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Monday, 10 June 2013

Enter the dragon

Haindl, Lotos 2002
Another major today! This is the World card, or 'The Universe', from the Haindl Tarot (Lotos 2002). It's certainly nothing like the World card familiar to us through older decks such as RWS, TdM, or even Thoth. The first thing you notice on this card is this big fire-breathing worm or firedrake, a very romantic-sounding word, and one I prefer to the word 'dragon'. Don't you love the word 'firedrake'?

Anyway, this firedrake is flying through outerspace, and he's a big old boy, because you can see that his body and tail actually encircle the earth (the end of his tail curls around the globe and is coming round from the left side of the card, see it?) Who is this serpent and what could he mean? Because he sure doesn't remind me at all of the Christ-in-glory imagery of the traditional World cards:

Click for image source

Nor is he like the Thoth Universe card, on which this card is presumably based, though at least there's a snake in that card. In Haindl's Universe card, the firedrake seems to be based on the World Serpent of Germanic myth, who has grown so large that he encircles the earth and grasps his own tail. When he lets go of his tail, the world will end. We can see in Haindl's card that the serpent has let go of his tail, so what does that mean? Is this a card of the end of the world? In a way, yes, because the Universe card is a card of transcendence, and releasing his tail allows the firedrake to fly off into the vastness of space and have a look around, just as enlightenment for us means a greater connection to whatever is beyond our current experience and understanding. However, I have no doubts that the dragon will come back to the earth. As Rachel Pollack says in Haindl Tarot: The Major Arcana, transcendence does not mean abandonment. In fact it means embracing the earth. The feeling here seems to be that in order to unite wholly with the earth, we must release our grip on it.

The Hebrew letter on this card is Tav, which means 'mark' or 'signature'. Pollack suggests that the uncoiled dragon is the breaking of the seal, which opens the mind. (The breaking of seals features prominently in the Book of Revelation of the Bible). The rune is Gebo, meaning 'Gift'. It is not much of a stretch to make the connection between supreme enlightenment and 'gift'. The firedrake may also be a reference to kundalini energy, which rises to create an 'ecstatic opening of the self to the entire universe' (Pollack). The planetary symbol is Saturn, which was once thought to be our outermost planet in this solar system, so it would represent 'outer limits' and beyond. 

One of the most interesting things about this card is how the planet earth is depicted from below. We usually see the earth depicted from above, looking down on it, because when we look out at the heavens we are looking up. It is reasonable to assume that when you move beyond the earth, you would be 'above' it. But actually, there is vastness on all sides of the earth, above below, all around. Seeing the earth from below helps remind us of the vastness of the universe. The earth is just a tiny dot hanging there, a dot amongst many. (We can see lots of the other 'dots' in the card, too). 

In a reading, I would say this card signifies going beyond your limitations, exceeding your wildest imaginings. Really getting out there and accomplishing all sorts of magnificent learning and achievement. It's a good card, even if that firedrake really does have a face only a mother could love. Plus it looks like he has a boot growing out of his head. 


  1. I didn't know there was a Germanic World Serpent myth - interesting! I connect this firedrake (good word though I like 'dragon', too) with the oroborus, and the cycle of life. Fascinating idea about why he has let go of his tail :)

    1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J%C3%B6rmungandr

    2. Interesting, Eowyn, thanks for the link :)

  2. Haindl was a Jew so it doesn't surprise me the standard christianized cards show a different view point from the herd.