Archive for the ‘Arthurian tarot’ Category

Lunasa, Saturday 5 August ’17   Leave a comment

One of the great pleasures of the “Great Eight” seasonal festivals on the Wheel of the Year, if you have a group to celebrate with, is the unique combination of private and community rites that can mark each season. They can merge and nourish and colour each other in subtle and provocative ways.

I’ve written here about my own recent private rite consecrating a new fire circle. Earlier today I hosted a small group rite of Lunasa.

grail-hermitCard drawn before the rite from the Arthurian Tarot: the Grail Hermit. Caitlin and John Matthews’ deck provides rich material for meditation. A partial interpretation: while group ritual is important, personal communion with the Source and its many guises is crucial to balance. I don’t need to “go anywhere” to find the Grail or the inner hermitage, but I do need to make an effort to allow them to manifest in the busy-ness of my life. I note too that some things can only be discovered and mastered alone. A group can become a distraction if its main contribution is more busy-ness and not useful centering and grounding in practice. That’s a message that’s still deeply applicable to me and my practice.

The hanging over the door of the Hermit’s hut is purple, with a golden image of the Grail on it. The royal road of true spirituality calls us to claim our spiritual identity as heirs to an inner kingdom. As with all above-below and within-without paradoxes, the apparent poverty, obscurity and simplicity of the Hermit contrast and foreshadow the spiritual wealth within. One clue: the fire burning in the clearing.

For the group rite we made space in our weaving room with looms and fibers for backdrops. Appropriate for the Weaver at the Loom, Shaper of All!

Here on the altar the firsfruits: blueberries, candles, a sheaf of grasses, corn meal and ritual objects sheltered from the weekend of rain.

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Halfway through the rite, the thunder receded, the rain stopped and the sun emerged.

Hail Lugh, hail Earth Mother. In the words of the ritual — her words — “I will nurture you … I will comfort you … I will bless you through all the days of your lives”.

Thanks to BW for composing and leading our ritual, and to those who celebrated with us.

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Matthews, John and Caitlin. Illustrated by Miranda Grey. The Arthurian Tarot. Aquarian Press, 1991; 25th anniversary edition, Connections 2015.

 

 

Sovereignty and Time   Leave a comment

sovereigntySovereignty, Lady of an inner realm which flows ceaselessly into this one, you birth, nourish and sustain us. May my deeds serve not my own will alone, but your larger shaping for the good of all. In my words here, in my deeds, thoughts, feelings and dreams, let that light and song and fire illumine where it can, whom it may.

If conditions here no longer allow for the manifold inner purposes and directions to manifest outwardly, physical life may well withdraw from one world, moving to another. Yet in spite of the uncertainty and dark despair that may arise in our hearts from time to time, this lovely, difficult, damaged world is far from exhausting its spiritual purposes.

As a sacred laboratory for experiences for many beings, and for spirit to inhabit all lives, possibilities and forms to know itself again, the world unfolds still, rich with potential. Both established forms yet with us and new ones coming into being offer choice, beauty, misery, destruction and growth. From the small to the great, from the inner to the outer, from seed and leaf to flower and fruit, through decay and transformation and renewal, it has ever been so.

True it is, that all realms touch, intermingle and answer each other. Events here send their ripples and taproots elsewhere for good and bad, and a shift there brings about a corresponding change here. The walls of the world echo. The great wonder is not that we have no influence on life, but that our influence often exceeds our knowledge. Day to day is not always the place to look for vision, though what we see elsewhere in vision and dream returns us here to labor anew.

Because that’s what makes a uni-verse, a one-turning. We are part of the work and movement of a marvelous many-faceted whole. It’s a measure of our priorities and the fading of the ancient heritage we have received and often abandoned in our pursuit of other things that many of us no longer know this in our bones, that we have to re-learn it through often bitter experience before we can begin again to make use of it to shape something better. But our cells know better, and our dis-ease may yet call us back to here and now, our suffering may still wake us to rebellion and questioning and discovery, our losses may perhaps stir us to compassion rather than endless lament and blame and surrender.

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The seed of ritual, planted. The promise of spring, uttered. The shaping of hands to make each thing happen, foretold and prefigured at the birth of each woman and man into this world, from the great family ranged behind and all around us, that family of blood and friendship and teaching in the other worlds. Ancestors, hear us.

Slowly we apprehend what is essential and what is not, the long journey fashioned and felt and followed as we abide in multitudes of forms.

For us, the essential thing is that there is everywhere a conception of the end and the beginning of a temporal period, based on the observation of biocosmic rhythms and forming part of a larger system — the system of periodic purifications (cf. purges, fasting, confession of sins, etc.) and of periodic regeneration of life. This need for a periodic regeneration seems to us of considerable significance in itself. Yet the examples that we shall presently adduce will show us something even more important, namely, that a periodic regeneration of time presupposes, in more or less explicit form — and especially in the historical civilizations — a new Creation, that is, a repetition of the cosmogonic act. And this conception of a periodic creation, i.e., of the cyclical regeneration of time, poses the problem of the abolition of “history,” the problem which is our prime concern in this essay. — Mircea Eliade, Cosmos and History.

Lady, we gather in your grove, where your blessing yields all seasons at once. You abolish time in each moment, directing us forward and back, to ends and beginning, seed and leaf and fruit and fallow time. You regenerate us constantly, your dark and bright moons, this daily sun, stars overhead — who cannot see it?

Often, we cannot. Teach us again, three by three by three.

“The Goddess of Sovereignty gives three drinks from her cup, purveying the white milk of fostering, the red milk of lordship and the dark drink of forgetfulness. These she offers successively in her aspects as Foster-Mother, Consort and Renewer” — Caitlin and John Matthews, The Arthurian Tarot, pg. 43.

Clothed in rags, we walk the streets of the cities and wastelands, forests and plains and mountains of Time.

Although now long estranged,
Man is not lost nor wholly changed.
Dis-graced he may be, yet is not dethroned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned … — J. R. R. Tolkien, “Mythopoeia”.

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“If wishes were horses, beggars would ride,”
(some wishes are horses – watch out where they stride!)
but my words are wingéd – they fly to your side
to wish you a happy New Year ’17.
It’s not for myself that I say it – I mean
may you flourish and grow, whatever the weather:
as long as we’re in this, we’re in it together.

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Image: Sovereignty.

A Winter Passage   Leave a comment

art-tarOne of the meditations for this time of year between Yule and Imbolc that I’ve set for myself deploys Caitlin Matthews’ Arthurian Tarot, a tool I’ve mentioned before on this blog. You can find a chart of the dates and cards my meditation associates with them at the end of this post.

[As promised in the post before last, I’m also reporting with this post on how well my outer and inner worlds match up with the possibility of regenerating ancient tradition.]

Working through the Major Arcana in sequence from the beginning, and using The World/The Flowering of Logres as a pivot to return to The Fool/The Seeker, the Tarot serves as an energizing and revealing series of meditations for the exact number of days between the Winter Solstice and Imbolc/Brighid’s Day, if I observe it on February 1.

The Arthurian Tarot works well for this purpose, because such use places Arthur/The Emperor on December 25, and in at least some versions of the Arthurian Mythos, Arthur was born on Christmas — he’s the Christmas King.

Thus, The Seeker sets forth on the Solstice, the day of greatest darkness — fitting for the beginning of the Journey, when almost everything seems shrouded, unknown. Though the Seeker stands on a precipice, he is not daunted, whatever the New Year brings — and in Arthur’s Court, it brings Gawain at least a deadly challenge in the form of the Green Knight. In this meditation series with the Arthurian Tarot, the Knight arrives on January 5 — fitting, since it’s the last of the Twelve Days of Christmas, and the holy feast of Theophany in the Eastern Orthodox calendar, when the divine appears to men.

With these encouraging correspondences emerging as I filled in my calendar, I felt I had sufficient personal justification to continue and to explore what this meditation series might have to offer. If you’ve worked with synchronicity at all, you know how sometimes signs can line up almost too easily. “One thing becomes another” in the realms of the Goddess, and we can lose ourselves in too-easy correspondences and mystic convergences, forgetting our initial purpose as we indulge in excessive woo-woo*. Or at least I can. Take heed, says inner guidance.

sovereigntyContinuing the series, the New Year begins with Sovereignty — a reminder that whatever the situation in the apparent world, we have the gift of being able to gaze into the other world(s) as well, using our divinely-bestowed power of double vision, and see  where true power and authority lie, and acknowledge and revere the one(s) who wield(s) them.

The Wounded King immediately follows, with the Washer at the Ford and the Cauldron coming next — all three most potent symbols and archetypes.

Yesterday was Prydwen, the ship Arthur takes to raid the Otherworld and, in at least some traditions, win the Hallows of Britain, analogous to the Four Hallows of Ireland. As the Chariot, and a card laden with challenges in the past for me, Prydwen’s appearance told me I wasn’t up to tackle either the card or the meditation sequence. Bad food had left me achy in the joints, weak, and — most telling for me of toxins in my system — facing repetitive and panicked dreams and claustrophobia on waking. The Challenger stood armed and working in full force. Worth noting in my record of this day, even if I could not meet the call to close meditation and inner work the card indicated. Bed instead.

But I also know that, as is the way of spirals, I will face it again and again in the future, and my apparent “failure” yesterday is no loss at all. It has given me valuable insight, and helped me refocus energies that have previously been scattered. Now I can identify clearly a weakness that till then I had successfully managed to deny.

Another of the quests associated with Prydwen in the Arthurian deck is Arthur’s pursuit of the giant boar Twrch Trwyth, also associated with the Underworld and the Goddess, possessed of Otherworldly treasures between his ears, and — key to me — a form of my totemic animal, and sign of a way back to the lesson still available to me whenever I am ready to take it and my Boar dances his eagerness to accompany me.

Today, though, it’s Gawain. gawain

In some senses the figure of Arthur’s nephew, the “most courteous knight”, represents for me an unmerited balance, strength and harmony. After all, I did not “pass” yesterday’s challenges of Prydwen and earn these qualities.

But as we all make this journey many times, we catch glimpses of each aspect as we proceed, arming and equipping us for the next spiral along the way. In the timeless realms, “after” can prepare us for “before.” Or to put it another way, success can bleed backward in time, if we are able to accept the gift. A vision of what is to come, of the future, and of what we already are, can sustain us through apparent disaster and despair by manifesting here what already exists on the inner planes.

More to come.

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*woo-woo: again, a technical and precise term of art.

IMAGES: Arthurian TarotGawain.

The Meditation Calendar

Dec 21: Seeker at the Solstice
Dec 22: Merlin
Dec 23: Lady of the Lake
Dec 24: Guinevere
Dec 25: Arthur – the “Christmas King”
Dec 26: Taliesin
Dec 27: The White Hart
Dec 28: Prydwen
Dec 29: Gawain
Dec 30: Grail Hermit
Dec 31: Round Table

Jan 1: Sovereignty
Jan 2: Wounded King
Jan 3: Washer at the Ford
Jan 4: Cauldron
Jan 5: Green Knight
Jan 6: Spiral Tower
Jan 7: Star
Jan 8: Moon
Jan 9: Sun
Jan 10: Sleeping Lord
Jan 11: Flowering of Logres

(Reversal and Return)

Jan 12: Sleeping Lord
Jan 13: Sun
Jan 14: Moon
Jan 15: Star
Jan 16: Tower
Jan 17: Knight
Jan 18: Cauldron
Jan 19: Washer at the Ford
Jan 20: Wounded King
Jan 21: Sovereignty
Jan 22: Round Table
Jan 23: Grail Hermit
Jan 24: Gawain
Jan 25: Prydwen
Jan 26: White Hart
Jan 27: Taliesin
Jan 28: Arthur
Jan 29: Guinevere
Jan 30: Lady of the Lake
Jan 31: Merlin
Feb 1: The Seeker at Imbolc

Grove Divination   2 comments

Over the past several days I’ve assembled the results of three forms of divination into what may seem a hodgepodge of craft but which serves the purposes I’ve felt called to work with. More about them in a minute. When even our choice of the means of divination we’ll use is itself potentially a matter for divination, we can quickly get lost in a hall of mirrors and never get out and actually do something. Turtles all the way down.

We’ll continue to make mistakes anyway, even with the best of divinatory insights. There’s small advantage in refraining from acting simply because our guidance is incomplete. It’s incomplete at the best of times. That’s not a weakness but the definition of the proper field for human action. The gods don’t want, need, or make puppets, after all. (Not most of ’em, anyway. Those that do, flee as fast as you can.) Deprive us humans of initiative and will and vision, and neither human nor divine sovereignty means much.

The first divination I already mentioned in the previous post: the turtle in our yard, crawling north. Near midsummer, a reminder of the North, of earth, of manifestation, of the vessel for all this heat and light — the realm of form. After I completed my work of mowing for the day, I spotted a fellow being on its own journey. End of story? No. Whatever we do individually, we’re also companions on the way all creatures follow, alive here in time and space. All things are themselves and signs. We, too, endlessly offer our existences as tokens, pointers, guides to others. Meaning is what we do. Our presences always carry a specific weight and effect.

One thing imprinted itself clearly in my awareness, a laugh at self. I’ve been turtle-slow to acknowledge this inner tug, this call for a grove, and to work with it. The turtle, blood warmed in solstice heat, vigorously crawled some five meters without pausing. Even I am faster than you these days, human.

The turtle or tortoise is absent from the Celtic-inspired Druid Animal Oracle, but it’s a living symbol among native peoples of North America. Turtle Island. Many tribal stories recount how turtle does its thing, swimming to the bottom and resurfacing. A guide, an opener of possibility. In the efforts of many spirit beings to create land for plant and animal life to dwell on, turtle carries on its back the earth that muskrat or duck or some other bearer brings up from the bottom. Carry the earth to us, for us, under us. Turtle carrier, guide, creature yourself, alive in this place, complete in your own being and purposes.

We could work out a new divination system following the shell markings of the turtle. The idea certainly isn’t new with me — it exists in various forms already. Anciently the Chinese oracle bones derived from turtle shells. But even as new tarot versions and re-workings of the runes and ogham make their ways into our awareness, so too does the power of all things to serve a dual potential as themselves and as symbols. We’re always ourselves, but linked as we are, we’re also more. We live and we signify.

A second divination: obstacles, multiple reversed runes, blocked energy. Taking the three divinations I performed as past, present and future, this second divination certainly outlines an accurate picture of the present. After-the-fact interpretative retrofitting of a divination? Sure … why not? Or take it as 1) existing causes, 2) materials, circumstances, contributing influences, and 3) consequences, results, practices to assist coming manifestations. Either way.

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Entering my potential grove from the northwest, and facing east. What have I let grow to block my way?

I’ve worked most with the Arthurian Tarot, so it seemed prudent to turn to this for the third divination, because I seek insight into constructing a Druid grove.

sovereignty

Sovereignty

I enter my potential grove space from the northwest, improvising an invocation and pausing at each of the quarters and then the spirit center to lay face down a card I chose by touch and guidance from the deck. I circle a second time to each quarter and pick them up and view them. Here are my cards: North — the grail king; East — Arthur; South — the Spear Maiden; West — 2 of Spears; Spirit center — Taliesin.

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Blending my two paths, dedicating each direction respectively, starting with the North, to word, thought, deed and feeling, all in the circle and presence of Sovereignty, of Spirit, I take the following reading:

 

GrailKing

Grail King

The Grail King, associated with the West, guards hidden mysteries, approachable through imagination, dream, feeling. Yet he shows up in the north, and also paired with words. He offers guidance to negotiate the path if I am alert. If I abandon a stubborn fixity and pay fluid attention to the earth, to my body, to our shared physicality, then needed energies will come for manifestation. I can help myself by writing the way, by wording my passage as I go, by welcoming, shaping, and passing along my share in the voice of awen.

Arthur, from the major arcana, occupies the traditional fourth Emperor position. The Matthews’ handbook* notes, “The primary feature of Arthur’s role is guardianship and defence of the land … His creative energy is fuelled by close Otherworld contact through the mediation of Sovereignty” (Matthews, pp. 29-30).

arthurIn the realm of thought, Air and the East, he offers a gift of dynamic strength, along with a clear reminder of where strength derives. The Matthews further observe, “Whenever he attempts to depart from his kingly responsibilities … or live a life of his own, he comes to grief” (p. 30). Once we walk a certain distance along the path, we can no longer validly make a permanent retreat from human life, much as a hermit-like withdrawal still appeals to me — has, for much of this lifetime.

The Spear Maiden, signifier for the South, “shows the way through impossible situations by her daring, often by disguise or by shape-shifting” (Matthews, pg. 78). Again, I need not insist on a particular form, but allow it to remain supple, fluid. And take boldness for my approach, not this listless, hesitant, intermittently indulgent and slothlike state that’s dogged me for over a year. Boldness fuelled by Otherworld/Innerworld contact. The work of the OBOD Ovate grade, which I entered formally at the equinox last fall with initiation, but haven’t really yet engaged.

Spears again for the West, this time the 2 of Spears. A theme’s emerging. Matthews’ text says, “The skilled organization of resources leads to the achievement of desire; intuitive synthesis; dynamic drive” (Matthews, pg. 74). South in the West: intuition, yes, but propelled by the fires of the South.

Sovereignty

2nd image of Sovereignty as a major arcanum

Finally, the Spirit-center, under Sovereignty. A fitting place for Taliesin to appear, chief of Bards, initiatory model for Druids. He represents transformation “of the mundane into the spiritual,” a worthy goal for the making and purpose of a Druid’s grove. He is ready to aid the seeker in contacting “the living wisdom of the Otherworld … [B]y prophecy and far memory, he can instruct and guide … well able to represent images to the receptive mind and forge connections in the waiting heart” (Matthews, pg. 32).

 

 

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Images: Sovereignty; Grail King; Arthur; 2nd image of Sovereignty; Taliesin.

Matthews, John and Caitlin. The Arthurian Tarot: A Hallowquest Handbook. London: Thorsons, 1995.

Arthur myghtern a ve hag a vyth — “Arthur king who was and will be”   2 comments

[This Related Post: Arthur]  [Sex, Death, Etc.: Part One | Part Two| Part Three]

Like their kindred words in the other Celtic tongues, the syllables* of this Cornish saying still echo, telling of the “Once and Future King.” They assert a living archetype of a king born in fulfillment of prophecy, a ruler recognized and granted kingship by the Lady of the Lake, a leader who struggles, fights and dies for his people. The king is the land.

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Arthur from the Matthews’ deck

Nyns yu marow Arthur myghtern. “He is not dead, king Arthur,” the story continues, but sleeps, and will wake at his country’s direst need, and return. The king is the land.

Arthurian tarot decks like John and Caitlin Matthew’s Hallowquest, Anna-Marie Ferguson’s Legend and Stephanie and Philip Carr-Gomm’s Druidcraft packs often depict the archetypal king as card 4, the Emperor. This is Arthur as anointed ruler, secure in his kingship, enthroned, crowned and robed in power.

But surely what moves us more is not merely this static image, forceful though it can be. The young Arthur, ignorant of his destiny, is also the seeker, the Fool, the first card in the deck, a numerical 0. In Ferguson’s Legend deck he is Percivale, the callow and naive youth. With both Guinevere (Welsh Gwenhwyfar, “White Shadow”) and his own sister Morgan (with several other variants of her name) he is one half of the Lovers. And at least in the Matthews’ conception, he is the Wounded King, and also the Sleeping Lord.

The progression, as in most tarot decks, is the journey of the self toward fulfillment, wisdom, self-awareness.

As a tool for Druidic meditation and ritual, the Arthurian mythos offers rich and profound material. Map our lives onto such a mythic pattern, and we can animate energies to manifest the next step on our spiritual journey. At every point we spiral. We can look at all the steps, all the places on the curves and whorls of the spiral, as potentials for us — right now. Not later. Not after we do or learn or master or win X. Now. The king who will be, but sleeps, is a potential which can guide the questing boy who will be — and who also already has been — king. What might the king say to his younger self? What gift might our older selves pass to us right now, insight or wisdom or counsel we need as we grapple with problems, as it can often feel, in the dark?

So many traditions around our planet speak in their own ways of time and space as illusions. This need not mean they are not real, but rather that we need not accept our agreement with an illusion as the last and defining word about our lives. They don’t have to be the only reality. By playing a game with time, we can slip into past or future through memory and daydream, to the point of no longer “being here” but “someplace else” instead. And we’ve all experienced this.

For we do this effortlessly, ever since childhood, a natural talent, a birthright, a skill we keep all our lives, unless it’s been largely chased away and beaten out of us by our culture, teachers, parents, our own self-limitation, habits of thought, and so on. “Head in the clouds, dreamer, impractical, unfocused”: words so many of us may have seen in school reports, job assessments, personal evaluations. Or maybe we suffer from the opposite pole, and more and more of the lightness and joy has been leached from our days through routine, day to day cares, deadlines and installments and bills and mortgages and the nightmarish hope of someday “catching up” or “getting ahead” or “arriving.” Always, it can seem, one pole or the other. But polarized things gather power. That’s why an illusion can grab and hold us. But that’s also why change and growth and exploration are also — always — possibilities. Poles hold the energy for entrapment, but also for transformation.

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The Sleeping Lord (form outlined in the hillside under the hawk)

These images and this millennium-old mythos provide a wealth of meditation seeds, portals to discovery, and material for ritual that Arthurian orders of ritual and magic explore, but which are also perfect for solitary work, too.

Arthur myghtern a ve hag a vyth can be a contemplation seed (it’s one of mine), a cue to open the imagination to possibility. (I use it as a tool, a charm, a spell, a mantra of magical power. Pair it with an image, an object, an intention — intention being the flame which, I find, lights everything up.)

And if I’m willing to step across one more boundary, ritually priming myself with a “For behold: now am I ____ !” I can explore all the characters in the Arthurian realm. Taliesin-like, I can be the Green Knight, invulnerable to mortal blows, and Morgan and Merlin, Nimue and Mordred, too. What does it feel like to die as you kill your uncle-father (Shakespeare’s Hamlet knows!) in fulfillment of a prophecy from a time before your birth? What does it mean to lie asleep, waiting to fulfill a royal destiny? What part of me sleeps right now, that I can rouse if I choose? Or like Ygraine, Arthur’s mother, to carry an unborn child in my belly, a king, gestating and brooding and nourishing new and royal life from within? Or what can I see as Merlin in his cave or tower, looking up and down time itself, living backward as in T. H White’s version of the Arthurian boyhood story, The Sword in The Stone?

Then to close the rite, the meditation: “And now have I returned.” A simple formula, but helpful, to ground the meditation, to signal a shift of reality. (Return is as important as departure.) Open your eyes, and record what you experienced. In this way, over days and weeks, you build an increasingly persuasive document that can help loosen the hold of the illusion of this time, this place. Each time I sit to meditate, the pages telling of my previous journeys in front of me, the grip of illusion eases. For these two things, time and space, can be potential gifts, or they can remain prison walls. They’re a choice, if I choose them, rather than a given, if I merely accept them.

The Seeker from Matthews' deck. The Rainbow Path we're all on ...

The Seeker from Matthews’ deck. Before us all lies the Rainbow Path.

Figures as diverse as Henry Ford and physicist John Wheeler get credit for versions of the saying “Time is what keeps everything from happening at once.” It’s a way of ordering experience, making it intelligible to human consciousness. And so is space, which — to follow through on the whimsically powerful definition and construct its corollary — “keeps everything from happening here.”

Starting small, with the trick, if you will, of imaginative magic, will begin to unfasten the iron clasps around consciousness. It’s just one way, of course. Traditions in and outside of a whole range of religions and spiritual paths offer many tools and strategies for accomplishing this change, if we wish it. But these particular images and this story have spoken for a thousand years to many people, and the Arthurian drama that can be a mirror and key to our mortal and spiritual lives shows little sign of a diminishment of its power to move and inspire — and transform. Sleeper, whispers a whole nation of people inside each of us that we have been and are being today and will be someday, a multitude of selves. Sleeper, awaken to your crown and to your destiny.

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Images: Matthews’ Arthur, card 4; Matthews Sleeping Lord; Matthews’ Seeker (Fool in other decks) with three choughs (a raven-like bird) overhead.

*Note on pronunciation: The -gh- of the Cornish word myghtern “king” is essentially the same sound as in German “Bach” and close to English “h” in “aha!”: mikh-tayrn comes reasonably close for ritual purposes: AHR-thoor MIKH-tayrn ah VEH hahg ah VEETH.

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