Saturday, April 23, 2011

Opening the Tarot, Part III

In the previous post, we were looking at the significance of body language in tarot graphic illustration, in relation to ideas of openness. Taking another look at the Queen of Wands in comparison to the Empress in body language, both have open laps and sit with legs apart, (rather than in a crossed or demure drawn-together position), though their long gowns do drape decorously over their knees, (and the Empress’s lower body is angled to the right, with legs drawn closer together than those of the Queen of Wands). These hints at sexual openness suggests some Aphrodite energy, which ties in with our theme of opening as it relates to the month of April. April is both the month of opening and the month dedicated to Aphrodite and her divine powers of opening, as previously mentioned. In the RWS deck, the Empress is explicitly associated with Venus/Aphrodite, (as shown by her heart-shaped shield with the glyph of Venus on it), while the fiery energies associated with the Queen of Wands suggests that she can be the most passionate and sensual of the queens. Despite this, the Queen of Wands is less ready to engage the viewer than the Empress, for she gazes off to the right, and both of her hands are occupied.

When we look at the body language of the four kings, we notice that the King of Swords looks us square in the face, so he is definitely aware of us, but that sword he is wielding blocks any impulse on our part to go right up to him. In these respects, and in the military accessories, the King of Swords’ symbolism resonates with that of The Emperor, (who often has a militaristic orientation). On the other hand, The King of Cups’ open body language makes him more approachable, in keeping with his traditional “Mr. Nice Guy” personality. However, although the King of Cups is facing forward, he is slightly angled to the right (which is his left), while gazing at us slantwise. This may indicate that, though kindly disposed, he may regard us the Querents as something of a distraction.

The only other RWS Minor Arcana cards where the figures look us full in the face are the Four of Pentacles and Nine of Cups. In the former card, the man is greedily clutching a pentacle in a way that erects a material barrier between us and him. The latter shows a jolly man in front of an open (half-circle) arrangement of cups that suggests hospitality, yet our host’s crossed arms indicates that he is selective about who he invites in. There are other cards that show celebration and conviviality, but have a more closed-off quality. For example, the Three of Cups is a festive card that depicts three women dancing, yet theirs is a closed circle, as if to tell the viewer, “Three’s company, four’s a crowd.”

Although the RWS deck’s use of body language and other imagery makes some philosophical statements about concepts of open and closed, there is no reason that other designers couldn’t deal with these issues differently. This gives would-be designers something to think about, and is a reason for users to experiment with different decks on different occasions.

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