A Cock & Bull Tarot: The Minchiate Etruria

I love Italy a lot. At least I love a lot of Italian things: the food (divine), the art (frighteningly brilliant), antiquities (just such a lot of it), opera (because FEELINGS), the men (well they ARE very well-groomed & know how to drive a Vespa), faux-antique tea trays (yes, they’re a Thing & JUST LEAVE ME ALONE), and above all, Italian cards. Come to think of it, I hardly use any other decks anymore: the Soprafino tarot, the Vera Sibilla oracle (about which I will tell you more in the future), and pretty much my first big tarot love: the Minchiate Etruria (say Ming-kee-AH-tay. Which looks surprisingly like Chinese but it isn’t. Honest!). Although it never really went away from my practice I’m getting reacquainted with it at present, and so I reckoned you might feel like joining me for a light Italian summer snack.

I found my beloved Etruria about nine years ago in a cheap bookstore amid a batch of Lo Scarabeo leftovers, a print from 1996. The original deck itself saw the light in 1725 in Florence, Italy. It was my first non-RWS deck, and it was quite a departure. But I loved everything about it: the baroque art, the bewildering amount of strange majors (or trionfi), the sporadically illustrated pips. Even the LWB that gave meanings so unlike the high-flown esoteric reading style I was used to. Although at first I struggled to make sense of it, when I found The Minchiate Tarot by the late Brian Williams I fell in love even more. This brilliant book (which I will use as the main source for the discussion below) not only explores in great detail the iconographic context & history of these cards, but it also emphasizes its earthy, self-assured, even cocky nature. The book also comes with a modern Minchiate deck illustrated by the author. Recommended!
 
The name Minchiate seems to have been derived from a (lost) gaming term, as originally it was played as a game, a variant of tarocchi . But it also sounds the same as an obscene expletive, or disparaging term for trifles or nonsense. In Dutch we would probably say gelul, talking out of your dick. In English ‘cock & bull’ would be the nearest expression. Not inappropriate for a worldly, chatty, confident & proudly Florentine deck! So let’s take a closer look.
 
The Minchiate Fiorentina is but one of many tarot variants strewn along the path of what we now know as the traditional tarot deck, of which Marseille-type decks are probably the best-known (I will go with the term traditional deck or tarot for clarity’s sake when comparing the Minchiate). The Minchiate deck did not evolve slowly over time like other regional patterns, but it was invented all at once somewhere early in the 16th century. It continued to flourish throughout the 17th & 18th centuries (hence the Etruria edition), and remained a living game until the 1900s. As there is a lot of excellent information about the Minchiate to be found for the enthusiastic student such as this excellent article by Benebell Wen whom we should all adore), I will limit myself here to the trumps & their most glaring divergences from the mainstream tradition.
 
Firstly, the sheer number of trionfi: there are 41 instead of the usual 22. Because of this it is more or less traditional to read trumps & pips separately. I myself hardly bother with the pips when reading this deck. So what are the extras? Well, in addition to the three ecclesiastical Virtues present in the traditional decks (Temperance, Strength, Justice), we also have the four cardinal Virtues as first described by Aristotle: Hope, Prudence, Faith, Charity. This alone firmly makes the Minchiate a product of the Renaissance with its renewed interest in the Classics. Another series of added cards are the twelve signs of the Zodiac, although no one knows how to explain the random order in which they appear. Furthermore we have the Four Elements. 
 
Cards that iconographically diverge from the Marseille-type, but not from Italian pre-Marseille cards, are Wheel of Fortune, Chariot, Time, Hanged Man, Death, Devil, Tower. Time replaces the Hermit, and depicts an elderly male figure on crutches, surrounded by Saturnine symbolism such as the hourglass & kneeling stag. The Tower is traditionally called the House of the Devil (or God, whichever you prefer), and depicts a nude woman running out of a burning building.
 
Curiously the first five trumps (after the Fool) are called I Papi (the Popes), even though there is no Pope to be found! Instead we have two Emperors: the Western & Eastern Emperor. The Popess seems to have been replaced by the Grand Duke, of which both the name & nature are uncertain. It seems that he started out as a Popess or Empress-like figure, but morphed into an androgynous-looking young male. I therefore read him as an ambiguous, mutable figure, capable of change & growth, but also deception. 
 
There is no Empress either, but before anyone complains about the gender balance in this deck: the Chariot depicts a nude Victory instead of the usual Martian male, the angel in Fame (Judgement, about which more in a minute) is distinctly female, and the four cardinal Virtues are of course all ladies as well. Moreover, the pip suits of Coins & Cups have Fantine (maidens) instead of Pages. So there.
 
A number of trumps have quite distinct iconographies as compared to traditional decks. However, I’m picking my two favourites here: the World & Fame, which replaces Judgement. The World does not depict a simpering world soul enshrined in a floating bower, but a fully nude Amor triumphantly standing on the Globe, bearing his arrow & a crown. This harks back to the Love card, in which a kneeling lover receives a crown from either the object of his adoration or the Goddess of Love herself (and who is to say those two are different beings?), while being shot at by Amor. Love makes the World go round is what these cards are saying, and what a glorious, perilous affair it is. 
 
However, to the Florentine mind this is not even the highest ideal yet: the final trump is Fama, Fame, also called the Angel or the Trumpets. In the Etruria deck this angel is a woman blowing on two trumpets, floating above a recognizable Florence, and sporting the De’Medici family crest. So still better than Love is Fame, when the whole city (which is the whole world you need anyway, at least when you live in Florence) talks about you. Even if it’s only cock & bull. No such thing as bad publicity, right?
 
My love for the worldly message of this deck has NO BOUNDS, people: no Pope or Popess, Amor ruling the world, and what your neighbours say about you completely negates the Judgement at the End of Days. 
And that’s before even trying to read them! 
 
So let’s look at an example. This is a reading I recently did for a client. As you can see I added charms to this reading, which are very well received by the baroque images of the Etruria. This is the ‘traditional’ spread from the LWB: three trumps for the main story, more or less past-present-future, but to be read loosely as a story. Four pips around it, past, present, future developments or challenges, and outcome.
 
The client felt at a loss about where her life should be going: to leave her situation including her relationship, or not? To me, World at the centre with Amor on top of a crossroads of sorts, reflects this conundrum. The figure is holding the Cross & the Heart charms, meaning a choice between shouldering the burden & following your heart. Amor being at the heart of this reading is significant in itself of course. The Mask covering his face indicates that the querent does not feel the love anymore, and she feels fake & insincere. 
 
Taurus to the left, looking wistfully at the Chariot that I pulled as a sight card, shows that the querent has found stability that they now find stifling (Elephant, Cloud), and would rather move along (Star charm). Also, the Chariot explains why the querent is reluctant to move from a secure spot, after some abrupt movement earlier on. However, from the cards to the right it is clear that she will eventually make the dreaded move: House of the Devil shows a woman running from a dire situation, with the Man charm covering the figure pulling her back in.
 
The woman figure got the Oyster & Pearl charm, showing that deep down she already knows that she needs to leave. The Water card shows the Ship, meaning a new adventure, and also a literal journey. So she will definitely move away. The Ship also got the Compass, meaning a new direction. With the Roman numeral X at the heart of the Chariot, the World crossroads, and the Compass, this means three Crossroads in a row. Obviously there is a lot of emphasis on choosing a new path.
 
Looking at the pips, we see the painful situation that the querent has left behind, before she found her present stability that has now turned stagnant: Three of Swords, with Dragon covering the wolf that suckles the children. This situation was toxic, not nurturing, and she did well to leave it behind (Skull, Dagger). In the present we find the Seven of Cups, with four accompanying charms. The Cups show an illusory relationship, and the Lion staring at the Moon & Ring but ignoring the Apple that would actually nurture him tells us that the querent is using her Strength to keep herself in an unhealthy situation. 
 
We already saw that she will likely move away, and if she does so she will receive a gift, as illustrated by the Three of Coins. She will be dealt a lucky Hand, and find a nurturing & prosperous situation (Peacock/Empress). Moreover, with the Seer’s Eye & the Hand of Cards, the Three indicates that she will be able to expand her card reading business some more. 
 
The outcome looks very good indeed: the Eight of Coins shows her happy & secure amid a warm community. With Butterfly & Raven it is clear that her ancestral spirits are fully on board with this transformation. Locket & Witch Plant show gifts & growth yet to be revealed, and confirm that loss & stagnation are diminishing factors, even though the querent will need to continue her internal work.
 
So that is a clear, concise reading that you can make as detailed as you want, with just this simple spread! However, I mainly use the trumps in freestyle storytelling readings, or sometimes in a Grand Tableau, using all the charms as well. Endless possibilities! If you take the trouble to get to know these intriguing cards, you will be well rewarded.
Buon’appetito!
 
Want your own Minchiate reading? You can choose between several in my shop!
 
 
 
 

Schooled by the Cards: On Unnecessary Clarification

Well, I’m probably just asking for it. When you get out the Noblet Marseille to ask about l’amour, somebody is going to get a spanking. Humiliating as this is, I thought I’d share this example with you because it illustrates beautifully the use of sight cards for clarification. Among other things.

What are sight cards? When you read a line or string of cards, or even a spread of single cards, one important aspect to observe is the interactions between the cards. Who is looking at whom, who is moving towards or away from what, etc. When you have outward facing cards not looking at anyone in particular, you can draw a sight card to see what your marginal figure is ogling. This can be very illuminating, and the fascinating thing is that it often happens (at least to me) that the original ensemble would not have been complete without them & takes on new depth & meaning. Not in this case however, as I shall now relate.

The situation is as follows. I’m in a very Delicate Phase with a Certain Someone. The cards have already told me several times to let the Someone take the lead. However, this is not my style of doing things at all. For all my nice manners I’m a bossy Aries type who likes to barge in & start giving orders. So I have this idea that I can get the Someone to get crackin’ by giving him a present. (Let’s not go into what it actually is. Best to avoid emotional scarring & the expensive lawsuits that might ensue for the nice people at Maelstrom Tarot.) In my view this is a pretty delicate way of enforcing enticing him to do the right thing. What I think is right, anyway.

Best check with the cards first though, no? Allright: Dear cards, is it a good idea to give the Certain Someone my present?

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Pffff… Men. Such ninnies.

Temperance – The Lovers – The Devil. Dear oh dear. Prevarication, hesitation, being in a bind. No bueno. Yes but but, what if I’m being too negative? There’s no such thing as a bad card, right? (By the same logic there’s no good cards either, but let’s roll with it). So what’s that dilly-dallying Temperance looking at while trying not to spill a drop? The Tower. Ah. So there is sense in moderation: any meddling will see the whole thing tumbling down. No wonder Lovers & Devil look eerily similar. Fear rules him more than Love.

But, but, what if we see this as a symmetrical reading, with the Lovers representing a choice between moderation & brutal PASSION? Moderation inspired by fear, Passion fueled by? The Devil is looking straight at us, but whatevs. Clarification card: the Chariot. Another duo in a bind, for one thing. And try as I might, Devil & Chariot doesn’t feel positive at all to me. The poor Someone will feel put upon, rushed & overwhelmed if I ram my gift down his throat. What a ninny.

Luckily there’s still a way out: the To Do or Advice card! Which produces the Emperor. HA I KNEW IT I AM TO TAKE ACTION AFTER ALL. Ooh goody there’s even room for a sight card to prove how right I am: Justice! See? I need to take action (Emperor) & make the decisions here (Justice). But no, even to me in my fevered state that makes no sense, quite apart from the main cards I’m already forgetting to take into account. The Emperor is obviously the Someone, I even have gotten this card for him before. And he looks at Justice because he needs to be the one to decide, for whatever reasons he has.

This Aries has trouble swallowing this. But after chewing on this most unsatisfactory answer, I draw the outcome card. Usually I don’t bother with a Do Not card as that is mostly just the opposite of the To Do, and we can figure that out for ourselves. What will happen if I go with the proposed course of action (or non-action in this case)? The Star: you will get your wish. You will be the one receiving the gift. But, looking at how the Star’s patient pouring of her vessels reflects Temperance’s perpetual flow, it may be a while. Patience is needed, or it will all be water down the drain.

But, but! The Star is looking into the distance! What does she see? Quick, draw a sight card! RESCUE BECKONS!

Nah. I have learned my lesson. The Star shines her light clear enough. She is the sight card.

So that is how I got schooled by the cards. Morale: know when to stop asking for clarification or you will get a spanking.

Also, dating is FAR MORE EXASPERATING than I remembered.

Do you use sight cards for clarification? Or what other tricks do you have? Dating tips? Share in the comments!

Need a spanking reading too? Visit my shop!

Do Expectations Create Reality?

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One of my close friends is convinced that nothing good ever happens to her. She didn’t always used to say this. But over the past year, she’s been saying it more and more, and for me it’s become a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation. One thing would happen (getting injured, not getting a job, or any other number of unfortunate things that happen to all of us in the normal course of life), and immediately after, she’d say, “See? Nothing good ever happens to me.”

From the time she started making this affirmation more openly, it seems as if the “misfortunes” have increased. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that she’s convinced this is her fate, so she falls back on it whenever something doesn’t go her way. Or perhaps it seems like unfortunate things are happening more often, because she points them out more often now than she used to.

But there’s one more “perhaps”: is it possible that once you expect only bad things to happen to you, not only do they happen, but they even increase?

I come from the “everything happens for a reason” school of thought. I know that cynical people find this idea absurd, but believing it has been a real source of strength for me throughout my life. I subscribe to the idea that our souls incarnate with particular challenges built into the life plan in order to facilitate and achieve specific areas of soul growth. I suppose that’s not for everyone, but so far it’s worked for me.

Finding meaning in my life experiences, both good and bad, has helped me weather difficult periods. And when I say difficult periods, I mean even periods where I, too, could have reasonably said “nothing good ever happens to me.”

But I never believed that. I always believed, as I still do, that things happen for a reason, even shitty things, and that there’s a purpose to life events, both those within my control and those outside of my control. It’s just that I never expect shitty things to happen as a matter of course. And when they do, I don’t automatically assume it’s because good things never happen to me—even if it’s been a bad run for a while.

Do you think there really are some people who never have good things happen to them? Or is it a matter of approach, expectations, and individual evaluation of life experiences?

Let’s ask the cards a few things:

  1. How do our expectations influence our experiences?
  2. What happens when a person is convinced nothing good ever happens to them?
  3. How can we increase the number of positive experiences in our lives?
  4. What advice or guidance should we follow when evaluating our life experiences?

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The Empress – abundance, seasons of change, natural bounty

The Empress shows how our expectations influence our experiences. She is the “Earth Mother” of the Tarot, the one who creates life, and celebrates abundance. Both an expectation of abundance, and a recognition of the abundance that already exists, serve to cultivate more abundance. As she is associated with growth and harvest, The Empress also reminds us of the cyclical, seasonal nature of life. There’s a time for planting and a time for gathering. If we expect to harvest abundance, and we also expect that the world provides for us as part of its inherent nature and the natural order of the Universe (as it does in nature, even without our direct intervention), this card shows that our experiences are likely to reflect that expectation.

Knight of Swords – conquest, fighting against, charging hard in offensive stance

The Knight of Swords tells us what happens when a person is convinced nothing good ever happens to them. They live life in this posture of charging hard into battle. Life is like this – always having to fight, fight, fight, and never getting to rest. There’s a sense of injustice to this card. The Knight of Swords is a fighter for justice, and as such, a person who thinks nothing good ever happens to them is going after life as if everything that lies in their path is somehow unjust and thus must be fought against. This is someone who sees life as an adversarial conquest. This card and its approach directly contrast with the receptive posture of The Empress, who inherently trusts that all things come in their own time, directed by nature and the underlying structure of the natural world.

Page of Wands – enthusiasm, fresh start, curiosity, creative spirit, eager to explore

The Page of Wands shows us how we can increase the number of positive experiences in our lives. The pages are like teenagers in the tarot. Although teenagers lack life experience and the hard-earned wisdom that comes from it, they do have a distinct advantage: they haven’t yet become cynical. The Page of Wands is convinced that his creative energy, enthusiasm, and curiosity will carry his new project forward. He focuses on new growth; notice how he eyes the budding leaves on the wand. If we focus on what’s growing and what’s working for us, this card shows us that we can increase positive experiences in our lives. This is another message of trusting that things ultimately do work out, and also a message of making a conscious effort about where we place our focus.

The red feather in this page’s cap caught my attention. When reading cards, if a particular element strikes you, take notice. In all my years of reading, I don’t remember this element ever jumping out at me before as a message.

I went searching for red feather symbolism, and ran across this blog post written by another Shelley, who also puts stake in synchronicity like I do. No coincidence there. In her post about a red feather, she says:

I found that feathers represent angels, and in particular, Archangel Uriel. He is the archangel of wisdom and is in charge of the red angel light ray. People sometimes ask for Uriel’s help to seek God’s wisdom before making decisions, or help with creative ideas, to learn new things, solve problems, let go of negative emotions and recognize bad or dangerous situations.

This passage seemed like it directly answered the question. We can increase the number of positive experiences in our lives by actively seeking creativity, learning new things, solving problems, letting go of negative emotions, and recognizing bad or dangerous situations. In fact, it appears that Archangel Uriel is the one to call upon for increasing positive life experiences.

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Temperance – balance, head and heart, new dawn, 1+1=3, harmony

When evaluating our life experiences, we must be balanced in our evaluation. It may be our nature to only focus on the negative, but in fact, there is a balance of negative and positive in everyone’s life. No one has all bad or all good.

Temperance teaches us about a paradox I like to refer to “one plus one equals three.” As we see in the mixing of the two liquids in the cups, when you combine two different things, even two opposite things, what emerges is neither all one nor all the other, but something entirely new and unique. We must evaluate our life experiences by recognizing that in the end, we are in constant flux and nothing ever stays the same. One experience blends with another experience to create a completely new reality. We have to keep one foot on the ground (rational, logical, intellectual) and another foot in the water (dreamer, intuitive, emotional). Like the triangle on the angel’s chest, three points are in harmony.

Your thoughts?

Eros, and Why Love Happens When You’re Not Looking

red heart paper with magnifying glass

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: most readings break down into two distinct categories overall. Can you guess them? Love and work. That’s it. It’s what we’re about.

Have you ever heard the saying that love happens when you aren’t looking? Frankly folks, I find it one of the most frustrating pithy pieces of so-called wisdom I know of, and yet I can’t despise it because I actually think it’s true. Every working, functioning couple I know of came into being in the precise moment when they weren’t looking for love.

And yet, can I just tell you how many of my dear, wonderful clients come to me specifically because they ARE looking for love? I mean, is this not the most dastardly Catch-22 conceivable? We’re human beings and we desire human connection, affection, and romantic love to share with someone special. People even tell us things like “get out there and meet someone” as if we could order up a significant other on demand. And yet, then we’re told that, after all, not to worry if we don’t meet anyone because it always happens when you’re not looking.

It begs the question, does it not: how can I look without looking?

I know you feel me here. I’ve asked it myself countless times. It’s like meditating and telling yourself “don’t think”. The more you do it, the more it happens. Human nature – a fairly predictable bitch.

Anyhoo, I figured, why not turn this beast of a conundrum over to our trusty Rider Waite Smith deck? Let’s let Eros speak to us directly on this one. Heaven knows that I myself don’t have any answers.

So here’s what I asked:

1) Why does love happen when you’re not “looking”?
2) Advice for those who are looking!
3) Message from spirit – Eros

And here’s what I got:

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1) The World
Number one is pretty straightforward, and I suppose I could have even told you this myself had I thought of it before. The World is all about being content with what you have, being sort of “self-actualized” and satisfied exactly right where you are. With The World, you don’t need or desire anything else, because you finally realize that all is all. Yeah, pretty enlightened stuff.

But truth be told, when I ask the couples whom I know about what was going on around them in their lives when they met (besides everyone telling me they weren’t looking), the key component almost always seems to be some variation on “I was happy with myself” or “I had finally accepted myself” or “I didn’t mind being single anymore” or “I decided not to settle anymore.”

Thus: The World.

It happens when you aren’t looking because you are no longer in need of anything.

Once you truly realize in your soul that you are all there is and you are all you need, love somehow strolls on in to put the icing on the cake. Don’t ask me to explain how or why. It seems to be so.

2) 9 of Wands
Advice for those who are looking is the 9 of Wands. Oh, no rest for the weary, eh. The poor guy on the 9 of Wands. He’s been through one hell of a battle, a series of battles, really. Refer back to: answer 1 above (ie, looking). I see this card a couple different ways. The first is: keep your damn guard up, because as long as you continue down the same road that you’ve always been down, you’ll most likely run into the same damn minefields and traps you’ve already stepped in. The second is: leave the battle.

Hence: see answer 1 above. [For effing eff’s sake.]

3) 8 of Cups
And what does Eros have to say about all this? Well, in the 8 of Cups (which in my experience comes up a lot around relationships when it’s time to actively move on because we’ve finally realized that it’s never going to be what we want or wish or need it to be), my feeling here is he is telling us: give it up! In fact, what happens when we stop looking is most likely that we walk away from that pretty little tower of 8 stacked cups because we realize that cup number 9 is beyond our grasp. That’s Eros. It’s not all in our hands. Ah, now there’s a concept for you.

And so, what can I tell you? Not much of what you haven’t heard before. I won’t say that looking is hopeless – I don’t think it is, necessarily. However, I also think that the process of allowing (which I wrote about on my own blog recently in the post We Have Forgotten How to Allow) has a lot of merit to it and brings with it some pretty surprising and great things.

I asked my fellow stirrers to weigh in. I wrote my interps before receiving theirs. I love to do stuff like this and discover how other readers see the same cards. Here goes:

Isabel:

1) The World
Oh but you *are* looking. Looking good! Do you know how hot it is when you need no one else to be happy? To make people WERK for an invitation into your life? Strut!

2) 9 of Wands
Just pick one already. If it’s not the right piece of tail there’s plenty more trees in the forest. Conversely, if someone picks you out of everyone, trust they have good reason to!

3) 8 of Cups
Leave behind what you already know. The hollow promises, the tears you shed. Make off with that one stick you picked and don’t look back. If it turns out to be a dead end, at least you’ll have something to light your fire with.

Miguel:

1) The World
You’re not looking, but the other part is. You become more centered in yourself. It feels like you’re alone, but you’re really not. You are shining under the World’s spotlight. And this makes everyone around you notice you. It makes them pay attention to you.

2) 9 of Wands
Don’t look. Let it all go. Try to act as if nothing was happening at all. No matter what it takes. I find it interesting that the guy is holding his own wand, even though there are 8 behind him. It’s almost as if the card is telling us to trust ourselves and our capacities. And not to be too dependent on finding love.

3) 8 of Cups
Again, walk away from love. Love is fleeting and happens by the light of the moon. It’s something conjured by illusions and light tricks. As such it’s best to remain grounded and wait for the sun to shine on what’s in front of you.

Paulinnhhoo:

1) The World
That’s when everything you need to find love comes together. All the elements are there and you are just dancing to your own tune.

2) 9 of Wands
Stop trying to find your prince charming. He’s locked away and isn’t coming anytime soon.

3) 8 of Cups
Love is not a trophy you get to conquer and put it on display. It’s something that should be held and maintained. When you do find love, keep it with you. In the meanwhile, stay away from trophy-hunting.

Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments!

Idea Delivery Through Tarot and Comics -3

This is part 3 of a three part post about my presentation at this year’s Tarot Con – U.K.. If you’ve missed part 1 and 2, you can find it here and here.

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:

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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:

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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:

Kabuki - The Alchemy, by David Mack
Kabuki – The Alchemy, by David Mack

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,

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A few speech balloons are really all that separate us from transforming the above set of cards into a comic strip.

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Strip by Luis Aguillar for Tarotvignettes. You can reach him out at the above address.

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.

Sequence from David Mack's Kabuki - The Alchemy
Sequence from David Mack’s Kabuki – The Alchemy

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,

Panel from Making Comics, by Scott McCloud
Panel from Making Comics, by Scott McCloud

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,

Page from Hawkeye #2. Art by David Aja; Written by Matt Fraction, with art by David Aja. Published by Marvel Comics
Page from Hawkeye #2. Written by Matt Fraction, with art by David Aja. Published by Marvel Comics

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:

Slide6

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

K4 p19

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,

  1. TAKE A CARD FROM THE DECK – this is your outline
  2. 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 🙂