The Judgement card: when I first began studying the Tarot, it was hard to connect to its Biblical imagery, and the notion of “Judgement Day” that it evoked. But experience and observation has showed me that this card is not a harbinger of punishment for sins, but a time of great transition and rebirth in which the self is purified through release of the old and acceptance of the new. This card is ruled by Pluto, which astrologically corresponds to deep soul memory, ancestral memory, and slow but massive transition. Because this card has been coming up so frequently in readings for others and for myself, I’m taking this opportunity to reflect on some of the meanings it evokes, both personally and collectively.
(Judgement card from the Medieval Scapini Tarot deck)
Pluto was discovered in 1930, which is right around the time that Freud introduced the idea of the “subconscious mind” to the general public. Up until Pluto, astrologers didn’t have a planet that related to the subconscious mind, simply because an understanding of it didn’t collectively exist yet.
In this way we can see that we are sorely limited by what we believe to be true, and we can only assume that further astronomical discoveries will teach us as much about what’s Out There as what’s In Here. In a natal chart reading, Pluto's placement points to a deep unconscious security need which is seeking to be resolved in this lifetime. Unraveling this mystery is one of the most illuminating aspects of a natal chart reading, and is helpful for understanding what we may be carrying from the deep past into to our current incarnation.
When I was around seven years old, I devised a kind of divinatory ritual on my walk to school every morning. Just before approaching the threshold of the crosswalk, where the crossing guard (who acted as a kind of psychopomp) ushered me from the world of home to the world of school, I’d kick a pinecone several feet ahead of me, and observe the direction it was pointing when it landed. If it was pointing away from me, it would be a good day, if pointing towards me it would be a bad day, and if pointing sideways it would be a neutral day. It was a small ritual that connected me the sense that the universe was alive and in conversation with me, and that I could participate in this larger process.
And then a few months ago, pinecones appeared in my life again, when I was undertaking an apprenticeship in core shamanism with Mimi Young. Mimi works from a Chinese shamanic perspective, but core shamanism is a cross-cultural practice which, at its essence, is the practice of entering a trance-like state with a drum and a rattle in order to “journey” to other realms to interact with spirits from the plant, animal and human kingdoms. Skeptical of my own abilities, but open to the possibilities, I journeyed one evening with the intention to meet one of my grandfather’s parents. I didn’t know their names or faces, but I had a family history book on hand which I could check for information afterwards. During this journey, I saw the face of a sorrowful woman, and saw some distinct images of pine trees. I didn’t have a conscious understanding of what it meant, but when I consulted my family’s book afterwards, I saw my great-grandmother’s face, staring back at me with big sad eyes, and with the last name of Pinelli.
Curiosity about pinecones led me to discover that due to their similarity in appearance, they’re named after the pineal gland, a tiny pea-sized endocrine gland located in the center of our brains. Descartes called it “the principle seat of the soul.” Its purpose remains somewhat mysterious to scientists, but its primary functions seem to be the secretion melatonin, serotonin, and DMT.
DMT is psychoactive on its own and is released in tiny amounts during deep meditation, birth, lucid dreaming, orgasm, near-death experiences, and death itself. It turns out that pinecones were revered in many ancient cultures because of this connection and the pineal gland’s role in mystical experience. They can be found in religious and esoteric imagery across cultures for centuries — in the ruins of ancient Egyptian, Aztec, Greek, Indonesian, and Babylonian cultures — and even the Catholic Church, today, features a giant pinecone statue outside the Vatican in the “Court of the Pinecone" (pictured to the right).
The evolutionary function of the pine cone, much like our physical bodies, is to keep the seeds inside of it safe until they are ready to be released. Some pinecones can only release their seeds after a fire — they need intense destruction in order to regenerate. And yet, the pinecone is one clue (among many) embedded into Nature, which reminds us that life is not the opposite of death: birth is. Life encompasses it all, and somehow death and destruction are built into the fabric of it. If we are lucky, sometimes moments of breakdown become opportunities for new growth, and for the creation of new rituals.
Recently, I also came across James Hillman’s “acorn theory,” which is the idea that “each person bears a uniqueness that asks to be lived and that is already present before it can be lived.” Hillman was the founder of Archetypal psychology in the 1960s, which grew out of Jungian psychology, and was focused on the transpersonal dimensions of psychotherapy. He believed conventional psychology had gotten away from its true purpose — speaking to the soul — at the expense of “seminars on how to clean closets, or withhold orgasms.” I see the birth chart as a kind of acorn — the psychological, emotional, spiritual seed we are born with, which unfolds in a myriad of possibilities over a lifetime. In essence, it’s a framework for understanding the unique blueprint of an individual soul, held within the larger matrix of family, society, ancestral memory, and deep (Pluto) memory.
Astrology and Tarot are both archetypal systems of personal and collective symbols, and both are vehicles for our consciousness to engage with itself and with a mysterious process that evades explanatory language. In Jungian psychology, a psychopomp — which traditionally refers to a figure who guides the newly deceased souls into the underworld, like the Egyptian god Anubis or the Greek god Hermes — is understood as the mediator between the conscious and subconscious realms. This is part of how I view Tarot and Astrology: they are tools that allow what’s below (or above) our conscious awareness to become visible, and understood in new ways.
What started as a handy divination tool in my childhood then appeared in my life many years later as a clue which connected me to my ancestors. And culturally, the pinecone holds scientific, religious and esoteric meaning as a symbol for a mysterious part of our consciousness, the part that brought me into contact with the pinecone in a meaningful way in the first place. My pinecone ritual came full circle after making a divination board that incorporates the 22 Major Arcana figures of the Tarot, their astrological correspondences, and a spinning pinecone in the center, pictured below. This board evolved out of a conversation and ceremony with Georgia Wall (The Ceremonialist) who I highly recommend if you're interested in a personal and meaningful ceremony to honor any type of occasion or transition, from the joyful to the painful.
These tools do not provide all of the answers to all of life’s mysteries. But they do provide a way to be with the questions, and to navigate uncertainty with more insight and understanding. If you are in a Plutonian transition — and even if you’re not — I love to assist in uncovering deeper meanings, insights and connections in your life through my readings. If you’re interested in getting a Tarot reading, a natal chart reading, or a combination of both, you can find more information by clicking this link.