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Rereading the Classics: Yoav Ben-Dov

About this series:

If you want to read with the Tarot de Marseille (or any deck with non-illustrated pips) and only know English, get acquainted with these six essential authors: Yoav Ben-Dov, Jean-Michel David, Camelia Elias, Enrique Enriquez, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Caitlín Matthews. I plan to spend the winter rereading them and reporting on a few tips or exercises from each author that strike me as especially interesting. Stay tuned for J-M David in a few months. Here’s what stood out for me in Yoav’s book, Tarot: The Open Reading.

Ben-Dov’s treatment of the pips gives a framework for appreciating the unique energy of these cards. He tells us the most basic division of the suit cards is into long/hard (Swords and Batons) and round/soft (Cups and Coins) suits. This division goes back to the beginning of European playing cards and evolved into the black and red suits of today’s decks. He describes each suit as a domain of action whose nature is derived from the shape of the pip and what the object is used for.

Odd and even numbers are either dynamic or stable, and manifest differently in the hard and soft suits.

The soft suit pips are in pairs, suggesting alliance or antagonism, while the higher numbered cards can be a larger social system or web of relationships. The odd pip might be an individual in relation to his environment or social milieu, or a singular element upsetting the stability of the group.

In the hard suits, bundles of batons can be challenges, complexities, or a difficult road which the upright baton has to deal with. The pairs of curved swords divide the card into inner and outer space. The upright sword tries to break out of the enclosure.

A pip card can be read vertically from bottom to top as an evolution from an earlier to a later state. The round/soft suits can also be read in light of power differences, with lower pips being subordinate, and the pips near the top of the card more dominant.

With all these considerations in mind, try this exercise:

Remove the 22 trump cards and shuffle the rest of the deck. Lay out seven suit cards in a row. Don’t interpret them one-by-one as if it were a spread. Scan the row for patterns, repetitions and omissions; then come up with a theme.

Here’s a row with Ben-Dov’s CBD Tarot de Marseille:

The line is heavily weighted to hard/straight suits, especially Swords. The two soft/round cards surround the King, cushioning him from the hard reality of the rest of the cards. All the hard cards proceed from the Page of Swords and could be a pathway leading the Page to the King. The court cards are from the same suit, anchoring the ends of the row. Two sevens buttressed by a five, all hard/straight suits, tell me this is about a struggle to be more, do more, and transcend the current situation. It isn’t going to be easy. I see the younger generation agitating to create change, shift the paradigm and challenge the establishment. Those in power are rich and comfortable, shielded from the consequences of their decisions, and with no motivation to change. (Climate change debates, anyone?)

Notice that I didn’t interpret any individual cards. I deduced the theme of the reading from the patterns.

Here’s another example laid out in the gold foil Rosenwald deck created by Marco Benedetti.

All four suits are present and are fairly balanced between hard and soft. The numbers create some interesting patterns. Three Tens are evenly distributed along the row. Aside from the Tens, there is a sequence of four, five and six, all of different suits. This tells of a stable structure being disrupted in a material way, which eventually leads to a new normal that is more satisfying than the previous situation.

The center of gravity is the Ten and Queen of Swords. The Queen is behind a locked door and out of the action. The Ten of Swords and Ten of Batons at either end of the row are the solid walls of an enclosed room or an alchemical vessel where change is occurring under pressure. The Ten of Coins in the center is the most dynamic card in the line – bubbles rising and falling in a vessel, or lottery balls tumbling in a drum.

I get a sense of change and evolution happening quickly, under pressure, in an enclosed space while the Queen is oblivious to what’s brewing.

If you see something different in the cards, please let us know in the comments below.

Here’s my review of Tarot: The Open Reading

Ben-Dov’s website where you can read about the deck and book and watch some videos.

Marco Benedetti’s facebook page where you can see more of his gold foil decks.

About Yoav Ben-Dov

Ben-Dov was a bright comet illuminating the tarot scene for too short a time. In the 1980s he studied tarot in Paris with Jodorowsky and published the first Hebrew tarot book. When the University of Tel Aviv, where he was a professor of physics, refused to give him tenure unless he renounced tarot, he resigned to devote his life to the cards. He arrived on the international tarot scene in 2010 with his deck, CBD Tarot de Marseille, a faithful recreation of the iconic Conver TdM. His book, published in 2013, is an excellent resource for students new to the Tarot de Marseille. Yoav died suddenly in December, 2016.

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