I’m currently taking a class on The Lyric Essay at Lighthouse Writers Workshop. This is the first draft of my essay, which was workshopped in class on Monday (I made only a few small edits since then). I will re-write it and post the next draft for you to see and compare. Enjoy!
A beautiful woman, cascading blonde hair, yellow gown, an eagle shield in one arm, a water lily and five long stems of wheat in her other arm. In the background a waterfall crashes, green meadows burgeon into bushes and trees framing a clear blue sky. Next to her grows the wheat, in front of the crescent moon a pomegranate sits.
The question posed was, why does the Empress have one foot on the moon and one foot on the earth?
Was I curious? Did I ask my teacher? Or did he pose the question?
What I remember is that he told me to make a color Xerox, blown up to fit an 8 ½ x 11 sheet, and hang it on my wall to meditate on it. I made a frame out of blue construction paper. Was that my idea or his?
If there was an answer in any of this, I failed to see it.
That was twenty-three, twenty-four years ago.
A few weeks ago, I was walking to the bus stop after class. I needed a topic for an essay. I came to a building that had a concrete curb around it—it looked like they had built up the foundation to even out the placement on a hill. On this curb were small bumpers set every couple of feet. My first thought was that these bumpers were to protect something that might run into this high curb. But it was at the inside edge of the sidewalk, what was going to bump into it? And the bumpers weren’t rubber or plastic, which might ease a crash, they were metal. They would do as much or more damage than the curb itself. Just ahead of me was a skateboarder, stopped, texting. This person held the board in place with one foot. I know what these are—these are anti-skateboarding embellishments, I thought. It made sense.
The boarder texted.
One foot on the skateboard, one foot touching the earth.
I remembered working in the Visual Arts/Art in Public Places department at the Lincoln Center in Fort Collins. When I started there was a running joke about anti-skateboard embellishments on the art. Did I discover the right answer for the question of the concrete curb? Or did a random juxtaposition of images and memories bring me to the completely wrong conclusion?
Where do answers come from?
I teach metaphysics—tarot, astrology, qabalah, esotericism. People seem to be under the misapprehension that teachers have an arsenal of answers at hand. The problem with this is that everything I’ve ever learned, the really important stuff, I learned through questioning, through holding a curiosity, not being attached to right or wrong, to letting insight arise, to letting inspiration radiate. I have no idea if any answer I’ve ever found is right.
Anti-skateboarding embellishments? I guess I could call the building and ask.
The meaning of the Path of Daleth on the Tree of Life? Who am I going to call, God?
Students think that asking me will ease the pain, the inner conflict of not knowing. But that is what must be cultivated. Every time we tag it and bag it we lose a part of ourselves, no, that’s not it, we lose a part of our connection to the Divine. We close the door, saying, yep, got it, no mystery, just answers.
Reside in uncertainty, one foot on the moon of imagination, one foot on the earth of solidity.
I had a student last year who was addicted to answers. Every class she had a list of questions for me. I told her about finding her own answers, but students like that always have an excuse for why they need me to do it for them. “I have my thoughts on this, I just want to compare them to yours.” I repeated over and over in class that doing the work was what opened the intuition so that insight could arise. Still she kept asking me.
Then we began the qabalah class.
We learned the ten sephiroth and I explained the presence of the quasi-sephirah Da’ath. Da’ath means Knowledge. It has a position on the Tree, but according to the oldest texts, is not counted.
“Ten Sefirot of Nothingness/ ten and not nine/ ten and not eleven.”
It didn’t make sense, she said, the qabalah I taught (she was Jewish and I taught Hermetic qabalah). Wisdom and Understanding depend on Knowledge, so Knowledge cannot be a quasi-sephirah. It is the most important thing.
There are ten sephiroth, enumerations, on the Tree of Life; these sephiroth are connected to each other by twenty-two paths. The sephiroth represent states of being, the paths the qualities one needs to embody to arrive at the state of being.
The fact that Da’ath, Knowledge, has a place but is not formally included is key. There are no paths that connect to Da’ath. Da’ath is in the Abyss, the separation between the three Supernals, which are completely spiritual and which cannot be understood from human perception, and the seven lower sephiroth, which describe the creative process. Knowledge marks the border between the abstract and imperceptible Divine and the world we see and interact with, between the noumenal and the phenomenal worlds.
As I worked with this when I was learning it, I came to understand that there is no such thing as knowledge, particularly in a spiritual sense. We can approach it from all sides, rise above it, look at it from below, move across it, but never arrive at it.
We can never truly know anything.
One foot on the crescent of potential, one on the earth of accomplishment.
The word Da’ath means knowledge, but also has the sexual connotation that as kids we gigglingly referred to as “in the Biblical sense.”
John Michael Greer when discussing Da’ath talks about the “observer I”; the part of us that makes the judgments and evaluations about ourselves. If we ask ourselves if we are sick, or tired, or happy, we reside in the observer I. Da’ath is the border between the perfect unity of the Supernals and the diversity of the lower sephiroth. As the observer I, it shifts us from a unity of self into the shattering of self and other within the personality. The observer I is the unity; the observation of ourselves is the separation. What we observe are parts that have fallen away from the unified self. Despite the recognition of the observer I as breaking apart our understanding of ourselves, it is ultimately cultivated in most spiritual practices as being the part of ourselves most in alignment with Unity.
To factor in the sense of sexual union, we begin to see the Fall, or the breaking apart from Unity, and the striving again to become one.
As I write, I ask myself, where am I now, in the observer I? Or in the shattered place of separation?
Some say that the Fall allowed us the pleasure of yearning for union.
I walk around this topic, rise above it, discuss the particulars of it, observe it, but I cannot arrive at it.
I do not want to explain this away. I do not want to stick it to a board and label it.
I want to reside in the in-between spaces.
I do not want to hold the skateboard down with my foot, to prevent it from rolling away.
I do not want to hold the moon down with my foot, to force it into the world of my understanding.
I want to collapse worlds into the explosion of creation.
Can I live in the moment of discovery? Can I fall forever in the Abyss? Can I never thud against the bottom of knowledge?
Interestingly, on the Tree of Life, the sephirah titled Yesod, Foundation, is representative not of inalterable bedrock, but of the moon, of imagination, of the astral realm. The physical world around us sits firmly on foundational rock, but the foundation of ourselves is our ability not to be locked into belief, to express fluidity, and through this fluidity, to create and recreate ourselves.
The Empress, one foot on the moon, one foot on the ground, is about creation. On the Tree she is the Path of Daleth, the Door. She connects Wisdom and Understanding. She connects the male principle and the female principle. Or perhaps she is the connection of the male and female principles, the conjunction of opposites. She is the knowing that is coitus.
But she is not knowledge.
The Empress is creation. The Empress is knowing. The Empress is not knowledge.
The Empress is numbered III and three is Binah, Understanding, the female principle, the mother, the primal seas of creation. Binah is also Saturn. And Saturn, the planet of limitations and endings, of borders, does double duty as the planetary assignment for the path that connects Yesod to Malkuth, Foundation to Kingdom, Moon to Earth.
One foot on the moon, one foot on the earth.
The moon represents not knowing, illusion, the tingling feeling of wandering in the shadows. It is intuition. The Empress places one foot here, and from this place of uncertainty, she steps down into the concrete reality of the world. The Empress creates.
The Empress is knowing but not knowledge. She is striving to know, but not arriving. She does not jump to conclusions.
One foot on the moon, one foot on the earth.
The Empress is creativity. We create ourselves from the fluidity of the foundation of imagination. The beauty of the unseen is the lunacy from which we step lightly into the robes of the real.
Joy Vernon is a creative writer and tarot reader in Denver, Colorado. She is the organizer of the Denver Tarot Geeks, Denver Tarot Meetup and Denver Traditional Reiki Meetup, and she served on the faculty of Avalon Center for Druidic Studies. She is one of the psychics at Isis Books and has been featured at SpiritWays, the Mercury Café and psychic fairs throughout the Denver Metro and Northern Colorado. She is a Certified Professional Tarot Reader and a member of the American Tarot Association and Tarosophy Tarot Association. Joy also teaches Traditional Japanese Reiki. For information on upcoming classes or to schedule an appointment, please visit JoyVernon.com.
© 2015 by Joy Vernon. All rights reserved.
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 one of the largest and most active tarot-specific meetups in the world. Joy works as a tarot reader, astrologer, and teacher at Isis Books. To learn more, please visit JoyVernon.com.