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.

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