I’m a little late in posting this.
A while back, I wrote about the Wheel of the Year as it pertains to the Wildwood Tarot.
Now it’s time to begin a trip around it.
The beauty of the Wheel is that you can begin your journey at any place on it. There is no established, “official” beginning or end. I’ve selected Samhain as the starting point for a couple of reasons. First of all, as any of you Wiccans or Neo-Pagans probably already know, Samhain is considered by many the “Witch’s New Year”. This pleases me, I admit, but means little to me by itself, since I am neither Wiccan nor Pagan.*
Samhain lands on the first day of November, and it is associated with death and communion with the spirit world. Naturally, most of us know the celebration today as Halloween. Of course, technically speaking, Halloween is on October 31st, or the eve of November 1st, the latter date being All-Saint’s Day in Christianity. There is an entire history on the relationship between these holidays, mainly on the syncretic attempts made by Catholics in the face of pagan (that is, old pagan) traditions to assimilate them, but I see no need to elaborate on that here. For all intents and purposes, both Halloween and All-Saints represent Samhain (and while I’ll continue to refer to Samhain throughout this post, it will always really be Halloween to me).
Halloween was also the day on which I was born, and so it quite literally marks a new year for me, as well.
But, perhaps most significantly for the subject of this blog, October represents the time when I began working with my first Tarot pack, one year ago. Not only that, but it was Halloween season the year prior when I first discovered Tarot, as I’ve written about here. Now, I don’t remember the date on which I obtained this deck (a Radiant Rider-Waite at a local metaphysical shop), but by the time Samhain rolls around the Wheel of the Year, I know that date has passed. So, in other words, I am beginning my journey around the Wildwood Wheel of the Year one year after the start of my Tarot studies, and two years after my discovery of Tarot. It has officially been a full year of intensive Tarot, and when I complete this cycle, it will be one more.
So hooray, happy birthday to me, and a happy symbolic birthday to my first Tarot deck.
But enough of that. On to business.
As I said, I’m using the Wildwood Tarot for this exercise. This is the deck that introduced me to the Wheel, and I’ve come to realize that understanding the Wheel is indispensable to fully understanding the cards. So while this and future posts will be following the Wheel, the point is to actually explore the cards within its context. The Wildwood is a fascinating non-traditional approach to the Tarot, and in working with the Wheel I hope to ultimately convey a sense of that.
Samhain marks the end of the Time of Vessels and the beginning of the Time of Stones. The days are getting colder and shorter. As the Starks are wont to say, Winter is coming.
The entire Time of Stones is represented by the Wanderer, one of the four “hub cards”. The Wanderer corresponds to the Fool of a traditional Tarot, and is therefore an apt card to kick of the yearly cycle. The Wanderer’s influence will remain present throughout the remainder of the Time of Stones. He (or she) is only really associated with Samhain insofar as Samhain is associated with the Stones.
Winter can be a very depressing time. Colorless and cold, the promise of springtime often seems remote. In many ways, the Fool is the perfect card to embody this season. He holds the promise of Spring, but nothing more. He is Zero, at a precipice, so close to the plunge, but as yet remains still. The Wanderer is literally in such a position, and across the gorge is the Wildwood. He is not actually in the Wildwood, symbolically placing him outside the rest of the pack. His connection to the suit of Stones is referenced by the big rocks, one of which almost appears to be in the grasp of the Wanderer’s right hand. These rocks are reminiscent of the Ace of Stones., which is the small card associated with this point on the Wheel.*
While the Wanderer does show up at Samhain, yet isn’t really representative of it, there are two cards which are specifically assigned to this festival. These are the Guardian (the Devil) and the Journey (Death). Keeping in mind Samhain’s connection with the dead and the otherworld, the choice of the WWT creators to use these two cards seems like an obvious one. I think most people would agree: in virtually any Tarot, the Devil and Death are the Halloween-est of all the cards.
One thing I find particularly interesting about the Wildwood is its unique spin on traditional cards. While the Devil is typically interpreted as a card of innate animal desires, and how they tempt us, the Guardian taps into our most primal fears. It is pictured as an animate bear skeleton standing on its hind legs at the mouth of a cave, but is described as being more of a bogeyman-type shapeshifter by the authors. However, despite its appearance of manifest terror, it is in reality a harmless trickster with nothing worse than a twisted sense of humor. It guards the entrance to a realm of darkness, perhaps symbolic of the subconscious.
Unlike Death, which is usually portrayed as a skeleton or grim reaper, the Journey is not anthropomorphized. The card consists of a deer skull surrounded by ravens. One large raven picks bits of flesh from the bone, and seems to look out at us from the card. The “Journey” refers of course to death. It is morbid, but we are urged to remember the fleeting nature of life and not to fear its end. Perhaps fear is the wrong word; after all, the Guardian suggests that fear is necessary for survival, and if there is no fear of death, what role would the Guardian play? Acceptance is better, I think, because whether we fear it or not, death is inevitable. But the point is to change our thoughts about death being the end. Death is only a transition, a Journey.
These cards ask us to face difficult questions as we prepare ourselves for the coming winter. In myth, winter is usually associated with death, and this makes sense. The trees and plants seem to wither and die, and many of the summertime birds and animals disappear. Even we humans tend to spend more time inside, away from the harsh elements. We turn inward literally, and are encouraged by the cards to do so figuratively, as well.
Of course, Winter isn’t here just yet, and Samhain is symbolic of a festival celebrating the final harvest of the Autumn. It is a time of somber joy, of celebrating the year’s bounty while remembering those things which have passed on to the spirit realms.
That’s all I have to say for now; I’ll add some photos of both the Guardian and the Journey to this post in a day or two.
*You may be asking yourself, because the Wheel of the Year is a Wiccan sort of thing, and El Sentinelo is not Wiccan, why does he use the Wheel? I like the concept, that’s all.
**I will not go into any sort of discussion on the small cards and court cards. There are just too many of them, and so I will stick to the major card while I study the Wheel of the Year.