For me, November 11 is the most “Tarot” day of the year. Ever since I first encountered the Tarot, I’ve been fascinated with the number 22, and its twin components—the 11s.
So I was determined to post an Exploration Project newsletter on 11/11.
My original four-issue plan has been adjusted a bit, to start on December 1. That way the first cycle will begin on the first day of the last month, and end on December 22—our Winter Solstice in the western hemisphere.
In the interim, I’ll be adding quite a bit of browsable content to this site, including an updated/revised version of History, Mystery, and Lore, Chapter 1.
I’ll also be continuing with the Newsletter 0 cycle. For this mini-issue, I wanted to share two things I discovered last week that expanded my appreciation of Tarot . . .
I. From a dream to a theory
Historian Theodore Roszak became widely known after the publication of The Making of a Counter Culture (1969)—the first in-depth examination of social transformation in the 1960s. He went on to write other influential books, including Where the Wasteland Ends (1972) and Person/Planet: The Creative Disintegration of Industrial Society (1979).
Then, in 1988, something quite different: a booklet entitled Fool’s Cycle/Full Cycle: Reflections on the Great Trumps of Tarot.
In his introduction, Roszak explains that he had immediately found the Tarot images interesting, but nothing he read about them seemed substantive. And he couldn’t come up with anything better himself. So he had almost forgotten about the pack of cards left in a desk drawer, until — one night:
I do not often dream vividly . . . but one night I conjured up a remarkably lucid image of the twenty-two Tarot trumps neatly arranged along a cyclical curve. There at the beginning of the cycle was the Fool, giving his non-number —zero — to the equilibrium line.
There, at the center was the card of the Wheel of Fortune acting as a pivot point. There, at the bottom of the downward curve was the card of the Devil. There, at the end of the journey was the card of the World.
The more I thought about the symbolic quality of the cycle as a significant elaboration of the circle and the spiral, the more resonant the form became,
until at last it assumed the shape of the life cycle.
Here’s a diagrammatic construct of Roszak’s vision:
Roszak elaborates each of the phases defined in this arrangement, and discusses the symbolism of each card — based on his own blend of the Rider-Waite trumps and Paul Foster Case’s version. For illustrations, he uses the 18th-century Marseilles-style “Tarot Classic” deck.
You can still buy this little booklet (just 36 pages), and I recommend it. At first glance, Roszak’s schema may seem similar to other “life cycle” interpretations of the trumps, but when you explore more deeply, it offers some original, thought-provoking ideas.
II. Recreating a legacy
Looking back much further — if you are intrigued by very early Tarots, you might want to own a facsimile copy. The Visconti-Sforza deck has been available for many years, of course, and commercial versions of the Marseilles type are plentiful. But if you’d like something special — consider a hand-crafted deck from Tarot Sheet Revival.
These very old designs have been seen mainly in stained and faded sheets, barely salvaged from the scraps used by bookbinders. So I didn’t really appreciate their aesthetic interest until I visited the TSR website.
Through painstaking craftsmanship, TSR is recreating printed Tarot decks as they would have looked centuries ago, when the designs were fresh and vibrant.
Here’s how they do it:
Tarot Sheet Revival is a research laboratory for the rediscovery and implementation of techniques inspired by master cardmakers and
wood engravers. A variety of tailor-made techniques, preparations
and materials contribute to the creation of each TSR tarot — including:
natural glues from ancient recipes
hand-glued cards made from laminated sheets
hand-cut stencils and hand-painting
The result seems to be much richer than other facsimiles I’ve seen — and you can watch their new work in progress on Facebook. You can also read more about the artist behind TSR, and how the cards are created, in this article from Tarot Heritage.
So that’s it for Newsletter 0.11.
Coming next—some remarks on Tarot from Ken Kesey (author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) that reshaped my understanding of The Fool. Plus, some thoughts about Zen and the suit of Swords.
Warmest regards, Cynthia