Thursday, December 3, 2015

Court Cards: Kings and Queens

Aquarian Tarot,
In order to understand the Court Cards of Tarot, here is a brief historical perspective on the rulers of monarchy of the past. To see where we are today, Tarot Court Cards can help us do that. Why are Kings and Queens included in the Tarot? What role do they play in relation to a reading or the game of Tarots? Most Tarot buffs interpret them now as symbolic archetypes and talk about someone having reached maturity in judgement, wisdom, and actions, and who can express Fatherhood and Motherhood qualities seen in the best light. 

Playing with Tarot cards was a very popular pastime in the courts of Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, enjoyed by real kings and queens. In history, at least since the Egyptian pharaohs in 4,000 B.C., the King’s will was law and he owned all the land where masses of people were mostly laborers and slaves.There have been queens also. Around 1490 B.C. Queen Hatshepsut took the throne upon the death of her husband, the pharaoh Thut-moses II. She became a pharaoh herself. In the biblical stories of Samuel, the Israelites wanted a king like the other countries around-Palestine, Syria, Lebanon. (1Sam. 8:1-22) They thought the king would take care of them, fight their battles and run the country. Instead, the kings took their sons for soldiers, a 10th of their grain; took their servants, cattle and donkeys, and their land. In Medieval Europe, kings and princes controlled the land, including the peasant farmers, and vassals/knights. Farmers paid tribute to the lords in goods and foodstuffs in exchange for use of the land. From the 9th to the 15th century, feudalism was predominant in Europe where lords owned most of the land. An aristocratic hierarchy of kings, princes, lords, presided over vassals, knights, fiefs, farmer tenants and wage-laborers.

In discussing the Court Cards of Tarot, two main points come up immediately: power and leadership. Who is going to lead and what will they do with power? (Sounds like our situation in USA today.) Contemporary interpretations of the Court Cards in Tarot no longer have a medieval or feudal sense, and now, a King’s card represents anyone who is a mature leader; one who takes charge of government and leads the community or a family. In centuries past, kings and queens were the ruling power in most countries in the world. We still have a few monarchies left, but they have little power- Queen of the United Kingdom and the King of Norway, for example. Kingdoms in Europe from the 15th through the 17th century were in a constant state of upheaval resulting in disastrous wars such as the “Thirty years War” on German soil where great numbers of people were killed in the 16th century. We can hardly fathom the enormity of that except perhaps in the current struggles of the Middle East today.  In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Hapsburg dynasty and the French Kings were bent on destroying each other. Renaissance humanism and the protestant reformation brought an end to the medieval world after many devastating upheavals.  Authority was questioned in government, religion, and in laws of rulership. Rebellion and revolution was rampant, including our American revolt from British King George in 1776.

Queen of Pentacles
Tarot of Cosmic Consciousness
In today’s American democratic society, power is supposed to be in the hands of the people and the elected officials.The people choose who is going to lead by election. With kings and queens, rulership was hereditary. If you’ve been watching Downton Abbey, we see the rigid hierarchical order that dominated England for centuries collapsing - a monumental collapse, including loss of land and leadership of  communities. The collapse occurred sooner in France and, about the same time in Russia through a revolution of the people. The King of France and Tsar of Russia were overthrown.
The authors of a book about the Visconti Tarot have this to say about the court cards, the Queen of Pentacles in particular: 

“The affirmation of one’s own individuality is not the final goal but actually the departure point for a new internal transformation that brings one to more profound knowledge about oneself"             
                                                           (Giordano Berti, Tiberio Gonard, Visconti Tarots,
                                                            Lo Scarabeo, 2002, P.157)

Here is a rough sketch and summary of meanings for the Queens and Kings in a Tarot deck. These traits can apply to either men or women in a reading.

Queens represent the principle of formation, of creativity. They generally symbolize an older mature, mothering nature, or grandmotherly person.

The Queen of Pentacles (earth element, coins) relates to all living things in nature on a material plane. She is usually wealthy, generous, organized, gardens, cooks, gives alms to the poor, cares for the needy. When badly aspected, one can be cantankerous, stingy, and crave power. 

The Queen of Swords main emphasis is on justice. (Air element, sword) She has a strong personality and keen intellect; is able to distinguish between right action and wrong doing. She has high moral values. When reversed, one should watch being too judgmental and work to avoid scandal.

The Queen of Cups is usually a sweetheart. (water element, vessel) She is sensitive with innate wisdom and is helpful and uplifting to others. She is sensitive to what her intuition is telling her. When reversed or badly aspected, watch being bigoted and pecuniary, selfish and isolated.

The Queen of Wands (fire element, energy) She is usually known for her new ideas and inspiration. She is a source of knowledge and a good spiritual guide. When badly aspected she can be suspicious and mistrustful, stuck in a rut.

Kings represent power and leadership and the ability to provide inspiration to his followers. He sparks new ideas and inventions as a influential motivator. 

The King of Pentacles (earth element, coins) represents resourcefulness. He is a strong influence and demonstrates steadfast use of power and leadership. He can be wealthy, influential and successful, yet shares his abundance with others. When badly aspected he can be miserly and and corrupt. 

The King of Swords (air element, sword) can be a strong forceful leader; a warrior king exercising his worldly power. He can detect truthfulness from lies. 
When reversed, he has to watch being over-bearing, demanding, bullying, and having a malign influence over others.

The King of Cups (water element, vessel) is warm-hearted, a generous Father-figure. He is sympathetic to others needs and difficulties.
When reversed, he has to watch being antagonistic, grumpy, moody, and selfish. 

The King of Wands (fire element, energy) is full of energy and new ideas of how things should be. He leads others on new adventures and tries out new things. 
When reversed, this means he might be weak and lack-luster. He could do nothing and just be a lie-about and cheater. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Number 10

Number 10 - moving on

The general meaning of number 10 in Tarot is an expression of the need to release the old and move on to the new. We can think about the meaning of number 10 in the Minor Arcana cards as “mission accomplished;” the fulfillment of a job well done, everything is finished, now what? It’s time to plan the next steps to take. We are warned not to get too complacent about our accomplishments or accumulation of wealth.  We may be too satisfied with what we have achieved. 1 + 0 is like playing an octave on the piano. It’s the ending of a cycle and the beginning of a new cycle. When you get this card in a reading, now is the time to move on to the next higher octave of events in your life.

     Since we are in the season of Halloween (All Hallows Day - Celtic Samhain) I would like to take up various myths and stories related to number 10. This is a time for ghosts, goblins, and other assorted monsters, knocking at our doors, and watching old horror movies on TV. So let’s consider some of the earliest “horror” stories in literature, including some early biblical stories with the number 10, such as Moses arguing with the Pharaoh in Egypt and demanding to “Let my people go!” Moses and Aaron and their Hebrew followers were ready to break their bondage to the Pharaoh and move on to the “Promised Land.” But Pharaoh wasn’t interested in releasing them.  So Moses  brought forth (with the powers of the one God of the Hebrews) 10 plagues over Egypt to convince the Pharaoh that they needed to live their own life in freedom in their own land.  These horrible events brought great shock and fear to Pharaoh and his servants.
 Barbara Walker in The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, talks about Halloween being a time that:  
“…opened cracks in the fabric of space-time allowing contact between the ghost world and the mortal one.” 

So let’s look at the story of the 10 Plagues upon the Pharaoh of Egypt. (Exodus 7-12) I tend to see this story as a symbolic attack on Pharaonoic mythology, rather than history. It deals with magic and attacks against strange hybrid creatures in the form of the Egyptian gods. The story sounds like the destruction of ancient magical practices in order to bring about the new - through drastic change.  At first, it was a contest between Moses and the Pharaoh’s Magicians. Moses turned his “Rod” into a snake. The magicians were also able to perform some similar tricks for awhile and turn things into frogs, and the Nile into blood, but could go no further than that. It took 10 awful plagues before the Pharaoh finally stopped resisting and said "Be gone!"

The 10 plagues that Moses and Aaron imposed on the Pharaoh and his servants were as follows:
Heket with frog's head

1.  Turning the Nile into blood which seemed like a counterpoint to the Nile god, Hapi.

2.  Bringing on a plague of frogs that filled everyone’s houses - a counterpoint to the goddess of birth, Heket symbolized with a frog’s head on a human.

3.  Inducing a plague of gnats (or lice) a counterpoint to underworld god, Set, who murdered the god Osiris 

4.  Sending in a plague of flies that covered everything and everyone - counterpoint to Uachit, Baal (Beelzabub, Lord of the flies)

5.  Causing death to Egyptian’s cattle, which they worshipped - counterpoint to cow-headed Hathor, goddess of mothering
Hathor with cow ears

6.  A scourge of boils on everyone - counterpoint to Sekhmet, lion-headed goddess of healing 

7.  Thunder and lightning and tremendous hailstorms - counterpoint to Nut, sky goddess, and Baal, god of thunder, lightning

8.  A plague of locust hoards that ate up all their crops - counterpoint to Nephra, (Osiris)

Sekhmet with Lion's head
9.  A blanket of darkness and devastation - counterpoint to the sun-god Ra

10. Death to the firstborn including the Pharoah’s prince - counterpoint to Anubis, god of reproduction, death and mummification

Anubis, card XIII Death 
from The Tarots of the Sphynx 
by Silvana Alasia
Lo Scarabeo

Thursday, October 8, 2015


On the Nines  9

Moving on to number 9: Where do we find number 9 cards in the Tarot? We see it in ninth card, “The Hermit,” of the Major Arcana and in the 4 suits of numbered cards in the Minor Arcana: 9 of Wands, 9 of Cups, 9 of Swords and 9 of Coins or Pentacles.

Let’s do the math of 9 first. In mathematics, number 9 stitches together all the primary numbers in the base 10 digit system. We see 1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8 = 36, 3+6 = 9. Strange things happen when 9 is multiplied by any other number because, no matter what the resulting number, the total still adds up to 9. 
For example: 9 x 25 = 2+2+5 = 9; 9 x 72 = 648 = 6+4+8 = 18; 1+8 = 9.

Gail Fairfield, in her book, Choice Centered Tarot, refers to number 9 as “Integrating.” She says that nines “…show a situation in which little needs to be done in order to keep things working and moving.” She concludes that there is a natural flow, a sense of purpose and fulfillment. 

In the Tarot Major Arcana, The Hermit is the ninth card and, in the highest sense, can refer to a person who is seeking
enlightenment and spiritual knowledge by retreating from the world in meditation in order to activate spiritual (or cosmic) consciousness. So what is the point of such meditation? It is a search for inner peace, hopefully accomplished by sitting very still and quieting the wandering “monkey mind” roaming with random thoughts and self-chatter. In Zen meditation, “mindfulness” means to take time to watch and examine one’s thoughts objectively. The aim is to gain new insights about your life when contemplating your own particular sense of reality. For instance, let’s look at an ordinary table. Simply put, the table is real but our concepts and thoughts about the table are not the reality of the table. Our perception of the table consists mainly of images in the mind’s eye. The table is the table so to speak.The usual attribute for The Hermit is that he/she is lighting the way for others who are still on an ascending path toward the spiritual self based upon what was discovered in the retreat. 

Let’s explore some loose associations with number 9. Some of these may relate to Tarot, some may not. We hear old familiar sayings like, “A stitch in time saves 9,” which obviously,  refers to procrastination, meaning don’t put it off or there will be more to do. Then somebody says she is “dressed to the nines,” meaning she has attained the utmost in perfection and elegance in her appearance. What about being “on cloud 9?” Where did that come from? Literally, in atmospheric science, it’s the highest cloud: a number 9 cloud is a cumulonimbus cloud that extends 6.2 miles high. In colloquial terms, it means you have reached the highest ecstasy, or are floating above it all in “la la land.”

Here are some other oldies about 9 to think about: The Norse god Odin hung upside down for 9 days in order to reach enlightenment. In Greek mythology, there were 9 muses, the goddesses of poetic inspiration; goddesses of song. They were Clio, history; Euterpe, music; Thalia, comedy; Melpomene, Tragedy; Terpsichore, dance; Erato, love poetry; Polyhymnia, heroic hymns; Urania, astronomy; and Calliope, epic poetry. We can still see the realistic sculptures of The Muses on a second century Roman Sarcophagus in the Louvre. What about going “the whole 9 yards?” It could mean something is complete, finished. There are 9 yards in an Indian Sari. On a three-masted sailing ship all 9 yard arms could be at full sail in a light wind.

What about games we’ve seen or heard about, or even played? There are 9 holes in golf; nine-pin bowling; the 9 squares of “Tic Tac Toe” or, in England, “Nought's and Crosses.” Then there is an ancient game - Nine Men’s Morris played all over Europe. “Each player has 9 pieces, or men…” They may hop, jump  or fly. The game board has been discovered as far back as 2,000 years ago in Roman times. It has been said that the word “morse” means walrus in Norse and the “men” for the game were carved from walrus tusks.  And then there is “Morris Dancing” from Britain where players dance and hop and crack sticks together to music.  It’s fun to see so here you can play a Youtube video of the Blackmore Morris Men.

Getting back to Tarot: What does it mean when you get a 9 card in a reading? You are feeling balanced. Complicated situations and difficult issues have been resolved. There is a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. Things are flowing again and you can move on. Barbara Walker in her book The Secrets of the Tarot, says “…the sequence of cards from ace to ten was usually envisioned as three triads or triangles of increasing complexity summed up by the tenth card which encompassed the whole” (p. 138). I have incorporated this concept in the 9 of Wands in Tarot of Cosmic Consciousness. 

 Ask yourself these questions:
9 of Coins or Pentacles - How am I blessed in having everything I need? Am I truly grateful?

9 of Swords - How am I dealing with troubling memories and distressing thoughts? Have I dismissed my bad dreams by seeing the truth and reality of things?

9 of Cups - Are my wishes coming true?  Am I feeling good about everything and everyone?

9 of Wands - Have I realized how much have I have grown and matured? Am I satisfied with my new maturity; do I feel fulfilled? (add link)

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Figure 8, The Magician and the Lemniscate

The Magician and a Lemniscate

Why does “The Magician” in some Tarot cards wear a hat that resembles a lemniscate? It even hovers overhead in the Magician and Strength card in the Waite deck and some other decks. What is a lemniscate? In mathematics it looks like a figure 8 on its side and represents infinity - meaning a numerical calculation that that seems to go on forever and ever. For example, in the Fibonacci number series, when you divide 89 by 55 it equals 1.6181818181818…. And these numbers go on and on ⎯ and are called “numerals of infinity.” In another sense, a lemniscate, the “lazy eight,” is an oscillating figure representing the back and forth movement of thought and imagination; pairs of opposites: good and evil, night and day, dark and light, order and chaos.  For those interested in math, brainwave studies associate the lemniscate with epsilon waves (0.5) and meditative states, ecstatic states and “cosmic consciousness.” (For further info see this blogspot commentary on the Lemniscate)

Lemniscate and Infinity 
So what does The Magician have to do with infinity? This is represents a person who is playing Tarot, in other words, the game of this life, as one who deals with illusory experiences by channeling the infinite radiant energy of Cosmic Consciousness. This person seeks the truth behind appearances and transcends illusions. What does this mean to us when this card comes up in a reading? By focusing our attention on mastering ourselves and managing our passions, we are exploring all that it means to be conscious; to be alive; to contemplate our mortality, or immortality, and our inner spiritual selves.

The spiritual life…proceeds directly by a change of consciousness…to a greater consciousness in which one finds one’s own true being. Sri Aurobindo, from Letters on Yoga, Vol. 1

Lemniscate and Chaos
The Magician in Tarot is symbolic of the person who works on managing apparent chaos in one’s life. The image of a lemniscate in action reminds me of a film of the chaotic motion and self-destruction of the Tacoma Narrows Suspension Bridge in 1940 in Washington State (Galloping Gertie). It began twisting like a lemniscate, swinging up and down and from side to side, swinging farther and farther in wider arcs until, finally, the cables broke and it fell into Puget sound. (See YouTube video of the movie below)

“Our very life and health depend upon living within layers of order and disorder…almost everything is vulnerable to chaos and face an indeterminate (unpredictable) fate if pushed beyond critical boundaries.” Turbulent Mirror, Order to Chaos, Briggs & Peat 

How can we know the outcome of our past and see into the future? We remember our past in receding memories, fading photographs, notes, letters and pictures. We try to think ahead by building on past experiences and learning from our mistakes. With the Magician card it's time to realize that we can expand our minds into infinity in seeking what we imagine as a never-ending spiritual universe. By concentrating on using the four elements of Tarot: the fire of Wands, water of Cups, air of Swords, and earth of Coins or Pentacles, we are working on transforming ourselves into a state of higher being; higher consciousness. When you get The Magician or Strength card in a reading, or an 8 card, think about how you are accepting the challenging tasks of your life and then work to organize your time by shining the light of Truth upon the deceptions and falsehoods you've experienced. Plan ahead. Help yourself rise above the mundane and strive to do your best with what you have and what you know.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

7 Virtues and 7 Vices, their influence on Tarot

What are the Vices and Virtues and what do they have to do with the Tarot?

Virtues: Faith, Hope, Charity, Fortitude, Justice, Prudence and Temperance.
We can think of these terms as the outcome of the models of morality conceived by the Greek philosophers of classical antiquity - Plato and Aristotle. It is intriguing to see how the concept of morals were defined and have evolved over the centuries beginning in the Middle Ages and continuing through the Renaissance. What do we consider moral behavior and immoral behavior? In the past, the Virtues were viewed as models for moral conduct as prescribed by the church, and seemed to have found their way into the Tarot sometime in the 14th century. According to the Christian teachings of the church, there are three Theological Virtues or spiritual values that one should practice while going up the right path to God: Faith, Hope, and Charity (Love). With faith in God, there is hope for a spiritual afterlife, and with the promise of good deeds by practicing love (Charity) for our neighbors out of a love for God, you are then on the right path. The Cardinal Virtues were more for the common people and consisted of: Fortitude, Justice, Prudence, and Temperance. Sound familiar tarot readers? In the Tarot, Fortitude can be Strength; Prudence can be Judgement, and yes, Justice and Temperance are already there.
Giotto  Justice
Artists have painted and sculpted figures representing the Virtues and Vices since the early Greeks. The Virtues were often depicted as young women and were sometimes accompanied by a religious symbol, or refer to a saint who personified the essence of the meaning. For instance, Justice is often portrayed by a wise-looking woman holding a set of scales balancing two pans and holding a two-edged sword (Gr. Themis). The sword exemplifies the ability to determine truth from lies. 
We can compare the allegorical pictures of Tarot to some of the earliest paintings of the Virtues and Vices made by artists in the Medieval and Early Renaissance period, such as the frescoes of Giotto in Italy((1267-1337). His carefully executed paintings are still visible today in the Scrovegni Arena Chapel in Padua, Italy. Michael Howard’s blog on the comparison of Giotto’s paintings to early forms of Tarot is a must read (See Michael Howard Giotto’s “Virtues and Vices” and Petrarch’s “Triumphi” as starting points for the historical tarot). Giotto's paintings are small monochrome frescoes of the 7 Virtues and 7 Vices painted to imitate sculptural bas reliefs around 1305. His art presents somewhat different themes than the traditional list of Vices and Virtues. 
Nikki St Phalle Justice
Tarot Garden, Italy
The gloomy Vices are painted in contrast to the Virtues on the opposite wall of the room. Faith is opposed by Idolatry; Envy is opposite Hope; Charity/Despair;  Strength/Inconstancy; Temperance/Wrath; Justice/Injustice; Prudence/Folly. 

Of course, for us today, there’s the everyday expose of Folly:

“Humanity is a parade of fools, and I am at the front of it, twirling a baton”! 
Dean Koontz (Brother Odd)

 Vices: Pride, Greed, Lust, Anger, Gluttony, Envy and Sloth

“The triumph of the Virtues over the Vices was a standard allegorical construction from late antiquity through the Medieval Period.” Matthew Aleksinas (The Tree of Virtues and the Tree of Vices). 

Tarot of Cosmic Consciousness
     So how are we doing today? One afternoon I was standing in the garden talking with a friend and I said, “I’m going in now to watch the daily horror.” And he said, “What’s that?”  - “The news!” I said. No, there is not much that can be considered virtuous in the news at the present time as we are saturated and visually assaulted daily by the mass media on TV, our computers, Smart Phones and Tablets, etc. Our daily news rations are mostly about the Vices: murder, wars, suicide (Death card); corporate croneyism, banking schemes, land grabs (all the opposite of Charity vs Greed) political infighting (the opposite of Temperance); constitutional and judicial power struggles (Justice vs Injustice); the fall of the Tower, (Pride goeth before a fall) and so on. 
     Need I say more? It seems each new generation struggles with these archetypes in their own lives ad infinitum. It’s obvious we need more work on finding the Virtues of this life. That’s where our Tarot readings come in. We need the cues and hints of the Major Arcana to help us find new options and new directions; new ways to look at things, and build up the hope to see ourselves in a different light. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

More Thoughts on The Fool

The Fool in Art and Literature of the Middle Ages
     What more is there to discover about the fool in the Tarot? Let’s see what was happening in the Middle Ages. Although a really accurate timeline cannot be established for the beginnings of Tarot, the precursors to Tarot cards existed in medieval art and literature. We can at least see actual playing cards in the paintings of 15th/16th Century artists such as Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516) and Pieter Bruegel (1525-1569). We see the fool and frolicking people involved in
The Fool in Mainz by
Blaius Spreng
ridiculous fantasy and satire in both Bruegel’s and Bosch's’ paintings in the genre of the time. Bosch painted a traditional fool in a segment called “Lust” as part of a larger painting: the “Seven Deadly Sins” tondo. This fool wears the customary fool’s cap with ass ears and is holding up a puppet-head usually interpreted as a mock septre. One of his paintings, “The Cure of Folly,” depicts a charlatan healer with a funnel on his head (a sign of deceit) who is cutting out the so-called “stone of folly” from a guileless man’s head. Then in his painting, “The Ship of Fools,” which was probably painted after Sebastian Brant’s book “The Ship of Fools” came out (published in 1494), we see a nun and a monk trying to catch a pastry in their mouths while singing. An obvious fool is perched on a broken tree drinking from a bowl. He is wearing the fool’s cap with ass ears and holding a puppet-head mock septre. These paintings can all be viewed on the Hieronymus Bosch website.
     In the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., there is an early 16th century painting, “The Card Players,” attributed to Lucas van Leyden (1525-1569). In it, we see people seated around a table holding large playing cards and placing their bets. In another of his paintings, “The Fortune Teller,” a oddly dressed man stands behind the fortune teller, and he is holding the puppet-head. Obviously, this man is the fool. (For a lively discussion and speculation about this painting see Mary Greer’s Tarot Blog.) With the invention of the Gutenberg Press in 1439, reformers such as Erasmus of Rotterdam published “In Praise of Folly” in 1509, where he regarded “man as the culprit for society’s ills.” For him, the follies were endless. Sebastian Brant of Switzerland published “Das Narrenschiff” (The Ship of Fools), attacking human foolishness by depicting man’s sorry condition in clever quips and woodcuts, beginning with a ship loaded with fools, gamblers, idlers, gossips, and gluttons, and so on.  A few of the woodcuts were by Albrecht Durer. In our era, the artist and art historian, Brian Williams, has written a book and illustrated a tarot deck called “The Book of Fools” inspired by Brant’s work. It includes an excellent translation of Brant’s commentary about each picture and an accurate redrawing of the original illustrations. 
     It’s important to realize the new Protestantism was spreading in Flanders during Pieter Bruegel’s time and he was one of the first artists to portray peasant folk realistically as they were going about their daily work. His paintings were like many layered stories of peasant life filled with a depth of field vista and minute details. We see the fool entertaining (the background) in the painting “The Peasant Dance.” It seems both he and Bosch were picking up on the “signs of the times.” The Reformation was underway with uprisings, rebellions, and political wars that were being fought in many parts of Medieval Europe. Bruegel was careful to disguise his painting, “The Massacre of the Innocents", as a depiction of the Biblical story, when in reality, it was showing the massacre of the peasants (peasant wars in Germany of 1524-1526). These were times of persecution, of rebellion against the Spanish King, and religious wars between Protestants and Catholics. The political order was breaking down. Fear of the “Devil” was rampant. Martin Luther had posted his thesis for reform of the Catholic Church in 1517. Simultaneously, peasants in the lowlands of the Netherlands and Germany were living in fear from cruel lords and landowners. The “Inquisition” was ongoing as the church was attempting to root out heresy and any remnants of paganism. So-called witches were being burned at the stake. Corruption and greed was rampant, especially among the clergy.  For instance, with the sale of “indulgences” by the Catholic Church, you could buy your way to heaven by filling out a form and paying a fee to signify your repentance for a specific sin. In relation to that, around 10,000 little tin badges have been found recently, in Bosch's’ home town of Den Bosch according to Theo Toebosch’s article in Archaeology Magazine. Many resemble the surreal images seen in Bosch's paintings and some are downright immoral (Article in Archaeology,  “Digging the Fantastical,” 2002, p. 37). Their actual meaning is unknown. They may have been souvenirs for travelers. Some may have been presented to repentant sinners as a token of penitence for a sin, or used as amulets protecting against negative demons. Perhaps they were magical talismans intended to increase one’s powers. The selling of Indulgences was one of the main issues that prompted reformist Martin Luther to take action against the Catholic Church and when the Reformation began it created even more death and turmoil for the peasants. There were peasant and merchant revolts against the nobility, their knights, corrupt church abbots, and overlords. Over one hundred thousand to three hundred thousand people died in these wars. You can find these themes in the art of both Bosch and Bruegel.
     In an article by Thomas Meehan, “The Flight From Reason” (Horizon, Vol.XII, American Heritage Pub. 1970) he sees parallels in ”patterns of behavior” between our times now, and the behavior of Europeans between the 15th and 16th centuries. Meehan was comparing the seemingly free love era, the peace movement, and “hippy craze” happening during the Vietnam War in the 1960’s and 70’s, to the late Middle Ages, and it seems times haven’t changed much since then. Of course he was speaking in generalizations. He noted that, since 1914 [to 1970] the astounding fact, that in the 20th century, over one hundred million people have been killed in wars. That doesn’t include the “Kosovo, Herzegovina” war, or the Iraq, Afghanistan wars, or “Israeli, Gaza” conflict. Meehan notes that after the death and destruction in many European cities from The Plague in the 14th century, people became obsessed with the fear of death, which may have led to increased rituals of frivolity and celebration, a kind of madness “…where the madman [the Fool] was applauded as a hero” in celebrations such as Carnival, Shrove Tuesday, (Mardi Gras) and theater comedy. The central panel in Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights” may represent the peasants search for utopia.
     History repeats itself as they say. In our time, with the European holocaust in WWII, the building of the atomic bomb and the holocaust of Hiroshima and, more recently, the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in Japan, we are still obsessed with the fear of death from nuclear attack or nuclear accident. Some people in the USA are building bomb shelters again since the 911 WTO attack on New York City just as they did during the “Cuban Missile Crisis” in 1962. Similar to partying in the 16th century, our own current celebrations and partying takes place on the tailgates of cars before watching an ear-deafening football game. How about those mind-numbing couch potato parties during nightly TV shows (theater)? The kind of ridiculousness portrayed in 15th and 16th century Flemish paintings seems echoed in today’s TV ads in a new form. What about that green Gecko selling insurance? And we watch brown bears squeezing toilet paper, blond dogs driving cars, and squirrels hi-fiving when they cause a car crash.That’s not to mention fat green mucous blobs wearing clothes and running away from boxes of cold medicine. 
    It’s apparent Bruegel painted the land of Cockayne (cockaigne - a land of cakes; a cock’s egg), an imaginary land of extreme luxury popular in the minds of medieval peasants in contrast to their hard life of feudal times. It was a fictional utopia where pleasure was foremost. We see drunken and gluttonous peasants sleeping, dancing and celebrating in some of Bruegel’s paintings, especially “Luilekkerland” in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich. This imaginary life was relaxed, luscious and delicious. The terms  “Luilekkerland in Flemish; Scharaffenland in Germany mean “the land of milk and honey.” In it, there were no lords or masters; no work; plenty of food: gingerbread houses, pies in the sky. It was the land of the absurd, of ridiculous parody, carnival celebrations, and satire. In London, it was the land of the Cockneys. Bruegel’s paintings and prints give us some clues to the meaning of the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, especially his central panel in “The Garden of Earthly Delights” where we see parades of hybrid animals and little nude people dancing, eating cherries and strawberries, while experiencing all sorts of pleasure. Bruegel literally copied some of the strange animalistic and human-hybrid images seen in Bosch’s paintings. 
     Much has been written from all different perspectives about what Bosch was illustrating. Some of the interpretations are as far-fetched as the paintings themselves. But one concept seems plausible, which asserts these paintings presented a satire on peasant life, and was mocking the corruption of monks and nuns of the Catholic Church. This is apparent in Bosch’s painting “The Ship of Fools” with a monk and a nun singing while trying to catch a swinging pastry in their mouths. (See article by Peter Hofstee where he describes an “Attack by Means of the Absurd”). Both Bosch and Bruegel used Flemish Proverbs as themes for their art. One painting in particular, “The Blue Cloak” or “Proverbs” by Bruegel depicts some stories we read in Aesop’s Fables. For instance, the story of the “Fox and the Stork” can be seen in the midst of this picture, the meaning of which is “one bad turn deserves another.” There are several “fools” and lots of people doing foolish things illustrating various proverbs of the time, such as: “Crying over spilt milk”; “throwing pearls before the swine”; “making ends meet,” “banging ones’ head on a brick wall,” and so on.
      This same “pleasure palace” can be found in Old French and Middle Dutch analogous texts and manuscript illuminations. An English 13th century poem in the British Library, London, titled “The Land of Cokaygne,” satirizes monastic life. It examines vice and folly in the land of the absurd in lyrical form. This could provide a clue to the bizarre creatures for the central panel of Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights” and the ghastly scenes he painted of Hell. Possibly, Bosch saw human behavior as lacking any real spiritual quality so he made everything as absurd as possible, subverting the established order. Even his side-panel of Hell was filled with diabolical demons doing unspeakable things to people as punishment for their sins, a sort of overkill of diabolical threats by the church. There is much controversy about Bosch’s religious meaning. Did he read St. Augustines works? Dante? Was this a commentary mocking the church in going overboard in selling “Indulgences “ for the people’s sins - with their long lists of every possible sin? The town where Bosch lived and worked was one of the main places for selling indulgences and the church’s agents were making a tidy profit. It seems Bosch couldn’t have made life appear any worse in the depiction of despicable acts in the “Hell” side of his triptychs. The creepy hybrid monsters are so grotesque they are comical and, today, we see them as completely ridiculous and absurd. Yet, on the other hand, were they revealing the insidious, irrational “dark side” of human nature? As Tarot cards emerged out of this period of time, we can see how the Major Arcana cards were also an expression of a certain “Utopia” concluding with the joyful dance of freedom in “The World” card. The Fool has experienced the lessons of each card on the spiritual path and emerges triumphant in the end.