Sometimes a Tarot Spread Finds You—Speaking with The Venetian Tarot about Bravery

 

I admit it—I am sometimes a slave to the social media. But if one is picky and choosy about the social media one chooses to imbibe, sometimes we can be inspired by great ideas.

 

Take for instance this tweet from Amnesty International (a group to whom I subscribe on Twitter):

 

 

It’s a classy little video that they’ve produced, but it was the predicating words that originally caught my attention:

 

Brave is fighting against injustice.

Brave is making your voice heard.

Brave is caring for others.

Brave is love in the face of hate.

 

I think lots of us think about bravery a lot of the time. Often, we admire bravery in others—whether of soldiers abroad trying to keep peace in the world, and keeping us safe in our own land; or of all those women who have stood up under the scrutiny of cameras and harsh patriarchy to tell their stories of inequality and sexual impropriety; or of the chronically ill who do battle every day and every hour to participate in a world that is often dismissive of their pain tolerance…

 

Bravery comes in many, many forms. And social media has woken me up to several forms of bravery that exist in the world.

 

Sometimes bravery is a thing into which we are thrown or jettisoned—most notable when circumstances seem dire, or when distress blocks other exits of reaction. Personal bravery is also often a CHOICE that we have to make, and too often we let ourselves down or experience antipathy towards the effort. Because bravery does take effort. Bravery requires overcoming fear—always a hard thing. But even when fear isn’t a factor, if “happiness” is the ever-striving search for “comfort,” the requirement of having to perform or exude bravery in almost every way disrupts that comfort zone. And it is all too easy to ignore bravery’s beck-and-call, its plea, when it calls for us to draw ourselves out of our comfortable spot. This is the point where Sloth and Justice wage battle…and Justice, unfortunately, often comes out ravaged and beaten.

 

What is brave? What does it take to draw us out of our comfort? What weapons can we arm ourselves with in order to defeat Sloth and raise the battle flag of Justice over our landscape?

 

I liked the statements that Amnesty International declared in their tweet above. And they seemed like a good way to ask my tarot cards how bravery could support Justice. All I had to do was turn each declaration into a question…a kind of clarifying question for each statement. So I asked “How?” of each one:

 

How can bravery fight against injustice?

How can bravery make one’s voice heard?

How can bravery care for others?

How can bravery love in the face of hate?

 

…Simple as that. Then we can simply draw a card for each question. We can either draw them straight across, or if you want to get fancy, think of a symbol that you can turn into a spread layout… like Justice’s balancing scale:

 

"How can Bravery..." Justice-Scale spread

 

This spread also gave me the opportunity to use a brand new tarot deck that recently arrived in my postbox! The Venetian Tarot is a new, limited-edition tarot by artist Eugene Vinitski. Great size cards and deck—handles well; great card thickness; great box case; gilded edge; black frame-border; reversible card back design depicting a beautiful Venetian textile design; pips are illustrated (ala Rider-Waite-Smith tradition); suits are color-coded with a rivulet splash of color and suit icon along the bottom border—unobtrusive to the very attractive artwork.

 

 

I really admire this deck, and it will likely become a favorite, regularly used commodity, though I might feel trepidation doing so because of its preciousness and value, and foremost its irreplaceability. In truth, while I’ll enjoy using this deck, I’ll be loath to take it out of the house for fear of losing a card anywhere…because the fact is, this is a “collectors’” deck; it is a limited edition of 500, so once the print run is out, it’s truly “out.” It’s cost, unfortunately, is prohibitive for a large population tarot afficianados, although it’s certainly—like any artwork—a good investment, because once the run is exhausted, the value is sure to skyrocket.

 

I have conflicting feelings about such decks. On the one hand, I think it is extremely important to support independent and cottage-industry artists in an era—unlike the Renaissance—when the arts are undervalued and in which “patrons” and “sponsors” of emerging artistry are far-and-few between. On the other hand, art is subjective to the whims of valuation and the hoarding-economies of consumers (and in greater degree by the rich elite), making access to art (as a representation of the human spirit and of reflecting human creativity) sparse, and conditioning it as “treasure” rather than a shared expression of our humanity.

 

Perhaps the creator of this amazing deck will see fit to create a more affordable version—maybe through a third-party publisher agreement—after the special 1st-edition has been fully distributed. While this deck is pretty special for its gold-gilded edging, and its superior card stock, and self-containing deck box, and accompanying miniature book…the most alluring aspect of this deck is its stunning artwork, something that, I know, lots of people would like to be able to admire up close and to be able to use for their tarot-reading explorations. A box-less, non-gilded, cheaper cardstock version would undoubtedly continue to bring royalty finances to the artists-creator for years to come. But others, including the artist, may have differing opinions about that.

 

As an aside, Associate Editor Isaac Kaplan at Artsy.net has some interesting ideas for equity retention for artists:

 


The themes of the Venetian Tarot are relevant to the world of tarot itself… Venice, the backdrop city for this deck, is likely the most prominent historical place where the introduction of printed cards and trick-taking games would have been introduced to the European world. Venice was for some time the busiest trading port for exotic commodities from the Far East, and Ottoman and Persian empires; it was a crossroads, a place where many cultures crossed paths, and theoretically, is likely the place where the eponymous “Mamluk” playing cards would have been introduced to European traders (The Mamluk playing cards are thought to have been the inspiration for the tarot suits of Swords, Cups, Wands/Polo Sticks, and Coins)

 

Another facet of Venetian social life included the wearing of masks in order to veil one’s identity—whether as cover for risqué dalliances, or simply as a fashionable trend among Venice’s elite doge and merchant families, or even as a festive tradition as part of religious parades and festivals. The author cleverly associates this mysterious mask-wearing with the contemporary “emotional masks” that we wear on a daily basis, perhaps hiding our true selves and feelings behind façades and personas that we present to the public. The author states: “This is what [the] Venetian Tarot is based on. It is aimed at revealing what is hidden from us to let us know what is behind the world of masks around us.”

 

We can keep this philosophy in mind as we turn back to our spread and the questions we’ve dictated for ourselves in our spread…

 

 

Right off the baton (so to speak) the things I first notice about my card draw include the fact that every single card is drawn in the reversed position. Some people don’t read reversed cards, but generally, I do. For those readers who do interpret reversed cards, everyone has his or her own formulas for interpreting what reversals convey. While I’m open to several different valuation systems for reversed cards (because if you’re using reversals, why limit yourself?), my “go-to” system for reversals is to say that upright cards are how external influences in the world or the universe or circumstances are affecting the querent; while reversed cards reflect internal struggles the querent experiences that are affecting the situation or the querent’s response to the circumstances.

 

I sort of like that these cards are reversed, because as we determined at the beginning of this post, bravery is often an internal decision that an individual has to make in order to confront something external. Our spread questions aren’t about the conflicts that require bravery; rather, our questions were about how we can express bravery.

 

Buttressing this idea that bravery is an active internal decision we have to make in order to affect an outside circumstance, all the suits represented are male-associative. What do I mean by that? Well, it’s possible to symbolically associate the suits with gender characteristics. The suits of Swords and Wands happen to be male-associative mostly because of their shape—not only are they phallus-reminiscent, but both of those tools have symbolic associations with outward probing, exploration, invasiveness, aggressiveness, and active mobility—traits that are often, albeit often in a stereotyping or profiling manner, associated with male characteristics. (Relative to the suits of Cups and Pentacles/Coins which are vessel-like, so they are receptive, internalizing, grounding, introspective, even nurturing—again grossly typifying differences between male and female characteristics, both physically and intrinsically).

 

In the case of our male-associative suits in this spread, this fact seems to bolster the idea that bravery takes an active, outward expression. Certainly, bravery can be an internal construct when we are trying to give ourselves courage; but in the case of affecting social justice, our bravery demands that we have a more public expression, an expression that is visible and can serve as an example of virtuous humanity in confrontation of adversity.

 

The third thing I notice about all of these cards is that there are no Major Arcana represented—they are all pip cards or court cards. Perhaps this is telling us that, despite our fears, bravery is not such a hard thing to achieve after all. Sometimes our choices seem like a huge deal…when really the choice, itself, was the hardest thing about it, and life subsequently adjusts accordingly into a new sense of well-being. Bravery is one of the most basic human traits there is. Some acts of bravery change the world, but most acts of bravery simply reflect choices that move us forward in a positive way during the course of our personal escapades.

 

First spread question:

“How can bravery fight against injustice?”

 

Answer:

Two-of-Swords (Reversed)

 

 

In contrast to this version of the Two-of-Swords card, the Rider-Waite-Smith version of this card seems much more perilous: a woman sitting on the seashore at night, holding two swords crossed over her chest and against her neck. She seems to be threatening herself and it can be an intimidating card. I have a lot of opinions about that image. But this card evokes a different scenario—there are three people in this card. One, on the left, appears ready to draw his sword; another, on the right, has a finger raised either to make a point or in a threatening gesture. Then there is the central figure—the moderator, a woman. This image, though vastly different from the Rider-Waite-Smith version, actually conveys quite adroitly one of the traditional meanings of the Two-of-Swords, namely, that of an agreement or cooperation between rivals. Think of it as the “parlay” card between two opposing pirates. It doesn’t mean that the two opposing parties are going to become BFFs, or that they won’t renew their rivalry in the future; but something has brought them to a juncture of joint congress and the need to collaborate.

 

For our question, I’m focusing on the mediator. She is the one who bridges the chasm of differences between these two natural foes. It’s a talent to be able to listen to both sides, without necessarily favoring one or the other, and being able to serve as the champion of some sort of compromise. When we think about “injustice,” we are usually taking a hard stance on one side of a line. Our own personal stance is that of desiring Justice, and across the line are the forces of Injustice or Evil. (Even though, the people on the opposite side of the line feel the exact same way about us…) It’s an “us-versus-them” train of thought, and the more we dig in, the more egregious the injustices on the other side appear.

 

Perhaps bravery against Injustice requires our moderation, our nurturing of compromise as opposed to drawing our sabers and constantly rattling them. Compromise used to be the virtue of those legislating bodies of Congress in the United States. The Senate not so many decades ago was considered the most respected legislative body in the world. …Now look at it. It’s a shambles of lobbied millionaires, a partisan bloodbath, mocked by governments around the world (with good reason). We are constantly reiterating our longing for those days of effective compromise, and yet we’re in a spiraling loop of electing more and more hardline partisans not only standing against compromise, but seeking embattled aggressions to undercut partisan foes. At this point it would be braver to address compromise (against the railing hardline constituents and lobbyists, and against prevailing party pressure) than it is to continue non-negotiation across the aisle.

 

Compromise and moderating between two factions also requires listening, empathy (or at a modicum, sympathy…), and being able to calm or sooth the adrenaline-raging emotions of both sides of the argument. That’s a big task! Can we be the voices of moderation without choosing a side? Can we be the champions of compromise by sacrificing some of the things we hold dear or precious? Compromise entails sacrifice—reminiscent of the Hanged Man (card XII)—but doesn’t usually encompass life-or-death scenarios. We have to make compromises all the time, most often in order to live amicably in our social communities.

 

Second spread question:

“How can bravery make one’s voice heard?”

 

Answer:

Four-of-Wands (Reversed)

 

 

Three maidens toss (or catch?) bouquets in the air, celebrating new congress or a passage to a new way of life. What if we didn’t just moderate or make compromises about our differences? …What if we actually celebrated the things that make us unique? Personally, I would rather hear people celebrating one another’s achievements, no matter my investiture in their culture… than I would to have to listen to someone saber-rattle and shake their fist and rage against all the suffering that they’ve endured because of an encroachment on their way of living or values. How can we bravely make ourselves heard? I would say that one way is through joyfulness. In a world that teaches us to be wary of one another as a defensive coping mechanism, think about how brave we have to be today in order to express joy for one another. Perhaps we should practice being the first one to toss a bouquet out to our neighbors.

 

Third spread question:

“How can bravery [express] care for others?”

 

Answer:

Seven-of-Swords (Reversed)

 

 

I kind of love this answer. It doesn’t seem to make much sense at first—“Stealth and traitorous acts, stealing, deceitfulness”—are some of the harsher attributes of this card. This card usually depicts someone crossing enemy lines to disarm an encampment, and quite gluttonously at that—he tries to carry so many swords that he can hardly escape with them all, dropping some along the way. Can this card possibly have any redeeming qualities? Well, yes… Here is what I take from this card in response to the spread question:

 

In opposition to the previous card, we don’t always have to make our voices be heard when expressing our bravery. We can do brave deeds and act heroically without the need for recognition. Sometimes bravery only entails our ambition to do the right thing, so that others can reap the benefits of our private acts of social justice. But humility prescribes a kind of quiet bravery, without the need to be recognized or publicly acknowledged for what we do. I think it is okay to lurk in the shadows (with virtuous intent…see next card draw!), anonymously carrying out our silent acts of “disarming” injustice.

 

Remember that with the Four-of-Wands card we determined how sometimes others need to be celebrated in order to create a sense of right-ness in the world. With this Seven-of-Swords card we confirm that it’s not always about us. Sometimes bravery is silent and stealthy in order to bring joy and peace to others.

 

Fourth spread question:

“How can bravery [express] love in the face of hate?”

 

Answer:

Knight of Wands (Reversed)

 

 

Like the Knight of Wands, we have been bestowed with the responsibility of upholding the Virtues that define a life of good and compassion. We use whatever creative means are necessary, and we light the way for others to find the same path.

 

There are a lot of shadowy corners and pathways in Venice. The streets can be like a maze where one can easily become lost, where danger lurks in the crevices waiting to lure us into unsavory predicaments. But there are also many famous, wide-open piazzas in Venice—gathering places for community revelry and celebration, or sometimes even where justice is meted-out. We know the routes and the turns and the paths to help lead others to find their way. We’re guides. And we carry the light forward when it gets dark, and defend the pathway with our stave.

 

You don’t have to be anyone “special” in order to be brave, and you don’t have to be a superhero either. All you have to do is hold the light aloft so that others can find their way.

 

Bravery is an act of love when we exhibit bravery for others. If one of those following your path should choose to exit into the shadowy corners, in search of something seditious or rogue or unvirtuous, it’s no concern of yours. All you can do is offer your strength and bravery and light the way that you know. That is your gift to others. What others choose is a decision all their own. Your choice, however, is bravery. You choose to move forward past fear. You choose to move forward, adventuring into community…towards Justice.

 

 

 

 

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

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