Q. Ever since I moved back into my mother’s house, I’ve been sleeping pretty soundly, though my sleep has been accompanied by some archetypally charged dream sequences, some of which I’ve written about on this blog. Last night, though, I had a terrible time getting to sleep, and staying asleep—and when I arose this morning, I felt anxious and agitated and strangely “on edge,” as if on the verge of experiencing some terrible event. This is not like the dream I had a few days ago—I can’t recall any visions from last night that would have brought this upon me, and nothing that happened to me yesterday—or that is likely to happen to me today—would suggest the levels of angst and dread that I woke up with. So what is it then—what’s got me so nervous today?
A: This, perhaps.
Just what I need the first thing in the morning—a Tarot deck with a sense of humor.
More to the point, maybe we could elaborate on this? Everyone has, to some degree, a fear of death—or sudden change, or “passing,” or “transition,” or whatever we wish to call it. Let’s see if we can’t devise a spread around this card that can help explain our irrational, inexplicable fears such as those that bedeviled your humble blogger when he arose from bed this morning—and, perhaps, to point a way forward from a fear-based to a love-based view of the world. Once again, I’m going to use the New Version Tarot that I’ve written about in recent days, and am again eschewing reversed cards for now as I continue to familiarize myself with the deck. We’ll use a Significator—in this case, the “Death” card since this is the primal fear that we are seeking a greater understanding of today—and the cards are laid out in the following pattern:
The questions posed are, roughly:
1. What is driving my fear in the matter?
2. What external force acts as a brake on my fear?
3. What can I do personally to conquer/minimize my fear?
4. What shouldn’t I do in the same regard?
5. What are my sincerest, most deeply held wishes in the matter?
6. How do I make it a reality?
Here are the cards that decided to make an appearance today:First, we should note that the Death card of the New Vision deck presents us with a much starker image than the Waite-Ryder deck, with its sentimental tableau of a sunrise looming on a distant horizon, a “shining city on a hill,” and a little boy kneeling before the figure of Death all implying “rebirth” and “renewal,” and with it, hope. In the New Vision deck, there is none of that—only the pale rider and the vicar of Christ staking their respective claims to the dead king’s corpse under a darkening sky. Death, here, appears to have the upper hand, implying a grimly unsentimental fatalism. There is nothing to be done in this matter, the card seems to be saying; forget about renewal—this type of death, and what we fear most about it in our minds, is finality—the singular point on life’s journey from which there is no return. This may seem insensitive and even monstrously cruel, but it is essential that we reach an understanding, and an acceptance, of the mundanity—and even the necessity—of physical death before we can deal with the subject of “spiritual” death: A condition which, in reality, is utterly impossible but which keeps us in a state of perpetual dread of the death of the corpus, the shell that contains us but is not of us. Onward, dear readers:
1. What is driving my fear? At first it may seem odd that Temperance should make an appearance here, but look closely—the figures in many of the cards of the New Vision deck, depicted as they are in “rear view/flip side” fashion, have their backs turned to us. This is true of Temperance and of the following the card in the spread, The Lovers—and in this case, as we explore the causes of the querent’s “fear” and “anxiety”, the symbolic import of this will become much clearer.
More to the point, this speaks to feelings that many of us have of abandonment by, and separation from, the powers of Divine love and guidance: Of feeling the sands of time shifting beneath our feet with no “support structure” to protect us when the earth opens up and we fall into the abyss. We often feel as if the world—and the spiritual forces that guide and animate it— have turned their backs on us. This is a neurosis that afflicts many people in our time, and one that has even been felt, however fleetingly, by some of the greatest spiritual adepts in the past: “My father, why have you forsaken me?” Previous generations, less likely to see themselves as free agents, and even less likely to perceive themselves as the moral compass that steered the firmaments, could assure themselves that the Creator and His collective angelic host would always be there to provide them with all the support and sustenance they would need. Even in the valley of the shadow of death, they seldom felt as thought they walked “alone,” i.e., apart from God, as we define the term today. Our world, by contrast, with its overarching emphasis on the primacy of the individual, and its serial demonization and denunciations of any activity smacking of collectivism, inculcates in our minds from the earliest days of our waking lives the idea that we are all independent of each other—and, by implication, that we are cut off entirely from the timeless and immortal rhythms of the spheres that have embedded themselves as dreams and visions in the the collective psyche of man over many millennia. No wonder so many of us feel as though the Gods have turned their backs on us, or are as obsolete characters in an outdated melodrama!
This, in essence, is the root cause of our fear of death—the erroneous belief that our existence in this world is completely unmoored from the lives of others and defined solely by linear time as only we perceive it; and once that time “runs out”, we pass alone into nothingness, having endured the pain and pleasure of human existence for no greater reason whatsoever. No wonder we’re so afraid! We have not only turned our backs on our Creator, but in so doing to those life-giving elements of our collective psyche that have visualized and engaged the Creator as He has done to us in kind (“As above, so below”) since the dawn of human consciousness. If our God is dead, then, what are we but murderous and unthinking blobs of protoplasm, and what loving soul would ever wish to inhabit such an insane world?
Long story short: We live in a most intemperate age, and it is incumbent upon us to implore the forces of Creation to help us restore and renew our wounded psyches—but we can never accomplish this if we continue to adhere to the dominant perceptual paradigm of our times. “Temperance,” after all, is about maintaining a state of emotional balance and equilibrium, of receiving and giving everything to all in like measure—not in “tipping the scales,” spreading inequity, poisoning Creation, or exploiting the suffering of others.
2. What acts as a brake on my fear? What else but the reunion of God and humankind in Eden as depicted in The Lovers? In our everyday world, this can speak to the connection we should strive to feel with each other as spiritual beings, and of the need for us to tear down barriers of resistance that prevent us from recognizing others not as disconnected and divorced from a shared experience but as individual pinpricks of light that collectively illuminate an ever-expanding universe of Divine light. That is the true extent of our “individualism” in life; all other expressions of same are in error and self-negating. When we fully understand and embrace this concept, we can begin the work of reuniting with the Divine, first and foremost by seeing and hailing His presence in others.
3. What can I do to conquer my fears? The presence of the Princess of Cups here suggests time spent in meditation, prayer and occult or esoteric studies. As the so-called “Earthy part of Water,” she is a relative novice at the practice, and is still guided to an extent by materialistic (i.e., earthy) impulses. For another querent in another setting, this might suggest “turning one’s back” on the lures of the material world for a time, much as the Princess turns her back to us here. For this querent in this reading, however, the Princess warns against over-reliance on metaphysical study because it can lead us to “turn our backs” to a world that appears to have given itself over to wickedness and is hence not worthy of our forgiveness. The querent, a writer by trade, has a solitary streak to his personality, and as we have seen already in this spread, the issue of “separateness” looms large in his psyche——and, as we have discussed and will again, this issue is the root cause of most of our fears and anxieties. (In this regard our humble blogger is only all-too-human.)
4. What shouldn’t I do? In many readings, the Ace of Pentacles can be a harbinger of positive material developments—a new job, perhaps, or a raise or an inheritance: An unexpected and unsolicited windfall of some sort. Taken in the context of this reading, however, the querent is well advised to be guarded with his finances and in his career choices for the time being, even as he is encouraged at the same time to expand his pool of personal and professional contacts by “getting out more”. Don’t overcommit in business matters for now, even if your “gut instinct” (represented by the Princes of Cups) is to do so.
5. What is my deepest wish? As the Four of Swords says unambiguously, the “sleep of the just” and ego brought fully to heel. A time-honored way to accomplish this is through meditation and prayer, which is why the setting in this card is the inside of a chapel. Caution must be taken, however, to avoid overcompensating: Adopting a monastic lifestyle requires (returning to a common theme here) “turning one’s back” to an elemental component of life, which may not be beneficial to the querent. See the people in the New Vision rendition of this card. They have come to express their gratitude to a departed leader, but all they can behold is a lifeless wooden effigy. The spiritual being, while peacefully at rest, exists in a cocoon which, however safe and assuring for its inhabitant, seals him off from any meaningful contact with others. Which leads us to an unsurprising conclusion:
6. How do I make this happen? The Waite-Ryder version of the Eight of Cups depicts a solitary figure—a seeker or holy man of sorts—turning his back (the metaphor again!) to the many-splendored world signified by the cups in pursuit of deeper and more meaningful spiritual truths—and, as we’ve noted many times before on this blog, there is a time and place for such extended periods of solitude. In the New Vision rendition, though, the seeker is approaching us—implying that we have already attainted the heights he seeks—and we can now look over his shoulder at the world he is abandoning: A bright and vibrant metropolis in the midst of a citywide celebration or jubilee. What are the people celebrating down there? Whatever it is, we’ll never know for certain unless we climb down from our redoubt and find out for ourselves.
Here, then, we ask ourselves: Is our purpose now to follow the seeker (who clearly has no use for the festivities behind him), or is it time for us to come down from the mountain, to leave the seeker to his mission—which is only beginning—while we rejoin the community of humankind as the completion of our mission? Given the procession of cards in this reading, it’s pretty clear that for the querent today, and for us all eventually, the answer is decidedly the latter. We are told in the Scriptures that we are as a light upon the world, and that we do not fulfill our Divine mission by keeping our light shielded from view.
None of us can ever conquer our fears and anxieties if we allow them to keep us isolated from, and even hostile to, our brothers and sisters in spirit. In our ego-mad age, this is so very easy to do! But we must resist the lure of “aloneness” and “separateness” from others if we are ever to reach a greater sense of Self-awareness. To succumb to antisocial impulses, to wall ourselves from humanity in the pursuit of safety from harm, is to worship a false god, and to exist in a state of “waking death” that is defined by boundless and numinous fear. That’s the state in which the querent found himself this morning. Do we want to repeat his mistakes, or learn from them instead?