Announcements And Updates, Plus a bonus Deck Review
AstroTheology: The Thin Spindle of Necessity, Part 2 has been released. Part 1 is here, part 2 is here. The second part deals with the Ladder of Lights, which is an essential aspect of Boehme's Astral Alchemy. Enjoy!
Notes on the upcoming book: We are scrubbing the reconfigured manuscript now, preparing the book on the 78 cards of Tarot of the Holy Light for its print-on-demand debut. I'm clearly not in charge of the timing, but I still have hope that there will be something to share with dear ones for Christmas, if we just continue of the current track. I won't bother you with the gory details but my dear friend Jessica (of Lucky Mud fame) is saving my butt by providing on-site proofreading and corrections directly in the computer files. I can't believe how many times these essays have been scrubbed for boogers, brain-farts and stray keystrokes! Some may say I'm a talented writer, but I clearly can't diagram a sentence or even see what my fingers have just done on the keyboard. It never ends -- there's always more typos and errors to find. I have become reconciled to the idea that even as the first edition goes to print-on-demand, we will still be scrubbing the computer files, finding things that nobody saw on the previous 26 passes….
Recent Events: I had a lovely time at Britenbush, teaching at the Northwest Astrology and Tarot Salon during the waning moon. There was a tremendous wind storm the second night which dropped trees all over the reservation, and the final morning we awoke to a foot of unexpected snow. But those hardy souls who stuck it out had an excellent experience. The staff and facilities at the resort were really enjoyable, including the grounds, the food, the cabins and the hot tubs. Consensus has it that we might try to do this again, late-summer in 2016. People who want to be notified about future news can check in here and ask to be put on the mailing list.
The Oracle of John Dee Deck Review: At the end of the Salon there were door prizes given out. I was the lucky winner of The Oracle of John Dee by John Matthews and Will Kinghan. These authors are known for their previous acumen with oracle packs, so I was not surprised when this boxed set of book, layout poster, and deck combined to make a handsome presentation. The portraits of the card subjects are well drawn, taken from historical works and set in graphically interesting magical frames. The cards themselves are substantial enough to shuffle well, and they are not overglazed, which to my eye and hand is a plus. The medium brown backs are printed with a gold symbol of Dee's Monas Hieroglyphica, and the layout poster is gold as well.
I refer you to other reviews to get all the commercial details (see here and here). My motive here is to share what I have done with it.
Some may be aware that I have been a little put off by the modern usage of Dee's legacy. I appreciate his position in history and consider his work on the Monas Hieroglyphica to be brilliant and telling. In contrast, the channeling Dee did with Kelly simply doesn't inspire me. Perhaps this is because I am suspicious of newly invented systems that purport to replace our ancestral legacy. As soon as it became apparent that the various "angelic alphabets" credited to Dee and Kelly are actually just cyphers for Hebrew letters, a lot of the attraction fell away for me.
One useful aspect of having been exposed to Dee's alphabetarian style is that I was not caught by surprise when I saw the same family of magical lettering featured in the Trump essays written by Paul Christian during the lifetime of Levi, and later on the Falconnier Tarot. In fact we find these magical alphabets already catalogued by Agrippa in the early 1500's, to be repeated and elaborated by Dee over a century later. These lines of continuity from the 1500's reaching right through to the 1900's serve to increase my confidence that the european magical tradition was sturdy and conservative, offering stubborn resistance to incursions of "creativity" from the savants of any given century.
It seems that Matthews and Kinghan are also partisans of the longstanding Tradition. I say this because the two of them made the wise choice to prune out the massive complication involved with Dee's and Kelly's elaborate practice of ritual magic. In particular they glossed over the intricate elemental grid that fills in the astral mesh of the individual Watchtowers, sparing Oracle users this abstruse construction that requires a mathematician and a rubics-cube expert just to visualize. What the creators of this Oracle chose to feature instead is the tried and true ancient compass diagram of astrology, made up of the horizon and the meridian, the classic Solstice and Equinox points. The Watchtowers take these stations, holding the four directions: North. South, East and West. These Towers, plus their convergence point at the center of the circle, constitute the positions for a 5-card spread. This classic form places the querant directly amidst his or her four main departments of life: Health/ Well Being, Intention/Direction, Love/Inspiration, and Work/Influences. The resulting layout makes a cross of four cards surrounding a fifth, giving an overall counsel for the user to ponder.
The basic meaning-grid that informs the pack of cards is defined by the 7 roles that John Dee played in his era: Magus, Alchemist, Astronomer, Astrologer, Geographer, Physician, Historian. These different roles are multiplied by the four Directions, which, as in Tarot, are manifested in elemental suits (denominated in colors of gold, silver, green, and red). There is a card for Dee in all four Elements, while the other six cards of each element are embellished with six of Dee's peers and influences, who also embody the spirit of their various Arts for their times. That gives 28 cards in the set, a fortuitous number that corresponds to the ancient Mansions of the Moon. (This idea is not explored in the accompanying booklet, but there is no reason an enterprising scout couldn't make these associations if they so desired!)
The best and most interesting feature about this Oracle is that each card is supplied with a set of questions it asks of the user, depending upon which position the card falls in the 5-station spread. I find this detail unique and quite useful, even besides the double-entendre involved with working an Oracle that turns around and questions the querant! I would suggest that one start their Oracle reading with the issue of the day firmly in mind, perhaps even written down as well. This would help ensure that the interpreter doesn't get lost into a hall-of-mirrors situation, losing track of where the questions end and the answers begin.
The creators of The Oracle of John Dee make an excellent suggestion in their fine little explanatory book. They suggest that one consider filling in the spaces between the Watchtowers with cards from other packs, whether a Tarot, Lenormand, or any other Oracle that pleases the user. I find this suggestion incredibly generous, allowing the user to vary and enhance their experience in any number of ways depending on what other packs they find compatible. This four-spoked wheel layout represents the bare bones of an astrological chart after all, so it is no great stretch of the imagination to envision three "houses" per quadrant, resulting in a 13-card spread including the middle position. Another option would be to simply place one card into each open quadrant, augmenting the symbolic Solstices and Equinoxes with cross-quarter markers, just as the pagan Wheel of the Year does. That would make a reading of 9 cards total, including the center card.
The decks I included for my first composite reading were the Paracelsus Oracle and the Petite Oracle des Dames. These both have a similar sepia-toned background and muted inks with strong period line-art that allows these packs to share a visual sympathy. Each one is a foreshortened pack with a different card-count, but that is not a limitation when one is only using four cards per pack. I used the Petite Oracle des Dames to represent the fixed-sign houses, and the Paracelsus Oracle to occupy the mutable sign houses. There wasn't a particular reason I did it like this, though I could easily conjure a logic after the fact. It would have been just as easy to use a pack of Sybilla cards, a Shem Angel deck, a Piquet pack, a Taroccini or Minchiate with excellent effect in these intermediary positions as well. My main consideration was to use a set where the cards themselves are smallish, because the layout poster is only medium-sized. Really large auxiliary cards might throw the visual proportions off, dwarfing the impact of the cards from the Oracle of John Dee compared to the others.
All said and done, I will use this Oracle of John Dee again, because it allows me to unpack my magical identifications a little bit and look in on facets of my studies that I don't always call up to conscious memory. I enjoy the idea of having a set of flash-cards representing my historical role models and predecessors. The mechanics of this Oracle might not offer more than a first-level presentation of the great richness that emerged from Dee's lifetime labor of magical love, but I appreciate the emphasis that Matthews and Kingham placed on the personalities that flesh out the historical transmission. This boxed set might provide the perfect gift for a Tarot and Oracle loving friend who seems to have everything.
An Upcoming Event in Portland, Oregon where I will be teaching early next year:
The Northwest Tarot Symposium (NW Tarot Symposium), will be happening March 6 - 8 at the Monarch Hotel in Portland, OR. You can find out all about this conference at http://nwtarotsymposium.com/ This is the event to attend if you have ever wanted to check out Oregon's only true megopolis, with its many bridges, famous gardens, signature brewries and restaurants, and of course the ultimate mecca of bibliophiles, Powell's City of Books. People from out of state will get a chance to experience a slice of Oregon's fabulous extended spring season, which actually starts in late winter and continues right through to early summer. Whether it rains or shines on that weekend, Portland is truly Oregon's Emerald City, of which the state is justly proud. Come and experience your own slice of Portlandia, in the company of your favorite Tarot writers, readers and creators!
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ArkLetter 116, November 22, 2014
copyright christine payne-towler 2005-2014, all rights reserved
TAROT ARKLETTERS are published by:
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Author: The Underground Stream, the Tarot of the Holy Light