Tarot – Understanding Yourself Through the Major Arcana: Moon

I’ve been meaning to write about the meaning of particular tarot cards and what they can say about the spiritual and existential journey of life since a deep dive into the classic Japanese RPG Persona 4 Golden last year. Since then, I’ve been reading the tarot off and on, more frequently recently, for guidance through some tough times in life.

I think it would be useful to write about my experience with Major Arcana cards that have shown up strongly and repeatedly in my readings – explaining what they mean/have meant to me as I try to traverse the challenges of my life.

This time, I’ll write about the Moon card which has been a repeat pull in many spreads in the last few months.

The simplest way to summarize the Moon card is that it is a stage of the path that is a journey through darkness. It often is represented as a traversal of water between two pillars which represent some gate to beyond on the other side. The moon hangs above it all as the light through the darkness.

Often when people speak of this card, they focus on dealing with illusions. Picture this: you travel through the darkness with poor lighting. What you experience is skewed from the darkness of the night air. This is where perception is distorted into illusion, where imagination can fill in the gaps of what’s really there.

However, this card represents more than that. It also represents intuition. When you are forced to follow your own path through the darkness without your standard senses as being trustworthy, you have to trust your inner light, your intuition, to guide you. In some senses, this matches up well with the Hermit card.

Finally, the aspect I see discussed least: there is a danger to this journey. Going through the dark is no small task. If there are challenges in walking a trail in daylight (which there are), these are compounded in the darkness, and there are varieties of night creatures who can see and prey on you in the dark.

Ultimately, we could summarize all of these aspects by describing this as a journey that engages with the unconscious terrains of your life (water and moon as symbols) that you generally have covered over or are unaware of: a journey into your internal shadow lands or “Shadow work” as some might call it. In a very real sense, it’s a long dark night of the soul (although I don’t believe in souls). There is a danger of failure, loss, confusion, or a certain kind of self-destruction in traversing the darkness, but there’s also great transformation and wisdom to be gained in the journey and getting to the other side (a gate and threshold to traverse).

I feel that this card has come up for me time and again personally as I’ve had a lot of feelings and experiences thrown into doubt in recent months, and I’m even left questioning my concepts of romantic love and partnership. It’s a deeply existential struggle to truly look at such things and question precisely what they are and how you’ve valued them, possibly reevaluating who you are and who you will be in the world in the process. If defining relationships become a place of doubt and possible illusion, then you’re left with deep questions of what is real and who you are within that reality.

Thinking about this for this post reminded me of a hypothetical scenario in Wittgenstein’s “On Certainty” in which he discusses doubt through a thought experiment where he talks about a simple statement of “I’m living in England” but then imagines a slew of people coming in, telling him he is wrong, and offering proofs that that is not the case (§419-421). If this were thorough enough, your ground conviction in believing something to be the case would fall apart. This is the kind of illusion and doubt that one faces in the trials of the Moon, in my experience: the feelings and perspectives you’ve taken for granted without much analysis suddenly come deeply into question, and you are pushed to explore shadowy, unexplored realms within yourself.

To put it the most dramatically in terms of relationships, I felt resonance with a chunk of dialogue in a favorite show earlier today:

Liv: Why are you doing this?

Major: Doing what?

Liv: Making me doubt the only thing in my life that I was sure was real.

iZombie, S2: E4

This is a stage of journey that takes more resolve and courage than most any other. One of the only other ones that pops to mind is the resolve of patience for the Hanged Man, but this card differs, in that it’s a resolve to keep stepping forward with conviction, courage, and the willingness to face self-destruction for deep truth, unlike the call to resolutely accept and surrender to process with the Hanged Man. Regarding this, I would like to link a post on resolve from my other blog about post-rock. It fits well with the consideration of walking resolutely through the darkness.

Even though everything I’ve said here might have a dour ambience, I find few cards as empowering as the Moon card. There’s the real opportunity here for the fundamental investigation and hero’s journey to come through to great insight and growth. Being called to connect with intuition, face doubts, and throw your self-concept into danger are not things to shy away from. They are some of the greatest opportunities on the spiritual path and represent the greatest courage there is. This is the true vulnerability of the Warrior.


May this help others find their way through their own personal dark times.

Gassho!

The Shadow and Compassion

Recently, my dreams have seemed more erratic and emotionally charged. I think there are a few reasons for this.

  1. I misplaced my dream journal for a while, and even though I don’t write in it that often, it seems to have had an impact on my dream recall. When I found it again, my dreams suddenly were more remembered when I woke again, almost as though my dreaming process appreciated its reappearance.
  2. Last week, I underwent a bout of sickness that renewed my sense of mortality — my awareness of impermanence and gratitude for health are currently sharp.
  3. Recent events have made this summer feel like a charged examination of current cultural and social trends as well as the human condition.
  4. I’ve been reading a lot about The Heart Sutra and, therein, about the prajnaparamita teachings’ deep yet confusing pronouncements regarding emptiness and the view of no view.

Those dreams I mentioned have been all over the place. They’ve ranged from feverish problem-solving of work issues to brutal violence. The most unsettling thing about the violence, to my waking, analytical mind, was that I was perpetrating it, and although purposeful, it was still violence of the most disturbing and vicious sort — carnal murder with a blunt instrument of someone who wasn’t even fighting back.

My analytic, waking mind reacts to memories of this dream by lashing back, saying “I could never do that!” and “How horrible!” However, this judgmental simplicity covers over truths I know from both my academic and self-reflective studies. Furthermore, I recognize this quick reaction to be an attempt to shore up my ego-identity to fit a narrative in which “I” am a permanently righteous being, always wearing the white hat without any aberration.

Here are some truths I know to the contrary of my ego’s simplistic, self-defensive narrative: I know that the greatest finding of social psychology is that people do strange things when in strange situations. Study after study, ranging from Milgram to Zimbardo to Asch challenge our understanding of identity. Beyond that, my studies of Buddhism and existentialism make me question any simplistic appeal to an unchanging thing as the core of who I am. Even the most introductory of Buddhists should know that this is a concept to be cut through with Manjushri’s sword. Another truth: I’ve gone through enough life and have sat with my thoughts for hours in meditation, both leading me to know that I have a great capability for anger. If anything, it may be my greatest personal obstacle to overcoming reactivity for pure, responsive, and compassionate awareness. All of my experience in academics and in personal reflection lead me to know that I have a Shadow (as Jung would call it – but without the intended hard understanding of the term with a Jungian “Unconscious” at play).

080_pe

Knowing the truth of this Shadow takes me beyond the ego’s defense, and I have nothing to do but embrace these darker, incomplete, difficult feelings, for which I have a propensity. Those are all possible ways for me to be and feel, but seeing them, however, embracing their possibility even, doesn’t mean that I have to act out upon them. If anything, it allows me to potentially move beyond them to the compassionate awareness I just mentioned. Recognizing and accepting our feelings without repressing them or enacting them is a way to understand the emptiness of who we are and our connection to all other beings. Recognizing my own dark, destructive impulses allows me a point of connection with even the most pained or hateful of beings, giving some small ounce of understanding to see those current perpetrators in our world and hope to better understand how I can communicate with them to help them get beyond their own darkness.

When I think of this, I inevitably think of the closing section of Hesse’s Siddhartha, in which Siddhartha is shown to share the face of all people in Govinda’s mind — even thieves and murders. If you haven’t read it, I suggest you do, and if you’d like to know more about The Heart Sutra, I recommend Karl Brunhölzl’s The Heart Attack Sutra. If you’re interested in social psychology’s findings regarding identity, I recommend this episode (The Personality Myth) of the wonderful podcast Invisibilia. If you’re interested in a more Buddhist take thereof, check out the Dalai Lama’s How to See Yourself as You Really AreFinally, to read more on dream yoga itself, Dream Yoga by Andrew Holecek is a good all around source.


May this help you see yourself as you really are and help you reach out to the world with compassionate wisdom.

Gassho!