Estimated Reading Time: 13 minutes
Welcome to the Tarot Blog Hop!
An international group of tarotists are all writing on the same topic and then linking to each other so that the reader can hop from one blog to the next, seeing all the permutations and facets that the topic inspired in different writers.
I provided the theme for this hop, Awaken the Heart. For more information, please refer to my write-up on the Master List page.
Awaken the Heart
Thespis is famous for being the first person to not tell a story. He did not say, “This god did this” but rather, “I am he, I did this.” He invoked a god, a man, a character, something other than himself.
Something beyond himself.
He stepped forward
and said, “I am God.”
Love, like acting, buds, blooms and wilts on the heady exhilaration of becoming one with that which is different, of connecting, striving to understand, of losing oneself until we must again search
to find what we once knew was
The most basic love story ever written is
boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl.
This is the story of Tristan and Iseult, Orpheus and Eurydice, Romeo and Juliet. These stories tell us that there is something attainable but untenable about love.
(See my post on the Denver Tarot Convention Blog for the story of Inanna, in which girl meets boy, girl gets boy, girl loses boy, girl is pretty much OK with it and goes about her business of ruling the heavens.)
I am a huge fan of Joseph Campbell and base much of my work on his writings, particularly The Hero with a Thousand Faces. I have found that by associating each chapter of that book with a card, and then integrating qabalistic pathworking, mythology, and astrology (this work is the primary focus of my classes Mythology of the Tarot and Journey to the Ultimate Boon), I can dwell deeply in vast worlds of nuance, insight, and meaning.
Our focus for this topic centers on the time of year, sun in Aquarius, expressed by the tarot’s Star card and the 6 of Swords.
- Woman kneeling with a knee on land, a foot on the water, pouring water from two jugs, one pouring onto land, one on water, combination of opposites, including wet and dry, feminine and masculine, life and death, etc. (Place 157).
- This is very similar to the standard image of the zodiacal water-bearer (Aquarius).
- Star will have seven points in correspondence with qabalistic symbolism, representing Venus (7, Netzach, the goal of the path of Tzaddi, moving from Yesod to Netzach) (Greer, 170).
- Star is more frequently shown with eight points, going back to Visconti Sforza; the 8-pointed star is a symbol of Astarte/Ishtar/Inanna.
- Bird is a symbol of the soul (Greer, 170; Place 157), and the bird on the tree represents the ascent of the human soul to the highest level of the Tree of Life, Kether (Greer, 170), the highest aspect of the Divine that we mere mortals can perceive.
- But when shown as an Ibis (a wader whose long beak can be used for fishing) is Thoth or Hermes (intellect), and sitting on the tree represents the quieting of the mind (PFC 171).
The chapter of The Hero with a Thousand Faces that corresponds to the Star card is The Magic Flight. On the surface, it is when the hero steals the object of his quest, or otherwise falls foul of the gods or demons, and as a result flees and is pursued. But ultimately, this aspect of the monomyth is symbolic not only of fleeing that which can eternally destroy us, but ultimately returning from beyond the veil of death with memory intact.
In his chapter, Campbell discusses romantic tragedies. He says that these stories hold out the hope of return from
“beyond the terrible threshold.”
It is human fault—looking back too soon—that “makes impossible the open interrelationship between the worlds”—therefore, we reason, if we can avoid fault, we can achieve this desired success.
Qabalistically, the Star card is associated with the Hebrew letter tzaddi, which means fishhook. It is the first letter of the word tzadik, the righteous one, and its shape looks like a man kneeling in prayer, hands clasped and raised towards heaven.
The Path of Tzaddi, the 28th Path, links Yesod (the 9th sephirah, titled “Foundation,” colored violet, corresponding to the moon, the etheric body, the genitals) with Netzach (the 7th sephirah, titled “Victory,” colored green, corresponding to the planet Venus, the emotions, the left hip).
Both Paul Foster Case and Joseph Campbell discuss in relationship to this step of the journey the practice of yogic (union) meditation. Case calls it “mental angling” playing off the meaning of tzaddi as fishhook. He says, “when we stop thinking Truth unveils herself to us” (171). Perhaps Campbell’s Magic Flight is a metaphor for striving toward the cessation of mental activity that is the goal of the Buddhist approach to meditation—the pursuit is the activity of thoughts, the return home is cessation, the elixir becomes the “slow-burning rapture” that arises from attention focused on the energetic centers. “The meditations of the postulant have to be adjusted to his progress,…until the moment comes for the prepared spirit to step alone beyond” (202).
What is beyond?
Let’s look at the other card assigned seasonally—The Six of Swords, representative of the second decan of Aquarius as ruled by Mercury.
My teacher taught me the Six of Swords as “sailing to Avalon.” When King Arthur was mortally wounded, he was placed in a boat and sent to the Island of Apples, the land of eternal youth, where he would heal and return to rule again, the Once and Future King.
Many people look at this card and see the churning water in the bottom right corner, compare it to the still water beyond the boat, and say that the card represents moving from rough waters to smooth. I agree that the card can signify an improvement or advancement and accompanying ease, but I believe that the apparent disturbance to the water is due to the motion of the ferryman’s pole.
In fact, it brings up an interesting conundrum, regardless of which interpretation might be more accurate or what the artist intended: movement is dependent on imbalance. The faster you are moving, the greater the wind or wake. As someone explained it to me once, you might feel very stable, comfortable, and secure with both feet firmly planted. But to move forward, you have to lift a foot—and precarious imbalance ensues. Okay, maybe not really, it’s just walking, but watch a baby learn to walk. Or think of learning something brand-new that was a stretch for you and remember how awkward and unnatural it felt.
These ideas of imbalance, however, contradict our topic, and indeed the astrological correspondence of the card. We were asked to examine how the still point at the center of the fixed causes germination and the awakening of the heart.
Imbalance is contrary to stillness.
This card is associated with the second decan of Aquarius, and today marks the center degree of that fixed decan of a fixed sign. Today is the midpoint between solstice and equinox. Midwinter.
This middle third of Aquarius is ruled by Mercury. Mercury is hardly still—he is known as the fleetest of the gods and rules travel as well as communication and commerce. So our swift-footed god of the highways and byways is caught momentarily at the crossroads of stillness and movement.
Gareth Knight, in his chapter on the Path of Tzaddi, discusses the confusion between the horizontal pole and the vertical pole—the vertical pole representing the union of opposites that ascend—the individual yearning for the unity of the Divine; while the horizontal pole is the pole of sexuality, lover yearning for lover (Vol II, 42). Knight claims that all unrequited love and dashed romances are the result, sometimes stemming from a past life, of searching for the vertical axis while engaging in horizontal polarity. (Try explaining that next time you’re working the psychic line and “will he come back to me” calls.)
The Path of Tzaddi, which links Yesod, the sephirah associated with the magical image of a strong, beautiful naked man, to Netzach, whose magical image is a beautiful naked woman with unbound hair crowned with roses, could easily be confused with or simply devolve into a horizontal approach.
Mercury is standing at the crossroads,
but perhaps the cross of the horizontal and vertical axes.
Mercury is generally associated with the vertical movement, rising up to the mountain of the gods and down into the underworld. It is man that wanders the horizontal roads, to and fro, neither ascending nor descending. What if this astrological still point illustrated by pouring water or movement across water is about switching poles—from the horizontal to the vertical?
If you’ve ever placed a seed on wet paper towels to watch it sprout, or sprouted seeds or beans in a jar in your kitchen, you’ve probably noticed that the seed grows two directions—the root forms below while the stem grows upward. The season of Brighid, of the germinating seed in the ground, is the time of equal movement in two directions at once. During the height of the year, the above ground parts of the plant will take off like wild fire with flowers and fruit and seeds. Then later at the end of the growing season the roots will get all the focus. But now, root and stem both grow, evenly, opposite.
Each reaches beyond.
In an article I published about three years ago, I argued that the Chariot card when considered from the astrological point of view as associated with Cancer, which marks the beginning of the summer solstice, is about turning, the tropos of the Sun, of reaching the limit of the outer edge and beginning the return.
Perhaps the sign of Aquarius, and in particular our fixed center card, is about discontinuing the hustle and bustle of horizontal movement and, standing still, turning our face up to the sun, and wondering, briefly, what would be possible if we could grow upward.
And perhaps knowing, that like the seed, the vertical pole is traversed by extending both root and stem.
The still point of the center of the fixed stimulates germination and the awakening of the heart.
This time of year also finds the beginning of the Lenten season in Christianity. The crucifixion and resurrection of Christ takes place after the vernal equinox, but the preparatory season, the season of fasting and penitence in preparation for the new spiritual life, the connection with the divine, begun with the sacrament of baptism, the pouring of holy water to wash away sin, starts around this time.
Considering Arthur as a metaphor for Christ, it becomes apparent that death is needed before resurrection; the mortal wound, and requisite time for healing, is needed for Arthur to realize his full potential as king.
Like the spiritual adept, death must be engaged for spiritual life to begin. In Buddhism, this is represented by the vertical pole—the tree that the Buddha sat under when he realized enlightenment.
and the remembered return from that bourn,
is the birth
of the spiritual life.
The Path of Tzaddi, the righteous one.
The magic flight.
And back again.
For King Arthur, it is the necessity of his coming to terms with his mortality and his divine right to rule.
The prepared spirit whose time has come to step alone beyond.
The sword in the stone. The Lady of the Lake. Where did King Arthur’s sword come from? First one, then the other. That’s how it works. We resolve contradiction and, relegating confusion to inaccuracy, we fail to grasp truth. The sword in the stone. The Lady of the Lake. What if, perhaps, in this fractured telling of the tale, the stone was the lake. The sword in the stone is the stillness of the center of the fixed. The sword from the lake is the ascent from below to above. What if the stone is the lake is the crossroads, the transition
the choice of Arthur to switch axes, or not a choice at all but the inevitability that once claimed from the waves of the rock Arthur could no longer live a horizontal life but must be the ascendant king.
Who is the child in the boat? How has this child plucked sword after sword from the water? Six swords. Six is the number of the qabalistic sphere of Tiphareth, the Sun, the imagination, the heart.
Aquarius is not a touchy-feely sign. It is abstract, innovative, idealistic. Its mind soars with freedom, but it does not feel simple affection in a relational way. It is not horizontal. How does this pivotal degree of the fixed decan of the fixed sign of abstract thought awaken the heart?
It is the yearning for the divine—the ascent of the vertical axis.
But we fall.
We strive for the Divine.
We yearn for our heart.
And inexperienced, imbalanced, we lose our footing and striving toward Tiphareth we tip over to Netzach.
And we fail.
And we lose our love to the depths of hell.
Joseph Campbell tells a story of Izanagi and Izanami.
Izanagi and Izanami were brother and sister, husband and wife, the eighth such pair at the beginning of creation. They married, but their union resulted in a deformed child.
They set him adrift in a boat.
The child’s mother, Izanami, fled to the land of darkness. Izanagi, her brother-husband, followed her in his grief.
But she had eaten the food of the underworld and could never return. Izanagi followed her to hell, where he lit a fire and saw by its light her rotting corpse covered in maggots.
Horrified, Izanagi fled, rolling a stone across the mouth of the underworld, sealing his love in her grave and dissolving their union.
And he ran.
And there was nowhere that he could run that he did not see the ghastly image of his beloved.
And he went to the sea, and he poured water over himself, trying to wash the memories off.
And from his laving was born the Moon.
And from his laving was born the Sun.
And from his laving was born the Storm.
And from his laving was born the ritual of purification. The preparation for connecting with the divine.
And he fled the horizontal.
And he looked up to the vertical.
And the deformed child drifts in the reed boat.
And the memories don’t dissolve.
And the heart breaks.
And like the cracked seed, the heart sprouts vertically.
Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. New York: MJF, 1949. Print.
Case, Paul Foster. The Tarot, a Key to the Wisdom of the Ages. New York: Macoy Pub., 1975. Print.
Ginsburgh, Yitzchak. “Tzadik: The Faith of the Righteous One.” The Hebrew Letters: The Mystical Significance of the Hebrew Letters. Gal Einai Institute, 2008. February 4, 2016. < http://www.inner.org/hebleter/tzadik.htm>.
Greer, John Michael. Paths of Wisdom: A Guide to the Magical Cabala. Loughborough, Leicestershire: Thoth Publications, 2007. Print.
Knight, Gareth. A Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism. Boston: Weiser, 2001.
Place, Robert M. The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2005. Print.
Joy Vernon is widely recognized by tarot professionals as an expert tarot teacher and respected community leader. With over twenty years’ experience teaching energetic and esoteric modalities, Joy brings expertise and practiced familiarity to her specialty of esoteric tarot, which layers astrological and qabalistic symbolism onto the traditional tarot structure. Under her leadership, the Denver Tarot Meetup has grown into the most active and one of the largest tarot-specific meetups in the world. Joy works as a psychic and teacher at Isis Books. To learn more, please visit JoyVernon.com.
© 2016 by Joy Vernon. All rights reserved.