Monday, February 15, 2010
The Major Arcana: POWER
We've already been introduced to the story of Merlin and Vivianne when we discussed the Magic card in an earlier post. The next card in the Major Arcana, the IV card, is the Power Card, seen as the Emperor in the Ryder-Waite deck. The lovers here are Arthur and Guinevere, whose complex legend appears in many forms throughout Europe.
Roots of the Arthurian tales also are found in Celtic mythology, where the regents sometimes wear the immortal colors of the god and goddess. The archtype of Arthur as once and future king of Britain is the supreme example of the enlightened use of power, and the modern imagination is still captivated by the tales of Camelot and the knights of the Round Table.
However, Arthur had humble beginnings. Though born of a Queen, Igraine, wife of King Uther Pendragon, he was taken by the magician Merlin upon his father's death to be raised in anonymity. Merlin was protecting the young Arthur from the lords who battled for Uther's throne.
As the fighting continued, the land fell into ruin. When Merlin foretold of a king who would come to unite them all one day, the lords scoffed in disbelief and denied the magic sign he prophesied: He claimed that only the one who could pull a magic sword from an anvil would rule England by right.
Years passed, and Arthur grew to manhood under Merlin's watch. He remained unaware of his auspicious fate. Soon, he encountered the sword in the stone. In need of a sword, Arthur easily withdrew it, thus sealing his fate as England's ruler. Though his rule was initially challenged, in time his authority was sealed unquestioningly.
The reign of Arthur ushered in a golden age for England. He united warring factions under his brave and responsible leadership. He gathered only the best knights around him, including the noble Lancelot du Lac, considered to be the best knight alive, and they served as the famed Knights of the Round Table. Arthur also decided to marry and start a family.
From the moment he first saw her, Arthur was besotted with Guinevere, daughter of King Leodegrace of the North. Merlin advised him that another woman, not Guinevere, would bring him greater happiness, but Arthur's heart was set on Guinevere. He trusted Lancelot to make Arthur's plea for Guinevere's hand to her father, Leodegrace.
Yet, when Lancelot laid eyes upon the graceful Guinevere, all thought flew from him mind. The pair was consumed by a power greater than their loyalty to Arthur. The pair were forced to contain their emotions as the marriage took place, joining Arthur and his bride.
Arthur's power, then, bought him a bride, but not her love. Guinevere respected Arthur, but it was Lancelot who had stolen her heart. Try as she might, the tragic triangle of Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere was entrenched for the rest of their lives, leading to bitter unhappiness for all of them.
Yet, even today, the magical stories of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table live on, with stories of the beauty of his reign and his bride, despite the sad queen who sat beside him, but could not love him.
On this card, Arthur and Guinevere are depicted on their throne, surrounded by the glory that was Camelot. Lancelot, always in the queen's thoughts, is visible on the tapestry that hangs behind the throne. The round table, shown behind the arches of the throne, and around which no knight could sit higher or lower in status, reveals the ultimate goal of power, which is to create peace and harmony in the kingdom.
When the Power card emerges in a reading, it represents the ability to use power wisely or the awareness of one's own power. It may also signify meeting an authority figure or teacher who can help develop that power. Sometimes, it represents responsibility towards others or the ability to lead and inspire. At times, it suggest knowledge of how to create change without giving up important values or resorting to violence or deception.
When the power card appears in a reversed or weakly aspected position, however, it symbolized that the querent may be oppressed by another's power and authority, representing insecurity and loss of personal power. It may also symbolize passive aggression or using power to manipulate others for personal gain. In other words, it represents blocked or malaligned power.
The story of Arthur and Guinevere reflects the possibilities and dangers of power. Arthur, through his responsible authority, was able to wield tremendous control over his kingdom, bowing all to his will. His power, however, could not bring him true happiness, since it could not give him the one thing he most desired: the love of Guinevere. Once again, we are reminded, as we were earlier with the Magic card, that true love conquers all.
We must, then, strive to temper our power with love, and blend the two in a conscious effort to become more benevolent in our actions.