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Almost everyone has noted that the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot images, especially for the Minor Arcana, look like scenes in a stage play. This is not unexpected since Pamela Colman Smith spent much of her early life involved in the theatre, from miniature stage productions to set and costume design to her own costumed story-telling performances. She even wrote two articles on set design and decoration.

I here present selections from her article, “Appropriate Stage Decoration,” that appeared in The New Age magazine (7:5, June 2, 1910. pp 7-9) shortly after the deck was published. I think you’ll find that it will heighten your appreciation of her Tarot cards. I’ve interspersed commentary that shows possible relevancy to her creation of the deck. Pamela begins:

ABOUT us is the glowing beauty of the world, with its leaves and flowers, rags, gold and purple. Kings on thrones of iron, beggars on beds of clay, laughing, weeping, dreaming.

Notice how Smith poetically evokes the scene before our eyes, weaving together shape and color with emotion. My own research fifteen years ago of nearly a hundred people demonstrates high agreement in the assignation of similarly-related emotions to individual cards in the RWS deck.

 

Land_of_Hearts_Desire-1898

Land of Heart’s Desire

This pageant of life moves before us, intensified, in the theatre.

Theatre, Pamela tells us, is an exaggeration of life, a march of characters before our eyes. In a tarot reading we have a progression of scenes whose figures are comparable to ourselves and to other people with whom we are involved. It is this intensification of a personal issue in people’s lives that allows them to recognize a repeating theme and, if desired, begin to change it.

People go, most of them, to the play to be amused, and in spite of themselves, are often tricked into a mode of thinking quite contrary to their usual habit of thought. That is why the theatre is the place where all beauty of thought, of sound, of colour, and of high teaching, comes to be of use.

In the U.S. for instance, Tarot, for legal purposes, is billed as entertainment—an amusement that ‘tricks’ querents out of the usual ruts in their thinking, turning the experience into a place of ‘high teaching.’

All arts are branches of one tree.

We can picture this as tree of life and wisdom. It is a reminder of, “As above, so below.”

There in the theatre, unconsciously, the onlooker is moved, or interested, and finds himself agreeing or disagreeing with the playwright and every time he enters a theatre he comes out with a little more knowledge than when he went in. Agreeing or disagreeing, it brings uppermost in his mind some thought which crystallises and becomes a new intelligence.

In many circumstances the information provided by readers is not unknown to their querents, but its significance is usually heightened or it is seen as part of a larger pattern. And it is not so important that querents agree completely with what a reader says. Rather the important thing is that they leave with greater insight than when they came in. This is what we hope for: a new and beneficial realization or insight, or as Pamela expresses it, “some thought crystallized.”

Theatre-going is a habit, where one cultivates a new kind of observation, a new pair of eyes and ears.

In order to enter into this new kind of observation one must have, in Coleridge’s phrase, “a willing suspension of disbelief.” We accept for a moment that mere cards are mirrors of the soul, reflections of our personal issues with answers to our questions. Furthermore, when we make reading our own cards a personal habit we can observe our own patterns of thought and so recognize where we are prone to delude ourselves.

Pamela disparages the then-modern vulgar theatrical display of too realistic scenery—real trees, flowers and animals—that she called “a self-conscious sham without purpose or meaning.”

Those in power have not remembered that illusion is the aim of the theatre. It is a great game of pretence that recalls the time when, as children, we baked stones in the sun for cakes, and feared the dragon that lurked behind the garden wall, or by the pond. A remnant of that imaginative life we re-live in beholding a play set forth before our eyes.

It is through a playful sense of analogy among the figures on the cards and our everyday situations that we are able to face our own dragons.

Art Box S656 no. 4

Caliban from The Tempest

If the illusion is good, we follow it more easily, and illusion to be good need not be realistic. Realism is not Art. It is the essence that is necessary to give a semblance of the real thing.

Absolute correctness in dress or scene does not necessarily give the illusion. Everything must be exaggerated in order that it may be visible across the footlights.

A deck that is too real may be off-putting. A card depicting an office-worker with a computer may be too “real” an image to correlate with someone’s job as carpenter or herbalist. An idealized movie star as Knight of Wands could do little to suggest a problematic boy friend. By contrast, a fantasy fairy tale. as in Pamela’s faux-medieval Minor Arcana, may be easier to inhabit. Moreover, it can help one see the mythic dimension of one’s own life.

The designer must insist on the balance being kept, and work in harmony with, and not be ruled by, the producer or stage manager. Of course the producer must have confidence in the designer to complete his work.

We may take this as a statement of the working relationship between Smith and Waite, in which Smith was cognizant of the importance of not being ruled by Waite, the stage manager/producer. Likewise, Waite apparently gave over illustration of the Minor Arcana cards primarily to Smith, with confidence in her ability to do justice to the task.

Regarding decks that are slavishly based on their predecessors, Pamela complains that all too often costumes are “hired merely in the tradition of the part, the model having done duty in many revivals.” So we should not be surprised when her deck takes a decidedly new form of expression. It might even make one wonder what Pamela would have thought of so many RWS influenced decks.

A great many people find her colors garish. When critiquing the artistic effect of her cards we should take into account that for Pamela:

Colours are forces but little understood. Strong colour is disliked, and perhaps the fear and hatred of strong, clean colour is due to ignorance.

She asks us to:

Observe the work of the French impressionist painters, who use red, blue and yellow side by side to get the effect of light and atmosphere. Is it the fear of the dreaded accusation of vulgarity? I believe the public would prefer the effect got by the use of strong primitive colour, if they saw it.

While some may see her strong colors as a call to vitality and a celebration of life like that perceived in the French theatre posters of the period, we see here that she was also influenced by the impressionist experiments in color theory.

How rarely does one see an entire production welded together into a thing of beauty by artist hands?

 As we’ve already seen, historical correctness is secondary to an exaggerated illusion welded into “a comprehensive thing of beauty.” She further claims that costume is more important than scenery. The latter, she notes, should be kept simple and in harmony with the costumes. Nevertheless, Pamela ends her article with a plea for a dramatic library that would provide historical details for design purposes (much as can be found with simple google searches today). She asks, “Where would one look for the dress of a Jewish woman in England in the year 1185?” and answers herself, “There is the material to go on, given the knowledge of where to find it.” Here’s one source.

I read this as Pamela’s call for historical awareness at the same time that she observes the primacy of dedication to the art plus the necessity of illusion as essential to having one see with “a new pair of eyes and ears.” This is a formula with which all tarot readers have to contend. And then, knowing what we know of Pamela Colman Smith, we must add a significant dash of intuitive awareness allowing us to experience other realms of perception.

Please add your own thoughts in the comment section.

There is no single Jungian interpretation of the Ace of Cups. That it represents a major archetypal motif is without question for it suggests the feminine, mother, breast, womb, water, vessels, and related ideas of love, emotion, nourishment, healing, sacrifice, rebirth and renewal, the unconscious, imagination, empathy, psychic awareness and more. The value of a Jungian approach is that it encourages a Tarot reader to be aware of the multi-dimensional wealth of meaning in the cards, while allowing them to guide, honor and support a querent’s own wisdom and self-knowledge. You may want to read my other two posts on the Ace of Cups first. Part 1. Part 2

Druidcraft Ace of Cups

Druidcraft Tarot

 

First we have to ask: what is a Jungian approach to a symbol? Is it simply pointing out all the symbolic interpretations (see my earlier posts on the Ace of Cups) and mythological and cultural referents? From this point of view, I could begin with several quotes from Jung on the image of the cup and Grail: 

The bowl is a vessel that receives or contains, and is therefore female. It is a symbol of the body which contains the anima, the breath and liquid of life. CW18. p 121.

Vessel symbolism probably contains a pagan relic which proved adaptable to Christianity, . . . which secured for the Christian Church [in Mary] the heritage of the Magna Mater, Isis, and other mother goddesses. CW6 ¶ 398.

The aesthetic form of the symbol must appeal so convincingly to our feelings that no argument can be raised against it. For a certain time the Grail symbol clearly fulfilled these requirements, and to this fact it owed its vitality. CW6 ¶ 401.

The symbolism of the vessel has pagan roots in the “magic cauldron” of Celtic mythology. Dagda, one of the benevolent gods of ancient Ireland, possesses such a cauldron, which supplies everybody with food according to his needs or merits.  CW6 ¶ 401.

The Hermetic vessel, too, is a uterus of spiritual renewal or rebirth. This idea corresponds exactly to the text of the benedictio fontis [“blessed font”]. . . . We could take this water as the divine water of the [alchemical] art, since after the prima materia this is the real arcanum. . . . The water, or water of the Nile, had a special significance in ancient Egypt. . . A text from Edfu says: “I bring you the vessels . . . that you may drink of them; I refresh your heart that you may be satisfied.” CW13 ¶ 97.

 

german-15th-century-eucharist

“The healing cup is not unconnected with the “cup of salvation,” the Eucharistic Chalice, and with the vessel used in divination: This is the divining-vessel of Joseph and Anacreon. . . . The content is the water that Jesus changed into wine, and the water is also represented by the Jordan, which signifies the Logos, thus bringing out the analogy with the Chalice. Its content gives life and healing.” CW12 ¶ 551.

The water chalice is associated with the baptismal font, where the inner man is renewed as well as the body. This interpretation comes very close to the baptismal krater of Poimandres and to the Hermetic basin filled with nous [“mind, intellect”]. Here the water signifies the pneuma, i.e., the spirit of prophecy, and also the doctrine which a man receives and passes on to others.” CW11 ¶ 313,

Jung also writes of the alchemical water that “purifies everything and contains within itself everything (i.e., for the process of self-transformation)” – Jung’s parentheses. He continues with something apropos the dove on the Ace, “You must know that the art of alchemy is a gift of the Holy Spirit” CW18, p. 799.

 

Visconti-Sf Ace of Cups

We can see from these many references, and the ones in my other posts on the Ace of Cups, that this is an archetypal image: an archaic remnant of instinctual patterns of meaning in the human psyche that influences our psychology. Gathering all the mythic and artistic examples of the motif is called amplification.
Amplification is seeing what is behind an archetypal image or symbol, enlarging it so as to view it from different perspectives, restoring it to its original fullness to discover what kind of forces could be working in it.

However, is amplification the main or even true Jungian approach to Tarot? In fact, symbol amplification has a certain seductiveness in that we think that by gathering more and more examples of a motif, we’ll discover its true meaning.

Perhaps we need to start somewhere else. And this is what Jungian dream interpretation and active imagination does. My book, 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card, details several Jungian-based tarot techniques, which are impossible to include in a single blog post.

When discussing dream interpretation we find Jung giving advice in what has become my favorite quote: 

 

“I have always said to my pupils: ‘Learn as much as you can about symbolism; then forget it all when you are analyzing a dream’,” CW18, p. 418. [Or a tarot reading!]

Jung elaborates on this elsewhere:

“True art is creation, and creation is beyond all theories. That is why I say to any beginner: learn your theories as well as you can, but put them aside when you touch the miracle of the living soul. Not theories but your creative individuality alone must decide,” CW17 ¶ 313.

 

MorganGreerAceOfCups

Morgan-Greer Tarot

This, to my mind, is the best advice for a Tarot reader. Learn as much as you can about Tarot and its history and symbolism, then forget it all when you are doing a reading. Actually, I would say, set it to one side in a space in your mind that will hold your associations ready as they are needed. Instead, embrace yourself as creative artist. Focus your attention and energies on touching “the miracle of the living soul” before you, which means using your intuition to guide querents into their own experience of the image, for only the person can ascertain the meaning(s) for themselves.

This brings us back to the Ace of Cups for it is up to the reader to become the container, the holder of energies for the associations and emotions of the querent. In a process similar to that in dream interpretation, I advocate being a mid-wife of the soul, assisting the querent to engage with the images on the card and bring their own wisdom to birth. I encourage personal associations that well-up from the unconscious while keeping them tethered to the cards in the spread. When tears or other subtle signs appear, know that emotions are activated that yield personal meaning. 

 

 

Georgina-Gibson

Georgina Gibson Ace of Cups

As tarot reader, I am also like the dove, bearing the cards in my beak, touching on the unconscious waters of the living soul. The lotus blossoms below are rooted in the deep mud, rising through the waters to bloom in the light of consciousness. They are the realizations that a querent takes home from a Jungian approach to a reading. What blossoms is a result both of the querent’s own conscious realizations and the greater patterns that point to that person’s own myth.

For Jung, meaning is a meeting of the soul “on its own ground, whenever we are confronted with the real and crushing problems of life” CW17, ¶ 81. Meaning is found in the creative confrontation with the opposites and the synthesis of the self into the scheme of creation—their personal myth (paraphrase from Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p. 338).  And, from The Myth of Meaning in the Work of C.G. Jung by Aniela Jaffé, we find that meaning is “a human interpretation or conjecture, a confession or a belief . . . created by consciousness, and its formulation is a myth” [no page number]. To summarize: meaning is a myth formulated by humans to answer the unanswerable. Jung frequently notes that meaning is present in an emotional response to an image.

 

“A great work of art [such as Tarot] is like a dream; for all its apparent obviousness it does not explain itself and is always ambiguous. . . . It [art/dream/tarot] presents an image in much the same way as nature allows a plant to grow, and it is up to us to draw conclusions. . . . To grasp its meaning, we must allow it to to shape us [to act upon us] as it shaped him [the artist]Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul, p. 175.

 

Medieval Scapini Ace of Cups

Medieval Scapini Tarot

To do this, we may use word association, active imagination, dialog, and other interactive methods favored by Jungians. We may also want to be aware of the interplay of the parts of the psyche that have been activated or the stage of the alchemical process of individuation. However, in contrast to Jungian psychoanalysis, we keep the light of awareness focused  on and through the querent’s cards and question, to what they most need to hear at this time.

To be clear, there are times when you’ll want to amplify the images on a card: to compare the mythical and symbolic elements with a client’s circumstances. And, in some cases it is helpful to present querents with the archetypal aspects of their pattern and where it is headed as foreshadowed in associated myths. As Jung explained:

 

“This comparative work gives us a most valuable insight into the structure of the unconscious. You have to hand the necessary parallels to the patients too, not of course in such an elaborate way as you would present it in a scientific study, but as much as each individual needs in order to understand his archetypal images. For he can see their real meaning only when they are not just a queer subjective experience with no external connections, but a typical, ever-recurring expression of the objective facts and processes of the human psyche. By objectifying his impersonal images, and understanding their inherent ideas, the patient is able to work out all the values of his archetypal material. Then he can really see it, and the unconscious becomes understandable to him. Moreover, this work has a definite effect upon him. Whatever he has put into it works back on him and produces a change of attitude. CW18 ¶ 401.

Given the Jungian approach, there is no way I can tell you what meaning the Ace of Cups will have for an individual, as even for the individual it will vary over time. So, coming back to where I started with Marie Louise von Franz, I want to amplify just one aspect of this Ace of Cups image that may, at some point elucidate the soul’s work in a person. In The Psychological Meaning of Redemption Motifs in Fairytales, Marie-Louise von Franz writes:

“The Benedictio Fontis, baptism in the Church, represents the cleansing of the human being and his transformation into a new spiritual being. . . . On the Saturday before Easter the baptismal water is always blessed . . . by [the priest’s] making the sign of the cross over it. . . . It is said that the Holy Ghost will impregnate the water . . . so that out of this uterus of the divine font a new creature may be born,” p. 35.

Although any water may be used there is a special water used for Roman Catholic baptism called Easter Water. Traditionally it is blessed on the last Saturday of Lent, Holy Saturday, in a ritual where the paschal or Easter candle [an Ace of Wands!], representing Christ risen from the dead, is held in the water and the Holy Spirit is called upon, saying, “Wherever we may be, make the Holy Spirit present to us who now implore Thy mercy.” 

Von Franz explains:

“The light of the candle would represent the light of an understanding attitude, an enlightenment of the mind which now enters the unconscious and fertilizes it . . . handing back conscious understanding and truth to the unconscious from whence it came so that it may be increased in power and effect. There is also the union of the opposites—fire and water—and the result is a fiery water. The baptismal water of the Church is often called aqua ignita since it is said to contain the fire of the Holy Ghost,” p. 35-36.

 

Robin Wood Ace of Cups

Robin-Wood Tarot

So, while the querent may wax long and lovingly on their hopes for a new relationship or the beginnings of some work of the imagination, as a reader, I will be looking to the other cards in the spread to see where and how there may be an influx of grace in which the unconscious is ignited, impregnated and fertilized in preparation for a healing and spiritual renewal. Or, like mystic and Golden Dawn member, Evelyn Underhill, said of the related cup of the Eucharist, it bodes a Divine Presence and a movement toward Love.

Finally, in a Jungian approach to Tarot, a reader would be aware, when the Ace of Cups appears that, of Jung’s four functions, the Feeling Function is actively involved in the gestation of a new awareness. Among other possibilities, it may signal that the querent’s currently activated mode of consciousness centers around what feels pleasant or unpleasant to them, and so the reader might aid in making them more conscious of this.

A Jungian approach to Tarot requires quite a bit of reading and study, first to understand the Jungian “map of the psyche” (self, ego, anima/animus, shadow, etc.) and other concepts like individuation, the four functions and so on, and then to become familiar with the archetypes expressed through myth and symbol. However, it may be a relief to recognize that most people will find that a modern study of tarot will have already introduced them to many of the concepts and methods discovered and made popular by Jung.

______________________
I was initially inspired to write on the Ace of Cups in the Waite-Smith Tarot upon reading the Jungian analyst Marie-Louise von Franz’ The Psychological Meaning of Redemption Motifs in Fairytales. Von Franz was also the co-author with Jung’s wife, Emma Jung, of The Grail Legend, which I studied a lifetime ago for my M.A. in English.
See also:
Part 1: Waite’s Eucharistic Ace of Cups.
Part 2: Ace of Cups Symbolism.
Carl Jung on the Major Arcana
Carl Jung and Tarot
Note: CW refers to the Collected Works of C.G. Jung. They are listed here. A bibliography of Jung’s publications is here. A good starting point for Tarot readers on Jung is Man and His Symbols (get an o.p. hardcover if you can). A list of great books by “Jungians” that are applicable to tarot is very, very long.

What happened to the Visconti Devil cards since they are missing from every 15th century Tarocchi deck?

Early Devil

As other cards are missing from these decks I never gave it much thought until Ria Dimitra, the author of the 2006 supernatural romance novel Visconti Devilsinvited me to read her book. Her novel is an enjoyable, easy read about a modern Tarot artist who is intrigued by the mystery—why did none of the original, fifteenth century Renaissance Devil cards survive? There are no Tarot readings in her book, but the early history of the cards is well portrayed with no glaring errors, which is a remarkable feat in its own right.

Synchronistically, I had no sooner finished the book than I was perusing Andrea Vitali’s scholarly articles at LeTarot.it and read new evidence for the use, five centuries ago, of Tarot in witchcraft. I invite you to read what I wrote here about the 16th century Venetian witchcraft trials using the Devil card. Vitali’s article adds many interesting details (see first link at the end of this article).

It seems that when a lady wanted to satisfy a sinful lust or coerce an unresponsive gentleman, she knew it was inappropriate to appeal to Heaven and so she would make her appeal to the Devil, sometimes in the church itself. In a reversal of the regular prayers, the woman would place the Devil from the Tarot pack on a shelf “ass up,” with a lighted oil lamp having a wick from the bell cord of a church held upside down. Hands were to be clasp together behind the back making the “fig” gesture. With hair down, she would recite the “Our Father” for three consecutive nights. Sometimes blood and bones would be included and both hanged and ‘quartered’ men were called on.

convicted-heretic-before-the-inquisition-wearing-a-samarra-engraving-ew3n19

When caught, the punishments were relatively mild considering that these women could have been killed for their actions. Instead, their superstitious rites were seen more as a feminine weakness brought about through the sin of lust. One woman, Catena, was, among other indignities, publicly pilloried with a miter on her head (see the miter used as an indication of heresy in the picture on right). The miter was inscribed with a sign saying she was condemned as a witch (striga) for the magical use of herbs (herbera). This ironic use of the miter, usually worn by both bishops and pope, is reminiscent of the late 15th century Sermones de Ludo Cum Aliis (“Steele Manuscript”) in which La Papessa in the Tarot is described as “O miseri quod negat Christiana fides”: “O miserable ones, what [with respect to which] the Christian faith denies” (or, as several online translators offer, “O wretched that denies the Christian faith”).”

But, as to our opening question, there is no way we can know for sure what happened to the earliest Devil cards (if they even existed). However, it is interesting to speculate based on likely scenarios.

According to Vitali’s research it seems that Emilia “took a tarot card, and it was the devil, that she stole for the purpose.” It appears it may have been a requirement of this magic rite that the Devil card had to be stolen. Could this be why the Devil card and, perhaps a few of the other cards, are missing from all the earliest Tarot decks?

The use of images for invocation was common at this time, based on the belief that the image stood as a surrogate for the being depicted—that there was a direct physical connection between the image and its referent. Furthermore, early woodcut Tarot cards were produced in the same print shops as saints cards and may even, on occasion, have been substituted for each other. 

Girolamo Menghi in Flagellum daemonum (1577) recommended the physical and verbal abuse of images of the devil as an operative way of impacting evil spirits. Subsequent guides to exorcism followed Menghi’s lead, calling for the exorcist to draw or paint the devil’s portrait, along with his name, and then burn the paper. Such “exorcism by fire” evolved into the bonfires of vanities, especially at what was deemed the devil’s feast of Carnival. Fredrika H. Jacobs in Votive Panels and Popular Piety in Early Modern Italy further explains, “It was believed that the pain inflicted on the image was transferred to and experienced by the devil.”

Similarly, as we’ve seen from the court records in Venice, the devil could be invoked to grant wishes that were unworthy to be asked of the holy family or the saints. Invocations of entities through images by persons or in situations other than those ordained by the Church was regarded as superstition, witchcraft or heresy. 

Sola-Busca 3 of Sw

In the Visconti-Sforza (Pierpont-Morgan/Brera) deck only four cards are missing: The Devil, The Tower, Three of Swords and Knight of Coins. It’s easy to imagine a ritual invoking the Devil to punish the Knight of Coins with the desctructive Tower because of a betrayal or heartbreak depicted by the Three of Swords (see the Sola Busca deck on right).

What do you think?

 

For further details read:
“Tarot and Inquisitors: In the Serenissima and Trentino, between ‘witches’ and ‘Diabolical Priests'” by Andrea Vitali, translated from the Italian by Michael S. Howard.
“The Conjuration of the Tarrocco: A magic ritual in sixteenth-century Venice” by Andrea Vitali, translated from the Italian by Michael S. Howard.
“Tarot and Playing Cards in Witchcraft” by Mary K. Greer.
Votive Panels and Popular Piety in Early Modern Italy by Fredrika H. Jacobs.
Also read the following discussion of early evidence of divination with Tarot including ruminations on the subject by the translator Michael Howard:
“Il Torracchione Desolato: A card-reading sorceress in a poem of the XVIIth century” by Andrea Vitali, translated from the Italian by Michael S. Howard. 
 I highly recommend the numerous translations and articles by Michael S. Howard on historical Tarot. A directory to where they can be found is at: http://michaelshoward.blogspot.com. I am so grateful to him for all he has done to make Italian, French and out-of-print sources available to us all.

 

Wilhelm Hauschild-Lohengrincu01Santo Griaal-Rogelio Egusquiza 1893

The Waite-Smith Ace of Cups image is not unique. A winged figure surmounts a fountain from which streams water in the Visconti-Sforza card. In the Marseille deck two of the aces (Wands and Swords) have a hand emerging from a cloud—a standard medieval device to indicate creation, miracles and gifts from a Divine source. We also find similarities in the pictures above. The first one is from Wilhelm Hauschild’s Temple of the Holy Grail (1878) and the third one is Santo Griaal by Rogelio Egusquiza (acquired by the British Museum in 1901). By the way, if you are Pagan, like me, I encourage you to look at the Christian references as psychological metaphors. Read Part 1 here.

Hand & CloudIMG_2782

To display His divine nature, the hand of God is often depicted emerging from a cloud which hides his body, veiling us from his power as no person could see Him and live. As it is the right hand, it is actively giving the viewer one of the four sacred treasures found in the myths of many cultures. In the Talmud the Cup of Blessing is held on five fingers of the right hand representing the five leaves that protect a rose from its thorns. This image signifies a divine gift in the form of a supernatural vision (the cloud) that is often the starting point for a spiritual quest.

Dove & HostFullSizeRender (2)

Waite has a lot to say about the dove, describing it as the invocation and descent of the Comforter or Holy Spirit to renew the virtue of the Grail and to consecrate the elements.

“In England during the Middle Ages . . . the Eucharist was reserved in a Columbarium, or Dove-House, being a vessel shaped like a dove. It recalls some archaic pictures of a Cup over which a dove broods and the descent of a dove on the Graal.” …
“There is the flight of the mystical dove from the casement to inmost Shrine, as if the bird went to renew the virtues of the Holy Graal.” …
“The Dove descends from Heaven carrying the Arch Natural Host to renew the virtues of the Stone [the form the Grail takes in some of the stories].” …
“O central point and sacred meeting-place of all the sacraments, there falls the Bread,  broken within the Wine-Cup, and from both issues one living Spirit of Life Divine.” …
“On Good Friday, by the descent of a dove from heaven, carrying a sacred Host . . . the crown of all earthly riches were renewed.”

The Holy Spirit represents the life-giving spirit of air, and it was present at the baptism by water of Jesus, the awakening into a new life:

“As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Mark 1:10-11.

Additionally, the Dove maintains its pagan association with Goddess Venus/Aphrodite and with Love (Waite includes the ancient pagan mysteries in the Secret Tradition). The Dove blesses with supernatural gifts, like the gift of tongues (pictured as Yods, see below), and so it can be associated with the ancient “language of the birds” or gift of divination and with miracles. Waite favors the idea of Grace: “it is grace which fills the heart; it is the Holy Spirit of God which makes holy the spirit of man.” Grace, equated with the Hebrew word Chesed, is a blessing that gives guidance and protects us from the dangers of earthly power and adversity.

So, the Dove can be seen as the descent of Spirit into flesh, of the supernatural into the natural, a theme repeated by the cross on the Host composed of the vertical axis of spirit and the horizontal of matter. (The cross, which represents Christ’s suffering and sacrifice on the cross, becomes a blessing.)

I should note that Waite was known to have a prodigious and exacting memory. He was extremely precise in his use of language, so when an odd phrase appears it is usually a sign that he is quoting a source to further elucidate his meaning. The internet has made it possible to find a good number of these allusions.

For instance, for Waite the Host is the panis quotidianus that has been changed into the panis vivus et vitalis”: that is the everyday bread is transformed into a living and vital bread.  This quote from Waite refers to a popular hymn by Thomas Aquinas (circa 1264) called the Lauda Sion Salvatorem. It speaks of the Eucharist and presents the transformation of bread and wine ending with a familiar maxim “as above, so below”:

Here beneath these signs are hidden
Priceless things, to sense forbidden,
Signs, not things, are all we see. . . .

Living bread, thy life supply:
Strengthen us, or else we die,
Fill us with celestial grace. . . .

Thou, who feedest us below:
Source of all we have or know:
Grant that with Thy Saints above,
Sitting at the feast of love,
We may see Thee face to face.

Spiritual nourishment, the Host, is sent by the Holy Ghost; in many of the Grail stories it is found to heal all wounds.

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Cup, Grail and Fountain of Living Waters

This is the signature image of this card and is filled with meaning on so many levels. We will touch on only a few. As container, it is a major symbol of the receptive feminine and, in Christianity, the womb of the Virgin Mary, the seat of creation and manifestation of Love, esoterically seen as “the Bride”. It is a vessel in which things are “cooked,” making raw materials capable of providing rich nourishment and even, in alchemy, changing lead into gold. It is the cup of transformation containing the waters of life in which water is changed into wine and then into blood. It is the cauldron of Dagda in Celtic myth from which no company ever left unsatisfied. 

“The message of the Secret Tradition in the Christian Graal mystery is this: The Cup corresponds to spiritual life. It receives the graces from above and communicates them to that which is below. The equivalent happens in the supernatural Eucharist, the world of unmanifest adeptship, attained by sanctity [Grace].”

Both cup and water represent the soul.

The Practicus Ritual in Waite’s Fellowship of the Rosy Cross initiates one through an encounter with the Living Waters. First we are informed that Water symbolizes the emotions, desires, and psychic nature of earthly man. But this is not the Water one is to encounter in the ritual, “The Waters that are below desire after the Waters that are above. . . . May the peace of their Union be upon us; be we dissolved therein.”

“The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the Waters, and the Spirit of the Most High God shall move upon the Waters of the Soul. . . . The stilled waters of the soul receive the Spirit of God moving upon the face of its waters. . . . Open thy heart, O Brother of the Rosy Cross, and receive the Water of Life.” 

“Fountain of fountains, and of all fountains. Chalice of saving rain. Grace on the soul descending, as rain on the dry grass. Life-giving Rain of Doctrine. Mystical Fruit of the Doctrine. Dew of Divine Speech, falling in stillness on the heart, filling the soul with Knowledge. Enter into the heart and purify; come into the soul and consecrate.”

The image is one of both the Baptismal font and the Eucharist. “A Eucharistic allegory concerns [the dissolution] of the body by Divine Substance communicated to the soul, putting an end to the enchantments and sorceries of the five senses” and to the suffering on the cross (mentioned earlier).

This leads us directly to the five streams coming out of the cup.

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Why five streams of water and not the four that Waite specifies in Pictorial Key to the Tarot? Furthermore, Bible readers all know that there are four streams that come out of Eden. This could be an error either on the part of Waite or Pamela Colman Smith. Or, it could veil a secret: These five streams might, after all, represent the five senses (see the quote immediately above), or the five ways of salvation and five gates of grace (from Masonic ritual), or the five wounds of Christ, the five points of the Pentagram, the five petals of the rose that rest on five leaves (the fingers), or the four elements plus aether—the quintessence. In terms of the symbolism, five yields far more relevance according to Waite himself:

“In the Longer Prose Perceval we have seen that there is an account of five changes in the Graal which took place at the altar, being five transfigurations, the last of which assumed the seeming of a chalice, but at the same time, instead of a chalice, was some undeclared mystery: so the general as well as the particular elements of the legend in its highest form offer a mystery the nature of which is recognised by the mystic through certain signs which it carries on its person; yet it is declared in part only and what remains, which is the greater part, is not more than suggested. It is that, I believe, which was seen by the maimed King when he looked into the Sacred Cup and beheld the secret of all things, the beginning even and the end. In this sense the five changes of the Graal are analogous to the five natures of man, as these in their turn correspond to the four aspects of the Cosmos and that which rules all things within and from without the Cosmos.”

I believe that despite their blue color, the five streams best represent blood, for as Marie-Louise von Franz tells us, “Grace was depicted as a fountain of Blood from the five holy wounds of Christ,” The Psychological Meaning of Redemption Motifs in Fairytales.

Adoration of the Mystic Lamb-GhentBut it is in Evelyn Underhill, Anglo-Catholic author of a well-known book on mysticism, who perhaps reveals the deepest mystery. Underhill was a student or acolyte of Waite, having joined his branch of the Golden Dawn in 1904 and achieving at least four initiations. She wrote for Waite’s Horlick’s Magazine and  published a novel in 1909 featuring the effects of the Holy Grail on a woman who came into its possession. In an article titled “The Fountain of Life” in the Burlington Magazine (1910) Underhill examined the fountains of water and of blood depicted on several religious works of art including the famous Ghent Altarpiece (right). She notes that baptism and penance which ‘renews the grace of baptism,’ are still spoken of by Catholic theologians as ‘effusions of the Precious Blood,’ i.e., of grace. She went on to describe:

“, , , a fountain which is filled by the Blood flowing from the Five Wounds. The Soul, or ‘Bride,’ holds out her heart, and the blood from the wounded side of Christ falls upon it, causing flowers to spring up from the place which has been touched by the vivifying stream. The Precious Blood then . . . stands not merely for an emblem of the Passion, Redemption, or the Eucharist, though it includes all these manifestations of Grace, but for the medium of communication of the Divine Life . . . since for ancient and mediaeval thought the spirit of life resided in the blood.”

Given that the Aces are also seen by Waite as the four Celtic treasures, I’d be remiss in not presenting this option from Celtic Myth and Religion by Sharon Paice MacLeod:

“In Cormac’s Adventures in the Land of Promise, Cormac has a vision of the sacred center of the Otherworld where he saw a shining fountain with five streams flowing out of it. He is told that it is the Fountain of Knowledge [others call it the Well of Wisdom], and the five streams are the five senses through which knowledge is obtained.”

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These drops, in the shape of the Hebrew letter Yod are found on many of the Tarot cards, generally signifying divine Grace. Shaped like a flame a Yod is the divine spark of creation that is the foundation of all the other letters and is the first letter in the Tetragrammaton or four-letter name of God. There are 26 yods and Eoin Keith Boyle notes in the comments that this is the sum of the 4-lettered name of God, the Tetragrammaton, in Kabbalistic gematria. They are also the shape of the tongues of fire at Pentecost:

“They saw tongues like flames of a fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” Acts 2:3-4.

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The alchemist Thomas Vaughn, in a compendium by Waite, calls it the divine spark or star-fire that is sympathetically attracted to its origin in God. It is spirit fructifying the soul.

These drops can also be seen as alchemical dew. Thomas Vaughn again explains that divine dew penetrates and transforms all that is physical. Waite claims that for the Rosicrucians “dew is light, coagulated and rendered corporeal. . . . When digested in its own vessel it is the true menstruum of the Red Dragon, i.e., of gold, the true matter of the Philosophers.”

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[In the beginning]the Spirit of God moved over the face of the waters.” Genesis 1:2.

It is the soul that desires union with the spirit, “The Waters that are below desire after the Waters that are above.”

This is also the generative water of renewal and rebirth. It also represents the emotions which here have become serene and calm, being fed by the waters of the Holy Spirit. In the parlance of Carl Jung it is the rich and fertile pool of the unconscious psyche—the soul. And Evelyn Underhill already explained that the blood from Christ’s wounds causes flowers to spring up—in this case water-lilies that grow only in sweet waters, reaching up from the mud toward the light. Regarding sweet waters, in Waite’s book of aphorisms, Steps to the Crown, we find: “The Cup of bitterness ceases to exist for him who has drunk from the chalice of immortality”.

 W or M ?

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Finally we come to the major controversy associated with this card—What is the significance of the letter on the cup? The fact is that we will never know, but we do have some very likely possibilities, and knowing Waite, all of them may have been what was intended, for Waite saw all symbols as multi-valenced. 

IMG_2891MacGregor Mathers, in his 1888 book Tarot: A Short Treatise on Reading the Cards claims that an inverted M on the front of the Spanish Ace of Cups represented the waters of creation in Genesis and all that remains of an Egyptian motif of twin serpents (as per this 19th century deck reproduced in the Cagliostro Tarot by Modiano of Italy). The Golden Dawn paper on the Tarot, “Book T,” says, “The great Letter of the Supernal Mother is traced in the spray of the Fountain.”

First it is note-worthy that the letter is shaped exactly like Pamela Colman Smith’s MsAr01 and not like her WsWaPg.

The main contenders for W are:
Waite (see the monogram on the Ten of Pentacles)
Water (“the implicit is that the Sign of the Cups naturally refers to water” PKT.)
Womb
Wisdom (more specifically, Well of Wisdom)

The main contenders for M are:
Mystery (“For this is the chalice of my blood, of the new and eternal testament: the Mystery of Faith”).
Mem (or Maim, Hebrew for “water”)
Mary (or Mara, which also means “bitter sea”)
Mother (Matter. As Supernal Mother she is associated with Binah on the Tree of Life and the 2nd letter of the Tetragrammaton, He.)

Mercury (an alchemical maxim: “What wise men seek in Mercury is found”)

I believe that the letter is M and that it stands for Mystery, as viewed from above by the Holy Spirit. It is probably the word Waite uses most in his books where it is usually capitalized. To support this I have found almost this identical summary statement in several of Waite’s books:

“[In conclusion] the maxim which might and would be inscribed over the one Temple of the truly Catholic Religion when the faiths of this western world have been united in the higher consciousness–that is assuredly ‘Mysterium Fidei’–the mystery which endures for ever and for ever passes into experience.” HCHG, p. 469

We might also view the letters like this:

Waite – Mystery
Water – Mem
Womb – Mary/Mother
Wisdom – Mercury 

An Act of Imagination

I suggest one final way of getting at the deeper meaning of this card.

Imagine for a moment that you are the Chalice and, perhaps, the liquid in the chalice. Picture yourself reaching up for the host held in the beak of the dove. You might see yourself as a baby bird stretching up to be fed by a parent. Can you experience the yearning? Or you may be a font of water that wells up from a deep source. Feel the draw from above and your yearning toward the source of that draw. Become aware of the wounds gathered through your earthly experience. The water (or blood) within you could begin to spill over, rising up and falling out in a continuous stream. Can you let yourself go, surrender to the movement, and then to gravity so that you fall into the pool beneath? What happens when you spill into that pond? Where do you go? How do you reflect back what is above?

One final characteristic of Cups, which Waite mentions over and over again through his discussion of the suit, is fantasy—the ability to imagine super-sensible things and have experiences of what he calls the Arch-Natural world. While there are dangers in doing so (the Seven of Cups), it is in through mystical experience, first accessed through the door of the imagination, that we are ultimately able to commune with Spirit. I hope to speak more about this in a third post on a Jungian interpretation of this image.

See also:
Part 1: Waite’s Eucharistic Ace of Cups.
Part 3: A Jungian Approach to the Ace of Cups

The Waite-Smith Ace of Cups, despite its seeming simplicity, is a very complex card with deep allusions that are central to Waite’s “Secret Tradition”—his mystical philosophy. This post explores Waite’s own very conscious and specific intention for this card.

As an Ace in tarot readings it generally represents an opening of the heart, new love and relationships, the emergence of psychic abilities, dreams and imagination, spiritual nourishment and the gift of grace. It is the root of empathy.

In Pictorial Key to the Tarot, Waite explains that the Ace of Cups “is an intimation of that which may lie behind the Lesser Arcana.” In other words, it is key to the whole Minor Arcana. His declaration is not really surprising as 1909 saw not only the first publication of the tarot deck but also of Waite’s book The Hidden Church of the Holy Graal (HCHG), which in over 700 pages analyzed all that was known of the Grail and its myths. Most of the quotes below are from this book unless otherwise noted. As Waite’s sentences are quite obtuse and complex, I’ve simplified where necessary.

Waite completely ignores the Greater Arcana of the Tarot in HCHG but focuses a chapter on the Lesser Arcana suits. He saw them as a reflection of the four Grail Hallows and the four treasures of Celtic lore (an idea that Yeats later passed on to Jessie Weston; see From Ritual to Romance).

“The four Hallows are therefore the Cup, the Lance, the Sword and the Dish, Paten or Patella–these four, and the greatest of these is the Cup. As regards this Hallow-in-chief, of two things one: either the Graal Vessel contained the most sacred of all relics in Christendom, or it contained the Secret Mystery of the Eucharist.”

Waite wrote regarding these Lesser Hallows,

“The Lance renewed the Graal in some of the legends [he then compares Galahad, Perceval, Lancelot, Joseph of Arimathea, Merlin, Glastonbury and more], . . . but the places of the Hallows are in certain symbolical worlds which are known to the Secret Tradition. The Dish, which, as I have said, signifies little in the romances, has, for the above reason, aspects of importance in the Tarot.” [I assume here that he equates the symbology of the Dish with the tarot suit of Pentacles/Disks.]

If we need even further proof that Waite intended the Ace of Cups to represent the Grail, it is found in Waite’s divinatory meanings for the Ace of Cups, which are: “House of the true heart, joy, content, abode, nourishment, abundance, fertility; Holy Table, felicity hereof.”

He uses the term ‘Holy Table’ once in HCHG regarding an early Grail myth, describing “the graces and favors of the Holy Table” upon which the Grail appears and feeds the faithful, bringing them joy and contentment. Waite also includes this phrase in his digest of the writings of Eliphas Lévi, The Mysteries of Magic, where Lévi explains that primitive Christians gathered around the Holy Table to communicate with God and behold his face.

Although often couched in the terminology of the Catholic Church, Waite did not believe in the efficacy of instituted religions nor their requirements for ordination:

“The Mystic Quest is the highest of all adventures. . . . It exhibits the priesthood which comes rather by inward grace than by apostolical succession.”

“The Mass of the Graal . . . is celebrated only in the Secret Church and that Church is within. When the priest enters the Sanctuary he returns into himself by contemplation and approaches the altar which is within. . . . The Lord Christ comes down and communicates to him in the heart.”

When “grace and power fills them, permeates and overflows in the recipient’s heart . . . the Mystic Marriage by a Eucharistic rite” can take place—a theme central to most of Waite’s books. At heart this is a sexual mystery of Spirit and Nature, a “polarization of elements,” through which “Divine Life assumed the veils of flesh and blood” and through which flesh returns to Spirit.

This is the essence of Waite’s Secret Tradition that he wrote about in more than a hundred books and articles. He called the communication (or communion) the Eucharist, which is epitomized by the mystery of the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.

In The Book of the Holy Graal, Waite explained:

The Hidden Church has sent out messengers with rumors of a noumenal Eucharist. . . . But once, through legend and through high romance, the Secret Church sent out the Holy Graal. 

The secret to reading Waite is that he used words very precisely. The word noumenal is more from Plato than Kant, as it refers to objects of the highest knowledge: truths and values that exist outside of our human senses and perception. According to Waite, the Grail stories intimate or hint at the possibility of a spiritual communion with the Divine.

“The message of the Secret Tradition in the Christian Graal mystery is this: The Cup corresponds to spiritual life. It receives the graces from above and communicates them to that which is below. The equivalent happens in the supernatural Eucharist, the world of unmanifest adeptship, attained by sanctity [Grace].”

“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” 1 Corinthians 10:16

Here Waite speaks more of the Eucharist, first as a higher kind of love, symbolized by the Grail, and then of the loss of “Mystery” to the world:

“The Eucharist is a mystery of the soul’s love. . . . The sense is that love is set free from the impetuosity and violence of passion and has become a constant and incorruptible flame.”

“The Holy Graal . . . is a mystery of the Eucharist in its essence. . . . It is an inward mystery [not found in the official Church]. It died, however, in the consciousness except of a few faithful witnesses, . . . [because when Christ] incarnated, a manifestation of the God within was intended but it did not take place because the world was not worthy, the Graal was said to be removed.”

As Waite saw it, our ability to directly commune with the Divine has been lost. All the official sanctuaries “are in widowhood and desolation,” even though they are “filled with meaning and intimations of meaning.” That is, they give intimations or hints of the mystical journey, which is not available in institutions as it can only be experienced within each individual. The four suits of the Lesser Arcana tell four stories of this loss.

“It must be admitted that the Lesser Chronicles are in some sense a failure; they seem to hold up only an imperfect and partial glass of vision. But they are full testimony to the secrecy of the whole experiment; they are also the most wonderful cycle by way of intimation. Their especial key-phrase is my oft-quoted exeunt in mysterium [“they exit into mystery”].”

“The sources all say the same things differently: “The Holy Sepulcher is empty; the Tomb of C.R.C. [Christian Rosy Cross] in the House of the Holy Spirit is sealed up; the Word of Masonry is lost; the Zelator of alchemy now looks in vain for a Master. The traditional book of the Graal . . . [is] lost, . . . [as is the book] which was eaten by St. John (i.e., The Book of Revelations).”

It is left to the Greater Arcana to chart the soul’s journey along the path of restitution. But that is a separate tale.

Waite claims he wrote The Hidden Church of the Holy Grail as a text-book of a Great Initiation in that there is a secret meaning hidden in these tales of loss.

“So came into being [the Graal stories]. Whether in the normal consciousness I know not or in the subconsciousness I know not . . . that dream of theirs was of the super-concealed sanctuary behind the known and visible altar.”

They point to something that can now only be experienced by the individual in the inner sanctuary of his or her own heart. “Their maxim is that God is within.”

“The history of the Holy Graal becomes the soul’s history, moving through a profound symbolism of inward being, wherein we follow as we can, but the vistas are prolonged for ever, and it well seems that there is neither a beginning to the story nor a descried ending.”

Part 2 explores Waite’s clearly intended and most likely meanings for the specific symbols in the Ace of Cups.

Part 3 is “A Jungian Approach to the Ace of Cups”.

 

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Announcing two Tarot Tours this coming summer in the British Isles. Last year’s trip, Tarot Magic in Merlin’s Britain, sold out early. We are doing it again, with a Tarot trip to Sacred Scotland preceeding it, and a discount if you go on both. Don’t let these journeys pass you by! Sign up before the November 30th deadline. Above is a photo of our private full moon sunrise ceremony in the circle at Stonehenge.

Just two weeks ago I discovered that the hotel where we stayed while searching for Tarot artist Pamela Colman Smith’s burial place, was a hotel she actually stayed at as a young woman. It was in 1897, the year King Arthur’s Castle Hotel opened, with its magnificent roundtable at which we did readings, that Pamela met Henry Irving of the Lyceum Theatre fame. Subsequently she toured with the Lyceum Theatre and designed costumes and sets, getting her nickname, Pixie, from her foster mother, the actress Ellen Terry. Here is what is now called the Camelot Castle Hotel in Tintagel, with Merlin’s Cave in the far bottom right.

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I can’t begin to tell you all the amazing things we encountered on our journey: sacred wells in out of the way locations; stone circles, several of which we had to ourselves; the special fairy glen; a ritual on a hilltop labyrinth; Glastonbury Tor and Chalice Well where Dion Fortune made her home. IMG_2104One of the most magical moments was our using dowsing rods to find what we believed was Pixie Smith’s unmarked grave. Linda dropped her pendulum, hearing it fall. We searched for it in vain, only to have the bus driver when we returned ask who had dropped a pendulum on the bus. It was Linda’s. That night at the Camelot Castle Hotel we used the pendulum to ask Pixie questions about her life – and it was months later that I discovered from one of her letters that she had probably drunk her favorite “Opal Hush” drink in that same bar 120 years before.

The Tarot Magic in Sacred Scotland Tour is

14-23 May 2018

and will feature Tarot readings in sacred sites for gaining insight into your own spiritual journey…readings whose messages will continue to unfold for years to come. Experience:

  • Inverness and surrounding area – Prehistoric Clava Cairns and standing stones, Rosemarkie Fairy Glen, Loch Ness
  • Orkney – Skara Brae, Maes Howe, Stones of Stennes, Ring of Brodgar, archaeological dig on the Ness of Brodgar
  • Iona – Abbey, Nunnery, St Columba’s Chapel
  • Standing stones at Kilmartin.

More information: https://globalspiritualstudies.com/travel/sacred-scotland/

The Tarot Magic in Merlin’s Britain Tour immediately follows on

23 May – 1 June 2018

and takes us to:

  • Stonehenge
  • Avebury and West Kennet long barrow
  • Glastonbury and surrounding area – Chalice Well, the Tor, Glastonbury Abbey, Cadbury/Camelot
  • Tintagel and surrounding area – Tintagel Castle, Merlin’s Cave, St Nectan’s Glen
  • Boscastle – Museum of Witchcraft and Magic
  • South Cornwall – Boscowen-un stone circle, Merry Maidens stone circle, holy wells of Madron and Sancreed.

More information: https://globalspiritualstudies.com/travel/avalon-to-camelot/

Watch this video of our trip, created by Linda Marson, to catch just a little of the magic: 

 

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Pamela Colman Smith was known for telling Jamaican folk tales about the spider-man trickster figure, Annancy, and also for her toy theatre performances. The toy theatre scene shown below is from her play, Henry Morganbased on a real life Welsh pirate who became lieutenant governor of Jamaica. The photo above of PCS telling a folk tale using her cutout figures was recently discovered by Dawn Robinson in Cornwall glued into a copy of The Russian Ballet.

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Toy theatres were nothing new, as from 1811 they had become a popular pasttime in pre-television, Victorian England (check out this toy theatre site). Below are two newsreels of the original Pollack’s Toy Theatre construction showing how Pamela herself would have made her theatres and especially how she would have used stencils to color her illustrations for “The Broad Sheet”, “The Green Sheaf” and other works.

Finally, join author Ronald Hutton (Triumph of the Moon, Pagan Britain and The Witches) on a tour of modern day Pollack’s Toy Museum and view the Toy Theatres seen in the old newsreels above (view about half way through Hutton’s video).

A photograph of a modern toy theatre using figures from Pixie’s Tarot deck can be found on Pinterest, but since I don’t have the original source for the photo I won’t show it until permission is given by the creator.

Added: I just discovered this webpage by Steven Bright, a tarot artist whose Spirit Within Tarot deck I really enjoy. Scroll down a screen or two to a heading called The Theatre of Pamela Colman Smith and you’ll see his own excellent version of a RWS toy theatre.

Update: I’ve had more than 600 requests for my Tarot Scrivener template and many responses on how incredibly thorough and helpful it is. Thank you again to everyone who contributed to this blog and to those who have written to tell me how much they love the template. I’m truly happy to provide this service.

Wondering where and how to keep your Tarot journal notebook? I’m offering a free Scrivener template below, but we have such a range of options these days that it’s hard to decide which way to go. I’ve tried almost every journal possibility. Here are questions to ask yourself if you are trying to decide which way to go. I suggest writing down your responses:

  • Do you prefer the experience of pen on paper or the ease of typing?
  • Do you want a fixed record of your Tarot development or the flexible changeability of computer documents?
  • Do you want to be able to carry your journal with you everywhere or do you like setting down at a regular place and time to write in your journal?
  • Do you want your Tarot journal to be completely private or shared (at least in part)?
  • Do you want it to emphasize your own drawings and sketches or be a repository for scans, photos and web research?
  • Is it more about personal contemplation of the cards, recording spreads, or research?
  • Do you prefer working within a well-developed structure or free-form (writing whatever strikes you at the moment)?
  • Would cross-referencing links and tags be especially helpful?
  • Would you like your journal to eventually become the basis of your own book on the Tarot?

Here are the main choices for your journal. Some people maintain several, for instance, recording readings on paper but writing study notes on the computer.

  • A blank-book or spiral notebook. A permanent, developmental record of your progress and the ability to integrate personal artwork and sketches. These are mobile, but sometimes bulky, can be beautiful and let you write and draw with your favorite pens on creamy paper.
  • Computer files. Use your favorite word processor (or consider Scrivener,  Evernote or Notability). With integrated systems and wifi you can switch among desktop and mobile devices with ease: taking, modifying and reorganizing your notes anywhere. Use dictation if you prefer speaking. Integrate photos and links. You can even include audio or video recordings of readings.
  • Blogs. A blog is not just for public sharing. You can set it to private or so only chosen individuals can read it. It can be a great resource especially for reviewing your readings (most recent comes up first) and writing about specific topics. Categories and tags allow you to cross-reference the same cards or symbols appearing in different contexts. Publicly blogging your ideas gives you an incentive to develop them.
  • A 3-ring binder. For those who like hard-copy, you can use a computer, print out the pages and update individual pages as they change. You can add in handwritten notes & sketches on a variety of pieces of paper, even napkins.

What if you prefer a super-organized yet flexible system but aren’t sure where to begin or what to include? Or you dream of turning your Tarot studies and experiences into a book and would like help with how to do that?

Scrivener sample2

I recommend the #1 writer’s resource for computers: Scrivener (for Mac and Windows). If you already use Scrivener then I don’t have to tell you how valuable it is. It is described as a powerful content-generation tool for long, complex writing projects. It allows you to seamlessly view your notes as a corkboard, outline, individual files or a single document. Along with tags and templates these are only a few of the structuring tools. You can work on your computer, tablet and phone, and sync through Dropbox. When you are ready, compile only those files you wish, and print, export to Word, or format directly into one of many eBook and insta-print designs.

To top it off, I’ve created a “Tarot Journal Template” for Scrivener, based on 50 years keeping a variety of Tarot notebooks, converting them into Tarot books, and editing other people’s Tarot books. The full template is hyper-organized into separate card and topic files and has “prompts” (such as for exploring each card’s layered meanings). It can also be easily modified and reorganized to suit your own preferences and needs.

Scrivener example1

List frequently used keywords & correspondences in the Corkboard for instant access.

I’m making this template available for FREE, but if you like and use it, I hope you’ll consider donating any amount to my blog (see the PayPal donate button near the top left of my page). To receive this template, you’ll need to email me:

Click here and type: Tarot Journal Template” into the message box, then send.*
I’ll email you a .zip folder that includes instructions for importing the Tarot Journal into Scrivener.

*I’ve received a disappointing number of requests with emails that don’t work. Please double-check your email address before sending.

Scrivener is very reasonably priced for a computer application prized by published novelists, script writers and academics. While you can begin using the template immediately, you’ll want to check out all the bells-and-whistles that make Scrivener so fabulous. The program has a fairly stiff learning curve but there are many youtube videos and instruction websites that will inspire and assist you. 

I welcome suggestions and recommendations in the comments. 

Valmor FT cards 1920sOld Gypsy Fortune Telling Cards from United Novelty, Mfc Company, Chicago, circa 1920-30 are a 36-card deck with playing cards inset and meanings given on each card. The instructions are in Polish and English and the Lady (significator) is clearly dressed as a 1920s flapper. At least 22 of the 36 cards are close cognates with the Lenormand cards. A few of the other card images are found on other cartomancy decks of the period. See this post in which Camelia Elias demonstrates using the deck.

They were printed by the Valmor Company of Chicago (also doing business as King Novelty; United Novelty appear to be distributors) and so are sometimes called the Valmor Fortune-Telling Cards. This hints at an interesting crossover between the immigrant community of Jewish founder Morton and Rose Neumann (the Polish connection?) and the African-American hoodoo tradition.

A surprisingly large number of hoodoo mail-order companies were founded by Jewish chemists who perceived a need for affordable beauty products and who then expanded into incense, candles and hoodoo potions. Charles_Dawson_300Two years after Morton Neumann started Valmor he married Rose and then the whole approach to Valmor advertising changed radically. The company became known for its illustrations featuring fair-skinned, black-haired beauties in seductive, sexy scenes. The original advertisment illustrator was African-American artist, Charles Dawson. Could he have been the artist of this deck?Love Me Again Valmor

Charles Dawson - Valmor

It’s interesting that Morton and Rose Neumann, by the mid-20th century, began investing their wealth in 19th century European art and later in American art, amassing what is considered today to be the foremost and most valuable private family art collection in America. They tried to keep it intact until the death of Rose and son, Hubert, when an inheritance tax of $50 million forced the sale of several works.

IMG_1176The Old Gypsy Cards Fortune Telling Game from Addison Products Co, Chicago (no-date – 1940s?) is an identical deck, also with instructions in English and Polish. Looking similar to the Gypsy Witch, and with elements appearing in Whitman’s “Old Gypsy” deck, this deck has its own assignation of playing cards such that the suits & numbers appear in sequence according to the numbering of the cards, and they accord most closely with the usual French and English playing card meanings. While most of the deck includes Lenormand-like cards there are also unique ones like 23-A Beautiful Lady, 27-The Bacchanalian, 29-The Loving Couple, 31-The Fairy, 32-The Shepherd, 11-The Dancing Persons. Cards like 20-the Horseshoe, 30-The Eye and 35-The Duel are found in other “gypsy” decks that I talk about here. In 1948 this same deck was published by Wehman Bros. but without the text.

Hindoo FT Cards Wehman-1948

I was unable to find this particular deck in a King Novelty (Valmor) catalog but I did come across their 1944 catalog ad for a nearly identical deck called Madame Sigma Fortune Telling Cards. You could purchase both the deck and book together for $1.35!

Madame Sigma FT Cards


Here’s a interesting comparison of the three Whitman “Old Gypsy” deck editions (top), while (below) is the Horseshoe/Trefoil from the Old Gypsy Fortune Telling Cards (which, along with the Key, Gentleman & Lady cards, have no playing cards printed on them), and two from the Gypsy Dream deck – Horn of Plenty and Horseshoe.Pig Cornucopia Horseshoe

See also my post on 19th Century American Lenormand decks.

Colman Smith001 copy

Photograph by Alice Boughton from the Brooklyn Life magazine, January, 1907. Thanks to the Brooklyn Public Library for a better resolution photograph than I was able to get previously.

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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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