There are sounds that the Earth makes. The music of cracking ice, the roar of fires, even the hissing of smoke that disturbs our lungs. These songs are terrifying but also deeply enchanting. There is possibility and there is also loss. It’s a constant song, named “Cantigee” by oracle writer/creator Rae Diamond. They explain Cantigee, a name they created, as deriving from “two roots: cantusa word that could be translated as ‘song’, ‘spell’ or ‘enchantment’ and –gee, a suffix that translates to “Earth”. Thus, Cantigee is a song that the Earth sings, a spell that it weaves, an enchantment from which it emanates.
The Oracle Cantigee: An Ecological Spirit Guide and Creative Prompt Set, written by Diamond, with art by Laura Zuspan, is a 52-card oracle deck and accompanying guide. It offers a set of deeply poetic and wise teachings to call the user back to themselves and to the sound of the Earth.
The cards represent archetypes from the natural world and prayers for healing and building relationships between our many selves, each other and the Earth. But these aren’t the archetypes you might expect – there’s a poetic whimsy here that’s the result of Diamond’s collaboration with Zuspan, creator of the famous Luminous Void Tarot Deck.
“Cantigee began as a friendship woven, like all friendships, by the unseen forces of resonance, attunement, and caring,” Diamond writes in the guidebook, a work of art in itself. As different as they are from each other, the two have found commonalities in nature, Buddhism, “and that which is mysterious and unseen.” Over four years of collaboration, Diamond read Zuspan the story-poetry hybrids that would eventually become deck archetypes, like “Dawn That Follows the Prolonged Night” and “The Self Seeing Eye”.
Soon, the two new friends were reveling in ideas; share stories, paintings and concepts; and building a deck they’ve made could be a method of healing and growing. He could be a creative source for artists and nature activists, a teacher independent of them but rooted in their longstanding studies of Buddhism, Taoism, yoga, animism, the arts and sciences.
The charts rise and fall like the seasons of the year, with the summer solstice as the high point of energy and the winter solstice as the lowest point of descent. This connection to the moon and the seasons can be traced in a user’s personal interpretation of the cards from a larger perspective. The vernal equinox is a time “of emerging, testing your vision and strength”, while the weeks either side of the winter solstice indicate “that activity is most effective on subtle and internal levels “.
There are no good or bad archetypes. “Things just happen.”
Spreads follow this same notion of change and deployment. There are simple two-card draws that examine rising and falling energy; a series of six cards called “Tree” which examines what sustains, flourishes and grows; and, my favorite, “Skeleton”, which follows the spines of different animals. This is where the game asks and engages your own creativity and imagination. There are ways to approach the bridge from a Buddhist or Taoist perspective, and another that follows the phases of the moon.
The first time I finally pulled out a card from the deck, I had just spent an hour watching a cereus flower, which blooms overnight, open up. I was with someone who, after a long series of heartbreaks, I felt maybe I could love. We have seen the stem quiver, the petals quiver and expand, the yellow stamens spill out. The smell of the flower was overpowering, even through an N95. She leaned over my lap and lowered her mask to bring her nose to the flower. I am an atheist who at that time found myself praying. I had lived through a year of constant loss: multiple relationships, daily access to my child, precarious employment and housing, even a beloved dog that I had to rehouse. What is a gain in the face of an inevitable loss? The words of the prayer sounded more like please help me remember me.
“You grow through your ability to embody what you have learned. You grow when the knowledge you have gained penetrates beyond the layer of your rational mind and permeates into the layer of your attitude,” Diamond writes in the introduction to the guide, a must-read. We are in a period of crisis – what the poet Ever Jones calls “the crowned death”. The game with all its beauty and wisdom will not cure you. It requires you to participate in your own healing to transform your relationship to life, to others and to the Earth.
That night, as I sat next to this person I thought I could love, but wasn’t ready to, I shot “A Swan in a Crowd of Crows” (8, rising energy, full winter). The card has a swan in the negative space of crows made from watercolor brush strokes. The flower on the other side of the room, which had fully opened, was now beginning its slow closing.
“You find yourself flying through a darkening sky as the sun sets low in the west. … You are a swan, traveling alone over miles of fields. … You land at the water’s edge, at the amidst the cacophonous commentary of crows perching in the poplar trees at the edge of the pond. What appeared to be a quiet sanctuary to a lone, weary traveler is actually a lively group of mischievous creatures. You and the crows are watching. Nothing is said between you and the crows, but an acceptance is reached as you gaze curiously at their floating, interdependent society and they enjoy your quiet, unthreatening dignity Your difference intrigues them and stimulates new ideas in their intelligent crow minds. You benefit from their watchful ways and rest well through the night.
The guidance suggests that instead of perceiving myself as separate from others, I could be aware of myself as a “single facet of the greater unity of all that is.” It’s a reminder to honor the differences of those around you, to consider what another person can teach you “and how that might be the medicine you need right now.” The card’s ecological connection asks me to focus my attention on an ecosystem and notice how an individual plant or animal creates space for others to thrive.
“Mindfulness teaches us,” writes Diamond. “Care motivates us. Creativity is the source of innovation, and therefore of change. For lasting change, we must work from the bottom up.
“The Calvining Glacier” (41, descending energy 7-9 days after full moon) depicts a disintegrating glacier, a piece of the massive form breaking into the sea. Yes, this is man-made and could have been avoided, and there is another truth: all things that come into existence will change, will come to an end.
Diamond, who is also a qigong practitioner and teacher, writes, “In Taoist theory, yin and yang are opposites that interact and dance with each other. … You could say that modern culture, with its short attention span and high level of activity and change, is more yang than yin. …There just isn’t enough yin in the world to support [the iceberg’s] presence.”
The bridge is not radical in the sense of turning someone worried about melting ice caps into an activist who is willing to face jail time for closing a pipeline. At the same time, the book and the game do not dispense with inaction. Through the teaching of the game, when you close the pipeline, you are more embodied and nurtured for the relationships necessary for revolution, which also means being prepared for failure and death.
The game offers you a step in your own healing. You may consider yourself an excellent activist, but how willing are you to be accountable to those you hurt, to examine your own biases, to grieve or forgive or let go of the way the Earth and the plants let go and emerge every year?
A week after the flower blooms and dies, I sit alone watching the sunset as two herons rise from the water into the sky and a drunken bat floats past my head. It’s late summer, descending energy, five days after the new moon. There is a person in my head. Either way, it will all end one day. I could co-create something unique and organic, even in the face of this truth. There would be a gain and there would be a loss.
“I wonder if something slow and intentional with me appeals to you, like it does to me with you?” I click “send” in the dim light.
“Oh, thank goodness,” she replies.
is the author of the acclaimed story collection We Had No Rules and a teaching artist based in Seattle, WA.