Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Knight To Remember

The next iteration in the Tarot courts are the Knights. Again, there are a couple different ways to interpret the Knight cards- again, they can refer to a state of being, or a specific person. The people the Knights indicate are those in a state of change- perhaps neither fish nor fowl, but in the pond nonetheless. The Knights can be an indication of motion and change, and movement towards some end.
The Knights have something interesting in common- they are often shown riding something- usually a horse, but some means of conveyance, equine, fantastical or otherwise. This too is an aspect of the Knights, as they indicate first, change- things being in a transitive state, moving towards some development and greater degree of stability, and second, knowledge and mastery. Whereas the Pages were indicative of new mastery, we have the "next level" shown here- the Knights are masters of their mounts, indicating a greater degree of knowledge and control over their own lives- and knowledge and control come from understanding. So, to see a Knight in a reading indicates either a transition state, or alternately movement, either literal or metaphorical, in one's life.
The Knights have as their element in common Air, and Air is an element of movement and communication. Actually, we know that Air is present by the fact that it moves- we know the wind not by direct perception, but rather by perception of its effects. We know sound not by direct perception as well, but by its vibrations in the air. Though subtle, Air is about communication, and is in motion on the molecular level- whereas Earth is also in motion, the interesting thing is, the greater the motion, the more fluid and changing the element is.
First, let's consider the Knight of Wands- that is, Air of Fire.
Recently someone pointed out to me that this Knight actually does appear to be on fire! The plume on his helmet looks like a big flame, and it appears fire is coming from the joints of his armor. This Knight looks to be pretty well in command of his horse, perhaps even showing off a little bit. All these things are aspects of this particular Knight. Fire and Air combine here to provide an almost boundless source of energy- however, fire also requires fuel, and this Knight may tend to jump from idea to idea, embracing each one and abandoning it just as quickly. However, this Knight will also seek out challenges and new opportunities, as these too will fuel his need to compete and to win. So, as we can see, this Knight knows how to get where he wants to be, and will seek out those challenges. However, this can be trouble down the road, if not applied or sent in productive directions. This is also a trend among the suit of Wands- they are tremendously charismatic and energetic, but need to keep their energy under scrutiny sometimes, as they can get caught up in less than wise decisions, and this is especially true for the Knight.
As a message of travel or change, it's a time of transition and increased energy, and things will be taking off for the better, but rapidly and towards a definite end. It's a message of riding an exciting and dynamic wave of change into the next stage of life.
Next, we have the Knight of Swords- Air of Air.
I chose this image from the Crowley-Thoth deck, mainly because it expresses the transitional nature of the Knights, and the intellectual keen edge (pun not intended) of the Swords suit. The Knight is, like Air, restless and always in motion, jumping from idea to idea, and full of energy. This Knight will usually be moving from idea to idea, and every point in between, perhaps even arguing for the sake of argument, and delighting in the challenge. The Knight is very cerebral, and sometimes suffers from a lack of contact with the real world, instead being lost in his own mind and his own idealized world. However, when the Knight turns that acute intellect outwards, he can sometimes cause trouble, or reveal things that the other people might not want to see.
As a message of change, the change will be rapid and fast-moving, not unlike air- things change and move quickly, and there may be a sense of restlessness and movement in a very rapid sense. However, at the same time, this can result in uncertainty, considering too many alternatives and weighing each one- seeing both the good and bad in each potential choice can lead to stagnation and indecision, even in a time when decisive action is called for.
The next Knight is the Knight of Cups, Air of Water-
Here we have two very fluid elements- Air and Water, and the combination of them can be one of extremes- the Knight as a person tends towards emotional extremes, and may at times be carried away by these emotions, and may tend towards egotism and self-centeredness at his worst. However, the Knight, like all the Knights, being highly idealistic, also has a tremendous capacity for loyalty and love, and will remain very loyal to those he cares about. This Knight, being so emotional by nature, can conversely also be a bit of a thrill- seeker, which can lead to trouble, especially in terms of abusing drugs or alcohol- obviously, this isn't a guarantee, but a possibility with this person. The Knight more than any other also tends towards daydreaming, and this is not a bad thing in and of itself, except when this Knight becomes so wrapped up in their internal world that it's at the cost of actually seeing the world around them, and losing touch with it.
As change, the Knight represents change of an emotional nature- if this card appears, it could be tied to a relationship or romance, perhaps someone's feelings revealed or understood, and becoming clearer as time goes on. These changes can also be drastic, and subject to rapid change- a time of emotional upheaval.
Finally, on to the Knight of Pentacles- Air of Earth.
Here we have a similar figure to the Page of Pentacles- seeming to hold the symbol of his suit carefully, wondering what can be done with it, and already formulating ideas in his mind as to how to do that. However, the difference here is a sense of direction and purpose- whereas the Page was standing, the Knight is mounted on a horse, indicating movement towards a goal and purpose. As a person, this Knight is again Air of Earth- perhaps a rather odd combination, as the Knights tend more towards volatility and change, and Earth is the most stable and unchanging of the elements. The Knight, like all other Knights, is loyal and capable of great devotion and consistency. However, the Knight tends to be self-conscious and does not like to be the center of attention, tending towards solitude and perhaps isolation. This Knight is perfectly content to wait patiently and work out his plans for the future, usually focusing on his material successes, but can also in this way be too focused on his own ends, shunning the companionship of others. It is a common trend among the Knights to be overly idealistic, and in this way to be prone to lose touch with the real world, imagining the world in their own black and white terms rather than any shades of gray. This too can lead him to a state of inertia, staying in the same place until some physical concern causes him to change, then lapsing back into the same state of contented inertia.
In terms of change, this change will be slower than perhaps the person would like, and gradual- very un-Knight like, some might say. However, the Knight represents gradual and lasting change, and the need to put aside impatience and be patient is here.
So as we can see, both the Pages and the Knights represent change- whereas the Pages represented the first spark of creativity and change, the Knights represent the next step in that change, or alternately in human life. Here we have the movement from potential- not yet to complete realization of an idea, but directing energy and effort towards a more clearly understood and defined goal.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Real Page Turner

After finishing up the Fool's Journey, I admit I found myself at loose ends for a little bit, wondering which direction to take things next. Having looked briefly at the court cards already, I figured a closer examination was warranted.
However, I'll break here and say that should anyone have questions, anything you'd like to know, and/or were afraid to ask, let me know- I've hopefully set up comments on this blog correctly, so there's that option, or just email me with whatever you'd like to know. If I don't know, I'm sure I can find out.
So here we are at the Pages. Also identified as Princesses in some decks, I've also seen them called Elementals once as well. I find the Pages to be some of the more complex cards to understand, even though they represent the youngest, least mature aspects of either the person the reading focuses on or an inexperienced, untested person.
To cover the first aspect of the Pages, we have a young person- someone, perhaps a student, who is inexperienced but developing. There are correspondences between the court cards and the elements, as well- Pages correspond to the Earth element, Knights to Air, Queens to Water and Kings to Fire.
So to sum up the Pages- here we have a younger person, (some systems assign Pages and Knights based on gender, however I find this is somewhat arbitrary) inexperienced yet enthusiastic. If there are no young people in the reading, the Pages take on a curiously related but different meaning. Here we find an indication of a message or new information coming our way- the Page can represent a messenger. The term "Page" comes from the chivalric codes of the Middle Ages, when Page was the term used for a knight's servant, assistant and trainee. Here we see the concept of a learner- the Page would begin training ultimately for knighthood, and would generally come from a noble family. So also there's the sense of a messenger here- the Page would serve as the messenger for his knight, running errands and delivering messages. So, to see a Page is literally to get ready for a message, or to expect a message coming your way. This message, then, can put you in the situation of being a new student- starting to learn something new.
But what about the specific Pages themselves? Well, as we know, there are four, one for each suit. Each one has both the common factor of being in the same court position, and has the unique characteristics of their suit. This gets even more complicated when you consider that there are two levels of meaning in them as well. But never fear, dear reader, I shall guide us through.
First, let's consider the Page of Wands.

Here we have, first and foremost, what can be described as Earth of Fire. Earth refers to the Page, Fire to the suit. So here we have a potential, coupled with tremendous energy and enthusiasm. Which way will this energy be directed? That's the real question this card asks. This person is full of natural energy and enthusiasm, always exploring something new, and always looking to lead and be the center of attention. So as you can imagine, this can go one of two ways- this person can develop into a strong and confident leader, or can get attention for all the wrong reasons. When it bears the meaning of a message, it's important to remember that excitement and enthusiasm will serve you well, but at the same time keep a clear and realistic perspective on the situation- don't allow yourself to be led down false paths, make sure that your energy is directed in the right way. 
Next up, we have the Page of Swords.
Again, we see Earth, and here Air as well. This may seem like an odd combination, but keep in mind the role of Earth- it's the generative, passive principle- it is acted upon, and in this way contains tremendous potential there. Which direction that potential goes in depends on how and in what ways the energy is used. 
The Page of Swords can be a tricky one. Keep in mind that Swords are tied to the element of Air, and this is the realm of both thoughts and ideas- communication as well is here. So keep in mind that the Page, being a Page, will want to jump on every new idea. If it's a new message, expect it to be about ideas, or a new communication or development. But take the time to test it out and see that it's accurate and true before passing it along or acting on it. In terms of the person this card represents, this person is a natural communicator and thinker- always talking, writing, putting ideas out there, either on paper or in the ears of others. But the sum total of the Page is that they want to know everything, learn everything, and know everything. The problem with this is that like all Pages, this person can tend to be somewhat self-absorbed. They may not realize (or not care) that what they say and tell may be hurtful to others. So a reminder to be tactful is here also. At their worst, this person could be a gossip, manipulative, or a tattler, perhaps even unconsciously so, but nonetheless, the results are the same. 
On to the Page of Cups. 

This Page represents Earth of Water- here again we have the potential of Earth, here with the emotional and spiritual aspects of Water. From the first time I saw this card, I always wondered what the relationship between the Page and the fish is. Are they talking? Somehow the Page doesn't seem overly surprised to see the fish there, and the fish almost looks like he's talking to the Page. This presents another interesting aspect of the card, as in terms of a message, the message may seem improbable or unlikely, as would pretty much anything a talking fish could tell us. But the message will deal with family, or deep feelings- a new relationship, or the opportunity for a new relationship, and a confession of feelings.
As a person, this Page will tend to be emotional, without a trace of callousness. This can be a good thing, and a bad thing. They may tend towards changes of mood, as well, but are optimistic and believe the world is a fundamentally good place. Not a bad attitude to have, all things considered! But this person may tend also to get beaten down over seemingly trivial things, and have a hard time separating their own emotions from the world around them, and get lost in their own ruminations.
Finally, the Page of Pentacles.
This Page is a little simpler- Earth of Earth. In other words, just the raw potential of the element, usually tied to luck or the material world. In terms of a message, this Page represents an unexpected turn of events, perhaps an unforeseen windfall, or turn of fortune putting you in a good position. The Page here is kind of expressive of this- seeming to hold a pentacle like it's something mysterious- what should he do with it? Again, the question becomes, how do you want to put this to use?
In terms of the person the Page represents, this person might tend towards being very serious, and being very industrious, always working and wanting to create something. Though this can be a useful trait, the Page can sometimes become overly serious, perhaps obsessive over the details, and may regard others simply as means to an end, at the cost of friendships or relationships with others. Again, it depends how the energy is directed and nurtured with the Pages.
So from this, to see Pages in a reading indicates forces are working, either out in the open or behind the scenes, and will soon be revealed. The result could be either positive or negative- the message that's coming to you when you see the Page or Pages is that it's up to you what you want to do with this new development. It's an exciting time, full of potential- just be sure that you follow through and feed this potential the energy it needs, and guide it along the right paths.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Major Arcana, Concluded- The Moon, The Sun, and Judgement

It looks like we're coming to the end of the Major Arcana. The next three cards reflect the Fool's new perspectives. From what's come before we have the tearing down and rebuilding with the Tower, and the illumination and enlightenment of the Star. Now, what happens when we lose sight of that Star? The next card up is the Moon.
I chose the Moon from the Rider-Waite deck because of some recurring images from the previous Death card. In the background of the Death card, we see these same two strange looking towers- and the sun, perhaps rising, perhaps setting, between them. Between these two towers we see a path running along, and the Moon shining over it, illuminating the way despite the dark night. The two figures in the foreground are a dog and a wolf- closely related, except one is domesticated, the other is not. They represent two halves of our own mental makeup- one controlled, the other wild. The meaning here is that through the darkest night, through all of our confusion and uncertainty, the path through it is there. There's a way to see where we're supposed to go- those signposts the Star gave us may not always be there- we may go further down the road and leave them behind, but wherever we go, we carry that knowledge with us, and can remember it in times of need, when things seem strange and frightening.
Now we have, in many ways, the opposite of the Moon, the Sun. Whereas the Moon denotes night, the Sun denotes daytime. Here we see a lot of images of growth and expansion, and happiness. Perhaps a better word would be confidence and certainty. Remember that in the Tarot, figures riding horses indicate mastery and understanding- not just control over, but understanding. So this kid riding a horse indicates an understanding and knowledge of the world around him, and whereas with the Moon we had uncertainty and illusion, here we find that the Moon has given way to the Sun, and what was hidden and unclear now becomes clear and illuminated. It's also a message of having come through the darkness and troubles of the night, and into the new day.
It's also interesting to note that here we have a message of growth and expansion- here are the things previously dormant or hidden during the night, now come to light and ready to grow, for better or for worse- the seeds we plant, this card tells us, will ultimately grow under the sun's power. The sun is impartial, it simply gives energy to the earth, and follows natural laws- it's we ourselves that use those things for good or for evil, and ultimately reap the rewards or troubles from that.
Finally, on to Judgement. This card is actually somewhat mis-titled, as the card refers to hearing or understanding a higher calling in life. The image is of the final judgement, when the dead and the living are supposedly judged for the merits and faults accumulated during their lives. While a final judgement is a common theme across historical beliefs, there's another level of meaning here. There are dead people in the foreground, and they are ready to move out on the angel's command, and his trumpet has called them forth. These people, laying in their graves not really doing much of anything, now are ready to take on renewed life and a new beginning, and this is the message here- it's time to realize a higher purpose, and heed the call, that may seem impossible, but nonetheless is there. Here we have a message of moving from where you are to where you could be- there's a higher purpose for us, and this card tells us to follow that higher purpose, wherever it may lead. As the Fool learns more and more, and begins to understand more and more about the world around him, he too finds a higher calling, a call to rise above his roots and find deeper levels of truth. As the Fool has moved through his journey with all its lessons, we find that there's always another level to discover.
Finally, this brings us up to the World- the last card in the sequence of the Major Arcana. Notice a couple similar symbols to the Magician card- the woman holds wands similar to the Magician's, and as there is a lemniscate (sideways figure-8) above the Magician's head, we have the same symbol here- the red ribbons above and below the woman, on the wreath that surrounds her. The World symbolizes completion and wholeness- the Fool a fool no more, having absorbed and understood all of the lessons he has learned along his journey. The four faces on the four corners of the card symbolize the four natures of humankind, and represent mankind at its finest. The World is both a card of endings and new beginnings, and we see those here- though the Fool has completed his journey, like we see in the previous Judgement card, that it's not over yet- as the Fool goes along, he still has deeper truths to discover, and will continue to build on the foundation he has already established. So on it goes, much like that unending circle on this card- from one level of knowledge ever upwards, to deeper and deeper understanding.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Major Arcana, Continued- The Devil, The Tower and The Star

These three cards may not seem to go together, at first- but there actually is a lesson contained therein- let's examine each of the three individually, and go from there. First up, the Devil. Regular readers will remember our saturnine friend, and his message. 
This particular Devil card comes to us from the Vertigo Tarot- yes, I lean on that one, but it's one of my favorites. This particular image shows a deck chair, chains, and a fading horned figure. It's interesting to examine the Judeo-Christian story of Lucifer, and this too can help shed some light on the card and its place in the Fool's journey. Lucifer, as you may have heard, got kicked out of Heaven because he decided he could run Heaven better than God. He decided it was time for a regime change at the pearly gates, and a revolution ensued. Old Lou, it seems, lost, and was cast out of Heaven. But let's examine this a little closer. Here we have a guy who couldn't let go. Remember the imagery of the chains? Lucifer couldn't let go of his pride, and wouldn't bow before a god he no longer believed in. Noble? Crazy? Difficult to say. But that's the message of the Devil- here we see the things that we just can't let go of, even if it means we wind up worse for it. The Devil in the Tarot doesn't point so much to Lucifer's convictions (I'll leave it up to you, dear readers, to make your own judgments on his motivations) as it does holding on. It refers to the things in life that we can't let go of- though it may seem we're chained to them, really all that it is is an inability to let go. Do that, and we can move on. So the Devil represents the Fool's (or ours, for that matter) inability to let something go, whatever it may be. 
Now on to the Tower. This one comes to us from the Haindl deck, another perennial favorite, and loaded with symbolism. The Tower is kind of an "oh crap" card, indicating that things are about to come crashing down. This does in fact relate to the Devil card, in that it can be the next step on the path. Here we have the results of self-destructive patterns. Things come crashing down. Now, to step out on a politically incorrect limb, the actual structure seems rather... phallic, doesn't it? Let's put aside empowerment of women and masculine pride for a minute and examine the role of such a symbol. It represents, in its most basic form, the generative and active aspect of creation. What we build up, in other words. The actual tower represents what we build, either literally or metaphorically- relationships, views about the world, a whole life around what we believe to be true. But are those beliefs quite clear? One might argue, when the Devil comes into the picture, not quite. There's often a common image in three cards- The Lovers, The Devil, and on to the Tower- two figures falling. It signifies here that we're sometimes not alone, that the world we built up and imagined can come crashing down, taking us with it. Our assumptions, the principles we build our understanding upon, sometimes are found to be shifting sand, not the bedrock we thought they were.
But is this destruction really all bad? It does mean that what we built is coming down, and that can be a painful experience, and perhaps even hard to recover from. There's another common image in The Tower- and that's showing how the foundation of the Tower remains. A core of truth, those things that endure, remain. Upon this, whatever else we build, we can always return to and start anew. Perhaps it's the realization that the Devil's chains are not as tight as at first they may appear, and there's hope after all. The Tower represents also renovation- perhaps that renovation was a little on the involuntary side, but nonetheless, it tears down falsehood, and perhaps more than that reveals falsehoods, and allows us to replace them with understanding and wisdom. It's not always easy to throw off those chains of the Devil's, but sooner or later we find ourselves in that position.
After all this trouble and tribulation, and tearing down, it seems that this is the polar opposite of the preceding two cards. The Star represents pouring out blessings, and seemingly everything going great! Every decision we make, every path we undertake, seems that it's all roses, a cakewalk. Actually, that's true, but there's another meaning here as well. When we see the Star, it can act as a guiding light- think of a captain of an old wooden ship, navigating by the stars. The stars give him direction and let him know where he is and where he needs to go. Signposts, in other words. This too is a message of the Star. Destruction and tearing down is usually for a purpose- so that the truth, and our higher callings, can be revealed. Again, there's a message of seeing the way. The falsehoods we have constructed fall away, and reveal the path ahead. When we find everything coming up our way, it's a good indication that we're seeing with clear eyes the road ahead of us. All of us are given a purpose in life, though it's not always clear. When we see this card, it's a message that the good we feel is telling us to follow that star- wherever it may lead. It's time to start rebuilding, after the destruction and revelation of the Tower, and the liberation from the Devil's chains. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Major Arcana, Continued (still)- The Hanged Man, Death, and Temperance

Now we come to an interesting juncture in the study of the Major Arcana. So far, things have gone along in a fairly linear fashion- we're going along, thinking we have everything figured out, the world seems to make sense, and we're feeling pretty good. Then something happens to completely throw our perspectives out the window! Call it a black swan, something we never saw coming, but there it is. It seems we're at another critical point in life. And this is where the Hanged Man comes in. It's one of the more complex cards, I believe, in the Major Arcana, and has different levels of meaning tied together.
This funky card comes to us from the ambitious Tarot of the Nine Paths. It says SURRENDER, and this is a part of the meaning of the card. The common image of the card is a man or young person hanging by one foot upside-down from either a tree or a stylized tree. Often the person has a calm expression, and in some depictions a halo. This card is also said to represent Odin, the Norse god who hung upside down on Yggdrasil, the World Tree, for nine days and nights. He did this not because he was being punished, but in order to gain wisdom. It also cost him an eye, but while he hung there, the legend has it that he gained the knowledge and use of the Runes.
So from this, we can see several aspects emerging. The first, as anyone who used to hang upside down from stuff as a kid will tell you, it's a change of perspective. What we thought we knew is seen as perhaps not quite accurate any more- we find that our assumptions, when they no longer serve us, need to be put aside, and replaced with a more accurate view of the world- closer to the way things really are.
So from this comes another meaning of the card- that of sacrifice. Odin was hanging upside down for two reasons- first, to gain that perspective that allowed him to gain insight and wisdom. Second, because he realized sometimes wisdom requires sacrifice. Thus we have the term surrender- what are you surrendering? Your perceptions, assumptions, and perhaps most of all, your comfort zone. This too is what moving to a new perspective is about- letting go of the comfortable, known world for a bigger, greater and more real world. It's giving up ego, that tells us we're always right, and comfortable, and happy, for the admission that we could be wrong. Each of us has to decide whether that sacrifice is worth it.
Next, we come to the Death card. Sometimes, doing readings, people will freak out when they see the Death card. Well, it is a harbinger of change- but it doesn't mean start shopping for the suit you want to be buried in! For this one we go back to that old standby, the Rider-Waite deck. The skeletal figure here is riding like a conqueror, and it looks like he's a successful one. Yet doesn't that figure in the mitre and yellow robe seem almost to be welcoming him? And a king has been already laid prostrate by this power. And what's with the rising (or setting) sun in the background there? All these symbols relate to the card's meaning- it can be literal death, but more often than not is much more symbolic. It represents change- much as a caterpillar 'dies' to become a butterfly, this card is all about change. This change usually accompanies a Hanged Man-like upset in the status quo. This can lead to first, a change of perspective, and then to a change in one's own life, shown here in the Death card. This change may not always be comfortable or easy, but again, it's always up to us whether to remain in our comfort zone or to push past, into a new and uncharted expanse- to leave behind the known for the unknown. This card, in essence, means change, and lots of it. Something will give way, allowing us to move forwards in life.
The preceding two cards are also closely related to this next one, the Temperance card. Here we have a message of synthesis- seemingly opposite and incompatible things come together into something new. The term actually means moderation, or to moderate. So this becomes a message of moving from two extremes towards a middle ground. The two extremes are combined, and between them, a balance is found. This card too deals with changing perspectives- much like the Chariot, it shows two opposites- in this Crowley-Thoth version, fire and water. But they are combined into something new- instead of the sheer will of the Chariot's driver, we have an understanding of how these things are really closely related- what seems irreconcilable is in actuality really just different aspects of the same primal substance. So, when the world- shaking upset of the Hanged Man comes, leading us to profound change, we can sometimes find a new balance in life- and this is what this card is about, and the message of the three cards and their transition from an old perspective, paradigm, what have you, to a new and more balanced one. The Temperance card is about realizing that the new information we find can move us forwards- yet the core truths of what we have always known still remain. Though sometimes we find things changing in part, it's also important to remember what stays the same. And throughout this, to remember- from change comes new balance, and new developments.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Major Arcana, Continued- The Hermit, The Wheel, and Justice

At this point, we're up to the Fool learning the two types of strength and interaction he will use in the world- it seems our inexperienced Fool is not so foolish as when he began! Now the Fool comes to a point of reflection- all this work, all this thought and new knowledge, may be a bit overwhelming. So it is that we come to the Hermit card.
The Hermit commonly has two symbols, as shown here in this version of the Thoth deck. The Hermit is carrying a lantern, a symbol of illumination- uncovering or illuminating that which was hidden from his sight, but nonetheless is still there, perhaps aiding his journey, perhaps, if he's not careful, a stumbling block. In this card, the staff the Hermit carries is absent, replaced with a cosmic egg, representing the world. The Hermit has it for the same reason he has a staff in other decks, as a symbol of dominion and rule over the world. And the Hermit is indeed a worldly figure, perhaps to the point of weariness. This is why he's a hermit- he wishes to use that lamp not to illuminate the path outside of him, but rather to see within himself, and reconcile all that he has learned and all the new knowledge he has gained into a more unified whole. Again, note the symbolism of the cosmic egg- from this synthesis, the Hermit/Fool can return to the world even more bright and intelligent, and better able to work within that world, than he was before. Another interesting image, and the reason why I chose this particular depiction, is the three-headed dog, Cerberus. It's said that he guards the gateway to the underworld, and this too is partially a symbol in the Hermit. The Hermit 'dies' or withdraws, becomes dead to the world, in order that he can more clearly focus on what's ahead of him and within him. Notice also the position of the dog's heads- one facing forwards, one upwards, and one looking behind. This too indicates the sum total of what the Hermit has learned- he knows he needs to look at the whole picture- not just the future or the past. He can look to the future while remaining in the present moment.
The next card in our cycle is the Wheel, also sometimes called the Wheel of Fortune. This has little to do with Vanna White (unfortunately, ha ha) and more to do with the concept of the Wheel. This particular version is from Toni Allen, and I chose this because of the chess pawn imagery. Why are there pawns on the wheel? Well, the card represents two things- one, an uncontrollable force, such as karma, and secondly, a sense of things moving in cycles. Here we have the sense that some days you're up, some days you're down. And when you're in either position, know that it's bound to change. This too the Hermit realizes, and part of his seclusion is simply to come to terms with this. It's about neither praising the rose nor cursing the thorn, to borrow a page from Raven Grimassi. Instead, simply accept what is and see clearly. Good and evil largely come from our own viewpoint and attachment. An apple may be good, but have you considered the apple's perspective on the situation? The Hermit comes to see how life is just that- a cycle, a wheel. The spokes and the outside of the wheel may turn, but the axle at the center always remains in the same place.
And from this, we come to the Justice card. Again, some decks have the 11th position occupied by Strength, and that can work too. However, the Justice card here is closely linked to the Wheel, and is in fact a similar message. There is often the "Blind Justice" figure on this card, and she is always shown carrying two things- a balance or scale, and a sword- to reward the good deeds, and punish the evil. This image comes to us from the ancient Egyptian concept of judgement- when you die, your heart is removed and weighed against a feather, to determine if your life was good and just, and your heart pure. If it is, you go on to the afterlife. If your heart is wicked, you get eaten. Kind of thins the herd out, it seems. But at any rate, the concept is the same here in the Justice card- like the Wheel, what we do comes back to us. Wiccans will no doubt think of the Law of Three- what you do comes back to you three times over, for good or evil. If you bring harm to others, you get that harm back. If you work for the good of others, you too will receive good. While not necessarily this ratio, whatever we do does indeed come back to us. It's simply cause and effect- every action has a reaction. From seeing the cyclic nature of the world around him, our Fool now learns how everything comes back to him- and like the ideas of the Wheel and Justice, we're all intertwined in one great web of existence. Thus, the Fool, contemplating himself, learns more about the world around him and his own place in it. In this way the Fool can come back a sage- with knowledge of the workings of the world that previously were hidden to him. Where he saw chaos and random chance, he now comes to see order and interdependence.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Major Arcana, Continued- The Lovers, The Chariot, and Strength

I realize that in some decks, the positions of the Strength card and Justice (number 11, Strength is then numbered 8) are actually reversed in some decks. Which is the correct interpretation? Well, it depends on the deck. Keep in mind the Major Arcana differ from the Minor in that it's the symbolism of the card, not its numeric assignment, that is used in interpretation. Curiously, it's the opposite case for the Minors- the artwork of the card points to the meaning of the number and suit, not the other way around. But for our discussion purposes here, let's go with the Rider-Waite numbering. Either system is equally valid, in my opinion- at this late in the game, who knows how it was originally intended? Valid explanations have come up for both sides of the argument. 
At any rate, we now come to the Lovers, The Chariot and Strength. These may seem like disparate cards at first, but we can interpret them from our dear Fool's perspective as yet again being interrelated lessons. 

First up, we have the Lovers. This particular image comes to us from the Gilded Tarot, and seems to embrace more of the literal sense of the card. However, there is a deeper meaning here. Certainly the card can be interpreted as love and romance. Yet deeper than that, we see a message of choice. In order to love someone, you have to be free not to love them- free to leave, though you may not wish to. In other words, you make a choice. Thus, this card becomes a little more complicated to interpret, and develops multiple layers. A new relationship, perhaps even a romance, definitely involves choices. It's about making a decision, and acting on that decision, and knowing you've made the right decision. So as far as the Fool is concerned, the time has come to decide. He's developed some knowledge of the world around him, and its operations. Now he's ready to commit to someone else, in some sense or another. He might find himself at a crossroads- there's potential on both routes, but the Fool needs to make a decision, and this card is about making the right decision. How to proceed? Think carefully, the card advises. You already know the answer, just clarify it in your own mind, and then follow it with all your enthusiasm. 
This brings us up to the Chariot. Here we see typically two animals of different colors, usually black and white, pulling the chariot, guided by the hand of the driver, who has his confident hands on the reins. The fact that these animals are different colors isn't just for artistic value. It represents opposing forces- those things that might not necessarily be working together, but nonetheless are brought together under one hand. It represents will working on the world, and the imposing of one's will on a perhaps less than cooperative world. What drives that chariot, and especially what keeps those two opposites from running in opposite directions, causing damage to the chariot, and no end of trouble for the driver? It's willpower, the will to follow through on the choices we've seen made in the Lovers card. Without that will of the driver, the chariot is doomed. But with a strong hand, he can guide the chariot wherever he chooses. 
    In the Strength card, we see in many ways the opposite of the Chariot. This too-freaking-cute version of the card comes to us from, and in many ways expresses the theme of the card. We have the usual imagery of a young lady with a lion, or similarly large and potentially dangerous beast. Yet it looks like neither of them is actually posing a threat. This is the message of the card. The young lady is not so much overcoming the lion as she is working with its nature; she doesn't deny that the lion is, well, a lion, but at the same time, works with that nature and in so doing, overcomes it. Unlike the Chariot, she doesn't force or impose- she simply works with. It's like that old Taoist adage, about how the water yields to the rock, and in so doing, flows over it and overcomes it. It's a message of going with the flow, not fighting against the tide. The tide may be too overpowering to fight against, but working with it can help. So from these two our Fool discovers the opposite principles of first, exercising and even imposing his will on an otherwise chaotic world, and its opposite, working with the forces around him, not wasting his energy trying to overcome them, rather working with them. Sometimes in our life, we find ourselves in each of these two positions- the real trick of it is to know which way to go. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Major Arcana- The Empress, The Emperor, and The Hierophant

Continuing our study of the divisions of the Major Arcana brings us to the next three cards- here, the Empress, the Emperor, and the Hierophant. Having found his own personal sources of power, the Fool comes to understand a little more of the world around him, and these three cards represent his relationship to the world around him, and more importantly, his operation in that world.

First, the Fool encounters the principle of the Empress- she represents growth and expansion, and the support of that growth. Often shown both seated and sometimes noticeably pregnant, this indicates first, her passive nature, not unlike the High Priestess. She is tied to the earth, indicating that she supports and promotes growth, and is the fertile ground to grow in, symbolically speaking. The Fool exists in the world, and is dependent upon it for his existence. Think of it as the raw material with which the Fool can shape whatever he desires, like clay. The clay is passive, it doesn't take on its own shape, but takes on the shape the Fool, acting upon it, imposes according to his own designs. The clay is there to be shaped and created. The Empress often appears pregnant as a sign of her potential- to be shaped and to give rise to whatever the Fool may decide, as he manipulates the world in the manner of the Magician, utilizing skill and knowledge to produce a desired end result. To see the Empress in a reading is to find that the world is waiting for you to act upon it, to impose will and turn potential into reality. 
However, the Fool also learns that simply growth on its own is not enough. Simply growing for the sake of growth leads to randomness, disorder and chaotic growth. Clearly, growth needs to be given shape and structure, and we understand both shape and structure not in terms of what is there, but rather in terms of what is not. This brings us to the opposite principle, the Emperor. The Emperor represents structure in terms of restriction and form; the Fool does not operate in a void, rather there are laws and rules imposed upon this raw material by the world around him. The laws of physics, gravity and mathematics all give structure and shape to our world; things operate according to an organized pattern, instead of simply descending into chaos. When we throw a stone in the air, we can be reasonably sure it will, sooner or later, fall back to the earth. Is this a restriction on us, or is it something we can use? Although it does prevent some possibilities from happening, thus limiting us, it allows us to understand the nature of the world. The two principles work together- we have growth, and also structure to that growth. Imagine a plant that did not have structure- it would not be able to survive, it would just grow randomly and all over the place, instead of ordering itself in terms of flowers, stems and leaves- the very things it needs to insure its continued survival. In other words, we have a duality- both principles are needed, both the freedom to expand and the discipline to expand along the right channels. When we have an excess of either, it's for the worse. Unchecked growth can lead to destruction, as can unchecked restriction. Our hypothetical plant can either be suffocated under its own freedom of expansion, or be so restricted that it withers and dies. 
Now, when the Fool looks at these two principles, he sees the order of the world around him, and it was from this order, perhaps, that man first developed his belief systems about the world. Trial and error, and accumulated knowledge, meant that the earliest men and women did not need to 'reinvent the wheel'. We see this even today, with new technologies and innovations building on what has come before. Imagine if someone were to design a new computer- would they need to start from absolute square one, re-discovering Babbage's differential engine? Of course not. Rather, they would build on what has come before- we already have computers (the fact that you're reading this is evidence of that, ha ha), so the next step is to build off of that. Keep what works, improve what can be improved, and scrap what no longer serves that end. The same is true of philosophy and mysticism; John of Salisbury put it best when he likened us to dwarves standing on the shoulders of giants- indeed, the dwarf sees the farther of the two. This brings us to the Hierophant- the Fool has the ability to develop a belief system and philosophy based on past experience. Whereas the Empress and Emperor represent the development of this system, the Hierophant shows that system incorporated into a formalized belief system. Every day we operate within a belief system, be it driving a car or social interaction. We can make assumptions in both cases about the other person's actions before those actions occur. Why? Because we have a system, more or less based on observation, of what is most likely to happen. When I go to the store to pick up a jug of milk, will the cashier ask for barter? Say, a dozen eggs from my farm in exchange for a gallon of milk? While in some parts of the world this is true, the same principle applies- a commonly accepted system of interaction. So we could say that the principles of expansion and restriction form the basis of any system of belief. For every action, one could say, a reaction exists.
Again, the Hierophant tells of a need for balance- when there is no organized system, law goes out the window, and chaos reigns. However, this system also needs to be able to incorporate changing factors, and not remain entirely static. Yes, we can see that there are universal and unchanging principles, however as our ideas and realizations about the universe change, so must our systems of philosophy. The Dalai Lama once said that if aspects of Buddhism can be found to be false, then Buddhism itself must change with new information. 
So at this point, our Fool has discovered a great deal about himself and his place in the world- how he can act upon the world, and how in turn the world can respond to change. 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Major Arcana- The Fool, The Magician And The High Priestess

This is based somewhat loosely on the Fool's Journey, which tells a story of the Major Arcana cards- the Fool is on a journey, each Major Arcana card representing a different lesson or experience the Fool has during his life, leading ultimately up to The World, the final Major card signifying fullness, completion and coming full circle. However, as I read this, I noticed there were other ways to divide the Majors. In the Fool's Journey, and most explanations offered of the Majors, the Fool, numbered 0 in the deck, stands separate, being considered an un-numbered card. Here's another way to view it- each set of three cards, including the Fool, represents a set of lessons or experiences in life, leading ultimately up again to the World, which here represents kind of a new version of the Fool. At the start of the story, the Fool is inexperienced, and has yet to experience all these things. At the end, The World comes full circle, representing the Fool with all his accumulated wisdom and experience, ready to move on to the next step of the journey.
So to consider the first three cards-

First up we have the Fool, which is numbered 0.The Fool represents potential, starting out, and new beginnings. What will come to exist as reality now exists in the Fool as potential; he is untried, starting out on a journey. Though not completely starting from scratch, as indicated here by the chest at his feet, and his companions, the Fool has much to learn, and as time goes on will develop and learn these things. The figures with the Fool, often a dog or animal of some kind, represent the fact that the Fool has some knowledge, as well as his own innate reasoning and rationality. The Magician represents manipulation of the physical world with all its possibilities. He is the deliberate manipulator, often shown with all the suits of the deck close by, representing his ability to use all the different aspects of life to create and to shape his world. The Fool's lesson here is that he too can effect change in his world- he is not entirely subject to the whims of chance, and can construct his own future through his will and actions- though of course he is confined, as is the Magician, by natural laws, and the law of cause and effect. However, here the Fool finds his personal power- that he can be a deliberate and conscious force in his own world. The Magician bears the symbol of the lemniscate over his head (the sideways figure 8, indicating eternity) which tells of the flowing nature of energy- it is always in motion, and all the Magician has to do is learn to direct that flow.
Now, on to the High Priestess- in many ways the opposite of the Magician, she represents the instinctual and innate knowledge of the world the Fool has. Whereas the Magician is calculating, logical and rational, the High Priestess operates on instinct and her heart rather than her head. Often she is shown seated, instead of the standing posture of the Magician, indicating that her knowledge is passive rather than active. However, she provides the other half of the equation to the Fool- that your heart as well as your intellect can guide you- sometimes you can rely on instinct. Whereas the Magician represents the active principle, the High Priestess represents a more passive energy- not so much reasoning out a decision, as simply waiting to hear what your inner voice tells you. It's a question of listening to your heart rather than trying to figure out where that certainty from your heart comes from. The two pillars represent two possibilities- at the juncture of a decision, where two paths are revealed, it's sometimes necessary to sit and simply remain calm, waiting for your own inner voice to point the way. Since she is a being of the heart rather than the head, it's also a message of staying true to that inner voice and inner desire. When you find yourself at a crossroads, remember what brought you to that point in the first place, and listen to what that desire is telling you.
So here we see that the Fool represents first and foremost potential; what could be. As he chooses his course, first he incorporates his rational, thinking mind. Then he couples that with his heart, what he most desires, to make his decisions in accordance with what he truly wants. The High Priestess reflects his heart's wish, while the Magician reflects practical means to achieve that wish. And both of these lessons will remain with the Fool as he moves throughout the rest of his journey.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Cards Du Jour- The Empress and the Emperor

I chose to examine these two cards together because they can form two halves of an equation- they represent opposite sides of the same concept, and work best when in balance together. Together, they represent the forces of growth and change in our lives. 

 First in the deck is the Empress, who is commonly depicted surrounded by grain, sometimes water, and the "fruits of the Earth". This gives us a clue to the card's meaning- a supporting force. It's hard to find a description of this card that doersn't contain the word "nurturing", and this also is an aspect of the card. It represents expansion in the form of growth and development- as a plant expands, so this becomes the message here. The Empress is the support and foundation for that growth, as well as the process of growth and development.
But like all cards, this too has its more negative aspects- here, the warning is that uncontrolled or unsustainable growth can ultimately lead to chaos, and destruction. It can also be smothering, attempting to control everything in life, and instead of allowing for growth, it crushes it. So in its positive sense, this represents the fuel for growth and development. In its more negative connotation, it tells of excess growth; mutation, loss of structure and eventual chaos coming from rampant, unchecked expansion, or trying to control growth too much, ultimately stifling and smothering it. 
Now on to the Emperor- often the Emperor is shown with an orb and scepter- long viewed as symbols of dominion and reign. And in this way the Emperor represents the opposite of the Empress- whereas the Empress tells of growth and expansion, the Emperor tells of restriction and discipline. Another aspect of this card is also wise ruling- discipline where it is needed, freedom where freedom is needed. The message is to allow for growth, but to limit the amount of growth and in so doing, give it structure and shape. Both of these are needed for a healthy organism, biological or otherwise. The Emperor represents guidance and giving structure, whereas without this structure the growth would lack pattern and order, ultimately serving no purpose. At times both are needed- both expansion and growth, but not unchecked growth and wild expansion all over.
Again, consider a plant as a metaphor of the relationship between these two halves- the nature of a plant is to expand and grow, yet it's where it doesn't grow that gives it the ability to survive. It grows stems and leaves to take in the sun, and roots to go deep to find water to keep it alive. In this way, we see the expansive force and also the restrictive force. Perhaps a better word for it than restrictive could be structuring; it gives the plant structure and shape. Were this plant too excessively restricted, it wouldn't be able to grow at all, and if its growth didn't fall into an order and pattern, and expanded faster than the plant could provide sustenance for, it would ultimately fail as well.
So the message of these two cards is to impose structure and sensible limitations, yet at the same time allow for things to unfold as they will. Often the power to direct the growth and change in our lives lies with each of us, and to govern that change and direct it to our own ends is within our own powers. Often it's simply a question of taking the reins, or taking the orb and scepter, if you'd rather, and guiding our lives in the direction we ourselves choose.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Hell, And How To Get There

Here's a thought that occurred to me, and I thought I'd pass it along. This is an early drawing by author Clive Barker of the character who later became known as Pinhead. Horror fans may recognize the name from the Hellraiser series of movies. Pinhead, the only name he's ever identified by in the films, is a Cenobite. The word's origins refer to a member of a religious order- more commonly a monk of some stripe. The movie version is above him, played by Doug Bradley. I found him to be an interesting character, coming across as very articulate, intelligent and urbane, yet at the same time immensely powerful and completely soulless. The movies inform us that he lives (so to speak) in Hell, where he can be called by solving a puzzle box. The box was at one point enchanted to act as a gateway to his level of existence, and so the box has been sought throughout its history as a means of summoning these beings by those people so jaded and tired of a life of decadence that they are desperate enough for some new thrill to seek him out, and he's only too willing to take these people to their logical conclusion- destroying themselves with their own desires.
So why tell you all of this? The thing that struck me in both the movie and the original story it was based on (The Hellbound Heart, by Clive Barker) was not that a world of suffering and torment was so close to our own, but rather that anyone could concieve of wanting to go there. Yet the anti-hero of the story and the movie pays a small fortune for the box, claiming that he was seeking out new and greater levels of depravity than anything he could have imagined previously.
Now fast forward a couple movies to a direct-to-video release based on the original story, but having very little to do with it, Hellraiser: Inferno. It was the fifth in the series, and much more psychologically creepy than the preceding offerings. Here we encounter another anti-hero, Detective Joseph Thorne. He is far from above indulging his appetites in prostitutes and drugs, and manipulates others to allow him to continue his debauchery. Of course, being a horror movie and all, he encounters the puzzle box, opens it, and proceeds with the investigation the box is involved with. He descends slowly into his own personal Hell as those around him are murdered or captured by a mysterious figure called only the Engineer. So again, what does all this have to do with Tarot? Well, at the end of the movie, we find Thorne caught in a never-ending cycle of repeating the events of the case- shooting himself in the head only brings him back to the day after he opened the box. It all starts over again, for him to live out, yet be powerless to change. The character of Pinhead appears to tell him that it was he himself who created this Hell- every appetite he indulged, every lie and cruelty he inflicted on others, created his own world. Perhaps Thorne was already in Hell, and the inability to see beyond anything other than himself put him there.
So on to the Devil card. This particular one comes to us from Robin Wood's Tarot, and seemed to emphasize what this movie made me think of. Here we have two people, apparently trying to move a chest full of treasure outside, presumably where they can drag it home and enjoy the riches. First off, it seems that they're working against each other- is there another opening in their tunnel that the woman in the foreground is equally desperate to reach? And what about the chains? I have to admit, that's another reason I like this card, as Pinhead's tool of choice in 'indulging' his victims are telepathically controlled chains, terminating in rather large and sharp hooks. But once again, we see people creating their own Hell here. What keeps either of them from taking that chest out, or for that matter, simply reaching in, grabbing a handful of valuables, and leaving the thing behind? The message here is that we, much like the movie character, can create our own Hell. We don't require the assistance of an urbane leather-clad monster to do it for us. Hell is where we are always desiring something more, always seeking to gratify ourselves and not caring who gets hurt in the process. And link by link, we ourselves forge those chains. Part of it, true, is karma- what we do always has consequences, and sometimes those consequences can be much less than pleasant. But ultimately, our own actions lead us to our own private and exclusive Hell. Yet consider once again the Rider-Waite version of this card, where we have the figures bound to the Devil:
Here we have an illustration of this- also with chains, incidentally. The message again is that these figures are there because, deep down, they want to be. They too have created their own Hell, and are there by their own doing.
What all these ideas have in common is that Hell is very simple- it's when we put ourselves ahead of anything higher. Be it our more base desires, our egos, even intellect, whatever it is that is 'us' and is the absolute most important thing in our lives, blocking out everything else, this thing creates for us our personal Hell. There's nothing wrong with taking care of yourself, and enjoying life- of course not! Life is meant to be enjoyed, and lived to the fullest. Yet this type of indulgence has little to do with actual enjoyment, and more to do with placing ourselves first. Not even to enjoy these things, but always desiring more and more. We can't enjoy where we are, because we always are thinking that just beyond this is something still more desirable. It's the best definition of greed I've ever heard: How much is enough? Just a little bit more.
So from this disjointed rambling, the point I'm trying to convey is simply enjoy each moment. We as humans have a great potential, and already we have seen our world transformed by our own collective efforts and collaborations. Yet still take the time to enjoy each moment for what it is, and each morning remember that whatever happens, there will never be another day like this one.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Consideration of The Suits

No, not the guys that work for the government- as we know, there are four suits in the Tarot deck, and each has a corresponding element. These elements are reflected in much of Pagan practice, and appear as four symbols commonly used on the altar. Though the cardinal directions they are assigned to may vary, their energy remains the same. Raven Grimassi, co-creator of the Well Worn Path and Hidden Path oracle decks (a little different from a Tarot deck, though the principle of using symbols as a means of divination and insight remains the same) explained their purpose as each one represents a tool of the individual, and as such, can also represent a weapon and symbolic means of defense. Here are the assignments and characteristics he outlines:
The Pentacle represents a shield- Grimassi ties it to valor; personal strength, bravery and fortitude, and notes that when no one can take away your valor, that is, uproot your strength and make you falter, nothing can pierce your shield.
The Wand represents a lance- this is tied to willpower and purpose. When no one can take that purpose and will away from you, no one can pass your lance unchallenged; no one can approach you unrecognized.
The Sword represents, obviously, a blade- this is tied again to intellect, reason and understanding. When no one can take from you your level head and reason, you can't be led astray. Likewise, the rational mind can be used to pare away illusion from truth, and when truth is known, you can't be deceived by illusion.
Finally the Cup represents a helmet- being tied to the element of Water, it represents clear sight of a spiritual nature. When no one can take away your vision, you will always see the divine reflected in the world around you, and in other people you meet.
There is a similar analogy in the Christian Bible, in one of the letters written by Paul that comprise the New Testament, in a letter to the newly growing church in Ephesus, located in Asia Minor. It deals with a Christian perspective, and as such is a little different. However, the basic idea, I believe, is the same. It points to the fact that these aspects of each person can be used as tools, ultimately to work our will in the world. From this (well, the Pagan perspective, anyway) I came up with a short affirmation, perhaps you'll find it useful:

Spirit of Air, be my sword
Let me think with unclouded mind,
and separate truth from illusion.

Spirit of Fire, be my lance
Let my will be strong and true
that I may accomplish my true purpose.

Spirit of Water, be my helmet
Let my sight be clear and true
That I may see the reflection of divine light all around me.

Spirit of Earth, be my shield
And support me in all virtue
That I may stand, firm and rooted in truth.

It may seem trite, but I find taking the words to heart helps a bit. Happy reading, everyone!