The Divine Comedy of Sacred Illness: A Tarot Healing

Michael Ortiz Hill

I have been alone now for six weeks and in the shadow of the full moon I ask “what is the prayer that multiple sclerosis was an answer to?”

In a circle of photographs of elders and ancestors I draw:

The Star

Six of Swords

Five of Wands

The old ones speak.

Dear God do I have the courage to meet this oracle?

The Star is the only card of the Major Arcana so I see it as epicenter.

The image is of Pandora opening the box, engulfed by the Spites: old age, labor, madness disease, vice and passion.

And hope fluttering fragile in the midst of hopelessness.

I, Pandora, had to open the damn lid.

I’m haunted by the image of a derelict in the Tenderloin, San Francisco. I was a fifteen year old longhair hitchhiking from Southern California to Berkeley to see hippies and politically minded people and there he was sleeping in his own vomit. I thought “that man knows something about life that I don’t.”

Did I want to be him, be like him?

No, but I did want to know the nature of hell and there was no guarantee should I find my way down there that I would return. I longed for homelessness and madness, an impressionable kid reading R. D. Laing and devouring life, being devoured by it.

In no time I was homeless and mad.

My curriculum.

Years later I was a nurse and intimately involved with the Spites. I take meaning in being with the unhealable. The unhealable teach me so much about the practice of healing.

The engulfment of the unhealable, the Spites.

Split open by the Spites.

One doesn’t argue with the Spites but perhaps I’ve been too transfixed by the specter of the incurable. An old envy of finding the soul that the incurables can call forth.


The Six of Swords, the inflection of heroic choice through the story of Orestes. In the Six Orestes bears the grave tranquiliy of a man reconciled with an impossible fate.

A curse is upon his lineage.

In the House of Atreus violence moves from generation to generation. His father ritually sacrificed Orestes’ sister Iphigenia to win the Trojan war. His mother received his father as if the conquering hero and murdered him in the bath where he was washing off the bloodshed of war.

And Apollo tells Orestes he must avenge the death of his father.

Orestes is the one who will suffer the last act of killing. Through him the ancestral curse will end. He knows that matricide will invite the Furies. They will drive him mad and miasma, poisoned blood, will run in his veins.

After stripping away the violence in the story I’m left with the focused intent to end the endless cycles of violence.

Or rather overcoming the hallucination of the necessity of violence by whatever means necessary.

This has been my daemon.

Brought me to the Trinity site where I buried Kwan Yin at ground zero where the first atomic bomb was detonated and renounced the making of enemies. Sustained me as I was bombed by the American Air Force as I staggered through the heat of the White Sands missile range..

Brought me to the killing fields of El Salvador where I prayed and wept. Sustained me when I was arrested in Honduras for being a “communist.”

Brought me to a day of meditating in a guard tower overlooking Auschwitz-Birkenau.

In truth, the sacred illness is Orestes blade.

At the convention of the American Academy of Osteopathy in 2006 Deena spoke very clearly about illness as a way of healing:

“Illness is a story. It calls us to healing beyond our physical selves. A strange contradiction. Suffering from an affliction invites us to step into a realm of healing that can benefit ourselves, our community and the world. Illness is, therefore, at the very core of healing.”

This is quintessential to the prayer for a truly sacred illness -- that I might be free of the curse and the souls of my daughter and her grandchildrens’ grandchildren be free as well.

Torqued toward the heroic: the Sword of clarity.

Clarity on behalf of the unborn.

The Five of Wands is a terrifying image. I wanted my own private illness. I knew how my wifes’ initiation by cancer had shaped her.

The Five – Jason and Medea wresting the Golden Fleece from the teeth of a dragon who protects the Fleece for King Aeetes.

An astonishing portrait of the warrior and the witch.

Together they can acquire the Fleece.

I ve longed for a disease that would throw Deena and I into fierce collaboration for the sake of the Fleece that serious illness can afford.

When I tell the cards I say the Fleece is the totem of Zeus, the father of the gods, and symbolizes authority over ones spiritual life. I have seen this with Deena and so many others: with illness one gets real with ones deep values.

I wanted a disease that I’d at least grant myself credibility.

The Five is a wonderful compelling drama featuring Michael Ortiz Hill and Deena Metzger in celebration of their perpetual wedding party.

Being pierced to the cross, to the crossroads. The heroic collaboration with the witch coupled with the heroic gesture cutting through the ancestral curse knowing fully that one will be tormented for doing so.

The hero cannot realize himself unless defeat is truly possible, possibly likely.

Ah - the meaning I could milk with Deena!

True love!

Love recognized as undying in the cells of an incurable neurological disease!

How sexy the incurable. I m seeing Deena and I in Love Story Part Two.

Twenty years as a nurse I ve been forever addicted to the soap opera quality of it –

Especially when a spouse would carry the beloveds’ illness with such love and exhaustion, hope giving way to hopelessness or maybe vice versa.

These three cards, the epicenter being Pandoras’ provocation that she be awakened from her innocence.

From the innocence of my self-deception. I was relentless in my prayer for such a disease.

Dear God

Could you please give me an illness. Nothing fatal you understand. But something serious enough that I’d be initiated by it.

I mean God I’m like getting to be a middle aged guy already and I act like a kid!

What does it take?

A nifty disease would be great.

Its OK if its incurable if you think that’s the way but I think something that could be cured would be way cool. At anyrate if its gotta be incurable just don’t make it fatal.

And nothing too painful. If I had to deal with extreme pain either intermittent or constant I’d go nuts. That would mess with my meditation BIG TIME.

And really I don’t want to be paralyzed. I think that would screw up my wifes’ effort to write. I want the kind of disease that wouldn’t ruin everything.

How about a little multiple sclerosis?

Whaddya say? You know the kind that isn’t progressive, that’s kinda manageable.

And really I’d rather not be incontinent. Especially at night, but I guess I could wear diapers. I mean THY WILL BE DONE and all that and I’m sure diapers could teach me all sorts of humility and dear God you how how endlessly I pray to learn about humility.

Sure sure sure diapers diapers. I could be some combination of a Zen master and Homer Simpson, fragrant and humble to beat the band, but the essential thing is UNDO ME DEAR GOD.

Surely there is a convenient disease that could undo. After three decades of meditation and a remarkable psychoanalysis there is so much ego that must be undone but lets not make it too sloppy OK?

Could I just get undone emotionally and cognitively and spiritually and in all those secret places where ego coheres?

Is that asking too much?

Hear my prayer.


I know I m addressing God as a tailor but the disease I want is so specific and God knows, I mean THOU KNOWEST I could be wearing this disease for a long time if not forever. I know I was once homeless but please don’t dress me in rags. If I have to use a cane let me use it in style.

O God the tailor of our diseases.

Or maybe Gods’ a gypsy waitress named Hecate in a fast order restaurant – something upscale like Dennys.

I mean the one I used to wash up in when I was homeless.

That level of classy.

Not McDonalds!

I’ m sitting with Deena when I order.

“Could you bring me a little MS and …”


“Oh no. Hold the mayo. I’d just like a little multiple sclerosis and an order of onion rings with a vanilla milkshake, extra thick. Got that?”

It would never work.

Maybe God at a very fine restaurant where they cook to the customers tastes.

“Would you like a little MS wine, monsieur? It has a certain pungent quality at first but then mellows to an extraordinary complexity,” SAYETH THE LORD.

God uncorks the bottle and pours me just a little. I swirl it around and the aroma itself carries at first pungency and then mellows to a complexity that is quite indescribable.

I’ve never had such wine or was too dense to know what wine could be.

“Yes God. I’ll have some of that. It is extraordinary isn’t it?”

It is, monsieur. A perfect choice if I might say so. You may want to take a bottle home to savor.”

“I may do just that.”

“And for you madam?”

“I’ll pass but a glass of merlot would be wonderful.”

“It shall be. And I’ll return with the menu.”


A postscript almost a year since the hermit wrote Water Spirits, Multiple Sclerosis and Poisoned by a God and The Divine Comedy of Sacred Illness. I left the forest whole, laid down my walking stick and stopped peeing on myself.

Which is to say each miraculous step I walk the ground of having been healed.

How can I not feel affection for the young man, self-trained on homelessness, Piggybacking Carlos Casteneda to St. John of the Cross’ dark night of the soul?

But now the healing reveals itself as anything but excruciating or flamboyant.’

It has been kind beyond telling.

Yesterday I consulted Stephen Karchers’ Total I Ching: what was Gods answer to such a prayer?

Hexagram 62 Small Traverses

“This is a transition to a new time, a passage that must be realized through the Small and the power of the yin…. It is a quality of the Way, the ‘littlest possible thing’ (ji),’ something hardly visible that is the precise place where things turn and change.

“Motto: Keep the Small heart.”

The Divine translation of my willing and willful prayer to be skinncd alive shows that God is much gentler towards me than I am to myself. The three cards engaged a prayer that was accurate but now reads as an artifact of an obsolete self. The hero archetype is the hard core of ego.

Invoking the hero to slay ego is not convincing to the soul.

Sacred illness is not the blade of Orestes with which he killed his mother. It is, perhaps. the blade of Manjusri that cuts through the dualism that confabulates the fiction of ego.

Of the three cards Pandora alone is not the hero. Her oblivious innocence has stripped me of overweening spiritual aspirations, The apartheid fantasy that the ill are “other” cannot hold.

The affliction of being human is altogether pervasive.

And so from the descent and return from hell these past four years I learn to keep a small heart.