All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals

goodbye 2019

The title of this newsletter comes from the little white book that accompanies the Dark Goddess Tarot deck by Ellen Lorenzo-Prince (a deck I’ve written about before on this newsletter). It’s the mantra attached to the Siren of Wands, Qadesh - Egyptian Goddess of Pleasure. This card came up when I did one of my yearly rituals, a year ahead tarot card spread, and this newsletter will be about the rituals I’ve recently done to wind down the year and step over New Year’s Eve into newness, continuation, hope.

I hope whatever you’re doing in these last days of 2019, you are safe, and that you can hang on to the memory of morning to remember that the days come, the sun rises and sets, and that whatever time you have, it means something.

End of Year Review

I’ve done this every year since 2011 - essentially answering a list of questions that allow me to reflect and look back on the past year and chart the paths I took, the landscapes I travelled through, the parts of me that transformed or dropped away or sprouted anew. Tumblr was and maybe even still is rife with these kinds of list, and the original questions numbered in the 40s, and over the years I’ve whittled them down, thrown away questions all together, added new ones in, asked others for more.

My 2020 review is now up on my website 🎊🎊🎊 I started working on it early last week, a couple hours at a time, and set a vague mental alarm clock for a few days after that to look through it one last time (doing the sloppiest job of proofreading) before posting it. I go through some detritus — Google Calendar, text messages, social media accounts — to fill in some memory gaps, but also I tell myself to focus on what comes clearest in view first. I am always so hungry for time and space to do this, because once I start, I need to keep going and to have mental space to think about questions and answers even as I’m not writing it all down. But I also know I can’t keep tweaking it for more than a week or so, because then I am trying to rewrite something, or present something polished when that’s not the point. Not for me, anyway.

My friend Al tells me he does a version of this on his birthday every year, and that sounds like a great idea too.

Altar Reset

In the past few months, with work being so busy and taking up so much of my time, I didn’t do much with the altar (a wood and metal cabinet with 3 tiers including the top) and I knew that I wanted to spring clean a bit before the year ended to essentially shake off the cobwebs. After clearing everything out, throwing away whatever needed to be thrown away, cleaning whatever needed to be cleaned or wiped down, I started developing an altar with Capricorn season in mind.

I set down a dark blue batik cloth with brown and white patterns of leaves, which I think Liy gave me. I wanted the altar to have levels, different heights for shape. A dark green leaf-patterned shoe box from IKEA became a stand and little platform for 3 tarot decks and pulling cards. 2 tarot boxes draped with scrap green velvet became a platform for an orb made from shells I got from the Philippines, under which I can light a small candle. In the centre 3 new pastel pink and blue ombre resin coasters from my best friend Sara, where I place some gemstones. Behind the tarot box a glass jar, water, and 3 miniature fan palm fronds from the garden. Liy described the palette as “forest lagoon”. Fitting for the season of the sea goat.

A composite photo of the altar. From left to right: The seashell orb atop an upturned glass and glass dish atop the draped boxes. Around the glass dish is a set of yellow prayer beads with a goldenrod tassel, at the base of the boxes a painted pendant of a blue wave from my friend Dhi. A wooden bowl filled with soil, an unlit stick of palo santo resting across the lip. A lit candle below an ornate black framed mirror. 4 gemstones on a resin coaster with a gold edge. A green glass bottle. 3 decks of cards (Tarot of the North Atlantic, Herbcrafters, Dark Goddess) leaned up against the shoebox, hidden from view. Behind it a clear glass jar with 3 palm fronds in it.

I got our stepstool and sat in front of the altar. I hooked up my phone to a bluetooth speaker, and introduced sound to the space, to change and agitate the air. The act of putting together an altar has always been for me like a version of making a 3D moodboard, and a way to physically manifest intentions. I think about elements, what I want more of in my life, what I want to see everyday, what I want to touch and have in my hands, what scents I want to experience.

I hope to spend more meaningful time here next year, to remember it and use it as a space to reset myself.

Cleansing Fire

This is not a yearly ritual, because it’s a fraught one, and also it’s something I feel should be saved for a real pulling need. I do not want to contribute to pollution with frequent or excessive open air burning, and had Malaysia still been experiencing haze, I would not have done this regardless of whether I felt a need. And I’m not Smokey the Bear, but the precautions I took were to do it in a fire-safe container (in my case, a clay-based plant pot filled with dirt) in my backyard, away from plants, and near the garden hose. Do NOT do this if you’ve never made a fire, or in an open area where you could literally start a wildfire like don’t do Australia or California dirty like that, they have enough of this shit to deal with.

For months, I had saved and dried some herbs in a drawer in our vegetable crisper (in the fridge). There were the brittle branches of the rosemary we loved that died, there was a forgotten bag of curry leaves and kaffir lime leaves. There were the blackened stubs of palo santo from the altar. I saved these all knowing vaguely that one day I wanted to make a fire with them.

The pulling need was I had some letters I felt I needed to write, to people I don’t talk to anymore, about issues I didn’t know how to talk about anymore, and I wanted a way to release these things into the universe, away from me.

I was alone at home the night before Christmas. I was anxious about being scolded by a neighbour, but I put together the materials for the fire on the deck, nestling the letters at the base under a tent of rosemary branches. I brought the pot out to the garden, lit what I could of one of the sticks of palo santo, pushed it into the base, and watched the whole thing crackle and light up. The fragrant smoke stung my eyes, the sky was clear, the flames grew and the light of it illuminated the garden. The smoke blew back under the roof of our deck, turning white as the last of the leaves went up in flames. I tamped it all with a brick and showered it with water for good measure, the scraps went into the compost.

All in all it lasted 10 minutes, but the smell of the smoke lingered in the rooms of our house for a while after, and whatever the fire burned felt lighter in my body.

Year Ahead Tarot Spread

The basics of this spread is it involves 13 cards: 12 to mark every month of a calendar year and a central card that represents a “theme” or “core” for your year, usually a major arcana card. If you look online, I am sure there are many permutations of this spread with different variations. Last year I did one with 2 decks, and split the read into 4 quarters, pulling 8 cards total. I started doing this spread at the end of 2017, and I check in on the photo and notes I take periodically throughout the year, to meditate on a particular card and think about its energies, and how it applies (if it does!) to the situations I experience as the year goes on.

This year I went back to the 12 + 1 cards. I used the Apparition Tarot deck to start with. I had spent the morning cleaning the house after 2 days of no water, and I felt more at peace to make space for this once I knew water was flowing through the house again, and that it wasn’t stagnant. I showered, moisturised, Palo Santo’d the room, the cards, myself. I did the read on my bed, surrounded by my chosen decks, my phone playing calming music, guidebooks, journal, pen.

I picked the 12 cards after shuffling and spreading out the cards in one long straight line. I picked the 13th card by gathering up the remaining cards, shuffling again until I landed on one card that felt right at the top of the stack, and placed it face down in the center of the circle. I uncovered the 12 cards first, took time looking at all of them and making notes of patterns and which cards evoked strong feelings. Then I looked for the corresponding cards from the Dark Goddess Tarot, and placed them beside Apparition. I read from Dark Goddess’s guide book, listing the mantras of each card from January to December like a litany poem. It was only after then I uncovered the central card, and placed the corresponding Dark Goddess card next to it. It was a Major Arcana, which made me feel affirmed and relieved, like having an arrow hit a bullseye.

I chose Apparition because of the abstract nature of the visuals, and the colours. They felt like portals, shifting and responding once the Dark Goddess cards were placed next to them, allowing me to see different things. The mantra for the Priestess card, The Pythia, is “From dissolution comes awareness.” It felt so in dialogue with the image of the High Priestess card in Apparition - a hand (below a soaring bird with big wings and above a lit candle in a pink dish) reaching through a circle into a dark space, towards a mirror floating alongside a half-filled/empty cup of water and a fish. To summarise the narratives of the read, what I interpreted is that 2020 will be for me a year of deeper and stronger self knowledge, holding steadfastly to my heart and my guts, confronting fears, insecurities, and my shadow self, and developing a more tender and productive relationship with those parts of me. It’s about making art for real and building things.

Because I have so many bleepin’ decks, I also pulled corresponding cards from the Herbcrafters Tarot and put it to the side. I liked the idea of working with a different plant element every month as another way to engage with both this year ahead spread in a more active way, and also my gardening plans. Not every plant will be indigenous and easily acquired, but I’m excited to learn more about these 13 plants and maybe even their local equivalents over the next year. All in all, a very energising and powerful read for 2020, where last year there was more resistance as I did this spread for 2019, and a more clear throughline of challenges and hardship. It’s not to say 2020 will be “easier”, just that I will (hopefully) be more ready in different ways.

Setting Horizons

Again since 2017, I’d been making a little poster of aspirations every year (in Canva!) in lieu of resolutions. I mean, they were essentially resolutions but I tried to be looser about them. It was stuff I aspired to, like read X amount of books, save Y amount of money, do Z thing, learn whatever. I’d get to about half, and the rest would either be reabsorbed into ongoing attempts to grow and learn or discarded. This year I didn’t feel like I had that list as clearly inside me. I wrote to myself “There's a blank space where next year will be and it excites me more than it scares me (although anxiety brain keeps trying) and there's a sacredness to that empty space and potential that I don't want to impose on yet.”

So instead I noted some “horizons” for myself, broad markers for where I wanted to head to to explore. Learning to sew, gardening, learning more about all my new bleepin’ decks since I’m buying them faster than I can use them (2020 I will try not to buy anymore decks 🤞🏽), working on a project I won’t get into yet, continuing to write this newsletter consistently. If I “complete” these things, great. But where I want to be at the end of next year is having made the effort to move towards and explore these things, and to discover new horizons entirely as I do so.


What are your year end rituals? Or what are your favourite ways to spend time in the last week of the year? If you wanna share, just click reply to this email. May 2020 be kind, hope you have a happy new year my friends! And see you on the other side.

Previously, I wrote about the things I liked reading in 2019. I am excited to keep writing and growing this newsletter, with tarot related content and other things. If you'd like to subscribe, click here. If you’ve been enjoying the newsletter and would like to support the work, here’s my tip jar. Thanks so much, always, for reading. It expands my heart every time I get replies or comments from those of you that do 💘