Earth Wisdom Tarot Sacred Art

Soulcraft and the Gaian Tree (Hanged One) Card

in Spirituality, Tarot

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?)

Gaian Tarot Tree (Hanged One)

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.

Thoughtful, sparkling comments. . .

  • Tami Chock Thu - May 12th 2011 10:12 am

    Dearest Joanna, I love this & if I weren’t at work, I’d go sit with, or hang from, my favorite tree and ponder your question. I was drawn to this book, too & have had it for a while, but have not fully delved into it yet. And the tarot card that I was most drawn to & purchased a print of is “The Hanged One.” Thanks for making the connection! Time to do some deeper work! Thanks for reminding us of the calling! Love you~

  • Joanna Thu - May 12th 2011 10:28 am

    Oh Tami, deep thanks for your thoughts on this! After we’ve both read more of the book, we should get together and talk about it. I’m going to be attending this retreat in June on Whidbey: http://www.nwsoulquest.com/ It’s led by my longtime astrologer & friend Sheila Belanger. You should come with me! 🙂

  • Julie in Virginia Thu - May 12th 2011 5:03 pm

    Oh Joanna… I have studied with the Animas Valley Institute since 2006. Reading Soulcraft unraveled me and then rewove me in new and wonderful ways.

    Bill is an incredible teacher and if you ever have a chance to do a program with him – the Soulcentric Developmental Wheel is a good one for integrating stages of the lifecycle with working with the Tarot.

    I love love loved Soulcraft! Have fun on Whidbey and say hi to DW if you run across him in his sea kayak 🙂

  • Natasha Fri - May 13th 2011 6:04 am

    Hi Joanna,
    I went through a period recently where I was constantly receiving the Hanged Man in my readings. I was in that in-between phase where one cycle was ending and I was eager for the new one to start. The Hanged Man meant to me that I was “in suspension” having to bide my time. Eventually the turn I was waiting for came, and it’s not coming up anymore. I am seeing the Star, the Sun, and the World! Good tidings 🙂

  • Joanna Fri - May 13th 2011 7:00 am

    Hey Julie, so good to see your face! 🙂 How exciting to hear that the Soulcraft work was life-changing for you and that you give it your stamp of approval. 🙂 I’ve actually been aware of the work for years, as my astrologer-friend Sheila and her partner Anne have been teaching it here in the NW for years. But . . . other things (like creating the Gaian Tarot) took precedence. So I’m very excited about attending my first workshop in June. Who is DW?

    Natasha — yes, I hear you about one of the meanings of the Hanged One being a time of suspension and waiting. I’m happy for you that you are coming into the fullness of the later cards. Blessings!

  • Julie in Virginia Fri - May 13th 2011 2:10 pm

    David Whyte 🙂 Maybe he will recite Rilke in German – just for you!

  • Joanna Fri - May 13th 2011 3:22 pm

    Ah . .. I shoulda known. Love his work. 🙂

  • Carolyn Cushing Fri - May 20th 2011 2:10 pm

    I love the question: What does it mean to surrender to the Earth?

    I think that the times that we live in invite us to ponder this long and hard, perhaps it is a question for a life time of contemplation.

    And lately I have been thinking about how we humans need to recognize that we don’t have all the answers and can turn to the natural world and creatures and the earth systems to receive the answers about how to move forward in a sustainable way. We are not on the top despite the messages that we get from some religious and societal traditions … and the woman in The Tree is not on top! … but rather changing her perspective!