People sometimes ask me what my favorite tarot deck is. It might be this one, the deck I rarely use and never use with clients, because it has so much to say that I can’t dive into it unless I have plenty of time. This deck where every card is made from an exquisite painting that should be hanging in a museum somewhere. This deck that speaks to the soul. The Mary-El, by Marie White.
I have trouble reading the Mary-El, because it is so deep. (Too deep even for Bonnie? Yes, maybe!) It combines symbolism from not only the Rider-Waite (the symbolism that I know well), but also the Marseilles and the Thoth (which I don’t know well at all).
But this deck is too beautiful to be left untouched in its cozy. So I’m going to learn it the way I originally learned the Rider-Waite–by writing about it, randomly, one or two cards at a time.
Today, I pulled the Ten of Swords and the Sun. The Ten of Swords, quite honestly, looks like it ought to be Death. It shows a winged, raven-like figure carrying a scythe and riding a pale horse. Horse and rider look to the right. The Sun card, on the other hand, is as golden as you’d expect the Sun to be, with a figure on it who is also looking to the right, with an expression of surprise. There is a Sun on this card, and wings, and also a compass.
But about this looking to the right. To me, in a card spread, the right is the future. These cards leave me with the immediate feeling that something is coming, something surprising. Good or bad? I couldn’t say. Startling. Maybe a changing of the map. What else could surprise the Sun? Or Death?
Turning to Marie White’s lovely book accompanying the Mary-El, I find this passage listed next to the Ten of Swords:
When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” I looked and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.
The quotation, of course, is from Revelation, and it pertains to the end times. Fun! Clearly, the Rider on the Ten of Swords card is Death, even though this card isn’t. Reading on, I find that White writes here about the Sun, in a sense–she tells the story of Prometheus stealing fire from the gods, and of how Zeus chained him to a rock, where an eagle would eat his liver daily. When the sun sets, Prometheus grows a new liver; when it rises, the eagle comes to eat it.
In the section on the Sun itself, though, White tells us about Ra, the Sun god. The wings on this card are those of Ra’s falcons, which delineate the horizons. White goes on to say that the Sun is not only a god, but also represents exaltation. Her description makes me think of the yoga pose, Exalted Warrior. She ends with a quotation from Joseph Campbell:
That which you are was never born and will never die; that is the insight rendered in terms of the solar mystery, the solar light.
So how interesting to see these two cards together, today, and both looking surprised about the future.
We knew that Death was coming.
Death is always coming.
And we knew that there is a Sun shining within us. Even when we don’t feel sunny, we radiate warmth.
And we knew there was an inner spirit. Even if we resist calling it an inner god or goddess.
And we know that no suffering lasts forever, not even that of Prometheus. Nothing is that permanent.
So what’s the surprise?
Maybe it IS time for Prometheus to get loose from his chains, surprising both the Sun and the eagle. Maybe this is the time when, the story tells us, Death comes for the eagle, in the form of Heracles, or Hercules. But would that surprise us?
I feel like it’s a change in the map. The geographic map, the spiritual map. A change, that’s all. Something truly unexpected.
I know this is not what you want from me. You want love and comfort. Validation and compassion.
What you can have is this. These two cards are the same thing. There is no dark and no light. There is no evil and no good. Not here. What’s here is the cycle of life and death, an unending circle, happening on the map, in different places at different times. Death is what the Sun feels like when it rides a horse and waves a scythe. The Sun is what Death feels like when Death rides across the sky. They are the same. Both are winged creatures, like the spirit, and both have to find their way, maybe with a map, maybe not.
But if they are using a map, or maps, wouldn’t it be mischievous to change out the map, or replace it with something else?
Or maybe the message here is a bit simpler, and it’s just the Ten of Swords followed by the Sun, because even the day after Death rides rampant, the Sun still rises again.