Archive for the ‘Tarot’ Category

Omen Days 10-11: Moon and Star

Omen Days [ 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5-6 | 7-9 | 10-11 | 12-13 ]

Three days into the new year, and the omen for Day 10 (3 January) is a Tarot reading I did on the 1st, but put aside for other tasks. But it’s been in my attention to return to it and take another look as I post it here. Third time, or third day in this case, is the charm.

The question I posed for the reading is this: What needs our attention in the coming year?

(In light of everything in play just past the start of this new year, this innocent-seeming question already feels more than over-loaded!) But how much of our task is focus, attention to what matters, without which we scatter and “lay waste our powers”. We can see much of the past decade as a painfully clear illustration of just such a scattering. But also, a gathering and centering in response, as we belatedly come, however imperfectly, to attention.

1. Significator or Self: Moon
2. Cross or cover: 2 of Cups
3. Basis: 7 of Pentacles
4. Recent past: Ace of Cups
5. Possible Outcome: 9 of Cups
6. Near Future: 10 of Pentacles
7. Self: 10 of Wands
8. Environment: Empress
9. Hopes and Fears: Queen of Pentacles
10. Outcome: 6 of Wands

Rather than attempting a point-by-point explication now, I’ll look for an overview I’ll return to and expand on through the coming months, refining and revising my understanding.

For now, then, the Moon:

The true task of the third line [of the Tarot major arcana] is not revelation but bringing that inner ecstasy back to consciousness. The Star [the card preceding Moon] contained no road back. It shows us dwelling in the glories of darkness transformed into light. To use that light, we must pass through distortion and fear.

The Star experience lies beyond words or even form, though it implies forms emerging with the streams of water. In the moon we see this process happening, as visions, myths and images. The Moon is the card of the imagination as it moulds the energy of the Star into shapes that the consciousness can apprehend. — Pollack, Seventy-eight Degrees of Wisdom, pg. 125.

How to “use that light” and “pass through distortion and fear” seems a fitting take on a principal challenge of 2020, and a concise answer to my question for the reading: “What needs our attention in the coming year?” I’ll take up the other cards in coming posts as explications of possible ways to go about this double task.

BAM Druid Gather

“Let moon meet answering fire”

DAY 11

For Omen Day 11 (4 January), a late-arriving Christmas card featuring the Star in the East. Sometimes we seek the omen, sometimes it seeks us. They meet in a handshake, an embrace, yin and yang of incarnate experience, with us the conduits, the lightning rods, and the capacitors of what we are pleased to call “our” lives.

Could we but see the whole, these mutual seekings comprise its two halves, yin and yang, which themselves contain the characters for sun and moon. In the character simplification that mainland China pursues, yin 阴 and yang 阳 clearly display their respective elements of 月 moon and 日 sun.

Several Druid orders draw on this ancient understanding and make it a formal part of their training, instructing students to pursue the Sun path and the Moon path, with the third component, the Earth path, the synthesis energized by the interaction of the first two. And in the intermingling of Threes and Fours, those ancient symbols and numerical powers that color much of modern Druidry, we could name four paths: earth, moon, sun and stars. It’s no accident that’s where Dante’s Divine Comedy ends: l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle — “the love which moves the sun and the other stars”.

Yesterday, too, the blogpage here on Magic received five views, so the omen feels confirmed — the “messy creativity” of five-star magic.

Christmas … What’s born in us? A magical birth, the Child of Light, image of the being always being born in us as we grow and love, die and are reborn in each moment, so a post on magic, a riff on another’s post from a couple of months ago, comes together here.

The Five Counsels of Magical Living

Use what’s on hand.

The hand — four fingers of the elements, a “fifth” of spirit: the five-pointed star of magic, symbol and potency of spiritual traditions Pagan and Christian both. Always a festival celebrating something both new in the world, and always present — divinity incarnate that we can touch and see and hear. (If this world is not a holy place flush with divinity, what world is?)

For balance, I gather the four elements, ask the blessing of the fifth that is always pouring forth unasked. (The asking helps me focus.) Earth my body, water my blood, yes. Words of the old chant. But earth also in each thing, solid and durable, whether difficult or easy, manifesting itself clearly to the senses, saying I am here. Water in the blood, and in snow, rain, clouds, sky, emotion and imagination, intuition and dream, possibility flowing all around me, saying I am here. Slightly less palpable, but only slightly.

Air my breath, and also the breathing of all things on and around us, wind on my face, speech and thought hastening past, wings across the skin, a hint of vista, and distances covered in a moment by thought fast as any falcon. Air saying I am here.

And fire …

Hallow your space-time.

What is the time? We’re always checking the clock, “reading the time”, parceling out our minutes and hours. But how do we hallow it, make it holy, sacred? Do I know? Where can I find out? It doesn’t happen by itself, except insofar as being here is a holy act on its own. Necessary, beautifully necessary: but not sufficient. We get a “minimum daily requirement” of the sacred, enough to keep us breathing, our hearts beating, and the planet spinning, not enough — without our own efforts — to achieve what we’re here to achieve. Don’t know what this is? Few do, completely. Run it “to earth” as the old hunting metaphor has it — such seeking is part of achieving. It is holy, the space-time of our lives that we and the gods together weave and clothe ourselves with.

Make me ever sky-clad to spirit, so I can know its nearness

Focus (on) magic that’s already happening.

What’s already happening? Do I know? (Not from headlines, which rarely tell us what’s really happening, only its consequences. We look at mere symptoms and try to divine their causes, rather than starting with causes and working things out from there.)

Kindle a fire from “dead” trees and living flame bursts forth. Draw a breath and this body lives to move us through experience till it kindles, too, with spiritual energy. The awen is always singing. Am I listening? Where do I hear it? How can I listen more? From the deep we all bring it … How and where are we shaping it? In Annwfn, Abred, Gwynfyd, Ceugant? Where will my actions manifest? How can I improve my choosing?

Magic mirrors where my mind is, mortal and immortal merging …

Put words to it.

Name it, whisper my days. The magical journal, the blog, the diary, the impulse to record, to trace the path we’ve taken this far, is a spiritual one, whatever else may lie behind it. A good half of our naming becomes the next charm, the new spell, the in-cantation, where we sing ourselves into the Ancient Song of existence that is always arriving out of silence.

Name it and “hame” it — manifest it. The “hame”, Old English hama, is a covering, the “natural shape” of things, but also — magically — its astral form. In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf gains the epithet Greyhame or “gray mantle” for the cloak he wears. But even as it cloaks or covers him, manifesting him so that others can perceive him, it also conceals his inner nature as one of the Maiar. He is a “spirit of fire” no less than Feanor.

Words make up the golden thread that links earth and the other worlds. Sound, shape, thought, figures carved in stone or wood, printed in ink, fashioned of electrons on a screen.

Let words hame me, let me hame my words, till I can draw the magic deeper into time and space and assist it to take form. Let the Word become flesh. Resist it, and it will take form anyway, but often a nightmarish one, out of the distortions our creative use of our power to block also makes of it. We see monuments of our mis-making all around us in this present world, to temper our future makings, if we choose to learn.

Aim for and with the hame to tame it, reclaim it, see it in others, the same It.

Renew how you ground.

Unbalanced, we fumble through our hours and lives. Ungrounded, we electrocute ourselves with stress, anger, fear, dis-ease. Without a steadying spiritual practice, how can we stay earthed? We all already have a practice — it’s time to explore it more deeply, draw on it, shift it where it needs shifting, reinforce it where it needs reinforcement, grow it and cherish it.

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Pollack, Rachel. Seventy-eight Degrees of Wisdom. Element Books, 1997. (This is an omnibus edition of what were formerly published as two separate volumes.)

“On the Third Day of Samhain, My True Love Gave to Me”

Those of you on Facebook may find much valuable reflection in this 31 October ’19 Samhain post from a regular series by the Anglesey Druid Order/Urdd Derwyddon Môn in Wales. Check out the other posts, too — a very worthwhile monthly series of good insight and perspective, from a member of the Welsh Order run by the estimable Kristoffer Hughes.

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Last night before our main ritual, we performed two Ovate initiations with Mystic River Grove — Samhain being particularly appropriate for Ovate work in the inner realms, the Otherworld, the ancestors, divination, etc. We all already do considerable imaginal work, consciously or not, and while photos can help nourish that capacity, at times it also feels right to forbear from posting pictures of private ritual sites, so no images this time.

By “imaginal work”, I mean the content of imagination, dream, and visualization, as well as self-conscious association and emotional loading of experiences. We come to new experiences well-equipped by our previous ones, for ill or good, to accept or reject or transform — and all of this often happens outside of conscious awareness. It can be the task of magic and of ritual and personal work to make such things more conscious, to work more deliberately with the Cauldron of images we each carry around with us, and out of which we supply much of the color and tenor and flavor of our days. Our instinctive likings and antipathies for people, places and things spring from this “pre-loading” of consciousness, and to take charge of our own reactions and responses can serve us very well.

Rather than mechanically pursuing or fleeing things that attract or repel us, we can begin to ask whether they are for our benefit or not. Rather than assuming the attraction or repulsion lies in the person or thing, we can begin to learn that it lies in us — the external is merely a convenient channel through which those energies reach us. Because one way or another, they will — we’re open to them, we’ve invited them in some way, and placed ourselves in agreement with them. The difficult thing that can strengthen us, the seductive thing that may weaken or distract us — this is the Long Work, the magnum opus we are all engaged in: to live out the consequences of our choices, yes; but even more, to choose wisely in the first place, to choose with love and foresight and wisdom how we will spend our lives, even as everyone and everything around us is doing the same.

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A year ago I drew a personal Tarot reading for the coming year and shared it here.

With 3 of the 10 cards coming from Pentacles, resources and the physical world will be a prime focus of the year personally and for the planet. Balancing feminine energies to the mature male energies in play are an immediate aspect of the present and near future. Destiny and past influences at work, though not inevitable, are ones we have both initially set in motion and strengthened by our sharp focus on materiality. Our outer fixation on security and stability may feel reasonable, given such destabilizing forces at work. But while our hopes and dreams focused on these things are valid, pursuing them along a still-material path, even with a renewed youthful vigor, will not return us to what is stable and safe. Other directions we have recently begun to explore can prove more beneficial. We’ll see moon-like changes, darkness and light alternating in phases.

I’ll return to this in a year and see how I did.

As a take on the times, both public and private, little here should be a surprise. (Was my reading too vague, or too influenced by my own perspectives? Quite possibly both.) “Our outer fixation on security and stability may feel reasonable … but pursuing them along a still-material path, even with a renewed youthful vigor, will not return us to what is stable and safe”. I take this most of all as a guide for my own focus: anything I wish to manifest outwardly rises from within, and that is where it is easier, more prudent and far-ranging to work, to spend my energies and time. Whether my region, my nation, my planet chooses to do that is much more out of my hands, unless I opt to engage it through a very large gesture. I could — so could each of us — but most of us will not, through a combination of inertia, distraction and providence. We see such radical gestures —  in the U.S., often accompanied by guns — from people who despair of any other avenue for change, or outcome.

(We always see individual actors attempting these things — check the headlines of your own country or region for the relevant political, military, cultural and economic actors at work in your spheres — but few achieve what they imagine they are pursuing. To look for a moment at my own country, whether Donald Trump or Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders or Joseph Biden becomes president in 2020, most of the issues we face right now will still remain for us to deal with. A change of one face, or even of the faces clustered around that one face, will not easily shift large causes we have already set in motion over time. As egregores of particular vigor, nations have karma, too.)

As for personal applicability of the reading, I find in it valuable reminders of long-term trends and tendencies in my own behavior and outlook that I continue to grapple with and learn from. (Want to know what these are? You have only to read what I’ve been posting here all along!)

Consider doing your own divination, with your preferred oracle. Most of us are already doing this anyway: among our chosen oracles might be a best friend, partner, coin toss, stock market report, a horoscope, whim, toss of the dice, impulse, and so on.

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So — onward to a reading for the coming year, with the Celtic Cross spread. I make frequent references below to Rachel Pollack’s excellent 78 Degrees of Wisdom: A Book of Tarot, Thorsons/Element, 1997, both because many value her insights, and also because they offer me a corrective to my own biases.

celtic-cross-layout-240x3001: Ace of Wands (reversed) — the present, the Self, the querent’s state of mind.

2: 10 of Cups — the immediate influence, problem, challenge, etc.

3: Hanged Man (reversed) — destiny — in some spreads placed above as the “crown” of past experiences.

4: King of Pentacles — distant past, or some spreads, the future.

5: Page of Cups — recent past, or conscious focus.

6: King of Wands — future influence; or the unconscious, the underlying or the true driving force of a situation.

7: 7 of Cups (reversed) — The querent; the querent’s self-perceptions.

8: Knight of Pentacles — external influences.

9: 8 of Wands — inner emotions.

10: Temperance — outcome or final result.

Wands01Wands and Cups predominate in this spread — for me, a reminder of the need to balance fire energy with water, active with receptive, conscious with intuitive. Always good advice! But how might that work, more specifically? How do we “grasp” the fire of Ace of Wands? What “hand” or means do we use? Rachel Pollack in her magisterial 78 Degrees of Wisdom comments: “At the beginning of some situation, no card could signal a better start” (pg. 183). I take reversed simply to mean the challenges attendant on manifesting the energy of a card, or missing the opportunity it brings. The “crossing card” of the 10 of Cups is a Grail, the completing or fulfilling Cup — a balance to the fire of Wands. The third card, a reversed Hanged Man, to me signifies that every time I ignore shamanic, yogic, inner wisdom, I miss the insight of inner experience.

The four elements suggested by the shape of the hanged figure can serve our spiritual intention only when they are in the service of spirit: allowed to be fully themselves, not distorted through social expectation, but liberated from it. Given my age in this incarnation, the personal applicability of Card 4, the King of Pentacles, suggests past (even past-life) successes, which could lead to present complacency, which the fire of wands should help allay. The figure’s greenness in this deck also suggests the natural world. Moving on, Pollack comments that “the Pages all have a student quality” (pg. 192), suggesting that from the Page of Cups issues an appropriateness for a study program or course of discipline to develop intuition or psychic/inner awareness.

While Court cards like the King of Wands suggest people who exert influence in the querent’s life, they can just as well signify aspects of the querent, and also need not be associated with expected gender: male doesn’t have to mean “man”, but a kind of energy (now clouded and confused by our current political correctness, of course, but no more than at other times, with their own preconceptions and misunderstandings) — Angela Merkel or Lady Gaga, Elizabeth Warren or my wife.

The “final four”: for the 7 of Cups, Pollack insightful notes, “it is a mistake to think that daydreams are meaningless because of their content; on the contrary, they often spring from deep psychological needs and images. [But] they lack meaning because they do not connect to anything outside themselves” (pg. 198). The reversed Knight of Pentacles, Pollack suggests, offers a paradox inherent in Knight, even not reversed: “deeply grounded in, yet unaware of, the magic beneath him, he identifies himself with his functions. He needs to discover the real source of his strength, within himself and in life” (pg. 238). The 8 of Wands suggests completion of a cycle, “the addition of Pentacles’ grounding to Wands’ energy” (Pollack, pg. 172), and I’m finishing my 60th year, the fifth of a series of 12-year cycles, significant on the other path I also follow.

The outcome of all these forces and influences, in play for the year, the self, the world?

14-Temperance Temperance — and yet again, Pollack proves insightful. “If a reading shows a person split between say, Wands and Cups, activity and passivity … then Temperance, moderation, and acting from an inner sense of life, can give a clue to bringing these together” (pg. 109).

Adding the digits of its number 14, Temperance is a higher harmonic of 5, the Hierophant. We live in an era that has increasingly often rejected priests or outer spiritual authorities over our lives, so “perhaps the interpretation of the Hierophant as representing secret doctrines suits our age better. For then the doctrine does not tell us what to do, but instead gives us direction to begin working on ourselves” (pg. 55).

This reading suggests much of value to me, but also of value to our nation and planet. The perennial spiritual quest remains perennial, because we always will need the springs and founts of wisdom to be found in the quest.

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Walking the Major Arcana, Part 7

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6| Part 7]

The final post in this series encompasses four cards — The Moon, the Sun, The Judgment and The World.

In spiritual traditions that focus on the inner journey and provide recognizable descriptions to note along the way, the Sun and Moon worlds can be markers of non-physical travel. Of course, we can understand the entire Major Arcana in similar terms — signposts of the journey of the Fool on the way to wisdom.

The MOON

18-MoonWhile different creatures may appear on this card,  The Moon itself suggests latency. This is a realm or stage of potential, of possibility not yet manifest in the physical world. On this traditional card, 15 yods (the Hebrew y: Hebrew letter Yud Rashi.png) appear beneath the Moon — a source of perplexity and confusion on numerous Tarot forums.

While anyone exploring the Tarot discovers that a wealth of symbolism and figurative meaning flourishes around each card (yod begins Hebrew words like yad “hand” and Yahweh “God”), one simple explanation is that the full moon typically appears 14 to 15 days after the new moon each month.

If you’re like me, you may persist in thinking the full moon stands at the end of the lunar cycle rather than at its middle, so part of the meaning for me of the (full) Moon is precisely that cyclical flow of energies in the physical world. Completion of one cycle flows endlessly into the next. (You can also contemplate links to other cards which feature yods. In the Major Arcana, that includes the Tower.)

The Seeker arrives at Moon consciousness and benefits from its fullness, you could say, but this stage, like all the others, is a way-station and not a final destination.

What potentials lie in me that I may not recognize, but can manifest? What fullness or completion in my life indicates not a final arrival, or an opportunity to slip into passivity or lethargy, but a chance to initiate a new cycle? How can I take advantage of a crest in energy to launch this new venture, rather than waiting till the energy subsides, and change is harder to bring about?

The SUN

19-SunUnlike the Moon, the Sun features a human figure, naked and on horseback, with arms spread wide. Four sunflowers rise from what looks like a garden wall — the four elements under the light of the Sun. If we choose to call this mounted figure the Seeker or Fool, you might also choose to note that nothing is hidden — all is touched by the solar light, 11 straight sunbeams and 10 rippling ones for a total of 21, suggesting the final card of the Major Arcana, the World.

Arranging the cards in 3 rows of 7, with the Fool outside this structure as the Cosmic Traveler through its realms, the Sun is a harmonic of 12, the Hanged Man, and of 5, the Hierophant. Unlike the Moon, the Sun is indeed constant, unchanging, though mist or clouds may still interpose themselves and obscure its light. But this apparent stability and constancy is still not the end of the cycle, let alone any final arrival, but simply another stage. The illuminated human self relies on the power of its animal nature — is “naked to its influence” — yet does not need to “control” it; it holds no reins, nor requires any bit and bridle. The “horse knows the way to carry the sleigh” of the Chariot, which ends the first row of the work of the Self (and which incidentally is adorned with stars and moons). It also depicts the completion begun with the Hanged Man, whose inversion of values, or comfort with abandoning convention, has now borne fruit.

What discoveries am I “riding openly”? What does my “illumination” actually illuminate? What am I now strong enough or wise enough to invite wholeheartedly into my world or my consciousness?

JUDGEMENT

20-JudgementIf the Sun reveals all things, or signifies attainment of a certain degree of illumination, we can see Judgement echoing the Christian end of time and the resolution of events launched at Creation. Figures rise from graves or caskets at the blast from the angelic trumpet.

The sound of the awen helps us cast off deadness, old forms and scripts of action and consciousness, and enter a new creative cycle. We may feel spent from our previous efforts, and even enter a kind of death, but what is enduring in us, what we are made out of, does not abandon its nature. It cannot die, but simply changes form, entering the earth, the Underworld, the Otherworld, to rise again, reappear, re-seed itself, take new forms and shapes.

We may presume, if we even believe in any kind of immortality, that our human personalities will endure. But I find it highly unlikely that my love of raspberries, my preference for wearing greens and blues, my stubborn preference for Birkenstocks over formal footwear, even when a workplace or ceremonial dress-code demands shoes, will persist into another incarnation. Add up such minutiae of a life and you do not capture what is best and most valuable in a person, however quirkily dear and familiar such things may turn out to be for those who remember them. A few such energies may have arisen from past-life choices and experiences, or prodded me further along the Spiral, and these, if pervasive enough, may leave traces that endure into another incarnation.

What of my own judgement? What discernment or powers of discrimination have I acquired? How have I (not) deployed them? What judgments of others do I allow myself to be subject to or to shape me or my experiences?

The WORLD

21-WorldIn the Christian worldview, Judgement is the precursor to Heaven or Hell. For the Tarot, though, neither of these follows. Instead, we encounter the World. Is it the same World as in the beginning, or the place where we Fools find ourselves?

In those famous Zen terms, before enlightenment, mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers. At enlightenment, mountains are no longer mountains and rivers are no longer rivers. Something has shifted, but in the end only each individual can truly say what it is. After enlightenment, though, it’s important to continue along the way, and not be stopped by a false sense that with illumination or attainment of a degree of wisdom, life somehow stops or should cease to be life; mountains are again mountains, and rivers are again rivers. We emerge, as the Tarot has been hinting to us repeatedly, on another arm of the Spiral.

We see in this traditional card the four figures of the Gospel authors or Evangelists of the New Testament, three animals (eagle, lion, ox) and a human. (Many days, that seems to me the most accurate characterization of the experience of being human!)

As I wrote in Part 1:

So important is the animal accompanying the Fool from the outset that almost every deck includes some creature accompanying the human figure of the Fool.

Whether we see this as our animal inheritance, part of our make-up as a physical being with age-old drives and instincts, or as a guide or companion distinct from us, the dog (or three birds in the Arthurian tarot) is with us from the beginning.

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Where (I ask the wise beasts of my life) where would you like to go next on our journey?

 

Walking the Major Arcana, Part 6

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6| Part 7]

I love these next three arcana — so over-the-top! People write and talk about fearing the appearance of the Tower, or the Devil, in a spread or reading. The Star not so much, though we still invest so much emotion in all three images. I ask myself: need I fear reality? What would that even mean?

The DEVIL

15-DevilDevil’s Tower, Devil’s Hole, Devil’s Triangle, the New Jersey Devils hockey team, Devil’s Food Cake (to be distinguished from Angel Food Cake), Devil’s Advocate, even DEVILS, the Deep Extragalactic VIsible Legacy Survey. Anyone looking for mixed messages? Should we even bother to try to untangle this complex of images and associations? We just keep piling more on more.

Untangle? Absolutely! Or not so much untangle as explore.

For me, one powerful key to the Devil is his connection with the Magician, a harmonic or further spiral, 17 (7×2) removed. The hand positions of the Devil mirror the Magician’s, the right in particular matching the Hebrew letter for sh, Jewish El Shaddai Almighty God, that resembles a “W” (= Hebrew letter shin ש), the handsign that accompanies the priestly blessing, made famous in an entirely different context by Leonard Nimoy as Spock in Star Trek, as a sign for “V” for his planet Vulcan.

live_long_and_prosperThe Devil is the Magician is Us. It’s an image of the power humans have at their disposal, bend it as we will — and do. We can live long and prosper, or pervert the same power. As we all have, and no doubt will continue to do, on our long spiral journey.

Courtesy of a Judeo-Christian cultural surround and philosophical filter, citizens of European-based cultures may think of “evil” either as something non-existent (if God is “dead”, then so must the Devil be), or as a force from outside a normal, ordinary, essentially good universe. Time spent in the natural world can disabuse us of either notion: there are simply energy flows, some constructive, others contrary, and human choices often do much to amplify both kinds. (No surprise, I take it personally when I suffer, and I agitate for relief from my own particular suffering.) But both forces remain roughly balanced on the physical plane — hence a return to equilibrium in the flow of Tao that is one principal focus of Taoist practice.

We still tend to give “good” too little credit and “evil” too much, but that’s perhaps a further legacy of Puritanism and of dualistic thinking. Such over-simplification haunts American politics all too deeply, as intelligent foreign observers have long noted: Thus, on the American Left, we just don’t call it “evil” any more, but attach some other and often political label to it, as if it can be legislated away with the “right” people in office, if we can only vote out the backward, benighted, ignorant, toxic, patriarchal, gun-and-Jesus-loving, gay-bashing, hypocritical Deplorables that hold back all that is Good and True, and Progress will finally become the eternal norm. On the American Right, evil is alive and well, and successfully marketed in flavors both religious and secular, along with generous doses of paranoia, and typically describes things that snowflake Liberals, America-hating socialists, Pagan Greens, atheists, man-hating feminists, hidden-agenda homosexuals and baby-killing Darwinian believers support and advocate.

Both sides dearly love to loathe their Other. Do we all project much?!

The Christian sense that this is a “fallen” world in need of redemption compares to a Druidic sense that working with natural systems themselves can teach us how to sidestep a great deal of unnecessary grief in the first place, and wise observation and study can ease much of the unavoidable remnant that comes from living in a world subject to physical laws, time, change, aging, illness, death and rebirth. After all, it’s not humans alone, but animals, trees, mountains, our planet and the cosmos itself wear down and are renewed. “Everything She touches changes,” goes one Goddess-chant.

In the Arthurian deck, the card numbered 15 is the Green Knight. Aptly named, he is the force, as Dylan Thomas names it (links to whole poem),

that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams
Turns mine to wax.

And “answers” or elaborations to this come oftenest — you guessed it — from other bards:

To live at all is miracle enough.
The doom of nations is another thing.
Here in my hammering blood-pulse is my proof.

Let every painter paint and poet sing
And all the sons of music ply their trade;
Machines are weaker than a beetle’s wing.

Swung out of sunlight into cosmic shade,
Come what come may the imagination’s heart
Is constellation high and can’t be weighed.

Nor greed nor fear can tear our faith apart
When every heart-beat hammers out the proof
That life itself is miracle enough.

The Trappist monk and author Thomas Merton observed “Nothing has ever been said about God that hasn’t already been said better by the wind in the pine trees”. This is a “gospel in 20 words” that Druids and Christians could share.

“A church that doesn’t provoke any crises, a gospel that doesn’t unsettle, a word of God that doesn’t get under anyone’s skin, a word of God that doesn’t touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed — ​what gospel is that?” — St. Oscar Romero. How do we reconcile this healthy sense of activism with Druidry’s deep love and desire for peace? Are they actually opposed, or do they — can they — spring from the same source?

“Speaking truth to power” has never been more necessary — it’s the Magician’s power, in hands we always need to question and challenge.

Matthews’ notes in the Hallowquest handbook accompanying one edition of the deck that the Green Knight “represents the challenger whom all seekers meet on their quest. He answers questions and gives advice, but he also sets riddles and puzzles. Those who think that they know everything he leads astray and torments. His greatest desire is to be bested by a worthy opponent” (pg. 52).

The TOWER

16-TowerTowers everywhere: in the Christian West, from Babel onward. And before that, too: ziggurats and pyramids and the earliest “towers” of all — mountains. Connections with Mary Magdalene, “Mary of the Tower(s)”. For the U.S., the association with the destruction of the Twin Towers of Sept. 11, 2001. We say “Never Forget” about too many things, as though holding on to painful memory is sufficient tribute, a kind of vicarious participation. It isn’t enough, if I’m to continue the journey the Fool — I — started.

Like the frequent occurrence of Mercury in Retrograde, once you start paying attention, sometimes we just seem to be traveling through continuous “tower time”. Maybe it’s a good practice to uncouple from the Tower. Stop climbing it, sighting it in our viewfinders, walk away for a time.

But then, too, falling from a height is an old primate dream. How many of us have experienced falling dreams, or a sense of vertigo shortly before falling asleep, a sensation strong enough to startle us awake again?

Let ourselves fall, and what do we discover? All the way down, and our perspective might change.

We might see in the Tower a challenge to the ego, to the self we manufacture as an interface between ourselves and experience. In many ways the self is the Tower. Edgar Allen Poe in “The City in the Sea” writes “from a proud tower in the town/Death looks gigantically down”. (For further information, consult your amygdala [link 1link 2 | link 3].)

Is there much more to say about the Tower? Of course!

The STAR

17-StarHow many of us long for, or follow, a guiding star? Do we star in the drama of our own lives? Lucky star, rising star, star-crossed, shoot/aim for the stars — we know no lack of idioms. Has life starred certain experiences, talents, people, memories, etc. for our life-long obsession or dedication? A dis-aster is an ill-starred event. How much of our experience of imagination, emotion, vision and dream involves our starry or astral bodies?

As with the previous two arcana, this arcanum resonates in so many ways. Meditation on each of the arcana returns deepening insight, and the Star is no exception.

For Christians, associations with the Star of Bethlehem and the lore of the Magi reverberate strongly, while Revelation 12 depicts “a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars”.

Tolkien plays on this ancient cultural resonance in The Lord of the Rings with Gandalf’s recitation of a piece of lore linking Numenor with Minas Tirith in Gondor:

Tall ships and tall kings
Three times three,
What brought they from the foundered land
Over the flowing sea?
Seven stars and seven stones
And one white tree. (The Two Towers, Bk. 3/chapt. 11; “The Palantir”).

Again we see in the Card a nude figure with limbs — conscious links or connections — in more than one element. The eight eight-pointed stars connect with the seven heavens of Medieval lore, with the eighth, the region of fixed stars, above them. As a doubling of the elemental four, the Star is a higher octave of activity. Seven cards from the Hermit, it links to the cultivation of solitude and (spiritual) perception.

You might assume that reaching such an exalted state is the end of the journey. After all, Dante ends each of his three Books of the Divine Comedy — a book abounding in numerical and astrological symbolism — with reference to the stars. And the 33rd and final canto of Paradiso, the last of the three, closes like this:

ma già volgeva il mio disio e ’l velle
sì come rota ch’igualmente è mossa,
l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle.

but already my desire and will were moved,
like a wheel which equally/smoothly is moved/turned
(by) the love that moves the sun and the other stars.

But four more arcana remain for us to consider.

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IMAGE: live long and prosper;

Walking the Major Arcana, Part 5

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6| Part 7]

I’m dancing with Tarot in this series, not aspiring to any profound system of interpretation, but skating with images across a frozen pond, juggling globes of fire, listening for the music the stars make overhead.

In this, as so often on this blog, I’m listening to bards here, rather than scholars. Recall Billy Collins’ wise “Introduction to Poetry” If you don’t know it, or haven’t read it recently, take a moment right now. Try it out, as I do frequently, as an antidote to too much right-brain-ness.

The HANGED MAN

12-Hanged-ManSo what does the Hanged Man, card 12 of the Major Arcana, represent? Odin? Jesus? Both? Neither?

This kind of question, one that assumes that if you can ask it, there’s a reasonable, logical, unambiguous answer to it, reflects a confusion of planes, categories, realities, etc., that we all fall into from time to time.

“But what does it mean?” looks like an innocent query, even though it’s often anything but. Yet we keep on asking, tossing the grenade, just like we keep on believing (for a short time, anyway) anyone with enough authority to state categorically, emphatically, beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt, once-and-for-all-time, that X “means” Y. (If X “really” meant Y, they’d be the same thing, and we wouldn’t be asking the question. Or we could simply all become goddess-devotees, knowing that “one thing becomes another, in the Mother, in the Mother”, and that certain questions just have to be un-asked, if we’re to get any sleep at all.)

Something’s going on with this hanging dude, or dudette. He or she has a “fire in the head”, and looks at surprising ease all inverted there, suspended on a tau-cross, like some gnostic St. Peter, who asked to be crucified upside-down, so as not to aspire to equal honor with his Master. (Invert that sh*t, says the imp in me.)

Then, too, we have the figure 4 the legs make, about which much ink has been spilled. (Run with half a dozen interpretations as long as they last, and report back to your cerebellum at the conclusion.)

Certainly I’m a hanged one, as are you — we all are, at least at times. In Matthews’ Arthurian deck, the card is the Wounded King, the ruler of a wasteland in need of healing and restoration.

W. B. Yeats of Golden Dawn fame knew this — the Tarot features largely in the Golden Dawn ritual and symbolism — and Yeats gave himself the magical name Daemon est Deus Inversus, abbreviated DEDI (which not too incidentally is Latin for “I gave”). Demon is God upside-down. Or vice versa. For more than you want to know about the name and its significance, here’s just one of the links Google will offer you, should you opt to enter the phrase (and you should, as a form of spiritual roulette) in that innocent-seeming search box:

Iamblichus’s doctrine that the immortal soul becomes mortal is puzzling for Platonic scholars. According to Iamblichus, the embodied soul not only becomes mortal; as human, it also becomes “alienated” (allotriōthen) from divinity. Iamblichus maintains that the alienation and mortality of the soul are effected by daemons that channel the soul’s universal and immortal identity into a singular and mortal self. Yet, while daemons alienate the soul from divinity they also outline the path to recover it. Iamblichus maintains that daemons unfold the will of the Demiurge into material manifestation and thus reveal its divine signatures (sunthēmata) in nature. According to Iamblichus’s theurgical itinerary, the human soul—materialized, alienated, and mortal—must learn to embrace its alienated and mortal condition as a form of demiurgic activity. By ritually entering this demiurgy the soul transforms its alienation and mortality into theurgy. The embodied soul becomes an icon of divinity.

Why are both Jesus and Satan called the “morning star” in the Bible, and both referred to as serpents? For we have Jesus making the arresting observation: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (John 3:14). Here’s one of our challenges, then, to run through a series of metaphors: to lift up the serpent, to raise the kundalini, to recover the divine in our deeds, thoughts and words, to become, in Iamblichus’s words, an icon of divinity. Or you can scratch any interpretative itch with an Orthodox reading, or canonical understanding, and miss a good 9/10 of what it might possibly say to you.

All this, for a person in red tights, hanging upside down …

Take the card into contemplation. Hang for a while, and see what you learn. Far better, as I keep saying, what you discover on your own, than what you merely read here, words from another. Pointers, merely; fingers toward the Equinox moon. Transform, transform …

What needs inversion in my life? How are my values or outlook upside down? What can I see differently from a radically different stance? Will I let myself relax into such a changed awareness, or immediately “set myself to rights”? If I were Odin or Jesus, would I “do things differently”? If so, how?

DEATH

13-DeathLike the Tower, Death and a few other cards manage to freak out a substantial number of people who work with the Tarot in its many guises.

“Death on a pale horse” comes riding straight outta scripture. (You can choose whether the background sun is rising or setting.) Figure out the banner Old Bony is carrying, and you might be on your way to insight. Death meditations are useful; there’s clear indication that at least some bardic initiations included them, and death-and-rebirth rituals help re-establish a healthier perspective than the ever-popular “life at all costs” obsession current in much of the West. Death, in spite of much bad advertising and spiritual teaching to the contrary, is not an “enemy” but a gateway, an arm of the spiral, a servant of life.

How apt that Death should have the number 13. (“Four” does similar duty in Japan and China, with the word for four a homonym for “death” or “death” [shi in Japanese, si in Mandarin Chinese]. Some Asian hotels go so far as to renumber their floors, avoiding the 4th altogether, just as we get all superstitious and tingly on Friday the 13th. “Friday the 4th” just doesn’t have the same feel at all.)

If you can put yourself into the landscape and know yourself as the Hanged Man, do the same with Death. And since there are other figures on the card, try out being the church official, pope or bishop, in front of Death’s horse.

In the Matthews’ Arthurian deck, this card is the Washer at the Ford, a harmonic of the Morrighan, the Goddess, the Dark Initiator.

What horse am I riding right now? What lies dead all around me? What am I killing by my insistence on my current identity? What needs to die in my life, so other things can be born?

TEMPERANCE

14-Temperance“… in the very torrent, tempest, and (as I may say) whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness”, says Hamlet. The figure suggests elemental transformation. In the whirlwind of passion, can I also find smoothness, equilibrium, balance?

Two-thirds of the way through the journey, the Fool has learned something about moderation — not narrowly “abstinence from alcohol” (unless that’s the form your particular practice of moderation needs to take), but something much more valuable. The angelic figure bears the elemental symbol of fire on its breast, and pours liquid from chalice to chalice, while standing with one foot on earth and one in water: all four elements present and working.

A curious and provocative insight from R. J. Stewart’s The Well of Light:

Do not forget, ever, that you are already Elementals. There is not one, but several of them, most likely a large complex number, within yourself. Our bodies are made of Water, Earth, Fire, and Air.

Our consciousness and energies are Elemental; that is, the philosophical or metaphysical concept of the Four Elements as relative states of motion and energy, but not limited to the modern idea of elements as defined in chemistry and physics. So, to find Elementals, we need look no further than our own bodies and moods. And, I propose, we should pay much more attention to the way our bodies and emotions interact with places and with weather changes.

And a prayer or visualization Stewart uses in many of his books, that I find helpful:

In the name of the Star Father, The Earth Mother, The True Taker, The Great Giver, One Being of Light.

How have I transformed — in spite of myself? What needs tempering in my life? What elemental presences can I honor and bring forward as keys to directions my life might beneficially take? What is this Equinox saying to my earth, my air, my fire and my water?

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Walking the Major Arcana, Part 4

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6| Part 7]

If the holy terrain between Druid and Christian calls to you, better your way than one belonging to another person that doesn’t fit you where you walk on your particular arm of the Spiral Journey. A week’s worth of your own meditations surpasses anything I can write here. These themes are suggestions, prompts, points of departure. They’re mine, and they may not be yours. Their use is as sparks, kindling, tinder, fuel, provocation. Your particular path may grow out of resistance or contradiction. Thus are (spiritual) muscles strengthened.

If you’ve (mostly) survived your adolescence, held down a job, learned to deal with roommates, siblings, coworkers, parents, teachers, traffic cops, jerks, (holy) Fools, the DMV, followed a dream, fell in love, lost a bet, failed at something, succeeded at something else, and arrived here, it’s pretty likely you’ve accumulated enough insight to learn something useful when looking at cards intended to evoke insight from your experiences! We can also never fully know how our words on such subjects may be exactly what another needs to hear.

The HERMIT

09-HermitHermits abound in world-wide lore and legend, running the gamut from hell-bound to holy. Depending on your temperament and the rebuffs that life generously doles out to all of us, you may find in the Hermit a kindred spirit, someone who chooses, as the French have it, reculer pour mieux sauter: “to draw back in order to make a better leap” back into the fray. Or eremitic withdrawal may become the theme for a lifetime, or a whole series of them. Plenty of secular examples come to mind as well, especially if you’re rich enough to build a life from your eccentricities, like billionaire Howard Hughes.

Modern examples include Thomas Merton, whose hermit tendencies can be summed up in the name of the monastic order he eventually joined: OCSO, the Order of Cistercians of Strict Observance, or Trappists. Not content with the already spartan nature of the Order, Merton withdrew further to a hermitage on the grounds of the monastery. His books and poems and increasing fame were one vital source of balance shaping his character into the wise monk, priest and author he slowly became.

J M Greer illustrates a Druid-focused model for practice just as potentially rigorous, especially for the solitary: the Gnostic Celtic Church. Greer highlights some of its distinctive features:

… the GCC does not train people for the standard American Protestant model of the clergy—a model that assigns to clergy the functions of providing weekly services to a congregation, “marrying and burying,” offering amateur counseling to parishioners, and pursuing political and social causes of one kind or another, and defines training for the ministry in terms of the same style of university education used by most other service professions.

This model evolved out of the distinctive social and theological requirements of American Protestant Christianity and has little relevance to other faiths, especially those that do not have the financial resources to support full-time ministers.  It has nonetheless been adopted uncritically by a great many alternative religious traditions here in America. It was in response to the very poor fit between that model and the needs of a contemporary alternative religious movement that AODA [Ancient Order of Druids in America] chose to pursue an older model better suited to its own tradition and needs.

Instead of growing from a single and largely American Protestant model, the GCC focuses on what it calls the Rule of Awen, because

there is certainly a need for men and women who are willing to embrace a new monasticism centered on a personal rule:  one in which the core principle of aligning the whole life with the spiritual dimensions of reality can express itself in forms relevant to the individual practitioner and the present age, in which a rich spiritual life supported by meaningful ceremonial and personal practice can readily coexist with whatever form of outward life is necessary or appropriate to each priest or priestess, and in which the practice of sacramental spirituality can be pursued apart from the various pathologies of political religion.

Greer always packs a lot in his sometimes academic prose: following Christ’s admonition, this means in short to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”. We say we want freedom, but how many of us trust our own inner guidance sufficiently to discern what is “necessary or appropriate”, and avoid the “pathologies of political religion”?

As always, the simplest and purest way contains with it the hard-earned wisdom of lifetimes. Greer lays out the central challenge we all face:

… find and follow your own Awen. Taken as seriously as it should be — for there is no greater challenge for any human being than that of seeking his or her purpose of existence, and then placing the fulfillment of that purpose above other concerns as a guide to action and life — this is as demanding a rule as the strictest of traditional monastic vows. Following it requires attention to the highest and deepest dimensions of the inner life, and a willingness to ignore all the pressures of the ego and the world when those come into conflict, as they will, with the ripening personal knowledge of the path that Awen reveals.

How many of us have even begun to recognize and creatively respond to all the myriad “pressures of the ego and the world”? (After all, this is much of what I’ve long been practicing in my own way, as recorded in this blog, and you have ample evidence here of the challenges one person has faced.)

The Matthews’ Arthurian deck depicts the Grail Hermit: “Neither Druid nor priest, as hermit he mediates the functions of both”.

Where is the “third element” in each of my life experiences? As neither pole of a binary, how does it serve both and thereby a greater whole?

The WHEEL of FORTUNE

10-Wheel-of-FortuneThe Wheel or Spiral, the lungo drom or long road of yearning of the Romani, the Wheel of Becoming in Hinduism, “what goes around comes around” of folk wisdom, all point to the circular nature of life and the resonances that our actions establish.

Or as the Lakota holy man Black Elk puts it,

Everything the power of the world does is done in a circle. The sky is round and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing and always come back again to where they were.

The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.

Worldwide, this circle or wheel is also quartered, divided into four fields or domains or regions. Yes, it’s impossible to square the circle , and the link will lead you into exquisite mathematical detail why this is so — but using this holy glyph or mandala as a teaching and learning device, as a tool in ritual, is another order of response to such an intersection of worlds. What is materially impossible is — often — spiritually essential. Or to put it another way, walking a spiritual path means squaring the circle every single day. (Or if you seek a spiritual practice based in mathematics, check out this origami link.)

For more insights that can lead to a unique personal practice with sacred geometry, and not incidentally provide further rich linkages between their profound influence in both Druidry and Christianity, check out Michael Schneider’s A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe: Mathematical Archetypes of Nature, Art, and Science.

JUSTICE

11-JusticeIn Matthews’ deck, the corresponding figure is Sovereignty: “our true self and the land are one”. The justice of this inner truth emerges in the great rebalancing that earth is currently experiencing, as the consequences of our past actions come home to us, and we begin to accept responsibility for them and to work off their effects. But we need not merely suffer them passively; we can work with them creatively for the purposes of transformation, which is what cause and effect are placed to afford to all who seek.

In the traditional deck, the figure is garbed and presented so that gender is not immediately clear. Latin justitia is a feminine noun, yet the figure of Justice as we have it here has a seated, balanced, imperial quality of the previous male figures in positions of traditional masculine power and authority.

As a further harmonic development of the Magician, Justice is a balanced expression of power: the upward right hand holds a sword, while the left grips a balance. The two pillars of manifestation again frame the seated figure, and a curtain conceals the region behind it.

What has been lost on the way to Justice? How is its expression still incomplete, indicating the need for further growth and unfoldment? What does rebalancing and attainment of a new equilibrium conceal or distract me from? What further currents of change and transformation remain that ask for my attention, and allow me to anticipate future expressions of Justice, of balance and recalibration and harmonizing?

The triple crown of Justice can be seen to reflect the magical current inherent in groups of three, and in the physical universe. The card commentary for this card in Matthews’ Arthurian deck includes this observation: “…the Goddess of Sovereignty gives three drinks from her cup, purveying the white milk of fostering, the red drink of lordship and the dark drink of forgetfulness. These she offers successively in her aspects as Foster-Mother, Consort and Renewer”.

“Mother, foster me to your service. Consort, empower us both through our union. Renewer, ease me as I strive to fulfill my vows to you”.

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Walking the Major Arcana, Part 3

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6| Part 7]

winter sun

One of the vital perspectives that much modern Druidry can offer to Christian practice is an experimental approach. Rather than depending so heavily on creeds and affirmations of faith, we can approach statements in Christian and Jewish scripture as pointers toward practice, as statements of spiritual reality and awareness if certain prerequisites of practice, wisdom and experience are met, statements clothed in symbolism and perspectives than can sometimes translate to other terms and forms without diminution.

Here’s one such example: “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” (Ps. 118:26). Whether as a statement of faith or a lyric in a praise-song, it often elicits a comforting familiarity. But why not take it for a spin? Because it offers at least three points for exploration, contemplation and practice, we could treat it as a Druid-Christian triad, and contemplation seed:

What does “blessed” mean?
What does it mean to “come in someone’s name”?
And what is the “name of the Lord”?

Coupled with this last question is a verse often directed at non-Christians, and prominent in mission-oriented publications and preaching: “At the name of Jesus every knee will bow” (Phil. 2:10). As a form of submission to a specific deity, a Christian islam, its initial meaning seems quite clear. All will acknowledge this particular form of deity, the Christian Son of God, in a future realization of his divine sovereignty. It’s a state yet to be fulfilled. Islam as an Arabic word for Muslims also conveys a sense of free will — it’s a voluntary submission. Of course, this is one form of understanding, and it need not be the only or even the most potent in effecting spiritual change.

Put these formulations in Druid terms and you might have recognition that the natural order has a discernible flow, a direction, an energy that humans resist and abuse only at an accumulating cost to themselves and to every other being around them. (Some have called this Lady Sovereignty.  It’s possible also to see in this a version the Shekhinah, the presence of God.) Blessedness in these terms is fruitfulness, harmony, awareness, creativity — all arising from recognition of and concord with the underlying flow inherent in nature, and an ability to navigate life changes successfully. If we come in the name of spirit, or bring with us and our decisions and actions such blessedness or harmonious accord with the flow of nature, it’s often quite apparent to others. A yogi may do this while performing the Salutation to the Sun. Or the Druid sitting under a tree to rest against its trunk and watch the sunrise, may acknowledge the presence of something far greater than the human self in these things. A human on a “path with heart” already carries an awareness of spiritual presence of which he or she is an integral part of the whole.

It’s then that we recognize, at least in our better moments, the authority of those who act from love and wisdom, not from selfishness or shortsighted opportunism. And the sages among us, whether Druid or Christian, both or neither, may not always be those publishing the books and presenting at major Gatherings or Conferences. It may be the white-haired gardener praying in the neighboring pew, face aglow with reverence for the goddess in Mary, or Mary in the goddess, fingernails still darkened with the good earth under them. It may be the quiet young Christian woman calling the quarters at the next Equinox ritual, honoring the four archangels, or the four gospel evangelists, or the four creatures of Celtic or some other tradition, welcoming the presence of spirit in so many varied guises and forms permeating every quarter of the compass.

In the experience of spiritual abundance and presence, then, Christian and Druid may find another meeting-place.

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The LOVERS

06-LoversThe next Tarot image in our series is the Lovers. (The Matthews’ Arthurian image is of the White Hart, with the lovers Enid and Geraint in the foreground.) So much history and cultural change and commentary surrounds the myth or wisdom story of Adam and Eve that “It is difficult/to get the news from poems/”, as William Carlos Williams says in “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower”, “yet men die miserably every day/for lack/of what is found there”. The story may simply not “work” for many of us as it once did.

We can read the card in one way as depicting the non-physical spiritual force that expresses itself in female and male, in all living things, both green and fruiting, and flaming with energy, as in the fiery-leaved tree behind the male figure. To get caught by stereotypical associations, or to balk at “masculine” or “feminine” attributes, is to miss the polarities inherent in the natural world that allow for manifestation — multiple polarities we all carry within each of us. In one sense, then, nature has always been “gender-fluid”: we know of species that can change genders at need, or at different points in their life cycle.

What do I really love? Does that love build or tear down my life? How does love help me manifest? What polarities work through me with particular force or energy? What ones might I beneficially welcome and work with in my life? Where else can I love?

The CHARIOT

07-ChariotThe Chariot in the traditional deck (or Prydwen, Arthur’s ship of journeying in the Arthurian deck) closes out the first of the three rows of the Major Arcana (if we lay out the cards in 3 rows of 7, with the Fool or Seeker as the one who moves through each on the Journey). And again, in one traditional interpretation, this first row has to do with the maturing self, the personal, the exploration and development of capacities and potencies of the individual.

The notes for Prydwen from the Arthurian deck: “the Otherworldly journey which is undertaken by all seekers, so that the inner life becomes the basis for a sound outer life” (pg. 36).

One applicable Biblical verse here comes from Luke 6:45: “Good people bring good things out of the good stored up in their hearts, and evil people brings evil things out of the evil stored up in their hearts. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of”. I don’t know about you, but this is a useful barometer for where my attention is. And with luck, you have a friend or partner who calls you on your crap. “What did you just say?!” That’s when I learn, if I don’t already know, that I’m (once again) out of balance and have some work to do.

What is happening in my inner worlds? What is my foundation? Where can I continue to work to shore up that foundation for both my inner and outer lives? What cycle has ended so that I can finally see and account for its shape and influence, and now return to polish what was rough-hewn? How is my storehouse? What am I harvesting from the old cycle as I begin a new one?

STRENGTH

08-Strength“The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights” (Habakkuk 3:19). Or to be gender-fluid about it: “I honor Lady Sovereignty who strengthens me here on this Land where the deer runs, showing me how to walk the heights with sure feet”.

On this new octave, the second row of 7, Strength shares the infinity symbol with the Magician. You could say she is the Magician — renewed, re-imagined.

Is this coercion or forcing of our elemental and instinctual selves by our “higher” selves? Is it conscious awareness of the vitality of both, thereby making it our own more fully and completely — a union, where formerly there were two? The Lady here has greens and flowers for a belt — she is not separate from nature. Is she shaping and directing that animal strength?

Perhaps we can see one theme run from the prophet’s words that open this section to Whitman’s words in “The Beasts” in his Song of Myself:

I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid
and self-contain’d.
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of
owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands
of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.
So they show their relations to me and I accept them,
They bring me tokens of myself, they evince them plainly in
their possession.

In some ways Whitman describes Paradise, a recognition of inner sovereignty that needs no one kneeling to another. The “self” that contains the beasts is the sovereignty of the Land, the Whole that cradles each individual in its arms, if we opt for the language of personification. Here it is animals leading the way in showing tokens of this “self”, already in their “possession”.

Is this what the Strength figure is trying to discover, or does achieve? Does Strength learn that strength unaided is insufficient — a realization that is the beginning of wisdom? It is our inner strength that issues forth in animals, too — our shared link, not one to dominate the other.

So I can do no better than end this post with words from U. K. LeGuin’s great Earthsea trilogy. Her magician or mage Ged learns from his own experience with beasts:

… in that wisdom Ged saw something akin to his own power, something that went as deep as wizardry. From that time forth he believed that the wise man is one who never sets himself apart from other living things, whether they have speech or not, and in later years he strove long to learn what can be learned, in silence, from the eyes of animals, the flight of birds, the great slow gestures of trees.

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IMAGES: Pexels.com — winter pictures.

Walking the Major Arcana, Part 1

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6| Part 7]

In this next series of seven posts, I’ll be following a classic Tarot interpretation of the Fool as the querent or seeker who journeys through the aspects and archetypes of the Major Arcana. And I’ll be writing from some perspectives I hope will be useful to Druid-Christian travelers along the Green Ways of Spirit, and will in turn inspire comments and insights from you that can enrich us all. Take this as rough draft — I’m working it out as I go.

[Note: The tarot images used here, from the original Rider-Waite Tarot, are now in the public domain in the U.S.]

FOOL or SEEKER

0-FoolSo important is the animal accompanying the Fool from the outset that almost every deck includes some creature accompanying the human figure of the Fool.

Whether we see this as our animal inheritance, part of our make-up as a physical being with age-old drives and instincts, or as a guide or companion distinct from us, the dog (or three birds in the Arthurian tarot) is with us from the beginning.

Why a fool? Nearly every significant tradition on the planet counsels us against arrogance or hubris, and in no place is this caution more needful than on our own spiritual journeys. “Let no one deceive himself. If any of you thinks he is wise in this age, he should become a fool, so that he may become wise” (1 Cor 4:10). The classic Zen master seeks to help a student recover that “original face, the one you had before you were born”.

Echoing this insight is the old Victorian Bard William Blake, a holy fool himself, who also said, “A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees”. Want an interesting exercise? Ask in meditation or dream to see the trees of the Fool.

WBlake

Are they the trees of Paradise? The Medieval Legend of the Rood or Cross follows the main story line of the Biblical narrative with a tree or trees continually reappearing in different guises, first in Eden, then as a seed from that original tree buried with Adam’s body at Golgotha, to become — depending on the versions — part of Noah’s Ark, a bridge that the Queen of Sheba crosses, and eventually the Cross that Christ dies on.

(Where is the seed planted in me to disrupt all my false and narrow assumptions? What tree lifts its branches in my life, sending me places I’d never go on my own?)

And similarly, too, in Tolkien’s Silmarillion: there he recounts stories of how the Light from the original Holy Trees in Valinor is captured in the Silmaril gems, those greatest achievements of the Elven Feanor, whose name means “Spirit of Fire”, and follows their dramatic history through the volume. Trees, Light, Fire: we have them with us as we travel, even as we have the solace and guidance of an animal companion by our sides.

C. S. Lewis in his final novel, Till We Have Faces, draws on the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche. The title echoes a line in the novel:  “How can [the gods] meet us face to face till we have faces?” Lewis explained this to a correspondent, writing that a human “must be speaking with its own voice (not one of its borrowed voices), expressing its actual desires (not what it imagines that it desires), being for good or ill itself, not any mask”. In one way, then, the Great Work is to be me, the original self, wearing the face I had before I was born, “because no one comes to Spirit except through me”.

Ask an ancestor to show you an original face.

We might also see the sequence of cards coming after the Fool as masks that the Fool tries on along the journey, learning from each role or incarnation or experience, but never wholly defined by any of them. Or, alternatively, as initiations each soul must experience on its journey. (Looking for just four? Try the Elemental Sacraments that appear in the life of Jesus and offer themselves as well in slightly different guises to Druid and Pagan generally. And if you’re like me, you remember you may experience each one multiple times along you spiral path. I prime the pump occasionally and try one out myself, if it hasn’t come along recently on its own.)

MAGICIAN

01-MagicianThe Magician, numbered 1 in most decks, is a prime number, expressive of unity, the fullness of Awen, of Spirit before creative activity begins on the physical plane. The serpent that forms his belt recalls the admonition to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves”.

As a lightning-rod for spirit, one hand raised to heaven or fire, one lowered to earth, garbed in fire and pure white, the lemniscate figure-8 of infinity above his head, he is a potent figure for many. And another mask.

In the Golden Tarot, the Magician is Christ, beast-Master, Lord of Animals, able to communicate with them in ways many humans have often lost and must work to regain. He knows as well the beast nature and the human nature, honoring and blessing them both. In our steps along the spiral, we sometimes cut ourselves off from what some have called our elder brothers and sisters.

Ask the spirit in all things to help you see how to participate in healing the breach.

In Hindu myth we enter the worlds with an adi karma, an initial nudge that lands us in physical bodies, and sets our feet on the spiral journey back home. “True voyage”, says U. K. LeGuin innocently, “is return”.

What is it about being human? The German poet Rilke exclaims in the first of his masterwork, the Duino Elegies:

Ah, who then can
we make use of? Not Angels: not men,
and the resourceful creatures see clearly
that we are not really at home
in the interpreted world.

Some versions render it our interpreted world. We’re the ones, after all, who filter experience through memory, intention, language, culture, emotion, training, expectation — a whole set of potent magical transformations animals only partially know, filters which immeasurably enrich our lives but also deeply complicate them. The Magician is master of transformations, able to ride successive changes but not be overwhelmed by them.

I enter each card in imagination and look around. What can I see, smell, hear, imagine, receive in hints and glimpses?

How can I find a home in this world? How can I be a refuge on the road for others here like me?

The HIGH PRIESTESS

02-High PriestessIn the Matthews’ Arthurian Tarot, the figure is the Lady of the Lake. In both decks — the Rider-Waite pictured here, and in the Arthurian deck, in contrast to the Fire-red of the Magician, we see the Water-blue of the Priestess or Lady. Launched into the world of polarity, we encounter a different kind of initiation, and Initiator.

While there is great wisdom in the occult maxim of Dion Fortune that “All the gods are one god, and all the goddesses are one goddess, and there is one initiator”, it’s also true that many people have experienced the Powers of the Worlds as distinct beings, and until we have experience of them ourselves we may wisely keep silent about them. We already know from childhood onward that what’s true on the physical plane may not work on other planes, and vice versa. Try out the effortless flight of the astral dream world on earth, and gravity has a way of asserting its own reality regardless of our wishes or beliefs.

With a crescent “moon at her feet”, and also featured in her headdress, the High Priestess is in some ways an embodiment of Isis, and of Mary as well. She has her own balance, seated between the Pillars of Force of much classical magic practice, and positioned in front of a garden of fruit trees. With both the equal-armed cross on her breast and the title “tora(h)” or book of laws in her lap, she is a complex of many meanings, all worth exploring. “May your word to me be fulfilled”, goes one version of Mary’s words to the angelic message and messenger at the Annunciation. The fulfillment of the word “tora” may be as “rota” or wheel: the Fool’s journey or spiral continues.

But the feminine is not passive, as the stereotype often runs. Possibilities are endlessly sent to us by spirit, by the cosmos rippling its energies through every one of its creatures. We can refuse them. And we often do.

What law governs this moment? What is still spinning in my life? What annunciations come to me each day? What words have I accepted and allowed to fulfill themselves? What and who have I turned away from the door?

Poet and rocker Malcolm Guite writes in his poem “Annunciation”:

We see so little, stayed on surfaces,
We calculate the outsides of all things,
Preoccupied with our own purposes
We miss the shimmer of the angels’ wings,
They coruscate around us in their joy
A swirl of wheels and eyes and wings unfurled,
They guard the good we purpose to destroy …

We’re invited more often than we know to say yes to things that terrify us. We’ve imbibed our fears along with the advertisers’ marketing jingles that we know through repetition even if we despise the product. If repetition can accomplish so much, let me turn it to my purposes, rather than somebody else’s. As author Peter Beagle famously declares, “We are raised to honor all the wrong explorers and discoverers — thieves planting flags, murderers carrying crosses. Let us at last praise the colonizers of dreams”.

Or to turn to another great Bard, the late Leonard Cohen, who sings in “Anthem”, with great Druid counsel:

The birds, they sang
At the break of day
Start again, I heard them say.

Yeah, the wars
They will be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
Bought and sold and bought again
The dove is never free.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

No, the dove is never free, not till spiral’s end, but the Light keeps getting in. The dove keeps descending, bringing the blessings of spirit, keeps setting out from the Ark to find land after flood, keeps returning with a leaf in its beak, keeps on keeping on. (Male, female, polarity. Though it’s heresy in some quarters to say it, we’re all much more than a “gender” or “orientation”. A stereotype is a simply firm or fixed reference point in a world of changes, not something to attempt mistakenly to incarnate personally — impossible, anyway!)

How am I the High Priestess? How am I still the Magician? What has the Fool discovered so far of balance and polarity?

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Grail 4: Elements, Tools, Guides

[Updated 27 Jan 2019]

[Don’t Go Away Just Yet, Grail] [Grail 1 | Grail 2 | Grail 3 | Grail 4 | Grail 5]
[Related: Arthur myghtern a ve hag a vyth — “Arthur king who was and will be”]

bors-sees-child-galBors has given me a sword. I see and feel it pass from his hands to mine. Now among my tasks: how to determine its nature — how and when do I make use of it — and what are appropriate thanks and service for this gift?

To what degree does this brief inner experience, which I recorded this morning in my journal, arise not from holy sources, but from my personal Grail practice and from such reading as the following, from Knight’s The Secret Tradition in Arthurian Legend?

Galahad, Percivale and Bors accompany the Holy Grail back to Sarras, from whence it came. The maimed king is healed, and the three knights are borne away in the ship with the silver altar  above which hovers the glory of the Holy Grail … [I]n due time, Galahad’s wish is granted, and he leaves this life and ascends … Percivale remains in Sarras, and only Bors … returns to tell the tale. In this sense Bors is in the line of succession of great revelatory mystics and prophets, and the keepers and sustainers of the inner mystery traditions (Knight, pgs. 270-271).

If I want to track the experience to its birth, the answer to an either-or question of origins probably matters. But if I want to learn what it can teach me, that question matters much less. (I can explore it at my leisure later, when I’m not storming a castle, or de-rusting my chainmail.)

Mara Freeman asserts in her book Grail Alchemy: “the legends of the Holy Grail open up paths to the spiritual dimensions like no body of lore has done before or since”. I take this as a deeply experiential challenge, not one to be answered by mere intellectual debate, but by results. Once I’ve made a serious sustained effort, I’ll know whether or not these legends — and my practice — open up paths to spiritual dimensions — for me.

(Any desire I have for my way to work for anybody else may be simple generosity, but such an innocent motive can all too quickly sidle up to my insisting it’s the only way — and that should instantly set off all our crap detectors. I keep reciting Postman’s corollary like the holy mantra it is: the main source of bullshit I face is myself. Exhibit A — Bors gives me a sword: an experience to assess and explore for what it can offer. Well and good. But I’m hot stuff because of that experience: deep piles of fresh, steaming bullshit.)

The same holds true with animal guides. (As a wise Druid asked at last fall’s East Coast Gathering, “Why is it everyone’s animal guide is Wolf or Raven or Bear? What about tomato cutworm?”)

I’ve written elsewhere of my experiences with wild boar. Again, the test of any guide, tool or experience is (or can be) utterly practical. As the Galilean master asks, Does it bear “good fruit”? That’s how to “know” in powerful and grounded ways.

Sometimes I can’t quite reach the inward space I need to inhabit for healing. But I can reach for my inner guide, through long familiarity, and touch the bristly fur on his back. Touch was one of my first experiences of my guide — totally unremarkable to me, when I was looking for something more dramatic — and less “mundane”, less physical. For whatever reason, I can readily feel his fur, his pleasure at our connection. Only later, as I note in the post linked in the previous paragraph, did I read in the Druid Animal Oracle the entry for Torc, the Boar: “… he is a representative of the Goddess — his skin can heal you” (Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm, The Druid Animal Oracle, Fireside/Simon and Schuster, 1994, p. 39). And I began to appreciate this “earthed” mode of access for what it was, a priceless gift. Once again — you’d think I’d know this by now as one of my ongoing biases — I overlooked the obvious, minimized a non-flashy spiritual connection.

Freeman continues with wise admonitions about “how to tell if you have made it all up or you are being deluded”. After all, you may be wondering where my precious and much-vaunted crap detector is in all of this. Freeman says,

… the imagination is the language of the soul. It is the equivalent of our most important sensory organ — sight — only turned inward rather than outward. Every non-physical thing that exists expresses itself as energy, or Force.  The imagination is a creative mechanism that enables us to give Form to Forces of the non-physical planes. (Introduction, Kindle location 349).

I’d generalize Freeman’s words slightly here: Every thing that exists expresses itself. How else do we know it except through its expressions? If I arbitrarily rule out any non-physical expression from my interest or attention — and here we can include emotion, hunch, imagination, intuition, gut feeling, creative impulse, dream, memory, love — I merely impoverish myself. Why on the deep earth or in the starry heavens would I want to do that?!

Several versions of the following story exist:

Once not so long ago there was a great drought in a province of China. The situation grew increasingly dire. The Catholics made processions, the Protestants offered prayers, and the Chinese burned joss-sticks and lit firecrackers to frighten off the drought-demons; but no sign of rain or wisp of cloud appeared in the empty sky. Finally the people said: “We will fetch a rain-maker”. And from another province a dried-up old man appeared. The only thing he asked for was a quiet little house somewhere, and there he locked himself in for three days. On the fourth day clouds gathered and there was a great storm at a time of year when little rain was expected, and the town was filled with rumours about the wonderful rain-maker. Asked what he had been doing during the three days that had caused the rain to fall on the fourth, the old man said: “I come from another country where things are in order. Here they are out of order; they are not as they should be by the ordinance of Heaven. Therefore the whole country is not in Tao, and I also am not in the natural order of things, because I am now here in a disordered country. So I had to wait three days until I was back in Tao, and then, naturally, the rains came”.

This wisdom story is easily reworded to speak in Druid terms. Like most good stories, it leaps cultures without significant diminution.

Another instance: many years ago I bought a used copy of Caitlin and John Matthews’ The Arthurian Tarot. I spent several days familiarizing myself with the images, and skimming the accompanying text (The Hallowquest Handbook, subsequently enlarged) which, beyond the usual short descriptions of each card, details a number of pathworkings and other exercises for the Grail seeker. One of the cards that particularly drew me again and again was the Sword Maiden. Here is the Matthews’ description:

Under a tree sits the Sword Maiden embroidering a scabbard … Dindrane, Perceval’s sister, is part of the Grail quest. She cuts off her hair in order to weave a belt for the sword which Galahad shall carry. She grasps ideas and materializes them; perceptive and discerning, she is vigilant in the cause of truth and justice; she cuts through difficulties by taking the way of self-sacrifice.

sword maidenWhen years later I read that Knight calls Dindrane “the perfect female initiate” (The Secret Tradition, pg. 270) and wrote of Bors that “he represents the initiate … rooted in the world” I realized that I had the makings of a personal practice of polarity working for a Grail quest. Rather than typifying or idealizing any stereotypically gendered element of expression, I see them as energies, inner and outer, available to the Grail seeker in mythic and archetypal forms.

Postman notes in the article I cited in the previous post:

So you see, when it comes right down to it, crap-detection is something one does when he starts to become a certain type of person. Sensitivity to the phony uses of language requires, to some extent, knowledge of how to ask questions, how to validate answers, and certainly, how to assess meanings … What crap-detecting mostly consists of is a set of attitudes toward the function of human communication: which is to say, the function of human relationships.

You might without too much distortion call crap-detection a kind of secular Grail Quest. Or the inverse: the Grail Quest is a holy version of crap detecting — in following it, I’m looking for and working toward a full(er) and healthier relationship with the cosmos and the beings in it, expressed in language and ritual as far as they can take me: naming things as lovingly and accurately as possible, knowing them by their expressions, and also pointing and following beyond words into being (t)here.

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IMAGES: Bors; Sword Maiden.

Grail 3: Part of the Rest of a Story

[Don’t Go Away Just Yet, Grail] [Grail 1 | Grail 2 | Grail 3 | Grail 4 | Grail 5]
[Related: Arthur myghtern a ve hag a vyth — “Arthur king who was and will be”]

And you might think after that last post, theres nothing more I can add to the subject. I boxed myself in with a few home truths. You make your own path by walking it. Done. QED. End of story. Except …

dockmt

One quality of a valid path is that it rewards the walking of it. Its not valid merely because somebody else says so. The only authority worth recognizing is ultimately the truth we each sense within, in the doing of it. (Good parenting means in part supplying the rudiments of crap detection to our children. Pass along even the minimum we picked up over some decades of living, then, when the time is right, let them risk burning their own fingers, if they must, while we stand by with first aid.)

In some places this capacity for judgment used to be called critical thinking, and for past generations, inner resources. In many places we seem to have abandoned them. If we havent already refined that organ of good sense so that it serves us reasonably well, wherever and whatever it is, we can begin work right there. Life will, quite ruthlessly and uninvited, lend a firm hand.

As Ernest Hemingway once quipped, when asked what was needed, before anything else, to succeed at writing: “a built-in, shock-proof, crap detector”. One reason this tool matters so deeply, and in wider fields, is this: “At any given time, the chief source of bullshit with which you have to contend is yourself”. (This corollary to Hemingway comes from Neil Postman’s invaluable classic essay, “Bullshit and the Art of Crap Detection”, available online here.)

And Postmans corollary also means knowing when to turn off the crap detector, consciously and intentionally, for purposes you choose. And the reason for this is significant:

“Each man’s crap-detector is embedded in his value system; if you want to teach the art of crap-detecting, you must help students become aware of their values”.

[Postman is talking to English teachers in this lecture/essay; he’s also talking before our current heightened sensitivity to pronouns, so cut him some slack if his wisdom outweighs his sexism for you.]

A pause here to regroup and reconnoiter:

  • my single most useful tool is a crap-detector;
  • its default target, when no others present themselves, is me;
  • my use of a crap-detector is an art;
  • and if I hope to learn how to use mine well, I need to know what matters deeply to me, because that’s where both my values and my crap live.

Where’s the Grail in all this, again? Bear with me. You’re here, if you’re following my promise in the first post in this series, to discover something about my way. Yours will, by the fact of your irreducible uniqueness, be different from mine, but also similar enough you may take away something useful.

Now you may already know all this — or think you do. In which case, write your own book, or run that weekend workshop, and tell us how it’s done (AKA how you do it). Apart from privileging your crap over mine, and separating me from some of my money in the process, I doubt you’ll be ahead in the end. I might be, if the experience helps me refine my crap detector.) The best things in life may, unlike your workshop, truly be free, but I work the hardest for them. But that way, oddly enough, I discover they’re splendidly my own, in a way yours can never be. They cost something far more valuable than money. They’re “free” in another sense because that’s what they make me. So: catch you on another rung of the spiral.

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ace-cups-tarot

a Grail image

As a form, a container for energies and aspirations, the Grail earns my respect. (It passes my crap detector.) As an object for contemplation and visualization, together with regular practice of the cauldron sound I’ve described, I’ve begun to learn what matters to me, which is partly to say what works for me, what kindles me, what echoes in my bones, what seeks me out because it’s mine, and what I belong to in ways I’m still discovering. The Grail can be a passport to our native country. With it, I can go home again.

And as always, I try to heed the best bards. T. S. Eliot says in his “Four Quartets” (a vastly superior poem, in my arrogant opinion, to “The Waste Land” because I come away from it better equipped for joyful growth): “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”. Grail is perennially “first time” in its power to renew and heal, and in that way it’s a virgin experience. Spiritual renewal and rebirth bears this signature quality.

Paradoxes, like those in the preceding paragraph, are for me a sign and signal of approaching four-dimensional truth. As a Wise One once said, the opposite of a superficial truth is a falsehood. But the opposite of a profound truth is, often, another profound truth.

True poets and bards, they recognize this by instinct, and (at least in their better moments) never try to own it, only to announce the strange good news to us all through their words and songs. And we may catch ourselves shivering in recognition, another sign. This awe-tinged joy sparking in us, this inner alertness and attention and focus, is another quality the Grail can mediate, a quality I’ve learned to recognize with my crap-detector, which yields and bows. (Of course I can and should turn it back on — later — to assess what and where and, on occasion, what next.)

Up next — Grail 4: Elements, Tools, Guides.

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IMAGES: Pexels.com.

Regarding public domain status of the Rider-Waite tarot: “In the United States, the deck fell into the public domain in 1966 (publication + 28 years + renewed 28 years), and thus has been available for use by American artists in numerous different media projects”.

New Year, Old Year

Around a fire into the evening on Tuesday, a delicious and quiet Samhain with three others. Before that, a lovely group Samhain of 40 last Friday in Western MA. And one more Samhain celebration to come, with our Vermont Seed Group on Saturday, in two days’ time.

A fine invocation for Thursday evenings of the Samhain season, in Caitlin Matthews Celtic Devotional:

As the Winter closes about our ears, and the wind blows chill, I call upon my soul’s teacher to show me the progress of the day. In the depths of doubt and uncertainty, may we always be shown the next step of the road.

And we are.

Three years ago on Samhain I wrote:

We stand at the eve of winter in the northern hemisphere, with the change to standard time in the U.S. to underline the shift and bring on darkness an hour earlier in the evening. The change proves useful, I find, to draw me out of private thoughts and back toward awareness of the planet beneath my feet and all around me, awareness too of all the kin who whisper and flap and caw and bark and write blogposts and sit across the table from me.

I’m called to fast, I’m summoned to be born. Ignore the call, and I suffer, goes the divination.

Celtic-Cross-Layout-240x300So I heed my own words and listen.

What does the Tarot say? With the classic 10-card Celtic Cross spread, I ask about the shape of the coming year. Here are the cards I drew, with fairly standard interpretations of the positions first.

1–The present. Also, the self, or the querent’s state of mind: King of Pentacles.

2–The crossing card, placed over the first card; the immediate influence, problem, challenge, etc.: Queen of Swords.

3–Destiny; in some spreads, placed above as the “crown” of past influences: Devil.

4–Distant past; or in some interpretations, the future — to the right: 5 of Swords.

5–Recent past, or conscious focus, above: 7 of Cups.

6–Future influence; or the unconscious, the underlying or the true driving force of a situation — below: 9 of Pentacles.

7–The querent; self-perceptions: 4 of Pentacles.

8–External influences: Knight of Wands.

9–Inner emotions, a tangle of fears and hopes: The Star.

10–Outcome or final result: The Moon.

Detailed Analysis:

kingpentI start with seeing the major arcana as the soul’s journey, and minor arcana as individual human lives. Here, both as my own physical incarnation and as a wider representation of earthly powers and princes, card 1 with the King of Pentacles is dominant. The Court cards may be interpreted as personalities, with the king as an older male, and pentacles concerned with resources. The challenge or immediate influence of card 2 is the Queen of Swords, a feminine influence or figure in thought. As a past influence or tendency toward destiny, card 3 with the Devil is immersion in materiality, often polarized as male and female, or dual in nature. It can also represent dark magic, against and by the self most of all. Numerically his Tarot number 15 reduces to 6, linking this card, and the Devil’s influence, both to the future and to the unconscious — no surprise.

The distant past (or future) of card 4 in the spread is the 5 of Swords, a mental sorting or balancing. This can lead to a crisis or challenge all its own, because — arising from a single element — it is incomplete. It presages the later Star of card 9.

7cupsThe recent past and conscious focus of card 5 is the 7 of Cups,  magic, spirituality, results, completion, mixed with or focused on emotion. The unconscious or true influence of card 6 is the 9 of Pentacles, a fixing, ending or culmination of resources. Card 7, self-perception, is the 4 of Pentacles, stability or security — again, of resources. The external influence of card 8, the Knight of Wands, is a younger personality or presence, more fiery and ambitious. Card 9, the card of hopes and fears, is the Star, deeply important on the other path I practice, and present in our proverbs and idioms as guiding star, north or pole-star, and also as dis-aster, ill-starred-ness. Its Tarot number 17 reduces to 8, and hence influences or pairs with card 8. The final outcome or result of all of this is the Moon, whose Tarot number 18 reduces to 9 and pairs with card 9: a strong linking of the last three cards.

Summation:

RWS_Tarot_18_MoonWith 3 of the 10 cards coming from Pentacles, resources and the physical world will be a prime focus of the year personally and for the planet. Balancing feminine energies to the mature male energies in play are an immediate aspect of the present and near future. Destiny and past influences at work, though not inevitable, are ones we have both initially set in motion and strengthened by our sharp focus on materiality. Our outer fixation on security and stability may feel reasonable, given such destabilizing forces at work. But while our hopes and dreams focused on these things are valid, pursuing them along a still-material path, even with a renewed youthful vigor, will not return us to what is stable and safe. Other directions we have recently begun to explore can prove more beneficial. We’ll see moon-like changes, darkness and light alternating in phases.

I’ll return to this in a year and see how I did.

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1074Once again I’ve set out on the remarkable journey that is Nanowrimo, churning on toward my first day’s word-count goal of 1666 words (50,000 words divided by the 30 days of November). Not too late to join us!

 

IMAGES: The original 1910 Rider-Waite deck is now in public domain in the U.S.; these images from that edition come from Wikipedia.

East Coast Gathering 2018

[Posts on previous Gatherings: ECG ’12 ][ ’13 ][ ’14 ][ ’15 ][ ’16 ][ ’17 ][ MAGUS ’17 ][ MAGUS ’18 ]

How to convey the distinctive experience of a Gathering? Perhaps you come for a group initiation, having already performed the solo rite.

IMG_2027

initiates and officiators, after the Bardic initiations

ECG initiated 10 Bards, 4 Ovates, and 1 Druid in three rituals over the four-day weekend.

ovate-moon-groberts

Nearly-full moon on the night of Ovate initiations — photo courtesy Gabby Roberts

Or maybe the title of a particular workshop or the reputation of a presenter draws you. Though registration records for ECG show that each year about 40% of the attendees are first-timers, guest speakers and musicians play a role in swelling the numbers of multi-year attendees.

khughes

Kris Hughes

Returning special guest Kristoffer Hughes gave two transformative talks: “Taw, Annwfn and the Hidden Heart of Awen”, and “Tarot Masterclass”.

The first talk effectively conveyed how awen is much more than we typically conceive it. As the “Heart-song of the World”, it pervades existence, from Annwfn, often translated as the Celtic “Otherworld” but more accurately rendered the “Deep World” (which the Welsh word literally means), through Abred — this world we live in and conventionally treat as reality, and which Annwfn underpins, all the way through Gwynfyth and Ceugant. As for “the hidden magic that swims within the currents of Awen”, excerpted from the description of the talk on the ECG website, awen is available to us and links us to other beings resting and moving in the Song. And “one practice that can open these connections is to sing to things. Sometimes trees talk, and sometimes they listen. Especially when we sing to them. And we may find they sing back”, Kris remarked.

With his characteristic wit and insight, Kris illustrated parallels between the secular Welsh eisteddfod bardic competitions and the work and practice of Druidry. We want to practice ways to increase the flow of awen, whether we’re poets in a competition or living our everyday lives. “You’re Druids. You’re busy. You’ve got sh*t to do and trees to talk to”.

At the height of the bardic competition, if no poems that year meet the eisteddfod standard, the eisteddfod assembly hears the terrible cry of the Archdruid — “There is no awen here. Shame!” But in most years, when a winner does succeed and is crowned, the Archdruid “whispers a secret into the Bard’s ear, changing him or her forever. Learn what that secret is”. The “appeal of the secret” flourishes long after childhood; Kris remarked that the secret is a three-vowel chant a-i-o, one form of the “sound of the awen”, without consonants, which cut off the flow of sound. So we practiced vowels, with Kris remarking that even the word awen itself, minus the final -n, can serve very well as one form of the chant.

What of the taw of the talk title? It’s the Welsh word for silence, or more especially, tranquillity, translatable, Kris writes in a related blogpost, “as a deep inner silence, stillness and peacefulness … not simply the external expression or desire for Hedd (peace) alone, but rather how Hedd transforms the internal constitution of the individual. And to achieve this we utilise Taw“.

I took extensive notes for the Tarot talk, for which Kris relied to some degree on his Celtic Tarot book, but for this talk on awen and taw,  I listened. Kris writes, “Taw is when I sit in the woods, or on the edge of my local beach, with starlight painting dreams in the night sky. Within it I sit in the delicious currents of Awen and allow it to flow through me. What sense I make of that comes later. How can I hope to bring Hedd into the world if I cannot find the Hedd within myself? If I cannot inspire myself, how on earth can I inspire anyone else? I need Taw to cause me to remember who I am and what I am”.

And he closed this talk, saying, “I’ve been Kristoffer Hughes, and you’ve been … the awen”.

Image at Llywellyn Press site for Celtic Tarot:

khughes celtic tarot

I include this because I asked Kris about his experiences with publishers and about where best to order the book (I like to meditate and ask if I need a particular book rather than buying it on the spot.) Kris said, “Through Llywellyn I earn about $1.40 for each book. Through Amazon, because of their deal with Llywellyn, I earn about 12 cents”. So if you’re inclined to purchase this stunning set and learn Kris’s no-nonsense and eminently usable techniques — “you don’t have to be psychic; you need to be able to tell stories, which is something Druids do” — bear those numbers in mind.

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This year for the first time, rather the ECG staff manning the kitchen, the Netimus Camp staff took over meals, freeing up camp volunteers and doing an excellent job of feeding and nourishing us.

Chris Johnstone’s Sound Healing workshop greeted us Thursday, the first day, an excellent antidote to the stresses of travel to reach the camp, and a reminder, always needed, that we never abandon foundational practices of centering and meditation, ritualizing and balance.

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“pasta awen” — Druid humor. Photo courtesy Russell Rench.

Gabby Roberts’ workshop, “Energy work–Grounding, Centering and Releasing”, deepened the reminder, and gifted us each with polished onyxes to take with us. “Awareness and Connection with the Land: A Druidic Perspective”, with Thea Ruoho and Erin Rose Conner, detailed the many unconscious moments we can transform in order to be more conscious and mindful living on the earth. Thea and Erin ended their talk with an invitation for us to recycle, burn in the fire circle, or give back the “sacred crap” we can accumulate, that litters our shelves and altars, but contributes no energy.

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Gathering attendee prepping for Druid Staff workshop

I missed Christian Brunner’s provocatively titled “A Journey to the Very Old Gods” due to an important conversation I needed to continue; the same thing happened a second time with Frank Martinez’s “Connecting with the Plant Community Through a Druid’s Staff”. Thus go the rhythms of a Gathering, which for me, anyway, almost seem to require a rhythm that may take you away from one or two sessions to something or someone else, calling you with imperatives all their own.

Most days of the year, of course, we’re all solitaries, whether we practice alone by choice or necessity, or enjoy the intermittent company of a few others in a local Pagan community, an OBOD Seed Group, or a full Grove. Each day we greet the light and air and season, attend to bird and beast and bee and tree, and our own bodies and lives, and listen for that heartsong. So a Gathering, camp, retreat, etc., is no panacea, but it does give us a chance to reconnect, recharge, recalibrate what we do and where we’re heading. Its ripples persist after the “hour of recall” comes at the close of a Gathering.

On Saturday, the last evening, the ECG organizer announced at dinner that this 9th year of the Gathering has seen the fulfillment of its initial goals and will be the last year. ECG has served newcomers well, linked practitioners over the years, offered a family-friendly space (which not all camps choose to do), helped us forge friendships, seeded new camps and Gatherings — including Gulf Coast Gathering and Mid-Atlantic Gathering U.S. (MAGUS), and provided a supportive venue for group initiations for those wishing that experience.

A Council is already in place to help organize a new event that will launch next year, with new energy, goals, and intentions. As the organizer exclaimed, “Watch for it!”

OBOD standard ritual closes with these words: “As the fire dies down, may it be relit in our hearts. May our memories hold what the eye and ear have gained”.

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Images: Kris Hughes; Llywellyn Press Celtic Tarot.

A Winter Passage

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

Trick or Treat: The Mage

tarotmageThe second Tarot card focuses on the discovery of power the Fool makes after taking that first step (off the cliff).

The “trick or treat” of this post’s title refers partly to the use we make of the power of the Mage. The image appears second in the sequence of the Greater Arcana. We can take the hint and profitably pair it with the Fool. Even as we set forth “wide-eyed and bushy-tailed” into the world of experience and polarities, we emerge flush with powers and abilities that we haven’t a clue about.

However we act in our initial steps into manifestation, inevitably we set forces in motion that entangle us in conflict. It’s the nature of whatever equilibrium we find ourselves in that we human beings are potential vehicles for its recalibration and movement to a new set-point. “Not choosing to act” is clearly also another choice, a shift in the energies of the equilibrium that feed its movement. Everything gives feedback.

If we do not trick ourselves with the powers in our hands, we may find out how to treat (in all senses of the word) this dimension of ourselves as well as those around us in magical ways. The Mage image itself is a kind of trick, the suggestion that we are special, set apart, potent with craft and technique, secret knowledge and spell and charm that can blow life wide-open and deliver us the lover, bank account, lifestyle or heaven we always thought we wanted. But after the hundredth spree, orgy, yacht and mansion, the excess palls. Is that all there is? Yes, but only if I accept another’s (i)magery. The challenge here, the trick  and treat both, is to keep on seeking.

buffy-mag

Buffy as Magician

[In 2008 Dark Horse Comics commissioned — and unfortunately subsequently cancelled — a Slayer Tarot inspired by Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A few images survive from its initial conception, which was in the capable hands of tarot expert and author Rachel Pollack and Buffy comics artist Paul Lee. To the left is Buffy as Magician. This new-old and potent archetype can be helpful if you’re longing for a change from the masculine cloak of traditional Magician imagery. Try a Google search for female Tarot magician and see what others catch your attention. We all mediate both energies, but we also need and seek rebalancing and recalibration where we can find it. It does not do merely to dismiss it as political correctness. But, as always, don’t take my word on this or bother arguing — test it for yourself.]

You can, if you like, see this early stage in the Fool’s journey as adolescence — that time of exploding awareness of polarity, of self-and-other, of gender and orientation, biochemistry and culture all playing havoc with the delightful androgeny of the Fool. It’s the stormfront approaching that can make you want to warn and shelter kids in their single-digit years, they’re often so appealing, uncomplicated, creative and free. Watch out!

But this necessary initiation equips us for so much to come. It can manifest in the amazing self-involvement of the teen. No surprise, since the peculiar discovery that “I-am-a-person, I’m-me. So-what’s-that? What-do-I-do-with-it? Help! Now what? OK, try this” derives in part from the number of Magician or Mage: 1. “I’m the first, the one and only to feel and do and think and discover all this. Except not. A whole world of us. Oh, sh*t!”

You can also understand the image in terms of what we’re all capable of, each of us an altar of power cascading outward from our choices, our habits, our goals, our fears and desires. Gaze into the eyes of another being long enough and you may catch a glimpse of that lightning in a bottle we all are.

The Mage calls it forth, poised between heaven and earth, a conduit of possibility. The hands of the Mage illustrate the pathway of this divine electricity: right or dominant hand upward, often holding a tool of power toward the heavens, left hand downward, earthing the force, with the Mage square in the middle of the circuit, locus of transformation, fuse that can blow with carelessness.

For the holy energies do change us all: no one gets out unmarked, unscathed. Every face we meet is a map of what power does. In some the frown lines cut deep. In others, there’s a kind of light and joy, and the same lines that furrow the face outline a grin you’ll see if you stick around and make the person’s acquaintance. Time is the only way power can manifest in worlds of matter. All-at-once spells quick incineration, so usually we tamely sip and sample power instead. (Once in a while, though, if we reeeely insist and push too hard, we can find out what it’s like to fry.)

Sometimes life just rips into us, and our anger at our painful powerlessness makes for an even more painful knowledge. Early in her high fantasy novel A Wizard of Earthsea, author U. K. LeGuin captures this twinned suffering and awakening succinctly as she describes Ged, her young Mage protagonist, when he first confronts his inability to effect change: “he raged at his weakness, for he knew his strength.”

Adolescent rebellion in part can also be a search for something true in the face of cultural limitations and “necessary deceptions,” a way to reconcile our power with the fences, chains and boundaries any culture insists on. Cultures generally do not care about individuals or their happiness, but about stability, about the group identity, about self-perpetuation, and — yes — about punishing anyone who defies their rules too blatantly. And so sometimes we earth our power too soon, knuckling under to the demands of our culture, because we’re unwilling to pay the price of defiance — if we even realize a price exists, or just what it might entail.

tarot-devHarmonics and spirals of the Magician’s power and deeds ripple through the Tarot. We encounter the same gesture the Magician makes in several later cards, most especially with the Devil. The Left Hand Path makes use of the same energies available to everyone — a truth that goes some way to explaining how the mystical “Force” of the Star Wars universe with its light and dark sides has captured the modern imagination, mirroring long-standing traditions of spiritual and magical tutelage. Nothing is ever lost forever, but it may go underground for ages until the time rolls round again for its germination and re-emergence.

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IMAGES: Magician from a public domain source on Wikipedia; Buffy as Magician; Devil from a public domain source on Wikipedia.

Updated 1 January 2016

Snowhenge

It’s not really a henge at all, of course — just a large boulder we removed from our garden space a couple years ago and set along the north-south axis in our front lawn. A simple bed underneath it, a few other small rocks to steady it.  Grass grown back now.  Lichens finding the stony surface to their liking, adding their dull green patina to the stone.  But the word henge came to me as I looked out the front window at the solstice evening. So I’ll go with it.   The heavy band of cloud along the horizon behind the trees presages rain.  The mailbox — it seems out of place.  But let’s go with that, too, I say to myself.  Is this a message?

snowstone1

Mystery is a landscape. OK, I think.  There’s always more to see. Even a finite object like a boulder presents a myriad of perspectives. By the time I’ve looked at even a small number of them, the boulder has subtly changed. The light on it has shifted, lichens on its surface beneath the snow cover are growing and dying, and a small, small portion of its substance has crumbled and fallen.

That’s part of it.  Hmm, I say to myself.  This second sentence, like the first, feels like a communication from outside myself.  Is this the start of another Druid dialog?  Don’t get hung up on the source, I chide myself, or you’ll miss what comes next.  You can worry about doubt and truth and origins later.

The snow’s gone blue in the twilight.  The bare trees — “an infinity of tragic shapes, to make thinking difficult,” as Charles Simic says in one of his short poems.  Lovely, or inaccurate, or a distraction, depending on your reaction.  But decidedly other — not my own primary experience, but the report of another person’s.

Landscape reveals itself when we walk through it.  Mystery at its fullest is participation, not just standing apart and analyzing.  Then it may be obscurity, or incomprehension.  Yes, I can read a scene like a Tarot card, but I can also move into it, inhabit it.  Which is a good way to work with Tarot, too.  Mystery needn’t be alien or unfriendly.  It can and often does reside in the utterly familiar — until all is changed and it steps forward, or we see it again.

Mystery’s not just a quality of experience, though, but a presence.  I get why the Lakota call it wakan tanka, “great mystery.”  Not “a god” or “gods” but “great mystery.”  It’s something specific, even as it remains mystery.  The merely obscure darkens.  Mystery, on the other hand, deepens.

Updated 24 December 2013

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