|Five of Wands, from the Son Tarot|
by Chris Butler. Published by Schiffer
The Five of Wands has traditionally been known as the card of strife. It may denote discomfort, struggle and exertion but these are battles worth fighting. Stick with this and you'll find yourself strengthened through your battle. Just as in nature, a butterfly's wings can only be strengthened through the struggle to break free from its Chrysalis, we as men must often grow through life's bumps and bruises
The shadow side of ourselves
For gay men in particular, many of our conflicts are internal ones, particularly as we navigate the rocky road to coming out, and learn to move past societal prejudices to a place of self acceptance. When designing the Son Tarot, I wanted to reflect this inner struggle through the Five of Wands so here, you see the man's main opponent is his own shadow self. This 'negative' figure is the embodiment of all his internalised fears, along with a fair few prejudices he may not even have realised he's developed over the years. The Five of Wands encourages us to actively engage with these inner struggles, for the sake of our own growth and development. The truth of the matter is, we don't have a choice, unless we're prepared to stagnate and let our lives drift past us before we've even lived.
Who are your demons?
The first step is to identify our inner demons. Who is that shadow self you fear so badly? Is he the man who so desperately wants to live the life of an out gay man with no secrets? Maybe he's the one you daren't give a voice to for fear of rejection by family, friends, wives or children. Alternately, he may be your 'angry self'. You won't want to let him have a voice because he may make you face the pain and resentment of that recent relationship break up, or even the anger you feel towards those bullies who hurt you at school. He could also be your 'critical self', for the shadow in your life may constantly lurk beyond your field of vision, whispering in your ear. His observations can be quite pernicious at times, constantly undermining your validity when he tells you your body isn't quite toned enough. Maybe he keeps telling you you're fat and unattractive. maybe he's telling you you're too old to be sexy. Maybe he's constantly critical of your camp behaviour and telling you you should be more straight acting, just like the men you admire so much. At his worst, this shadow version of you won't just be undermining you. He'll be undermining and belittling others as well. Of course you'll never act like them or be like them, he says. You're so much better. Is that what you're really thinking? If so, maybe it's time to come face to face with your shadow opponent.
Look him in the eye and tell him you care
The first step to dealing with your shadow is to admit that he's there and he's part of you. Furthermore, you also need to show him some love rather than pretending he's not there. This may sound strange, but despite your best efforts to pretend nothing's wrong, his voice is still there in your ear, although you keep your back turned to him. Furthermore, you're listening to him as his opinions are affecting your actions. You may fear to face him and you may even hate what he stands for deep down, but it's time you acknowledged him and brought him into the light. Face him square on and say hello. Most importantly, if you're going to acknowledge the negative effect he's having on your life, do it with some gentle compassion and a little understanding. This is no stranger after all. He's your inner self and he's as vulnerable as you are.
You thought he was your enemy. Well, actually he's your friend
Believe it or not, the judgemental, bigoted, fearful, prejudiced, wilful inner self is a valuable part of who you are and, despite his failings, he's as open to learn as you are. Sometimes, the unconscious self takes a while to catch up with the conscious and in situations like these, we need to show a little patience with ourselves. That inner part of us will tug us backwards if left unchecked, but rather than let him do that, you need to give him some gentle coaxing, along with reassurance that the world won't collapse if you don't go where he says. Even if it does, let him know that your bravery will be enough to carry the both of you through. In some instances, your unconscious self actually knows better than you do and at times like this, you need to learn from him. If you're lurking in the closet and he's longing to come out freely, which of you understands better the nature of authenticity? I think you already know, so hear him out.
The fight isn't easy and things won't change overnight
You may have acknowledged your inner adversary and that's a fantastic start, However, if you've spent a lifetime at odds with him, he's not always going to give up without a fight. What's most important is that you show patience and leave your judgmental attitudes towards yourself outside in the cold. If you've spent years functioning from a defensive centre, then there may well be a good reason for it. That said, behaviours that once served to protect us become destructive if maintained when the world around us has changed. There will be times when your shadow self re-asserts himself in the most negative ways and you're powerless to stop him. It feels like a long, uphill struggle. Three steps forward then two steps back. That's absolutely natural and all that matters is this: The number of forward steps remains greater than the backward ones. Dealing with internalised fear, prejudice or homophobia is both painful and difficult. Allow yourself to fail from time to time and when you do, just pick yourself up, brush yourself down and try again.
Some battles are worth fighting. You come out stronger
When we make peace with our inner shadow, we can begin to integrate him back into ourselves. Once done, we're no longer living as conflicted men. We begin to live as powerful men. Think of the energy that's potentially wasted on inner conflicts like these. If you're in one such struggle yourself, make it count for something. Face it fair and square. face yourself and learn from the experience in the process. To do so takes courage, because you'll be facing some of your greatest fears. It's worth it though, for if you can successfully challenge your fears then you'll be able to live a freer, less troubled life. Prejudice comes from a place of fear as well. If you can overcome your prejudices, not only will you be kinder on yourself; you'll be more caring and tolerant towards that great and diverse world around you. The Five of Wands may be a challenging card for us as gay men to contemplate, but ultimately it's an encouraging one too. It's a testament to human strength and the ability to change.