Thursday, June 7, 2018

Tarot Death Card XIII

Death Card: more perspectives
Oh, oh! Surprise! What comes to mind when you get the “Death” card in a Tarot reading? “Now what does that card mean”? Some traditional Tarot interpretations associate concepts like “ending” and “transformation” with this card. Most likely, it could just indicate an end to some situation or event, depending on what one is asking. We know conditions and places change and things end. Change usually consists of getting rid of the old to prepare for the new. So, it could mean the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. The key words for this card are “end” and “change.” No matter what kind of transformation may be taking place, it can be a time of letting go of old beliefs and considering something new. Or, you might ask if this means your impending demise. Yes, it could also mean the end of life in the physical body.

In the movie “Moonstruck,” Rose (Olympia Dukakis) asks Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello) “Why do men chase women?’ He is thoughtful and says, “because they fear death.”
 Screenwriter, John P. Shanley (See my blog on “The Lovers,” June, 2017)

When you get the Death card in Tarot do you experience that kind of fear, the fear of leaving this earthly existenceof not being “me” anymore, or of someone else not here anymore?  We think of the actual death experience as an exit from the material, physical life on earth, because, at some point, the scythe of time and/or aging, catches up with everyone. When you get the Death card in a reading you may think of turning to spiritual concerns. What about your spiritual life? The question of immortality comes up. In a religious context, you may wonder: Is there life after deatha heaven or hellreincarnation? A form of resurrection? On the other hand, some might think we just go off into nothingness. Do you wonder if there is life on another plane or in some other dimension? You might ask: ”Do I continue to exist in consciousness? Does my personality disappear? Will I still have an identity? Or is it ‘dust to dust,’ and I vanish in some ghostly ephemeral mist.” What about “oneness” with the Universe? Some might think they are going to be one with the Mind (God, The Great Spirit, etc.) of the Universe and life is eternal. These are questions we all must deal with sometime in our lives, and more so as we age.  And yes, there are those who believe it is the end. “That’s it, time’s up, bye!” (Reference: Mircea Eliade examines all these questions at great length in his book, A History of Religious Ideas, University of Chicago Press, 1978).

From another perspective, let’s examine several different cultural and religious views about death in former civilizations. Researchers and historians have written volumes about the religious art and artifacts of ancient cultures that deal with death. Symbolic paintings, sculptures, and earthworks, inform us of early sacred practices. The following is a brief synopsis of how other societies have dealt with beliefs about death and dying in the past. This includes ancient Egyptian Cosmology; early European Celtic Pagan rituals; Christian dogma; Buddhist philosophy; and embodiment of the supernatural by North American Indigenous people.

Old Europe Megalithic Cultures: 3,000 B.C.E. (Barrows, Stonehenge, Avebury, Carnac)
In Neolithic times in England, great tombs were constructed of giant stones for communal burialssuch as West Kennett Long Barrow. Large numbers of people were buried there and in other similar barrows.  Michael Dames in The Avebury Cycle (Thames and Hudson, 1977) mentions that the plan of the hollow barrow chambers form a figure of the “squatting harvest goddess,” Mother Earth 
reclaiming her children. In Carnac, France, some 800 huge stones were aligned in long rows obviously for some significant purpose. Perhaps elaborate festivals and dances were carried out in connection with a “cult of the dead.” It may have been a place where they could communicate with their ancestors as they walked in long processions among the stones. These early peoples venerated sacred stones, springs, and groves of trees. In her Tarot deck, Caitlyn Matthews, has created a Death card portraying the Mother Earth Goddess as “Cailleach” or “Sheila na Gig” in the Celtic tradition: “…all beings now alive return to the earth through her on death.”
 The Celtic Wisdom Tarot, (Destiny Books, 1999)
“…all Old European burials were, in various forms, a return to the body of the Mother for regeneration within the womb of nature.”
Marija Gimbutus, The Civilization of the Goddess, (HarperCollins, 1991)
Celtic Wisdom Tarot

Egyptian mummies, pyramids, elaborate tombs Tutankhamun, 1336 B.C.E.  
Q. Why did the Egyptians mummify the body?
The Egyptian Tarot
A. Preparing the Pharaoh for immortality: There is an interesting commentary on ancient Egyptian burial traditions by Charles Musés in his book, The Lion Path. (Golden Sceptre Publishing, 1985) He talks about the mummy as characteristic of the metamorphosis of a butterfly or in King Tuts’ case a scarab, their sacred beetle. Several crossed wings inlaid in gold and semi-precious stones are seen on Tutankhamun’s coffin, symbolic of protective goddesses, vultures, falcons and scarabs. Musés suggests the sarcophagus imitates an insects’ chrysalis case where the caterpillar undergoes a complete transformation. The pupa’s organs were dissolved and a new creature emerged. The mummy and coffin symbolized the same sort of transformation for the waiting body of the deceased.  A jeweled pectoral ornament containing a chalcedony carving of a scarab with falcon feet was placed on Tuts’ body.  King Tutankhamun’s mummy was placed in a solid gold coffin where, as Mercea Eliade writes, “…death constitutes the point of departure for his celestial journey and his ‘immortalization.’” This was emblematic of the winged scarab adult who eventually emerges and flies to a new existence. The theme of these elaborate funerary customs was “existence after rebirth,” and the burial chamber may have been viewed as a “birth chamber.” This signified the regeneration of an immortal body whose goal was to reunite with the divine. But first, according to The Book of the Dead, (E.A. Wallis Budge, British Museum, 1895) the ethical behavior of the soul had to be weighed on the scales of Justice against a featherwhich was called Maat (Truth). Paintings and hieroglyphs depicting these rituals can still be seen on the walls of several burial chambers. Anubis, the Jackal-headed Neter, guided the deceased through the underworld where the departed was to recite 42 negative confessions before 42 judges in the Hall of Justice. (Oops, there’s that number 42 again [“…the answer to life, the universe, and everything,”]) as told by Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). The dead either went to the stars, or to the underworld, depending on their answers. Sylvana Alasia who designed The Egyptian Tarot, (Scarabeo, 1998) painted the Death card with the black dog figure of Anubis.
(Reference: Tutankhamun, Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt, Little, Brown & Co. 1977)

“By maintaining the condition of the physical vehicle, the soul was able to continue its existence in the unknown world of the Duat.”
Moustafa Gadalla, Egyptian Cosmology, (Bastet Publishing, 1977)

Ancient Greek—gods, goddesses, and trip to the underworld (Demeter [Ceres] 1400 B.C.E.)
The Eleusinian Mysteries of ancient Greeks celebrated the story of Demeter, goddess of grain, and agriculture, and Persephone, maiden of the spring, where secret religious rites were conducted in the form of mystery plays. These metaphorical rituals may have been aligned with seasonal changes—in spring, the planting of crops, and later, the death and decay of the plants in the winter. Persephone was abducted from her mother by Hades, (Pluto) the god of death, and taken to the underworld. Overcome with grief, Demeter caused droughts and devastation of trees and crops. Because of her lamentations, Zeus allowed Persephone to come back in the Spring, but because she ate some pomegranate seeds, she must return to the underworld for four months every year (fall, winter).

“I begin to sing of Demeter the Holy Goddess with the beautiful hair and her daughter Persephone too. The one with the delicate ankles whom Hades seized.”
Homer’s Hymn to Demeter

Buddhism (Siddhartha Buddha 483-400 B.C.E.)
In the Bardol Thodöl of Tibetan Buddhism, there are 49 days in which the deceased person is assisted in reaching “Amitabha” aided by the continuous chanting of Llamas. Amitabha is the Buddha of pure perfection and the “infinite Light.” In Buddhist teachings, there are two realities—the ultimate reality and the unreal conventional reality. (Huh?) One of the goals of a meditative practice is to comprehend “emptiness.” This doesn’t mean phenomena are states of “nothingness,” or annihilation, but are conditions that do not exist within themselves. Philippe Cornu, in his book, Tibetan Astrology, (Shambhala, 2002) describes the ephemeral appearance of the rainbow as an example. Scientifically, we know it is caused by sunlight seen through water droplets, which produce a prismatic arrangement of colors, yet it has no existence in itself.  It’s only seen in the sky for a few moments. In the same way, in Buddhist thought, the “I” or “me” can be an image in the “mind’s eye.” The “self,” me, is an energetic mental construction of thoughts and ideas, yet it is impermanent, always fleeting and changing. This is the ultimate in logic where consciousness cannot be seen or felt physically. There is no scientific answer that explains consciousness or aliveness.  It is more of a cosmic atmosphere of “I am” somewhere. This is a vastly different way of thinking about oneself than the western mind is used to. For example: visually, we see that a table and chair seem to exist, but everything we think about the table and chair, including their visual image, is made up in our minds—a mental construction. Our thoughts about them is not the actual reality of the table and the chair.

Early Christian—Jesus, miracles, healing, resurrection—AD 30, Judea (John 19:14)
Universal Waite Deck
How did Jesus wake Lazarus from what appeared to be a dead state and enable him to walk out of the tomb? A miracle? (See John 11:38) In Christian thought, the anonymous author of the book Meditations on the Tarot, says that our whole life is a miracle—a miracle of living life—aliveness, consciousness. What happened to Jesus? From the story told in the New Testament, somewhere around 30 A.D., Jesus was crucified on a cross by the Romans, buried in a tomb, and three days later was resurrected —raised from a dead state and then ascended. (See John 19:16) Previously he raised Lazarus from death. Even after he saw that Lazarus was dead, he brought him back to life. In our secular age, for some, this sounds like wishful thinking—a fantasy that we cannot reconcile in our minds. So, it’s important to ask if there is some other spiritual meaning in this. St. Paul, who saw the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus, writes in his letter to the Romans “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death.” (See Rom.8) What does this mean? Commenting on what St. Paul said, the great Abbess of the 12th Century, Hildegard of Bingen, says: “You are not sons of the devil but heirs of the celestial kingdom.”

These mysteries show the end of the world when temporal time is changed into
the eternity of God who has no end.
Hildegard of Bingen’s Scivias, translated by Bruce Hozeski (Bear & Company, 1986)

In “Revelation,” St. John says in a vision: “And I saw and behold a pale horse and its riders’ name was death and Hades followed him(Rev.6:7-8). This rider is often seen in some Tarot decks such as “The Universal Waite Deck,” (US Games System, 1990) based on the 1910 version of Rider Waite Tarot Deck by Arthur Edward Waite and illustrated by Pamela Colman Smith. Christian churches worldwide, especially Catholic churches, are yet today, filled with paintings and sculptures depicting Jesus, the disciples, and saints. Of course, during the “Reformation,” in an act of piety, many churches in Europe were stripped of these artifacts.

Indigenous people of the Americas’ (Northwest tribes, totem poles, heraldic crests 1800’s)
Tsimshian Totem
Many Northwest tribes: Tsimshian, Tlinglet, Haida, Bella Coola, and Salish, were found by early European explorers to have small villages with Cedar wood-planked houses fronted by huge beautifully carved and painted totem poles. Most poles contained totem animals and heraldic signs of different clans such as Beaver, Bear, Eagle and Wolf. There were some with figures that told stories about supernatural beings such as Copper Woman, shape-shifting Bear Woman, Thunderbird, and the cannibalistic giant, Dzunakwa, a forest monster (Bigfoot?)  Some poles were topped with a mortuary box containing the remains of a deceased ancestor. There were also four posted mortuary boxes hidden in the woods constructed on high platforms above ground where the deceased was placed. It was believed that the souls of the dead passed into the spirit world. (Reference: Totem Poles, Pat Kramer, Heritage House Publishing, 2008)

“It was an austere, sophisticated art. Its prevailing mood was classical control, yet it characterized even the simplest objects of daily life.
These sea-going hunters took the entire environment as an art form.”

Bill Reid, Out of the Silence, (Amon Carter Museum, 1971).

Saturday, February 10, 2018


What to expect when you get the Justice card in a reading.

For Justice to prevail in righting a wrong, we must first recognize the ramifications of Injustice. What has been unjust? What injustices are being resolved? Justice is necessary for a civil society and is exemplified by the rule of law. We have vindication and justice when we put a stop to unfair practices. Then we can achieve fairness and equal access to goods and services in an impartial and equitable manner. There are many types of justice meted out by our courts but only a few are mentioned here. How can we find equity and fairness in the issues confronting us today? We need to open our eyes and uncover what is going wrong so we can make it right. Here are a few categories of Justice/Injustices prevalent today: Let’s examine abuses in social justice, criminal justice, and contractual justice for starters.

Social Justice: Social inequality can be much bigger than the individual.

Discrimination – social and economic oppression, inequity
Injustice: We see racism, sexism, genderism, homophobia, ageism, classism, going on right now all across America. (not to mention in other countries too.)

Racism – injustice: slavery and segregation
Looking back in history before the Civil War, Harriet Tubman (1820-1913) sought justice for enslaved black people in the deep South. She was born into slavery; was beaten and resold several times, but managed to be a leader in helping slaves escape from cruel slavery and the slave trade, and flee on the “Underground Railroad.”  Over 50,000 slaves may have escaped this way, helped by other freed slaves, Quakers, Abolitionists, and other concerned citizens. This was a very painful time in our history. Abraham Lincoln ordered the freedom of slaves in the “Emancipation Proclamation” of 1863.

 Segregation continued in the South into the 20th century. In the 1960’s, signs on businesses still read “whites only,” and “coloreds to the back of the bus.” Since then, we know the ensuing story of Martin Luther King (1929-1968) and the freedom marches, including the famous march on Washington in the 1960’s; all of which were intended to put an end to racial discrimination and apartheid in the South and in some Northern states.  This was resolved with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Today, the search for justice is reflected in the “Sanctuary Movement,” supported by churches and some cities, in helping so-called illegal immigrants. It began in helping refugees escape from war torn Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, who were seeking asylum in the US in the 1980’s. This has spread now to Muslims seeking refuge from wars in the Middle East, and Mexican workers sneaking over the border who are seeking a better life or job in the US. In the aftermath, these people are struggling with hate, workplace discrimination, and unjust deportation. There must be hope for a justifiable solution in the near future; not by building a “Berlin Wall,” or instituting indiscriminate travel bans.

Homophobia – injustice: gender inequality, non-recognition of same sex marriage 2018

 “We don’t serve gay people here.” This form of discrimination is going on in Mississippi right now with the recent ruling that businesses can refuse service to the LBGT community based on an owner’s religious beliefs. This smacks of the same discrimination that went on last century when blacks were not allowed in “white only” businesses because of the color of their skin. It is reminiscent of the inhumane treatment of Jews, which finally led to deportation to “death camps” in the immoral horror of Nazi Germany in the 1930’s - 40’s. Does this mean that all gay people should start wearing a “pink” star? This kind of outright discrimination opens the door to “hate crimes” and oppression. People can claim “religious reasons” for all sorts of things. How about refusing service to “adulterers” and “prostitutes”?

“…handy-dandy, which is justice, which is the thief”?
Shakespeare, King Lear

Criminal justice – injustice: robbery, violence, murder, war crimes, cruelty, rape, molestation of
children, human trafficking, and sexual harassment of women; to name some of the more obvious crimes.

Sexual harassment – injustice: subjugation of women, unfair business practices
How could a prominent movie director get by with the abuse of women and only give a young actress a part in a movie if she would sleep with him? Through threats, intimidation and unscrupulous lawyers, he prevailed. Current “#MeToo” revelations have exposed a whole range of outrageous denigrating behavior! How could an Olympic doctor betray the trust of female athletes and molest them in the examining room again and again? And then there was the scandalous conduct of trusted Priests, who took a vow of chastity, yet molested young boys. These revelations have uncovered the “dark side” of humankind; disclosing behavior that can be morbid, immoral, and degrading.  Justice here is an upbraid of perverse instincts. Recently, the perpetrators have been sued or lost their jobs. The doctor received a life sentence.

Contractual Justiceinjustice: treaty violations, dismantling and deconstructing basic environmental protections for air quality, water rights, and safety

Treaty rights – injustice: ignoring the rights of indigenous people, misuse of eminent domain
On the Standing Rock Reservation, the treaty with the Sioux Nation of 1876 was put in jeopardy as a 3.8-billion-dollar oil pipeline was being constructed across lands recognized as Sioux territory. Broken treaties and wrongful use of eminent domain are at the heart of the ongoing protests. Over 10,000 demonstrators (“water protectors”) were subjected to extreme military style police brutality for several months. Lawsuits have begun against the Army Corps and DAPL.  In June 2017, a Federal Judge ruled that the Dakota Access pipeline did not receive adequate environmental vetting, but an Appeals Court refused to stop it. Farmers who lost some of their land to eminent domain condemnation for the laying of the pipeline on the way to Patoka, Illinois, are also suing for deception, fraud and harassment.  (See Fifth Amendment, The Constitution)

Symbols of Justice - The Greek goddess Themis/ the Roman goddess Justitia
In Giotto’s frescos, (1305, Arena Chapel in Padua, Italy) the female figure of Justice (Justitia) holds the scales for weighing the truth of the matter.  An angel (clemency) is in one pan and an executioner (punishment) is in the other pan.  In other images of Justice in art, especially sculptures, Justitia is blindfolded and holds the sword of Truth, which separates right from wrong and cuts away the lies and obsfucations.

Giotto also painted a figure for Injustice as a haughty man in a wild forest with crumbling castle ramparts. At the bottom, tiny figures of soldiers are dragging and stripping a woman naked. This could be a representation of the story of an attempted rape of St. Thecla who was saved by a rock that opened up for her to hide in. (See “The New Testament Apocrypha, The Acts of Paul and Thecla.”)

“Below Injustice, in images scratched away by visitors over the ages, cruel soldiers
drag the clothing from a hapless woman.”
Brian Williams, The Minchiate Tarot, Destiny Books, 1999

These are a few examples of present day significant “injustices.” It will take time to resolve some of these issues. Remember that when you receive the Justice card in a reading, think carefully about any injustices going on in your personal life or business, and/or society in general. Look for clues that will uncover hidden abuses or criminal behavior. Examine all the options for righting a wrong and finding justice. Weigh your thoughts and words in response to intense situations and strive to balance truth and fairness with cooperation and support. Seek legal counsel, if it seems necessary, for a way to deal appropriately with the issues.