Monday, December 5, 2011

The Tower

The Tower: Wake up!

Wham! A bolt of lightning strikes “The Tower” from out of the blue. Shock! Dismay! Are you feeling shattered and burnt out? Are you fleeing from chaos and disaster? A lot has been written lately about the “The Tower” card of Tarot, especially in the aftermath of the 9/11 collapse of the twin towers in New York City. The commentaries range from endless discussions in popular magazines, newspapers and blogs, to rants of biblical proportions (see Revelation 9:11). In Tarot, the meaning of The Tower differs from what we think about concerning the watchtowers erected on ancient city walls. However, we note that the belief of the populous was—if the watchtower fell during an attack or siege—it signified the doom of the city.

The traditional Tarot view of The Tower is considered an allegory, symbolic of collapse of the social order. In early Tarot cards, lightning strikes the tower knocking off a crown. Two people are seen falling from the top—usually interpreted metaphorically as the plunge from a build up of self-aggrandizement. This refers to someone who has succumbed to “the love of money.” It typifies greed and corruption as seen in promoting rampant selfish capitalism and the tyranny of the “will to power.” In a reading, it can mean its time for a necessary break-up of “towering defenses,” and a willingness to give up old habits. It’s an impulsion to restructure oneself. It’s about liberation from delusions, ignorance, and materialistic thinking. In some interpretations, the thunderbolt that topples the crown is seen as a symbol of celestial power. A lightning flash reveals sudden spiritual insight and awareness. “The tower of pride is here destroyed by the lightning bolt of God’s judgment,” says Joseph Campbell in “Tarot Revelations,” (with Richard Roberts, Vernal Equinox Press, 1982). In mythology, Jupiter throws thunderbolts, which are an emblem of his sovereignty and power.

In Tarot of Cosmic Consciousness, the background of The Tower card appears red, indicating violence as bands of lightning streak through a shower of sparks. The crown is falling off a broken brick structure, much like we see it in older decks. What is the significance of the “crown”? It’s a mighty emblem of sovereignty that takes a fall when a false will to power and puffed up egos are exposed.

Johannes Dorflinger portrays “The Devil” and “The Tower” together in his sculptures at Constance, Germany, as mentioned in the previous blog. There, a sign describes the juxtaposition of the two as: “A tenuous balance between aggressive and defensive impulses…” The significance of the falling people represents those who are experiencing a sudden flash of insight about the Higher Self as disaster strikes. Something has to change in a hurry.

J.E. Cirlot says that “…liberation rather than ruin is the esoteric meaning of this key,” in “A Dictionary of Symbols,” (Philosophical Library, 1962 p.75).
An arrogant and powerful king, Nimrod, was building a tower to reach the heavens in the biblical allegory of the “Tower of Babel.” But the workers, who originally spoke a common language, couldn’t understand each other’s speech anymore so the work stopped and the tower collapsed. The implication was that Nimrod’s vanity brought about its downfall. This was his punishment for his arrogance and pride. Only the “Book of the Jubilees” from the Dead Sea Scrolls mentions the actual destruction of the tower.

Cynthia Giles in “Tarot: History, Mystery and Lore,” (Fireside, 1994, p. 176) describes a Surrealist art exhibition held in Paris, 1947, where the Major Arcana, including The Tower, were exhibited as a stairway made of book ends. The Tower was referred to as “The God House” whose reference book was Goethe’s “Faust.The artists were comparing the symbols of Tarot to certain books that seemed to exemplify the themes of the Major Arcana.

In a reading, when you get The Tower card, its time to ask yourself: what is breaking up in your life? How can you restructure and improve your environment? Gail Fairfield in “Choice Centered Tarot” (Red Wheel-Weiser, 1984) says: “The flash of enlightenment is like the lightning hitting the tower. It starts off a whole chain reaction.”

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Devil

The Devil: Good versus Evil

It’s time to deal with the “nitty gritty” source of some of the world’s most complex problems. What better place to start a deeper examination then with The Devil,” ‘Da’ evil,’ in the Tarot. In the discussion of what is good and what is evil; keep in mind that the difference may not seem so black and white—we might see a lot of gray in between. The problem of defining evil begins with finding someone or something to blame for mankind’s seemingly innate destructive tendencies. So let’s blame the devil. Heh, heh! “The devil made me do it” The devil has been the personification for evil deeds since early civilization. In ancient times, a goat (hence, scapegoat) was loaded up with the evils of society and sent away into the desert, which may be why some Tarot decks depict the devil with a goat’s head. In ancient Middle Eastern religions such as Zoroastrianism, the evil Ahriman, god of darkness, chaos, and destruction, was the antithesis of Ahura Mazda, the good sun god—god of light. And devils inhabited certain evil-doers in the stories of the Old Testament. In the Gospel of John, the Pharisees argued with Jesus about who was inhabited by a devil, written 2,000 years ago. After Roman rule and Christianization during Constantine’s reign, the devil was characterized as the pagan god, Pan, later seen with horns and a tail in some Renaissance paintings.

In Tarot of Cosmic Consciousness, The Devil card is painted as a symbolic whirling black hole that sucks out the world’s evils and disperses them into space. It is a warning not to “get sucked in” to doing wrongful and harmful things that lead to disaster and one’s “undoing.”

Currently, on the internet, you can read all about evil in “The History of the Devil and the Idea of Evil,” by Paul Carus; placed there by J. B. Hare. (First published in 1900) Hare writes, “At that point in history it seemed apparent that evil would soon be eliminated by the onrushing forces of rationalism and modernism. The devil has been reduced to a literary character….” Then in hindsight, he continues, “However, the 20th century brought total war; genocide; nuclear, biological and chemical weapons; mind-control; double-speak; ecological destruction; and finally, indiscriminate mass terror.” Wow! What happened to the good?

“The evil that men do lives after them—the good is oft interred with their bones,” as Shakespeare says in Julius Caesar.

On a recent trip to Germany, in Konstanz, I was awed by the 22 abstract Tarot sculptures of the Major Arcana by Johannes Dörflinger. He portrayed The Devil as a simple powerful arrow bending The Tower next to it. His commissioned geometric work replaced an old wire fence that divided Germany from Switzerland. His interpretation of The Devil and The Tower he described as “A tenuous balance between aggressive and defensive impulses, a momentary standstill in an incessant struggle.”

So, what about the good? In Plato’s metaphysical concept of Forms, he proposed the Good (capital “G”) as a cosmological model: as the only reality; eternal and changeless. The Good, in his view, was harmony and unity as the first principle of everything, including intelligence and truth. Evil was some kind of temporary misinterpretation of the good, a counterfeit. For us, today, to solve the problem of evil, we can take action by discerning and separating the truth from lies; the symbolic engagement of evil by the Swords in Tarot.

Caitlin Matthews in her book, “The Arthurian Tarot Course” (Thorsons, 1993), mentions the “Dolorous Blow.” She says, “The land becomes overrun with opportunist foes who waste remaining resources and terrorize the weak. The kingdom becomes anarchistic as the structure of society breaks down” (p. 38). She points out that the “Wasteland” occurs when mankind is dominated by self-interest, greed, self-righteousness and hubris, neglecting and/or abusing the land. This hurts the lives and circumstances of other people and leads to oppression, doubt, fear, delusions, bondage, and destruction. An imbalance of the order of nature sets in that is hard to redeem.

How do we find the good in our lives? “Evil must not be avoided but rather, transformed,” says Sheldon Kopp, in “The Hanged Man” (Science and Religion Books, 1974, P. 223). We transform darkness by seeking the light in our own lives. Positive change for good involves an evolution in our consciousness. When we purposely put our energies into expressing compassion for others, we work on establishing an inner peace and non-violent solutions to oppressive situations. In this way, we find balance and forgiveness in our love for one another through acts of graciousness, kindness, and helpfulness. When we take responsibility for the world we have created, we must first transform things gone wrong within ourselves in order to see change in the outer world. Then we can find room for mercy and the hope that comes with redemption.

When you get The Devil card in a reading, stop and sense how you are feeling about everything. What has caused a turn for the worse in your life? If your answer is yes, are you filled with anger, dread, hatred, or revenge, and thinking of doing “bad things” to people? Or, on the other hand, is someone directing their antagonism at you? Let the “goat,” or the “black hole,” carry away your grievances and anger by rooting out the truth of the matter. Think about how you can turn this gloom around for good and, working toward being the best you can be. Find joy in “doing good” and benefiting others.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


The alchemy of mixing, blending, cooking

Hints of symbolic alchemical processes are visible in the Temperance card of Tarot of Cosmic Consciousness. A luminous figure appears to be “cooking” in a kind of transparent retort. Here the symbols of alchemy are not about making gold, but of distilling the spiritual “Gold” of ourselves—the Golden Elixir of Life. 

Two historical concepts are connected to alchemy: first, we’ve heard of the centuries-old early attempts to transmute base metals into gold using combinations of mercury, sulphur and salt. It seems that, over time, these medieval experiments have evolved into modern chemistry and metallurgy. Today, in an interesting side-note, mercury is used to separate gold from rock, a process that is endangering small-scale miners who inhale the toxic vapors, and is poisoning the environment. (See the National Geographic, “The Price of Gold,” January 2009.)

The other concept follows a more spiritual and psychological approach to alchemical symbols, as explored by Carl Jung and Maria von Franz, which is about achieving an inner spiritual transformation of the self. We are working on perfecting ourselves on the path to cosmic selfhood. “…alchemy is really a work one has to do on one’s own personality and is not just something one does by mixing things in the retort.” (Maria von Franz, Alchemical Active Imagination (Spring Publications, 1979).

What are we mixing, blending and cooking in ourselves throughout a lifetime? We are trying to understand ourselves spiritually and psychologically by evaluating our experiences and actions: our childhood, our relationships, our visions and dreams, in order to be the best that we can be. The key words for Temperance are: doing everything in thoughtful moderation and avoiding extremist views and attitudes. It’s going down the middle road and being careful about what you “cook up.” In earlier decks, Temperance is illustrated with an angel pouring a liquid equally from two vases. Some Tarot writers interpret this as combing the elements of the four suits of Tarot: Wands-motivation; Cups-emotion; Swords-intellect; and Pentacles-manifestation. There is a tone of balance and reconciliation in this card related to the Justice card. It applies to mediators, reconcilers and negotiators in finding solutions to conflicting situations. A “pay it forward” touch is also implied, of sharing one’s bounty, and overcoming selfish motives.

Adam McLean writes extensively on all phases of alchemy on his website. He says, “The tradition of interior development in alchemy is pursued by mirroring the transformations and processes of alchemy with our Soul…any symbol held in our consciousness is manifested as an electro-chemical plexus in the neuron net of our brain.” (“The Alchemical Vessel as a Symbol of the Soul”) The actions of calcination, dissolution, separation, incineration and fermentation, used to describe the alchemical process, are symbolic of the work we are doing to transform ourselves. At times we have been “turned to stone,” “dissolved in tears;” and “distanced ourselves.” We have “jumped from the frying pan into the fire, and” have been “frozen in fear,” all the while having been “steeped in misery.” Sound familiar?

Manly Hall quotes an old German alchemist's prayer in The Secret Teachings of All Ages (Philosophical Research Society, 1962) “…rising through His assistance out of the dust and ashes and changing into spiritual body of rainbow colors like unto the transparent, crystal-like paradisiacal gold…that my own nature may be redeemed and purified before me in these glasses and bottles.”

We see the darker side of the outgrowth of alchemy on a massive scale in the modern day retort for the transmutation of matter—the nuclear reactor—in nuclear fission, which has resulted in “weapons of mass destruction,” atomic bombs, and nuclear warheads. Alchemists may have occasionally blown up themselves and their equipment, but when we look at the results of the reactor meltdowns at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and, currently, Fukashima, we must seriously reconsider our motivation for fiddling with such radioactive materials, and stick to working on bettering ourselves and our relationships to the nations of the world.

When Temperance comes up in a reading it’s time to put the brakes on, stay cool, and realistically assess what you are doing, and what you are saying; tempering yourself with wisdom and restraint; and most of all, avoiding extremes.

Monday, June 6, 2011


The End…or is it?

Seeing the Death card in Tarot immediately starts a controversy. Horrific images of death and dying come to mind. In certain older Tarot decks, the Grim Reaper swipes away at people with a scythe, and some cards even employ the Biblical image of death riding a pale horse. (Rev. 6:7) Scary “doom and gloom” topics may come up in conversation during a reading when you get this card. But this is just the obvious. What is the underlying meaning?

Let’s do the doom and gloom part first and get that over with in order to come to grips with the veracity of dying. “Black Death” a plague of infected fleas killed nearly half of Europe’s population (also in China and the Middle East) in the 1400’s. But that wasn’t the end of the world. The artist, Guyot Marchant’s wood engravings of the Danse Macabre done in 1485 may have been some influence for the card’s imagery. This subject was also painted in several European Cathedrals—St. Anna’s in Fussen, Germany, for example. It was painted anonymously after the plague in 1590. In it, all social classes were portrayed dancing with the Grim Reaper.

Contemplate this: over 60 million people were killed in World War II in the 1940’s. The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 killed at least 1 million people then, and in the aftermath. The “Nazi death cults” (a term used by Susan Griffin, author of Woman in Nature and Made from This Earth) murdered somewhere from 11 million to 17 million people in their ghastly death camps and in the fields. The implications of the atrocities of the 20th century are horrendous and, this doesn’t include the Korean War, the Vietnam War or the Iraq War. That’s the worst sense of meaning in the Death card, not to mention the deaths every year from various diseases and starvation around the world.

Now that we are sufficiently overwhelmed and depressed, let’s look at the end of the world predictions for 2012. The late Jose Arguelles popularized the enigma of “The End” indicated by the “long count” of the Mayan Calendar in his book, The Maya Factor (Bear & Company, 1987). This date is debatable because it’s impossible to assert the actual starting date of the long count. Anthony Aveni, in an article in Archaeology Magazine (Nov/Dec 2009) says that the Mayans made no predictions, although the Dresden Codex contains a painting of a flood. He states that, “When the Maya odometer turns over, after 13 baktuns (5,125.37 years), the world begins anew.” (p.33) It marks the end of an era and the beginning of a new one that will be starting over again. In plowing through a lot of imaginative babble, I found that Arguelles did believe a new era would follow: “For it is through the open portals of the heart that the future returns in all of its radiance.”

Ah, that’s the key to the Death card. It signifies getting rid of the old in order to begin again, perhaps on another level. It doesn’t necessarily mean a literal death. We know there is nothing permanent about our lives. (At least that’s what Buddhists believe.) Instead, this card means it’s a time for renewal and a chance to make a complete break, to totally change the direction you are going. The positive aspect of this is to stop resisting change and to let go of old habits and convenient ruts; to change your perspective on life, and to evaluate what has gone wrong and what has been right, and begin again with new verve and intention.

The Death card in Tarot of Cosmic Consciousness represents celestial travelers going through a portal into the unknown. It’s the end of the old and the start of the new. The oval flying forms might represent for some—your soul, or spirit—moving on to another level of Cosmic Consciousness.

This brings up the concept of immortality. There are some who claim we are living in “The End Times,” and that certain people will be saved while others won’t. When you look at the history of the peoples of the world, including all past wars, earthquakes and volcanoes, some people have always been living on the edge of the end times. Think about this: If we are part of the infinite Mind of the Universe, then there is no death.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Hanged Man/Person: Time-out

Are you “hung up?” How many of us have been “hung up” on something, or to use the expression, “have your hands tied?” Have you ever been “left hanging?” There seems to be two concepts to examine here about the man hanging upside-down. The first is a warning to stop whatever you are doing and take a “time-out.” It is obvious The Hanged Man is not dead. Taking time to pause in one’s daily life and to reflect on things, gives you an opportunity to analyze and re-evaluate where you are in the present, and to determine what’s next.

The second concept is the violence indicated in hanging someone as a form of punishment, torture, or in the case of suicide—confronting despair. In the 1500’s in Europe, images of disreputable persons were publicly displayed (painted like graffiti on fences) as upside-down hanged effigies called “shame paintings.” It was a form of exposing and shunning a person who was in disgrace for deceitful or criminal behavior.

Usually the meaning implied by The Hanged Man card in a Tarot reading is the first concept—a pause, either voluntarily or involuntarily, to take time to think things over. It is a time to reconsider how one’s life is going; perhaps to make changes, and prepare to go in another direction. Richard Roberts in “Tarot Revelations” (Vernal Equinox Press, 1979) describes The Hanged Man as an “inversion of the celestial order.” I have painted "The Hanged Person" in Tarot of Cosmic Consciousness over a background of the Qabbalah Tree of Life Diagram. In this sense, mankind is seen as a mirror image of the cosmic Mind much like the upside-down mirror-image of a tree reflected in water.

There are many opinions concerning the meaning of The Hanged Man. Often called “the traitor,” persons are seen hanging upside down from one foot (as the man in the Tarot card) in frescos of the Last Judgment in old European cathedrals. One of the earliest depictions is in Giotto’s fresco of the Last Judgment in the Arena Chapel in Padua, Italy. It was painted around 1305. We see two figures in Hell hanging upside down with their hands tied behind their backs and both legs bent(upper far right corner) A later version of this same scene is seen in a fresco by Giovanni da Modena in the San Petronio Basilica in Bologna, painted around 1410. These two hanging figures are shown front and back with one leg bent. Giotto’s painting of “Despair,” also in the Arena Chapel, shows a decrepit woman hanging by the neck.

One further note, in Norse mythology, Odin (Wotan) hung upside down on Yggdrasil, the World Tree, for 9 nights in order to gain enlightenment and learn the magical Runes. He was postponing a future doomsday when heaven and earth would be destroyed. This has been interpreted as self-sacrifice, of “myself to myself,” as a form of dealing with one’s inflated ego (See “The Golden Bough,” James Frazer, Macmillan, 1967). When you get this card in a reading, it’s time to stop everything and reflect on your life so far. Take time to examine what you have accomplished. Ask yourself, what was done right? What went wrong? What is your next step in moving forward to a new phase of your life? What are your options for improvement or change?

Sunday, March 27, 2011


Justice: Truth versus Lies

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Martin Luther King 1963

For a fuller sense of meaning in the Justice card of Tarot, let’s start with the implications of what injustice means. What are our moral obligations to expose crimes against humanity? Our laws condemn murder, robbery, extortion, mayhem, prejudice and oppression, and so-called “ethnic cleansing,” to mention a few. Over the centuries, we have abolished slavery and experienced women’s suffrage, but still contend with on-going wars, oppressive dictators, and human trafficking. Even now we seek equal rights and benefits for women and continue to deal with unfair labor practices.

Edith Hamilton, in her book, “Mythology,” (Little, Brown, 1940) points out the status of Justice in early Greek myths. Zeus was the supreme ruler and on the right was Themis (goddess of divine justice) and Dike (goddess of human justice) was on the left. Sculptures of a blindfolded Themis holding scales and a sword can often be seen standing in front of courthouses. Her daughter Astraea, (Virgo) associated with innocence and purity, is represented by the scales as a symbol for Libra. Ancient Egyptians portrayed the weighing of the human heart against a feather in their version of the scales of justice. A heart too heavy with guilt tipped the scales.

Frederick Douglass, the great abolitionist, in a speech given in 1886, spoke passionately about freedom for slaves:

“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is in an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”

In the quest for justice, Mahatma Gandhi led a national non-violent revolution against the oppression and exploitation of the people India by British Colonialism during the 1930’s, and succeeded. Even in Biblical times, the story of Deborah and her General, Barak, tells of their battle for freedom from cruel oppression in the defeat of the ruling Canaanites. (Judges 4-6)

A stately woman holds scales containing two small figures: an angel on the left (clemency) and a man posed for a fight on the right (punishment) in Giotto’s painting of Justice in the Arena Chapel in Padua, Italy.

Justice in Tarot of Cosmic Consciousness shows opposing spirals of centripetal and centrifugal forces on the scales against a light and dark background. My inspiration for this reversible motion comes from the writings and pictures of archaeologist Marija Gimbutas, of ancient clay goddess figurines covered with spiral symbols from Old Europe times: “…concerning the regenerating life-force or cyclical change between life and death.” (“The Language of the Goddess,” Harper & Row 1989)

The Justice card signifies finding a balance between opposing forces—as in law courts—life and death issues are weighed and resolved, disputes are settled, criminal behavior is prosecuted, and adjustments are made by maintaining balance and equilibrium; especially in our own lives. The essential meaning of the Justice card is that we can tap into the ability to expose, analyze, and then eliminate wrong-doing. It is the weighing of Truth—of good versus evil, understanding cause and effect, and doing our best to reach a fair and equitable outcome. Then justice will be done.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Wheel of Fortune

The Wheel of Fortune: Destiny and Fate

“Round and round it goes and where it stops nobody knows.”

When we think about the symbolic meaning of The Wheel of Fortune card in the Tarot, the question comes up: Are events in our lives inevitable and providential subject to the randomly turning wheel of fate? With the passage of time, who or what determines your fate? You’ve probably asked, “Why am I here? What is my purpose in life? Why do bad things happen?” Why are some people more successful than others? We can have a deep discussion about the answers, but first let’s look at all sides of the question.

One’s fate is in the mind of the person. What happens next is based on the choices we make regarding our opportunities, possibilities, and life style changes. “For most of us, it’s easier to celebrate or bemoan our fate than it is to take responsibility for our choices.” [Gail Fairfield, “Choice-Centered Relating and Tarot,” Weiser, 2000, p.8.] It seems each new generation must learn certain inevitable lessons in living this life, so it’s important to recognize the forces that impel us forward or hinder our progress. An older person who has already experienced many of life’s tests and trials may see the same lessons repeated over and over again by each upcoming generation. This cyclic activity is comparable to earth’s seasonal changes that we experience as spring, summer, fall, and winter every year, but with new ramifications.

When you get The Wheel of Fortune in a reading there are two sides to consider. Maybe it’s paying attention to a golden opportunity knocking at your door. Or it could mean the opposite effect and you go down the wrong path. Depending on your choices, you may not recognize your good fortune and so it slips away. An early painting of The Wheel of Fortune is seen in the manuscript Carmina Burana (1230 AD). Four people are portrayed ascending and descending on the rim of a wheel while the goddess Fortuna unrolls two empty scrolls in the middle. Fortuna is also depicted turning a crank in some illustrations. In a positive mode, one figure moves upward on the wheel toward success while, in a negative sense, a forlorn figure falls off to his/her doom. Someone on the bottom is ground under as the wheel rolls over him. However, there is a figure at the top seated on a throne wearing a crown.

In another context, Matthew Fox discusses the spiritual meaning of Hildegard of Bingen’s painting of a “Cosmic Wheel” (Universal Man) in writing about her work. [“Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen,” Bear & Company, 2002]. In the twelfth century, she painted a fiery wheel with a divine personage in the center, and animals, fish, clouds, rain, stars, around the inner ring. The elements and planets are included on the outer rim. Fox quotes her as saying, “Out of the original source of the true Love in whose knowledge the Cosmic Wheel rests, there shines forth an exceedingly precise order over all things and, this order which preserves and nourishes everything comes to light in a way that is ever new.”

The Wheel of Fortune in “Tarot of Cosmic Consciousness” depicts twelve signs of the astrological zodiac divided by propeller-like spokes in a 360° circle. Light rays shine down from above and bubbly mysterious waters lurk below. The symbols of the zodiac appear on a color wheel in the center with 36 colored decans around the outer rim. In modern astrology, the interpretation of constellations and planets can be seen in relation to natural rhythmic cycles documented by sensitive equipment as recurring patterns in the human body. Science has revealed the electrical rhythms of brain and glandular cycles, which may be the result of electromagnetic vibrations and invisible radiation. What is the driving force behind these cycles? This may better explain the meaning of planetary associations with the constellations of earth’s orbit, which were originally viewed by the ancients as the divine behavior of the gods. [Refer to “The Compleat Astrologer” by Derek and Julia Parker, Bantam Books, London, 1975].

If the Wheel of Fortune comes up in a reading, be prepared for unforeseen changes in your life and allow yourself to do something completely different. Chance encounters, surprises, and the unexpected may occur now and wise choices are especially important, because what you choose to do could change the course of your life for better or worse.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Hermit

The Hermit/Crone: Path to Enlightenment

After her Grandfather’s funeral, a little girl called up her Grandmother and said: “Grandma, are you dead yet?”     

I’ve chosen to paint The Hermit card of Tarot of Cosmic Consciousness with a sense of peacefulness and hope seen in the Newgrange tomb in Ireland. Yes, in reality it was formerly an ancient burial chamber, but symbolically, it is full of expectation. All is not dead yet. At the Winter Solstice, sunlight slips in through a crack in the rocks and illuminates the interior walls, which are covered with swirling, busy carvings. They look a lot like enlarged fingerprints. This card is about seeking enlightenment that comes from a retreat to find peace within by quieting the mind; being “dead,” so to speak, to mental machinations and illusory imagining.

Winter is a good time to contemplate “The Hermit” card when we would rather hibernate, or sit by the fire and read a good book. Haven’t you longed for a time to be by yourself, to just sit and think, or sleep, or cry, and just do nothing? In a world bustling with people, cars, work, computers, TV, cell phones, and the din of everyday living, it’s hard to find a peaceful moment. With The Hermit, we imagine the old stereotype of a person who goes off to meditate in a cave or tiny cell somewhere in solitude. What does this card mean? We associate it with austerity, stillness, quiet, peacefulness. There is nobody there to harass, flack, argue, pressure you, or to rush around with, as Shakespeare said: “much ado about nothing.” The meaning of The Hermit in traditional Tarot decks is about a person who has become enlightened—the “wise one”—standing on a mountaintop lighting the way for those on the path below.

There are two different concepts to explore in thinking about The Hermit. One is rooted in the Buddhist tradition: of being in a state of mindfulness through prayer and meditation, where everyday actions and thoughts are seen as impermanent, temporary, and illusive. The devotee is seeking “Nirvana” or release from suffering on the Wheel of Life, Samsara, by transcending all transient desires. In the practice of Zen, mindfulness means being alive to the present moment and living in the “now” without all the excess baggage of constantly reliving the past and rehearsing for the future. Our human mind babbles to itself every minute, whereas, to retreat and meditate in quietude, gives it a rest, and we can assimilate the totality and deeper meaning of our experiences.

The other concept is discussed by Corrine Heline in “The Bible & the Tarot” (Devorss, 1993) where she explains the raising of Lazarus, the widow’s son at Nain (nine, the number of The Hermit) (Luke 7:11). She links it to the Ninth Initiation in the Mysteries of Life and the biblical legend of Elijah. In a symbolic sense, Lazarus was lifted out of a state of being “dead”—into Cosmic Consciousness—revealing the spiritual immortality of mankind.

The hexagon star painted in the center of the tomb is sometimes referred to as the “Key of David” (Isaiah 22:22). I have used it as a symbol of the Light of a Higher Consciousness and divine order occurring in the Hermit’s enlightenment. The Light has dawned in the darkness of the cave and now he/she, The Hermit/Crone, bestows Light and provides guidance for others on the spiritual path. Life is cyclically renewed again and again. With this card in a reading, we have seen the Light.