The Lightning Struck Tower and the Star of Hope

It has been a sad and worrying week. Some of my loved ones are going through a terrible time; it is hard to see those you care about in crisis.  It’s got me thinking about grace under pressure and how we deal with those times when our world crumbles.

Being a tarot nut, I so often turn to its wisdom, in good times and bad. This week has drawn my attention to two Major Arcana cards whose energies feel very present at the moment. The first is the Tower and the second the Star. At first glance, they look the complete antithesis of each other but I always think of them as a pair who work together to bring movement and healing.

The Tower’s imagery is pretty dramatic and alarming. Traditional images often portray a tower struck by lightning, the structure crumbling and its inhabitants falling to the ground. It doesn’t take years of studying tarot to know that this card speaks of those sudden, shocking happenings in our life that rock our foundations and bring us to our knees. When things happen that change everything; when we find ourselves standing amongst the rubble that had once been the dependable structure of our life, we meet the Tower in all it awesome power. It can feel like the most unwelcome visitor.

Despite its troubling reputation, the Tower can also bring liberation. Sometimes its energies are just what we need when some area of our life has become stagnant or when we are ignoring things that desperately need to change. I think quite often the Tower turns up when we have been resisting these much-needed changes; when we repeatedly ignore life’s subtle hints that all is not well, it is as if the pressure builds and something has to give. If we really need to engage with that place of transformation and we don’t go willingly, then often life will take us there regardless. If we look a little deeper and are honest with ourselves, what feels like a nasty surprise or a sudden shock can reveal that a push to transform had actually been simmering away beneath the surface for some time.

The Tower comes to bring life-altering momentum; it comes with powerful revelation; it comes to smash apart our illusions; it gives us the opportunity to dismantle the psychological walls we build around us that are no longer a shelter but a prison. It introduces us to new ways to see and experience the world, ourselves and others. It might feel horrendously tough to be flattened by its unstoppable force but it does present us with the opportunity to make sure our foundations are good and true, that we might rebuild on a stronger footing. Of course, the Tower is not always a full- on wreaking ball; it can come as a sudden revelation that blows you away; major paradigm shifts are Tower moments. Whatever form it takes, you can be sure the old structures will fall away and suddenly you are left looking at a new landscape once obscured.

After the Tower, the Star is a soothing balm. The Star is a card of healing renewal, of hope; it is the calm after the storm. Tower moments can be so painful that our trust in life is shaken; the Star is the return of that trust. The Tower can be utterly disorientating, what we thought we knew about ourselves and life can shatter – all signposts gone, all recognisable landmarks obliterated – but the Star reminds us that we all have an inner compass, a guiding presence that will bring us through the darkest times. There is a beautiful quote from Virginia Woolf’s book Orlando which I have long-loved and which for me speaks so beautifully of the way the Tower and Star interact to bring growth and healing to our lives:

 

Change was incessant, and change perhaps would never cease. High battlements of thought, habits that had seemed as durable as stone, went down like shadows at the touch of another mind and left a naked sky and fresh stars twinkling in it.

If you meet the Tower, hold on to this quote; know that something new is being born; trust the process; nurture yourself as best you can and as the rubble falls about you, keep looking for that naked sky full of stars.

Tarot images from the Druidcraft Tarot by Philip & Stephanie Carr-Gomm – artwork by Will Worthington

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Feeding Time

It’s that time of year again when each walk around the wetlands across from my home has my pockets bulging with food for the birds and red squirrels: seeds, nuts and fruit, meal worms and dried duck food pellets, plus a couple of coconut halves filled with suet and other tasty bits. We have a couple of trees that we hang these upon in Borthwood Lynch, swapping them for fresh ones every week. We also take fat balls and hang them upon the big oak in our little grove and place food in the hide at Alverstone Mead Nature Reserve.

At the hide today there were flurries of blue tit, great tit and chaffinch around the hanging feeders and several red squirrels, their bright red coats now dulled to a winter brown. The squirrels are much braver here than at most other places on the Island; the rewards of food have taught them that the risk of getting close to one or two humans is worth it. Amongst the goodies on the feeding shelf were almonds in their shells. These proved to be a real favourite. The squirrels would agitatedly sniff out the almonds and then scamper off with them. We watched one squirrel secrete almonds between the logged fencing of the high wooden walkway that leads into the hide, only to gallop down the walkway, past our feet, up onto the ledges to claim yet more. They were in a playful mood, chasing each other along the roof and performing their wonderful acrobatic leaps from hide to tree, spiralling at high speed around the trunks.

A large buzzard glided out across the water meadows scattering into flight the black-headed gulls that were sat, one each to a post, along the fences that edge the fields next to the river. The reeds were brown and had collapsed into boggy heaps but the rushes were a vibrant green, their spiky tufts coverings the wet ground that stretches out beyond Borthwood Lynch. It is a beautiful place and these days a very rare habitat that needs to be protected. A great deal of work is going into managing the wetlands at Alverstone Mead, ensuring that this precious and abundant habitat continues to flourish.

Walking back along the old railway path, the flooded meadows reflected the sky’s darkening and the moon – slowly swelling to fullness – brightened and sharpened as the sun began to set. All this incredible beauty feeds and nourishes me; I am tempted to want to squirrel it away in some place where I can keep it safe and unchanged but I know that this is not possible or even desirable. I have watched this landscape over the changing seasons now for almost three years – it never stays still, although the joy it gives me is constant. I guess this is a lesson in itself that despite our coming to terms with the inevitable changes of our lives, joy and nourishment are always there to be discovered. There is a balance to be kept between the preserving and shedding; nature knows this well and is an expert; I on the other hand am still learning.

Yoga, Ritual and the Art of Change

As Pagans, when we perform ritual, we are using the magic of action and movement; our bodies expressing and re-enforcing the intention of our being to embrace and honour change. In Pagan spiritual practice the body is perceived as sacred, and we try to challenge those cultural preconceptions that the mind and intellect are superior. With an understanding that we have all been influenced by the body/spirit split that still dominates much of our culture, we attempt to perceive of these parts of ourselves as more holistically interwoven, as extensions of each other, and in doing so, open ourselves to a deeper understanding of self and other.

 

For a few years now I have practiced Yoga, more or less daily. I was first introduced to it when I was sixteen. I was training to be a dancer and so liked the physical challenge of its poses. Through it I first encountered meditation and with these techniques brought myself out of a particularly awful three years, post my mother’s death. I didn’t fully grasp what Yoga was but was acutely aware of the benefits.

 

Over the years I have left and come back to it as a practice, something in me remembering the feelings of that initial encounter. Through it, I gained my first real understanding that change and transformation were possible and that I could play a central part in its unfolding in my own life.

 

Now that I am much older, my understanding of it, and my relationship to it, has deepened. Some people mistakenly assume that Yoga is a way of the mind controlling the body, forcing it into unnatural positions, to tame its unpredictable nature. But I have found that, on the contrary, it is a dance between body, emotion, mind and spirit, a coming together of these in movement and breath, focus and stillness. It reaches for the flow within us.

 

Our bodies are an extraordinary miracle. Through them we access the material world around us via our senses; it is both the boundary that separates us from others and our environment but also our gateway to sensuous and intimate interaction with these. Our bodies are deeply responsive to our emotional lives and over time, our emotions can sculpt the shape of our physical selves, displaying our wounds and struggles to the world around us. If we leave our bodies out of our spiritual practice, the chances are we are cutting ourselves off from a valuable source of knowledge and potential for change.

 

After a session of Yoga, I am often surprised by the emotions that surface within me as I relax on my mat. Unresolved emotions are often stored in our bodies. When we involve the body in spiritual practice, we enable many of these to be released and processed. Barely acknowledged emotional stuff can block the conscious efforts we make towards change; they can sabotage the conscious plans we have for ourselves. When the body speaks, when our emotional truths are fully heard, we stand a better chance of embracing healthy change in our lives.

 

Loving to write, I am aware of how much my mind enjoys playing over ideas. I often become caught up in the chatter of that internal dialogue, entranced by the construction of systems, the placing together of language in order to explain my world to myself. Both Yoga and ritual has enabled me to coax out of myself the often ignored voice of body and feeling. At these moments of connection and communication, I am given the opportunity to open to a greater personal authenticity in the relationship I have with myself. It is not always a comfortable moment – the mind is adept in finding distractions from anything it might find unpalatable, boxing off anything that contradicts an ideal. However, the intense relief in allowing the truth of our beings to emerge (warts and all) is a powerful thing; it is the trigger point of our most important, life-changing transformations.

 

We hide so much of ourselves (or is that just me?), fearing that to express ourselves as we truly are might lead to rejection. I think there is a great healing in letting the body speak; in allowing it to articulate our deepest, most profound needs. Without doing so, we cut ourselves off from true intimacy with others and our environment; we become severed from our core.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Signal to the Psyche

Change, whether it appears to come unexpectedly from outside forces, or from the efforts of our own willpower, is undoubtedly the catalyst to any transformative journey. One of the central lessons of my own life has been the challenge to open to such changes. This is not an easy process but the mind is like the body in that as you stretch and bend it, over time, it acquires the flexibility needed to flow with life, the strength to adapt. Evolution teaches that an ability to adapt to an ever-changing environment is crucial for survival. It would appear that this holds just as true on a psychological level. There are times when clinging on to the corpse of our old lives brings only more pain and loss. It takes a leap of faith to let the past go and open ourselves to the new ways of being that change offers.

 

The search for Gnosis – for a deep inner knowing – depends on some intimate interaction with the agents of change. In many Pagan traditions, this is understood via the Myth of the Descent. Inspiration has been drawn from what is known of the Mystery Schools that once flourished in the Eastern Mediterranean. These Mysteries said something profound about the nature of our own living and dying; in the guided unfolding of a ritual sequence, participants were brought to a place within themselves of wordless knowing; a revelatory experience that would shift their entire perception of life and death. Myths of Descent are about finding ourselves stripped of our psychological scaffolding, often involving the loss of things held vital; they are about an honest confrontation with death and at their heart is the gift of renewal and transformation, the potential for a more authentic relationship with self and life.

 

Ritual can be a powerfully transformative experience; that vital signal to the psyche that you are open to change. In everyday life, our conscious selves only ever seem to be partially aware. We make decisions and choices, and yet life often has other plans for us. These unexpected turns in the road appear to strike from without, triggered by forces beyond our control. However, a long term practice of meditation and ritual (and of engaging with one’s own dreams and inner life) can reveal just how much something within us colludes with change, in order that we might be subject to transformation and growth. I have come to perceive that ‘something’ as vast, mysterious and knowing; a presence to be trusted – although my conscious self often baulks at the lessons it brings.

 

We can choose to consciously work with this part of ourselves, as in ritual, or other spiritual practices, and in doing so, help to make the more challenging changes easier to face. However, it seems that whether we chose to consciously engage or not, the changes come. I believe that the original authors of the Mystery Schools knew this well: the rituals didn’t come first, life experience did – the Mysteries were offering a route through via a hard won lesson lived and understood. The journey that is undertaken consciously, or the journey of oblivious stumbling, is still the journey. Each of us, it seems – regardless of faith or creed – will make at least one major descent in our lives. How we deal with these is a part of the learning.

 

These life lessons can be easier to write about than to live. Some might be swift and easy; others might be painful, tortuous and confusing – in fact, the word journey might appear contradictory when caught in the crippling stasis that can grip us in these moments. Either way the impact is profound. It is fair to say that no-one would consciously venture out on such a path if they had the choice to stay undisturbed. We seem to loathe and fear change, despite it being the only real certainty. It can feel like very tough medicine; the only way out being through.

 

Attempting to articulate the deep rooted and profound changes that we might experience can be a thankless task because so much of what might be termed revelation is deeply personal to the individual. What moves you to your core and initiates a major transformation might leave me wholly clueless and untouched. Each of our journeys will be different. However, sooner or later we will all have to make a heroine/hero’s quest to grow nearer to our true self and uncover our hidden potential.

 

At present the world seems in the grip if its own Descent, and as such we can be sure that humanity is being presented with the challenge to transform. It appears to me that our collective ‘something’ is colluding with change to bring about a major and profound metamorphosis in the way we interact with each other and our planet – adapt or die. We too have the choice to stumble blindly, or to summon a little courage and face honestly the loss and grief; to let life’s transformative energies move through us and reshape us. We might feel we have a lot to lose; what we have to gain seems far greater.

 

For the last few years I have been obsessed with butterflies. They are often seen as symbols of the soul. I find this moving and apt. It feels fitting that butterflies have been associated with the Goddess Psyche, and therefore should be such a potent symbol for the potential changes within our own souls. We need to open to our soul-wisdom, that vast and magical ‘something’ that resides beneath the restricted vision of our conscious selves. Whether the signal to our psyches is a consciously sought one, or an unconscious prompting, what is ultimately required is that we each become keen observers of the particular forces that are at work in our lives, taking it upon ourselves to really listen to them. When we honestly open ourselves to these catalysts, we can go on to create our own rituals, prayers and invocations, ones that facilitate a deeper understanding and integration of these forces. What is crucial is that there is an active engagement with the unfolding story of our lives, that we can strive to perceive its spiritual context and meaning for ourselves.