I’m going to start a series on cards that happen to come up a lot in my readings.
Ever since I started reading tarot cards when I was 16 years old, I have noticed an odd phenomenon of cards that repeat. No matter how diligently and persistently I shuffle, the same card or cards would show up in every reading. I could even pick up a different deck and get the same cards! When the Internet came along there were online tarot card readings randomly generated and I found cards repeating on them. I have an app on my phone for tarot: same cards.
SO I realize these cards that repeat are sending me a message. However I don’t always know what the message is, exactly. Yes, I know the traditional meaning of the card itself. Yes I do meditate on the card… But sometimes I’m just not sure what it is I’m not getting that the card is trying to tell me.
A few weeks ago I was getting the 8 of wands in every reading. The 8 of wands means speed, change, a message, air travel, obstacles removed, lots of positive energy coming your way.
Then I happened to drive by a billboard with an image of the Wright Brothers and the slogan “The Right Idea WILL Fly” and below that the word “INNOVATION”. Immediately the 8 of wands flashed in my mind. I’m not sure what the billboard is actually advertising, so I’ll take a closer look on my way home from work. However, the 8 of wands has stopped appearing in my readings. I guess the message finally got through to me!
I think part of the message for me was: when these cards repeat, I should be looking in the world around me to find examples of them. Once I found a good example, the card didn’t have to keep repeating itself to be heard.
I think I will write a series of these “Cards that repeat” messages.
What cards are repeating for you lately?
The High Priestess has always been an aloof and silent card to me. I haven’t particularly identified with it. I don’t dislike it so much as I just haven’t felt a real connection to it before.
I did know that she is identified (to some extent) with Persephone of Greek mythology. Given the very cold and bitter weather most of the US has experienced this winter, how fitting that I should get to know her now.
In the reading I did recently: the High Priestess (Persephone), The Empress (Demeter) and the Devil (Hades) all played key roles. The myth leapt out at me from the cards and startled me!
What’s more, other parts of the story were also there in a circle, clockwise around the central issue.
The Six of Cups began the story, showing a child innocently giving a flower to another child. (In the Greek myth, Persephone is abducted by Hades, God of the Underworld, while she is innocently picking flowers).
The next card was the 8 of Swords: showing a woman bound, blindfolded and surrounded by swords. (Persephone is captured and abducted, against her will? Let’s examine that more closely in a bit…)
The High Priestess herself was the “foundation” of the matter.
The Sun was the next card. (In the myth, only the sun saw what happened. Helios watched from above. He also told what happened. The sun is important also because this is a myth about the changing of seasons and the ebb and flow of the harvest, which is very much dependent on the sun.)
The Devil card was the outcome… the one card that I’ve always found uncomfortable, due to my Catholic upbringing. This reading shed new light on this card for me as well. Thinking of “The Devil” as Hades was interesting to me. The Underworld, and all that is dark, cold, lifeless and frightening… a loss of control, succumbing to obsessions, addiction… not pleasant thoughts. Monsters from the id.. things we’d prefer not to see in ourselves… things we deny or repress. All of that is fertile ground for growth. Without those things we would remain innocent and simple… but lacking depth.
I have long admired the work of herbalist Susun Weed who describes illness as “going down to our depths”. In American society we like to “keep on the sunny side of life” and we are proud of our independence and our autonomy. Illness is a part of most human lives at some point, and it threatens those things. Therefore we fear and hate it.
When illness or crisis strikes, it’s as if suddenly, against our will, we are abducted, taken into the Underworld.
Susun talks about the need for community to support sick person while they “go down to their depths”. This could be family and friends, or a hospital or rehab with doctors and nurses. As we care for, and provide needed help to one who is “going down to his or her depths”, we also acknowledge also that the person in this process may bring back gifts from the Underworld that the community needs. A healthy community will do this for each of it’s members.
Can you trust your family, friends, community to support you while you make this journey? Or does it make you feel isolated? Is there room, space, time for illness in our work-driven, individualist culture? Or do we see advertisements for medicines to mask our symptoms so we can “get back to work” quickly?
When Persephone went to the Underworld, she voluntarily ate some pomegranate seeds. In some way, she participated in her journey to the Underworld. Pomegranates (seen on on the veil in the High Priestess card) are symbols of fertility and marriage. Persephone lost her innocence, and became Queen of the Underworld, and Hade’s wife.
Did she really not know this would happen as she ate those seeds? Perhaps she chose this new position as Queen of the Underworld? But it’s hard to say. Demeter is so loud in the story. Persephone is so quiet. In fact, she is silent.
The 8 of Swords in this reading is a card indicating that a person isn’t so much a victim as it might seem. Like Persephone who ate the Pomegranate seeds, could we have played a role in our own “visit to the Underworld?” This card often indicates a person is a prisoner of his or her own thoughts, or his or her choice in how to view the situation.
When we are hurting, when we are physically or mentally ill, when we have drinking problems, or substance abuse problems, or spending addictions or gambling addictions or sex addictions…or some other life crisis…when the “normal” world we know seems to crack open… when we spin out of control… those around us rage to get us back on the straight path. They rage, like Demeter did, to bring us back to health. They mourn because we are lost to them. Their own lives and their own work is disrupted because of their efforts to bring us back.
We ourselves want to get back to “normal”… but it’s not that easy. Maybe we have participated in some way in our own situation, because deep inside, we feel we have something to learn from our crisis?
By shedding light into the dark places of the psyche we can return to health and to the world we think of as “normal”… but will we stay there? Or will we return periodically to the Underworld? In the case of chronic illness, this might be the case.
In so many families there are members who, for whatever reason, must go down to their depths from time to time. It may feel they are dragging us with them! Or perhaps we ourselves have to make a trip to the Underworld… hoping our family and community will be supporting us, waiting for us, pulling us back into the world of the living.
But what if we viewed these situations as a part of the human cycle of life… like the season’s changing? What if we need to experience illness at times? What gifts could our troubles bring us?
Rather than rage against this…we could choose, instead to accept it, much as we accept the phases of the moon, or the changes of seasons in the natural world.
The High Priestess sits between a light and a dark pillar. She knows both the land of the living, AND the land of the dead. She knows our sunny, daylight world and the shadow world of the unconscious as well. She has “seen it all”. When we meet her, are we ready to learn what she might teach? A veil separates, and in some sense protects our innocence from from those aspects of life that are unsettling… The High Priestess is in some sense a gatekeeper, and also a guide.
I feel myself, ready to meet the “Shadow” side of life more than I have been able to in the past. A book I plan to read next is “Feeding your Demons” by Tibetan nun, Lama Tsultrim Allione. I would also like to read some work by American psychologist, James Hillman. He was deeply influenced by Jung and he was a great influence on Thomas Merton.
I feel this reading I gave for someone else pertained to her specific situation, but it was meant for me as well. I plan to give time and attention to the High Priestess, and to the myth of Persephone.
If you like this essay, I also urge you to take a moment and read this poem by Sylvia Plath as well:http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/178974
Queen of Cups
Lately I have a new method of working with the tarot cards. I meditate and speak to the character(s) in the cards in my mind. Often this provides some great insights that a straight “by the book” reading wouldn’t give me.
I asked the tarot today about a friend of mine who is a difficult situation. The card I pulled as an answer was the Queen of Cups.
I am able to listen to, and empathize with my friend. I also have an intuitive understanding of her suffering, and so I worry on her behalf.
However, like the Queen of Cups I must let the waves of her emotions come and go, like the waves of the ocean. While I have a tendency to tune in to the emotions of others, I must also cultivate detachment and equanimity. Waves come in and waves go out. I concern myself with the problems of others, forgetting that those problems are theirs to handle, not mine. My kindness and empathy are enough. I don’t have to solve their problems, just be there for them.
What does the Queen of Cups suggest to you?
On the morning of Dec 5th, I pulled a card of the day from my tarot deck. It was this card: The Wheel of Fortune.
The day sped by filled with many insignificant tasks and as I got into my car to leave work and head to my monthly therapy appointment, I remembered the card and wondered why I had drawn it on such a seemingly ordinary day?
I arrived at the office of my therapist and sat in the waiting room, bored. I checked the internet on my phone and saw the news that Nelson Mandela had died only minutes ago.
My therapist called me into the office and I gave her the news. We sat in silence for a moment. I felt nothing I could say about my own life would be meaningful in the slightest in the face of that news, so we talked about Mandela instead.
My therapist, Karen, had recently been to visit her daughter who was actually going to school in South Africa. Karen had visited Robbens Island, and she told me about the 27 years of hard labor in the broiling hot sun Mandela had served, breaking rocks with a pickaxe in a quarry. We let that sink in. She told me of the various factions in South Africa currently and how they might be affected by the news, not that his death was unexpected. But Mandela was so much more than just a 95 year old man with a respiratory infection. He was a symbol for everyone in the country, for the whole world.
I wondered what it must have been like, to be caught up in a historical struggle that leads you to become a global symbol… At a certain point there’s no turning back. However much you might want to go home and maybe give up, you just can’t. Even when it’s offered, you have to say “no”. Somehow you’re now something much larger than yourself alone. The recipient of so many people’s hopes… What a heavy burden he bore, and yet he bore it so beautifully.
Karen had spent years as a political peace activist. We talked about the fact that Mandela was not a pacifist, and how some considered him a terrorist. He advocated peaceful means to the extent that they could be used, but in many cases, they were not enough. `Non-violence is a good policy when conditions permit” he said. He was realistic and knew that when the force you are up against is ruthless and violent, sometimes you have to be too, or be wiped out. He was a radical.
My mother told me that Nelson Mandela’s name was actually not Nelson. Mandela’s real name was Rolihlahla, which roughly translates as “troublemaker”. How fitting and how wonderful!
The world needs Holy Troublemakers, and sometimes it needs trouble too. Everything can’t go the way we plan. Without troublemakers, and trouble, life would not only be dull and complacent, it wouldn’t be life at all, but a kind of living death. Without people like Mandela, (and others like him) we’d accept the status quo. Without the troubles South Africa has faced, or Mandela himself faced, we wouldn’t have been able to witness the wonderful transformation, the heroism, the bravery, the character and the strength of Mandela and others in the movement who fought against apartheid and won. We also wouldn’t have witnessed one man’s ability to inspire so many to the point where they could make a truce despite their (very justified) anger and fear. We wouldn’t have witnessed Mandela as a leader, and the warm feeling I think almost everyone feels in their heart when they hear his name.
Karen and I also talked about how lucky we felt to have lived in the same time period as such an incredible person.
When this card, the Wheel of Fortune comes up in a reading, people worry that their fate is sealed. Good or bad luck is coming their way, what can they do but accept it? I don’t believe that their is only one “fate” in store for any person. We all have forces which are pushing and pulling on us, some more than others. We can also push back.
Fate plays a stronger role in some people’s lives than others. Some people seem fated to endure injustice, hardships and suffering, almost beyond bearing. Some people seem to have the ability to CHANGE fate for themselves, and others too! Life is mysterious in both it’s beauty and it’s ugliness. Without one, the other couldn’t exist.
Let’s hope we all keep a bit of the “the troublemaker” in mind when we meet our fate, whatever it may be. 🙂