William Blake Tarot
Created by Ed Buryn
Review by Emily E. Auger
Blake also seems to be striving for an "alphabet of forms," a Tarot pack of pictorial visions which box the entire compass of the imagination in an orderly sequence.
——Northrop Frye, Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake
Fig. 1 Ed Buryn. The William Blake Tarot of the Creative Imagination. Revised Edition. 8 x 12 cm. © 2010 Ed Buryn. Illus. reproduced by permission of Ed Buryn. Further reproduction prohibited.
Ed Buryn is the author and artist of The William Blake Tarot of the Creative Imagination [deck and 176-page book], first published in 1995. This extraordinary, fully illustrated, 79-card deck is based on the literary and visual works of British artist William Blake (1757–1827). Buryn created it by matching examples of Blake's art to Tarot cards and by adapting the Tarot labels, suits, and images to Blake's cosmology. As he explains, "I designed this deck as a blessed marriage between two compassionate and imaginative spiritual entities, one being the genius of spiritual Tarot and the other being the genius of William Blake" (Buryn 1997). The associated book does not contain illustrations of the cards, but it does contain charts showing the correspondences between Blake's work and Tarot and descriptions and summaries of Blake's vision of the soul's journey as it is translated into the deck. It also includes information about Tarot in general, this deck in particular, and card interpretations that connect the new cards to Blake's work. Individuals in search of more information about the specific sources of the card imagery can request a copy of Buryn's booklet "Artwork Notes for the William Blake Tarot" (1995).
The revised deck is a visual improvement over the first publication. The image frame has been enlarged in relation to the card size, which remains the same as in the original, so that the exquisite level of detail is more apparent and the text of the numbered cards is much easier to read. The whites are whiter, the blues bluer, the contrasts sharper, and, among other things, this means that the teeth of the alligator on the Innocence card are more frightening. The accompanying booklet contains shorter versions of some of the sections in the 176-page book (1995), including the Four-Fold Vision Spread, as well as some new sections. Serious collectors and those planning to use the deck for readings will still want to get the full-length book for the extra detail associating Blake's cosmology with Tarot.
Fig. 2 Ed Buryn. The William Blake Tarot of the Creative Imagination. 8 x 12 cm. © 1995 Ed Buryn. Illus. reproduced by permission of Ed Buryn. Further reproduction prohibited.
Fig. 3 Ed Buryn. The William Blake Tarot of the Creative Imagination. Revised Edition. 8 x 12 cm. © 2010 Ed Buryn. Illus. reproduced by permission of Ed Buryn. Further reproduction prohibited.
My copy of the revised deck came with an extra sheet titled "The Wheel of Eternity in the William Blake Tarot," which Buryn has agreed to release for publication (see below). The Wheel of Eternity is a diagram that articulates the William Blake Tarot cosmology. Tarotists interested in new spreads and interpretations of Tarot deck design relative to mythology, cosmology, and stages of maturation, individuation, or spiritual evolution will prize this document, and students of Blake's work will recognize here, if not from the deck itself, the quality of the alignment Buryn has developed between Blake's oeuvre and Tarot. It is particularly useful for showing the importance of the deck's extra card: Eternity.
Many tarotists are fascinated by Tarot diagrams and use them to articulate their particular concept of what Tarot is. Tarot scholars who think in psychological terms tend to see the cards as illustrating or symbolizing progressions from youth to maturity or individuation. For example, Joseph Campbell (1987), leaving the Fool and Magician outside the process, organized the cards in columns associated with four stages of personal development: youth (Priestess, Lovers, Fortune, Temperance, Moon), maturity (Empress, Chariot, Strength, Devil, Sun), Age (Emperor, Justice, Hanged Man, Tower, Judgment), and Spirit (Pope, hermit, Death, Star, World). Rachel Pollack (1980) proposes columns or rows that align them with consciousness or society (Magician through the Chariot), the subconscious or an inward search (Strength through Temperance), and the superconscious or spiritual awareness (Devil through World).
Diagrams, charts, and lists of card titles are also useful for historical purposes, as they can clarify discussions about provenance and the original significance of the imagery. For example, Michel Dummett (1980) considers the order of various historical decks in relation to particular locations where they may have been invented or manufactured. Gertrude Moakley (1956, 1966) argues that the intended order of the unnumbered Visconti-Sforza Tarot cards was related to the Renaissance revival of Roman triumphal processions. The differences between this deck, as it is known from the extant cards, and the Marseilles order have inspired numerous discussions. For example, Helen Farley (2011) considers the "missing" Tower and Devil cards. Are these cards really missing? Or were they never there in the first place? John Shephard (1985), lending special attention to the cards that were added to the Visconti-Sforza deck forty or so years after it was made, develops a thesis that the Temperance, Star, and Moon cards were added to represent the triple goddess of the moon. He also relates the cards to three realms: Man (human), Soul (allegorical), and Eternity (afterlife), using diagrams to make his points. Taking the discussion into the realm of the esoteric, other authors and scholars have diagrammed the cards in relation to the cabalistic Tree of Life.
Artists of new decks often add suits and extra cards, and change the conventional card order; in doing so they invent or suggest still more and new ways of diagramming Tarot. The addition of the Eternity card and the invention of a new diagram are thus not, in themselves, surprising. What is surprising is the clarity they lend to Buryn's conceptualization of Blake's art as a Tarot deck. The image on Eternity is from Blake's painting of Jacob's dream as described in Genesis 28:12. "And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it" (Buryn, Artwork Notes 3). In Blake's cosmology, the sleeping Jacob is Albion, who has fallen from eternity to mortality and been thrown into limbo by the separation of the four Zoas. The Zoas become the arts, represented here in the suits of Poetry, Music, Science, and Painting. While he is unable to awaken until these divided aspects of his soul reunite, "his vision of eternity is very much alive in his dream—and Albion's vision is what this card is about. Eternity represents mankind's hopes for divine spiritual consciousness and for living in a world of shining imagination and everlasting truth" (Buryn, William Blake Tarot, 1995, 18). Thus Eternity not only shows us the definitive aspect of Blake's cosmos, it also represents Buryn's own hopes for the future and for the role Tarot may play in bringing that future into being. The Wheel of Eternity connects all that lives under Blake's sun (and Buryn's) to that hope.
Buryn, Ed. Artwork Notes for the William Blake Tarot. 1995. Nevada City, CA: TAROT Tools and Rites of Transformation, 2004.
——. "Old Symbols for a New Age." A Paper presented at the first International Tarot Conference in Melbourne, Australia, July 12, 1997. Revised and updated as "The William Blake Tarot of the Creative Imagination: Old Symbols for A New Age." Tarot in Culture. Ed. Emily E. Auger. Victoria, Aus.: Association for Tarot Studies, 2011.
——. The William Blake Tarot of the Creative Imagination [deck and book]. New York: HarperCollins, 1995.
Campbell, Joseph. "Symbolism of the Marseilles Deck." Tarot Revelations 3rd Edition. San Anselmo, CA: Vernal Equinox Press, 1987. 8-25.
Farley, Helen S. "The Tower and the Devil in the Visconti-Sforza Deck: Lost or Absent?" Tarot in Culture. Ed. Emily E. Auger. Victoria, Aus.: Association for Tarot Studies, 2011.
Moakley, Gertrude. The Tarot Cards Painted by Bonifacio Bembo for the Visconti-Sforza Family: An Iconographic and Historical Study. New York: The New York Public Library, 1966.
——. "The Tarot Trumps and Petrarch's Trionfi: Some Suggestions on their Relationship." Bulletin of the New York Public Library (Feb. 1956): 55-69.
Pollack, Rachel. Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom: A Book of Tarot. Part I: The Major Arcana. Wellingborough, Northamptonshire: Aquarian Press, 1980.
Shephard, John. The Tarot Trumps: Cosmos in Miniature: The Structure and Symbolism of the Twenty-Two Tarot Trump Cards. Wellingborough, Northamptonshire: Aquarian Press, 1985.
EMILY E. AUGER, Independent Scholar
Emily E. Auger (PhD) is the author of numerous papers and several books, including Tarot and Other Meditation Decks: Typology, History, Theory, Aesthetics (2004). She is also the editor of the multi-author anthology Tarot in Culture (Association for Tarot Studies 2011), to which she also contributed "The Heterotopian Tarot as Genre with an Analysis of The William Blake Tarot."
The Wheel of Eternity in The William Blake Tarot of the Creative Imagination
This layout is based upon and inspired by a diagram that was sent to me in April 1996 by Anne Maria Rennie, a Scots user of the Blake deck who conceived it as a way of understanding the cards and their interactions. It wonderfully exemplifies putting one's own imagination and this deck into action. I adapted her diagram into this "Wheel of Eternity," by repositioning several of the cards to clarify how the Eternity card functions as both the locus and genesis of the Wheel.1
Although the Wheel of Eternity "works" to outline the structure of any tarot deck, the absence of the Eternity card in other decks removes the spiritual and metaphysical underpinnings of the Wheel, making it merely a structural diagram instead of a revelation of the divine plan, as it does here.
At the top of the Wheel, we see the Eternity card in its 00 (double zero) aspect. It represents Blake's vision of the Soul as an undifferentiated universal energy, prior to the Fall. The vertical line descending from Eternity down to Innocence at the center of the Wheel initiates humankind's Path of Spiritual Destiny; it is the Soul separating from Eternity as it divides and manifests into the world of material form. The inner circle containing both the Innocence and Union cards represents the Soul's earthly sojourn. Innocence is the beginning (0) and Union the end (XXI) of the Soul's Journey through the material plane of existence, and thus they represent an encapsulated version or seed form of that story. They are the hub of the Wheel.
The complete story is told in the rest of the cards, which seem to explode from the seed, or emanate from the hub, to form the complete Wheel with its multiple rays and circumferential rings. We will return shortly to this story, but let us first complete the Path of Spiritual Destiny. After the Soul's regeneration as XX-Union, it continues to the Eternity card at the bottom, now in its ∞ (infinity) aspect. Thus, the top portion of the path represents the Soul's division and fall into the material world; whereas the bottom portion of the path represents the Soul's regeneration and return to Eternity as its ultimate destiny. The Path of Spiritual Destiny can be visualized as an "axle" or gimbal on which the Wheel rotates in four-dimensional space/time.
1 Note: Anna Maria Rennie's original diagram placed Innocence at the top, Union in the center, and Eternity at the bottom of the Wheel. Also, she placed the Child and Angel cards on the outside of the Wheel. She calls her version "The Eternal Tarot Cycle."
Let us now look at the layers of the Wheel surrounding its hub. These 76 cards represent a detailed expansion and explication of the worldly experiences and spiritual intricacies of the journey from Innocence to Union.
Nearest the central seed are the Person Cards, the players and personalities in the human drama. First comes the vital ring of the Man and Woman cards, which face each other across and around the hub of spiritual life. They are the gender personalities dancing around the essential qualities of innocence and unification. Backing them up is the ring of the Angel and Child cards as their accompanying spirits.
To begin the story of the Soul's Journey, we start with the Innocence card and then jump to the Magic on the first circumferential ring of the Triumphs. Moving counterclockwise along that ring, we proceed to Mystery and then to Nature and so forth, experiencing all the archetypes of the first decanate (i.e., first ten cards) of the Triumphs until we arrive at Whirlwind. Each of these first ten cards initiates an outward spoke (or ray) along which lie all the like-numbered Creative Process cards (all the Aces are associated with I-Magic, all the 2s with II-Mystery, and so forth.) The direction of energy along these spokes is outward, signifying their motive force of "etherealizaing"; in other words, the material nature of these cards seeks Spirit.
Now we move on to the second decanate of the Triumphs by leaping from X-Whirlwind to XI-Energy on the outermost ring. In the Blake deck it is fascinating to see how this is symbolized. When we compare the I-Magic and XI-Energy cards located at the ends of the same ray, we see that both contain the symbol of the "tent of reality" that encloses the Soul in its material form. This tent, which appears only on these two cards, symbolizes two levels of spiritual reality, announcing the phases of the journey and its turning points.
Now traversing the outer ring of the Wheel, the Soul proceeds again counterclockwise from Energy to Reversal to Transformation and so on until it arrives at XX-Liberty. With the second- decanate cards, the direction of energy is reversed in every spoke. The Soul now looks inward to the Creative Process cards, signifying the motive force of "materializing." The regenerative nature of these Triumphs seeks spiritual manifestation or completion. The process of regeneration is fully achieved when the Soul regains the center at XXI-Union rejoining the Path of Spiritual Destiny and finally returning to its perfection and source as represented by the Eternity card at the bottom of the Wheel.
Considering now the spokes of the Wheel: note that, although the inner and outer Triumphs cards on each spoke belong to the same numerical family (for example, I-Magic and XI-Energy are both 1s) and thus share certain qualities, the numerological sum of XIs is 2 (that is, 11=1 + 1 = 2). The result is that as we move outward along the spoke we are automatically led into the next spoke at II-Mystery. In this way, the outer card of each spoke acts as a numerological transition to the following one, in effect making the Wheel turn.
Between the inner and outer rings of the Triumph cards are the 40 number cards of the Creative Process suits, arranged by suit on consecutive rings and by number on adjoining spokes. Thus these cards can be compared easily by suit or number, as well as be related to their corresponding Triumphs.
This article briefly sketches the basic components of the Wheel of Eternity. I urge you to actually lay the cards down as pictured. Then examine and meditate upon all the various interactions to be found here. The Wheel of Eternity truly presents a profound look at the nature of reality and the Tarot.
ROTA ORAT TARO.