Wednesday 27 September 2017

Libra in the Major Arcana: Justice

Libra is one of the three Air signs, along with Gemini and Aquarius, as well as being one of the cardinal signs.   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.  It’s ruled by Venus, providing a sense of refinement, and an awareness of beauty and harmony.

As usual, let’s start our exploration of Libra in the 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. 

Justice (trimmed):
© Sharman-Burke/Caselli Tarot
Depending on which deck you use, this is probably either the eighth or the eleventh card in the Major Arcana.  Most (but not all) Rider-Waite-Smith-based decks will have Justice as XI in the Major Arcana – the mid-point of the Fool’s Journey.  Personally, I like the idea of it being the 11th card; having it as the fulcrum of the journey, half-way between the start and the end ‘embodies’ that sense of balance.

Some RWS-based decks (for instance Juliet Sharman-Burke and Gionvanni Caselli’s, shown here) place Justice at VIII.   I haven’t found a clear reason for this in the case of the Sharman-Caselli deck, but my guess is that it’s because they wanted to have all four virtues appear in order: 8 – Justice, 9 – Temperance, 10 –Strength, and 11 - The Hermit, the card to which they attribute the virtue of Prudence.  Regardless of the card’s position in the Major Arcana, the image contains most of the ‘traditional’ (i.e. RWS-based) symbolism – the scales representing perfect balance in one hand, the sword of truth in the other.

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.  For this reason, my favourite version of the tarot card associated with Libra, Justice, comes from the Thoth deck (although Crowley has re-named the card ‘Adjustment’). 

Adjustment VIII (trimmed):
© Thoth Tarot
Like many versions of the Justice card, the image still shows a figure with a set of scales, although here the scales appear to be balanced on her head.  She holds the sword of truth in both hands, between her legs, while balancing on her toes. The entire image of one of balance and harmony – including the coloured spheres (blue for spirit and intellect, green for creativity) in their symmetrical placement. But how long can this balance be held?  All it takes is one distraction, one thought, one new factor, to be added to the scales, and the whole thing is no longer balanced.  So it’s not that Libra is indecisive per se – it’s more that that the picture isn’t static; there’s always something else that needs to be considered, something else to knock us off track. That’s why I like the name ‘Adjustment’ – we’re always having to make adjustments as new elements come into play, in order to maintain our (always precarious) balance!

As our ingress into Libra is also marked by the Autumn Equinox, let’s also look at cards that are associated with this festival.  One deck that uses the Wheel of the Year as its base, rather than astrological associations, is the Wildwood Tarot, created by Mark Ryan and John Matthews, and beautifully illustrated by Will Worthington.  Here we have two cards from the Major Arcana that sit at the Autumn Equinox – The Wheel (X) and The Mirror (XII). 
The Wheel (trimmed):
© Wildwood Tarot

The Wheel reminds us of the constantly changing seasons, and that what comes around, goes around.  The equinox is but a moment in time – one where the hours of day and night are balanced, before the hours of darkness increase at the expense of the light.  In many traditions, the autumnal equinox marks the start of a period of withdrawal - not just in terms of physical withdrawal or hibernation - but a time of introspection and inner journeying, contemplation and rest. 

The Mirror (trimmed):
© Wildwood Tarot
The Mirror shows us our reflection and allows us to see our inner selves, and by sitting on the Equinox represents the point at which our journey changes direction – from outer to inner; the point where we’re balanced between the two.  And although Mark Ryan and John Matthews aren’t making any astrological associations in their deck, the mirror is often used as to symbolize Libra. Both through Venus’ rulership and its affinity to the 7th house, Libra is concerned with attraction and partnership.  Aries, the sign opposite Libra in the zodiac, is about ‘I’: -how we meet the world as individuals, how we’re seen. Libra is concerned with ‘the other’ - what we look for in our relationships with others.  The mirror allows us to see what others see in us. ‘Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?’ indeed!

If you’ve enjoyed this post, you might be interested in my new e-book, Astrology in Tarot, now available from Amazon.

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 US Games Systems, Inc.

Wildwood Tarot created by Mark Ryan and John Matthews, illustrated by Will Worthington, published by Connections.

Friday 22 September 2017

Weighing it up - the Sun enters Libra

Today (22nd September) 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 also 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” (7th house) than with the “I” (1st house). Libra is mediator, negotiator, and diplomat.

The image on the left comes from my AstroArt series - watercolour and ink collage.

Sunday 17 September 2017

Virgo in the Minor Arcana: The Ten of Pentacles

Back to the Minor Arcana today, for a look at the last of the three Minor Arcana cards associated with Virgo.

Ten of Stones (trimmed):
© Wildwood Tarot
The Ten of Pentacles is linked to Mercury in Virgo (and to the final ten days of the sun’s journey through this sign: 13-22 September).  This is a particularly auspicious association, because Mercury not only rules Virgo, it’s also exalted in Virgo. What does that mean? Well, when a planet rules a sign, it’s at home.  It’s comfortable – it can kick off its shoes and put its feet up.  When it’s in exaltation, it’s also comfortable – but there’s a protocol to be observed.  A friend of mine uses this analogy: the Queen is at home in Sandringham or Buckingham Palace – she’s the ruler.  When she goes abroad, say to visit the White House, she knows she’ll be looked after, but there’s a certain formality and protocol that has to be followed – that’s exaltation.  Interesting that the Wildwood Tarot's Ten of Stones carries the title ‘Home’!

Ten of Pentacles (trimmed):
© Sharman-Burke/Caselli Tarot
But here, Mercury is both at home and exalted!  Remember what we said about Mercury, in the first of the Virgo posts? He’s the swift-footed messenger of the Roman gods, as is his Greek counterpart Hermes.  He’s also the god of trade (especially grains – a link to Virgo); the caduceus he carries being a symbol of trade and commerce.  It's also associated with medicine, although modern medical symbols appear to have lost one of the two twining serpents! Virgo is often associated with issues of health, through its ability to work with lots of information and finding a way to make them fit, e.g. holistic medicine.

So the Ten of Pentacles is a great card to have when it comes to acquiring wealth – whether it’s financial, physical (good health) or spiritual well-being.  Mercury in Virgo brings strong analytical skills to the table, and a clear, down-to-earth way of expressing ideas and putting them into some sort of order.  Virgo is practical and helpful – remember that link to the sixth house and the idea of ‘service’!  And it’s not just about acquiring wealth – it’s also necessary to share it ... and to enjoy it. 
Ten of Pentacles (trimmed):
© ShadowscapesTarot

In the Shadowscapes, the creators of the deck have chosen to depict the background landscape as a stained glass image. The art of staining glass seems to me very Virgo- in terms of the patience and dedication required in its creation - as well as reflecting the idea of the pattern that Virgo might seek in life.  I can see the coiling dragon as Mercury's caduceus, too.

Despite the double ‘whammy’ of rulership and exaltation, there’s another side to the coin.  Too much attention to detail can get in the way of seeing the bigger picture – that ‘not being able to see the wood for the trees’ thing.  Another potential ‘shadow side’ of the coin is fear of poverty. This can lead to holding on to things, rather than sharing.  Hoarded wealth stagnates: “the more you give, the more you receive”.

Beginner’s Guide to the Tarot created by Juliet Sharman-Burke, illustrated by Giovanni Caselli, published by Connections
Shadowscapes Tarot created by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law and Barbara Moore, published by Llewellyn
Wildwood Tarot created by Mark Ryan and John Matthews, illustrated by Will Worthington, published by Connections
If you’ve enjoyed this post, you might be interested in my new e-book, Astrology in Tarot, now available from Amazon.

Tuesday 12 September 2017

Virgo in the court cards

Knight of Pentacles (trimmed):
© Sharman-Burke/Caselii Tarot
Let’s have a break from the Minor Arcana, and look at Virgo in the court cards.

The sign of Virgo is one of the three Earth signs, and one of the four mutable signs.  So what court card does this represent?  Different traditions have different astrological correspondences when it comes to the Court Cards.  I work with a system that assigns mutability to the Knights so, in the earthy sign of Virgo, we have the Knight of Pentacles.

That combination of earth and mutability suggests a mix of earthy practicality with quick, clear, analytical thinking: the ability to organize, design and plan in great detail. It’s about being methodical, not running roughshod all over the place, but doing things with great deliberation and discrimination.  

Knight of Pentacles (trimmed):
© Shadowscapes Tarot
The Knight of Pentacles in many decks is shown sitting on a horse that appears to be at a standstill. If he's moving at all, it's at a slow, considered pace, reflecting the methodical, deliberate movements you might associate with Virgo.  In the Shadowscapes, we see the Knight on the back of the Earth Dragon, "grounded and slow but undeniable in its progress", say the creators of the deck, Stephanie Pui-Mun Law and Barbara Moore. He values the success more than the speed at which that success is achieved.

Knight of Disks (trimmed):
© Thoth Tarot
In the ‘double element’ system, the Knight of Pentacles represents fire of earth.  We can see this in the rings of sunlight falling over the harvest in the Thoth’s Knight of Disks.  But here ‘fire’ doesn’t represent fast-burning, fast-moving; this is more about keeping the fires burning steadily.  The Knight and his horse are not moving – in fact his horse looks as though he’s grazing on the harvest! Perhaps both horse and rider are worn out by their hard work, bringing in the crops.  The effort is worth it, though, in terms of what can be reaped at the end – as it is when it’s done for our own individual growth. Remember that Virgo is the last sign of the personal, individual emphasis in the journey around the zodiac.

Remember too, that Virgo is ruled by Mercury.  When we apply this to the suit of Pentacles, we can see how attention to detail can be applied to the down-to-earth, practical affairs that we encounter on a daily basis – finances, health... our material well-being. Slow and steady, meticulous, deliberate, dedicated, reliable – that’s the way of the Knight of Pentacles!

If you’ve enjoyed this post, you might be interested in my new e-book, Astrology in Tarot, now available from Amazon.

Beginner’s Guide to the Tarot created by Juliet Sharman-Burke, illustrated by Giovanni Caselli, published by Connections
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.

Thursday 7 September 2017

Virgo in the Minor Arcana: The Nine of Pentacles

Following on from the Eight of Pentacles, we have the Nine, linked to Venus in Virgo, and to the middle ten days of the sun’s journey through this sign (3rd-13th September).  We’re still looking at Virgoan qualities here, so it’s Venus that gives the Nine a different ‘flavour’ from the Eight.
Virgo is the sign associated with the harvest, while Venus symbolizes harmony – that sense of well-being that I feel whenever I look at this card.  There’s a real feeling of abundance, and the enjoyment of it - Virgo is the mutable Earth sign, so there's the suggestion of sharing and spreading the wealth of the harvest.  I’m also reminded of the Empress, with all the signs of fertility – the fruit as well as the rabbit! In the Nine of Pentacles we see it’s taken a lot of hard work, though, for the earth to have yielded such wealth.  

Nine of Pentacles (trimmed):
© Mystic Spiral Tarot
Venus is not really that comfortable in Virgo, though – in astrological terms she’s ‘in fall’ in this sign.  This can come out in the Virgoan critical faculties, when Virgo’s ideals and standards aren’t met – when the ‘perfectionist’ goes overboard.  But I can also see this ‘Venus in Virgo’ in the pleasure that the woman in the image is taking in what she’s produced.  The fruits of her labours are not necessarily beautiful, but they are useful and practical – appealing to the down-to-earthiness of the Pentacles family.

Venus in Virgo can also be cautious, or conventional.  The fruits of her labours have probably been a result of ‘tried and tested’ methods, not something new or revolutionary. 

Nine of Pentacles (trimmed):
© Sharman-Burke/Caselli Tarot
As I mentioned in earlier posts about Virgo, this sign is the sixth one encountered in the journey around the zodiac, and as such, represents the closing of the first half of that journey, that of the individual.  From here on, the focus shifts to the wider, outer world.  I think this comes across clearly in the Nine of Pentacles (as well as in the Hermit) – there’s a sense of self-sufficiency in this card. There’s no one else in sight.  She’s alone - but not lonely, and is happy in that state.  She doesn’t need more, but she’s content with what she’s achieved, and with the promise of what’s ahead (in the Sharman-Burke/Caselli Beginners' Guide to the Tarot deck, the hunting bird symbolizes her far-sightedness and imagination). The actual harvest is still to come, of course - this is only the Nine; the culmination, the Ten, is still to come. 

Nine of Disks (trimmed):
© Thoth Tarot
In other decks the falcon represents a very Virgoan quality: discipline – the ability to give attention to the job at hand.  The discipline here is not imposed from an outward source; it’s about having the self-discipline required to devote time and energy to something that you really want to achieve. And when you do achieve it, you – like this woman - can luxuriate in the fruits of your labour!

The Thoth deck, although the image is very different from that of the Rider-Waite-based decks, carries a similar message.  The more we give, the more we receive – the harder we work, the more rewards we’re able to reap, the overall idea being that a number of qualities or skills need to be brought together in order to achieve results.    In this image, we can see six symbols representing the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, as well as the Moon – which in astrology is considered to be a planet (as it too ‘wanders the sky’).  So we have the ambition of Mars, the vision of Jupiter, the communication  of Mercury, the time-management, perhaps, of Saturn, the nurturing of the Moon, and – last but not least, the abundance of Venus, all brought together though the effort of Venus in Virgo!

Beginner’s Guide to the Tarot created by Juliet Sharman-Burke, illustrated by Giovanni Caselli, published by Connections
Mystic Spiral Tarotcreated by Giuseppe Palumbo & Giovanni Pelosini, published by Lo Scarabeo
Thoth Tarot created by Aleister Crowley, illustrated by Lady Frieda Harris, published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.

Saturday 2 September 2017

Virgo in the Minor Arcana: The Eight of Pentacles

Now let’s look at Virgo in the Minor Arcana.  Virgo is linked to three ‘pip’ cards in the earthy suit of Pentacles.  Because Virgo is a mutable sign, we look to the 8, 9 and 10 of the suit to find the planetary correspondences.  (For more information on this system of Planetary and Zodiacal dignities, I recommend Elizabeth Hazel’s Tarot Decoded, published by Weiser, 2004).

8 of Disks (trimmed):
© Thoth Tarot
In the system I follow, the Eight of Pentacles is linked to the Sun in Virgo – and to the first ten days of the Sun’s journey through this sign (23rd-2nd September).  The deck that conveys this best, for me, is the Thoth.  The earthiness of the Pentacles (Disks, in the Thoth) is represented by the plant, and the earthy greens and browns.  I can almost feel the sun, with all that bright yellow-gold suffusing the card!  Gerd Ziegler, in his ‘Tarot: Mirror of the Soul’ (published by Weber Books, 1998) talks of the ‘flowering of internal and external richness’ – a lovely description of this image.  

Notice how each blossom is shaded from direct sunlight by a large leaf?  There’s a message here about protection, about being careful and prudent (the keyword on the Thoth’s Eight of Disks).  Although we’re in Virgo, this card isn’t about harvest.  It’s too early for that, in this card - whatever it is you’re nurturing has only just reached flowering stage.  It needs time to develop blossoms.  If we extend this to wider Pentacles themes, such as health or finances, the message becomes one of ensuring that our resources have time to develop sufficiently to allow for success.   

Eight of Stones (trimmed):
© Wildwood Tarot
Virgo, the sixth sign of the zodiac, is associated with the sixth house – the house of service, of daily routine, of health and well-being.  Virgo needs to be helpful in a tangible, practical, down-to-earth way.  The Sun just wants to shine!  The Eight of Pentacles is about allowing ourselves to grow and develop our skills and talents - the things we use in our daily lives – carefully.  We have to tend to our creativity, just as we would our garden.  Some discrimination is required – what’s useful, and what need to be weeded out?

The image in the Wildwood Tarot’s Eight of Stones focuses more on Virgo’s attention to detail, to the crafting of practical things.  The keyword here is ‘skill’. In order to acquire skills, we need to develop self-discipline, as well as patience and perseverance – qualities we might associate with the other earth signs of Taurus and Capricorn, perhaps. But that’s where the mutability comes in – Virgo takes what’s been set in motion by the Capricorn discipline and maintained by the Taurean perseverance and determination, and turns it into something that can be used in a very practical way!

Eight of Pentacles (trimmed):
© Shadowscapes Tarot
The Shadowscapes’ Eight of Pentacles also focuses on attention to detail – just look at the delicacy of a spider’s web!  The image also reminds us that diligence and patience are important qualities when it comes to creating something.  The deck’s creators write of “a practical application of intellect and skill to a task to see through to the finish” – a great description of Virgo qualities!

If you’ve enjoyed this post, you might be interested in my new e-book, Astrology in Tarot, now available from Amazon.

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.
Wildwood Tarot created by Mark Ryan and John Matthews, illustrated by Will Worthington, published by Connections