Welcome to Soundings! The blogsite of Caitlín Matthews.

Exploring Myth, Divination and the Western Mysteries.

All blogs are copyright Caitlín Matthews.
If you wish to quote any portion of this site, please ask my permission first.

Saturday 12 January 2013


I am aware that these two words in one sentence may create disquiet, but I regard prayer as something pertaining to all people everywhere and not just the province of one kind of person or belief. Since my engagement with tarot has always been a relationship with the wisdom of the oracle, I do not see any dichotomy in it for myself. During the last few weeks I’ve been very tired and scattered due to the circumstances around me.

Both within my own family and among those near to me there’s been a lot of upset, fear and disturbance. My response to this is always to spend more time in prayer, by which I mean centre deeply in the bedrock of the earth and engage with the powers of the universe. I bring to mind the person or situation and make witness to those powers that they may uphold, strengthen or help as best they may, without my interference on my part. This kind of prayer means not dictating a solution to difficulty as part of the prayer but just a general ‘help them at this time according to their needs,’ which, of course, I cannot fully know or understand.

This Midwinter I was given the ultimate set of Rachel Pollack’s wonderful Shining Tribe Tarot, reproduced in a large, limited edition. I’ve been going through each card every night. Last week, I decided to pray with them. This way of prayer is a dialogue between our question about the mystery and the answer that each card can reveal. From each card, a new question is suggested from some image or juxtaposition on the card, and another card is drawn to answer it. Sometimes there is a practical action from the card, sometimes it is just a statement of what is. It is not for us to alter or fix things, but to support and witness. If you would like to try this, then take your time, give it space and quiet, don’t try to lead the prayer but rather follow where it leads you.

My elderly father over the course of these last weeks has sunk to a state of semi-consciousness in hospital and it’s hard to know what is best for him. Holding the cards loosely in my hands, sideways as if about to open the pages of a book, I asked the first question, ‘What is medicinal for him?’ I allowed one card to show itself. It was XIII Death, the ultimate medicine for life’s ills.

Shining Woman’s Death is a red being behind whom is a box which opens and from which ribbons stream out. I sat with this for a while until I noticed the two little roses making a barrier between the viewer and Death itself, so I asked, ‘Whom does he meet at the threshold? I drew one of the 5 extra cards of this limited edition deck, entitled the Sphinx in Eden, which is related to the suit of Rivers or Cups. (This is not in the published editions.) It shows a very restful sphinx seated beside the Tree of Life, while a shining spirit appears above it. This figure reminded me of my mother who died a few years ago. Those who met the Sphinx usually had to ask a question, so I asked, ‘How does my father answer?’ In answer, I drew 8 Trees (Wands), which shows a woman leaping clear of a burning house with poise and grace. This is the card which often comes up when someone realizes that they need to leave a situation that’s become untenable or dangerous. It’s a card of freedom and survival for those who are enduring the unendurable.

This led me ask ‘Into what freedom does he leap?’ I drew Place of Rivers (Page of Cups) Marvellously, this depicts the same woman seated contemplatively at a pool situated at the confluence of two streams, while on the hillside above is a dolmen tomb or monument. The peacefulness of this place was refreshing, I could feel. It was a place in which my father could release the last doubts and just be himself. I finally asked, ‘What is the blessing he finds there?’ My next card in response was 4 Trees (4 Wands) which shows a house guarded by four trees. Two grow to the eaves of the house itself while the other two lead the way, arching over. A grain of wheat stands between. The blessing he finds is the way home, where the simple gifts of being wholly himself are welcomed. Last night I prayed again, since my father is having problems making the last step. I asked ‘What does my father need now?’ I drew V Tradition (Hierophant). It shows five red presences meditating around a central flower. My eye fell on the little fish looking out of the water. I realized that my father needs to know that there’s a way over and that there is someone to receive him. He doesn’t have any formulated belief system, having come from a family that has no church-going habit or curiosity about other states of being, so this is a hard step for him.

So I asked, ‘How do I help him know that?’ I drew 3 Rivers (Cups) This shows three streams of blood flowing from one bowl. By remembering the ancestors who have gone before him, my father can be emboldened to step into the mystery of death. I will speak about ancestors tomorrow when I visit him again. With his sister, he is the last of the older generation still alive. ‘How will the ancestors assist him?’ I drew 2 Rivers (Cups) where two fish make a circle and where one fish leaves and two come into the ocean. I liked the way in which same mountains, sea and fish reappeared here from V Tradition, and also the fish from the Death card of the prayer above. It seemed to me that the ancestors offer a unique space for him in their deep mountains.
I then asked, ‘What does he need to complete his journey? And drew VI Lovers, two beings conjoin over the mountains. It reminds me that my parents hardly ever spent a night apart the whole of their lives. This is a reunion that is much longed for, but it requires vulnerability and acceptance to enter the embrace of death itself. ‘What frees him to make his way?’ Speaker of Birds (King of Swords) is an African figure with a bird upon its brow. The quiet but insistent pecking of the bird has begun to remind of his heritage and give him authority to inhabit the space of the living waters that the fish in 2 Rivers invite him to enter. It is a passage that is utterly out of my hands. A PRAYER FOR MY FRIEND I have a friend who is very lost at present. This richly gifted man has been sunk in depression and has been causing great anxiety to those who know him. He has almost closed off from seeing people. While our practical assistance stands ready, none of us can help if it can’t be accepted. Prayer is the only way of witnessing this friend.

Holding the cards loosely and allowing each card to reveal itself as a result of my questions, I first asked ‘What will help my friend?’ 5 Birds was drawn: it shows a person with five circling vultures overhead. The stark answer was ‘acknowledging and confronting the situation.’ So I asked, ’What power arises from this acknowledgement?’ and drew Speaker of Rivers (King Cups). It shows a shoal of fish following a greater fish on which is written the words of a line from the storytelling Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, ‘And on the way I told a tale of such power…’ the continuation of which is ‘that all who heard it had thoughts of repentence.’ It shows the power of the storytelling imagination, and has the confident power of creation flowing through it, which is how we all used to see my friend. I asked from this, ‘What story will he tell?’ and drew VIII Strength. The Lion stands upon a mound, fierce in defence. His story will be about the struggle that many artists and creators go through in order to defend their sacred craft: this is what is at the heart of his present depression, that there is no acceptance of his deepest gift.

I asked, ‘What will the story bring?’ 9 Stones shows someone independent and at ease with their craft, hawk on wrist. To train up a hawk is no easy matter. You must wake and watch with your bird and not sleep or do other things until it is ready. It is a demanding thing to follow any craft, but ultimately satisfying for the one who gives themselves in this way, so I asked ‘How will he be satisfied?’ XIX The Sun was the answer. The ultimate return of joy is through the means above. When everything flows as it should, there is the happiness of satisfaction. This prayer was offered sincerely for my friend. It enabled me see him in a way that is helpful rather than as a helpless or depressed person. His creative mainspring, this prayer reminds me, is not gone from him but is still struggling to be the thing that heals him. As long as we witness to his craft, his struggle and remember him as the man he is, rather than identifying him with his condition, he will be supported better by us all.

Anyone who is interested in purchasing a copy of this limited edition of this powerful deck from Rachel, please visit http://www.rachelpollack.com/index2.html. The standard edition of the Shining Tribe Tarot is still available from Llewellyn Books at the time of writing in 2013.