On tarot cards and brain fog

Tarot cards have become a guiding light for me over the past few months. They act as a source of illumination through the brain fog. Having hypothyroidism means I have a light brain fog most days (more of a mist, really) with big heavy clouds descending sometimes that block everything out. Brain fog means days stretch out ahead of me, open space and time with no parameters and no clarity. I struggle with my memory and my focus. I am lucky enough to have much more flexibility in my work than most people which is a wondrous thing when I can think clearly about what I want, what I need to do, and so on. On bad days, though, thoughts stutter in and out of memory, as if the day is not something continuous but a series of strange staccato bursts of focus and complete blanks. This goes hand in hand with very low energy, incurable with coffee or naps. Even coming up with a ‘back up plan’ of how to spend these bad days is exhausting.

So, on these bad days, reading tarot cards are a way for me to hold onto the desires of the day. Or, they carve out some parameters for me to act within and remove the energy exertion required to say ‘this is what I want today’. They bring things to the surface and push others away to stop me feeling overwhelmed. I can remember the bright images, created by Pamela Colman Smith, and recall what that means for my day. The cards make manifest what I already know: to slow down, to stop being hard on myself for not doing every small thing every day, to live in waves and adjust to the rhythms of my ill body rather than #hustle all the time. And, in the long term, they help me to differentiate one day from another and to recognize patterns in my thinking.

One Sunday night I thought about what my focus should be for Monday. I had a huge to-do list so I was looking for some kind of encouragement to get it all done, to rush around the house and neighbourhood with feverish energy. I drew Temperance: the card of balance. I laughed to myself a little at this. That Monday’s to do list became less of an obsessive ‘I must…’ and about half the list got bumped along. Throughout the day, I focused on not pressuring myself to get so much done and carved out time where I could be still and quiet and ‘lazy’. Other days I felt guilty about not pursuing more creative activities like stitching or painting or reading on top of writing up my research, and I drew The Magician. For me, this card has a ‘make it happen’ vibe so this told me to throw off those worries about not expressing my creative energies. It was okay to put these things on hold until another day and worrying about it is just a drain. These few hours were for research writing and logical ‘getting on with it’, laying the ground for the future.

For most of my readings, I use the Major Arcana as my guiding figure for the day(s), with three Minor Arcana to inform smaller emotional or intellectual struggles I might be having. Is this right? I have no idea. It works. I draw my cards after some time spent shuffling and focusing on the question, mostly to gauge for myself what I need some guidance with. On bad days it’s usually just ‘what should I do today?’ or ‘what is my focus?’. Then I place them in a very simple layout.

Here’s a spread from earlier in the week. It’s very wand-y. My major guiding figure for the day is Strength: not physical, brute strength but a gentler and more compassionate energy, as demonstrated by this figure practising lion dentistry. Incidentally, this is my card for the year. The three minor Arcana cards all come from the same suit: the wand. The wand generally means determination, creativity, inspiration, ambition, and so on. It reminds me of a big ol’ walking stick you might go hiking with. On this day, I was already full of inspiration and a maddening energy to pursue new projects, as they had been brewing in my mind for a while. The Knight of Wands is g o i n ‘, an impulsive and intense figure but one who is likely to fall off his horse when he inevitably goes too fast. The Eight of Wands implies some form of speed, movement, and the freedom to pursue something. And, finally, the Three of Wands shows a figure surveying the land ahead: a moment of pause and contemplation regarding determined and ambitious action that lays ahead. What these cards said to me was to hold onto this idea, to move fast but without haste, and to recognize that I have other responsibilities and other things I have to do which I can’t neglect (or else I’ll fall off my horse). So, I ensured I reached my daily writing targets and got enough work done before granting myself sixty to ninety minutes at the end of the day to make progress on my creative project. The actual creative work required the compassion and self-belief of the Strength figure, with the combined determination of all of those wands.

There are plenty of books and websites to get the information about what the cards mean and I’m slowly learning these, getting better at understanding the cards for myself. My interpretations have also taken on a more personal angle as I start to recognize the cards and what resonates for me each time. For example, the reversed King of Swords always shows up in my readings when I have a knot in my stomach about ‘the university’ as a big, scary institution or when I’m due for feedback on my research. So that’s what he means to me. And if the Rider Waite deck doesn’t appeal to you (maybe it seems old fashioned or patriarchal) there are some amazing decks out there which might resonate more strongly with you and allow you to make those connections (The Delta Enduring and the Druid Animal Oracle decks are both beautiful, and either actively counter or avoid some of the issues of representation associated with Rider Waite). Whatever works. I thought there would be strict rules to reading tarot that I would have to learn off by heart, but there are many different versions of the interpretations and it comes down to whatever jumps out to you. It is illuminating something you already know. This openness and flexibility means I don’t worry if I am doing tarot ‘right’ anymore. I am doing it my way and it serves me very well, especially on bad brain fog days.

The focus and light that my tarot deck provides for me is quite magical. It instills in me a sense of trust in myself and my body, it draws something out from the depths, and it conjures awareness. The cards sharpen my intuition and open up a cognitive and temporal space of consideration and care. They are utterly, gloriously magical.

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