Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Tarotica (Part I)

Let's get back to normal things shall we? By that I mean my usual mix of nostalgia, game design and rambling on about stuff. I had this weird idea a number of months ago to do a few blog posts about Tarot.

I know, it's weird, but I've always had this strange fascination with Tarot. One that I remember from my dim and distant childhood and has stayed with me right into the development of my roleplaying game - WILD.

The first real memory I have of Tarot is from James Bond. My parents got me interested in movies at a young age, and one of the first movies I remember them taking me to see was The Man With the Golden Gun. I was instantly hooked. My mum dug out her collection of Ian Fleming novels for me to have a look at and one of the first records I ever bought was an LP of James Bond themes. Yes, I got obsessed with things very easily. I guess some things never change!

But this was the late 1970s, and we didn't have things like video recorders and so on. Luckily, in January 1980, ITV in the UK showed Live and Let Die for the first time. In the TVTimes before it aired there were production drawings and designs for the gadgets and the stunts, and I kept those pages for many years to come. However, during Live and Let Die, the now famous scene introducing Jane Seymour's character - Solitaire, I was a bit confused by the weird cards she was using.

Solitaire reads the Tarot cards - Live and Let Die
Colour me sheltered, but up until this point my eleven year old brain was purely focused on spaceships, lego, and Star Wars figures, and certainly not on the esoteric.

My dad told me about Tarot cards, and how they were used for fortune telling, but they sounded weird and mysterious, and not to be messed with.

It wasn't long after this that my father bought his first (and to my knowledge, his only) deck of Tarot cards. Maybe he was as inspired by watching Bond as I was? Dad was always intrigued by these things and I remember him bringing the pack home, though I wasn't allowed to play with them.

Course, it wouldn't be long before my obsession with James Bond movies would collide with my biggest pastime - tabletop roleplaying games. When the James Bond RPG came out from Victory Games I was not only amazed at the incredible production values, but the game was fantastic too. We played a LOT of sessions of the Bond RPG. A LOT!

But something was different about the Bond RPG. Due to the licensing issues at the time, a certain villain and his vast organisation that featured so heavily in the movies could not be used. Instead of Ernst Stavro Blofeld we had Karl Ferenc Skorpios. And instead of SPECTRE, we had TAROT.


Dad eventually decided he was never going to use those Tarot cards, and gave them to me. I still have that set now - the "Tarot Fortune Telling Game" as it was called came complete with a book to assist in working out the divinatory meanings of the cards, as well as a sheet that showed you where to place the cards, and explained what each card position meant.

My dad's one and only Tarot set, purchased in the early 1980's.
They weren't anything too fancy or pretty, very old and traditional illustrations. I don't know if it's because the names of the cards were in French, but they felt mysterious. Like that book cover of a horror novel that scares you but you can't help but look at. I never did a reading, looked at the cards once in a while but didn't really return to them for many years.

It wouldn't really be until the very early 1990s that I would find myself drawn to the cards again...


I had left school, was unemployed for a little and, after a spell working in Nature Conservation and Archaeology, had gone back to college to do art and graphic design (much to my mother's delight). At the end of my BTEC the course tutors were really keen to get all of their students onto degree courses around the country. While initially I wasn't too fussed about going away to a university, I still applied as it kept the tutors quiet. My first couple of choices of places to go didn't accept my application, but my third choice asked me for an interview.

Before the interview, well in advance, the University sent a letter - an assignment that was part of the interview process. I was tasked with painting, drawing, sculpting or whatever, a self portrait. For some strange reason, I can't remember why, I decided that for my self portrait I'd create a deck of Tarot cards. Time was limited, so I focused on the Major Arcana.

To make it a self portrait, I looked at the meaning of each of the cards, and how that related to my life at the time. Then, I got some friends to take photos of me in various poses, and used them as a basis for a mixed media collage for each card. I know, it's a pretty lame idea, but it seemed to be okay. The cards were very oversized - each one A5 - and I created a box for them with a suitable quote from David Byrne on it: "People will remember you better if you always wear the same outfit." As I always wore completely black, I thought this particularly apt.

My first, rather bad, attempt at creating my first Tarot deck, as part of a self portrait assignment for University.
It seemed to work as I was accepted at the University, and while I could tell the tutors in the interview were underwhelmed by my portfolio, they liked the originality of a self portrait presented as Tarot cards.

I'll continue the Tarot stuff later, looking at my favourite decks, and look a bit more at creating a specific deck for WILD.

Until next time, who knows what fortune awaits?

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hah, Tarot saw me through university. I spent many a long night reading Tarot for callers on a premium rate phone line. There was a company upstairs (we were told) that conned callers by using scripts, but we were genuine “live” mystics - woman across the aisle from me used a crystal ball, there was an astrologer with a desktop computer he lugged in every night, I also did the i-ching