There’s a blaze of light in every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah
~ Leonard Cohen
For only the second time since I started posting my Card of the Week back in 2004, this week we are visited by what I consider the second most important card of the Tarot — the Judgement card.
I love this card, although it can be enigmatic for many. Indeed, the Judgement card (I am using the British spelling, in keeping with the Waite-Smith deck) can at first be off-putting to those who don’t subscribe to the beliefs of the Christian Bible.
That’s because most older decks, including the R-W-S deck, as well as the early Swiss, Italian and French decks, depict the classical judgment day motif of Christian art and theology. In those themes, the angel of the Lord calls the living and the dead to God’s final judgment, sending the few souls of the righteous to eternity in heaven, while throngs of the damned head for the fiery pits of hell.
Certainly, here we see the angel (most scholars identify him as Gabriel) calling the dead from their graves. But in the Tarot, even in the oldest decks, the theme of punishment and damnation is pointedly absent. No one is being judged here.
Instead, the figures are rising up in adoration and celebration. Arthur Waite writes, “It is the card which registers the accomplishment of the great work of transformation in answer to the summons of the Supernal.. heard and answered from within.”
So instead of being at the mercy of some great being who holds our fate in the balance, the message here is the triumph of our awareness, free will and liberation.
We say what is our heaven and what is our hell. We are the judges, we choose our fate.
This most momentous card is a wake-up call to our very soul! The angel blows the trumpet of victory over death, calling humanity to resurrection, renewal, and to embrace our highest self, or as Waite named Him/Her/Them, the “Good Genius.”
Most Tarot scholars agree that this card has much less to do with any kind of judgmental situation, and is more about the realization of a huge shift in consciousness. This is the recognition of the Divine within us, and throughout all that is.
“Whatever else is going on around you,” writes Rachel Pollack, “there is a push, a call from within to make some important change.” In fact, she goes on to suggest that this change has probably already happened; we are being called upon to recognize and embrace it.
From Buddha to Gurdjieff, from Chuang Tzu to Eckhart Tolle, the theme of cosmic awakening resonates through history. This card is nothing less than the realization of that which so many have tried to name: divine consciousness, redemption, the next step of human evolution, nirvana, the eternal Presence. We are the Imaginal Cells awakening.
Thus, in many later decks, especially those turning away from the Judeo-Christian themes, Judgement is often named Rebirth, Beyond Illusion, Transcendence, and Awakening. It is the discovery, one step from the end of the Fool’s Journey, that we are eternal, spiritual beings having a temporary, physical experience.
The Judgement card therefore has much to say about reaping what we have sown. In view of the tragedies in America this past weekend, it appears with stunning timing. At nearly the exact day of the Christian celebration of Epiphany, our country has been given a very challenging epiphany of who we are. We now see the bitter and bloody result of tolerating values that glorify fear, violence, and cruelty in our political discourse and attitudes towards one another.
With this card’s appearance, I feel that we are receiving the clarion call of awakening, before it is too late. Wherever and whoever we are, we are called to rise from the graves of despair and apathy; to step away from a path that is leading to the undoing of civility, tolerance, and law.
This week, we are all, collectively and individually, invited to embrace profound realizations and even a transcendent awakening. By doing so, illusions and fears melt away, even to the point of seeing past that biggest of illusions, called death.
Judgement is the shining revelation that, even in our imperfection, as we struggle with, as Cohen describes it, what is holy and what is broken, we are in truth the children of, the living manifestation of, The Beloved. We have been all along.
Thus we are called to now understand and live our true Divine nature and purpose.