I’ve been reading the book Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche by Bill Plotkin since I got home from the east coast. It’s one of those books that I purchased about a year ago, and it’s been sitting on my bedside table waiting for me to pick it up. I’ve been resisting. Maybe I realized somewhere down deep that it’s one of those books that promises to be life-changing. So far, I’ve found myself scribbling notes all over the margins (especially the names of tarot cards that embody a concept he’s describing) and underlining and circling phrases. It’s a book that is giving language to something I have only previously felt by intuition.
A key premise to the book is this: while many religions and spiritual traditions point to transcendence, ascent and unity with the One, and other traditions point to immanence, descent and the value of the personal soul, very few have pointed the pathway to both. And both are vitally necessary.
Bill Plotkin defines soul and spirit this way:
“By soul I mean the vital, mysterious, and wild core of our individual selves, an essence unique to each person, qualities found in layers of the self much deeper than our personalities.
By spirit I mean the single, great, and eternal mystery that permeates and animates everything in the universe and yet transcends all.
Ultimately, each soul exists as an agent for spirit. . .
Soul embraces and calls us toward what is most unique in us. Spirit encompasses and draws us toward what is most universal and shared.” (Soulcraft, pg. 25)
He compares three realms of human development — healthy ego growth, soul embodiment and spirit realization — to the three worlds of certain traditions: middle world (ego), underworld (soul) and upper world (spirit). These also, of course, correspond to the Tree of Life: roots (underworld / soul), trunk (middle world / body, ego, personality), and branches (upperworld / spirit).
Another premise of the book is that one will find one’s soul’s calling when one seeks out a deep connection with the wild, with Nature. (Can you tell why I like this book?)
In the Gaian Tarot Circle, we are studying the Tree (or Hanged One) card this month. So the theme of surrender was on my mind as I read Soulcraft this morning. And I made a leap to a new understanding of the card. Plotkin quotes the poet Rilke:
If we surrendered
to earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.
Oh yes, now that’s the Tree card. Surrendering to the Earth leads to grounding and rootedness, so that our branches can then extend into the whole universe.
The Hanged One (or Tree), then, appears at the point of initiation. The card turns up in our lives when we need to surrender to the call of our souls, to begin a descent into the depths, which may lead us to the next card, Death (a grievous loss or breakdown of some kind). But after that — ah, after that — is the promise of the Star, the Sun, Awakening and the World, where we find our soul’s purpose and become fully initiated, awakened people.
I named this card “The Tree” after the yoga pose vriksha-asana, in an epiphany that came one day when I realized that the traditional Hanged Man pose is very similar to the yoga pose “the Tree.” But now I think that I was tapping into something deeper. The name of the card also refers to the three worlds, using the metaphor of roots, trunk and branches. Even though we don’t see the roots in the image, we know they are there.
And the figure of the Hanged One connects them all: roots, trunk and branches. Soul, Personality and Spirit.
I leave us with a question to ponder: What does it mean to surrender to the Earth?
I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments.