by Robert M Place
If you have ever worked with Robert Place’s Alchemical Tarot deck, you would immediately recognize his work in this 2012 released Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery. Both decks include symbols, characters, objects, animals and elements which are depicted using vibrantly coloured images, heavily outlined in black.
A Tarot Passed Down from Your Ancestors
Not intended to be realistic, the images suggest simplicity (albeit misleading!), reminiscent of a child’s colouring book. The deck has the feel of an antiquated tarot deck which according to Robert, was a deliberate contrivance. He is a great lover of the Renaissance: A time, as he points out, when the Tarot was mysteriously catapulted onto the Italian, aristocratic scene. This Tarot deck resembles a treasure passed down from your ancestors. It should be dog-eared and faded. Secretly I look forward to a time when mine looks a little beaten up. I am using it daily but the deck itself is so well varnished and solidly constructed that I despair of how long it’s likely to take before it looks a little used, never mind antique.
This deck however could mislead in its simple presentation. There is nothing simple about this tarot deck. The symbolism is rich and complex; every aspect of each card has been crafted with careful and intelligent mindfulness. Don’t let that scare you away from this deck however, because Robert has kindly put some text onto a few of the more complex cards to help you understand what the symbols mean.
The Sun Card Represented by Apollo
For example, the Sun card which Robert has named Apollo for obvious reasons, depicts a mermaid from behind, as she regards the God, Apollo before her. Apollo is face on and the text beside the mermaid reads, “reason”. The text beside Apollo reads “logic”. In his accompanying book, Robert explains, “She is reason and He is logic. The divine logic behind human reason, they join in the hero’s gambles (define marriage). This union can represent spiritual love, a soul mate, marriage, or enlightenment.”
Although Robert has assigned an original meaning to the Sun card, his explanation takes the reader down a whole new and exciting interpretation of this card. His symbols make sense, and his explanation is thoughtful, succinct and intelligent.
A Tarot Without Redundancy
But Robert doesn’t handhold the reader by any means. There are cards in the deck that have absolutely no text. The PIP cards for instance have no text or numerical values to identify them. I get a sense that Robert is playing with us! He seems to be saying this is a deck without redundancy. If you know the tarot, you can count and you don’t need to be told what number of cups, wands, swords or pentacles you are looking at. Why clog a perfectly balanced image with redundant and distracting text?
The deck comes with, as is typical of tarot decks, a small, accompanying booklet. And it is tiny! So tiny in fact, that I put it through a photocopier to enlarge it for reading comfort. But it was worth the effort. Robert has offered assurances that he is writing a complete treatise to explain this deck in greater depth in the future and I am already anticipating its release. The text to explain his Alchemical Tarot was just released in 2012.
Robert’s introduction to the sevenfold ministry in the booklet is an article you don’t want to miss. Choosing a passage to quote was challenging but I did think this piece was a good representation of the riches you’ll find here. In this passage Robert explains why the number “7” is central to this deck,
“The seven planets were thought of as the sole centres of the cosmos and corresponding sole centres could be found ascending the spine, from the sacrum to the crown of the head, in the microcosm of the human body. Pythagoras developed the diatonic music scale with seven notes to capture the sound that each planet made as it orbited the earth. This was called the “music of the spheres.” He marked each know with one of the seven vowels of the Greek alphabet and through musical treatment use this skill to bring the human soul centres into harmony with the planets.”
Well written, deliciously historical and an academic bit of esoterica, this little book is a treasure.
My favourite card is Fortuna. Fortuna (Wheel of Fortune) features a blind-folded female character circled by a collection of detailed characters, animals and symbols. When viewed closely, you are rewarded with a vision of astrological symbols. Colourful, mysterious and priceless. Immediately I was reminded of Cynthia Giles’ description of the Tarot as a collection of “archetypal tinkertoys”.
As a tarotist, I am grateful that Robert puts his rather impressive intellectual rigour into tarot work. Your collection of tarot decks will not be complete without this one. Many who purchased Robert’s Alchemical Tarot in the past were grateful they bought one when they were available because long after they were sold out, there continued to an ever escalating demand to own one. Now if you would like a copy of that deck, you’ll be faced with paying rather impressive “collector” prices.
So while supplies last, I would encourage you to purchase this latest and no less impressive body of work. It’s Renaissance, mysterious, complex, artful and so quintessentially Tarot. What more could you ask for from a tarot work?