A few days ago, i received in the mail a package from Camelia Elias. Inside, there was a copy of her newest book, “Towards the Art of Reading”. By chance, or simply because the Universe works in mysterious ways, that same day I also received a book containing a selection of texts by noted poet and Falconer Khushal Khan Kattak.
The coincidence didn’t pass unnoticed. Tarot, poetry and falcons. In common, the act of seeing.
The all-seeing eye of Horus claiming for attention, and reminding me that we should not only look outwards, but also inwards. That the Tarot is ultimately about gaining awareness about ourselves and our surroundings.
God has given me a mind,
that all clear … I always find.
Secrets of earth and heavens
in my heart God has defined.
God’s shown me everything
in my heart: I am, not blind!
In others are the black night:
Kushal makes dawn, a find!
When dealing with the Tarot, the first question we have to answer is “What do we see?” Sure… Some images are laid upon the table. There’s a story there, waiting to be told. This story is never trivial. Quite on the contrary, it’s supposed to shed light on a matter / question / doubt. And we are asked to take the images before us and give them meaning. And no matter how much one argues, divination is about answering questions.
To accomplish this, we only need two things: to be able to see, and to relate what we see to the question at hand.
Camelia’s book starts in a very powerful way: with an explained reading. Where she goes step by step through the mental process which she uses to arrive at an answer. The book then goes on to explain her process and how she sees each of the major trumps. There’s some meanings conveniently placed at the end of each card, but that’s not even the important part. It’s the invitation she extends to us all to look at each card. To really look at each card and describe it. Think about it. Actually interact with it.
Only by this reason alone, this book is worth the price of admission alone. We’re being asked not to memorize a somewhat useless list of meanings and definitions but to truly see what’s before us and ask ourselves, at each and every step, “Why is this relevant to the issue at hand?”
In a way, this is a book about the author. And her particular method of card reading. Then again, if reading the cards was just about putting lists of names and verbs in the head, we would really only need one or two books on the Tarot.
On the other hand, if we understand the process through which a reading is made, well then… We can start constructing our own connections, our own particular way of seeing. And our skills will evolve faster and will develop to its fullest. To really learn a trade, we need to see and understand how its done. To see others do it, and try first to imitate them, and then to surpass them.
Like an arrow is requiring an archer to make it fly,
poetry needs a skill that only in magician does lie.
To weight words properly heart must be balanced,
That one too many words is uneven, too hard a try!
On an ink-black horse Truth’s bride is mounted…
as over face, the veil of metaphor, she does apply.
This is a book to keep at hand at all times. To read it once, from cover to cover, and try to pick up all that you can. And then leave it for a while, while its teachings sink into your mind and are properly digested. This is a book to be read slowly, little by little. As if you were savouring a nice port. Even though it is written in a practical, direct manner, it is packed with information, and somethings will become clear with successive readings. It is profundly illustrated, so you know what is being discussed. The images, photographed from the Carolus Zoya’s version of the Marseille deck are alluring and inviting.
Even if you’re not a Marseille adept, the combination of the images with Canelia’s prose will seriously make you consider using it. It’s a good thing, then, that the book came with a copy of the trumps. That way, you won’t have to mutilate your book in order to use them. And who knows… Maybe if we’re lucky enough we’ll get to see the full deck printed out. But even if we don’t, try to see them as an invitation to experience a Marseille deck. And to find out why it’s still one of the most well regarded decks out there.
The wise one’s the one who says his say but once:
wise everywhere know, that wit’s soul is brevity.
(All poems taken from “Khushal Khan Khattak: the Great Warrior-Poet of Afghanistan”, Bookhaven, 2012; Falcon image taken from the movie “Disharming Falcons“, directed by Wendy Johnson and Annie Nocenti.
For more about Camelia Elias, please visit her blog Taroflexions)
After seeing how comics and tarot have interacted with each other throughout the years and how comics could be a fertile field to mine for ideas, in today’s post I’m going to focus on what’s probably the most important reason to read and / or study comics: its structure.
In comics, we combine pictures and words to tell a story. Sometimes the story is carried by words, other times, it is the images that carry the story. With the tarot, we use the pictures to find out the story which will then be told to the querent. In common with comic books, we have printed images with captions. However, unlike comic books, the text doesn’t accompany the images. A typical tarot card will look something like this:
Typically, we have a card which is filled with an image and one or two captions above and/or underneath. So, the first question would be if more than 95% of the tarot card is filled with an image, why do we keep going back to the keywords? If keywords are really that important, maybe we would have have cards like this one:
where we would just have the card’s name and some keywords written on it. We could even have customized decks where each reader could write its own keywords. Instead, we have images, with just a few words to make each card understandable and easy to identify and relate to. We have thousands of decks, each providing us with an alternative take on the card’s meaning.
So the images in the cards, are important. And it’s the images that we should first look at. And, sure, keywords also have a part to play in the reading. In the midst of thousands of possible meanings each card has, if we didn’t have a way to navigate through that, we would have a pretty troubled journey. So keywords are also useful. But we should not depend exclusively on them.
Steve Englehart, a comic book writer, that had some of its work featured yesterday, when asked for a quote about tarot and comics had this to write:
As a comics reader, I always liked what I was looking at, but it wasn’t until an artist named Gil Kane (GREEN LANTERN, SPIDER-MAN, et al) sat me down one day showed me how he led your eye through each page that I fully understood it. It is an art, within the art, and I would say the same for Tarot reading. The first step is to know what each card means. The next step is to string those meanings together to get a complete story. Everyone begins with the “cook book” approach, where you’re more concerned with adding the flour and the sugar and not yet seeing the pie, but a good cook will soon come to understand how it all folds together. When I was learning Tarot, I was given a number of exercises where three cards were grouped together and I was asked to read those three as one story. Then we moved onto five cards… Bottom line, it (simply) requires the reader to see the big picture while working his way through all the little ones.
When learning the trade, we’re often taught that the images in the tarot cards function as triggers, as sort of key that can unlock our imagination and have us access new ideas and concepts. David Mack, in his Kabuki: The Alchemy book (available here) presented a similar view on comics:
Comics as a book of doors. As a device capable to open your mind and and see what is between the images. Which is exactly what we, as tarot readers do. Or should aim to do.
We write our stories by placing tarot cards next to tarot cards. And then finding something that will link them together into a cohesive whole. So, for example, while this would be a typical 3-card spread,
A few speech balloons are really all that separate us from transforming the above set of cards into a comic strip.
Mike Carey, another of the comic book writers featured in yesterday’s post, when asked for a quote had this to say:
I think a large component of the way we respond to images is highly subjective and inferential. Pictures create associations for us that are personal and emotionally charged. Other sensory stimuli do this too, but the triggers work with different intensities. When reading words – or at least, words arranged into sentences – the rational and logical parts of our minds are fully engaged and there’s limited space for the irrational, associative parts of our minds to go galloping away on tangents. Poetry, though, affects us differently and often (not always) sets out deliberately to increase that interpretative space.
Comics can be more like sequential prose or more like poetry, depending on the artist. And of course it has as much to do with the relationships between images as it does to the images themselves. Each new picture creates multiplying possibilities for interpretation – or else closes them down by making an ambivalent meaning explicit.
In that sense a comic page can be like a tarot spread. The panels, like the cards in a tarot reading, are not read in isolation. They combine to form an interpretative space that can be either loose and open or tight and clearly defined. The mind moves between them and makes the connections. Meaning – seldom definitive – arises as a result of that activity.
As exemplified in the sequence below, what we get from each image is a frozen moment in time and space. The images don’t move. They are just there and movement is made apparent by spotting the differences between each image.
Just like in a reading, we look at the images shown in the cards and try to figure out what’s there and what is missing. We try to figure out what details jump out to us, what elements are repeated and what changed. In a nutshell, when reading a spread, as in all other areas of life, we go after what picks our mind’s interest. This is what’s behind such common image reading skills as pin-pointing and bridging. This is also what we do in our everyday lives with the information we gather from our senses. We sort it out between what matters and what doesn’t matter and quickly eliminate everything that doesn’t matter.
Will Eisner, one of the most influent comic book artists once said this at an interview (published in Will Eisner: Conversations. M. Thomas Inge (ed.)):
Now, when people ask me what I do, to answer it as quickly as I can, I say “I’m a writer. I write with pictures. This is my medium and I think there’s an advantage to sequential art, because, first of all, it communicates more rapidly than text alone. Text cannot be dismissed, because text is capable of revealing the great depth that single images or static images cannot do. And that’s one of the challenges of this medium.
So we write our stories by placing tarot cards next to tarot cards. Panel after panel. We need to have a start point, something that informs us where we are. In the same way, we need to have a finishing point: a card that will tell us how the story ends or, at least, where it is headed. Between these two cards, we place a finite number of cards. Just enough to have the essential plot points, the main happenings that will allow us to figure out what we have before us.
Most spreads follow this simple rule: from past (our establishing panel) to the future or the resolution (the end panel) and between, all the necessary cards needed to give meaning. Each card a fundamental part of the Story before us. And, as Scott McCloud reminds us,
So, taking the time to read comic books and look at them, at how they are made can also gives hints as to how to build spreads. How to arrange the information we have with us into a spread that is functional and is easily readable. Taking, for example, the following page,
we can see the main panel, in which we see two persons diving in what looks like a pool, trying to escape what seems like a hail of projectiles, most probably bullets. And then, we have a series of short panels around this main panel; each of these little panels tell us something about what we are seeing: The innocent bystanders that get shot; that indeed those projectiles we saw in the main panel are bullets; the bullet cases that continuously drop from the gun.
Taking this as an example for a spread, we would have something like this:
If you’re reading about relationships, then you can figure out if the other party is going to laugh at your jokes; if the sex will be good; if you will be able to talk or easily put up with one another. Or maybe it’s a job related question. Then you could find, for example, what type of boss you will have; if the work is too demanding or not; if you will be have any problems or not. Etc, etc…
As a final example, I would like to present this page, again from David Mack’s Kabuki: The Alchemy
This ended up as the base of a spread I called “Self Portrait”. The spread is very simple and you can use it to train your image association skills. So,
- TAKE A CARD FROM THE DECK – this is your outline
- LOOK FOR SOMETHING IN THAT CARD THAT REMINDS YOU OF ANOTHER CARD FROM THE DECK – this is your potential
So, if for example you’re using the Rider-Waite Smith deck and you’ve drawn the Hermit, and saw the Lantern, you could associate it with the Sun; or the Ace of Pentacles. Or maybe you saw the staff and thought of the Ace of Wands; or the Magician. Or the hooded figure reminded you of the veil of the High Priestess. Just play with your imagination and see where it will lead you. It is, after all, your potential 🙂
This is part 2 of a three part post about my presentation at this year’s Tarot Con – U.K.. If you’ve missed part 1, you can find it here.
In this part I will present some work I chanced upon throughout the years. Books that for one reason or another made me stop and ponder a while, and from which I took ideas that later on would coalesce and build up into my personal view of the tarot. It was not a neat journey as it would appear by reading this post, and sometimes, comics that I will present side by side have reached out to me throughout the years.
This is also the part that mostly deviates from the presentation I gave at Keswick, so if you did attend it, just follow through and you’ll see how everything ties together.
Oddly enough, this journey starts not with a comic book, but with a TV series: Jim Henson’s The Storyteller was one of those TV series that retold several European folk tales using a mixture of live actors and puppets. In one of the episodes, right at the end, the dog questions the storyteller about a detail in the story that supposedly didn’t make any sense. The storyteller’s answer was very simple:
“Ah…, you see? But that’s the thing. You should always trust the story, for the story always tells the truth. But you should never, ever, trust the storyteller”.
This little line forever changed the way I related to stories. To what I saw or read. No longer were they these little pieces of fiction without consequences, but rather strange new worlds that would somehow touch our own world. It didn’t matter that they lived in the minds of people, its only actual physical presence the inks and papers they depended on… they existed here with us and would tell us everything we ever wanted to know about life, the universe and everything. So when a story presented us something that made us stop, well then… we should really stop and hear what it has to say, for its of the upmost importance. And even today I find echoes of that distant past. One of the most rewarding ones has been Mike Carey and Peter Gross’ series The Unwritten, about a Harry Potter look-alike character who possesses an immense knowledge about literary geography and who might or might not be a fictional character that actually crossed the line between fiction and reality. It’s a really wonderful series and you can find it here.
Anyway… comic books and tarot…
When we start learning the various meanings of cards, we get a list of keywords. An immense list of keywords and some of them are contradictory. For example, for Strength, we might find “Pleasure” and “Fight”; for The Star, we might see “Hope” and “Illusion”, etc., etc. We are told that cards can have positive meanings and negative meanings and that the actual meaning will depend upon the context of the reading. Opposites coexisting side by side, from which we get to pick the correct meaning for each situation depending on factors like intuition, logic, and pure dumb luck.
For a long time, my vision was exactly like that. Until I chanced upon a comic written by Steve Englehart that depicted a fight between two characters, Galactus and the In-Betweener, where the first defined itself as “the absence of opposites” and the second as “the meeting of opposites”. The comic was The Silver Surfer #18, part of a series of stories that explored how to deal with opposite concepts.
In the comic, Galactus (or the absence of opposites) ends up winning the fight, simply because he doesn’t have to jump from one state to the other; from positive to negative; from life to death; from pleasure to pain. He could be both of them at the same time and that enabled him to become something else… A balanced being.
Other issues would follow on this idea and try to figure out how to bridge two opposing concepts. And, at the end of the run (in Silver Surfer #31), we get these two pages that tell us that between every two concepts, every two opposing ideas there is a third one, a concept/idea that links both sides and as such is made from both sides of the coin, but is its own thing. And then, I started to look at the Tarot, and each Major Arcana was defined as the path that linked two Sephirahs… Each card was not meant to be just “Yes” or “No”; “Positive” and “Negative”, but something that contained both aspects and everything in between.
This led me to something else I saw years before in a Hulk comic. Now, the Hulk had been this rage-fuelled monster that existed inside the body of Bruce Banner, a scientist. His dark, primitive side. And for more than 30 years, that was all that he was. Until a writer, by the name of Peter David came along and had the idea of integrating both the puny, cerebral human side of Bruce Banner and the primeval monstrous side of the Hulk into a single entity:
And something made a click: cards do not show us a positive or negative meaning, they show us a way to integrate whatever we have with whatever we might be missing.
Looking at the Hero’s Journey, and how it relates to the Major Arcana, we can establish three different sets of cards, as depicted bellow:
Applying what was said above, we can again see the same principle: a first set of cards, between The Magician and The Chariot, which I usually call “The Path of Innocence”, in honour of the William Blake’s “Songs of Innocence and Experience” and a third path, from Atu XV – The Devil to Atu XXI – The Universe, or “The Path of Experience”. And it’s easy to see how the each card in the middle row relates to the one that is directly above it and below it. How it takes elements of both end-cards and builds something else.
This all seemed nice and clear until a few years ago I stumbled upon this particular page, taken from Firestorm #96, which had this most interesting caption: “From awareness grew the knowledge of impulse and reason (…) that guide our decisions”
Going back to the Major Arcana, one easily recognizes the “Impulse” and “Reason” as keywords to as The Wheel of Fortune and the Justice cards. And that’s all that one needs to make a decision. Placing the Major Arcanas in two rows, we get other interesting pairs:
Pairs like The Hermit (Scientific knowledge) and “The Hanged Man (Intuitive knowledge); Strength (Life) and Death, and so on. But more interesting still, is the combination of The Hierophant with The Tower, where we see portrayed the influence of God upon Man (The Hierophant) and Man’s attempt to reach out to God’s level. Or, to put it in another way, where duality first appears, and where it is resolved. And, in this aspect, The Star assumes an added importance: it’s hope, yes, because it’s a return to Unity; A new birth where everything shines in a new light. Or, as Alan Moore stated, again, in Swamp Thing #50,
So, where does this leaves the Minor Arcana?
Well, the Minor Arcana are related to the Alchemical elements. Fire, Water, Swords and Pentacles. Or Will, Love, Reason and Material Resources. In the Rider Waite deck, these cards depict also depict journeys. Not the mythical journey, but the day-to-day struggles. If we want to turn to stories, we should not look at the concepts, at the ideas, but at the actual paths the characters make. We should look at biographies. Sure, there’s still plenty of ideas and concepts one can milk stories from, as we can see from these examples:
But we’re probably better served when looking at a character’s evolution. To understand Fire, we need to understand Will, determination, creative energy. How to fuel this determination and channel it to our objectives. Mike Carey’s series Lucifer (which you can find here) tells us the story of how Lucifer pretended to escape his creator’s role by creating a new Universe that might better correspond his point of view. What it takes to bring something forward and defend it, sustain it and, ultimately, make it stand.
For swords, we could turn to the stories of the samurais. Swords are about reason, but they are also about balance, fluidity and adjustment. In order to live by the sword, one must be centered, fluid, and disciplined. Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond (available here) brings us the fictionalized account of Miyamoto Musashi, considered the greatest samurai that ever lived. How he learned his trade. How he incorporated the zen teachings he chanced upon, and how he developed his own style of fighting, a style that made impossible for any opponent to get near him, het alone cut him down.
Pentacles is an easy one. If you want to learn about resources, social networks and money, you need to look no further than Uncle Scrooge. Of particular interest is Don Rosa’s The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck (available here), where he tell us the story of how Scrooge got rich, in ten chapters that closely correspond to the suit of Pentacles. Also of interest are Carl Bark’s stories featuring Uncle Scrooge. Carl Barks was the creator of Uncle Scrooge and the one that got to define his personality and charm. And it’s interesting to see that for all the pettiness and the eye for business, he also gave Scrooge a heart that shone even more brightly than any gold coin he might find.
Which leaves us with Hearts. Love, feelings and relationships. The bonds that allows us to nurture ourselves and grow. The bonds that ultimately will define where we came from and who we are. David Mack’s Kabuki series (available here) is all this and more. A love letter to his mother, and then to himself it shows us how everything around us and everyone around us can fuel us, drive us forward and ultimately help us on our path.
And thus ends part two… a personal journey through comics and tarot that I hope might open some new avenues for you. But comics have more to teach us than just stories. Join us tomorrow for part 3, where we look at what else can comics bring us that’s of interest to tarot readers. In the meanwhile, do browse our archives for some other goodies
Today I was performing one of my readings, and I felt compelled to look in some of my tarot books for a spark of insight about one of the cards. It’s been quite a long time since I’ve opened any of my tarot books during a reading, and yet here I grabbed three right off of the bat to get some fresh ideas.
My guess is that those of you who are learning tarot are using at least one or two books to guide your studies. My guess is also that those of you who are already confident readers or professional readers also have at least a couple of tarot books on the shelf that you may refer back to from time to time. It’s rare to come across a tarot enthusiast or professional who has no books on tarot. While as a professional reader I don’t rely on keywords or generate my readings from copy based on a book I’ve read, our craft is populated by a wealth of creative minds, and as such we are invited to explore what our colleagues have to say.
While I take my inspiration for my readings from all sorts of books and life experiences, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at my actual tarot bookshelf. I have quite a range of books that I’ve collected over the past 14 years, some of which I never open at all, some of which I refer back to again and again.
One book I don’t even have on my physical bookshelf anymore (probably because I wore it out) is Joan Bunning’s Learning the Tarot: A Tarot Book for Beginners. The material from this book is available in a free online course at the Learn Tarot website. Excellent material here that I still find relevant.
And so, below I share with you all the titles on my physical and virtual tarot bookshelf, organized into categories. Enjoy!
Some books I consider classics in the field:
EN TEREX IT: Encounters Around Tarot, Vol. I by Enrique Enriquez
EX ITENT ER: Encounters Around Tarot, Vol. II by Enrique Enriquez
Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom: A Book of Tarot by Rachel Pollack
The Tarot: History, Symbolism and Divination by Robert M. Place
Tarot for Your Self: A Workbook for Personal Transformation by Mary K. Greer
Mary K. Greer’s 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card by Mary K. Greer
Choice-Centered Relating and the Tarot by Gail Fairfield
Everyday Tarot: Using the Cards to Make Better Life Decisions by Gail Fairfield
The Way of Tarot: The Spiritual Teacher in the Cards by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Marianne Costa
Some books for delving deeper into specific topics:
Understanding the Tarot Court by Mary K. Greer and Tom Little
The Tarot Court Cards: Archetypal Patterns of Relationship in the Minor Arcana by Kate Warwick-Smith
Tarot and Kabbalah
The Fool’s Pilgrimage: Kabbalistic Meditations on the Tarot by Stephen H. Hoeller
Tarot and the Tree of Life: Finding Everyday Wisdom in the Minor Arcana by Isabel Radow Kliegman
Learning Tarot Reversals by Joan Bunning
Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot by Lon Milo DuQuette
Voyager Tarot: Way of the Great Oracle by James Wanless, PhD
Motherpeace: A Way to the Goddess Through Myth, Art, and Tarot by Vicki Noble
Motherpeace Tarot Guidebook by Karen Vogel
Journey Through the Gaian Tarot by Joanna Powell Colbert
Books Written About the Poetics of Tarot and Wordplay by My Teacher and Mentor, Enrique Enriquez:
And a couple other books on the shelf that I acquired along the way:
Tarot for Manifestation: Use the Cards to Make Your Desires a Reality by James P. Wells
Tarot for Beginners by P. Scott Hollander
Tarot for a New Generation by Janina Renèe
Power Tarot: More than 100 Spreads that Give Answers to Your Most Specific Questions by Trish MacGregor and Phyllis Vega