Grevel Lindop

Poet, biographer, critic, essayist and writer on just about everything

A RHYME FOR THE TAROT

I’ve often felt frustrated that, although I’ve worked with the Tarot on and off since I was 16, I’ve never been able to remember the order of the Trumps. A couple of weeks ago, I thought of making up a rhyme to help recall the numbers.

So I did it. It’s just doggerel but others might find it useful, so here it is. I happened to be using the Rider Waite pack. Then I remembered that in the old Marseille pack, Justice and the Strength/Force are swapped around. So I made another version to fit the Marseille pack.

Anyway, here they are. First the rhyme for the Rider Waite pack; then some Notes and Comments; and finally the rhyme for the Marseille pack. One or the other should hopefully fit other packs/decks as well.

Some of the Rider Waite Tarot cards

A RHYME FOR THE TAROT
Rider Waite Pack
 
One’s the Magician, beginning his quest;
Two the High Priestess, a cross on her breast;
Three is the Empress, a goddess you see,
And Four is the Emperor, his orb at his knee.
The Hierophant’s Five, whose good prayers we receive,
And Six are the Lovers, fair Adam and Eve.
Seven’s the Chariot, pursuing its path,
And Eight is for Strength, who can tame the lion’s wrath.
Nine is the Hermit, who lives far from town,
And Ten is the Wheel, where we’re tossed up and down.
Eleven’s for Justice, he’s strict but he’s fair,
And Twelve the Hanged Man, with one foot in the air.
Thirteen’s an old friend, the black flag is his sign,
And Temperance Fourteen, adding water to wine.
Fifteen is the Devil, with souls on a chain,
And Sixteen’s the Tower: destruction and pain!
Seventeen is the Star, pouring spiritual light,
And Eighteen’s the Moon, bayed by dogs in the night.
Nineteen is the Sun, with the children at play,
And Twenty’s for Judgement, the Earth’s final day.
Twenty-one, the World Soul dances graceful and free,
And Zero’s the Fool: could that be you or me?

NOTES:

1. Yes, I know the ‘quest’ is ours, rather than the Magician’s; but I wanted to give a sense of ‘setting out’ on our journey. And after all, surely every magician ought to be on a quest?

2. The ‘cross’ is obvious in the Rider Waite version. In the Marseille, it’s just two crossed straps, so maybe not a real ‘cross’ at all. Also she’s dressed as a female Pope. So the Marseille version could be either ‘Two’s the Popess in her triple crown drest’ or – drawing on the medieval legend of the female Pope – ‘Two is Pope Joan, in her triple crown drest’ (which I like best of all).

3. I associate the Empress, who looks like a bountiful fertility figure, with the Triple Goddess. But as the line ends with ‘you see’, you can put in some other words here if you like!

4. It would have been nice to say ‘his sword at his knee’ but in the picture it’s a round thing like an orb. For the Marseille pack, I’ve adapted to match the picture: ‘his shield at his knee’.

5. ‘Good prayers we receive’ is slightly awkward, but I couldn’t find a better phrase; still, if he prays for us, then we are at least receiving the benefit of his prayers. For the Marseille pack, I’ve changed ‘The Hierophant’ to ‘the Pope’, and altered the words to rhyme with the line about Force.

6. Rider Waite makes the Lovers definitely Adam and Eve. The Marseille pack has Cupid overhead, and the young man turning away from Dame Philosophy in her laurel wreath to go with the lady. Oh foolish chap! Or maybe not. I’ve changed the line accordingly.

8, 11, 12, various changes of wording to fit the differences between packs. The Hanged Man in all packs looks perfectly happy, and seems to be an acrobat. That doesn’t stop him from standing for an uncomfortable betwixt-and-between situation if he comes up in a reading. Even an acrobat doesn’t want to spend all his time upside down. But nor does he deserve the sinister reputation he has amongst non-Tarot people.

13. In the Rider Waite pack, Death has a black flag. For the simpler Marseille design, I’ve said ‘and the skull is his sign’.

15. In Rider Waite, the souls are clearly on chains. In Marseille, it looks like ropes, so I’ve changed accordingly. Choose whichever you prefer.

19. The Rider Waite card has a single child, on horseback. You could say ‘With the child who’s at play’ if you want to be purist about it. I think ‘children at play’ is nicer. As there’s a low wall in the Marseille picture, I suspect the children are actually Romulus and Remus, in which case it’s all going to end badly, but never mind.

21. I suppose strictly it should be ‘world’s final day’ as other planets would presumably be judged, not just earth. But I wanted to save ‘world’ for the next card, so too bad! You could say ‘our Reckoning Day’ or something, but I prefer it as it is.

A few of the Marseille Tarot cards

And now here’s the Marseille version:

A RHYME FOR THE TAROT:
Marseille Version

 One’s the Magician, beginning his quest;
Two is Pope Joan, in her triple crown drest;
Three is the Empress, a goddess you see,
And Four is the Emperor, his shield at his knee.
Five is the Pope, who can pray for our souls,
And Six are the Lovers, whom Cupid controls.
Seven’s the Chariot, so drive it with care,
And Eight is for Justice, she’s strict but she’s fair.
Nine is the Hermit, who lives far from town,
And Ten is the Wheel, where we’re tossed up and down.
Eleven’s for Force, who can tame the wild beast,
And Twelve the Hanged Man – not perturbed in the least!
Thirteen’s an old friend, and the skull is his sign,
And Temperance Fourteen, adding water to wine.
Fifteen is the Devil, with souls on a rope,
At Sixteen the Tower falls, but don’t lose all hope!
Seventeen is the Star, pouring spiritual light,
And Eighteen’s the Moon, bayed by dogs in the night.
Nineteen is the Sun, and the child who’s at play,
And Twenty’s for Judgement, the Earth’s final day.
Twenty-one, the World Soul dances graceful and free,
And Zero’s the Fool: could that be you or me?
 

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URSULA K. LE GUIN

I want to pay tribute to Ursula Le Guin (1929-2018), the wonderful fantasy writer who died on 22 January this year. Her Earthsea trilogy (later a tetralogy, in fact) is the only fantasy work – apart perhaps from C.S. Lewis’s very different Narnian Chronicles – that I would put on a par with the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.

I devoured the Earthsea books – read and re-read them – when I was a teenager, and they helped to change my view of the world. Their balance of Taoist wisdom, Castaneda-inspired magic (both her parents were anthropologists), narrative excitement and poetic vision make them, for me, still unique in the realm of fantasy. I’ve put in the covers of my slightly battered old Puffin copies here.

Her hero Ged became a role model for me; and his two (sometimes conflicting) pursuits – for magical (read, if you like, spiritual) understanding, and for ways to sustain the ecological balance of the world – have been the quests of my life also. Le Guin’s fiction clarified them for me.

 

She was said to have become discontented with the original Earthsea trilogy because it was too male-centred; I was never sure I agreed, because the second, central volume, The Tombs of Atuan, had a wonderful heroine, Tenar, who plays a central role and, initially, holds all the power in her hands, as a trainee priestess in whose underground labyrinth Ged finds himself trapped.

I haven’t read as many of Le Guin’s sci-fi books as I should; I shall now do so. The one I have read is The Lathe of Heaven: a powerful parable about trying too hard to improve the world. That book has become an essential part of my thinking and I recommend it strongly, to technologists and ecologists alike.

There was undoubtedly something magical about Ursula Le Guin herself. When I heard the announcement of her death on the radio, quite unexpectedly I found all the hairs on my body standing up: a wave of energy went over me. Then again when I heard her discussed on Last Word, the BBC’s obituary programme. She was one of those extraordinary women – among them I would name Kathleen Raine, Lois Lang-Sims, Iona Opie the folkorist, and Nancy Sandars, translator of Gilgamesh – who have very special qualities of imagination and wisdom which the world needs and which they find ways of transmitting.

I think of these female elders as the Sibyls or prophetesses. For some people, the proverbial ‘Old Wives [i.e. women’s] Tales’ is a term of abuse. Not for me. It’s the tales told by old women that are the most important. (Tolkien agreed: look at the episode of the healing herb, athelas or kingsfoil, near the end of the Lord of the Rings). Their lives and experience (they all seem to a ripe old age) have distilled something that the rest of us seriously need. Fortunately Ursula Le Guin left it for us in her books. Read and enjoy!

THE JANUARY MAN

I’ve just finished reading Christopher Somerville’s entertaining, vivid and thought-provoking book, The January Man. In outline, it’s an account of the year, month by month, describing a walk (or sometimes several walks) in a different part of the United Kingdom for every month.

Somerville is well known as the Times walking correspondent, so he’s ideally qualified to guide us, whether it’s on the Norfolk coast or the remote island of Foula in the Shetlands. But his book is about much more than walking.

Besides beautifully-written observations of nature – trees, birds, insects, fungi – as the seasons turn, the book explores Christopher Somerville’s many enthusiasms: it’s full of fascinating reflections on music and poetry, ecology and folklore, tall stories, old buildings, modern farming and a thousand other things. At one moment, Somerville is recreating a youthful hitchhiking expedition that took him and a friend all the way to Istanbul; the next, he’s recreating a long-gone country fair in Wiltshire, now almost forgotten but a few short generations ago so important that half a million sheep and 750 tons of hops were sold there annually, and cheese was traded by the ton.

As if that’s not enough, the book sketches – lightly and engagingly, in touches that build up month by month into a vivid portrait – memories of his father, a taciturn man who never spoke much about his quietly courageous war service, and even less about his top-secret work at GCHQ. Walking together on long-distance footpaths was, mostly, the closest father and son came to shared communication. It’s all perfectly judged: moving and fascinating without any sense of emotional overspill. Quite an achievement, and one that will touch a verse with many of us whose parents were from that emotionally-reticent generation.

Christopher’s website is at www.christophersomerville.co.uk – For a link to order the book, see foot of this page.

As a bonus, the book introduces us to Dave Goulder’s great folksong, ‘The January Man’, from which it takes its title. I can’t find Martin Carthy’s performance of that fine song (the version mentioned in the book) so I’ll put in a haunting version by the Albion Christmas Band with some charming if slightlky kitsch astrological imagery (no offence – as I wrote once in a poem about Mexico, in some contexts ‘kitsch is authenticity’!).

The January Man is definitely one of my books of the year: the perfect Christmas present for anyone who loves walking, or the countryside, or loves odd facts and surprising stories. Add a beautiful cover painting, and a link to download a free walking guide from Christopher Somerville’s website, and what more could you ask? I’m already realising how lazy I’ve been this year. The shortest day will soon be past; and then I swear I’ll lace up my boots and be on the move again. Thanks, Christopher!

CHARLES WILLIAMS IN PAPERBACK

I’ve just received the first paperback copies of Charles Williams: The Third Inkling. Very exciting. Pleasant too for readers, because they can now get the book for a sensible, indeed pretty modest, price: £12.99 for a 490 page biography with 36 glossy plates.

My first copies, with Aslan the Lion – the white lion trophy is the Mythopoeic Society’s Award for Inklings Scholarship, which the book won when it came out

The hardback was a handsome book, but at £25 you couldn’t expect many people except Williams fanatics to buy it. It has sold well enough but I suspect mainly to libraries, and those Inklings enthusiasts who couldn’t bear to wait!

I’m also pleased that Williams’s fame has developed since I wrote the book. I was keen to make this astonishing character and his remarkably rich work known to far more people, and this seems to have happened.

Stephen Barber has edited a new collection of his essays, The Celian Moment, from Greystones Press; Sørina Higgins has edited his remarkable unpublished verse drama The Chapel of the Thorn for Apocryphile a handsome new hardback edition of his novels is in progress; and Apocryphile has reissued the poems of Taliessin through Logres and The Region of the Summer Stars in the USA.

And John Matthews and I have edited his Arthurian poems – comprising all the poems on the Arthurian mythos which he published during his lifetime – for publication in the near future, with an essay by each of us.

Williams is increasingly being recognised as the remarkable writer, teacher and esoteric figure which he was, taking his rightful place alongside his more famous but less bizarre friends, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

GRATITUDE for 1964

Over the holidays I found myself remembering earlier Christmases, and realising how important Christmas 1964 had been for me – and how grateful I am to my parents for making it so.

I was 16 then, and my parents had got into the way of asking me what presents I’d like for Christmas. Extremely kind of them, and kinder still not to turn a hair when I asked for some fairly unusual things – especially unusual in those days, I suspect!

dsc03067

Threefold magic: here they are, battered but still in use

What they gave me, and what I must have asked for, though I don’t recall the asking, was: (a) a set of Tarot cards; (b) a copy of The Golden Bough; and (c) a copy of Robert Graves’s The White Goddess.

They gave me all of them, and with the enthusiasm of youth – and a youth still in the process of discovering, or making, a self, I wrote my name in all of them. Three different versions of my name, in fact. With the date. And that’s how I know that all these wonderful things arrived at that particular Christmas.

christmas1964

Those gifts led to a great deal. I’ve been interested in Tarot ever since, and at some periods of my life reading Tarot on a regular basis. It helped me to appreciate Charles Williams’s novel The Greater Trumps far more deeply than I could otherwise have done. And I’ve just had the honour of reviewing Cherry Gilchrist’s excellent book Tarot Triumphs for Quest magazine in the US.


As for The White Goddess, I sat up reading it every night between Christmas and New Year, utterly enchanted and fascinated. It made me want to read Robert Graves’s poems. I hadn’t read any modern poetry before, but together with The White Goddess those poems got me hooked. I wanted to write poems too. Graves’s books made me a poet, setting me on course for a lifetime. And in the 1990s I edited The White Goddess, working at Graves’s former house and getting to know the wonderful Graves family, and many Graves scholars. Again, life-changing.

And Frazer? I have to admit that I’ve only read The Golden Bough right through once. It doesn’t quite have Graves’s verse and excitement. Nor do I wholly believe Frazer’s theories about the universal dying-vegetation-god cult any longer. With Ronald Hutton, I suspect that it’s our own secret religion, more than that of the ancient world. But how we need it! I’ve dipped into The Golden Bough many times to find details related to Graves, TS Eliot and other authors and things. And I really, really will try to read it once more in this life!

Nice to see that in 1964 you could buy a new 756-page hardback for thirty-five shillings! That’s £1.75p in today’s money, or about $2.15.

But what great foundations for an imaginative life! Blessings on my kind and understanding parents who listened to me and gave what Yeats might have called ‘the right twigs for an eagle’s nest’. I may be more of a jackdaw, but I’m still busy trying to build that nest, 42 years later. Happy New Year, all blessings to you, and may all your gifts prove as fruitful as these did for me!