Resources for Andre Breton’s Tarot Connections

September 27, 2011

At BATS I gave out a bibliography/resource page with the essay in my last entry.  Since then,  some of the participants from the presentation have given me some new leads to follow up, so here’s the list, but with some additions:


Revolutions of the Mind:  the Life of Andre Breton, Mark Polizzotti, 1995.  A complete and compelling biography that sheds light on the surrealist movement as well as on Breton’s work.

Free Rein (La Cle des champs), Andre Breton, 1953.  Trans. Michael Parmentier and Jacqueline D’Amboise, 1995.  Great collection of essays, including a discussion of the deck of playing cards created by Breton and a group of fellow surrealists, which they called the Jeu de Marseilles.

History of the Surrealist Movement, Gerard Durozoi, 1997.   Trans. Alison Anderson, 2002.  Lavishly illustrated, complete history of the twists and turns of the surrealist journey.  It has some samples of the wonderful Marseilles deck that Breton writes about in La Cle des champs.   A page that gives the history of the Jeu de Marseilles, as well as some samples.

The Tarot of the Bohemians, Papus. First published 1896.  Trans. A.P. Morton.  The occultist Oswald Wirth created a tarot deck for this book.  Wirth  revised it soon after, but it was not published 1926.  Breton was using this revised deck for Arcane 17. Both decks are known as the Wirth Deck.

Andre Breton, Mary Ann Caws, 1971.  An accessible analysis of Breton’s major works.  A brief French language biography with many helpful links.  A site on surrealism and Breton, includes poetry and the Surrealist Manifesto.  A nice sampling of poems from some of the major surrealists.

Andre Breton’s Arcane 17: An Exploration of the Tarot’s Star Card

September 23, 2011

 Here’s a copy of the handout I gave to the participants at my presentation for BATS, but it now includes an analysis of what turned out to be the most exciting passage of all in our discussion, the butterfly paragraph.

During WWII, the French surrealist poet, Andre Breton, lived in America in self imposed exile. He spent three months in the far reaches of northeastern Canada, where he struggled to make sense of personal losses he had experienced, as well as of the horror and bleakness of global war.  During that time, he wrote his extended prose poem, Arcane 17, the title referring to tarot card 17, the Star card (Breton was using the Star card from the revised Wirth deck, published in 1926). A work of poetic alchemy, this book offers hope for the individual and for our fragile world in advocating an embracing of the divine feminine in nature and in ourselves.  The Star serves as a key to the symbolism of the work, and Breton’s method of exploring the image of the card uses creative visualization, offering transformation and transcendence.  By examining some of the passages that specifically refer to the Star card, we can follow his surrealist method of drawing meaning from an image that takes on a life of its own when the imagination takes the leap to become one with it. The first time he describes the card, he treats it as a vision outside of his window, appearing to him as a growing light, which resolves itself into the card’s scene:

All the magic of night is in the frame, all of the night’s enchantment.  Perfumes and chills extravagate from the air into thoughts.  The grace of life sends a muffled vibration through the flutes of Pan at the foot of the curtains.  Besides the black cube of the window is no longer so difficult to pierce:  it is penetrated little by little by a brightness spread out in a garland, like a convolvulus of light attached to two transversal edges at the top, not hanging below the upper third of the shape. The image gradually focuses into seven flowers which become stars while the lower part of the cube remains empty.  The two highest stars are of blood, they represent the sun and moon;  the five lower ones, alternating yellow and blue like sap, are the other planets known to the ancients. (67-68)

He immediately establishes that the night he exists in and the card itself are one, in the “frame” that beckons to him from both the window and borders of the card.  He infuses his surroundings with “enchantment,” exploring sensory details, “perfumes and chills,” to flesh out the half real, half “magic” aura he experiences.  “The flutes of Pan” vibrate softly for him, signaling that he is entering a mythic realm, with deep archetypal significance.  The details of the card appear a little at a time for the poet, a “convolvulus of light” stretches its tendrils from the top of the card/window until the flowers brighten and take the shape of a vine of stars.  He creates his own symbolism for the stars, the sun and moon with the planets “of the ancients,” creating a bond between his own yearning for meaning and that of humankind of the distant past.  The sun and the moon “are of blood,” linking them to our own bodies, while the planet stars, “alternating yellow and blue, like sap,” extend the link to the natural world.  The blood of humans and the sap of plants connect to the celestial bodies, which shine above for us to look up at them and feel the connection, as humans have always done.  He then describes the scene as if it were moving, alive, the light gradually growing:

A new glimmer emanate[s] from the zenith which would dominate from above the first ones:  a much brighter star is inscribed in the center of the original septenary and its points are of red and yellow fire and it’s the Dog Star or Sirius, and it’s Lucifer Light  Bearer and it is, in its glory surpassing all the others, the Morning Star.  (68)

Above these shimmering stars the primary light of the scene rises.  By using the word “inscribed” to describe its appearance, the poet emphasizes the surrealist belief that the word itself can create magic and meaning.  The night sky, as a representative of all of the natural world, has its own system of symbols that can be felt and understood in a visceral way by allowing the imagination to wander in it freely, and to accept whatever images and associations the mind infuses into it.  The true poet then has the task of using words to help his readers have that same imaginative and sensory experience that he has had.

Breton also uses the image of the Star to act as a symbolic key to his experience of it.  But he does not pin that it down to any specific correspondence.  Instead, his imagination allows multiple associations to infuse the Star with fluid and changing meanings, enriching an already potent image.  Breton uses the story of the Egyptian god Osiris in other parts of Arcane 17 to reinforce the theme of eternal resurrection.  He brings up the Dog Star here, to the Egyptians a morning star that heralded the sun, which was associated with the goddess, Sepdet, a daughter of Osiris.  Sepdet had a child by him, the planet Venus, which we now know as our “Morning Star.”  This reference to Venus leads to the Roman/Greek goddess, shining down on mankind as a beacon of love and nurturing, properties that Breton associates with the divine feminine elsewhere in this work.  But the poet adds yet another association to this brightest of stars, that of “Lucifer Light Bearer.”  He is referring to the legend that the angel who rebelled against heaven fell from the sky, and is also identified with the Morning Star.  These overlapping references explode in the “glory surpassing all the others,” the Star that can illuminate Breton’s multiple themes: that the cycles of life lead to resurrection, that love and nature create harmony, and that rebellion is a means to true freedom.

Breton then describes the scene that appears by the light of the Star:

The landscape doesn’t light up till the very instant it appears, and at that instant life brightens again and immediately below the luminous blaze which just gave way to the one mentioned, a young woman is revealed, nude, kneeling by the side of a pond, and with her right hand she spills into the pond the contents of a golden urn, while her left hand empties onto the earth an equally inexhaustible silver urn.  Alongside that woman who, beyond Melusina, is Eve and now is all womankind, the leaves of an acacia rustle to the right while to the left a butterfly flutters on a bloom.  (68)

As the poet experiences the brightening of the sky from the appearance of the central, greatest Star, he invites us to use our own imaginations to see by its “luminous blaze,” to feel that “life brightens” again.  Breton then describes the figure in the center of the card, a naked young woman, kneeling as she pours out the contents of two urns, the gold one from her right hand into a pond, the silver from her left onto the ground.  The fluid and eternal nature of this process is marked by his use of the word “inexhaustible” in his description of the urns.  He associates this woman with the Melusina of European legend, a water fairy who marries a mortal, but because he does not follow the “rules” for a marriage between mortals and immortals, he loses her.  However, she still protects him from afar, in spite of the fact that he caused her banishment from the mortal world.  Breton sees Melusina as the embodiment of the divine feminine, a sensibility of natural love and understanding that men have banished from the modern world.  Breton also associates the woman with Eve, as the archetype of “all womankind,” implying that all women have the divine grace needed to save and nurture our world.  The woman of the Star card gives him hope that this archetypal principal is still hovering near our impoverished world, with the “inexhaustible” pitchers that could renew it.

A few pages later, Breton goes on to speak from the point of view of the two streams that flow from the urns, their purpose and properties:

The left hand stream.——I burn and I rouse, I carry out the fire’s bidding. . . . I’m headed for that bleak pond where, under phosphorescent creams, ideas which have ceased to move men have come to be buried.  And this pond belongs to the dogmas that have met their end, to which men no longer make sacrifices except out of habit and pusillanimity.  It belongs to the innumerable existences shut in on themselves, whose magma gives off , at certain times of the day, a pestilential odor but who still retain the power to glimmer with a new dream, because it is there that I bring the incessant bubbling of dissident ideas, of fermenting ideas and it’s through me that it rediscovers in its depths the secret principle of its whirlpools. (75-76)

Breton sees the pond renewed by the urn’s contents.  Its surface is covered with “phosphorescent creams,” producing an eerie but superficial light that hides outworn “dogmas” and the “innumerable existences shut in on themselves.”  Like the pond, the stagnant atmosphere of the modern world has no more vital belief systems, and no way for people to reach out and connect with each other. However, even though the pond gives off a “pestilential odor” in its morbidity, it still “glimmer[s]” in its longing for “a new dream.”  The urn’s stream can filter deep within the “bleak pond,” and make it “bubbl[e]” again, and recover the effervescence “of dissident ideas, of fermenting ideas” that can effect true change for the better in the world.  Then the poet speaks as the stream of the silver urn:

 The right hand stream.——I bewitch and I multiply.  I obey the freshness of water, capable of erecting its palace of mirrors in one drop and I’m heading for the earth which loves me, for the earth which couldn’t fulfill the seed’s promise without me.  And the seed opens, and the plant rises, and the marvelous operation takes place by which a single seed produces several.  And ideas would also cease to be fertile at the moment when man would no longer irrigate them with all that nature can individually instill in him in the way of clarity, mobility, generosity, and freshness of view point.  I bring to the soil where he walks the confidence he must have in the eternal greening of his reasons for hope at the very moments when they might appeared to have been destroyed. (76)

The fresh water of this urn joins up with “the earth which loves” it, allowing the naturally fertile ground to “fulfill the seed’s promise.”  Breton emphasizes the beauty of nature in what it has to offer us in itself, but he also uses water as a symbol of the nourishment that ideas need in order to grow “clarity, generosity, and freshness of view point” in the human mind.  As our suffering earth needs the bounty of “all that nature can . . . instill,” so does the “soil” of our minds need the “eternal greening” of hope to keep our lives and thoughts vibrant and growing.

Breton then returns to the image of the butterfly as it flutters near the woman, and he goes on to develop the butterfly as a symbol:

 The butterfly turns.  During this last passage it remained still and facing front, mimicking a hatchet of light planted in the flower.  A flutter now reveals its wing, thrice smattered with the dust of all precious stones.  Its pump doesn’t work anymore, imponderable instruments developing from the flowery sap pause in the course of this barely material activity.  And before taking flight to attend to the dissemination of the fecundating substance, before finding again the stippled and sinuous line that directs its flight, it only seems to exist in order to bring to our eyes the sumptuousness of that wing.  And in its turn it tells what a consoling mystery there is in the raising of successive generations, what new blood incessantly circulates and, so that the species may not suffer from the wearing down of the individual, what selection always takes place in time, succeeds in imposing its law above all.  Man sees this trembling wing which is, in all languages the capital letter that begins the word Resurrection.  Yes, the highest thoughts, the greatest sentiments can undergo a collective decline and the human heart can also break and books can age, and all things must, on the outside, die, but a power that is not at all supernatural makes death itself the basis for renewal.  To begin with, it guarantees all the exchanges which make sure that nothing precious is lost internally and that, through its obscure metamorphoses from season to season, the butterfly again puts on its exalted colors. (78)

At first the butterfly is “still,” as it would be on the card, but its presence draws our attention.  The juxtaposition of the delicate fluttering of a butterfly’s wing with an illuminating “hatchet of light,” as the poet sees it, alerts us to its importance, as if it is about to reveal the underlying reality of the scene before us.  The fragile beauty of the butterfly’s wing is a treasure as great as the “dust of all precious stones.”  Breton then goes on to describe the scientific and practical activities of the butterfly, how it takes in the nectar of the flower and then goes to “disseminat[e] the fecundating substance.” The butterfly is merely acting out its natural role, but the poet’s eye recognizes the moment of breath-taking surrealistic beauty as he gazes on the “sumptuousness of that wing” itself.  And then Breton explains the “consoling mystery” of the fragile butterfly.  Any member of a species can be worn down or destroyed, but “successive generations” carry on the legacy of each and every individual. Although ideas, achievements, and individuals will “decline” and “die,” the natural order of things makes even “death itself the basis for renewal.”  The poet needs no reassurances from the “supernatural” for promises of everlasting life, but instead feels the awesome power of nature itself as she continues to push forth new life “from season to season,” revealed to us in the promise of the butterfly’s “exalted colors.”

Breton deepens his experience of the card as he describes the creative visualization that takes place in his imagination as he continues to immerse himself in its details:

 The star reclaims its dominant position among the seven planets in the window whose fires grow dim to proclaim it the pure crystallization of night.  In the only corner that still remained walled with darkness, the claws of a thousand lynx lacerated everything that obstructed vision, releasing a tree as they settle in along its branches whose foliage is such a fascinating green that it seems to be made from the eyes of those same lynx.  I wait for everything to return to its original serenity.  The young woman continues to tilt her two vases over the ground and over the water, with her back to the thorny tree.  But imperceptibly the scene is changing . . . what’s going on?  The acacia comes so close it almost occupies the whole field of vision, doesn’t it look as if its arms are pulling apart the window frames?  Amazing!  It’s walking toward me, it’s going to turn me upside down:  I’m dreaming. (81)

The scene is essentially the same, the stars in the night sky, the woman pouring invigorating streams of water into the pond and onto the earth.  But it then takes a surrealist twist, and the poet describes what happens in his imagination as the picture on the card takes on a life of its own.  The small tree to the woman’s left has now grown large enough to hold “a thousand lynx,” whose only connection with the actual picture is the “fascinating green” of the foliage and the eyes of the lynx.  Their appearance lends an exotic and mysterious note to the scene that deepens its power.  And then Breton moves from a simple description of the details his imagination has added for him;  he starts to describe the actual process he undergoes in his hypnotic like trance of visualization.  He experiences surprise and awe, asking himself, “. . . what’s going on?”  In that space we can see only as an ellipsis, his “amazing” powers of the imagination breathe life into the original images.  Breton admired the poet Arthur Rimbaud for his call to poetry to provoke a “dereglement de tous les sens” (a derangement of all the senses) to be able to experience the world more fully, and here he seems to have found it for himself.  The tree in the card is now pushing through his window as well as the threshold of the card, about to turn him “upside down,” a true derangement of the mundane world that his imagination has effected for him.

Breton ends Arcane 17 with a message of hope and a call to action:

 “The angel of Liberty, born from a white feather shed by Lucifer during his fall, penetrates the darkness;  the star she wears on her forehead becomes, ‘first meteor, then comet and furnace.’”  We see how, where it may once have been unclear, the image sharpens;  it’s rebellion itself, rebellion alone is the creator of light.  And this light can only be known by way of three paths;  poetry, liberty, and love, which should inspire the same zeal and converge from the very cup of eternal youth, at the least explored and the most illuminable spot in the human heart.  (97)

He quotes Victor Hugo’s description of the “angel of liberty” from his epic poem, “La Fin de Satan.”  He describes the qualities of the angel’s star, identifying it with the properties of “Les Etoiles” he has experienced in the card and in his vivid imagination.  He follows its momentum, at first only a “meteor, then comet, then furnace.”  He calls for rebellion against the dogmas and lifestyles that no longer serve us or the earth, rebellion that will set the star on its blazing path of light.  “Poetry, liberty, and love” can inspire our journey to a sane and natural world if we allow the essence of the tarot Star to light up the “most illuminable spot in the human heart.”

BATS: A Weekend of Tarot Delights

September 2, 2011

This last weekend was the amazing Bay Area Tarot Symposium (BATS) in San Francisco.  It’s the first time I’ve attended both days of the event.  Although I’m suffering from a bit of psychic indigestion from partaking of the rich and extensive smorgasbord of our grand tarot repast, I also feel inspired to keep the ball rolling with my own tarot work.  There were three or four choices for each hourly session, and it was hard to choose between such a dazzling array of presenters.  Here’s a report on what I did get to attend.

I started with Thalassa’s talk on “The Shadow Dance and the Crawl Spaces of the Soul.”  Thalassa’s the illustrious leader of  BATS of and our Bay Area tarot community, but she still had time to entertain and enlighten us with her ideas about turning negative cards inside out for their calls to action rather than their predictive value.  Her delivery is so entertaining that you don’t even realize how much information you’re taking in, but I have learned to madly scribble down as many as I can of the metaphorical nuggets of gold as she effortlessly tosses them off. 

Then I attended Mary K. Greer’s workshop on working with Birth Cards and Year Cards.  The empress of tarot was unofficially launching her new book, Who Are You in the Tarot?  We  got a hands-on class, going deeply into the cards for their archetypal and practical value.  I’m no good at math, but her system was straightforward and sensible.  We did an exercise that looked at years of major turning points in our lives, and I found that the Hierophant, my soul card and archetypal card number five, the number of challenge, turned up as Year Card for four out of ten years!  Since then, I’ve been reflecting on all of the years I chose as turning points, and applying themes of the cards I got for those years.  Very helpful. 

After lunch I went to Jim Wanless’ presentation that featured his new deck, The Sustain Yourself Cards and Handbook to Live Well and Live Long.   The rich, evocative cards use a photomontage technique, with powerful and inspiring images.   Jim talked about how he had always wanted to do a “green” deck, but he has become more interested in one of the key ideas of the green movement, sustainability, in a larger sense.  His deck and his readings of the cards promotes sustainable and healthy growth for the environment, society, and for the individual.  We all walked out of there inspired and enthusiastic.

Next I got to attend the session I had been looking forward to for months, and it was as wonderful as I had hoped.  Mark Ryan was presenting on his new deck, The Wildwood Tarot.  His long out of print deck, The Greenwood Tarot, is impossible to get hold of, and this new one, created by Mark and John Matthews, illustrated by Will Worthington, is also to be treasured.  Every card offers a scene or figure of imaginative depth and mystery.  Mark’s presentation touched on the Celtic wheel of the year, and used the image of the longbow and arrow as a way to explain aiming towards a goal with focus and balance.  In fact, he actually strung a longbow and aimed his arrow to give us a real sense of aiming at a target. He also shared some wonderful stories from his past about places and events that had inspired him to work with these symbols and themes.  He talked about how he had grown up playing in Sherwood Forest, camping out in castle ruins,and then of starring in the haunting mythological 1980’s TV program, Robin of Sherwood.   It all made for one magical hour.

I rounded out the afternoon with Ellen Lorenzi-Prince’s workshop on the ancient and modern concept of genius.  She helped us connect with our tarot genius, a part of ourselves that can guide and inspire us.  We got to work and share with the people around us, and reached some great insights into ourselves, and the nature of  genius.  And Ellen guided us in quiet, meditative visualizations that helped each of us connect with our own genius, our own guide.  It was a relaxing and rewarding sesion to finish off the day.

The next day was a little more low key, not quite as much going on, so it was a little easier to choose.  We all got to enjoy A Musing on the tarot, hilariously presented for us by Nancy Antenucci, Dan Pelletier, and Rhonda Lund.  Nancy says she likes the idea of a “3D tarot,” a tarot that comes alive, inspired by the muse.  This skit of a tarot/psychic reading really did give life to cards it explored, and made us all laugh!

The next session I gave my own presentation on Andre Breton, the French surrealist, and his Arcane 17, a long prose poem.  I had a great group to work with, and I wish we had had a longer session to allow everybody to participate.  I learned a lot from my audience even in the brief time we had, and when I get my entries up on the actual passages we looked at, I’ll share some of those brilliant insights from the participants.

Sunday afternoon, I was lucky enough to get a reading from Mark Ryan, with his Wildwood Tarot.  He used his Longbow Spread, and the cards really sang as the “arrow” shot towards its target.  The reading itself was inspiring, exploring the cards and spread helped me to understand the workings of the deck for my own readings, and just getting to chat with him and hear more of his stories was awesome.   When I told him I was a fan of Robin of Sherwood since the 80’s, and that I show episodes of it to my students in my mythology classes, he gave me some large autographed photos to put in my classroom.  My reading gave me a memorable experience with a very nice man, who has a mythical yet practical view of the cards and of life.   

Because of my reading, I missed most of the last regular session, but I tried to catch part of Shawn Nacol’s workshop on “Finding Fortune.”  Shawn’s energy and enthusiasm filled the room. He makes his method of focusing readings to get specific insights and action plans accessible and practical, but at the same time it allows for answers of depth and imagination.  I didn’t hear enough about it, but I am definitely going to learn more.

At the end of the day, we got to listen to several of the presenters speak on a panel.  We learned about the ways they got into tarot, where they think tarot is going now, and how important the growth of technology has been to the spread of tarot in general, and individual readers and writers in particular.  It was amazing to hear the stories and ideas of so many tarot stars.

BATS celebrated its 20th anniversary with this conference, held in a new and very professional venue, with the best attendance in the symposium’s history.  Its great success this year bodes well for the future of the event, and for our growing tarot community.

Andre Breton’s Arcane 17: An Exploration of the Tarot’s Star card

August 26, 2011

During WWII, the French surrealist poet, Andre Breton, lived in America in self imposed exile. He spent three months in the far reaches of northeastern Canada, where he struggled to make sense of personal losses he had experienced, as well as of the horror and bleakness of global war. During that time, he wrote his extended prose poem, Arcane 17, the title referring to tarot card 17, the Star card. A work of poetic alchemy, this book offers hope for the individual and for our fragile world in advocating an embracing of the divine feminine in nature and in ourselves. The Star serves as a key to the symbolism of the work, and Breton’s method of exploring the image of the card uses creative visualization, offering transformation and transcendence. By examining some of the passages that specifically refer to the Star card, we can follow his surrealist method of drawing meaning from an image that takes on a life of its own when the imagination takes the leap to become one with it. I am giving a presentation on this work at the Bay Area Tarot Symposium this weekend, and I’ll be posting some analysis of Arcane 17 here. Please check in to see more soon!

Tarot Birthcard: The Chariot

June 23, 2011

Russian Tarot of St. Petersburg by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.

Here is a birthcard reading for card VII, The Chariot.   To find out your own personal birthcard, click here.

The archetype of The Chariot represents finding direction in life, while reconciling opposing desires and perspectives.  With the Chariot as your birthcard, you have a tendency to “find” yourself in situations of conflict, and to actively seek out challenges.  You get great satisfaction in working through conflict, which you do mostly with the help of your outstanding abilities to reason and communicate.  You like to have a sense of constant movement that leads to progression in your life.  You enjoy travel, and see your life as a long journey with inner as well as outer voyages and stops.  You need balance and harmony to function at your best, but you often find that your emotions and your mind fight against each other, the mental and emotional “horses” dragging each other from your chosen path.  When the two are in balance within you, the outer events of your life sail along with an exhilarating feeling of speed and a true sense of direction.  In addition to the qualities of the image of the Chariot, which expand and personify numerological properties, the number 7, your number, also has significance in itself.  The 7 marks a fresh start, a new direction, and is considered a special number, the mystical number.  It can’t be broken down into smaller parts or fully understood.  People with 7 as their number often experience a sense of mystery and destiny that is paradoxically never satisfied in an answer or a goal, but only in finely tuned movement and change.

The image of The Chariot from the Tarot of St. Petersburg shows the charioteer in control of his path.  This powerful driver can be seen as a representation of Dazhbog, the pre-Christian Slavic god who drives his diamond chariot of the sun across the sky every day.  He is attended by the stars and planets, seen behind him, and the moon, which arches over his shoulders as a cloak.  His chariot is drawn by fiery, headstrong horses who struggle to break away and follow their own paths.  The chariot of this myth represents an inner struggle between two seemingly contradictory facets of the personality:  the heart, and the mind, which pull in different directions.  Each of the “horses” is intent on getting his own way, even if he tears the chariot to pieces.  With The Chariot as your archetype, you see your life as a path to be traveled, maintaining control, and focusing the energy inherent in these potentially destructive steeds to move you forwards.  As Dazhbog shows you in this image, you do not need to clutch the reins too tightly.  Your control of the red horse of passion and the white horse of reason can come from a strong sense of purpose, and an instinctive ability to “harness” your own emotions and thoughts to help you reach your goal.

The message of The Chariot is that opposites can stand side by side, as in the dualism of Slavic mythology.  This aspect of that ancient religion is unlike the dualism of most other Western religions, where opposites of good and evil fight with each other for supremacy.  Instead, Slavic dualism, seen in Dazhbog’s journey from day to night, or from summer to winter, allows light and dark, reason and passion, heat and cold, to complement each other to form a harmonious whole.  The identity of each of your “horses” is made more distinct by contrast with its opposing characteristic or position.  Yes, the pull of opposites can create conflict in your life when two goals or desires threaten to upset the stability of your chariot.  But without conflict, there is no progress, for it is conflict which induces you to change and grow, making you dissatisfied with your present way of living and forcing you to find new solutions.  It is understandable to perceive The Chariot as too risky a possibility, to be unwilling to take up the reins because they don’t seem strong enough to tame the horses, to reconcile your conflicting desires.  But only by controlling your fears and harnessing all your forces towards a chosen, clearly defined purpose can you victoriously meet your challenges.  The Chariot as your birthcard gives you the ability to take up the reins of your own life, put yourself in the driver’s seat, and choose your life’s direction.

Tarot Birthcard: Strength

June 21, 2011

Rider-Waite Tarot by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.

My friend Sophia tells me she figured out her birthcard number to find that it’s 8, the Strength card, so I thought I would choose that one to work with today.  To find out your birthcard, click here.

The lion subdued by a graceful maiden is the traditional image for this card, representing the balance of opposites within an individual.  The fiery nature of the lion is a metaphor for the raw power and impulses that well up inside of you, even when you are presenting an outward “maidenly” appearance.  When channeled towards a purpose, this power is productive and invigorating, but out of control it can be dangerous and destructive.  The maiden’s “force” is anything but forceful; her gentleness tames the unmodified power of the lion and he becomes a gentle friend, companion and servant.  As an image of your archetype, this card shows the possibility of awakening your potential energy, which may be brought into full awareness only through the agencies of self-understanding and compassion, which can help you harness your lion to empower you to accomplish your goals.

Your inner passions are the source of your love and creativity, but they constantly need to be processed to be understood and expressed.  You have good, strong instincts that can guide you, but you must let them flow through you at a pace and level that will not knock you off balance.  Passion can be overwhelming if allowed to rule your life without being tempered with thoughts and beliefs.  But if channeled into productive expression, it can give you the intuitive guidance to help you make your decisions, and to power your efforts once you start to act.

Sometimes, because of outside influences, you may feel like your impulses and instincts should be put down or ignored, that practical concerns and societal pressures should be listened to, even against your own instincts.  Trust your inner self to know best; your passions will lead you in the direction that is right for you, and your own Strength will be the only force you need to guide you in the direction that will allow you to enjoy and employ your passions in a healthy and productive way.

The fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast fits both the image and the spirit of this card.  When the kind and gentle Beauty first finds herself a “prisoner” in the Beast’s castle, she sees him only as a fearsome and brutal creature.  The Beast also feels himself loathsome and monstrous in her presence, and they uneasily keep each other at bay.  Over time, Beauty’s quiet and compassionate influence “tames” the Beast, bringing out his humanity.  They eventually form a loving relationship that allows them to rule together in harmony over the Beast’s realm.  The raw power of the Beast is channeled into life and love giving Strength through Beauty’s gentle touch.

This card’s archetype offers you an inner Strength that gently helps you find an outlet and purpose for the raw forcefulness of your passion for love and life.  Like the infinity sign that appears above the maiden’s head like a halo, your life can flow in balance and harmony when your power is tamed by compassion and love, for yourself and for others.

Tarot Birthcard: The Empress

June 17, 2011

Russian Tarot of St. Petersburg by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.

Each person has his or her personal archetypal tarot card determined by birth date. This card reflects personality, life’s journey and outlook, like a sun sign in astrology. To find out your birthcard, click here.  Here is an interpretation for birthcard III, The Empress.

With the Empress as your archetype, you have the ability to foster growth, creativity and abundance, for yourself and for those around you.  The Empress is at home in her castle, her garden, and enjoys making her environment comfortable and nurturing for anyone in her realm.  She is at home in the natural world, and feels connected to plants and animals, but even in urban situations, she has an ability to feel natural currents in people and in settings, even though those currents may not be apparent to others.  She also has a sensibility to the dynamics of relationships and interchanges that go on around her.  She can feel the undercurrents of conversations and situations, even when she cannot articulate them, or perhaps not even completely understand them.  Sometimes this ability can manifest itself as an unwanted trait–making her too sensitive to people, and not being able to figure out why.  But when she feels at home, in work or relationships, she becomes the queen of her environment, able to forge alliances, charm her subjects, share power with her equals, work towards goals that benefit herself and those around her, with power, control, and elegance.

Where the Empress walks, things grow, no doubt about it.  This can offer opportunities for abundance and growth, but sometimes, the growth can become overgrown.  The Empress loves the feeling of plants and projects putting out new tendrils that climb walls like ivy, but she also has a tendency not to like to prune the garden as it flourishes around her.  Sometimes, the sheer amount of things she has grown turns to clutter, whether internal or external.  Your internal Empress needs to remind you that clearing out old, dead wood and brush is necessary to allow for change and new growth.  And when you clip off those dead branches, growth occurs like magic, whether in your garden or in your life.  Your gift is a green thumb with people and plants, as long as you keep yourself in balance, continually clearing out old growth to allow for the new.

The number 3 itself is the number of synthesis. 1 point is unity or aloneness, 2 points is a pair, or a line between 2 points. But 3 points can form a triangle, something new and unexpected that transforms and unites the 2 floating points that preceded it.  With 3 as your number, you have the potential to see the essence of disparate elements, find a possibility to combine them, and bring them together in a way that builds a cornerstone of something new and exciting that no one realized was possible.

The image of the Empress of “The Tarot of St. Petersburg” shows her sitting in colorful, elegant garb, in a rich and comfortably cushioned throne.  But in spite of the beauty and comfort of her position as Empress, she also holds her sceptre in one hand and her shield in the other, ready to get up at a moment’s notice to deal with matters of state, or to go forth to wage war to protect her realm.  The tale of Tsarina Maria Morevna gives us a story that is worthy of the Empress herself.  The pagan queen, Maria Morevna, is a powerful ruler and warrior, who falls in love with a Christian Tsar.  She is capable and confident, and shares almost everything with her love, but tells him not to go into the dungeon while she is not there.  He does, and because he does not heed her warnings, he accidentally frees Maria’s dangerous prisoner. This prisoner, Koschey the Deathless, escapes, kidnaps her, and takes her to his home, far, far away.  Tsar Ivan has let his Empress down, not trusting her wisdom and competence.  He spends long and hard months atoning for his mistake.  He eventually frees her from Koshchey the Deathless, but only after she communicates to him how to get a magic horse that is fast enough to carry them away from her captor.  They become Tsar and Tsarina together, perfectly matched, ruling together, loving each other in wisdom and harmony.

Maria is confident and capable, and can rule her people and those of her husband with intelligence and a sense of purpose.  Like the Empress, she works hard and is willing to fight to take care of her lands and her subjects, but she also has a tendency to want to control her realm all by herself.  Although she trusts Ivan, she does not tell him the information he needs to keep him from making his almost fatal mistake.  She expects trust, but feels that she knows best, and she thinks that should be enough for both her subjects and her loved ones.  The Empress needs to remember that in all relationships, whether emotional or professional, sharing the truth and the “magic” that keep her world living and growing is essential to her own happiness, as well as the happiness of those she loves and works with.

You have the ability to create your own realm, nurturing your world so that it flourishes.  Revel in your connection with people and nature; allow yourself to feel the delight in your connectedness to them in an atmosphere of love and harmony. Know that your sensitivity to others is a gift that may sometimes feel overwhelming, but makes you the caring and compassionate Empress you know you can be, the Empress who can wield her sceptre of power and justice in her own life.

Tarot Birthcard: The Lovers

June 14, 2011

Rider-Waite Tarot by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.

Each person has his or her personal archetypal tarot card determined by birth date. This card reflects personality, life’s journey and outlook, like a sun sign in astrology. To find out your birthcard, click here. Here is an interpretation for birthcard VI, The Lovers.

The archetype of The Lovers represents passion, for a person, a cause, work, nature, anything that you can find yourself totally consumed by.  People who have this card as their lifetime archetype tend to feel overwhelmed by their strong emotions and beliefs, and when unable to act upon their feelings, can become frustrated, angry or depressed.  You sense the Divine all around you, but sometimes it feels like an ocean of spirit and feeling that you can’t articulate about or take action on.  Your intuition and instinct makes you want to rush around and do everything you can for those you care about or in performing tasks you feel worth doing, but you have a hard time channeling your passion for love and life to make your everyday life manageable.  You need a funnel to provide yourself with a small stream of this Divine gift, this ocean you would like to immerse yourself in, just dealing with one small miraculous aspect of life at a time.

The Greek myth of the Labours of Psyche provides an example that reflects the nature of this card.  Psyche was assigned certain tasks before she could have any hope of winning back her lover, Eros.  One of them was to fill up a cup with water from a stream, almost a river, that came bursting out of a high cliff.  Psyche took the cup and went to look at this wild, crashing waterfall that rushed out into the air and fell to the bottom of a great abyss.  She saw no way to reach it, and even if she could, she would not have the strength to hold the cup up to this mighty stream.  She felt like giving up, she could see no alternative.  A great eagle flew from the sky and asked her why she was crying.  She explained her predicament, and the eagle offered to help.  He took the cup in his strong beak and rose up in the sky, and coming in close to the great rushing water, filled it to the brim with the clear, cool elixir that Psyche needed to take back to her taskmistress, Aphrodite, the goddess of love. She thanked the eagle for his help and carried the cup back with great care, never spilling a drop, and was able to move on to the next stage of her journey.

In mythical terms, this tale describes the feeling of trying to hold on to all the passion of the universe that wells up in our hearts and motivates us to act on our feelings and desires, but which also can knock us over or drown us with its force.  The eagle, denizen of the sky, the air, represents our mental facilities and analytical skill. He can fly a straight line through the clouds and across great distances that separate us from our goals.  With the Lovers as your tarot archetype, you tend to follow your heart, but also have the eagle’s keen eyesight (insight) and ability to fly straight (to go to the essence of a situation) to fulfill your hopes and dreams.

Another key element of this card, related to this duality of heart and mind that you find yourself dealing with, is the struggle of your subconscious to break into your waking consciousness.  This deep intuition about and concern for those around you, as well as for the community, the world, pushes you to find ways to bring your dreams into your waking life, even when others find you impractical or over emotional about your goals.  You can never be satisfied emotionally with a relationship, a job, a way of life, unless your spiritual needs are met as well.  You have the ability and intuition to bring the dualities of your life together in harmony, that is the nature of The Lovers, your archetype.  Trust your feelings, they are strong and true, but let your head guide you to the best practical way to accomplish your goals and show those you love how you can truly care for them.

Finding Your Birthcard

June 14, 2011

Each person has his or her own personal archetypal tarot card determined by birth date. This card reflects your personality and outlook, as well as your potential—qualities that will be helpful for you to develop throughout your life.

There are different systems for calculating your birth card. I recommend this easy method.

Take each digit of your birth date and add them together.

For example,

January 3, 1980 is calculated like this: 1 + 3 + 1 + 9 + 8 + 0 = 22.

September 22, 1947 is calculated like this:  9 + 2 + 2 + 1 + 9 + 4 + 7 = 34.

October 29, 1999 is calculated like this:  1 + 0 + 2 + 9 + 1 + 9 + 9 + 9 = 40.

If the resulting number equals 22, such as in the first example, keep it. Your birth card is The Fool. If the resulting number is a double digit other than 22, add the digits together to reduce the number.

In the last two examples above,

34 reduces like this: 3 + 4 = 7. The birth card for 7 is The Chariot.

40 reduces like this: 4 + 0 = 4. The birth card for 4 is The Emperor.

If the resulting number is a double digit other than 22, reduce it again. For example, May 24, 1952 must be reduced twice like this:

5 + 2 + 4 + 1 + 9 + 5 + 2 = 28

2 + 8 = 10

1 + 0 = 1. The birth card for 1 is The Magician.

Each reduced number corresponds with a Major Arcana card as follows:

1 = The Magician

2 = The High Priestess

3 = The Empress

4 = The Emperor

5 = The Hierophant

6 = The Lovers

7 = The Chariot

8 = Strength

9 = The Hermit

22 = The Fool (On his card, The Fool’s actual number is 0.)

I’ll be posting detailed entries about individual birthcards, watch for yours, coming soon!

Yeats’ “Symbols”

June 13, 2011

The great Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, mined the tarot for ideas for some of his most powerful poetry.  In his short poem, “Symbols,” he creates a haunting scene that depicts some of the tarot’s most recognizable images:

A storm beaten old watch-tower,
A blind hermit rings the hour.

All destroying sword-blade still
Carried by the wandering fool.

Gold-sewn silk on the sword-blade,
Beauty and fool together laid.

To those who are familiar with the tarot, the images in the poem are clearly drawn from it; however, Yeats is going beyond just a creative visualization of tarot motifs. He entitles the poem “Symbols,” not “Tarot Symbols.” As with his use of Irish and Greek mythology, or Christianity, in other poems, his vision goes beyond the specific images depicted. He explores the ability of the human imagination to see powerful symbolic meaning in physical objects.

We may draw on the richness of the tarot to help us envision this scene in our minds, but even if you’ve never heard of the tarot, you can still feel a frisson of fear and expectancy as the shadowy hermit sounds the tower’s great bell. The “all-destroying” nature of the fool’s sword clashes with, but is somehow softened by, the “gold-sewn silk,” and presents us with a confusing and yet satisfying combination of the precious beauty and the blundering foolishness of the quest.

The symbols come together to stir our imaginations, to lead us to recognize the archetypal nature of the journeys we all take in our daily lives, the mythic warnings and battles and treasures that can illuminate our daily struggles and triumphs. With this poem, Yeats helps us reconnect with the sometimes forgotten dreams and depths of which we are capable, allowing us to see our lives’ journeys for the heroic quests they are.