Lughnasa and the Chesed Moon
Saturday gratefuls: Jon, Ruth, Gabe. Scattering Kate’s ashes at Maxwell Falls this afternoon. Orgovyx. The American health care, well, not system, it’s too disorganized for that, way. Prostate cancer. Mary on her 69th. Mark, wherever he is. Amy Norton. The Tree of Life/Great Wheel Tarot spread. The invisible worlds around us.
Sparks of Joy and Awe: Kate
Tarot: Tree of Life/Great Wheel Spread
On the Tree of Life there are ten sephirot, emanations, arranged with three emanations on either side of a central column (trunk) with four emanations making up the trunk. See the illustration. (BTW: don’t take all the words too seriously. The way the sephirot are described differs a lot.)
These emanations, according to the early kabbalists, represent the attributes of God, the ineffable. This God can not be known directly, but only through the manifestations of divine attributes, the emanations.
These emanations create the universe dynamically, just as character attributes in a person interact with each other and effect each other to create a human life, an individual.
Though the first instance of creation started at the keter, the crown of the Tree of Life, once the emanations of God manifested in spacetime they became a feedback loop with energy, divine energy, pulsing up and down, or better, around, since the 2D version of the tree tends to make the sephirot look hierarchical, instead of intimately related one with the other, a whole, rather than parts.
I know. A lot of jargon. In sum. The universe is dynamic, creating and recreating, co-creating, each aspect of it affecting and affected by each other aspect. Whitehead’s Process theology would fit well into a kabbalist’s worldview. Said another way, the universe is a vitalist entity, not a mechanistic one.
The Great Wheel is, I believe, more familiar to some of you who read this blog, but for those who don’t know it, here’s a brief description. The ancient Celts first had only two seasons in their calendar: Beltane, the growing and harvest season, and Samain, the fallow season. They added later the solar seasons of equinoxes and solstices. When they did, they also added two transition seasons: Imbolc and Lughnasa. This illustration, the filled out Celtic calendar is known as the Great Wheel of the Seasons, or the Great Wheel of life.
The four holidays unique to the Celts all have definite calendar dates: May 1, Beltane. August 1, Lughnasa. October 31st Samain. February 1st, Imbolc. The others, being solar in nature, deviate a bit according to the Earth’s orbit and precession.
With all of these we have 8 holidays that mark the cyclical transitions caused by Earth’s tilt and its orbit, the seasons of the temperate latitudes. The Great Wheel marks the course of the agricultural year. As such it can also be read as the course of life, or even a life.
One version of the latter is the neo-pagan understanding of the Maiden, who comes on the scene around Imbolc, cavorts with the Lord (Cernunnos, the Celtic God of the natural world), as the Lady and becomes fertile, powering the growing season, then, at Samain, transitions to the Crone, the wise woman who presides over the fallow season. The triple goddess: Maiden, Lady, and Crone.
Or, Imbolc means in the womb, so gestation, birth at Ostara, or the Vernal Equinox, growing up at Beltane, reaching maturity at the Summer Solstice, gathering in the fruits of a life first at Lughnasa, then at Mabon, and dying at Samain.
The Great Wheel is a metaphor, as is the Tree of Life, for the dynamic nature of reality. The Great Wheel refers to life on this planet, our home; while the Tree of Life refers to the vitalistic whole, the creative dynamic, that is the universe itself.
So. The Tree of Life/Great Wheel spread. Since the Great Wheel has eight seasons, the spread has eight cards that correspond to the eight Celtic holidays. It also has a card above the eight that represents the Keter, or crown of the tree of life, and one below the eight that represents Malkut or the physical world in which the emanations of God create the world as we know it. That makes ten. The same number as the sephirot, or emanations. That means we can map onto the Great Wheel cards the other 8 sephirot, following the scheme represented in the Tree of Life.
I have done that in my Tree of Life/Great Wheel spread which combines the wisdom of earthly seasonal transitions and the ten emanations of the ineffable God.
This spread can be read in any number of ways, but like all spreads it relies on the question of the one for whom the cards are being read, the querent.
The first (ever, as far as I know) reading of the Life spread responds to the question, How will my life be following Kate’s death? I have chosen to read the spread, then, from the season in which she died, Ostara, or the season of the Vernal Equinox, around the wheel to Imbolc.
The first two cards of the reading though are the Keter card and the Malkut card since they represent the cosmic context within which the Great Wheel turns.
What follows, and yes I know this is long, is my reading of this first Life spread.
The order in which the cards make the spread is significant: Here’s the order and the Great Wheel/Tree of Life designators for each: 1. Malkut (significator, represents the querent, in this case, me): The Hermit. 2. Keter: The Magician. Note that these first two are the context for this Life spread, and as such have no Great Wheel season that corresponds to them. 3. Samain/Binah (the Great Wheel year and the Celtic year begin at Summer’s End, Samain. The start of the fallow season.) Three of Wands. 4. Yule/Tipharet: Ten of Wands 5. Imbolc/Hokmah: Ten of Pentacles. 6. Ostara/Chesed: Nine of Swords. 7. Beltane/Netzach: Eight of cups. 8. Summer Solstice/Yesod: Five of wands. 9. Lughnasa/Hod: Two of wands. 10. Mabon/ Gevurah: Seven of Pentacles.
Let’s see what it evokes in me as an answer/response/provocation to the question: How will my life be after Kate’s death?
1. The Malkut card: The Hermit, #9 of the Major Arcana.
This card represents where I am right now, approaching six months after Kate died on April 12th. I exist in Malkut, the physical world, for now, so how I am at the beginning of the reading is critical.
“Turn away from the distractions of the outer world and seek guidance. In silence and solitude discover new depths and refresh your soul at the source of all life.” Druid Tarot Book. Henceforth, DTB
And so it is. I’m home, alone, more now than that at any time since Kate’s death. Far from dreary or depressing it is more like a retreat, a time at a mountain top retreat, a hermitage.
2. The Keter Card: The Magician, #1 of the Major Arcana
This card represents a challenge or obstacle I’ll face as I navigate this year.
“Open yourself to the power awen (inspiration) and nwyfre (life force, chi, perhaps ohr?), and let it flow through you and into the world.” DTB
Grief cracks open the world and as Leonard Cohen said, “That’s where the light comes in.” The journey of grief is a fool’s journey, a time for realizing the brevity and yet the richness of this life. Starting over, from the beginning, with the question of who am I?
And, yes, the obstacle/challenge here is exactly to remain open to inspiration and chi. It’s easy to close down from fear, from depression, from anxiety, from loneliness. Any of these can block my soul’s visits to the ayn sof, the mystery from which everything came/is coming/will come/will return to.
So far, this is helping me see my current reality in a new, fuller way. Let’s see what happens now as we turn to the Great Wheel focused cards. I’m choosing to start this reading in Ostara, in the past in other words, since that was the season of Kate’s death.
3. The Ostara/Chesed card: Nine of Swords
“Meaning: Mental anguish and suffering. The torment faced at the end of a relationship, or following a bereavement. This period will come to its natural completion and you will enter a brighter phase.” DTB
Oh, yes. And the sephirot Chesed reminds me that throughout this fool’s journey of grief I need to show compassion and loving-kindness not only to myself but to others to whom Kate was important.
4. The Beltane/Netzach card: Eight of Cups
“Keywords: Letting go. Seeking a higher purpose. Moving on.”
“Visualize the future as you give thanks for the past…You may need to take a holiday to recharge and rededicate yourself to the core purpose of your life.” DTB
On May 14th, two weeks after the start of Beltane on May 1, I flew to Oahu to stay with Joe, Seoah, and Mary. And, Murdoch. Still very much in the letting go of my old life with Kate’s physical presence. Trying to find a higher purpose. Flailing a bit. But, on my return I found myself ready for the next phase of grief and work related to it.
Netzach (Hebrew נצח) communicates the idea of long-suffering, strength, endurance unto completion or patience.
5. The Summer Solstice/Yesod card: The Five of Wands
“Keywords: Creative conflict. Playful struggle.” DTB
During this time, the most recent past, mid-June and July of this year, I focused on gathering and donating Kate’s personal belongs. I also returned to Mussar at CBE and began the Tarot and Kabbalah class.
The Tarot class, a playful struggle for me, has tapped a deeper place, a place I would not have, probably could not have accessed, without it. Total surprise. These cards seem to read back into me, into my life in ways I would not have anticipated. I’m playing with the Tarot right now like the five guys here are at play with their wands/staves.
Yesod is the channel for all the sephirots above Malkut, the physical realm. It is the playful struggle between Malkut and the other 9 sephirot that Yesod realizes, taking energy, chi, flowing both ways around and around, up and down, in and out.
6. The Lughnasa/Hod card: Two of Wands
“Keywords: creative tension. doorway. exploration.
The energy and potential of a relationship…You may be searching for a deeper meaning.” DTB
Lughnasa, the first of three harvest holidays and seasons in the Great Wheel, celebrates the first harvest, the early fruits of the growing season. It is the current time, the season we will be until Mabon, the fall equinox, and the major harvest festival.
The card itself shows a chalk giant drawn on a gently sloping grassy hillside. The giant holds two staffs, wands, as if preparing for a trek in the mountains. Two gnarled trees and a leafy plant in bloom form the frame. The trees appear to be oaks, based on their leaves.
Kate’s death is five and a half months in the past. That past and the near future both pull on me, a creative tension, integrating life with Kate’s presence with life without her. I need to keep the doorway to both open, still a time of exploration.
The giant appears headed out on an adventure. As am I. My journey has another component I haven’t mentioned so far, cancer. This Lughnasa I got the news of yet another recurrence and only last week had a PET scan to determine its location(s). A new medicine, Orgovyx, arrived on Wednesday. There are two of us on this trip: prostate cancer and the rest of me.
7. Mabon/Gevurah: Seven of Pentacles
“Keywords: Bearing fruit. Harvesting. Clearing.
If the harvest isn’t yet ready, the card counsels patience and a trust in the natural cycles of growth. Take stock of a situation before moving forward.” DTB
Mabon is the season beyond the current moment, the near term future. My hope has been that Michaelmas, the 29th of September might be a turning point for me, a chance to move into a newly imagined phase of life. This comes from a long fascination with Michaelmas as the Springtime of the Soul, a Rudolf Steiner idea. The growing season winds down as the inner journey begins anew.
Gevurah, strength manifest as judgment. It tempers and is in return tempered by Chesed which sits opposite on the Tree’s right side.
Not sure what all this suggests, feeling less certain about how to understand matters in a future time. The druid on the card harvests Mistletoe, probably from a sacred Oak. This harvesting took place on the Winter Solstice so this card brings to Mabon the depths of Midwinter, my favorite holiday and season.
Perhaps I am the druid, golden sickle in hand, looking to cut All-Heal from the lessons of the last 6 months. Pliny says the druids believed the plant could heal all. Perhaps even make a salve for sorrow?
This is as far as I can take this right now. I may pick up the last three cards tomorrow, but for right now the juice has run out.