Monday, 28 September 2015

Libra in the Druidcraft’s Major Arcana

Let’s start our exploration of Libra in the Druidcraft tarot with the Major Arcana.  In my previous post, I mentioned the idea of balance in various traditions – Egyptian and Greek mythology, Christianity – all of which use scales to symbolize the weighing up of whatever’s ‘in the balance’.  That, and the use of the blindfold in some of the imagery, leads us to the Justice card.  

The Druidcraft’s image of Justice shows Brigh, a judge and Druid in pre-Christian Ireland.  In her left hand we see the sword of truth; it points upwards, connecting it to the power of both Air and Spirit.  The element of Air is associated with reason and intelligence, both required when faced with a decision – and the fact that the sword is double-edged represents that need to ‘cut’ one way or another. 
Justice - Druidcraft Tarot (detail)
In her right hand she holds a set of scales, representing the need to weigh our choices carefully, using our powers of discrimination.  They also symbolize the present – the ‘here and now’ – perfectly balanced between past and future – just as the card itself is perfectly balanced, falling at the centre of the Fool’s Journey.  

I like the inclusion of the owl – the symbol of wisdom; a bird that can see in the dark, representing the ability to discern what’s hidden.  And down in the bottom right-hand corner, there’s a spider in a web – a reminder that everything is connected and that nothing exists, or is decided, without considering other causes and effects.  Equality, balance, fairness – so yes, the Druidcraft’s Justice does fit in with Libran qualities!

Druidcraft Tarot created by Philip Carr-Gomm and Stephanie Carr-Gomm, illustrated by Will Worthington, published by Connections

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Hanging in the balance

Today is – in the northern hemisphere – the Autumnal Equinox; in the southern hemisphere, the Vernal Equinox. It’s the turning point where, depending on which hemisphere you’re in, the days either become shorter (north) or longer (south), due to the tilt of the Earth and its position relative to the Sun.  This point, where the length of day apparently is equal to the length of night, is marked by the ingress of the Sun into the astrological sign of Libra (in the tropical zodiac) – the scales.

The constellation of Libra (Latin for “weighing scales”) was known as Zibanu (“balance” or “scales”) in Babylonian times. Scales were sacred to Shamash, the Babylonian sun god, who was also associated with truth and justice, concepts that are still associated with the sign of Libra today.  The Babylonians also called this constellation the Claws of the Scorpion – the constellation sits next to that of Scorpio and may have been considered to be part of the scorpion. The Arabic word for scorpion is “zubana”, not dissimilar to the Babylonians’ “zinbanu”, which might perhaps account for the “claws” becoming the ‘scales”.

In Egyptian mythology, Libra is represented by Ma’at, the goddess of the scales who would, at the time of death, weigh the human soul against an ostrich feather to determine whether or not the soul would reincarnate.  Greek mythology gives us Themis, a blindfolded seer who also carries a pair of scales.  The archangel Michael, in Christianity, holds the scales. In each tradition, the theme is balance, of keeping things – be they social or spiritual – in order.  But the story that resonates most with me is the Greek story of the Judgment of Paris. 

It starts with the wedding of Peleus and Thetis. Eris, the goddess of Discord (a “shadow” side of Libra), hasn’t been invited but decides to gate-crash. She throws a golden apple down in front of all the goddesses who have been invited.  On the apple is inscribed ‘to the fairest’.... and so we have perhaps the first beauty pageant! Hera, Aphrodite and Athena are the front-runners, and ask Zeus to choose. Zeus, in his wisdom (or some would argue, cowardice!), elects Paris, a Trojan mortal to be the judge. Atop Mount Ida, the three goddesses attempted to bribe Paris – Hera dangled the prospect of becoming king of Europe and Asia, Athena wisdom and battle skills, and Aphrodite the most beautiful woman in the world.  Paris chose Aphrodite’s gift – Helen, wife of the Greek king Menelaus... and the rest, as they say, is history, at least in mythological terms.  The Trojan horse, the “face that launched a thousand ships” ... even the idea of “who is the fairest” comes up again and again – and not only in fairy tales such as Snow White!

‘Libra’ © Alison Coals

So many Libran qualities are illustrated in this myth –beauty, harmony, attraction, negotiation and adjudication.  And no surprise that Venus (the Roman goddess most similar to Aphrodite) is the ruler of Libra!  But “to the fairest”?  That taps into Libran ambiguity - the fairest in terms of the most beautiful, or the most even-tempered? The most well-balanced when it comes to making judgments? Libra, despite the association with beauty and attraction through Venus, is more a sign of balance. It’s considered and reflective, more concerned with “the other”  (astrological 7th house) than with the “I” (1st house).   

‘Alchemical Libra’ © Alison Coals
It’s also one of the three Air signs, along with Gemini and Aquarius, as well as being one of the cardinal signs, and as such, its energy focuses on the outer world, rather than our inner world, and its main thrust is on social contact.  It seeks partnership – friendship, business, marriage.  It’s not about the passion of a personal relationship – Libra is not thought to be a passionate sign - but more about the ‘contract’, if you like – the need for equality and fairness within relationship.  Libra is the peacemaker, the negotiator, the mediator. 

Libra has a reputation (unfair, in my opinion!) for being indecisive. Following from Virgo’s need to analyze everything in great detail, Libra weighs it all carefully but is always having to take new factors into account, upsetting that delicate balance, hence appearing to be constantly changing its mind. 

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Celebrating creativity - Tarot Blog Hop: Autumn Equinox 2015

Welcome to Alison’s Alembic!   You may have arrived here as a stop on the Tarot Blog Hop from either Ania M's Meniscus Tarot or Joy Vernon's blog.  Or you may have found this through TABI’s Facebook page, or though one of the many wonderful tarot bloggers in the ether... It doesn’t matter – what does matter is that you’re here! 

In the northern hemisphere, we're approaching the Autumn Equinox, also known as Alban Elfed, as well as the time for paying tribute to Mabon. It's the culmination of the harvest that was begun at Lughnasadh.  At this time we celebrate the beginning of harvesting grapes, making wine, bringing in the sheaves for the canning, preserving, and other ways of gathering the fruits of months, sometimes years, of effort and care. Keeping that theme of celebrating our creativity in mind, our wrangler Aisling has asked us to also celebrate our devotion to Tarot – by deciding which Tarot card corresponds most to either our own interpretation of this harvest, or the energies and focus of the Celtic deity Mabon, whose festival is celebrated at this time, and then creating a card that expresses that interpretation!

I could think of a few cards that might fit the bill, but it wasn’t until I started reading more about this time of balance and harvest that I was able to choose.  So much of the myth and lore (of the British Isles and Ireland) about this equinox focuses on the cutting of the last sheaf of corn – the corn spirit having taken refuge in the last standing grain in a field that had been harvested. To cut the last sheaf meant that the spirit of the harvest was cut, slain, killed. Sometimes a specific person was elected to make the cut, with varying results depending on whether the harvest was a good or bad one!

So with all this in mind, I decided to create my own version of the Queen of Pentacles.  She’s said to be ‘at one with the spirit of the land, and ... fully embodied in the world’ (Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm, The Druidcraft Tarot, 2004). She also represents the results of hard work, knowing what to do with what she’s harvested, and enjoying what she’s created.  This second harvest, the culmination of what was begun at Lughnasadh, is preparing for a new cycle – the Queen too, the penultimate card in the Pentacles, can be seen as the fulfilment of one cycle in readiness for a new one.

The card is a collage of a number of photographs, as well as ink and watercolour work. The central one is a photograph of a papier-mâche figure covered with painted tissue paper and coloured with pencil crayon; I made this a number of years ago – she’s the ‘Autumn’ figure in a ‘Four Seasons’ series. The card isn't quite finished, though - I still need to add a pentacle to it!

Thank you for stopping off here on your journey through this Mabon Tarot Blog Hop!  Please do come back and read some of my other posts – and if you’re a Facebook user, you can find me at Alison’s Alembic.  

The next stops on the Tarot Blog Hop are - depending on whether you’re moving backwards or forwards through the list – Ania M’s Meniscus Tarot or Joy Vernon's blog . The Master List can be found here.