History of Tarot, Oracles and Tarot, Tarot Card Decks, Tarot Card Meanings No Comments »

BYZANTINE box lid v8

This is my second tarot deck, published a few weeks ago. I have been using it (and the majority of people I read for have been choosing it) for the last week, and have been very pleased with how it reads. Because it’s much more illustrative than my Intuitive Tarot, I wasn’t sure how I would work with it once it came out – and the deck certainly does challenge my understanding of the established interpretations – but relaxing into the readings has allowed the deck to flower, as it were. For instance, the Tower (illustrated below) gives a very different take on the card – at least at first glance.


However, as the deck is based on Byzantine concepts and imagery, The Tower illustrates one of the Empire’s legendary figures, Simeon Stylites. As a very Christian society, a withdrawal from society was not only acceptable, it was lauded. Simeon chose a very definite withdrawal, to a tall pillar in the wilderness. However, people kept on following him and asking for advice and healing, so he chose a taller pillar … and so on. He spent 40 years on different pillars, his followers keeping him fed and sustained. So the meaning here, as in most decks, is of illumination and power, but it also speaks of human temptation and frailty (the serpent). Simeon chose his pillar after a divine revelation and then found he could not avoid his destiny, or the power that others ascribed to him.

A more conventional tarot image is The Hermit.



This is based on an icon from St Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai which originally depicted Elijah. When I saw the image I immediately saw it as the tarot Hermit, even though the original did not have a lantern or staff. But without this icon, I would never have contemplated painting another tarot, so you might say he inspired me – or called me. John Matthews, who wrote the book, had also been called to produce a Byzantine Tarot some years previously, and it was the idea of collaborating on this deck that gave it the impetus it needed. But in a way, it was the Fool who really got it off the ground, at least for me.

The Holy Fool has always had a special resonance for me ever since 1973, when he appeared on my drawing pad when I was idly doodling one evening. That first image opened up a channel for me into the Otherworld, the rich archetypal place of dreams and imagination, and I have journeyed there ever since. So as soon as John and I had agreed we would collaborate, I keyed ‘Holy Fool’ into Google – and found, to my astonishment, that the Holy Fool was an established figure in Byzantine times. There are even books written about the Holy Fools of Byzantium (and Russia, which took over the mantle of orthodoxy after the Empire fell in 1453). That was all the confirmation I needed, and the Fool and the Hermit were the first figures I painted in this deck.

0-fool f2 Step sm

Three years later, the deck was complete, and I’d had the time of my life painting it! It’s now published by Red Wheel Weiser and Connections Publishing UK, and getting very favourable feedback.

I’ll post more about the historic Byzantine aspects of this deck shortly, as well as giving the spread I developed for the cards.


Hermann Haindl

History of Tarot, Tarot Card Decks 2 Comments »

I’ve just seen on Rachel Pollack’s Facebook page that Hermann Haindl, the creator of the Haindl tarot, has died. He gave a talk at a UK Tarot Conference a few years ago, and made an unforgettable impression to all lucky enough to be there. Safe journey, Hermann.


The Passing of a Giant.
Our beloved Hermann Haindl has returned to the Earth. I am writing this in an Australian hotel room at 5 in the morning so will make it short. Of all the original tarot decks created in the second half of the 20th century, only one in my opinion reaches the stature on Waite-Smith or Crowley-Harris. That, of course, is the Haindl Tarot. Hermann’s deck came out of his spirituality and his life, for the two were inseparable. He was also one of the finest painters ever to create a tarot deck.
I will say more when I return.




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I went to the launch of the Nostradamus Tarot (The Lost Tarot of Nostradamus) last night at Watkins Bookshop (Cecil Court, London). Compiled by John Matthews and Wil Kingham, it’s a very interesting deck using images that were probably drawn by Nostradamus’s son using concepts of the man himself.

The basic artwork was taken from a book found only recently in the Central National Library of Rome. In this volume were 80 watercolour images, with arcane and sometimes heretical imagery (popes and cardinals doing strange things, often to monsters). The men who discovered the volume were excited to find the name ‘Michel de Nostredame’ on the title page, and published their findings as The Nostradamus Code (Destiny Books, 1998), and in 2007 a History Channel documentary was made on The Lost Book of Nostradamus.

This is where John Matthews and Wil Kingham came in. Neither the book nor the documentary had pointed out the similarity of the imagery to tarot symbolism. John Matthews, however, an acknowledged expert on the tarot, picked it up immediately, and began to collect the eighty images. He was not permitted to photograph the original volume, still held in the National Library of Rome, so piecing the deck together took some time. Indeed, one might call it a labour of love, as John slowly collated the images to fit with the Majors, facecards and suits, and Wil Kingham began to produce the collaged backgrounds, as well as bring the original sketchy watercolours into a fit state for publication. However, the more they worked on it, the more the whole thing fell into place, and the end result is a fitting tribute to the seer, as well as an excellent addition to the tarot.

What makes the deck sing for me, though, are the quatrains produced by Nostradamus – his prophecies or ‘Centuries’ as they are called – and translated  by Caitlin Matthews. These add an extra dimension to the tarot meanings for each card.

The Tarocchi Players

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This very early fresco by Agostino da Vaprio (born around 1457, possibly in Pavia) shows five obviously well-born (and slightly overdressed) members of the nobility playing Tarocchi, an early card game. The shape and size of these cards show them to be tarot cards (though whether they included what we called the Majors or not is an open question). The first written rules of Tarocchi appear in a manuscript written by Martiano da Tortona well before 1425 (we know cards had appeared by 1377, as a sermon was preached against them in Bern that year).
The original painting is quite large, as shown below:

According to Tarot Passages, this fresco is at the Palazzo Borromeo in Milan. It was shown in the catalogue accompanying an exhibit of early Tarot art in 1999 at the Pinacoteca di Brera museum in Milan. There is also a reproduction in the Encyclopaedia of Tarot II (Stuart Kaplan), with a few changes – for instance, there are cards on the table in the version shown in the Encyclopaedia.
I have recently produced an egg-tempera version using animal hide as a base. I’ve used the more familiar aspect of the painting, focusing on the players and omitting the background. This is not complete, I hasten to add – I’ll repost once it’s finished.