How appropriate that I am writing about the 10 of Wands on the last day of 2016, a year that has been overwhelming and exhausting regardless of where you land on the political or social spectrum. The 10 of Wands is a card of complete and utter exhaustion. It indicates burnout, it indicates feeling burdened, and it indicates that if you aren’t there now, you are about to fall apart if one more thing lands on your plate. This is also a card warning us that no matter what our intentions were going into a situation, we are now knee deep in something where we’ve taken on unfair or codependent burdens that shouldn’t belong to us in the first place. As a person, this is someone who either takes on others’ problems as their own or a person who expects others to do that for them. As an event, this is the moment you’re just done with whatever situation has been too much work. You have reached burnout. As advice, this card lets us know it is time to take a HUGE step back from such a person or situation—and take a long, deep look at the habits that regularly puts us in this position.
Queering the 10 of Wands is somewhat uncomfortable for me as so much of my work on this series is geared towards building up community and building up individual LGBTQ+ seekers. That is still true, but sometimes to become empowered, we have to reach a dark spot first, and sometimes we have to acknowledge that for all of our radical power, we too are human and flawed. Queering the 10 of Wands often means addressing the frequently codependent need to “fix” everything for our fellow queer people, our penchant for working too hard in relationships that we know aren’t worth it, and to acknowledge that we are so prone to take on as many activist, advocate, and community roles as we THINK we can handle without much thought to our basic human needs like sleep and proper meals. I see this card come up disproportionately often with queer seekers because we are so on fire to create change that we often can not see we are headed into dangerous territory. You can’t give thirsty people water when your own cup is empty, and I see so many cases of overload where every card I lay out is about self-care and adequate rest when reading for my community. When the 10 of Wands shows up you HAVE to take a step back, no matter how much you love your projects, or you will end up so frazzled and spent you will be unable to help anyone. This card therefore often addresses compassion fatigue, a type of anxiety faced by those who do a lot of helping work and community organizing that comes from taking on all of the problems you’re trying to resolve as your own. It’s exhausting to be someone who gives a damn about marginalized people, let alone the fact that that involvement often reinforces the trauma that comes from being marginalized one’s self. This means facing the hard realities of putting up boundaries when we really don’t want too, and having to shut off part of our empathy to the very real suffering those we care about our facing so that we can continue to do the hard work of creating change and offering direct support to those who need it.
Finally on this note, while a codependent need to take on a partner’s problems as our own is by far not a specifically LGBTQ+ phenomenon, it does manifest a little differently at times. I mentioned before how taking on someone else’s trauma can reinforce our own, and that’s certainly true in these cases as well. I want to emphasize that most people who get the 10 of Wands often in situations like this are genuinely compassionate people in positive relationships. Of course that’s not always true, as we saw in my opening comments about the card, but in many cases it is, and the problem is that we haven’t learned to put up emotional and spiritual boundaries to protect ourselves. The problem is also that we’ve been so focused on these other problems that technically aren’t even ours that we have abandoned our own needs. In short, this card often shows a problem that exists in us, not other people involved. When this card shows up over and over again, it means we’ve developed a habit of taking on someone else’s issues as our own, and it’s appearance requires self-assessment and honesty to figure out why that’s happening and how we can prevent it in the future, and how we can start healing that part of us that chooses to take that on. How this shows up uniquely for LGBTQ+ people is that the need at hand comes from a place where we identify with the problem or pain, and think subconsciously, for example, that if we somehow fix a close friend’s relationship with their transphobic parent, our own tenuous relationship with casually homophobic high school friends will somehow also reach a peaceable conclusion. This causes us to take on these other problems instead of our own, but we take on so many that it inevitably leads here, to the 10 of Wands, to a place of feeling broken, not better.
On an even more serious note, the of 10 of Wands can show up to represent the radical collective or queer community as a whole when a traumatic event happens that takes the wind out of our normally energetic sails. I saw this card show up a lot this year (after Pulse, for example), when a querent is generally good about boundaries and self-care but something unprecedented happens that just knocks us off our feet completely. In these times we think the solution is to immediately hop back up and into action. We deprive ourselves of the time to grieve but in the end, the human need to rest and grieve always wins. It’s okay to feel defeated, and though the 10 of Wands often shows up to give us advice or steer us a certain way, in these cases it shows up to say “I hear you. I see you. I love you. Please give yourself the same love I am giving you.” You do not want that beautiful wands fire to turn into rage, and you do not want it to sizzle out completely. There are times that require action, (like the 8 of Wands), and times that do not. Now your job is not to act. It is to feel your pain fully, to give in to your exhaustion, and to take even a few moments or (preferably) days to rest your weary, broken heart. It is in that rest that the fire reignites, and we can cycle back around to the beginning of this suit. If Wands are about fire and action and 10s are about transformation, we have to remember that the transformation at the end of a fiery run is born out of ashes, not new fires. Many think of the Wands suit, especially at the end, as a wildfire, and that metaphor certainly has merit. But it can also be likened to the Phoenix, and if you want to rise again and cycle back to that Ace, you have to sink fully into the ashes of defeat first.
Be sure to check out the full Queering the Tarot Series.