art, life

Saturday Livestream!

Are you busy Saturday afternoon?

Say, 1 PM-ish?

If not, I’m going to be part of Canvisi‘s artists stream! I’ll be talking a bit about how I got into my particular artistic niche, then giving a few demonstrations on incorporating gold leaf and other metallic elements into artwork, and showing a few new, never-before-seen pieces. It’ll be fun and — if you’re a chemistry nerd like me — hopefully pretty interesting!

I also have a ton of new stuff up on my shop. There are original paintings, jewelry, and a selection of wands made of Arkansas quartz and naturally-shed deer antler. They’re all pretty cool, if I do say so myself.

So, come join me and the other artists on Canvisi’s livestream, and maybe check out some new art.

Happy Friday!

divination, life

The Page of Wands Squawks Again (Again)

I feel like I draw the Page of Wands more than any other card. Honestly.

I’m not surprised that he’s appeared again, though. He’s all creativity, adventure, and youthful enthusiasm. He’s good news and fast messages. In career readings, he might mean a work trip. In love readings, he’s playfulness and vacations.

So, considering this past weekend’s adventures, I kind of figured he’d turn up soon.

My partner and I want to go kayaking one of these days, by which I mean “he wants to go kayaking, and I am figuring out ways to cover every tragedy that can possibly happen while kayaking.” I don’t do super well with the sun beating down on me, so summer isn’t my ideal time for outdoor sports. The couple of weeks between the beginning of September and the end of October are perfect for me. There’s only one problem: htf do you kayak?

I mean, I get it. Sit in the boaty part, do the paddles, motion happens. I have had to row things before. Still, there’s something about the thought of taking a kayak out on a river that makes my throat tense up.
(That thing is anxiety disorder. Even with medication and a great therapist, some of it sticks around.)

I feel like kayaking would be fun, on a conceptual level. Neither of us have ever done it before, so I have automatically adopted the position of Learning Everything That Can Go Wrong and Preemptively Thwarting It.

(Incidentally, while this is doubtless one of my more annoying traits, it also makes me fantastic on road trips. Need Benadryl? A tampon? A snake venom extraction kit? A small fire extinguisher? Emergency backup water? A convenient source of potassium? I’ve got you. I prepare for everything like it’s the first ten minutes of an action movie where we end up on an island infested with crocodiles.)

My partner says, “Let’s go price kayaks this w-,” and before he can even say “-eekend,” my brain’s off to the races. We’ll need life vests, for one. That’s obvious. Swimsuits — no, wetsuits, since the water won’t be as warm as it would be in July. Water shoes. A waterproof bag to hold stuff. Lessons. What if I lose my ID? I’ll write my identifying information on myself in case I drown. What if we accidentally go over a dam and one of us breaks something? I’ll have to bring a bandana I can use to make a sling. Do I remember how to give first aid for a spine or neck injury? What if I fall in the water and the cold knocks the wind out of me? It happened at summer camp once, and I wasn’t allowed to swim after that. (Fortunately, what I lacked in ability-to-breathe-in-cold-water, I made up for in ability-to-spot-and-subsequently-escape-from-bears-that-got-to-the-blueberry-patch-before-I-did.)

When I was five, my grandparents took me to the beach. I splashed and played happily, but, when my grandma noticed that I’d gone a little too far out and called me back, I couldn’t return. Caught in the undertow, I floundered and sputtered until someone had to come drag me out and do whatever they do to kids they’re afraid will dry drown. As clearly as I remember the helpless feeling of being caught in the current, everything after that is like someone smeared my memories with Vaseline.

Years later, my grandpa was careful to keep me out of the waves. He always fished a lot, and I used to love sitting by the buckets of fish he brought home, seeing what kind of hitchhikers had snuck into the water. Sometimes I’d find a tiny crab, or a snail, or even a sea urchin.

Finally, one day, he decided he’d teach my siblings and me to fish and set crab traps. The other kids were too young to sit and wait for a bite, so they mostly spent the day running around and dropping bait down each other’s shirts. While they did that, I felt a bite on one of the bamboo poles. My tiny heart pounding with excitement, I reeled in my catch. Was it a flounder? A salmon? A tuna? Maybe it was a shark.

It was not a shark.

To this day, I’m not sure. Nobody was able to definitively identify what I pulled up from the depths.

I’m reminded of Eddie Izzard’s bit about the Biblical flood. If it was supposed to cleanse the Earth of evil, there must have been a lot of evil fish and ducks left over.

This fish was silvery. It had spiny fins that flared out like claws, and a long, undershot jaw full of pointed, mean-looking teeth. It thrashed with the strength of something several times its size and, when we put it in the bucket with the rest of our catch, the results were… bad. It didn’t seem like it had much meat on it, either — whatever biological real estate it possessed seemed to be taken up entirely by teeth, spines, and hate.

While it churned the water in the bucket and snapped at the air in fury, Grandpa suggested throwing it back. My tiny child eyes immediately welled up with tears.

“But… I caught it. It’s my fishy.”

I was formulating plans for filling my kiddie pool with table salt and hose water so I could keep it, maybe befriend it through some kind of piscine Stockholm Syndrome. Unfortunately, it died on the way home (as fish in plastic Home Depot buckets are wont to do). I kept it in the freezer for several months afterward, like some kind of incredibly creepy trophy. Sometimes, I’d chase my brother around the house with it. Every so often, I’d take it out to look at it and feel a tiny, bone-deep, neanderthal thrill of survival, as if this dead fish was an assurance that I’d be able to live on a deserted island for a really long time if I needed to.

I have not been fishing again.

It would probably surprise you to find out that I’m a devotee of Manannán mac Lir. It surprised the shit out of me when I finally came to that realization, I’ll tell you that much.

The Page of Wands means news and adventures. And now we’re going kayaking. Hopefully the devotee thing counts for something, because, after surviving almost drowning and whatever the hell I put in that fish bucket, I would not want to explain to my seafaring ancestors that I died in three feet of water because I kayaked wrong.

“Sure,” I reply, “This weekend.”

Environment, life

Farmer’s market, murder shack. Tomato, tomahto.

My eyes were still closed when she started cleaning my face. If I weren’t at home, this would’ve been embarrassing, at best — I tried to turn my head away, but she held it firmly in place. There’s something about being a parent that makes using spit as a cleaning solution seem perfectly reasonable. According to some people, having kids endows mothers with super-powered saliva that can clean the most stubborn grime.

This appears to hold true if those kids are kittens, too.

“Ça suffit, Kiko.”

I opened my eyes to daylight, a pink nose, and a face full of whiskers. She started to purr.

It was early Sunday morning, and Kiko objects to my nighttime moisturizer. I spend perfectly good dollars to slather myself in serums and creams, and Kiko, one paw planted firmly on my cheek to hold my face in place, wakes me up by scrubbing them off again. She is a very gentle, caring, and perceptive cat, who routinely perches on the side of the bathtub to pat my cheeks and make worried faces when I’m not feeling well. She also has very definite opinions on skincare. (Gods help you if you try to wear lipstick around her.)

My partner and I didn’t really have plans for Sunday. It’s a day for catching up on housework and running errands — I mop, sweep, water plants, and putter around with other chores, he does laundry and washes whatever dishes there might be. With beautiful weather and an empty schedule, I figured we’d go to the farmer’s market and poke around.

And then we saw the line to get into the farmer’s market stretching around the block. Aw, butts.

“Let’s… Uh. Let’s get breakfast and go to a park, maybe,” I offered. This seemed reasonable.

Of course, “park” could also mean “abandoned ghost town,” in a certain light. So, armed with a smoothie and a largish quantity of chicken and waffles, we headed out to track down the remains of Daniels, Maryland. Neither of us had been there before, and it’s not like we had anything better to do… Why not go for a long drive and possibly accidentally stumble onto a secret forest murder shack?

Daniels isn’t haunted (as far as I know). It isn’t as eerie as Centralia, there are no horror movies inspired by it. A church was struck by lightning and burned down, but, from what I’ve read, the only loss was an expensive ring. There’s no real mystery behind it, either — the population dwindled, and the C.R. Daniels Company decided to shut things down.
(Really, the creepiest part is the idea that a company can own an entire town, and then decide to close your damn house.)

There’s still a very unique energy in places where people no longer live. I feel like that goes double in places like Daniels. Nature driving people out and retaking a space in one blow is sudden, violent, and has a sense of finality. The haunting feelings in those places make sense.

But what did people think as they packed up to leave Daniels? How long did it take for nature to start taking space back, and what came first? Was it the spiders, raccoons, or birds infiltrating old houses? Or did vines climb the walls first, sending in tendrils to pull the bricks and stones apart one piece at a time?

“Viva” “Cloud Nine” “Love You!” “Don’t just exist! LIVE”

In 1972, four years after the C.R. Daniels Company decided to shut things down, tropical storm Agnes rolled through an demolished most of the remaining buildings.

We weren’t prepared for how crowded things were, or the lack of a bridge. Instead of trying to find the remains of the town, this became a scouting mission. We’d need to find the best place to cross, not too near the dam. Somewhere where the bank wasn’t too steep, where there was already a trail worn through the thick, fluffy greenery. We’d have to come back early, when the weather was a bit cooler and there wouldn’t be as many people around.

Frustrated for the second time that day, we hiked along the water. I found a lovely patch of jewelweed, and something unidentifiable scented the breeze with a lemony citronella fragrance. The air was fresh, the mosquitoes were somewhere else, and things were good on this fine day. We paused for a bit so I could bathe some pieces of Arkansas quartz and Herkimer diamonds in the clear water, and I lit a tiny stick of incense as an offering.

When another group needed the spot to launch a kayak, I doused the incense, and we packed up to go home.

We’re going back, though.

We have a plan.

life

And… Frolic!

Things were extremely okay. I’d even say they were approaching neato. Then they were not.

My S.O. had a high-stress presentation, not at all helped by having to do it over Zoom. The effect was like something out of a Terry Gilliam-style dystopia (which, I guess, is kind of where we are now), only without the part where anyone was wearing a giant, terrifying baby head.

I, on the other hand, had a bunch of orders to write, a presentation to plan, two cats who’ve been throwing up just often enough to be Way Too Much yet Still Technically Normal, and about ninety pounds of carpet slowly moldering in the middle of my living room. (I am not good at estimating how long it takes things to dry. I also habitually underestimate how humid it is here. Next time, I will happily pay a cute amount of money to make this someone else’s problem.)

There’s only one way to unwind from this: Aggressive frolicking.

Well, aggressive frolicking after a long drive.

First, we tried to go to Great Falls Park, but they were crowded to the point where park rangers had the entrance blocked off. It’s still a pretty drive with a bunch of scenic spots to pull off, though, and time I spend in the car with this nerd is never wasted.

Plus we found a spot bursting with bright yellow sunchokes and goldenrod. I even made a little bug buddy:

If I’ve got my bugs right, this is a pale green assassin bug nymph. Fortunately, these stealthy little weirdos are only assassins to other bugs, though they can bite if provoked.

Afterward, we found some crape myrtles suitable for frolicking amongst. The flowers smelled lovely, everyone else was sufficiently socially distant, and I was loaded up on enough Zyrtec to sedate a category 5 kaiju so the existence of grass didn’t make me break out in hives.

Most people wore masks, even the ones running or cycling, but some didn’t. We brought ours, but didn’t end up going anywhere where we were in danger of coming in contact with anyone. With an entire area of the park to ourselves, it was easy to avoid breathing at other people (and getting breathed at, in turn).

I think the closest we came to coming within a hundred feet of another person was when this extremely charming family looking for a picnic spot. They rounded a fence to head down a grassy hill, when one of their maybe-four-or-five-year-old children exclaimed, “Oh! What a nice view!” I’m not generally a person of young children or babies, but it was the cutest thing I’ve ever heard.

That was pretty much it — sun, breeze, and the smell of crape myrtles. That’s plenty for me.

See? Idyllic.
Sunset cloud over a calm field.
life, Neodruidry, Witchcraft

A Weather Eye

One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced as a Pagan is the fact that my mind and body’s internal cycles don’t really do the whole “seasons” thing.

It isn’t a question of living in a city, or using air conditioning, or things of that nature — the personal rhythms of creation, growth, harvest, and rest are there, just mismatched. Summer is when I’m at my least active, it’s really closer to what should be winter. Heat basically makes me one of those flattened blob people from the old Zoloft commercials.

All of this is to say that I can’t wait for it to be fall. I know pumpkin spice season has apparently officially started, but I’m not even in it for the nutmeg. I can’t wait for cool weather and orange trees. I crave the smell of gently rotting leaves like a lab monkey craves amphetamines. There’s just something in the dirt and the moss and the wind that lights my soul up.

It’s supposed to be below 80°F next Saturday, and I almost don’t know what to do with myself. Should I go looking for the Sykesville monster? Hunt for an outdoor ritual space? Go mushroom spotting? There are so many options. Like a border collie who’s just heard the words, “Want to go for a w-,” I am pawing at the door and wiggling like my life depends on it.

This highlights what I mean, though. Akin to some kind of bizarro-realm iguana, I get more active as things cool off. It throws off my whole jam when it comes to the High Days. I feel like I should be feeling things in spring and summer that my biology doesn’t really get around to until October. Coupled with living in a city, it’s pushed me to find new meanings in holidays and the rhythm of the seasons — not only changing how I celebrate, but pushing things to other days, or even building new celebrations entirely.

Lately, it’s given me a lot to think about the days of the week, and the way each is attributed to a celestial force or deity. Sunday’s the day of the Sun, and best for workings involving success and happiness. Tuesday is Mars’ day, and best for workings for strength, battle, and so forth. It’s something that pops up a lot in various forms of witchcraft, but it’s also something that, in my opinion, it’s okay to dispense with in a lot of cases.

One thing I’ve learned is that, while it’s said that “purely mental magic yields purely mental results,” a solid 80% of it is setting up the right mental space for raising and releasing energy. Herbs, stones, and other materials have their own properties, but much of that can be overshadowed by what they do for you, the worker, on a personal level. (This is where unverified personal gnosis and personal associations come in, and why it’s so important to label them as such — the relationship between you and your materials is deeply subjective, and passing a subjective interpretation off as traditional is confusing, at best, and irresponsible, at worst.)

What all of this means is that, if a specific day, month, or season isn’t drawing the right feeling out of you, listen to yourself. Thursday is supposed to be the day of abundance and increase, but if your payday’s Monday and Thursday is when your bills come due, don’t let a stack of old books tell you how to feel about it. Maybe your prosperity spells will work better for you on a day when you actually feel prosperous. Maybe they’ll work better on a day that traditionally corresponds to them.

I’m old enough now to know that the only thing I can know for certain is that the world is a big, weird place, and it doesn’t like telling anyone the whole story. Old grimoires are the map, but they aren’t the territory. At some point, you have to figure out how to engage with the weird on your — and its — own terms

Here’s to autumn, my dudes.

life

Hunky Dory Space Adventures with Adolf Wolfli

I’m not very good at coming up with date ideas.

I mean, I’m good at coming up with ideas, just generally not ones that I can convince other people to do with me. That’s why my S.O. is pretty awesome — he’s almost always up for my bullshit.

The weekend before last, the heat finally crept below 80°F. Of course, it also stormed the whole time, so options were limited. Last weekend, the sweltering heat was back. Hanging out indoors somewhere else isn’t something either of us considered optimal, so we made our own fun.

Saturday, we picked up some pies (tofu curry and Baltimore bomb for me, pulled pork and strawberry rhubarb for him), put on David Bowie’s Hunky Dory, and cracked open my copy of John Maizels’ Raw Creation: Outsider Art and Beyond. (I bought this book used, and somehow ended up with a signed copy. So, if you’re out there Steve Moseley, thanks.) My S.O. and I huddled around it like kids with a pile of comic books, poring over the incredible body of work of Adolf Wölfli, the otherworldly twists of the Palais Idéal, and the incredible figures of the Rock Garden of Chandigarh.

Photo of sculptures in the Rock Garden of Chandigarh by Fanoflesage. CC BY-SA 3.0

(Honestly, if you’re not familiar with Wölfli, get ready to go down a deep rabbit hole. His work is fascinating and unmatched in scope. You can even find some of his musical compositions on Spotify.)

Sunday, we had crêpes and settled in to watch a movie — Color Out of Space. Admittedly, I mostly find Lovecraft kind of tiresome, owing in no small part to a former room mate who was a little too into his work. Still, COoS is probably my favorite of his short stories. I’ve got a thing for malevolent architecture and eldritch landscapes, and this tale in particular scratches that particular horror itch really well. (So do SCPs 455 and 3219, if you’re into that sort of thing.) It’s also the kind of subject that lends itself to Lovecraft’s particular style, which tends to vacillate between “I can’t describe it, but trust me, it was super weird” and “they were secretly… Foreigners!” When you’re talking about something that defies description by its very nature, like a nonexistent color, it works.

Speaking of, I dig the artistic choice to show the eponymous Color as various shades of magenta. While magenta does exist at least as much as any other color, it’s pretty much the color mascot for the fact that so much of what we consider real is incredibly subjective. Neato.

I also dug some of director Richard Stanley’s other choices in this film. For one, the main protagonists (I’m hesitant to attach the word “hero” to a story so bleak) are a Black man and a young woman. There’s some romantic tension between them. You know, the kind of stuff that would’ve made Lovecraft have to take to his bed with a cool rag and some kind of nostrum.

There’s also one scene with a horse where the horse’s eye briefly flashes purple. It’s ambiguous, however, whether this and the horse’s subsequent freakout are a sign of the contagion or not. Notably, the part of the horse’s eye that appears to flash is the tapetum lucidum, the membrane that reflects light and aids in night vision. Is the horse acting out because the Color’s gotten to it? Is it reacting to what it sees emanating from the people it’s looking at? Is it both? It’s the little fridge horror/fridge brilliance touches like that that I really enjoy.

Lavinia, the family’s daughter, also provides some interesting references to Wicca. Nothing too complicated or heavy, really, though mentioning the Wiccan Rule of Three provides a bit of foreshadowing. The Necronomicon makes a brief appearance at one point, though it’s left unclear whether the in-universe book is meant to be genuine, or just a paperback for edgy kids. Some viewers put forth the idea that, while the Necronomicon itself is widely regarded as a hoax, all of the best hoaxes contain something tangentially genuine — so it’s possible, at least in-universe, that Lavinia’s ritual did something.

(It just wasn’t what she wanted.)

Lastly, near the end, we’re given a brief glimpse of the Color’s home planet. Normally, I hate this kind of thing — one thing Lovecraft got right here was the fact that the things your imagination conjures are inevitably far more terrifying than anything anyone else can show you. In this case, the look we’re given is brief enough, and the atmosphere built by the flashing colors, patterns, emotions, and musical score building to that point is just mentally overwhelming enough, that it’s impossible to fully absorb what you see. You’re given an image, but your imagination still has plenty of room to build around it.

It also strikes me as somewhat visually similar to the ending city in Junji Ito’s Uzumaki:

Which I thought was awesome, because I love Uzumaki. (I get some very Hellstar Remina vibes, too.)

No idea what we’ll do next weekend. There’s an abandoned pyrite mine I’d like to poke around, and this reservoir I found a bone at once. Really, after all this, I kind of just want to snuggle up and re-read a bunch of Ito’s books.

art, life

New artwork!

In case you don’t follow my shop, there are a bunch of new prints available.

I’ve also added a new line — now, in addition to the matte giclee prints, you can also get most of my work as lustre photographic prints. (These are just as high-quality as the others, just printed on a subtly glossy photo paper instead of heavy matte stock.)

And several others!

I always purchase copies of my prints before I list them, so I can make any adjustments to the source files to make sure they look as good as possible. Not to toot my own horn, but computer images don’t really do these justice — the prints came out so good, friends.

I also have several different tarot readings available. Please feel free to drop me a line through Etsy or my Contact page if you have any questions.

life

A Bicycle Built for Who

Some people don’t like the idea of adopting rescue animals, especially adult ones. They worry that they won’t be as trainable as a puppy or kitten — they might have all kinds of behavioral issues and odd quirks from their past home(s).

To be perfectly honest, I’m pretty sure Kiko and Pye were normal before we got them. (At least, I’m reasonably certain that Pye didn’t throw noisy tantrums if you neglected to sit next to him and eat cereal in the morning.)

I don’t know how Kiko could’ve survived otherwise. Her history indicates she was an outdoor cat — undersized, post-partum, a hair’s breadth from losing a leg to gangrene. Now, she taps my forehead to wake me up to watch her eat, will only drink out of a special pink teacup, requires smooches on the head at exactly 11:30 AM, and knows that the sound of me brushing my teeth means it will shortly be Cuddle Time. She won’t eat cat treats — her preferred snacks are strawberry yogurt and butter lettuce. She doesn’t like to walk through the apartment, either — she’ll launch herself face-first at my ankles, cry and hold up a paw as if she’s injured, and make big, sad eyes at me until I pick her up.

Her favorite thing, though, is the exercise bike.

I have a bog-standard stationary bike ever since my cardiologist recommended that I start taking short, easy rides to rebuild my endurance. I don’t know how, and I don’t know when, but Kiko made up her macadamia-sized mind that This Was an Activity of Buddies.

And so, she chubbles.

She sits at the edge of the bed, gazing up at me with her cartoonishly large, round eyes. She knows she has me wrapped around her little white paws, and all she has to do is wait patiently. If I fail to respond, she daintily taps at my knee.

Eventually, I will have to pick her up.

I always do.

I have no idea what she gets out of this. It’s a stationary bike. We don’t go anywhere. There is nothing to see but the bedroom door. She nestles herself into my elbow, flops her head back to mush her face on mine and give me her little :3 smile, and purrs. And she’ll stay like that until I’m done pedaling.

There’s no reason for it. She could be ignoring me, happily cuddling with my partner. The second she hears the telltale boop of my exercise tracker app, she pries herself away to chubble at me. She could be asleep, she’ll wake up. She could be in a different room, I’ll hear the strawberry bell on her collar jingling as she hurries from wherever she’s been hiding. She cannot get enough of turning me into some kind of incredibly inefficient one-person palanquin.

So, yes. Sometimes, when you adopt an older animal, they can be a little weird. Most of the time, it’s in the best way.

life, Neodruidry

Lughnasadh, Pandemic Style

Lughnasadh is one of the High Days that falls between the solstice and the equinox. It’s an ancient celebration of the first harvest, but I’m probably not alone in feeling less than enthusiastic about this year. To be honest, I can’t honestly say I “celebrated” it.

The harvest is when you reap what you sow, and we’re reaping a whole lot of bad right now. Unable to get the message, police forces respond to protests against police brutality with increased brutality. Told that we need to wear masks and avoid indoor gatherings to slow the spread of a virus, people vocally rebel by not wearing masks and having rallies indoors. Other countries ostracize the U.S. as if it were a mass of plague rats, and I can’t really blame them. This is what we’ve collectively sown, and what are we harvesting in return?

I made a small offering (some beans I sprouted in a jar), but this Lughnasadh was less about celebration and enjoying the fruits of the first harvest than it was about understanding cause and effect. What we sow, we reap. You can’t meet challenges with brutality and callousness and expect to harvest success.

While I have plenty of growth and cause for celebration in my own life, it pales in comparison to what’s happening outside. Even so, that serves as its own reminder to find joy where we can. Even when the world’s on fire, there are small triumphs worth recognizing. There are still new bean sprouts in the jar.

Thanks for indulging my melancholy today. Promise I’ll be less of a buzzkill tomorrow 🧡

divination, life

I apologize for my tardiness.

I ate most of my bodyweight in melon and pasta and, like the mighty African rock python consuming the equally mighty springbok, I needed to sleep on a warm rock and not move for an extended period of time.

Anyway. I’ve been doing a lot of considering re: the Jungian concept of the “shadow self.” It’s a topic I’d like to delve into further, but really deserves a post (or three, or four) of its own. Suffice it to say that I think it’s what’s making the pandemic especially difficult for a lot of people — when it’s hard to be in the same room as yourself, you’re not likely to enjoy having a lot of free time on your hands.

This led on a short free-association jaunt through various meditations, trance work, and sound healing, and I landed on a specific need: a guide to what I’m trying to fix in the first place. I know my faults, and I like to think I’m relatively self-aware, but there’s more to integration than that. There’s really no road map for how this kind of thing is supposed to go, though.

In my search, I came across the Cleansing the Soul tarot spread by Emerald Lotus Divination. “Sure,” I thought, “Why not?”

It’s not a super complicated spread, but it yields a lot of information — from the needs of the physical body, to the soul, to the inner child, to how to stay connected to your higher self. I’m not really under any illusion that the general public is super into my own inner journey here, but, if you’re curious about how a theoretical spread might look and how the cards relate to each other, this might be helpful.

I used the Animalis Os Fortuna deck, and my own spread shook out like this:

What my physical body needs: Nine of Wands, depicting the iguana. In this place, this appears to mean the need to push forward. I’ve been engaging in more physical activity, so the message here seems to be to keep at it, and keep increasing my reps. I even bought a sledgehammer to make a shovelglove!

What my soul needs: Five of Wands, depicting the axolotl. Struggles, obstacles, and rivalry. I’m competitive by nature. I’m at my best when I have an opponent, even if they don’t know they’re my opponent and I make no attempt to take the competition out of my own mind. It’s practically what the concept of Instagram hate following was made for, if you substitute “hate” with “rivalry.” I’m not too enlightened to enjoy opposition. Comparison isn’t always the thief of joy — a little healthy competition keeps life interesting, and helps spur me to be a better version of myself.

What my inner child needs: Two of Wands, depicting the salamander. A pause, and to bide my time. Considering a lot of what I’ve been struggling with lately are childhood memories, it sounds like my inner whelp needs a break. I don’t blame them.

How my shadow self is impacting my life: Knight of Swords, depicting the magpie. Impulsiveness, aggression, and overenthusiasm. Consequences, schmonsequences, he has things to do. He goes for what he wants, and everything else be damned. His intentions are pure, but he’s kind of a dick about them. That’s… Yeah, that sounds about right.

This magpie’s probably choosing a new victim to swoop on.

A way that I can begin to accept my shadow aspect: Five of Swords, depicting the peacock. Defeat, and suffering from egotism. There’s an interesting pathology that impacts people in relationships with others who show signs of narcissistic personality disorder, no matter whether those relationships are romantic or familial. Laconically, it’s usually called “fleas.” They’re behaviors that seem to “jump” from a narcissist to a victim, and, if they aren’t resolved, from that victim to their victims. Essentially, they’re protective mechanisms — tiny things you do to protect yourself from narcissistic rage and other forms of abuse at the hands of someone with a fragile, wounded ego.

I can see a flea here. My shadow self impacts my life by making me impulsive and aggressive. I jump from one thing to the next if I’m not immediately good at it, because my upbringing showed me that failure meant mockery and pain. Aggression was rewarded, while softer feelings were mocked and rooted out.

How to better process my emotions: Ace of Cups, depicting an overflowing vessel. Interestingly, this card stands for optimism and new opportunities. It also shows a cup overflowing, and the suit of Cups specifically relates to the emotional self. This cup runneth over, sharing its bounty. The advice here is to process feelings by sharing them.

Something I need to be more aware of: Ten of Swords, depicting the vulture. Oof. Vulture and I go way back, and he usually seems to show up when some kind of purging needs to or is about to happen. (Did you know that vultures sometimes eat so much that they can’t fly, and need to vomit before taking off? Fascinating! Also super gross!) The Ten of Swords is despair and ruin. It’s the end of a cycle, and the ending ain’t a happy one. In this context, it means to let go and be reborn. This cycle is over, and it sucked, so get ready to start a better one.

They also poop on their own legs to cool off.

How to stay more connected with my higher self: The Queen of Wands, depicting the cobra. I love the Queen of Wands. She stands for generosity, creativity, and drama. She has power and self-possession, she’s courageous and hot-tempered. She’s beauty, she’s grace, she can probably wreck your face. The lesson is to temper that power with kindness, and invest energy into creative work.

The pandemic has done everyone’s nerves up wretched, and I think the shadow self has a lot to do with that. It’s not easy to have a lot of time on your hands if you don’t enjoy your own company, and it’s also not a simple problem to solve. This tarot spread doesn’t offer a quick fix, but it does answer some important questions.