That sunny warm Beltaine deep in the marshes, when I made my first oath to the gods, the spirits, and the ancestors, sticky with witch’s ointment and sweat from hiking–a combination that stirred up potent visions–I prayed to Aenghus with all my might that he may bring someone into my life to whom I might pour the vast depths of my love. I was content with my life, and it wasn’t lonely, so filled as it was with spirits and magic, but I was so full of love and silently so melancholy that I had no one with which to share it.
I should have known that this magic would bring the turbulence and chaos of profound love. At Samhain, the Fire Festival exactly six months from Beltaine, he and I first made love, after experiencing what felt like an infinite period of innocent love. Within a week, I knew that I had never met anyone more deserving of love than he.
“When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.” – Oscar Wilde
That sort of love, that endless well of forgiveness, it is pure and it is demanding and it is the truest form of suffering. I bore the burden without complaint and with all the mercy and compassion in my being–until the well was poisoned.
With candlelight glowing on my bare, soft, and freshly clean skin, my vision soft from several joints and evening weariness and calm, and the scent of the liquor alone enough to intoxicate, I poured my first Anthesteria offering, acknowledging the many clever ways Dionysus had made his presence known in recent weeks, between mushrooms and dreams and his name whispered and praised louder and louder. The King of Swords, who had made these offerings of chocolate and liquor to his delighted nymph Laurel (myself) just a few moments before, watched the candle-glow flicker on my ripe exposed breasts.
“Give to us as we have given to you.” Those words that turn the flow of power in the complex rite or the simplest offering back to the devotee were spoken with my fingers brushing the cards, softly lusting for messages from Dionysus Limnaios and his Dead. I listened and split the deck in two, drawing…
Death. Knealing before the stone altar on the floor, I marveled at the card’s appearance in the omen. It emerges in almost every reading involving my King of Swords; when I held it up for my love to see, he waved knowingly at the noncorporeal beings gathered round my sacred space. This was Dionysus’ offering, welcome in a world I would gladly see change; it seemed a fitting card to draw in the midst of a festival honoring the dead, who know change and rebirth better than any of us.
Stephanie Pui-Mun Law’s beautiful watercolor image for Major Arcana 13 is the phoenix; Barbara Moore writes:
“When the phoenix sees death beckoning, she lifts her voice in a tragic song of pain, of rending, of sorrow … that yet cannot mask the most intense joy, for she knows that as the flames lick at her heart, the heat is quickening the egg in which her successor sleeps. Her deathflame is the lifespark; one is linked inextricably to the other. [...] Deadly nightshade is a highly poisonous plant, symbol of deception, danger, and death. And sumac, in the Victorian language of flowers, says, ‘I shall survive the change.’”
Death clears away the old negativity in our lives and leaves room for new life and growth. Annuals die and often give us life through the food they provide. Perennials die and are reborn from their mulch the next season. Our old cells die and regenerate (and thank goodness for that, I have a horrible cut in my hand that–thanks to my autoimmune disorder–is taking eons to heal but is already beginning to fall away). Death is an inevitability, and even those of us who have looked into its dark treacherous eyes and no longer fear it still cling to life in other ways, tending to our awfulness like a putrid rotting garden, or avoiding decisions and resisting the flow of time and change in the Universe. If we refuse to release our attachments, we lead shallow lives; “baggage” prevents us from deepening our experience of the world, and gives us blinders like driving horses who fear being distracted by reality and forced to sacrifice the behaviors and finally process the memories which will heal us and our connections to all other things. Dionysus Katharsius demands this sort of agonizing and ecstatic release in his worship, and I do not serve him when I cling desperately to sordid fears.
Three of Pentacles. A couple stands under the cold glow of the Moon and stars, which are her own artistic creation, lifted as she is by his strength and desire to see her at her most fulfilled. Together they bring fantasy to reality, molding the world like clay in an expansive interconnected piece of artwork encompassing all of their human relationships. Chameleon teaches them how to patiently adapt and compromise.
The Three of Pentacles weaves nicely with Death’s lesson on fear, specifically the fear of failure. For dreams to come to reality, one must plan ahead, persevere, and seek the help of those with different realms or levels of knowledge, wisdom, and experience than yourself, and apply it. I saw the card as a good omen, one saying that the King of Swords and I need one another; he, however, did not like the idea that the spirits were speaking of him without his consent (he has a rather complex relationship with them, or rather with the idea of having a relationship with them), and so I wondered if the Dead weren’t talking about themselves, and how I must look past my fear and greed and seek help from the otherworld, lay my purest desires bare, and plan on how to make them a reality.
These lessons on change and progress seem fitting, as sometime near this New Snake Moon, when pondering where the King of Swords and I would go from our discovery of the subtle manipulation orchestrated against our relationship by those around us, and our mutual desire to leave together and move forward with our lives while keeping true to our spirits and purposes, I drew…
Knight of Wands. I often envision the Knights as blundering through their four different duties, and perhaps this isn’t wrong, their courage often blinding them to the intricacies of their task, lacking in their youth the wisdom to even the scale. The Knight of Wands in particular is ablaze with the fire of his passion, progress, and power. “His presence invariably spurs rivalry and conflict,” Barbara Moore writes, “perhaps because of his cocky and assured attitude and self-confidence. Sometimes his aggressive nature can be seen as being overconfident, too impetuous.” His lust for adventure often gets him into trouble “as he recklessly rides crashing through the world, leaping from cliffs in heroic bounds towards his destination.”
Yet “there is a purity to his process,” as the King of Swords would say, in following his destiny so closely and with such faith–isn’t that what we all strive for? Don’t we all wish to know our truths and how best to walk them?