On Wrath

Yeah, yeah, I know I was going to do a love post comparing the Two of Cups with the Lovers. But my heart’s not in it. Plus, I have officially started my Ph.D, and free time for Tarot-related things is on the short side, so a blog post isn’t going to get written unless it’s something I’m genuinely passionate about.

I’ve been thinking a lot today about the notion of calling down justice. A dear friend of mine has recently been viciously and publicly attacked. And, well, I am furious. Anyone might be furious to see someone they love belittled and dehumanized in public, but (being the sort of person that I am) I find that fury is an unfamiliar emotion to me. I don’t know how to process it.

When I was a child, I learned that I must never allow myself to get angry during the course of an argument. Angry people, I was told, stop thinking. They resort to ad hominem attacks because they can’t keep level heads and talk about the issues. And even now, I hear the voice of some spectral fairy godmother in the back of my mind: “Once you’re angry, you have lost your argument, even if you were right to begin with. If they* can make you angry, they’ve won.”

I still believe that. In the depths of my soul, I believe that to get angry in an argument is to lose.** But I’m also realizing that sometimes, we can’t help but be angry. When we or those we love have been genuinely wronged, it’s impossible to avoid anger, even if that anger is an unproductive response.

So I’m sitting with that. I am angry, truly angry, for the first time in several years. And I don’t quite know what to do with it. I’ve decided to turn my attention to the Tarot, and think about some of the cards that represent ways that people can respond to this strange, unpleasant emotion.

My thoughts turn first to the Page of Wands. I’ve written about her in a very different context before. One of the defining features of the Page of Wands in my mind has always been that she lacks impulse control. When she has an emotion, an urge, a thought, she must follow it (if not necessarily to its conclusion). In times of peace, this can lead to her being incredibly creative, passionate, and full of life. In times of war, it makes her rash and unreliable. She’ll get fired up, she’ll lead the infantry charge, but she should never be made a general. She can’t see past the tip of her own nose, and she’s unable to set her own immediate phenomenological experience aside in order to survey her broader surroundings. If she is angry, she must act on it–scream, throw things, maybe knock off a punch or two. And that can be dangerous, not only to the object of her anger, but to herself and everyone around her.

Thinking in another direction, we have the Star, a symbol of hope, renewal, and forgiveness. This card is the New Testament “turn the other cheek” philosophy of submitting to wrongdoing, forgiving one’s oppressors, and trying to meet hatred and violence with love and compassion. This is a laudable way to react to anger. I do not currently have the strength of character for it, so I’ll set it aside for the moment.

966f15d77ca9f74e7c3d6587f7f81e9e-dark-fairytale-dark-angelsIs there a medium? Is there a stance between rashness and meekness? I think there is. I think it lies in the Nine of Wands. That’s the card of having your back against the wall, about being surrounded on all sides, and about having no choice but to fight. Weirdly enough, my favorite depiction of this card is from the Dark Fairytale Tarot (which is one of my least favorite of the decks in my collection). Something about that specific image captures the essence of the Nine of Wands in my mind. It’s a high-tension situation, the sort that would trigger a fight-or-flight reaction, except that flight isn’t an option. There is only the fight.

So we fight on.

I’m going to sit with this anger for a while. I’m not going to do anything about it, at least for now, because I genuinely believe that decisions made in anger are almost always regretted. (At most, I’ll write a couple of passive-aggressive, vague Facebook posts.) Anger is a big, complicated emotion, and one that certainly pervades the Tarot more thoroughly than in the three cards I’ve mentioned here. (Hell, the entire suit of Wands could be understood as examining different responses to anger, because wrath is definitely the domain of elemental Fire.) But these three cards really represent the big spectrum to me, the extreme versions of how one might react to what I’m feeling–and then what I hope is an appropriate medium in between.

I know this has been a shorter post than usual. I also know it’s not up to my usual standards in terms of editing and the inclusion of fun pictures. Mostly, that’s because I’m writing it in haste, both out of a sense of emotional urgency and because I only have 30 minutes between classes and I won’t have much more free time this week. I’ll be back sometime soon, with a more level head and (hopefully) a more polished post. For now, thanks for reading.

Are there other cards that more accurately represent your experience of anger or righteous indignation? This is an unfamiliar emotion to me, so I may have gotten it wrong. If there are cards that you think capture the feeling better, please do let me know what they are. Until next time!

*The “they” here being the phantom of some imagined interlocutor or aggressor.

**Mr. Nancy from American Gods couldn’t have been more wrong when he said “Angry gets shit done”.

2 thoughts on “On Wrath

  1. As one who is astrologically linked to the suit of Wands/Staves, it is perhaps no coincidence that accessing the energy of rage as an emotion comes all too easily to me, so much so that I have spent the best part of my life trying to understand and temper it, because I truly believe, as you do, that in its raw form and especially if allowed to run amok without forethought, it is frequently little more than a dull tool that causes more harm than it fixes.

    I say “frequently” and not “always” as there are possibly applications of anger as a force for change that are not entirely negative: revolutions upon which we now look favourably as historic steps towards democracy and liberty from tyrants have often arisen because of an overflow of rage, because something was the final straw and it got people to rise up instead of simply remaining trapped in the endless discussions of the logician’s cold intellect or wallowing in apathy or self-pity.

    “The Tower” is as much a warning of this rage to all involved, be they the ones who built it or the revolutionaries storming it, depicting the lightning bolt fury of the mob enraged and how change can be affected suddenly through a single destructive but decisive blow. In this sense it is the storming of the Bastille writ large (something which I can’t help but see in the Marseilles deck in particular). It comes with a caveat, of course, because the chaos unleashed can engulf all and rend everything to dust (though some might argue that in the case of certain institutions, once the tyranny of their stranglehold has become too great it is better to wreak annihilation on all than to continue to live in chains). The Sword’s clarity of mind may help in the planning and in guaranteeing a satisfactory future follows rather than simple wanton destruction, but I’d say it is the passion of righteous anger which sparks the powderkeg and gets the ball rolling in the first place.

    This duality of freedom and destruction, of Order through Chaos, is particularly evident to me in The Wildwood Tarot, in Major 16’s “The Blasted Oak”, which connects elements of the traditional “Tower” and also “The Hanged Man”. The violence of the lightning bolt is there, but in doing so sets our hanged man free, either to live or to die by this action. Was he trapped, being hanged? Or was he seeking refuge and struck down? Does that make him a victim, unfortunate casualty, or someone more deserving of punishment who has been struck down? I think there are lots of interpretations of this deliberately ambiguous card, which is a strength in application to readings.

    As for cards that deal with anger/wrath, I do think there are a few even in the traditional decks that can apply. “The Chariot” in its negative aspect, like your reading of “The Page of Wands”, has turned up in past readings I have done as a kind of wild burst of thoughtless action driven by rage that proved to have dire consequences for the people being dragged along for the journey (a runaway rage coach, rather than a runaway stage coach, if you’ll pardon the terrible pun). Even the Swords suit is capable of depicting acts of terrible retribution born of anger as the root and some of its court cards, such as the Queen, when negative seem to embody the “cold, patient fury” that will sit and smoulder as long as it needs to before seeking vengeance for the wounds it feels have been inflicted.

    Those are some of my thoughts, anyway. Apologies for the long-winded comment!

    Liked by 1 person

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