I woke up Sunday, May 31st feeling sad, a little angry, and despairing about the current unrest in the United States and the horrific crime against George Floyd of Minneapolis, Minnesota which precipitated it. Seeking consolation and counsel about the whole sorry state of affairs, I gathered up the Adinkra cards, the Eighteenth Century cards, and the Ogham cards, three decks which felt more ‘tribal’ than personal to me. I took them to my desk and began.
THE ADINKRA CARDS
Because I enjoy the Adinkra Cards’ ‘Wise Elder’ feel and encouraging wisdom, I started with them first. For each of the three decks, I used the spread I developed specifically for this deck, what I have come to call the ‘Table’ spread. That’s three cards in a row which flesh-out the issue; what’s on the table, so to speak. Two more cards, below and to the left and right of the first and third cards, represent the ‘legs’ of the table. These can be seen as either supporting the issue, like legs on a table, or bracketing the issue, like book-ends on a bookshelf. See the diagram below:
My favorite way of shuffling cards anymore is what I call the Chaos method, where you smear the cards around the tabletop with both hands while you ask the question. Scientists tell us that underlying seeming chaos is an eerie sort of order, so I figure this way, every card would end up where it should. With this spread, I like to take the five center-most cards in the middle pile, after I’ve cut the deck into thirds. Of those five, the top and bottom cards are the fourth and fifth cards in the spread, the other three from bottom to top, are the first, second and third cards. So the end-result for the first reading was this:
The first card on the left was Fofo. The Fofo plant is a plant which produces yellow flowers, but as the petals drop to the ground, they turn into rather ugly seeds. This card represents jealousy, envy and resentment, which can turn even beautiful people ugly. The second card, in the middle, is Aya, the fern. It represents endurance, resourcefulness and one who has survived much adversity and outlasted much difficulty. The third card on the right is Funtunfunefu-denkyemfunefu, (pronounced foon-toon-foo-nay-foo-den-kyem-foo-nay-foo) the Siamese crocodiles, which conveys the message that infighting and tribalism harm all who engage in it. “Sharing one stomach, yet they fight over food,” says a proverb connected with this Adinkra symbol, “there must be cooperation where there is one destiny.”
The message of this ‘table’ seems to be African-Americans have had to endure much, and they have grown stronger, wiser, and more resourceful from having faced and outlasted so much adversity and difficulty, but there is resentment here, for their endurance and perseverance in the face of adversity have not paid off. They are still having to deal with ill-treatment, and the same old problems over and over and over again. Given the presence of Fofo, jealousy on someone’s part may also be a factor here. Some Caucasian-Americans resent what little progress African-Americans have made, seeing it as more governmental-mandate than earned and deserved. Funtunfunefu-denkyemfunefu is cautioning both Caucasian-Americans and African-Americans that, while conflicts are a part of human nature, too much in-fighting and tribalism harm all those who engage in it. Who benefits when they fight this way?
The two ‘legs’ on this table are Nserewa, (pronounced n-sur-ay-wuh) the cowrie shells, and Mmara Krado, (pronounced mah-ruh krah-doe) the Padlock of the Law. Nserewa is the Adinkra symbol representing affluence and wealth. The cowrie shells are the sacred divinatory tool of the priests, who hold an honored place in African societies. Unequal distribution of wealth in U.S. society is aggravating societal divisions, as the top .01% receive the majority of the profits and the vast majority of the populace is left to compete with each other over what little is left. Mmara Krado represents law enforcement, and the judicial system, and acts as a caution against lawlessness. A big part of the problem is that too often, the ‘Padlock of the Law’ has been used unfairly against African-Americans. Just such unfairness cost George Floyd his life last week. So in this reading, the ‘legs’ are functioning more like book-ends, exerting pressure on the three upper cards.
‘Brother,’ I thought, ‘Any good news?’ So I decided to shuffle the remaining cards in the deck and draw three additional cards, asking the question, ‘So what’s to come in the future?’ The result appears below:
Nkyinkyim, the card on the left, translates as ‘Twisting’. The card I’ve labeled Sankofa 1 was the card in the middle. Its name translates as ‘go back and get it.’ Wawa Aba, a nut from the owawa tree which is sacred to the Akan people, is known to be extremely hard nut to crack. Nkinkyim suggests there will be many twists and turns, but Nkinkyim is also a card representing initiative, dynamism and versatility, so it suggests the path to true equality will have many twists and turns, but by showing initiative, versatility and dynamism, having new ideas and bold dreams and being willing to make them real, things can improve. Sankofa, ‘go back and get it’, means learn from the past, both your own and the collective’s past. Draw inspiration from those reformers who have gone before you. Remember who you are, and who you’ve always been. Wawa Aba is simply the encouragement to be tough and persevere in the face of adversity (Note: this is the Adinkra symbol which is featured on the princess’ shirt early in ‘The Black Panther’ movie—a quality she would be forced to demonstrate before the movie was over).
At this point, my younger brother came by and reported the local 7-Eleven had been vandalized by rioters Saturday night and was boarded up. He filled my ears with distressing stories of smashed store windows and nude mannequins. Taking up the Eighteenth Century cards, I said to them ‘I’m distressed by my brother’s report of rioting and looting last night in the city. What is at work here?’ Shuffling the cards chaos-method like I did with the Adinkra cards, I laid out the ‘Table’ as it appears below:
The three cards which formed the ‘table’ are, from left to right Crimes reversed, Law or Security reversed and Liberality reversed. Crimes reversed is supposed to represent a crime punished, but within the context of the current issue, I see it as a desire to see a perceived crime punished. Law or Security upside-down seems blatantly self-explanatory. But it could mean the rioters feel they have no security and the law certainly does not work for them, so they’re going to turn things upside down. What is Liberality reversed? Conservatism! Withholding resources. U.S. society has been trending in an every-more-conservative direction for close to half a century now, funneling economic resources to those more reliably-conservative, who also happen to be the very-richest. If liberality will not be shown, the thinking seems to be, then I will take it. A lack of generosity on multiple fronts is aggravating matters.
The two legs or book-ends of this reading are School reversed and the Physician, the only up-right card in this reading. Right-side-up, I interpret School to mean the schoolboy has read his lesson correctly, therefore the schoolmaster will not hit him with the birch twigs. Reversed, someone is being schooled, because they got the lesson wrong, and now they’re going to get a beating. The Physician clearly says healing is needed in this situation, but that also involves accurately diagnosing the underlying problem and applying the correct remedy.
As with the Adinkra cards, I asked ‘So what is the solution then?’ The three cards I drew from the deck were these:
The Church card represents the institutions of society. Not only churches, but schools, governments, the social safety net, non-profit organizations, etc. Reversed, it’s saying we’ve got to completely overhaul the institutions of our society. Turn ‘em upside down and re-think ‘em. Then the Cottagers (which I consider to represent the the vast majority of U.S. citizens) can enjoy good Fortune. Two additional cards I drew as clarifiers after these three were Justice and Economy. What will help in this re-vamp of society is criminal-justice reform and economic reform.
The late, great Marvin Gaye’s song ‘What’s Goin’ On?’ had started up as an ear-worm in my head, so I took up the Ogham card deck I made and asked them that question. This was the result:
Beech/Phagos represents old knowledge, and says the solution to a current problem could be found in a very old source, such as a book. In the context of the current unrest, however, I took this to mean the current unrest is only the latest manifestation of an old problem—racial and economic inequality.
Honeysuckle/Ulleand (pronounced oo-lun) is associated with a bird called the Lapwing. Lapwings make their nests on the ground, in tall grass. When the Lapwing perceives an intruder is in danger of discovering its nest, it flies at some distance from its nest and starts acting like a total nut. The intention of this performance, of course, is to distract the intruder’s attention away from the nest. Honeysuckle thus represents hidden secrets and those seeking the truth, defensive distractions and the ability to see them as such. This card seems to be conveying the disturbing suggestion that the current unrest in the U.S. was deliberately-triggered by somebody in order to keep the public distracted, their attention turned away from something else, something they don’t want the citizenry to see.
The Vine, or Muin (pronounced Mun) card has meanings associated with work or a project completed and the celebration that follows, a harvest festival being a good example. It also suggests indulging in recreational substances, the loosening of inhibitions and tongues, and the resultant-truth which comes out. So though a few of the looters may have been drunk, the more-likely message is that some important truths are being told now.
‘So what is next?’ I asked the Ogham cards. What I drew from the deck were these three:
The Sea, or Mor (pronounced moor), the card on the left, represents hidden knowledge, hidden depths and things coming to light, the feminine, the divine feminine, and inherited resources. Somehow, this card feels related to the Honeysuckle/Ulleand card above. If someone deliberately-triggered this domestic unrest, simply to draw our attention away from something else they don’t want us to see, then this card is warning we WILL eventually learn what they’ve been hiding from us. It will come to light.
The second card of the three was Apple, or Quert (pronounced kwairt). The Apple card is representative of recovery, recuperation, convalescence, wholeness, a respite, a restoration to health and vitality. We WILL be a healthy and whole society. A respite will come. But Apple/Quert also means ‘a choice is offered.’ Not only will the U.S. recover from this strife, the ‘Cottagers’ as I call them in the previous reading, will, in years to come, find themselves presented with more choices and options than they have now.
The third and final card of all these readings was Yew/Ioho (pronounced ee-yoh). This card symbolizes death, endings, exits, change, and the whithering of something, to be followed by a fresh re-birth and something new. This card is clearly saying ‘something needs to die here, in order for a solution to be implemented and to take root. Something needs to change. Something needs to exit, stage-left.’ Whatever it is, the death is necessary before something new can be born. There needs to be an acknowledgement that some of the assumptions by which U.S. society has been operating for the past half-century or more simply aren’t working anymore, and we need to jettison those assumptions and operate by new ones.
I felt a little better after this reading, and I liked how the three different decks from three very different cultures complemented each other. They all picked up on something different, and yet there was a commonality to the readings, especially the ‘what comes next?’ readings. If there is some issue which bothers you, I highly-recommend trying the same question with more than one deck. You get a fuller picture that way, and a chorus of insight and comfort.