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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Journey through My Tarot Decks: Strength

In this series of posts, I plan to discuss all of the Tarot cards in order, using a different deck for each card. This week's card is Strength (Trump 8) from The Shapeshifter Tarot by D.J. Conway and Sirona Knight, with illustrations by Lisa Hunt.

Key Words:
Finding inner strength, courage in the face of adversity

The Strength card is usually one of my favorites in any deck, and The Shapeshifter Tarot is no exception. Titled "Courage," Trump 8 depicts a part-bear, part-human woman. She has one arm around her daughter, also half-shifted.

I especially like the shapeshifter image on this card because it clearly conveys the message that the balance shown on many cards by a woman taming a wild beast is an internal balance – in other words, both the woman and beast are part of our one Self.

Among the symbols on this card are the following (from Conway/Knight):
  • Ball of light in woman's hand: ball of cosmic light, the source of her power and confidence; guiding spiritual light
  • Vines about her waist, garland around her neck, crown of flowers: she has balanced and aligned herself with all nature
  • Gold earrings and necklace: richness of heart and spirit that comes from purity of purpose
  • Circular necklace: eternal fertile womb of the Goddess shared by bear-woman "in her representation of all women."
  • Green snake at her feet: zigzag, representing the mystical labyrinthine patterns of the seeker's path
  • Water: emotions flowing free and clear
  • Robins: happiness
The woman wears a lavender cloak. I came across an interesting evaluation of the color lavender on line: "A more grown-up and cooler version of the pink of baby girls and the lighter side of purple, the color lavender is associated with genteel ladies and can evoke feelings of nostalgia or romance for women." (Source: http://desktoppub.about.com/od/choosingcolors/f/womencolors.htm). In my tarot system, pink commonly represents emotions, harmony, and sensuality. Purple can indicate power, royalty, and imagination.

The little girl wears blue, the color of spirituality, the unconscious, tranquility, truth, and thoughtfulness.

Hunt's decision to use a bear on this card is at least in part based on the way a mother bear will ferociously defend her young when they are in danger. In The Dictionary of Symbols, Jack Tresidder notes that bears typically symbolize brutal primitive force but that the she-bear also appears as a symbol of "maternal strength, care and warmth."

The Courage card is also about learning when to be gentle, when to stand your ground, and when to take fierce action for protection. It conveys the value of "gentle, controlled resistance to opposition" and suggests that "filling yourself with spiritual power can help you overcome material pressures, oppositions and attacks." (Conway/Knight)

About the deck: Chapter 1 of the book that accompanies this deck explains the underlying foundation of the deck: "Most people think of shamans and shapeshifting only as part of the cultures of North America, Africa, Siberia, and Alaska. What they do not realize is that, in the distant past, Western European cultures also practiced this spiritual art. Shapeshifting was well known there, especially among the Celtic cultures." The authors go on to acknowledge that some people "have no desire to put the time and energy required into learning shamanism but would like to understand and use the energies of Otherworld Animal Allies. This tarot deck will aid them on their path to self-understanding."

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Journey through My Tarot Decks: The Chariot

In this series of posts, I plan to discuss all of the Tarot cards in order, using a different deck for each card. This week's card is The Chariot (Trump 7) from The Ancestral Path Tarot by Julia Cuccia-Watts.

The Ancestral Path Tarot uses multi-cultural, cross-temporal images to convey the message of each card. The chariot and charioteer -- prominent in myth and history -- serve well as the key images for Trump 7, The Chariot.

In Roman times, the chariot was primarily a vehicle of war and aggression. The Chariot card can also symbolize “the System” -- governmental systems, with the dark and light lions representing negative and positive leaders.

Ultimately, our goal must be to channel aggression into self-mastery. The battle is internal, and we must bring spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical energy to bear.

The two lions on this card – one ebony and one golden – are symbols of duality and also emphasize the solar nature of the card (in astrology, the Sun rules the zodiac sign Leo, the Lion). However, in Book T, the OGD associates this card with the sign Cancer, a water sign ruled by the Moon. If we look closely at the chariot driver’s breastplate we see both solar and lunar decorations. A crescent moon forms the clasp of his cloak. Clearly both luminaries contribute to the meaning of this card.

In The New Encyclopedia of the Occult, John Michael Greer tells us that Water is negative, cool and moist – its nature is union, whereas Fire is positive, hot and dry – its nature is energy. Fire and Water are considered weakening, incompatible, and antagonistic, but the steam they produce when brought together is a force to be reckoned with.

In the following poem (written quite some time ago), I tried to express how Water and Fire might actually benefit or complement each other:

by Zanna Starr

Lion of Light
Lion of Darkness
Fire dancing across the lake of hidden emotion,
Bringing the surface to a boil
Yet deep down, the waters run cool.
Water and fire never mix
Yet fire illuminates water
And water soothes fire.
All becomes clear and calm
In light and darkness.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Journey through My Tarot Decks: The Lovers

In this series of posts, I plan to discuss all of the Tarot cards in order, using a different deck for each card. This week's card is The Lovers from Tarot of the Cat People by Karen Kuykendall.

I love cats, and I was always drawn to this deck when I saw it in shops or on line. Even so, I didn't pick it up right away. To me, there was just something "creepy" about some of the images. However, over time, the deck convinced me that we really should be together.

Tarot of the Cat People is based on a fictional world called the Outer Regions, created by artist Karen Kuykendall (1928-1998). Renowned science-fiction writer Andre Norton wrote a two-part fantasy novel based on Kuykendall‛s world – Mark of the Cat / Year of the Rat -- which I highly recommend.

In Kuykendall‛s tarot deck, the five kingdoms of the Outer Regions correspond with the Major Arcana and the four suits of the Minor Arcana. Throughout the Outer Regions, cats are loved, honored and even obeyed (just like at my house!).

In Tarot of the Cat People the Major Arcana cards belong to Vapala (Va-PAH-la), The Diamond Kingdom. This is the kingdom of the Sky People. Associated colors are sparkling whites and pastels. Earth equivalents are the Grand Canyon, Arizona, and Kenya. The people of Vapala are "formal, proud, regal ceremonious, snobbish, reserved, subtle, conservative, conformist, class-conscious, austere." Prosperous, stable, and technologically advanced, The Diamond Kingdom produces the most renowned philosophers and scholars of the Outer Regions.

Kuykendall views the Major Arcana as "the synthesis of all the cards in the deck." On Trump Six, we see lovers "enveloped in a single, all-embracing drape, symbolic of a union and harmony that is both physical and mental. The drape is loose and carefree. . . It has a circle pattern, symbolic of eternity." (Kuykendall) At the feet of the human lovers, their companion cats "echo their feelings."

The DMs (divinatory meanings) provided by Kuykendall include "Love. Beauty. Perfection. Harmony. Confidence. Trust. Honor. Beginning of a possible romance. . . The necessity of testing or of subjecting to trial." Reversed, the card can suggest "Failure to meet the test. Unreliability. Separation. Frustration in love and marriage. Interference by others. Fickleness. Untrustworthiness. Unwise plans."

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Journey through My Tarot Decks: The Hierophant

In this series of posts, I plan to discuss all of the Tarot cards in order, using a different deck for each card.

This week's card is The Hierophant (Trump 5) from the Aleister Crowley Thoth Tarot, designed by Aleister Crowley and painted by Lady Frieda Harris.

Crowley writes that The Hierophant "is the principal business, the essential, of all magical work; the uniting of the microcosm with the macrocosm."

I've always had a bit of a dislike for The Hierophant, so it is interesting to me that Crowley also writes: "Though the face of the Hierophant appears benignant and smiling. . . it is hard to deny that in the expression of the initiator is something mysterious, even sinister. He seems to be enjoying a very secret joke at somebody's expense. There is a distinctly sadistic aspect to this card. . ." (Yes, I realize this is Aleister Crowley I'm talking about here.)

Symbols mentioned by Crowley in his Book of Thoth include:
* Nine nails at the top of the card: reference to the Hebrew letter Vau, meaning a Nail
* Elephants surrounding throne: elephants are of the nature of Taurus
* Bull on which Hierophant is sitting: Taurus
* Pentagram representing dancing male child: the law of the new Aeon of the Child Horus
* Woman/girl with a sword: the Scarlet Woman in the hierarchy of the new Aeon; also represents Venus, ruler of Taurus
* Snake and dove: a reference to a verse in the Book of the Law
* Dark blue background: starry night of Nuit, from whose womb all phenomena are born
* Four beasts or Kerubs in corners: Bull Kerub is Taurus/Earth in its strongest and most balanced form
* Wand with three interlaced rings: the three Aeons of Isis, Osiris, and Horus with their interlocking magical formula

In his book The Thoth Companion, Michael Osiris Snuffin writes that The Hierophant is "a glyph of the three Thelemic Aeons. . . the initiator of the Mysteries" who "receives the force and wisdom of Chokmah and organizes and distributes it unto Chesed." Snuffin points out:
* The Hierophant is bearded, symbolic of maturity and paternal power
* His crown is the Crown of Osiris
* The crown and robe are red-orange, the color of Taurus in Atziluth
* The left hand makes the sign of esotericism and blessing
* The three figures on the card represent the three Aeons: the Hierophant is Osiris, the woman is Isis, and the child is Horus
* The child Horus has a sandal strap on his right foot, the symbol of the fifth Power of the Sphinx, to Go (the four powers of the Sphinx are to Know, to Will, to Dare, and to Keep Silent).

Snuffin tells us that The Hierophant is "an initiating priest and enlightened teacher." In a reading, the card represents instruction and exoteric knowledge. Endurance, patience, and physical labor are also characteristics of this card, qualities associated with the bull of Taurus. (Snuffin)

Reversed, The Hierophant can suggest false knowledge and mistaken beliefs, rigid religious or spiritual dogma, an unwillingness to learn or apply what has been learned, laziness, inertia, and resistance to change.

In Keywords for the Crowley Tarot, Hajo Banzhaf and Brigitte Theler write that The Hierophant often refers to trust, search for truth, experience of meaning, power of conviction, virtue, expansion of consciousness, and strength of faith. It also cautions against arrogant self-complacency and a dogmatic know-it-all attitude.

In Tarot, Mirror of the Soul, Gerd Ziegler offers the following suggestions based on The Hierophant: "Involve yourself with the teachings of spiritual masters. Seek the presence of a master or teacher. Involve yourself in groups for personal growth. Be honest, open and receptive in these groups. Pay attention to the instructions of your heart."

About the Deck: The Thoth deck was a joint project between Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) and Lady Frieda Harris (1877-1962), wife of a member of the British Parliament. Crowley wrote and sketched; Harris painted. The process took them several years. According to James Wasserman, author of Instructions for Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot Deck, Harris often painted the same card as many as eight times in an effort to produce the finest possible deck.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Oracle Card - The Phoenix Cards

For this oracle card exploration I thought I would use The Phoenix Cards by Susan Sheppard (illustrated by Toni Taylor). In the introduction to the book that accompanies this deck, we are told:
"The Phoenix Cards provide visual clues to our own inner workings and the unconscious motivations carried over from our past lives. They also reveal important information about where we are now and what our place is in this world."
Spreads provided in the book include the 7-card Past-Life Mandala spread, The Five-Star Spread, and The Four Elements Spread, which contains The Triangle of Manifestation.

The card I am sharing in this post is Number 15, the Celtic Mirror: "Darkness is transformed into light." The image on the card is taken from the back of a first century B.C. Celtic mirror, etched and patinated with bronze.

For each card, Susan Sheppard offers a description of Symbol, Place, Time, Groups, Language Groups, Appearance, Traits, and a Conclusion. We are given a considerable amount of information to help us understand the nature and history of the society or culture represented by the card.

In the Conclusion, Sheppard goes into great detail about the implications suggested by the card concerning a past life. For example, her Conclusion for the Celtic Mirror includes the following comments:
"If you chose the Celtic Mirror as a past-life symbol, you have tremendous insight into the psychology of others. Your understanding of human nature makes you especially perceptive, and a potentially gifted psychic. . .There may have been many endings and beginnings in your life. When you choose to cut someone out of your life, it will be with great finality. . .You may experiment with poetry and other types of writing with some seriousness. You have a talent for storytelling or speaking in the "voices" of other characters. . . The idea of spirits and ghosts intrigues you. You love to transform yourself into something different or entirely new. . . Your life among the ancient Celts has made you a powerful, transformative individual. You realize that in order to bring positive change in our outer world, an idea must first be born within."

In addition to my 60 Tarot decks, I own a great many oracle decks. I love these decks, but don't use them as often as I would like. Every now and then, I am going to share a card from one of these oracle decks here on the blog. I hope people will enjoy seeing cards from various decks and will gain something from the interpretations of the cards!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Journey through My Tarot Decks: The Emperor

In this series of posts, I plan to discuss all of the Tarot cards in order, using a different deck for each card.

This week's card is The Emperor (Trump IV) from Tarot of Northern Shadows (illustrations by Sylvia Gainsford, book by Howard Rodway).

Der Herrscher / The Emperor / IV
Aries. Fire.

It's hard to imagine a more appropriate Emperor for this deck than the Norse god Odin, aka Alfödr (All-father), creator of all, god of poetry, wisdom, hosts, and the dead (he lives at Valhöll, or Carrion-hall, and it was said that he could awaken the dead to learn secrets from them).

In his book Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs, John Lindow tells us that etymologically, Odin's name meant something like "leader of the possessed." In the myths he uses more than 150 alternate names -- some of which, I suspect, cannot be repeated in polite company!

With his brothers Vili and Vé, Odin created the cosmos out of the body of the proto-giant Ymir. In his Prose Edda, Snorri Sturluson writes: "[Búri] begat a son called Borr, who wedded the woman named Bestla, daughter of Bölthorn the giant; and they had three sons: one was Odin, the second Vili, the third Vé. And this is my belief, that he, Odin, with his brothers, must be ruler of heaven and earth; we hold that he must be so called; so is that man called whom we know to be mightiest and most worthy of honor, and ye do well to let him be so called."

Sylvia Gainsford has drawn Odin with his two ravens, Hugin (thought) and Munin (mind). Sturluson tells us: "The ravens sit on his shoulders and say into his ear all the tidings which they see or hear; they are called thus: Huginn and Muninn. He sends them at day break to fly about all the world, and they come back at undern meal [breakfast time]; thus he is acquainted with many tidings. Therefore men call him Raven God..." John Lindow notes that Migration Period bracteates (a type of coin) "frequently portray a figure with birds near his head, and many observers believe this motif is Odin and his ravens."

At The Emperor's feet sit two wolves, Geri and Freki, the "Ravenous Ones." According to Sturluson, Odin gives the wolves his own food. He adds: "On wine alone the weapon-noble Odin ever lives."

If you look closely at Odin, you will see that he has only one eye. The seeress of Voluspo declares: "I know where Othin's eye is hidden, deep in the wide famed well of Mimir..." This passage is usually understood to mean that Odin gave away one of his eyes to gain mystic vision.

In his right hand, Odin wields his magical spear Gungnir, made by the dwarfs. Runic symbols are engraved on the ashwood shaft. On Odin's finger he wears the ring Draupnir. Lindow describes Draupnir as an "arm ring known to magically replicate itself."

In Gainsford's drawing, Odin is wrapped in a blue-grey mantle representing the sky and clouds. The life-giving sun is the central feature on his eagle helmet, and the Nordic moon shines at his waist. His knees form snow-capped mountains with forested slopes. Note the little, tiny house down by his feet. Thus are we mere humans to the mighty grandeur that is Odin!

The Emperor calls our attention to matters of leadership, authority, and discipline. Reason and intellect take precedence over emotion, encouraging us to strive for objectives confidently and decisively. If this is not happening in our life, we may need to examine how immaturity, loss of strength, or unrealized potential play a part. We also need to consider the possibility that we are relying too much on logic and intellect where compassion and intuition are needed.

About the deck: "This Tarot portrays the roots of Norse and Celtic belief along with traditions and tales whose origins are lost in the mists of time -- shadows of a familiar dream." (Sylvia Gainsford)