Spoiler Alert: In the following discussion with tarot reader Nan Budinger some key plot elements from the film “Beasts of the Southern Wild” are revealed. See the movie before reading further.
Thrum: Nan, you are a corporate namer – you’ve named companies and products. You’ve written screenplays. Spent lots of time thinking about images and stories. How did you become interested in tarot?
Nan: I was moving my office from one location to another and I came across the business card of a tarot reader I had met years before at a party. I thought, “This is a time of great transition!” I’d never had a tarot reading and I didn’t have a clue what they were about. I just knew that this reader was an interesting person, so I thought it might be fun to get a reading. The experience included a great moment of recognition. I realized that tarot was all about engaging archetypal imagery. It just made so much sense to me. I was delighted. I gathered as many books on tarot as I could, and read as much as I could. I learned that tarot is a mystery tradition and that I really needed a teacher. So I looked on line and discovered some tarot classes were starting the following week. I took classes for a year and about nine months into the process my teacher said, “You should be doing this too.”
T: Do you feel that there is a storytelling aspect to reading tarot?
N: Yes. The cards all contain images of deep symbolic and archetypal significance. So the way that you do a reading is that a question or a problem is posed and you put a spread of cards in a pattern. Then you look to find the story that is emerging through the relationships of the images offered by the cards in relationship to the question or the problem that has been posed. So, yes, it’s a lot of storytelling.
T: Do you see any similarity between film editing and what’s going on when you are doing a reading?
N: I’d say the primary difference is intent. With film editing, as I understand it, what you try to do is create associations that are relevant from one scene to the next. And that happens most often through the placement of images that have particular symbolic meaning. So the film editor is creating associations that may remain more-or-less unconscious to the viewer, but the viewer nonetheless experiences a sense of continuity in terms of the storytelling. With tarot, however, you’re working with a pattern of images that came into relationship with each other without your conscious intent. The film editor crafts associations, images and their relationships. But with tarot you’re looking at images as they are placed in relationship to each other within the spread – and interpreting them on behalf of the client. And, hopefully, you’re able to get your ego out of the way and let the imagery speak.
T: You recently saw the movie “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” How did you like it?
N: I thought it was really wonderful. It was a movie that seemed to trust in the images themselves to be able to carry the movie. There was little dialogue. The plot was really, really simple, following a young girl on an archetypal journey to establish herself in the world.
T: Do you see anything particularly exciting or challenging about telling a story from the point of view of a young girl?
N: Well, it isn’t done very often. Or hasn’t been done very often. We’ve had centuries of “the story” being about the male coming into his self. It’s only recently that we’re seeing stories that are equally compelling being told from the feminine point of view. Stories like “Brave” and “Spirited Away” a couple of years ago. Telling a “young girl” story is in itself is a leap of faith because you have to trust that you’re going to find an audience for it. I think that the “young girl” story is different from the “young boy” story. And I think it’s very exciting to see.
T: In “The Beasts” the young girl heroine is named Hushpuppy. And there are some giant, fiercely-tusked wild boars that figure prominently in the story. They are portrayed as travelling an impossibly long way. And it appears they travel with purpose – to menace Hushpuppy and her community. Is that the way you saw it?
N: Oh no, no, no. They are creatures from beyond the time of time. Solely from the age of heroes – the age of all things archetypal – who walk the earth without reference to any particular person. And definitely not just to menace a girl or her community. It seemed to me that the story is about a devastating time of great trial. These great beasts are there, I thought, because Hushpuppy was facing her final test. Her need for the final test summoned them up. I think they were something that her psyche needed to contend with, and that’s why they were there.
T: What do you make of the imagery of the boars in the movie?
N: Most of the time when people say the word “boar” they put the word “wild” in front of it. Boars are, I think, by definition wild. They are untamed. They’re not pigs. They’re boars! They’re totally undomesticated. They are truly wild. And that’s the place boars have in this story – in the same way that weather is untamable in this story. The weather is wild, nature is wild. It’s big. It’s the area of the un-rational. It’s entirely the animal. The instinctive. The untamed. And we’re presented with a little girl who is on the brink of being civilized, but her little life is still wild and untamed too. We see her on the brink of entering into a more rational, communal, social world. We get to be with her during the major, final conflict between the wild, the instinctual, the untamed and something new that she is becoming.
T: When I asked you if you had seen the movie you described a particular tarot card (pictured above).
N: It’s the 8th card of the major arcana, and it’s called “Strength” from the Druid Craft deck. Like most tarot decks, the Druid Craft deck is based upon the imagery of the Waite/Rider Deck, which is the point of reference for most contemporary modern tarot decks. In the Waite/Rider Deck, “Strength” presents a woman with her arm around a lion. But in the Druid Craft deck “Strength” is portrayed as a woman who has her arm resting on the neck of a wild boar. Part of it, I think, is that the Druid Craft desk draws images from the Celtic World, and in that world the boar was the great, feared beast of the wild.
T: Why is that card “Strength”?
N: In tarot what the cards of the major arcane show – what they do – is follow a life cycle. From a personal point of view it takes you through the time when you are developing your own personality. And then you move through a time of interaction with others in the social, civilized realm. And finally it’s you going through the process of spiritual development, and finally enlightenment and completion. “Strength” is the first card of the second series of cards that deal with how the individual and its soul, its psyche, is at play with society. The card itself is about how one develops strength. It’s the classic confrontation with “the other.” The other that is scary. The other that is big and frightening and overwhelming. The thing which you cannot control. And most importantly, it’s about how you contend with that. The lesson of the card is that you don’t try to beat it down by being stronger than the other, or wilier than the other. The key to strength is to have the courage to confront your fears. To confront your fears in a way that is centered, with a sense of self-assurance. To look that which you are confronting in the eye, and be able to look at it with compassion and courage. To say “I accept you for what you are.” In that way you are able to take on the medicine that is offered by this archetypal foe. Through your courage and compassion to simply accept, remarkable passion and intuitive strength is available to you.