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, December 13, 2011

The Tarot Choir
I just don't get it.  Furthermore, I think the reason I don't get it is because I have no desire to get it.  Kabbalah and Tarot.  When I've read about the connections, the overlay of Tarot on to the Tree of Life, what I comprehend is: "Ten spheres, sefirot, 22 paths, Kingdom,  blah, blah, blah, Wisdom, blah, blah, blah, tifereth, Malkuth, blah, blah, blah..."  and "isn't that amazing, the insights we get from the Kabbalah and how it applies to tarot?"  Blank stare.  Blink.  I really hate it when I feel this way about what is perceived to be a pretty important aspect to a subject I love.  I love Tarot and Tarot history and divination and symbolism, and yet when it comes to the merging of Tarot and Kabbalah, I am at a loss.  Same thing happens, to a lesser degree, when I read about Astrology and Tarot.  I really want to read Corrine Kenner's Tarot & Astrology book because I think it will help clear up my fog-brain on this system.


And then there are the other Tarot practitioners who combine other systems with Tarot that are really cool and fascinating, but somehow the fascination doesn't grip me at all.  Sometimes I wonder if I'm a lame Tarot reader because I'm not really all that interested in researching all these nifty side roads and offshoots.  I probably shouldn't even call them side roads because the development of Tarot as a modern tool of divination has its roots in the esoteric systems of those who ascribed Kabbalistic associations and astrological associations to the cards.   This is why I feel a bit conflicted about my internal resistance to these systems.  I feel as if I may be missing out on some important stuff.  


Then again, maybe not. A wise woman once said to me, "All God's chillun got a place in the choir."  So, since we all have a voice to share in the chorus that is Tarot, maybe it's not a big deal that I don't combine these other systems with Tarot.  Maybe that is another person's place in the choir.  I can't imagine trying to be a one-woman band.  I just don't multi-task that well.  I'm very glad there are many different approaches to Tarot because without them, the song just couldn't be sung as well.  I'm thankful for innovators, for those who find new ways to combine the systems, people like Scott Grossberg who developed The Vitruvian Square which is a system unto itself but which can also be overlayed or merged with just about any other divination system.  Mary Greer is forever highlighting new and culturally interesting tarot relevant things on her blog.  Marcus Katz and Tali Goodwin of Tarot Professionals have been instrumental in bringing historical tarot discoveries to light, most recently Abiding in the Sanctuary, a collection of 23 tarot images by AE Waite and artist JB Trinick that have not been seen publicly in a hundred years.  Then we have Donnaleigh De la Rose, the radio personality Tarot's primo podcast, Beyond Worlds.  As a sometimes co-host, I am amazed at Donnaleigh's ability to pull off such a seamless, welcoming, informational, educational and FUN radio show almost every week of the year.  She's so good you can't even tell how much work she puts into it, but trust me, there is a great deal of preparation and management that goes on behind the scenes and then during the show, she's busy multi-tasking, sending links to chat room attendees and guests, keeping the flow of conversation going, etc.  The really cool part about all of these players is they each bring something unique to the Tarot table.  AND, no one stands alone.  Scott Grossberg, for example, consulted with and features Enrique Enriquez in The Vitruvian Square.  Enrique does incredible things with language and symbolism and the Marseilles Tarot and is even the subject of a documentary.  Mary Greer wrote the preface for Abiding in the Sanctuary. Those are just a few examples of the collaborations that go on every day in the Tarot community.  



Just like a choir, we all have a voice that adds to the song.  And whether we stand alone and sing solo or choose to harmonize with other voices, it all becomes a symphony of brilliance and beauty.  Every one of us has something to add and we don't have to be all the voices, just one.  I don't need to master Kabbalah, astrology, numerology, or anything else to be a strong Tarot reader.  However, if I ever want to learn, I know exactly where to find the information.  In the Tarot Choir. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

No Longer Switzerland
This is just messed up.  I can't even fathom what kind of fucked up moral compass would provoke someone to do this, but because I'm a member of the Tarot community, this shit needs to be talked about.  I considered keeping silent because I don't really want to give this person any undue attention (and believe me, attention is not due this person now).  Like any community, the Tarot community has its clashes and conflicts, drama and backstabbing, cliques and alliances.  But, by and large, the people who comprise the Tarot community are very, very nice to one another, almost to a nauseating degree, so it's kind of shocking to hear or read things that are mean-spirited.  I'm not surprised, though, really.  Human beings are what they are and group dynamics are pretty much the same no matter what banner they gather round.  You're bound to have your assholes, abusers, grandiose egos, etc.  But when it comes to these conflicts I am usually Switzerland. I try to stay as neutral as possible because, well, I honestly don't give a shit who said what to whom or who is being an immature jerk.  I do, however, care when someone crosses the line from petty middle-school behavior to abusive, threatening, potentially illegal actions.

Janet Boyer has been a reviewer of tarot products for a long while.  I, personally, don't care about what other people think about decks and books so I rarely read her reviews.  I think whether or not someone likes a product or finds it usable is entirely subjective.  What I find distasteful in a deck another reader loves, so a review is, well, just another opinion.  She has been known to be brutally honest in her appraisals, which is great.  I appreciate that and have even warned those who have solicited me for reviews that I would do likewise.  I have pissed off at least one deck creator for honestly expressing my opinion about her deck on a tarot forum.   However, there is a distinction between being brutally honest and being a shithead and sometimes Janet has been known to cross that line into a biased, personal vendetta.  Again, whatever.  I am Switzerland. 

The other day, Janet crossed another line and I feel angry, disgusted, and no longer able to be Switzerland.  She published a short story on Amazon for Kindle called The Ones I Refused To Leave in which she thinly veils the identities of herself and others that she despises in the Tarot community.  If it were just a scathing screed of petty grievances, I would still be Switzerland.  But the story is about how a tarot reviewer murders a podcast show host, clearly Donnaleigh de la Rose, of Beyond Worlds, simply because the reviewer doesn't like her, and shits on her grave.  The murder takes place at a tarot convention that sure seems to be the Readers Studio.  She also insults other major contributors to the community while she's at it.  As I said, if this were just an expression of petty grudges and backbiting, I'd ignore it.  The story is a piece of shit anyway. Quite suitably, the final scene describes in detail the feces she leaves on the woman's grave.  It's not well-written, it's not compelling from a literary standpoint.  The problem?  It is a thinly disguised threat of lethal violence against another nonfictional, very real person.  There are laws against this.  While Janet may be able to hide behind the "it's fictional" defense, I call bullshit.  I'm calling her out for this harassment of someone who she has every right to dislike but no right to threaten. We're all entitled to our opinions, but when you cross the crazy line to threatening murder, "fictionalized" though it may be, you've gone too far.


UPDATE: It appears the link to Ms. Boyer's short story no longer exists, but she has published this blog entry in reference to the story.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Tarot Hypochondria




I recently read about how doctors are getting frustrated with patients who gather medical information about their symptoms via the Internet.  This TIME article by Dr. Zachary Meisel illustrates an all too common scene in today's doctor's office:

The medical intern started her presentation with an eye roll. "The patient in Room 3 had some blood in the toilet bowl this morning and is here with a pile of Internet printouts listing all the crazy things she thinks she might have."
The intern continued, "I think she has a hemorrhoid."
"Another case of cyberchondria," added the nurse behind me.
In the end, the patient did, indeed, have a hemorrhoid.
This made me laugh because a number of years ago I did something very similar, but in my case I didn't even have any symptoms. Simply browsing the Internet I came upon a description of a rare, genetic disorder, Marfan Syndrome, that, it appeared to me, I might have.  It didn't matter that no one in my family had ever been diagnosed with this disorder nor met their premature end as a result of this disorder, I became increasingly convinced I was at least potentially one with this life-threatening condition.  The scary part about it was that it involved a weakness in the heart's aorta and death could come instantly without warning as the aorta ruptures.  I spent weeks in nervous anxiety, thinking every twinge in my upper back, every weird sensation in my chest, was an indication that I did have this condition.   I even ended up imagining being carted out of my house by EMT's on a stretcher while my young children, bewildered, looked on helplessly, thinking it would be the last time they would see their mother alive.  Oh, I was a wreck.

So, I scheduled a physical with my doctor.  She was wonderful.  I remember her smiling and even warmly laughing a little at my concern.  I admitted I felt foolish, having dredged up this information on the Internet.  She commiserated, sharing that, being a doctor, she had too much information at her disposal and had done the same more than once.  She said, "You understand how rare this disorder is, don't you?  And you're not tall, so..." I nodded.  "But I do share many of the other indications, and that worries me," I said.  She said, "Ok, I understand.  Let's do an echocardigram and put your mind at ease."  Bless her.  Tests revealed I do not, in fact, have Marfan Syndrome and I stopped having imaginary traumatic death scenes play out inside my head.

A similar dynamic can happen when reading tarot, especially if we are "self-diagnosing," or reading for oneself.  Just as the wealth of information on the Internet can benefit someone with a health concern, it can also lead to unfounded worries.  So, too, the myriad of meanings and interpretations to the tarot cards can both inform and send one down anxiety ridden paths.  For example, we can get quite nervous when we see the Tower show up on any given day.  It's not just the imagery, it's the traditional meaning, too.  According to Waite's Pictorial Key:
 THE TOWER.--Misery, distress, indigence, adversity, calamity, disgrace, deception, ruin. It is a card in particular of unforeseen catastrophe. Reversed: According to one account, the same in a lesser degree also oppression, imprisonment, tyranny.
Nice.  You're screwed.  Oh noes!  So, if you're like me, you do more research.  You ask the cards what the hell they are talking about and what means the Tower in this situation. It's answer?  Ten of Swords:

Whatsoever is intimated by the design; also pain, affliction, tears, sadness, desolation. It is not especially a card of violent death. Reversed: Advantage, profit, success, favour, but none of these are permanent; also power and authority.
 Good grief.  Well, at least I won't die violently.  And the Swords indicate conflict, but it is likely something verbal or that is going on inside my own head.  I'd rather see this card follow the Tower than the 5 of Pentacles reversed:

The card foretells material trouble above all, whether in the form illustrated--that is, destitution--or otherwise. For some cartomancists, it is a card of love and lovers-wife, husband, friend, mistress; also concordance, affinities. These alternatives cannot be harmonized. Reversed: Disorder, chaos, ruin, discord, profligacy.
But it's still disconcerting, so how about we have a do-over?  Shuffle.  Shuffle some more.  Shuffle more.  Now my hands are sweaty and random cards fall out of the deck.  Do they mean something? Nah, I'm just perspiring.  But what if they do?  Strength fell out, but was it upright or reversed?  I don't know because it fell on the floor sideways.

Power, energy, action, courage, magnanimity; also complete success and honours. Reversed: Despotism, abuse if power, weakness, discord, sometimes even disgrace.
I need to know if it was upright or reversed, so I draw another card to ask this.  I get 7 of Wands:
Reversed: Perplexity, embarrassments, anxiety. It is also a caution against indecision.
 Now the tarot is making fun of me and my anxious state over this whole reading.  "Very funny, " I say out loud.  Further readings, of which there are several, yield results no better and less clear.

First, calm down.  Even doctors need to consult other doctors.  Tarot readers need to consult other tarot readers sometimes, too.  All it took for me to find peace when I thought I was suffering from an incurable condition was an understanding physician and a simple test.  It was worth the co-pay.  It was not worth the weeks of dread and anxiety I waited because I thought I was being foolish.  The objectivity that another reader can provide is priceless.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

A Mind Divided
As every divided kingdom falls, so every mind divided between many studies confounds and saps itself. 
-- Leonardo Da Vinci

And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.
-- Mark 3:25
Original Rider-Waite Tarot published by US Games 1999

The Two of Swords in the Rider Waite imagery left me with curious questions, so I spent some time researching the symbolic origins.  It wasn't an easy task because much of the esoteric imagery of the decks that arose from the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn were symbolic of secrets only the initiates and adepts were privy to.  What they publicly were said to mean could differ significantly to what they privately meant.  Or not.  One never really knows.  

A hoodwinked female figure balances two swords upon her shoulders.
Divinatory Meanings: Conformity and the equipoise which it suggests, courage, friendship, concord in a state of arms; another reading gives tenderness, affection, intimacy. The suggestion of harmony and other favourable readings must be considered in a qualified manner, as Swords generally are not symbolical of beneficent forces in human affairs.
Reversed: Imposture, falsehood, duplicity, disloyalty.

So we have some key symbols mentioned in his description as well as visible on the card itself. 

Blindfold or Hoodwink:
The term "hoodwinked" in reference to the blindfold is used in its archaic definition, to blindfold, rather than the more modern definition: to take in by deceptive means.  The blindfold on the woman is not there for purposes of deception but to heighten her awareness of her other senses.  This essay by Mason Brother Henry Taylor, written in 1923, explains the psychological, symbolic, and functional reasons for the hoodwink in ceremonial rites of their secret society. In reference to the blindfold featured on the 2 of Swords, this quote by Taylor is most appropriate:
Of the inward and constitutional lack of faculty, the Hoodwink is the fitting symbol. It stands for that darkness which is due, not to accident, or to tyranny, but to a lack in the soul itself, which the darkened one alone has the means to remove.
She has the physical ability to remove her blindfold herself, unlike the figure in the 8 of Swords whose hands are bound.  However, her hands are otherwise occupied with the two swords.  It appears that the darkness will not be lifted until she can resolve the issue represented by the swords.

The Latin code of gematria is a common means to explore the inner meaning of mystical writings and scriptures by use of numerology, specifically by exchanging letters and/or phrases with its numerical equivalent and is known to be used by secret societies in their writings. In this system, "hoodwinked" has the value of 1080. This is the female, or lunar, component of the number of fusion (1080 + 666 = 1746) and ascribed to the Holy Ghost.  If we use this numerical clue, we can then see why the figure is female and also why she is "hoodwinked."  She is attempting to hear the intuitive voice inside of her soul, often called the Holy Spirit by Christians, by temporarily blinding her sense of sight.

The Swords:
We know that Swords in Tarot indicate the mind, mental activity, communication, challenge, conflict, and the actions that arise from there.  In this image they are posed crossed with the points of the blade upward.  Symbolically upward pointing crossed swords indicate an active battle as opposed to downward crossed blades which symbolize the battle is over. Upward crossed swords can often be seen as a symbol of victory if the figure is holding the swords crossed over his head, but here the swords themselves are not crossed, but her arms are crossed over her heart in the sign of an X.  The X is the symbol for Chi in Greek which is the first letter in Christ and has long been used as a symbol for the Christ.  It is an ancient symbol of transformation and  is often seen as the position for the arms of a body laid at rest after death.  While some would attribute this practice to Christianity, one can see this same position in Egyptian mummies, which predate Christianity considerably. The X is the Egyptian sign of Osiris, the Sun God, who was later associated (by Christians) with Christ, the Son of God, so  the crossed arms of Egyptians were most likely in honor of Osiris, the Great Lord and signifying their own transformation into the afterlife.  The opposing thoughts or ideas represented by the swords are being held by a woman who is attempting to listen intently to her inner voice in order to be transformed in some way by the inner conflict.

The Moon:
The crescent moon in the upper right sky would ordinarily indicate feminine fertility, but at closer examination one can see the moon is not being reflected in its ordinary position for the waxing or waning moon whether one views it from the Northern or Southern hemisphere.  The points of the crescent never point southwest when it is waxing or waning, so it appears the moon is either being eclipsed here like this photo:  
Lunar Eclipse December 20, 2010
Or it is actually daytime and the sun is high in the sky and reflecting the upper portion of the moon:

Because  the 8 of Cups shows an eclipse quite clearly and this moon is drawn quite differently, I think this is a moon sighted during the daytime.  It is also a waxing Moon and therefore closer to the sun.  The moon is brighter during its newer phases and able to be seen during the day.  Mystery solved.    The waxing moon is symbolic of growth, manifestation, attainment, and gravidity.  The moon itself is symbolic of receptivity, intuition, illumination, passivity, psyche, time, transition, emotion, perception, mystery, wonder, shadow, balance, all of which can be seen in the meaning of the woman's challenge and position in this card.

The Number Two:
Two is the number of the Major Arcana High Priestess and if we place the cards side-by-side we can see the clear imprint of the High Priestess on the 2 of Swords.
Original Rider-Waite Tarot published by US Games 1999
The crescent moon is all over the High Priestess card, from the shape of the pomegranates to her crown and the moon at her feet.  The two swords echo the High Priestess' columns, which are said to contain the archived scientific wisdom of the ages.  The water behind the 2 of Swords is flowing beneath the High Priestess' feet.  The crossed arms of the 2 of Swords woman also echoes the cross on the chest of the High Priestess.  It could be said then, that the 2 of Swords figure is seeking the High Priestess' intuitive guidance and will take all the time it needs to take to get it.  The duality of the number two seeks balance and a means to incorporate the opposing forces into a whole.

Ok, so that was some really cool investigative work, but besides telling us what we likely already know, that we're stuck in an inner conflict between opposing ideas, how would this card help us move out of that place?  What is interesting about this card is though it is of the Swords suit, it actually recommends a very non-Swords approach.  Its advice is to turn not to the light of the sun, the rational, but to the reflective light of the moon, the intuitive and emotional.  Hence the imagery of seeing the moon during the day, to incorporate the intuitive with the rational.  The process itself is transformative because what results is a new thing, a new truth or idea that comes as a blending of intellect and emotion, spirit and reason, divined from the wisdom ensconced within you.

No telling how long one must sit in this stillness, in this uncomfortable quandary. It might be brief or it may last quite a while, but to remove the swords to their downward position to indicate the battle is over and peace reigning, we must must be willing to wait in quietness.  Sooner or later, that insight, the third sword, will break through.
Original Rider-Waite Tarot published by US Games 1999


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Honoring Death
It's October 31st and it's time to celebrate Death.  This doesn't sit well with many, but for thousands of years people have been observing this time of year to joyfully remember those who have died.  All Hallows Eve is a Celtic tradition born from Samuin or Samhain which means "summer's end." It wasn't originally connected with acknowledging the dead but as a thanksgiving to the gods for provision for the winter.  The Halloween connection with death came only when the Catholic Church set their All Saints Day on November 1.  Gaelic Christians, then, merged the celebrations.  While the Church was notorious for co opting pagan festivals in order to better convert the masses, this was not true in the case of Halloween.  Pope Gregory III moved All Saints Day to November 1 in the mid 700's and a November festival of all the saints was already widely celebrated on November 1 in the days of Charlemagne.  This may have been part of the reason Pope Gregory III did it, but there were other more Roman-centric reasons having nothing to do at all with the Celts in England, Ireland, and Scotland.

A more overt co opting was seen in Latin America where the Spaniards, viewing the celebration of the Aztec Day of the Dead as sacrilegious and failing in their attempts to ban the celebrations, instead moved it from it's original position in the Aztec calendar (roughly around the beginning of August)  to November 1-2 to coincide with All Saints and All Souls Days.  The indigenous peoples of South America had a very different view of death than the Europeans.  They saw life as a dream and death as waking from that dream and a continuation of life rather than an end to it.  The buoyant atmosphere of the Day of the Dead contrasts with All Soul's Day's somberness in which prayers are offered to help loved ones pass through Purgatory into Heaven. 

The practice of taking over existing cultural holidays and "Christianizing" them is something the Church has done practically since its inception.  In a well-known speech to the Athenians in the 1st century, the Apostle Paul declares the deity they called "Agnostos Theos," or unknown god, was actually the Hebrew god, whose name was too holy to say.  (Acts 17:22-31)  There was a temple in Athens dedicated to this god, but it wasn't viewed so much as a deity itself but as a way the Greeks could cover their spiritual hindquarters in case there was a god that existed that they didn't know about and didn't want to inadvertently insult. Paul, being an educated scholar, used his understanding of the Greek culture and literature to sway his listeners to a different spiritual concept, but also using one that was already embedded in the culture.  Conversion to Christianity, in Paul's experience, came as a dramatic "Aha!" moment in which he was struck blind for a time.  When he could see again, it was as if he saw everything in creation in a new light with a new perspective.  Therefore, the effort to  convert others to Christianity involved, at least early in the history of the movement, persuading them to see their existing world through the lens of a Christian perspective.  That Sun God you worship?  That's the Son of God.  The death and rebirth you witness each year on the earth?  That symbolizes Christ's death and resurrection, and so on and so forth.  It wasn't until the Church became a civil authority with the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine that it had the official power to not only persuade but demand certain feasts and festivals honor Christian concepts rather than pagan. Constantine himself was Roman and did not cease to be Roman after his conversion. Rather, he credited his successes to the Christian High God but continued to honor the Roman deities as well. In fact, he instructed that Christians and non-Christians alike were to observe the venerable day of the sun.  This edict would lead to the transforming of the pagan holiday of Yule into Christmas, but Constantine was happy with it as it was. 

Cultural practices are not easily eradicated.  They are, instead, incorporated and evolve into a merging of borrowed observances until we often lose sight of their true origins.  We end up observing a holiday just because we always have, because we were taught as children to do so, not even knowing why we do the things we do at those special times.  While some people decry Halloween's increasingly gory displays, it is a valuable way for people to come to terms with their fears surrounding death.  By dressing in costume and becoming that which we fear, we are for the moment the master of it.  Likewise, by consciously attempting to step through the veil between the physical and non-physical, one feels more in control of otherworldly forces that would otherwise pop through unexpectedly.  While we may not be literally paying homage to loved ones who have passed on, though many still do that at this time, observing Halloween gives us an opportunity to honor Death itself, giving it its due as a power beyond our control and understanding.

http://thealchemicalegg.com/Tarot.html
The Death card in Tarot is numbered XIII.  Thirteen hasn't always been viewed negatively, but when the ancient 13-month lunar calendar was replaced with the 12-month solar calendar, which coincides with the transition from feminine-based religions to masculine ones, the number began to take on ominous meaning.  The lunar cycles also coincide with a woman's menstrual cycles of 28-days and is associated with the moon.  Men believed witches fly at the full moon and the moon is a feminine symbol as well.  The negative connotations with the number 13 are probably connected more with male fear of women and witchcraft than anything else.  The fear of feminine stuff is largely based in a predominantly male fear of the unknown, of disorder and chaos, and of the inability to control the uncontrollable.  Because Death is the ultimate uncontrollable force, its association with 13 is understandable in that light.  In very ancient societies, death was but one aspect of the Great Mother, both the giver and taker of life.  However, the dualistic view of the ancient Greeks divided life and death into different personas, life being feminine and death masculine, but there are many personifications of Death both as male and female across time and cultures.  There really doesn't appear to be a consensus in the human archetypal compendium which renders Death specifically of one gender, which is rather fitting for the Great Equalizer.

Meanwhile, as we don our costumes, attend parties and trick-or-treat, we are participating in an amazing cross-cultural, cross-spiritual event, whether we recognize it or not.  We're paying homage to Death and, by extension, to Life.  We're facing our fears, whistling in the dark, and honoring our ancestors who have all had to face the same ultimate end. We all participate in the dance macabre.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Occupy Justice
Tarot of the Master by Giovanni Vacchetta , Lo Scarabeo 2002

There is a movement beginning in the United States that started with a small, rag-tag group that decided to protest something intangible but felt tangibly by millions of people.  Occupy Wallstreet began on September 17 in response to a call by Adbusters on July 13.  Since then, thousands of people have taken to the streets of New York and the protest has spread to other cities in the US.  The protests are not springing forth from any particular political party and the agenda isn't entirely clear except that people are sick and tired of being treated as if 99 percent of the population are disposable by a small, wealth-controlling minority.  We're tired of electing public officials that tell us one thing but relinquish their promises in favor of the whims of those who bought and paid for them to secure office.  What the protesters are seeking is Justice, both karmic and legal.  It's rather fitting that the protests are still going on and this month is the anniversary of peace activist John Lennon's birthday.  He once said, "If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there'd be peace."   He firmly believed that the people already possess the power to change things, but they aren't aware of the incredible power they already have.  He devoted a significant amount of his life and resources to advertise for peace, to helping people become aware of the power we have, both individually and collectively, to change the world. 

So often we think the power lies "out there" and it's all a matter of  what other people and forces do that affect us, but we're the ones that create and shape our world.  Justice always seems like an "other" type of force, something outside of us that decides for or against us.  Thing is, we are the ones that set Justice in motion. Even if one views her as a kind of karmic balancer, rather than an internal virtue, then she is still profoundly influenced by our actions: past, present, and future.  St. Thomas Aquinas defined justice as the constant and perpetual will to render to everyone his due. Injustice, then, occurs when a person or group receives either less or more than what is due to them.  The problem, as Lennon observed, is in the lack of awareness that most people possess, either because of apathy or ignorance.  People who are educated, informed, and aware of injustice react to it, almost instinctively, and seek to set things to right again.  The only way a small, albeit powerful, group could have succeeded in tipping the scales so profoundly in their favor and against the majority without Justice intervening is because the majority wasn't looking or they thought Justice is something done by others and not something they themselves produce by their own decisions and actions.  
Ancient Minchiate Etruria by Pietro Alligo, Lo Scarabeo 1996


It is in justice that the ordering of society is centered. ~Aristotle


Among the opponents of the recent protests are those who think the people who are protesting are just pissed off that other people are wealthy and have made something of themselves and that the protests are nothing more than folks with a bad case of sour grapes. What I see instead is the awakening of many people to the reality that we, both individually and collectively, wield Justice's sword.  While it is true that Justice represents the decisions made by the "powers that be," what is often overlooked is that we are the creators of those offices, those powers, and it isn't by divine right that those in power maintain their positions.  It is all of human artifice and design and therefore can be balanced only by human influence.  


Because Justice is a Major Arcana card in the tarot deck, the idea that its power is "fated" or "destined" and is somehow outside of one's control comes into play in many tarot readings.  It isn't entirely untrue, that interpretation.  As a society, we do vest power in our legal institutions to decide for us, on our behalf.  Therefore, when we find ourselves in a situation in which our "fate" must be decided by they who are granted those powers, we can feel quite powerless in the court of Justice.  And while our power may be limited in its influence in that moment, we are not powerless.  Sometimes Justice rules in our favor and sometimes she doesn't, but nevertheless when Justice is served we know it.  It's when we see the scales of Justice totally off kilter that something within rises up, attempts to seize the sword from her hand and start hacking away at whatever resides on the weighty side, and yes, that is our right and duty.  It is at Justice's invitation and and plea that we act upon that inner sense of hers inside of us that ultimately determines her final decree.

The problem with human justice is that it is limited by our perceptions.  All the checks and balances placed within the system can be circumvented and corrupted by the very people who rely on it to serve them.  There is a well-known story in the Gospel of John called the "Pericope de Adultera" about Jesus and the woman taken in adultery.  The governing authorities brought a woman who had been caught "in the very act" (ahem) of adultery to Jesus for dispensing of justice.  The story illustrates something very important about not only Justice, but who should, and more importantly, who should not wield her sword.  Adultery was a capital offense in ancient Jewish society and the sentence was to be carried out by stoning the offender.  When the officials brought the woman to be judged, the crowd gathered with stones in their hands in order to, they thought and believed, exact justice.  All too often, this is how most of us respond to the call to justice.  We follow what we have been taught and so believe to be right.  Our inner scales are already weighted with our customs, our upbringing, our cultural mores.  With one sentence, Jesus strips the blindfold off Justice by saying, "He who is without sin, cast the first stone."  The statement blatantly reveals that not one of us is unbiased, impartial, nor unstained with personal opinion that renders the human being incapable and indeed unworthy of passing such a serious judgement upon another.  


All we can do is strive to balance the scales, but we must do so in the understanding that our perceptions are probably skewed and that perfect human justice is probably unattainable.  No social movement will ultimately "fix things."  However, that should never stop us from trying.  The next time Justice appears in a reading, consider where balance ought to be restored and how one might contribute to that effort.  If it indicates you are in the position to "render judgement" then consider carefully that you, too, carry the human flaw of bias.  If you are the defendant in Justice's court, don't lose heart or feel powerless, but seek to understand your own influence in the events.  In human affairs, Justice is something we all work to achieve, but never quite possess.

 

Monday, September 05, 2011

Review: The Ultimate Guide to Tarot Card Meanings

If you don't know about her, you should.  Brigit (Biddy) Esselmont has been a professional tarot reader for fifteen years and has been an online presence in the tarot community for many of those years as well.  I first remember encountering her on the Aeclectic Tarot Forums back in 2004 and was impressed with her meticulous skill for developing workable tarot spreads that weren't just new arrangements of the same old positions.  I mean, seriously people, you can arrange the cards into a different shape, but if the position meanings are the same as all the others, what's so different about this new spread?  Biddy's spreads are worked and re-worked and tested until she's satisfied they are entirely useful.  Her talent is in no way limited to spreads. With Biddy's newly released e-book, "The Ultimate Guide to Tarot Card Meanings" Biddy has condensed so much of  her work into a very usable and useful handbook.

Tarot is such a vast subject and the meanings of tarot cards are, in some ways, infinite and variable, that it can be quite a challenge to present a volume of tarot card meanings without rambling on and on and going off on various tangents.  Biddy presents her card meanings in such a clear, concise manner while stating at the beginning that the book is not meant to be a "be-all and end-all" to tarot card meanings and that tarot cards often take on different meanings depending on the reading.  It is called a "guide" for that very reason.  It is called the "Ultimate Guide"and I don't feel it disappoints in that regard because it is very comprehensive.  But Biddy had to place some limits on the virtually limitless topic of tarot.  The guide uses only the Rider-Waite-Smith deck.  While the majority of tarot decks are based in Rider Waite imagery, the other systems such as Tarot de Marseilles and Thoth, while similar, do have their own meaning associations that differ from the RWS.  The book would have become unwieldy had she attempted to incorporate all systems and meanings.  As it stands, the book is very well organized, and it's clear a great deal of thought went into how to make it accessible and easy to consult.

This kind of reference is beautifully suited to an e-book format.  There are links within the book that will take you directly to Biddy's website, email, Facebook and Twitter pages, too.  She gives a brief introduction to tarot numerology, reading with reversals, and reading tarot combinations before going into the card meanings themselves.  Printable reference charts for the Major and each suit of the Minor Arcana are included.  In fact, the entire 336-page guide is printable, either by ordering a hard copy from lulu.com or by taking the file to a local printer.  They can even bind it for you if you like.  I do a lot of my tarot study online, so an e-book format is perfect for me.  Biddy honestly thought of just about everything.  She's very thorough and supremely efficient and these qualities are clearly evident in her work.  I can appreciate that kind of OCD-perfectionism when it benefits the user.  The guide sells for $29 and while many e-books are cheaper, they are also, well, cheaper.  Biddy's attention to detail and comprehensive approach yields a very user-friendly and quite handy reference for novice and expert alike.

There is also a companion workbook in which Biddy encourages you to basically create your own Ultimate Guide to Tarot Card Meanings!  It is formatted just like her book only you have the task of working with the cards and allowing your own intuition and study to speak and journal what these cards come to mean to you.  Brilliant!  Together the Guide and Workbook are $38.50.  If you do well with workbooks and appreciate the pre-formatted design, it's well worth the extra $9.50, but if you don't think you'll use it, don't buy it.  Once again, Biddy knows her audience and has created a product that is customizable to anyone's individual preference. 

Of course, I always "test drive" products that I review.  Biddy includes some bonuses at the end of her book which include suggestions for 3-card readings.  I randomly chose one and will use her guide to interpret the reading.  I have been experiencing some frustrating roadblocks at my work.  I have been trying to interview for other positions outside of my department and my efforts have resulted in a big, fat nothing.  So, I chose: Where You Stand Now/What You Aspire To/How To Get There for my spread.

  

Where I Stand Now:  Using Biddy's keyword chart, the 10 of Swords means: back-stabbed, defeat, crisis, betrayal, endings, loss.  I can immediately relate to much of this given how I am perceiving my current situation at work.  I do feel where I am is a dead-end and every effort I have made to change my situation thus far has been met with defeat.  One of the quotations used for the 10 of Swords gives me some hope: "Many a man has finally succeeded only because he has failed after repeated efforts. If he had never met defeat he would never have known any great victory." --Orison Swett Marden  In Biddy's more descriptive text, she speaks of acceptance of endings, and while my job has not ended (so far!) I was given some news on Friday that clearly told me that it was indeed a dead-end job, that I had virtually no hope of moving upward within my department.  I spent the weekend feeling very sorry for myself but determined to make some changes.  Unsure what those changes will be, however, I am still in this 10 of Swords place, feeling defeated and a little betrayed but resolving myself to this situation. She writes, "The Ten of Swords is about letting go and accepting your current circumstances.  You no longer resist change but allow it to happen, even if it causes some initial pain and hurt to you.  You accept that there must be change in order to facilitate renewal, and you allow it to occur rather than fighting it."  Yes, indeed, by the end of this weekend, I am able to say I am there. 

What I Aspire To:  Biddy's keywords for the 7 of Pentacles are: Vision, perseverance, profit, reward, investment.  Hell to the yeah! I aspire to a job where I have a vision, and I don't mind persevering if there will be profit, and reward, but not in a position that has no potential to yield anything.  I want to invest in something that has promise. The most applicable quote under this card is: "Progress however, of the best kind, is comparatively slow. Great results cannot be achieved at once; and we must be satisfied to advance in life as we walk, step by step." -- Samuel Smiles.  See, I understand that.  And slow progress is good, but none is not.  In her general definition, Biddy talks about this being a card of long-term goals and of putting forth efforts in areas that look promising rather than into efforts that clearly will not pay off.  No one is looking for a quick win here, so this card and her definition is very apt.  I simply want my efforts to be rewarded and to apply myself where I will see and reap those rewards.  


How To Get There:  Biddy's keywords for the 5 of Swords are: Conflict, tension, loss, defeat, win at all costs, betrayal.  Hmmmm.  Could tarot be telling me that I'm not going to get where I aspire to at my current place of employment?  Possibly.  Meanwhile, I can use the energy of this card to keep trying to "win."  Not at all costs, of course, but to not be satisfied with "losing."  Surprisingly this quote struck the strongest with me in this situation: "You must never be satisfied with losing. You must get angry, terribly angry, about losing. But the mark of the good loser is that he takes his anger out on himself and not his victorious opponents or on his teammates." Richard M. Nixon, of all people.  In this case, Biddy's card meaning specifically for work and finances nailed it, I think.  She writes: "In a work reading, the Five of Swords suggests that you have to operate within a very competitive, dog-eat-dog environment.  Hostility, tension and conflict are high, so you must look out for your own interests and needs, otherwise you will not succeed."  Bam. Right on it.   Clearly, I need to invest my time into looking for work outside my current environment, possibly outside the company itself, in order to invest in something that will ultimately yield reward.  While I remain there, I need to get serious about actively looking out for number one or I'm doomed to lose out time and time again.


Keep in mind, too, that for this trial run reading, I have only used very abbreviated portions of Biddy's card meanings.  They are extensive and cover not just the general meaning of each card but also its application to Work & Finance, Relationships, Personality Types, Spirituality, and Well-being and Health.  For my topic, I focused on her General and Work & Finance categories.  Did I say this guide was comprehensive? It's also not what we often derisively call a LWB or Little White Book, the small pamphlet that is included in many tarot deck boxes with basic, generic, keywords and meanings for each card.  This guide is genuinely helpful, by itself, in rendering an accurate and useful reading.  I didn't even add my own personal, intuitive commentary on this reading and with the guide alone was given valuable insight into my current situation. 


You can, if you like, view a sample of The Ultimate Guide to Tarot Card Meanings.





Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Star's Hope
Classic Tarot by Carlo DellaRocca
Published by Lo Scarabeo 2000
The Star is always trotted out as one of the most wonderful cards, always.  Then why, when I see it, doesn't it make me happy?  I've said before it could be that I'm more geared toward immediate gratification so when I see the Star it tells me I'm on the right track but it's going to be a good while before I reach my goal and that just frustrates me.  It's always good to see the Star coming up for what a romantic partner thinks of you, but that too kind of irritates because inevitably the ones who always think the Star of you are the ones who also keep you at a distance.  Like you're up on some lofty pedestal or something.  Since readings have been sparse lately -- cue shameless promotional plug: it would be a great time to schedule a tarot reading with me now because there will be little to no wait -- I've had some time to poke around and research this card that seems oh so great but always bothers me.  I think I've uncovered something more than a naked lady playing with water.



The generic description of the card features "a goddess"...wait, which goddess?  And do they call her a goddess because she is both beautiful and naked or because she represents a particular goddess myth?  Choosing to go with the latter, I researched goddesses associated with either stars or water.  I found Inanna, Sumerian goddess of rebirth.  Hold up.  Rebirth?  Wouldn't that be better associated with Judgement?  Maybe, but there's a lot more.  Others have seen the similarities to Inanna and the tarot Star card, too, and what they are seeing is more than rebirth but alignment with a myth that is only a part, but an important part, of Inanna's legend.  Typically, images of Inanna show her either richly dressed or naked.  In the story, "Inanna's Descent to the Underworld," which is most useful for the Star imagery, she is stripped of her clothing.  Also, for a time during that journey, nature "dies" with Inanna and nothing would grow.  It was only when she returned to earth that things began blooming and growing again, hence her fertility goddess role and the watering of the earth.  Also, her symbol all over Mesopotamia is the 8-pointed star. 

Maybe I should tell the story. Essentially,  Inanna needed to visit her sister Ereshkigal who rules the Underworld. She heard her sister's baneful moaning and felt compelled to see her.  Any trek to the Underworld risks death, so she garbed herself accordingly: with her crown on her head, lapis lazuli around her neck, a golden bracelet, and a royal robe on her body and a breastplate.  She also took a lapis measuring rod and line.  When she was announced at the gate, her sister became more agitated and only allowed each of the gates to be opened a crack and Inanna had to remove her garments and ornaments in order to squeeze through each one.  She arrived at her destination naked and vulnerable.  The judges of the Underworld ruled against her and her sister killed her.  She became a rotting corpse and was hung from a hook on the wall.

Her companion outside the gates waited three days and then went seeking help from various Gods and finally Enki,God of Wisdom and Water who had originally blessed Inanna prior to her descent, came to his aid. He created two creatures and gave them the food and water of life to take to Inanna.  They snuck into the Underworld and found Ereshkigal in a very distressed state, moaning and crying.  Whatever agony she named, they would speak it back to her.  Finally she stopped and blessed the creatures and promised to give them whatever they asked.  They asked for Inanna's corpse, of course. As part of the deal of reviving her, though, she had to choose another person to go in her place.  She ended up choosing her husband because while she was gone, he had gone about his life as if nothing had happened.  Though she loved him very much it was clear he didn't love her the same.

Carl Jung, pioneer psychoanalyst who worked extensively with archetypes and myth in his practice and writings wrote some commentary on the Inanna's Descent myth.  I found this commentary to be so very enlightening with respect to the Star imagery.  The commentary focuses on the Inanna story as it illustrates a journey of deep depression.  His commentary, even more than the myth itself, speaks to why this card doesn't always feel so "happy" or "good."  It represents the afterwards, the time following a very rigorous examination of one's shadow self, a time of deep darkness and depression.   It's as if there is a pause between the Tower and the Star, a time spent in the Underworld groaning, moaning, and dying, a time of utter hopelessness.  We don't see this in tarot as it happens in the nether realms, but it is important to understand the cause of the hope the Star implies.  The article states: "The solution to depression lies not in great intellectual power, nor in great emotional power. It comes from Wisdom, which encompasses all of the psychological functions."  Ah! The missing virtue in tarot! Prudence!  The hope she has comes from Wisdom, and from knowing that whatever depths she has visited can be overcome with Wisdom.  She has also discarded her former garments for she has learned their value is little compared to the experience of facing her shadow self and integrating it into her being and becoming whole.

Being a veteran of my own treks to the Underworld, I know intimately the cost of depression. Upon my return, I was not happy-go-lucky but I did acquire hope.  In the depths, I could not see what there was to look towards.  In my ascent, I had hope that things would get better, I would get better.  The Star is that time, when you have integrated something rather dark, tragic, painful and costly into your being and, surviving that after having already survived the Tower experience that preceded it, your skin still raw and wet from rebirth, your psyche still wounded and painful to the touch, you spend some time tending to that which you could not when you were "away."  Inanna's earth would not grow, so she is watering it to revive its life.  The water would not flow, so she is pouring her tears into the stream.  It is a time of reclamation, without which we could not move on.   You may have to cut ties with people who, as you found out when you were gone, didn't really give a crap about you, like Inanna's husband.  You start the process of pruning the overgrowth.  This isn't an easy time, but it is a hopeful time.  It's a time when others may expect you to be back to "your old self."  How do you tell them your old self has died, never to return?  Besides, it will be a while before the process of reclamation is done, before you get where you're appointed to go. But it will never be as it was before.  You are changed. Your direction will likely change.  This is a card of work and healing and growth and yes, rebirth.

Now I understand why it unsettles me so.  I know this work. There is a reason stars only shine at night and why the Moon follows this one in tarot progression.  It's like that poem by Robert Frost, "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening."
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there's some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.



Saturday, August 27, 2011

Paranormal Tarot Investigations
I've always wanted to see a ghost.  I don't know what I would do if I actually saw one, but since I was young I have been fascinated with the idea of actually seeing, with my own eyes, an apparition of a spirit entity.  My friends who have seen such things assure me it's not all it's cracked up to be and it would scare the living crap out of me.  I expect they are correct.  So maybe it's a good thing that I don't "see dead people" on the regular.  However, I have had a few odd experiences that I cannot explain.  I thought I would use tarot to shed some light on these strange experiences.

I have a shadow cat.  I have had this "companion" for a long time and cannot remember when I first began noticing its presence.  All I know is that it tends to simply be in my home, wherever my home may be, and its appearance is incredibly random.  I never told anyone about the "cat" because I value being seen as a sane individual and partly figured it might be a figment of my imagination anyway.  This "cat" will move about my home, under furniture, around corners, and rub against me.  I will usually only see it out of the corner of my eye as it walks behind the sofa, under the table, or around the corner into the next room.  I feel very comforted when I see it, it makes me smile both inside and out, like a real cat companion would.  I do not know its gender, if it has one, nor its name.  I see it as a black cat, but that could be because it is shadowy.  I didn't mention any of this to my boyfriend, Mike, when we moved in together.  Why would I?  I mean, it's all in my mind, right?  That is, until he spoke up one night and said,  "I saw a cat in the apartment today."  I stared at him.
 "We don't have a cat," I said, stating the obvious.
"I know, silly.  It wasn't a cat, really, but I saw a cat kind of slink under that table over there and into our bedroom.  It was weird."
"Oh.  That's my cat." I tried to sound nonchalant.
"And you were planning to tell me about this when?" he eyed me.
"Never.  But now that you've seen it." I shrugged.  I was acting quite cool about it but in reality I was amazed that someone else had seen my cat.  Mike is very empathic, but I didn't think he'd actually see my cat.  Now I'm not so embarrassed about it because his seeing it validates that I am not imagining it.
I was talking about my cat to a friend while my daughter was in the room.  She had never heard me talk about it before, and her eyes widened and her mouth dropped open.  I thought she was thinking her mom had gone mad.
"What?" I asked.
"Well, you never told me that before," she said.
"I don't parade my insanity before my children," I laughed.
"Well, because one night I was semi-sleeping and I felt a cat jump on my bed.  I thought it was Cinnamon (our real cat), but when I reached out to pet him, there was nothing there."
"Really? Wow.  Ok, yeah, that was probably my cat. I wish you had told me because it wasn't until Mike told me he saw it that I realized it wasn't all in my head."

I really wish I knew why this cat has hung around me for so long and if there is a particular spiritual significance other than companionship for its presence.  Some have told me it is my "familiar" but I'm not into witchcraft or anything like that.  Is there any reason a non-witch would have a familiar?  And I have no control over when it shows up.  It's not like I can call it and it appears.  It shows up very randomly of its own accord.

I asked tarot to tell me about the cat:


The 6 of Swords is a transitional card having to do with moving and traveling, but because it is of the Swords suit, we focus more on the state of mind which prompts the progression from moving from a rather unhealthy state to a more peaceful frame of mind.  Two elements are featured prominently in this card: air and water.  The wooden boat suggests earth as well, though it is designed to float on the emotional water.  The implication here is that it is a time when one can evaluate one's thought process and one's emotions without being engulfed by the attending emotions, safe and grounded in an earthen vessel.  The ferryman is a guide to this process.  So could the cat be a manifestation of a guide that assists in my life transitions? 

I love that the Strength kitty showed up.  It's definitely feline. Offering a kind of peaceful strength in times when its needed. It may also suggest that the unassuming kitty may be a lot more powerful than I think.  The Moon may suggest I'm crazy and seeing illusions and imagining things, which I thought was true, but since both my partner and my daughter have validated my sightings, I'm more inclined to think the Moon is pointing to the spiritual feminine and the shapeshifting qualities of such an "animal."  There is an otherworldly aura to the Moon, a card of spiritual and subconscious depth and intuition.  The light of the moon is a shadowy guide through the night, so again it feels like it's saying the cat is an intuitive guide. 

Another weird and very disturbing sighting of something I have no name or explanation for happened randomly one evening when Mike and I were driving to a friend's home across town.  It was dusk, but we didn't need the headlights on just yet.  Our friends lived in an apartment complex behind a large cemetery, so Mike, who was driving, took a shortcut on the road that runs through the cemetery.  He was driving slowly as one does in a cemetery, like 15 mph or something.  I was gazing out the passenger side window at the headstones and saw a..."creature" walking between the graves and down a slight hill.  It looked odd so I sat up straight and looked closer.  It was as large as a Great Dane but its hind end was higher than its front, much as a human might be postured if down on hands and feet, but its gait was smooth and comfortable as opposed to a human trying to awkwardly travel that way.  It was covered in gray, shaggy, medium length fur.  It's muzzle was elongated, and its head quite large.  This was no dog or wolf nor was it a deer, as some have suggested.  It did not appear to notice us and it casually walked on in the opposite direction that we were driving.  "What was THAT!" I exclaimed and looked over at Mike.  When I looked back at the creature it had disappeared.   Mike didn't see it but he saw the look on my face and heard the slight panic in my voice.  He has no doubt that I saw something very unusual given my reaction.  I described what I saw in as much detail as I could, and I was seriously shaken.
"I wish you had seen it," I said.
"I didn't need to see it, I saw your face after you saw it," he answered.
 Upon arriving home that evening I tried to research what I might have seen.  The closest description is of a Black Dog or Barghest, but I am not sure. 

I drew three cards on my graveyard sighting and this is the result:


The Tower suggests the shock I felt and still feel at seeing the creature.  It was entirely unexpected, I wasn't on any sort of paranormal exploration nor did I remotely expect to encounter anything out of the ordinary.  Judgement is rather eerie here with the image of the graves and the formerly dead rising out of them.  Did I encounter an otherworldly or undead being?  The angel, too, suggests a spirit guardian of sorts and these types of mythical dogs have a reputation of being "guardians of the corpse-ways" and are, according to the stories, often sighted in cemeteries.  Angels are also messengers, but I don't know, even four years since, what message this sighting was supposed to have brought.  The 9 of Pentacles gives an assurance that all is well, however, no need to be frightened, I am safe and secure and well-grounded -- i.e., not crazy.

I'm glad tarot, at least, defends my sanity.

I'd love to hear others' views on these weird experiences.  Any insights?  Feel free to share your own strange experiences and any readings you've done on them. 


Sunday, July 24, 2011

It's Not The Hand, It's How You Play It
I sometimes wonder, when I read tarot for someone, do they feel annoyed because I always seem to hone in on the card in their reading that says, "While you may not have control over this, you do have control over that, therefore you should...." While many find that kind of advice helpful, there are others that just skip past that part and focus on the outcome or future prediction.  There's a reason I focus on the Advice card rather than the Outcome. The reason is Locus of Control.  Your locus of control may change the outcome.

I think many people choose to get a tarot reading because they are feeling some lack of control in some area of their lives and they want to look ahead and see what's coming around the bend.  There are many things that happen to us that are outside our immediate control and they can be worrisome.  But there are things that only seem as if they are outside our control that can be brought into our control if we adjust our thinking and then our actions.  At minimum, even if we cannot control the situation itself, we can control our own responses to it. 

If one has a strong external locus of control, they believe much that happens in life is chance, luck, or misfortune.  A strong internal locus of control is more self-determinate and believes that you pretty much get what you give and act upon.  Most of us fall more toward one end or the other of the spectrum, but few are die hard extremes.  This article by John A. Johnson, Ph.D., Life as Poker illustrates well the middle road locus of control and how we try to mitigate the uncomfortable feelings that come with a lack of control over significant things in our lives.  Believing in reincarnation, for example, is one way people explain injustice, cruelty and poverty.  By positing that we choose our next incarnation for spiritual learning purposes helps us breathe a sigh of relief when we are faced with inexplicable human tragedy.  By theorizing that we attract everything we experience into our lives by our vibrations is also a conscious shift to fairly extreme internal locus of control.  It feels better to believe we are in control, in some way, of most if not all that happens to us.  In fact, scientific studies are revealing that when people feel less control, they are more inclined to superstitious thinking and behaviors.  Lack of control also contributes to stress and  there is more than enough evidence that stress contributes greatly to a lack of health and well being. 

These studies support what I have thought all along: that a sense of lack of control predisposes a person to believe in tarot as a vehicle for fortune-telling.  That belief is neither right or wrong, but it, along with feeling more of an external locus of control in the given situation, is often what will compel a person to get a reading.  Given that a stronger internal locus of control contributes to a better outlook on life and less stress, finding that card in the reading that can shift that locus of control more to the internal side of the scale is often a crucial key in changing a situation's outcome. 

But locus of control is only one factor.  Another is self-efficacy.  A person who is looking to quit smoking, for example, may fully believe and understand that smoking cigarettes is completely within their own control, but not believe they are capable of following through on cessation.  Knowing something is within your control but not believing you can do what is required to make something happen is less about thinking fate or chance has the power but that you lack the power, so resignation and/or acceptance of something you wish you could change but can't sets in.  Which is why even when that Advice card is really helpful, we don't always follow it and the outcome happens anyway. This lack of self-efficacy can also impact us in situations that truly are outside our control as well.  Using the poker analogy, one may likewise feel a lack of confidence in one's abilities to play the cards "right" or in such a way that will yield success.


Here's an opportunity to dig a little deeper.  So if the cards show a recommended course of action that you know would be helpful but you really don't feel inspired to follow, throw some additional cards seeking how to get to that place.  Locate the block and the wedge that will split that block wide open.  Maybe there is some inspiration to be found.  What do the cards have to say about that?  Where is the resistance inside and why is it there?  In pop star Rihanna and rapper Eminem's new single, Love the Way You Lie, Part II, the lyrics reveal there is more to an abusive relationship than one may see, there may be addiction, love, stubbornness, and attraction from both sides.  When someone knows that change is needed but is unwilling to act to make the change happen, more is going on under the surface than simple good advice can fix.  The Advice card, therefore, can be a stepping stone rather than a resolution.  It can act as catalyst to find the answers inside of you that will bring you to a deeper understanding of the choices you made and continue to make that, along with the choices others make (outside of your control) conspire to create this situation at hand.  You may find, for example, that you really don't enjoy playing poker and don't want to learn the best way to manage your hand.  You decide (a decision is in your control) you'd rather just allow others to continue to control your life's circumstances so you can conveniently blame others for your misfortune, even though you're a really good person and don't deserve all this mess.  Good luck just wasn't "in the cards" for you.  I honestly don't know anyone for whom that sounds appealing.

I think most of us fall somewhere in the middle.  We acknowledge there are external forces outside our control that impact and influence our lives, sometimes for good, sometimes not.  While there may be nothing we can do about those events, we can proactively choose the perspective with which we view the events as well as our active responses to them.  While we may not be able to control how we feel about an event, we can express our feelings in productive ways that strengthen rather than weaken us.  So even in the midst of feeling a lack of control, there are ways to take control of some aspect of yourself or the situation so that you gain a better foothold on the path you're on.  Most of us know we actually are in control of a lot more than we give ourselves credit for.  Following the path of least resistance often leads us to just coast along without direction, even though we know we could change course if we wanted.  For example, if I am unhappy at my job but continue to go to work every day, month after month, year after year, without actively putting out resumes and queries into other work, because the effort to look for another job seems like too much on top of the effort I'm already expending at the job I hate, I am acknowledging that I could change my situation but I'm not willing. If I complain that I am too fat to fit into my clothes but refuse to either exercise or buy new clothes, I am simply going to be unhappy with myself and my clothing.  Why we do this to ourselves for extended periods of time, I don't know.  I've done it.  We all do it from time to time.  Then one day we get an Ace of Wands up our butts and do something different and actually make a change.  If I could bottle Ace of Wands energy and sell it, I'd be a millionaire.

The whole purpose of my tarot reading is to help one increase their internal locus of control.  Come to a reading feeling a lack of control, leave the reading feeling you've gained some control or at least a perspective or plan on how to gain more.  Some may say I'm working myself out of a job, for if only people who feel a lack of control seek out a reading, then helping people empower themselves by shifting to an internal locus of control is counterproductive to my earning a living reading tarot.  Not so.  Tarot's usefulness extends beyond this.  Knowing one has control but not being sure which choice to make often leads people to a tarot reading.  The desire to identify internal blocks and the best means to break them also prompts tarot readings.  Sometimes the reading itself serves as Ace of Wands in a can and prompts someone to act on their own behalf.  But my aim is always to push a bit further into that internal place where one's own Ace of Wands need igniting and provide the match.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Good Advice From The Devil
Gilded Tarot by Ciro Marchetti Llewellyn 2004
Earlier this week, artist Ciro Marchetti revealed on Facebook his reworked Devil card for his new project, The Gilded Tarot Royale.  (The old version is above, the new version can be seen in his FB photos) This card has long been one of my favorite expressions of Trump XV for obvious sexy reasons, but also because it clearly illustrates why temptation is, well, tempting! In so many deck renditions the Devil is shown as a revolting creature that could not tempt a flea to a dog.  The traditional grotesque symbolism is supposed to imply that we don't realize the ugliness until we're neck-deep in it, and I get that, but I think Ciro's version communicates the seduction aspect very blatantly. It also shows the not-so-bad side of the Devil without neglecting its potentially disastrous side.  Some decks use Pan or other horned gods like Cernunnos to stand in for The Devil because pagan tradition doesn't demonize this energy and is more accepting of its usefulness.  That's healthy, yes, but sometimes the images stray a bit too far into All-Is-Well-Land and diminish the stern warning the card is meant to convey.  Ciro's Devil is yummy, and it appears he's been working out since we last saw him,  but he is also blinded by his own self-interests.  He is choosing not to see.  The pentacle behind him is upright, symbolizing the healthy aspect of the Lord of the Material World, but the pentacle on the horned helmet is upside down, suggesting an unhealthy obsession with sensuality and hedonism.  This card's imagery is much easier to personally identify with also.  One can easily switch perspectives from being the Tempter to the Tempted and back again.   You can be the guy in the card or you can feel the temptation from him, and that helps a lot when trying to figure out its specific message for you.  It's much more difficult to identify with this:
Tarot of Durer By Giacinto Gaudenzi
 Lo Scarabeo
Can we easily slip into that beast? Or can we better imagine ourselves as the hot guy in the helmet?  Not only that, but the message of the Devil isn't always evil as the pagan themed decks well know.  It is often advising a healthy measure of self-care and attention to one's sensual needs, which, if neglected, can grow into devils themselves.
The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful"
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray 1891
The thoughtful and wise part of me knows that what Wilde is saying here is absolutely true, but there are many caveats, exceptions and asterisked footnoting going on in my brain.  Certainly many could take this as carte blanche  and defend rampant selfishness and reckless douchebaggery, weak argument though that may be.  If I am tempted towards harming someone, my soul would grow exponentially more ill if I gave into that temptation.  So let's just rule out giving into any temptations involving robbing, maiming, abusing, or killing anyone, m'kay?  In the original context, Wilde is talking about how society sets up a code of "morality" that forces a great number of people to live deceptive lives in which they pretend to abide by the code but instead are secretly breaking it.  Living a lie is very stressful and the ripple effect is detrimental to not only one's own psychological health in terms of unnecessary guilt and self-recrimination,  but it also affects the health of society as a whole with far-reaching repercussions of pent-up frustrations spilling over into violence, overindulgence in response to forbidden temptations, lost jobs, broken families,  and just a whole lot of hurt all around.   Wilde was a successful poet and playwright enjoying high society life in Victorian Britain when he was accused by his male lover's father of "posing as a sodomite."  He sued the accuser for slander and lost.  A guilty verdict on the charge of sodomy at that time meant life imprisonment and a lesser "gross indecency" conviction garnered a two-year hard labor sentence.  He received the latter judgement and his career went down in ruin.  Ironically, had he not sued his accuser, probably nothing would have happened.  By attempting to deny an accusation Wilde knew to be true, he brought about his own professional demise. Prison humiliated and humbled Wilde and caused him to reflect on his former indulgent lifestyle: 
"Desire at the end was a malady, a madness or both. I grew careless of the lives of others. I took pleasure where it pleased me and passed on. I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character...I ceased to be Lord over myself. I was no longer captain of my soul."
- Oscar Wilde, De Profundis
If we take both quotes together we get the most nuanced meaning for tarot's great tempter.  Whereas the first quotation is true, the second is also true and a warning that we must use the first with care and wise judgment.  While he still maintained the social laws were unjust and unhealthy, Wilde also recognized that if we indulge our temptations without thought to the effects on ourselves and others, we risk losing our personal freedom.  And there we have it: XV The Devil whose message would best be compared to Polonius' advice to his son in Shakespeare's Hamlet: "To thine own self be true."  Polonius was not advocating reckless pursuit of sensual indulgence, as that would have been harmful to his son and disloyal to his son's self.  Instead, he was telling him that he must first take care of himself so that he could be in the position to take care of others.  Just like the flight attendants tell us to please make sure to secure your own mask before assisting others, if we neglect our own selves and souls, we can be of no service to the ones we hope to help.

The balance is a delicate one, sure.  How do we know when we are crossing the line from healthy self-care to selfish harm?  Wilde's observation holds a tremendous clue: when you risk losing your  freedom, when the thing desired or the desire itself begins to control you instead of the other way around.  But sometimes yielding is exactly what we need to do because the temptation itself has become the problem and doing what we want to do, consequences be damned, is the healthiest choice.  If one's fight against temptation has resulted in living a lie, that lie itself is the Devil's bondage.  Ciro's Devil must remove the helmet to see and so must we when dealing with temptation.  If we refuse to examine the ripple effect of our yielding to this tempting thing, we cannot know if it will be harmful or not, nor will we care.  When temptation arises, the Devil card gives the best advice because it prompts us to examine our motivations and ultimately urges us to choose wisely for our soul's best interest.