Fall down seven times, get up eight.
Having visited us rather frequently in the past several years, it is interesting that this card last appeared at the gateway to the Celtic season of Summer — at Beltane. Now, in this week that opens the door to the season of Lughnasadh and Autumn, he returns. Let us therefore heed the insistent wisdom of the Nine of Wands.
In the Tarot, the Nines traditionally are the culmination of the suit and show how the stories inherent in the suit may be resolved. (The Tens are the overflow of the suit, often pointing to a new cycle’s start).
In the Wands, the suit of Fire, action, the life force, passion, and power, we can see that this figure has fought his way through difficulty, and bears the scars of his struggle. He is bruised, but not defeated.
Yet his defensive posture and his wary expression as he looks over his shoulder speak of his expectation that the fight may only have paused, and not yet be over. His bandaged head hints to us that his wounds may be as emotional as they are physical.
For although his Wand allies are lined up behind him, and he has apparently won the day, his expression is that of someone who fully expects more battles yet to come.
This is the final result of unchecked Wands action: burnout, and the inability to relax.
And as we can see, this is yet another example of Pamela Colman Smith’s “stage cards.”
“Pixie” Smith, the R-W-S deck artist whose other talents revolved around London’s theater and literary scene, created about 13 cards in her deck featuring the main figure of the card in front of paired horizontal lines. This creates the subtle sense that we are seeing a story playing out on a theater stage.
(By the way — to learn more about Pixie’s fascinating life, I highly recommend the sumptuous new biography of her life by Mary K. Greer, Stuart Kaplan, Elizabeth Foley O’Connor, and Melinda Boyd Parsons. It is a gorgeous, sweeping examination of her art, her magic, and her story that has never before been told. Pamela Colman Smith: The Untold Story is a must for every Tarot devotee.)
Behind our wounded warrior, the Wands even resemble a curtain. Is it possible that this is a drama enacted for our benefit, rather than a literal truth?
Are these the Eight wands that were previously in flight, now aligned and grounded?
In that card, they are usually considered the arrows of success. So why is our figure in the Nine so unhappy?
The Price of Liberty
Do you, like me, tune into the news off and on all day, wondering what fresh hell awaits?
I admit that I sometimes feel both exhausted and hypervigilant, especially as I explore Timothy Snyder’s Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, each Friday.
In fact, just last week, the theme of Lesson Three was the oft-quoted (and frequently misattributed) “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”
Although the earliest reference to this saying appears to be from author Thomas Charlton, the more famous version remembered is from 1852, thanks to famed abolitionist and advocate for women’s and Native American’s rights, Wendell Phillips:
Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty—power is ever stealing from the many to the few. The manna of popular liberty must be gathered each day or it is rotten… The hand entrusted with power becomes … the necessary enemy of the people.
Only by continual oversight can the [person] in office be prevented from hardening into a despot: only by unintermitted Agitation can a people be kept sufficiently awake to principle not to let liberty be smothered in material prosperity.
As Summer gives way to Autumn with the celebration of Lughnasadh this week, this ever darker chapter in our nation’s history grinds on. The signs are increasingly clear that we are facing threats to our democracy not seen in almost 90 years.
The outrageous behaviors, words, and policies being orchestrated throughout our government are crystallizing into a picture that increasingly looks like an American version of fascism.
Academics can debate that word till the cows come home, but whatever we call it, kangaroo courts putting small children on trial; the systematic, unlimited incarceration of the marginalized without coherent recourse; the steady erosion of voting rights for those likely to dissent; the dismantling of our checks and balances system; the demonizing of the press, etc. are producing a steady rain of misery that we are in danger of becoming acclimated to.
A ploy straight out of tyrannical playbooks throughout history.
And let’s not even get started on the other heads of the deadly hydra – minority intolerance, climate change, the 10 million stateless people (which just added another 4 million last night), endangered species .. on and on, every day.
But even though we are inundated daily with new tragedies, we do not have the luxury of throwing our hands up in despair and walking away. Similarly, our Nine of Wands hero may be hurting, but he is not defeated. And so he acts as guidance for us to persevere.
He seems to keep showing up to remind us to keep showing up. Like him, we must stand our ground, even though we may feel battered, weary, and even, at times, hopeless.
Survival Strategies from the Stars
Whether you are protecting freedom and justice, or perhaps handling challenges in your work, creative endeavors, relationships, or other personal matters, our card affirms that if something really counts, defeat is not an option.
Luckily, the stars are currently aligned to join forces with the Nine of Wands, and can help us manage exhaustion and overwhelm.
With Mercury having gone retrograde last week (offering a time-out for reflecting, reviewing, and hitting “Pause”), we currently have five planets retrograde. Next week on Tuesday, Uranus turns retrograde so then, we’ll have six planets of the traditional nine planets in retrograde. In addition, you might want to include retrograding Chiron, which is also a heavyweight influence.
This, then, would be a good moment to take a break and step back, reduce the stress, and refresh our vitality and creativity.
We could, for instance, spend this time assessing and healing our wounds (Chiron Rx), marshaling our energy (Mars Rx), re-thinking strategies, communication, and plans (Mercury Rx), assessing and improving time management (Saturn Rx), supporting rules and norms that are good for us (Uranus Rx), and dealing with our power and control issues (Pluto Rx). For starters.
The Nine of Wands, focusing as it does on fiery concerns like passion, creativity, energy, growth, change, and magic, would suggest that you might examine the element of Fire as it intertwines with these planetary influences.
Tenacity and Courage
A constant undercurrent of fear brings paralysis and burnout. We can become brittle when we feel we are constantly under siege. Is it true that you must always be on guard?
Real power is more pliable. Resilience is the ability to allow vulnerability. This is the only way to move again, and rise up after a fall.
When will you know if your own private wars are over, or even how to end them? What intermission might do you a world of good? What needs to happen, so that you can rest more easily and recharge your batteries? What allies are there for you and have your back?
Now, as we step into the magic of late Summer and harvest time (or look forward to the days of Spring if you live below the equator), maybe you need a mini-vacation. If you can’t go out of town, what if instead you simply took a news or social media break?
Are you bearing wounds that need time for healing? What alternative ending to this suit’s story of Fire, change, magic, and passion would you prefer to create? Now is the opportunity to do so.
With this card’s blessings, let’s you and I find ways to make a just and lasting peace, both within and without. Together, let us reclaim our tenderness and open-heartedness.
We will never win our wars by becoming indistinguishable from our foes. But win we must, no matter how many times we are knocked down.
Let us keep standing up for what is noble, just, and good. For, come what may, they will surely be our saving grace.