Just, like, sat on the bus, pondering those age-old masculine and feminine attributes: activity and passivity.
The masculine Sun energy and the feminine Moon mystery. The dynamic and the receptive, the rational and the irrational. Yawn.
At first. Then I started thinking about how they’re represented in tarot and realised it’s only laziness that keeps us believing such things are related to masculinity or femininity. My big bugbear with tarot is when I find it clinging rigidly to silly gender stereotypes, but actually, the more I study and learn, the more I realise tarot itself can totally elude those types of restrictive ideas – it’s only in interpretation that we get taught what is ‘masculine’ and what is ‘feminine’ as a shorthand for the qualities we assign to each.
It’s important to understand the difference between saying something is ‘masculine’ and saying it is ‘manly/a man’, or ‘feminine’ and ‘womanly/a woman’. I totally get that distinction – they do not mean that the subject is forever doomed to display only the qualities of their gender. A person can display both feminine and masculine qualities in varying proportions. Great. But it still does my head in. It just seems so bloody convenient to divide things into one gender-feeling or the other, as if there are only two, as if there is only masculine and feminine, as if there is only male and female.
So yeah. There I was reading this book and it was dealing with m/f archetypes, and discussing how the feminine High Priestess is the passive, receptive route to knowledge, whilst the Hierophant is the masculine route – active, learning from others/tradition.
And I realised that I saw activity and passivity totally the other way round.
The High Priestess ain’t passive – by exploring the inner world and dedicating herself to understanding what is ‘behind the veil’, she shows courage, she encourages us to do some seriously hard work. Being quiet and listening to our inner selves does not equal passivity! Meanwhile the Heirophant receives knowledge from books/tradition. It’s not about thinking for yourself with this card – so in what way is this active?
The above image is The High Priestess from the Shadowscapes deck by Stephanie Law. Does this look passive? I think no! Then check out The Heirophant – much as I love this card, it’s a tree! Rooted, receptive, slow-moving, subject to the elements…
[That said, you can read another post in which I reinterpret The Hierophant here.]
I understand that activity and passivity in themselves are simply characteristics which can be part of a card’s meaning, aspects of human behaviour. It’s their automatic assignation to masculinity and femininity that p’s me off. It is lazy and unhelpful to think of femininity as passive to the masculine active.
It has been convenient for patriarchy to describe women as passive, mysterious, mad, chattering, weak, nurturing, irrational, predisposed to the domestic and so on, whilst men are active, strong, able to get out there and engage with politics and ‘important things’, creating the handy dichotomy of feminine vs masculine and tying women to the sink/baby for as long as history has been recorded, no matter how vehemently we argue that feminine/masculine is not shorthand for woman/man. We are still brought up with clear ideas of what femininity is and, stemming directly from this, how a proper woman should behave (or more importantly, how she should look, and how she should not behave), and equally for masculinity and men.
Nina Simone – social activist and ‘The High Priestess of Soul’
I want my own tarot practice to move completely away from these ideas of what is feminine and what is masculine.
It’s as simple as ditching those m/f terms and sticking to what we’re really trying to convey. If a card represents passivity, that’s fine. If it shows nurture, no problem! But let’s leave it there – there’s no need to move from this into calling these ‘feminine qualities’, right?
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.