King of Cups — Tarot of the Absurd

Sunday, October 6th, 2013

KIng of Cups Meaning


The King of Cups was the final card illustrated for the Tarot of the Absurd. My baby was coming soon. Working all day in front of the computer made my ankles disappear into puffiness. I needed a King, and I needed him fast. I cheated— I, too, stole the image of an ancient god.


At first, humans were rather wretched and lived like all other wild beasts. But within one year, a reasonable beast named Oannes emerged from the Erythian Sea, at the point where it borders Babylonia (i.e.: the Persian Gulf). He had a fish’s body. Above his fish’s head he had a man’s head. Human feet emerged from beneath his fish’s tail. His voice was human. He was never seen to eat.


He passed his days among civilization. He taught the use of letters, sciences and arts of all kinds. He taught men to construct cities, to found temples, and to compile laws. He explained the principles of geometry. He made them learn their plants and showed them how to harvest. In short, he humanized them. No one has ever improved on his instructions. And when the sun set, Oannes retired into the sea, for he was amphibious. After this, there appeared other animals like Oannes.**


Over the years, the confusion of gods multiplies. Who came from whom? Where are the origins? One can trace the threads of mythology’s history like a spider’s web, each strand weaving back upon the others to create a structural whole that makes sense for the present time. Deconstructing mythology— deconstructing the spider’s web— is fascinating from a historical point of view, from a story-teller’s point of view, and from the point of view of those interested in following multitudes back to unity. Mythology is the bizarre sort of lineage where a parent begets a child and the child becomes not just a parent, but the parent of his own self.


Deluge and recovery. Subjugation, assumption, resurrection. In order to better subjugate the conquered people, the gods of the victors assume characteristics of the gods of the vanquished, and the gods of the vanquished rise again. Thus the names and places of gods change through the ages, one god after another taking on similar forms and forces, gods amassed and gods split


Adapa. Oannes. Dagon. Poseidon. Neptune. Triton. Delphin. Noah. Names of gods come and go, but the robes of priesthood have changed very little. Three or five or seven thousand years later, Catholic popes and bishops still wear the headdress dedicated to an ancient Babylonian water god.



… and after this, there appeared other animals like Oannes…




* My illustration is very, very closely modeled after a bas-relief carving of a fish-garbed priest on temple of the god Ninurta (Saturn) at Kalhu (biblical Calah), ca. 883-859 BCE Assurnasirpal II. Source: Anthony Green, Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, An Illustrated Dictionary, p. 83. fig. 65. Published in London by the British Museum, in association with the University of Texas Press, Austin. 1992.

fish garbed priest


** Story, in italics, adapted from Berossus, a 3rd century BCE Babylonian priest. Oannes is born of the Mesopotamian god Enki, whose origins go back to the 5th century BCE in Sumer; i.e.: as far back as we have writing.


*** Pen&Ink ilustration by Syrena Seale. Image used without permission, but I would like to use it, with permission, in my book. To see the original image and to see more of Syrena Seale’s work, click here or click on her illustration.


pope mitre



Eight of Cups — A. Daniloff 2012 Tarot

Saturday, March 9th, 2013

Tarot of Alexander Daniloff

Learning to Leave Behind Things that have Ceased to be of Use


The summer of 1993, when I was 20 years old, I exited the Benjamin Rush Recovery center in Syracuse, NY, where I had been an inpatient in the Eating Disorders Unit for five weeks. As much as I hated it there, I was terrified to leave. The remission rate for eating disorders is dismally low.


The previous semester in college I had: received a perfect 4.0 in all classes of my double major of English and Biology including the dreaded biochemistry of which I honestly had little interest; joined the cross-country team, earned myself Rookie-of-the-Year, MVP, and raced the national championships; and published poetry in a snooty magazine. I had also been bulimic, among other things, throwing up between eight and twenty times a day. I was a physiological, psychological disaster.


Upon leaving the recovery center, I moved into a little room with a hole in the wall in a moderately large house in Oswego, NY, where I lived unsupervised by doctors, nurses, and shrinks. I gave myself one allowance and one rule: I could eat any I wanted, as long as I did not throw up.


Change takes a long time.


It was ten years before I allowed myself to say, “Okay, maybe I shouldn’t eat just anything.” Since then, I have been exploring ways to heal and recover through food rather than in spite of food.


I got better.

I think I am getting better.

Anyhow, I thought I was getting better.


I was recently diagnosed with Graves Disease. My visit with the endocrinologist was more or less an explanation of a handful of ways to destroy my disobedient thyroid. Shocking, really, as I feel more-or-less okay other than chronic insomnia and lethargy and stinky farts. Why would I want to get rid of my thyroid? Why can’t we all just get along?


Some people have managed Graves Disease through diet. It means a lot of rules. I wish I had an expert to guide me. Nonetheless, I am going to try.


Healing means:

learning to leave behind behaviors which have ceased to be of any use

and finding new behaviors to fill the void.

Eight of Cups — Aquarian Tarot

Friday, March 8th, 2013

…but what IS change?

8 of cups aquarian tarot


Things that can be changed by our actions:

  • the nature of one’s self and one’s own actions (this is the most difficult change to enact)
  • the appearance of our selves and all things in the world and beyond, both sentient and non-sentient (this happens constantly, both intentionally and unintentionally)
  • the psychology or mindset of living things (our actions cause others to have reactions, some of which have lasting repercussions)


Things that can not be changed by our actions:

  • the base material of which something is made (we can enable reactions that do so)
  • the actions, reactions and beliefs of other people places or things (we can act as catalysts that enable or disable them to change themselves)





God, give me grace to accept with serenity

the things that cannot be changed,

Courage to change the things

which should be changed,

and the Wisdom to distinguish

the one from the other.

—as phrased by Reinhold Niebuhr, 1943



For every ailment under the sun

There is a remedy, or there is none;

If there be one, try to find it;

If there be none, never mind it.

—Mother Goose, 1695





—from Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary, Unabridged 2nd Edition, 1971



n. The fact or process of doing something; the state of acting or moving; exertion of power or force.



n. An acceptance of something as true or real; a firmly held opinion or conviction.



n. A substance which either speeds up or slows down a (chemical) reaction, but which itself undergoes no permanent chemical change. [The mechanistic explanation of catalysis is complex.]



v. To make or become different; to transform; to arrive at a fresh phase (moon); to move from one to another; to use another instead of.



n. The state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled. Clearness; brightness.

Eight of Cups — Tarot of the Absurd

Friday, March 1st, 2013

Many years ago, an acquaintance of mine told me a dream. I like listening to dreams. I no longer remember the dream, precisely. All I remember is my impression. My impression of his dream was this image: 

Something here needs to change.




(to be read aloud, except in the case of parenthesis)






Let go, let go.

Fill your lungs and then let go.


(bigger inhale)


Let go, let go.

Let go, let go.

Fill your lungs, fill your lungs.

Fill your lungs and then let go.


(biggest inhale)


Let go, let go.

Let go, let go.

Fill your lungs, fill your lungs.

Fill your lungs and then let go.

Let go.


(full release)



(full inhale)



(full release)



(full inhale)



(full release)



(full inhale)



(full release)



(etc., as necessary)

Ace of Cups — Tarot of the Absurd

Monday, September 17th, 2012


Catherine Shanahan

Physician, Heal Thyself



The Ace of Cups contains the beginning of all things emotional and creative. It is the initiation of love, happiness and compassion— or— ill-favored— their opposites. In order for the positive aspects of these concepts to enter one’s life, one must begin with the self. A huge cup is offered. We are invited to drink from it. The drink is the realization of the self.


Yourself. Myself. Himself and herself. One’s own self. It is only when we are able to love ourselves— not in a self-righteous or selfish way but in a forgiving and compassionate way— that the door opens for us to love and in turn be loved by others. Creative expression is the ability to share our inner experience with others. The ace of cups gives us the opportunity to realize this— to make it real.


“You can’t change the world. The best thing you can do is change yourself.”

—Mahatma Gandhi

Seven of Cups — Tarot of the Absurd

Saturday, August 4th, 2012



Fantasy, illusion, imagination, wishful-thinking, choices: these are the meanings of the Seven of Cups. Fantasy represents something unattainable or unrealistic. Illusion is seeing something in the world that is not there. Imagination is useful for coming up with things that have never before been done: new solutions to problems or representing things in a new manner. And wishful-thinking often results in poor choices.


 •   •   •


I showed the picture to an acquaintance named Joe. He asked what it was about.
“Fantasy,” I replied, succinctly.
“Do you always fantasize about dragons?” he asked.
I shook my head and frowned. “No, never.”


He didn’t get it, and he wasn’t interested. He wasn’t interested in what went on in other’s heads and how they viewed the world. He wasn’t interested in symbols and meanings that were different than his own. It was pointless to argue or explain anything to him. He had majored in philosophy long ago in college. It seemed the outcome of his education was the philosophy (Fantasy—? Illusion—? Imagination—? Wishful-thinking—? Choice to believe—? ) that if he argued long & hard enough with someone, he could always bring that person around to see the world in the righteous way of Joe. A person could tell him a story from their own life and if Joe didn’t believe it, that person was wrong. I never argued with him or explained myself. It was pointless.


People generally use imagination to fantasize about sex or coming into money or sex or building a huge addition on their house or sex or throttling their boss or sex or drugs or a cigarette or being famous at whatever, and these things are all more or less realistic, tho at times highly improbable. All fantasy is based on reality, even fantastic worlds in works of fiction. The more fantastic a created world is— made-up words, different forces of gravity, never-before-described beings, strange customs, etc.— the more difficult it is for others to relate to that world. In order to be able to appreciate something, we need to be able to relate to it. 100% pure fantasy is actually hard to come by. Abstract art is close. This is why extreme abstraction in art took a while to accept: society did not have a basis on which to relate to the artist’s imagination. With years of practice, we’re coming around.


Have I ever fantasized about dragons? No, never, tho I’m sure plenty people do. I used to fantasize that I owned a flying horse who would come down from the sky when I called his name. I would run to him and he would carry me up in the sky, far, far away from school. As the years wore on, it became more and more difficult for me to imagine unrealistic things like growing wings and walking on air. I grew up.


My fantasies turned to somewhat realistic things that I wished to attain. My imagination tumbled over creative ways to achieve my goals. This is a mature use of imagination. Making the same mistake over and over and imagining we’re getting somewhere; thinking we can always win an argument if we just argue long enough; believing we have the one and only correct view point; remaining captive to addiction and thinking it does not harm us; and generally falling prey to intoxication and escapism is immature use of imagination.


I chose to draw dragons because I see dragons as representational of fantasy. Dragons sitting around drinking tea with politely lifted pinkies? Pure fantasy, impersonal, and kinda sweet.

Four of Cups — Tarot of the Absurd

Monday, July 9th, 2012

4 of cups tarotWhen I first began illustrating this deck, I had no overall knowledge of the tarot deck. The cards seemed to all have random and varied meanings. I searched through one deck after another looking for cohesiveness. I couldn’t always see how the meaning of the card was depicted in the image, and many of the images within a single deck seemed incredibly similar. I was ignorant, of course. Sometimes wonderful new things come of ignorance. Other times, experienced people are just confused by the ignorance of others. I hope my deck contains more images which evoke the former sentiment (wonder) rather than the later (confusion).


When I finally came to understand this card, it meant boredom or dissatisfaction with the status quo. The women in the image are disengaged, apathetic, disappointed, and unmotivated. There is little that excites them. They have become withdrawn and sulky, stubborn, ungrateful and self-absorbed. They neglect the needs of others and think only of their own wounds.They are falling out of connection with society. They wallow in self-imposed isolation. They have dropped their glasses. Their psychiatrists have diagnosed them as depressed.


In order to overcome this situation, they need to be alert and open themselves to new experiences. It is time for them to turn inward & examine their own minds to find out what disturbs them and to gain clarity. Research and meditation may wake up their minds. Exercise, fresh air, and healthy food are also useful.


Do not let time slip away! Life is precious. Nurture it. Take note of every-day abundance. Notice what you have. Open your eyes and be thankful!

Six of Cups — Tarot of the Absurd

Saturday, June 2nd, 2012

6 of cups meaningArtist: Jessica Shanahan


Like unripe fruit, memories sweeten with age. Like fine wine, they leave a complex mingling of flavors on the tongue. The Six of Cups is a card of sweet remembrance of things gone by. It is possible to drink from the cup memory to the point of intoxication and delusion.


When we think we remember something correctly, we must remind ourselves that the contents of the mind are fluid. Beginning at the moment of occurrence, memory of events changes over time. Each one of us— each body— views an event through the filter of our past experiences. Unfortunately, there is no unbiased bank of memory for us to draw from. There is no unbodied observer, completely devoid of experience, with whom we can consult about what really did happen. Each of us sees an event from a slightly different angle, from a slightly different body, from a slightly different mindset. Our memories are skewed by emotion and circumstance. Visions of the past are as plentiful and as varied as visions of the future.


The people on the Six of Cups card descry knowledge of the past by reading tea leaves. Photo albums, journals, scrap-books, stones and driftwood, animal bones, stars and layers of soil, tree rings and faerie rings, a scattering of ashes, the shapes of clouds, a crystal ball, history books, faerie tales, or Tarot cards could all be used for the same purpose. The past is just as certain as the future. Perhaps this card could be seen as a reminder to remain present.

Nine of Cups — Renaissance Tarot

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

Artist: Helen Jones

Author: Jane Lyle


A delightful person whom I do not know suggested that when I don’t know what to write, I look at others’ blogs for inspiration. So I read her blog today and paraphrase a sentence and steal a few words. Such are the wiles of the writer.


In spite of my “best efforts,” [none] I’m not able to write a blog nearly as often as I like [every day], given that I have to simultaneously nurse a baby and bounce her up and down [okay not simultaneously] when I’m not nursing her and attempt to nap when she’s attempting to nap and— wait— I just stay home all day. Sigh. Actually, I have very little to do. I stare at my baby. I tell people who are visiting me [bless them!] to do things for me. Mow the lawn! Cook me dinner! Wash the dishes!


I draw the Nine of Cups. Enjoy yourself! [It will only get more difficult.]


Sometimes I sit here and stare at my baby and think, “this is exactly what I’ve always wanted.” The thing is, I never thought about wanting this, exactly. It’s contentment and satisfaction and happiness that I’ve always wanted, tho I haven’t always known it. These things come in many forms. In my experience, goal-oriented happiness-seeking does not lead to the same level of contentment as acceptance-of-life happiness-seeking.


A friend I met while planting trees in Alaska has a Chinese (?) tattoo on her shoulder. When I was twenty-two, I asked what it meant. She said— “It means, enjoy life.” Then, with habitual honesty, she edited herself— “Actually, it means enjoy yourself, but I tell people it means enjoy life because I don’t want them to take it the wrong way.”


I thought, “What is the difference between enjoy life and enjoy yourself?” I prefer enjoy yourself. It is somehow both more immediate and more permanent.


Ten years later, working in Hawaii, I met a native man who’d grown up on Ni’ihau. He had the most pleasant temperament, tho he said when he was younger, he was quick to anger. He loved to tell tales and I loved to listen. Whenever it was time for me to go— for it was never time for him to go— he blessed me with the words, “Enjoy yourself.” I thought of the friend I’d met in Alaska when I was younger. I thought how wise these people are, these people who enjoy themselves.


Enjoy yourself!

Eight of Vessles — The Wildwood Tarot

Monday, March 26th, 2012

Will WorthingtonArtist: Will Worthington

Authors: Mark Ryan & John Matthews


I want to learn the meanings of the cards. I am practicing finding meaning in the image before I look it up. I do have a lot of trouble focusing. It is difficult to ask a question when I don’t want to know anything, really. All I want is peace and happiness. Health is implied. Wealth is not. I suppose I don’t need a question.


The future is always uncertain. Anyone who thinks the future is certain is either self-deceptive or miserable. With this mindset, predictive use of the tarot deck doesn’t interest me. The present is always certain, tho it is generally impossible to see the certainty of the present in the present moment. Despite how certain we often are about what we think happened, the past fades into greater and greater uncertainty as time wears on— it is the future in reverse. Thinking such jumbled thoughts of uncertainty, I draw the Eight of Vessles.


I generally see cards in a positive light. They are affirmations. The keyword on this card is “rebirth.” In the Hindu religion, the concept of what we call “rebirth” is really “redeath,” for each birth necessitates its own death. After the final death there is no birth, whereas after the final birth death still has yet to come. The small vessels are individuals whose life pours out into the big vessel. The big vessel births itself once again into smaller, seemingly individual vessels. Nothing is truly individual; each necessitates the other. This continues the final death: birth as the river, the unifying entity, that place in which all souls are one. But is this truly the end? For the river itself flows on.


The authors write, “You have endured the past, its gifts were hard won; now the challenge of the future unfolds. Grasp it and shape it in your hands as you would have it manifest in your life.”