Monday, March 30, 2009

"Blind justice" is an ideal of unbiased legal decisions. In the late 1400's, the lawyer and satirist Sebastian Brant whimsically combined two Tarot cards to account for how Justice got her blindfold. It's the Fool playing a prank!

[For more information about Sebastian Brant, see Giornale Nuovo.]

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Tarot cards inspired by cities or places are magical for the way they bring Tarot archetypes and images off the page and into the world. I'm thinking specifically of Craig Conley's Trump L'Oeil Tarot, inspired by the Welsh village of Portmeirion, and the Tarot of Prague by Karen Mahony and Alex Ukolov. My choice for a city-themed Tarot is Naples, the most soulful city in Italy. Naples has all the elements required for a deck: an ancient history, beautiful art and architecture, a vibrant religious sensibility, and natural beauty.

Founded as a Greek colony which later became a part of the Roman Empire, the city was ruled by a succession of rulers who left their imprint on its art, architecture, and culture. In addition, it features an abundance of beautiful and historic churches. In selecting images for the Major Arcana, I would make some changes that reflect the city's natural and religious heritage.

In place of the Tower, I would substitute Vesuvius. Turner's painting of Vesuvius in Eruption, shown above, perfectly captures the destructive power and terrible beauty of Naples' most famous natural landmark. All the ideas of catastrophe, ruin, and devastation symbolized by the Tower are contained in this volcano.
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In place of the Pope, I would put in the city's beloved patron saint, Saint Januarius, or San Gennaro. He was a Bishop in Benevento in the 4th century who was martyred. While substituting San Gennaro would mean demoting this card, not giving him a place of honor in the deck would not do justice to a Neapolitan Tarot.
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Going through the city's historic center in search of appropriate images for the rest of the Trumps would be a challenging and rewarding project. For the minor arcana, I would use a deck of Neapolitan playing cards. The end result would be a visually and historically rich deck, and a lovely tribute to a remarkable city.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

"It was as if the Tarot was helping me find the meaning I knew had been there, but which I'd lost along the way."

—Lucy Cavandish, "The Oracle Tarot," Pop! Goes the Witch

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

In early Tarot decks, the figure of the Hermit was variously known as Il Gobbo, the Hunchback, Il Vecchio, the Old Man, or simply Tempo, Time. Ideas regarding the passage of time, infirmity, old age, and even a hint of death were all present in this image. The Old Man is someone who has reached a stage in his life where he recognizes that, in the words of Ecclesiastes, all is vanity, and his awareness of the transitory nature of human events has given him a certain detachment from the affairs of the world along with a measure of wisdom.

The engraving by Johann Woelfle, shown above, of a work by 17th century artist Gerard Dou contains many of the elements one associates with the Hermit card: the lamp, which represents illumination, along with solitude and contemplation. The book and crucifix underscore the Hermit's religious devotion and search for truth and wisdom, while the skull is a memento mori, reminding us all of our mortality. This Hermit is not wandering, however, as is often the case with this card.

In another engraving by Woelfle, this time of a work by Thomas de Keyser, we have a mendicant monk. He represents the more classical aspect of the Hermit who wanders alone, though here we see him taking a rest. He appears to be in a meditative state, completely unto himself, apart from society and its concerns.

Monday, March 23, 2009

And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent.

Lord Byron

A long-lost Tarot card, found at last? Or merely an evocative illustration by Tarot artist Pamela Colman Smith?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

"It looks as if what we ask of oracles, at some stage or another, in some place or another, is nothing less than everything."

—Michael Wood, The Road to Delphi
When I saw this cigarette card published by Wills cigarettes of a Roman centurion, I thought it would be perfect for my virtual Classical Tarot. I've substituted Centurions for the more traditional Knights, and this fellow fits the bill. Since he's linked to Julius Caesar, who is the Emperor of Wands, I'd make him the Centurion of Wands.

Fast forward a few hundred years to this strapping 8th century Viking. I think he'd be great in a Norse themed Tarot.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Is every person one meets a facet of the Tarot, evoking or provoking our own Tarot archetypes? Consider this discussion by psychologist Robert B. Marchesani:

It may be . . . that we are not who we think we are, at least until we settle into an acceptance of our ability to act as many others; maybe all the others we've ever loved or been loved by have shown us ourselves, echoed ourselves and muted ourselves, perhaps even called us to new selves. We become other than we thought we were in the face of difference. We respond in kind. We speak of people bringing out the worst in us and people bringing out the best in us. Some provoke, others evoke. But maybe it's not such a bad thing to see our cards being put on the table one by one over the course of our lives. Like a Tarot deck, some are portents, others are great hope. Or like any deck of playing cards, some are the ones we are looking for, the ones we need in the moment depending on where we are in the game. Others we put behind the rest may be the very ones we seek out later in the game.

Saints and Rogues

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

This is a turn of the twentieth century poster for Vicereine shoes. I couldn't help but think of the RWS Queen of Wands when I saw this image. The yellow and red in this poster echo those colors in Smith's interpretation of this court card.

I think the shoe queen would make a lovely Queen of Wands in her own right. The only change I would make (aside from removing all the commercial references) is substituting a wooden staff for the one she holds.

This dynamic image of Caesar is perfect for the Emperor of Wands in my virtual Classical Tarot. I love the way he appears to be rising from his throne, one hand outstretched as if summoning or ordering someone, the other resting upon an eagle, an enduring symbol of power and majesty. The fasces near his feat underscore his authority. He is a forceful figure who perfectly expresses the active, decisive nature of the suit of Wands.
French physicist and philosopher Bernard d'Espagnat has announced that Mystery is a vital component of life. The New York Times reports:

D'Espagnat said . . . that since science cannot reveal anything certain about the nature of being, it cannot tell us with certainty what it is not.

"Mystery is not something negative that has to be eliminated," he said. "On the contrary, it is one of the constitutive elements of being."

He added that he is "convinced that those among our contemporaries who believe in a spiritual dimension of existence and live up to it are, when all is said, fully right."

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"A good way to divine color or clothing choices for a particular situation is to create a bunch of clothing cards. They can be simple as index cards with fabric pasted on them in various colors, or perhaps your outfits drawn on them. Treat them like a Tarot deck; ask them, 'What will work best to achieve my goals today?' and pull a card."

—Raven Kaldera, The Urban Primitive

I'm absolutely thrilled and honored that Craig Conley will be co-blogging with me at Anima Tarot. Among his accomplishments - author, linguist, magic scholar - Craig is also the creator of the enchanting Trump L'Oeil Tarot. He brings to this blog wit, erudition, and boundless creative energy, and I look forward to collaborating with him.

We find her "kneeling on the living-room floor with bright patches of carpet and drapery samples laid out in front of her like a tarot deck."

—Marly A. Swick, Paper Wings

Monday, March 16, 2009

"Fears and hopes change as history changes, and so do the relations between fears and hopes. But the balancing of fears and hopes is a human constant, and oracles are an important part of that balancing act."

—Michael Wood, The Road to Delphi: The Life and Afterlife of Oracles

Saturday, March 14, 2009

I think this cigarette card makes a fine Ace of Swords.

Craig Conley sent me this image of a jaunty Page of Swords.

This is a photo of the Emir of Bukhara, Alim Khan, by Russian photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. He makes a stately King of Swords.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

In his enchanting and profound work Trickster Makes This World, Lewis Hyde explores the emergence and significance of the trickster archetype in religion and art, and the ways in which Trickster helps to create and sustain civilization. As I reflect on Trickster and his meaning and relevance for 21st century society, I can't help but think about the trickster elements that appear in the Tarot.

Perhaps the purest expression of the Trickster is the Fool, also known in earlier decks as Il Matto, the Madman. The Fool is numbered zero, because he exists completely outside the social hierarchy of medieval society, on the margins or periphery of that culture. Trickster is found on the threshold, at the boundary, the space where one place turns into another. His domain is the open road, which is where Trickster is often found. In some traditions, Trickster rules the crossroads. The Fool doesn’t belong to a particular place; he’s always on the move, for he's both a traveler and a wanderer, two activities long associated with the Trickster.

The Magician also has Trickster elements. In some earlier Tarot decks he was known as Le Bateleur, or Il Bagatto. Unlike the fool he has an occupation, but he’s disreputable. His number is One, so while he does have a place in society, he's at the bottom rung. Le Bateleur was often regarded as something of a con artist, a mountebank or sleight of hand artist who was amusing but couldn’t be trusted. As someone who performs magic tricks, he is literally a tricky fellow.

Unlike the Fool, he is part of the village, but his domain is the public square, that space which belongs to everyone and no one. In some versions, the Magician is shown with dice, iconic objects in their own right which symbolize chance and luck, along with cups and balls, the original ‘now you see it, now you don’t’ disappearing act. The suggestion of sneakiness and theft in this image are part and parcel of the Trickster.

While most people might be annoyed to see the Fool wandering about their village (or would simply ignore him), the Magician would be welcome, as long as he didn’t overstay his welcome. Whereas the Fool is a character who may inspire pity or revulsion (sometimes at the same time), the Magician provokes a different set of mixed feelings – admiration for his skill, coupled with wariness at his cleverness. He is entertaining, but his magic may also engender suspicion – what exactly does he have up his sleeve, and what else can he make vanish?

Being a method of divination, the Tarot is permeated by a kind of trickster energy. The Tarotist begins a reading by shuffling the deck, and a seemingly random group of cards appears, by chance, to answer the querent’s question. The cards speak a language all their own, one which the Tarot reader must interpret or translate for the reading to be helpful. Hermes could be said to rule over the Tarot, since the cards mediate between the querent and her higher self, providing images that taken together communicate a message or story that help illuminate or resolve a dilemma. The cards carry messages from someplace else, which are brought down to earth for the benefit of human beings.
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I believe it is this mercurial element at the heart of Tarot that makes it such an engaging method for introspection, learning, and growth. In that liminal space created by a reading, one doesn't know exactly what will happen until the cards are laid upon the table. Then the images must be examined and read in order for any kind of insight to emerge. The possible combinations that can arise, coupled with the multiplicity of the images' meanings, make Tarot a dynamic and profound approach for addressing the problems and challenges inherent in living.
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Of course, Tarot has its shadow side as well. Some regard Tarot as a con, and indeed some misuse the Tarot purely to exploit others and profit from their confusion or pain. While legitimate Tarotists may wring their hands over this, and wonder what can be done, we may have to accept that while the charlatan's tactics are unethical (and in some cases even illegal), there may never be a way to completely escape this aspect of Tarot, even as we try to promote high standards for Tarot readings. The Trickster can charm and confound at the same time, and while his role in society is essential he can never be completely trusted. The Trickster requires us to be open, yet alert; we have to be receptive to his message, yet keep our wits about us all the same. It is the tension that exists between the polarities of scholarship and quackery, between respectability and shadiness, and between wisdom and folly, that keeps Tarot vibrant.

Monday, March 9, 2009

"I am a Saturn who dreams of being a Mercury, and everything I write reflects these two impulses."

-- Italo Calvino

Sunday, March 8, 2009

This is an illustration for the month of March, from a 15th century illuminated book of hours commissioned by Jean, Duc de Berry (his residence can be seen in the background).

According to The Medieval Garden Enclosed, March was the time of the year when farmers began to plow their fields in preparation for sowing. This activity corresponds to the Ace of Pentacles, when one gets to work laying a foundation in order to reap a future harvest. It is the starting point of the labor necessary to achieve one's particular goals. This lovely image brings the ideas expressed within this Tarot card literally down to earth.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

This is an illustration of a wonderful, old-fashioned Satan from Milton's Paradise Lost. He resembles a diabolical version of the Archangel Michael, appropriate given that Lucifer was of course originally an angel himself. The chiaroscuro effect only heightens the sense of perdition and doom. This is Satan as the tormentor, corruptor, and stealer of souls. It would make a fine Devil card.

In an interesting bit of synchronicity, I received this image of the Devil from Craig Conley while I was preparing this post. Here, the devil has cloven feet, recalling the Greek god Pan (with whom Satan is sometimes associated). The crown and magic wand are interesting touches. This is the Devil as mischief maker, the archetype of the trickster who disrupts human affairs and revels in making trouble. I think this would make an interesting Devil card as well.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Craig Conley, creator of the Trump L'Oeil Tarot, recently sent me a wonderful template for Tarot card readings which he created, and he has generously given me permission to share it on my blog. He titles it, "Illuminating Life's Gray Areas with Some Gray Matter," and it utilizes a mental iceberg map that allows the user to learn about the mental factors governing a situation.

As Prof. Conley explained it to me, there are three areas addressed by the reading: the Ego, the Super-Ego, and the Id. The Ego relates "to issues of self-esteem, judgment, tolerance," the Super-Ego illuminates "one's ideals, spiritual goals, guilt," and the Id reveals "primitive drives, selfishness, instant gratification." He then spelled out the meaning of the areas of the map, and how to interpret the cards using this template:

"Note that in the diagram, the EGO and SUPEREGO cross three different states of consciousness: a. the exposed peak of the iceberg represents that which is conscious (directly perceptible thoughts); b. the undulating waves represent that which is preconscious (memories or stored knowledge bobbing toward the surface); c. the submerged body of the iceberg represents that which is unconscious (concealed or bottled up fears, irrational wishes, shameful desires or urges).

A reversed card indicates something suppressed or subliminal, while an upright card indicates something mindful or floating into view. Determining whether an upright card points to something preconscious or conscious will depend upon the querent's viewpoint. If the card's significance is immediately apparent, it refers to a conscious condition. If the card's significance seems cryptic, it is a reflection of a partially or deeply submerged condition."

I decided to use the template to give myself a reading, in order to gain some clarity about some persistent emotional blocks that I have. The results stunned me. There, in three simple cards, was an abundance of information concerning my attitudes, beliefs, and hopes. Not only was the nature of my blocks was spelled out, I received information concerning their origin as well. The template's elegance and simplicity provided me not only with the information I wanted, but gave it to me in a manner in which I could understand and assimilate it. While I did the reading several days a go, I am still mulling over it, getting new insights and 'aha' moments.

I would recommend this template without reservation for anyone seeking a three card reading that is simple in it approach, and rich in the insights and clarity it can offer.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

It's a joy for me to present a post by guest blogger Craig Conley, creator of the wonderful Trump L'Oeil Tarot. I was intrigued by his insights into this arresting image, and am so grateful to him for allowing me to share them with others on this blog.

With its symbolic artwork and word "Justice," this poster for a social gathering suggests a Tarot card. Justice is here depicted as a serpent entwined around a staff, like the rod of Asclepius. As an animal, the serpent suggests the principles of natural justice (the "law of the jungle") as opposed to civil justice. As a shedder of skin, the serpent indicates a self-renewing impartiality. The serpent embraces the staff's two branches (perhaps symbols of vengeance and mercy). The serpent's venom may kill like poison or heal like medicine, depending upon how it is administered.