LONDON 2012 UK TAROT CONFERENCE

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For those of us lucky enough to be in London at the moment, it has really been our year. The Queen’s Jubilee was a pageant on the grandest scale; the Olympics have been stunning and inclusive, making us proud to be part of this great city; and, just before autumn begins to draw in, we have the icing on the cake, in the form of the UK Tarot Conference at the Thistle Barbican Hotel on the 12-13th October.

Rachel Pollack, a well-known and highly-respected visitor from the US kicks off with a talk on what tarot is, what it does, and how it does it (I wish all clients could come to this one), goes on to look at multi-diimensional readings; and finishes with all the different books she’s had published this year. Juliet Sharman-Burke investigates The Hermit (a subject dear to my heart right now, as I’ve just started painting a new tarot, the inspiration for it being The Hermit – I’ll be posting the images as I complete them, so keep checking). Tiffany Crosara speaks about ‘Bringing the Tarot Alive’ and – a real treat this – Alfred Douglas is attending to have an informal talk about the tarot and magical orders.

Also, in the afternoon on Saturday I’m talking about the Tarot and the Shadow. We all enjoy getting the ‘good’ cards, and cringe when the difficult, awkward, shadow images turn up. Why, though, do we try to avoid them? One of the great things about the Tarot is that we are actually encouraged to explore the shadow sides of ourselves through cards like The Moon, The Devil, 5 and 7 of Swords, etc. Working through these unpleasant aspects of ourselves is one way – indeed, the only way – to reach the state of integration depicted in The World. This integration is, I believe, what the Mystery religions were all about, and their many initiatory levels are reflected in the different stages of understanding depicted in the Major Arcana.

Intrigued? Come along to the Conference – we’d love to see you there.

Epiphanies

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The Tarot Association of the British Isles has a tarot blog (http://tabitarot.blogspot.com/2012/03/temple-of-spirit.html) which I often find thought-provoking. Today’s was about epiphanies, which started me thinking about what the word implies.

According to http://dictionary.reference.com, the use of a capital letter Epiphany refers to the Christian festival on January 6th, when according to scripture the infant Christ encountered the Magi from the east. The Magi themselves conjure up interesting associations, but that’s a digression.

What I find particularly interesting is the next definition in the online dictionary, which is that of ‘an appearance or manifestation, especially of a deity’. If we read the ancient scriptures – the Bible and the Sanskrit Vedas and Upanishads, for instance, or even myths from around the world, it’s apparent that people used to encounter deities regularly. Even today, in our rushed materialist world, there are a surprising number of encounters with other-worldly beings: angels, devas, faeries, whatever you want call them. While the communications from these beings is often through synchronicity – odd coincidences that are strangely meaningful to the recipient – it may be much more like a ‘sudden, intuitive perception or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something’.

We usually associate this sort of sudden revelation with The Tower. But if I draw a card, what epiphany does the tarot present me with today?

It’s the Temperance card – reversed.

Temperance is one of my favourite cards: an angelic being pouring liquid from one jug to another. It’s about being able to bring oneself into a deep state of equilibrium; and when it’s reversed it is probably about a lack of balance (yes, I can relate to that!). My book from The Intuitive Tarot suggests ‘Closing down on possibilities; refusal to see opportunities. Fear of being hurt; resisting life. Concentration on one aspect of life to the detriment of another; often an unwillingness to see anything but the outer form of material reality.’ I was going to say that the only thing that doesn’t apply is the very last bit – but then I began to wonder whether perhaps I am missing a trick here (something I asked to be shown this morning!) Epiphany doesn’t have to be something that knocks you off your horse and leaves you blind for three days (referring to Paul’s epiphany on the way to Damascus).
It can be as quiet and unassuming as a blog that asks what your epiphany will be today.

So it’s time to go back to the meaning of Temperance reversed, and look at where I’m closing down on possibilities and resisting life. We all do it, often without realising it. With the outside world so full of stimuli, noise and opportunities, it’s sometimes hard to stay open. And resistance in our everyday lives means we sleep badly, get ill, fight with our family and friends, project everything outwards.

Resist as much I please, though, an epiphany requires me to change. It does not allow me to return to my previous state of somnolence. So the appearance of the deity (through the synchronicities I described earlier, including of course the Temperance card – an angelic being in its own right) invites me gently to wake up, smell the new-baked bread, and revel in being alive. If I still continue to resist, I guess they’ll send the bigger guns in. Watch this space. I’m not planning to travel to Damascus anytime soon, though…

 

The Shadow

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I have been mulling over what the Devil signifies in the tarot and in the external world. To me, this is the Shadow, both the personal and the collective. (If you’ve not encountered this concept before, it originated with C.G. Jung, who saw the Shadow as the unacknowledged aspects of humanity. On a personal level these aspects would be socially unacceptable traits – anger, fear, hatred, jealousy, envy, greed, lying, arrogance, laziness, vengefulness – and so on. The most important of these, as I see it, are fear, anger, and envy.)

The concept of The Devil was gradually formalized through Christian dogma. St Augustine and other early Christians talked of demons disturbing their peace – particularly sexually – and most of us can relate to those inner demons. As time went on, though, the old pagan gods were demonized and coalesced into one uber-demon, so in the tarot Devil we often see the cloven hooves of Pan (and often his shaggy pelt), symbolizing an untamed sexuality and materiality. Women also became demonized, a fact we haven’t actually managed to get over yet.

If you need more contemporary examples of the collective shadow, think of Hitler and his Third Reich; Pol Pot; the Rwandan genocide; Serbia, Kosovo, Saddam Hussein, and now Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad. But the concept of evil and the Shadow is far more complex than this: I see the Shadow being multi-layered. We could draw a parallel between Jung’s dream of the unconscious as a multi-storied building, with increasingly deep basement levels depicting the levels of the unconscious. The deeper he went, the further back in humanity’s history, so the deepest levels were set in a cave with skulls and broken pottery – that is, dealing with the earliest collective memories of humanity (see his autobiographical Memories, Dreams, Reflections). The Shadow could be conceived in a similar way:  the first basement level might be the archetypes we recognize from the tarot: those energies that empower, frighten, and inspire us – The Magician, the Emperor, Death, the Tower. Below that level would be the slightly darker energies – anger, fear, envy as stated above. Below that, in the depths, the twisted, applied forms of those dark energies at their most perverted and destructive.

Some consider such malign energies to be external entities, i.e. a separate force of evil, the polarity to the force of good. I am not sure about this. For a start I dislike this polarised way of thinking which tends to be very damaging, enabling us to project what we don’t like in ourselves onto others. This seems to be a basic human tendency, and if we are self-aware we can see it at work every day. If we consider someone else to be intolerant and impatient, it is a reflection of those characteristics in ourselves. The people around us can see those ‘hidden’ qualities quite clearly, but miss their own. So all of us are a mixture – light and dark, inner and outer, male and female, but most of us are oblivious of the interplay, and try to resist or suppress the things we don’t like. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work. The only way that works is to integrate the different aspects so that the Demon becomes the Ally.

The Shadow – the things we don’t like in ourselves – is natural and essential. It just makes us human. However, the deepest levels of the Shadow are a different issue altogether. Our amazing minds make us vulnerable to fear, greed, and envy, and out of that can emerge the darkest of all energies. For me, what makes evil is a human capability – the ease with which we hook into the Shadow to harm, to pervert, to exploit. We seem to have a tendency (based on greed or fear or both) to slide into the Shadow route very easily, rather than to stay fearless, honest, and unperverted. And unscrupulous leaders know this and use the tools of fear, anger, and projection to manipulate us.

So where does that leave us? Are we honest, and courageous, enough to look within? Can we remember our dreams and see the messages there (our dreams usually compensate for our ego-filled waking hours where we try to tell ourselves we’re in the right)? If we find ourselves justifying some action, beware: there’s shadow stuff around.

Then we can begin to integrate the unconscious, Shadow aspects of ourselves. (See the next blog post on how to do this.) This is not a path for the faint-hearted, but it is the only way for those who want to become whole – which is, surely, the underlying purpose of the tarot, and the Devil…

 

Does the Tarot deal in Polarities?

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My experience has been that the tarot does not deal in polarities. It makes no value judgments about right or wrong. Although it suggests ways through the various dilemmas of life, it has no agenda. You can move on or stay where you are; you can be enlightened or at the beginning of your journey; either way, the tarot will help.

People, however, are less equitable. A client I had a while back was struggling with judgements based on polarities. In the reading the tarot made it obvious that it was the right time to manifest her dreams, and she said she had already begun a new healing practice. However, she added, her old work kept growing leaving no space for the new. That is usually a sign that for some reason you aren’t ready to move on. As the reading progressed, I realised that the main issue was an inner struggle between light and dark. The client considered herself very much a light worker and, while she did not deny the presence of the shadow, she saw it in traditional terms – dark = evil, temptation, vs. light = good, purity.

The problem came sharply into focus when she drew the Deva card Kali Dance. This is a card of power – and shadow – indicating a huge amount of energy that is not being expressed creatively, in which case it can often turn back on you. Illness, obstacles, psychological issues can ensue. She then told me about her various encounters with the Shadow, and I could empathise completely – if you feel something is evil and a threat, your unconscious will comply, giving you images that are terrifying and dangerous. It is difficult – if not impossible – to change that perception.

My work with the tarot and The Devas of Creation has confirmed time and again that having such fixed views on the different polarities can be very damaging. The shadow (the dark) may well be demonic but, unless our actions make it so, it is not evil. Anger, fear, envy, jealousy, rage – these are all natural feelings that need to be honoured, their origins questioned rather than suppressed. In fact, if you journey into those feelings and dialogue with the shadow, you’ll often discover that the challenge they contain is to expand your perceptions. By ignoring the challenge, you become rigid, fearful, and limited. By acknowledging it and taking it on, however, the Shadow becomes your Ally, which enables you to integrate it. Thus you become more conscious and more unified – surely the goal of anyone interested in spiritual development.

It seemed to me that my client was holding back on making a commitment to her new work – her soul’s calling – because she had stayed with just one poliarity, the light worker consciousness. The unification was missing. It would take a leap of faith – and a lot of work – to get there.

Courageously, she asked what would happen if she did somehow manage to take on both aspects of herself.

The tarot card she drew for this question was the 7 of Cups – the card of vision and dreams, the culmination of the Grail Quest – which again emphasizes the amalgamation of light and dark. The Deva energy was Emergence. There seems little doubt that if she can let go of this very polarised way of thinking, the blocks preventing her new work will lift and she’ll be able to channel a far greater degree of energy.

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Working with the Tarot for Self-awareness (continued)

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The Wheel - traditionally The Wheel of Fortune. An ancient symbol, the Wheel represents the cosmos, time, fate and karma. The medieval concept of the Wheel of Fortune show man helplessly bound to the wheel of destiny, his fate either predestined, or, alternatively, subject to blind chance. In today’s Tarot, however, we can read it with a lighter touch: as the Tao, the ever-changing yet ever unified circle of existence.


The Wheel signals some new cycle of life: an opportunity to alter our perceptions, when we realize that the currents in the river of life are drawing us inexorably along whether we will or no. We can neither control nor fight the flow; all we can do is to allow ourselves to flow with it, in full awareness of what is involved.


The next stage on the path is XI, Strength. Some of the oldest decks show Samson killing a lion. The archetypal hero often has to battle with a primitive or wild man in order to come to his full power, while the lion itself is the archetype of strength, power, and majesty.

In self-development terms, Strength is the first test on the journey of the soul. Our choice to follow the Hermit’s path brings us into direct contact with the unconscious, that level of the psyche we usually encounter only through dreams. The first level we encounter is our animal side, the Id in Freudian terms – the child which rages to get its own way. The woman in the image, who can be thought of as the ego, does not kill the animal, but controls it with firmness and compassion. If we can manage this, the lion becomes our Ally.


XII – The Hanged Man. This is where we see that everything we’ve been taught, all our previous moral certainties – indeed all our previous ideas about who we are, what we want in life – must be re-examined.

The archetype of the Hanged Man is an old one. In ancient Greece, images of the god were often hung in trees to ensure fertility and a good harvest. Many of the gods linked to fertility were sacrificed in different ways – Tammuz (Ishtar’s consort), Osiris, Christ, and Odin, who hung himself upside down for nine days and nights in order to gain wisdom. Less well known is the story of Shemyaza, one of the so-called Fallen Angels, who fell in love with a mortal woman, Ishtahar. After Shemyaza revealed the true name of God to her, God imprisoned him in Orion, hanging upside down, for eternity.

Shemyaza © C Conway 2010

In self-development terms, The Hanged Man is shown as an initiate, like Odin, hanging herself as a sacrifice to growth in the new world she now inhabits. She must have the strength of mind to fly in the face of convention, or she can progress no further. As an initiate, it is also necessary to be able to surrender to chaos and the unknown.


XIII – Death. The ability of the initiate to surrender to the unknown is tested to its ultimate in the Death card. It is not physical death, but the mystery initiate quite often has to live through soliltude in utter darkness for a number of days. At the end of that time they would emerge as from the tomb, profoundly changed.  Every major change in our lives means a death of sorts; each time we end a relationship, change jobs, move house – even the end of the day or year – entails a little death. But without those deaths, we stagnate.

In archetypal terms, Death occupies an pre-eminent position: an inescapable destiny. In many traditions we find a river over which souls pass to the next life. In Greek myth the ferryman, Charon, rows the dead over the river Styx, while in Egypt the boat was guided by Anubis, the jackal-headed god of embalming. In Roman and Celtic myth, the goddess Isis and Ceridwen were in charge of this strangely ubiquitous boat.

Anubis


XIV – Temperance. The last of the virtues depicted overtly in the Major Arcana. The figure can be identified with Aquarius, the water carrier, or with Ganymede who became cup-bearer to the gods, replenishing the nectar of immortality when it ran low. Temperance is today depicted as angelic, its abilities alchemic: pouring one vessel into another, one quality with another to make a third, a synthesis of the two: water into wine, lead into gold, dark into light.

In self-development terms, Temperance is the deep inner balance of inner to outer, the first inkling of the integration which culminates in The World. It is the ability to temper unconscious emotions with conscious reason; to balance irrational, childish reaction with adult processing. This ability will be tested fully in the next stage along the path.


XV – The Devil. We see the archetype of The Devil in numerous old gods. Indeed, as Paul Huson points out in The Devil’s Picture Book, the gods of a dead religion often become the demons of the succeeding one. Pan, Baphomet, Cernunnos, Satan, all combine to give us the image we see in the Tarot. It is significant that many of these were fertility gods, as The Devil is about our darkest desires: greed, sexual perversion, envy, obsession – and the fear attached to these feelings. This is what C.G. Jung called the Shadow – all that we find unacceptable in ourselves and so repress from our consciousness. The Initiate has to acknowledge and integrate this shadow stuff.

The card reminds us that The Devil does exist – though not as an external agent; not as a dark angel who tempts us, binds us, forces us to do things we would never dream of (‘the devil made me do it’). But the Devil is within us. By projecting our unwanted shadow on others, and then acting out based on that distorted perception, we ourselves create evil. The Devil reminds us that each of us is capable of the worst excesses, of arrogance and greed, envy and murder. If we think we are exempt, we are deluding ourselves.

However, the Devil also holds out a promise of redemption. As the initiate, if we acknowledge our shadow side, and work with it when we encounter it, it becomes our teacher. That requires courage and honesty, the ability to see the dark and not deny or project it onto the outside world. Instead, draw it, write to it, dialogue with it, express it through your body or through a story. Then ask what it wants from you. Usually it wants acknowledgement, acceptance, and then the will to change and grow.


XVI – The Tower. Certain events, both personal and external, are so cataclysmic we can only stand, shuddering, and wait for the fall-out to clear. Hiroshima was such an event; 9/11 another. Both can be seen as diabolic or divine, depending on our viewpoint, but the magnitude of each makes it impossible to continue life as before. We may retrace the steps that led there, but there is no going back. However, the destruction is not wholly negative. As the lightning strikes, for a second we see Divinity in all its magnitude. Even as the old world crumbles, a new world is born.

As an archetype, the Tower is about hubris. It may remind us of the Tower of Babel, Atlantis or even Sodom and Gomorrah. By now, the initiate’s foundations should be firm enough to withstand the storms and destruction of the external world, no matter how apocalyptic. Even though our world can be shattered in a moment, we can rebuild. A new world can emerge from the old.

In self-development terms, this card refers to purification through loss, and the ability to withstand the worst storms. When we reach this level of awareness, we may wish to simplify, challenging any rigid, outdated structures or thought processes. The cosmic bolt from the blue is never something for which we can be prepared, but on the path this winnowing is essential.


XVII – The Star. The Star gives us real recognition of how far we’ve come. We emerge from the depth of the unconscious into the light of the stars. Now we experience a vision of wholeness, a deep gnostic understanding of eternity and renewal. This is the profound inner certainty that comes when we at last find ourselves connected to the mystic Centre. We become a channel for divine energy made manifest on earth.

Medieval Cosmology


The Star is about hope: the light that appears to call us to remember who we were born to be. Archetypally, the stars point the way to illumination. They are seen as luminous celestial beings with the ability to bring home and illumination. The story of the star of Bethlehem, and the Magi from the east, is well known. Other stories tell of how the stars were formed: the Greeks, for instance, saw the constellations as conscious, self-aware entitles who lodged in the dome of heaven. The Titan Atlas balanced this enormous dome on his shoulders, shifting it when the weight became too great, which caused the stars to rise and set.

In self-development terms, the Initiate now has a sustained connection to the Higher Self, that part of us which is aware of being divine. We need to ensure that our minds stay open, reflecting that inner light which allows problems to be resolved with ease and grace. Think about your highest dream – are there things you need to do in life? Miracles happen daily, though we often fail to notice them.


XVIII – The Moon. Like The Star, the Moon has been the subject of awe, ritual and story since humans first became sentient. From neolithic times the Moon was usually seen as the multi-faceted Great Mother – New Moon (Maiden – Persephone, Diana the Huntress, Artemis), Full Moon (Mother – Demeter, Isis, Astarte) and finally the Dark Moon (the Hag – Hecate, dark Ereshkigal, Juno). Even today we bow to the moon’s influence: we mark its passage from dark to full while the sea moves in its wake, while those of unsound mind are known to become even more disturbed at full moon.

Thus the Moon of the Tarot carries both dark and light aspects of the Goddess. The crab or crayfish crawling out of the pool refers to the dark of the moon. In this guise we encounter Hecate, a psychopomp who guides the Soul through the underworld. As the initiate, we have encountered Death already, but this is the crossing between sanity and insanity – a living journey through the underworld. Shamans, artists, and other seekers may cross that borderline, but there is always a risk that they will not return intact. The hospitals are full of people who have lost their way in that ambivalent, delusory realm.

Hecate

The Moon is about a failure of nerve, delusion or deception. Often we may be taken in by feelings of grandiosity, paranoia, or megalomania as we look at the dizzy level we’ve attained. The challenge of this archetype is not to forget ourselves totally, in the waters of Lethe; but, somehow, remember our way back.


XIX – The Sun. And now the night ends and the sun rises, as it has since the dawn of time. The archetype of the sun is about light, warmth, life. Dawn is about birth, new beginnings; midday is warmth, growth, harvest; evening is the growing shadow, wilting, the coming of the night, death. The tarot image shows the solar twins dancing under the light of the midday sun, protected from its burning rays within a circular garden. The solar twins are found in a number of myths and are potential saviours.

By now the initiate is in a state of grace. The light floods in; we – the steadfast seekers on the Way – are transfigured and renewed. From now on that warmth, that heightened awareness, will not leave us for long – although being human, we may have times when we lose the certainty, the connection. But our vision is so clear now that nothing will get caught between us and the light.


XX – Judgment. The imagery here is mainly Christian – the Last Judgment, when the dead souls are gathered and their ultimate destination decided. The man and woman in the image are the twin souls in the Sun, grown to adulthood, with their divine child. The trumpet is the call to new life; the veils between the worlds lifts and we are redeemed. All the old polarities have been resolved, the child representing our new unified consciousness. Archetypally, the divine child is understood as the birth of new consciousness. Myths from around the world talk of a shining infant, its lambent gaze full of wisdom and compassion, who comes to bring salvation.

Judgment marks the near completion of the journey: rebirth, the reunification of the soul. In Jungian therapy this might appear in dreams as an angelic call, the ‘pearl without price'; the treasure now recovered; in alchemic terms it is the Philosopher’s Stone, the ‘pearl without price’.


XXI – The World. The culmination of the journey: the fully realised soul – the divine child grown to adulthood. This is the Anima Mundi, where male and female, dark and light, inner and outer, are integrated in unity, a synthesis of beauty and completion. The dancer – whom T.S. Eliot called the ‘still point of the turning circle’, is androgenous; s/he is the Coniunctio, the mystic marriage of matter, mind and spirit that was the ultimate goal of the alchemists. Here we move past the limitations of form into a timeless state of grace – of active and receptive love. It is both an ending, and a beginning.

The archetype of this awesome being is alchemic: engravings of medieval alchemy show the conjoined being as the end result of the Great Work. Once the alchemist had attained this level of understanding, it would be reflected in his alchemical work by the ability to turn base metal into gold.


0 – The Fool. And even now there is one final stage on the journey. As Eliot puts it,

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

This is the wise fool: the individual – and mankind itself – ready for the next stage of its evolution into a far more evolved being. A few phenomenal souls have reached that state – Buddha, Christ resurrected, perhaps Gandhi and Mandela; a select few!

Archetypally, the Holy Fool is seen in many traditions. He has transcended physical reality – all the world’s goods mean nothing to him. His vision is humane, wise, and numinous. He is Zero: the Nothing and the All simultaneously. At last, through the unknowable void, the future soul embraces time and matter to become manifest once more, and the cycle begins again.

And, perhaps, we can think of this not as a closed circle, but as a spiral, where the end and the beginning of each cycle do not meet, but begin again on a higher level.





Working with the Tarot for Self-awareness (Part One)

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We may never know for certain why the Tarot was developed, but given that the focus of medieval society was spiritual, we can be fairly sure that it had a spiritual underpinning.

Today, however, most taroists see the Majors as a concise and powerful description of the journey into self-awareness. Each one represents not only a stage in our own development but also an archetype, a mental image we all understand and which find their way into our myths, legends and fairy-tales. In personal terms the Fool reflects the innocence and carefree stance of our infancy. The archetype is of the potent outsider who questions everything, throws life away on a whim – the Fool on the Hill. Alternatively, we see in many fairy tales a slightly unfocused, naive hero, the innocent abroad who either gets by somehow – or makes a complete pig’s ear of life and has to be rescued by some external agency.

The Magician depicts our dawning awareness of the ability to shape our lives – and the need to be seen doing so. It’s about manifestation, control, and often manipulation. We all have encountered the person who demands attention, has to be the centre of the limelight, the consummate performer who always has to be on the move in case we get to know him (or her) too well. We know the archetype, too: Loki, the trickster who loves to throw everything into chaos, who can create or destroy on a whim; Mercurius the ever-changeable; Coyote and Reynard the fox. In everyday terms, he would be the second-hand car salesman who’ll say anything to get you to buy.

In personal terms the High Priestess shows us the sensations of the body-mind as we grow, and the inherent wisdom of life; while the archetype is of the virgin Moon Goddess, with deep intuitive knowledge of time and tide and seasons. She calls us to full awareness of this world (its deep realities, never just surface). Mythologically she is seen as Celene, Artemis or Diana; the cool virgin goddesses (‘virgin’ meaning belonging to no man, rather than our desexualised view of the word).

The Empress, all-giving mother, should perhaps be numbered 1, as our first awareness outside ourselves is of the mother. In our lives we may not have experienced the abundance and lush giving nature of this archetype, which shows the Triple Goddess in her mature, fecund state – the Yin of the Tao. Nor have many of us in the west encountered such potent feminine energy, although we can see it clearly when, as Gaia, she shrugs and thousands die in earthquakes or tsunamis. Most of the time we like to think that mankind is in control. The ancient neolithic figurines of old Europe and Anatolia depict her at her most fecund, while the Tarot shows her multi-faceted potency. But as the ancient goddesses’ day passed into history, and the patriarchy took over, the Greek and Roman mother goddesses became pallid, ineffectual reflections of the archetype’s full omnipotence.

The Emperor is the divine masculine, but also our experience of the male, usually as reflected in our fathers. He is also about discipline, will, and structure – the patriarchy. As an archetype, the Emperor is focused masculine energy – the Yang. In myth he might be seen as Jove, Odin, Zeus, or, historically, Alexander or the Roman Emperors. Today we see a debased reflection of this masculine essence in Hollywood dick-flicks, where the male is depicted as almost superhuman. No weakness, no humanity can be shown in these simulations. Some women reflect a similar two-dimensionality in their animus projections, usually shown in dogmatic assertions that ‘this is the way it is’, while many men emulate the bad example given by their fathers.

The Hierophant represents the growth of wisdom; our teachers, spiritual mentors, inner guidance. The archetype was described the Old Wise Man by C.G. Jung, who encountered a being he named Philemon in his inner journeys. Philemon would give Jung insight into problems, imparting information that Jung himself had no way of knowing. This access to deep inner wisdom Jung later called the collective unconscious. In myth, Merlin is a good example of the Hierophant, particularly in his understanding of magic, while Savonarola and the Witchfinders show the reversed side of the archetype, its rigid and fearful mindset – and the damage that can do.

(From The Red Book, by C.G. Jung)

The first awareness of choice is seen in The Lovers. Each of us becomes aware of our own autonomy at some stage – the ability to make our own lives, choose our own friends. Some of the older tarot show a man trying to decide between two women, perhaps mother and lover (the film The Graduate is an example of that choice) and certainly this is a choice some men find difficult! In mythological terms we might consider Paris choosing between Helen and the goddess Aphrodite. A broader aspect of this card, however, is that as we grow we are constantly offered the choice to stay small or to grow; it is usually fear that stops us growing, but if we give into the fear we constrict ourselves and become scared of life itself.

In The Chariot we have now moved out into the world, and are developing our personae (masks). We may develop an aggressive, driving ambition; or stay invisible in the background; we may be a perfectionist, or get by doing as little as possible. Either way the Chariot is about ambition, will and determination. In Greek myth, Helios, the sun-god, drives the sun chariot across the sky each day; his strong hand on the whip and reins of the chariot ensured it never falters; and a famous Greek statue of Heniokhos (the rein-holder) depicts the need to ensure both horses (dark and light) are going in the same direction. If our unconscious wants to go one way, and our conscious wants to go a different way, we’ll end up going nowhere.

Justice, tarot trump VIII in most decks, shows the inner balance needed for maturity. It’s about discrimination, truth and integrity: often it entails giving our lives a cold hard look, to see where we are lying to ourselves. Mythologically she is Athena: divine Justice rather than man-made justice. Cool, objective, she cuts through untruths and the confusion we create. Archetypally, the concept of fair play, of righting wrongs, is one we seem to understand instinctively – even if the justice we create in society falls far short of the ideal.

The Hermit is the pilgrim who withdraws from the world to walk the uncertain, lonely road to self-awareness. In the East this is an accepted path for men and women, and even in our extraverted western society many seek the silence and solitude in order to gain wisdom. Archetypally the Hermit is another aspect of the Old Wise Man, but we might see him as Saturn – patient, inexorable, contained. This is the stage in life where some inner call is heard: the barest flicker of sound, half the time appearing quite impossible. But some of us do heed the call, and follow that strange inner path – ‘the road less travelled’, as F. Scott Peck puts it in the book of the same title. The remaining tarot Majors describe that journey.

(to be continued…)

Working with the Tarot for Intuitive Guidance and Self-Development (Part 1)

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Intuition is a gift we all have. We are all capable of slipping into a reverie or dreamlike, meditative state; and it is in this state that we make connections with the tarot card meanings as represented by their images.

Some of us access our intuition easily and for some it takes practice.

In self-development work, using the Tarot, you consciously identify with a particular card or cards, chosen at random or by visual selection. If you go with visual selection, choose a card that you feel particularly drawn to – or even one you particularly dislike!

Study the card for a while, letting your mind go into neutral. This can take practice, so take your time, relax and breathe slowly – close your eyes if you wish. Be open to anything, however illogical or tentative, that comes into your head: images, sounds, sensations, colours, words, feelings, anything.

You may find it helpful to record your reactions in a notebook, to refer to later, as these intuitive messages will almost certainly have some relevance to you even if the meaning is not obvious to begin with.

Example: Let’s say I’ve drawn the Three of Rods from The Intuitive Tarot. I might begin: ‘Concentration, energy, beautiful colours, velvet smoothness. Peace. Excitement at holding this beautiful egg.’ I might then ask the figure in the card what its story is, or describe myself as if I am the figure in this particular card (this is called ‘dialoguing’ with the card.

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I am staring intently at a beautiful egg-shaped object. A double helix of energy is rising from it. Have I made it? I get the sense that it is humming. It is alive! This is some miraculous, alchemic secret.

My subconscious has informed me directly that I have access to a wonderful, living secret. It is my message; another person would probably ‘see’ something quite different. I don’t have to work out intellectually what this amazing secret could be, although I know it has something to do with the feeling of connection to my soul; all I need to do is to fully experience the wonder of it, and thank the universe for having granted it.

Working with Tarot Card Meanings for Intuitive Guidance and Self-Development (Part 2) – Reversals

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Last time we talked about identifying with a card, chosen either at random or by visual selection and being open to any sub conscious messages that card might suggest to you.

I talked about how it might be if I drew the Three of Rods and concentrated on what the design is saying to me. I began with the ideas – suggested by the design – of: concentration, energy, beautiful colours, velvet smoothness, peace. Excitement at holding this beautiful egg-shape.

But what if I drew the Three of Rods and it was upside down i.e. reversed?

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If the card is reversed (appears upside down) the intuitive message you need to take from it is modified. In the case of the Three of Rods, I would still have access to the creativity or beautiful secret, but I need to be aware that there may be some blockage.

At this stage, I need to stay in the reverie, letting my mind flow freely around any further images that came.

I might get the sense I am trying too hard to control an outcome, or that there is some outstanding task to be completed. If no guidance comes, I will pass the issue over to my higher and unconscious selves, and forget it for the time being, waiting for synchronicities or dream messages to help clarify the situation later.

Working with Tarot Card Meanings for Self-Development (Part 3) – A Negative Reaction

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So we have drawn or chosen our card and allowed it, as best we can, to speak to us.

But what if we get a card that we are not happy with – one that produces a decidedly negative reaction?

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A negative reaction to a card is an indication that the image is activating some repressed part of yourself, or is a call to look at a particular problem.  The more reluctance you feel to working with the card, the more important it is to continue!

In this case, get a friend to sit with you, to witness the messages you get from the card – you’ll have to work out loud in that case if possible. They are more likely to notice if you miss important clues – and it’s surprising how easy it is to ignore something that is really important! Encourage your friend to be objective and to say anything they think might be useful, even if you may not like what they say!

If you haven’t got a friend who will help close at hand, record all the intuitive links, however disturbing they may seem, and come back to them a few days later.  You will probably find a strange recognition dawning – congratulations! Just stay with it, and the message will become clearer with time.

If you find at any point that your imaginary stories or identification with the figures in the cards are bringing up particularly painful memories, or feelings of fear or anger, use your own intuitive guidance to decide whether you should stay with them or turn away.  Although you are perfectly at liberty to turn away, most of the time it is best to stay with the emotions if you can, feeling them as fully as possible.

Accept that they are part of you, and that by acknowledging them you are recovering a precious part of yourself (it is not feeling itself that is dangerous, it is repressed feeling).  However, if you find it impossible to stay with these emotions, or decide intuitively that it is not a good idea, trust this intuition. You are your own wisest guide, and this may be your psyche’s way of protecting you.

If nothing at all appears in your awareness, you may be tired, or trying too hard, or missing the messages through inexperience.  Indicate your willingness to your subconscious and higher consciousness that you wish to remain open to any flashes that may come through other people, books, films, or dreams, in the days ahead, and ensure you have a notebook to hand!