Grandmother, Witch & Shadow: Lessons on leadership from the Tarot of the Crone

She weaves individual strands into a tapestry, creating common ground and common cause.
Ellen Lorenzi-Prince, Tarot of the Crone

The Crone has been waiting for me for years.

Since I first invited Ellen Lorenzi-Prince’s Tarot of the Crone into my shop two years ago, I’ve known deep down that it has something important for me. Often, I’ve taken out my sample deck, leafed through it, photographed its often terrifying images, perused its little guidebook…

…and then placed it back on the shelf.

Ancient holy one. Hag. Witch. Beast. Keeper of ancestral mysteries. Subversion of all kinds of feminine archetypes. Fearsome and deeply powerful. Self-assured, and never sorry. This is not one of those ‘light’ or ‘gentle’ decks.

Yesterday, I was ready.

I came to the Crone for guidance. Bare feet on the grass, I bit her from her cellophane. Shuffled and shuffled. Leafed. Paused. Meditated. Shuffled some more.

I pulled one card, to greet the deck, to greet the Crone.

Temperance. A dance of ice and fire. Intimidating, yet encouraging.

Her intent is not to diminish nor to submit to these powers, but to use both of them consciously and creatively. Temperance is a dynamic process, a moving magic, and it makes a life full of meaning.

My questions are all about leadership.

I am being called to step up in my life, and I’ve spent the past month (and years previous, unconsciously) figuring out what that looks like. What leadership means. What it doesn’t mean. What it means for me. What it means to step up, to grasp hold, to say yes with intention and grace and accountability.

What it is to hold a vision. What it is to realise that vision. What it is to share it, to create culture.

I asked the Crone: Please tell me about leadership.

I shuffled some more. I shuffled and shuffled. I closed my eyes and let all my questions swirl, let my fears and my desires meet and clash and circle around each other, shuffling and shuffling this brand new deck that felt weirdly familiar.

And I laid out three cards. The Shadow of Wands. The Grandmother of Wands. The Witch of Wands. Or in standard tarot speak, the King, Queen and Knight of Wands.

Usually when cards appear in sequence like this, I’ll laugh – clearly I didn’t shuffle enough. I’ll sweep them back up, and shuffle a little more.

But this time it felt different. I looked through the deck. Everything was pretty mixed up. Yet these cards had stuck together, and now here they were, in all their fiery power.

I laid down three additional cards, one to give depth to each of the first three.

My reading was deep and dark and enlightening and provocative and full of fear and shadow and potential and deep, rich power. My question was nervous, but not lightly-asked. The Crone’s response was the kind where you don’t want to look, but can’t tear your eyes away.

1. Shadow of Wands: Wasteland

Wasted power, wasted land. Barrenness. Two burned-out bonfires raise steady streams of smoke on the horizon. A sleeping face rests in the landscape. What does it look like to abuse power, or to waste it?

Forgotten were body, heart and mind in your endeavour.

It’s interesting. I ask about leadership and am shown this painful image of burnout, self-neglect, and ultimately loneliness.

If this image isn’t painful enough, the Three of Swords brings it home, makes it personal. This feels like breaking up with a once dearly-held vision, parting ways not because it’s no longer the right vision, but because I didn’t know how to honour it. If fire is the wonderful energy that arises when we combine vision with the will to achieve that vision, here, it has run wild, destroyed everything. The fire must be tended with care and compassion, not thoughtlessly fed. It’s like I’ve lost control and ended up throwing everything into the flames, just to keep it going. Until there is nothing left to thrown in.

Maybe the passion was too personal. You are left with yourself, so take a good look at what survives.

My passion certainly is personal. How do I hold this and direct it away from myself, so it can be shared? How and in what ways do I separate my self from my vision, so that I can really bring it forth without burning myself out?

Holding a vision tenderly and righteously and stepping up to lead it is a learned skill – or at least, it will be for me. I don’t know how to balance power and responsibility, how to honour myself as I work on something far bigger than myself. I fear that leadership means dominion, or being at the top. And that it means total self-sacrifice for the greater vision. I don’t want to do these things, but my immature understanding of leadership means I could easily and blindly take those painful and self-destroctive paths. The Shadow of Wands shows me what it can look like to separate the power that comes with leadership from responsibility, self care, community care.

2) Grandmother of Wands: Matriarch

One of the group, she is also its power and strength.

After the barrenness of the shadow’s wasteland, this communal gathering is a welcome sight. The fire glowing yellow – Ellen associates yellow with passion and creativity – warms and connects the community members. One is able to lead, she stands out, there is a leader, a person whose role is to listen and speak, to guide and to honour, but she is not in some special place. She is there to support her community, and also to be supported by it.

The fullest integration of your spirit.

I imagine the light and warmth of the fire are the synergy of vision with compassionate leadership. It is the why and the how we are here. It is the space where we gather, where we know what we are working towards. It can warm us, light the way, and more. It has a power of its own, but as we see in the Wasteland, it can destroy. The fire needs tending with care and compassion.

She weaves individual strands into a tapestry, creating common ground and common cause.

Tears came to my eyes when I read this. Weaving a tapestry of individual stories, strands, experiences? That is just what I hope to achieve. A space where all of our threads are honoured and welcome, all have a place, all contribute their unique colours and textures to the picture we are creating together. It’s okay to have a person who guides this process – its more than okay, it’s necessary and needsd. If that is to be me, my role is to weave, to step back, to check regularly that we are still creating that picture. The gardener, honouring the plants, holding a bigger picture, looking to the coming seasons, the years after that, dreaming of what this can become, guiding us there through compassion, through listening, and through speaking up when it is time.

We create culture by how we treat one another.

What will be the culture of our community? What culture will I model as a leader?

Culture is a core part of my vision: I want our community to model new ways of being in spaces together, new ways of connecting and communicating. I envision a shared language, radically inclusive, conscious, vulnerable. How will I seed this culture, so that we all can understand it, belong to it, generate it in all of our relationships?

The Ten of Wands adds further depth. Where I normally read this card as burnout, here Ellen calls it Transformation. It feels a lot like Tower energy – it is that moment after taking a thing to its fullest expression, to the point that it has fundamentally changed who you are… and wondering where to go next.

The Crone offers choices: continue, change, or stay still, and asks that I choose from my soul. For me, the answer is in my gut: change. I have brought Little Red Tarot to this place, and now I know that it is time to grow, time to change. I want a less top-down way of working, a more lateral way of hearing and acting in alignment with my vision and the folks who gather around it.

I had thought this meant abdication, ghosting on responsibility. The alternative being burning out through trying to do it all myself. At different times in my work I have done both of these things (sometimes, somehow, at the same time.) I couldn’t see leadership as anything other than top down. The Grandmother gives me an image of the kind of leadership I yearn to practice. The Ten of Wands reminds me that this means change. A shift in how I see, understand and do my work. I want this community to model different ways of sharing space: this begins with compassionate – and strong – leadership.

I simply wrote: Listen. Gather. Observe. Make space. Hold space.

3. Witch of Wands: Sorceress

The Sorceress tells you now to make such magic as you’ve never made before.

I read over what I have written so far and my fears (of stepping up, of making mistakes, of letting people down, of fucking it all up, of simply not having what it takes) are strong and deep. They are always ready to knock me off course, to keep me from following my dreams, from manifesting them.

The Sorceress barely notices these fears, or if she does, she brings them deep into the heart of her personal fire, so the energy they carry can fuel her magic. This is a connection to source, such a confident, self-assured connection to the immense and beautiful potential we each have. It’s meeting this potential with will, it’s saying yes, it’s making that commitment.

She is immersed in a world of magic.

The Sorceress does not sit about wondering if she is good enough. The Sorceress does not fear leadership, she does not fear the manifestation of her visions. I have a lot to learn from this wild and wilful witch.

I’m sobered and relieved to see her tempered by Justice, here shown by a huge, white spider. With power comes responsibility, and Justice brings truth and accountability to the fiery flames. If I am to step up to leadership, like the Grandmother, I must be accountable. Justice – specifically social justice – is at the core of my vision, and I don’t want to lose this as I grapple with my own fears of stepping up.

Look now, says justice, at the bone-naked truth of who you are and what you’ve done. Know your responsibility and you will know yourself.

All cards and quotes are from the Tarot of the Crone by Ellen Lorenzi-Prince.