Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Infinite Variations

The tarot has proven to be a very durable set of symbols that countless artists have been able to add their own ideas and style to, sometimes expressing the same ideas with different models and symbols, other times changing symbols to fit a philosophical concept. Even though there are infinite variations on the themes found in the flow of the cards, the essential ideas remain intact.

For example, the Sun card in one deck may show a child riding a horse in the foreground, another artist shows two children playing, either a boy and a girl, or two children of different races, while a third depicts an adult couple couple, perhaps a more mature version of the Lovers. Each artist has a point they are making by choosing to picture it this way, yet the essence of the Sun remains the same, that of wholeness, health, happiness and joy.

The Tower card is depicted as being struck by a lightning bolt, people falling out, headed for a crash landing. Another designer isolates the image 0f a person falling, while another shows a beautiful building illuminated, but not struck by, lightning. in all cases, the essence is about a sudden fall, perhaps a downfall from an ego that is too inflated, an awakening or flash of insight that comes with a sudden change.

The Hierophant has traditionally been pictured as a pope, although early versions had a popess, a female pope. Another artist changes this into a Buddha, while someone else makes the card into a sort of humble looking spiritual person who is in a contemplative or prayerful pose. The essence of these is the arising of spirit and the contrast or struggle between official religions, dogma, heartfelt spirituality and how it influences us.

There are decks where the Lovers are depicted as bi-racial or gay, which is a way of being more inclusive. It is also a way for the artist to make the point that love comes in lots of different flavors.

The Devil has been changed to temptation, materialism, restraint or a number of other keywords. The concept always was the things we allow to hold us back, not some weird creature outside of ourselves that makes us do things.

Death has been depicted as a skeleton riding a horse through a field of the dead, as a funeral pyre with a phoenix rising out of it, as the close, showing a cycle of life from slain soldier to baby accentuated with butterflies, as transition, with a gateway, all of which point to the essential meaning as a major evolution, not necessarily death.

One of the most famously changed cards is the Magician, who has been depicted in the early decks as a juggler or sleight of hand showman, a ceremonial magician, a shaman, a witch and other things. Essentially, this character is about living by his wits, making things happen, exerting his will to create an outcome.

Judgement also works quite well when changed to karma, ascension or reconciliation. Essentially, we move up to different levels of existence based on our choices and behaviors.

These artistic and philosophical changes are aspects that make collecting decks such a pleasure. Some of these variations resonate with users as much as they did with the artist, and so a person might choose to use one deck today and another tomorrow, or one for a long while and then switch to another. It is also why a person may buy one deck because they have seen some images they really like, but when they look through the whole deck, there are some characters or cards they really can't stand, which might prompt them to get rid of a deck and look for a different one to work with.

Yes, a picture is worth a thousand words, and every picture does tell a story. Some of these pictures which contain overlaid symbology could prompt way more than a thousand words and many stories.

No comments: