WILLIAM BLAKE TAROT
Table of Contents:
Tarot and Blake
[The soul's] presence
will be secured all the more readily when an appropriate receptacle
is elaborated...something reproducing it, or representing it
and serving like a mirror to catch an image of it.
The Tarot cards
are...a picture book of essential truths,
setting forth figuratively those fundamental verities about which all enlightened faiths
are in common agreement.
Manley Palmer Hall
The Creative Imagination
About William Blake
Blake and Tarot
About this Deck
The William Blake Tarot of the Creative Imagination is a practical and inspirational tool for personal creativity that features the art and ideas of William Blake (1757-1827). To most people, Blake is a man much acknowledged but little understood. His personally liberating ideas and penetrating social vision have made little impact outside of intellectual circles. This is unfortunate because society at large would greatly benefit from more familiarity with Blake. He is a prophet whom we have greatly honored but barely heard.
This deck represents something really new for Blake a way to take him home and 'play' with him, to get acquainted with him as never before possible. It is an attempt to free Will Blake from intellectual bondage. Unlike textbooks and critical studies, the Blake Tarot presents his ideas and images in a manner that is easy to absorb, and a lot more fun. Most of all, the Blake Tarot is a portable spiritual toolkit that you can use every day to creatively solve problems, to ponder personal issues, and gain meaningful insights into some of life's mysteries. It enables you to put Blake's amazing art to practical use, rather than just passively admire it. Combining the 'handson' accessibility of Tarot cards with the imaginative insights of Blake is like putting wings on an angel: now let the spirit fly!
The William Blake Tarot consists of a set of 23 archetypal cards called Triumphs, plus a set of 56 Creative Process cards in four suits named Painting, Science, Music, and Poetry which are Blake's four primal expressions of the imagination. In conventional Tarot, the archetypal cards are called the Major Arcana and the suits are called the Minor Arcana. These terms are avoided here because 'arcana' means 'secrets', which do not apply to the modern concept of Tarot or to William Blake. While the Tarot may have been considered occult or secret in the past, modern Tarot seeks to share its wisdom with everyone.
Because Blake and Tarot are natural partners, this deck 'marries' them an act of imagination in the service of imagination. This is befitting because most of Blake's own works were reinterpretations of the works of other poets and artists. Now, Blake himself is reinterpreted here through the medium of Tarot. Although the Blake Deck is completely true to the ancient tradition of Tarot, it is specifically designed to shed spiritual light on everyday issues and problems through the lens of creative processes and the arts for as Blake asserted, "the whole business of man is the arts."
The Creative Imagination
Imagination literally the ability to see images in the mind is the vision of the soul. The contemporary archetypal psychologist James Hillman said that "Imagination is the natural function of the soul." And, "by soul, I mean...the experiencing through reflective speculation, dream, image, and fantasy that mode which recognizes all realities as primarily symbolic or metaphysical." This is also the quintessential Blakean idea, coupled with the knowledge that imagination is also eternal: "vision or imagination is a representation of what eternally exists, really & unchangeably."
Although the Blake deck is completely true to the ancient tradition of Tarot, it is specifically designed to operate through the lens of creative processes and the arts for, as Blake asserted, "the whole business of man is the arts." Blake's basic theme is that art arises from the personal identity of the artist. Creative projects of any kind are the expression of this personal identity. 'Art' is not what the public, nor the critics, say it is. In fact, art is life, a unique personal creation that is enriched by imagination and infused by spirit. Thus when Blake talks about the arts, he is talking about living creatively, and not about being an artist. Ours is a culture that pays lip service to individuality (and hence identity) but in fact fears and often punishes the truly individual consciousness. We are made to believe that 'art' requires special 'talent' and/or special 'imagination' as if these were in short supply, when in fact they overflow in every human being. Everyone is an artist, but only a few possess sufficient freedom, courage, or foolishness to artistically assert their identity. For anyone wishing to overthrow society's archaic and limiting ideas about the nature and value of art, which is life, Blake is an eminently suitable mentor: "The nature of my work is visionary or imaginative; it is an endeavour to restore what the ancients called the Golden Age."
Every individual life is a myth created by the person who lives it. Particularly through the use of creative imagination, life can be made sacred and happy. It is not necessary to practice the arts; what is necessary is to practice the consciousness of the arts. As film director Lina Wertmüller once said, "You can't learn art; what you can learn is the freedom of art."
About William Blake
Engraver, artist, poet, musician, visionary, and mythologizer, William Blake was the most contradictory of men. He is considered radical, yet all his work is rooted in traditional sources. While forming ideas that were uniquely his own, he drew freely from classical sources. Called insane and incomprehensible by his contemporaries, modern commentators have proven the extraordinary inner logic and consistency of his works. He never attended school, yet was among the most knowledgeable and wide-ranging intellects of his time. He is considered England's foremost religious painter, but he did not attend any church and despised religion. Although he regards "Jesus" as man's savior, he was not even Christian: "I know of no other Christianity and of no other Gospel than the liberty of both mind & body to exercise the divine arts of imagination."
Blake's life, at least outwardly, was uneventful. Trained early as an engraver, he never had any other occupation. He remained married to one woman all his life, had no children, never traveled, and made few friends. He was able to make a modest living at first, but his income gradually declined as his idiosyncrasies alienated him from his clients. But inwardly, his life was exciting. At the age of 9, he saw the first of his mystical visions a tree filled with bright-wing angels "bespangling every bough like stars." He experienced visions throughout his life, from which he created thousands of graphic works in the form of etchings, drawings, and paintings. Using a method of engraving that he invented combining both images and text on copper plates and then coloring the prints by hand he self-published almost two dozen classic books. A precursor of English Romanticism, he is considered one of our greatest poets. In 1993, his poem, "The Tyger," was chosen by a literary board as the most popular of all time.
Although perennially optimistic and personally happy, Blake at times expressed his disappointment at having a scant audience and barely enough income to survive: "How I did secretly rage! I also spoke my mind." He was a true prophet who knew that the future belonged to him, however ignored and misunderstood during his own lifetime.
For all that, Will Blake was a 'regular guy' who liked an occasional pint of ale, a countryside walk, and a song to sing while he worked. He recognized and accepted his own genius without succumbing to egotism or the desire to have power over others. "I should be sorry if I had any earthly fame, for whatever natural glory a man has is so much taken from his spiritual glory." Finally, he was a tireless worker who made maximum use of his prodigious talents, sustaining a continuous creative output from the time he was 12 until he died at 69.
Blake and Tarot
The Tarot is part of the western mystery tradition that goes back to the ancient Chaldeans and Egyptians. It is based on what we today call synchronicity, which is the notion that all things happening at a given moment are related to each other in a meaningful way. The corollary to this is that we can learn about unseen things by examining other things related to them, especially via symbols that connect the unseen with the seen. Essentially, this is what magic is also about. A belief in the power of symbols naturally flows from the exercise of human imagination which, as Blake asserts, is God.
The Tarot is a self-integrated collection of traditional symbols in the form of a deck of cards. The earliest mention of Tarot cards was in 1442 in northern Italy, although playing cards (which may have been Tarot cards) date from a century earlier. Early Tarots were primarily used for gambling and playing games (especially tarocchi, a card game that is still current today in parts of Europe). It was not until 1781 in Paris that the cards assumed anything like their modern significance. In that year, a French Protestant clergyman named Court de G¸belin proclaimed in his book, Le Monde Primit’f, that the Tarot was the remains of an ancient Egyptian book of wisdom. Inspired by G¸belin, in 1783 a fortune-teller named Alliette who practiced under the name of Etteilla (his name reversed) invented a method of cartomancy using a 'corrected' Tarot pack that he called the Etteilla Tarot. This created a sensation, initiating a fortune-telling craze that has (more or less) lasted to this day.
At the same time that the Tarot was developing as an esoteric system in France, William Blake was in his early 20's, newly married, and had just published his first book of poetry. England was at hostilities with France, which was an ally of the Americans in their battle for political independence. In 1782, the American Revolutionary War ended, but peace in England was shortlived, for within seven years the French Revolution began, and soon after England and France once again battled each other in the bloody Napoleonic Wars. Such was the background of the birth of modern Tarot and the young manhood of Will Blake.
While the continent seethed with political, philosophical, and religious intrigues, all intercourse between France and England was not only forbidden, but considered seditious. Therefore, no news of the exciting Tarot vogue in Paris reached England or Blake. Added to this, England had banned (in 1684) the importation of all foreign playing cards, seizing and destroying any that were found. As a result, in England the Tarot had no pre-existing history and no foothold whatever. Furthermore, the intellectual climate there during the Age of Enlightenment and then the Victorian Era offered no place for anything so un-British. It was not until the 1880's, when translations of Eliphas Levi's magical texts stimulated interest in the French Occult Revival, that Tarot found any appeal in England (except possibly with a few foreign gypsies). This was more than 50 years after Blake's death. Finally, in 1888, with the advent of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Tarot began to be systematically studied and used. The first Tarot in the English language was published in December, 1909 the so-called Rider Pack, designed by A. E. Waite, with art by Pamela Colman Smith. This is an incredibly late date for an important metaphysical tool that had already been available elsewhere for at least 450 years. Since then, the Waite-Smith deck has become the most popular Tarot in the world.
The foregoing history, a kind of counter-Tarot conspiracy, adequately explains Blake's ignorance of Tarot, even though he was aware of the other intellectual, spiritual, and metaphysical currents of his time, including qabalah, alchemy, and astrology. Had Blake known about Tarot, as a natural mystic and symbolist, he conceivably might have designed a deck of his own. As it was, lacking any information about this highly developed symbol system, he proceeded to invent and illustrate his own functional equivalents. He even worked from many of the same sources and impulses as the Tarot designers of the Renaissance. In any case, Blake's own system his mythology of divided Albion and the Four Zoas is a mythic parallel to Tarot as a spiritual system, and the two systems are now joined in this deck. Blake would appreciate that these cards, which personify universal archetypes and gods, actualize his "visions of the eternal attributes, or divine names, which...ought to be the servants, and not the masters of man."
In creating this Tarot in Will Blake's name, I have attempted in good faith to accurately represent his ideas and make appropriate use of his images. I can only hope he would approve of the result. I like to imagine that in the following quote, he is actually instructing the users of this deck:
If the spectator
could enter into these images in his imagination ...
or could make a friend & companion of ... these images of wonder ...
then he would meet the Lord in the air & ... be happy.