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Author Topic: Archetypes in Tarot  (Read 980 times)

LadyLabcoat

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Archetypes in Tarot
« on: August 23, 2013, 08:48:19 pm »
I've been mulling a while about what makes a deck more readable than others and I think it comes down to the imagery. That sounds obvious, but stick with me a minute. I find cards like the pip cards in the Marseilles (which don't have any visual cues as to meaning) read more like flashcards (3 of swords=tragedy, 3 of cups=friendship, etc), and it's difficult for me to read like that intuitively. But not all RWS style decks are created equal either, and some cards are easier to read in one deck than another. This led me to wonder what imagery needs to be present for a card to be recognisable. What makes the Fool the Fool and not the Prince of Wands? What makes the Empress not the Queen of Pentacles. If the King and Queen of Cups do not refer to literal people, what makes them different?

So, what I want to know is, if you had a deck of cards with no words on the cards, what would you need to see to be able to read them?

beachglass

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Re: Archetypes in Tarot
« Reply #1 on: August 23, 2013, 10:54:46 pm »
Quote from: LadyLabcoat;119832
But not all RWS style decks are created equal either, and some cards are easier to read in one deck than another. This led me to wonder what imagery needs to be present for a card to be recognisable.


For straight-up recognizable, for me, some reference to the RWS style is helpful in the Major Arcana.  I just gave away my Tarot of the Cat People, which in my opinion suffers from a sort of overall sameness here.  The High Priestess is a woman with a sceptre with cats; the Empress is a woman with a sceptre with cats.  I would not be able to tell them apart without their labels.  If there were a book or a moon for the High Priestess, and a more obvious crown for the Empress, it would be easier.

The courts and pips are usually easier to identify if only because the Six of Pentacles probably has six pentacles on it!

Quote from: LadyLabcoat;119832
So, what I want to know is, if you had a deck of cards with no words on the cards, what would you need to see to be able to read them?

 
This is a little different... in my Renaissance/Secret Tarot deck, the Strength card has a maiden taming a unicorn instead of a lion (though there is a lion on the card).  Not only is this recognizable as Strength, I think the unicorn works in a similar way to the lion, so the meaning of the card is not (much) changed.  The Six of Pentacles, conversely, is recognizable but harder to read, as it's nearly a plain pip card.  Here I don't find much to go on besides elemental correspondence and numerology (and I'm probably reaching for the book).

I don't have a lot of experience with decks that vary considerably from the RWS type, but I would imagine that if one wanted to create a deck that had very different images but similar meanings, one would have to choose those images very carefully.  The lion and the unicorn are pretty easy.  Other might be much harder.

On the other hand, I suppose there are cases where one might want different meanings, and so it might not be important that the Empress is easily identifiable as such, as long as the intended meaning is apparent.
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Queen of Wands

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Re: Archetypes in Tarot
« Reply #2 on: August 24, 2013, 11:42:34 pm »
Quote from: LadyLabcoat;119832
I've been mulling a while about what makes a deck more readable than others and I think it comes down to the imagery. That sounds obvious, but stick with me a minute. I find cards like the pip cards in the Marseilles (which don't have any visual cues as to meaning) read more like flashcards (3 of swords=tragedy, 3 of cups=friendship, etc), and it's difficult for me to read like that intuitively. But not all RWS style decks are created equal either, and some cards are easier to read in one deck than another. This led me to wonder what imagery needs to be present for a card to be recognisable. What makes the Fool the Fool and not the Prince of Wands? What makes the Empress not the Queen of Pentacles. If the King and Queen of Cups do not refer to literal people, what makes them different?

So, what I want to know is, if you had a deck of cards with no words on the cards, what would you need to see to be able to read them?

 

This is a phenomenal question, but I need a better moment to answer it. Let me get back to you when I am more awake and sober ;)

LadyLabcoat

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Re: Archetypes in Tarot
« Reply #3 on: August 25, 2013, 10:26:11 am »
Quote from: RoselynLibera;119899
This is a phenomenal question, but I need a better moment to answer it. Let me get back to you when I am more awake and sober ;)

 
Looking forward to it. But drunk philosophy can be highly entertaining (and oddly insightful)

LadyLabcoat

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Re: Archetypes in Tarot
« Reply #4 on: August 25, 2013, 10:39:25 am »
Quote from: beachglass;119842
For straight-up recognizable, for me, some reference to the RWS style is helpful in the Major Arcana.  I just gave away my Tarot of the Cat People, which in my opinion suffers from a sort of overall sameness here.  The High Priestess is a woman with a sceptre with cats; the Empress is a woman with a sceptre with cats.  I would not be able to tell them apart without their labels.  If there were a book or a moon for the High Priestess, and a more obvious crown for the Empress, it would be easier.

The courts and pips are usually easier to identify if only because the Six of Pentacles probably has six pentacles on it!

This is a little different... in my Renaissance/Secret Tarot deck, the Strength card has a maiden taming a unicorn instead of a lion (though there is a lion on the card).  Not only is this recognizable as Strength, I think the unicorn works in a similar way to the lion, so the meaning of the card is not (much) changed.  The Six of Pentacles, conversely, is recognizable but harder to read, as it's nearly a plain pip card.  Here I don't find much to go on besides elemental correspondence and numerology (and I'm probably reaching for the book).

I don't have a lot of experience with decks that vary considerably from the RWS type, but I would imagine that if one wanted to create a deck that had very different images but similar meanings, one would have to choose those images very carefully.  The lion and the unicorn are pretty easy.  Other might be much harder.

On the other hand, I suppose there are cases where one might want different meanings, and so it might not be important that the Empress is easily identifiable as such, as long as the intended meaning is apparent.

 

It's funny you mention the Tarot of the Cat People because that was my first ever deck. But you're right, there is a cold monotony to it. But I find some cards (the 5 of Pents is my favourite for this reason) are quite readable.

I'm on another forum and when I asked this question, one interesting idea that came up was that almost any card can represent a person. The man who replied said that he had a GF who pretty much embodied the Wheel of Fortune, always landing on her feet no matter how badly she screwed up, and I thought that was an interesting way to look at it. Which almost makes it more confusing to me, lol.

I've been reading for a while, like 16 years now, but I have a very scientific bent. I like things to be re-creatable, you know? This is why the Leonormand decks frustrate me, because the cards have specific meanings, unless they're paired with something else. And now non-people tarot majors can be people? What is that?

So, if that's true, can one use symbols other than a literal wheel (angels, gospels, etc) to convey luck/fate/destiny?

beachglass

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Re: Archetypes in Tarot
« Reply #5 on: August 25, 2013, 01:38:47 pm »
Quote from: LadyLabcoat;119928
This is why the Leonormand decks frustrate me, because the cards have specific meanings, unless they're paired with something else.


I've never tried Lenormand, so I could be off track here.  Are there cards that have a totally different meaning when paired with another card?  But I think this is not that different from Tarot.  Some cards have more than one possible meaning, and these can be narrowed down by the other cards in the spread.  It might not be a complete change in meaning, but I'd consider it on a similar spectrum.

Quote
And now non-people tarot majors can be people? What is that?


Well, this could happen unintentionally, right? For example, if one chooses a random significator, or the card turns up somewhere in a spread that's intended to represent a person.  So it doesn't strike me as impossible or wrong.

Quote
So, if that's true, can one use symbols other than a literal wheel (angels, gospels, etc) to convey luck/fate/destiny?

 
I think so, but it's not a simple thing because the replacement symbol would have slightly different nuances.  Say you replace the Wheel of Fortune with Lady Luck.  There are similarities, but I think you would lose the cyclical sense of the Wheel and that would affect the meaning.

Also, the question of what can be done is complicated because people use Tarot for different purposes.  People who read for personal growth/meditation might have different needs than people looking for insight into a particular situation.  Not to mention people who collect decks for aesthetic reasons, and might have a completely different opinion. :)
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LadyLabcoat

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Re: Archetypes in Tarot
« Reply #6 on: August 25, 2013, 01:49:44 pm »
Quote from: beachglass;119937
I've never tried Lenormand, so I could be off track here.  Are there cards that have a totally different meaning when paired with another card?  But I think this is not that different from Tarot.  Some cards have more than one possible meaning, and these can be narrowed down by the other cards in the spread.  It might not be a complete change in meaning, but I'd consider it on a similar spectrum.

Well, this could happen unintentionally, right? For example, if one chooses a random significator, or the card turns up somewhere in a spread that's intended to represent a person.  So it doesn't strike me as impossible or wrong.

I think so, but it's not a simple thing because the replacement symbol would have slightly different nuances.  Say you replace the Wheel of Fortune with Lady Luck.  There are similarities, but I think you would lose the cyclical sense of the Wheel and that would affect the meaning.

Also, the question of what can be done is complicated because people use Tarot for different purposes.  People who read for personal growth/meditation might have different needs than people looking for insight into a particular situation.  Not to mention people who collect decks for aesthetic reasons, and might have a completely different opinion. :)

 
Those are all good points. I'll have to get back to you about the Leonormands--I'm just now starting to experiment with them so I am far from expert.

For myself, I ask partially because I'm writing a book based on the fool's journey, and I want my characters and situations to be recognisable, but not cardboard cut-outs of the RWS. For instance, the court cards are not the King and Queen of Cupsland, but I want the reader (if they have an understanding of the tarot) to be able to make the connection that that's who they are.

But it got me to thinking about why the imagery is so similar across so many various types, and if we can distil it down even further to its basest imagery so that it is readable to everyone, without it becoming cold and mathematical. Or becoming the Stick Figure Tarot

Queen of Wands

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Re: Archetypes in Tarot
« Reply #7 on: August 26, 2013, 05:37:29 pm »
Quote from: LadyLabcoat;119832
I've been mulling a while about what makes a deck more readable than others and I think it comes down to the imagery. That sounds obvious, but stick with me a minute. I find cards like the pip cards in the Marseilles (which don't have any visual cues as to meaning) read more like flashcards (3 of swords=tragedy, 3 of cups=friendship, etc), and it's difficult for me to read like that intuitively. But not all RWS style decks are created equal either, and some cards are easier to read in one deck than another. This led me to wonder what imagery needs to be present for a card to be recognizable. What makes the Fool the Fool and not the Prince of Wands? What makes the Empress not the Queen of Pentacles. If the King and Queen of Cups do not refer to literal people, what makes them different?

So, what I want to know is, if you had a deck of cards with no words on the cards, what would you need to see to be able to read them?


Okay - sober philosophy from yours truly :) My drunk philosophy involves me mostly flailing for words so it's probably better that I waited to answer. This is kind of a two-part answer, just so you know.


1. You can learn the cards by name - like the 3 of swords = tragedy. That's how my roommate learned her tarot. But when you first pick up a deck that is different from the usual RWS, you're screwed and even worse, blinding yourself. Looking, but not seeing.

I don't rely on names and words to tell me what I'm seeing when I pull a card from the deck (although the decks that do list the card's title is extremely helpful - it gives context for what the artist intended, especially where it deviates from the norm!). I take in the little picture and then if there is a spread, the big picture. If were using my fairytale deck, I would look at the story the card is trying to tell (whose perspective, what is happening in the story right now, what objects/moments were important to that story...) What colors did the artist use? What does the person on the card look like? IS there a person on the card? Are there similarities between multiple cards? Relying on traditional interpretations is limiting, especially in the case of non-traditional decks (although this applies to even the most traditional of decks).


2. In the case of tarot archetypes and their importance: the beauty of archetype is the Fool major arcana card is an ideal, it is an archetype. We use symbols as much as names to identify archetypes. In the case of the Fool, I would remember my commedia training and think of the Arlecchino, his motley diamond clothing and the battachio stick, all symbols of the Fool as well.


The Page of Wands however is human - he (she) can embody the Fool as just as well as a young Emperor. The potential for the Page of Wands is far more open, more multifaceted. A person could be represented in a tarot reading as a major arcana card but while that person changes and grows and adapts, the archetypes remain even if unfulfilled.
« Last Edit: August 26, 2013, 05:39:04 pm by Queen of Wands »

beachglass

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Re: Archetypes in Tarot
« Reply #8 on: August 26, 2013, 06:02:00 pm »
Quote from: LadyLabcoat;119938
For myself, I ask partially because I'm writing a book based on the fool's journey, and I want my characters and situations to be recognisable, but not cardboard cut-outs of the RWS. For instance, the court cards are not the King and Queen of Cupsland, but I want the reader (if they have an understanding of the tarot) to be able to make the connection that that's who they are.


This would depend on the type of book.  For example, if it is a teaching story meant to go with a particular deck, I think you could be much more subtle, as you know that the reader and the writer have the deck imagery in common.  For a standalone novel, you might need to give more clues, especially if you aren't specifically stating that the plot is based on the Fool's journey.

I think you do have a lot to work with here, even just thinking of the aspects of the different suits and the simple gender/age attributions of the court cards (so your Queen of Cups would be recognizable if she were an intuitive/emotional woman).

Quote
But it got me to thinking about why the imagery is so similar across so many various types, and if we can distil it down even further to its basest imagery so that it is readable to everyone, without it becoming cold and mathematical. Or becoming the Stick Figure Tarot

 
Hmm... what about looking at the various miniature and pocket-sized decks?  What gets left out to save space, and what is kept?  There may be some interesting ideas there.
"The further we go, and older we grow, the more we know, the less we show."  ~ Robert Smith

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