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Prince of Swords (Robin Wood Tarot)

Prince of Swords (Robin Wood Tarot)

Today’s card is the Knight of Swords from the Robin Wood Tarot. Wood has taken the air symbolism of swords very seriously, showing us a knight on a pegasus, soaring above the clouds. His sword crackles with electricity. He seems totally focused on his mission.

The knight of swords is an archetype I have some close familiarity with, having often played the role of intellectual crusader myself. One of the dangers associated with our verbal faculty is that of becoming ungrounded, detached from the realities of a situation. The words and concepts can take on a life of their own, and we can get caught up in the internal logic of our arguments and lose sight of the practical, social, or emotional implications of our ideas.

We can almost imagine this particular knight setting off from a literal “ivory tower” on his crusade to save the world from the dangers of incorrect thinking.

It would be a mistake to paint this fellow in completely negative or cynical terms, however. Sometimes ideas do need champions, and intensity of focus can sometimes have a very clarifying effect. Wood has given her knight a face that is more intent than aggressive, more idealistic than dogmatic. On balance, he is a positive figure, a hero coming to the rescue.

Here are the questions to ask when this card appears:

What cause am I fighting for?
Do I need a reality check?
Why is it important to be right?
How do I bring my good ideas to the world?

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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.

10 of WandsToday’s card is the 3 of staves from the Ancestral Path Tarot by Julie Cuccia-Watts. The image shows the pharoah and his queen preparing for a voyage or expedition. A servant carries a chest of valuables, while a splendid ship waits near the dock.

The 3 of staves is a card of setting things into motion, of launching something. It carries feelings of excitement, anticipation, and expectations of future success. The energy can also be unsettling, as it represents an irreversible commitment to change: taking the plunge into something new.

For many years, I always had trouble initiating something new – approaching someone I thought was attractive, applying for a job, deciding to move, travelling . . . I would be fine after having taken the initial step, once things were rolling along, but breaking out of a familiar habit and making that first move was terribly hard.

The 3 of staves (or three of wands in some decks) has helped me overcome my trepidations with such things. This is, after all, just a step in the process, one that can’t be bypassed, and is not really as scary as it might seem. It’s the threshold between planning and accomplishment, between imagination and action. I don’t have much fire energy in my makeup, so I don’t leap in naturally like some people do, but seeing it as a natural step, a part of the big picture of things, gives me enough perspective to deal with the anxiety and just get on with things.

When the 3 of staves comes up, it implies that you are embarking on a new initiative, promising enough to put your personal energy into, but with results still far off. Instead of just imagining possible futures, we set out upon a road that leads to one.

The HermitToday’s card comes from the Thoth Tarot, designed by Aleister Crowley and illustrated by Lady Frieda Harris. The card bears considerable esoteric symbolism. In the Golden Dawn system of tarot correspondences, The Hermit corresponds to the sign of Virgo, and hence we see the shafts of wheat forming the background. The Hebrew letter for the card is Yod, the first letter of the divine name. Yod means “hand”, and so the Hermit’s hand is at the center of the card. Virgo is ruled by Mercury (Hermes), who served as the psychopomp figure in mythology and esoteric philosophy, guiding souls between heaven, earth, and the underworld. Hence we see Cerberus, the three-headed dog of Hades, as the Hermit’s companion. The spermatozoon and serpent-coiled egg reinforce Virgo’s fertility theme, although we are dealing now with an esoteric understanding of fertility – the creative interplay between matter and spirit that gives rise to creation.

On the Qabbalistic Tree of Life, the Hermit card is assigned to the path from Chesed to Tiphareth. It thus represents divine life and blessing streaming into the soul center, symbolized by the sun-like light in the Hermit’s lantern.

More literally, the Hermit is a monk or other religious seeker who shuns the company of humanity to undertake an inward journey of discovery and transformation. He carries his lantern with him into the lonely and dark places, seeking to bring hidden truth to light.

As Crowley remarks, the legend of Persephone helps bind these diverse ideas together. Persephone, a maiden goddess with agricultural associations (hence Virgo) is taken into the underworld by Hades (hence Cerberus), where she finds her own power as Queen of the Dead, striking a bargain in which she travels between the Underworld and the surface (to ensure the continued fertility of the earth), with Hermes of course being the messenger and guide.

In The Hermit, we see how new life arises from what might seem like a bleak and solitary journey beneath the earth. Only by carrying the light of spirit into the deep places of body, memory, and unconsciousness can return to the surface realities of life and make them fruitful and vivid.

When I began my study of tarot, The Hermit was my special card, just because my personality was naturally inclined toward privacy, solitude, and study. (The Led Zeppelin album didn’t hurt either.) But The Hermit, like all the cards of the major arcana, is not just a personality type, but is a teacher, a guide on a great journey through different layers of experience and understanding. The Hermit is solitary not just because solitary study suits him, but because his mission of discovery and transformation can only be achieved in the interior landscape of contemplation.

He knows the way in.

2 of swordsFor today’s card, I pulled the 2 of swords from the Celtic Tarot by Courtney Davis. Davis’s talent with Celtic knotwork designs is much in evidence here – the swords are actually woven together into the diamond-shaped band that frames them.

The 2 of swords is a card of indecision, of mental stalemate. In this image, the swords are pointed downward, which suggests to me a defensive posture. Sometimes we may procrastinate in making a choice because we feel safer just carrying on as though there is no need for a decision. The stream of energy flowing between the sword tips reminds us, however, that there is tension here. Eventually, we must acknowledge what is building up and take some kind of action.

The energy behind the situation is also evident in the colors of this image: the vibrant yellows, oranges, and reds are hardly restful colors – rather, they seek action and change. The swords themselves are precision instruments, displaying fine craftsmanship and attention to detail. Logic and careful analysis can be helpful in making the choice that is before us, even if the energies leading up to it are hot and emotional.

I’ve often been prone to indecision myself, so this card is particularly meaningful to me. I can be fearful of making a change – any change – but once I make up my mind and take the first step, everything seems to clear and life moves forward again.

When the 2 of swords comes up in a reading, it is an invitation to ask what choice is presenting itself at the moment, and what tensions are building up while awaiting a clear answer to resolve the dilemma.

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