Once we have agreed upon to start our journey the first card we come to is that of the Magician, and just like the Fool, the character in the card is young and just beginning to open their eyes to the world around them. In truth, though, the word is misleading. The figure in robes is more like an Apprentice, for the he or she is just beginning to learn their craft. In the original Rider-Waite deck the Magician learned his art from the Greek sun god, Apollo, though the Egyptian Ra or Isis, the Chinese god Taiyang Shen, or even the Aztec’s Tonatiuh — solar deities all — could teach us as well. It was to the sun the ancients of the world first turned to for warmth and wisdom — the “magic” that so many look for and so little find — and so it will be for us.
The young Magician stands before a table that contains his tools of the trade; the chalice and pentagram as well as the ceremonial knives. At his feet is a garden of herbs and flowers, for the Root Witches of Europe had knowledge over the world and knew how to cure and curse in equal measures back before the patriarchal religions rose to power. Above the Magician’s head is the ancient symbol of eternity, while in his right hand is a wand raised towards the sky, the element known as “æther,” and his left hand points to the ground, allowing him to be the conduit that combines heaven and earth.
I have never liked the word Magician, to be honest. Partly because the word is so overused in Hollywood that it has lost all meaning to me and we could be talking about a stage illusionist hired to entertain children or some farcical, Middle Earth geriatric who sneezes lightning and talks like a Shakespearean reject on the Gong Show. To me, the problem with the Magician is that he isn’t part of any community. He don’t use his skills to help others, he is simply a self-serving individual with nothing more up his sleeve than a desperate need for money and attention. Isis would not approve.
This is why I use the term Shaman in this deck, because by the very definition of a Shaman she is part of something larger than just herself and her needs. This is what separates in my mind a Shaman from a Magician or an Illusionist, though I’ve heard a lot of people call themselves Shamans, though usually at Pagan Festivals and usually in an attempt by lonely older men to get laid. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to get laid, it’s the driving force of most of Western culture, it’s why college freshmen claim to read Charles Bukowski (hurrah for virgins!) but I’d be wary of anyone who tells you that being a Shaman is difficult, or that it takes years of concentration, that there are secrets given only to a select few, yadda yadda yadda. Learning to play the oboe takes years of practice. Learning to perform brain surgery talks years of study. Learning to do what a Shaman does — i.e., leave your body and enter into the Spirit world — is frightfully easy. I would go so far as to say it is mind-bogglingly easy. Anyone can do it, right now in fact, if you’re in the mood.
That’s the key word, “in the mood.” For we are all sexual creatures with erotic cores, but if you are unwilling to tap into your ecstatic nature then you might as well go back to drinking tequila and eating peyote and sitting in the desert at midnight, trying to avoid getting stung by scorpions, for that’s about as far as you’re going to get on your shamanic journey. The reason projecting outside your own body is so simple is that we do it every time we have an orgasm. In fact, I’d go so far to say that the orgasm is the shaman’s only true tool they need.
I don’t say this lightly: the orgasm is our doorway to the divine. It opens us up, allows us to leave our ego-based Id behind for a moment and step outside of our own consciousness. It’s why people are relaxed after an orgasm, blissful, at peace. But this experience isn’t only a sexual one. The same thing happens in the creative process. The poet John Keats called it “negative ecstasy,” the process of allowing ideas bigger than himself in. It is also what we experience in meditation and prayer when we are no longer part of our body. St. John called it “the dark night of the soul” and St. Therese of Lisieux described it as “transverberation.” But whatever word you use, opening yourself up to the universe, leaving your carnal body behind and taking part in something bigger than yourself, is what a Shaman does on their spiritual journey.
So far I’ve designed three different cards, each one having elements of what I’m trying to say in them (I’ll get the combination right, sooner or later)
All three cards contain the same element: the first thing we do when we discover we have a sexual side to ourselves is to masturbate. We are amazed that there are powers in our body not always under our control. Puberty is also a shamanic journey. Some of us feel frightened because of this. Some of us are made to feel guilty or ashamed as well. Perhaps this is what those PaganFest shamans were talking about when they said “that it takes years of concentration,” that they had been so emotionally damaged by adults who hate sexuality that they’d forgotten all about the power of the orgasm? Perhaps. Healing comes in many different forms and who am I to judge the path of another?
The reason that I say what separates a Shaman from a Magician is community is that traditionally the Shaman undertook her journey on the behalf of her community. The Inuit Shamans would swim to the bottom of the ocean to beg Sedna, the personification of the raging Arctic storms, for fish for the year to come. Since Sedna had no hands they would comb out her hair and out of her tangles and bloody stumps flowed all the marine life the villagers would need. When I first started learning about Tarot I didn’t have anyone I could turn to. The Spirit world is a scary place. Bad things happen there. I got a lot of ideas from books and since I adore books I was fine with that. I was, as they say, a solitary practitioner. However, claiming I didn’t have a community wasn’t really true. I had family and friends, I had people I worked with, neighbors, schoolmates, lovers and drinking buddies. In short, everyone around me was, in one way or another, part of my community, even if to them the idea of orgasms and Shamans was silly or foolish or something nice people never talked about. In a very real way that you, reading this, are now part of my community as well. When I ask a question to the deck it helps me ground that question by asking how it will effect those around me as well as just myself. There is no crime in having a little humility, just as there is no crime in daily ecstasy. Once we feel comfortable leaving our egos behind, even for only a moment, so we can hear what this ecstatic universe is trying to tell us, then we can call ourselves Shamans as well.