Family Dramas and Palliative Sacrifice (archived)

Crawl out to be devoured.

This is the promise that Life makes, the process enacted symbolically by gods and heroes and which is met very much literally by every physical being.  To be alive is to die: to come together, to be constituted, is a temporal condition balanced in every way by a corresponding dissolution. 

These cards are from the Tarot de Marseille, edition Dr. Yoav Ben-Dov.

Try reading them as laid, R-L:  Tower Star Moon Sun Judgement. Feel their motion. 

Or better yet, view them as panels of a tapestry, a landscape, a stage set; scenic outflow from the central Moon card toward corresponding cataclysma of Tower and Judgement.

Crawl out to be devoured.

In the previous newsletter I wrote about setting intentions for this lunar cycle.  That was the new moon, seeding in darkness that which has since grown, crested, and seeks its resolution in the present thinning toward dark once again.

The crustacean breaks surface, the eggshell begins to crack.  To leave the safety- in- stasis of its known world, the crab faces the jaws of the dogs that wait on the shore.  Rising into the light of the Next, giving up what has been what We Have Been– this does not mean an easy arrival into soft victories. Whatever it is that we individually wish to leave behind, to slough off, to prune from ourselves- this does not fall away on its own.  Our metaphorical and visceral rise, like the crawfish bubbling and clacking up from its lagoon, is only the first scene of a longer, broader enactment.

So what of those intentions we set? Which project or personal endeavor blossomed beyond the idea board? Which schematics have been drawn? What is growing, healthy, robust-  and what didn’t sprout? What needs to be tilled under again rather than taking our time and effort away from more promising leads?  Let’s take stock of our situation as we clarify, sharpen, and prepare our dreams and genius for the next dark phase of seeding.


Roughly every 110 years, Pre- Christian Romans celebrated Saecular Games– three days and nights of cthonic sacrifices and theatrical performances in observance of what was thought to be the longest possible lifespan of a human being.  In legend, the games began with a man named Valesius, whose children had fallen gravely ill.  His desperate pleas to the gods for their recovery were answered when Valesius was advised by a disembodied voice that his children could be made well with water from the Tiber River, heated at a certain site in Ostia.  The children, thus healed, received in dream a further instruction: their father must offer sacrifices to the underworld deities Dis Pater and Proserpina.  This became, symbolically if not historically, the prototype of the later celebrations.  What’s more, in the origin story Valesius’ crew were digging a pit for the sacrifice and found a buried altar to these very gods!  This altar was then reburied and dug up for each of the Saecular Games, continuing the cycle of interment and rebirth found in so much of the world’s mythology.

In this tale of shamanic water quest and palliative sacrifice we are presented with the propitiation of the forces of Death to bring about happy outcomes- the return to health and vigor, the reassured continuance of love and lineage.

Dis Pater, god of riches, agricultural fecundity, mineral wealth- precious stones and metals- was over time conflated with the god Pluto (Ploutōn, “wealthy”), and the Greek god Hades. His captive wife Proserpina (Greek: Persephone) occupies an even more pronounced position expressing the duality of existence: growth and decline, gold and offal; flower blooming in the skull’s drear socket.  No harvest without planting, no planting without harvest.



 (German engraver active 1450-1467 Upper Rhine)

Approximately 15 years apart in execution, the two engravings above evince the artist’s progression into heightened compositional complexity.  The figures depicted on the left are brought into being sparingly.  Thick angular cuts into the plate establish our knight’s solid presence, while a floating acrobat hovers above him, flattening the space somewhat and linking the piece stylistically to other early playing card decks predating the modern ‘International’ deck.  On the right, the canonical Christ in familiar pose glares out from ornate archways with a sun- blasted fever, projecting into the viewer’s space a gnosis of the desert, a wilderness visionär. This later work contrasts the Knight card’s lightly stippled and hatched background with a much more detailed energy- from our historical vantage a nearly fractal composition. Whorling angularity defines the billowing robe; masterful control of valuation and shading cast the picture plane into a beguiling movement, almost a turning.  Yet this dynamic geometry of Becoming is foreshadowed in the earlier card design: the horse’s head and legs, the knight’s arms and the angle of his neck set us up for an implied tumbling, loss of restraints, a going forth….  And both works presage by centuries the jolting kinetic frenzy of the German Expressionists.

Growth is not always linear.  Sometimes we turn, often we tumble.  In one lifetime we may cycle many times through themes, blockages, desires that grow worn and familiar with each new iteration.  Work, Love, Family dramas both ancient and fresh- instinct and analysis. What once stabbed our flesh and snagged our clothing now makes the smoother return: time-polished wooden banister, old scar, intimate weight of the worry stone.   In my own life, I sometimes find that the arrival of a new opportunity doesn’t always align with my desire for such. Seasons keep their own schedule, wishes we cast into the wind fall where they may.  And so I try to adopt a state of both preparedness and centered-ness to better evaluate and act upon developing circumstances.  

I learned a new (old) word this week: coddiwomple– “To travel purposefully toward an unknown destination.”  The term and its definition both tickle the brain, and at the same time it strikes me as the correct answer to that cliched old question, “What is the meaning of Life?”

Chaos ex machina,

Jason Triefenbach, Dec 1 2021


Source List:

  • Fire On the Tarentum, C. Bennett Pascal. The American Journal of Philology Vol 100 No 4 (Winter 1979), Johns Hopkins University Press.

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