Weave the flowers, erect the maypole, light the bonfire! Beltane, here we are! Grab a seat by the fire and be welcome!
All the rituals of Beltane have been woven together, starting with the Irish and other Gaels dancing in the summer and taking their cattle to pasture, moving through the flowers and ribbons of nineteenth-century maypole dances, and on to pagan revival fire festivals. Good rituals never die; they just change form and are often re-remembered in later times. And they’re always based on great stories, in this case of fire from the sun that never dies; birds, bees, flowers, and other lovers cavorting and recreating themselves anew in the warmth of that same sun.
And so it is with the Tarot. A simple progression of trumps in a game of cards in the fifteenth century has morphed into an intricate weave of magick, psychology, and New Age spirituality, but still carrying with it a power to see the unseen and that which may be to come. Tarot readers continue to ride this tension between inner and outer worlds, spirit-seeking and fortune-telling.
Arwen Lynch, of “Seek Joy, Y’all,” fame and a regional neighbor of mine from Austin, Texas, has asked this question of us for Beltane:
What traditions are important to you in how you read Tarot?
Every deck has a story, a tradition of its own. That’s my philosophy. I believe in the mythology of the deck and its creator. I like to think of myself as an anthropologist of Tarot decks. If it’s Camelot, I’m there with all the trauma and drama of Arthur, Merlin, and Guinevere. If it’s a good deck and guidebook, the writer and artist will have integrated their stories beautifully with the tradition they are following or creating, and I will find the deck wondrous to work with. And that includes the “traditional” decks like the original Rider-Waite-Smith, Crowley and Harris’s Thoth, and the reproductions of the older Marseille decks. Yes, the old woodcut Marseille decks have their own traditions, and instead of trying to use them as I would a later more pictorial deck based on some esoteric system, I go to the historical stories about the cards’ origins and keep the meanings concrete and simple. I do often find a more intuitive approach based on what the pictures seem to say to be easier to read sometimes, but I also like the challenge of reading based on meanings that have been passed down through the centuries.
The Druid Craft Tarot for Beltane
My favorite deck for integration of mythology with Tarot is the Druid Craft by Philip & Stephanie Carr-Gomm, illustrated by Will Worthington. You get some history for each card image’s role in Druid-based myth, you get significance with an interweaving of that story and RWS traditions, and finally a really nice, succinct message from the card. The card from this deck that’s associated with Beltane is The Lovers. A short excerpt from the pages on The Lovers will suffice to set them in the Druid/Wiccan/Gaelic traditions of Beltane and show off their archetypal universality:
It is Beltane and the mayflowers are in bloom. Lord and Lady, or High Priest and High Priestess, have joined together as Divine Lovers – conveying the idea both of the Great Rite of the union between God and Goddess, and of its reflection in the everyday world of romantic love between two people. In addition, the card depicts the union of the two aspects of the self – conscious and unconscious, inner feminine and inner masculine – while the Divine Self, embodying this union, is depicted as the white hind in the distance.
So, there you go: Celtic myth, archetypal union of opposites, human lovers, the whole package. Cool, huh? 🙂
The Three Traditions Spread
So, let’s play with all three traditions with the following spread; we can call it the Three Traditions spread. I’m going to just do a general draw, but you can use this quite well in the context of a specific question, in which case the cards should tell more of a single story. But this will give you an idea.
Card 1: What does the Earth say?
Card 2: What does the Psyche say?
Card 3: What does the God/Goddess say?
So, I drew the Five of Cups, the Seven of Wands, and the King of Swords.
The Earth says: Mourn your loss, but appreciate the inheritance you have received; it will support you as you move on.
The Psyche says: Reflect on your position and strengths, your depth of character, as you face your inner challenges. You can prevail!
The God/Goddess says: See the big picture with the detached Mind; clarity comes from the universal perspective. See all the possibilities, without attachment.
I invite you to try out this spread, particularly with a favorite deck that you think has a great spectrum of tradition and wonderful stories. And let me know how it works for you.
Keep the fire burning, within and without!