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SHADOW – Third Week of December
I’ve mailed out all but three of the solstice cards. Have baked cookies and, tbh, bought more wine and cheese (and Sortilege) than we’re going to use before New Year’s is upon us, even with guests coming over. I’m waiting on the delivery of the last run of groceries – sweet cider and whole olives, hothouse cucumbers, tomato juice, and the once-a-year treat of imported clementines – and will be spending at least part of tomorrow making roasted garlic hummus and atichoke-parmasan dip (and the rest of it cleaning, I’m sure…), because the Longest Night is nearly upon us.
It’s a little after 4pm as I’m writing this, the day before Winter Solstice. The sun is on its way down-down-down below the roof lines. It’ll be full-dark in less than half an hour. Now is the time of long, long shadows stretching east. Deep and dark or thin and blue.
Shadow is the word we use for the parts of ourselves that we try to keep hidden. The bits that are “too much”, or too shameful, for us to be comfortable looking at them full-on.
It’s appropriate that the tarot cards for this last week leading up to the Longest Night include The Devil and The Moon. This is very-much their time and place.
the Devil, while occasionally depicted as a trickster/shadow/guardian-of-the-underworld figure, is more generally understood as a card of conditioning, of greed, of learned helplessness, and even despair.
Which… You guys, this is so very much a card of “the holiday spirit” if you go by the state of the malls right now. Desperate consumerism. Greed ( which is explicitly the motivation behind the multi-national CEOs who are destroying the environment – not to get all buzz-wordy on you). Planned obsolescence of every freaking thing. Anxiety around not living up the expectations, getting someone the “wrong thing”, not “fitting in” with your families of origin. Light-levels-related depression. “This is the way we’ve always done it”/”This is the way things are”.
What once, small, manageable change can you make to be – or even just feel – less helpless? Maybe that means you start your day by sending another angry letter to the provincial government (pick a reason, there are SO many). Maybe it means you learn how to cook a thing from scratch – whether that’s kombucha or alfredo sauce or something more (or less) ambitious – or learn how to level a shelf, de-salt your leather boots (Hint: dampen your boots with vinegar, and let them air dry. Brush the salt off. Repeat. Then polish OR condition with a lanolin-beeswax blend), or mend holes in socks. Maybe it means you find the energy to text 2 friends who you know might also be having a hard time right now, and just check in on them and see how they’re doing.
This image, by Cristy C Road, is the first time I really understood what The Tower was about.
That which crumbles was never meant to last.
The going-through of that collapse is going to suck hard. But it’s a release, and a relief, when it goes.
What is one small thing you can do to dismantle those things which were never meant to last, to bring the world we long for into being?
This month, I became a monthly donor to Unist’ot’en Camp, as a small but ongoing way of supporting the water defenders out West who are trying to keep their traditional territories, and the water and soil there-in, safe from oil pipelines; and also of Amnesty International, for what they do here and in the rest of the world. But usually my “small thing” is food. It’s a thing that I’m good at and can reliably provide in a way that I can’t reliably show up with money to donate or volunteer my time in a consistent way. But if you need an emergency bag of groceries or a couple of meals while you get over an illness or a casserole donation to your community potluck or a clue as to which weeds are safe to eat raw? Honey, I’m your girl.
Maybe your one small thing will be going fragrance-free in your day-to-day life (hint: fragrence-free shampoo is TERRIBLE. But baking soda paste + a diluted vinegar rinse + fragrance-free conditioner (or some kind of light-weight oil, applied sparingly) on your ends works pretty well for the straight, fine hair of this white lady). Or switching to humanely raised (or just less) meat in your diet. Or donating Flamingo Rampant titles to your local public (or elementary school) library. Or talking other white people (etc, insert your own mix of privileges here) about how to notice and consistently push back against the racism that lives in our own heads as well as in our government policies and our workplaces.
I love Beth Maiden’s description of The Star as being a card about values, as a reminder to find – and follow – your personal True North. It’s a card about generosity, peace, hope, and inspiration.
It’s a card that asks: How can you be generous with your time, energy, attention? With you money and skills and resources? But it’s also a card – because this is Shadow Week – that asks us to investigate the places where we find it hard to be generous – either because we’re feeling burnt out and overextended, or because we’re uncomfortable with “neediness” (our own or someone else’s) in the sense of a need for support or care or even just patience that doesn’t go away once it’s not convenient for you anymore.
I’ve been reading Care Work, and more than one of the essays in it talks about the feminization – and therefore erasure and denigration – of care, and the expectation that the (usually fem/me and feminized) people who do it are never, every going to bring up that need it, let alone expect to get it. Which is to say: A whole freaking lot of us have The Feels about both wanting & needing to be taken care of (doesn’t that make us bad?) AND being worn out from doing all the heavy-lifting when it comes to getting the groceries, maintaining the relationships, picking up the prescriptions, and remembering the appointments/food allergies/triggers/etc of other people. (I think Brené Brown’s Rising Strong has some relevant stuff about this, too).
This is 100% a card about The Shadow. About all that stuff we keep hidden in our personal depths. It’s also a card about anxiety and illusion, distraction and fantasy and, as such, it’s a card about avoiding the realities of your privileges and about the stories we, along the vectors where we have social-&-political privileges, tell ourselves and each other (and other people) about why we have it so relatively good. This is stuff like “bootstrapping” or “Well, women aren’t just any good at coding” or “thus-and-such a demographic is just More Susceptible to Alcoholism” or any of the other stuff that comes up for us. There’s a podcast that I really like, that talks about – among other things – the fact that, compared to the rest of the world, Europeans were pretty crappy at farming. And I have to admit I was shocked. And kind of… hurt?? And I probably shouldn’t have been.
In this context, The Moon asks us What stories am I telling myself to explain away good fortune that probably isn’t fortune, and probably isn’t good? What can I do to push back against those stories?”
Heh.This was ALMOST the card that landed on the Solstice. So close!
The Sun is about truth and hope and joy (and relates to the star in those ways), about forgiving yourself and leading by example. It’s a card that asks Leah Lakshmi’s question: What kind of ancestor do you want to be?
What kind of example do you want to set? How will you learn from your mistakes, and make amends for them, so that you can forgive yourself for them, and keep learning, growing, changing into the truest version of yourself that you can be.
As weirdo queer and pagan artists have got their fingers into tarot over and over and over again, the Judgement card has undergone a bunch of transformations. It’s a hard one to love, at face value, when your cosmology and identity are at odds with the obviously Christian messaging of The Last Judgement. But what this card is about is stuff like taking a stand, recognizing your purpose or calling, and coming out the other side of a transformation. It’s about the stuff that, er, I think people mean when they say someone is “woke”. (Yes/No?) To paraphrase Cristy C Road, on the darkest, longest night of the year, Judgement asks you this: How will you follow through on the lessons that you’ve learned?
The Solstice moves around. This year, it’s on the 21st of December. Next year, it won’t be until the 23rd. So working through the Major Arcana during the lead-up to Midwinter won’t necessarily fit with what the actual planetary orbit has in mind. (This reminds me of the first time I tried to track my period. I counted out every twenty-eighth day in my calendar, marked them all with a little red dot, and just… assumed my body would just… fall into line. Not so much, kids. Not so much).
So we’ll come to the end on December 22nd – never mind that I’m doing this write-up a couple of days early. After the tower. After the judgement. After it all, there’s this. Just as the days are barely, just barely, starting to get longer again. Assessment. Investment. Being involved. How have you contributed? How have you healed? How have you shared what you have – your time, energy, attention, resources, and skills?
Count your blessings. Acknowledge your accomplishments. Look forward towards what you can do, for yourself, for the world, during the next circle ’round the Sun.