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The WorldToday’s card is The World from the Waite-Smith Tarot.

At the beginnings of tarot history, this card probably depicted Christ triumphant (the symbolism of the four creatures, representing the four evangelists, is consistent with this, as is the reference in the Steele sermon which glosses the World card with “that is, God the Father”). A very early version of the Tarot de Marseille indeed shows a male figure on this card, posed and draped much like the female figure of later versions.

Whatever the origins of this image, it speaks to us today of the integrated spirit, a person whole and centered and at peace with the cosmos.

The four figures around the outside (in addition to their connection with the evangelists) represent the fixed signs of the Zodiac (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, and Aquarius), and hence the four seasons of the year. The card thus conveys the wholeness and completeness of nature’s cycles.

Whenever I draw this card, I consider it a profound blessing. It reminds me that I am at home in the world, at home in my life, and that the sacred is always present, always permeating everything. As advice, it can suggest a need to breathe deeply, meditate, and put your worries into perspective.

Theurgy and ThaumaturgyTheurgy is religious or spiritual magic; thaumaturgy is practical magic. Putting it another way, theurgy is directed at changing the magician, thaumaturgy is directed at changing the world.

The theurgist uses magic to come into closer relationship with divine, to evolve spiritually, to rise to higher levels of awareness. The theurgist may focus on aspecting deity, communing with angelic entities, or unlocking the subconscious, healing wounds, and forming a more integrated personality. The “high magic” of the renaissance and the occult ceremonial magic tradition is very much in this mold. The worker of high magic studies religious symbolism and ancient wisdom, not to achieve worldly rewards, but to learn the deep structure of creation and thus draw nearer to a divine consciousness.

Thaumaturgy, on the other hand, is more concerned with earthly needs and desires: wealth, love, career, health, and so on. Most “folk magic” is thaumaturgic. The magician isn’t seeking an internal change of consciousness, but rather external physical effects. This is the type of magic that most readily captures the popular imagination. Who wouldn’t want to cast a simple spell and get a $1000 check in the mail the next day?

In truth, the line between the two types of magic is not a line at all, but a continuum of gradations. Every act of magic changes the relationship between the magician and the world, so every act of magic has both internal and external effects. In fact, the strongest acts of magic seem to affect both self and world in very powerful ways. For these reasons, a magical practice should be undertaken only by those who welcome spiritual growth and inner change. Once the door between the inner and outer worlds is open, there will be a flow in both directions.

Mercury retrogradeMercury goes retrograde today, and will remain so until June 19. It seems that even many people who know nothing else about astrology are aware of Mercury’s retrograde periods, and dread them.

The conventional astrological wisdom characterized Mercury retrograde as a time fraught with all sort of mishaps related to communication and technology: emails gone astray, fax machines on the blink, cars breaking down inexplicably, misunderstanding, missed phone calls, negotiations SNAFU.

I have certainly seen all these things descend on myself and others during a retrograde, but there are also plenty of times when everything goes along smoothly during a retrograde – and no one notices or comments on the fact. As a practicing astrologer, I dislike oversimplifications and black-and-white thinking, especially when fatalistic, fear-based thinking is involved.

The truth is, the shift of energy that occurs when Mercury goes retrograde, although significant and noticeable, is not the only energy at work in our lives, or even the only energy involved in the workings of technology and communication. It is just one factor. Like all astrological energies, some of us will be more affected by it than others.

All the planets (except the Moon and Sun) go retrograde from time to time. (The outer planets are retrograde for almost half of each year.) When a planet is retrograde, its energy is less directly available, so the matters it presides over can stall out or become convoluted. This is usually not a problem for things that are humming along smoothly before the onset of retrograde, but it can complicate situations where we require the active involvement of a planetary energy to initiate something or to turn a crucial juncture in a certain direction.

I think of retrogrades as a reminder that we occasionally need to back off from relying on a planet’s energies too strongly and pushing for accomplishment in the area the planet presides over. Everything needs a “time out” period now and then, and this is especially true in our frenetic, fast-paced times. My advice in coping with retrogrades is to not struggle against them, but to go with the flow. Maybe one doesn’t need quite so much gadgetry, zipping signals, and chatter anyway. Maybe it’s time to sit down with a good book or a journal, or to just meditate and reflect on things instead.

It’s not necessary to fear a retrograde. When I simply remind myself to relax and loosen my expectations a bit, I usually find that things carry on well enough.

pentagramSpirit is sometimes referred to as the “fifth element.” This idea goes all the way back to Aristotle and his idea that the celestial realm was made of a fifth element (quintessence), ether, which is not found here in the sublunar world.

Four is the number of order and stability. A house has four walls; there are four cardinal points of the compass. The laying out of buildings and boundaries with right angles was so important to our ancestors that our words for measuring off squares are intertwined with our words for propriety and authority: rectangle, regular, regulation, regiment, rex (king), ruler (both kinds), right (both senses), rectify, direct (both senses), correct, rector…the list goes on and on.

The four-fold order is static, not dynamic. Every element has its quadrant, and every quadrant its element. There is no room for mystery, for surprise, for magic. Something is missing, and that something may be called spirit. Here’s one way to think about spirit: if someone created a robot that looked and behaved just the way you do, would the robot be you? Most of us would say no—being alive is more than simply going through the motions. We also have consciousness, a point of view, an interior depth; there is something more than mind, will, heart, and body, some center of awareness that experiences our thoughts and desires, feelings and sensations, without being completely defined by them.

Most Pagans believe that spirit is not something we humans alone possess by virtue of having a soul (in the Christian sense), or by virtue of having complex brains (as the scientific worldview would have it). Rather, we see spirit manifesting everywhere: in the plants and animals we share this world with, and in the grand, slow life of the cosmos as a whole.

Some people use the word “spirit” in connection with the element of fire. It has a different meaning in that context. Compare the two words spirited and spiritual. “Spirited” describes someone brimming with energies and desires and willfulness; that is spirit in the fiery sense. “Spiritual” refers to a connection with deep sources of meaning that lie beyond the confines of the ego. That is spirit in the sense of the fifth element.

The Wiccan pentagram symbolizes this mystery by opening the four-fold cross of the elements into a five-fold star. The pentagram gives physical form to a truth that is not itself physical. We don’t call five “quarters” when we cast a circle, and the four elements retain their own symmetries and contrasts. Spirit is not one of the physical elements. It is everywhere and nowhere. It has no list of correspondences, because everything can be an opening into spirit.

While it is essential to recognize spirit along with the other elements, it is also essential to keep it somewhat distinct, and not trivialize it by simply tacking it on the elemental quaternity.

Venus in GeminiVenus follows the Sun into Gemini tomorrow, where she will remain until June 18.

Venus is less in her element here than she was presiding over the sensual opulence of Taurus. In Gemini, Venus becomes distracted with passing fancies and superficial socializing. She helps us bring on the charm, to be sure, but may not leave much behind to show for those delightful moments of banter and repartee.

This can be a good time to move around, loosen your habits, and get acquainted with different people, ideas, or activities. Think of the weeks ahead as a sampler tray of appetizers to nibble on – maybe one of them will strike your fancy: make a mental note and come back to it later, when your focus will be clearer.

This can be a rather fun time for the “people persons” amongst us – there will be a lot of surprising attractions, random flirtations, and silly humor. Venus remains in close proximity to the Sun during her time in Gemini, making it easy for us to feel that her shifting attractions are somehow meaningful in helping us toward our personal goals. This may be true, at least part of the time, but the test will come later.

Venus overtakes the Sun on June 8, so we can expect some intensification of these tendencies around this time. People with Gemini planets will be most influenced by Venus’s energy at this time, as she accentuates the pleasure Gemini already finds in the give-and-take of light conversation and study.

If your looking for a sign that that special someone is interested in you, you may receive one soon. Don’t take it too much to heart, though. There’s attraction in the air, and it can alight on anyone at this time. Check in again after Venus enters Cancer, and becomes more willing to show some depth and sensitivity in how she bestows her gifts of attention.


May 2008