Sunday, February 19th, 2012

Knight of Cups — The Renaissance Tarot

Jane LyleIllustrator: Helen Jones
Author: Jane Lyle



Upright: Romantic • Inspirational • Visionary

Reversed: Loss of direction


The Knight of Cups is the Arthurian hero— the grail knight— the spiritual poet— the courtly lover—the romantic artist. Chasing his muse, he undertakes a journey of imagination and creativity through the unconscious. Because he is in love with life itself, he is charming and attractive to others, regardless of their sex. He uses refined, feminine intuition during quests of romance and seduction. Master of following his heart’s inner compass, he makes decisions with little input from his brain and follows the wisdom of his dreams.


In the worst of times, the Knight of Cups jumps to conclusions before looking at facts. He becomes moody, jealous or emotional to the point of incapacity and allows his emotions to control his life.


*   *   *


Tarot of the AbsurdI made a postcard

to celebrate the completion of my deck.

Want one?

Send me a post card for trade

or buy one here.

I also made a stamp of the Knight of Sticks

which is way cooler than the postcard

but Zazzle® won’t publish it publicly

because apparently it glorifies weapons

in a way that is not incidental.

Saturday, February 18th, 2012

The Faeries’ Oracle — 44. Lys of the Shadows

Brian FroudArtist: Brian Froud

Author: Jessica MacBeth


Interpretation: Healing the shadows. Addictions. Bondage. Self-esteem.


I have now been keeping this blog for a (mere) two and a half months. Done with illustrating cards, the next step is to write about card interpretation and illustrative thought-process. I need to reveal those things which remain occulted in my mind. Today I am using Brian Froud’s Faeries’ Oracle. I had some issues with the deck last time. With that in mind, I ask this pack of fey, “If the goals of this blog are to create a daily entry about a one-card tarot reading in order to facilitate the writing of a book, what is the purpose of reading from non-tarot decks, decks that do not inspire creative writing, and decks that I simply do not enjoy looking at?”


“Good question,” says Lys of the Shadows. I like her.


Lys deals with addicts. She tries to help people develop true self-respect and self-esteem by inspiring practical help for those who need it most. “Take a shower. Brush your teeth. Go out side into the sunlight,” she says. Taking care of one’s self is the most basic sign of self respect. This may be obvious to most of us, but for those living in the shadows of society, they are not easy actions. The best time to deal with addiction is before it happens, when action is merely habit. Lys is brisk with me. “Look at your habits,” she says.


I have this habit that I generally do what I say I am going to do— in general a very good trait. I also have a habit of trying to distribute my attentions fairly— again, not a bad thing. Lest you think I am a conceited self-righteous snot, I acquiesce to having a slew of bad habits not relevant to this discussion.


From the start I have wanted to write a book to go with this deck. Each of my major arcana cards began as a terse aphorism of my own divination. The book will not be the kind that retells the same-same tale of what each card means. I want the book to be one of poetry and short story— an amusement in and of itself. I want to show how my world-view is portrayed each image. I never wanted to change the tarot deck. Its mythological history is too amusing for that. I merely wanted to give old cards new, vibrant personality.


Thus, I have illustrated the Tarot of the Mythology of Me. Mythology becomes absurd when one takes it too literally, too seriously, or too fundamentally. I have spent my life admiring and amused by the mythologies of others, slave to none, faithless to anything outside my own imagination. Endless and beginningless a thing as mythology is, it is liable to take on each aspect of everything around it. Wading through ancient mythology requires hip boots, mental stamina, and a sharp machete.


In asking my question of Lys, I ask for permission to streamline the writing of the Book of the Mythology of Me. She says: “Eliminate what you don’t need. When something has ceased to serve its function— when action no longer brings you closer to your goal— move on.” Thus, with her blessing, I drop this deck from my lineup. I will do likewise with others that cease to serve me in the future. My goal is to write a cohesive, amusing book. These entries are my notes.

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

Two of Quills & The Magician — The Shakespeare Oracle

to be or not to beArtist: Cynthia von Buhler
Author: A. Bronwyn Llewellyn


Interpretation: “This card signifies vacillation between opposing points, weighing seemingly equal possibilities, procrastination, or struggling with a dilemma.”


Doing something one is used to doing is not so difficult. Being in a difficult situation and changing one’s habits is very hard for most of us mortals. It becomes easier as the situation becomes dire. The sort of yoga I do daily is no longer good for me. Most everything hurts. Thus, I no longer do yoga. Not doing yoga is not good for me. My request of this deck was, “Tell me to do yoga.” The deck tells me, “Find something good for your body and do that.” I need to learn something new. But where do I look? How do I begin?

shakespeare tarot


[I draw a second card.]


Interpretation: “The Magician is the communicator, creator, achiever, and shape-shifter. Drawing upon his wisdom and determination, he commands the forces of the universe and shapes them into a new reality. Originality and sheer willpower fuel his conjurations. […]”


The bard hath spoke!

Get off your arse and get to work.

Be not some dumb puppet—

be your own puppet’s puppeteer.


Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

Five of Swords — The Fantastic Menagerie Tarot

five of swords; Alex Ukolov

[I drew this card reversed.]


Artist: Alexandr Ukolov

Author: Sophie Nusslé

Designer: Karen Mahoney


In this image, a cockerel wearing a bonnet to cover his comb and coat to cover his plumage entices a large moth with a candle flame. On the table is a box of coins and a note. On the wall hangs a picture of a wasp trouncing a beetle in swordplay. Why doesn’t the cock show his true nature to the moth? Perhaps because he knows the moth is hypnotically attracted to the flame; he uses this knowledge as an unfair advantage in this battle of the sexes.


This morning I woke up with unusually large feet and ankles. All my bones had disappeared into a puffy, swollen mass of flesh. I went for a walk to improve my circulation, something I had avoided yesterday because my sacroiliac joint pinches on a high note and my pubic symphysis sends low, throbbing undertones of imminent dislocation across my hips and down my inner thighs.


The Five of Swords reversed says:
My body-mind is engaged in a humiliating battle. There is little I can do to alleviate the crises enacted by my body in these last few months of pregnancy aside from change my mind about how I approach life. A battle against hormones is lost from the start. I am open to changing my behavior in order to avoid further humiliation. I surrender my mental blade of determination and watch in pained amusement as my body charges forth with its strange changes. I look forward to the day when this mock-battle is over and I can focus my energy on healing.

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

The Hermit — Tarot of the Absurd

[I have been in NY City for a few days. I had a wonderful time. I am now re-united with my computer and scanner.]


Artist: Jessica Shanahan


I love this image. You can click on it to make it bigger and see each individual hair in the Hermit’s beard.


This is how I make my pictures:


I spend anywhere from a few days to a few years trying to figure out what a card means to me.


I rack my brain for ideas on how to represent the meaning of the card using lovely curved lines and zero colors and two dimensions.


I draw a sketch in pencil on a piece of scrap paper. Again, this can take a very long time.


I scan the sketch into my computer and import it in Adobe Illustrator to use as a template for a vector graphics illustration.


I place points on the apexes of curves and pull vectors that approximate my hand-drawn curves. This takes one day or many, depending on the complexity of the image and how many times I edit it before it approaches completion.


Because one of my goals is to have as few points as possible, I go through a prolonged period of removing points that I have placed. I use no pre-formed “shapes” (squares, circles, stars, etc.) and, with few exceptions (see the hanged man), I do not cut&paste or re-use any of the images I have drawn. I am obsessive. However, my images are drawn by a human (me) and I want them to look that way. Another goal of mine is to reproduce the feeling of pen&ink.


Each image goes through a lengthy editing period— from a few days (rarely) to a few years (way too often)— before I say “enough!” and call it done. Many of the pictures have changed substantially since I began the deck. My style has become more refined and detailed. That is what happens when a project takes so long.


Because the pictures are drawn in vector graphics, the originals can be blown up infinitely large without losing definition. There are no pixels. Often times, when I am drawing an eyeball, it will take up my entire computer screen. That is how close I work.


The purpose of this blog is to gain a better understanding of the cards
that I might better be able to explain the images in my deck
and someday write a little book.
Thursday, February 9th, 2012

Four of Spades — Deck of Cards

A deck of cards is the opposite of a majors-only deck: it has no dedicated trump suit. The four of spades corresponds to the four of swords in the occult tarot deck. It says I’m going to feel isolated for a while. I should use this time of isolation wisely.


My mom gave me this double-deck of cards about 30 years ago. She said to take good care of it, so I did. I played with it a lot when I was a kid. I played war, go-fish, crazy-eights, a dozen rummy games, casino, canasta, anything else my friends wanted to teach me. When I went off to college, the deck stayed at home. This past year I put the deck with my tarot card collection. I think my grandmother purchased it in Greece in the 1950s. One image is the Carvatides Erechiteum, the other is the Parthenon. I don’t want to play with the deck anymore. I want to look at it sometimes and remember all the times I begged my mom to play cards with me and she obliged. May I be patient and give my time so generously to my own child.

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Four of Wands — Tarot of the Immagination

Frenec PinterArtist: Frenec Pinter


I have neither Little White Book nor box for this deck. This deck was originally a display copy in a bookstore that went out of business. A number of the cards have holes in them, as does this one. I guess the holes were to keep people from filching the cards. Now I have a deck with holes.


The only easy thing to say about this deck is that the meanings of its cards have nothing in common with the most modern occult tarot’s most common meanings: those of the Rider-Waite-Smith-type decks. If anything, the upright reading of this card seems like a reversal of the RWS-type:


Upright: Celebration, harmony, marriage, home, community
Reversed: Breakdown in communication, transition


The attitude of these people is like the attitude of people waiting for a train. They are together in the same place, but all their thoughts are elsewhere. They are coming and going; none of them are being here. This group is the opposite of a community. They have no intention of communicating with one another.


I am going to NY City this coming week. How am I getting there? How am I getting back? Where am I going to afterward— Quebec or Vermont? Externally, people traveling generally appear to have a purpose and a destination. Internally, travelers generally feel at least slightly out of place— lightly shaken— loosely scattered—


“In a Station of the Metro”

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

—Ezra Pound, 1911

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

Queen of Cups — Sakki-Sakki Tarot

Monicka Clio SakkiArtist: Monicka Clio Sakki with Carol Anne Buckley


Interpretation: deep • sensitive • creative • compassionate • mysterious • visionary • adorable • practical • achieving


I finished the last card of my deck yesterday. I did! I did! It only took me 13 years or so to interpret and illustrate all 78 cards of the tarot deck. Never before have I had such a pressing deadline as an imminent child. I chose the Sakki-Sakki deck today because its cards seem like colored confetti thrown in celebration. I said to the deck, “I have no questions. Just congratulate me. Give me accolades.” As I cut the deck, out fluttered a card. I flipped it over. This deck hath bestowed the Queen of Cups upon me!


[See January 31 for a complete description of her energy.]


I cannot say I am the Queen of Cups; I can only say I love her. I relate to her. This queen-forever-swimming-in-the-sea finds respite and a place to comb her hair upon a rock— a stone— a sea-borne throne. In the Pre-Raphaelite Tarot (which, as far as I know, does not yet exist and I am not about to take the task of its creation upon myself) she is illustrated by one of my favorite paintings, John William Waterhouse’s “The Mermaid.”


Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

La Torre di Babele — La Corte dei Tarocchi

Anna Maria D’OnofrioArtist: Anna Maria D’Onofrio


sudden upheaval—
plans disrupted—
surprise! crisis! chaos!


release! explosion! outburst!
eruption of anger—
crash through defenses—
break through pretenses—


fall down humbled.
topple from height.
fortune wrecked.
ego blown.


revelation— the truth—
a burst of insight

through illusions—

the answer—

—in a flash!



Architecture strives toward infinity; but more than any other art … remains bound to tangible materials. For this reason it cannot carry itself off into spheres of a transcendental world in which it metamorphoses into an idea. It remains … tied to the earth.

—Peter Behrens in Tilmann Buddensieg and Hennig Rogge, Industriekultur: Peter Behrens and the AEG, trans. I.B. White (1984), p. 223.



But who can give soul to an image, life to stone, metal, wood or wax? And who can make children of Abraham come out of stones? Truly this secret is not known to the thick-witted worker … and no one has such powers as he who has cohabited with the elements, vanquished nature, and mounted higher than the heavens, elevating himself above the angels to the archetype itself, with whom he then becomes co-operator and can do all things.

—Cornelius Agrippa, De occulta philosophia (1533) as quoted in Frances Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964, p. 136.



Who knows when some slight shock, disturbing the delicate balance between the social order and thirsty aspiration, shall send the skyscrapers in our cities toppling?

—Richard Wright, Native Son



The savaging sea piles its fears

on the shores of the world
no tower can deliver us now

from the enemy wave.

—Pablo Neruda, excerpted from “Bomb (II)” from Fin de mundo

Monday, February 6th, 2012

Strength — Tarot of the Absurd

Jessica Shanahan[Strength is one of the first cards I illustrated, back when I was drawing with black ink and a horsehair brush, living in a tiny cabin in Alaska, riding a bicycle everywhere I went. I have always been quite satisfied with her appearance.]


Right-side-up: Strength, courage, patience, control, compassion
Up-side-down: Weakness, self-doubt, lack of self-discipline


In the Rider-Waite-Smith deck and its plethora of clones, Strength is depicted as a women gently opening the jaws of a lion. The lion, a symbol of animal passion and desire, is sticking out his tongue, which he would not do if he was preparing to bite. This lion is happy to submit; the woman has successfully tamed the beast. This card is obviously not focused on pure physical strength. The woman overcomes the lion with a quiet, inner strength. When placed with its toothed mouth gaping between the women’s legs, the lion becomes a seductive reference to women’s power: the inner strength and perseverance needed to overcome oppression.


The lion’s position also becomes a subtle reference to the “vagina dentata,” a term which Sigmund Freud is often credited with coining. Literally, it means “female genitalia with teeth.” This image of the toothed vagina captured what Freud described (or experienced) as fear of castration, which he argued all boys (or men) feel upon first seeing female genitalia. Freud wrote:

“Probably no male human being is spared the terrifying shock of threatened castration at the sight of the female genitals.” (Three essays on the theory of sexuality. Trans. James Strachey, Basic Books: New York, 1962, p. 216.)

On the other end of the spectrum, Camille Paglia wrote in Sexual Personae:

“Metaphorically, every vagina has secret teeth, for the male exits as less than when he entered.” (p. 13)


In ancient civilizations, women do not only give life, they take it also. Dark Goddesses are both the manifestation of the warm, nurturing womb and the devouring gateway to the afterlife. The Norse Goddess Hel ruled over Helheim, whose gateway was a vagina. The Christians, who adopted Hel’s name into the after-world of Hell, often depicted Hell’s gateway lined with teeth and looking very much like female genitalia.


While Freud’s argument for the universality of this fear may seem ridiculous to most of us, the image is prevalent through world mythology. Various cultures have folk tales about women with toothed vaginas. These are possibly told as cautionary tales warning of the dangers of sex with strange women and to discourage the act of rape, tho the tales are more predominant in the more patriarchal societies— perhaps representing man’s fear of being conquered by what he seeks to oppress.