Interview with Allen Chester, Creator of the Templar Tarot
by Alex B. Crowther
Do you read tarot and if so what was the first deck you used?
I do not profess to be a tarot reader or expert but humbly say that I am an artist. I meditate with the tarot but have never read for others. I tend to use the tarot to expand my perception of issues that arise in my life. Often my meditative readings will generate ideas and solutions not obvious in ordinary reality. When there is success, it is most gratifying and uplifting. The first deck of study was the Rider Waite.
When did you begin to learn art and who was your greatest influence?
I do not remember a time when I was not an artist. My first recognition from others came when I was in elementary school. Drawing copies of pictures from books. Everyone is born an artist but often people stop this creative process as they grow older. I’m one who did not stop. I’m still learning. I will always be student of art but I hope I have yet to meet my greatest influence. I have studied the technique, style and wisdom of many creative people. My strongest inspiration comes primarily from many different types of music. However, if you want some names of great masters that I reference often, here are ten; Mozart, Dali, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Bach, Bertrand Russel, Kurt Vonnegut, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and last but not least Gary Larson.
What concerns you in this modern society?
Ignorance and refusal to evolve with the magnificent changes taking place in our world. Technology is growing faster than the ordinary person can comprehend. Some understand it but choose to misuse it. Some refuse to accept or acknowledge it. Still others try to make a demon of it. These limited minds are a danger to our society.
There are many artistic interpretations of the Tarot, how does the Templar Tarot differ from these?
I created the Templar Tarot! Or at least I compiled and co-created it. I must give credit to a consciousness and guidance beyond myself. I was often surprised to witness and experience the evolution of the blank canvas to final image. All images are original oil paintings some taking several weeks to complete. The subject of the Templars developed on its own. My goal was to capture the general meaning of each card, that part came from my conscience self. The additional symbology and tie to the Knights Templars came from a higher conscience that I can not explain that worked with me on this project. I have been told that many of the symbols captured in the art are directly linked with the legends of the Knights Templar.
What or who influenced you to create this deck?
My significant other, Cathy, was the primary source of support to publish the art as a Tarot deck. Friends and strangers commented about my art and would tell me the meaning of the symbols appearing in my paintings and how they related to Tarot cards and/or the legends of the Knights Templar. They said I should create this deck and Cathy researched the method to do so.
Immediately following the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York City I felt a strong need to move ahead quickly and get the Templar Tarot deck published as soon as possible. Maybe the Knights themselves were asking that to be released onto the world once more to awaken the consciousness of our sleeping spiritual warriors.
How long did it take for you to create the Templar Tarot from conceptualisation to actualisation?
Six years total. Judgment, the first painting finished in September 1995 and Death was the last, finished in August 2001. Or so I thought. The Magic Flute, which I started in September 2001 and finished in October 2001, turned out to be the last. The deck was printed and completed on November 28, 2001. The printed cards were entered into a contest by the printer and won an Award of Excellence presented by the Printers of the Virginias in January 2002.
The cards are produced on a larger card size what is the reason for this other than the artwork?
Other sizes were tried before the final size was determined. The art seemed to pick the size, not me. The final size felt substantial and right. The images wanted the attention and the smaller size cards could not show the detailed symbology, which is important with this deck.
Which card is your favourite and why?
This is an unfair question. Let me say that all are my favorite. They are like my children. Without each to me the family would not be complete even adding one more extra child was necessary. The High Priestess was chosen as the cover card because to me she represents the eternal feminine, above the earth and in the earth.
Which card took most of your time to create and why?
I think it was the Devil painting. I remember reworking many aspects of this. A most uncooperative fallen angel. By it’s very nature the image was illusive until the final sessions of laying down layers of paint. Coincidentally it is the only Major Arcana painting that remains without a decorative frame. To date, I have been unsuccessful at finding a frame for this painting.
There is still a lot of controversy surrounding the Crowley system as opposed to Rider Waite what are your thoughts on this?
Tarot is personal to the reader. I would consider it an exchange of ideas about two different approaches to the same subject. Crowley and Waite needed to share their ideas about Tarot just as I did in creating the Templar Tarot. I see the use for both systems in addition to many others.
What is it you hope to achieve with the Templar Tarot?
I want to share my art with the world for all open to receiving it. A collection of 79 pieces of visionary art would be cost prohibitive to most people. The Tarot deck is the most cost effective way to share my art with all that desire it. I want the Templar Tarot to make people think, grow and open their consciousness. To make one look and see and ask questions of a higher plane. To ask why were the Templars here? What was their mission? Who were they? Why do I feel a connection to these warrior monks?
Could you explain the association of the Templar Tarot to the Masonic orders?
My father was a Mason as well as many other great men. I have not chosen to join the order yet but have always held them in high esteem. My personality is somewhat hermit-like and I spend most of my time in my studio. Therefore I think the Templars and Masons reached out to me through my art. I do not know all of the subtle secrets and stories that have been captured in the art. Masons and Templars have told me that secrets are represented in the Templar Tarot.
For those not well versed on the legends of the Templar knights could you explain this legend briefly?
The standard history of the Templars is that nine French knights presented themselves to the King of Jerusalem in 1118 and requested to be allowed to patrol the roads of the Holy Land to protect Christian pilgrims. They became a holy order of warrior monks embracing poverty, chastity and obedience. Over the years the order’s membership and wealth increased and the Templars became the best trained standing army in existence at the time. The order existed for about 200 years before they were arrested and executed for heresy.
This brief summary cannot do justice to the many mysteries surrounding the Knights Templar and even this formerly accepted explanation has been questioned for historical accuracy. We will cover more of the legends and history in the upcoming book currently in development.
What evidence did you find in regards to the Templar knights' introducing the Tarot to Europe?
There are numerous "experts" that have evidence to support nearly any theory one may choose to subscribe to. I am not convinced that the Templars were the only group to own the Tarot at its inception. In fact, I believe that it is highly possible that the Templars saw pictorial cards in use elsewhere recording folk history or legends and opted to create their own deck of pictorial cards to record their story and possibly their secrets. At a time when there were many languages and most people were illiterate to their own language, each picture could tell a thousand stories. And if one happened to be a fellow Templar, the symbols could carry hidden meanings not obvious to others. It is highly possible that these pictorial decks of cards were not even considered "Tarot" since there has yet to be any evidence discovered using the word "Tarot" during the time of the Templars. It is also possible that the concept simply was not officially named until later.
There are 23 Majors in the Templar Tarot, why the extra card?
This is not an extra card but it is a necessary card. I thought the last painting was Death completing the deck and my creative journey with this project. Everything was being put together and I was starting a new painting. This new painting was not a commissioned piece of work so the image was not preconceived. I usually paint this way; I stare at the blank canvas and it stares back at me. Music playing, incense burning, hours go by. The brush touches the paint then touches the canvas. An unclear image appears. Over the next several painting sessions the image becomes clearer. The paint speaks and sings to me and I am able to finish. The Piper is here. It belongs. The Piper plays a tune for you and me. Only you know what tune it is. The project is now complete.
Tarot cards can be very personal to the reader, do you think you have achieved this is (in) your deck and why?
The Templar Tarot is not going to be for everyone. People seem to love it or hate it and that is wonderful to me as an artist. Indifference would have meant failure to me. I want people to be moved by my art, even if they are repulsed. It means the art is alive and touching people on some level. I think the art for this deck was divinely lead. It wasn’t up to me alone. I was supported and often pushed by a power greater than my human self to continue and finish. The comments I am receiving tell me my efforts were not wasted.
You have not provided keywords on your minors. Do you think other Tarot with keywords can be a distraction to the true essence of a card and why?
The Templar Tarot is an art deck therefore I want the art seen, felt, heard, read and experienced. I am an artist and do not want anything other than paint on the images. There is a structure to a Tarot deck and this structure needs to be maintained by words and numbers. Where words and numbers were necessary they are transparent. I wanted my images to be clear of clutter for the reader. Additionally, there are no limiting borders on the cards. To me a border on a Tarot card acts like a containment fence running through a field. A border on a card says this is where the image ends to the eye. Not all decks are art decks and explanatory text or key words could be beneficial. But with the Templar Tarot, the art speaks the message.
Is the LWB that comes with the Templar Tarot an important reference to using this deck and why?
As I have said before, I do not claim to be a Tarot expert and have only used Tarot for personal development. Daria Kelleher wrote the LWB that accompanies the deck. Daria has connected the primary characters from the legends of the Knights Templar to the figures on the Major Arcana and the Royal cards from each suit. It is a good starting point for a subject like this. The LWB is important in that it gives the interpretation of the cards as they are linked to the Templar Legends. Generally the cards match the standard meanings ascribed to most RWS decks, but we have added another dimension to the meaning by linking them to this mysterious group of knights. The Templar legends can be very complex and have different interpretations, we hope the LWB will give the reader enough information to see this new dimension without having to do months of research.
The LWB can also be a great way to initially learn the basic meaning of the cards or if you get stumped and just can not figure out what a card means. My personal preference with any art is to interpret it intuitively. I believe that every single person has all of the knowledge in the world available to him or her. The trick is learning how to access it. Art, music and literature are all tools to open the doors to the wisdom we seek.
Will you be publishing a book for the Templar Tarot?
Yes. There have been many requests from Templar Tarot readers who purchased the deck and want more information than what was included in the LWB. We hope the expanded book will answer the questions we received and also put more information about the Templar legends at their fingertips. We anticipate a Winter 2002 release. Additionally, for those that have requested prints of the cards, they are now available through our web site.
Do you have any final words or advice for Tarot readers?
I want to thank everyone for taking the time to read this interview and for his or her interest in the Templar Tarot. And also special thanks to those who have sent us their comments, compliments, suggestions, and reviews.
One question I get often is why do I use so many bones and skeletons in my art and what do they represent. I consider bones as our human structure that holds our spirits to the Earth plane. It can represent our mortal selves and the skull is the container of our eternal knowledge. As skeletons, we are all the same. It is our skin, hair and eyes that make us different in appearance. I do not think that bones represent death nor do I see death as anything more than another transition.
And finally I would like to close with this thought; life, as we know it, can only exist with a balance of the light and dark which is represented repeatedly throughout the art of the Templar Tarot. The Magician has both light and dark symbols, Mary Magdalene wears the Yin-Yang symbol, and even the Devil has a dove lighting on its head. We all must find that balance where we can embrace the light and dark in our own lives.
See the cards from the Templar Tarot.
© Alex B. Crowther