Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tarot: My choice of decks

Style and Theme
When choosing a Tarot deck, I consider the theme to be of primary importance.  Themes that I am drawn to are nature and world myths.  Because I relate well to nature, I often see more meaning in the cards beyond the usual Tarot ones.  For example, in “The Tarot of the Animal Lords” (Angelo Giannini, 1999), The Empress (III) is a she-wolf and The Hierophant (V) is a reindeer.  If these two cards show up in spread, this adds to the basic meaning of the Tarot cards since the wolf/deer pairing is the dynamic predator and prey balance.

I enjoy the literary overlay of the Tarot and a particular myth because both enhance the other.  Choosing cards based on myths leads into choosing the culture depicted in a Tarot deck. The cultures I gravitate towards are Egyptian and Middle Eastern, since I find them fascinating.  Because I do no resonate with the Celtic culture, I usually do not buy decks about this popular culture.  

An example of what I see in the cultural decks that I do enjoy is “The Jane Austen Tarot” (Diane Wilkes, 2006) which presents the “myths” of the English Regency period. This Tarot deck features Jane Austen’s perceptions of English life at the time, supplementing the Tarot card’s meaning. For example, Elizabeth Bennet as The Fool (0) goes off unaccompanied, which was frowned upon for young women of the time.  This gives The Fool (0) the added dimension of great daring.

Another major criterion of mine is the art style.  Because I express myself in color, it is important to me to have decks with bold colors and striking lines.  I also see time and words in color (synesthesia).  For these reasons, I do not seek out decks that employ muted colors.  Since color is important, I have made exceptions to owning certain decks such as “The Celtic Wisdom Tarot” by Caitlin Matthews (1999).  The Mingler (Temperance, XIV) of this deck positively glows with greens and blues to soothe you.  The Remember (Hierophant, V) uses oranges, reds, yellows offset by greens to startle you beyond The Hierophant’s (V) staid role.

Besides colors, I do enjoy decks in water colors or in the style of the Impressionists.  I enjoy these styles of painting and look for them in Tarot decks.  Again, “The Celtic Wisdom Tarot” won me over with its expressive artwork.  Meanwhile, “The Tarot of the Animal Lords” by Angelo Giannini (1999) shows art with a sense of joy and humor.  I appreciate a well-realized picture gracefully drawn.

When choosing a deck, I rarely think about the time period.  Most of the decks I own (outside of the Rider-Waite ones for Tarot class) have no particular period.  As nature-themed decks, they exist in the now.  The decks focused on Egyptian myths of course are in ancient historical periods.  However, I do find it jarring to see modern things in Tarot decks.  I tend to avoid such decks as “The Housewives Tarot” by Paul Kepple and Jude Buffum (2004) or “Baseball Tarot” by Mark Lerner and Dan Gardiner (1999).  However, I do enjoy “Science Tarot” (various, 2010) because of the topic and execution of style. The telescopes, Bunsen burners, and microscopes seem to be soft and fitting in this particular deck.

In choosing a Tarot deck, I prefer lively art work with a mythic or natural theme.  There are exceptions because of the theme or well-designed cards.  However, time periods are rarely a factor for my choices.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Mapping of the Universe

To explore and navigate a territory, we need a map.  Most maps have correspondences, of which the most notable are the cardinal directions.  Going north may take us by a school and later a group of stores.  Afterwards, in our minds, “North” corresponds to the high school and the local strip mall.  If we go east, we will not encounter those particular landmarks but instead other ones.  A map preserves these landmarks for us and sets the correspondences for us to follow.

In magick, correspondences act as a map to the Cosmos.  By aligning a direction with an element, color, animal, et al., we can move from place to place in the Universe.  With each correspondence, we can come closer to the particular place where we want to be.  

It is similar to taking a bus to a destination.  Each stop along the way informs us of where we are.  Sometimes, we have to change buses at transfer stations to reach our destinations. Like certain correspondences which serve more than one direction or purpose, we can move through the Cosmos changing at their point of nexus.  At other times, we end at the terminus, which can be the major correspondences of the Upper or Lower Worlds.

Metaphors that I often use in magick are Roman or at least Indo-European in nature.  The most important is the Pomerium (the boundary between sacred space (the Templum) and profane space.  Like most Roman sacred space, this boundary is usually a square.

Within the Pomerium is the Focus (the Fire), which crosses all the worlds.  Supported and fed by the Earth, the Focus reaches up to the Celestial Realm and down to the Celestial Waters.  Fire exists in all the Worlds from the magma of the Earth to the stars of the Sky. The Focus sets the Cosmic Center of the Universe for us.  

The Hearth Fire of the Middle World welcomes the Gods and other Kindreds to rest and partake of our hospitality.  The Hearth Fire offers our sacrifices to the Gods, and carries our words to Them as well.  The Focus as the Hearth Fire becomes the center that we can orient ourselves in the Cosmos, when doing our rituals.

The Mundus (the Pit) opens to the Lower World of the Chthonic Gods and Lemurs (chaotic spirits).  The Mundus also connects us to the Well of Wisdom, from where the waters flow.  In the Mundus are the treasures of the Earth as well as the dwelling places of the Dead and Other Kindreds.  Removing the lid of Mundus is fraught with danger, and care must be taken lest an unfriendly spirit or entity comes into the Middle World.  Offerings are made to the Mundus to keep the entities from leaving.

The Portus (Door) creates the portal between all the Worlds.  Because of the Portus, within the Templum, all the worlds at once come together at one place.  Unlike the Circle which for many Neopagans moves through space and time, the Portus opens the Gate to all the Worlds.  Guarding the Portus is the Gatekeeper, Janus of the Two Faces.  Like the Janitor of old at the door, Janus watches the comings and goings of the beings, protecting Middle World from harm.

The Mundus (Pit), Portus (Door) , and Focus (Fire) are the triple axis of the Sacred Center.  At the Center burns the Focus (which is for Romans is the living flame of Vesta).  The Door is the sacred portal, and the Mundus the eye and mouth of the earth.  These are the magickal metaphors that work for me.

Works Used.

Dangler, Michael (Rev.), “Nine Central Tenets of Druidic Ritual”, Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF), http://www.adf.org/articles/cosmology/nine-tenets.html .

-------, “The Druid’s Cosmos”, ADF Dedicant Path Manual, http://www.adf.org/members/training/dp/dp-manual-web/01-druids-cosmos.htm, 2008 .

Newberg, Brandon, “Ancient Symbols, Modern Rites”, PDF, ADF Publications, 2007.

Scheid, John, “An Introduction to Roman Religion”, Indiana University Press, Indiana, 2003.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

STILETTO SNAKES (Mole Vipers, Burrowing Asps): Expect the Unexpected

            Found in Africa, Stiletto Snakes (Atractaspis) are well-suited for their underground life.  Burrowing through the earth, They look for a tasty Lizard.  Finding one, Stiletto Snakes stab the unfortunate animal with their fangs, and then eat Him. These Snakes can kill without opening their mouths.  Highly venomous, Stiletto Snakes possess huge venom sacs.  Because They live underground, Stiletto Snakes are only encountered by people when they dig in their gardens. 
            Because of their large horizontal fangs, Stiletto Snakes can strike sideways and backwards.  With a jerk of their heads, these Snakes kill by a sideways stab of their fangs.  (Unlike other venomous Snakes, these Snakes stab their victims instead with their fangs.)  The stabbing injects the venom, earning these Snakes the name “stiletto”.  Although these Snakes are venomous, They are not considered to be Vipers.  Causing much taxonomic confusion among scientists because of their unusual fangs, Stiletto Snakes have been placed in their own family for the time being.
            Be prepared and on guard counsel Stiletto Snakes.  Instead of striking forwards, these distinctive Snakes will stab backwards.  Be wary or you will suffer the consequences, for there is no known antidote for their venom.  Irascible by nature, Stiletto Snakes will stab quickly and often sideways and backwards.  Expect the unexpected hiss Stiletto Snakes. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Tarot: Non-Traditional Decks

My first introduction to cartomancy was oracle cards.  Intrigued, I wanted to know more about how that particular oracle system was set up.  This led me to the Tarot, since it seemed to me that many oracle card systems are based on the principles of the Tarot.

Learning the Tarot meant using a Rider-Waite deck, whose art work I detested.  However, as I used this deck more, the Tarot symbols became easier to understand.  But using the traditional decks eventually became static and boring to me.  

For me, non-traditional decks seemed to be more challenging and fun.  By working with these decks, I could go down to the bones of the Tarot.  Non-traditional decks forced me to learn the basics of the Tarot beyond rote memorization.  In each deck that I used, a basic idea of the Tarot was explored and expanded upon.  Also, the non-traditional decks expanded the focus beyond Western ceremonial magic(k) that seems to permeate Neo-Paganism.  By working with them, the Tarot became more accessible to me.

For example, “Animal Wise Tarot” (Ted Andrews, 1999) has as the Minor Suits: the Ancients (reptiles) for Wands, Shapeshifters (insects) Cups, Winged Ones (birds) Swords, and Four-legged Ones (mammals) as Pentacles.  This deck has kept the elemental associations of each suit but deepens their meanings.  The Wands become rooted in stability like the reptiles which require warmth for life.  (The Fire of Wands ire becomes a hearth fire.) Cups as the Shapeshifters move the emphasis from emotions to metamorphosis.  The quality of the Air element in the Winged Ones now includes beauty.  Finally, the Four-legged Ones takes Pentacles beyond finances to the fertility of the Earth.

Then “Australian Animal Tarot” (Ann Williams-Fitzgerald, 2000) takes the Tarot a step further.  The Minor Suits are Earth for Wands, Water for Cups, Fire for Swords, and Air for Pentacles.  This goes beyond the traditional meanings for these Suits.  (However the Fire and Water Suits do have similar meanings to the Swords and Cups of traditional Tarot decks.)  For example, Nine of Earth (Nine of Wands) has the Green Tree Python, a reptile, representing life force and transmutation.  The deeper meaning of the traditional Nine of Wands implies transforming dreams into reality.  Like the Mother Python protecting her young (unusual for snakes), so we protect our transformed dreams.

In each case, the author uses the Tarot symbolism that makes sense to them.  Using their interpretations, I can delve deeper beyond “Coins” for Pentacles into fertility as the focus of the Four-legged Ones of “Animal Wise Tarot” directs. Non-traditional decks offer a window into the Tarot that traditional ones often overlook.