Tuesday, June 30, 2015

8 of Wands

While many Tarot cards are breathtakingly complex, the 8 of Wands is at first glance simple.  Its meaning can be summed up in the label Crowley used in his Thoth deck: Swiftness.  It arrives in a reading like a shot of adrenalin: wherever it lands shows an area where things are going to start moving with lightning speed. But that very simplicity makes interpreting the 8 of Wands tricky.  Like all the 8s its meaning is colored very strongly by context and composition: its message is colored by the media through which it resonates.

The creative and magnetic force of the Wands suit is well suited to the 8th Sephirah.  Hod's expansive and searching nature thrives and grows in its warmth.  It can signify an artistic breakthrough, or a sudden inspiration that helps the Querent overcome a long-standing problem.  (This is especially true if it falls near Aces or cards of inspiration like the High Priestess or 6 of Swords).  Since Mercury is the Divine Messenger this card often comes into the Querent's life as a message -- the arrival of a long-delayed acceptance letter or job offer, an e-mail from an old flame that rekindles a past romance.  If the Querent is waiting on news the 8 of Wands suggests an answer is on the horizon.

The 8 of Wands comes quickly and leaves just as fast: it is more akin to a gas explosion than to the forest fire's insatiable conflagration.  Its effect can be profound but it is generally brief.  That is not to say that it cannot trigger a chain reaction if the Querent is not prepared to contain the blast.  Tarot spreads are ecosystems which illuminate the interplay between microcosm and macrocosm. A sudden shock in any single region will ripple through the whole reading, with unpredictable aftereffects coming into play well after it has faded.

The 8 of Wands often brings benefits. Waite attributed mostly positive meanings to this card, including "speed toward an end which promises assured felicity" and "the arrows of love."  But its blessing require immediate action on the Querent's part.  This is a limited time offer: hesitate and you'll miss it.  (This is especially true if you find this card opposed or crossed by burdensome heavy cards like the 7 of Pentacles or 10 of Wands).  Yet if it falls in a hostile or difficult position, it can also signify a situation where caution and discretion are in order -- a case where one must "hurry up and wait." But even where it points to problems the 8 of Wands suggests they will be brief.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

2 of Wands

For Crowley the 2 of Wands represents fire in its best and highest form.  The Élan vital moves inexorably on like flowering vines climbing a cliff in springtime, like new species emerging to fill and shape environmental niches. (Ever a bourgeois Englishman, Crowley saw this as the right and proper "Dominion" of a civilizing empire).  This is not a raging conflagration but rather what Dylan Thomas called "the force that through the green fuse drives the flower."  Its triumph is the obvious conclusion of the Querent's labors rather than a lucky twist of fate; its promotion is earned and the Querent capable of handling its demands. 

There is a theme of control inherent to the 2 of Wands. Where it lands is an area where the Querent is either taking charge or bending the knee. This is generally for the better: the 2s are by and large benevolent. Context and interplay must of course be taken into account.  The Querent may be conflating rulership with tyranny, or giving over control to a delusion or to an unworthy person.  But even these issues are not insurmountable: the 2 of Wands suggests that the Querent has everything necessary to defeat the issue and take charge of the situation.  

It also points to solutions which are organic and which rise out of present conditions rather than a radical departure from the norm.  Like all Wands it is driven by expansion and constantly in motion, but despite this the 2 of Wands is surprisingly conservative.  Fire is only beneficent when it is carefully controlled: here we find none of the hot-headed rashness or impulsiveness we see in other Wands.  The 2 of Wands is constantly in motion, but takes pains to be neither too slow nor too fast.  It wins by striking a match at the right moment, not by scorching the earth.  The Querent should act in a similar fashion where this card applies, but should not confuse caution for inaction and should be ready to do whatever necessary for the kingdom. 

While generally very positive the 2 of Wands often carries a melancholy tinge.  Waite compared it to Alexander the Great, saddened because he had no more empires left to conquer.  With the 2 of Wands growth reaches its apex and climbs as far as it can from its roots back toward the Source. But in doing so it reaches the natural limits of its growth. It is a card of maturation and growing up sometimes hurts. Responsibility means abandoning projects when the cost/benefit analysis doesn't add up: it involves telling others what to do and levying out discipline when they fail you. Adulthood means putting away childish things and, when necessary, childish people.  The 2 of Wands declares us rulers over our kingdom, but it also calls us to carry the burden of its responsibilities. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

5 of Cups

Western occultists associate Geburah, the fifth Sephirah, with Mars and grant it dominion over things like warfare and iron. (Those familiar with African Diaspora traditions will also be reminded of Ogou, the hot-tempered ruler of battlefield and forge).  This Martial feeling pervades Tarot's 5s. Wherever they show up they point to a conflict in the Querent's life, an ongoing struggle requiring hard work and constant vigilance. When we look into the 5 of Cups we see the emotional toll this war has taken on the Querent and on others caught up in the battle.

Crowley called the 5 of Cups "Disappointment" and likened it to "disturbance, just when least expected, in a time of ease." For him water's placid nature was inherently at odds with Geburah's fiery energy.  The 5 of Cups could at best be a goad which rouses the Querent from slumber.  No matter how hard we try to avoid it, sooner or later we must wake up and smell the coffee.  Often the 5 of Cups holds that bitter brew, served alongside a bill for last night's revels.  Given his life history it's not surprising the Great Beast most often encountered the 5 of Cups in that capacity.  (Combined with the 7 of Cups, the Devil or other cards associated with addiction, this cosmic hangover may be literal.  The Querent will have to decide whether it will be rock bottom or just another step on the way down).

Waite saw this as a card of blended pleasures: in the image drawn by Pamela Coleman Smith for the Rider-Waite deck, the cloaked figure stands beside three spilt cups but two remain standing.  The Querent's losses are painful, but they are not total: brooding on what was will be less fruitful than looking toward what is to come. This is not the inescapable end of Death nor the utter ruin of the 10 of Swords.  The 5 of Cups calls us to cherish what remains and to move on with what and who we have.  It reminds us that all pleasures are transient and all joys mixed. Yet it reminds us also this makes them no less joyful nor precious.

Cups are inherently forgiving: the sea refuses no river and water flows into every available space. This easy-going acceptance cannot last long under the warrior's pitiless scrutiny. When the 5 of Cups shows up in a reading, the Querent will pay the price of misplaced trust. The heat is on, and fair-weather friends will consider you less important than air conditioning.  This is generally not so life-altering as the Tower (another Martial card) but even small betrayals hurt.  And if the Querent allows 5's energetic nature the day, a little present pain will save much greater hurt down the road.  With this card, as with the other 5s, returning to the status quo is not an option: the watery temptation to inaction is here more hazard than help. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

9 of Swords

By the time the Swords have followed the Lightning Flash to the 9th Sephirah (Yesod) they have become an all-consuming despair.  The Querent is struggling to make sense of past traumas and fearful of future dangers.  Yet despite all efforts the answers remain unclear and Hope stubbornly refuses to leave Pandora's box of problems.   It is certainly an unpleasant card: given how our society treats sorrow as sickness it's not surprising that we generally see the 9 of Swords as a problem to be overcome. But though it will never be a comfortable or friendly card, it carries a great deal of wisdom -- wisdom which we can access only by engaging its pain and rising to its challenges.

Yesod is the sphere of dream and illusion.  The suffering signified by the 9 of Swords partakes of that deceptive nature.  It is not the deep existential despair of the 3 of Swords but a sorrow which is as much overreaction as reaction.  This is not meant to trivialize the Querent's pain: the Reader must remember that the despair is very real, but it is rooted in miscommunication and misunderstanding.  Alternately, it is the despair of one whose illusions have been stripped away: the woman crying beneath swords has awakened from a dream of past joys only to return to present misery.  Context and placement will reveal more about which of these apply to the situation at hand.  But whatever the case compassion will be in order.  Mistakes and misunderstandings are part of the human condition: beating up on our client or on ourselves will not make matters better.

Aleister Crowley saw another, more unsettling, aspect to this card.  For him the 9 of Swords represented "Cruelty." As he put it, "The Swords no longer represent pure intellect so much as the automatic stirring of heartless passions. Consciousness has fallen into a realm unenlightened by reason. This is the world of the unconscious primitive instincts, of the psychopath, of the fanatic." When it manifests thusly, the 9 of Swords can signify a desperate self-justification. The Querent knows an action is wrong yet continues to make excuses for it: there is a greater interest in feeling moral than in behaving morally.

In the context of prediction the 9 of Swords can often serve as a warning.  It suggests this action or this relationship will lead the querent to grief and should be handled accordingly. It also points to areas where the Querent may be decieved. Despair can be a powerful business tool: more than a few people support themselves as professional victims. No matter how much you guide them from crisis to crisis you will never ease their suffering -- because they don't want it eased.  The 9 of Swords can be the card of what Anton LaVey called "Psychic Vampires."  It reminds us that not all the lame wish to walk nor all the sick to be healed: it also notes the best way to handle a vampire involves a sharp object through the heart.

Monday, June 22, 2015

8 of Disks

When an 8 shows up in a reading, it suggests a plethora of possibilities.  The 8 of Swords and 8 of Cups can signify intellectual and emotional confusion, respectively: the querent feels flush with "maybes" but at a loss for certainty. The 8 of Wands can ignite a veritable Zerg swarm of opportunities and challenges as it heats up the situation like gasoline thrown on a fire.  The 8 of Disks likewise points to excess and bloat. But unlike its brethren, it not only illustrates the issue but also offers ways to deal with it. 

While Crowley called the 8 of Disks "Prudence," he compared it not to caution and modesty -- neither noteworthy strengths for the Great Beast -- but to pruning a plant.  Gardeners trim dead limbs so healthy young ones can grow: they shape an ungainly mass into an eye-pleasing form.  The 8 of Disks appears in overgrown areas of the querent's life.  These are places where a clean-up has been too long put off and the offset maintenance is starting to show. The 8 of Disks is the card which helps you tidy up the place.  And more often than not a quick sprucing-up is all it takes: unless other cards show otherwise, the 8 of Disks points to benign neglect more often than irreparable rot.

Like the other 8s, the 8 of Disks is unassuming:  unlike them it points to a situation where the querent has already begun responding to the issue.  And when it starts moving it can be ruthless in finding a resolution.  8 is connected to Mercury, a planet of cold reason: Mr. Spock and Sherlock Holmes are commonly cited as Mercurial personalities.  This card asks what advances your goals, who is worthy of your love and respect, where should you stay and when should you leave.  That it finds worthy it cherishes and nurtures: all else it casts aside.  It will not be deterred by your lassitude nor will it be swayed by bad emoting.  

This process can be painful. People who have been taking advantage of your good nature will not be happy when you start asserting yourself.  Break-ups hurt even if that relationship was going nowhere: a dead-end job is still a regular paycheck.  The 8 of Disks calls us outside our comfort zones -- and that is, well, uncomfortable.  But it's not generally a harbinger of upheaval or anguish. The changes it calls for are most often relatively minor: the things it casts aside are excess baggage and typically the querent will be most surprised by how little they are missed once gone. Rather than the Tower's cleansing by fire, this is the gentle process of maturation and putting aside childish toys.

Pamela Coleman's illustration for Waite's 8 of Pentacles features "An artist in stone at his work, which he exhibits in the form of trophies."  This card can signify an apprenticeship or internship:  in connection with a query about employment matters it can manifest as a career-changing opportunity wherein the querent will be called to use prior training to the fullest while mastering new skills.  Look to the surrounding cards to find out where and how this will manifest.  Pentacles often involve financial or business matters: they always involve matters of some substance and permanence. This is a quiet card whose impact is soft but enduring.  Played wisely it can bring a lifetime of benefits.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

8 of Cups

In the Western Hermetic Qabalah (which is not to be confused with and bears little resemblance to the Qabalah of the Rabbis) the eighth sephirah Hod is the house of Mercury and reason.  Cups are connected to instinct and emotion, so it's not suprising they find the 8th house an uncomfortable fit.  Wherever it turns up it points to a problem which must be addressed and a growth opportunity which the querent has been neglecting.  

Like the 8 of Swords the 8 of Cups typically points to background issues rather than spectacular problems.  Crowley called it "Indolence" and it frequently manifests as the slacker's card, a clean well-lighted rut which is comfortable but unsatisfying. That Mercurial reason will not be denied: no matter how much the querent tries he cannot shake nagging discontent. In these instances the 8 of Cups must always be answered by the actions indicated in the surrounding cards.  Hesitation is not a virtue and soon will no longer be an option.  

The 8 of Cups can also point to another conflict inherent within the meeting of mind and heart -- emotional indecision.  Frequently the querent is juggling several indulgences, all of which give pleasure but none of which ignite passion.  "Follow your heart" sounds wonderful until your heart is confused.  When that happens it can be easier to go through the motions and ignore that nagging discontent.  The 8 of Cups brings those problems to the foreground, and reminds us that every journey toward a goal starts with turning away from another.  

There’s a feeling of world-weariness to this card, a feeling that you’re whiling away your time with idle amusements because you see nothing better to do.  There’s also a tinge of bitterness to the 8 of Cups: it’s a retired knight who wonders if there ever was a damn Grail.  Left unchecked this can become a façade. Within every cynic beats the heart of a disappointed romantic and nihilism can be more comfortable (and certainly more fashionable) than faith.  But it can also be the impetus for a new quest: doubt can paralyze you or it can set you free.

The wall between rationality and emotion may seem insurmountable: as the French philosopher Blaise Pascal famously put it, "Le cœur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaît point" (The heart has reasons which reason cannot understand").  But remember that the Great Work involves transcending duality.  Pascal went on further to explain "We know truth not only by reason but also by the heart."  The 8 of Cups suggests the querent is favoring one at the other's expense.  Its context in the reading may suggest which is being overlooked, while surrounding cards will offer suggestions on how to break the impasse.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Magus

The Magus ("The Magician" in the Rider-Waite deck) is consciousness and action put in the service of manifestation.  It is the vision which drops scales from your eyes, the "Aha!" moment when the solution becomes clear and the impossible becomes child's play.  Where the Fool joins the primal light of Kether to Chokmah's irresistible force, the Magus stands between Kether and the immovable object of Binah.  It rules over the nerves which relay information and the brain which organizes and manipulates that data.  Often dismissed with facile readings as "a spiritual person" or "magic coming into your life," the Magus can be one of the most powerful and important cards in the deck once you move beyond stale cliches.

Like all forms of power, the Magus can work for good or ill. Standing in opposition to the querent, it can signify a hostile plot coming to fruition.  (The Magus always involves planning and thought: indeed, that is his very nature). Standing as a friend or ally, it can point to a current which can be ridden to advantage, a message about to be heard, an ongoing effort which is about to become a Great Work.  But whatever its position, the Magus never manifests without upheaval. When you draw down fire from heaven something is going to burn, and new ideas invariably arise in opposition to old ones.  He brings transformation, and that is rarely comfortable.  Whether he takes you to heaven or hell you can expect a bumpy ride.

The mystic works through contemplation, seeking the Divine through stillness and prayer. The magician walks a path of action, speaking the Word and thereby further the Work of the Divine.  The mystic has visions of the celestial city: the magician wants to build it on earth.  In practice, of course, the line between these two is not so simple. Cloistered holy people have not infrequently changed the course of history, and any effective magical practice must be built on a solid base of meditation and contemplation.  The magician and the mystic go by different paths but they tread up the same mountain: both work in service of something greater than themselves.  This is a card which functions at a level beyond simple dualities and easy answers. Wherever it shows up expect a certain degree of complexity and ambiguity.

When the situation demands the Magus can be a mountebank: there is often a degree of illusion and misdirection to this card.  It can come as something that seems remarkable yet perfectly reasonable, a stroke of good luck that demands an immediate response.  Before leaping, it is wise to look at the situation and at the surrounding cards. Whose cause does the Magus serve, whose goal, whose ends? Consider the costs and the consequences because magic always has both.  Once you take the Oath there is no going back: you either cross the Abyss or fall headlong into it.  Are you ready for the test or do you need further preparation? Do you have what you need and have you gotten rid of the things you don't? Many expect the Magus to bring them the Answer, only to find he has come with more questions.