Saturday, July 16, 2011

Synchronicity strikes again!

In a Facebook forum on "Which Tarot Card Are You?" we began a discussion of what it's like to experience Card VIII in the Major Arcana—Strength. Many decks depict this card as a woman (or an angel) subduing a lion or other animal, presumably representing the triumph of the Higher Self over our physical (animal) natures. When one lives the card of Strength, one is confronted by challenging situations one must overcome, and through them grow as spiritual beings. After all, that's the reason we incarnate in the first place—to experience the challenges of the physical plane and learn ways of being that do the least harm to others, and that promote the greatest compassion. One of the people in the discussion noted that in her Strength year, she felt like Andromeda, chained to the rock, and asked whether there were any stories in which Andromeda freed herself, rather than waiting patiently for the hero, Perseus.

I haven’t seen one where Andromeda sets herself free—she’s chained down pretty thoroughly. The whole point is to punish the hubris of her mother, Cassiopiae, who boasted that her daughter was more beautiful than the sea nymphs, ticking them off. Poseidon is persuaded by the sea nymphs to punish Cassiopiae and Cepheus by sending a sea monster to ravage their city—or they can offer up Andromeda as a sacrifice to avoid everyone dying. It’s quite possible that Andromeda, understanding that it was her or everyone she loved, went willingly to the sacrifice. Sometimes (with Strength) that’s the best you can do.

On the other hand, both Athena and Poseidon were guiding Perseus in his quest, which was to bring Medusa’s head back to his father’s court to keep from being put to death. Medusa had once been a beautiful Goddess who was carrying on with Poseidon, but they offended Athena by making out in the sacred confines of her temple. Athena then turned Medusa into a snake-headed Gorgon as punishment, such that her gaze would turn any viewer to stone. Poseidon, as usual with Greek sex-and-vengeance myths, gets off scott free. No doubt Medusa was ticked at both of them!

Athena equips Perseus with a mirror-finished shield for his quest, Hades with a helmet of invisibility, Hephaestus with a special sword of adamant, and Hermes with winged sandals so he can sneak up on the Gorgon. Athena instructs Perseus never to look directly at Medusa, but to view her in the shield-mirror as he decapitates her. Perseus successfully completes this mission, and as he puts Medusa’s head into a bag to fly home, drops of her blood fall on the sands of Libya, forming snakes and the warrior Chrysaeor, then on the sea from which springs Pegasus. Both of them are the sons of Medusa and Poseidon, born in the usual weird way that sex with the Greek gods tends to run.

Perseus happens to fly by the African coast where Andromeda is chained up, and sees the sea serpent approaching. He is taken by Andromeda's beauty—the usual metaphor for "Gee! Golly! For me?"—and opens the bag to show Cetus, the sea serpent, Medusa’s face. Instant big rock in the harbor! He frees Andromeda, who is grateful at being rescued, and stays to marry her at her parents insistence. The nymphs are satisfied, Athena has had her revenge, Poseidon is breathing a sigh of relief, and Andromeda had the strength to face sacrificing herself, only to be reprieved at the last minute.

Sometimes Strength is like that. Part of overcoming our animal nature involves recognizing we are in a situation with no way out, and accepting the inevitable with grace. For example, I suffer from several forms of chronic pain that limit what I’m able to do. Part of Strength, for me, is learning to use my higher abilities to handle the pain, such as meditation to breathe through spasms, and self-hypnosis to block the pain when I need to do so. I’ve also found that the old shamanistic perspective that enduring pain stoically can be a bridge to the otherworld to be quite true. Like Andromeda, I am chained in the physical plane by my pain; however, like Andromeda, by accepting and sacrificing my pain to my higher Self, I gain mastery of a whole new world.

Part of the lesson of the Strength card is that we are not always strong, not always the masters (mistresses) of our fates. But when we allow our higher, Angelic selves to master the distress in the physical or emotional plane, we grow stronger souls.

At the end of the story, Perseus returns home, uses Medusa's head to turn his father to stone, and assumes the kingship of his country. This is not a bad thing; the old man had been trying to kill Perseus for years because of a prophecy that the son of his daughter, Danae, would kill and replace him. He had Danae locked up in a high tower to prevent any man from getting near her, but wily Zeus came to her through the window as a shower of gold. When the King saw that Danae had a baby son, in fury he locked them up in a chest and threw them into the sea to drown. Poseidon pushed the chest up onto land near a herdsman's cottage, and the family took the baby in and raised him. One does not mess with Greek prophecies! 

After the hero's happy ending, Athena reclaims Medusa's bloody head, and places it into the shield-mirror, which she gives to her father, Zeus. The bearer of the shield is made invincible, since no one can gaze on Medusa without turning to stone. Zeus names the shield the Aegis, and gives it back to Athena to carry for him, because she is the Goddess of Defensive Warfare. 

Zeus then immortalizes the whole story up in the sky, as shown in the following diagram. All the characters are there: Perseus, Andromeda, Pegasus, Cassiopiea, Cepheus, and Cetus. But the gods are still hacked off at Andromeda's parents, and stuck them up in the sky upside-down near the north pole, so that they swing endlessly around and never rest in the sea—which keeps down the harassment of the sea nymphs, if nothing else. Pegasus, too, is in the sky upside-down, something for which I've never seen a particularly good explanation. 

The Rescue of Andromeda in the Fall Sky
Pegasus only becomes associated with the Perseus and Andromeda myth late in the game. Perseus doesn't need him, as he still has the winged sandals he got from Hermes, allowing him to fly over land and sea. Pegasus was also originally a horse without wings; the wings were added in the late Classical period. Pegasus was called the "second horse," next to his half-brother, the constellation Equuleus.

This small, dim constellation represents Arion, another winged horse who is the child of Demeter and Poseidon. Demeter was walking by the sea one day, when Poseidon saw and pursued her. Each changed into different animals during the chase; Poseidon caught up to her when she changed into a mare. As God of Horses, Poseidon then mated with Demeter, and she later bore Arion, her only son. 

In ancient Greece, a married woman could not attain the status of "meter," or "mother," until she had borne a son. "De-meter," which means "the Mother," could not have gained that status for bearing her later child, Persephone, by Zeus. So Arion is the key to Demeter's name, and to her relationship with Persephone as "the kore," which simply means "the girl" or "daughter." It is only after Persephone is kidnapped and wooed by Hades that she gains her own name, Persephone, as an adult woman given in marriage (the Greek word for this status is "gune.") 

Next to Equuleus/Arion, is another tiny constellation, Delphinus. This is the sacred dolphin Poseidon sends to rescue those who fall into the sea but do not deserve to die. This dolphin does not bear Arion anything other than company, but the statues you see of "the boy on the dolphin" relate back to this constellation, and to the occasional legends of dolphin rescues.


1 comment:

  1. Michael, you've added a whole new dimension to the. Strength card for me. Thank you.
    Mary K. Greer