Sunday, October 21, 2012

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

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

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