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It’s in the Cards: The Future is Female

Updated: Dec 31, 2023

The Madonna and Child in a mandorla with angels and cherubim by Antonio di Maso


This will be the last card in my year-long commitment to the Tarot as a reader. While I have learned much, I am left with a question. 

If I am the reader, who is the subject of my reading?

As a man, I think this card may offer a reading for men in general because it may be understood to herald a fundamental shift in their societal status. 

Gentlemen, be seated.

The card you see on the table before you is called “The World,” usually associated with momentous change. The message is hard to miss, framed by symbols of the Christian gospels, one evangelist in each corner. We know that “gospel” translates as “good news,” and it is good news indeed if you have grown weary of the burden of being an Alpha Male 24/7. It is good news for you and good news for women because it suggests that a historical reckoning is about to take place.

 There was a time, according to Joseph Campbell and Maria Gimbutas, when the divine principle was female and operated under the aegis of the Goddess. She had many names and Campbell loved to recite them: Artemis, Ishtar, Astarte, Anahit, Aphrodite, and Mary who, while not a deity herself, is clearly the dominant member of her odd marriage to a local carpenter.

But, as James Hillman liked to say, the gods never show up alone. Each member of the female pantheon partnered with some male divine which, while full of potency, is nevertheless a secondary character in a supportive role. Just as Barbie has Ken, Ishtar has Tammuz, Inanna claims Dumuzi, Venus delights in her Adonis, Isis is unavoidably linked to corpse-like Osiris, and Mary enjoys a Platonic marriage of convenience with a local craftsman.

My point is that patriarchy is never a permanent state but a condition always in flux which can leave us in positions of public power, or reduce us to ancillary functions. Consider Mary and Joseph. She is Theotokos, or “god bearer.” He’s good at miter cuts. 

The current epoch of male hegemony began one afternoon when Persephone was plucking a narcissus from the meadow where she and her all female crew were gamboling under the eye of a watchful mother goddess, Demeter, whose attention wandered just long enough to allow a chthonic kidnapper to burst through the mantle of the earth, urging his unblinking horses onward to capture the lovely Persephone. 

Is it more than a story? I think so. That momentous afternoon speaks of the abruptness by which one monad supplanted another.  I have always intuitively felt that Hades’ abduction of Persephone is a historical echo of those very real thundering hooves under the saddles of the Indo-Europeans in 4400 BCE, a date favored by Gimbutas, who cites as evidence the artifacts she found from that period among the broken shards and abandoned granaries of her digs. 

“Weapons, weapons, weapons!” cries the Lithuanian archeologist to her interviewer from the L.A. Times (6/11/89). “It’s just incredible how many thousands of pounds of these daggers and swords were found from the Bronze Age. This was a cruel period and the beginning of what it is today—you turn on the television, and it’s war, war, war, whatever channel.”

The invaders brought more than daggers. They came with their deities. Derived from guardian family gods throughout the second millennium BCE, they pillaged the sleepy Neolithic towns throughout southeastern Europe and Asia Minor to the Indus Valley.

“The chief gods of the invaders were predominantly male warrior gods, champions, each, of his special people. Those of the invaded agricultural territories, in contrast, were chiefly of the earth’s fertility and life, local forms for the most part, of the one great ‘goddess of many names,’ of whom all beings, even gods and demons, are the progeny” (Inner 46). 

So goodbye village and tillage, hello horse and battle ax. 

But the historical reckoning which I see in the card before me is now upon us. The mandorla, Campbell reminds us in Tarot Revelations, is comprised of overlapping circles, their point of intersection creating a Venn diagram or, if one prefers, an almond such as we see framing the central figure of the face card. “Moreover, the form of the mandorla is traditionally interpreted as a reference to the female organ of birth, the vulva, as though the cosmic mother-goddess of all space-time were here to be seen giving birth to the Christ of the Second Coming, and thereby to the Kingdom of the Father which is within us.”

Only, the “Father” is noticeably absent within the mandorla. The evangelists are heralding a woman, although the figure can be construed (with effort) as a hermaphrodite. Either way, the second coming will be a rude awakening for those whose prayers are still directed to a male god residing somewhere just beyond the moon. 

In the subject’s hands are, respectively, a wand to the left, indicative of the male principle, according to Campbell, and a conch shell to the right, symbolic of the female principle. 

But the reassuring balance is undermined by the displacement of Christ altogether. As Campbell directs our attention to the West Portal of Chartres Cathedral, we discover a remarkably similar constellation of symbolic representations: Four Evangelists with a central Christ framed by a mandorla.

The meaning of Card 21 could not be clearer: A woman is giving the hip-check to the boy from Bethlehem. 

The pivot from gynocentrism to phallocentrism can happen in an instant, as when Hades drags his unwilling prey to an undesired throne in Hell. Or it can occur naturally over centuries: I am thinking of another “hermaphrodite” whose career began in India as the mustachioed male Avalokiteshvara, but, by the time he gets to China and Japan, has become the most merciful Kuan Yin, holding in her sublime hands, not the conch of card No 21, but the “vase of her compassion” which she pours out upon the suffering earth.

“In our present day,” writes Campbell in apparent sympathy with the premise of imminent historical transition, “it does indeed seem that a fundamental transformation of the historical conditions of its inhabiting humanity is in prospect, and that the age of the conquering armies of the contending monster monads… may be about to close” (Inner, 16). 

Not a moment too soon.

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