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The Star


"Le Stelle" from the Soprafino-Gumppenberg Tarot. Art by Carlo Della Rossa (1840).

Hence in a season of calmer weather

Though inland far we be,

Our Souls have sight of that immortal sea 

Which brought us hither, 

Can in a moment travel thither,

And see the Children sport upon the shore,

And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore.

(Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood by William Wordsworth)


The vernal equinox marks the transition from winter to spring here in the northern hemisphere, and our friends in Australia can now breathe a sigh of relief as a tough, hot summer transitions into autumn. Regardless of where you are, this astronomical moment marks a boundary both factually and symbolically. Appropriately enough, this month our MythBlast family has been musing on the seventeenth trump card of the tarot: the Star.


The Star is one of the goddess cards in the tarot. There are a number of such cards representing different aspects of the “Divine Feminine,” that is to say a variety of characteristics ascribed to the symbol as “feminine” based partly in a socially constructed and culturally inflected set of experiences and conceptual structures and then projected into that misty ganz andersein (Ultimate Other) lying just beyond, or below, normal waking consciousness. 


I'm being careful in this description, because describing something as “one aspect of the Divine Feminine” suggests that these representations are prototypes, as if they describe a set of “divine” characteristics or Platonic Forms to which human beings are supposed to aspire and against which human lives are to be judged. I think this view is exactly backwards. Symbols like these are projections of our psyche captured in metaphor—the metaphors can be beautiful, but their value depends upon the degree to which they effectively disclose, or direct our attention to, deeper parts of our own experience. Metaphors like these put us in relationship with the world and, when our understanding of the world changes, so too must those metaphors. As civilization moves into a less binary understanding of life and culture, these metaphors will have to morph as well.


In any case, while women can be stereotypically understood using these aspects of the Divine Feminine, the symbolic topography of Divine Feminine must first be understood as having been determined by what a particular culture, situated in a particular time and space, deemed to be a “woman.” The same goes for the masculine side of this traditional binary. There is a chicken-and-egg analogy working in the background here, but it's important to get the order of signified and signifier right.


With that safety lock in place, let's get starry eyed.


The Star, as a verb instead of a noun, seems to work regardless of current social constructions. Operationally defined, she symbolizes the boundary layers and the mode of transit between daily, mundane consciousness and that which lies beyond.


Discerning readers will have noticed that in some sense the metaphors that link us to what lies beyond mundane consciousness will, to mundane consciousness, often seem to be understood as lies. What lies beyond often seems to lie. That’s always the problem with metaphors. The fact that it’s ironic and corny at the same time is always the first indication of a deeper hermeneutical, and hermetic, mystery.


The Star card typically shows a woman at the water's edge, sometimes a river, sometimes a pond, but the water always represents the Great Sea. She kneels beside it wielding two jugs, one held aloft pouring water (or starlight) onto herself and the other slung below, pouring that water out into the world. She inhabits the shoreline, marking the tide, straddling the boundary between Here and There, making accessible the Yonder Shore or, at least, the watery starlit pathway that transits Here to There.


In normal life you may have had the experience of walking the beach at night when the water is still, rippled by hushed zephyrs, and felt the sea dew gentle itself against your face: a barest intimation of the vast and mostly opaque ocean depths rolling out of sight to the horizon. Arguably, most days, our unconscious selves communicate in the same way, as the slightest, almost unnoticeable mist bringing material to consciousness from what seems a mostly opaque and inscrutable depth rolling out of sight beyond the horizon of normal consciousness. It whispers misty intimations (I really want to say mythsty intimations). Sometimes we recognize and rejoice in these mythsty intimations of immortality, but, more often than not, we perceive these whispers as nothing more than a spray of healthy hydration that keeps the hardening skin of adulthood softer, and more pliant, and more functionally alert.


So, to normal waking consciousness, the Star card represents a kind of humidifier—although, admittedly, sometimes a fire hose—powered by the unconscious. We notice it only when we shut it off or when it runs out of starlight … I mean, water … and our skin, or the protective membrane of mundane consciousness, dries out and hardens, or cracks.


The metaphor here suggests how we can share in this transverberation by absorbing the sea dew, the spilled starlight, and then acting as a conduit, spilling it out into the world. Spilling starlight into the world is a pretty dense, if twinkly, metaphor, but it would come down to something like this: once one is in touch with the Great Sea—and the “Great Sea” here is a kenning for the Jungian unconscious or even for the universal architecture which Aristotle reminds us is accessed through wonder—one cannot help but spill the water from that Grail out into the world.


Twinkle twinkle.


Thanks for musing along.

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