Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Leo in the Major Arcana:Strength

Strength (trimmed):
© Sharman-Burke/Caselli Tarot
Let’s start our exploration of Leo in the tarot with the Major Arcana.  The card associated with Leo is, unsurprisingly, Strength.  I say unsurprisingly, as many (but by no means all) tarot decks include the image of a lion in that card.  Struggles involving lions crop up frequently in literature, mythology and folklore – Gilgamesh’s encounter with the lions on his epic journey, Hercules’ labour with the Nemean lion, Androcles and the lion ... While Gilgamesh and Hercules end up killing their lions, Androcles (and St Jerome) helps the lion by removing a thorn from its paw.  Either way, the lion symbolizes inner strength, strength of character, inner struggles.

In traditional imagery, the woman appears to be opening or closing the lion’s mouth but not with the brute force of a Hercules or a Gilgamesh. Instead, she’s being gentle, using love rather than force.  Lions rely on instinct – that’s a strength, not a weakness.  We can rely on our inner strength, our instinct, just like the lion – and act from a place of love.

XI Lust (trimmed):
© Thoth Tarot
In the Thoth deck, Strength has been renamed as ‘Lust’. Crowley felt that ‘lust’ was more expressive – it covered not only strength but also the enjoyment of that strength, and passion.  Here both the lion, and the woman on his back, are enflamed, lost in the enjoyment, the ecstasy, of that lust for life. Strength, in this version, comes through surrendering, and overcoming fear and conditioning.

And why a woman? Well, some might say it’s the lioness who does all the work, and that the male is lazy! But if we look at mythology, why not a woman?  The Sumerian goddess Innana (Ishtar in Akkadian mythology) was associated with lions. In Egyptian mythology, we have Bast, depicted both as a lioness and a lion-headed woman. Bast was a protector goddess and defender of Ra, the sun god (images of Bast as a lion were created in a local stone, now known as alaBASTer).  Sekhmet, the Egyptian goddess of war, as well as healing, is also often depicted as a lioness.  Her breath was said to have created the desert – how’s that for powerful?! . She’s a solar deity, the daughter of Ra... which leads us to another Major card associated with Leo.... the Sun! But that’s the subject of a future post, so stay tuned!

11 Woodward (trimmed):
© Wildwood Tarot
The Wildwood’s Woodward, which sits on the Wheel of the Year at Lammas (1st August, so falling in Leo), gives us a different picture of strength. Here we see a man, a hunter wearing a mountain lion mask. The Woodward is an ancient guardian of the Wildwood, representing the power that comes from within us - the strength that comes from having to face our fears, and from being forced to come to terms with whatever the ‘dark’ or the ‘shadow’ means to each of us. 


In one hand, he carries a blood-stained spear; in the other, a cup. The latter symbolizes the idea of the cup of giving and compassion. It takes strength to offer compassion in the face of the things that scare us most, and we may have to dig deep within ourselves to find it.


Beginner’s Guide to the Tarot created by Juliet Sharman-Burke, illustrated by Giovanni Caselli, published by Connections
Thoth Tarot created by Aleister Crowley, illustrated by Lady Frieda Harris, published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.
Wildwood Tarot created by Mark Ryan and John Matthews, illustrated by Will Worthington, published by Connections


Saturday, 22 July 2017

The Lion Roars - Sun enters Leo

Today, at 4.16pm BST, we enter the sign of Leo, astrologically speaking.  This sign is associated with the heart – and gold, the metal associated with the sun (which rules Leo), is used in homeopathic remedies for the heart.  It’s also associated with royalty – with kings, in particular. The brightest star in the constellation of Leo (‘Leo’ being Latin for lion), Regulus (Alpha Leonis) was called ‘qalb al-Asad’ by the early Arab astronomers – which translates as ‘heart of the lion’.  Allegedly, it was Saladin who called Richard I the ‘lion-hearted king’.  The lion has been called the king of the forest, or jungle – long before Disney came along with ‘The Lion King’ – and has come to symbolize natural leadership, as well as royalty. 

The Sun (trimmed):©Mystic Spiral Tarot
Leo’s ruler, the Sun, is the star at the centre of our solar system. The sun gives us life – without the light and heat that it provides, life as we know it wouldn’t exist.  Psychologically, the Sun is said to be the core of our being or centre of our personality. It’s the fiery, creative spirit - our essential vitality - that drives us to seek out our individuality.  In medieval astrology, the Sun is called ‘the Great Light’. No surprise then that we think of Leo as a sunny, warm-hearted, larger-than-life sign – a sign that loves to be centre-stage, in the spot-light. 

Leo is one of the three Fire signs, along with Aries and Sagittarius – all signs concerned with the discovery and fulfilment of future possibilities and passions. In Leo, the focus is more on the self – in terms of mythology, you could say it’s about seeking an answer to the question ‘Who am I?’.  The myth of Parzival (Sir Percival in the Grail legends) is a wonderful example of the hero on a quest for self. Hero and protector of the ‘weak’, Leo is associated with generosity, loyalty and steadfastness, but as a ‘yang’ sign is also outgoing and sociable. 

Another quality associated with Leo is pride – and what do we call a group of lions?!  Leo is the ‘I want’ part of the zodiac, and the lion symbolises this self-interested drive, which we all have – it’s what we use to survive. 

As well as being one of the Fire signs, it’s also one of the four Fixed signs.  Leo represents the fire that’s burning in the hearth, the fire that Aries may have ignited – Leo tends that fire, keeps the passion alive. As the fire heats the house, keeping its inhabitants warm and dry, Leo encourages and supports others.  

‘Alchemical Leo’ ©Alison Coals
Being Fixed, Leo likes to be in control of the environment, though – disruption is NOT encouraged.  We can see this in Leo’s tendency for extravagance too – yes, Leo loves beauty and maintains a distinctive, individual style but that disregard for the cost comes from a ‘fixed’ trait (one more often associated with Taurus!) – that of laziness. Leo can’t be bothered to find out if there’s enough in the coffers – and would not be happy about the idea of having to make adjustments to expenditure. Leave that to a mutable sign – practical, earthy Virgo, perhaps... the next sign we encounter in our journey around the wheel of the zodiac!


The fixity of Leo also takes us back to the idea of being in the spot-light, of being centre stage – and the ‘shadow’ side of that.  Leo may expect the world to revolve around his ideas; taking other people’s views or dreams into account, or even acknowledging them, may be one of the challenges that Leo has to deal with. 

'Alchemical Leo' comes from my AstroArt series. It's a collage: watercolour on paper, and origami paper.  

Mystic Spiral Tarotcreated by Giuseppe Palumbo & Giovanni Pelosini, published by Lo Scarabeo.


Monday, 17 July 2017

Cancer in the tarot... ruled by the Moon: the High Priestess

The ruler of Cancer is the Moon, so I thought it might be fun to have a quick look at the card in the tarot that’s associated with it. It’s not the Moon card, as you might imagine - that corresponds to Pisces - but the High Priestess. 

When we think of the High Priestess, we think of mystery, the unconscious, wisdom, intuition, inner guides – all of which come under the auspices of the Moon.  In many depictions of the Priestess, we see a crescent Moon – something new starting to grow deep in the unconscious, that we may not be fully aware of at a conscious level, the New Moon representing unrealized potential.  That depth of feeling feeds into all of the cards associated with the sign of Cancer.

The High Priestess (trimmed):
© Universal Waite Tarot
Traditional depictions of the High Priestess show her sitting between two pillars, often – but not always – black and white, symbolizing her role as bringing together opposites. She carries the number ‘2’ in the Major Arcana, reminding us not only of the early stages, the newness of the Fool’s Journey, but also that duality.  She acts as a conduit between the conscious and unconscious – the creativity and intuition that can link the two realms.

She sits in front of a curtain or veil, behind which can sometimes be seen water, symbolizing the unknown – the mystery.  The High Priestess represents our intuition, something long linked with the Moon – the need to trust our instincts, to look inwards for answers, rather than to the outer world.  The Moon has come to symbolize the feminine, as well as psychic energy.  Through the Moon’s rulership of Cancer, a water sign, we see the links between the formlessness of water and the shapeless unconscious.

The Priestess (trimmed):
© Thoth Tarot
The High Priestess often holds a scroll, which in some decks carries the letters ‘TORA’.  Unlike the Jewish Torah, which is unrolled every Sabbath in order to read its wisdom, the High Priestess’ scroll remains rolled up, keeping its secrets.  To uncover them, we have to reach within; we have to learn to listen to our intuition in order to unearth the truth.

In both the Thoth and the Haindl decks, we see the Hebrew letter ‘gimel’, meaning camel – in fact, at the bottom of the Thoth’s High Priestess, a camel appears. This represents the idea of emotional self-sufficiency, the Moon being all about our emotional needs.  Like the camel, which can go long distances without additional water, we contain the resources – the ‘fertile oases’ depicted at the bottom of the card - within us that are needed to sustain us on an emotional level.


The High Priestess (trimmed):
© Haindl Tarot
The Haindl’s version of the High Priestess also shows us the rune ‘Ur’, meaning ‘aurochs’ as well as ‘rain’.  The aurochs, an extinct European bison, reminds us that both the buffalo and the cow have been symbols for the goddess in many cultures – the feminine...bringing us back to the Moon again.  The crescent Moon is often seen reflected in the shape of the horns.


‘Ur’ is also known as the rune of secret passage – the flow of intuition between those two pillars seen in the more traditional images of the High Priestess – and can also mean ancient, primal. Again, the High Priestess takes us deeper, to an instinctive level, leaving the conditioning of the conscious world on the other side of the veil.

Haindl Tarot, created by Hermann Haindl, published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.
Thoth Tarot created by Aleister Crowley, illustrated by Lady Frieda Harris, published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.
Universal Waite Tarot created by Mary Hanson-Roberts & Pamela Colman-Smith, published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.


Thursday, 13 July 2017

Cancer in the Minor Arcana: the Four of Cups

In the system of astrological correspondences that I use, the Four of Cups is linked to the Moon in Cancer, and to the final ten days in the sign (approximately 11th-21st). If we combine the qualities associated with the luminary and zodiac sign, the Moon in Cancer could be said to represent the potential for a wealth of love and care.

Four of Vessels (trimmed):
© Wildwood Tarot
Yet the Four of Cups is often associated with concepts such as boredom, discontent, apathy, confusion, depression, and even rejection.  Those needs haven’t been met; we feel fed up with our lot. Perhaps we feel unloved, or that our offer of love has been spurned.  The number ‘four’ makes me think of squares – four-sided stable figures that are hard to shift. Once we hit this ‘slough of despond’ (thanks, John Bunyan) we are at the mercy of our emotions, which ebb and flow – like the tides at the mercy of the Moon.  Like high and low tides, our emotions can carry us to extremes - to the point where we lose sight of reality, and we can’t see the love that’s being offered to us. 


Four of Cups (trimmed):
© Thoth Tarot
The Thoth’s Four of Cups approaches this from the opposite direction, showing the abundance of love available to us. It reminds us that this is not only a gift, but also a responsibility – we have to ‘measure’ our awareness of it so that we don’t squander it, or allow it to rule us completely, to the point where it could become oppressive or lead to discontent.


Thoth Tarot created by Aleister Crowley, illustrated by Lady Frieda Harris, published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.
Wildwood Tarot created by Mark Ryan and John Matthews, illustrated by Will Worthington, published by Connections




Sunday, 9 July 2017

Cancer in the court cards: The King of Cups

King of Cups (trimmed):
© Sharman-Burke/Caselli Tarot
Different traditions have different astrological correspondences when it comes to the Court Cards, but I follow the tradition of linking the cardinal signs with the Kings. That gives the King of Cups for Cancer, the cardinal Water sign.

Cardinality suggests taking the initiative - being self-motivated, as well as outgoing. The cardinal signs – Aries, Cancer, Libra, and Capricorn – are all symbolic of being good at starting new things but the element of each helps to define the focus of that energy. In the element of water, Cancer initiates contact on an emotional level; it has the ability to take the first steps in campaigning, for instance. Because the Sun is at a standstill at the point in which it enters Cancer, on the solstice, the outgoing, active nature may have more of a reflective quality.

So why Cancer - why the crab - for the King of Cups? I often think that the King of Cups represents a bit of a contradiction between suit and position – we tend to think of the Kings as being responsible and making decisions, while the Cups are about emotions, dreams, fantasy, romance... Remembering that the Sun’s just been ‘standing still’ gives me a clue to a possibly more reflective, inward-focus for this King. He can symbolize wanting to be emotionally involved but at the same time feeling cautious about going too deep – a bit too Scorpionic, perhaps?! The King is often said to carry masculine energy, while the watery realm of the Cups are thought to carry feminine energy. So we have a King of Cups who might come across as quite ambivalent. What better creature to represent this ambivalence than the crab? At home in water, at home on land... but not belonging completely to one or the other. A foot in both camps, as it were...
King of Cups (trimmed):
© Shadowscapes Tarot
The King of Cups in the Shadowscapes appears to be growing out of a strand of kelp or some other type of seaweed. Turtles swim around him, while he faces a sea-horse in a ball of light. The turtles represent the ability to guide the way calmly through the ever-changing watery realm of emotions, while the sea-horse symbolizes Poseidon’s power. The exoskeleton of the sea-horse is spiny as well as delicate – the male protects its young, symbolizing the King’s role as protector. Patient, tolerant, compassionate.
Father of Cups (trimmed):
© Haindl Tarot

The Haindl Tarot gives us Odin to represent the Father, or King, of Cups. Hermann Haindl chose figures to represent a variety of ‘sacred expression’, to borrow Rachel Pollack’s phrase (Haindl Tarot: A Reader’s Handbook, US Games Systems Inc, 1999), from the Stone Age through to Christianity, symbolizing the beliefs of various cultures – the roots, the family, the community. The things that people believed would protect them, as the shell protects the crab. 

Odin is shown hanging upside-down in the card’s image, representing the myth in which he hung himself from the World Tree, Yggdrasil, for nine nights in order to gain the wisdom of the Runes. It’s the same story that’s often depicted in, or used as a basis for, The Hanged Man – but that’s another post in the making!

Beginner’s Guide to the Tarot created by Juliet Sharman-Burke, illustrated by Giovanni Caselli, published by Connections
Haindl Tarot, created by Hermann Haindl, published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.
Shadowscapes Tarot created by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law and Barbara Moore, published by Llewellyn



Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Cancer in the cards: The Three of Cups

Three of Cups (trimmed):
© Sharman-Burke/Caselli Tarot
The Three of Cups is linked to Mercury in Cancer – and to the middle ten days of Cancer (approximately the 1st-11th July).  We’re still looking at the Cancerian ideals here, so it’s Mercury that gives the Three a different ‘flavour’ from the Two.  We’ve moved from the duality of the Two, the giving and receiving of love in the relationship to the communicating of our emotions.  Mercury relates to communication, the mind, and language, as well as learning and acquiring the basic information we need in order to survive.  It is associated with siblings, young relatives, neighbours – and friends! 

Three of Vessels (trimmed):
© Wildwood Tarot
The Three of Cups often symbolizes the sharing of good times with friends.  A common image shows three dancing figures, all communicating and sharing that joy, celebrating the moment.  

‘The moment of culmination and the period of transition from euphoria to the resumption of ordinary life’, as Juliet Sharman-Burke puts it, in her Beginner’s Guide to Tarot. ‘The moment’ – that’s another Mercurical link; Mercury is another name for quicksilver, so the planetary associations also include quickness, a fleeting moment in time... 

Don’t you just love those dancing cranes of the Wildwood?! It's such a joyful image - in fact, that's the word (Joy) that the deck's creators chose for this card.


Three of Cups (trimmed):
© Haindl Tarot
In  the Haindl Tarot, we see that overflowing of love in the natural flow of water, filling up the cups and overflowing, symbolizing the love and joy - the outpouring of emotions - to be shared (or in more Mercurical terms – communicated) with the important people in our lives. True joy...and definitely something to be celebrated!


Beginner’s Guide to the Tarot created by Juliet Sharman-Burke, illustrated by Giovanni Caselli, published by Connections
Haindl Tarot, created by Hermann Haindl, published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.
Wildwood Tarot created by Mark Ryan and John Matthews, illustrated by Will Worthington, published by Connections


Friday, 30 June 2017

Controlling – or not? - The Chariot

Let’s have a look now at the card from the Major Arcana that’s associated (in the system I follow) with the sign of Cancer:  the Chariot.

The Chariot (trimmed):
© Sharman-Caselli Tarot
The Chariot is often depicted by a figure at the reigns of, not surprisingly, a chariot!  In the Universal Waite deck, the driver faces us, two sphinx below his chariot.  The image in the Thoth deck shares that structure, with the driver of the chariot standing behind four sphinxes, meditating on the Holy Grail. 

Other images show the Chariot in motion. For instance, in the Sharman-Caselli version, the chariot is being pulled in different directions by two horses.  Can you feel the power and the pull here?!  I’ve come across a number of meanings for this card – struggle and tension, the need to bring things under control, making decisions after carefully weighing up all the options.... but the over-riding theme seems to be about managing contradiction or conflict - finding a middle path, perhaps?

The Chariot (trimmed):
© Thoth Tarot
So where’s the association with the sign of Cancer?  I like the way that Gerd Ziegler describes it, in his wonderful ‘Tarot: Mirror of the Soul’. The armour is “a symbol of Cancer’s protective shell.... In times of breakthrough or new beginnings you need the protection and support of a loving atmosphere which provides a sense of safety and security.”

For me, this provides the clue as to how to deal with the tension within the Chariot’s meanings – the potential aggression or indecision, the struggle, the pull of different options.... Having family or close friends behind us as we face those decisions, or deal with that conflict, can help – it can give us that secure base from which to set off in our chariots.

The Chariot (trimmed):
© Haindl Tarot
Hermann Haindl’s image provides a different take on the Chariot. Here we have a boat on the waves giving us the link to water, as well as the Moon, symbolizing our instincts and our innate responses.  The ‘beast’ represents whatever it is that ‘hunts’ – or ‘haunts’, perhaps? – us, the thing we fear, the thing that makes us move forward for fear of what might happen if we don’t.  This version of the card implies that we allow the power of the waves to carry us though the challenges facing us, and by so doing, allowing ourselves to open up to new possibilities.


The Chariot (trimmed):
© Shadowscapes Tarot
Likewise the Shadowscapes’ Chariot – we still have the chariot and charioteer, balancing without the need to hold onto the reins, but with the sense of travelling over water. The turtles represent ancient wisdom from which to draw on. 

Beginner’s Guide to the Tarot created by Juliet Sharman-Burke, illustrated by Giovanni Caselli, published by Connections
Haindl Tarot, created by Hermann Haindl, published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.
Shadowscapes Tarot created by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law and Barbara Moore, published by Llewellyn
Thoth Tarot created by Aleister Crowley, illustrated by Lady Frieda Harris, published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.