Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Major Arcana: Wisdom

Following the Magic card is the Wisdom Card, depicted by the lovers Shahrazade and Shahriyar. In the Ryder-Waite deck, the II card is The High Priestess. Here, Shahrazade fulfills that role.

We encounter the story of this powerful woman through the collection of tales known as The Arabian Nights, or A Thousand and One Nights, which first emerged sometime during the tenth century. These tales were popularized during the 18th century, as Europeans became preoccupied by the lands of the Orient. The title of the work refers to the framing device it employs: it is the tale of 1001 nights, over which Shahrazade, the wise bride of King Shahriyar, tells the many stories of the work, in order to save her life.

Shahrazade was not the king's first wife.

Shahriyar's first wife, whom he believed to be completely faithful, was caught in the throes of infidelity. The king was so outraged that he ordered her execution for her indescretion. It was this series of events that would change Shahriyar from a benevolent leader into a distrustful despot. From that moment forward, he suspected all women of treachery and deceit, and refused ever to be betrayed again.

To ensure this fidelity, he swore only to wed virgin brides, whom he would immediately behead the morning after the wedding night.

Naturally, this practice could not continue. Girls were frightened for their lives, for they could not refuse the king without putting their families at risk. It was Shahrazade who would find the solution.

Shahrazade courted the king.

She volunteered to by Shahriyar's next bride, and he was so impressed by her bravery that he wed her. However, he steadied his heart at her beauty and wit, and resolved that the tradition would continue, and she would die just like those who preceded her.

The wedding night passed.

Then, just as the king was about to fall into slumber, his new bride began to tell him a tale. Despite his exhaustion the king was spellbound by her storytelling. The tale was filled with unexpected plot twists, reversals of fortune, courageous heroes, and fantastical genies and monsters. Shahrazade had managed to pull together the elements of all of the world's greatest literature in a single tale.

The storytelling lasted long into the night, and just as the sun was about to rise, the tale reached its most exciting climax.

And Shahrazade stopped speaking.

The king, determined to hear the end of the story, realized that he could not kill his bride now. She had to finish the tale.

Night after night, the young bride continued to weave her tale, as her husband hung on her every word. Tales intertwined with new tales, endless in their clever variations.

The result was always the same. Morning after morning, Shahriyar spared her life. Soon, a thousand and one nights had passed. During this time, Shahrazade's wisdom secured the king's love and trust. In doing so, she saved her life, and those of her fellow women. In her infinite wisdom and creativity, Shahrazade was able to find the means to right the wrongs of the existing situation.

On this card, Shahrazade is portrayed as she tells a breathtaking tale to her enthralled husband. Notice that the sun is rising behind them, revealing the end of yet another Arabian night. Her face is serene with the knowledge that she will live to see another day.

When the Wisdom card appears in a reading, it signifies knowledge and intelligence, or wisdom gained from education. It may represent translating book learning into understanding, or a teacher who will share with you what you are seeking. It may also signify using education to improve your life and the lives of others, or using wisdom to transform a difficult situation for the better.

When the card appears in the reversed or weakly aspected position, it symbolizes an unwillingness to learn, or an overreliance on the intellect or facts, rather than following intuition. It could also represent superficiality or intimidation by intelligence or education. Often this card signifies that the querent is feeling limited by a lack of knowledge or understanding.

We saw with the Magic Card that the power of love could overcome even the most powerful of magical spells. Here, we see that wisdom and enlightenment can provide solutions to even the most vexing and dangerous of situations. Simply by using her talents and her knowledge, Shahrazade was able to transform a deadly situation into one of long-lasting love and trust.

We should follow Shahrazade's lead, and listen more keenly to our intuitive nature. The proper path is not always the most clearly lit; sometimes we must follow deep into the night to find the dawn that will show us the way.

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