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There is no single Jungian interpretation of the Ace of Cups. That it represents a major archetypal motif is without question for it suggests the feminine, mother, breast, womb, water, vessels, and related ideas of love, emotion, nourishment, healing, sacrifice, rebirth and renewal, the unconscious, imagination, empathy, psychic awareness and more. The value of a Jungian approach is that it encourages a Tarot reader to be aware of the multi-dimensional wealth of meaning in the cards, while allowing them to guide, honor and support a querent’s own wisdom and self-knowledge. You may want to read my other two posts on the Ace of Cups first. Part 1. Part 2

Druidcraft Ace of Cups

Druidcraft Tarot

 

First we have to ask: what is a Jungian approach to a symbol? Is it simply pointing out all the symbolic interpretations (see my earlier posts on the Ace of Cups) and mythological and cultural referents? From this point of view, I could begin with several quotes from Jung on the image of the cup and Grail: 

The bowl is a vessel that receives or contains, and is therefore female. It is a symbol of the body which contains the anima, the breath and liquid of life. CW18. p 121.

Vessel symbolism probably contains a pagan relic which proved adaptable to Christianity, . . . which secured for the Christian Church [in Mary] the heritage of the Magna Mater, Isis, and other mother goddesses. CW6 ¶ 398.

The aesthetic form of the symbol must appeal so convincingly to our feelings that no argument can be raised against it. For a certain time the Grail symbol clearly fulfilled these requirements, and to this fact it owed its vitality. CW6 ¶ 401.

The symbolism of the vessel has pagan roots in the “magic cauldron” of Celtic mythology. Dagda, one of the benevolent gods of ancient Ireland, possesses such a cauldron, which supplies everybody with food according to his needs or merits.  CW6 ¶ 401.

The Hermetic vessel, too, is a uterus of spiritual renewal or rebirth. This idea corresponds exactly to the text of the benedictio fontis [“blessed font”]. . . . We could take this water as the divine water of the [alchemical] art, since after the prima materia this is the real arcanum. . . . The water, or water of the Nile, had a special significance in ancient Egypt. . . A text from Edfu says: “I bring you the vessels . . . that you may drink of them; I refresh your heart that you may be satisfied.” CW13 ¶ 97.

 

german-15th-century-eucharist

“The healing cup is not unconnected with the “cup of salvation,” the Eucharistic Chalice, and with the vessel used in divination: This is the divining-vessel of Joseph and Anacreon. . . . The content is the water that Jesus changed into wine, and the water is also represented by the Jordan, which signifies the Logos, thus bringing out the analogy with the Chalice. Its content gives life and healing.” CW12 ¶ 551.

The water chalice is associated with the baptismal font, where the inner man is renewed as well as the body. This interpretation comes very close to the baptismal krater of Poimandres and to the Hermetic basin filled with nous [“mind, intellect”]. Here the water signifies the pneuma, i.e., the spirit of prophecy, and also the doctrine which a man receives and passes on to others.” CW11 ¶ 313,

Jung also writes of the alchemical water that “purifies everything and contains within itself everything (i.e., for the process of self-transformation)” – Jung’s parentheses. He continues with something apropos the dove on the Ace, “You must know that the art of alchemy is a gift of the Holy Spirit” CW18, p. 799.

 

Visconti-Sf Ace of Cups

We can see from these many references, and the ones in my other posts on the Ace of Cups, that this is an archetypal image: an archaic remnant of instinctual patterns of meaning in the human psyche that influences our psychology. Gathering all the mythic and artistic examples of the motif is called amplification.
Amplification is seeing what is behind an archetypal image or symbol, enlarging it so as to view it from different perspectives, restoring it to its original fullness to discover what kind of forces could be working in it.

However, is amplification the main or even true Jungian approach to Tarot? In fact, symbol amplification has a certain seductiveness in that we think that by gathering more and more examples of a motif, we’ll discover its true meaning.

Perhaps we need to start somewhere else. And this is what Jungian dream interpretation and active imagination does. My book, 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card, details several Jungian-based tarot techniques, which are impossible to include in a single blog post.

When discussing dream interpretation we find Jung giving advice in what has become my favorite quote: 

 

“I have always said to my pupils: ‘Learn as much as you can about symbolism; then forget it all when you are analyzing a dream’,” CW18, p. 418. [Or a tarot reading!]

Jung elaborates on this elsewhere:

“True art is creation, and creation is beyond all theories. That is why I say to any beginner: learn your theories as well as you can, but put them aside when you touch the miracle of the living soul. Not theories but your creative individuality alone must decide,” CW17 ¶ 313.

 

MorganGreerAceOfCups

Morgan-Greer Tarot

This, to my mind, is the best advice for a Tarot reader. Learn as much as you can about Tarot and its history and symbolism, then forget it all when you are doing a reading. Actually, I would say, set it to one side in a space in your mind that will hold your associations ready as they are needed. Instead, embrace yourself as creative artist. Focus your attention and energies on touching “the miracle of the living soul” before you, which means using your intuition to guide querents into their own experience of the image, for only the person can ascertain the meaning(s) for themselves.

This brings us back to the Ace of Cups for it is up to the reader to become the container, the holder of energies for the associations and emotions of the querent. In a process similar to that in dream interpretation, I advocate being a mid-wife of the soul, assisting the querent to engage with the images on the card and bring their own wisdom to birth. I encourage personal associations that well-up from the unconscious while keeping them tethered to the cards in the spread. When tears or other subtle signs appear, know that emotions are activated that yield personal meaning. 

 

 

Georgina-Gibson

Georgina Gibson Ace of Cups

As tarot reader, I am also like the dove, bearing the cards in my beak, touching on the unconscious waters of the living soul. The lotus blossoms below are rooted in the deep mud, rising through the waters to bloom in the light of consciousness. They are the realizations that a querent takes home from a Jungian approach to a reading. What blossoms is a result both of the querent’s own conscious realizations and the greater patterns that point to that person’s own myth.

For Jung, meaning is a meeting of the soul “on its own ground, whenever we are confronted with the real and crushing problems of life” CW17, ¶ 81. Meaning is found in the creative confrontation with the opposites and the synthesis of the self into the scheme of creation—their personal myth (paraphrase from Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p. 338).  And, from The Myth of Meaning in the Work of C.G. Jung by Aniela Jaffé, we find that meaning is “a human interpretation or conjecture, a confession or a belief . . . created by consciousness, and its formulation is a myth” [no page number]. To summarize: meaning is a myth formulated by humans to answer the unanswerable. Jung frequently notes that meaning is present in an emotional response to an image.

 

“A great work of art [such as Tarot] is like a dream; for all its apparent obviousness it does not explain itself and is always ambiguous. . . . It [art/dream/tarot] presents an image in much the same way as nature allows a plant to grow, and it is up to us to draw conclusions. . . . To grasp its meaning, we must allow it to to shape us [to act upon us] as it shaped him [the artist]Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul, p. 175.

 

Medieval Scapini Ace of Cups

Medieval Scapini Tarot

To do this, we may use word association, active imagination, dialog, and other interactive methods favored by Jungians. We may also want to be aware of the interplay of the parts of the psyche that have been activated or the stage of the alchemical process of individuation. However, in contrast to Jungian psychoanalysis, we keep the light of awareness focused  on and through the querent’s cards and question, to what they most need to hear at this time.

To be clear, there are times when you’ll want to amplify the images on a card: to compare the mythical and symbolic elements with a client’s circumstances. And, in some cases it is helpful to present querents with the archetypal aspects of their pattern and where it is headed as foreshadowed in associated myths. As Jung explained:

 

“This comparative work gives us a most valuable insight into the structure of the unconscious. You have to hand the necessary parallels to the patients too, not of course in such an elaborate way as you would present it in a scientific study, but as much as each individual needs in order to understand his archetypal images. For he can see their real meaning only when they are not just a queer subjective experience with no external connections, but a typical, ever-recurring expression of the objective facts and processes of the human psyche. By objectifying his impersonal images, and understanding their inherent ideas, the patient is able to work out all the values of his archetypal material. Then he can really see it, and the unconscious becomes understandable to him. Moreover, this work has a definite effect upon him. Whatever he has put into it works back on him and produces a change of attitude. CW18 ¶ 401.

Given the Jungian approach, there is no way I can tell you what meaning the Ace of Cups will have for an individual, as even for the individual it will vary over time. So, coming back to where I started with Marie Louise von Franz, I want to amplify just one aspect of this Ace of Cups image that may, at some point elucidate the soul’s work in a person. In The Psychological Meaning of Redemption Motifs in Fairytales, Marie-Louise von Franz writes:

“The Benedictio Fontis, baptism in the Church, represents the cleansing of the human being and his transformation into a new spiritual being. . . . On the Saturday before Easter the baptismal water is always blessed . . . by [the priest’s] making the sign of the cross over it. . . . It is said that the Holy Ghost will impregnate the water . . . so that out of this uterus of the divine font a new creature may be born,” p. 35.

Although any water may be used there is a special water used for Roman Catholic baptism called Easter Water. Traditionally it is blessed on the last Saturday of Lent, Holy Saturday, in a ritual where the paschal or Easter candle [an Ace of Wands!], representing Christ risen from the dead, is held in the water and the Holy Spirit is called upon, saying, “Wherever we may be, make the Holy Spirit present to us who now implore Thy mercy.” 

Von Franz explains:

“The light of the candle would represent the light of an understanding attitude, an enlightenment of the mind which now enters the unconscious and fertilizes it . . . handing back conscious understanding and truth to the unconscious from whence it came so that it may be increased in power and effect. There is also the union of the opposites—fire and water—and the result is a fiery water. The baptismal water of the Church is often called aqua ignita since it is said to contain the fire of the Holy Ghost,” p. 35-36.

 

Robin Wood Ace of Cups

Robin-Wood Tarot

So, while the querent may wax long and lovingly on their hopes for a new relationship or the beginnings of some work of the imagination, as a reader, I will be looking to the other cards in the spread to see where and how there may be an influx of grace in which the unconscious is ignited, impregnated and fertilized in preparation for a healing and spiritual renewal. Or, like mystic and Golden Dawn member, Evelyn Underhill, said of the related cup of the Eucharist, it bodes a Divine Presence and a movement toward Love.

Finally, in a Jungian approach to Tarot, a reader would be aware, when the Ace of Cups appears that, of Jung’s four functions, the Feeling Function is actively involved in the gestation of a new awareness. Among other possibilities, it may signal that the querent’s currently activated mode of consciousness centers around what feels pleasant or unpleasant to them, and so the reader might aid in making them more conscious of this.

A Jungian approach to Tarot requires quite a bit of reading and study, first to understand the Jungian “map of the psyche” (self, ego, anima/animus, shadow, etc.) and other concepts like individuation, the four functions and so on, and then to become familiar with the archetypes expressed through myth and symbol. However, it may be a relief to recognize that most people will find that a modern study of tarot will have already introduced them to many of the concepts and methods discovered and made popular by Jung.

______________________
I was initially inspired to write on the Ace of Cups in the Waite-Smith Tarot upon reading the Jungian analyst Marie-Louise von Franz’ The Psychological Meaning of Redemption Motifs in Fairytales. Von Franz was also the co-author with Jung’s wife, Emma Jung, of The Grail Legend, which I studied a lifetime ago for my M.A. in English.
See also:
Part 1: Waite’s Eucharistic Ace of Cups.
Part 2: Ace of Cups Symbolism.
Carl Jung on the Major Arcana
Carl Jung and Tarot
Note: CW refers to the Collected Works of C.G. Jung. They are listed here. A bibliography of Jung’s publications is here. A good starting point for Tarot readers on Jung is Man and His Symbols (get an o.p. hardcover if you can). A list of great books by “Jungians” that are applicable to tarot is very, very long.

Wilhelm Hauschild-Lohengrincu01Santo Griaal-Rogelio Egusquiza 1893

The Waite-Smith Ace of Cups image is not unique. A winged figure surmounts a fountain from which streams water in the Visconti-Sforza card. In the Marseille deck two of the aces (Wands and Swords) have a hand emerging from a cloud—a standard medieval device to indicate creation, miracles and gifts from a Divine source. We also find similarities in the pictures above. The first one is from Wilhelm Hauschild’s Temple of the Holy Grail (1878) and the third one is Santo Griaal by Rogelio Egusquiza (acquired by the British Museum in 1901). By the way, if you are Pagan, like me, I encourage you to look at the Christian references as psychological metaphors. Read Part 1 here.

Hand & CloudIMG_2782

To display His divine nature, the hand of God is often depicted emerging from a cloud which hides his body, veiling us from his power as no person could see Him and live. As it is the right hand, it is actively giving the viewer one of the four sacred treasures found in the myths of many cultures. In the Talmud the Cup of Blessing is held on five fingers of the right hand representing the five leaves that protect a rose from its thorns. This image signifies a divine gift in the form of a supernatural vision (the cloud) that is often the starting point for a spiritual quest.

Dove & HostFullSizeRender (2)

Waite has a lot to say about the dove, describing it as the invocation and descent of the Comforter or Holy Spirit to renew the virtue of the Grail and to consecrate the elements.

“In England during the Middle Ages . . . the Eucharist was reserved in a Columbarium, or Dove-House, being a vessel shaped like a dove. It recalls some archaic pictures of a Cup over which a dove broods and the descent of a dove on the Graal.” …
“There is the flight of the mystical dove from the casement to inmost Shrine, as if the bird went to renew the virtues of the Holy Graal.” …
“The Dove descends from Heaven carrying the Arch Natural Host to renew the virtues of the Stone [the form the Grail takes in some of the stories].” …
“O central point and sacred meeting-place of all the sacraments, there falls the Bread,  broken within the Wine-Cup, and from both issues one living Spirit of Life Divine.” …
“On Good Friday, by the descent of a dove from heaven, carrying a sacred Host . . . the crown of all earthly riches were renewed.”

The Holy Spirit represents the life-giving spirit of air, and it was present at the baptism by water of Jesus, the awakening into a new life:

“As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Mark 1:10-11.

Additionally, the Dove maintains its pagan association with Goddess Venus/Aphrodite and with Love (Waite includes the ancient pagan mysteries in the Secret Tradition). The Dove blesses with supernatural gifts, like the gift of tongues (pictured as Yods, see below), and so it can be associated with the ancient “language of the birds” or gift of divination and with miracles. Waite favors the idea of Grace: “it is grace which fills the heart; it is the Holy Spirit of God which makes holy the spirit of man.” Grace, equated with the Hebrew word Chesed, is a blessing that gives guidance and protects us from the dangers of earthly power and adversity.

So, the Dove can be seen as the descent of Spirit into flesh, of the supernatural into the natural, a theme repeated by the cross on the Host composed of the vertical axis of spirit and the horizontal of matter. (The cross, which represents Christ’s suffering and sacrifice on the cross, becomes a blessing.)

I should note that Waite was known to have a prodigious and exacting memory. He was extremely precise in his use of language, so when an odd phrase appears it is usually a sign that he is quoting a source to further elucidate his meaning. The internet has made it possible to find a good number of these allusions.

For instance, for Waite the Host is the panis quotidianus that has been changed into the panis vivus et vitalis”: that is the everyday bread is transformed into a living and vital bread.  This quote from Waite refers to a popular hymn by Thomas Aquinas (circa 1264) called the Lauda Sion Salvatorem. It speaks of the Eucharist and presents the transformation of bread and wine ending with a familiar maxim “as above, so below”:

Here beneath these signs are hidden
Priceless things, to sense forbidden,
Signs, not things, are all we see. . . .

Living bread, thy life supply:
Strengthen us, or else we die,
Fill us with celestial grace. . . .

Thou, who feedest us below:
Source of all we have or know:
Grant that with Thy Saints above,
Sitting at the feast of love,
We may see Thee face to face.

Spiritual nourishment, the Host, is sent by the Holy Ghost; in many of the Grail stories it is found to heal all wounds.

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Cup, Grail and Fountain of Living Waters

This is the signature image of this card and is filled with meaning on so many levels. We will touch on only a few. As container, it is a major symbol of the receptive feminine and, in Christianity, the womb of the Virgin Mary, the seat of creation and manifestation of Love, esoterically seen as “the Bride”. It is a vessel in which things are “cooked,” making raw materials capable of providing rich nourishment and even, in alchemy, changing lead into gold. It is the cup of transformation containing the waters of life in which water is changed into wine and then into blood. It is the cauldron of Dagda in Celtic myth from which no company ever left unsatisfied. 

“The message of the Secret Tradition in the Christian Graal mystery is this: The Cup corresponds to spiritual life. It receives the graces from above and communicates them to that which is below. The equivalent happens in the supernatural Eucharist, the world of unmanifest adeptship, attained by sanctity [Grace].”

Both cup and water represent the soul.

The Practicus Ritual in Waite’s Fellowship of the Rosy Cross initiates one through an encounter with the Living Waters. First we are informed that Water symbolizes the emotions, desires, and psychic nature of earthly man. But this is not the Water one is to encounter in the ritual, “The Waters that are below desire after the Waters that are above. . . . May the peace of their Union be upon us; be we dissolved therein.”

“The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the Waters, and the Spirit of the Most High God shall move upon the Waters of the Soul. . . . The stilled waters of the soul receive the Spirit of God moving upon the face of its waters. . . . Open thy heart, O Brother of the Rosy Cross, and receive the Water of Life.” 

“Fountain of fountains, and of all fountains. Chalice of saving rain. Grace on the soul descending, as rain on the dry grass. Life-giving Rain of Doctrine. Mystical Fruit of the Doctrine. Dew of Divine Speech, falling in stillness on the heart, filling the soul with Knowledge. Enter into the heart and purify; come into the soul and consecrate.”

The image is one of both the Baptismal font and the Eucharist. “A Eucharistic allegory concerns [the dissolution] of the body by Divine Substance communicated to the soul, putting an end to the enchantments and sorceries of the five senses” and to the suffering on the cross (mentioned earlier).

This leads us directly to the five streams coming out of the cup.

FullSizeRenderFive Streams

Why five streams of water and not the four that Waite specifies in Pictorial Key to the Tarot? Furthermore, Bible readers all know that there are four streams that come out of Eden. This could be an error either on the part of Waite or Pamela Colman Smith. Or, it could veil a secret: These five streams might, after all, represent the five senses (see the quote immediately above), or the five ways of salvation and five gates of grace (from Masonic ritual), or the five wounds of Christ, the five points of the Pentagram, the five petals of the rose that rest on five leaves (the fingers), or the four elements plus aether—the quintessence. In terms of the symbolism, five yields far more relevance according to Waite himself:

“In the Longer Prose Perceval we have seen that there is an account of five changes in the Graal which took place at the altar, being five transfigurations, the last of which assumed the seeming of a chalice, but at the same time, instead of a chalice, was some undeclared mystery: so the general as well as the particular elements of the legend in its highest form offer a mystery the nature of which is recognised by the mystic through certain signs which it carries on its person; yet it is declared in part only and what remains, which is the greater part, is not more than suggested. It is that, I believe, which was seen by the maimed King when he looked into the Sacred Cup and beheld the secret of all things, the beginning even and the end. In this sense the five changes of the Graal are analogous to the five natures of man, as these in their turn correspond to the four aspects of the Cosmos and that which rules all things within and from without the Cosmos.”

I believe that despite their blue color, the five streams best represent blood, for as Marie-Louise von Franz tells us, “Grace was depicted as a fountain of Blood from the five holy wounds of Christ,” The Psychological Meaning of Redemption Motifs in Fairytales.

Adoration of the Mystic Lamb-GhentBut it is in Evelyn Underhill, Anglo-Catholic author of a well-known book on mysticism, who perhaps reveals the deepest mystery. Underhill was a student or acolyte of Waite, having joined his branch of the Golden Dawn in 1904 and achieving at least four initiations. She wrote for Waite’s Horlick’s Magazine and  published a novel in 1909 featuring the effects of the Holy Grail on a woman who came into its possession. In an article titled “The Fountain of Life” in the Burlington Magazine (1910) Underhill examined the fountains of water and of blood depicted on several religious works of art including the famous Ghent Altarpiece (right). She notes that baptism and penance which ‘renews the grace of baptism,’ are still spoken of by Catholic theologians as ‘effusions of the Precious Blood,’ i.e., of grace. She went on to describe:

“, , , a fountain which is filled by the Blood flowing from the Five Wounds. The Soul, or ‘Bride,’ holds out her heart, and the blood from the wounded side of Christ falls upon it, causing flowers to spring up from the place which has been touched by the vivifying stream. The Precious Blood then . . . stands not merely for an emblem of the Passion, Redemption, or the Eucharist, though it includes all these manifestations of Grace, but for the medium of communication of the Divine Life . . . since for ancient and mediaeval thought the spirit of life resided in the blood.”

Given that the Aces are also seen by Waite as the four Celtic treasures, I’d be remiss in not presenting this option from Celtic Myth and Religion by Sharon Paice MacLeod:

“In Cormac’s Adventures in the Land of Promise, Cormac has a vision of the sacred center of the Otherworld where he saw a shining fountain with five streams flowing out of it. He is told that it is the Fountain of Knowledge [others call it the Well of Wisdom], and the five streams are the five senses through which knowledge is obtained.”

Drops of Dew or YodsFullSizeRender (5)

These drops, in the shape of the Hebrew letter Yod are found on many of the Tarot cards, generally signifying divine Grace. Shaped like a flame a Yod is the divine spark of creation that is the foundation of all the other letters and is the first letter in the Tetragrammaton or four-letter name of God. There are 26 yods and Eoin Keith Boyle notes in the comments that this is the sum of the 4-lettered name of God, the Tetragrammaton, in Kabbalistic gematria. They are also the shape of the tongues of fire at Pentecost:

“They saw tongues like flames of a fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” Acts 2:3-4.

Screen Shot 2017-12-12 at 6.55.27 PM

The alchemist Thomas Vaughn, in a compendium by Waite, calls it the divine spark or star-fire that is sympathetically attracted to its origin in God. It is spirit fructifying the soul.

These drops can also be seen as alchemical dew. Thomas Vaughn again explains that divine dew penetrates and transforms all that is physical. Waite claims that for the Rosicrucians “dew is light, coagulated and rendered corporeal. . . . When digested in its own vessel it is the true menstruum of the Red Dragon, i.e., of gold, the true matter of the Philosophers.”

Pool of WaterFullSizeRender (1)

[In the beginning]the Spirit of God moved over the face of the waters.” Genesis 1:2.

It is the soul that desires union with the spirit, “The Waters that are below desire after the Waters that are above.”

This is also the generative water of renewal and rebirth. It also represents the emotions which here have become serene and calm, being fed by the waters of the Holy Spirit. In the parlance of Carl Jung it is the rich and fertile pool of the unconscious psyche—the soul. And Evelyn Underhill already explained that the blood from Christ’s wounds causes flowers to spring up—in this case water-lilies that grow only in sweet waters, reaching up from the mud toward the light. Regarding sweet waters, in Waite’s book of aphorisms, Steps to the Crown, we find: “The Cup of bitterness ceases to exist for him who has drunk from the chalice of immortality”.

 W or M ?

FullSizeRender (6)FullSizeRender (4)

Finally we come to the major controversy associated with this card—What is the significance of the letter on the cup? The fact is that we will never know, but we do have some very likely possibilities, and knowing Waite, all of them may have been what was intended, for Waite saw all symbols as multi-valenced. 

IMG_2891MacGregor Mathers, in his 1888 book Tarot: A Short Treatise on Reading the Cards claims that an inverted M on the front of the Spanish Ace of Cups represented the waters of creation in Genesis and all that remains of an Egyptian motif of twin serpents (as per this 19th century deck reproduced in the Cagliostro Tarot by Modiano of Italy). The Golden Dawn paper on the Tarot, “Book T,” says, “The great Letter of the Supernal Mother is traced in the spray of the Fountain.”

First it is note-worthy that the letter is shaped exactly like Pamela Colman Smith’s MsAr01 and not like her WsWaPg.

The main contenders for W are:
Waite (see the monogram on the Ten of Pentacles)
Water (“the implicit is that the Sign of the Cups naturally refers to water” PKT.)
Womb
Wisdom (more specifically, Well of Wisdom)

The main contenders for M are:
Mystery (“For this is the chalice of my blood, of the new and eternal testament: the Mystery of Faith”).
Mem (or Maim, Hebrew for “water”)
Mary (or Mara, which also means “bitter sea”)
Mother (Matter. As Supernal Mother she is associated with Binah on the Tree of Life and the 2nd letter of the Tetragrammaton, He.)

Mercury (an alchemical maxim: “What wise men seek in Mercury is found”)

I believe that the letter is M and that it stands for Mystery, as viewed from above by the Holy Spirit. It is probably the word Waite uses most in his books where it is usually capitalized. To support this I have found almost this identical summary statement in several of Waite’s books:

“[In conclusion] the maxim which might and would be inscribed over the one Temple of the truly Catholic Religion when the faiths of this western world have been united in the higher consciousness–that is assuredly ‘Mysterium Fidei’–the mystery which endures for ever and for ever passes into experience.” HCHG, p. 469

We might also view the letters like this:

Waite – Mystery
Water – Mem
Womb – Mary/Mother
Wisdom – Mercury 

An Act of Imagination

I suggest one final way of getting at the deeper meaning of this card.

Imagine for a moment that you are the Chalice and, perhaps, the liquid in the chalice. Picture yourself reaching up for the host held in the beak of the dove. You might see yourself as a baby bird stretching up to be fed by a parent. Can you experience the yearning? Or you may be a font of water that wells up from a deep source. Feel the draw from above and your yearning toward the source of that draw. Become aware of the wounds gathered through your earthly experience. The water (or blood) within you could begin to spill over, rising up and falling out in a continuous stream. Can you let yourself go, surrender to the movement, and then to gravity so that you fall into the pool beneath? What happens when you spill into that pond? Where do you go? How do you reflect back what is above?

One final characteristic of Cups, which Waite mentions over and over again through his discussion of the suit, is fantasy—the ability to imagine super-sensible things and have experiences of what he calls the Arch-Natural world. While there are dangers in doing so (the Seven of Cups), it is in through mystical experience, first accessed through the door of the imagination, that we are ultimately able to commune with Spirit. I hope to speak more about this in a third post on a Jungian interpretation of this image.

See also:
Part 1: Waite’s Eucharistic Ace of Cups.
Part 3: A Jungian Approach to the Ace of Cups
Update: I’ve had more than 600 requests for my Tarot Scrivener template and many responses on how incredibly thorough and helpful it is. Thank you again to everyone who contributed to this blog and to those who have written to tell me how much they love the template. I’m truly happy to provide this service.

Wondering where and how to keep your Tarot journal notebook? I’m offering a free Scrivener template below, but we have such a range of options these days that it’s hard to decide which way to go. I’ve tried almost every journal possibility. Here are questions to ask yourself if you are trying to decide which way to go. I suggest writing down your responses:

  • Do you prefer the experience of pen on paper or the ease of typing?
  • Do you want a fixed record of your Tarot development or the flexible changeability of computer documents?
  • Do you want to be able to carry your journal with you everywhere or do you like setting down at a regular place and time to write in your journal?
  • Do you want your Tarot journal to be completely private or shared (at least in part)?
  • Do you want it to emphasize your own drawings and sketches or be a repository for scans, photos and web research?
  • Is it more about personal contemplation of the cards, recording spreads, or research?
  • Do you prefer working within a well-developed structure or free-form (writing whatever strikes you at the moment)?
  • Would cross-referencing links and tags be especially helpful?
  • Would you like your journal to eventually become the basis of your own book on the Tarot?

Here are the main choices for your journal. Some people maintain several, for instance, recording readings on paper but writing study notes on the computer.

  • A blank-book or spiral notebook. A permanent, developmental record of your progress and the ability to integrate personal artwork and sketches. These are mobile, but sometimes bulky, can be beautiful and let you write and draw with your favorite pens on creamy paper.
  • Computer files. Use your favorite word processor (or consider Scrivener,  Evernote or Notability). With integrated systems and wifi you can switch among desktop and mobile devices with ease: taking, modifying and reorganizing your notes anywhere. Use dictation if you prefer speaking. Integrate photos and links. You can even include audio or video recordings of readings.
  • Blogs. A blog is not just for public sharing. You can set it to private or so only chosen individuals can read it. It can be a great resource especially for reviewing your readings (most recent comes up first) and writing about specific topics. Categories and tags allow you to cross-reference the same cards or symbols appearing in different contexts. Publicly blogging your ideas gives you an incentive to develop them.
  • A 3-ring binder. For those who like hard-copy, you can use a computer, print out the pages and update individual pages as they change. You can add in handwritten notes & sketches on a variety of pieces of paper, even napkins.

What if you prefer a super-organized yet flexible system but aren’t sure where to begin or what to include? Or you dream of turning your Tarot studies and experiences into a book and would like help with how to do that?

Scrivener sample2

I recommend the #1 writer’s resource for computers: Scrivener (for Mac and Windows). If you already use Scrivener then I don’t have to tell you how valuable it is. It is described as a powerful content-generation tool for long, complex writing projects. It allows you to seamlessly view your notes as a corkboard, outline, individual files or a single document. Along with tags and templates these are only a few of the structuring tools. You can work on your computer, tablet and phone, and sync through Dropbox. When you are ready, compile only those files you wish, and print, export to Word, or format directly into one of many eBook and insta-print designs.

To top it off, I’ve created a “Tarot Journal Template” for Scrivener, based on 50 years keeping a variety of Tarot notebooks, converting them into Tarot books, and editing other people’s Tarot books. The full template is hyper-organized into separate card and topic files and has “prompts” (such as for exploring each card’s layered meanings). It can also be easily modified and reorganized to suit your own preferences and needs.

Scrivener example1

List frequently used keywords & correspondences in the Corkboard for instant access.

I’m making this template available for FREE, but if you like and use it, I hope you’ll consider donating any amount to my blog (see the PayPal donate button near the top left of my page). To receive this template, you’ll need to email me:

Click here and type: Tarot Journal Template” into the message box, then send.*
I’ll email you a .zip folder that includes instructions for importing the Tarot Journal into Scrivener.

*I’ve received a disappointing number of requests with emails that don’t work. Please double-check your email address before sending.

Scrivener is very reasonably priced for a computer application prized by published novelists, script writers and academics. While you can begin using the template immediately, you’ll want to check out all the bells-and-whistles that make Scrivener so fabulous. The program has a fairly stiff learning curve but there are many youtube videos and instruction websites that will inspire and assist you. 

I welcome suggestions and recommendations in the comments. 

Queen of Coins - 15th cBeginners often have the most trouble reading Court Cards, especially if several of them appear in one spread. In general, Court Cards represent personal characteristics of individuals, attitudes, and levels of maturity or development that influence us—from within or without. Sometimes they represent actions: like traveling or revolutionizing (Knights), communications delivered (Pages), power and control applied (Kings and Queens), mothering (Queens) and fathering (Kings), teaching (Kings and Queens) or learning (Pages). More often they are personalities.

Significators

Old books have you select a card to “stand in” for the querent based on age, sex, marital status and hair color. Most of the time a significator is not really necessary in a spread; you can leave it out if you choose. If a Court Card significator is essential, then I tend to select first by the suit-to-element correspondence with the person’s sun sign (Fire, Water, Earth or Air) and then their sex and level of maturity. None of which are absolute! Another method is to have the querent look through the Court Cards and pick one for themselves. This will often tell you quite a bit about the querent and about how best to communicate with him or her. Feel free to throw out that hair color nonsense as it won’t work for more than half the people on the planet. 

Who Are They?

• In mundane readings Court Cards are often straightforwardly someone recognizable.

• I find they always represent an aspect of oneself – one that you may or may not be projecting onto others. In deeper, more psychological readings, they are your personas: you can probably recognize their voices as contrary opinions in your head.

PeKgReversed Court Cards

• Reversed Court Cards are not evil people; their characteristics can be weakened or excessive. Reversals can represent refusing to act like that Court Card. You might reject the tendencies usually shown by the card. A King might say: “I refuse to take charge.” A reversed King of Swords may be unable to make a decision or could make ruthless ones; a reversed Queen of Pentacles may ignore the needs of others and spend lavishly.

• Think of reversed Court Cards as being in a situation where their natural characteristics are not valued or respected; therefore they tend to “act out.” A Knight of Pentacles longs to be outdoors using his hands, so when working in a windowless office with florescent lights, he may be an unhappy, stubborn co-worker making everyone else as miserable as he is.

• Depending on how you read reversals, one other possibility is that a reversed Court Card represents your inner, hidden self versus your more public self.

In a Reading

• Pay close attention to the position meaning, and/or the direction the Court Card is facing. What are they looking at or pointing to? A Knight of Wands in the past, who looks even more into the “past” direction could be someone who has already moved out of your life. A Queen of Swords in a future position who looks to the future could be showing you the way. Notice what other cards are in the same suit suggesting that their energies are directly at play.

• I’ve noticed fairly often that a King can be most like a person’s mother and a Queen like the father, so don’t get too fixated on gender roles matching sex.

• I find that Court Cards almost always have strong opinions about what the querent should do, and the querent, if asked, will know exactly what these opinions are! So ask the querent what each Court Card thinks about the situation in question. Or, go further: have multiple Court Cards argue with each other. That reversed Page in your past will have very different opinions about what you should do than does the Knight who represents your “hopes and fears.”

• If you use Elemental Dignities then you will probably find that Court Cards in the same suit tend to support each other. Two Courts in Yang suits (Wands and Swords) will egg each other on, while the Yin suits (Cups and Pentacles) will counsel patience. Cups versus Wands, and Swords versus Pentacles, are so contrary that their opinions tend to cancel each other out.

Painting 12 ChildforwebDifferences in Decks

Deck creators have taken significant liberties with the Court Cards, changing their titles from the traditional King, Queen, Knight and Page to express a whole range of social groupings or “influencers” in our lives. They may even become animals, supernatural beings, gifts or places. Therefore get a feeling for the Court Cards in the deck you are using. Describe the picture and the suggested characteristics in detail. If these qualities function better in your readings than the classic meanings, then use them.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

Based on concepts developed by psychotherapist Carl Jung, the MBTI posits sixteen personality types that have been understandably equated with the sixteen Court Cards. Most people agree on suit correspondences for Jung’s basic functions: Wands=Intuition, Cups=Feeling, Swords=Thinking, Pentacles=Sensation. However, the system becomes confusing when equating Introvert with just the Queens and Pages, and Extrovert with just the Kings and Knights. Is the Queen of Wands really an introvert? And is the King of Cups always an extrovert? I’ve found studying the MBTI system to be quite helpful in giving voice to Court Card personalities as long as I don’t make them absolutes! I find insurmountable problems when trying to equate these two systems, even though I learned a lot by trying to do so.
court
Want more information on the Court Cards? Order my book (written with Tom Little): Understanding the Tarot Court. And please submit an amazon review.

 

 

 

 

Beggar - 4 views - Version 2Jester, pilgrim, mendicant or child?

Will the real Fool please step up?

Does the Tarot Fool bring up the rear in a long parade of triumphal figures, a warning about what will happen if one fails on the spiritual path? Or does he appear at the beginning, full of trust and hope, setting out on a new adventure?

Is the dog his faithful companion or a wild beast that threatens to tear him apart or ludicrously expose his privates?

What dangers does the Fool face?

Fool - Blind man 17th c - Version 2

crocodile

When the Fool turns up do you feel excited and ready to venture forth? Or do you fear your decisions are stupid and that others will think you ridiculous?

At the end of the 19th century, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn turned the Tarot on its head, depicting the Fool as a small child and putting it at the head of the Hebrew alphabet. The Waite-Smith card, published in 1909, pictured an image that came to epitomize the 1960s San Francisco flower child. How did this happen?

Fool-World Ships of Fools

Does the Fool carry the World on his shoulders (or, perhaps, in his knapsack)? There are hints that it is so. The Fool can indicate absolute trust in Spirit or the ravings of a madman or idiot. Learn to cultivate divine nonchalance. Discover what’s needed to take a leap of faith. Explore hidden meanings in the symbols on the RWS Fool.

Over the next couple of years, I plan on teaching what I’ve learned about each of the Major Arcana in a series of webinars, randomly ordered and spaced. I’ve already taught The High Priestess (and will be presenting it again), and I’ve written in depth about the Lovers (see Tarot in Culture, vol. 2). I will be presenting The Fool, live on May 16th, for three hours to a limited number of participants (a recording will not be available). Information available at Thelesis Aura or on Facebook. 

I asked a group of tarot readers on Facebook to give their top advice for how to combine and integrate card meanings in a spread. It’s one of the things that beginners find most bewildering, but we can all learn more about. Forty-nine people responded (see list of contributors at the end). I combined, edited and grouped the advice to form sets of approaches, moving roughly from the most intuitive to the most analytical. Share this material freely but please include the list of contributors and a link back to this post.

There are no rules to interpretation.

Intuit!

  • Be intuitive.
  • Look at the cards from an internal perspective.
  • TRUST in your intuitive awareness and reactions to the cards.
  • Go with the flow!
  • Be guided by the HOLY Spirit (The Whole (holy) Picture).

Combine right brain/left brain work: analysis and imagination/story.

  • Both the universal and the personal must be understood. Use both the Intellect and Intuition.
  • Use analysis to “check” the intuition which can sometimes get clogged or confused.

Look at the big picture (Option 1).

  • Step back and look at the spread from a larger perspective, not simply focusing on individual cards and their individual meanings.
  • Become unfocused and blurry eyed (take off your glasses) and feel the energy flows as an energy picture: wands are direct and immediate, swords reflexive, turning, twisting, cups are energy accuminlations and coins ground or build up energy, etc.
  • Look at the whole picture of the layout and then tune into a “knowing” of the entire spread before anything else. See it as a snapshot of the unconscious mind made manifest. After the initial “feeling the meaning,” look at the individual cards and symbols.
  • Sense the *vibration* of the *whole* spread.
  • Pay attention to any movement you can actually feel or see.
  • Quickly glance over all of the cards at once and jot down the immediate thoughts that come to mind – words, images, feelings, messages, etc. that jump out. How do the cards feel together? What kind of feeling do they invoke in you?

One card at a time (Option 2).

  • Turn each card one at a time and watch how each builds on the last in terms of a pattern.
  • Build the relationship between cards and positions as you move through the spread, one card at a time, until all is revealed.
  • Turn the cards over one at a time, gaining a tiny ‘clue’ from each, so the story builds and changes, letting the cards talk to each other as the “new kid on the block” gets turned over.

Look at how the images and figures interrelate with each other.

  • Determine the direction the figures on the cards are looking or moving; their body-language.
  • Are they back to back, or facing each other?
  • Is the Knight of Wands galloping towards the Queen of Swords or galloping away? Is he riding towards a tomb entrance? Or a family gathering? Is the Emperor turning his back on the World, or facing it?
  • Look at the direction symbols are pointing.
  • Does each card point to another card in a sequence?
  • Are they actively engaging in something or inert?
  • Does a card at the bottom seem to carry all the others? Or a card at the top lead the way?
  • Several cards can mean “new” or “let go.” Such ‘blended’ meanings are very potent, sort of like the overlapping gray area between black and white.
  • Look for combinations. Find the patterns and connections among cards and positions, then mush it all into a composite idea (position + card is too limiting).

Where to Start

  • Build off of what is obvious first.
  • Start by talking through the stuff you do understand and it’ll come to you or not; usually it’ll come to you.
  • Read the cards/positions that stand out to you; the rest of the cards in the spread are filler. If you can understand the noun and the verb of a sentence you can deduct the rest.
  • Reversed means one might not be perfectly comfortable with the situation, something needs to be adjusted.

Find the story within the cards. “Every Picture tells a story.” –Rod Stewart

  • The cards always tell a story.
  • Let a story flow from your interpretation of the cards.
  • Sometimes the message is clear and will form a ‘seamless sentence’, but, at other times, only one card may stand out.
  • Let that story flow from picture to picture. The cards will show you the weavings and patterns. The numbers, the titles are road maps or signs along the road.
  • Read the cards in the order you laid them out in the spread and create the tale of what they are all doing, interacting with one another, and how that relates to you.
  • Let the story, the narrative of the reading, jump out at you. “Make up” the story as you go along. If you can’t “see” it, check a few cards with the querent for verification.
  • Look for a card that you intuitively feel is driving the reading, i.e., the one that seems to be directing events a little more than others. Ask what the character in that card is saying to the characters in the others.
  • The story is the intuitive weaving of the nature of the cards. Alfred Woolard once said in his poem, “My life is but a weaving … when I reach the other side can I truly see the whole design” (paraphrased).

How the cards in a spread relate to one another.

  • How are two or more cards like the relationships that we have with others or how the characters relate in a story?
  • Think of the reading as a conversation. Let the cards “talk” to you, and talk back to and through them. Imagining that the cards are “talking” to you opens your mind to “hear” the message. PAY ATTENTION to it.
  • View the cards as a council circle: lay them in a circle and let them interact with each other and advise you in a sacred space-circle kind of way!
  • Think of two cards interrelating from their respective positions, much like having a conversation or discussion, until there is greater understanding.
  • Ask what each card (or figure in a card) thinks about the other(s)—what’s the attitude of each to the other and to what they’re thinking and doing?
  • A reversed card can mean it is not ‘playing well’ with others.

Look at what’s there and what isn’t.

  • Look indeed for what is not there as much as what is.
  • Notice what’s NOT in the spread.
  • Which cards didn’t come up can tell you as much as the cards that did. For instance, if The Lovers, 2 of Cups, King/Queen of Cups are absent from a love reading, that’s telling you there is no love relationship over the time period specified by the reading.

Look for repetitions of numbers, images, suits/elements, colours, symbols, themes, etc. (Correspondences).

  • Use the correspondences as a base and go from there.
  • Start with the foundations: suits, numbers, Majors, Minors, Courts.
  • Look at the suits/elements to know what world you are dealing with: work, money, practical stuff, or something emotional or mental?
  • Notice things like Gate cards, or which suit is prevailing or dominant.
  • Check for a progression among the numbers as a sequence of development.
  • What colors dominate? What color stands out as different than the others?
  • With the elements, if there are two fire and one water, for instance, the fire cancels out that watery influence. [referred to as Elemental Dignities.]
  • Look for a predominance of Major or Minor cards to get a feeling if the reading is depicting a key event/change/issue for the querent (majors) or a more minor everyday event (minors).
  • Trumps [Major Arcana] can be an over arching theme or a life passage and the rest are everyday life stuff.
  • See if Minor Arcana cards repeat a Major Arcana card in the spread by number or other similarity.

Compare and contrast, looking for both how cards are alike and how they are different.

  • Are there similar scenes in two or more cards? What are the interactions among these factors.
  • Place cards next to each other (not necessarily in a straight line) to see how they relate.
  • See how, in the example to the right, the churning waters of the Moon become a cloak that is almost too heavy to wear. [Trimmed decks work best.] The deck is the Revelations Tarot by Zach Wong.

Find two to three keywords for each card and put them into a sentence. First reactions are best; you don’t have to go to the core of the cards existence.

  • Read them as a sentence. For example: First card—Hermit and the flicker of his lamp catches my attention, so I think, “ah, a new idea.” Next card—Chariot, and the black horse going the other way catches my attention. Linking the two cards to form a sentence, it becomes “ah, a new direction going against the norm.”
  • The position is the “noun” and the card is the “verb”. Tense (past present future) is supplied by the positions relative to the Querent (now).
  • View the positions in a spread as the framework of a sentence. Insert keywords or phrases for each card into the basic sentence format and then embellish it based on symbols and correspondences. “While I am conscious of ____, I unconsciously need ____, in order to achieve ____ and meet the challenges of ____.”

Use Occult Systems. 

  • Figure out where cards are on the Tree of Life and what paths or sephiroth are involved.
  • For instance, the Ace, 6, and 9 of Cups are on the middle pillar and not yet grounded in Malkuth, but they are an indication that energy is flowing. Or most of the cards are on one pillar making the situation out of balance.

Look for astrological relationships.

  • For instance, the Empress and Hierophant are Venus and Taurus and Venus rules Taurus. Or, the 5 of Swords and The Fool are both Air.
  • If you are doing a horoscope spread you can combine the meanings of the cards that fall in the opposite houses or that are trine or square using the meaning of that astrological aspect.

Miscellaneous:

  • Determine the speed of the cards to determine how much light they shed on your reading of the images. This way, even a shadowy situation can emerge as crystal clear.
  • Switch decks periodically as a conduit to “open” your attention.
  • A few cards in key positions can determine how you read the rest of the spread. If they don’t tell the story right away, then use all the other techniques.
CONTRIBUTORS:  Hildegerd Haugen, Sophie Nusslé Falco, Maureen Aisling Duffy-Boose, Jon Kaneko-James, Fiona Dilston, Stephen Russell, Jean Foster, Jeanne Fiorini, Lisa Bruno, Kevin Quigley, Nadia K. Potter, Mary Mueller, Paul Nagy, Tero Hynynen, Virginia L Beach, Gwydion LosAngeles, Paula Gaubert, Gloria Scotti, Berthe van Soest, Lynda England Bustilloz, Bertrand Saint-Guillain, Greg LeFever, Carola Meijers, Steph Myriel Es-Tragon, Kustiana Murtjono, Terri Bivona, Jera-Babylon Rootweaver, Diane Brandt Wilkes, Rosie Grace, Nancy Antenucci, Sue Clynes, Sandra M. Russel, Camelia Elias, Christine Payne-Towler, Lorrie Kazan, Stacy LaRosa, Toni Gilbert, Vyvien Starbuck, Sherri Glebus, Flash Silvermoon, Judy Nathan, Helene Martz, Stephanie Arwen Lynch,  Monika Sanders, Katrina Wynne, Rana Fakhouri George, Robert Moyer, Dancing Bear, Mary K. Greer.

See also:

“What Every Newbie Tarot Reader Should Know

“What Every Newbie Tarot Reader Should Know about the History and Myths of Tarot”

One of the geniuses of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck is the story-telling qualities of the Minor Arcana. Each card can tell a story, but a sometimes overlooked factor is that the suits tell stories as you move from card to card. In classes I encourage students to write a tale based on each suit so that they can get a personalized feel for how one image changes into the next. Pamela Colman Smith was a trained book illustrator and story-teller, so she may have told her own stories, although I believe Waite gave her specific tales to illustrate (see here and here).

Whatever the original stories, this “tarot flow” perspective can be used in your own readings. Rather than looking at the Minor Arcana cards as static scenes, try seeing them as a moment that is only one step in a progression. Something happened just before this moment and it’s about to change into something else. It’s like individual tai chi gestures that should really only be part of a living, flowing, connected movement.

Many modern spreads, rather than focusing on a sequential development, favor single cards interpreted according to an individualized position: What helps you? What blocks you? How does your partner feel about you? I can guarantee that your partner doesn’t have only one feeling regarding you! If you see the cards in terms of a sequence, then you get more of the sense that on the way from one feeling to the next one, your partner, in regards to your question, is only temporarily dominated by the feeling shown by the card.

Let’s say you got the 5 of Pentacles. Your partner may be feeling emotionally cold and thinking that sticking with you, right now, is a hardship to be endured. That can be pretty depressing. But if you consider both the 4 and 6 of Pentacles, then you could consider whether your partner might have made a firm commitment to holding on to the relationship (4 of Pentacles) and is aware of a possible pay-off later (6 of Pentacles). It’s just that right now he or she is feeling hurt or going through a cold spell that might be only temporary. Do you see other possibilities for this sequence?

This kind of approach works very well with one of the reversed card techniques. This optional way to read a reversal says that an upside down card is an energy that is attempting to manifest, but there is still something to deal with in regards to the preceding card. That is, you need to revisit the prior card in the suit before you can fully take on or manifest the present one. In this example, if the 5 of Pentacles was reversed, then you might want to consider what needs to be held on to in times of scarcity, by reminding yourself what you both found so valuable (4 of Pentacles). Consider what your partner has always clung to. Is there some way you can be supportive of or honor that in order to be a true companion in difficult times?

In The Complete Book of Tarot Reversals, I opened most Minor Arcana card interpretations with a possible scenario of how the figures depicted on one card might have arrived there from the preceding one, seeking to link all the cards in a chain of actions and consequences. It’s worth taking a second to consider this perspective when doing a reading.

If you would like, in the Comments, also tell us your “tarot flow” story for the cards pictured below. How does the 8 of Cups card follow from the 7 and lead to the 9 of Cups? If the 8 of Cups is reversed, then how might you be better able to handle it by first revisiting the 7 of Cups?

These cards are from what’s been called the “Edith Waite” deck, that illustrates and accompanies El Tarot Universal de Waite.

Few things are more exciting to me than stumbling across a text or image that perfectly reflects a tarot card, especially when it makes me reconsider my ideas about that card.

Today I read the following in the mystery novel A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, head of homicide for the Sûreté du Québec, says to a family at their annual reunion:

“We believe Madame Martin was murdered.”

There was a stunned silence. He’d seen that transition almost every day of his working life. He often felt like a ferryman, taking men and women from one shore to another. From the rugged, though familiar, terrain of grief and shock into a netherworld visited by a blessed few. To a shore where men killed each other on purpose.

They’d all seen it from a safe distance, on television, in the papers. They’d all known it existed, this other world. Now they were in it. . . .

No place was safe.

Ah, a perfect rendition of the Six of Swords! I was first struck by it being from the viewpoint of the ferryman, not the passengers. A ferryman who is compassionately aware of the deep emotional shifts of those he is transporting—but not partaking directly in those shifts. For a moment I thought, ‘But, of course, the Six of Swords is about the ferryman, not necessarily the passengers! A ferryman who again and again observes this shift taking place in those he ferries. A ferryman who is both separate and yet momentarily involved.’

There is no indication that the author, Louise Penny, had the tarot card in mind. Rather this is a common classical metaphor linking Charon and the river Styx to the family of a murdered person being ferried out of the world-as-they-had-known-it to a shore previously viewed only as a distant abstraction.

I often ask a querent, “Where are you in the card?”  With the Six of Swords, the querent is always one of the figures, but it could equally be the ferryman or the hunched-over adult or the child. By contrast, with other cards, the querent occasionally sees him or herself standing just beyond the borders, behind a column, or, in the case of the Tower, still inside the structure—divorced from the action.

With the Six of Swords there is usually an eventual recognition that the querent is all three persons in the boat. As ferryman, the querent tends to feel he or she is in charge or at least doing something active that will lead to a better end. As passengers, anxiety or grief tends to trump hope, yet there is still a belief that the destination will be better than the “familiar terrain of grief and shock” that they’ve just left.

Interestingly, in the novel, the seven main suspects had, just the day before, gone out together in the lake on a boat—a passage fraught with animosity and repressed danger. The Chief Inspector/ferryman recognizes that the new world they are now facing will be more terrifying than the passengers ever could have imagined. Furthermore, they aren’t just visitors—blessed because they can leave—they will soon be inhabitants. There’s no going back. Grief and shock may exist in the land of the innocent. But, in the land of the experienced, as William Blake well knew, wrath and fear dominate, and the ferryman can’t stop it from happening. (See Blake’s Poems of Innocence and Poems of Experience.)

How different the card looks to me now. It is full of foreboding, and yet there is calm in knowing that this is an inevitable journey from the false safety of innocence into the land of Blake’s experience where realities will finally be faced. As in all murder mysteries the truth will be revealed. But, in an actual reading, is the client always ready to hear such truths?

Doesn’t the admonition, “to know thyself,” mean that we have to come to know and take responsibility for the part within ourselves who “kills another”? Both the querent and the reader want the other shore to be better than the one from which they’ve come, but there are times when we have to go through much worse. What is the reader to tell the client? And, here there are no easy answers.

I hope this makes me stop and think before I blurt out cheerfully, “Oh, you are going through a transition from the rough waters of the past to smooth waters ahead.” Sometimes I, the reader, am the ferryman/chief inspector, who must recognize with compassion that real detection can strip the soul bare and set one in the dread grasp of Blake’s tyger and not in the rejoicing vales of the lamb (see poems here). The rest of the Sword suit (7–10) warns what may come from a detection of the wrongs, or what comes to light when one really wants to “know thyself.” Does the querent really want to go there, or is the querent trusting the reader to ferry them to a safe harbor?

Still, I think it helps the reader—the ferryman who steers the way through the cards in a spread from one’s familiar anxieties to a different shore—to consider what may be truly implied from such a scene in the suit of Swords. This new perspective reminds me that in a reading I am attempting to steer the course when I don’t always know what is lying in wait for my passenger on the other side or how prepared my passenger might be to meet that. It is a grave responsibility.

“If you’re interested in deepening your understanding of the Tarot, forming a personal bond with your deck, or enhancing your abilities as a reader, 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card is an excellent experiential guide for connecting with the cards.” —Janet Boyer

A 3-card drawing that helped me escape an untenable situation.

A 3-card drawing that helped me escape an untenable situation (see below).

Are you looking for a way to enliven your tarot practice and expand your skills? Then I urge you to try Mary K. Greer’s 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card. This is a shameless plug for my latest book. I wrote it, in part, to help you discover what reading style you most resonate with but also to push the boundaries of what you thought was possible in a tarot reading. It’s all about how to discover meaning for yourself. It’s also where I reveal all my tarot reading “secrets.”

I first read Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning a very long time ago. As an army brat who had lived in post-War Japan and Germany I was interested in Frankl’s concentration camp story and how he not only survived but transformed his experience into gold.  What stuck with me was his belief that “Everything can be taken . . . [except for] the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Read the rest of this entry »

lovers

Warning: the following is a political, social commentary by Keith Olbermann prompted by the passage of Prop.8 in California, which rescinded the right of same sex couples to marry.  I found it a beautiful and impassioned plea for humanity’s honoring of the deepest meaning of the Lovers card. The title above is a line from the poet Omar Khayyam quoted by Olbermann.

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Mary K. Greer has made tarot her life work. Check here for reports of goings-on in the world of tarot and cartomancy, articles on the history and practice of tarot, and materials on other cartomancy decks. Sorry, I no longer write reviews. Contact me HERE.

© 2007-2018, Mary K. Greer All material on this site is copyrighted. If you use anything, be sure to include my name and a link back to this site. Thank you.

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