Project in Progress: A Feminist Tarot

One of the first tools or trappings of paganism that I fell in love with as I started down this path was the Tarot.  And while my beliefs about it, my manner of working with it, may be different from the norm, I find it to be a very useful and enlightening thing to work with.

However, it’s long bothered me that the imagery is – and understandably so, given its history – so steeped in outdated gender roles and iconography.  Even as it lifts some female or feminine figures into powerful places, these women are still caged in ideas of feminine purity, sacred motherhood, or spiritual mystery.  Worse, when I read interpretations of cards, the gender divide is rarely challenged.  Most uphold the idea that certain traits indicated not just an feminine or masculine ideal, but could indicate a specific male or female person who fits that description.

It’s a very restrictive and, I believe, damaging way to look at the world.

If a querent cannot see herself in the cards or hear herself described by a reader, how can the Tarot fully describe her particular existence?  And if readers do not learn to look at cards such as the Kings or the Emperor and see in them the possibility that a woman is sitting on that throne, how can their readings be complete or accurate?

So, not one these days to sit on the sidelines and say “somebody ought to do something about…”, I’ve started work on a Feminist Tarot.  Not only do I want to portray all of the figures, archetypes, and ideas embodied in the deck as female, I also want to modernize and diversify the imagery.  I think part of the value in the Tarot is that it can potentially describe the entirety of a person’s experiences at some level, but it can only do that if we look past the restrictive iconography.  So why not remove it altogether?

Anyway, that’s the project I’ll be putting my attention and effort towards for the next little bit, and therefore I’m going to start posting about some of the interpretive changes I am making to the iconography in the deck.  Stay tuned!

#woke

The sixth element common to religion are “characteristic emotional experiences”.  Inner peace would be one example.  Profound conversion experiences are another.  Essentially, religion weaves a practice and philosophy around a series of experiences which have high emotional impact.  It’s those experiences which draw us into the faith and provide a common ground on which to relate to other adherents.  And continuing to have those experiences, to feel those extremes of emotion, keeps us engaged and invested.

Since last November I know a lot of us have had frequent and similar emotional reactions to what’s going on around us.  Anger.  Fear.  Motivation.  Solidarity.  Urgency.  Most of us have gone through the experience of realizing that there was so much more hate and discrimination and oppression in the world than we thought.

And, yes, most of us should have had that experience a long time ago, and there’s a lot of people who have battled this on the front lines relentlessly their whole lives, but even they had times in their childhoods when the reality of the world was revealed to them.  The lifting of the veil of naivete is one of those characteristic emotional experiences.

So are the events which bring protests and the birth of movements.

So are the protests and rallies themselves, where the communal release and expression of emotions gives way to a sense of motivation and optimism.

That’s what drives movements and religions alike.  We are pushed forward by the power of our deepest reactions to what we witness and experience.

And I think we all want a bit of that inner peace stuff.

For the Good of Humanity

The fifth element common to religions is a set of rules or ethics.  This, I believe, is where activism is really superior to traditional religion, in that what is right and important forms both the ethical core of a movement and it’s end goal.  Usually, too, this approach produces a code of ethics born of observation and agreement rather than handed down from a deity.

That doesn’t mean every movement has it’s ethical heart in the right place, but I think the track record for progressive activism has actually hit the mark more times than religion has.

Even more importantly, activism tends to focus on what’s the right way to treat others rather than the right way to behave for one’s own benefit.

If the current state of things gets more of us focused on how to best benefit humanity as a whole rather than worrying mostly about our own interests, our own selves, then surely our activism will have done more to advance human ethics and morality than millennia of traditional religion.

Keep Marching

The fourth common element of religion is ritual.  The important tenets of religion are taught and reinforced through ceremonies and traditional activities.

The religion of activism, as it were, is taught and made real through protests and marches, phone calls and letters, rallies, voting, and philanthropy work.  There are, unarguably, a set of activities which become the practice of activism.  Anyone who devotes themselves to the fight for a cause goes into it with an idea of what needs to be done.

Most of us don’t often think of these things as ritual or ceremony in the same way we think of religious observances, but in recent months the frequency and size of protests and marches I’ve attended has increased to the point that attending a protest is akin to going to church.  People talk about what we’re there for, what’s important, what the message is that we’re putting out into the world.  We hold up signs and chant and march.  It’s repeated often enough to be a common ritual.

It’s both symbolic and active, a gathering which makes the idea of a movement tangible and real.

And each group, each person, each community has their own individual ways of observing the rituals of activism.  The particular concerns and identities and cultures of a community show up in their ritual variants, just as different communities within a larger religious community have their own unique traditions.

Not only do these ceremonies and traditions and rituals bind a community together in common ideas, they are visible expressions of the things which are important to the group.  They are important both internally and externally, and they are events which serve to focus the energies and efforts of a group towards a single objective.  Much like ancient groups had hunts and feasts and communal fires which served to preserve group cohesion, rallies and meetings and marches serve to bind a group together and keep their focus on group goals.

 

From the Book: “Hold someone’s hand”

I selected the phrases for my coloring book to say what I thought might be most important to others within the activist community.  But because the coloring book simply has the coloring pages without commentary, I thought I might use this venue to elaborate a bit on why I chose to include what I did.

“Hold someone’s hand.”

We hold hands for connection, for comfort, to show affection, to demonstrate a bond.  It’s a powerful gesture, and the reasons we hold hands are all the things we should be building more of in our work to better the world.

Whether we’re the ones seeking comfort or connection or the ones offering it, the hand holding is important.

From the Book: “An ally is better than a hero”

I selected the phrases for my coloring book to say what I thought might be most important to others within the activist community.  But because the coloring book simply has the coloring pages without commentary, I thought I might use this venue to elaborate a bit on why I chose to include what I did.

“An ally is better than a hero.”

 

Few, if any, problems are truly solved by someone swooping in to save the day.  Once the knight in shining armor has gone on his way, those he saved are no safer than they ever were.

What people really need are people to stand beside them, to fight beside them, to work beside them.

The world doesn’t need heroes as much as it needs allies.

An Epic of Hope

The third element of religion is the existence of central stories or myths.  Personally, I think this is the origin of religion, that group storytelling as a cultural mechanism gave rise to a more ritualized practice and more established bodies of myth.

Interestingly enough, one of the things I’ve committed to doing since the election and inauguration is to read more books on feminism, racial issues, immigration, LGBTQ+ history, etc.  Not all of the books I’ve collected are filled with stories, per se, but the idea is that in sharing and partaking in each others’ experiences and points of view we become better able to be allies in the fight for human rights.

Essentially, it is in telling our stories to others that we establish ourselves in their minds as real, valuable people.  It is by telling our stories that we become more than archetypes and stereotypes in the minds of those who’ve not shared our experiences.  The telling of stories conveys ideas about cultural expectations, ethics and morals, and our relationships to each other.

Stories are infinitely more powerful than simple statements.

One of the most interesting groups to spring up recently is Pantsuit Nation, which started as a small group of Clinton supporters and grew into a collective of tens of thousands of people who, mostly, tell their stories to each other.  They tell stories to express their frustrations and fears.  They tell stories to help motivate each other.  They tell stories to illustrate how the world is changing around us.  They tell stories to keep each other hopeful.  They tell stories to share ideas for action.

In more recent days I’ve seen groups pop up on social media telling the stories of immigrants and refugees, groups telling the stories of activists behind the scenes and on the ground, and groups telling the stories of little known heroes of the past.  In a time when the world seems filled with anger and frustration and fear and hate, we’ve chosen to fill it also with our stories.

The central mythology of activism includes the stories of small actions which produced huge results, the tales of groups rising up to change the world, and stories of people just like us in the past who made it through similar circumstances.  It’s a mythology centered on hope and inspiration.  It puts our own struggles into perspective.  It consists of the stories we need to hear to keep us going.