The Alternative Tarot Course Weekly Reading, Week 2: The Four Elements Spread

I wrote last week about the first weekly reading for the Alternative Tarot Course by Beth Maiden; after not having much time to work on the second week’s exercises during the week, I worked through most of them yesterday, including the second weekly reading, which Beth refers to as “the Four Elements spread.” The basic idea behind this spread is to look at how the four elements (earth, water, air, and fire) influence a situation. There are five cards to this spread:

  1. Your situation at this moment (center of the spread).
  2. The earth of your situation (below the first card).
  3. The water of your situation (to the left of the first card).
  4. The air of your situation (above the first card).
  5. The fire of your situation (to the right of the first card).

For this reading I used the Wildwood Tarot (Mark Ryan and John Matthews; art by Will Worthington), which is a beautiful and somewhat unconventional deck. I didn’t have a particular situation in mind when I started shuffling (there have been several situations worth exploring recently, and I was struggling to pick one); I decided to just lay out the cards and see what it was my subconscious wanted me to focus on. Here’s what I found:


  1. The Eight of Bows – Hearthfire. This lovely card depicts a community – adults at various stages in life supporting one another, creating a home and hearth and warmth and love together. They are bound by common place and purpose; they listen to one another’s stories and treat one another with kindness and respect.
  2. The Three of Bows – Fulfillment. This one was a little tricky for me to relate to earth. It always strikes me as the fulfillment of ideas – fire – and the fruition of plans – air. But I think the relation to earth is this – I have longed for community. It was why I made a brief foray back into a formal church setting. Now a do have community – a real, solid, physically present community – in our knitting friends here in Chicago. And much of our friendships centers around what we can create with our hands, which is another earthy factor.
  3. The Four of Vessels – Boredom. This is where my deck got up and slapped me upside the head. The woman depicted here has so much, and she doesn’t see it. I have been discontent lately, convinced I don’t have friends, lonely…and all unnecessarily so. I have friends, I have community. I just need to get away from my tendency to self-isolate, reach out and connect.
  4. The Ace of Bows – Spark of Life. While this card is full of fire, I am seeing it as well-planned fire – there is thoughtfulness and air here. I need to make plans, but rather than looking at this as an intimidating task, I should be excited by the idea of connecting with people I like and care about. There is so much to learn from all of these friends that I have!
  5. 21 – The World Tree. There is such growth and safety here. Fire is about beginnings, and I feel like this is maybe an indication that it is time to make these friendships (which are all with people I met through my partner) my own. We have such a strong foundation, and a common passion, and we will all continue to grow in support of one another, to learn from each other, and to spur each other on to create new and beautiful things.

Wrestling with AnxietyBrain

I don’t think I’ll be posting personal readings here often, but this one was interesting.

Today I had to schedule a minor surgical procedure…minor in scope, but major in that I am transgender, and this operation involves letting medical professionals poke and prod at my butt. There’s not exactly a long and glorious history of good treatment of trans people by medical professionals in situations where our unconventional genital configurations are even tangentially involved, so I am (I think understandably) very, very anxious about this. I have been putting this off for months because of this anxiety, but the time has come, and now that it’s been scheduled (for a scant 12 days away), I have been fighting AnxietyBrain in a major way.

I decided that some tarot-driven meditation would be a good way to start bringing my brain back around to some semblance of calm and groundedness, and I decided to go with a five-card spread to tackle the question of how to best deal with this intense anxiety. A five-card spread, as I generally do it, goes from top left, down to the bottom, to top right, like this:

1. The question.

2. The situation/background – how we got here.

3. A strength or weakness I’m bringing to the table – or, often, something that is both a strength and a weakness.

4. This card can be more ambiguous, but the two basic categories it tends to fall into are outside influences or internal struggles surrounding the issue.

5. The answer.

Despite the fact that it made perfect sense, I was almost surprised that I drew the 9 of Swords for the first card. Obviously, the card of nightmares and anguish perfectly matched my extreme anxiety, but in the nine months that I’ve had this deck, I am reasonably certain that I have never once pulled this card. Of course, that makes its impact that much more powerful – I really am a writhing ball of anxiety right now, and the horror this card conveys feels like an accurate reflection of my brain today.

I was puzzled for a moment by The World showing up in the second position, but then it came to me: The World is all about wholeness, and the point of this surgery is to deal with a recurring problem in such a way that it is able to heal from the inside out, finally preventing it from coming back, and leaving my body whole again. I am not going under the knife for no reason, and it is good to be reminded of that.

The Ace of Pentacles changes meaning for me on a regular basis, but today it revolved around being grounded – something that is both a strength and a weakness in this instance. See, on the one hand, I have a firm grip on reality, which generally allows me to remain calm and level-headed. On the other, I have a firm grip on reality, which means I’m well aware of the sorts of horrors my trans siblings have faced in medical situations, which is causing me to panic now.

The 2 of Pentacles is all about balance, and that’s something I am struggling with in a big way – balancing my anxiety and the rest of life, ultimately. I have a full time job (thankfully, and I am lucky enough to have an incredibly supportive supervisor AND department head), and other responsibilities, and I need to be able to juggle those despite feeling like I’m seconds away from toppling headlong into the abyss when AnxietyBrain attacks.

The 3 of Pentacles (it’s fascinating that these three ended up all in a row – the deck wasn’t in any particular order, and then I shuffled it several times further before starting) is the obvious answer that I’m really bad at reaching on my own – teamwork. My partner is taking the day of my surgery off work to come with me and advocate for me, and he’s just generally wonderful and supportive and wants to help however he can. My instinct, when I get super anxious, is to go to ground and shut myself off from everyone, even people like him who I know are safe and who love me, because I feel toxic and I’m afraid of infecting the people around me. Ultimately, though, that instinct is wrong and unhealthy – if I am not open and honest about my anxiety, it festers and gets so much worse. I need to let my partner help me if I want to get through this without totally losing my mind.

Sometimes, at the end of a five-card spread, I’ll pull a sixth card, which may or may not have bearing on the rest. This time around, it was the 2 of Cups, which perfectly confirmed the answer: I have a wonderful, supportive partner who is the love of my life, and I need to lean on him just like I would want him to lean on me were our roles reversed.