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 . . .

The Eight of Pentacles and the Death of Creativity

The Eight of Pentacles looks like a pretty happy card.  A craftsman sits at his bench carving away at one pentacle after another and seems to have several of them displayed, as if they were for sale.  My original definition of the card in my book, “Just the Tarot,” pretty much agrees with that:

Profiting from your skills.  Learning new skills that will advance your career.  Possible promotions or awards at work.

And, yet, as an artist and a writer, I have to say, “Ugh.”

And, “Yuck.”

In some ways the Eight of Pentacles is sort of the anti-creativity card.  Real creativity involves an interesting balance between competence and incompetence.

If you’ve ever gone through the pains of starting a new job or you’ve supervised someone who was new at their job, you know that there’s a definite learning curve.  For about the first six months you can count on a pretty high level of screwing up. The new employee has to learn new skills or – in some cases – unlearn what he thought he knew.  At about six months to a year, she’ll start to develop the abilities to perform the job and, after a year, it should be easy peasy.

We see a lot the same thing with artists.  Having a creative vision isn’t enough. The painter has to learn how to blend the colors and which brushes to use.  The wood carver has to know which chisels do what and what types of wood have smooth, tight grains that will take the details of the carving.

You study it, you practice it, and you learn it.  I used to refer to that as, “getting the knowledge out of my head and into my hands.”

But, the thing is, the second you’ve REALLY learned it, the second you can do it perfectly over and over and over again . . . you’ve stopped creating.  You’re just repeating.

That’s what I see when I look at the Eight of Pentacles:  a line of perfectly carved pentacles that are all exactly the same.  It would have been really cool if some of them were orange and some of them were purple, if there were a few folk art pentacles mixed in with some abstract pentacles.  

But there aren’t.

Henry Ford invented the assembly line in 1913.  It was a novel concept at the time: a product moving down a line, being assembled by a team of workers.  Each worker was highly trained in doing one separate part of the assembly, over and over and over. Doing exactly the same thing day after day after day until they retired or dropped dead from boredom.

It was a brilliant idea for a capitalist and an absolute soul killer for the workers.  Real creativity involves trying something new that you don’t actually know how to do perfectly.  It’s a meshing of your skill set with unknown territory that results in something unique and different AND increases your skills.

Unfortunately, we don’t see a lot of that in our work places.  We see people stuck in jobs where they do one or two things over and over again and are never challenged and never grow.  We actually give them awards for that and congratulate them on knowing how to do those one or two things better than anyone else, on accepting the concept that they should be, “good”, but not creative or different.

The Eight of Pentacle is a safe card, a card that shows that nothing bad is happening to that person.  But nothing particularly wonderful is happening to that person, either.  The real story is in the definition of the Eight of Pentacles Reversed:

 Employment problems that may involve a need for retraining or learning new job skills.  Possibly the questioners position being eliminated or some sort of a reshuffle of employees that will place him or her in a job requiring different skills.

In other words, THAT person is going to have to GROW.  It’s all really a question of choosing emotional safety or choosing growth.  Sit in the nest or jump out and learn how to fly.

Life is way too short to choose safety.

The Three of Swords and Healing a Broken Heart

Did you know that having a broken heart can actually . . . well . . . break your heart?

There is a medically recognized condition called, “broken heart syndrome,” that can cause all of the symptoms of a heart attack and lead to hospitalization.  Although it’s most commonly associated with middle aged women it can strike anyone and it’s brought on by intense grief such as the death of a loved one, a divorce, or breaking up with a lover.  One side of the heart actually enlarges for a period of time and fails to beat normally causing chest pains and shortness of breath.

The Three of Swords is a perfect illustration of that pain.  Most of us have been there: being deeply, completely in love with someone who betrays our trust, or falls out of love with us, or, sometimes, dies.  It literally feels as if we’ve been stabbed in the heart, wounded to our very core.

The question then becomes, how do we recover from that?  Or do we? One strategy, of course, is to just swear off falling in love and vow that we’ll never be suckers like that again.  Oh, sure, maybe we’ll have sex every once in a while – maybe a LOT – but we’ll never fall in love with or completely trust another human being again.  Ever!

Probably not the best plan.  In one of her always excellent podcasts called, “The Courage to Love,” Tara Brach asserts that moving away from love is actually moving away from the best and most authentic part of ourselves.  Which is not hard to recognize when we stop and think about it. When do we feel best about ourselves? When we’re loving and kind.  When do we feel best about the world? When we’re receiving love and kindness. It really IS hard wired into us: even a baby happily recognizes a smile and is frightened by a scowl.

As Brach points out, though, it can be difficult to remember that.  We are right now JUST starting to evolve out of that fight, flight or freeze response that’s always lurking in our amygdalas.  When someone shuts us down, when someone breaks our hearts, it feels like danger, like a terrible threat to our very being and we want to fight back against them, run away, or become emotionally frozen in place.  (Never again! Ever!)

We do have a couple of assets that we’ve evolved into, though, that can help:  consciousness and intentionality. We can consciously recognize our emotions and just sit with them.  “Okay, I hurt like hell. I feel betrayed. I feel like I can’t trust anyone.”  And that’s okay.

And we can intentionally move toward love.  “Okay, I really hurt but I recognize that I’m a loving, caring person and I’m not going to let someone else remove love from my heart.  I claim my autonomy and I choose love.”

We can also remember that the Heart Chakra just feels love and it doesn’t discriminate about where it’s coming from.  It’s wonderful to receive love from another human being but it’s not the only source.

When we’re broken hearted we can bring in a lot of self-love.  We can write out affirmations about what good, loving and deserving people we are.  We can visualize ourselves bathed in love and compassion and we can be especially nourishing and kind to ourselves.

Divine love can be another source for many people.  In Red Tara practice meditators will visualize Tara hovering before them, sending golden beams of love into their bodies and hearts.  We can do the same practice and replace Tara with the deity, spirit guide, or angel of our choice.

And, of course, we can just love.  Love generates love. The more we act with loving kindness and compassion toward our fellow travelers on the earth plane, the more the heart chakra opens and heals.  The more it opens, the more love we attract and receive.

“Neither be cynical about love;

for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment

it is as perennial as the grass.” – The Desiderata

The Five of Wands and a Committee of Egos

The Five of Wands is almost painful to look at.  All of that conflict! All of that fighting! All of those guys whacking each other with their staves!

Except, they’re not.

If you look a little more closely at the Five of Wands you see that NO ONE is getting hit.  Not one single staff has landed on one single head. Look a little closer and you see that they’re all holding their staves with one hand, which is a little awkward for close quarter combat, right?

So what the hell’s going on here?

When you stand back and get a little perspective on the painting you can see that the staves are actually starting to form a pattern as they’re being waved around in the air.  One side of a pentacle is forming and we can assume the other side is coming eventually.

Wands, of course, represent ideas or ambitions and pentacles are possessions or earth based manifestations.  The short hand on this card is that a variety of ideas are coming together and will manifest into a single, material form.

We might call this, “co-creation by committee.” Or more accurately, co-creation by ego.

Ego gets a bad rap a certain extent of the time.  Aside from being that distracting voice that won’t shut the hell up when we’re trying to meditate, there are some things that ego is very good at doing.  Ego is great for making out grocery lists, or remembering to change the oil in the car, or paying the bills on time. Ego is not only good at planning for the future, ego can plan six or seven possible futures simultaneously AND be obsessed with the past while it’s doing that.

One thing that ego is NOT good at, though, is co-creation.  It’s almost as if acknowledging that someone else might have a better idea is a threat to ego’s very existence.

As Eckhart Tolle said in “A New Earth:  Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose,”

“There is nothing that strengthens the ego more than being right. . . For you to be right, of course, you need someone else to be wrong, and so the ego loves to make wrong in order to be right. . . Being right places you in a position of imagined moral superiority in relation to the person or situation that is being judged and found wanting.  It is that sense of superiority the ego craves and through which it enhances itself.”

And when you put a group of people in a room together, all of whom are convinced that they’re right and everyone else is wrong, you end up with the Five of Wands.  They’re not just waving their wands around, they’re waving their egos around. They’re not TOUCHING each other, not synthesizing each others creativity into a real group effort and so it’s very difficult to bring a coherent, complete vision out of the gathering.

Real co-creation requires that we step out of our egos for awhile and actually listen to other people’s ideas and inspirations.  That we operate as equals and acknowledge that each person brings valuable gifts to the table.  

There was a very popular book written by Thomas Anthony Harris in the 1960s called, “I’m Okay, You’re Okay.”  The premise of the book was that we’re all on equal footing spiritually, no one is a superior or an inferior. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross flipped it a little and said, “I’m not okay, you’re not okay, and that’s okay.”

Either way you look at it, THAT’S the point where we start to have real co-creation with other people.  When we leave the ego by the door to guard the umbrellas and actually listen to each other.

The Four of Cups, The Five of Cups, and Finding Gratitude in Painful Times

There are a lot of people out there right now talking and writing about how to create abundance.  One of the things that they all agree upon is the need for gratitude as a part of the process of manifestation.  

Whether you’re working with angels and spirit guides or an agnostic trying to get the hang of the Law of Attraction, all of the teachers and financial gurus will tell you to start with a grateful heart.  If you’ve only got a few bucks in your pocket, be grateful for them before you try to manifest more. If you want to have stronger, more positive people in your life, start by telling the people who are already in your life how much you appreciate them.

But sometimes we get stuck and it’s really hard to pull up that attitude of gratitude.  It could be that we’ve had some sort of a terrible loss. It could be that our lives are going through one of those phases where everything just sucks and we finally have to say, “Jesus, why is this shit happening to me?”  Or it could be that it’s just one of those times when we need to feel sorry for ourselves a while.

Gratitude is an emotion, just like love, hatred and anger, so it’s appropriate that the two cards in the Tarot deck that deal with a lack of gratitude are in the suit of emotions – the Cups.

In the Four of Cups we see a man sitting on the ground, arms crossed in defensiveness or rejection, staring at three cups standing on the ground before him.  A fourth cup is appearing out of thin air but he doesn’t even see it. The Three of Cups is, of course, a card of celebration and happiness so we can conjecture that the cups he’s staring at represent the loss of some major source of happiness in his life.  Perhaps he’s broken up with a lover or he’s been fired from a job that he really liked. In any case, he’s so focused on the past that he’s not perceiving the new opportunity, the cup floating in the air.

Contrast that with the Five of Cups.  This is a card of MAJOR, life changing loss and deep, deep grief.  He’s dressed in the black cloak of mourning and the wine from the three cups is spilled upon the ground, gone forever.  And, again, he’s so focused on his loss that he can’t even see that he has two cups left which are quite full. An example might be a man or woman who can’t focus on their children because they are too deep in grief over a spouse who has died.  She has literally turned her back on happiness for the time being.

So, knowing that gratitude can be a major factor in manifesting an abundant, spiritually satisfying life, how do you even GET to it when all you can feel is a sense of loss?  Sometimes cognitive and spiritual reframing is the answer.

In the case of the Four of Cups – the loss of a relationship or a job – try to see that cup that’s hanging in the air.  Ask yourself WHY it happened. Is it clearing the way for a deeper relationship or a better job? What employment or relationship skills did you learn by going through this?  How is this going to make you a better or a stronger person in the future?

You can even take it to a deeper level of analysis if you like.  Is this some kind of a script from a childhood trauma that you’re playing over and over again?  Are you subconsciously manifesting lovers who will reject you or make you miserable? Are you seeking out jobs or bosses who won’t appreciate you?  Can you bring that to full consciousness and turn it around? Can you feel grateful for the growth?

In the case of the Five of Cups, it’s a much rougher road.  It’s hard to find anything positive about someone you love dying.  True, deep grief is devastating. It can actually make us physically ill and sometimes it drives us to a despair that’s so deep we can’t imagine it will ever end or we’ll ever smile again.

Yet, it can cause a major and ultimately beneficial shift in our perspectives.  If we are at all honest with ourselves it will drive us to real and permanent reevaluations of our lives.  It causes us to ask what in the hell it’s all about. Is there really life on the other side? Did my loved one survive in some form?  Are there spiritual beings? If she was taken and I was left behind, what am I supposed to be doing with my life now? Surely I have some life purpose that’s higher than watching television and eating junk food.

It’s like a ball of yarn that’s come completely unraveled and you have figure out how to roll it back up.  Or a jig saw puzzle where you have all of the pieces but you’ve lost the picture of the assembled puzzle. All you can do is start at the edges and try to put life back together in a way that makes sense.  Eventually, though, it adds a much greater depth and meaning to life.

Gradually, horribly slowly, we do begin to recover from grief if we choose to go on living.  And, yes, it gives us a sense of gratitude for life and for the love we experienced with the person we lost that’s more profound than we could have ever imagined.

Gratitude can always be discovered.  Sometimes we just have to look for it a little harder.

The Nine of Cups and the Expert Syndrome

Did you ever have a friend who was an expert in EVERYTHING all the time, no matter how obscure the subject?  Whatever you mention to them they always have a rejoinder like,”Oh, yes, I read several books about that years ago.”

Or

“I actually took a course on that in college.”

Or

“I actually TAUGHT a course on that in college.”

Or

“Yes, I had an affair with Professor Crumbley who’s the leading expert on that and we discussed it many times while we were having sex in the most IMAGINATIVE positions.”

Bring up anything – quarks, inflation, ancient Roman gods, the cotton content in Victoria Secrets thongs – they already know all about it and also manage to convey that you are somewhat intellectually deficient for just finding out about what they’ve known for years.

In my original definition for the Nine of Cups I wrote this:

This card indicates an individual who is rather smug and self satisfied.  He is very well pleased with his position in the world and doesn’t mind telling you about how great he’s doing.  There is a warning against going too far and appearing to be arrogant.

On an intellectual level, that’s an expert.

I’ve had several of those people in my life lately and started to think of them as having a personality disorder that I refer to as, “expert syndrome.”  Just for grins I ran it through the search engines and found that a few other people have noticed it, too.

Having a conversation with someone who has expert syndrome can be extremely frustrating.  I admit that I’m an idea junkie: I have a high degree of intellectual curiosity and I get excited when I discover a new concept or explore a new subject.  I look forward to discussing them with other people.

 And then I run into an expert.

“Oh . . . yawn . . . is THAT what you’re excited about?  Really? Yes, I explored all of that quite some time ago . . .”

They literally can’t hear you because their brains are already stuffed with their own opinions and self-importance.  That’s the frustrating part.

That’s also the part that’s very sad:  they literally can’t hear you. At some point in their lives they adopted the intellectual posture that they are smarter and know better than anyone else, so why should they listen to anyone else?  

Psychologists refer to it as, “the Dunning–Kruger effect,” and it’s an illusory perception that you are intellectually superior to, well, just about everyone.  It’s not an over-compensation for an inferiority complex as you might think and, oddly, it afflicts both people who are extremely bright and people who are dumb as stumps.

The bottom line on it is that the second they adopted that posture, they stopped growing intellectually or spiritually.  They can’t take in anything new if they’re convinced that they already know it.

The Nine of Cups certainly represents smugness and self-satisfaction.  It also represents the kind of energy stasis that we see in expert syndrome.  There’s no growth, no expansion, no seeking out what’s new or different. And that’s a very sad place to be.

“Just the Tarot,” by Dan Adair, a book of basic Tarot definitions available on Amazon.com.

The Three of Pentacles and the Creative Process

We know that humans essentially have two different brains in one skull.  The left hemisphere of the brain is involved in logical and linear processes such as math, writing, driving a car, and analyzing problems.  The right hemisphere is the, “creative brain,” and deals with dreams, symbols, intuition, inspiration, poetry and art.

While the right brain is more involved in the genesis of art, both sides of the brain are necessary to make it materialize.  Here’s an example: Janis is an artist and has a dream about a beautiful, glowing landscape. Upon awakening, she’s determined to paint the image she dreamed and share it with the world.  That’s right brain working.

She goes to her studio and has to select which paints will work best with the image, what size canvas she wants to paint it on, and which brushes she want to use.  That’s left brain working.

As she begins to paint she falls into a sort of a trance and hours go by without her being aware of anything but the painting.  Right brain is in charge again.

When she’s finished for the day she sits back and critiques what she’s done.  Did she get the lines right? Is the shading perfect? Did she capture the source of light?  That’s left brain engaging in the process.

So there’s this interesting back and forth between the two sides of the brain, each side contributing its’ own powers and skills to creating.  And that’s what we see in the Three of Pentacles.

The Three of Pentacles is unusual for a Minor Arcana card because it incorporates two figures from the Major Arcana.  A stonemason stands on a bench, mallet in hand, pausing between strokes to listen to two people who are conferring over a plan.  The two people are obviously The Fool and The Hierophant.

They are represented here, it seems, not so much as the formal individuals they are in the Major Arcana, but as the energies or vibrations associated with those two cards.

The Fool is wild, intuitive, intoxicated with divine energy but with no need to interpret or define what he’s doing.  The Hierophant is stodgy, stolid, conventional, not unkind but a stickler for the rules. The Fool is all about Right Brain energy and The Hierophant is all about Left Brain energy.

So we have this almost perfect representation of the creative process:  Left Brain and Right Brain working together while the craftsman waits to create their synthesis in the material world.

And one of the fun things about this card is that it’s not about art at all, according to its’ common definitions.  It’s about buying real estate and making improvements to your home, being enthusiastic about it but paying careful attention to details.  Which is a wonderful reminder that everything – everything – we do in life is a creative process. 

 Life is a canvas – use bright colors.