Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Happy Families

Cousin RoseRed says she’s a bit phobic about the 10 of Cups. This astonishes most of her acquaintances since most people think of the 10 of Cups as that Happily Ever After card. The RWS (Rider-Waite-Smith) shows hale and healthy Mom and Dad arm-in-arm under a rainbow set in a clear sky with ten cups perched on the rainbow. Their two children laugh and play nearby, paying no attention to their parents’ happiness, no news being good news and apparently good news being no news either.

But that’s a little strange, isn’t it? Rainbows are created from rain in the sky with the sun shining on it. The drops act as a prism, like the suncatchers in windows, and split pure light into its separate colors. And yet our 10 of Cups shows a clear day. From this we could not only get the “happily ever after” interpretation but an indication, no matter how subtle or beautiful, that the rain still exists. Is the rain the range of emotions that turn our lives from black and white to techni-color? Is the rain the vehicle for the delivery of nourishment that would be forever stuck in the earth otherwise? But in this picture, the rain is actually stuck in the sky. We are shown the rain, the happy side of the rain, the colors, the hope, the promise. It’s like what I used to call the “OK music” that monster movies play after all the scary stuff is over and vanquished and the movie ends.

Our lives aren’t movies, though. Happily ever after, if you really mean ever after, doesn’t really exist. It’s great for stories and it’s better to tell the kids about a happy ending to a story so they have hope that at least sometimes things turn out all right. But our lives go on after the end of the “movie” or “story” we’re telling. Other things happen, some good, some bad. Ultimately, for all of us, our story is over.

I admit I take some vicarious pleasure at Cousin RoseRed’s horror of the 10 of Cups. I’m sure experiencing the full measure of it is not so much fun, so my immediate apologies, cuz. But it’s the same vicarious pleasure we take in watching scary movies or listening to scary stories. They are titillating and they are, importantly, happening to someone else. Maybe we tell these stories to ourselves to build a sense of emotional distance so that when it counts we can laugh or better yet stand up to what scares us. This is counter to what most of us think we and the rest of the world need. Why should we teach ourselves purposeful insensitivity especially at a time when being kinder all around is the clear need in our world? For survival, for one thing.

After all, who can’t appreciate the irony of having survived a plane crash only to die of a snakebite? Just because one hazard has been overcome, one sorrow has been survived, one evil has been eradicated, nothing says more trouble won’t come later. So that feeling of everything’s just perfect is unsettling to my 10-of-Cups-phobes who are pretty sure there’s another velociraptor waiting around the next kitchen counter. Anticipation isn’t always a pretty sight. But the 10 of Cups tells us that we need to enjoy those moments when everyone in our little community is happy, really feel them, even if the rain never hits the ground to be truly nourishing. That rainbow is still a wonderful thing, if fleeting.

Often the 10 of Cups means that the whole family is happy. I’m not sure I remember specifically a time in my childhood when that occurred but like the two kids playing at their parents’ feet, the absence of a remarkable and memorable bad time resulted in a vague and seemingly endless good time. Its memory is more of a feeling than the stop-action horror film that bad times could be.

I still have to remind myself and others that what makes one community or family happy does not always please everyone else. One could point to US politics for that. In our political scene here, what appears as the 10 of Cups Happy Family to one group of people can be a killing blow, say, a 10 of Swords moment to another and perhaps just an undue burden like the 10 of Wands to another. It feels cheeky to say that Happy Families are relative, but there you have it.

Without drawing on recent events that could bring out the swords or wands or cups or even pentacles as a reaction, I can point to one Happy Family whose rainbow was not everyone’s 10 of Cups.

John and I traveled to southwest Scotland years ago. “Roots tour?” our occasionally helpful good Samaritans eye-rolled to us. We nodded sheepishly. As far as I can tell, Cousin RoseRed and my common family lived in this part of Scotland along the Galloway coast. It looks a lot like the coast of northern California, trees, cows, green, fog, sea. California has this interesting thing called sunshine which happens sometimes along its north coast and a somewhat more interesting thing called earthquakes which, thank goodness, happen even more rarely than sunshine. Galloway has a pre-historic ring of standing stones called the Tor House Ring, a stone circle that would be a terrific calendar if the sky were clear enough to figure out where the sun, moon, planets and stars were. I’m pretty sure they could tell sometimes. Galloway also has, or rather had, Sawney Bean.

In short, Sawney, his wife, and maybe 50 children and grandchildren lived in a cave or caves (you’ll see why the reports aren’t particularly clear) along coastal Galloway and were known terrors of the travelers.

Before I go into more detail, you should know that the word “scot” means “bandit” and getting away “scot free” is something more like that 7 of Swords thing, meaning the bandit mugged you, took all your stuff including your clothes and left you for dead, which you likely were if you lay there overnight because it gets cold in Scotland.

Sawney and family took this concept a step further. In short, they ate people. Invoking Sawney’s name was basically to call upon the boogieman of southwest Scotland and scare children into being careful if not good. But think of things from Sawney’s point of view. A fat traveler in finery traveling alone or perhaps in a small group is overcome by a family of incestuous cannibals. I’m sure Sawney and family were delighted. Roast tonight! Their 10 of Cups was very much the travelers’ 10 of Swords.

Now there are sources that say Sawney was a real person with a real family who lived in real caves, born in the late 1300’s and preying upon travelers in the 1400’s, coincidentally about the time that the Tarot was starting to become popular with the common folk. There are others who maintain that Sawney was a scary story invented in the 1700’s to strike fear in the hearts of outsiders traveling through this often difficult and disputed territory. Most agree, though, that things were desperate enough in Scotland from time to time that cannibalism did occur.

Sawney’s story, in fact, inspired such schlock-horror as the movie “The Hills Have Eyes,” which countless teenagers have screamed and laughed at. Sawney’s story proves at the very least that family happiness is relative. You do need to know whether you’re having dinner or being dinner at least.

Within our lives, families can be horror stories or a place of loving refuge. They can be familiar evils or remote fairy tales. The 10 of Cups can be the ultimate of an emotional cycle, a happy ending, the realization of hopes and dreams for more than just yourself. It can also be the last time we were ever together and happy. Every family has its rain suspended in the sky. It is up to us as family members to concentrate either on the positive or negative face of the family with the understanding that we cannot have rainbows without a little rain.

Best wishes.


My heartfelt sorrow and sympathy to the friends and family of slain Vallejo police officer Jim Capoot.  He dedicated his life to making ours better.  May he rest in peace and may his family take some tiny comfort in knowing that he was loved and will be remembered by the community he served so fully, so selflessly, so freely, so kindly, so well.

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