December 4 is St. Barbara’s Day. Interestingly, she is also associated with Chango/Shango. In tarot, she is associated with The Tower. For the third year in a row, my friend and I celebrated. At the bottom of this post is a spread that we used for our first year’s celebration. You can do this spread any time, not just on her feast day.
Although this is a Catholic saint, we do not celebrate as Catholics, although we were both raised as such. Instead, we work with the various St. Barbara stories as if they are a sacred text, much in the same way as I read tarot as a sacred text or as the hosts of the wonderful podcast, Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, read those books as sacred texts. As with so many of the stories of the saints, there are many versions. We do not try to establish the “true” story or demand factual evidence. A sacred text is not a scientific research paper.
Each year we focus on a different aspect of the stories. The basic plot of her story is that her father locked her in a tower to keep her safe and virtuous and away from the heretic Christians. Food and necessities were sent up to her in a basket attached to a rope. One day, somehow, a book found its way into the basket and Barbara read it. It was about Christianity and she thought it was wonderful. She wanted to learn more but her father was suspicious and controlled her life. But Barbara was pretty clever. She feigned illness and said that she knew of a doctor, the only doctor who could save her. Her father sent for the doctor, not realizing he was a doctor of the soul not of the body. Barbara learned all about Christian faith and was baptized.
Her father went away on business for a few days. While he was gone, Barbara ordered her father’s architects to add another window to her tower, which only had two windows. She wanted three windows to represent the Holy Trinity. When her father returned, he was, of course, outraged. He turned her in as a heretic and she was beaten and punished, but she would not repent. This went on for days, maybe weeks, but each night she asked Jesus to heal her wounds and he did. Because he’s cool like that. Her father was ordered to behead her so he took her to the foothills of a mountain (like you do) and attempted to cut her head off. After he accomplished this horrible crime, lightning struck, killing him and causing a mountain to fall on him.
That is one variation and I left out lots of things. And my friend and I change the ending. In our version, she does not die but escapes just before the lightning hits her father and goes on to teach love and commitment for many years.
We began our celebration by spending a few minutes at the alter I’d set up with candles and a painting I made of her followed by three minutes in meditation, inviting St. Barbara to come to us and guide us of in our discussion, reflection, and tarot reading. In my meditation, I was taken immediately to what looked like a WWI trench with soldiers in it. Barbara was going behind each one, laying her hands on them. She looked back at me with a look that said, “I’m busy right now. Just get to work.” Even though St. Barbara is associated with artillery, it was clear that this vision was metaphoric and not a literal call to physical violence.
As we discussed our meditation experiences, the message for me was that I know what is right and what must be done, what my work in the world is, and that I need to be braver and share my messages more clearly and with a wider reach. Until now, I have been quietly posting my messages on my blog and hoping that whoever needs the messages will find them. St. Barbara says that that is not enough. If I want to be part of changing the world, I need to be more on the front lines.
We finished our evening with doing readings for ourselves, sharing our messages, and adding to each other’s, as we felt led to. We used the second edition of the World Spirit Tarot and Carrie Paris’ Magpie Oracle. Very often, I take a photo or write out my reading in my journal but sometimes some readings are different. They are oracular moments that feed the soul more than the conscious mind. They are meant to be experienced rather than analyzed and mulled over and figured out. This reading, for me, was like that.
During our discussion and reflection, we noted how an apparently randomly acquired book held a life-changing message for St. Barbara. In myths, we often see that the environment is responsive to the hero. Barbara was seeking wisdom and it came to her. She, in turn, was responsive and changed her environment to reflect her new wisdom by adding a window to her tower. So my friend and I asked Spirit to help us be open to common, everyday things and occurrences that might hold such messages for us and how we can respond and create effective change in the world.
The next day I received a holiday card from a cousin who wrote something about really missing my presence on Facebook and maybe in 2017 I’d consider returning. Others have asked me over this past year but I always knew that the answer was, at least for now, “no.” With this one, I wasn’t so sure. I’m not someone who believes that every random thought is sacred intuition. Instead, I prefer to take the idea as a suggestion and test it against my current goals and values.
So I am still thinking about this, thinking how could my Facebook experience be different. How can I use it to share my messages without getting dragged back into my old way of using the platform. It may come to nothing. Or it may lead to something vital to my journey. As we enter into the darkest time of the year, I will spend time in reflection and prayer.
In the meantime, I blessed my neighborhood that night with words inspired from our celebration:
May you stand up for something with love, honor, and integrity without violence.
May you stand up for thing, large or small—yourself, another person, an ideal.
May you stand up for something you love and take one step closer to your true self.
With that, I offer an additional blessing to us all:
May you find and face the darkest parts of yourself.
May you find the peace and strength to transform them.
May you discover your next best step on your journey to live your true soul’s purpose.
May you know that you have the power to change yourself and the world.
Seasons of Tarot
Lately I’ve been thinking less about tarot as a divinatory tool and more as a Sacred Text…an unbound book of wisdom. One of the reasons many of us use tarot as a tool of divination is to get advice on the “right” decision regarding choices we have to make. Tarot has proved useful to me and countless others in this capacity. However, my mind has been turning toward the idea of not making a decision because it will give us a particular desired outcome but because it is the right thing to do. These things are not, of course, mutually exclusive, but looking at questions from a different point of view can give us interesting information.
Because of this change in focus, the coming weeks and months will bring you a series of essays about Tarot as Sacred Text. The essays will be about my musings and will hopefully inspire you to discover your own unique sacred wisdom within the cards that we all love so well.
Summer is winding down. Every change of season brings feelings of endings and new beginnings, of change…sometimes a sense of satisfaction for a season well-spent or regret over missed opportunities. The changing seasons remind us that life is a cycle and this can be comforting, as we know that summer will come ‘round again, that the moon will wax and wane with predictable regularity. They also remind us that time passes and things can never remain the same. The wisdom I’m looking for here in the cards is how we can understand and face change in our lives.
The seasons of our lives do not always follow the regularity of the change of seasons. We live for a season, whether a year or a decade or years, as perhaps a student of some particular course of study, as an employee for a company, as a partner to a person. Sooner or later all these seasons end. Sometimes we fight the endings, holding on far too long to what was, comfortable in the familiar, even though we know, deep in our gut or in the center of our heart, that it is time to say good-bye.
There are lots of cards of endings in tarot. Death is one card feared by many, a very natural fear as death brings change and humans are generally not fans of change. Actual death can occur in many ways, from a quiet, natural, peaceful death to a sudden, unexpected, and tragic death. However, I think the Death card isn’t necessarily about all forms human death (by human death, I don’t mean only physical death but all the ways humans experience deaths in their lives). Rather, I see it as an organic, natural death, the kind that happens when we see an ending approaching, recognize it, honor it, accept it graciously, and move on to the next phase.
We don’t always do that, though. We often, as mentioned earlier, fight it, deny it, clutch tightly to what we think is ours. In those cases, time continues to move on and the experience of death isn’t the easy, peaceful, organic death of the Death card but the sudden, frightening, chaos-creating death of the Tower card. We don’t leave a job we know we should and find ourselves laid off or downsized. We don’t leave a relationship that we know is no longer viable, we don’t end it when we can part as friends who once loved each other but instead end up hurting each other horribly and losing a connection, perhaps forever.
Seasons mark beginnings and endings. The Fool card is one filled with the possibility of beginnings. Generally, an optimistic card of beginnings, we are presented with seemingly infinite possibilities. The other aspect of the Fool that we don’t usually acknowledge is that as soon as the Fool takes a step, certain possibilities are no longer available. Beginnings and endings all in one, which is why the Fool can sometimes feel scary. Saying yes to something means saying no to other things. Similarly, the World card, generally an optimistic card of completion (we almost always say “completion” as it sounds more positive than “ending,” which has a sadder feeling to it) also contains a beginning in it. After completing something, it is time to move on…because, as nature teaches us, nothing healthy is stagnant. We’ve achieved something worthwhile and are comfortable with the schedules and systems we’ve created to get there, whether it is a class schedule or a career trajectory. Once the goal is reached, we have to release those comforting routines in order to discover and create the new ones that will take us to our next adventure.
Change is an important concept and one we all struggle with. In the next essay, we’ll continue to look at how tarot teaches us about change as we consider the 5s…usually not anyone’s favorite, no matter the suit. And rightly so. The 5s are cards of change.
These are just a few of the ways I see the metaphoric idea of seasons in our lives through tarot. I’d love to hear some of your ideas and also if you enjoy reading longer essays such as this.