RWS_Tarot_16_TowerThe Tower comes at the end of what I’m tempted to call either the Major Arcana’s dumping ground or, at very least, its disappointing mid-season. Following on from Death, Temperance and The Devil we have the card that’s probably the worst single omen in the deck, a symbol of calamity. A tall stone tower on a high peak is truck by lightning and set ablaze. A giant crown topples and two figures are sent plummeting earthward.

The two figures show very different responses. The crowned figure on the right topples backwards and bears an expression of despair and resignation, as if saying “I knew this would happen.” The figure on the left, looks downwards at the approaching earth, his face written with disbelief and horror. One can almost hear him trying to bargain his way out of the situation. Yellow flecks of gold or rain or fire speckle the sky and the figure on the left seems almost to be grasping for one of these.

I’m fortunate, I suppose, in that I’ve yet to receive this card in an upright position, more typically I see it inverted. When it appears Rx, the windows of the tower appear like a face, weeping flames (and possibly either bleeding or with tongue hanging out).The difference between the two? Perhaps in the inverted depiction the figures drift off to safety while only the artifice they created is destroyed.

“It’s a great tragedy that, by and large, we tend to only get one set of genitals and one set of social conditioning to fuck with.”
Charlie J Forrest

One of the steady presences on my Facebook feed at this time of year is numerous posts highlighting how Easter is, for the most part, a bastardised version of different pre-christian festivals. I guess it’s kind of a positive that people are challenging the standard narrative and that posts like that do raise th overall awareness of paganism and other alternative spiritual paths. But they lack something in coherence. I’ve seen posts in the last week saying that we derive the term Easter both from the germanic deity Eostre and from the Mesopotamian deity Ishtar. Some of these theories are more plausible than others (I mean, look at how much else was stolen from the germanic peoples, like most of our language etc); but the common thread among these seems to be less the specifics of where it’s coming from and more simply asserting that the Christian interpretation is wrong.

I’ve read a couple of blog posts (here and here) talking about deliberately subverting a religious belief for the purposes of kink. I think it’s fair to say that I see eye-to-eye with neither of the writers on this subject, but the conflict between the two is both very natural and a bit of a reflection of my own issues with religion growing up.

I was (am?) a second generation atheist. My parents were rebels in their day and I was raised without inheriting an expected religious dogma. Whatever I wanted to do was fine with my parents. I was free to make my own choices… well almost. You see I, like so many others, was sent to a Church of England school. The sort of place where it didn’t intrude too much into day-to-day life, except we’d sing hymns during assembly, take part in harvest festivals, and that I quietly spent most of my childhood assuming that I was going to go to hell.

With hindsight it’s not hard to see why I identified as an atheist for so long. Things only went further in this direction when I ended up at a university with a very active (i.e. agressive) christian union that spent four years gleefully trying to convert me and with whom I had many interesting and detailed conversations that always seemed to fall apart when I refused to engage with circular arguments.

The upshot is that I am very opinionated and very able to engage in detailed deconstruction of Christianity, or at least the branches of it and interpretations that I’ve experienced first hand through school and university. Christianity is therefore the religion I feel most able to comment on, most confident in deconstructing, happiest to dismiss and, perversely, the symbolism of which is also the one that tends to stick most in my mind.

Don’t know what I’m talking about? Well how about my fondness for the Hellblazer comics, my favourite country and western song being “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” or, for that matter, a huge fondness for any faustian tale. It’s not that it’s what I believe, but that it’s part of my background and, as a common background with many people around me, can be a quick and dirty way of relating an idea. If I tell someone from a similar background to myself that the Devil is in the detail they know what I mean in a way that an off-the-cuff reference to Ishtar just won’t manage.

As for bringing religion into my sex life. Well spirituality and sex is a discussion for another time (but I’ve been thinking a lot about rope as a means of ‘raising energy’ lately). What I will say is that I don’t particularly bring religious themes or subversions into my own play; not out of respect, but simply that it doesn’t do anything for me. To put it bluntly, I don’t think religion did a good enough job of fucking with me for me to want to return the favour.

Tarot Meditation: The Devil

Posted: March 26, 2016 in Tarot

RWS_Tarot_15_DevilSo, The Devil, again, a card that is difficult to write about because so much has already been written, but nevertheless, here’s some possibly new thoughts.

The most striking thing for me about this card is the ehoes of other Major Arcana cards in it. Most obviously it reflects The Lovers, with two naked figures, male and female on opposite sides of the card with an angelic being hovering over the pair of them. Again the figure on the left is associated with nature and life, whereas the one on the right is associated with fire. The figure of the devil himself echoes various others, his hand is raised in giving a sign or blessing like the Heirophant, and his hands pointing alternately both up and down is like the Magus right at the beginning. Here is a religious figure, here is human interaction and here is the magic user, possibly at some later point of his journey. It’s commonly assumed that The Devil represents a foe or obstacle to be overcome, it’s much rarer to have people see that they themselves could be the devil.

Tarot Meditation: Temperance

Posted: February 26, 2016 in Tarot

RWS_Tarot_14_TemperanceSo, here again we have the rather imposing figure of a red-winged angel. I’ll admit Temperance didn’t exactly fill me with enthusiasm, not least because the symbolism is relatively straightforward and I’m not sure I have much to add, but here we go. The angel figure, clearly an authority, pours water from one cup to another. The angel bears symbols which are too tedious to discuss, though I will say that the sun sign on the forehead puts me in mind of the image of the image of doctors from a couple of decades ago, with a small lamp strapped to the forehead for performing examinations. this is particularly striking given this card’s association with physical things, and the health of the body.

The importance of temperance is set out ably enough in the general layout. On the right hand side of the card is relative abundance, greenery and flowers (also the side from which water is being poured) whereas the other side is barren and rocky. One should spare the abundance of now for the famine of later. I am also struck by how grounded this card is. Other cards featuring balance as a key theme do so in an abstract sense (for example Justice or The High Priestess) whereas the angel in this figure stands with bare feet on the earth and in the water. Whilst I’m not quite a foot fetishist (quiet at the back), there is something incredibly visceral about experiencing things with the bare feet. So this is a card of material and pragmatic balance rather than settling some kind of spiritual discord.

Tarot Meditation: Death

Posted: February 22, 2016 in Tarot

RWS_Tarot_13_DeathDeath, probably the most famous card in the deck and probably also the most frequently misinterpreted. But that kind of analysis has been done to death elsewhere so let’s drop it.

There are five figures in this card. The first, and least prominent, is the fallen figure of a monarch beneath Death’s horse. The fact that so little is made of this figure, the only one to actually be dead, says a lot about the Death card. His troubles are over, and it’s the response of everyone else that seems most prominent. A man is standing, hands reaching out imploringly. He’s wearing the robes of some high church position and bears a cross on his hand. At his feet kneels a female figure averting her gaze, slumped to her knees in distraction and despair. Lastly of the mortal figures is a small child that looks up at Death on his horse and seems at worst perplexed by his sudden arrival. Thus we have a brief cross-section of the responses to death, the clergyman bargaining with the figure, a person caught up somewhere between denial and despair, and a sort of innocent curiosity. Death stands tall over all of these emphasising perhaps that none is necessarily wrong, the same way that none is necessarily right. Death just is.

This is really a card of two halves. The bottom third or so is incredibly busy, distracting confused thick black lines smear across the pane giving a sense of confusion and frantic activity. Death on his horse, however, is simple. We also see a progression from a colourful palette in the bottom to simple black and white, both in the black armoured figure of death and the white of the horse, and then in the white rose on the black flag. Wherever we’ve seen black and white thus far it’s usually symbolised opposites in harmony, thus Death is very much a harmonious figure. Cold, brutal yes, but no more or less so than necessary.

A few last thoughts. The white rose inevitably (for any good English school boy) evokes the war of the roses (a particularly bloody period of infighting that ultimately ended with the ascension of the Tudor monarchs). I love the way the horse’s head blends into the buildings in the background. The child appears to have a long curved trumpet for an arm… far be it from me to criticise Pamela Coleman Smith’s artwork but this always struck me as comical.

Lastly, of all the androgynous characters so far, Death is probably the least easily gendered. How does our perception fo the figure of death change if we view Death as a she?

RWS_Tarot_12_Hanged_ManI’ll begin by saying that, for me, The Hanged Man is a card that makes much more sense when viewed upside down. In fact it’s one of the biggest arguments I could give for why card reversals should be included, interpreted and contemplated. When viewed upside down this card depicts a figure seemingly either lightly hopping into the air, or actually floating, with only a thin tether holding them to the ground, to reality. In the reversal, the glowing halo around the face and drifting hair make a lot of sense. But the upright meaning is puzzling. The connection to the divine is less clear. That said, I of course have my own particular take on this.

Of course I;m gong to love a card that very closely resembles a self-suspension, and from that perspective the feeling of this figure being disconnected from the world, of his being able to see things which cannot be seen normally, does make sense. Taken on a very literal level, this is a figure who has wisdom simply because they look at the world from a different perspective. It puts me in mind of the old idea that life makes sense when viewed backwards, but unfortunately must be lived forwards.

One more note, on the wording of the title. Hanged has a very particular meaning. It is not the past tense of hang in the conventional sense (i.e. hung). Instead it’s a word that solely refers to capital punishment, death by hanging. This obviously confounds with the image presented in the card. The depicted situation, whilst not comfortable, is far from an effective means of execution. But what it brings with it is the idea of death, and of unwilling death. Is the figure already dead? And hung up as an example to others. This doesn’t quite fit, but perhaps the idea of death, of facing death, has some connection to the undertones of divinity, of spirituality, of being disconnected from the world, that come with this card.

Tarot Meditation: Wheel of Fortune

Posted: January 21, 2016 in Tarot

RWS_Tarot_10_Wheel_of_FortuneI think my favourite thing about this card is the thing that escaped me until sitting down to meditate on it. That is, that the four figures in the corners of the card are all engrossed in books. Not only that but the cow and lion in the bottom corners appear particularly relaxed, lounging with a good book in front of them. Surely this is my idea of heaven, either that one ascends to a divine plane when reading, or perhaps just that heaven for me would be having the time and space to happily read everything in my ever-growing pile of books.

Moving further in, there are three figures arranged around the circle in the middle. A very happy looking snake wiggles down one side while, on the other, a human figure with a dog’s head appears to be drifting slowly upwards. The figure and the position all reminds me of swimming, of being naked in the water and again this gives the feeling of relaxation, almost of frolicking. Atop the circle sits a sphinx holding a sword. Except it’s only very lightly holding it and handling it by the blade rather than the hilt, suggesting it’s not really planning on using it for anything and indeed it may well be blunt.

The circle itself contains the letters T-A-R-O (spelling Tarot, but also “Rota” in fact if one is so inclined a reversal can conjure the palindrome “Rotator” from the wheel relatively easily). There are also four hebrew letters and several planetary or alchemical symbols. I could look these up but, then again, so can you. But at the end of the day that’s not my intent with these exercises, and I’m quite sure that other people have talked ad nauseam about the specific meanings of the symbols.

In summary, yes the wheel of fortune is a card of change and activity, but more than that, it gives me the impression of leisure, exercise and quiet reflection.