… Well, fresh from a subterranean meditation looking at planet rejuvenation and rock creation (hey, I should write hip-hop lyrics!), I headed off for the Big Smoke today, to deal with some of the bits of paper that are currently infesting my life. With my sun in Virgo, some would regard the Hermit as my totemic card, but not I. I tend to spend a few months here and a few months there, shuttling around between the Majors, the Courts and even several Minors as I grow (or deteriorate) and my life and work changes; but given the bits of paper that have been thrown at me over the last few days that are going to complicate my life for the next weeks or months, I can only be more and more tempted by the whole idea of living on a mountaintop or in a cave, with or without a lantern. All I’m going to really need is a heap of bloody hides for warmth and a freshwater source somewhere that is more reliable than rain.
When I got to the Big Smoke, the principal reason for my being there today at eleven sharp was conspicuous by her absence, and hadn’t made a courtesy call to me, even at the boss’ expense, so I was a little annoyed at losing hours out of my life at a time when I can ill-afford them.
I went to Gloria Jeans, where the very lovely Lainey soothed me with a large Soychino.
Inevitably, as a part of the soothing process, I went grubbing around in my handbag. Granny Jones emerged, of course, and I shuffled meditatively, bringing my heart-rate down and allowing my inner glow to start glowing again. But it transpired that it wasn’t a Granny Jones kind of day.
Instead I pulled out my other favourite out-of-print deck, the Servants of the Light Tarot, designed by Dolores Askcroft-Nowicki for a magical teaching-order also called the Servants of the Light, with whom a friend of mine was studying twenty-five years ago.
I shuffled, the cards feeling cold in my hands. They had something to say. I promptly dropped a whole section of the deck and picked it up and shuffled it back in again, noticing only Death on top of that pile. I put the whole section back into the middle of the deck again, and shuffled very well indeed. Laying out a mini-spread for the message-of-the-moment, guess which card came out in the central and most important position. Yes.
I have a great deal of love for this particular version of Death. It is redolent with allusions all over the place. First and foremost, of course, is Schubert’s Death and the Maiden, the skeletal figure of Death riding with a young girl who is obviously still very much alive, albeit very pale. I love the stray tendril of hair that falls over her right shoulder and, unregarded, spirals around her right nipple.
The second allusion that always hits me is Australian novelist David Ireland and the title of one of his better books, The Glass Canoe, a rollicking and often terrifying romp through the underbelly of Australian life, where in common with many underbellies, Death stalks the characters and the protagonist silently and slowly, but inexorably. The canoe-shaped craft that Death and the Maiden sit in is in fact a glass canoe, the green glass of a wine-bottle. (I’m just grateful, as a disliker of beer, that it wasn’t the brown glass of a beer-bottle).
The third allusion that struck me today (they are occurring in their usual order!) was a reference in the illustration of this card to Einstein’s famous and usually-misquoted comment about God and dice-playing. With his right hand Death is tossing three dice casually – I can even see numbers on two of them. His left hand casually holds his scythe, its blade forming the black keel of his unusual glass craft, propelled by a clear, nearly invisible clear-glass sail billowing impossibly in front of Death who sits in front of the Maiden, but behind the Maiden who sits behind and slightly to one side of Death. This optical illusion of an invisible sail in an impossible position is masterly, and never fails to make me gasp with admiration every time I see it.
The whole craft sits on a Full Moon obscuring most of that Moon. Behind the Moon and Death sailing into oblivion, are what appear to be solid mountains, blue and capped with grey-white snow. Yes? No, look again. The blue sides of these mountains are actually a starry night sky. The mountains are solid rock. The different circular layers of red in the “sky” behind it (scarlet, vermillion, crimson) are actually layers of lava, magma and superheated core in the centre of the earth. And into these molten or semi-molten layers of the earth was where last night’s meditation group went, exploring the divine gift of a living earth, in mineral and land creation.
The whole reading, everything I needed, was encapsulated in that one card. It said it all. I am in the habit of forming an even-armed cross (not a Celtic Cross) for message-of-the-moment readings, though, so I laid out the next four cards in the seconds after the instantaneous revelation of Death as expressed in this card.
The highest I can currently aspire to: the Keeper of Staves. Intelligence, thought, ideas and the power of the mind are being held in reserve: I am entrusted to look after them. Given a brain injury a year or so ago, I am indeed focussing on looking after my mind: exercising it, and feeding it properly with carefully chosen supplements, and spending time reviewing the bodies of knowledge I value most, as a lifestyle thing. This is the function of a Keeper: to maintain and hold in reserve.
The Hanged Man came out as subconscious forces at work. Like Death, it has one of those illusory backgrounds, where solid earth and rock are supported by “empty” sky. The blonde seventies afro with lightning zapping out of it seems a bit much, until you realise that, unlike a halo, this indicates the power of the intellect. One of the stars in the sky is moving, and concealed in one of the trees is a small brown bird, watching everything. My subconscious mind is well aware of the value of being held back from overt activity at this stage of my life.
What I am moving away from at the moment is the Seven Staves. In this deck, the Seven Staves is not very Rider-Waite in meaning – it’s clean and simple and uncluttered and very, very peaceful. Am I moving away from peace? I don’t think so. In fact I think I do know what I am moving away from as shown in this card, but I have no intention of making it public.
And lastly, what I am moving towards is the Star. A young woman with actual human proportions (instead of extended legs that look positively deformed that seem to be favoured in Tarot art at the moment) is standing on a garden with a glass ball at her feet, her body from the ankles up encased in a heart-shape which is water to her waist and a rainbow with stars and eyes above that. I know what that is, too, in the contest of what I am personally moving towards, and don’t intend to publish it either.
Needles to say, that Death card really dealt with everything important at the moment when I pulled it – the subsequent cards were merely icing on the cake, frills and lace around the central issue.