Thoughts on the Tarot, Seasons and Romanticism

For as long as I can remember, I've been a Romantic.

No, I don't mean someone who is good at romance (although that's a nice thought), I'm talking about someone who derives meaning, shares in the philosophy of, and contemplates Romanticism in their work.

What is Romanticism? It was an artistic and intellectual movement that originated in Europe around the 1790's, and peaked in popularity from around 1800 to 1850. It was characterized by an emphasis on emotion and individualism, as well as the glorification of nature and the past.

Although there are a variety of reasons why this particular movement flourished, one of the biggest reasons is that it was a reaction to the industrial revolution and the scientific rationalization of nature at the time (due to the enlightenment). Its this last bit that is the most interesting to me...

It hit me today while I was sketching the next Tarot card in the series that I was subconsciously planning my schedule so that I could work on each suit during its corresponding season of the year (for those who aren't aware, each suit of the Tarot corresponds to a particular season of the calendar year).

While not everyone agrees on which suit pairs with which season, the idea of this pairing has largely become a driving force behind the development and philosophy of the Darkness of Light Tarot Deck. Planning an illustration on the card now regularly involves careful study of the setting, air temperature, and general mood that the card should give off before the pencil ever touches paper. The result of this process is vastly different from constructing narrative by maintaining focus on only the central character, as we see in popular decks such as Rider-Waite. Without doubt incorporating more ambiance into the image can drastically alter the feeling one takes away from a card's artwork, and perhaps the reading in general.

For example, Swords, the suit I'm currently working on, is generally associated with winter. Therefore, the artwork takes place in a baron or desolate place, filled with snow and ice, and faintly tinted blue. The suit of Swords is noted for its intellectual rationalization and logic, which integrates well with the feeling I associate with winter: the harsh intellectual truth that some animals and humans might not survive the cold. There is no room for feelings in this suit, only cold, hard judgements based exclusively on the facts delivered to us by the universe.

Wands, on the other hand, is generally associated with spring (sometimes fall). Therefore, I am planning to have most of the artwork take place in the same baron place as winter, but now filled with hope. Buds are starting to appear, and there is no longer an absence of living things on the landscape, but the young, tender saplings I associate with a "wand." Wands as a suit represent primal energy and inspiration, ambition, and expansion. To me, this feels extremely spring-like, and appropriate for something struggling, but ambitiously optimistic and working hard to renew itself.

While its clear that the suits of the Tarot pair nicely with each season (whatever season you feel is appropriate), I am coming to realize as I become more familiar with the Tarot that there are many more Romantic elements within the cards than I first noticed.

For example, a hallmark of Romanticism is largely a celebration of nature and a rejection of the scientific rationalization of nature. It strikes me that so much of reading Tarot is about intuition. In fact, intuition itself is a natural process, something possessed by all humans but not easily understood or yet measured by science. Essentially, the complex intuitive feelings generated by the cards within us all is able to probe much deeper into the inner self than a scientific analysis could ever hope to achieve. This is one of the most interesting and fundamental appeals of Tarot: the fact that they cannot be measured, and only "work" when the user is in touch with his or her natural state of intuition, completely untouched and unmeasured by science or technology.

Tarot also fulfills another trait of Romanticism, the persistence of the past. The images found within the Tarot cards have been built on tradition, first appearing in the 1400's in medieval courts. Although their artwork has changed over the years, the essential meaning of each card has not (it has been codified over the years thanks largely to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn). This "preservation" and focus on the past also feels like a Romantic idea, and ties in extremely nicely with its other attributes (intuition) to create powerful archetypes we as humans can all understand and use.

Yet another aspect of the Tarot and Romanticism is how they both emphasize individuality. Each artist is encouraged to draw the cards the way he or she sees them, each reader is encouraged to read the cards the way he or she sees them, and the entire process of using and collecting cards in the first place is largely subjective, and depends totally on the user. The idea of understanding the cards, creating them, and using them, is an incredibly open-ended system that places a tremendous emphasis on individualism and self expression.

I'd even go so far as to say the Tarot itself is the embodiment of Romanticism: the perfect blend of nature, rejection of mechanization, focus on human intuition and intellectualism, persistence of themes of the past, and the overall notion that we are all subject to the great and mysterious powers of the universe (the Major Arcana). Its also not surprising that the Tarot left behind its roots as a game in Italy and France and started to become codified and used as a tool of divinatory purposes during the height of the Romantic period.

While I've always considered myself part Romantic, I never really considered the Tarot cards this way until I've taken up their mantle and investigated this deeply and fully into their inner workings.

...and that leads me to my final thought: was I subconsciously drawn to the Tarot because of my feelings and thoughts towards intuition and Romanticism, or were they drawn to me?