I began the week by sitting down on Monday to shuffle the cards and see the week ahead. After doing that and looking down at what came up, I decided that I didn’t want to divine for the week ahead, week by week, instead I want to try it month to month. Hence, I didn’t forget about this week’s divination, I simply decided to space it out more and try it monthly. This means that the next one will be for the month of March, on the last week of February.
With this said, after listening to Runesoup’s latest interview with Robert M Place today, found here, I started thinking about tarot, its history, meaning, and tradition. Something that has been on my mind some months now. When I first started reading tarot, I began through the usual lines, with the Smith-Waite and the Thoth system, without realizing their differences. My first deck was the Hermetic Tarot, I got the Smith-Waite pocket version about a year later. As I began learning, I soon realized that I was swimming in deep waters, Golden Dawn symbolic territory, along with Kabbalah, astrology and the decans, etc. After a certain point, I got lost in the maze of significations, and layered meanings. I began to loose my love of tarot because I found that all these meaning were useless in the arena of divination, the art of answering the question.
Then one day, I discovered Camelia Elias and her site Taroflexions, her take on tarot, divination and the Tarot de Marseille deck made me a believer in divination once more. I purchased her book on the Marseille Tarot, and took her classes. Her approach of context and function opened the doors wide open, without any of the added baggage. The Tarot de Marseille became my favorite tarot tradition. My readings flowed, and were clear and insightful. After a couple years of only reading the Tarot de Marseille, I picked up the Centennial Smith-Waite. I had begun taking Quareia courses and in one of the lessons, the deck suggested for use was the classic Smith-Waite deck. I purchased a used Centennial edition for $5 and began playing around with it. It was like falling in love all over again. I had previously strongly disliked the deck, when I began diving into tarot, but this time it was like drinking from the well of an old, wise lady, proper and serious. From this moment onward, I fell in love with reading illustrated decks, in-line with the Smith-Waite and the Thoth. I still applied the same approach I learned through Camelia Elias, function and context over symbolic meanings, and the cards spoke to me like they never did before.
Now I have collected a decent (by decent I mean less than 15) collection of illustrated and Tarot de Marseille decks. I ruined my beautiful Thoth deck by attempting to trim the borders, so I currently don’t own the Crowley-Harris Thoth deck.
I notice that after stripping the tarot of its symbolic meanings, outside of traditions, I have come full circle. My approach to tarot reading and divination in general is rooted in function and context but what grows out of that, for me, is an appreciation of the tarot as a pack of symbols, as well as a practical pack useful for divination.
In my approach to tarot, it’s symbolic, magical weight is important when the context is exactly that. In other words, if I am reading on questions about spirituality, spirits, and magic, I incorporate the symbolic that speaks of these themes within the tarot. First, that which comes out of seeing, and awareness. When I have simple practical questions, the function of the cards as they interact dominates. Of course, there is no clear division or line here, as with all reading, it entails seeing and awareness coupled with the context of the question.
Now, I can appreciate a coherent system within a deck, as for example The Tabula Mundi Tarot by M.M. Meleen. It is a Thoth tarot recreation, painting a cohesive story within the deck. The cards speak within a system of inner-connected-ness, the Majors with the Minors, and vice versa.
Thinking about tarot’s colorful history, what even is tarot?
It is both a game and an act of power. It is both practical and magic. It is both symbol and function. Useful for the spiritual as well as for the mundane. That the Tarot’s history is colorful and winding, gives credence to the Tarot, as animated thing, moving through history and accumulating significations and meanings, power and agency. The Tarot itself building up its repertoire and self-hood through time and hands. A pack of paper that became something more than the sum of its parts.
I highly recommend Robert Place’s interview on Runesoup. It is a fun journey into the art and the artist.