Standing in the rain

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Thunder rolled overhead, and then the sound of rain began, soft and then louder, pounding the ground.  So I went outside.

When I was a kid, one of the best things to do ever was to be outside during a storm, feeling the rain, , splashing through puddles, getting drenched.  I’d take long walks in the rain and come home soaked and happy.  One of the best ways to be in the rain was at night, laying in the wet grass, face up, feeling the rain pound across me in waves.   I was outside of time, merged with energy of sky and land, a small being between sky and land, mediating the space between them, dissolving that boundary.

 I am the daughter of Earth and Water, and the nursling of the Sky… I change, but I cannot die.*

Sitting inside today, working, hearing the thunder begin, I realized how seldom I’ve been outside in a storm in recent years.   Some camping trips have been remarkably wet, but when camping, weather goes with the territory, and staying dry is a good practical decision. Here at home, I may feel thankful for rain, but when outside in it, I tend to run from doorway to car, from car to doorway.

Choosing rain is different.  I’m not dodging raindrops to get somewhere. The rain itself is where I’m going.  The object isn’t to get wet… that’s just a side effect.   The object is the rain itself, the moisture, the atmosphere, this particular way of experiencing water and weather.   There is a recklessness about rain.

Thunderstorms – big ones, real gully-washers, the kind that pound through town, that sweep twigs and leaves into the storm sewers and then vanish out into the plains – used to be a regular part of the spring and summer.   These sudden storms seem rarer now.   Rain seems rarer.   But the plants, the soil itself, are hungry for rain, excited for it.  Rain is erotic… Mother Earth getting a sloppy-wet kiss from the sky.  Carpe diem?  Carpe pluvia… sieze the rain.

Comes a time, with age or infirmity and the benign incarceration they can bring, when going outside at all unassisted may not be an option.  When a request to go outside into the rain may be translated as “let’s increase your dosage.”   I have loved ones and friends in that situation now, needing help to navigate a even few steps, protected from recklessness, protected from rain.  Well, you don’t need to protect me, not yet, dammit.

So, outside I go.  The rocks along the garden are brighter, their colors intensified by the moisture.  The scent of the rain-bruised mint plant infuses the wet air.   The clouds move off to the east, taking the downpour with them, but the grass glows green, and I’m wet.

My thanks to the storm gods.  My thanks to the water goddesses.  My thanks to the cloud spirits. My thanks for wet skin and the ozone rain aroma.  My thanks for this human form that I get to inhabit here for a while, so perfectly designed to enjoy a rainstorm.

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“The Cloud,” P. B. Shelley

The Three of Wands, at Sea

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Thou know’st that all my fortunes are at sea…
(Antonio, Act 1, scene 1, The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare)

“At sea” turns out to be a vital point in The Merchant of Venice.  To help finance his friend Bassanio’s courtship of Portia, the merchant Antonio borrows money, gambling on the potential gains from his various ventures.  In fact,

…he hath an argosy bound to Tripolis, another to the Indies; … a third at Mexico, a fourth for England… But ships are but boards, sailors but men…”
(Shylock, Act 1, scene 3)

Shylock loans Antonio the money.  Then, in subsequent scenes, we learn Antonio’s ships have all  been lost at sea.  Antonio is ruined and Shylock seeks to claim the macabre bond that Antonio agreed to, if the loan couldn’t be repaid: a pound of Antonio’s own flesh.

Antonio and Shylock ultimately land in court, with the latter ready to cut away a pound of the merchant’s flesh, when a young lawyer’s reasoned arguments reverse the decision against Shylock, saving Antonio’s life.  The lawyer is actually Portia, in male disguise.

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Ellen Terry

Where does the Tarot come in?  Pamela Colman Smith, the artist of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck (RWS), was also a professional designer of costumes and sets for English theatre companies.  That could be why Smith’s Tarot dramatis personæ tend to look like they’ve escaped from a Shakespeare play, and why some images have such a stage-like  appearance.

Look at the RWS’s 2, 5 and 7 of Swords; 2, 4, 9 and 10 of Wands; 2, 5, 10 and Page of Cups; and 2, 4, 6 and 8 of Pentacles: these cards’ foreground characters seem to be standing in front of theatrical backdrops, painted canvas panels that might be pulled up any moment to change to the scene.

Of greater interest is the fact that Smith was good friends with Ellen Terry (1847-1928), considered the greatest Shakespearian actress of her era.  The clearest artistic Terry-Tarot connection is in Smith’s Queen of Wands, which is believed to be modelled on Terry. wands-queen

More significantly, perhaps: Portia was one of Ellen Terry’s most acclaimed roles.  Smith’s 3 of Wands, I’m inclined to believe, gives a nod to Antonio, the merchant whose many ships are at sea, their fates boldly ventured, but still so uncertain.

Pamela Colman Smith is known to have created her Tarot designs between April and October, 1909, a remarkably short time.  Working so rapidly, would it be  surprising if she drew on familiar theatrical sources?  If she ever made notes on why she designed the Tarot cards as she did, no one has found those papers yet, which allows aficionados like me to wildly fantasize.

More coming about a different deck’s Three of Wands.