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How fear interferes ...

Updated: Aug 24, 2021

I had not been to Mass in a long time, but I went a couple of weeks ago, and after Mass, the priest wanted me to bait him into an argument about why the Catholic Church should or should not let women be priests (I'm for, he's against). My lifetime of experience as a frustrated female Catholic has taught me that no amount of logic or theological knowledge will allow me to win that argument, and that particular priest knew my Mum (who had a doctorate in Theology), so he really wanted the debate! He knew I had a better chance than most, of winning the argument (which would make it more fun for him) .. if I chose to bite!

It has disappointed me over the years, that women aren’t allowed to be priests in the Catholic Church (imagine, a female pope! Oh yes, apparently there was possibly a Pope Joan, once upon a time, 856-858). If you dig around the internet, you will find plenty about Pope Joan (or Johannes Anglicus or Agnes, as she was sometimes called). There has been controversy whether or not she was real, but for me, that’s not the take-home-message.

You see, there has always been anti-female sentiment among men who have power. I wonder if they’re scared of us.

The story about Pope Joan suggests that she was a brave, intelligent, educated and respected person (apart from the fact that she was a woman). If she existed, then it has been said that she was elected to be Pope because she was without peer among the cardinals of the time. Apparently, they admired and trusted her, but only if she was dressed as a man. It was said that the Catholic Church got along nicely during her reign, but when she gave birth to a son during a procession, that was the end of it:

“Through ignorance of the exact time when the birth was expected, she was delivered of a child while in procession from St. Peter's to the Lateran, in a lane once named Via Sacra (the sacred way) but now known as the "shunned street" between the Colosseum and St Clement's church.” (Martin of Opava, Chronicon Pontificum et Imperatorum).

There is a whisper that subsequent popes had to have their masculinity verified by sitting on a specially-holed stool and having their testicles touched. Seriously? An already-powerful man would allow this kind of sexual harassment and sexual abuse to get a job?

It's a story of a lovely lady ...

This woman, Joan, had allegedly started her adventure as a girl, in love with a guy who travelled to Athens and then Rome, and she followed him (as women in love often do), learning lots along the way. She dressed in men’s clothing, which at times through the Dark and Middle Ages was frowned upon (indeed, even unlawful and a stoning or burning-at-the-stake offence). I haven’t found any evidence of why she dressed in men’s clothes, but it may have had to do with her love of learning, because only males of our species were allowed to learn back then (she became highly educated, in a time when men found smart women extremely terrifying, to the point of calling them "witches").

But just think, what her life would have been like dressed as a woman compared to life dressed as a man. Not allowed to learn. Not allowed to take up office. Not allowed to have a position of authority. Not allowed to be the heir of property or royal rank. To be stoned or burned at the stake if she knew how to read. The records aren’t clear about the time she might have lived, but ...

Allegedly, Pope Joan (Johannes VII) Hartmann Schedel's Nuremburg Chronicle

There are plenty of pictures, and notably, there are early tarot cards called The Papess. I love the detail in this c.1450 playing card (below), which is from the oldest-known tarot deck in existence. It was from when they were simply called "trionfi" (translated to English, that's "trumps"). You can see that she is wearing a papal tiara and she looks pregnant. Oh, and is that a book in her left hand?

La Papessa, from the Visconti-Sforza deck, c. 1450.

Do tarots scare you?

I recently started up a short course, at a local church with which I’m not familiar, that was recommended to me by someone I trust, and I thought, “Why not?”. Everyone I met was lovely. The trainer was a woman pastor similarly aged to me, with an interesting back-story, and we seemed to get along well. I loved the idea of a woman model of church leadership. It was nice to talk about faith – something I really loved when my mother was alive.

I had a feeling that my tarot history would be an issue (because some people believe that all tarots are occultish and witchy; which has never been how I have used them), so I mentioned it in the spirit of honest self-disclosure. I was asked to sit out of a particular activity at the next session. As far as I knew, I was the only one being treated differently.

I get it, I really do. Some people can draw the most horrible energy to themselves, and sometimes those people will go looking for enlightenment in all the wrong places. But also, we all attribute behaviour and vibes with our own filters, and those filters come from our experiences. We also like to please those in positions of authority over us, and respond differently to their tone of voice, a crook of an eyebrow, a tone when they say, "hmm".

So, despite my fully Catholic education, my long and Christ-centred relationship with my church community (volunteering to read, sing, welcome and give Holy Communion; and being asked to facilitate confirmation preparation for children and their parents), as well as my consistent prayer life, I was excluded from the one thing I had gone to the course to develop - a deeper connection with God. Because of that one word, "tarot".

So, does the word “tarot” worry you? Some people are very fearful about tarot, thinking that it is witchery, and worse. Some can't even hear the word, wincing at the sound of it (trust me, that happened when I started peddling my first book).

Did you know that tarot cards were originally just playing cards, especially popular among people who were illiterate because they originally had no words or numbers? If you play gin rummy or solitaire, you could still be playing with them!

The concept of using them for divination has only been recent (c.1800s), and thanks to a Protestant cleric, apparently. I actually think that the alleged witchery associated with tarots is really more about women who could read playing with them and less about actual witchcraft. Sure, some people go down that witchcraft path, but it is not the only way to use them. The pictures are great for meditation and self-reflection.

They are pieces of paper. Paper is not magically imbued with evil.

If you've read my previous posts, or my first book, or if you've been to one of my workshops, you will know that there is one image that I have found thought-provoking and useful: you look at this image (below, designed by Amy Zerner) from different angles, and you see the person from different contexts. Life is like that! There is nothing magical about it. No witchery. The only mystery is that we need to learn our life's lessons to get through it.

What we know and what we don't know will always colour our perceptions

One of those lessons, is learning how to share your beliefs without hurting others.

I got chatting to a lady who mentioned Israel Folau, a handsome and charismatic rugby player who said that people who are homosexuals (and a few others) would go to hell. You know, I have not yet found anything that Jesus said to confirm Folau’s assertion.

I got to reading the Gospel according to John. I always liked how St John referred to himself as, “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. This always resonated with me. I read the whole thing, including the preamble about the second author and the editor, who added things after John’s death. There is a bit during the last supper, in which John says of himself, "He leaned back against Jesus' chest and said to him, 'Lord, who is he?'" (John 13:25). It's such an intimate image. I found myself wondering if St John was gay, and if he was in an intimate relationship with Jesus. Now, there’s a concept. Imagine if Jesus was gay. Just imagine. I'm not saying he was. I'm just saying that we don't know everything, do we?

I’ve also wondered about Jesus and Mary Magdalene (and I’m not the only one, am I?). I actually think that St Mary was much-maligned, because she was a single woman who (like the male disciples) picked up and followed Jesus. It goes back to what I was saying earlier about the prejudice and discrimination against women throughout the Church’s history. I think, even back then, St Mary was vilified because she chose to follow the Messiah. I'm free to do exactly that nowadays, thankfully, but she needed courage to follow her heart and her calling.... or just to travel alone.

That priest I mentioned at the start, had said emphatically to me that Jesus had “only chosen men to be his apostles”; but hey, Jesus' Mum was called, no doubt about it. However, there is mention of the three Marys at the foot of Jesus’ cross (His Mum, His Aunty Mary and Mary Magdalene), and then there is mention of Mary Magdalene being the first to see Jesus after the resurrection. Jesus tells HER to go report what she sees and hears back to His brothers.

It seems to me, that women were pretty special to Jesus. It also seems to me that Jesus was not about judging, fearing, ignoring, overlooking, rejecting, excluding, vilifying, discriminating, violating or hating. He preached love and exemplified welcome.

Just saying …

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The references for this post include:

(c) Amy Zerner from THE ENCHANTED TAROT :

The New American Bible (translated from the original languages with critical use of all the ancient sources by members of the Catholic Biblical Association of America); Thomas Nelson Publishers: Nashville, Camden, New York (1970)

About Pope Joan and the tarots:

About Isreal Folau:


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