The Goddess Major Arcana: Chang O/Contemplation

The Hermit card encourages us to go within, to be guided by our own innermost light, to withdraw and connect with ourselves so that we can return to the world and operate from a place of empowerment. For The Goddess Tarot, Kris Waldherr eschewed the robed Hermit of the classical Tarot and instead chose the Chinese Moon Goddess    Chang-O (Or Chang-E) to embody the Hermit and his call to contemplation. Fittingly, Waldherr also retitled the card Contemplation.

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Chang O/Contemplation as The Hermit in The Goddess Tarot by Kris Waldherr. Permission to use the photo of the card generously granted by the artist.

Chang-O was exiled to the Moon, as a result of her efforts to obtain divinity. On the Moon, her only companion is a white hare — the Rabbit in the Moon familiar to many of those well-versed in Chinese mythology. With only the hare to keep her company, Chang-O was drawn to seek Truth within herself, to contemplate Life’s mysteries, and to spend time in silence and contemplation.

When she appears in a reading, Chang-O calls upon us to mindfully and purposefully withdraw from the world around us. This is not a retreat born of fear or unwillingness to face issues, but instead a mindful withdrawal so that we can shut off the background noise and find what is True. I take Chang-O as an invitation to go deeper into spiritual practice, particularly contemplative practices such a meditation, prayer, labyrinth walking, journalling, or other solitary, mindful practices. She can also be a message that the “world is too much with” the querent — there may be many people giving their opinions, a lot of information coming in, and a lot of competing demands. Chang-O encourages us to listen to the small, still inner voice that we all have — our intuition, our gut, our connection to the Divine.

In our modern world, it can be difficult or impossible to go on physical retreat or withdraw from the world and its everyday demands. Chang-O reminds us that even if we cannot physically withdraw, we can set aside time to be still and quiet with ourselves. She invites us to cultivate that quiet and contemplative time, even if it’s just a few minutes each day sitting in silence with a candle or a short walk with meditative music in our headphones at lunch.

Perhaps the most important message of Chang-O/Contemplation is that this withdrawal must not be permanent, even though Chang-O’s own exile was lifelong. Rather, she encourages us to withdraw so that we can, in time, re-enter the the world feeling more calm, more centered, more sure, and more empowered.

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A Journey Through the Major Arcana: The Hermit

The greatest journey, so it has been said, is the one within. Up to this point in our journey through the Major Arcana, the focus has been on forward movement and claiming all the various facets of our Power. It’s been an active, sometimes fast-moving journey. But here comes the Hermit to change all that.

We have just dared to pry open the jaws of the subconscious with the Strength card. This represents a turning point in the Fool’s Journey. Now it is time for us to explore the realms that were revealed with the opening of the lion’s jaws.

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The Hermit from the Rider-Waite Tarot

Who Is The Hermit?

The Hermit, Card IX, calls on us to turn from the outward journey to the inner journey, to follow our own light through the darkness. Cloaked in grey (and looking not unlike Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings, to my eye anyway), The Hermit represents the willingness to seek knowledge in even dark places, to wander alone in search of great Truth.

Associated with the sign of Virgo, The Hermit invites us to disengage from the outside world for a time to reflect, explore, and regroup. While The Hermit signals the need for retreat, this is not retreat in the sense of admitting defeat, but rather retreat in the sense of taking time apart in order to realign and reconnect — more like a religious retreat than a military one, so to speak. With his lantern and staff, The Hermit is able to support his own footing and light his own path.

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A collection of some of my favorite Hermits. From left, they are the Fenestra Tarot, The Wild Unknown, The Goddess Tarot, and The Rider-Waite Tarot.

Like the religious hermits of old, this Hermit has chosen solitude in order to seek Truth. By removing himself from the distractions of day to day life, he frees up his time and energy to explore the unseen inner world that will bring him the wisdom that is one of the goals of the Fool’s Journey.

When The Hermit makes his way into your reading, he is inviting you to take time out and focus on yourself. The world may be too much with you — you have lost your perspective on a situation, or are looking for answers outside yourself that can only be found within. The Hermit may be an indication that it is time to focus on spiritual matters, especially meditation, prayer, and solitary contemplative practices. He also carries the message that it is time to care for yourself, to be willing to say No to things that do not serve you so that you can say Yes to that which feeds your soul. At other times, The Hermit indicates a need take a more detached view of a situation — it is time to pull back and observe, to withdraw your energy from others so that you can have enough to nurture your own growth. The Hermit’s lantern will illuminate the dark corners where Truth and Wisdom lie, if we are willing to venture into the dark with him.

The light of The Hermit’s lantern is re-envisioned at the light of the Full Moon in the version of The Hermit in The Goddess Tarot by Kris Waldherr. In this deck, the Chinese Moon Goddess Chang O (or Chang E) invites us to contemplation. Come back tomorrow to spend time with the Rabbit in the Moon.

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Chang O/Contemplation as The Hermit in The Goddess Tarot by Kris Waldherr. Permission to use the photo of the card graciously granted by the artist.

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The Goddess Major Arcana: Oya/Strength

So, the first thing you’ll notice when you look at the re-interpretation of the Strength card in The Goddess Tarot by Kris Waldherr is that it is actually card XI rather than card VIII, as Strength is in the Rider-Waite Tarot. This is a controversy — or at least a discussion — in Tarot circles, with reasonable arguments on both sides. (You can read more about it through the links in the Strength entry.) In order to keep things consistent, I’ve chosen to keep Strength in the card VIII position for this blog series.

The move to card XI isn’t the only way in which Strength in The Goddess Tarot differs from the classic Rider-Waite. For many, the lion is the archetypical image of the Strength card. But on this Strength, there’s not a lion to be seen. Instead, Strength is represented by the Yoruba Goddess Oya (who is also honored in Santeria, Ifa, and other Afro-Caribbean traditions). Rather than opening the lion’s jaws, Oya instead is taming and commanding the mighty winds in this rendition of Strength.

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Oya/Strength from The Goddess Tarot by Kris Waldherr. Permission to use the photo of the card graciously granted by the artist.

Oya calls upon us to command powerful forces both within ourselves and in the world at large. She reminds us that we have the power to tame that which seems wild and out of control, through the force of our own Will. We have the ability to commune with the unseen and unseeable. As the Goddess of Storms, Oya commands the might of the thunderstorm, the hurricane, the torrential downpour, the mighty winds. While these are destructive forces, they are ultimately amoral — they destroy not because they wish harm, but because it is in their nature to destroy, to move things out of the way, to make way for new life and new creation. We can fear these forces or we can recognize that we are part of their cycle. Oya reminds us that we have this choice, and that we have endless reserves of power at our disposal if only we remember to use it.

Oya also reminds us that we have the Strength to face our trials, our obstacles, and triumph over them. When She appears in a reading, I take it as a call for the querent to remember their own inherent Strength and to draw on their own inner reserves. Oya assures us that we will be able to speak with authority when the time comes, that we will be able to command our energy and resources to achieve our goals. She also reminds us that even when we feel weak or at the mercy of the world around us, we are strong enough to withstand even the most forceful wind.

When Oya comes striding confidently into your reading, She reminds you that you have the Strength not only to withstand the winds, but to unleash the whirlwind if you so choose. She reminds you to be brave, even when your voice shakes. Speak your truth. Stand in your power. Command the wind and the lightning.

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A Journey Through the Major Arcana: Strength

We have a Tarot controversy! In the Rider-Waite Tarot, the 9th card in the Major Arcana is Strength. However, if you look back in Tarot history, and look at different decks — including my beloved Goddess Tarot and the well-respected Thoth Tarot — you’ll see that the 9th spot (card VIII) is instead Justice. (In the Rider-Waite, Justice is card XI, whereas in other decks Strength is card XI). How can this be, and which way is “right”?

There’s a good deal of writing on why Waite changed the order of the Arcana from the classic arrangement (Justice at VIII and Strength at XI). I’ve read a great deal on this, and I’ve worked with decks that use both numbering systems — I’ve never found it at all problematic to move back and forth between the systems. For the purposes of this blog series, I will be treating Strength as card VIII and Justice as card XI, even though these are reversed in the Goddess Tarot (which is the subject of the Goddess Arcana portion of this series).

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Strength from the Rider-Waite Tarot

Who is Strength?

Strength is a iconic card, one that even people who don’t read Tarot (or have their Tarot read) recognize. The woman attempts to pry open the lion’s jaws, yet there is an air of gentle determination rather than a struggle of wills here. The Strength embodied here is not physical, or at any rate not just physical. There is a strength of character, of will, of spirit in the woman on the card that allows her to tame the lion not by overpowering him, but by holding power with him.

The woman on this card wears the white robes of innocence, evoking the image of The Fool, and she is crowned with the infinity symbol of The Magician. She is adorned with greenery, reminiscent of The Empress. As she cradles the lion’s head and works to open his jaws, this woman represents the ways in which humans grapple with our animistic nature as we move through The Fool’s Journey. The lion represents our instinctual, animal nature, while the woman represents the spiritual and intellectual self. The lion is also sometimes seen as the forces of the unconscious, and the woman is using spiritual knowledge and the growth of The Fool’s Journey to open the unconscious to learn more about the mysteries that are so often locked away from us.

When Strength appears in a reading, She is reminding us that we have the strength, determination, and Will to accomplish our desires. Ruled by fiery Leo, Strength assures us that we know where we are headed (echoes of The Chariot!) and we have the stamina and persistence to get there. And  yet Strength also reminds us that we can take a compassionate approach — we can give others the space they need, and we need not overpower others to accomplish what we want. Instead, we can gently tame our challenges and find ways to surmount any obstacles. Strength’s other message is that of self-mastery: as we explore our subconscious and tame our animal nature, we know ourselves better and have deeper confidence in our strengths, talents, and abilities. We learn to balance all the aspects of ourselves — animal and human, instinct and intellect, logical and emotional — and thus walk the world as whole beings.

I also read Strength as an exhortation to step into one’s own power, to recognize one’s inherent strength. Which is one reason why I love what Kris Waldherr did with this card for The Goddess Tarot….

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Oya/Strength from The Goddess Tarot by Kris Waldherr. Permission to use the photo of the card graciously granted by the artist.

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The Goddess Major Arcana: Rhiannon/Movement

All your life you’ve never seen a woman taken by the wind
Would you stay if she promised to you heaven?
Will you ever win?

~ Stevie Nicks, “Rhiannon”

Rhiannon, the Welsh Great Queen, has been a major force in my life since I was 21 years old, when I heard and felt Her invoked in a powerful Imbolc ritual. As I have gotten to know Her over the last two decades, I have learned a great deal about myself, my Sagittarian need for personal sovereignty, and my strong instinct for both self-preservation and self-determination. I’m always excited when I see renditions of Her and Her ethereal white mare anywhere, and Kris Waldherr’s rendition of her for The Goddess Tarot is one of my favorites.

In this deck, Rhiannon represents The Chariot, and is reconceptualized as Movement. How incredibly appropriate, given that Rhiannon’s white mare carries Her swiftly between the worlds. She moves quickly and directly towards her goals, unimpeded by anything or anyone that would stand in Her way. Moving at the speed of light, Rhiannon/Movement encourages us to set our sights on the horizon and move fearlessly.

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The Chariot as Rhiannon/Movement, from The Goddess Tarot by Kris Waldherr. Permission to use the photo of the card generously granted by the artist.

Though the image is quite different from the way The Chariot is pictured in the Rider-Waite Tarot (and most other decks I’ve seen), Rhiannon/Movement still carries the essential energy of The Chariot.

In one of the most well-known tales about Her, Rhiannon is spotted by a mortal man as she rides through the forest on Her white mare. He is immediately captivated by Her beauty, and gives chase on his own steed. Yet the more he chases Rhiannon, the faster She goes. And the faster She goes, the more he spurs his own mount on. This chase goes on, in some accounts, for three days and three nights. Ultimately the man pulls his lathering, exhausted stallion up short and calls out, “Lady! Stop!” And Rhiannon does just that. Incredulous, he asks, “Why did you not stop?” And Rhiannon replies, “Sir, why did you not ask me?” This determination to follow her own path, and to not be waylaid, is the essence of this card. While Rhiannon does eventually stop when asked, She only does so as a result of a direct request — She does not give up her agency without a direct ask.

When Rhiannon/Movement rides into your reading, She is asking you to also channel this swiftness, this movement, this willingness to head directly towards that which is calling you. Movement can especially indicate career growth and travel, but I often interpret it as forward, positive movement towards goals of any kind. Sometimes I see it as an invitation to follow a calling, even if there are forces in the querent’s world that might try to dissuade them.

Rhiannon/Movement also reminds us that we know our path, if only we will get out of our own way. We can trust our ability to move toward the horizon, even if the journey seems daunting. She tells us that the wind is at our back, and that the Universe is supporting us as we chase our dreams and our destiny.

 

 

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A Journey Through the Major Arcana: The Chariot

The next step on The Fool’s Journey bring us to The Chariot — moving us from the work we’ve done connecting with personal power, authority, and institutional power, and from connecting head and heart, to the potential to work our Will. Associated with the sign of Cancer, The Chariot represents forward movement towards our goals, as long as we take the reins and use our Will and Power to direct The Chariot forward. In the classic Rider-Waite Tarot, The Chariot is drawn by two regal Sphinxes and looks like this:

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The Chariot from The Rider-Waite Tarot

The Charioteer appears ready to move forward, to command the Sphinxes — those mysterious holders of secrets — to rise and and draw the vehicle into the future. I always see this card as representing the pause before the rush forward — the brief moment to decide where we want our Will to take us.

Who is The Chariot?

Though it is associated with the astrological sign of Cancer, which we often think of as an emotional, watery, and sometimes passive energy, The Chariot is about pure Will and pure potential. The Chariot is full of determination — He has chosen a direction, has a destination in sight, and is ready to move towards it will all His energy and Will. He holds The Magician’s wand rather than a conventional set of reins. The Chariot is drawn by two Sphinxes — black and white, representing the positive-negative polarity.

Some people see The Chariot as about the pursuit of spiritual matters, including exploration of the occult or magickal realm. The laurel leaves represent high spiritual attainment. I tend to see this more as a reflection of the fact that The Chariot represents an individual who has become very clear on what their Will is, on what their values are, and on what they truly desire in life.

When The Chariot shows up in a reading, He indicates that things are about to move forward. They may move forward with a quickness, or they may take some time to ramp up — all that depends on the surrounding cards — but they will be moving. The Chariot is also a message to be sure that the querent is putting their energy towards a direction they really want — because The Chariot goes where the energy is directed by The Charioteer’s wand! The Chariot can especially indicate forward, positive movement in the realm of career, the culmination of long-term plans, and advancement toward long-term goals. There may be obstacles, but the querent has the Will, the resources, and the savvy to overcome or surmount them. The Chariot can also be a message to focus on the task at hand and go full-tilt at the goal rather than being distracted by trivial matters or outside influences.

When she designed The Chariot card for The Goddess Tarot, Kris Waldherr took the theme of “The Chariot as Movement” and (forgiving the pun) ran with it. Rechristened “Movement,” this rendition of The Chariot embodies the swift energy of this card. Come back tomorrow to explore Rhiannon and the ways She spurs us forward!

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The Chariot as Rhiannon/Movement, from The Goddess Tarot by Kris Waldherr. Permission to use the photo of the card graciously granted by the artist.

 

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The Goddess Major Arcana: Venus/Love

The Lovers is one of those cards. People get so very excited when The Lovers comes into a reading, because it seems so full of romantic, sexual, and sensual promise. I sometimes think that this ends up making it a very misunderstood card, because it holds a message so much bigger than just romantic love and partnership (though it can certainly indicate that). The Lovers is more than just “the love card” — it’s an invitation to consider the nature of Love, in all its forms, and the ways in which Love works in our lives.

In The Goddess Tarot, The Lovers has been slightly re-envisioned. Instead of being represented by a couple, by a pair of lovers, this card is represented by Venus, Roman Goddess of Love — so Love in its purest form. While Venus is often associated with only romantic and sexual love, in reality She brings the message that we are surrounded by Love at all times, and that Love is a force in the Universe.

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Venus/Love from The Goddess Tarot by Kris Waldherr. Permission to use the photo of the card generously granted by the artist.

Venus (and her Greek cognate, Aphrodite) has in many ways been dumbed down in the narratives many of us get in our mythology classes and through popular culture. She has been stripped of Her power and sometimes is portrayed as vapid, jealous, unpredictable — I think of this image of her as being Olympian Barbie. And that’s a shame, because Venus is the embodiment of one of the most powerful forces in the Universe — that power of Love. She also presides over the pleasures of the sensual world — sex and sexuality, certainly, but also all the things that stimulate our senses and which provide pleasure. She encourages us to find the beautiful, the soft, the sensual, the pleasing, and surround ourselves with the things that make us feel loved and honored. She also encourages us to find a way to take pleasure in even the most everyday of activities — eating a ripe peach, smelling a blooming rose, caring for our own bodies.

When Venus shows up in a reading, She encourages us to be aware of all the ways Love surrounds us. She invites us to focus on the ways in which we give, receive, and resist Love, and the ways in which we can be more open to the role that Love plays in our lives. She can absolutely indicate that romantic and sexual Love is on the horizon for us (especially if She appears alongside the Two of Cups and Juno/Tradition), but even then I feel like Her message is more nuanced. Venus asks us to consider what we want in our Love relationships — what we are and are not willing to accept, what we are and are not wiling to give, where we are and are not willing to compromise. I also see this card as an invitation to examine the messages we’ve received about Love, about relationships, and about our own self-worth. Venus also gives us a gentle (or not so) gentle nudge to spend time caring for ourselves. Self-care is something of a cliche, but Venus reminds us that we must spend time caring for ourselves, showing ourselves Love and kindness.

Venus can also show Her face in a reading when the querent is entering a period where they are about to become aware of the abundant Love in their world. Venus reminds us that we are never alone, and that when we are feeling a lack of Love we have to look beyond romantic partnerships to all the other ways Love shows up in our lives and worlds.

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