pentacles, magic

faq: the galaxy cards

In the Lo Scarabeo edition of the deck, there are two cards completely unmentioned in the book: one with the same image as is on the back of the cards, one with that galaxy in varnish on a white card.

People ask me, "What are these? What do they mean?".

Well, first off, they're kind of there for fun. The deck was big enough that it was going to be printed as nine rows of eleven cards, so no matter how many images I actually had, there would be 99 cards chopped out of the paper. Since I already had the 99s, we decided to add those few extras - hence these, the various extra Majors, and the two title cards. They were thrown in at the last minute, and the book was already overfull, so they lost out.

But people like to leave them in there. Because they look like they MUST be signifying of SOMETHING, right?

For me, they mostly seem to come up if I'm asking the deck a yes/no question. The black one is NO, the white one is YES. More precisely the black one seems to be DUDE NO, JUST NO, WHY ARE YOU EVEN ASKING ME THIS, YOU TOTALLY KNOW IT'S A NO, and the white one is WELL DUH YES? WHY DID YOU EVEN THINK IT MIGHT BE OTHERWISE?

(maybe it's just me but my deck is pretty snarky sometimes. I think it's not me; someone on Facebook recently said it's "fully equipped to give you the finger".)

In other contexts, well, here's some things to think about. Positive/negative universes - which one is the "normal" world, which is antimatter? Far places - I mean it's the GALAXY, if it comes up when you're asking about a trip what would that mean? The white one is partially in the varnish layer; it's barely visible. What's hard to see because it's so brightly lit; what're you missing because it's right there in front of you?
pentacles, magic

0 of (VOID)

Collapse ) The 0 of (VOID). It started as a joke but it became unexpectedly serious.

I was working on the Aces, all of which my main references titled "The Root of the Powers of (element)". Being an occasional programmer, with the tendency to start counting at 0, I found myself asking "what's at zero units of each element?". The answer was this card. It is a number card, but it is not suited. There is next to nothing to see because everything is undifferentiated - metaphorically, the Aces are the Big Bang, and this is what was sitting there, quiescent and full of possibility, before that happened. (This also ties in nicely with the kinda-bubble-chamber-looking designs in some of the Aces. I should probably go back and put them into all of them now that I think about it.)

If I was being truer to programmer lingo, this would probably be the 0 of (UNDEFINED). The suit is a null reference here, it is none of them. But "void" is a much more evocative word that brings in the pre-Big Bang metaphors.

It is a card of initial conditions; the butterfly is a reminder of how sensitive a chaotic system can be to those. We all know the "butterfly effect", the thought that the vortices of air coming off of a butterfly's wings could be the root of a tropical storm halfway across the world. Move carefully, for what you do may have long-reaching and unforseen consequences; move uncaringly, for your life is as short as a butterfly's in the grand scheme of things.

The butterfly trails a rainbow, which touches all four of the colors I used for each suit. This is a reminder that all things are potential here in the Void - nothing is firm, you can sculpt the nothingness into whatever the hell you want. It is raw Chaos.

The same butterfly can also be found in the Star. I think that's the only other place it shows up but I'm not entirely sure - the connections in this deck still surprise me sometimes! (It even recurs in the alternate Op art take on the Star that fell out of my hand one day.)

In general, this is a card of beginnings. This is the void of raw potential, not the void of the end of all things. Or perhaps it is both, if you like the cyclical-universe theory - everything collapses into a Big Crunch, with seethes for an unknown timeless time, then explodes, starting the universe anew. How will we define the universal constants this time?

From my original post of the art:
It has no elemental associations. It has no astrological associations. The void was there before the constellations were lit, and will be there when the last one burns out.

It is emptiness; how will you fill it?

Divinatory meanings (tentative): The Butterfly Effect, chaos, raw unformed possibility. Potential. Things are about to happen, and might happen fast. If ill-dignified, it is 'analysis paralysis', illusions of conspiracy, insignificance. Clusterfuck.

Also, if you have a severely different take on this particular card, I'd love to hear it! I know it's struck a deep, powerful chord with several folks; your interpretations could well end up superseding or enhancing my intended meanings!
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pentacles, magic

4 of Swords: Truce

Don't ask me why, but I feel like doing another one of these tonight.

Collapse ) The Four of Swords is "Truce". A human woman and a dark elf of some sort sit in the space defined by four swords thrust into the ground and share a pipe. And play footsie. Outside, a battle rages.

In general, the Fours are about pauses and stability. In the 'active' suits (Swords and Pentacles) they're a welcomed pause; in the 'passive' suits (Cups and Wands) they're an unpleasant, decaying pause.

This is a card of peace, of sorrow's end. It may be an all-too-brief moment of calm amidst a storm; it may be the beginning of a change for the better. Do you see these two women as powerless soldiers of opposing armies, or as a pair whose quiet dialogue can lead to the end of hostilities?

Note that the two swords in the front also appear as the dialogue in Cruelty (9S), while the two in the back reappear in Ruin (10S). Peace emerges from communication; without that it's all too easy to descend into cruelty or mutual ruin.

Calmness has to be fought for sometimes. And anxiety is always waiting. But there are tools to help the fight.

If the question you're asking the deck is "Should I get high tonight?" and this card turns up, you can treat it as an unequivocal "yes".

As a final note, I'm a bit deceptive in the art here - there are are actually seven swords on this card, if you count the ones wielded by the silhouette on the other side of the windows. Or is that a tryptich depicting battles past, part of a war memorial these two women are sitting amidst? Swords is a cunning, deceptive suit.
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pentacles, magic

Cavalier of Swords

A random draw brings me to the Cavalier of Swords.

Collapse ) Cavailiers - "knights" or "knaves" in many other decks, but I wanted a clear one-letter abbreviation - are associated with energetic, active Fire, while the Swords are associated with planning, detached Air. We've already seen this combination run the other way in the King of Pentacles; here we have the flip to his flop.

The Cavalier of Swords is definitely full of action. All of the Cavaliers are active, and part of how I denote this is splitting the card into three panels - these guys are so damn busy Doing Stuff that they have extra narrative hooks. This one is active, yet very intellectual; he's using a thin sword designed for precision pinpoint attacks, relying on his speed and his skill at parrying to defend himself. He's dressed like quite the swashbuckler; he's as likely to score points on his opponent with an insult as with the point of his rapier.

He rides a giant crow, high above a gathering storm in the evening sky. If you look closely you can see him waving his sword.

Seen close, he's slim and elfin, androgynous even. He reaches out from barely-visible flames, palm down - he's not asking, offering, or demanding anything. Perhaps he's about to steal something. He's no cat burglar, despite his litheness; his outfit demands to be noticed, with its bold yellows and maroons against black, his tri-colored hair (black/yellow/orange) and the feathers in his immense hat.

Perhaps he grows up to become the King of Pentacles, spinning stories about the wild adventures of his youth. Or perhaps he misjudges, gets into something he can't clever his way out of, and dies tomorrow.

To use a comic-book metaphor, this guy is Spider-man. He lives on his wits, reflexes, and luck.

As always, if you have anything to ask about this card, or want me to talk about another one, let me know.
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pentacles, magic

proposed rearrangements

I'm sitting here doing some Qabbalagghh reading and have an inspiration to re-organize the low numbers of the Major Arcana. I will contemplate this some time later; this is just to record the initial thoughts.

1: Magician.
2: Chariot. (Dichotomy of mind-and-body; i-and-the-other.)
3: Lovers. 'Cause there's three of them. Other correspondences as well that I will have to ponder.
4: Universe.

The rest will require careful thought, to see if I can construct a System that contradicts itself and its antecedents in the properly-interesting way.
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pentacles, magic

8: Fortitude

Collapse ) Fortitude is one of the few Majors that has several sketches leading up to the final card in my deck. The first rough was a fairly prosaic take on the idea of 'woman subduing a lion' that you see in most modern decks; the lion was made of fire and in space, but it was the same underlying ideas.

As I researched it, I discovered another thread of historical imagery: a woman with a pillar - sometimes nearby it, sometimes breaking it. I found this to be pretty symbolically rich, and merged it with the familiar woman-and-lion pattern.

We have a vaulted roof receding off into the distance, held up by caryatids (pillars sculpted in the shape of women). The pillars are innumerable, the roof and floor measureless - is this some strange temple? A frozen army? The figures are spaced far too close to easily pass through, if they're human-sized. A creature somewhere between a woman and a lion roams about, rubbing up against the nearest caryatid.

Usually, this card shows a woman taming a wild beast. Here, the 'beast' may be as human as the 'woman'; the question of which one is free and which one is bound became open. The woman is as strong as Atlas, holding up the ceiling, but her strength holds her there - if she lets go, will it hold? Moreover, she's wearing a huge posture collar. She's the bound one here. Is she the wild one, tamed by the seeming beast? The lion wanders free, rubbing up against whichever pillar she likes and insisting that she be petted. Perhaps the presence of the lion animates the women, one by one.

Strength in numbers: the caryatid we're looking directly at might not hold up the whole roof by herself, but along with all the others, she can do it. And perhaps she can take a break now and then, as long as the others continue: "I'll get by with a little help from my friends", as the Beatles put it.

Like the Chariot, there is an undercurrent of mind-body dualism here. The lion-girl could even be pulling a more traditional Chariot, one of the wild urges dragging a disciplined mind all over. Here, though, she is tame because she enjoys it, as is the pillar: strength bound and tamed, the knowledge that you have the strength to break the bonds once they stop being fun. This is a BDSM-textured deck, and this card is one of the places where it's more overt.

The strength to wait, to think, rather than to leap forth and beat a problem into submission. The strength to not use your power; the strength of measured inaction.

The animal strength here is free, but held back - it's not leaping, it's not acting. It's waiting and enjoying itself. The mental strength is bound; she's not allowed to obsessively overthink the problem - she may spend most of her time with her mind turned off until she's needed. This is the virtue of Fortitude - to have the courage to refrain from acting improperly, and to have the courage to act properly and incisively when it is the time for action.
pentacles, magic

King of Pentacles

Collapse ) In the Silicon Dawn Tarot, the Kings are associated with Air - planning, thinking, intellectual action. The Pentacles are associated with Fire: direct action, impulse, magic. So what do you get when you combine these near-opposites? You get a braggart, a Baron Munchausen. This King is full of wild stories of his successes as a sky-pirate, but it's anybody's guess how much is truth and how much is invention. He's been around the world and to the moon, he's made and lost five fortunes, and he doesn't have anything to prove it but his sixth fortune.

Don't underestimate him, though. More of those brags might be based in truth than you think.

Like the rest of the Pentacles court (except the Prince, who is too young, I suppose), the King sports a tattoo of a dragon. His is front and center on his chest; he wants everyone to know that DUDE MY POWER ANIMAL IS A MOTHERFUCKIN DRAGON!!!!. And he wants to show off his chest, too. There's a bit of seduction to this King; there's a bit of sleaziness to him sometimes, as well. In a different light those pants probably leave nothing to the imagination.

Sometimes a cigar, of course, is just a cigar.

He's the most extroverted of the Pentacles court by far - what's the use of spinning tales of dramatic action without someone to weave them for? He's possibly the most extroverted of the whole deck's royalty.
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pentacles, magic

1: The Magician

I decided to draw a card from the deck and write about it. I've been thinking of doing this ever since setting this community up; hopefully this won't be the first time. As always, if there's a particular card you're curious about, ask me.

Collapse ) The Magician is, depending on which Tarot authority you trust, either a figure of wisdom and enlightenment full of arcane knowledge... or a petty con-man, ready to dazzle the unsuspecting marks. My Magician has a bit of both of these. She's also partaking a bit of the profession that seems the most like 'magic' in the modern day: computer programming.

Just today I got called a 'wizard' at work, and promptly took out the wand full of water and glitter that I've been keeping in my purse since I picked it up at a toy store. Someone who can program seems to be full of strange magical knowledge, able to solve problems most people can barely comprehend. But to the programmer, these problems often seem so trivial that they do feel like a con-man, if they play up the mystery. Any craft can have this duality, but it seems to come much stronger for a coder.

The Magician sits at the keyboard with a wand beside it. Above her floats the tools of her trade. She might be juggling them; this recalls the fact that the earlier con-man versions of this card were often called 'le Bateleur', which translates either to 'mountebank' or 'juggler'. The tools of modern neo-pagan ritual mix with the tools of the programmer and the tools of the con-man - and these tools all overlap, too. Will she drink that coffee or scry the future in it? Is the pentacle for grounding her energies, or for weighing down a stack of reference books? Is she writing a game or a paint program or a virus, or blogging about what Sally said about Mary at the last coven meeting? Will she wear that vixen mask to take on the aspect of a trickster goddess, or to distract you while her accomplice steals your credit card? She's probably going to use that ball and three shells to run a con on you - or is she planning to use them as a demonstration of the essential mutability of reality, or at least our perception of reality?

Most of this deck is free of Obvious Symbols - I haven't woven the planetary, astrological, or any other such associations into the foreground of the cards. The Magician, on the other hand, wants you to know what she's associated with. Perhaps to help you delve into the symbolism, perhaps to create an aura of competence she'll exploit. A pendant with Mercury's symbol is nestled between her ample breasts; she wears earrings shaped after the electrical diagram of a transformer. On her hat, she has pins: an ibis head, to remind you some say this card is associated with Thoth, Egyptian god of wisdom; the Hebrew letter Beth (because every Major Arcana has to be associated with a Hebrew letter if you go for that whole Cabalistic thing), an infinity to remind you of the cryptic symbolism of earlier decks, and a monkey. I can't remember why she has a monkey on her Pin-Covered Wizarding Hat; since the Magician wants to remind you she's all mystick and meaningful, I will encourage you to meditate upon her monkey pin to deduce its meaning, possibly with the help of the Holy Herb of the Arabs*.

She sits at the center of wavy radiance, with a sly look. Rather like a well-fed cat. She's just done something clever, or she's about to do something clever. Whether it's something complicated, magic, and clever, or something sly, deceitful, and clever, really depends on the cards around her. Or on the orientation of the card, if you like reversals. Ask the monkey on her hat whether 'mountebank' or 'magician' is the reversed meaning. Transformation, disguise, deception, magic, technical knowledge. Mockery, arcane wisdom. She might even be smirking because she's about to unleash a devastatingly obscure witticism that will go over your head - or because, 'while there is no such thing as a stupid question, only stupid answers, you just asked a real contender for a stupid question'. Or she might be half-smiling because she just loves this kind of creation, and isn't very good at looking people in the eye. I know I'm like that.

She's also providing some distraction from her tricks, like any good magician. Do your eyes keep wandering back to that ample cleavage and the pendant snuggled in there? Misdirection. Is she connected with any cards that represent something you find to be a powerful distraction from what you'd rather be doing?

The Magician is the only Major Arcana I drew in a medium shot; most of them are shown from head to toe. The Magician sits behind her desk, half-obscured. She is also unique in that her hand has four fingers - most of the drawings in this entire deck have the conventional three fingers of American cartooning.

Most modern authorities want this card to be all about MAGIC and WILL and the PURE AWESOME of MY MYSTICK WANG, but I think it's equally important to dig into the past and remember that it started out being about the con-man, the juggler, the trickster. And that these things overlap - how many Native American myths have the world we live in created by a trickster; how many tricksters have brought us the gift of fire? Would we have all our modern conveniences without some trickster's laziness, and their willingness to expend immense amounts of energy on Not Working?

* this is me snarking about Crowley. Who had three drafts of this card before he was satisfied with its heroic portrayal of himself for his deck. Now you know where I got the idea for three Fools from. Also the monkey pin has something to do with Hanuman, the Monkey King of Asian myth. Trickster again!
pentacles, magic

X: History

While I'm thinking about the extras, let me discuss my extra Major Arcana, History.

Collapse ) The major theme of this card is narrative. It was the last one I did, before the show; it sums up a lot of my feelings on what Tarot is for.

We are stories we tell ourselves. We define our past by these stories; we constrain or open up our future by these stories. From When I grow up, I'm going to be the President of the United States of America! to I can't do that because I'll fail, just like everything else I've ever done, the stories we tell about our past and present define our future. Change the story, change your possible futures. Tarot decks? A tool for giving yourself a seed crystal to grow a story about yourself around. Who's this Court card in my life? How's the cards next to them mean they relate to me? Draw out the things you hide from yourself by weaving a story.

The figure on the card has a ribbon coming out of her mouth, wrapping around her: she's binding herself by her words. But on the other hand, she's also warping up out of the checkered ground plane like a visualization of a black hole's effect on the fabric of space-time; she's distorting and dragging the pillars up along with her. She is altering the universe by her stories. And if her stories stopped - maybe she'd just snap back into nothingness, the flatness of the checkered ground reasserting itself.

How much of the universe exists because we are there to observe it, for that matter? How deeply knotted is space-time around itself?

This is an image that's been lingering with me for a while; it first appeared in March 2005, then later in April 2007. It may also be reappearing at some point in the future. The third, unfinished version was done after contemplating some writing around the Saphir-Whorf hypothesis that (in short) "language shapes thoughts".

The same imagery also found itself appearing as Fortune. Which is 10. This card is intimately related to Dame Fortune: 10 is a personification of the uncaring randomness of the universe, offering success or failure with no real pattern, while X is your own influence on the randomness. You are the X-factor that shapes your own fate to your own agenda, if you choose to. If you can work out the right stories to tell the world, and yourself. And keep in mind that as you shape the world with your stories, you're also shaping yourself - look out for writing yourself into a corner!

As ceruleanst pointed out when I originally posted this card, it's also worth noting another coupling this card's involved in: X against O. Script against no script; definition against potential. Order and chaos.

As a transwoman, grabbing ahold of my own narrative was very important. There was a point where I saw two likely stories for the rest of my life: a grey, depressed, lonely one if I didn't change, that would probably end in 'accidental' death, or one full of new risks, that might be cut short by fag-bashing or by side-effects of a second puberty, that also had a hope of me being someone I could like. I chose the latter and it worked out amazingly well after some rocky years. If I'd let the default story keep going, I might be dead already; I certainly wouldn't be sitting here writing an essay like this. You're going to be tied up in someone's narrative knots no matter what you do - tie your own, and tie them well, before other people tie them for you.

I don't know why she's in a foggy, pillared space that recalls a cathedral with its vaulted ceilings. Make your own connections there. I've got a few that I'll probably talk about when I discuss the 0 of (VOID) as they're more applicable there. (All the cards are linked, and all of my additions have their own particular incestuous set of links.)
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