Over the course of my year of intentionally exploring the world of magical, esoteric, and intuitive spiritual practices, something that really impressed me about them was their consistent insistence that everything has something to offer us for our healing. I don’t mean loathsome platitudes, like “Everything happens for a reason,” but rather that everything has the capacity to contain spiritual medicine for us if we look for it.
Devotees of astrology see this in terms of the seasons and the positions of the planets, the Sun and the Moon. Today, they might speak of the ‘medicine of Aquarius season’ telling us to challenge ourselves to work towards big ideas for society; or they might speak of a particular transit of Saturn offering us the medicine of slowing down, being methodical and doing the work in a particular area of life.
But I find this idea of medicine most striking in Tarot. Each card is believed to offer insight into our circumstances, and medicine for the soul. The medicine of the Four of Swords might be to remember to be still; the medicine of the Wheel of Fortune might be to return to our centre, our core beliefs and values. I wrote earlier in this series about how helpful I’ve found working with Archetypes for expressing how I’m thinking or feeling about situations, and this is for me where that power comes from: It’s not just about seeing my circumstances reflected in an archetype, but about the medicine that archetype might have for me, the lesson I can embody from it to deal with my situation well.
Perhaps more powerful than any of this, I’ve noticed that as practitioners of these sorts of practices embody these lessons of the stars or cards, they become open to seeing all of life in a similar way. Everything we encounter — even the very worst — has some potential to be medicine for us if we allow it. The path to wisdom that life offers us is, as my mom likes to say, to ask, “What is this teaching me?”
I think this is a beautiful way of approaching life. There’s a level of balance and receptivity I think is healthy, neither absorbing life passively nor aggressively rejecting and refusing to accept or acknowledge what may come our way. It’s acceptance, but an acceptance that is willing to work with what we’re given for our healing and salvation.
As a Christian, I find this such a refreshing thing to see in people. It’s not to say that this approach is foreign to Christianity — far from it; it’s actually deeply resonant with the wisdom of my tradition — but simply that it doesn’t seem to be as deeply and consistently embodied by Christians as it is in practitioners of these other spiritualities.
I’m reminded of the story of the Abraham’s great-grandson Joseph, who was sold by his envious brothers into slavery in Egypt and after making a go of things there, was imprisoned under false charges. Horrible things happened to him. But, many years later, once he has been freed and has become a trusted adviser to the Pharaoh, this whole chain of events is what allows him to save his family from famine. When he reveals his identity to his brothers, he tells them, “You meant this for evil, but God meant it for good.” When I think of Joseph’s story, I can’t help but also think of my grandfather, who was able to bring his grief at losing a son during childbirth — certainly a horrible tragedy — to God, and found not only some measure of relief, but also faith, and eventually a vocation to ordained ministry. Something horrible happened, but he was able to transfigure his grief and loss into something beautiful. I’m sure it didn’t lesson the loss — just as I’m sure Joseph still grieved the lost years of his life — but it became a source of strength for him.
Stories like Joseph’s, and to an extent my grandfather’s, are beautiful testimonies to faith, but they are also deeply personal. It would have been shocking and inappropriate for one of Joseph’s brothers to try to tell him, “See, no harm done; it all worked out in the end for everyone!” It is never our job to reduce someone’s suffering to a life lesson. If they ask, we can offer possibilities and help to guide them to find their own meaning, but it’s their meaning to make. As Eastern Christians like to say around fasting seasons, “Keep your eyes on your own plate.” We’re all on our own journeys and — with Gold’s help — it’s up to us to find our own medicine in our circumstances.
And so, I want to leave you with a simple question: What medicine is life offering you right now?