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Sunday, 16 June 2013

Decisions, decisions

Legend Arthurian Tarot, Llewellyn 1995
Today's card from Anna-Marie Ferguson's Legend Arthurian Tarot (Llewellyn 1995) is Two of Swords, and depicts a scene from the story of Balin and Balan...

The Story of Balin and Balan (as told in Malory's Morte d'Arthur)

These were two brothers, and knights of the Round Table. As with most characters in Arthurian legend, things don't turn out well for them. To be honest both of them are actually rather nasty pieces of work; their actions don't make sense to the modern mind. Much of 'chivalry' just sounds to us like lawless thuggery, 'honour' killings and gang warfare. For example, Balin, fresh out of jail for murder, uses a magical sword he picks up (despite being warned if he keeps it, it will end up killing the thing he loves most -- he doesn't believe it) to lob off the head of the Lady of the Lake, a revenge murder. Thus Balin again becomes a wanted man, and goes on the run, meeting up with his brother Balan to wage war against one of Arthur's enemies in the hopes of getting back into Arthur's good graces. That ends well, so both Balin and Balan go their separate ways, heroes again.

Balan meets up with yet another knight and kills him, but is then caught in a spell that causes him to have to live on an island and fight every knight who happens his way. These things happen, you know.

Balin meanwhile, on a spree of tracking and killing knights for various reasons, ends up in the castle of King Pellam, the Grail knight, gets into a fight, is chased around the castle by King Pellam and ends up dealing King Pellam the 'Dolorous Blow' that becomes the wound that will not heal, thus creating the Fisher King. The Dolorous Blow causes three countries to collapse. But Balin rides off for further adventures.

After causing many more deaths, Balin comes to a castle where he is told he may not pass until he fights a knight who lives on an island. Well, guess who that is--yes, it's his brother Balan. The locals persuade Balin to take a new, larger shield (and of course Balan is clothed in the armour and shield of the knight he slew when he got trapped on the island in the first place). In full armour, they are not recognizable as themselves. And that's where we are when we get to this card. Balin is waiting on the shore for the ferryman to take him across to fight the knight on the island, who is actually Balan. He has no idea what lies on the other side. By the way, he's carrying two swords -- his own sword, and the magic one he picked up that was prophesied to kill the thing he loves most. Feel a premonition?

Yes, Balin and Balan hack one another to bits and lie dying side by side. Then they recognize each other, die,  and Merlin swoops in to bury them in a shared tomb.

It ain't the Two Ronnies, as I told Inner Whispers yesterday! ;)

An Important Note about the References in Legend Arthurian
The deck creator, Anna-Marie Ferguson warns in her companion book that we shouldn't take the entire story of the character depicted into account when interpreting the card. We should only consider that particular moment in their story. And so, we have a moment when the character, Balin, is unsure what lies ahead, and has two choices (go across and fight, or refuse to fight and carry on). I mean, aside from 'honour', very little actually compels these knights to fight these pointless battles. But of course, choosing between honour and the easy way out is another decision, the outcome of which he can't be sure of.

The Two of Swords is often said to be a standstill, a moment when you have paused or are caught in a place where you are unsure which way to go. A crossroads card. (In fact, some cards depict a crossroads, such as the Anna K Tarot).

Ferguson offers further keywords: Blind judgement, conforming to tradition without question, uncertainty, impasse, making choice without benefit of foresight, deadlock of equal forces, procrastination. All very good hints as to the various interpretations of Two of Swords.

There's a problem with themed tarot decks, as I see it. To understand the Two of Swords in a themed deck (or to understand any card for that matter), you have to first know the standard meanings of it, then know the story of the card, then figure out how the situation in the card actually fits the meaning of the card. Themed decks add an extra layer (or several layers) to get through before you can apply the meaning of the card to your real life situation. So themed decks are not always that useful for actual readings. Then can be, but not always. That's the way I see it.

I am not sure what crossroads decision I will have to make today, other than the fact that the hubster wants to go see 'Man of Steel' today, and I really do have a lot to do today and would rather stay home and get things done. To stay or to go...stay and get ready for the coming week but risk disappointing hubby, or go and miss out on the better part of the day (going to the movies ends up taking around four hours) only to come home tired, hungry and after the shops have closed. Decisions, decisions.


  1. Ha! Such a choice! My mom and son want me to go see the movie with them. I told them both I was waiting till it's out on DVD. ;-)

  2. Interesting, I'd never thought of this card as being about conforming to tradition without question... Your take on chivalry is hilarious, and so true. Pointless battles for doubtful honour, they do end up sounding like gullible thugs!

    My advice, whichever choice you make, try to embrace it :)