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5. The Counsel
I'm taking a ride with my best friend
5 | The Hierophant
Last episode, Toby unlocked Extreme Bummer Mode as he recalled his childhood emotional trauma. This brings us to the next Tarot card in the deck, The Hierophant. First off, that’s a weird word you don’t hear every day. It’s a combo of the Greek words for “sacred” and “reveal.” The traditional Hierophant archetype represents a teacher, sage, philosopher, religious leader, psychotherapist, healer, and mentor — someone with a finger on the pulse of deep, spiritual wisdom and ancient texts who’s willing to divulge these secrets to a mortal who could use a bump to the insight bone.
In traditional Tarot imagery, The Hierophant is represented by a pope or high priest. Note that the Latin word for high priest is pontifex: “the maker of bridges.” Symbols often displayed on this card include the mark of the divine trinity (god-man-spirit / sky-earth-underworld), as well as a key, emblematic of unlocking wisdom for others to glean. The Hierophant — similar to The High Priestess — is usually flanked by his temple’s two pillars.
There’s another intriguing aspect of The Hierophant, which makes it one of the more nuanced cards in the Major Arcana. In Greek Mythology (and in Tarot decks that stray from the more stereotypical Rider-Waite Euro-laden symbolism), The Hierophant is often associated with Chiron, a half-man/half-beast centaur. This creature is the paradoxical, dual-natured crossroads where the civilized intellect meets the wild subconscious — the clash of unyieldingly rigid dogma and instinctually elusive spirituality.
According to the Greek myth, Chiron was an immortal who started off as an ancient healer but was wounded by a poisonous arrow and never recovered. He selflessly taught wisdom until he eventually sacrificed his immortality so another god could live. This “wounded healer” embodies empathy learned through pain. He is the “unsolvable problem:” he can heal others, but, tragically, cannot heal himself. His insatiable thirst for students, mentees, and other wounded souls is what drives him onward.
Chiron is also a major player in Astrology. Represented by a key-shaped glyph, astronomically Chiron is a comet that orbits near the paths of Saturn and Uranus. Astrologically, Chiron represents the “wounded healer” in our natal chart (a map of the solar system at the exact moment of your birth, which lends insight into your personality, motivations, and traumas to overcome). When you draw The Hierophant Tarot card, consider the wounds in your own life, and identify both the intellectual knowledge and intuitive medicine that will lead to your healing. (For bonus points, find out where Chiron sits in your natal chart.)
Last June, I published my first full Bonesick comic, The Bad Apple. I always wanted it to say so much more than I could squeeze inside eight panels. So with the Hierophant Tarot archetype, my opportunity finally arrives!
To all my readers who already met Sully, welcome to your deeper dive.
5 | The Counsel
Once The Bickersons finally left in dejected silence, Sully grabbed their empties from the bar. He left the watery pattern of broken rings as a little homage to the couple’s epic blowout. The thin guy, Paulo, had begged Sully to take sides — as his patrons often do. Sully restrained himself to probing questions and astute observations only. This approach was particularly important on “Personal Jesus” two-for-one Tuesdays when Nick played Depeche Mode’s “Never Let Me Down Again” every hour on the hour. The thicker one, Jesse, was probably in the right, but it’s best to let ‘em hash it out themselves. Such is the thankless job of the career bartender.
The door opened again, and Sully glanced up from washing the glasses in the underbar sink. He met the familiar and despondent gaze of his old friend. “Tobias, good to see ya, my man. You look like you could use a drink, eh? The usual?”
Toby slumped into his regular stool at his regular bar, Nick Roman’s: a quick five flights of stairs plus fifty steps away from home. “Yep. Pour yourself a shot on me, too.”
Sully scanned the Scotch lineup and grabbed the Macgoodstuff. “Thank ya, friend. Occasion?”
“It’s that time of year.” Toby sighed with frustration as he glanced up at the Beefcake calendar that hung up on the wall behind Sully.
Sully followed his buddy’s sight line and winced. “Ah yes, March 18th.” He’d been Toby’s late-night confidant for at least a decade now. Their relationship had been further calcified by Sully’s sponsorship during Toby’s SkinFree transition. They dug through Toby’s psychological sludge on a regular basis, but frustratingly, with no real progress. Sully pushed Toby’s drink across the slick wood and lifted his own shot glass. “Salut.”
Toby raised his glass to meet his friend’s. “To terrible fathers,” he toasted. After a quick sip, Toby continued, “Sully, you think bad apples are forgivable?”
Clearing the slate for their session, Sully gave the bar a thorough wipe-down. “Sure, bud.”
“It’s just…well, people say they forgive, but they won’t forget. They’ll just silently resent you indefinitely.” Toby took a long pull from his drink.
“We talkin’ they, or we talkin’ you?” Sully counter-posed.
Toby cracked a smile. “The whole lot, I guess.”
Sully leaned forward on the bar. “Sounds to me like you really askin’… are bad apples forgettable?” After Toby mumbled a non-response, Sully rubbed his beard and continued, “The way I see it? You one-hundred percent atone for your sin, your mistake, you’d want folks to remember all that, right? Witness your full circle, 360-degree transformation?”
Toby set down his glass. “Yeah, that checks out. But, I mean, you know… my witnesses aren’t exactly here.”
Sully asked, “Is this about what your dad did or about what you did?”
Toby paused a beat before he lobbed back with conviction, “Aren’t they one and the same?”
“Is that how you see it?” Sully walked down to the end of the bar to retrieve a stack of pint glasses one of the servers had dropped off.
With his glass raised again, Toby toasted, “Yep, to a bushel of bad apples!” He then mumbled quietly, “Although, I basically cut down the whole tree, so the world is probably better off now.”
Sully returned to his post with the pint glasses and began to wash them out one by one. “Not to mix metaphors… and, um, no offense…” Sully gestured his hand toward Toby’s boney frame. “…why cut your nose to spite your face?”
Toby shrugged, “None taken. I get it. This SkinFree life was supposed to be a fresh start—”
“And yet, here you are yet again on March 18th, drink in hand, talkin’ to my sorry-ass face.” Sully chuckled to lighten the mood.
Toby swirled the few sips left inside his glass and thought for a bit. He returned to his metaphor and asked, “Ok, so say I’m a fully transformed dude — a fresh apple pie. You think someone would indulge if they hadn’t forgotten my apples started out rotten?”
Sully looked Toby square in his eye sockets. “Toby?”
Toby replied reluctantly, “Yeah?”
Sully leaned in again. “You can’t be apple pie, bud. Them apples need a new gig.” Their mutual stare was interrupted by a cacophony that barreled open the bar’s front door. Sully shifted his attention toward the noise.
“SULLY, I GOT BOY PROBLEMS!” The ruckus pulled up to the bar’s end in a grand spectacle of fluster and flamboyance.
“Oof, looks like my next session’s already here.” Sully glanced back to Toby who had already pulled out a twenty and placed it next to his empty glass. Sully grabbed both and said, “Thank ya, friend. Same time next week?”
Toby nodded, slid off the barstool, and made his way to the door, dragging more in tow than the burden he’d arrived with. ‘Addition by subtraction,’ they say. He shook his head.
Hand me my sentence, I'll show no repentance
I'll suffer with pride
— Martin Gore
Synchronicity of the Week:
I wrote The Counsel story slice a little over a week ago, then this past Friday, I watched Episode 6 of HBO’s mycelium masterpiece The Last of Us, which featured a cover of Depeche Mode’s “Never Let Me Down Again” by Jessica Mazin.
The final lyric is from “Condemnation” by Depeche Mode. Between both of my fathers, the trifecta of Music for the Masses, Violator, and Songs of Faith and Devotion were in heavy rotation. The Singles 86-98 cd became the soundtrack to my life starting in my emo-teens, through college, and through post-grad. Yada yada, I’d definitely be at Nick’s “Personal Jesus” two-for-one Tuesdays.
The “Macgoodstuff” could be famed Macallan Scotch whisky, but is really my incredibly subtle nerd-nod to MacCutcheon, an easter egg predominantly featured throughout the show Lost, but also on other JJ Abrams’ and Abrams-adjacent shows like Fringe and Once Upon A Time.
Next Time: We’re really diggin’ into the bowels of Bonesick now, so don’t pack away those emo-pants just yet. Next episode we ask, “Is it better to have loved and lost than to never have opened your raw, beating heart up to another vulnerable human at all?”
Would you join me at Nick’s “Personal Jesus” two-for-one Tuesdays? Yeah? Awesome!