The Magician, Part IV.

Read Part III here.

 

The trickster can be considered the point of origin of the story because he generates the conflict which drives it. It follows that the tricksy Juggler is the appropriate card to kick off the chain of events that is the Major Arcana. But with the Magician, another way of looking at it becomes a bit more obvious (to me) than with the Juggler: he is at the start of the sequence, because he is the creator of the world.

Now, before I continue, I need to make mention of another card which received a wardrobe change and new name with the RWS: the High Priestess.

 

When the Magician was a Juggler, the High Priestess was called the Popess, the Female Pope, or Pope Joan, which essentially established her as the female counterpart to the Pope (the Hierophant in the RWS),* and leaving the Juggler to stand alone. The High Priestess introduces a certain level of ambiguity into these relationships – she can still be partnered with the Hierophant, or she can court another card (such as the Hermit), or she can stand alone as a symbol of unfettered femininity. Or, she can pair with the Magician, a pairing with some significance, as I shall attempt to explain.

In fact, I have already explained their relationship to some degree in my post about the High Priestess, and I urge any who are reading this post to please read that one, as well. It is a relationship of binary opposites, the fundamental relationship between the numbers One and Two.

Basically, One (the Magician) and Two (the Priestess) are the primordial creative forces of the Universe, progenitors of all that ever was and will be – everything boils down to them. From a psychological perspective, this makes total sense, because we experience consciousness only through constant subliminal comparison of hypothetical opposites. Certainly everything ultimately reduces to one, but one is meaningless without two as a point of reference. They complete each other, give meaning to each other, like the yin and the yang. It’s probably also partially rooted in biology: there can be no offspring without both a father and a mother. The Magician is the Cosmic Father, and the High Priestess is the Cosmic Mother.** They are the personifications of the purely abstract notions of male and female, which are themselves symbolic of all other binary opposites.

Now, all this is technically by virtue of their numbers, and not necessarily of the characters themselves, so it could be argued that the Juggler and Popess represent these very same concepts as the Magician and Priestess. From a numerology standpoint, they absolutely do; but I think the artistic differences between the old and new help to highlight certain ideas that would otherwise have remained obscure.

The Magician is generative, and the High Priestess is receptive. The Magician may be the initial spark, but the Priestess is the incubator. We tend to think the gift must precede the receipt, but in the grand scheme of things, it really comes down to the classic conundrum of the chicken or the egg. One simply does not exist without the other.

~~~

Having established that the Magician is actually an equal, though opposite, creative force as the Priestess, the question of his position as first is raised once again. From a purely symbolic perspective, as explained in the High Priestess post linked above, his very masculinity is the answer. One precedes two, and one is considered masculine while two is feminine. Men come first, unfair though it certainly is,*** and we have been conditioned to think that way for an age. Look at any of the three Abrahamic religions which prevail in the Western world: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all bow to (the same) God the Father. They’re not the first. And whether you’re an adherent to any of these religions or not, your cultural heritage is imbued with the indelible imprint of at least one of them. Their message is not wrong; their specifics are not always right; but right or wrong, they are. It’s inescapable. We think the way we do in large part because of the people who thought before us.

It is only because the Tarot was conceived in this atmosphere that such a bias is reflected in the cards. This is true of the Marseilles just as it is of Waite’s cards. It could easily have been reversed along an alternate timeline, and it could easily be reversed now, without really upsetting the intrinsic meanings that either of these cards hold (symbolic attributions to the physical characteristics of genitalia aside, these associations of sex with numbers, or with any form of opposites for that matter, are totally arbitrary constructs). By all rights, they should both be in the first spot. But unfortunately our temporal limitations insist that one or the other has to be first, and the simple fact remains that the Magician just, well, is.

~~~

This is a perfect opportunity to make an essential point: “God” is not truly confined by gender or sex. Or rather, maybe “God”, as the Christians define him, is confined to his masculinity. But one of the reasons I continually find myself frustrated with this sort of religion is that “God” is used primarily as a name, a contrived denoting device with a capital “G”.**** This causes great confusion, because the word is not a proper noun in and of itself. There have been many gods and goddesses (lower-case “g”) since the dawn of time (that is, the awakening of consciousness). It becomes a question of whether or not any god by any name, be it God or Allah or Zeus, is really the top dog on the divine hierarchy.

When I say the Magician is God the Father, what I’m really saying is that the Magician is the demiurge. He does indeed create and manipulate the physical world, which is represented on the card by the aces upon the altar. He set up the table, he put the items in their places on it, and he moves them into their proper positions to effect the results he desires.

And yet, he still holds his wand above him, as if anything could be above him.

Your average demiurge refuses to acknowledge that he (or she) is not actually the supreme power in the Universe.***** Most of them probably honestly do not even realize it; it’s an awareness beyond their capacity, and indeed, beyond the capacity of many mortals far below them.

But the Magician knows. He knows that what he perceives as his own will is in truth the will of the Universe; that for every feat he accomplishes through his magic, he is merely a conduit for something greater; that desire and decision for him are ultimately illusions. He knows that, though earth-bound mortals may call him God, he is really only a hand of the supreme godhead.

The Magician is remarkably humble for his esteemed position. Most gods are jealous, and some are even vengeful, when their vaulted status is called into question. But though the Magician is receptive to divine influence, he is not receptive by temperament as the Priestess is. He is an active agent. It is why so many creator types do seem supreme. They harness divine energy, and they do stuff with it. The Magician may not be any more impressive than the Priestess is, but his actions certainly draw more attention than her meditations.

I liken it all to a pencil sketch: the Magician is the pencil, the Priestess is the paper, the drawing is Creation, and the artist is the higher power. Imagine for a moment that the drawing somehow developed consciousness. Doesn’t it make sense that, from its limited stance, it might view the pencil as its creator?

~~~

By himself, the Magician might remain a mere trickster, even with his new ritual attire (you didn’t really think the trickster only wears clown clothes, did you? That would be too obvious). It is only because of his relationship with the High Priestess – a relationship the Juggler does not openly share with the Popess – that he is able to ascend to the level of Creator, because man cannot become father without a mother to bear child. The potential is really there either way – the Magician does not have to be defined by the Priestess, any more than she is defined by him. But the concepts represented by her go a very long way in refining what exactly it is he stands for. It is a perfect illustration of the idea mentioned above, that One is incomprehensible without Two.

It is also a good example of the true nature of the demiurge: he may appear all-powerful, but he is not the sole power in the Universe. He just makes the flashiest show of it.

So, we can now view the first numbered card of the Major Arcana as the Trickster and the Demiurge. Could there possibly be more? You betcha.

~~~

*It’s interesting to note that the Empress and Emperor are side by side, and the Popess and Pope are on either side of them. I think that this was supposed to make a point about worldly authority versus spiritual authority during the Renaissance – the worldly being contained within the jurisdiction of the spiritual. By the time Waite was designing the RWS, this notion about the relationships between Emperors and Popes was outdated, or had at least lost much of its practical significance.

**Hajo Banzhaf refers to the Magician and the Priestess as the Heavenly Father and Mother in his book about the Tarot and the Hero’s Journey. They are not necessarily literal persons, just concepts, and they are followed by the Earthly Father and Mother, a.k.a. the Emperor and Empress.

***Institutionalized oppression is real, it takes on many forms including sexism, and it is unfair. I know this, so please don’t castrate me for stating my observations about the world around me. And, even in a patriarchal society, those who are enlightened know that true femininity cannot be extinguished. The High Priestess is a shining example of the sublime feminine power, even from her place among the shadows.

****In the NKJV Bible, any time the word “god” appears, it is actually written in the text as GOD, all caps, and it is really nothing more than a roughly-translated English placeholder for the unpronounceable tetragrammation, or true name of the Hebrew god. It is used interchangeably with LORD (if you’ve ever heard the names Yaweh or Jehovah, you’ve heard the most common attempts at phonetic verbalization of the tetragrammation). So, technically, the religious book does not actually claim that the Judeo-Christian deity’s name is God. However, its use of the word, combined with the crusade to demonize any and every other named god and goddess, has proven to be an effective way to impress the divine supremacy of this being into the minds of the masses over time. I don’t think the tetragrammation is very common knowledge to the the average self-professed Christian these days, so for all intents and purposes, their god’s name is God.

*****So, if not God, then what is the supreme power in the Universe? This post is not the place for such a discussion, so let it suffice to say that, whatever it is, it’s probably beyond our ability to define with our primitive languages. If there was a Tarot card to represent this supreme power, I would say it’s the World, although, truth be told, I don’t fully believe such a concept can be limited to a single card. If anything, the entire Tarot deck is itself the closest representation of this Universal force, and every single card is but a minute aspect of it, even the seemingly comprehensive World and the powerful demiurge Magician (and, I might add, the much maligned Devil).

 

On Divination.

I was having a discussion with a friend of mine recently on the nature of divination. It’s a subject that interests him, I know, but I also know that he doesn’t practice it regularly – in fact, he practices it far less even than I do.* So after a little chatter about Tarot cards (in particular about matching them up with scenes and characters from Star Wars and Harry Potter), I asked him: what do you really think about divination?

He told me that it “has its merits,” but that it’s also “very hazy”. It interests him as a theoretical concept, but he doesn’t put much stock into its practical application. I agreed with the point he was getting at, but I sensed that he held a different attitude about it than I did (i.e., that divination might be a foolish magical endeavor because of its haziness), so I began to explain to him why divination is hazy.

You see, divination is necessarily an inexact science (I said to him). If you could divine with any significant degree of clarity, then the cards aren’t really showing you what the future may hold; they are instead telling you what you are going to do. It’s a subtle difference. Your will counts for nothing in a world in which the future is easily and clearly deciphered. Divination as it actually is only suggests the most likely outcome based on the moment of asking. Because the future isn’t written in stone, only suggested at a moment in time, we get hazy answers.

This of course raises that sticky issue of whether or not the future is written in stone – do we humans have Free Will? After all, can free will really exist simultaneously with a pack of cards that can show the future? Wouldn’t accurate divination prove free will to be an illusion? Well, maybe. Me, I have my own views on the role free will plays in our lives, but I want to try to steer this post away from that lengthy philosophical digression.** For the purposes of the discussion at hand, all I really think I need to say is that hazy answers in divination do allow for the existence of free will, if its existence is something you need to believe.

With hazy divination you may, for example, see a potentially negative outcome. It won’t be clearly spelled out for you, but you can see some ominous signs. Because of free will, you (supposedly) have some capacity to act and avoid that outcome. But if you do so successfully, it negates the divination. Forget hazy, now it’s totally inaccurate! Can you really put any stock into divination if you can change it? What’s the point?

Of course, we want to be able to change the course of the future if a bad reading is given to us. I’m pretty sure that is the point of divination, at least for many folks, and that point assumes at least some degree of free will on the part of the querent.

As you can probably see, it becomes very easy to unravel the idea of divination once the initial thread of doubt is grasped. We want to see the future, even though knowing what the future holds deprives us of our sense of free will. When we see what we don’t like, we want to exercise that free will that we’ve just let go of in order to change that which has already been written. Assuming that you can change it after all, it means only that the divination never truly worked in the first place, and you’re right back to square one. It all becomes a big fat paradox, and the clearer the information given in the cards, the more absurdly pronounced this paradox becomes. With “haze”, it becomes easier for us to gloss over quandaries like this and chalk it up to forces beyond our comprehension.

I do not think haziness is a bad thing at all. It allows for the illusion of free will, and anyway, it keeps the Tarot interesting. It’s all about interpretation, and it’s a mental exercise. It’s not supposed to be easy; if it was, everyone would do it and there would be no skeptics. The paradox I spoke of in the previous paragraph is a little unsettling, but I don’t think it’s damning (I’ll get to why I feel this way later). There is, however, an issue I have with the implications of divination that has nothing to do with my friend’s reservations concerning haziness.

Reading the future necessarily takes your awareness away from the present. Considering that, more often than not, people approach divination with some hope of achieving eventual happiness, the very act of divining denies them that happiness by placing it somewhere in the future (or possibly the past). Happiness is abstract, and it is transitory. It’s not a “thing” that can ever be “achieved”. I believe the only way to truly be happy is to just be happy, right now.*** In other words, if you are unhappy, all divination ultimately does for you is keep the happiness you seek forever just beyond your reach.

And that is the great conundrum, at least for me: here I am, a man with a fairly extensive Tarot blog, and divination – admittedly not the only use for the cards, but easily the most prevalent – is nothing but a paradoxical, nonsensical notion that, whether it’s accurate or not, only serves to deprive me of the present moment. What gives? Am I just wasting my time? Is divination really just bullshit?

All this brings me around to a question with which I probably should have led: I’ve been using the word “divination” pretty freely, especially in the context of asking about the future, but is divination the same thing as reading the future? This question was not one I posed to my friend that evening, and it really only occurred to me later on that I should have asked it. When I mentioned divination to him, it seemed pretty obvious that he assumed I was talking about seeing the future, and so that premise was taken for granted for the remainder of the conversation. Clearly defining the word makes all the difference in the world, though, and when I continue this post, I intend to show that, while gazing into the future may indeed be a fruitless endeavor, divination doesn’t have to be.

~~~

*And for all the time I spend contemplating Tarot cards, only a relatively small portion of that is actually spent “divining”.

**At any rate, I don’t know how clearly I could communicate my thoughts on the matter of fate v. free will, because they aren’t exactly linear. I may make an attempt at some point to write a post about it in the future, because I do think it’s an important dilemma any diviner must face at some point.

***Easier said than done, to be sure.

Thoughts upon receiving my first professional reading.

Believe it or not, before last night I’d never had my cards read.

True story.

But, considering my ongoing interest in the Tarot, I decided a while ago that it’s something I should do, if for no other reason, just to see how it’s done. Last night I decided to actually go for it.

First, I stopped in the shop after work to get a feel for the place and ask a few preliminary questions. I left, promising to come back later, which of course, I did…

Before I begin to spin my yarn, though, I want to make a little side-note:

I recently purchased some runes for myself.* Despite my longtime fascination with Norse mythology, I’ve always been hesitant to actually use the runes for divinatory purposes. Last week, however, my hesitation inexplicably vanished, and I picked up a slim volume of runic definitions and a set of translucent purple stones etched with gilded symbols. They look like they fell right out of Dumbledore’s pocket.

Now, I really want to talk more about runes here, but I will refrain, because this remains a Tarot blog. Suffice it to say, I’ve branched out a bit when it comes to divination.

The runes do figure into my story, though, because I did a precursory reading with them before I left to get my Tarot reading. I wanted to know whether or not it really was a good idea to get the reading at this time. I cast three runes, and got something of a mixed message.

hpim0415
Amethyst, I think the tag said, but I don’t really know because I’m not a geologist.

The first two runes suggested a successful endeavor, but the last rune, which was in its reversed position, seemed to tell me that someone who I would otherwise have trusted was going to give me advice rooted in bias, or try to deceive me for personal gain.

Obviously, I took this to mean that the Tarot reader I spoke with earlier might not have my best interests in mind.

I was confused by the juxtaposition of this rune with the two others, and pulled one more for clarification about whether or not I should go. This rune was another positive one, suggesting fertility, and by extension, birth of new ideas (as a novice rune-caster, all of my interpretations for last night’s cast came directly from the little book I bought**). I came to the conclusion that I would take away constructive lessons from the experience, if not the reading itself, so long as I was wary of the source.

Fair enough. As a student of history, I’m no stranger to skeptical analysis of biased sources. So I poured myself a coffee mug of Irish cream as a barrier against the cold (and admittedly for a bit of liquid pseudo-courage – as I said, I’ve never done this kind of thing before, and didn’t know what to expect), drank it down, and set out on my return to the shop. As I walked, I worked on refining a question to ask the reader, something that would be real enough to give her something to work with, and would genuinely help me in the event of a good reading; in the back of my mind, though, I remembered that I was going into this for primarily academic purposes, and I braced myself for the potential drawbacks suggested by my runes.

I settled on asking about an emotional issue I’d approached my own cards with the night prior – a serious blockage that has been affecting my day-to-day mood. I failed to gain any genuine insight from my cards, though, and walked away none the wiser. What better question to pose to this strange third party I was on my way to meet than this?

~~~

I was surprised upon entering the shop to be greeted by a different woman than the one I’d consulted earlier. For a split moment, I considered asking for the woman I’d already met, but ultimately did not. I followed this new woman to the reading room, and we began.

The first thing she did (after trying to sell me psychic services that I was not interested in) was ask me if I’d ever had my cards read before. I said I hadn’t, but added that I am familiar with the cards, which was my way of subtly suggesting that I am not to be taken for a dupe. I don’t think she registered my message, though.

She told me to think of a wish and to keep it to myself. A red flag went up in my mind right there, because it suggested to me that her goal was to dazzle me with how much she could intuit from the cards, rather than actually help me to answer any questions I had brought. She then proceeded to lay out the cards in a variation of the Celtic Cross spread, telling me about myself and my troubles as she did so. She worked incredibly fast, and I could not process what the cards on the table were before she’d covered them up with new ones.

She was clearly very skilled at reading. She only had to glance at the cards to tell me what they meant. But she did not walk me through each card, and because I hardly had the chance to look at them myself, I cannot guess at how she came to these conclusions.

And she was correct about a great many things, in some cases hitting the nail right on the head. But she did not tell me anything about myself that I didn’t already know, and most things she predicted for my future were pretty generic. And because she didn’t show me how she came to these conclusions, I don’t know how much she actually drew from the cards. She claimed to be a psychic, telling me a little about my aura before I even sat down, and she asked for my birth date, so she had the information she needed for a general astrological blueprint. How do I know she wasn’t making generalizations about me from these methods? (assuming of course that these methods are even valid – which I cannot say one way or the other)

Sure, she told me that I struggle with addiction and depression, for example, but did the cards communicate that to her, or did she maybe just smell that whiskey on my breath? I’ve read enough Sherlock Holmes stories to know that you don’t need Tarot cards or supernatural abilities to tell people about themselves if you’re observant enough.

She presented me with so much information so quickly, that I had a hard time retaining it. Even now, as I write this, I’m having difficulty remembering a lot of what she told me.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. I remember quite a few things she said, but my memory of the experience is a jumbled mess overall.*** Sure, I was impressed with how much she could tell me with very little information to go on, but again, she said nothing I couldn’t have just told her myself, and I got very little in the way of advice towards solving my issues.

That is, until she gave me the advice of pissing away more of my money to get more advice.

She told me I had some serious negativity that needed immediate attention, and that the best thing I could do was drop a hundred dollars right then and there so she could meditate for me. Seriously, lady? Thanks, but no thanks. I politely declined, handed her the money I owed her for the reading, thanked her, and moved to leave the shop. Before I was out the door, though, she offered me a small, polished black stone that “absorbs negativity,” free of charge. It was a nice gesture on her part. I pocketed it and left.****

~~~

There are three things from this experience that really stuck with me afterwards. The first was what the reader had told me about my aura before she had even laid out the cards: apparently, my aura is a bright, white light, which is a sign of great inner strength and purity. Now, this made me smile, and if she wasn’t just pulling my leg, I take great comfort in it. Of course, I’m not 100% sure she wasn’t pulling my leg to flatter me and suck me in, but either way, those words remained with me.

The second was something she said to me during the reading: having faith is very important, my capacity for faith is very strong, and because of it I am able to build strong connections with other people; but I really need to figure out exactly what it is I put my faith in. I’ve written about this dilemma before; its something that I wonder about fairly often. I was thinking more about this than anything else the reader had said to me afterward (although it certainly wasn’t at the forefront of my mind beforehand – and the issue that was on my mind was left unaddressed save for some vague comments about inner turmoil). If nothing else, this reading confirmed my tentative faith in the runes, and by extension divination in general. I thought to myself, perhaps this is what I have faith in, but I immediately corrected my thoughts – I may have faith in the cards and the runes as tools, but that is all they are. No, there is something on the other side of the spiritual divide with which I am using these tools to communicate  – that is what I truly put my faith in, what I allow to guide my spiritual life. So, I go right back to my original question: what is it? Perhaps it really is beyond me to name it, and rather than distracting myself with constrictive definitions, I should just have faith. And if the “other side of the spiritual divide” ends up just being my own subconscious reflected back at me, well, what of it? Am I not also divine, by virtue of my belief in the Paradox of Magic?

The third was a particular card she laid down: the Magician (she used a Rider pack). This was one of the first cards she drew, and it was one of the very few that did not get covered by other cards as the reading progressed, almost as if he was there to watch over the reading. I don’t know what this card contributed to her interpretation – I couldn’t tell based on what she was saying to me. However, as a reader myself, I found great significance in the appearance of this card, and it went both ways. The Magician was warning both myself and the reader about the Trickster sitting directly across the table.

HPIM0240
He pointed at the both of us, as if to say to each, “Watch out for that one…”

In other words, I saw that this card was telling me about the snake-oil salesman on the other side of the table. I also saw that he was telling the reader, if she would listen, that I wasn’t exactly what I appeared to be, either – that I may have looked like I was two steps behind, when I was actually one step ahead. Why, the Magician represents the very force that put the warning rune in my hands earlier that evening. He is a close ally of mine, my patron, and I think she was too busy trying to butter me up so I’d spend more money that she missed that (not that she should have gotten that from the card, because it was a reading for me, but whatever psychic ability she possessed might have shown her, if only she had looked).

~~~

I didn’t go there to get proof that the cards work – I already know that. If I doubted, I wouldn’t spend my money, and I don’t understand the people who do. Of course, I understand that many Tarot readers have to deal with skeptics, but I don’t think that’s a reason to treat everyone who comes through the door as one. And I suppose I was a skeptic, although certainly not the skeptic she’d apparently assumed I was. I was skeptical about her, not her cards. And I was right to be.

I went there to gain a new perspective on the cards, and hopefully get some questions answered about my emotional troubles in the process, and I learned nothing about either.

In the end, however, I feel like the experience was a positive one, although I will not be going back to that shop to get my cards read again. In fact, because I study the cards myself, I don’t feel much of a desire to have someone else read them for me at all. There is one other shop in my town that does Tarot readings, though, and I think I’ll be paying them a visit in the future, just to see. Hopefully I will be able to actually learn something there.

~~~

*At some point, I intend to craft my own set of runes, but I figured I’d learn how to read with these for the time being.

**A Practical Guide to the Runes: Their Uses in Divination and Magick by Lisa Peschel, published in 1989 by Llewellyn Worldwide. That extra “K” in the word “Magick” always makes me cringe, but I let it slide this time.

***And I don’t think this is a result of the Irish cream, because my memory from both before and after the reading is very clear.

****Maybe it’s because I’m an Earth Wizard, but I tend to attract stones like that. I’ve got a small collection of them in my apartment, and I’ve never had to pay for one (not counting my new runes, of course). I call some of these “Sentinel Stones” and use them for a very specific type of magic, but like the runes, I will refrain from really going into that here.

The Hermit, Part III.

I wrapped up the previous post with some thoughts on what I think are the five fundamental elements that make up the Rider Hermit card.

To recap:

  1. Lantern
  2. Staff
  3. Robe
  4. Age
  5. Outside

I examined each of these individually, trying to analyze them and what they mean. Now I will look at them all at once, trying to piece them together like a puzzle.

I think we can conclude the following about the Hermit, based on these elements: he has lived a long life, full of colorful experiences. He is well travelled, and knows quite a bit about the ways of the world. He is a simple man, abstaining from worldly luxuries, as well as the company of his fellow man. He’s probably a bit of an eccentric, but is very intelligent. He is also incredibly spiritual, and his spirituality gives him purpose. He is a very wise man. He listens rather than speaks. He marches to the beat of his own drum, preferring to follow the road less travelled.

The lantern throws light on the nature of this road (both literally and figuratively): it leads toward enlightenment. I think his lantern represents both what he has already attained, as well as what he seeks. He follows the light of the star, yet the star is within. The quest for enlightenment is never-ending, and yet paradoxically, by simply following the path towards it, it has already been reached.*

We don’t know what made the Hermit turn his back on society. We do know (or suspect) that he is searching for something, and the search is better done alone. This suggests a search for something internal, something no one but oneself can discover. I keep tossing the word “enlightenment” around, referring to what the Hermit is after/has achieved. What does that really mean?

Enlightenment’s not easily explained. Chances are, if you could really describe enlightenment, it means you’ve already attained it, and if you’ve already attained it, you’d probably have a hard time getting folks who haven’t, to really understand what you’re talking about. I’m also not entirely sure “enlightenment” doesn’t mean something different to everyone. These are a couple more reasons for why I think the Hermit searches in solitude. There are several kinds of enlightenment: intellectual and spiritual are the first that come to my mind, and I believe these both are embodied by the Hermit. Intellectually, the Hermit strives to push the boundaries of what he knows, what he can know, by exploring and discovering the world around him. And then once he’s sure he knows something beyond a doubt, he looks for an exception. In fact, that’s what I think he’s really searching for: to learn as much as he can about anything he stumbles across during his midnight wanderings.

But in doing so, he’s also attaining spiritual enlightenment. Personally, I believe that spiritual enlightenment comes from a deep understanding that all is one. The more the Hermit explores, the more he expands his consciousness, the more he realizes that everything is connected, no matter how disparate they may seem at first glance, like the Water and Fire symbolized in the six-pointed star of his lamp.

Such is my interpretation of the Hermit from the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot. I’ve said it before: this is my favorite version of this card, and I think it does the best job of expressing the solitary wisdom of this character. I do think that, in a general sense, everything I’ve said about this card can be applied to other versions of the Hermit, but every deck has its variations, some of which are significant deviations. I will begin to examine some of these differences and what they mean for the character of the Hermit in my next part of this series.

 

*I admit, I’m only speculating, here. I can’t claim to be truly enlightened, no matter how much I would like to think I’m already on the path towards it.

 

The 8th Circle of Hell…

I’ve been steadily reading my way through Dante’s Inferno.

Currently, I’m travelling with Dante and Virgil through the 8th circle, which is itself subdivided into ten sections. I’m cowering at the edge of the section containing Thieves; we’ve recently passed through the sections containing the Hypocrites and the Perculators. The inhabitants of the section prior to those have left me haunted. This section is the fourth in the circle, and it contains Diviners and Magicians, grotesquely punished for all eternity for having the audacity to peek at God’s plan before He meant to reveal it to them.

Well, shit.

I mean, I don’t really subscribe to the Christian faith in general, let alone the medieval perspective of the early 1300s when Dante was writing. But it’s a sobering thought nonetheless to realize that I’d be condemned to the 8th circle of Hell just for playing with my Tarot cards.* There are only 9 circles. The Diviners are pretty far down the pit.

I suppose it’s something every Tarot-er probably contemplates at some point in his or her life. Whether they’re familiar with the specifics of Dante’s Hell or not, it’s no secret that practitioners of magic and divination are committing a hell-worthy trespass from the perspective of many religious folk. I’m gambling with my everlasting soul by using the Tarot (oddly fitting, I think, considering that the Tarot originated as a deck of cards for gambling).

Is it worth it?

Obviously, if I believed in Dante’s vision, it would absolutely not be worth it. And perhaps just as obviously, I don’t believe in Dante’s vision, as should be made evident by the very existence of this blasphemous blog. But there are enough shades of grey in my own worldview to merit at least a pause when confronted with something like this.

~~~

 

*The Tarot isn’t known to have existed in Dante’s time, but I suspect he’d have frowned upon it.

 

The Wheel of the Year.

It seems as though I’ve been in writer’s hibernation for a while, now. Here I am, poking my head out of my hole, squinting in the bright sunlight. Time for a stretch; shake off the cobwebs; put on the coffee. Here we go.

While I haven’t been writing, I have been reading about the Tarot and using my cards. The Council has (finally) joined me on the Tarot bandwagon, and I am no longer alone in my cartomantic practice. So I have been thinking and talking Tarot, creating exercises to help them get acquainted with their cards (which I may post on here at some point), discussing, positing theories, studying, and taking suggestions from them (they catch on quick when they want to). I’ve also been spending time getting to know my own decks, deciphering their unique nuances, and evolving my overall relationship with the cards in general. I think there will be more writing to come after this. It’s been building up inside for a while.

In particular, I’ve been really spending time with my Wildwood deck, using it for readings like I’ve never been able to before, but more importantly (I think), familiarizing myself with the Wheel of the Year.

The what?

The Wildwood Tarot is essentially composed around two separate structures. The first is that which is common to every Tarot. There are 56 minor arcana divided among four suits, numbered within each suit from ace (1) to 10, and complete with four court cards per suit; there are also 22 so-called trump cards or major arcana, 21 of which are numbered in sequence, with the addition of an unnumbered (Fool) card. In this way, the WWT is a Tarot just as any other.

The second structure underlying the WWT is known as the Wheel of the Year. Where the typical Tarot structure is essentially linear,* the Wheel of the Year (or Wheel, as I’ll henceforth be referring to it, not to be confused with Arcana X the Wheel of Fortune) is cyclical. It is the presence of this structure, co-existing with the first, which sets this Tarot apart from others.

The WWT did not invent the Wheel of the Year. This deck was inspired by the earlier Greenwood Tarot, which used (what I presume to be) the same system. I’m not positive, but I believe there are some other Tarot decks out there that also have used this or similar systems. As a spiritual concept, the idea behind the Wheel is older, predating Christianity and indeed, the Tarot itself. However, in my collection, it is through the WWT that I have become acquainted with the Wheel, and so everything I say will be in terms of that deck and its corresponding guidebook.

The Wheel of the Year is essentially based on the cycle of four seasons that is characteristic of temperate climates. Unlike astrology, which is also a wheel of the year in a sense, albeit existing in the heavens, this system is rooted in the earth. While the stars and planets operate on the same yearly cycle, the Wheel here in question is much more immediate, much more tangible, and has a much more noticeable effect on humans than its counterpart in the sky (no matter how much stock you may put into astrology), not to mention its simplicity next to all the decans, dignities, and what-have-yous of the heavens. In terms of yearly-cycle-systems, this makes the WWT more immediately accessible than other occult decks that base their attributions on astrology.

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Counterclockwise from left: Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter represented by their respective Aces.

The function of the Minor Arcana in this system is fairly straightforward, making use of the divisions inherent in traditional Tarot structure (four suits for four seasons). The suits are re-named to match the theme of the deck and reordered to follow the seasons: Arrows (Swords) for Spring; Bows (Wands) for Summer; Vessels (Cups) for Autumn; and Stones (Coins or Pentacles) for Winter. Each season begins with the Ace and King of its suit, and progresses through the remainder until the season changes. The Court cards progress separately but alongside the small cards, meaning that the time it takes to go through the four cards of the court is the same amount of time it takes to go through the ten small cards. Each season is roughly three months long, and while the guidebook doesn’t specify which cards go on which days, it’s a fairly simple matter to figure out a system that works for you. Generally speaking, a small card will encompass a little over a week, and a court card somewhere around three weeks.

For the Major Arcana, things get a little more complex. In order to understand, it helps to visualize a literal wheel with 8 spokes. These spokes represent the start or midpoint of each season, always associated with a festival (or sabbat, if you’re into that neopagan/wiccan jargon). On each spoke stands a pair of Majors. These two cards represent energies specific to the festival on which they stand, one of which is individual, and the other collective.

But that only accounts for 16 of the trumps.

Four of the remaining six trumps sit at the center or hub of the wheel, and they each represent, you guessed it, one of the seasons. The Time of Stones, for example, begins with Samhain (11/1), upon which stand the Journey (Death) and the Guardian (Devil). Halfway through the season, we reach the Winter Solstice or Yule (12/21), and here are the Great Bear (Judgement) and the Hooded Man (Hermit). The Time of Stones gives way to the Time of Arrows with the Pole Star (Star) and the Ancestor (Hierophant) at Imbolc (2/1), and the cycle starts again. However, throughout the entire season of Stones, the Wanderer, one of the four “hub cards,” is present. He (or she) represents the entire season.

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The Hub of the Wheel.

The four Elemental cards (as I personally refer to the hub cards) are the Wanderer (the Fool – Winter), the Shaman (the Magician – Spring), the World Tree (the World – Summer), and the Seer (the High Priestess – Autumn). The final two cards remaining, that are neither on a festival nor representative of a season, are the Sun of Life and the Moon on Water (the Sun and Moon, respectively). Each of these is assigned to half of the wheel, divided along the line of the Equinoxes.

So, on any given day, you have at least four cards (two Majors, one court, and one small card). On the eight festival days in the year, you have an additional two Majors.

For example, at the time of this writing,** the cards are the Sun of Life, the World Tree, the Stoat (Page of Bows), and the Ten of Bows, titled “Responsibility.” These are the very last cards of the Time of Bows, and in a couple days (8/1), we will enter the Time of Vessels, and while we’ll keep the Sun of Life for a few more weeks, the World Tree will give way to the Seer, the Stoat will hand the baton off to the Heron (King of Vessels), and the Ten of Bows will become the Ace of Vessels. Additionally, on August 1st, which is Lammas festival in the Celtic Wheel of the Year, we’ll have both the Woodward (Strength) and the Blasted Oak (Tower) to examine and celebrate.

As you can see, the Wildwood and the Wheel are structured in such a way that can be used as an interactive calendar, which is a novel use for the cards to me.*** As I progress through the year, I meditate on the meanings of the cards assigned to each day. Many people consider the WWT to be a rather dark deck, and while I don’t totally disagree, the guidebook takes a very positive and constructive stance on interpretation. As I consider the cards of the day, I remember the lessons and suggestions of the guidebook, and no darkness is ever too dark to penetrate. The result is a deck that acts as a daily spiritual guide for me, and while I realize it is completely possible to do this with any Tarot deck, I doubt any would be so thorough by virtue of its design. This is the best way to get to know the WWT. It takes a year, but I think it’ll be worth it.

I’ve been using the WWT like this since about May (the Time of Arrows), and because of it, the WWT has gradually become one of my favorite decks in my collection. As of now, it is my primary deck for personal spiritual development, and it is quickly becoming one of my best reading decks (it works surprisingly well with my Sentinel Spread).

I’ll check back from time to time with updates on my thoughts about the Wheel of the Year.

 

 

*This is a simplified generalization compared to this more accurate description of my views of the Tarot structure. What I really mean by linear in this instance is the sequential numerical progression, which, when taken in segments of 10 (or 22), is a line.

**This part of the draft is outdated, written during the final week in July, but I kept it because it was on the cusp of the change in seasons, and I liked that example. If you’re curious, the current cards as of August 27th are the Sun of Life, the Seer, the Salmon (Queen of Vessels), and the Three of Vessels, titled “Joy.”

***I love discovering new and innovative ways in which the Tarot cards can be employed. When I picked up my first pack, I never would have guessed I’d be using cards as a calendar tracking spiritual development six or seven months down the line (I also never would have imagined I’d own more than one pack). The possibilities are limitless.

The Hierophant.

I was reading Rachel Pollack’s 78 Degrees of Wisdom the other day, when I came across a statement about tradition in the chapter on the Hierophant.

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The Hierophant – CHT

A statement about tradition in the chapter about the Hierophant?! This should be absolutely no surprise, because the Hierophant is the card of tradition, of education, of orthodox religion, in a word, of institution. There are lots of statements about tradition in any writing about the Hierophant. But this was a specific statement that I’d never read before, asserting an idea I’d never thought about, and it shook me to my core.

The statement was preceded by a discussion about the modern trend of spirituality without religion. That many people in recent years have forsaken a specific religion in favor of a personalized brand of spirituality that accepts all religions, cobbling together aspects from many as they suit the individual. This sounded familiar to me; indeed, this is how I’ve been approaching spirituality for years now.

There are benefits to this, Pollack writes. People who base their spirituality on many systems tend to be more accepting, more open-minded, and generally more understanding of the human condition on a global level. This is all well and good, but there is a trade-off.

It becomes a question of focus. Faith based on many traditions can be superficial. Faith based on a single tradition, regardless of which tradition that is, has the capacity to run very deep. The statement made by Pollack that really drove this home for me was this: “While this idea opens great possibilities, many people have noted its potential for shallowness. The fact is, throughout the centuries, the great mystics have always spoken from deep within a tradition.” (Pollack, p. 56).

I didn’t like reading that. But I could not deny it. And the more I thought about it, the more I began to realize that my own spirituality has been suffering for lack of structure.

I’ve gone through many phases of spirituality throughout my life so far. With the exception of the brief stint I had with Atheism, I’ve always thought faith was very important, and an admirable quality in any person. But I’ve also always been distressed by the problems caused throughout history by people who took their faith too far at the expense of others who held a different faith. This seemed inevitable to me, however, so long as we believed that one name for God was more correct than any other. In other words, so long as we take the Hierophant’s teachings as absolute law, which many people seem to do.

My solution to this dilemma was of course to put my faith in the impersonal Universe – the All that has manifested in the minds of people over time as various gods. To name this power was to limit it, and I thought this was part of the problem. I would study the religions to see what they had to contribute, but to follow a religion itself was to suffocate the indefinable truth. To attempt to name that which cannot be named only led to failure. As I’ve said before, language is our greatest power, but also our greatest limit. Some things just cannot be put into words.

The problem is that faith is an incredibly personal thing, different from one person to the next, even if they follow the same religion. An unnamed, all-encompassing monism is just too difficult to identify with on a personal level, no matter how true it may be compared to a synthetic religious tradition. It’s hard to put your faith in a higher power if you don’t even know how to address it. Our tiny minds just can’t fathom it. For me, it worked for a while, but as the years go on, I’m finding my faith growing thinner and thinner, despite the fact that I think it’s the best way.

I do believe faith is very important. Even if it turns out that the atheists are right, and there is no higher power, faith allows us to feel like there is a purpose to this life, a reason to keep going. It’s a question we all ask, a dilemma we all face at some point in our lives. Kierkegaard, considered by many to be the father of existentialism, solved his existential crisis with the paradox of faith. And it is a paradox. It takes strength to have faith, especially when things are difficult, and especially in this day and age when it has become fashionable to believe in nothing. I feel the existential dread growing daily in my heart, and I wonder if perhaps I wouldn’t find some relief if I just relented and went back to church.

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The Pope – TdM

But is church the answer? I still live a virtuous and spiritual life without it, don’t I? At least I try. And what about the other religions? If they’re all true, which one’s the best for me? How could I possibly decide now, knowing what I’ve come to learn through years of building my own spiritual beliefs? Can tradition really be the foundation of a true and deep faith?

It’s not that I think I’ve been wrong to build my own brand of spirituality. It’s just that, without an established tradition to draw from, I am finding it more and more difficult to answer the questions I have. I thought for a moment that I’d just build my own, new tradition. But for it to really fit the definition of tradition, it would have to be much longer in the making than a couple of years. Well, doesn’t everything have to start somewhere? But let’s just say, a hundred or so years after I die, that by some miracle I will have finally succeeded in establishing a new spiritual tradition. With all the benefits of tradition come all the pitfalls that have plagued religions since the dawn on time. It will become subject to dogma, and fail just as every other religion seems to have failed. I don’t want that.

For now, I will remain floating between traditions, keeping my personal faith as best I can. I will continue to study the religions; perhaps one day something will click, and I will have found my religious niche. Until then, I will keep the tradition of the Tarot, such as it is, as my guide through these murky waters of spirituality. And if any card represents this aspect of the Tarot, it is the Hierophant.

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Tradition doesn’t have to mean religion. The Ancestor is a powerful take on the Hierophant, and she elicits ideas of tradition that pre-date any organized religion by centuries – WWT

These days, the Hierophant seems to get a bad rap. Nobody wants to be associated with the stuffy traditions of our forebears. But he does have a lesson for us: traditions have only been in place for so long because they serve a purpose. Yes, it is possible for a tradition to outlive its purpose, but to trash religion solely because it is an old-fashioned institution is unwise. We are lost, and until recently, religion has been all we had to keep us on some sort of path towards enlightenment. The Hierophant keeps the old secrets that underlie traditions, and we would do well not to forget them. He wants to share his wisdom with us; why can’t we be gracious and accept his advice? We hold the power to decide what to do with it, but we first have to listen.* If we accept the Tarot is a viable spiritual guide, we can only do so because the Hierophant has had a hand in remembering where we came from, so we can figure out where to go. He stands at an integral point along the pathway to enlightenment.

I don’t think tradition and institutionalization is the final answer to my spiritual conundrum – far from it**- but I do think that it is something I must somehow accept and understand before I can move on past it to a greater understanding of the mystery of faith. It’s like the old writer’s maxim: you must understand the rules before you’re allowed to break them. The Hierophant is there right near the beginning to teach you those rules. You can’t hope to move very far past him on the path of the Tarot without heeding his advice.

Now, Mr. Crowley thought that the Hierophant was a symbol of the old age, and that we are on the brink of a new one, with a new spirituality. I believe that he was right, and that this all-inclusive “eclectic” brand of spirituality that Pollack has noted is gaining momentum is quite possibly the beginning phases of Crowley’s New Aeon. But it all means nothing without remembering what the Hierophant stands for. If we forget the traditions of our ancestors, then no matter how accepting of others we have become, it will all be superficial, and our faith will not serve us in our darkest moments, when we need it the most. I believe that we can internalize the lessons of tradition in our personal lives while maintaining a healthy respect for the traditions of others.

With all of his knowledge of the Old, the Hierophant has the unique capacity to direct us towards the New with confidence, because he knows the present only has meaning in the context of the past. If we want to make true progress, we have to remember where we came from, otherwise we’ll just slip up and fall back to where we started anyway. If we want to build our own nontraditional brand of spirituality, we first have to listen to what the Hierophant tells us about the meaning of faith within tradition. After all, he knows more than you do about this sort of thing. He’s been doing it for a long, long time.

 

*I just realized, oddly enough, that I suggest this exact approach in my post about another card that is normally considered to be the polar opposite of the Hierophant, at least as far as morality is concerned – the Devil. It just goes to show that morality is not set in stone, nor should it be, which is one more reason why I struggle with traditional religion. Context is key.

**My soul will not be institutionalized. I have both consciously and unconsciously rebelled against the Institution my entire life (often to my detriment, I’ve realized in retrospect, but I cannot be barred from who I am). This is largely why Pollack’s comment about the Hierophant was so difficult for me to digest.