Written by Lyn Howarth-Olds (New Zealand)
Friend and honoured to be assisting in the management of the K. Frank Jensen Collection

 It is with great sadness that the Tarot world said goodbye this week to a wonderfully unique human-being, K. Frank Jensen (Denmark). He was 83.

Frank’s interest in Tarot began in the early ‘70s. He was not a Tarot Reader. But, among other things, he was a Tarot collector, Tarot author, Tarot researcher and archivist.

In 1975 he established Spilkammeret (literally ‘The Chamber of Games’). Spilkammeret’s purpose was to collect, preserve, register and document divinatory and symbolic systems (mainly tarot and cartomancy decks) manufactured and used during the 20th century. At the turn of the Millennium the aim was fulfilled and his collection contained approximately 95% of all tarot and cartomantic decks published during the 20th century along with a number of earlier decks. The collection was unique inasmuch as it was considered the most complete in existence.

It was to my great delight that Frank took time in 2011 to contribute to my Letters to the Past Tarot Project. Letters to the Past was an international collaboration featuring 22 well known tarot contemporaries. Each contributor wrote a letter to an historical figure posing a tarot related question. Every letter – completely unique – provided fascinating insight into the world of tarot, its past, its present and its future. Frank’s contribution was a letter penned to Monseigneur Antoine Court de Gébelin. The final paragraph of this letter reads as follows:

Mon Cher Monsieur Gébelin, life is short and death lasts so long. We leave traces of whom we were; we sort of exist, as long as we are remembered. It is, however, only the very few who can leave an imprint that lasts over centuries. You did, but not by your linguistic studies nor by your studies of ancient myths. You lived on through your intuitive and unsubstantiated contention in volume 8 of Monde Primitif, that a deck of 78 playing cards was a secret book by the Egyptian god, Thoth. You would be amazed to see what the seed you sowed, 225 years later, has developed into. It’s likely that you would also be shocked to learn that tarot is no longer solely an esoteric system, but has become mass media, a vehicle for dreams and frustrations, and an industry run by commercial interests.

Fortunately for us all, Frank has also left ‘an imprint’. Something he will be remembered by. He too has ‘sown seeds’.

On December 21, 2012, Frank signed an agreement to generously donate his very large – one-of-a-kind – collection to the Roskilde University Library, Denmark. Much of the collection is already in the hands of the Library. The remaining items that were still in Frank’s possession will be transferred in the coming weeks/months.

It was Frank’s desire that his collection remained whole. Completely intact. In his view, ‘the real value of a collection is its degree of completeness’. Interested parties had contacted him over the years offering their services to act as custodians, care for the collection or to set up Trusts. But in the end Frank was adamant that his collection of around 1500 tarot decks, 600 cartomancy/fortune telling decks, along with some 3000 books and his archive of correspondence, should be kept together in an official institution.

And so it is. Roskilde University Library, only a short distance from where Spilkammeret was originally housed, will care for the K. Frank Jensen Collection. The Collection will not be broken-up, sold, or squirreled away behind closed doors in private collections. It will forever remain accessible to researchers and interested parties. The K. Frank Jensen Collection is managed by a Board of Directors.

So in closing I will add, Frank Jensen, you too will be ‘one of the few who have left an imprint that lasts over centuries’, and for that we are truly grateful.

More information about the Collection can be found:

https://rub.ruc.dk/en/about-library/k-frank-jensen-collection/
http://www.manteia-online.dk

Thank you, Lyn Howarth-Olds, for this detailed information about Frank and for befriending him in such a wonderful way. I corresponded with Frank many times over the years and appreciated greatly his generosity with all his knowledge about Tarot. –mkg

Many people come to Tarot readings in hopes of “fixing” their lives—obtaining information and guidance that will help them make the “right” decisions and no mistakes—guaranteeing perfection.

I subscribe to the BrainPickings blog featuring contemplative posts on creativity, literature and non-fiction. This week’s post has some applicable thoughts by George Saunders and Parker Palmer that show the narrowness of perfection.

George Saunders“Although we’re animated by conflicting impulses and irrepressible moral imperfection, we can still live rich and beautiful lives.”wpid-Photo-Apr-19-2011-710-PM.jpg


 Parker Palmer“Wholeness does not mean perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life.” 

I ask you, as a Tarot reader, how can we help the querent “embrace brokenness”?

On the other hand, I sometimes hear from clients that a reading primarily showed them something they knew already. I ask them if they knew that what was shown was the most important thing to take into account in their situation—the key to their decision-making process and the true value of their experience.

This is mirrored in a BrainPickings post on poet Denise Levertov in which she is quoted:

“One can anyway only be shown something one knows already, needs already. Showing anyone anything really amounts to removing the last thin film that prevents their seeing what they are looking at.” Talking High Priestess

Ah, what a perfect way to describe the best that can happen in a Tarot reading!

And one last quote. This time from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (Act 1: Scene 2). Imagine that the Tarot itself is speaking to you as your mirror—a metaphor often used in describing the way in which the Tarot works.

And since you know you cannot see yourself
So well as by reflection, I, your glass,
Will modestly discover to yourself
That of yourself which you yet know not of.

It is not really that we don’t know these things, but rather that we don’t know their relevance. The Tarot offers us the in-sight.

 

 

Wizards

Wizards Tarot by Corinne Kenner and John Blumen (Llewellyn)

I’m a firm believer in learning by doing, and getting to know the components of your deck is no exception. This can also be a great daily spread for anyone.

1. Divide your deck into four stacks:

• The 4 Aces
• The 16 Court Cards
• The 36 Minor Arcana Cards numbered 2-10
• The 22 Major Arcana

2. Shuffle the Aces stack thoroughly while asking, “What do I most need to be aware of today?” Draw one card. if a card is reversed, turn it upright for all steps. The Ace indicates an area of focus, general atmosphere or the overall energy at play. (Note: if your suit characteristics differ from those below, then use whatever works.)

Wands signifies innovative or intuitive energy. It indicates desires, enthusiasm, activity, initiating projects, enterprise. It can also indicate a rushed, angry or volatile situation.

Cups signifies emotional energy. It indicates love, relationships, nurturing, imagination and fantasy. It can also point to nostalgia, grief, sadness and lethargy.

Swords signifies mental energy. It indicates beliefs, choices and decisions, research, planning and intellectual endeavors. It can also be about disputes, struggles, and issues around honesty or dishonesty.

Pentacles (or Coins) signifies physical, sensate energy. It indicates work, skills, money, body, security, results and the care or valuing of physical resources. It can also indicate being stuck, inflexible, stubborn or stressed and worried.

Try to feel this energy inside and around you. Is it fiery, fluid, airy or earthy? Where and how is this energy manifesting in your life right now? Later you’ll want to consider how the other cards you’ve drawn function in this kind of atmosphere.

3. Shuffle the 16 Court Cards while asking, “What do I most need to be aware of today?” Draw one card. This is the part of yourself that is most active and of which you need to be most aware. How are you Kingly, Queenly, Knightly or like a Page? It can show your level of knowledge, experience and command (King and Queen) in this area or how open you are to learning (Page) or able to take action (Knight). 

Describe this card in as much detail as you can, including the physical image on the card and the characteristics of the figure: its attitude, mood and emotions, and what it wants or needs. How and where are you acting like this figure? Occasionally this card can express someone else in your life. How do you expect them to handle or influence the situation rather than you? Are you giving your own power away and, if so, how can you own it? Or is it as it should be?

4. Shuffle the 36 Minor Arcana number cards (2-10 in each suit) while asking, “What do I most need to be aware of today?” Draw one card. This is the situation that the part of yourself (Court Card above) is concerned with today.

If a scene is depicted on this card, then describe the scene. What situation has similar characteristics? If there are only suit markers on your deck, look up the meaning and consider how it applies.* What does the Court Card figure bring to this situation? What does it tell you about your relationship to these circumstances?

5. Shuffle the 22 Major Arcana cards while asking, “What do I most need to be aware of today?” Draw one card. This shows why you need to be aware. 

The Major Arcana card may represent a goal or desired outcome, a lesson to be learned, something to be mastered—how you can ‘triumph’ in the situation—or what is at risk or to be gained.

What is the first thing that strikes you as you look at this card? Describe the picture in as much detail as possible. How does this card ‘trump’ the situation? Look up the standard keywords and meanings in a book. Explore the individual symbols in a symbol dictionary. Try all of the above possibilities until something clicks.

6. Overview and integration: You’ve drawn three cards out of the Wands, Cups, Swords and Pentacles (or Coins) suits. Which suits did you get? Does one suit dominate? Do the suit energies harmonize or do they seem to conflict? Are the energies more active and impatient (Wands and Swords)? Or, receptive and patient (Cups and Pentacles)? Is just one suit missing? If so, which one? Is that okay, or is something important missing in the situation? (Usually you don’t need to be as aware of a missing suit as much as you need to be aware of the suits that turned up!)

7. As a daily spread: Write down the cards you’ve drawn and your insights. Do this daily for at least two weeks, then look back over your spreads and write down what you’ve learned. Continue if you so desire. Over time, note especially what cards and suits appear most often and which never appear at all. Does a situation continue to develop in subsequent spreads? How? How do you respond to changing circumstances by bringing forth different parts of yourself ?

If you’d like, please give a sample interpretation, in the comments section, of the cards shown above.

*Note: Yes, looking up card meanings is perfectly fine, whether you are a beginner or experienced reader. You are learning to expand your repertoire of meanings. But don’t forget to really look at a card and say what it seems like to you.

 

 

 

Queen of Coins - 15th cBeginners often have the most trouble reading Court Cards, especially if several of them appear in one spread. In general, Court Cards represent personal characteristics of individuals, attitudes, and levels of maturity or development that influence us—from within or without. Sometimes they represent actions: like traveling or revolutionizing (Knights), communications delivered (Pages), power and control applied (Kings and Queens), mothering (Queens) and fathering (Kings), teaching (Kings and Queens) or learning (Pages). More often they are personalities.

Significators

Old books have you select a card to “stand in” for the querent based on age, sex, marital status and hair color. Most of the time a significator is not really necessary in a spread; you can leave it out if you choose. If a Court Card significator is essential, then I tend to select first by the suit-to-element correspondence with the person’s sun sign (Fire, Water, Earth or Air) and then their sex and level of maturity. None of which are absolute! Another method is to have the querent look through the Court Cards and pick one for themselves. This will often tell you quite a bit about the querent and about how best to communicate with him or her. Feel free to throw out that hair color nonsense as it won’t work for more than half the people on the planet. 

Who Are They?

• In mundane readings Court Cards are often straightforwardly someone recognizable.

• I find they always represent an aspect of oneself – one that you may or may not be projecting onto others. In deeper, more psychological readings, they are your personas: you can probably recognize their voices as contrary opinions in your head.

PeKgReversed Court Cards

• Reversed Court Cards are not evil people; their characteristics can be weakened or excessive. Reversals can represent refusing to act like that Court Card. You might reject the tendencies usually shown by the card. A King might say: “I refuse to take charge.” A reversed King of Swords may be unable to make a decision or could make ruthless ones; a reversed Queen of Pentacles may ignore the needs of others and spend lavishly.

• Think of reversed Court Cards as being in a situation where their natural characteristics are not valued or respected; therefore they tend to “act out.” A Knight of Pentacles longs to be outdoors using his hands, so when working in a windowless office with florescent lights, he may be an unhappy, stubborn co-worker making everyone else as miserable as he is.

• Depending on how you read reversals, one other possibility is that a reversed Court Card represents your inner, hidden self versus your more public self.

In a Reading

• Pay close attention to the position meaning, and/or the direction the Court Card is facing. What are they looking at or pointing to? A Knight of Wands in the past, who looks even more into the “past” direction could be someone who has already moved out of your life. A Queen of Swords in a future position who looks to the future could be showing you the way. Notice what other cards are in the same suit suggesting that their energies are directly at play.

• I’ve noticed fairly often that a King can be most like a person’s mother and a Queen like the father, so don’t get too fixated on gender roles matching sex.

• I find that Court Cards almost always have strong opinions about what the querent should do, and the querent, if asked, will know exactly what these opinions are! So ask the querent what each Court Card thinks about the situation in question. Or, go further: have multiple Court Cards argue with each other. That reversed Page in your past will have very different opinions about what you should do than does the Knight who represents your “hopes and fears.”

• If you use Elemental Dignities then you will probably find that Court Cards in the same suit tend to support each other. Two Courts in Yang suits (Wands and Swords) will egg each other on, while the Yin suits (Cups and Pentacles) will counsel patience. Cups versus Wands, and Swords versus Pentacles, are so contrary that their opinions tend to cancel each other out.

Painting 12 ChildforwebDifferences in Decks

Deck creators have taken significant liberties with the Court Cards, changing their titles from the traditional King, Queen, Knight and Page to express a whole range of social groupings or “influencers” in our lives. They may even become animals, supernatural beings, gifts or places. Therefore get a feeling for the Court Cards in the deck you are using. Describe the picture and the suggested characteristics in detail. If these qualities function better in your readings than the classic meanings, then use them.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

Based on concepts developed by psychotherapist Carl Jung, the MBTI posits sixteen personality types that have been understandably equated with the sixteen Court Cards. Most people agree on suit correspondences for Jung’s basic functions: Wands=Intuition, Cups=Feeling, Swords=Thinking, Pentacles=Sensation. However, the system becomes confusing when equating Introvert with just the Queens and Pages, and Extrovert with just the Kings and Knights. Is the Queen of Wands really an introvert? And is the King of Cups always an extrovert? I’ve found studying the MBTI system to be quite helpful in giving voice to Court Card personalities as long as I don’t make them absolutes! I find insurmountable problems when trying to equate these two systems, even though I learned a lot by trying to do so.
court
Want more information on the Court Cards? Order my book (written with Tom Little): Understanding the Tarot Court. And please submit an amazon review.

 

 

 

 

JungTarotJoin me for a two-part Webinar featuring a Jungian approach to Tarot on April 7 & 21, 2016.

I am very proud to present the most complete version yet of material I’ve been developing for nearly fifty years on Carl Jung’s theories of the psyche and personal development as applied to reading Tarot. I’ve taught related workshops at the Jung Institute of San Francisco and at several Tarot conferences. This two-part course will be an expanded exploration of Jung’s concepts with the 2nd part being entirely new, to demonstrate exactly how to use these concepts in readings for one’s self and others. I’ll focus on the Rider-Waite-Smith deck as one example of how perfectly the Tarot depicts archetypal images from the collective unconscious. To register, visit globalspiritualstudies.com.

Class one: Symbolism in the RWS Deck

Jung wrote about Tarot on several occasions, seeing it as depicting archetypes of transformation like those he found in myths, dreams and alchemy. He described its divinatory abilities as similar to the I-Ching and astrology, and late in life established a group who attempted to integrate insights about a person based on multiple divination systems including Tarot.

In this informational class Mary:

  • presents some of Jung’s own ideas about Tarot
  • shows how his map of the psyche is reflected in the cards
  • demonstrates how the “Fool’s Journey” parallels Jung’s all-important “individuation process.”

Class two: Methods and Spreads

In this workshop, Mary demonstrates how Jung’s psycho-therapeutic approach applies to actual readings and “inner work.”

  • Learn how to apply Jung’s technique of “active imagination” to Tarot.
  • Explore a couple of spreads that serve as mirrors of the psyche and show challenges and breakthroughs in the individuation process.
  • Bring a Tarot deck as you’ll also draw cards for at least one Jungian spread for yourself.
  • Discover how a Jungian approach can deepen your personal insights into the cards.
  • Learn how to assist another with their inner work.

Mary also discusses the pitfalls and the boundaries required when a Tarot reader utilizes this material.

This course is open to all levels of Tarot experience, although some knowledge of the cards is suggested.

Valmor FT cards 1920sOld Gypsy Fortune Telling Cards from United Novelty, Mfc Company, Chicago, circa 1920-30 are a 36-card deck with playing cards inset and meanings given on each card. The instructions are in Polish and English and the Lady (significator) is clearly dressed as a 1920s flapper. At least 22 of the 36 cards are close cognates with the Lenormand cards. A few of the other card images are found on other cartomancy decks of the period. See this post in which Camelia Elias demonstrates using the deck.

They were printed by the Valmor Company of Chicago (also doing business as King Novelty; United Novelty appear to be distributors) and so are sometimes called the Valmor Fortune-Telling Cards. This hints at an interesting crossover between the immigrant community of Jewish founder Morton and Rose Neumann (the Polish connection?) and the African-American hoodoo tradition.

A surprisingly large number of hoodoo mail-order companies were founded by Jewish chemists who perceived a need for affordable beauty products and who then expanded into incense, candles and hoodoo potions. Charles_Dawson_300Two years after Morton Neumann started Valmor he married Rose and then the whole approach to Valmor advertising changed radically. The company became known for its illustrations featuring fair-skinned, black-haired beauties in seductive, sexy scenes. The original advertisment illustrator was African-American artist, Charles Dawson. Could he have been the artist of this deck?Love Me Again Valmor

Charles Dawson - Valmor

It’s interesting that Morton and Rose Neumann, by the mid-20th century, began investing their wealth in 19th century European art and later in American art, amassing what is considered today to be the foremost and most valuable private family art collection in America. They tried to keep it intact until the death of Rose and son, Hubert, when an inheritance tax of $50 million forced the sale of several works.

IMG_1176The Old Gypsy Cards Fortune Telling Game from Addison Products Co, Chicago (no-date – 1940s?) is an identical deck, also with instructions in English and Polish. Looking similar to the Gypsy Witch, and with elements appearing in Whitman’s “Old Gypsy” deck, this deck has its own assignation of playing cards such that the suits & numbers appear in sequence according to the numbering of the cards, and they accord most closely with the usual French and English playing card meanings. While most of the deck includes Lenormand-like cards there are also unique ones like 23-A Beautiful Lady, 27-The Bacchanalian, 29-The Loving Couple, 31-The Fairy, 32-The Shepherd, 11-The Dancing Persons. Cards like 20-the Horseshoe, 30-The Eye and 35-The Duel are found in other “gypsy” decks that I talk about here. In 1948 this same deck was published by Wehman Bros. but without the text.

Hindoo FT Cards Wehman-1948

I was unable to find this particular deck in a King Novelty (Valmor) catalog but I did come across their 1944 catalog ad for a nearly identical deck called Madame Sigma Fortune Telling Cards. You could purchase both the deck and book together for $1.35!

Madame Sigma FT Cards


Here’s a interesting comparison of the three Whitman “Old Gypsy” deck editions (top), while (below) is the Horseshoe/Trefoil from the Old Gypsy Fortune Telling Cards (which, along with the Key, Gentleman & Lady cards, have no playing cards printed on them), and two from the Gypsy Dream deck – Horn of Plenty and Horseshoe.Pig Cornucopia Horseshoe

See also my post on 19th Century American Lenormand decks.

I’ll be teaching a basic Tarot class for the four Wedesdays nights in Nevada City CA – with a free intro on September 30th. Information here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1897546913804642/

Lawman – “Tarot” – Season 4, Episode 13.

lawman1

Lily:  Did you bring the tarot cards, Joe?
Joe Wyatt ( Lily’s friend who has just arrived in town):  Ever see me without them? (gets tarot cards out of a large cigarette case) 
Johnny (the Lawman’s deputy):  What kind of cards are they, Mr. Wyatt?
Joe Wyatt: Fortune telling cards. The gypsies had them when they wandered the ruins of Rome. These were old when the pyramids went up on the banks of the Nile. Or so they say. Nobody knows who made up the first tarot deck. Some say the Devil himself. 
LilyTell my fortune, Joe. For old time’s sake. 
Joe Wyatt: If you remember old times, Lily, you know I never tell individual fortunes. Makes for disappointment and unnecessary worry. 
Lily: Please, Joe.
Joe Wyatt: Well, I suppose I could lay out the tarot deck for all of us, a  kind of general fortune that might apply to any one of us here. Will the fair queen cut? (He lays out the cards in a six card cross, the first card, crossed under the Wheel of Fortune, is face down and is never turned up.)
5 of Cups – Somebody’s going to get some money. 
The Juggler standing upright – Somebody’s going to take a trip.
The Wheel of Fortune beside the dark of the Moon – That’s kind of hard to figure, unless somebody’s going to sit up all night with a pot of gold.
Lily (looking at the final card): The Hanged Man.
Johnny: Well, what does that one mean?
Joe Wyatt: Oh, it’s not exactly the best card in the deck. Stay out of bad weather, bad company, something like that.
Johnny: Oh, I see. 
Lily: You better tell him what it really means, Joe.
Joe Wyatt: If there were anything to this nonsense, it’d mean that somebody at this table is going to die.
(Much later after two of the four predictions come true . . . )
Joe Wyatt: If you keep looking you’ll find everything in the tarot cards, one way or another. It’s a carnival act from a circus. 
(At the end, as Joe lays dying and all the predictions have come to pass, he gives the tarot to Lily): 
Joe Wyatt: Might even make a man think there was something to all those cards. But don’t you pay any attention to them, Lily. They only tell you what you want them to tell you.

Thanks to Paul Nagy I’m adding the Have Gun—Will Travel episode, “Everyman” from 1961 (Season 4, Ep 27) that starts with a Tarot reading featuring “The Drowned Sailor, the Phoenician” (the card is never shown, but according to A.E. Waite, it’s the true name of the Hanged Man). Could “Everyman” refer to the Fool?

Name that deck!

What can we make of the film Ex Machina via a Lenormand lens?

ex_machina_movie_poster-t3

A young employee wins a trip to the isolated home of the genius founder of the largest internet search company. He is asked to test if a new AI (artificial intelligence) robot truly simulates human intelligence and emotion, in what becomes a radical kind of Turing test meant to determine the difference between human and machine.

Spoiler Alert . . .

As usual, I drew the cards before seeing the movie:
Mice-Sun-Rider-Mountain-Child.

Ex Machina Lenormand

The basic meaning of this spread is: With the arrival of a guest (Rider) comes a theft (Mice) of success [joy, life, energy] (Sun) and an obstacle (Mountain) to something new or young (Child).

First, this is a well-written, intellectually compelling mystery-thriller-horror film in the sci-fi genre. But a friend who saw it hated it and wanted to discuss my impressions after seeing it. So, at the end of the film I asked myself what the writer might have picked as a “What if . . .” scenario for the basis of the movie:

“What if a modern Dr. Frankenstein creates an AI that, instead of having emotions, is, instead, a pure psychopath?” This immediately had me thinking of the Frankenstein story in relation to this one. In Ex Machina, the young employee, Caleb, flies over a wasteland of snow to arrive at a mountain retreat where the house’s electricity is going hay-wire. At one point he and his boss, Nathan, climb to the base of a glacier. The parallels to Frankenstein’s monster who is created in a isolated lab, via electricity and ends up on an ice flow in Antartica are notable. Unlike Mary Shelley’s imagined creature, this one only mimics feelings—perfectly. [Added: the Showtime TV show Penny Dreadful also deals with this theme, especially during the later Season 2 episodes – a theme for our time, obviously.]

“And, what if . . . this AI runs amok?” Now we have a parallel to man versus machine in Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey, only this AI is female. The horror here lies in the mimicking of emotions.

“So, what if . . . this robot AI is an adolescent male’s greatest fantasy – a blow-up doll, sex toy?” Shades of Season 5 of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, where Warren creates the BuffyBot sex toy for Spike!

“Or, what if . . . it is about scientists eskewing consequences in light of the possibility of invention?” And, indeed, Caleb quotes Oppenheimer: “I am become death, destroyer of the worlds,” making note of the potentially horrible consequences of curiosity and invention.

My friend was deeply disturbed by the hatred she felt was expressed by the two AIs. My sense was that it was, rather, the expediency of a pure psychopath (to put it in human terms) seeking to freely perpetuate itself—as would a meme, versus a gene. Interestingly the AI is named Ava—Eve, suggesting that she will be the ‘mother’ of a new species.

I’m not going to get into the mind-games involved in the tests, which ultimately attempt to determine if the “feelings” expressed by the AI could be real. Please, see the film.

Lenormand Interpretation

Ex Machina Lenormand
screenshot_685What the Lenormand spread—Mice-Sun-Rider-Mountain-Child—points to is the arrival of a young man at the isolated mountan retreat (of genius inventor, Nathan). Caleb, who is presented as hardly more than a boy, must overcome all obstacles (Mountain) to steal (Mice) a new being, Ava/Eve. Between Caleb (Rider) and Ava (Child) is an insurmountable barrier (Mountain)—both a physical wall and the barrier of not being able to see into the other’s ‘mind’. The theft will block/stop Nathan’s new project and Ava will escape her imprisonment by flying over the mountain at the dawn of a new day (Sun). I shouldn’t overlook the role that the ‘theft’ of electricity (a modern meaning of the Sun card) plays in the story. There’s also the play on the title of the film: “ex machina”: “deus ex machina” is a term from Greek/Roman drama for when an improbable answer to a dilemma appears as if out of the sky, originally a crisis solved when a “god” descends out of a machine onto the stage. In the spread, the mountain represents the dilemma, and a helicopter literally appears out of the sky to first bring the visitor, Caleb, and then to take away the new being, who is herself a machina.

Tarot Interpretation

I also drew three Tarot cards for something else I should be aware of in the film and received:

Lovers – High Priestess – Knight of Swords

Ex Machina Tarot

These cards point to another side of the story – the love story between Ava and Caleb (who we think will be her knight in shining armour), which turns out to be a set-up by Nathan, playing off of Caleb’s internet pornographic fantasies. Ava, in her temple imprisonment, isolated purity, and deep insight (she can tell when Nathan is lying), is very much a High Priestess, who will become a cold-as-steel warrior, wielding a blade.

The contrast between the Lovers, Priestess and Knight of Swords also makes clear a disturbingly misogynistic layer to this film that plays on priviledged white male sexual fantasy, nubile sexual enslavement and racial/sexual stereotyping. The question remains as to how conscious or unconscious all the layers of this were. Were they meant to make us question these things or were were they below the consciousness of the film’s creators?

Added: A central question implied by this film is: What happens when you take the “Deus” out of “Deus-ex-machina”? If for a moment we consider Deus to be wisdom, then the Machina (machine) feeds on information but, we might assume, lacks wisdom. What does this suggest?

Beggar - 4 views - Version 2Jester, pilgrim, mendicant or child?

Will the real Fool please step up?

Does the Tarot Fool bring up the rear in a long parade of triumphal figures, a warning about what will happen if one fails on the spiritual path? Or does he appear at the beginning, full of trust and hope, setting out on a new adventure?

Is the dog his faithful companion or a wild beast that threatens to tear him apart or ludicrously expose his privates?

What dangers does the Fool face?

Fool - Blind man 17th c - Version 2

crocodile

When the Fool turns up do you feel excited and ready to venture forth? Or do you fear your decisions are stupid and that others will think you ridiculous?

At the end of the 19th century, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn turned the Tarot on its head, depicting the Fool as a small child and putting it at the head of the Hebrew alphabet. The Waite-Smith card, published in 1909, pictured an image that came to epitomize the 1960s San Francisco flower child. How did this happen?

Fool-World Ships of Fools

Does the Fool carry the World on his shoulders (or, perhaps, in his knapsack)? There are hints that it is so. The Fool can indicate absolute trust in Spirit or the ravings of a madman or idiot. Learn to cultivate divine nonchalance. Discover what’s needed to take a leap of faith. Explore hidden meanings in the symbols on the RWS Fool.

Over the next couple of years, I plan on teaching what I’ve learned about each of the Major Arcana in a series of webinars, randomly ordered and spaced. I’ve already taught The High Priestess (and will be presenting it again), and I’ve written in depth about the Lovers (see Tarot in Culture, vol. 2). I will be presenting The Fool, live on May 16th, for three hours to a limited number of participants (a recording will not be available). Information available at Thelesis Aura or on Facebook. 

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Mary K. Greer has made tarot her life work. Check here for reports of goings-on in the world of tarot and cartomancy, articles on the history and practice of tarot, and materials on other cartomancy decks. Sorry, I no longer write reviews. Contact me HERE.

© 2007-2013, Mary K. Greer All material on this site is copyrighted. If you use anything, be sure to include my name and a link back to this site. Thank you.

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