Posted tagged ‘Annunciation’

XX – St. Gabriel – Judgement

March 30, 2010

I got a bit confused about archangels being Saints with this card. Strange, but it was never something I questioned with St. Michael. The Penguin Dictionary of Saints explains it this way:

From the beginning of Christian history, veneration of Michael took place, and the Jews also venerated him. He does a lot in the bible and so his commanding strength was appreciated in tradition for intercession. There have been numerous legends of visions and sightings of him. There are differences about Saints in general and certainly the archangels, in local churches and also in the Eastern Orthodox and Western Churches. In the traditions of the East, Gabriel, Michael, and Raphael were always honoured liturgically, but Gabriel and Raphael only started to gain popularity in the West in the 20th century.

Okay, that makes more sense to me now, since I already know of several Saints from the Eastern Church that people don’t hear of in the West. As far as these three archangels being Saints, it seems to be a matter of their great power and historic communication with people, and people wanting to commemorate and symbolize that. There are very close to God, they sit beside him, so our veneration of them brings us closer to God by association.

Gabriel is the angel that appeared to Mary during the Annunciation, he is also associated with blowing the trumpet at the Last Judgement as depicted in this picture from the deck. He tended the infant Abraham and spoke to Daniel, foretold the birth of Samson, announced the birth of John the Baptist, and I didn’t realize this, but in Islamic tradition, he dictated the Koran to Muhammed. I like Place’s notation that because Gabriel was involved in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, he demonstrates that they are all branches of the same trunk.

That fits in well with the idea of Gabriel calling us to a higher state of being. Not only resurrected from death on Judgement Day, but for me this concept of having the same religious roots. Triumph over death, and triumph over our peculiar need to fight each other to the death over supposedly disparate religious beliefs.

I remember the line from Charles Dickens in A Christmas Carol during the episode of Christmas Yet To Come. Scrooge had died and the charwoman says something about him gasping his last, all alone with no one to look after him. Scrooge’s housekeeper Mrs. Dilbur says “It’s a judgment on him.” Gabriel can remind us of the way we are supposed to care for each other too.

I like the idea of this archangel being the chief messenger of God. He was involved in many more events than I remember. Gabriel did announce his name on several occasions, but there are examples of unnamed angels where Gabriel is given credit, including holding the trumpet for Judgement as described in Thessalonians 4:16. In that it is described “…with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet call of God…” (NIV Bible) Gabriel being God’s messenger archangel, it seems natural to associate this event with him as the herald with the trumpet.

Michael is the warrior archangel, Gabriel the messenger in Christian tradition, and as such Gabriel seems to have a gentler presence, perhaps mindful of frightening people, and mindful of remaining calm to get the message across. Another facet of a meditation on Gabriel that can benefit us: sometimes a lower key works better.

Gabriel is often depicted with a spear or sceptre as well as a trumpet, and a shield with a lily on it or a lily in some other configuration. The lily is associated with the purity of Mary and the Annunciation, and is often in Annunciation images, so became part of Gabriel’s symbolism as well. I have seen shields with Gabriel that have suns on them or other objects, but the shield itself along with the spear or sceptre symbolizes the power of God. Archangels are often depicted with armour in any case, armour being something understandable in earlier times as a connotation of power, although not favoured today in angelic imagery.

I have a favourite picture of the Annunciation which can be seen in this discussion of the Four of Cups from this deck. Click on the image to enlarge it.

XVIII – St. Mary – The Moon

March 28, 2010

This is the card that originally got me going on a study of this entire deck. Someone on a forum was complaining about how she thought that Mary, the mother of Jesus, should be on The Empress card and Robert Place was all wrong. I went to examine things a little closer and here I am over three years later, writing up my impressions of the last four cards.

From 2005, quite a while ago, are some thoughts I posted in that forum mixed in with my current thoughts.

Specifying that a motherly archetype like The Empress has to be a mother to know nurturing and birth is not supportable–there are many childless people who are mothers and fathers in spirit to others in the world, some religious, some not. It is an arbitrary specification for The Empress to be a mother, so not viable to restrict the archetype to those who have physically given birth. [Note: As I discuss for The Empress card and told this woman on that forum, St. Helena WAS a mother; the whole impetus for being declared Empress by her son Constantine was that she was his mother.]

In this deck, Jesus is the Sun, and as a reflection of that, his mother Mary naturally fits the role of The Moon. There is a bit of illusion and mystery to Mary, not only in regard to the Immaculate Conception but in regard to the way her mystique nearly took over from Jesus in worship. I used to find the cult of Mary rather distasteful, because I assumed it replaced veneration for God, which is often the Protestant view of the Saints come to think of it, and probably where my attitude developed, being a Protestant. The Church worried about the cult of Mary as well in the early days which surprised me. At one point I think the Church banned her likeness because devotion to her usurped the classic place of Jesus.

I have come to understand Mary’s allure. Thinking historically, nuns and priests who voluntarily left their families and remained celibate and without children, needed a mother figure for comfort. I’m sure it’s easy to see why Mother could usurp the place of a torn and tormented saviour. After my own mother died I finally got it, I understood how men and women would need a mother figure and how she was not a replacement, but more of a bridge, an intermediary. The Queen of Heaven is approachable, like your own mother would be perhaps if you were afraid to tell your Dad something.

If you look at the history of other deities, they often encompass the idea of Mary. I am thinking specifically of Kwan Yin, the goddess of mercy and compassion who started out as a male Indian deity and gradually changed into our current concept of her, with discernible acknowledgement historically to Mary, the Mother of Christ in Western traditions. Indeed, Robert Place mentions that titles attributed to ancient goddesses like “Lady” or “Queen” or “Mother” became associated with Mary. Another example of how the people morphed pagan ritual into Christianity.

Emotion, intuition, the nurturing qualities of the female, worry about family (and this woman must have worried herself sick about her children.) Deep spirituality is the Moon, and psychic premonition and the deception of others. Fears, dreams, daydreams, I like the connection to motherhood via the Moon.

There is a darker side to being the mother of a saviour to the world, the fear and worry which this highlights. Mothers are often given credit for intuition and “knowing” when their children are in trouble or something’s not right. She knew of Jesus’ inevitable death and the danger to her other children from political and religious factions. Deep, mysterious motherhood and the mental and emotional umbilical cord it carries, is much like the Moon archetype. The ghostly sadness of clouds drifting across the Moon, the deep paths of the soul who bears that knowing sadness all her life, howling into the night.

On this card, she radiates love and the grace and forgiveness of God. I like the way Place has beams of light coming from her hands, radiating out to the world. Unconditional love plus night and rest with the peace of forgiveness and understanding. Many people in Medieval times viewed her as a living presence or emanation from God, as do some people today. I was interested to see that her main feast day is January 1st, which was my mother’s birthday. She is described as the Queen of Heaven in Revelations 12:1, standing on the moon with twelve stars crowning her and clothed with the sun, as in the symbolism that Robert Place drew. See, even in the bible she is clothed with the sun/son, a reflection of Jesus on The Sun card in this deck. She is perfect for The Moon card.

She had a dark path did she not? This poor mother, knowing and carrying the cold secret of her son’s birthright all her life, the ultimate mystery.

As you might expect, there are many depictions of Mary in art. I particularly like depictions of the Annunciation in Medieval manuscripts as they are often very elaborate with beautiful borders and flora with gold highlights. She is on several of my cards, both in her motherly aspect from stories of Christ, and as a child with her own mother St. Anne. I like that aspect too as it indicates the nurturing she herself experienced.

Fours

January 29, 2009

saints_fours

FOUR OF COINS

The Judas Kiss, the saddest moment. Betrayal is a hard thing to bear. Unlike most other cards in this Coins suit, there is no communion wafer with the IHS monogram of Christ depicted, only a few coins hanging about. Place makes a special point of noting this feature. No host, no holy ghost, just greed and selfishness and the empty friendship of the Miser.

My favourite depiction of this comes from Giotto. I’m not sure why, but I like frescoes and Giotto’s work was my introduction to those. Giotto’s colouring and expressions, the soft desert and sky and hills in his paintings are attractive. Plus he was a friend in life of Dante, so they are paired in my mind as good fellows of vision and talent and great artistic perception.

Here is a detail of Giotto’s work on this. Judas looks very furtive, almost simian, so you know he’s up to no good, sneaking around, latching on to Jesus and pulling his cloak over him, ostensibly as a gesture of love, but more like hemming him in literally, so he can’t escape from the soldiers.

judaskiss

Judas is someone we almost dislike mentioning, not just for his betrayal, but for the ease with which he did it. It reminds us that we all might have done it, and for so little too, which makes us squirm and feel uncomfortable. We are Judas, it’s so easy. And anyone who says they would “never” do something like that is blind to human nature.

FOUR OF SWORDS

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.

annunciation

FOUR OF STAFFS

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.