Splitting Apart

April 19, 2009 § 2 Comments

5 of Stones – Material Difficulty


On Sunday, I drew a card as guidance for this week. I knew it would be a difficult week so I was saddened to draw the 5 of Stones. A member of my immediate family is ill and is having to undergo tests. In this card, I saw my feelings of despair and helplessness reflected back at me.

Like the 3 of Swords, the 5 of Stones is another card that manages to convey both suffering and beauty. The image shows a winter scene, with deep shadows plotting to overthrow the weak sunlight. The trees are gnarled; their bare branches reduced to frail skeletons. The ground is dry and pitted. Five stones rise weightlessly and disconcertingly into the air. Solidity and security have forsaken us: even gravity can’t be relied upon.

The keyword for this card is Material Difficulty. Winter is frequently associated with hardship. In winter, as in periods of hardship, life is reduced to the bare bones. All the rich and diverse pursuits that occupy us in better times seem frivolous and empty; all that matters is survival. But this card doesn’t just concern questions of life or death – there are many difficult things that we need to survive. “If I can just get through this,” we say, “everything will be okay”. 

The hexagram is 23, “Deterioration” or “Splitting Apart”. It can take an upset in only one part of life to feel that everything is falling apart. It’s a feeling that things are outside of our control; suddenly the future is uncertain (it always was of course, but we can happily ignore that when times are good). Everything gets turned on its head: nothing is where it should be, or so it seems.

Hilary Barrett of Online Clarity calls the hexagram “Stripping Away” and says this about it:

“Everything outworn – every image, idea, possession, protection – must go. Even if it feels like your skin. Then the space will be cleared.”

As far as I can tell, not being an I Ching scholar, the hexagram represents a necessary time of material difficulty. It advises against taking action. Rather, the emphasis is on allowing the loss to take place – to be willing to let go of something so that something else can fill its place. This is not something I want to hear right now. But, it is important to remember that I did not consult the I Ching – I consulted the Haindl Tarot. The hexagrams can add depth to a reading, but they are not the reading. In this case, I find comfort in the message of allowing this situation to happen (as if I have a choice!). As Rachel Pollack writes in one of the Haindl companion books (I forget which one):

“Now is the time for acceptance, and waiting.”

Five is an odd, unstable number. It signifies a time of revolution. Everything is up in the air, but what goes up must come down. Gravity will reassert itself eventually and the stones will fall to the ground, their proper place, albeit possibly in a new configuration. Knowing that spring follows winter allows us to endure all the hardships winter throws at us. In the same way, knowing that we also face such hardships in our personal lives from time to time, and that those hardships are unavoidable yet temporary, allows us to keep moving through the landscape shown in the 5 of Stones.

Remember the RWS 5 of Pentacles? The huddled figures keep on moving, despite their handicaps, because to stop moving would be to give up all hope. In the Haindl 5 of Stones, the pure white bird feather that reaches down from the sky suggests some kind of comforting message from the divine, much like the RWS’s stained glass window. It tells us that everything will be all right, no matter how bleak it is in the present. And at the right edge of the card, a warm red glow hints at better times ahead.

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