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.