Recovering After a Crisis

This year for me has been tumultuous so far, to say the least. I’ve been going through a conscious Tower-like experience, where change has been implemented by me consciously, but has been extremely disruptive and provoked violent backlash of a very personal nature in my exterior environment. Having now come through the majority of it (I am hopeful the worst is over) in the past six months, I am feeling quite a bit shell-shocked.

Have you ever felt that way, after a major life crisis? When we confront crises, we tend to run on auto-pilot, or rather, pure adrenaline. When important decisions must be made under pressure, when the stakes are very high, and when we are struggling to affirm ourselves and our self-worth in the process, we often don’t have time to reflect on what is truly happening and especially on the profound psychological impact that exterior events are having on us.

Once the acute phase of a crisis subsides, I’ve found that it can feel a bit like images we might conjure to depict the survivor of an unexpected trauma, like a bombing. Granted, I’m blessed to not have been through a war, but the term “shell shock” does conjure an image of someone wandering around dazed among the rubble, and frankly that’s metaphorically a bit how I feel.

When a crisis is intense, the psychological impact may take quite a while to soak in and untangle itself. And in the meantime? What to do when we feel completely dazed and even lost?

As I continue to go through the motions of my daily life, I’m struggling to gain a foothold on stability and a sense of overall purpose. Granted, I always want to rush ahead in my life, and it makes me think of the Moon as a symbol of embracing the bewilderment that life sometimes presents us with.

Bewilderment notwithstanding, I’m taking time to nurture my core passions, tarot of course being one of those. I spent a weekend in northern Europe recently, visiting with two of my favorite cartomancers, Camelia Elias and Miguel Marques, and in so doing I’ve refreshed and renewed my interest in continued learning.

One teacher that Camelia has mentioned in several of her posts as being an important initial influence on her work is Colette Silvestre. Unfortunately, from what I can gather, Silvestre, who is French, doesn’t have any works translated into English. Here in Italy, however, in some online used bookshops I did manage to find three of her works translated into Italian.

Camelia and Miguel make extensive use of the French cross as a spread, one which I’ve never used. I found it economical and precise, and wanted to try it for myself. Each of them have slightly different methods, and I ran across this spread once again in Silvestre’s book, The Manual of Tarot (published by Hobby & Work Italiana Editrice, 1997; original title “ABC des Tarots” published by Jacques Grancher, Paris, 1987).

In Silvestre’s “cross” spread, only the 22 majors are used, and the cards are given positional meanings as follows:

I: the querent (you, if you are reading for yourself), as you face your current situation
II: what reinforces/supports the answer or opposes it
III:  the way, the possibilities, opportunities, or predominant strengths
IV: the answer

V: the synthesis card, obtained by adding the number of each trump and reducing down to a single digit

I liked her majors-only approach as well as the 5th card “synthesis” derived by adding the numbers of the first four trumps.

I feel so foggy that I even had trouble devising a precise question. But this is what I came up with in the end:

What do I need to do or know now, after having come through this crisis?


The Emperor

With The Emperor in the place of where I’m at right now, it becomes evident that despite how I feel, I’m actually in a position of power and control. In fact, I can see how, despite what I may see as “losses” in the crisis that I came through (it was a legal matter), the entire enterprise did call on me to stand up for myself in a major way for the first time, and it proved to me that I can summon and muster an emotionally-detached (to some extent) approach in order to protect my interests.

I often call The Emperor the “CEO of the Tarot” and as such, I like to see this as showing me having emerged a much stronger force in terms of practical, results-driven action. I certainly don’t feel this way right now, but I can understand how in practical terms this card’s energies could certainly apply. In fact, it’s helpful for me to think about this card in terms of where I’m at right now as I face my current “lost” feeling, because an Emperor is firmly in control of his emotions, surroundings, and decision-making. There isn’t a place for anything wishy-washy or indecisive here, and that helps me to remember that despite my confused feeling currently, the fact is that I have emerged with some executive skills that I can embrace and draw upon as I move forward, and that I must also actively recognize these skills as an earned and necessary part of my personal legacy.

I do like how the cards can show us a reflection of ourselves that is more objective than our own subjective self-image.

The Empress + Judgement

Secondly we see The Empress, which either supports or opposes the 4th card, which here is Judgement. So, jumping ahead a bit (because once you are ready you’ll want to read the cards always as a synthesis and always take into account the entire “game” rather than each card as an island unto itself), let’s think about how the maternal, nurturing, physically present and abundant Empress might reinforce or oppose profound and lasting transformation. In this context I see The Empress as supporting that change. The legal crisis I faced was a family matter that involved my children. So this ties in intimately with Judgement. The crisis I faced called on me to redefine my role as a mother, an ex-wife, and a woman looking towards a future as an individual and professional, not only a caretaker. In so doing, I can see how I am being called on to incorporate the Empress into the profound change that has taken place. In other words, my role as a mother here is inextricably linked to my profound change, and this also tells me that while change can take place on a deep, personal level within myself, it must also take into account the fact that my individual self and my individual aspirations are intimately bound up with my role as a provider, caretaker and nurturer. In that sense, I must be aware that (and here we find a paradox), those two forces need to find ways to work together as they may not naturally agree with each other.

For example, the reality is that I am not the only one who has a say in how my life and aspirations unfold, since I am a single, divorced mother raising three young children. In the crisis I had to face, that fact was hammered home quite violently (metaphorically speaking) and as with all life events, I know have more information in order to make future decisions.

So, rather than answering a question outright, this combination of cards is calling on me post-crisis to ask myself: how do you find balance between pursuing your own personal change and growth, while also continuing in your role as stable, nurturing provider and motherly caretaker? A difficult question, indeed, and in fact perhaps the core of what the cards are telling me is the important issue to address now, in the aftermath of my crisis situation.

The Magician

Looking then to what sorts of strengths or opportunities are available to me, we see The Magician. The Magician for me is always a powerful card of unharnessed and oftentimes as-yet-unrecognized potential to create imagined realities. In other words and in more down-to-Earth terms, and as Camelia would say, “What does a magician do?” A magician makes the impossible, possible. A magician makes you believe something to be real that you may not have thought was real previously.

Here, what I’m seeing is that I can draw on the strength of creating my own destiny, but I can also see how this card links back to the initial card, The Emperor. I must begin to have a more objective view of myself as an Emperor-like force, and not only a mothering Empress, in order to harness the latent energy in The Magician, upon which I can freely draw.

Often in readings for clients, when The Magician appears, it’s a message to the client that they already have all the tools that they need for what they want to achieve, at their disposal, right there under their own nose, but they aren’t recognizing it or taking advantage of it. In life we often aspire to something missing, feeling that if we could only get “X” thing, we could then achieve our goals, be happy, or whatever. In fact, another important life lesson I gained from this crisis was the realization that freedom is mainly an illusion (magician), and that in order to achieve personal freedom externally, we must first achieve personal freedom internally.

While that sounds very esoteric, the reality is that we can’t solve problems that exist within ourselves simply by attempting to change our external reality. This card is telling me that I have all the tools I need to do what I want, and to accomplish what I perhaps pre-crisis was seeing as only possible through others.

The Wheel of Fortune

The synthesis card is an interesting concept, and in effect here I do feel The Wheel of Fortune nicely sums up my overall learning in this situation: you can’t control forces that are simply beyond human control. Just like freedom is an illusion, so is control. The only constant in life is change, and we can only change within the boundaries of what keeps us constrained. There are, whether we want to actively accept it or not, constraints on what is possible in the physical world and what we can reasonably make happen, and I’d say these constraints generally speaking tend to increase as we age.

With clients (as well as, I must humbly admit, within my own crisis experience), often I see crisis and frustration arise when one feels that he or she “should” be able to control or direct events, and as such being unwilling to embrace and accept the unequivocal truth that we aren’t in complete control at any time in our lives.

We must open to the idea that some—perhaps most—events and circumstances are truly out of our hands. That is what it means to recognize the power of the Wheel of Fortune. It turns around and around, and sometimes we’re up, and sometimes we’re down. In the end, all the movement is relative, seeing as how we aren’t really turning the wheel ourselves but rather riding around on it.


The thought of “but how can I switch positions so that I’m the one turning the wheel?” makes me think of the Buddhist dharma wheel representing the Noble Eightfold Path. In those teachings (very generally speaking), in order to escape the wheel itself one must awaken to the true nature of reality. This is similar to what I think trump 10 shows us: whether we want to accept it or not, we are on the wheel and subject to its whims, which are within our ability to control only to the extent that we can control our own thoughts, behaviors and responses to circumstances, as well as our individual approach to our lives and our actions.

So, you might ask: what kind of answer is that to your shell-shocked feeling?

Tarot provides a vehicle for introspection and personal reflection. In this reading I’ve gained an alternative viewpoint on my subjective take on my situation. I’ve had time to reflect on what I’ve gained through my crisis situation. And in the answer itself, represented by trump 20, Judgement, I am being told that I must continue to be aware of, acknowledge, recognize, and fully embrace and live out the new “reborn” version of myself that has risen from the dead after this crisis. This I would attribute to the Emperor itself, showing me skills that I may not feel fully comfortable embodying quite yet, but that will be essential in order to avoid another crisis of this nature.

In reading for clients as well as for myself, I am continually reminded that growth comes through change, and change is oftentimes quite challenging and downright unpleasant, ugly or knock-down, drag-out nasty.

While it might seem “easier” to go back to the way you were before a crisis, it’s more productive to acknowledge that the “post-crisis you” is stronger and wiser than the “pre-crisis you”, and to embrace that fact.

Your thoughts?



  1. THANKS for sharing this! I will try out the Major-only-card approach with the French cross, I had not heard about it yet. Thanks for your continuous inspiration!

    • Thanks for reading, Irene! I have missed posting to this page. Writing here is a therapeutic exercise for me and provides continual learning as well. I only hope to be able to get back onto a regular posting schedule. It’s hard to know sometimes if it’s a matter of lack of time, lack of priority, or what! Sigh!

  2. Hi Shelley, hugs. That sounds traumatic. I’ve been going through something similar regarding my circumstances; the legal procedures and that inability to control every spoke of the Wheel. Much of my project is dependent on others for success or failure and I suffered a spectacularly disappointing loss from which I’m still recovering. I have no idea if the Wheel will simply repeat the same forwards then backwards movement. Or even just break off and roll away without me clinging on to it any longer.
    That’s a lovely spread, it’s actually the very first spread I ever used with the tarot so it’s rather dear to me even though I haven’t thought to use it for years!
    The cards are very coherent here, aren’t they? That’s a wonderful interpretation.
    I notice that the Magician sits over, above and in the middle of the binary: the father figure and the mother figure of the Emperor and the Empress. Perhaps he’s suggesting it’s an illusion to think that you can’t have both steely four-square practicality combined with fluid maternal warmth and yet still (the Magician) retain your individual aspirations? As the Magician sits at the top, I feel that your sense of “self” – your personal journey, dreams and ambitions – won’t be subsumed or submerged by the need to be both Emperor and Empress. And that this might be an aspect of the awakening or recognition called into being by Judgement.
    There’s another twinning in terms of height and depth: the staff of the Magician points up as the length of the Archangel’s trumpet points down. It’s as if you could draw a reversible line up and down between the two. From the heights to the depths and back again. Burial, birth and rebirth in extremis. Perhaps you very nearly lost everything that meant the most to you.
    A further mirroring is in the Judgement card. The father on the left in the card (under the Emperor) and the mother on the right (under the Empress). In the middle is the child reaching up with arms outspread as if to embrace the entire set of cards above. That child is the anchor-piece which, of course, fits with the fact that this whole crisis was about your children.
    In the middle that Wheel connecting all of those faces of your soul together. And if, as some say, the Wheel is a karmic emblem, then we have that life, death, and resurrection motif transferred between the Wheel and Judgement. Or to put it another way, you’ve ended up where you had to be: I always think of the Wheel as a symbol of Becoming and so always a becoming-other, as with the dead rising back up into life. It’s in the centre of this microcosm or little universe of cards. And isn’t that also home, in a way: the mumdadyou arc (where you are all three) that the small arms are affirming? With the child at the bottom, the origin, that’s all of it brought back to life.
    I read this spread as giving you a beautiful and life-enhancing message 🙂

  3. Thanks, Donna. That is a very insightful and coherent interpretation and I also appreciate the visual details. In fact these cards leave so much more room for interpretation in terms of the visual cues, which I didn’t even touch on in my post (as it was getting so long!) I noticed for example, the Magician pointing downwards right to the scepter or wand that the Empress is holding in her right hand. It’s as if he’s somehow transmitting his power into her, infusing her with magic potential. I also noticed the continuity of the yellow background, linking those two cards. Oftentimes it may seem that working just with the majors could be limiting but it actually in a way tends to sharpen the message in many cases because you’re focused to work within a structure that doesn’t allow so much room for psychobabble 🙂 xoxo stay strong and thanks for the encouragement. The mother-father-child triangle was also very interesting.

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