Smile at the Captain


I drew another zen koan card to generate a question for the Vandenborre tarot deck.

Koan: You smile–the world changes.

My question: How do I change the world by smiling?

Cards: Spanish Captain, World, Page of Coins

This koan is a little too hippy-dippy for my tastes, but that might just be my mood. It reminds me of “Love is all around” by Sonny Curtis (aka, the theme song to the Mary Tyler Moore show). I’ll go with it and see what happens.

According to this article, the Spanish Captain is “a character from the Commedia dell’Arte who substitutes for the Papesse in a type of 18th-century Belgian deck.”

“He was a bombastic soldier who constantly boasted of his exploits in love and war, but was actually a coward. He would strut and preen in his splendid clothes, challenge rivals to duels, seduce princesses and pretend to be an aristocrat.”

So, the first card is about a comedic character. That matches up well with the notion of smiling. The second card is the world and the third shows a person holding a coin (small change). First impressions: It’s an incredibly literal representation of the koan.

But how does it answer my question? An annoyingly zen-style answer would be to simply restate the koan. I tend to dislike that sort of thing because I’ve found that most people who purport to be zen, or who loudly proclaim their zen-ness, are usually far from it in real life. (I don’t claim that about myself, so what do I know about anything?) They remind me a little of the Spanish Captain.

In this context, the Captain seems to be swaggering towards the World, who in turn seems to rise above it all, while the Page looks on, a little confused. The Captain and Page are both large. They’re closer to us, and standing on the ground. In contrast, the World is smaller, maybe farther away, and standing on the entire planet.

When I see her card in the centre of this spread, it’s as if a camera pulls back quickly, from showing one foolish human to showing the entire planet, and then zooming back in to another human. It seems to emphasize how small we are, and how to keep the behaviours of any one person in perspective, while also emphasizing that the world is made up of individual people. Dare I say, we are the world?

The Page holds a large coin that resembles a small globe, as if to suggest that even though we’re tiny on the face of the earth, we also hold the ability to affect it. In terms of the koan, this matches up with the idea that the joy of one person can spread to cover the world. It’s a nice sentiment, even if it reminds me of this Coke ad from the 70s.

Here’s one answer to the question: You change the world by smiling at the pretenses and phony behaviours of others (Spanish Captain), while taking in the big picture (World) and maintaining a youthful and grounded perspective (Page of coins).

Another thought: The Captain is an actor and the Page is the audience. The answer: Change the world by approaching it like an actor playing for laughs, and by making sure to charge for a ticket.

Or: Change the world by smiling while keeping your sword in its scabbard, your hand on its hilt, and while offering the world everything you have.

Another thought: the World is central and naked (proudly so), while the Captain and Page wear uniforms. The answer: Change the world by smiling (lasciviously) while baring yourself and throwing away your money.


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