CAN PAGANISM SAVE THE WORLD?

I sometimes wonder, in this time of climate crisis, whether the whole world needs to adopt a more Pagan perspective if we are to survive. Paganism is not a man-made religion created by a prophet or guru but one that continually evolves out of a spiritual relationship with the natural world. As well as providing shelter, food, medicine and all that is necessary for life, Mother Earth is the basis of our spiritual existence.  Paganism’s many gods and goddesses represent the diversity of the natural world, indwelling divinity present in all things from a blade of grass to a stream, and from a mountain to a galaxy, and we honour each and every one. When we open our souls to nature, we touch our Gods, but when we turn our backs on it, we feel a sense of alienation, of spiritual and emotional loss, because we are cut off from our divine source, and I think that is where the world finds itself.  As Pagans, when we bring our attention and intent into being aware of our feet meeting the earth as we walk, it becomes a spiritual practice and opens up a deeper reality, the great matrix of Nature connected in a unified, sacred whole. We recognise that the land beneath our feet is not merely dirt, but a fountain of energy that sustains animals, plants and people. When this realisation dawns, all space becomes sacred space, all time becomes sacred time, and all acts become sacred acts. How different that is from the cultural view that sees the world as something to be monetised and exploited.  Humans need a better relationship with their planet, and perhaps the rise of Paganism is the very thing that can bring this about? What do you think?

© Text and image Anna Franklin

Artemis, Goddess of the Wild Heart

Artemis is the daughter of Zeus, King of the Greek gods, and Leto, one of his many mistresses. According to the legend, Leto was in labour nine days and nights, all the time pursued by Hera, Zeus’s jealous wife. Then, on reaching Delos, she gave birth to Artemis who, astonishingly, helped Leto deliver her own twin brother, Apollo. The pair became goddess and god of the moon and sun. Artemis is the maiden goddess of the new moon, and the sixth day from the new moon is sacred to her. She rides her silver chariot, pulled by silver stags, across the sky and shoots her arrows of silver moonlight to the earth below. When Artemis was a little girl, Zeus, her father, wanted to give her a gift and asked her what she wanted. The goddess replied “I want to run forever wild and free with my hounds in the woods and never, ever marry”. She is one of only three beings who are immune to the enchantments of Aphrodite the goddess of love (the other two are Hestia and Athene). She is normally depicted as tall and slender, wearing a short tunic and carrying a bow.

Behind this classical myth, however, there was an older Artemis, reflected in the stories of the goddess as the free spirit who rejects the company of gods and humans, preferring instead to roam the solitary woodland grove and the bare mountainside, dancing and singing in the company of her nymphs. She is a huntress and, carrying her silver bow, delights in the reckless pursuit across the countryside, running with the Alani, her pack of hounds, a gift from the nature god Pan.

She is the patroness of hunters, who would gratefully hang the skin and horns of their prey in her temples. She is also the protector of wild animals and knows all their ways, from the elusive bird and the timid deer, to the savage lion and fierce bear. She binds the hunter and the hunted, since she is the goddess who both gives and takes life. The Greeks called her the Huntress of Souls.

Artemis is the goddess of wild and remote places, unsullied land far from the reach of man. Her nymphs are the spirits of its trees, streams, rocks and flowers, the souls of nature embodied, while Artemis herself is the imminent goddess of Nature in its raw and untamed state. She is a maiden, chaste, eternally young and virginal, called ‘Artemis the undefiled’ in Aeschylus’s Agamemnon. Those men who defiled her mysteries she ruthlessly hunted down and killed. One such was Actaeon, a hunter who caught sight of Artemis while she was bathing. The goddess, thus profaned, punished him by turning him into a stag whereupon his own hounds, not recognising their master, tore him to pieces.

She is the patroness of unmarried girls and was served by virgin priestesses; when women married, they had to leave her service forever. Yet no marriage took place without her. Young girls considering matrimony went to dance at her festivals. On the night before the wedding, they dedicated their tunics on her altar, and left behind their childhood memorabilia. She is the protector of all women, swift in her defence of those tormented by men, always coming to the aid of those who called upon her, punishing the wrongdoers. It is this aspect of Artemis that women in labour called upon since, despite being a virgin, Artemis is the goddess of childbirth. It is in her power to spare both mother and child, or to take them. It is part of her mystery that a woman in travail must surrender herself to her animal side, nature at its most raw, uttering that last savage cry at the moment of birth. In Ephesus she was called Dea Anna and “many-breasted”, the patroness of nurturing, fertility, and birth.

Artemis is the least civilised of the Greek goddesses, and perhaps the oldest, dating from a time before the land was cultivated. She is also the wild and untamed part of ourselves. While her brother Apollo, is logical, dignified, lord of the sun and daylight, she is animal instinct, impulse, intuition, freedom, the lady of the moon and night. They represent the two sides of human consciousness, both necessary in balance. Artemis is the soul of the wilderness, uncivilised and untamed. She is the goddess imminent in manifest Nature: untamed energy.  She calls upon the wildness in your heart.

Remember too, that Artemis is the goddess that women call upon when they are in trouble or abused. She befriends the abused and punishes the abuser. Within every woman (and every man) the spirit of Artemis exists, independent, confident and, like her warrior maidens the Amazons, not needing a romantic partner to make her life complete. She goes where she wants and does what she wants without having to seek the approval of another. She doesn’t deny her own nature to satisfy another.

 

Text © Anna Franklin, The Oracle of the Goddess, Vega, 2003

Illustration © Paul Mason, The Oracle of the Goddess, Vega, 2003

 

 

 

 

 

TODAY’S CARD (6 May 2020) – THE HERMIT

The Fool, overwhelmed by all that he has experienced asks himself the questions we all face at some point in our lives – “Why? What’s it all about?” The view of reality he had created in the mirror of his memories was restricted by his five senses and blinkered by his experiences, and were only part of the truth. He can no longer trust what he once thought to be true. Now he must rely on his inner sight. He feels the profound need to retreat from the world in order to find answers.

He enters the forest where it appears at its darkest and most tangled, knowing that he must forge his own path and not follow another’s. He is aware that as he steps over its threshold he is leaving behind civilisation and the boundary of man’s authority to enter the realm of raw nature, teeming with wild plant and animal life. There is no going back. This is the unknown and it frightens him, the landscape reflecting his confusion with its labyrinth of twisted and hidden paths. He does not know what he will face here, perhaps his deepest hopes, anxieties or fears. It might be haunted by trolls and ogres or populated by beautiful fairy maidens and questing beasts.

He feels certain that this place will challenge him. Completely alone, separated from the familiar world and its distractions, he must learn to know himself. The Otherworld, where nature and human consciousness know no separation, surrounds him, eternal and timeless, not in some distant time and place, but here and now.

Legend tells us that Merlin became mad after the bloody battle of Arfderydd and fled to the forest in despair. Alone and without distractions he reconnected with the raw power of Nature and the essence of himself which was no longer masked by civilisation. Merlin harnessed this power to work towards his higher goals and thus became the wise man and great magician of the later tales, but he could have been lost forever in the forest, grubbing around like a savage beast.

When this card appears, it tells you that you are feeling a profound emptiness in your life, but now is not the moment for outward action. Instead, the Hermit advises you withdraw from the distractions of the everyday world and spend time in meditation and mature reflection. It’s time to discover your life’s purpose, what you really need and where you actually have to go. You can only do this if you stop long enough to listen to the quiet voice of your soul within.

Text and illustration © Anna Franklin, Pagan Ways Tarot, Schiffer, 2015

Beltane

The extended hours of daylight are very noticeable here by May, and the weather is getting much warmer, so the month has brought a full flush of fresh green growth and a plethora of wild flowers. All the hedgerows become white and fragrant with hawthorn blossoms, the grass in the fields is lush and tall, and the woodlands are carpeted with bluebells. It is a month of blue skies and cotton wool clouds, of bonfires, maypoles and May queens, of fairies and enchantments, of milk and honey, fledgling birds and the buzzing of the bees. In the solar calendar, May marks the real coming of summer, and all the folk customs and rituals of May reflect this.

 The Romans called this month Maius, meaning ‘mother’ or ‘nursing mother’, named after the Greek Goddess Maia, the eldest of the Pleiades, one of the seven sisters represented by a bright cluster of stars in the constellation of Taurus the Bull. For the Romans, Maia embodied the concept of growth, as her name was thought to be related maius, maior meaning ‘larger’ or ‘greater’, identifying her with the Earth goddess Terra, and Bona Dea the Good Goddess. The Pleiades were important seasonal markers in the ancient world, rising heliacally (with the Sun at dawn) in early May, after being invisible for forty days, and again appearing on the western horizon at the beginning of November. This twofold division of the year, according to the position of the Pleiades, heralded the seasonal work on the land of planting and harvest, as well as safe summer sailing and the coming of the winter rains and storms, closing channels of navigation on the Mediterranean. [1]  Indeed, the Pleiades were important seasonal markers in the cultures of both the northern and southern hemispheres. [2]

In England, the customs and games of May Day were called going ‘a-maying’ or ‘bringing in the May’ and reached their heights during the Middle Ages. There are records of towns and councils spending significant amounts of money on public celebrations. [3] Villagers would go out into the woods and fields to collect armfuls of flowers and greenery for decoration, a custom Kipling described in his poem A Tree Song:

Oh, do not tell the Priest our plight,

Or he would call it a sin;

But–we have been out in the woods all night,

A-conjuring Summer in!

And we bring you news by word of mouth-

Good news for cattle and corn–

Now is the Sun come up from the South,

With Oak, and Ash, and Thorn! [4]

Maypoles, usually made of stripped birch trees, were cut and set up on the village green and hung with ribbons, ready for dancing. [5] Many communities elected a young girl to become the May Queen to preside over the festivities. Sometimes she was accompanied by a May King. In Elizabethan times, the king and queen were called Robin Hood and Maid Marian. There might be a Jack-in-the-Green, a man wearing a wicker cage covered in fresh greenery, to represent the opulent growth of the season.  We can speculate that he is connected to the foliate heads (green men) found on architecture, and that he perhaps represented a vegetation or woodland spirit.

May Day bonfires blazed across the hilltops, and jumping the fire was thought to offer protection, blessing and fertility. Even the ashes of the fires had special powers, and were spread on the fields to protect them and bring fruitfulness. In Ireland, cows were driven through the ashes to guard them from the attentions of fairies. [6]

The Puritans were outraged at the immorality that often accompanied the drinking and dancing, and Oliver Cromwell’s Parliament banned maypoles altogether in 1644, describing them as “a heathenish vanity generally abused to superstition and wickedness”. [7] Condemning the custom of going out into the woods to feast and gather greenery, Christopher Featherstone declared  “Men doe use commonly to run into woods in the night time, amongst maidens, to set bowers, in so much, as I have heard of ten maidens which went to set May, and nine of them came home with childe”. [8] Philip Stubbes complained that, of the girls who go into the woods, “not the least one of them comes home again undefiled”.  [9]

The birth of summer obviously means the death of winter. Death and rebirth is a theme enacted in many seasonal mumming plays and in the May Day dance of the Padstow ‘Obby ‘Oss (hobby horse) in Cornwall, England. The evening before the dance, the village is decorated with green branches and flowers. The sinister black ‘Oss, led by the Teaser, parades through the town to the accompaniment of drum and accordion. Now and then the drum falls silent, and the ‘Oss gradually falls to the floor, only to rise again. At midnight the ‘Oss dies, only to be reborn again next summer.

As the death of winter takes place, so did many European festivals of the dead, in order to make a purification before the summer began. [10] For the Romans, May was generally an unlucky month, when marriage was forbidden. It was also the time of the Lemuria, a festival to placate the Lemures, the wandering spirits of the dead, which St. Augustine described as evil and restless manes that tormented and terrified the living. [11] The Lemuria was a three day festival (May 9, 11 and 13) when the head of the household rose at midnight and cast black beans behind him for them to feast on saying: “These I cast; with these beans I redeem me and mine”. This had to be said nine times, without looking back.

As the wheel of the year turns to summer, we honour the Goddess as the Flower Bride who seeks her groom, the Green Man, in the greenwood. Their passion and fire will bring in the summer and dispel the forces of winter and bane, and the Goddess will become the fertile Mother. Now is the time of growth, for the blossoming of the Earth, for warmth and celebration. So we kindle the Beltane fires, raise the maypole and dance! 

May begins with the modern Pagan festival which is usually called Beltane. We know that, in Pagan Ireland, the first of May was called Beltane (alt. Bealtaine/ Beltene), though we don’t much about how they celebrated it. The earliest reference to it is believed to be in the tenth century CE Samas Chormaic, or Cormac’s Glossary, which describes cattle being driven between two fires the Druids made for luck:

Belltaine. i.e. May Day i.e. ‘lucky fire’ i.e. two fires which the Druids used to make with great incantations, and they used to bring the cattle (as a safeguard) against the diseases of the year to those fires, they used to drive the cattle between them.” [12]

 Cormac derived the name Beltane from ‘lucky fire’ though elsewhere in the text he speculated it might come from ‘Bial, an idol god’. [13] White tene means ‘fire’, bel could be translated as ‘bright’ or ‘lucky’, or it could be connected to the Gaulish sun god Bel or Belenos whom Julius Caesar identified with the Greek/Roman sun god Apollo.  We can safely assume that bonfires played a part in the celebrations, a continuing custom well documented in succeeding centuries, well into the nineteenth century.

Though the Pagan Irish left no written records, the Christian chroniclers tried to record earlier customs and myths (though often not without inserting Christian messages and classical myths). From these we know that the early Irish had a twofold division of the year. In the fifteenth or sixteenth century CE (probably transcribed from an earlier tenth century source) manuscript Tochmarc Emire (‘The Wooing of Emer’), the hero Cúchulainn explains: “For two divisions were formerly on the year, namely, summer from Beltane the first of May, and winter from Samhain to Beltane,” making it clear that Beltane was considered the start of summer. In the early fifteen-hundreds, a quatrain says this of Beltane, describing it as a time of increase and plentiful milk:

I relate this to you, a surpassing festival,

The privileged dues of Beltane:

Ale, roots, mild whey,

And fresh curds to the fire. [14]

Beltane certainly seems to have been the Pagan feast that the Irish church feared most. The Book of Armagh described Beltane as ‘an idolatrous ceremony’, featuring ‘the Druids, singers, prophets’, and attended ‘with manifold incantations and magical contrivances’. Beltane was also the first Pagan festival to have been suppressed, according The Life of Saint Patrick, where the fires of Beltane and the Easter fires were said to be in direct opposition until the Pagan ones were defeated. [15]

Many of our present May Day customs come from the Roman Floralia, such as fetching in armloads of greenery and flowers. It lasted several days spanning the end of April and the beginning of May, and was a feast of joy and unrestrained merriment, with the whole city bedecked in blossoms and people wearing flowers in their hair, and wreathing their animals in garlands. Offerings of milk and honey were made to Flora, the goddess of flowers and blossoms, of the flower of youth and its pleasures, with prayers for the prospering of the ripe fruits of the field and orchard.

As always, with our spiritual practice, we look to Nature for our inspiration and direction, and at the beginning of May celebrate the Lady of Flowers and the Green Man coming together in love, the most powerful force in the universe,  which binds spirit and matter together, creating the world from opposites. This union is the God and Goddess at the point of their sacred marriage, an act which brings about all of creation with the reconciliation of duality.

Beltane Ritual

Two pillars of wood are set up in the centre of the circle, three feet apart. One is decorated with a green lady mask and flowers, the other with a green man mask and oak leaves. A small green candle in a glass jar stands atop each. In the north the altar has a single red candle.

Take three breaths…Together with the Earth beneath you…Together with the Sky above you…Together with the circle around you.

Say:

With Beltane, we celebrate the coming of summer when life is in full flow, and the primal forces of creation join in union.

Go to Goddess pillar and light the candle saying:

I honour the Goddess, and open myself to the Goddess within.

Go to the God pillar and light the candle, saying:

I honour the God, and open myself to the God within. 

Here burn the twin fires of Beltane, male and female, God and Goddess, Sky and Earth, Sun and Moon, body and spirit, each flame burning in each one of us.

This is the time of purification by fire. As you pass between the pillars with their candles on top, know that you leave behind winter, negativity and pain. Step forward between the flames, saying:

I leave winter behind and move forward into the work of summer.

 Pause fort a while as you reflect on this and say:

We now celebrate the most ancient of magics, the magic of joining. The Lady of the Land takes the hand of the Green Lord, and their marriage brings life to the world.

Pick up the God candle: This is the fire of the Lord.

Pick up the Goddess candle:  This is the fire of the Lady.

The two candles are used to light the single red candle on the altar

United in life and abundance. Blessed Be!

Lord and Lady, illuminate me from within. Fill me with the light of creation. Help me to radiate light upon the world. I ask this in the name of the Lord and Lady. Blessed Be.

I take with me the energy of Beltane, when the spirit fully manifests within the material world, and we are blessed. 

This rite is ended, blessed be.

Don’t forget to wash your face in the May Day morning dew:

The fair maid who, the first of May

Goes to the fields at break of day

And washes in dew from the hawthorn tree

Will ever after handsome be. [16]

© Anna Franklin from the forthcoming Hearth Witch’s Ritual Year, Llewellyn, 2021

Illustration © Anna Franklin from The Pagan Ways Tarot, Schiffer 2015

[1] Dr. E.C.Krupp, Beyond the Blue Horizon, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1992

[2] Dr. E.C.Krupp, Beyond the Blue Horizon, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1992

[3] Ronald Hutton, The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain, Oxford University Press, 1996

[4] Online at http://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/poems_treesong.htm, accessed 15.1.20

[5] Ronald Hutton, The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain, Oxford University Press, 1996

[6]  Whitley Stokes (ed.), John O’Donovan (trans.), Sanas Cormaic: Cormac’s Glossary, Irish Archaeological and Celtic Society, O.T. Cutter, 1868

[7] The Retrospective Review, Vol. VIII, Charles Baldwyn, London, 1823

[8] Quoted in Ronald Hutton, The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain, Oxford University Press, 1996

[9] Quoted in Ronald Hutton, The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain, Oxford University Press, 1996

[10] Ronald Hutton, Halloween? It’s more than trick or treat, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/28/halloween-more-than-trick-or-treat-origins?fbclid=IwAR13rqBx10qclv4giBmWmYstGVhsyM9GxrOxP8Q8Jo7e0_j3zBs2xsZ0o6U, accessed

[11] St. Augustine, The City of God, 11.

[12] Cormac’s Glossary, Translated by John O’Donovan, Calcutta, 1868

[13] Cormac’s Glossary, Translated by John O’Donovan, Calcutta, 1868

[14] Kuno Meyer’s translation as found in Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson’s Studies in Early Celtic Nature Poetry

[15] The Life of St. Patrick and His Place in History, p. 104-106.

[16] Traditional

THE JOURNEY OF THE FOOL

THE PATH OF INITIATION

 The Major Arcana of the tarot is often called ‘The Journey of the Fool’ and is said to describe the life experience from innocence to wisdom. Few decks and books give equal weight to the Minor Arcana, but I believe that the realms of the minors are an essential part of the Fool’s journey. Together, they give a rounded picture of human life, of who and what we are and the forces that shape us. The Minor Arcana describes the outward journey of life and its lessons, while the Major Arcana describes the inward focus of the path of spiritual quest and initiation.

The Fool is usually placed at the beginning of the Major Arcana (though Crowley placed him at the end) but the number of this card is zero, which tells us that the Fool stands outside the deck.  The whole tarot is his journey and ours as he represents each one of us as we travel through the events and mysteries of life, mundane and sacred. For this reason I have placed him right at the beginning so that he can undertake each life stage in turn and travel from youth to maturity, middle age, old age and finally into spiritual initiation.

THE MINOR ARCANA – The Journey of Life

The four suits of the Minor Arcana relate to the four tools used in magical practice and the spiritual truths that underlie them. They represent the material world, human nature, aspiration and circumstances. The tools of the four suits appear on the Magician’s altar and signify control over these forces within and harmony with nature without. The fifty six cards of the Minor Arcana are lessons that help us to balance the four elements in order to achieve this.

In modern Pagan magic we work with the elements of earth, air, fire and water. These are not elements as defined by the periodic table but four principles of energy. This idea comes not from Judeo-Christian magick, as many assume, but from ancient Pagan philosophy. The four elements as the basic building blocks of creation were first defined by Empedocles, a fifth century BCE philosopher from Sicily who was an initiate of several mystery traditions. His Tetrasomia or ‘Doctrine of the Four Elements’ influenced Western philosophy and magic in the succeeding millennia. He didn’t actually call these four principles ‘elements’ (stoikheia), but ‘roots’ (rhizai). For him, the elements were not just physical forms but manifested spiritual essences or even god energies since they were the fourfold roots of everything which had existed in fixed quantities since the beginning of the universe, not as isolated things, but part of the whole.

Swords: Intent

The youthful Fool begins his journey in the Realm of Swords. For most modern Pagans this corresponds to the direction of the east, the point of sunrise at the vernal equinox, and is associated with spring, youth, new beginnings, growth and the element of air.

The word ‘spirit’ is derived from the Latin spiro, meaning ‘I breathe’.  Wind, breath and spirit were believed by many peoples to be identical.  In several creation myths, it is the movement of air/spirit across the grosser elements of earth and water that brings about creation. In Greek myth, when humans were created from mud (water and earth) they were animated by Prometheus’ gift of fire, but not completed until Athene breathed spirit into them.

Air is what separates individual things but it unites them through breath. The air you breathe is the air I breathe, and through it we are joined. The Pythagoreans thought that the universe itself breathed, and this breathing created time and number, limiting the unlimited. The breathing of the universe unites our individual breaths and binds our individual spirits into one. The secret of breath is part of the magic of air. We take air into us which contains vital energy that some call prana, which means both ‘breath’ and ‘spirit’.

Inhaled air is the sustaining breath of life, while exhaled air carries the words, poetry and song that convey human ideas and knowledge. The powers of air are concerned with the intellect, the abilities of the mind, knowledge (as opposed to wisdom), logic, inspiration, information, teaching, memory, thought and communication. Like the other elements, its power can be constructive or destructive. The gentle breeze cools and brings the life giving rain, but it can become the destructive hurricane. It is for this reason that the magical symbol of air is a two-edged sword.

 The suit of swords is the most challenging in the Minor Arcana: a sword card always means a trial of some kind. In a reading they can indicate difficulties, battles, enemies, hatred, insensitivity and the abuse of power. However, they can also signify courage, intelligence, action and change. After all, the sword is a weapon that can be used for good or evil purposes, to defend or to attack. Some of the cards of this suit show what happens when the power of the sword is misused.

 Sword cards in a reading most often reflect your state of mind. A tarot spread that is predominantly sword cards describes arguments, mental struggles and hard decisions to be made. Though painful, this may ultimately be a positive and necessary experience; the sword of truth can cut through ignorance, self-deceit, unhealthy thought patterns and false beliefs, showing you the underlying motives behind appearances, including your own. It reminds you that your mind governs your reality, and you should not allow unhealthy thoughts to overwhelm you and mire you with confusion, but work with positive intent.

 Wands: Will

The now adult Fool continues his journey into the Realm of Wands. The Sun stands highest in the south, so the south is the point of the circle associated with the summer solstice, midday, with things beginning to ripen, maturity, with will and illumination.

Wands and the south are usually connected with fire, the most mysterious of all the elements. It seems almost supernatural in comparison to earth, air or water which are states of matter while fire is energy. Fire is concerned with creativity, life energy and zeal. Fire gives us vitality, igniting action, animation and movement; it sparks courage and acts of bravery, it heats passion and enthusiasm. It is the power of inner sight and creative vision, directing it and controlling it to make it manifest in the world. Fire generates illumination within and is the light of the spirit.

Fire is an agent of transformation – the food in the cauldron is changed as it cooks as raw ores and metals are altered into useful objects on the blacksmith’s forge. Fire can be the glow of the candle flame, the warmth of the hearth, the blazing heat of the desert or the incandescence of the Sun. However, fire can consume; it can be wild, untameable and dangerous, indiscriminately burning and destroying all that lies within its path.

While swords represent acquired knowledge, logical thought and mental ability, wands represent a spiritual level of consciousness. Wands are concerned with your life’s purpose, your sense of meaning and direction – your will. Whenever a wand card appears it is indicative of action, movement and change.  The positive associations of wands are action, energy, inspiration, growth, passion, movement and creativity. However, wands can also indicate anger, disruption, mischief and unruliness. When a wand appears reversed in a reading it can be a sign of stagnation, lack of movement and delusion.

Cups: Love

On the third stage of his journey, the Fool enters the Realm of Cups, which corresponds to the season of autumn, harvest, sunset, the west and middle age.

Cups correspond to water, which has often been considered to be a living thing, or certainly to have the power of sustaining and bestowing life, as well as being capable of taking it. Every ancient society honoured springs, wells and water sources as sacred.

Water is liquid, like the blood that flows through our veins. Water can manifest in a drop of dew, the gentle rain, the raging flood or the power of the sea to give bounty or destroy with its tempests. A trickle of water will eventually wear away a mountain. Water is ruled by the Moon which pulls the ebb and flow of the tides. Water relates to the ebb and flow of events, the natural tides of life.

In a reading, cups represent the emotions and the subconscious mind. All of the suits have emotional aspects (wands relate to passion, swords to worries and pentacles to a practical approach) but cups are about love, bliss, relationships to others, compassion, idealism and the power of experience. Such emotions can lead us to seek beauty and use our imaginations to create wonderful poetry and works of art. This feeling can also spur us to search for Divine love, to open ourselves to psychic visions and clairvoyance.

However, the negative powers of cups include selfishness, avarice, ruthlessness and indecisiveness. Reversed cups can indicate self-centredness, overindulgence in drink, drugs or sex, vacillation, fantasy, weakness and nostalgia.

Pentacles: Manifestation

Pentacles relate to the north, the cardinal point of the circle never touched by the Sun and therefore associated with darkness, midnight, winter, mystery and the unknown. It is also the point of the winter solstice and rebirth through death.

In most forms of modern Paganism, the north is associated with the element of earth. Earth is the densest of all the elements, solid like the bones that structure our bodies. Earth is generally fixed, unlike the other elements which are mobile. From the stuff of earth grows all living things and its immense nurturing power can sustain the greatest oak tree and the tiniest flower. It is associated with the material and the practical, the physical world and crystallised energy.

We are rooted in the physical realm; it links us to who we are, to the past, to our ancestors, to the land. The physical world is not something to be despised but the manifestation of the Divine creative force, sacred in itself, which supports and feeds us. Pentacles are magic and creation manifested in which the other elements must be balanced and made real.

In a reading, Pentacles concern all that is solid and rooted, all that we consider to be of this world: shaping and making, business, work, health, the body, self-image, practicality and home, as well as the natural world and ecology, social responsibility and interaction.

However, we can become too involved with the purely material; Pentacles in their negative aspect can indicate greed, possessiveness, over indulgence in luxuries, laziness, bigotry, gluttony, pedantry, snobbery, clumsiness, stubbornness and inflexibility.

 THE MAJOR ARCANA – The Journey of Initiation

From the everyday concerns of the Minor Arcana, the Fool turns inwards and enters the Major Arcana, the path of initiation. True initiation is not a moment or a ceremony, but an ongoing process of expanding consciousness.

Paganism is a mystery religion. The word ‘mystery’ comes from the Greek musterion meaning a secret rite or doctrine. A follower of the mysteries in ancient Greece was a mystes  or ‘initiate’, a term originating in the word myein meaning ‘to close’ or ‘to shut’. In the ancient world, the mysteries were not open to everyone, but only to those who were properly trained and prepared, those who were mature and responsible enough to approach them with due reverence and ready for the profound inner changes they would create.

Initiations are a death and rebirth process, the candidate undergoing the same journey as their god or goddess resulting in the aspirant becoming one of the ‘twice-born’, not symbolically, but in a very real sense: the flawed old self must die so that the purified new self can emerge. The old self can never be reclaimed, and a new self emerges from the old shell. The process is traumatic: true initiation is a harrowing process, and one which may lead equally to enlightenment or madness.

Plutarch commented that the soul at the point of death undergoes the same experience as those who have been initiated into the great mysteries:

“…at first wandering to and fro, and journeys with suspicion through the dark as one uninitiated, and then come all the terrors before the final initiation, shuddering, trembling, sweating, amazement: then one is struck with a marvellous light and is received into pure regions…and bearing his crown joins in the divine communion… and the initiate beholds the uninitiated …huddled together in mud and fog, abiding in their miseries through fear of death and mistrust of the blessings there.[1]

Not every aspirant will gain true initiation in this lifetime. There are plenty of people out there claiming higher degrees who don’t even realise they have never had a true initiation.  If a person encounters many difficulties on the path of initiation the Gods may be telling them that they are not ready, or it may be that they are being tested to see whether they are committed enough to overcome any obstacles. The Gods often interfere in someone’s life to point them in the right direction or deter them from following the wrong path for them.

Initiation is an ongoing journey of the spirit which is a continuing succession of trials, revelations, back-sliding and progress, and these stages are reflected in the Major Arcana.

© Anna Franklin, Pagan Ways Tarot, Schiffer, 2015

 

 

 

[1] Quoted in Mircea Eliade From Primitives to Zen, Collins, London, 1967, p 302

TODAYS READING (21.4.20) – TWO OF CUPS (Union)

As the Fool continues his journey through the Realm of Cups, he meets a couple who seem to be very much in love.

“I am Eros, the god of love,” the man tells him, “It is my power that creates the world. Even I am not immune to it, for this is my own love, Psyche. Because Psyche was human, my mother Aphrodite forbade our marriage, and so I refused to shoot my arrows of love into the world, which meant that no one — man or beast — could fall in love, marry or mate. The earth grew old and cold and began to die.”

“I had to prove myself to Aphrodite,” Psyche says. “She set me a series of frightening and seemingly impossible tasks, but even the smallest creatures of nature helped me, for when love is true and pure we become more than human and our souls can fly to the heavens.”

“Thus we proved our love. Aphrodite relented and gave us permission to be together,” Eros says. “I quickly restored the world to how it should be, shooting arrows of love everywhere as fast as I could.  People fell in love, animals mated and the Earth was restored. This is the power of love. Without it, nothing exists. Love (Eros) and the soul (Psyche) must exist in union.”

 This is one of the easiest cards to read. Love, and the impulse to seek union with another, is the most powerful force in the world. When two people come together in love, they can achieve something in their lives far beyond what either alone is capable of. This may be a supportive friendship, partnerships based on mutual understanding, a new and loving romance, a marriage, the reconciliation of quarrels, working productively with others, or even two ideas or groups that come together to create something greater than the sum of their parts.

In the face of suffering and despair we can easily give way to anger and bitterness and wallow in a black hole of helpless despair. Spiritual teachings tell us that the answer to pain and difficulty is love and compassion. That anger and bitterness only increase suffering, in ourselves and throughout the world. We must find love and compassion not just for the people we know, but must widen the circle of compassion to encompass every being – the two-legged people, the four legged people, the winged people, the swimming people, the crawling people, the rock people and the rooted people, to perform acts and rituals of healing for all beings – and to widen this circle by teaching others to do the same.

© Anna Franklin, Pagan Ways Tarot, Schiffer 2015