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.

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,

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!


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.

Day 306: The Sun

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

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

The Sun from the B.O.T.A. Tarot

The Sun from the B.O.T.A. Tarot

In his Pictorial Key, Waite mentions that the Sun has a different form in older decks.  Even in the Marseilles deck, the Sun card shows an anthropomorphized sun issuing drops down upon two nearly nude figures standing before a wall.  Court de Gebelin called the drops “tears of gold and pearl” (he also called the drops on the Moon “tears of Isis”).  Waite said the two figures were children who were “facing a water, and gambolling, or running hand in hand.”  He also quotes Éliphas Lévi as saying these children “are sometimes replaced by a spinner unwinding destinies, and otherwise by a much better symbol–a naked child mounted on a white horse and displaying a scarlet standard.”

Clearly, Waite opted for the child upon a horse in his own deck, a choice which I too prefer for I find it better connects with the prominent path on the Moon.  In the Sun, the Fool completely owns that path:  he’s broken free of everything that bound him in before, and he can command his animal state, as is shown by his sitting astride a horse.  The horse also shows that the Fool can now command others as well as himself on his path. (The child here is very clearly the Fool for he wears the same red feather, and in Robin Wood’s card, he wears the same feather and crown of five white roses her Fool wore).

Rachel Pollack says that for Waite, “the Sun experience was essentially a burst of freedom.  It was a breaking loose, a wonderful liberation from ordinary restricted consciousness to openness and freedom.”  She primarily focuses on the image of the child riding away from the grey, stone wall to support this interpretation.  She says that the wall represents the past life, which is “bound by a narrow perception of reality” and that the “super-consciousness of the Sun is characterized by feeling a part of the whole world rather than an isolated individual.”  In other words, the Child doesn’t need to stay within a pleasure-garden (like the Garden of Eden), for he has realized he can take these pleasures with him into a new life.

In the Pictorial Key, Waite did say that this card represented “the great and holy light which goes before the endless procession of humanity, coming out from the walled garden of the sensitive life and passing on the journey home.”  However, he also posed the sun as being the light of the conscious world and the child–with his pure, joyful heart–as bringing forth the superior light of the world to come.  As Waite concluded, the child is “the self-knowing spirit” that “has dawned in the consciousness above the natural mind, that mind in its renewal leads forth the animal nature in a state of perfect conformity.”

Robin Wood's Sun Card.

Robin Wood’s Sun Card.

Robin Wood focuses mostly upon the joy and freedom aspects of this card.  The child’s nudity is indicative of these energies, as well as of the pure innocence of his joy and wonder:  he is completely unashamed.  He wears the white roses of freedom and the red feather of courage–he is the fool, but an entire lunar-solar cycle ahead in his development.  He’s no longer worried about enlightenment or knowledge:  he’s just content to play in the sun and experience.

In his left hand, the child holds the red banner of life and courage.  As this is the unconscious hand, he shows that life is no longer something he must concentrate on:  he can just simply live.  The wings at the top of the flagpole indicate this new freedom.  His conscious, right hand is open to the experiences that like before him.

The child rides bareback to show his complete mastery of the daytime forces and his own animal nature, which–as the pony’s blue eyes show–has also become purified.  Underfoot is new green grass with yellow, joyful flowers in it.  Behind the wall bloom four sunflowers, one for each of the elements, and a fifth in bud as a reminder that the best is yet to come (the journey is, after all, not at an end).  Wood also points out that sunflowers are heliotropes and so typically face the sun, no matter where it is in the sky.  Here, however, they face the child, which shows that he shines brighter than the sun.

KEYWORDS: Joy, Vitality, Assurance, Experiencing Greatness, Becoming enlightened.

At dawn today, sit facing toward the east and watch the sun rise.  As you do, begin to breathe deeply, consciously.  On each inhalation, draw the power of the sun into your spirit.  Allow it to fill your body and your mind.  At sunset, sit and face the west.  Watch the sunset.  As it sinks into the horizon, begin to breathe deeply again.  On each exhalation, breathe out your fears, anxieties, and illnesses.  Allow the sun to absorb these.  It will take them to the underworld, where it will burn them to ash.

Daily Practice
Keep the Sun card with you today or place it on your altar.  Today is a day to simplify.  Assess the activities of your day to determine if they are essential for existence, for basic happiness and health.  If not, disregard them for the day.  As one Eastern mystic said of life, “If it does not involve eating, sleeping, or shitting, it is none of your business.”

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,

Day 305: The Moon

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

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

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.”

A crayfish emerging from a puddle.

A crayfish emerging from a puddle.

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.

Robin Wood 18 Moon

Robin Wood’s Moon Card


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?

Daily Practice
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,

Day 304: The Star

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

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

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.

Rider-Waite's Temperance and Star in more traditional coloring.

Rider-Waite’s Temperance and Star in more traditional coloring.

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.

The bennu bird as Venus on Ra's barge.

Unless any Egypt heads can tell me any better, I’m pretty sure this image depicts the bennu as Venus on the solar barge.

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 Star card.

Robin Wood’s Star card.

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.

Daily Practice
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,

**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.

Day 303: The Tower

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

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

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.”

René Magritte's "The Treachery of Images" (1928-29).

René Magritte’s “The Treachery of Images” (1928-29).

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.

Waite's Tower with more traditional coloring.

Waite’s Tower with more traditional coloring.

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 Tower

Robin Wood’s Tower

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.

Daily Practice
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,