THE STONE DECKS - NATURE
The Minor Arcana
The suits represent the five seasons, holy colors, first steps of enlightenment, and the five elements: blue, summer, body, water, cups; red, autumn, emotions, fire, wands; yellow, mind, winter, air, swords (knives, blades); green, society, earth, stones (disks) spring; and white, winter/timeless, spirit, ether, cords/threads. Below are details.
The Ace of Cords (Snáth) is the season of winter, white, and a depicts a barn owl, known to the Celts as a ghost from the other world. The yew tree is also a tree of death, planted in graveyards. Snáth is related to the word for snare, and is the cord of time, or the web of fate, that is both a spiritual guide and a trap. The signs are the five ash leaves and the Ogham one stroke.
The Ace of Cups (Cuach) is a picture of a northern goshawk in a willow tree. The hawk and the willow are closely tied in Celtic mythology both represented by the Ogham letter "s." The Cuach (think crock or cup) is a vessel, not just holding water, but also a boat. It is represented in the round willow symbol.
The Ace of Stones (Cloch) is associated with Spring and green and social interaction. The eagle ane the oak have long been associated with royalty and the power of the adult, the power of the sun to renew the season and start life again. Cloch is related to clod as in a clod of dirt and is the word for stone. The glyph is the four-fold oak.
The Ace of Blades (Scean) depicts a stone chat on a twig of gorse, one of the evergreen trees of the British isles. It blooms almost the entire year. The color of yellow is also a winter color, the color of late autumn and morning. This bird is one of the many tricksters of European mythology, a riddler like its close relation, the thrush. Its cry of alarm sounds like stones clacking tother. It is also associated with the devil. The word "scean" is related to the words: scrape, scan, separate, and sickle and means a blade or knife. The glyph is a three-fold pine tree.
The Ace of Wands (Bata) is a picture of the elusive swift in a holly tree. The swift is a bird of darkness, nesting in caves where it is nearly helpless. Yet up in the air, its acrobatic flying is admired and respected. The holly tree, is in the glyph ad is the tanist tree, or the tree of the dark part of the year, king of the winter season. Red is for emotions, the color of fire, blood and flowers. Bata means baton, or stick or wand.
The deuce level is the first outward expression of body, emotion, mind, action and the spirit. Two gray seals swim in a bed of kelp, two otters lie asleep on a shore under a willow, two bears play in some oaks, two lynx kits lied under a dead pine, and a wolf and her pups stand in the sunset before a holly tree. Reversed, the deuces are the penultimate in protection, an inward turning that his become unhealthy.
The three cards continue the outward expression of the five paths, turning that expression into some desire, action, or intent. Reversed, they represent extremes in attitude that protect the body, emotion, mind, actions, and spirit. Usually the animal represents taking the outward expression to the world. Here an ermine rests in a juniper tree, two fallow fawns stand in the moonlight with their mother, three piglets stand before an ash tree and behind an oak tree, a badger sits on an old birch stump, and a stoat, turning to its winter colors, hangs in the branches of a strawberry tree.
The four card is still a healthy manifestation of each of the paths, a sign of maturity, but not of stagnation. The four cards are generally power cards, four representing the position of the mature child who is ready to become an adult. The Cord card depicts a dasher, a birth that means mirth and joy. He sits in the broom tree, the plant of the Plantagenets. The wood duck rests on a tangle of an old stump amidst a bed of gentians. For the Celts, the duck was symbol of loyalty. Stones is represented by the lamb of an ibex, the wild sheep of Europe. The lamb is one of the sacred symbols of the hero. Blades is represented by the long-eared owl, also called the cat owl, in the light of the full moon. And the salmon struggling up the waterfall is representative of the manifestation of emotional will.
The five cards are traditionally a sign of chaos, or when the power of four becomes unbalance. Five is a holy number for the Celts, representing the king, or the complete adult who is ready to become spiritual. It is the doorway of passage outward into power and repression and inward into fatalism and suppression, a card of balance but also of movement back and forth. The crested titmouse on the mistletoe is the opening door of Cords. The eel, travelling to the Sargasso Sea to mate, returns to the rivers of Europe as an adult. The meadowlark heralds the turn of spring into summer, shown here in the blossoming apple tree. Two of the great tricksters of Europe, the crow and the fox, face off in a bed of mugwort. And two other fox kits struggle for dominance.
Six represents the last healthy expression of the outward journey and the healthy point of the inward. The six card represents a resting place, a place of peace and acceptance, that most experience as older adults. The roe deer stands before a great birch tree, secure and trusting. A petrel rests in the middle of the ocean. A beaver takes down an aspen tree and a hooded crow plays with a stone ring in a pine tree. And last, the nightingale sings above a field of poppies.
The seven cards begin to be more oppressive in their outward expression. The reversed meanings are freeing, letting go of the outward obligations and standards. The seven swans winging over the marsh are an ancient symbol of unwilling shape shifting. The toad is a sign of gluttony, swallowing the snake. The woodpecker's tongue unwinds like a yo-yo from inside its head to get the grub from the hole the bird has drilled in the tree. The bat, a long-time symbol of the spirit world, both good and evil, sleeps upside-down, its wings folded. And the robin sings with delight in the midst of a hawthorn a tree of the Goddess.
The eights show the position of full armor in the outer world, a position of security but at what price? It is a card that shows caste and dominion as well as doctrine and stagnation. The wolves are a depiction of caste and dominance, the heron flies over a fen of stagnant spiraling water. The squirrel in the midst of running up an oak, is surrounded by bees. The yellowhammer cries amidst the empty heads of thistles and the wild cat peers from the brambles.
The nine is the saturation point of outward expression and the turning point of inward searching that leads to illumination. It is a "giving up" card and a "giving in" card, a card that shows that nothing can be done except to turn away. And that can be the most freeing experience available. Two gulls fight each other over a fish. Orcas herd herring. A snake wanders across a pool and an upside-down tree shelters a group of nine fallow deer. A red stag runs through a wood a sunset.
With the ten cards, the signs of oppression peak, and the turning point is reached, or breaking point is found. The door swings both ways as the breath out becomes the breath in. The spirit si both dead in the bones of the raven and loose in the moth that rests on it. The elk barely swims across the lake, but a crow catches a ride on its antlers. A fallow buck runs through a corridor of dark trees. And the evil denizen of European waters, the pike, has snatched a frog while a pine marten carries home a mouse, missing the other.
The muse cards (fíor a word that means both appearance and truth) are the cards that mean the essence of the way or elemental energy. The tench is a doctor fish of such renown that even a touch of the oil from its body will heal. The old moon sits above the waters. The new moon sets into the waters of the greyling, a fish that appears dull silver in the air and turns opalescent under water. The lyre moth is a sign of the spirit, resting on a lady's mantle plant. The gold crest is a tiny bird shown here on a juniper the the quarter moon. And the bursting pinks of the yarrow are crowned with a fritillary butterfly, another sign of the spirit. All of these creatures turn from egg to creature, changing shape and changing appearance.
The protector cards are named in Gaelic "laoch" which is pronounced "lay" and is related to laity, but also the word for hero. In Europe, the hero was not the king, but served the people and protected them. The instances here, are not of "king" animals but of the foolish animal who saves the day. The Protector of Cords is the spider in the ash leaves. The frog prince has long been a subject of European fairy tales, and the tortoise or turtle is famous for being "slow and steady." The lightning fast lizard is a symbol of the thoughts of the wizard, and the crossbill is the sign of Vulcan, or the power of talent that twists the body. The crossbill's beak is specially designed to open pine cones.
The Queen cards, or Agent/Transformation cards are the power to turn a cell into a living being, through the body. The agent can be called the water aspect of the royals. All of these cards are an animal that represents the element with a child: a lynx, a dolphin, a bison, a chamois and a wolf.
The King cards are called Mentor cards because if the female takes genetic energy and makes a new body, the male takes memetic energy and teaches a new skill, thought, or deed. The teaching card is not without humor, for every dad is often a joker, and this card is related to air and wizardry. Each card shows the animal encountering something out of its own world. In the left, one of the owls looks at at moth. In the cups card, on the of the crake chicks is looking at a salmon. In the earth/stones card, one of the hedgehogs watches a snail. A magpie squawks from atop of an old fox, and a kitten encounters a vole. Each of these cards has the potential for learning or for eating what should be learned.
Finally we get to the fifteenth cards, or the Sage cards, which, for me, are a representation of the perfect adept of each of these spiritual path, shown here by flying birds. Again, the barn owl flying before the moon, a swan soars across the sun. A peregrine glides under a tree, and a raven flies into the sunrise. And, finally, a nightjar flies into the dark of the sunset.
The Major Arcana
I have explained on other pages that I discovered that the Major Arcana represented points on each of the four spiritual paths of water, air, fire, and earth. The way of water is the bride's story, the way of earth, the hero's journey, the way of air belongs to the trickster or wizard, and the way of fire to the witch or talent. The stations of the bride are represented by the hawthorn and the owl for the Hierophant card; the doves and the apple for the Lovers card, the hare in the heather for the Empress card, the stag and the birch for the Justice card, and the swan and aspen for the Temperance card. The names in Gaelic are the closest cognate to these meanings while staying true to the Ogham alphabet of trees and learning from Robert Graves.
The hero's journey is represented here by the snail on the ivy in the pond for the Chariot; the shark after the seal after the herring for Fortune, the bear and the blackthorn for the Emperor; the wren and the oak for the Hanged Man; and seals basking in the sun under the elder tree for the Sun card.
The trickster's path is the journey of the shaman who becomes the king of Hades or the tanist king of night and winter. His journey begins with the raven in the alder for the Magus; goes to the bat in the viburnum for the Devil; to the rooks on the fallow deer skull in front of the rowan trees for Death; to the lightening striking the holly tree for the Tower; and then to the salmon and the hazel for the Hermit. These symbols very closely follow this kind of story and spiritual energy of the air shaman.
The witch's story is that of talent or fire and begins with the High Priestess seen here as a fox drinking under a willow tree in the moonlight. It moves to the full moon and two wolves howling in the reeds for the Moon card; to the lynx and the brambles for the Strength card; and to the poisonous adder guarding the ash world tree for the Last Judgement; and finally, to the Star symbolized by the tawny owl in a pine tree. Again, these are all very closely tied to Druidic secrets bound up in the Ogham alphabet. For more information, see the other tarot deck pages and read the Western Way pages.
The Fool is a mouse, dangling in an elm tree. And the World card is the galaxy.
(These cards will be out in April of 2019.)