Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Knights and War

 Knights in Tarot
     To understand the symbolism of the Knight cards in Tarot, we need to take a quick look at who the knights were in history. Let’s start with the knights on horseback during the Middle Ages in Europe. Who were they? What did they do and why are they still included in most Tarot decks? During Medieval times, in the Feudal hierarchy, knights pledged fealty to a lord, a prince, or a king (1200–1700). There were Green, White, Red and Black knights, trained in chivalry and warfare. They defended their Lord’s kingdoms, lands, and villages, often engaging the enemy. They were skilled in horsemanship (jousting) and the use of weaponry of the time (swords, spears, lances, clubs, catapults and armor). Sometimes they were rewarded for their bravery and courage with parcels of land or useful goods, and/or money.
     We know about them mostly from stories of the Christian Crusades, which began around 1096. The Knights Hospitaller and Knights Templar and similar orders were sent by various Popes to liberate the Holy Land, and Jerusalem in particular, from the grip of Seljuk Turks who took over that land in 1055. Some knights were offered rewards in the form of “indulgences,” by having all their sins automatically forgiven because of their service to the church.
     In literature, we hear about King Arthur and the mythical “Knights of the Round Table,” with Galahad and Perceval seeking the Holy Grail, Christ’s cup. (And that’s a whole other story). Joseph Campbell delineates a reality check of Cervantes novel about the imagination of the errant knight, “Don Quixote,” as a satire on chivalry: “Reality carried Quixote, that is to say, who carried the adventure in his head. Adventures are impossible and yet Don Quixote brings them to pass.” (The Masks of God, Creative Mythology, p. 294). Because of an inflated ego and wild imagination, including encroaching madness, Quixote couldn’t see the unreality of his beliefs, especially about the windmills he was speeding his horse to take down. He thought they were giants that he must vanquish. As Sancho says, “What giants?” Campbell quotes Ortega, “…there are men who decide not to be satisfied with reality.” (p. 605)
Prince of Cups TOCC
     What is it that lures young men (occasionally, a woman) to go off to war? Some say it is the sense of adventure, risk-taking; the urge to become a hero; to defend a country or kingdom, or to conquer new lands. What are the stakes for going to war? Land grabs, defense of territory, settling angry disputes in an attempt to establish power and control over others property, to defend religious beliefs, and to set up new states or kingdoms. Maybe it was like that during the crusades.

     But what is it they don’t tell you about going off to war today?
There has been over 250 major wars since Biblical times, each one more perilous and deadly than the one before, and hundreds of lesser wars over the centuries. In the aftermath of WWI and WWII, the threat of war has become a horrific nightmare, and in some war rooms, leaders contemplate the possibility of the end of the world (via Atom Bomb/ Hydrogen Bomb). The Second World War reached an appalling new dimension. Over 60,000,000 people were killed, including civilians and soldiers, with over 6,000,000 Jews, and others, murdered outright in Germany’s gory gas chambers.
     What glory and honor was there in dropping one bomb on a city from one plane and obliterating everything and everyone in it in 1945 in a few seconds (killing over 200,000 people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan). Miles of land and air were poisoned with nuclear radiation. Warfare on this scale has changed our attitude about war. Some of us remember the Cuban Missile Crisis scare when people were building bomb shelters in their basements and stocking them with food supplies. More of us remember the huge “Peace Marches” and “Flower Power” during the Viet Nam War, demanding the end to drafting more men to fight. Today, more than ever, we need a reality check!
 What do knights signify when they come up in a reading?

The reason Knights, or Princes are included in the Tarot is obvious. War is not over. Knights symbolize the brave charge to action: the courage to take risks, to sacrifice one’s life for a “cause;” to fight for what you believe; to train in tactics of warfare and focus on defeating the enemy, real or imagined.

Here are some thoughts based on Gail Fairfield’s “Choice Centered Tarot,” (Red Wheel-Reiser)

Knight of Wands: maintaining your identity, knowing who you are and how to present yourself dynamically to the world

Knight of Cups: Paying attention to your feelings and intuition and acting on them, while expressing how you feel to other

Knight of Swords: taking action on well thought-out strategies and plans, while separating the real from the unreal; truth from the lies.

Knight of Coins/Pentacles: focusing on hard work; establishing security; concentrating on solving the everyday difficulties of living this life and taking the appropriate steps to achieve your goals.