Saturday, June 25, 2011

Tarot musings: Musings on the minor arcana archetypes

When I first started trying to figure out correspondences I noticed that, although the 8 gods perfectly corresponded to the 8 male face cards, there were only 7 archetypes for the 8 female face cards. Then, as I was looking at the goddess archetypes, I started feeling like Athena was both the Queen and the Page of Wands (see below for an exploration of the female nature of the page cards.) This makes sense because Athena is characterized by the union of opposites. Where Aphrodite and Hera represent the union of opposites outside themselves (the union of woman with her male counterpart, lover and husband) Athena carries the two opposing forces within herself. In particular, she's said to be a union of the "male" principle within the female, often seen as a "masculine" woman. When I came to realize the pages were actually representatives of the vigorous, independent (of men) feminine, it became clear that the two wand face cards were these two aspects within Athena; the godddess of culture and town... and the goddess who goes out and defends that town , the goddess of the laws that allow civilization to exist. The difference between the two is the difference between Queens and Pages - Athena the Queen is patron of the social city, Athena the Page patron of reason, law and defense.

Another interesting discovery I've made while exploring these minor arcana correspondences is that, although Athena is characterized as being "virginal" or non-relational, she actually is very relational, just not in ways that typify a woman under patriarchy. Athena the Queen's relation is that of the market or town square - her relationships are of politics, and management, both arenas that have been given almost exclusively over to men, but they really belong in the emotional, relational realm of women. Both politics and management are fundamentally about working with people; you need strong interpersonal skills to be successful in either realm. And Athena isn't alone as a queen who relates to people, not to men; Demeter is also more concerned with her fecundity and her children than she is with the man who makes that possible. She's the woman who, after giving birth, focuses on that new life, not her husband. While Hera and Aphrodite are archetypes of relational women who relate predominantly to men, Athena and Demeter are the archetypes of relational women who relate to the world.

We need to reclaim all the different ways of relating, not only as women, to reclaim our whole power and our whole selves, but for men themselves, to reclaim the goddesses within them. If they did they'd find themselves much more confident, with more solidity and true strength... much less brittle, outer strength covering over a deep, inner wound. And think of how much better - and even more effective - politics and management would be if we understood that these are fundamentally relational arenas, not arenas of power where we beat others down or win out over others but long term, mutually dependent relationships where we must, and can, learn to work together.


The Four Archetypal Characters:

The Queen is of the world, relating to others.
The Page relates to herself, is self directed. She's interested in things other than relationships.
The King is power, authority. He's established and knows who he is.
The Knight is still proving himself. He's on the hero's journey.

One interesting discovery I made while trying to figure out the correspondences is that the pages are female! No doubt in a patriarchal society it would be difficult to see the feminine principle as active, vigorous and autonomous - the fact that the pages aren't defined by their relationships would throw you off if your entire paradigm was shaped by the false notion that women only have value relation to men as wives, mothers and lovers... or Hera (Queen of Swords), Demeter (Queen of Pentacles) and Aphrodite (Queen of Hearts). Athena, as the Queen of Wands, was considered "masculine" and unwomanly because she didn't fulfill one of these roles which serves men - she was her father's daughter, and, while she did manage to get some respect as a "man" in a man's world, under patriarchy there's nothing more useless than a daughter, and an unmarried one at that. This is probably why the archetypes associated with pages have been described as being virginal and androgynous. To many men, any woman who isn't interested in them is either asexual or not a "real" woman. It reminds me of the idiot guys who asked me if I was a lesbian because I didn't have a boyfriend. Single = gay in their tiny little minds. They somehow never grasped that if I had been gay, I'd have been in a relationship... with a woman. Duh!

Another interesting contrast is between characters associated with youth and those with maturity. In maturity (the queens and the kings) you have being in the world and of the world. In youth instead you see the focus on ideals (the pages) and becoming rather than being (the knights). Also, the difference between the female cards and the male cards is that, while the female cards are about relating to others or relating to themselves, the male cards are concerned with being and becoming.

As a side note: mythology is full of stories of clashes between Artemis and Hera... and Hera always beats the snot out of Artemis (something which pissed me off to no end, being an Artemis and all.) Their relationship and the results of their conflict make a lot of sense to me now, looking at their relationship in the cards - Hera is the mother telling her daughter what to do, and Artemis is the idealistic daughter who doesn't want to have anything to do what Mom wants. Like any teenager, she's trying to separate from her mother and individuate. But at the same time she's still a child, so whenever they clash, Mom's going to win. All the pairs within the suits have similar relationships: the King of Wands, with his rigid ideas, wanting to keep the Knight from frivolously running around mentally; the Knight of Swords challenging the King, maybe to lose and be beaten, or may be to win and become the King in his turn. The pairs in particular seem to be a font of relational wisdom. I definitely want to explore this in later posts on the archetypes and their relations with each other.


The Four Suits and Their Human Arenas:

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 conflict, battle, usually mental but often a literal (and violent) struggle for dominance, the use of force

Another interesting set of relationships to explore, along with those among members of a suit (like the Queen and Page of Swords, or Hera and Artemis) is between corresponding members amongst the suits (the Page of Swords and the Page of Wands.) For example, while both the Page of Swords and the Page of Wands are concerned with justice, the Page of Swords (or Artemis) is concerned with natural law while the Page of Wands (Athena Parthenos) is concerned with human law. Both the Page of Cups and the Page of Pentacles are concerned with inner exploration but the Page of Cups' (Persephone's) journey is deeply personal while the Page of Pentacles' (Hestia's) journey is beyond the self. Something else to think about and explore.



An interesting meditation exercise is laying the corresponding cards from the minor and major arcana down in front of you, side by side. It becomes clear how an archetype's energy manifests in the human realm and, conversely, when you get caught up in the every day struggles, it can be very useful to draw back and look at the larger gifts that a particular archetype brings into the world. Sometimes we need to go on a retreat from the world - to the see the ocean, or a storm, or the mountains - to put our petty issues into proper perspective.


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