Oh my ears and whiskers!
It's going to be late!
Tarot in Wonderland, illustrated by Eugene Smith, will be available in mid- to late April. Sadly it is stuck on a boat between here and China and will be a little late…just another Trickster experience that has been part of this deck from the beginning. In fact, it has been so delayed for so many reasons from the beginning that it is dedicated to Hermes, my favorite expression of the Trickster.
Even though the subject matter is whimsical and supposedly nonsensical, it is one of my deepest decks yet. Having loved Carrol’s work from childhood through writing innumerable papers on it in college, this deck was a joy to create.
Part of the fun was exploring the similarities between tarot and the Alice stories. Some topics discussed in the book include: identity, searching for wisdom, and opposites.
Another direction we consider is reading mundane things as sacred texts. Below is an excerpt from the book explaining this idea. Below that is an excerpt about the Hierophant, a suitable match to go with a discussion about sacred texts.
I hope you enjoy this and ultimately, the deck.
Tarot in Wonderland
Many spiritual paths have sacred texts. Christians have their Bible; Muslims, the Quran. Many pagans say that the earth is their sacred text. I do not think that a sacred text must be ordained or approved by any organization. You can have your own sacred text. Witches have their Books of Shadows, where they write all the important things that they learn as well as their spells. It is their personal sacred text. Many tarot readers consider their decks as an unbound sacred book that can be shuffled to provide wisdom about any situation. Vanessa Zoltan and Casper ter Kuile created the Harry Potter and the Sacred Text podcast in order to read a series that they love as a sacred text.
According to Zoltan and ter Kuile, one defining characteristic of a sacred text is that it is generative. What they mean is the work is not static but continually provides new and insightful information. This is one reason that tarot readers love their cards. Tarot readers can use a deck for years and yet still see something new in the cards. Not only that, but consider this: we do not have a single complete existing original tarot deck and yet throughout the centuries we continue to create more decks that show the wisdom of the cards in different ways. Even decks with similar themes are all still unique from each other. There are lots of cat-themed tarots and they are all different. Likewise, there are multiple versions of fairy, magic, witch, animal, Steampunk, and even Alice-based decks. There is room in the world for all of them because tarot is generative and each incarnation shows us something different.
The Alice stories are read by many, whether they know it or now, as sacred texts. In fact, in this book, we will, for brevity’s sake, often refer to the Alice stories as “the text.” The stories are filled with so much symbolism and playfulness and enough questions to allow space for expansion. That expansion can go in so many directions. People view the books through various lenses: psychological, mathematical, logical, political, historical, biographical, and literary, just to name a few. This is similar to tarot because different readers work with the cards from psychological, spiritual, therapeutic, or psychic approaches. Further, if you consider all the movies, plays, spin offs, books, and comics that are based on or inspired by Carroll’s work, we have to admit that the Alice stories are certainly generative.
V, The Hierophant
Through the Looking Glass
These days, The Hierophant is one of the most disliked cards in tarot. That is because people have too narrow a view of The Hierophant because traditional imagery shows this character as a Roman Catholic Pope. The Pope is just manifestation of the spiritual, ethical, or philosophical teacher archetype, which is what this card really is. The Hierophant, regardless of the specific image used to illustrate this card, represents the underlying belief system that guides our behaviors and actions. Different versions of this archetype…a Catholic Pope, an evangelical pastor, a popular philosopher, a self-help guru, a motivational teacher…all share a similar quality: they suggest a possible way that the world works. Once you understand your own beliefs, then you can measure all your decisions, actions, words, and goals against that worldview. The Hierophant as a card doesn’t so much represent how to think as to the importance about what you think. What you accept as the “truth” about the world determines your behavior. When our behavior is at odds with our beliefs, we suffer severe emotional, spiritual, and psychological (and sometimes physical) distress.
The Cheshire Cat explains to Alice how Wonderland “works” and about the importance of knowing one’s goals. Some of the most famous lines (and there are so many) from the Alice stories are:
“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you ca’n’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
The Cheshire Cat gives an explanation that hinges on the idea that no one knows what is real and what is false. When his remarks are pushed further by philosophers and other great thinkers (as so much in the Alice stories has been), discussions include the inability to know for certain whether one is in a dream while one is in the dream. Likewise, when one is “mad” or what we would call suffering from mental illness is it possible to know that one is in a state of insanity? The idea of madness continues with the Mad Hatter and March Hare. I’ve heard that a basic definition of madness is when what is in our heads doesn’t match what is outside our heads, or what some call reality. To be in good mental, emotional, and spiritual health, our internal lives (our beliefs) must match our external lives (our actions).
Alice asks for directions, but has no destination in mind. The Cat responds with “then it doesn’t matter which way you go.” This echoes wisdom from the Talmud that says “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” If you have no goals, no intentions guiding your path, then what you do doesn’t matter. The Cat and the Talmud don’t mean goals like “make six figures” or “start a successful business,” at least not as ends in themselves. We are talking about core beliefs, about why we are here, and about what we believe we are meant to do.
Down the Rabbit Hole
In a reading, The Hierophant invites us to examine our actions and measure them against our beliefs. If they are lining up but things are still feeling wrong, then perhaps it is time to re-examine our guiding principles. If there is a gap between the ways in which we behave and what we claim to believe, then it is time to tighten up that space and start being the people that we aspire to be. When we are confused about which path to take or which way to go, we often turn to the cards for guidance. This card says that you need no outside advice but instead, but instead to do that which in your heart of heart you know to be the right thing.
Keywords: education, teaching, learning, knowledge, conformity, tradition, institutions, group identity, values, guidance, orthodoxy, rites, blessing, status quo, social conventions
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