Perfection and Completion in the Garden of Eden

I have a lot of thoughts about the Star.

Like, a lot.

It’s interesting to me that, in the order of the deck, the Star follows the Tower, because in real life, things go the other way. The Star is purity, and the Tower is the fall from grace. In the normal course of life, we don’t become pure after the Fall. Rather, we spend the first part of our lives in a state of blissful innocence–ignorance of all the darkness in the world around us and within ourselves. The Tower represents that moment in our lives where we’re exposed to that darkness and we lose the innocence of the Star. And then we spend the rest of our lives trying to get it back.

The loss of innocence is ugly and uncomfortable. It’s the realization that our world is not perfect, or even (heaven forbid) that we are not perfect. It’s in the first time you have your heart broken.* It’s in your first speeding ticket, your first hangover, and the first time someone you love disappoints you in a big way. The loss of innocence is the moment where we learn something about the world or about ourselves that we would rather not have known. All told, it is a painful, shame-inspiring, all-around bad process, and it’s no wonder that people spend so much of their time trying to chase down the sense of ignorance-as-bliss they feel they’ve lost.

But unpleasant though this process is, it’s also necessary. It’s a fundamental part of what it means to be human, because like it or not, the world we live in is imperfect (and often just downright bad). Innocence means being unaware of the true nature of things, and while that may mean a certain degree of a priori happiness, it’s also a false sense of happiness. There’s a difference between the innocence of a child and an adult’s attempt to recapture innocence. Children live in a world that they genuinely believe to be inherently and completely good. There are certain rules that structure that world (we don’t hit, we use our inside voices, and we share with others), and by and large, those rules are followed. Everything is perfect.

But adults live in a world that we know to be imperfect. We know ourselves and each other too well to pretend otherwise. Sometimes, we don’t want to share. We don’t use our inside voices. Sometimes, people even hit each other, or worse. And because we have this knowledge, we are fundamentally incapable of viewing the world with a child’s innocence. After the life-altering revelations of the Tower, the innocence of the star is no longer available to us unless we reject the knowledge we’ve gained of the world and try to forcibly return to a state of ignorance.

I like to think of this balance as a dichotomy between perfection and completion. A child’s world is perfect, in that it’s all-loving, nurturing, and fundamentally just, but that world is also incomplete because it’s such a selective, censored vision of what the real world actually is. And on the other end of things, adults see the world more or less as it is, but in this (largely) complete understanding of the universe and the human psyche, we must sacrifice the belief in perfection. Our perception of the world can be either complete or perfect, but never both.**

I think that one of the clearest ways that this dichotomized view of innocence manifests is in the Judeo-Christian myth of the garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were created by an omniscient and omnipotent God (the omnibenevolent bit is still a matter of debate) and were allowed to live in the garden of paradise and eat of the fruit of the Tree of Life. In this garden, there was no pain, no death, and no suffering; everything was, in a word, perfect.

But it was also incomplete. Because there was one tree in the garden–the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil–that was strictly forbidden. This is always the price of perfection: you can have your innocence, but you must sacrifice knowledge in order to preserve it. And when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of knowledge, they were exiled from their perfect-but-limited world into a much larger, more complete one, but one that was also filled with evil they had never known in their time of innocence. Much of Christian theology (most notably the Calvinists) has revolved around bemoaning the original sin of the Fall and mankind’s inability to return to the garden of Eden.

If you look carefully at the imagery of the RWS Star, you’ll see a tree in the background, with a bird sitting atop it.*** This is the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, waiting for us behind this symbol of innocence restored, because once we’ve experienced the fall from innocence, we can never truly escape our newfound knowledge of the imperfect world.

The Star is meant to represent a state of renewal and hope. And for that, I always love to see it come up in a reading, because there are certainly times when all of us need a little bit of hope. However, I also think it’s important to remember that the Star does not–cannot–promise a complete restoration of innocence. The message of the Star is never that things will go back to being exactly the way they used to be, because after the Fall, things can never be the same. We have seen too much to return to the complete faith-in-goodness of the Star. We can’t return to the garden.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t hope.

I think it’s crucial to distinguish between innocence and hope. So often, we feel that in order to believe in the goodness of the world, we have to recapture the innocence of the Star, but that’s really not the case. The Star is purity, and she represents utter, unadulterated goodness, but that does not mean that the Tower is unadulterated badness. (Eugh, what an ugly word. “Badness”.) Remember that the full name of the shrubbery of disillusionment is the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, not just the Tree of Knowledge of Evil. Yes, the knowledge we gain with the Fall is an awareness of evil in the world, but by gaining this awareness–by becoming conscious of the dividing line between good and bad–we also gain a greater understanding of the good.

This is how I tend to see the Star in readings. She doesn’t return us to a state of innocence. She doesn’t make it as if the bad things in our lives had never happened. But she is a memory of the good that we saw in the world before those bad things, and a reminder that despite everything else, that good still exists. We can still find hope and happiness in an imperfect world, and we can do so without having to reject our knowledge of its imperfection. Rather, we recognize both the dark and the light, and choose to embrace the latter despite–or perhaps because of–our knowledge of the former.

*Awkward shift in pronouns here, but it seemed even more awkward to say “the first time we have our heart broken”. As far as I’m aware, you and I do not share a communal heart.

**Although I suppose that for some unlucky individuals, it may be neither.

***The literary-minded among you may recall that in Paradise Lost, Lucifer enters the garden and perches in the Tree of Knowledge in the form of a cormorant.

4 thoughts on “Perfection and Completion in the Garden of Eden

  1. I loved reading this and it’s added so much to how I now want to reexamine The Star card. You will someday write a book on tarot and philosophy, won’t you?


  2. I love your take on this card. I hadn’t given a great deal of thought to its placement behind the Tower – and I know the order of the cards is significant, but haven’t had as much time to dig into that. Would love to hear more of your thoughts especially on the order of the Major Arcana. Thank you for writing this!


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