Tarot of the Saints Wrap-Up

April 1st, 2010

It’s a very human thing to want to wrap things nicely, so here are my observations:

It was never my intention to study the entire deck, I was merely curious about St. Helena, but then carried on. Originally I started this on a forum, which unfortunately jumped the shark to ultimate vacuity some years ago. So I took my study to this blog, and continued on, and on, and on. December 2006 to April Fool’s Day 2010.

Generally, I like to suspend disbelief when authors and artists create decks. They make an enormous effort to paint and write these things, so if they want to put someone startling on a card I figure I can learn from that. Most of the time Robert Place seems to have a very fresh vision of a subject that has been examined repeatedly. I disagreed a few times with him, but more with his historic conjecture than his system. The man is a superb artist and has my utmost respect for his skill in composition and illustration. I have seen people complain about the Minor cards in this deck, which are what are described as “semi-illustrated pips,” but I found their simplicity to be one of the best features of this deck, with some odd relationships there that caused me to think more deeply than the canned meanings of most tarot decks.

I would never undertake the commitment to study an entire 78 cards like this again unless I was writing a book myself on a deck. Which gives you an echo of how compelling I found Place’s work, and the history behind it. Kudos to Bob, I wish he would undertake a Dante deck.

I bought two large encyclopedias of Saints to use in this study, and a book depicting devotional cards of Saints, which have all become a valued part of my book collection, as has my paperback dictionary of Saints which was rescued from the garbage.

My writing is a personal study, and as such I wrote about how I reacted personally to the cards and the Saints themselves. I am haunted by some of the more horrific stories like St. Blandina and the martyrs of Lyons. My write-up for St. George was a bit tongue-in-cheek, but over years, some of these legends develop a humorous aspect that it is impossible not to see. Architecture comes into it a lot for me, and several of the images I used are from playing cards that depict art and statuary of the Saints. I also had a great time looking up some of the churches and reliquaries salient to each Saint. There was a rich, visual pleasure of Art with a capital “A” concomitant to studying the deck. I wrangled with The Sun card, perhaps offensively, but it offended my sensibility, so there it is.

I also feel sad, which was why I delayed finishing the study up in January. It’s hard when you make a commitment to something to let it go, but I have come to the end.


I Go To Rila, Not Dracula’s Castle

Daily Draw June 27th, 2009

I’ve never liked vampire stuff but the Vampire Tarot by Robert Place is a silly theme.  Great art, beautifully rendered and composed as you’d expect from Place, but a silly subject. Bram Stoker was not a good writer, he’s famous for sensationalism rather than good writing. All that lust and violence, the fans love it!

For me, Robert Place has definitely Jumped the Shark with this one. Bite me.

Ah well, maybe next time he’ll do Dante.

And today’s card is from the Golden Tarot of the Tsar:


This shows the death of St. John of Rila and indicates tiredness, impossibility of acting and serious illness. Yes, I am not entirely well. No, I am not dying. I think.

John or Ivan as he is called in his native country, was an abbot in Bulgaria at Rila in the mountains south of Sofia. He was one of the earliest Bulgarian monks and his monastery has survived, although ruined by fire in the 19th century and rebuilt, but was turned into a meteorolical station by the communist government in 1947. Fortunately someone woke up to reality (and perhaps the money engendered by tourism) and it became a national historical monument in 1976 and a UNESCO world heritage site in 1983 and is now firmly back in the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. Apart from the architecture which is wonderful, it contains beautiful icons, woodcarvings, frescoes, and a library of manuscripts and historical documents. There is also a museum there, and the complex is huge, about 8800 squares metres–definitely a neat place to visit.

John was another fellow who spent time as a hermit in a cave contemplating God and sin; he stayed there for twelve years but moved to other caves seeking solitude after he became a monk. People came to him and his followers became so many that they set up camp outside his cave and wouldn’t leave him alone, so eventually the monastery at Rila was built. He did once meet Tsar Peter I, who came to see him seeking advice, hearing of John’s spirituality and helpful attitude toward others.