May tarot reading
walking with The Devil and The Nine of Wands
I’ve developed a shorthand language for the tarot cards that come up most often for me and my clients. No tarot hoarder over here, I use the same deck for years before I feel the urge to move on to new images and their fractal meanings. For those of you who’ve been readingsince its birth in the fall of 2021, you’re well-used to Irene Mudd’s Guided Hand Tarot, the deck from which I’ve been flipping all these years.
No deck is perfect, my teacher Austin Coppock likes to say. Each contains flawed meanings, cartomantic visions that don’t mesh with the reality invoked by the draw. But get to know one deck over a long enough period of time, the flaws become instrumental—necessary—in the power of divination to reflect that murky place when cause and effect don’t match up. When human expectation is undercut by the chaos of the real.
This means that when you draw a tense-looking lady in a pinafore bib for the Nine of Wands, your shorthand can jump in, overriding the static anxiety of the image, to say, “Ready, aim, fire, bitches!” If Mudd’s Nine of Wands were a movie, it would show the woman rushing in the direction of her suspicious gaze, springing to action, full of tensile power. This means that when you draw a red-eyed goat as The Devil, you can step lightly over the first iconographic allusion to Black Phillip and evil run amock in Robert Eggers’ The Witch and instead follow your shorthand path to someplace more complicated, more fruitful.
“Where hypocrisy and creativity meet,” I reminded myself when I drew The Devil a few a weeks ago, a phrase that helps me dive into the deep end of big questions like: What am I willing to sacrifice for my creative ambition? Where am I lying to myself in order to feel more (or less) powerful? When is mess and chaos generative for me? When do disorder and old habits hold me back from achievement?
The Nine of Wands, as T. Susan Chang likes to say, is the archer’s bow, pulled back, thrumming with power, ready to surge forth into something new. Associated with the Moon in Sagittarius, the Nine of Wands in our birth charts uses the resources we’ve garnered through our bargains with the Devil, which cartomantically rules the Capricorn area of our horoscopes. The Nine shows us where and how we can set those bargains into motion—either as protective forces, the way a job with institutional backing can provide a degree of active safety, or as an impetus for seeking new horizons, the way a commitment to one’s own creative promise can provide the energy to keep hustling through exhaustion, debt, worry. Usually, in the Nine of Wands area of our lives, we find a degree of both—protection and vulnerability, individual goals and the contracts we’ve made to stand by our communities or families, principles or values.
This Sagittarian Nine shares that sense of ambivalence, that sense of “both/and” with its Capricorn counterpart in the Major Arcana. In her exploration of the shifting images associated with The Devil throughout Western art, Laetitia Barbier notes the transformation of the figure from “an ignoble monster” in the fifthteenth century “to a romantic antihero” by the beginning of the nineteenth. It’s a shift that is marked, undeniably, by Milton’s Paradise Lost where “Lucifer, etymologically ‘the light bringer’ supplants Satan ‘the adversary.’” Although Mudd’s deck only depicts one side of this equation—the evil-eyed goat, the fearful woman—in real life, both her Devil and her Nine of Wands evoke the questions implied by the cultural shift in our views of the Devil: Who is the monster, and who is the hero? What do we do if and when they are one and the same?
May begins in purgatory, with the last South Node eclipse in Scorpio closing out a 2.5-year cycle of loss in the Scorpio area of your chart. It ends hard on the “romantic antihero” note as Mercury emerges from the underworld in Taurus beside a newly bright Jupiter, morning-slung and finally out from under the beams of the sun. These are the two poles of a month that urges us to find the compromise between monster and hero, the ambivalent ground upon which we can—and are forced to—act. Or in the words of Barbier, its a month that asks us to walk the “path to authentic self in the exact place where light and shadow intersect.”
More practically—for shorthand—The Devil asks you to think about your obligations as someone who lives in the material world. Whether we resent our commitments or feel shame about them—I’ve always found it useful to think about addiction as a material obligation that instigates feelings of shame—or whether we feel inspired by and happy for them, The Devil turns up to reveal the promises we’ve made as real people living in the real world.
“The Devil shows what you have to do, because that’s what you have to do,” Coppock likes to say. The Nine of Wands wants you to use your strength, your powers of discernment, to take action or aim in the next house over, in your chart’s Sagittarius arena. Sometimes that state of Sagittarian readiness can be used as fuel—as a resource—for the balancing act of obligation and desire required by the Capricorn house. Other times, it’s the reverse: The material commitments we find ourselves tied to are what help us to take aim at new goals.
Taurus Rising: The Devil trines your ascendant, meaning that there’s real help on offer when you can do away with the binary of monster/hero and instead clarify how both sides of this cultural coin teach you something important about your experience of people you consider “other” or “foreign.” You’re scared of accepting help from others, I know, but there’s a contract, grant, or offer up for grabs this month. Take it—it will help you understand your own rules about hypocrisy and creativity. Read Cherríe Moraga’s Loving In the War Years, where she writes, “But it is not really difference the oppressor fears so much as similarity. He fears he will discover in himself the same aches, the same longings as those of the people he has shit on. He fears the immobilization threatened by his own incipient guilt. He fears he will have to change his life once he has seen himself in the bodies of the people he has called different.”
Gemini Rising: The Devil rules the shadows of your Eighth House—the resources, money, help, and debt you take on from and for other people. This is a good month to sift through your complicated feelings about what you get from those other people, as well as the circumstances that bring other people’s projections to your doorstep. On offer is a broader reach and opportunity through one-on-one partnerships, your intimate relationships, even the individuals you secretly define as nemeses. Partnership is an important theme for you this year; it keeps coming up in your readings. Read Jeanette Winterson’s Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery. “To say exactly what one means, even to one’s own private satisfaction is difficult. To say exactly what one means and to involve another person is harder still,” Winterson writes. “Communication between you and me relies on assumptions, associations, commanilites, and a kind of agreed shorthand, which no-one could precisely define but which everyone would admit exists.”
Cancer Rising: The Devil ruling your Seventh House makes you intimately acquainted the realities behind the “old ball and chain” cliché that describes marriage or serious longterm partnership. With Saturn ruling this important, angular house of the intimate other, you know the joys that arise through honoring your commitments to a beloved, no matter the season of love or loss. The Nine of Wands in your Sixth House of work and health issues reminds you of the support that you receive when things break down just by virtue of establishing a pattern of keeping your promises to those you love. When shit breaks down or gets annoying this month, turn to your romantic or business partners for help; they’ll likely have the inspiration you need to push through to the other side of any burnout fatigue. Read Constance Debré’s Love Me Tender: “There’s a certain joy that comes from doing things you didn’t think yourself capable of.”
Leo Rising: What promises need to be kept with regards to your daily work and health lives this month, and what commitments need to be renegotiated so you can get some time to catch your breath? Your ability to be creative—with writing, with children, with moments of leisure and pleasure—depends on this careful renegotiation throughout the middle weeks of May. Slip into the fantastical world of ghosts and occult finance bros in Leigh Bardugo’s hilarious and poignant Ninth House: “That was what magic did. It revealed the heart of who you’d been before life took away your belief in the possible. It gave back the world all lonely children longed for.”
Virgo Rising: Look, problems with home, with family, with the baggage you carry from childhood cut deep and rise to the surface this month. Probably you wish you could cut and run away from the ghosts, the traumas big and small. Guess what? The Nine of Wands in your Fourth House means that you can. You don’t have to keep guarding yourself from the failures of your family of origin; you have an innate ability to sublimate those failures into art and pleasure—books, music, wine with friends. This is your contract with The Devil in the Fifth House: the more you devote yourself to pursuing ease while reducing harm in your present life, the more flimsy the grips of the hardhearted, boundaryless past. Read Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water: “There is a linear and accessible story to follow. You don’t have to do anything. Or be.
But then there was another woman on the other side of the glass.”
Libra Rising: It will be easy to feel battered and wounded this month as a result from slip-ups and mishaps in daily routines, communications, and sibling interactions. It will also be easy to transform these disruptions into doorways. New beginnings that round out your desire for a reinvigorated home and family life. The Devil ruling your Fourth House asks you to shake off any old or unnecessary feelings of shame around your roles at home. There’s an opportunity to commit yourself to building out a new base for your life, and that chance paradoxically comes through the wisdom of daily foible. Read The Triggering Town by Richard Hugo, where he spends a lot of time on the distinction between the familiar and the unfamiliar of home: “Your hometown often provides so many knowns that the imagination cannot free itself to seek the unknowns.”
Scorpio Rising: What deals did you make with the Devil about community and daily life? Which of these feel productive—networking that allows you to build out opportunities for your career and monetary resources, for example? Which of these induce shame spirals—you find yourself returning over and over again to the bar experience that starts out fun but later does your head in, putting holes in your wallet as well as your capacity to be a human the next day? May asks you to begin a renegotiation process in the areas of your life that include experiences of pleasure and fun with community and friends alongside a searching look at your relationship to your money, your resources, your sense of self-worth. What needs to go? What should stay? Read Cathy Park Hong’s poetry collection Translating Mo’um: “I felt oddly collaged: elbow to nose, shin to eye,/neck to breast,brow to toe/When I flirted, marbles slithered out of my mouth like amphibious eggs.”
Sagittarius Rising: You’re better-acquainted with that Nine of Wands tension than most—this embattled figure lives in your body, in your first house where body and soul meet. This month asks you to honor financial commitments so that you can relieve the tension of waiting through movement—it’s time to get going on the thing you’ve promised yourself you would start, over and over again throughout the past nearly three years, but never actually did. Stop doubting yourself—The Devil likes being in the Second House; you are perfectly capable of rustling up the funds, resources, and self-worth that you need to start your next big thing. Just because hustle culture sucks and complicates your sense of involvement with your own creative pursuits doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Death comes quick than we realize; aim true for your one and precious life, just to be a little too precious about it! Read Emily Ogden’s On Not Knowing: How To Love and Other Essays: ““If there is a kind of unknowing that could serve now, it is not the defensiveness of willful ignorance but the defenselessness of not knowing yet. […] I’m talking about living with the dimness that I will mostly inhabit.”
Capricorn Rising: With The Devil ruling your First House, you’re good at using your body to find footholds in the midst of chaotic life. May calls on you to consider the chains you’ve willingly thrown around your neck, binding you to the responsibility that comes with however you finish out statements like, “I am …” “I want …” “I like …” Which of these commitments could you wear a bit tighter, with an eye toward upholding the responsibilities that nourish your sense of being a desiring self? Which chains need to be broken? With the Nine of Wands in your Twelfth House, you struggle sometimes with solitude, dreams, and fantasies. But the more you choose to chase down the right metaphysical goal, the more solid and fruitful your embodiment. Read Vine Deloria’s For This Land: Writings on Religion in America: “Missionaries looked at the feats of the medicine men and proclaimed them to be works of the devil. They overlooked the fact that the medicine men were able to do marvelous things. Above all, they overlooked the fact that what the Indian medicine men did worked.”
Aquarius Rising: You love a Sagittarius, and, ruling your Eleventh House of friends, hopes, and dreams, a Sagittarius loves you. Why so closed off, then? May asks to you take initiative with your close friends—start the writing group you’ve always wanted to be a part of, host a podcast both for the fun of it and to flex your mind in conversation with people you admire. The Nine of Wands in your Eleventh House is better equipped to act rather than to cower or self-flagellate when you bring those fuzzy dreams of yours into material reality. If you make the time and space, the people—and pleasure—will come. Read Dorothy Allison’s Two or Three Things I Know for Sure: “I was standing by myself in the rubble of my life, at the bottom of every story I had ever needed to know … I can tell you anything. All you have to believe is the truth.”
Pisces Rising: Always a little guarded about how to be in public, you’re used to the back-and-forth between being inspired about new career directions and just trying to hang on to the coattails of a job that kind of pisses you off. May asks you to recalibrate these poles of vocational experience by networking with the Devil in your Eleventh House. What new skills have you learned, and how you can you make people care about them—offer you money for them? Build out IRL structures of friends who can get you in front of the right people for the right next steps in terms of career. Reciprocal offers and requests work well for you this month; consider yourself in barter mode. Read Lauren Berlant’s On the Inconvenience of Other People: “This means that inconvenience, though intimate, inevitably operates at a level of abstraction, too, where we encounter each other as kinds of thing—but not necessarily in a bad way, because there is no other way to begin knowing each other, or anything.”
Aries Rising: There is something about the Ninth House—higher education, academia, spirituality—that is slamming itself in front of you again and again this year. It keeps coming up in your readings, asking you to reconfigure or address a longstanding issue in the way you map-make human reality. Do you need to leave an adjunct position as a lecturer? Do you need to re-enroll school? Do you need to dive into your occult and astrological practices more seriously, after years of flirting the edges? The bargains you’ve made in the Tenth House of career are beginning to come undone. You need the fire of new experience—new journeys, whether physical or mental—to help set you on a new vocational path. Get woo and read James Hilman’s The Soul Code: “What does the soul not want to attend to, and what might the daimon be doing when it is not reading, not speaking, not fulfilling performance expectations? To discover this takes patience, and that imaginative perception that Henry James described as ‘a prolonged hovering over the case exposed.’”