On the Nine of Swords and exposure
A decanic introduction to Gemini II and some thoughts on illness and identity
A free essay this week for everyone to offer you a glimpse into how the collaborative decan walk is going over on our Discord server. I’ve also posted a recording of the Nine of Swords intro there, along with additional thoughts about what’s up for us for the next week and a half of Gemini II:
It hardly seems necessary, sometimes, in readings with friends, clients, whoever, to extemporize on the Nine of Swords. Most have a ready reaction to the card—one of visceral recognition: “Shit, this was me last night,” they’ll say. Or: “This is my brain every time I try to grocery shop at the end of the day; it’s why I’m spending too much time and money and guilt on getting things delivered every week.” Or just: “This is how it feels to be me, most of the time.”
If that middle example seemed exceedingly specific it’s only because it’s become exceedingly true, appearing often in my readings, yes, but in general conversation too, as the dregs of pandemic life have turned the anxiety dial way up on making choices in the midst of aisles and other people about how, where, and with what, to nourish oneself.
I’m also going long with this specific example about grocery store, farmer’s market, whatever, avoidance, because to my mind it also highlights a particular aspect of the Nine of Swords world. However much past interpretations have highlighted the lack of reason or darkened nightmare in Pamela Colman Smith’s clutch-headed woman, I’ve often found this card’s, and decan’s, terror to have its origin in the opposite—reason taken to the extreme, choice weaponized against the individual who so chooses.
In our grocery-shopping example, that skewering rationality looks and sounds something like this: I’m tired, anxious of, or otherwise dreading the effort it will take for me to choose my route to the grocery, and figure out the bags I need to bring, much less the food I’ll need to buy for my meals. Meal planning triggers its own existential dread—(here people talk of eating disorders, or post-work fatigue, or hating to cook meals for one, or the despair of trying to put food on the table that their children will actually eat, any number of things)—and so creates another barrier to going and doing the thing. Add to this the rising costs of inflation, the press of unmasked bodies too close and too angry, always, the thought of unpacking and sorting out the funk that’s gone bad in the fridge from last week’s run—and it’s easy to see delivery, picking and choosing items on a screen, as the solid choice, the rational option. But it’s also this exact choice that has you weirdly up in the night, fretting over the lackluster tip you left for the Instacart driver, the lackluster veggies that you might have chosen to forgo if you’d been there yourself, the lackluster feeling that the isolation and loneliness you’ve complained about for years now is not just a world problem but also a you problem.
Suddenly, choosing to avoid the press and crush of being a body picking out food becomes an untethered, spun-out symbol for just how bad you are at being a body, and a person, shamefully alive, and caught up in systems of inequity and illness and insecurity, and what can you possibly do, because it’s 9 p.m. and you haven’t fixed dinner, and you might order that now, too, oh fucking no, and oh well, too.
In this way, Gemini II isn’t about irrationality bred from demonic, middle-of-the-night nowhere. Ruled by Mars, it’s more about the severance from the emotional self—and the sensing body—that paradoxically creates an intensity of feeling and a renunciation of action that, in turn, stems from logic burrowed down to its isolating bone.
It’s a fitting card for this year’s decan, which features Mercury stationing direct on the fixed star Algol, in square to Saturn. We talked about Algol, Medusa’s beheading, and power that seeks to protect and retroactively honor a few weeks ago with Taurus III. For the second decan of Gemini, it’s useful to think of this astrological signature—active this week and through much of the beginning of the next—as an opportunity to review what’s keeping you up at night and what exacting or unhinged logic has led you to this place.
I spend a lot of time in this newsletter coming at mental illness (at illness, in general) slant. This is mostly because I’ve found that the language of tarot, astrology, and myth has offered me more generous understandings of my own psychopathologies than the diagnoses themselves. Far from doing away from the framework of contemporary psychology, I’ve discovered that my esoteric and occult practices have added a largess and a richness—sometimes contradictory, but always necessary—to the way I conceive of illness in myself, my beloveds, our world. What does it mean to call my nightly inability to sleep and terrorful dreams insomnia and PTSD, for example, and what does it mean to call them the Nine of Swords and Chiron in Gemini in the Seventh? The former gives me a language with which to engage in therapy and seek medication. The second gives me a language with which to tell stories, envision archetypes, enter productively into contact with myth and chaos. I’ll take both, but I’ve learned to lean more on the latter, where illness is less identity, more story; less logic, more landscape.
Associated with The Tower and The Lovers, if the Nine of Swords offers comfort it is the comfort of exposure: By identifying the seed of faulty logic, by exposing the limits of anxious rationalism, we can begin to choose anew.
Astrologically, we might think about how Mars rules Scorpio and Aries, but each have decidedly different relationships to Gemini. Scorpio comes into contact with Gemini through the inconjunction, an aspect of unseeing, misunderstanding, illness. Scorpio’s intense depths can hardly help with Gemini’s need to process, engage, do. Meanwhile Aries helpfully sextiles Gemini by sign, meaning that the two zodiacal constellations harmonize by polarity and so can assist each other in their various aims. Both active “yang” signs, Gemini’s scattered thoughts are aided by the martiality of Aries, which seeks to act in a way that is true to one’s self, one’s beliefs, and one’s values. Likewise, the intellect of Gemini helps the “doing things” nature of Aries conduct a sharp and inquisitive appraisal of what right action, and right relationship, for a given individual actually means.
Lucky for us, then, that Mars is currently strong and trekking through Aries as we speak, along with Jupiter, offering us courage and luck as we expose ourselves to different choices, new actions. This kind of “magical thinking” was exactly the kind that led me away from relying on my illnesses as excuses for avoidance, while also giving me room to embrace the struggle that they entailed. For the Nine of Swords, then, I’d like to leave you with a quote this beloved essay by the poet Hala Alyan on fear, exposure, and turning toward the dark.
Anxiety, or worry, is the mental equivalent of busywork: unnecessary, but superficially productive. In reality, worrying clouds higher-order thinking and etches itself onto our bodies. The more time we spend envisioning a catastrophic future, the more we convince our systems that it actually happened. I see this in my life. It’s like a taste for blood that I’ve never kicked. When I have nothing to worry about, I feel aimless, like being adrift at sea. What I seem to be attached to—as much as the actual worrying—is the sweet, sweet relief when something feared doesn’t come true. This is the true danger: in the end, most of what we worry about never happens; if you’re not careful, your mind can file this away—that delicious feeling of having narrowly escaped some terrible fate—as some perverse evidence of worry’s worth.
This is an example of the decanic introductions we’ve been doing as we move through the 2022-2023 year using the astrological decans and their associated Minor Arcana tarot cards as guides to the quality of time. If you’d like to join our decan walk, send me a message! We also have collaborative playlists, conversation to support each other throughout each week, and weird esoteric, artistic, and other random musings to assist in the journey together.
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