Category Archives: Tarot

The Fool’s Journey Through the Major Arcana: SunFest: The High Priestess

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HPS: (Placing finger to lips) Shhhhhhh. There is a secret here. Do you wish to know what it is?

Seekers answer “yes.”

HPS: Very well, then. The Great Secret is this:  Your life—and the world you live it in—is a beautiful and terrifying…but instructive illusion.

That which makes up your particular and personal illusion is behind that Veil.

The purpose of your life—and yours, and yours—is to discover how to discover what is behind the Veil.

And then to do it.

Simple, isn’t it? (Shaking her head, ‘no.’) But take heart. The journey you are on right now will bring you at least a few steps closer to understanding.

In the Place of Perfect Equilibrium, I stand watch over the Gateway of Knowing. Have you any questions?

(When questioning comes to an end or no one speaks…) It is well. Now, pass on and continue your journey.

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The Fool’s Journey Through the Major Arcana: SunFest 2016: The Magician

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The Magician: And just where do you think you’re going?

The Fools probably answer that they are seeking enlightenment.

The Magician: Ah. And where do you intend to find it? (word the question to fit their answer.)

The Fools only answer will be that they don’t know but that they need to cross the bridge.

The Magician: As I suspected. You haven’t a clue. Now listen up. You can’t just go wandering around expecting things to fall into place. The Multiverse doesn’t work that way. First you need to decide exactly what it is that you’re looking for. Enlightenment isn’t good enough. Each of you is looking for something different. It may be as specific as “How will I make next month’s rent.” or as general as “What do I need to do next in my life?”

But it’s a waste of your time and the Multiverse’s to ask the Multiverse for next month’s rent. Deep down inside, each of you knows what you truly need to do or to happen to turn your life into something that feeds your soul. Unfortunately, it usually isn’t something you’d choose to do for fun. Do you dare to ask for what you truly need?  If you do, the Multiverse will open the way for you. But will you have the intelligence to recognize it and the courage and the will it follow it?

Take a minute and think about it.

And when you decide what you’re looking for, walk to the center of the bridge, reach up, (Magician raises his right hand which is holding a double ended wand) connect with the Multiverse and ask for guidance. Then channel the gift it gives you into manifestation. (Magician points downward with his left hand.)

Then you can go wandering around expecting things to fall into place.

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The Fool’s Journey Through the Tarot Major Arcana: SunFest 2016: The World

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I’m here to give some advice to a bunch of Fools who are starting a journey to enlightenment. And I know I’m in the right place, because I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more perfect bunch of Fools.

I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to go wandering around in the woods to find enlightenment.

It’s right here.

All the beauty and perfection of the Multiverse is right here and right now.

All you have to do is be still… and reach for it.

But because you’re a bunch of Fools, you won’t listen to me. You’ll go running around looking for something you already have.

So here’s some advice. If you’re going to be Fools, at least be divine Fools. Let go of the cares and worries and responsibilities of your everyday world.

Because you’re not there anymore.

You’re here, between the worlds, searching for something that’s right under your nose.

Only a madman would do that—so be divinely mad. Forget all your limitations and expectations.

Be like children—open to anything and accepting of everything.

Have a nice trip!

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The Fool’s Journey Through the Tarot Major Arcana: SunFest 2016

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Last year I was honored to be asked to write a “Fool’s Journey Through the Tarot” ritual for SunFest 2016. My first response was to run away screaming “Nooooooooo!” I know from previous experience that there is nothing more time consuming and brain warping than writing, organizing, and directing a large scale ritual.

And then it dawned on me that The Fool’s Journey was exactly what I’ve been writing about on this blog for the past several years and it is exactly what my first book, Forging the Blade (which will soon be available), is about.

And after doing the blog, the book, and countless readings for clients, I was a firm believer in the transformative, life changing power of tarot.

So how could I not share this amazing tool with my community?

“OK,” I said. “I’ll do it.”

Fortunately, my community is composed of many amazingly talented people who volunteered to be in or help with the ritual, who serve on Other Worlds Of Wonder, the non-profit board that runs SunFest each year, and other friends who own Ffynnon, beautiful land dedicated to hosting pagan events.

It all came together nicely.

Even the weather co-operated.

We took three days to do the ritual. Each day the ritual participants, or Fools, journeyed through Ffynnon Forest to meet the major arcana tarot cards.

1 forest_path, Robin Halioua (2)

  • The first day was the Journey to Adulthood: The Magician through The Chariot.
  • The second day was the Journey to Higher Knowledge: Strength through Temperance.
  • The third day was the Journey to Enlightenment: The Devil through The World.

The response to the ritual was overwhelming. As I moved through the festival, visiting with friends and organizing the ritual, people were constantly stopping me to tell me how much the ritual meant to them. Some were actually in tears as they told me what a difference it had made in their lives and how much it gave them to think about. Many folks at the festival knew very little or nothing about the tarot, but they stopped me to say that after meeting the cards they were going to buy a book and a deck and start studying. And the children loved it. Many begged to go through again. OWOW made beautiful, free children’s tarot decks available and the kids played with them constantly. But, best of all, the spiritual power of the tarot energized the community. OWOW has had people volunteering to help with next year’s festival, paying a year in advance to come to next year’s festival, and volunteering to be in next year’s ritual.

For the next 21 days I will present a picture of each of the major arcana cards as they appeared in Ffynnon Forest and what they said to the Fools who found them.

To be continued…

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Hijacked by Mamluks

One of the greatest dangers a writer faces while doing research is getting sidetracked by an irresistible piece of trivia and wandering for hours through cyberspace and reference books. By the time he or she resurfaces, bleary eyed and sated with useless information, hours have passed—hours that could have been spent on something productive.

This happened to me, for about the bajillionth time, as I was preparing a presentation about the history of tarot. I kept running across the statement that the first playing cards didn’t appear in Europe until the early 1300’s— and they were probably Mamluk.

Mamluk playing cards had 4 suites--coins, polo sticks, swords, and cups--and 3 court cards--Kings, Viceroys, and Deputy Viceroys.

Mamluk playing cards had 4 suites–coins, polo sticks, swords, and cups–and 3 court cards–Kings, Viceroys, and Deputy Viceroys.

“What’s a Mamluk?” I thought. And that’s when the Mamluks grabbed me and dragged me through nearly eight centuries of fascinating history that had absolutely nothing to do with the tarot.

It all began way back in 800 CE when the Abbasid caliphs of Baghdad began supplementing their military with slaves purchased from a place called Circassia in the northern Caucasus Mountains.

Circassia,_Adyghe

Circassia doesn’t exist anymore, but Circassian people still live there. And it’s still sort of the Lake Woebegone of Eastern Europe, where all the men are strong,

Modern Circassians

Modern Circassians

all the women are good looking,

Modern Circassian

Modern Circassian

and all the children are above average.

Circassian
The medieval Circassian slaves were such excellent fighters and strategists that they were given more and more power and responsibility. Any historian would have told the caliphs this was a bad idea, but who listens to historians?
They eventually grew more powerful than the caliphs who owned them and formed a military regime that dominated the Middle East for over eight centuries. They called themselves Mamluks (Arabic for slaves).

Mamluk--artist unknown

Mamluk–artist unknown

Baybars (maybe), artist unknown--at least by me.

Baybars (maybe), artist unknown–at least by me.

In 1260, Baybars, a Mameluke general owned by the Sultan of Egypt, defeated the Mongols and halted their sweep through the Middle East and into Egypt. This is a hugely significant accomplishment, since the descendents of Genghis Khan had been pillaging their way west for the past 500 years without a single defeat. Baybars then killed the sultan and took over Egypt. During his reign of seventeen years Baybars crushed the dreaded Assassins in their last strongholds in Syria, drove the crusaders from Antioch, and extended the rule of Egypt across the Red Sea to control the valuable pilgrim cities of Mecca and Medina.
A totally amazing curriculum vitae.
The Mamluks remained a force to be reckoned with in the Middle East until the early 1800’s when The Ottoman Empire realized that they were way too powerful and massacred them all in Egypt (1811) and then Baghdad (1813).*

Mameluke,_Napoleon's_Imperial_Guard_001

But not all the Mamluks stayed in the Middle East. Many become mercenaries throughout the Levant and Europe. Every King and even some of the more wealthy nobles had their crack Mamluk troops. Napoleon Bonaparte’s Imperial Guard had a Mamluk division and Napoleon himself had a Mamluk body guard.

Roustam Raza, Napoleon's Mamluk body guard, oil on canvas by Émil Jean Horace Vernet, 1789-1863

Roustam Raza, Napoleon’s Mamluk body guard, oil on canvas by Émil Jean Horace Vernet, 1789-1863

Another image of Roustam Raza

Another image of Roustam Raza

Remember all those medieval historical novels and romances where the hero must fight the villain’s dreaded Mamluk bodyguard?

And soldiers have lots of time to sit around and play gambling games. I have no doubt that the European knights of the 1300’s were eager to learn the favorite game of these amazing fighters. And so playing cards became all the rage in Europe–thanks, in part, to the Mamluks.

Circassian woman, veiled, by Jean Leon Gerome (1824-1904)

Circassian woman, veiled, by Jean Leon Gerome (1824-1904)

Circassian women were so beautiful that they were sold as concubines and became the rulers of  seraglios throughout the Middle East. From this position they would have had quite a bit of influence on Middle Eastern politics.

Voltaire
Voltaire had this to say about them:
“The Circassians are poor, and their daughters are beautiful, and indeed it is in them they chiefly trade. They furnish with those beauties the seraglio of the Turkish Sultan, of the Persian Sophy, and of all of those who are wealthy enough to purchase and maintain such precious merchandise. These maidens are very honorably and virtuously instructed how to fondle and caress men; are taught dances of a very polite and effeminate kind; and how to heighten by the most voluptuous artifices the pleasures of their disdainful masters for whom they are designed.”
–1734, Letters to the English, Letter XI, On Inoculation
Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752-1840–physician, naturalist, and racist) theorized that the Circassians were the closest to God’s original model of humanity, and thus “the purest and most beautiful whites were the Circassians”. Since the Circassians were from the Caucasus Mountains, the word Caucasian came to be the name of the white race.
Now, aren’t you glad you know what a Mamluk is?

 

 

*“History of the Mamelukes” A nice, short, readable article on a complex subject.
http://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/PlainTextHistories.asp?historyid=ac85

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All You Really Need to Know About the Tarot Major Arcana

In her definitive book, Seventy-eight Degrees of Wisdom, a Book of Tarot, Rachel Pollack begins the first chapter with this spread:

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These are the four most basic tarot archetypes arranged in a perfect pattern of spiritual evolution. I call this the “everything you really need to know about the major arcana” layout.

 The vertical axis is The Fool and The World. The beginning and the end. The Aleph and the Tav. The Alpha and the Omega. Most authors describe these figures as androgynous and both figures are dancing. In fact, they are the only dancers in the major arcana. Death dances in some of the decks, but Death will always dance, and who are we to say it can’t. All of the other figures are pictured in static positions, like they’re posing for a photographer—they each represent a distinct, fixed state of existence.

 The Fool is dancing along a precipice high above the rest of the world and looks to be about to leap down into it. But there is no fear or holding back. S/he radiates innocence and total confidence.

 The World, however, dances suspended in a magical wreath of victory and radiates not only a feeling of completion and wholeness, but also a feeling of endless possibility, which in turn suggests new beginnings.  Together they represent the eternal dance of the universe from beginning to end to new beginning—the cosmic spiral. Like an electromagnetic current spiraling between the anode and cathode ends of a battery, the vertical axis spins around the static horizontal axis formed by The Magician and High Priestess.

The Magician’s planet is Mercury, which represents the psychological functions of logic and communication. He holds aloft a wand in his right hand and points down toward the earth with his left. And so the Magician clearly represents manifestation through logical, linear thought and action—functions of the conscious mind, the left brain. Occultists and many psychotherapists assign these traits to the positive, masculine principal.

The High Priestess sits calmly between a black pillar and a white pillar. A veil hangs between them, the thin veil of conscious awareness, which is all that separates us from our inner selves. The Moon, the planet of imagination, illusions and the unseen, is assigned to her. And so the HPS is the keeper of the infinite and powerful, yet static wisdom of the not-conscious, the right brain. These traits are assigned to the negative, feminine principal. Water is a symbol of the not-conscious and tarot readers are fond of saying that the piece of the High Priestess’s blue robe that trails off the card becomes all the rivers and pools and oceans that appear in the rest of the tarot.

The numbers of these cards are also significant.

  • The Fool’s number is 0, which isn’t a real number, in fact, it’s a not-number. It’s egg shaped, and like an egg, it represents infinite yet unmanifested possibility.
  • The Magician’s number is 1. The first real number. One means wholeness, ego.
  • The HPS’s number is 2. With the number 2 we have a duality: odd/even, positive/negative, black/white, yin/yang, masculine/feminine.
  • The World’s number is 21. It contains both 1 and 2, The Magician and the HPS. In other words, The World represents the reunion of The Magician and The High Priestess, the yin and the yang. 2+1=3, the magic number, the number of creativity, the child of the union of 1 and 2. In fact, the digits of both the horizontal and vertical axes add up to 3. The High Priestess key even foretells the resulting three. She is the third figure between the two pillars of Boaz and Joachim, mercy and severity, the pillars of the Temple of Solomon. Waite has even labeled one B and one J to be sure you don’t miss the symbolism.

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This is the guide to inner wisdom that Cabalists call The Tree of Life. It’s made up of the ten Sephiroth or Sephirot connected by twenty two paths. Each path is assigned a major arcana card. The sephroth on the right form the pillar of mercy and the ones on the left form the pillar of severity. The High Priestess forms the third or middle pillar of the Tree. In fact, the path on the middle pillar from Kether to Tifareth is the path of the High Priestess, whose Hebrew letter is Gimel. The other two paths that make up this pillar are Temperance (Samech) and The World (Tav). So if we read downward from Kether, the first Sephirah, we get the following advice. “To reach Malkuth, The World, we must first establish communication with the not conscious (HPS, Gimel) then we must establish communication between the conscious and not conscious (Temperance, Samech).  Once this communication has been established, direct communication with the divine becomes a state of being (The World) and we reach our goal, Malkuth. Of course one can get there by taking either the right or left pillar, but most cabalists consider the middle pillar to be the preferred path to Malkuth. 

 The_FoolWith this information, the meaning of the spread becomes obvious. In order to learn the lessons necessary to become a more complete, enlightened being The Fool must separate into masculine and feminine. The one must become two.

 

We see this in so many creation myths. God formed Eve from Adam’s rib so he would have a partner, someoneThe_World,_artist_unknown different from himself to exchange ideas with. In many pagan mythologies, the goddess was the first and only being. She gave birth to a son who became her consort/partner—again someone opposite, someone with a different point of view. The journey of the major arcana cards is about how these two, which are really the conscious and unconscious minds of the seeker, become aware of each other and establish an intimate and fluent dialogue. When this is accomplished, the seeker has attained Nirvana, or Heaven on Earth, or the fulfillment of all desires. In other words, he has attained The World.

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The World: The Hero’s Journey and the Major Arcana, Part I

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She dances freely in mid-air, unconstrained by the laws of gravity and perhaps any of the other laws of this world. She looks totally feminine to me, but all my sources say she’s an androgynous being, which is probably why Pamela Coleman Smith and many of the other tarot artists discretely drape her private parts. Each of her hands holds a wand, suggesting positive and negative poles of energy. The symbolism here is thick and obvious. When we are able to integrate our masculine and feminine natures, our positive and negative sides, our conscious and not conscious minds, we enter into a state of being in which we can accomplish wonders (see my previous posts on The Sun and Judgement).

“What can we say of an understanding, a freedom and rapture beyond words? The unconscious known consciously, the outer self unified with the forces of life, knowledge that is not knowledge at all but a constant ecstatic dance of being….”* A quick troll through the Internet yielded the following quotes from people who’d been there and made a valiant effort to describe the undiscribable:

Hildegard_of_BinginJill_Bolte_Taylor

…I was immediately captivated by the magnificence of the energy around me. And because I could no longer identify the boundaries of my body, I felt enormous and expansive. I felt at one with all the energy that was, and it was beautiful there…
Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroanatomist who suffered a brain hemorrhage and was trapped in her right brain.

Meister_Ekhart

The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love.
Meister Eckhart, Sermons of Meister Eckhart

 

Laurel_wreath

A laurel wreath surrounds the dancer. Laurel wreaths were given to victorious Greek athletes, notable poets (it’s where we get the laureate in poet laureate), and scholars. And so the wreath implies that the dancer has accomplished a great victory; and, indeed, she has. She is The Fool who has at last reached the end of his hero’s journey. A.E. Waite and Pamela Coleman Smith go to great lengths to make sure we understand this. The Fool and androgyne on The World card are the only figures in the major arcana that are dancing.The_Fool_001 We dance to bring ourselves into alignment with the multiverse, which, as quantum physicists are quick to tell us, is simply a dance of particles. The cosmic dancer began her journey toward enlightenment as The Fool and struggled through all the trials and dangers of the major arcana. She hung on the Tree of Life and overcame Death itself. Through her adventures she has achieved the goal of The Great Work—“Know thyself”. Her conscious and not conscious minds are in communion and the multiverse is open to her. A supreme victory indeed.

Marseilles deck

Marseilles deck

The Fool’s number is zero, the cosmic egg. The laurel wreath in The World, instead of being round like most laurel wreaths, is also shaped like a zero—another clue that these two are the same being. The wreath in the Marseilles decks actually comes to a point at both ends and looks remarkably like a Vesica piscis. This is the space formed when two circles intersect, and has come to symbolize liminal space . Gods and Goddesses and Saints are often pictured inside a Vesica piscis. Our dancer has transcended reality as we know it and is looking at things from the viewpoint of a god.

The wreath, come to think of it, is also shaped like an eye. Perhaps this is the eye Meister Ekhart was talking about?

The Lion of St Mark I think it is appropriate that the artist positioned him so he’s glaring directly into the Doges’s Palace.

The Lion of St Mark
I think it is appropriate that the artist positioned him so he’s glaring directly into the Doges’s Palace.

The symbols of the elements, the four cardinal directions, the fixed signs of the zodiac, the archangels, and the gospel makers nail down the four corners of The World.

  • The Bull: Earth, North, Taurus, Uriel
  • The Lion: Fire, South, Leo, Michael, St Mark
  • The Eagle: Water, West, Scorpio, Gabriel
  • The Angel: Air, East, Aquarius, Raphael

Nobody agrees on which gospel maker goes with which animal. But I do know that in Venice the statue of a winged lion stands atop a pillar in St. Mark’s square near St. Mark’s Basilica because it is a symbol of St. Mark, the patron saint of Venice.

When magicians and witches cast a circle for magical workings they draw the circle and invoke the above four quarters. They don’t invoke all the symbols for each quarter, of course, but choose the one or ones most appropriate for their work. Usually the directions and the elements are called, sometimes the archangels. A magic circle is an entity that exists in liminal space, between the worlds, and effects all of them. Those within the circle are, by definition, in all places at all times, at one with everything. Alchemists call this state of being “squaring the circle”, a concept which implies that with the grace of the divine all things are possible, that the mysterious can be “squared” with physical reality.
Squaring_the_Circle_As_with_other_alchemical_images,_this_etching_was_believed_to_possess_all_that_is_needed_to_transform_lead_into_gold._A_caption_ab
“As with other alchemical images, this etching was believed to possess all that is needed to transform lead into gold. A caption above the picture proclaims, ‘Here followeth the Figure conteyning all the secrets of the Treatise both great & small.’ The image echoes a recipe from the Rosarium, ‘Make a circle out of a man and woman, derive from it a square, and from the square a triangle: make a circle and you will have the philosopher’s stone.’ The circle containing the male and female figures is the microcosm and the larger outer circle represents the macrocosm. Note how the alchemist connects the concentric circles with a sexton. Circles are considered feminine in nature because they act to contain matter, much in the same way a womb acts to hold within itself the embryo. The square represents a masculine aspect and signifies earth with each of the four elements.

“Finally, the triangle symbolizes fire and acts to connect and integrate the above with the below. In the same way it signifies body, soul and spirit. Male and female energies are fused into a complementary wholeness that forms the basis for effective functioning in reality (the square). Extending outward from this inner psychic structure, human consciousness is brought into a divine relationship with the cosmos (the large, outer circle). Thus, there is inner and outer harmony within oneself, with the opposite sex and with the universe.” Thom F. Cavalli, Ph.D.

The_Wheel_of_FortuneThe Wheel of Fortune key also squares the circle, but in this case, the circle is a physical wheel, and the viewpoint of The Wheel of Fortune is from its rim. We, and by extension, our fates, go up and down as it turns. But the viewpoint of The World is from the center of the card—the center of the circle and the center of the square. The dancer understands that there is no single center or axis to the multiverse. In the dance of the cosmos, each of us dances at the center, a still-point around which everything moves. Nothing and everything all at once.

 

William Butler Yeats  might have been describing The World when he wrote:
“O chestnut tree, great-rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom, or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance
How can we know the dancer from the dance?”
“Among School Children” from The Tower 1928

To be continued…

*Rachael Pollack on The World card, Seventy-eight Degrees of Wisdom.

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