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Join Date: 26 Aug 2002
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Maat Tarot Ten of Wands

Those who have been following this study regularly may have observed that we began around the Autumnal Equinox with the Prince of Swords, then to the 2 of Swords, etc. and on through three lunar cycles until we reached the 10 of Swords and the Winter Solstice. With the Prince of Wands, we’ve passed the Solstice and are now beginning the minors in the suit of Wands, except that we’re starting at the 10 of Wands and proceeding to the deuce. (The Aces of each suit surround the World card at the center of the Maat System. See the diagram after page xix.)

Just as a reminder: the numbered minor cards form the large, outer circle and correspond to the phases of the moon in each of the lunar cycles. So each time that the moon changes its phase, we go to a new card. When the 4 phases are complete, we then go to a new lunar cycle. The lunar cycles make up the middle circle, and there are 12 complete ones represented by cards in the major arcana. We’ve just studied the Magician, and now we begin with the lunar phases under her rule.

The first phase, of course, is the new moon which is “always . . . at the beginning and end” and “very powerful for beginnings and endings.” (Maat Tarot, p. 84.) That is to say that the new moon is “liminal,” a wonderful word that means “like a threshold,” and defines the period of moving from one state to another. The moon’s liminality is confined to its three dark days. First-time mothers are liminal, too, but the length of their passage from woman-only to woman-mother is more elastic, varying from a few days to a few months. And other mothers? Older persons? What of them? The Maat invites us to consider their liminal possibilities in the 10 of Wands.

The first thing one notices is the figure of a woman robed in red and standing in the snow at the edge of a forest. We cannot see her face, although we sense she is elderly. Her posture and the apparent frailty of her legs seem to indicate advanced age. She carries a bundle of firewood on her back. Ahead of her is a dark and barren wood backlit by either a setting or rising sun. Snow falls steadily. A nimbus of frosty air surrounds the woman’s head and extends to her left. It might be the condensation of her breath, but it almost seems to sanctify her.

The work she does, gathering wood to fuel the family hearth, is considered holy by many cultures and is a responsibility traditionally assigned to the women of a household. She may have learned this task as a child, undertook it fully as a bride or whenever she acquired her own hearth, and she will carry it out as long as she lives. Her red robes stand out bravely against the snow, and beyond the wood the sun presents another conflagration. She travels toward the darkness and beyond it, to the light. It is a hopeful journey, now near its end. “After this, glory!” is what someone wrote of this arcana, meaning that after the great work (whatever it is) is done, one will emerge transformed. Furthermore, the greater the suffering that one undergoes, the greater will be the reward. It’s a variation on the one traditionally assigned to the 10 of Wands in RWS, but this one is happier, perhaps more just.

Perhaps, even, more natural. As one gets older, work may become physically trying. But, at the same time, ordinary tasks performed with the loved ones in mind are more satisfying and more meaningful: they become acts of love and kindness which warm the spirit along with the body. They bind the family together even if its members are scattered. That which fuels the hearth will also fuel the heart.

This scene with falling snow, the old woman at the edge of a wood, seems timeless. How often we’ve seen it in fairy tales! Yet, much of it is ephemeral: a person moving away from us into a landscape which itself is about to change. The sun will rise or set, the snow storm will move to the horizon or will retreat ahead of a clearing sky. That is the future. The present is this moment, with our burdens balanced, the woods still ahead of us and our breath like incense on the cold air.
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