Welcome to the Tarot Blog Hop! I was the wrangler for this hop and proposed a seasonal topic–astrologically, we are in the sign of Aquarius, which is associated with the Star card. So I’d like to share with you a spread I developed based on mythology associated with that card.
On My Way to the East: The Star in the Tarot
This is a spread that I developed for my Mythologies of the Tarot class. In that class, we explore different ways that mythology and tarot can work together. Here are a variety of examples, mostly based on the Chariot card but showing different ways that stories can be incorporated into the tarot:
- A card=a story; example, The Chariot is the myth of Phaeton. Working with the cards this way in reading can often lead to moralistic readings, such as, “be careful to steer the middle course or you’ll end up like Phaeton”
- A symbol on the card refers to a myth; example, the Crowley-Harris Thoth Chariot has the symbol of the grail, but the card does not refer overall to the grail story and other symbols on the card refer to other stories.
- The card is an image of one detail of a larger story; example, the Marseille Chariot (in particular I was looking at the Jean Noblet Marseille) closely resembles the moment in the story of the Death of Cu Chulainn where the Gray of Macha breaks away from his chariot. Working with cards this way can more often lead to prognostic readings, such as, “right now the person you love the best is abandoning you, but will return to fight at your side.”
- A whole suit or a whole deck can incorporate elements of a single myth or grouping of tales about a single character. Examples, themed decks including Arthurian decks, Alice in Wonderland deck, Sacred India deck, etc.
A fifth way of relating myths to tarot is to compare a sequence of cards to a commonly known story. Many people consider the Major Arcana to tell the story of the Fool’s Journey, but by looking at shorter sequences we can get specific stories. The following spread looks at the sequence 14, 15, 16, and 17 (9 got thrown in for good measure) and finds within it the story of Inanna’s descent to the underworld. Following is the spread we used to explore this story in class.
On My Way to the East: Tarot Spread Instructions
Card 1: Devil, Duality. In Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, the chapter that corresponds to the Devil card is the Ultimate Boon, which is the incorruptible body, the possibility of immortality. The duality expressed by the Devil is the mistaken conflation of the ephemeral god with the abiding grace of the imperishable miraculous energy-substance. For us, it is the mistake of choosing the temporal, immortality, rather than the eternal gift, illumination. In the story of Inanna, she descends to the underworld to attend the funeral of Erishkigal’s husband, but doesn’t realize how she will be received by her sister.
This position is why you are embarking on this journey–it is the wrong reason, but you do not see that it is wrong.
Card 2: Inanna, Form. Inanna is the Queen of Heaven, the planet Venus, the evening star of love and the morning star of war. Her descent is the transition from one to the other, during her temporary absence from the sky when she is overpowered by the sun. In the story, Inanna’s form changes, from lover to warrior.
This position asks us, what form do I take, what am I presenting to the world?
Card 3: Ereshkigal, Emptiness. Ereshkigal is Inanna’s sister, the Queen of the Underworld, also in some ways the blinding sun that blots out Venus from view periodically. Ereshkigal just lost her husband. She is cruel and dominating to Inanna, who visits to attend the funeral. She pronounces a death sentence on Inanna. Later, she is “moaning with the cries of a woman about to give birth” right before Inanna is rescued.
This position is emptiness, what you have lost, or what cancels you out.
Card 4: Hermit, Descending alone. In Joseph Campbell, the Hermit is The Belly of the Whale, in which the hero is swallowed and appears to have died, a symbol of rebirth from the world womb. Destroying the sense of self or attachment to ego through such devices as being swallowed by the beast, or being dismembered and scattered, requires “self” to be replaced with connection or unity with the Divine, “for his passing and returning demonstrate that through all the contraries of phenomenality the Uncreate-Imperishable remains, and there is nothing to fear.” In the story, Inanna takes this journey alone, without her servant, sons, husband, or any help.
This position gives you insight into what part of this journey is yours alone to achieve, what you must do without help.
Card 5: Relationship between Inanna and Ereshkigal. Inanna enters Ereshkigal’s throne room naked and bowed low, and then is killed by her sister. We see from the quote that life springs forth when form and emptiness are in perfect balance–but this balance is not always present. What is the relationship, or the degree of balance, between Inanna/Form and Erishkigal/Emptiness, or between your own form/understanding of yourself on this journey and that which cancels you out?
This position gives us clues as to which may be stronger: the form you are presenting or the forces that are trying to eclipse you.
Card 6: Tower, Divine assistance in the form of water of life and food of life. Joseph Campbell calls this the refusal of the return. It is the identification with the self rather than the realization that the return can renew the whole community. When Inanna doesn’t come back by the appointed time, her faithful servant Ninshubur goes looking for help. Father Enki, the God of Wisdom, is greatly grieved that Inanna has not returned, and forms two beings of clay to enter the underworld and bring the water of life and the food of life to Inanna’s corpse to release her. Although the Tower card is normally associated with destruction, when the hero of the story is already dead, the Tower can represent the electric jolt of resurrection–like a defibrillator, or, more cosmically, like the electric spark that triggers the beginning of life in the primordial ooze.
This position tells you where help will come from, or what you need—or why you need—to continue your journey.
Card 7: Temperance: Perfect balance. In Campbell, Apotheosis. This is one of the four initiations and means being deified or immortalized. It is the recognition of unity with the Divine and within all things; the union of all opposites; this unity with the Divine is the rebirth resulting from the death and dismemberment of the Belly of the Whale. The symbolism of pouring liquid from one cup to another, as illustrated in the Temperance card, is a metaphor for reincarnation: the translation of the soul from one body to the next. The resurrected Inanna is forbidden from ascending from the underworld unless she can provide someone to take her place. Inanna offers her husband Dumuzi to take her place because he did not go into mourning for her while she was gone.
This position indicates the unique and eternal quality that will pervade this and every journey you embark upon.
Card 8: Star: New life that springs forth. In the Hero’s Journey, the Magic Flight, symbolic of return from beyond the veil of death. “If the monomyth is to fulfill its promise, not human failure or superhuman success but human success is what we shall have to be shown. That is the problem of the crisis of the threshold of the return.” Although this is the end of the story of Inanna’s descent, it is not the end of the story–Dumuzi escapes the demons from the underworld. Meanwhile, Inanna and Dumuzi’s little sister Geshtinanna weep bitterly and search everywhere for him as he flees from the pursuing demons. Eventually Inanna and his sister find him. Geshtinanna agrees to split the time in the underworld with her brother–Dumuzi will be there half the year, and she will take the other half the year.
This is the final outcome position, the new situation, now free from the veil of failure, that is brought about as a result of your successful negotiation of the events of this journey.
Refer to Renna Shesso‘s wonderful book, Planets for Pagans, to learn how this story is symbolic of the transition of Venus (Inanna) from evening to morning star and the waxing and waning of the moon (Dumuzi).
I hope you enjoyed the story of Inanna and Erishkigal! Enjoy the rest of the hop!
About the Author
Joy Vernon is widely recognized by tarot professionals as an expert tarot teacher and respected community leader. With over twenty years’ experience teaching energetic and esoteric modalities, Joy brings expertise and practiced familiarity to her specialty of esoteric tarot, which layers astrological and qabalistic symbolism onto the traditional tarot structure. Under her leadership, the Denver Tarot Meetup has grown into the most active and one of the largest tarot-specific meetups in the world. Joy works as a reader and teacher at Isis Books. To learn more, please visit JoyVernon.com.
© 2016 by Joy Vernon. All rights reserved.by