Dealing with Difficult Family

Heading home for the holidays can be nerve-wracking when you come from a difficult family. Here’s some guidance from the cards on how to deal! This spread includes the Queen of Wands, the Moon, and the 3 of Cups, inviting us to pay attention to negative and self-destructive thoughts, and detox with friends after a challenging visit.


Tarot and Self-Care: Queen of Wands

Welcome back to Tarot and Self-Care! After getting distracted by watching my country spiral into a robber-baron-driven hellscape, I’m ready to keep examining how the tarot can help us identify self-care strategies.

queen of wands

Image: Swiss 1JJ Queen of Wands card in a wooden bowl with bones and shells.

Let’s turn our attention to the Queen of Wands. The wands suit represents work, muscle, ambition, and fire. Seeing as much, if not most, of burnout stems from work issues, this suit’s queen implores us to take a hard look at our work lives. Here are some of her self-care strategies:

Establishing work-life balance. Yeah, this is a big one–both in difficulty and importance. Usually we quantify this balance by counting the hours we spend at our jobs. 90 hours a week? You work too much! 40? Perfect! 35? You must have a dream job! But stress and burnout don’t necessarily correlate with time spent working. It’s possible to work reasonable hours at your job and still feel overwhelmed. If your boss is demanding perfection, or the stakes feel too high, or you’re being pulled in a thousand directions at once, you’ll have a hard time taking care of yourself even if the job is part-time. A few years ago, I was put in charge of several projects at once at my job and it nearly destroyed me. I’d spend long hours with nothing to do, waiting for other people to finish tasks–and then five disasters would erupt at once and I wouldn’t know which fire to put out first. It was exhausting.

Obviously quitting or cutting back isn’t always an option. So how do you distance yourself from a job you can’t necessarily leave? Find little ways to steal your time and energy back. Read a book for 15 minutes in the parking lot before you go in for the day. Take the scenic route to lunch. If a meeting turns out to be pointless, journal instead of taking notes. If your job demands loyalty or brands itself as a family, don’t fall for it. You’re there for the money and you deserve your own life. Make your own headspace a sanctuary if you need to. Remind yourself that your job doesn’t own you.

Pursuing meaningful work, even if it doesn’t pay. Do you have hobbies? Causes you care about? What work fills you with joy? Knit a scarf. Blog. Go to a march. Do something that makes you proud.

Finding your passion. Speaking of meaningful work, wands corresponds to fire, which likewise corresponds to passion. What are you passionate about? Do you have time and space for it? If not, steal that time and space back. Camelia Elias writes in Marseille Tarot: Towards the Art of Reading that cups and coins bring us closer, while swords and wands create distance. Wands don’t create the same kind of distance that swords do, but they do encourage us to be firm with friends and loved ones when we need space to immerse ourselves in what we love. Maybe your friends really want you to get dinner with them, but you’ve got a writing project churning that you need to get down on paper. Beg off of dinner. Your friends will understand.

Practicing saying “no.” Part of a healthy work ethic is choosing which work you’ll do. Practice in front of a mirror if you have to. Say no to projects you can’t take on, invitations you don’t want to accept, so-called obligations that you’re guilted into. Recognize when you tend to be a martyr.

Tending to your muscular and digestive systems. Are you exercising? What’s a quick exercise you can do right now? (Usually, between work and parenting and keeping the house clean, all I have time for is a 60-second plank pose before bed to keep my back from going out, but it’s something.) How are your eating habits? Can you get something healthy in you? If you’re getting frequent stomachaches, tension headaches, or sore muscles, pay attention to them. Often I don’t realize how stressed and anxious I am until a “mysterious” headache descends upon me.

Getting a massage. Massages are a healing modality, not a luxury. If your muscles are rocks and you’re strapped for cash and time, see if you can find a dollar-a-minute option somewhere or ask a friend to rub your shoulders. Acupuncture is another good option which may even be covered under your health insurance, if you’ve got it.

Your turn! Meditate on the Queen of Wands. What ideas come to you?

Next up, our final queen: the Queen of Coins. Spoiler alert–retail therapy isn’t always a bad thing.

A Simple Spell to Stop TrumpCare

A SpellTo Stop TrumpcareNow that the Senate has forced a debate on the ACA repeal, we may only have a few days to stop Republicans from stripping up to 32 million Americans of their healthcare. (For those of you who vote Republican, consider this an invitation to think deeply about what your party has become. Is this really what you had in mind when you registered to vote? Might this be an opportunity for you to help bring the party back from the brink?) In addition to calling your senators, hitting the streets, and taking action in other ways–see, for example, Indivisible’s new tool for people in blue states–here’s a simple spell to help stop TrumpCare from becoming a reality.

You’ll need:

-A piece of paper
-A jar
-pins, nails, or other sharp things
-Noxious substances (bleach, urine, rancid food, etc. ETA: Please check for chemical interactions before mixing any substances together. You want to poison the bill, not yourself.)
-Painful or forceful substances (Cayenne pepper, blackthorn, etc.)

This spell is a modified witch’s bottle. Technically we’re trying to banish the bill, but since the moon is waxing and we don’t have much time, the focus of this spell will be increasing the backlash and negative consequences for trying to push through the repeal. We’re aiming to make it so toxic that Republicans lose any incentive to keep fighting for it.


Start by writing “TrumpCare,” “ACA Repeal,” or any other description of the bill that resonates with you on the piece of paper. Put it at the bottom of the jar.

Next, take some of each ingredient you’ve gathered and drop it into the jar on top of the paper. Make sure the words are covered completely. Imagine the bill and its proponents being smothered under noxious elements. If you’re feeling rage or courage or fierceness, pour that in.

As the situation develops, keep adding ingredients to the jar. You can add them once a day if you like. You can add them every time (powers forbid) the bill clears another hurtle. Keep adding them until the bill dies or the jar is full. If you fill it, set it aside and start another. If we win this battle, empty the jar and burn or bury its contents. Of course I don’t have to remind you to be careful when handling harmful substances.

Please share this spell widely so that we can combine our power. Or if you don’t share it, at least perform the spell. Or if you don’t perform the spell, work some kind of magic and take some kind of action. Your life may well depend on it.

Cross-posted at

Tarot and Self Care Part 2: The Queen of Cups

In my last post, I used the Queen of Swords as a lens through which to look at some aspects of self-care that don’t bring us immediate pleasure, like keeping a schedule or breaking off toxic relationships. In this post, let’s turn to the Queen of Cups for some softer, gentler ways to take care of ourselves.

queen of cupsThe cups suit represents water, fluidity, emotion, intuition, and love–both romantic and platonic. Here are some ideas that came out of my meditation on the Queen of Cups:

Forming and strengthening relationships. Contrary to the Queen of Swords’s propensity to push people away, the Queen of Cups beckons friends, family, and lovers closer. Did you know that isolation and loneliness are major factors in the depression epidemic? Humans are a social species, and we need companionship, community, and physical touch in order to be healthy. I myself can be a pretty solid recluse sometimes, but my own depression starts to flare up when I spend too much time alone. Do what you need to do to form bonds with other people. Maybe it’s as simple as picking up the phone. Maybe you need to find strategies to work through trauma or social anxiety. The Queen of Cups reminds us that we’re hardwired to flourish with companionship.

Staying hydrated. Yeah, this one seems obvious–until you find yourself exhausted and cranky with a pounding headache and a foggy brain. More and more work environments frown on taking time to eat a meal, and I find that our fear of nourishing ourselves often extends to water, too. Have a glass of water or a cup of tea or a bowl of soup. Remember that moisturizing counts as hydration, too! Put on some lotion. Condition your hair. It’s not frivolous or vain, it’s taking care of the marvelous construction of starstuff that is your body.

Cleansing yourself. The physical and psychological benefits of taking a bath or shower are manifold. You wash off viruses and bacteria that could infect you. Steam clears out your sinuses and pores. And feeling clean is uplifting and physically pleasurable. Often, when we’re unwell, hygiene is one of the first things to go, but the Queen of Cups implores us to do whatever it takes to get ourselves into that bathtub. Metaphorical and energetic cleansing are important, too; if you find rituals like incense smudging or making Kala helpful for clearing psychic clogs and blockages, then do them.

Cuddling or having sex. Orgasms and sensual touch help your body release oxytocin. Rub one out or get close to someone you love! If you’re not able to, do what you need to do to confront and work through sexual trauma, shame, or other inhibiting forces. Work with a professional if it’s helpful and you’re able to.

Listening to your intuition. We’re so often coerced into harmful activities that we tend to tune out the parts of our brains that tell us something is wrong. Don’t say yes to another project. Don’t get in the car with that guy. Don’t laugh at that offensive joke. These messages bubble up, but we feel forced to ignore them, and often rationalize doing so. That’d be selfish of me. I’m just being paranoid. I probably just don’t get it. Intuition is much more powerful than we give it credit for–it’s the basis of supposedly “supernatural” abilities like clairvoyance–and when we learn to listen to it, we receive more information about our environments and ourselves than we ever knew was possible.

Feeling your emotions. One of the most powerful effects of practices like mindfulness meditation or talk therapy is that they give us permission to stop suppressing our emotions. When we’re told throughout our lives to stop crying, grow up, get a thicker skin, and get over it, the message we internalize is that we must hide our emotions instead of letting them out. Don’t lash out or abuse people, but do let yourself feel and cry.

Tending to your heart. The cups suit corresponds to the circulatory system. Is your heart racing? Is your blood pressure high? Are you experiencing other problems with your blood? Tend to them. It goes without saying that tending to your heart is important on a figurative level, too.

Tending to your womb. Are you on your period? Snag some rest wherever and whenever you can. You may not have access to a red tent, but your body deserves some peace and relaxation while you menstruate.

Your turn! Meditate on the Queen of Cups using the method I described in my last post. What guidance does she give you?

Next time: the Queen of Wands, who can give us insight into self-care relating to work, muscle, and more.


Tarot and Self Care Part 1: The Queen of Swords

In this series, I’ll be talking about how to use tarot as a way to meditate on and form an action plan for self-care. In the first few posts, I’ll use the four queen cards to demonstrate how to use a card as a focal point for coming up with self-care strategies. Then I’ll introduce a few simple spreads that will help you figure out what self-care you need.

Why the queen cards? Because the Queens often symbolize one’s inner life, which makes them useful lenses for self-care. If the King of Coins tends to the external world of the kingdom, for example, creating wealth for those around him, the Queen of Coins keeps the castle’s coffers full. (Yeah, I know, it’s totally sexist. I’m heartened by the increasing number of non-patriarchal decks out there, but we’ve got a ways to go.) They don’t symbolize your “feminine side” or your mom or your wife, though–they’re an integral part of your psyche, no matter what gender you are.

By examining the function of the queen, coupled with her suit, we can open up some useful strategies. You can also look at the queens in your deck and get more meaning from their gestures, environments, and other details.

queen of swords

Image: Queen of Swords card from the Swiss 1JJ deck, with onyx crow and metal hand.

So! Let’s start by meditating on the Queen of Swords. I chose to start with her because she represents the aspects of self-care that aren’t always obvious, but are absolutely necessary. When we think of self-care, we often think of treats like manicures or retail therapy. But simply treating yourself whenever you feel unwell isn’t just a strain on your wallet, it’s not going to solve the root problems that are causing an illness or imbalance. (That’s not to say manicures don’t count as self-care! It’s just that there’s more to it.)

In reality, self-care is any self-initiated activity–pleasurable or not–that keeps us emotionally and physically healthy. Taking your medicine is self-care, even if the medicine tastes icky. The Queen of Swords comes in when we need to figure out the best way to keep ourselves healthy. The swords suit represents intellect, justice, and honesty, but also conflict, distance, and war. Pretty startling array of meanings, right? But let’s see how they play out when the Queen of Swords shows up for self-care. Here are the activities I came up with when meditating on her:

Cutting through delusion. If you’re ill or run down, maybe you need to be honest with yourself. Are you engaging in activities that are unhealthy? Are you working too much? Eating junk? Are you telling yourself something’s worth it because it feels good in the moment? The first step might just be admitting that there’s a problem.

Fighting for your rights. Maybe you know exactly what the problem is, but you’re being forced into unhealthy situations. It might be time to take up arms (figuratively, I hope!) to protect yourself. Just make sure you know the difference between self-defense and aggression.

Forming a plan. Sit down and write a self-care to-do list. What do you need? What needs to happen for you to be well? Seeing it laid out in writing might help. Here’s a Buzzfeed article on how to use a bullet journal for mental health! The Queen of Swords loves bullet journals.

Keeping appointments and commitments. I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember, and keeping appointments can be damn hard. The Queen of Swords implores us to come up with strategies to make it easier. If I need to make a stressful phone call, I make a cup of tea and go to a quiet room. My husband sets reminders on his phone for when to take his medication and go to bed.

Distancing yourself from toxic people. Blades keep people at a distance (if those people know what’s good for them!). If there’s a person who keeps barging into your life and making you unwell, maybe it’s time to stretch out your sword to keep them away. Again, self-care isn’t always cheerful and fun. (By the way, the National Domestic Abuse hotline is 800-799-7233 in case you need it.)

Carving harmful habits out of your life. If you have an addiction–to alcohol, to social media, to work, to sugar, whatever–make breaking that addiction a priority. If you know that you respond in an unhealthy way to a certain situation, like screaming at drivers who cut you off, then commit to changing that behavior.

Tending to your immune system. The swords, when they act as a means of self-defense, correspond to the immune system. Is your immune system weakened? Are you constantly getting sick or battling chronic illness? Take note of this.

queens of swords

Image: Queen of Swords cards from the Motherpeace, Sun & Moon, Smith-Waite, Hidden Light, and Pagan Otherworlds decks with crow feather and athame.

Overall, swords cut things away, clarify, and make space. What do you need to cut away? What needs to be crystalized? What space needs to be made?

Now it’s your turn! Pull the Queen of Swords from your deck or find her on the Internet. Put her in front of you with a notebook and pen. Grab a book on tarot if you like (Joan Bunning’s Learning the Tarot is a great place to start) and read up on her. What images, themes, or ideas in her card pop out at you? How can you embody her?

Remember, these ideas are starting points, not quick fixes. The Queen of Swords can help us diagnose a problem and start to address it, but she can’t jump out of the card and heal us!

Next up, the Queen of Cups, who can guide us through the aspects of self-care relating to water, emotions, relationships, and intuition. Stay tuned!

The Hidden Light Tarot

My first exposure to Oli StarFrosting’s work was through his self-titled zine. I knew I’d found a gem of a writer and artist when I found myself swept up in passages like these:

bone deep in my blood is magic, I am a Witch too and breathe in mana with each breath, know the knots and tides of magic as my birthright, feel the presence of G-D Herself pouring out through the moon the trees the cold pulsing ground, know with an immediacy and intimacy the Divine gathered in all things, know the array of water and fire and earth on my altar as crucial to my taking my rightful role in creation which is nothing other than G-D Herself becoming cosmos…

The spiraling stream-of-conscious style through which Oli expresses his magical practice, like a kaleidoscope joining a jumble of disparate elements into a breathtaking whole, is what makes his new tarot deck, the Hidden Light, so wonderful to work with and so difficult to write about. The deck consists of Oli’s illustrations juxtaposed with collage work, with several themes emerging across the cards: the pentacles suit, for instance, features multiple photos of shelves laden with bottles of Florida water and 7-day novenas, while the Fool, the Wheel of Fortune, and other cards have a nautical theme with ships and astrolabes. The colors are as pleasing to the eye as an expertly decorated altar, and many of the cards have enough subtle details that one card can offer up an entire spread’s worth of information.

Image: emperor card, depicting a honeycomb with larvae inside.Like many modern decks, the Hidden Light discards patriarchal imagery in favor of new interpretations. One of my favorite cards is the Emperor, which is depicted not as the traditional kingly figure, but as a honeycomb full of bee larvae. What are we to make of an emperor depicted as a batch of grubs? Nascent power? Humility? Collectivism? Each reader will see something slightly different, and therein lies the beauty of this deck. If you’re the type of novice reader who relies on a booklet or manual to feed you the meaning of a card (don’t worry, we’ve all been there), this deck will force you to turn inwards instead and wake up your intuition.

When I first got the deck, I worried that the fullness of each card would lead to busy, confusing spreads, with the many details muddying storylines and symbols. Luckily, that’s not the case. Take, for instance, this sample spread, which I pulled in response to a question I commonly get from clients: What should I do about my love life?

Image: 9 of pentacles, 10 of wands, and knight of swords. Further description in text.

The 9 of pentacles, on which the pentacles rest on a collection of occult supplies, leads to the 10 of wands, which are fanned out against a backdrop of trees. This suggests a progression from gathering resources to going out and using them, but refraining from acting prematurely. Once in motion, though, the client should take calculated risks, as the knight of swords, a man holding a knife aloft, suggests. The supplies at the bottom of the first card seem to erupt into wands in the second, with the client riding that eruption in the third (since the knight’s pose echoes the position of the wands). Perhaps the client should have a charm made, let it cook for 10 days, and then open up OK Cupid. Or maybe they should call a moratorium on dating until they recuperate from a breakup or an abusive ex. This is a hypothetical reading, of course, but the point is that the illustrations tell a clear, nuanced story.


The only problem with the deck is that the card titles and numbers can be a bit hard to read against their backgrounds. Whether or not that’s a issue for you will depend on your reading style. If it’s important for you to know which card you’re working with–if, say, you incorporate numerical significance or the Fool’s Journey into your readings–then it may take a bit for you to familiarize yourself with the deck. If you work with pictures alone, though, you probably won’t notice.

You can get the Hidden Light at Oli’s Etsy store, along with an accompanying zine. I love this deck! The cards themselves are well-made, satisfying to handle, and printed in New York City, and I’m thrilled to add the deck to my collection.

Cross-posted at

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