Now, I don’t know but I’ve been told
If the horse don’t pull, you got to carry the load.
I don’t know whose back’s that strong
Maybe find out before too long.
One way or another
One way or another
One way or another
This darkness got to give.
New Speedway Boogie, by Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia
Well, my dears, here we are in another week of pandemic isolation and shut-down. What an interesting time for this relatively rare messenger to appear; only the fourth time in all my weekly pulls that began in 2003. For better or worse, let us listen to the wisdom of the Ten of Wands.
As I have mentioned many times, in the numerology of the Tarot, the Nines are completion, and the Tens are the overflow, spilling into the next cycle.
And as you may know the Wands suit is ruled by the element of Fire. So, it presides over matters of energy, sexuality, change, transformation, passion, action, and the life force.
Framed against a clear, deep blue sky, heading towards the buildings in the background, the broad-backed figure struggles under the weight of his bundle. You have to wonder why he grabbed such an unwieldy cargo in a way that looks so cumbersome and inefficient. Maybe he preferred speed instead of careful planning.
It certainly looks like he will not get much farther without dropping it, as the weight is not evenly distributed, and only his left hand is holding all the rods together.
Although there is nothing truly menacing in this card, it looks quite possible that he may fall with his next step. And if that happens, he stands to lose it all.
Staging and Showing Off
Another one of Pamela Colman Smith’s “stage” cards that feature a double horizontal line suggesting a theatrical performance, there is a hint of artifice in this scene.
Some Tarot scholars have mused that perhaps this is the same man we see in the (also staged) Nine of Wands, which just visited us back in February. For instance, is it only coincidence that this figure’s clothing is the same in both cards?
Are these situations contrived on some level, constructed to tell a story or evoke an emotional response from the “audience?”
Perhaps in the Ten our laborer has disarmed the stalemate of the Nine by physically gathering and removing the staves that acted as a barrier. Now, he trudges away, presumably heading home after the battle.
As mentioned above, the Nines of the Tarot are the natural conclusion of the suit, with the Tens often pointing the way to possibilities for a new chapter.
But with Wands emphasizing pride, action, and energy, accepting endings can be difficult, and a final resolution may be elusive or even impossible.
This certainly reflects this week’s Sun square Pluto showdown. Jamie Partridge of Astrology King writes of Tuesday’s transit:
Sun square Pluto transit increases your need to be in control, but can also lead to ego conflicts with other powerful people or authority figures. A crisis or conflict with someone makes for an intense experience that can lead to extreme or destructive behavior. Such challenges can force you into a corner where you have to either defend your position or make a major change.
We might well suppose that much of what drives the Ten’s recklessness is ego, and the need to be in control. How many people do you know (especially right now) who are taking it upon themselves to carry all the weight of the current challenges? They do not like to delegate, often because they believe no one can meet their high and idiosyncratic standards.
Tarot legend Rachel Pollack writes of this card, “We see here the great Wands problem. The Fire energy acts without thinking, takes on new problems simply for the challenge.
“But these situations and responsibilities do not go away when the person becomes bored and wants to go on to something new. They remain and can swamp the fire that seemed to conquer them.”
The Myth of Having and Doing It All
As we face the coming week ahead, we cannot ignore the strange transition we are currently in. Despite the increasing pressure and longing (for some) to go back to pre-pandemic “normal,” most of us realize that our world has changed irrevocably.
But to what? We don’t yet know.
So for now, we are all in a kind of suspense. Countless millions are working from home, or perhaps are among the one in ten people suddenly out of a job.
All around the world, people are now juggling home schooling, bills, child care, the complexities of putting food on the table, and keeping ourselves and loved ones safe. Some of you reading this may even be in self-imposed quarantine, hoping your illness will not bring death to others, yet also not become bad enough to warrant hospitalization.
Still, through all this, the insistent message of our culture pounds away – that we should be using this time to be more creative: clean all the closets, get in shape (at a safe social distance, of course), learn a new language, or cook gourmet meals with whatever strange, forgotten ingredients are at the bottom of our pantries.
We are constantly being sold an idea that says we must be ceaselessly busy — good little cogs in the machine, and productive all the time, at any cost.
The pressure of the Wands is to be creative, energized, and on top of everything, no matter what. But as we can see, this is foolishness and even perilous.
If we feel a surge of creative energy, that’s wonderful, but without judicious choices, it can lead to overwhelm, as our card warns.
It’s really okay to stop.
We can (and should) set down the burdens as much as we can, and have compassion for our conflicted, confused, and grieving responses.
The images of happy, shiny people who seem to have it all are jammed into our faces day and night by all the commerce and media in which we are enmeshed, even while death stalks us all and countless souls go to their graves untested, unmourned, and unknown.
Meantime, we muddle through the mixed messages and death-dealing preening of the Saglutupiaġataq in Washington, D.C. (“the compulsive liar” in Iñupiatun). We find we must carry the load of this event with very little help from the people we elected to serve us.
But as we know in our hearts (while we have this opportunity to pause), the overculture’s myth of rugged self-sufficiency is not only impossible, it is dangerous. We are interconnected and interdependent in ways we are now forced to confront and accept as never before.
Know When to Say When
But make no mistake. There are some very positive aspects to this card, too. Sometimes we have to persist in order to achieve our goals. As many Fiery athletes will tell you, you have to “go for the burn,” in order to build your strength and stamina.
The Ten of Wands offers a bundle of power and energy, but it can easily mutate from joyful enthusiasm to drudgery, workaholism, and egocentric overcommittment.
That’s why, in my experience, this card most often comes up for people who have agreed to be overly extended in a situation.
“Leave it to me,” they assure everyone, as they stubbornly refuse offers of assistance. They do not know how, or even want, to ask for help.
Be careful not to slip into a habit of being the one who takes on all the responsibility – in relationships, in work, in all the things that need to get done. There is a fine line between hero and martyr, and this week we may be tested on that.
Eventually, Fire will out. Anger and resentment will ignite if we cannot release some of our drama.
Instead, direct your energy in ways that are inspiring, not burdensome; joyful, not weighed down by a sense of duty, obligation, or need for approval.
Beware of overload and soldiering on no matter what. No one’s back is that strong.
Learn how to pace and prioritize; stop when you are in pain. Honor your limitations and do not call them weakness or failures. It is true strength to ask for help before you need it.
You do not always have to play the part of “the strong one.” Focus on what matters most to you, and let the rest of it go. If this is an inconvenience or disappointment to some people, too bad.
This week, whatever load you are shouldering, the Tarot has got your back.
One way or another, this darkness got to give.