I somehow scored the Sun card on the Summer Solstice Tarot Blog Hop! I’ve always been fascinated by the solstices, even before I really understood what it was to be Pagan. I was obsessed with Druids and megaliths as a kid, and I even tried to track where the sun rose based on alignments from my window.
Before I look at the usual symbolism of a Tarot card, I like to go back in time before there was a Tarot deck, before the “established” esoteric and occult symbolism, to the source of what probably inspired a lot of those symbols in the first place.
People often talk about magic, and all the lost ancient knowledge, but a lot of “ancient magic” is stuff we can do on our cellphones these days. Thousands of years ago, it was magic to be able to track the cycles of the sun. To predict the equinoxes and solstices. Thousands of years ago, the “computer” was a stone alignment–With a pointer stone and a gateway or sight-line stone, you can tell when the sun has hit solstice.
Sol-stice means sun is standing still. The sun rises further and further north every day (in the Northern Hemisphere) until it stops. It will seem to rise in the same place for about three days, five if your alignment is a little loose, and then it’ll clearly start heading back south.
And on the winter solstice, the same. If you have two stones aligned, you can view it stand still, and then begin to return.
Why Were Calendars Magical?
For our ancient ancestors this kind of knowledge was crucial. We needed to know how much time we had left for the growing and harvest season. How long the winter would last. In modern times, that doesn’t really seem very magical. We just look at a calendar; we can see when the full moon and new moon are, the equinoxes, the solstices. We always know what time it is. Our phones give us the weather forecast. But remember when this was magic, when this was wisdom passed down from the witches/shamans/druids/priestesses/medicineworkers.
And similarly, the sun itself was seen as magic, as life force. In colder climates, the disappearance of the sun in winter means darkness and cold. And our ancient ancestors certainly knew that the energy of the sun was somehow connected to the growing season. Pretty easy connection there–sun = warmth = life force = growing = food = abundance.
The Sun and Dualism
One challenge I have with the sun image in modern esoteric and occult knowledge is how it’s become part of an inherently dualistic system. I’ve written before about dualism, but in a nutshell, dualism is the philosophical/religious idea that there is good and bad. Nondualism is the belief that there is no good or evil, that things just are.
Dualism becomes a problem because people tend to shoehorn everything into an opposing black/white duality. This duality then ends up (unwittingly) serving misogyny, racism, and other discrimination.
Many of the esoteric systems that modern Tarot is built on are based in dualistic systems.
The Kabballah and alchemy frequently look at things in terms of sun and moon, male and female, light and dark, white and black, transcendance and manifestation, heaven and earth. That in itself isn’t “bad,” however, it’s the dualistic tendency to lump things into Yes/No Good/Bad that becomes problematic.
In fact, I’d have to say that one of my major beefs with modern occult and esoteric symbolism is that it sometimes oversymbolizes the symbol and warps it out of context.
Whenever I’m working with Tarot cards, or with anything that has a heap of occult and esoteric symbolic knowledge associated with it, I like to look at the cultural context of those symbols. If the sun is associated with maleness and “good,” and the moon or the earth is associated with femaleness and “bad,” that’s not really a set of symbols I want to be working with. At least, not in that way.
Return to the Source
In those instances, I like to go back to the source–the actual sun and its role in our year, in our lives. We depend on the sun for warmth, for the growing season, for everything we eat. When I was newly-come to Paganism I was very much into moon vs. sun, darkness, shadow…and I wore a lot of black…but eventually I came to reconnect with the sun itself, and to my own sunlight.
I just recently wrote an article for Eternal Haunted Summer on how I came to “reclaim my sunshine” as it were. I had always been shy, reclusive, but I wanted to become more. I wanted to learn to be a better leader, a better public speaker…but to do that I needed to be willing to shine. And I did.
It took a lot of personal and spiritual work.
The Sun is Outside, Not a Card
Connecting to the energies of the sun doesn’t necessarily require you to read a Tarot book, learn astrology, or become an expert in Kabballah. The Sun Card may be a piece of paper, and there may be plenty of books written about the symbolism, but the sun is outside. It’s in the sky. You can see the sunlight, feel it, almost smell it.
Go outside. Feel the sunlight on your skin. Think about how you respond to the sun during the course of the year. Is there a point during the winter when you crave the sunlight? Is there a point during the summer when the sun and heat are too much? Are there things you can only do during the daytime hours because you require the light? How do you feel when the sun sets, when the sun rises?
Can you hear how the animals around you respond to the sun? Where I live, the birds start their dawn song before the sun comes up.
Sun and Science
I think that science and magic are inextricably linked. And yeah…maybe that takes some of the “magic’ out of it for some. Not for me. Knowing that a shooting star is a meteorite entering our atmosphere doesn’t make it any less cool. And knowing about the science of the sun doesn’t make that less cool either.
In fact, the more I think about it, the more I begin to wonder how this amazing universe of ours even came to be…how our planet is somehow in that perfect distance from the sun where life can be sustained. How the reaction of the elements within the sun and the gravity strike the perfect balance that allows something like the sun to even exist. Stars, suns, supernovae, black holes…it’s all incredibly fascinating stuff.
I’m not suggesting throwing the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. The sun card is associated (among other things) with confidence, warmth, life force, abundance, vitality, power, energy, luck, wellness, enthusiasm, enlightenment, illumination, brilliance, joy, radiance. I don’t think that those are wrong.
It’s more that I believe we often confuse the metaphysical and cosmological models like astrology, Kabballah, and Tarot with the universe these models are trying to describe. There’s the saying, the map is not the terrain, and I think it applies here. Our ancestors came up with these models and they’ve served a purpose, and continue to serve. But don’t ever confuse the models, metaphors, and symbols for the terrain they describe.
The universe is a vast and deep place. It’s likely that in a few hundred years, the scientific models we use today to understand physics and subatomic particles and the stars will be just as scientifically archaic as alchemy is to modern chemistry. And our modern computers will be as outdated and clunky as the megalithic calendar computers our ancestors carved in stone.
And yet, metaphor and myth and symbol still have their place, still have their power. There’s a reason that our dreams speak to us in the language of symbol, that myths hold their potency after thousands of years. When we divorce science from spirit, when we separate out that deep mythic aspect, we lose a piece of ourselves.
What is the Sun?
The sun hasn’t changed. It’s still the rising light that burns away the morning mist, the life-giving radiance that gives us enough light to see and work, the warmth to melt the snow and bring the harvest to fruition. The sun still sets in amber-blood brilliance before the silence of the dark and the stars settle over us again.
If you’re working with the Sun card in the Tarot–or any card, for that matter–and you’re caught up in the esoteric symbolism, think for a moment about the symbol before the symbol. Think about how this symbol came to be. Think about how this symbol came to have all those trappings and associations. Think about what inspired the people who created the Tarot, who created astrology and kabballah and alchemy. Think about whether or not those symbols and correspondences fit your values and your work.
And then let the sun itself inspire you.
Note: Artwork and illustrations above are available on my Etsy and Redbubble pages. See other examples of my work here on my blog. 15% off sale code JUNE2015 on Etsy.