Death, Chance, Temperance

Only recently have I noticed the expression "more than three is a collection."

(I want to say I read this in VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV's First Wave, but I'm only 80% sure that's true. I do recommend that book, though, for the sliver of us for whom the original MTV was our adolescent cultural lynchpin.)

The phrase came to mind for yesterday's photo challenge: "Three Things."

The museum of my life boasts several collections that greatly stagger in quantity and quality: stamps, Roman coins, pressed pennies, T-shirts, cruise ship trivia trophies, board games, charms, Squishables, soap, vinyl records, ballet shoes (lost), hamster-sized toys, postcards, Christmas ornaments, and that is just what I remember offhand. Some would say I collect cubic-foot-sized U-Haul boxes currently stacked in the second bedroom, and some would say I collect the unseen things inside of them.

But my most obvious collection - the one that was added to for years without stalling out - would be my tarot card collection.

The last time I took inventory of my "tarot and similar fortune-telling objects" stock was over twenty years ago. I still have the WordPerfect file somewhere. I don't think more than ten decks have been added to it since then; I have found other ways to reflect, other ways to make money, and the decks purchased in recent years have been strictly for the art. (And yet I wonder if I'll ever really be able to break up a tarot deck, however mainstream and shiny and in print, to frame for wall decor?)

All up I would guess that I have around 80-85 decks, plus or minus a dozen, since not only have I gained some after the 1990s brought more shiny/slick/boring decks than this little completionist could ever hope to (or want to) acquire, but I lost a handful when some teenage boys broke into my Austin home in the early 1990s. By "broke into" I mean that the guys walked through the front door I had stupidly left wide open on a lovely spring day on a peaceful street, grabbed what was lying around, and ran out through the back door and over the fence when I emerged from the bedroom. This scenario could've gone much worse, so even though I miss those decks, I only miss them long enough to think of how lucky I was. (But, darn it, the tobacco tarot came in a fashionable tin snuff box! Signed and numbered! Oh well, it was one of those "decks" that only had the major arcana anyway. Fellow ex-tarot snobs understand the frustration of those partial-but-pretty decks.)

My first thought with the photo challenge would be that I'd pick one deck and show the Three of (choose a suit) from that deck, or maybe the deck's Empress card (which is designated with the Roman numeral III.)

Instead I chose a single card from three decks that are among my favourites.

Death, Chance, Temperance

The Medieval Scapini deck, at left, is alive and well and available on Amazon in apparently an even nicer edition than the one I bought 25 years ago in that it comes with a book. That said, I think another reason my avid collecting ended was because by the 1990s, every new deck seemed to come packaged with a large book in a clamshell case. I liked decks that could ride in little cardboard boxes at the bottom of my purse - before I hated purses! - and get covered in ink stains and lint. The new medieval Scapini edition doesn't seem to be as bad as those 90s behemoths, and of course including a book with a deck is a great idea (especially if the book talks about the art and not just tarot basics), but I do miss the era of standalone decks, too.

I would say that the Scapini was probably among my first ten decks and quickly became one of the easiest to read in my collection. The symbolism was clear, and the cards were pleasantly long yet slender enough for my non-dextrous mitts. The gilt-edges remain lovely to this day. Its best characteristic is that you can squint and almost believe that it came from a medieval collection, and isn't just an ode to the era.

As a professional reader (gag me but that sounds pompous), I found that the attractive deck was especially well received by those Renaissance faire patrons who bought a ticket and were sent to the next available reader. Elsewhere in the tent, my choice to go with a non-Rider-Waite deck was generally met with suspicion and doubt from the other readers. (Because of this annoyingly widespread and wide-eyed belief in the superiority of R-W decks, I rebelled and avoided collecting R-W or any of its knockoffs until I saw a used one at Half-Price Books. Oooh, don't get me started on the lectures I used to get - from readers and non-readers - about buying used tarot decks. It's no wonder that my open-minded but ultimately skeptical self didn't last in the New Age Movement.)

I always liked this deck's vivacious Death card. Does the skellie not look a bit mid-jig? Is the reaper scythe made up of bone-clicking vertebrae? Does Death have... pigtails?!

The next deck isn't available at Amazon, and if you see it on eBay, bid with abandon. Just be sure you're bidding on this deck from 1971, and not one of the same name but no relation that came out in the 2000s.

What is the name? Oh, it's just the... TAROT DE ACUARIO.

(That's supposed to be a really dramatic reveal if you're into tarot cards. Just go along with it.)

I know I've talked about this deck on the site a few times before, but I'm too lazy to search for old posts and re-read through the rambles to find the exact bits, so here we go again:

Once upon a time in Houston there was a store called The Occult Shoppe up in the Heights. A nice couple of older witches ran it. They died. A friend of theirs reopened it. (Drama that was beyond my care-zone was afoot at the time - many people in the wand-waving community felt that others were more qualified to take over the shop, etc.) The new owner was named Charlotte, and she was tough but kind. She had a delightfully snarky brother named Mac who helped out - he died a few years after I met them - but I'm digressing away from the story that is mine to tell.

I went to see Charlotte all the time (as many people did). The funky little store was a haven in a time when glossy, bright new age stores were popping up all over town. If you wanted a Tibetan singing bowl and the latest Shirley MacLaine paperback, you could go to a half-dozen places, but if you wanted something that looked like it came in on the night train straight from Marie Laveau's hope chest, you went to Charlotte.

One day I popped into the shop (I lived a walkable few streets away, but I wasn't one to walk in the Heights) just to see what was new. That's when I saw the Tarot de Acuario. Two copies, actually. The boxes were already nearly twenty years old and looked a bit musty, and the card designs were just weird. Charlotte said she had "a Mexican guy" who came to the States with items he found in the dusty corners of his home county from time to time, and he'd just brought these. She was keeping one for herself and had two for sale.

I bought one, then a few days later bought the remaining one for a friend's birthday. (I want to say the decks were perhaps $40 each, but I'd have to check that old WP file. All I remember is that it was enough of a fortune in those lean days that it qualified as a very nice gift, not even counting the subsequent months I spent with a Spanish dictionary next to me, attempting to translate the accompanying book. Charlotte and my friend both got a stack of dot-matrix pages.)

So, if Google has brought you here because you're looking for a copy of the elusive Tarot de Acuario, feel free to be sick/amazed/indifferent right now that I once stood in the presence of three: Charlotte's copy, my copy, and the copy I gave away.

Charlotte eventually bowed to new age tides, rebranded the store as "Charlotte's Mystical Web," and - last I heard - was leasing out a strip mall space by the Katy Freeway. (Apparently it didn't work out.) I haven't even flown through Houston in many years, so if you're looking for the deck, find someone who was into Houston's metaphysical scene back then, and follow the trail. (Because I don't plan to sell mine unless you're Bill Gates and you're drunk.)

The Tarot de Acuario isn't a traditional deck by any definition. But how can you not love a Mexican science fiction-themed deck from the psychadelic era?

The card above is "El Azar," or Chance. Here's a disturbingly filtered photo of the card's entry in the deck's book. (I had to apply lame filters so no one would judge me for my calloused toes that were a bit brown underneath from the balcony garden. Yes, those are toes, not thumbs. Geez. How do you hold your books open when sitting on the floor and holding a camera?)

El Azar Text, Toes, Distracting Filter

This time I'll let Google Translate do the heavy lifting:

69 - Random (or Chance)
Everything is a matter of different spatio-temporal structures of dimensions we juxtapose. The grass does not know that is fed to the sheep, the sheep are unaware that they serves as food for the latter brained biped, and these don't that they serve as food. With no sense other than their own dimensions, they walk in a blind myopic reality. Maybe if all is seen, all go crazy. There are however those who can navigate in different structures - everything is right here and now - without losing any awareness, and give to Caesar what is Caesar's and so on, knowing that immortality is a set of relative mortalities. And therefore, that chance does not exist: the things Venus surprisingly contributes here are the work of irreversible past. The juxtaposition of symbols provides for favorable changes, accidental attractions, results on the positive side of Karma, and on the physical plane, sex lurks, surprisingly.

Let's look at that card again. Does the above fit?

Death, Chance, Temperance

They could reprint the deck tomorrow (Rene Rebetez died in 1999, but where are you, Kuis Lopez?), with the poster and everything (oh, did I not mention the enormous poster?), and although all the pleasure of having a rare and crazy thing would be a little diminished, I'd mostly be pleased because this deck really does put the fun in funky and everyone who wants one should have a copy. You may see enlightenment about understanding perspectives and reality in this card, but I see angry space toddler surfing the cosmos on a galactic playdate, and he is fabulous.

The final card comes from the Omaggio a Erté (Homage to Erté) deck. I think I've told the long story about acquiring this deck before, and two repeats in one post is too much for even me, so I'll just say that my friend Julie and I each got copies of this deck by nervously mailing international money orders to Italy after making some talkfast-hangupfaster transatlantic phone calls in attempt to find the manufacturer. I had never heard of Erté, but Julie's immediate enthuasiasm when she saw the deck (in one of those tarot encyclopedias, probably?) was infectious, and it was through this deck that I first learned that certain design elements went by the name of "Art Deco."

I chose the Temperance card from the deck simply because the symmentry appealed. (When oh when will I write a post about Zentangle?) I never really cared to read with the cards, but as art, they're a pleasure to look through.

I hesitated to come to this photo challenge with what is basically a utilitarian snapshot of other people's lovely work. However, it's obvious now that, for me, the "photo challenge" is as much a "blogging challenge." Look at all of these posts!

Oops, I probably just jinxed it.

Oh well, if the run ends here, I'm pleased to have started the first fortnight of the new year with about as many blog posts as I did in the past six months (while exploring a new country, no less - for shame!).

And all of the above words are possible because of my second - and hopefully last - visit to the physiotherapist yesterday, where I enjoyed (definitely not the right word at the time) a deep tailbone massage. (The specific imagery of this with Mike sitting in a nearby chair watching the physio work while I was on all fours is worthy of its own tarot card - perhaps something in a modern-day Hieronymous Bosch deck.)

My back is not 100% right - the reclining sofa remains a disaster for me - but if you have a disc bulge and stenosis and the wan advice of "don't sit down but don't lie down but don't stand too much or overexercise, and just keep popping Tylenol until you need opiates," I recommend physiotherapy. Stretches and deep tissue massage - who knew? I can once more sleep in any position, and I can sit! And I can do all the things that sitting allows!

The world is reopened. A big change, a bigger perspective, and the restoration of balance with moderation - turns out my tarot art selections were rather meaningful after all.

15 January 2014 |






Carnival Elation (2009)
Carnival Splendor (2009)
Carnival Spirit (2010)
Carnival Spirit (2011)
Carnival Splendor (2011)
Norwegian Pearl to Alaska (2012)