On January 30, the eve of a New Moon, housed in Aquarius, I read tarot for Best American Poetry’s very own David Lehman. The King of Swords was selected for his signifier card. In tarot, a signifier card anchors the deck around a singular energetic frequency, and the selection of the signifier identifies that frequency as the subject that the tarot is to be read for.
From the King of Swords, we can extrapolate some of David’s personality traits. In his essence, he is Air, the cardinal element governing the suit of Swords. He is an intellectual. Compare: Men of Water have spirituality, the emotive, and the creative. They ask the question, “Who?” Men of Earth are resourceful and pragmatic. They ask, “What?” Men of Fire have their bodies, their passion, and innovation. They want to know, “How?” Now men of Air, like David, are analytical, rational, and learned. They are the ones who ask, “Why?” From French playing card tradition, the King of Swords is said to correspond with the righteous and fair warrior-king, King David of Judeo-Christian mythos.
Hmm. Same name, too.
To start, I borrow from Golden Dawn traditions and cut the deck into four piles, right to left. The four piles correspond with the four Hebrew letters that spell out the Telegrammaton, or the name of God, and represent the key to accessing the collective unconscious, the infinite and the supreme unity, which is understood by the framework of its four corners—the spiritual-theoretical elements Fire, Water, Air, and Earth.
Diagrams from Wen’s forthcoming book Holistic Tarot (North Atlantic Books, 2014).
David’s signifier, the King of Swords, appeared in the Y pile, which indicates matters of work, career, or health and wellness. Y is about our labors and our own two hands. It is governed by Fire energy, such as ambition, passion, leadership, and vitality.
Fire is also the area related to creativity and innovation. Perhaps David has been mulling over another project that he would like to materialize. If so, the cards here affirm that he should go forward at full vigor. It could also be a caution to watch his health. The H-Love pile would tell us to focus on our family and relationships. The V-Community pile is about our contributions to society. The final H-Economy pile is about our net worth, our property and assets, our financial health. At present, it is David himself that he must focus on. Y-Work is about the self. David has given much to the world around him already and now is the time in his life to care after his own body with the devotion he gave to others before.
Now we proceed to the heart of the reading. To limit the length of this posting, I will draw 4 cards only.
The Knight of Wands in David’s past indicates a fiery, impetuous character who has thrived on stirring conflict and challenging others (including himself). The Knight of Wands is a visionary, though has trouble finishing what he starts. There is also immaturity in the Knight of Wands, mostly because when he has thought up an idea, he charges forward to implement that idea, well before he has thought through the consequences. Fortunately for David, that impetuous nature has worked to his advantage in the past and by luck, has been successful. Therefore, perhaps, it is a lesson he never quite learned, and so that same fiery charge continues to this day. That confidence from past successes is the subconscious influence on his present.
The High Priestess explores what is below the surface of his consciousness and indicates a deeply intuitive and perceptive individual. The High Priestess is an intellectual, a mystic, is educated, but also possesses knowledge that cannot be taught. She is a personal metaphor for David’s greater spiritual role as a keeper of knowledge and wisdom, a keeper of the arts. The card, further confirmed by the strength of presence of a Major Arcanum here, speaks to the greater role he serves to his society. It seems also that his work is not finished yet. There is more for him to do and more greatness to come from him. However, the High Priestess is also a guardian of secrets, and so David is advised to keep his ideas secret for now. Do not tell others yet. Wait, David. Wait until that idea has matured some before sharing with others.
The Emperor is manifested in David’s external sphere. It is the card of authority and paternity. It is symbolic of an iron will. To others, David’s world appears to be one under great order, under control. Note that the landscape behind The Emperor in the card shows a stern, severe nature. Yet the Emperor is also about dominance and superiority in work and career realms. Whatever he pursues, he will conquer and succeed. However, what is it that he has conquered? In The Emperor card, the kingdom behind him is parched. The dryness of the imagery represents thirst, a thirst for a different kind of sovereignty than the one he has attained.
I liken the golden orb that The Emperor holds to the story of King Midas, the king who could turn everything he touched into gold, but ultimately died of hunger because when his lips touched food, it would turn to gold and gold cannot nourish. That myth might resonate with David. There is still thirst in him, in spite of all he has accomplished, because to date, he feels he still has not attained what would truly nourish him.
The final card gives us a sense of where David is going. The Three of Pentacles is one of those cards that frequently appears in spreads for artists and writers. Here, it appears in reverse, which hints at a deeply rooted fear of mediocrity. There is a motivation generated by that fear of mediocrity and it is that motivation that seems to be driving David’s current movements forward. The Three of Pentacles in reverse might also be seen as an indication that David’s current approach isn’t the optimal one. There is a better way to accomplish what it is he is striving for at the moment, and he may need to reevaluate his current movements.
The Three of Pentacles in reverse may also hint at difficulties with friends and those in his current social circle. There is a sense of displacement here that may be the theme of his struggle. On the current trajectory he’s intent to be on, the outcome will be that of someone who is outside looking in. There is some connection here between the Three of Pentacles in reverse and The Emperor. The one at the top is the one alone. Being an outlier is lonely business. That is his inner conflict. He fears mediocrity and strives for greatness. Yet greatness does not nourish him. Going forward, there is his struggle: The Emperor versus the Three of Pentacles reversed. His answer, of course, is given right there in the spread, in his unconscious: it is The High Priestess.