Tarot: Culturally Resonant Imagery

Not a whit, we defy augury. There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all. Since no man, of aught he leaves, knows what is’t to leave betimes, let be. -Hamlet
A friend read my Tarot cards the other night. As he explained my present, past, and future cards, he pointed to specific details on the card faces that supported what he was saying (the hanged man on the card isn’t dead, the strength goddess isn’t breaking the lion but controlling it). I could see and understand what he was talking about, and the drawings seemed in fact to be knowable, as if I could study them and learn what they mean.

He was using a medieval deck, or so I thought. In fact, the Rider-Waite tarot deck with its medieval imagery were created and first published in 1909. Although tarot can be traced back to the 15th C. Italian court, these pretty and meaningful-looking images, the most common in the English-speaking world, were the successful product of an artist-medium collaboration who stripped  a traditional deck of Christian symbols and simplified the pictures. They remind me very much of William Blake etchings. 

We laughed afterwards when I said that for someone who isn’t a very spiritual person, I must appear very superstitious. In my apartment, I have a miniature Virgin Mary, a collection of fat Chinese Buddhas of all sizes, a large Javanese Buddha head, a leather Ganesh medallion meant to bring good fortune, and a red-tasseled Chinese good luck charm that I keep on my door. My charms and totems might not signify what they were intended to to me but, like the Tarot cards, I think we are born and bred to respond to this culturally resonant imagery in some basic way.

One thought on “Tarot: Culturally Resonant Imagery

Leave a Reply