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A Feminist Tarot by Sally Gearhart and Susan Rennie

In recent years many feminist tarot decks have been designed so that the majority of characters/court cards are female and symbols are more pertinent to feminism. Examples of this include Tarot of the Sacred Feminine, Goddess Tarot, and Universal Goddess Tarot. This trend is at least partially based on the incorrect assumption that traditional tarot decks are based on patriarchal/masculine systems when in fact it is a known fact that the Rider-Waite Tarot was created by a female: Pamela Coleman-Smith. Yes she was under the direction of a man (A.E. Waite) but he was famously dissatisfied with some of her renderings as she went off script on many occasions to be true to her own vision. Aleister Crowley's famous Thoth Tarot deck was also created by a woman: Frieda Harris. Furthermore the Secret Order of the Golden Dawn, a hermetic school dedicated to the study and development of tarot which was founded in 1888 admitted women members and was Goddess-centered in its' approach. Therefore we must conclude that the roots of tarot are very much entrenched in the principals of feminism and what we need is a feminist guide book, rather than design new cards entirely, to properly study tarot from a matriarchal perspective.

The Feminist Tarot by Sally M. Garhart and Susan Rennie accomplishes this feat. These authors have freed the tarot from centuries of accumulated bias and have revealed the dynamic female principle long hidden in the cards.

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The Minor Arcana from a feminist perspective:

The Suit of Wands

Fire, energy, growth, creativity, the production of ideas.
The suit of those who struggle together.

The feminist movement is made up of women seeking a change in the world’s social order. It is composed of women seeking new energy and new uses of all energy, new life for a ravaged planet. It is further comprised of an infinite variety of women whose differences in history, outlook and style produce conflict. The wands are the suit of sisterhood and they represent struggles within that sisterhood over all the deep issues of our time: race, class, affectional preference, age, physical ability, and of course sex. On overt or hidden levels the wands address such issues as: leadership, ethical use of energy, empowerment, competition, collectivity, motherhood, criticism, sexuality, and gender identification.

Wands are always in leaf, that is, growing and energy filled. They are also potential weapons, digging sticks, walking aids, magic rods, instruments of protection, and a building material which can be used to construct bridges, houses, and rafts. Th ey may bring us messages-hunches, judgements or discernments that we can act upon. As witching sticks they can aid us in deciding the nature of some unseen element in the immediate environment.

Wands suggest the connection with the earth and the regeneration of life, both animal and plant kingdoms. Lions (cats, the companions of witches in life and in death) are synonymous with wands in the Apocalypse. Fire or energy is the suit’s recognizable characteristic.

Like swords, the wands are a suit of judgement and action rather than perception and understanding (the function of pentacles and cups). Unlike the suit of swords the suit of wands suggests judgement on the basis of the non-rational: hunches or “vibes” rather than reasons; the actions suggested by the wands on the basis of such judgements or discriminations tend to be rebellious and revolutionary, not supportive of the status quo.

The Suit of Swords

Air, reason, logic, ambition, aggression, conflict, competition.
The suit of the patriarchy.

In a positive sense the suit suggests the usefulness of logic and clarity, the virtue of clean severing of confused elements into separate entities so that each can be assessed in order and in relation to other parts; feminist strategy requires the acknowledgement of these sword-like qualities and affi rms the proper use of reason.

Patriarchy, however, has made too much of reason, enthroning it above other faculties (feeling, intuition, sensation). This leads to a mindset that is destructive of life and the biosphere: competition, war, exploitation, power-over relationships, dependency, possessiveness, elitism, hierarchies, human chauvinism. It is the suit of the warrior, the suit of the dominant social orders, most exaggerated in Western Europe and the United States where it has been made to seem more palatable-even natural-through the virtues of capitalism and the glories of romance. But it represents patriarchy in any form, including the socialist systems where big brother has replaced big daddy. It broadly represents men, their rational power, their scientific method, and their strict socialization into the myth of their own superiority.

In this suit are all the vertical societal structures, the mystifications of the Judeo-Christian heritage, the institutions of oppression of all women, people of color and physically different people, and the mindset of power over others. More often than not swords must be read as aggression, fragmentation, strife, hatred, war, misfortune, disaster.

Like the suit of wands, swords have to do with the querent’s judgements and actions rather than with perceptions and understandings (the functions of pentacles and cups). Swords offer reason as the discriminating faculty, the faculty of judgement. On the basis of that faculty swords suggest actions that tend to support the status quo, the patriarchal system. More often than not, the suit represents the misuse of reason rather than its best application.

The Suit of Cups

Water, intuition, the unconscious, feeling and emotion. The suit of the self.

This suit speaks of the relationship to the self, to the parts of the self and to others in interpersonal contacts. It is the area of psychological growth, of the internal quest for integrity. That integrity, bound up as it is with feminist values, rejects the exploitation of any physical difference (race, sex, or bodily ability). It affirms those qualities of traditionally secondary importance—qualities associated with women and, by extension, other non-dominant groups: emotionality, the unconscious, the occult, intuition, bodiness. Hence the suit is associated with the priestess. It calls for an integration of these qualities with the more traditionally acceptable characteristics (masculine, white, able-bodied): mind, consciousness, energy and strength.

The journey suggested by the cups is to authentic relationships where whole persons interact with as few power games as possible. It is a journey away from the half-persons who have to depend on each other for personal fulfillment (as in the heterosexual model that all of us are still slave to on some level or in some degree).

Cups are vessels of individual feelings, of psychic energy, of intuitive or unconscious material, particularly as women seek their own identity and happiness. It suggests the necessity to intrapersonal confrontation with deeply-embedded attitudes and the struggle that persists between whatever is “natural” and that which is “conditioned” in the female psyche. It is the suit of self-knowing.

Like the suit of pentacles, cups have to do with perception and understanding more than with judgements and actions (the functions of swords and wands). The cups suggest ways of perceiving psychic and psychological realities; they open ways for the understanding of such realities without the necessity of evaluations or judgements.

The Suit of Pentacles

Earth, physical sensation, money, acquisition, trade.
The suit of the worker, the businessperson.

This suit speaks of the practical ways that the material world functions for us in our creativity and self-expression. It is the suit of work, of craft and art, of career, and material possessions. It speaks more of material than of spiritual opulence, more of material than of spiritual poverty, even though through the awareness of creativity it allows for the existence of the psychic; in some places it specifically evokes images of psychic power (the page and the queen).

For the most part the pentacles speak in terms of possession and earned goods and services, of the world as the generation(s) immediately before us has known it, and not so much of what it suggests of art and creativity and of the liberating function of meaningful work is applicable to any society. Pentacles can be read as coins, competition, and even war, and also express the use of cooperation and creativity.

Like the suit of cups, pentacles deal with the querent’s perception and understanding rather than her judgements and actions (the function of the suits of swords and wands). The pentacles suggest ways of perceiving the “real” world and allow for understanding that world without the necessity of evaluation or judgement.

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