Are you ready for immersion in the electrifying atmosphere of pre-revolutionary Paris? Etteilla, Cagliostro and de Gebelin flourished in this era of scientific marvels, crackpot inventions and magnetic healing. Pseudo-science, alchemy, astrology, and fantasies of the Golden Age swirled about uncritically in the public mind. In this atmosphere, stories of golden tablets under the pyramids inscribed with ancient wisdom didn’t seem the least bit implausible. Read more
Posts from the ‘Tarot People’ Category
At least three times in the past few weeks I’ve heard people refer to “the hairdresser Etteilla,” mindlessly repeating disinformation that Eliphas Levi and A. E. Waite rather viciously spread about the founder of modern tarot. Etteilla-bashing hit its stride in the mid-19th century when Eliphas Levi published statements like:
Etteilla or Alliette, an illumine hairdresser, exclusively engrossed by his divinatory system, and the emolument he could derive from it, neither proficient in his own language nor even in orthography, pretended to reform, and thus attribute to himself the Book of Thoth.
This illuminated hairdresser, after working for thirty years, only succeeded in producing a bastard set, the Keys of which are transposed, so that the numbers no longer answer to the signs.
The writings of Etteilla, now very rare, are obscure, wearisome and barbarous in style.
Generations of authors have mindlessly parroted Levi without bothering to learn about the man behind the slander. Read more
Artist Ofri Cnaani turned a New York Chelsea gallery into a card reading emporium and used her readings to generate unique works of art for her clients. According to a review in the December 2015 issue of Art News, Cnaani used her own custom-made, over-sized cards.
The client picked a card at random, handed Ms. Cnaani a personal item, then selected two more items from a stash of odds and ends hanging on the wall. Cnaani then created a collage using the card and the selected items, plus fabric scraps and beads. A surveillance camera photographed the collage and projected it onto a screen in the shop window. Read more
According to a review in the November 2015 issue of Art News, a museum in Bordeaux, France has just wrapped up a 50-year retrospective of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s career. In the photo shown here, peeking out from under the screen, you can see the bottoms of the Tarot de Marseille that Jodorowsky designed with Philippe Camoin. But Jodorowsky is about a lot more than tarot. Read more
Osvaldo Menegazzi, the artistic genius behind Il Meneghello, has once again created a beautiful facsimile of an historic tarot deck. This deck, commissioned by the Duke of Milan, Filippo Maria Visconti, in the 1440s, is one of the oldest Italian tarocchi decks we know of. The cards were hand-painted on an embossed gold background, much like the Visconti-Sforza deck commissioned by Filippo’s son-in-law, Francesco Sforza, a decade later. Read more
Before 2014 ends, I want to celebrate the 40th anniversary of The New Tarot Deck, as well as the “projective” reading technique, and two men who were at the center of the late 20th-century tarot scene in the San Francisco Bay area.
The counter-culture shock waves that rippled up and down the California coast in the 1960s swept Jack Hurley and John Horler into a three-year residency at Esalen in Big Sur. After falling under Joseph Campbell’s spell, they designed a radically new tarot deck and created a new way of reading the cards. Read more
Tarocchi, trionfi and carte, oh, my! Playing card historian Franco Pratesi has put up a chronological list of links to all 313 of his articles on tarot and playing card history. The only other way to get access to these articles, written between 1986 and 2013, is to subscribe to several rather obscure journals.
Of special interest to my fellow tarot history nerds: Read more
Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan and the most successful condottiere of his time, gave the world the Visconti-Sforza deck, and contributed immensely to our knowledge of Tarot’s origins.
Francesco’s father-in-law, Duke Maria Filippo Visconti, commissioned two gold-leaf tarot decks in the 1440s, but so many cards are missing, we can only speculate on what the complete deck was like. Francesco’s deck, painted with precious mineral pigments on gold leaf, is nearly complete, showing us that the familiar 78-card deck existed in the mid-15th century.
Throughout the 1440s, tarot decks were mentioned in account books and correspondence from Ferrara, Bologna and Venice; but we have nothing from Milan because the castle and all the court’s records were destroyed during the political turmoil of 1447. Two letters Francesco wrote in 1450 are our earliest written clues about tarot’s place at the Milan court. Read more
Even if you’re not interested in the Tarot de Marseille, Enrique Enriquez’s Tarology video is worth having for the bonus interviews with a dozen contemporary taroists like Rachel Pollack, Donnaleigh de la Rose, Marcus Katz and Robert Place. Enriquez’ video inspired me to dust off my VCR and pop in the VHS tape of interviews produced by Gary Ross in 1988. Ross was a fixture on the San Francisco tarot scene for three decades and was the editor of Tarot Network News, which he published a few times a year in the ’80s and ’90s. Read more
Gertrude Moakley is my tarot history muse and the wise and magical aunt I wish I could have had. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be an image of her anywhere (Not true! See the comments below). I have to imagine her in the 1950s as a gray-haired librarian in tweeds and sensible shoes, a Waite Smith deck hidden in her purse, slipping away from her colleagues at the public library to have lunch with Eden Gray.
After graduating from Barnard College then the Columbia School of Library Science in 1928, Moakley began a 40-year career with the New York City Public Library. In the 1950s, she published two articles in the Bulletin of the New York Public Library: on the Waite Smith deck’s influence on T.S. Eliot’s poem The Wasteland; and on the relationship between the Visconti-Sforza trumps and Petrarch’s poem I Trionfi. Read more