Sunday, September 18, 2011

Venus in Libra - Grace Under Fire

Venus just moved into Libra, one of her own signs (Taurus is the other), on September 14. In Libra, Venus is social, diplomatic and relationship-oriented (even if that relationship is with her image in the mirror). Beauty is harmony to Venus Libra, and harmony, beauty. It can manifest as a desire to bring people together, or bring aesthetic to a higher octave. 
Currently there are some stresses being exerted on Venus from two outer planets (outer planets represent collective urges/movements). Uranus in Aries opposes her and Pluto in Capricorn makes a challenging square. 
In Aries, Uranus is anything but harmonious. It's individualistic, rebellious, loud, revolutionary, impatient and explosive. (Expect to see more focus on head injuries and mental illness while Uranus transits Aries). It can be expressed as the Promethean hero who brings fire to humankind, the 'Wild One' who brings danger and excitement to town (Brando was an Aries, btw), or simply as a flash of genius - an 'aha' moment. 

Venus in Libra prefers not to have her boat rocked, unless you are a hunky captain and surprise her by asking her to christen the ship you just named 'Venus.' Right now she wishes to maintain equilibrium. Opposites do attract, however, and often find they have something in common. Oddball Venus spins on her axis in a contrary direction to the other planets and oddball Uranus is so tilted on it's axis, it's almost rolling on it's side. Hmmm. 
Pluto in Capricorn represents the ruling class, institutions and long-held belief systems we have lorded for so long, undergoing deep transformation (and not willingly so).  Venus in Libra goes by 'natural' law, but trying to feng shui the system can be frustrating, if not impossible. Uranus (the rebel) will also be squaring Pluto (the authority figure) for a long while, so Venus may change tactics and climb on the back of his chopper when she moves into Scorpio October 8, or indeed Sagittarius after that.

I was looking for a story or myth that would illustrate the current planetary drama and today I heard it on the radio, on a show about the power of music. Jack Tueller, now 91, had been a fighter pilot in WW2. In this transcript, he tells of a profound experience he had, during the war:

There were twelve of us and [we went] down on these tanks, and at a thousand feet, I'm looking through the gunsight - I could see a french mother and her three children being held up on top of the tanks as human shields, by the enemy. We reported what we'd seen and we were ordered back with the statement, "those french civilians are expendable."

I was all stressed out that night when I landed at the unfinished airstrip and when we landed, I got rid of my stresses with my trumpet and my commander says "don't play tonight, there's one German sniper left and he has a sound aimer"  - that means he aims by the sound, because he can't see at night. I was gonna play anyway, cause that's the way I got rid of my stresses.
Everyone else got drunk and I didn't drink, I got rid of my stresses with music. I wondered how can I keep him from firing, cause I didn't want to get shot, obviously. So I played his love song, 'Lili Marleen.' I picked 'Lili Marleen' because that was the love song of the German Empire. And 'Lili Marleen' - I wailed that over the apple orchards… and he didn't fire.

The next morning, a jeep came up from the beach and the military police says, "Captain, there's some German prisoners down on the beach getting ready to go to England, and one of them keeps saying, in broken English, 'who played that trumpet last night ?' "
Well I grabbed my trumpet and went down in the jeep, to the beach, two miles away…and that German sniper was 19 years old, dressed like a French peasant, to cloak his role as a sniper. And he was crying so hard, but he said, "I couldn't fire last night, because that love song that you played reminded me of my fiance in Germany, my mother and dad, and my brothers and sisters. " 
And he stuck his hand out, and I shook the hand of the enemy…and he was not an enemy, he was just a scared kid. And the power of music came over me, as it came over him. The old saying the 'music soothes the savage beast' is true.

Venus' lesson is this:  All the daunting world events going on that we cannot control but that we focus our energy on, are not really what's important. What's important are our inter-personal relationships, the exchanges and connections we experience through one another.  

Listen to the rest of  Jack's story here (in parts one and two):                                                                      

Goddess Hanna Schygulla sings the haunting love song, 'Lili Marleen,' in a powerful scene from Rainer Werner Fassbinder's film of the same name:

CORRECTION : I had previously written that the stress of Uranus and Pluto on Venus would be in effect until November - I was having a senior moment. It's only until about Sept. 23rd ! 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

11 Power and Twin Towers

Today, Americans are marking the 10th anniversary of September 11. Nobody will ever be able to forget where they were that morning, nor the striking footage - somehow shot so clearly from every angle possible - of the world's tallest skyscraper disintegrating into smoke before our very eyes. It was America's worst nightmare... and yet, it could have been worse.

At this time every year, I am compelled to zoom out and view the extensive symbolism surrounding the the Twin Towers, which stood for three decades as the financial matrix of the world. Two images stand out and contrast in my mind; one of Phillippe Petit playfully defying death, atop a tightrope, (the beginning), and one of people falling to theirs from the burning buildings (the end). Both are of mythic proportion, completely surreal and defy explanation within the scope of our ordinary reality. 


Power and the Tower

In a previous post I mentioned how Tarot expresses 'universal laws.' It's as if all the scripts were written (by us) long ago and we just keep re-enacting and revising them...and that is really what myths are - a record of dreamtime stories from the collective unconscious, unlike history, which is a record of stories as events, as they occur in the outer world. 
Sometimes the fabric between the two realms is lifted or torn and the effect is momentous, impossible to explain. It usually happens when the rational mind (masculine) has become too dominant, threatening the balance of life by depleting us of mystery, magic and awe (feminine). A grand act of surrealism, for better or worse, throws our rational minds into chaos, challenging our set notion of which realm, exactly, we are in. It's a form of death, when everything familiar suddenly isn't. And at this opening between the veils (in Greek, the word apocalypse means 'lifting of the veil'), there is a moment of truth or grace, when time just stops and feels infinite at once. This is the expression of the 'mute' number, 11.  In the Marseille trump 11,  La Force, the Goddess' hat is shaped like a lemniscate or number 8, signifying her infinite dominion over balance, truth, paradox, law and order in the natural world.  

11 is the master number of illumination and inspiration. If it shows up, that's usually a sign. World players know of the number's power and have tried to invoke it - Armistice was signed on 11/11 at the 11th hour and Prince William and Kate Middleton were married on the 29th (reduces to 11) day of the month at the 11th hour in 2011.  The towers themselves formed a colossal 11, as if standing in constant invocation to the heavens. And they were twins. In  both alchemy and cross-cultural myth, twins embody the duality (and paradox) that each of us must work with, overcome and unify, a theme that reappears over and over in the major arcana of Tarot. Another duality we create and reckon with is between ourselves and what we imagine as God. Any act of balance or karma takes the form of Judgement in our minds, as if we are being rewarded or punished by events we have no control over. 
A tower is, of course, an overtly masculine symbol. It's  La Maison Dieu, 'God's House.' Putting aside Babel for a moment, in Tarot duality terms, that means the opposing and uniting force that knocks down the ego, blows it's mind or brings it to climax is feminine - 'La Force' of trump 11.

                                   Hindu supreme Mother Goddess, Durga,  whose name means 'Fortress'

Enter the Solar Hero

Not surprisingly, the young man who heard the Towers calling him  to give them life is a double fire sign, Leo (the Lion) with Aries Moon.  He is an agile performer, the fearless star of his own show - an artist who creates from the heart and performs dramatically daring feats. Aries is also the Fool, the 'wise child' and the hero who lives for the next mission. Sun conjunct Pluto indicates a person who was born with a very strong feeling of destiny, of having something to show to the world that will transform consciousness. His Jupiter, Lord of the Sky is in Capricorn (mastery, the corporate world). Not everyone with this combination would use their faith and skill to literally ascend to the summit of the world's tallest banking institution, yet, for him, it was the only way. Fire is known for it's ego size and you'd have to have one as tall as the Towers themselves to want to perform a feat like this, or indeed to have built such monoliths in the first place. The difference is that Phillippe, wise Fool, always maintained his connection with the universe and was keenly aware of his place in it:

"At some point in one of the crossings, I lay down on the wire and looked at the sky, and I saw a bird above me. And again, because... my senses were [decoupled]. I could see that bird pretty high up, and I saw the eyes were red. And I thought of the myth of Prometheus there. But the bird was circling and looking at me as if I was invading his territory, as if I was trespassing, which I was. So at some point I thought the gods - the god of the wind, the gods of the towers, the god of the wire - all those invisible forces that we persist in thinking don't exist, but actually rule our lives - might become impatient, might become annoyed at my persistent vagabondage there. So my intuition told me it was time for me to close the curtain on this very intimate performance..."


If you've not seen it, here is the segment with Phillippe Petit's tightrope walk between the Twin Towers in 1974  from 'New York - Center of the World,' in two parts:

Zero Ground 

The archetype of the Fool in Tarot is one who has left the realm of perceived reality, of wealth, possessions, pain and attachments. It sounds a bit like dying, but it's actually freedom from death. Transcendent, he wafts between forms like a breeze and has no fear of reaching the end. He knows there isn't one, so is free to live life "1000%."  Most of us find it hard to get past the more finite idea of Death. It's terrifying, like the Grim Reaper in trump 13 and to be avoided at all costs. The two figures strike a very similar pose (this feature is unique to Tarot de Marseille), plus, one is unnumbered, while the other is unnamed - perhaps a hint that they are really one and the same ?


To me, they seem to illustrate the dual experiences of facing imminent death, as depicted in the two photographs at the opening of the post.  

                                      We are eternal.   Peace.

                                             Ma'at, Goddess of Truth, Balance, Justice

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What is Tarot ? Part One

The short answer : Tarot is a visual medium that illustrates universal laws, using archetypal images infused with alchemical symbolism. 

Most of us think of Tarot as a method for necromancy. But people have employed all kinds of mediums for predicting the future - sheep's guts, twigs, playing cards among them - for thousands of years. There were Tarocchi and other playing card decks before Tarot and certainly plenty of gypsy fortune tellers using them (though they were more into palmistry, back in those days). The first Trionfe (trumps) decks were commissioned in the mid 15th c by the wealthy Milanese Visconti and Sforza  families, who were no doubt dabbling in pagan mysteries. These elaborately painted miniatures became a prototype for Tarot as we know it. 'Designer knock-offs'  were  printed for the masses, with dozens of  variations - mostly  from Italy. But in Marseille, France, during the 16th-17th c, a new genre of deck came about that was well-honed, with a very deliberate design that seemed to finally encapsulated the spirit of the medium  (more on that later). 

Prior to and during the Renaissance, Europe was opening up to ancient knowledge from the east, via Moorish Spain, the Jews and knights that had returned from the crusades. Arab numerals were introduced into educated circles, as well as the Hindu concept of 0 (though it would still be a while before they were in popular use). The Roman numeric system which had been in place for so long, had no means with which to express the concept of emptiness. 
Alchemy was a major part of that ancient, eastern knowledge, which came from Egypt (Al Khemia = "the black land," hence "the black art"). The early alchemists of Europe, however, would require a long process of experimentation before they came to a deeper level of understanding, that the idea of turning base metals into gold was actually about the evolution of the soul. Along the way, they made some marvellous chemical discoveries, but it was through their creative art (and possibly some psychedelic chemical derivatives) that they began to explore what we call the unconscious. As the 'Age of Reason' approached, alchemists became a fringe group, dropping out and turning on to mysticism -  or worse,  facing persecution - while science took the other road, concentrating only on physical properties of the material world. The church, in turn, handled everything relating to the soul, especially after it left the material world. Astronomy and astrology also became separated; the former for the scientifically enlightened, the latter for the reality-impared. 

"Until you make the unconscious conscious it will direct your life and 
you will call it fate."    -  Carl Jung

It wasn't until Carl Jung came along that the unconscious was again explored in alchemical, symbolic terms, within the nouveau context of psychoanalysis. His theories on the process of individuation and unification of the opposites within were nothing new to the ancients (and could be explored through Tarot, if anyone knew where to look), but were still uncharted territory in western psychology. We have much to thank him for - in one lifetime, he single-handedly completed centuries of neglected work, bringing it up to the present. 
The next wave came in the 1960s - people navigated their own unconscious with psychedelic drugs, tuning out and turning on, just like the alchemists had - albeit more for recreational purposes. They also began looking once again to eastern mysticism. Music was the collective alchemy vessel for the sixties generation.


During this time, a modern rendition of Tarot from England, the Rider-Waite deck (publ. 1909) gained huge popularity in the US. Waite had radically altered the Marseille - mixing in biblical, English romantic and orientalist imagery and even rearranging the order to 'correct' it, adding 0 to the Fool - it was barely recognizable (though very refined and tastefully rendered by Pamela Coleman Smith). Modern in appearance (fin-de-ciecle new age) compared to the many other Tarot/fortune telling decks then circulating in Europe, it also provided illustrated scenarios for all the previously benign number cardsFor years, Rider-Waite was the only readily available deck in North America, so people naturally assumed it was the "original" Tarot. (At age ten, it was the first deck I ever picked up).  I guess it was necessary for the cards to take this incarnation, so as to appeal to a whole new audience. 

                              Visconti-Sforza card #6,  Marseille 'The Lover' and Waite's 'The Lovers'  

So - why, after the artistic 'advances' of the Renaissance, did Tarot de Marseille retain a crude, medieval, folk style (and Roman numerals) ? Maybe as a way of disguising it's true identity - that of a vehicle for personal gnosis - during a time of religious oppression ? Or perhaps it was simply easiest for mass-production. Another reason may be that art had a very different purpose before the onslaught of Renaissance humanism, which knowledgeable occultists were likely aware of. Mireille Mentre explains the role and function of Spanish medieval manuscripts:

"This single governing principle is the essentially functional nature of artistic production. As the outlook of the period dictated, such works were seen as a means of explicating their context - as a communication and clarification of it's structure. ...
...This kind of art therefore exists essentially as a function of something other than itself, and has value only in so far as it corresponds to the realities which it expresses and the physical medium of which it forms a part. This is true of most Christian painting in the High Middle Ages. In reality, of course, these principals are sometimes less obvious, but the constraint of functionalism is the primary and most fundamental justification and purpose of this painting."

(That's pretty much always been my philosophy as an illustrator, too).

Next... some of the alchemical imagery and universal laws expressed in Tarot de Marseille !

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

2012 - Time of the Hanged Man ?

The End of Time ? 

Well, it's definitely the end of a cycle of time, as expressed by the number 12. Numbers are part of our collective consciousness, so we are affected by their frequencies. But - you may be saying - not everyone in the world goes by the Gregorian calendar; in the Hebrew calendar it's 5772, in Chinese, 4647. For Berbers, it's 2961 and Buddhists 2555. Yes, but the western calendar is the internationally adopted, civil calendar, so, like Rock 'n' Roll, it's going to influence everyone to some degree, even if they don't speak western. 
Gregorian or otherwise, thanks to the imposed grid of artificial time, we've all been running around like hamsters on a wheel and are now at a crucial point where we must either return to natural rhythms or be doomed to make Earth less and less liveable.  

In the 6th century it was devised by a Christian monk that 'the incarnation of Christ' marked the end of the old world and the new beginning of time. Don't ask me how he figured it out - his calculations were said to have been off, anyway. Suffice it to say, our western calendar is based on Jesus, the last solar hero and "last scapegoat," according to French philosopher, Rene Girard, who was born on Christmas day:

Social order is restored as people are contented that they have solved the cause of their problems by removing the scapegoated individual, and the cycle begins again. The keyword here is "content", scapegoating serves as a psychological relief for a group of people. Girard contends that this is what happened in the case of Jesus. The difference in this case, Girard believes, is that he was resurrected from the dead and shown to be innocent; humanity is thus made aware of its violent tendencies and the cycle is broken. Satan, who is seen to be manifested in the contagion, is cast out.*

Following ancient tradition, Christ was sacrificed and made sacred by hanging from a tree (albeit a dead one). From it, he is rumoured to have cried out, "They have pierced my hands and feet...I can count all my bones...they have divided my garments." Could this be a metaphor for what we cruelly did to natural time, pinning it down, counting it and dividing it up into sections ?

He is murdering the Time ! Off with his Head !

In an older version of the Marseille Hanged Man/Le Pendu (see top image), the Roman numeral XII is written backwards, so that you are compelled to turn the card 'right side up' again to read it properly. I find people will do that with this card, anyway, regardless of the number. It's just not normal to be upside down. But that is how they used to hang scapegoats. It's also how we are born, head first, hanging from a cord that connects us to a placenta tree. 

Note how the Hanged Man's legs form a cross and his arms are circular. Hidden in his body shape is the glyph for Saturn. The cross of matter over the semi-circle of soul. It's the opposite of Jupiter's glyph, a semi-circle above the cross of matter. Saturn, aka 'Father Time' has an amputated leg and carries a scythe (also the shape of  his glyph). He rules Capricorn, the sign of the scapegoat, and represents difficulty, hard lessons, karma, but was also the God of the Golden Age, when man lived in harmony with nature and everything was hunky dory. (He only became miserable when Jehovah took over). So the Hanged Man is both a pendulum and doing penance. When it is time for his reaping, he will resume right side up-ness and live again. Lead into gold.

Presently, the Earth's magnetic poles are shifting. Let's just say the molten core of the planet is behaving a bit like like a lava lamp. It does this from time to time, although, last time, we were still covered in scales and walking on all fours. Magnetically speaking, North may end up being South and vice versa, but it is unlikely the planet itself will flip. 
Environmental scientist, Dr. David Suzuki explains:

'The Nature of Things' CBC

The more I meditate on card #12, the more I think perhaps we have been living upside down all this time, and, as we sense the planet's inner movement, we feel a collective shifting in our consciousness that will  eventually put us right side up again... if we don't cling on.

*From Wikipedia