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UPDATE: The Kitchen Tarot – a 22 card deck has been published by Hay House. Check out a commentary by the book’s author, Dennis Fairchild.

Take a look at this deck in progress – The Kitchen Tarot Deck by Susan Shie – done as “Outsider Art Quilts” from Turtle Moon Studios. The one pictured above is “The Potluck / World Card #21 in the Kitchen Tarot (aka “Healing on Common Ground”). See this and two other tarot quilts here. Other quilts in the tarot series can be viewed through her 2006 & 2007 Gallery links. (Thanks to Ferol Humphrey who turned me on to Susan’s website.)

Here I go – off again into strange byways of Tarot lore:

The late 15th century Sola Busca Tarot is most famous for having inspired several of the Minor Arcana images in the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck. It is also the oldest deck to have all 78 cards. The trumps and court cards feature historical and mythical people – with many of their names printed on the cards. Not all of the referents have been identified.

The Sola-Busca deck is now available in a glorious full-color edition along with a book explaining all the figures and symbolism. This is a limited edition so get it while you can HERE.

In 1907 a B&W photographed version of the deck was sent to the British Museum by the Sola Busca family who then owned them. I believe the originals, as well as the family, have since disappeared. Waite, who spent much time studying tarot decks and books at the British Museum, was probably informed of this deck as soon as it arrived, so it may have sparked the idea itself of creating an illustrated Minor Arcana. Lo Scarabeo published a version of the deck known as the Ancient Enlightened Tarot (currently out-of-print). You can also learn more about the figures in this deck at Tea Hilander’s website, at Taropedia (specifically here for the Q of Cups), and at Michael J. Hurst’s website.

The Queen of Cups is labeled Polisena (also spelled, Polyxena). What stands out in the image is a snake emerging from the cup she holds. I have a feeling that the card refers not to the Trojan Polyxena (next) but to a later Christian Polyxena (see her story at bottom). Here’s the info I’ve managed to find:

First, the Trojan Polisena:
“Polyxena was the youngest daughter of Hecuba and King Priam of Troy. Homer never mentions Polyxena. Achilles fell in love with Polyxena whom he may have met when Polyxena and her brother Troilus went out to the fountatin where Achilles slew Troilus. One story has Polyxena pretending to fall in love with Achilles, learning about his heel, and betraying him to her brother Paris, who then shot and killed Achilles. Before he died, Achilles asked his followers to sacrifice Polyxena to him. Neoptolemus stabbed Polyxena to death.

There were Medieval and Renaissance versions of the story that may have contained a snake. Plus there’s a snake in a version of the story on a vase from ca. 500 B.C. – 490 B.C.:

Achilles and Polyxena at the fountain: Polyxena is walking right to a lion’s-head spout above a rock that contains the fountain. A hydria is set under the spout to catch the water gushing out. It splashes onto Polyxena’s hand before entering the container. On top of the fountain a crow is sitting, while a snake is lying alongside it. Behind the fountain rises a tree with leaves spreading left above the lion’s head spout, and right above the head of crouching Achilles. Ready to ambush, he is largely hidden by his shield, with his right leg extended beyond it.” Jane Ellen Harrison claimed that the snake in this story represented the Erinys.

However, the card could be another Polyxena – one who figures in a story about Paul and the early Christian converts as recounted in the Medieval Sourcebook: Acts of Xanthippe, Polyxena, and Rebecca.

“And as Polyxena lay upon the couch she saw this dream, that a dragon, hideous in appearance, came and signified to her to come to him, and when she did not obey him to go to him, he came running and swallowed her. From fear of this the girl leapt up trembling, and Xanthippe running to her said, What has happened to you, dearest, that you have leapt up thus suddenly? She for a long time was unable to speak; then coming to herself she said, Alas, my sister Xanthippe, what danger or tribulation awaits me, I know not; for I saw in my dream that a hideous dragon came and signed to me to go to him, and, when I would not go, he came running and swallowed me, beginning at my feet. While I was terrified at this, there suddenly spoke out of the air, in the light of the sun, a beautiful youth, whom I thought to be the brother of Paul, saying, Verily, you have no power. Who also took me by the hand and straightway drew me out of him, and straightway the dragon disappeared. And behold his hand was full of sweet odour as of balsam or anything else for fragrance. Xanthippe said to her, Truly you must be greatly troubled, my sister Polyxena, but God has you dear, seeing that he has shown you strange and marvellous things. Therefore arise quickly in the morning and receive the holy baptism, and ask in the baptism to be delivered from the snares of the dragon.”

Ultimately Polyxena becomes Christian and protects her virginity from the evil idolaters who try to despoil her. She goes through many such tribulations including being thrown to wild beasts and into the sea but is always saved by God. The story ends with her returning repentant to Paul, and “From that time forward she left not at all the blessed Paul in her fear of temptations.”

The serpent/dragon could, of course, signify those temptations and tribulations from which God has saved her – including, of course, idolatry. A more complex view might suggest that the snake is that ‘strange and marvelous thing’ called Wisdom, which Polyxena certainly must have gained in all her travels and from facing her many trials.

One interesting synchronicity is that Polyxena Sforza, illegitimate daughter of Francesco Sforza of Milan (for whom the Visconti-Sforza Tarot was made), married Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta in 1442, two years after we know that he was given a deck of Triumphs as a gift. According to a story put about by a Pope who hated him, the cultured but brutal condottiero Sigismondo murdered both his former wife and second wife, Polyxena (who had as the family heraldry a serpent). Could there have been an oblique reference to her?

Dark Horse publishers has announced that it slayed the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer Tarot.” It will not be publishing this deck, despite the fact that almost all the art work was completed and much of the book written, and a huge number of people were excitedly writing about it on line! Supposedly there were contractual problems. Did the card, depicted above, predict this slaying? What do you think?

Here’s the notice I got:

“Due to circumstances beyond our control, Dark Horse will not be producing the ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ Tarot Deck. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience, but no existing orders will be filled. We appreciate your support of this program, and again apologize to those who placed advance orders and to fans alike.”

I’m back from New York and will be starting up the Tarot posts again soon. In the meantime, here’s a link to a translation by Donald Tyson of Antoine Court de Gébelin’s essay on the Tarot that started the whole occult tarot lineage and the belief in its Egyptian origin. It is followed by an essay by Le Comte de M*** (Mellet) on reading the cards that also appeared in 1781 in Vol. 8 of de Gébelin’s encyclopedic work Le Monde Primitif. These seminal works should be read by everyone who has any interest in tarot history. Try out the first published tarot spread from Le Comte de Mellet’s essay here.

See this blog article on the marginalia of U.S. President John Adams that includes comments on three volumes of de Gébelin’s encyclopedia, including this: “What a coruscation of metaphors, fables, allegories, fictions, mysteries and whatnot!”

Read a biography of Antoine Court de Gébelin from LE TAROT Associazione Culturale.

One of the simplest ways to start writing your own tarot poetry is to begin with the haiku format. There’s something about following it’s basic rules that frees up the creative sense. Since there are three lines you can either dedicate the whole poem to one card or use it for a three-card reading—one line for each card in your spread. (I write a haiku for each of the three cards and then take one line from each to form a fourth haiku that integrates those three cards.) Different decks tend to evoke entirely different “voices” in your haiku. Try it, and you’ll see what I mean.

Want some inspiration? You’ll find lots of examples, support and no criticism at Aeclectic’s Tarotforum haiku thread here.

The following are a few haiku rules, which you can feel free to break or use as you will.

A haiku describes natural phenomena in the fewest number of words, making an indelible impression on the reader. It calls attention to an observation and in effect says, “Look at this” or “Think about this.”

It consists of 17 syllables, or less, in three lines:
5 syllables
7 syllables
5 syllables

Guidelines (follow only if you wish):
• Use the present tense.
• No titles or rhymes (except to name your card, if you wish)
• Include two images that create harmony or contrast so each enriches the understanding of the other.

• Either the first or second line ends with a colon, long dash or ellipsis (marked or not).
• The two parts create a spark of energy, like the gap in a spark plug.
• Limit the use of pronouns.
• Traditionally, each haiku contains a seasonal reference.
• Use common, natural, sensory words. Avoid gerunds and adverbs.
• Images often begin wide-angle, then medium range and zoom in for a close up.
• Present what causes the emotion rather than the emotion itself.

Do you have a tarot haiku? If so, please share it via the comments.

Here’s one based on a very literal description of the 6 of Pentacles:

Hands catch falling coins.

Under the balance, someone

reaches — emptiness.

Knitted Tarot Case Instructions

Finally, here’s the complete instructions (as a pdf file) for my knitted tarot bag (I prefer “case” since there are four sides and a flat bottom) as pictured in my earlier posts and above. Send me pictures if you knit your own. Happy knitting.

Here’s another forgotten tarot classic.

This “Yes-No Oracle” is by Irys Vorel in an article entitled “How the Gypsies Use the Tarot” from the February 1955 issue of Fate Magazine.

A version of this spread, expanded greatly by me, is now available at the commercial site Tarot.com. Check it out.

1. Write your problem or question on a piece of paper in such a fashion that “yes” or “no” could be the answer. Don’t ask ambiguous questions like “Should I marry Rick or Jason?” Situations such as this should be split into two questions.

2. Remove the Wheel of Fortune from the 78 card deck and place it before you face up.

3. Shuffle the rest of the deck, with your mind on the problem. Spread the cards in a fan, face down. With your left hand, draw seven cards at random. Put them face down on top of the Wheel. Set the remaining deck aside.

4. Turn the Wheel of Fortune face down like the other seven cards. Shuffle these eight cards until you no longer know where the Wheel is.

5. Deal the eight cards in a square consisting of four positions (see next), so that there are two cards in each position:

• Top Left: The 1st position (cards 1 & 5) signifies – YES.
• Top Right: The 2nd position (cards 2 & 6) signifies – SOON.
• Bottom Left: The 3rd position (cards 3 & 7) signifies – DELAY.
• Bottom Right: The 4th position (cards 4 & 8 ) signifies – NO.

6. Turn the cards over looking for the Wheel of Fortune. Its position gives you the answer.

• If the Wheel card has fallen in the first position, it indicates “Yes,” and the speedy and favorable solution of one’s problem.
• If in the second, “Soon,” position, it means: “You should not unduly press your interests.”
• If it lies in the “Delay” position, the indications are that some obstacles will have to be overcome.
• If it lies in the “No” position, it indicates adjustments have to be made and circumstances at the moment block the harmonious solution of the problem. Therefore, the wish cannot be fulfilled immediately. After changes have occurred this same wish could be answered in the affirmative.

7. If your answer is either “Delay” or “No,” then look at all the cards in the layout (the reversal of a card has no significance):

• Many Pentacles indicate a financial hitch.
• Swords show opposition.
• Wands suggest journeys and changes.
• Many Cups indicate fortunate circumstances and ultimately a happy ending, especially if the Grail [Ace of Cups] is among them.
• Many Major Arcana indicate that the situation is out of your hands: destiny is at work.
• Many Court Cards indicate that the wishes of other people determine the outcome.

This is not my favorite kind of spread as it seems too deterministic, but it’s worth checking out to see if it works for you. Let me know what you think.

Sample reading: Should I post this spread on my blog?

We can see that the answer is “No” (the Wheel of Fortune is in the bottom-right pair), but I decided to post it anyway. How else can we determine if the advice is good or not? There are three Major Arcana (in addition to the Wheel) indicating that the situation is in the hands of destiny, and two Cups cards, which slightly leans toward a favorable outcome over the long run. I’ll let you know if anything untoward occurs. The deck used is Le Grand Tarot Universel by Bruno de Nys.

“For in truth, this story begins not with bones in a Parisian graveyard but with a deck of cards.

“The Devil’s Picture Book.”

—from Sepulchre, p. 5.

Kate Moss, author of Labyrinth, has written a new novel called Sepulchre about the lives of two women who are linked through a tarot deck. Here Kate Moss discusses her use of tarot in the novel. You’ll find other video discussions of the work at youtube. You can see the eight tarot cards created for the deck here and an explanation of how the characters relate to the cards here.

Added: I finally finished Sepulchre and don’t even feel like writing a review of it. The core idea of an original deck linking two women across time was interesting and the evocation of 19th century France was okay, but ultimately none of the characters was particularly likeable and the ending was meaningless. Moss really needed someone to ask her, while she was still writing, what the point of the story was, as ultimately it led nowhere.

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Mary K. Greer has made tarot her life work. Check here for reports of goings-on in the world of tarot and cartomancy, articles on the history and practice of tarot, and materials on other cartomancy decks. Sorry, I no longer write reviews. Contact me HERE.

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