Thursday, March 20, 2014

Depicting the fives of Tarot

Welcome to this edition of the Tarot Blog Hop!

Being an artist (well sort of an artist) and a student of the Golden Dawn, as well as a historian (provided that one can be considered a historian with only a Bachelors degree and no position in academia), I tend to look at some aspects of the esoteric sciences differently than other people do.

For instance, due to my Golden Dawn training, and fascination with old Tarot cards, I am very consciously aware that the easy to read pictures on the minor arcana cards is a relatively new thing. Just a century ago, the minor cards were still just emblems and numbers which required that you learn the secret to reading the cards, rather than just pulling them out of a box. Thanks to the Waite/Rider/Smith deck, and all its offshoots, a whole layer of learning about the Tarot cards can be ignored...if you chose to.

(Oh, there is still an art to reading the cards--it is just that the modern cards are so much more readable with just a little training than they were a century ago. Don't get me wrong--learning to read the cards is still hard is just that it used to be even harder.)

 How exactly do you read cards when the only things you have is the suit and number of a card? Part of the Golden Dawn initiated solution was to associate some of the minor arcana (twos to tens) with the 36 decans as well as the sephiroth of the Tree of Life.

Each decan, ten degrees of a zodiac sign, has both the influence of a planet as well as the zodiac sign itself. Layered on top of that is the associated sephirah (based on number) as well as that sephirah's associated planet, and the associated element of the suit of the card, and the corresponding world from the Four World theory. Inside the RR et AC training (the Adept Grades of the Golden Dawn tradition), there are particular coloring rules to remind the Adept reader of the various forces involved in the cards (or at least, there are in the Inner Order training program that I suffered though). There is also a mystic title that one has to memorize.

It is a complicated system, which explains why most people just ignore it and go directly with cloning the pictures from the Waite/Rider/Smith deck and/or just reading from the pictures without the scaffold that GD used to support their reading of the cards.

Now, let's be honest, A.E. Waite and Pamela Colman Smith, both members of a splinter of the original Golden Dawn Order, did a marvelous job of associating pictorial events to the minor arcana. Still occasionally, as an artist, I wonder what I would have came up with given a completely blank slate, aided only by the Golden Dawn attributes assigned to the cards.

So in the name of a thought experiment, here are the rough (really rough) drafts of the ideas that I have that might be suitable to illustrate the Fives of the minor arcana.

Lord of Strife.
The Five of Wands is associated with the first decan of Leo (the first ten degrees of the zodiac sign of Leo) which is sub-ruled by the planet Saturn. The associated of the Five of Wands, as well as all of the other Fives, is Geburah--the sephirah of severity and martial energies--and its associated planet Mars. The Mystic Title of the Five of Wands is the Lord of Strife.

For this card, I decided that a group of protesters, from a couple of different special interests groups, clashing with one another, was the modern version of Strife. An example of this type of energy can be encountered on the internet wherever people start arguing over politics and how the other political party has stepped over the borders of what is proper behavior. Politics is all about leaders and strong personalities (Leo), and the efforts of imposing limits on the damage that they can cause (Saturn) tends to bring out people's passions (Mars) as the arguments flare out of control (Geburah).

Lord of Loss of Pleasure. 
The Five of Cups has the decan of Scorpio sub-ruled by Mars assigned to it. The fact that Mars is also associated with Geburah means that this card has a double helping of Mars. The Mystic Title given by Golden Dawn to the Five of Cups is the Lord of the Loss of Pleasure.

For this card, I am kicking around just updating the Waite/Rider/Smith card by moving the setting to a dingy bar. After all, I have seen many people go on drinking binges after bad break-ups. I am thinking of possibly having a busy street or neon sign visible in the window behind the person to symbolize the overlooked opportunities are passing by unnoticed. I feel that a dingy bar sums up nicely the heavy Mars energy floating around a Scorpio environment.

Lord of Defeat.
The Five of Swords is associated with the first decan of Aquarius, the first ten degrees of the sign which are sub-ruled by the planet Venus. Here the energies of Mars meet Venus in a sign that is ruled by Saturn (under the old rules of astrology before the discovery of the modern outer planets). This combination of forces tends to have Mars completely overwhelm the energies of Venus, and imposes new limits on the situation--unfortunately, the battle between the two tends to exhaust both sides; and while their is a victor, it is only a temporary honor. The Mystic Title of this card is the Lord of Defeat.

For this card, I decided to go with the closest thing to war that many people in the modern world know--sports. Out of all the sports, I decided pro wrestling was the closest to the actual energies of this card. Wrestlers have adoring fans (Venus), limits to how long they will be champions before they are overthrown (Saturn), and there is a constant flow of Mars energy present. Of course, this is also true of other sports. So why wrestling? It is an individual and not a team that wins.

Lord of Material Trouble. 
The Five of Pentacles (Coins if you prefer) is associated with the first decan of Taurus, the ten degrees of the sign of Taurus sub-ruled by Mercury. Like the other Fives, the martial energies of the sephirah Geburah and its associated planet impact the decan's energies in a negative fashion. The Mystic Title of this card is the Lord of Material Trouble.

In the case of this card, while I like the Waite/Rider/Smith version (two crippled beggars outside a church), I am not sure that the imagery completely fits into modern times. Today, news (Mercury) of a stock market downturn (Mars) is more likely to be a source of worry than the thought that you might become a cripple (though I will note that medical costs can still be costly).

So those are my best ideas (currently) about how I would use the Golden Dawn associations to the Fives to create a series of new pictures for them. If nothing else, the exercise helped me understand the Fives a little better. If you have any ideas about how you would update the cards, I would love to hear about them in the comment section.


Olivia Peters said...

This is a wonderful post and I enjoyed reading the breakdowns of each 5 and how it relates to the Golden Dawn. I've recently been synthesizing aspects of the Tree of Life with the cards and have really been enjoying the process!

Alison said...

This is fascinating. I've used the decans to link astrology to the tarot for many years now, but I've tried incorporating the Tree of Life into it in this way. I love the way you've created new visuals too...Thank you for the inspiration to try something new!

Tarot By Arwen said...

I learned quite a bit in this post. Thank you, Morgan!

Unknown said...

You made something that sounded quite complex initially seem so relevant to today's situations. I really enjoyed that.

Anonymous said...

Challenging number chosen. Indeed, to take all the layers of reading symbolism for each and make them clear and relevant to today--well done! Amazing how just the astrological bits caused the meanings to come together nicely.

Inner Whispers said...

I love your sketches and ideas, Morgan! Colourful, modern, and yet incorporating all the astrological stuff which, I admit, I've never gotten my head around. Really great post :)