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(For a list of all card articles, open March 2008 on the sidebar).

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

a pause.

I have the itch to start writing three card entries a night here again, sure. But I have a writing itch in general and some unfinished business on my hands, so if I'm a good girl I'll be back here no sooner than April 8th. If I give up earlier, you'll see me around. xx

Sunday, 23 March 2008

the why.

The World asked me. I'd been doing three a night up til she turned up. About the same time, Agla sent me the most amazingest email, which I'm going to wind up c/ping around here in bits as and when it's relevant.

Exploring the Intuitive deck? Yes - I want to swim through like this before using it to read. My ideas about what's what are becoming more concrete. But why here, like this? The format's easy to use, a pattern easy to maintain day after day; but it's also a performance; an awkward word-dance exhibited to an audience of almost none. It's posturing, it's me pushing my ranty voice about again. Or it's me missing the Goddess pages at Owlsdottir [I will get back to that later], hoping to use my own accumulated knowledge like that even though it's not nearly enough and not used nearly enough, especially not with others, not for years.

I've not been whoring this, though once I'm done with these initial sketches, I think I might - go swimming on the pages of others and keep it growing from there. (That would create google-fu, of which this blog has none, and will have none until I want to go make some. I didn't even link it on my Blogger account, because I compartmentalise too obsessively, even though it never works in the end).

One problem I always have with blogging is the gap between I-statements and the cold third person. I'm not sure which is more irritating to read; I do know that when I'm at my worst, my least being, I can't do I-statements. I hope to learn how best to use language to frame the unframable, especially within the confines of YMMV. I hope to not be cringeworthy, but the best way to do that is simply to not cringe.

Today is March 23rd - the second of the three twist' days that lie between the Equinox and Lady Day (the trad New Year). I may be a bad person and write cards tonight; I should be a good person and twist a few dreams instead.

Monday, 17 March 2008

On elements.

In tarot (and also in astrology) elements are often used to describe similarities between groups of symbols and properties. It is perhaps best to say that elements are a way of taking the giant mess of the world and framing it in four more-or-less neat boxes which can then be used to interpret life and steer it (though life steers like a cow).

The four Greek elements are Earth, Water, Fire and Air (other element systems exist, such as China's five elements); in tarot these are represented by Pentacles, Cups, Wands and Swords respectively. (Some readers refer to Court Cards in the same manner - Pages are earthy, Knights are fiery, Queens are watery and Kings are airy - but this is less common).

These elements are said to have the same qualities that their adjectives evoke:

Earth is about the body, and about work - both paid work and other labour, such as the care you take for your personal finances, your home and your health and the maintenance of your skills. Earth situations are those that call for practical thinking, hard work, and good planning. Earth may also refer to the Earthy parts of your life - work, your home life, possibly sex or money.

Water is about emotions, and about communicating; it asks you to be aware of the way you communicate, the way you express your feelings, and of the currents on which your feelings flow. It can describe your social and emotional life; a Water situation calls for recognition of needs, for compromise and above all for compassion.

[edit: Agla, who is much better than me at this stuff, sent this in email:

"It's odd that water means communication to you-to me it's always been more of something uncommunicated or hidden, if you know what I mean. Air's the message element for me-way traditional I know, but it seems to fit.

"A very long time ago I remember reading somewhere that the sea is often used in the Bible to symbolise the unknown and the terrifying. The place where people can't live and monsters lurk. God's power over the sea (Jesus calming the storm, etc) is seen as what you might call the opposite and complimentary side of his power over the world to the side invoked with the business of the water and wine or the feeding of the five thousand. In those miracles it's pointed out that God made and regulates all that sustains us. In the sea-calming it's made clear that he's holding the reins of all in the world that terrifies, too.(He calmed the storm, yeah. But that implies that if he wanted to he could whip it up again.) (Although the five-thousand were fed with fish as well as bread, so it's clear the sea is necessary as well as scary and that if you dare it you can bring back rewards!)"

Fire is about the soul, and about taking what is in your soul and making it manifest. Fire tells you to explore your dreams and your deepest perceptions, and then to seek them out; it calls some to write, draw or craft, guides some through their religion, and sends some on impulsive and life-changing journeys. Fire describes your creative life and your religious life, and the dreams of adventure that you've always had burning in your core. In fire situations, you must follow your instincts and dreams, and if in doubt, always do rather than not do.

Air is about the mind. Air is learning and logic, debate and reasoned moral judgements. Air tells you to detach and do what's right; whether that's what adds up to the best outcome, or what you think your gods want you to do. Air could describe what you know in the cool of your mind - it can describe your academic life, or your most cerebral connections with others and with the world. In tarot, air often carries pain and conflict within it. Why is this? I don't know, but I do know that within the body (and all awareness starts with the body), air is the least stable element; homoeostasis can keep your body warm, wet and earthy even without shelter or sustenance, but our air needs to change over every few seconds.

But. But. This is how elements are in tarot - it's how tarot uses elements, rather than what the elements actually are, when you dig past their use for demarcation of little people's little lives.

If elements could be neatly defined in words, they wouldn't be elements. If you look for elements, and the feel of elements, in scrying and in energy work (and energy games, which are perhaps more important), if you explore what you're drawn to and what you're made of, then elements soon become more than ways to divide; they become the stuff the world is made of - deep-running, fuzzy-edged stuff that can be expressed in words or on card images, but can only be seen below all this.

[I originally put this in the Ace of Pentacles entry, but realised it needed its own. It's a technique I learned from someone who I haven't spoken to in a while, but who I hope is living well today.]

Here's something you can try, a way to bring element to the surface of your world:

Relax, and explore your proprioception - your awareness of having a body. Notice where in your body you seem to have the strongest sensations of awareness - places that feel as if they are ready to be touched. (I find these mostly in my feet and spine - YMMV.)
'Push' this awareness and sensitiveness toward your hands, until they feel a bit buzzy.
Put your hands close together (not touching), with the palms facing each other. Move them in circles.
Move your hands slowly further apart, to about 8 or 12 inches.

So, that thing between your hands now - what's it like? What does your imagination say it's made of? (Closing your eyes might make it easier to imagine this). YMMV, but, this is a way you might find that you know the feel of an element, or a mixture of elements.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

The Best Decks Ever: far as I know. I'd love to hear which decks you find good to use - beautiful decks, decks with strong characters, decks that have shown you something new.

While I don't physically use it any more, the Rider-Waite-Smith was the deck I learned from, and I've found that it provided a strong foundation for my understanding of tarot in general; in some of my card articles, you'll see that I've framed cards in other decks in terms of how they differ from the RWS, as if the RWS is the default. I'm sure many readers do fine without this; after all, there are other important decks that have echoes everywhere, the Visconti-Sforza, the Marseilles, or the Thoth. But knowing the RWS has helped me out a fair few times.

There are a million zillion RWSs to choose from; I used the Universal Waite, which is less bright than most available options, but I find that makes it easier to explore the images, to see them as three-dimensional. YMMV.

RWS aficionados might like to read the RWS Copyright Faq: barring rapid new legislation, the RWS copyright will expire no later than 2012. At this point it will be legal to take the original RWS and print it, mod it, do anything you like with it; no one will own the images any more. But as JB Hare's comparisons point out, good luck getting images of the original deck; it's been subject to numerous tiny modifications in the past century. (The Pictoral Key To The Tarot is more cut and dried; in 2012, those words will be yours, mine and everyone's, end of story).

The most beautiful decks in the world are the Osho Zen, the Intuitive Tarot and the Roots Of Asia. I've worked with all of them; the the Osho Zen has a heck of a personality, and - just watch it - will give you far more Major Arcana draws than is remotely statistically possible. It has a Zen sense of humour. It gives its own names to all the cards, often showcasing an aspect of the card that other decks ignore. Its accompanying book contains many extracts from Osho's writing, and they will make you feel happy when you read them. Most of the card articles I'm writing here include Osho Zen images. While it doesn't seem like it'd be a good starter deck, the one I used to play with was the first deck of a great reader (and great friend).

The Roots of Asia is very calm and full of new insights. It's a deck so good you'll hardly ever need it. I confess I barely used the Buddhist booklet that came with it, but Buddhist tarot users may be interested in integrating dharma with Tarot. It's full of life, and uses nature/animal imagery heavily. Human figures are a gorgeous mixture of Indian art and Cubism.

And I've only just started working with the Intuitive deck; this blog is partly an attempt to get to know it (her?) better. It's quite pastel, and surrounds each card-image with a coloured oval, on a card almost as wide as it is tall. I was also drawn in by the notebook approach - that it was a deck that you can write yourself - though I seem to have started a new blog instead. ;_;

There's a few other strong decks I've used;

The Dragon Tarot was one of the first two I used; my sister and I purchased that and the RWS together one January afternoon in 1999. It wasn't so useful for learning as the RWS is, but it's got strong elemental energies.

The Mythics came with their incredibly useful hardback book. The cards, and the book, assign a Greek god to each Major card, and a story to each suit from Ace to Ten. Each court card is represented by a hero. It's a wonderful way to learn more about the Minor Arcana, one I still hold in mind when I read; I had to give the deck itself up, however, because its fierce personality grated a bit with my own; it's the only deck I've ever argued with.

The Medieval Scapinis have quite a pull, and they're smart as hell, but they're difficult to use, partly because of the pip cards - ornate, but not representing anything.

Yoshitaka Amano's Tarot has very plain pip cards, but the illustrated Majors and Court cards are of interest if you want a look at the Tarot that is rooted in Japanese myth rather than in Western thought. If you want them, you'll probably have to order them from Japan.

I've never used the Robin Wood, but I've flipped through it, and if you've known the RWS then the Robin Wood is a really fascinating rewriting of that. It seems to use a lot of Wicca imagery.

A word on the Thoth deck; it's quite beautiful, in a way that relies heavily on its symmetries, but it gives me the creeps. I don't think anyone comes to the Thoth with an open mind, and certainly before I first saw it I'd heard enough stories about its energy being unsettling... As with everything, I'm sure someone likes it, but I don't. Every image looks like an idea I grew out of years ago, and it feels unpleasant to look upon. However, I believe it's Alan Moore's preferred deck, so there must be something to it.

the order they came about:

This is entirely dictated by the whims of the Intuitive deck. I've been adding three cards a day, and thus far, the chosen path has been suspiciously easy and insightful.

1st: The Fool
2nd: The Empress
3rd: Queen Of Swords
4th: King Of Swords
5th: High Priestess
6th: Queen Of Pentacles
7th: Two Of Wands
8th: Four Of Pentacles
9th: Six Of Swords
10th: Nine Of Pentacles
11th: Knight Of Wands
12th: The Star
13th: Death
14th: The Hierophant
15th: The Sun
16th: Three Of Swords
17th: Nine Of Cups
18th: Three Of Wands
19th: Nine Of Wands
20th: Page Of Swords
21st: The Lovers
22nd: Queen Of Wands
23rd: Page Of Wands
24th: Five Of Pentacles
25th: Ace Of Pentacles
26th: Ace Of Cups
27th: Four Of Cups
28th: Six Of Wands
29th: Two Of Pentacles
30th: Eight Of Pentacles
31st: The World
32nd: King Of Wands
33rd: The Hermit
34th: Three Of Cups
35th: Five Of Swords
36th: Ace Of Swords
37th: The Emperor
38th: Seven of Cups
39th: Seven Of Pentacles
40th: Six Of Pentacles
41st: Knight Of Pentacles
42nd: The Magician
43rd: Queen Of Cups
44th: Ten Of Cups
45th: Five Of Cups
46th: Justice
47th: Strength [a guest post because I was stuck]
Agla's Hierophant
48th: Eight Of Wands
49th: Knight Of Cups
50th: The Chariot
51st: King of Cups
52nd: Six of Cups
53rd: Page of Cups
54th: Knight of Swords
55th: Three of Pentacles
56th: Two of Cups
57th: Judgement
58th: Two of Swords
59th: Ten of Wands
60th: The Devil
61st: Ten of Pentacles
62nd: Eight of Cups

Friday, 7 March 2008

The Fool


hazy outline person, drawn by a child, hand unsteady, outline wavering in and out, only the face sharp and wild-eyed, wild.

no ground below his feet.

no sky above his head, a sun below the level of his eyes.

he could be nowhere.

(That was me looking at the Fool in the Intuitive Tarot)

I want to try not to write it. Put words on it, and it could disappear. Worse, it could appear, and then it wouldn't be the Fool.

The Fool is halfway off the precipice. Why? Who knows. The Fool comes to you without sense, when you least expect it, takes you places you've never been (or never seen like this before). You will never lose it, even when you think you've lost it.

It's that revolution that is always immanent. (but hey, more of that later).

In A Forest Of Souls, Rachael Pollack asked what the meaning of him being the zeroth was; before the first, or after the last? She decided it could mean that he is nothing and nowhere - he is not at the start or at the end, but in every crack, before and behind all cards, in the jump from each card to the next.

(NB: the Fool is not the Joker. The Fool was a trump in the medieval tarots, and was ditched at the same time as the other 21 trumps - the Joker was introduced in modern gambling, to create new game variants and new random elements. Jokers come in pairs; Fools come in nothingeths. The Joker's tricksiness is often considered to be a part of the Fool's character; use the connection if it works for you, but the roots are separate).

What I said about the Fool in 2005:

The Fool was the first little spark of light, and he'll be the last. Pollack was right, he's not just the beginning; he's between every step, behind every crack, and he's there to remind you that you do not and cannot know everything. He's there because you're mortal and uncertain and the universe is mortal and uncertain too. I find him most often on Swan Street; Mario so rarely lets you out of his sight without telling you something you didn't know about the universe, or showing you something you didn't see before. It never stops. The Fool transcends all barriers, bringing the spark to any corner it cares to. Like every single one of them it cannot be denied, and it is anywhere and everywhere and can only tell you either where it is, or which way it's going.

Rose, in her most recent letter, declared herself to have a mind like a photon on speed. It's that endless, dancing, reach for the new.

Images of the Fool

Yoshitaka Amano's Fool - I love the balance here, and the typically Amano confusion of form - the lower part of the image, feet and tail, are merely shape; by the time it reaches the top it has features, hands, posture. There's no hint of gender; the Fool is often taken to be a sort of Principal Boy, sex ambiguous or deliberately confounding. And those are some rock-hard arms. Anyone who can read the text on the pants can have mine.

Pamela Coleman Smith's Fool. Many elements of this image are present in later Fools: the dance on the edge of the precipice, the light bundle, the uncontrolled dog.

The Fool from the Roots of Asia Tarot. No, don't try to enlarge it, the image really is that small. I'll try to scan it sometime. The light of the world is in the heart of this Fool, and there's a confusion of elements around her - shapes of waves, of stones, of clouds, of lotus petals. No feet; they're below the card and below the waters.

The Magician

The stones beneath my feet,
the fire,
the waves between my hands,
the night
the power.

A hand to touch the sky,
the air,
two feet upon the ground,
a wand
the power.

Blank eyes, empty body,
the channel,
'what is above, so below'
the words
the power.

Unlike many other parts of the deck, the Magician's world is very simple. As above, so below; all is one; wave your hands like so, and things will be like thus. He tells us that all things began at the same moment and are all still connected. (the next one along, the High Priestess, tells us about what is separate). In some cases, he thinks the personal is political. He thinks you can change little things and thereby alter the course of the world, or alter the course of the world and thereby change the little things.

He is the master of all elements; he is a channel, and he invites you to experience how a change in the balance of the elements affects you and the world around you. He uses his intentions to change the world. That power of intent crops up in a few different places - the Chariot and the Nine of Wands, to name only two - but it begins here, with the basic belief that you can control the world by changing your self, and letting that self tug at the web of connections between all things. This paragraph, it rambles too much, but I hope you get the idea. This guy means what he says.

But, though this certainly doesn't hold IRL, I've never seen a Magician illustration that wasn't both white and male. 'As above, so below' doesn't lend itself to subtlety; the Magician might even think he is neutral with regard to such things, and that he is in general a neutral player in the world; in this regard he may be full of shit. One other usual feature of Magician cards is a mixture of elemental symbols, or of elements themselves.

I made all these draft entries in March, so they'd list in the right order, and for ease of linking, and I thought I'd left all of them blank - but not this one. Here I found a note from me that says; So would it work, if I said that I met a Magician once?

I know two, at least, but there's nothing like a Magician for acting like the only Magician in the world. He's...where to begin? He wants things to be fixed, and thinks that humans are capable of being different from what they are. He's an old-fashioned Baconian dominionist and not ashamed of it in the least - the things that are wrong with that are not his problems. He's not arrogant; there's no swagger in his Nikes - he merely believes in his own magic. He showed me something useful about the world which I'd never before guessed. I think he attracts synchronicity, which I'd guess is a property of the card in general - tug at the web, and it tugs back.

Images of the Magician:

The Magician in the Marseilles is a template for many that come after; see the element symbols gathered on his table. They are his tools. The RWS image is one that follows on from this; here's the Robin Wood one, which follows on from that.

The Intuitive card, which I feel is echoed by the Intuitive Hanged Man and World; they contain similar colours and not-dissimilar forms.

The Osho Zen card, Existence, comes with one of the best Osho quotes ever ever ever: "You are not accidental. Existence needs you. Without you something will be missing in existence and nobody can replace it. That's what gives you dignity, that the whole existence will miss you. The stars and sun and moon, the trees and birds and earth - everything in the universe will feel a small place is vacant which cannot be filled by anybody except you. This gives you a tremendous joy, a fulfillment that you are related to existence, and existence cares for you. Once you are clean and clear, you can see tremendous love falling on you from all dimensions."

The Mythic Tarot says the Magician is Hermes. Hermes is the only god who appears twice in the Major Arcana; he is also Judgement, in his role as the Psychopomp. There he puts the same tools to a different use. In medieval myth, Hermes was used as part of a unifying figure between Greek, Egyptian and Biblical culture; Hermes Trismegistus, who was Hermes and Thoth and Moses all at once. This was a neat trick medieval occultists ('hermeticists', in fact) used to pretend their three woven cultures had a common origin. As below, so above, right?

I have no idea what the Amano Magician is scheming about. None.

What I said about the Magician in 2005:

[I can no longer grok a lot of this - but it's funny how what I just put above is mostly about using the Magician to change the world, and what I wrote below is mostly about using the Magician to maintain continuity with the past. I could blame this change on that Magician I met, damn his eyes.]

The Magician embodies a very old and very simple saying: 'as above, so below.' It has a lot of uses, from divine kingship to the universality of mathematics and geometry. The saying is generally held to be Hermetic and there's no reason to not hold the Magician to be equally so. It's a hazy area, one of those pieces of history written almost entirely in retrospect in a time we now also call history, but maybe that's the way all things are; the present erasing the past as it beelines to the future. There was no Classical acceptance for the idea that Hermes, Thoth and Moses were all the same person; Hermes Trismegistus only existed in retrospect, once century after century had passed and we'd decided that Greek, Egyptian and Hebrew thought were the three things that were important to us.

I don't know whether the retrospectiveness of this Magician, this Thrice-Great Hermes, has much significance; it certainly blurs the lines more than a little. Maybe it just explains the theme of unity; on earth as it is in heaven, all the important things we are made of as one. We all come from the same single point; weaving the three bits that were easiest to see at the time into a single mythos is just a symbolic way of representing this. They all three hold a wand, all pass magic down from heaven to earth, and maybe that is what we are, and that they are also those who take the spirits of the dead back along that line at the end says that maybe that is all we do. The Magician builds bridges and makes both sides the same place. He tells us that one world is very much like another, one person is very much like another, and somewhere, at the start and the end of it all, we are all one.

This is, of course, pretty conventional hippy bullcrap, but the Magician puts a little twist into it. See, I tend to take against ideas that go strongly against what we commonly do on this earth, simply because there's a lot of us and if the world has driven all but an insignificant number in one direction, the world is quite possibly onto something. (Communism is a case in point; territory and attachment are such basic, animal ideas that I wouldn't bet on the chances of anything that relies on severing them). That's why esoterica is bunk; there's a lot of us and if any secret was really that good, we'd all know about it by now...and that's what organised religion is for. The Magician calls it; we are all of the same people and all those before us are too, so if many, many others have been satisfied with walking a certain way, you will be to. This doesn't preclude anything new, merely says that even the new runs on very old guidelines. You are not going to change the world, though you may renew it.

What does this have to do with the oneness of all things? Simply that it doesn't fit square with a lot of Western thought or Western history. We've had Aristotle telling us that the brute physical laws of our planet cease applying in the heavens; in Islamic thought, the two do not touch at all. We were made separate from the lesser beasts, and then we were exiled from the Garden, and even that was long ago and far away. But these are just old stories; what we know of the world now contradicts them, and yet the mental assumption of separation tends to live on. The idea that all things touch at the root and you can dance from one place to another has always been clinging to the edges even here, through qabalism and hermeticism and alchemy, and now in many ways we know that we are of the same matter and the same end as everything else, not substantially different from any other thing in this world. I think our theme of separation is, when seen in a whole-world context, anomalous rather than normal.

And the Amano deck is from a lot further away than Egypt and it's still got a Magician. Hermes Trismegistus of the other side of the world. I'm guessing there's a story I don't know here, and he's probably getting Points for it.

As Above, So Below, is also the name of the sixth episode of Neverwhere. The world's nice like that sometimes.

The High Priestess

I knew you'd be here again

stood in the door between what was and the future
between one and another
between me and the veil

you're a line I can't cross and still remain myself
you're the yin and the yang,
you're proof that the world splits in two

you're a weaver
you show me two pieces, you bring them together again.

The Priestess is one of those cards with a mixed-up history; she began as the Popess or Papess, and there's a further question about whether said Papess is Pope Joan or Pope Maria. The former probably never existed, crossed a line, genderfucked, and got caught out by pregnancy, by an indiscretion that could never have harmed a man. The latter probably did exist, championed the Cathar duality of spirit and matter, and was burned for her troubles.

Either way, she exists to bring beliefs into question, and to remind us that there's something on the other side of all things.

The modern High Priestess imagery is based on Judaism (or rather, Judaism as appropriated by 19th-century Western qabalists). She sits between the black pillar and the white pillar with the comical initials, with a Torah on her lap; some say this is simply about wisdom. There is continuity in the veil; for Pope Joan, the veil was concealment, protection of her masculinity; for Pope Maria, the whole world was a veil that covered the divine spark within all human souls; the modern Priestess sits in front of the veil, perhaps telling you not to enter, perhaps lifting a corner and showing you the green world beyond.

The Priestess is that thin patch in a barrier; it shows you the barrier is there, and it shows you how to get across it, but it probably doesn't give you a clear look at the other side. We of the Unholy Three link this to fence-sitting in general; 'playing Priestess' meaning, being sat in the still place in the middle of conflict, trying to give the aid we want to give, collect the secrets others want us to take, without stepping into the line of fire.

Images of the Priestess

The Rider-Waite-Smith Priestess is heavy on moon imagery; I need to scan it, natch, but Amano's is all about the sun instead. The Roots Of Asia Priestess is both day and night. The Mythic Tarot shows Persephone at the steps to the underworld - a Priestess of death and of winter, not just of one turn of the earth.

There are many variant Rider-Waites, each with its own Priestess, but this is my favourite...

I love the One World Priestess. She's the main reason I still have the deck. That's the Priestess under your skin, dividing your energies into details and coming up with more than you originally had.

What I wrote about the Priestess in 2005

[NB: Since I wrote this I've been basically seeing Nemesis, veiled Nemesis, as a bridge between the Priestess and Justice. This precarious crossing is maintained by a fae personage whose name is(n't) Dras Ranatar. On this side of the bridge is Nemesis-As-Your-Special-Antiparticle-Who-Will-Destroy-You.

NB2, 08/2009: Whoever it is who keeps Googling after Dras Ranetar, don't bother - he's just one of the little spirits I know, and is not likely to get a mention anywhere on the internet except on this blog. He's one of those people you find at the crossroads of your soul, walking with you on the strange road on the other side of the veil, and if he's tired of slaying monsters with you it's because he wants to obsolete the entire problem and himself along with it. It's fucked up, but he's something of a father figure to me - the only one I have, really.]

The thing that struck me first about Amano's High Priestess is that, if I understand how this works at all, she's being symbolised by the sun. That's the other way round from what AE Waite has made us come to expect; the Priestess as moon and the Magician as sun, male and female strands of power coming from above and bringing us to, whatever Waite wanted to bring us to. This ain't that. This one's dancing in the daylight. It's a sweet reminder of the subjectivity and ethnocentricism, of such rigid approaches; the sun is red, not yellow, all Japanese children know that, and the sun is female rather than male. This is no moon-lady, but a Priestess as Amaterasu-o-mi-kami. Her veil is called Ama-no-Iwato and was made of solid stone, and there is no peaceful sea beyond it, but the mirror of Uzume, the dance of the dawn.

Years ago I used the Mythic deck, where the High Priestess was represented as Persephone. There is a quite clear parallel; Amaterasu is sunset rather than autumn, but her coming out of the cave she hid in, the return of the sun that it is, is celebrated on the winter solstice. (There's even a bit about eating the food of the dead, though that happened to her 'father's' spouse [also: his sister] in an earlier bit of the story. [which I wrote up here under Death]). The Priestess elements are there in both; division from the world, a barrier, a distorted reflection on the other side of it. Something else, something opposite.

The Fool will tell you that all is nothing, and the Magician will say that all is the same, but the Priestess will tell you that all has an opposite. For everything there is there is something else that cannot touch it, something that is separated from it by a veil.

And now let's do the tarot thing and turn it upside down and see the other lady in the other veil. She ain't pretty. I always used to assume that Nemesis was a function of Justice-reversed, but these days I definitely feel she's actually the other side of the Priestess. An inescapable part of life, yes, but born from divisions rather than from the wide swell of the tide; made from the subjective habits of individuals rather than the law of the flow. There's a beautiful moment near the end of the second half of Kill Bill where Bill speaks of what he did so many years ago as starting something inevitable - personal but inevitable, not revenge but the certainty of retribution. It does happen, on the whole, one way or another in the weave of the world; it isn't Justice, it's rarely 'fair', but there is a lady in a veil out there.

I had this Nemesis-Priestess thought a while ago, but reading Ronin (a 12th-century Zen myth, transcribed to novella in the 1960s by a western Zen nerd; it is the antidote to The Alchemist, if you've read that dear saccharine tome) just made it worse. It was when the Ronin said, to the vengeful young hero whose parents who he had so ruinously ruined, "Your father was a fool and your mother was a slut long before they met me" that I really got firmly attached to the idea. It's a wholly personal, wholly momentary matter. The world is made of Priestesses, after all, little lines between little patches of grey, and what can she do but act from one grey patch onto another?

Pollack associates the Priestess with camels for perfectly rational and theologically detailed reasons. This makes me giggle and throw rigidity to the five winds.

a later addition - here is a (slightly edited) clipping from an email I sent to Agla about Final Fantasy X, which riffed off the crap I wrote here. She wasn't so sure about Auron being the Priestess:

Oh, is he ever! There's the veil, over his mouth and his eyes. About the only time you can see his mouth when he talks is when he's calling out [...The Moon]. There's the positioning between life and death, between Spira and Zanarkand, between past and future, between sorrow and hope - and between Yuna's father and Tidus's father. There's his silences and secrets; he's in on everyone's world, trusted as everyone's guardian and advisor, but he will generally keep silence between people, and not pass secrets from one life to the next. And he's not intervening so much - like he said, whatever secrets he'd told them they'd've all ploughed on to Zanarkand anyway, and they were headed there long before he showed up. What he's doing is guiding them on their way, and THEN playing his hand. They're intervening for him more than vice versa - it's he who asks them to fight for sorrow, not the other way around.

The Empress

go on, look at my breasts

at the stars upon my head
at the rod in my hand
at my children.

you can look.
it's not for you -

it's for them.

I admit, I have trouble with the Empress. The images below say it all; she's that earth-mother archetype, the living world in the body of a woman. I don't relate to this idea; this ordinarily wouldn't be a barrier to grokking it, but, I feel this archetype has been pushed on me against my will and that makes me loathe it.

Women are not the world. Women are not for children, and the care of children does not belong to women any more than it belongs to men. Women are not naturally giving or nurturing. We are not universally earthy, passive, bountiful, big-titted. Someone once made me care for his child, not my child, because I had a vagina and he didn't - no matter that I was still a child myself. It will not happen again. But I cannot read the Empress without knowing that that happened.

There is one thing I really like about the Empress. It is that she is not nice. She is Earth, amoral; she does not give because it is right to give but because it is what she does; she'll give you things you don't need or want, things no kind being would bestow upon you. She gives you flesh, birthmarks, milk, venom.

She is your body; the things your body does and is in spite of your best intentions. She is there, and cannot be unmade.

Her opposite is the Moon. If you can experience her stability, her allness and everythingness, at the same time as the Moon's madness, nothing, nowhere, then you've found the middle. It occurs to me as I write this that one thing they have in common is the bestial.

Her elder relation is the Hanged Man, who dives within the earth, but does not fall.

Images of the Empress

Demeter, the Empress of the Mythic Tarot. This one's all corn goddess, without the stars-and-sky that most Empresses wear atop their heads. The artist has said she intended this Demeter to appear pregnant.

Creativity - the Osho Zen Empress. This one endears itself to me by having flowers, rainbows and a moon in it.

Amano's Empress - opulent and monstrous.

The Roots Of Asia Empress. Fact; it wasn't til I'd had this deck for months, if not years, that I noticed the titties on this one. I was too caught by the image of the world-woman with the tigers in her arms.

The Emperor

You again.
raised up in the centre
right between me and the core of it all.
All I do, make, love, hate, is
in your orbit / under your sun
you've got it all inside out -

- and you're not even here

empty space
just a symbol
things done by others

while you're far away, flapping tiny wings
close to the sun

while we're making war in the towers on the moon
flying on money and music

and you're just the explosion at the root of it all
you're just running the show
turning worlds in your hands

you push your red button / we're all mushroom clouds -

Did that sound frustrated? Did it? Honestly, if there was one card I could nuke out of the world, it wouldn't be the Hierophant or the Five Of Swords; it would be the Emperor. Call it my crappiness at real-world living skills, or my asshole father, but either way, I can't look this bastard in the eye. I can't even refer to him as a distinct person - it's always third-person plurals, or even just 'the Big People', or verbal caricatures. I know what it is, alright; I just suck at handling it so hard I wish it would go away. (As for embodying him, like I might try with the Hermit or Priestess or World...I prefer not to, though it happens to everyone sometimes).

The Emperor is the one who calls the shots for you. That is all. That is a long way from all, but I think the way the implications follow, like falling dominoes, is all kinda obvious and also not something I'm up to writing at gone half midnight. I also like to put a positive spin on all 78, and there clearly is one here - he's got to be here, it's good to know who and where he is and how to deal with him, and he can be on your side and often is. God knows you see good ones - 'Mr Shine. Him diamond.' - But, yeah, I have issues.

Now: a theory of mine about one of the non-obvious implications of the Emperor. It is based on real honest truth, and I swore a while back it would wind up in my Emperor entry in spite of my (and Sendalin's) unfortunate aversion to real honest truths. This was decided when I made this meander about NWN2: I said then that 'there's no name for that moment when a world first perceives itself, first realises it has a face and a name'.

I later recalled that there is a word that's within spitting distance of that, and that word is logos. It's not right, but I hope it's enough to mark out this trail. So. There's this ancient moment of all-consciousness at the back of a world, being aware of the place's name, nature and underlying rules - it has seen its face in the mirror. Front-and-centre of the world is the Emperor, with his finger on all the big red buttons.

The logos and the Emperor tend to gel well at first - they're both part of the same place, after all - but they are natural enemies and there will always be conflict between them and when it goes to the wall, the logos will always lose. It usually then disappears (and can reappear in the strangest of places...), leaving the Emperor with an empire that doesn't have a soul/law/identity any more. [What Dar Williams said - 'and the empire falls on its own splintered axis' - is a damn pretty idea about what happens next, but I don't think it necessarily follows, sadly.]

You can make a nice real-world allegory about this by saying that if you give someone absolute power over a situation, they will junk whatever original intentions lay behind it all and turn it towards their personal ends instead. But, mm, it's also the phoenix dancing.

And then this slipped out too:

- 'Maybe she flew away, like me with my emperor -'
Just one of too many lines I remember
From back when I knew you, the words running through you
Like water washing over my hands
On the outside
in the star-world

(-which I found when I asked for it
not coincidentally).

Images of the Emperor:

Did I mention the Intuitive card has a dancing sphinx made of at least six penii? Did I? No? I guess I have more restraint than I ever thought. Every other card in this deck has a simple block of colour outside its central circle; this is almost the opposite.

The Osho Zen gives us The Rebel. The message here is that only a rebel can be in control of his own destiny - he's not rebelling against something, he's just someone who's found the true nature of himself, found how to call his own shots, and that makes him a rebel and a stranger. As the Principia Discordia has it, 'a =POPE= is someone who is not under the authority of the authorities'; people who grok it can't be controlled. [Dar again - 'I had to take God into my own hands. Is it too late?']

Amano is once again making small reversals on the norms; the bird is holding a key in its mouth, though the key is generally considered an emblem of the Hierophant.

What I said about the Emperor in 2005:

[my opinion's changed little here, but I seemed to feel more positive about facing up to Big People issues back then.]

The Emperor is lying again. But that's just in my head. The Emperor, like the Hierophant, I have problems with, but I'm far, far better at understanding them. See, the Emperor can do whatever he likes to you. This is his show; he calls all the shots, he's in command (but not always control, though the Moon would know more about that than I would). It's a bad idea to forget that such things exist. I've hit the hard edge of government a few times recently. One communal edge is that recent election - the Emperor can kill in your name, no matter what you say or do or think of it; you get a chance to put a cross in a box several years later, and if you're lucky someone will count it, but that's all you have. There are people who do not care about you at all who hold your existence in their hands. The Emperor's secret is that there is no such thing as freedom; there will always be another who possesses the force to make you answer to them.

I find comfort in being always ready, even, especially, when I have no idea for what. I try to look him square in the eye. I suppose the other way is to try to be him, as much as you can; that's something that's never really interested me, somehow - my own life is enough for me.

The Hierophant

circles inside circles
inside locks, behind the wall,
stars within, and we outside the circle.

you the key, the guide, the holder of the patterns.
who needs no eyes to see the stars, no hand to trace the circle.

you are the symmetry
you are the ever-true, the truth behind.

[See also Agla's Hierophant and the Hierophant online]

If I've ever whined about being stumped by any other cards, ignore me; the Hierophant is my pits. It's not just that I don't like him - I don't like the Emperor either, but I know enough about him. The Hierophant I've often found hard to place in my world; if he stands between god and the laity, well, what's that mean to a rootless solitary?

The best way I've found to approach him is this; he's the pattern that makes other patterns possible. He is meta. He knows the equations that generate stars, and makes stars disintegrate in turn, and then lets them reform and become people. (My 2005 tarot notes say, of the Hierophant; 'Evolution etc' - I guess I meant to come back to that one). It's the Magician who says 'as above, so below' - and he'll use that to direct his energies, but the Hierophant knows about the details, all the details, for all of us.

The Hierophant is an institution, or a science; lasting but forever marching on, passing keys from hand to hand, rewriting itself, always tracing the same circle. His opposite is the Tower; the link is pretty clear if you read their old names, the Pope and La Tour Diable ('the devil's tower'). The Tower will break anything, reduce any institution to its constituent parts - the Hierophant sees his hierarchies as essential. (The One World Hierophant shows a gateway from night into day, occupied by a small pyramid with a large sphere balancing at its apex. A strong Hierophant can support anything).

If I am to understand this robed man - and I have never seen the Hierophant be the least ambiguous about that; he is often called Pope, or set against Priestess to pack symmetry around the imperial pair between them; most Hierophants are bearded, including the one I'm looking at now - I think I have to trust him and all he stands for, and I don't. I have to accept the keys, see the symmetry, accept the foundations of this world; I can do that so long as it remains at a pre-conscious level, but once you move past mathematics and mysteries and into society, I turn to face the Tower.

The Hierophant's elder relation is Temperance, the great alchemist. The Hierophant points the way upwards, shows the symmetry, and Temperance makes new symmetries, cooks peace and divinity within all of us.

Images of the Hierophant:

Amano's Hierophant, who you have to walk through to get to a bigger Hierophant.

Chiron, the Mythic Hierophant. This is a very one-on-one Hierophant, focused on healing and on the wisdom of your personal journey. He reads your path in the stars. He could heal everyone except himself.

...and the Osho Zen brings the win. This Hierophant is for the beginning of things, where the potential for everything is. Zen meditation is about making your mind like that card - empty, ready for anything to arise.

The Lovers

one become two
become one again
flowing backwards
stepping out
of the moon
to the night
yang back toward yin
toward peace
with the guide
we can't see.

I have an unspeakably British tendency to groan at the sight of the Lovers; I shouldn't, because they're so vital, but they're also a contentious mess. There is no standard setup for the Lovers, the way there is with most other cards; there might be two people present, three, two and an angel, two and their dog or an entire menagerie (can you Adam and Eve it?); the characters might be clothed, robed, naked; the vast majority of decks are heterocentric, but some have two women, or ambiguous characters (I've never seen one with two men but I'm sure there's a few out there). The Intuitive card is nothing like any Lovers I've ever seen before - but Lovers often aren't.

It's a hella gloomy Lovers - there's a man and a woman, naked and seemingly fused at the chest, their heads facing in opposite directions - their eyes and brows are cut off by the curve of the frame, but they may well have their eyes closed. A bright moon is behind them - they're partly blocking it out, so it might be a full moon, it could be a little less than half full - who can tell? (I'd lay money on it being a half-moon - but I'll write about that card when I come to it). Their third figure is black-robed, long-nosed, and his face is entirely in shadow. I am too glad of this differentness to see it as anything but positive. It made me think of the Tao Te Ching's entreaty; know the white, but keep to the black. (also rendered as positive/negative, or male/female; basically, yin > yang). This couple is not exalting, not ruling a garden and naming every creature in it, not preening in the daylight; they walk the night together, guided by one of the shadowed ones, and they do not look upon each other as if to a mirror; instead, they move as one.

That's another rarity; a seemingly male face as the third character on the Lovers). A good half the reason why I usually cringe at the Lovers is because it's often being deployed in ways I feel are anti-woman. The worst case of this is in the Marseilles deck, and others which show a man with a woman either side of him - these women are sometimes called Virtue and Vice, other times said to be his mother and his would-be bride. Man subject. Women objects; social positions that pander to him, or abstracts that deny their humanity. Then there's the many tarot guides which choose to speak of the Majors as being a 'Fool's Journey' - this tends to make the Lovers be about male emotional needs, or male self-discovery, rather than being for all people (see this one, for example, which I found when I was looking for scans of the RWS card).

Just, no. Whatever your gender (either, both, none), if you're seeing love as being a target that lets you avoid responsibility for finding yourself, keeping yourself together, or making yourself happy, you're probably looking at the card upside-down. That pretty angel in the sky above them is not there to save them, it's there to make their lives complicated - to let them deal with/accept another human being, someone totally different to them, on the same level they deal with and accept themselves; to show them that no one is perfect, that no one is perfectible, that no one is like you in every or, usually, any way, and that people are absolutely loveable because of all this.

Also, see below the images for what I said in 2005, because I'm still quite chuffed with that one.

The Lovers' opposite, and their elder self, are both the same card, and it's the Devil. Unlike other numerical relationships, you'll find if you compare card images that many decks make this link between human love and diabolical hate abundantly clear. They are opposites that must be reconciled, because you'll meet both as you go through life, that can't be helped - and they are also both steps of the same process.

[An edit here, because I realise I've written a lot about what the Lovers isn't and far less about what the Lovers is.]

Conway's notes point out something related to the Virtue/Vice interpretation of the characters in the Lovers; the card, in its oldest self, isn't about love so much as choices.

As I'm writing this, the most recent new entry is the Four of Cups, and what I have in mind re. the Lovers right now chimes with the Osho Zen's Four of Cups very deeply. Love is there, open to anyone, and if you turn inwards at the right moment you can always get under its surface. (For the Lovers, the Osho Zen deck quotes Osho as saying that sex is less than love, but compassion is more). Alice Ayers said that love is always a choice. For my own part, I see loving as a way of life. Loving someone isn't a feeling you have for them; it's a choice to be with them at their root, to cross the threads of their identity with yours, to walk the path with them.

As the original Virtue or Vice choice makes out, the choices you make in the realm of love have far wider consequences for you - you can't section your loving out. (And most attempts to do so, to draw the veil at the door of the bedroom or boudoir, wind up being horrifically anti-woman). The Lovers are involved in any serious act of choosing.

Conway also says; "The shadow figure will act as a goad, conscience or even Nemesis." Thanks. Thanks very much. (I may write an entire entry on my ongoing thingywhatsit with Nemesis at some point).

Images of the Lovers:

Visconti-Sforza: the oldest Lovers of all, taking refuge in a great big marquee while a blindfolded Cupid throws pointy things at them. Note that the Fool's dog has returned. (If the V-S Fool even had a dog; I'm not sure.)

The Marseilles Lovers...all three of them.

The RWS Lovers take after the V-Ss, but Cupid has been replaced by an angel. This is a sweetly Christian sort of love, where accepting God as part of your relationship is a must.

The Roots Of Asia Lovers show earth embracing sky. This one is about love of the opposite, the impossible - a truly one-on-one love that requires no intermediary to occur.

Amano's Lovers. Aside from the symmetry and togetherness here, note that the arrows are everywhere. The archer isn't just blind, he's entirely indiscriminate; so is love.

What I wrote about the Lovers in 2005

The Lovers occupy the same position in both the standard ordering of the deck and in the human psyche. It's back to the medieval court. You have the Magician, the Papess (later Priestess), the Empress, the Emperor, and the Pope (later Hierophant). Lofty things, absolute idealised things far above you, each of them entitled and unique. The first thing you can be is a Lover. Anyone can be a Lover, and it surprises me not at all that so very many people want to see themselves as such before almost anything. No one cares if you've never told a joke, been arrested, cast a vote or said a prayer, but if you've never been kissed, oh no no. It's the first ideal that lets you come as you are.

And partly arising from that is the way the Lovers concerns imperfection. They're just people. There's usually a choice involved (there's generally three characters, not two, though these days one of the three is generally an angel), and that means there's no right and no wrong, just two variations on 'sorta'. It's inherent in the very idea, to me - to love someone is to know that they are imperfect. If you think someone perfect, you don't love them. You don't even understand them, and that's what the Lovers says to the world; anyone can love, anyone can understand, anyone can reach out and find the choices. It brings you back past what the Priestess tells you; everything is separate, but before that it was the same.

The indiscrimateness of Amano's picture (the arrows that fly everywhere) is unusually humble for a Lovers picture. They often embrace the whole sky, or rent the whole earth beneath them. Such 'love-above-all' arrogance is far more common than the inevitable, indiscriminate picture found here. They've picked the first thing that anyone can ascend to and ascended to it; worship them. Watch out for that. It's a big step - the place where choice becomes apparant and oppositeness becomes stark, the old Marseilles picture that shows the step from mother to wife; a possible road to maturity. But that's all. If you want to stop there, fine - just know how easy it will be for those who now revere your place to surpass it.

The Chariot

blank eyes,
all my strength, power and this,

to be stood at the axle,
these beasts that tug towards the shadows

while I am stone
I am angry
I am the sun, the star of morning
I am the slowly-turning centre

And there is nought to do but wait and learn to be.

If only everything were as straightforward as the Chariot. I mean, you could draw it in 30 seconds in MS Paint. In fact, I think I will:

Guy in box on wheels, being pulled by two similar but different horses. That's it. Never varies. You can go home now.


Wait, this is a blog. Got to write about something.

So, guy in box. (More rarely, girl in box). That's generally you. The box on wheels is generally an ever-moving life that never stops, and which you can only control indirectly, with the reins which may or may not be in your hands, and if they're not they bloody should be. The Chariot is the deck's big green go button; either it takes you for a ride, or you're all dressed up with no place to go.

Would be easy if it weren't for the bloody horses. (Usually horses. Sphinxes, sometimes. I'd dearly love to see a Chariot drawn by two swans).

Since the RWS, there's always been a white one and a black one. Often they seem to be pulling in different directions, or maybe one of them isn't pulling at all, but if you could only get them both facing the right way and interested in moving forward then... Some just read the two differing horses as representing life's conflicting urges and responsibilities, but I go more specific; I think the white horse is all your conscious feelings, your settled plans, the things you understand and know about and want to have in your life. The black horse is everything else about you. The secrets you keep, the things you don't want to want, the truths you'll never see until years later, the dreams and forgotten things, and the things you don't yet know about yourself and your life. Nemesis lurks there, between the cracks. The gods guide the black horse along paths the white horse cannot see; sometimes it may reach the destination first, other times not at all.

To make them work together - now, that's something.

Images of the Chariot

A beautiful card from the Intuitive Tarot, one that pushes the horses to the border and focuses on the drive and power of the charioteer. He wears a solar mask, and holds not just the reins, but a morningstar; it's the white horse he seems to wish to castigate, and all...

The Visconti-Sforza Chariot is drawn by one rearing horse, as a man comes by on another, more sedate horse, seemingly to greet the lady charioteer. Here the card's little psychodrama is out to socialise; the lady's horse is startled by the newcomer, but this unpredictable other seems to mean no harm.

Amano's Chariot is fantastically energetic and flowing; the unnamable beasts that draw it are emanating from the charioteer's hands, but the black beast is already drawing away...

The Osho Zen Chariot is called Awareness, and is a lone breakaway from the guy-in-box-w/animals theme, instead showing a calm face, and a frightened shadow. This is progress, in Zen; to be aware in the moment, not a flailing shadow.

Now, a c/ped note from Agla, something she sent me back when I was playing Final Fantasy X:

D'you see yet what I meant that time about Yuna being the Chariot? It's *her* pilgrimage-she's the reason for it, the centre. Ultimately, it's up to her when they stop and when they go. She's the only one that can make a Guardian of friend or stranger, and she's the only one who could chuck someone out of the party. It's because of Yuna's choice-a free choice no matter what her father did, nobody *made* her say 'I'll do what my dad did'-to be a summoner that they are on pilgrimage at all-however, she is very definitely not doing things just because of what she wants. She's being buffeted by the winds on the edge, tugged at by Duty and Desire. The Chariot is a bit of a paradox, I think-remember that in the Waite the charioteer does not hold the reins. Once it gets going you are not really in control of the situation, you're picking up speed, heading for you don't know what...Choices are being thrown at you, and you don't have much time to deliberate. You make a choice and follow it and find out what it means-often it means nothing like you thought it did. When one horse is dragging you to darkness and the other wrenching toward the light, making the chariot go where you will can be pretty darn impossible. Often it's all you can do not to crash.

What I wrote about the Chariot in 2005

Oh, the Chariot. Its first puzzle is quite a simple one; you look at it and you see the horses and you see the charioteer and you talk about who they are and what they do but the card is called the Chariot. Those other things, wills and words maybe, but what it's about is that chariot. It's often suggested that that means the outer person, but I don't think so, I think it means life. Something like that, like the steady thing inside that races over the face of time... I do know that last time I drew this card, reading for myself, I was very sure that the two horses were, to me then, myself and M.

So here you are standing within your own life. I suppose this is the seat of 'this one', then; the inescapable fact and responsibility of your life. You're in the Chariot; you can't get out of it and if you don't take the reins, no one will. If you don't try to move, or you don't try to control those horses, you're still the charioteer and you can't escape that role. No one is ever anyone other than themselves, and no one ever has control over any life but their own. So take the reins, because if you don't, no one else will.

This doesn't mean that there's only one direction, though - there is choice here, control here, we're past the Lovers now. See, the other thing about the Chariot is that there's two horses. This is one of those Chariot things that only clicked for me earlier this year - that those horses are, in the most literal sense I am capable of understanding it, a matter of yin and of yang. They are the two opposing currents of life, the bright and heady steel and lightning, and the soft and quiet night and water. The Chariot has its own silence, full of purpose and reality, its own stillness, stillness because it is time to be still; indeed, patience, true purposeful nothing, is a virtue of the Chariot more than anything else in the deck. And yes, Moondance K'Treva spoke for the Chariot. To say that a choice to do nothing is still a choice is a line straight from the black horse's mouth.

I've always been amused by the fact that Taoism maintains that black is more virtuous than white - but that's the Hierophant's business, not the Chariot's. The Chariot doesn't care. The Chariot has no moral compass; either horse or neither will do. They're just there, the two horses, the chariot, the charioteer, and what you do with them is up to you. But if you ignore any of them, it's at your peril.

And it's still called the Chariot. I think that's because of what Hagbard Celine said about only the trip being real. It's not solipsism, the tripper isn't even important - it's about the trip.


Close to the end of The Manual by the KLF (professional Discordians; shame about the terrible music and the racist music videos) comes this description of the Chariot:

What has all this got to do with you and our supposed concise instructions on how to make that last leap to pole position?


Because it’s only through mastering the art of having complete control when you are at the same time totally out of control. You must hold the reigns tighter than you have ever held them before but let the chariot head over the cliff top. The abyss is calling.

Strength: A Guest Post

It's not you
It's not me
It is what I do

With my hands
And my heart
It's what I do to you.

[Strength trades under several names - Fortitude, Force, Lust - but remains the same. It also stumped me, and I kept derailing myself over it; head caught in images like that bit at the end of Wintersmith ("You are asking me to tell you how to put your hand in the lion's mouth"), or my idea of Metal Gear and its lion of military technology. So I whined to Agla about it, and she delivered. Over to her!]

The first versions of the Strength card had muscular 'heroes' killing lions on. Pollack mentions this, and shows a pic of an old Strength that has Hercules and the Nemean Lion on. But then this one deck-the Visconti-Sforza-changed that. It showed a lion being held steady, tamed; not by a strongman, but by a woman. Demurely dressed, solemn faced, cool as cucumber. And that image somehow became the standard. It sparked everyone's imaginations.

The Hercules card was about brute strength and dominating force. The woman with her lion is about inner strength, strength through gentleness, softness, warmth. Those things all sound harmless, but they aren't. You told me a story once, about how a tyrant was brought down by a dancing girl? [Yes. Diaochan]. She flirted with him and his second-in-command, and they quarrelled over her, and ended up killing each other. They'd withstood any number of battles, but they couldn't stand up to the girl.

The lion's always quite clearly the submissive one. He's got the claws and the teeth, but the girl's bossing him about, and he seems just fine with this situation! Old Jack now, he said some stuff about how the passions benefit from being mastered by the will. Let them have free reign and they just tend to burn themselves out. I've told you this before, but I think one of the most perfect expressions of Strength I've yet seen was in Spirited Away. Haku in his dragon form has gone wild because of a spell put on him. He's thrashing about-Miyazaki used the realworld sight of a trapped eel for animation reference for this-bashing into things, snarling, causing all kinds of ruckus. He's crazy with pain and anger and seriously dangerous to anyone in his vicinity. And then along comes Chihiro, with the medicine the river spirit gave her. She approaches him-she's scared, nervous. But she calms herself, and she speaks to him soft but firm, and she puts her arm into his mouth to give him the medicine and she makes him swallow it. The girl mastered the dragon to save him. If she hadn't given him the medicine, he'd have gone on to destroy everything he could get to, willy-nilly, before dying in pain.

The girl is the boss but I've never seen her hurting the lion. Her body language is always 'firm but kind', never dominating. That first Visconti-Sforza card had a modest gentlewoman on it. Modern decks tend toward wilder looking girls. A lot of the time they're in exotic, revealing costumes, or plain naked. The girl who tames lions has been punked up since she first appeared. But I have never seen her armed. She never carries a weapon; she doesn't need one.

Besides, a weapon wouldn't be any use to her anyway. What good does a knife in the hand of a girl do, against a full-grown lion? If she started a fight, she would lose. The lion is all passions, all power. It's basic psychology that repressing things never really works. Whatever it is is still lurking in your subconcious, and at every opportunity it gets it'll come back and bite you. You have to accept stuff, and that's harder than it sounds. You have to walk into the lion's den naked and unarmed. You have to tame the beast with kindness. Bring it into the light.

At this point it's worth mentioning the Crowley-version of this card-Lust. I first met her via Promethea. In that card, the girl has lost control; the lion's the one directing her. It's sort of like a reversed version of Strength, I suppose. Lust has a cup of wine in her hand, she's drunk as a lord. Another indicator that her will is no longer ruling her passions. I don't know what Crowley thought about this-never studied his magics enough to-but to me it looks like an unsustainable situation. Sooner or later, she's gonna get savaged.

The Strength you showed me was looking up towards the corner of the picture, and the lion was looking with her-looking up at a bright light. She was astride it if I recall correctly, and they seemed totally in harmony. Maybe this version of the card, and Crowley's Lust, are both continuations of what's happening in the ordinary Strength. You can go one of two ways. You can lose the control, fall off the lion, let your passions rule you again. Or you can persist, and move forward into...what? I don't know. Some bright light...

Images of Strength:

[me again]

Here's the Visconti-Sforza. She's not changed much since then - she doesn't have to. The RWS put a leminscate above her head and everything. Few decks seem to break the basic pattern; girl, lion, clear indication if which of the two is on top. (The Mythic Tarot is the only one I've seen that has a male strength, a Hercules. I'd be interested to see Strength as Samson or Daniel, but I've not done so yet).

Most often the girl has her hands in the lion's mouth; Crowley put the girl on the lion's back, and renamed the card 'Lust'. The Intuitive card keeps that posture.

Amano puts his own spin on it; a fairy talking to a dragon. Most woman-lion pictures, from the Visconti on down, gloss over the difference in size and raw power between the two figures - we're expected to understand the lion symbolically, even if the image doesn't draw out his size and his savagery. Amano's fairy is no larger than the horns on the dragon's head, and his jaws could easily snap her up whole, and yet she strokes his head as he sleeps.

The Osho-Zen deck calls the card Courage. Very much an image of gentle life-force overcoming hard defences.

The Hermit

your lantern
is the guiding light ahead
your eyes
show the way to the outside
your hand
pushes through the webs of mystery
your feet
tread a distant path, alone
your coat
keeps the wolves and shadows from you
your head
is bowed toward the light
your mind
carries light into lonely places
your path
is inside us, every one.

Nine is my number. Every so often, I'll get the Hermit and all four nines in a seven-card reading. I think it's the only number I've got three of down here already. For all that, I'm not that good at explaining the Hermit out loud; I feel like I don't have to, because the feeling of it is so unambiguous to me. It's the lantern over the lonely road; it is knowing, and it is walking on with that knowledge rather than heading home to share that light with others. (If they want it, they can come and get it; everyone can see where you are, right? Right?) And it's the lack of form; the Hermit's body is made to look shapeless, his face rendered unremarkable or turned away. He doesn't want you to see him as a man, but as an unmarked container for light and ideas. For those of us who've felt it, the Hermit is an easy way to become invisible. (Stay there too long, and it becomes a hard habit to break;

If you can see the Hermit, he (I've never seen a female Hermit) is always old. Partly this signifies his relationship with Time and with the depths of human experience (imo the other part is that it's just because old people are less likely to be looked upon, and he likes that). Everything the Hermit has learned in his life is in that lantern that lights his way; a young, sheltered Hermit is lost indeed.

[A note from Agla: "...I have a female Hermit in my deck. Old lady in deep pink dress and iron-grey cloak. Iron-grey hair too. She's old, but there's nothing weak-looking about her. She looks tough. Like some ancient monolith that's been battered at by wind and rain for centuries but is still standing proud."]

And the Hermit is obnoxiously solitary. He'll walk with you, for sure, but the path is his own, and he won't be strayed from it, and there's always the chance that he'll get ahead of you on his way - though his lantern will still be in sight. He's a flybynight with everyone, so don't take it personally.

Images of the Hermit:

The Robin Wood deck has a nice variant on the RWS Hermit.

The Scapini Hermit has wet feet.

Aloneness is the Osho Zen Hermit: "Loneliness is absence of the other. Aloneness is the presence of oneself." He carries no lantern; he is his own guiding light.

I'm fond of the Roots of Asia Hermit, who is path and light both.

I could wish I knew more about Amano's Hermit: I'm sure there's a story here that I don't know about. My feeling is that it's Izanagi, trying to find a way into the underworld, but I'm probably wrong.

What I said about the Hermit in 2005:

The Hermit's message, as I hear it now, can be summed up pretty easily; growing up isn't only a matter of gaining things. You have to lose too. It is a bleak thing, but it is no less essential, no less welcome, for that.

It happens to be my birth-card. I honestly don't think I got that in any way much at all til I read something monumentally resonant in Mithrigil's Lj [try as I might, I can't figure what this refers to] a little while ago. You will lose. Every time you walk down one path you miss a thousand others, and leave a thousand people behind. It's like picturing the universe expand and watching every star drift further apart from the next.

What reading that bit brought to mind most strongly, though, was a moment from Carpe Jugulum. Esmerelda Weatherwax off up past the gnarly ground because nobody needed her any more and nobody had wanted her to begin with. It doesn't end like that, though. Nobody really crosses the gnarly place for you. For one thing, they're all already trapped up there themselves; what changes is how much they are aware of it.

And how does the Hermit feel? There's a line in, of all things, Story Of O (awful book, never finished it) about it; "Those who love God and who God abandons in the darkness of the night, are guity, they are sinners because they are abandoned." It's always God, to the Hermit, whatever that word might describe... Amano draws it perfectly; the dark lines that let the Hermit see into the world of the loved and the belonging, but not to pass through to it.

There's another part of the Hermit in that not-belonging line; the pilgrim. The urge to be apart from things by placing yourself in a position where it's all you are. Is a prophet accepted in his own town? I don't know, but they certainly don't stick around them. I know my own wanderlust comes from the Hermit, though not for poncy religious reasons; just because I like to see the places that I am not. I remember sitting on a riverbank in France a couple of months ago, dipping a hand into the clear, fast, freezing-cold water, and wondering about people who hadn't been here, people who didn't know that rivers ran any shade but brown. If someone didn't at least want to know how different the world was from what they were used to seeing it as, what were they to me? How could I look them in the eye, past the black lines and into their world of home and belonging?

It's my birth card.

I'm thinking of those harsh and barren valley-cups in the top of the line of mountains that runs between France and Italy. They sing with the voice of nowhere at all. I remember first hearing The Future Ain't What It Used To Be. We are as the lonely stars; we feel each others' light. That is all.


I tread upon your sands
press them down with every step
leave footprints on your belly
as I walk the line through you.

I feel your landmarks in my body
find your scales in my hands
reach deep into my spine
and find the steel of you.

Your eyes are always open.
Though mine are often blind.

(And I don't know where to start, because I love this card beyond all reason. She's the rightful one. Like St Pancras, she speaks truth to power. I wrote too much about what that means to me in 2005, so what I add now is just scrubbing at the edges, really).

Some nights, you just know. This night, I pulled six cards I'd done before, when I've never before had more than two, and I kept saying come on, come on. I knew it was going to be Justice because oh god do I ever love Metal Gear right now.

What Jack said to Jonathan: The meaning of justice can change from one day to the next. Certainly I keep finding new layers to it; Justice can be upright or spiteful, merciful or vindictive, inside or outside, Eighth or Eleventh. But some things never change. Justice is always the most demanding card in the deck. She keeps a permanent home inside your spine, is made of steel, does not bend or break, and if you can touch the back of your neck and draw her out of her sheath, you will be amazed at what she can do for you. (to be more accurate; what you can do for her). If you ever want to do the right thing whatever the cost, she's there. Use her (be her), and you may find you come out of it better than you ever expected.

Unlike most non-tarot depictions of Justice, she tends not to wear a blindfold; tarot instead reserves that mark for the Lady. Justice can always see you.

Cards weren't originally numbered; the Visconti-Sforza and other really old decks arrange themselves in your hands as they like. Most early numbered decks have Justice down at VIII; Arthur Waite decided, due to qabalism, that Justice was really XI - and because many decks follow on from the RWS, today it's usually XI. It's VIII in the Intuitive deck. So, yep, the card of truth and the right way of doing stuff can't even be pinned to a true, right place in the deck.

I don't know what it says, that Justice and Strength are the two cards that can trade places. Justice might be related to the High Priestess, or might be related to the Star: I can see both if I squint, but I feel the Priestess link more keenly; both relate to balance, and to the human intellect. And I think both relate to Nemesis: Justice in the sense that did you ever have it coming, and come for you she will.

[I often write these posts in silence; today I was looping Dar, and what came up as I was hitting 'publish'? Oh yes. That odd little song about small-time radio stations. That one.

There's so much to see through
Like our parents do more drugs than we do

Corporate parents, corporate towns
I know every TV set that has them lit
They preach that I should save the world
They pray that I won't do a better job of it

So tonight I turned your station on
Just so I'd be understood
Instead another voice said I was just too late
And just no good.

Oh Nemesis. You were out there and you found me; I am out here listening all the time.]

Images of Justice:

Erm, I have rather a lot of these. Not that I'm obsessed with this card or anything. Here's Scapini's Justice, who has all the usual bits: throne, sword, scales, chick in red dress. The Intuitive Justice looks like a desert with those emblems buried in its shifting sands.

I really like this one, which is from the Vortex Tarot. This from the One World is kinda odd, but I think it - eye, ouroboros - has something in common with the Intuitive card (and the Mythic one, which I don't have a scan of - Athene seated at the centre of a chessboard floor - Athene who also governs the entire suit of Swords): all put Justice and her eyes inside a physical world. You're stuck in the middle with her.

Amano's Justice is sat in one of her own scale-pans, with a smaller balance in one hand. So you're stuck in the middle of her with her. For yet more reflexiveness, the Roots of Asia Justice finds the scales in her own reflection in the all-river. It's a bit like that theological riddle about whether God's omnipotence means he can create a rock too heavy for him to move; Justice is stood here saying no, no, he can't, and I can't, because we're all governed by our own laws, even me, especially me. We're all inside our own scales.

The Osho Zen card, Breakthrough, is distinctly representative of that feeling of pulling her out of your spine and wielding her, cutting up the things - the patterns - that just aren't right or true.

What I wrote about Justice in 2005:

Justice. Whether Justice is objective or subjective is one of the funner questions I find in decks, and my current thinking is 'both'. Relativism is fashionable enough, and the world is made of grey areas, but there are other stories to tell. Here's one I came across whilst researching that damned essay; in Tibetan folklore it is believed that a white god and a black demon live inside every human being, and for every good deed you do the white god collects a white pebble, and for every ill deed you do the black demon collects a black pebble. After death, they weigh the deeds against each other. Justice's scale is not empty; it merely hangs in the balance, in the grey zone.

Now, I'll start by going from the outside in. Consider the following;

"All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing."

"I'd be dead if I was really a good person."

"I couldn't sleep at night if I hadn't done this."

The second is from Battle Royale - Shinji Mimura's dear rebellious uncle again (who is dead from sudden bout of goodness by the time the story begins). The first is such obvious pat-on-the-back bullshit that I've no idea why anyone ever says it. If you do nothing, you're not a good person. There's nothing 'good' about sitting down and thinking fluffy thoughts, or frowning at the right places in the newspapers. You can't think anything better. The world is not a nice place and every time you give in to it, every time you move for yourself rather than for it, you get further from that second quote. And whatever standards you hold yourself to, unless you're actively contributing hand over fist I wouldn't call you 'good'. I wouldn't call myself 'good'. I believe I only know one human being who I would dream of calling 'good' (and she probably knows who she is >>).

It was when I was first considering this, just after finishing Battle Royale, that I read about the death of Marla Ruzicka. A little chilling to just stumble over it on the same afternoon, but yes, that's it. That's what any of us could be doing and that's where it would get us. It takes a lot to make those scales tip to the white, and it certainly can't come for free.

(The third was something I found in a newspaper a while ago - from a gene researcher who recently made a major medical breakthrough I can't for the life of me understand. I love the sentiment, and I hope you all sleep well tonight...)

But there's another Justice, and that's the one Amano drew. She's gorgeous, definitely my favourite thing in this deck - sat in one of her own scale-pans, knife tucked into her belt, toying with a tiny balance in one hand. This isn't the same creature as the one who holds that sword straight-upward. This one is inside that; personal and subjective and above all internal. There's a wonderful display of this right here: Alan Moore's 'Valerie' [And ffs, if you've never read that, read it. Please god, read it]. It might only come from the inside, but it's no less exacting for that. It's everything Valerie said it is - the last piece, the crack of total freedom, the only thing that's worth anything...or so the lady in the scales will tell you.

When I think of Justice I tend to think of both together. M's been noting recently my near-inability to honestly dislike people - I'm always clinging to redeeming features and universal humanity and crap. It's how I see the world, shades of grey everywhere. (I'm partly thinking of ________ here - ________, who many people I knew had good reason to loathe, but who, for whatever reasons, had far more caring for me than almost any of said people did, and was the only person to notice me moping at that party. I think I wrote about it in here at the time, over two years ago now. Shades of grey). It is partly because I'm more interested in whether people uphold their own standards than whether they fit in with mine. So I abhor double standards, but I'm quite capable of being warm to the villains in adventure stories. Equally I can easily get disenchanted with the heroes, whether in life or in story; when a villain lies, he lies, but when a hero lies, he lies twice and utterly.

And notice, if you will, that it was freedom Valerie promised, not, never, peace. I am in a Justice cycle right now and I have a lot left to learn about it. [FYI, I'm in a Temperance cycle now].


you are the fire that unmakes all things
you are the earth that swallows the ashes whole
you are the waters that wash the earth towards the sea
you are the air that stokes the ocean, into waves, into whirlpools
you carry us over.

you are my blood, you are my bones, you are my breath
you are the fire inside me.

you are what I might become, once I am gone.

Well, here's a place my path likes to bypass.

I have no beliefs about death - not even any knowing guesses, the way I have for the other things I claim not to have beliefs about. (Not being so full of shit is one of my goals with this blog). If pressed, I'll say I believe in something hovering between conservation and reincarnation; the works people have done, and the words they have said, are present for as long as they remain part of the web of the lives of others. Their bodies are turned over in the ecosystem, and become a million other things; so do their thoughts and ideas. The main reason I don't accept full-on reincarnation is because we are born so bloody stupid - you'd think there'd be some baseline of emotional growth that was retained, some stupid mistake we wouldn't have to make over and over again.

But we grow, and learn; we change, chemically, as we bond with others, have our worlds turned around by dear friends. Our identities mingle. We are shaped, as if in the hands of a turner, by every passing point. What we become cannot be predicted when we begin.

We are all washed away eventually, and what then?

(The most useful thing (imo) about the doctrine of reincarnation, in the Buddhist sense, is that it comes with a twist most pagans forget; Buddhists have no soul. I don't completely grok how someone's karma is passed on to the next cycle if there is no soul to bear it; a theology tutor once explained it as being like passing a flame from a lit candle to an unlit candle; they are not the same flame, and do not have the same bearer, but the first flame has definitely led to the second. But yes; the soul is a Western, Christian construct and sometimes you do well to set it to side.)

(You'll meet Death at the gateways; he is a gatekeeper. Some people walk on as fast as possible, but some stay there. Some people will have the power to kill you again and again and again - kill you, or die with you. They're wonderful people; you can get lost in them.)

This particular Death I'm looking at, from the Intuitive deck, is all blood, bone, and fire; there's a shield in front of it which features a butterfly. I'm sure this would be very nice and uplifting if it didn't make me think of Perdido Street Station. >< The intended message is that death is just a chrysalis, and that any chrysalis can be represented by the Death card - but really, walking into it, how do you ever know?

They say (I think Pollack says this in big capital letters. Either her or Eason or both) that drawing Death does not mean you or anyone else is going to die. This is true in the short term, for sure, but; everything dies. People die. Entire worlds die, though I was considering saving that story for the Emperor's entry. Great swathes of your life can die overnight. (I'd imagine this has happened to you several times already). You could come out a butterfly. You could also come out a slake-moth; maybe you already have.

Death is a world without you in it. (Or it's a you without your world). For me, right now, Death is knocking on the glass pane at the top of the door, walking in, picking up her empty teacup and kissing her on top of the head. I will cry again if I picture that too clearly; it was my world, and it's four thousand miles away from me now.

Tarot readers who are into numerology tend to see the last 12 majors as each being related to the early major that bears the sum of its digits; for Death, being the 13th card, this would be the Emperor. The RWS and other trad depictions of Death often feature, among the dead on the earth, a crowned head; the Reaper does not spare the tallest stalk. (Stupid Nine of Pentacles). The other aspect of the relationship from this side is responsibility; Emperors, as sublime control-freaks-in-chief, will have (or desire to have) a monopoly on legally permissible violence within their realm; they will decide which deaths are important to prevent, and which are acceptable casualties. (I totally mistyped that as 'causalties'; I shall pretend this is a deep and meaningful typo). Yes, it's fucking political. The Tarot depiction of medieval institutions - popes and papesses, jesters, virtues, things in the sky - was political all a-fucking long.

The opposite of Death is Strength. Cross this inevitability of endings, transformations, with Strength's calm integrity of self and you have...a great big mess, but it adds up to 21, so that's all fine then.

One last note; as Nemesis bridges Justice with the High Priestess, there is also a twisting line between Death and the Moon, and along it, on eight insectile legs, walks the scorpion. It's a bit fuzzy in my head, but I think the Death end of this line is called the well of fire.

Images of Death:

The Hello Tarot urges us to take this very seriously.

The Robin Wood gives us a different look at the traditional Death. (All Death flags make me think of Yorkshire, this one especially). Note the butterfly. As in the Intuitive deck, it may, metamorphosis aside, be connected to the fact that the butterfly in Greek myth is a symbol of Psyche, whose name means soul.

Amano's Death. I'm fairly sure the character on this card is Izanami. In Japanese myth, Izanami was the first thing that ever died. After having produced many divine children successfully, she died when she birthed Kagu-Tsuchi, the god of fire. Her brother-spouse-fellow divinity Izanagi went to a dark place called Yami to find her, but by the time he'd got there she'd already eaten the food of the dead (why did so many people come up with that reason why dead people have to stay dead?) She wandered away from Izanagi to go plead with the lords of Yami to let her go; Izanagi got impatient and followed her, setting fire to his comb to light the way, and found that by that light her body looked all rotted, maggoty and scary. So he runs away, bars the land of Yami with a giant rock, and traps her there; she retaliates by creating mortal death, saying she'll take a thousand of Izanagi's people every day, but he responds by saying he'll give life to 1500 people every day.

So there's Izanami, trapped in the underworld. What can we learn from this myth? Why, that the creation of life is masculine and the death of life is feminine; that a non-beautiful woman is evil and should be shut away. (There is a subtext about how menstruation is a) just nasty and b) connected to death). Ghosts in Japan, especially vengeful ones, are overwhelmingly female.

Much <3 for the Roots of Asia Death, with a tree growing out of his middle. I think this card chimes with my own abovementioned thoughts on dead people. It also reminds me of Guan Yu and his mountain.

The Osho Zen Death, many-armed and floating on a giant flower in the sky.