Updated: Oct 18, 2021
In recent years, the term “self-love” has been feverishly taken up by both the spiritual community at large and mainstream popular culture. It, along with “self-care” is used so frequently these days that they are seemingly drained of any true meaning. These respectable pursuits are left a hollow vessel by consumerism as it hawks more artisanal scented candles, bath bombs with crystals embedded in them, and five minute meditations to boost your productivity. Because isn’t that so often the desired result underlying it all: recover briefly so you can get back to work? Look, I love a good candle and fully support small businesses making a living creating these kinds of goods. What I don’t agree to is being told by anyone that purchasing these items is a solution. That this is what self-love actually looks like. The problem as I see it is how to find our way to an authentic and meaningful way to access this practice. Because the truth is that cultivating both love and care has been a radically life changing experience for me and one I wish to encourage in others, particularly at the tarot table.
There is nothing wrong with liking nice things that make us feel soothed or pampered but let’s be clear that what most of us need more desperately then handcrafted soap made with ingredients like grapefruit, ylang, and birch tar is security, safety, and collective care. We need a system that doesn’t allow people to become billionaires but prioritizes the redistribution of wealth. We need protective mechanisms in place that take care of the most vulnerable in our communities. We need universal basic income so people have a fighting chance of escaping poverty. The energy charged bubbles and curated scents should be the icing on the cake not a distraction from the real problem.
The handcrafted bar of soap I mentioned above was actually gifted to me for Christmas last year and I was convinced it was chocolate until I took an eager bite from it and immediately understood my mistake. I read the ingredients and didn’t bat an eyelash. The story resulted in lots of laughter among friends and I recovered quickly but it left me thinking about how we get tricked sometimes by ourselves. It may seem like a silly comparison to draw but it is the most recent example for me of feeling utterly convinced of something only to have it dashed away completely by one undeniable act of dissonance.
This is in some ways how capitalism works (stay with me here), we have so many internalized beliefs about how things are supposed to operate and all it takes is one devastating act to see how wrong we were. The pandemic offers a poignant and dramatic example of this. It brought us into irrefutable contact with the ways in which our system was not built to support the very people feeding the machine every day. We can either swallow this bitter pill, get accountable, and try to make change, or we can dig our heels in and choose to live in denial. While change may be scary, staying locked in place helps no one but yourself. In tarot speak, you either get off the Chariot or you don’t.
The other problem with self-love is that it’s hard to figure out how to do it. The nature of my upbringing left me pretty lost when it came to cultivating self-worth, or honouring my feelings, or finding connection with something greater than myself. I did not believe the Universe was rigged in my favour, quite the opposite. I was so disconnected from who I was that it took me years of therapy to come back to myself. I know I’m not alone. We are all in some form of recovery from our families of origin, transgressions, injustices, or losses that found us along the way. Everything does not happen for a reason. Life can be really fucking shitty sometimes and why some of us make it to the other side and others don’t is one of the mysteries of life. I have touched sorrow so deep it made me not want to be here anymore. I am also privileged to have support and the means to pay for support, it saved me. I have access in a way that I know many do not. This is in part why I offer Pay What You Can and free offerings as part of my practice. I don't really have any tangible wealth, but I redistribute what I can by supporting other creators I admire by financially backing what they do.
So, what does all of this have to do with the Ace of Cups you ask? Well, I suppose it gives it context because that’s what I always felt was missing when I pulled this card. As Lindsay Mack explains, Aces are invitations for collaboration. An opportunity is being offered for something new to be undertaken but it’s not just going to happen to you. You will have to reach back and accept what is being offered and do something with it. This has gradually become one of the most important shifts in both my tarot and magic practice: the requirement of action. When the Ace of Cups arrives, you won’t just be granted an experience of self-love, it is a reminder that this is your mission should you choose to accept it. It might be pointing to the path out of the woods of self-doubt, or the remedy for a situation that just won’t resolve, or the message that’s calling to you in the night that you’ve had trouble deciphering. It’s time to reconnect with the acts, tools, and practices that make you feel cared for and accepted. If you can initiate this process, you can then move through the lessons offered in the rest of the cups. This is your first baby step.
As personal as it may seem, the business of our hearts always has a wider context. The project of self-love is not ours alone but an engagement with our inner lives that has been greatly coopted by our outer life. It’s not easy to shake self-love free from a world that is always trying to sell us something, including our own selves back to us at an inflated price. There is something true and honest about finding an inner love and sense of worth that can help us feel like we’re never alone. But we need to find it in places like the quiet contemplation of our own purpose, or facing down and accepting the darkest parts of ourselves, or finding a personal spiritual practice, or, you know, floating through the void. It’s not love, light, and laughter, it’s fucking hard. So for any of you wondering how everyone gets to like themselves except for you so something must be wrong, it’s not you, it’s bullshit. I felt that way too for most of my life and I still do sometimes but I also reached out for that goddamn cup and decided that maybe I was enough exactly as I was and it was the system that needed to change, not me.
My therapist once shared with me that the clients with whom she’s witnessed the most significant shifts in self-worth have been those who started or rekindled a personal spiritual practice. That has certainly been my experience. While I choose not to share the exact details of mine, I would point you in the direction of ancestral work and connecting with something greater than yourself, whatever you choose to call it. If you have more questions about this, don't hesitate to comment here or contact me.
Images: 1) a digital illustration I made called "Ace of Cups." You can purchase a print in my online shop 2) photographic evidence of the bar of soap I tried to eat 3) Ace of Cups from Golden Universal Tarot (left) and Holy Spectrum Tarot (right)