Today something new. Although I don’t do reviews of new decks here at Taroflexions, on occasion I do mention new productions, but only in the context of reading the cards. I’m not interested in history when I do divination, hence, what I go for is the following question: does it work? If a deck doesn’t, I don’t use it. Not in my practice of reading cards.
As most readers here already know it, in my practice of reading cards – that is, when I don’t write about cards as I do here – I only use Tarot de Marseille. So I was interested in Yoav Ben-Dov’s reproduction of the 1760 famous deck by Nicholas Convers – the CBD-Tarot, which he graciously sent to me. Convers’ deck is considered the standard Marseille deck, though opinions are divided, with historians still out there deliberating what is what.
With his reproduction Ben-Dov also published a book entitled Tarot: The Open Reading. This is a substantial work covering 259 pages and addressing many different topics ranging from history, different schools of thought and correspondences, standard symbolism in tarot, to more innovative ideas about closeness and exposure in cards, where attention to detail, such as color and direction of the gaze, is given. For instance, the argument is that toward the end of each suit, the signs of social status disappear, with the characters depicted in the cards going back to a more natural state and enjoying their nudity (81).
There’s valuable information in Ben-Dov’s book, and the reader will enjoy the often whimsical take on the cards and how to interpret them. Which, however, also brings me to a point of criticism. Most of Ben-Dov’s reading lens is symbolic, and although he follows the French school that emphasizes literalism over esotericism, and although he also seems to follow particulary Alejandro Jodorowsky’s method of reading, it is clear that he cannot distance himself from making inferences about the cards, and which are mainly based on some set formulations for reading the symbol. I have to admit that while I find symbolic readings entertaining from a narrative point of view – they make good stories – from a logical point of view I find them tedious. To give an example, which also constitutes what Ben-Dov calls an open reading:
The idea that the Sun in the Sun card can be read as the father of the two children and the husband of the Empress seems to me too advanced. Symbolically, sure. Usually it only takes two people to decide what a sign means, but often this meaning has very little to do with the thing itself, or what we’re dealing with in and of itself. As others have emphasized, there’s never a one-to-one relation between a symbol and the concept behind the sign that represents the symbol (Ferdinand de Saussure). So the kind of structure that Ben-Dov is looking for to establish in his book is more closed than open. If I understand the argument correctly, an open reading is a reading that accounts for something precisely other than the symbolic meaning. So I don’t quite get how we go from the literal meaning to the exegetical meaning in Ben-Dov’s take on it. There’s some muddling of levels here as to the question of interpretation versus paying attention, and I think that Ben-Dov commits the same fallacy as the most in seeing the literal in the cards as already symbolic. Err, why on earth? Unless of course this kind of reading, as the example above indicates, is a matter of preference. In which case, I rest my guns.
When I ask ‘does it work?’, I’m always interested in looking at how the cards invite me to pay attention first, and only then go – perhaps, if I’m lucky enough to actually see that – ‘here is your father, he shines brightly.’ Consequently, while I can appreciate the quality of thinking and the type of information offered in Tarot: The Open Reading, I cannot say that it appeals to my need to identify what is happening in the cards. I would read Ben-Dov’s example above for the Sun, the Empress and the Magician quite simply in the following manner: Two used to be on the same page once, but not any more. It may well be that the reason for this has to do with the Magician’s unwillingness to commit, but how do we know that? Because he has his legs spread apart? This is a good observation, and it certainly elicits some meaning, but we need to remember that all meaning is context-based. I always say, if you pay attention, what you see is what you see, not what you think you see.
But now to the cards. I like the slim format and the colors are vivid – thank you, Yoav, for not going turquoise on the blue like Camoin did – how ghastly.
More concretely, what do I mean by ‘does it work?’ Perhaps I can answer this by emphasizing why I read with the Marseille Tarot for people to begin with. Because I find the cards snappy. They have lines that I get. There’s symmetry between the elements, and there’s a limited choice of color. There’s no fluff and there’s no ‘all you need is love’. There’s simple people in the cards who embody diverse situations. And that’s all we need to know. So, let’s see how snappy the CBD-Tarot is considering these aspects in mind, aspects that invite us to pay attention and look, rather than state opinions. Although I never read without a question, this once I want to see how the cards flow, so I’ll just offer a few two-card situations, drawn at random. If we should, however, stick to a general topic, let’s just say that we’ll now read for ‘reading’. But keep this at the back of your heads, as it will not be our primary focus.
First draw, and looking at this now, I can only state that I love my job as a diviner. Yoav, you score here. Snappy as hell. And precise too. Given the context of this post, and the fact that I didn’t exactly find a reason to say that I swoon over the book, it’s clear that the cards themselves want a balance. They want to say, ‘but wait, wait for us.’ ‘Well, thank you dears. Aren’t you just lovely?’
9 Swords, Two Cups:
And then they celebrated.
. . . . . .
King of Swords, King of Wands:
You do your thing, and I’ll do mine.
. . . . . .
4 Swords, 8 Coins:
Nothing changes until we exchange something.
. . . . . .
2 Coins, 9 Wands:
First you tie it and then you fly it.
. . . . . .
The Hermit, Ace of Coins:
Woops, I fell into a hole.
. . . . . .
3 Wands, The Charioteer:
I’m a collector.
. . . . . .
8 Wands, The World:
The curtain fell. Take a bow.
. . . . . .
I could go on. But yes, I’m excited. The cards are great. They speak loads. And although Convers is not my favorite – I prefer Noblet and Dodal – I’m glad that I have this new contribution to the Marseille tarot as part of my collection. Thank you, Yoav, for begifting me with your work.
CBD-Tarot by Yoav Ben-Dov, 2010, accompanied by book, Tarot: The Open Reading, 2011, 2013 (reconstruction of Nicholas Convers Tarot de Marseille, 1760)
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