The Lovers — Tarot of the Absurd

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

Tarot Lovers Meaning

Back when I had time to go to yoga class, I used to take Ashtanga with a teacher who liked to sing and tell stories. I like to listen in challenging postures. I went often as I could.


One time, she told a creation story about how, before anything existed, there was nothing. Or maybe she said, before all things existed, everything was one thing. Anyhow. Either way, being that there was nothing to compare anything to, debating whether there was one thing or nothing is moot. We will call it homogenized. It was No-One-Thing.


Eventually and all at once, the No-One-Thing desired to self-reflect, but of course when there is no self because everything is so homogenous, one cannot self-reflect. To solve the problem, the No-One-Thing cracked. Split. Divided. It reflected itself, and then there were Two. Two! One became Two! Oh, but as soon as there were Two, they wanted to be One. So they made love. Mmm, mmm, mmm. And from their making love, all the universe and all that ever was or ever will be came into existence. Divine Bliss.


She told the story years ago and I was trying to attain one difficult posture or another, and that’s mostly all I could remember. I know it is a Tantric creation story. I know that the highest form of making love is to do so in a way that one’s actions become a prayer to god, that that it becomes a form of partner meditation in an attempt to re-create the world. It is possible.  So I wrote my teacher a note and asked what the story was.


Shiva and Shakti, she wrote back. She will tell the story to me again, provided we can find a moment within this universe that belongs to the two of us. It is there, this moment, we just need to find it. Meanwhile, unwilling to wait the possible eons that reunion could require, I read all sorts of stuff on line. Nothing I found compared to the sensuality of her telling. The best website I found is here. I read it at least a dozen times. It’s circuitous, but then, so is all creation.


Eventually, I wrote the following—



A Shiva-Shakti Creation Story

Jessica Rose Shanahan


In the beginning,

all was darkness

hidden by darkness

in an ocean without consciousness.

A principle without limitation,

the One lived without breath:




And then— a throb.

Desire moved the primal seed of Mind.

Vibration throbbed within the One.

Energy swelled. A quickening!

A pulse! And fragmentation

broke the One-ness One of Universal Being.


Action exploded: the One split!


Shiva, desiring to know his mind,

engaged in self-reflection, split!

Shakti pulled from Shiva;

Desire pulled from Mind.

The universe pulled itself in two.

Mother! Father!


The first sound.


One became Two.

Shakti, torn from Shiva;

Shiva and Shakti:Two.

No longer Shiva-Shakti.

But as soon as they were separate,

the Mind chased his Desire.




Shiva after Shakti:

the Mind chasing Desire.

As soon as they were separate

they wished to re-unite.

Shiva after Shakti:

the Mind chasing Desire.


And O! He caught her.


O! Mind, at One with Desire!

And yes and, O! And how,

when their bodies moved together, dancing,

universes came and went,

expanded and contracted

according to their play.


Shiva. Shakti. Play.


They moved in love like

ribbons of light interweaving,

aching to re-join.

And from their mouths emerged

the sounds of alphabets.

Exultant joy. Divine play.




From the womb of Shakti:

all the forms of gods and goddesses

and all the worlds that ever were or will be

and everything to fill them: all creation.

Universes come and go.

Universes come and go.


The lovers’ dance is all creation.

King Rama & Shabari as The Hierophant

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

I began the image for my Hierophant card long before I read Questioning the Ramayanas: a South Asian Tradition, edited by Paula Richman. If I had illustrated it afterward, the essence of the picture would have been the same, only perhaps with the poor old Shabari with her arm looped over god-king Rama’s shoulder.


Before I encountered the tarot deck, I had never heard the word “hierophant,” so I looked it up. The word comes from the greek combination of ta hiera, “the holy,” and phainein, “to show.” Traditionally, the Hierophant interprets sacred mysteries and arcane principles. I understand the Hierophant as one who demonstrates holiness and brings others closer to god.



To make a very long collection of stories very short, the divine Lord Rama spends a lot of time wandering the forest in exile. One story in his wanderings concerns an old woman named Shabari.


Shabari is a low-caste woman who has escaped marriage and exiled herself to the edge of a community of forest-dwelling ascetics. She keeps herself hidden. At night she sweeps the paths an deposits firewood outside the doors of their hut and the men say, “Who has done this?”


Their Guru instructs his students to stay awake and apprehend this “thief” who is stealing their merit. So they capture Shabari, who falls at the Sage’s feet in devotion. The Sage realizes she something special and invites her into the ashram. The aesthetics take offense at this. When the Guru dies, he promises Shabari that she will see Lord Rama in her lifetime. Disconsolate, it is this knowledge that keeps her alive.


With their Guru gone, the aesthetics get nasty. When one accidentally brushes Shabari as she is sweeping the path to the lake, he berates her for polluting him. When he gets to the lake, he finds it has become polluted with blood and vermin. He blames it on that unlucky woman Shabari instead of his own unclean actions.


Every day Shabari spends a great amount of time collecting wild jujube fruit from the forest to serve to Lord Rama in case he should happen to stop by. Jujube are uncultivated. Some are very sweet & some are quite sour, so Shabari tastes each one to make sure it is sweet. Only the sweetest for the God-King! In Hindu tradition, there are clean foods and there are dirty foods. A food tasted by a woman, and a low-caste woman at that, is excessively dirty.


Every day she waits, but when she finally hears he is coming, she hides in her hut. Of course he seeks her out. She prostrates before him; he lifts her up. Her sorrow departs and she feeds him fruit. He eats and praises it.


Meanwhile all the aesthetics are worried about the polluted lake. Someone suggests they ask Rama for a solution when he gets there. Oh, they learn he is already there, and sitting in the hut of that woman!


Their pride is shattered. They go to the hut. Rama instructs to the men to touch Shabari’s feet (yuk! dirty!) and bring her to the lake. When she touches the lake, it is once again clean.


This story challenges all Hindu concepts of purity and pollution, ultimately showing that the purest thing is unsullied devotion. The god-king Rama has visited Shabari first not because she follows all those strict rules of being— the highest of which is being a man of high birth— but because she is the most devoted.


The moral of my retelling is this: That which brings one closer to god is not following arcane rules and mysteries, but unwavering devotion and love demonstrated through thought and action. Gods love best those who love them best.

Female Knight of Staves — Cary-Yale Visconti Deck

Sunday, December 18th, 2011

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.