“A charioteer coalesces out of sea foam. A hooded tree-woman holds a glowing infant. An emperor looms over an unreal city, grasping poles of light. A sun god juggles planets.” (accompanying Guidebook)
In this new offering from Ciro Marchetti, creator of the popular Gilded Tarot, we are invited to experience his intensely personal vision of Tarot, a vision less tied to conventional imagery than his previous deck, and set in the astral world of dreams. We are, in other words, invited directly into his dream.
All kinds of things go on in dreams that don't make a whole lot of sense to the rational mind. The images in this deck are intended to “have the same impact as a suddenly-remembered dream,” and to that end, have irrational aspects, and don’t blend together into a simple sequential story. An integral part of the package is a CD, containing an interface that eases you into a dreamy state, and then presents animations of the deck. The other part of the package is a physical deck of cards, with a black organza bag for keeping it in.
The digital painting process used by Marchetti is not based on the collage of photographs or scanned images, but on a laborious digital painting process. As with Joanna Powell Colbert’s colored pencil work (in the Gaian Tarot), the level of detail and care with the image ultimately results in an almost photographic realism. Part of the CD presentation of the Tarot of Dreams deck is a “Backstage” button, where Marchetti demonstrates the various stages in his process of coming to a final image.
The Gilded Tarot was also noted for extensive use of this same digital painting technique, and as in that deck, glowing, metallic and jeweled effects add a luxurious feel to these Tarot of Dreams images. Although lovely on the traditional paper-based card format, they are even more alive on the computer screen. The lizard from the Ace of Wands appears on the Court Cards Screensaver, looking impressively dramatic and alive. The wands on screen are believably molten and glowing.
The Tarot of Dreams images are still compatible with the RWS scheme of meanings, but Marchetti has eased out even further away from the stereotypical images than he did in Gilded – though if you are familiar with the RWS scheme, you will still be able to perceive a family resemblance, especially in the Minor Arcana. (By my metric, Tarot of Dreams has a closeness rating of 21/62, which is slightly less close than Londa or Gendron.) Mechanical motifs also appear in this deck, but less extensively than in Gilded, and astrological symbols are again used non-literally, as when the Queen of Cups wears a necklace with a Pisces symbol pendant to show her nature as dreamy, watery and non-rational. The Golden Dawn system of correspondences are nonetheless advocated, meaning that the Queen of Cups’ intended astrological correspondence is two-thirds Cancer one-third Gemini, not Pisces.
A frequent device for achieving the distance from the stereotypical scene is achieved by zooming in on the people and allowing less focus to the background. This zooming technique is a way of eliminating visual clutter so that a single message can be honed in on. (Of course, this technique also dispenses with ambiguity, so it is a two-edged sword.) This very sweet Six of Cups is a good example. These are figures in a dream, not in an awake state, Terran environment, so the backgrounds are less relevant. Dream images are fragmentary. Since each individual card has a less unique background, the overall effect is that the Minors are even more elemental in where they are taking place than they were in the Gilded. It is easier to see at a glance how many swords, wands, cups and pentacles are present in the spread.
Marchetti is more confident in his presentation of the underlying concept of a card than in the Gilded Tarot, and on several occasions, uses more unique symbolism. The gothic horror Nine of Swords is a good example of this. In Gilded, the image was easily recognized as a variation of the RWS, but in this deck, it is the mood that immediately grabs you, not the details. Her face is much more key to recognition than whether she is in bed. I find that the minors in this deck are moodier, a characteristic that may strike the tarotist as almost Thoth-like.
On the whole, I find this to be a deeper deck than Gilded, with more emotional impact. Faith is a particularly strong image, especially as the traditional image can be so off-putting to those following a path other than organized Christianity.
In this case, the Tarot of Dreams is successfully much more ambiguous than the RWS.
I think the court cards in Dreams are especially strong in comparison to those in Gilded. Marchetti’s mastery of portraiture is allowed to really shine in these cards, which have much more personality than did those in his previous deck. Court cards are weakly done in many tarot decks; they are one of the strengths of this deck if you cue on facial expressions. An interesting visual device is used to indicate the astrological correspondence: in a translucent metallic wheel behind the person, you can see the two signs represented by the card. In the case of the Queen of Coins shown here, it indicates two thirds Capricorn and one third Sagittarius.
Another clever visual device is to put the various Golden Dawn correspondences in the corner roundels of the border: the decan’s planet in sign for each Minor Arcana, the sub-elemental correspondence for the Court Cards, and the Hebrew letter and astrological correspondence for each Major Arcana. In addition, the Major Arcana show in the top roundels the two sephirah connected by the path the card is on in the qabalistic system developed by Lee Bursten. These sephirothic correspondences are quite different from those given by the Golden Dawn. As a person who has worked profitably with another non-Golden Dawn qabalistic correspondence in the past, I definitely appreciate seeing new approaches. His scheme is plausible and thought-provoking (although ultimately, I remain agnostic about corresponding qabalistic paths to trumps).
Lee’s writing in the Guidebook is quite good (as those of us who read his reviews would expect). For the most part, it is a traditional card by card presentation. He does discuss one deck harmonic, that between Strength, Chariot, and the Devil, as a “triumvirate with a common theme”, but visually, this is not a deck especially suited to illustrate harmonics or do tableau workings. (Strength, Chariot, and the Devil would be part of a quaternary matrix if the Marseilles ordering had been used, but as Strength is numbered eight in this deck, the discussed harmonic does not fit any of the usual tableau patterns.)
The Tarot of Dreams was intended to be useful in meditation, not just for reading the cards. Tarot and meditation is a strong interest of mine, so I’d like to briefly discuss my own understanding of tarot meditation. Lots of people talk about “meditating with tarot”, but it seems to be an area that lacks much specificity past that categorical statement. This is simply my own understanding – it is not intended to be any kind of final authority, but rather a dialogue opener – is this what you mean as well when you say this?
To begin with, there are a number of practices that are called “meditation”, and I believe that they exist at different levels of depth/complexity or stages of preparation. Like any skill (and meditation is a skill, just like playing the piano), meditation builds on what has been done before. And just as with any skill, regular practice builds proficiency.
In the book, The Fine Arts of Relaxation, Concentration and Meditation: Ancient Skills for Modern Minds, by Joel and Michelle Levey, dynamic relaxation and concentration are presented as building blocks to master in preparation for meditation itself. Proficiency in dynamic relaxation (for example, progressively relaxing feet, then calves, then thighs, then buttocks, and so forth) will endow sufficient mastery over anxieties and tensions to begin fruitful work on concentration. Mastery of the art of concentration will allow harnessing and directing the power of the mind. Once these two foundations are in place, meditation techniques can be used to awaken insight and strengthen wisdom, compassion and creativity. Their book is full of specific exercises to develop these two skills.
All the tarot meditation practices I am aware of begin with some form of grounding and centering before the meditation proper begins. It is valid, especially in a new meditation practice, to make an entire session out of grounding and centering: whether this be as simple as progressive relaxation followed by breath counting, or as complex as a Golden Dawn style Qabalistic Cross and Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. However it is done, when you are grounded and centered, the four elements are balanced within you and the aura is sealed.
The next step deeper is to enhance the basic meditation with a focus. At this point, the tarot cards become useful in the meditation practice. A focus is something you gaze at with relaxed attention, without analyzing, without interpreting – even without preparation. No particular outcome is sought, only bringing attention back to the focus gently, with love, whenever it drifts off. One variation on this theme is to carry a card with you all day, and keeping it in peripheral sight. This can include propping the card up physically, or, using a digital image of the card on a computer, placing it on the screensaver and/or wallpaper. Another variation to “just looking” is to start writing once grounded and centered, without thinking or editing, just letting anything stream out of the pen, and attending simply to the physical act of pushing the pen… writing – writing anything, whether it fits or not. Eventually something emerges out of the flow state. You can feel the shift when it does. This is sometimes called automatic writing.
At the next depth of practice are two basic forms – a receptive form and a projective form. The receptive form you might call “attentive listening” or you might call simply “contemplation”. The active form is generally called “visualization”. The two forms are complementary and equally important.
Contemplation, as opposed to “just looking”, starts with preparation. I like how they describe it on this website: “know what kind of fish you’re after.” In this case, before the meditation, learn as much as you can about the card(s), study correspondences, and generally do all the good left brain stuff that you thought had no place in meditation. “Bait your hook” with some definite question, problem, or challenge. While meditating, you will, as with the “just looking” concentration practice, bring things back to the question when thought stray too far--gently, not forcefully. The analogy of the breath is useful: "breathe it in." Find the flow between yourself and the card. Let your mind move into it. Don’t impose. Let it reveal itself to you. When an insight strikes, “reel it in”. Hold the feeling of the insight and allow it to soak in; allow it to reach your intuitive intelligence, not just your analytical intelligence.
A variation on this is to contemplate not just a single card, but versions of that card in a number of decks (the Comparative Method, as Valerie Sim-Behi has termed it). I do this with up to 30 versions at a time. In fact, I prefer to lay this focus out on the computer, as it is hard to find floor space for that many cards without the dog or child running through and scattering everything. Another variation is to contemplate what I call a tableau or what John Opsopaus calls a cosmic spread. This is to lay out all the cards from one deck into a structured pattern, whether it be all the wands, all the courts, or all the Major Arcana. The purpose is to understand the relationships between cards, rather than understanding just one card. The Qabalistic Tree of Life is, of course, one well-known example, but there are many others.
Visualization seems to be even more well-known than attentive listening, so I will say less about it. This is the “enter the card, travel the landscape, see the people" type of meditation. Some people seem to be using the word “pathworking” these days as a general term for this practice, rather than the more specific qabalistic working of the Golden Dawn. Rachel Pollack has written a detailed form guiding the person through the entire meditation in the Complete Illustrated Guide to Tarot. Technically, I suppose, we should distinguish between what has been called “scrying,” where you look through the doorway and actually project into the card. John Opsopaus, in his excellent chapter on Meditation and Magic (linked below) does distinguish between Visualization and Active Inquiry. The Golden Dawn, of course, had a rather elaborate system at this level, distinguishing between Skrying in the Spirit Vision, Traveling in the Spirit Vision, and Rising on the Planes. The Flying Rolls relevant to this work are cataloged in the book edited by Francis King: Astral Projection, Ritual Magic and Alchemy by S.L. MacGregor Mathers and Others, if you want to learn more in this context specifically. Active Inquiry is yet another level of depth, and to my mind, is as much a magical working as a meditation, so I will cease my cataloging here.
So with that general description of Tarot and Meditation out of the way, let’s talk about the Tarot of Dreams again. Tarot of Dreams was designed with meditation in mind. In a post to the Aeclectic.net Tarot Forum, Marchetti mentioned how he had been struck by the extent to which people were using decks for meditation as well as readings, and how it occurred to him that the experience could be so much richer if images moved and changed rather than simply being static.
As far as I know, this is a new concept that Marchetti is opening up, that of the animated tarot card created specifically as a tarot focus. We’ve already had computer-based programs for tarot readings – Orphalese and Paul O’Brien’s Visionary Networks products are but two examples of this genre. But the Tarot of Dreams CD is an entry in the much newer computer-mediated meditation genre, other examples of which include The Journey to Wild Divine and Meditainment.
When you put the CD in the computer it will immediately start playing the program that I call the “main interface”. It begins with an introductory movie that is a bit more than four minutes in duration, a movie that could be interpreted as virtually creating sacred space. Watching this movie can be a cue for “ground and center.” As it introduces you to the five basic landscapes of the deck – beginning with the kind of light show behind your eyelids when you first close your eyes, then morphing into the astral environment of most of the Majors, finally invoking each of the elemental quarters, you could be relaxing and balancing and sealing. Or you could simply interact with it as if it were TV (or you could press the button to skip the movie). It is possible to enter the hypnogogic state (between wakefulness and sleep) while using the computer – it’s a common experience when websurfing – and this movie would seem to be a tool directed to that state.
When the movie has finished playing, you are in the main interface. The main buttons on the interface are for the Major Arcana, the four suits, and plain minors.
Click the porthole for the majors or suit, and you will see a portal with buttons all around, one for each card. As you hover over the button, for the Majors you see the main element of the image in the portal – for the minors just the number or court symbol. Click one of the card buttons and the screen shows the card image on the right half and, on the left half, a short description. The minors show a brief meaning and the qabalistic and astrological correspondence. The Court cards discuss personality, stage of development, and approach in addition to the qabalistic and astrological correspondence. The Major Arcana has the brief meaning, the path, the Hebrew letter, and the astrological glyph. But the images of the Major Arcana, unlike the Minor Arcana, actually have moving elements. This is a very nice device, as it allows a larger stock of symbolism that cycles through the image. Watching the images change can enhance the trance effect, somewhat like watching a candle flame.
This interface is optimal for a learning mode, for getting acquainted with the deck, and for getting acquainted with tarot if the user is a beginner, but it also works for basic meditation with a focus – you have the background music, the ambiance of the entire interface, and the moving elements of the card that help in the soft focus gaze. The main thing I wish were possible from a meditation perspective is turning off the text. It’s nice for someone learning the card to see the meanings on the screen while looking at the image, but I found it distracting when attempting to flow with the image. Then again, when I’m looking at my deck scans, I tend to do virtual borderectomies, so your mileage may vary. For practices at a greater depth/complexity, I personally find the Orphalese environment more beneficial. Beyond the presence of text, another potential drawback is the tendency to exteriorize the imagination with these animated images. This is a depth of engagement issue – are you passively watching TV, or are you working with an internally alive image? But that’s the nice thing about this package – you have all three versions to choose from, physical cards, animated interface, and Orphalese pack.
There are other buttons on the main
interface, besides the button to Exit:
To get to the rest of the goodies on the CD, you have to exit the main interface. With Windows XP, if you don’t want to go in to the main interface and then exit each time, fire up the “My Computer” and “Explore” the CD (from the right –click menu) rather than “Open”ing it.
While you can simply copy the Tarot of Dreams pack folder from the Orphalese Packs directory into your own installation of Orphalese, installing Orphalese from the CD will also give you a custom background. Orphalese is shareware, and to get the ability to work with more than three decks or to get access to the File Exchange and Deck Exchange, you’ll need to register the program – that cost is not included in the purchase of Tarot of Dreams. You do not need to register the program to try it out – it is fully functional with the one deck supplied. As Orphalese has been reviewed here at Tarot Passages in the past, I will avoid reviewing it here, other than to say that although it is a computerized tarot reading program, it also has some handy features for tarot meditation: free selection, zoom mode, and compare cards. Free Selection lets you choose which card (or cards) you want to look at. This is useful for laying out a tableau in a contemplation meditation. Zoom mode lets you zoom a particular card to a much bigger size. Tarot of Dreams does supply images of a high enough resolution to increase the card size within Orphalese pretty extensively. I was happier zooming within Orphalese than I was loading a card image file into a Paint program and resizing it that way. Finally, Compare Cards is a new feature, and lets you check off which of the decks you want included in a spread showing all the deck versions for a particular card. This is also useful for the comparative type of contemplation.
In summary, this is a very enjoyable deck, with a very interesting CD concept, one I would love to see other publishers trying – not to mention pushing the technology to new levels.
Meditation and Magic by John Opsopaus
Divine Paradox contains meditations on Tarot, as well as general meditation advice
Basic Breath Meditation Instructions by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
A Guided Meditation by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
Occult Symbolism in Meditation by Jeri Noble
Breathing Out and Breathing In
Tarot as Meditation Tool by Mark McElroy
Card Meditation for Major Arcana by C. D. Burdorf
A Short Course in Scrying
by Benjamin Rowe
Meditation from Beliefnet – flash sequence with spoken instructions and images
The Journey to Wild Divine
A biofeedback program in the form of a game, complete with a set of finger sensors to plug into your computer that track your body's heart rate variability and skin conductance to be used instead of a joystick.
Affirmations Goal Setting Software
Read another review of this deck here.
Joan Cole is a stay-at-home mom and former geek. She has been studying Tarot off and on since the early 1980's. You can see her deck collection and other Tarot writings here.
Review © 2005 Joan Cole
Tarot of Dream images © 2005 Ciro Marchetti
Gilded Tarot images © 2004 Llewellyn Worldwide