The Tarot Muse
Carolyn R. Guss
Certified Professional Tarot Reader and Teacher

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Dark Passage: Lunar Cards of the Tarot—  
by Carolyn R. Guss, The Tarot Muse ©

Part I: Trump XVIII—Tarot’s Mystic MOON

The sun was shining on the sea, 
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright—
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.

The moon was shining sulkily,
Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
After the day was done—
It’s very rude of him,” she said,
“To come and spoil the fun!”

               Lewis Carroll, from Through the Looking Glass

The Full Moon Eclipse that occurred on January 20 galvanized my thoughts about the lunar cards of the Tarot. The most obvious is trump XVIII THE MOON, with its mysterious landscape, dog & wolf protagonists, and the enigmatic crayfish attempting to escape its watery domain. The entire card stands as a symbol for the subconscious, the unseen but somehow acknowledged. Arthur Edward Waite, in his Pictorial Key to the Tarot, describes this card as representing "life of the imagination apart from the life of the spirit." Considered the last major challenge in the third and final leg of The Fool's Journey, the MOON is a force to be reckoned-with, and one that most folks don't like to see in their readings, particularly as an outcome card. To be presented with the MOON at the end of a reading--when we are looking for closure, answers, etc.--is equivalent to the frustrating 8 Ball response of "Outcome Not Clear" or "Try Again Later." Great. More than one of my clients has asked, "So where does that leave me?" or "Then what should I think?" when confronted with the MOON as the final card in a reading. Where and What indeed? Although that's the way the MOON works, as I was reminded while watching (shiveringly) that inky shadow move across her face in the recent eclipse.

In moonlight, nothing is for certain; images aren't clear. Which is also the way our subconscious works, as attested to by the way we spend time--and often money (i.e., with analysts)--helping us decipher our dreams. As the FOOL (trump 0) must feel when, having survived the debacle of the TOWER (trump XVI) and bathed in the renewing beauty of the STAR (trump XVII), he finds himself back in uncertain waters. I use the pronoun he because despite the FOOL's acknowledged androgyny, women are usually more comfortable with the MOON card than are men. This is possibly because women become accustomed to the unexpected (oxymoron though it is) from puberty onward, when their bodies change in even more dramatic ways than men's. Also, in western culture the Moon is associated with feminine energy, while the Sun connects with the masculine (despite our referring to "the Man in the Moon"): perhaps because the Moon is the regulator of fluids--including the ocean's tides and the female menstrual cycle--and women are associated with water, as men are with fire.

Most depictions of the MOON card, whether created by women or men, emphasize female imagery. The Motherpeace Tarot of Vicki Noble & Karen Vogel depicts a woman immersing herself in dark waters beneath a Full Moon that seems to reflect her own profile. She may be Moon-bathing, like Sabrina, the protagonist of Anaïs Nin's novel, A Spy in the House of Love. "It [moon-bathing] accentuated her love of mystery," Nin writes. "She meditated on this planet which kept a half of itself in darkness. She became certain of myriad lives within herself. Her sense of time altered." In The Röhrig Tarot (created by Carl-W. Röhrig), a woman turns her face away from the power of the moonbeams, perhaps for the same reason.

The Enchanted Tarot of Amy Zerner & Monte Farber presents a girl-child with her pretty white dog, the latter a far-distant relation to Rider-Waite-Smith's pound-variety mutt. Farber suggests that the girl is praying in hopes of being saved from the dreaded "Moon Witch" and returned safely home (indeed, the scenario conjures up the idea of Dorothy, Toto, and the Wicked Witch of the West), until she sees the Moon's crystal tears and realizes that this celestial orb has been wrongly maligned, and is actually her friend. This version of the card is a magically beautiful image, but by my sights (and with apologies to Farber), the girl is appealing to the Moon for help, as she senses its protective quality for her. Or perhaps she feels, as does Nin's Sabrina, that the lunar orb will make her, like Lord Byron, "mad, bad, and dangerous to know." See, that's just it. No one, when drawing the MOON card, knows quite what they're getting, which is the terror--and the allure--of it.

The Hebrew letter assigned to the MOON card (the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet correspond to the 22 cards in the Tarot's Major Arcana) is Qoph, which translates to mean back of head, a perfect description of what the MOON trump is about. When we see the back of someone's head, we may think we recognize them, yet are wrong as often as we are right. Most of us have run up to someone we have spotted from behind, exclaiming "Esmerelda!," only to realize, as the person turns around, that it isn't Esmerelda at all (thus prompting an "oops, sorry!"). And that's how the MOON card works when we receive it in a reading. In other words, maybe it's Esmerelda and maybe it's not. We just don't know--and won't, until we step up to that person, touch their shoulder, and speak their name. If we are wrong, we retreat, with apologies. If s/he is amiable, we may have made a new friend; if not, we move away, apologetic and regretful. Either way, we are probably embarrassed: we took a risk: dived into unknown waters that were either warm and welcoming (yep, we recognized our friend, or may have found a new one) or frigid (nope, we screwed-up big-time, and now wish we hadn't chanced it).

Ah, but isn't risk what the Tarot FOOL's journey is all-about? It strikes me that by trump XVIII, the FOOL is either used to taking risks or giving-up on them: the TOWER followed by the MOON (with the balm of the STAR in between) thrusts him/her into that scary territory once again: much like the child who decides after all those reprimands, I'm going to go the safe route--then follows the White Rabbit (or white doggie) down the hole in spite of herself once again.

Thus, when confronted with the MOON card in a reading, I ask myself (or my client), rhetorically or otherwise, how scary can it be? Despite the hazards of the landscape (checklist: dog, wolf, creepy-crawly crustacean, pool of water, narrow dark path, forbidding pillars, and austere mountains--plus that pinched and possibly mocking Moon face), two things stand out as comforting in the Waite-Smith version of this card. First, the background sky is azure-blue, same hue as the STAR and SUN cards that precede and follow it. (A comparison/contrast of these three trumps requires a discussion of its own.) So, how dark is it? Next, a full-blown Sun shows predominantly, directly behind that waning Moon. Thus, the Sun is shining somewhere, even in the middle of our darkest night. In the Lewis Carroll poem that serves as the epigraph to this article, the Sun is, in fact, shining "with all his might" simultaneously with the Moon, much to her great annoyance. Which is precisely what is happening in Tarot trump XVIII. And indeed, the Moon shines as a reflection of the Sun's light, without which it would not be visible, even though it would still exist unseen (or would it?).

So just as the Moon causes both dog and wolf, our instinctual ancestors, to bay at its fullness, the MOON card in Tarot calls us to reflect, which usually involves the past. That crustacean struggling to free itself from its pool at the bottom of the card takes us even further back. As Carl-W Röhrig & Francesca Marzana-Fritz explain in The Röhrig Tarot Book, "Just as crabs prefer to run backwards, so, too, must human beings run through their past, all the way back to the source." So does the MOON represent that source?

A question to ponder until next time, when we meet the lunar people of the Tarot, the HIGH PRIESTESS (trump II) and the HERMIT (trump IX), along with their Minor Arcana counterparts. In the meantime, consider the lyrics from a 1940s tune by Morgan Lewis & Nancy Hamilton: "Somewhere there's music, how faint the tune/ Somewhere there's heaven, how high the moon."

Couldn't have sung it better myself.