Legend: Arthurian Tarot & A Keeper of Words
While I believe the reasons for its popularity are as diverse as the legend itself, I would say it is its mystery, magic and truth. For while the stories are most certainly entertaining, they are but custodians of what I would describe as a very old, damp magic. The legend never fully exposed its truths, nor, one suspects, could we comprehend it, but we can through the drama of the legend approach hallowed ground. Whether it be the description of the Grail Procession with all its peculiarities, the enigmatic Fisher King, or Arthur's fateful journey to Annwn, the reader feels the breath of its old ghosts.
There are numerous sublime, omnipotent passages within the folds of the legend which we know intuitively hold something very special and rare, even in the world of myth. Many of these initiate passages are also found in lesser known tales such as the mysterious Spoils of Annwn and Gawain's bizarre experience in the Chapel Perilous -- both of which appear in the Legend Tarot and are retold in A Keeper of Words. One never seems to outgrow the legend, as it is an unending source of inspiration and fascination to the mystic self.
One would think, given my long-term interest in both subjects, that a marriage of the two would have been obvious. So obvious in fact, that I remained blind to it for many years. Others have recognized the compatibility, notably author Jessie Weston, who in the early part of this century pointed out that the hallows of the Grail corresponded with the suits of the tarot. Admittedly, in my case, it took al long, late night drive with nothing but idle thoughts before the idea came upon me. I say "came upon," as no reasoning processes led me to it -- just without warning there it was. It was a difficult experience to describe. However, I can say it was a moment of high drama!
I believe most would agree that it would be near impossible to complete such an endeavor without the guidance and supervision of the intuitive sense. While I suspect all artists, particularly visionary artists, continually rely on this sense, in creating a tarot it is vital if the deck is to inspire the card reader and communicate that which only the intuitive sense can grasp. One engages intuition or psychic sense when reading the cards, and most certainly one does when creating them.
This project did entail a great deal of research. Nevertheless, due to the mystic nature of both the tarot and then legend, one inevitably encounters passages within their world where the intellect cannot pass. In such places the intuitive sense becomes the navigator, leaving hte intellect to follow. As one may well imagine, the Ace of Cups -- the Holy Grail -- would be an example of this intuitive "overdrive." Intimidated by the thought of painting the sacrosanct image, and not being satisfied with the painting the customary gold, gem-studded chalice, all I could do was make way for, and hope to catch, any elusive image the subconscious would offer. It worked -- Legend has a most unusual grail.
"One never seems to outgrow the legend, as it is an unending source of inspiration and fascination to the mystic self."
Research and business aside, the deck and book took eighteen months. This is not a lot of time; I was most certainly obsessed -- work all hours of the night. Needless to say, during this marathon, my social skills were nearing nonexistent -- my friends began referring to me as "the creature." The paintings took approximately thirty hours each, while the book took about six months to write and illustrate.
Perhaps the greatest challenge of Legend lay in the balancing all of its facets. The art, the writing, the traditional system of the tarot, and the legend must all move together in a graceful dance. As its creator, choreographing all this dipping and weaving, while not losing sight of any threads, can be disorienting as well as rewarding. The process can be likened to conducting an orchestra -- in having so many instruments, each with their own voice and unique contribution, there lies the danger of the music seizing up. Despite the occasional panic, the struggle is well worth it, as there is nothing quite like the thrill and satisfaction when all falls into place. Here, in this dance, lies the magic and beauty. One hopes (if you will forgive the phrase), that the end result is a tarot in symphonic sound.
The easiest part was finding inspiration within the Arthurian realm and the traditional tarot. I can honestly say I never tired of either subject.
It is difficult to say, much like choosing a favorite book or piece of music. Even to the artist they seem to change, taking on a life of their own; perhaps even more so in this case being that they are tarot cards. Bearing in mind that my choice continually shifts, my current picks are: Temperance -- Cauldron of Annwn; Death -- Gwyn ab Nudd and the Wild Hunt; Ten of Spears -- The Green Knight; and Nine of Shields Ragnell.
They vary a great deal. So much so that I am again reluctant to pick one as I am sure to hear from supporters of the cards not named. Though I can in all safety say the Justice card -- Lady of the Lake is a firm favorite with young boys in particular. I have received some letters from school children who have take field trips to the exhibitions, and the Lady of the Lake certainly catches the attention of the boys. No doubt this is due to her being semi-nude, as they delight in enclosing their own version of the card along with their letters. While I find their "ladies" most amusing, I'm not sure their teachers do.
While those familiar with the tarot will recognize the traditional tarot imagery within the cards, to take advantage of the aforementioned "symphonic sound" one needs the book -- for it's much easier to dance when there is music. A Keeper of Words discusses the tarot, its interpretation, and use in general; the symbolism within the paintings; and introduction to Arthurian literature; and the Arthurian aspect associated with each card, whether they be stories, events, archetypal characters or Gods. The legend lends context to the cards, and in doing so reinforces, clarifies and allows for a more comprehensive reading. The legend has the ability to dramatize the universal pattern of development, bringing structure, direction and a greater understanding of the arcana. Furthermore, the stories and characters are often more memorable than the interpretation alone. In this respect, it is not unlike remembering the spelling of a word with the aid of a rhyme.
I would like to think even those well-versed in the tarot and the Arthurian world would find it a useful as well as entertaining reference.
Legend remains largely intact as a traditional tarot. The number of cards and their titles remain the same, while the art of the Minor Arcana is equal in detail to that of the trump cards. And, of course, the style of artwork always changes from artist to artist, altering the look and feel of the entire deck. Aside from this, as well as driving on the historic Dark Ages, Legend also encompasses four branches of Arthurian tradition: Celtic legend; the chroniclers; the romances; and the Quest for the Holy Grail.
It is perhaps premature for me to speak of, as all is not yet in order, but I can say I am currently steeping Scotland's past.