Saturday, January 22, 2011

Magical Tarot Menagerie Part I

Because tarot cards are a collection of pictures and pictures themselves are symbols, I am fascinated with the  details within these cards that represent various themes and ideas.  Just as a writer will carefully choose words, which are symbols of ideas, an artist will carefully choose images as a symbol to communicate ideas.  While we are free to associate any of these items with any feeling or idea, there is a historical basis to many symbols that can help us decipher the meaning inherent in the image.  Most tarot decks feature animals in many of the cards and I've found it interesting to research the commonly designated symbolic meanings for these various creatures.  Not all cultures are in agreement with animal symbolism. The same animal may be feared or revered (or both) in different traditions.  If the deck is based on a particular cultural tradition, it is  best to research what the animal meant to that group in the time period of the deck's origin.  If one is using an historical tarot, or one based on an historical deck, the Christian/European pagan meanings will be more revealing. If one is studying a Celtic or Native American inspired deck, it would be useful to research the animal imagery associated with those cultures.  Also, because the historical decks featured scenic trumps and non-scenic pips, the animal symbolism on pips, or Minor Arcana, would logically stem more from esoteric tradition, possibly from the Egyptian or Greek cultures, but also Indo-European pagan as well. 

The Medieval culture in which tarot was developed was based primarily on Christian teaching, but the Renaissance had such a widespread influence on the thinking and philosophies of the time. Scholars and religious teachers turned to the classical stories of the Greek and Roman pantheon and brought new meaning and application to them, interweaving Biblical morality into the stories.  The root of much of the day's philosophy had its direct origins in ancient Greece.  The context in which people saw the animals was informed by a combination of history, tradition, and religious teaching.  Bestiaries were quite popular in the Medieval period.   Compendiums of pictures and text about animals, both real and imaginary, bestiaries served a religious function with  moralistic stories associated with each creature.  The symbolic nature of each animal was largely drawn from Biblical references and/or traditions and teachings.

I have picked out a few of the common animals found in many traditional tarot deck trumps and researched their historical meanings based on the era in which the cards were created.  This is by no means an exhaustive list and you may find additional meanings and interpretations as well as additional animals, depending on the deck.

Dog:
In the earliest Visconti-Sforza trionfi deck, the Fool does not have a dog.  Yet another deck, the Tarocchi of Mantegna, not exactly a tarot deck, per se, but more a hermetic set of prints that have close similarity to the archetypes in tarot decks, the Poor Man card is shown with dogs, particularly one attacking his leg as we see in later tarot decks such as in the Marseilles versions and all the way up to 20th century Rider-Waite-Smith decks.  The presence of a dog near a poor man is common in Medieval art because they would often attack beggars that came near to houses for a handout.  So the symbolism in the dog's presence in the Fool card would seem to indicate that the man is poor and without financial resources.  Dogs themselves usually represent faithfulness and guardianship.  In the case of the Fool, the dog's loyalty is being expressed by protecting the master's house from intrusion, and not, as commonly thought, toward protecting the Fool from danger. In the Cary-Yale deck there is a small white dog pictured between the couple in the Love card, symbolizing fidelity and commitment.  Dogs are also featured in the Marseilles rendition of the Moon card, one dark, one light symbolizing day and night because the moon is  not only seen at night but can also often be seen during the day as well.  While the moon is seen as very inconstant, the presence of the dogs on the card are a moralistic message to humans to be like the dog and be constantly faithful, stay the course, through inconstant waxing and waning of the times.  However, the fact that they are barking at the moon may symbolize more the wasted efforts of energy expended on illusions borne at times of unclear vision. 

Eagle:
The Empress displays a shield on which the emblem is the powerful eagle.  The wings symbolize protection and speed while the talons and beak assure decimation of enemies.  It is seen to have a noble nature and aristocratic air. It has been used as the official symbol of the ancient kings of Persia, Babylon and the Roman legions.  The feminine aspect of the card juxtaposed with a very masculine symbolic animal would appear to align this woman with the greatest power of all -- the Venus of the Apocalypse of Christian narrative.  The Emperor has a matching shield with the eagle heraldry prominently displayed.  One of the qualities of the eagle is its sight, its ability to see prey from a very large distance and calculatingly descend upon it with precision.  This kind of sight is attributed to good leaders who are capable of seeing the outcome of their actions in order to determine the best course for the good of all.  


US Games
Horse: 
The Chariot was originally drawn by horses, not oppositional sphinxes, and carried a woman, not a man.  Horses represented wealth and power to the medieval culture.  I relate it to the idiom, "If wishes were horses then beggars would ride."  Only the wealthy rode horses.  Only wealthy had workhorses and riding horses and warhorses.  The horses on the Chariot are doubled and so is the speed and ambition.  With the horse imagery comes the willingness to work, the power to accomplish and the grace and swiftness to get there quickly.  In the Death card, the Grim Reaper is often seen riding, trampling churchmen, bearing a scythe.  The horse is usually black, but not always.  In this case, the horse is seen as a representation, with its rider, as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  However, it retains its symbolism as something powerful and swift. In most very early decks, a horse was not featured in the Sun card, with the exception of the Vieville Tarot which shows a man riding a white horse under the sun.  A male rider on a white horse was a common representation of Christ who, upon his Second Coming, it is prophesied that he will be riding in triumphal glory on a horse: "And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him [was] called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war" (Revelation 19:11)  


Monkey:
The Wheel of Fortune of the early Marseilles decks replaces the human characters of the Wheel with monkeys.  The decks had started toward morphing the human figures on the Wheel to wearing ass ears depicting the foolishness of those who rely on Fortune and then replaced them with donkeys and finally to monkeys.  The message is the same: scoundrels and fools. 


Lion:
Oswald Wirth Tarot
The Strength card in the Visconti deck shows Hercules and the Nemean lion which he killed as the first labor of the twelve he was to accomplish.  The lion has long been a symbol of strength and courage which makes it a worthy opponent for the heroic Hercules.  No one expected him to survive the encounter with the lion.  Later versions replace the man with a woman to represent the virtue Fortitude, sometimes with and sometimes without the lion, but the iconography of the lion often showed the woman subduing it by holding its jaws, reminiscent of the Biblical hero, Samson, whose strength was legendary.  The lion can also often be seen in the World card as the emblem of St. Mark, the apostle writer of the Christian gospel bearing his name. However, that lion has more of an identification with iconography of the four Evangelists than with the usual symbolic imagery of lions.  That one has a name and is therefore unique.

Grimaud Marseilles
Crab:
The Moon card, from an early Cary deck, features a crab in the water under the moon.  Its association with Cancer and the Moon is astrologically obvious, but it is also a symbol of inconstancy.  The crab walks both forward and backwards in a sideways fashion and so seems indeterminate as to where it may go.  Likewise, the moon was also seen as inconstant, always changing, waxing, waning, appearing bigger then smaller, visible at night but also sometimes during the day.


In a following post I will continue the animal hunt with animals found in the court cards and Minor Arcana in various decks.  The symbolism shifts a bit in the later esoteric decks because the animal symbolism was often derived from distinct astrological and/or Kaballistic symbolism rather than cultural.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Real Deal


For a long time he lived in the toy cupboard or on the nursery floor, and no one thought very much about him. He was naturally shy, and being only made of velveteen, some of the more expensive toys quite snubbed him. The mechanical toys were very superior, and looked down upon every one else; they were full of modern ideas, and pretended they were real. The model boat, who had lived through two seasons and lost most of his paint, caught the tone from them and never missed an opportunity of referring to his rigging in technical terms. The Rabbit could not claim to be a model of anything, for he didn't know that real rabbits existed; he thought they were all stuffed with sawdust like himself, and he understood that sawdust was quite out-of-date and should never be mentioned in modern circles. Even Timothy, the jointed wooden lion, who was made by the disabled soldiers, and should have had broader views, put on airs and pretended he was connected with Government. Between them all the poor little Rabbit was made to feel himself very insignificant and commonplace, and the only person who was kind to him at all was the Skin Horse.


The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.


"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"


"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."


"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.


"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."


"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"


"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."


"I suppose you are real?" said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.


"The Boy's Uncle made me Real," he said. "That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always." -- from The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
Ever since I read this book to my firstborn, I have been captivated by this simple dialogue in the nursery.  Becoming real is hard.  It's harder than what is commonly heard today as "being real" because "being real" has become just another excuse to be rude.  Like, "Hey, your breath stinks.  No offense, I'm just being real."  It's tacked on the end of a stinging comment meant to somehow soften the blow but which instead punctuates it.  Kind of like that guy who says, "Just kidding" at the end of every insult.  Becoming real is painful.  It involves the kinds of experiences we wish we had been spared.  It makes us understand the value of holding our tongues or speaking our minds at the right moments.  Being real isn't license to lay your issues on everyone else for them to hold.  Being real happens through love and love doesn't shit on people.   And if love has an accident, it cleans up its own mess.  Becoming real involves a good, long, objective look in the mirror and realizing who you are is who you were meant to be.  Self-acceptance isn't as easy as it sounds because sometimes it leaves us with a nagging sense of defeat.  It requires brutal honesty and assessment of one's true strengths and weaknesses.  Making peace with one's own personality and allowing yourself to simply be human can be, well, humbling.  It flies in the face of all our conditioning to overcome, push farther, be better, create a new you, to well... be someone else. 

I've been thinking a lot about authenticity and being real.  At this point in my life, being me is all I know how to do.  I don't have enough energy to work up a persona.  Trying to be inauthentic is tiring.  I tried being inauthentic a few times and I really suck at it.  My first job was as a retail sales clerk at a small, independently owned sporting goods store.  The owner had just bought a whole load of ski jackets that were, frankly, crap.  He was disappointed in their quality, but now that we were stuck with them, we had to sell them.  I was helping a customer who was perusing the rack of jackets and when he said they didn't seem so great I agreed.  I said, "Yeah, they're not the best, but they're not expensive."  My boss took me aside and said, "Aw, c'mon Ginny, you're killing me!  I've got to get rid of those jackets!"  It wasn't that I couldn't lie, I could.  But trying to sell something enthusiastically that I just didn't believe in grated in a very uncomfortable way.  My next sales gig was cosmetics.  It was an at-home business, so to drum up clients I was supposed to have "shows" and "parties."  Which was fine.  As long as my clients could try on the makeup and really want to purchase it, I was enthusiastic.  But then I was shown how to attract clients while out and about.  My coach went up to a random woman in KMart and complimented her.  Then she chatted about cosmetics in a girly way.  Then she handed the woman her business card and even booked a party right there in the pet food aisle.  I don't know about you, but I don't like random people intruding in my personal bubble when I'm shopping, so I couldn't bring myself to do that to others, even if it would score me a sale.  Needless to say, I didn't make a lot of money selling cosmetics.  If any activity or job requires that I do something completely at odds with my inner values, and they don't have to be "right" or "wrong" values like moral ethics or anything, but just something that goes against my grain, I can't pull it off.  Every job has its "Ugh!" factors that we simply get on with, but if this grating activity is essential to doing the job, it's not for me. 

I've noticed this inability to fabricate myself getting worse as I get older.  It has come with an increasing ability to laugh at myself, be lazy when I feel like it, and figure people will get over whatever imagined slight they may feel was directed at them from me.  Sometimes I wonder if I care less, but really, I care more.  I am more interested in what makes people feel genuinely alive and happy, but I don't feel it's my obligation to provide it to them.  I don't care about who said what to whom and how so-and-so made and ass of him/herself last weekend.  I like less clutter in my home and in my head.  I appreciate a few good, real friends.  If I have one good friend, I count myself blessed.  Most of all, I cherish loving someone deeply and irrationally.  That's where life gets good.

When I started reading tarot professionally, I brought all of that personal authenticity to my tarot practice.  More often than not, it's a good thing.  Most people want "the real deal," but sometimes they want smoke and mirrors.  Not my problem.  It's not what I do.  More than delivering authenticity, I want to provoke others to use tarot authentically as well.  I like to bring esoteric, airy-fairy concepts down to earth where we can actually use them rather than pontificate about them.  Some say tarot history is so dusty and irrelevant, and I can agree if all you do with it is create more stuff for your brain to forget.  Fascinating, but who cares?  So I find a use for it.  I want to bring the symbols of the past right into your life today and show you how to use them to get what you want accomplished.  That's what I mean by "authentic tarot."  But then again, who would be interested in "fake tarot?"  Well, maybe some people:


Card Tricks:
How To Fake A Tarot Card Reading



Who admits to being fake?  I mean, who does that?  Apart from this company, Genuine Fake Furs, who by the way had to add "genuine"  else they would just be false fake furs and who wants those, nobody would go out of their way to advertise their falseness.  I'm old enough to remember Kraft Imitation Mayonnaise, which was actually quite tasty, but rarely do we see anything advertising fakery.  Nobody would buy it.  I recently read that there is aa "new trend" in advertising.  It's the "made with real" thing we see everywhere.  Made with real or genuine ingredients or materials is hot now.  But when has anyone desired fake stuff in their stuff?  Dominos Pizza recently started advertising they are now using "real cheese."  Makes you wonder what they were using before.  When I see a product advertising its "real-ness" it sends up a red flag.  What else is in it that isn't real?  It's kind of like the movie that's "based on a true story."  You just know it's got a lot of made up crap in it.  Genuineness is more like that Skin Horse in the nursery.  It's unassuming and doesn't boast and swagger.  It doesn't show off its genuine parts.  It merely is.  You may not even notice the real deal at first.  It's not usually the shiniest, loudest, or prettiest thing in the room.  But when you find it, it's like unearthing buried treasure.  It's so beautiful.

So rather than avoiding the fake, it may be wiser to cut a wide berth around those that shout they are "real."  Step right up and get a genuine 100% real and authentic tarot reading!   Because why? All the others aren't real?  You're the only one dishing the straight dope?  Others use those fake tarot cards developed after the 16th century, you know.  Only the Tarot de Marseilles is genuine.  Or perhaps only the Golden Dawn decks yield a truly genuine reading, you know, with their esoteric magic Kabbalah, or however you spell that tree of life system.  Only those readers that light candles,  properly cleanse their cards and allow the querant to shuffle the deck to enhance the energy infusion into the cards are genuine and true.  There is not a single thing wrong with any of these decks or practices.  To all of them I nod my unsought approval.  If reading a deck rich in historical symbolism and systems sends your fancy into flight, I love you for it.  You should do it with everything you are.  If your way of tarot reading involves a pack of your own hand-drawn cards and you throw them up in the air and read what falls, to hell with tradition and accepted meanings, then you get on with it.  But the second you start claiming your way is more authentic, more real, than any other way, then I will flip you the bird with relish.

The advertisers are right.  We do crave real and authentic.  We need it.  But unless we ourselves become real, we won't ever be able to spot the lie in anything or anyone else.
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