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.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Coldest Reading of All

Sooner or later, many readers are called upon to give a "cold" reading- someone you don't know well, or at all, or someone who doesn't have a clear question in mind. An inability to formulate a question isn't that big of a deal, really. If someone comes to you, just generally wondering what the future holds, the first question is usually, what do you want it to be? And how are you working to make that future happen? Remember that we all have free will, and can guide our own lives. Having your querent formulate a question can help to make the reading a little more specific, and can focus attention on one area instead of across the board. It's like taking your car in to a mechanic and having the mechanic guess what the problem is. It could be something you can get from clues, like say half the transmission is dragging behind the car or there's smoke boiling from under the hood. Likewise, context clues and questions can help to guide the person and help them determine which area or areas they'd like to focus on. At the same time, there is something to be said for these types of readings, in the right time and context.
Usually people don't come to a reader unless they have a question. You don't go to a doctor just for the hell of it, usually there's something wrong that prompted you to seek medical advice. But then again, it's not a bad idea to go in for a checkup also- nothing could be wrong but still, it's not a bad idea to be certain, and get an expert opinion. This is also a reason people might consult a Tarot reader. I've heard these types of readings referred to as "gestalt readings". The term gestalt is a German word for shape or form, and in this case means an overall look at what's going on at present. What led the person up to their current circumstances? What continues to influence them, and what can we expect from these influences? The term gestalt reading here doesn't refer to a specific spread or layout, rather it's a method of reading the cards, kind of with no preconcieved notions or ideas. Obviously some spreads will lend themselves better to this type of reading than others. I make use of this on occasion, starting a session with a general look at the present situation. If the person is asking a specific question, I'll use that question as a starting point for interpreting the spread, then usually follow up with a second spread, taking the information from the first and using that to guide the interpretation of the second. The context of the question can help to clarify the meanings of the cards- what we're specifically looking for can serve to emphasize one or more aspects of the cards, and draw attention to that particular aspect of the question.
Reading Tarot is a very interactive process- somewhat like the Socratic method in many ways. We work through the question together, asking further questions, gathering information and coming up with an answer. The more in-depth we get, the more specific the answer can be, either from discussions with the person or from the cards themselves. It's been my experience that a good reader doesn't necessarily dictate answers like a magic 8 ball, but rather can work with a client to go from generalities to specifics.
The Tarot itself works kind of like a big library, both in the sense of providing specific answers and in this more general sense. If you know what you're looking for, you can go to that section of the library and find the information you're looking for. Doing a gestalt reading is more like just wandering through the stacks. You're bound to find something interesting, and when you do, this initial spark can develop into further avenues of inquiry, again going from the general to the specific.
This type of reading can be useful when a client can't put their finger on a specific issue, or is unsure of how to phrase a question, or even is simply unsure of what questions to ask, perhaps confused and feeling overwhelmed. Recently I was engaged in a guilty pleasure- reading short horror stories, when I came across an odd little story called "The Man On The Ceiling", by Steve Ransic Tem and his wife, Melanie Tem. Based on the lady Tem's fear of things she can't quite figure out, it describes the fear we may feel when shadows move on the walls, or something catches our eye in a dark corner of the room. The reason for writing, the Tems go on to say, is to name things. Why name them? Because when we can name and describe a thing, we are taking the first steps to understanding it. And fear very often comes from the unknown- not what we know will happen, but what we don't know. Most people are not simply outside observers to their own lives and thoughts, and so have at least some idea what's going on. In this case, one of two things generally can happen- either they can form a question, something they would benefit from clarification on or reassurance on, or they can begin to direct their questions to what's revealed in the context of a reading.
This brings up another question I encounter on occasion- do you, or for that matter should you, read for yourself? There are positives and negatives to doing your own readings. But gestalt readings can help here as well. Reading for yourself is not as easy as it might be at first glance, because you're not really an objective source. No one knows your own thoughts, hopes and fears better than you yourself. This means you have much more insight than someone else, but also that you can be much less objective in that understanding. There's always a chance of kind of interpreting the cards to fit what you hope for, or are afraid of, and this is something you'll need to keep in mind when reading, either for yourself or others. So doing a cold reading for yourself can sometimes help. What is each card telling you that you might not be seeing? When you come to the point of simply reading the cards, then begin to extrapolate what the meaning is in your own life. What does it mean to you, and what is it trying to tell you? Fearless reading is not always easy, and we all have hopes and fears.
Using gestalt readings can be beneficial in the right context and the right situations. It's like the old joke- I almost had a psychic girlfriend. She dumped me before we met though. A question I often get is, can you tell the future? Yes and no. If you throw a rock at someone, I can generally predict that it'll probably hurt, and you'll probably get cursed at. What you do determines your future- the question is, how can your thoughts and habits influence decisions? What are you not seeing that prevents you from taking control of the future, and what are you afraid of or hopeful for that also guides your decisions? This can heavily influence the decisions you make at present- and this, in turn, influences the outcomes of those decisions. We don't read in a vacuum; neither do people live in a vacuum either.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Hermetic Tarot And the Courts

I came across an older deck that I make use of on occasions, and found something pretty interesting in it. The deck, the Hermetic Tarot, is somewhat similar to the Crowley-Thoth deck, except done in black and white by Godfrey Dawson. I'm told it's back in print, so is fairly widely available, for fans of the Thoth deck. Again, similarities do exist, though the symbolism is a little more straightforward than you might find in Crowley's offering. Like with many Tarot decks, there are tons of occult correspondences- seems that Tarot scholars do indeed like to hunt down all manner of correlations! Here, I'm going to focus on the four sets of Court cards, and their correspondences.
Each Court card has two aspects, that of the common suit of that position, (i.e. Kings correspond to Fire, Queens to Water, and so on.) and the corresponding element of that suit, (i.e. Pentacles correspond to Earth, Cups to Water, and so on). As a quick reference, here are the correspondences between the sixteen Court cards:
King of Wands- Fire of Fire
King of Swords- Fire of Air
King of Cups- Fire of Water
King of Pentacles- Fire of Earth

Queen of Wands- Water of Fire
Queen of Swords- Water of Air
Queen of Cups- Water of Water
Queen of Pentacles- Water of Earth

Knight of Wands- Air of Fire
Knight of Swords- Air of Air
Knight of Cups- Air of Water
Knight of Pentacles- Air of Earth

Page of Wands- Earth of Fire
Page of Swords- Earth of Air
Page of Cups- Earth of Water
Page of Pentacles- Earth of Earth
These two factors will combine to define traits of the person, and as we ourselves learn and develop as time goes on, so do we sometimes move from Court card to Court card. There is also an interesting correspondence between the Court cards and the Sephiroth- this comes to us from the Kabalah, and is a model of development from a source through the development of thought, into actual manifestation.
On this diagram, we see the "Tree of Life" and its corresponding Tarot cards, as well as the Court cards. The Court cards themselves can be seen as representing different points in life as well. Considering the Court cards and the definitions they're assigned in the Hermetic Tarot, let's begin with the Kings. In the Hermetic definitions, we find the Kings are associated with the chariots of their elements:
King of Wands- Prince of the Chariot of Fire
King of Swords- Prince of the Chariots of the Winds
King of Cups- Prince of the Chariot of Waters
King of Pentacles- Prince of the Chariot of Earth
Here, the Kings represent Fire as their common element, that one assigned to their position in the Courts. Kings use their mastery of that element to create, guide and shape. COnsider also the symbol of the Chariot used in these definitions also- a chariot requires guidance, skill and direction. In their most positive sense, the Kings are the masters of their elements; they know those elements, and how to put them to use.
On the model of the Sephiroth above, the Kings fall at the intersection called Chokmah- this translates as Wisdom, and represents the creative and shaping energy that gives structure and direction to potential.
Moving on to the Queens, we find that the Hermetic definitions are as follows-
Queen of Wands- Queen of the Thrones of Flame
Queen of Swords- Queen of the Thrones of Air
Queen of Cups- Queen of the Thrones of Waters
Queen of Pentacles- Queen of the Thrones of Earth
The Queens have as their common element Water, forming in some ways an opposite to the Kings. Whereas the Kings give structure, the Queens give expansion and sustainment. A throne is likewise stationary, perhaps passive, whereas the shaping principle of the Kings is active. The thrones are also a symbol of leadership and support, perhaps a symbol to rally behind, and a symbol of both reigning over and serving the people.
In the Sephiroth, the Queens occupy the position of Binah, which translates as Forming- here representing the expansive force, and potential. Without this expansion, the guiding force of the Kings has nothing to guide, and without the guiding force of the Kings, the expansiveness the Queens represent can tend towards random expansion and chaos. Think of a tree- the tree has structure and grows in a direction, but without the sustainment of water, it will die, leaving only a shell.
The Knights have as their common element Air, representing understanding and logical thought; they represent knowledge and analytical reasoning. The Knights are the kids who are always pestering others with tons of questions, or taking things apart to see how they work. What they learn also tends to make them idealistic; they may wonder why the world is not the perfect place they imagine it could be. In the Hermetic definitions we find:
Knight of Wands- Lord of Flame and Lightning
Knight of Swords- Lord of the Winds and Breezes
Knight of Cups- Lord of Waves and Waters
Knight of Pentacles- Lord of the Wild and Fertile Lands
In some ways similar to the Kings, the Knights also represent knowledge and dominion, yet differ in terms of focus. Whereas the Kings are more practical and experienced, and can better take into account the concerns and factors coming from the world, the Knights tend to be more "book smart", understanding principles in more black and white terms.
In the Sephiroth, the Knights fall under the position of Tiphareth, translating as Beauty. Here the term is more in the sense of Plato's use of it; beauty would be a pure manifestation. And in this way the Knights represent thought, uncorrupted and at the same time untouched by the practical concerns of the world.
Finally, the Pages have as their common element Earth- though Earth is the least changing and most inflexible of the elements, this is not the focus here. The focus is instead potential, and the ability to be shaped and utilized, much as the ground has the potential to grow plants from it, and stone holds the potential to be sculpted and changed into something else. The Pages as people represent students, eager to learn and develop, yet also being in need of guidance and instruction. The potential of their gifts is there, but they will need to be shown and directed in terms of how to use those gifts and abilities.
Again, in the Hermetic definitions we find the Pages (here identified as Princesses, which is a substitution we find on occasion in some Tarot decks) defined as follows:
Page of Wands- Princess of the Shining Flame
Page of Swords- Princess of the Rushing Winds
Page of Cups- Princess of the Palace of the Floods
Page of Pentacles- Princess of the Echoing Hills
The Princesses, or Pages, are the most malleable and least experienced members of the Courts, and tend to be perhaps not so much naive as they are inexperienced; they will tend towards impressionability and will learn from experience. Again, a stone can be used to make a weapon, or it can be used to grind flour- the stone itself is neither a weapon nor a tool, it depends on how it is shaped and to what ends it is used.
In the Sephiroth above, the Pages occupy the position of Malkuth- this translates as Kingdom, which is, curiously, located at the lowest point of the Tree, representing actual manifestation. At first glance, this might seem like an odd point to put a symbol of potential, but the manifestation represents the development from pure abstraction to actual appearance. What we do with this manifestation again becomes guided by the design of thought, and its development requires that Queen-like sustainment. What direction this takes is up to the designer, and to the one who constructs that end. The Tens and Aces are, in this regard, fairly similar, in that they represent a starting point; from this, development moves onwards, and the Tens and Pages are placed on the same point on the Tree.
Of course, these assignments are not meant to be an all-encompassing designations of the cards, but rather do provide an interesting take on the Courts and how they may manifest, either in ourselves or in others around us. What position in these Courts we occupy can and does change as life goes on. We occupy many different roles, and may be many different things to many different people.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Archetypes And the Tarot

An archetype is defined by Merriam-Webster as "An inherited idea or mode of thought....that is derived from the experience of the race and is present in the unconscious of the individual." The idea was originally credited to psychologist Carl Jung, who believed there was a collective unconscious- we all subconsciously have the same mind, in other words, and can recognize symbols and make associations based on this collective unconscious, which may or may not have a biological or genetic basis. However, taking the idea of archetypes a step further, there are, obviously, symbols, roles and characteristics we all as people and social animals encounter. Whether or not this points to a common biologically based memory is beside the point- it could well be. But what it indicates more definitely is that we all have common experiences. If I were to say "Mom" to a number of different people, we would find two things- those people would have common characteristics to their associations of this word, as well as individual, subjective aspects. So what we find here is that though the ways in which we view the world and associate with it are different, there are also common factors in our experiences.
Being common across even as far as cultures and times, these archetypes are somewhat vague- the specific details are filled in by individuals, and will vary from person to person. Yet at the same time there are the same general characteristics present that allow us to identify these archetypes as such.
As the Tarot represents and tries to encompass the whole of human experience, there are likewise archetypes in the Tarot- the Major Arcana represent these archetypes in terms of the more abstract forces we find coming to bear on a situation, whereas the Minor Arcana represent the common situations and events in life we encounter. To draw an example, let's begin with the Fool:
The exact card is less important in understanding its archetype than what that image conveys- here, potential, innocence and inexperience. The Fool represents beginnings of a journey, setting out and moving, not knowing exactly what we'll find but at the same time hoping for the best. And of course there's the dog, representing intuition and common sense- we don't walk into this journey completely empty-headed. Rather, we have experience and understanding to help us along.
It's interesting to note that in the Tarot, like life, as well as literature, the archetypes are often fluid and the people, places or things that embody that archetype often change and flow. Think of an archetype as the group of characteristics that define that symbol. There are some common archetypes, again, defined by their characteristics. Some examples are the Hero, the Martyr, the Knight, the Devil, or Corrupter, the Rebel, the Wise Man and Wise Woman. Rarely will you find one person in the world who consistently embodies one archetype- people tend to have characteristics of several, varying by what roles they play in our lives, and how we percieve that person. In literature, an archetype is usually defined by their relationship to the main character of the story, or what role they play in the story.
Even with this, we can see that archetypes are not necessarily 'real people', but rather aspects of a person, as people tend to be more complicated than the somewhat narrow set of characteristics an archetype creates.
In terms of the Tarot, we see that the Major Arcana fit this description fairly well- they do not define a more complex person, or a more complex relationship, but rather characteristics and the ways in which these forces manifest in the world and in our own lives. When the Major Arcana appear in a reading, it's usually an indication to look for that influence or force, and where it may be leading you at the present, or in the life of whomever you're reading for.
The Minor Arcana is a little bit different, but again, as it is meant to encompass human experience (in this case, more everyday and mundane experiences), it also makes use of archetypes. In the case of both Major and Minor Arcana, these archetypes may be more or less abstract. Swords, for example, cover ideas and thoughts- let's take the Two of Swords.

The Two represents a balance between two ideas, a vacillation between two possibilities or a choice. Yet both seem equally attractive, or equally frightening in terms of consequences. So what do you do? The blindfold the figure wears in the picture above warns that clear sight is needed, and a clear perspective on the situation is called for, and that this may be lacking in the present. This represents a common situation- again, the specific characteristics of the situation, as well as what decision the person may be facing, will vary from instance to instance, yet at the same time this is a common situation we may encounter. Considering each Tarot card (which would make for a very long post!) we can see how each one has its own particular area of influence, and covers its own particular situation- it's our own lives that fill in the details and assign depth and color to that particular instance. The fact that we as a culture and a race of beings have literature, and more specifically universally recognized themes in literature, points also to a commonality in human experience. Though the exact ways this common experience is reflected varies across time and place, still the core ideas and core message remain the same- and so we find ourselves able to relate to one another, and relate to the world.