I think I’ll share a little anecdote today. This isn’t typical of this blog; I don’t normally share personal stories, and focus strictly on my thoughts about the Tarot. But some of you may be wondering,* why does this guy who calls himself the Sentinel use the Tarot? How did it all begin? Well, I’m feeling more open today than usual, so here it is: how I was introduced to the Tarot.
One thing you should probably know about me to appreciate this story: I was born on Halloween. It is my favorite holiday. I like everything about it: the decorations, the stories, the other-worldliness of it all. Even as I grow older, I still really enjoy the costumes. I like to get creative with them. It’s one evening where everyone dresses up as someone else. I like pretending to be someone else, and I like interacting with others who do the same. It really is a night of mischief, and I fit right in.
A little less than two years ago (as of this writing), Halloween was approaching, and I was suddenly struck with a great idea for a costume that I’d never seen anyone do before…
Another thing you should probably know about me to appreciate this story: I really enjoy kick-ass rock n’ roll. One of my favorite classic rock bands is Led Zeppelin (most classic rock fans ought to feel the same way). They are like the alchemy of the rock music world, with the four individual members coming together to create something that is all of them, yet distinct from any one of them. Led Zeppelin is the Quintessence of Rock Music.
The liner notes of the CD for Led Zeppelin IV contain the lyrics to only one song from the album – “Stairway to Heaven” – which are accompanied by a drawing of a strange old man standing on the peak of a mountain, leaning on a staff in one hand, holding a lantern aloft in the other, and dressed in a hooded robe. You’ve probably seen him on the grungy t-shirts and posters of your stoned classmates in high school.
I was going to be the “Stairway to Heaven Guy” for Halloween.
It was such a subtle, simple costume, too. All I would need was a staff, lantern, and robe. But it would seem so much more elaborate than it really was because of the props (by the way, my lantern was real, with a candle in it, and I attached a hook to my staff from which to hang the lamp, so I wouldn’t be forced to have my hands full all night).
But I was curious. What the hell was this mysterious character, anyway?
Some brief internet research led me to discover the existence of Card number IX of the Rider Tarot, the Hermit (thanks again to aeclectic.net). I read a little bit about him, and was like, “Yeah, that sounds about right. This is my guy.” I really identified with him.
That Halloween was great. Only two people recognized me as the Stairway Guy (one of whom came up to me, singing the song in an impressive impersonation of Robert Plant). But the guesses other people came up with were fantastic, even though they were not what I’d intended. I was not surprised to hear Gandalf; I did not expect – and was disappointed – to hear Dumbledore. I mean, really? I guess he is a wizard, and I looked like a wizard. I was called a wizard many times that night.**
I was impressed to hear another Lord of the Rings reference from far out of left field: The Gatekeeper of Bree who let the hobbits in and was later trampled by the Black Riders. I heard Death, and the Grim Reaper, and my personal favorite, Charon the ferryman across the River Styx.
This is why it was such a great costume. It was meant to be something specific, but it looks mysteriously generic enough to be any number of things, and it left an impression on everyone. I could learn a tiny bit about a person’s interests just from their guess of my costume. And if anyone automatically got the Zeppelin reference, they were the winners of the night (like I said, there were only two who got it off the bat, although most people had that “aha” moment when I explained it to them). Not to mention, the lantern was a big hit with everyone, especially when I would offer to light peoples’ smokes with it.
Not a single person guessed the Hermit. But at that time, even though I was aware of the Hermit’s existence, I was the Stairway to Heaven Guy, not the Hermit.
It took me more than a year to revisit my initial research on the Stairway Guy. I never forgot the Tarot, and was certainly curious to learn more about it. I suppose that everyone has to come to really connect with it on their own terms and in their own time, though. When I did, I was floored. I soon picked up on the mythic archetypes latent in the cards, which was and still is a major area of interest to me. It wasn’t long after I made that vital connection that I finally picked up my first deck of Tarot cards (a Radiant RWS) in a local metaphysical shop.
So in a roundabout sort of way, it was the Hermit, working through Led Zeppelin, who originally attracted me to the Tarot. His beacon lit my path. The rest, as they say, is history.
*Some of you might be wondering. Most of you probably are not. That’s fine, but I thought this story was worth sharing, anyway. Just a little tidbit about who I am.
**Fitting, since I am one.