A guest post by Joanna Powell Colbert
I had long loved the rich archetypal imagery of the tarot, and had toyed with the idea of creating my own deck. But it wasn’t until I was seized with the idea of using the structure of the tarot to reveal the wisdom of the Earth, that I was ready to begin.
The Gaian Tarot was born out of my own experience of listening to the Earth and connecting with Her in a deep way. In fact my ulterior motive in creating the deck was to encourage people to connect more deeply with the earth, right in their own neighborhoods, communities and backyards. I believe that we are in a reciprocal relationship with the Earth, and this idea is woven throughout the Gaian Tarot.
Nature is our teacher and our healer, and we in turn need to nourish and heal Her.
In the deck, I hold the vision of a community of people living lightly on the earth, and I point to the possibility of seeking the natural world as the source of wisdom. It’s a vision that is rooted in reality, based on people that I know in my own community.
In the end, I want people to put down their cards and go outside to connect directly with Mama Gaia. In a recent workshop, a woman asked me: “Does every card in this deck say to go outside??” and I laughed and answered: “Pretty much, yes!”
The images of the Gaian Tarot are rooted in my own beloved Place in the Pacific Northwest (although there are a few images that reflect a pilgrimage I took to the UK while I was working on the deck).
During the time I was creating the deck, one of the questions that came up for me was this one:
What does it mean to become native to your Place?
Using the word “native” can be tricky here in North America, because the relationship between the indigenous peoples and people of European ancestry can be problematic at times. There are many First Nations peoples who strongly object to any non-native person learning traditional spiritual practices. Many of us, out of respect and acknowledgement of the wrongs done to them by our ancestors, have turned away from studying Native American spirituality. Instead we study the practices of our own ancestral lines.
My studies of the Celtic myths of my own heritage have been rich. But a problem arose for me when I realized the obvious: that I don’t live in the land of my ancestors. I live here, in North America. More specifically I live in the Pacific Northwest, the Cascadia Bioregion, in an inland second-growth forest. And I often visit my former home on an island in the San Juan archipelago.
As I fell more and more in love with the land where I lived, I learned the stories and myths of the first peoples who lived here. At the same time I began my naturalist studies. It became very meaningful to me to compare the myths of my Celtic heritage with the myths of the Northwest, especially the stories of the plants and animals who live in both places (like the magical hawthorn tree and the salmon of wisdom).
So what happened for me was a marriage of ancestry and place. I studied my Celtic heritage, but also learned as much as I could about my Place, and the ways that the original peoples first interacted with the land and the waters.
But there is another, more important reason for becoming native to your place: the earth needs it. Non-indigenous Americans have been incredibly destructive to the land in large part because we don’t believe we are native to the earth. We’ve been taught to believe we transcend it.
If we each fell so deeply in love with the land where we live, we would defend it with our lives, and the whole world would be covered.
How then does each of us become native to the Place where we live?
It has to do with listening, and connecting. Getting to know the Place where you live so intimately that you identify with it. Gary Snyder says, “. . . if you know what is taught by the plants and weather, you are in on the gossip and can truly feel more at home.”
So I’ve learned to be in on the gossip of my Place.
I watch as the Steller’s jays squabble over the sunflower seeds I set out for them and notice the towhees and juncos who quietly await their turn at the feeder.
I wait for the red-flowering currant to show up in bright pink and magenta on early spring days, when the landscape is otherwise still brown and grey.
I know where the chickaree (Douglas squirrel) hides her stash of seeds and nuts in the autumn, and what part of the woods holds the most luscious mushrooms.
I know the slough where the great blue heron lives and when the tree frogs will begin their chorus in the spring.
I know how far north the sun sets at midsummer, and how low in the sky it rides at noon in midwinter.
This, then, is how we become native to the land: by loving her well, first of all. By observing, being aware, studying, and participating in the life cycle of the land instead of dominating it.
We do this by keeping nature journals, by gardening with native plants, by sitting so still the birds forget we’re there. We do it by creating beautiful artwork and contemplative photography that is inspired by the natural beauty all around us.
We do it by sitting under a Grandmother Cedar tree and allowing our consciousness to sink deeply into its roots. By introducing ourselves to the tree and asking “May we have a conversation?” then listening with the inner ear for a response.
By going on a Praise Walk, and noticing everything there is to see, and singing or speaking or dancing our gratitude and praise.
By listening. By listening with our inner ear and our outer ear, to what the Earth has to say to us.
By “Barefoot Breathing.”
And, sometimes, through our tarot cards.
Joanna Powell Colbert is an artist, author and teacher of earth-centered spirituality, creativity and tarot. The Gaian Tarot, nine years in the making, combines Joanna’s love of symbolic, archetypal art with the mysteries of the natural world. Deck images can be seen at www.GaianTarot.com. Joanna blogs at www.GaianSoul.com. She is currently teaching a series of seasonally-based e-courses, Gaian Soul Practices, on nature, creativity and contemplation, at www.GaianSoulGrove.com/seasons. The Spring Equinox session opens for registration on February 22nd.