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The topic of today’s Tarot Blog Hop commemorates the sunrise at Stonehenge on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. Stonehenge is the Neolithic stone circle designed to indicate the astronomical phenomena of the equinoxes and solstices, among other significant celestial events. The summer solstice marks the cusp of the sign of Cancer. Cancer is considered to be nurturing, compassionate, and intuitive. Some say that Cancer’s glyph looks like two eggs in a nest, and this sign is often associated with mothering and maternal qualities. I see in the glyph two arms of a spiral galaxy swirled together; perhaps a stellar nursery where darkness broods over hatching stars. The tarot card assigned to Cancer is the Chariot.
The Chariot as Cancer is the Major Arcana correspondence I had the most trouble understanding. We usually think of the Chariot as movement, transportation, cars and all things related. On a psychological and emotional level, the Chariot represents being pulled in different directions – often the contrary beasts harnessed to this vehicle seem to be headed opposite ways. We often say it’s time to take the reins and exert leadership over these disparate forces.
But the Chariot as Cancer gives a different impression. In kabbalah, the Chariot is assigned the letter cheth, meaning fence. Like the nest encircling the eggs, this fence is protecting and confining; it establishes a perimeter of safety. Many of the ancient sites honoring the sun’s movement were built in a circular pattern. This circle, demarcation, fence, or stellar playpen becomes the Cancerian womb that receives the strong bright light of the solstice.
The most recent archaeological research and theories suggest that Stonehenge was paired with a wooden version about two miles northeast at Durrington Walls. The wooden version had evidence of living quarters and feasting, and so was associated with life. Stonehenge, on the other hand, was associated with death and is considered the largest cemetery of its time.
Woodhenge is oriented towards the midwinter sunrise and Stonehenge marks the midwinter sunset. Likewise, Stonehenge marks the midsummer sunrise and its wooden partner the midsummer sunset. The research suggests that the midwinter agenda consisted of feasting in the wooden henge followed by depositing ashes of the deceased in the river Avon and then processing along the banks of the river, where bonfires flared, to Stonehenge in time for sunset to honor the ancestors. In summer, the procession was from Stonehenge to Woodhenge, from the world of the deceased to the world of the living.
Archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson says, “I think this is why these two monuments are set up together, because they are actually to do with not just the life passage but the world passage ….” He goes on, “And I think what that has to do with is they are using the stone to actually symbolize immortality, permanence, and the wood is to do more with the human condition in life.”
In The Tarot, Paul Foster Case makes note that the gray stone cube that forms the car of the chariot is the wise (color gray, Chokmah, wisdom) union of father and son—the Hebrew word for stone is ehben (ABN), composed of abba (AB), father and ben (BN), son. If we were to stretch so far as to include the symbolism of Stonehenge into this qabalistic interpretation (certainly heresy, but curious to consider), it might suggest that the stones of the ancestors are immortal because they represent the transition from father to son.
When considering the archetype of the Chariot and its astrological correspondence Cancer in comparison to this ancient summer solstice ritual, we can see the tarot vehicle as an ability to move between the worlds, from life to death—and perhaps back again—symbolized by the opposing black and white of the harnessed steeds. Perhaps these beasts are not representative of forces imbalanced, but show the even portrayal of light and dark in an ongoing stability of recurring cycles.
There is one more symbol that the Cancer glyph reminds me of: the yin yang, in which each half circle swirl contains at its fullness the seed of its opposite. Like the sunrise on the longest day of the year, the circle reminds us that this extreme is but a turning point of the cycle.
On this day we celebrate the sunrise. We honor the stone circle that reminds us of limitations that protect us. We embrace the safety of the nest even as we ride the chariot away toward adventures. And on this longest day of the year we revel in the light while acknowledging that this extreme is the turning point as the darkness begins to grow again.
Hop ahead to Harmonic Spirit, Honoring Yourself and Your World, or visit the master list of all the blogs.
Joy Vernon is a Certified Professional Tarot Reader and Reiki Teacher in Denver, Colorado. Her specialty is the Empyrean Key Transformational Guidance, which combines energetic and esoteric modalities to help her clients break through blocks and align themselves with their higher purpose. For information on upcoming classes or to schedule an appointment, please visit JoyVernon.com.
© 2012 by Joy Vernon. All rights reserved.