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Do What Thou Wilt With These...
May 13, 2011 9:31 PM   Subscribe

Original designs for the Thoth Tarot deck, painted by Lady Frieda Harris for Aleister Crowley, are are now for sale.

Supplemental links:

Gallery of the finished deck
Allegation that Crowley was the father of Barbara Bush (previously on MeFi)
posted by hermitosis (59 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
My question is... how many of these is hermitosis buying? :)
posted by hippybear at 9:33 PM on May 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


How much do you think I make sitting around and posting to MeFi all day?
posted by hermitosis at 9:36 PM on May 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh great, Crowley Blue.

Kidding, these are great designs.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:36 PM on May 13, 2011


Incidentally, the website of the creator of that Bush/Crowley article is a special brand of crazy. Aisha Kamilah has submitted a Human Rights Abuse Complaint against Madonna to the United Nations -- she claims the singer paid goons to hack her computer and steal her vast body of creative work. If you look at her Lawsuit Index page, you can see the hundreds of other allegations against various celebrities who are profiting off of her songs and details from her personal life, complete with court documents. For example:
Things the character on "Skins" has in common with my godbrother "JJ Jones":

1. The name "JJ Jones"
2. 17-years of age
3. Wears braces
4. Grew his hair out a bit (his mom kept commenting on it, as she wanted him to cut it)
5. Lives with his mom a single parent
6. A very smart student
7. Hangs out often with his two best friends
8. Has a penchant for drinking Tropicana (an American, Florida brand of fruit juice that amazingly appears in a British show)
posted by hermitosis at 9:47 PM on May 13, 2011


I wish I could afford even one of these. I have a Thoth deck, in a wooden box with an owl carved on the lid. The box was something I found at a flea market and the deck fits in it perfectly. I also have an old Waite-Rider deck that I keep wrapped a white silk scarf.

I used to do tarot readings when I was younger. I spent a lot of time learning from books by Crowley, Fortune and the like. I could probably still do a reading. But I don't think it would be a good idea these days.

Hermitosis I had the a bookmark to your page before my old computer died. Might you drop a link here for old times sake?
posted by Splunge at 9:54 PM on May 13, 2011


I learned to read with the Thoth deck. Which, of course, was a terrible starter deck. My hands were too small for the huge cards. The lack of reversals made reading more complicated. And, really, I never clicked with that deck.

But I still love the deck and that art. And not just because that was the deck they used in numerous horror movies. (DEAD ALIVE and PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS, I think.)
posted by Gucky at 10:02 PM on May 13, 2011


I haven't been updating Arcanalogue much in the last year, but I hope to get back there eventually.
posted by hermitosis at 10:04 PM on May 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


Nifty! I've got to find my deck, I know it is around here somewhere.
posted by vrakatar at 10:08 PM on May 13, 2011


Weirdly enough, I have spent
a lot of time over just the past week looking for Thoth Tarot scans as
part of a project. I am grabbing as much as I can of this stuff, lots of which I hadn't seen before. I especially like the colors of The Moon, and the Nouveau (?) styling of the Magician.

Thanks, Hermitosis!
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 10:21 PM on May 13, 2011


Awesome. A friend of mine is recreating these based on today's technology and crowley's notes in the book of thoth. I suspect he'll find this fascinating.
posted by zenwerewolf at 10:23 PM on May 13, 2011


The Thoth deck is far and away my favorite deck, and I suspect it always will be.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:46 PM on May 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not my thing, but I thought I'd point out that apparently the Fool started out as Harpo Marx.
posted by Gator at 2:34 AM on May 14, 2011


Do What Thou Wilt

*shrugs*
*steals paintings*
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:19 AM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Film Noir tarot (major arcana only) had better art.

Then again, so does the Lord of the Rings Tarot from Wizards of the Coast. So, draw your own conclusions from the picture I'm painting.
posted by clvrmnky at 4:45 AM on May 14, 2011


I'm so ambivalent about this deck. I spent so much time with it, staring, studying, trying to figure out what the pictures were trying to say, and feeling that sense of access to something deeper, something secret...but at the same time, it's a little much, isn't it? It's the Golden Corral of tarot decks, too big, too stuffed full with things that don't mesh, a weird mix of amateurism and polish, knowledge and goofiness. I'm finding, scrolling through the gallery, I actually like the pictures small on the monitor, rather than big in front of me where I can see the seams. (Which leads to the entirely surprising conclusion that I will not be buying all the pieces for sale, I guess!)

But wow. You can't shake that sense of having almost known a secret, can you? I can't stop looking at these, ambivalent or not.
posted by mittens at 5:43 AM on May 14, 2011


I haven't had a good look at the Thoth deck before... Thanks hermitosis! I haven't really done much with tarot, but I'm fascinated by it. Not as a means of actual divination, but as a way to take a random set of symbols and interpret them as they reflect your current state of mind; the process of trying to match the meaning of a card to your situation makes you focus and think, and hopefully gain some clarity.

You can explore a bunch of different decks with the online reader at facade.com... I always come back to the Rider-Waite deck myself. I'm not sure if it's because it's the first one I bought, or because of the illustration style and straightforwardness of each card.
posted by usonian at 6:00 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


How much do you think I make sitting around and posting to MeFi all day?

20 bucks, same as in town
posted by pyramid termite at 6:19 AM on May 14, 2011


The Thoth deck is beautiful but I'll always be partial to Rider-Waite as well. It's just got a much more primal feel to me.
posted by blucevalo at 7:12 AM on May 14, 2011


a weird mix of amateurism and polish, knowledge and goofiness

It's rare to find a deck that DOESN'T give me this feeling. (That's why I'm glad that it's gotten easier and easier to preview decks online.) Probably because with 78 original illustrations, there is just far too much rope to hang oneself with. I don't know if I've ever found a deck that I felt had no weak spots. But you're right, this is especially true of Thoth.
posted by hermitosis at 7:30 AM on May 14, 2011


Huh. If I had a regular day job right now I'd be tempted by these. Although my relationship with the Crowley/Harris deck is complicated; despite using its text as one of the primary sources for my own deck I don't own a copy of it and I strongly suspect that any and all attempts at using it would result in failure.

The posters down at the bottom, however, are well within my price range. Hmm.
posted by egypturnash at 7:43 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Plug me in like I was Frieda Harris...

My first thought upon seeing this post was, "OMG, make sure hermitosis sees this!" Then I was like, "Idiot, look at the byline!"
posted by Eideteker at 7:47 AM on May 14, 2011


Are the images for the posters down at the bottom borked for everyone else too? I REALLY wanna see them...
posted by hermitosis at 8:30 AM on May 14, 2011


She threw herself into the painting as the bombs of the Second World War fell, as predicted in the apocalyptic Third Chapter of their scared text, the Book of the Law.

I'd be scared, too, if bombs were falling...
posted by klausness at 8:35 AM on May 14, 2011


Oh man, someone loan me a few hundred thou so I can buy all these and put them in a museum as a set. Some of these designs are better than the published versions. However, can someone please fix that website? Links to photos are broken, I especially want to see the image of my card, Prince of Discs.

But oh wow, those posters for the masonic tracing boards, they're affordable and I want them. I never knew these existed. I call dibs.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:02 AM on May 14, 2011


Bethalynne Bajema’s Black Ibis Tarot Deck
posted by homunculus at 9:09 AM on May 14, 2011


i use the golden art one, which is a riff on the rider waite, but is digitial collages of fine art, and is a little more xian, and a little more polished--beautiful deck. i know the problems with xian tarot, but its where my esoterica lies.
posted by PinkMoose at 9:12 AM on May 14, 2011


I've really only ever used two tarot decks. The Medieval Scapini deck, which is just a tad too blunt for my tastes, and the Cosmic Tribe deck, which feeds my soul and lets me give beautiful, joyous, quality readings which seem to resonate deeply with people.

I've played with readings from the Thoth deck once or twice, but it has never felt right for me.
posted by hippybear at 10:00 AM on May 14, 2011


Isn't the Tarot of Marseilles closer to the original deck? What's the appeal of later designs? (I don't know much about tarot, and I'd really like to know what people who use it regularly think about this.)
posted by Crabby Appleton at 11:03 AM on May 14, 2011


I won't have a real answer to your question, Crabby Appleton, because I'm hardly immersed in the whole thing. But for myself, a lot of it has to do with the symbols on the cards and how they resonate across different cards in different decks. For me, a lot of what's going on with the cards isn't just about the individual cards and their main meanings, but also the echoes of small details which help draw out a narrative across the reading.

Also, with the Cosmic Tribe deck, it's non-standard, substituting some of its own cars in the arcana, both major and minor, and overall has symbols which more closely align with my own hippie / faerie / whatever worldview. It's just somehow more intuitive for me overall, and generally has interpretations which are focussed on the positive and growth aspects of life rather than carrying a dark underbelly which some decks, like that Scapini deck does.

I'm not sure any of that made any sense to anyone outside my own brain, but that's as best I can answer it for you without having you here and pulling out the decks and getting into detail about how it works for me.

(If you click on that Cosmic Tarot link, across the top of the page are little bars linking to all the cards, so you can look and see how different it is from most tarot decks.)
posted by hippybear at 11:14 AM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


(It would also be helpful if the comments I type were actually in English. Sorry about that.)
posted by hippybear at 11:16 AM on May 14, 2011


Crabby, the appeal of later designs (IMHO, as someone who spent a year doing a redesign) is that they work better for some people.

If the age and "originalness" of the Marseilles* helps it work for you, then that is awesome. If the work Waite and Smith did based on that* works for you, that is awesome too. If Crowley and Harris's riff on the same themes** works for you, then use that one. Or if the hundreds of other artists who've found fit to use the structure of "a Tarot deck" as a reason to draw 78-100 images in a set made something that works for you, awesome!

People are still the same but the details of our lives have changed around; you and I have a very different set of metaphors to use in trying to understand the world than someone in the 1890s. Maybe filtering what's going on around you through the lens of the TdM is a good way to reflect upon it; maybe you'll find that a deck full of modern images works better.

What's the appeal of Jimi Hendrix covering Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower"? Hendrix owned that tune so thoroughly that Dylan changed the way he performed it based on Jimi's version. Like any piece of culture, newer people will pick it up and shape it to their own needs; the ones who shape it strongly enough will have their version survive for a while. Maybe next to the older one, maybe superseding it.

* actually they based it largely on the Golden Dawn deck, which owed a ton to Eitella IIRC, who I seem to recall largely pulled the mystic Tarot tradition out of his ass by arbitrarily assigning astrological correspondences to the cards
** based mostly on the golden dawn version as well

posted by egypturnash at 11:37 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Isn't the Tarot of Marseilles closer to the original deck? What's the appeal of later designs?

There is much dispute about what is the "original" deck, but it's definitely not Tarot of Marseilles, there are partial Tarocchi decks still in existence that are known to far predate the Marseilles deck. I think Marseilles persists because it was complete and intact, so it could be reproduced and "updated" (like the Jodorowsky version).

The appeal of later designs mostly comes from the Victorian Era "occult revival" around the Golden Dawn and related organizations. That includes the Rider-Waite-Smith deck and the Crowley-Harris Thoth deck. The appeal of these decks largely comes from the full illustrations, which were more easily comprehensible to those outside the esoteric tradition. Prior to the RWS deck, the Minor Arcana only had "pips" like the regular playing cards, no illustrations.

There are some "transitional" decks like the Knapp-Hall deck which integrates some of the Major Arcana and Court card symbology from the RWS deck, but retains the pips on the minors, arranged in geometric patterns similar to Golden Dawn esoteric decks. Others like the Builders of the Adytum deck are what I consider "Reformed Transitional," they have the pips in geometric designs halfway between Golden Dawn esoteric decks and Marseiles deck, but the Major Arcana and Court cards are drawn almost exclusively from RWS, although with "corrections" from Paul Foster Case.

And from there it exploded, from the numerous imitations of RWS, to the completely non-Tarot bullshit of "oracle cards" like the Rashneesh "Zen Tarot."
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:58 PM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Crabby, the appeal of later designs (IMHO, as someone who spent a year doing a redesign) is that they work better for some people.

Oh please make it stop. Everyone thinks they can "improve" the decks. But there are very few improvements possible, usually they are "epochal" decks that came in with a new era, like RWS, Thoth, and BOTA. So we get ridiculous decks like the Motherpeace feminist deck (sorry girls, Tarot is largely about polarities and you can't have yang without yin) or the Transparent Tarot (WTF were they thinking?) or the Lord of the Rings Tarot (you might as well do readings with a deck of Magic: The Gathering cards) and let's not even get into the horrors of the Hello Kitty Tarot.

And it is not a matter of some symbols working better for some people. There are actual objective standarized symbolic systems behind Tarot. You can whip something together that "works better for you" but then you're not doing Tarot, you're doing something else. The symbols and methods come from esoteric traditions going back hundreds (or allegedly, thousands) of years. Please do NOT feel free to invent your own symbolism. If you want to do Tarot, you must make yourself work better with it, it is ludicrous to expect it to work better with you. Tarot is a transformational process. The goal is to transform yourself, not the cards.

And for that matter, you don't even need Tarot cards, or any cards for that matter. Some systems like Order of the Magi use regular playing cards. Their system can be performed without the use of cards, strictly by writing numbers on paper. Ooh it's hard to use.

BTW, yes, I am writing a book.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:21 PM on May 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


BTW, yes, I am writing a book.

I'd hope so. I'd expect it would take at least 300 pages to justify your prescriptivist world view about something as Jungian and malleable as Tarot.
posted by hippybear at 2:25 PM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Peoples' ideas about Tarot has all gone downhill since the hippie occult revival of the 60s. Tarot is not what happens when you sit around and smoke a joint and free associate off the freaky drawings.

If you think Tarot is "Jungian and malleable," then I suggest you take it up with the Golden Dawn and the other Masonic-derived groups that published thousands of pages of precise specifications, long before Jung published anything. Sure, I use Jung in readings, but only as applied to specific, precise archetypical relationships, much of which Jung took directly from Tarot. Sorry if these specifications are too technical or obscure for you to understand. That was the whole point of publishing it that way. You know, Dion Fortune once wrote something to the effect of, "You could shout the Secret Name of God in the middle of a crowd at noon in Picadilly Square on a Sunday, and nobody would hear you."
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:46 PM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


There is also the H. R. Giger tarot. While it is only the major Arcana, it's a nice set.
posted by bouvin at 3:01 PM on May 14, 2011


Nah, I actually did pretty well with my own studies joined with a good reading of Jung And The Tarot, which helped to pull together a lot of the things I'd already observed across the years of study.

Plus, you know... the collective unconscious isn't owned by anyone in particular, and the symbols have echoes across cultures which cannot be easily prescribed.

Perhaps you're applying more woo-woo to your approach to the Tarot than I am. But then, I lived in Sedona for a couple of years, and learned early on how to weed out the woo-woo from my life from the deeper symbolism which should be harkened unto. It could be that you've not actually had those lessons yet, and so you seek to draw sharp lines where in reality rhymes and echoes should be sought.
posted by hippybear at 3:11 PM on May 14, 2011


Also... Masonic-derived groups? As the bastion of Tarot knowledge?

I suspect you're truly approaching this whole thing from a very different stance than a lot of tarot readers on the planet. I was part of DeMolay for more than a few years before I realized that it was training me into a strict prescriptivist worldview which I could not abide if I were going to continue to use an archetypal lens through which to interact with the world. Perhaps you're much more rigid in your approach than I could ever be. I have no problem with that, as long as you're not seeking to destroy my approach while you forward your own.
posted by hippybear at 3:13 PM on May 14, 2011


I suspect there are a lot of people out there like myself, who are pretty woo-woo in some ways, and very anti-woo in others.

God how I hate that term (woo). It doesn't really stand for anything, other than "ideas which are not commonly supported, and to some sound unreasonable or crazy" and frankly those are often useful or interesting things to explore. And I think people rely on it too much -- It's a catchy way to announce your intention to avoid considering other people's ideas and experiences. Personally, I treat that word as a debate-ender.

Not picking on you at all, hippybear! I totally get where you're coming from. It just reminded me of the frequency with which it's trotted out in MeFi and other places -- makes me wonder if people seek out contact with others for any reason besides support and mutual agreement.

(I know some people who'd claim that's all MetaFilter really is, but for a site that is allegedly uniform in its ideals, we sure do seem to fight a lot!)
posted by hermitosis at 3:44 PM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


The way I think of it, you're all right. I mean, the whole point is easy access to a fertile framework within which you can free-associate with archetypically loaded prompts. At the same time the deck is really just as complete a symbolic microcosm as can be managed. Sure, you could make your own deck (Sacred Dawn and, I assume, OTO initiates are required to so do), but I suspect it's done to demonstrate the near impossibility of constructing an adequate one. Seems pretty arrogant to think that you have a more complete conception of reality than thinkers on the subject building up to and including Crowley. And if you can, then what do you need the cards for at all?

That reminds me, Crabbly Appleton, Crowley's justification for creating an updated deck was that the events at the beginning of the 20th century constituted the Rapture that was so prominent in the earlier deck and thus the end of the age of Osiris and the beginning of the age of Horus. So, new structure of the universe, new cards.
posted by cmoj at 3:55 PM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


But, then, I'm still pretty new to this, as I suspect I will always be.
posted by cmoj at 3:57 PM on May 14, 2011


hermitosis: my definition of "woo-woo" is derived entirely from the 20-odd months I spent living in Sedona, AZ. It entirely isn't likely congruent with the MetaFilter definition applied to the same term, but certainly does have a lot to do with "feeling" the "energy" of the "vortixes" (never vortices) offered by the "lay lines" and how that can make the crystals "energize" with "earth power".

My approach to Tarot isn't really related to that, although I do have to say I lean on my intuition in times when the reading requires it.
posted by hippybear at 4:09 PM on May 14, 2011


hippy, apparently you're trying to tell me there is no difference between the OTO and DeMolay, or W.W. Wescott and Albert Pike. So excuse me if I don't take your comments seriously at all.

Obviously you do not believe, as I do, that Tarot has a rigorous, consistent structure that is not vague and open to misinterpretation. Certainly the subjects of our OP, Crowley and Harris, believed there was such a structure (even if Crowley buried that structure in acres of bad poetry). Others may have a different opinion. You can look at the cards and just make shit up, and call it psychism, but that's not reading the cards, that's something else entirely.

I'll give you an example of what I mean, via a basic Tarot question that I'm sure is not even comprehensible to you.

Q: When you look into a Major Arcana, you are looking at the scene in a specific direction. As an example (an easy one) when you look into The Empress, are you looking North, South, East, or West?

No googling allowed (not like it would help you anyway, unless you really knew what this question meant). If, by chance, you guess and get it right (1 in 4 odds, easy peasy) then you'll have to tell me why you chose that direction.

Now you will have to excuse me, I must get back to work. I was right in the middle of writing a followup to an essay I just published, subject: what is Tarot about? You want an answer to that question? Do what I did: ask the cards. Nobody ever thinks to do a reading asking about how readings work. You won't get the answer you expect. If you DO get the answer you expect, just give up reading cards because you aren't doing it right at all.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:01 PM on May 14, 2011


Oh man, declarations of the hopeless inferiority of those that differ from you, appeals to authority, and self-righteous challenges to self-made tests. That's gonna prove your point.

But obviously you knew that in advance! Perdurabo, is that you?
posted by cmoj at 5:50 PM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh don't get yourself into such an uproar. You want to apply your critical faculties? Go apply it to someone like Crowley, and see how far that gets you.

I didn't invent that question, it was long ago when I had to learn the answer myself, as well as the reason why someone would ask the question. I didn't like that much, but I did learn from it.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:02 PM on May 14, 2011


Wow, charlie don't surf... that's not at all what I said at all.

But if it makes you feel better to interpret it that way so you can look down on me, go right ahead.

Goodness.

Who the fuck cares what "direction" I'm looking when I pull the Empress? The deck I normally use is probably heresy to you, anyway, so what do you care?

Fuck. You certainly know how to pour water on the fire of interest.

You'd make a great conservative Catholic priest.
posted by hippybear at 6:48 PM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nobody ever thinks to do a reading asking about how readings work.

Jung did exactly this in his introduction to the Wilhelm/Baynes edition of the I Ching.
posted by hermitosis at 8:22 PM on May 14, 2011


East, hippy. You're looking East. The Empress represents Venus, the Morning Star, also known as The Eastern Star (uh oh, one of those horrid authoritarian Masonic groups is named Eastern Star). There is far more to this symbolism, but I'm obviously wasting my time telling you.

The people that drew the cards cared about this stuff. This system of "correspondences" is the key to interpreting Tarot. Crowley cared about it, he wrote whole books about it. And no, cmoj, that's not an appeal to authority, that's another appeal to return to the topic of this thread.

There is an actual base of knowledge behind the cards, if you know it, you're reading. If you don't know it, you're making stuff up. If you can't even imagine this as being important, you're blind. Perhaps I can refer you to a Tarot deck that will be more useful to you.

hermitosis: Jung did exactly this in his introduction to the Wilhelm/Baynes edition of the I Ching.

Yeah, that's where Phil Dick got the idea for "The Man in the High Castle."
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:13 PM on May 14, 2011


charlie don't surf: I'll just quote myself from earlier in the thread:

Perhaps you're much more rigid in your approach than I could ever be. I have no problem with that, as long as you're not seeking to destroy my approach while you forward your own.

And again:

The deck I normally use is probably heresy to you, anyway, so what do you care?

If that's not a clear enough message for you, you can continue to lecture me and condescend all you like, but I won't be listening.
posted by hippybear at 9:16 PM on May 14, 2011


charlie don't surf> Tarot is a transformational process. The goal is to transform yourself, not the cards.

I would counter that this: the experience of spending the better part of a year studying several decks, synthesizing them, and drawing the Silicon Dawn deck, was pretty damm transformative. It resulted in me having my first solo gallery show (at which I sold enough to break even on printing the things out), and in me having an international publishing deal. It also finally taught me that yes, I can finish large-scale projects. I transformed the cards and myself.

Some decks are Serious Examples Of The Hermetic Tradition. And some of the decks out there are just a nice way to have ~80 pretty images by a cool artist in a nice cheap package. I don't think there's anything at all wrong with either of them. Hell, I don't think there's anything wrong with the Hello Kitty deck. Some people connect with Her Mouthlessness a lot faster than they'll ever connect with a stiffly-drawn ultra-hermetic deck that you have to spend ten years of esoteric study (oh god I know more Kabbala than I ever wanted to now) to use.

If everybody took your advice and didn't bother trying to "improve" Tarot, none of the epochal decks you cite would have come about. If you think the world would be better with only one True Tarot Deck in it, only accessible to the most dedicated of mystickqs who have learnt its One And Only Interpretation, then that's fine by me. I'll be over here with people who say things like "dude we can print on clear plastic now, what happens if you make images designed to overlay each other holy shit this is awesome" and keep the tradition alive by playing with it. Is the Transparent or the Legacy of the Divine or the PoMo or the Sevenfold Mystery the next epochal deck? We'll know forty years from now.
posted by egypturnash at 10:07 PM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


er, I would counter that with this.
posted by egypturnash at 10:54 PM on May 14, 2011


Next week - rune fonts, and why mine is better than yours
posted by obiwanwasabi at 10:55 PM on May 14, 2011


I don't trust any Magician who's not pointing at something directly in front of him.

Other hand, whatever. Can't keep my eye on both at once.

Magicians.
posted by Wataki at 11:03 PM on May 14, 2011


Well, eguypturnash, I'll address your comments, but let me start with an example of how I'm thinking, by looking at your deck. I pulled up a review, didn't read it so I could form my own opinion, but I looked at the pictures. Very pretty, nice composition, good Illustrator skills, rich and complex imagery, oh holy shit, the TWIN towers? The Falling Man? People are going to bring a whole lot of emotional baggage to this, stuff that isn't necessarily relevant. And this card is going to mean something entirely different in about 40 years. And then the dual towers, that's a specific symbolism that traditionally comes up in cards like The Moon, I'm not sure it works here. Plus, we're seeing the results of the "tower struck by lightning," not the striking itself, which to me seems to be an important part of the card. Ace of Pentacles, Ten of Cups, huh? Hmm.. I'm seeing a lot of personal iconography that isn't connecting (for me) to what I know about Tarot.

Now these cards are awesome as your personal expression. And I'm sure you can explain how your iconography relates to qabala or whatever Hermetic systems you referenced. But to me, this is sort of like learning a synthetic language like Esperanto, when everyone speaks English. I could expend my efforts learning Esperanto to figure out what someone is saying, when I would rather be expending my efforts comprehending what he is saying, if he would just speak in English. There IS sort of a natural language of Tarot that evolved over centuries. Sure, new words and slang comes along to add to the richness of the language, and there are evolutionary shifts in language. But these neologisms are often just as likely to hinder meaning as enrich it.

I figure you have to learn the rules before you can break them. Sure, you've done the work, but have the people that use your deck? Let's look at this as classic Communications Theory. There are 3 major components, the Sender, the Medium, and the Receiver. You're encoding a meaning as the Sender, it goes through an (always noisy) channel, and the Receiver decodes it, hopefully accurately, if there was enough redundancy in the message to overcome errors and noise in the channel. The message can be garbled at any point, communications strategies can be used to overcome this inherent problem. Since the meanings and archetypes in the cards are so abstract, we are kind of doing the users no favor by givng them an unfamiliar communications channel.

This is a problem of what I call "mapping." Words "map on to" meanings imprecisely, there is not a direct 1:1 correspondence between words and meanings. In the Postmodern world, we can evaluate many maps, and evaluate the difference between maps, which gives us more information about the mapmakers than the territory being mapped. We might do better if we use a language with accepted conventions, to which the Receiver can bring more information, to help correct errors in transmission. But if we're receiving a message with an unfamiliar encoding, we can make errors of our own, while trying to fill in the gaps. And some languages have a higher level of redundancy, they are inherently easier to decode and correct errors.

Now sure, we could say that ALL this is excess baggage we bring to the cards. After enough years of doing this stuff, I don't even need to look at the cards, I can deal with them just as a number. And surely there are very few guys like you and I that worked with this subject enough to analyze it, let alone care enough to debate it. Let's use another analogy, there are lots of people who drive cars, fewer people who can fix them, and only a small group of people who can design and create them. But the designers and builders have an important influence all the way down the chain. Say, for example, the designers decided to stop using steering wheels and use a joystick, we'd all have to learn to drive from scratch, and in the meantime, everyone's cars are driving right off the road. Maybe it's important to produce "concept vehicles" like your cards, but they are probably more useful as methods to challenge our concept of an ideal car, than they are useful as a practical vehicle.

Most of the fundamentals of human lives haven't changed a whole lot over the last 2 or 3000 years. And they're not likely to change much over the next thousand. People will still struggle to survive, find love, and find personal meaning in an impersonal universe. I am a strong believer in the Hermetic Traditions that, so long ago, created a universal map that we can still use, since it maps so strongly onto the unchanging, eternal archetypes and human conditions. IMHO it takes a hell of a big change for an epochal deck to emerge, and its appropriateness is usually immediately obvious, it won't take 40 years for people to realize that.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:48 AM on May 15, 2011


charlie don't surf, I get the impression that your book will be well-researched. Can you recommend any books on the history and evolution of the tarot that you've come across in the course of your research?
posted by usonian at 3:16 PM on May 15, 2011


The standard reference is "The Encyclopedia of Tarot," it is hideously expensive. I don't have one, I wish I did. That book is all about the history and evolution of Tarot, and has extensive photographs of cards dating back hundreds of years. I don't know anyone else who has even tried to produce a historical survey like this.

But you can start with online references that are in the public domain, dating back to the Victorian era Occult Revival. Probably the best place to start would be "The Pictorial Key to the Tarot," which is the book that first published the "Rider-Waite-Smith" Tarot. There are other good public domain texts on that site.

From there, it depends on your interests. You could study the individual systems, which often refer extensively to historical issues. After Waite's "Pictorial Key," most people would probably opt for Crowley and Golden Dawn materials. But much of that is a dead end, deliberately putting stumbling blocks in your way. Paul Foster Case is more straightforward, his work is mostly based on the Golden Dawn system, minus the dead ends, plus enhancements of highly technical qabalah issues that may not interest you (but just skip over that stuff, the rest is great).

Read some of that, it won't take long before you'll know what else you want to study. And there are plenty of new online resources that are based on the old traditions. I'd particularly recommend the SuperTarot website, which has extensively cross-referenced many of the standard methods and iconographies. But I'd always check to see how any "new tarot" system links to the old ones, a lot of them are just made up out of whole cloth (uh-oh, that's how this whole threadjack started).
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:52 PM on May 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Let me say thanks to all who responded to my question. It was helpful.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 7:23 PM on May 15, 2011


So....is Tzaddi the Star, or not?

*ducks*
posted by malocchio at 8:42 AM on May 16, 2011


Oh malocchio, you know Crowley was trolling.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:20 PM on May 16, 2011


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