Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Tale of Three Cities: Elemental Chattanooga

The morning of September 13th came early for us. My beloved and I decided to get on the road as soon as we could so we could be in Chattanooga by mid-afternoon, so it was a 4:00am wake-up call and we were out the door and on our way by 5:00am. 

Once we arrived in Chattanooga, it was about 3:30 and we were spent. So we took some time looking around the historic Chattanooga Choo-Choo hotel. 

This hotel is one of the coolest properties I have ever seen, and I was thrilled to be able to spend the night there. Chattanooga was a very important rail hub in the history of the American railway, and was the first city that connected the North and the South after the Civil War, or "The War of Northern Aggression" if you prefer. The South narrowed the rails during the war so that no Northern train could enter without going off the tracks. "Southern hospitality" was a little different during those days, I figure. 

Anyway, the hotel is the actual Chattanooga main rail terminal! The tracks are still there, and so is the main terminal building, which is gorgeous. We took a ride on the country's oldest working streetcar--originally from New Orleans, which I had guessed just by its setup!--and just walked around. The platforms are still there, but there are beautiful gardens and fountains everywhere. But the energy--that hum of activity--was still there for me. Walking down the platform I could only imagine what getting on a train there back in the 40s or 50s was like. 

The whole property was headed for the wrecking ball in late 1970 when the last passenger train left Chattanooga; sadly, despite its amazing rail history, the city is not served by Amtrak today. But at least some investors got together and on the last day--literally one hour--before the deadline to purchase the property passed, it was saved. 

Our hotel "room" was on the tracks: A Victorian rail car that was formerly used by the ultra-rich to travel in style. It was truly amazing! It was like having your own condo. Even though it didn't go anywhere, it was cool to imagine what it would have been like 75 years ago to move around that way. Sure beat the pants of the 10 and a half hours we had spent in my Hyundai to get to Chattanooga!

Travel is definitely in the fiery realm, and for me, long-distance rail is part of the fire element. The further you are from a place, the more of the idea of discovery is present, and when travel is far away from home, to a foreign country, or lasts longer than about two weeks, it goes in the fire category. So in the station I definitely felt fire. Of course, no trains are moving around in the yard now, and the people move through the platforms taking pictures and eating ice cream without a true sense of urgency, but I could definitely sense the "fire" at the station. 

In the area, earth was also prominent, but I didn't experience it as much. One of the most important local landmarks is Lookout Mountain, which sadly we didn't get time to see on this trip. Certain people believe the name "Chattanooga" comes from the local Indian phrase meaning "the eagle's nest" because the trees at the top of the mountain, when seen from the city, looked like a bird's nest. Anyway, this mountain is an important part of local tourism and boasts an incline railway and a site known as "Rock City". 

Most of what I felt, however, was more personally directed earth energy; with all of the preparations for Jen's birthday and the early departure, I was exhausted arriving in Chattanooga. I was afraid to lay down before Jen's birthday dinner because I wouldn't have wanted to get back up. And I had fever/chills during the night as well, which made me a little nervous. I think I was just plain worn out; luckily a few Advil managed to take care of that problem. Thank the Lord and Lady for "earthy" medicine!

Air was the element that Chattanooga lacked for me. There didn't seem to me to be that energy of lots of people talking, or lots of creativity. Air didn't really resonate with me there for some reason, though I should have considered writing a blog in the rail car. 

For the record, local travel--transit that includes local buses, taxis, commuter rail trains, and other forms of public transportation--is considered air. Really, that local stuff is Mercury-ruled so I consider air to represent any local form of travel, and that includes our daily commute or other "repeated" trips. 

One area where Chattanooga really surprised me, and the one strong "breath of fresh air" was their downtown public transportation system. It's an electric shuttle that was paid for in part by government subsidies. It is totally FREE and runs every 5-15 minutes through the downtown. The bus terminus was at our hotel, so it was easy to stay out of our car during our evening in Chattanooga. And imagine: Since the bus is electric, it helps keep the environment, especially our AIR, clean. Hey, how about THAT for irony?

Water was probably the easiest one for this trip overall, and for Chattanooga. The Tennessee River goes right through Chattanooga, and one of the more picturesque views of the city is from the river looking at the Tennessee Aquarium, our main reason for visiting. Remember when cities were founded they needed fresh water? It's likely that without the river, no city would have ever taken hold here. 

The Aquarium was excellent and set up in a "campus" style; they had separate buildings for ticket sales, ocean, and river exhibits. And it was nice to finish one building, take a few minutes to just sit around outside, and then go into the next building at your leisure instead of the "forced march" that occurs in many other aquariums. 

Of course, I definitely felt the water element watching my beloved enjoy marine wildlife, which is one of her passions. :)

Monday, September 23, 2013

Book Review: "The Transformational Truth of Tarot: The Fool's Journey" by Tiffany Crosara

The Transformational Truth of Tarot: The Fool’s Journey
Tiffany Crosara
Dodona Books, $24.95

When people first open a tarot book, many of them will idly skim through, checking out the pictures and looking for key words and phrases. Then when they finally do go back through and read the book, they start with the first chapter after the introduction. Because honestly, who wants to read the introduction anyway, right?

The Transformational Truth of Tarot has an introduction that is really worth reading. Tiffany Crosara talks about her journey, but not just the wonderful, magical parts of it. There’s the part where she tricks herself into believing the tarot is telling her exactly what she wants to hear, and her dismay—and later hope—in realizing the truth.

I was especially moved by her description of how the cards predicted a miscarriage for her, and after it happened, how she put them away only to eventually allow the tarot’s wisdom to help herself and others through healing, empowerment, and positivity. I saw myself in many parts of it. It was personal and powerful.

The layout of the book is pretty standard for many in the field: Introduction, major arcana, minor arcana, and a few spreads.

One of the best parts of this book for me is the description of the major arcana cards, and an in-depth look at the symbols that are on them. Tarot students often ask me about them, and for a beginning tarot student this kind of information is especially useful. Sometimes as a reader I notice different parts of the card, and it’s helpful to have a reference.

The minor arcana have less to offer, but there is some valuable material nonetheless. One of my personal pet peeves is the use of one word to describe a tarot card. Crosara lists one above each tarot card image, and while I agree with many—the Six of Swords listed as “Moving on” is one I could definitely get behind, for example—there is always the danger that a beginning tarot student could latch so hard onto that word without considering other options.

Crosara makes no secret of the fact that she is always looking for the positive in readings, and clearly, based on her own experiences she is not someone who only sees the good in the messages of the cards. With that said, some of the minor arcana of the Swords I felt were spun in a little too positive a way for me. But these were the exception rather than the rule, and every tarot reader is different.

I also liked the section on each of the court cards by element, and I would have loved to see more from it. I was disappointed when it was over. But it gave some excellent qualities to consider when reading the court cards, an area that puzzles and confuses a lot of tarotists.

Overall, this is a decent introduction to the tarot, and if you’re looking for a book written by a tarotist who really lives their craft, I’d suggest The Transformational Truth of Tarot by Tiffany Crosara. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

A Tale of Three Cities: An Elemental Voyage

Hi everyone...after a somewhat long hiatus I'm back! With my beloved's birthday and a number of other events in the past month, finding the time to blog has been a challenge. But I hope to make up for it by giving some information about my recent vacation to the south with a little bit of a different take: An "elemental" look at the cities I visited. I hope to give some interesting facts about each city and relate it to each of the elements. 

Over the next few weeks, I plan to give you an opportunity to see each of these cities perhaps differently than you have in the past using an elemental perspective. What I mean by that is to talk about my impressions of these cities and how each of the four elements--fire, earth, air, and water--played a role in my visit to Chattanooga, TN; Atlanta, GA; and Gatlinburg, TN.  

So let's start with some overall comments about fire. Neither my beloved nor I had visited any of these cities before. That goes in the fire category with the idea of "discovery". Of course, many other people had seen these cities before I did, but there's always a sense of being a pioneer in my mind when I visit a new city, or even when I find a new shortcut. Travel is something that changes you; in many ways, it can alter your perspective or perceptions. That's one of the reasons why it's so important to get out of your daily routine every once in a while and travel. Luckily, the weather wasn't too fiery; toward the end once or twice I almost considered putting on a souvenir sweatshirt I had bought [GASP!]. 

The element that I personally felt the most was likely earth. While the trip didn't start out very earthy, it ended that way, as you'll see. But I think the earth energy effect we felt the most was soreness and fatigue of our physical bodies. While I'm no elder eagle, I'm no spry scorpion, either; we packed a lot of activities into nearly a week, and it took a toll on us. It didn't help that both of us were just post-cold, either, with a cough that just hung on for dear life. But we pushed ourselves to the limit. 

I felt air the most when communicating with the outside world. I totally enjoyed sharing my status updates and photos with friends from all over the world. Technology goes in the air element, and it was very easy to find a wireless network--you know, one floating around in the AIR?--anywhere we needed one, with a few rare exceptions. I got a real charge over everyone's interactions with me on where we were, as well as what we were doing and seeing. Since I don't do a TON of social media most days, it was liberating to be able to share what was up when I wanted. And it's amazing to know that no matter where I was, I could get a restaurant reservation, directions, or other tourist information just by taking my phone out of my pocket. I'm old enough to remember the days when phones were on walls and you waited by them for people to call you, and when faxing was considered cutting edge technology. 

Water is probably the most obvious element for this trip, for a few reasons. The trip celebrated the 40th birthday of my beloved, and love of course is part of the water element. The entire theme of the vacation was water-related, since we chose the three cities because they had aquariums that neither of us had ever seen. I even considered writing one of these blogs from the Georgia Aquarium, falling asleep in front of its 6.3 million gallon tank with four whale sharks. But that wouldn't have made a great place to do it, as you'll see when I talk about our visit to the ATL. 

I hope you'll find this interesting, and will stay tuned for my next installment! Until then, dear readers, may you be blessed with elemental balance. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Deck Review: Phantasmagoric Theater Tarot

The Phantasmagoric Theater Tarot

I found this deck in a place where I least expected it: In a toy store in New Hope, PA, a number of years ago. But for enthusiasts who are looking for a fun way to access the tarot, this may be your ticket.

In a word, this deck is “otherworldly”. The images on the cards are bright and funny; you may find yourself chuckling as you go through this deck. It definitely has a carnival/side show feel to it, and some of the drawings remind you of things you’ve seen up on the refrigerators of proud parents.  

OK, so let’s be honest…it’s easy to write off this deck. Heaven knows I wanted to, but I was too intrigued to walk away. It is definitely a more modern take on a venerable tool, but if you choose to work with it I think you’ll find yourself letting your intuition tell you more; since the imagery on the cards is decidedly less “serious” than on the traditional RWS, for example, you may find your subconscious taking you to places you never imagined you could go. 

So to say this deck is not typical would not be much of a stretch, based on what I’ve said so far. The major arcana is excellent at bringing out the astrological meanings of the cards, with the astrological symbol of the sign it represents somewhere on the card, like the Pisces symbol on one of the bottles on the Moon. The Emperor has a symbol of Aries on his forehead, but he definitely looks like a woman. 

For the first time in any tarot deck I have seen, the Devil appears as a woman, but she doesn’t look imperious; rather, she looks like she is enjoying her role as Princess of Darkness. The Tower is shown as a broken castle on a chessboard, but the bright red and blue colors make it look more like a buoy than the shocking revelation it portends. The Empress holds a shield and whip and looks a little bit confused as to what her role should be, while the High Priestess’ one eye is a pentacle.

The minor arcana has the traditional suits of Cups, Wands, Swords, and Coins (replacing Pentacles). Once again, the imagery is not traditional, yet the cards do convey meaning just the same. For example, the 10 of Swords shows a woman holding her head like she has a migraine, and a large cup has tipped over spilling an orange liquid on what appears to be a blueprint. The “Woe is me!” idea that often comes to mind for this card is apparent despite the nontraditional representation. The Two of Coins has a child with a barcode imprinted across both its eyes holding a mask, while other masks line the walls. For me, the masks represent the “fun” that is represented by the card, and the number of masks (at least 10) show the “flexibility” meaning rather well.

My favorite card in this deck is the Fool. He wears a tall pointed hat with question marks (a recurring theme in this deck) standing near the top of a mountain of brightly-colored rounded platforms. I know I’m dating myself but it reminds me of the game Q*Bert. [NOTE: If you were born after 1980 or so, or if you are as old or older than I am and video games did not have as formative a role in your childhood as they did my own, do a web search and take a look.] As he steps off into the unknown, The Fool is accompanied by a rat, who makes an appearance on several other cards; typically the rat is not an animal found on many tarot decks, but he seems cute enough.  

After reading tarot for a while, you figure out that no deck is for everyone. But this deck will appeal to Sagittarius folks and others who want to explore the playful side of the Tarot and let their subconscious mind out for recess.  However, it is NOT for beginners and will only appeal to some. For me it is a great, playful change of pace from the Rider-Waite imagery.