Introduction to Goddess-Inspired Tarot

Like astrology the Tarot cards play an important part in most of today’s Western mystery traditions. Simply looking at the 78 picture cards with their ancient symbolism touches a hidden memory deep inside. Some use the cards for self-development and healing while for others they are powerful tools for divination or fortune-telling.

The true history and origin of the Tarot cards is unknown, although we do know that they are the forerunner of today’s standard playing card decks.

There are two quite divided camps with regard to the Tarot’s origins. On the one hand, and I believe this group to be in the majority, there are those people who believe the cards to be around 500 years old. The earliest deck found was in Italy dating back to the 1500s. This was the time of the Italian Renaissance when astrology was still considered a true science and numerology was an exciting new development. Nonetheless the symbolism on the cards feels much older than 16th century christianised Europe. This is exactly the argument of the second group of people who believe that the origins of the Tarot is thousands of years old dating back far into pre-Christian times. Some have suggested that the origins are ancient Egyptian while others believe the secret of the cards was carried by gypsies in oral form all the way from India.

My personal guess is that both groups are partially correct. Having studied ancient Goddess symbolism I recognise these in modern Tarot cards. The wisdom contained in the cards is no doubt much older than 500 years and likely reaches back tens of thousands of years into humanity’s earliest days. It is interesting that the earliest deck found dates back to the witch-burning times. It’s quite possible – as has been suggested by others – that some Pagan and / or other Mystery groups (such as the Knights Templars, Gnostic sects, kabbalistic Jews etc) decided to hide their wisdom within the images that on first glance might even appear Christian in spirit.

Since these early decks, however, the cards and the arrangement of the so-called Major Arcana has changed. The most famous modern deck is the Rider / Waite deck which was commissioned by A.E. Waite in the early 20th century and drawn by Pamela Coleman Smith. Mr. Waite was a member of the London-based secret mystic group “The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn”. Now, the Order of the Golden Dawn is clearly linked to the Freemasons who have always and still do use ancient Goddess symbolism within their secret society. Incidentally, the same is true for Gardnerian Wicca, which due to Gerald Gardner having been a Mason also includes many of the aspects found within Freemasonry. Why Freemasons use Goddess symbolism within their all-male club is anyone’s guess (and much speculation has been made about that!), but that’s another story altogether.

The other major Tarot deck of the early 20th century is Aleister Crowley’s Thoth set, which due to his belief that the Tarot cards originated in ancient Egypt has an Egyptian theme. Like Gardner he also had connections to the Freemasons, which explains his fascination with ancient Egyptian rites. Also, it is interesting to note that the Egyptian god Thoth was the equivalent to the Greek Hermes.

With the Golden Dawn-Freemasonry-Goddess symbolism connection it is difficult to say how exactly the ancient symbols found their way into the cards. Were they placed there recently by those privy to ancient mysteries preserved within secret societies? Or did someone during the times of the witch trials attempt to preserve the ancient wisdom of the Goddess by hiding Her symbols and secrets within a deck of cards? Either way, there they are: after all those many years of being forbidden and even persecuted, the Goddess and Her sacred mysteries continue to exist even today hidden in plain sight in the images of the 78 cards of the Tarot.

Alongside and with assistance of the many amazing Goddess-inspired women-oriented Tarot decks already in existence, this blog will aim to add to the all-important un-covery of the sacred mysteries and womanlore of the Tarot. Over the course of the next few months we will look at each of the 21 cards of the Major Arcana and reveal their inherent Goddess symbolism and origins. Together we will join the innocent Fool on her journey of discovery and her ultimate return to the Goddess, the immanent Mother of all Existence.

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On Motherhood and its Ritual Power

Before starting on the Tarot section of this blog, I would like to share a small passage I came across while reading about tribal consciousness in the Americas.

Some of the last remaining matrifocal groups in the world include a number of the Native American tribes. In her book “The Sacred Hoop – Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions” the late Paula Gunn Allen, a Laguna Keres Indian on her mother’s side, beautifully describes many of the differences between the Western or Anglo way of thinking and that of the American Indians. Even after 500 years of contact with patriarchal European culture, the Native Americans have retained their cyclical and ritualistic tribal view of the world.

The following quote from Paula Gunn Allen’s book is so very relevant to the re-discovery of the Goddess and the sacred power of womanhood for it is written from within a matristic mindset. It is so enlightening!

Corn Dawn Mother by Marti Fenton

“The water of life, menstrual or postpartum blood, was held sacred [by pre-contact American Indians]. Sacred often means taboo; that is, what is empowered in a ritual sense is not to be touched or approached by any who are weaker than the power itself, lest they suffer negative consequences from contact. The blood of woman was in and of itself infused with the power of Supreme Mind, and so women were held in awe and respect. The term “sacred”, which is connected with power, is similar in meaning to the term “sacrifice”, which means “to make sacred”. What is made sacred is empowered. Thus, in the old way, sacrificing meant empowering, which is exactly what it still means to American Indians who adhere to traditional practice. Blood was and is used in sacrifice because it possesses the power to make something else powerful or, conversely, to weaken or kill it.

Pre-contact American Indian women valued their role as vitalizers because they understood that bearing, like bleeding, was a transformative ritual act. Through their own bodies they could bring vital beings into the world – a miraculous power unrivaled by mere shamanic displays. They were mothers, and that word implied the highest degree of status in ritual cultures. The status of mothers was so high, in fact, that in some cultures Mother or its analogue Matron, was the highest office to which a man or woman could aspire.

The old ones were empowered by their certain knowledge that the power to make life is the source and model for all ritual magic and that no other power can gainsay it. Nor is that power really biological at base; it is the power of ritual magic, the power of Thought, of Mind, that gives rise to biological organisms as it gives rise to social organizations, material culture, and transformations of all kinds – including hunting, war, healing, spirit communication, rain-making, and all the rest.

At Laguna, all entities, human and supernatural, who are functioning in a ritual manner at a high level are called Mother.

[…]

But its value [that of being a mother] signifies something other than the kind of sentimental respect for motherhood that is reflected in Americans’ Mother’s Day observances. It is ritually powerful, a condition of being that confers the highest adeptship on whoever bears the title. So central to ritual activities is it in Indian cultures that men are honored by the name mother, recognizing and paying respect to their spiritual and occult competence. That competence derives entirely from Mother Iyatiku, and, through her, from Thought Woman [Spider Grandmother] herself.

A strong attitude integrally connects the power of Original Thinking or Creation Thinking to the power of mothering. That power is not so much the power to give birth, as we have noted, but the power to make, to create, to transform. Ritual, as noted elsewhere, means transforming something from one state or condition to another, and that ability is inherent in the action of mothering. It is the ability that is sought and treasured by adepts, and it is the ability that male seekers devote years of study and discipline to acquire. Without it, no practice of the sacred is possible, at least not within the Great Mother societies.” [pg 28 / 29]

NOTE

[1] Anyone who wants to submerge themselves into a tribal often matristic mindset that is ritual-based and has a cyclical rather than linear understanding of time should definitely read fiction and poetry by American Indian writers especially women writers. Two of my personal favourite novels of all times are Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony and Linda Hogan’s Solar Storms. They are both just beautiful and simply make sense.