Where does a thought begin? We enter this new year by asking: how do we make something manifest; how do we make our thoughts take shape and become real? An appropriate question for the new year—a year we shall be keeping a close eye on, since it threatens to end long before we’re done with it, or so some New Age calendar-reading sages would have us think.
The following lyric helps remind me how ephemeral human-made objects are; they were once just a dream in somebody’s head, no more than a thought, easy to forget or ignore unless we find a way to transform thought into reality, unless we have the will to make real that which we visualise.
Looking down on empty streets, all she can see
are the dreams all made solid
are the dreams all made real
All of the buildings, all of those cars
were once just a dream
in somebody’s head …
—Mercy Street, inspired by Anne Sexton’s poem, 45 Mercy Street
Wishes are the fuel of imagination. Locating the source for this ‘fuel’ has plagued philosophers and poets for millennia, however. Even today, we invoke the Muses if we hope to create, invent, or discover something new. Of course, some of us turn to other instruments of intuitive wisdom, like tarot cards, for inspiration, and where better to begin than with the Ace of Wands?
In the Ace of Wands, we see themes of inception and boldness, genesis and the initial moment of creation symbolized. Traditional imagery of a wand, baton, or stave surrounded by flames, melds alchemical motifs with astrological symbolism and the four classical elements.
In Western astrology the sequence is always Fire, Earth, Air, and Water, according to the elemental rules of the four classical triplicities.
Once the Zodiac was sorted into 12 astrological signs, it was further divided up according to the Ancient Greek classical elements, and it doesn’t require much imagination to understand why the fire signs were designated as such, particularly since the predominant fire sign begins with Leo, it being the constellation traditionally aligned with the hottest, driest time of year.
Therefore, the element of fire becomes associated with hot and dry humours; the summer months; a choleric temperament; the masculine; and the eastern point of the compass.
Tarot relies heavily on the classical elements to define each suit of the minor Arcana. I understand the desire to revise history, and to come up with postmodern interpretations of that which has been taken for granted as “so” for a very long time, but there are deep-structure reasons for aligning wands with the element of fire.
You mess with this ordering system, as I’ve seen some Tarot practitioners try to do, by associating Wands with the element of Air, and you’re messing with the order of the universe, which can only lead to confusion, so cut it out. Wands are associated with the element of Fire for a reason and not simply because some old fogey said so!
Beginning with the Ancient Greeks (such as Heraclitus) fire was thought to be the preeminent element from which all others depended. Alchemists—scientists of yore—observed fire’s expansion upon exposure to air, but watched while it was extinguished in a bell jar, or when doused with water or earth.
Fiery symbolism underlies most of the metaphors to do with invention, inspiration, and creation, for these acts are seen as dynamic and active, but somewhat difficult to control. An upright Ace of Wands in a tarot spread tells you the moment you’ve been waiting for is now. Do not hesitate! Begin whatever it is you’re thinking about. Be prepared for an unexpected opportunity to arrive, an offer of some kind, the beginning of a new enterprise. We must take the offer of inspiration being handed us, and do something concrete with it if we do not wish to lose this opportunity.
A reversed Ace of Wands delays a positive outcome, but it usually doesn’t deny it entirely, for this Ace brings with it the power of inevitability. All Aces in the minor Arcana are cards of promise, representing a new beginning of some kind. The Ace of fire, however, is thought to be the single most powerful ‘pip’ of all, so to see it upright in a spread is not insignificant.
In many decks, this Ace is depicted as a colorful maypole, the ancient phallic symbol representing potency and rebirth (which often brings with it a new sexual relationship, since elemental fire represents passion, physical and emotional). Other decks draw on the connection between wands, batons, or torches, since wood is associated, obviously, with fire.
Fire is also associated with raw energy, health, newness, vigor, and lust. The fire metaphor is called upon to goad us into action, to help turn the dreams in our heads into reality. Someone or something might inspire us, as happened for Peter Gabriel through the poignancy of Anne Sexton’s poetry.
When you see this Ace, pay attention to who or what is trying to wake you up, get your attention, make you see things anew with a fresh perspective. We have repeatedly called this type of paying attention ‘listening to our Muse,’ but whatever you call it, the vibrating, pulsing energy of invention lies in the simple ‘magic’ of being aware of what’s going on in the endless flow of information around you.
When Shakespeare’s chorus in Henry V cried out
O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention
he was shaking a metaphorical fist at the heavens, long thought to be the source of the divine spark of inspiration poets agonize over. To be inspired originally meant being infused with the breath of God. Mere mortals could not become inspired without the direct intervention of God, or, for the Ancient Greeks, one of the gods or nine Muses.
That we reference these ancient mythopoeic concepts even today illustrates their enormous emotive power over our collective imagination. Try as we might, we’ve never excised the belief that if we perform all the magic rituals, the divine spark will then light up the heavens, as it must have for Shakespeare.
Or so we’d love to believe, since relying on someone or something relieves us of some of the work and responsibility creation requires.
To begin a new project, that first crucial thought has to have been dreamed, visualised, created. Inspiration seems to come from nowhere, but we think that only because we don’t recognize the internal process by which we are piecing information together subconsciously all the time, both awake and asleep.
Our minds churn, turning fragments and mosaic glimmers into a cohesion, bursting into consciousness. You cry out, “Eureka! I have a new thought!” If you’re a writer, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Perspicaciously, Katelan V. Foisy, the artist who painted the typewriter Ace of Wands seen above interprets this card’s meaning like this, because she understands that we don’t work alone when we’re inspired, even though it might seem that way. We’re always responding to something someone said or did:
… [L]obelia spicata seen in the Ace of Wands consists of a central taproot, from which occasional basal offshoots are produced. The offshoots then germinate, although self-compatible, a flower is unable to offer pollen to itself and it must be pollinated by insects. This shows the querant that no matter how great an idea or partnership is, it must have help from the outside to truly blossom.
- Why is water known as one of the five basic elements (wiki.answers.com)
- Words, a poem by Anne Sexton (thefindingplace.wordpress.com)