Queen of Wands

Hello dear readers. Here we are under the auspices if the third moon of the year — the last before the spring equinox tips us out toward spring.

Before we get into the letter, I’d like to invite you to a reading I’ll be giving on Tuesday, April 11 at the Leelanau Township Library in Northport. If you’re nearby and would like to hear a few poems and stories in person, I’d be delighted to see you there. It starts at 7pm.

I spent most of February on a writing project, which entailed working through the images in the twenty-two major arcana of the Smith–Waite tarot deck. Each morning I pulled the next card, spent the work day with it on my desk watching, and in the evening wrote a poem. I’ll publish all twenty-two of the resulting poems soon as a booklet — keep an eye on the bookshop if you’re interested.

The project proved more difficult than I expected, but also more rich. To anyone who wants to deepen their understanding of the major arcana — as I had wanted to for a few years — I would highly recommend spending a day with each card, one after another. That rhythm brings said difficulty, but also most certainly the richness.

So, the tarot is on my mind. As we work through the elements in the letters this year, I’d like occasionally to bring the cards into the conversation. Beyond the abundant elemental imagery in the major arcana of the Smith–Waite deck, there are the minor cards, which themselves fall into four suits (wands, swords, cups and pentacles) corresponding to the four classical elements beginning with fire.

This month, in continuing our consideration of that element, we take as our guiding image the Queen of Wands. Following is an elucidation of that card as it relates to our current season.

The Queen of Wands tarot card sits on a wooden table among four jars of water where willow cuttings are busy rooting. A few bright green sprigs obscure part of the card, which shows a mature female figure clothed in a rich yellow robe sitting in a tall throne in the desert. Atop her head sits a golden crown adorned with flowers. In her left hand she holds a sunflower in bloom, and in her right a wooden staff sprouting at the top with new leaves. The throne is adorned with lions, and at the queen's feet a black cat sits watchfully.

Perhaps more than the other three, the element fire has a double aspect. Fire arrives as both source, a giver of warmth and light, and as destroyer. When one shows its face, the other tends to hide. As we know from Heraclitus, who survives to us in riddles:

That which always was,
and is, and will be everliving fire,
the same for all, the cosmos,
made neither by god nor man,
replenishes in measure
as it burns away. 1

We see the two aspects clearly here between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. The resplendent sun has returned to the sky, and down in the hearth, logs long reduced to coals smolder. As the outer light rises, flame retreats into cinder buried in ash, where its glow can still be felt but barely seen. Perhaps you recognize the riddle? This time of year it becomes difficult to discern source from destroyer.

We know that energy is conserved; any dying down is accompanied by a flare elsewhere. The glow remaining in the hearth is not really dying at all, but moving intently inward toward the center of the coal. There, both faces gaze at one another. When destroyer rises, we feel spent and discouraged; when source shows its face, we are replenished. They are together fire, we must remember — no more separable than sunlight and wood.

All the while spring approaches. It is March after all. Soon the flood of that season will arrive, when leaves will sprout from dead branches, the soil will seethe with roots and we will be called to bring our inner fire, the glow held at the center of the coal, back out into the open. We hope that the cosmos, in its vernal abundance, might respond with replenishment.

Thanks for reading along with this early March installment of Polylith. Between drafting and revising this letter, the first robins of the year arrived in our garden. Their songs hit me hard — they bore almost precisely the replenishment that felt so distant the day before. I hope it visits each of you soon.

If you enjoy these writings, I invite you to share one with a friend. We’ll spend one more month with fire before turning our attention to air, just in time for the first warm breezes of May. As always, I welcome any reflections of yours —– you know how to reach me.

Until April, keep the hearth burning a bit longer.


  1. Fragment 20, translated by Brooks Haxton