8 min read

on altars & alterations

how tightly do you cling to the version of yourself that you see in your mind, that you feel in your heart? what might emerge in a raw and beautiful form, if you let your grip loosen a bit?
on altars & alterations

hello friends, and welcome to october.

before we jump in, a few announcements: devils & fools is now hosted on ghost! i sent out a post the other day detailing the reasons for this shift, along with the various subscription tier options - and if you missed that post, you can read it right here. a reminder that billing has been suspended for both patreon and substack - this is now the only place to find new 3am.tarot writings and updates.

also: today we are officially six months away from the publication of my first book, finding the fool: a tarot journey to radical transformation! i'm in the final stage of copyediting the page proofs, and we finally have a beautiful cover:

i'll be sharing many more details over the next few months, including ways that you can help my book find its audience - but one of the most important things that you can do is pre-order finding the fool from bookshop or your favorite indie bookstore 🖤 publishers and bookstores put a lot of importance on pre-orders, so let them know that you want to see my book on the shelves in march 2023, and thank you so much for your support!

i also wanted to let you know that i'll be relaunching my numerology course, devils & digits, in just a few weeks! i had an incredible group of students in the first session, and can't wait to see who will be joining this second round. if you aren't already signed up for this newsletter, remember that subscribers will get first dibs, so hit that button to make sure you don't miss any upcoming announcements.

lastly, i'm editing a brand new how-to column for autostraddle called practical magic! the first piece, written by me, went up a few days ago, and you can also read a little bit more on the background over on twitter.

now, take a deep breath, grab your favorite fall beverage or treat, and roll those shoulders. release any tension you find in your neck, your jaw, your wrists, your ankles. shake it all out. let it go.

welcome to october, and our month with the hanged one.

on altars & alterations

last month, a dear friend made an accidentally profound typo that i haven't been able to get out of my head. she meant to type alter ego. but phones are fickle, and when the phrase altar ego emerged instead, i couldn't help but pounce on the idea, poking and prodding at the differences:

"so what's an altar ego? it sounds like the version of you that you make offerings to, that you work towards, that you hold as an ideal - but also a stagnant version, a version that does not change or grow. it's like the next step in the 'which five objects would someone use to summon you' meme."

(mine are a bottle of bourbon, a leather jacket, a camera, a phoebe bridgers album, and a tarot deck, for the record.)

i've always been fascinated by the alter ego, a secondary personality or identity that gives us access to a different part of ourselves. but an altar ego, a version of self that you hold up, crystalize, devote yourself to, even worship - that is something entirely different.

altars are blessed spaces, deliberately separate and protected, areas that we designate for prayer or reflection or communion or solitude. they don't have to be fancy or permanent, but they do matter, woven intimately into our rituals and everyday efforts towards marking something as important. they are consecrated spaces, holy, sacred: set apart for moments of wonder and contemplation.

altar predella and socle of archbishop don dalmau de mur y cervelló, on display at the met cloisters - photo by meg jones wall

an altar ego could be a beautiful thing, a way of maintaining confidence, purpose, identity. but used without caution and this concept could also present a problem. if we are constantly building one version of ourselves up, using it as a measuring stick or a framework, it could eventually start to hold us back, lock us in, prevent us from growing more organically. cling too tightly to an old rendering, an old space, an old perspective, and we may slow down, even stall out, rather than continuing to make progress.

there's strength in knowing something, in being certain. yet narratives around the self - who we are, who we have been, who we could be - have the power to be both inspiring and restrictive. how does what we tell ourselves shape our perspective on possibility? when does "i can't" or "i shouldn't" or "that's not the way i am" start to become a self-fulfilling prophecy?

how might worshiping an altar ego hold us back from evolution? when might clinging to a past version of self prevent us from stepping into the next one?

in the major arcana, there are a few moments of pause, moments that i've written about before. some archetypes lend themselves naturally to a kind of slowing down: the priestess, the hierophant, the hermit all make space for choice, awareness, contemplation, questioning, discovery.

but there is often a sense of free will with these archetypes, the intentionality of slowing down, being careful, taking deliberate action or inaction, making a decision that comes from within. and sometimes, the universe

the wheel turns, so to speak, and sets us on a different path, on its own timing.

the hanged one from the vindur deck

card number twelve, the hanged one, represents a moment when things stop all on their own. sometimes this is due to external forces at work, other times it's an internal shift that locks us up - but regardless of circumstance, when we sit in this energy we truly are still, quiet, unmoving. this is a pause, a stagnation, a surrender to something bigger. and no matter how we may twist and press, scream or beg, movement does not happen until it's damn well ready.

it can be frustrating, exhausting, discouraging to pause like this. sometimes it's welcome, but often, this card hits when we're in a hurry to get somewhere, when a slow down feels like the last thing we want.

yet in numerology, the number twelve condenses down to three (1 + 2 = 3), putting it into the empress constellation. and in thinking about the hanged one as holding this kind of energy, we invite in a whole host of new interpretations and meanings to explore. the empress is a card of abundance and generosity, expansion and wildness, letting things be what they are and appreciating them for their rawness, their sweetness, their unfinished perfection. and while the hanged one may feel like a stressful card, there can be joy in surrender, magic in stillness, appreciation and wonder in looking around and seeing exactly where we are rather than rushing as quickly as we can to get to the next thing.

the number three reminds us that when we stop, when we twist, when we invert, we get a whole new perspective on the movement and changes that are happening around us. we see the world in a new way, and the roads that we've chosen, as well as the roads not taken, reveal their secrets when we look at them through this new lens.

and sometimes, that's exactly what we need.

the hanged one & the empress from the vindur deck

how tightly do you cling to the version of yourself that you see in your mind, that you feel in your heart? how well do you think you know yourself? how often do you allow yourself to grow beyond your comfort zone?

what might emerge in a raw and beautiful form, if you just let your grip loosen a bit?

alteration is a specific word, that conjures a specific meaning. it's an intentional change: of clothing, of space, of words, of style. it's an adjustment, a precise shift, which could involve taking something completely apart or could just mean a little tweak, a skilled modification.

an edit, if you will.

the word, the concept, lives in the same family as evolution, transformation, metamorphosis - but it's less earth-shattering somehow, less showy. alteration sounds like we're still able to keep the soul of the garment or space or the thing, like we're working with the bones of something rather than completely demolishing it. alteration is subtle, quiet, intentional but finely crafted. if you don't know it's been done, you might never notice it. it takes a deft hand, an experienced eye, to perform an alteration well.

yet an alteration would never happen by accident. an alteration is an action, an effort. whether born of desire or necessity, we want something to fit better, to work more cleanly, to be fit for purpose.

alteration requires a choice. and whether we surrender a piece to an expert or attempt to perform this service ourselves, we still have to wait and see what the final outcome looks like, feels like. we still have to try it on, and see if it suits us.

the hanged one offers a gift: the knowledge that change is on the horizon, the ability to see it coming. if we are willing to embrace that change, if we loosen our grip on whatever version of self or truth or life it is that we're clinging to, if we give in to the slow process of altering and shifting, death's sting may feel like soothing an ache, releasing tension we didn't realize was there. but if we close our eyes and clench our fist and refuse to consider any other possibility than the one we are focused on, death may feel much more traumatic.

"if i had it my way, i would have kept you forever. thank you for letting me go." – iye ehime ora on twitter

this card is a liminal space, a moment of crossroads, a time to catch our breath and consider how we've gotten to this place. it isn't a trap, but it also isn't necessarily comfortable. the hanged one wants us to take time to embrace clarity and truth, to prepare ourselves for what is shifting, to honor the growth that we've experienced. it wants us to release our need for control, to lean into the choices that we've already made, to recognize where we've gotten in our own way or refused to grow in a particular direction.

it wants us to accept that alterations can make us stronger, that change is inevitable, that there can be beauty and joy in leaving an old self behind.

the hanged one from the vindur deck

what is your altar ego, and how is it serving you? who have you believed yourself to be, and when has that identity proven too restrictive, too narrow? where are you evolving past who you once were? how does it feel to acknowledge your own transformations?

and in sitting in the present, which paths for the future are opening up before you?

thank you for being here, friends, and have a beautiful october.