I’m calling my post today The Shining, to allude to the horror book by Stephen King, but I could just as well have called it The Fiddling.
It may well be that I’ve just finished writing a whole book using images from the unknown and unseen Marseille Tarot of Carolus Zoya, but somehow, and for all I’ve tried to exorcise my addiction, I found myself compelled to do a facsimile of the original I’ve held in my hands for a whole month. Although I am the type of person who can easily detach – I try to do my best Buddhist impersonation everyday – it looks like some things won’t let go of you. Those familiar with the images of the Tarot will nod, acknowledging that pondering on these images will take a life time and beyond, so it’s not hard for me to turn around, and say, ‘ok, let’s bond some more’. Besides, having to return such a miraculous thing, given that it’s about 215 years old, can often conjure feelings of ‘the horror the horror’ in anyone, even if it may be just for a little while.
Thus I found that the cure for ‘the horror’ was to ‘fiddle’. Consequently, in the past few days I’ve been fiddling with creating a nice facsimile of the original deck in the private collection of K. Frank Jensen. I now own a copy, done on 300 grams Canson Montval paper, and printed on my own home printer – a good one, mind you, as not all printers can handle thick card paper. The deck shuffles like a dream. What I also did, since this is not the original, is retouch the colors, here and there, by applying gloss to the sublime red on the cards to enhance it. All by hand. The deck is also hand cut to emulate the feel of the totally uneven original. I’m actually very pleased.
Some people in the cartomantic world have been surprised to hear that I wrote a Tarot book – and some were even upset that I did it without mentioning a word about it – but the truth is that this project came as a surprise to me as well. In fact, it wasn’t even so long ago that I insisted I wasn’t interested in writing a book. But as it happened, when I returned this very valuable Marseille deck, Carolus Zoya himself decided that I wasn’t done with him. ‘Write about me,’ he kept yelling, so I did.
We don’t know much about Zoya, and even less about Zoya in Turin, where this deck was made. In fact, also, the historians are rather completely clueless about his identity. But we do know of a printing house Zoya in Milan, active around 1749. However, who this ‘Carolus’ was, no one seems to know. That is, he who is stuck in the world of ‘find the evidence’ knows little. But others know. Evidence can take many forms, if we care to look properly. Others can know it on that plane that has to do with the ‘the beautiful’ and ‘the true’, in other words, ‘the crazy’. We can look at the cards and ‘know’ something.
We know that Carolus Zoya was the creator of a set of cards in which no less than 8 characters display their bare breasts. Whoa! That’s impressive for a Tarot deck of that time. So obviously someone had to come along and mention it. Tell the rest of the world about it. How it makes us feel. And what it does to us to see that this Carolus is using the tulip as his flower for everything; our favorite flower since the dawn of time. I like Carolus Zoya, and I think he likes me too. We have things in common, and we speak the language of intimacy that has truth and beauty at its core. Not bad at all.
After I’ve done fiddling with the deck – while still thinking, ‘the horror, the horror, this will never be the original’ – I could, however, see how it was shining. All the cards were shining, from all angles and under all kinds of light. My Carolus was shining.
I used it to answer three questions. Three times in a row I got the Devil in the exact same position. And I know all about the statistics of shuffling, and how many times you need to do it in order to get the cards to mix properly. But that is not the essential information here. The essential is that this deck is a deck that insists. It insists on showing things, showing itself off, showing me what to pay attention to. It is indeed quite the treat to be grabbed by your coat by an invisible force that insists you paid attention. And yet, maybe not so invisible a force. After all, even Justice is here without a bra. Imagine Justice passing a sentence while donning a transparent dress.
When I am at the collector’s house – The House of Spirits as I call it, as it’s filled with marvelous and magical things – my favorite past time is to look at dead Tibetan monks and their skulls in the company of Tarot cards featuring erotic art. This deck here is not erotic in that sense, but it displays the same amount of ‘fetch’ as some of the best esoteric erotic art.
Yes, the fetch. Perhaps this is what it is, some Italian stregonerie at work. I should go check with an old professor I used to meet on a few occasions, Carlo Ginzburg, famous for his historical studies of witches in Italy. Why was Carolus Zoya a secret? I’m sure the historians – though not Carlo, for he is smart in that way, the ‘truth and beauty’ way – would speculate that Carolus Zoya may have been the son or a relative of the boss of the House of Zoya in Milan, and who started a business in Turin that went down at some point, faster than intended. There are no records of a printing house in Turin bearing the name of Zoya at the time this deck was made, so who’s to say whether what we’re talking about here is business failure? And would that make a good story? No, it wouldn’t. The better story is the one that has us turn around, and notice how this deck fetches our attention. How it insists that we tell the story that has magic in it.
I think I’ll go fiddle some more. It looks like the Devil warns of some trouble with the public, the Star has turned cold, but it all ends well. Carolus Zoya toasts the one getting the full picture. I’m all for it. The shining.
Note on the deck: Tarot de Marseille, Carolus Zoya, ca. 1790-1810. Turin. Facsimile by Camelia Elias, hand-cut and hand-painted, 2015 (not commercial). Original copy in the collection of K. Frank Jensen, Roskilde, Denmark. Copyright: K. Frank Jensen, who granted me permission to use these cards for my book and in this form here for my own private use and private distribution.
For words of power and other unexpected offers, sign up for a cool monthly newsletter.