The last week of 2016 shows us feeling a bit feisty and constrained. Changes are afoot, and who can resist some good old fashioned end of the year assessments? As the new year approaches we look back and contend with both our accomplishments and mistakes. How far have we come? What direction are we headed in? And is it towards a goal that feels right for us?
This time for reassessment is special and insightful. However, in looking back sometimes we come face to face with something we’d rather not see. Being human, all our progress has its consequences, and it’s impossible to move forward in life and have only positive and nurturing experiences. It’s also impossible to move through life without affecting those around you.
This is also a time of the year that is steeped in tradition. We’ve been celebrating major holidays and gathering with family (or finding them more on our minds if we’re separated for whatever reason.) The Heirophant (“Il Papa” in this Italian deck) at the center of our reading shows the importance of tradition in our lives. He represents the old practices and institutions that have persisted for generations. These can be found in our family, churches, government and any “official” structure.
Sometimes these practices are comforting and make us feel part of a greater community or something bigger than ourselves, and sometimes they are stifling and ill-suited to our modern lives. The end of 2016 sees us wrestling with our belief systems and entrenched outlooks.
Are these practices working for us and do they have a place in our lives? These are deep questions that can stir up a lot of emotions, especially in the aftermath of the holiday season.
The Five of swords is a classic card about conflict. It suggests that we’ve been struggling with tradition as of late. Our upbringing, rituals, religion, or simply ways “we’ve always done things.” This can be a positive struggle. It is dangerous to accept traditions without questioning them, but we must be careful to differentiate healthy questioning with contrarian, teenage-style rebellion.
In fact, the Five of Swords speaks to an empty victory with a rather high cost. We may be firmly convinced we’re in the right, feeling victorious about having argued our stance so passionately, only to look up and see those close to us slinking away. Perhaps we’ve offended someone carelessly, or made no room for others in our polarizing opinions. Now is an important time to look up and see who, if anyone, may have been hurt.
It’s important to recognize the other side of The Heirophant/Il Papa: Community. Our institutions and traditions give us a rich base of support. At their most simple, they are created, sustained, and populated by people. They give us a sense of rootedness and belonging that we must value now more than ever. And, naturally, since they are made up of people, they are imperfect. This week sees us both feeling chafed by parts of our community and longing for a place where we feel welcomed.
As is often the case, sometimes the things we most passionately reject are the aspects of ourselves we are most ashamed of. Maybe they remind us of some squishy part of us we need to hide, or bring up uncomfortable feelings. Anger and conflict are great ways to temporarily mask our discomfort and confusion. Yelling righteously about something gives one a delicious sense of power and certainty, though it doesn’t last long afterwards.
This reading urges us to work through our issues with tradition and resist rejecting them wholeheartedly. The Two of Swords sees us turning inward to really think about our relationship to community. What are we seeking and how can we make it a part of our lives? Can we work with the groups we find ourselves in now or do we need to strike out? Do we simple need to add a new aspect of community to our lives or take up a new group undertaking? This can be as large as exploring a new spiritual practice or as simple as volunteering at a new organization. No matter the shape, it is important to acknowledge and respect both the importance of tradition and official groups in our lives and to question them as we participate.