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Asking the Oracle

Looking to the 11th and 21st cards of the Tarot deck to consider what the 11th year of the 21st century may have in store

By Ali Hibbs

Eleven is my favorite number. I like how the ones stand proudly next to each other, like a happy little couple, simultaneously sovereign and codependent. I was born on the first day of the 11th month. In numerology, my “life path” is 11—a Master Number related to things like nervous energy, excessive idealism and spiritual illumination. For reasons I no longer remember, I always make a wish when I notice that the clock says 11:11, and I once read somewhere that seeing 11:11 a lot means that your life is about to change. So, it makes a certain kind of sense that this particular New Year prompted me to dust off my neglected Tarot deck and see what 2011 might hold.

Tarot is often quickly dismissed as foolish or heretical, but it is actually based on commonly accepted psychological archetypes, ideas that were made most famous by renowned psychologist C.G. Jung and the mythologist Joseph Campbell. Most of us understand archetypal conceptions: the wise man, the gilded hero, the old crone or young maid. Fairy tales are full of them. We all inhabit certain archetypes at different times in our lives. Tarot uses these common ideas to help the reader consider their situation from a broader, symbolic perspective, allowing them to depersonalize emotional issues and arrive at more honest conclusions. Some would say that the symbolism in Tarot can help to unlock the inner psyche, others believe it’s a point of access for interpreting a collective subconscious, and still others simply consider it a form of interactive prayer with the spiritual being of their choice. There are many ways to consider the Tarot, very few of which are likely to be wrong. (Personal note: I try to approach my oracles with a certain amount of spiritual irreverence, unabashed appreciation and few prior assumptions.)

“I don’t have to have faith; I have experience,” an unapologetic Campbell said of spiritual belief. Stressing that some forms of understanding must be sought out and experienced directly, Campbell coined the phrase “Follow your bliss.” He said he was inspired by a term he came across in the Upanishads denoting the point where one breaks out of their comfort zone and leaps into the abyss of the unknown. In Tarot, that archetypal idea is known as the Fool. It is the first (or last) card in the Major Arcana.

The Major Arcana is the name for the 22 unsuited trump cards in the Tarot deck: the Lovers (VI), Death (XV) and the Moon (XVIII), for example. They typically exert more influence or hold more universal meaning than the 56 suited cards of the Minor Arcana, which became the basis for modern playing cards. The Fool (0) was the only trump to make it into the modern playing deck, appearing as the Joker.

Tarot works through chance and intuition, as well as imagery, so the way in which one can use the cards is surprisingly flexible. More intricate readings typically reveal much greater nuance and complexity. Wanting a general overview for 2011, I looked at the 11th and 21st cards of the Major Arcana to see what symbolic significance they might hold for the 11th year of the 21st century.

The 11th card is located between the Wheel of Fortune (X) and the Hanged Man (XII). It’s called Justice (XI) in most traditional Western decks. (In some decks it’s called Kharma due to concerns that the idea of justice has become too associated with our manmade judicial systems). Upon further investigation, I found that other versions of Tarot (i.e., virtually all of them before the 20th century) show a different card in the 11th position. Strength (XIII) and Justice have been reversed. Unsure how to proceed, I put both versions of them in front of me and stared for a while before realizing that there was another 11:11 right in front of me. Intuition and synchronicity, therefore, seemed to dictate that I delve into the meaning of both cards. (It is worth noting that Justice and Strength are two of only four virtue cards found in the Major Arcana and that they closely mirror the cardinal virtues of the Christian church.)

The Justice card is strongly associated with the idea of facing up to the consequences of one’s actions, something that seems especially relevant in light of recent national events. Economic calamity, the BP oil spill and recent events in Tucson have forced us to take a closer look at the way we handle our material wealth, treat our natural resources and communicate with each other. While the Justice card may feel a bit like punishment and severity (perhaps even austerity), it’s actually an admonition to regain balance through objective reasoning. This card is no emotional plea; it is about stone-cold rationality. For example, because our limited natural resources are an unavoidable fact, thoughtless and unlimited consumption cannot continue without serious repercussions. Stone cold. There is no ethical right or wrong implied here, only the suggestion that we can mitigate the negative effects of unthinking action by stopping and really looking at things dispassionately and honestly. Letting go of harmful habits, ceasing wasteful behaviors, and employing rationality of thought rather than emotional reactivity are all suggested by the Justice archetype.

Strength, the original 11th card, has also been called Desire. It actually complements Justice beautifully. The major theme here is one of self- control. Conquering our lower desires, such as the need for ultimately unsatisfying things like immediate gratification, influence or revenge, is considered necessary to make proper decisions and achieve worldly success. There is a strangely satisfying suggestion that the whole range of human possibilities must be experienced before one can be completely free from desire, but it is that ultimate liberation that is the prevailing idea in this card. The lion, a symbol of solar energy, is often depicted in the Strength card. In this case, the lion, which must be tamed, could also denote the actual concept of solar energy as a possible strength. (There are typically multiple levels of meaning in any given card.) We already have the means to solve many of the problems we have created for ourselves, such as the ability to “tame” the energy of the sun and make use of other alternatives to wasteful and nonrenewable sources. While Justice suggests changing our course of action, Strength seems to be comfortingly implying that we have the necessary means to do so, both internally and externally.

The World (XXI) is the final numbered card in the Major Arcana and arguably the 22nd, as the Fool represents 0. (Another double 11!) It is also related to balance, but it implies the actual attainment of that balance. Although perfection and completion are key ideas, it doesn’t necessarily imply that perfect balance can be attained in the coming year—it is, after all, the number of the entire century—but it may be reminding us that balance is both possible and desirable. The omega position of the World in the deck is also, finally, suggestive of brand-new beginnings. Once balance is achieved, the Fool will once again leap off into the ever-waiting abyss and the cycle will begin anew.


Making a Joyful Noise

Music Together uses the power of song to build cognition, language and physical development in young children

By Kathryn Geurin

My daughter is a dancer. She’s been dancing since before she could walk, before she could crawl. I do not mean this in a virtuosa, prima ballerina sort of way. I mean this in a gangly, teetering 1-year-old sort of way. When music comes on—any music, Leonard Cohen, the Muppets, Stan Ridgeway, Yo Gabba Gabba, a ring tone, a jingle, a music box, our repertoire of passed-through-the- generations ditties—she jolts out of her tiny busyness and lurches into a bobbling, bouncing boogie.

For Christmas, our tiny dancer was gifted a drum full of percussion instruments, and her impromptu dances are evolving to include the enthusiastic shaking, clanking and banging of bells, maracas, and nubbly caterpillar drumsticks against everything in the house—mom, dad and self included—in her rhythmic quest. Like, I’m sure, most any child, saturated in the newness of their senses and unfettered by the weight of self-consciousness, music moves her diminutive body, soothes her spirit and ignites her mind.

So, when we got a tip about Deb Kavanaugh’s Heldeberg Music Together class, an Albany outlet for the international early-childhood music and movement program, it seemed right up our alley.

The little one delighted in our first class, in the songs, the movement, the camaraderie of other tykes, the—gasp!—bucket full of percussion instruments spilled across the floor. And I delighted right along with her, in her joy and excitement. But after sitting down with Kavanaugh and reading through a passel of studies about music development, it became clear there was even more to celebrate about Music Together than the fun of it all.

The mixed-age curriculum, first offered nearly 25 years ago, is built on a strong foundation of research, which Music Together continues to follow, conduct and respond to. Studies are now regularly conducted on the impact of Music Together on child development, and have shown a correlation between participation in preschool Music Together programs and significant gains in cognitive, language, and physical development.

Similar studies about music education in general, including studies in the late ’90s that indicated a link between music training and spatial reasoning in young children, got parents and early-childhood educators fired up about music education. But Kavanaugh and the developers of Music Together prefer to advocate the value of music for its own sake.

According to reasearch by the National Association for Music Education, “Music is among the first and most important modes of communication experienced by infants. The youngest children lack the gift of speech, but they are deeply responsive to the emotional ethos created by music. . . . Songs communicate adult love and the experiences of joy and delight; they teach children that the world is a pleasurable and exciting place to be. Music is essential to the depth and strength of this early foundation for learning and for connecting to life itself.”

But listening to music is only the start, and that’s where Music Together comes in.

“Music really is supposed to be done,” says Kavanaugh. “It’s a participatory thing. In other cultures, especially indigenous cultures, where they haven’t been, well, spoiled by society is the way I like to look at it, they sing all the time. It’s just part of their culture and part of their everyday life. We’re working on building that with families here.”

One of the key tenets of the program is active parent participation, but Music Together is no lapsit, sing-song circle of bitsy spiders and twinkling stars. What it is, says Kavanaugh, “is a language immersion class,” in the language of music. “Like reading readiness. It’s music readiness.”

As free and fun as the classes feel, they have a clearly defined structure, and the music collections, while specifically tailored for kids, challenge their ears and minds with musical complexity. “In every class we have to have at least three songs that are in a non-major key, and we have to have at least three that are in a non-double meter,” says Kavanaugh. Each class also has at least three songs without words, repeated tonal and rhythm patterns and a movement arc, which flows from focused movement to large movement and settles back again.

As with language development, early childhood—from birth to 6 years—is the most significant period for musical development, and has been identified as the “music babble stage.” According to Lili Levinowitz, director of research for Music Together, these years are “critical for learning how to unscramble the aural images of music and develop mental representations for organizing the music of the culture,” a skill known as audiation. The congnitive ability to process tone and rhythm and the kinesthetic abilities of movement and vocalization are largely defined during early childhood.

And yet, Kavanaugh, who was raised in a musical family, was stunned to find that many parents didn’t know any children’s songs, or only knew one or two. As our culture moves away from active music participation and more toward passive music listening, sadly, the shift can be seen in our children. A 1998 study of American kindegartners showed that fewer than half were able to differentiate their singing voices from their speaking voices. Another study indicated that many kindegartners were unable to march in a regular rhythm or repeat simple motor patterns.

“Music has been used forever to commune with the spirits,” says Kavanaugh, “to bring people together, to celebrate, to communicate with each other. Indigenous people really know that, and they use it on a regular basis. I feel like we, in this country, have forgotten that. I’d like to see us get that back.” Her goal, she says, is “to have everybody out there doing music in their homes. Imagine what a wonderful world it would be if we were all singing. Walking down the street, working, playing . . .”

Through Music Together, she’s found a path to help families toward that goal. A longtime musician and teacher, Kavanaugh took the Music Together teacher training six years ago and has since led more families than she can count on their musical journey. She currently teaches 10 classes each semester, four in Delmar and six in Albany, and the program continues to blossom.

In fact, Kavanaugh believes so deeply in the program that it is her policy to make it accessible for everyone. “I have people who trade with me, people who do payment plans, people on partial scholarships,” she says. “I think it’s really important. I was a low-income, single mother for a long time. . . . There were so many times when there was an opportunity that I would have loved to have for my children, that really would have enriched their lives, and I wasn’t able to do it. I never turn anybody away.”

Like she hoped, Music Together is building a culture of music. Families are meeting in class and building friendships beyond. “When the families come together,” she says, “the kids pull everyone together and start singing. We’re creating these little communities within the larger communities that are being led, in some ways, by the children.”

And Kavanaugh is shaping musicians. “You’ll see infants, after they go through a semester, if they fuss or if they’re cooing,” she says, “you’ll notice that they’re doing it in the key that we just sang, and all of them, pretty quickly, get the rhythm down.”

Sure enough, on the way home from our second class, Amelia took up the plastic measuring cups she clatters to amuse herself on car rides and began clanking them together, but there was a change in the usual cacophony of babble and crash. She was tapping the cups in a regular beat. And, in her own curious, bumbly tune, she sang the whole way home.


What’s Out There

From herbs to gems, energy medicine to psychic surgery, one ailing gent attempts to find the alternative therapy cure-all

By B.A. Nilsson

Feeling shitty? So am I. Late middle age and a slothful life have combined to hit my body with a colorful array of aches so I almost buzz with discomfort wherever you may touch me—like that bulb-nosed patient in the game Operation, only fatter.

I have shopped in several marketplaces of treatment over the years, mainstream and alternative, with, not surprisingly, varying result levels from both. For a swollen joint, I’d rather get an acupuncture treatment than a cortisone shot, but there’s a chance that I respond better to the former because I’m spending 30 to 40 minutes with (or near) a practitioner, as opposed to the wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am approach of some of the orthopedic mills.

Twenty years ago, during a road trip that took me through Santa Fe, Santa Cruz and other West Coast high-consciousness burgs, I marveled at the range of alternative therapies available, even if the word “colonic” seemed common to many of them.

The Capitol Region (almost proudly, I think) keeps itself about 20 years behind what the rest of the country is doing, so it’s not surprising that many of those therapies now are available here today. You’ll find them in places like Albany’s Healing Arts and Chiropractic Center, the Capital Region Wellness Center, Delmar’s Center for Integrative Health and Healing and even stodgy Albany Med. Whether you’re getting quackery or quiescence is up to you, but here’s a look at some of what’s out there—in many senses of the phrase.

Bioenergy Treatments

Many therapies address our built-in energy branches, the arrangements of chakra and qi, mana or prana, that offer a road map of potential healing. Typically termed “energy medicine,” these practices spin off from the work of Zdenko Domanèiæ, who, in the 1970s, studied martial arts techniques as a jumping-off point. The Ireland-based Plexus Bio-Energy System gained all sorts of recognition when Riverdance terp Michael Flatley reported salubrious results after treatment. Bioenergy (also known as Therapeutic Touch) is represented as something that can be applied long-distance, or, more correctly, practiced by you in your own home. It’s also commended as being effective for pets, which could be challenging: My dog sees any attention as an invitation to play tug of war.

EFT: Emotional Freedom Techniques, AKA Meridian Tapping Techniques

Like an angry schoolmarm disciplining a recalcitrant kindergartner, this one gives your disruptive energy a smackdown, albeit a gentle one, with two fingertips. It’s an organized system of tapping key energy points on the body, easily self-administered and typically performed in a specific sequence or “round.” The benefit claims are lengthy, including alleviation of pretty much every discomfort known to humankind.

Eden Energy Medicine

It’s not that Donna Eden has co-opted the field of energy medicine, but that she’s created a nationally based, well-organized network of practitioners with enough presence that her name often gets attached to the technique. As she describes it, the practice “utilizes techniques from healing traditions such as acupuncture, yoga, kinesiology, and qi gong.” As this goes to press, she’s hosting a four-day healing retreat on Paradise Island in the Bahamas, which I kick myself (gently, on the appropriate pressure point) for missing. Between energy medicine and a tropical beach, I’m sure to feel better.

Gem Therapy

If it’s good enough for Uma Thurman. . . . This one comes from ancient Vedic writings that suggest you can heal specific areas of the body by tuning them to the various vibrations of different stones. Rubies and red garnets, for example, are good for the heart, spleen and brain, ameliorate hypertension, infections, fevers, a nasty temper, poor circulation, edema and lousy eyesight. And they get rid of acne. If that seems too much to remember, an emerald may be of help. Thurman is know to wear a carnelian necklace for increased vitality and happiness.

Crystal Healing

Coordinate those stones and crystals with your chakras and you’re employing a technique that has been practiced by Hopi and Hawaiians, and reported by cultures from Egypt to China. But beware the overlap with the utter fakery of so-called “psychic surgery,” whose practitioners often use a laser quartz wand as part of their faux-surgery toolkits. Incision-free operations are as plausible as calorie-free Big Macs.

Ozone Therapy

First touted as a disinfectant, ozone therapy has adherents who claim it cures the biggies, including AIDS and cancer. A significant drawback is that it’s toxic even in the doses needed to kill germs. Leading a chorus of condemnation is the Food and Drug Administration, which recognizes no medical applications and reiterates that the germicidal application comes at too high a health price. But the good old FDA (think: former Monsanto employees) also approved the disinfectant use of ozone for the well-heeled food-processing industry.

Mistletoe Injections

It’s claimed to work with your immune system and thus gets touted as a cancer-fighting agent. A localized injection is supposed to slow or reverse the growth of cancer cells. This has placed it under the microscope of scientific study, and the jury remains out, although Germany’s health regulatory agency has approved mistletoe as a palliative. No wonder I can’t find it at Christmas parties any more.

Colon Cleansing

Look it up on Wikipedia, and you’ll find a photo captioned “Inferior Enema kit for use during a colon cleanse.” It’s tough to be objective. Also known as colonic hydrotherapy or colonic irrigation, it’s supposed to remove that terrible buildup of rotted fecal matter in your bowels, which otherwise leads to all sorts of disease. Trouble is, medical science has yet to find such a buildup in there.

Urine Therapy

After Peggy Salinger published her not-very-nice portrait of father J.D. a decade ago (the book is titled Dream Catcher: A Memoir), she was forced to hire bodyguards to protect her from a fleet of angry proto-Holden Caulfields. But I like to think that when they learned that their favorite author practiced urine therapy for a while—yes, it’s exactly what you think it is—they, too, tippled from their personal streams.

Vaginal Steaming

There are a few things in life, such as riding a steeplechase and walking on the moon, I know I shall never enjoy. Add one more. Vaginal steambaths are supposed to treat or allay many a (as I see it, nicely termed) female symptom, and what do you do? Heat a pot of herb- and oil-enhanced water, spend a peaceful 20 minutes letting its steam waft around, and try to stay warm and relaxed thereafter. I may try it anyway—I’ve got more than a few male symptoms to chase down.

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