May 23, 2018

Hopes & Fears: Reconsidering the Celtic Cross

nightmare scary doctor
This is not a doctor I hope to ever see.
Dieter Laser as Dr. Josef Heiter
When a Tarot reader lays cards down on the table, he or she will typically lay the cards into a conceived pattern called a spread or an arrangement. The reasons for doing so is because specific arrangements work as rigid skeletons to give strength and form to the flesh of the individual cards. One such arrangement is called the Celtic Cross, and although I couldn't say if it's the single most widely used arrangement in the world, I'm confident in saying that it's the best known arrangement in the world.

One of the reasons that the Celtic Cross has endured for so many years is because it was featured in "The Pictorial Key to the Tarot" by Arthur Edward Waite, a man called the father of modern Tarot and whose deck -- popularly known as the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, named for the Rider Publishing House who produced it and Pamela Coleman Smith who illustrated it -- has become the template against which all other decks are now compared.

As for the Celtic Cross arrangement, it's become a staple inclusion in seemingly every little white book sold with new Tarot decks. Haven't you ever heard of an LWB? It's that throw-away pamphlet included with the deck that gives the basic definitions of the cards and features the Celtic Cross if no other reason than to give the proud new owner of the deck a way to use it. Among Tarot readers, the Celtic Cross tends to be polarizing without much ground in between. 

One of the reasons that the Celtic Cross is occasionally disliked is because it isn't a very precise sort of arrangement, but another is because despite it often being the first arrangement introduced to new Tarot readers, it's actually quite difficult to use because several of the positions within the arrangement overlap and sometimes even seem to repeat one another.

But one position within the arrangement that doesn't overlap is the ninth position, called Hopes & Fears. This position is exactly what it sounds like: the hoped for outcome, ideals, lofty desires, and wishes, but also fears, nightmares, anxieties, unwanted outcomes, and worse. Tarot readers just learning how to read the Celtic Cross sometimes complain that this doesn't make any sense, because "How can one position represent two opposite things at the same time?" To answer that question, I want to tell you a story about myself, and more specifically, how I feel about surgery, doctors, and hospitals. 

Here's a secret about me: I enjoy surgery. Not in the sense that I fetishize pain and suffering, or even the surgery itself, but the preparation before the surgery and the recovery after. There's a strange sort of personal peace and calm that emerges in the period of time before and after surgery, because there are no more decisions for me to make. I'm able to entrust my care to a team of medical professionals who have taken away completely the burden of all responsibilities. I don't have to decide what to wear, because they've given me a hospital gown. I don't have to worry about cleaning linens, because they'll change my pillows and my sheets. I don't have to worry about cooking meals, because the hospital cafeteria will supply my food. I don't have to worry about my pain and discomfort, because the doctors and the nurses will tend to my safety and security. And if necessary, I don't even have to worry about cleaning myself, because the nurses will bathe me. In this period of time shortly before and just after a surgery, I have only one job: to take complete rest. 

In a way, this allows me to rewind the clock into a state of sweet, childlike oblivion. I've never attempted to receive unnecessary surgeries, but between pinning a broken hand, removing an inflamed appendix, repairing a collapsed lung, and probably something else I'm forgetting right now, this is a phenomenon I've been able to enjoy a few times.

But you know what I haven't enjoyed a few times? Surgery. The last major surgery I had was to repair a collapsed lung, and it was a genuine nightmare. The period of time after I received thoracoscopic surgery to repair a collapsed lung is one which I can't fully remember, and strangely enough I seem to be able to recall less and less accurately as the years pass. There are so many things I can't remember: the name of the hospital and even the name of the city where the hospital is located, who did or didn't visit me while I was in the hospital, how long I was in the hospital... hell, there are just entire days at a time missing from my memory during which I reportedly tried to get up and walk away (even with all the tubes, IV's, and a catheter in me), spoke gibberish, and had a hysterical fit while calling out for my sister who was a nurse's aid at the same hospital.

I also had periods of time when I was not permitted to sleep because when I did sleep my heart rate would fall too low to keep me alive, and there was also an unfortunately memorable time when I did sleep that I dreamed I was naked in darkness and being tortured by imps who were stabbing me with pitchforks in my surgical wound. And on top of all that, there were also the times when I hallucinated about people who weren't there at all, including being visited by Dennis Haysbert, also known as the Allstate Guy. It would seem that my unconscious mind wanted nothing more than to be in good hands.

This particular hospital stay over eight years ago was so memorable that I continue to have anxiety about it to this day and it's impacted me to such a degree that I often self-censor during movies and TV shows featuring traumatic hospital scenes. All things considered, I suppose you could say that it had a big impact on my life and has completely redefined what fear means to me. You have no idea how much I wish these things were not true, because this hospital stay was the nightmare that still haunts me.

All of which is a long way of saying that this is what the position of Hopes & Fears means in the Celtic Cross. Hospitals and in particular surgery have become a potent combination of my own personal hopes and fears. I hope for a recovery from illness and injury, I hope to escape the burden of stress and anxiety, I hope to be cared for and given the treatment I need to become healthy again. I fear the pain of recovery, I fear the loss of myself, I fear the reminder of death, I fear helplessness and despair. It's easy to dismiss the position of Hopes & Fears as a bit of mental masturbation and fluffy day-dreaming, but if you're going to give this arrangement the esoteric depth it deserves, then you should not fail to remember that the position of Hopes & Fears in the Celtic Cross can be equally bright and encouraging as it can be dark and terrifying.

1 comment:

  1. I always enjoy your novel perspectives on things. I think I feel similarly about the period of my vasectomy recovery to the way you initially describe hospital stays for surgery. All my needs were met by someone else; I was prohibited from doing much of anything and was forced to basically just lie down and rest. I used the time to learn the rudiments of a new language and read up on Romani culture and life. I still look back fondly on that weekend.

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