Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Native, Nonnative, or Mosaic?

Check out my permaculture post here.

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

An Old Mermaid Journal

An affordable and bound version of An Old Mermaid Journal is now available. Here's the description from the Amazon page: "This journal may or may not be based on the original journal of one or more of the Old Mermaids living in the Old Mermaids Sanctuary. The legend goes that whatever anyone draws or writes on these pages brings healing, joy, and magic into the world and into the life of the person who owns the journal. This journal has blank and lined pages and quotes from Church of the Old Mermaids, a novel by Kim Antieau." I love using these journals myself! (We're trying to figure out how to provide this journal to those of you who want to download it and print it off yourself. We'll get back to you on that.)

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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Gaian Tarot

My husband Mario gave me my first tarot deck when we lived in Bandon, OR, nearly thirty years ago. He bought the Aquarian tarot, wrapped it up on a cloth, put it in a wooden box, and gave it to be on my birthday.

Mario also introduced me to meditation. He is a logical scientifically-minded man and a poet who tells me to go talk to the faeries or "do a journey" if I'm out of sync with the world. His tacit approval of the tarot gave me permission to explore this arcane wisdom.

I don't know why I felt I needed "permission" from anyone to do anything. I had grown up very earthy, running around on our land out in the country, talking to my invisible friends as well as to the trees and birds and river. When I became a teenager, I worried about going crazy, like so many had in my family. So I eschewed anything even remotely connected with the invisible realms. Or anything weirdo, as one of my friends used to say.

I loved the tarot deck Mario gave me, but it also made me nervous. Every time I got the Tower card, something awful happened in my life. I didn't want to know the future, especially if I couldn't do anything about it. So I put the tarot away.

Years went by and I read Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon. As I've said many times over the years, that book changed my life. Everything shifted after I read it. It was a lightning strike in my life, the Tower card in real life. Everything I believed about everything changed. I realized other people in the world felt about nature in the way I did—except I hadn't had the words to articulate how I felt before I read this book.

In Drawing Down the Moon, Adler mentioned the tarot as part of this other way of being in the world, a way that wasn't dominated by a patriarchal religion—or any kind of one-way or the highway religion—a way of being in the world that honored the divinity in nature, the divinity in all of us, a way of being that honored intuition and art and the arcane and esoteric. The tarot wasn't about predicting the future; it was about exploring our multi-faceted lives in the hear and now.

I began looking at the tarot again. The Motherpeace Tarot resonated with me more than any other. In her book Motherpeace: A Way to the Goddess through Myth, Art, and Tarot, Vicki Noble writes about the Motherpeace being the "lost parent of humankind....Centered in the heart, rather than the head, matriarchal consciousness requires a 'nonrational' means of approach. It is a creative, intuitive mode of consciousness."

How radical she was to question the "rational" and "logical" approach to everything. She wasn't advocating irrationality. She wasn't touting an unscientific approach. The Motherpeace tarot was a way of re-building those connections between the "rational" and "nonrational" parts of our being. It was a realization that nature, science, biology, and spirituality were all intertwined, all part of the living matrix.

I have collected many tarot decks since the first Aquarian deck and my Motherpeace cards. I've given away many of those decks, although I still have two Motherpeace decks. For me, the Motherpeace deck is the standard from which I judge all other decks.

I "met" Joanna Powell Colbert in the nineties when I asked her if she would illustrate an issue of Daughters of Nyx: a Magazine of Goddess Stories, Mythmaking, and Fairy Tales, the magazine Mario and I owned and published for several years. I'd seen her art in The Beltane Papers and thought it was lovely and evocative and was thrilled when she agreed to work with us on Daughters of Nyx. (Her issue is one of my favorites of our issues.)

Years passed. I'm not sure how we got in contact again. It was after I had written Church of the Old Mermaids. I went to her website and fell in love again with her and her artwork. It was like coming to a beautiful retreat every time I visited to her website.

She was working on the Gaian Tarot then. I was immediately intrigued. I bought the major arcana limited edition, which was all that was available then. What I loved about them then (and what I love about them now) was how beautiful, earthy, and peaceful they are. It was almost like looking at someone's photographs of their family and friends—even when those family friends happen to be flora and fauna—only now these photographs were amazing portraits of community members, mythic, magical, and profound.

I eagerly awaited the rest of the deck. A couple of weeks ago, I finally got the complete deck and book, published by Llewellyn.

I immediately compared it with the Motherpeace.

How does it fare?

I love it!

It's as if the Motherpeace was the blueprint for a possible way of being in the world, and the Gaian Tarot is the actual present incarnation of that life of peace and connection with each other, our communities, and nature.

This isn't a fantasy tarot. Nothing wrong with fantasy tarot decks but this isn't one! This is real life, earthy life, almost a record of a community and a way of being in the world: Human beings are a part of the natural world.

Joanna writes on her blog about the Gaian Tarot, "In these cards, you’ll find a multicultural, contemporary community of people living sustainably on the land and working to heal Mama Gaia. Animals frolic, plants unfurl, and elements sparkle. Each card is a teacher who is brimming over with lessons to share."

She's exactly right.

The cards are multi-cultural with people from different age groups with different body-types. The book that comes along with the cards is beautiful, well-written, and easy to use. The cover is of the Gaian Tarot's evocative Star card.

Joanna writes in the introduction, "Gaia—the living earth—is another kind of sacred text, especially for those who practice an earth-centered spirituality. I have brought together these two loves of mine—the tarot and the natural world—in the Gaian Tarot."

In the book, Joanna writes about the meaning of each card, suggests what it means if you get it in a reading, and what it means if you take into account the Shadow side of the card, plus she lists the themes of the card and gives an affirmation.

Her minor arcana are elemental: air, fire, water, earth. The numbering corresponds with the major cards. She writes,"Each of the number cards from the ace through the ten reflect the themes and wisdom of the corresponding major arcana card: Ace: Magician, 2: Priestess, 3: Gardener, and so on. The Seeker (Fool), numbered zero, is the querent's alter ego. Much has been written about the Fool's Journey through the majors, but there's a journey through the minors as well."

Inspired by Teresa Michelsen's work, Joanna sets up the minor arcana cards so that they're “Three sets of three-card mini-dramas, with the 10 as a card of transition.…The first card of each set is a new beginning (ace, 4, 7). Each middle card 2, 5, 8) is a challenge card. The third card (3, 6, 9) is a resolution card, assuming the Seeker has successfully met the challenge of the middle card." (I love this!)

The court cards in traditional decks are people cards in the Gaian Tarot. They reflect the four stages of life: childhood (children), early adulthood (explorers), midlife (guardians), and old age (elders).

When I look through tarot decks, I always try to find a card that represents me. In the Motherpeace deck, it's the Temperance card: grounding cosmic energy. When I first got the Gaian Tarot, The Seeker (traditionally the Fool), felt like me. A woman stands on a hillside with a stick in her right hand, and a bundle over her left shoulder. She's got a yellow butterfly embroidered on her blue shirt. A fox stands next to her, as though waiting for her to begin. Next to her is the world tree. Swallows dive around her. Below a stream winds toward foothills in the near distance. I am forever on a journey, on an adventure. So I thoroughly relate to this Seeker.

When I got the rest of deck, two cards stood out for me in relationship to my own journey. In the Nine of Water, a woman stands with her back to us, her arms outstretched, in a sea cave. Joanna writes, "A woman enters a sacred sea cave and lifts her arms to receive the embrace of the Ocean Mother. She sings a song of devotion as waves crash and salt spray kisses her brow. As she sings in harmony with the rushing wind and tide, she enters into a mystical state of ecstasy."

The other card is Explorer of Earth. In this card a woman is "examining the duff at the base of the fir tree, looking for tracks or scat..." She looks up quickly when her attention is caught by a scurrying squirrel. Perhaps he is letting her know about the buck who stands just behind her." Joanna says when you get this card in a reading, "The Explorer of Earth experiences her spirituality in her body and in her relationship with the earth." That is certainly my experience of the world. (This card reminded Mario of me, too.)

I could go on, but I figure you might like to hear from the creatrix herself, the amazing artist and writer Joanna Powell Cobert. I've asked her some questions and I'm pleased that she's answered them below:

I've been following your Gaian Tarot journey for many years now, Joanna, and I'm delighted to now have the complete Gaian Tarot in my hands. You did the major arcana first, right? Were the major arcana cards easier than the minor arcana or were there just less of them?

I did the major arcana first because I was not actually sure that I would be able to finish a whole 78-card deck. 22 cards seemed so much more manageable than 78! In some ways, I think they were more difficult than the minors. Variations on the major arcana have been in print since the 15th century, while pictures on the pip cards (the minors) have only been around about a hundred years. So there is a lot more tarot tradition to draw upon when it comes to the majors. And, since they are "soul lessons," they are weightier in many ways than the minors, and more complicated.

It's interesting that your tarot deck of choice for many years was the Motherpeace Tarot, which was mine, too. I love that deck, and Vicki Noble is an amazing teacher. Did the Motherpeace Tarot inform and/or inspire parts of the Gaian Tarot? If so, in what ways?

Oh yes, Motherpeace was my go-to deck for many, many years. Motherpeace was definitely inspiring, because it is so Goddess-centric, and that is my worldview as well. My Gardener card owes a lot to the Motherpeace Empress, with the sensuality of the reclining figure on the card. The 2 of Earth in particular is a direct tip-of-the-hat to Motherpeace, corresponding to the 2 of Discs. In both cards, we see a parent coping with two children. Mine is a father instead of a mother, but it is a direct reference to the Motherpeace mother of twins.

People you know were models for the humans in the Gaian Tarot, for the most part. What was that process like? How did you pick people in relation to the cards? Did they sit for you or did you use photographs? Etc.

I took the reference photos myself for the most part, although some were taken by friends. I chose people that I knew not only because of their physical appearance, but also because they aligned with the energy of the card in some way. The Builder really did build his own strawbale house. The Gardener was pregnant at the time of the photo shoot. The model for the Sun card is a Leo who loves to wear red and was radiantly happy. The model for the Temperance card is mixed race — part Anglo, part Chinese-Hawaiian — and that was a perfect fit for the theme of blending opposites into a sacred third. The paddler in the Canoe card built his own cedar canoe and takes part in tribal canoe races. The Priestess is an experienced ritualist and High Priestess in two Wiccan traditions.

I was looking over the Gaian Tarot deck with some friends the other day. One of my friends insisted we were looking at beautiful photographs. I insisted we were looking at very realistic (and beautiful) paintings. Who is right? Can you describe your creative process in regards to the Gaian Tarot?

You are right. I have heard stories like this before, where people just don't believe the images are not photographs. I don't take it personally. The technique is a very slow, painstaking process known as colored pencil painting. I studied with a master of colored pencil portraiture, Ann Kullberg, back in the late 90's, and learned her techniques. She has several books in print that people can check out. I've gone into great detail about my creative process on my site here.

Basically, I start off by doing a photo shoot, then I create the composition in the computer program Photoshop. I print out the digital collage, then make a line drawing based on the collage. Then I start laying down the color, pencil stroke by pencil stroke, always looking at the photographs for reference. This is a very time-consuming technique, and there are between 50 and 100 hours in each piece. That's one reason it took me so many years to finish the deck.

I used to do tarot readings, but I stopped because almost everyone wanted me to use the cards to tell their future; they were disappointed when I said that wasn't really how it worked, at least when I did it. It was more like I was assisting them in interpreting a dream and the card spread was that dream. Of course every reader has a different take on the tarot. What is your philosophy when reading the tarot for someone? (By the way, after diving into the Gaian Tarot, I'm thinking about doing readings again. Thanks, Joanna!)

I like your analogy of interpreting a dream! Like you, I stay away from predictive readings because I believe they are disempowering and, in my experience, not very accurate. I like to think of a tarot reading as a three-way conversation between me, the person coming for a reading, and the Divine. I always create sacred space before a reading and ask for guidance. My style of tarot reading is all about helping the seeker to access her or his own inner wisdom. I help her to create open-ended questions. We have a conversation, and I ask the seeker what she sees in the cards. She talks as much as I do. Glad you're thinking of doing readings again, Kim!

What is it like doing readings using your own tarot deck now? The same as using other decks? Different?

I haven't used another deck in a long, long time. I know my own deck so intimately, and I'm happy with my own interpretations of the archetypes, so I'm just not really interested in using any other deck. I still learn new things about my own cards all the time, though. Recently we were discussing the Lightning (Tower) card in the Gaian Tarot Circle, and a woman who lives in the Arizona desert (shades of the Old Mermaids!) told me that lightning storms are a blessing in the desert. Lightning fixes nitrogen into the earth, leading to greener and more prolific plants. Who knew! And what a lovely metaphor for the Lightning card, as the trauma of catastrophe often leads to grace.

Do you have a favorite card in your deck and/or just in tarot decks in general?

I always look at the High Priestess, Moon and Star cards in any deck, because they tell me a lot about the deck creator's spirituality and attitude towards women. So yes, those three cards in the Gaian are three of my favorite cards. But my most favorite is the Guardian of Water. She is the Goddess card to me in this deck — the face of Kwan Yin and Tara, the Compassionate One.

Any advice for tarot newbies or oldies using the Gaian Tarot?

Trust your intuition! Your intuition about the meaning of any card trumps the book meaning every time. And—always look for the solution. There is a solution, or a way forward out of any difficult situation, in every card. None of the cards will leave you hanging, or without hope, even while they acknowledge the depth of your problem or your grief.

Thanks, Joanna!

Check out more about Joanna and the Gaian Tarot as her website, The Gaian Tarot. She also had a community membership site for the Gaian Tarot, The Gaian Tarot Circle. You can find her blog here, Gaian Soul.

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All work copyright © Kim Antieau 2008-.