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Beltane is the holiday in the sign of Taurus, the Bull. This is a fixed earth sign, no fire about it. Although, as we’ll see, the phrase “the fire tends to all” is nevertheless highly appropriate. An interesting thing I learned about the fixed signs as I have meditated on them over the years is that whereas at first I thought they must work to keep things the same, in reality they could be very change-oriented–but always in order to continue or prolong. This came to me when I compared the three modes to the beginning, middle and end of a story. The middle certainly doesn’t stay the same! Everything happens in the middle. Just think of all the plot twists and turns in a good thriller or the turnabouts and machinations in a never-ending soap opera. The fixed signs do their best to keep things going.
Beltane is a cross-quarter day in the Neo-Pagan ritual cycle. The quarter days are the solstices and equinoxes—the demarcations of the cardinal signs: Aries, Cancer, Libra, Capricorn. The cross-quarter days were simply half-way between the quarter days, and back when I celebrated this cycle, I often failed to give them much more credence than that. The quarter days were clear to me in their implication—they marked observable transitions in the solar cycle. The cross-quarter days had various myths attached to them by different traditions, myths that had to do with agricultural cycles or other things that were foreign and unrecognizable to my modern day mentality. The only thing I knew about farming was that, in Michigan where I grew up, my mom would say that the corn should be “knee-high by the Fourth of July.” This did not then or later inspire me as worthy of ritual observance.
So as I worked the cycle of the year, writing and performing magical rites, the quarter days had the momentousness of momentary meaning—the moment when the sun stood still, the moment when the day equaled the night. The cross-quarter days were about stories and traditions. Planting seeds at Imbolc (I preferred to call it Brigid, whose story I liked), dancing the Maypole at Beltane, scrying when the veil was thinnest on Samhain. Moods not moments.
This becomes clear when considering the dates astrologically. The quarter days start the four seasons, the zero degrees of the cardinal signs. The cross-quarter days are roughly but not quite the midway marks of the fixed signs—sloppily approximating the 15-degree point. The dates are assigned by tradition, not defined by the sun’s zodiacal journey. (The mutable signs manage to avoid the whole charade, simply floating past unmarked by Pagan imprecision.)
In A Handbook for the Humanistic Astrologer, Michael Meyer says that the cardinal signs generate energy, the fixed signs concentrate energy, and the mutable signs distribute energy. He calls the four 15-degree points of the fixed signs—the kerubic signs, represented by the Lion, Eagle, Angel and Bull, the “Four Gates of Avataric Descent.” The gates concentrate and release the power generated by the preceding cardinal sign. So the gate of Taurus focuses the energy of the vernal equinox, the gate of Leo that of the summer solstice, etc. Meyer’s Cyclic Formula of the Four Portals states that the gate of Taurus the Bull represents the power released toward the formation of an individual being; the gate of Leo the Lion is the power released by that individual; the gate of Scorpio the Eagle is the power released towards the formation of the universal being and the gate of Aquarius the Angel is the power released by that universal being.
Fixed signs cultivate—they nurture, tend. They provide every opportunity to prolong the story, to extend life. Taurus is the fixed sign that is harnessing the power of the preceding equinox—zero degrees Aries. Taurus is concentrating and focusing fire. So Taurus truly does tend the fire.
The symbols of the Lion, Bull, Eagle and Angel are well known to tarot readers. These four images generally appear on the World card dating back to the Marseilles decks, and are also found on the Wheel on A. E. Waite’s deck, which, according to Case, he derived from Eliphas Levi’s diagram in The Sanctum Regnum. There are also occasional encore appearances, such as on Crowley’s Chariot card. In the Wheel and World cards, the Bull and Lion are on the bottom left and right corners of the card, representing the formation of the individual and his release of power. The Eagle and Angel are the top right and left, representing the universal being and the release of his power.
Why did Waite add the four kerubic emblems to the Wheel card? For one thing, it equates the Wheel to the World. If we supplement our knowledge with the idea of the gates of avataric descent, it seems that one of these cards must represent the formation and power of the individual whereas the other would represent the formation and power of the universal being.
As to which is which, the Wheel is associated with the Hebrew letter kaph, the grasping hand. Paul Foster Case says that the two extremes associated with this double letter are poverty and wealth, marking the ends of the spectrum of property, a Taurean keyword. He assigns to the Wheel the direction west and sunset, the endings of cycles. The Wheel also represents capricious change in fortune. Materialism and changing cycles are associated with the manifest world. Together these symbols all suggest that the Wheel, were it to be assigned to an avataric process, would symbolize the formation and power of the individual. You might say that this is indicated in the card by the haloed kerubic emblems–in this card, the energy is brought from the universal energy at the corners of the card and manifested into the material world represented by the centered wheel.
The World is associated with the letter tav which means mark or cross, and which Paul Foster Case calls a symbol of salvation from death, and eternal life. Both Case and Levi refer to the symbolism of the card as indicating the completion of the Great Work. Case goes on to say that tav represents the center, where man can commune with God. Dominion and slavery are the opposites given to this double letter, ideas which work well with the World’s planet, Saturn, and which are usually associated with the bonds of the material world. These are the extremes of the scale of mastery. Here Taurus comes in handy again, for the Hierophant, the trump associated with the fixed earth sign, teaches us about this paradox. By enslaving himself to the rituals of his faith, this religious leader gains the dominion of the spiritual realm. It seems that the World certainly refers to the formation and power of the universal being. Here, the lack of halos on the kerubs could indicate that the energy is stepping forward from the four corners of the material and manifest plane and erupting through the center wreath into the universal being.
To reinforce our work, it is helpful to note that Saturn, the planet assigned to the World, rules Capricorn, the Devil, representative of the winter solstice. It also rules Aquarius, the Star, representative of the gate of Aquarius, the man or angel at the top left of the card. Saturn is exalted in Libra, the autumnal equinox, which is the Justice card, which is the equinoctial energy focused by Scorpio—the eagle in the upper right—in the formation of the universal being. So by this reasoning, we again find that Saturn, the World, correlates to the universal being. Interestingly, Jupiter, which corresponds to the Wheel, is exalted in Cancer, the Chariot, which is the summer solstice, relating to the solstitial energy funneled by Leo, our lower right corner kerubic emblem, symbol of the power of the individual. (The two signs Jupiter rules are mutable signs and not covered in our discussion.)
Our seasonal sign, Taurus, and its related card the Hierophant, help us unlock the mysteries of involution and evolution, the formation of the individual and the formation of the universal being. The Hierophant holds his right hand in the gesture of that which is revealed and that which is concealed. Like Taurus focusing the energy of Aries, the Hierophant concentrates and releases the fire of the Holy Spirit. This divine energy, released into the material world through the limited rites of religion, is sustaining, nourishing, and unchanging. The fire tends to all.
To work more with the image of the Wheel and the process of formation, see The Revolutionary Wheel article and spread, which focuses on the involution/evolution process. For advice on how to rise above the capriciousness of Fortune, see the Who Will Reign spread.
Hop ahead to Tarot by Hilary, the girl next door… that reads tarot 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.