The Tuesday Newsletter (8.24)
"The Painted Caravan" + stunning jewelry + a noteworthy anniversary
There’s a lot of News about the newsletter today, so that part is a bit longer than usual. Next, the Then section starts off with a 1954 book that marked new directions for 20th-century Tarot. And finally, Now highlights the work of two important figures in the landscape of contemporary Tarot: Robert M. Place and Sherryl E. Smith.
Facebook: In the last Sunday Preview (8.15) I listed some plans for reaching out to potential new readers. I’d just gotten the Facebook page up—and since then I’ve posted several content items, and started inviting people to visit/like/follow.
Twitter: I created a separate Twitter account for the newsletter. This turns out to be very helpful, since I can follow only Tarot-related streams, and post/comment/retweet from a dedicated account.
InboxReads: I made the first submission to a newsletter directory. An interesting exercise! Take a look at the listing.
Surveys: I finished the Tarot Surveys landing page, and activated all four surveys. Please browse them!
Substack: I added a recommended links list to the homepage. Entering the links is oddly tedious, though, so I’ve only gotten as far as the first group, “Core Resources.” More to come . . .
There are some days—and this was one of them!—when I feel not only overwhelmed but discouraged by the enormous amount of Tarot material available today. The best I can say briefly is that there is more “good stuff” than I will ever be able to discover and/or appreciate, as well as more “bad stuff” than I ever wanted to know about.
I’ve decided there’s no excuse for just complaining over the bad stuff, so I won’t be writing about it until I have something constructive to say. In the meantime, though, I’ll share today’s path of good stuff discovery.
I originally set out to write about Basil Rákóczi’s book, The Painted Caravan. For anyone who’s never seen it, here are some glimpses:
The text of the book is interesting in its own way, and I’ll try to write about that in future. (Someone sent me a photocopy of the book years ago, and I’m trying to find where I put it!)
But more important from the standpoint of 20th-century Tarot history is the fact that this book was published in 1954—ten years after Aleister Crowley’s Book of Thoth culminated the Golden Dawn period, and fifteen years before the first trickle of books began a transformational period in Tarot creativity and scholarship.
Which places Rákóczi’s book at the hinge of the century, in the midst of a period when little else was happening with respect to Tarot. And he introduced a style of wildly colorful and expressive art that differed from anything that had been done before—and anticipated decks that were yet to come.
I started to look back at The Painted Caravan after reading about poet Sylvia Plath’s interest in the book. Here’s an excerpt from a letter she wrote to Ted Hughes in 1956:
I began reading my Painted Caravan book; it is my favourite book;…. I meditate on the Fool and the Juggler, staring at the pictures, reading and re–reading the lucid, pleasantly written descriptions of them and their significance. I shall go through the whole book slowly this way, so that I shall come upon the difficulties of setting out the Pack with a basic sense, at least, which will flow and re–cross and blend, I think, by great concentration and much practice.
(“The Juggler” of course is known to most of us these days as “The Magician”—and to the extent that I’m thinking of these newsletters as a journey, it’s handy to have this reference to the next trump in the series.)
There’s much more to be said about The Painted Caravan, Plath’s interest in Tarot, the development of Tarot art, and so on. But I promised to outline my discoveries today, and that takes us to another “caravan.” In this case . . .
An ambitious Tarot exhibition that was mounted in 1995 by L'Associazione Culturale Le Tarot—a group that continues to be quite active. If your Italian is up to it, find out more at their extensive website. And/or download your very own English-language version of the exhibition catalogue. It’s just the text, but worth a look—and you can see the illustrations on the Le Tarot website.
For a completely different take on the “Caravan” category . . . this Pinterest gallery of Tarot Reading Rooms and Caravans. Most are indoor spaces or nifty tents, but here’s something I could happily take on the road:
First—Robert M. Place. He’s a noted expert on alchemy and Tarot, of course, as well as a creator of distinctive decks. But in his pre-Tarot past, he was a highly regarded craft jeweler! This fascinating account of his design career includes many stunning examples of his work.
Two previews: A “Scythian Stag Brooch” and a “Comet Box”
Place’s lengthy post is also a miniature introduction to the history and technology of fine craft. So go read it as soon as you’ve finished this newsletter.
And right after that, you can start brushing up on the great material Sherryl E. Smith has shared over the past ten years on her Tarot Heritage website. To celebrate this impressive anniversary, she has gathered some of her writing into topical groups—these so far:
Today’s newsletter kept getting longer—and I had to leave out a few items I really wanted to include. So look for a short “lagnappe” edition on Thursday.
Meanwhile, thanks for reading! Do check out the new social media presence if you have time, and please share with anyone else who might be interested.
Warmest regards, Cynthia