Idea Delivery Through Comics and Tarot -1

It’s somewhat hard to return to a project that was quiet for a few months. To get to it again, and start to think of things that might be interesting to put up here. To again devote some time to write them up and present them to the Tarot community at large. But then, we felt the project deserved more than just join the ever-growing limbo of dead blogs that simply exist on the web, it’s creators to lazy to continue them or too lazy to take them out of the web and put them out of their misery. And so, they linger… Half-dead and half-alive, in a suspended animation state while its creators go on to do other stuff. It happened to us. We went on to do other stuff. And all of us left at the same time. But we also didn’t forget about this blog. And so, we’re back.

 

As some of you might know, I recently presented a talk at the U.K. TarotCon last September. It’s subject was one that was very dear to me: Tarot and Comics. Two of my favourite subjects. Now that that presentation is over, I thought it would be a nice idea if I wrote here about some of the things that I talked over there, and probably expand upon it. Since this is supposed to be a pretty long post, I’ve divided it in three parts, of which this is part 1. The remaining parts shall be posted in the next few days. If you happened to attend that conference, think of this as a sort of companion piece; if not, just sit back and enjoy the post.

 

When mentioning tarot and comics, most people will probably think of Promethea. The Alan Moore comic book that started with a Wonder Woman type hero but immediately evolved into an exploration of the Golden Dawn Magickal System. A sort of crash course on tarot and magick. There were 32 issues published and collected in 5 volumes, that you can find here).

Promethea #1. By Alan Moore and J. H. Williams III
Promethea #1. By Alan Moore and J. H. Williams III

What was interesting to the series, is that each issue was based either on a Sephiroth (issues #1-10) or a Major Arcana tarot card (issues #11-32). Of special interest to tarot readers is issue #12, which presents a journey through the Major Arcana tarot cards in 4 different levels. There’s the actual tarot card, created specifically for that issue, as well as a description of the tarot card, how it relates to world history events. But there’s also a word or expression written in Scrabble tiles which is always an anagram for Promethea. And there’s a little anecdote as told by Aleister Crowley divided in 22 parts, with each part attributed to each of the Major Arcana cards. Each page drawn in such a way that when you put them all side by side, you get a giant panel depicting Promethea’s journey through the Major Arcana.

First four Major Arcana cards as depicted in Promethea #12
First four Major Arcana cards as depicted in Promethea #12

But the book doesn’t end here. In issues #5 through #8 (collected in the first and second volumes of the series), you’ll get a brief exploration of the elements and then, of course, you can browse through all the remaining issues and try to figure out how each Major Arcana helped shape that particular issue. In all, it’s an interesting reading and one that might offer a new perspective to your understanding of the cards.

But comic books have more to offer than Promethea. With this in mind, this presentation started with a comic book published in 1978 called Doorway to Nightmare by DC Comics.

Doorway to Nightmare #1, published by DC Comics
Doorway to Nightmare #1, published by DC Comics

What was interesting in this comic book was the presence of a character, Madame Xanadu, who was a tarot reader. In each issue, someone would stumble into her parlour and have their cards read. According to Jack C. Harris, editor of the series, the tarot cards were such an important part of the series, “they were at the very heart of the idea from the beginning”.

The first issue of Doorway to Nightmare is also worth mentioning because of  a text that was published there about the origins of the tarot cards, which is reproduced below. Bill Kunkel, the author, traced the origins of the tarot deck to the fourteenth century and to elements present in Dante’s Divine Comedy. He then goes on to explain how the cards might have evolved and even present a way of reading the Celtic Cross. Now this text does present inaccuracies, and some even blatant, but even so, it is clear that its author tried to present the tarot in a positive light and not as a game to be played at parties for the amusement of guests. Which holds even more value, when one considers that this is a comic book, and as such meant to be read by children and teenagers. Who probably never heard of tarot and, again, probably would forget about it half an hour later after finishing the book.

 

Tarot text that appeared on the first issue of Doorway to Nightmare
Tarot text that appeared on the first issue of Doorway to Nightmare

A few years later, in 1981, a new series starring Madame Xanadu appeared, written by Steve Englehart. Once again, someone comes to Madame Xanadu in search of advice.

Madame Xanadu (1981) 01 - 07 Madame Xanadu (1981) 01 - 08 Madame Xanadu (1981) 01 - 09

It is unfortunate that the first card is wrongly attributed to the Queen of Cups, when in fact, it’s the Princess of Cups. Even so, it is an inspired reading, while it is also interesting to see how the artist, Marshal Rogers framed the sequence, using cards as actual comic book panels and easily leads us through the reading.

Meanwhile, over at Marvel, 1978 saw the release of Marvel Team-Up #76, a comic book which also relies in tarot cards as a story device and does present a Celtic Cross reading. However, it is the cover that is of interest to us, as it features the first time superheroes were depicted as Major Arcanas, with Spider-Man as The Fool, Dr. Strange and his apprentice Clea as The Magician and The High Priestess and Ms. Marvel as The Star. The villain, a sorcerer by the name of Silver Dagger, was represented as Death.

Marvel Team-Up #76
Marvel Team-Up #76

It took almost 30 years, but the first decks featuring characters from comic books were finally here. In 1995, Lo Scarabeo publishes a limited edition Majors-only deck featuring some of Marvel’s superheroes, while at DC, Rachel Pollack and artist Dave McKean put out the Vertigo Tarot, featuring such popular characters as Dream and Death, from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman; John Constantine from Hellblazer, Swamp Thing, Black Orchid, among others.

Marvel Tarot Deck, published by Lo Scarabeo
Marvel Tarot Deck, published by Lo Scarabeo

Nowadays, it’s not so difficult to consider superheroes as archetypes. We have a long history of stories featuring gods and goddesses. For a long time, we used these stories to educate ourselves; to teach us the ways of the world and how to behave in it. As our religious believes changed, so did the stories we told each other. The myths of yesterday started to loose its strength and new stories appeared to substitute them. Stories about extraordinary characters. And stories about people put in extraordinary situations. In 1938, Superman appeared for the very first time. And ever since, kids and teenagers throughout the whole world have once again embraced the idea of super-human power.

Superman can be represent all that’s best in humanity. A being with the powers of god, that only wished to live as a human. A being capable of great deads, that came to our world from another planet. An immigrant, who fought and found its place on Earth whilst never deviating from its moral set of values and believes. Who got its powers from our yellow sun. (For an interesting view on Superman and all that he represents, do check this book). If we were to assign a tarot card to Superman, it would probably be Atu XIX – The Sun.

Looking at the stories behind other popular superheroes, it’s not difficult to find cards that can correspond to them.

With Spiderman, we have a teenager bitten by a radioactive spider. Instead of using his powers for good, he choose to use them for personal gain as a professional wrestler. One day, he could have stopped a burglar, but he choose not to. The same burglar who would murder his Uncle Ben just a few hours later, and teach Spiderman his most valuable lesson:

From Amazing Fantasy #15, featuring the origin and first appearance of Spiderman. Story by Stan Lee; art by Steve Ditko.
From Amazing Fantasy #15, featuring the origin and first appearance of Spiderman. Story by Stan Lee; art by Steve Ditko.

“With great power comes great responsibility.” Even today, more than 50 years after his first appearance, writers milk this motto to put Spiderman in situations where he must choose between doing the right thing or doing what he wants. His tarot card? The Hanged Man.

With Green Lantern, we get the story of Hal Jordan, a pilot who is presented with a ring capable of transforming his wishes into reality. Imagination becomes Will and Will becomes Form. Or the Magician.

Green Lantern's Origin.
Green Lantern’s Origin. Published by DC Comics

The Hulk is just another variation of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story. A man that harbors within itself a monster that symbolizes the primitive mind. Or The Strength.

The Incredible Hulk #1. Published by Marvel Comics
The Incredible Hulk #1. Published by Marvel Comics

With Batman, we have a man who, as a kid saw his parents murdered, his innocence destroyed. That kid vowed to punish evil wherever it might be and grew so obsessed with it that he devoted every single moment henceforth and every single resource at his disposal to acquire the means to actually fulfil his promise. Or The Devil.

The Legend Of The Batman: Who He Is And How He Came To Be. Published by DC Comics.
The Legend Of The Batman: Who He Is And How He Came To Be. Published by DC Comics.

And the list goes on… Pick a superhero. Any superhero. Look at his personal history and you can easily find a tarot card that corresponds to him.

 

But comics can give us much more than just a new take on tarot archetypes. Join us tomorrow, for part two, where we look at the Hero’s Journey, the Minor Arcana, and how can comics make us see the cards in a different manner. In the meanwhile, feel free to browse the archives.

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Robert Anton Wilson and Tarot

Maybe Logic The Lives and Ideas of Robert Anton Wilson

For the first time, I will write a post in e-prime. Not that I haven’t tried to do it, mind you. I had and I still struggle to do it. However, no matter how much I would like to do it, I always end up struggling to find the right word or better yet, the right combination of words to translate precisely what I intend to say. In the end, I take the easy way out and just write in normal, plain english.

For those of you that don’t know, e-prime stands for “English Prime”, a variant of english which excludes every single form of the verb “to be”. You can find out more about it here.

I first came upon this form of English in the books of american author Robert Anton Wilson (RAW). Born on the 18th of January, he would complete today his 83rd birthday, had he not died seven years ago.

I first got exposed to his ideas quite accidentally, through a comic book called Arkham Asylum: A Serious House in a Serious Earth, by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean. Needless to say, it made an impact on my adolescent psyche:

arkhamasylum_ashose

As a side note, this comic marked also my first ever exposure to the Toth deck, through the Tower card, although at the time I didn’t knew that it actually existed and just assumed the artist made the image up. Silly me…

Fast forward a few years. I had discovered Philip K. Dick and held him in such high appreciation, that when I saw a quote of him on one of RAW’s books, I decided to give this guy a try. I started with Prometheus Rising, followed by Quantum Psychology. Two books that would significantly alter my way of thinking. Both books function pretty much as two halves of the same coin, although tarot readers who want to significantly better their reading skills should probably start with Quantum Psychology.

The books argue how we got imprinted with a set of Aristotelian values that made us see the world through the lenses of a binary code: Black or White; Right or Wrong; Left or Right; Yes or No. In Prometheus, we then get toured through each of Leary’s 8 Circuit Model of Consciousness and how we can break free of this code by reaching higher levels of consciousness, much like our perceptions of the world evolve as we go up the Cabbalistic Tree of Life. In Quantum Psychology, we have a different approach.

Again, we start with a two-value set and how it enforces our view of the world. Wilson then goes and expands this notion by introducing a third value: “Maybe”. And then a forth value, “Meaningless”. And so on. As he does this he starts to show us how can we expand our world view, our reality tunnel. So that we no longer see a world in Black and White, but start to see it in shades of Grey. As the book progresses and we become increasingly more comfortable with relativism, he goes even further, mixing ideas from fields such as Quantum Physics, Psychology, Magick or Yoga and the likes of Aleister Crowley, William Burroughs, Gurdjieff, Timothy Leary, Einstein and James Joyce.

Starting with thought-provoking ideas like “Whatever the thinker thinks, the prover proves” – an interesting concept that basically says that if we can come up with something (an idea, a concept, an opinion), then we will also come up with a way to validate said idea – he then sets out to systematically deconstruct our view of reality by simply showing us that  if we can prove everything we think of and our view of reality results from perceptions gathered by our senses and transformed into electrical signals to be transmitted to the brain, we do live in our own version of the world and all discussion of it ends up pointless because we can always think a way around the conundrums that other people throw at us.

This also means that statements like “Andrew is rich” do not have any kind of meaning at all, because other people might not see Andrew quite that way. In fact, for the sentence “Andrew is rich” to have any value, people would first have to agree on the definition of the word “rich”. And how can we define a simple four letter word such as “rich”? Do we even agree on the definition of said word? Or do each of us has its own definition of richness, which may or may not approach other people’s definition, but none the less remains unique; personal. So, instead, maybe we should say something along the lines of  “I sure find Andrew rich”, or even “In my opinion, Andrew has so much money, I see him as a a rich person”. Notice the difference in the latter sentences with the first one. In the first, we simply state “Andrew is rich”, whilst in the latter, we say something along the lines of Andrew possessing so much wealth that he meets OUR definition of richness. Our definition. Not some nameless, absolute, quantified definition. Remember, we always talk about and we can only talk about our perceptions; our way of seeing the world. By inserting a referential in the sentence, we not only acknowledge that we see only according to our own views, but we also acknowledge that anyone else might have a different opinion…

And what does any of this have to do with tarot?

Early on, we get taught that we shouldn’t see the cards as either positive or negative, but instead as existing in a type of quantum state that when accessed can become either positive or negative or even both. An idea first put forth by physicist Erwin Schrödinger in what became known as the Schödinger’s Cat paradox.

We then get a table of meanings for each card; a table with hundreds of meanings that supposedly we can assign to each card, only to get warned not to take them at face value. “You should only use them as a guideline”, we get told. “Try to find out your own meaning for the cards; your own attributions”.

The difficulties increase if we pause to think that if a certain card can have multiple meanings, then perhaps none of then actually describes the card. And instead, we all just wander around its edges, trying to pinpoint its exact meaning. By stating something along the lines of “I see the card in this perspective” or “in this reading, I assign this and that value to the card” we can inform others of the subjectivity of the reading, as well as invite them to offer their own views. Their own perspectives. Notice how when applied to a reading this changes the focus from the deterministic “this and this shall happen” to the more softer “I see this card translating this and that effect”, which can then shift the purpose of the reading from a simple Q/A session to a more self-awareness direction and a more significant type of work.

Then we have the never-ending debate of reversals. Should we or shouldn’t we use reversals? As we have already covered that in Shelley’s wonderful post, lets instead consider the following:

  1. the question arises because some but not all (somebunal, as RAW would say) methods of card shuffling invert the position of the cards.
  2. If most methods of shuffling result in 1-2 different card positions, some methods of shuffling that can produce an infinite number of positions, thereby raising the questions “If we use these types of methods when can we consider a card reversed?” and “If our way of shuffling can produce 2 card orientations, which I will follow in my reading, if I use a method of shuffling that produces “n” possible card orientation, should I also use the final orientation of a card as an indication into what type of meaning I can extract from the card?”
  3. considering the reversal as an inversion or decrease in terms of intensity of the meaning of the card can, in fact, help us assign meaning to the card, and might lead to a quicker reading, since you don’t have to consider so many alternatives.

Independently of the answer you might arrive, you end up with a personal system. Something that functions for you because it mirrors your own personal views regarding tarot reading. And your personal views only. Another person might very well reach a different conclusion. Because “what the thinker thinks, the prover proves”, both ways remain valid.

Another interesting point regards the use of language. We put way too much faith in the objectivity of language. But if we can’t even agree on the definition of simple concepts as “richness”, how can we accurately transmit an idea? Or, better yet, should we really concern ourselves with this? Enrique Enriquez, picking up on a tradition that goes all the way back to the surrealists, and even before them, has produced some wonderful work regarding “the hidden meanings of words” or, to put it in another way, to show us just how flexible our own communication system can become once we let go of the rigid parameters of “this means that and only that”. In a sense, when we say that a certain image in a card reminds us of something completely different, we end up doing the same. We associate two different images and establish a connection between them. A connection that might only have surfaced because at that particular moment we became aware of the second image. No doubt aroused by something deeply rooted into our own perceptions, in our brain chemistry and in the particular way our brain functions.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea… If you want to explore this type of approach in more detail, I strongly urge you to take some time and study his work. In the meantime, I leave you with a few exercises where you can actually test these notions.

EXERCISES:

1. Make a table where you only assign a single meaning to each card of the tarot deck. In the end, you will have 78 meanings, which you will use in every reading you make for a considerable amount of time (at least 2 weeks). How do your readings change by this restriction? Do they loose any of its accuracy?

2. Make a second table where you assign a different meaning to each card. So, for example, if you went with “Guide” for the High Priestess, consider now the word “Passive”. The more different, the better. Again, use this table for a reasonable amount of time, not less than the previous one and again, in every reading you make. Take notice of any changes in your reading ability or accuracy that might happen.

3. If you do reversals, stop using them. If you don’t use reversals, start using them. Does your reading suffer or do you notice any improvement by using them? What changed in your ability to read and translate the cards?

4. Pick a card from your deck and study it, writing down every single element you notice and an image it suggests. Then, try to reproduce the card you saw, but by replacing the symbols you just saw with the ones that popped into your head. Compare the results. Do you still have the same card?

Have fun and…

Happy birthday Mr. Wilson from all of us here at Maelstromtarot!!! 😀

New Stories For Old Cards 1 – The Stone and the King

In each tarot card lies hidden a myriad of stories. You can see each tarot card as a frozen moment of the story, normally the climax. Sure, we can assign a list of keywords to each card.. an infinite list of keywords. And even so, we wouldn’t get near of the possibilities offered by a single story. Sometimes they can give us a radically different take on a card; other times, a different nuance. Stories can also change its meaning depending on who’s narrating them. So, with each story you can also get various points of view and how each character is affected. It is then useful to know a few stories for each card. Either from published/oral material or maybe we can invent a few ones, personal ones, in order to better understand and assimilate the card in front of us.
Many times, when reading a book, I end up finding information that I can use to better understand the tarot cards. Stories that inform my view on Suits, Cards, Themes, etc. In a way, most of my reading skills came from these stories and the information contained therein. As such, I thought it would be a nice idea to share some of these stories here at Maelstromtarot.

We start with a cute story that came out in Dave McKean’s Cages, a book about art, creativity, life and cats. This story starts with a stone placed on a map, signaling the exact place where a tower shall be built and goes on focussing on some aspects of the Tower card. I’ve already discussed some of the significance of the Tower card here. As you all know, the main story for this card comes from the Bible, more specifically from the Tower of Babel. And, while we usually take the main story beats from the Tower of Babel (man’s pride, the divine punishment, etc, etc), sometimes it is useful to look around us and see what exactly is this Tower we managed to erect affecting or how it relates to our environment and to those around us.

Hope you enjoy it 🙂

Cages_p417c

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