A Tarot Story by Alec Guinness

One thing I have learned by blogging is that publishing one's thoughts can give them a kind of magical power.  Call it synchronicity, if you like.  I'm not sure what it is.

In early 2009, I described in detail in one of my Saturday "Blogging Reference" posts, a funeral procession to the Old City Cemetery that I witnessed during my lunchtime.  Not long after, my mother and my cat Cleo died.  I saw it more as a premonition.

Ever since my post, The Time I Didn't Die in July, in which I described how my Tarot card deck was scattered along the highway in a collision in 1977, the Tarot has been coming around my door.

I borrowed the library's copy of Alec Guinness's memoir, Blessings in Disguise, because I had dipped into it once and seen that he was a convert to the Catholic Church, (as I am).  I found an interesting story about his spiritual journey involving the Tarot.

Next, my engagement with the computer game, Baldur's Gate, moved me to post about the Grail Myth, and the book, From Ritual to Romance, which ties the Tarot into the Holy Grail.

Then there was Tarot Woman, whom I mentioned in the previous post, laying out her spreads at the library.

Finally, on Sunday, R. And I went to see the film, Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky .  In it, Coco Chanel lays out a Tarot spread at a dinner party.

Ok, enough already.  Go away.  The Tarot has a haunting quality, as Alec Guinness relates:

For six months I was absorbed in the Tarot. Wherever I went Tarot cards or Tarot symbols caught my eye. Peter Bull and I took a short holiday together to Tangiers having intended to go to Fez, but the road was washed away by torrential rain, and more rain, driven by a bitter wind, lashed Tangiers. On our first evening, splashing through a dark, narrow street, in search of food and entertainment, I spotted a single dim light in a shop window; when we reached it we found nothing behind the glass except a pack of Tarot cards, illuminated by a flickering bulb. The next day I bought the cards and sat in my damp bedroom trying to learn something from them. Peter was mildly embarrassed by my obsession and, a few days later, admitting boredom, we agreed to part company - or, rather, we said we would go to Gibraltar and when we arrived there Peter, Freud coming to his aid, found he had left his passport behind in Tangiers. So he returned there to have a jolly time with some new friends, and I set off, walking much of the way, for Malaga. My Tarot cards were safe in my pocket.
Back home I found out all I could about them: I was told (erroneously, for sure) that they were part of the ancient Book of Wisdom, scattered when the Library of Alexandria was sacked at the end of the fourth century, and re-assembled as playing cards not long after in Southern Europe. James Laver, a very well-informed friend at the Victoria and Albert Museum, pointed out that the basic Tarot symbols - chalice, spear, tree and spiky crown - corresponded to hearts, spades, clubs and diamonds and represented the Crucifixion. The Tarot symbols can be found, I believe, carved on a pillar of Chartres Cathedral. I was hooked until an evening when I got the horrors about them and impetuously threw cards and books on a blazing log fire. When Merula saw what I had done she expressed gratitude that I had returned to my senses. The Tarot card depicting a wolf barking at a crab at the edge of a moonlit pool no longer haunted my dreams; nor the Hanged Man; nor the Drowned Phoenician Sailor. They all went up in smoke, leaving only ash.


Steerforth said...

I loved his memoirs and also enjoyed the biography by Piers Paul Read. He was a fascinating and very complicated man.

Brett said...

I am remembering him as the brahmin in A Passage to India. What a giant he was.

There is another fascinating story in Blessings in Disguise, in which he warns James Dean not to drive his new sports car, or he will die. He seems to have had the "sixth sense".

I, too, burned a Tarot deck, my Crowley/Harris deck, around 1985.

Anonymous said...

Hi, very interesting post, greetings from Greece!

Brett said...

Thanks, glad you enjoyed it in your Grecian clime!

Aaron said...

Hi, I came across your blog whilst on my own strange little journey. Incidentally I was originally searching for links to certain things one of which being my Grandfathers cousin. So yet another ring of synchronicity has come a complete loop. So in true British spirit and as I learned in Cub Scouts I am leaving this message as part of my trail...

As a gift to you I would like to point out that my story spans across eons of time and space and ultimately one thing this man said rings true- "feel don't think".