Just who is the mysterious woman in the Tarot card, “The Star?” She’s one of what I call, “the astronomical cards,” that are grouped together at the end of the Major Arcana: The Star, The Moon, The Sun, and The World.
For some reason it seems easier to relate to the other three cards today. Perhaps it’s because they are so intimately interwoven with our daily existence. We live on and with Mother Earth/The World. The Sun makes us happy and marks out our seasons. The Moon controls the tides and is strongly connected with women’s fertility and men’s insanity.
But what about The Star? What comes to mind? Anything? Not much?
The first known examples of the Tarot emerged 1500-ish. We know that most of the natural philosophers (they didn’t have scientists, yet) were still using the Greco-Roman model of the universe at that time. The Earth, of course, was the Center of the Universe because we are SO important. Then extending all around the Earth there was a great circle of a sphere which contained space and the moon and the sun.
The latest, most up-to-date thinking at that time was that stars were actually holes in the sphere that surrounded us and that the light they radiated was heaven shining through the holes. Which is why heaven is, “up there,” even today.
BUT . . . there were also stars that moved around. We call them planets now days but the thinking back then was that if they moved around, then, by golly, they must be alive because that’s what living things do and that’s what dead things don’t.
Now, it’s interesting because the Greeks (and their intellectual suck ups the Romans) decided that if there were magical, celestial beings whizzing around in space then most of them must have penises. Yes, I know . . . there’s poor lonely Venus and she’s a female, but every other, “living star,” was a male. Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, Mercury, Pluto . . . not a vagina in the whole lot of them.
The rest of the world took an entirely different approach, however. In most cultures there was no doubt that if stars were living beings they were definitely females. And that’s what showed up in the Tarot, which we are told was a product of medieval Europe and which was still going by Greco-Roman thinking. A woman. Odd, isn’t it?
In, “The Alphabet Versus The Goddess,” Leonard Shlain makes a very strong case that all early civilizations were Goddess-based cultures. And we can posit that Star Goddesses played a prominent role. The Sumerian/Babylonian Star Goddess Ishtar is portrayed here as her symbol, an eight pointed star:
And here we have an early Tarot deck version of The Star, with . . . ahem . . . an eight pointed star hovering over the Star Woman.
Or take the example of Tara, the Hindu Goddess who crossed over into Tibet. She is portrayed with seven eyes – two in her hands, two in her feet, and three in her head – because she sees all of our suffering .
When the Buddhists arrived in Tibet they announced that Tara was actually the feminine counterpart of the bodhisattva (“buddha-to-be”) Avalokiteshvara and came into existence from a tear of Avalokiteshvara, which fell to the ground and formed a lake.
Right. Another example of a man giving birth to a woman. We know that happens all of the time.
Tara is thought to be the oldest still worshipped Goddess in existence and she was in Tibet a LONG time before Buddhism arrived. Tara actually means, “Star,” so we can guess that Tibetan society was originally a matriarchal culture centered around the worship of a Star Goddess.
If you want a clincher for that, the term, “Dalai Lama,” literally translates as, “High (or exalted) Mother.” If the original Dalai Lama didn’t have breasts it would have been a damned peculiar title.
When a Tibetan Buddhist wants to talk about compassion and pure, unadulterated love, they use the the example of the love that flows between a mother and a child. Several of them that I’ve run across – such as Tulku Thondup who wrote, “Boundless Healing: Meditation Exercises to Enlighten the Mind and Heal the Body,” – expressed frustration in trying to convey that concept to Westerners because we tend to have such screwed up relationships with our parents. Mother EQUALS love in their culture, if not in ours.
So we can perhaps begin to cobble together a picture of who the Star Woman actually is. She is a Goddess. A mother. Unconditional love. Compassion. Always there, gently shining down to guide and protect us. The blessing of feminine energy.
And perhaps, as the Goddess archetype continues to re-emerge in the world, that image and that feeling will once again seem as normal to us as The Sun, The Moon, and The World.
Let’s hope so.