Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I received an e-mail from my brother-in-law, who lives in Thailand, informing me that Tony Jaa's long awaited film Ong-Bak 2 was released in that country early in December, where it has been doing very well. He plans to see the movie when his girlfriend comes to visit him in Phuket.

In spite of its name, the film is not a sequel to its predecessor, Ong-Bak. Set in 15th century Thailand, the muay Thai martial artist and actor plays the part of a young nobleman who is orphaned at the age of 10, and after learning various martial arts sets out to avenge the brutal killing of his parents by a power hungry lord. Although reviews have been mixed, I can't wait to see it. I've read that Ong-Bak 2 will be released in the States sometime in March.

Monday, December 29, 2008

I sometimes wish books still had frontispieces. This is one from a late 18th century work by Frederic Lewis Norden titled The Antiquities, Natural History, Ruins, and Other Curiousities of Egypt, Nubia, and Thebes. It's a real hodgepodge of images; I love it.

There are Egyptian ruins, a quasi-Minerva figure representing Imperial Rome, some animals native to Africa, and to top it all off (literally) an angel blowing a trumpet. It helps lend a mythic dimension to what is, I presume, a historical work.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Reflecting upon older or alternate meanings of the Major Arcana is a useful way for me to dig deeper into a card's meaning. The Hanged Man, for instance, was also known as Il Traditore, or The Traitor, as it was the practice in Renaissance Italy to hang people convicted of treason upside down. This image has not lost its symbolic power over the centuries. When Benito Mussolini and his lover, Clara Petacci, were summarily executed by the partisans, their bodies were also displayed hung upside down. The message the partisans sent by this act was stark and unambiguous: Il Duce had been vanquished, and Fascism utterly defeated. Of course, diehard Fascists might look upon this scene and see martyrdom for a noble cause. Thus, bound up in this one image are ideas of punishment, humiliation, warning, and sacrifice.

Only the idea of martyrdom has survived in current interpretations of The Hanged Man, which I think is unfortunate. I believe the presence of this card in a spread could indicate betrayal, either by others or by oneself (as in not being true to oneself or one's principles). I am not discounting other, commonly accepted interpretations of this card; but I do believe that the original name of this card can provide some rich insights that have been obscured by the passage of time.

Here's a single coin, with an image of Alexander the Great stamped upon it. I think it makes a fine Ace of Pentacles. Having the ruler's face on it nicely underscores the concept of turning ideas into action, making manifest one's desires, and proceeding boldly with one's plans.

Friday, December 26, 2008

"Catch it for me!"
the child cries for the Full Moon.

-- Issa

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Magician's Mirror No. 3 [Opus 1450], Alan Davie, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Monday, December 22, 2008

"But time is not just an abstract measure. Time has its own moods and seasons, like a landscape of hills and valleys, dense forests and placid seas. We have trouble sensing this landscape because we are taught to think of time as homogenous and purely objective, a vision that is reproduced by our quartz watches and digital clocks and all the other temporal mechanisms that humans have been hammering out since Paleolithic shamans started tracking the moon with marks on bone. But even this objective-mechanistic view of time is melting down, as media and technology push our minds and productive capacities towards absolute speed. So whether you are a 2012 synchronicity groupie or a technofuturist charting out the oncoming Singularity, to say nothing of a fast-food slave in Bangalore whose every bathroom break and basket of fries is tagged to the nano-second, you can feel a tectonic shift rumbling in the flow of moments. Our times feel like the endtimes not because time itself is ending, but because the conventions of time may be ending."

-- Erik Davis, Slow Down

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Saturday, December 20, 2008

This industrious fellow, from the Ortus Sanitatis of Bernardino Benaglio e Giovanni de Cereto, makes me think of the Eight of Pentacles. Although more traditional representations of this card show a man hammering in his workshop, I thought this image conveys similar ideas about labor and effort. The wheels in the cart in the background also suggest pentacles.

The simplicity of this drawing reminds me of the Marseille Tarot. Medieval art really helps to ground my study of the cards, and prevents my interpretation of them from getting too precious or abstract. This laborer is a reminder that the images and ideas in the Tarot, which emerged from a distinctly magico-religious view of the world, were at the same time rooted in the daily lives and concerns of people living then. Both the cosmic and the mundane, the heavens and earth, the macro and micro are contained in them.

An elegant Ace of Cups.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

All his life, Giordano Bruno had to deal with asses, the two legged as well as four legged variety. In her outstanding biography of the philosopher who was burned at the stake in 1600 for "impenitent, pertinacious, and obstinate" heresy," Ingrid Rowland writes of Bruno's preoccupation with the themes of asininity, which he explored in his writing and philosophy.

The humble donkey occupied a vital role during everyday life in the 16th century. A means of transportation as well as a beast of burden, it performed its many duties with a patience and forbearance that would have made Zeno proud. It was seen by many, including Bruno, as a symbol for a kind of blessed simplicity. At the same time, because of its stubbornness, the donkey could also represent obtuseness and ignorance. It was owing to this interesting mix of qualities that donkeys figured in the art and literature of Bruno's times.

In the best-selling adventures of the scheming picaro, the donkey more often than not was the natural companion of the low-born scoundrel, whose picaresque journeys through the various social classes of the Renaissance provided amusement and commentary on the issues of the day. The donkey was the peasant of the animal world, and was often portrayed in images of the Wheel of Fortune as a reminder that the luck of someone from even the lowest station in life could turn in an instant, while the mightiest person could fall. The lowly, patient, stubborn, hardworking donkey illustrated the truth that the only certainty in the world is change, and no one is immune from the ceaseless turnings of Fortuna's wheel. As Bruno himself wrote in his Heroic Frenzies,
* * * * * * * *
The lofty fall, the humble shall increase
By law of him who keeps the great machine
That, spinning quickly, slowly, in between,
Has power to dispense
Throughout the world immense
What's hidden and what everybody sees.

The above image taken from the Ship of Fools Tarot by Brian Williams.

Above the clouds, upon that lofty site,
When, in my vagrant thoughts I flash and flare,
For my spirit's refreshment and delight
I build a fiery castle in the air.

- Giordano Bruno
Heroic Frenzies

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

This drawing of Venus and Cupid standing on top of the world makes me think of the World card. The theme is obviously 'Amor Omnia Vincit,' but the decorative elements and the star fit nicely into a card format.

Medieval and Renaissance art are a wellspring of ideas and inspiration that continually support my explorations of the Tarot. From this delightful image there pours forth a stream of associations and musings on the theme of the Lovers.

The scene is a simple one - the lovers are going for a walk in the country. In the distance we can see a castle. It is appropriate that the couple is out in nature, as love is a force that no culture can entirely contain, even as it shapes and gives form to its expressions. In the distance is a bridge. Bridges are evocative, even magical structures. Spanning an expanse of air, they facilitate movement between places that are ordinarily not easily accessible to one another. Symbolically, they represent transition, change, crossing over, as well as connection. Love itself can be a bridge, bringing two people together and transforming them in the process.

Accompanying the pair is a lady-in-waiting or chaperone. She represents the soul of the relationship. The presence of this other woman recalls the Love card in some Tarot decks, where a man is shown being required to choose between two women, one representing Virtue and the other Vice, or some variant on this theme. Overall, this is an enchanting image that offers some good material for reflection.

Monday, December 15, 2008

My blog according to Wordle.

No explanation required for this fellow.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Continuing on the theme of cups, I just love this image of two cups. Unlike some, I like the simplicity and directness of pips that are only numbered, rather than illustrated. These cups, for example, very clearly and elegantly convey ideas of symmetry, balance, harmony, and partnership. There is nothing superfluous, and therefore nothing to distract from the basic concept underlying the Two of Cups.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

This Arthur Rackham illustration from the Greek myth of the Golden Apples of the Hesperides makes me think of the Three of Cups. The nymphs are united by a common bond, and work harmoniously to protect the sacred tree. The idea of teamwork present in the Three of Pentacles also came to mind, but given the natural setting and the very feminine energy of this image, as well as the fact that the golden-apple bearing tree was a wedding gift to Zeus and Hera, the Cups seems a better fit.

I also came across an Italian restaurant in New York City called Three of Cups, which derives its name from the three of Cups in a deck of Italian playing cards (which are basically the pips of the Tarot). The proprietors of the establishment chose that name because it represents abundance and "Bacchus energy," a good quality wherever food and drink are served. It's not often one comes across a restaurant inspired by Tarot (even if indirectly), and for that reason alone I'd be inclined to try them the next time I'm in the City.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

While reading an article Erik Davis wrote on the topic of biodynamic farming, I came across a quote that perfectly describes Tarot as well:

"This organic world-view is not science, but it is a poem of science, one that resonates with ancient and hidden networks of sympathy that link our ordinary world with cosmic forces. Those links may be fictions, but fictions are alive, and mark the world in a myriad ways, especially when they are as ancient as these. Within this literally esoteric network, meanings proliferate, reflect, and alchemically combine. As above, so below."

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that author Thomas Moore also homeschools. In an excerpt from a recent interview, he discusses his dissatisfaction with the state of education, and his reasons for choosing to homeschool his daughter mirror my own reasons for homeschooling my two sons. He notes that,

"Today we do training, we don’t really educate. So we get nervous when a child can’t use a computer. We’re not so worried whether they can be married or raise children or be a responsible and intelligent participant in society. That was an old Greek idea. The ancient Greeks thought that was the heart of education: was to educate people so that when they got older they could really make a contribution to society."

Moore deplores the emphasis on testing of children, at the expense of properly educating them. The quality of the education in public schools isn't the only issue for me. What I most enjoy about homeschooling is the freedom it affords us to create a curriculum that will best serve my boys' innate talents and interests, and allow them to develop their potential. What I want, more than anything, is for my sons to be able to go through life with the ability to think independently and creatively about situations, and to be able to do the right thing, regardless of what others around them are doing. Homeschooling allows my husband and I to encourage our boys to cultivate these qualities.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The lovely image on the right, from Yoshitoshi's 100 Aspects of the Moon, makes me think of the High Priestess card. The ocean represents the subconscious, upon which she sits serenely, a rock replacing the throne one typically sees in this card. The overall scene suggests mystery, the unknown. I think it would also make a good Moon card.

Yoshitoshi chose not provide any information concerning these moon themed images. People living in Meiji-era Japan would have immediately understood the religious and cultural references in his works. Moreover, he preferred that viewers draw their own conclusions about the meaning of any given work.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Pantone Color Institute recently announced its color of the year for 2009, a brilliant shade of yellow called Mimosa.

Yellow was on my mind when I came across this lovely image titled "Princess Golden Flower." I thought it would make an interesting, sort of pre-Raphaelite inspired Sun card.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Spaced Out

I was very gratified to come across a fine essay by Jay Weidner on Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey. 2001 remains one of my favorite films of all time, and Weidner offers some interesting insights into the meaning of Kubrick's work.

Like all great works of art, 2001 can be appreciated on many levels. On the surface, it's an interesting science fiction tale. Visually, it's a feast, with extraordinary images, meticulously composed scenes, and interesting effects. It has a glorious soundtrack. Delve beneath the surface, and the film becomes an exploration of human history, the effects of technology on society, and most interestingly to me, human evolution and transformation. It is this last aspect of the film, its portrayal of humanity's leap to the next phase in its evolution (as symbolized by the Starchild), that Weidner writes about from an alchemical perspective. One doesn't have to agree with Weidner's conclusions in order to come away from his analysis with a greater appreciation for Kubrick's genius.
Every Wednesday, Unclutterer features a column where they good-naturedly poke fun at unitaskers, or unnecessary items that have only one use. In a recent post, they show a portable wood-fire oven from Williams-Sonoma, for baking pizza. While the $2000 price tag seems a bit hefty for what is basically an inverted terracotta dome on wheels, the Italian in me can't help but appreciate the effort behind it.

An uncle of mine had a wood burning oven made of brick built into his basement kitchen. His wife uses it for baking as well as making bean dishes. I recall once exploring the ruins of Pompeii with my husband, and being stopped dead in my tracks by the remains of a large outdoor brick oven. The mother of another uncle of mine had a virtually identical one built in the courtyard of her villa. It hit me in that moment that Faulkner was right: the past isn't dead, it isn't even past, and it bakes yummy bread and pizza.

I am far too lazy to ever consider something as labor intensive as a wood-fire oven, even one on as modest a scale as the Williams-Sonoma device. Nevertheless, there is wonderful kind of culinary alchemy that takes place when fire is applied to dough. The result is as nourishing to the soul as to the body.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Tarot Cards, Pros and Cons

Mary K. Greer has a good post on the subject of Tarot cards and skeptics' view of them and the people who do readings. What jumped out at me was the following quote from a mentalist who uses Tarot cards purely as theater props: "All YOU the tarot reader have to do is make your readings entertaining and the repeat bookings will flow in. In the end it is YOU not the cards who are doing the reading, never forget that."

I found this observation quite interesting, since it is the polar opposite of my own approach (and I would guess, of most other Tarotists'). During a reading I try to stay out of the way, to become as transparent as I can, in order to allow the cards to speak. My responsibility is to communicate what the cards have to say to the querent as clearly, honestly, and compassionately as I can, with an awareness of my own limitations and shortcomings.

Obviously, intuition plays an important role in any reading, given that the cards have multiple meanings. Depending on a number of factors, such as a card's placement and the other cards surrounding it, the Tarot reader must be able to discern the most relevant and appropriate interpretation. I also pay attention to the ideas or images that pop into my head while I read the cards. Therefore, cultivating one's own particular intuitive or empathic gifts, along with a lifelong study of the Tarot cards' history and symbolism, are required to give useful readings.

I've done readings for family and close friends, where I know a lot about them, as well as for total strangers, and oddly enough I find that it's easier in some ways to do a reading when I don't know anything about the querent and their situation. In the case of someone I've not met before, I don't have to worry about filtering out my biases or presumptions, and can simply focus on what I see before me in the spread. It goes back to the issue of transparency, and being receptive to the Tarot cards rather than imposing my own interpretations onto them. Ideally I am simply a conduit for the information conveyed by the cards. It is truly the cards, and not me, doing the reading.

I am continually awed and humbled by the myriad, rich insights a reading can provide the querent. I won't pretend to understand how the process of shuffling cards and laying them out upon a table can produce a coherent, meaningful reading. I have had numerous experiences during a reading when the cards came together beautifully, each one supporting and elaborating the other. Arthur C. Clarke famously observed that "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." The limits of my own understanding of the principles underlying the universe that is the Tarot only spurs me to continue learning and exploring this remarkable creation.

Monday, December 1, 2008

These are two images from Yoshitoshi's woodblock print series 100 Aspects of the Moon. The image on the right made me think of the Hermit. Here is a solitary figure, wandering along at night, this time with only the light of the moon to guide him instead of the customary lantern.

This image also made me think of the pilgrimage undertaken by the poet Basho, which he chronicled in Narrow Road to the Deep North (though I do hope Basho was in better shape than this poor fellow).
Researchers have discovered a cache of marijuana at a 2,700 year old tomb in a remote area of central China. According to a paper published in the Journal of Experimental Botany, the grave was the burial site of a shaman, who was interred with nearly 800 grams of cannabis probably intended for medicinal or divinatory purposes. It is, according to the researchers, "the oldest documentation of cannabis as a pharmacologically active agent."

This find provides an interesting glimpse into the ancient relationship that exists between the plant and humans.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

This painting of Jupiter from first century Pompeii is tailor made for the Emperor card. Although this work predates the Tarot by some thirteen centuries, all the elements of the Emperor are present.

We see Jupiter, seated upon his throne, as a winged Victory sets a laurel upon his brow. He holds a scepter in his hand, and an orb and an eagle are at his feet. The image succinctly and elegantly telegraphs command, majesty, and authority.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

One of my ongoing Tarot-related projects has been the creation of two imaginary Tarot decks. I say imaginary, because they don't exist in physical form; they're simply a collection of ideas and images. The first, which I've named the Giulia Gonzaga deck (after the 16th century Italian noblewoman), is inspired by Medieval and Renaissance art. The other deck, which I variously call the Roman or Classical deck, is inspired by Roman mythology, art, and history.

For my Roman deck, I've left the suits the same as in a standard Tarot deck, substituting denarii, Roman currency, for pentacles or coins. Instead of knights I have centurions, and Emperors and their consorts take the place of Kings and Queens.

Julius Caesar and Calpurnia are the Emperor and Empress of the suit of wands; Augustus and Livia of swords, and Constantine and Fausta the suit of cups. One possibility I've considered for the suit of denarii is Titus and Marcia Furnilla, since the Coliseum was completed under his reign.
For the Major Arcana, I'm using chiefly Roman gods and goddesses. I've come up with several cards in this category, which are pretty straightforward:

Vesta: The High Priestess

Jupiter and Juno: The Emperor and Empress

Venus and Adonis: The Lovers

Fortuna: Wheel of Fortune

Hercules: Strength
Pluto: Death
Diana: The Moon
Apollo: The Sun

For the back of the cards, I decided to go with a mosaic motif, since this art form was so prevalent in Roman culture. Creating a deck in this way is a lot of fun. Thinking about the images I want to use and why allows me to further my understanding and appreciation of the cards and their symbols. Incidentally, there is a Roman Tarot currently in the works, by artist Christine Cianci. She draws upon Etruscan and Roman art to create images that truly evoke that era.

Monday, November 24, 2008

I recently stumbled across this great photo of the incomparable Marlene Dietrich. She looks kind of Goth here, and there appears to be a moon crescent on her forehead. I immediately thought of the Waite-Smith High Priestess, although given the overall dark, mysterious mood of this picture I think the Moon card also applies. Perhaps even a very chic, Cocteau-inspired Death card?

Another great image courtesy of the NYPL Digital Archive.

I'm looking forward to the second season of True Blood.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

I came across this 16th century engraving, by one Thomam Geminum, of a contemplative Death meditating upon Death. I thought it would make an interesting version of the Tarot card.

Image courtesy of the NYPL Digital Archive.
Upon the recommendation of Craig Conley, I've read Last Call, Tim Power's brilliant, mythic, noir-ish novel. Set in LA and Las Vegas and spanning several generations, the characters in this suspenseful story participate in ancient pagan rites, with life or death consequences. At the heart of Power's tale are Tarot cards; specifically, a Tarot deck with unusual powers.

I was in Vegas this past September with my son, and I found it to be a surreal experience. We stayed on the Strip, and I felt as if I were walking underwater the entire time I was there. The energy there was dense, unlike any other place I've ever visited. I couldn't figure out what it was that made Vegas so odd. I couldn't attribute it solely to the casinos, though they're certainly a factor. It was while reading Last Call that everything came together for me.

In other places I've visited, the energy flows organically from the land itself. The inhabitants and history of the place certainly add to the overall energetic signature, but it's the land itself that seems to set the tone for everything. In Las Vegas, that's not the case at all. I felt a dense layer of energy resting upon a neutral, ancient desert landscape. There seemed to be no interplay at all between the desert and the city, which contributed to the unreal, mirage-like quality I felt while I was there. The desert seems wholly indifferent to the goings on in Vegas, one reason I believe people who go there feel they have license to indulge in all kinds of behaviors they wouldn't otherwise engage in.

Whoever came up with the marketing slogan "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" hit upon an interesting truth. Vegas seems to have this self contained quality, to be a kind of hedonistic energetic biodome, where people can seek out entertainment of all kinds, then safely leave the experiences behind them.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I've been reading Leo Martello's book Reading the Tarot, a work I enjoy for its vigor and concision. Martello was an opinionated stregone, and the force of his personality comes through the pages of this useful guide to the Tarot.

I enjoy the rhymed messages he included for the pips. Some, such as the one for the Ace of Pentacles (which corresponds to diamonds in a standard card deck), are humorous:

"Ace of Pentacles a girl's best friend,
A Beau's best bet to insure a blend!"

They're a fun way to help memorize basic meanings for these cards. Of course, Martello did not advocate a rote approach to reading the cards, one based purely on memorization. He regarded his own interpretations as a starting point, or more precisely a focal point to trigger the subconscious mind and evoke images and ideas. He maintained that a study of the meanings of the cards should work in concert with one's own intuition. He wrote "between a literal reading of the cards and an intuitively enlightened one, you'll be amazed at the revelations this combination brings."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I recently learned that the Peruvian singer Yma Sumac, the Nightingale of the Andes, died earlier this month. A soprano with a five octave range (her first husband proclaimed "Never in 2,000 years has there been another voice like hers"), Sumac was wildly popular in the 1950's.

Born in Peru on September 13, 1922, Sumac began singing at age 9. She and her first husband moved to New York City in 1946, where she performed as part of a trio before embarking upon her solo career. Her remarkable voice could emulate bird cries and wild animals, and she incorporated spectacular costumes into her theatrical acts. A diva in the truest and finest sense of the word, she cultivated a glamorous and mysterious persona, even claiming to be descended from an Incan emperor.

Sumac embodied the creativity, power, and majesty of the Empress card. The image she created and presented to audiences flowed organically from her talent and immense personality.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008

Ginny Hunt of 87 Notes to Self has an insightful and witty post on the pitfalls of using a purely intuitive approach to Tarot reading, one that has no regard for the established meanings of the cards. I agree wholeheartedly that while intuition is indispensable for a good reading, it is not enough. Intuition must be supported by a foundation of study and knowledge of the cards.

My own course of study has been idiosyncratic, varied, and actually began (without my knowing it at the time) long before I ever laid eyes upon a Tarot deck. The Greek and Roman myths I loved as a child provided one framework for understanding the classical cultures whose revival played such an important role in Renaissance life, the period when the Tarocchi were first developed. Western European art and history, from classical times through the Renaissance, continually deepen my appreciation for the iconography of the Tarot. The books of Thomas Moore, particularly Care of the Soul and The Reenchantment of Everyday Life, help me to cultivate a sensibility that I have found helpful when interpreting a spread. I could go on: music, literature, poetry, architecture, the works of Tarot historians and scholars - all these contribute to my learning in some manner.

None of this is meant to be prescriptive, of course. It is simply my way. I share this merely to buttress my argument that relying purely on some vague, misty idea of what the cards mean, independent of how they actually came about and evolved, is limiting at best, and misleading to the querent, at worst. The cards are eloquent, but it is necessary to learn their language to understand what they have to say.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Quote of the Day

"Crane glanced around at the room, noting the food stains on the carpet and the stack of battered issues of Woman's World on a far table, and he remembered Joshua's tastefully mood-conducive [tarot] parlor. Maybe, Crane thought, if you've got the real high-octane stuff, you don't need to dress it up."

-- Tim Powers, Last Call

Thursday, November 13, 2008

In Stitches

This is cool. The Tarot Art Quilt Project Deck is a collaborative project among various fiber artists who have created quilt versions of the Tarot cards. Pictured is Boyd Savage's vision of the Death card. I was interested in the fact that he chose not to use the skeleton, since he feels the image may not resonate with viewers as much as it did in other times. Death, the ultimate transformation, is represented instead by the Tao gate. When I first saw this quilt, the gate reminded me of the number pi, which further deepened the sense of mystery of this image for me.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Below is a video of a presentation given by magic scholar and linguist extraordinaire, Craig Conley, at the recent Magic and Meaning conference held in Las Vegas. His topic was "Jeff McBride and His Precursors." Conley's talk greatly increased my admiration for the artistry of this gifted magician.

Jeff McBride and His Precursors from Prof. Oddfellow on Vimeo.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Card That I'm Feeling

As the events of this historic week sink in, the Tarot card that best captures my mood right now is the Star.

While there is no question that the myriad economic, environmental, and social problems facing the US will not be resolved overnight, I feel hopeful about the future for the first time in a long while.

(The featured card is from Robert M. Place's Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery, a work in progress.)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

We never know how high we are
Till we are called to rise;
And then, if we are true to plan,
Our statures touch the skies.
-- Emily Dickinson

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Green Magic

Plants have long been used for food and medicine, but one use I find interesting is in magic. The Medieval Garden Enclosed, which is the blog of the gardens at The Cloisters museum, has a great post on two plants with magical uses. The museum's gardens divide plants according to their most common uses during the Middle Ages, and they have a bed devoted to plants believed to have magical properties.

There are many plants I admire and respect for their magical properties. My favorites include the oak tree (my maiden name, which is a Basque surname, means 'stand of oak trees'), hyssop, lavender, and rose. Not surprisingly, a number of tarot decks feature magical and medicinal plants in their artwork and symbolism. Johanna Gargiulo Sherman created the Sacred Rose Tarot, and the back of the deck features four rose mandalas encircling a central rose. Aeclectic Tarot features a number of tarot decks which incorporate magical plants and herbs. The lore of these ancient plants inspire and enrich these decks, and in turn our own appreciation of these green helpers grows.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


When most of us think of haunted homes, the visual in our heads is generally of an older home, maybe a Victorian, perhaps abandoned, and one that has a palpably spooky or eerie atmosphere. Of course, haunted homes come in all styles and varieties, and I came across an interesting one on Apartment Therapy. Constructed during the 1920's as an Illinois Bell booster station, its exterior is conservative, but the interior is spacious, fresh, and modern. Looking through the virtual tour, it's as far from the stereotype of the haunted house as one can imagine.

The current occupants were aware of the home's haunted history when they bought it, but they say it doesn't bother them. My last home was briefly haunted, so I can certainly relate to their experience. In my case, the house was a modest cape built in the 1940's which my husband had rented out for many years. It was pretty beat up and in need of lots of care, so my husband, my then 2 year old son, and I decided to move in and renovate it before putting it on the market. I had the usual experiences: the feeling of someone being in a room with me when I was alone, hearing footsteps upstairs when no one was there, and catching a fleeting shadow moving from the corner of my eye. Fortunately for us, the presence was a benevolent one. It felt like an older man, kind of grandfatherly. He seemed happy that were taking care of the space, and soon after the renovations ended, he stopped visiting us.

I told my husband of my experiences, but he laughed them off, and told me I have an overactive imagination. I never bothered doing any research regarding my visitor. My sense was that he had lived in the home, and was grateful to see a young family living and thriving there. I don't even regard what happened as 'paranormal,' per se, but then again my definition of normal compared to most folks is pretty flexible. I never felt afraid of or threatened by the presence in any way. I did nothing to encourage him to stay, nor did I interact in any way with him. I just went about my daily round, knowing that he would leave when he was ready.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Cool for Bats

Halloween is a good time to plug a great organization called Bats Conservation International. BCI's goal is to educate folks about the vital role these often maligned creatures play in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. BCI has a wealth of information on bats, and is involved in research and conservation efforts as well. You can even learn how build a bat house.


I came across this photo, in the New York Public Library Digital Gallery, of Houdini visiting the grave of Italian magician Bartolomeo Bosco. Bosco had been a renowned performer during the first half of the 19th century, but he died penniless and when Houdini visited his grave it was neglected and dilapidated. Houdini took it upon himself to care for the plot at his own expense, something he did not only for Bosco, but for other deceased magicians as well.

Halloween is, of course, the anniversary of Houdini's death, and as I viewed this photo it seemed an apt way to honor the memory of a man who did so much during his own life to preserve the memories and legacies of those magicians who came before him.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Cabinet of Dr. Gurnweith

Through November 8, visitors to the Marlborough Gallery in NYC will be able to enter "Through The Moon Door" and cross over into the world of explorer, artist, and collector Dr. Gurnweith. On view are paintings of unknown worlds, elaborate sculptures, unusual imaginary insects, and other works of art. Dr. Gurnweith was dreamed up, literally, by artist and architect Thierry Despont. The figure appeared to him in a dream, and the entire exhibit, including the mysterious Doctor, are all the creation of Despont, who seeks to find magic and beauty in things which are discarded and overlooked by most. He regards himself as both a creator and a curator of these works.

The entire exhibit resembles a fantastical kind of museum of natural history, one that exists in a parallel universe. Despont believes that we've "lost our sense of wonder and hope and I hope to try and restore that a little bit." Both wonder and beauty are in abundant supply at this extraordinary exhibit.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


When astronaut Alan Bean, the fourth man to walk on the moon, retired from NASA in 1981 after a distinguished career, he decided to devote himself to his art. The historic space missions in which he participated are a rich source of inspiration, and he endeavors to capture in his paintings the exhilaration of that experience. As he noted in a recent interview, "They're not like Earth paintings. They don't look like Earth paintings. . . they're paintings from another world."

His work will be on display until April 2009 at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, in Austin, Texas, as part of their celebration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of NASA.
Bean's evocative paintings hint at the greater mysteries beyond the confines of our earth, from the perspective of one whose art is truly "off this world."

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Pottery Boo

I love these skull votive candleholders. They're available from Pottery Barn, of all places.

Monday, October 13, 2008


This is a special Las Vegas edition of Tarot images I encounter, a series inspired by Craig Conley's magical Trump L'Oeil Tarot of Portmeirion. My son and I recently went to Vegas to check out the new Criss Angel and Cirque du Soleil production, Believe. He took this photo as we were walking down the Strip. It is, of course, the magical duo of Siegfried and Roy, and I thought of Strength as soon as I saw it.

The magicians were renowned for incorporating animals, including Royal White Tigers and white lions, into their shows. Since their retirement following Roy Horn's near-fatal mauling by a tiger during a magic show in October 2003, they are committed to conservation efforts and promoting a greater understanding and appeciation of wild animals. The association with the Strength card seems fitting in light of the relationship that they had with their fellow animal peformers.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Un-Dead

Good news for vampire lovers. Dacre Stoker, the great-grandnephew of novelist Bram Stoker, has co-authored a new Dracula novel which is set to be released in October 2009. It is set in early 20th century London, in the theater world, and Bram himself is a character, along with Quincey Harker, Mina and Jonathan's son. Titled Dracula: The Un-Dead, the novel draws upon notes that Bram Stoker wrote when he was researching his work, and it continues themes from his seminal book. There is also a movie planned.

I am looking forward to this sequel.