The Star Tarot Card – Ishtar, The Dalai Lama, and the Re-Emergence of The Goddess

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.

Karmic Re-Set with the Nine of Swords

I remember the last time I pulled the Nine of Swords in one of my personal readings.  I had a very spiritual reaction, which was, “Well . . . shit.” Swiftly followed by another, which was, “Why me?”

It probably wasn’t one of my better days.

The Nine of Swords absolutely screams, “karma.”  The individual is lying in bed with his head in his hands, a perfect image of someone who has just awakened from a screaming nightmare.  The quilt on the bed is covered with astrological symbols showing past incarnations in different signs of the zodiac. The swords behind him seem locked together like the bars in a prison cell.

There can be no doubt that this is someone who has just realized that he’s accumulated some terrible, terrible karma and is going to have to pay a serious price for it.

There’s another way of looking at it, though.

If you’ve spent any substantial time in spiritual exploration then you’ve had that, “Ah HA!” moment when you realize that you are a co-creator of your life.  It goes something like this:

I control my thoughts.  My thoughts cause my emotions.  My emotions cause my energy vibrations.  My energy vibrations, through the Law of Attraction, determine what’s going to manifest in my life.  Therefore, I control (or create) what’s manifesting in my life.

To put it more succinctly, if I’m broadcasting a lot of negative vibrations I’m going to attract a lot of negative crap into my life.  If my vibrations are positive, positive things will flow into my life.

There’s a real rush that goes along with that revelation.  We feel very liberated from random circumstances and from people victimizing us.  We realize that all of this isn’t being done TO us, we’re making it happen to ourselves, which means that we can change it.

But there are a couple of, “Well . . . shit,” moments that go along with that.

The first one is, “Well . . . shit . . . I made this.  This is MY karma. I’m totally responsible for this mess.”

It wasn’t our abusive fathers, or our crazy ex-wife or husband, or the country or culture we grew up in, or the opportunities we did or didn’t have, or anything OUT THERE.  We manifested all of it into our lives or we chose to NOT manifest something better. We made it.

Well . . . shit . . .

The second appallingly scary moment happens when we realize that it means that we’re also creating what happens next.

Alcoholics Anonymous and the other 12 Step Programs have a saying:  “You can start your day over whenever you want to.” In other words, if you’re having a terrible day you can always take a deep breath, reconnect with your serenity, and change how your day is going.

Tibetan Buddhism embraces the concept that we can start our karma over whenever we want to.  No, we can’t escape the unfolding of consequences from our previous actions but we can make those consequences a lot better by starting to live our lives with love and compassion and the creation of good karma.

And when we realize – truly realize – that we are creating our lives right now, right here, with the choices that we’re making, that we’re starting over,  that’s a pretty heavy responsibility.

For one thing we have to get really clear on just what we DO want.  What are my values? What do I want in my life? Peace? Serenity? Happiness?  Family? Sex? Money? What do I want to create in my life? If all of this isn’t just stuff that’s happening to me, if it isn’t just things that people are doing to me, if I’m MAKING my life . . . what do I want it to look like?

And if we’re going to choose to consciously create our own lives – and we don’t have to, we can stay unconscious – then we have to consciously choose, every day, every hour, to control our emotions, our vibrations, and our manifestations.  

And that’s not easy.

Well . . . shit . . .

The Death Card – Signs, Symbols and Candles Burning Bright

“Mortality is not kind, and do not let anyone tell you it is; if there is such a thing as wisdom, and I have serious doubts about its presence in my own life, it lies in the acceptance of the human condition and perhaps the knowledge that those who have passed on are still with us, out there in the mist, showing us the way, sometimes uttering a word of caution from the shadows, sometimes visiting us in our sleep, as bright as a candle burning in a basement with no windows.”

James Lee Burke – “Robicheaux”

I love that sentence, not just for the incredible poetry of Southern writing, but especially for the last part:  “as bright as a candle burning in a basement with no windows.”

If someone you loved intensely dies you know that feeling of being in a basement too well.  Suddenly they’re . . . gone. All of their magic, all of their thoughts, their words, their touches and glances, have disappeared forever.

No matter what your spiritual beliefs may be – and I personally believe very strongly in an afterlife – the physical body, the material presence of the person you loved is gone.

There is, I think, a natural reaching out which most of us do after a death.  Trying to somehow contact the other person, to imagine them and how they are. Are they confused and disoriented?  Are they blissful and satisfied? Are they finally out of the pain that they were in and experiencing peace? There’s just that burning need to touch them, to feel their spirit one more time.

Religious people will tell you that they’re in heaven having pancakes with Jesus and, by golly, they have REAL maple syrup in heaven, not Mrs. Butterworth’s.  Spiritual people will tell you that they’re on, “the other side,” and dancing on rainbows or cruising through the astral plane. Psychic mediums may be able to give you very detailed descriptions like, “She’s in the garden and she’s wearing a white lace dress and your dog Skipper who died twenty years ago is there with her.”

And it’s all very comforting and sweet, all of those well intentioned words and Hallmark cards, but what we really want is to be able to see our loved ones for ourselves.  Instead, it’s like we’re, “in a basement with no windows.” We can’t see up and we can’t see out. We can’t see them.

If you actually talk to people who are grieving a death you’ll find an amazing number of them HAVE felt or seen some sort of a contact from their loved ones.  Maybe a pair of earrings suddenly appear on a bedside table, or a long lost note from them falls out of a book, or the lights flicker on and off whenever the dead come to mind.  There are signs and signals from them and, yet, we can’t quite get through to them. No matter much we miss or desire that contact we just can’t touch them.

It feels, of course, like a great big Cosmic Door has been slammed shut.  We’re on one side and they’re on the other. We may hear a faint murmur of their voices but we can’t get past the door.

Oddly, though, Death can be the start of a journey that will take you to much greater heights than you could have ever imagined.  Getting through that goddamned door can become a Quest.

The Sioux tribes believe that people who are grieving over Death are closer to Spirit World than normal humans.  That the veil between the two worlds is thinner for them, that the Spirits hear them more clearly, and that their prayers have greater powers. Certainly deep grief feels that way.  It’s as if you exist in a world apart from ordinary life and you see and feel things that others who are aren’t grieving can’t see and feel.

In other words, people who are close to Death – either their own or a loved one – are existing in a Sacred Space.  There is no other time when we are more likely to ask the right questions and get the right answers than when we are in the presence of Death.

Death leaves clues and symbols for us that point to a higher, Spiritual realm. What we do with them is up to us.  We don’t have to understand them at first, we just need to acknowledge that they’re real.  Yes, those earrings DID appear out of nowhere. Yes, it IS odd that a note from my husband fell out of a book just as I was thinking of him.  Yes, the lights DO flicker on and off for no reason when I talk about my dead child.

And, yes, it’s entirely possible that our departed loved ones are still here, “as bright as a candle burning in a basement with no windows.”

The Hermit: “For What Does It Profit a Man to Gain the Whole World But Lose His Soul?”

I am fortunate enough to live in one of the most beautiful places in the United States, the Trinity Alps of far Northern California.  There are gorgeous rivers and streams and lakes, mountains, two national forests, a plethora of eagles, hawks, ravens, bears, trout, and salmon.  And there are only 13,000 people living in the entire county so you can still actually spend hours walking in the woods or sitting by a river by yourself.

We have thousands of tourists come through every summer and a sizable minority of them are just plain miserable.  It’s either too hot or it’s too cold, there aren’t enough cashiers in the grocery store, the ATM wasn’t working, the water in the river is too cold to swim in, it’s too quiet, it’s boring, the internet isn’t fast enough, etc., etc., etc.

It’s kind of sad.  These people have spent thousands of dollars to go to a beautiful, tranquil place to get away from their problems for a few weeks and it turns out that the main problem they have is . . . them.  They’re just not happy people. And they brought themselves with them.

Like the old cliche’ says, “No matter where you go, there you are.”

The Hermit is about a period of withdrawal from the world.  About getting out of the stream of time and events for a while so that you can either figure out or remember who you really are.  But, as we can surmise from the unhappy tourists in Trinity County, there’s a little more involved with that than just running away from home.

A researcher named Marsha Sinetar wrote a fascinating book on the subject called, “Ordinary People As Monks and Mystics, Lifestyles For Self-Discovery.”  She put ads in several papers across the country seeking out people who had chosen to withdraw from everyday life and based the book on her interviews with them.

Several things become obvious as you read through the book.  The first is that these people experienced a massive reordering of what they considered to be valuable (also known as, “their values.”)  At some point in their lives they simply decided that the new car, the big house, the fancy computers, the pay raise at the job, and yes, even the marriage to the, “perfect spouse,” and 2.5, “perfect children,” were all bullshit.  All of the things that we might ordinarily consider important and satisfying and fun had become unimportant distractions to them.

What BECAME important to them were, oddly, the things that used to be part of the human birthright but which many of us have lost in modern life.  Time alone. Time to think. Time to meditate. Being in nature. Reading. Silence. Contemplation.

And – again, oddly – claiming  these simple things which used to be free to every human being actually, “cost,”  them a fair amount. Most of them had to walk away from the high paying jobs and start doing part time jobs and learn to live on less money and with fewer possessions.  They walked away from the social status and from the concept that they were, “important people,” as defined by others and walked toward the concept of being, “important people,” as defined by their own hearts.  

Some of them became alienated from their families who refused to accept their new lifestyles.  “Why are you living out in the woods with a dog instead of finding a good husband and having kids?  What’s wrong with you?”

These are mainly seen as sacrifices by people on the outside looking in, though.  To the participants in the study they were very small sacrifices to make for having the luxuries of time and solitude.  

“Time, not money, seemed to be the element most coveted for their new life. . . they didn’t have to be financially secure, they just had to FEEL secure . . .”

And that was one of the biggest takeaways for me from this book.  Modern life, as most of us know it, is a thief. It steals our TIME and in doing so it steals our ability to think about who we are and why we’re here.  In exchange it gives us, “things,” – toys, computers, cars, houses, money – and then it hypnotizes us into thinking that those things are actually us, actually the life that it just stole from us.  

The Hermit is about throwing away the trinkets and finding the gold.  Taking back your time and your Self and your Soul.

Getting Real – The Hanged Man

I said in my original definition of The Hanged Man that having this archetype blow through your life is a lot like getting hit in the face with a two by four.  It involves an experience that is so painful, so truly devastating that you have to totally reevaluate how you relate to life and the souls around you.  

In other words, you have to have a new framework for your existence.  

We tend to focus on the central figure of The Hanged Man – the individual hanging from one foot with his hands tied behind him – and not see the background of the picture which includes the frame from which he is hanging.  The frame, though, is every bit as important as the person.

A.E. Waite chose to design the frame in a shape which is very much like a cross and evocative of Jesus, but that’s not how the frame was shown in the older cards.  It normally consisted of two living trees, one on each side, with a beam laid across their tops. It wasn’t a cross and had zippity doo dah to do with Jesus.

We can, perhaps, get a better grasp of what the inventors of the Tarot were getting at if we look at The Hanged Man from the old Marseille deck.


The name is Le Pendu, the hanging one.  It’s related to a slew of our modern words such as pendant, pendulum, dependent, and depend.  The commonality is that they all describe something that hangs from something else.

We all have a central point that our worlds (as we perceive them) hang from.  You might call it your, “identity.” Or perhaps your, “social fabric.” It’s made up of a myriad of factors that, blended together, make up the way that we see the world and our places in it.

“I’m a conservative hispanic catholic from New Mexico.”

OR

“I’m a liberal jew from Marin County.”

OR

“I’m an african american wiccan from Alabama.”

There are literally millions upon millions of variations, with each of us picking out and identifying with the things that make us feel unique and influence the way we perceive the world and our lives.  “This is who I am.”

The Hanged Man has had a forced realization that everything he believed in, everything he thought of as, “myself,” was an illusion.  Maybe it was a divorce that caused him to see that. Maybe it was the death of a child. Maybe it was an illness. Whatever it was he KNOWS that his previous life wasn’t real.

No, you aren’t your sports car because that can be taken away from you.

And you aren’t your house.

Or your brand new computer.

Or your family.

Or your religion.

Or even the color of your skin because, in case you haven’t noticed, you’re not taking that with you when you leave this beautiful world.

The Hanged Man has had that kind of a shocking realization.  That none of it’s really REAL. Everything he dePENDED on can vanish in the blink of an eye.  Everything he hung his identity from was an illusion. He’ll never see the world in the same way again.

And now he has to put himself back together, only this time in a way that IS real and that can’t be taken away from him.  He needs to reclaim his soul.

When you look at the trees in the old Marseille card it’s obvious that the branches have  been cut off. Everything that was once his life has been pruned away. BUT . . . the tips of the branches also look very much like buds in the Spring.  Full of life and ready to grow again.

Here’s how Eckhart Tole put it:

“Ego is no more than identification with form, which primarily means thought forms . . . What a liberation to realize that, ‘the voice in my head,’ is not who I am.  Who am I then? The one who sees that.”

The Hanged Man.

Strength as a Force

The Strength card is almost a parable in a picture.  A beautiful woman crowned with flowers gently closes the mouth of a ferocious lion.  The symbol of eternity floats over her head, reminding us that this is no ordinary strength that she embodies.

We all have different images and ideas that come to mind when we use the word, “strength.”    For many of us the image may be similar to the one depicted in the Swiss Tarot.


Here there is no gentle woman, but a muscled, ferocious man throwing the lion to the ground.  No doubt he ripped it’s head off and wore it for a top hat to remind every one of how butch he was.

That’s definitely NOT the concept of Strength that the Waite Tarot is trying to convey, nor is it in keeping with the images from the oldest Tarot decks.  This type of Strength has nothing to do with brute force and much more to do with love.

And that can be very hard for many of us to wrap our heads around:  love as Strength.

But even stranger is the concept of love as a Force, as it’s portrayed in the Marseille deck La Force.


Therapist and self-help author Gay Hendricks gives this advice:  “If you really want to change something love and accept it just the way it is.”  And that implies something quite a bit stronger than just the surface of the statement.  It implies that love can physically change things.

If you’re confronted with a bully, love him and he’ll change.

If you’re having hard times financially, love it and it will change.

If you’re having marriage problems, love it and it will change.

This isn’t just a matter of, “mere,” attitude adjustment, either.  It’s not learning how to feel better about something that stinks. It ACTUALLY changes things when you love them.

Which means that love is a force.  Or to put it another way, love is an energy.  It’s something that you can feel and something that can be projected into your world to make things better for you.

You can also approach that concept by examining some other emotional energies like hate or anger or pain.  If you walk into a room where there’s just been a really angry argument you can feel it. The anger is palpable even after the people who argued are gone.  If you meet a really negative person your first reaction is, “Boy, does HE have bad vibes.” If you walk into a slaughter house or a county jail the energy can literally make you sick to your stomach.

On the other hand, if you walk into a meditation center you immediately feel calmed and soothed by the energy that’s being generated there.

I got a wonderful tip from family therapist and counselor Jil Chipman:  “You can be happy any time that you choose to be.”

If we practice mindfulness then emotions can become a choice rather than random forces that batter us around.  We can sit and think about things that make us happy and literally become happy people at that moment. And there’s an energy and vibration that goes with happiness that we emanate when we are in that state.

In the same sense, if we think of things that we love we become loving people at that moment and there is an energy and a vibration that we emanate when we are in that state.

We are literally generating an energy which we call love and it’s literally a physical force that can change things for the better.  And that’s Strength.

The Chariot Card and Getting Some Direction in Your Life.

I have to admit that I read Tarot cards for years before I flashed on the fact that there are no reins attached to the sphinxes in The Chariot.  As I said in my basic definition, this is a very deceptive card on its’ surface.  The charioteer looks like he’s totally in control of the situation but, upon closer examination, there’s no sign of control at all.  The sphinxes are black and white, representing opposing forces, and they’re sitting on their butts, not moving forward. And they’re not harnessed to The Chariot. The charioteer might as well be a lawn ornament for all of the real action that’s involved.

What The Chariot is really all about is figuring out what your goals are going to be.  And, since this is a card of the Major Arcana, it’s not about figuring out what your minor goals are going to be.  It’s not about what you want to do next week or next month or even next year. It’s about figuring out what you want to do with your life.

Put it this way:   goals, desires, life purpose are what puts harnesses on the sphinxes and puts the reins in the charioteers hands.  Your goals are what motivate you, what cause you to go forward and evolve instead of just sitting in place. You have to know where you want to go before you can start your journey.

And, like The Chariot, that can be deceptive on the surface.  Most of us hustle and bustle through life being good at what we do.  We do a good job for our employers, we’re good parents, we’re good sons and daughters and friends.  And, as long as we’re, “doing good,” we figure that’s enough. We fill our busy schedules up with so many details that we don’t even have time to think.  We don’t question why we’re here. We’re here to work hard and buy IPhones, right?

We usually don’t contemplate if that’s really all that there is until, unfortunately, we encounter a tragedy or a catastrophe.  The death of a life partner or our parents or children, a terrible divorce, losing all of our possessions and going bankrupt. And then we get hit smack between the eyes with those very troubling questions.  Why am I here? What am I supposed to be doing? Is this all there is to life? Is there some purpose to all of this that I’m supposed to fulfill?

And then there’s a big surprise.  Those are REALLY HARD QUESTIONS!!!  You can go through a lot of fortune cookies and not find the answers, believe me.  

One way to get started is The Subtractive Method.  If you can’t quite figure out who you are and what you’re supposed to be doing, then figure out what you aren’t and what you’re not supposed to be doing.

There’s a Feng Shui exercise where you walk into a room and you just feel its’ energy.  You try to sense what’s harmonious in the room and what isn’t. If there’s something that feels like it doesn’t fit with the energy of the room and your personal energy field, then you subtract it.  And you keep subtracting until the energy feels right. For example:

“Hmmmm . . . this is my meditation room.  I have my statue of the Buddha and my painting of Red Tara.  There’s my altar bowl with the incense in it. Altar, meditation pillow, check. The quartz crystals on the window sill feel good.  And . . . um . . . that giant stuffed giraffe with purple polka dots that my boyfriend gave me. That’s wrong. That’s definitely wrong.  I’ll subtract that . . .”

And you can do the same thing with your life.  Remove what’s NOT you until what IS you starts to emerge.

Here’s a neat trick that life coach Tambre Leighn suggests in her course on dealing with the grief process:

A – get a pen and paper and write out one word listings of things that are important to you.  These might be things like love, serenity, happiness, music, art, friendship, etc.

B – go back and write a brief sentence for each word describing what they actually mean to you.

C – arrange them in order of importance, most important to least important.

So now you have a list that you can call your, “core values.”  These are the things that are most valuable to you in life, therefore they are clues as to why you’re here and where you should be going.

Keep the list handy.  When you’re faced with decisions like, “Do I really want this job?” or, “Am I really interested in this person?” take a look at your list.  Is the job or the person really compatible with your values? If quiet and serenity is important to you do you want to get involved with a guy who’s a party animal?  If peace of mind is important to you, do you want a high pressure job with a lot of extra demands?

As you continue to eliminate or subtract people and situations that are incompatible with your values the real you will start to emerge.  You will start to instinctively move toward energy that’s compatible with your higher purpose and you’ll be on your way.