Stories are an integral part of the practice of many modern Druids. They offer gateways to spiritual contemplation in their telling and receiving. In my studies with the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD) I combined my previous meditative practices with Tarot and my developing druidic path. This blog is an update of one I had previously submitted to the Tarot Association of the British Isles (TABI). I thought I’d take the opportunity to embed some further reflections.
The tale of Cerridwen and the brewing of the Awen is a classic, used in some Druidic schools to help explore ideas. I chose this story as a basis for this exercise and repeated it for this blog. I found cards I felt represented the main characters involved, others to represent the activity and how characters changed. The process of identifying the cards was important, reflecting first on the character or the event, then considering which cards would best represent them. In this process the context of the cards was set. I utilised the Druidcraft Tarot for this work.
The full spread is offered below. The characters on the left; the Death card hovering overhead, as the expected death of the King overshadows the nub of the story – Cerridwen’s desire to help her dark son become wise in a way that the meant those who mock his misshapen form would respect him. The photo below shows the characters. The story line flows from the King’s place – with the Queen of Swords representing the Queen / goddesses decision to take action. She travels to the Druids on the hill. Here the Druidcraft Tarot comes into its own, the Fferyllt demonstrating the magic brew and the very cauldron in which the Awen is brewed.
A boy (the Fool) and an old man of good standing (Two of Wands) are hired to stir the brew for a year and a day. It all goes a bit wrong (Three of Swords) and the boy becomes The Magician – later The Sun. Cerridwen becomes The High Priestess. If you don’t know the story I encourage you to look it up. It’s wonderful!
In laying out the cards I get a sense of elements of the story I am drawn to. I might lay out a different part of the tale, perhaps Cerridwen’s search for ingredients to make the magical brew, perhaps the famous shape changing chase, perhaps the very moment the cauldron cracks. Choosing the cards for each part of the tale will help me explore my thoughts and understanding.
Next I chose to “interview” the story. I ask Morfran, Cerridwen’s son, what it is he is hoping for as the story begins. Below we see the Nine of Swords: A sense of either no hope, or a need to conquer fears and doubts. I ask what the work of the boy (The Fool) and the old man (two of Wands) is: I draw Strength and The High Priest. Just what I might expect.
The meditation I engaged in whilst undertaking my OBOD studies really helped me in my journey. Stories have a myriad of tangents to travail, characters to ‘interview’, events to explore. I have gone on to use another process, inspired by this, as part of my magickal works with Tarot, something I’ll be returning to soon. Along with this came another gift. In the true spirit of the Awen I found that my meditation had planted the seeds of a song – A Mother’s Love – that tells Cerridwen’s story in searching for the Awen for her son. So as a use for Tarot I found it to be a cornucopia of great things and stuff!
Since then I have used this story setting approach to the use of tarot on a few occasions when I have wanted to reflect upon my experiences and challenge my own thinking. I often think that the main role of the tarot is to “call me out” – challenge my thinking, point out to me my foolishness. It can act as a very harsh and critical friend – but a friend none the less. I have recently received an unexpected communication from someone I had thought of as a friend / fellow creative type. It was in response to my announcing a gig I had been booked to play (I do some solo music stuff – check it out!). It would seem there were some pagan politics being experienced that, somehow (I still don’t know – or care – how) meant I was due to be insulted. However, when the person involved stated “No – I’m not abusing you – this is a discussion” I thought it might be time to step back and seek some counsel. So to the tarot I did go.
I followed a similar process to that described above – gently meditating on the characters and the incidents involved in this particular narrative. I set my mind to a neutral space, exploring the cards as opportunities to consider and explore. I interviewed the story, drawing cards and considering their potential meanings in the context of the tale. This really helped me make some decisions and reconfigure some of my plans around my music. Several of these thoughts were reconfirmed following further communications with others around the incident. I also laid some cards at the front of the story, seeking to understand where the core to the tale might have been. Characters emerged, confusions, and I gained a thought to what might have been an instigation. Elements of these thoughts also later appeared to be accurate. That’s a new thing for me in this practice, to utilise the cards to seek insights / information not otherwise available to me. Whether this is actually what happened, or whether my brain pulled on existing knowledge and made a lucky couple of guesses, I don’t know….. so I’ll try it again with other readings.
This approach to meditating and reflecting with the tarot is proving to be very productive for me – leaving ideas to work on, suggesting different course of action than I might otherwise take. Is it divine inspiration? Is it the Awen in flow? Is it the sub-conscious finding a way to express itself to the conscious mind? Is it all this? More? Is this the last question? Who knows?
Paul Mitchell is a Druid graduate of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. He has a long, if intermittent, relationship with Tarot and the practices of magick. He is a musician, performing solo as well as with the English Folk group Mad Magdalen and more recently the rather splendid Dad Band – Fortunate Sons. Find him on Facebook by searching for @theragingpagan