Earth Wisdom Tarot Sacred Art

Ten of Water: the Salmon Cycle

in Art, Nature, Tarot


This isn’t exactly our familiar cheery RWS 10 of Cups, is it? It’s always so nice to see the happy family standing under a rainbow turn up in a reading.  This one is more in line with my concept of the Tens as transitional/transformational cards.  Each one, in fact, is a mini Life/Death/Rebirth card.  This one in particular reminds me of the traditional shout when the king has died: “The King is dead!  Long live the King!” (Or maybe I just have the events of the past few days still on my mind.)

Here in the Northwest, the salmon cycle of descent and return is one of the most inspiring stories we have, whether you approach it as pure science or as a spiritual metaphor. 

Very simply, baby salmon are born in freshwater streams (see the Ace of Water) and swim downriver to the Old Sea where they grow to adulthood. If they’re not eaten by orca whales or caught by fishermen, they make their way back upriver to the same stream where they were born. There, they turn a bright red color as they spawn, laying eggs that will become the next generation. Then they die. Their bodies rot, and what isn’t picked over by ravens and eagles is composted into the soil, turning it into fertile ground.

I took reference photos of the stream and salmon skeletons a couple of winters ago in British Columbia.  (What you can’t experience with just the visual of course is the unmistakable smell of rotting fish flesh. Crows & eagles love it.  Seagulls too.)  I added the spawning salmon because I wanted both parts of the cycle to be represented in this image: the spawning and the dying.  But normally one succeeds the other; you wouldn’t usually see them both at the same time.  (If I’m wrong, please all you naturalists out there — let me know.)

On to the Ten of Earth.

Thoughtful, sparkling comments. . .

  • Robin Fri - Nov 07th 2008 10:09 am

    Love the mossy bank! And while it is quite different than the RWS, it really resonates with me. It makes me think of the Celtic salmon on knowledge, and in that light, coming full-circle or integrating life’s lessons to arrive at that happy rainbow place of fulfillment 🙂

  • Lunaea Fri - Nov 07th 2008 10:21 am

    It’s a beautiful drawing! Love the detail and the flash of color at the top (and yes, the moss — I’m big on moss). I’m going to have to do some musing on the meaning, let it sink in. It is quite a departure from the expected, but the originality of your vision is one of the things I admire most about this deck. I was just looking at another deck this morning that has lovely art, but the imagery is essentially redrawn RWS — again! — and how ho-hum is that. I much prefer decks that go in a new direction and keep me thinking!

  • Carolyn Cushing Fri - Nov 07th 2008 10:44 am

    Ah, you get to swim into your joy when you let something go / the past die. Very wonderful! And perhaps what we can do as a country now! With lots of continued hard work, of course.

  • moiraeknittoo Fri - Nov 07th 2008 10:59 am

    Ohh…I love that card. It’s pretty specific to this region, but it’s beautiful. I think I needed to see this card today, and I thank you for posting it and all the other wonderful works of art you create.

  • Ellen-Mary Fri - Nov 07th 2008 12:13 pm

    As always, Joanna, your artwork is beautiful. It is different from what I’d expect from the Ten of Cups but I like it. I like Robin’s take on it too.
    BTW I took the plunge and registered for the Readers Studio in part because of your glowing reports of RS08.

  • JulieZS Fri - Nov 07th 2008 1:33 pm

    Very unusual representation of this card, but I definitely understand your take on it at a very visceral level from this imagery. Beautifully done (natch!). The King is Dead, Long Live the King! if only it worked that quickly around here…

  • Colleen Fri - Nov 07th 2008 1:47 pm

    In a way this card does still remind me of the happy family in the RW deck. Happiness among those we love is not an automatic given, but is often the result of heartfelt giving and sacrifice. Salmon carry nutrients from the ocean far inland as a vital contribution to the ecosystem. All of their struggle is necessary for other life to flourish.
    This is a very beautiful card and I so appreciate the depth of thinking that you have put into each facet of this deck. It is a very grown-up deck.

  • Hypatia Fri - Nov 07th 2008 3:41 pm

    Beautiful…and bittersweet. Distinctly reminds me of the Roque River, where my family and I stayed while recovering from our son’s stillbirth. We made small boats from sticks and other materials we found in the park, and under the twinkling stars of dawn set them downriver lighted by tealights.
    Un-noticed by me..there were several dead salmon just to the side of the spot we put the memorials into the husband and daughter saw them however..
    What a wondrous memory you’ve brought me to this day.. thank you.

  • Connie Fri - Nov 07th 2008 4:28 pm

    Joanna, I am so excited to see these tens with their celebrations of life/death/rebirth…I have literally been waiting for years for the completion of your deck. And how metaphorically appropriate for you to end your journey through the creation of this deck with these lovely tens. I am just wondering how this feels for you?
    Is this completion bittersweet as you prepare to release into the world the creative project you have spent years completing? Or are you feeling a sense of release and rebirth?

  • rhondda Fri - Nov 07th 2008 5:45 pm

    This is perfect. Where I live I have watched the salmon swim upstream. It is the most amazing thing to see. Some dead on the stream bank, just like your picture. I have watched them maneuver under debris and around log jams and whisk out the other end. Rest for a while and continue on. It is such perseverance and they look at you with their sagging eyes as if to say I know what I am about, do you know what you are about? To swim upstream for your kids? What a lesson!

  • Debbie Fri - Nov 07th 2008 6:21 pm

    Oh Joanna, what a stunning image. I love the different take on this card (I’ve never fully trusted the RWS image anyway ;D). Sorrow and joy at the same time as the cycles continues – I love it!!

  • Laura Fri - Nov 07th 2008 11:48 pm

    I love it! But I bet you knew I’d say that, didn’t you?
    My (completely uncredentialed) naturalist two cents: the dead salmon look a bit like chum or pink salmon to me (it’s the sockeye that turn that bright red color). So, depending on when each variety spawns, this scene could exist in nature.
    One important part of the salmon life cycle to me – not only do the deceased salmon add to the richness of the soil and feed our forests (salmon are how marine nutrients have ended up in our cedars, hemlocks, and doug-firs), but little larvae and critters feed on the decaying salmon, and those little critters in turn feed the salmon hatchlings the next spring. Literally, literally, the cycle of life. I realize you may have been trying to be brief, but I couldn’t read this post and not respond!

  • Beth Owl's Daughter Sat - Nov 08th 2008 5:14 am

    Oh, my. This gives me shivers it is so beautiful and powerful.. Just exactly perfect.

  • Julia Guthrie Sat - Nov 08th 2008 6:14 am

    Its what I always adore about your artwork Joanna. The topics you choose & the stories behind the art…to me, that makes a piece of art far more interesting. 🙂

  • Teresa Sat - Nov 08th 2008 8:45 am

    You know, I live in the Deep South, so I have never actually seen salmon outside of the fishmonger’s. But I love this card and your description. Like all great stories across cultures–even those alluded to in single images–the themes are universal. And what great comments on this card!! Much to ponder today.

  • joanna Sat - Nov 08th 2008 8:56 am

    Wow, there must something about this card that resonates with you all! Thanks for all the great comments.
    Robin, yes I forgot to mention the Celtic Salmon of Wisdom. Thanks for the reminder. I love the congruence of the Native NW salmon myths and the Celtic salmon myths.
    Lunaea, glad you like the drawing and the moss. It was great fun drawing the skeletons. Well it was Hallows when I was working on it. Yes I don’t see the point in doing another RWS clone when there are already so many out there that have been done so well.
    Carolyn, definitely lots of hard work ahead of us as a nation, for sure. Swimming into your joy when you let the past die . . . yes, will have to ponder that for awhile. I think the metaphor here is even more about leaving a legacy for the next generation, since the salmon die after spawning.
    Moriaeknittoo (love that name), thanks for letting me know my artwork is meaningful to you and I’m glad synchronicity struck for you yesterday with this card.
    Ellen-Mary, how exciting you will be at the Readers Studio! I’m so glad I’ll get to meet you. Be sure to sign up for the RS Ning if you haven’t already, and also be sure to book a room if you haven’t already, as I hear they are going fast.
    Julie, thanks. Yes, it would be nice if the power shifted a bit more quickly, as in days of yore . . .
    Colleen, I treasure your words that this is a “grown-up deck.” Thank you. You, Robin and Carolyn are saying similar things: that true joy and happiness is the deepest after we’ve known sorrow and loss.
    Hypatia, what a beautiful, poignant story. Thank you.
    Connie, well I am not quite done. The 10 of Earth is partially done but I still have the 4 Elders (Kings) to go. I purposely left them for the end because I feel that they contain all the wisdom of the cards that have come before them (as true elders carry the wisdom of the tribe). And the Elders are similar in theme to the 10’s because they too are at the end of their years and are looking at leaving a legacy for the next generation. I have to finish a huge work-for-hire website redesign project before I can plunge into the artwork for the Elders so I may be working on them in December and January. Meanwhile I am still waiting to hear back from publishers and am pursuing self-publishing as an option. The completion is not really bittersweet — it is more of a relief. I have many other creative projects that have been on the back burner for years that I am longing to begin. And yes, I want to see the deck out in the world and see how she grows up and takes on a life of her own, in the same way that parents let go of their children. Thanks for asking.
    Rhondda, how lucky for you that you get to see the salmon swim upstream where you live. It is indeed a sight to behold. Craig just reminded me that the baby salmon (smolt) actually swim BACKWARDS downstream. Can you imagine!
    Debbie, you urban girl you, I’m so glad you like this one!
    Laura, so good to have you stopping by here again. I know your schedule has been intense lately. Yay, our salmon expert. I did know that it’s sockeye that turn bright red but I did not recognize that the dead salmon might be pinks or chums. The reference photos were taken by a stream in a provincial park outside of Victoria BC. But thank you for assuring me that my depiction here isn’t a complete fantasy. And thanks for the additional info about the larvae & critters feeding the hatchlings. Love it. Yes I was trying to be extremely brief as I wrote that paragraph and also had the thought that the Salmon Cycle deserves to have entire books written about it (and I suppose it has). I tried to find Sister Kim Antieau Mermaid’s book on the Salmon Mysteries on her site but it appears she has taken it down. I will ask her about it.
    Beth, thank you. Shivers are good!
    Julia, so glad you like the stories behind the art. Much appreciated.
    Thanks everyone!

  • Arwen Sat - Nov 08th 2008 11:35 am

    Had to visit this one for a while.
    10 of Cups here, for me, represents what may happen when we get too full of ourselves and try to go against the wrong stream.
    I mean it’s true. We all need to go against the stream to succeed (the message of the salmon for me) but there are times when the wisest choice is not to abandon our people or they may abandon us.
    I just get the feeling that the salmons on the bank were trying to take the easy way and not listening to their community.

  • Teresa Michelsen Sun - Nov 09th 2008 1:26 am

    Perfect – not much more to say. The salmon cycle is so integral to this place and its natural functioning – death feeding life and life cycling back to the place from which it came.
    Sign me – wishing it wouldn’t take so long to get this deck published 😉

  • Cedarwind Mon - Nov 10th 2008 3:41 pm

    You know our brother, my husband is a Salmon Man. He works every day with the salmon, and with the same salmon from the same waters since 1988 (several generations now) a Federal Fish Hatchery. He so honors the return of those he has helped to spawn…each year we ritualy harvest our return salmon, feast, and return the bones to the river waters…where my beloved drums to them to honor their strength, spirit, wisdom, unfading determination. We know the wisdom of the salmon, so INTUITIVE that THE SCENT OF WATER brings them home after four years of deep sea adventure……..nature is truly amazing and divine. When I watch them return, and jump up the fish ladders, often striking their heads and bodies against rocks or boards of restriction…they stay steadfast and strong…Nature is so divine and powerful, how could we ever question all she is capable of?
    Your card depicts that. Change. Obvious. Wonderous. somewhat understood. The great undknown, but a return to be counted on. You nailed it. With honor to the salmon of wisdom world wide…with honor to those who work to keep their habitat and cycles healthy and whole, and with amazement to those of us that feast on the mystery.
    With honor, pride, and amazement, once again you have spoken through your art as none before you.