Sunday, May 31, 2009

Here's a Fool from Lisle de Vaux Matthewman's Brevities (1903). Note that the fool is stepping on the tail of his animal companion. The caption reads, "Life may be a huge joke, but too often either the joke is not evident, or it is on us."

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Playing card royals unite as The Lovers in these United States stamps.

Friday, May 29, 2009

"Under criss-crossing overhead subway lines, old Japanese men in black velvet read fortunes at rickety tables by candlelight. I noted a chart of the palm at one spot, a tarot deck in another." -- Jennifer Dumpert

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Demeter, the Greek Goddess of grain and fertility who according to myth taught humanity agriculture, is often associated with the Empress. It's interesting to compare the image of her above, taken from the 19th century work Dr. Vollmers Wörterbuch der Mythologie aller Völker, to the RWS Empress.

The throne, scepter, and grain are elements present in both images. They communicate this archetype's dominion over growing things, and represent a figure who is both maternal and authoritative.
The Biblical figure of Samson is sometimes associated with the Strength card. He was, of course, renowned for his great strength, and like his Greek counterpart Hercules slew a lion. The image above is a 15th century engraving by E. S. Meister of Delilah cutting Samson's hair. By this act, she removed the source of his physical prowess. This depiction of a woman subduing a powerful man by the use of her feminine wiles makes for an interesting variation of the Strength card.

Monday, May 25, 2009

"scant mention was made of the Esther Scroll,

which is like a tarot containing ,

, , the

, ,

, the ,

, and It is the only biblical text in which
God is never named, and, in fact, there is no God in the tarot deck of cards. God plays his hand, and, some might dare to claim, He cheats."
Many thanks to Craig for providing the idea for this post.
"Take Tarot cards. . . if you do readings. They should “speak” to you. If the images are dead and don’t get you creatively excited, find another deck that does!" -- Stuart Cumberland

(Thanks to Craig for inspiring this post. The above image is of the legendary Madame Lenormand, giving the Empress Josephine a reading.)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

This detail from the Altarpiece of the Last Judgement by Rogier van der Weyden shows the Archangel Michael weighing souls. When I saw this image I thought it might be interesting to have a Tarot where all the Major Arcana explore the theme of balance. This image would be Judgment, naturally. The Magician could be portrayed juggling balls. The Fool could be shown at a crossroads, weighing his options. The Lovers would show a man deciding between two women. Death could be juxtaposed with a newborn, and so on.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


Because I could not stop for Death
He kindly stopped for me;
carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.
We passed the school, where children strove
At recess, in the ring;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.

Or rather, he passed us;
The dews grew quivering and chill,
For only gossamer my gown,
My tippet only tulle.

We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.

Since then 'tis centuries, and yet each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses' heads
Were toward eternity.
"A philosophy which does not include and cannot explain the possibility of prophecy by means of coffee grounds cannot be a true philosophy."

—Walter Benjamin, Letters, qtd. in The Road to Delphi: The Life and Afterlife of Oracles, by Michael Wood

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A king of clubs playing card, ca. 1810, featuring a cranky looking Jupiter.

Monday, May 18, 2009

This photo of the tower in S. Stefano di Sessanio in Abruzzo was taken by my uncle. In a case of life imitating the Tarot, it was almost completely destroyed in the earthquake that struck central Italy in April.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A 14th century bas-relief of the first Pope, Saint Peter, from a church in my parents' hometown.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

"To some extent you participated in putting a man on the moon, whether or not you had any connection at all with the physical occurrence itself. Your thoughts put a man on the moon as surely as any rocket did. You can become involved now in a new exploration, one in which man's civilizations and organizations change their course, reflecting his good intents and his ideals."

-- The Individual and the Nature of Mass Events
Jane Roberts
[Image from an 1872 Italian edition of Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon.]

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Continuing on the Triumphal theme, here is a 15th century depiction of the Triumph of Fame. In an interesting essay that appears in the Association for Tarot Studies newsletter titled Petrarch's Triumphs and the Creation of Tarot, Robert Mealing matches the Fame triumph with The World. I would match Fame with the Wheel of Fortune, since Fame, like Fortuna, can be fickle and fleeting, and someone can be famous one day and forgotten the next.

Above is a lovely 2nd century Roman mosaic of a Triumph with Venus and Neptune. I immediately thought of the Lovers, of course.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A postal carrier as oracle; the daily mail predicting a Mother's Day call:
"She lays each piece of mail on my kitchen table like a Tarot card, resting the letter from my mother across the phone bill."

—Tammy Greenwood, Undressing the Moon

Saturday, May 9, 2009

This stately formal portrait of the 18th century Dowager Empress Xiaosheng would make a fantastic Empress card. The formality of the composition gives the ruler an iconic quality. She simply exudes authority and stability.

This is a 9th century Russian icon of the Byzantine Empress Theodora. Though this image predates the creation of the Tarot by several centuries, it could easily be incorporated into a deck.
The is a Triumphal Chariot of the World, by late 16th century Flemish engraver Phillipp Galle. As best as I can tell, the two horses represent Day and Night. The ladies at the four corners appear to symbolize the four elements of fire, air, water, and earth.

I think it would be interesting to create a Tarot in which each trump is depicted as a chariot in a triumphal procession. This German website has more information on the image above.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

This beautiful statue of Temperance is in the Portinari Chapel, in the Basilica of San Eustorgio in Milan. She appears rather aloof as she pours water into the wine, thereby tempering its intoxicating properties.

This livelier Temperance is at a church in Logumkloster, Denmark. She appears to be a multidimensional Tarot card.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The classic image of the cardinal virtue of Strength shows a woman subduing a lion, such as the one shown above of Forteza by German Renaissance engraver Hans Sebald Beham.

In some cases, Strength or Fortitude is shown with wings. Here we see her looking angelic, with a dragon.

In this painting of Fortitudo by Giotto, in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Strength appears like a warrior, Athena-like. She holds a stave in her hand, and the lion appears on her shield, showing that she has both mastered the lion and assumed its qualities of courage for herself.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Roman goddess Vesta, guardian of hearth and home, makes an interesting Queen of Coins; as deity of sacred fire, she suggests the alchemical process of smelting. (Vesta's priestesses, by the way, were the famous Vestal Virgins. They tended to the eternal flame at Vesta's temples.) On this coin, Vesta is shown seated on a throne. In the palm of her hand is the Palladium of Rome, a talismanic effigy of safety.