Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Faeries and Flowering on May 1st

This Sunday is May 1st, popularly known as May Day or Beltane. Because it is the first Sunday of the month, I will be back at the Triple Goddess from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Because Beltane is a big day for the powers of Faerie, I will be demonstrating techniques using various faery oracle cards, and ways that we can relate to our faery friends. As with all of my “magical chats,” even if you came out for previous sessions, feel free to come back, because the cards are always leading us to new discoveries.

The other theme for the day is “the magic of flowering,” as May is a month when the woodland wildflowers, as well as many of our favorite garden flowers, are at their prime, plus the time around May 1st is the Floralia celebration honoring the goddess of flowers. Some people may think that a goddess of flowers would be kind of frivolous, and something of an afterthought in pagan religion, but this is not the case, as this was one of the Romans’ most ancient festivals, and they took this six-day festival quite seriously. According to E. O. James, “there is every indication that it began as a rustic feast connected perhaps with Aphrodite as the goddess of flowering plants (Antheia), held at the appropriate season at the end of April” [170].

Floral imagery is used extensively in the RWS versions of the tarot. In psychological symbolism, flowers can represent processes of growth within the psyche. For example, in discussing the fairy tale “Jorinda and Joringel,” Jungian analyst Sibylle Birkhauser-Oeri discusses how the hero dreams of a blood-red flower which provides a solution to his problem, explaining, “The flower thus represents a natural process of growth which takes place somewhere in the psyche without the conscious mind initially being aware of it” [“The Mother” 54]. In folk magic, (particularly in Mexican and South American shamanism), the idea of flowering relates to manifesting good luck. So, we shall also do tarot readings to discover areas of life where we can experience the magic of flowering.

By the way, I was going through Arthur Edward Waite’s book, “The Pictorial Key to the Tarot,” to see what he says about floral symbolism, when I glanced at his write-up on The Empress card, and saw something related to the magic of opening as discussed in the previous post, but also ties in with the current topic: “In another order of ideas, the card of the Empress signifies the door or gate by which an entrance is obtained into this life, as into the Garden of Venus … ” [83].

Now, I’m sorry to have to announce that there will be no Triple Goddess session for the month of June, because I am going to have to make a trip to California to attend to some family concerns. However, if the plan should change, I will announce that here.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Opening the Tarot, Part III

In the previous post, we were looking at the significance of body language in tarot graphic illustration, in relation to ideas of openness. Taking another look at the Queen of Wands in comparison to the Empress in body language, both have open laps and sit with legs apart, (rather than in a crossed or demure drawn-together position), though their long gowns do drape decorously over their knees, (and the Empress’s lower body is angled to the right, with legs drawn closer together than those of the Queen of Wands). These hints at sexual openness suggests some Aphrodite energy, which ties in with our theme of opening as it relates to the month of April. April is both the month of opening and the month dedicated to Aphrodite and her divine powers of opening, as previously mentioned. In the RWS deck, the Empress is explicitly associated with Venus/Aphrodite, (as shown by her heart-shaped shield with the glyph of Venus on it), while the fiery energies associated with the Queen of Wands suggests that she can be the most passionate and sensual of the queens. Despite this, the Queen of Wands is less ready to engage the viewer than the Empress, for she gazes off to the right, and both of her hands are occupied.

When we look at the body language of the four kings, we notice that the King of Swords looks us square in the face, so he is definitely aware of us, but that sword he is wielding blocks any impulse on our part to go right up to him. In these respects, and in the military accessories, the King of Swords’ symbolism resonates with that of The Emperor, (who often has a militaristic orientation). On the other hand, The King of Cups’ open body language makes him more approachable, in keeping with his traditional “Mr. Nice Guy” personality. However, although the King of Cups is facing forward, he is slightly angled to the right (which is his left), while gazing at us slantwise. This may indicate that, though kindly disposed, he may regard us the Querents as something of a distraction.

The only other RWS Minor Arcana cards where the figures look us full in the face are the Four of Pentacles and Nine of Cups. In the former card, the man is greedily clutching a pentacle in a way that erects a material barrier between us and him. The latter shows a jolly man in front of an open (half-circle) arrangement of cups that suggests hospitality, yet our host’s crossed arms indicates that he is selective about who he invites in. There are other cards that show celebration and conviviality, but have a more closed-off quality. For example, the Three of Cups is a festive card that depicts three women dancing, yet theirs is a closed circle, as if to tell the viewer, “Three’s company, four’s a crowd.”

Although the RWS deck’s use of body language and other imagery makes some philosophical statements about concepts of open and closed, there is no reason that other designers couldn’t deal with these issues differently. This gives would-be designers something to think about, and is a reason for users to experiment with different decks on different occasions.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Opening the Tarot, Part II

Picking up on the discussion about “the magic of opening” and images of openness in the tarot:

A certain degree of openness can also be seen in the postures and other body language of the human figures portrayed in the cards. This is particularly noticeable with some of the characters in the Major Arcana. For example, the figures in The Magician, The Empress, The Emperor, The Hierophant, and Justice are all viewed frontally, they meet the gaze of the viewer, and their arms are outspread, (i.e., not crossed or in other closed-off positions). In card interpretation, this can indicate that if they represent different people in your life, they are likely to be approachable, and also aware of your concerns. If these cards stand for general principles rather than individuals, the knowledge and experience they pertain to is more accessible.

Those of us who are into tarot often like to engage the cards as personal teachers, (and the idea of the Major Arcana as teachers [at a magical academy] has been elegantly developed in Corrine Kenner’s “Wizards’ Tarot”), so we might experience these more open figures as the kind of teachers with whom we might enjoy more of a rapport, (just as, when you look back on your student days, you can probably recall some teachers who you could relate to more than others). Of course, if you are using card decks other than the classic RWS, the artists may have changed some of these details, so that then becomes meaningful when you are pondering the cards you have drawn. (Synchronicity factors are at work in the particular deck of cards you choose to work with on a given occasion.)

Some figures in the tarot are viewed frontally and have an open gaze, but in other ways, their posture or other imagery is closed off. A classic example is the High Priestess, who sits wrapped in an enfolding cloak and holds a closed book, showing that she has knowledge to offer, but you won’t penetrate her secrets easily. Even The Magician card, which I have just cited as an example of openness, has a slightly equivocal quality, because he stands behind an altar table as well as a bed of flowers which form something of a barrier. So, one might interpret this to mean that you may have a better chance of establishing a rapport with him by focusing on a common interest, perhaps by asking him about the lessons of elemental Fire, Earth, Air, or Water, as symbolized by his magical tools. Another card whose figure has a frontal stance and gaze, but where there is a barrier between the character and the viewer, is The Chariot. Likewise, although Justice has an open gaze and posture, her raised sword can keep the viewer at a distance. In fact, in cases like Justice and the Emperor, where both of the character’s hands are occupied, there is the suggestion that their duties keep them somewhat at remove. Contrast Justice and The Emperor with The Magician, The Empress, and The Hierophant, who, although they hold different wands or staffs in one of their hands, have the other hand free, which suggests a greater ability to reach out to you, the Querent.

To better appreciate different figures’ qualities of openness, accessibility, and awareness of the Querent, we can compare certain Major Arcana figures to Minor Arcana figures with which they have an affiliation. So, the Emperor is a “High King” to whom the kings of the Minor Arcana owe fealty, and likewise, the Empress has a certain relationship with the Queens. So, we see that while the Empress is one of the most open figures in the deck, (because of her position, gaze, and other body language), none of the queens meet the viewer’s gaze, and only one, the Queen of Wands, has a full frontal posture, (though her head is turned to the side). The fact that the four queens are either looking off in different directions, or looking down at the symbols of their elements, shows them as being more concerned with the duties, contingencies, and worries of their respective suits. Also, it is interesting to note that the Queens of Swords and Wands, representing the more ethereal elements, gaze off to the right, (the direction of the future), while the Queens of Cups and Pentacles, representing the heavier elements, gaze downward, with their bodies oriented to the left, (the direction of the past).

By the way, if oftentimes happens that with these little graphic nuances that I write about, I only first become aware of them because I am writing about them. This is an example of “writing for discovery.” Also, the more I explore these details in the cards, the more I appreciate the level of thought and intuition that Arthur Edward Waite and Pamela Coleman Smith put into these cards, (even though some purists have accused them of junking up the tarot by adding superfluous symbolism).

Well, I still have more to say about the body language of tarot characters, but I will have to pick that up in the next post. TO BE CONTINUED.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Magic of Opening and Tarot

Last Sunday’s workshop theme was “the magic of opening,” in keeping with the month of April’s association with the word, aperio, “I open,” (because at one point, it used to open the year, and because spring equinox opens Nature’s year), as well as the month of April’s being dedicated to Aphrodite and her divine powers of opening. Our tarot exercise therefore involved posing questions and doing a card search to find areas in your life where you can find a magical opening. This was more involved and subjective than other April card searches we have done, (such as searching for the Fool card to identify some area of life where you may feel that the Universe is playing a cosmic joke on you, but where you might also encounter rewarding synchronicities), because people had to go through their decks until they found a card whose imagery conveyed the idea of opening for them. So, here are a few thoughts and observations on images of opening in the tarot, (using the RWS as the standard).

Because the Judgment card shows people who have risen from their graves, it can denote a change in status or a new phase in life that result in things opening up for you. It is also apropos of Easter/Springtime’s theme of emergence.

Another card that hints at emergence is The Moon, which portrays a crayfish, (which can represent impulses that come from some very deep, primitive part of the Self), partially emerging from the water (of the Unconscious). In her book, “Tarot as a way of Life: A Jungian Approach to the Tarot,” Karen Hamaker-Zondag discusses the rising of symbolic images from the unconscious, when, “In The Moon stage we open up to these inner images” [168]. Notice, also, that the road shown leading off into the distance is an “open road.”

A card that conveys a very reassuring sense of openness is The Sun. The Sun’s face is gazing straight outward with its extended rays like the open arms of the joyful child. The “idea” of the Sun can also suggest being out in the open, in open country, the freedom of nature, etc. Yet, there is that wall there, though it suggests not so much a barrier as a protective enclosure, and although the sunflowers echo the sun-face, they are a cultivated plant.

Some of The Sun’s imagery is echoed in The Lovers, where a sun image is the background for the angel, whose arms are spread in blessing, and the man and woman, whose arms are also outspread. The man and woman in this card are nude, suggesting their openness and honesty with each other, as well as their essential humanity. We see similar body imagery in Judgment, The World, and The Star.

Some cards can have images of openness, yet remain somewhat equivocal. In the Star card just mentioned, the woman is out in open nature under an open sky, but her preoccupation with her task makes her slightly closed off to the viewer, and although there is openness in The World’s joyful dance, she is enclosed in a sacred circle. When cards have mixed imagery, you have to think about how the themes of open and closed play off of each other in your particular situation.

The Fool is another tarot figure who is out in open nature under and open sky and a radiant sun, with arms spread in an opening gesture, but the chasm he’s about to step off into represents a more dangerous open. Unlike the figures whose nudity suggests a lack of social pretensions, he is fully clothed.

Some Minor Arcana cards may hint at the idea of openness, though overall, they have a more closed-off quality, with their human figures confined within their own little worlds, (or elemental spheres). An interesting example is the 8 of Cups. The Number Eight has a very organized character, which can contribute to a sense of comfort and security, but which can also convey the feeling of being locked in. This can conflict with the very fluid, emotionally expressive nature of the Cups, which can then lead to the desire to leave an emotionally confining situation. The RWS card illustrates this with a person who has turned his back on the cups, and is wandering off into the wild, following the path of the river. That he may have found some emotional opening to pursue this adventure or make this escape is suggested by the arrangement of three cups on top of five cups, with a gap in the top row. The symbology might have been different if the cups had been in two tight rows of four, as that would have suggested more of an emotional holding pattern. This shows how the little graphic decisions made by the artists/designers can bring in quite different nuances.

Well, I have more to say about themes of openness in the tarot, so I will carry this into my next post. TO BE CONTINUED …