Usually this card has a knight in armour lying under stained glass windows in a sepulchre. Here we have a hermit in the desert, a popular way of life in the middle ages. He is resting in a contemplative state, but with scripture close by and a skull as a memento mori perhaps, or a reminder with the cross of the death of Christ to remind him that life is short. The swords are thoughts and feelings suspended, so the hermit can calm his mind. I love this line in the book: “When we leave our thoughts and feelings alone, we come to the place of calm beyond hope and fear.”
I find this a better ideal than mere sleep on a tomb. Contemplation and reading imbue a less passive note to this; you are always in control of your thoughts and feelings.
FOUR OF CUPS
This is the Annunciation where the angel Gabriel tells the Virgin Mary that she is pregnant with the son of God. There is a poem by Thomas Merton called The Messenger where he refers to the star-sandalled Gabriel walking down the air like lightning and:
“The morning the Mother of God
Loved and dreaded the message of an angel.”
This card usually represents ennui and I don’t immediately think of that, but then ponder how you could have everything you’ve ever wanted, and still the dread sets in as it did with Mary. The word “ennui” comes from French obviously, but its deeper root is in the Latin “in odio” which means “in hatred” and became our English word “annoy.” Yeah, there’s a lot of trouble ahead for Mary and her child and family. Place puts the emphasis on the Holy Spirit descending, and says this represents the soul animating matter. Well, that’s one way to refer to pregnancy.
Mary looks like she has spoken some joyful exclamations and then it has all become too much for her, this odious burden, this joy and dread. The cups are too much to bear, hence her crestfallen, almost frozen posture.
I have many, many examples of the Annunciation in my collection of books about illuminated manuscripts. My absolute favourite is from The Hours of Bonaparte Ghislieri that was made in Bologna in Italy around the year 1500. How wonderful it must have been to own a Book of Hours with such artwork.
I really liked this card. It reminds me of The Wedding Song by Paul Stookey that was so popular when I was a teenager. All the Christian girls I knew mooned about listening to this song, dreaming of their own marriages, and I thought it was sappy, beautiful but sappy. But then I hadn’t fallen in love yet, as I was only sixteen and more interested in dolls and books.
Commitment, and Mary and Joseph sure needed it, knowing what they were in for. Dear Joseph, standing fast, because when you are married you do that, you stand there and take what comes. All the heavenly holiness and protection doesn’t take that away, you simply have to live through it and carry on, it’s part of being human.
Fortunately on the wedding day there are flowers and food and wine, and people feel joy and anticipation of good things. Mary looks a bit shy and fearful and Joseph looks proud but a little weary, his budding staff solidly beside him while he’s clutching it firmly. He stood his ground, and did his best.