front of her, the screen is lit up, a point of blue against the starfield behind it. The entire chamber is transparent, plexiglass reinforced against any number of things. The chair is comfortable beneath her; around her, the air is warm, and the only sound is her own breath. Back on the main station, the humming is constant: lighting, computers, life support systems. You get used to it.


Out here, nothing hums. That’s important.


“M-12. Ready to receive.”


She stares out, ignoring the screen, not quite ignoring the stars. They’re important. So is the space between them. They make a pattern, stars and space; the stars define the space and the space defines the stars.


Not enough of a pattern and you don’t get a message at all. Too much and you get interference–or, at least, you do if you’re human. Some minds can take in unsorted data, maybe, and juggle it like a street performer with three lit torches and a chainsaw, but humans are still too much ape and not enough angel, or maybe not even “too much” or “not enough,” just not quite balanced. Not quite something else. There are a lot of theories.


Humans need the pattern stripped down.


She asked her instructor, when she’d first come out here and was still talking too loud, if that meant stripped down was better, if cities and books, gardens and jewelry, were mistakes, were things that everyone should be trying to abandon. She was sincere, in the way of the young.


“Can you eat while you’re sleeping?” he asked, lifting one red eyebrow.


“…no. Well, if you have a feeding tube–”


He waved a hand. “Does that mean you should never eat? Or never sleep?”


She keeps a framed picture in her quarters now, as a reminder: a man and a woman, locked in an embrace. Bright colors. We perceive the whole in separate parts.


“M-12. Ready.”


You repeat yourself three times, at three minute intervals, three times a day. That’s the job; that’s the privilege. You repeat yourself, and then you sit back and watch as the screen fades, leaving you with the stars and the space.


The message, when it comes, will not be in words; it will not be in sounds; it will not be in anything independent of her, because “independence” is one of those concepts that works on some levels of the pattern and fails on this one.


She will listen to the way the silence shapes itself around the echoes of her voice, and the message will be there.


Everything will be there.



In My Cups

Because what is even the point of Drunk Tarot Explanation if I don’t use that title? What, indeed, is the point of anything?

With cups, we depart from the pentacular “this might be coins, or shields, or juggling balls, we don’t the hell know” into a pretty concrete symbol: indeed, the only one of the four suits where it’s reasonable for the average person to have ten of the thing depicted. (And yes, I too know guys with ten collectible swords, and when I was fifteen, I wanted to have a bunch but I didn’t have money and my school wouldn’t have allowed it, and now that I have a disposable income and my own apartment I look at the weapons section of Museum Replicas all “….naaah,” because I have realized that the chances of me defending myself against demons with a fifty-dollar unsharpened mass-produced claymore are actually not great, and it is the second most tragic encapsulation of my mortality.)

(The first is not being able to eat more than a few spoonfuls of cookie dough at a sitting. If the early poets didn’t write poignantly about this, they damn well should have.)

(But most people do not have more than one sword and/or wand, if that, is my point.)

Conversely,  when we flip from Tarot to playing cards, cups and pentacles reverse their likely plurality of ownership. (Swords/wands and spades/clubs remain the same. In case you were wondering.) Like, it is totally plausible for someone, albeit a fairly wealthy someone, to own between two and ten diamonds, whereas if you own more than one heart, you are either an Aztec god* or the future subject of an Oxygen docudrama. I’m not sure if this is mystically or sociologically significant, but here we are.

So, cups! Elementally, they’re the suit of water, because duh.  That tends to mean emotions and relationships and all of that hippie nonsense where people have feelings, which I suppose is nice if you like that sort of thing. Although when I think about it, I suppose my people have a tradition of various kinds of cups, or at least their contents, serving as a means of either expressing or avoiding The Feels. (In the Housewives’ Tarot, the Cups suit is eighty percent booze and one of the two exceptions is coffee. I approve.) So it’s appropriate.

More sort-of-seriously, emotions are associated with liquids–because they’re fluid and shifting and adaptable, but also by association. People cry when they’re upset, or scared, or even happy. Really mad people are “frothing at the mouth.” If you want to calm someone down or cheer them up, you might offer them a cup of tea. Older societies had drinking out of the same cup as a sign of trust or offering one as a sign of hospitality, toasting to prove your loyalty or love, and so on. And alcohol is the cause of, and solution to, a whole lot of emotions.

Because Tarot decks were largely invented in Christian societies** (again, people trying to tell you that they rilly for real come from Ancient Egypt are dealing in pure bullshit and will probably start going on about their past lives as Marie Antoinette any minute), Cups also ties in to the Holy Grail myth, and thus the Last Supper and the Crucifixion and all sorts of sacrifice imagery, which gets back to emotions, namely love. (Wands generally gets the Spear of Longinus, and Swords are…swords, man, you can’t throw a brick without hitting a magic sword. Pentacles don’t have an artifact, maybe because, again, nobody knows exactly what the fuck a pentacle is when it’s at home.) Indiana Jones is not generally involved, but if that seems pertinent to your readings, I’m all for it.

Cups cards are also, generally speaking, the happiest of the four decks, with Pentacles a close second. Even the eight and the five have their silver linings, and there’s nothing like the total and complete fucked-upitude that is the Ten of Swords. As someone who prefers to handle feelings from a safe distance and with tweezers, I find myself vaguely resenting this whenever it comes up, and have thus spent some time thinking about why.

Theory 1: The Fucking Victorians Again. Namely, the people making Tarot decks back in the day were the ones very much on the romantic side of things, all seances and artistic tea gowns and paintings of Ophelia floating around semi-underwater, and more specifically minor-league rebels against a dominant culture of Rationality and Logic and Science and Empire, Eh What? This reflected in the earliest popular decks and their interpretations, at least in the English-speaking world.

Theory 2: Mysticism And Stuff (credit to Teth, a friend of mine who discussed this with me on the way home from a party; any inaccuracy is down to me remembering his explanations badly, and being fairly wasted at the time). If you grant that there are certain levels to the universe that can only be contacted through direct experience, and if you furthermore grant that these levels are significant, then trying to understand or shape the world while guided by pure intellect and rationality (and, to a lesser extent, by pure will and passion) is going to suck for you and possibly others. Trying to do that through pure emotion isn’t great, either, but you’re likely to get into less trouble.

Theory 3: The Symbols Themselves. Unconnected from the elements, cups are, yeah, the one object class with almost exclusively positive uses, and swords are the one with almost exclusively negative/destructive ones. Air and water can both fuck you up, but if you’re actually using a sword, you’re probably either trying to hurt someone or pretending/practicing to do so; conversely, you have to be either subtle or determined as hell (or that one Crusader guy, and arguably he wasn’t trying) to kill someone with a cup. The symbols came first, then the meanings, then the elements, and now here we are with a bunch of people thinking it’s good to have feelings, I don’t even know.

Theory 4: The people who invented Tarot fortunetelling were just really fond of a drink. Or ten. Works for me.

* Which: someone should really write Snow White but with Aztec sun gods.

**And yes, many modern Tarot decks were created by my fellow pagans, but the honest among said fellow pagans would admit that we grow up in a culture which privileges the symbols and stories of Christianity, and thus absorb a fair amount, and most attempts to get completely away from this (at least by rando white people) are going to both fail and come off as pretentious.

* * *
I’ll be back next week, though since it’s a LARP week, it might be a story rather than a Tarot post.

Meanwhile, you can buy my books at Amazon, B&N, Powell’s, the Sourcebooks website, and in many fine stores!

Also, coming up within the next year or two: a new romantic fantasy trilogy I’m working on with Sourcebooks! In a fantasy world that’s a postapocalyptic icy hellscape, and totally not at all based on New England, three women, members of an order of monster-hunters, must fight the return of the Traitor God and his armies. Each of them bears a sword with the soul of a departed Order member; each of them finds herself on a mission far more complicated than it appears at first; and each meets an extremely hot guy on the way, because, come on, this is me writing.

Pentacle Wrap-Up

Which sounds like a strange radio show. Maybe involving Casey Kasem.

We’ve now reached the end of pentacles, which means the king and queen, which means I’m once again going to talk a little about gender and the Tarot. The Page can vary in gender a whole lot (yes, I know Actual Pages were mostly guys, but the Tarot’s resemblance to anything from actual history is nonexistent so whatever) and even the Knight is not a specifically-gendered title; there have been readings when I’ve shown up as one. King and Queen, that’s different.

Except practically speaking, it’s not. Bear with me, because I’m about to disappear up my own ass into occult theory and then explain why none of that matters. Or go get a beer. I’m not your supervisor, and I *have* combined neat rum with mini-Cinnabons.

So okay. What I’ve read and think is reasonable about occult theory posits that there are a bunch of different layers to reality. The number and type varies depending on your system, but general agreement is:

* The everyday universe with tables and pastries and ducks and all that.
* The ultimate whatever, where tables and pastries and ducks and us are all united but possibly still ourselves, it’s hard to say, jazzhands.
* The Cosmic Archetypes And Powers And Platonic Ideal Ducks, which are nearer the Ultimate Whatever than us.
* The mental plane or astral or whatever, which is between us and Cosmic Whatnot.

Theory says that it gets harder for us to access the levels further up. Stuff on the mental plane helps us get there, but that stuff has accumulated a lot of cultural baggage, like a goddamn Katamari of societal expectations and symbolism and Santa drinking Coke. For most of us, that baggage does come into play when we deal with the higher levels–which means that, despite thinking that gender essentialism is bullshit to the extreme, I pretty much never turn up as a King in a reading.

All that said, the important thing about Tarot or runes or any other kind of fortune-telling is the things that pop into your head when you see the cards. So if you’re a woman or enby or agender and a King seems like your deal, it is. Go to.

If we explicitly take gender out of it, the Queen of Pentacles is someone good with earth, in a settled kind of way: someone who takes an existing situation and develops it to its full potential. The word “nurturing” comes into play here, much as it sort of sets my teeth on edge due to my own baggage. This is stereotypically a female role, but it could also refer to farming, or wise investment, or, hell, training for a marathon. This is about practicality and practical gifts, being down-to-earth and thoughtful, and often a “hearth and home” card.

The card shows a (usually dark-haired) woman on a stone throne outdoors, with a pentacle in her lap. She’s not visibly pregnant, unlike the Empress, despite the association with Earth and fertility, and even though there’s usually a rabbit lurking around somewhere nearby.

In contrast, the King of Pentacles does not have animal friends, though he too is generally chilling on an outdoor throne with a pentacle in his lap. Whereas the Queen is typically looking down at the pentacle, he tends to look right at the reader, and there’s a city of some sort in his background a lot of the time.

Kings are all about having power over their particular element, whether that’s setting it in order or using it to get shit done. Pentacle King, who’s got power over Earth, might be an architect or craftsman, might be really good in bed, or might be great with money–or all three. Tony Stark, for example, alternates wildly between King of Pentacles and Knight of Swords, depending on whether he’s being Millionaire Genius Playboy Dude or pursuing crack-ass ideas and punching Thor in the face. But Tony’s not reliable, and the King of Pentacles really, really is–

–which, while we’re here, is a useful sidebar. Nobody is one card all the time. There’s another theory here about different selves, but I’m just going to make a “Swords in the streets, Pentacles in the sheets” joke and move on.

King of Pentacles is a steady person. They will pick you up from the airport, and they will always be on time. They’ll have enough cash to cover their part of the check and they’d rather just split it than have arguments about who got the salad, even if they got the salad and you had an extra drink. None of the food in their fridge is expired. In bed, they might not get fancy with the techniques or succumb to clothes-rending passion, but they know what they’re doing and they’re not going to get all weird and ego-y if things don’t go the way they plan.

In general, you can say similar about all the Pentacles court cards. Though they vary in expression, they have many of the same virtues: steadiness, reliability, being down-to-earth and practical, and comfort with sensuality of all types. Likewise, they share the same flaws: a tendency toward stubbornness when they feel strongly about something and passivity when they don’t, and an inclination toward material things that they can get carried away with.

Speaking of material things, I’m off to get another cinnamon roll.




I’m back! Not quite as drunk as usual, but we will just have to soldier on regardless.

The Ten of Pentacles is one of the two super-domestic, super-happy tens in the Minor Arcana. Multi-generational family with dogs and a kid and a couple and an old wise guy and a whole bunch of pentacles just hanging around. As with the Nine, apparently once you get to a certain number of pentacles, they become part of the atmosphere.

The basic mnemonics say that this is about having everything–as much as you can, or as good as it gets–in Earth and things of Earth. Why having everything in emotions and physical stuff is always great, having everything in knowledge/power/freedom is The Worst, and having everything in passion/will/creativity is sort of dubious is…well, there are a couple theories there, probably, but it seems odd to me. (Plus, having the emotional ten be an unquestionable positive makes me seriously dubious, New England WASP that I am. Do we really need or want to have that many feelings? Really?)

Aaanyhow. This is all about security, and real security: not in the sense where you’re hanging on to stuff so tightly that it makes you grumpyface, as in the Four. This is being able to kick back, relax, and know that you’ve done good things and can rely on them continuing into the next generation, or at least the future. You have enough to provide for yourself and the people and/or dogs you care about. Life is good.  If we’re talking about non-money stuff, like sex or health, this likely means a long-term good situation rather than a fleeting moment of awesomeness, and is unlikely to involve dogs. We hope.

The Page of Pentacles is a young person of any gender, standing on the ground and holding a pentacle. Pages in general are young and not very emphatically of any gender; they’re also usually standing or running. As a rule, they symbolize a young person who’s good with, and has traits of, whatever the suit element is, but in a talented-and-interested-beginner kind of way.  This could also be because they’re starting fresh in some area, or have a new or idealistic perspective on it, but usually it’s because they’re young. This is, also, not a person in any kind of position of authority, which is a nuance I think is missed when decks convert “page” to “princess,” as some do.

The Page of Pentacles specifically is good with earth, and thus tends to be responsible, practical, and realistic, which are excellent attributes in general and particularly when dealing with money, health, or sex. When it’s not a person, the card’s about optimism, a solid foundation for future projects, and the ability to concentrate and get shit done. It sometimes also means a message arriving to do with earth, since that’s one of the things pages did back when.

The Knight of Pentacles is a guy on a horse with a pentacle–either as his shield or just carried in front of him, you know, as you do. Generally speaking he’s dark-haired rather than blond or redheaded, and his horse is generally though not always dark as well.

Knights are also young, traditionally young men. If you’re splitting along the typical gender binary, then Page is “young woman” and they’re around the same age range as Knights; no, this does not correspond to how pages and knights actually worked, in any way; I blame the Victorians, as usual. To abstract away from gender, I’d say that the knight is someone who’s mastered the element more thoroughly than the page, has formed an ideal of that element, and is now trying to find and/or manifest it. So the Knight of Pentacles might be looking for a great job or the kind of sexual relationship that’ll work best for them; they might also be trying to get in shape, grow roses or bake the perfect calzone. Like the page, they’re reliable, practical, responsible, and solid: this person might go seeking the right job for them, but they won’t think they can make a living from their performance art gigs.

More abstractly, the Knight of Pentacles is about routine and effort, and how you need both to get anywhere. You’ve got to put in the boring, hard work to achieve your goal–sadly, in life, nobody gets the training montage, and skipping leg day once only makes it worse the next time.  The foundation the Page started with is great, but it’s just a block of concrete unless you go all Amish on the walls.

Next time: the King and Queen!