Ask Arcanalogue | Haute Macabre

Ask Arcanalogue

Hello, readers! In the spirit of the season, and knowing how tight things can be this time of year, I’ve taken down the Patreon paywall for participating in this feature. Have a query you’d like to see addressed by Arcanalogue this column? Send it to arcanalogue@gmail.com, and include HAUTE MACABRE in the subject line. Happy holidays!

Dear Arcanalogue,

I saw a Cards Against Humanity card once that referenced a “sad, fat dragon with no friends.” Never have I related to something so dumb and tragic as I did to that stupid card in that stupid game.

I’ve been making my way through this world as a sad, fat dragon for my whole life. On one hand, it’s led to a rotten sense of self-worth (heck, I barely even have a sense of self) that has, in turn, led me into toxic, abusive relationships, and generally not great decisions. On the other hand, sometimes I believe this “separateness” I feel, this sense of “chonky, beastly other” has isolated me and freed me to be who I am in the sense of following my weird passions, which has strangely led to some amazing opportunities.

I guess my question is… how can I honor my sad, fat, dragon without it eventually cannibalizing me? I don’t want the crypto-forensics to find me in my cave, a sad, fat dragon skellington, having eaten its own tail… because it didn’t know how to nourish itself any other way.

SFD

Dearest SFD,

One of the problems associated with feeling like a monster is that monsters are interesting. Monsters have power. And for long stretches in life, our monstrousness can feel like the only power we have, and we hoard it like… well, like a dragon. We do what we can to extend the reach of that power, and prolong its effects, sometimes in ways quite furtive that further demonstrate (to us, or whomever may be looking) our monstrousness. 

We let all this go with great reluctance, forsaking healthier or more stable power sources, even when they’re finally within our reach.

Monsters don’t expect to win, you see. Sometimes just surviving in the world as a “chonky, beastly other” feels like a victory on behalf of all of monster-kind. And you’re very wise, Querent, to point out the brand of freedom that lies therein. If you hadn’t been an Other, if you’d felt conventional and acceptable from a young age, you might have ended up being a much more terrifying species of monster: one who is not compelled to know oneself.

The first part of your question (“how can I honor my sad, fat, dragon”) is a tribute to your self-awareness in these areas, snaps for that. The second part (“without it eventually cannibalizing me?”) is based on fears related to that dragon’s origin story, namely your suffering in isolation. It’s legit to worry that our trauma will never be truly resolved, that even the parts of ourselves we love are formed in response to it, and that no matter how well we manage it, or for how long, it will gradually creep over our SFD bodies like kudzu. Or, like a virus gone dormant, it might flare up the moment our immune system is compromised. And god help us if we’re not safely alone in our cave when THAT happens…

These fears keep a person trapped somewhere between indolence and hyper-vigilance. Every triumph feels tainted, and every slip-up becomes a sign confirming that a monster just can’t hack it in this world, and oughtn’t try. I’ve found that radical self-acceptance can slide rather frighteningly into behaviors that eventually betray us; meanwhile, attempting to minimize the possible harm to others keeps us isolated. 

That’s why I think it’s telling that you’ve latched onto “Sad Fat Dragon” as a monster totem — it advertises a certain harmlessness to others, it establishes you as a safe monster to know (or ignore). But I don’t know if you realize this, Querent: it also places limits on your power you can ever wield, because you’re too preoccupied with reassuring the world that the only person you can really hurt is yourself.

During a low point about five years ago, when I was pouring my heart out to a friend, she paused for a moment and said to me: “I wonder how things would be different for you if you actually felt powerful?”  She said this kind of ruefully, as if it was a foregone conclusion that this was unlikely to ever be the case.

I took light-to-medium offense at the time. Of course I feel powerful! I’d already spent years doing so many amazing things, making my dreams come true all on my own! I’d just happened to fall on some hard luck, temporary lost sight of the path. That could happen to anyone!

I thought of her words for months, rather indignantly. I thought of them as I prepared to ditch NYC and move to Los Angeles, saving up (still rather modest) amounts of money which had completely eluded me in the past. I thought about it as I registered all of my new apartment’s utilities in my name — a first, thanks to years of living crammed in with roommates. I thought about it as I bit the bullet and applied for my first credit card. See? I’d think. Look how goddamned powerful I am! I can do anything that scares me!

But gradually it struck me that all these rites of passage — these demonstrations of personal “power” — were so humiliatingly simple by normal people standards. Truth be told, I was afraid of taking responsibility for myself, because deep down I knew I would fail. And then I’d become a burden on everyone else, letting them down as well. 

That, dearest SFD, is the story of how I discovered at the age of 37 that I didn’t trust myself in the slightest, not one little bit. And had managed to arrange my entire existence — one which I was still ferociously proud of — to avoid reckoning with it. In the process, without realizing it, had deprived myself of the most basic building blocks of life, and then made up a whole mythology to explain why those were off limits to monsters such as I. 

Oh hey, it seems there were some tarot cards floating around here. Where’d those go? 

If I had to characterize you, SFD, I’d paint you not as a dragon, but as a Queen. I’d bless you with a human form, knowing that some queens have extensive dragon experience, slaying them, becoming them, seducing and being seduced by them. Certainly no judgment here! 

The Queen of Swords’ sadder-but-wiser attitude definitely informs, and sometimes impairs, her leadership. But that doesn’t disqualify her in the least! Look at the kind of “normal” folks who feel totally confident stepping into these roles. They’re terrifying! 

While she’s often portrayed as battle-hardened, please remember: at some point, this was all new to her. Imagine the courage it took for her to pick up that sword for the first time, when she’d only ever tasted the fear of being on the wrong end of one, or sought to avoid participating in violence and brutality altogether — only to discover that it’s unavoidable part of life. 

Claiming this kind of power may sound gratifying. Endless fantasies revolve around it! But we who accepted our powerlessness at a young age know that it comes with the very real risk of becoming our own worst nightmare: an out-of-control person with the power to hurt others, one whose mind can be easily twisted to justify almost anything.

Having never known justice, we doubt our own ability to impart it. 

Not gonna lie, SFD: my decisions in the past few years haven’t been perfect. Doing this work has showed me how angry I really am, and that it’s okay to be angry; safely exploring that is part of my everyday reality. And then a serious depression last fall left me doubting whether I should still be in charge of anything. When you can’t trust your own mind to tell you the truth, how safe is it to do anything? What use could I possibly be to anyone? 

But I still didn’t slide back, at least not in the ways I’d feared, and I never ended up reverting back into someone I couldn’t trust. I remained accountable. I’ve held on to my sword.

I want this to serve as a reminder that all the tail-sucking comfort and safety that a Sad, Fat Dragon enjoys are purely an illusion. You seem to know that, hence your fear of that appetite, that lonely, fruitless demise. So hear what I say, SFD: in the long run, in a very practical way, It’s actually far safer to take up the sword. 

That’s right, I’m going to say the maddening, condescending thing. I wonder how things would be different for you if you actually felt powerful?

In this spread, the Queen is crowned by three qualities that will make it safe for her to know her power. Note the total absence of further Swords cards! She will not be ruled by her pain, or by the persistence of tragedies from the past. 

The central jewel in her crown is the Ace of Wands, blessing her with a magic combo of ability, agility, and opportunity. Fire meets Air. This dragon queen’s gonna fly! 

On either side, great potential for the kind of attainments and deeper comforts that simply can’t be rolled all the way back — not unlike my rebound from last fall’s depression. Once you’ve cleared a certain threshold, you simply won’t accept less for yourself. And once you’ve felt that for yourself, tested your wings and found they aren’t just vestigial, you’ll want to help others feel it too. 

I suppose that’s what I’m offering you here, SFD. Take my sword! I’m offering it properly, handle first, queen to queen. If you don’t trust yourself to accept it, it’s time to take a ruthless, Queen’s-eye-view at the reason why… and then accept it anyway.

Yours in perpetual beastliness, 

ARCANALOGUE


Dear Arcanalogue,

Over 10 years ago I moved my young family from the West coast to a small town in the Southern Bible Belt to help with my mother-in-law was fighting cancer. This was never to be a long term move, but due to marriage failing and trying to raise children as a single parent I am still here. My friends are still on the West coast (being Pagan here and making friends is really hard). My question is how do I become unstuck? I know where home is just every time I think we can move back it falls apart.

Anonymous

Dear Anon,

I’ve found myself thinking about your dilemma quite a lot since first reading this. It’s such a familiar issue, and one that quite a lot of my friends have faced over the years as their loved ones’ needs have taken priority over their own. 

Last week I read Billie Holiday’s heartbreaking, astonishingly candid memoir Lady Sings The Blues. It was astonishing to see how often her entire life essentially got put on pause, sometimes for years at a time, due to factors such as addiction, illness, incarceration, grief, poverty, you name it. During the year she spent imprisoned on a work farm, she didn’t sing a note — and then ten days after her release, she sold out Carnegie Hall, singing until she literally fainted at the end of the third curtain call. 

No matter how ironclad our circumstances may seem, life often has vast surprises in store for us… but we’re required to participate in them, rise to meet them, and that’s something folks often discover they can no longer do. Especially people like you, who’ve already tried several times and still haven’t gotten what they wanted. After a while, it just hurts too much to hope for anything too drastically different. But what other option is there, for those who still seethe with ambition? As Billie wanna-be Lana Del Rey sings: “Hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have… but I have it.”

Speaking of books, I don’t remember who gave me this old copy of Robert Heinlein’s Have Spacesuit, Will Travel when I was ten years old, or whether I just picked it up myself at a library discard sale for a nickel, but there’s a quote in there that’s worked its way into many of my readings, particularly when people feel all-caps STUCK: 

“In a dilemma, it is helpful to change any variable, then re-examine the problem.”

I often advise STUCK people to make some small change, no matter how insignificant, as a way of coaching themselves toward change, signaling their availability for real transformation. Switch where you part your hair. Wear a ring on a different finger. Incorporate an unusual color into your wardrobe. No change is too insignificant when you’re trying to keep hope alive.

There’s actual science involved here. Our brain’s neural pathways are formed by repeated thoughts, repeated patterns, which gradually become well-established routes. That’s why it’s so hard to break a habit, and so easy to slide back in to doing things the old way: by breaking out of a rut, you are literally changing your mind. New routes require new pathways to be forged, new behaviors to be diligently repeated. The older neural pathways don’t fade away entirely, but after a while they lose prominence, they’re no longer the default.

Change any variable. Then re-examine the problem.

All of this is a prelude to peeking at the cards I turned over for you, Anon. While I can’t predict your future, there’s nothing here indicating that you’re truly stuck where you are. Quite the opposite, in fact!

The Queen is the central figure here, and she’s gotten this far by wearing whatever face suits the occasion, creating her world as she goes. She’s many things to many people, and this depends on an ironclad sense of self, an awareness of her real priorities. This is exactly what I feel you’ve laid out in your question, dearest Anonymous. You know what you want, even after all these years.

The Queen of Wands tends to be a self-effacing and conciliatory figure, encouraging others by showing them only what’s desirable to see. She’s loath to expose anyone to the intensity of her interior reality. Often this instinct works in her favor, but there are times when it keeps an essential part of herself from being properly appreciated. 

I wonder if anyone else realizes how badly you want the things you want; I wonder how things might change if they did.

This cluster of Wands — the Eight and Ace flanking our Queen — makes for a powerful trio. The Eight suggests the arrival of sudden, fortuitous information, and the Ace is like a jetpack into another reality altogether, one that aligns nicely with the Queen’s purposes. But as ever, the question boils down to: what are you willing to do about it? 

In a way it might feel like a curse to put all this back into your hands, forcing you to act very selfishly in exchange for the fulfillment of what must, at times, feel like purely selfish desires. But no one else is going to make this happen for you, Anon. If they were, it certainly would have happened by now. 

Sometimes seeking our fate requires us to choose and transform in ways we’re not certain we can live with in the long run. My answer to that is, transformation is inevitable. Stay or go, either way you’re going to gradually end up turning into someone else. You can take an active role in this development, or a passive one, and either way no outcome is guaranteed. So why not take the active route? 

In ten more years, your life will be very different than it is now.  I’d love to shrink that down to ten months, Anon. That’s less time than Billie Holiday spent jailed on a trumped-up drug possession charge. Assuming you have more to work with and a greater range of motion, I think it’s time for you to look at exactly how much you can change in that span. 

The Ace and Eight of Wands ought to blaze in your imagination in coming months, a reminder that past failures are not an indication of what’s possible in your future. Billie writes of her big Carnegie Hall comeback: “Even before I opened my mouth to sing I had an answer for all the people in Europe who told me America would never accept me after I got out of jail. And I was glad I hadn’t jumped to any conclusion in jail, or run out.” 

“I know where home is,” you say. If you intend to return, consecrate your intention by keeping your compass pointed in that direction, so that any new burst of energy (as seen in the cards) will blow you closer to it. Examine obstacles closely, and break each of them down into smaller steps, and then take those steps, even if you feel like you’re still crawling when you want to run. Start with the small things, then move to the bigger ones, the things that scare you. Focusing on money could just paralyze you with despair, so start with small adjustments and assume the stepping stones will be there when you start on your way.

Change any variable. Then re-examine the problem.

Some people end up living their entire lives with their compass pointed somewhere else, and don’t ever end up making it home. That may sound tragic, but I think It’s still better to die knowing who you are and what you wanted, instead of trying to convince yourself you feel differently than you do. And in the meantime, a STUCK person can still find creative ways to embody that spirit of belonging elsewhere, incorporate it harmoniously into their identity. You could end up moving again many times in your life, the compass proving more fickle than you ever imagined. That too is fine; I think it’s just called “life.”

The Queen of Wands suggests you have the will and the imagination to create wonderful, vibrant realities — not just for others, but for yourself. That means you need to be as patient with yourself as you’d hope people like your children or mother-in-law would ever be with you. 

Can you do that, Anon? The cards seem to think you can.

xoxox

ARCANALOGUE

Want to ask Arcanalogue?  Submit your questions via arcanalogue@gmail.com; include HAUTE MACABRE in the subject line. 

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