Day 311: Three-Card Spread

This is actually the spread I use for, like, 90% of my own personal readings.  One card seems too vague and a Celtic Cross too complicated for most of my needs…but a three card reading?  That’s about my speed.

Roderick has us sort of repeat what we did yesterday with the shuffling, holding our situation in our minds eye, identifying the feelings involved, and locating them in our body before we give that emotional energy a color and a shape.  Immediately thereafter, we draw three cards:  the first relating to our past, the second to our present, and the third to our future.

Card 1 (first card on your left):  This card represents the past of the situation.  It is the energy that is locked up by the passage of time.  It represents the foundation of what is happening right now.

Card 2 (center card):  This represents the current situation.  The card also presents you with the method, the approach to the situation that will result in action that is beneficial for all parties.

Card 3 (last card on your right):  This represents the future of the situation.  This does not mean the future has already been decided.  It indicates what can result if you do not intervene in the energy pattern, the cycle that is already underway.

My past, present, and future reading regarding my current employment search.

My past, present, and future reading regarding my current employment search.

For my past card, I drew the Page of Wands, which Robin Wood characterizes as “a child with too much energy.  An announcement, loyalty, devotion, faithfulness.  A good employee.”  I think this is dead on.  In my first jobs, I was completely devoted and faithful to the company…and enthusiastic in my dedication.  I believed that if I worked hard, my efforts would be rewarded.  That carried over into how I viewed both my undergraduate and graduate work:  enthusiastic hard work is recognized.  I didn’t understand the importance of networking and “talking up” myself.

My current situation is the Six of Swords, which Robin Wood calls “a Rite of Passage” and notes that it means passing from one state of consciousness to a higher one.  She also says that it means “leaving troubles behind, going to a safer place, or finding understanding.”  That’s definitely what I’ve been doing as of late.  I’ve retreated to a safe place where I can be fine, but not great.  I’ve enjoyed quite a bit of enlightenment here, but it’s time to razzle things up, I think.  This card is also one where the main figure is carried by unseen forces:  I think it’s also a reminder that I need to relax and get out of my own way:  to put my fate in the Gods hands and let them take me where they will.

The future card here is the Eight of Pentacles, or the “Learning” card.  Robin Wood says it means “learning, apprenticeship, gaining new knowledge or skills, creation, productivity.  Or working very hard at low-paying levels, or keeping the nose to the grindstone.”  I think this is a hopeful outcome:  there’s a paying future out there for me.  It’s also a reminder that I don’t know everything and I do need to pay attention to more “entry level” work.  I’ve been in school for so long, that I feel I’m an expert…but I do need to recognize I don’t have much real-world experience in the things I’d like to do…so I should probably stop trying to be an editor, for example, and maybe focus my attention to the lower levels, like an assistant editor or a copywriter.  If I work hard at that, I’ll be able to get the necessary experience to work up.

And, hey…low-paying is still better than no-paying!

Day 310: Problem-Solving Technique

Today you will learn a tarot method that can provide you with solutions to any difficulties or challenges in your life.  To begin this method, shuffle the cards and spread them as you learned in yesterday’s lesson.  Then close your eyes and imagine your situation.  As you view the situation with your inner eye, you should feel some emotion.  There is a place in your body where you feel the emotion of this situation.  Where is it?  Once you locate the place where you hold the emotional energy of the situation, close your eyes and imagine that you travel down inside your body to that area.  Once you are at the location in your body, view the energy and assign it a color and a shape.  Imagine that you project yourself into this color/shape and then immediately open your eyes and draw one of the major arcana cards from the cards spread out before you.

The card you have chosen represents the approach you should best take to resolve the problem situation.

Robin Wood's Hierophant

Robin Wood’s Hierophant

The major difficulty or challenge in my current life is my employment status.  On the one hand, I need a job badly.  On the other…I really don’t tackle finding employment the way I should.  I’m terrified of so many thing–massive change, losing my friends and my community, starting over, rejection, worthlessness–that I’ve not been pursuing it as I ought to be, and it’s causing me some major headaches.  In fact, as I tried to feel my emotion in my body, I instantly developed an excruciating headache right between my eyes, and I instantly give it the shape and color of those yellow cartoon stars that always appeared whenever there was a fight on the old Batman television show with Adam West in the title role.

The card I drew was the Heirophant, which knocked me over given Wood’s negative associations with the card.  As we’ve discussed, it means “Conformity” for her–a repressive conformity like captivity, servitude, or empty ritual; the concern for form over function and a desire to hold onto old things, even if they are outdated.  It’s also a desire to control others or a position in which you have allowed yourself to be controlled by others.

My attitude towards finding a job has certainly privileged my desire to hold onto old things and has held me hostage in my own life.  I don’t have control anymore:  I’m dictated to by my housemates, by my dwindling bank account, and by the whims of my family.  And I suppose the Hierophant is also the key to digging myself out of the mess:  conform to the stereotype of the hungry job applicant.  If I play the part, I’ll still be doing something to help my situation.

Day 309: Reading the Cards

I confess:  I am thrilled to have finished up the major arcana series.  I’ve been meaning to do something like that for a long time now, and I fully intend to do something similar for the Minor Arcana at some point in the future…but I’m glad to be done for now.  That was a lot of research!  There were some cards like the Star that I spent multiple days researching and meditating upon.  I’m glad to move onto something else, that’s for sure.

The next week or so tackles a few basic reading techniques.  Roderick prefaces this section by noting that it’s a good idea to set aside plenty of practice time before reading Tarot for anyone other than yourself, and I would second his motion.  Tarot is a subtle medium, and you really need a long period of time to get to know its ins and outs and what the different cards call to your mind before trying to apply their messages to anyone you don’t know as well as you know your own self.

Roderick also takes a moment before beginning this series to address inverted cards, or cards that are flipped in their orientation to the reader (upside down).  Many readers ascribe unique meanings to these cards or otherwise interpret what barriers may be standing in the normal meaning’s path.  Tarot reversals are a little tricky, for they very rarely indicate that whatever that card depicts will not happen.

Mary Greer has written an excellent book, The Complete Book of Tarot Reversals, and in its introductory chapters she outlines eleven possible ways to interpret reversed cards (twelve if round decks are included):

  1. Blocked or Resisted.  The energy normally described by the card could be blocked, repressed, denied, rejected, or resisted.  This can be positive:  for example, the Eight of Cups reversed could express resistance to spending time alone.
  2. Projected.  There could be a tendency to project the denied material onto others.  The reversed Emperor, for example, might indicated projecting one’s own repressed aggressiveness onto another who wields power inappropriately.
  3. Delayed, Difficult, Unavailable.  Overall change may take longer than expected, or the querent should wait because the right timing for the delay may lead to preparation for a more rewarding opportunity
  4. Inner, Unconscious, Private.  The energy may be unconscious rather than conscious.  The Two of Cups reversed, for example, can refer to inner polarity instead of the upright balance.
  5. Breaking Through, Overturning, Refusing, Changing Direction.  The querent could be breaking free from the condition pictured, or that particular condition is coming to an end.
  6. No or Not (the upright meaning); Lacking.  Occasionally you can preface a standard upright interpretation with “no” or “not.”
  7. Excessive, Over- or Undercompensating.  The reversal may intensify or lessen the meaning of the card, or take it to extremes either on the over indulgence or under compensating side.
  8. Misused or Misdirected This can indicate a faulty start, bad timing, or something that is not used appropriately.
  9. “Re-” Words:  Retried, Retracted, Reviewed, Reconsidered.  The querent may wish to review, reconsider, or redo previous actions.
  10. Rectification:  Disease into Remedy. Sometimes the trial will lead to a greater cure.  For example, the reversal may indicate that the querent will get to the root of the problem rather than just tackle the problem’s effects.
  11. Unconventional, Shamanic, Magical, Humorous.  If an upright card depicts conventional wisdom, then the reversal illustrates unconventional wisdom.  It questions all the assumptions indicated by the upright meaning.

I, however, think pondering over reversals is something best left until you’ve fully mastered the upright meanings.  As Roderick notes, “a tarot reading involves interpretation of the archetypes, which are ancient, cross-cultural symbols.  There are no reversed archetypes.”  Plenty of truthful meaning can be made from a reading even if reversals are ignored:  simply turn the card upright and read it in its face-value meaning.

The One-Card Draw

The One-Card Draw

Today, we practice a basic one-card draw.  Given the vast number of tarot spreads people have developed, drawing just one card can seem disappointingly simple.  However, the one-card draw does have excellent uses, particularly if you just want general guidance instead of detailed responses.  It’s a good way to help get an idea of the “tone” of how a day will pass or what the basic energy of a situation, circumstance, or person is.

To begin, hold in your minds’ eye the question, “What influence governs my day?”  Shuffle the major arcana cards together face down (so that you cannot see their imagery).  Shuffle them as long as you would care to do so.  Lay the cards in a stack before you.  Using your left hand, spread the cards with a single sweep from right to left.  (This move takes some practice.  If you don’t get it right, simple work the cards into an overlapping row from right to left.)

While continuing to hold the question in your mind, draw a single card from the row and turn it over.  This card represents a spiritual symbol important for you to keep in mind for the day.  When the day is completed, take time to journal about how the card did or did not provide meaningful guidance for your day.

Robin Wood's King of Cups

Robin Wood’s King of Cups

The card I drew in this technique was the King of Cups, which Robin Wood says is “a kind, considerate man.  A father figure.  Someone who is interested in the arts, and gentle things.  A deep man, with a quiet demeanor, but none the less powerful and well balanced.”

It sort of surprised me that this card was the one I picked.  It doesn’t at all mesh with the tortured, intellectual day of writing that I’d planned…but, if I’m to be honest with myself, it really is how I’d prefer the day to go.  I am more than a little out of balance right now.  I do need to take the time to “father myself” and to be my own kind, gentle, powerful friend.  It’s been a long time since I’ve had anyone I can have a little discussion about the gentler things in life with, and I really miss it.  A few weeks ago, I’d taken a lot of strides to help supply that energy back into my life…but a few things happened and I fell off that bandwagon.  Maybe I should turn my attention back to that today.

Day 308: The World

The World in the Universal Rider-Waite, Hanson Roberts, and Robin Wood decks.

The World in the Universal Rider-Waite, Hanson Roberts, and Robin Wood decks.

The World card signifies that we’ve finally reached the apex of our journeys.  Waite says it represents “the perfection and end of the Cosmos, the secret which is within it, the rapture of the universe when it understands itself in God. It is further the state of the soul in the consciousness of Divine Vision, reflected from the self-knowing spirit.” To highlight that self-knowing, we again see the four living creatures of Ezekiel that we first encountered on the Wheel of Fortune card.  There, the creatures were all studying books.  Here, their faces are wide open.  The message is clear:  all the lessons have been learned.  We’ve been reborn into something new and wonderful…and the Journey begins again.

Of this particular mystery, Rachel Pollack says:

Everything in the universe moves, the Earth around the sun, the sun within the galaxy, the galaxies in clusters, all cycling around each other.  There is no centre, no place where we can say, ‘Here it all began, here it all stops.’ Yet the centre exists, everywhere, for in a dance the dancer does not move around any arbitrary point in space, but rather the dance carries its own sense of unity focused around a constantly moving, constantly peaceful centre.  Nothing and everything all at once.

And so we return to the Fool.  Innocence and emptiness, united with wisdom.  […]  The oval wreath suggests the number 0, with all its symbolism.  It implies as well the cosmic egg, the archetype of emergence; all things exist in potential and all potentials are realized.  The self is everywhere in all things.  The sashes at the top and bottom of the wreath are tied into infinity signs, indicating that the self is not enclosed but open to the universe.

The sashes are red, the colour of the root chakra in Kundalini symbolism.  The dancer has not lost her physical being, her root in material, sexual reality.  Instead, the energy is constantly flowing, transformed and renewed.  The green of the wreath symbolizes the natural world raised up rather than abandoned.  Green is also the colour of loving and healing, radiating wholeness to everyone, even those who are not consciously aware of it.  Purple (the banner) is the colour of divinity and blue (the sky) the color of communication.  When we know that divinity is not something out there, but within ourselves, then our very presence communicates this truth to those around us.

Robin Wood's World

Robin Wood’s World

Robin Wood’s card is very much like Waite’s, with the major change of removing the four creatures and replacing them with more literal representations of the four elements.  In my mind, this is stronger than the creatures:  we do not need to encounter the elements in symbol any more:  we can experience them more fully than ever before.

Wood’s dancing (or leaping) woman is clad not in purple, but it white “to show her purity and the endless opportunities available.”  White is also the presence of all colors and the blankness of a new page:  a mystery not dissimilar to that of the World card itself.  The wrap also floats around her to form an infinity loop to reinforce its endlessness.

Wood notes that her figure holds two different wands:  silver with green stones in her left and crystal with pink stones in her right.  These show her mastery over the seen and unseen worlds, as well as both animal and vegetable life.  She is balanced in all ways (which is how she is able to dance so gracefully).  The wreath with all its luscious vegetation represents the world and her victory over its trials.  Each of the different plants has a different symbolism (oranges for the sun, poppies for fertility, etc.), and together all these energies equal the world.  The red infinity ribbons show its vitality and nod to the mystery of “as above, so below.”

Behind the woman is a starry sky to again nod to her unlimited potential and to show she is comfortable in the world of mystery.  The five stars connect again to the five senses, and their four points relate to the material four elements.  As Wood says, “This is where the material world meets the starlight, and true vision, ability, and competence are born.”

The four elements around the card make up the corporal aspects of the world.  The central woman and her stars stands for the attainment of the fifth element, spirit.  With physical and non-physical elements finally combined, anything is possible!

KEYWORDS: Wholeness and Mastery, Integrating, Accomplishing, Being Involved, Feeling Fulfilled.

Meditation
Close your eyes and breathe deeply.  Concentrated your mind on your solar-plexus chakra.  Follow your breathing; observe each inhalation and exhalation.  In this way you unify the workings of your mind and your body.  Now imagine an energy at the center of your solar plexus.  With each exhalation, the energy enlarges.  Watch it expand to fill your body.  Then the energy moves past your body and fills the space in which you sit.  Then the energy enlarges to fill your neighborhood.  The energy continues to expand, flooding over cities, over vast areas of land.  It moves across seas.  It envelops the earth.  When your energy reaches this stage, open your eyes.  How do you feel?

Daily Practice
Keep the World card with you today or place it on your altar.  Many of us appreciate the concept of nature, but we don’t spend the time getting it on us and in us.  Go into a natural setting today and spend time experiencing this place through the senses.

The card descriptions are a combination of my own insights and paraphrasing from a handful of sources. I’m currently working with Rachel Pollack’s book Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, Robin Wood’s Robin Wood Tarot: The Book, and a smattering from Waite’s Pictorial Key. I also strongly recommend Joan Bunning’s book Learning the Tarot as well as the resources found on her website, learntarot.com.

Day 307: Judgement

Judgement in the Rider-Waite, Hanson Roberts, and Robin Wood Tarot decks.

Judgement in the Rider-Waite, Hanson Roberts, and Robin Wood Tarot decks.

Even though this card appears to depict an angel calling the dead from their tombs on the day of Judgement, I don’t believe this card’s meaning is terribly Christian.  I prefer to see it as a card of true calling–we feel the call invigorate us from our dead insides just as much as we hear the call around us.  It’s the kind of calling that comes from a place far greater than any one individual’s perception or existence.

Rachel Pollack says that the cross in the angel’s banner “indicates a meeting of opposites, a joining of all the things that had been separated” and that it also “symbolizes a meeting of two kinds of time; the ordinary time we perceive with our senses and by which we live from day to day, and eternity, the spiritual perception of life.” “Their meeting […] indicates that the higher self does not abandon its old activities but goes about them in a new way.”

That meeting and going about activities in a new way is reinforced by seeing the couple with the child between them.  Their joining created this child, who is our own new self.  His back is to us and we cannot see his face, which implies that as far as we have come, we still do not fully know ourselves–indeed, we cannot know that true self until we answer that true calling…and in Judgement we have only just heard it.

In the background of the card, Waite includes three more people–another couple and their child–and Pollack says that they serve to remind us that each person is a part of the human race and is therefore responsible for our collective growth.

Neither Pollack nor Waite address the fact that all these figures are sort of using their tombs as individual boats upon a body of water, which is possibly a flood of Armegeddon.  I like to think of this water as a realization that we just have to let the current flow around us–it will take us to the place our call intends for us to go.  This realization is also why I think the mountains of enlightenment are in the background.  This is, after all, an enlightened, liberating realization.

Robin Wood's Judgement

Robin Wood’s Judgement

Robin Wood clearly reacted against the highly Christian imagery of the Judgement card.  Indeed, she notes that she would have even renamed it, if not for her trend of preserving the card names.

In Wood’s Judgement, a naked priestess, stands joyfully in Cerridwen’s cauldron in the Goddess position.  Both show that this pirestess is one with the Goddess and is part of Her circle of rebirth.  Her nudity shows her unashamed freedom, and that she has cast off the world’s trappings in favor of spiritual enlightenment.  Her bracelet’s show she is a third-degree priestess, and while her body is lithe to show her strength, her hair is white to show that she is indeed old and wise.  This juxtaposition hints at the type of agelessness and wisdom that come with spiritual growth.

Interestingly, Wood notes that the priestess’s hands are held in the American Sign Language shorthand position for “I love you”:  Having been reborn, she now cannot help but express her great love for everyone.  The fires of purification temper her spirit.

Behind the priestess is a Phoenix, which symbolizes that the priestess’s new self has been reborn from her old ashes.  Its six feathers on its crest stand for the five physical senses (that we saw in the Fool and the Sun) plus the elusive sixth sense:  her love and great spiritual growth has brought her new understanding.

KEYWORDS: Rebirth, Feeling reborn, Answering a Calling, Finding absolution, Making a judgement.

Meditation
Begin this exercise by thinking about a situation that is weighing heavily in your mind.  Now take out a piece of paper and write down all of your thoughts and feelings about the situation.  Try to keep the pen (and your thoughts) flowing for at least five nonstop minutes.  Crumple the paper and cast it into a fire.  As it burns, close your eyes and imagine the situation changing.  Imagine that it loses its weight and power over you.

Daily Practice
Keep the Judgement card with you today or place it on your altar.  Keep track of your judgements today.  Are you labeling people and situations as good, bad, desirable, or undesirable?  Every time you catch yourself in a judging frame of mind, mentally say, “Stop!”  Then continue your activity with a clear mind.

The card descriptions are a combination of my own insights and paraphrasing from a handful of sources. I’m currently working with Rachel Pollack’s book Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, Robin Wood’s Robin Wood Tarot: The Book, and a smattering from Waite’s Pictorial Key. I also strongly recommend Joan Bunning’s book Learning the Tarot as well as the resources found on her website, learntarot.com.

Pentacle Symbols of Today and Yesterday

In the interest of keeping oathbound material oathbound, my interpretation of all the signs in this post comes not from what is handed down in my tradition, but from those publicly available in the Farrar’s book, A Witches’ Bible.  Their discussion of degree signs are found in the chapters focusing on the different degrees.  For all other signs, please consult part 2, pages 253-261.  My discussion of gendering the kiss and scourge signs comes from my own application of Kabbalah concepts to the pairing of these tools.

I mentioned in my last post that it took about a month from the time I contacted Godfrey and Alwynd at Gaean Allusions about taking on my custom pentacle to being able to hold that pentacle in my hands.  Part of that extended time was normal logistics, but part of it was that I had a small crisis about what symbols to put on the pentacle and what order to put them in.

Pentacle with traditional Gardnerian symbols.

Pentacle with traditional Gardnerian symbols.

As I previously discussed in a Roderick exercise prior to my initiation, this image pictured to the left is what is typically shown as an example of an Alexandrian or Gardnerian pentacle.  I think it is best known outside the tradition for appearing in Janet and Stewart Farrar’s book A Witches’ Bible, where they explain the inverted triangle is a symbol of the 1st degree, the inverted pentacle is a symbol of the 2nd degree, the central pentacle capped with an upright triangle represents the 3rd degree.  The circle capped with a crescent stands for the Horned God, and the doubled crescents stand for the Goddess.  The S and $ at the bottom stand for the kiss and the scourge, respectively.

What gave me pause was that these symbols in this order seemed so right to me, but it wasn’t quite what I copied in my Book of Shadows.  (After I later asked my HPS about the differences, she reviewed the materials I copied from and said “Oops!  Looks like someone flipped that around!” so my copy was apparently in error.)  The contrast between my inherited materials and my heart led me into a pretty interesting journey where I pondered the merits of alternate symbol arrangements and eventually looked into altar photographs taken around the 1950s and 1960s.

After I played around with the symbol arrangement, I thought logical arguments could be made for the primary arrangement and these two alternates, which I'll call A and B respectively.

The primary pentacle and my A and B variations.

With seven different signs in seven different positions around the center pentagram, we essentially have 5,040 possible arrangements here, so you do have to enter in a few variables to winnow out the logical grain from the nonsense chaff.  The first thing you can fix is placing the upright triangle at the top of the pentacle above the star, since that is the third-degree sign.  Since there isn’t enough room at the base of the pentacle to place the first- and second-degree signs, we also know that they’ll either have to be in ‘row’ 1 or 2.  You can also essentially fix the first-degree sign to be on the left hand side and the second on the right since it is convention in the Western world to order things as we read them  (lower items to the left and increasing items to the right).  Even cases like formal monograms (which put the initial of the third name in the center) flank the “outlier variable” with “correctly ordered” variables (and so the surname is flanked with first name initial on the left and middle name initial on the right).

Another variable to take into consideration are the kiss and scourge signs.  It makes theological sense to yoke them together since the kiss and the scourge two primary ways of raising energy and mercy and severity are the two primary ‘flavors’ of magic.  Though it is practical to place them paired at the pentacle’s base since they, as the most slender symbols, can both fit there comfortably, it makes theological sense to place them there, too.  These two flavors and these two methods of raising energy are essentially the praxis foundation of the religion.  Much of how we relate to the degrees and to the divine can be interpreted through these practical lenses.  With the scourge and kiss signs, though, there is some logical ambiguity in how we can order them.  We can opt for a kabbalah-inspired order and place mercy (the kiss) on the right and severity (the scourge) on the left to better mirror the column arrangement on the Tree of Life.  But we can also look to the genders of these qualities in the kabbalah and let those take precedence.  Mercy there is associated with a male aspect and severity with a female aspect.  Since the degree signs and the deity signs are gendered, gendering the scourge and kiss signs may factor into how we choose to arrange the signs…and there are lots of places for gender to go.

With these variables set, we can argue that the Primary Pentacle’s arrangement is logically ordered to first keep all the degree signs together in a culturally accepted fashion and to place the most important gendered signs (the God and the Goddess) to the farthest left and right spots in the pentacle.  When placed on a north-facing altar, this then puts the Goddess in the east and the God in the west, which works nicely with our stresses on the Goddess as a deity of beginnings (births) and the God as a deity of endings (deaths).  We order the genders of the kiss and scourge to essentially ‘match’ the deity positions to reinforce the concept of “as above, so below.”  Unfortunately, this logic does result in the degree genders to be swapped, and standard “stuff on top is more important” logic to erroneously assume that degrees are more important that Gods, but it overall does a nice job.

In Variation A, the logic fixes the degree signs in the same position as the primary pentacle, but gender ultimately trumps other mystery concerns.  Since the first degree sign is fixed on the left side and the second on the right, all female signs are placed on the left side and all male signs are put on the right.  This does coincide with the belief that right is the active, masculine direction and left the passive, feminine direction, but we lose the mystery aspect of the Primary Pentacle.  We also have an unfortunate side-effect of essentially “blocking” energy flow.  In circle, we order our practioners in alternating genders (male, female, male, female) to better spin energy around the circle.  Here, the energies are just pitted against each other.

Variation B, I think, comes closest to honoring all aspects of the pentacle.  By holding the general left/right positions of the Primary Pentacle static but switching around its Rows 1 and 2, we get to see Goddess energies in the east and God energies in the west along with the “as above, so below” matching of the kiss and scourge signs.  We also get “male, female, male, female” energy flow around the outer circle.  (This does, of course, ignore the upright triangle, but it conjoined with the upright pentacle is a gender-neutral unity.)

Now, when I figured this out, it took a lot of self-restraint to keep myself from saying “well, screw what the tradition typically does…I’m going to put Variation B on my pentacle.”  It was really just my belief that power is built in collective practice that kept me from shifting things around.  But it did make me wonder if a Variation B order was on older Gardnerian pentacles.  So I scoured the Internet to find images of various “First-Generation” High Priests’ and High Priestess’ altars in hopes that I could make out their pentacles.  Unfortunately, I had very little luck on this front.  In fact, I was only able to find three images of Doreen Valiente’s altar and tools.  What I found there, however, surprised me.

Doreen Valiente's more famous pentacles.

Doreen Valiente’s more famous pentacles.

As far as mostly clear images of altars went, I only found two:  a photograph from about 1962 where Valiente sat among her tools, and an undated photograph from the Doreen Valiente Foundation.  Unfortunately, the Foundation photograph doesn’t offer any information on from what era of Valiente’s magical studies these various tools date.  The 1962 photograph, however, would be during the years after Valiente broke from the Bricket Wood coven but still led a Gardnerian coven (sans Ardanes) with Ned Grove.  I’ve isolated the pentacles from these photographs in the image to the right.

Though it’s hard to make out the signs on these images, three things are very clear.  The first is that the 1962 pentacle has far more symbols on it than what we have today, including what appear to be athame symbols and an ankh.  The Foundation photograph shows less symbols, and–indeed–most of them are on today’s pentacle.  The scourge and kiss signs, however, are replaced with power signs.  What is most important to my purposes, however, is abundantly clear:  The degree signs are not grouped together on either pentacle.  In fact, God and Goddess signs are above them on both pentacles.  With the exception of the lower signs, they follow the pattern I worked out in my Variation B!

k

The first image is my own (poor) drawing of what I see in the black and white photo.  Places where I can see a sign but can’t make it out are numbered.  The numbers correspond to potential symbols (taken from A Witches’ Bible) below.  The second image is another of Doreen’s pentacles, and is very similar to the one pictured above that is set with colored stones or glass.  John Belham-Payne found it among other items in a catch-all bag.  Apparently this was a sort of “grab and go” witch kit of Doreen’s!

As visually cluttered as the 1962 pentacle is, I rather like the logic of what symbols were included, particularly if my guesses are right.  Using the information given for various athame symbols in A Witches’ Bible, it appears that the top pairs of symbols likely stand for the God and the Goddess and the initials of their names in BTW traditions.  Between Mathers’ Key of Solomon, Gardner’s High Magic’s Aid, and Gardner’s B-text Book of Shadows, we get a collection of three potential sigils for the God’s initial.  (Frankly, I think they’re all a little silly.  If I were to follow suit, I’d probably use the Hebrew letter kaph…which I think others have done, come to think of it.) The ankh, a symbol of life, doesn’t appear in Gardner’s materials (either for the athame or the pentacle), but Doreen’s personal suggestion to the Fararrs on the subject of athame symbols were that the initial signs were to be replaced with the ankh and the sign for Scorpio to signify life and death/the beyond or the light and dark halves of the year.  (Alternately, a sickle sign would symbolize death and the beyond, but on the athame that’s paired with a serpent for life, not the ankh.)  I like the thought that these life and death signs would be incorporated near the deity signs on the pentacle, too, since we so closely associate those states with the divine.

Below the two clusters of deity signs, there’s what is essentially a central row of the degree signs, and they’re all about the same relative size.  Below those are signs for what I like to think of as “how magic works.”  There’s the kiss and scourge which, in addition to being themselves symbols for mercy/severity are also actions performed to purify and consecrate, which paves the way for magic to be made.  There is what I believe to be the symbol for the connection of the God and the Goddess creating the power that goes forth in magic, and it is directed to the eight-spoked wheel, which can stand for the eight ways of making magic with that power.  All in all, these symbols very potentially tell a cogent story of Wiccan theology.

It looks like the same pattern is present in Doreen’s wooden pentacles, only simplified.  The God and Goddess signs don’t have the ‘extra’ signs of the initials or of life and death, but they are in roughly the same place as they are on the black and white pentacle.  The degree signs are in the middle again, but this time the center pentacle is enlarged and appears to do “double duty” of being both a pentacle and part of the third-degree sign.  The scourge and the kiss signs are absent, but the flow and path signs are present.  Interestingly, I think you could argue that the ‘flow’ sign is masculine and the ‘path’ sign feminine, particularly if you ascribe the “power flows from the God” meaning in A Witches’ Bible.  Power flows from the God and the Goddess births it into a form.

At any rate, I am very satisfied with my pentacle and my decision to conform to the contemporary Gardnerian sigil set.  I think it would be a very worthwhile endeavor, though, to start an oathbound dialogue on what we’ve chosen and why.

Pentacle form the Witchcraft Museum.

Pentacle from the Witchcraft Museum.

UPDATE:  I just came across this image of a pentacle that was purported to be in Cecil Williamson’s Witchcraft Museum back when Gardner collected various items for it.  I don’t know if Gardner collected it or where it originated, but thought it might be of interest here.  I’m not sure what the circle with the double cross is, but the other symbols are the pentagram with the tetragrammaton written in its center, the swastika, an ankh, and a templar cross.

My New Post-Initiation Pentacle

As big of a believer as I am in holding off on acquiring a tool until something feels right, I have to confess that the flip side of that coin is that you sometimes have to let go of tools when your feelings change; that is, when your beliefs deepen or otherwise change.  That’s been the case for me these past few months.  While I had a pentacle I loved and that I felt worked well for my needs, I started thinking about trading it in for a new model not long after my initiation.

I know this is silly, but when I was a teenager, I really wanted to join a Gardnerian group.  And I promised myself that if I ever did manage to do that, I would scour the country and find a potter who could help me craft a ‘proper’ Gard pentacle with all its different symbols.  As it happened, I fell in love with a Pagan-friendly pottery company, Gaean Allusions, at the 2012 Pantheacon in San Jose, California.  Its proprietors, Godfrey and Alwynd, make amazing pieces (lots more pictures on their Facebook page!) and I spent far too long browsing their booth every day of the convention.  However,  lacking funds (and not sure I’d even be on the West Coast to continue with initiation), I held off on making any purchases and simply filed them away in my mental rolodex.

Well, as we all know, I did stay on the West Coast and did eventually get initiated.  And, not long ago, I came into just enough unexpected cash that I realized I could finally commission a piece, so I looked up my favorite potters.  Wouldn’t you know, they live and work just 25 miles away from my new home in Olympia?  They’re even great friends with some of my housemates!  Not a day after I e-mailed them, they contacted me back with an enthusiastic “Yes!  We’ll make you a pentacle!”  And a month or so later, I finally laid hands on the pentacle of my dreams:

My Gardnerian pentacle, which was lovingly crafted by Godfrey and Alwynd at Gaean Allusions.

My Gardnerian pentacle, which was lovingly crafted by Godfrey and Alwynd at Gaean Allusions.

I could not be more pleased.  It is absolutely perfect.  Alwynd sort of talked me into the solid brown slip with the green glaze over the whole piece–I was initially thinking of something more like a brown pentacle with green symbols on a white plate (kind of like this leafed pentacle)–but I’m so glad she did!  I think this pentacle is now a lot “earthier” than it might have been otherwise.  She also scaled me back from my initial suggestion of a 10- to 12-inch diameter patten.  This guy is 8 inches in diameter, and that’s plenty big!  I’m also thrilled that she was able to work the symbols around the central star even after I asked for a circle to be placed around it, too–I wanted lots of green in the patten’s center!  I think it made the overall scale of the symbols much better than others I’ve seen, and it allows the upright star to just touch the top of the central star.

I think Godfrey and Alwynd have found themselves a life-long customer.  I’m already budgeting for a set of dinner dishes!

And what became of my old pentacle?  An enthusiastic and much-loved new member of the coven’s Outer Court has given it a great new home.  I don’t think this materialist story could have had a better outcome.