The Justice Card in Tarot: That Integrity Thing
***I found this photo online, taken at the Florida Pagan Gathering last year between Ocala and Daytona. These are certainly some of my favorite people in the world, many of whom I’d known online for years before meeting in the flesh. In the pic…. In front, on his knees (and well he should be, as most of us women told him) is MR Sellars (“Murv”). Yes, I learned to spell Sellars by remembering that it’s A as in ARSE. Standing we have: the incredible Kristin Madden (Shamanic Guide to Death and Dying, Pagan Homeschooling, Pagan Parenting, Mabon), Murv’s wife Kat who keeps him in line and he’s grateful for it, the amazing Dorothy Morrison who has given me wonderful advice over the years, and that’s me in the black YOU HAD ME A HELL NO t-shirt between Raven Grimassi and his wife, Stephanie Taylor Grimassi–with both of whom I felt an immediate bond. These are some of the most grounded people I know, and it was a joy to meet them in person and spend time with them. FPG rocks!***
Throughout my adult life, I have been told that my sense of integrity is a bit extreme and that I have ethical expectations that few people can meet. Maybe so. My sense of integrity is very much at the core of my values and the person I believe myself to be, so I tend to become–some would say–irrationally defensive when my integrity is questioned. But why?
The answer, of course, lies in the past and is closely connected to the energy of the Justice Card. It’s a pattern that occasionally repeats itself.
I was ten years old and a shy, studious, but very creative fifth grader at a tiny school in rural Brinson, GA, known as The Oaks Academy. The building was ancient and settled in beautifully among oak-filled woods, poison ivy, and a few crops. I wasn’t one of the popular kids but I prided myself on my honesty and on my reputation for being honest and hard-working. These were things my parents had taught me–to do right by others–and even in elementary school, integrity and honesty were the foundation for my self identity. I still had that idealism that if you had integrity and if you were honest, it was all you needed, that Justice would win out.
Back at the Oaks Academy, during our recesses and lunch periods, we were encouraged to play outdoors among the oaks and up to the edge of the woods. I don’t remember who started it but I was definitely among the first to build “forts” around the trees. This involved staking out a favorite oak or group of oaks in the edge of the woods, raking back the leaves, surrounding the favored area with broken limbs or rocks to mark the boundaries, and creating a place to socialize with our friends. My forts were always incredible, with fossilized-shell-encrusted rocks for my guests to sit on while we oohed and ahhed over some antique bottle or piece of treasure we’d found in the woods at playtime.
Near the end of the fifth grade when May had already started to turn hot, I had an argument with one of the popular girls on a Friday afternoon. The subject, ironically, was over religious books, and quiet little bookworm that I was, I was outshouted but not moved in my beliefs.
The next Monday, as I walked out onto the playground, my classmates descended on me, screaming at me, demanding to know “Why did you do it?”
“Do what?” I asked. My very soft voice wasn’t heard the first few times.
“You know what!”
Someone went to get a teacher who was to act as either mediator or judge, though in reality, the plan was that the judge would agree with the mob that surrounded me. I was scared. I was in trouble. Authorities were being called in and I didn’t know why. I’d never seen my classmates so angry with me and I had no idea why but with all the pushing, shoving, and yelling, I was really afraid. Some had sticks. Some had rocks. And they were all angry at ME.
After long minutes of the popular girls shrilling at me from inches away, one of them finally suggested I be taken back to the scene of the “crime” and forced to look at what I’d done as part of my punishmen. They led me to a “fort” on the Northern outskirts of the school property, one that the popular girls had created the week before after declining to spend any time building forts until then, one I’d never been inside because I wasn’t part of that crowd and wasn’t allowed. All their treasures had been kicked over. Nothing that couldn’t be righted during one play period, but still, they’d been invaded and damaged. In the entire year of fort-building, this had never happened before, to any of us. But I didn’t understand what that had to do with me.
“Why’d you do it?” one of the popular girls spat at me.
I couldn’t believe anyone would think I’d destroy what they’d built. All I could do was shake my head and say I didn’t, but they were so loud that I couldn’t be heard. It wasn’t just my head that was shaking. I was shaking all over. Fear. Anger. I truly believed that all one had to do was tell the truth because the truth would set you free. But telling the truth wasn’t working. And I didn’t know what to do. If anything, telling the truth made them angrier.
I finally gathered enough of my voice that I was able to make myself heard. “I didn’t do it!” I shouted back.
My classmates quieted down. They weren’t used to hearing me yell. In the sudden quiet, one asked, “Well, if you didn’t do it, then who did?”
I didn’t know. I had no idea. My lack of an answer was further proof to them of my guilt. Their fort, the one on the Northen fringe of the playground near the highway, was the only one that had been damaged. Mine,
on the other side of the school, hadn’t been touched. Evidence, they declared. Who else would have such ill intentions toward them? Everybody liked them but me, and I’d had an argument with their ring leader only days before.
I still thought all I had to do was to be honest. “I didn’t do it,” I insisted.
“Liar,” the leader of the popular girls announced in front of the thirty or so kids surrounding me. “Don’t you look at me with those innocent eyes! I know better!”
I wonder now about the look on my face that made her see innocence in my eyes when she wouldn’t believe it. Before I could say anything else, someone in the group demanded justice, and if I wouldn’t admit to being a liar, then they’d go find justice themselves. I stood there alone with tears running down my cheeks from my “innocent eyes” as they marched away to the other side of the school, to where my fort was. Amid cheers, it took a couple of dozen irate children less than five minutes to destroy everything I’d built over the past school year. There was nothing left–the stone stools, the antique bottles, the perfect boundaries, the treasures–all gone or shattered. Nothing left but their anger and sudden feelings of vindication. Of “justice.”
The justice there was certainly a balancing action, so that their sense of justice was served by giving them something that, in their sight, was equal to what they’d lost. But their frenzy for justice left something dreadfully unbalanced for me.
As I stood there, at a distance, watching through my tears, the teacher in charge of the playground strode up to me and pursed her lips. “What are you crying about?” she asked, not too happy that her coffee time with another teacher had been interrupted by several pre-pubescent girls. Before I could tell her I’d been falsely accused of something and no one would believe me, she added, “And you’d better NOT be crying about those forts or you’re going to be in more trouble, young lady!”
I never told her what I was crying about. It wasn’t about the fort I’d have to leave behind when school was out the next week. It was about having my honesty questioned. But she wouldn’t have known the difference. And all I felt was the sting of injustice and the loss of something more precious to me that a bunch of rocks and logs.
The school year ended a few days later. I didn’t see my classmates over the summer, and when school started again in the fall, the fort incident had been long forgotten by everyone. Everyone but me, Innocent Eyes. My friends were still my friends, the popular girls were still popular without me, and we built new forts in new places. But the trauma of being at the mercy of an angry mob of my peers and with no help from either authority or the truth, well, that has always stuck with me and helped to shape my ideas of justice and integrity and balance.
I did finally find a small degree of balance, though I never found the justice I’d desired. Years later, after the popular girls were no longer at my school and no one but me cared that that incident had ever happened, one of my classmates asked if I remembered the time I’d been accused of destroying someone else’s playthings and had almost been beaten up over it if the teacher hadn’t been on her way to stop it.
Her older brother had had two friends over and they’d told her a funny story. One weekend in May a few years before, the two high school boys who lived down the road from my school decided to take a shortcut through the woods on the way to the store for ice-cold bottles of Coca-Cola. As they walked the perimeter of the school property on their way back, they saw the fort on the Northern border and had a little fun kicking things over before heading off in search of something more exciting to do with a Sunday afternoon.