I’ve been missing the Wildwood Tarot so decided to return to it today for a daily card. Today’s is The Guardian – a terrifying skeleton figure, human in body-bones, but with the skull, teeth and claws of something far more sinister – a cave bear says the book. A monster says I. It stands at the entrance to a dark cave – not somewhere I’d particularly want to go hang out, unless I was feeling particularly brave.
The Guardian, from the Wildwood Tarot, illustrated by Will Worthington
Turns out I’d need to be feeling especially brave to enter that cave:
Within the cave’s open maw, filled with jagged and sharp stalactites, is an unknown and untrodden path. It’s destination is surrounded in gloom. No inner light burns to show a way through. Before the path may be followed, the Guardian must be faced and mastery of one’s own fear achieved.
Mark Ryan and John Matthews, The Wildwood Tarot
So who is this Guardian? Appearing in the Wildwood deck where The Devil would normally appear in a more traditional deck, my first thoughts are that he represents that devilish bondage thing – the things that hold us back, from which we do not choose to free ourselves, because the thought of that is just too scary. Traditionally then, we think that this devil represents unhealthy habits or behaviours, addictions, substance misuse and so on, and our unwillingness to break free from them because of what we will have to face in order to do so.
The Wildwood’s Guardian too represents this fear and bondage, but I find in this card an added dimension that I hadn’t really considered in The Devil – confrontation of our own inner darkness. Firstly, check out this wonderful post written by Barbara Moore for TABI‘s e-zine, The Reader. In it she makes a wondeful point about accepting our dark/shadow side, coming to terms with it and understanding it:
Unfortunately, most of us are not at all comfortable with the dark side. Of course we aren’t. Another term we use for the dark side is our shadow, which is nothing more or less than all the things we hate about ourselves.
The tarot, we know, is all about balance, and so we know and accept on an intellectual level that we should integrate our dark or shadow side with our light, or what I think of as our “daily,” side. Is this not what the Strength card teaches us? Of course it is. Integration is not suppression, we see in the Strength card a lovely woman gently controlling a noble beast as if she were channeling its power.
This is very much what The Guardian asks of us. We could come to the entrance to this cave and simply turn and walk away – nope, not up for facing any demons today thank you. And on some days that would be completely right – life can’t be one long analysis of ourselves, we all gotta take a day off from that sometimes and enjoy life’s simpler pleasures – sunshine, gardening, Dinosaur Comics salt and vinegar Pringles. But other days we totally, truly need to face our shadow selves and ask ourselves why we behave the way we do, why we hide from what we do, why we feel those ‘bad’ feelings, that insecurity, bitterness or fear. Like an aggressive, taunting High Priestess, staring out from the card right at us, baring it’s teeth, The Guardian asks us to do this, prodding us with elements of our own fears, playing with us. If we do not rise to the challenge and learn to integrate our fears and insecurities, The Guardian will always be there.
The Guardian stirs irrational fears from the buddy bottom of the human subconscious and fills the timid soul with foreboding’ He is charged with an inhuman and unseen sentience, feeding off fear and panic with a malevolent joy. But within this sardonic and chaotic energy lie wisom, courage and strength. The human survival instinct was geared for fight or flight, yet we have learned to rationalise our darkest fears and deal with unknown dangers with intellectual insight. As we have evolved our understanding of the unknown, we have learned that no diabolical or supernatural force in the universe is as frightening as the human imagination.
Ryan and Matthews, The Wildwood Tarot
Many Different People Inhabit the Lands of the Oceans, by Odilon Redon
I’m a 30-something writer, artist, tarot reader, and perpetual explorer of the space between thought, feeling, and action.
I believe that spirituality and ritual are for everybody. I’m about the journey, in all of its messy, non-linear, chaotic iterations. I am excited by anticapitalist business and living with my whole entire self present. I use tarot cards to bring forth hidden truth, and ritual to affirm my commitment, over and over, to my ever-shifting path.