Christmas is almost upon us, so, following up on a post from a few days ago, I thought it was high time lay down a cruciform “Christmas” spread, to see what lessons the Tarot might teach us about this year’s holiday. The Hanged Man, archetypal representative of the mythological dying and reviving god, serves as a Significator card, and the remaining cards are dealt in the shape of a Tau cross. The cards are dealt in the following order:
2 S 1
4 (laid sideways)
The questions the cards ask are, roughly:
(1) “Father/God”: What protects me?
(2) “Mother/Mary”: What nurtures me?
(3) “Savior/Son”: What blesses me?
(4) “Devil/Mammon”: What debases me?
(5) “Holy Spirit/Shekinah”: What exalts me?
The cards that appeared today were:At a glance, it’s an interesting spread, especially considering that the figures along the “transept” of the cross are, like the Hanged Man, facing downwards as if under the effect of some gravitational pull, while the Prince and Princess below offer their elements upward as a kind of offering to the sacrificed deity. It’s almost as if there are two symmetrical “force fields” in this spread that collide with each other midway up the cross; on the kabbalistic Tree of Life, the equivalent position would be Tiphareth, “Beauty,” the central sefira where God’s descent into base matter and man’s ascent to pure spirit—the wedding of heaven and Shekinah, “God in the world”—converge in harmonious accord. As I’ve written many times previously, it really is amazing how this Tarot stuff works—but before we get too ahead of ourselves, let’s have a look at the individual cards:
1. What protects me? Eight of Swords reversed. When we see this card in a reading, we typically think of someone who is trapped in a psychological prison of their own making. Often, these types of individuals keep their emotions literally “locked up” for fear of exposing their vulnerabilities to others. Reversed here in the “Father/God” position, it suggests that when we are willing to strip away our defenses and reveal our true Selves, and disabuse ourselves of any weaknesses real or imagined that we see in us, we are actually made stronger and less vulnerable. What truly “protects us” is not the psychological barriers and barricades that we erect to separate us from others but that element of our psyche that can summon the courage to “set the captive free.”
2. What nurtures me? The Chariot reversed. As a rule, this card in reverse suggests unstable action or effect—a chariot toppled over is generally a sign of defeat! At its core, however, this is a card about power and control, and conversely, dominance and oppression. The chariot is also, we should recall, an ancient symbol—a celestial vehicle that conveys a deity across the high heavens. Viewed in these lights and at this “station” of the cross denoting “Mother/Mary”, we can interpret this card as (a) a representation of the Fall from Eden (which we all must endure before we can know reunion with the Divine) and (b) a reminder that those things that truly “nurture us” are the exact opposite of power and control and dominance and oppression. When we live in a spirit of humility—willing to “tip over” our own chariot and surrendering our power to manipulate others—we gain more, not less, control over our own inner lives. As the Talmud reminds us, “In my exaltation is my debasement; in my debasement, my exaltation.”
3. What blesses me? Prince of Cups. Interestingly, this is the card I used as a Significator for myself when I was a young man, and it generally describes the kind of person we might refer to as “passive-aggressive”—someone capable of manifesting ego to achieve important goals but who can just as easily, and unpredictably, retreat to the realm of passive daydreams and fantasies, which can often wax vain and narcissistic. Seen here in the “Savior/Son” position, we can see the Prince as a proxy for the Christ, offering the wine of communion before “crossing over” the river (Jordan?) in front of him, with the caveat that we avoid falling victim to any “messiah complex” that would elevate ourselves—in our own minds—above our actual significance in the world. God, we are told, is no respecter of persons—which is to say, none of us is “special”, yet all of us are special. It’s a good lesson to keep in mind, especially at this time of year when we are standing in long lines or jockeying for parking spaces at the crowded mall during the holidays. While we wait, it might be a good time for a daydream or two—about peace on earth, perhaps?
4. What debases me? Nine of Cups. The “wish card” in the “Devil” position warns us to be very careful what we wish for! Now, this is certainly the time of year to eat, drink and be merry—good will toward men can be a lot easier to extend after a few rounds of eggnog—but we should be mindful not to “overdo it” when it comes to holiday festivities. The actual event we celebrate, after all, is one that’s stripped of material trappings—a peasant birth in a lowly shelter that forms the origin of a narrative that would eventually upend the whole of Western thought, and which continues to influence our customs and laws to this day. Better, perhaps, to take some time out from the revelry to contemplate the archetypal significance of the Jesus story, and see what lessons from it we can apply to our own lives.
5. What exalts me? Princess of Coins. In the end, all the same, Christmas is about sharing our love and good fortune with others, and the Princess, her coin aloft in the “Holy Spirit” position, reinforces the point. Besides being a gift-bearer, the Princess of Coins is also known as the “shopaholic” of the Tarot, so while the Nine of Cups may caution against material excess, the Princess reminds us that it’s perfectly okay for us treat ourselves to nice things every now and then, too, particularly if we have fulfilled the Divine mandate to love the Creator with all our hearts, and to honor our neighbor as we’d like to be honored in kind. We’re worth it!
Whatever you celebrate or commemorate at year’s end, I wish all of my readers a peaceful holy-day time and a healthy and prosperous new year.