I’ve always loved when the moon comes up in readings, and I love it because the card is so pretty. There’s something about all the animals being compelled by the moon to either howl or come out of their comfort zone that appeals to my shadow self. After all, who among us hasn’t seen the moon hanging in the sky and felt the thrill of wildness shimmer up our spine?
Waite says that this card represents “life of the imagination apart from life of the spirit,” which Rachel Pollack seems to interpret as stage two of the 3 part “Star-Moon-Sun” path. The Star, as we have seen, is a card whose “experience lies beyond words or even form.” It is the experience of love that we know at its truest when we are between the conscious and unconscious worlds; we cannot completely articulate that experience when we are in either state. The Moon, then, represents our “imagination as it molds the energy of the star into shapes that the consciousness can comprehend.”
I like to think that the crayfish emerging from the unconscious pool represents this imagination, since it is actively bridging consciousness and unconsciousness by being both half in and out of the pool (seen both on Temperance and the Star). Crayfish are generally liminal creatures, since they can survive on both land (at least for a short amount of time) and in water. They’re also one of the few crustaceans that prefer freshwater to seawater, and they generally move backwards instead of forwards–especially when escaping a threat. Since they’re such odd little creatures, I think they represent imagination well, since our imaginations are the parts of our minds that function ‘irrationally’. I think that they also serve as a great symbol for molding unconscious energy into shapes that the conscious can understand because of their terrestrial role. Crayfish aren’t creatures that have largely captured a mythological mind, but in the Osage Nation (a Native American tribe that originated in present-day Kentucky), the crayfish plays an important role in earth’s creation: he is the Earthdiver, the small but brave creature who retrieves mud from the bottom of the primordial ocean so that the earth can be created. So too can the crayfish represent the imagination diving into unconsciousness and bringing its creativity to the conscious mind. However, since the crayfish is far more comfortable in water than it is on land, he will never be able to fully bring all the Star’s deep perceptions into perfect conscious clarity.
My impressions of the crayfish are a generous interpretation of Waite’s intent. He says (very vividly) that the crayfish is “that which comes up out of the deeps, the nameless and hideous tendency which is lower than the savage beast.” In other words, the crayfish represents the most monstrous qualities of man, the qualities that constantly struggle for manifestation but continually slip back into the unconscious. Rachel Pollack concurs, saying that the crayfish “symbolizes the most universal fears within the collective unconscious, experienced in visions as nameless demons” and that “the emergence of such terrors is a well known occurrence to people who expose their lunar side through such methods as deep meditation or drugs.”
The dog and the wolf more clearly represent the ‘animal self’ present in the conscious, and their howling shows that this animal self is most strongly roused by the moon. The animal self can be controlled–represented by the domestic dog–or it can be dangerous and fully wild–represented by the wolf, an apex predator.
Here’s the thing: the most important part of the moon card isn’t the Moon or any of the animals in the foreground: it is the gateway and the path. The Moon represents a part in the Fool’s journey where we can actively journey forth: we struggled with lusts and greed with the Devil, ripped away the foundations of our useless, vain knowledge in the Tower, and found our way back to Temperance’s pool and that card’s mastery over our inner selves with the Star, which taught us to pour forth that inner mastery and its love upon the conscious realm. The Moon finally leads us away from that pool and gives us an avenue to follow. If we succeed at moving past our inner fears that immediately block our exit from the pool, we will be able to reflect the light of the Star’s inner ecstasy to all, much as the moon reflects the sun’s light. All we have to do is to find the courage to step away from the unconscious pool and go through the pillars into the shadowy, moon-lit hills.
Throughout the tarot, any time we’ve seen a pair of pillars, we’ve been presented with a gateway of one form or another. This is the last gate, and it’s not guarded by a central figure, such as in the High Priestess or the Hierophant, or even set off in the distance. It is right here in front of us, and nothing stands between us and that first step except for our own inner savageries. The Moon, however, shines down upon this inner chaos with perfect calm. In fact, in the Waite card especially, it even looks as if it disapproves that the animalistic urges are initially getting the better of us following the path beyond the gates. Waite writes that the face in the moon is “the face of the mind” and it “directs a calm gaze upon the unrest below; the dew of thought falls; the message is: Peace, be still; and it may be that there shall come a calm upon the animal nature, while the abyss beneath shall cease from giving up a form.”
The dew of thought here are the yodh-drops falling from the moon. We last encountered these in the Tower, where they represented primal sparks of creation. I think it is important to note that the moon isn’t really showering these drops onto the animal fears in the card’s foreground, but rather the path beyond the gates. It provides incentive for us to transcend our animal urges and to take what we can of the Star’s inner ecstasy and love into the conscious and to let that ecstasy grow.
With the exceptions that her moon has no face and is not putting forth any drops–yodh-shaped or not–and the pillars are rock instead of man-made towers (to show how ancient the struggle between wild and civilized is–these are pillars like those in Stonehenge, roughly hewn and artificially placed at the beginning of civilization), Robin Wood’s card is quite similar to the Rider-Waite card. She even puts forth a tiny little crayfish at the end of her pool. For Wood, however, the Moon is all about wildness. The pool reflects the light of the moon, and show represents the unconscious on two levels. It’s bordered by large rocks “which represent our society trying to keep the unconscious stuff safely walled away” and mushrooms grow around them, since mushrooms are associated with the wild Fey. They’re also “things that can spring up in a single night” to show how quickly these urges can take hold of us. They’re also night-time ‘plants’ which shows that this wildness is relegated to our shadow sides. Her crayfish sands for primitive thoughts and tendencies, and is the triumph of the wild over civilizing forces that would destroy everything in the name of Progress. The ripples his tail creates build in intensity and splash against the confining rocks–they will slowly beat those rocks into gravel.
Wood holds that the wolf represents the wild and the collard dog represents the tame–it is important to note that the tame is baying right alongside the wild. “This shows how thin the veneer of civilization actually is. Given the moon, we’ll all be out there howling.”
Wood says that this card represents the struggle of staying on a path in the midst of all this wildness tugging at us to abandon all structure. That path will lead us into misty hills: there are still struggles yet to be had, but staying on that path will bring us again into new mountains of enlightenment.
KEYWORDS: Stimulating imagination, Wildness, Feeling fear, Believing illusions, Bewilderment.
Sit and watch the moon tonight without any expectation in mind. Allow its energy to silently fill you. How does the energy of the moon feel inside of you? What wisdom does it seem to impart?
Keep the Moon card with you today or place it on your altar. As you go through your day, remain in a state of readiness for anything that may come your way. Do not resist the situations that may come up. Instead, flow with them effortlessly. Keep your imagination and any story about your life at bay.
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.
Rachel Pollack says that the Death, Temperance, Devil, and Tower cards can collectively be called “The Fool’s Crisis”, for it is a difficult section. In Death, the Fool has a single moment to trust in a future transformation and drop the ego’s masks. Temperance actualizes that transformation and shows that instead of myriad masks, all energies are tempered together into the Fool’s body. But he still struggles when bringing these energies outside of himself, and he undergoes the trials of lust and intellectualization in the Devil and the Tower. The Star, though, shows that these trials have been conquered, and now true transmission of that balanced energy obtained in Temperance can occur.
This is shown through the similar imagery in Temperance and the Star. The Star shows a return to Temperance’s pool, which is also the end of Death’s river between the twin towers. Both cards show a figure with one foot on the ground and the other in (or on) the pool, and both cards show that figure holding two vessels and pouring water. But that is where similarities end. Temperance shows a male figure standing rigidly and fully enrobed in a garment holding divine symbols. The Star shows a nude female figure in a relaxed, organic pose. Temperance contains his water, pouring the same alquot back and forth between his cups. The Star pours water from both jugs in an endless stream, confident that her reserves are infinite. The imagery clearly shows that where Temperance is reserved, the Star is free. In her openness, she can share her balanced energy with others, as indicated by her reserves feeding both the pool and the land. The fact that her achieved balance is found in the superconscious is noted by her relative lack of interaction with either land (consciousness) or the pool (unconsciousness). Aside from feeding them with her water, she does not ‘penetrate’ either–a fact most clearly illustrated by her right foot, which mystically rests on the rippling water and not in it.
Waite says that the star is l’étoile flamboyante, or Freemasonry’s Blazing Star. In this tradition, this star is a symbol for truth, or the Divine Forces directing one to truth. In the Scottish Rite, that truth becomes embodied in the mason undertaking the 28th degree, for he has perfected himself by truth and in advancing in this knowledge becomes a blazing star, brilliantly shining in the midst of darkness.
I like to think that the Blazing Star is, in fact, the divine indicating a great truth, and that truth is creation. Whenever one person directs his energy to another, something is created. When the Star feeds the pool and the earth, she allows the pool to continue to deepen, she creates its rippling waves, and she allows the seedlings around her on the earth to flourish. In particular, the five streams forming from her earth vessel show how her gifts permeate the physical five senses, and therefore influence humanity’s creative abilities. In this focus on creation, the star is Venus Genetrix, or the name of the Roman goddess Venus in her aspect of mother. Through calm, centered love and beauty, she allows all around her to grow and flourish in their own terms. (Incidentally, this creative focus coincides with Waite’s interpretation, too, for he says that the star is also “in reality the Great Mother in the Kabalistic Sephira Binah, which is supernal Understanding, who communicates to the Sephiroth that are below in the measure that they can receive her influx.”)
This identification of the star with Venus is particularly perspicacious since the following two cards are the moon and the sun. In other words, the progression from star to sun shows increasing light, and the third brightest object in Earth’s sky is the planet Venus, our morning and evening star. Venus might even be considered the stars’ Star, for plotting the recurrence of Venus’s westward elongation from the sun over five consecutive synodic periods (about eight years and five days) will create the points of a five-pointed star: the pentagram. In this interpretation, Venus would be the brightest of the eight planet-stars shows on the Rider-Waite card.**
One aspect of the Rider-Waite card has gone unmentioned: the bird roosting in the tree on the highest ground (aside from the distant mountains, which indicate there being a yet further enlightenment). There are lots of different interpretations for this. Some say it is the dove Noah sent out after the flood, grabbing the branch that indicates the destruction is over. (Clearly this is the Hanson-Roberts card’s angle.) This interpretation actually fits nicely with the Fool’s crisis being resolved in the Star, but it seems obscure to me and the bird in Waite’s card certainly does not look like a dove. In fact, it looks more like a crane-like water bird to me, like an ibis or a heron. Many who hold that the bird is an ibis naturally link it with the Egyptian God Thoth, who represents wisdom, logic, the moon, and magic. They say the tree represents the human central nervous system, and together ibis and tree indicate the ability to focus in order to receive a higher wisdom. It’s a nice thought, but I think that’s a concern that fits Temperance better than the Star, since the Star has moved on from Temperance’s extreme focus.
If we identify the star as Venus, though, I think we could make a strong case for this crane-like bird to be the mythical Egyptian Bennu. This might seem like a bit of a stretch, as the Bennu is primarily linked with the sun, but the strange palimpsest of Egyptian mythology ends up associating it with Venus, too. The Bennu was first a self-created being that played a role in creating the world. He appears as a heron, for as the heron stands alone on isolated ‘islands’ of high ground during Nile floods, so too did the Bennu appear as the first life upon the primeval mound of earth that rose from watery chaos at creation. Later, the Bennu is said to have enabled the creative actions of Atum, who is the first god in the Heliopolitan creation myth. The solar god Ra became conflated with Atum, who was Heliopolis’s sun god. So the Bennu became Ra’s ba, or the thing that made that Ra unique and that would live on when his body died. In Ra’s solar theology, he dies every night and unites with or becomes Osiris in the underworld. The Bennu, then, is what physically connects Ra to Osiris. (Incidentally, when the Bennu is pictured in reference to Osiris, he is shown perched in a willow tree, which is not at all dissimilar to the tree in the Star card.) Through the connection with Osiris, the Bennu became associated not with the sun, but with Venus. In Sir Ernest Alfred Wallis Budge’s translation of The Book of the Dead, Osiris has a passage where he says “Mortals…I go in like the Hawk and I come forth like the Bennu bird, the morning star of Ra.” This clearly aligns both the Bennu and Osiris with Venus, which appears on the horizon just before the sunrise and which would then give the mortal world a glimpse of Osiris before the Bennu ba transferred back to Ra. Indeed, a name for Venus at this time translated to was “the star of the ship of the Bennu-Asar” (Asar being the Egyptian for Osiris) and was painted as such in images like the one above.
Through the Bennu, Egyptian mythology also connected the star Venus with the same creative forces linked to it in Roman mythology, and the same creative forces that the Star card depicts. Surely it is no coincidence that Waite and Smith depicted a heron-like bird in a willow-like tree on the highest ground in the scene!
Robin Wood’s card maintains a lot of the same imagery from the Rider-Waite card, with the notable exceptions of the woman’s right foot being in the water, the tree with the bird being in the foreground, and the bird itself being a small, white, dove-like bird. Wood’s intepretations of these similar elements, though, are quite different.
Wood’s figure is a Star Goddess who appears nude so as to properly practice her rites as dictated in the Charge. Unlike Wood’s typical Goddess figures, she is blonde to signify that stars are also suns. Her straddling of water and land is intended to show she is perfectly balanced between the unconscious and conscious worlds. She is engaged in an act of dedication (shown in her style of kneeling) and meditation (shown by her gaze into the pool).
The bowl in her right arm is silver to indicated the hidden, spiritual world and reflects a star to show that meditation on the unseen yields insight into the highest parts of the seen world. The bowl in her left arm is clear crystal to show the physical world. The bowls would make a perfect sphere if put together to show that the unseen and seen are two halves of a whole. She pours water onto both the land and the pool to show that the unconscious can operate in the conscious world, too. On the land, the unconscious separates into the five sensory streams to show that the senses are enlivened by dreams, and one stream flows back into the pool to show that the senses also contribute to the unconscious.
The wide green lawn shows the openness and freshness the Star’s knowledge can bring. The bluebells symbolize the insights found through starlight vision, and the white flowers show that vision’s purity. The beech tree represents ancient wisdom, and its new leaves show that old knowledge constantly renews itself. The white bird represents divine inspiration: pure thought and freedom of spirit. The fringe of trees in the background show all the other minds bordering on the Star’s state, and how they all benefit from growing together. The eight stars with eight points represent the wheel of the year and recurring cycles. The larger star indicates that there is one point of the cycle that the querent is focused on right now.
KEYWORDS: Superconscious creation, Hope, Inspiration, ‘Starlight vision’
Is there some situation about which you have nurtured negative thoughts? Try this exercise to lift your spirits and to restore your goddess-given optimism. Close your eyes and imagine that you are standing beneath dark, rain-swollen clouds. The skies are threatening and the landscape before you appears gray and lifeless. Begin breathing deeply, and on each exhalation, imagine that the dark clouds begin to lighten. gradually, with each exhaled breath, the clouds dissipate altogether and the bright, golden sun appears. Bask in the rays of the sun for several minutes. Open your eyes and resume your day with an attitude that represents this solar energy.
Keep the Star card with you today or place it on your altar. Keep a positive frame of mind. No matter the situation, try to enter it with a sense of play, knowing that there is no harm that can ultimately affect you. Count your blessings today. For what do you have to be grateful? Acknowledge your gratitude and allow that to guide your optimistic spirit. Do something that makes you laugh today!
The card descriptions are a combination of my own insights and paraphrasing from a handful of sources. I’m currently working with 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.
**If the eight stars on the card are planets, this would have to mean counting Pluto as a planet, which is slightly tricky as the Rider-Waite cards were published 21 years before Pluto’s official discovery in 1930. At the start of the 20th century, though, the concept of a ninth planet was treated as virtual fact. It was even named Planet X by Percival Lowell, who began a serious search for it in 1905. Lowell’s calculations of where Planet X would be around 1930 coincided with Pluto’s location at discovery and appeared to give much credence to his theories. (Indeed, the name ‘Pluto’ was chosen in part because the P-L would honor Lowell’s primary initials.) Research around the end of the 20th century deemed this a coincidence, as other forces were found to create the anomalies on which Lowell based his calculations. By the late 1970s, further study proved that Pluto was much, much smaller than initially thought (about Earth’s size: we now know it to be about a third of our Moon’s volume and a sixth of its mass). With the discovery of a larger body than Pluto in 2005 (Eris, which is 27% larger than Pluto), Pluto was officially ‘downgraded’ to dwarf planet status in 2006. Current research does not indicate a ninth planet exists.
After gaining a mastery over one’s own energy in Temperance, the next step in the journey is to begin working your energy in conjunction with others. The Devil kicked off this stage of energy work by tackling the most basic interplay: lust and greed. The Tower takes on the next step: communication. This is perhaps what Waite means in his Pictorial Key where he compares the Devil and the Tower. Of the Tower he says:
There is a sense in which the catastrophe is a reflection from the previous card, but not on the side of the symbolism which I have tried to indicate therein. It is more correctly a question of analogy; one is concerned with the fall into the material and animal state, while the other signifies destruction on the intellectual side.
As with lust, communication itself is no evil and is–in fact–deeply necessary to constructing a society. The problem with communication, though, is that it is a fully symbolic medium. I’ve always liked using René Magritte’s painting The Treachery of Images to illustrate this point. If you were to show someone the picture below and ask “What is this?”, 99 times of a hundred, that person will reply “A pipe, idiot.” It is not a pipe, though–it is just the image of a pipe. Obviously, you cannot stuff or smoke the image the way you can with a real pipe. This is the message of the French script below the image: “This is not a pipe.”
This experiment can obviously be replicated with the word “pipe.” Write that word on a slip of paper and ask someone what it is, and they’ll usually reply “pipe, fool!” And yet, this is an even more abstract representation of the pipe. Not only can you not smoke the word, there is absolutely nothing inherent in the lines upon that paper that refers to “pipe.” We’ve only collectively agreed that lines that resemble “pipe” will refer to that smoking tool.
It is absolutely vital to remember that words, whether spoken or written, are not an experience in themselves: they are a representation of an experience, and something is always lost in that representation. Yet, this is the only medium we have to try to convey to another person what something we’ve experienced is like. They become so immediate to us, that we very easily mistake them for fully representing or, worse, even being that experience.
The Tower card depicts our symbol for people who have gone so far into the world of representation that they’ve lost complete touch with primal experience: The Ivory Tower. For those unfamiliar with the phrase, this is a pejorative term Western society uses to describe a very ‘academic’ world where the intellectuals within are completely preoccupied with ideas that have almost no relevance to the practical concerns of every day life. The only thing the Ivory Tower produces are empty words, words with no real referent, words that have forgotten they are only representations.
In the Tower card, we very clearly see a true ‘ivory tower’. It was capped with a crown that lightning has knocked off, and the tower itself is now ablaze. That crown is an important symbol that further highlights the over-intellectualization this image represents. It is an item that traditionally differentiates a monarch or a deity from all others and invests in them the power to ‘head’ their people’s body and to make decisions for the population. As such, it is also a powerful symbol for the mind, and the crowned tower would therefore stand for intellectualizaton’s intellectualization. However, the lightning, a flash of pure experience, easily destroys this façade and reveals it to be nothing but an empty shell with no grounding in reality.
This might be why the two falling figures are shown plummeting head-first. As we discussed in the Devil, inversion of the human figure is a powerful symbol, for it means desire getting the best of judgement. In the entire deck, there are only three instances of such inversion: The Hanged Man’s figure, the inverted pentagram upon the Devil’s forehead, and the two falling figures in The Tower. The Hanged Man willingly undergoes this ‘humiliating’ inversion to gain new perspective and learn a greater truth. The Devil wears this symbol to show the excesses to which it may lead. The Tower provides additional commentary: desire is not the antithesis of judgement but rather its companion. Desire provides the groundings from which Judgements can spring; without desire, all that cerebral function is simply spinning castles in the air. When the empty tower falls, human reason rushes back into experience as quickly as it can.
The two falling figures in the Tower, though, aren’t falling voluntarily. Their inversion has suddenly been forced upon them and is a rapid, possibly cataclysmic re-grounding. When they collide with experience’s rocks, it is going to hurt. Having been so lost in symbol, they will struggle to re-learn the ‘language’ of reality. But they will ultimately find freedom in this fall, as the depiction of mid-fall hints. Caught at this moment, rather than at its start or at its end, the fall resembles flight, which–in the Tarot–is a sign of freedom.
Unlike other Tarot artists, Waite put a great amount of detail into his two falling figures. On the left side of the card, the figure is very clearly male with long, brown hair, and he wears a red cape, blue tunic, and white trews and boots. The figure on the right side of the card is very clearly female, and she wears a crown atop curly blonde hair and is clad in a blue gown and red shoes (at least in the traditional coloring of the card, shown right).
Looking at the two people, it is clear that they are each other’s dual opposite. He is a man, she is a woman. He wears the color of fire on his upper half and the color of water on his lower half, she wears water on her upper and fire on her lower. He is dark where she is light. He is straight-haired where she is curly. He is poor where she is rich (the crown). Since the people are shortly to be smashed to bits, this could indicate the breakdown of intellectual dualism into its component parts in preparation for an experiential renewal that does not come from such entrenched concepts. After all, this third line of the Major Arcana relates to the superconscious, and part of becoming one with a larger spiritual awareness is to release the dualities that defined us as individuals.
Finally, Waite has also included twenty-two tongues of fire surrounding the figures and the tower. Twelve tongues surround the man, and ten float above the woman. Each of these tongues are in the shape of the Hebrew letter “Yodh”. In the Kabbalah, this letter is said to be the source of all other letters in the Hebrew alphabet, and its simple shape is thought to represent droplets of sperm and the primal sparks of creation. As such, Kabbalists believe that Yodh combined with itself in various patterns to make up ever other Hebrew letter, and so it is both the source and the fulfillment of creation. Together, these yodhs–one for each of the cards in the Major Arcana–indicate that the Tower’s destruction is also a new creation. In numerology, 22 is the number of “The Master Builder” or of an ancient wisdom that can turn the most ambitious dreams into a reality: the ultimate creator. The twelve surrounding the man are a nod to the Hanged Man, showing a regeneration toward a higher consciousness, the submission of will, and sacrifice. The ten above the woman is a nod toward the Wheel of Fortune and new change–positive new change if its potential is fulfilled.
Robin Wood’s card shares a lot of visual similarities with the Rider-Waite card, though it does away with the tower’s crown and the yodhs. Wood also brought in all the elements into the tower’s destruction: it is simultaneously being destroyed by earthquake, storm, flood, and fire. This is to show that nature won’t tolerate things set up against its rules for long, so its elements unite to take the offending tower down (and its builders with it).
Wood’s card depicts a ziggurat, which represents something into which the querent invested a great deal of time and effort, but which is crumbling before his or her eyes. The sections spiral widdershins (the decreasing direction) to show it was constructed backwards, or without first considering the most important things. It has five sections for each of the five senses, which indicates its construction was founded in sensual appeal, not one to a higher power. Its eight windows indicate that it was meant to be balanced, but the random placement shows that plan failed very early.
Though Wood’s two figures are tiny, they are as detailed as Waite’s. Look closely and you will see a man and woman falling head first from the tower. They wear blue and gold clothing, which stand for spiritual things and wealth, and show they had the highest intentions while they were building the tower. But they also wear red and purple cloaks and wear gold crowns, which shows they were acting as earthly royalty, and had very material concerns. Their crowns are flying off their heads, which indicates they are losing their position and their ego.
KEYWORDS: Sudden change, Upheaval, Release, Revelation, Losing the false premises.
Close your eyes and take several deep breaths. Imagine that your body radiates a color that represents your ideals. Imagine this color forms a bubble that surrounds you. Imagine now that you are able to step out of the bubble. Once you do this, the color collapses to the ground beside you. Now look at your spirit body and note how it appears without this color. How does it feel to be without it? This aura cannot survive without being attached to you, so imagine now that the aura dissipates into the ground, where it is neutralized.
Keep The Tower card with you today or place it on your altar. In front of the altar, set a candle of a color that represents one of your closely held ideals. take a pin and inscribe a word that represents this ideal on your candle. Light the candle, and while it burns, take out some paper. Write down how this ideal affects your life. Does it create rules? Impossibilities? Does it stifle or direct your behavior in some particular way? How does this ideal defend you from the reality of life? Where do these ideals come from? Who created them? Know that as the candle burns away, so will your ideal. Act throughout the day without sustaining any ideals.
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 The New Tarot Handbook, 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.
Today, as you observe silence, focus your attention on your spirit, the energy that pervades and sustains your existence. Spend time considering where this energy form may reside. Is this an internal or external aspect of yourself? What makes up your spirit? Consider how it moves you throughout your day. At the day’s end, answer these questions:
- What is it like to focus my attention on my spirit?
- Is spirit something that I could find? How? Where is it?
- How does my spirit move me throughout my day?
- Is there anything that seems to affect my spirit?
- How does my spirit seem to interact with my senses, my thoughts, and emotions?
Take time to ask yourself the following:
- Of the information I have learned up to now, what stands out as vital?
- What information seems least relevant to my spiritual development?
- Which of the practices seemed to move me spiritually, and which had little impact?
- Of the information I have learned so far, what would be best to review? (Take time to do so now.)
Focusing my attention onto my spirit was hard! Eventually, though, I realized that I located too much of my spirit in my head, right behind that third eye chakra. This is my mind, which just doesn’t stop whirring, and I’ve fallen into the habit of focusing much of my spirit energy at that point. As I continued to focus, I realized that my spirit is a part of every cell of my body, and it extends out from me. I suppose that my aura, then, is my spirit body. My spirit’s motivations are too conflated with those of my mind, but with a lot of attention I did realize that I have different spirit pleasure than I do mind pleasures. Feeling warm sunshine on my skin does make me mentally happier, but it leaves a far deeper impression on me than just in my mind alone. After I exercise, my body is exhausted and my mind hopped up, but my spirit is completely satisfied…like it’s a kitten purring contentedly at a warm hearth.
I think that I have not been paying much attention to my spirit body and it’s role in my thoughts and emotions. Now that I’m more aware of it, I think I will do better in the future.
You know, I think that the most vital information I’ve learned over the past 30 days or so has been that spellwork is actually quite fun! I had a wonderful time inventing spells during the herbal days, and it was an incredible creative outlet. Doing so many in such rapid succession (and obviously not wanting to agonize over every little detail) definitely turned my attitude around regarding spells. I think I might actually start to improve my spellcrafting skills now. Least relevant? Well, the May Wine day still strikes me as a bit of a waste…but that’s just me. Crafting spells seemed to move me more spiritually than learning about the different tarot cards, but there’s still time for tarot to grow on me as a spiritual practice.
I think what I would like to do is review circle casting again and start writing my own standard script. I’ve been using others’ words for awhile…I should probably wean myself off that crutch.
Aradia is another deity name that is peculiar to contemporary Paganism and Wicca. Historically, the most we know about this figure comes from a text that Charles Godfrey Leland published in 1899: Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches. Unfortunately for us, this source is not without a level of controversy. Leland reported that whilst researching Italian folklore, he became acquainted with a woman he called Maddalena in 1886, and she became the primary source for his Italian folklore collecting for several years. Leland described her as being a part of a dying sorcery tradition and wrote that “by long practice [she] has perfectly learned… just what I want, and how to extract it from those of her kind.” Over the years, he received several hundred pages worth of material from her, which was incorporated into his books Etruscan Roman Remains in Popular Tradition, Legends of Florence Collected From the People, and eventually Aradia. In his foreword Aradia, Leland wrote that he had “learned that there was in existence a manuscript setting forth the doctrines of Italian witchcraft” in 1886, and had urged his friend Maddalena to find it. Over a decade later, Leland received the Vangelo by post. The manuscript was written in Maddalena’s handwriting, and Leland understood it to be an authentic document of the “Old Religion” of the witches, but explains that he did not know if the text came from written or oral sources.
Today, we do not know if Leland invented the Vangelo himself or if it really was delivered to him by an Italian witch. Since the repopularization of witchcraft, various scholars have chimed in with their opinions as to the work’s legitimacy. Most recently, pagan studies scholars Ronald Hutton, Chas Clifton, and Sabina Magliocco have weighed in. Hutton takes the skeptic’s stance, and doubts that there was a religion the story claimed to represent in addition to doubting the existence of Maddalena. He argues that the likeliest scenario is that Leland created the whole thing–and it does seem that this would be easier to swallow that Leland believing some random Italian fortune-teller. Clifton takes Hutton to task, saying that he’s essentially accusing Leland of “serious literary fraud” based only on the fact there is no evidence to disprove that Leland received this information from an Italian source. Magliocco, on the other hand, believes that the manuscript really does represent a folk tradition involving Diana and the Cult of Herodias.
Yet, whether or not Leland’s book is truth or fiction, we have to acknowledge that the book contains very little information about its title figure. In fact, the main figure in the book is the goddess Diana, who was the goddess “first created before all creation”, and “out of herself, the first darkness, she divided herself [...] into darkness and light.” The light became her brother Lucifer, who was hailed as the god of light, the sun, and the moon. When Diana, the darkness, finally saw the light, she desired to make it a part of her once again. But Lucifer rejected her and fell to earth, so Diana appealed to “the fathers of the Beginning, to the mothers, the spirits who were before the first spirit”, and they told her that “to rise she must fall”, or that to become the chief of goddesses she must become mortal. So Diana, too, went to earth. While there, Diana taught magic and gave rise to the witches and supernatural creatures, or “all that is like man, yet not mortal”. Eventually Diana took the form of a cat that her brother loved, and when she had been admitted into his bed she took on her true form and coupled with him. From this union Aradia, or Herodias, was born. The divine Aradia was then mortally reborn and sent to teach witchcraft to the poor men and women who had been made slaves by the rich. After Diana recalls her daughter to heaven, she bestows upon her the power to aid those who invoke her to help them achieve success in love.
Coupling this scant information with that of various legendary fragments concerning a Herodias, Erodiade, Aradia, Arada, or Araja, we can pull together a picture creating a mythic figure who can syncretize polarities or opposites, who has a deep understanding of magic and counter-magic, who has a vested interest in education, and in justice–particularly as it applies to deconstructing class problems–and who fully understands the nature of sexuality (the blending of two opposites into one) and of love. Whether or not Aradia is a cultural figure or one sort of created from contemporary scholarship and the growth of Wicca, you have to admit…she’s a deity you can get behind.
In his introduction to Aradia, Roderick writes that as a representation of the blending of light and dark principles, Aradia “is the keeper of secrets, both light and dark. She is the spirit of nature, and as such she is the complementary divine-feminine figure to the gods Cernunnos, Herne, or Pan. She is the goddess who hangs between the balancing points of maiden and mother–perhaps we can call her the archetype of the temptress. She is fertile and she expresses sexuality openly, not for the sake of pleasure, but because it is a magical act. For Aradia, sexual union represents the blending of two into one. [...] She is the patroness of the woods, since that is where her devotees erected her sacred groves. She is also a goddess of justice, equality, wisdom, and magical policy.” Moreover, he tells us that “her sacred symbols are cypress tress and the crescent moon. Her magical essences and herbs are cypress, John the Conqueror, lemon, jasmine, and anise. Aradia is aligned with the north, with earth, and midnight. Her sacred colors are white and black. Her animal spirit is the cat, but she also takes the form of fish and the wolf. Aradia’s sacred foods are crescent moon cakes, poppyseed cakes, and grapa (an Italian wine).”
In honoring Aradia today, build a sacred altar to her divine presence. Take time to face the altar and intone her name, one syllable at a time (pronounced Ah-RAH-dee-ah) until you feel her presence surrounding you. Once she has arrived, spend some time contemplating what it mgiht mean to serve this aspect of deity. Take time to ask Aradia what it would mean to live life through her energy, and listen for her answer.
Spend the day honoring this goddess by working magic of any kind and by seeking to bring justice and social awareness to yourself and others.
The altar I created for my Aradia devotion included a printing of Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night, for it depicts a dynamic marriage of light and darkness in hills that look like they could be in Tuscany (really it’s southern France) with cypress trees in the foreground. I flanked the Justice tarot card with those of the Sun and Moon to show Aradia’s parentage (and was amused to see that the Justice card here seems to have visual elements of both the Sun and the Moon cards). I nodded toward Aradia’s interest in polarity with a plaque I have that looks a bit like the Lovers card in the Rider Waite decks, and I flanked it with a pair of black and white candles. I added a pair of quartz crystals and some moonstones, my amber and jet necklace, my pentacle, and an offering bowl of brewing jasmine tea with a slice of lemon.
It took me awhile to sense Aradia’s presence after I began chanting her name, but eventually I felt what could only be described as a spunky energy! It seems that Aradia is quite the whippersnapper. Bright and alert, she reminds me a bit of the teacher who taught through sheer enthusiasm. The type of teacher where you couldn’t help but grow to love her topic because she loved it so darn much. It’s a very interesting and enjoyable energy, and I can’t help but compare it to the previous devotion, Janicot. That, too, was an energy that seemed very much a “teacherly” one, but with so much more calm than Aradia’s.
Meditative Question: What is the innermost secret name of deity?
Symbolic Color: White
Symbolic Direction: Nowhere and everywhere
Don’t let the seeming impossibility of the question stump you. This contemplative question aims at completely cutting through concepts. The question gives nothing to think about, therefore it gives nothing to latch onto as you meditate on its meaning. With time, you will arrive at a powerful and consciousness-changing conclusion.
This question is the second int he final series of four inner mysteries. Remember that it is advisable to work with each of these inner mysteries contemplations while sitting within the center of your magic circle.
Find a comfortable meditative sitting position in the center of your circle. Light a white candle and sit approximately two feet away from the flame. Cast your gaze upon the flickering candle and hold the question firmly for 20-30 minutes. Close the circle after this, but keep the question with you. Allow yourself to embody the question, and over time you will arrive at your own insight.
I find it interesting that Roderick has said that this question gives us nothing to latch onto as we meditate upon it. The very fact that the question is stated in language means our response would probably be framed and shaped by the constraints of language, wouldn’t it? I fully went into this meditation expecting that I would find some word or series of words that would be this innermost secret name.
In fact, I was deeply mistaken. What came to me instead was feeling and sensation. I suppose that the innermost secret name of deity is this yearning you have inside–this deep desire for love. For completion. For fulfillment. The name is that delicious sensation that creeps up your spine when you gaze upon a person you love with your whole heart. It’s the bliss of snuggling a new baby, the exhilaration of falling into a soft, green lawn and gazing up at the blue sky and white clouds. It is feeling the warm sun beat on your skin, and it is feeling every cell of your body stretching up to meet those rays. It is the utter silence, stillness, and coldness you find deep within a cave, and it is the blasting noise, dance, and ecstatic heat you find moshing at an amazing rock concert.
Why on earth does this card occur so late in the Major Arcana? After the wonderful, holistic Temperance card, having the Devil as the next stop in the Fool’s Journey seems a bit like a slap in the face or like we’ve taken six or seven steps backward. Why, for example, aren’t the Lovers and the Devil switched around? After having found such facility with one’s own energy, wouldn’t the next logical step be working with energy in another?
Well, part of the regression is that the final seven cards of the Major Arcana do, in fact, collectively take that logical step of working with forces outside yourself, and some of that requires going back to the beginning of the journey. The Devil is the start of working with forces beyond your own self.
Throughout the animal kingdom, one of the most basic “work with another” forces is sex. After all, the only time individual animals within many species ever interact with one of their fellows is to exchange gametes. While the Lovers portray a healthy, constructive, human sexuality, the Devil portrays the raw impulse of lust.
One of the most crucial symbols in this card that links the Devil with lust is the inverted pentagram upon his forehead, especially when coupled with the chained “Adam and Eve” figures below the Devil. Among other things, the pentagram is a symbol for the human body, as our bodies resemble a five-pointed star when our arms and legs are outstretched, as shown in the image at the right. In typical Western imagery, our reason and judgement–seated within the head–trump our basic desires–seated within the genitals. When man is turned upside down, desire trumps judgement. Therefore, the reversed pentagram is a sign of sexual preoccupation or dominance.
This is not necessarily a negative thing. In fact, it is a common occult belief that spiritual energy is one and the same with sexual energy. Even laypersons understand the immense power of sexual energy, so why wouldn’t occultists find ways to use it in order to reach an enlightenment? In this view, it’s certainly within the realm of possibility to consider the Devil a sort of hero. In fact, literature would have already beaten us to this point. William Blake, for instance, figured Satan as the true hero of the Eden tale, for he brought Adam and Eve a deeper knowledge of their true selves by bringing sexuality to the garden.
Lust, however, is a peculiar powder keg of energy. It can propel people into fantastic realms of energy, but we very rarely let it do that. Instead, lust is far more likely to manifest in a myriad of problematic negatives, like violence, sexual crimes, rampant avarice, theft, addiction, and so on. Truly, it takes a person who has already achieved the inner peace of Temperance who can constructively wield lust.
The inverted pentagram is not the only symbol on the Devil card that connotes lust (or, when it is directed toward objects, greed and materialism). The Devil figure, for example, is the only obese character in the entire Major Arcana. Fat in the tarot is connected with gluttony, avarice, and generally a destructive excess of earth energies. Similarly, the extreme hairiness of his lower body and the spread of his knees brings most of the visual attention to the card to the Devil’s genitals and his two naked acolytes–three powerful images of lust. This is especially interesting when compared with the Lovers, where all the visual tricks direct the eye upward to the angel and one has to consciously look to the card’s base to see the nude figures for which the card is named. Another vestige of the Lovers card on the Devil are Adam and Eve’s peculiar tails. Adam sports a flaming tail, while Eve’s is one of fruit. Each of these tails corresponds to the tree they stand before on the Lovers. Adam’s is a fruit from the Tree of Life, while Eve’s is from the Tree of Knowledge. Instead of these trees spanning the entire length of their spines (and thus, their major chakras) as they do in the Lovers, these fruits are only channeled to the figures’ root chakras. This chakra relates to our most basic survival needs–safety, nourishment, and propagation–but when over stimulated, we seek an excess of these things and develop lusts.
Further symbols of materialism can be found in the composite animals that make up the Devil. His wings come not from a bird, but from a bat–the only mammal, a very earthy set of animals (with the exceptions of whales and manatees, of course), that can fly. His horns and face come from the goat, an animal who constantly eats and ruts. His ears come from a donkey, the most stubborn of animals. All these animals are excessively “earthy,” which as we’ve already discussed, manifests in lust and greed.
Finally, further preoccupation with the material in the Devil can be found by comparing it with the Hierophant. The Heirophant’s left hand is upraised and holding his triple-cross staff. This staff is a sign of the papacy and each bar represents a devotion to the higher power of the three-part Christian god. The Devil, on a literal other hand, holds a flaming torch down to the earth. This symbolizes that the only thing that holds power for him is the here and now. The right hands of both figures also express their beliefs. The right hand of the Hierophant is raised and the hand forms a gesture of two fingers pointing up and two pointing down, which signifies “as above, so below.” In other words, it is a sign that there is more to the universe than what we experience around us. The Devil raises this arm, too, but his fingers–while grouped in sets of two like a Vulcan salute or the Jewish benediction of the Kohanim–all point upwards. For the Devil, nothing exists but the material world–all that we experience with our senses. Moreover, the Devil’s exposed palm reveals the glyph of Saturn (albeit laying on its side). This sign explicitly means “matter taking precedence over the mind or the human spirit”. Overall, the Devil’s hand is a doubled reinforcement of material preoccupation.
It is to be noted that with all the images of lust in this card, one would assume that the chains holding Adam and Eve to the Devil would hold them fast. However, the chains are only loosely draped over their necks and their hands are free. At any point in time, either figure could lift the yoke off his or her shoulders, so to speak, and be free of the Devil. This represents the fact that lust gone awry is more of an unfortunate illusion than anything else. It may mean that the figures have consciously made the choice to be consumed by their lusts, but it is also a reminder that no matter how lost we might believe ourselves, we have only to make the choice to behave differently and we will be free.
Robin Wood’s card revolutionizes the typical Devil imagery. As a Wiccan, Wood does not believe in a personified Devil, but she does wholly believe in naked greed, which is what she chose to represent on the card.
The card uses imagery of the Monkey Trap, which is actually carved on the top panel of the chest. The trap is very simple: food in a box where the only way to reach it is a small hole. The monkey can put its hand in the hole and grab the food, but its fist will be too big to slide out of the hole. All the greedy little monkey has to do is let go of the food and he will be free, but he will cling to that morsel even while a person approaches him and clubs him to death. (As an aside, Wood notes that the lower panel on the chest depicts a scene from a Hieronymus Bosch painting. Though I’ve not been able to identify the painting, I do find it interesting that the one figure of it that we can fully see is busily stuffing his face: a little glutton!)
Wood explains that the chest her two figures are struggling with is chained open. They are free to take as much treasure as they can carry–and what treasure it is! A cup with a border of hearts for love, a golden crown for leadership, ropes of pearls and jewels for wealth, a book for knowledge. Nothing in the treasure itself is bad: it is the insatiable appetite of the people who want to have the entire thing that is the problem. All they would have to do is settle for some of the treasure, and they would be free to enjoy it.
Wood’s characters are naked to show their naked greed. Neither is balancing their emotions with their intellect, and they cannot see clearly (the woman even has one eye covered). With greed such as this, there is no room for anything or anyone else, which is why the two characters pull in different directions; in fact, neither one knows anything of the other’s existence! Greed is a lonely state: all energy is contracted to a single point. The tunnel they are in shows this narrowness. At its opening can be seen enlightenment’s mountains and birds of freedom. All they have to do is walk out…but they won’t, because of the Monkey Trap.
One vestige of the Rider-Waite card remains: the inverted pentagram, which is formed by the chains on Wood’s card. She says that she has included this detail to show that the characters’ attitude “is anti-life, and works against the harmony of the universe, just as they are working against each other.”
KEYWORDS: Lust, Greed, Obsession, Focus on the material, Oppression, Addictive behavior, Illusion.
Before you begin, take a moment to consider a difficult situation you face. Then close your eyes and imagine that you stand at the base of the Devil’s cube (as depicted in the tarot card). You are chained to the cube. Notice that the chain is made up of words. these words tell you what it is that binds you in an unhealthy way to the situation. You will notice that the chains are loose around your neck. As you begin to slip them off, the devil figure will tell you all of the reasons why you must stay in the situation. Simply listen and take note of how the beliefs you hold keep you bound. Once you slip the chains off, the devil figure disappears. Open your eyes and note how much freer you feel.
Keep the Devil card with you or place it on your altar. Take note today of your attachments. Keep a written record of the ideas, concepts, beliefs, and attitudes on which you insist. Are there friends or even enemies that remain tied to you based only on your conceptualizations (and not the presenting reality)? How has the “devil” of grasping controlled you?
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.