Arboreal Love and Tragedy at the Melamine Factory

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

This has been a week of struggles. All porcelain products in Sharples have been replaced by nasty, cell-defying melamine. Then, we woke up the next morning, and even our underwear had turned to hard plastic. Leaching cadmium and lead into all our nether parts!

All week, only a few thoughts have been on our minds: how to get rid of plastic, nonviolently. How to get rid of plastic. Violently. We’ve suggested numerous campaigns to our friends: how about banning all material except for cotton, wool, and wood? We got ourselves into trouble then. Our friends complained: what about heart stints. You can’t make heart stints out of cedar.

But, you can make one thing out of cedar: tarot cards. So, jackdaws & magpies—after long delay, we’re bringing you the only heart stints you need: good, honest life-advice, with a bit of daemonic flair.

This week, we received two questions. We’re really all asking the same thing, at heart: how to make our lives more lovely; and how to make our loves more lively. We’re not sure which of the two questions below corresponds to which, but we trust you might find in them some seed of universal human experience. Or, if not, some freak seed that’s still fun to look at.

After having a spot of tea—a deadly brew of melamine, lead, and formaldehyde—a student begins to babble incoherently (much like the Oracle at Delphi under the influence of the vapors, you might say). Their stuttle-mouthed stammerings we interpreted as being something like, “Yo Tarot, Trace the contours of my relationship with the trees.

Focus: Ten of Coins (inverted) — [Ten of Hypothesis Confirmed, Coins Are Not a Suitable Replacement for Eyes]
The Devil — [I Thought Aristophanes’ Myth Said We’d Have Two Sets of Arms and Legs]
Temperance (inverted) — [Oh Hai, Would You Like Some Lovely Flowers? I Have Both Rouge and Blanche]
Ace of Staves (inverted) — [Ace of Lo, the Phallus is Born]

You love trees, don’t you? Although the internet can’t help us recognize an official lifestyle choice, similar to the furries but over one kingdom, we understand your comforts — and your cravings.

Your focus card is the Ten of Coins, placed under the sign of the inversion, which is sort of like a punch in the stomach from God. If you’re a signifier, that is. The Ten of Coins gives us palatable options: selfishness, seeing only the physical, a sort of hoarding that culminates in direct narcissistic augmentation. In short: what you want is the coin, but the coin as the symbol of self. What you want is the coin, but as many coins as possible—you want the coins stuck all over in your face. In your beard. You want your face to be the hot commodity. You want to be the item of exchange. You want to be it’s golden measure.

Well, Fort Knox: Trough’s got a message for you. Your selfishness and superficial surface-blindness is going to get called into question.

Trough is spitting out a rough road for your love: Just like in Clarksdale, first comes the Devil. Standing up for the Bad, vice and enslavement, and the coagulation of fluids, old Satan wants to give you a hand in clarifying your contours with the trees. In short: Whatever you think you’re escaping by running to those pines—well, you ain’t. Remember Daphne? Sure, she “got away.” But life as a laurel isn’t duty free.

Next up, bold in the middle position, is Temperance. She stands for timing, balance, health, the messianic kairos. Her front and center placement indicates that she’s the dominant card for this reading. The placement also suggests the present modality: while the Devil may have driven you to the trees like Jesus drove him into the swine, Temperance is what you’ve got to sit with now. Is this relationship healthy? Trough asks you to consider what you may be trying to escape in cultivating your arbophila. Are other sorts of relationships troubling you? Trouble with men? Women? Parakeets? Tarot seems to suggest that these troubles will follow you here. But, by owning up to your real questions in a mature way, you might hope to achieve a balanced, healthy, and appropriate relationship with otherness. Sharpen the doors of your heart, and you’ll be able to pick out your beautiful stranger.

The last card in the spread is the Ace of Staves—also under inversion. This configuration suggests that your tree-love doesn’t really constitute the birth of a new passion, or any sharp departure in value judgments. Rather, what seems new and decisive is just another permutation of the old.

Tarot seems to be telling you a few things this evening. Clearly, you are dealing with some important questions with regards to how you relate to forces outside your person. For whatever reason — perhaps some bad experiences, perhaps some inborn, Platonic remembrance of your soul’s original branchèd form — you’ve turned to working things out with trees. This move isn’t all bad — but, well, we do see an awful lot of the Devil. So it’s pretty bad. Listen, camper: tarot seems to want you to focus on who you are and what you want, instead of what you love. There’s a crazy lot of specificity and interest to trees (did you know some trees sort-of have a heartbeat? ) — but, ultimately, that’s not the information that’s going to make you happy. Your big insights will come in the form of letting your work with trees have its time — not from the trees themselves.

Another student plays a plate of melamine much like one plays a record, and a haunting question from beyond muses out from its chymical grooves, “Yo Tarot, In the wake of ‘many psychic traumas — or perhaps one — multiple psychic traumas!—no, wait, one’ with regard to love and romance… I have so little time at this institution, and I want to make the best of it. What energies should I embody — to have the best remaining days (if that makes any sense) — in moving forward with my life?”

Focus: Six of Staves (inverted) — [Six of I’m Flattered, Fellas, But I’ve Got My Own]
Two of Staves — [Two of Let the Phalli Unite]
High Priestess — [Bizarro Sailor Moon ]
Strength — [Whatevz, Y’all, I’m Just Chillin’ on my Lion]

We think that the structure of this reading, if not directly indicating a division of past/present/future, points toward a process moving forward in time. The question of control over respect and honor looms over the main signifiers in the line. From the rest of the cards, it’s easy enough to surmise that the question at hand is one of honoring and respecting the self—of receiving recognition from within, rather from the five hands from without—and that this is what needs to be answered by the energies you should embody. You need to respect your choices, your actions, your feelings, your self in the midst of tragedy. This is how you’ll get there.

At the beginning of this process is the Two of Staves—depicting the consumption of one lover in the energies of the other. It forces a radical recognition that, despite the lack of positive conclusion to your romance, you put all of the honest, authentic energy you could into this love. There was literally nothing else you could do… nothing meaningful you could have done differently; you put your “all” in. We know it probably satisfies some need for control to second-guess yourself and bargain with your past—as if you could really go back in time and change anything of consequence at all, chrononaut—but, the cards and our feeling from them suggest that, in this case, this isn’t going to do much good. The truth is your heart was in it wholesale, but things just went wrong. That’s the truth.

The High Priestess, in turn, denotes a turning inward toward the unconscious, the intuition, to process that which cannot be said, yet which still pulses beat-by-beat with meaning. The place to put your energy and thought, then, isn’t into this constant conjuring of the past, but in reflecting on your experiences as they are, and as they have affected you. You’re sailing on the ocean of the unconscious, and there’s something you want to utter, and cannot. But you know what it is, and what you would say. What do you hear echoed in the quiet calm of that boundless sea? Who are you, now?

You end this process in a position of Strength; who, after a process of Fermentation, has found herself taming the emerald lion with the strength gained through love. What happens when the imps and incubi tempt and taunt Strength—calling into doubt her control of her cosmos through the honest bearing of her heart, trying to shake her? She shrugs and smiles, and replies, “I’m just riding my lion.”

Love can fuck you up something terrible. And, assuming this is all to do with a Swarthmore-centered romance, we can imagine it can be hard existing with the living reminder of your shared, painful story. (You surely see them day in and day out here at Swarthmore; if synchronicity has anything to say about it, you swear you see them more than dead probability would predict.) Just remember that you did your best. From that, think about how to get on the lion again. Once you’ve gotten back up, don’t ever come off again. They can see you, and you can see them. That’s OK. That’s the best you can do. You have the power to direct the lion. If the story comes back to bite you—who cares, what can it do to you? You’re on a freaking lion! And that’s awesome!

What’s important is that you have your own heart in your hand. Because that’s all, really, you can control.

How is Babby formed? Will any more “Special Gifts” grace our fair college? Ask the Priestess at!

The Phoenix