August 23, 2009
The Fool asks — Am I in control of what’s happening? Or are other forces at work? Does it matter?
Modern tarotists sometimes relate the Fool to the planet Uranus, but in the era in which we first know that Tarot existed, this was impossible, since no one yet knew Uranus the planet existed. Only seven planets were named. Back then it’s believed the Fool may have corresponded to the Air element.
While the mental or airy nature of the King of Swords may be seen as the mastery of, or complete focus of the powers of the mind, as the ultimate in mental discipline, in fact ultimate mastery of the mind may very well belong to the Fool. Not only is the Fool so focused, on one hand, that he’s oblivious to the dangers around him or to the possible folly of his path. He’s also, on the other hand, able to let go of instinctive control, of his survival needs, just as a mad man or an innocent child might. He may also do this with full conscious intent, in order to let go, fall, create, risk, imagine, and explore inner and outer realms with absolute freedom. He embodies conscious and unconscious focus, as well as conscious and unconscious abandon. He has few attachments to the material world — only the ragged or comical clothing he wears, his knapsack, and possibly an animal guide. He could conceivably be a shamanic kind of healer, willing to enter another plane of existence without fear, with his trusty animal guide there to pull him back into our reality when his work is done. At his most powerful, the Fool can be all these things or none. He can be an error in thinking, a blunder. He can be a surprise.
He’s one aspect of the Trickster.
While many tarotists place the Fool at the beginning of the major arcana, as number zero, in fact zero isn’t a beginning at all. It is no thing. In some of the earliest known Tarots, the Visconti, none of the major arcana were numbered. When they later were ordered and numbered, the Fool remained unnumbered. Where in the series of 22 cards would one place this being who seemed to exist out of time, outside the material world, even outside the social classes? On one hand he’s a beggar, an idiot, a mad man. He matters not to the ordered classes. On the other he’s the court jester, the only one who can make fun of the King or Emperor without fear of losing his life. He also has the King’s ear and might sometimes whisper words of wisdom of the kind only a child might utter, or deliver news that no one else dare. He’s a truth teller, for isn’t that what makes a good joke, a humorous illustration of truth? So he must remain of no account, as one who will never be taken seriously.
The Fool may be a “natural fool” or a “licensed fool.”
Today, instead of court jesters we have comedians who point out the flaws of our leaders — and who don’t seem to take sides in their truth telling. Every leader seems to fall subject to their jests.
Many a family has a child like this, one who will tell family truths, truths the family doesn’t want told, who is therefore cast into the role of no-account by becoming the family scapegoat. In a dysfunctional family this role is sometimes relegated to one child. In some families the role is shared. It gets changed off from one member to another, from one time or circumstance to another. Perhaps even a parent takes a turn at being the scapegoat/truth teller.
The Fool is also the Child in all of us, the Child archetype that Jung and others have sometimes called the Divine Child and considered important as a symbol in dreams.
The Fool can be seen as both the beginning and the end of one’s journey. One starts life as an infant, a child, an innocent who knows no good or evil. Vulnerable, unlearned, unconscious, the child looks at the world and life with his eyes wide with wonder. Toward the end of life, if one is fortunate, one may reach the other end of the journey with a new kind of Fool-like awareness, an ability to see beyond good and evil, to recognize them as merely light and shadow, both necessary for balance. The Fool may have a sage-like wisdom that knows no boundaries and sees beyond our material existence. The Child Fool may be fearless because he’s innocent of danger. The Sage Fool understands danger and realizes he need not fear it. He moves through his fear with awareness.
May 2, 2009
This past week’s card was the Death card, number XIII. In many older Tarot decks, the Fool wasn’t numbered, and card XIII was never named.
Many Death cards depict a skeleton wielding a scythe as it mows down kings, clergymen, rich and poor, powerful and lowly alike, thus portraying La Mort as the great equalizer. In some decks, Death is portrayed as a cloaked figure with a scythe riding a pale horse through fog, storm clouds, or a desolate landscape. Again, the dead strewn across the landscape are people from all ranks of life.
In movies, the Death card usually predicts an actual death, much to the disappointment of Tarot users who’ve tired of that stereotype. While XIII Death can indicate physical death, several other Tarot cards can too, and that’s not the Death card’s usual interpretation. The image in the card is a symbolic representation of an archetype, a typical process that humans experience in many forms besides physical death. But the stereotypical meaning, taking the symbolic representation as literal death, is what many people think of when they first see the Death card. It’s scary to them because they’ve learned to fear death. It makes Tarot appear to them to be full of evil portent and curses, when in fact it’s a great tool for introspection and self-understanding.
XIII Death reminds us that all things come full circle, much like the hands on a clock, from beginning to end — and in the end is an inherent fresh beginning. Death as a physical transition from this life is natural in that it comes to all living things. We fear it because of its unknown aspects, such as when it will happen, how, whether we’ll be prepared or feel that we have too many loose ends left in our lives. We may fear that we’ll have tasks, lessons, goals, or adventures left unfinished — or relationships we don’t want to split apart, even temporarily. We may have regrets that haunt us and remain unresolved. Then there’s the inevitable question of an afterlife. Is there one? What will ours be like? We also fear it because it’s out of our control, and in our modern world we like control. We insist upon it.
Some of us resist death as if we could cheat it, or be the one person it somehow passes by. Some seem to do the opposite and rush toward it by courting danger. Others unconsciously invite death by way of dangerous habits, or apathy. We sometimes borrow a little death by fearing it.
In Tarot, the Death card rarely indicates the end of physical life, so its appearance in a reading shouldn’t be frightening. It usually indicates other kinds of transitions. It’s the inevitability of these changes that seems to be most consistent, with this card, and that’s how its meaning most resembles physical death. One is faced with the inevitable. One must change.
There are many kinds of change that are as inevitable, irresistible, and irrevocable as death. A few examples are the end of childhood, the end of pregnancy in the relentless throes of labor, the need to move on from a spent relationship, leaving a job that no longer suits us — or no longer exists. It’s usually an expected change, one that on some level we knew would come eventually. Perhaps we’ve put off preparing for it, hoping it wouldn’t. Resisting such change is futile, and in many cases will make matters worse or prolong someone’s suffering. It’s best to let go as gracefully as possible, allowing the remains to feed the future and the resulting emptiness to be filled with something new and perhaps better, fresher, more vital, more timely. We can’t see what that might be, and that makes it all the harder to let go. In this regard it’s more like a stalled or prolonged grieving process than death itself.
I sometimes think of this card as the Tarot’s recycling center, or compost heap, because it represents the kinds of endings that are also beginnings, whether we can see or believe in them or not. The remaining energy is best put to other uses.
As each day ends and we retire for the night, most of us do so in the knowledge or faith that a new day will soon dawn. But worry can make the dawn seem a long ways off. It’s in resisting the unknown and inevitable change, in worrying over them as if that worry could somehow thwart them, that we kill ourselves, by refusing to move forward in life, to be present as we meet our future.
The Death card is as much about internal change — life lessons or phases, and how we process them — as it is about external matters. The change might take place inside us, completely unseen by others except as it alters our outlook and behavior. It can be as mundane a change as, “Vacation’s over; time to get back to work.” Although the Death card always requires an adjustment, it’s never a reason to panic. What good would panic do, even if it was an indicator of death? There are more constructive ways to meet the future.
Copyright © 2009 Barbara W. Klaser. All rights reserved.
2009 Tarot Study Index
March 28, 2009
The Twos in Tarot can be dualistic, bipolar, two-faced, and filled with conflict or tension. They can push or pull in two directions, or unite somewhere in the middle in a tense, semi-structured and semi-permanent balance. Their energy can also build to a release point that will occur in the Threes.
Going back to Gail Fairfield’s geometric analogy, Two is two points connecting to form a line. Remember back to Geometry class, the abstract notion that a line extends into infinity in both directions, and you have an idea of the potential of the Twos in Tarot — especially the most prominent Two in the deck, the Papess or High Priestess. (more…)
February 25, 2009
The Magician is often shown standing in an outdoor setting with plants growing around him. Before him is a table with objects laid out on it representing the four elements. He prepares to work magic with them. He appears to be conscious of the power implicit in the elements, as well as of his ability to use them, to take purposeful action in the world of form, action that changes things, that is meaningful.
No longer the innocent, naive, or fearful lower manifestation of the Fool (which has a higher manifestation too that we’ll explore when we get to that card), the Magician is now sentient, aware of himself and his individuality. He’s also aware of the world around him and his active role in it. (more…)
February 17, 2009
As I mentioned previously, I’m doing something a little different in each segment of my Tarot Study. Today’s segment is long, but I hope it contains something you’ll find worth your while. I seem to have an awful lot to say about these cards.
I’ll start this time with a glimpse at some precursory artwork for my own Tarot. These images may or may not become part of an entire Tarot deck in the future, and if they do it will likely be for my personal use. (Click on the thumbnail images for larger views.) (Images updated to most recent versions on 03-28-2009.)
I’m conceptualizing, at this point, playing with some of my older scanned artwork and digital photographs, (more…)
February 2, 2009
It seems that my Tarot Study this year is sinking into my unconscious, becoming a constant voice in the back of my head reminding me of both the study and the week’s current card’s connection to my life in one way or another. It’s even to some extent shaping my dreams. Hopefully the Emperor will prompt me to become more organized and orderly in my personal life as well. One can hope.
More Than A King
The Emperor card in the Tarot’s major arcana connects to life in the form of logic, reasoning, protection, and the kind of encouragement of growth that we don’t associate so much with the Empress, who’s more creative, nurturing, and loving. Not that the Emperor can’t be creative, nurturing, and loving, it’s just that he manifests those qualities in a different way. He’s in some ways more like the inspiring thought that prompts creation, and in other ways like the working hands and energy that do the work of making things. He’s disciplined and practical. He’s a stabilizing, organizing force in our lives. He relates to government and social structures. He’s a provider, and a beneficent force in the lives of all in his domain. In his more negative form he can represent oppressive government or leaders, abuse of power at any level, laws that do more to limit freedom than to protect it, and narcissistic or despotic rule.
Now if some of this sounds a little sexist, please note that a woman can manifest the Emperor’s qualities, just as a man can express the Empress. They both represent archetypal forces that exist in everyone, of either gender. (more…)
January 26, 2009
Justice — Is There Any?
The subtitle for this section of my post is borrowed from the chapter on Justice in Sallie Nichols’ Jung and Tarot: An Archetypal Journey.
I’ve had a lot of trouble with this particular card in my study, and I’m not sure why. It’s not as if I’ve never given the Justice card a lot of thought before. But during the past week, I’ve been skirting around the Justice card as if it were anathema to me. I thought that didn’t make much sense. It makes even less sense when I consider that as a person with Sun in Libra, I’ve often identified with the Justice card as an archetype representing me to a great degree.
Fairness and Justice have always been important to me, and they’ve been factors in my life at every turn, sometimes as ideals or aspirations, sometimes as great disappointments. And maybe that’s where my difficulty comes in. We search and search for Justice in certain matters, in our world. Yet I’m sure we don’t always find it, and more recently I wonder if we always should. (more…)
If you’re new to Tarot, you might wonder why the Justice and Strength cards are numbered differently from one Tarot deck to another.
In the older Tarot de Marseille decks, Justice is VIII and Strength is XI (and the Fool, by the way, has no number at all, while the Death card has a number — XIII — but no title).
In some modern decks, Justice is XI and Strength is VIII.
No one really knows how the original Tarot majors were ordered, or if they were ordered at all. In some of the oldest known Tarot decks the major arcana had no numbers. (more…)
January 19, 2009
The Hierophant: Seeking Perfection in the Great Imperfect
The traditional title of The Hierophant is The Pope, and in the Tarot de Marseille this card provides a masculine contrast or polarization with card II The Papess, or female pope. In modern Tarot decks these two cards’ titles have changed to, most commonly, The High Priestess and The Hierophant.
The Hierophant is frequently interpreted as a religious, spiritual, or ethical authority figure or mentor, as the inner voice or conscience, or as form, ritual, and ceremony. He is sometimes seen as a bridge to the divine. In Tarot interpretations that view traditional religion as negative, The Hierophant is often given a more patriarchal or authoritative tone, sometimes quite harshly so, and in some interpretations that attempt to see the more positive aspects of this archetype, religion or spirituality may not be mentioned at all. The reasons for both extremes are probably that so many people have had difficult experiences with religion and that so many people disagree about religion.
In the Tarot of Transformation this card is titled “Spiritual Leaders.” In neo-pagan based decks, it’s sometimes the High Priest.
It is the path of spirit in the earthly plane.
Some have said that about the Tarot as a whole.
One could say The Hierophant represents all the ways in which we endeavor, through known forms, sacred images, ritual, dogma, or ceremony — through structure that is very often a metaphor — to keep ourselves on the correct path toward deity or the unknown. The meaning will vary depending on what the individual considers the correct path. (more…)
January 12, 2009
How do they rule?
The King cards in the Tarot sometimes represent wisdom or mastery, and at other times a completion or culmination, the state of having achieved a zenith or post-zenith position in some area of life. A King can also mean carrying something to such a point of completion and expertise that one can go to the next level, perhaps go public with it, share one’s expertise, or achieve an expanded status beyond the personal. Whatever the King has achieved or gained, it’s not just for personal use or our own eyes anymore. The King may also be a person who’s considered an authority, or a professional, such as a doctor or lawyer. The King may be venerated as a sage. In relationship to one’s life as a whole they can indicate the past, age, retirement, ancestry, one’s family roots, or the roots of one’s profession or vocation.
I believe it’s important when considering the King cards to think about what a king is literally. Tarot is meant to be a system of symbols, not a literal representation of life, so we have to get to the symbolic meaning of the card in the context of a reading. That can be done with Tarot much the same way we work with dream images, through associations. What better way to begin to understand what the Kings can mean symbolically than to understand what a king is in reality? (more…)
January 3, 2009
I’ve decided to begin an in-depth Tarot study in 2009, not of any particular deck, but of the 22 major arcana and the 14 levels of minor arcana — Aces through 10s, Pages, Knights, Queens, Kings — using several decks. I’ve been using Tarot, mostly for personal insight, for 20 plus years, so this will be a different journey than it would’ve been as a beginner. Tarot is something that one never really finishes learning. It’s as multifaceted as a string of diamonds, and continues to sparkle for me after all these years. I’m nurturing a new interest in Carl Jung and his methods and writings, so that will be a side focus of this study, since Tarot archetypes relate so well to his work.
At first I planned to go through these individual cards and groups of four cards in order, first The Fool through The World, and then the four Aces through the four Kings. But then I thought I could also turn this into a comparative reading for my year ahead. I removed all but one suit and the majors from a deck, shuffled the remaining cards, then drew a card for each one- to two-week period, which may stretch out into longer periods if life interferes. I’m not going to rigidly adhere to a schedule, so interested parties will have to be patient sometimes waiting for the next Tarot Study post.
The four Kings will be the first focus of my study.
My process will be flexible and will include studying the cards from up to about 9 favorite decks. I may change which decks I use in the course of the study. I have some decks that I haven’t yet used very much, such as the Golden Tarot by Kat Black, which I’ve had for a few years but have sadly neglected since purchasing it, and my more recently acquired Haindl Tarot by Hermann Haindl, as well as the Motherpeace Tarot by Karen Vogel and Vicki Noble. I’ll journal sometimes about the cards (in my personal journal, not necessarily to share here), I’ll also read about them, meditate with them, and do a little sketching and painting, since I hope to create my own deck eventually, for my personal use. (I’m not sure how much artwork I’ll share here either.)
Please note that what I share here won’t be everything, and the pattern may vary from post to post, depending on my time and what I get out of the particular card. Some posts will describe cards, others will be more about what I’ve learned from books, from thinking about the concepts involved, and so forth. If there’s something you’d like to see more of, feel free to let me know, but I can make no promises because of the time involved and the fact that I plan to take this as it goes and, again, be as flexible with myself as possible so I’ll keep up the study and not feel too constrained. My goal is to post something every week up to every few weeks regarding this Tarot study. What that something will be, I won’t know until I post it.
I have my new weekly calendar set up to chart my way through this study, in pencil (smile). I plan to blog more about Tarot anyway, whether as a part of this study or not, since Tarot was the main focus of this blog when I started it, and has become a strong focus for me once again.
Post updated March 17, 2009
Copyright © 2009 Barbara W. Klaser. All rights reserved.
2009 Tarot Study Index