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Walking the Major Arcana, Part 7   Leave a comment

[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?

 

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Walking the Major Arcana, Part 4   Leave a comment

[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   Leave a comment

[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   Leave a comment

[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 3: Part of the Rest of a Story   Leave a comment

[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 …

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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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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   Leave a comment

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   Leave a comment

[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.

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initiates and officiators, after the Bardic initiations

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

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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.

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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.

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