Chameleon

Jacqueline Lamba „Baudelaire, geniusz miłości, Płomień”, rysunek, gwasz, kolaż, 1941. Wystawa “Surrealism and Magic: Enchanted Modernity”, Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Wenecja 2022

“In 1940-41, Surrealists collaborated on the card game Jeu de Marseille while waiting in the zone libre in Marseille to escape war-torn Europe. Inspired by the late medieval Tarot de Marseille, they however changed the tarot’s traditional suits into Surrealist emblems: the Star (dream), the Flame (love), the Lock (knowledge), and the Wheel (revolution). The hermetic emblems Magus, Siren and Genius replaced the King, Queen, and Jack (in what was also a subtle critique of state power and social hierarchies). The new deck celebrated predecessors to Surrealism. Óscar Domínguez chose Sigmunt Freud for his Magus of Dreams, highlighting the psychoanalyst’s exploration of the unconscious and desire. Jacqueline Lamba dedicated her card, the Genius of Love, to the Symbolist poet Charles Baudelaire. Victor Brauner selected the nineteenth-century medium Hélène Smith to be the Siren of Knowledge.” (exhibition text)

Victor Brauner “Hélène Smith, Siren of Knowledge, Lock”, known as “the Muse of Automatic Writing”, black and colored pencil on tracing paper, 1941

“Alone in these countries where often I did not even speak the language, I visited museums, picturesque streets, and artist cafés. Little by little I took on the habit of looking for esoteric bookstores where I could buy Tarots. This was how I managed to put together a collection of more than a thousand different decks: alchemical, Rosicrucian, kabbalistic, gypsy, Egyptian, astrological, mythological, Masonic, sexual, and so forth. All of them consisted of the same number of cards, seventy-eight, divided into fiftysix Minor Arcana and twenty-two Major Arcana. But each of them was illustrated differently. Sometimes the human figures were transformed into dogs, cats, unicorns, monsters, or gnomes. Each version included a booklet in which its author proclaimed himself to be the bearer of a profound truth. I did not grasp either the meaning or the use of these very mysterious cards, but I bore a great affection for them, and finding a new deck filled me with joy. Naively, I was hoping to find the one Tarot that would transmit to me what I was so anxiously searching for: the secret of eternal life.
During the course of one of my journeys to Mexico as Marceau’s assistant, I made the acquaintance of Leonora Carrington, a surrealist poet and painter who had had a love affair with Max Ernst during the Spanish Civil War. When Ernst was imprisoned, Leonora went mad, with all the horrors that implies but also with all the doors that this malady opens in the prison of the rational mind. Inviting me to eat a skull made from sugar with my name carved on its forehead, she told me: Love transforms death into sweetness. The bones of the skeleton of the Thirteenth Arcanum are made of sugar.
When I realized that Leonora used the symbols of the Tarot in her work, I begged her to initiate me. She answered: Take these twenty two cards. Examine them one by one and then tell me what you feel is the meaning of what you see. Overcoming my shyness, I obeyed her. She rapidly wrote down everything I said to her. When I finished, with my description of The World, I was soaked in sweat. With a mysterious smile on her lips the painter whispered to me: What you just dictated to me is the secret. As each Arcana is a mirror and not a truth in itself, become what you see in it. The Tarot is a chameleon. She then immediately made me a gift of the deck created by the occultist Arthur Edward Waite with its nineteenth-century-style drawings that later became very fashionable among the hippies.”

Alejandro Jodorowsky, Marianne Costa The way of tarot: the spiritual teacher in the cards (2009), translated by Jon E. Graham

 

 

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