Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Animal World Encounters in Fairy Tale Tarot Decks

Looking through my four fairy-tale themed decks and picking out cards that can be seen to represent supernatural helpers, I find that in addition to such like genies and fairy godmothers, there are a good number of animal helpers. The animals fall into various categories, including ordinary animals who are helpful in some way, extraordinary animals (like Puss in Boots), and animals who are magical in some way or magical by nature. A few of the cards in Hunt’s deck feature animals who are elevated in terms of being god-like or especially powerful beings, (such as in her Magician, based on the Chinese story, “The Thunder Dragon”). I don’t count certain stories, such as the Golden Goose, where the animal is treated as an object rather than an actor. Remembering that my last post was about the Inner Child’s experience in the fairy tale world, it appears that in a majority of the stories, it is not a child but a young adult who interacts with the marvelous animals. However, I think there is something about the animal world that engages the inner child’s sense of wonder.

One way to look at animals in fairy tales is from the psychoanalytic view, where the symbolism is similar to what you might encounter in dreams. In dreams, as with the tarot, animals can represent the instinctive nature. When our instincts are expressed in a positive way, we are more intuitive, discerning about our personal needs, and better able to sense danger. We see this in the Fool card, where the Fool’s little dog is barking to prevent him from stepping off a cliff. However, the negative expression of the animal nature is when we are ruled by our appetites—a condition which is underscored in versions of the Devil card, where two chained human figures sport horns and tails. If you got a card illustrating a tale where a person is turned into an animal against his or her will, that could be a warning that you are getting into a situation where you are losing your grip, much like being spellbound. As Sibylle Birkhauser-Oeri points out in “The Mother: Archetypal Image in Fairy Tales,” “the phenomena of magic spells are caused by autonomous contents of the unconscious taking possession of the person” [46]. On the other hand, tales where a person willfully shape-shifts into some type of animal, or accepts help from certain types of animals, can point to the ability to connect with certain instincts or animal qualities and use them to advantage. In all of these cases, the type of animal encountered or transformed into would be symbolically significant.

Cards illustrating animal transformations and animal helpers are most abundantly featured in the Lisa Hunt “Fairy Tale” deck, and Hunt is already well known for her “Shapeshifter Tarot.” (This deck is also similar to the Shapeshifter in that faces can be seen in some rocks and trees, suggesting the vivacious intelligence of the natural world.) I’m still familiarizing myself with these cards, because I don’t recognize all of the stories that are illustrated, but in the Hunt deck, I count a dozen cards that portray animal transformation, and a dozen that portray magical or other helper animals, though one of these also involves transformation. (One, “the Golden-headed Fish,” involves the transformation of a fish into a person in order to be helpful). The Mahony-Ukolov “Fairytale Tarot” has about ten cards with helping animals, and about ten cards where the story involves animal transformation. Of course, these different decks also have cards that feature animals in other roles such as “the Three Pigs” or “Country Mouse, City Mouse,” where the animals are characters, but not magical or helpers.

Whether with animal helpers or transformation into animals, one can’t help but wonder if some of these tales are echoes of old totemic relationships, or other types of guardian spirit relationships. When these images come up for you in a tarot reading, it certainly encourages you to explore these animal powers in relation to your inner and outer worlds.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


I’m in the process of experimenting with some theme decks based on fairy tales, trying to come up with new tarot activities and techniques for the first Sunday in September, when we will look into some of the major archetypes that are met with in fairy tales, including the Inner Child, the Supernatural Helper, and also archetypes of skill and resourcefulness. Whenever I conclude one of my magical chat sessions, I immediately start worrying about what to do for the next one. So, for the next month, my mind is scanning, scanning, scanning/churning, churning, churning, until I come up with a workable agenda—which is usually not, however, until the day before.

The decks which I am playing around with are Lisa Hunt’s “The Fairy Tale Tarot,” Isha and Mark Lerner’s “Inner Child” cards, and “The Whimsical Tarot” by Mary Hanson Roberts. I have also just ordered another “Fairytale Tarot” deck by Karen Mahony and Alexandr Ukolov, so I won’t be able to comment on that one until it arrives. Hunt’s “Fairy Tale” tarot and the Mahony-Ukolov deck use illustrations from tales and legends for all of their cards, while the “Inner Child” and “Whimsical” decks use them for the Major Arcana and some, but not all, of the Minor Arcana. I also have a pop-up playset, called “Fairy Tale Village,” (by the design team of Welply, Deesing, and Batki), so I’m thinking about some interactive things to do with the cards and pop-ups. (In my article on the Dollhouse Oracle, [see my links to articles], I discuss potential ways that cards can be used with play-sets.)

So, I’ve been thinking first about the Inner Child, because so many stories center on the child, (in keeping with the child ego state which sees itself as the center of the universe). Although the term “inner child” gets tossed around a lot, there are a number of child-personalities within us, many of which are also illustrated in these various fairy tale decks. I can’t begin to enumerate all of the Inner Child personalities that can be active in us at different times, or that we encounter in the world’s myths and legends, but looking over the three decks in my possession, a notable type that emerges is that of the Child Adventurer, which overlaps with the Questing Child. This, of course, ties in with the Fool archetype, and also engages the idea of the tarot itself as outlining an adventure or quest as one engages the lessons of the cards.

An example of the child adventurer/questor is Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz” portrayed by the “Inner Child” deck as the Seeker of Wands, and by the “Whimsical” deck in the Six of Wands. Another is Pinocchio: the “Whimsical” deck portrays him facing the puppet master in the Devil card, while the “Inner Child” deck features him as the Child of Swords. Pinocchio can also be seen as the archetypal child who is getting into trouble as he learns to tell truth from falsehood, and right from wrong, which is why the latter deck equates him with the Page of Swords, even though Wands might seem a more obvious choice for a boy made of wood. That aspect of the child nature that gets us into trouble when we are too inquisitive or willing to transgress boundaries is also portrayed by Goldilocks, in the “Fairy Tale” tarot’s Five of Pentacles, and in the “Whimsical” tarot’s Justice card. (The latter is very amusing: it shows Baby Bear pointing Goldilocks out to a Keystone Cop.) If you have ever done something mischievous, and then found yourself lamenting, “Oh, why did I do that!?” you may have been high-jacked by one of these aspects of the Inner Child. In a tarot reading, coming up with one of these or similar characters could be a warning against allowing such impulses to get the better of you.

Another well-known fairy-tale type is that of the vulnerable and victimized child, these decks having different versions of Cinderella, the Goose Girl, Hansel and Gretel, Red Riding Hood, and so on. Some people object to passive characters in fairy tales. However, if we look more closely, we see that many of them are also resourceful. In the less familiar version of Cinderella, (which is the version that the “Inner Child” deck portrays), Cinderella effectively acts as a sorceress, going to her mother’s grave to conjure the things she needs. (This actually echoes some old Norse sagas, where the hero goes to his mother’s grave mound or the heroine to her father’s to acquire magical implements.) The Goose Girl also uses magic to get information, (and interestingly, a horse’s skull was also used in Norse shamanic practices), and Gretel is quick to take action in her story. The so-called passivity of fairy tale heroines (and many heroes as well) has been explained by N. J. Giradot, who says, “Heroes and heroines in fairy tales … do not ordinarily succeed because they act, but because they allow themselves to be acted upon—helped, protected, saved, or transformed—by the magic of the fairy world” [cited in Marta Weigle’s “Spiders & Spinsters: Women in Mythology,” p. 211]. Although there is a lot more that could be said about child personalities encountered in these cards, for my next post, I will try to develop some thoughts on the Child’s encounter with the Supernatural World.