Ash and Stardust, a monthly column by energy worker and artist/writer DHIYANAH HASSAN explores the intersections of tarot with healing and creativity. You can read the rest of the series here.

When you look at a card like The Tower, where do you see yourself in it? Pull it out now and observe the illustration of the card in front of you, do you recognize yourself in the tower falling apart, the figures raining down towards the ground, the air ignited by lightning, or anything else that’s happening in there?

Tarot encourages us to consider situating ourselves in scenarios we may not be able to acknowledge or recognize without some support. In this way, the cards open us to investigation, exploration, and possibility. With cards like The Fool, The Lovers, or Six of Wands, they encourage us to see ourselves as deserving more goodness from ourselves or from the world around us. And cards like The Tower, Five of Cups, and Ten of Wands – these difficult cards? They’re just as much avenues for liberation as the more obviously affirming, softer cards.

Our imagination, under social conditionings that are oppressive and oppressing, limits us. Our imagination, integrated with our soul’s truth, frees us.

Learning how to read tarot is learning how to shift the gears of your thought processes so that you’re more able to align yourself with the world you want to create, the options you were told were impossible, and the tunnels that are already there waiting for you to climb through to move out of hopelessness. Even if all you’re doing is pulling a card a day to use as a prompt for affirmation or a question, something will shift inside you that makes its way up and outwards – activating you towards the new and the unknown that could lead you far away from the places you’re outgrowing.

Right: from The Next World Tarot deck created by Cristy C. Road. Left: from The Linestrider deck created by Siolo Thompson.

The Tower from Cristy C. Road’s The Next World Tarot is reframed as the Revolution card. So apt, this image of a peaceful protest – represented by the girl and older woman in the foreground with their family of potted plants and gardening supplies – taking place against a background of assembly and destruction. So much of our world has seen (still seeing) revolutions taking place that burn and destroy rather than reform and regrow. So much of our collective societies have yet to see the rise of peaceful reformations that do not take innocent lives away from their well-being or safety. In the realm of the imagination though, a rifting or shifting that heals with the firm brutality of kindness is utterly possible. It is made all the more possible when we reclaim our energy and re-invest our thoughts and creativity towards what heals us. The ways we reclaim and reshape our perceptions carry power. Imagine – how potent would it be if we could choose and commit to the lenses that brings joy and love to us and our communities.

The Tower is the card of big, big changes. The upheavals that restructure the look and feel of the world around us and the world within us until everything is, once again, different. And new. And maybe even, enough.

Those moments where you’ve had enough and say, ‘I’m ready for something better,’ those moments where this intention is followed through and you surrender to the rippling ground beneath you, trusting that you have the strength to navigate into its newness, knowing you have enough of what will hold space for or with you – that’s a Tower moment aligned with your agency.

Right: from the Linestrider deck by Siolo Thompson. Left: from the Anima Mundi deck by Megan Wyreweden

The piercing weapons in the Three of Swords card disrupt the bodies they’ve been impaled into in such inconvenient ways that it’s only rational to feel some sadness or anxiety when it pops up. The contrast between how thorough the damages are and how little blood there is indicate the swords have stayed in there a long time – long enough for the body to heal or decay around these disruptions. Long enough, perhaps, for it to be time for release.

The conditionings that have been implanted into us that influence the shape of our thought patterns, impulses, and modes of responding or reacting have their roots in our earliest years of life. Moments of validation create confidence and resilience. Wounds and old traumas create on-going suffering – and eventually, resilience also. This resilience comes from taking our experiences and reframing them to serve us without harming us.

With old wounds, like the trauma of your body being beaten into for years, we survive by growing around them before even considering how to heal them, because sometimes our environments are structured in ways where we aren’t empowered enough to remove the swords impaling us. So we survive. As much as possible, for as long as the body and the soul keeps going.

Survival in itself can empower us, enabling us to live long enough to see possibilities of what other realities can feel like, chiseling us into swords of our own being so we may cut chords with stories that keep us impaled in victimhood and trauma cycles.

Decaying with our old wounds may teach us how to harness vulnerability into enough openness so that when we grow ready to call in new realities or new environments, we are readily backed up by all that we have learnt.

We honor what the swords give us.

Remember how the next card in this suit is the Four of Swords – what I like to call the meditation card. What we learn from our struggles end up supporting us in building mindfulness, a strong sense of clarity.

from Anima Mundi deck by Megan Wyreweden

The Five of Cups from Megan Wyreweden’s Anima Mundi tarot messed me up for a while. It made me pause and sit with the uncomfortable feelings it surfaced within me. Of parents losing a child, of the lives of penguins (it is not easy, every documentary I’ve watched on penguins have included scenes of them being bashed into the sides of ice scapes by stormy currents or withstanding fierce blizzards just to get through a night!), of how to move on from overwhelming grief.

The three cups overturned framed by only two upright cups above the illustrated scene tells us that in this situation, more is spilling out than being received – but there is still some openness. Some room to hold new things, when the body is ready. When the heart is ready.

When grief moves in it can feel like the body no longer has room for anything else. Mourning is the act that allows us to move through the grief – starting, first, by moving with the grief. We take our time to mourn. There is no rush with griefs so big it stops time with a silence so heavy it pauses heartbeats into contemplation.

Sadness, like beauty, is a sublime thing in the human experience and that is no coincidence. When we mourn in ways that are healthy and kind to our hearts and bodies, we become adept at creating beauty within or around us. The ice scapes softening in warm light as the blizzard passes.

It takes a lot of courage to trust – to know – that you will be okay.

That is the ultimate message of these difficult cards. They address what’s hidden, what needs to change, what needs healing. The Ten of Wands urging you to stop adopting other people’s worries as your burden. The Nine of Wands reminding you that slowing down is also part of your strength – for real, it’s okay to rest. Ten of Swords interrogating how you’re using language, your words, your intentions to perpetuate cycles that are no longer healthy. The Five of Swords begging you to rethink the battles you’re fighting – how there is no victory in any war.

The reason so many cards of anguish and conflict are in the Swords suit, the Air suit, is because this is the department of the mind. And the mind is most easily influenced by social conditionings, negative thought patterns, and fear programmings. I believe when the card presents a conundrum it also presents the solution right there and then.

The Swords also govern communications. After all, we store language and memories in our minds, too. With enough rest and with clear intentions to heal, it is absolutely possible for us to reframe the stories we’ve been living by. Reclaim agency over how you use your thoughts. Do it in the smallest ways – a positively affirming mantra each morning repeated back to yourself – do it in big, big ways – work with the body to release old wounds, create a journaling practice to practice writing your own destiny, sculpt your actions and language to reflect the world you want to be part of.

After experiencing so much overwhelming changes that came with whirlwinds of grief and trauma, after saying enough to all that and meaning it – and giving meaning to it by showing up for my inner work, my body’s healing, and reframing my language – I can confidently say that this year, I grew into my own agent of change.

I wrote how I wanted to experience changes – with ease, with gentleness, with fun and clarity – and I showed up for these intentions as much as I can (and forgave myself when I didn’t). When November came up – my card for that month was The Tower – I honestly had the best time meeting the things that were shifting and evolving in my life.

2018 was the year I learned how to see myself as the lightning in The Tower card. It took time getting there, and I took my time getting there. I am exactly what I need to light up the dark nights that come knocking on my door in between some of life’s upgrades. I am the flashing light of clarity revealing the importance of things I’ve been told weren’t significant – like rest, stillness, silence. I am the activating electricity striking and burning off whatever that needs releasing or transforming.

Carried by grace and propelled by a blazing life force. In shifting how I see myself I shift how reality plays out around me.

That is agency reclaimed. It will keep taking its time and I will continue to be patient with this work. It is work, it is practice, and I am responsible to show up for it. I am responsible for what I bring to my own table.

So when difficult cards show up, let them guide you to what you need to see reflected back to you. Allow them to prompt your investigations forward – where or how do you see yourself, in this situation, right now? How does that differ from how you viewed yourself when your power was stolen or taken away? Do you know what you look like, when you are confident in your own Being? Have you gotten to know the version of you that is whole and healthy, beyond your wildest imagination? Can you trust the love you have for yourself – if not, what needs to happen, what can you do, to change that?


Find out more about Dhiyanah Hassan and her works on InstagramTwitter, and her website.