Gideon the Ninth through Lenormand

(Contains major spoilers for Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, so if you’re planning to read it, you may want to come back later. Also, this post will make more sense if you know what happened in the book.)

I’d been hearing positive buzz about Gideon the Ninth for several months before it came out. Although the descriptions were catchy—”Lesbian necromancers explore a haunted gothic palace in space!”—I was having a hard time figuring out what the book was actually about. And while the cover was dramatic, it didn’t give me much of a feeling for the book, except that there would be skeletons involved. But friends were singing ecstatic (spoiler-free) praises of it, so I decided to take a chance on it. And because it was obviously about death and skeletons, I saved it for October.

Reading the book was slightly more planned than doing a reading about it. I’d done a story reading a few years ago for The Lord of the Rings, and it worked so impressively, I’d pretty much never dared another one. I’ve also used this layout for stuff I was writing. But I’d never tried doing a reading on a book before reading it. When I did this reading, I only knew what I could glean from the dust jacket summary. But even though the reading was pretty “accurate,” it’s not the sort of thing you get spoilers from.

Deck: Seventh Sphere Lenormand by Tina Gong (click to enlarge).

I like the Seventh Sphere Lenormand, but the card titles can be difficult to read. Here is a text-only version of the layout:

18-Dog, 31-Sun29-Anima, 24-Heart1-Rider, 7-Snake
15-Bear, 12-Birds23-Mice, 27-Letter6-Clouds, 10-Scythe
14-Fox, 11-Whip28-Animus, 8-Coffin32-Moon, 17-Stork

The Card Pairs

18-Dog, 31-Sun: Common keywords for the Dog include loyal and friend. But in this deck, the dog pictured reminds me more of a guard dog than a household pet. Paired with the Sun, I read this as a good servant as well as a good friend, and with that, I think of the cavaliers generally. The idea of the good servant comes up again and again in Gideon the Ninth as we meet the necromancers and their cavaliers. Obviously, we see a lot of the prickly relationship between Harrow and Gideon. The Third and Eighth Houses also have tense relationships between their necromancers and cavaliers. But other Houses show more amicable (or at least less fraught) pairings: the military hierarchy of the Second House, the happily married couple of the Fifth House, strong friendships in the Fourth and Sixth Houses. There’s even the hint of the long-ago loyalty of the cavalier Loveday to then-necromancer Cyntherea. And at the end, Harrow agrees to serve the Emperor as a Lyctor, even though her world has just fallen apart.

29-Anima (Woman), 24-Heart: Our protagonist, Gideon Nav. And yes, that was my first thought upon seeing this combination, knowing only that Gideon was female. I figured the Heart showed that she was passionate about things, like, say, getting away from the Ninth House. That wasn’t wrong, but in reading the book, I realized that Muir specifically mentions Gideon’s heart:

  • Gideon had never confronted a broken heart before. She had never gotten far enough to have her heart broken.
  • Harrow’s dark eyes were on Gideon’s, past the blade pointed at her skull. “Oh, I have hurt your heart,” she said.
  • “Harrow,” said Gideon, “if my heart had a dick, you would kick it.”

Only at the end, do we hear of Harrow’s heart, after she has absorbed Gideon: “If it had been possible to die of desolation, she would have died then and there: as it was, all she could do was lie on the bed and observe the smoking wreck of her heart.”

1-Rider, 7-Snake: The Lenormand can be wonderfully efficient. I see two meanings for this pair. To begin with, the traditional meaning of the Snake is betrayal and deception, often by a beautiful and intelligent woman. So I see this primarily as Cyntherea, for pretty much all the reasons spelled out by the end of the book and her final confession. The Rider? Well, one definition of cavalier is “a gentleman trained in arms and horsemanship.”* Cyntherea is Cyntherea the First, suggesting that she’s a cavalier of the First House. So Rider + Snake—the cavalier who’s a clever, but untrustworthy woman.

The second meaning? Gideon the Ninth is not lacking in intelligent women. Consider Ianthe Tridentarius. Ianthe betrays (Snake) Naberius Tern, her cavalier (Rider), in order to become a Lyctor.

15-Bear, 12-Birds: I did have some trouble with this pair. I see the Bear as the Emperor, but how did the Birds fit in? My best guess is the short but pivotal conversation between Harrow and the Emperor which sets up the next book in the trilogy.

23-Mice, 27-Letter: Between Gideon and Harrowhark lies the summons (Letter) from the Emperor. It began nobly enough. The Emperor tells Harrow, “I intended for the new Lyctors to become Lyctors after thinking and contemplating and genuinely understanding their sacrifice—an act of bravery, not an act of fear and desperation. Nobody was meant to lose their lives unwillingly at Canaan House.” But the summons brings them to the decay (Mice) of Canaan House, and the Emperor’s plans are corrupted (Mice again) by Cyntherea. Many die unwillingly, and the Emperor’s two new Lyctors are created through an act of fear and desperation (Harrow) and a murder (Ianthe).

6-Clouds, 10-Scythe: Traditionally, what the Scythe points at, it cuts through: in this case, the confusion of the Clouds. This pair was fairly easy to interpret, although that doesn’t mean it was less important to the story. Gideon the Ninth is in great part a mystery, and Clouds + Scythe is the characters trying to solve the mysteries.

14-Fox, 11-Whip: Another pair that is proving challenging to interpret. I’m tempted to say it represents another aspect of Gideon. This would be more physical and less psychological: she’s red-haired (the Fox can represent redheads), she’s practicing deception on Harrow’s orders (pretending to have a vow of silence, pretending to be the cavalier primary of the Ninth House), and she has been training regularly with the longsword, and more recently with the rapier (the Whip can mean repeated activities, such as physical exercise). That would put her in the reading twice, but of course the book is called Gideon the Ninth.

28-Animus (Man), 8-Coffin: Harrowhark Nonagesimus. No, Harrow isn’t a man. But I’ve noticed that the Man and Woman cards don’t necessarily represent literal men and women. Here, with the Anima already in use for Gideon, I think the Animus means “significant other.” Animus + Coffin oppose Anima + Heart across the reading, as Harrow and Gideon are opponents for most of the book.

The Coffin has a couple of meaning in this reading. First off, this is closest the Lenormand gets to representing necromancy. Putting it next to one of the people cards means that that person is a necromancer. But also, the Coffin represents the deaths of the children and teenagers sacrificed by Harrow’s parents to ensure Harrow would be born a necromancer. As she puts it, “I am exactly two hundred sons and daughters of my House, Griddle—I am the whole generation of the Ninth. I came into this world a necromancer at the expense of Drearburh’s future—because there is no future without me.”

32-Moon, 17-Stork: Transformation, especially emotional. The Moon may be the second most emotional card after the Heart, and the Heart has already been used in this reading. Harrow is now physically a Lyctor, and immortal, but she’s also emotionally not the person she was at the beginning of the book. At another level, it’s also a change (Stork) in her “career” (Moon): she’s gone from being the Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House to being Harrowhark the First.

The Lines

Unlike that first reading for The Lord of the Rings, I haven’t been able to find additional meanings in all the lines of this reading. But here are a few.

Center vertical: Gideon and Harrow are unwillingly paired and opposed in order to answer the summons to Canaan House.

Center horizontal (rearranged): The conversation with the Emperor clears up the final mysteries that came from the summons to Canaan House.

Upper left to lower right diagonal: The most powerful servants are summoned to Canaan House to win transformation.


Advising imaginary people: a tarot reading for Tara Abernathy

Quite a few years ago, I read a couple of books by James Ricklef: Tarot Tells the Tale: Explore Three Card Readings Through Familiar Stories and Tarot—Get the Whole Story: Use, Create & Interpret Tarot Spreads. In both books, Ricklef demonstrated spreads by doing readings for fictional characters as if they’d consulted him for help about the problems in their stories.

Yesterday, I wanted to do a reading, but I didn’t have any pressing questions of my own. I remembered Ricklef’s books and I’ve been meaning to try this for a while, so it seemed like a good time. I’d just finished rereading a fantasy novel called Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone (and I highly recommend it, but that’s another post). It was fresh in my mind, so I pretended that the main character, Tara Abernathy, was asking me to do a reading for her. Since unlike Ricklef’s examples, I’m using a book that many people won’t be familiar with, I’ve added a few notes for clarification.

Warning: major spoilers ahead for Three Parts Dead.

Imagining the question:

I’m a new associate at the Craft firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao. I’m on probation, my boss is sticking her neck out for me, and if I fail, my career and possibly my life are over. It’s my first case, and opposing counsel is the guy who got me thrown out of school—from about a thousand feet up in the air. I want to beat him even more than I want to win the case. Can we win? Will the firm keep me on? And will we defeat Alexander Denovo?

Since I was practicing techniques, I started with the First Operation (not shown). Although the Knight of Wands doesn’t appear in the spread, it seems like a good significator for Tara. She nearly gets herself killed twice in the early part of the book through good intentions carried out enthusiastically without considering all the ramifications. The Knight of Wands appeared in the fourth (earth) pile, so I tried to take a pragmatic, results-oriented approach to the reading.

That done, I reshuffled the cards and did a Celtic Cross spread:

Celtic Cross spread for fictional character Tara Abernathy.

  1. You: Page of Swords. This card represents you right now as you’re asking for this reading. The Page of Swords is clever, good with words (and Craft), and devious when the situation calls for it, but she lacks practical experience. I’d love to be able to tell you to take your time and learn at your own pace, but you’ve described a tense situation, and cards like the Eight of Wands and the Knight of Swords hint that things are moving quickly. So see how watchful and aware the Page looks? Stay alert and be careful.
  2. Situation: King of Wands. Fire of fire, this card most likely represents the fire god Kos Everburning, whose death is the reason you’re in Alt Coulumb in the first place.
  3. Challenge: Five of Wands. Struggle and conflict: the court case, the various creditors fighting over Kos’s debts and obligations, dealing with Shale, the Blacksuits…need I go on? Kos is the reason you’re here; this is the fight that being here involves. I know you want to hurt Denovo, but watch yourself: it can be easy to lose yourself in the fight and let anger overrule your better judgment.
  4. Foundation: Eight of Wands. It’s all coming at you at once: your new position and how much rests on your proving yourself, settling the matter of Kos’s death before his obligations come due at the dark of the moon, the murder of Judge Cabot and hiding the gargoyle, facing Denovo in court, tracing Kos’s private dealings. Everything is top priority.
  5. Recent Past: Four of Wands. A card here shows something from your past that’s over with but which influences your current situation. I’d say that’s your recent graduation from the Hidden Schools. That’s where you learned the Craft, where you met Alexander Denovo, and where you received your job offer (sort of!) from Elayne Kevarian. Ordinarily, the Four of Wands is a positive card, but since you said your graduation was promptly followed by an execution attempt, this is an ambiguous card at best in this reading. [Although not floating in the air, the castle in the background could represent the Hidden Schools.]
  6. Attitudes and Beliefs: Two of Pentacles. All that stuff I mentioned back at the Eight of Wands—the Two of Pentacles shows you’re concerned about keeping on top of it all. Reading in a vertical line from bottom to top, there are all those problems coming at you in the Eight of Wands, and you as the Page of Swords don’t have a lot of experience handling all this. Communication is vital, but you need to figure out what to say to whom to strengthen your position—and when to keep your thoughts to yourself. The Two of Pentacles shows you trying to manage all these issues. This whole situation is testing your ability to adapt to changing circumstances. It won’t be easy, it’ll stretch you to your limits, but the man hasn’t dropped those pentacles, which suggests you’ll manage.
  7. Near Future: Six of Cups. The Six of Cups is one of those cards that references the past, even when it’s sitting in a future position, as it is now. We just saw that the part of your past relevant to this reading is your time at the Hidden Schools and your graduation from there. I read the Six of Cups here as showing someone from your past offering you a gift. Maybe someone older than you, since the boy in the card looks older than the girl. The person who best fits this description tried to get you killed, so I’d be really careful about taking any favors from him in the future. Notice how the little girl isn’t reaching to accept the flowers that the boy is offering her.
  8. You as You See Yourself: Knight of Swords. You’d like to show your boss, the firm, and Denovo that you’re qualified, capable of winning, and, well, right. You wield the Craft and your knife [see book cover] as the Knight wields his sword. Remember, though, you don’t have a lot of experience yet. Focus, choose your battles, and prioritize—don’t charge at everything and everyone or you’ll waste your energies.
  9. Environment/How Others See You: Six of Swords. You were thrown out of the Hidden Schools, you fled Edgemont one step ahead of a mob, and your position with Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao is conditional on your performance in this case, which is a lot of pressure. It’d be nice if you could break with the past and make a fresh start, but what with the Four of Wands and the Six of Cups appearing in this reading, it looks like you need to wrap up some unfinished business first. The river crossing shown on this card symbolizes a rite of passage. It’s difficult, but notice how the water is rough on one side of the boat but smooth on the other. Make it, and things will probably settle down, at least for a while.*
  10. Hopes and Fears: The Emperor. You dream of becoming a respected, powerful Craftswoman. However, you know powerful authorities are either waiting to see how you’ll do (the senior partners in the firm) or are actively working against you (Denovo).
  11. Outcome: Death. Given that your field is necromancy, Death may be more literal here than for other people. This card generally means transformation, and in your case, it may be saying that yes, you stand a chance of being a bona fide Craftswoman (necromancer) at your firm, assuming everything else goes well—remember, there are a lot of opportunities for everything else to fall apart! Winning the case counts as beating Denovo, correct? [In Denovo’s case, death was literal. Also, Kos Everburning comes back to life, an option for gods, perhaps signified in this card by the (fiery) sun rising on the horizon.]

Oh, that was fun! I should try this again sometime.

*Tara Abernathy is also in Four Roads Cross. I haven’t read it yet, but its mere existence suggests that her life will become unsettled again.

Review: Tarot Beyond the Basics

I like tarot. I like astrology. So when a book comes along promising to tell me about tarot and astrology together, I get all excited and read it as soon as possible. This was how I connected with Tarot Beyond the Basics: Gain a Deeper Understanding of the Meanings Behind the Cards by Anthony Louis. While the book and I weren’t a perfect fit, I learned a lot from reading it, and there are parts I want to study further, and that’s pretty good in my experience.

Tarot Beyond the Basics by Anthony Louis

First off, this is not a beginner’s book.* In fact, I wondered if the astrology had gone beyond what could overwhelm someone who only knew the tarot. Louis invites the reader to skim the chapter on astrology and come back later to reread it if it gets to be too much, and I suspect the reader new to astrology will have to do just that. That said, I appreciated the amount of material he included on the decans. I’ve picked up some information about them from my own astrological studies, but I run into them more often in tarot than astrology. Several other tarot books I’ve read mention the decans, but Louis goes into more depth about why they mean what they mean. For instance, I’ve known for years that the Ten of Swords is matched with the Sun decan of Gemini, but since the Sun and Gemini aren’t an unusually nasty combination in astrology, I’ve never understood why it was paired with one of the tarot’s more alarming cards. Louis provides that explanation. This is inspiring me to look up more of these associations and try to puzzle out their meanings. Louis also demonstrates using the tarot to add detail when interpreting a natal or horary chart, and I’ve definitely got to try that technique at some point.

I’ve been fascinated with the four elements since childhood. This was magnified a bit a few years ago when I learned about the qualities (hot, cold, wet, dry) and how they combine to form the elements. Now, matching the elements to the court cards is fairly standard, but in this book, Louis writes about the court cards with both the elements and the qualities factored in. He devotes an entire chapter to this, so there’s no way I can summarize it adequately in a paragraph, but I’m hoping that studying this will help me get a better grasp on these cards, whether they’re representing people, situations, aspects of my own personality, or whatever.

Other chapters focus less on looking at how other systems interact with the tarot and more with aspects of the tarot itself. Louis has included in-depth discussions of the Celtic Cross spread, reading reversals, and the role of intuition in readings. That last chapter concludes with a survey of other ways to read the tarot besides intuition. We’re often taught that the intuitive approach is the “right” way to read the tarot (let go of that LWB!). I’m not planning to drop that approach any time soon, but I think practicing some of those other methods would be good. Indeed, I suspect that’s what I’ve been doing while learning how to read Lenormand cards.

No, some parts just didn’t interest me as much. Louis has a good long chapter on numerology, and that’s definitely useful when you’re working with the Minor Arcana, but numerology has never been one of my favorite systems, and I found myself skimming this chapter more than most. Ditto for the chapter on the Major Arcana. And even though I generally like Louis’ writing style, sometimes I felt like some points had gone past explanation and were being belabored. Plus, the book hit one of my pet peeves: no index. You can only get away with no index if you have a detailed table of contents, and Tarot Beyond the Basics doesn’t. Aargh!

This isn’t the only book that moves beyond the basics of tarot, of course. Corrine Kenner’s Tarot and Astrology: Enhance Your Readings with the Wisdom of the Zodiac (my review) does an excellent job of explaining, uh, tarot and astrology. Rachel Pollack’s Tarot Wisdom: Spiritual Teachings and Deeper Meanings is almost 500 pages of numerology, symbolism, and historical meanings in addition to new spreads. Nor are they the only ones. But at this point there’s room for more, and Tarot Beyond the Basics is worth adding to your “advanced tarot” bookshelf.


*There are many excellent books for beginners out there. One happens to be by Anthony Louis as well: Tarot Plain and Simple.

Book musings: A Religion of One’s Own

Late last year, I learned that Thomas Moore was coming out with a new book. Moore is one of my favorite authors, so this was an occasion for happiness, joy, and listing the book-to-be on my holiday wish list. To add to the excitement, the book was going to be on developing your own religion/spirituality, a topic that I’ve been interested in for years. Now I haven’t absolutely adored everything Moore has written, so I was trying to have realistic expectations for the whole thing, but when the book arrived, my carefully prepared caution evaporated and I plunged into it. And it has done what it was “supposed” to do. I finished it weeks ago, and I’m still thinking about it and the issues Moore tackles. I’m glad I read it and it was an enjoyable book to read. Even better, it’s given me ideas to work with.

A Religion of One's Own: A Guide to Creating a Personal Spirituality in a Secular World by Thomas Moore
A Religion of One’s Own: A Guide to Creating a Personal Spirituality in a Secular World by Thomas Moore

Moore’s concern is that the soul—the more watery/earthy part of us, as compared to our airy/fiery spirit—needs religion to counter the numbing secularism of our culture. Despite the phrase “personal spirituality” in the subtitle, Moore names his interest “personal religion.” It’s a difference in focus: to Moore, spirituality is internal and abstract—the term suggests that it feeds your spirit more than your soul—while religion is grounding, encourages you to be aware of the sacred, and inspires you to act morally and ethically in the everyday world. A personal religion isn’t an isolated one.

I think the way Moore used the word religion distracted me from fully understanding the points he was trying to make. He’s careful to explain up front that he’s using the words soul and religion a bit differently than their everyday meanings, and I get why he decided to do so. But it’s hard to instantly adopt new definitions. Having read his earlier books, in which he’s discussed the soul at great length—he’s probably best known for writing Care of the Soul—I’m used to that word, but his take on religion was new to me with this book. Without noticing, I fell back on the familiar definitions like “the belief in a god or a group of gods” and “an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods” (Merriam-Webster). With that in mind, I was expecting instructions or a list or something that would spell out exactly how I should go about creating a personal religion. And since that wasn’t the book that Moore had written, I was disappointed when I finished reading it. But what Moore is doing in A Religion of One’s Own is offering suggestions on how to see the sacred in everyday life and to live more soulfully. Once that finally dawned on me—some time after finishing it—I liked the book more. Although I’ve got to admit some part of me still wants a convenient set of instructions that will spell out precisely how to create my own religion and save me the trouble of wrestling with it!

Many of Moore’s suggestions will sound familiar to Pagan readers, and I’m glad to see them, not only because they’re the kinds of activities and practices I’m interested in anyway, but because Moore is so matter-of-fact about including them. See, years ago, when he wasn’t nearly as well-known, he wrote a book called The Planets Within, which was largely about astrology and magic. The tone of the book wavered, as if Moore felt torn between an admiration for astrology and a sensitivity to the fact that if you want to be taken seriously outside of the New Age genre, writing about astrology as if you take it seriously is a no-no. By now, it’s like he came to peace with it. He writes about astrology and magic as things that you might want to include in your own religion, and he comes across as comfortable saying so. (Now if he’d revise The Planets Within in this mature self-assurance…no? Oh well.) He devotes a chapter to working with your dreams, and refers to the tarot, the I Ching, and reading tea leaves. Because he isn’t tied to any particular tradition, his suggestions cover including music and the arts in your practice, considering angels and muses, some practices from psychology, recognizing a daimon or genius or juno, and learning to see the mystical in the everyday.

Even though I’ve got a better idea of what the book is about now, I still have some reservations about parts of it. For instance, I’m certain that Moore has given this idea of creating your own religion a great deal of thought, because he’s touched on it in other books that I’ve read, and because just what’s in this book refers to a lifetime of experience with religion and spirituality. He advocates looking at the various faith traditions of the world, learning from them, and borrowing from them as seems appropriate—another suggestion that eclectic Pagans will be familiar with! At the beginning of the book, he mentions a common criticism of this approach: that it’s using religion like a cafeteria or salad bar. He responds that that doesn’t bother him and adds, “There’s no reason why you can’t go deep into the teachings and even the practices of a formal tradition without surrendering to the whole religion.” I agree with him on this point, but I think the criticism is often about people who don’t go deeply into a tradition before taking what interests them. He’s not oblivious to this distinction, but since the thrust of the book is towards creating your own spirituality, I’m not sure he was comfortable dealing with the downside. (All of this is pure speculation on my part, but I can’t shake the feeling.)

So, food for thought, ideas for practice. I hope to learn from this book and maybe someday have a practice that I can honestly call a religion of my own.

The astrology of Doctor Who

Way back when, in the first round of my love of Doctor Who, I did an event chart for the program. I do that for my most favorite shows because I have this theory that the chart for the program works as a natal chart for the best-known character on the show. With Doctor Who, the chart should describe the essential characteristics that all the Doctors share. Even though the new Doctors renewed my love for the show, I didn’t think about that chart again until recently. What with this being the 50th anniversary of the premiere, people have been writing about that first episode, giving the time and date of that first broadcast. Combined with location—the BBC is headquartered in London—and there’s enough to cast an astrological chart. For old times’ sake, I decided to cast the chart again and have a quick look at it.

Doctor Who astrological chart


The strongest elements in the chart are fire and air. The fire planets, in red, are easy to see in the chart. Someone with a lot of fire in their chart (like the Doctor) is often intense, enthusiastic, optimistic, and idealistic. Strong fire can also symbolize a dominating personality, someone who can ride over others with the sheer force of their personality. At first glance, air (shown in yellow) doesn’t seem to be all that prominent in this chart. However, it includes the Moon and the Ascendant, two of the three most important parts of a chart. This much air suggests that the Doctor takes a rational, logical approach to life. He’s talkative and loves to socialize, although at the same time, he is somewhat detached and distant.

The emphasis on fire and air means that earth (green) and water (blue) are comparatively weak. Neither element is absent, but the earth and water planets in this chart are Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, and the sign placements of the outer planets show the tendencies of a generation rather than an individual. The Doctor’s weakest element is water. Now obviously, he’s not an uncaring soul. How many episodes show how much he loves Earth, the human race, and/or other species? But he doesn’t like to express his feelings directly, and he’s been known to try to avoid painful situations. Likewise, low earth doesn’t mean the Doctor is wholly impractical, but thanks to this being a science fiction program, he can be depicted as literally ungrounded: not staying long on any planet or time.

The modes are also not very balanced. Not surprisingly, the Doctor is strongly mutable, with six of nine planets plus the Ascendant in mutable signs. The mutable mode is restless, variable, and changeable (this is someone who changes his entire body and personality: the epitome of mutability!). It’s versatile—the Doctor seems to know at least something about almost any topic imaginable and has an almost unimaginable range of skills—but isn’t goal-oriented. There’s only one planet in this chart in a cardinal sign, the mode that initiates action. This fits the Doctor: mostly content to just observe life and drift along. Luckily the writers keep dropping him into unstable situations that force him to act or the show would probably have been cancelled in its first season.

The Sun, the Moon, and the Ascendant

In a birth chart, the Sun represents the sense of self, the ego; it’s the center of the personality the way the physical Sun is the center of the solar system. With his Sun in Sagittarius, the Doctor is optimistic, adventurous, a lover of truth and freedom, with a philosophical bent and a love of travel. He is also undisciplined and outspoken, which can annoy both friends and enemies at times.

The Moon represents feelings, emotions, habits, and security needs. Remember how the Doctor is strong in air and weak in water? This repeats that theme. Having the Moon in Aquarius shows that the Doctor is sociable, idealistic, and a humanitarian, but he’s probably not comfortable with open displays of emotion. He finds it easier to care for entire species than individuals, and he needs his freedom and a certain amount of detachment.

The Ascendant is the sign that was on the eastern horizon at the moment of birth (or broadcast, in this case). It represents outer appearance, the persona we use to deal with others, and the first impression we give others. The Doctor’s Ascendant is in Gemini. Gemini rising is talkative, clever, changeable, and adaptable. No matter which actor has played the Doctor, most of the eleven incarnations have been, ah, loquacious. Villains, and sometimes companions, probably wish he’d shut up for a few minutes—and start to worry if he actually did so. Changeable? The Doctor changes his appearance and personality more thoroughly than most other characters except maybe Dax from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I think individual Doctors would be better described with different Ascendants: perhaps Capricorn for the First Doctor (Hartnell), Libra for the Third Doctor (Pertwee), Scorpio for the Ninth Doctor (Eccleston), and so on. But for the Doctor as a whole: ever-changing, talkative, knowledgeable about practically everything in the universe, Gemini Rising is oh so appropriate.


Okay, that’s not a complete natal analysis by any means: a thorough exploration of a natal chart could go on for pages and wouldn’t easily fit in a blog post. But this is enough to highlight major themes of the chart. I’m kind of amazed that despite so many different actors, writers, and directors over the years, the core character of the Doctor has remained essentially the same, and I love how the chart of the TV show mirrors that core. But then, stuff like that is a great part of why I love astrology in the first place.

Message fail?

Having recently written a post on kitchen witchery, the topic is still on my mind, along with vague intentions of practicing it some more. In one of those probably-not-true-synchronicity-but-close-enough coincidences, recommended Grimoire of a Kitchen Witch: An Essential Guide to Witchcraft by Rachel Patterson to me today.  Interested, I clicked through to the book description to find out more, which happened to also enlarge the book cover:

Grimoire of a Kitchen Witch book cover

Yes, that’s a skull. Okay, kitchen witchery and cooking are two different topics, but there can be a lot of overlap between them, and there are good reasons publishers tend not to put skulls on the covers of cookbooks. A skull doesn’t suggest “delicious food” or “healthy recipes inside;” it says “death.” This looks like an excellent cover for a book on necromancy; for a book on kitchen witchery, it seems incongruous as all get-out. Adding to the dissonance, the reviewers quoted on the publisher’s website describe the book as “very helpful,” “friendly,” “playful,” and “sprinkled with humour.” One writes, “If the word ‘grimoire’ makes you think of a book of dark rites to perform, maybe involving conjuring up the devil, think again. The Grimoire of a Kitchen Witch is more a book of brilliant spells you could do, maybe while conjuring up the odd cake.” I believe them. This could very well be a fine book, although I’m going to wait for a few customer reviews before deciding whether or not to buy it. But I’m utterly bewildered as to what about this cover design says kitchen witchery. The egg timer?

My first Greek myths

Over the past year or so, I’ve been drifting back into more active Pagan practice. I didn’t expect this to remind me of when I first got into Wicca, but that’s exactly what’s happening. In one sense, I feel as if I’m beginning, but true to the image of life being a spiral, I’m not in the same place I was twenty-odd years ago. Then…well, then was a whole new world, a world of magic, the Wheel of the Year, a Goddess as well as a God, and all the things that fill the Wicca 101 books. Now is that same world, so to speak, but less generic. I’m trying to figure out what parts of Paganism really speak to me as opposed to being a great theory but nothing deeper. If a philosophy such as Stoicism proves to be helpful, then I want to incorporate it into my life, even if it isn’t what most of us consider part of modern Paganism. Instead of Wicca’s Goddess and God, I find myself drawn towards the gods of ancient Greece and Rome. And so on. But like then, I’m thinking back to the very first Pagan influences in my life and seeing which threads have carried on throughout my life.

It wouldn’t be accurate either to credit or blame my parents for the path I’m on, but they did influence me. One of the most influential things they did was to introduce me to Greek mythology at an early age. On some long-forgotten visit to the library, I came home with D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths. I must have borrowed it repeatedly for years, since my aunt was impressed enough with my love of it to give me my own copy when I was ten. (Really, the gift may simply have been to let other kids have a chance at getting the library’s copy.)

Book of Greek Myths cover
There’s the culprit!

Understand: although my parents made sure I knew the standard fairy tales, it was Greek mythology that shaped my childhood. Perhaps any children’s book of Greek mythology would have triggered this love, but I only remember this one—at a certain unreasoning level, D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths is Greek mythology for me. I think what this book had going for it was its narrative (rather than its often monochrome illustrations). Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire managed to take a wild assortment of Greek myths, likely  supplemented with a few Roman myths in disguise, and turn it into one big story, more or less.

The d’Aulaires never mention Christianity or any other modern religion; their world of Greek mythology exists in its own perfect, separate bubble. They included a map, so I could figure out where all these stories were taking place, and a bunch of family trees so that I could keep all the characters straight. The authors included much of what was needed to make this a child’s introductory textbook to Greek mythology; I doubt they ever imagined it also worked as a child’s textbook to Greek religion. The versions of the myths that I learned in this book became my standard versions, and even decades later, I have trouble accepting different versions as “true,” even though intellectually I understand that there were often several variations of each myth at any one time. I joke sometimes that while other children were raised on fairy tales, I was raised on Greek mythology. But it occurs to me now that while I probably had more formal teaching about Jesus’ life and the basics of Christianity, it’s likely that I actually put my heart into learning about the Greek gods.

The d’Aulaires ended their book on a dreary note:

Everything must come to an end, and so did the rule of Zeus and the other Olympian gods. All that is left of their glory on earth are broken temples and noble statues. Also the Muses fell silent, but their songs live on to this very day, and the constellations put up by the gods still glitter on the dark blue vault of the sky.

By adult standards, it’s a rushed ending. On the previous page, the authors are summing up the Aeneid and comparing the names of the Greek and Roman gods, giving no hint that all of this is suddenly going to just stop. Even by a child’s standards, the lack of explanation is frustrating. Why did the rule of the Olympians end? Why did the Muses stop singing? Why did the temples get broken, but the constellations were all right? If I asked my parents these questions, I have no memory of what they told me. Basically, after the first few times I read that page, I stopped turning to it. That way, the world in my book just went on. And as it turns out, the d’Aulaires were wrong in a way that they (probably) couldn’t have known, since there are people living today who honor the Olympians.

Review: Tarot and Astrology: Enhance Your Readings with the Wisdom of the Zodiac

Tarot and Astrology: Enhance Your Readings with the Wisdom of the Zodiac
Tarot and Astrology: Enhance Your Readings with the Wisdom of the Zodiac by Corrine Kenner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Different as they are, the symbolism used in the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot and the Crowley-Harris Thoth tarot is based heavily on astrology. Unfortunately, most introductory tarot books only mention astrology in passing, if at all. Meanwhile, beginning astrology students aren’t likely to come across any references to the tarot unless they’re studying with a teacher who mentions it. Tarot and Astrology aims to bridge this gap, and succeeds for the most part.

I think this book would be best suited for someone who already had a background in either tarot or astrology; it might overwhelm someone unfamiliar with either. And I think it’s tilted slightly (very slightly) in favor of the astrologer learning about tarot, simply because that’s how most of the material is organized. Kenner begins by introducing the Major Arcana of the tarot, but instead of presenting each card in the standard order of the Major Arcana, they’re listed in astrological order, first the cards that correlate to the planets followed by those that correlate to the signs of the zodiac. She does the same thing with the Minor Arcana and the Court Cards. But for those who know the cards better than the planets and signs, an list in tarot order is located at the beginning of the book for quick reference.

Kenner also manages to fit in an introduction to the Qabalah and how both tarot and astrology relate to it, listing the Qabalistic associations for each card in its description. In addition, she generously includes quite a few tarot spreads, both simple and complex. While I recognized the classic Houses of the Horoscope spread, the rest were unfamiliar to me and I’m guessing they’re Kenner’s own invention (It would have been nice to have had a separate list of the spreads to make them easier to find, especially as the book lacks an index, but this is a quibble.)

The book is illustrated throughout with the Wizards Tarot, a deck created by Kenner. While I really like this deck in its own right, I don’t believe it was the best choice for a book like this. Kenner’s descriptions of how the pictures on the cards relate to astrology sometimes only fit these particular illustrations. Since I suspect this book will reach a wider audience than this deck will, I think the RWS deck or one of its close clones would have been more familiar to readers.

Overall, this book would be a good introduction to astrology or tarot for people somewhat familiar with either. But I’d also recommend it for people who have worked with both, since Kenner has crammed in so much information that even the experienced are likely to find the book interesting.

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Review: Pagan Spirituality: A Guide to Personal Transformation

Well, duh. If I want to talk about an idea I found in a book, I can’t assume anyone reading this blog has read that book. And when I do talk about that idea, spending a chunk of time explaining what the book was about in the first place will just be a distraction. So here’s my review of Pagan Spirituality: A Guide to Personal Transformation, so that there’ll be a smidgen of context when I want to get deeper into the book.

Pagan Spirituality
Pagan Spirituality: A Guide to Personal Transformation by Joyce & River Higginbotham

In one sense, Pagan Spirituality is a typical advanced Paganism book: rituals, guided meditations, journaling exercises, etc., all designed to help you progress spiritually. In another sense, this is nothing like most Paganism books, advanced or otherwise. The Higginbothams pull from the works of Ken Wilbur, Jim Marion, and Don Beck and Christopher Cowan to create a Pagan model of spiritual growth and development. Beginning with an archaic, infantile state and moving through progressively more complicated developmental stages (roughly equivalent to preschool, childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, etc.), the authors describe how people at different stages approach Paganism, ethics, and magical practice. The exercises are included to help readers see ways that this model describes their own experiences. Scattered throughout the book are suggestions for those who teach Paganism on how to work with students at these different stages, along with warning signs of how people at each stage may have trouble working in a class setting. I found the whole concept fascinating: so few authors bring this depth of thought to Pagan practice.

There were a few drawbacks. I thought the labyrinth meditations were repetitive to the point of annoyance to read, although that’s deliberate on the authors’ part, and I understand why they chose that approach. And without reading the original writers they draw from, I’m not sure if the Higginbothams are representing their ideas accurately, or in context. (For example, a quick scan of the Wikipedia article on Spiral Dynamics (Beck and Cowan’s theory) mentioned several criticisms that didn’t make it into Pagan Spirituality.) But overall, I recommend this as a thought-provoking change of pace from most Paganism books.

My rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Review: Moon Phase Astrology: The Lunar Key to Your Destiny

Moon Phase Astrology: The Lunar Key to Your DestinyMoon Phase Astrology: The Lunar Key to Your Destiny by Raven Kaldera
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lots of books discuss Sun-sign astrology. This is a book of Moon-sign astrology. In fact, it’s a deluxe book of Moon-sign astrology, because the author not only talks about the Moon in each of the 12 signs of the zodiac, but also traces it through each of its 8 phases. 12 x 8 = 96 descriptions to enjoy. Each sign/phase combination has three parts: an in-depth description of the archetype Kaldera has chosen to symbolize the pairing (Queen’s Moon, Shield-Father’s Moon, etc.), some suggestions on activities for the few days each year the Moon is in that phase and sign, and a description of what people who have that sign/phase combination in their charts are like.

Like Kaldera’s other books, I found Moon Phase Astrology to be a good read. Each description builds on the descriptions that come before it, so there’s a story about growth and maturing for each of the twelve signs. I think this book fits in almost as a bridge between Mythastrology: Exploring Planets & Pantheons, which uses myths to illustrate all the planets in the signs, and Pagan Astrology: Spell-Casting, Love Magic, and Shamanic Stargazing, which has suggestions for rituals, altars, and activities for the different features in an astrological chart. My only major concern is that I had trouble recognizing myself or other people I know in Kaldera’s descriptions of how these Moon phases manifest in real people’s lives. I plan to look into this further however. But even if the descriptions never do ring bells with me, I still found the book to be worth reading.

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