That Mean Ol’ Moon

I’ve begun reading the English-language translation of The Grand Etteilla, a 19th Century French tarot compilation by Julia Orsini et al, with the goal of beginning to wrap my head around Alliette’s “Continental” system of interpretation. I noticed three things immediately: 1) the method of pulling and arranging the cards for a reading (often using multiples of seven such 35 or 42 cards) is far too iterative and non-intuitive for me; 2) although hints can be seen of their impact on later systems of occult thought, the divinatory meanings and esoteric correspondences are largely foreign to the Golden-Dawn-savvy diviner and will have to be learned almost entirely from scratch; and 3) the convention of interpreting each card in direct relation to other individual cards that appear with it in a spread seems quite similar to the way this is done when reading Kipper cards and to a lesser extent with Lenormand, but the number of examples is far from exhaustive, leaving the completist much to puzzle over.

However, that isn’t my purpose in this essay. When I read any historical tarot literature I’m always looking for ideas that I can bring to bear on the modern practice of divination. In this case, the discussion of the Moon card yielded some valuable food for thought. One of the writers mentioned the assumption that the Moon, while exhibiting many of the interpretive qualities still in use today, is highly impressionable and will absorb something of the nature of any card(s) with which it is paired. While this can be true of all card combinations to some extent, and “disambiguation” of the conjoined influences is a routine part of synthesis in any reading of more than one card, with the Moon this ambient coloration can reach extremes because of its watery, amorphous nature (think of it as a psychic “sponge” that assimilates any and all emotive modes and temperaments). This, at least, is the author’s premise.

At the best of times. getting a good grip on the Moon in a reading can be challenging because its emphasis on confusion, uncertainty and concealment can leave a question mark in the reader’s mind about what it is really trying to say. Turning it into even more of a shape-shifting chameleon by working additional impressionistic brushstrokes into its moody portrait, while certainly intriguing and a good way to expose and explore its many nebulous wavelengths, can push it even further into the realm of ambiguity. Also, a state of diminishing returns can be reached, especially when attempting to factor in the modulating effect of linked pip and court cards; for that reason I think I would only look at any neighboring trumps when considering this kind of “cross-pollination” or “cross-contamination” since they are of comparable potency and demand to be placed on an equal footing. For example, the Moon could be easily overmastered by the Mars energy of the Tower and thus sulk grumpily in the background, making rude noises.

The Moon as it stands is a profoundly inflected and nuanced card, and there is already a tendency in tarot circles to understate its subtle intimations of discord as merely “unsettled emotions” (when the card isn’t simply misconstrued as a source of soothing “Hallmark card” sympathy similar to the astrological Moon). There is little cheer in the typically morose image of somber Moon, forbidding towers, howling canines and scuttling crawfish, but the compulsion to put a “good face” on every card can lead to some untenable opinions about its supposed kindly demeanor. Much goes on under its dim rays that could not easily withstand the light of day, and adding supplemental notation – misaligned or not as the case may be – will complicate the picture in various ways that really don’t aid in understanding its core concepts. Still, this idea merits deeper thought and ongoing experimentation.

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