Sunday, February 26, 2012

Queen of Pentacles

Queens in the tarot, get things done.

Toady I’d like to speak about a woman of great power and influence who had a good head on her for finances, health and many other matters. A woman who got things done.

Catherine The Great of Russia inherited a mess when her husband, the emperor, died. Russia was a poor and struggling country. A smallpox epidemic in Siberia wiped out some 20,000 people, and Catherine came to believe that reducing its terror would be a great step forward for her people. So at considerable expense she recruited the services of Dr. Thomas Dimsdale of England, the most famous inoculator of the day.

Catherine wanted herself and her son to be the first inoculated, to prove to the people that this was a safe and effective procedure. Dimsdale wanted to try his skills with some commoners first, since he was not fully certain that Russian smallpox would behave like the English versions. His attempts were not successful, and Catherine felt that she must take matters into her own hands to establish the credibility of Dimsdale and his work. So on Oct. 12, 1768, she was inoculated. She developed a light case of smallpox but was fully recovered by Oct. 28. And to disprove the popular idea that taking pus from a donor patient would kill that patient, she herself donated pus for inoculation of several members of her court. She and they all survived and inoculation quickly became widely accepted.

In taking these steps Catherine The Great did wonders for public health. She enforced inoculations and oversaw the creation of hospital and health care that previously had been reserved only for the nobility. It was under her reign that the common people too could begin to benefit from these systems.

She was also very instrumental in creating education for the masses. She felt that her subjects were rather backward at the time, much of it as a result of poor education. Here too she uplifted her people as she enabled them to receive an education that was previously unavailable to them.

It is said that Catherine The Great had a great many lovers, and that she was sexually manipulative. Her bed-partners were keen to remain in her favour and therefore made themselves available to further her ambitions towards change for the people. In return, she generously rewarded former lovers for their favours, often maintaining this even after dismissing them.

In the period that she ruled, she made changes and really managed to get things done. A great many improvements were made to benefit her subjects, nobility and commoners alike, due to her vision of improvement and even her strategies in achieving these.

Today this card brings us the following lesson: While there is no harm in enriching ourselves we should always try to find ways to share and help our fellow mankind too. We sometimes make the mistake – however nobly - of donating monies to far-away-charities like feeding children in Africa, for example; however we often fail to notice that our own neighbour, our own people or someone close to us, is starving.

I’d like to end today’s segment with a quote by Sam Levenson:

“For Attractive lips, speak words of kindness.
For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.
For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.
For beautiful hair, let a child run their fingers through it once a day.
For poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone.
People, more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed. Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of each of your arms.
As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself and the other for helping others.”  


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Eight of Swords

This card depicts a woman loosely bound, her hands behind her back. She is blindfolded and is flanked by 8 swords pegged into the ground. It speaks to us of restrictions, but also of the ability to break free from restrictions.

Spartacus was a Roman slave who was sold for a gladiator. A grim fate indeed. Yet, he refused to remain captive and broke free. This encouraged other slaves to break free and to join him in the largest slave revolt in Roman history. The Roman threw everything they had at him yet he remain undefeated and in fact defeated his enemy in battle for a year. He was finally defeated through trickery and superior Roman forces.

Spartacus could have remained a slave, instead he chose to break free. In the process, he provided inspiration to many other slaves, some of whom joined him. Approximately 70 gladiators managed to free themselves when Spartacus broke free.

As he started defeating the Roman forces who were sent after them, he so inspired other enslaved men that approximately 100,000 slaves also broke free to join him in this defiant act. Spartacus somehow managed to feed and shelter his men as he led them into one battle after the next.

Although Spartacus was eventually defeated by the Roman Crassus, history remembers Spartacus, not Crassus, for the inspiration that he gave to so many slaves.

Sometimes when we break free from bad habits, or a corrupted system we inspire other people to do the same. If we can stop ourselves from accepting defeat when we are faced with restrictions that we have the ability to free ourselves from, others become inspired, reasoning if we could do it so can they!

The woman in the card who has her hands bound behind her back and who has been blindfolded can free herself. She need only want to. Sometimes we find it easier to wallow in self-pity or despair instead of taking a stand and releasing ourselves from the restrictions. When this card appears we might want to ask ourselves whether there is some aspect of our lives in which we feel bound or restricted. If so, now is the time to consider liberating ourselves instead of accepting our lot or misery. It is within our power to do so.

In closing I share with you a quote by C. JoyBell, on breaking free:

“When I was little and running on the race track at school, I always stopped and waited for all the other kids so we could run together even though I knew (and everybody else knew) that I could run much faster than all of them! I pretended to read slowly so I could "wait" for everyone else who couldn't read as fast as I could! When my friends were short I pretended that I was short too and if my friend was sad I pretended to be unhappy. I could go on and on about all the ways I have limited myself, my whole life, by "waiting" for people. And the only thing that I've ever received in return is people thinking that they are faster than me, people thinking that they can make me feel bad about myself just because I let them and people thinking that I have to do whatever they say I should do. My mother used to teach me "Cinderella is a perfect example to be" but I have learned that Cinderella can go fuck herself, I'm not waiting for anybody, anymore! I'm going to run as fast as I can, fly as high as I can, I am going to soar and if you want you can come with me! But I'm not waiting for you anymore.” 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Two of Swords

A long time ago, when it was still believed that the world was flat, there lived a man named Ferdinand Magellan. Like the figure on the two of Swords card, Magellan needed to make a choice – blindfolded in a sense – with no guaranteed outcome. A choice that would require a huge leap of faith, given the times he lived in.

Magellan decided to sail around the world, without any knowledge of what may await him or his crew. To not do so, I imagine, would have been to choose an almost certain fate in mediocrity.

Against all odds this man Magellan convinced a crew to join him as he set off to become the first person to circumnavigate the earth.

He and his crew were met with many challenges. Most of his crew did not survive this dangerous mission, and yet, they chose to face the dangers of the high seas, and the possibility that they might fall off the end of the world, in order to challenge themselves and change the world as they knew it.

All choices have consequences, and today’s card reminds us of this. When faced with a choice we seldom have guarantees regarding the outcome, but we do know that all choices have consequences.

The consequences for Magellan and his crew was that many of them would not make it, many would die in the attempt. But, Magellan made it, he succeeded in being the first person to circumnavigate the world, a victory that would not have been possible without a huge leap of faith on his part, and a willingness to face whatever consequences arose from his choice.

Our daily choices may not necessarily be as dramatic as Magellan’s was, but we occasionally find ourselves in positions where we really do not know what the outcome of our choices might lead to. It is at times like these that a leap of faith is needed as well as a healthy understanding that we need to be prepared to live with the consequences of our choices.

The figure in the card is blindfolded, she is flanked by two swords, a decision or choice must be made and she cannot begin to see the outcome of either. Yet, the only way out of breaking this deadlock is to take the plunge and chose one or the other. Even the wrong choice is better than no choice.

If we think that we do not really have choices to make every day, consider this:

After we choose to get out of bed in the mornings, we choose to either approach our day with dread or desire. How do we choose to project ourselves onto our world today? Do we tackle the less-desirable or difficult tasks that we have left for last, or do we get them out of the way first? Do we choose to live in appreciation of the beauty that surrounds us, even on the subway or in the concrete jungle of our cities? Do we choose to frown or smile at strangers. Have you ever noticed how much better that first cup of coffee tastes in the morning when you sip it with a song in your heart rather than a black mood stifling your thoughts?

If nothing else, today’s card reminds us to make conscious choices though our day, without guarantee of reward or outcome. One never knows what a difference even a small positive gesture can make to someone who crosses our path, however briefly. Like Magellan’s it may even change someone’s world for the better.

In closing we could do as William Blake suggested in Auguries of Innocence: We could choose to:

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Empress

The Empress is the archetypal mother. She who nurtures, feeds, embraces and loves us. She who honours the interconnectedness of All.

Metis was a goddess of wisdom, a divinity worshipped long before Zeus and the Olympians. She was Zeus’ first consort and it was predicted that she would have two children, a daughter with courage and clarity equal to any man, and a son, ‘a boy of all-conquering heart, who would become king of gods and men.’ When Metis became pregnant, Zeus feared that the child she was carrying was the predicted son who would unseat him. He therefore tricked her into becoming small and then swallowed her.

As it turned out the child she was carrying was not the son, but the daughter, Athena, who emerged out of Zeus’s head, as a full-grown woman. Athena had no memory of her mother, and considered Zeus her sole parent.

Metis, as divine feminine wisdom, was indeed swallowed by the patriarchy, and disappeared from the Western world. The myth reflects what happened historically as successive waves of Indo-European invaders, with their warrior gods and father-based theologies, subjugated the people of old Europe, who for 25,000 years had followed mother-based religions and developed peaceful, culturally advanced civilizations that were unstratified, agricultural and egalitarian. Because their cities were unfortified and exposed and because they lacked military skills, they were conquered by the horse-riding, sky god-worshiping invaders who imposed their patriarchal culture and religion on the defeated people.

The Goddess became the subservient consort of the invader gods, and her attributes and powers were absorbed or came under the domination of a male deity. Even the power of giving birth or creating life, which had been the natural realm of women and the Goddess, became co-opted, and the sky gods now created life through their words and will, or gave birth through the head.

Women forgot her, thus resembling Athena, who was born as a fully grown woman out of Zeus’s head, with no recollection of her mother Metis. Like Athena, most women are daughters of the patriarchy, who have recognized the divinity only of God the Father. Women have not (until recently) remembered a time ‘when God was a woman.’ Lost to memory was the existence of God the Mother, the Goddess, the feminine face of God. In the last few decades, ‘Metis’ is re-emerging and being remembered In a contemporary women’s journal, Women of Power, this renaissance is described:

The ancient spiritual voice of woman now speaks its long-hidden wisdom and becomes an active force for the conscious evolution of the interconnectedness of all life; the awareness that everything has consciousness and is sacred; the re-membering of our selves as sacred beings, and the loving of our psyches, bodies and emotions; the empowerment of women and all oppressed peoples; the creation of world peace, social justice, and environmental harmony; the activation of spiritual and psychic powers; the honouring of women’s divinity; and reverence for the earth, and the celebration of her seasons and cycles, and those of our lives.

Thus The Empress card today serves to remind us to recollect and to honour our connection to spirit, to the earth and to one another. As the great mother nurtures all, we too – men and women alike – should reaffirm our commitment to these feminine qualities, our intuition, our natural urge to birth and nurture life in our projects, work and relationships so that this archetypal goddess of wisdom may once again find a home within each of us.

 From: Gods in Everyman, by Jean Shinoda Bolen