Time Capsule #4
The early days of Tarot online . . .
Today’s newsletter is doing double duty: Time Capsule #4 + Part 2 of this week’s series on algorithms/analytics/prediction/divination. And I’m keeping my promise to begin each post in the series—
On a Lighter Note
So I searched my Capsule drawers to find something lively and full of color. Several candidates—but I’ve chosen for today some early (1994) renderings of Alexandra Genetti’s Color Wheel Tarot. Genetti spent many years working on the deck, which was published in 1997 as the Wheel of Change Tarot. Since then she has republished the deck, along with its extensive (366 pages!) companion book. Find out more on her website.
My Time Capsule contains the following vintage items: two 8 x 10 color photocopies (shown below); a paste-up of Alexandra’s article for Gary Ross’s Tarot Network News; and a letter from Alexandra to Gary.
The article offers an important reminder of how much thought and effort went into creating both publications and Tarot decks “in those days.”
Another thing revealed by these Time Capsule items—how much difference there often is between the small cards we end up with, and the original Tarot artworks . . .
So carefully thought out, and richly rendered. I love the scissors!
What follows in the rest of today’s Time Capsule is more or less a down payment on what I originally planned.
As it turns out—the vintage box of Tarot-software diskettes I have held onto these many years is not in the recently rediscovered Time Capsule boxes. It’s in a storage container that I can’t get too without performing an acrobatic feat or moving a whole lot of things around. I will find and share it. But not today.
Instead I’ll start out with one of the earliest techno-Tarots I know about: a 1988 Tarot-based Nintendo game called “Taboo: The Sixth Sense.”
The player enters a question . . .
Cards are shuffled and dealt.
There’s some interpretation . . .
And then the player is invited to choose a U. S. state and receive their very own “lucky” lotto number.
I haven’t deciphered the intention of the designers—but I can tell you that pretty much everyone hated Taboo. Mostly because it wasn’t a game. However, one later reviewer made a very salient point:
Taboo claims to be able to see your future via tarot card fortune telling. How drawing upon a machine with the processing capabilities of a peanut accomplishes this is beyond me.
This week’s series may shed light on what happens when you keep increasing the “processing capabilities” of a Tarot machine. But for right now, we’ll stay in the past.
I can report that it’s not easy to trace the history of early online Tarot. Lucky for me, though, Pam Williams took the time to write about “Tarot on the ‘Net” in 1997. Her overview offers a snapshot of activities that were developing online, including what were then called “ezines,” some early blog-like websites, and the beginnings of commercial online Tarot with sites like Facade.
In addition to an assortment of links, Williams provides instructions for joining two online discussion groups that became driving forces in the Tarot community: alt.tarot and Tarot-L.
Alt.tarot was based on usenet, a distributed discussion platform that started in 1980. Tarot-L was based on a similar platform known as listserv, which began as a mainframe program and became available for personal computers in 1986. Both technologies were a significant step up from primitive BBS (bulletin board service) capabilities—but they were only a foreshadowing of the complex online communication systems we take for granted today.
Though none of the links in Williams’s article will work now, you can paste any of them into the Wayback Machine (aka Internet Archive) and see what the sites looked like in the 1990s. I only had time to go through a few of them, but this link will take you to the overview page of Tarot-L, as scanned by Wayback in 1999.
Most but not all the links on a typical Wayback page are live, in the sense that they will take you to other pages preserved in Wayback. So you can browse around in a time warp—and while you’re there, check out Maninni II, a collaborative Tarot deck created by Tarot-L members.
Since I’m highlighting The Fool this January, we’ll end with Bob O’Neill’s Maninni version of the card:
I’m fascinated by O’Neill’s Fool, and wish he had created a whole deck!
As always, thanks for reading. See you on Wednesday for Part 3. C
This is a wonderfully kookie post. Thank you.
All I need to do is see the term ‘alt.tarot’ and I’m down the rabbit hole — filled with crazy ass memories of Jess Karlin! I sort of miss Usenet. And I certainly miss Glenn.