Slowly, slowly, i've been starting to apply all of my Tarot studies to practical readings. I've been using the Medieval Scapini deck, which interested me originally because of Ronald Decker's delightful little review of Tarot history, "Art and Arcana." Scapini's Minor Arcana differ quite a bit from the Rider-Waite-Smith deck's, which came up in particular with two cards from last night's reading: the 8 of Swords and the 8 of Wands. When i started writing this post, i caught myself conflating versions of those two cards from different decks; i'll explain this below.
For the 8 of Swords, the RWS deck depicts (according to Rachel Pollack, a student of that deck) "oppression," but not in the form of naked violence. (The fortification looms in the background, but no one holds up the swords or guards the prisoner.) It refers instead to "mystification" in the Marxist sense, where the oppressed "oppress themselves" by their own assumptions (reinforced by misinformation from above). (Why else would people on the edge of poverty staple tea bags to their hats and protest government handouts?) Scapini's 8 of Wands shows instead what seems a more pleasant scene in a vineyard (the wands cleverly woven into sakes for the vines). A couple appears in three stages of romantic development: youthful games, courting, and squabbling.
It took me a while to realize that Scapini's 8 of Wands illustrates a darker phenomenon, namely the oppression of instinct, custom, or habit. The couple in that card acts only according to biological and social expectation, not according to Will (to which Wands ultimately refer). This too is Will, but only the dark will of the blood and the unfolding of the mother's and father's example. The similarity with the RWS 8 of Swords is that the self imposes bondage: to a position in the RWS 8 of Swords, or to a scheme of human relations in Scapini's 8 of Wands.
This pair of cards speaks to two different views on moral enlightenment, which amount to the same thing. A Marxist might say that proletarians must see through the false assumptions and misinformation in order to attain the social order they desire. A traditional mystic might say instead that the patterns of the blood (biological or familial) must be discarded when they hinder the desired development of the spiritual life. Both the mystic and the Marxist speak of the triumph of True Will over lesser wills. Wands and Swords offer two complementary techniques for achieving this: "seizing the Wand" (taking the first step, overcoming lethargy, daring) and "cutting through the veil" (discernment, Scheidekunst in the good sense).
Lent is a good season to attack lethargy, habit, and misinformation. May i use it fruitfully for this purpose, and through grace attain that perfect correspondence of Divine and human Will, Amen.