I put my favorite deck (the Shadowscapes) aside some time ago, with no intention of picking it up again. My readings with it had become frustrating and stressful, to the point where I would have a visceral reaction of displeasure to most of the images. As much as I loved the artwork, I didn’t think I should use it any longer.
After that, I switched deck styles completely, using various “historical” decks, like the LoScarabeo reproduction of the Visconti-Sforza. (It’s very shiny). Learning to read the simple pips is a fun and ongoing adventure. Recently though, I felt drawn back to my Shadowscapes. It was strong enough that I actually did take the deck out despite my misgivings, and pull a few cards. I felt the old connection with it come sparkling back.
Later, I messaged a friend wondering why I felt so strongly drawn to this old deck again. She simply replied that it probably had something to teach me. I wondered what on earth that could be, so I took the cards out one more time and shuffled them. Then I pulled one; It was the Heirophant.
Not very subtle.
One of the founders of the Western Buddhist Order (now rebranded as Triratna) wrote a book called Meeting the Buddhas. In it he described the familiar Buddhist icons known as mandalas as maps of one’s inner life and priorities. He asked us, his readers, what would be at the center if we made our own mandala.
I wrote in a previous post here, that I would put My Lady at the center of my own mandala. It was a reflexive answer, unprompted by any thought. Of course she goes there! Where else would she go?
The answer of course, is that there is more than one Saraswati in my mandala. She has ended up in every quarter and corner of my mandala and my life. She is the mandala just as she is my life.
One of the founders of the Western Buddhist Order, now known as Triratna, posed a question to readers in his book, Meeting the Buddhas: if your life was a mandala, what would be at the center? Is it your family, your job, your faith…what?
The three years since I began a formal relationship with My Lady Saraswati have gone by very quickly. Yet I feel as though She has always been in my life. I’m fairly certain she actually has, but I’m honestly also convinced that these feelings have more to do with how She has radically reordered my priorities and claimed her place in the center of my life’s mandala.
My Lady is called upon as a goddess of wisdom and a patroness of learning by traditions across the world, from India to Japan. She is known not just as Saraswati, but as Yangchenma and Benzaiten-sama. She is a goddess of sense-finding and pattern making, of narrative construction and storytelling. She forces chaos into coherence, and brings meaning to human existence by forcing sound into shapes called words, and carving lines into things called writing. My Lady is a cosmic goddess.
I’ve shared this picture before, and called it my personal Saraswati, without much other explanation. It’s a Sino-Tibetan silkscreen that I got off EBay; I have it hanging over my altar. I’ve become very fond of it. Look at that smile! My Lady’s got everything in this picture: the moon in her hair, little geese at her feet, and of course…the dragon.
While the smile was what sold me on this particular image, the dragon sheltering My Lady with a flower is a wonderful touch. It may not be the heart of the painting, but to borrow an expression from a mentor, it is the pupils in the eyes.
I associate My Lady Saraswati with dragons, serpents, nagas, snakes…all those ophidian creatures that both fascinate and frighten me. They are guardians of treasure and bringers of rain and storm. According to Buddhist lore, it was the nagas who hid the Mahayana sutras until the time came for them to be revealed. And of course one can’t forget Benzaiten-sama’s serpentine associations in Japan…
Someone new is in my life…I think? I’m not certain, as it could simply be My Lady in another one of her many guises. The entity in question, anyway, is the Sino-Japanese star deity known as Myōken.
Myōken is most often said to be the deity of the polestar, but his identity is quite fluid, hence my confusion. He is known by many other names, and is associated with many other deities in Japanese culture. Japanese polytheism (which is not limited to Shinto by any means) is complex and syncretic, and you can never be sure which deity you’ve got hold of.
I came to My Lady Saraswati via her Japanese persona Benzaiten-sama. Yet Benzaiten-sama is not only Saraswati; she is seen as the Bodhisattva Kannon, the Devi Sri, and various others. Her iconography overlaps with Oinari-sama, Dakiniten, and most importantly here, Myōken. Both Myōken and Benzaiten are associated with dragons and magic jewels, for instance.
Currently, the cultus I give Myōken is limited to observing the actual stars in the sky, and his shrine is a homemade paper talisman taped to the ceiling above My Lady’s shrine. I feel She has called me to the star god for a reason, if only to gain a greater understanding of Her.
This is the image I have hanging over my shrine, a rather nice silkscreen print I got from EBay for about $25USD. It’s Sino-Tibetan, and incorporates pretty much all the imagery I associate with My Lady. She’s my personal Saraswati, and I think she’s perfect.