Tarot and the Nature of Divinity
This article first appeared in the Llewellyn Journal on Sept. 11th, 2018
You are the universe. You are divine. You are pure consciousness. Everything you see, notice, observe, listen to, eat, laugh at, make fun of, enjoy and dislike, resist and surrender to is the universe seeing itself, understanding itself, and recognizing itself. What is true for you is true for the universe. What is true for the universe is true for you. As above, so below. This is why when you give love, you receive love.
You, like the Fool tarot card, are on a journey, quest, adventure. The journey of who you are, like a sacred circle, will lead you back yourself. The World circles back to the Fool card and begins the journey again. Your journey begins with you. It ends with you. You may travel to the edges of your backyard or to the far flung reaches of the world. It is the internal journey that matters. Everything else? Shadows and dust. The exterior world is energy changing form, a mere illusion. Your interior life, your inner roads, bear the mark of eternity.
Each day as you wake, the mystery of who you are unfolds a bit further. You move forward, backwards, or sideways on your respective path, closer to or further from your goals. You speed along on cruise control sometimes. Other times, you find yourself lost in thorny thickets or gasping for air in quicksand. We all instigate cause and effect with our actions and deeds. We fill the world with our energy. We spend it wisely on things we love, reinvesting energy in ourselves or give it away to other people and things. Each day of our life, we step closer to death. August's rich harvest and golden light surrenders into the deepening shadows of September's equinox. It is worth surrendering to. It isn't easy, but its beautiful. It is why we are here. Practice the art of surrender. If you let Summer's passage into Fall be your teacher, you become more of who you are outside of linear time.
A map is essential for any journey. These days, we use handy cell phone maps fitting snugly into the palm of our traveling hands. If you were around in the 1970s you'll remember giant AAA travel maps found under vinyl seats and in the dusty glove compartments of our parents' car. These maps became reading fodder during infernal road trips after the Mad Libs and fast food fries gave out. Ancient peoples crafted scroll maps by hand. Men and women looked to the firmament before paper's invention. Constellations in a crystal clear, pollution-free night sky were used as a guide, plot, and plan.
Maps show us landscapes; they reveal the lay of the land so we can orient ourselves. Maps let us know where to find things like gas stations, convenience stores, and our friend's house. Yet, the most most exciting maps, the most rarified, desired, and lusted for maps, maps that people have shed blood and lost their lives over, are treasure maps. If you are looking for the treasure map of your soul, look no further than a deck of Tarot cards for sale at your local bookshop.
Tarot has been described as many things; an oracle, game, book, meditation and contemplative device, and more. Tarot is the ideal map because it presents you, the inner and outer life, in a sensible, precise, easy to read manner. It speaks with equal equity of the practical and the mysterious, the visible and invisible. The tarot, like you, is the microcosm and macrocosm. Tarot offers possibility while reflecting precisely where you are on your journey. Tarot reflects infinite possibility because it communicates through symbol. Each of us fill symbols and cards with personal meaning, the way we read between the lines of poetry or prose. Poetry speaks through economy of words and silence. Silence, like dark matter or garden compost, contains all possibility. Tarot's symbols communicate like poetry because symbolic meaning is felt. Visuals are ingested and move inside of us to take residence. They are ripe with wide open space. You illuminate the space with personal meaning.
My latest book, Llewellyn's Complete Book of the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot, offers a keen examination of the occult mapping of tarot. I put aside personal associations with the cards aside and went straight to Arthur Waite, the author and source of the RWS deck, to craft a book on the world's most famous deck. I deconstructed his books and articles relating to the cards to understand his ultimate goal when creating the deck in 1909. Turns out, Waite was using the tarot as a mapping tool to express the nature of divinity.
The nature of divinity was the last thing I was looking for when buying my first deck of tarot cards at age twelve. Delicious, mysterious Halloween was all I could sense inside the cards. Black and orange jelly beans, bobbing for apples, witches with pointy hats and sugary orange pumpkins carved into silly and macabre faces. I wouldn't have understood the phrase "nature of divinity" as a pre-teen. I did, however, hop off my bike often to lie back on a field. I enjoyed feeling myself tiny against an expansive summer sky or seeing luminous fall foliage flush through valleys blazing with color. It was a signature of things to come.
Nature is the great equalizer of humanity. We all gaze at the same moon. No matter how we come to understand our existence, regardless of dogma, religion, system or rejection of systems used to explain our souls, life and the after-life, nature is the equalizer. The ocean remains the ocean. A mountain is a mountain. A flower is a flower. Nature contains the first archetypes. Nature predates human personality. This is why myth and legend are elemental and grounded in mountains, sky, and ocean. Earth, air, fire, and water are reflected in tarot as Pentacles, Swords, Wands, and Cups. These are the symbolic elements we fill to the brim with personal meaning.
The material world (Pentacles) is the place where we all meet each other while navigating the folds of our interior life. The earth contains everything you can touch, taste, see, feel, and smell. Pentacles are your soft body, your tasty dinner, your little black dress, the money you stuff in your wallet, your bedroom, your garden, etc. Everything else in the tarot and in our life is invisible. We experience and feel the passion of Wands when we desire a person or thing. We see Wands expressed in others through facial expressions and actions yet we are unable to hold passion in our hands. We experience the intellectuality of Swords, articulate ourselves through language, make calculations and see others doing the same yet we cannot taste or smell a thought itself. The emotional life of Cups often influences our every action. Our emotions can feel wonderful or horrifying yet you can’t literally hold love, fear, excitement, trepidation in your hands.
Major Arcana archetypes are psychological constructs and ideas that are not available in solid form. We cycle through the archetypes and court card personalities on a daily basis. Court cards and archetypes reflect all of the different personalities living inside of you. You are a tarot Queen when in an empathetic state of mind and nurturing others. You are the Empress when at the height of your creative ability and being brilliant with your talents. You are the Emperor when you make routines and rules for yourself and stick to them. You are a Page when you are in a childlike and curious mood. We cycle through personalities, moods, and archetypes differently each day and on a moment to moment basis. Yet it is all invisible and ephemeral. The experience of our life occurs inside of us.
Your response to spirituality, the supernatural, creativity, etc., is interior and highly personal. No two people experience mystery in the same way. C.S Lewis said, "Are not all lifelong friendships born at the moment when at last you meet another human being who has some inkling (but faint and uncertain even at best) of that something which you were born desiring, and which, beneath the flux of other desires and in all the momentary silences between the louder passions, night and day, year by year, from childhood to old age, you are looking for, watching for and listening for?"
Arthur Waite offers us a map of how divinity (the universal life force, the godhead, a flower, whatever name you'd like to give it) unfolds in the material world via the tarot by connecting it with the Tree of Life. Once divinity moves down through the Tree and expresses itself in the material world, like a sunflower blooming in your garden, you are free to retrace these steps in reverse. You can moves back up the Tree, retracing the path of divinity. You reach the summit to look it squarely in the eye. Divinity sees you seeing it. Divinity wants you to recognize it as much as your soul wants to be seen and understood.
Have you ever fallen in love with a person or animal and felt them loving you back? It is the soul recognition in another. It usually happens when you least expected it, although you always desired it. Divinity's been on Tinder looking for you all along. This is why love, especially new love, fills us with endorphin-like drug feelings. It is a hint, a gasp of the ecstatic love which created you. Once you truly "see" each other and recognize one another, like a lover's kiss, a Big Bang explodes.
Your Big Bang expresses itself though synchronicities and evolution in the material world. Uncanny synchronicity appears to let us know we chose well. We are right where we should be on our path, journey, adventure. You change on a cellular level. The material world changes with you. You find yourself responding to old habits and behaviors in a different way. Patterns change. Old challenges are with met with sudden clarity and solutions. You become more of who you are. The mystery of who you are unfolds.
The seeds of everything you are, everything you need, is right there. Just as the Magician has Cups, Wands, Swords and Pentacles on his table, your psyche, spirit, passions, and body is a self-sustaining kit with everything you need. I hope you tend to the garden of your soul. I hope you make use of the gifts enfolded and entrusted deep inside of you. May your gifts bring you joy. You make the world a more beautiful place by sharing them. I hope you stay true to your path. Hope you are willing to brave dark woods and creepy shadows when the going gets tough. Persevere through to claim the glittering treasure beyond. May you cycle through the tarot a million times over and find your deepest authenticity in every draw. All the universe is planted inside of you.
It's harvest time.