I’ve always loved when the moon comes up in readings, and I love it because the card is so pretty. There’s something about all the animals being compelled by the moon to either howl or come out of their comfort zone that appeals to my shadow self. After all, who among us hasn’t seen the moon hanging in the sky and felt the thrill of wildness shimmer up our spine?
Waite says that this card represents “life of the imagination apart from life of the spirit,” which Rachel Pollack seems to interpret as stage two of the 3 part “Star-Moon-Sun” path. The Star, as we have seen, is a card whose “experience lies beyond words or even form.” It is the experience of love that we know at its truest when we are between the conscious and unconscious worlds; we cannot completely articulate that experience when we are in either state. The Moon, then, represents our “imagination as it molds the energy of the star into shapes that the consciousness can comprehend.”
I like to think that the crayfish emerging from the unconscious pool represents this imagination, since it is actively bridging consciousness and unconsciousness by being both half in and out of the pool (seen both on Temperance and the Star). Crayfish are generally liminal creatures, since they can survive on both land (at least for a short amount of time) and in water. They’re also one of the few crustaceans that prefer freshwater to seawater, and they generally move backwards instead of forwards–especially when escaping a threat. Since they’re such odd little creatures, I think they represent imagination well, since our imaginations are the parts of our minds that function ‘irrationally’. I think that they also serve as a great symbol for molding unconscious energy into shapes that the conscious can understand because of their terrestrial role. Crayfish aren’t creatures that have largely captured a mythological mind, but in the Osage Nation (a Native American tribe that originated in present-day Kentucky), the crayfish plays an important role in earth’s creation: he is the Earthdiver, the small but brave creature who retrieves mud from the bottom of the primordial ocean so that the earth can be created. So too can the crayfish represent the imagination diving into unconsciousness and bringing its creativity to the conscious mind. However, since the crayfish is far more comfortable in water than it is on land, he will never be able to fully bring all the Star’s deep perceptions into perfect conscious clarity.
My impressions of the crayfish are a generous interpretation of Waite’s intent. He says (very vividly) that the crayfish is “that which comes up out of the deeps, the nameless and hideous tendency which is lower than the savage beast.” In other words, the crayfish represents the most monstrous qualities of man, the qualities that constantly struggle for manifestation but continually slip back into the unconscious. Rachel Pollack concurs, saying that the crayfish “symbolizes the most universal fears within the collective unconscious, experienced in visions as nameless demons” and that “the emergence of such terrors is a well known occurrence to people who expose their lunar side through such methods as deep meditation or drugs.”
The dog and the wolf more clearly represent the ‘animal self’ present in the conscious, and their howling shows that this animal self is most strongly roused by the moon. The animal self can be controlled–represented by the domestic dog–or it can be dangerous and fully wild–represented by the wolf, an apex predator.
Here’s the thing: the most important part of the moon card isn’t the Moon or any of the animals in the foreground: it is the gateway and the path. The Moon represents a part in the Fool’s journey where we can actively journey forth: we struggled with lusts and greed with the Devil, ripped away the foundations of our useless, vain knowledge in the Tower, and found our way back to Temperance’s pool and that card’s mastery over our inner selves with the Star, which taught us to pour forth that inner mastery and its love upon the conscious realm. The Moon finally leads us away from that pool and gives us an avenue to follow. If we succeed at moving past our inner fears that immediately block our exit from the pool, we will be able to reflect the light of the Star’s inner ecstasy to all, much as the moon reflects the sun’s light. All we have to do is to find the courage to step away from the unconscious pool and go through the pillars into the shadowy, moon-lit hills.
Throughout the tarot, any time we’ve seen a pair of pillars, we’ve been presented with a gateway of one form or another. This is the last gate, and it’s not guarded by a central figure, such as in the High Priestess or the Hierophant, or even set off in the distance. It is right here in front of us, and nothing stands between us and that first step except for our own inner savageries. The Moon, however, shines down upon this inner chaos with perfect calm. In fact, in the Waite card especially, it even looks as if it disapproves that the animalistic urges are initially getting the better of us following the path beyond the gates. Waite writes that the face in the moon is “the face of the mind” and it “directs a calm gaze upon the unrest below; the dew of thought falls; the message is: Peace, be still; and it may be that there shall come a calm upon the animal nature, while the abyss beneath shall cease from giving up a form.”
The dew of thought here are the yodh-drops falling from the moon. We last encountered these in the Tower, where they represented primal sparks of creation. I think it is important to note that the moon isn’t really showering these drops onto the animal fears in the card’s foreground, but rather the path beyond the gates. It provides incentive for us to transcend our animal urges and to take what we can of the Star’s inner ecstasy and love into the conscious and to let that ecstasy grow.
With the exceptions that her moon has no face and is not putting forth any drops–yodh-shaped or not–and the pillars are rock instead of man-made towers (to show how ancient the struggle between wild and civilized is–these are pillars like those in Stonehenge, roughly hewn and artificially placed at the beginning of civilization), Robin Wood’s card is quite similar to the Rider-Waite card. She even puts forth a tiny little crayfish at the end of her pool. For Wood, however, the Moon is all about wildness. The pool reflects the light of the moon, and show represents the unconscious on two levels. It’s bordered by large rocks “which represent our society trying to keep the unconscious stuff safely walled away” and mushrooms grow around them, since mushrooms are associated with the wild Fey. They’re also “things that can spring up in a single night” to show how quickly these urges can take hold of us. They’re also night-time ‘plants’ which shows that this wildness is relegated to our shadow sides. Her crayfish sands for primitive thoughts and tendencies, and is the triumph of the wild over civilizing forces that would destroy everything in the name of Progress. The ripples his tail creates build in intensity and splash against the confining rocks–they will slowly beat those rocks into gravel.
Wood holds that the wolf represents the wild and the collard dog represents the tame–it is important to note that the tame is baying right alongside the wild. “This shows how thin the veneer of civilization actually is. Given the moon, we’ll all be out there howling.”
Wood says that this card represents the struggle of staying on a path in the midst of all this wildness tugging at us to abandon all structure. That path will lead us into misty hills: there are still struggles yet to be had, but staying on that path will bring us again into new mountains of enlightenment.
KEYWORDS: Stimulating imagination, Wildness, Feeling fear, Believing illusions, Bewilderment.
Sit and watch the moon tonight without any expectation in mind. Allow its energy to silently fill you. How does the energy of the moon feel inside of you? What wisdom does it seem to impart?
Keep the Moon card with you today or place it on your altar. As you go through your day, remain in a state of readiness for anything that may come your way. Do not resist the situations that may come up. Instead, flow with them effortlessly. Keep your imagination and any story about your life at bay.
The card descriptions are a combination of my own insights and paraphrasing from a handful of sources. I’m currently working with Rachel Pollack’s book Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, Robin Wood’s Robin Wood Tarot: The Book, and a smattering from Waite’s Pictorial Key. I also strongly recommend Joan Bunning’s book Learning the Tarot as well as the resources found on her website, learntarot.com.