Thursday, October 31, 2013

Learning to Love the Darkness

 An excited pre-post-script before I start this entry - for those that read yesterday's entry about Cedarlight Grove's community service project for Samhain.... we were featured in a really amazingly written article in the New York Times.  If you're curious about Druidry or Samhain, or ADF or the Grove, I highly recommend this article.  Often mainstream media handles these sorts of topics either highly inaccurately or disrespectfully.  So refreshing to see this!  "If a Druid Rings a Doorbell"

Samhain Blog Hop 2013

This entry is a part of the Tarot Blog Hop, which happens every High Day - follow the links above to continue on your journey.  The topic for Samhain 2013 is, just to be challenging, "Love".

I don't recall ever being particularly afraid of the dark - in fact there may have been a period of time as a child when my parents wondered if they had Wednesday Addams on their hands. There seemed to be a period of time when Death was constantly dancing around the edge of my very young life.

When I was 4, my grandfather on my mother's side died.  I didn't know anything about him - later I would realize there were good reasons for that having to do with my mother's relationship with him.  At the time, I knew the event had upset her and led to a trip to a small town outside of Cleveland to attend the funeral. I met my grandma - a very sweet grieving woman I liked but would not know in any real way until years later. I met my cousins, and we played and competed with one another as cousins do.  I remember a ridiculously creepy clown doll up in the attic in what had been my mother's room as a girl.

And mostly, I remember the funeral reception because what happened there haunted me for a good long while, and cemented that a certain aunt-in-law of mine would never be a friendly relative for me.  While my parents weren't looking, this aunt hoisted me up for what has got to be one of the most horrible customs some people practice in this country - kissing the corpse goodbye.  Mind you, if you want to do that, that is your business and I respect that - but Aunt Eve decided I needed to do it.  She picked me up, dangled me over this strangers dead body and of course I proceeded to turn into a four year old whirling dervish of panic, kicking and screaming and punching her, the coffin and (I will never know if this part is real or the stuff of years of nightmares) my grandfather.

My mother rescued me at that point, but it caused, as they say, a 'strain' in the visit, and I lay awake for the remaining nights we were there, listening to the creaking of the house and worrying that perhaps it was my dead grandfather, come to punish me for (maybe) kicking him and refusing to offer him a kiss.  It wasn't the Dark I was afraid of - it was what was in it, and I was under no illusion that the light would be enough to dispel him.

He has never appeared to me in my thoughts any other way.  Between this and learning actual truths about what sort of person he was, I cannot even begin to think of any sort of positive relationship with this particular ancestor.

At around age 6 or so I came across an issue of Psychology Today that had Death as its theme.  I still recall that cover - it showed a brilliantly green meadow. The sort of green one associates with Ireland, or Middle Earth.  In the center of this beautiful sea of grass was a perfectly angled rectangular hole - an open grave, but no mound of dug up earth, and no way to see down into the darkness to see how deep it went or what might be hiding there.  It was, for me, heartbreakingly beautiful, and mysterious, and frightening - but not in a spooky terrible way. Instead it felt like the same sort of fearful sensation that a first crush would later feel - fluttery heart, wonder and nervous excitement and trepidation.

I struggled through the long questionnaire in the magazine about attitudes toward Death - the questions themselves as well as the possible answers offered gave me an in-depth (and only somewhat over my head) explanation of what Death might be, and it fascinated me.

Oddly, I never associated any of that with my grandfather - but it did help me mentally lay him to rest.

The magazine thing worried my parents more than the earlier encounter.  After the dozenth or so time of removing it from my room only to find I'd taken it again, they sat me down together and asked what it was about it that was so interesting.  I think I described the green grass and asked them a couple of questions... I can't recall anymore, but the conversation must have been a good one, because they stopped worrying and I stopped being so obsessed with  that issue of Psychology Today.

Around that time, a new obsession was there to take it's place - Dark Shadows!  Barnabas Collins introduced me to vampires, and the soap was populated with ghosts and witches and werewolves and all sorts of Gothic melodrama.  The Collins house had secret rooms and dark, locked basements and everything was secrets and mysteries.

I was coming to love the idea of mysteries - there was so much potential there. It was as if the ordinary world had this whole extra layer most people never saw. And if much of it was dark and dangerous, that was okay, because much of it was also transcendent and magical.

Sometime around then - I could not have been more than 8 or 9, I had a friend over to spend the night.  She also loved Dark Shadows, and we spent an entire afternoon making little paper handpuppets (somewhat like these), drawn to look like the main characters, and then - after we'd spent a couple hours acting out the plots - we decided they all needed a place to live and so we made them all little paper boxes as caskets, and gave each of them little Popsicle stick headstones, setting the whole thing up on a large piece of flat cardboard.

When it was time to go to sleep, we slid the whole thing under the bed and then kept each other up all night, daring the other to let their hand or foot peep over the bed and risk the graveyard full of dead people reaching out to grab them.

She likely forgot that 20 minutes after she'd gone home, but I kept that paper graveyard for months, and it offered me much nervously fearful entertainment for as long as I had it. My mother hated it.

Eventually the ordinary concerns of growing up took over - worries about being liked and boys and the horror of having picked out the wrong clothes for school trumped vampires and ghosts and then there were adult years of finding out what sometimes really truly lurked in the darkness - of learning about the dark dangers of being in the wrong relationship, of dealing with despair and depression, of learning that it wasn't fangs that were the most dangerous thing about other people.

Now, in my 50s, I find most of those issues past - life is good, and the darkness is once again a magical place with a little thrill of fright and excitement at what might be in shadows.  I like to think my early enchantment helped me during truly grim times and also like to think those real horrors help me love and appreciate the darkness from a perspective of safety.

At some point, I'll get up close and personal with that mysterious dark, possibly empty grave - but I don't fear it overmuch.  I'm counting on that green, green meadow.


This is a TAROT blog hop, after all, and so I cannot end without a little reading for the occasion.  How about a simple spread on the subject of Darkness?

1. What lies unseen in the dark?
2. Why does it lie in shadow?
3. What is there to love about the darkness?
4. What will happen if I turn on the light?

I'm using the Aquarian Tarot, because this was the first deck I ever had and the one I learned on.  I'd lost mine many years ago, and just reacquired it last week, so we are happily getting reacquainted. 

The question I'm asking has to do with a situation involving a decision a committee I am on must make shortly.

1. What lies unseen in the dark? 
IV - The Emperor

The Emperor has to do with power - about who is in charge.  This is very much the unspoken element at play regarding this decision.  People are urging for their position less because it is what they think is best than because letting go of their position represents a loss of power, and a precedent that will be set.  It is 'in the dark' because no one is openly dealing with the power issues that are at play.

2. Why does it lie in shadow?
Three of Pentacles
This issue of power lies in shadow because outwardly, the stance is that everyone is working together, with each person operating cooperatively according to their areas of expertise - this is the official purpose of  the decision.  No one is willing to alter this official stance and be perceived as being more concerned about matters of control.
3. What is dangerous about the darkness?
 Five of Cups

In a word - morale.  Everyone hears that power monster lurking, but no one wants to acknowledge it's there, and as a consequence, issues and opportunities that should be welcome opportunities are greeted with negativity and moroseness.  Everyone is growing more and more negative and less able to see a good thing when we're presented with it.

4. What is there to love about the darkness? How does it help?
 III - The Empress

The darkness can be a place of fertile, dark rich earth in which things can grow.  For those willing to acknowledge that there is a conflict regarding power and leadership buried in the dark, this period of not directly addressing it can be a time of letting their position grow and develop to the point where it can withstand the light of day.  

5. What will happen if I turn on the light?
Three of Swords whatever point the issues of who is actually in charge of the decisions that must be made comes into the light, it is not going to be pleasant, and it's going to be a very unhappy and painful conversation.  This is a truth that is going to hurt some people who believe they are in charge of things that are not,but - the 3 of Swords is about Painful TRUTH, and cutting away all the BS that clouds the issue.  This is probably going to be necessary before anyone can move on.   

Not fun! But maybe needed, and if it is, I might just wind up being the one  that flips the lightswitch, because neither the darkness - or the light - scares me all that much.  What scares me is watching a group that, at its core, really does care about each other, letting things crumble away out of a fear of dealing with what lies in the dark.

I hope you'll continue around the Blog hop and see what others are doing with the idea of Love this Samhain.
Samhain Blog Hop 2013

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Honoring the Ancestors Through Work

Over the last couple years, I have come to value and love the time spent with my Grovemates at Cedarlight Grove.  Because we live south of DC, and they are located in Baltimore, we miss a lot of what happens there.  In addition to High Rites, they hold weekly Sunday services, regular Reiki sessions, workshops, guided meditation journeys, lunar rites, etc.

My path has not only been one of growing familiar and comfortable with ADF - but also with the whole notion of being a part of the group - of any group.  I've moved from "I'm not really a joiner." to enjoying High Rites with the Grove, but still regarding myself as mainly a solitary who occasionally gathers with the group, to really identifying these wonderful collection of people as my trip and half seriously joking that we should move closer to Baltimore because we are missing All The Good Stuff!!

A big part of what we miss is the enormous amount of work my fellow Grovemates put in on a near constant basis - all the usual internal volunteerism that goes with maintaining a large and vibrant group, but also the unique aspects that go along with actually owning permanent space.  Cedarlight Grove owns and maintains an early 20th century house in Baltimore which - as old houses do - takes a lot of ongoing maintenance and renovation.  The surrounding yard was just that several years ago - a yard.  Through countless hours of hard work, it has become a showcase garden sanctuary, with several distinct shrine areas and a happy home to plants and butterflies and birds of all sorts.

Not being able to get up there for maintenance work does make me feel more on the outskirts of the group than I wish to feel as I come to feel a greater urge to be a full and complete member of CLG.

All of which is background to say that we had one of the most meaningful experiences yet with the Grove this past Sunday, and I am still feeling a sense of peace and accomplishment and blessedness as a result.

Just a few blocks from the Grove, there is a small cemetary surrounded by houses that had been abandoned when the caretaker died back in the 1980s. The headstones date from the mid 1800s to mid 1900s, most around the turn of the century. The neighborhood irregularly tends to it but it had been awhile and there were fallen trees, tipped over and broken headstones, and tons of ivy and other weeds.  CLG decided, as it's community service project for Samhain, to go do a clean up.

The perimeter of cemetery was full of garbage - it's pretty clear this has become a dumping ground for nearby residents.  I walked around it with Taryn, using my cane when needed to scoop debris closer, and we had got a good way to filling an entire contractor sized bag by the time we were done.   While that wasn't officially in the cemetery, I'm hoping the effort will lead to a bit more mindfulness about tossing trash there.  Once that was done, I spent most of my time taking pictures of the progress and of the headstones.  There was talk of getting some pencil rubbings on a later day, especially of those that are becoming illegible before it is impossible to tell what they say.

Meanwhile, the more able bodied were cutting weeds, pulling up seemingly endless lengths of ivy, and attempting to either put headstones upright or, when that was not possible, to straighten them out to reduce further damage to them.

The biggest obstacle was a felled tree - a rock-hard large tree that had fallen a few years ago, crushing headstones beneath it.  Our senior Druid spent two days breaking it down in manageable lengths that could be rolled away, freeing the graves beneath it.  The wood will be chopped into firewood for the Grove's High Rites.

I have honored the Ancestors through stories, songs, libations and ritual - but this concrete, mundane work has been the most satisfying I have experienced.  These markers bear the names of the streets we drive to get to Cedarlight.  By helping this resting place return to a place of haven and beauty so that those who are buried there might be remembered awhile longer, I feel that we honored their memory and connected ourselves better to the geography and history of the place we have planted our Grove.  We are discussing adopting this little cemetery for ongoing care and attended, and I very strongly hope that we do.

This experience has affirmed for me that we need to find a way to be more involved in Grove activities between High Rites These are our people. We are a Grove.


On a different note, I've decided to bring my other blog, The Auld Grey Mare, to a close.  I have used it to talk about food, crafts and other more mundane parts of my life, and I'm finding that separation to be increasingly arbitrary.   What this means is that there will be entries on those things here, whether or not I directly tie them into our  spiritual walk or not.  It is the whole that makes up the life Michael and I are building together - I hope those who are interested in only one part or another aren't too unhappy about this, but I trust that those who are interested in us will not mind at all.

~ Lynda

Shared with:
Down Home Blog Hop, The Inspiration Exchange, Whatever Goes Wednesday, Whimsy Wednesday, Works For Me Wednesday, Wow Me Wednesday.  

Sunday, October 20, 2013

SDSG: Deviant Moon Tarot & Tarot Shadow Work

Tomorrow morning, Michael and I are heading up to the Boston area for a few days for our slightly belated honeymoon, so this will be my last post for So Dark, So Good.

I saved my favorite dark Tarot deck for last.  This is the Deviant Moon Tarot, a deck full of strange lunar figures that remind me a little of Bosch's artwork.  The artist, Patrick Valenza, used textures and imagery from actual graveyards in the making of this deck.

Reactions never seem to be neutral about this one - people are either very quickly and strongly drawn to it, or they'll tell me some version of "That's insane!" "I can't even look at that!" 

I'm in the 'love it' camp - this deck seems to access disturbing feelings and dreams and the unconscious mind in a way that no other I've worked with can.  The images are evocative and strange, while still being accessible and readable.

The Death card is one of my favorites - curiously, like the Tarot of the Dead, this version of Death is also pregnant.  The dark bodied figure indicates that this is dark moon energy, and she wears a skull.  Beneath her foot is a smaller dark figure on its knees, also wearing a skull.  Both skulls are smiling, and far from being grim, there is something playful about what is going on here.  I always get the sese that the smaller figure is Death's child, asking to be picked up or maybe even to return to the womb, before the birth of something new displaces it.

In the distance, there is a rather grim factory cluster, and the grass seems a sickly brownish-green.  Nearby there is a shore marking the beginning of an inky black sea - I choose to see this as the Cauldron of  the Ancestors, from which we come, filled with the essence of those gone before us, and where those who have died return to.

In this deck, I see Death as a Mother, in her destructive capacity, and not something to fear.

The book I chose to share today would be very interesting to work through using the Deviant Moon.  It is Tarot Shadow Work: Using the Dark Symbols to Heal, by Christine Jette.  Ms. Jette utilizes Tarot in a way that is both psychologically sound and spiritually wise.  In Tarot Shadow Work, she offers a long term project of working through one's 'shadows' (defined as inner conflicts, unexpressed emotions, and qualities we have suppressed or been convinced we should suppress).  As such, Shadow Work isn't about getting rid of our shadow selves, but rather to understand them and integrate them into who we are. It is a way of looking at light and dark not was good or bad, postive or negative, but more as Yin and Yang, conscious and subconscious, expressed and suppressed.  In removing the fear and hatred from our shadow shelves, we are able to heal them.

Tarat Shadow Work only includes about 6 spreads - each spread feeds into the next one, and each is meant to be left on a Shadow Altar the user creates and contemplates over a span of a month or so, with several activities and journalling opportunities working through each section slowly and deeply.  Ms. Jette incorporates art, ritual, play, dreams, and several other methods into this exploration and moves the user from identifying their shadows, to getting to know them, to reframing them as their beneficial aspects, to integrating them into the rest of one's life.

This is all truly challenging work, and suggestions are also offered about how to know whether or not this is even a good idea in the users life, or if leaving coping barriers in place might be best.  Because of the intricacies and intimate challenge of theactivities in this book, I decided not to work a sample exercise here and instead to look over a few cards in terms of how its shadow self might manifest.

For this book, only the Major Arcana is used, so that is what I'm using here, however it would be a really useful exercise to identify the shadow and the light in each card.  This is, I think, subtly different that working with reversals - often a reversed card is treated as if it is the opposite of it's upright interpretation.  A shadow version of a card would have to do with the unhelpful or undesirable qualities of the card - so that if the Sun denotes honesty and success, its Shadow would not be dishonesty and failure, but rather might be the sort of burning honesty that hurts, and success that blinds other effort.

We can figure out our Shadows by considering those traits  that make us nervous, or afraid or angry or flat out go into denial about regarding ourselves or others - ne way or another we try to push them away and disown them.  They're the Tarot cards we instantly dislike or groan about when they appear.  This can happen even when someone compliments us - we aren't 'supposed' to be like that, so we argue when someone praises us for it.

I: The Magician
So let's look first at the Magician.  He's all hands, and each one is busily handling something important - the four  elements of the Minor Arcana.  He's got an audience watching him deftly dealing with all this and there is a waning crescent moon in the sky.

Jette refers to this dilemma as Lack of Focus vs. Focus. If this is one of your shadows, it may manifest as scattered energies, or focused energy being used to manipulate and deceive.  The Magician is engaged in sleight of hand, a con artist.

If this is your shadow you may have a fear of being lied to, or of being thought of as manipulative.  You may cringe when people expect you be a competant multi-tasker, or praise you for taking action on your own behalf.

Maybe your inner critic calls you a flake, someone with no follow through and then turns around and criticizes you whenever you don't wait for someone else to change things and instead take matters into your own hands.  Maybe you feel like a show off every time someone compliments you for your success.  These are all signals that this may be a Shadow for you to work to heal.

 X: Wheel of Fortune

Isn't this a great card?  A woman in red takes payment from the figure on the stool, about to turn the crank on the Wheel and reveal his fortune.  A sort of monkeyish demon watches over the scene.  The Wheel has various symbols, and frankly none of them look very pleasant.  The figure getting his fortune told pre-emptively looks terrified - wanting to know, afraid to know.

Jette refers to this Shadow as Blame vs. Change.  The Shadow of the Wheel of Fortune is a tendency to blame 'fate' for everything that happens, to decide you have no control over anything at all.  It can manifest as victimhood ("why do bad things always happen to me??") and to getting bounced around everytime things change.  It can exhibit as a lack of good understanding of cause and effect which leads to risky behaviors and a failure to plan ahead.  Sometimes it operates in resisting the idea that your own effort results in success, and instead insisting t hat it is only 'luck' or something that was 'meant to be'.

If the Wheel of Fortune makes you nervous... if the idea that your destiny may be shaped at least in part by your own actions - or, conversely, if people who live a fate-based life really intensely bother you, this may be a Shadow for you to work with.

 XXI: The World

The last card I'm going to look at today is the World.  This is generally regarded as an unabashedly positive card, so the very idea of thinking of it in terms of being a Shadow maybe challenging.

The World has to do generally with completeness - finishing a phase in wholeness and beginning another, like a granduation or a promotion, or the Buddhist idea of Enlightenment.

But what if you have a lot of inner critic noise telling you you aren't meant to be whole? That this sort of self-contained peace is self-centered and selfish (what are you? The center of the Universe??)? That's the Shadow, turning something positive into something you feel an urge to negate and suppress.

Jette calls this the dilemma of Chasing Rainbows vs the Challenge of Living Here.  That reminds me of the song from Hair, "Easy to Be Hard" where someone can get so caught up in helping on a global level, that they forget to be good to those close to them.  That's one way this can manifest as a shadow.  It can act as wishful, all or nothing thinking - where you aim for 'World Peace' and if you can't have  that there is no point in even striving to have personal peace.  Sometimes, the expectation that anything less than perfection - a perfect environment or a perfect psyche can become so unacceptable that a person goes into complete denial that anything is ever less than perfect.  Illness and pain is denied, fixable challenges go unfixed because doing so would be to admit they needed fixing.  If the World looks too big or too perfect - if this card is intimidating, then this may be an area manifesting as a Shadow for you.

That's it for me - I hope you'll check out a few of these books and deks, and enjoy playing a little bit with this exploration of what can be good about the dark.  Don't forget to go enter Pagan Culture's giveaways - there is more to come and it is a delightful mix of handcrafted goodness!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Tarot of the Dead & Past-Life & Karmic Tarot

Tarot of the Dead, Monica Knighton, Llewellyn Publishing 2004
The deck I'm going to share today is the Tarot of the Dead, by Monica Knighton, published in 2004 by Llewellyn (currently out of print, I believe).  The theme of this deck is the Day of the Dead, with motifs that hark back to early 20th century Mexico.  The imagery is skeletons, with one exception which I'll explain in a moment.

The Minor Arcana is not graphical - it is pips only (with some subtle cues other than number of pips included), and the suits involve iconic early 20th century symbols:  Wands are Pens - signifying creative energy,  Cups are Coffins - the containers of the Dead, Swords are Pistols (instrument of conflict and hopefully not an alternative to applying thought), and Coins are Reels - as in movie reels, harking back to the early days of Hollywood.  Movies capture the 'real world' which is the realm of the material.

Because of the lack of imagery, it is necessary to read the minor arcana from the context of understanding its numerical and suit energy, making it less intuitive than some decks.  I am going to be honest and say that I don't care for this particular deck's interpretation of each suit element, and when I read with this I either try to ignore the imagery of the suits entirely or - more likely - just put the Minor Arcana away and work with it as a Major Arcana only deck.  For the most part, this deck is in the category of 'novelty deck' only for me, although I enjoy it on those terms.

The card I want to highlight is the exception I mentioned above - Death, perversely, is the sole card depicting a living person.  Death here is seen as a blond woman, clearly vibrant and alive, heavily pregnant.  I find this charming, and it makes sense to me why it is - this isn't just a Tarot deck about death, it is the Tarot OF the Dead.  That is, it is from the perspective of those who have died, just as Dead of the Dead skeletons tend to show those who have passed on continuing to lead 'normal' life as skeletons.

So what would be the death of someone that is dead?  This makes me think that perhaps if reincarnation is in play, the death of one dead is to be born into a new life and forgetting who you are.  This is the transformation of one who is dead, irrevocably 'killing' them as they are now.

With that in mind, I decided to use the book Past-Life & Karmic Tarot, by Edain McCoy to further explore this deck.  This book was also published in 2004 by Llewellyn, and is also out of print, I believe.  Most of its spreads are long and complicated - as perhaps an exploration of a past life and karmic issues ought to be, and obviously, they'd be of use primarily to those who subscribe to past life and karma AND wish to seek insight into a previous life.

But - they are also very good, only slightly modified, if one finds themselves in a pattern they wish to alter and need help understanding the cause and effect of how they got there.  Additionally, storytellers wishing to use Tarot to explore a character's backstory and motivation could do worse than applying a few of these spreads to their character and seeing what comes up.

Because most of the spreads are so complex, I chose the least long one I could find, and decided to tackle it as a thumbnail sketch of a fictional character that might be the basis for a story if I chose to flesh it out and give her a plot.

This is called the Dark Moon Spread.  It is composed of 3 cards, with an optional 4th.  For storytelling, I'd go with the 4th card, because a story without any tension isn't very satisfying, although it's sort of nice to have a life with disruptive tensions resolved!

Dark Moon Spread

'to show you what is hidden from you in terms of karma from a past life and how  that karma will manifest if you stay in your same course in your current life'

1.  Unresolved Past Life Issue
 A major issue or event from a past life that remains unresolved in your present life.
X La Rueda de la Fortuna (The Wheel of Fortune)

We can see here a skeleton riding a penny-farthing bicycle, surrounded by imagery pointing to the four seasons.  The song "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" comes to mind here for me.  Our character was a rambler who never stayed put, never established roots and probably did a lot of gambling - possibly with a pattern of skipping town when a bet didn't work out in his favor.  It looks like a rather free and easy life - but it may not have made him a good gamble for anyone wanting or needing to be involved with him.

2. Karmic Debt
Something hidden from you in your current life related to the incident in Card 1, in which a major karmic debt was incurred.
4 de Plumas (4 of Pens/Wands)

The way this was worded didn't work for me very well, so I rephrased the explanation: The karmic debt incurred in this life from  the unresolved issue in Card 1.

Here we have the 4 of Pens.  Since it is non-visual, we want to look at the numeric and suit meaning.  Pens/Wands have to do with creative fire, inspiration, desire and the will.  Fours are about stability of the suit - so the 4 of Pens has to do with stability of the desires.  Traditionally, the 4 of Wands is about home and hearth, and weddings (and other family milestone celebrations). It's what our Rolling Stone deliberately eschewed in his previous life.  And so, in this one, our character's Karmic Debt - the thing that must be corrected and learned - is how to create a safe haven for herself and family, how to embrace and protect the harmony and wellbeing of the home.  A Karmic Debt is likely to come out as struggles - challenges the person must overcome.

And so we have a motivation for this character - how to establish a safe and happy homelife, how to avoid taking off when things get difficult, how to allow herself to get attached to others without feeling like it is a leash?

3. Outcome of current path
The outcome of Card 2, if you continue on your current life without changing course.  If you are happy with this outcome, you may be already on the path toward wisdom and learned the lesson of your karmic debt.  If you dislike this outcome, draw a 4th card.
3 de Pistolas (3 of Pistols/Swords)

Here again, we have to look at the card according to its elements - 3s are the first full manifestation of the suit, so the energy is at full-throttle, and also not always particularly matured.  Pistols/Swords are thought, logic and tend to be also about conflict of various sorts.  I think we all know that words and attitudes can, indeed, be weapons.

The 3 of Swords is often depicted at as a heart punctured by three swords - it is heartbreak, but of a specific sort, where the unvarnished truth pierces you to your very core.

For our character, this is where the Karmic Debt of needing to stop running away from attachment and allowing herself to build a life with others and to let herself regard somewhere as 'home' is.  This is the crisis  of the story.  She has come to a realization that home and family HURTS.... and that it is also something she badly wants and needs for herself.  She is at a place where she can't run anymore to numb the pain of loneliness.... she has to be willing to walk into the fire to keep people she realizes she loves.

Clearly, no good place to end this tale - so we draw that fourth card.

4. Solution
How to overcome your karmic debt in this lifetime - positive change you can make now.
VI Los Enamorados (the Lovers)

Not much of a surprise, eh?  Classically, the Lovers card isn't just about loving - it's about making choices based on love. Often the choice is about what is right only for you, and what is right for others. What is  the ethical thing to do, versus the self-centered thing to do.

Our character has a lifelong struggle with not running away or sabotaging relationships when they get complicated. Their challenge in this lifetime is to be able to be in a family and within a secure home - once they see this as something they want rather than a trap to be avoided, it will stop being so hard.  They've recently come to realize that this is something  they truly want - that far from finding the open road 'freeing', it is lonely and 'homeless'.  The people they love and wish to be with have been found, and perhaps they've realized that they have self-destructively pushed others away and set out to unconsciously ruin the relationship they've built.

So here is their answer - stop being that Rolling Stone, and start acting like a Lover.  Put others first.  Be willing to hang onto them, be willing to be 'smitten'.  Be willing to choose what's best for you and others instead of operating out of avoidance.

Such a story would be pretty much a classic romance - I can alsmost see the formulaic movie motive in the last 5 minutes where one character realizes they simply cannot lose the other and chases  them at breakneck speed to say so before they get on that plane and disappear forever.  Probably this is popular as it is because so many people attempt to protect their heart by never giving it, effectively creating for themselves the heartache they're attempting to avoid.

'Til next time!
~ Lynda

Friday, October 18, 2013

Hearth and Heart

Back when I was first getting started with polytheism, I tried to build some affinity with the deities of the Irish pantheon, as I know I have some ancestral heritage there. As much as some of the gods appealed to me though, I didn't seem to appeal to them, and I never felt much responsiveness.

At Yule 2011 at CedarLight, we honored some of the Norse gods, and they seemed to be very "present." For quite a while after that, I made regular offerings to Odin/Woden at home, and read up on both Asatru and Anglo-Saxon Heathenry.

This Spring, though, the Greek gods caught my attention, Hermes in particular, and after a couple of dramatic answers to requests, I began to call him my patron god. The Hellenic culture appeals to me intellectually, as much of their original pre-Christian mythology and philosophy has survived through the centuries.

But then the weather turned cooler and it was as if Odin returned from travels and knocked on my window again, much like Gandalf, and now the deities and culture of the northlands are again top of mind.

All of this fluctuation, coupled with some of my initial study on ADF's clergy preliminary program, has led me to the conviction that ADF's notion of "hearth culture" should be only a starting point. In the reality of history, the cultures of Europe mingled and mixed and migrated, and gods were worshiped far from the lands where they originally appeared.

I've been thinking that perhaps there is some value in a pan-Indo-European hearth. In practice, most of the ADF members I know do not limit themselves to a single hearth culture, but choose – or are chosen by – those deities that they find affinity for. Nothing in ADF discourages this, but the hearth culture paradigm as presented in the Dedicant Manual might leave the impression that our ancestors lived in isolated bubbles, either Norse or Roman or Gaulish for example, when the reality was much more dynamic.

So, to extrapolate from history, the various IE cultures encountered each other and shared their ideas and religion fairly broadly until conversion eventually overtook the land. Had that not happened, it stands to reason that the process would have continued to the point that rather than a set of distinct pantheons, the gods of all the lands would be known more universally and available to all. While it seems likely that a Norseman would still be more inclined to make offerings to Thor or Freyr than to Ares or Lugh, a person with a mixed ancestry – as is true of most 21st Century Americans – might not have the same strong ties.

What I am thinking toward, and the work is far from done, is to simply articulate in theory what is already frequently the case in practice. I will post more as my thinking develops.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

SGSD: Zombie Tarot & Tarot Activities

Today, I'm showing off the Zombie Tarot, created by the same fine people that make the Housewives Tarot (one of my favorite decks).  Both decks come in lovely recipe box style boxes and have a wonderful humorous sensibility. Like the  Housewives Tarot, the Zombie Tarot is set in the fantasy version of the 1950s created by Hollywood.  But if Housewives depicts the world of Leave It to Beaver and Father Knows Best, the Zombie Tarot harks to every B-movie directly and indirectly about Cold War fears and anxiety about The Bomb.

A quick look through the Major Arcana shows a story old horror movie fans will find familiar - opening scene, The Fool - a man walks to a graveyard with flowers for a loved ones grave - not noticing the disturbed remains and the walking dead following behind him. Uh oh!  The Magician shows the scientist creating the disease that starts all this.... the Hierophant is a TV showing emergency broadcast instructions, and on we go until Judgment is finally delivered with a dropped nuke, and the World depicts a happy 50s family living 'normal life' - in an underground bunker on the Moon, while the Earth explodes in the distance.

The Minor Arcana of the Zombie Tarot most uses the usual names - Cups (pictured as neatly sliced skulls cradling tasty, tasty brains),  Wands (bones and limbs which tend to get yanked off in Zombie World), Swords (shown as knives and other weapons for fighting the brain-munching horde), and Hazards (Pentacles - depicted as a 'hazard' symbol, and showing some interesting attempts to use the Zombies rather than being eaten by them.  The practicality of living in a world overrun with animated corpses).

Zombie stories are, I think, about how things fall apart - they hook into our fear that unseen things are happening that are going to shred the facade of normalcy and civilization we take for granted.  There are two horrors in the zombie genre - the first is that Death itself has stopped working (how is that for turning a fear of death on its head?) but not in the sense of eternal life.  Rather, zombies are animated meat with a chronic hunger for flesh - our dead loved ones don't rest in peace. Instead, what's physically left of them shambles around, dropping rotting flesh all along the way, and try to mindlessly eat us.

The other horror is the ruin of civilization itself - you might get eaten, sure - but you might also just as easily wind up killed by a living person because all the social structure has disappeared and everyone's creating their own rules as they go.

This theme of 'Things Fall Apart' makes the Tower the obvious choice of card to share, as that is what the Tower is all about in Tarot - the understanding that sometimes, that carefully constructed reality you think protects you just crumbles, and you're left with nothing but rubble.

Little wonder the Tower is one of those cards in Tarot that makes people nervous!  In the Zombie Tarot, the lightning has struck.... Tower moments are always sudden mayhem. There you minding your own business and ZAP, it all falls apart.  In this depiction of the Tower, the walls hold, but these folks, securely thinking they are sheltered away from the Zombie Apocalypse, suddenly find their fortress breached - the zombies are here, they're hungry, and nothing will ever be the same again.

Things fall apart, and your security measure are useless against the forces of chaos.  Scarrrry, eh?  I don't think it's a coincidence that zombie tales are popular right  now - they feed into current fears that things are, indeed, falling apart and our old fortresses are more fragile than they seem.

The book I'm sharing today is The Tarot Activity Book, by Andy Matzner who is a clinical social worker and psychotherapist as well as tarot reader.  This book uses Tarot in concert with various journaling ideas, 'conversation starters' and ideas for therapeutic art projects.  The result is a treasure house of ways to use Tarot in a different way than divination for self exploration, growth and healing.  Fair warning - while this book does not require any previous knowledge of Tarot, neither will it directly teach a beginner anything specifically about Tarot. Most exercises involve going through a deck and choosing a card or cards as a part of the activity, by using visual cues rather than 'standard' meanings.  I honestly think that's a pretty great way to learn Tarot - but don't look for key words or even any explanation about what a particular card 'means'.

The activity I chose to try with the Zombie Tarot was Poetry Time.  Very simply, pull a card at random, and use it as inspiration for a poem.  An alternative suggestion is to use the title of a Major Arcana card, spelled out vertically, so that the letters become the first line of the poem about the card.

I'm no poet, so excuse the raw (brainns!!!!!) effort here.   The card I pulled is No. 6: The Lovers.

Zombie Love

Til Death, we vowed,
Hardly believing such limits truly exist
Even as the world faltered around us.

Look at us now.
Our love perfumed with roses and rot,
Visions of the one I once adored
Even as you decay in my arms.
Relish the taste of my beating heart,
Sweet gift I gave you long ago.

~ Lynda H


Don't forget to head over to Pagan Culture, and look down the sidebar for many wonderful creative entries for the So Good, So Dark Blog Party. Don't forget to explore the giveaways!

And take a moment to hop over to the Samhain's Sirens entry today - a delicious recipe for baked squash, a tutorial on creating a spider web, and a unique bracelet up for giveaway.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

SGSD: The Vampire Tarot & Tarot: Get the Whole Story

There are several vampire-themed Tarot decks on the market, but until recently, I didn't have any of them.  While I enjoyed Buffy the Vampire Slayer a whole lot, and I enjoy Stoker's Dracula, and True Blood (although I'm a lot behind on that)  I'm not a 'fan' of vampires as sympathetic characters, so I've never been drawn to the motif in Tarot.

The Vampire Tarot (US Games Systems, Inc), Nathalie Hertz

Recently, though, a friend of mine passed on her copy of The Vampire Tarot, by Nathalie Hertz (US Games Systems, Inc.) - since it is seasonal, I've been exploring it a bit, although I am far from 'literate' in its imagery.

Vampire tales seem to me to be about passion and desire that utterly overrides every other consideration.  They seem to embody  the energy of dysfunctional relationships, where one person 'feeds' on another - where people are seen as both repellent and charismatic, takers of one's energy while promising eternal life of a sort.  Vampires are portrayed as being pure passion and romance while having no beating heart at all, and no pulsing blood other than that which they steal.

In this deck, the Devil has to surpass all these qualities typical of the Tarot Devil - here he is depicted as pure beast, human qualities nearly entirely gone.  He is pure predator, pure desire in search of what it hungers for, long fangs to feed, long claws to clutch, wings to better pursue.  No persuasive allure is left here - he's not interested in convincing his prey to come to him.  He'll just take them, and be done with it.  In this image, he occupies all the space - the way behind him is blocked and closed.

The Devil in Tarot often points to intense materialism, addiction, and an imbalanced level of sensuality.  You may fall for that sparkly, broody vamp you write about in your diary, but if you find yourself in the hands of this Devil, you're just food.

The book I chose to work with today is a Tarot: Get the Whole Story, by James Ricklef.  This gem of a book focuses on spreads with solid explanations of how to compose a spread that will best reflect what a person is seeking guidance for.  Ricklef does this in a really creative and interesting way, by demonstrating spreads for various historical and fictional figures, so that each spread has a 'what if' story about familiar characters.

This can be a very fruitful way to practice spreads - read for 'characters'!  It also helps show how Tarot might be used in storytelling - to get at the qualities of a character, to understand motivations, or to lay out a plot.

Because I so strongly associate vampires with relationship issues,  I chose to try out Relationship Transformation Spread, intended to help a person understand why their relationships don't work.  Ricklef applied this spread to Scrooge.  I'm going to use it to have a little talk with Spike,  the incorrigible vampire with the longstanding love/hate crush on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

1.  What are Spike's problematic patterns in this relationship?
6 of Cups
Honestly, Spike has a LOT of problematic patterns in this relationship, some of which go with the territory when you're a soulless vampire.  But his core pattern goes back to before he was turned, when he was an over-earnest writer of bad poetry, trying to convince a woman to love him and being told that he was 'beneath' her - he's been the hapless lover ever since, falling for women who won't or can't love him in return.  Choosing the Vampire Slayer as the object of his affections - could there possibly be a better set up for dysfunction than that?

The 6 of Cups often has to do with nostalgia, and sometimes overly positive memories of more innocent times gone by.  In this card, we see the Cups - carriers of emotion and love (and in this deck, blood) overturned.  Reliving the patterns of his past, Spike wound up, among other things, being 'chipped' and unable to feed, and still not really getting the girl - because his pattern is to chase love from people who are unattainable, and lose.  Perhaps he even beliefs the pain of that constant cycle of loss and hopelessness is what makes his love 'real'.

2. What are Spike's fears in it?
King of Pentacles
The King of Pentacles is the guy with all the power over material things.  Spike is afraid that this King isn't him - that someone better, more worthy, more stable and with more to offer, will take his place.  He knows that he's the guy who probably understands Buffy best, but that's because she, herself, is not very well grounded and she, too, yearns for a simple, down to earth life and relationship, while living in such a way that it is impossible.  If it ever happens that she's able to find someone to share that sort of life with her, Spike will be deposed, and he knows it.  The only way Spike can keep his crown is to keep her convinced that she'll never do better - classic vampire style dysfunction, and it's rooted in his own fears about not being good enough.

3. How does Spike block love in it?
II - The High Priestess
The High Priestess is intuitive wisdom, but she is also a keeper of secrets.  She doesn't reveal all that she knows, and in order to access her wisdom, one must be ready to hear it.  She is mysterious and holds the key to the subconscious self.

Spike is a masterful keeper of secrets - from himself.  He can be the model of living in denial, always painting his own actions as either more heroic or more villianous than they are - and if that doesn't work, he's ever ready to blame others for making him do something he shouldn't.  He blocks love that could happen in his relationship with Buffy by living so deep in his own head and own reality that it simply isn't possible to really get close to him - he is far too protective of his own vulnerability to really allow it without resisting.

Deep inside, he really does crave love - but that is a solidly locked door if he thinks you might hurt him.  And the only way to be intimate is to be willing to risk being hurt. Poor Spike.

4. What does Spike need to let go of in order to make this relationship work?
8 of Cups
We can see the cups upright now, but they're drained of the fluid needed to keep this relationship alive.  If Spikes wants a relationship with Buffy to work on any level, it's time for him to get real and acknowledge that when it comes to any sort of healthy romance, there is no 'there' there.  Not only is he never going to be the Right One for Buffy - but she's never going to be the Right One for him either.  Because of who they are - vampire and vampire slayer - she can't overlook what he is without betraying what she is, and the only way he can stay near her at all means he has to be her neutered dog.  This is not ever going to work.

The 8 of Cups typically has to do with walking away from situations that are no longer emotionally satisfying.  If Spike is willing to accept that this romance can never be healthy and look for something more meaningful to let him feel his own worthiness, then perhaps he and Buffy can develop a real relationship as friends, but if he insists on trying to make it into a romance, it is going to continue to be dysfunctional and unsatisfying for them both.

5. How can Spike heal this relationship?
9 of Cups

Here we see the cups overflowing and filling one another, and the curtains flung open to see the wider universe beyond the confines of this space.  Spike can heal this relationship by moving away from pouring all his thwarted love/hate insecure feelings into Buffy, and toward caring about and being emotionally generous to many people.  Instead of grasping and taking, he can redirect himself to giving to others.

As it happened, Spike sacrificed himself (however grudgingly - he was, after all, a vampire to the end) for the sake of the town he'd regarded as his personal feeding grounds, and in doing so, he gained the love and gratitude of many, and more than redeemed himself in the eyes of Buffy.  In  that heroic act, he healed the relationship that had caused them both so much pain.

So there it is - thanks for indulging me, and apologies for inflicting any pain on anyone who really, really wanted those two to be the romance of the century!  If you enjoyed this, try reading for a fictional character you love, and see where where it takes you,


As a reminder, head over to Pagan Culture, for several wonderful giveaways, and tons of creative posts with a spooky bent for the So Dark, So Good Blog Party.  Magaly's giveaways are always so fun - not only has she rounded up some great items, but she encourages creative and thoughtful comments by asking questions as a part of entering.  Go check it out!

Also, Samhain's Sirens is still going strong!  Today's entry includes a mouthwatering recipe for Slow Cooker Pork and Apples, a lovely essay on Samhain as the New Year, and an adorable witchy tote bag being given away.

Until next time, when I'll be looking at the Zombie Tarot!
~ Lynda

Sunday, October 13, 2013

So Good, So Dark: Halloween Tarot

For the next eight days, Magaly Guerrero of Pagan Culture is hosting an All Hallows Grim Blog Party with the theme of So Good, So Dark, with the aim "to use our artistic power, intellect and heart to create posts that show the delicious goodness that blooms in the dark."  Participants will be sharing all sorts of creative spins on the darkness - artwork, stories, etc, along with a few giveaways.  Check back to Magaly's website - she'll be offering giveaways throughout the week, and you can find participants' entries in the sidebar.

For me, I'm going to share some of my Tarot treasures - a few of my darker decks (or at least seasonally themed) and books that lend themselves especially to creative exploration or working with darkness and shadow.  What I have is absolutely not the limit of what is available (I find I am not a particularly dark-oriented person these days!), but perhaps it will inspire an interest in working with a new deck or two, or to use Tarot in a different way than simple divination.  For each deck, I'm going to share the Death, Devil or Tower card (the ones most likely to be considered dark and scary) and the back.  And I will also share an exercise from each book I am highlighting using the chosen deck.

The Halloween Tarot
Karin Lee & Kipling West
US Games Systems, Inc.

Our first experience with October darkness tends to not be too frightening - most of us, at least those of us in the U.S. have memories of Halloween, and the (mostly) safe thrill of costumed figures in the darkness of our own streets, our neighborhoods transformed into spooky haunted houses where we are lured in with the promise of sweets, and almost, if not quite, sure that the cackling crone and Frankenstein handing out the goodies are really our best friend's mom and dad.

The first deck I want to share takes us back to those intriguing days of sweet spookiness - The Halloween Tarot. 

This deck is an utterly charming Rider-Waite Smith clone.  The four suits are Pumpkins (Pentacles), Ghosts (Cups), Bats (Swords), and Imps (Wands).  I have found this deck not only to be great fun to read, but also a wonderful introduction to Tarot for children, and those who are a little afraid of Tarot - that little thrill of Halloween fright is there, but in a familiar and non-threatening package.  As a person gets comfortable with these images, they can then compare them to the standard RWS deck, and will find they have developed a good grounding in the symbolism of the system.

But besides all that - it is simply a fun, slightly spooky deck to play with at this time of year.

Death in Tarot usually does not indicate physical death (although it can).  Instead it has to do with transformation - specifically the transformation that rises out of things that have ended.  It's not a comfortable card but it needn't be seen as a 'bad' one, either.

The Death card in the Halloween Tarot is rich with symbol - in the night sky, we can see Saturn (Cronus in Greek - a deity related to Time and a reminder that everything has a timespan).  The vulture and the rat are each scavengers, feeding off the remains of that which has died - and a good thing they do, too, if you think about it.  In the bottom left of the card is a Death's Head Moth and tacked onto the fence is an ankh, an Egyptian symbol thought to mean Eternal Life.  In Death, matter is transformed, not lost.  Death itself - here a skeleton - is shown here as a gardener.  As anyone who has ever grown anything, what dies becomes compost and fertilizer - dirt, which becomes the soil in which new life can grow.  Without death, there could be no life.   The pumpkins and flowers in this garden seem to be quite happy to be there, even if they know it cannot be forever in this form.  Finally, for those familiar with the RWS Death card, the watering can has the five-petaled rose so familiar on Death's banner.

Oh and the black cat?  He's on every single card - try this deck with children.  Even very young kids will enjoy looking for the cat on each image.

Tarot Games
Cait Johnson & Maura Shaw

Tarot Games: 45 Playful Ways to Explore Tarot Cards Together is a delightful book by Cait Johnson & Maura Shaw.   Rather than the 'usual' look at each card, this is, truly, a book of games that can be played with Tarot.  Some alone, some in a group setting, and some specifically designed to be played with children.  Most of these do not require any previous experience with Tarot, but can also be used as a way to shake things up for those who have long experience with reading.  I highly recommend it!

Today, I decided to try a simple game from the children's section, called Autumn Leaves:

"The player mixes the cards, then stands on a chair and drops ten cards, one by one, from this height. Only the cards that land face up are read.  These may indicate attitudes or beliefs that the player is beginning to outgrow or needs to let go.  Let the child tell you what he or she sees in the "autumn leaves."

Out of 10 cards, I had 8 show up upright.  These could be read separately, considered as various things that it might be time to put away as the season turns toward Winter.  Or they could be arranged as a narrative.

My inclination was to pay a little extra attention to the 10 of Pumpkins overlaying the 9 of Pumpkins - it is burying the qualities of the 9.   

The 10 shows a party where a pumpkin is being used as a pinata - the tree is full of jack o'lanterns and there is a crowd of people in costume waiting their turn to take a whack.  It's a social setting and looks fun.... but on the other hand, little is as it seems.  Who are these people under their masks?  What do the jack o'lanterns waiting to be hit represent?  It's a lot of activity, but it could be pretty stressful and noisy.  This 10 generally has to do with family legacies, and it makes me worry about things being broken open 'for fun', and not so nice games being labeled as good times and social obligations where no one is really open at all.

It's burying the 9 of Pumpkins, which shows very nearly the opposite scene - a pleasant, well dressed woman stands alone in her thriving pumpkin patch, keeping company with an owl, a symbol of wisdom.  Her pumpkins are still growing, not cut into jack-o-lanterns, and she wears no mask.  She's found a place of serenity and quiet - a haven from the noise and gameplaying.  With the 10 hiding this, I see here a suggestion that it what may be needing to be put away is social experiences and family dynamics  that disrupt peace.  It can be a wonderful thing to enjoy the company of others, but make sure it's the people you want to spent time with.


A couple of giveaways to point you to, today:

Samhain's Sirens has a tutorial for making seasonal masks and is giving away two of them, one for Fall and one for Spring.

Meanwhile, Pagan Culture has a gorgeous chest by Eliora called "Reach Through the Darkness to Those You Love", full of things to help honor our Ancestors.  Lovely!

See you tomorrow!
~ Lynda H.