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.

The Wheel of Fortune and the Gifts of Karma


You’re rolling along doing great, happy as a clam, your life full of blue skies and smiles and – BLAM – you get fired from your job.  Or your girlfriend leaves you. Or even worse, you get fired from your job and get terrible, terrible reviews on your exit interview and you know your resume’ will be screwed up for years.  Or . . . wait . . . your girlfriend leaves you for a lesbian who ALSO happens to be your supervisor and fires you and they BOTH give you terrible, terrible reviews on your exit interviews and you know your resume’, your ego and your libido will be screwed up for years.

We’ve all had those moments when life suddenly turns to shit with no warning and for no discernable reason.  It happens to everyone. A rabbi named Harold Kushner even wrote a book about it called, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” that sold millions of copies.

Of course, you could also write a book called, “When Good Things Happen to Bad People,” but it probably wouldn’t sell as well.  Or you could write a book called, “When Good People Have Their Lives Turn into Shit Sandwiches and Then All of a Sudden Things Get Better For No Particular Reason.”

As the King of Siam said, “It’s a puzzlement.”

One of the reasons it’s puzzling for most of us is that we get that training from the time that we’re infants:  if you’re good, good things will happen to you. If you’re bad, no fruit cup for dessert and you stand in the corner.  It’s supposed to be a straight, cause and effect transaction that if you’re good you get rewarded, not kicked in the head.

But life is full of ups and downs, and The Wheel of Fortune is a perfect illustration of that.  At best our ill fortune can seem terribly random and at worst it can seem just plain perverse. A turn of some invisible wheel over which we have no control.


As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to take a lot of comfort in the concept of karma.  When a stranger decides he doesn’t like me and he’s going to make my life hell it makes more sense to me to think that I must have screwed with him in a past life than to think that he  just doesn’t like my nose or my aftershave.

And if you really embrace the concept it can actually help you to get through some horrific times.  “Yes, this is terribly painful and I’m going through some serious suffering. On the other hand, think of all of the bad karma I’m burning off.”

I remember the first time I had a serious discussion about karma.  I was taking a tour of a Tibetan Buddhist Meditation Center and the woman who was the tour guide and who lived there said:  “When we get up in the morning we try to live virtuously and if we do that we accumulate merit, which is good karma. And then we consciously dedicate that merit that we’ve earned to anyone who is suffering or in need.  Which is also a virtuous thing to do so we accumulate more merit by doing it and then we consciously dedicate THAT merit to others.”

To which I replied, “Huh?”

It took me a few years to get it but the key words there are, “consciously dedicate.”  

When we encounter the bad times in life – as we always do – live them consciously.  Endure them with grace and dignity. Be determined to learn and to grow spiritually from them.  Consciously dedicate those bad times to earning merit.

And when we’re having good times in life, consciously dedicate some of that extra energy and fortune to helping others who are having hard times.  

Conscious living makes The Wheel of Fortune make sense.