Monthly Archives: September 2013

DO NOT BE DECEIVED BY THE CARD OF ISOLT

If you come across the card of Isolt in Goddess Guidance Oracle Cards by Doreen Virtue and see the notice ‘Undying Love’, you may come to thinking it suggests a favourable, long lasting union. With my whole respect I believe this card is a double deception. Why?

Deception Number 1: Isolde Is Included In The Deck Of Goddesses So She Is A Goddess Herself.

Wrong!

ISOLDE IS NOT A GODDESS!

She is the heroine of a Celtic tale Tristan and Isolde (Isolt, Iseult, Yseult) which first appeared in France in 12th century. Tristan is the nephew of King Mark of Cornwall, a very brave, talented and fair young man whom the king is very fond of. One day he decides to face Morholt, a messanger of an Irish king who demands a tribute of 300 young men and 300 young women to be paid by Cornwall. Tristan accepts his challenge to a duel even though an Irish knight is much bigger, taller and considered to be invincible. He manages to kill him but is himself severly injured. Anticipating his death he asks to be put in a boat and sent to the open sea where currents and tides bring him to the shores of Ireland. Isolde of Fair Hair, king’s daughter and Morholt’s niece notices an unknown man lying helplessly in a boat and heals him secretly. Realising that Isolde hates the killer of her uncle, Tristan hides his real identity and escapes as soon as he feels better.

The victory over Morholt brings him fame but also jealousy of four noblemen on the court. Scared that King Mark may pass the throne to his nephew, they insist on his marriage that could produce an heir. The king, however, secretely wants Tristan to inherit Cornwall after his death so he intends to agree on the conditon which seems impossible to fulfill: he will only marry the owner of silky, golden hair which was dropped on his window by two swallows. The rebelled noblemen grumble so Tristan undertakes the challenge of bringing the bride for King Mark. He tells the sailors to direct his ship straight to Ireland because he recognises that the golden hair belongs to Princess Isolde.

He shows his courage again in Ireland when he kills a dragon plundering a royal city but falls unconscious due to its poisonous breath. Another knight attributes the victory to himself and demands the marriage with Princess Isolde as reward. Meanwhile Isolde finds Tristan, heals him and discovers his true identity. Enraged that she helped to heal Morholt’s killer, she wants to kill him but he persuades her not to do it, otherwise she would have to marry the cowardly knight as no one would challenge him. Tristan indeed proves the knight’s words were wrong and demands king’s daughter to be given to his lord, King Mark of Cornwall in marriage. Isolde’s father agrees but she is angry because she thought Tristan wanted to marry her himself.

Seeing her so anxious Isolde’s mother prepares a magical potion which binds two people’s hearts forever irreversibly and asks her servant to watch over it and to pour it to the newlyweds’ chalice on their wedding night. However, on their way to Cornwall Isolde discovers the potion somehow, not realising its power she drinks it and gives it to Tristan, too. This makes them crave for each other so much that they cannot resist it and despite remorses they spend the night together.

When they reach Cornwall, Isolde is being wed to King Mark but lovers cannot go without each other. They literary wither and fall into diseases so eventually they start meeting secretly under a fir in the forest. With the help of God and nature they manage to escape the ambushes of four jealous noblemen a couple of times until they are finally caught on the act. Furious king intends to punish both with death for treason but Tristan manages to escape on his way to execution by jumping down from the window of a little chapel on the cliff where he asked to be brought for the final prayer. Thanks to the divine intervention he lands safely and is helped by an old friend. Meanwhile the King wants to burn Isolde on the stake but is persuaded by the lepers to give her to them as a lover. Tristan and his friend save her and all the three go living in the forest to escape King’s anger.

They are spending the whole summer in the forest but with winter approaching they face chill and hunger. A hermit living in the forest offers to be the messenger to the King who has already calmed down and feels sympathy for both of them. A hermit brings their letter to the ruler of Cornwall, Tristan and Isolde offer to separate forever if he forgives them.  The King agrees to accept Isolde as his queen and Tristan volunteers to be banished from the court. Lovers exchange rings and promise each other that in case of danger they will send them as an urgent call to meet.

Tristan hides near the castle and watches over Isolde. The queen comes back to the court and is greeted warmly by all the noblemen except the four traitors. They convince King Mark to demand his wife to be subjected to the ordeal of iron to clean herself off the accusations of adultery. Isolde agrees and sends a message to Tristan. On her way to the place of ordeal she has to cross the river so she asks a poor man wearing rags to bring her to the other bank. When she finds herself in front of the king and the noblemen, she takes an oath and publicly states that no man has hold her in his arms except of the king and the poor beggar who helped her to cross the river. Then she takes a burning iron in her hands and lifts it up for everyone to see, her arms are as healthy as the ones of a new born child. Everyone greets her but only Isolde knows that the mysterious beggar was in fact Tristan in disguise and she said no lie.

At that point Tristan realises it is the time to fulfill the oath he gave and he must go abroad. He has his revenge on the traitors before he leaves for the continent. He comes to Brittany where he proves to be a brave and talented warrior and he liberates the duke of Brittany from a troublesome vassal. In return the duke wants him to marry his daughter Isolde of the White Hands and Tristan agrees. However, during the wedding night his longing for beloved Isolde revives and he abstains from consumming the marriage.

When her brother finds out about it, he gets angry that Tristan rejected his beautiful and decent wife and demands explanations. When he listens to his brother-in-law’s story, however, he is very moved and offers his help. They go under disguise to Cornwall and are trying to meet the queen, unfortunately because of a series of misfortunes, Tristan is led to believe that Isolde does not love him anymore even though in reality she craves for his presence. He comes back to Brittany and tries to find solace in battling enemies but he is severly wounded by a poisonous lance. Knowing that he will not survive, he asks his brother-in-law whom he trusts to be his messenger to Isolde. He wants her to come to him so that he could see her for the last time and he gives his friend the ring as a sign that it is Tristan who sent him. They make an arrangement that if he comes back with Isolde on the board, the ship will have white sails but if she refuses to come, the sails will be black. Unfortunately, Tristan’s wife, Isolde of the White Hands eavesdrops the conversation accidentally and grows very jealous.

His friend fulfills the mission successfully, Isolde agrees immediately to come to Brittany. They sail the sea and are about to come into the port, when Tristan’s wife notices the ship and tells him that her brother comes back. Tristan is already too weakened to come to the window and see himself so he asks his wife to tell him the colour of the sails. Isolde of the White Hands, sill enraged and craving the revenge, claims that the sails are black although in reality they are white as it was arranged. This piece of news kills Tristan.

Queen Isolde is hurrying to see him as fast as she can but on her way she hears the church bells ringing. Realising that something serious must have happened, she asks the passer-by what is wrong. ‘My lady’, he answers. ‘Our good protector and companion Tristan has just died.’ Struck with grief Isolde walks slowly to the church where her lover’s body is placed. She meets Isolde of the White Hands there, the widow is lamenting over the death she has caused. The Queen of Cornwall tells her gently to go away, then she prays, lies down next to her beloved and passes away with him.

King Mark takes the bodies of his wife and nephew back home and buries them in two graves. In the night a hawthorn grows from Tristan’s place of rest and its branch reaches the one of Isolde. The King tells the gardener to cut it off but the same situation repeats the next night and another one. Eventually King Mark allows the hawthorn to grow.

If you’re American, you probably do not know this tale but it is widespread in the European culture. Unlike some Celtic goddesses (Rhiannon, Gwenhwyfer) who have been somehow disguised as mortal women in Christianised version of their stories, Isolde does not seem to have any divine background. The tale of her and Tristan is a beautiful example of Medieval romance but Isolde herself is not an equivalent of any Celtic goddesses.

So if you pose the question about your romantic relationship and this card appears as an answer, do not think it predicts a happy, stable marriage. It shows rather a tormented, on-and-off union with ups&downs. If you go further and read the statement in a booklet added to the deck that love from your romantic partner is eternal, regardless of outward appearances, you may come to thinking that such a strong love will conquer all the obstacles. Well, I wish…but read the legend of Tristan and Isolde again. Even their powerful love resulting from magic did not provide them with happy emotional life. Women often enter secret relationships with men who are either married/not divorced yet/waiting for an adequate moment to tell their wives about the third one/not ready to commit. I do not judge anyone. We all make our own choices. But please think whether the man you are inquiring about, is worth your emotions, energy and most importantly your time.

Deception Number 2: Isolde’s Message Is To Have More Contact With Nature

Wrong!

I also disagree with other statements in the booklet: Nature is the great healer, you see. That’s why I’m frequently amidst the flower and the trees (…) Spend time among the forest and the trees and you’ll regain your foothold upon this planet. I do agree that spending time in nature is a good idea but I would not attribute such words to Isolde. Even though some motifs connected with nature appear in her story (living in a forest with Tristan, a bush of hawthorn growing on the graves of lovers), they do not change the plot nor resolve the problems. If a real Isolde for some reasons came out of the Medieval legend and stepped down into a contemporary world, her message to you would probably be:

Be careful with drinking. Do not leave your drink unsupervised while clubbing. Beware of the pills added to your drink that would leave you unconscious and prone to a potential abuser. A moment of  inattentiveness may ruin your life.

Seriously. Re-read the legend.

To sum up: it is not that I want to bash an author of certain deck because either I am jealous or I was paid to do it. I present my strong objections because I believe that if a deck of oracle cards based on ancient beliefs is to be reliable, it has to be accurate and its message should comply with the actual myths. So if you arrived at the end of this post, regardless whether you agree with me or not, I have just a small request to you: read the myths. Do not limit yourself only to booklets. Do not trust an author completely just because s/he is famous or talks about shiny angels. Do not resign from your own free, deep thinking. Do not even trust me completely. Dig deeper and find your own interpretation.

Yseult

The story of Tristan and Isolde is narrated basing on the version of Joseph Bédier.

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