Entering September, I knew from my twelve card spread last December that my card of the month would be The Tower reversed. Like last month, with the Eight of Cups, I had expectations about what themes from The Tower would show up this month. From January on, I’ve had my expectations, and from the end of January on, I’ve come to realize the beautiful irony about Tarot: the cards really do have their own messages for us, their own whispers and shouts that we can’t always hear or aren’t ready to hear, words of wisdom that take time to develop, that brew until one day when we realize, “So that’s what the card was saying!” Don’t get me wrong – there are messages from the cards that come to us right away, moments when we and the deck are perfectly in sync, when a card flips over like a wink and a nod, like a friend we’re waiting for walking through the door and locking eyes with us across the room with a smile.
But there are times when the cards are not what we were looking for, their hidden messages floating within them, patiently waiting for us to give them more thought or often, to go out and live our lives with them in the back of our head, allowing the space for them to communicate with us on the daily, to have a conversation with us that takes longer than a simple sit-down one afternoon, staring at the card and sipping our tea. There are cards that we turn over and look at like an unwanted prize we get as a child; we think, really? And there are cards that we have hope for, that we try to control, that we apply our ambitions to; we see them and think we can make them what we want them to be, like a lover we want to mold into impossible, unfair perfection. These are the cards with real messages for us. These are the cards we must live to understand. As Albert Camus said, “You cannot create experience. You must undergo it.” The Tower reversed was a card I thought I had figured out; in fact, I thought I had it doing what I wanted it to do, telling me what I wanted to hear.
I’d read that when The Tower is reversed it can mean that the worst is over. It might suggest that the trauma has passed, and it’s time to move on. If you read my reflections on the Eight of Cups, my card for August, you’ll know how much moving on is on my to-do list, how eager I am to get on with it, like a child in the backseat of the car, wondering out loud Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Suffice it to say, the idea of moving on has been on my radar for a long while, something I’m almost hyperaware of, so much so that I may be missing it as it’s actually happening!
When I saw The Tower reversed, even back in December when I initially pulled the twelve cards for each month, I smiled to myself triumphantly. By September, I imagined, I’ll be long gone from this recovery. By September, I’ll have everything figured out. Yup, that’s what the universe is telling me: September is the month that confirms it, that gives me my diploma with the degree in healing my soul and says, You’re gonna do great things! Go get ‘em! Back in December, I had nine months less understanding of Tarot. Back in December, my understanding of Tarot was closer on the spectrum to the throwaway strip of paper in a fortune cookie than to a real self-development tool. I understood that other people used it in the way of the latter, but I didn’t know yet how to read the cards that way on my own; I simply hadn’t undergone the experience of spending time with the cards every day, interpreting them on a deep and layered and complex level, studying them, understanding them in the context of my life and each other and the world. I hadn’t understood yet that Tarot has as many messages as a library of great novels. I hadn’t understood that Tarot doesn’t give diplomas out; it doesn’t tell you you’re finished. One of the aspects of the Tarot system that I’ve admired from the first time I ever knew anything about it is that the Death card is in the middle of the Major Arcana and not the end.
You can imagine my surprise this month when I wasn’t running out the door of recovery, ready for absolutely anything and accomplishing everything in my path. You can imagine my surprise when I actually started to irrationally crave a relapse last week. You can imagine my surprise when I felt as stagnant as ever, like an impostor still, like a loser, quite frankly. Usually what starts to happen during times of doubt like these is I cast aside the Tarot card of the month in my mind; I pretend it doesn’t exist, because I guess I stop believing in it for the time being. I start to think, cynically, that I am beyond any sort of help the universe can give me, that I am incapable of having that sacred conversation; I imagine myself as a forsaken island, or the person marooned there. Maybe Tarot has messages for everyone else, but not for me. Or maybe I’m reading the cards all wrong. Maybe The Tower reversed has been warning me about getting stuck in the past all along, and I stepped right into it like the victim I am. Who knows! Who cares! Wah wah, life sucks, I’m a big complainer and I need a nap …
When that all ends, as it always does – thankfully – I often come face to face with that beautiful irony I mentioned earlier. Just around the end of the month, I take a look back at the past few weeks, and I can see the magic pieces of becoming, all kinds of crumbling and creating, coming together and building a picture, and this month, that picture is The Tower reversed in a new light: the storm has passed, the tower has fallen but the foundation remains, and the survivor who has been thrown is now taking a while – perhaps a month or so – to figure out what to do next. She isn’t quite ready yet, during these weeks, to get right to building a new castle. She is in a very specific stage, it seems: the aftermath of the aftermath. She has moved on emotionally; she has moved on mentally; she has yet to get moving physically, and that’s okay. She’s figuring it out. There’s still a lot to figure out. But this is not the Two of Swords; the month is not spent with a blindfold on or a basic thinking cap. This survivor is actively making blueprints. She is doing more than she thinks: she is using the tools she has learned to resist relapse right when it matters most, she is using acceptance to understand her stagnancy and remain patient with herself, she is using self-love to tell herself she isn’t an impostor or a loser at all, but a survivor with a long path ahead.
The Tower reversed is winking at me now, as the month comes to an end, as I come to understand again – in that spiraling way that understanding comes again and again in new ways – that Tarot’s lessons are not always obvious and that often the cards need to walk our paths with us a while. When things don’t seem to be adding up, I am learning not to cast the card aside, but to pocket it for a time in the near future when life looks at me like someone holding up a mirror, telling me that what I need to cast aside are my expectations, that all I need to do is look and see, undergo life itself, and the card will become more clear, and the conversation will begin again, because I am listening.