78 Notes to Self: A Tarot Journal

We are all wanderers on this earth. Our hearts are full of wonder, and our souls are deep with dreams.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Woman of Mystery
If I had to choose one card that was the most mysterious and intriguing card in the entire Tarot, it would have to be The High Priestess. She is one who lives in the places between worlds, between the pillars of light and dark, between the land and the water, between the earth and the sky, and she holds in her hands a book in which is written things only one who has known those liminal places can write. Who is she? What are her secrets?

In the earlier decks she was the Popess. This is a strange mystery in itself, as we have no solid historical basis for a female Pope. However, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the legend of Pope Joan , a female pope who rose through the ranks by disguising herself as a man, was accepted as unquestionable fact. It wasn't until the sixteenth century that the legend had been debunked as myth. Since the earliest known deck of tarot cards is from somewhere between the fifteenth and sixteenth century, somewhere between the time the legend was accepted then not accepted, the Popess in tarot came to be during a liminal time as well. Tarot scholar Gertrude Moakley, author of the 1966 tarot history book, The Tarot Cards Painted by Bonifacio Bembo for the Visconti-Sforza Family: An Iconographic and Historical Study, pointed out that The Popess who appears in the 15th century Visconti-Sforza Tarot is most likely Sister Manfreda, a cousin of the Viscontis was elected Popess by the Gugliemites, a suppressed Catholic sect named for Guglielma of Bohemia (d. 1281), who was believed to be an incarnation of the Holy Spirit. The Guglielmites thought that Guglielma would descend to earth in 1300 to inaugurate a line of Popesses to replace the Popes, and preparations were made for Popess Manfreda to celebrate Mass in the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. However, Manfreda was burned at the stake in that year and the sect was exterminated by the Inquisition. Of the approximately 30 members of the sect from about 7 Milanese families, women outnumbered men, but 10 of the most fervent members were male. The sect had an interesting social life in which there was equality of the genders. There was no emphasis on virginity in the sect, though a good number of the female members were widowed or unmarried. What is interesting, is that the members of the sect crossed social boundaries. There were very wealthy people involved as well as poor servants.

Which leads me to one other point about the High Priestess: her sexuality. Some would like to say she is asexual. Associating her with the Christian virtue of chastity is probably laying too much of the patriarchal expectations of women on her. One might assume that she is a Pope in drag with all the attending vows of chastity that come with the priesthood. And while it is true that early female Christians would take vows of celibacy, refuse to marry, or leave their spouses to enter a society of chaste Christian women, they did so as a means of tossing off patriarchal rule, having no other "head" but Christ. This allowed them freedoms they would not otherwise have known in their society. They were able to study, to teach, to preach, to travel unaccompanied by men, activities deemed unsuitable for single or married women who were not involved in religious orders. However, even in the legends of Pope Joan, she is outed as a woman by the birthing of a child, something only women do, but also a natural result of having had sexual intercourse with a man. The High Priestess is a woman unto herself. She is free to engage in activities apart from men, free to expand her own horizons, free to choose with whom she will have sex with, or not, as she pleases. Sexless? I think not. Independent? Yes.
The point being, The Popess/Papesse or High Priestess represents the divine feminine, the human God/dess mediator. Throughout history we will not let her go, not entirely. The legend of Pope Joan persisted and persists today through all attempts to deny and debunk her. Whether or not she literally existed isn't what matters. The story itself and its longevity reveals that there is something in human socio-spirituality that insists on her presence. Tom Tadfor Little over at The Hermitage expressed this need in this way:

"But human needs find expression, even when the imposed doctrine does not make it easy. The feminine face of religion reappeared in the popular adoration of the Virgin Mary, who now, more than Jesus, became the mediator through which the oppressed might commune with God. The Tarot Papess is not the Virgin Mary, but both tap into the same substrate of human imagination and human need. They are psychological/anthropological "safety valves" for a culture whose religious institutions had become too hierarchical, and too male."
So here she is, the feminine face of God/dess. She often appears in deck renderings as almost Mona Lisa like, smiling just a little, calm and serene. She is of the moon, the water, the earth and the undercurrents that direct the tides.
Ok, so is all that a bit too woo woo for you? Still having trouble when she shows up in a reading? You're not alone. Often, she sits there quite knowingly as you stare blankly at her serene face, hiding her secrets, and you just want her to speak up already. Say it!
What do I need to know?
She answers, "You already know."

Oh, for pity's sake.

"If I knew, would I be asking you?"

"Quite right," she says, "do you need to?"

"Um, I thought I did, hence the cards," sarcasm leaking around the edges of my remark.
"Hmmm," comes her bemused reply, "and what are they telling you?"

Great. Just great. Now I have to figure this out myself?
"Not a whole lot just now, thanks to you."

"Wait for it. It's there, just close your eyes. No peeking." She waits. Then she goes on, "What do you hear?"

"My own questions, over and over."

"Ok, move past them, go deeper. What do you hear?"

"Nothing. Silence."

"Ok, now...listen."

"Still nothing. Can't you just tell me?" Ok, I know that came out with a little whiney tinge to it, but I'm getting impatient.

"If I did, you wouldn't hear me either."

Now, what is that about? Was I just insulted? I think I was just insulted.

"Ok, it's quiet in here now. Now what?"

"Now, open your eyes. Look at the cards around me. There is your answer."

And so I do and I begin to read between the cards. Yes, between the cards, in that liminal, marginal space between what I see and don't see but know without seeing.

She's funny that way. Sometimes she does tell you straight up, she's not always so evasive. In some ways she acts similarly to a court card in that you might ask yourself, if she is in a position of advice, what would the High Priestess do? You act as the High Priestess would by assuming her manner and characteristics, by getting in touch with one's subconscious, one's intuitive nature, by feeling and knowing rather than acting overtly without checking in with your instincts first.

Hudes Tarot Deck by Susan Hudes Published by US Games Copyright 1995
Haindl Tarot by Hermann Haindl US Games. 1990 Printed in Belgium.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

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Monday, November 20, 2006

Maybe it's just my headspace right now, but Pink is really rocking my world. I've always liked and respected her, but her latest album, I'm Not Dead, is truly a work worthy of note. It includes at least four or five different styles from pop to hip hop to blues to folk. She's always been incredibly versatile. Her video, "Stupid Girls," has created a little controversy over her criticism of some very visible celebrities like Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, as well as a few others you're sure to recognize. Pink's been called out for this video because it's not like she doesn't pull out the sex card when it suits her, so who is she to talk? To that charge Pink answers, "I didn't write the song to win a popularity contest. I did it to spark a discussion. … My point is, sexy and smart are not oil and water—and that you don't have to dumb yourself down to be cute...I don't think any of these [young Hollywood starlets] are actually stupid. I think it's an act. It makes you less challenging as a female to act really cute." (Oprah April 10, 2006) So the point isn't the amount of skin you show or gyrating your hips, because I actually thought we got over that back when Elvis did it, but the airhead act so many of these women put on. I mean, when we have Paris Hilton saying, “I don't really think, I just walk" and Lindsay reflecting, “Sometimes being that thin doesn't look healthy. I kind of didn't realize that" and Jessica Simpson's very bright "You've done a nice job decorating the White House," upon being introduced to Interior Secretary Gale Norton while touring the White House (more gems here), you can't help but notice the flagrant flaunting of stupidity. Here's the video, if you haven't seen it (click to play):

You won't usually find me bashing women of any kind, so don't misunderstand me, nor Pink. I can't speak for her and don't want to, she clearly does that for herself. But as for me, I am strongly opposed to the idea that women need to project an image of fluffy-headed coquettishness in order to be accepted or sexy. Even the title of the song emphasizes both the dumb act as well as the infantilizing (calling grown women "girls") effect such behavior has on women. The video's message isn't so much against the idea of women being sex objects, and this is where I part ways with Pink. I think she may be working under the common "sex-positive" feminist idea that women should be free to be sex objects if it works for them, but that's not all they should be projecting. The problem with objectification is that in order for a person to be objectified the whole idea that they might be a real human being with an intelligent mind, emotions, a spirit, a soul, a future and a past kind of has to be erased, at least temporarily, while the objectification is going on. Forward thinking feminists working in the arena of female sexuality have to tiptoe a vast field of landmines, and it's no easy task to overcome the patriarchal outposts in one's own head, much less anyone else's perception of what they are trying to put out there as art. Still, we're all a bunch of contradictions, so whatever. I appreciate her willingness to be real. We're all works-in-progress. I just identify with much of what Pink is putting out there, even when I disagree with her.

Pink's life and music are very aptly represented by the 7 of Wands, the rebel of the tarot deck. At 5'3 with blue eyes, and now pink tinged hair, Pink was born on September 8th 1979 and named Alecia Moore. "I was extreme... from skateboarder to hip-hopper to rave child to lead singer of a rock band-- I did it all, and all at the same time." At the age of 13, Pink met a popular Philly club dancer named Skratch, who she started dancing with. This led to her singing backup in his rap group, Schools of Thought. By the time she was 14, Pink had penned her first song. Songwriting became a way for the future R&B/pop singer to express her feelings and thoughts on her Philly childhood and adolescent experiences, in a therapeutic way. One of her favorite pastimes, going to clubs, became part of her start in the music industry. She would frequent Club Fever every Friday night, where she eventually was given a 5-minute spot. Although Pink was sometimes boo-ed while on stage, she used the negativity as more fuel to the fire of her ambition. "I decided at 15 that I didn't want to be one of those artists that gets up and sings love songs they don't mean," Pink explained in regards to her debut album. "I decided that I was going to be me to the fullest extent, that my songs were going to reflect relationships I've had, things I've been through, and even the stuff I'm embarrassed about." It was at her regular Friday night five minute slot that a rep from MCA spotted and asked Pink to audition for Basic Instinct. Although the group didn't come to much Pink wasn't disappointed as she confessed that she didn't 'see myself as belonging to any group.'

Individualistic is the word I keep thinking as I read about her and her approach to life. While it's true that sometimes the 7 of Wands can indicate someone with a chip on their shoulder, an angry defensiveness, a kind of "it's me against the world" manner, it also indicates a winner who battles the odds and comes out on top. Seeing the figure stand on that hilltop with just his courage and one wand against six, I can just hear him say, "Bring it!" Sevens in tarot, as I mentioned in my last post, are a solitary, "dreamer" number. In the sevens, the individual is thinking, dreaming, wishing, planning, and acting alone by their own lights. Wands are the suit of fire and energy, creativity and action that furthers one's goals. The image on the right conveys this elemental symbolism nicely. It is the Seven of Wands in a deck created for the computer tarot program, Orphalese, called the Michael Whelan Tarot. The powerful dragon is the formidable opponent, but the ball of fire in his hands is the magic that protects him and allows him to see his mission through to completion.
As the card suggests victory against all odds, it's rarely a negative card. Well, except when it shows you're just being defensive and antagonistic and paranoid. You might think everyone's out to get you, but maybe that hoard just came to invite you to a party. Ok, probably not, but this attitude can get in your way if you're fighting when there's no need to fight, so look to the other cards to see if you need to adopt this strong a defensive position or not. In many decks the fighter is in a higher position than his opponents, implying that his is the higher moral position as well. Standing for something important to you, even if it means being unpopular or seen as a rebel or renegade, is something born of deep moral fiber. In the Rider Waite Smith deck the figure is wearing two different kinds of footwear: a boot and a slipper. A boot can kick ass, but a slipper? What was he thinking when he got dressed that morning? A slipper is more flexible and allows the wearer to feel the ground under his feet. The two different shoes show that the fighter is well prepared for anything his flexibility will allow him to use various means to accomplish his goal.

Likewise, Pink can sometimes come across as angry and in-your-face. However, her position, her stance, comes from some pretty strong convictions within her own sense of morality and identity. She is also very flexible, able to cross music genres with ease. If you watch her interviews, she also seems very at ease with herself, not defensive really, and very able to roll with the punches. It doesn't mean she doesn't feel the pain when she gets hit. I doubt the guy in the Seven of Wands will come out of this altercation completely unscathed either. But come out alive and still on top he will. Though we might see him next in the 9 of Wands, injured and self-protected, this is a hill he has chosen to die on, which means he likely won't face defeat.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

What Do I Do?
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Which way do I go? Tarot is such a great tool for decision making. This is not to say we allow the cards to decide for us. As I've said before, in this post for example, I don't view tarot readings as edict. What a reading can show us are potentials, possibilities, best and worst case scenarios. If things continue to unfold in the direction they are moving, what is the most likely course of events? I wouldn't entrust my future to a pack of 78 cards thrown in a random pattern, would you? Just because I've learned to trust the cards to show me certain marvelous truths and bring clarity to a situation does not mean I think they can be trusted implicitly. Primarily this is because the reliability of the cards often depends on the reader, and we know all readers, being human, are fallible.

Funny things happen when you ask the cards for direction. I've gotten such answers as, "wait and see" and "it's too soon to tell" and even, "find the answer within yourself." Once, when asking for what I should do the cards clearly showed two directions, one the path of following my heart and the other, my mind. The outcomes of both were positive and nonthreatening. The obvious answer was that it was my choice. Often, getting answers from tarot is like sitting with a therapist who keeps asking, "How does that make you feel?" and "What do you think about that?" I admit it can sometimes be frustrating because you just want to be told the answer, not coaxed to find it within yourself. That's too much work.

The Seven of Pentacles is one of those cards that advises a wait-and-see approach. The image on the Rider-Waite-Smith card is one of a farmer leaning on his hoe, considering the produce he has wrought from the earth, and wondering...what? What could he be thinking? Sevens in tarot are "dreamer" cards and often speak of the fantasies, visions, and plans we cook up alone. It's a mystical, spiritual number and a solitary one as well. Given the suit, pentacles, he is likely to be thinking more along the lines of a practical nature, considering the actual product, his material gains and losses, financial reward versus deficit. He's probably considering, too, the physical effort involved in the endeavor. How comfortable is he? What will yield the most security? I imagine him thinking whether or not he wants to continue expending physical and financial resources to this crop or maybe he might be better off doing something else. However, the produce on the vines is not yet ripe. He won't really be able to know whether or not he will be successful in this endeavor for some time. What if mold, disease, or insect infestation attack the crop? What if it doesn't rain? Then again, what if, out of this crop he is able to sell enough to expand his farm and grow and sell even more? But what if he's sick of farming? What if he's only doing it because its a family farm and he really doesn't enjoy it, he'd rather be an artist or a doctor or anything else but a farmer? I know a man who took over his father's plumbing business but really doesn't like being a plumber at all. He has a college degree and would rather be doing something else, but he has a family to support and the plumbing business brings in the primary income. Feeling stuck is part of this card, too. It might show someone who started a business, a project, or a way of life that they, midstream, find unsatisfying but can't just switch gears now. They know they need to wait and see it through, but it's hard when you find yourself daydreaming at work about what you could be doing instead.

One of my favorite decision spreads examines the probable results of two options, gives a likely outcome for each, and gives an advice card about something you should know. It looks like this:

I really like this spread because it allows the reader to examine the various potential results of two different courses of action. The last card which gives you additional insight often holds the key to which choice is the most sensible as it causes the reader to ponder an additional dynamic. In this example spread, without even knowing the question asked, one can readily see that while Option B might offer some initial, feel-good experience via the 9 of Cups, its overall outcome is the 9 of Swords -- ouch! What the Querant needs to know is the Queen of Pentacles: a nurturing woman that looks to practical needs and often advises taking care of oneself in a holistic way. The outcome of Option A clearly shows a supportive, loving environment or experience and healing via the Star and 9 of Wands. Just looking at these cards would indicate Option A being the better choice because even while insight and wisdom may be gained with Option B via the Ace of Swords and the Hermit, the end result brings about guilt, worry, depression or some other mental torment which really seems unnecessary given that there's an alternative option.

As you see, even with a spread such as this one, tarot isn't giving definites but possibilities. It asks you to examine those possibilities and come to your own conclusions and make your own decision in light of what you discover. Whether you read your own cards or have them read for you, this approach is much more productive. A reader that simply doles out finite answers from the cards leaves little room for an empowering interaction between the Querant and the cards, an interaction which yields so much more potential than just being told what will happen. We are not victims at the hands of capricious Fate and this oracle is best used when we coax our own best answers out of our own wealth of wisdom inside. You are your own best expert on your own life and experiences. Don't hand that over to the cards or anyone else.

Universal Waite Tarot Copyright 1991 US Games Systems

Friday, November 17, 2006

New Podcast Available
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Episode #19 of the Tarot Connection Podcast is now available for downloading. This week features the regular monthly astrology and tarot segment with Dena DeCastro in which she and Leisa discuss Modalities in Astrology and Tarot. Learning the way astrology and tarot are connected helps one to see additional dimensions within the tarot card and can confirm your own hunches and predictions as well. So, take a look at all the segments with Dena DeCastro in the archives. Really great stuff. The 78 Notes To Self segment of this podcast features the introductory post, "Court Cards: Oh, The Confusion!" of my series on The Tarot Court.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Finding My Way
“You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way,
the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.”
~Friedrich Nietzsche

Last Saturday my friend Lacey's daughter got married. I met Lacey about nine years ago at Calvary Chapel Church. It feels like a lifetime ago. At that time, I was moving away from traditional conservative Christianity but I was clinging to a hope that I could transform it somehow from the inside. I would go to church and literally feel sick, anxious, and angry at what I saw and heard within those walls. Another good friend of mine, Cheryl, had endured a ruthless excommunication from another Calvary Chapel across the country and some very major players in the Religious Right camp had drummed her out of business and harassed her incessantly to the extent that she finally took their sorry hides to federal court and sued them. She won. I had flown out to her side of the country to testify in court on her behalf because I had witnessed firsthand much of the harassment and slander from her Christian business competitors. It got ugly and the entire debacle caused me to question so much about this belief system in which I had immersed myself. The main players had been leaders in the Christian homeschooling community and I swore I would never, God help me, ever homeschool my kids, at least not within that subculture. I found myself angrily saying, "Those...those God-damn...Christians!" forgetting for the moment that I still claimed that label for myself.

Lacey and her husband, Terry, attended a weekly Bible Study we hosted in our home. Lacey was struggling with some spiritual/church-y stuff, too. So we agreed to meet for coffee. She had just decided to pull her kids out of public school to homeschool them. I soon followed suit, but as I had promised myself I did not rely on the support or networking of Christian homeschoolers. Instead, I found a welcoming, secular group of families through which both Lacey and I found support, social interaction, group activities, and friends. Lacey and I treated our weekly coffee date as sacred. Almost nothing would interfere in our meeting at the bookstore coffee shop once a week for a couple of childfree hours. We would relish in that time and share our thoughts about church, spirituality, family, homeschooling, parenting, and anything else that we were experiencing from the mundane to the deep. I don't know if Lacey knew what she was getting into when she embarked on this journey of friendship with me. I'm pretty sure she got more than she bargained for.

See, I'm someone who is always digging, reaching, and searching. As a child, I wasn't content swallowing the Bible stories in Sunday School at the Episcopal Church my family attended. While my older sister dutifully went through the confirmation process and ritual, I sat in confirmation classes questioning everything. The answers not being satisfactory, I announced to my mother that I no longer wished to attend church and pronounced myself, at age twelve, an agnostic. I've always been fascinated by the supernatural and spiritual, researching paranormal studies in the public library's reference section and conducting my own experiments with the Ouija board and sharing woo-woo stories with my friends. At sixteen, I had a fairly grounded belief in reincarnation and I read books like The Exorcist and Seth Speaks. When I met the man who would become my first husband, he introduced me to Islam. I read the Quran and found it resonated strongly within me, however I wasn't a full-on Muslim convert. I retained a lot of my woo woo beliefs. In time and experience within Islam, I moved away from what I viewed as a distasteful focus on violence, the glorification of martyrs and the brutal stories within the Muslim tradition. It didn't help that my then-husband was also violent. He was a batterer and after seven years of marriage I was forced to flee to a battered women's shelter with our son, file for divorce, fight him for custody, and continue having my life harassed and threatened for many years to come. After separating from him, I moved out of Islam and back to my own, comfortable seeker spirituality. It was during this time that I had my first tarot reading and explored psychic phenomenon.

My life and soul had been so traumatized by the abuse of my ex-husband that I now, looking back, understand that I was searching for stability and security for that very wounded soul. Some months before, I had found a "Novena for St. Jude" published in a local paper and not being Catholic but being very, very desperate, I prayed the prayer for the prescribed nine times over nine days, crouched alone in my closet for fear he would find me praying to "that bastard Jesus." I, myself, didn't know what to think about Jesus and frankly, I didn't care. I just wanted out and I needed a miracle. I opened the Bible to Psalm 46 and read the words of comfort to a people shaken and traumatized by their oppressors and I believed I would be helped. A few moments later, my husband went into a full-on tantrum and screamed and pounded his chest as I cowered in a corner waiting for the blows. Amazingly, they didn't come. I opened my eyes and he was gone. I heard the front door slam. I felt like death had just passed by my door. A few moments later, I heard a knock on my door. My friend, the one who would later share tarot with me, asked, "Are you ok?" Clearly, I was not ok. She said that she had just been about to get into her car to go shopping and "someone" told her to come and check on me. She held me and hugged me and called the crisis center for me. So this, I thought, was my answer, my miracle.

It was not the last time my husband beat me. No, there was one last time after that. One. Last. Time. Shortly after I moved out, I visited my friend and she read tarot for me. She told me that my ex would be in my life for a very long time to come. My heart fell to the pit of my stomach and fear clenched my chest in its place. However, she also informed me that she saw another man, a really good man, entering my life in about three months time. On schedule, I met my second husband a few months later. A friend of his invited me to his church, a Messianic Jewish congregation in my hometown. Being inquisitive and curious about all things spiritually unusual, I was intrigued by this unique blending of Judaism and Christianity. Also being in the wounded and needy state I was, the faith and fellowship offered was just the balm I needed for my battered soul. I became a born-again Christian on December 16, 1988.

Coming out of fundamentalist Christianity was a process that took four or five years, but that is where I am today. I am back again to my roving spiritual path that has taken me through monotheistic religious boxes and back outside those boxes again. I don't regret my time within those boxes. I have learned so very much. I continue to be fascinated with Biblical studies, though now my perspective has altered tremendously. Dear Lacey, she has walked with me through my emerging, converging, and sometimes conflicting spiritual incarnations. I have challenged her own very Christian faith. I introduced her to the concept of mutual submission within a Christian marriage, then radical feminism, then tarot. She balked at all three at first. She fretted for me, prayed for me, wondered what the heck (never hell) I was up to next, yet always, in the end, stayed. She hasn't compromised her own beliefs for mine. She is an advocate for equality, for women, for love, for life. She votes Republican and is pro-life, but she questions her own stances constantly. She won't indulge my tarot obsession, but she won't censor me either. As women we've both changed, but she sometimes fears the changes I have experienced will pull me away from her. It's ok, I understand. But we're both committed to loving each other exactly where we find the other, no matter where our individual paths take us. It isn't always easy, such as when I winced at her daughter's wedding to hear some of the sexist references in the wedding ceremony (references I know Lacey herself does not agree with). Likewise, she winces when I say the f-word or celebrate because the Dems just won the House and Senate.

At the wedding I chatted with a few acquaintences I knew from our old church. One asked what I was up to these days. I paused. Do I tell her? Do I say, "Oh, I'm reading tarot professionally now" knowing full well that she would put two and two together and come up with "backslidden?" I wondered if Lacey would be judged for having a tarot reader as a friend. I didn't want to create any awkward moments for anyone. So I didn't tell her. I talked about going back to college and about my kids. I'm no longer in that world so I felt no need to prove anything. Was I a coward? I don't think so. I decided that the truth would be a needless bucket of ice water poured on a woman I will likely not see for another five years. I believe I am free in Christ or outside of Christ, no matter, to do as I want. However, if I cause offense with my freedom, I am not living with love towards them. The Apostle Paul asked first-century Christians not to eat certain meats that had been sacrificed to idols while in the presence of someone whose beliefs deemed that act offensive. He went on to say that while he gives no credence to idols nor the meat and doesn't believe it to be tainted in any way, you can still be the bigger person and pass on the meat if someone else eating with you is going to feel bad about it. So I hope I chose the "high road." I'm still not sure I did.

From the outside looking in, my spiritual meanderings may seem flakey to some. I suppose it depends on how you view faith. I view faith as a living thing, something that grows and changes with me as I grow and change. I have never been content with being handed a prepackaged set of beliefs, at least not for long. I keep pressing at the edges and asking, "But why?" and "Why not?" Many would not be comfortable in my spiritual world, a world with no boundaries, no definite structure, no final answers. I understand. Some may think my faith is not strong because it seems so fluid, but I would ask how strong is a wave that knocks you on your ass or carries you safely to shore? How strong is a river that carves canyons? Where my faith takes me sometimes may seem to leave me adrift, but there are undercurrents that eventually guide me to my next port.

"Not all who wander are lost"
~ J.R.R. Tolkein

Monday, November 13, 2006

More Podcasting Goodness
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Episode #18 of the Tarot Podcast from The Tarot Connection is now available for download. This episode features a discussion about Qabalah with Leslie Zemenek, an ordained minister and psychic counselor. The 78 Notes To Self segment features my post "Crazy Talking Cards" about the conversational relationship that can and should develop between a reader and their cards. The Tarot Podcast continues to bring vital and enlightening information to the tarot community and if you haven't checked it out yet, you should. There is something for everyone, from the rank tarot beginner to those who have an extensive history with tarot.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

You Be The Judge
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I drew a card asking what shall I write on today and got one of the most curious and difficult cards in the deck: Judgment. Thanks a lot, tarot. As I looked into the symbolism and iconography of the card, more questions than answers came to me. I looked at dozens of medieval depictions of the Last Judgment and while I could see some similarities, more differences presented themselves. Such as the fact that a Christ figure is noticeably absent in the tarot image whereas he figures prominently in every depiction of the Last Judgment I could find. He is typically front and center, you can't miss him. Also, in most tarot images of Judgment, there is no yawning chasm of Hell and demons dragging the condemned off to eternal damnation, but neither is there a pearly gate with angelic escorts. Typically Archangel Michael is guarding the entrance/exit to Hell and supervising the whole process. He's not anywhere to be found in the tarot images either. There's usually an angel or two, but not him. Also, why is Judgment numbered 20 in the tarot deck and not 21, which is the World?

Comparing these images and reading about them was really interesting. I highly recommend this exercise for anyone interested in the iconography of the tarot. My research, which was far from in depth, yielded some fascinating discoveries and plenty of conjecture on my part. What the image on the Judgment card seems to be portraying is not the Last Day of Christian and Islamic lore, but the beginning of the end times instead. It is said in Islamic literature that the angel Israfel will blast a trumpet that will awaken the slumbering dead in preparation for judgment. In Christian tradition it is the angel Gabriel that wakes the dead. However, tarot designers in a very Christian culture would likely not have relied on Islamic depictions of the Final Judgment, though some cultural crossover was probable. The later esoterics were quick to see this image as relating to Israfel and that the number 20, coming before the end of the arcana sequence, likely pointed not to a finality, but an awakening to something higher that could lead to a merging or union with the divine as depicted in the World. The absence of the Christ judge figure may also be symbolizing that we might go through this experience, metaphorically, many times before a final, literal Last Judgment. This can be interpreted in reincarnation-like terms or in phases of one's life in this lifetime, indicating a cyclical or recurring theme as we spiral up in our maturity and growth.

Because the themes of the Last Judgment in Christian theology are rather stark and frightening, many tarotists find this card daunting. Typically, Christian renditions of the final days include plagues and destruction, a bloody apocalypse that precedes the destruction of the earth, and a Christ who comes not in peace but in fierce judgment, separating those who will spend eternity in paradise and those who will spend eternity enduring unspeakable torment. However, with so many of those key elements missing from the image on the card, while they may be somewhat implied, they are not the primary focus. Instead, the message of the card seems to be that of awakening, of responding to a call, a divine calling.

Without the appearance of the Christ judge in the card, who then is performing this judgment? Not the angel. The angel is blasting the sound that awakens the dead unto judgment. With no threat of Hell to be seen, the dead arise with anticipation and eagerness to embrace what is to come. The judge, therefore, is you. You decide your own fate with this card. You can choose to respond to the higher call or remain in the grave. The image itself encourages a positive response, but ultimately the choice is yours. Of course, there are few moments in our lives quite as momentous as the image suggests, though it is apt at times of true crisis and major turning points when we make really significant life decisions that set us in an entirely new direction. In lesser terms, the card may be indicating an area of your life which has died and which might be either left behind or injected with a breath of new life. The Hebrew letter associated with this card is Shim and it means breath. In Jewish lore, God breathed life into Adam and Eve at the beginning and in Christian accounts the Holy Spirit is transmitted by breath to new believers. This card indicates a kind of being "born again," in which something old has died and is being left behind. As the dead rise from their tombs they leave behind both that which has protected and yet trapped them. They leave the "trappings" of that old life, the graveclothes that bound them, the stagnant decay of an existence that was numb, dark, and well...dead.

The "wake up call" blasted by the angel indicates that we might get a clue about the need to leave certain ways behind by means of a message that comes not so much from within ourselves but from without. The divine has a way of getting our attention in various subtle and not-so-subtle ways through our environment. I would say this message is of the latter sort. It's more likely to be, as one reader put it, "In your face with a whistle!" They don't call it a "wake up call" for nothing. A subtle alarm clock would be rather useless. As such, this card indicates an area of your life to which you have been "asleep." That could be a lost passion, something that used to breathe life into your existence but which you have set aside in some dark closet of your past, entombing it to memory. It's not too late to revive, this card says, and allow it to bring a sense of living back to your life again. It could mean the awakening to your true calling in life after spending years building a life that isn't fulfilling. One might associate this card to a midlife crisis many experience that can cause one to redirect their careers and their energies.

In any case, whether monumentous or mundane, Judgment is a realization that one has been going about something wrong and in order to right things one judges one's self and makes a decision to respond to that pulling inside to a higher form of living. Without the scary imagery of fire and brimstone, demons and eternal Judge, this card releases one to experience life in a fuller, more joyous way. Having worked one's way through the Major Arcana, through Justice which is more like that Cosmic Judge, Karma, and the Wheel, over whose changes we have no control, Judgment places you in the hot seat of your own destiny. Each day, in fact, we are given many opportunities to choose life or resign ourselves to death. Will you answer the call to life?

Cartomanzia Italiana, Solleone, Italy, 19th century
The Last Judgement by Michelangelo at Web Gallery of Art

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Updates and Such
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Update #1: There is a new podcast ready for downloading at The Tarot Connection. Episode #17 features an interview with tarot artist Robyn Tisch-Hollister, creator of the Midnight Masquerade Tarot , The Minute Deck, Dreamstones Oracle and other wonderful things. The 78 Notes to Self segment featured in this episode is The Blues in Tarot. Happy listening!

Update #2: I have an article published in the last issue of the American Tarot Association's printed Quarterly Journal, available with membership to the ATA. It was a deck interview with the Hudes Tarot. It was an interesting exercise and one I will be writing about here. In the upcoming issue I have an article called, "Confessions of a Wayward Tarot Journalist." If you are a member of the ATA, you'll be receiving the journal this month, I believe.

Update #3: My daughter came home from the hospital today. Yay! Thank you all for your kindness and support. It meant a lot to me and I truly appreciate it.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

As The Wheel Turns: An Update
Thank you all so much for your emails and comments. Tori wasn't doing so well, in fact she was getting worse. The pain in her neck was spreading to her ears and jaw such that she couldn't open her mouth very much at all and she couldn't sleep. The pain meds weren't helping much and she was miserable. I called her doc and she was seen this afternoon. They recommended we go back to the ER for a CT Scan. (Oh gawd, not another ER visit!) After waiting over two hours before even being interviewed in triage, I got a little (ok, a LOT) testy with the front desk. Shortly after my tirade, they called us back. She tried to stand up, but fell back in her seat as her legs would not support her. I went looking for a wheelchair, but the ER was so crowded all the wheelchairs were in use. I did my best to carry her, but she is as big as a small adult and I had to hobble her to the exam room. Where's a strapping orderly when you need one? There it was as if the Wheel spun round again, this time upwards as the attending physician, I swear he had a halo and wings, took control of the situation and instead of sending us back to the fourth level of hell (the ER waiting room) he made an executive decision to just admit her to the hospital. He said, "The hell with it, she can't even walk, she's in so much pain, she needs a CT, we'll keep her overnight." Instantly, she was given relief from her pain, steroids, a strep culture, a very competant and funny pediatrician, and a bed where she could sleep.

I had thrown a few cards right after calling her doctor's this afternoon. The Queen of Swords and the Eight of Wands. I thought the Queen of Swords might be her doctor, but it often represents myself in a reading. As it turned out, the Queen of Swords WAS me, getting loud and pointed at the ER, which then prompted the Eight of Wands -- fast action and resolution. Or the Queen of Swords was that ER doc, a compassionate man (see, Queens aren't always women) with just the right decision and word of authority that got things moving. Either way, the cards were right and when I saw the Eight of Wands I knew something would happen, a lot of things most likely, when I took her into the doc's today.

So, the CT revealed that she has an abscess deep in her neck tissue causing all that pain and obstructing her breathing. It requires IV antibiotic treatment and possibly a more invasive procedure if those don't work well enough. She may need to be transported to a larger hospital in another town for that. In any case, she's going to be at the hospital for a few days, as will I. So if you don't hear from me, you know where I am. I'm riding this particular Wheel, trying to stay in that center, and right now feeling very thankful for divine Providence in many ways.