The War To Make Tarot The Exclusive Domain Of Women
Originally published February 19, 2006,
by Jess Karlin (Tarot nom de guerre or magie for Glenn F. Wright)
See here for notes on why this article was written.
- Women's Writing
- Preface—Aeclectic Asininity
- Is Tarot the Domain of Women?
- The Golden Dawn to the Rescue (sort of)
- The New Age to the Rescue (for real)
- The Great Commercialization (and Feminization) of Tarot
- The Newcastle Manifesto
- Wily Arrien Resistance
- A Backlash Begins on the Internet
- TarotL and the War Against Tarot History
- 2002 Puts the Nail in the Coffin of Witless Wordless Wimmin's Tarot
- 2006 Update
- 2013 Update
“By the time women get to take over something—like Hollywood or Bush administration diplomacy—the thing is already devalued beyond recognition.” —Maureen Dowd, New York Times, noting that Katie Couric might just make it as an anchor, now that the evening news had become so "feminized". In fact, Couric lasted five years as an evening news anchor at CBS, in third place behind ABC and NBC.
“I made a mistake and I left the impression that the truth does not matter and I am deeply sorry about that. That is not what I believe.”—Oprah's infamous confession, a guide to the Wimmin of Tarotmania? Eventually, Oprah Winfrey would apologize to James Frey, admitting she was willing to sacrifice him to save her own egomanical, rich ass. This, Winfrey allowed years later, showed a basic lack of compassion on her part.
In a remote part of China, one of the last fluent writers of a secret script, a code used exclusively by women for women, recently died.
This script, called Nushu (women's writing) served the interests of rural women in China, who were denied the right to education provided men, and who nevertheless wished to communicate in writing with other women and to keep journals of their lives—all in a code intentionally kept secret from men. The women used Nushu to discuss the things which most concerned them about their lives, and especially their work, their families, and of course their often painful feelings. For the most part men, who knew the women were communicating something in secret, paid the code little attention. It was the product of women's work after all, and so obviously of little or no importance to men, who in most cultures have tended to disparage the worth of women's interests and certainly their intellectual endeavors.
Students of the occult can well appreciate the utility of secret codes and symbols, as these impart the power of knowledge (of something obscure) to the initiate. Just creating a code, a way to mask one's true meaning, is a way to manufacture power where none existed previously. It is, in fact, a kind of magick. If the code masks something of little value to non-initiates, then the mystery itself, of what may be masked, can be the only real commodity in play, especially to those whose interests are not so much in initiating anyone, but in peddling paths to prospective seekers.
In 2004, on the website tarotforum.net, a question was asked:
“Is tarot a woman's domain?”
In answering the question, a number of the contributors were quite revealing in some of the basic assumptions they had about Tarot. For example:
“I don't think women are any more intuitive than men, but I believe they choose to tap into it more than men do.”
And this very sincere offering:
“...men and women both have the capacity for intuition and empathy, but our cultural bias is more encouraging (or at least more tolerant) of women intuitives. Of course, thanks to sexism, a male Tarot reader/psychic/whatever is often given much more respect (and money) than a female one.”
The fact that the question—"Is tarot a woman's domain?"—was quickly channeled into answers discussing intuitive ability and fortunetelling is quite revealing of a certain point of view (or even bias) among most discussants in the thread, since the domain of Tarot includes a lot more territory than those "practical" applications. Pretty soon, the laments about men's repressed intuition having been voiced and the minority status of men in Tarot having been established in most posters' views, the thread degenerated into more openly sexist sarcasm:
“Maybe you should have a tarot pub, have some beer mats with images of tarot cards etc. to make tarot more attractive to men—and I would like it too, and I'm female.”
One poster did get close to a kind of mark, or maybe a kind of sentiment, or resentment (this is something like the idea expressed by Maureen Dowd above):
“I have a more negative opinion...I think the reason why there are more women in the tarot world is [because] tarot is a marginalized study. It's not taken seriously—it's party tricks and all-girls sleepover material to most [people]. It's OK for women to take an interest in such frivolous things.”
Of course that view suggests that Tarot may have become a kind of Nushu.
Just when the thread seemed to be mercifully dying, another poster, who just happened to be a Tarotican, offered some very different insights:
“My point here is that the very same assumptions that occultists such as Crowley and Papus and Waite had, that women are really neither interested in, nor intellectually capable of, handling the deeper aspects of Tarot occultism, has in fact been the guiding principle that has forged modern Tarot.”
Since Tarotforum.net is the most aggressively censorial Tarot forum, this poster, whose remarks were certainly upsetting the natives, was given the usual warnings by moderators about shutting up saying true things or risk being thrown off. And the upsetting poster's removal from the forum was expedited with diligent prejudice (no doubt encouraged by the Tarotican's refusal to beg for forgiveness), but the original question about Tarot being the domain of women did provide a final inspiration for my researching and writing this article.
And if so, how did it get to be so?
In a sense, Tarot may always have been the domain of women. In a detailed study done back in 1994, Carte da Trionfi: The Development of Tarot in Fifteenth-century Italy, Christina Olsen made the case for Trionfi having been invented mainly to amuse women, while men were usually involved as onlookers, and not active participants.
Even Court de Gébelin's occult theories of Tarot were given birth, so he claimed, in the female-regulated environment of the French salons, where men acted both as invited company and, often, as Hierophants to the ladies desiring informed discourse or lectures on various (sometimes esoteric) subjects.
Court de Gébelin makes a point of saying that the game of Tarots was mostly unknown (in 1781) in the Parisian salons, and this because its complexity and "bizarre" appearance would have rudely affected their "vivacity", but Court de Gébelin was not, as Michael Dummett has claimed, merely being sexist in this observation. Indeed, Dummett's shortcomings as a historian are well revealed here by his ignorance of salon culture, a culture where vivacité—an environment of sociable discussion—would be negatively impacted by the demands of a complex game such as Tarots. Even the size of the deck, the dealt hands (25 Marseilles-style cards), and the cards themselves, are not designed to comfortably fit the physical proportions of most women's hands.
As I note in Rhapsodies of the Bizarre:
“Both the size of the cards and the number required to be initially held in this version of the game, make concentration on game play (including paying attention to what has been played) a paramount concern, assuming one intends to play to win. It is actually not so easy to sort the cards into their various suits, to keep them displayed clearly so as to more easily enable decision-making, and to basically keep one’s mind on the varied issues of the game. This is not to say that the French (or Parisian) ladies couldn't do it, but to say that, in the salons, all activities (including listening to the philosophes lecture) were intended to enhance sociable conversation, to enable vivacité, not to induce rudely insulated (and silent) meditations upon complex gaming problems.”—Rhapsodies of the Bizarre, by J. Karlin (a nom de guerre of Glenn F. Wright)
This though does raise an interesting question. If Parisian ladies would have found Tarots and Tarot games unwieldy and unnecessarily complicated, what about Renaissance Italian court women? Did they possess bigger hands or bigger minds?
Or, was it simply that the Renaissance culture of game play was different than that of the 18th-century French salons, and thus permitted 15th-century players to be silent and think about the game while still being thought courteous? In fact Christina Olsen makes a point of discussing just such a courtly environment of "emphatic silence", with respect to early Tarot game play in Italy, contrasting it to the more boisterous, and largely male-dominated, culture of dicing and card games played by commoners with standard decks.
Olsen writes, describing the famous Borromeo wall painting, The Tarocchi Players (see below):
“The players of tarot on the Borromeo wall counter the stereotyped dice and card players by means of their emphatic silence as well. The central noblewoman looks out at us with a pensive face and closed mouth: her more engaged companions are similarly silent as well. Even the man on the left who in the act of making a play does so without a comment. In a recent essay on how historians might begin to trace a social history of silence in early modern Europe, Peter Burke notes that verbal restraint was an approved trait of the nobility in sixteenth century Venice, while prolixity was associated with the salesmen, tradesmen, and their customers who peopled the piazzas.”—Christina Olsen, Carte da Trionfi: The Development of Tarot in Fifteenth-century Italy
However it may be, if certain women in a certain French salon were not playing Tarots one particular day, we might very well not be talking about Tarot in any extra-gaming sense at all. And the reported nature of that first occult excavation of Tarot's symbolic potential presaged the quality of the relationship between men and women in Tarot for almost two centuries. The man, Antoine Court de Gébelin, lectured the women (and any men in attendance of course) on the "true" meaning of Tarot symbolism. The women, we are led to believe, may have asked a question or two, but mainly accepted Court de Gébelin's expertise and word on the subject, at least according to his own account, without much skeptical discussion.
Even if some of the other guests had been inclined to argue with Monsieur Court de Gébelin about his remarkable Egyptian theory of Tarot, the rules of the salon would have severely limited the rigor of the inquiry. The salon was not a courtroom, nor a hall of academe, and arguments were seldom allowed to break the civil mood, or to take place at all. This obsession with noble civility, to the detriment of truth-seeking and -telling, eventually helped cause the decline and fall of the salon as the intellectual center of Paris, as the Revolution and its (mainly) young male leaders took the fight for truth and justice to male-dominated venues (like those of Freemasonry), and then to the street and the courts of rebellion and war.
The nature of this gender difference in attitude and action is well worth recalling as we examine the developments in Tarot over the last 40 years or so. Much of the occultist movement, so dominated by male-only secret orders like Freemasonry and its many imitators, became the domain of men for that reason, and also because the death of the salon invalidated the very idea of any meaningful organized intellectual exchange between men and women, especially in an environment where women ran the show.
As the 19th-century went along, cartomancy (fortunetelling with cards, not necessarily Tarot), certainly became or remained the public domain of a number of French women, Julie Orsini and Madame Lenormand being the best-known examples, the latter becoming one of the myriad brand-names for cartomantic books and decks published in the 19th century, and even today in decks like the Gypsy Witch pack.
The social function of cartomancy and other forms of fortunetelling was discussed even in the mid-19th-century, for example in Robert Chambers' 1864 piece about English cartomancy, where he notes:
“The smallest village contains at least one ‘card-cutter,’ a person who pretends to presage future events by studying the accidental combination of a pack of cards...besides those who make their livelihood by ‘card-cutting,’ there are numbers of others, who possessing a smattering of the art, daily refer to the pasteboard oracles, to learn their fate and guide their conduct. And when a ticklish point arises, one of those crones will consult another, and then, if the two cannot pierce the mysterious combination they will call in a professed mistress of the art, to throw a gleam of light on the darkness of the future.”—Robert Chambers, Book of Days (1864)
Throughout the piece, while not specifically alleging that cartomancy was a womanly art, Chambers nevertheless implies it, noting that the popular practice of “crones” and mistresses, which had penetrated the imagination and consciousness of the “lower classes” to the point where they spoke of people being of heart or club complexions, had been taught to him as a child by a soldier's wife.
Indeed, Chambers points to the prevalent use of cartomancy by camp followers, dependents and others who would trail armies about as they campaigned, as the likely mechanism by which card reading achieved its diffusion throughout Europe. The exact method for how that would have worked he does not suggest, but that this largely unintentional evangelizing would have been primarily the domain of women seems clear.
In the middle of the 19th century, the great French occultist Eliphas Lévi wrote a number of books based around the notion that Tarot was a keybook, and an encyclopedia, of the Jewish Kabbalah, which, as Court de Gébelin had first alleged, was Jewish (or Hebrew) only to the extent the Jews had borrowed or stolen (but also preserved) the great wisdom of the ancient Egyptians. This idea was not based in fact, Jews most certainly did originate Kabbalah, but the Western occult tradition employed an Egyptomaniacal (not an Egyptological) model.
So, in the occult mythology, Tarot was in fact the great Book of Thoth, which being the encyclopedia of all encyclopedias, container of knowledge known (by humans) and unknown as well, was the centerpiece of all occult initiation. These ideas greatly influenced the development of the ritual culture expressed in the renowned fin de siècle secret order, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
The Golden Dawn took everything the occultists had been doing with Tarot for 100 years, systematized it (to many observers to an absurd degree), ritualized it, packed in pretty much everything including the kitchen sink and the drain, and peddled it to a class of Brits both motivated by boredom with traditional Christianity and certainly moved by the snob appeal of mysteria and highly selective initiation. AND the Golden Dawn allowed women to mingle with men in a nominal kind of equality! Brilliant!
At least that was the idea on paper, or in spirit. In practice, one of the things that helped to drive the Golden Dawn upon the rocks eventually was the focus of administrative power in the hands of a few men in the organization (and particularly one man, Samuel Liddell Mathers). Nevertheless, women played a central role in the life of the order and they certainly contributed to the writing of dogma and practice of Tarot.
Two members of the Golden Dawn who were supremely important to the development of Tarot in the 20th century were A. E. Waite and the art nouveau artist Pamela Colman Smith. Together, they created the most enduring and popular Tarot images in the last century, and while Waite publicly discounted Smith's ideological assistance in creating the deck—Smith was, Waite said, mainly the illustrator of his ideas—her images would ascend to primary importance as time went by, far outstripping any appreciation of Waite as the designer and dogmatist of the cards.
In fact this elevation of Smith over Waite as the recognized creator of what was originally known as the Rider-Waite Tarot (Rider being the first publisher), is one of the key stories that explain the rise to dominance of women in crafting the late 20th-century public image of Tarot. It is not a story, as we shall see, that depends very much on the telling of fact-based truths about Tarot, but rather upon the power of myth and the market.
The other critically influential man-woman team of Tarot creators in the 20th century was the infamous magus, Aleister Crowley, and his utterly unfamous artist, Frieda Harris. Again, attempts have been made by women in the last twenty years to strip Crowley of his role in creating the Thoth Tarot deck. This appeal, unlike the Waite disenfranchisement, is perhaps more easily made to an ignorant public—Crowley was evil they are told and his artist clearly good (as we are supposed to discern from her Tarot images).
However, this effort of appropriating an authorship has not been nearly so successful as that aimed at tossing out Waite.The Thoth deck is much more psychologically evocative, and in particular ways, than Waite's. It defies easy explanations, even when those are given by Crowley's followers, and the usual affirming pap that often passes for “intuitive” insight in pop Tarot strikes most viewers, particularly ones drawn to Thoth, as obviously (intuitively) inadequate and inappropriate to explain Thoth symbolism.
The reaction amongst many women to this general failure to “feminize” Thoth has been to demonize it and to ignore it in favor of the emasculated “Smith” deck and its endless dumbed-down clones.
While the cartoculture of the Golden Dawn opened many esoteric doors to women for their equal participation in the occult Tarot experiment, the organization was nevertheless still a creation of, and ultimately a validation of, a Victorian male mythos. To liberate women, and men too, from that shroud of chaste sweetness, a "New Age" was definitely called for, and indeed invoked by many more liberated souls, including Aleister Crowley, who for all his pointedly Victorian values was a peculiar kind of feminist.
The opportunity to make the New Age a cultural reality came after the two world wars of the 20th century, when the authoritarian values and prejudices of the Old Age and its bloodthirsty ministers had been thoroughly discredited and exposed. While the descendents of these monsters naturally transcended to producing the soul-smashing Cold War, a large percentage of the young people of Western societies were plotting a revenge of fundamental proportions. By the time of the 1960s, the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement (in the USA) helped to crystallize this anti-authoritarian sentiment into a real political and cultural force that would shape the rest of the century.
One theme which helped to define this New Age of resistance to the Old was the notion of being countercultural. And one important element of this was the pursuit of the New via the Old—as in Ancient—spiritual practices. Christianity was certainly perceived by the Counterculture to be part of the problem. If there was anything useful or valuable in the Christian religion, it had been profaned by the ministers of war into something either hateful or pointless. On the other hand, perhaps the truth was not in the way Christianity made believers different than pagans, but rather in the way the religion pointed back and out to all kinds of older and possibly truer pagan beliefs.
Of course, as students of the occult will know, these notions blended well with an idea in Astrology, of the procession of "Ages", caused by a peculiarity in the rotation of the Earth in its relation to the heavens. Approximately every 2000 years, we are told, a New Age of solar rulership occurs, and with it conditions of culture and authority prevail which correspond to the sign in which the Sun resides at the vernal equinox.
For about 2000 years we had supposedly been living in the Age of Pisces, which had elevated the Christian religion to dominance. Now, however, the Age of Aquarius was upon us, and with it we would see a time of tolerance for diverse beliefs, and spirituality based upon the best and brightest ideas of spirit that humans had so far devised—including pagan beliefs. Mindless dogma and tradition would be abandoned for "what worked". We would overthrow the evils of hierarchy and difference for the promise of creating (or recreating) an egalitarian tribe of humans.
These values were extolled, and indeed canonized, in a Broadway musical first produced in the fall of 1967—Hair. In simple terms Michael Butler, Hair's producer, described the play's message:
“The new generation accepts the state of constant change as a way of life.”
The Age of Aquarius provided a spiritual or mythological foundation for that view. In Hair's keynote song Aquarius, the lyrics illustrate the specific objectives of this idea (what things the changes were meant to achieve) and give a hint of cultural moods to come, as well as a creed for a large, permanent, Boomer subculture, seeking perpetual liberation and identity in the New Age:
“Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind's true liberation
Aquarius!”—Song Aquarius, from play Hair! (1967)
So, the constant change, if understood as a natural process encouraging life and diversity, and not feared as a death-bringer and destroyer, could give the Kabbalistic rewards of Harmony and Understanding, while offering as well a truer brand of truth through dreams and revelations. Ultimately, the mind would be truly liberated by seeing through the obvious illusions of material existence to the subtext of the apparent conflict between materialism and spiritual values that was usually veiled to us by our constantly fighting change as an enemy.
As Michael Butler recalled to me:
“[Our interest in Tarot] was a combination of occult seriousness and some fortune-telling. We were very much into the I Ching and astrology.”—Michael Butler
And while ButIer had wanted to learn more about Tarot at the time, a subject he says he didn't know much about, he never got around to it. But there was always the feeling that, no matter whether one had spent the time to learn and really understand occult artifacts like Tarot, their power was unquestioned, and to be associated with them, even in a superficial way, was a positive expression of the spirit of the New Age of Aquarius. Since the spirit of this Age was both radically informal and proudly irrational, the stage was set for an enterprising person to take the pack of unquestioned mystery that was 1960s Tarot and start peddling it—shamelessly as it turned out.
In 1968 an event took place which would help shape the future of Tarot for the rest of the 20th century, and which would serve to make Tarot, or a brand of it, the domain of women: Stuart Kaplan discovered a pack of Swiss 1JJ Tarot cards in Nuremburg. He promptly brought them back to the US and, he says, in his first year he "sold 200,000 of those decks".
It wasn't long before Kaplan decided that peddling Tarots, and expanding the market for doing so, was going to be his life's work. Expanding the market would of course be a lot easier if Kaplan cornered it first, which would give him a large degree of control over how Tarot would be marketed and which stories about it would be promoted and which ones wouldn't.
One of the first tasks Kaplan needed to accomplish to obtain dominance over the Tarot marketplace was to secure some kind of hold, you might even call it "ownership", if you were liberally minded, over the Tarot deck created by A. E. Waite and Pamela Colman Smith. Even before Kaplan began cloning the Waite-Smith cards in every conceivable (and repulsive) way one could imagine, Ned and Pam's deck was the most important and popular Tarot of the 20th century.
As the jacket text for the University Books edition (1959) of The Pictorial Key to the Tarot put it:
“The mystical Tarot cards, which Arthur Edward Waite and Pamela Colman Smith developed, have become the most authoritative deck in existence..”
In 1971, Kaplan first published the US Games version of the deck, and he claimed it was “the only authorized version” of “the most authoritative deck”. While Kaplan, in his glorified sales brochure, Tarot Classic, said his company (US Games, Inc.) had produced a Waite-Smith deck with “authentic detail and true color tones”, USG's version of the deck has generally been viewed, by people familiar with earlier versions, as an inferior effort.
For example, Melinda Parsons, an art history professor who has done extensive work on the life and art of Pamela Colman Smith (much of which was used by Stuart Kaplan in his many writings about Smith), views the 1971 edition of the deck by US Games as lamentably poor compared to earlier versions, and in fact she says Kaplan's brand of the Waite-Smith Tarot “looks like it was colored by a circus clown.” When asked a number of years ago for a reaction to this critique by his primary Smith researcher, Kaplan had no comment.
Regardless of the poor quality of USG's “authentic” Waite-Smith Tarot, it became the centerpiece for Kaplan's Tarot empire. Realizing the great influence the deck had already had on other designers (who in many cases were not really designers but thieves), Kaplan saw the profit potential in taking control of that process. He encouraged the cloning, under US Games' authorization, of the Waite-Smith brand of Tarot into every multicultural and subcultural offering imaginable. It was a great Newage cocktail, for nobody had to be truly imaginative or know what the hell he was doing or talking about.
Tarot dogma and tradition were of course Old Age, literally and figuratively, and certainly nobody wanted to be told he had to go to school, or worse to a seminary, to learn to tell fortunes. The good news was that Waite and Smith had already done all the work, both with the Tarot they created and also with Waite's book, The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, which for all its occultist and Waitean obscurity, was a basic and easy Tarot-reading guide. And, fortunately, both writer and artist were long dead, so they weren't going to object when their work was co-opted and dumbed down (a kind way of saying profaned) to peddle to everybody from baseball fans to gummi-bear gobblers.
Over the years, as Kaplan perfected the cloning process, he obviously became aware of different interest groups whose money could be solicited via the choices he would make in the decks he would publish. Just to make sure he wouldn't miss a beat on that count, he spent a lot of time and money purchasing the rights to pretty much anything Tarotic that might be moveable, or that could be used to secure a bank loan. Eventually, he realized that the Tarots and books that were selling had certain themes, certain looks and feels, which were decidedly—Oprahtine.
Occultism, whatever its importance in influencing the symbolism and the dogma of modern Tarot, was simply too arcane (well, DUH!!) to successfully peddle to a mass audience. To really rake in the Tarot bucks, you needed to find another appeal, a way out of the density of words and ideas that somebody like A. E. Waite loved to hang on the cards.
To appeal to the women who were flocking to Tarot in search of answers, you needed something more intuitive. And that is where dear (departed) Pamela came in. For if there was one thing everybody agreed that she was, it was intuitive. Indeed, if there was anything that Waite was looking for in an artist, other than talent and a brush bendable to his instruction, it was intuition.
Of course the kind of intuition Waite meant, and that he believed he had found in Smith, was very different from the version of it that Kaplan, and the cartofeminists who became his commercial and ideological allies, would promote.Kaplan knew that most people were not interested in even a cursory introduction to Tarot occultism, especially Waite's occultism (which Waite claimed was anti-occultist mysticism—even MORE hysty-mysty than usual!).
In other words, most people weren't going to buy Tarot decks because they wanted to learn Kabbalah or become mystics. What they might do is buy a Tarot because they felt that it was a way of obtaining a plainly exoteric shortcut, or Marauder's Map, to whatever esoteric benefit Kabbalah claimed to offer.
Even better (in the sense of being readily and widely consumable) was if you gave them a Marauder's Map, which each customer filled in with his glorious and utterly benighted intuition. In other words, how much easier is the task of peddling cardboard enlightenment if you claim that it isn't the ideas of Tarot symbolism that matter, but instead it is how each person FEELS about the empty pictures he is viewing. And, in this view, it is OK that these people and their feelings will be ignorant. In fact, this postmodern version of intuition is synonymous with a glorified kind of ignorance (often associated with, or blamed on, the Tarot Fool), the assumption being that you don't want to clutter up your head, and presumed psychic powers, with too much knowledge or booklearning.
Kaplan understood that if that was the key to more sales, A. E. Waite had to go. And he set about in concert with others to execute a marketing plan that would eliminate Waite as the real author of his deck, and would elevate Pamela Colman Smith as the intuitive genius who had liberated the masses from the patriarchal pedantry of occult Tarot.
Now, in the new age of Aquarian "mystic crystal revelation", all you needed to be a Tarot master was a "good vibration". And you could get that with a joint and a circle jerk of affirmations, the latter being the dogma of the new and devolved intuitive Tarot.
cartofeminism: noun; the exploitation of playing cards and particularly Tarot, usually by post-menopausal “white” Western females with an abundance of animus-ity, to achieve allegedly feminist objectives, often by dishonest means. ORIGIN: c. 1996, by Jess Karlin, from French carte, “card” + feminism.
The way to empire for Kaplan was made decidedly easier by the increasing marketing sense and focus of the group of Tarot writers and teachers who in effect acted as sales representatives for the subculture US Games was promoting and servicing. Whereas, in the 1970s, small groups of Tarot enthusiasts would gather informally to meet and exchange intuitions, it was mainly through the books of Tarot writers that the larger nascent community would congregate.
As audiences for these books, and also for new Tarot decks, grew, the small industry of Tarot product suppliers began to organize more sophisticated outreaches to their customers. Small meetings became regional conferences or symposia, where the public could meet the makers of the New Age Tarot, and the makers could meet each other to forge their dogma and agendas. In 1988, this trend culminated in something called The First International Newcastle Tarot Symposium (FINTS).
From this Los Angeles meeting of Tarot's alleged “luminaries”, a manifesto was issued in the form of a book, New Thoughts on Tarot (NTT), a journal of the presentations made at the symposium. NTT, edited by Mary K. Greer and Angeles Arrien, set forth in glaring terms both a description of a serious problem seen by these agents of the Tarot industry, and the kampf or war they planned to unleash to solve it.
What was the problem?
In simple, ideological terms, it was the allegedly constraining effect of the evil occultist patriarchy upon the potential growth of the Tarot market.
As Rachel Pollack explained in NTT:
“Women's decks [such as Motherpeace and Daughters of the Moon] are being designed not simply to bring Tarot principles together with the women's movement. The goal, which is very radical, is to go beyond that. It's to create a new culture, to completely transform human culture and human relationships into the divine, through images. These decks are reimagined because they wish to liberate the Tarot from an imagery that is seen as patriarchal.”—Rachel Pollack
James Wanless put it in political, economic terms—the 1990s were going to be the revolutionary decade enabling “fortunes to be made [&] egos to be enhanced”. Wanless preached that “women are going to seize power” and that Tarot was a perfect tool to stroke the egos of these nouveau elites:
“The Taroist is in an incredible position to offer to people who are seizing power—primarily women, or men who have tuned into their feminine power—a tool that will have great appeal and effect.”—James Wanless
One way the "appeal and effect" of Tarot would be greatly enhanced, with respect to the FINTS estimate of women's interest, was if the whole look and feel of Tarot could be made kinder and gentler and less Gothic. Tarot's medieval imagery, even when processed through 20th-century occult rectifications, scared the panties off many of the prospective new customers of Tarot. Or so the FINTS manifesto taught (speaking here of changes in card titles supplied in the Eileen Connolly Tarot):
“Death becomes Transition, the Devil becomes Materialism...Those of us involved with Tarot have always known that Death does not indicate someone dying, and that the Devil signifies bondage to illusions rather than some actual demon with goat hooves and horns. The Connolly names and images bring out the essential themes and take away the fearsome qualities.”—Mary K. Greer, Rachel Pollack, New Thoughts on Tarot
Fundamental in the FINTS view of things was their insistence that Old Age dogma and tradition (symbolized by the repressive Hierophant) were distortions of, and veils blocking, access to the truth. So, for example, the names of Tarot trumps had to be changed to protect the innocent, clueless, and apparently utterly infantile, customer.
Nasty Death, let's face it a real turn-off to most people, had to be magically transformed into Transformation. And if some patriarchal types had once, long ago, thought Death meant death, well they were living in the Dark Ages, weren't they, and hadn't the benefit of the Aquarian consciousness, which promoted Death as if it were a child's Halloween costume, or, in the vainer commentaries, a benign metric of always remedial change.
Like Howard Beale said, regarding the perfidious peddlers of commercial television:
“We'll tell you anything you wanna hear. We lie like hell. We'll tell you...nobody ever gets cancer in Archie Bunker's house.”
Except somebody did of course.
At the very core then of the dogma of the NTT manifesto was the belief that potentially disturbing or depressing realities, the "fearsome qualities", needed to be veiled or scrubbed away entirely from Tarot, while this process would nevertheless be promoted as a long overdue revelation of the very thing that was being prudently withheld from the customer—the truth.
The literally deadly consequences of this dishonesty would only become fully apparent in 2002, when the Tarot industry bathed in the blood of sniping victims to grab its 15 minutes of fame. Like the Pentagon sneaking in the flag-draped coffins so as not to disturb the people paying for an allegedly bloodless war, the Tarot industry publicly ridiculed the notion that the Death card could have anything to do with people getting their heads blown off by a maniac.
Sinking to about as low a point as one could imagine, industry types kept chanting refrains from the NTT dogma: “Everyone who knows anything about Tarot knows Death isn't death!”, even when they had plainly written the opposite of this earlier, and given that police might have benefitted from hearing the truth, instead of Newcastle nugatories. What the industry really meant of course was to make sure everyone, especially the police, understood that none of them could be the snipers.
The marriage of dishonesty to cowardice, consummated in overweening self-interest, defines the happy family of contemporary Tarot, or at least that industrial portion of it that most people now know and affirm.
Perhaps the most brazen expression of these postmodern virtues occurred in 1987, in Angeles Arrien's wretchedly vengeful The Tarot Handbook, a blatant attempt to erase Aleister Crowley's name from his most important and most clearly personal creation, the Thoth Tarot. About Arrien's truly despicable book, Mary K. Greer, one of Arrien's acolytes, gushed in NTT:
“While respecting Crowley, Angie nevertheless took a daring approach [in The Tarot Handbook], deciding that the pictures existed independently of their original conceptions. By giving the cards a psychological interpretation, she has brought them into the contemporary Tarot Renaissance.”—Mary K. Greer, New Thoughts on Tarot
Later, Greer explains what she means by “respecting Crowley”:
“[Arrien] actually threw out Crowley's writings because they just didn't speak to her. She looked at the pictures and images and said: ‘These are cross-cultural symbols, they will speak to anyone. You don't need a book to find out what they really mean.’”—Mary K. Greer, New Thoughts on Tarot
Oddly, and this is something which one sees again and again in the “You don't need a book” tribe, Arrien's response to this liberating insight was to write a book telling people “what they really mean”. And, this is Arrien's justification for tossing out Crowley, or actually tossing out Crowley's guidebook to his deck, The Book of Thoth:
“I read Crowley's book that went with this deck and decided that its esotericism in meaning hindered rather than enhanced the use of the visual portraitures that Lady Frieda Harris had executed.”—Angeles Arrien, The Tarot Handbook
Part of Arrien's basis for viewing Harris' contribution to Thoth as superior to Crowley's, is the following brief Harris quotation, supplied in Instructions for Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot Deck, by James Wasserman. The original statement came from an address delivered by Frieda Harris to The Tomorrow Club in 1942:
“The Tarot could be described as God's Picture Book, or it could be likened to a celestial game of chess, the Trumps being the pieces to be moved according to the law of their own order over a checkered board of the four elements.”—Frieda Harris, The Tarot Handbook
Arrien concluded something incredibly bizarre:
“I feel these visual symbols stand by themselves because of the artist's integrity and commitment to their being representative of something greater, ‘God's Picture Book’. It is Crowley's interpretation of these symbols, regardless of his reputation, with which I have issue; and it was this issue which led me to interpret these symbols from a cross-cultural and universal view, honoring their visual execution.”—Angeles Arrien, The Tarot Handbook
Examined in light of Tarot tradition, which increasingly evolved toward a deeply esoteric and individual articulation of a complex occult language, Arrien's rationale seems gratuitous and merely a lame excuse for her unwillingness to do the work to understand and knowledgeably explain Crowley's Tarot. Specifically, Arrien's contention that she is honoring Frieda Harris's "execution" of the cards, by erasing Crowley's comments about them, directly contradicts Harris's own view of the necessity of those comments to illuminate the meaning of the cards.
Harris wrote to Crowley during the Thoth project, imploring him to write a book to explain her "little paltry cards":
“Dear Aleister...There is no-one who thinks in the lucid way you do, my little paltry cards are lost unless you illumine them by your Art & for the sake of those poor little struggling chickens squealing like Alice in the Looking Glass jury at the Grand Trial Scene. For their sakes can you not have the courage to do another masterpiece?”—Frieda Harris to Aleister Crowley
We should note that Harris was a little confused about her literary allusions; the Grand Trial of the Knave of Hearts takes place in Wonderland, not the Looking Glass; and Alice is not in the jury, except at the point where she upends the jury box with her dress, and has to reassemble it; noting as she does that rectitude in that trial doesn't signify much. Otherwise, Harris's comparison is telling, because, in the trial of the Knave of Hearts, the reader is confronted by a mass of seemingly nonsensical evidence and procedures aimed at validating a baseless conviction.
Alice eventually bets the jury they cannot find an "atom of meaning" in a set of cryptic verses offered as evidence. She is answered by the King of Hearts, who provides what promoters of Wimmin's Tarot would call an intuitive reading, conforming the interpretation to the desired outcome—the conviction of the Knave. Alice and the reader are met by the obvious, that the King is merely inventing meanings to affirm what he needs to be true. What Harris says is needed instead is a person who can use his Art, of knowledgeable interpretation, to produce a masterpiece of lucidity about the complex signs encountered in the Trial of Tarot.
In 1944 Aleister Crowley answered Harris's appeal by producing the masterpiece, The Book of Thoth.
As we can see, Harris plainly contradicts Arrien's claim that these visual symbols stand by themselves, or that Arrien is in any way honoring Harris's integrity and commitment to the artwork.
Why did Arrien misrepresent the facts? Was it just laziness, or a lack of interest in doing the work to properly and correctly explain the arcane Thoth deck? Was it a basic gender prejudice concerning occult Tarots? Recall Rachel Pollack's explanation of the cartofeminist agenda: "These decks are reimagined because they wish to liberate the Tarot from an imagery that is seen as patriarchal."
Arrien, wanting to peddle her own cartofeminist version of a popular Tarot, but needing an angle for replacing Crowley that would appeal to women, created a mythology of the victimized, female Archetype-crafter (Harris), whose Universal images, capable of standing on their own (like a female chorus of "I am woman, hear me roar!"), had been unfairly repressed by the patriarchal esotericism of the male occultist.
The entitlement felt by some women in appropriating a largely male-oriented symbolism, heavy on solar-phallic worship and a view of women as soulless receptacles for male aspirations of spirit, is certainly understandable. But it is one thing to claim one's right to appropriate another's intellectual property. It is another to claim the victim would view the theft as an honor.
And, regardless of the justification Arrien might make for what she did, whether she truly felt she was liberating Universal images or honoring Harris, by dumping Crowley she hoped that the Thoth deck could be convicted purely on the Archetypal evidence she presented and claimed was relevant.
Mary Greer wrote, noting Arrien's profound influence on her own view of the possibilities of throwing out inconvenient things in Tarot:
“It was from [Angeles Arrien's] classes that I learned to open myself up and to break all the rules...She actually threw out Crowley's writings because they just didn't speak to her...I realized that I can throw out anything when something else speaks to me. And so I do, regularly. Often, I'll throw something out just to see what happens.”—Mary Greer, The Tarot Handbook, explaining the exciting things Angeles Arrien taught her about breaking all the rules.
NOTE: The following story of the trials and tribulations of Mary K. Greer on "the Internet", refers to the archaic and rather arcane system known as Usenet, a very old-school discussion network, and specifically to a group on that system, known as alt.tarot. Usenet was known in its early years for having virtually no rules, and other than moderated groups, which alt.tarot was not, nobody could be thrown off just because someone, or most other users, got offended at something somebody said. You can compare these conditions to those which currently exist on most Tarot forums, where heavy-handed, and none-too-bright moderators often grind any interesting Tarot discussion to a dead, dreary stop. While tarotforum.net is the chief offender (in terms of scale anyway) on that count, my favorite example of the extreme stupidity of Tarot moderators happened a number of years ago on TarotL, when a creature going by the name of Jasdyn ordered a halt to a discussion about Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot, because the word "sex" had been uttered in relation to the symbols on the Six of Cups. The mod was also upset that Ross Caldwell posted a link to what Jasdyn believed was "pornography", i.e., Crowley's poem Leah Sublime. The moderator, ignoring the fact an actual Tarot discussion was taking place, claimed she could not see any reason why a discussion, involving Crowley's attitudes and writings about sex, was "on topic" on a Tarot list. Imbecility of this nature is a common, and an utterly debilitating feature, of modern Tarot forums. Once, however, in a time most never knew, this was not the case, as you shall see.
Unfortunately, many cartofeminists practice the dogma of "throw[ing] something out just to see what happens" by regularly and religiously throwing out the truth. And, since that pearl is sufficiently difficult to access in Tarot even when one is not beset by dimestore Jungianism, when cartofeminists are confronted by questions concerning their methods, they habitually react like moles, or Plato's cave dwellers, upon being informed about sunlight. This has been most noticeable, and most inane, in the unforgivably luminous entanglements of the internet.
An early example of what was going to become a heated and enduring war between truth and the Wimmin's brand of Tarot occurred more than 10 years ago* on the Usenet group alt.tarot, when Mary K. Greer first made an online appearance to preach her "throwing out" approach:
*2013-now almost twenty years ago
Subject: Re: Thoth Deck-Opinions?
Date: 4 Jun 1995 02:55:09 -0400
The Thoth deck was painted by Lady Frieda Harris and Crowley's influence was mostly by mail containing complaints and demands. The deck was painted during WWII and much of the time FH was living in a trailer while her home was being used as a hospital. Victory and Defeat were painted during times when there were actual major victories and defeats for the allies. Angeles Arrien and Jim Wanless have both written books reinterpreting the cards based on the images and cross-cultural symbolism. Something greater happened in this deck than just Crowley's ideas (his intention was to "rectify" Waite and return to a Marseilles-type deck). By the way, if you don't like the words on the cards simply cut off the borders. The images are much more powerful. This is my first time on the Internet. Hi. Mary Greer—Mary K. Greer's first posting to alt.tarot, a Usenet group.
It is telling that Mary Greer's very first posting to Usenet (what she called "the Internet") should be in lockstep support of the FINTSian-Arrien dogma that "something greater happened" than those silly old male occult ideas the cartofeminists didn't want in their way. In what is essentially nothing more than a spam for Angeles Arrien's and James Wanless' anti-Crowley Thoth books, Greer, used to the communal sharing of Tarot symposia, was unprepared for the response she was about to receive.
But alt.tarot was definitely not a FINTS lovefest, nor was it guided by Aquarian values, but rather ones of a much more Darwinian (or Leonine) cast:
“[Arrien's and Wanless'] books are filled with the most puerile nonsense one could possibly imagine, not in any way revealing, or even seeking to reveal, the actual symbology of Thoth. For anyone honestly interested in the deck, those books are not even worth tossing into the fireplace on a cold winter's night to provide warmth while reading something useful like Book of Thoth.”—Jess Karlin (AKA “jk”), replying to Mary Greer's alt.tarot posting, “Thoth Deck-Opinions?”, in June, 1995.
And Bill Heidrick, at that time Grand Treasurer General of COTO (the Caliphate OTO), taking a more diplomatic tone, nevertheless set Mary straight on how the facts plainly contradicted her cartofeminist spin:
“Actually, it was quite a bit more than that from Crowley's side. F[reida] H[arris] and A[leister] C[rowley] had an extensive meeting with notes taken by FH. The correspondence was considerable and mainly supplemented the notes taken earlier. FH sent examples of sketches to AC, for approval or correction before the final water-color paintings. AC had her do several quite different designs for many of the images, including sketches of his own in the correspondence.”—Bill Heidrick, replying to Mary Greer's alt.tarot posting, “Thoth Deck-Opinions?”, in June, 1995.
While Greer grudgingly thanked Heidrick for correcting her errors, she nevertheless affirmed again that Frieda had produced “more than just the details of the images” and that, while a collaboration may have occurred, neither person “could have produced the deck without the other.”
Heidrick then offered an ironic agreement of that notion, pointing out that Crowley was certainly no artist, and Harris no writer, but he ignored the subtext of Greer's remark, which was that Harris' images were more than Crowley's details.
Greer closed out her brief 1995 Usenet venture with the following promise, or threat:
“I hope to be back when I can get a better connection to the net.”—Mary K. Greer, fleeing alt.tarot, June, 1995
The connection problem was soon explained to readers of Greer's July, 1995 newsletter, in a section entitled “Roaming the Internet”, wherein Greer complained, ironically, about the unfortunate abundance of freedom she encountered online—the "few rules and control" that, Mary complained, made things "almost too polite"! Yes, Mary Greer was annoyed by the number of banal "pleasantries" people were communicating, as if people online were all friends or something, exchanging recipes. She was irritated to find little serious discussion of Tarot taking place.
But, as Mary said in pointed terms, this boring prattle, which she blamed on Prodigy and America Online—instead of bad Tarotbook writers such as herself, was:
“[B]etter than the ‘flamer’ on the Net whose job, it seemed, was to hack, cut, and destroy by telling everyone how stupid and wrong they were.”—Mary K. Greer, discussing her recent alt.tarot adventure, July, 1995 Greer newsletter.
It was generally assumed on alt.tarot, where a copy of Mary's newsletter remarks was posted (by one of Greer's fans), that Mary's complaint referred to her initiation on alt.tarot the month before, and that the "flamer" must have been Jess Karlin (jk), and not Bill Heidrick, although both had criticized Greer.
Years later, Greer was still complaining that her risible dogma was likely to encounter prickly critiques from more reasonable quarters:
“We keep our secrets—not because we wouldn't want to share them—but because their whole purpose and significance is contrary to the principles of attack, scorn and ‘rational’ debate.”—Mary K. Greer, posting to Tarot-l list, April, 1999
In 1996, Greer reconnected, or got her nerve up again, and came back to alt.tarot. Among other efforts at validating her punditry, she announced that her already admitted error, about Crowley's contribution to Thoth, had magically been transformed into a “controversy”.
We should note that here Greer established a pattern of refusing to give up on her dogma, her rules, no matter how many times the facts run contrary to what she is alleging.
However, this time, apparently not wishing to invite the wrath of the “net flamers”, Greer tried to blame others for her continued promotion of the cartofeminist agenda. She noted that the recently published book by Akron and Hajo Banzhaf, The Crowley Tarot, in fact supported her 1995 contention that Crowley's involvement in the creation of Thoth was minimal.
Specifically, Akron-Banzhaf claimed that the Crowley-Harris correspondence, mentioned by Bill Heidrick in his 1995 correction of Greer, failed to support the idea that Crowley had Harris “paint some cards up to eight times” and that instead Crowley had given Harris a “free range” in the design of the Thoth Tarot cards.
Greer courageously passed the buck: “This is not my claim—I am only posting information”, and then, in all her von-danikenizing cheek, Greer asked:
“Anyone have any more information, other than Crowley's word...that would add to the controversy?”—Mary K. Greer, posting to alt.tarot, July 9, 1996
That Greer wished others to add to, and not to diminish, nor to resolve her controversy regarding Crowley's design of Thoth, was one reason she viewed the Akron-Banzhaf book as a kind of white knight to her discredited opinion. For, in The Crowley Tarot, the authors went so far as to claim:
“Properly speaking [the Thoth Tarot] should...be called the Harris Tarot.”—Akron-Banzhaf, The Crowley Tarot, 1995
Why did they think this?
They claimed it was because Crowley was a bad person,* who, in addition to trying endlessly and fruitlessly to get into Harris' then quite ancient pants, likely had made up the story of his taskmastering oversight in the Thoth project, noting that Frieda "would have most liked to have 100 years to paint each of the cards."
*2013 note—I want to add here that neither Akron-Banzhaf, nor Angeles Arrien, nor Mary K. Greer, invented this meme about Crowley being "bad" and in some especially egregious way that it disqualified him from being a true author of his ideas and their merchandizing. I have traced the characterization of the Thoth Tarot as the "Harris Tarot" at least back to Gareth Knight, in his popular 1965 work, Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism. In that book, Knight expressed an essential disdain for Crowley, whom he viewed as a classic occult failure, basically a fellow who got conned by his own bullshit. While there might be some truth to that, it is only a facet of Crowley's occult working, and not the whole of its nature or influence. Meanwhile, Knight habitually referred to Crowley and Harris as co-creators of the Thoth Tarot, except in one point where he remarks about the deck being the Harris Tarot. Whether or not it was the first time the deck was referred to as such, this blending of contempt for the man and his ideas, with the suggestion that even his own Tarot was somebody else's property, started at least twenty years before the cartofeminists advanced that proposition to a religious and political tenet.
Akron-Banzhaf then turn to the kettle and accuse Crowley of loving exaggeration! No doubt Crowley's interest in Thoth, no matter how insanely personal and obsessive it may have been, could certainly not compare to that of a person willing to devote 7800 years to painting Tarot cards!
But, in fact, there is little doubt that Frieda Harris was as anxious to complete the wearying and difficult five-year Thoth collaboration as was Crowley. Here, she bemoans the exhausting effort required to perfect just one card of the deck, and she also confirms that Crowley was expected to review and to approve or reject each copy of each card:
“The princess is behaving most queer! She won't have any nice tidy lines & I really don't know if she will be alright. She is certainly no relation of the first sample submitted. I think when I have smacked her, I shall have to post her to you, & you can tear her up or retain her as she strikes you. Oh dear I am tired. I have battled with her blaring wriggles till the eye falls out & she has burnt my throat & I can't swallow.”—Frieda Harris, complaining to Aleister Crowley about the difficulty of the Tarot enterprise.
Many such comments fill the Crowley-Harris correspondence, which serves to blatantly reject the notion that Crowley's involvement was "mostly...complaints and demands."
Of course, Crowley was demanding, as he should have been in such a project, and as Harris certainly wished him to be in order to do justice to the deck. But Mary Greer, who by 1996 was certainly in possession of at least a digital copy of the Crowley-Harris correspondence, should have known the facts, and understood that they could not and would not support her cartofeminist attack on Crowley's contribution to his Tarot deck.
If, to be unduly generous (since we are talking about someone who was claiming at least some professional expertise in the subject of Tarot), we allow that Greer had managed to misread or misunderstand or maybe just ignore the facts, she quickly got them handed to her, along with her head, on alt.tarot:
“There is a debate that should be generated as a consequence of your posting, but it has nothing to do with whether or not the allegations made by Akron and Hajo Banzhaf have any merit. Rather, we ought to debate the very clear agenda put forth by a cadre of tarot ideologues, whose intent it is to write provocative nonsense questioning the contributions of Aleister Crowley to his own deck. For what purpose are these lies promoted? Good question. Why don't you answer that one, Mary?”—Jess Karlin, July 10, 1996 posting to Mary K. Greer, kindly pointing out the proper focus of the controversy.
Greer had no answer to that, nor did she have any reaction to Bill Heidrick's assessment of the respun controversy: “nonsense”.
Seeing alt.tarot, or at least the net flamer, as irredeemably hostile to her program, Greer began to seek out safer realms to cultivate an affirmation-friendly community. By late 1996, Greer had found her place, the free-speech-hating Tarot-l mailing list.
To be fair to the founders of Tarot-l, not only were they not immediately or primarily motivated to censor topical conversation, they even invited their soon-to-be arch-nemesis, jk, onto the list early on. He apparently demurred, thinking alt.tarot a better place to honestly demolish the Towers of Tarotmania.
But, if Tarot-l was not originally designed as a bastion of debate-proof, insipid Tarot affirmation, it soon became that very thing. One of the main reasons for this was because Mary K. Greer adopted the list as her own, and sought to shape it as a kind of anti-alt.tarot, anti-jk refuge for alleged victims of the facts of Tarotic life.
This subsequently developed into an outright, and utterly inane, canticle of contempt for what the Tarot-l community called "the historians", or the “historical school”; those writers on the subject of Tarot who took a more fact-based, and much less intuitive, approach to discussing what was, and what reasonably could be, true about the subject of Tarot.
One of the reasons the late-1996 time frame so galvanized the anti-historical movement in Tarotmania was because of the publication in December, 1996 of A Wicked Pack of Cards (WPC), a claimed "Origins of the Occult Tarot", by Michael Dummett, and two other writers, Ronald Decker, and Thierry Depaulis. While WPC was certainly not a definitive, nor even a good, explanation of the historical origin of occult Tarot, it did cite lots of historical facts, and did so in a voice which seemed only a slight alteration from the derisive skepticism of alt.tarot.
However, WPC did have one thing alt.tarot did not—a presumption of authority and credibility provided mainly by the presence of Michael Dummett. That this presumption was ill-advised became clearer as critiques of WPC raised questions about its devotion to doing a sincere work of history, as opposed to doing a bigoted work of debunking; but the book was for a while targeted as public enemy #1 by Mary K. Greer and the Tarot industry Dummett and his co-authors attempted to undermine.
Early in 1997, another player in the Tarot History-Hystery-Herstory wars appeared on the scene, Robert V. (“Bunny Bob”) O'Neill, author of Tarot Symbolism, one of the most sought-after, boring, and certainly overrated Tarot books ever written. O'Neill's quixotic effort to convince Tarotmania, and especially TarotL (the mailing list's name after moving to the web in March, 2000), that Tarot history was a relevant topic and should be treated respectfully and perhaps even deferentially compared to say, yet another affirmation of intuitive conjectures about the origins of Tarot, is one of the tragicomic legends in the life of net Tarot.
O'Neill had decided, largely as a result of viewing the alt.tarot-jk culture, that the best way to instruct the benighted was to appear to them not as a curmudgeonly gunslinger, but instead as a completely unthreatening rodent.
Thus was born Bunny Bob, the gregarious, mai-tai-swilling shopkeeper (of allegedly compelling Tarotic facts and notions).
Bunny Bob wasted no time attempting to suck up to the man (or the woe(to)man) on Tarot-l, Mary K. Greer. For example, portraying himself as the gallant defender of female insipidity, Bob bravely called for a boycott of jk, after the latter rudely shared one of Greer's insider offers to Tarot-l with the wider Tarot community on alt.tarot.
While Greer puffed up to the bursting point about her sense of betrayal (because someone on her list had actually sent her public comments to evil jk to read and forward offlist!), and then made the first of many proclamations about how if she didn't get what she wanted she was leaving, O'Neill posted to alt.tarot, demanding a proper, excommunicatory, response to jk's dastardly behavior:
“I believe that cross-posting of information from a monitored mail list is a gross violation of courtesy. I believe that jk owes Mary a public apology. I would request that everyone on this news group join me in ‘freezing’ jk (simply don't respond to anything he posts) until he offers a public apology.”—Robert V. O'Neill, February 22, 1997, posted to alt.tarot, calling for a boycott of jk, which might have gone over OK on Tarot-l, but was received with laughter and other brands of skepticism on alt.tarot.
O'Neill later apologized to jk for this grandstanding foolishness, but at the time, in February 1997, it served to make Bunny Bob seem like a chivalrous knight of Queen Mary's court. That makes what ultimately happened to Bunny Bob on TarotL all the more poignant—and well deserved.
JUMP FIVE YEARS
On January 2, 2002, Bob O'Neill OBES'd* his way once and for all out of TarotL, and presumably out of Tarot:
*—OBES, Obligatory Brave Exit Speech, where, instead of just exiting a forum—it is after all just some silly place to jabber online—you instead declare your reasons for abandoning the group, usually having to do with the considerable shortcomings, in your estimation, of the other people in the forum and the way they have treated you. Sometimes, as in Bob's case, it may also involve a none too veiled suggestion the person had Messianic motives, and got what he deserved.
“Some interesting insights occurred over the last few sleepless hours—on the eve of our next era of challenge...I was forced to acknowledge that my role is finished. I can but leave the future of tarot in your hands.”—Robert V. O'Neill, January 1, 2002, from TarotL posting “OBES".
While Bob's histrionic departure generated the kind of handwringing response from TarotL regulars that would have made Greer proud of her protégé or lap bunny, it was a vain response at best. Though Tea Prentice found Bob's reasoning mysterious: "I don't fully understand Bob's reason for unsubbing", the prodromal writing had certainly been on the wall for some time.
And what that writing said in plain terms was: “HISTORY NOT WANTED HERE!”
In an infamous set of exchanges that occurred in April-May, 1999 on Tarot-l, Greer and her followers, having suffered the gradual ascendancy of respect and tolerance for the historians' deconstruction of pop and occult Tarot, struck back with a vengeance. By the time Greer had finished with him, the Bunny Bob persona had committed public and quite humiliating suicide.
First, on May 5, 1999, Bob prostrated himself in a tour de force of Job-like bellyaching:
“Tough Week! Cried a lot! Been accused of lots of things (both personally and indirectly): Bad scholarship, unacknowledged bias, non-seriousness, abuse. Apologized to several individuals—publically and privately—No one has acknowledged or accepted my apologizes.”—Robert V. O'Neill, [get date for this posting]
The next day, Bob, having suffered through “a long and sleepless night”, announced: “The Bunny died.” And something called “Sir Lion Rob” allegedly had taken its place.
Google makes a helpful suggestion—Yes, Mr. Google, I suspect we did mean "Sirloin Rob", and certainly Tarot-l viewed what was left of Bunny Bob in May 1999 as a piece of meat, and not a knight in lion's clothing.
What had happened to bring about such a Towering of Bunny Bob's self esteem? It had all started seemingly innocently, with a discussion of Trump V—of course!!—wherein palpable Pope Bob responded to Elizabeth Hazel's claim that Tarot had been salvaged by Holy Jung from being a predictive (i.e., fortunetelling) tool.
Bob gave a lengthy, highly opinionated (of course), HIStory of Tarot applications. As each player subsequently tried to trump the next by affirming sciency-sounding nerf-theory, the Wimmin of Tarot-l had had enough, as Hazel affirmed:
“The thought of statistics and scientific method applied to tarot make me cringe, too. I love the mystery and magic, and feel that the Tarot have happily existed a long time without a scientific basis or rationale. Why try to establish one now? Just reduces them to pictures on cardboard.”—Elizabeth Hazel
Bob, always sensitive to the charge that he, an actual scientist, was dabbling in anti-rational dark arts with his interest in Tarot, pleaded that science and reason had a place in Tarot study, and yet he could feel the groundswell building against him. The people he had been preaching to had largely come to Tarot to escape the kind of rule-based, reasonable approach he claimed to be advocating.
Then, the first, and quite devastating personal broadside was fired into Bunny Bob by Linda Dunn:
“It tends to discourage people if they have to be subjected to a "bunny rant" about how they are unlearned, gullible, and naive...I am not targeting only you, but you and some of the more academic-minded posters on this list might want to consider whether or not they have been not receptive (not required) but even *respectful* of any other viewpoint other than the scientific method...If you have not broadened your mind a bit, why encourage others to act as cannon fodder for you?”—Linda Dunn, May 1, 1999, explaining to skeptic Robert V. O'Neill, that he was the problem in Tarot-l that was causing people to clam up posting esoteric topics. What Dunn meant was that only the pro-esoteric posters should get to make their case. When Bunny Bob called the Golden Dawn "a deceptive cult", for example, Dunn claimed that was the sort of opinion other people found belittling and discouraging. But is expressing an opinion, which is not necessarily wrong, so debilitating to people, they just can't carry on? On Tarot-l, that was the argument Greer and her acolytes made against O'Neill and the hated historians.
This echoed a Greer bit of demagoguery, entitled "Secret Societies", wherein Mary complained (repeating her 1995 whining about a bad connection on alt.tarot):
“Of course I can bring up esoteric matters on the tarot-l, but chances are I will be greated [sic] with scorn and cries of ‘prove it.’...Instead of open-mindedness I am bound to be met with ridicule and derision.”—Mary K. Greer, April 30, 1999 posting to Tarot-l, entitled “Secret Societies”. In this essay Greer promoted the work of Christine Payne-Towler, whose ideas Greer praised as “nice and juicily controversial.” Greer dismissed the point that Payne-Towler's ideas were vulnerable to what Greer called “historical nit-picking”—in other words facts. It often seems Greer and her school of researchers call claims “controversial” that others, less invested in peddling trinket-theories, would call “looney” or “baseless”.
While Bob was not specifically named as a defendant in Mary's charges, he was at least an unindicted coconspirator of scorn-spreading, and in truth Bunny Bob was, as Mary well understood, the Night of the Lepus , in which Greer and her Wimmin desperately sought the light (i.e., the justification) of Holy Misandry.
It didn't take long for the resentment dam to break, and Mary's Maenads began kicking and stoning "the historians", and the person viewed as their chief representative, Bunny Bob O'Neill.
So thorough was the public and email thrashing of the Rabbit, that Bob decided perhaps it would be a good idea to just have the creature commit hari kiri. Even that total acquiescence wasn't sufficient to satisfy the raptorous harpies, as they forced Bob's new avatar, Sir Lion Rob, to publicly renounce evil science and to beg, like some pubescent dweeb in a chat room, for a cleansing Tarot reading.
Bob perhaps admitted too much of what was obvious in his plea:
“Can I make a request? Would you be willing to do a spread for a 59-year-old 13-year-old? OR, If you would rather, for an ex-bunny LION????????? Post it here so everyone can add interpretations?”—Bob O'Neill, May 6, 1999, posting to Tarot-l with a kind of last-gasp effort to calm the swarming Amazons. This man, who actually cared about his scientific reputation, was reduced to begging for a Tarot reading, while allowing that his rants about history were just a sign of his male-brand immaturity. The fact the Wimmin or harpies swooped in for the kill of poor old Bob is another issue. Were they really so weak, so threatened, so mean-spirited, they would torture their prostrate prisoner? Oh yes.
One of the Wimmin patted Bob on the head at this point, and reminded him exactly whose domain he was operating in:
“Remember that all men are 13-years-old at heart <smile>”
In a few days of unrelenting battering, which on Tarot-l O'Neill and the other historians were expected to absorb without retaliation (for fear of being banned), Bunny Bob had died, and Sirloin Rob had taken his place. The historians would not immediately leave Tarot-l, but their exit was inevitable, as Bob's own TarotL OBES confirmed.
In the end, Bob O'Neill's attempt to convert YAMland (the Southern, pro-hysterical part of Tarotmania) to HIStory fell flat. The surprise was not that it did, and so thoroughly and humiliatingly too, but that Bob had ever imagined he could soft-peddle his god-awfully dull pedantry to people who viewed professors (and other fact-mongers) solely as fit occupants of large black kettles of boiling bitterness.
It was appropriate, and perhaps even prophetic, that TarotL's purge of the Bunny was at the dawn of the year that would hit Tarotmania with all the force of a tsunami and a hurricane—called respectively Cleo and Sniperfest.
On the one hand, the destruction of the fake Jamaican, Miss Cleo, was probably a very good thing for Tarot, since she fronted the biggest Tarot scam ever, an operation that encouraged Nancy Garen to eventually sue the company Miss Cleo represented for 1/2 a BILLION dollars! because Garen claimed Miss Cleo's Tarotalkers were just reading out of Nancy's crappy Tarot book. Talk about a need for tort reform.
But, on the other hand, Miss Cleo had become the most famous Tarotmaniac in history, and whatever was associated with her, naturally rubbed off onto other Tarot practitioners and advocates. When MIss Cleo went down, the pathetic schmucks who consumed her “readin's” got a James Frey moment. For not only were Miss Cleo's readings constructed out of the prefab dreck of Nancy Garen's “Tarot Made Easy”, the telepsychics often just read the same silly meanings to people, no matter what question they asked. AND they came back for more—till the whole carnivale came crashing down in lawsuits and attorney-general investigations.
That Oprahtine nonsense seemed like a walk in the park compared to what was due for the Tarot world, and particularly the Tarot industry, in October of 2002. And it was in this horrible Totentanz of Sniperfest, and Tarot's involvement in it, that the rotten effect of what the cartofeminists had done to Tarot, became so readily apparent.
For, here was an invitation to a reading that was not merely about the angst of young love, or hysterical futures, but was a dance-card disco with Death incarnate. And, at the moment when Tarot was finally asked to actually step onto the World stage and perform a helpful service, its dedicated "throwing outters" started spinning like Rovean tops. So terrified were they of Tarot's ancient and undeniably “fearsome qualities”, they chose to lie and claim they never existed, or that they were only believed in by those not in the know.
By the time they got through fitting Bunny Bob's discarded rabbit suit onto Death, any suggestion the Tarot industry had an honest bone residing in it was thoroughly snipered into permanent oblivion. By the end of 2002, Tarot's high water mark had been passed, as the Tarot industry saw public consciousness of the cards exceeded only by the general contempt in which most civilians held the old pack. Tarot was, after all, the calling-card of cons and killers.
In the next year or so, Tarot became a watchword for fakery, especially the sort having to do with dubious predictions. Tarot forum discussions, such as alt.tarot and TarotL, took a huge hit in postings after 2002, and have never recovered their former levels of activity. In the meantime, interestingly, Tarot has been increasingly outsourced to Asia and Hispanic countries.
It may be, even now, that Anglo-American Tarot, which dominated the world during the 20th century, has been displaced by Tarot developing in countries where divination still merits widespread acceptance.
There have been recent efforts, for example by people such as Mark McElroy, to pitch Tarot to new audiences in the West, and to do so in ways that attempt, on the surface anyway, to decouple the cards from their occult tradition.
There seems to be a recognition that whatever Tarot has become in the last few decades has run its course, and it will either need to be revisioned, once again, into a culturally relevant artifact, or it will sink slowly back into the comfortable obscurity where the New Age found it, forty years ago.
Court de Gébelin asked, can people truly own Tarot who merely possess it but do not know it? In 2006, Tarot seems destined to remain a fixture in Western culture, and to expand its presence in Eastern cultures. In that way, it is claiming an increasingly large domain of presence in the worldwide human consciousness. However, knowledge of what Tarot really is, even in plain historical terms, is necessarily going to remain limited to a few experts and "initiates". To the world, Tarot will always be a peculiar chimaera of the mundane and the mysterious, an aid to swindlers and seers alike. To those who have been privileged or cursed to step beyond the veil, that dichotomy will be seen as inevitable, and in truth, Tarot's bane and charm. (jk)
In returning, after a number of years of absence, to Tarot forums this year, I have discovered that little has changed. The Tarotmaniacs are just as committed to believing and promoting cartofeminism as they ever were—and, there is something else.
On one forum for example, I raised the issue of Miss Cleo being the most famous Tarot reader in history. People were not even aware of who she was.
This is a common theme in Tarot's history. No matter how bad the scandals, people forget them. And this sets up the Tarotmaniacs and their customers to be scammed all over again by the same abusive delusions.
It might simply be the case that people need to believe in goofy ideas, and need to throw their money away on dubious propositions. There is nothing illegal about that. And Tarot readers have a First Amendment right to pursue their beliefs and their trade.
But, in the end, what is really learned?
Well, let us refer to something recently pushed by Mary K. Greer.
And I'm not making this up, it's really the title:
But worry not, Mary has surely not abandoned the cartofeminist cause, as you'll see here.
Glenn F. Wright
May 20, 2013