In search of a personal iconology

I don’t believe in prognostication. As far as I’m concerned fortune-telling is hooey. No, that’s not a swipe at those folks who dabble in it or even those who live by it. I have dear friends who don’t leave the house without checking their horoscope and they’re precious and dear to me, Just because something is off my list of, it doesn’t mean I think it’s gotta be off everyone else’s. I’ve been offered posts as judge and jury, but if I can’t be executioner, I ain’t gonna play.

Anyhoo, back on topic. I don’t believe in fortune-telling; but I do collect tarot cards. Yes it’s true. I have a small but — if I say so myself – impressive collection of tarot card decks. While I don’t use my decks to foretell the future, I do find them handy for brainstorming, putting a new slant on a situation or helping you see information you thought you knew inside out in a new light. Mostly, though, I enjoy the art. Once upon a time I made a (meager) living as a portrait artist and good art and photography always gets my attention.

With tarot though, it’s not just about pretty pictures. It’s pretty pictures that actually mean something. In tarot, each card has a specific meaning. Those meanings have been passed down for centuries, developing along the way.

There are quite well-meaning folks who swear the tarot was developed in ancient Egypt. Although I love Egyptian themed decks, actual tangible evidence supports the tarot’s development in Europe during the Middle Ages. The Middle Ages was an era in which few people could read, and even for those that could read, books were scarce. Everything – history, events, beliefs — were conveyed by storytellers. Storytellers and priests. Of course, the priests had the upper hand: a captive audience every Sunday and a three dimensional storybook: the cathedrals with their stained-glass illustrations, carved saints and gargoyles in the belfries.

While scripture deals with truth, Tarot deals in myth and legend, offering a pictorial glimpse into our collective conscience. Tarot images are symbols of universal ideas: Mother, Father, Hope, Death, Home, Family, Work, Peace… It’s up to the deck’s artist to convey each card’s meaning to the “reader,” a kind of visual shorthand. There are many decks that just fail to do that for me, but probably speak volumes to another reader. Which is probably why there are thousands of decks to chose from.

I’m fascinated by the idea of that visual shorthand. To develop my own deck, to analyze each card for it’s meaning and extend that to a more personal level, to my life and experiences – and then to translate that visually, finding a kind of personal “iconology” — that’s just too much of a challenge to pass up. So time to time, I will be posting my thoughts about this challenge. And, very probably images, as well. I wouldn’t mind input ever so often, either.

You have been warned.

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