A Feminist Tarot: The Chariot

I’m always pretty stoked when this card comes up in my deck, and in a lot of ways it speaks to the struggle for gender equality.  The Chariot is about taking different sides of something, forces with different agendas, independent pieces with their own purposes and directions, and steering them together to make progress.

This is especially relevant when it comes to understanding intersectional feminism and the work which must be done to move forward for the good of ALL women, not just some.

The important part of this card doesn’t rest on the figure driving the chariot.  The important part is that both horses, a depiction of opposites, are moving together to pull the chariot along.  No part is missing, and the horses have not been freed to avoid the struggle of making them pull together.  The answer here is not to lighten the load or let the stubborn horse go free.  Success means achieving control in unity.  Struggles must be overcome to move forward, they cannot be shoved aside or ignored.  And that comes through hard work and struggle.

Just like all women must find a way to support all women to move towards equality.  We cannot push aside or ignore the struggles of women who we feel are not like us.  We have to all be in this together.

A Moment in Time

The biggest difference between my spiritual life now and my spiritual life as it has been on other paths is that my primary focus is on the present.  What can I do now?  What needs to change now?  How am I doing right now?

Sure, I make plans for the near future.  Ongoing routines and rituals which won’t see completion for a while.  Actions to be taken now which I intend to have certain impacts later.

And I do think of the past.  I don’t believe we can ever advance ourselves without knowing and coming to terms with our past experiences.  Some of what I do in the present is a method of working with the past.

Still, I believe the most important focus in our spiritual lives should be the current moment in time.  If we remain too much in past traditions and past ideas, we grow disconnected from the power of the present.  If we’re not part of the present, how can we hope to understand or prepare for a future?  Likewise, if our entire spiritual existence is centered in a specific future, how is it benefiting us or the world around us right now?

A Feminist Tarot: The Lovers

If we’re going to talk about love and related topics from a feminist standpoint, one of the things I definitely would NOT do is fall back on biblical heterosexual images of love pairings as useful symbols.  I think it’s especially important to ditch the Adam and Eve motif here considering that the meaning of the card isn’t really about romantic love as much as it’s about completion.

And I have a real big problem with imagery which calls to mind the idea that a divine being has picked out a “mate” for us who is, among other more biology-related functions, supposed to make us feel “complete”.

I see this card as having more to do with discovering connections to inner passions or finding pieces of ourselves which produce those feelings of completion.  This card isn’t about falling in love with a person, it’s about finding fulfillment through a passionate connection to something in your life.  To rely on traditional images of romantic coupling or divinely destined love strips the fullness from the interpretation as much as it paints a misogynistic image of reality.

After all, Eve wasn’t just a mate to Adam, she was made from part of him.  She never had any identity other than as that “completion” for him.

So out with all that, and in with imagery which avoids all those trappings of misogyny.  First of all, in a deck filled only with female figures, if we are to represent the idea with a couple it should be two females.  But beyond switching out a heterosexual couple for a homosexual one, I think it’s more clear to the meaning of the card itself for the figures to be two iterations of the same soul.  The image isn’t romantic love, then, it’s a woman finding that version of herself she had not fully realized existed before, and letting that side of herself lead the way forward rather than following the path she’d previously walked.

The More You Know

These days, information on just about anything is easy to find.  An argument over the lyrics of a song can be settled in seconds with a smart phone.  Rare, age-old documents can be read online even though the original sits protected halfway around the world.  If we want to know something about spiritual views different from our own, that information is likely very few clicks away.

Truth, however, is more difficult to locate than ever.  And if, as I would imagine most people believe, religion and spirituality is about finding truth, the glut of info can either help or hinder that search.

Now, I’m a big fan of the glut of info.  But our approaches to spiritual truth largely still rest on the old idea that once you’ve found what you believe to be truth, all falsehoods need to be avoided.  If you’ve found THE TRUTH, poking about in dangerous misinformation might destroy that connection.

I grew up in such a tradition.  Not only were certain topics taught as wrong or mistaken, but reading about them was a grave misdeed.  If we wanted information on those paths with which we were unfamiliar but curious, we were to trust the judgment and assessment of those on our side and never listen to those who walked those paths.

It should probably be no surprise to anyone that I ended up spiritually where I am now. I was the kid who checked out books on the paranormal and claimed I had to read them for a class if they were found.  I’ve never liked knowing information was being withheld from me.  In fact, even when I was a committed believer, I knew it didn’t make sense to simultaneously claim that our beliefs were objectively true and undeniable, that our faith would protect us from evil, and that it was wrong to learn about other belief systems because we could be lured away or something.

Censorship is never beneficial.

Knowledge is always desirable.

How much do you know about the spiritual paths which diverge from your own?

A Feminist Tarot: The Hierophant

There’s a really weird thing about misogyny and patriarchy where certain activities, pursuits, or skills are relegated to women until there is opportunity to master and profit from them, at which point the highest levels of attainment are reserved primarily for men.  For instance, cooking is women’s work, but executive chefs are most often men.

To me, this card embodies the same idea.  Back at the beginning, the realm of spiritual enlightenment and esoteric knowledge was depicted as feminine with the High Priestess.  She was the mysterious guide to intuition and insight.  But here, when the Fool goes into a temple seeking similar guidance, the sage figure on which the authority and ability to publicly lead others has been bestowed is traditionally depicted as male.  The High Priestess leads in private without the blessing and benefit of an organization behind her, but the Hierophant is enthroned in a temple.  Inner wisdom and sage guidance is wrapped up in the idea of the sacred feminine only until the point where such wisdom and guidance can be made useful to the larger system of authority and power.

The meaning of this card points less to a level of authority held by the figure on the card, though, and more to the level of respect given by the acolytes to the teachings and guidance that figure is able to give.  And while institutional spiritual leadership is most often reserved for men, many traditions place women in positions of respect and community leadership.  The important message of this card is found in the sense that spiritual development and greater wisdom can be found through connection to others, to a larger group to which we belong, and that traditions are important to the process of tapping into that wisdom.  And if we are to depict a traditional spiritual community leader, there are many traditions which embrace women in that role.

Do As I Say

We humans pretty much suck at spotting our own hypocrisy.  When we only talk the talk and fail to walk the walk, we’re often able to simply justify the dissonance for ourselves and keep going.  Many spiritual paths and religions have this mechanism built in.  There’s a “nobody’s perfect, we all are working towards redemption” thing written right into the dogmas and tenets, so it becomes just fine to be very knowledgeable about the expectations but crap at living up to them.  If we feel anything, it’s a little indignant guilt.  Who is someone else to judge us, right?

But when we advocate for one thing and live another, something in us lets us know. We feel it as something – usually some variation on guilt or shame or vulnerability – and it comes out in thought and action.  Maybe we get defensive or judgmental.  Maybe we become good at arguing to justify ourselves.

Me?  I’m late for things.  All the time.  I’ve battled it all my life.  In fact, I lost my first professional job over it.  And still, twenty years later, I struggle with punctuality.  I’ve gone through times when I tried to point fingers and justify my lateness by comparing myself to other more annoying or detrimental behaviors committed by others.  There have been phases when I’ve been really critical of other people being late because, for instance, they were unpredictably late by up to 30 minutes when I’m always predictably 10 minutes late.  I’ve felt guilt and shame over it.  I’ve been defensive about it.

And none of those reactions benefited anyone at all.

These days my schedule is less set in stone, and I’m the first to say that I don’t hold others to any kind of strict schedule as a rule because to do so would make me a colossal hypocrite.  It doesn’t make it better for me to be late all the time, but at least I’m not being a crappy person who on top of my lack of punctuality.

Surely it’s not worse to walk imperfectly on your spiritual path than it is to make others feel bad for not walking perfectly on theirs.  That’s what happens when we preach expectations we, ourselves, don’t uphold.  We transfer the guilt we don’t want to feel about our own perceived shortcomings onto others by holding them to standards they are unlikely to meet.  After all, if we can’t do it, why do we expect them to?

 

A Feminist Tarot: The Emperor

Clearly, if the Empress is renamed and removed from her traditional spot, she then gets to step into her rightful place in the deck.  No real Empress would spend her time running around pregnant tending fields of grain.  She would be ruling over her empire.

As history has proven time and time again, women are just as capable as men of maintaining order, instituting structure, and advancing civilization.  What most often stands in the way is not some natural deficiency of skill or ability but resistance driven by sexist beliefs in the nature of a woman’s fitness to lead.  So there is literally no good reason not to depict the authoritative, controlling, aggressive Emperor as female.

It is very important to note, though, that this also means not altering the archetype of the Emperor to soften it once the depiction is female.  We should not pretend that an Empress should or would be any less aggressive, despotic, tyrannical, or warlike.  The interpretation of the card should not lose its potential negative aspects.  We cannot open the full range of aspirational possibilities to women while maintaining fantasies of inherent female goodness.