Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Major Arcana: TRADITION

The next card of the Major Arcana, the V card, is the Tradition card in the Lover's Path, or the Hierophant in the Ryder-Waite deck. What duo could better represent the ideals of this card than the fated lovers of Romeo and Juliet? They are regarded as the quintessential example of star-crossed lovers, trapped by their families' traditional hatred of one another. This story has become the basis for variation after variation in the retelling in film, opera, and literature, as their ill-fated love is played out.

The story of Romeo and Juliet unfolds in Renaissance Verona, where the feud of the Montagues and Capulets disrupted an otherwise peaceful city. The tradition of hatred was so entrenched than even a chance encounter on the street between members of the two households would end in bloodshed. Juliet, the teenaged daughter of Lord Capulet, wanted no part of the feud, but when she fell in love with young Romeo Montague, the families' traditional rivalries sprung into action.

Romeo and Juliet first met when he snuck into the Capulets' costume ball. Juliet, who was also masked, struck him with her beauty and grace. By the time he learned of her identity, it was too late: he had already been captivated by the young Capulet. He later appeared beneath her window to woo her with honeyed words. The two swore their devotion to each other and swore to be wed as soon as possible, despite the feud that separated their households.

It would be Friar Lawrence who would help Romeo and Juliet in their romantic quest. Initially dubious of their emotions, the Friar decided that their union could help heal the rift that had plagued the two families.

Sworn to secrecy, Friar Lawrence married the young lovers.

Peace was not to follow, however, for Romeo and his new bride. Later that same day, Romeo was attacked on the street by a Capulet and, while defending himself, struck his rival dead. Romeo then turned again to Friar Lawrence to act as an intermediary with Juliet.

Meanwhile, Lord Capulet had his own plans for the young Juliet. She was to wed another. She could not tell the truth, that she was already married to the family's foe, so she turned to Friar Lawrence as well.

The Friar provided Juliet with a potion that would render her lifeless for two days. That would allow him time to notify Romeo of the events and help the young lovers escape and be united.

Fate once more conspired against the pair, however.

Romeo received word of Juliet's death before he was informed of the truth by the Friar. Rushing to her side, devastated by her "death," the young Romeo poisoned himself in order to join his love in death. Juliet, awakening from her slumber in her dead husband's arms, did not hesitate to use his dagger to join him in eternity.

Such a tragic tale of love and despair seems to have no immediate connection to the tradition card. And yet, the love of Romeo and Juliet did result in the end of the feuding between the Montagues and the Capulets, giving way to a new tradition, not of hatred, but of tolerance and understanding.

Here, on this card, the young lovers are depicted as they pledge their love to each other in the rites of marriage, performed by Friar Lawrence. Two cherubs frame them, offering the choice of love or duty. Beyond them rests the city of Verona, within whose walls they fell in love.

When the tradition card emerges in a reading, it symbolizes following established social structures, or traditions which are constraining. In love relationships, the tradition card signifies the desire for marriage or some other formal, traditional structure for the sake of secruity. It can also represent an awareness of public image and the desire to control it. Perhaps the querent wants to conform in order to gain approval. It can also signify possible rigidity or reluctance to bend.

In the reversed or weakly aspected position, this card represents the need to throw out the old constraining social structures, in favor of new forms. It can also signify the fear of unconventional ideas or ways of approach. The querent may be facing nonconformity. It can also symbolize the questioning of tradition for tradition's sake.

The ill-fated story of Romeo and Juliet, as represented on the Tradition card, then, can teach us a vital lesson that we should not unquestioningly hold on to tradition for tradition's sake. Neither, however, should we toss the baby out with the bath water. There is always a balance that must be struck between the old and the new, and with the restructuring of the old ways, we open the doors to new paths and new lives, just as the deaths of Romeo and Juliet led to the new tradition of tolerance and understanding. Their deaths, though tragic, were not entirely in vain.

When I see this card in a reading, I immediately think of the musical "Fiddler on the Roof," and the classic song, "Tradition." We should never let ourselves become so ingrained in tradition that we forget to think about why we do the things that we do. It is the WHY that is the important aspect of our actions, whether in love, life, or death.

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