A Tale of Two Shamans

Since re-acquainting myself with The Greenwood Tarot, I’ve been struck by the many contrasts between this now rare deck, and the “sequel” deck of The Wildwood Tarot.  Both the images and the placement of The Shaman card in each deck can tell a compelling comparative story!

I absolutely love both cards.  In Will Worthington‘s interpretation of The Wildwood, we see a dramatically powerful and seasoned shaman who is actively journeying, and may as well hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign upon the tree limb above him.  He’s busy at work, actively doing what needs to be done as he journeys to the middle-world for healing answers and insights.  We can see that he’s a seasoned shaman.  He’s old, and sports a wispy white beard.  His bony fingers clutch his staff.  He’s somewhat “away from society” – working diligently in solitude.

Chesca Potter’s shaman of The Greenwood Tarot is a masterpiece of subtlety.  This shaman looks us in the eye with a very non-threatening gaze of neither excitement nor discontent.  We’re met with this open and neutral gaze from someone of an ambiguous age and gender.  Perhaps she is a two-spirit priest who embodies and walks between both genders.  They wear the cloak of what could be a bear’s skin, but again, the coat is ambiguous.  In this ambiguity, perhaps this shaman can easily slip between worlds, and possibly go largely unnoticed while walking through the waking world.  There’s a kind of humbleness about this shaman – a certain feeling of accessibility.  Perhaps they are a frequent visitor, neighbor, or trusted member in the community.  Yet, there is much mystery.

To add to the contrast between these shamans (I had to actually look up the plural of shaman, finding it to be “shamans” and not “shamen”), where they appear in their corresponding tarot decks, I believe, is of great significance, and perhaps importance.

In The Wildwood Tarot, our “Father Time” and secluded shaman appears as the second card in the deck, preceded only by The Wanderer (the Fool Card in The Wildwood).  Not only is this shaman placed in the traditional spot of “The Magician” as in the traditional tarot system, authors Mark Ryan and John Matthews offer compelling reasoning for The Shaman to be placed second.  In summary, in order to walk within the worlds of The Wildwood, we should become like The Shaman, and enter a journey into the imaginal, quantum-reality of the “middle world.”  We all become the shamans of our own journey in a very personal, trans-personal adventure through the forest of our dreams.  While in our “shaman state” we are introduced to archetypal figures and countless lessons.

In contrast, our androgynous shaman of The Greenwood Tarot appears as the TWENTIETH card in its system.  We encounter nearly the entirety of The Greenwood’s major arcana before the shaman appears, and we are guided by The Ancestor as the second card.  It is as if this shaman is being initiated, formed, and seasoned by the experiences and encounters along the path of The Greenwood.  In fact, the only cards remaining in the major arcana after The Shaman are The Star, The World Tree, and The Sun.  As a traveler in The Greenwood, we are guided through even The Guardian (the Devil card), The Lovers, and Death before The Shaman appears.  After which, we still experience all the questions and wonder of the nature of the labyrinth of The World Tree and the energy of the heavens, The Sun, and the stars at night.

In things pertaining to Druidry and Faith, at least in my own experience, this contrasting idea continually plays out.  We most definitely are druids, shamans, priests, and practitioners of our own spiritual practice.  We take away what is “our experience” in the world, and often times need to put out the “Do Not Disturb” sign to others while we do our work, learn, and hone our craft or develop our spiritual gifts.  There are many times where we must shut out the distractions of the waking world and let it have its own “circus of monkeys” which we will not take part.

Conversely, while a solitary path has strong merit, there is value in the more “seasoned and recognized” path, where we have previously met our challenges, have lived and loved and lost, faced our own demons, and have welcomed change.  In some cultures, a shaman is “recognized” by their community first and foremost.  This shaman is ordained, initiated, and works for the betterment of their community.  This shaman needs to remain open to others and to draw from their vast wisdom and experience.

As I stated previously, I absolutely love both of these cards.  There is beauty in their difference, and they help to form this conversation of “What is a Shaman?” , “What is a Druid?”, and “What qualities should they possess?”  It would be completely presumptive of me, and frankly “above my mortal pay-grade” to offer up one paradigm over another as “superior” or somehow more valued.  But the questions as we study, journey, or wrangle with spirituality can be rich and golden.  I find the questions in the “thin spaces” to be just as inspiring as the answers I receive.

I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on this!  Which shaman do you like best?  Which resonates more with your own spiritual practice or ethos?  Feel free to comment or write to me!

Blessings,
Scott

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