Monday, March 28, 2016

Vestiges of church-going, with The Grail Tarot

I was brought up Catholic, went to an all-girls' convent school, learned Gregorian chant along with arithmetic, and grew up in the company of the Sisters of the Holy Names. Although I've long since ceased being a practising anything as far as organized religion goes, there are parts of the church year that still beat strongly within me.
Good Friday is one of them.

I remember a sunny April, playing skip on the sidewalk with the other kids, my pink hair rollers bouncing and loosening every time I jumped, and getting called home to dress for church. There were only two Catholic families on our block, so we stood out. So did the lone Jewish household. It was an oil&water mix of being awkwardly outside of the mainstream, and yet special. 
I'm sure not all Good Fridays were warm and sunny, but that's how I remember them from this faraway vantage point.

And then came the pageantry of that incredibly long Passion gospel, with the climactic point timed to 3:00 o'clock, the hour at which Jesus died (according to the Catholic church in those days). The entire congregation standing silent and still, traffic noises and warm spring air mingling through the open windows. That amazing story and the atmosphere surrounding it hold me in thrall to this day.

When I grew into choir singing, an entire world of glorious requiems and other Passion music opened up to me. Brahms, Mozart, Bach, Duruflé, to name a few, and this year the Fauré. There's something thrilling about heading out to a choir and orchestra rehearsal on Good Friday morning and putting the whole production together for the first time. It's one of my favourite things.

What has this to do with my tarot practice? Almost nothing, except perhaps the love of story, and connections between past and present.

The deck of mine which comes the closest to depicting these Good Friday memories is
The Grail Tarot, by John Matthews and Giovanni Caselli.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Pulling My Faves Part 4 - Four of Wands

I'm learning to make little journal-y books, and binding them together with stitches that show in sweet little links along the spine. The one that I'm practising most right now is the Coptic Stitch, an ancient method of bookbinding learned from the Copts, or early Christian Egyptians. The jury seems to be out on when this type of binding was first used - estimates range from the 4th to 11th centuries. 

It's supposed to look like this:

My first efforts were disgusting: uneven, tangled, too loose, too tight. The sewing thread, undergoing so many clumsy twists and pulls in the process, ended up all dirty and dishevelled. 
I'm getting better, and I'd like to make a special tarot journal for note-taking at Readers Studio 2016 in New York in April. 

First there's the decision about which card to put on the cover. There are SO MANY that I love!
Finally, I narrowed it down to a few from the Victorian Romantic (I used the 2012 edition) and took them to a generous and skilled photographer friend, who used his super-scanner and professional quality printer to produce three gorgeous images, all sized to fit my little hand-bound books. It was an interesting learning experience for impatient slapdash me, watching him adjust, move things about, slide little bars, adjust some more, choose paper, tweak sizes, double and triple check, and finally print. The results are spectacular!

One of these beauties is the Four of Wands, and I realize that there are many more Fours of Wands that live in the little art museum up there in the attic of my memory.

Let's start with the Victorian Romantic. This is such a zesty, active, out-there, feminist image. I love it!

The Druidcraft shows us the peaceful, safe, serene side of the Four of Wands.
Or is it? Who's left the fire burning, why and where have they gone?

With the AnnaK deck and the Four of Rods, we're heading out on an adventure! There's a bit of the unknown ahead on the open road, but whatever comes, we're with friends.

The Llewellyn Tarot (cropped). Mmmm. I want to go there.

From the Tarot of the Sidhe, Warrior Four: a sturdy co-operative beginning, a solid foundation. I like the sub-title Emily Carding has given this one.

There's something spooky about this Four of Spirals from the Chrysalis Tarot.
Is someone hiding in that house? If so, what are they afraid of? Or should I be the one who's afraid?

A whimsical Four of Rods in the Hezikos Tarot.
Are those trees fixin' on staying put, or are they plotting something down there?

Last one. The Raven's Prophecy. I like the open-ended-ness of this one; it could be so many things. Celebrating a start or a finish, feeling a bit melancholy, relaxing with no particular aim in mind, 
staving off the darkness with colour and light, waiting for guests. The list goes on... 
Who knows?


Sunday, March 13, 2016

Pulling My Faves Part 3 - The Magician

Next up for perusal: The Magician in my Deck of Faves.
Two cards come immediately to mind when I forage around through the images stored up there.

The Gaian for its sheer joy! It pulls me right into it, relaxing me if I'm tense, conjuring (ha!) fires on the beach and the freedom of a drumming circle.

From the Druidcraft. I believe his air of authority. I trust in his power.
And I like the rooster. (I trust he's not planning on sacrificing it.)

Another drummer by a nighttime fire: the Sun and Moon.
I like the whimsy, the monkey(?) on the beach, and the astrological image that he/she seems to be pointing out to us.

Completely non-traditional, from the Chrysalis Tarot.
I LOVE the smartness (and smarty-pants-ness) of crows and ravens! And I've been reading recently about the intelligence of trees.

The often oddball Bruegel Tarot.
Here we have an alchemist with his little pet dragon admonishing him about something.
You've forgotten my lunch again, you absent-minded old coot!

From the Fantastic Menagerie - I like this one because we get a tricky sleight-of-hand version of the Magician. A bit of the untrustworthy charlatan element.

The Inner Child's Magician needs some human help. If no one rubs the lamp, he's stuck. His magic stays bottled up. 

None of the other inhabitants of the Victorian Fairy Tarot look like this Magician. He stands alone. I like the whirling bits from each of the seasons circling about him in a tangible wheel of the year.

No flashy showman here in the Victorian Romantic (2006 edition). He bears the weight of his office.

Tenth and last. The number 10 reduces to 1, the number of the Magician.
I know something you don't know...

Monday, March 07, 2016

Testing, Testing: The Golden Tarot of Klimt

There are some gift bags that I just can't part with. Like this one, for instance; it hung on my bedroom doorknob for a while, then migrated to a spot on the floor with other homeless items, where it gathered dust and fell out of memory. I didn't know anything about the picture; I just knew that I loved it. 

A couple of months ago  I picked up this used DVD at the neighbourhood video store's 3-for-$20 sale. It had Helen Mirren on the cover; what more did I need to know, really?
Without bothering to squint at the plot in tiny print on the back of the cover, I watched the movie, and only at the end learned that it was based on a true story, moving back and forth in time between the horrors of the Nazi take-over of Vienna in 1938, and the present. In one day, the lives of accomplished and established Jewish families in that beautiful city twisted beyond recognition. Respected, loved, accepted skewed to despised, jeered at, hunted.

Helen Mirren's character is the 80-something Maria Altmann, whose cultured and well-to-do family had commissioned five paintings by the up-and-coming modern artist, Gustav Klimt. Among them is the famous Woman in Gold, a portrait of Maria's aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer, which was snatched by the Nazis along with the rest of the family's valuables. The story centers around Maria's battle to wrest this particular work from the Austrian government, and return it to its rightful owners - her family.
Both paintings above, The Kiss and Adele's portrait, come from Klimt's "Golden Phase", where he embellished his works with lavish applications of gold leaf.

The Klimt Tarot is likewise given the golden treatment, with every card decorated in some way with brilliant gold accents. Unfortunately, they're very difficult  (for me, anyway) to capture in a photo; here's a bit of an idea of its splendour.

1. Unfortunately the little white book that accompanies you includes no information about which of Gustav Klimt's paintings were used for each card. I realize that this is not your fault. Can you help me come to grips with this omission, please?

8 Chalices
I suggest that you leave behind your concerns about which paintings have found their way into each of my cards, and enjoy the visual feast that is here. There are, of course, many online references to Gustav's works, should you feel the need to know more.
My advice? Let go of your disappointment and delve into this lush gallery of images.

2. Many of the people in this deck are gaunt to the point of emaciation. Are we to assume some type of suffering if one of these cards appears?
Queen of Pentacles and 6 Swords
I see that you have brought two of us out for this question. Did you not think one of us up to the task?
I'm sorry, no, nothing like that. An extra card fell out while I was shuffling. Which of you would like to speak first?
Queen of Pentacles
As the Queen, I feel it is my duty to lead this discussion. I would like to declare at the outset that I am in no way gaunt or emaciated.
And now, to your question. People of many shapes and circumstances inhabit this deck. Do keep in mind that Mr. Klimt was rather an avant-garde artist for his time, and took some pleasure in showing the human body in shocking ways. To this end he drew full frontal nudity, the pregnant female form, and some questionable embraces between men or women. I believe he was drawing a stylized version of life, and did not mean to always imply suffering.

6 Swords
To add to Her Majesty's excellent points, I would suggest that perhaps your interpretations would be better served by observing, not our thinness or thickness, but our demeanors and facial expressions. As you can see, my features are restful, and though I have not much flesh on my bones, my forearm is well-muscled and I am sailing strongly.

3. Do you find your scope as a reading deck restricted by Klimt's distinctive, rather serious art style?
The Hermit
As with any quality tarot deck, much of the work must be done by the reader. Look at the details, observe the backgrounds, give some thought to what makes me stand out from more conventional decks. Set yourself the task of learning how the artist expressed himself. Learn to read Klimt's look. Once you have leafed through all 78 of us several times, you will begin to notice slight differences between cards that may not be apparent at a first, more cursory glance.
Strip off any prejudices or initial revulsions and fall into Gustav's world. It will speak to you.

And finally, a Klimt shoulder bag from Baba Studio.

Auf Wiedersehen!

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Books and Bones

In the world of bookbinding, people refer to a bone folder - emphasis on the first word. Which to me sounds like a tool for folding bones, and much too grisly to be associated with making books.
I got the wrong end of the stick, thank goodness.

Looking much like a letter opener, a bone folder is made from bone, and used for creasing paper: squashing down the folds to make everything neat and tidy and lined up. Or getting the folds ready for cutting with a slitting knife. (Another violent-sounding tool. Hm, makes me wonder if early bookbinders were trying to beef up their nerdy reputation? Trying to sound more macho?)

Since leaping into the ancient and exacting world of bookbinding in January, I've produced this little flawed collection. With each one - a new technique, new challenges, new mistakes.

This sudden interest in how books are put together has me scouring my bookshelves, looking for examples that have been assembled in traditional ways. Visible lines of stitching embedded deep in the folds of the pages, cloth bindings, perfectly mitered corners (these are particularly rare), interesting end papers, embossed cover boards.

My search led me to this small volume, where I am sliding through the icy history of frost fairs and frozen follies along the Thames with my morning tea. In her entry for 1506,  Helen Humphreys writes:
     The three boys have come down to skate on the river. The water above the bridge has set fast and smooth. There is no snow on the surface and the ice glistens black under the winter sun. It is early in the morning and there is no one else moving on the Thames.
     The boys sit on the ice at the edge of the the shore and strap the skate bones onto their boot soles. They push off from the bank, at first tentatively, and then with stronger and stronger strokes, until they are flying, like crooked birds, up the centre of the river.

Bone folders. Bone skates. 

By 1662, the world of skating is on the brink of a new era. (No Hans Brinker joke intended, but the story of him and the silver skates did get bound into a book, so it's not completely off topic!)

Another excerpt from The Frozen Thames:
     It is a cold walk from the church and, since I am in no hurry, I take the path by the river so as to watch the skaters on the ice. It is on the frozen river this year that the new iron scheets from Holland are being used. They are far superior for sliding on the ice than the old skates made from animal bones.

While reading these lines, an image popped into my head. This up-north Canadian variation on the Twelve Days of Christmas. I love the elaborately wrought scheets.

How am I going to bring this around to tarot? No idea. I'll go eat lunch; maybe inspiration will strike.

(Well, there is some ice skating in this card from the Bruegel Tarot, but since one drunk guy has fallen through the ice and may drown, it hasn't quite the simple look I'm going for.)

Here I am, nine hours, two meals, and an afternoon snack later. This is what I've got:
For lunch I had bean soup sent over by my daughter, who didn't realize how ENORMOUS the quantity of soup four pounds of dried beans produces.

Old ingredients, beans, still around and yummed over.
Old tools, made from one of history's earliest and most readily available materials - bone.

Nope, this isn't quite it. Back tomorrow.

Now it's Tuesday, and I'm no smarter than I was yesterday. Oh well.

Here we are in 2016, and the lowly bean still simmers in modern soup pots. Burnished bone is hard at work doing the same folding work it did centuries ago, as current crafters discover the ancient art of making books.
Old ways become new again. Styles and trends cycle in, out, and back 'round.
Gaian Tarot