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.