Origin of the Species — Tarot of the Absurd

Saturday, December 22nd, 2012

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.

Lovers — Twenty-Two Keys of the Tarot

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

Susan Kay TopaArtist: Susan Kay Topa


I like to keep my requests of the tarot deck simple. That way, the results are easier to interpret. It is when we request too much from tarot decks & life & such that things get confusing. So I said, “Give me peace—” not that I feel as if I am without peace— but just that peace is one thing we can always use more of. The deck showed me the Lovers.


The Lovers represent trust, harmony and divine union. Lovers are connected by Soul. This card does not necessarily represent a relationship between two people. The highest form of love is divine love. This manifests itself in as many ways as there are lovers of divinity.


Lovers of divinity know what they stand for. They are not the ones whose voices proclaim loudest their devotion to god— god defined here as the Lovers’ definition of divinity. Lovers are ones whose actions are truest to their beliefs. They are genuine.


I asked a good friend once why she believes in god. She said because all the people she admires most believed in god. Famously: Mohandas Ghandi; Mother Therisa; Albert Schweitzer; Martin Luther King, Jr.; His Holiness the Dali Lama. Not so famously, hundreds of others who lay low and do work behind which divine love is the driving force.


Despite numerous “holy” wars— despite “religious” countries rife with civil unrest— despite Joshua— true divine love is the abode of peace.

Twenty-Two Keys to the Tarot

The Lovers — Twenty-Two Keys of the Tarot

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

Illustrator,  Author, Printer & Publisher: Susan Kay Topa


Outside my window, snow falls in gentle flakes, drifts like dandelion fluff. It is January in Vermont and the grass is green. I dream a thick white blanket— a snow-quilt. Remembering a life lived not too long ago, I say to the cards, “Tell me something about Hawaii.” A strong surf pounds in my bones. I pull The Lovers. This deck knows Kauai.


 [Hours later, a thin sheet of snow covers the ground and I have submitted a deck review and more card images to Aeclectic Tarot. It will eventually be found under “Deck Reviews.” I will provide an exact link when one appears.]


Interpretation: The Lovers— harmony, love, trust // Reverse— unreliability, fickleness

“This is the first card in which two figures appear, it is the marriage of the male and female principles of nature; the Sun and the Moon, Air and Earth, Fire and Water, etc. The result of the marriage is the Orphic egg which flies between them. It represents the essence of life. Its visibility is a sign of the success of the union which leads to harmony. The male carries the staff, a phallic symbol and the female carries a chalice, a symbol of the womb.”


This was the first deck I ever purchased. Knowing nothing of its value, I proceeded to live my regular vagrant, semi-homeless life. The first place I brought it was on a three-week backpacking trip to the Hawaiian island of Kauai. I was living in Fairbanks, Alaska at the time. After I bunged up the book and the box, I learned what a rare deck it is.


Almost three years later, I returned to Kauai from Fairbanks, this time to stay. The deck and I lived on the moist and mildewy south-shore together for four-and-a-half years. During that time I fell madly in love with the ocean. I swam for hours at a time, swimming from beach to beach all along the south shore. I wore a pair of swim trunks and a pair of goggles. I pulled my bikini top down around my waist so it wouldn’t chafe my arms. I coated my nostrils with Vasiline to help keep the membrane from drying out. I took nothing with me and told no one where I was going. I swam with turtles, spinner dolphins, humpback whales and a whole stained-glass window of tropical fish. I swam in pouring rain, strong rip-tides, and high surf. I swam out, out past the rocks, out past the surfers, out, out, out. I swam an undulating stroke and kept the rhythm of the waves. I fell madly, madly in love with the ocean. When it was time to leave Hawaii, leaving the ocean broke my heart. It was years before I was able to hear the word “ocean” without crying. We were lovers, the ocean and I, and I will never be the same.