I promised Nora Huszka, the creator of the Gypsy Palace Tarot, to take her cards for a ride. I met Nóra this autumn at the Tarot Con UK, where I was invited to do a talk on agency in Tarot. Nóra was there too, introducing her new deck.
I liked Nóra from the start. For once, a sisterly bond was formed simply because we almost come from the same place. My home-town is in Arad, Romania, and she comes from Szeged, in Hungary, just a few miles down the road, a place where I used to go to the flea marked in the weekends.
Then I also liked Nora for her candid disclosure: ‘No,’ she said, ‘First I did the paintings, and then I associated them with the tarot cards.’ ‘Oh, how wonderfully refreshing’, I thought, given that not all in the esoteric world is equally funny, spontaneous, clever, or devoid of material interests.
I get to see a lot, and I get plenty of opportunity to cross myself when visiting this world, both in my professorial capacity and as a fortuneteller. Nowadays, if there’s something that puts me off downright is promises. I come across tarot readers service websites, psychics, and Hoodoo rootworkers, and they are all passionate about promising. They promise at least three things that I have a hard time with: 1) accuracy (Lord have mercy); 2) true love and a faithful wife (Lord have mercy); and 3) follow this recipe and you can get rid of your obnoxious neighbour (Lord have mercy).
I don’t want to dismiss the possibilities of the three listed above, but in my experience the only way in which we can validate the workings of magic is by testing the experience of it. Hence, there’s no such thing as magic that works by virtue of a promise. Rather, magic works by virtue of experiencing the ritual that sets it off.
Those who follow Taroflexions know that I’m an inveterate user of the Tarot de Marseille. That’s the tarot deck I use for people who come to me and pay for my services. Professionally I also read with the Lenormand cards and playing-cards, but that’s another story.
I do make new acquisitions now and then, and it’s not only antique cards that I’m interested in. So here’s a small reading with Nóra’s deck on the following question:
What is the difference between passion and culture?
With new decks that I buy for the sheer pleasure of it, when taking them out for a first ride I like to pose questions to them that spring from my immediate field of vision. Today I was witnessing quite a few new births, new passions announced on Facebook and other such places. The text accompanying photos of the mother, the child, and the proud father all had the same words without exception, and often written by the father, who was obviously not engaged in the first feeding and could thus take care of the family album for posterity: ‘My two loves and passion.’ While I was happy for the couples – or at least I think I was – I couldn’t help thinking the following: I get the thing about the love for the wife and the new kid, but the passion? Let’s just say that I got a nasty feeling related to the suspicion that most of this excitement is related to the desire for cultural endorsements. Do people actually know what they are saying, when they declare their passion for a newborn baby? Hmm. Let’s see what Nóra’s tarot cards say, especially since this deck was made more according to the principles of the oracle: first the images, and then the corresponding system.
For this type of question, and for the sake of precision, I like to use 2 sets of three cards. As the case is that I’m interested in passion on the one hand and culture on the other, the idea is, of course, to see how the two enter into relation against the background of a specific context. Anything else would amount to making obscene generalizations that are not useful for anything in particular. So, passion and culture in the context of what people really have in mind when they think: ‘loving wife’ and ‘proud of my 3-hours old kid’.
Basically, what’ I’m asking is the following: how do people experience passion against the constraints of culture? This is a big question, to be sure, as it ultimately addresses the unsettling issue with actually knowing what our purpose in life is. But I like to ask such nasty questions of a new deck, as they enable me to go places that are unfamiliar to me. Often it is in such unfamiliar environment that we find an answer to what we’re seeking here.
And now to what I call an absolute delight, which is the point when the cards first enforce your suspicion, namely here, that that there’s something wrong with the culture of love and pride, and then ultimately also tell you to keep doing what you’re doing, namely bash the clichés. Visually, Norá’s cards also hit the nail on its head.
For passion I got the following (in the upper row):
The High Priestess, Temperance, Justice
For culture (bottom row), I got:
10 of Wands, 5 of Pentacles, 8 of Cups
Looking at the first row, I understand that passion is something that we experience as an inner vision. The Priestess sitting in a meditative position suggests that true passion is not something that we share with others, even if we think we do. Temperance tells me that we make compromises on the exchange currency of passion, or the give and take culture.
If the passion inside us is to come out and become visible and useful for others, it must be filtered through what we make of the needs of others. And passion is not very good at listening. I like Nóra’s Temperance as a beggar here, as this card speaks its own volume. It suggests that there isn’t always a match between our inner visions and the way in which we get to serve them to others according to their own needs. Temperance holding up a plate for two flying fish here is quite interesting to consider in terms of assessing the balance we are able to create within ourselves when desiring to impose our own values, ideals, or passions on the ones we engage with.
The high art then is to exercise the power of discernment, and make our cuts accordingly. Justice calls on us to see what is truthful to us. Norá’s Rastafari Justice suggests many entanglements that need a good combing through. But Justice also makes pronouncements. Against the silent Priestess and the moderation of Temperance, passion has a hard time being deliberated.
As for culture, what can one say, apart from remarking that here it pales by comparison. 10 of Wands speaks of the greatest pressure one can find oneself under, so speaking here from one’s position of inner conviction is not even an option. The frog on this card is an interesting element, as the frog is one of the most sensitive animals. Catching flies as they pass over the head of a burnt-out tree is quite telling too. The frog is trying to ‘feel’ the world around it, even as the world succumbs to becoming de-sensitized.
The ways of culture are not always reassuring, as the 5 of Pentacles next suggests. Not only is the man in this card at the forefront, but he also makes a gesture of interdiction to his wife, as if saying: ‘up to this point, and then no more.’ Nasty business, the marital business. The 8 of Cups is not very cheerful either. A woman riding a unicorn suggests that one’s passions are only dreamt of, and not realized. Culture says one thing, and we dream another. So much for living authentically.
But then living authentically is also a narrative that we tell ourselves and part of a specific culture that desires itself perhaps more spiritual and more aligned with its dreams. Riding a unicorn, why not? But whatever culture we’re speaking of, it acts as a constricting matrix for our passions that end up being consumed at the heart of this paradox: ‘I’m passionate about my family, but not about the bonds it lays on me’.
Interestingly also, in this ‘culture’ row we find no major trumps. This makes me conclude that passion, represented here in the first row by an all-trump sequence – even though I had shuffled the whole deck very thoroughly – is serious business, and a thing related precisely to finding one’s purpose independently of others.
Sure, there are social obligations and the moral ideology of doing the right thing that confront us – as represented here by Justice in the final position – but the underscoring truth is the fact that passion remains a thing that we cannot speak of without compromising its value. In other words, one must weigh one’s words very carefully before one goes on to sing the praises of one’s relatives in the name of passion. Indeed, what does the phrase: ‘I’m passionate about my love for my wife and kids’ mean? Is this a statement about the family in question, about the one who utters the words, or about the world watching?
To answer my own question as to what the difference between passion and culture is, I’d say the following:
Whereas passion is a thing of the soul, culture is a thing of how our desires are regulated according to whatever a specific context deems appropriate. Now, this is no new thing. Most psychology theories will tell you that. The interesting, aspect, however, that a reading with cards can add to it is the idea that whereas passion is internal, it can also act as the very scale in which we can weigh our potatoes.
And by this I mean, asking ourselves the following question: to what extent do we say things because we are supposed to or because we want to? It occurs to me that, more often than not, you are supposed to say that you’re passionate about your love for your family, but suppose you were not supposed to say that. Suppose you are supposed to say you’re passionate about who you are and what you want, and how you know what you are and what you want. Or perhaps even better, suppose you are supposed to say how you know yourself vis-à-vis these strangers that occupy your house, and with whom you share your life and have to live with?
The magic of reading with a new deck of cards that is not made in accordance with this or that tradition is that it takes you on an adventure that allows you to go places that you haven’t seen before. I think Norá Huszka did a good job at capturing the culture of color and sensation in this one, thus contributing to our sense of wonder and astonishment at the encounter with the world, so that we can love it at first sight, and feel passionate about it.
Note on the deck: Nóra Huszka and Matthias Furch, The Gypsy Palace, Suhl, Germany 2013.