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I’ve played cards since as young as I can remember. I played endless hands of solitaire before there was any such thing as a home computer. I built card houses and structures that would practically meet building codes for California. And like chess, it insipred within me a glimpse of the medieval — some abstract, simple meaning beyond the reach of the conscious mind.

That’s why I’ve had a growing interest in getting a Tarot deck. I have no interest in reading the future or playing mind games with people for their money. But the tarot deck is probably where the “playing cards” of today came from, and I wanted to see the rest of them – the “major arcana” of characters other than the four kings, queens, and jacks. So I finally got a set while out with Merry last night at McKinley Mall for Valentine’s day.

The recent urge came after playing cards on Saturday. Merry couldn’t find the deck she had from around the time she graduated from high school — a set she bought for the artwork more than anything else — but she remember her grandmother having a deck when she was little. But I didn’t want a themed, modern artistic deck. I wanted something that looked as much like everyday playing cards as possible. Simple symbols and images in that middle ages style.

At “Enchantments” they had a couple of decks, including the most common kind today (Waite), but Merry can’t stand that set for some reason, and suggested we look in Walden Books. To my surprise they practically had a section full of books with sets both separately and in packs. She liked some of the elaborate ones, but they seemed too big or small or way too themed. Yes, unicorns and cat people and whatever are kinda cool, but I wanted really simple ones — truly like”playing cards”. The last set we found (and bought) was a “Marseille” deck, which are utterly beautiful, and look like reprints of drawings out of pre-renaissance France. In fact, the captions are in what I believe is Middle French. And they even have the coloring of what you would expect from simple playing cards — black, red, blue, and gold on a (faded) white background with line shading instead of gradient hues.

And I like them for many other reasons. First, they are not depressing or uplifting. The various charactes are not happy, angry, anguished, or even anything beyond expressionless. They have a neutral read-into-them-what-you-want quality. “The Hanged Man” doesn’t look like something unpleasant (or like dying at all) and the Fool does not seem bothered or silly about his situation. The faces of the characters in the card “The Judgment” don’t tell wether they are saved or condemned.

Secondly, they are not New Age at all. There is no effort to throw in occultic symbols and dress everyone Egyptian or engrave runes or Hebrew (Kabalic) inscriptions everywhere. In fact, to my surprise, it’s full of CHRISTIAN symbolism. There are crosses everywhere, in particular on the royal cards, as would be consistent with old European quasi-theocratic politics. And the “World” card has the symbols of the four Gospels around it. (The only one I don’t get is the “Tower” which looks like ascene from a disaster movie.)

Anyway, I’m not delving into the occult. Some of you know some of my experiences with spiritual warfare, and the occult is no stranger to me — I know where dangerous ground lies, and that is not where I am headed. But I do beleive that tarot, like the I-ching, astrology, or anything else, can lead to unlocking intuition and personal insight if it isn’t taken too seriously or thought of as having any power of its own. That would be … let’s just say I wont do that. For me, such things are about seeing patterns in things that could be as randon a static on your TV and learning about your self by looking at the way you see and feel about things.

So I’m learning about it as an even-then controversial European spiritual tradition in context of history and culture, but I mostly just want to play with them. I want to look at them, mix them up, think about what people meant when they were made and what I think they would represent in my own understanding of the universe if I had drawn them. It looks to be a relaxing and thought-provoking psychological past-time.

And if I could play 500 Rummy with them, that would be cool too.