Saturn rules Capricorn, the zodiac sign which became associated with the dates of Christmas. Bright lights, good cheer, a nosh- up, a knees-up; the Romans celebrated Saturn as the god of agriculture, and also because, according to their theology, Saturn was the god who ruled the world during the long lost Golden Age, and they wanted it back, please.
The Saturnalia was celebrated 17 December, with festivities usually culminating round 23 December.
Outside of this context, Saturn is not usually so jovial in aspect. It is the planet of great virtues, but stern and serious. Life is a serious business, and requires effort, is the message of Saturn.
Caesar must be rendered to. The bottom line safeguarded. Nothing came from nowhere, nothing is for nothing. Even the birds don’t sing for fun. The birds especially do not sing for fun. They sing to win and stake a territory, and keep it. They sing to win a mate, they sing to ward off threats to their nests, but is their song less beautiful for that?
Saturn is all about the bottom line. Food is the bottom line, and the solstice meant the return of the sun for the new year’s crops. It wouldn’t do to take Saturn for granted.
The face of Janus, past and future, could be seen as another face of Saturn himself. Janus, the primordial god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways, passages, is the god of endings. An ancient legend said the souls of the dead returned to their origin, rising through the gates of the constellation of Capricornus, where the souls of newborn descended to arrive on Earth through the gates of Cancer, zodiac sign of the summer solstice in a never-ending wheel of souls.
For all of us there comes a point where every year, a familiar face or name will leave the orbit of our lives, and we revisit the memories. Maybe it is a person, or maybe it is a place. Perhaps it is something we used to do, or used to wish for. The ghosts have their own pictures, particular songs, sounds and smells.
They are many, bittersweet, the ever-more crowding ghosts of Christmas past.
Here was an instance of using tarot card counting to arrive at a qualified forecast.
My daughter, 16 at the time, was learning piano. She went for lessons once a week and practiced – ahem, sometimes– on a small, reconditioned 1930s piano in the dining room. We had been hearing a lot of renditions of ‘Oliver!’ – Fagin’s song about reviewing the situation, ‘I think I’d better think it out again!’
At Christmas I got a phone call the piano teacher, to say my daughter would soon be due to put in for entry for her Grade 2 exam, but she wasn’t going to be ready as she wasn’t putting in the necessary work. Well, I asked my daughter, did she want to go for it or not? It was her decision, but if she decided to go for it, I expected her to show that she meant business.
She opted to go for it, upped the practise sessions, and had the exam 29 March, held at school during the school day. She came dragging home with a long face. ‘I made loads of mistakes,’ she said, ‘in both pieces.’
What did the Tarot think, she wanted to know. Had she passed? She couldn’t see how, she was sure she had made ‘loads of mistakes’.
‘And what did you do? I asked.
‘I kept going,’ she said.
Slips might not have mattered as much as she feared if the examiner had detected an overall fluency, I told her. The examiner would expect slips due to nerves and overall ‘flow’ would have been the indicator of underlying technical competence.
I drew 8 cards and turned them over. Six were upright, which to me signified a yes answer from tarot. Two were reversed, upside down, indicating a no answer. Therefore the Tarot thought it highly probable, a 75% probability that she had in fact passed, despite her feelings about it.
Two cards in particular were encouraging. The Page of Swordsmade an appearance and was upright. This was a lucky sign because my daughter is herself a Page of Swords, born under Aquarius. Facially, the card resembles her too, and the hair is not dissimilar, nor the build.
The Queen of Swords was another of the cards drawn in its upright or positive aspect. Was the examiner an older lady, elegant and well-spoken? I asked her. Yes, she said, sort of old-fashioned, serious, but very nice.
‘She liked you,’ I said, I sensed that this Queen had recognised in her a young ‘page of music’.
Because the suit of Swords has strong correlations with Science – Physics in particular- and Medicine, Mathematics and Music.
These two court cards appearing amongst the six upright cards reinforced my confidence on her behalf and anyway, the thing was done, and I told her not to worry. And she did pass.
There are many depictions of animals and birds in the Tarot. They form a great part of the human landscape physically, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and symbolically. If there’s a heaven, what would it be without them? I wouldn’t mind, personally if mosquitoes, maggots, deadly snakes and komodo dragons didn’t make it. Spiders would be all right as long as they were non-venomous and less than two inches in diameter. However, it’s not me in charge.
The songbird traditionally most associated with Christmas, or to give the winter festival its older name, Yuletide – is the robin redbreast. The cheeky, dumpy little European robin, Erithacus rubecula is a member of the flycatcher family.
Its preferred habitats are woodlands, hedgerows, parks and garden. Its staple diet is worms, seeds, fruits and insects. It will fight over sunflower seeds and it adores mealworms. You can buy these in dried form in lots of outlets including many supermarkets. They look revolting though people used to baiting fish hooks won’t mind them. Robins have been to take mealworms by hand, so irresistibly delicious are they to robin-kind.
Male and female European robins are identical to look at, adults of both sexes having the red breast, while young robins have no red breast, and are a speckled golden brown colour. The lack of red breast in the young defends them from territorial attack by adults. The robin lives a little over one year on average. If it lives beyond 1.1 years it may achieve twelve years and has been known to reach the age of twenty, but long life is rare.
The robin’s endearing appearance belies its feistiness. It’ll fight to the death for its territory, and one in ten die in combat. They have been seen to chase off pigeons much bigger than they are. The one in my garden right now however, is rather timid and will scurry into the rosemary when a pigeon appears. Well, I suppose they are individuals just as we are.
Robin redbreast builds a cup-shaped nest in a hole or hidden in ground cover, and will sing all year round. Click here to hear its song and for other general information from the RSPB:-
The robin received the human pet name of ‘Robin’ in the fifteenth century. It has a special place in the library of legends embedded in the Tarot, and a robin may be observed in some decks, including the King of Pentacles card in the Sacred Circle Tarot Deck.
It belongs there by virtue of the symbolism and superstitions attached to it.
Some older people consider the robin a bird of ill omen, a harbinger of death. It is considered unlucky for a robin to fly into a house as Death is expected to follow. For this reason, a Christmas card with a picture of a robin on it is not always welcome with people aware of this tradition. But compassion and care for the dead is also attributed to the robin. One legend says that it tried to help Christ by pulling off a thorn from the crown Jesus had been made to wear, injuring itself in the process – hence its red breast. Another old tale says that it was a robin who found the bodies of the lost ‘Babes in the Wood‘, and who buried them with a golden coverlet of fallen leaves.
If your robin seems shy, it may be a visitor from Europe. British robins haunt gardens more than their European relatives, are more used to human contact and are bold in comparison with European winter visitors which tend to favour woodlands in their native lands.
All right, you robin.
I’m on my way out with sugared bread (for energy it’s better to give them cake or sugared bread than plain bread) Here are some more of those revolting mealworms, and let’s hang up another half coconut of fat and nuts. But note this, my fine robin friend; this is not just for you, but is for sharing with the blue-tits and coal-tits, the blackbirds, sparrows and the finches.
The North Wind Doth blow
And we shall have snow
And what will the robin do then, poor thing?
He’ll hide in a barn
To keep himself warm
And hide his head under his wing, poor thing.
Let’s see what the robin currently peering out from the safety of the big rosemary bush, will communicate via the Tarot.
Are you a cock or hen robin?
Answer card: The High Priestess. Just to make sure, I pull another card and get the Moon Reversed. Meanings: I am a hen bird. I am solitary right now, I want no mate. This is not the time.
What are you thinking right now?
Answer card: The Empress. Meaning? What have we here? Food! I have discovered a new harvest! Being provided for, I must eat my fill while I can.
I pull another card, just as the robin flies off again…and, strangely enough, the card is The Chariot.The robin has flitted just a short distance to sit on top of the seed feeder hung in the bare branches of the laburnum tree.
Why have you gone to sit there?
Answer card: The Seven of Wands Reversed. Meaning: I am new to this garden and I must be careful. This is a good vantage point from which to spy out enemies and not be taken unawares.
What’s your favourite time of year?
Answer card: The Empress Reversed. Meaning: A time when there are plenty of fruits and seeds, but there are still sheltering leaves on the trees. A time when there are still long hours of light to feed by, and sometimes there’s still warmth…the night is not so bitter, the air does not bite so hard. My legs creak like sticks at first light when I must move for food or die. How I wish it could always be the time of the Empress.
OK, verification may not be an option as with readings done for domestic species. Still, I have done animal readings before, and know intuitive communication can work inter-species. Maybe it would not work with all species, but the tarot affords a means of extending perception beyond the boundaries of self, and living things share common drives and goals. Sentient and sensate beings, whether bare or feathered, scaled or furry, are inextricably subject to vagaries of environment, the common denominator in shared consciousness.
During the severe winter of 1962/63, the UK robin population was worse than decimated, reduced to an estimated 50-60 breeding pairs. Spare a little if you can, for your fellow creatures outside this winter.