Monday, January 25, 2010

The Star

“With Aquarius as its ruling sign, The Star is a card that looks to the future. It does not predict any immediate or powerful change, but it does predict hope and healing. This card suggests clarity of vision, spiritual insight. And, most importantly, that unexpected help will be coming, with water to quench the Querent's thirst, with a guiding light to the future….

“The Star is one of those cards everyone loves. In every deck, it is usually the most beautiful. It suggests the peace and harmony of its meaning. There is nothing negative about this card, but I think there is a trick to it. Whatever hope, healing, or future it offers, the reader must remember that it might not be immediate. This is a soft card, and like Aquarius, its vision is for tomorrow, not today. That's not to say that it offers no concrete benefits; it is a card that predicts unexpected help, but that help is only the first step. The star only reveals the future. It is up to the Querent to find his way to that future.” -- Aeclectic Tarot, Basic Tarot Meanings, The Star

Today would have been Daddy’s 98th birthday, truly 98 years young. He had really been aiming for 100 but missed my step-mom Noni so much that he was done at almost 92. He and Noni were soul mates. They had been so happy together and he was never the same after she died. He missed my mom, too, but more like the matter/anti-matter drive than soul mates. She had died many years earlier and he had been so fortunate, so elated to find Noni, his third wife.

Daddy always expected unexpected help somehow. He believed in people more than they believed in themselves or him. So he didn’t always succeed in business but he always thought things would get better. At least he did until Noni died and then he was pretty sure they would never get better.

In his heart he was the architect, imagining the future as better and drawing a picture to show how it could be done, even if it was just the county jail or the sewer system for a small town. He wanted something to last forever, something that he made or some evidence of his intent. The engineer in him wanted not to worry about the strength of materials ever. The artist in him wanted the flow of lines to be beautiful.

He could be hard. When I brought home all A’s, he complained that they should have been A-pluses. My mother snorted in disgust saying that the only class he made A’s in was Band. They did not always agree on the importance of full disclosure. He was passionately disappointed in his sons’ refusal to follow in his footsteps with their careers and just as strongly disinterested in his daughters when they did. When I finally cornered him about this seeming anomaly, he said, “You wore the wrong kind of pants.” I had to put it in perspective after the initial shock. After all, he criticized Frank Lloyd Wright because, as he put it, his buildings were falling down.

I tried to console my oldest sister who had missed him terribly, growing up with her mother his first wife of three. If he had stayed, he would not have paid attention to her career and interests either. But of course, it was bitter comfort. He had us all focusing on the star, that wonderful thing that might be that was just too far out of reach. Maybe if we were really good enough, he would value us.

My mother’s basic beef with him was the concrete benefits part, the Big Hat, No Cattle aspect of marrying a dreamer. Apparently for one shining moment, she, a lifelong skeptic of just about everything, the original Jaundiced Eye, bought his castle in the clouds line and married him. It was a decision made later in life for which she was blessed by the arrival of my brother and me. For us, she did not regret it. For herself, however, I am fairly sure she did. She used to complain about his optimism and explain patiently that his best friend in high school was the principal and that should tell us something.

Don’t think that all my memories of him were bad! This is the man who told me Goldilocks and the Three Bears every night for three years upon my behest. He fancied himself a kind of naturalist, too. When we went walking in the Florida woods that were truly jungles then, he brought his machete and a handgun to blaze a trail through the wilderness, carving walking sticks with forked ends so we could pin down a snake if we saw one. I never pinned down a snake, but just having a magic wand made by my ferocious little father made me brave. He could identify birds and trees and whistle like a owl hoot through his hands. He would show us footprints in the dirt and tell us what animal had made the track. He liked to cook and made dinner for us. His special salads were a thing of beauty, with wooden bowls and homemade vinaigrette. His pancakes were legendary overshadowed only by my brother’s legendary capacity for eating them in record quantities. He even let me cut his hair once. Just once.

In spite of his prejudices, he was a gentleman, a military officer and a credit to his branch and rank. To his credit, I never knew about his feelings about Jewish people or anyone who wasn’t what he thought of as white or people who weren’t heterosexual or for that matter anyone who wasn’t a male adult until I was well into adulthood. He cried watching JFK’s funeral on TV with us. He paid for Sister Ethelberga’s trip to Ireland to see her mother for the last time. And he never used foul language.

When I graduated from high school, we determined to move from New Mexico to Missouri so that he could further his education in engineering. He and I were working together to pack my mother’s antique shop, neither of us having fun but both of us determined to get through it. A butcher’s block, weighing at least a couple hundred pounds, fell over and landed on his boot, splitting his toe. We had both been helpless to avoid it. All I could do was watch horrified while his eyes grew large and wet. I thought, this is it. He’s finally going to say “bad words.” I was prepared to catch him if he fell over. But he just looked at me and said very slowly, very softly, very distinctly, “That hurt.” Well, he had had his opportunity, his free pass to let fly a string of cusswords with a perfect excuse and passed it up. We taped up the toe and kept going.

He broke his hip when he was 90 and wasn’t expected to live through the surgery. I had to break the news to the surgeon that he didn’t know my Dad. He lived through it, moved in with my husband and me and learned to walk again with a walker. He loved Strauss waltzes. He liked sending emails. We took him to the theatre, to Yosemite, to vote, to dinner, to parties. But he missed Noni who had died 4 years earlier. She was the breath of fresh air that kept his Colonel’s wings flapping after my mother died. When she died, he did not know why he was still alive.

We had arguments that he enjoyed immensely. He doubted there was an afterlife at all but read the Bible often. I was adamant there is and we wrangled and wrestled. The end came quickly for him and he stuck around just long enough to know that I was there and loved him in spite of and because of himself. When he slipped into a coma, his beautiful petite dermatologist stood at his hospital bed and wept. I was pretty sure Daddy had gotten his heart’s desire, to die with family and a beautiful woman weeping over him. In his last moments, the pink spot where his eyebrow had been and had worn off by doubt and time wrinkled as if just a little startled at what he saw under those eyelids at last. I thought of all our arguments about life after death, his conversion to Catholicism at the last minute, and wondered if that bright star he had always looked for was now a shining light with Noni standing by to hug him and my Mom standing by to explain how he might have done it better. He looked just a little surprised in that last moment. I leaned down and whispered, “Told you!”

Happy Birthday, Daddy! You got your star.

Best wishes.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

One Cup with Fish, Please

Does the Ace of Cups always mean a new love interest or relationship?

This question came up recently on one of my favorite sites, Aeclectic Tarot, and its forum It’s a great place for novices and professionals, scholars and seekers, the passionate and the tame to learn so much more about tarot. And it’s a good question. It’s a really good question, maybe better than the person asking it realized at the time.

If you have a deck of tarot cards, you may also have the LWB (little white book) that came with it. You may have purchased books separately talking about the meaning of the cards. Most decks of cards come with some kind of label at least identifying the card as the Ace of Cups or Temperance or whatever. Some decks print the card name in several languages. There are even decks that have interpretations of the card printed on them. These are all aimed at assisting the reader in finding meaning in their reading.

Please note that I used the word assisting. In the same way that a dictionary does not speak for you, those books and labels on the cards don’t provide the reading. You do.

Now before you start throwing your little white or other color books at me, yes, yes, a grounding in the traditional meanings of the cards can be useful. However, no one respects a “reader” who merely quotes definitions from a book. That’s not reading. That’s reciting. In the same way the “magic” of language is not contained in a dictionary, the cards don’t “speak” from these books either. The books provide examples to assist with understanding meaning.

So, the short answer to the question is, No. The Ace of Cups does talk about the essence of love, aces can be beginnings of things, cups can be emotions, intuition, spiritual matters, even the collective unconsciousness. It can also mean water, real water.

A similar question might come up, Is the Ace of Cups always a good card? Hmm, good. Good for whom? Ever have an animal or person adore you that you just can’t stand? Point of view is important too. Context is essential in the human experience.  My own joke about this is that it is no compliment to be chased by a dog. So how could the Ace of Cups possibly be bad?

I was washing my face at the bathroom sink one day and thinking about the Ace of Cups. Oh, that water felt good! Not too hot, not too cold, a real Goldilocks moment! How could the Ace of Cups be bad? And I started to laugh. The image of a bucket of water perched on a door as a practical joke ready to soak the first person through the doorway came to mind. That’s an unwelcome Ace of Cups.

When I divorced my first husband years ago, I was sad that it had not worked out. I knew it was the right thing to do. We were just too different and our bond of trust and love had been too thin and had been broken. My sister sent me a greeting card to cheer me up and it is one of the few I have kept all these years. The message, with a rather discouraged cartoon bird on the front, was, “I have licked the ice cream cone of life and it has fallen on my tennies.” After so much crying, anger and depression, this card struck me so funny that I truly laughed until I cried. Here was my own Ace of Cups which had spilled. And yet, it was so positive, too. It was just the one cup that spilled. Other cups would come. There is more ice cream. Was my Ace of Cups good or bad? Well, both. You just don’t get out of life without dripping a bit of ice cream on your tennies.

A recent reading I did for a woman started out to be fairly ordinary. She was a total stranger to me. She had come for a reading at a fair where I had a booth. I could tell from her cards that she had been through some kind of ordeal. I felt that influence was passing and she was emerging from it. She would be able to go on. Partway through the “Your Path” portion of the reading, I drew the Ace of Cups. I stopped. I stared at it. I felt self-conscious and outside myself all at the same time.

“Usually the point of the Ace of Cups is the cup, but when I look at this card, all I can see is the white dove.” I looked at her. She didn’t move a muscle.

“Is the white dove particularly meaningful to you?” I closed my eyes and pressed on. “You have something you keep with you always, like a stone or a medal or a Holy Card, something that has a white dove. It’s a source of comfort to you when you are in pain. It’s good for you, a good thing, your touchstone. It helps you keep going.”

She stared at me a moment. I realized I was having one of those moments when the reading just falls out of my mouth. Then she spoke.

“My daughter’s name means White Dove. She died four years ago.”

“Paloma,” I said. She and I nodded together. “She loves you. She wants you to know that. She will be with you always.”

What little white or big blue or other book did that come from? None. I knew what the card was supposed to mean according to the books. And I understood, in its context in that reading, what it meant to her. Was the Ace of Cups a good card or a bad card? Probably both for her. Something wonderful had happened to her when she was gifted with her white dove. Something horrible, unthinkable had happened when she was taken away. Maybe something wonderful had happened again. I knew she felt lighter when she left. I could tell by her walk. That was the best part for me. At least I could deliver the message.

One of my favorite cards is the Page of Cups, that wide-eyed messenger listening carefully to the cup he holds. In many decks, there is a fish in the cup and the fish speaks to the page. While I’ll save that for another time, I’ll just say that when it works right, I’m listening to that fish. I’m not reading the book.

Best wishes.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Lighting the Candle of Hope

Haiti. Have you seen the pictures? From palace to shanty there is devastation to property. Worse, so much worse, is loss of life. Thousands, maybe one hundred thousand.  Those who survived have injuries that may never heal. These people did nothing more than live their lives on a tectonic fault zone, one we don't usually think of as being very active.
They probably thought this would never happen.

I live in a fault zone. Actually, most of the world is seismically active in one way or another, just not subject to earthquakes or volcanoes. Until one happens. I don't mean to scare you, but we live on something like ice floes and the currents of the earth carry us around. There isn't actually anyone driving the "ice floe" we live on, so it's subject to running into other "ice floes." OK, substitute the word "plate" for ice floe and that's what tectontic plates are. Yes, it looks and feels like rock.  Heck, it is rock.  And it's floating on the surface of the hotter-than-you-can-imagine gooey part of our earth.  Some plates scrape past each other, sideswiping continents. That's mostly what the San Andreas Fault is with the Pacific Plate scootching vaguely northward.

So all of you who are secretly hoping that California will someday fall into the sea, I hate to break the news but we're just inching northward.  Now, with major storms in the winter, there are definitely some apartment buildings and houses on crumbling cliffs in Pacifica and other places on the coast with a little more ocean view than their occupants really wanted.  When your own home is sliding at a rakish angle down a cliff, that can seem like your own personal Tower card.  Pack your stuff.  Get to safety.  But I'm talking about bigger things here.

If you think of this "bumper car" concept, some plates sideswipe, some actually rip apart and some have head-on collisions that may either wrinkle both into a pile-up of a mountain range (or even wrinkle downwards like the Mariannas Trench) or jam one plate under another one. So if you think that by running something into the ground there are no consequences, think again.

This isn't a sudden process. It happens all the time. It just usually happens so slowly that we don't really realize it. It builds up pressure until it pops.  Until, of course, something terrible happens. Then, it's personal. Toss out the Little Professor and please, call the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders and other truly helpful organizations to help these people. 

As big and powerful as the bumper-car-ice-floe-tectonic plates of the world are as they split and scrape and collide, nothing is as important as the human toll.

So, in times like this, it is important to remember that the next card after The Tower, the unexpected devastation that tears down to the foundation, is The Star. The Star is Hope.

Be the gift of hope for those in need.

Red Cross International Response Fund:


Doctors Without Borders:

Other sources of relief can be found at

And finally, light a candle for those in need, those whose lives have been unutterably marked by this terrible event.

Best wishes.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Free At Last

I miss Alma. She died last Wednesday but she’s been away since the fire in November. Before then, she usually stayed near a bus stop bench on Tennessee Street near my house. She was big woman. All her belongings, including her garden, were in her shopping cart.

Alma was well-spoken, dignified, proud in her way. Without being a busybody or intrusive, she watched the world go past her near the corner of Tennessee and Tuolumne Streets. She was in touch with the world as an observer. She liked to read, too.

I don’t know her whole story, but somehow her fortunes went down a difficult path. She was homeless in the sense that she did not have a house or apartment. This was so unthinkable ten years ago or so when everyone felt buoyant with the dot com bubble. Everyone bought property then. But Alma was still homeless. It seemed crazy. She could go to a shelter at least. After all, it rains in the winter here even if it doesn’t snow. December and January often bring frost. And we usually have a week or two of searing heat in the summer.

When we talked to Alma, she said she preferred to stay out of shelters. She had tried them and while she was glad to get a meal there, when the lights went out at night they are dangerous. Predators roam the night. She didn’t say what happened. It wasn’t safe. The bus stop was safer.

She liked mystery novels and my husband would bring her a book or two sometimes. She helped us with real life mysteries, too.

In 2003 I was heartbroken over being laid off from my technology job in San Francisco, a credenza full of customer service, business appreciation and technology awards one day, walked to the door with a cardboard box the next. I was fragile, recovering from having invested too much of myself in my work, having loved my job too much, having believed that good will and excellent performance would preserve my livelihood. I was like so many of my former co-workers with an excellent resume, years of good ideas still brewing and yet downsized by false hope in investments in air. After spending yet another 16-hour day looking for and applying for jobs, it was after midnight when I surfed dog rescue sites.

My Rusty, a Cardigan Welsh Corgi, had died about six months earlier. He had suffered a couple of bouts of rare ear cancer, had survived surgery for that and near-miraculous back surgery by the geniuses at the University of California – Davis veterinary school. But, in spite of the insulin injections twice a day which he took without complaint, finally diabetes took our sweet dog. Rusty had adored my husband, the biggest sheep he’d ever seen. As a herding dog, Rusty felt John was his responsibility and followed him everywhere his short legs would take him. I would often watch them in the yard, John bent over a bonsai and Rusty behind him. As John moved to the left, Rusty did too, to the right, and his shadow matched his every move. The tough thing about adoration is that when you lose it, it leaves a hole in your heart.

So in the wee hours of the night, I stumbled upon a photo of a dog described as The Perfect Gentleman and fell in love. I woke John up, showed him the picture, submitted my application to the Furry Friends Rescue ( and literally held my breath. Who wouldn’t want a dog who was the perfect gentleman? And beautiful and friendly and kind to cats? Lucky us, we were the family chosen to adopt our Quincy and were delighted to have him our first day.

He was nervous but well-behaved. He wanted to sleep on the couch that first night. We got up several times to make sure he was OK. I woke up early in the morning and went to sit with him on the couch for bonding. John got ready to go to work and was at the door when all of a sudden, Quincy shot out of the house like a spit wad. John got in the car and I, in my very humble sweats and barefoot, took off running after him. I ran the streets of our town like a madwoman, calling his name. I ran my bare feet until they were raw and bleeding. And Quincy was always a block or two ahead of me, turning corners and disappearing, running as fast as he could.

During our search, John stopped and asked Alma if she had seen a cocker spaniel running like the wind. She pointed and said she had seen him cross the busy street in front of her about ten minutes before. I came home filthy, limping, bleeding, and crying. I did not know that my broken heart could hurt even more until then. We had not had him 24 hours and we had lost him.

And then, a little miracle happened. John came back with the car, unable to find Quincy. He stopped a friend of ours and cautioned him not to be his usual jovial, joking self with me because we had just suffered a tragedy. Our friend asked what the dog looked like and when John described Quincy, our friend pointed behind John, “You mean like that dog there at the corner?” John turned around. Quincy had found his way back to his new home. John brought him to me and I think I hugged that dog for at least two hours. My puppy, my symbol of hope for a better future, my dog had a home.

Alma will always have a place in my heart for helping us when we were so terribly in need. I grieve that we were not able to do the same for her. We rescued our dog, our cats, perhaps even ourselves. At least our city, that makes the news for less-than-ideal circumstances, didn’t mind letting Alma stay at the bus stop, her shelter.

I met a kind woman in southern California named Amparo. I asked her what her name meant and she told me, “shelter.” But it is more than that. It means the protection that justice brings when the strong and good step in and shield those less fortunate and protect their personal freedom. Being homeless isn’t contagious. Being heartless is. Be kind and respectful to the homeless among you. Don’t hate them for their circumstances. Do you know their whole story? Could that have been you? Help them when you can. And you can help them more than tossing change in a cup. Some of them, like some of your other neighbors, can be wonderful friends.

The 10 of Pentacles or Coins is a card that shows a family with everything they need, including their two dogs, shelter, the comforts of home, freedom of want.  But look closely.  There is an old man outside the gates.  The dogs notice him.  The child notices him.  Don't the adults have enough to help him out too?  Do we know his whole story, how he got there, why he is outside the gates?

Good night, Alma. May your soul rest in the shelter of the wings of love and be free, free at last.

Thank you to those who treated Alma with compassion, especially those who tried to save her from the fire. May you too know the shelter of love.

Please light a candle in memory of Alma.
Light A Candle for Alma

Best wishes.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

It Ain't Braggin' If You Really Done It

In the words of the Immortal Bard, Dizzy Dean, "It ain't braggin' if you really done it."  In that spirit, I want to share my contributions to the recently published very limited edition (restricted only to the contributing artists) 2009 Tarot Collectors Forum Collaborative Deck.  I am so excited to have some of my work published, and, since I retain the copyright to my own work in that deck, I wanted to post my cards and tell you about them.  Remember, this deck isn't for sale.  I don't have extra copies.  Part of the agreement we all made as contributors was that we did not want this deck for sale commercially.  It was a labor of love.

When I first saw the posts on the forum about the 2008 deck, I was eager to get a copy and crestfallen when I was told it was not for sale.  Only the artists had copies.  Then, the threads started up about the 2009 deck.  I pinged a friendly contributor, expressing my inhibitions and inadequacies as an artist.  Sure, I stitch, but it's a grid.  And sure, I took art classes in college, just enough to realize that my kindergarten dream of becoming "a artist" was not to be.  I actually walked out of a college art class when I had one of my Tower moments:  Kiddo, there is a big difference between appreciating art and creating it.  I resigned myself to being a big appreciator, not famous or rich, just big.  By the way, thanks to Dr. Acker for giving me a grade in that class instead of an incomplete.  I think he gave it to me as credit for an artistic fit of pique.

Thanks to the encouragement of gregory, who uses a small G in her name on the boards, I contributed anyway using my own photographs and a little post-photographic magic courtesy of Photoshop to crop and in a couple of instances enhance reality.  Thanks also to skad1 and BlueToy for turning all the contributing artists' efforts into a real deck of cards, complete with LWB (that's Little White Book).  This has been one my favorite Christmas presents this season!  The following are the entries from our LWB and cards I contributed.

The Empress:  My Empress is a photo of the Sheela Na Gig that still guards the eastern wall of the castle at Ballinacarriga, Co. Cork, Ireland.  While in later years, sheelas were used as religious instruction on the "evils of women," there is an earlier tradition that a sheela placed on the eastern wall will protect the castle from harm.  The story goes that when invaders sought to destroy a community, the old wise woman confronted them by exposing herself.  Whether through shame of fighting with their mother or terror of divine retribution, they retreated and the village was saved.  Sheelas are found throughout Ireland and the UK usually on the eastern wall if still in situ.

My husband and I had a wonderful time while we were in Ireland and I took thousands of photos, thanks to the miracle of digital photography.  The next three cards are also part of our trip to Ireland.

Page of Cups:  A foam model of Shakespeare's head floats in the Mall River in Co. Mayo, Ireland.  In the bright September sunshine, he gazes into the water while his reflection, a bit darker but no less clear, gazes back.  The Page of Cups dips into the subconscious for a message.  Shakespeare looked into the soul and reflected it, good and bad, funny and sad, great and small, for our understanding of what it is to be human.

The City of Westport in Co. Mayo, Ireland, where this photograph was taken is a frequent winner of the "Tidy Town" award and for good reason.  During our stay, there were perhaps a dozen Shakespeare heads floating in the Mall River and they all looked like fun...and a little spooky.  It's a lovely place to visit!

Four of Pentacles:  4 Celtic-style triskeles on a stone column, Balintubber Abbey, Co. Mayo, Ireland.  While these triskeles aren't pentacles, this set of four struck me as the ultimate "can't take it with you" gracing the abbey ruins.  The more you hang onto the material world, the more likely you are to notice that it slips away.

Our friend Vince met us in Westport, Co. Mayo, where he has a home.  Our quarters looked over the peaceful Mall River where the days were just a little warmer than we expected.  While in Westport, I made an emergency purchase of good walking sandals to keep cool.  They turned out to be an excellent buy because Vince gave us a wonderful tour of ruined abbeys, pilgrim paths and prehistoric stone markers.  What a treat!

Page of Swords:  A face melted into the stone ruins of a gothic window at the church at Aghagower, Co. Mayo, Ireland behind Croagh Patrick is revealed.  The observer, the spy, the messenger whose trust is in question.

Just to show that my whole contribution wasn't that one fantastic vacation in Ireland, this next section shows another favorite place of mine, the American Southwest.

Eight of Pentacles:  A display of native American baskets from the Arizona desert.  Baskets were essential technology and this display shows the diversity of size and decoration, plus a brief glimpse into the mind of the master craftsman.

Knight of Wands:  A true relic of the old west from the 1800's, this portrait of a man and his horse is part of the precious heritage of the Pueblo peoples of the American Southwest near Mesa Verde, Colorado.  Card meaning:  Action and energy, perhaps too rash, exemplifies the Old West and while the "fire stick" firearm here is implied, the vitality, glory and grit of the armed man on horseback lights the fire of our imaginations even today.  The Wild West at first seems romantic, but look closer and find a common theme of "ready-fire-aim" so much a part of the settlement of any frontier.

We've been lucky to find the most interesting people and places while on vacation.  Certainly a favorite was our trip to the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation where our native guide introduced us to the many aspects of life there.  Besides this relatively modern "knight" from Ute times, we saw much more ancient Pueblo petroglyphs.  In them were the stories of creation, hunting, travel, astronomy and horticulture.  One is even a solar calendar that marks the winter solstice and the return of the sun.  If you have the urge to travel back in time, take a road trip a bit off the beaten path.  Visit and check out the Tribal Park.

Six of Cups:  Children's toys at the Borland Home which is also home of the Martinez Historical Society in Martinez, California while on a ghost hunt.  In a departure from the rest of my relatively "straight" photos, I wanted to show that memory, especially of childhood, is always enhanced.  Some things are not part of the picture, some things are perhaps not exactly as they happened.  Or, are they?  Is a step back into the past just like a step into an alternate dimension?

If you collect tarot cards and you aren't a member of this informative and fun online forum, I highly recommend it.  Visit and enjoy!

Best wishes for a bright New Year!

copyright 2009-2010 Marcia McCord