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.
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.
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 card maintains a lot of the same imagery from the Rider-Waite card, with the notable exceptions of the woman’s right foot being in the water, the tree with the bird being in the foreground, and the bird itself being a small, white, dove-like bird. Wood’s intepretations of these similar elements, though, are quite different.
Wood’s figure is a Star Goddess who appears nude so as to properly practice her rites as dictated in the Charge. Unlike Wood’s typical Goddess figures, she is blonde to signify that stars are also suns. Her straddling of water and land is intended to show she is perfectly balanced between the unconscious and conscious worlds. She is engaged in an act of dedication (shown in her style of kneeling) and meditation (shown by her gaze into the pool).
The bowl in her right arm is silver to indicated the hidden, spiritual world and reflects a star to show that meditation on the unseen yields insight into the highest parts of the seen world. The bowl in her left arm is clear crystal to show the physical world. The bowls would make a perfect sphere if put together to show that the unseen and seen are two halves of a whole. She pours water onto both the land and the pool to show that the unconscious can operate in the conscious world, too. On the land, the unconscious separates into the five sensory streams to show that the senses are enlivened by dreams, and one stream flows back into the pool to show that the senses also contribute to the unconscious.
The wide green lawn shows the openness and freshness the Star’s knowledge can bring. The bluebells symbolize the insights found through starlight vision, and the white flowers show that vision’s purity. The beech tree represents ancient wisdom, and its new leaves show that old knowledge constantly renews itself. The white bird represents divine inspiration: pure thought and freedom of spirit. The fringe of trees in the background show all the other minds bordering on the Star’s state, and how they all benefit from growing together. The eight stars with eight points represent the wheel of the year and recurring cycles. The larger star indicates that there is one point of the cycle that the querent is focused on right now.
KEYWORDS: Superconscious creation, Hope, Inspiration, ‘Starlight vision’
Is there some situation about which you have nurtured negative thoughts? Try this exercise to lift your spirits and to restore your goddess-given optimism. Close your eyes and imagine that you are standing beneath dark, rain-swollen clouds. The skies are threatening and the landscape before you appears gray and lifeless. Begin breathing deeply, and on each exhalation, imagine that the dark clouds begin to lighten. gradually, with each exhaled breath, the clouds dissipate altogether and the bright, golden sun appears. Bask in the rays of the sun for several minutes. Open your eyes and resume your day with an attitude that represents this solar energy.
Keep the Star card with you today or place it on your altar. Keep a positive frame of mind. No matter the situation, try to enter it with a sense of play, knowing that there is no harm that can ultimately affect you. Count your blessings today. For what do you have to be grateful? Acknowledge your gratitude and allow that to guide your optimistic spirit. Do something that makes you laugh today!
The card descriptions are a combination of my own insights and paraphrasing from a handful of sources. I’m currently working with Robin Wood’s Robin Wood Tarot: The Book and a smattering from Waite’s Pictorial Key. I also strongly recommend Joan Bunning’s book Learning the Tarot as well as the resources found on her website, learntarot.com.
**If the eight stars on the card are planets, this would have to mean counting Pluto as a planet, which is slightly tricky as the Rider-Waite cards were published 21 years before Pluto’s official discovery in 1930. At the start of the 20th century, though, the concept of a ninth planet was treated as virtual fact. It was even named Planet X by Percival Lowell, who began a serious search for it in 1905. Lowell’s calculations of where Planet X would be around 1930 coincided with Pluto’s location at discovery and appeared to give much credence to his theories. (Indeed, the name ‘Pluto’ was chosen in part because the P-L would honor Lowell’s primary initials.) Research around the end of the 20th century deemed this a coincidence, as other forces were found to create the anomalies on which Lowell based his calculations. By the late 1970s, further study proved that Pluto was much, much smaller than initially thought (about Earth’s size: we now know it to be about a third of our Moon’s volume and a sixth of its mass). With the discovery of a larger body than Pluto in 2005 (Eris, which is 27% larger than Pluto), Pluto was officially ‘downgraded’ to dwarf planet status in 2006. Current research does not indicate a ninth planet exists.