Monday, December 31, 2012

A True Classic Never Goes Out of Style

When you say "Tarot cards" to most people, what do they think of? I've found most people think of the Rider- Waite Tarot cards, and it seems these are the most recognizable Tarot cards out there. Looking at the history of the cards, the deck was designed by members of the Golden Dawn occult society, and arguably the most noticeable difference between this and previous decks is that the Minor Arcana cards are illustrated, after a fashion. Instead of simply displaying the number and suit of the cards, there are explanatory pictures that point to the meaning of each card. This may well explain a great deal of the deck's popularity, and my experience is that many new readers take the Rider-Waite as their first deck to cut their teeth on.
Delving into the copyright laws surrounding the deck, we also can see that there are really no copyright protections on the actual images. It's true that US Games, located in my own home state of Connecticut, holds the copyright for the Rider-Waite deck as we know it today. However, the deck is so old that the copyright on the imagery has long since expired, making the deck pretty much public domain, and meaning that many decks make use of, alter and adapt the Rider-Waite imagery.
One side note, that the original woodcut-style artwork was actually done by Pamela Colman-Smith, and was later redone with brighter colors and better printing, to produce the Rider-Waite deck we know today- the one in the yellow box. (I've also found that most people who are somewhat familiar with Tarot cards will recognize the term "the one in the yellow box" as well).
"There can be only one true interpretation of the Tarot! Everything else is just plain wrong!"
So does this make the R-W deck superior? What about the Crowley-Thoth deck, another popular choice? And what about decks that completely leave behind the more traditional imagery for a more impressionistic version? There are a lot of "theme" decks out there, many likewise based around this kind of prototype deck. Often reviews will refer to how a new deck is based around the R-W imagery system, or deviates from it. While it's nice to have a point of reference, does this mean this particular deck is superior?
While it may be easier to use, the cards of the Tarot reflect situations; the pictures and numbers serve a symbolic, not literal, purpose. Take the Six of Swords as a for example:
The imagery is not literal, though it could be. Should you expect to get ferried across a river somewhere? Though this is not impossible, consider the more symbolic aspects of the card- travel, moving away from one situation to another, and the accompanying thoughts that come with that change. Perhaps it's bittersweet, moving away from what you knew to the promise of something better. The Tarot cards also tend to be multi-faceted; many layers of meaning are present, tied together around a core concept.
Though there are common themes among the Tarot cards, looking beyond the surface meaning of the pictures, whatever they may be, to the underlying meaning is important in using them effectively. I've noticed with different decks, sometimes different aspects of each particular card come to the forefront as well. When choosing a deck, pick one that you can relate to! I'm sure I'm not alone when I say I'm excited to see what new developments and new concepts this upcoming year will bring! I'm always fascinated by Tarot artwork, and its often impressionistic nature. I've found that in many cases the artist brings out some aspect of the card  and its meaning I hadn't considered.
As we move into the new year, best wishes to everyone, and happy reading! Don't fear change, and hold to your truths!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Tarot Dignities, Part 3- The Court Cards

Finally, we come to the Court cards- the Pages, Knights, Queens and Kings- they are similar to the number cards in that they have a designated place as well as a suit assignment. They can also be assigned a number, based on their position in their Court. For purposes here, let's regard the Court cards as simply either a positive or negative (read: active or passive) element. As we know, each of the Courts is assigned to a specific element:
Kings- Fire

In this system, I'm using the Rider-Waite/Golden Dawn system of categorizing the Court cards- it's true that the Crowley-Thoth deck uses a different system of order, but keep in mind that the order of the elements in the Courts comes into play here. The elements appear in an order, and there's a reason for this. Going from "lowest" to "highest", first we have Earth- the prima materia from which things are formed. Above this we have Air, logical and structured, giving order and more importantly, design to the base material of Earth. Above this is the imbuing of this material with spirit and emotion, shown by Water, and finally, manifestation in accordance with will, shown in the Fire of the Kings. But again, for our purposes here we have two positive elements, Fire and Air, and one negative element, Water. The Pages, being related to Earth, can be either seen as negative or neutral. My own experience tells me that Earth is most often a neutral element in that it represents the raw  materials, neither creative nor destructive, as this depends on what ends you put them towards. However, Earth can also be seen as negative, in its passive sense, like Water. Should you wish to preserve symmetry in the Courts, you can also assign the Pages as a negative dignity. This will also depend to a large extent on what your own experience is in reading the deck.
When using the Court cards as dignities, we run into a couple tricky areas- first, we can view the cards in terms of their suits in terms of what areas of life this influence is coming from, and second, it is true that in many cases the cards do represent people or a given relationship to another person, most commonly the relationship of the querent to this person. I hate to keep falling back on this explanation, but again, it will depend on the experience of each reader whether or not they wish to include the Courts at all in the system of dignities. The Courts, representing people, do throw an additional monkey wrench in the works in terms of representing people, as well as having two different elements in each card- that of the Court position, and that of the suit element.
But for explanation purposes, we find the following assignments in terms of dignities in the Courts-
Kings- Positive (Fire)
Queens- Negative (Water)
Knights- Positive (Air)
Pages- Negative (Earth) (or Neutral, if you prefer)
In concluding an explanation of dignities, keep in mind that the meaning of each card taken as a whole is important. All the cards contain multiple levels of meaning, and understanding the meaning, both gross and fine, of the cards themselves is the key to understanding both dignities and the Tarot.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tarot Dignities, Part Two- The Minor Arcana

In considering the Minor Arcana as dignities, we find that there are two aspects to each card, as here the cards are assigned both a suit and a number. Whereas the Major Arcana cards have a specific designation in terms of their title and meaning, we find that here the cards are defined in terms of their number and suit. We can likewise assign the Courts a numerical value, but for the time being let's look at just the number or pip cards. In the four suits we also find the four elements represented- interestingly, there are two elements that could be considered negative, that is, passive, and two that could be considered positive- that is, active. Both Air and Fire are active; they can be seen as acting upon, whereas Water and Earth can be considered passive- they are acted upon rather than acting. We can also consider Earth to be a neutral element, as in some systems it is thought to be the basis from which the other, more active and fluid elements arise.
But on to the numbers- turning again to the Sephiroth, we can see three vertical divisions in the Tree of Life diagram, and these can likewise be used to assign each number one of the three dignities- positive, negative or neutral. 
In this diagram, there are three numbers on the left side, three on the right, and four in the middle, totaling 10. In this depiction, the left hand pillar is called the Pillar of Severity, or alternately the Pillar of Judgement- here we assign those numbers that are thought to have a constructive, yet also limiting influence. On the right hand side is the Pillar of Mercy, sometimes also called the Pillar of Expansion- these are the numbers thought to have a supportive, sustaining influence. Interestingly, the Pillar of Severity can be considered to give form and structure by limiting expansion, whereas the Pillar of Mercy provides the raw material that is structured and limited. The middle pillar could be said to contain, then, the neutral numbers. It's common for the Aces and 10s to be regarded as both neutral, the 10 marking a point of completion, where the Aces then pick up again. So in this system as far as dignities are concerned, we find the Aces and 10s to be equivalent for our purposes.
With these two concepts, limitation and expansion, the numbered cards of the deck can be seen as acting in accordance with this, either to expand or limit the energy of a given card. And this, in turn, can indicate a positive or negative dignity- remember that for these purposes a positive dignity is one that acts favorably (expands or intensifies the energy of a given card) towards the situation, and a negative dignity is one that acts antagonistically (reduces or limits the energy of a given card).
Notice also that both the Aces and 10s are considered neutral in this system- this is because both represent potential. What we use this potential for can be either good or bad; think of them as raw material, that can be used to make a weapon to harm or a tool to construct. We find the following numbers with their respective categories:
Positive: (Expansive, increasing and supporting) 2, 4, 7
Negative: (Limiting, decreasing and setting boundaries) 3, 5, 8
Neutral: (Representing potential and raw material) Ace, 6, 9, 10
Considering also the elements, there are two ways to look at the cards- one is to consider their elemental assignment or placement in terms of the Zodiac, which is useful in terms of the Major Arcana, as well as their numerical value, which is useful for the Minor Arcana. However, the elemental assignments of the Minors can also be taken into consideration, as each of the four elements represents an area of our lives, relationships and development. In terms of dignities, this can likewise indicate a little more about that particular dignity- here the elements can indicate what area that positive influence is coming from. The Swords indicate communication, thought or ideas. Cups indicate spiritual, emotional or relationship factors, Wands indicate will and determination, and finally Pentacles indicate material resources. This is a somewhat arbitrary system, and there is bound to be a good deal of overlap, so again, use your own judgement on what each dignity can mean, and be sure to take the situation into account as well. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Tarot Dignities- The Major Arcana

First off, what are dignities? The term as it applies here refers to other cards around a given card, or event; basically, what other factors influence a person or event depicted in a reading? There are three categories of dignities, positive, negative and neutral. This refers to the event or person, and what our desired outcomes regarding this are. Positive dignities are towards our desired outcome; negative dignities are against or contrary to that desired outcome, while neutral dignities are neither. Let's look at it in terms of an example- I'm sitting here contemplating a business venture. Should I do it? Is it a sound investment? Let's say, continuing this example, that things look pretty good- the time is right to make this move. Now let's say I find a positive dignity in regards to this situation. This means that it's very likely that things will really work out, and I'll find a greater degree of success than I expected, or perhaps success in a different direction than I had originally figured.
Now, if there's a negative dignity in regards to this situation, I could expect some trouble down the line- perhaps not failure, but something to watch out for and be cautious of. Remember that negative dignities work against a desired outcome, or the outcome or situation shown in the reading- think of them as influences, either boosting or hindering what the cards show the outcome to be.
A neutral dignity simply is there- it means that the forces or factors coming to bear on this situation are neither for nor against the outcome; it's up to you, the querent, or whomever is making the decisions what they want to do; there are for all intents and purposes no forces working for or against a given situation.

So having established that dignities exist, where are they? This depends largely on the placement of the cards- adjacent cards in a reading can be said to be dignities; a good example of this is a 3-card reading, wherein the center card would be dignified by the two cards on either side of it. Another example is a time-based spread, where we have past, present and future- similar to the above three-card reading, but it can be expanded. If we have a negative dignity in the past position, this can indicate that a troublesome past can hinder the present situation, or even perhaps that there are some things in the past that need to be resolved before the querent can move on in the present. In both cases, the negative dignity hinders or works against the desired outcome in the present situation.
In the case of a positive dignity in the past, we find that events that have occurred already only increase the likelihood of a desired outcome. Years of study and hard work increase your chances of becoming a first-chair musician- in the same way, what has occurred already, be it deliberate or happy accident, will help in the present.
What do the dignities look like? Let's begin with the Major Arcana, and its relevant factors. The names and affiliations of the Major Arcana cards are the main factor in determining meaning, whereas in the Minor Arcana the suit and number cards give them meaning. The Majors have an elemental, planetary and/or zodiac affiliation, and both the planetary and zodiac affinities determine whether that card is positive or negative. We can consider the elements in terms of their properties, and then find the following- under positive elemental dignities, we have Air and Fire, both considered active elements- they act rather than are acted upon, that  is to say. In terms of negative dignities, we have Water, which is considered a passive element. Interestingly, Earth can be considered either negative or neutral, and the community at large seems divided on this decision. Should you consider Earth negative, then that's fine, or if you find it neutral, then use it in this sense also. Like much of Tarot, it depends on the individual reader. For discussion purposes here, we'll consider Earth to be neutral. 
In the Major Arcana, we find these same divisions, the first of which is the elemental affiliations; these Major Arcana cards represent the qualities of that element, and are as follows:
- XX- Judgement
-0- The Fool
-XII- The Hanged Man
XXI- The World
Obviously, the pure elemental affiliations don't cover the whole of the Major Arcana. There are also the signs of the zodiac to consider, and these divide as well into the four elements in the following way:
Fire (Positive)
  • IV- The Emperor- Aries
  • VIII- Strength- Leo
  • XIV- Temperance- Sagittarius
Air (Positive)
  • VI- The Lovers- Gemini
  • XI-Justice- Libra
  • XVII- The Star- Aquarius
Water (Negative)
  • VII- The Chariot- Cancer
  • XIII-Death- Scorpio
  • XVIII- The Moon- Pisces
Earth (Neutral)
  • V- The Hierophant- Taurus
  • IX- The Hermit- Virgo
  • XV- The Devil- Capricorn
The remaining Major Arcana cards fall under the planetary influences- again, each planet has an elemental affiliation, and from this we find the following:
Positive Planets
  • XIX- The Sun- Sun
  • XVI- The Tower- Mars

    Negative Planets

  • -IV- The Empress- Venus
Neutral Planets
  • I- The Magician- Mercury
  • X- The Wheel of Fortune- Jupiter

Finally, putting them all together, we find the following list of dignities in the Major Arcana:

0-The Fool
I- The Magician
II- The High Priestess
Moon (Water)
III The Empress
Venus (Water)
IV- The Emperor
Aries (Fire)
V- The Hierophant
Earth (Earth)
VI- The Lovers
Gemini (Air)
VII- The Chariot
Cancer (Water)
VIII- Strength
Leo (Fire)
IX- The Hermit
Virgo (Earth)
X The Wheel of Fortune
XI- Justice
Libra (Air)
XII- The Hanged Man
XIII- Death
Scorpio (Water)
XIV- Temperance
Sagittarius (Fire)
XV- The Devil
Capricorn (Earth)
XVI- The Tower
Mars (Fire)
XVII- The Star
Aquarius (Air)
XVIII-The Moon
Moon (Water)
XIX- The Sun
XX- Judgment
XXI-The World

Where there are corresponding elements to a zodiac sign or planet, the element is listed in parentheses. Keep in mind that this is only one way of interpreting the cards, and that not all readers use a system of dignities. As always, remember that the role of intuition can't be overstated, and most of all, use your own experience! There are different ways of using dignities, and like the Tarot, it varies based on the reader. Keep in mind that the elements, as well as the terms positive and negative refer to the overall influence the card exerts on the situation- take into account also the specific cards that occur in the reading, as well as where they are in the reading.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Doctor Who and the Tarot

“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint – it’s more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly… time-y wimey… stuff.” -The Doctor

Venturing into new realms of geekiness, I realized there is actually some truth to this. For those of you not in the know, the Doctor is the title character in the long-running British TV series Doctor Who. He is the last member of a race known as Time Lords, who, as the name suggests, have the ability to travel both through time and space. This being the case, it's entirely possible to rewrite your own history, to some extent. However, we discover in the course of the show that certain things in time need to happen for the stability of the universe as a whole. 
Now what does this have to do with Tarot cards? At first, it would seem next to nothing. But actually, we find that the knowledge of our position in time gives us also some degree of control and decision- we can change the path we're on. But before we can do that, first we must understand the mechanism of time, and the mechanisms of action and reaction. 
First, let's look at relativity- what we find is that time is not a fixed concept- it changes relative to the observer. Yet even being relative, there are constants- Albert Einstein proposes the speed of light as a constant- that is, nothing can move faster than the speed of light. So we have two concepts here- first, that things can be relative. Second, that even within this relativity there are constants. Extrapolating from this, we can see that in our own lives there are constants, as well as relative factors. Going back to the good Doctor, we see that though things can be different from each point of observation, and subsequently, that they are somewhat flexible, there are also constants. Without these constants, how could we "know" anything? Everything would be relative, without an objective standard. In one episode, we find that the Doctor's traveling companion, Rose, has an opportunity to prevent her father from dying in a car accident. She travels back to the time and place of his death and prevents him from being hit by the car that kills him. But by doing this, she learns the hard way that there are certain things in our timelines that need to happen. In this case, her father's death was one of them. The implications here are first, that we are never powerless. The Tarot does not predict the future as much as it does illuminate what's going on, and allows us to see behind the proverbial curtain. It does not point to things that are inevitable, though these also exist. We can't alter time and space too much, as these things exist for a reason- to hold the universe in a state of relative (there's that word again!) stability. Don't mess with the laws of physics, in other words. These same laws give our world structure and organization- and also allow us to act with purpose and to change our own situation.
The concept of karma comes into play here, as does Newton's third law of motion. Actually, the two are functionally one and the same- for every action, a reaction exists. Newton figured that every action has consequences, and this is true as well. This is also why Rose's prevention of her father's death had such unforeseen consequences. The Doctor warns Rose that there are certain things that need to happen. Though we ourselves lack the ability to travel through time, thus altering our own pasts, we find that regardless the same principle applies- for every action, a reaction exists. We're stuck in our nice neat linear conception of time- action leads to reaction, and so on down the line. But even in the Doctor's view of time, the same principle holds- every action has a reaction, and when one part of the time line is altered, it has consequences.
So getting back to the Tarot- we can see the consequences of potential actions- what could be. From this we can determine the best course of action, what we should do, in other words. The simple fact is, we have the power to change the present. In this present, we set the stage for what's to come. Unlike our time-traveling protagonist, we don't have the ability to go back and change those decisions. We're limited to the present- and it's here that we can exercise influence. There are consequences for every action- this is true. But don't think of these things entirely in the negative, as reactions, consequences, whatever word you might choose, can be positive as well. 

So to sum up, we find these two factors at work- first, that there are indeed inevitabilities- things that we can't prevent from happening, coming from our past actions- these things have been set in motion. Yet at the same time, what we choose to do in the present, and how we choose to react and set our own course is up to us. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Court Cards in the Thoth Tarot

Considering the Court cards of the Thoth Tarot, brought to us by that infamous occultist Aleister Crowley, we find some unusual symbols compared to the Golden Dawn system many of us began with. Interestingly, the Courts are assigned different names and a seemingly different order- instead of Kings, Queens, Knights and Pages the order is Knights, Queens, Princes and Princesses. While Princes and Princesses are not uncommon alternatives to Knights and Pages respectively, the placement of the Knights in the Kings' position is somewhat unique. Hermann Haindl's Tarot assigns the following labels to the Courts- we find the Kings identified as Fathers, the Queens as Mothers, and the Princes/Knights as Sons and the Princesses/Pages as Daughters of their respective suits.
So from all this, we can draw some further conclusions about the nature of the Courts. Focusing first on the Thoth assignments, we find that here there is a more person-centric feel to the deck. The Thoth deck tends to focus more on what each person brings to the situation, or what a given situation might require of a given person. Likewise, the Court cards in the Thoth deck can be seen to represent things to work on or master- each suit represents a different aspect of our own psychological, spiritual and emotional makeup, and each card represents a different aspect or point in life.When interpreting the courts, it's important to keep in mind the nature of the human mind- don't look for a static, unchanging story, or fixed characteristics. Instead, the Courts represent the development of our own mental states as well as patterns of responses and behavior over time. Within the suits we can see a development and maturity of thought and action, and each of the four suits represents a different aspect of our situation- spiritual and will, physical and practical, emotional and relationship-wise, and intellectual and analytical. We can also see in the Haindl Tarot something of a reversed order- the Sons and Daughters are the product, so to speak, of the Mother and Father. This can relate to new developments and new situations we find ourselves in, perhaps due to life circumstances or our own actions and new ideas.
But back to Aleister Crowley. Here we find a, well, self-centered deck, though not in a negative context- merely that the self is the focus of the deck. What do you do, what do you think? These are the questions this deck asks of us. Let's review the individual positions in Crowley's courts to determine what the message is-
First, we have the Knights, representing a similar role to the Golden Dawn Knights. The Knights represent dynamic energy and knowledge- both having a clear intention in mind and the know-how to get there. As usual, the Knights ride horses, and horses are a common symbol of both desire and will as well as instincts. This again tells of the main characteristics of the Knights- knowledge of how to achieve an end, and the desire that will drive them on reach that end.
How do these differ from the Kings? The Kings also represent knowledge and strength, and the common element of the Kings is Fire- indicating likewise will and determination. The difference between Kings and Knights, where they are used, is that though they are similar, Kings tend towards more practical knowledge whereas the Knights, with Air as their element, tend towards more idealistic and black-and-white thinking.
The Queens remain consistent across both systems- Queens are tied to the element of Water, and as such tend more towards support and development than strict leadership roles. This is not to devalue the contribution that a Queen-type person can bring to the situation. Each aspect is important.
The Princes have a different role, however. Here we have, in the Thoth deck, the Princes mounted on chariots- though similar to the Knights, who are mounted on horseback, the chariots are symbols of manipulating change to our own ends. The horses of the Knights represent a combination of purpose and knowledge, yet the chariots represent a conscious and willful manipulation of the world to bring about a desired end. Though the word manipulation tends to have a negative context, as in manipulating and using people, this is not the message here. Rather, it's a sense of using resources to achieve a desired end.
The Princes, likewise, in the Hermetic Tarot, are identified as the "Lords" of their elements, indicating a somewhat Knight- like aspect of mastery, an idea supported by the imagery of chariots in their portrayals. Remember also that the Chariot (the Major Arcana version, I mean) represents conscious and deliberate movement in accordance with will and purpose.
Now on to the Princesses- they correspond roughly with the Pages, in the sense of desire and purpose, but marked by inexperience, and with inexperience a desire to learn and grow, often pushing the boundaries. The Pages represent determination and study, building up to become a Knight in many ways. The Princesses in the Thoth deck represent potential, and the understanding of that potential. Whereas in the other Courts, the cards turn more towards what the individual can do in the situation, the Princesses focus rather on self-development and self-mastery. The message throughout the deck clearly becomes before you can master the world around you, first you must master yourself. This may not be quite the daunting task it seems, considering things from a psychodynamic perspective. What we find is the id and ego- one represents what needs to contained and mastered, that is, the id. Moving beyond simply self-gratification, the result can be that in doing this, we can build and plan for the future.
To conclude, we find that our world, and we as people inside that world, are both complicated, and not easiy divided into categories. Look for a changing, dynamic narrative as the substance of our lives, not a fixed ready-written story. Each of us is different, though all our lives do bear common threads and symbols, allowing us to interpret and make sense of our time here.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Cat in the Box

I'm writing this entry from my home state of Connecticut, and it's good to be home! The drive back here, though long, was an inspiring one, filled with interesting sights and people. But on to today's entry.
Recently I encountered Schrodinger's infamous cat- the cat was used as a thought experiment (not a literal experiment) to show how the principle of "superposition" works. I find it has some analogy in the process of reading the Tarot as well.
So to start off, we have a cat. This cat goes into a box, the design of which is such that we can't tell anything about the cat from outside the box- that is, when it's closed we can't see, hear or otherwise get any information on the cat. We don't know what is going on inside the box without opening it. Also in this box is a mechanism where (long story short) there is an exactly equal chance that the cat will die from the device- and likewise an equal chance that the cat will not be killed by the device. So, in goes the cat, the box is sealed, and we are left to speculate about the state of the cat. Is the cat alive or dead? Keep in mind we have no idea of knowing except one- open the box and observe the cat.
Schrodinger's point here is that the cat, until it is observed, is in a state of "superposition"- that is, since the odds are perfectly equal as to whether the cat is alive or dead, until we confirm it and assign a state to the cat, it's both alive and dead.

Granted, we don't often, if ever, encounter a situation where there are exactly two possible outcomes, and where there are equal probabilities of both outcomes. I find that our own lives are somewhat like the cat in some ways- we start with potential, then the decisions we make form that potential into definite states. But to reiterate, very rarely do we find a state where probabililties are equal- everything that has come before has, in one way or another, to a greater or lesser extent will influence any given decision.
So what we find is a somewhat predictable world. It's interesting at this point to examine once again the question of free will vs. predetermination. We do have free wil, and can indeed change the path we're on. However, the past also influences the present. So what's the answer? Understanding first how the past influences us, and second, understanding how to change the path we're on can allow us to make needed or desired changes. Sometimes it's simply a question of knowing where to start.
We find that the whole thing looks something like this- we have free will, but what we have already set in motion will continue to affect the present. Before we can begin anew, we first have to put to rest the past. And again, the process is all about understanding- not making another person's decisions for them, but rather helping everyone to make the best decisions possible. Not everything is known, and there are always factors we can't readily account for- but the fact is, most of these unknowns tend to cancel each other out, and what we truly will, where our hearts are, is what we see in our lives.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Affirmations, Negativity And Reversals

Going back to "bad" readings for a moment, it may help to examine just what the Tarot does in this sense. Are there any hopeless readings? Not exactly. No one is immune from karma and the consequences of our actions, yet at the same time, the goal of reading is not to tell you what's going to happen; rather, it's to illuminate the road ahead of you. Knowing what lies ahead can help you to make an informed decision, and getting a better idea of what to expect can help you prepare for it. Now, very rarely will you find someone who is 'cursed', needs to be cleansed, under the evil influence of Mercury (well, actually Mercury is going retrograde very soon, but nonetheless) or anything like that. If you do find someone who tells you this, my advice is get a second opinion. Usually negativity comes about as the result of what has already been, and already happened, coming to fruition in our lives.
Reversals are another common way negativity or difficulties can manifest in the Tarot- a reversal generally means that the influence, situation or energy that card shows is blocked, or unable to manifest at the present time. So the first question that usually follows is, what's in the way? Looking at context can help a great deal, and I've had people stop and think for a moment, then ask me "Do you think it's ____?" Often the fact that this factor, whatever it may be, comes to mind is a good indication that yes, that has an influence. The fact that there are reversals in a spread shouldn't discourage either reader or client; the message here is to look and see what you can do to free up that blockage and move forwards.
So let's examine how that can be done. First, it bears repeating that we are the ultimate deciding force in our own lives- though the stars, fate, karma, what have you all do act to influence your life, we do still possess free will, and our outlook and thought can have a good deal of influence on our situation. What we wish or will to do begins with our thoughts; going back again to the four suits of the Tarot, we find their respective influences. First we have Wands, and Fire- will, or desire to make a change, or undertake a project. So we have that initial spark that prompts us to change. So where to go from there? Well, nothing is built without a blueprint or design, so on to Swords, and analytical thought. Here we have the beginning of how to make something happen- how do we begin to make that impulse reality? Again, with our thoughts.
So we find the way is change your thoughts, change your world. An affirmation is some simple thing, perhaps like a mantra, we keep in mind and make decisions in light of. It can be something simple like "Today I will release the stress I've been holding onto." or "I will work to develop my will." Generally, statements like that rather than "I hope I can release the stress I've been holding onto" or "I wish I could get a chance to let others know what I want" will be more effective- your mind will begin to accept that it's pretty much a given that this thing is going to happen. Keeping a note where you will see it, or using some reminder of that can help to cement that intent in your mind.
First, remember that understanding of the situation helps a great deal. From there, developing and sticking to a plan will allow you to work towards that end. Remember that only you know what you truly want, and can make or break that will's manifestation in the world. The Tarot is not a means to make decisions for you, or allow anyone to give up personal responsibility, but rather a way to empower people to make the best decisions they can.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Fortune's Wheel

Chance and fortune are supposed to be the forte of us Tarot readers, yet Tarot is not so much about determining the whims of an impassive, arbitrary and uncaring future as it is understanding why things in our lives happen the way they do. Why do things both change and remain constant? To consider that, let's look at the Wheel of Fortune card- the Rider-Waite version has some interesting correlations:
On the wheel's outer rim we have a figure resembling Anubis (on the bottom), the Egyptian lord of the dead, indicating, perhaps, endings and things coming to a close in our lives, a snake on the opposite edge, symbolizing trouble and difficulties, and at the top, a sphinx armed with a sword, indicating intelligence and wisdom, and the ability to discern the best course of action in each situation. Outside of the wheel are four figures, each consulting a book- a lion, an angel, an eagle and a bull. Interestingly, they all have wings, also. However, these four figures represent the four aspects of humanity- the eagle representing far sight and intelligent planning, the bull representing strength, the angel representing dominion over the world (keep in mind, it's power with, not power over) and the lion representing willpower.
So with this, the message of the Wheel of Fortune becomes somewhat clear. The term fortune is perhaps a derivative of the name Fortuna, the Roman goddess governing luck, known as Tyche in Greek. Fortuna is also shown at the center of a wheel, as in the old manuscript of the Carmina Burana, later turned into an operetta by the composer Carl Orff-
The concept of Fortune's wheel, the rota fortunae in Latin, is a fairly common concept in medieval literature. It is spun by Fortuna, who usually is depicted outside the wheel. She spins it at random, causing misfortune to some and good fortune to others. However, as time went on, Fortuna's wheel became more of an allegory, telling how things of this world are transitory, and prone to change at a moment's notice.
Actually, this provides an insight to the meaning of this card- we are, it's true, sometimes subject to changes and forces beyond our control, much like the storm currently wending its way towards the east coast at this time of writing. However, the message here is not to blindly accept fate, blindly accept whatever changes come to us, and view ourselves as helpless pawns at the mercy of a much greater force. We know wheels turn, so can act according to that. True, some things come out of the blue, but we can do two things- first, be able to let go and accept change, and second, to prepare for that change. This isn't saying stock up on ammo and prepare for the zombie apocalypse, but rather the old adage about putting all your eggs in one basket, and counting your chickens before they're hatched. Be flexible, says this card- first, use the positive changes in your life to prepare for the future, and remember that during the bad times, things will get better. Luck, as they say, favors the prepared, and this to a large extent is the message of the Wheel of Fortune card.
In context, this is a card that bears examining. What surrounds it? The card itself indicates change, but whether or not first, we perceive that change as positive or negative, and second, what we do with it, determines whether it's for the best or not. Again, we are the ultimate authors and deciders in our own lives, either consciously or unconsciously. And this is one of the best uses to put the Tarot to- not to have someone tell us what to do, but rather to show us more options, and make a more informed decision.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Changing Seasons, The Analogy of the Cave, and The Suits

The end of the year is fast approaching, and at this point our thoughts possibly turn towards Oktoberfests, pumpkins and the coming winter. The same thing as last year, and the year before that, so on back as far as anyone can remember. Many sects of paganism mark these equinoxes and solstices, which developed based around planting, growing and harvesting seasons. Given that up until recently, people farmed and hunted for food and livelihood, it only seems natural that we would take note of these things and incorporate them into our own collective mentality, as well as base our calendar year around them.
I find it interesting that we can consider the four Tarot suits in the same way- anyone who's ever picked up a "white book", those little handy (in some cases, anyway) booklets that often are in the box with a Tarot deck may have noticed the suits generally fall into the same order, with some variations. The suits, as we know, represent different aspects of human experience and at the same time the process of manifestation and creation. How the steps occur can and does vary, though the suits generally are assigned a specific part of the process. To start, let's examine each suit and what role it plays in this process.
Going a little backwards, we might notice that in the decks the suit of Pentacles is almost always addressed last. This is because the suit of Pentacles is tied to the Earth, and with that Earth, the end of the line- physical manifestation of what began as an idea or impulse, all the way down to the physical component or physical change in the world. So from this, we can also conclude that all we see begins with an idea, or begins on a more abstract level, as of thought.
In many ways, we find a similarity to Plato's analogy of the cave- the four suits themselves find a place in this design as well.
In this example, we find the world as not directly being perceived- the prisoners see shadows, yet assume these shadows are reality. Yet at the same time, these shadows are just a reflection of something occurring on a "higher" level. In this case, it refers to the mental concepts generated by our senses and the experiences we gain from them- but the sensory experience we have is not the same as Plato's higher, more abstract concept.
So to relate this to the four Tarot suits, we find that first, we begin with an abstract idea. Most commonly this is assigned either to Swords or Wands- that is, Air, representing abstract thought and intellect, or Fire, representing desire and will. Emotion, responses and the spiritual side of things are related to the suit of Cups, relating to Water, and finally, manipulation of the physical world, creating change, occurs in the suit of Pentacles.
So again, how does this relate to the changing of the seasons? Well, let's look first at the Sabbats, and see what each one represents in terms of its position in the year. Every year we go through the same cycle, though we ourselves are perhaps that much older and wiser for the experience of another year. We can divide the year into quarters, as well: these are defined by the two equinoxes and the two solstices, which are the points at which we transition between the seasons. There is a narrative of growth and death, leading ultimately to rebirth, in the passing of the sabbats, and so let's begin with Yule- this represents the rebirth of the sun, on the shortest day of the year. We can tie Yule into the suit of Wands- they are frequently portrayed not simply as staves, but rather as living and growing branches, and this represents the potential of living things, and the initial spark that drives growth and change.
Next up (I'm looking only at the equinoxes and solstices here, though the cross-quarter sabbats also figure in to this) we can consider Ostara, which marks the point at which night and day are considered to be equal in length- a turning point. Here we can consider the suit of Swords- we have potential, but in order to move forwards, we'll need to put it into a design, give it direction and guidance, coming from a clear and true perception of the way things really are. A part of this is the reason why Swords correspond to intellect, that they pierce illusion and our own confusion, revealing things the way they truly are.
Now from here, we move on to the summer solstice, marked by Litha or Midsummer. At this point, the days are long and the nights are short, and it's very much the growing season. Here we have the suit of Cups, representing both spirituality, foresight (we can, at this point, generally foresee the lack or abundance of this year's harvest) and sustaining energy, much like the Water the suit of Cups relates to. The Cups suit is not wholly passive, as we can interpret what we see and change our direction, modify our plans, based on what we see there.
Now, finally, we come to the harvest, bringing us full circle back to Yule and the winter solstice again. The next equinox is the autumnal equinox, marked by Mabon. This relates, perhaps more than any other point on the year, the suit of Pentacles, which is related to the physical world, and what we work for and develop in that world. Here we see the harvest, things worked for becoming manifest, as well as any shortcomings or oversights we may have made coming to light. From here, we celebrate the death of the year at Samhain, yet with the promise of new life and new light, and the new year continues on.
In this, we see an order to the year, things moving towards a definite end, perhaps even spiraling upwards. Going back to Plato's allegory, again, a higher force governs all that we do. We, however, are not puppets, pulled by the hands of some outside, impartial and immovable Fate. Rather, we can make our own decisions and exercise free will throughout the process, make decisions and change the path we're on. Yet we find this too manifested in the four suits- again, it can begin with will, a desire to change, and this will in turn leads to a plan to change, finally resulting in that change. Again, the suit of Pentacles is often tied to physical manifestation, though we can see this in terms of sensory experience, and from here the whole thing begins again.
The point here is, what we see manifested within ourselves, as well as in the world, is just a reflection of something on a grander scale. This is perhaps the main point Plato was trying to make, that everything that happens on our own individual levels is mirrored on a higher level in the larger world. The Tarot is just that- a tool to mirror our own experiences, and as such, we can observe a consistent pattern across time and people. The sum total of all of this is that what begins with an impulse in our minds finally becomes manifest in the world. Thoughts lead to action, action to consequence, and we see these things reflected in the world around us, whether it be the year, or our own individual course through this life.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Parzival and The Fool's Journey, Part 4- Journey's End

The story of Parzival goes on to cover the Castle of Wonders, finally coming back around to Parzival, and it's that part of the story I'll focus on now. We find Parzival continuing to wander, still searching for Munsalvaesche without success. Later, we learn that Parzival has been forced to wander to atone for not relieving the suffering of Amfortas the first time he was there, when he failed to ask the all-important question. So Parzival has wandered for four and a half years, lamenting his failure and always seeking to get back to the Grail Castle. Meanwhile, Amfortas is still alive and suffering due to his wounds, which, we learn, he recieved due to the fact that he loved a woman that the Grail did not prescribe to him- we learn also that on occasion writing will appear on the Grail, and that this has indicated that Amfortas fell for the wrong woman, and in fighting for her, was injured, yet remains alive due to the influence of the Grail.
This section of Amfortas' story is a telling one also. We see shades again of the Devil here, as Amfortas probably could have let this woman go and would have been fine. We aren't given too many details, only that Amfortas acted in defiance of what he knew the Grail was telling him to do, and not to do. So this being the case, it went the worse for him. Perhaps also Amfortas knew this, but nonetheless wanted to put his own interests first, despite it being not remotely in his best interest, similar to the Devil's principle of self-destructive or counter-productive designs.
After his time of wandering, Parzival is finally directed to seek out Trevizent, a hermit and more or less a monk. Parzival does this, and tells Trevizent everything- his heartbreak at feeling abandoned by God, and the desires tearing him apart- first, to get home to his wife and children, and second, to seek out and find the Grail. Trevizent here shows some good Hermit-ly advice (the 9th card of the Major Arcana I mean) by telling him to have faith, and follow through. Go find the Grail, do what you need to do, and put aside doubts. The Hermit represents the wisdom of solitude, and Trevizent demonstrates this here. Having essentially withdrawn from service to the world (Trevizent himself is a former Knight), he now has developed both life experience and an outside, impartial perspective on the situation. Trevizent finds a way to reconcile Parzival's conflict and doubt, which is one of the functions of the Hermit figure in the Tarot- a wise teacher, not necessarily one coming from conventional wisdom, as would be the case with the Hierophant, but rather based on life experiences and on contemplation of the world from as outside a position as can be held in this world.
Glossing over a bit of the story at this point, the story concludes with Parzival once again meeting Cundrie the sorceress, who kneels before him and tells him he is to be the new keeper of the Grail. His wife and children are escorted to the castle, which Parzival has once again found, and Amfortas dies in peace, having been relieved of his burden. Parzival assumes his place, and is now the new keeper- remember that the Grail grants eternal life, but can't cure gray hair. This is why Amfortas did not die, despite his injuries and pain.
Having come to this point, I find the Grail itself bears examination. First, what is the Grail? The Grail, to a large extent, is defined by what it does. It preserves life, grants healing and sustenance to everyone who uses it out of a pure intention. It's a force, perhaps the force in the world. To find it is to find one's true calling in life- a largely symbolic object. Yet also, this is why Amfortas was injured, or allowed to be injured, while in posession of the Grail. The Grail represents an underlying order and purpose to the universe- finding our place in the grand scheme of things, in other words.
Another question raised by this story is why do we need the Grail? It seems like Parzival could very well have abandoned his quest for the Grail that winter morning when the blood on the snow reminded him of all he had left behind. Yet he did not- why? Is it typical Parzival Fool-ishness? Rather, Parzival knew that, having had a glimpse of the Grail and all that it represented, things would never be the same for him. Once you see it, you can't un-see it. Perhaps, like Parzival, we all are called to some higher purpose. But before you go saddling up your horses and donning your armor, remember that it's not so much a journey as it is a viewpoint.
And this is what needed to change for Parzival- the viewpoint he had of himself and his role in the world. Munsalvaesche doesn't disappear, like Brigadoon or anything like that- it was always where it was. The problem was that Parzival spent four years running to find his legs. Not that this time was wasted, because we have seen that experience and learning are necessary to understand this- it's not an objective truth that can be learned from a book, but rather needs to be developed from within our own understanding. Once this happened, Parzival was able to go back to Munsalvaesche and claim the Grail- to demonstrate his own understanding, and ultimately to make use of this understanding.
In the final chapter of this story, we see the World card- completion and fullness. Parzival has reconciled the world of his own ambitions and that of the higher world, making them one. This too is a message of the World, wherein all the parts of the whole are reconciled, coming together- the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
So from this, we can see that much like both Parzival's story and the Fool's journey, that life is an upward process. We start perhaps not at ground zero, naive as the Fool, but as time goes on we find that every experience, including heartbreak and sorrow, can be turned to a good end. It falls to each of us to figure out what that purpose is. We're not thrown into the mix without clues, although the way is sometimes unclear for a reason- not that the universe needs to get its act together, but rather because there's something there that we need to uncover and figure out- not only for our own benefit, but also to pass it along to others. Could there be another Grail keeper in Parzival's future? It could well be, after all, the Fool's journey is indeed a circular route.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Parzival and The Fool's Journey, Part 3- Parting Ways

One of the challenges in relating Parzival's story is not the lack of symbolism, but rather that much like life, things rarely fit into the neat little categories we have in the Major Arcana. Often the symbols of the Tarot are not quite as clear cut, and people, relationships and situations can cover several aspects at any one time. Take, in our story so far, both Arthur and Gornemant- Arthur as the King must embody the code of chivalry he extolls to his Knights, and in so doing takes on both aspects of the Emperor and Hierophant; both a figure of discipline and rule, and also of conventional wisdom and structure. Likewise, Gornemant represents primarily the Hierophant, in his aspect of a teacher and mentor, but also likewise takes on Emperor/father figure aspects to the untrained Parzival. As the story goes on, we'll continue to see Tarot symbolism in Parzival's story, though often the boundaries between cards blur.
Having left Amfortas' castle, Parzival runs into Sigune, a lady mourning her dead Knight, who tells him a little more about the castle, and Amfortas. Again, Parzival is regretful that he didn't just ask the question on his mind when he first saw the lance and Grail. But unfortunately, he followed Gornemant's advice to the letter, and did not. We also learn that Arthur has left his castle, and is out hunting down the "Red Knight" (Parzival) who helped him out, in order to thank him and make him one of his Knights. Remember that after defeating the previous Red Knight, Parzival only sent the cup back to Arthur- he didn't deliver it in person. Here, in my opinion, we see the Justice principle at work- again, remember Arthur is very much bound by the code of chivalry, and cannot let this favor Parzival has done for him go, even if he wanted to. For every action a reaction exists- this more than anything else is the principle embodied and personified by the Justice card, and one righteous act deserves another, it seems.
One winter day, Parzival is out and about when he notices three drops of blood on the snow from a goose. Arthur is not far behind, and we discover that his falcons have wounded the goose. Parzival sees the blood on the snow and is reminded of Condwirarmurs and his home, as Arthur and his troops approach. Finally, Parzival is identified, brought to Arthur, and made a Knight of the Round Table.
At this point we meet Cundrie, the sorceress. She is pretty fearsome in appearance, being described as having a nose like a dog, a bearded face, and braided eyebrows. She rides a mule, but her appearance can be decieving, as she knows many languages, and has much information not readily available. She laments Parzival's failure to ask Amfortas the questions on his mind, and tells also of a "Castle of Wonders" where four hundred women are being held, and awaiting rescue. Parzival takes Cundrie's words to heart, and renounces his service to God. Meanwhile, Arthur and his Knights go off to take the castle and rescue the women, again being bound by their code of chivalry. Interestingly, Parzival does not go with them, instead vowing to return to Munsalvaesche and find once again Amfortas.
So at this point, what role does Cundrie represent? She seems to be almost a sower of discord, as her words cause Parzival to part company with the Round Table and to go off on his own. Again, we can see several aspects at work in this situation. First, the Tower- an event that tears down what has been built up, in this case Parzival's desire to be a Knight, and all that he has done towards that end. But at the same time, the Tower represents rebuilding, replacing the facades that have been built with things more true to our own destiny or path of life. So though Parzival renounces service to God, he has a new direction and goal, and from his sorrow finds new directions and new purpose. I also found elements of the Moon in this section of the story, where Parzival sees the blood on snow and realizes, perhaps, how the world really is. He has responsibilities back home, and a wife that needs him there- perhaps at this point Parzival begins to see clearly the things he has overlooked.
And in a much looser sense, we can see the Devil as well- the women trapped in this Castle of Wonders are as of yet unproven save for Cundrie's word. But like the Devil, who binds us to our current circumstances, it will take a good deal to get them free. Consider also Parzival's final decision in all of this too- to continue to hunt for Amfortas, instead of his first impulse- to go home. In some ways, this too represents Parzival's own Devil- at this point in the story we're left with a strong impression that things could have gone either way. At this point, Parzival rides off to search for Amfortas, and the remaining Knights and Arthur go off to the Castle of Wonders. In many ways Parzival's decision represents his own enslavement to his own mind and his own emotions. No doubt in time, returning home, or traveling with Arthur, Parzival would have come again upon Amfortas, and even perhaps could have enlisted Arthur's help and resources in the hunt, had he been patient and waited until this more pressing matter of the Castle of Wonders was done.
Traveling off on his own, Parzival wanders for four and a half years, finally encountering again Sigune, now a wandering hermit herself. As Parzival comes upon her, she has just been hanging out with Cundrie, of all people, who has given her food from the very same Grail that Parzival saw on his first encounter with Amfortas. Sigune urges Parzival to go chase down Cundrie, but he is unable to find her. He does encounter, and fights with, a knight from Munsalvaesche, which is not far away, though Parzival does not realize this at the time.
So at this point, Parzival has learned a great deal about the Grail, and the purpose and design behind his finding it. This is a somewhat bleaker chapter in the story, as we find Parzival first sinking into despair, realizing the chance he missed, and the breaking up of Arthur's Knights, as Parzival feels obligated to continue searching for the Grail. Remember that the Devil represents the things we can't or won't let go of despite this letting go being in our best interest. Yet at the same time, Parzival demonstrates the principle of the Hermit, who represents solitude, withdrawing and looking within the self to determine the best course, and to understand oneself, illuminating and clarifying your own path. Parzival's parting tells of a need to develop on his own, something that earlier on he has been noticeably lacking in.
Ultimately, the point is that the symbols, archetypes if you will, present in the Tarot are all around us- though they are not usually as clearly broken down and spelled out as we might like. Reading the Tarot, I find this too- sometimes the focus will be on a particular aspect of the card, or a particular aspect of the situation this card relates to- life is not so simple as to break down neatly into 22 categories.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Parzival and The Fool's Journey, Part Two

Having gone some ways towards becoming a knight, Parzival now travels again and meets up with a mentor, named Gornemant. Parzival stays with Gornemant at his castle, where he teaches Parzival the art of being a knight- both how to handle weapons and how to be chivalrous. These are things that Parzival, despite his outward appearance of being a knight, has yet to understand. At this point, precise parallels between the Tarot and the story are less obvious, or absent in many cases. However, Gornemant first and foremost shows us aspects of the Hierophant, as a teacher and figure of conventional rules and wisdom. He instructs Parzival in the knightly arts, and teaches him not to ask too many questions, also displaying one of the more negative aspects of the Hierophant, that we can sometimes be limited by culture and what is generally held to be acceptable behavior. Nonetheless, we see a need for a balance between Parzival's Fool- like nature and the new, developing awareness of the world around him.

Parzival is not so much ignorant and unwise as he is unaware- as he learns more and more about being a knight, and what is expected of a knight, his horizons are expanded- he is introduced to a world that he never knew existed prior to this, and a world of relationships and social mechanisms he never knew existed. In this way, Gornemant also contains elements of the Magician, with Parzival as his eager if somewhat clueless student- Gornemant, much like the Magician, knows how it works, and uses that knowledge and insight, and teaches Parzival to do the same. At this point in his story, we also see Parzival move from impulsive, automatic decisions based on instinct and self interest, to a more deliberate, calculated end- also a function of the Magician. The Hierophant aspect of Gornemant teaches Parzival what to think about- the Magician aspect teaches him how to think about it.
Also while here, Parzival meets Gornemant's daughter, Liaze, whom Gornemant encourages Parzival to marry. However, Parzival does not, not because he's being a jerk, but because he considers himself unworthy to marry her, and in fact he makes a promise before he leaves to marry Liaze when and if he ever becomes worthy. It's interesting that Gornemant also speaks on the virtues of marriage to Parzival- perhaps because he's hoping he'll marry Liaze, but looking at things another way, this also furthers Parzival's understanding of relationships- remember that prior to this, Parzival was by and large interested only in himself.
However, after learning from Gornemant, Parzival is soon to be off again. He learns of the trouble of Condwirarmurs, who is Gornemant's niece, who doesn't want to marry Clamide, who is rather insistent. So off goes Parzival to right wrongs, and comes to Condi's castle. He fights and defeats Clamide, and marries Condi (I'm not going to type that headache every single time!) There is an image of the Lovers here- Parzival agrees to help Condi after hearing her story, and is moved by it. This shows some noble leanings on Parzival's part, as he again begins to look beyond himself, and learns the give and take of a relationship with Condi. This represents in some ways the Lovers- as a sense of partnership and combining resources- each of the two gains from this- Condi gets rid of Clamide, and Parzival then becomes king of Condi's castle (she had no husband, so was heir to the castle). Parzival remains here for about 15 months, then requests leave from his wife to go back and see how his mother is doing. While this is far from the end of Parzival's story, it does represent him developing and taking on additional responsibilities- maturing, in other words. No longer the impulsive young man who defeated the Red Knight, Parzival demonstrates an increasing level of awareness and social responsibility.

So away he goes, to see Herzeloyde. And, as is often the case with our erstwhile hero, finds himself completely somewhere else. While on his travels, Parzival comes to a lake called Brumbane, where he encounters Amfortas, who is fishing. (Amfortas is alternately called the Rich Fisher or the Fisher King for this reason). Amfortas takes Parzival to his castle, Munsalvaesche, where Parzival has dinner with Amfortas and his sister and Queen, Repanse. All the Fisher King's knights are present as well, and sad that their King is injured and seemingly unable to recover. Parzival watches as a lance is brought into the room, which causes all the knights to mourn- blood issues from its tip, and we later discover that this blood is Amfortas' blood. With this lance is the Grail, here described as a stone of "garnet hyacinth". The Grail/stone provides all that the King and his court could require in terms of sustenance. Though Parzival sees all this, he remembers Gornemant's advice and does not ask about the lance. Therein lies the problem, as had he asked, the King would have been healed. Parzival wakes from a night of troubled dreams to find an empty castle, with no one there but a squire who tells him he should have asked the question on his mind.
 This is a High Priestess symbol- (remember, though the symbols are present in Parzival's tale, they don't necessarily fall into the same order as the Fool's journey). In the court of Amfortas, we find a very High Priestess-esque situation. Everything is put in plain sight, but whether or not it is understood depends on the person. Like the Priestess, everything is hidden in plain sight, yet before it can be understood we must demonstrate understanding and insight enough to unlock the mystery. In the case of Parzival, he is not yet worthy, that is, has not advanced far enough in his understanding, to unlock the mysteries that are presented to him.
From here, Parzival continues to develop and learn, much as our own Fool does, growing and learning from each new person he encounters. Though he has had a glance of the greater world which includes himself at Amfortas' castle, he is not yet sufficiently matured and wise enough to grasp what his place is in that world, and how to take that place.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Parzival and the Fool's Journey, Part 1

I stumbled across the old story of Parzival, alternately spelled Percival or Perceval, who was a knight of the Round Table- serving under King Arthur. Parzival's story is chronicled in a couple different sources, perhaps most well known the story by Wolfram von Eschenbach, though this has been identified as based on a prior work, Chretien de Troye's work Perceval, the Story of The Grail. The Grail mentioned here is indeed the Holy Grail, the one mentioned in movies and stories, thought to be the cup Jesus Christ used during his final meal, and, some legends hold, the cup that caught his blood when he was crucified. The story of the Grail here does not specifically indicate that Parzival's Grail and Jesus' Grail are one and the same, however, but that's beside the point here.
The story of Parzival begins somewhat dubiously. Parzival's father, Gahmuret, was also a knight in Arthur's service, and ended up killed in Spain by "Babylonian" forces. Keep in mind that the story of Arthur has been heavily imbued with legend and symbolism as well. Parzival's mother, Herzeloyde, then takes the baby Parzival to live in the woods, and shields him from any knowledge of knights, chivalry, or anything like that. So Parzival grows up largely ignorant of a larger world around him, concerned more with his own immediate interests. As time goes on Parzival happens to encounter some knights of the Round Table coming through the woods, and, being knights in armor, he hears them before he sees them. Thinking that devils or monsters are coming, Parzival plans to fight them. When the knights come into view, Parzival is amazed, and asks them if they are angels. The knights regard him as something of a bumpkin, yet do direct him to Arthur's court. Parzival goes running back to Mom, and tells her he wants to go see Arthur and become a Knight. So much for that, thinks his mother, who is still bitter at the loss of her husband due to knighthood. So she dresses him up to make him look as much like an uneducated hick as she can, (a fool, in other words...) and sends him off, thinking no one at the court will take him seriously. So Parzival goes off, ultimately reaching Arthur's castle. On the way out, he finds a knight, the Red Knight specifically, who has challenged Arthur by stealing a golden cup from Arthur, and insulted his Queen by spilling its contents on her. The Knight, who is disputing Arthur's claim over his lands, tells Parzival to deliver his challenge to Arthur, so Parzival does. Arthur then tells Parzival to go after the Red Knight, which Parzival, being kind of gullible, does. He chases down the Red Knight, and demands that he return the cup to Arthur. The Knight, no doubt wondering who this hayseed nutjob is, whacks him with his lance. Parzival kills him in retalitation, and takes his armor, and by extension, his moniker as the Red Knight. Parzival sends a squire to return the cup instead of actually going to return it himself to Arthur, more interested in the Knight's armor and weapons than actually following through. The story continues, but let's examine what we have already.
First, we have Parzival- there's an interesting parallel here between the Fool's Journey and his inital adventures, although the process is somewhat out of order from the procession of the Major Arcana, and is not an exact match. We can examine Parzival's tale in the same way as the Fool's Journey, largely one of archetypes. First, Parzival embodies the Fool, and not just in the outfit his mom makes for him, either. At first, Parzival is not so much dumb as naive and uninformed, yet shows himself full of potential, much like the Fool. One important aspect of the Fool is his dog, shown here-
This version of the Fool pretty much sums up what we know of Parzival so far- head in the clouds, naive and walking into possible danger without even knowing it. Parzival, we will find, has good counsel, as the dog represents, warning him away from the cliff's edge as his journey unfolds. What would be contained in Parzival's version of the Fool's bag? Here, we find little except his own ideas and determination to become a Knight. But as time goes on, we find that additional tools are added to the bag.
The parallel between Parzival and the Fool really begins when he finally has somewhere to go- prior to this, living his sheltered life, he lacked direction and purpose, and didn't really go anywhere. Yet after he meets the knights and gets it into his head to become a knight, his wandering takes on a definite direction. At this point that potential begins to get put to use and put into a definite direction- much as the Fool represents potential, he also needs something to use that potential for.
The first person Parzival encounters (we can put the start of his journey at his encounter with the knights) is his mother- a clear Empress figure, both in the positive and negative sense. Herzeloyde doesn't want to let Parzival go, and makes a kind of passive-aggressive attempt to undermine him, wanting to keep him home and safe, here representing the more clinging aspects of the Empress as a mother figure. Yet being a supporting figure, she lets Parzival go. Some accounts of this story have her falling as if in a faint while standing on a bridge watching her son go. Parzival does not turn back however, nor does Herzeloyde demand that he remain, indicating also that regardless of his decision, he always has this source of support.
Next up, our unlikely hero gets an encounter with the real world- in many ways, this doesn't seem to sink in or change the fact that our Fool is still living in his own world. The Red Knight is a definite Magician figure, using whatever means are at his disposal to accomplish an end, here challenging and insulting a King much more powerful than him. This also displays the sometimes-ruthless ambition the Magician card so often represents. I find it interesting that there are so often positive and negative aspects to the characters in Parzival's story. Should we condemn the Red Knight and say that he deserved his fate for challenging his King and insulting his Queen, or should we applaud his ambitiousness? Nonetheless, we see that the Red Knight is always ready to take advantage of whatever comes his way, not returning himself to challenge Arthur, but sending Parzival to do it. Ultimately Parzival will come to embody some of the characteristics of the Red Knight (this story runs heavily on symbolism) by taking the Knight's armor and weapons for his own, and by killing the Knight, allowing him to take the Knight's place.
Arthur is the next person Parzival encounters, and Arthur is perhaps an Emperor figure- representing the epitome of chivalry, Arthur introduces the still-largely-ignorant Parzival to the strict code of ethics and behavior he and his knights live by, as well as gives Parzival a task to do- go remedy this situation. The Emperor represents order and discipline- the things we need to function in society, which so far Parzival remains largely ignorant of. Often termed a father figure (to the Empress' mother figure), the Emperor is also a disciplinarian and teacher, whereas the Empress represents a nurturer and sustainer. Arthur begins to teach Parzival what he needs to do to become a Knight- to move from ignorance and limitations to knowledge and expanding those limitations.
Setting back out, Parzival then battles the Knight, and kills him pretty much without thinking. The message here is that Parzival has not yet grasped the nature of the Knight, and still operates on impulse. He does not stop to consider what killing that Knight implies, and does not make any real strategy or battle plan, and in fact wins largely by dumb luck and a chance hit into the Knight's eye with a spear. Nonetheless, Parzival gains the resources of the Magician, here indicated by the armor and weapons of the Knight. Parzival does not actually remove the clothes his mother made for him before putting on the armor (usually armor would be worn with a quilted under-layer, not the medieval equivalent to street clothes). This shows further ignorance, as Parzival may have the things the Magician gave him, but does not fully grasp how to use them, and more than anything else perhaps displays inexperience. Furthermore, Parzival does not return to Arthur, as we might have thought, after defeating the Knight, but rather sends a squire to return the cup- again, indicating that the Emperor still has a good deal to teach him. Nonetheless, we see here primarily that the main thing Parzival lacks is experience, yet is full of potential.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Personality Types and the Court Cards

Personality types are somewhat of a pop psychology-ism, and there are limitations. Originally stemming from the work of Carl Jung, who also worked to develop the idea of archetypes. Personality types are an attempt to categorize people. We as human beings seem to love to do this- one theory I've heard explains it away as first, an attempt to make easy sense of the world, and that it will require less cognitive energy to understand the world. While making generalizations about the world can help to make sense of it, they can also lead to over-generalizations. The world is rarely entirely in black and white, and this is especially true of people.
Personality here refers to the general pattern of behavior, thought and action an individual will follow. However, again we run into the problem of oversimplification- one person can occupy several roles at one time- people are often complex.
One application of the idea of personality categories was developed into the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, essentially a personality test which provides insight to which category each person fits into. These tests are occasionally used by employers as well as in the psychological field, to determine personal strong points and the best methods of learning.
The Myers-Briggs indicator incorporates 16 different personality types, which interestingly is the same number as that of the Tarot Courts. The Court cards are similar in the sense that both provide a general sense of how each person will react based on their own personality traits. We encounter the same problem in assigning people to the Court cards- that not all people fit so neatly into categories. However, these can be useful in understanding general patterns of behavior, and behavior to a large extent determines consequences.
The interpretation of these personality types comes from this site, which provides the general characteristics of each of the 16 personality types: The site provides a quick description of each set of factors that make up the personality type, and from these descriptions, I came up with the following set of correspondences-

Planner-Inspector- King of Pentacles; here the focus is on order and structure- the King here is slow to change, and consistency, planning and predictability are what he's most comfortable with.
Protector-Supporter- Knight of Pentacles; this Knight is a dependable and consistent person, comfortable with routine and hard work, and at the same time seeking ways to work harder and more efficiently.
Foreseer-Developer- Queen of Pentacles; this person is often "behind the scenes", working hard to support others, while often seeming to be held back by a sense of shyness or avoiding being the center of attention.
Conceptualizer-Director- King of Wands; this person is all about motivation and action, and leading others. They may lack tact but can always be counted on to see what other people miss, and demand the best from others.
Analyzer Operator- Queen of Wands; she is generally a woman who operates independently well, and expects others to follow. Her zeal and intellect often mean that exactly that will happen.
Composer-Producer- Knight of Swords; here is an idea man, or woman- this person is all ideas and insight, and constantly seeks new inspiration, yet at the same time can sometimes lack follow-through, always on to the next challenge or idea.
Harmonizer-Clarifier- Knight of Cups; this person is reliable, but tends to be overly idealistic and as a result may allow others to take advantage of them, and perhaps not expressing what they truly feel.
Designer-Theorizer- King of Swords; tending towards idealism, this person is a logical and determined thinker, and a good problem-solver. They can sometimes seem cold and distant, but this may be due to feeling confined by logic and reason.
Promoter-Executor- King of Cups; the definition of a family man, the King of Cups is always there for others, and forms strong friendships and emotional attachments, and will be loyal to those he considers friends and family. He may have a tendency to always want to be the center of attention, however.
Motivator-Presenter- Queen of Cups; the Queen of Cups is often a dreamer, and sometimes lost in her (or his) own world, although this person also can be a source of support to others. This person will tend to withdraw when faced with challenge or conflict, preferring to be more behind the scenes, and if they are the center of attention, will want that attention to be on their terms.
Discoverer-Advocate- Page of Cups; this person is interested in self-improvement and developing their relationships; being popular and well-liked is less important than the feeling of being needed and in an important relationship. The Page is often supportive, but also can sometimes be a meddler, as they are always trying to improve.
Explorer-Inventor- Page of Swords; like most Pages, the Page of Swords represents a studious type, someone willing and eager to learn. But like a student, they can be led fairly easily, and may sometimes be naive. The Page represents a highly intelligent person, yet at the same time requires focus and structure, otherwise they tend to get sidetracked easily.
Implementor-Supervisor- Page of Wands; this person is loyal to the causes he or she believes in, and in the same way may tend to be overly idealistic and rigid. Perhaps the main fault with this person is that they want to be constantly recognized, and may tend to act out and seek any type of attention, good or bad.
Facilitator-Caretaker- Page of Pentacles; the Page of Pentacles is, like the Earth of this suit, a nurturing and supporting force, yet may have trouble adapting to change and be slow to express themselves, as they put the needs of others above their own. Though the Page may consider themselves a servant of humanity, this humanity may be an idealistic vision in their own mind.
Envisioner-Mentor- Queen of Swords; the Queen is a communicator, and often a counselor or, as the name suggests, mentor to others. This person will have tremendous insight into the human mind and individual situations, and can use this insight for good or harm, depending on her own motivations.
Strategist-Mobilizer- Knight of Wands; as a leader, the Knight of Wands is a great one,whether or not he or  she fully understands the situation, but nonetheless will continue forwards, driven by their own self-assurance and confidence. However, they may not respond well to criticism, viewing it as a threat to their position, and may become overly defensive.
Overall, this can provide some insight to the Tarot Courts- however, there are many such systems of correspondences among the Court cards. The difficulty we find in either case is that these systems represent an attempt to categorize human behavior- and the motivation for human behavior can vary as much as the people who exhibit those behaviors.