Six of Cups and The Fool: On Knowing Yourself

“Oh boy. This feeling again”

My first thoughts encountering The Six of Cups card today.

Something about it just wasn’t sitting with me right. Its a familiar kind of discomfort though. This happened the first time I ever sat with a card, when I first began seriously studying the tarot, not very long ago. I had decided to go through the Major Arcana first. First stop of course, was The Fool.

The Fool made me feel uncomfortable. I hated him. “Ugh, just look at his smug face!!!” I thought. “He looks so sure of himself and carefree and look at him about to walk right off a cliff without a care in the world.”

I think this was all influenced by the fact that in the deck I was learning on (the deck I use primarily for meditations- The Rider Waite), he is depicted as a white man. Some of my first journal loggings were about privilege and how he is so certain he can just move about the world and know no danger.

I wish I had maybe used a different deck, or perhaps just looked online at different depictions of The Fool, and not seen this card in that light. The second time sitting with The Fool, I came to a really crucial realization. Its not the man in the picture who is making me so uncomfortable, its actually an aspect of myself.

Ah, there’s the lesson. Thats the magic of the cards. When we draw, what do we see reflected back to us? Tarot can be like a set of mirrors whose scenes draw us into ourselves, into the deep well of our memory. Triggering a cascade of feelings, both pleasant and unpleasant, we gain crucial insight into the world and our relationship to it- the seen and the unseen.

Maybe my earliest reflection isn’t entirely inaccurate though.

What made me so uncomfortable about The Fool? Its kind of simple actually. Everything he stood for I was so disconnected from. Perhaps violently so. The rift between me and my child-like spirit of deep trust and faith is vast, and painful. I believe this to be true for many more than myself, and I don’t think it happens by coincidence.

To walk through this world we live in- I mean, this present, modern world- with that kind of trust? If you aren’t enormously privileged, I believe that takes a lot of work. Undoing of the cultural script and reframing of our lived experiences.

I can say that, as a queer nonbinary person, sort-of woman, as a poor person, a person living with chronic illness, as a survivor of childhood abuse, sexual violence, and as a survivor of a world that devalues my existence, I can’t say trust is something I come by easily. I have had my trust betrayed in ways that cut so deep, I sometimes wonder how I manage to trust at all (and I do, somehow).

So here is this man, about to walk off the edge of a cliff. He has not much by way of worldly possessions but a bindle he carries over his shoulder. He is singing to the sky, joyously. He doesn’t know where he’s going but he trusts that wherever it is, it will be good.

How can we know that? As women, who can’t even trust that having fun at a party won’t end in disaster for us. As survivors who fear falling in love lest we fall prey to the bait and switch as we have in the past. As poor people who some months don’t know where rent is coming from or how we’ll pay the bills and also feed ourselves and our children after the food stamps have run out. As disabled people who don’t know if the places we go or the people we meet will treat us with respect, or that the literal structures we come across will accommodate us. Or for black folks who walk in the world sometimes uncertain if they will make it home alive.

How can we trust that where we are going is safe, and good, and serves our highest self, in a world like this?

I just don’t know if we can.

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So what about the Six of Cups is rubbing me the wrong way.

The image: two children are playing in a town. One child hands a cup with a flower to a smaller child. The scene is nostalgic, innocent.

But I’m not sure thats what the card is about. The key word is “nostalgia”. The feelings it brings up are ones of fond memories, a wave of emotion (as it is depicted in the Motherpeace deck), longing for simpler days.

Truth be told, when you’re a survivor of childhood abuse, those “simpler days” simply never were that simple. The longing I imagine some must feel with this card are replaced with dread, feeling out of control, scared, and alone. Surely, I have good memories of childhood, and I feel connected to those as well. But that longing cannot be separated from the sense that something is coming, and it won’t be good. Almost as if it is stripped of its innocence and naiveté. Those are things children living in abusive families cannot afford.

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I write all this, and I want to share what I feel is most important about it. About the discomfort, about the remembrance, about the triggers and the trauma, about the fact that these cards are going to mean radically different things for radically different people.

First of all, it doesn’t make those cards bad.

I think sometimes we look at things associated with privilege (like The Fool’s innate trust), and we think it must be a bad thing. People who have financial security feel guilty about it. Some go to the extremes of living and acting as if they are in poverty when in fact they are not, to alleviate that guilt. But financial security is not a bad thing, and no one should feel guilty for having it.

Or maybe some people feel bad that they had happy abuse-free childhoods while other children and adults have had to suffer and relive their traumatic upbringings.

Security and trust are inherently good things. The Fool and his trust is good, the nostalgia for playfulness and innocence is good. And we have to fight for a world where every human being can experience those things. The problem isn’t that some have it, the problem is that some have it while everyone needs it.

As marginalized people, and as survivors of childhood abuse, these cards present an opportunity. Just because I felt uncomfortable with The Fool doesn’t mean I stopped working with him. I came back, and he showed me more, he took me deeper, he helped me imagine what it might be like to dive right in and let yourself go. That is the medicine of the tarot. They are a snapshot, a window into the diversity of human experience. The more you work with them, the more you learn, the more you can come up against your rough edges, the hurt places, and can mend them. You can see things you never saw in yourself before. You can hold those places in compassion, shine a light on them and see them as a part of you in your divine wholeness. So when you come up against those walls in your working with the tarot, listen carefully. The tarot’s message is coming through you, and you might be on the brink of something very important.

I’d like to end on an affirmation:

I allow the tarot to heal me. The tarot shows me the parts of myself that have gone unseen. Through the tarot I see myself, I heal myself, I know myself.

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