Here is an enigmatic symbol: a pruned branch. The Marseille Tarot calls it a baton, but it has also taken the name of a club, stave, staff, or wand. Whatever it’s called, it looks like a stick or a branch. What use could this branch possibly have? It’s not as obvious as the use of a sword or a coin.
So let’s start with the idea of a branch. What are the qualities of a branch, with its offshoots trimmed to the stalk? It is first of all a living thing. It grows. When faced with the suit of batons, we are dealing with a life force. In fact, this is the universal life force, the power that makes all living things grow.
That it’s pruned shows that the direction of its growth is intentional. Where it has erred and branched away, some unknown gardener has corrected it. By pruning the wandering offshoots, they’ve disciplined the branch to conserve its energy. It grows in one direction: the direction of the sun.
Naturally, the gardener is you, directing your vital energy. Like the ace of swords, the ace of batons shows a disembodied hand grasping the token. This is the image of force, of intervention and activity. It is not passive, like the open cup, receptive to grace. To succeed in the suit of wands you must do something. Just as you hammer and forge your mind in the fashion of a sword, you prune and direct your strength in the manner of a branch.
A Cop, A Conductor
The batons represent your vital force, and this suit teaches you to use your energy wisely. To abuse this vitality is to treat the baton as a police club, a brutal instrument of authoritarian force. Don’t embarrass yourself this way. To prune and groom your vital energy is to develop it into the baton of an orchestra conductor: subtle, fine, and exponentially more powerful than a police baton. How many musicians hang a conductor’s command? How many audience members does she stir with the flick of her wrist? How much more power does she hold in her hand than the pusillanimous cop, flailing in his impotence? This is the difference between base power and finely tuned power.
But the highest use of the baton goes even farther than the power of a conductor. Develop your vital force continually, and it becomes the magical staff of the wizard. It is a wand that empowers you to accomplish feats unimaginable, like Moses before Pharaoh. It is the ultimate token of authority: the magician is the ambassador of the divine.
The Goal of a Tree
The Tarot baton is the complementary opposite to the cup. It is pingala from yogic tradition, and the red serpent of the caduceus in western mysteries. This is a warm, rising force that grows from the human world and reaches toward the divine. It’s like a plant rising from the earth to reach toward the sun.
This teaches us something about aspiration. No tree ever reaches the sun, but they never give up trying. Growth is not goal oriented. You grow towards the divine, but that doesn’t mean you will ever be God. It gives you direction. As you advance, you will find yourself ever more healthy, vibrant, and alive–and that is the real goal.
If you split your attention with some other goal, you drain away valuable streams of energy from your purpose. When you chase two rabbits, you catch neither. So should you become distracted by a secondary, unworthy goal–like becoming the fanciest fashion witch on Instagram–you’d be wise to prune that branch immediately. Refocus your efforts on the highest, most noble aspiration, and keep growing.
A Painter, A Wanderer
Reaching toward the divine is high minded. But the batons have more immediate applications as well. Here is where you find not only your aspiration, but your confidence and your creative force. Here is the fundamental yes to life which inspires the seed to sprout up out of the ground, and the sapling to reach ever higher. It emboldens and the fruit to ripen and seed the world with its joy. This is the same inspiration that compels a painter to paint, a dancer to dance, a sailor to reach for farther shores. Wanderlust is here, and the baton is also the walking stick of the wandering sage.
So batons govern creative efforts, accomplishment, power, travel and vitality. They also refer to discipline and responsibility. Without these, our power scatters and our endeavors go limp. The baton is a wild part of us that yearns for freedom and expansion. The symbol of the branch reminds us that even in our DNA we are not so different from trees. We have the same yearnings that a sapling does.
Zen reminds us that a good branch, like bamboo, is strong but flexible. If it’s brittle and unyielding, it snaps in the wind. If it’s too weak, it becomes uprooted. It must bend and sway with the storms, but stay solid at the base of its trunk. It holds fast to the roots of its identity, and grows ever upward. So it is with us.
Here there is a case for batons being the suit of wind, or air, instead of fire like the Rider Waite says. But whatever their correspondence, the batons cards encourage you to step into your full expression of self, to grip the Staff of Moses, as depicted on the ace, and to boldly declare before the throne that your people are free. The cups have given you divine grace and inspiration; this suit is about what you do with that grace. Do you turn it into divine authority? Or do you waste it on peripheral trivialities? What is the highest goal of the artist? As you study your cards, may all your creative endeavors be directed and disciplined, like a powerful pruned branch.
Batons, of course, correspond to the secular suit of clubs.