Tag Archives: family

D is for Death


This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project. It’s the first one for the letter D.

My interest in death is a relatively recent one. While I sometimes joke that I might have become a gothic if I was willing to devote more time to perfecting my appearance (clothing, make-up, hair), I could never identify with this subculture’s obsession with death. Sure, I enjoy a good vampire story every now and then (not that vampires are technically dead), and I’ve worn my share of skulls and crossbones, but that’s about it. Death just wasn’t anything that happened in my life.

And when death first did happen in my life, when my grandfather died as I was about 16, it still left me pretty cold. I hadn’t liked him in life, we never were close, so his death didn’t actually concern me much. I do remember silently (and rather cynically) telling him “do it better the next time round” at the funeral. I think I had the impression he hadn’t been a very happy man as I knew him, and he also didn’t seem to have made my mother (and her brother?) very happy. He wasn’t directly abusive, as far as I know, just not emotionally available. Still, death remained detached from my life.

When my grandmother died, I was 28. Her death was a long and slow one, and it began when her dementia got more and more pronounced. She had been a very important person during my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood, and I loved her very much. We mostly lived in the same city (except for three years when my family relocated due to my father’s job situation), but I had moved away for good at 21, so I only saw her a couple of times a year. Her world became smaller and smaller, until she stopped leaving her apartment altogether (except for rare accompanied visits to the doctor). Looking back, I wish I had known more about dementia back then so I had been able to better understand her world in those last few years. As it was, I just felt that she slowly disappeared into a loop of forgetfulness and only peeked out of that very rarely. I did what I could to make her look at me once again with that very particular twinkle in her eyes. In the very end, she had to move to a nursing home, where I visited her once. I remember pushing her outside in her wheelchair. She eventually said (as she had done several times before on different occasions) “I think the dear Lord has forgotten me,” which I took to mean she wouldn’t mind if he summoned her into the Heaven (her imagery, not mine) sometime soon. So I told her something to the effect that she could go if she wanted to because I somehow believed she needed that permission (no idea why, really).

Anyhow, eventually she did die. I expected myself to cry and be very sad because she had been so important in my life, but I found that I didn’t feel much at first. She had been very old (90+ years), she had been on her way out for years and years, so this was hardly a shock. Especially since I had the feeling she had been ready to go for quite a while. I found the funeral pretty terrible. It was held in a chapel-like room of a funeral home, by a pastor who hadn’t known her and who had written his speech after interviewing one or two of her three sons. There was only a sentence or two about her attitude towards us grandchildren, which felt completely out of balance to me – after all, she had been a grandmother for nearly half of her life, and a very active and present one at that! I was completely surprised to learn that she had loved to sing, and silently promised that I would accept the heritage of the singing (a promise which I still have to fulfill – but I’m slowly inching my way towards that, starting from a position where I’d never sing in anyone’s presence). It was a Christian funeral, and that felt very alien to me. That said, I was surprised how moved I still was and that I actually started crying in the end. I didn’t think of myself as much of a spiritual person back then, but I clearly remember “sending” a spiral to balance/counter the sign of the cross the pastor made at the end. It went right through the cross. Again, I have no idea where that impulse came from.

In the late summer of 2008, my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He got chemotherapy, he got surgery, and for a while it all seemed hopeful. I still massively increased the frequency of my visits with my parents (whom I had seen maybe once or twice a year before) and ended up going there every other weekend or so. In that winter, he went back into the hospital, and I remember the whole family visiting him in there on Christmas. I sat by his bed, talking to him, and he gave my an article about “modern” ways of organizing work he thought I’d be interested in. I made him an envelope full of collages that were meant to show him what memories of our shared life I cherished and that I loved him just the way he was. I told him I was proud to be his daughter and that I loved him. I also saw him cry, for the first and only time. That moment still has a very special place in my heart.

There was talk of him moving into a hospice, and my sister and I went to check out the one in my parents’ hometown (a wonderful place that felt completely right to me). We also thought about  bringing him home again, but I don’t think that ever really was an option for my mother. I don’t remember any medical details, just that there was to be another surgery, and that I had a very bad feeling about it, fearing he wouldn’t survive the operation. I even opened a thread on a tarot forum I was a member of and asked people to pray and send good energy to him. The outpouring of love from total strangers was incredible, and I felt very blessed by it. Anyhow, for whatever reason, the surgery was postponed a few days, and I still believe that this was partly why he did survive it. So that’s how he started the year 2009: fresh out of surgery, but with the devastating result that his whole belly was full of metastases and that the surgeons hadn’t even tried to remove any of them. That was when death finally became a resident in my life.

A few days later, the whole hospital had to be evacuated so that four old war bombs in the area could be safely defused (or detonated). That didn’t add much to a peaceful recovery from that surgery for him. After the bomb action was over, he was transferred to the palliative care ward. I’m not entirely sure why he didn’t move into the hospice but I think it was considered too strenuous for him. (I’m surprised myself how little I remember of the medical facts and related issues, but since I got most of the information by phone, and my auditory memory is not the best, that might account for some of that. And then I think I was simply focused on other things, like the emotional situation of everyone.) About a week later, I went to a workshop to build a frame drum (I hadn’t even successfully journeyed back then, but for some reason I knew I needed to make a drum). The following Monday, I received a letter from my university, telling me that my Master’s thesis proposal had been accepted and that I now had four months to write its 80-100 pages. What timing.

The next day, I got a phone call from my sister that I should come to my parents’ hometown because it looked as if my father would die soon. I threw a few things into a bag, called my workplace, my Beloved called his, and off we went (my Beloved driving us). I think we were about half an hour from the hospital, still on the autobahn, when my mother called and told me that my father had just died. I said I definitely wanted to see him and that they should wait for me there. We hung up, and a few minutes later, the clouds right in front of us opened up in a peculiar shape and I saw a beam of sunlight in beautiful colors. I was certain that this had been a sign from my Dad, saying goodbye to me.

We arrived at the hospital, were greeted by my sister who took us to his room (I hadn’t been there before). He was lying in his bed, his hands on his chest, one on top of the other, his chin supported by a plastic thingie to prevent his head from falling forward. He was oddly yellow. I went over and touched his hands, looking at his dead face, which looked like him and yet not really like him. We hung around in the room for a while, eating bland cookies and drinking tea or coffee. It was a very liminal time, with him being both there and gone. Eventually, we went home to my mother’s place, taking a big plastic bag full of his clothes (not sure why I remember this detail so well).

After that, there was a flurry of activity. A funeral home had to be called, a date for the service had to be set, an obituary and funeral service invitations had to be worded and designed, clothes had to be picked, etc. My parents had decided and prepared a lot of things beforehand, so it was a comparatively organized and smooth process. I felt strange about using the same funeral home that had handled things when my grandmother died, but I didn’t argue (the experience of having someone try and sell their “prettifying dead people skills” to me/us was still pretty jarring to me). Since my father wasn’t a member of any church and didn’t believe in any god (as far as I know), we had to decide what to do about a speech. I offered to write something and read it myself. Then my sister also wanted to write and read something. And then we decided to ask a cousin of my father to add a third part of the speech and say something about their youth which we as his children of course hadn’t witnessed. My sister initially found she was overwhelmed with the task of writing a speech, despite wanting to do so, and wanted to use somebody else’s words instead. Eventually, I was able to coach her in writing in her own words and helped her edit the text to something that flowed nicely. It was very odd how easily my mother, my sister, and I were able to agree on the fundamental things, given how very different our personalities are and how often we disagree otherwise. It was a beautiful experience.

On the day of the service, I felt very official. I knew I had a role to fulfill, and a part of me felt that I had taken on parts in our family dynamic that had previously been my father’s (my mother did a similar thing in a different way when she started wearing his sweaters, his wedding band, and used the frame from his glasses when she had to get new ones for herself). I felt very much like my father’s daughter, more than ever before. I was incredibly grateful that we had had time to say the important things, that we had gotten some extra time by the postponing of the second surgery, and that he had been in my life. I smiled, I nodded to people, I checked in with the funeral home people who were in charge of starting the music and the end of the service, and I generally provided structure for everyone. My father’s cousin started the service, telling stories of their youth, stopping to cry a bit, and weaving a thread to the present. He ended by putting a tenderly wrapped potato onto the coffin, because that was something my father had mentioned to him when he asked him about something he missed. I was deeply touched by that gesture. My sister was next, and she did wonderfully, especially since public speaking isn’t something she’s used to. She also stopped to cry at some point. As the older sister, I went last. I stood behind the lectern, looked out at all these people who had known my Dad and cared enough about him to come to his funeral, even if I didn’t know at least a third of them, and started reading. I was glad I didn’t also cry, but somehow that was not the time for it. Instead, I beamed all over my face because I was so grateful and the service was so perfect. I ended with announcing the music my father had picked himself: What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong. After that, people lit candles or put down a rose on/near his coffin, and slowly we all went outside. I smiled some more, I shook hands, I talked to people, and we were told over and over again how beautiful and moving the service had been.

I was proud of us and how well we had done. I was surprised by how right I felt in the role of the speaker at this funeral. I was stunned how unusual our DIY service apparently had been, when it seemed the only way to do this properly to me (meaning, that a funeral speech should preferably be held by people who had known and loved the person who died, not by some random professional who had no real connection to anyone present). I was equally stunned to hear how creepy or, well, unusual many people found the idea of touching a dead person. And ever since then, I have had a strong feeling that I was supposed to do something “around death.”

I paid more attention to things one could do in relation to death. I read stuff. I started to find dead animals that I had to take care of in one way or the other. And in late January 2011, I finally went to a volunteer fair to check out the local organizations that provide hospice work. It seemed that I was supposed to work with the dying and their close ones. I found one organization that enabled me to start visiting people (all of whom had serious dementia, which taught me a whole lot of Very Important Things in itself) in a nursing home they cooperated with. I ended up visiting three people once or twice who then died. In two of the cases I also met some of the family members and talked to them in the function of a hospice volunteer. This work has always left me very fulfilled, even though (or probably because) it had not been about me at all. My job was to give my time and attention to whatever I found on any given day. My job was to stay and be there and listen. And I found that I did surprisingly well, given that I’m often more of a talker and “fixer” than a listener and someone who just accepts things/people. There are also some side effects that I didn’t plan on. I’ve become more conscious of the value of life. I’m even less willing to waste time with things I consider pointless. My priorities have shifted. I also eventually realized that I started hoping that everyone would have the chance of saying goodbye to life and loved ones instead of being ripped from life completely unexpectedly. I’m also not hoping for a sudden (read, unexpected) death for myself anymore.

The actual hospice training was meant to start in late fall last year, but I changed organizations immediately before that (I had found that while the original one was fair enough, the new one is a much better fit for me). So that’s what I’m doing right now: getting properly trained to volunteer with that new hospice service. The course will run until the end of March, but – due to my experience – I’m officially in their files as an available volunteer already, which means they could call me any day and ask me to start visiting someone again.

To this day, I am not quite sure why death suddenly became a topic I need to work with, but my gut feeling is very clear on that (there were umpteen other volunteer jobs at that fair alone that I also found interesting and worthwhile, but it was clear they weren’t meant for me). So, basically, I’m just trusting the Universe here to let me know where I need to go. Maybe a part of this has to do with death being such a taboo in most of the Western world. Maybe I can adapt my skills in creating ways for people to talk about taboo subjects that I acquired around the topic of sex. Maybe I will only find out later what this is all about. And that’s fine with me. For the time being, I just need to know that it’s the thing for me to do.


A is for Ancestors


The second post for the letter A is about Ancestors. This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project.

So who are my ancestors anyway?

The first thing that springs to mind is looking at my blood family tree: my parents, their parents, their parents, and so on. So let’s take a little glimpse in that direction.

My maternal grandmother (1936)

My mother (who is still alive) was born in Freiburg in southern Germany (Black Forest area) and both of her parents come from roughly the same area (Baden). Her mother (I’m told) was a cheerful, curious person who spent two years in Algeria as sort of a combined nanny-teacher in a French family in the mid-1930s when she was in her early twenties. I have transcriptions of her letters to her family about that time but haven’t read all of them, yet. Her father was a building inspector (I’m not quite sure what work that entailed back then, probably something architecture-related) and many of her other relatives were farmers.

My maternal grandfather with his father, sister and mother (1917)

My mother’s father came from a background of craftspeople, went on to become a teacher and eventually became a school principal. He also was an idealistic Nazi before and during the Second World War. I have a lot of letters he exchanged with his wife during the war but, again, I haven’t read all of them yet (because I can only digest so much of his naive glorification of Nazi Germany at a time). I believe he eventually ended up both wounded and a prisoner of war somewhere in the East. His wife (my maternal grandmother) died of cancer when my mother was 18, so I never met her. We didn’t see this grandfather very often (at most once a year), and I never really liked him. He eventually suffered from dementia and died at 90+ years when I was 16/17.

My paternal grandparents (late 1930s)

My father, who died almost exactly three years ago of cancer at the age of 69, was born in Lüchow in north-eastern Lower Saxony (Germany). His mother comes from the same area, and I assume his father did as well. His father used to be a forester/hunter. I don’t know much about him and never met him. His mother came from a family that owned a linen shop in Lüchow. She spent part of her youth in Spain, which she considered one of the best times of her life. She raised three sons basically by herself after her husband was killed in the Second World War and remained single for the rest of her life. She was very present during my childhood, which was easy since she always lived in the same city as we did or at least close by. I loved her a lot. At the end, she also suffered from dementia and eventually died at the age of 90+ years when I was 28.

As I was looking for a picture or two to go with this post, I realized that I have way more photos, letters, and transcribed diaries of my mother’s side of the family than I was aware of. Among these is a genealogy chart of my grandfather that goes back to the 1700s to what amounts to my great-great-great-great-great-grandparents. Ironically I have the Nazis and their demands for “racial purity” to thank for this, since he apparently had to fill it out to to be allowed to enter the Nazi teachers’ professional organization in the late 1930s.
The vast majority of these ancestors died in the same village near Heidelberg they were born in. Most of the men were (linen) weavers or some farmers (tobacco and asparagus were popular crops in that area), with a few other craftsmen and day-laborers sprinkled inbetween. It looks as if my grandfather actually was the first one to get any kind of higher education, and my mother was the first woman of her direct paternal line to ever attend any kind of university (not considering any siblings because I don’t have any data about them). It’s a bit strange to not see any professions listed for the women, because I suppose there was no shortage of work for them, and they probably did much of the same things as their husbands. Most of these ancestors were some kind of Protestant (Reformed or Lutheran), and one or two women were Catholic. That makes me the first child of that direct line never to be baptized in any kind of faith (my parents wanted to leave the decision what religion – if any – I wanted to belong to to me). I also saw that I share my birthday with a (great-)great-great-great-grandmother (she is both since two of her children married in two different generations), who was born in 1799.

Now that I know so much about that one branch of my family tree, I want to find out more about the other three of them. I believe a talk with my mother and a cousin of my father (who did some genealogy research of his own) is in order sometime soon.

My maternal grandfather with my mother (1940)

But let’s look at other kinds of ancestry. Most related to my blood ancestors is the national heritage of being a post-WW2 German, which I believe has a huge influence on my political thinking (which was already the case before I knew that my grandfather had been a convinced NSDAP party member and Nazi officer and several of my other relatives were at least casual Nazi supporters). To this day I often choose to speak up about injustices, even if it is to my disadvantage, because I don’t want to be accused of “not having said anything.” I don’t want to repeat the mistakes of previous Germans. I’m also very suspicious of any kind of national pride that some of my fellow Germans claim (and which has apparently become shockingly acceptable to display in relation to World Cup soccer matches again). I just can’t see how I can be proud of something I didn’t contribute to, especially a country I was more or less accidentally born into (depending on what you believe about previous lives, karma, and such things). I constantly question concepts of national or “racial” identity, point out the historical mutability of national borders, and try to show how the search for something “pure” and “original” in terms of ancestry and heritage is pretty pointless in a world where humans have always been migrating between areas, have been trading goods and customs with other cultural groups, and formed relationships with members of a different cultural background. So my German-ness is a kind of ancestry I claim somewhat hesitantly, although I also see that I am able to choose what to do with that heritage in terms of educating myself and others towards a non-Nazi-esque worldview.

So now that I’ve touched on the idea that my blood ancestry and national ancestry probably have an influence on me, even though I don’t believe they determine my fate, I would like to take my questioning the concept of ancestry a step futher.

I believe that there are influences that may have been at least equally important than these biological or geographical ancestors were to me. I mean, it’s not like my relatives played a major role in my upbringing (with the exception of my paternal grandmother). I saw them all maybe once a year, sometimes even less often. In my actual daily life, neighbors, friends, and some teachers were much more present and influential for me.

Lesbian bar (USA, 1940s)

And then there are the ancestors I also never met and with whom I share no blood relation or even geographical ties. You see, as a queer femme, I claim parts of the North American butch-femme and LGBT history as mine (I also claim small parts of German LGBT history as part of my heritage but not to the extent that I identify with much of North American LGBT history). And can I even call them ancestors when many of the more vocal members of certain generations and movements are still alive? Sure, some of this “ancestry” may be rather selective and romanticizing, but that doesn’t mean it feels any less real to me. I certainly can relate a lot more to their lives than I can relate to even my own grandfather.

It’s probably apparent by now that it’s a matter of perspective and (inner) debate who even belongs to my ancestors. Not to mention making any decisions about honoring any or all of them. Do I really want to honor a convinced Nazi? Do I ignore the political views of my grandfather and honor our shared love for nature instead? How do I handle the fact that he didn’t bring much happiness to his own wife and children (especially his daughter, my mother), even if he didn’t outright abuse any of them? Is it possible to view him as a human being and still condemn the opinions he held and his active support of the Nazi regime? What if I find out in reading more of his letters that he knew of the concentration camps and/or participated in killing people during his time in the military (at the least the latter of which seems pretty likely)? And what about my two grandmothers who were at least casual Nazi supporters for at least some of the time? I see that their main concerns wasn’t what happened in the political arena or even on the war fronts – the letters I have read clearly show that their everyday lives consisted of trying to feed their children in a war economy and getting by without their husbands instead. But still. What – if anything – did they know about Nazi cruelties? Did they denounce any neighbors? Or did they find their own small forms of resistance that didn’t endanger their husbands’ lives? Is ignorance an excuse for not doing anything against the Nazi regime?

Despite the length of this post, it’s all still a very superficial look at these issues, raising more questions than answering any. I’m definitely not done thinking about them, I’m not done researching, and I’m not done trying to put my thoughts into words. But for today, this post shall suffice, as imperfect as it is.

The good thing is: I know where it hurts


I haven’t been feeling to well emotionally the past few days, so here’s a spread to look at some good things. I found it on AT but originally it’s from Know Your Tarot.

I’m still using the International Icon Tarot because I didn’t get around to choosing a new deck last weekend and didn’t yet do much with the deck anyway. I’m taking the spread positions as pointers to how things are right now for me.

1 – 2 – 3

1. AbundanceFive of Wands

2. Sources of loveTen of Pentacles

3. Silver liningsThree of Swords

I’m not sure if this is a cruel joke the deck is playing on me, but this doesn’t look like a very comforting spread to me…

I certainly have an abundance of conflict, mostly within myself but also with the world around me. It’s not so much that I have fights with individual people (although I did sort of fight with my mother over the holidays) but that I perceive myself to be in conflict with the world as it is. I don’t seem to find the right place for me to be me. But as I said, most of the conflict is within myself, with different “voices” arguing against each other about way too many things at once. It’s mostly making me crazy right now, because I can’t seem to find some solid ground to stand on and make up my mind. Oh well, maybe I will appreciate the polyphony again sometime soon… And all that anger? At least it’s energy.

Well, this is one of those family cards… My most recent experience with my biological family wasn’t all too pleasant, so I didn’t quite feel the love. I’m not saying it’s not there but we really don’t seem to speak the same language when it comes to expressing that we care for each other. Instead of time, understanding, and honest communication (things that I rate very highly as expressions of love) I always seem to get money from my mother (her favorite way of expressing love but unfortunately the one I appreciate the least – material gifts just don’t mean much to me).* At any rate, at least money is not an area of worry for me right now (which is more than many other people can say at this time). And maybe these people on the other side of the doorway are actually caring for me, and I just don’t feel it right now.

* My ideas about “love languages” here are based on Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages, a book which I much recommend  (if you either don’t mind his strong Christian slant that only talks about heterosexual, monogamous marriages as love relationships or are willing and able to translate it into your own relationship life that may be none of these things – the basic ideas certainly are worth the effort).

And the silver lining to all of this is heartbreak? Now that sounds great… *rolling eyes* Okay, maybe this means that the pain is now out in the open, it has been expressed (if only mostly to myself and therefore not necessarily been heard), and now the worst is over? Maybe taking the time to really cry about a whole bunch of things has been the first step forward and out of this mess. This card also reminds me of a blog post I read earlier today. My AT friend Nisaba Merrieweather wrote about pain and why it’s good to feel it. She says we are more gentle with ourselves when we actually feel the pain instead of blocking it out and that we therefore heal more quickly. I think she has a point there (but I still think blocking out the pain can make a lot of sense if you do it temporarily and still remember that you’re not at the top of your strength).

I think I’ll listen to my sore back now and go offline to have a relatively early night. Even though this reading didn’t cheer me up the way I hoped it would. But maybe that’s the other pain I need to feel right now.

Of men, women, and other freaks: Gender in the Deviant Moon Tarot


The Deviant Moon has an interesting way of portraying gender, so I decided to take a closer look on that on my last day with this deck.

First I’ve tried to identify the symbols that are used in the Deviant Moon to mark gender in the first place.

As far as bodies are concerned, there are several naked breasts on female figures (e.g. the Star, Five of Pentacles, Temperance, Queen of Wands, Empress, Three of Wands, Lovers, Three of Cups, Eight of Swords the World – who is also the only one with naked breasts that aren’t pointy), and many male ones have beard-like growths from their chins (e.g. Four of Pentacles, Emperor, all four Kings, Devil, Eight of Pentacles, Six of Pentacles, Hierophant, Justice, Ten of Pentacles). Interestingly, flat male chests don’t work as a gender marker for me very well, nor does the absence of beards on female characters (which is probably in tune with the general Western perception of gender: the presence of breasts works as a stronger marker than the absence of them; works the same way with beards). Pronounced muscles are also used to emphasize masculinity (e.g. Two of Swords, Strength), but this remains an exception. Many other body shapes are concealed by clothing enough to be readable as male, female, or androgynous with only a little effort (e.g. Seven of Pentacles, Six of Wands, Nine of Wands, Four of Cups, Four of Swords, High Priestess, Justice – despite the beard). Other bodies are altogether non-human (e.g. Chariot, Knight of Pentacles, Ten of Wands, Ace of Pentacles, Knight of Cups, Knight of Wands, Page of Pentacles) or so abstract that gender seems to be beside the point (e.g. Nine of Pentacles, Nine of Swords).

In terms of clothing, there are more female than male characters with floor-length dresses, cloaks, and gowns, and no figure that is explicitly marked as female wears pants. Then again, many male figures wear bright red lipstick and/or nail polish, and decorative elements of clothing are seen all over the gender spectrum.

Let’s look at a few cards more closely now. (I have linked each card to its scan over at AlbiDeuter, so you can see the cards in more detail.)

First, I’ve chosen a few cards that depict both male and female characters: Lovers, Four of Wands, Three of Cups, and Ten of Cups.

Of those, the Lovers shows the most difference between the characters and relies a lot of traditional gender stereotypes. The woman is leaning most of her weight on the man, and she seems to give herself over to him completely and rather passively. The man bears all the weight and seems physically much stronger. Her eyes are closed in passionate abandon, his are wide open. He also seems more active. This is one of the most boring and disappointing Lovers cards I’ve seen because of the stereotyping. Contrast that card with the Four of Wands, which I find a much more suitable depiction of the Lovers (maybe because the Greenwood Lovers are a bit similar?). A gender difference is still recognizable in this card by way of a pointier chin, harsher and more shadows, and the lack of a hair-like hood on the masculine  face. But the emphasis of the image is on the figures’ hands, which are exactly alike and hand-fasted with ivy. My preference for one card over the other probably tells you what kind of relationship I prefer (not that I’m against swooning in my lover’s arms every now and then, or having him swoon in mine, but as an everyday mode of love, an image of looking eye to eye and having committed to being together works much better for me).

The next card is the Three of Cups, which depicts a mixed-gender scene of celebrating people. That in itself in unusual enough, since most other decks I recall have a one-gender scene for this card. I suppose, one could read the Deviant Moon version as two guys having (subtly sexist) fun with a naked woman because the most obvious marker of gender is once again a pair of naked breasts on one of the figures. To me, however, the scene reads more equal, possibly because the figure with the naked breasts is also the tallest one, and none of the other two actually touch her. In fact, in my mind, this is a wonderful queer family scene of a butch woman (the one in green), a slightly feminine man (the one in red), and a femme woman (the naked one with the bald head). It’s also one of the few cards that depict light and dark-skinned people together (the others are the Lovers, the Tower, Six of Cups, Two of Cups, and Two of Swords) – but that would be another post. Compare that scene with the Ten of Cups, the traditional “happy family” card. I usually cringe at most versions of this card because of the way it idealizes heterosexual partnerships with children as the universal symbol of a happy family. I feel differently about this card, however. We still have a scene of two adults, one male, one female, and two kids, one of them male, and the other ambiguous. Nothing new so far. But wait, there’s more! The man is not the ideal embodiment of perfect masculinity with his wooden leg that ends in a wheel, and a chunk missing from his head. His sword and wounds make me read him as a soldier who has returned home to his family. And that brings me to a much more nuanced reading of “family” in this card. The soldier has come home wounded physically and mentally, and his family (especially his partner) reacts with a gesture of caretaking. To me, that says that most of the weight of dealing with war trauma and other traumatic experiences is relegated to the private realm. I see my own caretaking of my partner and ex-partners in this card (minus the children). I was the one they came home to after being raped, hit, harrassed, riduculed, and discriminated against. They considered me a safe place to let down their guards, usually the only safe place in their lives. I was often asked to keep their pain private and not to talk about it with others, which meant that my own means of getting support for dealing with such second-hand trauma and hurt were severely limited. So this card reminds me both of the strength of a family (biologically related or not) when it comes to dealing with difficult experiences, and of the burden that declaring certain issues people’s “private matter” can place on a family. Altogether, this makes for a very interesting and multi-faceted Ten of Cups. It also serves to let gender fade into the background of the issues dealt with in this card.

I’ve also selected bunch of cards with male-only images: Two of Swords, Emperor, King of Wands, Strength, and King of Pentacles. They show a diverse range of masculinities.

The two most stereotypically masculine cards are the Two of Swords and Strength. Both show men with bald heads and big muscles who are physically fighting each other or a dangerous creature. The King of Pentacles is another big-bodied figure. With the way he spreads off his little finger, however, he comes across a bit more feminine than the other Kings (the red lipstick and nail polish as well as his heeled shoes may contribute to that effect). Then again, fat men are indeed often portrayed as somewhat less manly than slimmer/more muscular men, so this may not be such a great example of a positive portrayal of a different kind of manhood after all. Compared to the Emperor, however, the King of Pentacles looks manly enough indeed. The Deviant Moon’s Emperor sits on his throne in a very unusual pose for a man, let alone for the archetypal father and ruler. He also wears a downright flamboyant outfit (which is only surpassed by the one worn by the King of Cups). To me, he looks like a vain and self-obsessed monarch, not like a symbol for structure, order, and solidity (characteristics I usually associate with the Emperor). But even if I don’t particularly like him (and I usually feel fine about the Emperor), I still count him as an interesting take on maleness. Finally, there’s the King of Wands, one of the few fathers in this deck. Whereas other fathers act as teacher/competitor (Ten of Pentacles) or don’t relate much to their kids at all (Ten of Cups), the King of Wands seems to take on an almost “motherly” role. His kids climb all over him, demanding his attention, while he wanders along his path. He doesn’t seem annoyed by them and seems to have taken on his responsibility for them with almost a shrug. I can’t even say why, but I do like this card. Maybe because it’s a far cry from many other Kings of Wands, who are often shown as warriors or leaders of warriors. It’s a nice change to see a different kind of “leadership” depicted here.

Finally, there are a few interesting all-female cards: Empress, Ace of Wands, Three of Wands, Death, Eight of Wands, Queen of Swords, Wheel of Fortune, Queen of Wands, and Two of Pentacles.

Let’s start with the latter two. They are the most conventionally beautiful women in the entire deck (if we can speak of conventional beauty in the Deviant Moon at all). The Two of Pentacles is a Tribal Style bellydancer holding pentacles instead of finger cymbals. Except for her rather pointy elbows and breasts, there’s nothing particularly “freaky” about her, compared to most other cards in the deck. As a bellydancer myself, I’m rather fond of this image, especially because this woman has “real” hips, and her torso actually has equally realistic folds from the movement. As a positive image of femininity, it works well for me. The Queen of Wands is another card I immediately liked when I first saw it. She is a lot more of a freak than the previous card, and she wears her difference proudly. She reminds me of amazons and the goddess Artemis, and I see her as a great illustration of queer femmeness due to her combination of femininity and freakishness.

Next, there are some stocky, strong women. The Eight of Wands shows a farmer about to take her scythe to a patch of young trees. It’s nice to see a woman working physically for a change. The Queen of Swords is also an impressive woman. She looks much more matronly, but not particularly motherly. The blood on her sword makes her another rather ambiguous figure. Whom did she stab (and maybe kill) with it? Why is she crying? At any rate, this is a woman you don’t want to mess with. Then again, as a Queen of Swords, she’s not particularly interesting, since this card often shows a less-than-desirable and not especially happy woman. The Wheel of Fortune shows a similarly threatening person, who is in charge of said wheel. While I applaud the appearance of some women who aren’t thin and/or young and/or traditionally beautiful/sexy, I also regret that a lack of conventional attractiveness and also some degree of de-feminization is once again used to portray women in power (yawn!).

Finally, there are some “mother” cards to explore in more depth: Empress, Three of Wands, Ace of Wands, and Death.

The Empress is the least motherly of them. She is dressed much simpler than the Emperor, but her pose is similar to his, although she feels a lot less “out there” than he does. She hides a dragon-like back under her cloak, and the tail that grows from there winds up as a flower in her hand. As I said, I don’t see anything motherly about her (since I don’t perceive breasts – of which she has three – as a symbol of motherhood), and she’s also lacking associations with creativity and abundance that many other Empresses embody for me. Instead, this image reads like she has to hide who she really is, as if she has to transform her power into something delicate and non-threatening. Which is an interesting statement about women in positions of power indeed! The Three of Wands seems to feed her three flowers from an umbilical cord entering her pregnant belly (or do they feed her?) She wears a monstrous face on the back of her head, and stands in pensive mood in front of the plants. I see this card as an illustration of having to be patient until something has come into fruition, no matter how loudly the “monster” of impatience (and anger about having to wait and remain inactive) in the back of our heads roars. The physicalness of the scene works well for me, even if I’m quite sure the experience as such isn’t limited to women. The Ace of Wands holds her pea-pod baby in two of her three arms. The other one grasps a thick, burning wand. There are trees and fruit on her head, and butterfly wings stick out from her back. Now this is indeed a “mother” whose creativity is not limited to procreation. I think I would have chosen this image as the Empress. I like it how she isn’t limited to being a mother, but that she also has other passions to follow. And then there’s Death. A pregnant woman with a horse(?) skull for a head tramples on a childlike version of herself who is kneeling on the ground in a begging pose. The Kali-like quality of being both destroyer and creator/mother appeal to me (without the Kali association, I’d probably find the image a racist depiction because there are so few figures with dark skin in the deck that each of them stands out). Despite the grinning skull, she doesn’t seem intentionally cruel to me. Destroying is just part of what she does, no more, no less (the same goes for giving birth). While killing her own child may seem pretty brutal, I see a valuable lesson here – not all our creations are worth staying alive, and we have to have the courage to follow through on that.

With that I end my examination, and my time with the Deviant Moon. I’ve found the multiplicity of genders in it very interesting to examine, and have found some true gems in doing so (and some disappointing, old clichés, too).

As a final “word” on our time together, I drew one last card from the deck:  the Five of Wands.

I’m drawn most to the flower that stands upright on the other hill, not by the fighting scene going on in the foreground. I take that to mean that I need (and learned) to look beyond my first impressions of this deck. It seemed overly negative but I’ve come to discover many of its strengths and much of its beauty.