Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tarot: Put it in reverse

One thing I've discovered about putting together a weekly column is that it can be fun. It also takes a lot of work, but delving into the mysteries of the tarot cards and the many stories they have to tell and the insights they give is also fascinating. With 78 cards, there are hundreds of combinations when choosing just three cards. Leave it up to chance and the nuanced stories and possibilities are endless.

Reverse me, but don't let me go.

When I pulled the cards for this column last weekend, I forgot which way the cards were facing and they all ended up reversed. At first, I decided to go with the cards as if they were upright. After I did my research, read the meanings and looked into the cards, I decided to go with the reversed reading of the meanings because it was interesting and because the shadow side of the human mind and psyche can be insightful. It's something to consider when putting together the background of a villain in a story and to give the hero a bit of an edge, let him dance with his shadow self. Perfect people are boring and there is no such thing as a perfect villain.

If you disagree, just look at Hannibal Lecter's character arc. In the beginning, Lecter was a monster, an highly intelligent, creative and sociopathic monster. His triggers were rudeness, over weaning arrogance where there was no superiority and inept playing of an instrument, to name a few. Lecter has his quirks, but he also has some redeeming qualities. He is polite and thoughtful, sensitive and attentive and he knows how to repay a favor -- or a slight. Over the course of the novels in which Lecter takes center stage, and especially in the novel about his origins, we see how a happy young boy born to privilege became a monster. It didn't happen overnight or by simple abuse or brutality. Hannibal Lecter, the thoughtful, intelligent and loving boy, died when his sister died and was eaten by the villains who kept him alive just in case winter's hold kept them penned without food or freedom. I wonder what Lecter's tarot cards would have revealed about his nature. No doubt a few reversed cards would come up.

The first card that came up for me was The Hierophant.

The Hierophant

The priest in his miter and carrying his crook dressed in his religious finery almost merges with the stained glass window that frames him. The Hierophant is a wisdom rooted in formal, organized religion. He preserves a system of belief, holding in trust the teachings of his predecessors and handed down to acolytes in an unbroken chain through generations of believers. He is the final authority on faith, the bridge between this world and the next and often symbolizes a licensed teacher, professors, psychologist/psychiatrist or priest.

In the background beyond the prisms of glass that seem to form a gateway from this world to the heavens, is the universe, vast and unknowable, although men believe they groq the heavens and the mechanisms of life, death and birth. The Hierophant is the terrestrial plane, the arched, stained glass window the telestial plane and the heaven the celestial plane, the past, the present and the future all in one glowing card full of color and possibility.

The colors of the window symbolize the mind (blue) and life (green). The window is translucent, glowing with light from beyond it's flat planes, letting some light in as the earth allows varying degrees of the sun's light through to the moon, its reflective surface giving back only what it is given in bits and pieces, one side ever in darkness.

But the card was reversed. The opposite of a living and changing belief is dogma, repression, intolerance, servitude criticism, fear, guilt and being judgmental. As above, so below.

Queen of Wands

The Queen of Wands is confident and sure of herself as she protects the living fire of knowledge and her world. She is ready for action as she bars the way with her fiery wand. She is protective of the trust she has by divine right, but she is quietly contained, a coiled spring, a fount of creative fire seeking an outlet. The Queen of Wands is not the retiring type. She will help someone with a new project or share her knowledge, but it comes with a price -- obedience, admiration, public acclaim. She is charismatic, a notorious flirt one minute who lives on the edge, her temper on a taut hair trigger. The fire she holds in her hand is the sign of Aries which makes her a natural leader, but beware the storm clouds on the horizon. The Queen of Wands is determined to have her way, even if a temper tantrum is the only way.

Like all the queens, water is her element and fire her charge. Fire combined with water has two properties, providing steam to drive the engine of success and creation. Too much water can also put out the fire.

In the reverse, the Queen of Wands can be generous, willful, a drama queen, enthusiastic, fierce, domineering, jealous, deceitful, potentially unfaithful and disorganized when the fire burns too hot and is not contained or guided. What else would one expect from a flame-haired wench like the Queen of Wands?

3 of Swords

At first glance, the Three of Swords is easy to read. The heart is pierced by three swords, the sky full of dark clouds. Someone's heart is broken, probably whoever tangled with the Queen of Wands on a bad day. In the center of the heart is the sun. None of the swords pierce the sun or alter its light, so there is hope for anyone willing to get past the pain and refuse to let their ego get in the way, making the emotional distress greater than it is. After all, there could be more than three swords in the heart. There's always room for more pain -- and more hope.

Swords have a way of cutting to the heart of a matter. Looking at the situation from only one perspective is flawed. In order to understand, the proper perspective is needed to find clarity.

The Three of Swords could be a sign that a relationship is ended, but it's not the end of life as long as you seek a realistic perspective, come at the situation from more than one angle. It's easy to wallow in loss and mourn a broken heart by carrying a torch. To do so is to stagnate and avoid living. The heart is still beating in spite of the swords cutting through it. As long as the heart beats, life is worth living. The heart is still capable of love and life is still worth living without the one who made your heart beat faster.

Divorce, grief and sorrow are the first emotions felt when looking at the Three of Swords. It's almost overwhelming as memories of sorrow, sadness, grief, loss, infidelity, depression and divorce flit through the mind, but this card was reversed and so its meaning is one of hope, healing, and recovery. What seems to be the worst possible moment can be a blessing in disguise.

Imagine what these cards say about the villain in your story. You have a lot to work with here. All the taboos are accounted for: religion, politics and sex. No doubt your villain will be as interesting as Hannibal Lecter, and maybe even more diabolical. Keep in mind that even villains have hearts that can be hard as adamantium or soft enough to feel the pain of a sword's thrust.

The most interesting -- and often the most chilling villains -- aren't obviously insane or evil. It is that sense of how similar they are to the people around them that renders them more terrifying. They are chameleons, able to charm and murder with the same affable ease that charms the people around them. A villain can be your best friend, the helpful neighbor down the street or someone you look up to and trust. It is their seeming normality that takes you by surprise. A villain can be anyone given the right -- or wrong -- circumstances.

What hides behind your villain's smile and helpful generosity?

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