Way of the Hero – Part 11 – The Journey Through Tarot Cards
In the previous “Way of the Hero” article, I have explained two step, two levels of the Hero’s Journey and mapped it out within Tarot Cards. We looked at: The Star and The Mon.
Now our Hero will journey through The Sun, The Judgement, and The World.
The Sun – Returning to the light and reconciliation
It finally happened! Our Hero Won!
By following the path of the Sun he survived Heaven and Hell; he passed all of the tests and finally returned home. This moment can be compared with the sunrise. The darkness recedes and the soul rises from the darkest depths of the night to enter into the bright abode of fearlessness. It is the moment when the monster releases the swallowed hero: the whale spews Jonah out onto dry land; the giant snake, obeying Athena’s order and spits out Argonaut Jason (Athena is Jason’s anima).
On this card, the hero looks young and rejuvenated. He has the figure of a child breathing fresh air, calling on feelings of something new, like a bright morning that came after a long, dark and dangerous night. It is like the Bible says: “And there was evening, and there was a morning – the first day” (Genesis 1:5). It means that the initiation, the true transformation of the hero started in the evening and ended in the morning.
The fact that the hero is depicted as a child also shows that the result of this journey is a newly found simplicity. The man, who learned of reality with all of its complexities, comes to an inescapable conclusion at the end: that all of the great truths are very simple. However, accepting the flat dogmas that society, different religious organizations and other “smart gurus” implant in our minds is also as unwise as to consider every fool as a sage. Dr. Jung says that a man instinctively knows that great truth is very simple. This is why a man with an undeveloped consciousness easily mistakes for it any cheap simplicity and banality or, after few disappointments, falls into the other extreme and assumes that great truth must be extremely complex and incomprehensible.
On this card, we see the hero as the Fool, as he was at the beginning of this story. He took off on this journey as a naive fool but he quickly grew up, becoming wise and knowledgeable. Now, at the end of the road, he must once again become humble, modest and much more mature. He became a Wise Fool from the legend of Parsifal who has returned to his original simplicity. He found the Grail Castle, access to which is open only to those, who are pure in heart. Initially, as a silly young man, he accidentally found the castle but, due to his immaturity, he failed to ask the right question. After about twenty years he finally came back. In his middle age, tired from all of his battles, he finally takes off his mother’s garment (gets rid of mother’s complex) and finds the castle. But this time he asks the right question.
In the beautiful story written by Herman Hesse, Siddhartha had also hoped that he could safely escape the abyss that awaits everyone who decides to attain enlightenment without hassle. However, he was forced to see that there is no easy way and man must first dive deeply into the dark sea of life before he can grasp and truly understand what freedom is and how it can be achieved. Siddhartha’s thoughts at the end of his journey can perfectly describe The Sun card:
“Now, he thought, since all theses most easily perishing things have slipped from me again, now I’m standing here under the sun again just as I have been standing here a little child, nothing is mine, I have no abilities, there is nothing I could bring about, I have learned nothing. How wondrous is this! Now, that I’m no longer young, that my hair is already half gray, that my strength is fading; now I’m starting again at the beginning and as a child! Again, he had to smile. Yes, his fate had been strange! Things were going downhill with him, and now he was again facing the world void and naked and stupid. But he could not feel sad about this, no, he even felt a great urge to laugh, to laugh at himself, to laugh at this strange, foolish world. “Things are going downhill with you!” he said to himself, and laughed about it, and as he was saying it, he happened to glance at the river, and he also saw the river going downhill, always moving on a downhill, and singing and being happy through it all. He liked this well; kindly he smiled at the river. Was this not the river in which he had intended to drown himself, in past times, a hundred years ago, or had he dreamed this?”
A miraculous rejuvenation also means that the hero has reached a new level of consciousness by bathing in the water of life (The Star) and now stands above time and space. Understanding cosmic laws allowed him to rise above the chronological perception of time and become independent from its boundaries.
Unlike Gilgamesh, he managed to keep a sense of eternity beyond the threshold of the Moon. And now he owns unlimited time, as it was when he was a child. If, earlier, he perceived time quantitatively and, therefore, always had a lack of it, now the time has acquired quality. He is not chasing time anymore hoping to do and catch as much as possible but knows that a truly deep-felt moment of timeless happiness (truly felt the moment of “now”) is worth much more than thousands of caught moments of pleasure. Aspects of such an expanded consciousness later become the most vivid memories.
The hero also learned that the beginning and the end of the road are similar but not identical to each other. It is like a mandala, the inner and outer circles of which relate to each other as lost and new-found paradise. They are similar but not identical. Between them lies a road, long and arduous, full of twists and turns that no one has managed to escape, yet. Well-known German astrologer Oscar Adler compares the life journey of a man with the African river Niger, one of the longest rivers in the world. Even though the distance from its source to the sea is not very long, a straight flow is not possible because mountains block its path. It has to take a huge detour in order to reach its destination.
To our mind, that is used to always perceive everything straight, these detours are totally meaningless. It would choose, of course, the straight path.
That is why so many people come to consult the Taro, I-Ching and other methods of divination hoping to find a straight, forward answer. They think that divination will help them choose which road to take in order to reach their destination as fast and as painlessly as possible by the determined date. But there is no right answer to this. The perfect job or perfect spouse that is supposed to be waiting for you at a certain time in the future simply does not exist. And, in order to reach certain goals, we must consciously grow and go through many mistakes, uncertainties, and misconceptions. Therefore, we have to go through many different turns and detours even though we think they are meaningless. As Dr. Jung mentioned: “…the right way to wholeness is made up, unfortunately, of fateful detours and wrong turnings. It is the longissima via [longest path], not straight but snakelike, a path that unites the opposites in the manner of the guiding caduceus, a path whose labyrinthine twists and turns are not lacking in terrors. It is on this longissima via that we meet with those experiences which are said to be ‘inaccessible’. Their inaccessibility really consists in the fact that they cost us an enormous amount of effort: they demand the very thing we most fear… (Jung, Carl Gustav, “Part I: Introduction to the Religious and Psychological Problems of Alchemy,” Psychology and Alchemy. Collected Works, Vol. 12, Second edition, completely revised, Princeton University Press, 1968, par. 6, p. 6.)
Eyola, from “The NeverEnding Story”, said the same thing to Bastian: “You went the way of wishes, and that is never straight. You went the long way around, but that was your way. And do you know why? Because you are one of those who can’t go back until they have found the fountain from which springs the Water of Life. And that’s the most secret place in Fantasia. There’s no simple way of getting there” -After a short silence she added – “But every way that leads there is the right one.”
There were twins often portrayed on The Sun card in the older Tarot decks. They symbolize reconciliation between quarreled brothers – peace between the light and the shadow. When the hero finally went through both sides of himself, allowing his bright side to open up and his dark side to break free from captivity, they are reconciled with each other.
The very important task that we had on the female side of the double-digit cards is solved: the civilized man has accepted his animal nature; the mind made peace with his shadow aspects; the conscious mind accepted the traits of the subconscious.
In terms of consciousness, the reconciliation also means an overcoming the age-old dichotomy (black and white), with which our minds associate everything in the reality. At this stage, we can finally understand that the fact that the mind sees as opposite, the psyche perceives just as a polarity. This means that it is not “evil”, but something that, in no case, should be destroyed with pure rational analysis.
So, this card reveals that one of our major life tasks is to reconcile the contradictions, to reconcile the light and dark, down and dusk, god and evil, male and female, life and death. Our hero can see his shadow and his light, he can see both sides of himself, therefore he was able to find the middle ground.
The Judgment – Healing
And now, when all of the conditions are finally met, the miracle transformation will occur. As described in the legend of Parsifal, the place where he will accomplish a feat of Salvation will be revealed only to those who are pure in heart. This is the Holy Grail castle, Heavenly Jerusalem, Shambala, “the city of your dreams” or any of the many metaphors that indicate the highest purpose in many different books and cultures.
The treasure that the hero found in the Shadow Kingdom is the Potion of Life (or something else that heals). The necessary action is described in the books as very simple: to kiss the girl, to send a signal, to say the right words. Once the hero does this, the miraculous transfiguration occurs. The enchanted beast becomes prince charming. The Fisher King’s healing occurs immediately after Parsifal asks the right questions. As we can see, the transformation is not difficult; however, it can only happen after all of the prerequisite conditions are met. The meaning of the miracle is always the same: Healing and Integration of All Parts of the Self.
On the Judgment card, the moment of the miracle is depicted in the resurrection from the dead. The meaning of the card is exactly this, and not in its name. It has nothing to do with “judgment” as we are used to understanding it on the mundane level. However, the real final verdict is hidden here: who is worthy of immortal life and who will suffer for eternity. It reveals to us who is a real hero and who is an imposter because only a real hero can perform the feat of Salvation.
This card says that now you are your real Self, your God-Self and are freed from prison.
In the fairy tales, this is the episode where the prince or princess appears as their true self and gets rid of the ugly masks of everyday life, revealing their true beauty.
Numerologically, this card is connected with the High Priestess, which is connected with the Strength. This connection shows that for the freedom and healing (the Judgment) it is necessary to have a desire and action (the Strength), however these two are not enough without the heavenly verdict, meaning that the decision will be made to our advantage, only when we solve all the tasks and intuitively determine the right moment to make a miracle (the High Priestess).
New-Found Paradise – The World
The one who completed this trip is perfect. Our hero has reached his goal and found his lost paradise. This is the last card of the Major Arcana. It depicts a dancing figure (inverted Hanged Man), which shows that the stagnation is turned into the real life and man is now standing firmly on his feet.
The Four, the symbol of all earthly things (crossed legs), is now at the bottom, where it belongs. At the same time, the Three, which is a symbol of the divine principle (the opened hands), is on the top. In the four corners of the card, we see again the four cherubs, familiar to us from the card of Wheel of Fortune, symbolizing the four aspects of integrity. But here they are depicted without books; they no longer have to teach us. We have already learned all that we had to learn and have passed the exam. The hero has reached wholeness. He found his way out from the wrong, illusory and upside-down world (The Hanged Man) into the right world (The World).
Mandorla (an almond-shaped field of radiance and splendor that surrounds the figures of saints; this ancient symbol of two circles coming together describes the union of heaven and earth) provides the same meaning and surrounds the dancing figure like an ellipse. If a circle, which only has one center, symbolizes individuality, the ellipse is of a much higher order. The impulse that is coming from the center of any circumference is reflected from the edge of the circle and returns back. So, the circle symbolizes the essence of our Ego, which perceives itself as the center of the world. Meanwhile, the ellipse includes two centers and is a symbol of the union of two opposite centers.
According to the law of ellipse, when each impulse originating from one of its centers is reflected, it falls into another center. Thus, the ellipse becomes a symbol of union between initially polar opposites, such as masculine and feminine, light and dark, conscious and unconscious.
In some decks, the figure of the dancing man is depicted as a hermaphrodite, which shows the integrity of a person who has accepted and reconciled his polar identity.
In fairy tales, integrity is usually expressed in the end, when the hero becomes a king.
In ‘The Divine Comedy’ Beatrice led Dante to the mountain of purification so that he could finally behold the Divine and see the constant motion around a fixed center.
But we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that this point lays outside of this world, or on the other side. That is why Dr. Jung points out: “To round itself out, life calls not for perfection but for completeness.” He also emphasizes that achieving integrity does not absolve us from earthly feelings. This means that even if a person who has achieved wholeness, it is unlikely that they will be able to completely get rid of the painful feelings of the duality of his/her nature. Complete liberation from the suffering of the world will probably have to be classified as an illusion. As we all know that the earthly life of Christ did not end in a blissful satiety, but on the cross. The goal is important but only as an idea, but above all what truly matters is the action that leads to it: that what gives the life its meaning.
If we look at life’s path as a spiral, which leads higher and higher, then we will notice that each helix turns out to be a new journey for the hero. If this is true then, while we are on the path, we will, again and again, go through all of 22 phases of the hero’s journey, but at least (and I definitely hope so), every time it will be at the higher level of consciousness.
Only at the highest point of life’s path, and not before, the last card of Major Arcana will really mean complete Unity, the total Wholeness. But it is better to perceive this goal not as the great and worthy end of life’s journey, to which we must all aspire, but rather as an ideal image that prompts us to constantly move forward. For as long as we deny anything in ourselves, or in the surrounding world, we will not reach an understanding of the All in One. Therefore, our journey must restart.
And this is a great revelation! Isn’t it that what this wonderful life is all about? To grow our consciousness with each journey, reaching higher and higher into infinity? Yes, it is.
I want to thank all of you for joining me on this wonderful journey!
I want to confess that I didn’t plan any of these articles, nor did I know when I would write the next one. Sometimes it took two weeks for the next one and sometimes two months! It just seemed like it wrote itself every time my consciousness was ready for the next step. And yes, there was a lot of happiness and a lot of tears along the way, there was a lot of fear and the same amount of courage, a lot of pain and a lot of joy. This year was by no means fun, but it was truly a joyful adventure. We all learned so much about ourselves, we faced our deepest and most frightening fears, we liberated our shadows, conquered our demons, met our monsters, learned to embrace our enemies and learned to love again.
We have really accomplished a lot this year and I want to congratulate you all with all of your losses (your teachers) and all of your triumphs (your rewards)! You are all the mightiest heroes and I am so proud of all of you!
© Rita Digilova 2010