We live in a world that tends to define things in binary opposition—good and evil, right and wrong, young and old, male and female, etc. On one hand, you could argue that duality simplifies our life by putting everything into neat categories. On the other hand, separating ideas, people and values by their opposite also sets up an antagonistic stance. If you aren't in my group, you must be against it or at least different in some significant way.
When we are studying something for the first time, we usually learn it in parts. Astrology starts with the signs, elements, and modalities. Tarot sorts the cards into the majors and minors and then by suits, court cards, and numbers. Kabbalah describes the Sefirot and the paths. As we learn the associated meanings, key words and relationships for the symbols, value judgments subtly influence how we comprehend their worth. For example, Sun signs are labeled as being either masculine or feminine. This refers to a set of qualities associated with the sign, not to gender, but the archetypes and myths associated with the sign reinforce the sense of gender. Although it can be a good learning tool, when it comes to integrating and synthesizing the symbols used in astrology, tarot, or any metaphysical study, gender assignments get in the way of expressing who you are, especially since our culture places value judgments on gender. It can feel a little off putting to hear your Sun sign is female when you are a male and vise versa. You're not really sure what to do with that info. Are you more or less of a female depending on if your Sun sign is classified as male or female?
To get you thinking about your own perceptions of female and male qualities, I've selected excerpts from a variety of our Llewellyn authors, followed with exercises and questions for you to explore.
The Forest of Souls: A Walk through the Tarot by Rachel Pollack, page159-161
Pollack shares her exceptional wisdom of the tarot in The Forest of Souls. In a style reminiscent of Joseph Campbell, Pollack conveys the spiritual and archetypal knowledge reflected in the tarot images themselves through a variety of decks. She discusses the element of water and the suit of cups as it relates to the feminine in chapter ten, "Becoming a Reader." "It is no coincidence that those who wrote about the superiority of mind were almost all men, and that they considered sensuality and intuition female, and rationality male. The dislike of the body and the physical world comes from a cultural history (going back at least to ancient Greece) that wished to deny the sacred possibilities of women, and exalt the qualities of men. … Much of the prejudice against the Water qualities of instinct, intuition and emotion turned almost completely around in the 1960s and 70s. Suddenly, people considered the mind the enemy of true existence. … Why should we consider one element superior to another, one clean and another dirty, or one trustworthy and another false? … When we do a tarot reading we mix all the cards together, because this is what we find in life, a complex stew of qualities, each with its own flavor and nourishment, and each with its own excesses and dangers."
For further study: The Shining Tribe Tarot, also by Rachel Pollack, is a perfect deck to facilitate the process of moving beyond preconceived ideals of male and female. This deck's images come from the prehistoric rock carvings and paintings of Africa, Australia and America, along with the cave art of France, Spain, and Siberia. The four suits are Rivers, Birds, Trees, and Stones and the court cards are comprised of Gifts, Places, Speakers, and Knowers.
In a notebook or journal, assign at least one page to each of the four elements or suits shown in The Shining Tribe Tarot or your favorite tarot deck. Free write about your feelings, thoughts, and reactions to suit. Which one is your favorite? Which element is the most difficult for you? Has that changed over time? Did anything you wrote surprise you?
The Well Worn Path by Raven Grimassi and Stephanie Taylor, Art by Mickie Mueller, page 148.
The Well Worn Path is a divination system of 40 cards that teaches the roots of Paganism and the Craft in a practical, meaningful, and visually enticing way. As you use the deck, you will become familiar with such concepts as the Otherworld, the Old Ones, initiation, and reincarnation. The Crone is your guide to the mysteries of The Well Worn Path as they unfold throughout the deck. I have included an "alignment" guided meditation from the accompanying book to assist you in delving into the earth element.
"The Crone of the cottage takes you to a young woman. She leaves you with her and returns to her cauldron in the woods. The Woman tells you to watch with your new eyes. She then brings the palms of her hands close together. With eyes half closed, the woman begins to hum. The tone emanates as the vowel sound 'A' and it rises and falls in a mesmerizing rhythm.
As you watch the woman, you recall that 'thoughts can become things.' Then between her hands a spiral appears, and from the spiral you see earth pouring out into a cone before the young woman. She brushes off her hands, smiles, and says, 'And now, it's your turn.'"
For further study: In your notebook or journal, describe what you manifested in your guided journey. How does it compare with what you want to manifest in your physical world? What is your connection with the earth and nature? What things can you do to tend to earth?
The Quest Tarot by Joseph Ernest Martin is a dynamic deck filled with exhilarating images. Martin gives you a treasure chest of information on gemstones, birthstones, astrological correspondences, Hebrew letters, I Ching, runes, and the list goes on. Much more than your grandfather's tarot deck, The Quest Tarot is an adventure.
Let's see what James has to say about the element of fire:
(Page 169 from The Quest Tarot.)
"Fire is passion. It is the spark that ignites all possible venues. Career is influenced most by fire. Take note that career and money are two different things. The suit in the tarot that is connected with money is the suit of stones. … Look at the nature of fire to begin your understanding of what fire is.
Fire burns hot and warms those around it. It requires fuel, air, and temperature to live. It gives light and is in constant motion. Most people are attracted to the vibrant warmth of the flames. If the fire is too hot, you could get burned. Fire burns through its fuel and requires more to live. You can feed the fire of passion with new ideas, new challenges, and exciting, innovative goals."
For further study: Find a spot where you can enjoy the element of fire. Take your notebook or journal with you. You could sit by a fireplace either at home or in a restaurant, coffee shop, etc. You could light some candles or enjoy an outdoor fire pit.
Spend some time letting go of your day and look into the flames. When you're ready, ask the fire to show you your passionate qualities. Let what you see, feel and think absorb into your being along with the warmth of the fire. Record your findings. Are your passions related to your career? Yourself? What are you most passionate about? What ignites your fire?