Thursday 27 January 2011

Astroshamamic Voyage into the Tarot (by Franco Santoro)

Rider Waite

Tarot cards have filled me with great wonder since I was a child. In my Bolognese circle of relatives, food and tarot cards constituted the major source of fun and celebration. Family gatherings usually took place on Saturday evenings or Sunday afternoons in San Venanzio di Galliera (Bologna).

First there was the outer mystery of eating a copious meal. This was something I could take part in and also fully understand. Then the lunch table was tidied as a subtle anticipation of an upcoming inner mystery: the cards. This bit was not allowed for children, although they could watch, as long as they were silent and respectful. 

The ritual was officially announced by my grandmother or another family elder crying out Bestia!  This term is the Italian for “beast”, which here was pronounced with the sibilant consonant “s” turned into an emphasized “sh”, as it is typical of the Bologna’s dialect.

The table was covered with a green cloth, while participants would gradually sit around in solemn excitement and start constructing a wee citadel made up of little piles of coins. Then the cards were distributed in three rounds. After a moment of fervent silence, some players would knock on the table three times. 

Italian Piacentine
This act appeared to convey the entitlement to a privilege, given the fact that those who did not knock looked rather disappointed. Yet at the end of each game, a more striking dissatisfaction was visible in those who had to release parts of their citadel and give them to the player who had shouted Bestia at them. This on the other hand was delighted since he could increase the size of his citadel.

Calling out “Bestia” was obviously associated with power. As I could not see any beast in the room, I assumed that only adults could detect it. I also believed that a participant was entitled to say “Bestia” only when he was touched by this mysterious animal, or perhaps it was the other way around, if you were touched by the beast the first who saw it could say “Bestia” and then get parts of your citadel. Well, frankly I do not know. As I explained, I was just a child and had not received initiation to the cards. All this happened in the province of Bologna, which is historically considered the birthplace of Tarot cards.

This game called Bestia, was very complex and definitively out of bound for children, who could however play other games, such as Briscola and Scopa. It was from my grandfather in Sicily that I received the first initiation to those games.

The decks used in Bologna (IPiacentine) and Sicily were slightly different, yet still made up of the same number of suits and cards (40 cards and four suits going 1 to 7 plus three face cards). 

Later I also saw decks with 52 cards and two jolly jokers, until one day at the age of 12 I came across a most cryptic deck with 22 additional cards called Major Arcana. This was one of the most amazing discoveries in my childhood. I had never seen those cards and nobody in the family knew anything about them, or perhaps they did not want to show that they knew. Those cards appeared very familiar, and from that moment my interest for the Tarot soared.

This article is the introduction to a series of articles devoted to the Major Arcana, that will follow in this blog. Just browse the topics section on the right under "Tarot" to see what is available. 
Sicilian cards
For general information on the Tarot and the Major Arcana, please refer to the abundant web-pages and books available in the marketplace. In this regards I recommend: 78 Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack, Mystical Origins of the Tarot: From Ancient Roots to Modern Usagel by Paul Huson, The Tarot: History, Symbolism and Divination by Robert Place, and Meditations on the Tarot by Anonymous (to which I refer below). Here I would also like to mention Il tarocco intuitivo: una chiave di lettura tra psicologia e magia (In Italian) by two Osho sannyasin friends, Swami Prem Bodhi & Swami Anand Rajendra, which was one of my first most passionate readings on the topic.  

In this series I intend to cover only the astroshamanic and mystical elements of the Tarot. For this purpose I will use three decks: the Rider-Waite-Smith, the Thoth tarot deck and the Tarot of the Saints, yet I believe I will also refer to other decks. I will also refer to our Provisional Astroshamanic Cards.

Click here for a calendar of astroshamanic events.

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