Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Tarot: From Excess Road to Wisdom Palace

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom; for we never know what is enough until we know what is more than enough.

~ William Blake

The fool wonders, the wise man asks.

~ Benjamin Disraeli

How much is enough? Is it really necessary to follow the road of excess to find out?

I know when I've eaten too much or sat too long because my body tells me quite clearly and in very obvious ways. I know when I've gone past the point where the need for rest overwhelms me and I fall asleep no matter what I'm doing, often falling asleep while sitting up. There are times when it's more difficult to tell when I've reached the "too much" stage. How much reading is too much? How much silence is too much? How much loneliness, depression or pleasure is too much? It's less easy to tell.

The Devil

The Devil conjures images of bodies writhing in torment in the fires of Hell, but the Devil is a Christian symbol, the antithesis of all that is good and wise, cobbled together from pagan gods and demi-gods: Pan, Dionysus, Cernunnos, Baphomet. The Devil card in tarot is indicative of the addict or the victim, which is to say they are the same.

The Devil's horns are exaggerated, excessive, out of balance and he is blind to everything and everyone. He is the essence of repressed emotions, rampant passions and overweening ambition, the shadow side of life. The Devil is reminiscent of the god Pan, from whom the word panic is derived, fear out of control, the frenzy that comes with Dionysian excess -- too much wine, women and song -- but also too much isolation, blindness and fear. Addiction is just as limiting and overwhelming as the fear of becoming addicted, making the addicted a victim of their own demons and dark side, afraid to lose their social standing, their material possessions, of climbing too high, too far, too fast.

The Devil is associated with the earth signs of Capricorn, Taurus and Virgo. Devil is lived spelled backward. He is the stagnation of fear and isolation, blind to the possibility and love.

9 of Swords

When I look at the 9 of Swords, I see a woman waking in the middle of the night at the darkest hour when dawn and the sun seem farthest away. Above her nine swords are poised to strike, but neither the candlelight nor the moonlight streaming through the window reflect off the swords. They are not real. They are figments of the imagination conjured at the edge of nightmare. The window is open, only a few steps from the bed where fresh air and freedom await. On the window sill an owl is perched, waiting, ready. The owl is the avatar, the symbol, of wisdom, Athena's companion Bubo who acts as mediary between the gods and man, the conduit where wisdom flows down to enlighten man and relieve the darkness.

The Nine of Swords shows the dark night of the soul. Anguish and despair strike when we are most vulnerable. The woman holds herself, but she is warm and safe. Her body language is closed off and she is locked within herself, struggling with her dreams and nightmares, unsure of what to believe or how to reach out when all she needs to do is unlock her arms and hold out her hands, reach out and take what is freely offered -- wisdom, enlightenment, reassurance. She is not alone unless she chooses to be alone, a victim of her own fears.

The Star

Ever since man looked up into the night sky and saw the twinkling light of the stars and was able to see them as more than distant fires, The Star has guided, inspired and filled him with hope. When he looks at the stars, he is looking at the past, at light that has traveled thousands, millions, billions of miles and years to greet him and show him the light of other days. It is in the darkness when the moon is barely visible that the stars shine the brightest inspiring dreams, providing enlightenment and a glimmer of possibility.

We wish upon stars, make promises under the stars and expect that every night, even when they are barely visible through the city's obscuring lights, they will be there high in the darkness shining down. They are there in the light, too, but we cannot see them, and yet we feel their influence, constant, undimmed and ever present.

The Star is a promise and it is wish fulfillment. The dark lady's brow shines with starlight, twin to the star above her, centered on the brow at the third eye, the seat of higher consciousness, through which we are connected to a higher power, to eternity. In her hands she holds two pitchers, pouring their contents into the water and on the land where she kneels. She pours out everything, not afraid of the pitchers being empty because she knows that they will be filled again, filled over and over like Ganymede's pitcher from which he fills the gods' cups with ambrosia, the sweet water of life, the water of immortality.

The Star is associated with the air sign of Aquarius which is ruled by Uranus, the sign of freedom and rebellion. The Star is intellect and wisdom, the tools of the writer.

* * *

On the surface, the cards move from the shadows through fear and isolation and into the light of the eternal stars. They begin with the earth and end up in the air.

In some interpretations, what we have is an addict, a victim of his own fears, who represses his emotions and cannot or will not reach for help. He is locked in his fear, isolated and alone, though the answers he seeks are within his grasp, so close he can touch them. He is afraid of reaching out, afraid that he will find only illusion, but he is already trapped in illusion, the illusion that he is living the good life. He has material wealth, a wealth he constantly guards and fears he will lose, social standing and the semblance of security, but he could lose it all, and that is what he fears. He is unable to see that when you hold on too tightly everything slips through your fingers. It's like trying to hold back water or the sands of time.

Only when we are ready to pour out everything is the cup of life refilled. The pitcher stands ready and full, but in order to fill and refill the cup, he must reach out and take it, but in order to do that, he must stop holding himself back and see his fears for what they are -- insubstantial phantoms, figments of his imaginations. The only way to live is to embrace life, to reach out and accept the help that has always been within his reach.

What story do these images inspire in you?

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