[continued from yesterday's post]
After purchasing my first deck,
I sat down to learn the meanings of the twenty-two Major Triumphs in order to compose
The Tarot Riddles.
The riddles are not intended to describe the image on the card; they are to describe the essence.
This was my first understanding of the tarot deck. It was from these riddles I began to illustrate
The Tarot of the Absurd.
Download The Tarot Riddles, print them out, cut them up, & put them in order as the Tarot of the Absurd is ordered. The first ten people who take their time to do this will earn themselves either (1) two cute little magnets OR (2) the offer of free shipping on a deck of cards/ $5 off international shipping. (Are there even ten people who read this blog?) And if you just want some cute little magnets (Strength & 7 of Cups), I'm selling business-card sized magnets for $2 each. Any questions? Anyone wanna try? Anyone? Anyone? Hey! Spread the word!
I did a woodcut print a number of years ago (to be posted in one week) called, “It was Raining Out.” In the image, a boy pulls a girl by the hand. He points to a ladder which leads to the attic. In the attic, there is a trunk. Outside, umbrellas fall like rain.
* * *
It is the attic, the endless attic where all toys go when they are outgrown, where the works of years past are laid to wait for the minds of future generations. There, the treasures are endless.
When it rains out, the boy and the girl sneak into the attic, close the door, and open an old wooden trunk, origin of all adventure. In the trunk lie the treasures of the mind, for it is filled with papers— letters, photographs, journals, cards— papers covered in writing and images.
One rainy day, the boy picks out a small carved wooden box. A box within a box. He opens it. Inside are slips of paper. On each piece, writ with fine fountain-pen script, is a terse aphorism: a riddle.
The girl takes the one on top and reads it aloud. “…”
“A riddle,” says the boy. “But what could it mean?” He takes the next, reads it. “…”
“I wonder how many there are” says the girl. She dumps the papers and arranges them in a grid on the floor to count. “Twenty-two.”
* * *
The problem was, I had no basis for filling in the ellipses. I had never seen a tarot deck. I knew there were twenty-two pictures. I knew there was a fool. I didn’t think the sixteen faces and forty numbers were actually part of the tarot deck. I had some research to do.
I went into a store that specialized in tarot decks and went through their albums of sample cards. Nothing caught my eye. They were all 78-card decks and none of them were special. At last I found a little hand-written booklet with a red lion on the cover and the words, “Twenty-Two Keys of the Tarot.” THIS was what I was looking for.
“Do you have the deck for this booklet?” I asked the clerk.
“It’s somewhere in the back,” he said, disappearing through a door beyond the bookshelves. When he returned, he handed me a small white box. “Just one,” he said. “It’s been here for ages. There’s no price on it.”
“May I look?” I asked. I was filled with that nervous sort of energy that happens when everything is absolutely right. It made my hands shake as I opened the box flap, and I was too jittery to see anything beyond the print quality (real ink on real paper) and the hand-written date. The deck was exactly 20 years old. “How much?” I asked.
“Name your price,” said the clerk.
“Ten dollars,” I said, knowing nothing about anything. I wasn’t the sort of person who bought things. The clerk nodded, rung me up, and slipped the deck into a small brown paper bag. I walked home, glowing brilliantly like the sun in the heavens.
I was recently gifted a nice new little laptop from a couple of family members. It is my first new computer in nearly eight years, thus I need to go about purchasing all those updated graphics programs. I want to draw cool pictures— might I someday be gifted the time!— so I bought a big screen. Then, of course, having a screen, I bought an external keyboard. Not having used a mouse since sometime in the mid 90s, I found it necessary to purchase an external trackpad. I don’t have all the correct adapters and such yet, so I’ve got a lot of pretty hardware sitting on my desk collecting fingerprints.
I need a break from my own deck and from one-card readings. My most-used spread has always been the celtic cross, although I am not certain I know what all the positions mean. Thus, I study the first two positions: The Significator and What Crosses Me. This would increase my typical reading by NEW! IMPROVED! 100% MORE CARDS! (one).
After more consideration than usual, I pulled the MRP Fairy Tale Tarot off the shelf. I really wanted something else, something simpler, but I paid too much for this deck, so I figure I ought to either try to appreciate it or be rid of it.
I picked out the Queen of Wands to represent myself, shuffled the deck, asked, “What Crosses Me?” and pulled Temperance. Is it possible to be crossed by temperance?
I take a break to scan the cards and ponder this and quickly discover that there is no software which enables my old scanner to function with my new computer. Sigh!*
The Fairy Tale story is called “Water and Salt.” It’s about learning to listen and appreciate the value of ordinary life. I suppose it is possible to be crossed by Temperance if one wishes to do something extraordinary. Or it is possible to be crossed by Temperance if one is extremely well-rounded and cannot choose a single path to follow. I suppose it is possible to be double-crossed by temperance should both instances be the case. Recently, I’ve been feeling double-crossed by temperance.
All the extremes that made my life so unusual are tempered by having a child. There are a number of extremes that I have excelled at. However, no one extreme has stood out above the rest for any extended period of time— except from the point of view of my partner’s son who sums it up quite well by saying that I am extremely bizarre. I have never argued.
The battle between the desire to DO DO DO DO DO and the desire to chill with my babe is not much of a struggle: the baby wins most every time. My one remaining extremity is writing. The fabulous worlds created by miraculous manipulation of the alphabet are one of the truest forms of magic. I have always dabbled in this form of sorcery. It has always been my dream to enchant.
Double-crossed by Temperance, the Queen pares her Wand to a fine point and takes aim.
*And I need a new camera, too, if I am ever to take pictures of my soon-to-crawl daughter.
Fives represent conflict and change. They were some of the most difficult cards for me to illustrate. Nearing the end of my deck illustration project (only two more years to go!), I was left with all four Fives (Five of Sticks needed to be highly revised), four Kings, four Knights, the Seven of Coins, the Eight of Blades, Seven of Sticks, the Two of Sticks, the Three of Blades and Judgment, with the Eight of Cups requiring some major revision.
I took this to mean that I had some underlying conflict with men.
After I realized that Judgment was my own, not that of some great angel coming down from above to pull me from my coffin, I then knew, too, that any broken heart was of my own doing and if I was to remove the blades it was to be done with my own hand. I drew the images: Judgment, Three of Blades.
Meanwhile, a friend’s husband (a.k.a. a friend) gave me the assignment of writing a profile for a personals ad. Online-dating-service, I guess they call them. Ho, hum. So I did. It was kinda silly. I’m really introverted, and probably my profile came across as kinda introverted, but I met a few men and learned who Knights are, so I drew all my Knights and the Eight of Blades.
A year later, my partner moved in with me. I drew the Seven of Sticks, then the Two of Sticks. I revised the Five of Sticks. I drew the Five of Coins. I drew the Five of Blades. I fixed up the Eight of Cups in celebration of my partner’s divorce. I drew the Five of Cups. I drew the Seven of Coins. I was quite pregnant. I drew the Kings: Sticks, Blades, Coins, and the grand finale, King of Cups. Then I had a baby.
* * *
I learned the Five of Sticks as a foolish battle, thus I drew fools, battling in a precarious balance, wearing impractical footwear and jesters’ caps. The battle is foolish because every one talks at once. The people might even be in agreement, speaking only with slight subtleties of nuance, but no one would know because no one is listening. They are all to self-important. The argument fails to move along.
We must learn to listen to each other and to listen to our own selves. What are we really saying? We kneed to accept the inevitable differences and channel our energy in a manner that turns competition into cooperation. Change is inevitable. We can work together to try to find a change that is perhaps not exactly what we wanted, but something we can accept and maybe, someday, even learn to enjoy.
Artist: Jessica Rose Shanahan
Strange things happen by the light of the Moon.
The Moon shines light on the inner demons of the unconscious—
giving life to the shadow self’s distorted vision—
a moon-shadow landscape of illusion
where dream and reality swirl— undifferentiated—
where the self wanders bewildered and aimless—
anxious and mad— into the arms of deception.
When illustrating the cards in this deck, I incorporated the meaning of the card with a few traditional symbols together with a few symbols of my own into an illustration that attempts to embody the concept of the card intuitively. The conveyed meaning is based largely on posture and human expression rather than on the basis of occult symbols. What allowed me to do this relatively freely was largely my ignorance of the sacredness of symbols in the occult tarot. However, artists invariably have personal symbols that come through in work. Thus the cards— like any work of art— are not devoid of symbols. The symbols are merely different. My goal was to offer a new way of looking at looking at an old idea.
When illustrating the Moon I thought, What is the most deceptive thing? My conclusion was that the most deceptive thing is a creator who brings something into this world and endows it with the faith that it will be loved and cared for and protected fully— then from within the realm of confidence of its creation, the creator becomes destroyer. I illustrated this as a mad mother consuming her own child: the ultimate deception. It is a disturbing image.
This action can be seen overtly in cases of child abuse. However, it also occurs small-scale in every-day relationships. We let people down. Despite our best efforts, we are imperfect mothers, friends and lovers. We deceive and destroy even our own selves. This inevitability begs the question, Who is more greatly deceived in this relationship: the creator or the destroyed?
Upon becoming a mother myself, I find this image more and more disturbing and have found it necessary to deceive myself anew. Thus, I drew a second Moon. The second Moon contains not only the illusion that my creation will have the ability to wander into the wilds unarmed and sleep with the wolves, unharmed, but that I myself will be the perfect mother, able to produce such a miracle. This comforting illusion occurs when we refuse to take off the veil of deception and witness reality.
Unfortunately, although this is the more comforting image, the refusal to see reality ultimately does more harm than good. Facing the truth of one’s destructiveness allows us to better our actions. Choosing some comforting illusion allows us to be lead blindly by our own inner demons into the deception of dreams.
Which Moon you choose is up to you. I leave them both in the deck.
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.
[Insert humming, hemming and hawing noises.]I think I am more inclined toward sarcasm in a reading when I don't feel a connection to the deck I am reading from. I am embarrassed to say this, because it makes it seem as if I take this whole tarot-reading thing more seriously than I would take, say, an average college English writing assignment. This is not true: I was an English writing arts major and took every writing assignment quite seriously. I love writing. These daily entries are, to me, little writing assignments. I love everything about keeping a blog other than the fact that it limits what other things I may (or, recently, may not) accomplish during the day. In addition to learning the meanings of the cards, I am also learning what I like in a deck. I like a deck that pushes me to learn something new. I like a deck that thinks outside of its box. I like a deck where I feel that the artist fell in love, Pygmalion-like, with the completion of each card. I like a deck where I can look again and again at the images and enjoy them. I like to see the genius behind the art. Does this mean I will no longer read from a deck when I realize I don't like it so much? Will I come to the point where I can actually get rid of some decks? I don't know. Right now I still feel ignorant enough that I want to learn from as many sources as possible, even if I do not enjoy each lesson equally.