Shame is a fierce and burning energy. The power of tribal shame is not to be underestimated…If you dare to leave your tribe, the tribe will shame the living hell out of you, and that shame will hurt you.
~ Elizabeth Gilbert, from an essay on her Facebook page
As I head off this week to join my colleagues at the Tarot School’s 2015 Readers Studio, one of the world’s biggest and best Tarot conventions, I was hoping for an encouraging omen. But I regret to say that our card this week is a challenging one.
The Five of Pentacles is one of the cards that usually comes up as a least favorite in my Tarot classes’ games of “Good Card, Bad Card.”
With good reason. The fives examine how we deal with conflict and loss. And in the physical world of the Pentacles, this struggle is usually literal. Therefore, this can involve money, home, health, or work — the most important issues of our material existence.
Here we see two miserable looking people on a wintry night, struggling past a stained glass window.
Where is the doorway to that place? Do they seek it? Or are they so used to surviving their hardship that they simply battle on?
Perhaps they have been cast out, no longer allowed into the holy places. Or maybe they deliberately pass it by, because what it offers is not what they need.
One is in rags, and obviously depicts poverty. The other, on poorly-made crutches, wears a bell around his neck. In the Middle Ages, everyone with disfiguring diseases like leprosy was forced to wear a bell. This was, in part, to warn of contagion.
But it was also to ostracize them from society. Leprosy, in particular, was viewed as a terrifying sign of divine punishment, and anyone with the disease was considered impure and cursed by God.
So it may well be that they are unwelcome in the halls of those who call themselves spiritual.
Blaming the Victims
What similar attitudes do we harbor today? How many times have you heard people pronouncing that victims of life-threatening diseases or other misfortune somehow attracted their fate to themselves.
Rather than declaring adversity as a Biblical punishment from God, so-called modern people instead whisper that there must be psychological reasons for someone’s difficulties.
Perhaps, say the observers on the sidelines, the ill-fated person is ignorant, too pessimistic, weak of character, a spiritual failure, or is enduring a past-life karmic payback.
On some level, so goes this old reasoning re-jiggered for the New Age, their suffering is justified.
You would think we would be more enlightened, but to what extent have you heard similar ignorant and arrogant attitudes applied towards the nations and individuals who are struggling with, for instance, Ebola?
And how often have you heard the privileged accuse the poor of being shiftless, lazy, and lacking in character? That their poverty is their own fault?
Of course, blaming the victim is a feeble, false strategy that only works as long as we, or someone we love, are not the afflicted.
Ultimately, even the most wealthy, beloved, clever, or noblest of us cannot escape our mortality. Even the super-rich can be so tormented by the specter of poverty, it might as well be true. We all endure heartbreak, illness, and pain.
When we suffer grievous losses and setbacks that tempt us to despair, we may wish to simply give up. We, or those around us, may even begin to believe we have been cursed or somehow deserve our woes.
And thus, the potent and extremely toxic poison of tribal shaming is administered.
The Missing Doorway
The oldest question of life is why we experience suffering and death. Such times come to us all. The “why” of it is probably futile and can be debated forever. But the “what” of it is that in such times, we stand on the brink of transformation.
Note that with this card, we are halfway through the Pentacles suit. The design in the stained glass is the top half of the Qabbalah Tree of Life. The Ten of Pentacles, as you may know, shows the entire Tree – the only place it appears in the Waite-Smith Tarot.
Despite the difficulties, fulfillment beckons. Keep going.
Changes often come disguised as loss, and it can be painful to say goodbye to what has been dear to us. But there are times when only the breaking of our hearts makes possible the sprouting seed that longs to come forth.
This week, your faith may be tested. What do you really need from Spirit, and how will you ask? What actual resources and support do you yearn for, to flourish and thrive? How much will you allow yourself to open and receive?
And what can you humbly offer to others? Who are the shunned ones, the lonely, the marginalized that need our compassion?
It is true that there are those who wear their suffering as a ragged cloak that makes them special. They may thus excuse themselves from responsibilities, or cling to their exile with secret pride.
But all humans need to belong. It is a survival instinct to form our little cliques, affinity groups, and tribes. Who doesn’t love the cozy friendships that are formed when we connect with kindred spirits? I know I do!
Yet, everyone reading this has certainly at some time felt the sting of cliquishness and would never want to deal out unkindness to others.
So this week it will be important to notice with compassion those on the edges. Let us consider carefully the cold, subtle messages that may be sent to those who are different, enduring difficulty, or who have not yet found the door of welcome.
Be patient with yourself while enduring any obstacles before you. Be kind to those who are struggling. Consider ways to be more welcoming and inclusive to strangers.
For you, yourself, are the much needed doorway to the light.