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SCOTUS Could Have Done More, Damnit!

June 27, 2013
The current Supreme Court Justices.  Back row, left to right:  Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen G. Breyer, Samuel Anthony Alito, Jr., Elena Kagan.  Front row, left to right:  Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, John G. Roberts, Jr., Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The current Supreme Court Justices. Back row, left to right: Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen G. Breyer, Samuel Anthony Alito, Jr., Elena Kagan. Front row, left to right: Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, John G. Roberts, Jr., Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Yesterday the Supreme Court of the United States had a day that looked busy, but fell short of some crucial goals for gay rights.

In the first round, they dismissed a case that sought to overturn the 2010 overturning of California’s “Proposition 8.”  This paves the way for same-sex couples to obtain legal marriages in California, which is an excellent short term goal.  The back story here is that Proposition 8 was a 2008 California ballot proposal and state constitutional amendment which declared that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”  That amendment was overturned in a United States District Court, which ruled that it violated the federal Constitution’s Due Process and Equal Protection clauses.  This ruling was later upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, but a stay on the law remained in place as appeals continued to the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court’s dismissal makes the 2010 overruling valid, which means same-sex marriage within California can happily resume.

Unfortunately, SCOTUS took the quick and dirty way out of this one.  They dismissed the case on the grounds that the parties seeking the appeal had no legal grounds to do so.  By choosing to dismiss rather than to rule upon the case, it means that the 29 other states whose constitutions ban same-sex marriage automatically have those laws upheld, though they violate the federal Constitution’s guarantees of Due Process and Equal Protection just as much as California’s short-lived constitutional ban did.

Massive opportunity lost in round 1.

Round two also looks similarly promising on its face value, for SCOTUS declared section 3 of the the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional.  This section reads as follows:

In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.

SCOTUS declared this section of DOMA unconstitutional for it effectively trumps the laws of the 12 states (Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington), the District of Columbia, and the five Native American tribes (the Coquille Indian Tribe, the Suquamish Tribe, the Little Traver Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, and the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel) that have all legalized same-sex marriage.  This ‘trump’ is what is unconstitutional since, according to the Tenth Amendment, “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”  Since the federal Constitution itself has no ruling upon marriage, it is state law that has the final say on who can legally be married and thus be subject to the 1,000+ federal laws in which marital status matters.

On the one hand, the same-sex married couples in the states where it is legal to be married can happily enjoy such things as not having to pay federal estate taxes on property inherited from a deceased spouse, which is awesome.  On the other hand, though, other parts of DOMA are still upheld, especially section 2 which declares that :

No State, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship.

This means that if a same-sex couple who was legally married in a place where such a union is legal moves to a state where that union is prohibited by the state’s constitution, that state does not have to recognize their marriage.  This can matter when it comes to things such as a surviving spouse receiving Social Security survivor benefits, which depends upon where the couple is living when one party dies.  As of now, it is unclear whether that legally married couple would be eligible for such things if they move to a state where same-sex marriage is prohibited.

Clearly there’s some issues of Equal Protection at risk in section 2 as well, but SCOTUS sidestepped that issue altogether.

Massive opportunity lost in round 2.

While I’m glad that California’s Prop 8 and DOMA’s section 3 were thoroughly killed, I wish that the Justices could have given a broader ruling that would at least allow legally married same-sex couples to enjoy their rights in this country no matter where their lives physically take them.  Alas, the only thing that could settle this debate–a Supreme Court ruling on the federal Constitutionality of a state constitution’s ban on same-sex marriage–still looms on the horizon.

Day 288: The Emperor

June 26, 2013
The Emperor card in the Rider-Waite, Hanson Roberts, and Robin Wood Tarot decks.

The Emperor card in the Rider-Waite, Hanson Roberts, and Robin Wood Tarot decks.

You know, a lot of people have a really negative reaction to the Emperor–more so in some cases than they do to cards like Death, the Tower, or the Devil!  I have to admit that I myself have long been disappointed when I see this card come up in a reading, for I respond to how dead the land looks behind the Emperor.  It’s as if his stranglehold on rules has choked the life right out of his Empire, and he is really the emperor of nothing.  Robin Wood really turned my interpretation of this card around for me.  She notes that she views the dry mountains behind the Emperor as “the rust-red mountains of Mars.  They are dry, because the male principle is dry and cold, as opposed to the female, which is wet and warm.  And they reach high, because his achievements are great, and because he likes a challenge!”  I suppose, then, that this landscape is the male counterpart to the Empress’s fecund fields and woods, and not necessarily indicative of a tyrannical ruler.

Waite’s card depicts an elderly man wearing a gold crown set with red and white stones (which connects him with the Magician) and red, orange, and black robes embroidered with a great ram’s head over his left shoulder.  We can see that these robes cover the armor he wears beneath them.  The Emperor sits on a hard, austere stone throne carved with four rams’ heads.  Frankly, it looks like nothing is ever going to pry the Emperor from his throne, which indicates a certain stability in his control.  This is all set in a fairly Martian landscape of high, red mountains, with a trickle of a stream running in front of them to connect with the earthly life flow found on the Empress’s card.  In one hand the Emperor holds a sphere, the symbol of his possession over the world, and in the other he holds a scepter shaped like the Egyptian Ankh, a symbol of life and of sexual union.

Much of this card is meant to evoke a strongly Martian, military feeling.  Everything here is all hard lines.  Even the rams heads are meant to evoke Aries, the first constellation in the Zodiac, and one ruled by Mars.  The rams, however, were also strong symbols in ancient Egypt, where they were venerated for their fertility as well as for their warlike attributes:  both of which are strongly masculine properties.  I suppose both of these do reflect the two main attributes of the Emperor.  As Waite said, “he is a crowned monarch–commanding, stately” and “he is the virile power, to which the Empress responds”.

Robin Wood’s take on the Emperor card is very close to Waite’s, but she has definitely managed to make him far more “fatherly” than “foreboding.”  She shows a man with a full, blond beard beginning to grey–showing that he is a virile figure, but “no longer ruled by his hormones.”  He has smiling eyes, and looks fairly inviting.  He wears a laurel crown over his golden crown to show his victorious nature, and to show his growth and virility.  He is clearly wearing armor to show his martial nature and his vow to be constantly ready to defend and protect.  His armor, however, only covers his top half, because he does not let his war-like nature completely cut him off from gentler things.  His white belt shows his knightly purity and chivalry, and his red trousers show his passion and courage.  The Earth is shown beneath his feet to show that masculine principles currently rule the planet.  He holds an ankh as his scepter to show his potency, and he wears a purple cape with ermine lining, like the Empress, to show his majesty and his purity.  His square, stone throne shows his stability and firmness.  There are ravens carved upon it to show his warlike attitude, but to invoke Odin’s ravens, and so also speak to his wisdom, intelligence, and self-sacrifice.  On the arms of the throne are, of course, the requisite rams.  A hunter’s horn hangs from the throne, for the Emperor is also the Lord of the Hunt.  The eagle flying above all shows the height of his intellect and his mastery of the element Air.

KEYWORDS:  Fathering, emphasizing structure, exercising authority, regulating, governing society, security, success, stability, a little bit authoritarian.

Close your eyes and imagine that you sit on the Emperor’s throne.  Imagine yourself cloaked in his robes and feel the power that they impart.  On the ground before you lies the Emperor’s golden staff, which is formed in the shape of an Egyptian ankh.  This is the symbol of immortal life and eternal power.  Take the scepter in your hand, and immediately you will feel the power of the Emperor flooding through you.  Ask yourself what action to take in your life.  When you are done, open your eyes and take that leadership role.

Daily Practice
Keep the Emperor card with you at all times today, or place it on your altar.  For the duration of the day, consider how you lead other people (or how you don’t).  How effective are you as a leader?  Do you assume leadership duties or do you shrink away from them?  During the course of the day, take the lead in some positive, inclusive way.

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 Marcus Katz and Tali Goodwin’s Around the Tarot in 78 Days. I also strongly recommend Joan Bunning’s book Learning the Tarot as well as the resources found on her website,

Day 287: The Empress

June 25, 2013
The Empress in the Rider-Waite, Hanson Roberts, and Robin Wood Tarot decks.

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

At one point in my Tarot studies, I came across a book (can’t remember which now) that described the Magician and High Priestess as being spiritual parents and the Emperor and Empress as being earthly parents.  I can totally understand that.  The Magician and High Priestess are concerned with knowledge and wisdom, but the Emperor and Empress have far more earthly concerns.  The Empress card, for example, shows a delightful, fruitful world and invites us to relax and revel in it, and the Emperor shows the rules we artificially impose upon ourselves so that all people have an equal chance to enjoy the world.

In Rider-Waite cards, the Empress is a stately figure, comfortably resting on a couch of rich cushions.  She is not obviously pregnant in this card, but her position with ample lower back support and unrestrictive clothing has led several readers to posit that she is pregnant, and this interpretation flows well with the other symbols on the card.  The Empress wears a diadem of laurel leaves to show her worldly authority, and above them are clustered twelve stars.  These stars can be the twelve zodiacal constellations, or perhaps the twelve months or the twelve hours we note on a clock.  At any rate, they symbolize her rule throughout time.  She raises a scepter above her head, which Waite himself says is “surmounted by the globe of this world”, which shows she places the Earth above all else in her interest.  She wears a comfortable white robe to indicate her purity of purpose, and it is richly embroidered with pomegranates, sliced open.  As I noted with the High Priestess, pomegranates are symbols of female sexuality and spirituality, but they’re also potent symbols of nourishment.  Unlike the Priestess, where their arrangement into a tree-of-life pattern shows their spiritual emphasis, these pomegranates are scattered over the Empress’s very body and are opened for use.  Therefore, they stand more to show that the Empress is the “fruitful mother of thousands”, as Waite described her.

At her feet, the Empress has a heart-shaped shield emblazoned with Venus’s symbol.  This doesn’t necessarily align her energies with the Goddess of love, as some might say, but rather with a divine feminine.  I feel that the fact this symbol appears on a shield gives it a distinctly maternal feel, for the love a mother has makes her an incredibly fierce protector of her children.  As my own mother is fond of saying, nothing comes between a mother bear and her cubs and lives!  Overall, the feel of this card evokes more of a Demeter or Mother Earth energy.  In addition to the nutritive pomegranates on the Empress’s dress, the entire foreground of the card is occupied with a hale, abundant crop of wheat, the basic food of civilized humanity.  Behind the Empress lies a rich wood, full of wild animals and berries that similarly sustain us.  Through this wood flows a river of clean, fresh water that falls at the Empress’s feet, and it symbolizes a perpetual refreshment.  In a matter of speaking, the world shown on this card is essentially as close to an earthly paradise as we’re likely to get!  It is a world and a space where we all desire to be, and the Empress stands as a gateway into this life.

Robin Wood’s card shares a lot of imagery with Waite’s, but it amps it up several notches.  The backdrop of her card also shows a strong wood, and a body of water separates it from the foreground of the card, where a field of wheat and poppies (both Demeter symbols) plays at the Empress’s feet, along with a basket of fruit and vegetables (to show the wealth and abundance she provides) as well as a bee skep (for richness and sweetness).  The Empress here is actively spinning the thread of life on the wheel of time.  And, like Waite’s Empress, her clothing is highly symbolic of fertility.  They are the color of ripening wheat trimmed in green for growth and accented with wheat and vine motifs, along with hearts to show her love.  Her clasp shows an athame and a cup conjoined in the symbol of the Great Rite:  fertility to the max.  Her crown shows all the phases of the moon, and it is capped with six stars that correspond to the six senses we experience her world with.  In the middle of the stars stands four silver disks for the four elements around a central gold disk for spirit.  Her purple cape lined with ermine shows her majesty and purity, and her blue veil shows she is also the Queen of Heaven.  This Empress is obviously pregnant to show her extreme fruitfulness and to show that her realm is full of generative life.

KEYWORDS:  Mothering and motherhood, nurturing, fruitfulness, growth/gradual development, welcoming abundance, experiencing the senses, responding to nature, passion, love, healing/rejuvenating/relaxing time

Close your eyes and imagine that you travel down inside your body to the region of your heart.  Once you are there, this region opens to a lush, green landscape.  Beneath your feet is a path that you instinctively follow.  At the end of the path is a robed woman with a full figure and a kindly face.  This figure is the ideal archetypal mother.  She opens her arms and holds you, deeply filling you with inner peace and a sense of harmony.  Return to this place whenever you have need of this mother goddess’s love or wisdom.

Daily Practice
Keep the Empress card with you at all times today, or place it on your altar.  For the duration of the day, maintain focus on your interactions with other people.  Are you able to speak with a voice of love?  Are you able to listen with ears of loving acceptance?  Are you able to be present to someone else’s joy or pain?  Try to develop your ability to open up to other people in these ways today.

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 Marcus Katz and Tali Goodwin’s Around the Tarot in 78 Days. I also strongly recommend Joan Bunning’s book Learning the Tarot as well as the resources found on her website,

Day 286: The High Priestess

June 24, 2013

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

In cards highly influenced by the Rider-Waite deck, the High Priestess is found robed in Isis’s pale blue and white colors, seated between the black and white pillars of Boaz and Jachin, and in front of a tapestry bearing pomegranates (which are arranged in a tree-of-life pattern).  All this stands before a vast, calm body of water, which can be seen through the gaps between the pillars and tapestry.  The High Priestess has a moon at her feet, and is crowned with Isis’s headdress.  She also holds in her lap a scroll labeled “Tora”.

This card necessarily contrasts the Magician.  The Magician’s card was all about light and active passion for life, especially given the dominance of red roses and his red robe.  Where the Magician actively communicates his divine knowledge, as shown by his open display of his tools and him standing in a very open position, the Priestess largely stays silent.  She too has a white inner robe to show her purity of purpose, but her outer robe is the pale blue of spirituality and emotions.  She is passively sitting and her robes further close around her.  The information she holds, the Tora scroll, is half-hidden within her robes, too, and the scroll itself is still unopened.  I like to think that this means the Priestess’s wisdom can’t be broken into words and can’t be treated metaphorically.  Her wisdom is so profound that it can only be felt.  If we try to communicate it, our utterings become meaningless.  We learn the Priestess’s lessons not through channeled instruction, but through quiet intuition.

The Priestess’s spiritual reception is echoed through her surroundings, much like the Magician’s meaning is echoed by his bower of flowers.  A large, calm body of water reflects her stillness and the depth of her quiet wisdom, and the pomegranates on the tapestry behind her reflect her feminine mystery and a deep spirituality.  The black and white pillars that flank the Priestess are supposed to be Boaz and Jachin, the columns that stood at the entrance to Solomon’s Temple.  This temple housed the Ark of the Covenant, which contained all divine wisdom within.  This effectively makes the Priestess herself the temple.  I, however, like to think of the pillars more as a yin-yang symbol.  They represent the divine duality that permeates everything and is the source of all magic.  They are also a reminder that every situation contains the seeds of its opposite.

Rider-Waite’s High Priestess has an awful lot of Judeo-Christian symbols on it (not the least of which being the enormous cross on Isis’s chest), so Robin Wood paganized the card in her deck.  As with her Magician, her High Priestess is an avatar of the divine, and so shows a woman with dark hair and blue eyes, which signifies that she embodies the dark and light aspects of the divine and the balance between them.  Her robe is a fluid ombre combination of all the Goddess colors, for she is all Goddesses in one.  Her shoulders are maidenly white, then flow into Mother Earth green, then the light blue of feminine spirituality, and then finally the deep Indigo of Crone energy, mystery, and magic.  She wears a waning-moon crown to show her wisdom, and a pentacle around her neck to show she keeps the secret knowledge.  Like the Magician, she is naked beneath her robe to show she is free and unashamed.  She holds a crystal ball in her right hand as a symbol of mystic knowledge that can only come from within, and the spherical shape further highlights the feminine, intuitive knowledge that scrying provides.  Her left hand holds and open book, black to show it contains deep wisdom.  She freely offers this information to us, but we must come close to read and experience the magic along with her.

Whereas Robin Wood’s Magician card was full of light from the lit black and white candles behind him (and apparently indoors, for those candles are burning steadily), the High Priestess card is dark.  It shows an outdoors nighttime scene with a full moon partially shrouded by clouds.  The darkness also relates to the intuitive wisdom of the Priestess, and the full moon shows that her knowledge is at its fullest, and it is obscured to show that her’s is a hidden mystery.  Like the Magician, she has pillars of black and white divine duality behind her, but these are live trees just in bud.  This shows that for all the fullness the High Priestess offers, it is still just the surface.  She has unlimited potential for growth behind her.

Again, the major symbols in this card are enumerated below:

1.  Moons.

  • In the Tarot, these are usually symbols of feminine power and mystery, and Pagan readers also associate them with Goddess energy.  They are also symbols of cycles, mystery, hidden power, and the passage of time.

2.  Water. 

  • The amount of still water behind the Priestess in the Rider-Waite cards shows how all the energies she brings are strongly rooted in water’s feminine receptivity.

3.  Pomegranates.

  • This fruit is a strongly feminine symbol, and it is particularly associated with feminine sexuality.  There’s the obvious correlation of Persephone biting into a pomegranate, which forced her to accept Hades, but there’s also the fact that it is a fairly voluptuous fruit, filled with a life-giving juice in the middle of a dry desert.  It’s quite breast-like.  Even the arrangement of its seeds within resemble functioning breast tissue in anatomy.  Pomegranates are also a major symbol of spirituality.  Kabbalists, for example, sometimes describe spiritual paradise as an orchard of pomegranates, and this connotation in this card is highlighted by the fruit being arranged in a tree-of-life pattern.

4.  Black and White Pillars.

  • I prefer to think of these as representing the divine polarity that the Lady holds in balance and from which all energy flows.

5.  Hidden Scroll.

  • The scroll is half-hidden in the Priestess’s robes.  I like to think this means that the Priestess holds a vast amount of spiritual wisdom, but that it can’t be entirely accessed through typical book learning.  You’ve got to trust and experience it in your heart for yourself.

KEYWORDS: Staying nonactive, accessing the unconscious, seeing the potential, sensing the mystery, inner wisdom, intuition, stillness, profound experience, hidden teachings.

When you have a situation that requires your intuition, try this mediation.  Before you begin, contemplate your situation thoroughly.  Then close your eyes and take several deep breaths.  Imagine that you stand before a great clear pool.  This is the pool of your own internal wisdom.  Beside the pool is a magical chalice.  Fill the cup and drink deeply of the waters.  Ask what it is you should do in the situation.  Listen for an answer–and then follow it.

Daily Practice
Keep the High Priestess card with you, or alternatively, place it on your altar.  For the duration of the day, maintain awareness of your hunches and intuitive perceptions.  Follow your intuition today and see where it leads you.  Release yourself into the vast supportive net of the universe, and know in your bones that nature always supports you.  You are always connected to the people, places, and things of this world in ways you can never fully, consciously know.

For what it’s worth, 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 Marcus Katz and Tali Goodwin’s Around the Tarot in 78 Days. I also strongly recommend Joan Bunning’s book Learning the Tarot as well as the resources found on her website,

Day 285: The Magician

June 21, 2013
ThreeCard 1 Magician

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

In the more Rider-Waite like cards, the magician stands within a bower of flowers (which often link up with life whether they are white roses or not, especially when they are shown in abundance), usually of white lilies which represent purity and innocence and red roses which represent passion and courage.  These flowers echo the colors of his robe, with courageous passion cloaking his inner pure intention and the absolute clarity of his purpose.  The magician draws down power with the wand in his right hand and directs it outward to all life with his left.  He’s a conduit for energy, but he’s not one to hoard the energy or force it to a direction.  He has just learned how to focus and to direct the elements, and bring them together to a more efficient flow through his Will.  (It’s really great to contrast how the projection of Will changes between the Fool and the Magician.)

The magician is also crowned with a lemniscate and wears an ouroboros about his waist as a belt.  Both are symbols of the infinite and eternal, but they don’t necessarily mean “endless”.  Rather, they’re notive of the cyclical flows of energy, and remind the reader that all the random, unrelated events of life are connected to a great, ever-flowing pattern–a pattern the Magician can tap into, for he consciously works with and practices the maxims of “As Above, So Below” and “As Within, So Without.”

Since the Magician relates to the conscious level of Will, he often relates to some sort of ‘marshalling of forces’ in readings, some sort of unifying drive within the querant to effect a change, usually with his or her own creativity and organizational skills.  As Robin Wood notes, “this card means originality, great creative powers, imagination, skill, diplomacy, self-reliance.  The opportunity to use any of these talents.  The merging of the four elements.  Mastery in the magical aspects of life.”

Robin Wood’s magician is notably different from a typical Waite-styled magician.  According to her book, the Magician is an avatar of the Wiccan God, clearly evidenced by his horned hood.  His dark hair and blue eyes signify that he embodies the dark and light aspects and the balance between them.  His robe is the same red and white of the other magicians, but has a border of gold (incorruptibility) with white roses (freedom) and lilies (purity), and these flowers have bright green leaves to show that these values are growing in the God’s life.  The robe is open to show that the God is open to novelty, and he is naked beneath it to show he is free and unashamed.  His hands are positioned in the same “as above, so below” position of the other Magicians, and the hand that we can see is held in a slightly open position of the God, which signifies that the Magician is both the God and himself, much as we all are.  All the tools the Magician needs for success lie on the table before him, waiting for him to channel his will to their energies.  Behind him stands two candles, a black and white one to represent the conscious and unconscious minds.  Both are lit because the Magician is illuminated in both aspects, and together they fill the card with light.  This feature will strongly link Robin Wood’s magician with her next card, the High Priestess.

Again, the major symbols of the card are numbered below:

1.  Red Roses/Red Robe.

  • The roses connect to the zeal of life the magician has, and their red color connects to the active principles of passion and courage the magician has.  These qualities are reflected in his outer robe.

2.  White Lilies/White Robe.

  • Lilies mean purity, chasteness, and innocence.  A white color means purity, clarity, and freshness.  The Lilies beneath the Magician and the white inner robe show that his grounded, most inner purpose is pure and clear.

3.  As Above, So Below stance.

  • This shows how the magician actively channels energy and combines it with his own will.

4.  The Lemniscate and Ouroboros

  • Both are symbols of the infinite and eternal, of the cyclical flows of energy.

KEYWORDS:  Taking action, acting consciously, concentrating, experiencing power, creativity, magic, active principle, originator, willpower, initiative, conduit, focus, resourceful, channeling, conducting

Close your eyes and take several deed breaths.  Imagine that you travel through time and space until you stand before the most primal of energies–the force behind all creation.  How does this energy appear to you?  As you stand there, begin to inhale and exhale slowly.  As you inhale, imagine that you draw this force into your being.  Fill your body entirely until there is no “you” left–only this creative force.  After that, open your eyes.  How does it feel to be one with the power of the Magician?

Daily Practice
Keep the Magician card with you at all times today, or place it on your altar.  Stay focused on action today.  What is it that you need to accomplish?  Do you have goals?  If not, why not?  Set some goals today.  Write down the steps to achieve your daily goals and complete each step.  The power behind magic is that of movement–so stay active until you achieve your plans.

For what it’s worth, 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 Marcus Katz and Tali Goodwin’s Around the Tarot in 78 Days. I also strongly recommend Joan Bunning’s book Learning the Tarot as well as the resources found on her website,

Day 284: The Fool

June 20, 2013
The Fool in the Universal Rider-Waite, Hanson Roberts, and Robin Wood

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

The Fool card shows a young, androgynous man walking near the edge of a precipice and paying it no mind.  Instead, his focus is on enjoying the sunshine upon his face (or, in the case of Robin Wood’s deck, playing the flute).  The Fool is a character of complete, thoughtless innocence.  His only interest is in the novel experience, and he jumps into each new experience with a light heart and very little discipline…which can be dangerous, as the Fool’s position on the edge of a cliff shows.  The Fool is not without some defenses.  The little dog yapping at his heels warns him of the danger, and we can take this dog to be a symbol of things like the Fool’s unconscious mind or his friends who might pull him back just before lighthearted play turns to disaster, thanks to the Fool’s thoughtlessness.

Interestingly, the Fool’s precipice lies between the peaks of mountains shown in the distance and the valley below.  Readers often say the lofty peaks represent knowledge or enlightenment, and the valley represents the Fool’s own soul or deep unconscious.  Should the Fool suddenly recognize where he currently is and aspire to climb the peaks, he will have to pass through the valley first.  This placement implies that the Fool stands at the brink of a journey that will change his essence.

Another important aspect of this card is its number.  The Fool’s card is numbered zero.  This is the value of what we have when we start in the world, and it’s also the value of what we take away when we die.  At a really basic level, I take this to mean that the Fool–for all its imagery for new beginnings–also means that it’s also a card of endings, or–at the very least–recognizing that every ending holds within it a new beginning.  The zero also sets this card stands outside the major arcana cards that have values, which A.E. White seems to have picked up on when he wrote that the Fool “is a prince of the other world on his travels through this one”.  The Fool’s nothing provides the necessary contrast so that we can understand we are having an experience.

More practically, the zero underscores the unlimited potential at the root of this card.  It’s an amazing thing to have the world open in front of you, to be able to dance up the mountains or into the valley at your own whim and caprices, and the innocence that comes with that stance is beautifully carefree and joyous, but it’s a starting point.  It will end eventually on a successful journey.  A good Fool will someday internalize the warning dog yapping at his feet and warning him of danger, and that is as beautiful a moment as a purely innocent one.  So when I see the Fool come up in a reading, I remind myself to enjoy the moment of novelty and to revel in all the possibilities it will present, but to always keep an eye open for that whisper of warning so that I can make the best decisions I can.

There’s a few specific symbols in these images that I feel deserve special attention, which I enumerate below:

1.  The Satchel.

  • Each Fool in the cards above is carrying some sort of satchel on his back, but his attention isn’t on that sack.  Some readers hold that this sack represents one’s past lives and experiences–the stuff that clings to all of us when we are ‘born’, but that we don’t consciously acknowledge in our new paradigm.  Rachel Pollack, however, calls attention to the fact that the Fool “bears them lightly and does not mistake them for his true self, which, after all, is nothing.”  Robin Wood, on the other hand, says that this pack holds everything the Fool needs to get along in the world, but they’re not easily accessible to him (especially in her deck, where it is strapped to the Fool “with the white ribbons of guilelessness”).

2.  The Wand/Flute.

  • In most cards, the satchel dangles from a wand, which is highly significant in the Tarot as a symbol of one’s Will.  It’s important to note that the Fool is almost negligent of his Will at this point, as he has carelessly tossed it over his shoulder in a passive role as a carrier.  In Robin Wood’s deck, that wand is transformed into a musical pipe, which really highlights what she views the Fool doing with his will: playing with it.  “In a larger sense [the Fool is] doing just as he wants [with his Will], with little regard for the consequences.  Far from a staff to steady his steps, he has made [it] into a flute to dance to!  And dancing on the edge is very dangerous.”

3.  The White Rose.

  • To me, roses in the Tarot are special symbols that mean “life”.  They’re a flower that combines an incredible sweetness (their scent) with a noted potential for pain (their thorns), which I find nicely parallel’s life’s experiences. White roses also have a specific meaning of freedom. The white color has the associations with newness and freshness that I take to be similar to a fresh, blank page. It has unlimited potential; anything can be written upon it. The Death card carries a large black flag with a white rose upon it for this reason: Death brings about new life with unlimited freedoms. In Robin Wood’s deck, the Fool wears a crown of five white roses to symbolize the freedom the he feels in experiencing the five energies of life: the five elements of earth, air, fire, water, and spirit.  The wreath circles his head and not his heart, because his knowledge of the elements is all cerebral and not an emotional knowledge from his heart.

4.  The Red Feather

  • In most of these cards, the Fool wears a red feather on his hat.  Red is a color of passion, and feathers connect to the apparent freedom of birds.  It is this passionate freedom, then, which crowns the Fool (doubled with the life and freedom found in the white roses of Robin Wood’s crown), and which we will again see in the reborn Fool on the Sun card.  Robin Wood also notes that in her deck, this feather stands for the Fool’s courage–which, at this point, is the “bravery of ignorance.”

Fool Action Words: Innocence, Beginning, Being Spontaneous, Having Faith, Embracing Folly, Freedom, Risk, Young in Spirit, Immature

Sit comfortably in front of a white wall.  Open your eyes and gaze as though you are focusing on a spot at least three feet through the wall.  Breathe normally.  Follow the breath with your mind and do not allow thoughts to interrupt your ability to follow the breath.  You can count each breath from one to ten.  Return to the number one each time you notice a thought arising.

Daily Practice
Keep the Fool card with you at all times today, or, if this is not practical, place it on your altar.  Keep a “foolish” mind with you all day.  Don’t assume the reasons for the things that happen.  Avoid internal dialogue and running commentary about the events of your day.  Keep a simple mind that reflects everything and clings to nothing.  Evoke the Fool state of mind whenever you need simplicity and truth in your life.

For what it’s worth, 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 Marcus Katz and Tali Goodwin’s Around the Tarot in 78 Days. I also strongly recommend Joan Bunning’s book Learning the Tarot as well as the resources found on her website,

A Very Brief Intro to Tarot and Tarot Decks

June 19, 2013

For the next 28 days in Roderick’s program (well, 31 since the days of contemplation, devotion, and reflection fall between The Devil and The Tower study days), we’ll be focusing on the cards in the major arcana of the tarot as well as a few basic spreads and other techniques.  Before launching into a study of the Fool card, I thought it might be best to pause and take a moment to outline some tarot basics.

In my opinion, one of the most important things to know about the tarot is that it is not a divination system that has been with us since time immemorial.  Playing cards themselves didn’t arrive on the scene until the 14th century, and current scholarly consensus is that cards that would become the modern tarot deck originated in 15th-century Italy as a game for the aristocracy.  The earliest decks that have been found definitely look more like playing cards than the elaborate illustrations we see today.  The minor arcana cards, for example, just show two circles or two sticks on what would be the two of pentacles or two of rods.  The court and major arcana cards primarily just show a central figure as well.

Tarot as we know it is fully rooted in the late 18th-century.  Though it is true that cards had previously been used in divination prior to this time (the earliest reference occurs in 1540 in a book entitled The Oracles of Francesco Marcolino da Forlì), using the cards to do more than select another random oracle was largely the extent of their use.  Different manuscripts from the mid 1700s evidence a more elaborate cartomancy, but the groundwork of modern tarot was largely set in 1781 when Antoine Court de Gébelin published Le Monde Primitif, in which he hypothesized that the symbolism of the Tarot de Marseille had hidden within its illustrations and form the Egyptian mysteries of Isis and Thoth.  Court de Gébelin generally tried to read a lot of Egyptian influence into the cards, and even claimed that the name “tarot” derived from the Egyptian words for royal and road (“tar” and “ro”), which meant that the cards were a “royal road” to higher wisdom.  These claims were made well before Champollion decoded the hieroglyphics, however, and subsequent study has found little to uphold Court de Gébelin’s early theories.


Cards from Wilfried Houdouin’s “The Tarot of Marseilles Millennium Edition” (2011).  This is his ‘reconstruction’ of the original cards, which are among the oldest extant (and most complete) tarot decks.  They might date back to the 15th century.  In this deck, the minor arcana are not as fully illustrated.

The popular culture link between ancient Egypt and the tarot, however, had been indelibly forged.  In 1790, the French occultist Jean Baptiste Alliette published a book linking the Egyptian Book of Thoth along with astrology and the four elements with his own inteprtations of the tarot deck.  Just before his death in 1791, he also produced a special divination deck of cards that brought together his own ideas with older French systems.  As far as we know, Etteilla’s deck was the first specifically designed for cartomancy.

The cards that have most influenced contemporary tarot studies were published in 1910 by occultist Arthur Edward Waite and his contracted artist, Pamela Colman Smith.  Published by the Rider company, these cards are known today as the “Rider-Waite” tarot deck.  The images on these cards are pretty simple as far as the art goes, but Waite and Smith collaborated to include so many details into the cards that they contain a tremendous amount of symbolism.  Waite and Smith also insisted on creating full, descriptive images for each card, including those in the Minor Arcana.  These two innovations suddenly made tarot reading incredibly accessible.  Whereas with older decks you either had to memorize lots of meanings or else be truly psychic, almost anyone can interpret a meaning from the Rider-Waite cards with just a little bit of training and a nice dose of intuition.


A comparison of different fool cards from variously published Rider-Waite decks.  Left to right:  The “A” version of the 1910 deck, “The Original Rider-Waite Tarot” (1993), “The Universal Waite” (1990), “Radiant Rider-Waite Tarot” (2003).  The Universal and Radiant decks were projects to re-color the Rider-Waite cards using modern printing.  Mary Hanson Roberts colored Universal and Virginijus Poshkus colored Radiant.

Another major influence on contemporary tarot is the Crowley-Harris Thoth deck.  Under directions from occultist Aleister Crowley, Lady Frieda Harris painted (and repainted) these cards between 1938 and 1943.  Neither lived to see the deck published, which was first done by Crowley’s Ordo Templi Orientis in 1969 (Harris’s original paintings were re-photographed for a clearer deck in 1977, and were re-photographed again for the currently available edition of the deck in 1986).  These cards, some of which are shown below, are completely packed with complex symbols that Crowley brought together from many disparate cultures and systems and can provide incredibly rich readings.  Those familiar with Crowley’s work and metaphysics cannot help but be impressed by the thoroughness of his deck and how well its elements work with each other.

Crowley, however, made several changes to the deck structure established by historical decks such as the Tarot of Marseilles and the newer Rider-Waite deck.  While his changes are very well reasoned within his metaphysical conception, it does mean that readers who are drawn to the Thoth deck cannot rely upon many of the published meanings, symbols, and history of the cards.  Therefore, Thoth readers need to be aware that they must undertake specially targeted research in order to fully understand this deck.  Subsequently published decks by others that have been inspired by the Thoth deck would also require this research.

The Fool, Moon, and Aeon cards from Crowley's Thoth deck.

The Fool, Moon, and Aeon cards from Crowley’s Thoth deck.

Today, I believe it is safe to say that any one of the hundreds of currently published tarot decks will fall into at least one of five main categories:  a Marseilles-influenced deck, a Waite-influenced deck, a Thoth-influenced deck, an art deck, or a novelty deck.  It is definitely important to understand the influences of whatever deck you are drawn to and whether or not they are even appropriate for readings.  Some may be exquisite cards, but leave you with flat readings.  For example, I acquired a Dante Tarot deck several years ago.  It was a joke gift from a professor whose “Virgil and Dante” class I was taking.  I was completely uninspired for one of the long “reading journal” papers she insisted we write, so I made an academic stretch and hypothesized about a connection between Dante’s Divine Comedy and the tarot.  For my trouble, I got an A, the lone comment “Wild!” and this tarot deck.  I would consider this deck both an art deck and a novelty deck, and I loved its amazing illustrations, but I couldn’t get a decent reading out of these cards at all.  I’d lay down a spread, look to see if I could note any patterns…and get absolutely nothing.  Despite having a good understanding of the symbolism of both tarot cards and Dante’s work, they didn’t tug on my intuition one bit.

I do find that art decks and novelty decks in general aren’t the best when it comes to being a working divination tool.  However, there are some good “art decks” that do make great use of established tarot imagery.  One such deck that I do have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for, however, is Stephanie Pui-Mun Law’s Shadowscapes Tarot, which was published in 2010.  Law’s work is exquisite–if a bit ‘fantasy’ for my personal tastes–and very dream like.  Despite the amazing originality of Law’s images, though, I find that a Rider-Waite reader would be able to see tons of similarities between Law’s deck and the ‘old’ standard.  Once you thoroughly understand the Rider-Waite cards, you can’t help but see their meanings and motifs jump at you from Law’s images.  I almost can’t wait until I can get my hands around one of these decks!


The three of swords, eight of pentacles, Fool, and Star cards from Law’s Shadowscapes Tarot.

In my years as a pagan, I’ve owned several different tarot decks and had loads of friends with plenty of others.  In my experience, I’ve found that I can pass on most art and novelty decks, as well as those inspired by the Marseilles deck (they read as “empty” to me, and I sorely miss illustrated minor arcana cards).  I think that Thoth decks are incredible and rich, but I’ve never been drawn to study Crowley in any great depth, and I always feel that much of my readings with these cards are “missing something.”  This means that I do most of my work with Rider-Waite cards and those with a strong Rider-Waite influence.

That being said, I despise the copy of the Rider-Waite cards that is most available today.  They worked off of a poor printing of the original, and have made the line work is so heavy, it obscures many of the finer details.  The colors also make you want to gouge out your eyes.  Marginally better is The Original Rider-Waite deck (1993), which has better coloring, but uses a what looks like a heavier-lined version of Smith’s “C” deck for the outlines rather than the clearer “A” deck.  I prefer to use the Universal Waite Tarot, which is Mary Hanson Robert’s 1990 recoloring as my main reference point.  Influenced by the “A” deck lines and coloring, it offers a softer, richer, and incredibly more precise art (the scanned images on that link are over-exposed, the cards are really lovely).  Another popular re-coloring is Virginijus Poshkus’s 2003 Radiant Rider-Waite, which is highly color-saturated and slightly redrawn.  There are plenty of Rider-Waite ‘clones’ that directly redraw the cards in a style that might be considered more appealing.  Timothy Roderick recommends the Universal Tarot as one of these decks.

There’s also about a million cards that might not be completely identical to Waite, but still display a very strong influence.  Two decks like this that I use frequently are the Hanson-Roberts Tarot and the Robin Wood Tarot.  Truth be told, my Hanson-Roberts deck gets the most play because its cards are small (about 4 inches by 2 3/8ths inches) and easiest to shuffle and handle.  I enjoy the coloring and dynamic figures in her rendering, though I do find that some of the faces border on the ‘cherubic’.  I’ve had a lot of great readings with this deck.  Most recently I’ve been working with the Robin Wood Tarot because it is what my HPS uses and teaches.  It has several cards that are completely different from Rider-Waite’s images, but Ms. Wood has excellent reasons for her choices.  She also includes plenty of imagery that British Traditional-trained witches will find very appealing and evocative.

From here on out, I will be sharing images of my three main decks:  Universal Waite, Hanson-Roberts, and Robin Wood when we study each of the cards in the major arcana.  Enjoy!


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