The Tuesday Newsletter (8.10)
A poetics of Tarot + Dior meets Motherpeace . . .
I admit—having “doors” to enter has made writing the Daily Notes much easier. Mostly, anyway. Some doors have been easier to go through than others, but at least they provide a starting point.
So I’ve been thinking about a way of adding structure to the newsletters. And it dawned on me that I had just such an idea in the beginning, but lost track of it.
The basic concept:
News (if there is any)
Then (20th century)
I got carried away in my first attempts, and wrote tiny tomes for “Then” and “Now.” But I’m more tested now, and plan to keep these items to a readable/writable length.
So here goes.
Makers of Modern Tarot: Part 2 is now available. Part 3 coming this week.
A small discovery: If you’re curious about who subscribed in 1944 to the limited first edition of Crowley’s Book of Thoth, there’s a list available at 100th Monkey Press. While there you can see many pictures of the original volume, and view/download a staggering array of texts by and about Crowley.
The “Tarot Surveys” page and the new Facebook page launch this week. (I talked about these initiatives in the Sunday Preview.)
Looking back over my “Then” queue, I’ve picked a favorite story: poet Jack Spicer’s proposed Tarot book. I kept saving this for a planned series on poetry/poets and Tarot, but that may still be a ways in the future.
I touched on the connection between Beat writers and Tarot in Newsletter 0.1—a long time ago now! Briefly, the Beat movement flourished during the 1950s, beginning in New York and spreading to San Francisco. Insofar as there were common themes to be found in Beat literature, they would be the rejection of social norms and the search for spiritual experience.
Jack Spicer was influential in the San Francisco scene, but his complex ideas were not widely appreciated during his lifetime (1925-1965). Lucky for us, though, his work steadily gained attention—and in 1977, Robin Blaser and John Granger published his “Plan for a Book on Tarot” (in the journal boundary 2, Vol. 6, No. 1).
Blaser and Granger found the plan in a pile of notes written around 1958. So the document is interesting from one perspective as a sort of time capsule, describing certain attitudes toward Tarot that were prevalent among the public at mid-century. But Spicer also makes some very insightful observations about Tarot.
I may be biased, because much of what he says is quite similar to my own opinions! It’s interesting (to me, anyway), that I did not see this document until a couple of years ago—and yet, I had come to many of the same conclusions independently.
Spicer’s proposed plan is too long to put in this newsletter, so I’ve posted it as a standalone story. Since it’s really worth reading, I hope you’ll click this link!
But in the meantime, here are some passages that stand out. (I added the emphases.)
Fortune-telling is an unexplored parascience. Its relation to the science of prediction (or statistics, to take it in its narrower form) is quite the same as the parasciences of telepathy and telekinesis had to the science of psychology before Dr. Rhine started his experiments. A parascience is not a science - it is a mixture of rules of thumb, half-truths, and fanciful lies painfully yoked to each other by centuries of experience; but a parascience can become a science; alchemy can become chemistry; astrology can become astronomy; fortune-telling, after a century of patient scientific observation, could become a new means of understanding time and necessity in the universe.
[I would be] stressing strongly the fact that the individual card has no meaning solely in itself but only in relation to the cards around it and its position in the layout - exact analogy to words in a poem.
The Poetry of Chance: Some possible explanations to account for the fact that Tarot cards can, under proper circumstances, predict parts of the future and clarify parts of the past.
As a contextual reminder—those ideas came from a poet and literary theorist, in a year when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president of the United States, and The Beatles were still The Quarrymen. More than a decade would pass before the “Tarot revolution” really began to take shape.
As it turns out—all the ideas I found in my “Now” queue are about things that make me cross. And I don’t have time right now to climb up on my soap box, and climb down again!
So I’m only going to include the happy part of one story. It starts off with this New York Times piece from October 26, 2017:
Vicki Noble, who with Karen Vogel created the Motherpeace Tarot Deck in the late 1970s, hasn't really kept up with the latest happenings in the community of divinatory playing cards. But when Maria Grazia Chiuri, the artistic director of Christian Dior, called and said she wanted to incorporate the Motherpeace into a fashion line, she and Ms. Vogel agreed. Both felt that it could breathe new life into their 40-year-old deck.
And it did! According to U. S. Games, sales of the Motherpeace deck increased by almost 300% in the months after its distinctive designs were featured in a Dior collection. You can read more about the show in this Vogue story—and better still, you can visit Vicki Noble’s own journal of the “Dior Adventure.”
It turns out that Chiuri’s Tarot-inspired fashion designs are something of a homage to Christian Dior’s interest in esoteric ideas, and the Motherpeace collection is not the only example of haute Tarot. In fact, the Dior Spring 2021 show was themed “Le Château du Tarot”—and you can see the luxurious designs in this quite substantive Harper’s Bazaar spread.
As usual, there’s more to the story. So there’s a longer version at Haute Tarot. And for now, we’ll end with this glimpse of Dior’s gorgeous Tarot fantasy . . .