Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Three of Swords — La Corte dei Tarocchi


Artist: Anna Maria D’Onofrio


[I didn’t really want to draw this card. I wanted the one above it, but this one fell out of the deck so I felt obliged to take it.]


The three of swords is
that normal-sort of heartbreak—
when you live and things hurt
because you are willing to feel them.


If you aren’t willing to feel
nothing hurts
but that is not living.


It is very difficult to stay not-living
while walking on this earth.
Not even people-hating people are non-living.
People-hating people hurt and hate
and maybe live in heartache more
than you or I with broken hearts.


Zombie-people are the sort
who never draw the three of swords.
I do not know what sort of cards they draw—
they have no future and no past because
they are not present.


Maybe, soul-less, they draw the devil every time
and devils only devils.
Maybe I am wrong— perhaps
they draw threes of swords one after another—
threes and threes of swords that scream—
feel something! feel something!— but—
they cannot hear because
they are not present. Silence.


Zombie is a state of deep, near-death addiction
where times of lucidity are so few or never that
no light comes in and then there is no point
and then there is no living— real death—
beyond which there cannot be feeling like we feel—
feeling that makes us alive.
Feeling makes us alive. Be thankful and
be thankful for the three of swords.
Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

13. The Journey — The Wildwood Tarot

Artist: Will Worthington
Authors: Mark Ryan & John Matthews
This card corresponds to the Death card in the Marseille Tarot.
“The first step is to ask the initial question,” write the authors. “This is the most overlooked part of any divinatory system… the act of asking focuses the mind. The desired answer or even the real question itself may be buried so deep in our own subconscious that we need the help of Tarot to reflect our own unknowable truth.”
The truth is, I have not been asking a question other than which card will it be? what will it show me? When I pull cards for this blog, I am not searching for insight. I merely seek the ability to understand the cards more thoroughly. But if I want to get a better answer, I have to ask a better question.
This deck has caught me unawares. The book is extremely well written. I do not just want to jump to the card and see what it means. I want to read the book, understand where the authors are coming from, and move from there. I am the sort who reads instruction books cover-to-cover. I hope my book will be so enticing to others.
From the book—
It is time to face the inevitable, to let the bones be laid bare and acknowledge the deepest aspects of your fears and desires. Do not fear change, because this is also a time of purification and realignment. This change may seem extreme and destructive, but old crops must be cleared for new growth to thrive and static or sterile modes and concepts must perish. A celebration of the past or an acknowledgement of the passing of  one part of life may be required. Let the threads of the old slip from your fingers with joyful remembrance and enter this time of withdrawal and renewal with patience and calm.
I had trouble calling my death card “finished” for a long time. I was trying to illustrate death as something that begins in childhood and grows with life. Death is there all along; it is nothing new. I drew people of three ages dancing with snakes that grew with them, both the snakes and the people enjoying life. Death enjoys life. Over and over, death enjoys life. Still, something was missing. That something was death itself, a fourth stage of life, like the four seasons of the year. When I added the skull, death became complete. I was not afraid that death was part of life; I was afraid that death was part of death.
Here is a celebration. Before the birth of my child, celebrate the death of my self: my selfish-self: my self who wanted to be only-self for so many years and had “too much to” do to be devoted to another self. I think it would be a good thing: to say good-bye thoroughly to what I no longer need, that I might greet with purity what I desire.
I am excited for this death and birth of life.

Monday, December 19th, 2011

Five of Cups — Tarot of the Absurd

Jessica Rose Shanahan
[This is my third five of cups in all my 14 days of one-card readings. What am I, depressed?]
Artist: Jessica Rose Shanahan


Interpretation: Inability to see that, when the glass is half-empty, it is, indeed, half-full.


The man in the picture is glum. He is angry and disillusioned. He is sad for his loss and the imperfection of his life. He is sulking because all he can see is what is lost— the four spilled cups in front of him. If he would only look around— take a peek over his shoulder— he would see that all is not lost. One shining cup hovers behind him, floating in the air like an apparition! Do not give up hope! Look for the positive! To do so requires a change in attitude. To see the bright side of a seemingly dismal situation takes a change in point-of-view. Stand up, walk over, turn around. The present situation is unstable and needs to change. Regret is useless. Look and see— what is possible?

Sunday, December 18th, 2011

Female Knight of Staves — Cary-Yale Visconti Deck

Artist: unknown
Interpretation: upright: Confidence. Letters. Faithfulness. A friend of many years comes to visit. inverted: Lack of commitment. Gossip. Bad news. Disillusionment with an old friend.
I wonder who thought up this interpretation—
The main founding father of tarot occultism, Antoine Court de Géblin, was a “Protestant pastor, Freemason and savant (p 52).”* Court de Géblin was one of the founding fathers of the Plilaléthes, an esoteric cult who combined, it seems, most any en-vogue and occultist literature into their doctrine. He wrote innumerable unscientific articles and essays on the history of  civilization all the while demonstrating a disdain for serious evidence and rational thought.
In the early 1770s, Court de Géblin was introduced to the game of Tarots by a woman who was visiting Paris from “Germany or Switzerland.” Within the course of fifteen minutes, he scanned the entire pack. He immediately declared it thoroughly Egyptian and announced that its secret knowledge had survived so long because the deck was disguised as an instrument of play instead of the antique book of wisdom it truly was. “He did not pretend to have derived his knowledge from any ancient tradition, orally transmitted… for long ages no one had suspected the truth until he himself had with his genius perceived it and uncovered it (p 58).”
Court de Géblin had grown up in Switzerland and thus had seen the cards as a child, but not since. The game of Tarots was, at the time, still popular in Switzerland and generally forgotten in France. This foreignness was an essential element in Court de Géblin’s ability to spread his grandiose theories of the origin and significance of the tarot pack.
The deck that Court de Géblin saw in the woman’s possession was one of 78 cards. It is important to note, as demonstrated with this 86-card Cary-Yale Visconti Deck, that not all decks used in the game of trumps had 78 cards. Decks and their suits and trumps were regionally consistent, but not internationally consistent. Whereas the number of cards is significant in contemporary “traditional” occult methods of divination, all that is important for game playing is that the players are familiar with the deck and agree on the rules.
The first professional cartomancer, Jean-Baptiste Alliette, or Etteilla as he was known, also used a 78-card pack. He “corrected” many of the trumps to show images we are more familiar with today. His numbering of trumps differed from the order used in play in the tarot of Marseille and contemporary occult tarot, and the meaning of the numeral cards has evolved significantly since his time. However, the number of cards in the occult tarot deck has remained consistent from Court de Géblin’s “discovery” in the 1770s.
That is, until the mid 1990s with the addition of the Happy Squirrel Card in the Simpson’s episode #19, Lisa’s Wedding.
So, when Stuart Kaplan took to publishing facsimiles of antique tarot decks, who took on the task of assigning esoteric meaning to the additional eight cards in the Cary-Yale Visconti Deck? My guess is Stuart R. Kaplan himself, who has earned great recognition for his contributions to the occult tarot since the late sixties.
*R. Decker, T. Depaulis & M. Dummett A Wicked Pack of Cards, St. Martin’s Press, 1996. History of the tarot deck & all quotes from this source.

Saturday, December 17th, 2011

Eight of Swords — Dragon Tarot

Artist: Peter Pracownik

Designer: Terry Donaldson


Interpretation: Little White Book missing


This is a deck my Mom picked up for me at a garage sale, hence the missing LWB. It is proof that I am willing to accept any deck into my collection, just to show the variety of tarot art out there. I am not a fan of dragons or fantasy, per se. In particular, I am not a fan of other peoples’ fantasy. I admit, it happens that my seven of cups has a couple of dragons drinking tea on it: that’s because the seven of cups is about fantasy.


The eight of swords is about being stuck between a rock and a hard place. It is about the feeling of being stuck without the complete actuality of being stuck. Sometimes there seem to be no option— or so many options it is impossible to chose. Some say it is best not to make any crucial decisions at this point. I say, there is one crucial decision that must be made at this point: how to get unstuck. Sometimes this means letting the mind go, accepting stuckness and going from there: “I am stuck, but what can I do?”  The dragon on this card looks slightly menacing. If I was to feel stuck and it was to say “BOO!” I would quickly feel unstuck— unless there was another, equally menacing dragon in the opposite direction.


Yesterday I wrote: “Stopping is getting stuck. The longer I stop for, the more thoroughly I will be stuck. I do not want to get stuck.” Today I am back in Vermont. Thus, aside from a few bad habits, (excessive chocolate, lack of exercise) and unfortunate situations (unemployment), I no longer feel stuck. Not here. My imagination is too great for that: I am more likely to have too many options than too few. This merely leaves me feeling inept at making a decision, not stuck.


I LIE! I am stuck: I have yet to illustrate the kings. Instead, I spend inordinate hours browsing the internet, looking for independently published small-run 78-card tarot decks (contact me if you have one) and sometimes (too often? not often enough? too often for an unemployed pregnant person but not often enough for my liking?) purchasing them. I need to get unstuck. Bring me to your leader— MANIFEST YOUR KING!

Friday, December 16th, 2011

Justice — Deviant Moon Tarot

Artist: Patrick Valenza

Interpretation: “A great judge balances two swords as he presides over the city. Although seemly fair, corruption often creeps from the seams of a just society. Upright: Balance. Strong character. Fairness. Reversed: Abused. Taking sides. Bias.”
I chose this deck because it is moody, like I am. I pulled justice upside-down. What is this— justice?
Justice is cold and unfeeling. Those who feel righteous when justice has been carried out are those who have not felt its sting. Those who feel wronged when justice is carried out are those who have been hit by the blade.
Justice is a search for the Truth. Justice is a decision as to what the Truth is. But what if there is no Truth? Certainly, some things seem more true than others, especially in the physical world. Many people insist that they know the Truth. But just as no two objects can be in the same place at the same time, is it really possible for two humans to have the same idea as to what is true and just? We all have different views and viewpoints. We have a myriad of multi-colored gods and eyes and each one speaks a different Truth.
It is impossible to get a group of diverse people to agree on what is fair and just. This is why we are supposed to have diverse juries: to decide what the majority of the people might be satisfied with in terms of justice. This is justice as distributed by humanity. Unfortunately, humanity is notoriously unjust, and it is quite difficult to get people to agree on a jury.
What is my justice today? What truth do I seek and what lies have I told myself? What decision do I need to make? Yesterday I spent most of the day sleeping: depressed. This seems to be happening periodically in my second trimester. It never lasts more than a day or two. I could blame it on pregnancy, seeing as how I have never felt like this before in my life. (Nor have my fingernails ever been so perfectly beautiful, but I am not complaining.) I need to make the decision to keep moving, to move forward, even when I cannot see where I am going and  I do not see the point. Stopping is getting stuck. The longer I stop for, the more thoroughly I will be stuck. I do not want to get stuck.

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

The Hermit — Kitty Kahane Tarot

Artist: Kitty Kahane

Booklet: Lilo Schwartz
Interpretation: “Follow your Star. // Be true to yourself and follow your own way. You alone know where your star is leading you, therefore do not let yourself be distracted by outside influences and well-meaning counsel…”
The hermit seems to have left the house in his bathrobe. Perhaps it is supposed to be an overcoat, but it looks fuzzy. So does his chin. May be he just got up out of bed, threw on a robe and went for a hike. Either way, no one is looking. He’s got a start to light his way and a little birdie on his shoulder.
The hermit is the old-man-self. Incorporating more of the past into one’s self allows us to understand what may come of the future. Knowing what may come of the future allows us to see where we are going, to allow time itself to become starlight that shows some roots and rocks in an otherwise shadowy path.
I am shy. I like the hermit. I have dreams that I keep hidden in fear of failure, or in fear that others will think them too strange. Perhaps sometimes my star’s a bit dim, because I should have learned by now that the few people I allow to my hermitage do not judge me nearly so harshly as I judge myself.
I spend hours alone, reading or doing yoga or wandering around outside and thinking, just looking. I like to see how one thing connects to another— becomes another— is fully and completely inseparate from another. Eventually, nothing that I want to be important seems important at all, and I feel helpless in the face of what is truly important. Whatever that is. At this point, it’s time I call a friend on the phone and talk pure silliness that certainly means nothing but is nonetheless quite crucial.
I am the hermit right now in Quebec. Martin is speaking French on the phone. His son refuses to accept that English might be a language of civilized people and suddenly insists he understands none of it: he doesn’t want it spoken in the house. Outside it is raining or snowing something awfully wet. Down the street is a bike path that leads in one direction or the other but veers little and never forks. There are people on the path sometimes. If they spoke to me, I would not understand them. In the sprawling local suburbs there is one box-shaped store after another selling things that we are foolish enough to think might make us happy. A star is a very large, very heavy thing to carry. I want to go home so I can put the star on its shelf for a while and sleep in my own bed.

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

Page of Pentacles — The Lover’s Tarot

Jane Lyle[NOTE: Not that I’m doing deck reviews here, but I dislike it when some “artist” does a lot of (often poor) cutting and pasting from classical images and then doesn’t tell us where the images are sourced. All ‘ye artists out there: see Karen Mahoney & Alex Ukolov’s excellent book for the Tarot of Prague for an example of beautifully sourced artwork.]


Artist: Oliver Burston
Book: Jane Lyle


Interpretation: upright: It is a joyful, happy card wherever it falls. Listen to your voice. Pay attention to your dreams. inverted: Something is not what it seems. Take time to assess the reality of a situation.


Generally, I look at every card upright. As Brian sang, while hanging on the cross, Always look at the bright side of life— (ba-bum, ba-bum ba-bum ba-bum)  When I flipped the card over, my first thought was, “It’s upside down.”  Either way, it does makes sense to look at both sides at once. Thus: listen to your voice and take time to assess the reality of a situation.


Jane Lyle’s book that comes with the deck is, as implied, skewed toward affairs of the heart. Her emphasis is on self-reflection and introspection, not divination. She asks us to ponder —does this card represent an individual? —yourself? —a situation or a relationship phase? —and says: “When describing an aspect of personality, it heralds an intuitive, creative phase, and has close links with the first stirrings of romantic love and desire.”


If I am a romantic at heart, which I say I am when defining my heart, than all my love is romantic. As for desire— who is free from desire?


In this intuitive, creative phase heralded by pregnancy (intuitive because I haven’t a clue what I am doing; creative because I’ll be making everything up as I go along) there are many things that will need to change. The page of coins tells me to pay attention to what I need to do to manifest my dreams in the material world.


One simple change: Martin suggested we move to Quebec. (The more complex changes that come after having a child are currently incomprehensible to me, and thus outside the scope of my dreams.) After a long period of refusal, (too far from my family, I don’t know the language, I’m sick of making new friends, too isolating, etc.) I am now in love (or perhaps it is lust) with the idea of moving: I have had a change of heart. This material change (relocation) will help me manifest my desire to learn French.


I am especially in love with the idea of Quebec City. What ecstasy to fall in love with an old city— with its arches and staircases— stone walls and churches— steeples— statues— parks and windows— doorways— curves and corners— O! deliciously sensual. I dream of wandering alone. Today I am off to initiate my love affair with Quebec City…

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

Nine of Coins — Tarots Oreste Zevola

Artist: Oreste Zevola


The little white book that comes with the deck is all written in French and says nothing of the minor arcana.


I had Martin draw this card, so it is for him, not me. He speaks French, so he and the deck should get along, one would think. Except, his initial reaction upon looking at the card was, “Ooh, scary.” It’s not supposed to be scary. It’s just how the card looks, with what seems to be some horned zombie on the bottom with a lizard across its face and two dismembered arms and an upside-down, somewhat anatomically-correct heart. Or at least, this is what I see. No wonder this is not a terribly popular deck.


The artist’s interests lie in design and primitive art with a slightly surrealist bent. This is the angle from which he approached his deck. He has little interest in the deck as an occult tool of divination. This should not stop us from using his cards as divination tools: the first decks were meant only for gaming, and yet it is from these decks that the whole system of esoteric divination was devised. And although he seems slightly interested in the cards as a game, his deck design precludes using it as such: the cards are so awkwardly long they are impossible to shuffle.


So I return to divination and the occult and whatnot. The nine of coins is about enjoying the good life and harvesting the fruit of one’s labor. This is generally a pleasant card, I think, but that the small image on the bottom seems to show the harvest as one’s own arms and heart. Maybe this is the harvest, as everything we are successful at producing is product of our arms and heart. And sometimes, maybe, the harvest seems painful and heartbreaking, because afterward we have to let it go. But when the fruits of our labor are properly harvested, we should retain our arms and heart that we might go on to use them another season.


As Martin said, “Ooh, scary.”
As I said, no wonder this is not a terribly popular deck.

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Page of Cups — Tarot of the Absurd

Jessica Rose ShanahanArtist: Jessica Rose Shanahan


Interpretation: A dreamy youth or youthful dreaming. The surfacing and realization of emotions. Artful expression. Inspiration from the realm of the unconscious and the spirit. The beginning of a creative project or venture.


I think my dreams have always flown like books in the form of butterflies— or butterflies in the form of books. I am ever the youthful dreamer. The main purpose of this blog is to extract a storm of words from my brain in order that I might have enough material to write a book within a year and a half. Then I just have to edit everything and publish it somehow. So simple to say! So easy to dream! So challenging to do—


When I began this deck over a decade ago, I was using the tarot pack as form and framework for an illustration project for myself.  I saw the deck as a mythic tradition, similar to faerie tale or fable. For each card, I would use a certain number of traditional symbols to illustrate a given meaning. It was a dream, and the more I learned of the reality of the tarot deck— or the lack thereof— the more difficult my task became.


Even the simplest of things are inconsistent: the four suits are called by different names and people interpret the cards in ways that make sense to them. The mythology of tarot makes divination integral with multiple forms of divination and magic: the zodiac, kabbalah, the elements, alchemy, the divine name, etc. It has been said to come from the Gypsies via Egypt. It has been said to be a lot of things. Beautifully so, with just a little tweaking here and there, it can align with any system one chooses to align it with. Verifiable history, on the other hand, is another matter. Truth is often the destroyer of dreams.


I am currently reading A Wicked Pack of Cards by R. Decker, T. Depaulis & M. Dummett. It is an excellent account of the history of tarot as a playing pack and how it came to be transformed into a popular method of divination. Although some people prefer to know only some mythology and are satisfied to call it truth, I prefer to see how mythology interweaves with history and realize that neither is complete without the other. I believe that learning names and dates of history does not destroy the tarot as a tool of divination— though some may have no interest in such stuff— either one or the other.


I am the dreamer of my own mythology. I do not see differing mythologies as systems that must necessarily be in conflict. Hindu Mythology, Greek Mythology, Judeo-Christian Mythology, Zodiac Mythology, Egyptian Mythology and Evolutionary Mythology can all live in peace with one another, if we choose to be peaceful people. There is no need to wage wars. We just need to agree that every truth is also a mythology, and each mythology a truth. What a beautiful dream that would be!