The Hermeneutical Card Definition Repertoire: The Sun Card (XIX) and Bountifulness

 

It’s August. It’s warm. The garden is overflowing with abundance.

 

Here in rural Vermont we are verily bound by the characteristics of the seasons. In late fall you’d better put your snow tires on, because you never know when that first blizzard is gonna dump 18 inches on the roads. In spring, you gotta get your ice fishing shed off the lake before the ice gets too thin and everything goes through. You also have to wait for the right time to put your annuals and garden seedlings into the earth, because done too early and a late frost is bound to kill them off. In fall you decide which of your farm brood is going to become your winter breakfasts, and everyone starts to wear bright orange clothing because those without farms are going on the hunt for wilder game…

 

In this part of late summer, everyone is trying give away all the over-abundance of their gardening labor. No matter how small those spring seedlings look when you start them in April, no one ever seems to realize how many zucchinis they’re going to produce by August.

 

We don’t grow zucchini because we’ve had trouble with a squash-boring insect in recent years. But we can hardly keep up with the consumption of so many string beans and tomatoes as we’ve picked this year. (Don’t worry; we’ll manage somehow.)

 

Toe-may-ters

This is just one day’s harvest of tomatoes from our vegetable garden this week in August. Tomorrow there will be an equally bountiful amount.

 

This has got me thinking about the tarot. Really? The tarot? Well, aren’t I always thinking of it? And, if we in modern-day rural Vermont are always bound by the characteristics of the seasons, the historical peoples of Europe were even more so…In fact life depended on it. If enough food stores weren’t gathered during the short summer months, then the long winter became a dangerous, hungry time.

 

It’s hard to remember in times of plenty (with zucchini and beans coming out one’s ears) that fresh food is going to be a scarcity in a matter of a few months. We don’t worry so much about these things today because of global transportation and international trade that keeps our grocery stores stocked with tropical and exotic fruits, vegetables, and produce. Year-round food stocks are so ubiquitous to the American consumer that we don’t even bother to worry…it is one of the distresses that has been eliminated from our litany of survival instincts (whether for good or bad remains to be seen, since one too many wars might disrupts trade, or a new plant-based bacteria strain might destroys a crop like coffee, and then we might see some of that distress return…)

 

The Sun card (XIX) from The Housewives' Tarot

I love this interpretation of the Sun card (XIX) from The Housewives Tarot…that big bountiful breakfast—a fulfilling repast that this 1950s husband mostly just takes for granted because his wife is there to supply him with the fruits of her labor and a full refrigerator (in turn supplied from an overflowing abundance or riches at the grocery store). [Kepple, Paul & Buffum, Jude. The Housewives Tarot. (Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2004).]

But back to our early European counterparts…

 

August was a time of bountiful harvest, of plentiful food, of sated hunger. It was a time of health, because good nutrition and adequate food rejuvenate the body; warmth keeps us stable. It feels like what we imagine heaven to be like…not for want, comfortable, plenty of work to keep us occupied and satisfied, joy at the summer activities we can partake of—swimming, running through lush fields and forests—stripped of the added layers of burdensome wool that kept our bodies from freezing in the winter…summer temperatures that allow us to romp in a state closer to what our natural bodies look like… and all of this revelry occurs thanks to the luxuriant warmth of the sun.

 

"August," in Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

The illumination page from “August,” from Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry.

 

In the famous 15th-century illuminated manuscript known as Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, which was both a calendar-almanac and a religious book of hours, the past-times and labors necessary to each month of the year were illustrated by the authors. Every month has its own tasks and labors, but mid-summer—August—shows people at the height of revelry… The nobles are taking an outing on horseback, perhaps to enjoy some falconry, or to partake of a picnic full of summer delicacies. Even the peasants are reveling in the delights of summer…working hard to harvest the grains that will sustain them through a long winter, but also swimming to keep cool. The sky is cerulean blue, warmed by the Leo sun.

 

[detail]

Detail of the illumination page from “August,” from Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry.

Arthur Waite’s The Pictorial Key to the Tarot describes the Sun card (XIX) as signifying “the transit from the manifest light of this world, represented by the glorious sun of the earth, to the light of the world to come, which goes before aspiration and is typified by the heart of a child…a child in the sense of simplicity and innocence in the sense of wisdom…in that innocence, he signifies the restored world.” 1 …So creating a world of innocence not unlike that of heaven, where theoretically according to catechisms, every need shall be catered to and met…somewhere like the “summerland” or Eden where a prolific abundance of food and animals are meant to be at man’s disposal. So…like summer.

 

The Sun card (XIX), Rider-Waite-Smith tarot

The Sun card (XIX), Rider-Waite-Smith tarot

 

P. Scott Hollander seemed to make this connection as well: “Halfway between Heaven and Earth, The Sun serves as the mediator between God and humanity. It is at the same time the lowest aspect of the divine, and the highest aspect of the mundane. The Sun card symbolizes the transition between the visible light of this world and the spiritual light of the world for which you are striving. If you can approach the gifts it offers with the heart of a child—which has its own wisdom in innocence, simplicity and simple enjoyment of life—you can take your next step toward the divine… You are being given a great gift. What you have learned up to now allows you to simply enjoy it without the need to analyze it.” 2

 

…Just as with the summer months and their bountifulness (or even the unending supply of exotic fruits and vegetables at the grocery store that we as spoiled Americans enjoy regardless of what season it is), we take for granted this abundance and warmth without letting ourselves become too wrapped-up in thoughts of the hardships that will come with the hardest winter months of January and February. It is a kind of innocence to partake in the joys of the present…something that the tarot tries to teach us all the time. For isn’t it true that we come to the tarot either when we are so entangled in the emotional baggage of what past events have done to us…or when we are consumed with fears about what the future holds in store? Always, one of the goals of any spiritual tradition is to learn to live in the present moment right now. And this is what the Sun card (XIX) does for us…tells us that the apex of our moments is right now…that we should revel in what joys we can innocently partake in right now.

 

The Sun card (XIX), Lombardische-Trieste Marseille tarot

The Sun card (XIX), Lombardische-Trieste Marseille tarot

 

We might even be reminded of other instances of such bountifulness…in stories that Christians of the age of the tarot would be familiar with…the miracle of the fishes and the loaves, for instance. Such an important story was this part of Jesus’s mythology that it was repeated in several gospels (Matt 14: 13-31; Lk 9:16-17; John 6:1-15).

 

The Miracle of the Fishes and the Loaves, Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

The Miracle of the Fishes and the Loaves, from Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

 

Thus, the bible, too, seems to be telling us that God’s mercy resides in our faith in the present moment, that the things that we need, in bountiful plenty, will be supplied to us. It also recalls this passage from the Gospel of Matthew:

 

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.” (Matthew 6:25-34) 3

 

So dig into those zucchini patches, gather your bounty, make all the zucchini frittatas and zucchini-tomato casseroles and all the zucchini bread that you can stuff into your face. Then gather up the next day’s harvest and share your bounty with every friend and neighbor who will take some off your hands…because sharing the wealth and sharing the bounty right now is when you will enjoy it the most, and the sun’s rays should reach every crevice that they can while it’s shining in the sky.

 

 

 

NOTES:

 

[1]     Waite, Arthur Edward. The Pictorial Key to the Tarot: Being Fragments of a Secret Tradition under the Veil of Diviniation. (Stamford, CT: U.S. Games Systems, Inc., 1994 [facsimile of the 1910 original edition]).

 

[2]     P. Scott Hollander. Tarot for Beginners: An Easy Guide to Understanding & Interpreting the Tarot. (Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2007).

 

[3]     New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)

 

 

 

 

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Posted in Discovering Meaning in Imagery, Reading for Virtue, Tarot History and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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