One of the grand metaphors of Tarot – though it is a fairly recent innovation – is the that that Major Arcana is The Fool’s Journey with three levels or kinds of work for our Hero Fool to do: Cards 1 – 7 represent the development of self and the ego; Cards 8 – 14 represent a turning inward to seek a new kind of wisdom; and Cards 15-21 represent fulfillment of the Fool’s seeking and spiritual attainment. In 78 Degrees of Wisdom, Rachel Pollack names the levels as Consciousness, Subconsciousness, and Superconsciousness.
The Fool’s Journey has guided me for a long time but now it’s sparked a new metaphor as I’ve worked through the Journey into the Tarot. I’ve been playing with a vision of the Major Arcana as three circles of healing with three points of transition. This post spins out that thread of thought and continues the play.
Both the nature and the shape of the journey changed with the shift in metaphor to circles of healing rather than a progressive journey.
The first spark for this new view of the Major Arcana came from working with and re-assessing the relationships between the male and female wisdom figures of the first six cards of the Major Arcana (which I blogged about in more detail here). I saw the obvious dance between the Emperor and the Empress, but also how the Hierophant needs the High Priestess’ inner / lunar wisdom to refresh the outer / solar traditions he upholds. They danced between the Magician and the Lovers.
Using the circle of healing metaphor, The Magician represents the circles highest potential and what exists before a split of masculine and feminine. He exuberantly uses the male elements of fire and air and the female elements of water and earth to make his magic. The Lovers shows the joyful connection of masculine and feminine and is the main healing work of this circle of integration. The connection is possible both within a person and through greater cooperation of men and women in the world.
The Charioteer moves forward from this triumph of integration led by a team of dark and light creatures into the next circle of healing.
Using the attributions of the English School, Strength opens the second circle of healing seeming to continue a theme of triumph and most commonly the image of a woman taming a lion. But the gentleness of the woman is so different from the boldness of the Charioteer. Some kind of transformation has taken place.
Paradox now makes its appearance as the trickster teacher because the triumph of the first line is following by the seeming contradiction of dissolution and surrender as the achievements of second line of cards.
The work of this line starts with The Hermit who leaves behind the everyday world for the lonely mountaintop. He goes inward removing himself from the attention and praise of the world. This allows him to come to know his inner wisdom. Rather than being isolating, the work here connects to the Hermit to ever changing movement of the Wheel. From his wide perspective on the mountain top, he comes to a deep understanding of change internally, in the everyday world, and even in the unseen realms and the widest cosmos. He no longer fights change but aligns himself with its energies.
This alignment with change brings a greater understanding of the patterns of cause and effect embodied in Justice. Reaching Justice brings us half way round this circle of healing with Strength and Justice across from each other. The connection is apt as it takes strength to look at our lives and take responsibility for how we’ve triumphed and failed and to pluck the lessons of self knowledge from its roses and thorns.
The deep self knowledge gained from this encounter with Justice may spark a re-assessment that can be quite destabilizing. And in this second circle of healing the destabilization needs to be embraced. The Hanged One meets the challenge by turning every thing upside down and being with the uncertainty created by this new perspective. Action seems impossible. A new understanding of what is important is in process of being formed.
The old self faces Death and this is the great work of this circle of healing. The transition into a new way of being requires releasing what is known, both the negative and the positive aspects. We are called to let them go without knowing what will next emerge. There is the phase of the Death process where we enter the void. If we have prepared well enough in the work of the Hanged One, we may even welcome this place of absence.
We are called forth from the void by the rising of the sun. The new invites us. We emerge as stronger because of a greater connection to the whole of creation that is in a constant cycle of birth, death, and re-birth. The boundaries between self and other have worn away. We have the skills to commune with our lions (who represent both our fears and our power). While we appear to have control over these beasts, those who have traveled the healing circle of dissolution know that it is through surrender and death that this deeper kind of power flows.
We’ll need that power when we face the Devil, but that’s a subject for another post.
[Notes: Images from the Gaian Tarot are used with permission. It's interesting to note that some people see the Gaian Magician as a man while others see the figure as a woman. The ability to be both speaks to the Magician as an already perfect balance of male and female.]