A Reflection on Love and Sacrifice
By Jo Longley
When I was a Christian, my favorite verse was Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the plans I have for you’, declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope, and a future.’”
My childhood was strict and zealous. I was thought to be a rebel in my Christian middle school for loving Harry Potter, a blatant witchcraft manual—but I was as devout as any of my peers, maybe even more. In my time in the church I memorized at least a thousand verses. When I was lonely I’d imagine the arms of God wrapped around me. I could physically feel him, holding me tight.
My faith in God started wavering in high school, and by the time I left home at eighteen I’d fully walked away from the church. Love that had once felt tangible and warm soured into a competition I could never hope to win. The church taught me more than anything how to feel guilty, unworthy— a foolish prideful girl.
Walking away from religion left a longing in me for reassurance, I wanted to know that something was governing it all. I was desperate for direction.
In the past year and some change I’ve become obsessed with tarot and astrology. My first reading was done by a friend whose mother is a “recreational user” of tarot and has always taken an interest in eastern philosophy; under her mother’s guidance my friend has been lead by decks most of her life.
In my not-quiet way I envied my friend her clarity, the deck she could consult with her most pressing questions. It seemed like a type of prayer to me, and I missed the idea of divine guidance. She offered me a reading.
In her Brooklyn apartment we gathered around the coffee table and she brought out her deck. It told me gently that I needed more closure with a man I loved, that I was running away from answers I was scared to hear, that I’d never heal without them. I wept like a baby being swaddled, glad more than anything for something to tell me what I should do.
After asking for several more readings, my friend encouraged me to get my own deck to consult. It was her peacekeeping way of telling me to stop pestering her. She told me part of picking a tarot deck is listening. Researching your options, taking time to breathe and know what you want, then purchasing the one that calls out to you— the one you feel most kinship with.
My friend’s pastel and gold inlaid deck mirrored her gentle Libra spirit that balanced her in accordance to the presence of others. Her readings were always soft, leading you kindly to the conclusion you needed in that moment.
In the same way my deck mirrors me. My natal chart is packed with cardinal fire. Having four planets in Aries, three of which are major planets including my sun, means I have a stellium in the sign of the Ram. To quote Sara Coughlin for Refinery29, “Those with an Aries stellium are, simply put, a lot… The lesson they must learn is one of restraint.”
A black and white pile of reckoning, my cards are bursting with symbology you could spend hours researching for any given reading, and as anyone I’ve done a reading for can attest to— they’re mean as hell.
My first reading on my own deck was a shitstorm. I asked it the same questions I’d asked my friend’s, but there was no gentle conclusion, no patient guidance. There was The Lovers reversed: separation, frustration, failure to meet the test; Fortitude reversed: weakness, pettiness, impotence.
Just as I was about to throw the deck out my third floor window and wash my hands of this mean spirited nonsense— it gave me the solution. Two of Wands, upright: harmony of rule, courage, shamelessness. Talk to him; face the answers you’re afraid of. It stunned me like a car crash; it happened so fast I couldn’t even cry.
The conversation I scripted to be a closed door on our love turned into a gate of reconciliation. We would start from scratch; we would always love each other. Albeit we had trod this path before, but with him every repeated moment felt brand new. He has always been so filled with wonder— his Aquarius air fed the fire in me. We warmed and cooled each other with a love that felt like balance when it was good.
But it was rarely good. My lack of restraint and his lack of incitement sounded like two halves of a whole— in reality we resented the implication that the other thought we should change.
My deck told me sternly, with the Nine of Cups reversed, “Decide how much this means to you.”
In one of our early intimate moments, he paused and cupped my cheeks. He said, “I love the look on your face, like you’ll die if we stop.” It was the first time he said “love.”
I decided it meant the world.
Even at the very start, we didn’t find our love, just remembered it again. Ephesians 1:4 says, “for he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love,” that’s how our love felt, precious— like it was written into the fabric of the universe.
He resented this. Our love circled around his anger at a path he was on but didn’t choose, and my insatiable lust for his vulnerability; his secret craving for emotional connection, and my unreconciled fear of intimacy. We danced around and around, with only one thing ever really certain. Whatever this was, to the both of us, it was love.
Love to me has always felt like circling, chasing an ideal that only exists in the peripherals. I was taught, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8) but just a few verses later, “No one has ever seen God” (1 John 4:12a). I was a dizzy Christian girl, clinging to the hope of God’s loving plan for me— until God himself unravelled before me, just as I was thinking I’d caught sight of him.
I left the church like deleting a phone contact, like one pretends not to know an old friend in the grocery store. My love dropped religion in his own way, with a hateful clang. He tossed it away like an Olympic discus, then would chase it down just to chuck it again. Aquarians, I told him, needed to rebel against something, and he’d rage against that too. He believed astrology was as bogus as any religion but— he would concede— it caused fewer wars.
Ever full of beautiful contradictions, he’s an actor with a Bachelors in Physics. He would never admit to the benefit of religious practice, but recites Hamlet’s Act III soliloquy like liturgy. After critiquing a play I was writing about him, he told me, “I could never date you, because you’re too important to me.”
I asked my love what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object.
“Nothing,” he said, “because there’s no such thing as either. The universe wouldn’t exist if there were.”
I thought, No, you idiot. They fall in love.
Astrology became the manual of my worship for him, tarot the equivalent of fasting, natal chart interpretation my Bible study. Every argument I couldn’t avoid, every lapse of contact that seemed like some smiting punishment for my missteps, I turned to the universe for explanation. I’d send him memes about our charts so he could understand his behavior and my own. I’d fall asleep to meditations willing him peace the same way I once prayed for God’s hand to govern the judgement of my future husband.
It was desperate, this love, and I was unyielding. I’d spend most nights imagining him next to me, his iron earth and tobacco leaf smell, the feel of his breath on my neck.
My roommate (also an Aries) asked me, “What are you holding on to?”
“I know that I’m right,” I said, “that we love each other.”
“Is that good enough?” she asked.
I asked my deck. I decided it would be a one draw shootout with fate. I was given The Empress reversed: “feminine energy that’s stuck, dirtied, disrespected, discounted, wounded.”
I changed my mind and pulled a second card. The Eight of Swords upright, it depicts a woman blindfolded, loosely bound and surrounded by swords. She doesn’t move for fear of pain, but if she freed herself of her binding and blindfold, she could just walk away— unscathed.
I pulled another. Nine of Cups reversed. “Decide how much this means to you.”
On the day I left my love I brought him a travel size bottle of wine and a pack of cigarettes, a cheap final offering. When he asked why, I said I wanted a love I could believe in, without feeling like a fool.
We didn’t kiss goodbye, and he told me maybe he’d be back, like a comet, and he hoped it would be soon.
I still seek out the Aquarius memes on my Instagram feed, and rereading his chart for this piece tore my ribs open by the sternum, plucked the strings of me like a cello. He’s still the most beautiful man in the world to me.
When I think of the way tarot and astrology have wrapped themselves around me, I have to admit they’ve been filling a need. Leaving the church was a heartbreak of faith; I’ve been craving the universal order it imposed, the diagram of peace it initially projected. Astrology has taken up that mantle, reminded me of my place in the cosmos, reassured me of everyone’s celestial divinity.
I needed to let the church go to find the spirituality I need now, and I have a hope that love I don’t have to earn will come to me, that I won’t need to prostrate myself in penance. I believe in the universe, and that someday the constellation of contradictions I’ll find a home in, is my own.
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