BYZANTINE TAROT AND THE STAGE

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The Byzantine Tarot has been published about three years now, so it was with real pleasure that I found myself contacted recently by a Tarot reader in Turkey, Sedefhan Soylu. She and her brother, a Turkish film-maker, wanted to use images from the Majors for their play, which will be premiered in September.

They knew exactly which images they wanted so I uploaded them – a very time-consuming process as I was using high-quality scans – and a few days later some photos came through to show what the images looked like on the stage. Now everyone wants to know what the play is about! So watch this space – I’ll tell you when I know.

 

turkish set

The images you can see here are Sophia, the High Priestess; below it is Death; in the centre above the cross is the Wheel, and then the Patriarch (Hierophant), and below that is The Tower. The play is ‘1806 LAVEYN’.

TAROT AND ETHICS

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As a tarot / intuitive reader, the question of ethics comes up regularly – although it may not necessarily be recognised as such. As readers, we have clients who assume our vision into their future (and past) is wider than their own. But do we ourselves assume this?

When I think about my own underlying philosophy of reading, I use the cards as an intermediary between the client and the Otherworld … on the basis that the intention behind the reading will be understood by the unconscious, or the quantum particles, or the Otherworld (whatever and wherever it is that enables us to ‘reach through’ to interpret the cards). My own ethics state clearly that I am only an intermediary, or – as a friend says – a screen or a mirror, to reflect back to the client what that person needs to know. I may ‘get’ information or wisdom coming through that is definitely not mine, and that is very welcome when it happens. Every now and again, even weirder, someone says something, and a kind of download of information happens. However, if in this download there are bits I think will be too much for the client to hear, I will edit it, check it out with the client, and then share it if I consider that the person is able to accept it. There is another instance of ethics – how do we presume to know what someone can or can’t handle? The answer to that, I think, is that if you are an intuitive reader, you will only be any good at it if you have developed a sixth sense of humanity. Empathy is inbuilt into mankind, but people often close down on it, due to pain or unresolved problems. Narcissists and neurotics, particularly, have little empathy.

Careful as most professional readers are, there are still dangers: clients tend to ascribe an authority to readers that we may not deserve; and will always hear what they want to hear. I have had clients quote back to me things they’ll swear blind that I said in the readings, while I know perfectly well that I wouldn’t have said anything like it. So, there is almost always a level of projection from the client onto a reader that is a kind of willed fantasy. We become a super-reader, a sage or guru – or the opposite, a well-meaning thicko who has no idea about life – or anyway, their life. I have no problem with the latter, but quite a problem if someone projects super-reader stuff onto me. I don’t believe the cards make mistakes, but I can mis-interpret them. And I never read for myself because I’ve seen how subjectivity gets in the way.

So an ethical reading will be one where, in my opinion, the reader steps out of the way – doesn’t offer opinions or definitive ways for the client to follow (very difficult to do as this is usually what a client wants), acts – as my friend says – as a reflector. Supports the client, and allows a positive projection to take shape by showing possibilities, and what can be achieved from where they stand right now. It has to be deftly done, or the client won’t be able to take it in – and it has to give the best possible reflection back to the client, but not sickly-sweet or sugar-coated.

US ELECTION RESULTS?

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A friend and I have just taken a Deva card for the election results. The Devas aren’t particularly interested in elections, as far as I know, although this one could have important results for humanity.

The cards were interesting, though pretty ambiguous. I drew the Plant and Vegetation Deva, which is a very beautiful being that offers gifts, but the card was reversed.

plant-new

I read that as the election will be a gift but (in true Devic manner) it will be double-edged.

My friend drew The Moon, which is all about the unconscious, often with some dark trickster energy to the fore.

moon

I’d say you could predict either outcome from these cards – whoever gets in, it’s liable to be a double-edged gift. Hilary, because whatever she says, she’s still a dark horse and who knows what will come of her desire to enforce no-fly zones over Syria. And Trump because he’s quite the most repulsive politician we’ve been offered for a very long time (if not for ever), but perhaps this disturbing reflection of our psyche is what’s needed at the moment? In terms of The Moon – well, Trump is a trickster and his unconscious motivations are … pretty dark. I’m not sure about Clinton, but the Moon somehow covers the whole tax evasion / email / FBI shenanigans.

Either way, most people I’ve spoken to are pretty despondent about these elections. I can’t believe that these two are the best that the US can offer. It’s a hell of an indictment for a country that sees itself as the most powerful on earth.

TAROT AND LIFE

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Looking at all the comments on this blog (and trashing most of them), I’m amazed that so many people seem to have so much time that they spend hours offering comments – some relevant, some apparently writing about other people’s decks or having cosy little chats with their mates. I thought Facebook was the venue for that. If you are one of the people whose comments have been trashed, please be aware that there is a life out there – if you have some relevant comments, I’ll be happy to read them. If not, have your chats elsewhere.

I thought I would ask the Tarot for its thoughts on this, and drew the Sun reversed, and the Seven of Swords. The Sun is a beautiful optimistic image, but reversed it is about not seeing the light, about negativity and missing the point of life. I’d agree with that. The Seven of Swords also shows a huge sun, though it’s green. Here it’s about strategy and cunning – finding yourself in a completely alien landscape and wondering what you can do in a world with a green sun. So, either get a life or (if it’s talking to me), finding a strategy to deal with the dodos who have nothing better to do than irritate me. The strategy is, I guess, get the tarot to comment on the dodos. And as the Tarot is quite direct, some of the dodos may find they don’t like the comments. Hey-ho.

XIX_sun7_swords

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Devas and Angels

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And what you may ask does this have to do with tarot? The answer, not much – apart from the fact that the tarot, angels, and the devas all come from the Otherworld.

I can’t remember if I have mentioned the devas before in this blog. Perhaps not, being slightly too literal for my own good. What I’m sure of is that I would have mentioned the first time I encountered the Otherworld, because that was my personal call from the Tarot. I’d bought a couple of decks but couldn’t work with them, I’d even designed a (not particularly good deck) based on medieval designs; but this night I was watching tarot and doodling. When I looked down, I saw I’d drawn the Fool. This Fool, though, was different to any I’d seen before. I could see by his eyes that he was off-the-wall crazy, and yet I found him utterly compelling. I could smell the herbs and spices in the land behind him, feel the heat of the sun, hear the harsh caws of the birds flying above. It was an unmistakeable call into his world, the Otherworld – the world I’ve seen in pools and dreams. So I followed him, and painted another tarot deck, and still am still working with it forty years later.

But my journeys to the Otherworld didn’t stop there. In 2002 my life changed radically as I finally moved out of 9-5 office work and into the unknown. I went to a talk on angels (something I would not normally do, as the American version of angels gives me an acute pain), but the talk resulted in the decision to paint a deck of angels as they really are – energies that would have you shaking for a week in awe and wonderment. I started painting. And, a couple of days later, at a druid camp, the Chief of the druid order gave me the publishing contacts I needed to get my tarot published. A month later it had been accepted for publication, and 18 months later it was published.

The angelic energies developed into a deck of 72 powerful images, thirty-six pure energies and thirty-six manifested, i.e. physicalized energies, if that is a word. I called them Devas, as they felt much more primordial than angels, and the earliest numinous energies we know about are the gods identified as Devas in Sanskrit writings – Siva, Krishna, Vayu.

As I got to know the Devas I’d ‘brought through’, they began to teach me. They are not ‘tame’ energies, they can destroy just as much as create, but they are true. The more I work with them, the more I learn about them, and the faster the manifestation they offer. On Wednesday night I realised I needed to find a new community for myself. Almost immediately I remembered seeing a poster for a theatre group (Playback Theatre) working with the idea of community, and at the performance I found exactly what I was looking for. Did the Devas send the information into my head? Well, something did!)

So thinking about sharing how awesome these beings are, another reader and I have formulated a new workshop, on Channeling Angels and Devas. It will be held on July 11th in London. If you’re interested, get in touch … I have inserted the poster though you’ll need to download it in order to read it.

deva channeling course

Correspondences

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To quote from Wikipedia: ‘The belief that apparently unconnected things share a mystical connection is common to most cultures; it is one of the principles of sympathetic magic identified by anthropologist James George Frazer in The Golden Bough. Examples of the theory of interconnectedness in Western culture include the Platonic concept of macrocosm and microcosm, expressed in Hermeticism by the aphorism, “as above, so below”; the doctrine of signatures advocated in the Renaissance by Paracelsus; the Jewish mystical practice of Kabbalah, which Renaissance humanists attempted to Christianize; and the doctrine of correspondence in the theology of Emanuel Swedenborg.’

The four suits have been with us since the earliest days of the tarot (indeed, they probably pre-dated the Major Arcana), and we have no idea what ‘correspondences’ were in use at the time, although we may surmise that Swords were linked to the army, and Coins to merchants, while Cups could have been associated with the Church, and Wands or Rods to the court or the peasantry. However, according to fraterbarabbas , the concept of linking the four medieval elements (fire, earth, water, and air) to the suits is a fairly recent idea, and certainly over the last few centuries the associations were fluid. Cups were not always linked to water or the emotions, Staves also had roving correspondences, and fire was often connected to the suit of Swords – which makes complete sense to me.

However, since the Rider Waite deck was published, it has become traditional to link the element Water and feelings with the element of Cups (very few people argue with this one), Earth is identified with Coins or Discs, Air with Swords and the intellect and Wands with fire (the creative force, ‘fire in the belly’). As with every tenet, arguments can be made for and against, and I am not overkeen on Waite’s views becoming Dogma with a capital D. After all, as I said above, we have no way of discovering how the original cards were used, and what correspondences medieval users saw (if any). Even if we did, our views on the tarot have presumably moved on – and after 600 years, one might hope that we can see things in a more nuanced light.

Tarot cards were described in Western Europe around 1425 – by priests railing against these works of the devil (presumably because the first decks were used for gambling and, perhaps, foretelling). The first decks we know of were large illuminated cards produced for the nobility (e.g. the Visconti and Charles VI decks), although it’s pretty certain that there were smaller cheaper versions around as well. The Sola Busca deck was produced around 1492 and, as it is fully illustrated (pips as well as trumps), we can assume that there was a predictive element to it. However, as society moved on we hear of very little to do with the Tarot until the 1770s, when a series of books were published on the tarot and how to use it. The dates tend to be slightly confusing as one of the writers, Jean-Baptiste Alliette – who, once he’d had his grand awakening to the tarot decided to call himself Etteilla – claimed he started card readings in 1750 and first came across the tarot in 1757. However, his various books Manière de se récréer avec un jeu de cartes (“A Way to Entertain Yourself With a Deck of Cards”, and Jeu de Tarots, ou le Livre de Thoth (1783-1787)), were published a few years after the other writer, Court de Gébelin, published a massive eight-volume tome entitled Le Monde primitif, analysé et comparé avec le monde moderne (“The Primeval World, Analyzed and Compared to the Modern World”) (1781). In these books, de Gébelin posited the idea of the Tarot as an arcane repository of ancient esoteric wisdom. He had been initiated into freemasonry in 1771 so the elemental correspondences could well have originated there. He also suggested a correspondence between the 22 trumps and the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet which has since fuelled enthusiastic debate linking the tarot and the Qabbalah.

Etteilla, meanwhile, designed a deck specifically for divination which was published in 1788, and is still in use today. He was the first person to use reversals, and popularised the idea of linking the four medieval elements (fire, earth, water, and air) to the tarot suits, as well as identifying correspondences between the tarot, astrology, and the four classical elements and four ‘humours’. These were personality characteristics, which in Greek times Hippocrates had described as sanguine (pleasure-seeking and sociable), choleric (ambitious and leader-like), melancholic (analytical and literal), and phlegmatic (relaxed and thoughtful). In medieval times Galen, a well-known physician/philosopher, used these characteristics as a basis for medical treatment. He later extended the correspondences to connect the humours to the four elements and to the tarot itself. (The tarot had been used as early as the 16th century to compose poems describing personality characteristics (tarocchi appropriati)).

After De Gébelin’s and Etteilla’s publications, the next influential writer was Eliphas Levi, author of Dogma and Ritual of High Magic (1855). Levi, a French occultist whose original name was Alphonse Louise Constant, published the actual correspondences with the Hebrew Alphabet (which de Gébelin had posited but not defined), and the elements. Levi reversed the order of the tarot as it had been known to Etteilla and de Gébelin, which was designed to be ordered and read from the twenty-first card to the zero, or Fool.

In the late 1880s, yet another influential writer on the Tarot appeared – Gerard Encausse [Papus], a physician and hypnotist. He studied the Qabalah, alchemy and magic, and was a member of Madame Blavatsky’s French Theosophical Society for a year in 1884. He too formulated a system of tarot in a book The Tarot of the Bohemians. Like earlier writers he wanted to marry together various different occult theories into one system (for instance Qabalistic associations and astrology). Papus reassigned the Fool card to number 21, even though it remained unnumbered in the deck.

Soon afterwards the Order of the Golden Dawn, a late Victorian esoteric society, took the lore of tarot to a new level, linking it to their initiations and spiritual teachings. Arthur Waite (1857–1942), an influential Freemason, joined the Golden Dawn in 1891, and although he left in 1914 to form the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross, his writings were particularly well-received. He asked Golden Dawn member Pamela Colman Smith to illustrate a new tarot deck and, crucially, they decided to illustrate all the cards, rather than having the pip cards purely symbolic. The deck was first published in 1909 and – rightly or wrongly – has become the pattern for most subsequent decks. (Interestingly, the model for the deck was the Sola Busca, published in 1492 – Coleman-Smith cleverly adapted many of the concepts in that deck. We know so little of the early history of tarot that the extent of the tradition and artistry behind the Sola Busca will probably never be known; and the RWS is now seen as classic tarot.)

Aleister Crowley, occultist, ceremonial magician, mountaineer and poet, had joined the Golden Dawn a few years before Waite. The two men could not abide each other. Crowley considered Waite an upstart, and in 1938 he decided to design an alternative tarot deck using the artistic talents of Lady Frieda Harris. This became the Thoth tarot, and – while extremely well thought of and undoubtedly aristically far superior to the RWS – does not enjoy the same popular appeal as the Rider Waite (having said that, this is probably in its favour). Crowley changed the titles and order of some of the cards, but the correspondences remain as Waite identified them.

Relation of various four temperament theories
Classical ……. Element ……. Adler (modern)
Melancholic ……. Earth ……… Avoiding
Phlegmatic ……… Water …….. Getting
Sanguine …………. Air ………….. Socially useful
Choleric ………….. Fire ………… Ruling

In one of my many books I found a table giving the different correspondences from writers such as de Gebelin Eteilla, Papus, etc. and began this blog post thinking I’d be able to insert the table. Unfortunately, I can’t find it now – so if anyone knows the book or the table, I’d be most grateful. (There is a website that purports to list all the correspondences, but it isn’t what I was after.)