Friday, November 11, 2016

on the fool

Many years ago I presented a series of workshops on how understanding the history of tarot could be useful for modern tarot users. At the time people told me they were helpful and so my plan is to listen to the recordings and transcribe them here to share with others.

Historically, the Fool was a big part of the medieval dramas or morality plays that were performed to educate people at that time. The Fool had his own particular costume and would entertain between the acts of the plays. During the Renaissance, there was a sequence of engravings done called ‘The Children of the Planets’. Each planet, or the god or goddess of the planet, was depicted in the engraving which also showed the children of each planet, which were the professions or different activities associated with the planets. The fool was one of the children of the Moon. This may seem a surprising association but actually he was the lunatic and the word lunatic comes from moon, or lunar. The Fool represented mania, madness, mood swings and unpredictability. He was the crazy man walking aimlessly through the countryside with his stick and bag and all his possessions. And the symbolism in modern decks is not that different, we still have the stick and bag, although probably not so much the crazy wandering fool.
Ancient Italian Tarot
Historically the figure of the Fool would have been well known to people of that time as representing someone who operated outside the norm. He wandered aimlessly and would go to the different courts to visit. He was the court jester, the only person who could criticise or poke fun at the king and not get into trouble. This was well and good until they needed a scapegoat and then they would use the fool. Interestingly in the game of tarot the Fool was the card you would use to save yourself. You’d be happy to use the fool to save you higher cards so he was the scapegoat in both the game and in life.
Nigel Jackson Medieval Enchantment Tarot
In the modern decks the number zero was added to the card. The occult significance of that was the idea that from nothing comes everything.  One modern way of viewing the major arcana is as the Fool’s journey and the Fool is representative of us, or our soul. We become the Fool and we embark on a journey through life. The fool is seen as being at the beginning of the sequence, but really it can fit anywhere because it can be viewed as the one taking the journey. 
Robin Wood Tarot
It is interesting to contemplate the idea of madness, as this isn’t something we associate with this card in modern decks. More often it is associated with a new beginning, or being prepared to take a leap into the unknown. In most representations the Fool is about to walk off a cliff and he doesn’t care. It alludes to risk-taking and the sense of freedom to be our own self and not worry about what people think of us.  Here we see the link with madness because obviously the fool didn’t care what people thought of him, he was operating in his own reality and it didn’t matter what people thought. We still see people like this today, walking down the street mumbling, and we think ‘what world are they in?’, but in fact, this is our Fool.  It is interesting with this card to remember when it comes up just how close all of us are to flipping over into that world of madness, we can all lose it at any time, whether it is through a sudden event or something, at any time we can lose our grip on this reality and become the Fool.  The Chinese Tarot depiction of the fool below taps into these ideas of a wandering madman. 
Chinese Tarot
Even the things we associate positively with this card such as taking a leap into the unknown and the freedom that goes along with that, in some ways that is foolish behaviour. We have to not care what people think, we have to be prepared to operate outside the norm.  When we consider the historical development of this card and connect that with the modern interpretations we can begin to see how they come together to give a deeper understanding.
Druidcraft Tarot
The Mythic Tarot below uses Dionysus to illustrate the Fool and this association is common even in decks not explicitly linked to mythology. Dionysus is often linked with drinking, drunkenness and crazy behaviour and so here again we see the idea of abandon and not caring. Most representations of the fool depict an animal biting at the Fool’s heels which is sometimes considered a symbol of our animal or natural instinct. Again, this is the part of us that doesn’t think too much, doesn’t worry what others think of us, and acts in accordance to our inner or true self. 

Mythic Tarot
Ultimately the Fool is where we begin and end. At the beginning we are everything and yet nothing, unlimited potential un-lived. We are pure and untainted by life, simply our true and essential nature. At the end of the journey life has built us up and worn us down. We have donned many masks and then watched them fall away. Ideally we return to our essential nature but this time we hold within a wisdom gained from the experiences on our journey of life.
Thoth Tarot

on coming full circle

So it's been three and a half years since I last posted on this blog. Tarot and I have been 'on a break'. Reading back over the last few posts I made here feels like reliving the end of a once beautiful relationship. It was clear that I'd been trying to hold on to the world of tarot despite knowing that it wasn't going to work out. The truth was that I'd burnt out. I had lost the ability to see the world without using tarot as a lens. I had become obsessed with the systems behind tarot and became increasingly frustrated when I couldn't make them fit the world view I had at the time. I should have made a clean break sooner, but I'd invested so much. Ultimately it was futile to hold on any longer and we drifted apart.  I didn't want tarot to be who I was. I no longer wanted to be part of that world.

Druidcraft Tarot - Eight of Cups
The thing is...sometimes we don't get to choose our path, often it is the path that chooses us. Despite several years of focusing on other things, the pull of what is undeniably my passion has drawn me back. It's only now that I can recognise the emptiness I experienced when I wasn't connected to this world. Delving again into books on tarot, astrology, mythology, numerology, symbolism and other such delights has me feeling alive and excited about life. I've found my spark again. So now...what is one to do?

Frankly, I'm a hopeless blogger! I have blogs all over the place. I jump around from one project to the next, losing interest as fast as I find it. Persistently curious and hopelessly uncommitted, I drift aimlessly and achieve little. Looking back though now, with a good solid break under my belt, I begin to see the sum total of all my aimless wandering and am reassured to know it wasn't all in vain.

Several years ago I had reached a point with tarot where people where pushing me to make it into a business, to have it as my vocation, to use it to earn a living. I hated that. I'm fairly sure now that is part of what killed it for me. The realisation that it had become work. The joy had gone. Now I have a vocation and I don't need to find a way to earn money. As a result I can simply dabble away with tarot and such things for the pure pleasure of it.

My plan is to share my thoughts here, if and when I have anything of interest to say. I'm a teacher at heart and I feel like I need to share what I know with others, so I expect that may be my driving force. In many ways blogging is like speaking to the void. Is anyone listening? Does anyone care? Does it even matter?
Mythic Tarot - Wheel of Fortune
There has been a cyclic nature to my relationship with tarot. I can see it now throughout my life and all the more so for this recent break away. I was drawn to tarot via mythology and that is how I return to it now. I'm working with decks that were amongst the earliest I obtained and it definitely feels as if I've come full circle. I'm looking forward to seeing what having an extra layer of life will add to my understanding of these cards that I simply can't let go of.

Friday, March 15, 2013

on losing a part of myself

My tarot journey has been anything but a straight path and has certainly had its share of twists, turns and moments of getting completely lost.  Along the way I’ve found many treasures that will stay with me all my life.  Right now though…. I’m lost.  I think a couple of years ago I suffered a severe case of tarot burnout.  Reading about the cards and reading with the cards had come to consume most of my spare time, and much of my not spare time as well.  I was viewing the world through the lens of the cards and found little time for much else despite the fact that I was a mum to two young girls and had rather a lot else on my plate.  In looking back, I believe tarot saved me from losing my mind during those early years of my children’s lives, during the nappy changes and the playing in the park.  It gave me something to keep my mind stimulated, it allowed for a wonderful balance where I had a full emotional life but also an inspired intellectual life as well.  So what happened? 

I walked away.  I got to a point where I was so sick of thinking about tarot that I just couldn’t stand it anymore.  I had the privilege of being asked to speak at a conference about tarot history and I had the opportunity to present my ideas to one of my tarot heroes as well as the author of one of the first tarot books I ever read.  It was a high point and at the time I felt that it was the fitting end to my tarot ‘career’.  Where could I go from that I had wondered, why not just stop while I’m at such a high point?  And so I did.  I packed up a lot of my books and a significant part of my collection and I started to read about other things and do other things.  This would have been all well and good except for the enormous gaping void I felt was now a part of my life.  The sense that something was missing was overwhelming.  It was like I had lost a part of myself.  What was I supposed to do now?  It’s wonderful when we find something we are so passionate about, learning is no effort, and you seem to almost inhale books and manage to remember vast amounts of information.  So, when you walk away it feels quite painful.  I wondered why I had dedicated so much time and effort to something that had effectively led to nothing.  In retrospect I don’t feel so much like that now, I see how valuable it was for my personal growth alone, but at the time I felt like I’d wasted so much time and then just thrown it all away.

As you can see from the posts on this blog I did try and hold on to it here and there.  I’d come back to the cards, have a play around, try and write something new.  I tried different ways of looking at tarot, experimented with different systems, but it just didn’t hold my interest the way it used to.  It had become an effort, rather than a joy.  I was lost.  

I can now see that a lot of the 12 years I spent learning about tarot was in part me seeking some meaning for my life.  Tarot gave me the opportunity to learn about Astrology, mythology, Qabalah, neo-Platonism, most world religions, numerology and much more.  I began to use tarot as a framework to build my own personal philosophy around, and that was the bit that was hard work.  I could never make everything fit, I explored the Golden Dawn system, Etteilla’s system, intuitive tarot, pagan tarots, and mythology based decks and on and on it went.  I could never find the perfect system to make it all fit.  But I tried.

When I walked away from tarot it was like giving up part of what I believed about the world.  I was so lost and so empty I began to see that tarot was a crutch for me in many ways.  It allowed me to use my intellect but in some ways it prevented me from gaining real wisdom, too much thinking, not enough doing.  The fact was, for someone so interested in tarot, my real interest was learning about tarot rather than using tarot.  This of course is fine but as I was in a position of teaching others to read the cards it started to feel a touch inauthentic.  Another reason to walk away.

It’s now almost two years since I let go of my passion for tarot.  I’ve had a few brief encounters along the way but otherwise I’ve been doing other stuff.  A home renovation was a perfect distraction as it consumed me for about six months.  Does the gaping void feel any smaller?  Not really.  I haven’t found a new passion and I sometimes wonder if I ever will.  I did however, just the other day, have a realisation about the meaning of life.  Quite by accident, less than a week later, I found myself with a deck of cards before me.  How lovely it was to pick them up and shuffle again.  I was amazed at just how familiar it seemed.  It was in many ways comforting to know that all that I had done and learnt in that twelve years had stayed with me. The break away has given me a new insight as I’ve been able to take a step back and see the bigger picture.  I also feel a lot less pressure knowing I don’t need to use the cards to ‘work out’ the meaning of life, or to be a framework for my beliefs.  I’ve sorted that out separately.  Now the cards can be for pure joy, no pressure, just going with the flow and seeing where the journey takes me.  I’d love to think that I can somehow bring tarot back into my life.  I so loved teaching others about these fascinating cards, and contributing to the tarot community.  I felt inspired enough to write this blog entry despite my absence of nearly six months.  I can’t imagine what will happen from here or how or if I’ll integrate tarot back into my life.  I guess time will tell.

When I first began typing this post I drew the Moon card from my favourite deck, The Ancient Italian.  In many ways this is perfectly fitting.  I'd like to hope that the Moon peeking out from behind the clouds is some kind of sign that I can somehow 'see the light' again.  Perhpas the lobster on the plate is a sign that much of the work is done.  There are ships sailing on the horizon.  Flowers are in bloom.  Maybe a good thing?  Maybe an illusion?  Maybe I've connected with tarot again?  Maybe not?  Maybe I'll fill that empty space at last?  Maybe I'll keep wandering, aimlessly searching for something new?  Maybe?  Maybe!

You can read more about the wonderful Ancient Italian deck here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

on stepping into a wonderland

Well, it has certainly been awhile since I've posted here.  I've taken an extended break from tarot but am hoping to get back into things.  What I've found interesting in having time away is how good it is to return with fresh eyes.  I had been working with tarot for about 12 years and on reflection I think I'd burnt out.  I needed to have some time away to think of other things.  I've just finished working on a very practical project for the last six months, far different to the world of tarot.  Before I took a break I was very muddled in my thinking, rushing this way and that, working with one system after another and never really settling on anything.  Collecting decks seemed to have taken over from actually using them.

On my return the deck I have most enjoyed is the Nigel Jackon Medieval Enchantment.  I've always loved this deck but now it seems like it's the perfect match for my 'tarot worldview'.  I'm hoping to use this deck to explore some of my ideas and post my thoughts here as I go.

I drew the Eight of Cups this morning and I absolutely love the image.  It definitely has that sense of starting off on a journey, to somewhere new and different to what I'm used to.  This card reflects how I feel about the deck as a whole actually, it's like stepping into a magical wonderland and relishing the thought of getting lost in it.  Time to start exploring!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

on art and tarot

Our ongoing renovation has got me thinking about how I'm going to decorate the interior once building has finished.  I've got lots of ideas for artwork but am thinking of using some tarot images to create a montage in one of my rooms.  I'm keen to do something a bit different.  Anyway, here are some of the images I'm considering using at this stage.

 Cards from the Etteilla deck

 Sun and Two of Wands from Tarot of the Thousand and One Nights

Visconti World and Hermit from Tarot de Paris

8 Wands and Hermit from Ancestral Path

 Princess Cups from Ancestral Path, 2 Spears from Arthurian

 Moon from Dotti, Hermit from the Haindl

 2 Disks and Moon from Hermetic

 Moon from Roots of Asia, Hermit from Ancient Lombardy

 Star from Magical Forest, Moon from Australian Animals

 Queen of Pumpkins (Disks) from halloween, Moon from Medieval Scapini
 Queen of Batons and The Star from Ancient Italian

Hermit from Cosmic, 10 Swords from Wheel of Change

 Hermit and Tower from Crystal

 Moon and Queen of Disks from Vacchetta

Hermit from Paulina, Queen Disks from Thoth

I think the process of putting together your favourite artwork across a large selection of tarot decks is very helpful.  It is particularly interesting to notice many of the same cards coming up and I see that I have lots of Hermits and quite a few Queen of Disks.  The Moon and Star seem to feature as well.  Now I just need to work out exactly what I'm going to do with all these gorgeous images.

Monday, May 21, 2012

on feng shui and tarot

Just over a week ago we began significant renovations to our existing home.  We have decided to remain living in the house while the builders are working.  The front three rooms of our home have been sealed off from the back, which has subsequently been demolished.  What has been interesting, at least to me, is that as the rear of the house has been pulled down my health has deteriorated and I've had in the course of the last ten days tonsillitis, flu like symptoms, laryngitis, general head cold symptoms, a night of vomiting and now what seems to be a chest infection. It has dawned on me that having the energy field of my home dismantled has understandably taken it's toll on my physical energy.  Remarkably, today the actual building has begun and I can slowly feel my energy returning.

While I've never been a die-hard believer in all the intricacies of the art of Feng Shui, I am a firm believer in the principles behind it.  While I think many of the superstitions and also some of the flying stars and numerology type elements are not so relevant to us today, especially here in the Southern Hemisphere, I do think that it is critical to take care of the energy of our home in order to ensure our life flows smoothly.

Anyway, all this has inspired me to drag out my Feng Shui Tarot set.  This is a deck I really wanted to work with seriously but have found to be almost impossible to work with.  Some of the decisions regarding elemental attributions don't really fit with my own understanding and to be honest, I just don't think Feng Shui and Tarot really fit that well together.

Despite that, it is a beautiful deck from an art perspective.  As more time passes I find that it is the art of tarot that I am drawn to more than anything.  I thought I might share some of the images with you here.

I must add that this deck is definitely readable and when you combine that with the artwork then I believe it's a deck worth having.  However, if you want to use it and keep all the meanings exactly the same as the Rider Waite Smith format then you may be disappointed.  I think it's worth having for Strength, Temperance and The Moon alone.