Monday, December 31, 2012

A True Classic Never Goes Out of Style

When you say "Tarot cards" to most people, what do they think of? I've found most people think of the Rider- Waite Tarot cards, and it seems these are the most recognizable Tarot cards out there. Looking at the history of the cards, the deck was designed by members of the Golden Dawn occult society, and arguably the most noticeable difference between this and previous decks is that the Minor Arcana cards are illustrated, after a fashion. Instead of simply displaying the number and suit of the cards, there are explanatory pictures that point to the meaning of each card. This may well explain a great deal of the deck's popularity, and my experience is that many new readers take the Rider-Waite as their first deck to cut their teeth on.
Delving into the copyright laws surrounding the deck, we also can see that there are really no copyright protections on the actual images. It's true that US Games, located in my own home state of Connecticut, holds the copyright for the Rider-Waite deck as we know it today. However, the deck is so old that the copyright on the imagery has long since expired, making the deck pretty much public domain, and meaning that many decks make use of, alter and adapt the Rider-Waite imagery.
One side note, that the original woodcut-style artwork was actually done by Pamela Colman-Smith, and was later redone with brighter colors and better printing, to produce the Rider-Waite deck we know today- the one in the yellow box. (I've also found that most people who are somewhat familiar with Tarot cards will recognize the term "the one in the yellow box" as well).
"There can be only one true interpretation of the Tarot! Everything else is just plain wrong!"
So does this make the R-W deck superior? What about the Crowley-Thoth deck, another popular choice? And what about decks that completely leave behind the more traditional imagery for a more impressionistic version? There are a lot of "theme" decks out there, many likewise based around this kind of prototype deck. Often reviews will refer to how a new deck is based around the R-W imagery system, or deviates from it. While it's nice to have a point of reference, does this mean this particular deck is superior?
While it may be easier to use, the cards of the Tarot reflect situations; the pictures and numbers serve a symbolic, not literal, purpose. Take the Six of Swords as a for example:
The imagery is not literal, though it could be. Should you expect to get ferried across a river somewhere? Though this is not impossible, consider the more symbolic aspects of the card- travel, moving away from one situation to another, and the accompanying thoughts that come with that change. Perhaps it's bittersweet, moving away from what you knew to the promise of something better. The Tarot cards also tend to be multi-faceted; many layers of meaning are present, tied together around a core concept.
Though there are common themes among the Tarot cards, looking beyond the surface meaning of the pictures, whatever they may be, to the underlying meaning is important in using them effectively. I've noticed with different decks, sometimes different aspects of each particular card come to the forefront as well. When choosing a deck, pick one that you can relate to! I'm sure I'm not alone when I say I'm excited to see what new developments and new concepts this upcoming year will bring! I'm always fascinated by Tarot artwork, and its often impressionistic nature. I've found that in many cases the artist brings out some aspect of the card  and its meaning I hadn't considered.
As we move into the new year, best wishes to everyone, and happy reading! Don't fear change, and hold to your truths!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Tarot Dignities, Part 3- The Court Cards

Finally, we come to the Court cards- the Pages, Knights, Queens and Kings- they are similar to the number cards in that they have a designated place as well as a suit assignment. They can also be assigned a number, based on their position in their Court. For purposes here, let's regard the Court cards as simply either a positive or negative (read: active or passive) element. As we know, each of the Courts is assigned to a specific element:
Kings- Fire
Queens-Water
Knights-Air
Pages-Earth

In this system, I'm using the Rider-Waite/Golden Dawn system of categorizing the Court cards- it's true that the Crowley-Thoth deck uses a different system of order, but keep in mind that the order of the elements in the Courts comes into play here. The elements appear in an order, and there's a reason for this. Going from "lowest" to "highest", first we have Earth- the prima materia from which things are formed. Above this we have Air, logical and structured, giving order and more importantly, design to the base material of Earth. Above this is the imbuing of this material with spirit and emotion, shown by Water, and finally, manifestation in accordance with will, shown in the Fire of the Kings. But again, for our purposes here we have two positive elements, Fire and Air, and one negative element, Water. The Pages, being related to Earth, can be either seen as negative or neutral. My own experience tells me that Earth is most often a neutral element in that it represents the raw  materials, neither creative nor destructive, as this depends on what ends you put them towards. However, Earth can also be seen as negative, in its passive sense, like Water. Should you wish to preserve symmetry in the Courts, you can also assign the Pages as a negative dignity. This will also depend to a large extent on what your own experience is in reading the deck.
When using the Court cards as dignities, we run into a couple tricky areas- first, we can view the cards in terms of their suits in terms of what areas of life this influence is coming from, and second, it is true that in many cases the cards do represent people or a given relationship to another person, most commonly the relationship of the querent to this person. I hate to keep falling back on this explanation, but again, it will depend on the experience of each reader whether or not they wish to include the Courts at all in the system of dignities. The Courts, representing people, do throw an additional monkey wrench in the works in terms of representing people, as well as having two different elements in each card- that of the Court position, and that of the suit element.
But for explanation purposes, we find the following assignments in terms of dignities in the Courts-
Kings- Positive (Fire)
Queens- Negative (Water)
Knights- Positive (Air)
Pages- Negative (Earth) (or Neutral, if you prefer)
In concluding an explanation of dignities, keep in mind that the meaning of each card taken as a whole is important. All the cards contain multiple levels of meaning, and understanding the meaning, both gross and fine, of the cards themselves is the key to understanding both dignities and the Tarot.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tarot Dignities, Part Two- The Minor Arcana


In considering the Minor Arcana as dignities, we find that there are two aspects to each card, as here the cards are assigned both a suit and a number. Whereas the Major Arcana cards have a specific designation in terms of their title and meaning, we find that here the cards are defined in terms of their number and suit. We can likewise assign the Courts a numerical value, but for the time being let's look at just the number or pip cards. In the four suits we also find the four elements represented- interestingly, there are two elements that could be considered negative, that is, passive, and two that could be considered positive- that is, active. Both Air and Fire are active; they can be seen as acting upon, whereas Water and Earth can be considered passive- they are acted upon rather than acting. We can also consider Earth to be a neutral element, as in some systems it is thought to be the basis from which the other, more active and fluid elements arise.
But on to the numbers- turning again to the Sephiroth, we can see three vertical divisions in the Tree of Life diagram, and these can likewise be used to assign each number one of the three dignities- positive, negative or neutral. 
In this diagram, there are three numbers on the left side, three on the right, and four in the middle, totaling 10. In this depiction, the left hand pillar is called the Pillar of Severity, or alternately the Pillar of Judgement- here we assign those numbers that are thought to have a constructive, yet also limiting influence. On the right hand side is the Pillar of Mercy, sometimes also called the Pillar of Expansion- these are the numbers thought to have a supportive, sustaining influence. Interestingly, the Pillar of Severity can be considered to give form and structure by limiting expansion, whereas the Pillar of Mercy provides the raw material that is structured and limited. The middle pillar could be said to contain, then, the neutral numbers. It's common for the Aces and 10s to be regarded as both neutral, the 10 marking a point of completion, where the Aces then pick up again. So in this system as far as dignities are concerned, we find the Aces and 10s to be equivalent for our purposes.
With these two concepts, limitation and expansion, the numbered cards of the deck can be seen as acting in accordance with this, either to expand or limit the energy of a given card. And this, in turn, can indicate a positive or negative dignity- remember that for these purposes a positive dignity is one that acts favorably (expands or intensifies the energy of a given card) towards the situation, and a negative dignity is one that acts antagonistically (reduces or limits the energy of a given card).
Notice also that both the Aces and 10s are considered neutral in this system- this is because both represent potential. What we use this potential for can be either good or bad; think of them as raw material, that can be used to make a weapon to harm or a tool to construct. We find the following numbers with their respective categories:
Positive: (Expansive, increasing and supporting) 2, 4, 7
Negative: (Limiting, decreasing and setting boundaries) 3, 5, 8
Neutral: (Representing potential and raw material) Ace, 6, 9, 10
Considering also the elements, there are two ways to look at the cards- one is to consider their elemental assignment or placement in terms of the Zodiac, which is useful in terms of the Major Arcana, as well as their numerical value, which is useful for the Minor Arcana. However, the elemental assignments of the Minors can also be taken into consideration, as each of the four elements represents an area of our lives, relationships and development. In terms of dignities, this can likewise indicate a little more about that particular dignity- here the elements can indicate what area that positive influence is coming from. The Swords indicate communication, thought or ideas. Cups indicate spiritual, emotional or relationship factors, Wands indicate will and determination, and finally Pentacles indicate material resources. This is a somewhat arbitrary system, and there is bound to be a good deal of overlap, so again, use your own judgement on what each dignity can mean, and be sure to take the situation into account as well. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Tarot Dignities- The Major Arcana

First off, what are dignities? The term as it applies here refers to other cards around a given card, or event; basically, what other factors influence a person or event depicted in a reading? There are three categories of dignities, positive, negative and neutral. This refers to the event or person, and what our desired outcomes regarding this are. Positive dignities are towards our desired outcome; negative dignities are against or contrary to that desired outcome, while neutral dignities are neither. Let's look at it in terms of an example- I'm sitting here contemplating a business venture. Should I do it? Is it a sound investment? Let's say, continuing this example, that things look pretty good- the time is right to make this move. Now let's say I find a positive dignity in regards to this situation. This means that it's very likely that things will really work out, and I'll find a greater degree of success than I expected, or perhaps success in a different direction than I had originally figured.
Now, if there's a negative dignity in regards to this situation, I could expect some trouble down the line- perhaps not failure, but something to watch out for and be cautious of. Remember that negative dignities work against a desired outcome, or the outcome or situation shown in the reading- think of them as influences, either boosting or hindering what the cards show the outcome to be.
A neutral dignity simply is there- it means that the forces or factors coming to bear on this situation are neither for nor against the outcome; it's up to you, the querent, or whomever is making the decisions what they want to do; there are for all intents and purposes no forces working for or against a given situation.

So having established that dignities exist, where are they? This depends largely on the placement of the cards- adjacent cards in a reading can be said to be dignities; a good example of this is a 3-card reading, wherein the center card would be dignified by the two cards on either side of it. Another example is a time-based spread, where we have past, present and future- similar to the above three-card reading, but it can be expanded. If we have a negative dignity in the past position, this can indicate that a troublesome past can hinder the present situation, or even perhaps that there are some things in the past that need to be resolved before the querent can move on in the present. In both cases, the negative dignity hinders or works against the desired outcome in the present situation.
In the case of a positive dignity in the past, we find that events that have occurred already only increase the likelihood of a desired outcome. Years of study and hard work increase your chances of becoming a first-chair musician- in the same way, what has occurred already, be it deliberate or happy accident, will help in the present.
What do the dignities look like? Let's begin with the Major Arcana, and its relevant factors. The names and affiliations of the Major Arcana cards are the main factor in determining meaning, whereas in the Minor Arcana the suit and number cards give them meaning. The Majors have an elemental, planetary and/or zodiac affiliation, and both the planetary and zodiac affinities determine whether that card is positive or negative. We can consider the elements in terms of their properties, and then find the following- under positive elemental dignities, we have Air and Fire, both considered active elements- they act rather than are acted upon, that  is to say. In terms of negative dignities, we have Water, which is considered a passive element. Interestingly, Earth can be considered either negative or neutral, and the community at large seems divided on this decision. Should you consider Earth negative, then that's fine, or if you find it neutral, then use it in this sense also. Like much of Tarot, it depends on the individual reader. For discussion purposes here, we'll consider Earth to be neutral. 
In the Major Arcana, we find these same divisions, the first of which is the elemental affiliations; these Major Arcana cards represent the qualities of that element, and are as follows:
Fire
- XX- Judgement
Air
-0- The Fool
Water
-XII- The Hanged Man
Earth
XXI- The World
Obviously, the pure elemental affiliations don't cover the whole of the Major Arcana. There are also the signs of the zodiac to consider, and these divide as well into the four elements in the following way:
Fire (Positive)
  • IV- The Emperor- Aries
  • VIII- Strength- Leo
  • XIV- Temperance- Sagittarius
Air (Positive)
  • VI- The Lovers- Gemini
  • XI-Justice- Libra
  • XVII- The Star- Aquarius
Water (Negative)
  • VII- The Chariot- Cancer
  • XIII-Death- Scorpio
  • XVIII- The Moon- Pisces
Earth (Neutral)
  • V- The Hierophant- Taurus
  • IX- The Hermit- Virgo
  • XV- The Devil- Capricorn
The remaining Major Arcana cards fall under the planetary influences- again, each planet has an elemental affiliation, and from this we find the following:
Positive Planets
  • XIX- The Sun- Sun
  • XVI- The Tower- Mars

    Negative Planets

  • -IV- The Empress- Venus
Neutral Planets
  • I- The Magician- Mercury
  • X- The Wheel of Fortune- Jupiter


Finally, putting them all together, we find the following list of dignities in the Major Arcana:

Card
Affiliation
Dignity
0-The Fool
Air
Positive
I- The Magician
Mercury
Neutral
II- The High Priestess
Moon (Water)
Negative
III The Empress
Venus (Water)
Negative
IV- The Emperor
Aries (Fire)
Positive
V- The Hierophant
Earth (Earth)
Neutral
VI- The Lovers
Gemini (Air)
Positive
VII- The Chariot
Cancer (Water)
Negative
VIII- Strength
Leo (Fire)
Positive
IX- The Hermit
Virgo (Earth)
Neutral
X The Wheel of Fortune
Jupiter
Neutral
XI- Justice
Libra (Air)
Positive
XII- The Hanged Man
Water
Negative
XIII- Death
Scorpio (Water)
Negative
XIV- Temperance
Sagittarius (Fire)
Positive
XV- The Devil
Capricorn (Earth)
Neutral
XVI- The Tower
Mars (Fire)
Positive
XVII- The Star
Aquarius (Air)
Positive
XVIII-The Moon
Moon (Water)
Negative
XIX- The Sun
Sun
Positive
XX- Judgment
Fire
Positive
XXI-The World
Saturn
Neutral


Where there are corresponding elements to a zodiac sign or planet, the element is listed in parentheses. Keep in mind that this is only one way of interpreting the cards, and that not all readers use a system of dignities. As always, remember that the role of intuition can't be overstated, and most of all, use your own experience! There are different ways of using dignities, and like the Tarot, it varies based on the reader. Keep in mind that the elements, as well as the terms positive and negative refer to the overall influence the card exerts on the situation- take into account also the specific cards that occur in the reading, as well as where they are in the reading.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Doctor Who and the Tarot

“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint – it’s more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly… time-y wimey… stuff.” -The Doctor

Venturing into new realms of geekiness, I realized there is actually some truth to this. For those of you not in the know, the Doctor is the title character in the long-running British TV series Doctor Who. He is the last member of a race known as Time Lords, who, as the name suggests, have the ability to travel both through time and space. This being the case, it's entirely possible to rewrite your own history, to some extent. However, we discover in the course of the show that certain things in time need to happen for the stability of the universe as a whole. 
Now what does this have to do with Tarot cards? At first, it would seem next to nothing. But actually, we find that the knowledge of our position in time gives us also some degree of control and decision- we can change the path we're on. But before we can do that, first we must understand the mechanism of time, and the mechanisms of action and reaction. 
First, let's look at relativity- what we find is that time is not a fixed concept- it changes relative to the observer. Yet even being relative, there are constants- Albert Einstein proposes the speed of light as a constant- that is, nothing can move faster than the speed of light. So we have two concepts here- first, that things can be relative. Second, that even within this relativity there are constants. Extrapolating from this, we can see that in our own lives there are constants, as well as relative factors. Going back to the good Doctor, we see that though things can be different from each point of observation, and subsequently, that they are somewhat flexible, there are also constants. Without these constants, how could we "know" anything? Everything would be relative, without an objective standard. In one episode, we find that the Doctor's traveling companion, Rose, has an opportunity to prevent her father from dying in a car accident. She travels back to the time and place of his death and prevents him from being hit by the car that kills him. But by doing this, she learns the hard way that there are certain things in our timelines that need to happen. In this case, her father's death was one of them. The implications here are first, that we are never powerless. The Tarot does not predict the future as much as it does illuminate what's going on, and allows us to see behind the proverbial curtain. It does not point to things that are inevitable, though these also exist. We can't alter time and space too much, as these things exist for a reason- to hold the universe in a state of relative (there's that word again!) stability. Don't mess with the laws of physics, in other words. These same laws give our world structure and organization- and also allow us to act with purpose and to change our own situation.
The concept of karma comes into play here, as does Newton's third law of motion. Actually, the two are functionally one and the same- for every action, a reaction exists. Newton figured that every action has consequences, and this is true as well. This is also why Rose's prevention of her father's death had such unforeseen consequences. The Doctor warns Rose that there are certain things that need to happen. Though we ourselves lack the ability to travel through time, thus altering our own pasts, we find that regardless the same principle applies- for every action, a reaction exists. We're stuck in our nice neat linear conception of time- action leads to reaction, and so on down the line. But even in the Doctor's view of time, the same principle holds- every action has a reaction, and when one part of the time line is altered, it has consequences.
So getting back to the Tarot- we can see the consequences of potential actions- what could be. From this we can determine the best course of action, what we should do, in other words. The simple fact is, we have the power to change the present. In this present, we set the stage for what's to come. Unlike our time-traveling protagonist, we don't have the ability to go back and change those decisions. We're limited to the present- and it's here that we can exercise influence. There are consequences for every action- this is true. But don't think of these things entirely in the negative, as reactions, consequences, whatever word you might choose, can be positive as well. 

So to sum up, we find these two factors at work- first, that there are indeed inevitabilities- things that we can't prevent from happening, coming from our past actions- these things have been set in motion. Yet at the same time, what we choose to do in the present, and how we choose to react and set our own course is up to us.