Thursday, January 28, 2016

My Favorite Cards: Major Arcana

Let's face it.  Everyone plays favorites, especially with Tarot.

Some cards just call to us, while others - though appreciated - mew weakly and fade into the background.  These cards might appeal to us because of their meanings, the ways they're typically depicted, or even because of deep and personal associations we have created with those cards.  And that's cool; that's what Tarot is about - developing an appreciation of some kind for its different, multifarious facets.

I have many favorite Tarot cards, as I'm sure everyone does.  In order to keep a discussion of those cards to a reasonable length, I'm going to talk about my favorite Major Arcana, Minor Arcana, and Tarot Art.  (I'm totally one of those people who will buy a deck just for the art.  Why?  Because I have no doubt that I will connect to the deck through its artistic style.)

In any case, this is the first of the "My Favorites Series" and will be based on my favorite Major Arcana cards.  So without further ado, I present to you - in numerical order - my favorite of the Majors.

V.  Le Pape - The Hierophant

I wish I had his hat

This might come as a surprise to some people.  I mean, who actually likes The Hierophant?!  Orthodoxy, conservationism, religion?  Well, yes.  But The Hierophant is also a figure about community, unity, and traditions.

The Hierophant reminds me of the value of having and keeping ties with people.  I wouldn't say I live a bohemian life or anything, but I do have to uproot my life every few years to move to new places for research and study.  Because of the time-scale, I will live somewhere for 2 to 5 years.  I get to meet new people, learn new ways of life, and expose myself to new cultures.

On the other hand, it means that certain long-term goals would be difficult for me.  For example, I can't see myself ever owning property or real estate.  At least for now, it's unlikely I'll "settle down" in a nice little community on the outskirts of the city, trading recipes with my neighbors, going to the county fair...  These are all things I want, but I want to excel in my research more.

The Hierophant tells me that it's OK to not have those kinds of traditions yet.  He reminds me that the connections that I create with others are a kind of tradition of their own.  I'm able to create my own community - one that's not bound by geographical limits.  I can chat with my friends in England or Finland for a few hours; I can meet up with old classmates at our favorite coffee spot in Yokohama just outside of Tokyo.  I get to choose my own community.  Now that's powerful!

The Hierophant is also a teacher.  He is a spiritual guide that keeps me connected to that little shining thread that holds my being together.

I might go hither and thither in the world, but I have a map within myself that I can reference whenever I get lost.  I have a constant internal lifeline.

The journey of life is tough on anyone.  Having the map, the lifeline to go back to when I reach exhaustion or when I'm confused and upset is comforting and gives me the strength to go where I might have been too afraid to venture before.  I know that I can "fail" because I will be able to fill in the as-yet unknown territory on the map of life.  I will learn from the experience.

Alternatively, if I'm at that point where I know I can't make a mistake - you know those moments when doing the exactly right thing will make all the difference? - I can take a second to consult my inner Hierophant.  Is this decision in accordance with my true moral and ethical beliefs?  Am I staying true to myself and to what I think is right?  And again, even if I fail to do that exactly right thing, at least I won't have failed myself or betrayed my beliefs.

He might be a difficult personality to get along with sometimes because he can be demanding and constricting on occasion, but The Hierophant will be there with a kind word, some sage wisdom, and a cup of tea steeped in the traditions and connections that are meaningful to me.

XII.  Le Pendu - The Hanged Man

just hangin' out

The Hanged Man is special to me.  He really is.

That's because every time I start gaining momentum, building speed for months and months, something happens.  Administrative paperwork.  An unpleasant or confining situation.  My own psychological or emotional hesitations.  Something.

It holds me in a parallel yet alternate dimension of time or environment.

Of course, me being me, I get frustrated when that happens.  I want to be moving forward with the determination and power of The Chariot, but some outside force hangs me up - puts me in "time out," if you will.  It's like running your best in a race and then a spectator purposefully trips you just for the fun of it.  Yeah, it's frustrating.  Hell, it's painful.

At first, I didn't really understand the Hanged Man.  The material I read when I first studied the Tarot emphasized the new perspective that the Hanged Man alone is able to appreciate.  The aspect of being suspended in time was mentioned in these materials, of course, but that interpretation was often subordinated to the new and unusual perspective interpretation.  And at that time, I couldn't think of any experiences I could relate to the whole time suspension meaning, making that aspect of the card much more difficult to grasp.

That was until last year.  Without going into too much detail, I will say that the events - or lack thereof - of 2015 strung me up by the ankle to a tree.  I had been so ready to move forward with my research.  I thought I knew exactly what I was going to do.  I had a topic, and even if I lacked a plan of action, I figured I could work something out in the end.

And then disaster struck.  It wasn't the demise of a loved one or anything, but certain words were said and to me, the world may as well have fallen out from under me.  I felt humiliated and betrayed; utterly wounded.  Ultimately, I was left emotionally and psychologically shattered in an environment that does little if anything to help people with their psychological well-being.

In that kind of state, I couldn't trust myself to read my own cards.  I definitely knew I wasn't stable enough to recognize if I was projecting onto the cards my own fears or hopes.  But during a brief period of lucidity one day, I decided to pull a card.  Just one.  So I had to frame my question properly in case I didn't get the chance to ask for a while.  "Is there something I can learn from all this?"

And who pops up but my dubious ally, The Hanged Man.

I stared blankly at the upside-down man and his crooked leg.  OK.  A new perspective?  He's the only one that can see everyday objects not for their usage or "what they are" but rather as shapes and colors.  OK.  But how does that relate to my current situation, I thought.  I'm just feeling so stuck.  I can't move forward.  Even if I get out of this state, I can't move forward.  I'm lost and don't know what I can do.  I'm stuck... stuck... What am I supposed to learn?


And that's when I realized what The Hanged Man was all about.  He teaches the hard lesson that we do get stuck.  We aren't allowed by outside forces to progress as we thought we would.  We get held back for whatever reasons.  BUT.  It's precisely because of that suspension from the normal (or planned) progression of time that we are able to 1) gain the time to reassess what the hell is going on as well as our role in the situation, 2) appreciate the unique perspective we bring to the experience of a situation, and 3) figure out for ourselves what we can improve or do next.  

The Hanged Man signals a period of necessary gestation.  We way not want to stop everything we're doing - I sure as hell didn't - but the time we get in the womb of The Hanged Man will give us the opportunity to heal, reassess, and completely reconsider our relation to the world around us.  He gives us the chance to wait and watch and learn from everything that's around us.  And with that realization, we can reach a new level of maturity and gain profound wisdom for navigating and interacting with our environments - people, objects, the natural world, etc.

From the moment of realization, my regard for The Hanged Man changed completely.  He wasn't one of the "Dramatic Cards of Doom," like Death or The Tower, or one of the "Universally Beloved Cards," like the High Priestess or The Star.  He had been boring #12.  His main point of interest had been that he was the only card whose upright position is naturally reversed.  And in just a few minutes, he meant more to me than all the hope that The Star could muster.

Once I'd grasped the lessons that The Hanged Man was trying to convey, I began to settle into the stationary environment in which I found myself.  No, I wasn't going to be able to move forward in the way I wanted to for now, and that was OK because there were lots of things I still needed to learn.  Like how to integrate my unique perspective with dogmatic social and academic conventions, or what was expected of me in that particular, unpleasant situation and what I can remember about it for future reference.

After I'd drawn The Hanged Man, I began to pull myself slowly out of the black hole of depression.  Of course, I fell back in a few times along the way because I pretty much had to go solo on my journey of healing, but after some months, I was able to return to normal life - only changed by the wisdom I'd been able to gain through time spent with my new Upside-Down Buddy.

XVI.  La Maison Dieu - The Tower

I didn't do it


Heh, no.  But that is pretty much what I think sarcastically to myself whenever I see The Tower pop up in a reading.  I mean, I don't think any Tarot reader worth his or her salt actually sees doom in The Tower.

The Tower makes it into my favorite Major Arcana for the simple reason that it is a card about truth.  After all the artifice is broken down and violently stripped away, what is our truth?  What do we have left?  What or who can we cling to that we know will support us?  True friends.  Morals or ethics that we truly believe in and practice - that our entire world is based on top of.  That is the stuff of The Tower.

It'll probably hurt when all the falsehood is blasted away.  It will shock and pierce and maim our thoughts, emotions, even bodies.  But we will learn the truth from it.

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