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The Eye of the Beholder

horrified-thumbWelcome to the Beltane edition of the Tarot Blog Hop. Our wrangler for this hop, Morgan, has asked us to write about “distasteful” cards—the cards that evoke a strong negative reaction”.



It is interesting what people find distasteful when it comes to Tarot cards. Obviously, there are some who find the whole deck and, indeed, even the idea of Tarot distasteful, but we won’t waste any time on them. The obvious “dodgy” cards are the Tower, Devil and Death in the Major Arcana, along with the 3 of Swords, 10 of Swords and probably a few more faintly scary and challenging ones. Personally, I think that they all have their place and the real world has far more distasteful, if not downright evil, things in it. There are those who would prefer a “safe” Tarot deck, something about which I ranted in an earlier Hop. To me, this is akin to closing one’s eyes, sticking one’s fingers in one’s ears and saying “la-la-la-la-la…” to reality, but I will resist a further rant digression down this path.

Reactions to “distasteful” cards can vary quite dramatically and even…umm…entertainingly, at times. Last year, the appearance of the Death card caused a client to leap from her chair and run about outside my tent squeaking for a minute or so. She returned with a somewhat hysterical and embarrassed laugh and an apology. I am not often speechless, but I was rather taken aback and thrown off my stride by this extreme and energetic reaction. Needless to say, the reading went just fine after I’d explained about the Death card and she left happy.

To the people who nervously ask, “Am I going to die?”, in response to the Death card, I usually reply, “Yes, though not necessarily imminently. We will all die, but I’m in no position to tell you when.” In many respects, it is often easier to explain to clients the less negative aspects of such apparently negative cards, than to include the pitfalls of the more overtly positive ones. For example, 9 of Cups: careful what you wish for; The Fool: watch your step, heed warnings; The Sun: don’t forget the sunscreen 😀

For the record, the cards I tend to find challenging, though not strictly speaking distasteful, tend to relate to the things I find difficult to deal with, such as conformity/religion, (Hierophant), authority (Emperor), vanity (Knight of Wands). These will be the ones that I find the most difficult to portray positively in the photographic deck that I am working on, I think, although I like to think I am able to present a balanced view even if I have some bias 😀

“A photographic deck?”, I hear you ask. “Tell me more”, you add excitedly… Oh, alright then, you twisted my arm 😀

I have hinted in previous posts about wanting to do a photographic Tarot deck, since photography is the artistic medium with which I am most comfortable and, after a good deal of planning (still ongoing), I began work on the deck seriously a few weeks ago. Thus far, these are fairly rough mock-ups of the cards and the final images may have a different aspect or colour balance – I’m just playing with the photos at the moment to see which ones work and which are distasteful 😀

Funnily enough, I began with The Tower:

Tower card2

My version of this card lacks falling bodies for fairly obvious reasons, since this is a realistic deck and I might quite reasonably expect to get arrested if I started throwing people off the top of tall towers for the sake of a photo opportunity. Nonetheless, I hope I’ve managed to capture some of the brooding drama associated with the card.

I have several more images of this particular tower from various aspects, but this one was taken at the pointiest corner and I liked the windows. Does this convey a sense of the Tower to you or is the absence of lightning and people a deal-breaker? I can, at least, attest to the crumbling masonry, although it is not evident from this angle.

Perhaps if you knew that this particular tower was named after King Alfred, he of the burnt cakes and his radical turnaround from despair (and a good scolding) to hope, victory and a reign worth of the title “Great”, you might see it differently?

You see, dramatic change does not always have to be for the worse.



Moving on to one of my “distasteful” cards, I will also share with you my take on The Hierophant. Traditionally, also known as The Pope, but that begs the question, which one? The role is something of an institution rather than any particular individual, and when you think of an organisation such as The Church or Education, it is not the individuals that run it that spring to mind but the physical structures – churches, cathedrals, schools. So, I opted to ditch the man in a symbolic hat and glory in the ecclesiastical architecture as a representation of hierarchy and the concept of order within human structures.

As cathedrals go, this is a rather modern one built by the Victorians, so it lacks some of the quirkiness, not to mention the impressive longevity of Medieval cathedrals. Nonetheless, I’m a sucker for soaring pillars and vaulted ceilings. The geometry and the undeniable stability of such a structure undeniably speaks of order and demands awe in the face of it. It says that there is most definitely a top to this tree. Pope? Pah! You need to be God with a capital “G” to get to the top of this one, but meanwhile,  you must find your place among the lower branches and they are all fair game.

Still prefer a bloke in a hat?

So there you have it. Welcome to the Meniscus Tarot, a Tarot of the Lens, my lens to be precise. Don’t worry, there will be people in it, not just bricks – I’m brushing up my portraiture techniques as we speak, and I already have my Fool, taken on a Cornish cliff, complete with dog, and a genuine Magician lined up for, you guessed it, The Magician. Some of the cards will most likely be more colourful too, though I have a weakness for strong, dramatic tones. Anyhow, watch this space and I’d love to hear what you think – “distasteful” or of some interest?  My ego is partial to a good stroke, but if you hate them, I’d like to hear why as well. I can take either, only apathy hurts! 😀



1 May 2015

18 Comments to “The Eye of the Beholder”

  1. I guess you could photoshop in a lightning strike, if you wanted ? Looking good so far 🙂 x

    • Thanks, but the whole point is that I don’t want to Photoshop any of the images 🙂 Besides, I hate Photoshop, it’s so unwieldy – took me hours just to try and get a card frame sorted out :/

      • Gorgeous!

        I totally agree with your purist approach, and the undue complexity and learning curve for Photoshop (I’ve had the same issues with doing the simplest things for my own deck project). I, too, am avoiding adding any imagery to my cosmic photos, but it can be a challenge to get the right shapes and colors to convey the identity of the card. Your terrestrial approach may seem simpler, but I know it will be lots of work to get everything arranged and shot, especially with using live models and such. Very excited for this idea, though. It will be fabulous!

        Oh, and definitely suffering font envy already from your titles…

        • LOL I was in such a hurry to get the photos mocked up as something ressembling a Tarot card, I just picked the first font that caught my eye 😀
          I am glad you like them though – the support so far has been encouraging 😀

  2. I like your Tower and I LOVE your Hierophant. That really speaks to be about both the pompousness of organized religion but also the sanctuary that it can be.

  3. There is a distinct Darth Vader-ish quality to the vaulted ceiling of the Hierophant cathedral–which I think only adds to the card! Nice work.

  4. Love both of these cards! The Tower feels ominous… the angle made me tilt back 45 degrees to view it and you can smell the lightening on its way. The Hierophant… I love that ceiling and to me it looks like the face of a praying mantis… Ha! Imagine going to confession… so… you’ve had sex outside of marriage? Mmmm… 10 Hail Marys and come here… let me bite your head off! 😀

  5. Looking fantastic, Ania! Now just GET IT FINISHED!!!!

    Ali x

  6. Love the photographic deck so far! Looking forward to seeing more of it, and definitely don’t think it’s necessary to have everything just like the RWS regarding the lightning or the figures in the cards.

  7. Cool cards so far! And that’s a great illustration of fearful responses to Death (the client running around and squealing) – what a visual 😀

  8. I’m not usually a fan of photographic decks but yours might convert me. Looking forward to seeing more!

    • Thanks. I think you’re on the FB page and I should be in a position to launch the website shortly, so there will be some more cards coming soon 😀

  9. Ah, a kindred spirit. I enjoyed what you had to say about the so called negative cards. But even more your point about the dark side of the so called positive cards! Not sure how you get to vanity with the Knight of Wands but look forward to talking with you about it at the convention. As far as your photography deck, I think your choice for the tower conveys much of the quality of the card before the lightening strike. That is an important message. The local tarot community in colorado has taught me the value of new decks that vary the message and by so doing expand our understanding. The Tarot is a symbolic system which if we understand that correctly will always be mutating to keep us psychically open. Thank you for your contribution.

    • Thank you for your comments, Richard. I’m glad you enjoyed the post 🙂
      One of the things I love about Tarot is that it is a constant learning experience – every reading I do teaches me something or highlights another aspect of the cards. I am trying to remain true to the core meanings, but it is impossible not to see them through the overlay of these experiences.

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