Wheel of the Year: Imbolc.

I know that it’s been a while since I’ve written when the last post I published was the previous installment of the Wheel of the Year. Has it really been seven (eight?) weeks since the solstice already? Damn.

And yes, I know I’m lagging more than a few days behind on this one, too, since Imbolc is supposed to be the first of this month.

It is winter, after all, and I certainly tend towards sluggishness this time of year. Still, I don’t like it when I go an entire month and more without posting on here. I’ll try to write a bit more in the next few weeks.

Anyway, on to business.

Imbolc is a festival marking the transition from the time of Stones to the time of Arrows – that is, from Winter to Spring. Of course, this seems like nonsense to me, because it is still very much winter ’round these parts. But I suppose I can’t deny it: even though the ice continues to form, it melts away almost as quickly. The sky remains the color of slate, but the sun is rising earlier and setting later. The White Witch’s iron grip on the land falters ever so slightly as Aslan makes his way closer each day.

The Wildwood left us last time with the Hooded Man and the Great Bear. These are cards of rest and hibernation, as well as facing difficult truths as the year comes to a close. Now it’s a new year, and it’s time to wake up. The Horn of Judgement has sounded. It’s a new day. Great, I’m ready to get going. Let’s do this!

Wait, do what? Where do we go from here?

The Ancestor (the Hierophant) greets us at the edge of this transitory  time. Though she has the body of a woman, her head is that of a stag. She is the mythical link between man and animal, remembering things long forgotten by us. After the ordeal of the Great Bear, it’s time to return to our roots; it’s time to start anew. She pounds out a rhythm with her little drum, the pulse of life, gently awakening things that lie dormant in our nature. The pulsing never really stops, but now, with hearts quiet after winter reflections, we can most easily hear it. With nowhere else to go, we follow the Ancestor as she leads us back into the forest to begin a new year.

But a return to roots is not the only thing we need. Now is an uncertain time for many, and though the sun shines longer, darkness and cold still reign. The Ancestor may be a comfort with her intuitive knowledge of the forest and our place within it. But the Wildwood is vast and overgrown, and we can easily lose our way. If we lose sight of her, if we stray far enough away that even the beat of her drum disappears from our ears, then it is easy to despair. We need more than a return to roots. We need unfailing guidance, and for this we must turn our gaze upward towards the sky. This is where to find the Pole Star (the Star), that ancient compass which has helped navigate since time immemorial. This card indicates not only guidance, but a larger perspective. The Pole Star helps to find the way through the woods, but it also reminds us how small we are in this Universe; and how we – and everything we know – are made of the same stardust. Sometimes a new perspective is all one needs to fight the darkness.

I know that star-gazing has helped diminish many of my perceived problems in the past.

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The Shaman, the Ancestor, the Pole Star, and the Ace of Arrows.

Finally, with the transition into a new season, we get a new “element” card. The Wanderer passes the baton to the Shaman (Magician). He will oversee the spring. But I think I’ll talk more about him some other time.

Anyways. Enough of Imbolc and the Wheel of the Year for one day. Hopefully as the ice continues to melt, I’ll feel inspired to write a little more often than I have lately. In the meantime, happy February.

~~~

 

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Wheel of the Year: Yule.

More widely known as the Midwinter Solstice, today is the shortest day of the year (that is, the day with the least amount of sunlight and the longest night time*). Tomorrow, the days will start getting longer again, slowly but surely. Before we know it, springtime will be here again.

But it’s not here yet. Oh no. In fact, today we find ourselves in the deepest depths of winter. It is a dark time, quite literally. Sure, we are assured that warmth and light is on its way, but we still have to bear a couple more months of dismal winter skies. The midwinter solstice festival therefore symbolizes peace and comfort in times of darkness, as well as hope for the light to come. Peace, comfort, and hope are certainly needed by many during this time.

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On the Wheel of the Year, as presented by the Wildwood Tarot, we find ourselves halfway through the time of Stones. The Wanderer continues to guide us. And on this day, it is none other than the Hooded Man, the Hermit, who greets us. He holds his lantern and his staff, lighting the way and offering support. He invites us to stay a while in his abode, to rest and warm our bones for a spell before venturing back out into the cold. He tells us that now is a time for reflection and recuperation. It is time for rest. We can do nothing else until the sun rises again.

In a grander sense, the Great Bear has a similar lesson for us. This large beast crouches atop a burial mound, guarding it. We are facing North, the quadrant associated with winter, as is evident by the constellation Ursa Major and the aurora borealis shining bright in the sky.

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The Great Bear is the 20th card of the Major Arcana, which means in more traditional decks this card would be called Judgement. Certainly the open entrance to the tomb here is reminiscent of the open graves on the Judgement card. Past this, though, it’s difficult to see how these cards are connected.

At this time, the time of rest, we can do nothing. The year is over; our seeds have been sown; our harvest has been reaped. Perhaps this is not what many think of when they hear the word “judgement”, but that is indeed what’s going on here. It is time to own up to who you are, to face the terrible polar bear with an honest heart, for good or for ill. It is time to learn from the year behind, and prepare for the year ahead. There is no turning back.

The Hooded Man offers comfort and rest, but the Great Bear reminds us that we can’t sleep forever. It’ll soon be time to wake up from winter’s reprieve.

~~~

*Assuming, of course, that you and I share a hemisphere.

My Favorite Tarot Art.

The Tarot is pretty cool. Not only is it a great tool for metaphysical tinkerings and all that, but every deck is a work of art. I have always loved art, and I think that, even if the Tarot was good for nothing else, it is worth appreciating for art’s sake.

This post is almost not fair, because in fact I like the artwork in all of my decks, and in so many more that I don’t even have – and, whether I like a particular deck or not, I have nothing but respect and awe for the artist who can accomplish such a feat. I can’t help but look with fondness upon any Tarot I stumble across, no matter how lowly its place on my subjective personal hierarchy.

But while every deck is an incredible work of art, there are certain decks that, to me, are simply exceptional. I’ve selected six of my favorites for this post.

So, without further ado (and in no particular order):

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While these cards were not randomly selected for photos, it should be borne in mind that I have many, many more than three favorites in each of these decks.

The Wildwood Tarot (art by Will Worthington). The detail in these images is amazing. They depict creatures and characters in a great, sprawling, mythical forest set in prehistoric Europe. The forest itself feels alive and sentient, and the primitive humans living on its fringes seem to live in harmony with nature, with a healthy respect/fear of it. The art is not photo-realistic by any stretch, and yet it is totally convincing. This Tarot is different from any others – it is completely original.* I don’t really mind when a Tarot breaks from tradition, but if it’s going to, and I’m going to get it, it needs to be very good, and a big part of that for me is the artwork. These cards fit the bill (and then some), and when I use them, I walk through the forest in my imagination, and that’s thanks in no small part to the artist.

~~~

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My photos do not do anything in this post justice.

The Shadowscapes Tarot (art by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law). If the Wildwood glimpses into an ancient Fanghorn-type forest, the Shadowscapes crosses the divide and depicts the Otherworld, the Realm of Faerie itself. These cards are straight up fantasy, and the artwork is unbelievable. I only wish the cards were larger so I could better lose myself in them for a while. When I first wrote about these cards, I had little to say except that the artwork is stunning, and in the time since, I still can’t seem to come up with words to match it.

~~~

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The Mary-El Tarot (art by Marie White). I could take just about any one of the cards from this deck and blow it up, frame it, and hang it on the wall, and it would seem perfectly natural as an art piece, and the normies out there would be none the wiser about its esoteric source. Furthermore, I could put up several, and I doubt anyone would realize at first look that they not only came from a pack of cards, but that all came from the same artist (assuming her signature on each piece was overlooked). The artist, quite simply, displays a mastery of her craft – that is, painting (oils? I’m not sure what exactly she used, or even if she used the same paints for every card, but it’s all hand-painted nonetheless) – showing proficiency in a very broad range of styles. The art is mythic and highly symbolic, with subtle references to Tarot tradition beautifully rendered in stunning colors.

~~~

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The Mystical Tarot (art by Giuliano Costa). I haven’t yet posted anything else about this deck (although I did sneak in a photograph of the Six of Swords in my post about the suit of Swords). A review is forthcoming, so I’ll save the bulk of my gushing for that, but suffice it to say that the artwork is, well – it’s a lot of things. Beautiful, for sure, but also surreal, even trippy (yet subtly so), and sometimes just plain weird. The crazy thing is, when something weird catches my eye, I can’t help but focus on it, and at first, I’m a little put off (such weirdness includes the creepy seahorse-creature-things that pervade the suit of Cups – I’m not sure how I feel about them). Yet, the longer I gaze at the card, the less weird it becomes. I can’t really explain it. I get the sense that, while strange to me, such things are perfectly natural in the world depicted, and I find myself sucked right in. I can’t help but like it, although it certainly wouldn’t have the same entrancing effect on me if the art was poorly executed.

Now, I never get a Tarot unless the art agrees with my sense of aesthetics. However, the Mystical Tarot is one of only two decks that I bought solely because I just loved the artwork, the second deck being…

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The Sun and Moon Tarot (art by Vanessa Decort). Compared to everything else in this post, the Sun and Moon Tarot might appear very simplistic – I’ve even heard it called childish in some reviews and forums. If you think this, I have two things to say: 1) look again, because there is way more to these cards than meets the eye, and 2) since when is simple so wrong? Sometimes less is more, and even though this Tarot lacks the immaculate detailing of all the others on this list, it is easily one of my favorites in the art category. These images are like dreams. All of the things I’ve read complaints about – the small figures against large landscapes, the faceless characters – are things that I am inexplicably drawn to. Of course, we each have our own tastes, which is great, but I certainly wouldn’t write this one off as a childish or low-brow deck. It is playful, for sure, but that’s deceptive, because underneath is a Tarot with serious implications. But that’s all beside the point of this post, isn’t it, so I’ll just leave it at this: the artwork in these cards is sublime.

~~~

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The Thoth Tarot (art by Lady Frieda Harris). And so we come to the Thoth. I can’t not include it. I always enjoyed the art of the RWS, and was fascinated by that of the TdM, but the Thoth was the first Tarot with artwork that truly blew me away. You’ll notice that neither the Rider or the Marseilles is on this list. I’ve found a few RWS and TdM derivatives with artwork that transcends the originals. No re-imagining beats the Thoth in this regard. It was unprecedented when it was first published, and it set the bar pretty high for everything that followed. The crazy thing is that these “crowded” pictures are not composed of filler – every line, shape, and color is intentional, with very specific purpose, following a very intricate structure – and the fact that these cards are genuine works of art and not just a muddled hodgepodge of esoteric symbolism is nothing short of amazing.

~~~

So those are my favorite examples of Tarot art. The runners up were the Medieval Scapini Tarot and the Aquarian Tarot. The MST was very close, but I had to cut this post off somewhere, or I’d end up just doing all of my cards. The AT, on the other hand, actually contains some of my favorite artwork. Unfortunately, some of my least favorite is in there, too, and I wanted to emphasize both the art of the individual cards and of the deck as a whole, and in my opinion, the AT does not fit the latter criteria; at least, not well enough to make the top tier.

What are your favorites? Feel free to share.

~~~

*It’s actually a reboot of the Greenwood Tarot, now out of print and highly sought after by serious collectors. I personally think the Wildwood artwork is the more compelling of the two by a long shot (no disrespect to the Greenwood’s artist).

Wheel of the Year: Samhain – Take Two.

Welp. I really dropped the ball on this one. I’d resolved a year ago to celebrate the 8 traditional Celtic seasonal festivals by blogging about the corresponding cards from the Wildwood Tarot as each festival rolled around. I began the series with Samhain, and then proceeded to miss all the rest. Here we are at Samhain once again, and so I think I’ll try, once again. I make no promises, though.

I’ll just do a quickie, since I’ve already made this post before.

Samhain (a.k.a. Halloween) marks the end of Autumn and the beginning of Winter. The Wildwood Tarot assigns Winter to the suit of Stones (Coins) and to the Wanderer (the Fool). These cards set the mood for the new season, and they are ushered in by the festival cards the Guardian (the Devil) and the Journey (Death). These are scary cards, with somber implications, but they are a necessary part of the cycle with valuable lessons to impart.

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The Guardian, the Journey, the Wanderer, and the Ace of Stones – WWT

~~~

It’s eerie how the time flies. I mean, there’s no way an entire year has passed – and yet, the calendar doesn’t lie. Perhaps the reason I let the Wheel of the Year blog idea get away from me is because I don’t really actively observe many of these festivals. I’d like to, even though I’m not a pagan; I like what they represent, and I especially like the way they are presented by the Wildwood Tarot. Halloween is, of course, an exception – I always celebrate this time of year.

~~~

A Perpetual Calendar.

The Book of Days is a hard-bound calendar that I picked up recently. It’s very nice, with thick pages that withstand lots of ink, and it’s decorated with full-color and captioned images from the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. This book is different than your average one-and-done calendar in another way, too: the days of each month are numbered, but are not assigned a weekday. This means that this particular calendar is not meant for a single year, but rather to keep track of yearly events regardless of what year it actually is. It’s marketed as a perpetual calendar to keep track of all the birthdays, anniversaries, and various other momentous occasions that take place from year to year, but I don’t care about any of that. I got it because I had in mind a better use for it: the Tarot.

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I was looking for something like this to replace the crummy old datebook in which I’d previously recorded the suggested dates for each Wildwood Tarot card (if you’re unfamiliar with the Wheel of the Year and how the Wildwood relates, you can check out my post about it here). Using green ink, I went through each page of the calendar and wrote down each card from the WWT on its respective date.

It occurred to me partway through this endeavor that I have at least one other deck with cards that can correspond with dates on a calendar: the Thoth Tarot. Using the astrological attributions for the court and small cards given in DuQuette’s book Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot (which is far more user-friendly than Crowley’s own book and includes handy charts with exactly the information I needed for this project), I sat down and wrote the cards into their respective dates alongside the Wildwood (using black ink this time to more easily differentiate between the two in my calendar). I’ve yet to tackle the issue of the Major Arcana, although I plan on working through them shortly.

The result is now I have a perpetual Tarot calendar, simultaneously keeping track of the Earthly Wheel of the Year and the Heavenly Wheel of the Zodiac, and there’s still plenty of room left over should I find another Tarot that can similarly relate to a calendar.

Now it’s a simple matter for me to look up the date and find the cards of the day. It’s a fantastic way to get to know my cards on a more intimate level, or to focus my thoughts for each day. With the Wildwood, I’ve experienced great spiritual insight already by using it like a calendar, albeit sporadically, and this will only better facilitate that. I’m interested to begin to use the Thoth in this fashion, as well. And I haven’t tried this yet, but I think it would be interesting to draw a card from a third deck at random (a daily draw) and see how it relates to the WWT and the CHT cards of its day.

Anyway, I just thought I’d share this on here in case anyone else found the idea of a Tarot calendar interesting. Fair warning, though: it’s meticulous work, and it can be somewhat tedious flipping through pages and writing down each card on its date. You have to pay attention to what you’re doing, because it’s very easy to screw up. Trust me, I know from experience.

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I found masking tape to be an adequate solution for my blunders. There’s enough showing through to remind the jackass writing to PAY ATTENTION to what he’s doing in the future.

 

Wheel of the Year: Samhain.

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.

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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.

Part VI, Fantasy Hermits.

Read Part V, on Mr. Crowley’s Hermit, here.

After examining the unique Thoth Hermit, I think it’s time to return to some more typical interpretations of this figure. Oddly enough, the Wildwood Tarot is among the least traditional Tarots I use, with only a shared fundamental structure with other decks keeping it a Tarot at all. Every Major Arcana card is renamed and redesigned, as are the suit symbols, court cards, and small cards of the Minor Arcana, and the entire thing is designed with the Wheel of the Year system in mind. With all that being said, however, the Hermit, or Hooded Man as he’s called here, is actually very similar in appearance to the Hermit of the RWS. He is among the most traditional cards in this deck.

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The Hooded Man – WWT

The Hooded Man carries a lantern and a staff, and wears a hooded robe. He’s also outside, which aligns with almost all of the elements of the card I discussed in part II of this series. The only thing missing is the appearance of advanced age, symbolized in most decks by a long, white beard. Not only can we see no beard on the Hooded Man, we can’t see his face at all. It is totally hidden by the hood. This imbues him with an aura of mystery.

His lantern and staff are unadorned by the symbols we saw in both the RWS and OWT. They are just that: a lantern and a staff. They mean more or less exactly what they mean with any other Hermit – illumination and support. Deeper symbols of the occult are left out – the Wildwood has no place for them – but the simpler symbolism of the Collective Unconscious still finds its way through. His cloak, on the other hand, is decorated with a pattern resembling holly leaves.

If you use this deck and are familiar with the Wheel of the Year, you know that the Hooded Man stands at the Winter Solstice. This is why he wears the holly pattern, and it is also why there is a holly wreath above his door (we’ll get to that door momentarily). The holly symbolizes hope because of its tenacity in the face of the cold and dark of winter, a time when most other plants have long since withered and died. The Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year; afterward, the days begin to finally grow longer once again. It is a time of darkness, yes, but more particularly it is that glimmer of light at the end of the dark tunnel. Hope is a relatively novel concept with the Hermit. So far, we’ve seen wisdom and reconciliation – enlightenment – but not so much in reference to hope. Wisdom and hope are not mutually exclusive, though; in fact, I think the symbols of hope pictured here illustrate a wisdom that comes with the experience of enduring harsh winters. Like the RWS Hermit, the Hooded Man’s lantern is a beacon of hope in the dark to those searching for the way.

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Look at that little door – WWT

The holly wreath hangs over a door which is in the side of a great tree. This tree is the Hooded Man’s abode. There is a comforting light emanating from it, and it seems warm and inviting against the snowy backdrop. It’s a quiet place of rest and recovery from the elements outside.

Nowhere in the companion book does it say so, but I believe that tree is none other than the World Tree pictured in card 21. This means that the Hooded Man lives in the metaphorical heart of the Wildwood, which is itself nothing more than a vivid mythic-forest metaphor for life in this Universe (as any good Tarot ought to be a metaphor for). It’s the same thing as implying the Hermit of the RWS hangs out with the the World Dancer. The Hooded Man is not the World Tree. He just lives there in his solitude. He lives within, yet remains without. This reminds me of that paradox of the lantern I discussed in the RWS, which he simultaneously follows yet carries. In this instance, it suggests to me consciousness amidst unconsciousness. Super-consciousness, if you will. This makes sense when you consider everything we’ve discussed about the Hermit up until this point: an endless (but not fruitless) search for wisdom towards enlightenment. The Tree is enlightenment. The Hooded Man knows where he is, and the only reason he is capable of living there is an austere lifestyle combined with the midnight urge to discover.

The only other detail on this card is the Wren perched on the Stone. Both of these have significance within the Wildwood mythos: the Stone is the emblem for the suit which is traditionally called Coins or Pentacles, and therefore represents the element Earth. The Wren is the Page of Arrows (standing in for Swords) among the Wildwood court. It symbolizes cleverness and wisdom above all else.

We’ve seen references to Fire (with all those Wands), as well as subtler references to Water in tandem with Fire (in the Star of David of the lantern). And while I haven’t mentioned it yet, Air is a big part of the Hermit, in that he is always outside, and is often atop a mountain, not to mention the number 9 being the number of intellect. Crowley has a lot of Earth references in his Hermit, but they are buried under astrological and Kabbalistic symbolism, and I didn’t feel compelled to try and explain it all in my previous post. The Hooded Man is grounded, despite his lofty spirit. And the Wren is his friend in the forest, trading secrets and reminding him that, like the holly, there are things that live and flourish in the cold when there seems to be no hope.

~~~

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Shadowscapes Tarot

The Hooded Man of the Wildwood does seem more down to earth than many other Hermits. There is a stark contrast between him and our next Hermit, the Hermit of the Shadowscapes Tarot. This Hermit’s head is firmly planted in the sky. I’ve lumped these two Hermits together in this post, because they are the two in my collection who exist in Tarot packs that present their characters in the context of deliberately-created fantasy settings. In examining them each more closely, though, I’ve found that these two examples provide some interesting points of contrast. Much of this contrast derives from the respective Earthiness and Airiness of these two cloaked figures.

 The first thing I notice about the SST Hermit is his lack of a Wand. Perhaps he needed the spare hand to climb to his precarious perch, but in any case, this staple of Hermit-dom is just not there. This Hermit is clearly young, at least in comparison to other Hermits. Not only did he reach the pinnacle without the Wand of drives and passions to lean on, he has no long white beard, and a posture bent for balance rather than under the weight of the years (is how that looks to me, anyway). He looks lithe and otherworldly.

I suspect this was an aesthetic choice on the part of Stephanie Pui-Mun Law, the artist. To balance the figure on such a pinnacle (which is a geographical feature characteristic of the Shadowscapes), a staff might seem awkward. The energy of a staff is more or less conveyed in the youth of the Hermit, but at the cost of the wisdom gained through experience. I have compared the Hermit to the Fool earlier in this series, and I want to point out the similarity of this Hermit’s position to the position of the Fool in many Tarots. This is not a typical way these two characters overlap, and in fact I find it interestingly at odds with the prudence normally attributed to this character.

The lantern is the center of focus in the guidebook. It is said to contain a captured star, and the star wants to go home. It pulls the Hermit along. He doesn’t even really know where he’s headed. He is conscious of a desire to leave society behind, though, and there is an interesting detail about how “others have been here before him”*. This young Hermit is not the first, nor will he be the last. So in a way, the wisdom of experience is in the process of being experienced here. It’s a novel approach to the Hermit, but I like it.

The Hermit stands on a pinnacle that reaches so far into the sky that there is not so much as a glimpse of the horizon which must be somewhere beneath him. The stars glow with incredible intensity and mesmerizing clarity. The light of his lantern is almost home. Even the birds soar below the feet of the Hermit. They are loons, different from the Hooded Man’s Wren, and they represent tranquility as well as familiarity with land, sea and sky (there are seashells embedded in the rock). We see a mixture of the elements as we’ve seen before, only this time in favor of the Air. Even the stone of his perch is pierced by a bubble of air. This sort of bubble appears many times throughout this deck, and they could represent any number of things. I’ve read on a forum that they could possibly represent confinement, in which case the Hermit stands above it. He has left humanity behind to chase the promise of the stars. Or, as I like to continue calling it, enlightenment.

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So far, the Hermit’s Lantern has remained the most important key to understanding the card. However, the Hermit has not always held a lantern, and this variance will be the subject of my next post in this series.

*Shadowscapes Companion, page 56.