Tuesday 31 December 2013

Strife! Yay!

Thoth Tarot, Crowley-Harris
First thought on drawing the 5 of Wands from the Crowley-Harris Thoth Tarot -- oh, great. Just what I needed today. 'The Lord of Strife.' Perfect.

The RWS version of this card shows five boys play fighting with sticks. But this card shows a very imposing and Egyptian-looking stave, topped with wings, a central 7-pointed star combined with Crowley's 'Mark of the Beast' insignia, and a couple of serpent heads. The bottom has two more wings. The stave is marked at the top with the symbol of Saturn, at the bottom with the symbol of Leo. The four intersecting wands or staves are blue and red. The blue is topped with a lotus blossom and nothing at the bottom, the red with an ibis head and wings at the bottom. Or at least, it looks like an ibis to me. Crowley himself says it is the head of a phoenix. I think maybe he told Harris to paint a phoenix and she just did what she wanted and painted an ibis. (It wouldn't be the first instance of Harris not exactly painting to Crowley's specs). The 'phoenix' is meant to represent purgation, the lotus the 'mitigating influence of the mother.' At each point where the wands intersect, flames flare. The entire configuration stands out in stark relief against a yellow background.

'One of the most difficult doctrines with regard to Geburah is that, while it represents all this tameless, irrational energy and disturbance, yet it derives from the benign and gentle influence of the feminine,' says Crowley in his Book of Thoth, the companion book to this deck, which Crowley actually instructed must always be included with the deck whenever it was sold. (So much for Crowley's instructions! How many boxsets have you run across that include Book of Thoth?) -- Geburah is the Tree of Life association with the number 5. All this Tree of Life stuff can get quite complicated, so I will spare you the details other than to say all fives are of Geburah, and if you want to learn more, get some books on qabalah. :)

So it would appear that this 'Lord of Strife' card isn't as bad as we first might think. Paul Hughes-Barrows even says, 'The natural feeling about it is really little more than the reluctance of people to get up from lunch and go back to the job.' It's that kind of conflict, that sort of 'strife'. Now that I can relate to today!

Monday 30 December 2013

True Will: The Ace of Swords in Thoth

The crowned blade of the Ace of Swords from the Crowley Harris Thoth Tarot floats before a sunrise amongst the clouds. Engraved on the sword is the word 'Thelema' in Greek lettering (Θελημα). The word 'thelema' itself is Koine Greek, the language of the New Testament of the Bible, and means 'will'. It is rarely seen in the Bible, but significantly, it is in the Lord's Prayer itself:

ἐλθέτω  βασιλεία σου· γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done
(Matthew 6:10)

'Thelema' is also the word used in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus is praying to be spared the suffering of the cross, but concludes, 'Not my will but thine be done' (Luke 22:42).

Aleister Crowley uses the word 'Thelema' as the name of his personal philosophy: 'Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.' It is the religion created by Crowley. 

The card seems to be saying that the Will is the crowning glory of us all, which we use to cut through this life, to make our own way. There should be nothing, according to Crowley's philosophy, which should (or could) stand in the way of our True Will. It is appropriate that the Ace of Swords is chosen to represent Thelema, as it is recommended by Crowley that one practice skepticism and scientific method to assess everything and decide for oneself what is true. True Will, Crowley teaches, is different for everyone, and no one can help you find it. It is a sword you must lift and wield all by yourself. 

Now, what does this mean for me today? Looks like I may be called upon to plow through some b*llshit, and probably make some choices, which I would do well to approach with clarity and without too much emotion. 

Friday 27 December 2013

An end of year clear out

I have some decks on offer for sale or trade...

This not the most handsome photo I've ever taken, but the items on offer are:

Silicon Dawn Tarot -- £15 with free shipping within UK
condition excellent, in box with book SOLD

The Fool's Wisdom Oracle Cards -- £8 with free shipping within UK
Brand new, never used, just looked through

8-Bit Tarot -- £10 with free shipping in UK
Like new condition, never used. This is a self-published deck and I have no idea how widely available it may be now. SOLD

Titania's Star Tarot -- £8 with free shipping in UK
Packaging shows wear, condition used. Cards are in good nick, though.

Nefertari's Tarots -- FREE
This deck was given to me by a good and generous friend. Unfortunately, the gold foil finish flashes in my eyes and gives me a headache. If you like shiny stuff, and you like Egyptian stuff, give this one a try. Spoken for by Delphine S

Radiant Rider, borderless, with custom bag -- £20 with free shipping within UK
Cards in pristine condition, absolutely perfectly trimmed to borderless.
Bag has orange silk lining, decorated outside with vividly coloured owls. Sold to Diane B

Wheel of the Year Tarot -- £9 with free shipping within UK
Deck is trimmed to borderless, with silver embellishments added using silver metallic paint pen. Includes box and LWB.  SOLD

If you would like to buy any of these items, or if you have a tarot or oracle deck to offer me as trade, please leave a comment and/or email me at rowan_tarot@yahoo.co.uk. You can also contact me on Facebook. Please do not send any money via Paypal until sale has been agreed.

Happy shopping!

Saturday 21 December 2013

Cats in the Wild Unknown Tarot

Wild Unknown Tarot
There are four cards in the Wild Unknown Tarot featuring cats - Magician, High Priestess, Justice and Strength. I like that these cards have natural links to each other and also share the same animal theme. That is logical and sensible.

Let's start with the pair of Magician and High Priestess. For some reason, a leopard looks more feminine to me and a tiger more masculine, so already I see a yin yang type thing going on with these two cards - a masculine energy of the Magician with the slender, feminine lines of the leopard, and the female energy of High Priestess with the chunkier, hulkier appearance of the tiger. The Magician is active and his card is filled with light, and his cat is associated with agility and speed, particularly adept at climbing trees, leaping and running fast. The High Priestess is passive, her card is dark, and her cat is the largest of the cat species, and while it can run fast in short bursts, is mostly portrayed as lying around looking formidable. (Did you know the global tiger population is under 4,000? That's not really tarot-related, but comes as a shock to me.)

Then we have the two cards, Justice and Strength. In the Wild Unknown, Justice is card 8 and Strength is card 11. I don't really care which way around they go, but since I first learned with RWS, to me Strength will always be number 8 no matter what the card says at the top. Anyway, it seems to have no bearing on these two cards. Justice features what looks to me like two domestic short-hairs, a black one and a white one. Of course this refers to the 'black and white' nature of the concept of justice. We often see black and white patterns in Justice and Emperor cards in other decks. Also, since 'justice' seems to be a construct of human civilization, I think it makes sense that the animal chosen to go on the cards would be a product of human genetic modification - the domestic cat. And of course, as there is a lion on the traditional RWS Strength card, it's no surprise to find one on the Strength card in the Wild Unknown. The maiden of the RWS card is represented by the rose clutched demurely in the lion's jaws.

I like these four cards.

Sunday 15 December 2013

Trees in the Wild Unknown Tarot

I thought I'd try to get my head around this deck by looking at themes, patterns and recurring images. There are six cards that feature trees, so let's have a look at them.

The Emperor and Empress
These two cards swap black and white -- Emperor is black on white, Empress is white on black. The Emperor tree is a longer, pointier shape, which could perhaps be seen as phallic, while the Empress tree is a rounder shape. The Emperor tree has lots of spaces between branches, while the Empress tree is more lush. The Emperor tree stands out in stark black on white, and the sun is blotted out by a total eclipse, though the sky remains colorless, neither blue nor dark, but white. The Empress on the other hand is beneath a waning crescent moon. The sky is black. The tree is tinged with red, though, and this strikes me both as a warm colour, and also a reference to fecundity, the richness and the darkness of the womb. 

The Tower and the Moon
The Tower and the Moon cards both feature evergreen trees in white against a black background. In the Moon card, we again see a waning crescent. I don't know if this has significance, or if it's just because the artist likes the moon drawn in the shape of a letter C. I am just not sure how much purposeful meaning went into these cards, beyond design, and how much we are putting into the after the fact. So-called 'intuitive' readers can load imagery with all sorts of meaning--can take anything, a photo from a magazine, an advertisement, a beermat--and see symbolic significance there. That said, the two trees in the Moon card are probably acknowledging the two towers in the RWS Moon. 

The Tower card shows a tree being struck by lightning, which seems to be a very straightforward Tower depiction. 

The 6 of Cups and Ace of Pentacles
People talk a lot about how 'natural' these cards are, and they are, but actually there is manmade stuff all over the imagery in Wild Unknown. We have cups, swords, domesticated flowers (roses), domesticated animals (horses, goats, cats), we have crosscuts of tree trunks, such as you get from using a saw, there are ribbons wound around swords and twigs -- there is evidence of man in many of the cards. For me, this does not detract from the deck, but rather adds to it. Most of my favourite decks feature people very heavily, and a way in to the cards for me is the human element present there. 

So in the 6 of Cups we have a tree that is growing upward against a sky that has horizontal lines. These lines make me think of measuring the height of the tree over time, as it grows. The view of underground shows that the roots of the tree are deeper and wider than the tree itself, which of course is true of trees, but we also have the suggestion that this is also true of ourselves. Our roots, our past experiences, our lessons learned, the things we have been through, loom deeper and larger and wider than our present manifestation. Without them, our present manifestation could not exist. The card shows it to the point that all the actual colour is in the roots. That is a strong message! 

Finally the Ace of Pentacles shows a cross-section of a tree trunk. In the heart of it, a glowing orange core with five points radiating outward, like a cross-cut of an apple. The tree trunk itself seems to glow outward--not only do we grow upwards, but we also expand. Height suggests aspirations to the spiritual, whereas outward growth suggests an expansiveness that encompasses the earthly plane, and all its sensations and experiences. 

Tarot cards are about people. These Wild Unknown cards are about people, too. This deck explores the human experience and spirit through images of nature, which in some ways could be seen as adding a layer to get through to get to the heart of the meaning. The tree cards aren't about trees. The cat cards aren't about cats. They're about us. Figuring out how a tree is like a mother is one degree of separation from an image of a human mother. In this way, for some at least, the Wild Unknown Tarot can have the same barriers presented by any 'themed' deck, such those based around mythology, or fairy tales, or Jane Austen.

Saturday 14 December 2013

Looking at the Wild Unknown Tarot

The last couple of days I've been looking at the Wild Unknown Tarot. Last night I laid the whole deck out in the floor in order and sat and looked at it for a long time. Then I put the deck back together and examined each card, trying to find the meaning in the images. I haven't been that enamoured of this deck, to be honest, so I've been trying to find the appeal of it. Obviously it is very striking, all that black and white with the splashes of colour here and there. But I see little value in a pretty deck if you can't read with it, and I haven't done much in the way of trying to read with the Wild Unknown.

The first thing I did was look really closely at the majors. With each card, I stared at the image, trying to make the connections, until I felt a click of understanding of how this particular image evokes the card's meaning. When I understood a card, I put it on the 'understand' pile. When I never quite could get the connection, I put it on the 'don't understand' pile. These are cards where I can't quite see why the animal or image chosen represents the card meaning to the deck creator. This pile for the majors consists of: Magician, High Priestess, Empress, Emperor, Hierophant, Wheel of Fortune and Temperance. I just wonder why big cats were chosen for Magician and High Priestess--why a leopard for Magician, tiger for High Priestess? What is that globe the High Priestess has? Is it the earth? Why are the Empress and Emperor trees? I can kind of see why the Emperor is black and white, but why is the Empress white on black with red tinges? Why is the Hierophant a crow clutching a key? Why a crow? The Wheel of Fortune I kind of get, but why is Temperance a heron? Is it a heron? I'm not sure. Is there some symbolic significance to the heron? No answers -- yet.

Then I looked at the courts, and at first, these were all on the 'don't understand' pile. Why were these particular animals chosen for the courts? Then I got a bit of a click. The Cups court family is made up of geese, famous for their lifelong loyalty to their mates. There is a pair of geese on the Lovers card as well. The Swords courts are owls, which makes sense because we associate owls with wisdom, and Swords with the mind. It took me a while to twig why the Wands courts are snakes -- but if snakes are about transformation, and Wands are about the fires of creation/transformation, that makes sense. And finally, the Pentacles courts are deer, which seem to be quite in tune with their surroundings and deeply connected to earth and the signals of the physical. So all the courts went into the 'understand' pile.

A few of the puzzling cards from Wild Unknown Tarot

Finally, the pip cards, which are 'semi-illustrated.' I sorted them again and again into the 'understand' and 'don't understand' piles. I examined the piles and put them in numerical and suit order. Funnily enough, I understood nearly all of the Sword cards, and almost none of the remaining cards. The ones I don't get are:

Swords - 4
Cups - 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
Wands - 2, 4, 6, 7, 9, 10
Pentacles - 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9

Why is there a calf with a glowing forehead on 4 of Swords? Why is there a rat on 4 of Cups? Why are there colourful tree roots on 6 of Cups? What the heck is the deal with the upside down cups and the indentation of lines in 7 of Cups? Why are all the cups broken in 8 of Cups? Why are the cups arranged in a huge circle in 9 of Cups and what is that crescent moon there for? Why are rainbow rays connecting the cups in 10 of Cups? I don't know.

What does 2 of Wands have to do with anything? Why does the 4 of Wands look like an eye? Why is there another moth on 6 of Wands? What does a light shining in darkness have to do with 7 of Wands? Why does the 9 of Wands look like a stairway to the moon? How is a pattern of dropped sticks a burden in 10 of Wands? I don't know.

Why is there yet another moth on 2 of Pentacles? What is the deal with moths?? What does a mountain have to do with the 3 of Pentacles? What is miserly about the pattern on the 4 of Pentacles? Is the 6 of Pentacles a nod to the flowers in the RWS? What does the right angle mean in 7 of Pentacles, and why do the coins make a diagonal division across the card? Why are there feathers on the 9 of Pents when I thought it was a 'deer' suit? I don't know!

I do not have the companion book, but it doesn't look terribly heavy on text and I don't want to waste my money on a book that doesn't give me answers. I will continue to try to come up with something myself, but if I can't --well, then I can't use this deck. I'll keep looking at it.

Sunday 8 December 2013

Book and Deck Review | Tarot: The Open Reading and CBD Tarot de Marseille

I haven't had much dealing with the Tarot de Marseille, and the main reason is that I think the majors and courts are, to be frank, extremely ugly. And yet, I find the pip cards gloriously beautiful, and so I keep finding myself drawn to the deck. I do love unillustrated minor cards (or 'pips only' cards, as I like to call them), and the TdM pips are wonderful, particularly the swords suit, with its amazing curving shapes,and the coins, with all those scrolling vines and leaves twining around the disks. If it weren't for those god-awful majors...

A few years ago someone gave me the Jean Noblet TdM. I tried to like it but I just couldn't get into it, and it was considered such a special deck that I felt bad about it sitting ignored in my collection, so I traded it. (I can't even remember what I traded it for now, but chances are that deck, too, has been traded or sold, because I do ruthlessly cull my collection of decks.) The only reason I bought the my current TdM is because I read about it on Facebook (darn you, Facebook!) and thought I ought to have one TdM that is considered 'correct' -- whatever that may mean. I trust those who know better than me in that regard. (You, Caitlin Matthews!)

Which brings me round to today's post, a review of the CBD Tarot de Marseille (Yoav ben Dov, 2010) and the companion book, Tarot: The Open Reading (sold separately). The full title of the deck is 'CBD Tarot de Marseille: A faithful reproduction of the traditional Tarot based on the standard deck printed by Nicholas Conver 1760, restored and adapted by Yoav Ben Dov.' I just call it 'CBD Tarot', which is an acronym for 'Conver-Ben Dov'.

The Deck
Ben Dov says he didn't set out to create a tarot deck, but rather to write a book about tarot. During the course of writing the book, he realized during the process of copyright negotiations that he might as well create a deck himself. Using several Conver decks, he kept the original lines, including their bizarre anomalies, and selected shades of the original colours. If it was red in Conver, it's red in CBD, but of course Ben Dov had to choose the shade. He also made adjustment to faces to be more appealing to modern eyes. He commissioned an illustrator to draw the lines of the original by hand, then a digital graphic designer to correct line details and add titles and colour. He then tweaked the designs digitally himself, and there we have the CBD Tarot de Marseille. The deck can be purchased online at www.cbdtarot.com.

It comes in an off-white tuck box featuring an illustration of the World card on one side, and the figure of the Fool on the other. The box has Hebrew writing on it (because Yoav Ben Dov lives in Israel, though the deck is printed in Belgium), but the LWB is in English. The 63-page LWB is well written, with decent sized print for easy reading. The tuck box itself is fairly sturdy and should stand up to gentle handling.

The full deck measures 12 x 6 x 2.5 cm (4.75 x 2.5 x 1 inch, approximately). It is a long, skinny deck. Some people like that, and consider it 'tarot shaped'. I prefer a chunkier shape, but never mind. All of the cards have white backgrounds, not stark white but not off-white. They are noticeably white. The deck has eight colours: white, black, yellow, red, blue, light blue, green and 'flesh colour', a red-beige. Each of these colours has taken on symbolic meaning to TdM readers, and one of the reasons I wanted this deck is that it is acknowledged (by those who know) as having 'correct' colours for a TdM, which apparently is significant if you want to read the TdM in a traditional way. (I am just getting my head around traditional cartomantic techniques using the TdM.) The titles of majors are in French. The serial numbers on minors are on the left and right sides, or not at all. There is an extra blank card ('carte blanche') which can be seen as a wild card in readings. The card backs are a plain but pleasant blue design. Here's a major, a minor with number, a minor without number and the card back:

The card stock itself is supple and soft, riffles like a dream straight from the box, and has very slight waxy feel. No lamination to speak of; if it's there, it is very light indeed. It is really lovely stock, neither too thick (like Tarot Illuminati, Enchanted Lenormand, or Tarot of the Sidhe) nor too thin (like Druidcraft).

The Book
The book has a similar plain off-white cover with The World on the front and The Fool on the back. I ordered mine from Amazon. It is available in paper or Kindle format, and just came out recently. This 259-page book consists of eleven chapters, plus card interpretations. In the usual manner, the majors get several pages each, while the minors receive only a half page each (less than half a page, really, as a large chunk of space is devoted to a black and white image of the card), and actually about half of the text for each card is devoted to a description of what the card looks like. I've never understood why companion books do this. I can see the card. I can see the illustration of the card. I don't need you tell me what it looks like, I need you to tell me what you think it means, please. But oh well. In essence, each minor card gets roughly 6 lines of  interpretation. The same material is in the LWB that comes with the deck. This is not unusual in tarot publications, but I do wish a little more thought would be put into the minors. I think minor cards are underrated.

The chapters in this book are:
1. The Tarot Deck, in which Ben Dov gives an introduction to the history of tarot and overview of the French and English schools of tarot.
2. The Reading Session, in which he gives his ideas about the proper way to set up a reading space and conduct a reading.
3. Reading the Cards, which is more of Ben Dov's thoughts on how to go about a 'proper' reading.
4. The Symbolic Language, in which we get information about directions, colours, numbers, figures and body parts.
5. The Major Suit, which takes a close look at the majors, and of course goes into the 'Fool's Journey'.
6. The Major Cards
7. The Minor Suits, in which we are instructed in the meanings of suits and their correspondences
8. The Ace Cards
9. The Court Cards
10. The Number Cards, where the minors are looked at individually
11. Additional Spreads
and then Quick Interpretations.

So far I have read through Chapter 4, and skimmed the rest of the book (I will finish it this week, I hope) and I believe that, armed with this book and deck, a beginner could start out with the Tarot de Marseille and do quite well, learning traditional cartomantic principles and techniques, without all the Golden Dawn bumpf you encounter in a Rider Waite Smith deck. I have said before that I wish I had started with the TdM, but it didn't work out that way for me.

All the information in this book seems to me be entirely solid and acceptable to firm tarot tradition. There is nothing here that is idiosyncratic or highly personalized. Some of Ben Dov's thoughts on how a reading should be conducted are his personal opinion, and it would have been nice to see a few alternatives given, but that is a minor point. In most cases, he does do that.

I think this book and deck set is a must-have for tarot enthusiasts. I see it as my definitive (and probably only) Tarot de Marseille, and the book is certainly the best and most expansive guide to the TdM I have yet seen, written in English.

To me, the definitive collection for any tarot newbie would be this:

CBD Tarot with Tarot: The Open Reading by Yoav Ben-Dov
Yellow Box Rider Deck with Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack
Green Box Thoth Tarot with Understanding Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot by Lon Milo DuQuette

If you were to lay your foundations with these three decks and books, I have no doubts you could go on to read with anything out there.

Sunday 1 December 2013

Triumph of the will

I'm not sharing a spread today, even though it's Sunday. Instead, I'm making an announcement. I have a goal in a different area of my life that I would like to focus all my energy on. And so I am reducing my posts on this blog to once a week. It will probably be a Saturday.

Of course, even though I am only blogging once a week, my services as a tarot reader are still fully available and I will happily do tarot readings for you any day of the week! Please continue to order readings in the usual way, regardless of whether the blog has been updated.

I've drawn the 6 of Wands today, and that helps assure me that my decision is the right thing for me. The victorious warriors ride proudly, and so will I, when I return to daily blogging here having accomplished my goal.

I think I'll do a reading on this. Even though I have been featuring big spreads on Sundays, my favourite draw has always been and will remain the 3-card open reading, followed by a 3-card draw with card positions. Let's do that right now.

What are the three things I need to do, or what three areas must I cultivate, in order to be successful in achieving this goal?

There is a lot of fire here,which is exactly what I need to achieve the goal. My thoughts are confirmed. I need to focus on it, I need to move toward it with optimism and confidence, I need to see the bright side of it, and I need to settle in to a routine wherein I find the abundance within myself and my personal situation. I should take this fiery impetus and follow through on it, making the most of this time of inspiration. Strike while the iron is hot, and all that. And I also need to keep the iron hot, and keep striking it, like striking those gold coins in that 10 of Coins card. I see them repeated in the angel's halo in Ace of Wands, in the Sun, and of course in the 10 of Coins card. Now is the time, now is the hour, mine is the fire, mine is the power (to paraphrase a spell from a favourite movie of mine, 'The Craft'.) 

So! I am resolved. 

Meet you back here next Saturday. Many blessings to you. x