September Card-a-Month: Tarot of the Witches
September is here, and people are officially calling it the start of the Halloween season (not by me, where there's still plenty summer, also no Halloween tradition), so let's get skoopy with the Tarot of the Witches.
This deck was designed by Fergus Hall for Live and Let Die (1973), the eighth James Bond movie and the first starring Roger Moore. Tarot of the Witches used to be designed and sold as The James Bond 007 Tarot Deck but apparently that licensing agreement lapsed so the deck was rebranded (note there's nothing witchier about this deck than any others).
But well before that happened, there was Salvador Dalí. The people behind Live and Let Die had first asked Salvador Dalí to design the tarot cards that would be used in the movie, but once he got started Dalí asked for more money and the studio balked. I remember reading somewhere the results were so idiosyncratic and spiritually complex they couldn't be used in the film.* In either case, I love that this Bond movie—it's my favorite—wound up being the source of two different decks. I just wish that there was another one based on the tarot cards in the movie poster, but that's another point entirely.
The deck they did create, the deck that is now the Tarot of the Witches, is a strange one. Not a lot of people like it! The figures all have a certain circus-poster quality about them. There seems to be a performative, theatrical theme throughout: had they called this deck the Tarot of the Circus you would not blink. I like this about it though. The pip cards can be a bit repetitive, as each suit has one focal image shared by all the members of the suit—a winged foot for Swords, a pierced hearts for Cups, a hand breaking a stick for Batons, a great eye anointed by flame for the Pentacles—but the colors are so intense it's redemptive. You can see that in the card I pulled to guide us through September:
The Eight of Swords.
Clearly this is not the same card that you would get if you were pulling from a traditional Rider-Waite deck. It's just the numbered pip. As mentioned before, all the central images to all the pips are the same, so there isn't anything specific to the winged foot. But the feel of this card is right.
I've always been drawn to this card in the Rider deck style. Actually, when I think of this card, it's mostly the version in the Aquarian Tarot** that I picture. It's the same image generally speaking, but a bit more character driven, less harsh. It may be one reason why I see more positive in this card than other readers might.
There are a lot of negative connotations to this card and when I pulled it for this month, in the current climate, it felt like a warning. The typical reading for this card is one of obstacle, of obstruction, and frustration. In the Jodorowsky system, of course, the reading is completely different—total mental state of nothingness, in a good way—but the link between the systems is clear.
But part of my fascination with this card is how non threatening it is. The swords are around the figure but they aren't immediately a danger, not while she's bound like that. In some ways, they can almost be acting as a screen to protect her. There is something willing about the position she is in, similar to Odysseus when he lashed himself to the mast of his ship so he could hear the sirens without being put in danger, or in the tarot's major arcana in the Hanging Man. The situation seems uncomfortable but not out of control, and it may be willingly entered into.
I see this figure in the Rider system as a person who is becoming a sword itself, like the Jodo's absolute emptiness, the figure is becoming thought. The arms are bound not to prevent action but to turn the body into a straight edge. The blindfold, the horizontal axis of a hilt. This is a defense mechanism to a hostile surrounding, one that is going to affect a change. She is not being hedged by the swords, she's emulating them.
Be wary, but don't be afraid. Be like the sword.
*We'll get to the Dalí deck before the end of the year. Stay tuned.
**We'll get to the Aquarian deck soon enough too.