Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Card Du Jour- 9 of Swords

Continuing the study of 'negative' cards, today's offering comes from the Dark Grimoire Tarot, a pretty grim one published by Lo Scarabeo. Unlike many of their other decks, this one has seemingly little optimism, and is loosely based on the Lovecraftian mythos, as perhaps indicated by this card's illustration. It looks a good deal like one of the final scenes in H. P. Lovecraft's The Shadow Over Innsmouth. The narrator discovers a town full of worshippers of the sea-god Dagon, and that the residents of this town have interbred with the sons and daughters of this peculiar immortal fish-god, resulting in a curious kind of cross-breed, such as we see here. The narrator is alternately thrilled and frightened at the prospect of his new-found ancestry, as he too is of Innsmouth stock, and notices that indeed, he begins to closely resemble the more advanced cases of the "Innsmouth look", after he discovers his own ancestry tied to that of the town.
So what does this have to do with the card? The card itself is of the suit of Swords, which is tied to thoughts, communication and ideas. The mental realm, one could say. It indicates here being caught up in one's own mind, rumination, perhaps even to the point of obsession. The progression through the number cards (Ace through 10) can be seen as a developing story when the cards are taken one after the other; they tell a story. Here is the chapter where our hero finds themselves looking back over all that has transpired, from the birth of a new idea in the Aces, up through trouble, reconciliation, hard work and even disappointment of an idea unfulfilled. The 9 tells of introspection and self-examination, and perhaps disappointment when that self-examination leaves us wanting more. So where do we go from there? The correspondence to the Major Arcana puts this card under the Hermit, a solitary figure who represents also introspection, and a time of self-examination. Though it may be difficult to examine our own lives, and face things that may damage our ego, sometimes this is necessary. A great deal of mental energy is taken in many cases to preserve our ego, our sense of self, and the positive things we tell ourselves about it. Having that ego damaged by an insult or event can be hurtful, and that's perfectly understandable- no one likes having their feelings hurt. But the focus here is somewhat different. When this card comes up, ask yourself, what am I ruminating about? What am I afraid of? Actually, writers like the venerated Lovecraft rely on a principle that can make even a few simple words very frightening, and that is the power of imagination. We fear the unknown, simply put. Any horror a writer or film maker can show us is simply not as scary as that which they can imply, setting our imaginations to fill in the details. When I was a kid I heard a story that gave me nightmares for weeks after. An expedition to the Arctic was lost. They simply vanished, never to be heard from again. A while later, a second expedition was put together, to go find out what happened to the first. The second expedition arrived on the scene, and found the camp set up, everything in order, and not a single person to be found. One of the tents had a bulge in one side, like something was pressed up against it. One of the expedition's members went to the tent, opened the flap, and looked inside. And then went mad, running screaming off into the Arctic expanse. The remaining members set up camp, and the story ends with the narrator writing in his journal at night, hearing the sound of something moving around outside. He opens the door to look out...
What did he see? I don't know, but the monsters summoned by my young imagination terrified me more than anything that could have been written in that story. The same principle applies in this case- what we imagine could happen is never as bad as what actually does. So this card tells us, don't go jumping at phantoms- we have chosen our course, and if there's danger, either real or imagined, or hardships or trouble, we should do our level best to face them, not run and hide. If our ego gets stung in the process, so be it. The message of these negative cards is not that things are going to hell in the proverbial handbasket- usually we don't need a reading to tell us that. Rather, it's what we can do to change the course of that handbasket, perhaps to cooler climes. The message here is don't be afraid. There are very few things in life we can't recover from, very few things that will destroy us so completely that we have no chance of renewal. Similar in this way to the Tower, the focus here however is on our own perception- remember, this is the suit of Swords, our intellectual, thinking, imagining and reasoning aspects. It's imagination run wild, and the fear that it brings. It calls for letting go of those counter-productive thoughts, and replacing them with something a little more useful, like a realistic appraisal of the situation.
A final comment on the card that may help, the last sentence of The Shadow Over Innsmouth ends on a more positive note, foretelling the promises Dagon makes to his followers, either willing, or in the case of our narrator, inadvertent- "We shall swim out to that brooding reef in the sea and dive down through black abysses to Cyclopean and many-columned Y'ha-nthlei, and in that lair of the Deep Ones we shall dwell amidst wonder and glory forever." Not too bad, although from a human perspective, pretty frightening, and a major change to the life we would have known. But in the end, it's all what we make of it, much like so many things in our lives.

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