Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?

Paul Gauguin was a successful stockbroker, married with a wife and children and living a life of luxury when he started painting, out of boredom. The story is not so unusual, were it not for the fact the setting is 1870’s Paris, and also the fact that this little whim of a hobby would eventually lead Paul to leave everything – his comfortable life, career, his wife and  children, to pursue life as a painter. This would eventually take Gauguin all the way to the beautiful island of Tahiti, seeking a lost paradise, freedom, warmth and beauty, and where in 1897 he started painting Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?

Paul Gauguin – Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?

Gauguin paid a high price for his art. The opening of his soul, the awakening of consciousness and the drive to express this through what has been described as a primitive painting style were not qualities appreciated by society at the time, and his pursuit of art was certainly not supported by a wife accustomed to an abundant and prosperous lifestyle. Regardless of what critics make of his style and paintings, the works of Gauguin are rarely available for sale, and when they are, command tens of millions of dollars.

So today I did a three card spread on this painting with the Haindl deck. I did this because I feel these questions are imperative, perhaps even more so now at this critical time in our unfolding. I specifically noted that ‘we’ in the three questions refers to humanity.

1. Where do we come from: The Emperor
2. What are we: 5 of Wands – Conflict
3. Where are we going: The Hierophant

Gauguin Spread – Haindl Tarot

The Emperor: patriarchal society, control, masculine authority, rules, laws. Note however that this Emperor is not wearing king’s garments, or sitting on a throne. He is naked in a forest, in front of a mighty tree (the tree is Yggdrasil, the world tree of Nordic mythology).

5 of Wands – Conflict: we are conflict. Really, this card initially puzzled me, and then its title just made it obvious. Perhaps this is our inner restlessness, perhaps it’s about the pressures of change that we are experiencing – environmentally, spiritually (numerologically 5 is all about change). Rachel Pollack notes it is “people striving or battling but without hatred or bitterness”. Maybe we are a “creative struggle”. Note that the I Ching hexagram on this card is “Revolution/Changing”.We are a continuous transformation.

The Hierophant: divine and religious teachings, tradition, community, institutions, the value of knowledge as imparted via doctrines and religious organisations. “The word hierophantos is Greek, the title of the high priest of the mysteries of Demeter and Persephone. Hierophant means “the one who shows the sacred objects.” Religious tradition, one of the major themes of the card, involves wisdom, but even more so, the sharing of veneration.”

Sources: National Gallery of Art USA and The Haindl Tarot by Rachel Pollack (2002)




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