The High Priestess and the Hallway in Our Brains

In my original definition of The High Priestess, I said:  

“The real message in the imagery of this card, though, is about balance between opposites and the center point where intuition reigns.  The cross on her chest is the solar cross rather than the Christian cross, its’ four arms all of exact equal length from its’ center. She sits exactly between the white and black opposites of the columns.  The crown she wears is a solar disk surrounded by crescent moons, emphasizing the opposites of night and day.”

I also pointed out that she symbolically corresponds to the center point of our brain, the place where communication takes place between the right side of the brain and the left side of the brain.  Because, of course, through some bizarre turn of evolution we ended up with two brains instead of one.

Our brains look very much like a whole walnut.  There are equal but separate sides, the left hemisphere and the right hemisphere. 

The left side does math, reads, writes, is logical, is ultra critical and is considered to be male energy.  The person who lives on the left hand side of our brain looks a lot like this:

The right side of our brains is creative, poetic, artistic, dreams a lot, thinks in symbols, and is associated with female energy.  She looks a lot like this:

Now, you can see where they wouldn’t be very happy roommates.  In fact, they barely talk to each other at all.  They do have more conversations in women’s brains than in men’s brains, but it’s still a pretty strained relationship.

If you want to think of them as two separate children who were born into the same body, then the left side of the brain definitely got most of the food and the right side of the brain was almost starved to death.  From the time that we’re tee tiny children we’re being encouraged to excel in left brain activities.  We’re forced to learn to read books, to memorize the alphabet, to figure out how math works.  The poor right side of the brain, though, is pretty badly neglected, if not abused.  We’re discouraged from day dreaming, told not to talk to our imaginary friends, and we get it drummed into our heads that art and poetry aren’t, “practical.”

To use a different metaphor, it would be like if we went to the gym and only lifted dumb bells with our left arm.  One arm would be beautifully sculpted and the other would be shriveled up, right?  On the other hand, we can look at the human brain and see that both halves are equal.  They take up the same amount of space and they weigh the same, which pretty much implies that we’re supposed to be using both sides equally, not just the left brain.

So how do we get the wonderful, artistic gypsy who lives in the right brain to come out and join the party?  How do we get her to engage more and force the left brain to quit being such a grouchy old tyrant who wants to run the whole show?

Well, imagine that there’s a hallway that runs between the two rooms that right brain and left brain live in.  The grouchy old tyrant can keep the door to his room locked tight, but he can’t keep the hallway locked.  The gypsy who lives in the right brain can come out and dance in the hallway.

In the actual brain that hallway is called the, “corpus callosum.” 

It’s the brain tissue that connects left brain and right brain and messages between them travel back and forth in that hallway like secret notes that they’re throwing at each other.

The reason that all of that is important is that we now know that the brain can be physically changed through habits and behaviors that we adopt.  Scientists refer to that as, “neuroplasticity,” meaning that we can, to some extent, mold our brains into something entirely different.

We’ve known for some time that women have larger and more active corpus callosums.  They hypothesize that this is why women tend to be so much more in touch with their intuition than men – there’s a lot more connection with the right side of the brain.

What we didn’t know until a study at UCLA medical came out is that the corpus callosum can be strengthened and can actually gain in size in both sexes through the simple practice of meditation.  A control group that meditated daily for six months was found to have significant changes for the better in connectivity between the two hemispheres of the brain.

What that means in practical, day to day terms, is an increase in all of the qualities associated with the right brain.  Increased creativity, increased intuition, increased ability to live in the present moment instead of the past or future.  And, yes, increased intelligence because we’re now using both sides of our brains instead of just one.

And it all takes place in that magical middle, that center of the brain that’s exactly between male and female, logical and creative.  Like the High Priestess, we absorb and then synthesize BOTH of those opposing energies and release a new form of knowledge and a new way of knowing into our lives.

The Lovers, The Goddess, and The Monogamy Model

Did you ever have a good friend just disappear on you when they became romantically involved with someone?  You know:  a friend you loved to hang out with, a person who was your go-to buddy for a cup of coffee or a drink, the first person you’d call when something really good (or really bad) happened to you?

And then they fall in love and suddenly you can’t reach them.  You ask if they’d like to have a cup of coffee and they reply, “I don’t know;  I’ll have to see what WE’RE doing.”  On the one hand, you’re happy for them to be in love, but on the other hand, you really kind of feel like you just got dumped.

The bottom line on it is that romantic love, as we currently practice it, tends to be very exclusionary.  We’re a decidedly monogamist society, so 99% of the time falling in love involves two people, period.  And, yes, there is a strong expectation that those two people will devote the majority of their loving and caring to each other and not to people who are outside of the relationship.  It’s very much as if your former best friend is saying, “Well, yeah, I loved you but that was what I was doing until I could find someone to fall IN love with and now I’m busy.  Bye!”

The Lovers tarot card beautifully illustrates the romantic model of love that the Victorians positively adored.  A man and a woman stand beside each other, nude, but not touching, not even making eye contact, while an angel hovers overhead, its wings spread protectively over the couple.  The message is loud and clear:  romantic love is holy and ethereal and, yes, we have bodies, but REAL love is about those heavenly emotions and not about . . . you know . . . S-E-X.

And, yes, it’s about two people and two people only.  You don’t see any best friends hanging out in this card.

Thic Nhat Hanh says that true love, as opposed to our normal idea of romantic love, includes four elements:  (1) loving/kindness which is the ability to offer happiness to the other person; (2) the energy of compassion, which removes suffering from you and the other person; (3) joy in loving; and (4) inclusiveness, which is removing the barriers between you and the other person.  BUT – and this is the kicker with our western concept of love – if it’s really true love then those energies will continue to expand, particularly the energy of inclusiveness. 

 In our romantic love model we draw a circle around ourselves and our partners and say, “Okay, we’re in love – go away.”  In this alternate model, romantic love becomes a spiritual practice that expands to include, rather than exclude, others. In other words, if it’s real love it grows your circle, it doesn’t contract it.

Which leads to a very sensitive and perhaps painful question:  Is monogamy really a healthy model for growing love in our lives?  

Unfortunately, the very question comes packed with a lot of poisonous images.  We think of the middle aged man cheating on his wife with the babysitter.  Or unhappy housewives having miserable affairs with the next door neighbor.  Or swingers, who basically just want to fuck anything that moves, proclaiming that they have, “an open marriage.”

In other words, there’s a large, built in, “Yuck,” factor when we try to visualize a model of love that doesn’t involve exclusive monogamy.  All of those images, though, are operating WITHIN the framework of a monogamist society.  Screwing around on your wife or husband is yucky because it involves lying, cheating, and deeply hurting people who love you, trust you, and expect that you’re going to be, “faithful.”   Sexual swingers probably have inordinately high sex drives and are non-monogamous by nature.  They just get yucky when they try to disguise their true nature within the framework of a traditional marriage.

It may help to think about this issue if we can actually step back a bit and ask ourselves, “Is monogamy natural?  Is this the natural state of human love or is this something that’s been imposed by society over many thousands of years?”

As Leonard Schlain points out in, “The Alphabet Versus the Goddess,”  the evidence is strong that most human societies were originally matriarchal.  And there are actually a few truly matriarchal societies left in the world.  So where do they stand on the issue of monogamy?  

The Mosuo women are China’s last surviving matriarchy.  They don’t marry.  The women choose and change partners as they wish, whenever they wish.

The Minangkabau people practice marriage to a limited extent but the women and children live in their own houses and the men live elsewhere.  

In the Khasi society, a matrilineal and matrilocal culture in the northeastern part of India, monogamy is the norm but women are free to divorce and remarry as frequently as they want to, with no social or economic consequences.

So, if the most ancient form of human society was the matriarchy, and if the current surviving matriarchies are examples of how those societies functioned, then we can conclude that monogamy is NOT a, “natural,” human norm.

Even more fascinating is the fact that these are WOMEN who are rejecting the monogamist model.  Remember, a large element of the argument for monogamy is that women, especially when they’re pregnant, are weak, helpless, and badly in need of male protection.  Apparently these societies think otherwise.

Is monogamy simply an artificial social construct that was foisted on humans by patriarchal societies that viewed women as property, as, “belonging,” to men?  And, as the Goddess archetype reemerges in the world, will we see a breakdown of the monogamistic model?

There may be signs of that, especially among older people.  Sociologists have already noted a new form of family structure they call, “living apart together,”  in which people who describe themselves as being in love still choose to maintain separate households.  Women in these relationships are very much maintaining their own individual identities rather than merging into a shared identity.

It’s fascinating to think of what new forms of romantic relationships may emerge in the coming few years.  Communes?  Group marriages?  Matriarchies?  The Lovers card may need to be a lot larger before it’s all over.

The Chariot Card, Setting Intentions, and Magical Stepping Stones

As I’ve said in previous posts, the most astounding thing about the Chariot card is something that we usually don’t even notice. The Charioteer has no reins and the Sphinxes have no harnesses. In fact, the Sphinxes are sitting on their asses, pointed in different directions.


And it IS astounding that we don’t notice that . . . but not really. The Charioteer is, after all, one hell of an impressive looking guy. Tall, handsome, big shoulders, noble face. I hate him. (Whoops, who said that?) Seriously, if you just encountered the Charioteer casually you’d assume that this is someone who has it all together. He has incredible, beautiful armor, moons on his shoulders, a magical crown, a glowing square over his heart chakra, and a hell of a ride.


But, ultimately, he has no direction and, therefore, he has no real power.
And that may be why he’s dressed up in his finest duds: so that we don’t notice that there’s really nothing there.


Eckhart Tolle talks about this a lot. The ego loves things. New I Phones, new cars, designer clothes, new houses. The reason is that the ego identifies itself with things. The more things it’s got and the more expensive they are, the bigger and more powerful the ego feels. That isn’t just a new computer – that new computer is a part of and an extension of ME. And the more things I’ve got, the more ME there is, right?


Of course, it’s all a shell game, a little illusion that we sell to ourselves and others to distract from the fact that most of us tend to be pretty hollow shells. Drop us in the middle of a forest with nothing but the clothes on our backs and what do we have? Drop death or disaster on us, something that truly takes away all of our things, all of our ego extensions, and what do we have?


That’s the question. That’s what the Charioteer has to begin to find out. How to become something more than a flashy appearance. And the beginning of finding out is called, “Intention.”


Buddhists have a lot to say about intention, and particularly Right Intention. The intention to practice harmlessness, to at least do no harm if you can’t actually do some good. The intention to practice loving/kindness, to remember that all sentient beings deserve our compassion and empathy. But those are steps on the path, and first we need to see the path itself. Where does Intention come into our lives?


It can be as simple as a realization like, “Oh, I am SO fucked up.”
Or feeling sad and alone and miserable and being tired of feeling that way.
Or being an alcoholic or an addict and being sick and tired of being sick and tired.


It’s whatever makes you stop and think, “I don’t want to be here anymore.” I don’t want to live like this anymore. And, of course, “I don’t want to be here anymore,” leads to, “So, where DO I want to be?” And that leads to, “I want to be over THERE.” I want to be happy. Or I want to be more spiritual. Or I want to feel more evolved. Or I want to be more helpful and loving to the people around me.


Once we’ve got that, once we understand that we don’t want to live in that painful space anymore and we’ve got a vision of a better space that we’d like to be in, then we have a goal. And once we have a goal, then we’ve got a direction to move in, and then we’ve got steps that we can take.


“I want to be a more spiritual person. What can I do about that? (1) Pick up a copy of that book on angels I’ve been wanting to read. (2) Actually sit my ass down and meditate in the morning. (3) Promise myself that I am NOT going to get pissed off at that ditz who sits next to me at work and I’m going to try to respond with loving kindness, instead. (4) Try to post something on FaceBook that’s a little inspiring instead of bitching about the quarantine . . .”


The second that we actually set an intention, that we actually say, “I want to go from Point A to Point B because Point A pretty much sucks,” then the stepping stones along that path magically appear. Then the Charioteer has some reins and the Sphinxes are harnessed and we’re MOVING somewhere.


Stay home. Stay safe. Be blessed.

The Fool, The Buddha, and the Corona Virus

Some Tarot interpretations say that the bag or satchel that dangles from the end of the pole on The Fool card is his karma. That he is a new born soul dancing into life and the memories of his experiences and actions – both good and bad – are carried with him into his next incarnation in that little bag.

And that’s a good question for all of us as we face this very profound experience of a world wide pandemic: What will we carry with us when it’s finally over?

Shit happens. We all know that. A lot of the time we experience life less as the Captains of our Fates and more as the silver ball in an old fashioned pin ball machine. We aren’t thinking, we aren’t planning, we aren’t really conscious of what’s happening to us or why. We just keep hitting and being hit by those paddles, bouncing around from one place to the next until a bright, neon sign lights up and says, “GAME OVER.”

And then we’re dead.

Did it make any sense? Did our journey through all of the joys and pains, the triumphs and shit sandwiches actually MEAN anything? Or was it just a random series of events that left us bruised and battered and ultimately puzzled over why it all happened?

A large component in that equation is consciousness. Actually being aware of what’s happening to you right now, right this moment and actively SEEKING for meaning.

Let me give you an example from personal experience. My life partner, Carol, died a couple of years ago and eventually I joined a bereavement support group, also known as a Grief Group. Basically, it’s a small group of people who have lost a loved one and we sit down together once a week and talk about that experience. In other words, we’re trying to find some meaning, some understanding of what we’ve gone through and where we go from here.

One of the most positive things I’ve carried out of that group is the realization of how very much alike we all are in the face of something that is as monumentally dreadful as death. It doesn’t matter if you’re an 81 year old great grandmother or a 25 year old newly wed; death is experienced in much the same way. There are periods of shock, then numbing, then panic and horrible anxiety, overwhelming sadness, and the feeling of being totally lost in the world. There can be great nobility and growth in that process if you can somehow stay connected to your feelings and look for answers. What does it mean? Why did they die? Why am I still here? What am I supposed to do with my life now?

And, sadly, there are other people who experience very little growth and get no spiritual or emotional insights from the process. They throw themselves into a flurry of social activities right after the funeral and, when they have to be home, they turn the t.v. up as loud as it can go and stay on the phone as much as they can. They spend as little time as possible in that Sacred Silence that follows death and they think as little as possible about what it means. In a phrase, “they move on,” from the grieving period as fast as they can. If they’ve lost a husband or a wife, they remarry or re-partner within a year, as if their loved one was an interchangeable part rather than a precious human soul who intermingled with their life stream.

In other words, they don’t carry anything out of it.

Perhaps that’s a form of basic, animal wisdom. As the Buddha said, all sentient beings seek to be happy and to avoid suffering, so there’s nothing unusual about not wanting to hurt. But he also said that suffering is inevitable. No matter how much we might wish otherwise, we each have our portion of pain and how we deal with that suffering – IF we deal with that suffering – that moment in time is the anvil on which we forge our karma. It isn’t just what we go through – it’s how we consciously integrate what we go through. Did we learn anything from the experience? Did we grow and evolve as human beings? Did our compassion and ability to love others increase or diminish? Did we make what happened to us MEAN something in our lives?

So . . . here we sit in the midst of a major historical event. And none of want to be in it. I haven’t met one single person who has said, “Damn, this is exciting! I’m so glad I’m here to see this happen!” But, we’re still here, like it or not. A lot of people are going to die before this all over. Many more will lose people they love with all of their hearts and souls. There’s going to be suffering and we know that.

Right now, millions of us are locked away in our houses and apartments, waiting for the storm to blow through, hoping we won’t be one of the people who are swept out into eternity by this goddamned virus. I guarantee you that many of us are spending this time with the television turned up as loud as it will go, constantly on the phone, constantly on the internet, constantly trying to be too busy to think or feel. They can’t wait to, “move on,” and, “get back to normal.”

In other words, they won’t carry anything out of it.

Right now, we are ALL fools dancing on the edge of a cliff. We can take the time to sit down and meditate, to read, to journal, to REALLY talk with people we love, or . . . we can turn up the volume on the t.v. If there’s one thing we should all know right now it’s that life is precious, time is precious. We can fill that little bag The Fool carries with some new found wisdom, compassion, and meaning. We can actually ask what all of this means, why we’re here, and what we’re supposed to do next.

Or not.

Tarot Readings, Archetypes, and God-Fearing Southern Women

I recently heard a very nice woman describe herself as, “a good, God-fearing Christian.”  And it really gave me a bad case of the creepy-crawlies because it’s such a death blow to any true spirituality.

I spent a substantial portion of my life in the Southern United States, so expressions like that aren’t anything particularly new to me.  Many people in the South are not only God-fearing but they also have a lot of things, “put the fear of God,” in them. God, for them, is a pretty scary dude.

I didn’t really think much about those sayings until recently, when my life took a drastic turn toward the worst and I had to reassemble the jigsaw puzzle that my incarnation had become.  When confronted with the death of a loved one and the financial disaster that ensued, I began a spiritual quest of sorts, trying to put some meaning back into a life that had become dangerously Meaning-Less.

The Tarot was a big part of that quest.  In reading after reading it provided a basic framework for understanding where I was in life and where I wanted to go.  It was my touchstone through the darkest times l’ve lived through.

One of the most profound lessons it taught me was, “don’t be afraid.”  The readings were . . . well . . . readings. It was like, “Okay, THIS is happening in your life and THAT’S happening in your life, and in order to move forward you need to do THIS and then THAT.”  Or, to put it in more concrete terms, “Okay, the Death Card is in your life right now and so is The Tower, so you need to channel The Hermit and retreat and heal and then you’ll get the spiritual lessons of The Hanged Man.”

It was a road map, really.  Or, perhaps more accurately, a sort of a spiritual GPS system that kept telling me, “Okay, now turn right and go 12 miles more . . .”  And I learned to see that everything that was happening to me was a necessary step on the road.

I learned to trust.  To trust in the process of life and in the Universe as a loving, benevolent energy that was always there and always supporting me.

That’s a necessary pre-condition for any serious spiritual quest.  You have to believe, deep in your heart and mind, that you are ultimately safe and that you are moving toward something or someone that loves you.  Otherwise, why would you do it? Why would you deliberately seek out something that could harm you?  Something that’s scary?

Let’s look at the way that we, as Westerners, usually view the whole God thing, whether consciously or not.  We see the universe as a sort of a triangle or pyramid. God sits at the very top of the pyramid and everything – all the energy and forms in the universe – flow downward from him/her to us, who live very close to the bottom of the pyramid.

In most mystical traditions and many non-western religions, God is seen as a sort of pure, loving energy that flows down to us, but becomes more diffused and faint as it enters the physical realm where we exist.  The quest for the holy grail, then, becomes a quest to bring ourselves more in alignment with that pure, loving energy and to expand its presence in our lives.  

We may use a variety of means to get there – meditation, psychedelics, yoga, loving/kindness, etc. – but there is a basic belief that the underlying energy in the universe is love.  That it nourishes us and completes us and comforts and guides us through the dark times in our lives. Conscious contact with that energy heals us.

But . . . then we have the Judeo/Christian/Islamic model of the universe.  It’s still a pyramid with God sitting at the top, but God is a sort of a psychotic, abusive, completely unpredictable father.  And not only does love flow down, but a LOT of punishing, sadistic shit also flows down. This God is, a “jealous God,” a, “fearful God,” a God who claims to love you but is perfectly willing to pitch you into eternally burning flames if you even question what he tells you to do.

This is a God who blows up cities because there are gay people living in them.  Who tells Abraham to tie his son down to a stone altar and thrust a dagger into the child’s heart.  Who destroys Job’s family and his bnlife over a casual bet with the Devil.

This is one sick puppy.

There is no, “God Card,” in the Tarot.  We don’t think about it but it really is a curious omission.  The Major Arcana contains nearly all of the archetypes that blow through our lives:  death, love, luck, rebirth, judgement. But no God. And God IS kind of a major archetype, right?

Historians tell us that the first Tarot decks emerged in the 15th century, a time when Europe was absolutely obsessed with and dominated by the Christian God-Model.  The scary, crazy dude who you kind of hoped wouldn’t notice you and do something awful to you. That may be the very simple reason that the creators of the Tarot decided to just leave the God-Model out of the deck:  because a malevolent, harmful God is a complete short circuit to the spiritual quest.

If there’s no belief that you’re moving toward love and healing, why would you go there?  And if your God is a foul tempered narcissist who is off of his medications, why would you think there’s any genuine love flowing out of that?

The model of God emerging out of the Middle Eastern religions – the angry, hateful, capricious, male god of war – has been an absolute spiritual disaster for the Western world.  We have been deeply wounded by it and we need to KNOW that and begin to consciously heal our hearts and minds. And the way to do that is to move toward love.  

Always.

The Seven of Wands, Donald Trump, and Conservative Brains

Pssst . . . there’s a psychotic in the White House . . .

Or

Pssst . . . Donald Trump has been sent by god himself to save our country.

Depending on which news channel you watch you can hear either message any day of the week.  No matter where you fall in the spectrum between those two opinions, there can’t be any doubt that we’re experiencing a major conflict in values in the United States right now.  Call it a war between the haves and the have-nots, between the Left and the Right, between the Democrats and the Republicans – call it whatever – there’s no doubt that a LOT of people are pissed off and willing to talk (or shout) about the differences in their values.

A more productive way to examine it might be to take a look at the ground of those values.  What are people’s basic beliefs about the world and their place in it?  How do they experience life itself? Do they view the Earth as a beautiful cradle that holds sacred life or as a never-ending battle field where only the tough survive?

In the Seven of Wands we see a figure who is literally under siege.  He has the high ground but combatants are coming at him from every angle.  He’s perched right in the middle of a battle and he has to fight or perish.  The world he inhabits is NOT a safe place, to say the least.

That stuff happens and we’ve all been there at one time or another.  Sometimes you do have to stand up and fight for your ideas or your ideals, for your positions or your principles.  The question, though, is whether that’s a temporary situation in our lives or the way that we view life in general.

We’re certainly hearing a lot of rhetoric that indicates a very, very fearful world-view.  Be afraid of Mexicans. Be afraid of Black folks. Be afraid of the Chinese. Be afraid of Muslims, and immigrants, and foreigners, and liberals, and socialists, and gay people and even be afraid of toilets that you have to flush too many times.

Be afraid.  Be very, very, very AFRAID!!!

And, of course, there’s the corollary proposition that flows out of that fear, which is that anyone who isn’t afraid is an idiot, a chump, a fool, a snowflake.

But what if we look at all of that fear from a different perspective?  What if some people are just hard-wired to view the world as a hostile, scary place?  Is it possible that they just can’t NOT view life that way?

It’s an intriguing question, because – if true – those people are probably more deserving of our pity than our anger.  They’re suddenly transformed from angry trolls into rabbits quivering in terror in their self-imposed cages.

Consider this:  the amygdala is the part of the brain that contains our fight or flight reactions.  In other words, that’s where anger and fear hang out in our brains. Brain scans performed at the University  College of London actually showed that conservatives have LARGER amygdalas than liberals and are more reactive to fear.

A 2008 study found that conservatives are MUCH more sensitive to stimuli which they view as threatening, such as sudden loud noises or scary images.

A 2012 study found that conservatives tend to have what psychologists call a “negativity bias.” In other words, they view their environment in largely negative terms and tend to see it as threatening.  Liberals see butterflies and conservatives see spiders.

Now, if all of that fear and anger really is hardwired into their nervous systems, if their brains really are predisposed to fighting or fleeing, we can’t do much about that.  We can’t expect someone who is color blind to suddenly appreciate the different shades of blue.

But what we CAN do is to have a shift in our own perspectives.  What we can do is to try to have more compassion for these people who are trapped in a rather hellish world of anger, fear, and contempt.  They can’t NOT be that way and that’s very sad, in addition to being very dangerous.

H.L. Mencken once observed that the average anglo saxon goes to bed at night terrified that someone is hiding under his bed and wakes up in the morning convinced that someone has stolen his socks.  

That’s a humorous way of putting it but it’s a way of life – and experiencing life – for a lot of people.  Some people don’t just get the Seven of Wands in a reading – they ARE the Seven of Wands.

And we have to find a way to live with them.

Valentine’s Day, The Lovers Tarot Card, Ram Dass, and Snakes in a Tree.

Uh, oh . . . Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.  The Lovers tarot card could almost be an emblem for it. 

 The Waite tarot deck portrays it as a pretty little scene from the Garden of Eden:  a nude man and woman are posed in the foreground while an angel with flaming wings floats protectively overhead.  Their love is pristine and pure and heavenly. Don’t look at the snake climbing up the tree.

I said, DON’T LOOK.  They’re in love. No snakes, goddamnit.

Well, okay.  Probably we can get a better picture from an earlier Tarot deck.

In the Swiss deck, we see a couple who are actually touching each other.  An old hag of a witch has obviously just whomped them with a love spell and – just in case that’s not enough – an angel is about to shoot a Love Arrow right THROUGH that girls head.  

They’re thunderbolted and flabbergasted, glimmered and glamored.  They’re in Love, L-U-V!

And it’s wonderful and it’s fabulous and it’s the best thing in the world.  But . . . what IS it, exactly? What is it that makes our brains pump out floods of endorphins, walk around with silly grins on our faces, and talk about our partners to a point where our friends want to strangle us?

A reductionist would tell you that it’s just chemicals in the body.  Hormones. Random encounters in the process of looking for a mate that somehow become permanent relationships.  Ultimately it’s all driven by the need to fuck and reproduce and then we . . . sort of . . . get fond of each other after we’ve had our orgasms and THAT, by golly, is love.

Ram Dass spoke of it quite differently.  He said that sometimes another person is the key that unlocks us and we’re the key that unlocks them and we exist in love.  That the other person is the vehicle for us to get to love.  And, when the other person dies or leaves, it feels like all of the juice, all of the magic, all of the love has gone out of our lives.

Think about that:  the vehicle that gets us to love.

One of the more interesting meditation exercises we can do is to just sit with the feeling of love.  Open our heart chakras and let ourselves relax into love. It may be that when we start that kind of meditation we need something to refer to in order to start the flow of love.  Perhaps we think of a person we love deeply or a place that brings us great peace or even a dog or a cat or a horse. The thought of the beloved starts the flow of loving energy. The beloved is the vehicle that takes us to love.

As we continue to practice that meditation, though, the need for an outside reference, for a thought, memory, or person to take us to that place of love lessens.  Our heart chakras become stronger and clearer and more open and we find that we can enter into loving feelings spontaneously.

We can just exist in, just float in, a sea of love.  And it feels SO good. At that point we’ve gone from needing something outside of us to, “cause,” love to just being love.

Here’s another way to look at it:  the Buddhists teach us that clinging and desire bring suffering.  We feel miserable and we tell ourselves, “If I just had that ___________ (fill in the blank with new car, new computer, iphone, house, dress, shoes, degree, etc.) then I’d be really happy.”  

And so we torture ourselves with what we don’t have, that thing that will finally make us happy, and the more we lust after it, the more miserable it’s absence makes us feel.  Maybe we get two jobs so we can afford it. Maybe we eat rice and beans for a year so we can scrimp and save and FINALLY we can buy the thing that will make us happy.

And it does!  For a while. But it’s a total sugar rush and after a very short period of time we don’t feel so happy anymore.

And then we start thinking about the NEXT one thing that will finally make us happy and we feel miserable because we don’t have it.

That’s really the basis of capitalist society and advertising:  convincing us that there is some THING outside of us that’s going to make us happy.  And, by golly, when that happiness wears off, we’ve got some other neat stuff to sell you that will make you REALLY happy.  For a while.

Or . . . we can just short circuit all of that process and say, “I’m happy.”  We really can. Like the love meditation, we can start out just thinking about things or places or people that make us happy.  We don’t have to buy them or worry about losing them because they’re our thoughts.

The trees make me happy, the clouds make me happy, my lover makes me happy, my vibrator makes me happy, a stream, or a river, or a lake, or the ocean . . . those thoughts make me happy.  And, as we continue that process, we can eventually move straight into BEING happy, without having to possess anything external to us to MAKE us happy. 

Walmart hates that, but it’s one of the most important lessons we can learn.  Happiness exists independent of things.

And it’s the same dynamic with love.  When our lover leaves us or dies we feel crushed because it feels like we’ve lost all of the magic of love.  But love exists independent of people. We’ve lost the vehicle that brought us to love, but we haven’t lost the love.  It’s always right there waiting for our hearts to open and return to it’s embrace.

And there’s no snake climbing up a tree.  Just love, L-U-V!

The Judgement Card – Lay It Down and Shut the Door

To my mind, Judgement is a lot creepier looking card than the Death card.  Coffins bobbing around in the sea while gray corpses pop out of them like zombies.  Of course, the Angel with the Trumpet hovers overhead calling them back to life and that’s nice but it’s still a disturbing card on the face of it.

Despite that, it’s still a hopeful card because it’s the card of endings and where there are endings there can be beginnings.  Judgement isn’t just about endings, though; it’s about the end of long cycles that occur in our lives. Often it shows up in our readings as a sign that we can finally lay our burdens down.

We all have seasons and cycles in our lives, though we frequently fail to recognize them as distinct and separate chapters.  Some of the more obvious cycles are birth through adolescence, puberty through adulthood, perhaps going to college or doing a hitch in the military after high school.  Our children growing up and moving out on their own. These are all periods of time that stand apart in our memories and experiences as being unique times in our lives.

And Judgement is about the ends of these cycles.  It’s about the personal judgements that we make about these periods of time, what they meant to us, and how we performed in dealing with them.

To use another common example, think of marriage or partnership as a cycle in our lives.  We meet someone, we fall in love, we decide that he or she is the person with whom we want to spend our lives.  The relationship may last for many years or just a few. Sooner or later, though, whether as a result of, “until death do us part,” or a divorce/separation, that bonding with another, that cycle of our lives, will be over.

And when it’s over, we have to make a judgement about it.  How did I do? Could I have done more? Could I have loved more or shown more feelings or compassion?

A divorce is probably a pretty good example of that process.  Unless you accidentally married a psychopath or an angel, the odds are that BOTH parties contributed to the divorce.  Both parties might have tried to be a little more caring or supportive or understanding or sensual or whatever the missing ingredients were that caused it all to fall apart.

Even if you’re actually an incredibly good, loving person you may have contributed to the divorce just by marrying an asshole to begin with.  The question is, “What did I do in this cycle that was good, bad, or indifferent?”

So Judgement is about the ends of these cycles in our lives and about the judgements we have to make when the cycles end.  And they’re not judgements about the other party or circumstances – they’re judgements about ourselves and our own behaviors.  With those judgements come – hopefully – growth. It can be something as simple as, “I’m a really good, loving person so why do I keep getting involved with assholes?”  Or as complex as, “I was really abused as a child so how do I learn how to really love and trust people?” The judgements are always geared toward being and doing better.

The second element in Judgement, though, is laying that burden down and starting a new phase and that’s where many of us trip ourselves up.  We need to be able to firmly close the door on that chapter of our lives and say, “That’s over. Time to move on.”

Taking the time to make thorough judgements about ourselves and about our behavior is the key to doing that.  We don’t just leave a marriage or experience a death or fight our ways through serious illnesses and then go on with life as as the Walking Wounded.  We take a good long look at ourselves and we thoroughly decide, “I did the best I could.”

Or, “I could have done better.”

Or, “I need to work on being a better person/listener/partner/lover and here’s how I’m going to do that.”

And, once we can honestly say to ourselves that we’ve learned the lessons we were supposed to learn, we forgive (or congratulate) ourselves and MOVE ON.  We don’t whip ourselves over not doing enough or continue to live in the past. We shut the door firmly and step out into our new world.

It’s over.

And it’s beginning.

“Just the Tarot,” by Dan Adair, Kindle edition available dirt cheap on Amazon.

The Hermit Card and Ho Ho Ho-ing Your Way Through the Holidays

I had one of those shocking moments recently where I suddenly realized that it’s almost Thanksgiving and I’m living alone.  And I had the requisite reaction to that for a few hours.

Oh, my god!

It’s almost Thanksgiving!

And I’m living alone!

Which means . . . I’m going to be alone on Thanksgiving!

Oh, NO . . .

The thought sat there in my gut for a few hours like some super-sized greasy hamburger and fries, making me mildly nauseated and regretful for having it.  And then I started tip toeing around the feelings and thinking, “Hmmm . . . that’s interesting.  Why is being alone on Thanksgiving such a terrible, terrible thing?”

In my original definition of The Hermit, I wrote:

This is a card of solitude and the individual is very much withdrawn from others around him.  This isn’t a bad sort of solitude, however, this is a solitude that involves spiritual growth and contemplation.

The point being that there are times in our lives when it’s totally appropriate and healthy to be alone.  In my case, my partner of 19 years died last year and this is a period of self-imposed solitude, meditation, and thought for me.  The silence really is golden and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’d say that there are a bunch of us in the same boat, but we’re not in the same boat.  We’re in our separate little boats drifting along on our own currents, but hopefully you take my meaning.  Perhaps, like me, they’ve had a partner die or maybe they’ve gone through a divorce or they have a job that requires them to work on the holidays.

For many of them, they are alone the majority of the time and THAT’S ALL RIGHT the majority of the time.  

So what is it about the holidays that makes us feel like it’s somehow NOT alright to be alone?

I think one of the keys lies in the word itself:  alone. We assign a lot of negative connotations to that word.  Alone is sad, pitiful, lost, desolate and, of course, lonely. We have to learn how to draw the venom out of the word and out of the concept.

Scott Cunningham wrote a lovely little light-weight book called, “Wicca For the Solitary Practitioner,” and I really dig that concept.  I am not alone; I am a solitary practitioner.  I make my own magic now.

Solitude does not equal loneliness.  Solitude many times equals healing and immense spiritual and emotional growth.  It’s something to be treasured, not dreaded. People who are, “alone,” are many times very, very happy, evolved beings.

Another key, of course, is societal expectations.  Thanksgiving is a time to sit down with members of your family – no matter how much you may loathe some of them – and eat very large quantities of dead birds.  We all know that and we’re programmed with that from the time we’re kids. You never saw a Norman Rockwell painting of Thanksgiving that featured one guy sitting by himself eating lasagna, right?


Just LOOK at those happy campers!  It’s Thanksgiving and they’re not alone.  And, boy, that dead bird looks just perfect!  No lasagna on THAT table.

And that’s the point:  it’s not being alone on the holidays that makes us feel bad, it’s the expectation that somehow we’re not supposed to be alone on the holidays and that if we are alone something is dreadfully wrong.  In other words, if you’re okay with living alone 363 days of the year but it makes you feel terrible on Thanksgiving and Christmas, it ain’t being alone that’s bumming you out – it’s Christmas and Thanksgiving.

So what do we do about that?  One solution that I see with some of my friends is to get very, very hostile toward Christmas and Thanksgiving.  “They’re artificial holidays. They’re so commercialized and materialistic. They’ve lost the original meanings. Etc., etc. etc.”

You know – sort of the modern day, “Bah, humbug,” solution.  If you don’t have at least one friend who’s a Bah Humbugger you must not spend much time on FaceBook.

But . . . somehow . . . that doesn’t feel quite right, either.  With all of their glitz, tinsel, and artificiality, I’ve had some really wonderful holidays with family and friends in the past.  I’m happy for my friends who are still in that groove and I don’t want to rain on anyone’s Macy’s Parade.

It’s just not me anymore. 

It seems to me that there are really only a couple of rational responses to the holidays when you’re a Solitary Practitioner.

  1. You can pretend that they just aren’t happening and that it’s just like any other day of the year.  That requires some Deeply Disciplined Denial, but you can pull it off if you live by yourself and insert ear plugs before you walk into a store.
  2. You can invent new rituals and traditions and OWN those days instead of letting them own you.

I’m not sure, yet, but I think I’m leaning toward the second solution.

Christian fundamentalists get in a royal snit when you say, “Happy Holidays,” instead of, “Merry Christmas.”  They forget – or ignore – that the original pronunciation of the term was, “Happy Holy Days.”

The celebrations of the harvest and abundance – what we call Thanksgiving – and lighting bright lights and candles on the darkest day of the year – what we call Christmas – have been Holy Days from time immemorial.  They’re built into our Souls and have nothing to do with Jesus, Pilgrims, America, or eating large,dead birds.

I can celebrate that as The Hermit as easily as I can in a crowd.  I just need some good lasagna recipes.

Donald Trump, Pharaohs, and the Peculiar Royalty Cards of the Tarot

\If you’ve ever studied the Tarot you know that the definitions for the royalty cards in the Minor Arcana pretty much suck.  For every suit of cards – wands, cups, swords, and pentacles – there are corresponding royal figures: the Page, Knight, Queen, and King.  The definitions for these come about as close as any of the cards to the stereotypes of Gypsy fortune tellers muttering that you’re about to meet a tall, dark stranger.

Unlike the definitions for all of the rest of the cards, these tend to be very gender and age specific.  As in, “An older, dark haired man with a hatchet face will play an important role in your life.” Or, “A troubled young person with red hair may cause mischief.”  Or, “A very strong, dark haired, materialistic woman will be difficult to defeat in legal problems.”

Perhaps the definitions are so awful because the very concept of royalty is so NOT the Tarot.  The Tarot is not about, “exceptionalism,” or people who are removed from the normal human experience by virtue of their wealth or power.  

The Minor Arcana cards describe common human experiences and states of being that we all go through.  Poverty, disappointment, broken hearts, celebrations, love, hate, passion.  The Major Arcana describe archetypes that blow through all of our lives.  Illumination, spiritual quests, death, lovers, evil, power, sudden turns of fortune.

In a word, the Tarot is, “egalitarian.”  Egalitarianism is, in its original meaning, the doctrine that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities.  We see that built into the Declaration of Independence:  

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Of course, we know that the people who signed that document were, for the most part, rich white dudes who owned slaves and would have been horrified at the possibility of women voting.  Nonetheless, let’s look at the truth that underlies the statements that they didn’t live up to.

We are ALL of us much more alike than we are different.  If you take it right down to the core, right down to the bedrock of existence, we are ALL Souls on the earth plane trying to do our best and figure out why in the hell we’re here and what we’re supposed to do next.  Just forget for a moment all of the strange earth plane illusions of skin color, gender, countries, languages, creeds and religions, wealth, poverty, genius and stupidity. Underneath the whole, bizarre, flashy, Mardi Gras parade of colorful costumes and masks, we’re Souls on a common journey.  On the Soul level, we are all equals.

Which is why the Tarot works for everyone.  It’s about that bedrock of human experiences that every person on the planet shares in common.  It’s about what we – ALL OF US – encounter in our lives.

Being a King or a Queen, a Knight or a Page . . . except metaphorically and momentarily, those are NOT experiences which most of us will share.  And so those cards seem like rather odd appendages to the Tarot as a whole.

Karl Popper, who was one of the most prominent philosophers of the 20th century, once wrote an essay called, “Is There Meaning in History?”  And the first sentence in his essay was, “No.”

His point was that history is mainly about the egomaniacs, killers, misfits, and psychotics who seized power, created thrones,  and caused endless misery for their fellow Souls, and NOT about the majority of people who were living during their periods of time.  The French, for instance, are fond of remembering the, “military genius,” of Napolean while ignoring the millions of deaths that the little over-compensated dictator caused.

Americans love to talk about their cowboys but not so much about the genocide of hundreds of thousands of Native Americans to make room for the cowboys.

The real story of the pyramids should be about the slaves and artisans who built them.  Instead, we remember them by the tricked out, inbred Pharaohs whose bodies they contained.

On the current scene, Donald Trump is an extremely wealthy man who has taken over control of the world’s most powerful office.  He, not us, will be remembered in the history books. But on a Soul level, he’s a rather pathetic old man who’s stuck in his first and second chakras, whose own mother didn’t like to touch him, who’s had a series of mail order wives he’s cheated on, who never had a pet and who, as near as we can tell, has never been loved by another human being. Pretty sad.

In all probability, decent definitions for the royalty cards in the Tarot won’t emerge until we give up our fascination with and admiration for royalty and the ultra-wealthy. 

At that point the definition for the King of Pentacles may be, “A totally materialistic, shallow soul who is obsessed with money to a point of crushing anyone in his path.”

And the Queen of Cups might be, “A pathologically jealous bitch who will destroy anyone she views as a potential rival.”

And the Knight of Wands might be, “An intellectual zealot who will ride right over anyone who disagrees with his elitist, fanatical point of view.”

It’s just a matter of looking at the real Kings, Queens, Knights, and Pages in, “history,” and seeing how they really behaved.  What human qualities do the royalty cards really represent?  What kind of a person was Henry the Eighth?  Was the Sun King all that sunny? How horrible were most of these people?

We may have to create a special card to represent Trump, though.  Maybe the King of Putz? I’m open to suggestions . . .