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The Marriage of Tarot and the Empath

On the heels of the beautifully aspected Taurus full moon, my dreams lately have had me thinking a lot about empathy.  Recently, I taught a series of workshops for Windham-Raymond Adult Education on folklore, astrology, palmistry, tasseography, and my favorite–cartomancy, the art of reading everyday playing cards for divination. I first began working with the Tarot, astrology, and cartomancy in 1992, while I was a teen-ager. Prior to that, around 1991, before I entered high school, a friend of my mother’s gave me a set of Celtic Tree Oracle cards–a system of divination with a guidebook and cards created by Colin Murray and Liz Murray, illustrated by Vanessa Card (1988). I still have my original deck and guidebook–even though there’s a little bit of tree sap on some of the cards from using them outside 20+ years ago. (I experimented with aeromancy, allowing the wind or a sea breeze to lift certain cards in the course of a reading in some secret grove on the coast of Maine. But over the years, I fully embraced my true path as a hydromancer, and have never mastered aeromancy, divination with the element of air.) I will have to write a different post on hydromancy.

my original deck of the Celtic Tree Oracle by Liz and Colin Murray from 1991

I had always been intrigued by different languages, different systems–from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs to runes, and even created my own “planned language,” with a full dictionary and grammar guide (my own version of an Esperanto, albeit without speakers other than myself). Learning the Celtic Tree Oracle system of divination was fun for me as a fourteen-year-old; I spelled out my name in the Ogham alphabet, and learned that the ash tree (“Nuin”) was associated with my birthday (in late February). As a result, I’ve always sought out ash trees. Just before I decided to buy my home at Nixie’s Vale in southern Maine, I was pleased to discover that the property beheld a rare black ash seep–full of ash trees–which served an ecological purpose to cleanse and filter the soils around the well, and replenished a perennial stream that meanders through the woods and flowed into the pond. It spoke a language to me: one of wetlands, of trees, of healing and replenishment, of water and folklore–one in which I imagined a water nixie living, protecting the well, the streams, the seep, and the nearby pond. That’s why I named my home “Nixie’s Vale.”

By nineteen, I was serious about the study and practice of cartomancy and Tarot. I began reading for others in college–friends, classmates, total strangers–on campus while a student at St. Lawrence University. Sometimes, my peers approached me on campus–students I didn’t know, and never encountered in a classroom, to ask me for a reading. I’d garnered a reputation for “accurate readings” by my sophomore year. (I read palms, too, but my preference was a deck of Tarot or regular playing cards.) I enjoyed a variety of references to guide my early practice but I loved books by Gillian Kemp. (She wrote The Fortune-Telling Book (2000), among other books.) Later on, I loved working with The Oracle of Love by LeeAnn Richards (2003).

A classic reference on cartomancy by Leeann Richards

Cartomancy is over 700 years old. Scholars in the field of semiotics study ways that signs and symbols as elements of communicative behaviors, which is a robust field of scholarship. Within that field of study, there are those who focus on the symbolism that corresponds with maps and cards. Cartography is map-making; cartomancy is divination with cards; notice the use of the same prefix “carto-” meaning, “map, chart,” or “playing card.” Early in the 16th century, historians and scholars see the use of astrology (see the work of Don Cameron Allen, 1942) and cartomancy in the Tudor court of King Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. (Allen, 1942) and (see the work of Ross Caldwell on the history of cartomancy in Europe). According to Caldwell, what we now think of as “playing cards” appeared in Europe in the 1300s, although the various methods for using them for divination evolved and split into various sub-groups throughout Europe and time. In the Tudor court, Anne Boleyn read cards–but she was likely using what we consider traditional playing cards, which had the likeness of King Henry VIII for several of the kings, and later, he commissioned cartomancers to make a deck featuring four of his wives–none of which were Anne Boleyn. In the Showtime series, The Tudors, we see a couple of scenes in which Anne is “reading cards” and she’s using ‘playing cards’ not Tarot. Then, Tarocchi, an Italian card game, was printed in Europe, and circulating, but it wasn’t until later that cartomancers combined the 52 cards of the traditional deck with unrelated illustrations inked by medieval monks–Christian monks, who created the archetypal illustrations that later became known as the “Major Arcana” of Tarot, to create the 78-card Tarot deck.

Drawing from my Celtic roots, I have always been drawn to decks that have a Celtic theme. One of my favorites is the Wild Wood Tarot by John Matthews and Mark Ryan. I love working with this deck. It’s unconventional–and that might be off-putting to those who are looking for a traditional Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck, but for those interested in Celtic mythology, folklore, or pre-Celtic mythology and folklore, this might be right up your alley, too. For those who are in love with pre-Celtic folklore, such as the old medieval tales of Robin Hood, or the folklore of the Green Man and Green Woman, as well as the animal kinship, connection to Nature, this is a valuable tool for meditation, divination, and drawing inspiration for writing in a journal.

Working with the Wild Wood Tarot deck

The relationship between Tarot and empathy is a constantly renewing interest for me as a practitioner of lightworking and healing arts, and as an Empath. In this context, what do I mean by empathy? It’s sometimes called psychic empathy, and I would like to point out that the definition of “psychic,” is “of or related to the soul,” so empathy is a soulful experience.

While it’s a relatively broad term, psychic empathy can describe the range of experiences one may have as an “Empath.” You’ve probably heard of telepathy and telepaths—Empaths, or highly empathic people, receive information in different ways, but are highly sensitive to the emotions of others. Sometimes these people call themselves “highly sensitive people” (HSP) and refrain from mention of any psychic correlation. Others delve into divination or experience lucid and/or prophetic dreams, as I do, and still yet others call themselves “healers,” “Reiki practitioners,” therapists, counselors, or some other type of healer. Most empaths are healers at heart. In addition, there are a myriad of other layers to the experiences of Empaths–including clairsentient (“clear feeling”) expressions of psychic empathy. I’m a clairsentient empath type, which is not uncommon for those born under the sign of Pisces, or those with strong Piscean energy in their astrological natal chart (Pisces Sun, Moon, Rising/Ascendant, sometimes those with Jupiter or Mercury in Pisces). In fact, in western astrology, all of the water signs–Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces, are likely to experience psychic empathy, and/or clairsentience in their lives, regardless of whether they choose to use this as a gift, or tool for healing (themselves or others), or in their vocation or, express it through creative arts. I’m a poet and writer, and tend to use my “clear feeling” gifts to connect with others, and to transmute those experiences into my writing. I swim at least five months of the year in the lake and the ocean to clear my mind, replenish my body and spirit with the energy of water, essential for any hydromancer, but also helpful for Empaths. Swimming cleanses the body and mind of others’ energy, and for me, recharges my energy physically and mentally.

I’m a Piscean poetess-empath & Mystic, swimming in the sea

Emotionally intuitive, and sometimes physically intuitive people are empaths. There are emotional empaths, physical empaths, intuitive types, and those who connect with animals through psychic empathy, and those who connect closely with the earth (the plant whisperers! I have lots of friends who fit this category!) An empath might be primarily emotionally intuitive, or both, that is, experiencing the emotions and physical ailments/illnesses/injuries or pain of another being. Depending on the individual’s experience, an empath might have additional gifts or abilities, which allow that person to receive other types of information. This might include highly detailed and specific information, names of people or places, details about emotionally-charged events (e.g. a trauma, a memorable event, a rite-of-passage) or just about any other type of thought. It’s not mind-reading. When an empath is a baby, s/he might tune into other babies (e.g. cry when another baby cries, or have a soothing/calming effect on other children). As an empath reaches puberty, the experiences can be heightened and frustrating, especially if the teen-ager doesn’t understand what s/he is experiencing is a form of psychic empathy.  Dr. Judith Orloff is one of the most well-respected experts on psychic empathy. You can find more about her work at her website here. 

Tarot has its roots in cartomancy, the method of divining with the use of what we now think of as traditional playing cards. Playing cards—with the King, the Queen and the suits of Hearts, Spades, Diamonds and Clubs—were invented for the purpose of divination about 600+ years ago. There are 52 cards in the deck for 52 weeks in the year; four suits represent the four seasons and the four elements—earth (diamonds), hearts (water), air (spades) and clubs (fire). And so forth. But Tarot came later. One of my favorite WordPress blogs on Tarot is Truly Teach Me Tarot, by Vivien Ní Dhuinn, who has fantastic information about the individual cards and how to read Tarot cards in various spreads for various purposes. I have referred to her website again and again, even though I have read (and studied) the Tarot since 1992. I’m always learning–Tarot is such a rich, robust arena of holistic systems for mindful ways of knowing, living, being. One of my favorite teachers of Tarot, for me, personally as a practitioner and lifelong learner, is Pamela Loffredo, a professional psychic-medium and Reiki Master Teacher, and Intuitive, based in Maine. She can be found through Leapin’ Lizards in Portland, Maine. Pam taught a series of Tarot classes at Leapin’ Lizards over the years, and I took one of her classes. I’ve learned a lot from Pam. 🙂 Another fantastic resource is Mary Greer. In Mary Greer’s 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card, she explains a bit about the relationship between the empath and Tarot. Her blog can be found here.

But I also frequently rely on my own intuition, my own experiences as a lightworker, an Empath, and a Mystic, and a hydromancer, sometimes, aspiring to draw from dreams, ancestral knowledge, traditional knowledge passed down to me from my grandmothers, including my Irish grandmother, who taught me some elements of Irish cartomancy before she died in 1992.

Reading the Wild Wood Tarot at Nixie’s Vale

Since the invention of Tarot, Empaths have used not only the cards themselves but the whole experience of sitting with another person and “reading” for him/her. In my experience, whenever I’ve “read” for someone without the use of cards, or any other tool (including their palm, or use of a pendulum), the other person can be incredulous. It seems to me, when I have illustrated cards with symbolism in front of the person, or some other tool (e.g. a moving pendulum, lines on a palm) the person embraces the information more comfortably. People like visual aids. I tend to think of Tarot in this way when I give a reading. I’m not unique. Other empaths use Tarot as a tool and their empathic abilities as guidance. It seems to me that this is a long-standing relationship between empaths and Tarot. After a 400 +/- years, we’re talking commitment. A quick Google search will turn up countless results for “empathic Tarot” readers, each explaining their gifts and how they use Tarot to help others. There are hundreds online and many fantastic readers on Youtube. Some of my favorites include AquaMoonlight (she’s in Maine!), Ashley at Hello Tarot, Andrea Leigh Cox on the Detox Intuitive, Reading the Signs Astrology and Tarot (she’s in Ireland!), Wendy Bones Tarot. In particular, Andrea Leigh Cox is a gifted Intuitive, Detox Specialist, a fellow Pisces, a beautiful soul, and utilizes her many gifts to help people. To learn more about her work, visit her website. I have learned a great deal from Andrea, and feel she is a kindred spirit.

How about you? What has been your experience with Tarot, or card reading, and psychic empathy? Please leave a comment to share about your experience, or if you have a favorite deck of Tarot, please feel free to comment below. Thank you for reading, liking, and sharing my blog.

New Moon Tiger

When I was little, big cats were my favorite.
I liked nature programs on PBS, picture books
Depicting lions, tigers, cheetahs, and ocelots.
Once, a panther prowled through our yard
We looked out through the windows (my cat,
And I, safely inside) at the predator, whose
Shoulder blades worked like perfect gears.

Now I keep dreaming of tigers, the great
Healers of the animal kingdom. My dream
Dictionary tells me tigers represent innate
Feminine power, raw emotions, intuition,
The ‘shadow part’ of me, and sensuality,
My will-power, courage and strength.
She symbolizes ‘yin’ and moon energy.

In my dream, I walk beside her, this bengal
Tigress, black-striped, electric-wiry orange
Fur swallows my fingers as I pet the beast.
She chuffs, ears pricked and muscles flexed
We are hunting –primal instincts act fast.
Our taut muscles hold quiet power; in tune
With the mangrove, the dream-jungle forest,
Nature’s rhythms, my lineage, acute senses.

According to Chinese wisdom, the female tiger
Comes to the mystic dreamer on a vision quest
She casts dark moon spells and augers fertile
Desires in a ferocious-hearted breast; a spirit
Animal like this, gnashes her teeth, a vital
Sign, secretive and solidified—these truths
Tell a deeper story—how to trust, how to fight.

I was born the wintry month of water tigers,
The daring daughters of the zodiac, often
Found among extremely prolific writers.
She remains calm, swims through calamities
An appetite for life and a long polished tail,
Her coping mechanism, and it’s a good one
Triggers hidden aggression, coaxes the male
Rolls around for three days of mating rituals.

When I wake from the recurring dream, I realize
There was no danger; I was unafraid of the tiger,
Unpredictable she may be, I know she personifies
My spontaneity and super-adventurous vigor;
Sure enough, it takes guts, I crouch beside her,
My dream-deity, subterranean patient part of me,
Tigers don’t walk for exercise; we are hunting.

We are hunting for the dragon, the ‘yang,’
Sun and fire chi, that waits, hot-winged,
Smoke-mouthed with gleaming fangs;
The solitary tigress—in dreams,
Shows the way to sanctuary.  

Leah C. Stetson

Poet’s note: This is a work-in-progress and part of the Tupelo Press’s 30/30 Poetry Challenge to raise funds for the nonprofit literary press. Please mention my name when you make a donation. Thank you for reading and following my blog. I also encourage you to read the fine work of my fellow poets on the Tupelo Press’s 30/30 blog page here. TP Donate

An E-Mail to a Poet

So, what more do you want to know?
Venus causing mayhem and shit? She’s going backwards in orbit.
This isn’t a common occurrence, but when she does this, everyone
Looks back on their relationships (and finances), re-evaluates their debts
(Both kinds) and sometimes gets back together with an ex (or just fucks
With them). What’s worse, in this particular scenario, Venus and Mars
Have been at odds (the technical term is “opposition”) with one another,
So their influence brings about tiffs, arguments, break-ups, divorces, tension
And “un-friending” in various manifestations. She’s in the 12th house—that is,
Venus, and the 12th house rules behind-the-scenes shit. Clandestine relationships. Affairs. Telepathic or empathic communications with a lover, a former flame, or a soul mate from a previous lifetime. This lasts until the New Moon in Aquarius on the 31st, then Venus moves forward on February 1st.

I think of astrology like playing a really complicated video game
Based on quantum physics and deeply-embedded psychology from
Major religions and civilizations spanning centuries.

Except, you get free will instead of a joy stick.

~Leah C. Stetson TP Donate

The full moon yesterday drove me to tears. It’s the sort of energy that turns me into a wounded animal or cursed character from Greek mythology. Normally, a full moon in Aquarius sends me jumping for unexpected joy, since I was born with a triple blast of the cool, breezy and sometimes hurricane-like gales of Aquarian air.  While I’m “Aquarius Rising,” I’m a watery Pisces (Decan 1), which makes me stormy. Truly, I get most creative during thunderstorms, hurricanes and blizzards. Living in “Thunder Town,” where the radon in the granite and abundance of lakes and ponds attracts frequent thunderstorm activity has helped me to be productive and prolific as a writer, for the most part. (This past year has had its share of dry spells and strange weather.)

The incredibly beneficial Grand Water Trine with Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune in the three water signs (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces), with a cosmic “jackpot” moment the week of July 16-19th, was especially golden for those of us born in Decan 1 Pisces with Feb. 23 or 24th birthdays (like mine!), or born in the first few days of Pisces (Feb. 20-25th) more generally. Last week, when I got terribly upsetting news about my poetry manuscript, I thought, “Where’s my cosmic jackpot?” Then I had a wonderful meeting-of-the-minds with a fellow literary nerd, and thought, “Hmmm, perhaps THIS is my cosmic lottery ticket!”  Yet, I was wrong.  Someone yelled “Bingo” prematurely…and we all know that’s a ‘no-no.’ Thus, I had a few epiphanies during this blowhard of a full moon. Ugh.

Summer 2013 is odd in that it has not one but two full moons in Aquarius–one on July 22nd, which dared people (go on, I dare you, see what happens) and the second one on August 20th.  The August full moon is supposed to be aspected with far fewer challenging or oppositional energy for those of us with Aquarian traits (or Pisces, for that matter). I’m hoping for a creative splash of full moon energy to make up for the suck-the-life-out-of-you whirlwind we just had yesterday. Late August could heighten or inspire some cutting-edge ideas.

swimwear19565Fortunately that Grand Water Trine I mentioned has wonderfully magic effects that last into next year, with Jupiter in Cancer (for those of us Pisceans) until July 2014.  This is happy news, especially for my fellow mermaids & mermen looking for a true, soulmate love. But this is just the beginning…we have a whole year of this dreamy Neptunian influence. How lovely! Grab your retro glam swimsuit and pose like a ’60s pin-up girl at the beach. That’s the Pisces way.

If you want a video podcast of your August horoscope, check out Kelly Rosano’s podcast series. I like her. This one’s for Pisces (August 2013). You can find the others at her All Are One Youtube Channel. 

In the middle of the heat wave in Maine, I’m under the gun with a deadline at work…and grateful for air conditioning in my writing room. Since starting the new job, I haven’t had much time (if any) to write for myself, except for journal entries. Even then, it’s practically forced.  Regular swims break up the long hours at my desk doing the graphic design lay-out and provide relief from the heat. So do pineapple coconut popsicles. Today I’m editing at my desk with my feet in a large pail of ankle-deep water. Lovely. Why didn’t I think of doing this before?

Recently I received a set-back in the form of a rejection from a publisher on my poetry manuscript. Serious bummer. I’ve always had a thick skin though especially with rejection (at least, with writing). Laughed it off over dinner with a friend and went to see a comedy–“Heat” with Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock. As my dad would say, it delivers a few good belly laughs, even though the plot is fairly predictable. It’s probably better with a margarita in hand.

NewGlassesDG

Just got new eye glasses and very pleased:  they make me feel like I’ve got my mojo back from 10 years ago. I can’t explain it but they’ve put a little pep in my step. The eye glass technician who fitted the glasses onto my face introduced himself like this: “Hello. I am Wolfgang, the opera singer.”  Wolfgang Liese belonged to the Washington National Opera.  Apparently this is his ‘retirement position,’ as he used to own a business called, “Classical Eyewear,” long ago. He’s probably close to 70. I told him about my blog on classical music inspired by wetlands. He sang the lead in “The Marriage of Figaro.”  He continued in a strong (German?) accent, “When I was born, Christ bestowed a gift upon me. I have the rare ability to look at a woman and know exactly what she needs and wants. For you…” (he stared at my face intently, heating up the frames of my new glasses, then cooled them and put them on my face) “…you are perfect.” This was an unusual eye glass fitting, let me tell you. And there were two pairs to fit (and replace my unfortunate glasses that I wore for 4 years.) Hurrah! Ironically, the Jimmy Choo sea green pair (not pictured) came in a white snakeskin, I’m assuming faux, case. (I didn’t pick this out.) Year of the Water Snake? Ah, I’m dreading my post on Strange Wetlands about the Northern Water Snakes making a serious come-back as a species in Maine, by the way.

If you’re fumbling around for the right writing routine, read this blog post by Maria Popova on the Daily Routines of Famous Writers. I liked it. Perhaps Hemingway invented the stand-up desk. Does anyone know if that’s true? If so, leave a comment. Stay cool, kitties.

In the trend of the Eat-Pray-Love readers’ take on “what’s your word” for the new year, I’ve been thinking of my word. At first, I thought of “regeneration.” But I shortened it.

Lena-Sokol-Water-SnakeLena-Sokol-Water-Snake2013 is the Year of the Black Water Snake.  When looking for images of the Water Snake Year, my favorite is on Mystic Medusa’s blog, depicting a snake with blue scales (at left, Lena Sokol illustration).  In Chinese astrology, the color black is sometimes expressed in blues (usually dark or deep hues), which is sometimes missed by graphic designers working on tee shirt ideas.  That’s why wearing black or blue clothing in 2013 is considered favorable for some of the animal signs, including those of us born in snake years.  Just as 2012 was marked as both “black,” the color that symbolizes unpredictability and mystery, and the element of water, we are entering a new year of deep transformation. Water snake years have historically been associated with revolutions and uprisings, such as the 9/11 attacks, during a water snake year (2001). The unpredictability of a “black” year and the changes associated with water snake years also include accidents, oil spills, plane and train crashes/accidents and tragedies. Geomancer Paul Ng breaks down predictions for different regions of the world, the economy, health and industries/business, as well as individual horoscopes for everyone’s Chinese animal sign, in his predictions for the Year of the Black Water Snake. Ng predicts it will be a year of conservation. And of course, there will be an emphasis on water.

Ever since the 6th grade, I’ve looked forward to my 36th year. As an adolescent, I got attached to the idea of all of the wonderful things I imagined myself doing at the age of 36. I’m not sure why I picked 36. A child of the ‘70s Star Wars generation, I was born during the Year of the Fire Snake. Over the past few years, I’ve learned a few things about Chinese astrology. For instance, I’ve learned that Snake was a goddess and a healer, who had the ability to transform into a beautiful woman. This Snake goddess icon in ancient Chinese mythology was charming, well-loved and popular, not at all demonized as serpents have been depicted in western folklore. Snake, in the form of a woman, fell in love with a scholar, and married him. Apparently, the snake’s natural element is fire, but it also contains the element of earth. Water snake years are yin female years, which gives them a gentle quality. Fire snake years are more confrontational, and those born in fire snake years, more argumentative. (I can’t argue with that.)

My step-dad, Michael, would have turned 60 this year. Like me, he was a Snake in the Chinese zodiac, but he was a water snake. (My mother is a water dragon. They say that people fall in love with another whose element blends well with one’s own.) In reading about the water snake years, the law and legal profession come into the mix, and my step-dad was a regulatory lawyer. He was also a gentle person, a musician, gardener and athletic swimmer. He passed away in 2011. I miss him. He and I shared an interest in astrology, feng shui, mysticism and poetry, and of course, a shared love for swimming in lakes, rivers, the ocean. He was born under the water sign of Scorpio; I’m a Pisces. Transformation is a favorite theme among Scorpios. One year in college, after taking (and bombing) a class on Goddesses, for which I wrote a paper on the role of poetry in goddess worship (and apparently did not make a compelling argument), I remember talking with Michael about transcendentalists and transformation. I think I passed along my text book to him…a book on enlightenment. (He was also a Buddhist.)yearofsnake

2013 is not only the Year of the Snake, but also contains the “wooden tiger,” which sets up some tension because there is usually conflict between Snake and Tiger. However, from what I’ve gleaned in reading about it, those with Tiger as one of their Four Pillars of Destiny may see some extraordinary events this year. In my case, I was born in a tiger month. You can get your Four Pillars of Destiny chart (for free) at this website easily. There are plenty of alternatives, such as Astrology.com, that also provide this information for free, and some of them offer more of an explanation than others. Once you know those four animal signs, it’s more fun (and helpful) to read predictions for the coming year. Another fun website I found defines the all-important “Day Master,” part of the Four Pillars chart. In my case, my “Day Master” is the metal pig. Oddly enough, when I was a child, I had a collection of small pig and cat figurines. (The Rabbit in the Chinese zodiac is alternatively called the Cat.)

Pillars of Destiny Sample

Pillars of Destiny Sample

There’s a lot more to it, if you’re interested. For example, if you’re curious about your financial fortunes for 2013, you’d have to learn your “money star,” which is determined based on the element conquered by your “Day Master.” (Is it just me, or does this sound like convoluted video game rules?) Metal overcomes wood, as in the image of an axe chopping through a tree branch. So the element of wood ties to my so-called money star. Those interested in feng shui may already be familiar with this notion. If I wanted to improve my money luck, I’d strengthen the wood elements within my home. Good feng shui:  I have hardwood floors and a healthy flow of chi. Bad feng shui:  rotten wood on my porch and two dying houseplants. See more on feng shui and improving money luck in the home.

Among the predictions for the Year of the Black Water Snake, most of the astrologers recommend going at a “snake’s pace,” and given the water influence, adopting a “go with the flow” attitude.  Water snake years are associated with long-distance travel, especially by train and sea.  Any industry that deals with water resources or earth (think environmental sciences, wetlands management) should do well, especially in areas that deal with science, research, scholars/study and technology.  Seeking wisdom, introspection and delving into serious study, or any type of education, are characteristic of snake years.  (See a typical overview for the Year of the Water Snake.)  Those working in the entertainment industry should do well, too, since the Snake is an entertainer. Unfortunately, “black water” presents us again with possible disasters, akin to what we saw in 2012, also a black water year.  Hopefully the female yin nature of the Snake will be gentle, and the disasters will be on a much smaller scale, and fewer!  In the Chinese zodiac, the Snake is also known as “Little Dragon,” so the effects of a snake year tend to be smaller than those experienced during a dragon year.  That’s a relief! At a deeper level, for those born in the year of the Snake, transformation will be a strong theme. It’s time to shed one’s skin.

Thus, my word for 2013 is regenerate. 

The Chinese New Year is in early February. Technically speaking, the Chinese calendar begins on February 4th but the celebrations won’t be until later. February always marks the start of a new year for me because it’s my birthday month. I expect those born in other months may feel similarly about their birthday months signaling a new beginning. Now off to do something about those sad plants in the kitchen…

This past weekend we had a mini ice storm in the mountains of western Maine where I live. My dog and cat snuggled by the fire as I worked on “Wetland Breaking News” and a Water Resources Protection Ordinance draft.

As ice crackled in the trees, I listened to Prairie Home Companion, broadcast from New York City, on the radio. Garrison Keillor relayed the News from Lake Wobegon, including a climate change skeptic’s love story that was really charming. I find climate change skepticism akin to astrological skepticism – as astrology is based on science, the same physics used in astronomy, according to my astronomy professor at St. Lawrence University. I try to avoid arguments with people who are skeptical of climate change…or astrology for that matter. In looking back, I found the predictions for the Chinese “Water Dam” year uncanny in their relevance to what we’ve seen for natural disasters this year in the U.S.

Last winter in a February Strange Wetlands blog post, I wrote about 2012 as the “Black Water Dragon” or “Water Dam” year in the Chinese calendar. Astrologers predicted a focus on dams, water, levees and floodplains management, under a strong stormy and dark water influence, including a storm or heavy flooding event in late 2012. Water problems, including dramatic changes in water levels, were also predicted for the “Water Dam” year. In a recent Compleat Wetlander post, my boss, Jeanne, noted that the last time the Mississippi River levels were at a record low was 1940, also a dragon year. The last time we had a “water dragon” year was 60 years ago, when my mother was born in 1952, a year when all of the named storms attained “hurricane” status. Among the six hurricanes that year, Hurricane Fox (Oct. 20-28, 1952) a Category 4, killed 40 people and wrought $10 million in damages (that’s in 1952; in 2012 that would be equivalent to $87.5 million in damages). It was one of the strongest hurricanes to hit the U.S. …until this most recent hybrid storm, Sandy, in October 2012.

At my job at ASWM, I’ve been responsible for developing content for the Climate Change resources section of the aswm.org website. In response to Hurricane Sandy, I post news, analyses and reports related to the storm and her impact on wetlands, as well as the relationship between hurricanes and wetlands on a new section of the website. See Hurricane Sandy news here.  If you’re looking for information on particular sea level rise tools, pilot studies and storm surge analysis, visit ASWM’s Sea Level Rise page that I put together.  There are some really terrific storm surge and sea level rise tools!

Every now and then I catch a NATURE special featuring the weird mating rituals of some animal, like the koala in “Cracking the Koala Code” or mountain lions or prairie voles. I’ve already written plenty (far too much) about prairie voles, and that whole chemistry topic is nothing new. What I’m interested in is this topic of “dating down” that I keep seeing in blogs, or *gasp* crappy dating advice from over-eager dating coaches, who even encourage this twirpy and negative spin on dating. We all know what “dating down” means…in the usual context, it makes me think of some line from “Dirty Dancing” when the arrogant waiter tells Baby it’s okay if she’s “slummin’ it. We all do that sometimes, Baby.” (She was in love, dammit! And Johnny Castle aka Patrick Swayze was a stand-up guy.)

Osprey at Wolf’s Neck Farm. Terry Chick photo.

But I got thinking of another way to read the “dating down” concept:  what if it’s down to the bones of the dating rituals, or more accurately, the mating rituals. What it’s really about is dating down to the animal within us. When I was a kid, I was pretty sure that I was part fish and part otter, full of fur and snout and salt water. (My mother affectionately referred to me as her little raccoon, or otter, because I washed my seafood before eating it.) My dad’s a Grizzly Adams-Dirty Harry cross, and in my dreams, he sometimes appeared beside a bear, or AS a bear himself. I realized I was raised by some kind of bear-man, who identified himself as a lone wolf, and now I see him as part-wolf, part-bear, and still part Dirty Harry. My mother always said that the osprey was her totem animal, and she was always a bird-mom, in the best and worst possible ways, feeding us hors d’oeuvres and making nests for us, wherever we moved, which was often, circling in the same general territory, never straying too far from the Sheepscot River in midcoast Maine.  Our family land, now a Chewonki Preserve, has had an eagle’s nest for many years, along with osprey nests, and I grew up with a strong sense of responsibility in protecting our heritage and the wild things that depended on our land ethic.

One day when I was a teen-ager, a mountain lion showed up in our backyard, close to the Sheepscot River. I made sure that my cat was inside the house and together, my cat and I watched the mountain lion creep over the stone wall terraces like a duchess descending a grand staircase. She was well-camouflaged against a meadow of lilies, a strong tawny blonde, and purposeful in her movements. I never forgot her. Over the years, I have grown to accept that I transformed, at puberty, from part-otter part-fish girl into a part-otter part-mountain-lioness and as daughter of an osprey-woman and a wolf-man, I have those animal traits, too. (If you’ve seen “LadyHawke,” then you can picture what I’m talking about.) I am protective and territorial of the land that I nurture and call home; I move through each day with purpose but I don’t show off, surrounded by the lakes and natural beauty. Yet I am still playful and never lose my sense of wonder, or love for the water.  

A female mountain lioness stakes out her territory, and then allows some males to approach. Most of the males are chased away, mauled and intimidated into submission, but a couple will remain, to tough it out. They compete for her affections, but it’s really more about chemistry—as she picks the mate no matter who wins the battle for dominance between the toms. It’s up to her, ultimately. Then after she mates with the tom, he’s allowed to stick around. This is a pretty big deal since mountain lions are not like lions in Africa—with a whole pride. And dare I mention kinky otter sex? That’s probably better left up to the imagination. Otter sex is not for the faint-of-heart, lemme tell you. Only Scorpios could really even imagine going there as it’s worse than shark BDSM. Ask a marine biologist. I’m not at liberty to say.

So what’s the take-away from this post? Date down, you might be disappointed. Date down to the animal, you might find the right mate, someone who echoes your instincts and brand of wildness. Or you might get mauled.

Last night I read my Pisces February 2012 horoscope by Susan Miller  – my new favorite astrologer – and I was thrilled to read that as of February 3rd, Neptune has moved into the sign of Pisces (my sun sign) for the first time in 165 years. The last time was during the Victorian age, when the Romantics were popular in art, literature, poetry and culture. I blogged about the Romantics in my Strange Wetlands post about Romantic Ecology, with which I have always identified. I grew up reading the Romantics and Victorian gothic literature–often reading 1st or 2nd editions I found in the  libraries of my family’s great homes in Wiscasset, Maine. Some of them were on the “museum” circuit, and historical sites of interest, so we had tourists coming through, sometimes sneaking into my bedroom when I was a teen-ager. I often lounged on a chaise in my bedroom and swept off into a dreamland of Shelley, Bramstoker, Blake or Wordsworth. That is, until I discovered Millay, Carson and the Confessional Poets.

According to Susan Miller’s astrological interpretations, now that Neptune is “at home” in Pisces, I will feel more comfortable with things in life, too, since  “all things Piscean” will influence art, lit, poetry, fashion and culture for the next 14 years. What bliss! Thank you, Susan Miller, for illustrating this bright spot in my horoscope. It’s refreshing to think about–that the next 14 years will be “delicious” as she calls it. I could really use even ONE year let alone 14 years of anything delicious, as the last handful of years has been rather dim and disappointing, with the exception of 2009, when I bought my adorable house and adopted my dog (two very good decisions). I love the idea that we’re entering into a reinvention of a Romantic or Victorian age –with a 21st century spin on it. I wonder what it will look like.

Lately I’ve read in magazines that the things that I’ve tried to change about myself–my curly hair or my curvy figure–and the things that I’ve always loved about myself–my mermaid spirit and my imagination–are the very things that are now “in style.” At the hair salon, while getting a trim, I picked up a magazine that had captions like, “perfectly smooth straight hair is OUT! Messy curls and wild texture is IN!” (Ace in the hole there.)  Mermaid-inspired fashion, hair styles and make-up are also making their way onto the runways and into magazines…no doubt thanks to this move of Neptune into Pisces (and out of airy cool & detached do-gooder Aquarius). Pisces is a rebel, a poet and psychic. People who are cool with things being a bit nebulous and dreamy will feel like finally, the world is making sense, whereas the steadfast hardcore just-the-facts-ma’am types and in-your-face-firey-my-way-or-the-highway types will probably see things not going their way for this 14 year Romantic period. As a poet, psychic and rebel, and a dreamy Pisces, true to form, I am more than OKAY with this change, this reinvention of Romantics and/or Victorian age.  After visiting the Victoria Mansion in Portland, Maine with my aunt just before the new year, I realized I was more at home in that Victorian museum than I am in most buildings. I love my 1990s home but it feels extremely modern, at least externally (vinyl siding) so I fill it with vintage furniture to feel more “at home.” Here’s to a new Romantic age, however it takes shape in the coming decade and beyond.

It’s the Year of the Black Water Dragon, nicknamed the year of the “Water Dam” because of the strong water influence. I blogged about the symbolism of the black water dragon on my Strange Wetlands blog. We last had a water dragon year 60 years ago in 1952, the year my parents were born, two of the most intense people I know. Water dragon years—and the people born during those years—are stormy. I have affectionately referred to my mother as “StormCenter” because she often calls me with the weather forecast for a blizzard, a hurricane or even—heavy rains—in case I am not aware of the prevailing precipitation and its possible impact on my life. By contrast, my father taught me how to build a lean-to for shelter if I ever got caught in the woods overnight during a rainstorm; I was seven. It seemed that both my parents were ever-concerned with storms and protecting us from them. My mother is often asking if I need a new raincoat, even though I have 3 or 4 varieties—the pauncho, the full-bodied rain jacket and pants suit, the rain trench, a waterproof windbreaker—and recently said she’d like to give me a “pretty raincoat” from Coldwater Creek for my birthday.  I think I’m going to ask for a pair of Bogs, the funky waterproof boots, instead of a fifth raincoat.

In Chinese astrology, the dragon is considered the luckiest animal sign in the zodiac. A closely related animal sign in the Chinese zodiac is the snake.  I was born the year of the fire snake, and the snake is considered a form of dragon that is limited to the ground. (Snake is called “little dragon.”) True dragons can fly (or swim) and the Chinese snake is land-based. According to Chinese astrologers, 2012—the year of the Black Water Dragon, is also the Year of the Lonely Snake. It seems that in water dragon years, those born during snake years are more independent, spend more time alone and may be less likely to begin a new romantic relationship if they are currently single at the start of the year, which began in late January. This also means that as a “Snake” person, I will play a more supportive role to “Dragons,” like my mother, and I’m already anticipating this. This year is “All About Dragons.” It’s the new “all about me.”

Supposedly, female “Snake” year people, tend to feel more lonely than other members of the animal zodiac. I’ve never identified myself as “lonely” –more likely to say, “alone but not lonely,” or “independent” and “living on my own.” As an extrovert, this is sometimes hard, as I gain a lot by being around the energy of others, but I also relish my alone time. Sure, I’m single, but have been pretty happy-go-lucky living in my house with my rescue dog and concentrating on my career and writing projects. No bluesy anti-Valentine’s day moping for this gal. (I’m even making homemade Valentines.) In other words, I propose that instead of the Lonely Snake Year, we think of this as the Year of the Lone Snake, like a lone ranger, or superhero, saving wetlands and solving (shedding?) little problems here and there, supporting friends and family, especially dragons.

The Black Water Dragon year contains the elements of earth, water and wood. If your “lucky element” is one of those, then you’ll have a lucky year in 2012. In my case, my lucky element is earth (even though I’m a fire snake), so I may look forward to good luck during the change of seasons. (This is sort of a grey area for Maine, which has muddy hard-to-tell what’s going on in-between seasons.) Since my “day master” is the metal pig (based on my birthday), then in 2012 my outlook and expression will relate to the public – performance, speech, behavior, writing, freedom and fame. My social life may increase and people might talk about me (or my writing). And again, it will be a year that somehow ties me to my parents and their support of me, or my support for them because Dragon years contain the element of earth.

Getting even more specific, 2012 is a male water dragon year (as opposed to a female water dragon). My birth month (Feb.) in the year I was born was a male water month and the color, black – same as this year – male water and black. This is apparently favorable because I’m a female red fire snake – a good contrast indicating good social relationships with the opposite gender. (Yin and yang.) Well, that’s something.  

Leah

Poet. Artist. Ecoheroine. Human ecologist. Spiritual mermaid and Mystic. I write about literary ecology, wetlands, water, Romantic ecology, and quirky adventures with my dog.

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