Hieros Gamos: Benediction of the Tarot
Hieros Gamos: Benediction of the Tarot has 22 meditative poems on the sacred marriage and the meeting of opposites. Each poem is shown with a reproduction of one of the major arcana from the 1650 Jean Noblet Tarot.
By Stewart S. Warren
Book - 54 pages - Published by Mercury HeartLink
Review by Nemia Galil
On a fresh and sparkling morning, a beautiful little book found its way into my house, somewhere at the end of the world, where the sea and the mountains meet, and the borders of Israel and Lebanon. Hieros Gamos – Benediction of the Tarot by Stewart S. Warren is a slim volume, flexible and easy to carry around. Emily Balivet's painting Alchemical Wedding on the front cover, surrounded by a frame that picks up the dark blue from the sky in the painting, depicts the meeting of moon and sun, blue and red, cold and hot, male and female.
From an esthetic point of view, the concept of the meeting of opposites is implemented also in the graphic design of the book. Serif and sans serif fonts, text block and white space, tarot cards and poems are carefully set against each other, contrasted and balanced to perfection.
This motif is furthermore consequently followed in the structure of the book as well as its content. Acknowledgement and dedications by the poet frame two short, concentrated introductions into the topic, written by two important tarot scholars, creators and authors.
Robert M. Place supplies in his entry, Poetry and Divination, many fascinating facts and names: widely known ones like Empedocles, Dante, Petrarca, and Nostradamus, but also (to me) lesser known ones like Francesco Marcolini, Matteo Maria Boiardo, and Teofilo Folengo. Place characterizes with a deft hand each author's position between Poetry and Divination. Stewart Warren takes his place in this triumphal procession reminiscent of the paintings in the Hypnerotomachia Polifili. If you want to deepen your knowledge of poetic divination and divinatory poetry, you know where to go from here.
Christine Payne-Towler's entry, On Hieros Gamos, evokes the ancient topos of the Holy Marriage or Holy Union in the context of mysticism and personal pilgrimage.
Each of these texts deals with the union of differences – one is scholarly and written by a man, the other evocative and written by a woman.
These texts are framed by Stewart Warren's acknowledgements and thanks (to painter Emily Balivet and Tarot scholar and the publisher of the deck used in the book, Roxane Flornoy) on one side, and on the other by his short and poignant dedication to Malala Yousafzai and her father Ziauddin. I find this dedication especially inspiring since it puts the book firmly on the ground of contemporary times. Again, there is balance in a dedication to father and daughter.
So when you reach the actual benedictions, you are well prepared.
A double page is dedicated to each trump. On the left hand, each trump is shown in colored reproductions of the 1650 Jean Noblet Tarot. On the right, Warren's poems open new horizons for these time honored figures. They speak to the reader, bless him/her, and thus add new layers of associations and ideas to the ones each tarot readers holds and develops over the years. Many of the trumps reveal their part in the Sacred Marriage of opposites that is the book's leitmotif.
Warren's poetic language is ripe with symbols. Some you can recognize from tarot decks you know, others are surprising and evocative, and others build bridges to other poems – the feathers plucked from his head by the Fool re-appear in the Wheel of Fortune, the thorns from the Lovers are met again in the Tower, and the broken cup of Death is excavated in the Tower. A whole net of associations is created in the reader's head, behind his eyes, that invites deeper study and meditation.
As an admirer of the German poet Hölderlin who saw himself as late pupil of Empedocles, I cannot but notice the veiled invocation of the elements in many verses. Stones, winds, currents, tides, ponds, breath, secret fire, combustible, wind, flaming heart – the elements have left their traces in these poems, and the receptive reader will connect with them. Many poems end on a personal note – they seem to address the reader directly, and the words can be used as affirmations and benedictions. Some that I found especially haunting and apt:
Mine is the moment,
all else is temporary.
Do not tarry at the edge. (Wheel of Fortune)
We face the world
as one flaming heart. (Sun)
What we reach for next
Will be the color of the sky
For a thousand years to come. (Hanged Man)
Warren rounds off his gift with an author's note revealing his fascination with the Western mystic tradition and his ambivalence towards Judeo-Christian neglect or denial of the Female. He re-adjusts the balance between the sexes with his very balanced union of opposites in this book.
Warren's Hieros Gamos – Benediction of the Tarot revives the tradition of the Book of Hours. Like a traditional, Christian devotional Book of Hours, this book is illustrated, meditative and follows a traditional structure in a deeply personal way. And like Rilke's lyrical Book of Hours, Warren deals with pilgrimage, personal growth, and love as the agent of the Sacred Union of opposites.
For lovers of the Sacred Union of images and words, this book is a valuable addition to the tarot bookshelf. And in a recent wave of "Learn Tarot as Quickly as Humanly Possible", "Keywords for Speed Readers" and "Wallow in the Shallow" manuals, this book is a welcome respite. Decelerate and take your time with tarot. It is worth it. You cannot hurry a Sacred Marriage.