The Hermit Card and Ho Ho Ho-ing Your Way Through the Holidays

I had one of those shocking moments recently where I suddenly realized that it’s almost Thanksgiving and I’m living alone.  And I had the requisite reaction to that for a few hours.

Oh, my god!

It’s almost Thanksgiving!

And I’m living alone!

Which means . . . I’m going to be alone on Thanksgiving!

Oh, NO . . .

The thought sat there in my gut for a few hours like some super-sized greasy hamburger and fries, making me mildly nauseated and regretful for having it.  And then I started tip toeing around the feelings and thinking, “Hmmm . . . that’s interesting.  Why is being alone on Thanksgiving such a terrible, terrible thing?”

In my original definition of The Hermit, I wrote:

This is a card of solitude and the individual is very much withdrawn from others around him.  This isn’t a bad sort of solitude, however, this is a solitude that involves spiritual growth and contemplation.

The point being that there are times in our lives when it’s totally appropriate and healthy to be alone.  In my case, my partner of 19 years died last year and this is a period of self-imposed solitude, meditation, and thought for me.  The silence really is golden and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’d say that there are a bunch of us in the same boat, but we’re not in the same boat.  We’re in our separate little boats drifting along on our own currents, but hopefully you take my meaning.  Perhaps, like me, they’ve had a partner die or maybe they’ve gone through a divorce or they have a job that requires them to work on the holidays.

For many of them, they are alone the majority of the time and THAT’S ALL RIGHT the majority of the time.  

So what is it about the holidays that makes us feel like it’s somehow NOT alright to be alone?

I think one of the keys lies in the word itself:  alone. We assign a lot of negative connotations to that word.  Alone is sad, pitiful, lost, desolate and, of course, lonely. We have to learn how to draw the venom out of the word and out of the concept.

Scott Cunningham wrote a lovely little light-weight book called, “Wicca For the Solitary Practitioner,” and I really dig that concept.  I am not alone; I am a solitary practitioner.  I make my own magic now.

Solitude does not equal loneliness.  Solitude many times equals healing and immense spiritual and emotional growth.  It’s something to be treasured, not dreaded. People who are, “alone,” are many times very, very happy, evolved beings.

Another key, of course, is societal expectations.  Thanksgiving is a time to sit down with members of your family – no matter how much you may loathe some of them – and eat very large quantities of dead birds.  We all know that and we’re programmed with that from the time we’re kids. You never saw a Norman Rockwell painting of Thanksgiving that featured one guy sitting by himself eating lasagna, right?


Just LOOK at those happy campers!  It’s Thanksgiving and they’re not alone.  And, boy, that dead bird looks just perfect!  No lasagna on THAT table.

And that’s the point:  it’s not being alone on the holidays that makes us feel bad, it’s the expectation that somehow we’re not supposed to be alone on the holidays and that if we are alone something is dreadfully wrong.  In other words, if you’re okay with living alone 363 days of the year but it makes you feel terrible on Thanksgiving and Christmas, it ain’t being alone that’s bumming you out – it’s Christmas and Thanksgiving.

So what do we do about that?  One solution that I see with some of my friends is to get very, very hostile toward Christmas and Thanksgiving.  “They’re artificial holidays. They’re so commercialized and materialistic. They’ve lost the original meanings. Etc., etc. etc.”

You know – sort of the modern day, “Bah, humbug,” solution.  If you don’t have at least one friend who’s a Bah Humbugger you must not spend much time on FaceBook.

But . . . somehow . . . that doesn’t feel quite right, either.  With all of their glitz, tinsel, and artificiality, I’ve had some really wonderful holidays with family and friends in the past.  I’m happy for my friends who are still in that groove and I don’t want to rain on anyone’s Macy’s Parade.

It’s just not me anymore. 

It seems to me that there are really only a couple of rational responses to the holidays when you’re a Solitary Practitioner.

  1. You can pretend that they just aren’t happening and that it’s just like any other day of the year.  That requires some Deeply Disciplined Denial, but you can pull it off if you live by yourself and insert ear plugs before you walk into a store.
  2. You can invent new rituals and traditions and OWN those days instead of letting them own you.

I’m not sure, yet, but I think I’m leaning toward the second solution.

Christian fundamentalists get in a royal snit when you say, “Happy Holidays,” instead of, “Merry Christmas.”  They forget – or ignore – that the original pronunciation of the term was, “Happy Holy Days.”

The celebrations of the harvest and abundance – what we call Thanksgiving – and lighting bright lights and candles on the darkest day of the year – what we call Christmas – have been Holy Days from time immemorial.  They’re built into our Souls and have nothing to do with Jesus, Pilgrims, America, or eating large,dead birds.

I can celebrate that as The Hermit as easily as I can in a crowd.  I just need some good lasagna recipes.

The Magician, The Devil, and the Habit of Evil


Have you ever had someone in your life who was truly evil?  I mean, beyond our usual descriptors of, “He’s an angry person.”  Or mean. Or disturbed. Or selfish. 

I mean, really, genuinely evil.  Someone who consciously inflicts as much pain as they can, knowing that it’s wrong.  It can leave you wondering about the world and about everything you believe in.

For most of history, human beings have been using a sort of, “argument from nature,” to excuse their worst behavior.  They point to the world of animals where fangs and claws seem to rule, and pronounce that it’s either kill or be killed, the strong survive and the weak die, and, since we’re animals, too, those rules apply to us, as well.  We HAVE to be cruel because it’s our nature.

Even leaving aside their totally disregarding all of the love and nurturing that we ALSO see in the animal world, it’s a bogus point of view.  They are deliberately ignoring the fact that good and evil are choices and that where no choice exists no concept of evil can exist.

We might feel pretty squeamish watching a cat torture a mouse but we don’t think that the cat is evil because of it.  We recognize that it’s the cat’s nature and instinct to hunt and kill and that the cat hasn’t made a conscious choice in the matter.  There’s no evil because there’s no choice between good and evil and where there’s no choice there can be no morality.

In The Fool card, we see pure energy entering into the world.  In The Magician card we see a human being directing that energy and choosing how it will be used.  He or she can use it for benefit or harm, for good or for evil, and that’s the point where morality is born.

To a certain extent, those of us who have embraced the New Age movement are guilty of being a little goody two-shoes about the existence of evil.  We try to live in the affirmation of love and caring and we try to NOT let negativity, malice, anger, and hatred into our lives or our consciousness.  But, as Louise Hay said, “If you are going to clean the house, you have to see the dirt.” Pretending the evil isn’t there doesn’t make it go away.

The good news is that there’s probably a LOT less evil in the world than some religions would have us believe.  If we recognize that true evil involves a conscious choice to hurt and cause suffering we can eliminate all of the animal world because they operate on instinct, not choice.  

Psychotics – even serial killers – can’t really be called evil in the pure sense because they can’t make rational choices.

Serious alcoholics and drug addicts can’t really be called evil – no matter how much damage they do – because they’re driven by their compulsions and disease.

Sociopaths and narcissists get us into an interesting – and scary – gray area.  Sociopaths actually recognize that other people make moral choices between good and evil but they have no internal moral compass themselves.  They recognize the concepts but they just don’t care about them.

Malignant narcissists also recognize that other people make moral choices but they think we’re stupid to do so.  They delight in manipulating people who have a sense of right and wrong and use those deceptions to enhance their own sense of being superior to everyone else.  “See how I charmed you and lied to you and you were too stupid to know the difference?”

And that’s a strange thing to wrap your head around.  If someone knows the difference between good and evil behavior on an intellectual level, but has no heart, no compassion, no empathy with others, are they actually capable of understanding the hurt and pain they’re inflicting?  And if they don’t really understand it, are they evil or just very flawed humans?

I dunno.

Sadly, it seems that a lot of the evil in the world and in ourselves is a matter of plain old habit and rationalization.

The Devil card is very dramatic.  We see two humans in chains with a literal Bat Out of Hell glowering above them.  The riff on this from fundamentalists christians would be that there is evil everywhere and if you’re not careful The Devil can reach out and SNATCH you up, just like that!

But – again – evil is not something that is external to us;  it’s an internal choice. In fact, it’s a series of choices. Despite the theme in horror films, no one is born evil.  We just get comfortable with it. We CHOOSE to act wrongly, to react with anger instead of compassion, to indulge our rage instead of finding our love, until choosing to be a curse in the world rather than a blessing is a habit.

So the people in The Devil card aren’t just wearing their chains.  They made them, one link at a time.

“Little by little a person becomes evil, as a water pot is filled by drops of water… Little by little a person becomes good, as a water pot is filled by drops of water.” – Buddha

Even Hitler was once someone’s beautiful baby boy.  Choose carefully.

The Moon Card, Lunacy, and Multiple Realities

I have an ex-relative who is bipolar and – in the time honored tradition of many bipolars – about every two or three years he decides to stop taking his medications and blow up his life.

After a certain amount of sleep deprivation during the manic phases he’d start making statements like, “A coven of witches is sending energy beams at my head.”  And, because of my belief systems, I’d have to actually stop and wonder, “Well . . . IS a coven of witches sending energy beams at his head?” And, no, they weren’t, probably because he was an obnoxious, shallow, self-centered twit and why bother to curse someone when they’re doing such a good job of it themselves?

It did start me thinking, though, about so many of the things that we take for granted in New Age terminology, things which would have been considered totally loony tunes about 75 years ago.

Auras. Energy fields.  Spirit Guides. Telepathic communication.  Totem animals. Chakras. These are all so commonplace and accepted today that you can actually go into your therapist’s office and discuss them with him or her.  Perhaps they’ll even recommend a therapeutic massage to clear a blocked second chakra.

It was a far different story in the 1950s, though.  If you told a psychologist that you saw glowing auras around people, or that you were receiving guidance from invisible entities from another dimension, or that particular animals communicate with you telepathically, you’d be on your way to the nearest locked psych ward.  And there you would be rewarded for your beliefs with electroshock therapy or insulin shock or even a lobotomy if you continued to cling to your, “delusions.”

It actually makes me wonder if some of the mental patients back then were simply experiencing phenomena that our society had no explanation for or grasp of at the time.  Maybe they WERE talking with angels. Who knows?

A few advanced thinkers such as Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing emerged in the 1960s and suggested that perhaps schizophrenics were actually experiencing EXACTLY what they were reporting and the best, “treatment,” was to just care for them and let them heal on their own.  For the most part, though, if you held New Age beliefs in the 1950s or the early 60s, you were MAD, darling. Quite, quite mad.

The Moon is the Tarot card that has traditionally represented psychosis and delusion.  The light in the card is murky and objects are out of focus and ill defined. A crustacean crawls out of the still pool of the unconscious while a dog and a wolf bay at the glowing orb overhead.  A rope on the ground might be mistaken for a snake, a dark bush for a lurking beast. The lines of reality are blurred and indistinct.

That may well have been the way that a person who was channeling or highly sensitive to psychic phenomenon would have experienced the world in the 1950s.  So what happened between then and the emergence of New Age philosophy in the 1970s?

Well, the 1960s happened, obviously.  A fairly substantial number of people took a fairly substantial amount of psychedelic drugs and began to view the world and life as magical rather than mundane.  There was a reemergence of occultism, Tarot cards became commonplace in any hippie household, and people began to talk a lot about astral travel and, “vibrations,” of energy (“I’m picking up bad vibes, man.”)

I think one of the most defining moments, though, was the publication of, “The Teachings of Don Juan,” by Carlos Castaneda in 1968.  A new term entered the common lexicon:  “nonordinary reality.”

As Castaneda employed it, it was used to describe the three worlds that shamans pass through on their journeys, but it fit so perfectly with all of the spiritual views that were emerging in the 1970s.

There was suddenly an acceptance that there isn’t just one consensually shared reality.  That there can be many, many different realities and they can ALL be just as true and just as valid as the, “reality,” that most people cling to.

Today we recognize the sacred connection that The Moon has with the human body and mind.  We watch Her cycles, draw down Her energy, and gather together to celebrate when She’s at her zenith.  The,”lunacy,” of the past has become the sanctified vision of the present.

We can finally share those, “nonordinary realities,” with each other and continue to grow and evolve spiritually through that shared knowledge.  How sweet is that?

“I’ll let you be in my dream if I can be in yours.”  – Bob Dylan

The World Card, Rebirth, and Designing Your Next Body


The World seems to be the only Tarot card that deals with birth, which is odd because you couldn’t find a more archetypal, universal experience than birth.  As I noted in my book, “Just the Tarot,” the wreath in The World card strongly resembles the shape of the birth canal and suggests a totally new beginning.

We all associate birth with that initial entry into the world, that first thrust through the placenta and into a whole new universe.  In reality, though, we’re being reborn constantly. It’s fairly well known that ALL of the cells in our bodies are completely replaced by new cells about every seven to ten years but many cells are constantly dying and being regenerated.  Red blood cells are replenished about every four months. White blood cells every few days. Fat cells, of course, last the longest. Wouldn’t you know it?

And here’s an interesting slant on all of that.  While the molecules in your body are busy whizzing around and making sure everything that’s supposed to stay inside doesn’t fall out and everything that’s supposed to come out doesn’t stay in, they’re also making these amazing substances called neuropeptides.

I don’t know about you but I totally suck at science and math and just a word like neuropeptides makes my brain freeze with anxiety.  Nonetheless, it’s important to know about them and here’s why.

Neuropeptides are the physical correspondents of our emotions.  They come and go together. Adrenaline is one of them. If you get a big spurt of adrenaline it totally triggers your fight or flight reaction.  Your heart races, your fists clench, your eyes dilate – you’re ready to kick some ass or run like a rabbit. Adrenaline doesn’t CAUSE the fight or flight reaction, they just always occur together.

Same deal with another neuropeptide, serotonin.  If you have a lot of serotonin in your system, you’re happy.  If you don’t have enough, you’re sad. Serotonin = happiness and happiness = serotonin.

The kicker is that our bodies manufacture neuropeptides to MATCH the emotions we’re feeling.  So, if you’re a very happy, positive person, then you’ll have a lot of serotonin being pumped out.  If you go through a sustained period of stress and unhappiness, then your serotonin levels drop like a rock in water and your adrenaline levels go up.

Kicker number two:  we have receptors for these neuropeptides in cells ALL OVER OUR BODIES, not just in our brains.  So if you’re pumping out massive amounts of serotonin, it’s attaching to molecules throughout your entire system and your body is basically happy.  Massive amounts of adrenaline and your body is basically stressed and unhappy.

Where it gets really interesting is when we consider that our emotions are actually dictating what types of molecules are going to make up our bodies AND we’re constantly replacing and replenishing those molecules.  We’re literally remaking our bodies all the time based on our emotional states. We are – right now – designing the types of bodies we’ll have in a couple of months when all of those cells get replaced with cells that match our current emotional state.

To put it another way, if you’re chronically negative and unhappy, your body is going to manufacture molecules that are negative and unhappy.  Serotonin = happiness and low serotonin = unhappiness. It can turn into an endless cycle of misery. Crappy emotional states CAUSE crappy body and brain chemistry which CAUSE more crappy emotional states and on and on.  

That’s where visualizations and affirmations come in.  When we do them, we’re interrupting that repetitive cycle.  When we do affirmations we’re rewiring the Deep Mind and telling it that we’re happy and successful people and – guess what – happy and successful people have oodles of serotonin.  When we visualize being happy and successful, we FEEL happy and successful and happy emotions MAKE serotonin appear.

It’s a very odd phenomenon.  We are literally giving birth to . . . ourselves . . . all the time.  And we have a choice as to what kind of a body and person we’re creating.  Happy thoughts = happy cells = happy thoughts. We choose our World every single day.

* If you’re interested in learning more about this, look up Dr. Candace Pert, who pioneered the research.

The High Priestess, Affirmations, and Writing Your Own Story

I realized many years ago that I was an absolute genius at manifestation . . . with one big problem.  My problem was that my genius was hitched to my unconscious programming instead of what I consciously wanted to create.”  Gay Hendricks, “Attracting Genuine Abundance,”  DailyOm

I grew up in one of those families from hell.  Alcoholic, abusive father, detached, depressive mother, a military family so we were constantly moving and never growing roots.  

And, as Melody Beattie said in, “Codependent No More,” one of the real curses of that is that you accept the insanity you’re living in as, “normal.”  Being beaten, screaming fights, drunks passed out on the floor – it’s all perfectly normal in YOUR household.  Doesn’t everyone live like that? Hell, you’re just a kid, how are you supposed to know the difference?

Someone once said that your parents always know how to push your buttons because they installed the control panel.  There’s a lot of truth in that – on a primal, cellular level no one knows you better than your parents. And, in addition to installing the control panel, they also installed the programming.

If you were raised in a less than benign household that programming can be pretty awful.  You probably grew up hearing things like:

“You’re a very, very bad girl.”

OR

“Why did you do something so stupid?”

OR

“I don’t like hitting you but you don’t leave me any choice.”

And your poor little subconscious, your subconscious that was too young and too trusting and too inexperienced to know any better just soaked that shit up and believed it, the same way that you believed that drunken, crazy parents were normal.  And – voila! – you end up as an adult who believes that he’s very, very bad, stupid, and deserves to be abused. After all, your parents told you so, didn’t they?

I was talking with a therapist about all of that subconscious, self-defeating programming and I asked if affirmations and visualizations were a way to sort of short circuit it.  She looked very thoughtful for a minute and said, “No, I think of them more as a way of writing your own story. Who do YOU want to be in your story? How do YOU want to live and feel in your story?”

That’s a wonderful distinction that we miss too often.  Affirmations and visualizations aren’t just ways of overcoming negative beliefs that we absorbed in the past.  They’re also ways of consciously creating what we want our futures to look and feel like.

A great deal of The High Priestess is about the deep mind, the subconscious and unconscious part of our minds that holds both our creativity and our self-defeating beliefs.  Too often it’s like a one way door. Magic, symbols, dreams emerge from the Right, feminine, side of the brain, but we don’t consciously interact with it, we don’t, “input,” data, we just passively receive content.

When we dream or meditate that realm of magic that resides in the Right Brain flows into our lives.  When we visualize or do affirmations, we’re talking directly to the Right Brain. We’re dropping what we want our lives to be, what we want our stories to be, into our subconscious and then it performs the magic and makes it real.

In my original definition of The High Priestess, I wrote this about what happens when the card is reversed, when we’re ignoring that interactive process with our subconscious:

The creative, intuitive, feminine right side of the brain is being overpowered and held hostage by the logical, sequential, male left side of the brain.  Intuition and creativity are being ignored in favor of so-called rational thinking. There is a need here to reconnect with your primal self. Take the time for meditating, long hot baths, dancing, art.  Get back in touch with your creative energy.

We need to take the time to visualize, to affirm what we want in our lives, to have a nice, quiet talk with the High Priestess.   We need to take the time to write our own story or someone else will write it for us.

“Just the Tarot,” by Dan Adair, a book of basic Tarot definitions available on Amazon.com.

9/11 and The Lightning Struck Tower

As I’m writing this it’s the 18th anniversary of the planes hitting the Twin Towers on 9/11.  There are so many images of horror and death from that day that it’s difficult to ever really process them.

A flaming, collapsing Tower is truly a human archetype, as The Tower card shows.  The image is deeply seared into the human unconscious and we can find examples of it in numerous cultures across the world.

The common theme in all of the stories is the hubris of humanity, building massive towers to reach the gods or to be equal to the gods or to confront the gods.

 They’d get to a certain height and the gods would blast the towers into rubble to punish them for their arrogance.

In the case of 9/11 we could say that the hubris didn’t involve people trying to confront the gods so much as people trying to BE the gods.  We can draw a direct line between organized religion and the Twin Towers and that SHOULD be the most important lesson here.

Remember:  Osama Bin Laden was a very, very religious man who stopped and prayed several times a day.  He orchestrated the attacks on the Twin Towers because he believed that god told him to incinerate thousands of human beings.

Which is just fucking nuts.

On the other side of the fence, we see Americans recoiling in disgust when Central American immigrant children are imprisoned in camps at our borders.  We forget that Palestinian families have been living in horrible camps for generations.

That’s happening because the ultra-right party in Israel believes that centuries ago a Thunder God named Yahweh told the Jews that the land the Palestinians owned actually belonged to the Jews so it’s okay to steal it.

Which is just fucking nuts.  

BUT . . . the Israeli land grab is mostly supported by the United States because American Christian evangelical voters believe that Armageddon will happen in the Middle East when the Jews and the Muslims go to war and then all of the Christians will be whisked up to heaven where they’ll eat pancakes with Jesus forever.  Amen. So, anything that causes troubles between the Muslims and the Jews is a GOOD thing for the Christians because . . . um . . . it will cause the end of the world.

Which is just fucking nuts.  

We really are reaching a point of critical mass in the world today, a point where violent religiosity in all its forms has to be rejected as psychotic behavior.  We’re distracted by the outer shapes of the various religions but it’s the same hateful fundamentalism whether it’s hiding under an Imam’s robe or a preacher’s suit.

It almost always involves a belief that their religion – and their religion alone – is the true word of god.  A belief that it’s somehow okay to murder, torture, rape, and drop bombs on innocent children if you’re doing it in the name of your god.  It almost always involves a hatred of art and a war on women and female sexuality.

And it’s time to say, “Enough.”  The rest of us actually live in the towers that these fanatics are blowing up.  The rest of us are the innocent civilians caught in the middle of their violent, psychotic fantasies.

Enough.

Introverts/Extroverts – The Three of Cups and The Hermit

Have you noticed that the term, “introvert,” is gradually being redefined on social media?  There are more and more people who are coming out of the closet and saying, “I really don’t LIKE going to parties.”  Or talking about how happy they are to NOT be in a relationship. Or just putting up posts like, “Thank god, it’s Friday, I’m home, alone, silence, blessed silence . . .”

When I was a kid, “introvert,” was kind of a shameful term.  It implied that you were an odd duck, an eccentric, a wallflower.  That you were painfully shy and that you had no social skills. You weren’t alone because you wanted to be alone or you enjoyed being alone;  you were alone because you just found it too painful to be with other people. Poor thing.

What’s emerging now is that it’s more of an energy set.  Extroverts genuinely enjoy being with other people, being at parties and in crowded social situations.  They draw personal energy from that. It recharges their batteries.

And, conversely, they feel energetically depleted if they spend too much time alone.  They feel that something’s wrong in their lives and that they really, really need to get out and be with other humans.  

And that’s okay.  That’s just the way their energy fields are set up.  Being alone is exhausting and being with others lights up their chakras.

And it IS a matter of energy.  If you look at a card like the Three of Cups you can just feel the energy pouring off of it.  These are three people who are having a hell of a good time. They’ve worked hard, they’ve been successful and now it’s time to PARTY!  There is a synergy there, a combined energy that recharges all of them.

When you look at The Hermit the energy isn’t so blatantly obvious.  He’s alone, standing on his mountaintop, quietly looking off into the distance.  But, my, my, how his lamp does shine. He’s not lonely. He’s quite happy living in his silence and contemplation.

That’s what’s changing, I think.  There is a growing recognition that there’s nothing WRONG with introverts.  They’re not horribly shy. Far from being socially inept many of them can be quite entertaining because they’ve had the time to think, to read, to meditate and contemplate and they actually know what they think in much greater depth than many extroverts.

Their chakras operate in almost the opposite fashion of extroverts, though.  Being in crowds sucks the energy right out of them and being home alone replenishes them.  They prefer one long, in depth conversation to the 40 mini-conversations you might have at a party.  Most of them genuinely like other people, they just need to encounter them in small, measured doses or in a one-on-one, deeply intimate relationship.

And, thanks to social media, they’re finally getting a chance to express all of that and realize that there are a lot of people out there who are just like them.  One more place where we’re learning to celebrate our differences instead of condemn them.

It’s all just energy.