the Full Moon, a Feast, and My Decision to Buy a Besom

Aradia and I celebrated the full moon two nights ago, and had our early Samhain feast last night.  Neither of these would be as significant, except that we’ve rather “fallen off the wagon” with both our magical practices and our social lives.  So we decided it was time to have a party.

The story actually starts last weekend, getting the house ready for an old friend of Aradia’s to visit from St. Louis.  Reflecting our mental and emotional states as I creep up on six months of unemployement and we both struggle with classes, our house was something of a disaster.  Our house altar had been almost untouched since our practice group stopped meeting shortly after the Summer Solstice.  It took us most of the week, but the house was clean (if not cleansed) and the altar prepared for Samhain less than half an hour before Firebird & Crew arrived.

Firebird brought three friends with her : two fellow spinners/manipulators, A and C, and A’s ladyfriend N, who invited herself along despite not having any actual interest in the entire affair.  MagicCat didn’t like them at all, which turned out to be a red flag.  Firebird was good fun, but her friends should have just stayed in St.L.  By the time they left, Aradia, myself, and our house were all toxic.  So we cast a circle and cleansed the house like we should have done before they got there.

Suddenly, everything was beautiful again.  The Circle snapped into place as soon as we lit the Air candle, like we’d never left off.  We went room-to-room with a burning wand of white sage and a lavender oil mister.  We even did the porch.

Living with another witch for the last year has really changed my mind on a lot of things.  Aradia and I went to the KC Renaissance Festival a month or so ago, and one of the vendors we passed by specialized in ornate “decorative” brooms.  For the first time, I found myself seriously thinking about owning and using a besom.  Given my absurdly macho, psuedo-ceremonial roots, this is not a tool that most of the things I’ve done or studied put any emphasis on.  I’ve only used a besom once, in fact, when I helped make one for a workshop out at Heartland this last May.  When we went back to the Faire last weekend with Firebird & Crew, we passed the same vendor and I found myself thinking – not “is this a tool I need?” but “which of these would be best for me?”.  Apparently I had made my decision sometime in between … probably while pushing the broom.

Fast forward a week.  The house is actually still clean, though in need of some work.  We’re both still in a fantastic mood, despite the stress.

I originally had plans for Friday night, but they were canceled when the gremlins in Aradia’s car threw a party to remind everyone they were still there.  I don’t remember exactly what she said about her own plans for the evening, but my response …

“It’s the full moon?”

When I say fell off the wagon, I’m not fucking joking.

We went over to Aradia’s family’s house to help them with the annual brush-burn and to incinerate a few things that that should have been disposed of long ago.  We took our drums and tranced out for a while before doing our full moon tarot readings.  It wasn’t formal, structured, or intense, but it was what we needed.  We need to work our way back up to intense, and we’ve got about seven days.  (Samhain’s totally going to kick my ass.)

Saturday came, and with it our pre-Samhain pumpkin party.  We didn’t know what anyone’s plans for the actual weekend would be, or if there would be a ritual at all, so we decided to host a feast and carve jak-o-lanterns.  The invitations went out almost a month ago.

I helped Aradia make pumpkin soup out of the five kuri pumpkins (the green-and-orange ones) you saw on the altar, and Aradia made a loaf of amazing tasty bread.  We drank tasty pumpkin beer.  My parents brought an amazing autumn stew.  Our neighbor, K, brought pumpkin-filled doughnuts.  Our friends Pasiphae and Aiden brought a feast all by themselves: pumpkin-banana bread, pumpkin-cheesecake pie, and Halloween-themed jell-o-snacks.  (They also brought their munchkins – the MagicCat was not amused.) 

We all had so much fun that we never got to the pumpkin carving part.

A Few Introductory Thoughts on Tarot

Cartomancy, to the best of my understanding, lies somewhere between a technical skill and a psychic gift. One selects a deck by intuition, at random, or after careful study. Some bless or enchant their cards, others carefully nurture the spirit of a deck. Some favor traditional decks – true Tarot decks based on the Rider-Waite and Golden Dawn originals – others favor oracle cards whose artists have abandoned the five suit structure altogether. Some people I know have intense visionary and psychic experiences while working with divinatory cards, sometimes almost completely unrelated to the actual cards at hand; others, like myself, are more decoders of the symbols within the cards, occasionally assisted by strong intuition.

The traditional structure of a Tarot deck is of five suits: four lesser and one greater. The lesser suits associated with the ceremonial magician’s tools and with elemental power. Disks, Cups, Swords, and Wands. Earth, Water, Air, Fire. The suits have other names, of course, varying from deck to deck. Disks are known variously as Coins, Pentacles, or even simply Earth; Wands are sometimes Rods, Staves or just Fire; alternative names for Swords and Cups are rare, but not unheard of. The lesser suits are comprised of fourteen cards each:, most commonly known by the numbers and titles: ace through ten, page, knight, queen, and king. The fifth suit, the “Trumps” or “Major Arcana”, are a series of twenty-two ascending images and archetypes, originally from Renaissance Italian theology and popular culture (I don’t have the book on hand for a proper citation, but look to Robert Michael Place’s The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Interpretation) .

The suit of Disks – I favor the name “disks”, for whatever reason, though I recall that my first deck, the Hansen-Roberts, called them Coins – deals with the material world, material things, and material resources. Being associated with elemental earth, themes of fertility and fecundity are also found here. The suit of Cups deals chiefly with emotional attachments, memory, and romance. Being associated with elemental water, there are also some associations with psychic gifts and dreams. The suit of Wands deals with passion, glory, and drive. Frequently, this entails themes conflict, victory, and loss. The suit of Swords deals with suffering and torment. Being associated with elemental air, there are also associations with matters of intellect and understanding.

The major arcana is where the imagery of tarot cards get really, really interesting. It’s also where things begin to vary wildly between decks, as authors and illustrators embrace or discard the original Christian and Hermetic symbolism.

I’ve worked with four decks since I began my practice in 1996.

My first was the Hansen-Roberts deck, and Rider-Waite variant that moved a couple of the major arcana around (I can’t remember which ones, all these years later, and I’ve long since lost the original booklet that explained the decision; it may even be that they made the same moves as the Waite deck from the previous “traditional”, not instead of) and replaced the lackluster art with images that were infinitely more visually appealing, although symbolically similar if not identical. The deck developed a serious attitude over the years I used it, with a caustic voice to rival some (gentler) Thoth decks by the time I retired it. The deck was still in full working order, and I have it to this day, but at the age of 18 or 19 when I stopped reading the cards for a while, I simply couldn’t trust myself to read what the cards said, not what I wanted them to say.

The second is a Tarot deck only insomuch as it has the five suits. DJ Conway’s Shapeshifter deck owes more to the Thoth deck, I think, than the Rider-Waite, but softens the brutal voice of Crowley’s work with the fluffy-bunny attitude one rightly expects from Conway, with a dose of faux-shamanism and animal totem. The art and imagery are beautiful, drawing from that transformative/animal theme. If nothing else, I recommend it as a piece of art.

The third was the Robin Wood, another Rider-Waite variant, even more beautiful than the Hansen-Roberts. I purchased it when I resumed doing card work at about the age of 22. The deck was reliable, consistent, but unfortunately printed on slightly inferior paper, and I was forced to retire it when several of the cards became too badly damaged.

The fourth deck, my current deck, is one of two Art Nouveau decks I’ve found and purchsed, largely because they’re pretty. One of the two I will never use – the imagery is too sexist – but the one I am using has some interesting variations to the traditional themes. The images on the minor arcana are greatly simplified: a single man and woman, seemingly made out of stained glass, in a tableau depicting the theme of the card, with a different couple and color scheme for each suit. The major arcana is similar in meaning, but more modern in imagery and certain themes than older Rider-Waite based decks, and as I begin to explore the meanings of the Tarot, it is to this deck that I will refer most often and in greatest depth.