hey there reader,
i’m hoping that you’re easing into spring as best as U can. i’ve been appreciating the warmer temperatures, the singing birds, and intermittent rainshowers, but for all the natural opening and revival the earth is experiencing, i find myself withdrawing. i’m contending with a sense of uncertainty for the months to come while still trying to plan ahead, so it’s been a lot of solitude and stillness at the crib.
beyond my need for introspection though, it feels slightly treacherous to be outside this time of year. as we approach the 1-year mark of George Floyd’s murder last summer, i’m heavily reminded of the sting of pepper spray that cops blasted on us in the blistering heat at the uprisings. on the same day that the guilty verdict for his killer was announced this month, Columbus Police killed 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant. a baby who called them for help, only to have her life stolen from her. the cyclical nature of how we die, are robbed of justice, and then die again was put so cruelly on display. the violence against us just compounds and compounds. Blackness, not excluding that belonging to children, is a marker for death in this city. it’s a marker for death everywhere.
our people are being (and have been) sent into ancestorhood way ahead of when they should be, and in ways that are deeply traumatic. in trying to grapple with the spritiual consqeuences of generationally-experienced Black death and displacement within my own family, i was led to a practice of ancestor veneration. this practice has been a source of intergenerational, multidimensional healing because as i extend love, care, and gratitude towards them, i can feel them offering the same towards me. tarot is currently my primary medium of communication with my spirits, but my connection to the cards has waned in the past, mainly when i was using a standard Smith-Waite deck. even though my self-readings would be accurate, i began feeling uncomfortable about my use of images of whiteness within Black-centric rituals. i’ve since switched to Oubria’s deck, one of many examples of Black diviners who have created decks for us as a way to reaffirm our magic and combat the overwhelming imprint of whiteness. i believe that re-interpreting Blackness onto tarot isn’t simply an aesthetic necessity, but also an ontological one. if tarot is meant to serve as a trustworthy wayfaring technology for Black people, then the logic of the cards must reveal truths that are inseparable from an atmosphere that is metaphysically hostile towards Black people. nothing exists in a vacuum.
for context, tarot decks are split into two different categories: Minor Arcana (“lesser mysteries”) which map onto daily occurrences, and Major Arcana (“greater mysteries”) which point to life’s larger themes. how then to conceive the trajectory of not just life, but Black life, in the cards? the Major Arcana will be our key. a way of understanding the Major Arcana is through the metaphor of The Fool’s Journey. The Fool represents who we are as we embark on a journey of enlightenment and transformation; each of the 21 cards thereafter symbolizes an archetypal stage in life’s progression.
last year, i finally got around to reading Christina Sharpe’s seminal work In The Wake: On Blackness and Being, and her framework for Black life lived in this world resonated with me on a molecular level. in her book, Sharpe deploys the metaphor of the wake to articulate the all-encompassing nature of anti-Blackness/Black death that started with the onset of slavery, as well as the consciousness that Black people develop from existing under these conditions.
“I want to think and argue for one aspect of Black being in the wake as consciousness and to propose that to be in the wake is to occupy and to be occupied by the continuous and changing present of slavery’s as yet unresolved unfolding…I argue that rather than seeking a resolution to blackness’s ongoing and irresolvable abjection, one might approach Black being in the wake as a form of consciousness.” (Sharpe, 14)
”…we think the metaphor of the wake in the entirety of its meanings (the keeping watch with the dead, the path of the ship, a consequence of something, in the line of flight and/or sight, awakening, and consciousness)…” (Sharpe, 17)
nestled within this metaphor of the wake are other concepts such as the ship, the hold, the weather that similarly convey how our current state of being is moored to the extraction of our distant predecessors onto ships, out of Humanity and into slaveability. being in the wake is about consciousness and transformation specifically from the abject position of Blackness, so i wanted to align The Fool’s Journey narrative with Sharpe’s metaphor as my own way of re-interpreting Blackness onto this divination system. because beginnings/arrivals and endings/departures are salient within both schemas, i found that the allegorical connections were strongest through the first and last cards of the Major Arcana.
The Fool typically opens the Major Arcana with a sense of unfettered spontaneity and wonder, but in the wake, there is no journey we can undertake without the fatal presence of anti-Blackness. cited robustly throughout In The Wake, Dionne Brand’s “Ruttier for the Marooned in the Diaspora” poetically describes The Fool’s (wayward) Journey:
And it doesn’t matter where in the world, this spirit is no citizen, no national, no one who is christened, no sex, this spirit is washed of all its lading, bag and baggage, jhaji bundle, georgie bindle, lock stock, knapsack, and barrel, and only holds its own weight which is nothing, which is memory-less and tough with remembrances, heavy with lightness, aching with grins. (Brand 2001, 213)”
from a place of Blackness, The Fool becomes The Fugitive. our Journey is marked by the fact that we have long been stripped of home and humanity. the number zero on the card seems to signal how we exist within “that Fanonian zone of non-being,” our Blackness rendering us void while also lending limitless potential. the energy of this card is best described as our attendant impulse toward survival. now, the central question moving The Fugitive through the cards is “in the midst of so much death and the fact of Black life as proximate to death, how do we attend to physical, social, and figurative death and also to the largeness that is Black life, Black life insisted from death?” (Sharpe, 16-17)
Sharpe offers wake work as an pathway for The Fugitive’s internal and external transformation, “a mode of inhabiting and rupturing this episteme with our known lived and un/imaginable lives” (Sharpe, 18). rupture is an important word here because this card has correspondence to the outer planet Uranus, which rules revolution and generationally-impactful innovation. as such, The Fugitive is meant to usher in rebellion and the dismissal of convention through their navigation of the wake. one form of wake work that Christina Sharpe covers is aspiration:
“I’ve been thinking about what it takes, in the midst of the singularity, the virulent antiblackness everywhere, and always remotivated, to keep breath in the Black body. What ruttier, internalized, is necessary now to do what I am calling wake work as aspiration, that keeping breath in the Black body?” (Sharpe, 109)
“What is the word for keeping and putting breath back into the body?…What are the words and forms for the ways we must continue to think and imagine laterally, across a series of relations in the hold, in multiple Black everydays of the wake? The word that I arrive at for such imagining and for keeping and putting breath back in the Black body in hostile weather is aspiration (and aspiration is violent and lifesaving).” (Sharpe, 113)
not only does this card have correspondence to Uranus, but has correspondence to the element of air.
fugitive (adj.): “fleeing, having fled, having taken flight.”
and to take flight, one must be in service of air. of breath.
as the embodiment of air, The Fugitive is meant to do the work of aspiration. our transformation through the Major Arcana comes through putting breath back into the bodies of other Black people through deeply metamorphic practices of care-extending, memory-keeping, story-telling, and dream-tending. the Journey we’re on requires vigilance for threats against us and our loved ones. it means bearing witness for those who leave us (or who are taken from us). and, lest we forget, some of us need more aspiration than others.
the crushing gravity of the “singularity of antiblackness” weighs more heavily on Black women and girls, Black trans– and gender expansive people, poor Black people, disabled Black people, fat Black people, so on along the margins. as @thebryreed notes, our heightened vulnerability to violence in the wake often means we are cared for once it’s too late to put breath back in our physical bodies, and our spirit can only be revived through memory.
we live under the omnipresent threat of death, but The Fugitive’s work in the wake is defining a praxis of individual and collective care, militance, and revolutionary imagination that collapses the singularity. the greater mysteries within the Major Arcana are The Fugitive’s attempts to imagine otherwise, each of the cards imparting crucial knowledge that will aid towards the “final” destination.
the Major Arcana closes with The World (XXI), a card that typically imparts completion and wholeness, but of course, cycles must restart.
“The constant production of Black death is and as necessary returns us to the singularity. But just as the weather is always ripe for Black death, the singularity also produces Black resistances and refusals.” (Sharpe, 124)
this card has correspondence to the planet Saturn, ruler of time, death, restrictions, and boundaries. in the wake, The World represents the original boundary of (un)becoming for The Fugitive: it is the Door of No Return, as well as the ongoing singularity of anti-Blackness that it birthed. the dialectic that Sharpe explains above demonstrates why the Journey must begin anew: held captive by The World’s limitations, The Fugitive will never have a place under its helm. we are spurred on to transcend the Door’s frame.
it’s important to note that The Fugitive’s Journey is not circular – there is no passing back through the Door into the realm of Human/whole. our journey is spiralic, hovering around the central point of Black death, but always expanding towards the otherwise through a praxis of care, militance, and revolutionary imagination. this is precisely what Sharpe positions as a possibility of wake work: a rupture in the episteme of Black death that reveals a new “blackened consciousness.”
our loved ones still need breath (vigilance, witnessing, support), so we are compelled to continue aspiring beyond the Saturnian hold of The World. beyond the destination of Human.
it’s in the name (meaning “having taken flight,” and thus “at the behest of air”),
it’s in the stars (Uranus as the planet of revolution that rules our Journey),
it’s in the cards.
until next time,