Wednesday, September 12, 2012

6) Tarot Symbolism: Trees

 Types of Trees found in Tarot:

Two varieties of Trees are commonly found across Tarot Decks – The Tree which is known as the “Tree of knowledge” and “The Tree of Life”.

Variations of the Tree of Knowledge are the “Bodhisattva Tree” (under which Buddha had attained enlightenment, just as Mahavira, the last Teerthankar, of Jain Philosophy had meditated under a Tree in the forest to attain enlightenment). In Hindu folklore, all the teachers and sages of antiquity are shown as sitting under a tree or in a forest area while giving discourses to their disciples/students/followers.  

The “Tree of knowledge” contains fruits (mostly five in number – representing the five senses – and also representing the understanding and choice between good and evil), depending on which fruit the Querent is most inclined to pick.

 On the other hand, “the Tree of Life” bears 12 fruits which represent the twelve signs of the Zodiac. This Tree represents all the possible choices/decisions which a querent can make/take in his or her journey through life. This Tree also is an extension to the  philosophical or religious leanings (Way of Life or manner in which the person conducts himself/herself according to these beliefs) that the querent subscribes to and helps the Querent to understand his/her interactions in society in general or his/her place in Nature’s broader scheme of things on a higher level.

The Kabala Tree of Life symbolically represents the entire philosophy of the creation of the Universe and, through 22 different pathways, the levels of achievement/ enlightenment  of the human soul.

Norse Mythology recognizes the Tree of Life as “Yggdrasil”. Native Americans believed that trees have much power and energy, because of their size and age.  They believed that when one sits under a Tree, it would transmit energy, peace and tranquility to the person, which destresses him and reenergizes him to begin anew, with more vitality.

In Celtic folklore, are mentioned the stories of Oak and Yew trees : “Mag Mugna” which could give three choice fruits – the acorn, the nut and the apple, its girth was of 30 cubits, “Eo Mugna” a very tall tree again with a height of about 300 cubits and  a girth of about 30 cubits so large that about 1000 persons could take shelter under its shade and “Eo Rossa” a Yew tree of similar virtue.

Even the Celtic ancient language “Ogham” consisted of representations from various trees : three groups consisting of 8 chieftain trees (alder, oak , hazel, vine, ivy, sloe, furze, heath), 8 Peasant trees ( birch, quicken, willow, ash, whitethorn, whin , apple) and eight shrub trees.  Thus, trees represented the vowels and consonants  of the Ogham and were held sacred by the Celts as reservoirs of ancient memory and harbingers of prosperity.

Archetypal characteristics of Trees:

Trees have their roots firmly planted deep in the Earth and their branches extend upwards towards the sky, symbolizing our link/connection to the Universe. They, thus depict our inner selves which are constantly striving through the humdrum of daily life to find its place in/connect with the Universe.

It is also well known that trees breathe carbon dioxide and expel oxygen into the atmosphere, while human and animal life is dependent on breathing oxygen. Thus, Trees and Humans and animals have a symbiotic relationship with one other.

Shelter, regeneration and strength are all traits of a Tree. Certain interpretations can be drawn in Tarot from the type of Tree. For example, an evergreen tree can be seen as representing something which is everlasting or permanent say, a job, marriage or relationship etc.

Trees also symbolize new growth and/or stages of life and death.

In Tarot:

The following are a few examples of cards in Tarot which have Tree symbolisms.  In addition, trees may be found on random other cards depending on how the Tarot Card designer intends to convey the meaning of trees. After a brief description of some of these cards, I have placed illustrations with the specific meaning of individual cards, to enable easy understanding of various interpretations:

Two of Wands:

On several Decks the two of Wands represented by two trees standing on a Hilltop. The trees represent potential growth – both material and spiritual. 

The road upto the hill interspersed by bushes, foliage, does not present a clear path for the Querent, because beyond those trees there are infinite possibilities. As the querent cannot see what lies beyond the trees in the short term, he/she has to choose the path very carefully and rely upon past experience, gut feeling/instincts and judicious advice. 

There is an urgent need to proceed forward with a clear focus/vision as twos, as a trait, present duality or two choices or two directions, one of which the querent must choose. He has to decide whether to continue on the same path or choose the other one.

Twos also suggest originality of decision making and the power to make a choice upon which others are looking upon for the querent to make, say which of two jobs to opt for, which of two persons to marry or choose as a life partner, whether to stay in one’s domestic country or to go abroad etc. The decision taken now may therefore, indicate a changed life-style, changed relationship, changed working environment etc.

 In the Elemental Tarot, this card is the “Two of Fire” (Wands). It is titled “Flame” and at the bottom is mentioned “Ishtar”, the Mesopotamian Goddess of Love.

 In the background, two figures are racing towards a young tree with two leaves, indicating the potential for growth. The striped trunk is in the shape of a ladder representing aspirations and ambitions of the two men as they race for climbing the ladder towards their goals and success and be a part of the Tree’s perceived growth. A young woman watches them in the foreground as if waiting to see which of the two men would succeed in climbing the tree before making her choice on which one to join in the business venture or marriage.

On the other hand, a reversal of the two of Wands indicates postponement of taking the choice which prolongs the period of uncertainty and stagnation both for the Querent as well as the affected persons.
The Hanged Man:

The Hanged Man is normally shown as hanging by one foot on a cross or a Tree. His other leg is free and he rests it by bending it and placing it on the leg which is thus strung up in an inverted “4”. His demeanour is one of a person in a state of immobility rather than one who is in a state of discomfort. His hands may be depicted as bound or free.

 It is said that the Major Arcana (the 22 paths which the Fool “or the Seeker” must tread in a lifetime), which is the journey of the “Fool’s” life experiences, the Fool intent on finding a spiritual meaning to his life’s mission, climbs a tree during his spiritual path, falls down from a branch, entangles one foot in one of the branches and hangs upside down unable to free himself loose.

In some decks, coins fall out of his pocket while he is hanging upside down, indicating that several expenses are devolving on him in his spiritual search, yet he does not appear to attain his goals/desires, and can do nothing but to wait and reflect/meditate on his present situation, gain from his experience and come out of it a better and more experienced person. He is now able to find a connection between the humdrum of daily life and his spiritual path and handle his affairs more stoically and calmly, with an inner strength which he has discovered within himself during this period.

 In the Rider Waite Tarot, we see an archetypal representation of the Hanged Man as described above, hanging upside down from a cross made out of trees. He has a peaceful look on his face, content with his present predicament as he has resigned himself to his present condition, nevertheless looking forward to what the future holds for him with hope and expectations. 

He seems to have chosen the path of sacrifice so as to attain a higher goal through meditation and positive planning and thinking. In other words, he has sacrificed instant gratification for achieving a higher goal. It is also a time for introspection for him whether he is leading a balanced life.

 From the Tree he learns on how to keep his equanimity and ever strive to attain higher goals, just as the tree grows upwards.

 In the Elemental Tarot, the Hanged Man is suspended by one foot tied to a cord between two trees. It is bright and sunny above the cord and dark below it – the two shades representing the negative and positive sides on which the Hanged man is required to ponder. He learns from the two trees that no matter how dark and difficult the circumstances may seem, there is a silver lining and ultimately, he will achieve his aspirations, provided he is willing to replan and whole-heartedly pursue his goals.The key word that guides him in his contemplation is "Sacrifice" .

The Four of Cups:

Fours represent the first solids as we move up the suit of the minor Arcana and represent structure. The querent is bound by the structure presented by the solid and can mean stability and dullness for him. 

Trees are symbolically deep-rooted, ( bound by structure and immobility (which the Querent is experiencing), yet reaching out to the highest levels/elevations, literally the sky, suggesting that for the querent “the sky is the limit” provided he taps his inner resources carefully and systematically. 

The Four of Cups Card in the Waite Tarot shows a man sitting under the “Tree of Knowledge” contemplating his destiny away from the humdrum of social life. Four choices appear before him – three cups lying before him represent the attractions of the World and the one appearing from behind a cloud represents the attraction of the spirit and the inner self.  Riddled with a time of uncertainty, he must choose his future direction under the Tree .

 The Lovers:

The Lovers card usually may have an angel , a man and a woman or even a man standing between two women.

In the Rider Waite Tarot, “Adam and Eve” are symbolized with one apple tree with fruits in the picture along with a snake. The five apples on the tree behind the woman represent the five senses. The snake is also a symbol of the senses and here represents a tempter. 

The Hindu concepts of “Maya” which indicates the illusory nature of the material World (represented by the tree behind the woman) and “Moh”, (represented by the tree behind the man) the desires and temptation to nevertheless acquire possessions or wealth in the material World.

On the other hand the “flaming tree” behind the man, represents the fires of passion that burn within each of us and can cause spiritual imbalance in our lives if we allow them to lead us astray. Both trees give the querent a vital lesson of life, that of choosing between the “Good” or “Evil”. 

The Card also indicates  that if a man is contemplating marriage or planning to settle down, a woman will meet him shortly or has already met him and their relationship will prosper and bear positive results (just as the tree behind the woman is bearing fruits).

In the Elemental Tarot, "The Lovers' card is called “Choice/Passion”. Here a young couple stands with a tree between them having 12 branches with several fruits, indicating the multiplicity of choices available to both of them as well as the potential results. The tree trunk is in the shape of a striped ladder symbolizing acent or descent or success or failure of their relationship.  A red figure of a man standing behind the tree represents a tempter. The right path has to be chosen by the couple, to achieve their aspirations and make their venture a success.

Some variations of this symbolism can include a flowering tree ( indicating the path the querent wants/plans to follow but it is still in the initial stages of planning to get out of the stability and dullness which dogs him).

The High Priestess:

The above is an image of the High Priestess in the  Rider Waite Tarot.

Although we see no trees on this Card generally, the High Priestess is herself symbolically the “Tree of Life” (or the Principle of Life). She is considered to be the central pillar of the three pillars in the Kaballah “Tree of Life”. She holds the “Law” in her lap and presents herself as a Guardian of the portal of life. 

She provides the balance between the dark forces (night) and the light (day) represented by the two pillars behind her on either side. 

Everyone has to cross the portals of life/knowledge only through her permission which is only accorded when you are ready for assimilating the secrets of your life’s journeys by balancing the inherent opposites in human nature.

 The High Priestess in the Elemental Tarot is transformed into the “Virgin” (a young inexperienced woman herself). 

She seems to have got lost in the Woods (representing the trials and tribulations of life), has pricked a finger on a thorny rosebud held in her hand (due to her inexperience), her hair is hanging loose (release of unconscious emotions), in her desperation, she has forgotten to read the book lying with its pages upturned in the wind, which may have perhaps got her out of her predicament (learning from life’s experiences).

Yet she has the protection of ten great trees which have sheltered her as she sleeps (the guardians, trusted friends, colleagues, family and Nature itself). Below her is mentioned the word “Receptivity” which she has in abundance and is willing to learn from the environment and the great trees of "Knowledge" and "Life"  to guide her for she trusts them to protect her while she sleeps.

The Fool:

This card is called “Potential” in the Elemental Tarot. The Fool stands beneath a “Tree of Knowledge” on an isolated island (symbolizing individuality, isolation and safety) and looks up at the fruits borne by the tree (representing the symbols of the five elements) . The branches indicate multiple choices available before him in whichever field he chooses, but there is a condition, the Tree of Knowledge sets before him , he must choose wisely and with careful knowledge, so as to be successful in his goals.

Eight of Pentacles or Coins:

The Eight of Pentacles or Coins is called “Mountain” in the Elemental Tarot. It shows a figure in the foreground and two young palm trees growing on the distant hard rock solid foundation on cubes on either side of him representing the rewards of his hard labours. 

Four gold coins each on either side of him represent the manifestation of his material success and achievement.  Below him is mentioned “Tai-yueh-Ta-Ti” (an ancient Chinese Emperor). 

 The Knight of Pentacles:

 The Knight of Pentacles or Coins in the Elemental Tarot has been replaced by the “Daughter of Earth”. She is shown here with a male partner, holding the sun in her hands (capability to do anything under the Sun). A strong upright palm grows between them, indicating the result of their hard work.  Below them is mentioned  “Affaterim” (The moon in Winter).

Five of Coins or Pentacles:

In the Elemental Tarot, the Five of Pentacles or Coins has been replaced by the “ Quake”. A lonely woman sits brooding over the loss of a dead plant in her hands, oblivious to the fact that a full grown palm tree behind her is providing her shelter. 

She sits on a cube enclosing a five-pointed star (indicating change). Beneath her is the World which lies before her with all its opportunities. 

She only needs to look up instead of downwards, and embrace the opportunities provided by the “Tree of Life”under which she sits. Below her is mentioned “Ushas” (which is the name of the Hindu Goddess of Dawn).

 Queen of Wands:

The Queen of Pentacles in the Elemental Tarot is called the “Mother of Fire”. She sits calmly and wears the solar collar of authority and power. Behind her is a giant pyramid forming a triangle of Fire. Nevertheless around the fiery pyramids, four palm trees two on either side are growing. The palm trees represent the fruits of germination of an idea which has been cautiously and carefully implemented to fruition. Below her is mentioned the word “Festativi” (The earth in Summer).

Note: Several other decks/cards are being scanned for being placed on this post which is a time consuming process. Please bear with me in my efforts to make this post more comprehensive.