5 December 2013

Introduction & Disclaimer[1]

The twentieth post in a series that adds commentary to Nichols’ (1980)[2] Jungian commentary on the major arcana of the Tarot, here I comment on card 18: the Moon.

Over the past two or so years, I’ve been reading a lot of Jung’s writings,[3] and will continue to do so,[4] in part not only because his approach to psychology resonates with my own experience but also because when I read his works I experience a dislodging of psychic imagery that seems interesting and/or fruitful and/or inspiring. In addition, I have been doing Tarot card readings since 1986,[5] when my friend in college introduced them to me, and have even worked “professionally” as one.

So it proved very on-point and kind of my friend to think of me when she saw a copy of Nichols’ (1980) Jung and Tarot: an Archetypal Journey. This series, then, embodies my reactions to and commentaries on Nichols’ commentaries, &c, and will work through the major arcana (the trumps) of the Tarot deck chapter by chapter as Nichol’s book does in order from 0 to 21.

The Moon: Maiden or Menace?[6]

To repeat the opening from my previous post (in order to contextualize the sequences of cards from 17 to 20):

In my understanding of the Major Arcana arranged (excluding card 0 the Fool and card 21 the World) in sequences of four cards each (1–4, 5–8, 9–12, 13–16, and 17–20), where the first four sequences represent one of the puruṣartha or life-purposes (e.g., pleasure, power, dharma or service, and liberation, respectively), then the fifth sequence represents that state of one’s atman or spirit in an intermediate state in-between lives. From card 17 (the Star), through the Moon (card 18), the Sun (card 19), and then Judgment (card 20), these steps point to a process one undergoes during what I will call the Bardö state—whether you want to read this liminal life-state in a literal or figurative sense does not change the argument, only its application.

I tend to read card 17 (the Star) as the moment in the Bardö when I pick the course of my next life. But, because I make that choice from the standpoint of eternity (and possibly with omniscience), to actually experience that life, I must first hobble my omniscience; I must shroud my Self in amnesia, in unknowing, in ignorance. The Moon signals that signal moment. One consequence of this: this makes the Moon the governess of Time, since through the slow unspooling of events in manifested reality I will experience, moment by moment, the life I have chosen for myself, in all of its vicissitudes and surprises.[7]

Nichols emphasizes how, for the first time, no human-like figure appears in the Moon card,[8] which I might take as pointing to the (necessary) eclipsing of the Self (with a capital S), prior to the emergence of the self (noncapital S) that will inhabit the next life.[9] She emphasizes the dog figures—and I regret that I cannot remember either what Heck and Cordonnier (2012)[10] say regarding medieval imagery for dogs in European bestiaries nor in great detail what Jung said in his (1956)[11] Mysterium Coniunctionis about dogs in alchemical imagery. Consulting his 15 pages or so devoted specifically to the dog, I offer a few remarks.

There (for one thing) the union of two dogs brings about a third that will “preserve bodies from burning and from the heat of the fire” (Khalid, quoted in Jung, ¶174), which itself refers to the ur-Symbol of the union of the Moon and Sun. Or, again, “This Dog, they say, being a certain divine Logos, has been established judge of the quick and the dead” (Khalid, quoted in Jung, ¶176), suggesting Anubis, and thus the whole mystery and Great Work of alchemy writ small; hence, Jung writes, “In this one thing all parts of the work are contained” (¶181). By which he means specifically, interpreting an alchemical text,

In order to set free the contents hidden in the “house” of the unconscious … the “matrix” must be opened. This matrix is the “canicula,” the moon-bitch, who carries in her belly that part of the personality which is felt to be essential (¶181).

All of this only to point to the literal depths of enclosure and obscurity the moon encompasses as a symbol. And, in part, precisely because it encloses (or delimits) the Unconscious itself, it becomes capable of carry a well-night limitless number of symbolic associations, where the dog represents only one (instinctual) aspects within it. Thus, we have also “that the dark, dangerous, rabid dog changes into an eagle at the time of the plenilunium [the full moon]. His darkness disappears and he becomes a solar animal. We may therefore assume that his sickness as at its worst at the novilunium [the new moon]” (¶183). Of these dangers, which on the one hand the (rabid) dog proposes but also which, as Nichols stresses, the hero may face by befriending the dog:[12]

It is not difficult to discern in these allusions the dangers, real or imaginary, which are connected with the unconscious. In this respect the unconscious has a bad reputation, not so much because it is dangerous in itself s because there are cases of latent psychosis which need only a slight stimulus to break out in all their catastrophic manifestations. An anamnesis or the touching of a complex may be sufficient for this. But the unconscious is also feared by those whose conscious attitude is at odds with their true nature. Naturally their dreams will then assume an unpleasant and threatening form, for if nature is violated she takes her revenge. In itself the unconscious is neutral, and its normal function is to compensate the conscious position. In it the opposites slumber side by side; they are wrenched apart only by the activity of the conscious mind, and the more one-sided and cramped the conscious standpoint is, the more painful or dangerous will be the unconscious reaction. There is no danger from this sphere is conscious life has a solid foundation. But if consciousness is cramped and obstinately one-sided, and there is also a weakness of judgment, then the approach or invasion of the unconscious can cause confusion and panic or a dangerous inflation, for one of the most obvious dangers is that of identifying with the figures in the unconscious. For anyone with an unstable disposition this my amount to a psychosis (¶184).

Nichols employs or indulges in and transcribe it seems considerable active imagination in her commentary on this card, dramatizing explicitly the sorts of actions the hero takes in this inhuman landscape. The value of this might prove considerable and it also strongly marks a change in how she comments on the other cards. At one point she relates a legend where the moon “gathers unto herself all the discarded memories and forgotten dreams of mankind” (317), and then in the morning releases them all into the earth so that “nothing of value is lost to man” (317). This seems a reminder that though the veil of māyā and Unconsciousness has gotten thrown over everything, it remains present; we simply cannot see it in the dark—just as we no longer perceive our Self because the darkness of ajñana (usually translated as “ignorance” but understood in at least one stream of Kashmiri Sivaism as a “partial understanding”) has made it impossible for us to see. From this, we might discern the command need not consist of, “Wake up!” but rather, “Clear your eyes.” The fault lies less with our vision and more with our looking.

A curious things about the card Nichols comments on concerns the artistic realization for the moon itself. Not  actually fully within the frame of the card, the moon (somewhat like the central star of card 17) superimposes three multi-pointe shapes: two 7-branched stars and one 14-branched star. This totals 21, and reprises the structure of the entire Tarot itself, with each minor arcana having 14 cards, and the Major Arcana consisting of three groups of 7. But, admittedly, the execution of the card gets muddy at the top of the image, and in a way that looks more inept than intentional. In any case, peeking ahead to the Sun, we see nothing so explicitly 7, 14, or 21 about the card, and this “allusion” to card 21 or the World conjoined to the circle (or the O) of the moon image itself seems a succinct references to the totality implied by the Moon’s obscuring. Like the gathered memories mentioned above, we may find everything in the Unconscious (in this card), and this also points to the sense of the sign Scorpio, which one excepts the crayfish—probably modified somehow—alludes to, itself an allusion to the Egyptian scarab.

But in addition to the multi-pointedness of this Moon, its coloration seems curious. I tend to think of the moon in its intermediate stages, waxing or waning. Probably we tend to physically see it this way the most frequently, because the full moon (though striking) doesn’t occur as often as crescents, and the new moon tends to get overlooked for its “invisibility”.  Here, though, the Moon’s crescent shape gets formed as part of a sideways halo on a face seen in profile, and a face safely and fully within the circumference of the circle that forms the base for all of the moon rays as well. Moreover, the artist colored the whole face of the moon blue—matching the water (the ocean) below and deftly (or in a sort of optical allusion) making the round shape of the moon echoed in the “round” outline one can imaginatively circumscribe the crawfish with.

The effect of this blue coloration makes it seem as if a sun has gotten eclipsed—that the moon per se on this card gets represented only by the crescent-faced profile but it still suffices to cover a sun in the background. It might also occur that this symbolizes (or attempts to symbolize) the “black sun”—an alchemical counterpart of the sun itself (the sol niger), or the Sun’s shadow (solis umbra).

All the more ruthlessly, therefore, does alchemy insist on the dangerousness of the new moon. Luna is on the one hand the brilliant whiteness of the full moon, on the other hand she is the blackness of the new moon, and especially the blackness of the eclipse, when the sun is darkened (Mysterium Coniuntionis, ¶21).

Because “the changefulness of the moon and her ability to grow dark are interpreted as her corruptibility” (¶28), the symbolism then enters into a great deal of sexualized comparisons between solar-masculine and lunar-feminine nature, which I will not reprise or ague with here. Nonetheless, when the alchemist writes that the moon “is the shadow of the sun, and with corruptible bodies she is consumed, and through her corruption … is the Lion eclipsed” (quoted in Jung, ¶172), we may understand this as a (collective) memory of the necessary ignorance we took upon ourselves in order to enter into this life; it denotes a statement, made from the standpoint of the partial understanding of the Sun, about the nature of the Self that feels threatened by Moon is a kind of regression. Occidental patriarchy then links this dissolution to emasculation, obviously unnecessarily, if not neurotically.

In its banal sense—if symbolism can ever have a straightforward banality in alchemy—the sol niger or black sun “coincides with the nigredo and putrefaction, the state of death” (¶113) or breaking down of the prevailing conditions so that the next steps of the alchemical process may occur and  be effective. It takes a while, but Jung amplifies this rather deceptively plain remark when writing about the dog s  symbol:

The theriomorphic [animal] form of Sol as a lion and a dog and of Luna as a bitch shows that there is an aspect of both luminaries which justifies the need for a “symbolization” in animal form. That is to say the two luminaries are, in a sense, animals or appetites, although, as we have seen, the “potentiae sensuales” [sensual power] are ascribed only to Luna. There is, however, also a Sol niger, who, significantly enough, is contrasted with the day-time sun and clearly distinguished from it. This advantage is not shared by Luna, because she is obviously sometimes bright and sometimes dark

By which I take Jung to mean that the alchemists identified contrasts of opposites already in the Moon, whereas they, forever hunting out oppositions, had to postulate a black sun as the sun’s opposite. Consequently, Jung continues:

Psychologically, this means that consciousness by its very nature distinguishes itself from its shadow, whereas the unconscious is not only contaminated with its own negative side but is burdened with the shadow cast off by the conscious min. Although the solar animals, the lion and the eagle, are nobler than the bitch, they are nevertheless animals an beasts of prey at that, which means that even our sun-like consciousness has its dangerous animals. Or, if Sol is the spirit and Luna the body, the spirit too may be corrupted by pride or concupiscence, a fact which we are inclined to overlook in our one-sided admiration of the “spirit” (¶148).[13]

In the last significant reference in Mysterium Coniuntionis to the black sun, Jung writes:

In the heat of the [blackening, the first phase of the Great Work] the “anima media natura” [the nature of the soul, or Wisdom] holds dominion.’ The old philosophers called this blackness the Raven’s Head or black sun. … In this state the sun is surrounded by the anima media natura and is therefore black. It is a state of incubation or pregnancy. Great importance was attached to the blackness as the starting point of the work. … In our context the interpretation of the nigredo as terra (earth) is significant. Like the anima media natura or Wisdom, earth is in principle feminine (¶729).

Note especially the sense of pregnancy or incubation. Only too briefly, I would assert that masculine magic based itself on feminine magic, the most obvious embodiment of this manifesting as the creation of new life. If the four steps of this feminine magic involve conception, gestation, labor, and birth (realization), then these correspond as well to the suits of the Tarot: air, water, fire, and earth, respectively. The Moon, standing in the position of the suit of Water, makes the reference to gestation and pregnancy here especially resonant. But not just to strictly associated it with feminine magic; in masculine magic—i.e., in psychological work most generally (without any gendered distinction)—this phase of the Work consists in gestation, in unknown growth within the darkness the sea, &c. That which will manifest with the rise of card 18, the Sun, here remains sunk beneath the horizon, i.e., “underwater” an invisible in the murk.

In the Great Arc of that eternal part of myself that set itself apart from Brahman in order that, over a vast or perhaps few number of physical incarnations in life, it might reprise and so reëxperience the bliss of the attainment of enlightenment, each of those incarnations we might call, invoking the Moon, a phase. And in the sense that each such phase represents a kind of mania, a decided fixation on a given mode of being (during that particular lifetime), then the individual star that guides that life has that fixated sense of lunacy we psychiatrically associate with obsessiveness—another fit, or a phase.

All of this to hearken back to the insight that the Moon governs Time, and that the phases it marks—whether at the largest scale of multiple lifetimes or the smallest where minute by minute in any given lifetime we succumb to our various obsessions, devoted attentions, loving lingerings over, &–can gin illumination hen considered (or imagined) in light of the Moon, as timepiece.

I think what I especially want to stress, more or less against the active imagination Nichols brought to her sense of this card, which read into a specific an embodied journey for the hero: a phase in one’s life does consist of action, and in that sense can get marked off in a sequence and given the name “journey” for that reason, but it also has the character of a “lunacy”. The actions merely or simply fill up a span of time. Only afterwards can we look back and say, with a degree of certainty, what the journey “meant” or even that it occurred. I imagine the time of my gestation as a fetus—it seems unconvincing, if not bizarre, to call that a “journey”—it seems much more merely a time period (a duration) filled up with actions, most of them (if not all of them) fundamentally involuntary.

Again, afterward (once I draw my first breath on dry land), it seems more fit to look back and try to explain in terms of a journey what had happened (to me). And time seems this way in general. So that the Bardö state notion of the Moon does not have to remain pegged only to this most cosmic scale, we can distill its sense down as well to the phase of a given life, tot eh phases of that given life, to the phases within those phases, and so forth—all of which we humanly must, after the fact, make into a narrative, a journey.

And that gesture requires self-awareness per se, which the next card, the Sun, often gets called upon to embody or symbolize, but in the next post we will see it doesn’t work out so simply that way.


[1] As a general context, I do not believe Tarot cards are in any way inherently magical; I’m not someone who becomes psychically disturbed if you touch my deck or someone who claims you’ve ruined the vibe if you do. Personally, doing Tarot readings for people is one place in my life where my intuitive and intellectual sides work in tandem, rather than being at odds with one another—and that sense of co-operation is a pleasure to experience. For others—for the “us” that exists during the duration of the Tarot reading—it is a chance to have a conversation; as an example, I’ve had a radio show where I did Tarot card readings on the air with formerly incarcerated individuals in order to let the world listening hear the reality of incarceration, &c, but the conversation is also for the other person, to examine the forces, the patterns, the trends in her or his life, and to have the opportunity to change them. I continually ask questions when doing Tarot card readings; I don’t pretend to be or act psychic. And having said all that, to the extent that the imagery in the Tarot operates archetypally (as Nichols claims), to the extent that it can inspire images and dislodge psychic impressions in those using and viewing the cards, then I agree that the Jungian approach Nichols brings to the Tarot stands to be helpful, insightful, and useful—hence this commentary on her commentary.

[2] Nichols, S. (1980). Jung and Tarot: an archetypal journey. New York: S. Weiser.

[3] Psychological Types (Collected Works 6, [1921], 1971), Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (Collected Works 9, Part 1, 2nd ed. 1968), Two Essays on Analytical Psychology (Collected Works 7, 2nd ed 1966), Psychology and Alchemy (Collected Works 12, [1944], 2nd ed. 1968), Alchemical Studies (Collected Works 13, 1968), Mysterium Coniunctionis (Collected Works 14, [1955-6], 2nd ed. 1970).

[4] I have Symbols of Transformation (Collected Works 5, [1911-12], 2nd ed. 1967), Aion (Collected Works 9, Part 2, [1951], 2nd ed. 1968), Psychiatric Studies (Collected Works 1, 2nd ed. 1970), Experimental Researches (Collected Works 2, 1973) lined up next, and need still to find affordable copy of The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche (Collected Works 8, 1970).

[5] I began with the Crowley-Harris (1972) Thoth Tarot, which I used for many years, acquired but didn’t find myself inspired by Dali’s (1955) Universal Tarot, owned, found myself inspired by, but did not use Tavaglione’s (1979) Stairs of Gold Tarot, used Brian William’s (1988) Renaissance Tarot during my professional phase, in part because the trumps readily leant themselves to that kind of setting, Gerhardt & Zeeuwen’s (1996) Terrestrial Tarot, which one reviewer describes as very unsettling yet still possessing a “strange magnetism,” and finally, Sergio Toppi’s (2000) Tarot of the Origins—Toppi being, as it turns out, one of my favorite illustrators of all time (see here and here, for my reviews of two of his books). I recently acquired the Mary-El deck as well.

[6] The title used for this header comes from the title of the chapter in Nichol’s book.

[7] I discussed previously in my commentary on the Star what the status of surprise or learning might consist of in the context of  Self (you, me, all of us) that stars (in eternity) from omniscience.

[8] Although this does not prevent her from speaking at length how the (masculine) hero will have to navigate his way through the alternatingly (in her view) marvelous and terrifying landscape of the card.

[9] Proposing this in philosophical terms from India, Brahman willfully eclipses itself, ultimately to form the Atman; in Jungian terms, a Self with total awareness manifests the collective unconsciousness, out of which (or from which) in the next card will emerge the self of consciousness (bringing with it a residue of the collective unconscious in the personal unconscious; or perhaps simply its shadow).

[10] Heck, C., and Cordonnier, R (2012). The grand medieval bestiary : animals in illuminated manuscripts. London: Abbeville Press

[11] Jung, CG (1970). Mysterium coniunctionis: an inquiry into the separation and synthesis of psychic opposites in alchemy. (Vol. 14, Collected Works, 2nd ed., Trans. R.F.C. Hull) Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press

[12] We might as well remember and note here, “The appearance of Diana [the moon] necessarily brings with it her hunting animal the dog, who represents her dark side. Her darkness shows itself in the fact that she is also a goddess of destruction and death, whose arrows never miss” (¶188).

[13] All of this as it stands, around ¶228 Jung goes off the rails into one of his vacuous tirades bout female consciousness under the guise of his own shadow or Sol niger; only for this reason does the passage have interest. Quite charmingly or ironically, the next mention of the Sol Niger finds Jung taking Nietzsche to task for “masculine prejudice” (¶330), which Nietzsche failed to notice or mention “first because nobody likes to admit to any inferiority, and second because logic forbids something white to be called black. A good man has good qualities, and only the bad man has bad qualities. For reasons of prestige we pass over the shadow in complete silence” (¶330)..


2 Responses to “INTUITING TAROT AND JUNG: Card XVIII (the Moon)”

    • Snow Leopard said

      Over the upcoming days (I think every six days), there will be the blogs for the remaining cards (the Sun, Judgment, and the World). I’ve posted commentaries for all the previous, if you want to work backwards.

      All of them should be loctable with “INTUITING TAROT AND JUNG”

      Thanks again for reading.

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