Friday, April 11, 2014

A Revision

This is a reworking of one of the very first cards I designed for the minors... in fact, she began life as one of the Major Arcana and migrated to the Court Cards when I decided to do something different with The Empress.

I needed her early on, because she illustrates a specific and important character from my latest novel, See Them Dance -- which if you haven't checked it out yet is a nifty fantasy adventure about the strangest Alien Invasion you've ever seen. But as I've worked through the minors I've grown less and less satisfied with her,  and felt that she needed a bit of a makeover. 

In this new version, I've adjusted the angle, size and placement of her head, given her a more cheerful-looking elephant, and made the background much lighter, much bluer, and much more watery. Cups are the suit of water, after all, and just having this pair posed in a particularly dark and gloomy tent no longer worked for me. I'm much happier with this iteration of the card, and hope you like it, too. You can still see the original elsewhere on this site, way back in the middle of the Majors, but this is the version that will go into the final deck.

And don't forget that the Major Arcana is available now as  a deck all on its own. Check over there in the sidebar. Only 300 copies were made, it will never be reprinted, and it features a different Devil card than the one that will ultimately appear in the full deck.

-- Freder.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Cunningest Card

The seven of swords is for me one of the harder cards in any tarot deck to understand and come to terms with (the five of swords would be another). The card as depicted by Pamela Colman Smith under the guidance of Arthur Waite is equivocal to say the least. I remember reading an interpretation of it in a particular book that I won't name, and thinking: "What? I don't get that from this picture!"

The Smith/Waite version shows a young man carrying away quite a lot of swords from a group of them set out before an empty tent -- in the distance, several indistinct figures are carrying on about something, unaware of what's happening, presumably to their swords. The young man's attitude and the look on his face suggests that he is stealing them, more specifically that he is Snatching a Cunning Victory from the Jaws of Defeat. 

The keyword that Aleister Crowley used for the card in his beautiful and notorious Thoth deck is "Futility." Well, now, that was no help at all. Much closer to my feelings about the card is the version that Christine Payne-Towler and Michael Dowers created for their Tarot of the Holy Light (a favorite deck of mine all around). It shows a Quick Brown Fox making off with a hen in its jaws, while a rooster claws him and snaps at the back of his neck. The matching text in the book that goes with their deck suggests two possibilities: that it's time to keep an eye out against cunning adversaries who are out to plunder your hen coop, or that it's time to get inventive and clever yourself and figure out a way to get what you need in order to survive. 

I don't have any problem admitting that my first attempt at this card design was an outright failure. "Duplicity" was the keyword that I started with, and the finished design was just... pedantic -- exactly the opposite of what this card needs. This version is more focussed, the keyword is more accurate to what I feel the card is trying to say, and the image now adds its own unique twist to the card's meaning: the one clown is literally stealing the thoughts and ideas of the other. Depending on whether the card is in its positive or negative aspect, it could be time for you to take something away from another's example, from another's thoughts or philosophies, or it could be time to watch out that others not take credit for all of your ideas and hard work. Either way, the time is right for an audacious move.

-- Freder

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

More Circus Royalty: The King of Pentacles

Although I changed the suit name to rings to be more in keeping with the theme of the deck (well -- they're round, they lay against the earth, and they contain all the physical acts of the circus), the suit is commonly knows as that of Pentacles or the much less mystical coins. The suit often pertains to money matters but it also focuses on the wide range of earthly needs, desires and wants... where the other three suits are loosely defined as those of the mind, heart and spirit, this is the suit of the body.

As such the king of the suit of rings is not a performer in the circus, but its financier: the clue to his identity lies in the poster: he is James Anthony Bailey, the circus impresario who, perhaps tired of competing with P.T. Barnum decided to team up with him instead, thus creating the world’s first mega-circus, Barnum & Bailey. Later, they were bought out by the Ringling Brothers and became the even bigger Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Circus, or “Big Bertha” as they are referred to in the trade.

Unable to find a full-body portrait of Bailey to use on the card, I was forced to perform another Frankenstein surgery on him, and marry his head to another man's body. In this case, the body belongs to John Neville Maskelyne, a great Victorian stage magician, but also an entrepreneur and a partner of Houdini's in the effort to exposed fake Spiritualism for what it was: just acting and parlour tricks. The two men lived roughly at the same time, on two different continents, and Bailey's head looks right at home in its new diggs. 

As the king of the earthy suit he is intimately familiar with the day-to-day operation and needs of his circus from the top down. All others answer to him, the money man. He is industrious and successful, and in his positive aspect also reasonable and understanding of his employee's needs. The only way he can thrive, after all, is to keep everyone else happy.  However, in his negative aspect he is not to be trusted: ruthless, domineering, the opposite of thoughtful, interested only in the bottom line and what he can squeeze out of the people who work for him and his customers alike. We have been living in a world controlled by Reversed Kings of Coins for some considerable time now, and it has taken its toll on the culture.

-- Freder.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Circus Royalty: The Queen of Pentacles

The Pentacles are the Earthy suit and now that I think about it I suppose that I could have taken that a couple of different ways. But the fact is that there was never any other choice for my Duchess of the Rings than this little lady. She is connected to the earth by her unicycle, which she controls as well as you and I control things that are attached to us. Most Queens of this suit are depicted as flat-out Earth Mother types, but among my readings about this card, the word "impetus" stood out, and this is a Queen who embodies that spirit. If I do say so myself, I'm kind of pleased with how all of the royalty have turned out so far, and I have a couple more to unveil for you over the next few days. Stay tuned! And share!

By my count I have completed 28 cards of the Minor Arcana. That puts me exactly halfway through the task. Soon I will go over the hump: but with some of the toughest cards ahead of me, it's still actually all uphill from here. I will need this Duchess in my pocket as I move ahead.

-- Freder.