Destroy the Ring, Frodo!

Ay, caramba. I’ve been away for a while.

The next few weeks are going to be ridiculously busy for me, so forgive me if I don’t get to the blog updates as often as I’d like. I promise, I’m not dead. I just don’t always get around to the writing of the posts. They’re rather energy-intensive to put out (or at least to produce at a level of quality I’m satisfied with), and sometimes it just doesn’t happen.

That said, as I stand in Minas Morgul looking down upon the sweeping plains of Mordor before me, Tarot is nearly always on my mind. And in particular, as is often the case when faced with burdensome periods like this one, I’ve been thinking about the Seven and Nine of Wands.

I don’t own the copyright to this image. If you’re the copyright owner and want me to take it down, please just let me know.

These two cards are very similar in meaning, to the point that I often have difficulty explaining the nuances that distinguish them. I think I may have touched on this in a previous post–it’s one of those inherent tensions in Tarot that perpetually capture my interest*–but I keep coming back to it.

The Seven of Wands is about perseverance. It’s about finding the inner strength to keep going even against rising odds, to keep one’s eyes on the horizon and to remember that the end prize is worth whatever suffering we might need to go through before we get there. If we’re working within the Tolkienian framework which I (in my sleep-deprived state) seem to have forced down upon this blog post, the Seven of Wands is the Fellowship setting out from Rivendell, nine hopeful souls who know they are faced with a near-impossible task but who have the courage to do what needs to be done. That, to me, is the Seven of Wands.

And the Nine of Wands is different. I have difficulty putting my finger on it, exactly. I have trouble expressing what it is about the Nine of Wands that sets it apart from its companion the Eight. This card feels older, somehow. More mature. And I suppose that makes sense, because we’re numerologically closer to the maturity of the Ten. But it’s also more than that. And this morning, as I woke up and started running through the laundry list of all the things I need to accomplish over the course of the next 72 hours, I finally found a way to express it.

The Nine of Wands lacks hope.

The Seven is an “eyes on the prize” card. It’s about staying strong in the face of conflict because you know you can make it through the hardship and come out better on the other side. But the Nine of Wands doesn’t have that aspect to it. When we draw the Nine of Wands, we don’t talk about the future. We don’t talk about long-term rewards. We talk about surviving the problems of the present, because they’re so enormous and so extreme that we have no mental energy left over to concern ourselves with the future.

In other words, whereas the Seven of Wands is a card that says, “Deal with your problems; it’s worth it, I promise,” the Nine of Wands doesn’t bother with the reassurance. It tells us, “Deal with your problems,” and leaves it at that.

Perhaps I’m not expressing myself well enough, here. I’m really not sure. What I’m trying to angle at here is the idea that when the Nine of Wands shows up, we don’t have time for reassurances. We don’t have time to think about how everything will be easier at some point down the line, because our burdens are so heavy, and so present, that we can’t even begin to deal with anything else. The Nine of Wands narrows the scope of our vision, takes us from the forward-looking optimism of the Seven down to a get-shit-done-because-I-have-no-other-choice headspace.

And at first, this might sound nihilistic. After all, who the hell wants a Tarot card that doesn’t promise hope?** But here’s the beautiful, absurd thing about the Nine of Wands: It doesn’t give us time for hope, but neither does it allow despair. With the Nine of Wands, we don’t have time to be nihilistic, any more than we have time to be optimists. There are things that need doing, and all we can allow ourselves to focus on is how to get them done. Hopes, fears, plans, worries, and the like all fall away, and all that’s left is the task at hand.

If the Seven of Wands is the Fellowship of the Ring setting out in the face of Sauron’s rising power, the Nine of Wands is that moment when, at the foot of Mount Doom, Frodo collapses. When he simply can’t go any further. And when that happens, Samwise Gamgee doesn’t have time to hope that things will turn out okay. He doesn’t have time to break down and cry and bemoan the impending apocalypse. Instead, all that’s left for him is to do what needs to be done.

So he picks Frodo up and keeps on going.

Nor do I own the copyright to this image. Today is a bad day for copyright. Still, if you are the image owner and you want this taken down, please tell me, and I will do so.

Sam Gamgee, carrying his master up Mount Doom because there is simply nothing else for him to do, ought to replace the current image of the Nine of Wands in the RWS pack. Because no other image captures so perfectly what that card means to me, and how I feel about the tasks before me right now.

So pick up your hobbitses and set in for a long journey. I’ll try to keep up with the blog regularly, but if I don’t quite manage it, please do forgive me, and know I’ll get to it soon. In the meantime, I have Dark Lords to destroy and Shires to garden.


*The role of the Hierophant being another one. I really love the Hierophant, even though I know he’s rather ill-perceived in much of the Tarot community. Expect more Hierophant posts to come.

**The obsession with being uplifting even in the darkest of times is another thing about Tarot that always fascinates and puzzles me.

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