An ex-partner of mine had an arresting philosophy of household repair jobs. He articulated it thus: “You can fix anything one of two ways–cut it, or duct tape it.” This did not make for a happy domestic life. I lived in fear that he’d chop a couple inches off some antique table to make it fit in the corner (believe me, I wrested the knife from him in the nick of time more than once). And duct tape held our futon sofa together, to my disgusted astonishment, until I found a replacement. But there is a charming clarity to the idea. It’s simple and kind of archetypal. Yin and yang. Vajra and bell. Pocket knife and roll of tape. Even as I deplored its unremitting deployment in our daily life, as a philosophy it appealed to me. An endless dance of joining and separating. It sums up the behavior of starry stuff, of atoms–and everything in between, including us humans.
Recently, it hit me that my beloved Tarot trumps include these very fundamental principles. Death cuts, the Devil binds. Jackknife, duct tape. Are they working in tandem, or are they opposites? I see the repair duo as complementing one another–sometimes cutting’s called for, sometimes you need to tape. Death and the Devil are likewise on the same team–both “bad” cards to show up in a reading. One leaves me with a bloody void, the other with a tar baby I can’t get rid of. I guess not too many people would choose these as repair strategies.
The problem with these universal laws of home repair–and their Tarot counterparts–is that they are, well, a bit heavy handed. The results are not too pretty (like our taped-together sofa). Most people prefer their repairs a bit more finessed. Cutting things and duct taping them are, I admit, effective, if you aren’t worried about aesthetics. I don’t notice Death and the Devil too worried about my aesthetic preferences when they show up, either. Love? Sure–want a guy who’ll cut you off, or would you prefer a stalker? Work? Choose the lay-off or the slave wages. Health? Here I’ll quote an anthropologist (alas, I’ve totally forgotten whom) who said, in summary: Men are constructed for short, violent lives. Women are constructed for long, miserable lives. Great.
I sat down with our repair guys recently and interviewed them. Here’s what they had to say:
What is your relationship with one another?
Chevalier de Coupes, along with the “jumper,” IX Batons, shows me they are working on their relationship (aren’t we all?), and actually that’s going pretty well. With IX Batons they do an awful lot of ever-changing work together. They bring trouble to the world. They pierce the cocoon. In the confrontation between nasty surprise and protected elevation, they offer feeling. Lots of feeling. Cups trail the Chevalier in ever-increasing numbers–it’s a veritable tidal wave of tears they bring. And I can imagine La Mort and Le Diable in their cups together, singing sentimental songs as they reminisce about their past exploits in bursting our bubbles.
How do you function together in my life?
Death is willing to show his hand here. Le Diable–the sneaky devil–hides in the other cards.
Seven hot coins. Lady Luck (the Devil’s cousin) is here–I could strike it rich, or not. A lot of energy could be under my control, or not. I bury seven seeds and look at what sprouts. The foliage looks like a rocket about to take off. Five swords–sickness, the messy kind of endings. Despite the tidy symmetry in the card, there’s a big red sword stuck down the middle: a warning. Between these two is the Judgment card. In the Christian theology that underlies these images, resurrection includes the body, not just the soul. People knew you’d get your (improved) body back on Judgment Day. Those folks look pretty good for having just come out of a tomb.
So the first three cards say energies, possibly uncomfortable ones, are called forth in the body. And of course we have plenty of weird cultural baggage regarding the body and the Devil. Whatever you think of bodies, we have them for just a short while. We’re tied to this plane, loosely or firmly, happily or not–but briefly. The Devil, Mr. Duct Tape himself, sees to it.
Judgment’s a call. Death and the Devil both shake me out of my reverie: Wake up! Judgment mirrors the Ace of Batons–a calling and a small response, a new energy to begin again. And there’s that rocket in the VII Deniers. But the numbers go down from seven to five to one. As if I keep trying to come up for air, to make a fresh start, only to be nipped in the bud at the last by you-know-who: traditionally, “the Nameless One.”
Not much of a touchy-feely answer; no cups in this spread, either. Not sure I’ll be making it off the ole karmic wheel this go-round. But what was I expecting, other than the truth?
How do you “repair” my life?
The Queen–that would be me–is kinda clueless. She ponders her coin, trying to discern its value, not realizing she is focused on the past. Behind her is an invitation of sorts: a relationship developing. It looks like material goals are about to be reached, but are they actually the Queen’s goals, or someone else’s? Look how the bigger flower-cup is upside down, nectar spilling out. Like turning a pair of pants upside down to shake out the loose change. Look at Le Pendu, upside-down, bound and helpless. Look at the V of Swords hanging once again. The last three cards are all hanging. Turn around, Queen. An invitation to surrender awaits.
As the Sufi story goes:
A dervish heard that Death was looking for him in his home city. Afraid, he left at once, riding all night to Samarkand–that is, to a place far away. The next morning, Death paid a visit to the dervish’s master. As the two old friends were chatting, the student’s name came up. Death said, You know, this is really odd. What do you make of it? It looks like I have an appointment with your dervish for tomorrow night–in, of all places, Samarkand!
Cards: Jean Noblet Tarot de Marseille, reconstruction by Jean-Claude Flornoy (note I have used the traditional card names in the spread captions, and the more modern names in my discussion)
Idries Shah’s version of this Sufi story is the first one I came across, years ago. I’ve since seen it retold in other forms.
Blog contents © 2016-17, the author.