Saturday, June 25, 2011

Tarot musings: Journey through the minor arcana

So I'm trying to get a deep understanding of the cards. Last night I laid out each suit, from 1 to 10, in parallel rows - I was trying to get a sense for what each number means. I had a basic idea of each suit from my work with the archetypes and their minor arcana correspondences but I really wanted to grasp the journey that is being described through the suits.

The Tarot is largely based on the Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical system of "hidden truth" and it is fundamentally a journey through the Tree of Life. It's both the way the universe comes into being and also also every person's journey to the divine. It describes the journey from Nothing, bursting into Multiplicity, then back to Union with the Divine.

The Journey Through the Tree of Life
  1. Keter/"Crown": The point beyond which our comprehension of the Nothingness cannot go, the First Thing which explodes into being from the Nothingness, the primordial energy from which all things are created. In life, it is promise, potential, premonitions.
  2. Chokmah/"Wisdom": Singularity expands forth into space and time, pure dynamic energy forever expanding forth. It is generation, the coming into being.
  3. Binah/"Understanding": Primordial feminine energy, the Great Mother of the Universe, cooling and nourishing the primordial fire into a multitude of forms. It is the fruition of the generation of Chokmah.
  4. Chesed/"Mercy": Solidification, materialization. Things have begun to manifest. It is the end of the first stage and the first result, when what up to now was just idea has become reality.
  5. Geburah/"Strength": Upset of a stable system, the appearance of storm and stress, the potency and vigor of the feminine principle. The primoridal generative power of Binah in the material plane. In life it is reversal, the turning of the wheel that instigates change and growth.
  6. Tiphareth/"Beauty": Consciousness in it's most harmonized and balanced form (and it is in form, not idea), the four elements at their practical best. The center of the system and the only physically manifesting sephiroth that is directly connected to Kether, the First Cause, and can easily rule over the rest of the sephiroth. It's the number of Aphrodite and her union of opposites; male and female, spiritual and physical. It is harmony. In life, it is movement from the reversal of Geburah.
  7. Netzach/"Victory": Unbalanced, taking a great risk and doing it by frantic struggle. In life, it is the effect of the movement of Tipareth.
  8. Hod/"Splendor": Chokmah on the earthly plane. Bringing into being rather than coming into being, it is the work that must be done to grow.
  9. Yesod/"The Foundation": Stability, crystallization of the journey. It is the temporal, earthly final result.
  10. Malkuth/"The Kingdom": The end of all roads, the return to the realm of the spirit. It is the true, spiritual result of the journey, if you only have the Wisdom to understand it.

The minor arcana ("lesser secrets") is distinguished from the major arcana ("greater secrets") by it's focus on the realm of every day life. The journey through the 10 sephiroth based numbers, although it starts and ends in the spiritual realm, is really a description of the manifestations of the journey in our actual lives. Each suit of the minor arcana describes the journey of tree of life through the four arenas of human life:

Wands: Fire, the Will, and in the human realm, business and success, non-violent struggle
Pentacles: Earth, the Body, in the human realm fertility, security and abundance
Cups: Water, the Heart, in the human realm, love and relations
Swords: Air, the Mind, in the human realm war, strife, usually mental but often a literal (and violent) struggle for dominance

Each element travels it's own path, and has it's own lessons to teach. The suits of generation (Pentacles and Cups) result in abundance, or love. The suits of struggle (Wands and Swords) generally have more painful results - "those who live by the sword, die by the sword." When you spend your whole life seeking to create abundance or build relationships, that's what you get but if you seek to defeat others, the eventual result will be your own defeat - we always reap what we sow. By understanding the meanings of the suits and of each numerical stage we can have a deep understanding of each card. The entire journey seems like it would be useful for meditating on the soul's path in our lives.

What strikes me as I read over the journey through the 10 sephiroth is that each stage is necessary, even the painful ones. The point is not to avoid certain stages but to fully grasp and experience each sephiroth. The point of the spiritual quest is not to avoid suffering, let alone deny it. It's to fully experience it... and every other stage of life. Why else would we have chosen a physical life? Life is good, and it is good we are alive. Even if not everything in life is fun all beings that have life want to live, want to experience life.

A random political realization: The reason so many religions, and so many people, are looking for a "better" life beyond our world is because life is so shitty for so many of us. Probably the single best thing we could do as a species for spiritual growth would be to make the world a better place for all humans, so that we could live, and grow, the way we're meant to.

Edit: 8/22/11

One thing I'm pondering is the possibility that there are three triads of goddesses. There's a triad that's concerned with work; Artemis with nature, Hestia her home, Athena her success. There's a triad that's fundamentally about relating to men; Demeter the Mother, Aphrodite as Lover and Hera the Wife. Then there's Persephone as the Triple Goddess, who relates not to others but solely to herself; Kore as hopeful Maiden, Persephone as powerful Woman and Hecate as wise Crone. And this is why the mature Persephone is both childless and a powerful Queen in her own right, despite being married.

If this is the case, then the three triads could correspond with the nine lower sephiroth - the tenth would be the Great Goddess. Here's a possibility of how they correspond:
  1. Persephone: possibility, a seed
  2. Aphrodite: union
  3. Hestia: the materialization
  4. Persephone: solidity
  5. Hera: marriage (strife)
  6. Athena: success
  7. Hecate: choice and wisdom
  8. Demeter: children and work
  9. Artemis: one's own nature
 Or maybe each person has their own personal set up. Will have to think on this.

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