Tag Archives: Tarot

Reading Tarot for America

The Moon

In this short period of time on the Wheel of the Year when we move into darkness, between Samhein and Yule, it’s customary for Witches to move inward, engage in introspection, do all of those things that this INTJ loves with all of her heart. I firmly believe that in a culture based upon patriarchy, on a maniacal emphasis on continued bodily existence, rather than death, mind, rather than body, words, rather than feelings, and logic, rather than gnosis, everything and anything that we can do to move away from partiarchy, to move into the dark, the body, feelings, and gnosis is a deeply political act.

Joanna Colbert, the artist behind the Gaian Tarot, has created a Tarot spread that is, I believe, a powerful tool for this sort of political action. I thought that, here on the day after an historic election, I’d do this Tarot working for America, for Columbia’s country.

1. Offering: What or who is dead or dying, that you need to honor?

Six of Air. “You are gaining clarity by spending time with others of like mind.”

2. Challenge: What task does the Elder of Fire ask of you?

Ace of Water. “It’s time to follow your heart’s desire, instincts, and intuition.”

3. Center: Where do you find your center of power?

Nine of Earth. “You’re enjoying a time of accomplishment and comfort.”

4. Opening: What new sweetness is wafting in on the scent of burning herbs?

The Moon. “Learning to trust one’s intuition.”

5. Wisdom: What secrets do the ancestors whisper to you during this season of All Hallows?

Ten of Fire. “Does it feel like your dreams have gone up in smoke? Are you overwhelmed or burdened by loss?” Remember that new seedlings grow and flourish in the ashes of a spent fire.”

Let’s spend some time together seeing if we can piece together what that means for America. Can you do this Tarot spread for yourself? Post the results in comments and let’s all apply our collective intuition to those readings.

Picture found here.

Monday Potpourri

* One of the things that I’ve noticed is that when you do magic at the home of an experienced Witch, especially if she has lived at her current address for a while, she’s quite likely to invoke her building — the physical structure of her home — often during Grounding, but sometimes when invoking Earth or one of the other Elements. It’s a bit of a step beyond just being in relationship with your landbase — more like being aware of the building’s presence on the astral plane, and its life and awareness here in the manifest world. Have you ever noticed this? Is your house a presence? Do you have a relationship to it?

* You probably don’t need me to say this, but, please, go vote on Tuesday, even if you do have to stand in line to do it. Our Beloved Dead went through a lot to make sure that we could vote. I’ve been very disappointed in President Obama and expect to be so again, should he win. But he’s demonstrably better for women, the planet, and America than Mitt Romney would be. If I lived in a safely blue state or in an irredeemably red state, I’d vote for the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein, or I’d write in Elizabeth Warren. But I live in Virginia, a swing state, so I’m going to pull up the already-almost-stretched-out elastic on my big girl panties and vote for Obama. And there are down ticket races and ballot initiates that need my vote, as well. I shan’t be gone long, you come too. Please tell me in comments on Tuesday that you voted!

* I’m listening to this over and over since reading about it in comments at The Wild Hunt:

* You should read this and you should look at the pictures.

* Joanna Colbert’s put together an intriguing Tarot spread for this time of year. Shall we try it together? I’ll show you mine tomorrow.

Picture found here.

Goddess Emergent

Last year, for Independence Day, I did some work with the Goddess Columbia and posted about my conversation with her. You can read about it here, here, here, here, and here.

This year, I again did a series of meditations and magic works and asked Her to tell me what form of devotion She wants from Her followers. Specifically, I asked about group rituals for Her, private, daily practice focused on Her, and about Her priestesses and priests. Using the Wildwood Tarot, I pulled three cards: The Shaman (who corresponds to the Magician in a traditional Tarot deck), The Two of Arrows, Injustice (which corresponds to the Two of Swords), and The Ace of Stones, The Foundation of Life (which corresponds to the Ace of Pentacles).

Columbia’s answer about group rituals for Her:

The Shaman: The Wildwood Tarot book says:

Meaning: The view of the universe possessed by these ancient artists [who drew the animal spirits in La Caverne des Trois Freres which appear on The Shaman’s clothing] was of a place where human elements and skills were intimately interwoven with the qualities and prowess of wild creatures. Human spirituality was dependent on an empathic exchange and respect for the sacred ancestral memory of all life, and meditation of the totem guardians and deities was a prime spiritual function of the shaman.

This is a gateway card, offering illumination to the labyrinth of the inner universe and the otherworld of the universal mind. The Shaman’s unique quality is the ability to enter and commune with all levels of sentient life on the Earth. it is [s/he] who shudders with the wisdom and joy contained in the howling of timber wolves. [Hir] soul reverberates with the unheard sonorous call of the mountains and smiles with pure joy at the laughter of the waterfall.

The Shaman applies [hir] magic with intent. [S/he] studies the habits of wild creatures [and] understands the weather patterns that bring good harvests or dry summers. [S/he] knows the healing plants form the deadly fungi and can travel through the dark by watching the ritual dance of the magical beings that populate the night sky. [S/he] gives thanks to the trees that supply warmth and light in the winter and gathers the young around the fire to tell stories of great adventure and courage to delight and educate those who would listen.

Through inner work and meditation, the Shaman will bring insight and understanding of your true place in the world. Then practical application and the manifestation of wisdom and willpower into your physical world is possible. This requires dedication, patience, and commitment, but it is the nature of real magic.

Reading Points: You may hear the beat of a drum or the song of the wind. It may be the dancing of light on water or the midnight barking of the fox, but whatever awakens your desire to return to the wild, the Shaman within you is ready for initiation into the mysteries. This may manifest itself in the form of a desire to study an esoteric science or philosophy and apply what you learn to the world. It may involve travel for the sake of gaining confidence and experience. But however the desire to begin a new spiritual chapter emerges, you are now in an emotional and intellectual position to bring forth real change in your life for the benefit of everyone. The process of focusing, meditating, and applying wisdom from the otherworld is the true work of the Shaman.

Columbia’s answer about daily practice focused on Her:

Meaning: The scales of natural justice have been skewed by false judgements, ignorance, or arrogance. [Those who sit] in judgement with unbalanced scales [based upon] an untrue premise, however ardently or sincerely [held], will not prevail. The bow is broken and useless through prejudice and misuse.

Reading Points: False conclusions and unjust decisions, based on disinformation, motivated by fear, greed, and prejudice, can cause innumerable problems. Either mistakenly or deliberately, distributed to pervert the course of natural justice and the revelation of the facts by those who fear the truth and wish to manipulate the situation for personal control or gain, this propaganda will not survive honest, wise, and impartial scrutiny. In many worldly situations, the truth becomes hijacked and twisted to become a false message, designed to confuse and instill fear in those seeking clear insight. The wise seeker questions and tests false messages and discerns the validity of a harmful accusation. Perversions of the truth will always bring frustration or bitterness to the individual or group that deploys such dishonorable tactics. The perpetrator of lies and falsehood will always be judged as an unreliable source, bent on mischief and destructive interference. For the victim of injustice, the best defense of the truth is always more truth.

Columbia’s answer about Her priestesses and priests:

Meaning: The most potent act of the mind is to conceive of an idea and manifest it into practical reality. This means being able to formulate and marshal your thoughts to bring about a real-world change, or transmutation of wish, dream, or desire, making it physically happened.

Reading Points: The concept of the material world as a solid, unchanging thing has evolved with our understanding of the cosmos. Human beings seem unique [How on Earth do the authors of the Wildwood Tarot know this??] in their ability to interact with the material world and yet have a foot in the otherworld of the mind, imagination, and creative will. To be connected to the Earth and the power that resides there allows us to draw from this primal source and direct the power of our minds to create changes in our world. The concept that the realms of matter and the realms of the mind are totally separate and detached is now outmoded and verifiably untrue. The primal rock is decorated with ancient cup-and-ring markings to express the emergence of creation and the cycles of energies within the universal consciousness and the still and stable point from which to plan and empower your life, fulfilling your material dreams.

So, oddly, in almost the exact reverse order that I would have expected from Her, Columbia seems to be saying that her group rituals should be devoted to shamanistic practices that will result in the practical application and the manifestation of wisdom and willpower into the physical world. This sounds to me a lot like the Green Wizard work of JMG.

She seems to be saying that the daily practice of her devotees should be devoted, not so much to internal work, but to battling the lies and framing of Fox News. I’d have expected almost the reverse: a group practice devoted to opposing the right-wing smear machine and a daily, personal practice devoted to getting in touch with Her landbase. But Columbia says that Her devotees should engage, daily, in fighting the misinformation coming out of the right wing. All acts of love and reframing are (apparently) Her rituals.

Finally, Columbia seems to be calling her priestesses and priests to act upon the discovery of the Higgs boson particle and to go ahead and “create changes in this world.”


She’s a Goddess who really expects action.

How do you read these cards?

Tarot Reader

November PotPourri

*Yesterday was a perfect Potomac watershed Autumn day. I left work early to meet up with Landscape Guy & head out to a local park where, he said, there was something that I had to see.

And, there was.

Down a steep, stoney path that I’d never have ventured on my own (but that I managed quite well, even in heels, on Landscape Guy’s arm) were some Celtic-knot tree roots beside a creek. The sight of them will sustain me and figure in my grounding visualizations for a long time. The late-Autumn-Maxfield-Parrish sunlight that we get this time of year was illuminating the at-their-peak crimson, orange, gold, and purple leaves. Landscape Guy noted that the trees that, in Summer, all blend together in a backdrop of green, stand out from each other and shine as individuals, come Autumn.

I’d never thought of it that way, but he’s right. One of his gifts is his ability to observe. When he walks my yard in early spring, he always sees things popping out of the ground that I’ve not yet noticed.

We walked back through the woods, noting a stand of hollies (that would be a perfect site for a Druid Yule ritual), some Mexican sage that I want to grow, and the giant full Moon, attended by Jupiter.

Today, of course, the weather changed. The morning was misty and, by afternoon, rain and wind moved in, blowing the colored leaves all over. It was cold, raw, damp. In the now-early dark, I slipped into my little cottage and made Hobbit food: Potatoes, mushrooms, and onions w/ a glass of good Burgundy. (In mere days, le Boujoulais Noveau will be arrivé!) This is my favorite time of year, although it’s also when I begin to “move back inside,” after living most of the time, from April through October, out on my porch.

Moon in Taurus, this snug little cottage is so dear to me. I have extra blankets on the bed, a fire in the fireplace, tea cozies on the teapot, candles in the window. I pull extra blinds and curtains against the windows and wrap shawls around my shoulders. Come Eostara, I’ll shed them as a snake sheds her skin.

*Some days at my job, I’m everyone’s big sister. It’s both a privilege and a PITA. The one good thing is that, with age, I’ve come to anticipate it and to recognize it when it happens. I keep a box of tissues on my desk. I ground as people needing “it” walk through my door, buzz me on the phone, “accidentally” run into me on the elevator. I smudge myself when I get home. I take a bath with rosemary, lavender, some smooth green stones. And then I go back the next day and try to do something technical, wreaking a bit of good rhetoric upon the world. My porous Pisces boundaries need mending. And, so, I spent all day today editing motions. It helps. I’m lucky to get to do work that I love with people that I (mostly!) like.

*Spent Sunday with my newest magical Sister. She’s cool, experienced, honest. I made a big pot of this chili (recipe from Washington’s Green Grocer) and froze what we didn’t eat. It will make a good dinner some cold night.

1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
1 cup red onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 red, yellow or green bell peppers, minced
1/2 cup cilantro, minced
1 jalapeno or serrano. minced (I like it spicy but adjust heat to your liking)
about 2 cups chopped chard leaves (more or less as you like)
2 (14.5oz) cans black beans, drained
1 (14.5oz) can diced fire-roasted tomatoes, with juice
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 big tablespoon cumin
just a little salt

Toss it all in the crock pot, set on low and let the magic happen! If you’re doing it stove top, you can bring it to a fast simmer and when the sweet potatoes are done, it’s ready. I would wait to add the cilantro until the last few minutes and you may need a little more liquid as it will cook off faster then it would in the crock pot.

Next time, I’ll at least double the Swiss chard and the jalapeno.

What do you cook when you get together with magical friends?

*Christine Kane‘s latest email invokes us “to being present and fully alive even in your challenges and [your] questions.” That was exactly what I needed to read today.

*Check out these amazing posters from the Paris protests of 1968. When I win the lottery, I’m going to build a museum of political posters and a garden of Goddess statues. What art will Occupy produce? A friend’s husband once suggested a Tarot deck of Soviet-style posters and I will totally buy that deck when it comes out. What Soviet poster would be the Six of Swords? The Wheel? The Page of Cups? Here’s one of my favorites. Queen of Swords? The Empress? Three of Cups? What poster makes your favorite Tarot card? What about Sixties concert posters? The Chariot? The Nine of Cups? Strength?

I’m sure someone’s already done it with Art Nouveau posters. Queen of Cups? Knight of Pentacles? The High Priestess?

*I haven’t always appreciated Matt Taibbi, but, lately, he seems to have grown up and to be doing good work. Today, he gets it, I think, just right about the Occupy movement. (You should go read the whole thing, even though, of course, fuck Rolling Stone, which has been a bastion of sexism since, like, forever.)

[The Occupy movement] is a visceral, impassioned, deep-seated rejection of the entire direction of our society, a refusal to take even one more step forward into the shallow commercial abyss of phoniness, short-term calculation, withered idealism and intellectual bankruptcy that American mass society has become. If there is such a thing as going on strike from one’s own culture, this is it. And by being so broad in scope and so elemental in its motivation, it’s flown over the heads of many on both the right and the left.
. . .

What both sides missed is that OWS is tired of all of this. They don’t care what we think they’re about, or should be about. They just want something different.

We’re all born wanting the freedom to imagine a better and more beautiful future. But modern America has become a place so drearily confining and predictable that it chokes the life out of that built-in desire. Everything from our pop culture to our economy to our politics feels oppressive and unresponsive. We see 10 million commercials a day, and every day is the same life-killing chase for money, money and more money; the only thing that changes from minute to minute is that every tick of the clock brings with it another space-age vendor dreaming up some new way to try to sell you something or reach into your pocket. The relentless sameness of the two-party political system is beginning to feel like a Jacob’s Ladder nightmare with no end; we’re entering another turn on the four-year merry-go-round, and the thought of having to try to get excited about yet another minor quadrennial shift in the direction of one or the other pole of alienating corporate full-of-shitness is enough to make anyone want to smash his own hand flat with a hammer.

If you think of it this way, Occupy Wall Street takes on another meaning. There’s no better symbol of the gloom and psychological repression of modern America than the banking system, a huge heartless machine that attaches itself to you at an early age, and from which there is no escape. You fail to receive a few past-due notices about a $19 payment you missed on that TV you bought at Circuit City, and next thing you know a collector has filed a judgment against you for $3,000 in fees and interest. Or maybe you wake up one morning and your car is gone, legally repossessed by Vulture Inc., the debt-buying firm that bought your loan on the Internet from Chase for two cents on the dollar. This is why people hate Wall Street. They hate it because the banks have made life for ordinary people a vicious tightrope act; you slip anywhere along the way, it’s 10,000 feet down into a vat of razor blades that you can never climb out of.

That, to me, is what Occupy Wall Street is addressing. People don’t know exactly what they want, but as one friend of mine put it, they know one thing: FUCK THIS SHIT! We want something different: a different life, with different values, or at least a chance at different values.

There was a lot of snickering in media circles, even by me, when I heard the protesters talking about how Liberty Square was offering a model for a new society, with free food and health care and so on. Obviously, a bunch of kids taking donations and giving away free food is not a long-term model for a new economic system.

But now, I get it. People want to go someplace for at least five minutes where no one is trying to bleed you or sell you something. It may not be a real model for anything, but it’s at least a place where people are free to dream of some other way for human beings to get along, beyond auctioned “democracy,” tyrannical commerce and the bottom line.

We’re a nation that was built on a thousand different utopian ideas, from the Shakers to the Mormons to New Harmony, Indiana. It was possible, once, for communities to experiment with everything from free love to an end to private property. But nowadays even the palest federalism is swiftly crushed. If your state tries to place tariffs on companies doing business with some notorious human-rights-violator state – like Massachusetts did, when it sought to bar state contracts to firms doing business with Myanmar – the decision will be overturned by some distant global bureaucracy like the WTO. Even if 40 million Californians vote tomorrow to allow themselves to smoke a joint, the federal government will never permit it. And the economy is run almost entirely by an unaccountable oligarchy in Lower Manhattan that absolutely will not sanction any innovations in banking or debt forgiveness or anything else that might lessen its predatory influence.

And here’s one more thing I was wrong about: I originally was very uncomfortable with the way the protesters were focusing on the NYPD as symbols of the system. After all, I thought, these are just working-class guys from the Bronx and Staten Island who have never seen the inside of a Wall Street investment firm, much less had anything to do with the corruption of our financial system.

But I was wrong. The police in their own way are symbols of the problem. All over the country, thousands of armed cops have been deployed to stand around and surveil and even assault the polite crowds of Occupy protesters. This deployment of law-enforcement resources already dwarfs the amount of money and manpower that the government “committed” to fighting crime and corruption during the financial crisis. One OWS protester steps in the wrong place, and she immediately has police roping her off like wayward cattle. But in the skyscrapers above the protests, anything goes.

This is a profound statement about who law enforcement works for in this country. What happened on Wall Street over the past decade was an unparalleled crime wave. Yet at most, maybe 1,500 federal agents were policing that beat – and that little group of financial cops barely made any cases at all. Yet when thousands of ordinary people hit the streets with the express purpose of obeying the law and demonstrating their patriotism through peaceful protest, the police response is immediate and massive. There have already been hundreds of arrests, which is hundreds more than we ever saw during the years when Wall Street bankers were stealing billions of dollars from retirees and mutual-fund holders and carpenters unions through the mass sales of fraudulent mortgage-backed securities.

It’s not that the cops outside the protests are doing wrong, per se, by patrolling the parks and sidewalks. It’s that they should be somewhere else. They should be heading up into those skyscrapers and going through the file cabinets to figure out who stole what, and from whom. They should be helping people get their money back. Instead, they’re out on the street, helping the Blankfeins of the world avoid having to answer to the people they ripped off.

People want out of this fiendish system, rigged to inexorably circumvent every hope we have for a more balanced world. They want major changes. I think I understand now that this is what the Occupy movement is all about. It’s about dropping out, if only for a moment, and trying something new, the same way that the civil rights movement of the 1960s strived to create a “beloved community” free of racial segregation. Eventually the Occupy movement will need to be specific about how it wants to change the world. But for right now, it just needs to grow. And if it wants to sleep on the streets for a while and not structure itself into a traditional campaign of grassroots organizing, it should. It doesn’t need to tell the world what it wants. It is succeeding, for now, just by being something different.

I’m sitting every day on conference calls, knitting caps to keep the Occupiers warm this winter. What are you doing?

*G/Son lost his first baby tooth this week. He’s lately developed an aversion to having his picture taken, but he was happy to have Son take a picture of his gap-toothed smile to send to the grandparents. I admit that it made me cry. He’s growing up so fast and I, well, I am a sentimental old woman who remembers what a cute little baby he was, this now-big boy who reads everything, and prints pictures from my computer, and finds on my iPhone the YouTubes that he wants to watch. This weekend, we are going to visit some nature centers and check on some snakes who were, two weeks ago, about to shed their skins. If we have time, we may run down to the national Mall and see the Capitol or a museum. Or maybe we’ll bake cookies and make some art with stickers and ink stamps. We’ll likely read about the Last Wild Witch and/or King Arthur and/or Redwall. And we’ll talk. Maybe over popcorn, or maybe over apple cider, or maybe over the candied spiced nuts that we stock up on every year at the ren faire, or maybe while he takes a warm bath with his plastic dinosaur toys. But the important thing is that we’ll talk, this child and I who are separated by half a century. We’ll talk, and he’ll teach me about what it’s like to be a five-year-old in the early days of the 21st Century, jazzed by more technology that anyone can comprehend, and I’ll teach him about knowing the Earth, as an old gardener and his link to the past, and we’ll both learn a lot.

May it be so for you.

Picture found here.

An Interview with Joanna Powell Colbert About the Gaian Tarot

I’ve long admired Joanna Powell Colbert’s art work in Sage Woman and I followed, on her blog, her development of a new tarot deck with increased delight. Lewellyn has now published the Gaian Tarot. I’m really careful about acquiring new Tarot decks, on the theory that, otherwise, I’d have an entire houseful. But I’ve been planning to get the Gain Tarot ever since I saw the first few cards on Joanna’s blog.

I’ve been using it for about a month now and I’m really, really loving it. I’ve done a few really important readings for myself with it and found it to be, even for someone who completely expects accurate and helpful information from Tarot, eerily spot-on and helpful. With a new deck, I do a reading first with just the cards and then go to the book. The book, in this case, is quite useful and adds to what I’m able to get out of just the cards. One thing you realize when you read the book is that there’s really not a single extraneous thing in any of the cards. That blossom that you’d hardly noticed isn’t just there for decoration; the book explains the symbolism behind that particular plant. It’s rare for a Tarot book to be as important as the cards, but Joanna’s done an amazing job of making this book really worthwhile.

There’s a lot to like in this deck: the emphasis on the natural world, the cultural diversity, the lack of arcane and/or Abrahamic symbolism, the powerful women, beautifully-portrayed animals and plants. Joanna generally follows the Rider-Waite-Smith framework, although with some diversions, all of which are well-explained in the book. It’s a bit Pacific-Northwest centric, but that doesn’t bother me, as I believe it’s important for Witches and Pagans to be grounded in our own watersheds and bioregions. In short, this is a Tarot deck that I’m going to actually use. A lot.

I recently had a chance to ask Joanna some questions about her new deck. (Full disclosure: I received a review copy of the Gaian Tarot, cards and book. I’ve added links to certain terms mentioned in Joanna’s answers and pictures of the cards we discussed.)

Joanna, I asked Tarot what one question I should be sure to ask you and I pulled The Emperor.

How would you answer that question?

It’s a misprint! I revisioned and renamed The Emperor as The Builder. He is partnered with The Gardener, who is traditionally called The Empress. This card is correctly titled in the companion book, but it is an error on the card itself in the Llewellyn edition of the deck. Several people, including me, proofread the cards and we all missed it. It’s actually quite important, because my Builder is a man who cooperates with the natural world and with women, instead of having a patriarchal power-over attitude.

Here’s what I wrote in the book about him: “The Builder is strong and comfortable in his own authority. Yet unlike most historic emperors, he does not destroy life for his own power or benefit. Inspired by the Green Man, the spirit of the wildwood whose face he has carved into the post, he works in harmony with nature and honors Mother Earth’s animals and resources. . . As an architect of civilization, our Builder creates networks and systems that enable people to live and work together, sharing resources and creating a supportive, sustainable community.”

The Emperor/Builder card is one example of how I revisioned the traditional tarot to create a vision of a peaceful, sustainable world.

What spiritual advice do you have for someone thinking of making their own tarot deck?

Follow your own inner guidance. Come up with a unique vision for your deck, and stay true to it. Make sure it comes from your heart and the promptings of Spirit. Don’t worry about whether or not your idea is commercial enough for a publisher. You can always publish it yourself. Do it for the adventure, for the creative self-expression, and for the spiritual growth you’ll experience as you create the deck. Don’t do it for the acclaim or the money. And don’t give up!

Joanna, please fill in the blank: If I’d known then what I know now, I’d have ___________.

I’d have used an artistic medium that is less time-intensive than photorealistic colored pencil painting! (There are between 50 and 100 hours in each piece, which is one reason it took me nine years to finish the deck.)

I know that parents aren’t supposed to have favorites, but what’s your favorite card in your deck? In the Rider Waite? In Motherpeace?

In the Gaian, the Guardian of Water.

She is the “Goddess” card in the deck for me. I have a particular affinity for the Ocean Mother, in all the ways she manifests around the world in various cultures. I love this piece because I think it perfectly captures the compassion of Tara and Kwan Yin, pouring out the waters of mercy upon a troubled world.

In the Rider Waite Smith deck, I’d have to say it’s a toss-up between the High Priestess, the Empress, and the Strength card. They all show such strong, numinous women!

I love the Motherpeace Star card.

Just by looking at it, I can feel the woman’s peace and bliss as she soaks in the hot spring, letting the rain fall on her face. The 9 of Cups is very similar, except that it shows women in community — it has a similar feel to my 6 of Water.

I also love the Motherpeace Death card — strong, simple and powerful.

I’ve never been able to relate to The Hierophant. But I love The Teacher in your deck.

How did you come up with her and why did you not go with The Hierophant?

It’s interesting that you call the Teacher a “her,” because I intended the figure to be a “him.” However I’ve discovered that many people see the Teacher as a woman, and I have to say I love the ambiguity.

I worked with Birth cards for many years as a tarot teacher. (Birth cards and other personal cards are the topic of Mary Greer‘s new book Who Are You in the Tarot? published by Red Wheel/Weiser.) It was always problematic for my women students to have the Emperor or the Hierophant as a Birth card, because both are so patriarchal in most tarot decks. When I studied the Eleusinian Mysteries, I discovered that the title “hierophant” means “revealer of the mysteries,” and my whole attitude towards the card changed. The image on most tarot cards shows oppressive religious authority, and that’s the shadow side of the card. The more positive side of the card is a true spiritual teacher who has the best interests of his or her students at heart — or even better, finding your own spiritual teacher within. So I wanted to show a Teacher who is humble and simple. And I wanted to show him surrounded by plant and animal allies, so that there is even more ambiguity. Is the human figure the teacher or the student? Is Coyote the Teacher? How about the lowly Dandelion?

So when you get the Teacher card in a reading, I like to say that it’s time to be ready for a spiritual teacher to appear in your life, or to step up to the plate and become a spiritual teacher yourself. I believe that Mother Nature Herself is our best teacher, and so this card also directs us to spend time in the natural world, learning directly from the Earth. If the card turns up as a reversal or in a challenging position in a spread, it can be read as the traditional Hierophant — rigid church doctrine or an inflexible belief system.

One of the cards I like best in your deck is the Five of Earth (a card that, in its Rider Waite form used, years ago, to show up in almost every reading I did for myself).

In your view, how does your card capture the meaning behind the Rider Waite version and how is it different?

The Fives in the Minors are all cards of struggle in the Rider Waite Smith deck, as in many other decks. Since Pentacles correspond to the element of Earth, the struggle is with material things — usually money and health. The RWS shows two beggars (probably homeless) in the snow, huddled outside a church with a brightly lit stained glass window. The traditional meaning of this card is usually ill-health, poverty, survival issues, suffering — with no one reaching out a helping hand. It can also mean a dark night of the soul. It’s a pretty bleak card.

In my version, we see a hiker lost in the woods during a storm. So we have the same survival-issue setup. But this hiker is prepared for the hard times. He has the inner resources that will see him through, and the survival skills necessary to wait out the storm and make it out of the woods. He knows how to build a debris hut for shelter. So even though he is cold and uncomfortable, he is not likely to die during the storm. He’ll find his way out of the woods once the storm has passed.

So the message of the Gaian Five of Earth is to develop your survival skills during the good times (which might include things like a daily gratitude practice) that will see you through the bad times. And if you see others in trouble, lend a helping hand. Ask yourself: What kind of shelter in the storm can you create to help you through the rough times?

The imagery in this card was inspired by my friend Chris Chisholm of Wolf Camp & College (http://www.wolfcamp.com/) who teaches primitive living skills. Making a debris hut is one of the earth skills he teaches his students in his wilderness survival courses.

So the Gaian card doesn’t just leave you floundering in a survival situation, with no hope. Instead, it points you towards your own inner resources, and suggests that you can indeed make it out of the woods.

Which card gave you the most difficulty?

I struggled a bit with the Ten of Fire, because it shows a forest going up in flames.

All of the Tens are transition cards; I like to call them mini-Death cards. But the other three Tens at least point to rebirth in the next cycle. You have to read the text that goes with the Ten of Fire in order to find the hope. I wrote about the necessity of fire in the life cycle of a forest, because it clears away undergrowth and debris. There are some species like the Lodgepole Pine whose cones need exposure to high temperatures in order to release its seeds. But you don’t see that in the imagery of the card.

The animals in your cards are all lovely. Where did you you get the idea for the Five of Air? The Two of Water?

The Five of Air was inspired by a wilderness kayaking trip that my husband went on, in Alaska.

He came home with a riveting story (and photos!) of seeing two eagles fight to the death, not far away from him. The eagle that won the battle actually held the other one under the water until it drowned. It was a year when there was an abundance of eagles — perhaps too many. A naturalist friend of ours suggested that it was a fight over territory. I was influenced by the Motherpeace 5 of Swords, with its meaning of gossip and hurtful words. I thought that eagles fighting over territory was an apt metaphor for situations where we get into turf wars or arguments that become nasty. The affirmation I wrote for the card is: “I defend my own place in the world without resorting to bitterness or hurtful words.”

The Two of Water is based on a photo of an acquaintance and her dog.

I “recognized” my Two of Water when I saw the photo. It was taken by her son, and they graciously gave me permission to use it as a reference. I added the heart chakra mandala on her chest and the waterfall in the background, but the figure of the woman and the dog are true to life. They really do find that much joy in each other! When I saw the photo, I thought: “Oh this is a perfect twist on the 2 of Cups, because it shows an open heart, joy and love between species.” How perfect for a deck that celebrates the natural world!

What’s next for you artistically?

I am tossing around the idea of an oracle deck focused on plants and animals, with no humans in it. But so far it is just an idea. I went on a writers retreat in July, and received a “divine download” for a new illustrated book. The working title is “Reading the Book of Nature.” It’s a series of illustrated meditations based on practices I’ve collected from many sources over the years on how to create a deeper relationship with the natural world. I cover some of this same material in my workshops. I’m very excited about it!

Pictures found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Conversations with Columbia: Part Five

This post is the final in a series begun in July, concerning my conversation with the Goddess Columbia. You can read the earlier installments here, here, here, and here.

My final question to Columbia was: “What do you want from your devotees?” Using the Wildwood Tarot, I pulled the Eight of Vessels: Rebirth.* The Wildwood Tarot book says:

Meaning: By looking at the past, acknowledging our mistakes and learning from them, we grow and attain new wisdom. The future waits to be unfolded by our positive action as we become “The Eighth Vessel” and receive powerful rejuvinating energies of rebirth.

Reading Points: Rejoice! A time of renewal and potential is here. The cycle of rebirth and healing brings inner peace and confidence. Once you accept that all the blessings and gifts of life can be your or, indeed, already belong to you, the fear of asking is gone. It is time to shed the skin of the past and accept and utilize the overflowing potential of the present that is freely available to you. Do not be afraid to make mistakes. Do not be afraid to ask: “Why not me?” See potential where others see barriers. See challenge as others see impossible odds. Apply all that you have learned through experience and toil to any problem and you will not fail. You have striven to survive and absorb insight; you have endured loss to retain your integrity. All of these trials have made you stronger, wiser, and more effective. Drink of this new fountain of opportunity and renew your life objectives. You have endured the past; its gifts were hard won. [N]ow the chalenge of the future unfolds. Grasp it and shape it in your hands as you would have it manifest in your life.

Which is a lot to consider.

What I hear Columbia saying through the five Tarot cards that I pulled is this:

She’s the American manifestation of an ancient and significant Goddess, now the genius locii of my city and this nation. She’s more deeply connected to the green, wilderness parts of my city and of this nation than many suspect. She “the goddess of the land, sometimes expressed as Sovereignty” and validates the leadership of legitimate government, bringing them their land’s version of the sacred sword and the Hallows of Britain. She’s a symbol of the “power and protection of the land.”

On the other hand, She’s still young, still ecstatic in her dance upon This Place, still performing her initiation ritual, still overwhelmed with bounty and connection. In spite of Her connection to older Goddesses, Columbia’s “freedom of spirit marks [her] out as an original and unique personality” one with a tendency to invasiveness in territories not her own.

What Columbia wants from her devotees, it seems to me, is a period of renewal and rebirth in which, using the wisdom that we’ve gained from prior generations, we accept her blessings and stop acting from fear. She wants her devotees to step up, to be unafraid of asking, “Why not me?” especially when Columbia’s principles (liberty, freedom, democracy, justice) are threatened. Columbia wants us to grasp the future “and shape it in your hands as you would have it manifest in your life.”

Makes sense.

I plan to do future trance workings to get to know Columbia even better. I feel the need to do them around significant American holidays, and I won’t be using Columbus Day, for, maybe, obvious reasons. Hopefully, the Thanksgiving Holiday (which I do consider an almost uniquely American holiday) will allow me some more time. In the meanwhile, your interpretations of the cards, in comments, are always welcome.

*This Wildwood Tarot card is a significant departure from the traditional Rider-Waite-based Eight of Cups, which shows an incomplete set of cups stacked beside flowing water and a person setting off in search of something more. I think it can be significant when, in a Tarot reading, the card selected varies from the traditional card. Here, there is a sense of more being avaliable, but it’s not based upon an incomplete or lacking past; it’s more abundant and optimistic than that. Of course, the card reminds me immediately of the Potomac River, which flows through Washington, D.C. and which I very much associate with Columbia.

Picture found here.

Conversations with Columbia: Part Four

It’s fascinating to me, in so many ways, how Paganism has grown and changed in the few short decades since, just about the time that I was born, Doreen Valiente and Gerald Gardner reintroduced it to the Western world. In some ways, the Witchcraft that I practice today, on the banks of the Potomac River, is as different from Gardnerian Wicca as Gerald Gardner’s practice was from rituals enacted by the builders of Stonehenge (and we know very little about their practice. But I’m willing to bet it had no borrowings from Crowley, although Crowley may, or may not, have stumbled upon some of theirs. And round and round and round we go.) And, yet, there is something profoundly ancient and connected that everyone feels when they set the soles of their feet and the far-focused cells of their eyes upon THE LAND. And, at that level, what I do in 21st Century America — what Valiente did in 20th Century England, what my great-great-many-times-great grandmother did in a cave in ancient Sweden — has always been “the same” religion (even when, for my Methodist grandmother, it took place in a small church at the foot of the Rockies, making music on an old and wheezey organ).

One way that Paganism is growing/changing/morphing/transmuting is to become, in many ways, more local. If you read books from the 1970s/1980s, you’ll see a Paganism focused upon either the Old Goddesses/Gods of Britain or upon some other particular pantheon, often Kermetic or Greco-Roman. And my own personal opinion, which is mine, is that those Goddesses/Gods aren’t going anywhere. They’re growing stronger and more present and will continue to be so — as will the Hindu/Buddhist pantheons, and the increasingly modernized loa out of Africa, and a resurgence of some of the Goddesses/Gods of the American SouthWest/South American pantheon. And, that’s the thing. Earth is crammed, not a someone once said, with Heaven, but with Goddesses/Gods. But for a growing group of modern Pagans, Earth is crammed with local Goddesses/Gods, with Goddesses/Gods adapted to local practice.

And, for a growing group of modern Pagans, the Goddess Columbia is coming to represent that devotion to local practice. Columbia is a modern (as in, from the last 300 years or so) American Goddess. While her roots run back to Libertas and forwards to Marianne, (and, as my trance work with her has shown, back to the sovereignty of the land that the ancient cave bears embodied for Arhturian England), she exists today as a symbol of what is and can be good about America.

On Independence Day 2011, I did a series of trance workings with Columbia to learn more about her. I live only a few miles from her giant statue (entitled Freedom Triumphant in War and Peace) atop the United States Capitol. I see her every morning as I come across the Potomac River, leaving my Witch’s cottage and putting on the robes of a lawyer. She stands silhouetted against every sunset I see when I leave work on the Hill or dinner with friends. More than that, her statue stands on my altar, I come into sacred space meditating upon the base of her shield and her sandaled feet in the waters of the Potomac and the office buildings and bodegas of my City. And I felt that I needed to know her better, to get to know Who She Is, to learn, as I still need to do, her story.

I’ve recounted in prior posts how she revealed herself to me: Green Woman (High Priestess), Cave Bear (Queen of Pentacles), Ecstasy (Five of Cups).

I understood Columbia as Cave Bear (Often linked to Arthurian legend, the Bear remains a symbol of the power and protection of the land. Reading Points: Richness and plenty surround you. Your bounty and welcoming nature make you popular with all. Many depend on you, and your natural sensuality makes you powerfully attractive to others. Pragmatism and generosity open doorways at every point).

And I understood Columbia as Green Woman (In the Arthurian tradition, she validates the kingship of Arthur by bringing him the sacred sword, and establishes him as the guardian of the Hallows of Britain, sometimes appearing as the Lady of the Lake, who fosters . . . Arthur himself as well as the young hero Lancelot. In other stories, she manifests as the Flower Bride, sought after by more than one of Arthur’s great knights and offering the deep bonds of matrimony and joy to those with whom she shares her bounty. At its heart, her sacred role is the initiator of the human individual into the realm of the Wildwood.).

Columbia surprised me when she showed up as Ecstasy: a young woman still in the full thrill of her powers, lost in the dance, still as much used by the Power as she uses the Power. I blogged about my encounter with Her as Ecstasy here.

As I often do when I pull a Tarot card that surprises me, I sat for a long time with Columbia as Ecstasy. Then, I asked: “Really? That surprises me. What else can you tell me about yourself as a young person, about yourself as Ecstasy?” Then, I pulled another card. I pulled Stoat: Page of Bows. (In the Wild Wood Tarot, Bows correspond to Wands). Here’s what “the book” says:

MEANING: With a fierce hunting instinct and its ability to live underground, combined with the changing colour of its fur from white to red and its black tail (the three sacred colors of the ancient world), the Stoat has strong mystical links to the sovereignity of the land.

READIND POINTS: Often, you are seen as an emissary and, as such, your gifts are widely recognized and honored. Your ability to perceive the truth in almost any matter is vastly helpful and your freedom of spirit marks you out as an original and unique personality.

Wikipedia says that the stoat: “[I]s listed among the 100 “world’s worst alien invasive species”. And, “The root word for ‘stoat’ is likely either the Belgic word stout, meaning ‘bold,’ or the Gothic word stautan, meaning ‘to push.'” Sounds right to me.

So, there you are. Sovereignity of the Land tied into the youthful spirit of a Page. Freedom of Spirit tied into something original. A tendency to invasiveness. Columbia could hardly be more clear.

This sweet Goddess is still finding herself, finding her followers, finding a way to Be in a Land to which She was transported, where she wears a blanket, but also blood, from the First People here (as the Goddesses/Gods of Britain wear blood from the First Peoples there whom they pushed under the Hills). And, when you think about it, Aint’ that America?

A devotee of this Goddess, I’m figuring it out along with Her and I cherish her willingness to admit that She’s still working it out with a rattle, dancing in a circumscribed circle. I’m going to have to spend some time figuring out what this means in terms of Her worship, in terms of what it means for her erstwhile priestess on the banks of the Potomac. What are your thoughts?

I have one more post in this series. Stay tuned.

Picture found here.

Conversations with Columbia — Part the Third

“‘Only connect!’ That was the whole of her sermon. . . . Live in fragments no longer.” ~ E.M. Forster

More than anything else, being a Witch, for me, is about connection. Connection to the Earth, the Elements, my landbase, my watershed, and all the entities (corporeal and non) that share them with me. Connection to the Goddesses and Gods. Connection to the Web of All. And because, like most American Pagans, I live in an urban area, I work on connecting — being in relationship with — my city. My city is Washington, the District of Columbia (often called D.C. for short). As I’ve discussed before, part of my practice is centered on Columbia, the patron Goddess of my city. She’s a fairly young Goddess (as Goddesses go), with fairly old roots. She’s closely related to the Roman Goddess Libertas.

One thing that Columbia doesn’t have yet is a well-known story of Her life. We know that Isis married Osiris, reassembled his body when it was dismembered, sang Osiris back to life, and conceived Horus. We know that Persephone was gathering flowers with Her friends when Hades abducted Her and took Her to the Underworld. Her mother, Demeter, wanted Her daughter back and refused to let anything grow on Earth until Zeus brought Persephone back to Earth, although Persephone returns each Autumn to the Underworld. We know that Quan Yin’s father wanted Her to marry a rich man, but She wanted to be a nun and live in the temple. Eventually, Her father had Her executed and She descended to one of the more unpleasant realms of the dead. There, Her kindness turned the realm into a paradise. She then became a Bodhisattva and hears all the cries of the world. But we don’t know much about Columbia’s life.

So, on July 4th, I did a magick working and meditation to learn more about Columbia. I’ve recounted the first two questions that I asked Her and Her answers here and here. The third question that I asked Columbia, was what one thing She’d like people to know about Her. I pulled the Five of Vessels (Ecstasy) card from the Wild Wood Tarot. In a traditional Tarot deck, the Five of Cups card shows bereavement, disillusion, repentance, regret. There’s none of that in the Five of Vessels. Here’s the card.

Picture found here.

The Wild Wood Tarot book says:

Meaning: The beat of the universal drum is heard in the soul and it is healthy to surrender for a time and to join in the dance. Energy is renewed by bathing in the cosmic life force of exultant and sincere ecstasy.

Reading Points: Many avenues are open to the Wanderer to commune intimately and ecstatically with great beauty or to be intoxicated by an intensely personal connection with the divine. Music, meditation, art, love, dancing or a profound sexual experience can inspire and induce the sacred trance of enlightening ecstasy. This powerful and euphoric awareness is utterly natural and a well-established aspect of shamanic traditions. States of ecstatic trance can sometimes be triggered by extreme physical exertion or the quiescence of the superficial consciousness, so as to gain access to a deeper and more profound comprehension of everything. Sadly, the concept of spiritual ecstasy has been damaged by the common use of drugs that imitate (for a short time) the endorphin rush of an authentic and natural ecstasy. The ecstatic trance has been described as a delightful possession or a mysterious union with a timeless exuberance. The fusing of the spiritual being with a profound and loving universal mind elevates the soul to the space between spaces, where poetry breathes through you and exultation and stillness effortlessly coexist.

What I see when I look at the card is a very young woman, maybe even a teen-aged girl. She’s completely given herself over to the ecstasy of some ritual (maybe initiation?). The place where she’s dancing looks a bit like a dried river bed. Is she doing a working for rain? Although her dance is confined to the space of a pentacle (which mirrors the five-pointed stars that adorn Columbia’s helmet in her statue in Washington, D.C.), she’s one with the whirling stars of the Milky Way and with her own inner vision. It reminds me of Maria Montessori’s teaching that, “From the greatest discipline comes the greatest freedom.” She carries a thyrus, often associated with Dionysis, symbolizing her ecstasy, and a rattle with a face, perhaps to provide rhythm, symbolizing her discipline, for her dance. Again, discipline and freedom, upon one tether, and running beautiful, together.

The answer to my question seems to me to be that Columbia wants people to know how much fun She’s having, how ecstatic She is, and the deep ecstasy available to Her devotees. And that She’s still young, still able to dance all night under the stars, still in love with It All. And, that She moves and has influence within the correct sphere, space, ritual.

What does the card say to you about Her? Are there deities or land spirits you associate with the place where you live? Do you have a relationship with any of them? What are their stories?

Picture of Columbia found here.

Thanks to Medusa for telling me about Selena Fox’s great article on Libertas, linked above.