Unreadable Decks, Maybe

It’s strange about decks that are “unreadable”, I consider it a challenge to find a way to use them.

In looking at online comments about the The Lost Code of the Tarot, I am hearing a lot of stuff about cards not being identifiable and the book being a bit of a put-on, a story with no meanings for cards, and then there’s the controversy about the Kickstarter campaign for this deck and how Llewellyn released the mass market version before, which may or may not be exactly the same as the funded one.

I choose not to fund decks at Kickstarter, although I have bought decks elsewhere from artists that were originally funded on Gamecrafter or Kickstarter et al. It’s a bit like buying a house from a developer before anything has been built, which is not something I would do either.

I used to trade people for the “stinker” decks, the ones that weren’t readable. It’s fun to pull something out of chaos. Does everything have to be systematically readable to be enjoyable?

I have a good collection of cards, all listed in a visual database, so I rambled through the tarot entries and pulled a few out that I’ve had a great time with, although many are considered baffling or unreadable. It’s a random pick, subjective, and doesn’t include all the stinker oracles and weird oddities that I delight in keeping regardless of their readability.

I always feel that I should challenge myself more, find something quirky and delightful and completely unfathomable and find a way to use and delight in it. For me, the term “unreadable” conjures up a vision of a mind that can’t be bothered learning new things.


Oh my, the Giotto, Bosch, and Bruegel, the holy trinity of unreadability!! Does it get any better?

Not for me.



Armenia Sails To Byzantium

Daily Draw December 11th, 2011

Since I finished reading the book Armenian Golgotha about the Armenian genocide that took place shortly before and during the first World War, I keep seeing references to Armenia in a kind of synchronistic urgency. Last night I was watching House Hunters International on television and a young couple were moving from Boston to Yerevan, the capital city of Armenia. It was interesting to see how they are improving the Armenian economy and renovating old buildings after the fall of the Soviet Union.

I couldn’t help but notice how the country has shrunk from its ancestral lands. They were a vital part of the Byzanytine and Sassanid Empires, a vital culture in Europe up until they were slaughtered in the 20th century into a half-remembered society of darkly handsome people from an obscure republic, instead of the kingdom they really were.

There is something about that word “Byzantium.” Perhaps it’s a romantic echo of the poem Sailing to Byzantium by Yeats and a rather ethereal story by Robert Silverberg of the same name that I studied about eight years ago on a reading list. I remember getting all fired up about the Byzantine Empire and going to a lot of trouble to hunt up a travel book by Osbert Lancaster, the British illustrator, that was called Sailing to Byzantium: An Architectural Companion. Here is the book with some sample illustrations by Lancaster.

I continued my interest in the Byzantine Empire through my study of Constantine and his mother Helena in the Tarot of the Saints, as well as Sophia on the The World card in that deck. I have wanted a copy of a television series that John Romer did for The Learning Channel called Byzantium: The Lost Empire. It finally came back in stock online so I have bought it for Christmas. I was overjoyed to be able to finally get this history DVD after all these years. Apart from seeing the Hagia Sophia back in the 1970s in Kenneth Clark’s series Civilisation, I was awed by the church when John Romer’s television series Testament featured it. It is a magical place.

There is something very satisfying when all your interests and old threads of imagination come together. That’s how I felt today.


From the glorious Nigel Jackson Tarot:

We seat ourselves in the enormous room of imagination and warm ourselves at the fire of history, eyes closed dreaming of Byzantium. The torch of history and the staff of pilgrimage rest by the hearth while light bathes the drowsy Emperor off the hammered shields on the wall of ages.

Comfort and wealth come from much more than monetary gain, they come from the mind as well.

Sailing To Byzantium
That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees,
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

William Butler Yeats

The High Priestess Across Decks

Daily Draw August 17th, 2011

I recently entered my name in a giveaway for a new self-published deck, but I didn’t win so I have become shy of entering these things. However, they do give me inspiration for deck exploration, and that’s how I came to ponder The High Priestess card today, someone was asking people to enter the giveaway by talking about their favourite High Priestess card.

I rarely draw this card and the idea of spooky intuition or prescience doesn’t fit me so I rarely pay attention. I become uncomfortable when I’m reading cards and a knowing comes upon me, it seems too personal. I suppose most of us are pleased that we tune in, but it makes me uncomfortable.

So the old HP is someone I avoid. I avoid thinking about her qualities, I avoid tuning it to other people. Too close, too close.

While browsing through my collection I came upon a few HP cards that I like or studied. Some I thought “Wow, I don’t remember that one.”

I was going to save this for last but feel it fair to weed out the skimmers-of-blogs by telling you right away what my favourite HP is, or as close as I get to designating a favourite: the one from the Arthurian Tarot, the first edition with the gorgeous black borders, the Hallowquest Lady of the Lake.

The next set is very artsy I think. I often wonder why people insist that the Osho Zen deck is not tarot. It is one of my favourite decks, particularly when it comes to people or relationship matters. I think it sings and has terrific artwork, and I can’t see what all the fuss is about. Tarot is tarot, regardless of how you view themes or Osho himself.

These two are quite different. Nigel Jackson brings his own flavour to a conventional HP, but there is something about it or about the colours that makes it one of the better ones. The Via Tarot is always different and interesting.

Two of my favourites. If only U.S. Games still published interesting things like the Phantasmagoric deck, or like the Circle of Life by Lo Scarabeo. This is a good example of why I usually love Lo Scarabeo decks, they have such different takes on the archetypes and really good artwork.

The Silenus Tarot depicts the Oracle of Delphi, and the others are artsy. That Navigators Tarot of the Mystic SEA is a special deck because of its intense originality, poetry, and writing.

Like many others, I was immediately taken with The Seer from the Wildwood Tarot because of its fantastic art and concept. The Rumi has a great quote that is perfect for this card: “Mysteries are not communicable save to those who know.”

The Vacchetta has the classic look but I love the line art, and this is my own deck that I printed in olive green from one in the public domain. The Stella’s card is simply luscious in blue. I had a good study with this one.

The last set is just because they are neat in art and composition. I like them.

I find it hard to pin down one favourite either in a specific card or a deck. They are almost all interesting to me and have been favourites at some time. For me, if you have one true favourite it seems to exclude other possibilities, so I never really think of decks like that.

The Flowering of Nigel in Gothic Architecture and Anger Management

Daily Draw June 23rd, 2011

I felt like a ramble through the The Nigel Jackson Tarot and the book I use with it, The Flowering of the Middle Ages, edited by Joan Evans.



Someone has been defeated, and he’s thinking “How did this happen?” I don’t know fella, you have skill and talent and training, maybe that other guy just had a plume in his hat today and pulled it off because he was feeling unconquerable, not to mention fashionable. Nigel mentions in the book that it was anger and the loss of his temper that caused his defeat, the unspoken reasoning being that some practice in controlling his anger would help prepare him for the next battle.

And to go with this, a passage from the book:

“The other document is far more explicit: it consists in a manuscript Compendium of Architecture of 1681, written by Simón García, a Spanish architect of Salamanca. In his own work García luckily incorporated the rules of the Gothic builders which had come down to him in an earlier manuscript compiled by Rodrigo Gil de Hontañón. Rodrigo Gil, who was already at work in 1521 and died in 1577, was the last of a notable family of Spanish architects, responsible for several of the largest cathedrals.”

His father built the Segovia Cathedral and Rodrigo continued to finish that building after his father’s death. Rodrigo also built the cathedral at Salamanca, started by his father, as well as other notable Spanish buildings in a decorative style known as Plateresque (Silversmith-like), for its highly detailed facades that looked like the work of a silversmith (Plateros.) Some 20th century Spanish architects were influenced by this style too. Here is the facade of the old Alcala University that Rodrigo built.

It is like many things in history, the practical knowledge and mathematical systems of how to build medieval cathedrals was partially lost. It is thought that technical drawings might have been traced on fresh plaster and destroyed after building, but at some point Rodrigo Gil thought it essential to preserve some of the principles in manuscript form, which is a good thing for later builders and historians today. It is not known if his work accurately reflects real medieval technique or is an adaptation of them for the 16th century. Likewise, Garc­ía’s work might add his own 17th century ideas onto the tradition written down by Gil. We don’t know. This reminds me of tarot history where there is a lack of documentation from the period of creation and everyone extrapolates their own ideas.

Training is built from older sources of knowledge; frustration and anger can also come from not having a good foundation, or from having a lack of documentation. Sometimes you simply have to make up your own mind how to do things or experiment to re-learn things. And that reminds me of fiddling with my camera and being defeated, but every day I try a bit more and see if I can add to my poor foundation of knowledge.

I laughed because in the Power Tarot book she says for this card “Don’t expect to sit around on your duff and have freedom handed to you on a silver platter.” A tie-in to the Plateros if I ever saw one!

The Flowering of Nigel in Complementary Tones of the Season

Daily Draw December 5th, 2010


I usually work this deck with a book I bought on Medieval history, but no time this month, I’ve got a million projects to make.

The Knight of Staves (or Wands) is not a card I draw too often if at all. His arrow is pointing upward and that jaunty feather complements his lilac clothing beautifully. I think of colour lending fire to the day and uplifting him.

Here our chap is all about stability and good economic sense with a dash of the right colours in complementary tones. Hmmm, I don’t know about that as I spent too much money yesterday trying to get Christmas stuff for the family, but perhaps he is simply telling me that is good economy and makes sense?

Okay, I’ll buy that. He’s also off on his travels, so I’ll get on with creative projects and the adventure. I thought of a Christmas-related digital graphic I could make and share with some digital jigsaw people so I might work on that today between my knitting or sewing adventures. Keep the goals, keep on the move.



Jeez, I just can’t do it. The setup is for me to have a quote from the book too. Okay, here we go, a random snippet from the book The Flowering of the Middle Ages:

The Middle Ages saw a proliferation of monastic Orders, each specializing in a particular mission.

That’s right, this Knight is on a particular mission, a mission to clothe the world in complementary colours.


The Ways of the Wind

Daily Draw March 19th, 2010

I’m sitting here, listening.

“Send my deepest sympathy
To the flowers of December’s garden.”

Years ago I was riding in a car with this song playing while going to a meeting with an 18 year-old I was going to tutor and his mother Jeanne. She intimidated me, but later I got to know her and I knew her Mom. Her Mom used to bake us chocolate chip cookies every Christmas at the place I used to work. Jeanne died last year and she was only five years older than I am.

I’ve been looking for this song for a while because of that car trip and possibilities and how time goes and we all get old and the damn way music can bring it all back, these moments in time, perfection pin-pointed in the effortless, synergistic movement of cars and music.

“Introduce the melancholy
I’ve felt since last I saw you.”

Middle age is a time of sorrow it seems to me. So many people are gone, never to be found again.

The beauty in the harmony of a song can bring back such moments of freedom of mind, when the wind meant possibilities, and your heart raced with anticipation, instead of death.

The Flowering of Nigel and the Antiques Roadshow

Daily Draw December 20th, 2009

Of course, what better time to draw a card from The Nigel Jackson Tarot than when the British version of the Antiques Roadshow is on. It’s a nice, quiet, sensual Sunday, perfect for the. . .


As usual, Nigel Jackson has an interesting take on archetype. The faint suggestion here of self-flagellation and the word of God on fire, while people meekly submit in the foreground. Do as you’re told and the world will be sunny and bright, or Sunday and bright perhaps.

The slight danger of “established power becoming oppressive” in Nigel’s words. Martyrs and missionaries, burning in flame. I always think of this as a happy card, but maybe that’s because success to me lies in thinking for myself rather than being oppressed by the ideas or rules of others.

I was telling someone about a handbag pattern I am using and how I was surprised that I’ve seen people online clambering to buy exactly the same fabric as they’ve seen other people using for the bag. One would think, given the enormous scope in fabrics today, that people would get wildly excited about choosing their own particular fabric combinations instead of just copying what someone else did.

And to clarify this I pick a Random Passage from The Flowering of the Middle Ages edited by Joan Evans.

“The Cluniac reform inspired, sometimes indirectly, reforms in other countries.”

I’ll leave it at that. Similar to memes, it only takes one step, one person to think differently, to start a new pattern. The Cluniac pattern was to spend huge amounts of time every day in excessive ceremony and rigid timetabling of chanting, prayers, responses, and such. Not surprisingly, the order declined eventually, pickled in oppressive ritual. How much more interesting to greet the day as it comes, rather than squishing it into a formulaic, deadening ritual.

Look at these poor people, the life sucked out of them.