It’s the last week of the semester. I have a pile of student essays to grade, two large research projects of my own to finish,* a couple of seasonal parties (both Pagan and secular) to attend, and just a lot on my plate, generally speaking. But hey! It’s almost Yule. Even though there’s no snow on the ground, the longest night of the year is on its way. And that’s a cause for celebration.
Today, I thought I’d write a bit about the three Major Arcana cards I associate with Yule: The Fool, the Hanged Man, and Judgment. For anyone unfamiliar with my practice of Tarotizing the seasons, I have a system where I’ve divvied the 22 cards of the Major Arcana up amongst the eight holidays of the Neopagan Wheel of the Year. The division is based in part on astrological and Qabalistic correspondences, but part of it is also just good old-fashioned gut feeling. You can read more about it here, if you like. It’s a holdover from my pre-Wiccan days, when—feeling a need for religious expression in my life but unwilling to give up my atheistic inclinations—I developed a personalized devotional practice where I worked with the Major Arcana of the Tarot instead of with deities.
The three Yule cards all deal with themes I consider essential to the holiday—namely, the potential for new life and new growth. The first and most obvious of these cards is the Fool. This card, more than any other in the deck, represents fresh beginnings and the potential for something now. It’s absolute, undifferentiated potential; the Fool can become absolutely anything as he proceeds on his journey, because at the moment we see him, he is nothing. He stands at the edge of the cliff, ready to fall or fly, and he genuinely could go either way.
At the Winter Solstice, the broader Pagan community (whatever the hell that means) talks about the rebirth of the sun; after the old sun has spent the past six months growing fainter and weaker in the southern sky, it finally starts to renew itself and grow strong. The solstice is the rebirth of the year, and with it comes the potential for anything to happen. That potential, to my mind—that promise of rebirth—is captured by the Fool.
The other two cards deal in different, but related themes. The Hanged Man is an opportunity to release past hurt and grow from it, to step into the new year as a new, stronger individual with a better perspective on the world. Sometimes we have bad years. It happens. Maybe you went through a period of hard changes in your work or home life. Maybe your love life is not so much a dumpster fire as it is a blazing landfill.** Maybe the pit orchestra of coked-up condors that is global politics has finally exhausted you with its cacophony. Regardless, the Hanged Man presents an opportunity and a promise: No matter how bad things were in the year past, they can be better in the year to come.
The Hanged Man is an interesting and complex card. [Side note: I should write about it more.] It presents us with suffering, but tells us there’s something we can learn from the suffering—a way that we can be made stronger. It’s easy to misinterpret this message as some New Age “everything happens for a reason” nonsense, but that’s not really what the Hanged Man is all about. Sometimes, shit just happens. Sometimes things are bad and it’s not your fault and there’s no real reason for it. However, even in those cases, the Hanged Man offers you an opportunity to grow and learn. Maybe bad things happened during your year for no real reason, but you have the chance to make a reason: To create a lesson for yourself out of the things you’ve survived, and to choose to go in a new direction. Would life have been better if the bad things hadn’t happened to you in the first place? Sure, maybe. But that’s not the lesson of the Hanged Man. Rather, he asks us: Given that bad things happened, what are you going to do now? Where are you going to go? He offers us a chance to reclaim autonomy and to choose the path we will walk going forward, and that can be a powerful message for the solstice.
The last of my three Yule cards is Judgment. Like the other two, it talks about what the year to come might look like. The Fool gives us potential, the Hanged Man helps us recover from hurt, but Judgment promises transformation. Full on, nothing-will-ever-be-the-same, consume-me-with-fire-and-make-me-anew transformation. On a small scale, we see a hint of Judgment in the New Year’s resolutions that people make, affirmations that they will transform their lives. But on the larger scale, Judgment will turn your whole world upside-down and give you an entirely different life—if you let it.
That transformation is not for the faint of heart, and sometimes it can be horrendous and painful. (Remember, the Judgment card depicts the Christian Judgment Day, which includes the vast majority of the population being cast into a pit of fire.) Judgment brings unforeseeable change, and sometimes the things it brings hurt us more than help us. But whatever it brings our way, it leaves us transformed. There is no going back to who we were before.
In all three cards, I find a variation of the same message: Whatever the year before had to offer, it’s come to a close now. The incoming year is something new, something different—potentially wonderful or terrible, but very much its own.
*By which I mean “start”.
**Totally a hypothetical scenario that definitely has nothing to do with my own love life.