Sacred Sites: Six of Pentacles

Six of Pentacles
Sacred Site – The Bodhi Tree, India.

From the Little White Book: “According to tradition, under the shelter of its branches Siddhartha, after prolonged meditation, attained bodhi (illumination), and became the Buddha.” The Bodhi tree is one of the earliest Buddhist symbols and an object of great respect. When people asked the Buddha who they should pay respect to when he was absent, he replied that they should pay respect to a Bodhi tree. Since then Bodhi trees have been planted near Buddhist temples across the globe. They remind us of the dependence of our lives on nature and to be kind to each other.

An incredibly abbreviated telling of the Buddha’s life.

The Buddha was born Siddhartha (he who achieves his aim) Gautama in what is now Nepal in the 6th century BCE. His father was an elected chief of a tribe, his mother died only a week after giving birth to him. A hermit seer upon meeting the baby foretold great things for the young Siddhartha, he said he would either become a great king or a great spiritual leader. Siddhartha’s father wanted to shield him from the hardship and suffering of the world, and so raised him in a palace with little contact with the outside world. When the boy turned 16, his father arranged his marriage to a cousin named Yasodhara, they had a baby together and lived their young lives together within the confines of the palace.

Siddhartha was in his late 20’s when he ventured outside the palace walls and was confronted with the realities of human life. He saw an old man and his charioteer had to explain that all people grow old. With further trips into the outside world the young Siddhartha encountered a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and an ascetic. His charioteer explained everything he could to Siddhartha, that people grow old and die, that there are diseases in the world and that some people renounce the world in order to seek release from fear of death and suffering. Siddhartha was overcome by this knowledge and the philosophical thoughts that accompanied them. At age 29 he left his wife, his son and the palace to try to find a way to relieve the suffering that he now understood to be one of the defining traits of humanity.

For six years Siddhartha led an ascetic life and took part in its practices, meditating and studying under five religious teachers who, marveling at his dedication became his followers. His dedication was such that when answers to his questions weren’t forthcoming he redoubled his efforts, he fasted nearly to starvation, and refused water. But no matter how hard he tried, Siddhartha could not reach the level of satisfaction he sought, that is until one day whilst sitting under the Bodhi Tree, a  girl offered him a bowl of milk and honey. As he accepted the food, he realised that he was doing it all wrong, that living under these harsh physical conditions was not helping him get what he wanted, spiritual enlightenment. So he had his milk and honey, drank water and washed in the river. His five followers deciding that Siddhartha had given up on the ascetic life and would now follow a less austere life, left him (oh ye of little faith). Siddhartha sat under the Bodhi tree meditating for forty-nine days, purifying his mind and examining his life and previous lives until from within, Siddhartha finally saw the answer to the questions of suffering that had been his quest for so long. It was in that moment of pure enlightenment that Siddhartha Gautama became the Buddha (he who is awake). At Sarnath (Knight of Chalices), he met up with the five ascetics who’d abandoned him at the Bodhi Tree and it was there that he gave his first sermon. 

The Mahabodhi Temple at the Bodhi Tree, the site of Buddha’s enlightenment, is now a pilgrimage site.

Keywords: Sharing, charity, assistance.

Possible deck specific interpretations: Not so much an interpretation; every time I see this card my eye is drawn to the monks and that one is above the other. In the more “traditional” image of this card a person is distributing money, being charitable. I wonder in this image from the Sacred Sites deck, who is giving and who is taking between the two monks.

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Sacred Sites: Knight of Chalices

Knight of Chalices
Sacred Site – Sarnath, India.

Also known as Deer Park.

From the accompanying “Little White Book”: A sacred destination for Buddhists, it was here that the young Gautama Siddhartha gave his first sermon. 

There are two stories for this card, one is the coming of the newly enlightened Buddha to Sarnath from the Bodhi Tree, but being as this tale can be told in the Six of Pentacles, I thought I’d share this story about the Deer Park at Sarnath. It is told about Buddha that he spent many lives as various animals of the forest before being born into human form as the Prince Siddhartha Gautama. This story is about his life as a Deer, are you sitting comfortably?

Once upon a time, in the woodlands around Varanasi, a beautiful golden deer was born. His eyes were as bright as jewels, his hoofs were as black as coal, his little horns like silver, and… well, you get the picture, he was beautiful and perfect and he became known as King Banyan Deer. At the same time, not so far away another golden deer was born, just as beautiful, he was known as Branch Deer. As they both grew to maturity, each gathered a herd of five hundred deer and became kings of their bunch.

The King Brahmadatta of Varanasi was a big fan of deer; only trouble is he liked them in the form of venison and on his dinner plate. He hunted regularly, each time going to a different village in the area and ordering the people to work in the hunting party. The King probably thought he was doing them a favour by stopping them from working to join the hunt, but this wasn’t the case, work got affected by these interruptions, crops were left untended and businesses suffered. All the people from the villages came together and decided to build the King a deer park where he could hunt alone and have no need to disturb them from their work. This wasn’t just a fenced off area type of park, the villagers added ponds and trees and grasses, they included everything the growing deer needs Once the park was finished, the villagers rounded up two nearby herds of deer, King Banyan and Branch Deer’s bunch and drove them into the park and locked the gate.

King Brahmadatta was very pleased, he did have a thousand deer in a captive environment after all. While inspecting his new park the King noticed the two golden bucks with their impressive antlers and, because of their unusual beauty or because royalty recognises royalty he granted them immunity, no one could harm or kill them.

The King enjoyed his daily hunt, though I think it fair to say that the deer did not. With his bow and arrow Brahmadatta rode through the park scattering the deer hither and thither, some fell in their panic to get away, some were crippled or died from their injuries and generally life was made miserable for the deer. After a while, the two deer kings got together and Banyan King said, Although there is no escaping death, this needless suffering due to injuries and wounds can be prevented. Since King Brahmadatta only wishes the meat of one deer per day, we shall draw lots, one day a deer from your herd, one day one from mine, one deer at a time. That way the King will have his meat“. By this time King Brahmadatta was getting on in years and hunting was proving difficult, he favoured this proposal but reminded his staff that Banyan King and Branch Deer were exempt from the chopping block. From that day on, the deer whose turn it was would surrender them self and lay their neck onto the block, whereupon the cook would kill the deer and prepare the King’s venison.

One day, a pregnant doe from Branch Deer’s mob was drawn. She went to her king and requested that she be given a temporary pardon until her fawn was born, she said that afterwards, she would take her turn. The Branch King denied her, he said that changing the rules would upset things and he sent her on her way. The doe then went to Banyan King, she bowed before him and told him of her pregnancy. Banyan King realised that the lot was for one life, not two and said that he would take her turn; he then went to the chopping block and calmly laid his head upon it. When the cook arrived for the day’s meat and found one of the splendid golden deer that were ordered to be spared, he was undecided and ran off to tell King Brahmadatta. The King was astonished and went to the park to talk to the deer. Banyan King, I have ordered your life spared? What is the reason you come here like this?” King Banyan replied, “Oh King of men, a pregnant doe was unlucky enough to be drawn to die. She asked me to spare her and her unborn baby. I could not help but weep to think the fawn would never see the dawn and I could not force another to take her place. So I offer my life for the sake of the doe and her unborn baby.King Brahmadatta’s heart melted and he wiped a tear from his eye. He said, “Banyan King, even amongst humans I have not seen such compassion, such generosity to give your life for another, such great kindness and love for your fellow deer.

From then on King Brahmadatta commanded that there would be no more killing of the deer in his park. 

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A great many people believe that only humans know right from wrong, that only we rescue and defend others, and give their places and even their lives. Buddhists (and others including myself) believe that animals sometimes do too, this is shown in such stories of the past lives of the Buddha.

Keywords: Zeal, enlightenment, fervour.

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Sacred Sites: Two of Wands

Two of Wands
Sacred Site – Alchemy Gate, Rome.

The Alchemy Gate, also known as the Porta Alchemica оr Magic Portal was built between 1678 and 1680 by Massimiliano Palombara, the Marquis of Pietraforte in his Villa in Rome. Іt іs located in the Piazza Vittorio, and adjacent to the ruins of a large 2,000-year-old nymphaeum built by Emperor Alexander Severus.  There were five gates, but this is the only one that remains.

The story goes that in 1802 the alchemist Giustiniani Bono was staying in the villa as a guest, while there he searched the grounds for a herb that was an essential ingredient in his alchemical work of transmuting base metal into gold and gaining immortality. He may have found what he was looking for as the next morning he was seen to go through the doorway and disappear forever, (at least on this plain of existence). He did leave behind a few flakes of gold and a piece of paper covered with all the necessary formula for a successful alchemical transmutation, trouble is no one could translate the strange symbols. The Marquis had these symbols engraved on the doorway in the hopes that one day they would be translated. 

Erm, maybe I should say here that I found a few different stories on-line and made this one up from bits of each of them. In one the symbols magically appeared on the doorway after Bono stepped through, all agree that flakes or pieces of gold were found and Giustiniani Bono did disappear. The engraving on the doorway has been dated at 1860, way after Bono’s disappearance, so there’s another mystery. The statues on either side of the doorway are actually nothing to do with the portal, they are of Bes – the Egyptian god of Humour and Childbirth and were found at an archaeological dig in another part of Rome. Some one must have thought they would look good “guarding” it.

Keywords: Option, decision, planning.

Possible deck specific interpretations: Plan, and then put yourself in a position whereupon you can act on said plans, (just try not to disappear 🙂 ).

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I couldn’t find anything on YouTube (in English) for this card, so here’s a classic episode of the 60’s sci-fi tv show, The Time Tunnel, (there is a teensy connection… maybe)?¿!

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